True ways

“Now this I say and testify in the Lord, . . .  put off your old self. . . . and be renewed in the spirit of your minds . . . “Ephesians 4:17-24

When I was a young student, every class day would begin with our reciting the United States’ Pledge of Allegiance. We said it every day, and then we’d sing a patriotic hymn of our teacher’s choosing.

The words we spoke or sung fell easily from our lips, because we had said or sung them over and over again . . . for years.

We were learning what it meant to be an American.

But it wasn’t always that way. Continue reading “True ways”

Next

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. Titus 3:4-8 (emphasis mine.)

As a dad with three man-sons, my wife and I have to insist on certain kinds of behavior from them: “Stop jumping on the bed; slow down; wash behind your ears; tell the truth; leave the frog in the pond; say you’re sorry; go to sleep; drink your milk; say your prayers; stop and think . . . ,” all with varying degrees of compliance.

Why do we do that? Continue reading “Next”

Too small

“And Moses said to Korah, ‘Hear now, you sons of Levi: is it too small a thing for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself, to do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them, and that he has brought you near him, and all your brothers the sons of Levi with you? And would you seek the priesthood also?'” Numbers 16:8-10

Too small a thing . . . a group of people among the now-freed slaves of Egypt, the Israelites, had become discontented with their lot in life: it was no longer enough to be singled out among the hundreds of thousands to serve God in the daily work of worship in the tabernacle: they wanted more, and they were going after it.

What do you do when you are discontent and want more from life than you have? Continue reading “Too small”

School’s out

“. . . always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Timothy 3:7

Remember the last day of school when you were growing up?

Etched in my mind are wonderful memories of textbooks stacked on tables, empty spaces on classroom walls where posters and signs from the year had been removed and stored for the next group of young minds, and taking a paper sack to school in which to carry home the broken pencils and wrinkled contents of my desk. The spirit in the school was light and forward-looking. (The teachers seemed especially happy, for some reason.)

My elementary school was in the middle of rolling farms bounded by thick stands of woods, so the months of May and June were rich with bright sunshine and the sounds of surrounding meadows returning to life. Through open windows everywhere came the humid scent of blooming trees, honeysuckle and newly mown grass. Our three-room school was steeped in it.

These were the signs that said the time of learning was ending: the time of trying was beginning. Ready or not, we were free.

But free for what? Continue reading “School’s out”

In between

“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” John 16:16

These are the words of Jesus to His closest friends, hours before His betrayal, arrest, trial, beating and crucifixion. They were having supper together. The mood of the room was serious. Passover was underway. As if with a riddle, He prepares them for what is to come.

Soon, He would be gone, but then He would be back.

Their eyes locked on His, the disciples fill with silent questions.  Continue reading “In between”

The great sequence

At the command of the Lord the people of Israel set out, and at the command of the Lord they camped. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the people of Israel kept the charge of the Lord and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the Lord they remained in camp; then according to the command of the Lord they set out. And sometimes the cloud remained from evening until morning. And when the cloud lifted in the morning, they set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they set out. Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, abiding there, the people of Israel remained in camp and did not set out, but when it lifted they set out. At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out. They kept the charge of the Lord, at the command of the Lord by Moses. Numbers 9:18-23

In our culture today, the epitome of success is the driven person who is the “go-getter” who dreams big dreams and sets out to climb every mountain to make them real. We are taught from a young age that we can do anything we put our minds to.

“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

“We need a plan for work and we need to work the plan.”

“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.”

Whole industries of motivation and coaching are built around telling us that we are the powerful, self-motivated centers of the universe. It is aspirational, captivating and sells lots of books and self-help programs, but there is (at least) one problem with this teaching:

It. Isn’t. True. Continue reading “The great sequence”

Living in Meribah

“For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” Psalm 95:7-9

So often, the Psalms are a real source of comfort and peace to weary travelers. We love to read them when we are discouraged or confused. Often, when we can’t find the words to express our frustration or anger, the Psalms stand as testaments to the durability of prayer and our easy access to a caring and engaged Heavenly Father. But sometimes, as in the 95th above, the Psalms can stand as a warning: a barricade to steer us away from the sharp and dangerous edge of a steep mountain.

What happened at Meribah?

Continue reading “Living in Meribah”

Lessons in the silent meadow

“And if you say, ‘What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we may not sow or gather in our crop?’ I will command my blessing on you in the sixth year, so that it will produce a crop sufficient for three years. When you sow in the eighth year, you will be eating some of the old crop; you shall eat the old until the ninth year, when its crop arrives.” Leviticus 25:20-22

Early in the days of Israel’s birth as a nation, God set out a system of government for them that was ordered around one, central theme: “Follow me, and I will provide for you.”

Though the text above is ancient, it is not unusual for God to call us today to tasks of obedience that test our rational minds and ask for more faith than sight. How do we react to this?
Continue reading “Lessons in the silent meadow”