Watchman

We all have to follow rules in life. As kids, we must obey the rules our parents set out for us or risk a slap on the hand or being grounded for a week. As students, we must obey our teachers or risk failure or detention. As adults, we must obey our employers or risk being fired. For the most part, because we are not willing to risk the punishment, we’re okay with being obedient. We want to be obedient because it means that our lives will be better for it.

So why don’t we respond to God with the same attitude toward obedience?

“Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, pass it on to the people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins. And I will hold you responsible, demanding your blood for theirs. If you warn them and they keep on sinning and refuse to repent, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved your life because you did what you were told to do.”

Ezekiel 3:17-19 (NLT)

When God called Ezekiel to minister to the Israelite exiles in Babylon, He demanded obedience. If the prophet relayed God’s words to the people when they were given as they were given, Ezekiel would not be held responsible for the actions of the people. But if he failed to present the word, he’d be punished right along with the Israelites.

To us, when most Christians treat obedience to God as optional, the guidelines God set out for Ezekiel may come across as rather harsh. But are they? If we claim to be followers of God, should we not also be obedient to His Word? If we are so willing to submit to those in authority over us, how much more should we be willing to submit to God?

When we profess Jesus as Lord, we become accountable not only to what we do, but also to what we don’t do. If God has called us to do or say something and we refuse, we are as guilty as Ezekiel would have been, withholding the truth from those who needed it. As God’s hands and feet, as His ambassadors on Earth, it behooves us to live our lives in obedience to His Word and His call on our lives.

Like Ezekiel, we are watchmen and should be waiting for every opportunity to practice obedience to our Father.

Daily Bible reading: Ezekiel 1-3, Hebrews 9

These rules

My parents have family rules. Even now that all of us kids are adults, there are still certain parameters and guidelines that we are expected to live by, especially when it comes to our interaction with each other. Anyone else who joins the family—by marriage or by birth—is expected to adapt to the family code of conduct. It’s not always easy and we don’t always like it, but in the end, we’re all still family and we still love each other.

God has adopted us into His family. And, like my parents, He has a set of rules and guidelines that we are expected to follow as members of the family.

God has called us to be holy, not to live impure lives. Anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human rules, but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 (NLT)

If I decide that I no longer want to play by my family’s rules, I’m not only being rebellious, but I am telling my parents and the rest of the family that I no longer respect them and cannot be bothered to act in a manner fitting to be part of the clan.

We do the same to God. He has called us to a higher standard of living than the one we lived before we came to Him. He has grand plans for all of us—if we follow His instructions. But if we make the decision to disobey Him, we are not only letting down our brothers and sisters in Christ, but we are essentially saying that God is good, but not good enough and that His plans and purposes aren’t worth our effort. We not only reject His rules, but we reject God himself.

So, if we don’t feel like living up to God’s standards, what does that say about how we feel toward salvation? If God isn’t enough, was Jesus’ sacrifice enough? Was his message not worth his time and effort?

My parents haven’t laid out guidelines for the family to be mean or spiteful, they’ve done it so that we can continue to have fruitful relationships with each other. God has done the same. All of the rules He has given us are not to take things away from us, but to prepare us for the great things He has in store for us.

These rules aren’t such a bad thing after all.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 59-61, 1 Thessalonians 4

Let’s argue this out

Without even realising it, there are things that we do that render the value of grace to nothing. Without thinking, we say things that nullify the single greatest gift that has ever been offered to us.

One way to reduce the value of grace is to impose rules and regulations on Christians as a part of church membership. Women must wear their hair long. Men must always wear a suit and tie to church. Children must be seen and never heard. A youth cannot pierce their ear. Jesus never forced any of these things on his followers. Rather, he freed them from all those laws.

I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats the grace of God as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping the law, then there was no need for Christ to die.

Galatians 2:20-21 (NLT)

Another way to devalue grace is to insist that people “clean themselves up” before coming to Christ. By saying that they must first overcome their vices before they can receive grace, what we are really saying is that God’s grace is great, but not that great.

Yet another—and probably the most grievous—way that we can take away the value of grace is by saying that we ourselves aren’t good enough to receive it.

“Come now, let us argue this out,” says the Lord. “No matter how deep the stain of your sins, I can remove it. I can make you as clean as freshly fallen snow. Even if you are stained as red as crimson, I can make you as white as wool.”

Isaiah 1:18 (NLT)

The entire point of grace is that none of us—no matter how good or bad—are really worthy of receiving it. Its value is based entirely on the person who receives it and what their freedom in Christ is worth to them individually. If we put rules and regulations on grace, it is no longer grace at all, but something that must be earned—which grace cannot be.

So we can argue this out, but both Paul and Isaiah have done a pretty good job of it. Grace is only grace when it is completely free. For only grace that is completely free can set a person completely free.

Daily Bible reading: Isaiah 1-3, Galatians 2

Bound to be free

 

Obedience is not a word we all love. In fact, most of us likely cringe at the idea. Because along with the idea of obedience comes the issue of discipline. The two generally go hand in hand. If you don’t do the first, you’ll be exposed to the latter. But as the latter becomes less excessive, the first becomes something to be rebelled against. We want freedom! We can’t have freedom if we have to follow rules!

But what if, instead of rebelling against the very things that were intended to hold our society together, we sought to understand them? What if, instead of rallying against a perceived wrong, we learned the original intended purpose behind the law? Instead of spewing hateful rhetoric against the rules, what if we learned to love them?

Help me understand the meaning of your commandments,
and I will meditate on your wonderful miracles.

Psalm 119:27 (NLT)

Closed ears and open mouths make for a bad combination. We come up with our own ideas regarding rules and the law based on our own experience or the opinions of others.

Keep me from lying to myself;
give me the privilege of knowing your law.

Psalm 119:29 (NLT)

The writer of Psalm 119 uses phrases like: teach me, give me understanding, give me an eagerness, make me walk, turn my eyes, reassure me, help me. These are not words of rebellion, but of a longing to know and understand the meaning behind the law.

While we are no longer under the Mosaic law of the Old Testament, we the Church, are under the law that Christ gave to us—the law of love.

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:14 (NLT)

God’s law, as well as the laws of the nations (I reference here Canada and the United States), are not there to stifle us or bind us. They are there to set us free. It is a privilege to live under law for without it, there is nothing but anarchy.

For you have been called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love.

Galatians 5:13 (NLT)

If instead of clinging to our own selfish and sinful desires, we would cling to the Word and promises of God, we would truly see the world change. The law of love that Jesus placed before us is not something we must follow, it is something we have the privilege of following. In love—and only in love—will we discover the freedom so many people are fighting to find.

Freedom is not in the eradication of rules and laws. It is in the complete submission and obedience to the will of God.

I will walk in freedom,
for I have devoted myself to your commandments.

Psalm 119:43 (NLT)

Binding ourselves to a law seems like an odd way to be free, but that’s the point.

Stop fooling yourselves. If you think you are wise by this world’s standards, you will have to become a fool so you can become wise by God’s standards.

1 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)

Daily Bible reading: Psalm 119:1-48, 1 Corinthians 3

Eat what you want

It’s not what goes into your body that defiles you; you are defiled by what comes from your heart.

Mark 7:15 (NLT)

Eat what you want. Food won’t affect your spirit (unless you’re a cannibal…). One must give the Pharisees A for effort, but it was misplaced. At every turn, they tried to prove Jesus wrong. All they wanted was one instance where they could point their fingers and tell the world that he was wrong. But in every instance, Jesus had the perfect response.

While the Jews were very much stuck on the rules and regulations regarding what was and what was not acceptable to eat, Jesus came right out and said that it didn’t matter! What goes in (and out) of our stomachs has no bearing on eternity. It’s what goes in and out of our hearts that makes the difference.

It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.

Mark 7:20-23 (NLT)

Before we ever take part in any sinful action, it begins in our heart—our soul. If we allow it to dwell in us, it will come out eventually. This is why we are told to let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Don’t get caught up in the laws of the flesh, but rather be sure to guard the door of your spirit.

Daily Bible reading: Numbers 21-23, Mark 7:14-8:10

House Rules

Growing up, we had house rules. There were certain guidelines anyone living or coming in to our home were expected to abide by. There were different rules at my cousin’s house. Different rules at my grandparent’s house. Different rules at all of my friends’ houses. Every house has its own set of rules.

All through Leviticus, God is telling Israel to be holy because I am holy. He basically tells them that they are who they are because of Him. He is Lord. He is holy. Because He is Lord, they have the opportunity to be made holy. He says, “I am the Lord who makes them holy.” (Leviticus 21:23) House rules.

So long as Israel called themselves set apart to be God’s people—along with anyone else who may be living with them—they were set apart. To continue to be set apart, there was a rule book to comply with. A pretty strict set of instructions, if you ask me, but those were God’s house rules. So long as you abide by them, you can stay in the house. If you break them, out you go.

Though we no longer abide by the Levitical law, there were still a great many things that Jesus told us to do: love God, love your neighbours, repent from your sin, follow me, keep your word, don’t lust, seek first the kingdom of God… Jesus outlined what a life following him should look like. He taught it. He lived it. He wrote new house rules.

My question to the Church would be this: if you don’t keep the house rules, what makes you think you’re still able to live in the house? The rule always was (and still is) that, as long as you live under this roof, you abide by these rules. God basically said the same thing in Leviticus and Jesus reiterated it in the Gospels. Where do we get off trying to break the rules and think we get to stay in the house?

We can be made holy by one thing and one thing alone—the blood of Jesus Christ. By accepting his blood, we accept his teachings, and we accept his name as our own. We make the decision to live a life set apart. We live by a different rule book. And here’s the catch—we don’t make the rules and we don’t get to change the rules. It’s not our house. It’s God’s house.

Daily Bible reading: Leviticus 22-23, Mark 1:1-22

The Law of Love

Do you ever read through the Old Testament and wonder at all the laws, rules, and regulations? Those people had a lot to live up to. And then we think, man, am I glad we don’t have to live like that. But do you every wonder why the Israelites had to live up to such high standards?

Let’s take out all the sacrifices—we know that Jesus came and was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. What about everything else? Why did God give so many instructions on how to live life?

You’ll note that much of it was practical—don’t do your business among the tents, go away from everyone, dig a hole, and bury it. Makes sense. This kept disease from spreading. The same goes for people with skin rashes and mildew in homes. They were quarantined until considered clean and then there was a process for reintroduction back into society.

God not only set Israel apart to be holy, but He called them apart to be clean—in the literal sense. Canaan, after all, was a land filled with people who had defiled themselves in all manner of ways. Not only were they dirty, they were diseased.

God even gave instructions regarding the crops—Israel wouldn’t be allowed to eat the fruit of the trees they planted until the fifth year. There are several reasons for this, the first being that a new tree will not produce good fruit in its first years. If it is cut back and pruned early on, it will be more productive later. Second, God was deserving of the first fruits—the reason why the fruit of the fourth year belonged to Him. By year five, if the Israelites had followed God’s commands, the fruit would be plentiful and sweet.

God doesn’t give us rules to watch us squirm under the weight of them. He gave the law out of love. All the instructions He gave to Israel were for their own good. For their health. For their prosperity. For their pleasure.

We can have more freedom and be more fruitful within the boundaries God has given to us than we can outside of His love.

Daily Bible reading: Leviticus 18-19, Matthew 27:32-66