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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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God’s Big 10: Let’s Talk About Sex

pair-97059_1920Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me….aaaaand that’s enough of quoting that song. Seriously, though, our culture is obsessed with sex. Many people seem to have an attitude that anything goes as long as you are not physically hurting someone else. After all, who are we to tell others how to live?

I don’t think God is too concerned about hurting feelings. He’s not giving us 10 suggestions. That’s more of Dr. Phil’s lane. God’s giving us the commandments that are to be foundational for our lives, and that includes human sexuality. So we get to the 7th commandment:

You shall not commit adultery.

One line!

It’s just one sentence. I wish it were that simple. I wish we could say, “Here’s the word for today. Be on your way.” It SEEMS self-explanatory. We can open the Bible, read the sentence, and say, “Huh! I didn’t know that. Now I’ll go change the way I live!”

But real life doesn’t work that way, does it?

While the Old Testament was about the behavior and monitoring the actions of people (like committing adultery), the New Testament is about the heart BEHIND the behavior. So once again we turn to the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away.eye-211610_1920 It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Man, Jesus doesn’t pull punches! It’s not just about the bad behavior, but everything that leads UP to the behavior in the first place. He would seem to be pretty serious about this topic. Why is it so important to catch lust early and to refuse to tolerate it? I think there are some reasons

First, affairs don’t just happen to you. It’s not something you fall into, no matter what garbage Hollywood tries to show us. You don’t go walking down the street and then, BAM, you’re in an affair. “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME?!?”

No, they start long before that. Where our eyes lead our hearts will follow. And just as we build up a tolerance to substances, we can build up a tolerance to adulterous situations. It’s just a look, a glance. It’s just a little innocent flirtation. It was just a long hug….

Nobody jumps into bed with another married person in one day. If we don’t keep ourselves in check, we start to go down the wrong road. We don’t even have to go looking for it – it seeks us out. It finds us!

If you want to see how our culture has become numb to lust over the years, just look at department store catalogs. Way back in the day, underwear and lingerie sections of the catalog would simply have the picture of the clothing lying on the table. You see it, but it was not appropriate to see it on a person.head-1069140_1280 Now catalogs don’t just show the underwear on people, but the editors try to make them look as tantalizing as possible.

But I’m pretty sure if I put on the boxer briefs the guy in the photo has I won’t suddenly have 6-pack abs. Are they trying to sell me on the underwear or on the image that goes with it?

How prevalent is this problem in our society? It’s so prevalent that Playboy Magazine has made a move to remove nudity from its pages. It’s no longer a nudie mag. Why? Because you can find the same content (and worse) online for free. So Playboy is shifting its publishing priorities to keep up with a sexually bankrupt culture.

The problem of lust doesn’t apply only to men. Women are also susceptible to lustful thoughts. Stereotypes aren’t always accurate, but men seem to be more visually oriented and women seem to be more imaginatively oriented when it comes to lust. For men, lust tends to accompany images (magazines, websites, videos, etc.). For women, lust tends to accompany things like romance novels and stories! Their imaginations can take them to far off lands with Ricardo. Romance stories about teenage vampires or 50 Shades of Grey drive women’s lust.

God’s design for healthy sexuality, in behavior AND thought, is between a man and the woman he is married to. Anything outside of that falls outside of God’s intended design for sexuality. It’s easy to make sure our behavior is right but be twisted inside. That’s why Jesus says our inside needs to match the outside. It’s not just about behavior but the thoughts that no one else can see.

In our culture we like to ask the question, “How far can I go?” But that’s the wrong question. The real question is, “How holy can I be?” Christian liberty allows us to do a variety of things while our conscience is still clear. But be clear – liberty does not give us permission to engage in lustful behavior, no matter how we try to justify it.

“It’s not porn, it’s just the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.”

Or

“It’s not lust, I’m just reading the novel and fantasizing about someone doing that to me and taking me away from here.”

Any sexuality that moves beyond the husband/wife relationships is not appropriate.

Look at Samson. He was a strong dude physically. He was a weak dude morally. He was like Superman. Superman is impervious to everything EXCEPT kryptonite. Samson is impervious to everything except women. They are his weakness. This isn’t a condemnation on women. This is condemnation on the lust within Samson that brings about his own downfall.

His eyes find the wrong woman. His heart follows.

Broken heart
Image courtesy of samuiblue at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Before you know it, his eyes have led him into a series of jacked up relationships, and his lust ends up bringing about his own death. All because he cannot control his eyes. So how do we protect ourselves?

Job says, “I have made a covenant with my eyes that I have not looked upon another woman.” It starts in the heart long before it ends up in the bed. Where our eyes wander our hearts follow.

Where are your eyes? Where is your heart?

Stop wondering about how far you can go as a Christian. Are you doing everything you can to protect yourself, your eyes, and your heart?

 

Questions for Reflection

  • Do you desire to be a faithful person – faithful to God and faithful to your partner (or potential future partner)?
  • What are you willing to do to fight lust in your life?

The Big 10: Murder Most Foul!

C’mon, preacher. I’ve never killed anyone. I’ve got the 6th commandment down – piece of cake!

“You shall not murder.”

I don’t think anyone would disagree that murder is not cool. Whatever you’re feelings are about justifiable homicide, war, etc. – everyone seems to agree that murder is not okay. So we’re not going to spend a lot of time on this one. It’s just that one little line. Instead, we’re going to jump right to the New Testament:

MATTHEW 5:21-24 ~ 21 “You have heard that it was said to our ancestors, Do not murder, and whoever murders will be subject to judgment. 22 But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire. 23 So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Jesus takes the Old Testament idea of the action (murder) and converts it to a matter of the heart (anger). We can’t get away with avoiding behavior any more. We are confronted with the attitude and heart that underlies the behavior.

This is a problem for me. I could avoid killing people all day long. Getting angry? That’s a whole ‘nother matter! anger-794699_1280Jesus is saying that what’s on the inside can separate us from God. We can’t hate each other on the inside and then go pretend that everything is okay. But we do it all the time. Something happens and fills us with anger. Then we walk into church and we put on a happy face and say, “Praise Jesus – God is good!” We’re two-faced liars who would rather be passive-aggressive towards people than to be open and upfront.

Jesus says, “I CALL SHENANIGANS!”

He calls us out and says that the things we have between us can get between us and God. Don’t try to get right with God when you’re not right with everyone else. Let’s be honest – we do it all the time. We come to worship while harboring anger towards other people. And how often are we intentional about reconciling that anger before we worship? It almost NEVER happens.

Anger by itself is not wrong. We see examples in the Bible of God getting angry. We see Jesus getting angry. It’s not wrong – it’s part of the character of God. And if it’s part of the character of God it’s part of how we are wired. No, anger is not wrong.

How we DEAL with anger is where we go wrong.

Ephesians 4:26 ~ Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, and don’t give the Devil an opportunity.

Anger is not bad – it’s part of who we are. Paul seems to believe that we can be angry and not sin. Anger is an attribute of God. God’s anger is a right reaction to moral evil and injustice. It’s not about personal insult or hurt. When God sees moral evil and injustice, God gets angry. What God gets angry about; we can get angry about in a righteous way. We can spot injustice and be righteously angry. When we get angry about our personal causes and offenses is where we run the risk of getting into sin.

Anger in and of itself is not wrong. The question is simply, “What are we angry about?”

What we get angry about and how we deal with that anger are the important things here! Anger can stir up trouble and have harmful consequences.

There are 3 Primary Causes of Anger:

  1. Injustice – We can get angry about the things that God gets angry about – when it’s about faith, righteousness, and justice.
  2. Frustration – something blocks us from our desired goal/outcome.

upset-534103_1920Frustration can cause anger. It’s NORMAL to respond in anger to frustration. If my desired outcome is to get all of my kids out of the door and into the van by a certain time and they fail to comply, my children are being roadblocks to my desired outcome. They are preventing me from my plan. And I get steamed – I become angry. It’s an easy anger, but it’s not a good anger.

  1. Threat/hurt – injury, insult, attack, etc.

Any time we’re injured, see an injury coming, or perceive any kind of threat (physical, emotional, etc.) our normal response is to get angry. Have you ever whacked your thumb with a hammer? We respond in anger. Did the nail do anything wrong? Nope. How about the hammer? Nu-uh. Yet we get angry over the hurt.

The same thing happens in relationships. When we see someone flirting with our significant other and we feel some sort of threat we respond in anger. We might call that type of anger jealousy, but it’s still an anger response.

It’s normal.

But just because anger responses are normal in these situations does NOT mean it’s okay to hold on to our anger. That’s why Jesus comes along and says, “Your anger is keeping you from your relationship with God.” Just from a physical point of view, holding on to our anger can cause real health problems. Living in freedom from anger can heal our souls AND our bodies.

But it often easier said than done. My dad’s side of the family is Scottish. My mom’s side is Irish. People often joke that I’m genetically bred to be angry. But there is no DNA excuse – we can’t skate by simply because of where we’re from. So here are some practical steps to letting go of the anger.

  1. Acknowledge/identify the anger – Who am I angry at? What am I angry for?

Confess to God. Confess to the person you have an issue with. Stuffing your feelings deep down inside is only going to make you sick. Tackle it head on (lovingly, if you confess to the person you have an issue with).

  1. Restrain your outbursts – no matter how mad you get it’s not gonna change the past. How you handle your anger IS gonna change your future.

I remember a classic Disney cartoon in which Donald Duck was taking an anger management class (via a record player). The voice on the record told him to try 10 second countdown timer – when he felt himself getting hot under the collar he was supposed to count down from 10 to zero. Whatever it takes for you, find a way to practice restraining your outbursts. Give yourself time to cool down.

  1. Let compassion replace resentment – get a different perspective; is there ANY other way to look at what’s happening?

When it comes to our anger towards other people, we can go a long way in letting go if we try to see the situation from another point of view. From my shoes I’ve been wronged, sure. What would happen if I tried to see it from an outsider’s vantage point? What about from the vantage point of the person with whom I’m angry? Find compassion for what they’re going through rather than focusing on your own sense of indignity.

  1. Resist ruminating – the 10 second replay button has to GO!

Going over and over and over and over situations that make us angry do nothing to help us cool down. In fact, they usually keep the fire stoked. If we’re serious about keeping our anger under control, we need to stop replaying the situation in our heads. Find something positive and lovely to think about instead. I’m not saying to ignore the situation and sweep it under the rug. I’m saying that we don’t have to re-live it day after day and hour after hour.

  1. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not take your anger out to the general public (like Facebook).

It only serves to escalate the problem and doesn’t allow you to forgive. The public route is merely an attempt to justify your anger. If you have to talk about it, talk to the person you’re angry at and not the entire community.

So What?

Jesus calls us to right relationships – to reconcile conflict as best we can (sometimes that’s not going to be possible – it is a two-way street) It’s time to let go of the anger we’ve been holding on to and time to move forward.

 Questions for Reflection

  • Who am I angry at?
  • Have I tried to work through the anger or am I holding on to it?
  • What would happen if I let go of the anger?

The Big 10: No Other Gods

It’s my joy once again to lead an online devotional Bible study. This time we’re going to spend some time looking at the Big 10 – God’s foundational commandments to His people.

footballLegendary football coach Vince Lombardi had a habit every season; even if his players had been on the team for years, where he would get his players together, hold up a football, and say, “Gentlemen, this is a football.”

When we have the fundamentals in place, then we have a solid foundation for playing a strong game. That is what the 10 Commandments are for us. They are foundational for who we are and how we are to behave.

People get weird when we talk about laws and commandments, though. We don’t want to be told what to do. And sometimes laws can be funny things. There are some stupid laws on the books. These are some I found:

– It is illegal to impersonate a person of the clergy.
– Bear wrestling matches are prohibited.
– It is prohibited to sell peanuts in the county after sundown on Wednesdays.
– No member of the clergy is allowed to tell jokes or humorous stories from the pulpit during religious services.
– It is forbidden to fish while sitting on a giraffe’s neck.

Usually laws exist because something happened. WHO WAS SITTING ON A GIRAFFE’S NECK?!? We normally don’t put laws on the books to hurt people – we think they are going to help. Some poor giraffe got hurt because a doofus tried to fish from way up there.

This is the point of the 10 Commandments. It’s not about God trying to twist our arms into behaving appropriately. It’s about God trying to restore things back to the way they were created to be. God’s trying to teach us what a perfect world looks like.

And God spoke all these words: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

1. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

It all begins here – you will have no other gods beside me. This one commandment provides the framework for all of the commandments. Israel had just come out of Egypt with their many gods. Have you ever hung around someone so much that you start to pick up on their mannerisms and expressions? It’s really easy to see this between parents and their kids. familyOne day the kid realizes, “Oh, gosh! I’ve turned into my mother!” Or, if it’s really bad, your wife will tell you, “You sound just like your dad.” Without realizing it, we begin to conform to the people we spend a lot of time around. As Proverbs 27:17 says,

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.

The people you are around will influence and shape who you are. If you hang out with dull people you will become dull yourself. If you want to be sharp, you need to surround yourself with sharp people. Israel had allowed the foreign culture and foreign gods to have too much influence, and God begins his commandments by setting things straight.

Yahweh is not one among many – He is to be the ONLY one

This command is renewed in the New Testament in Acts 4:12 ~

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.

Even though this world frowns on religious exclusivity, we cannot escape it. The Bible is clear about it. There is no other way. All roads do NOT lead to God.

The question to us, then, is, “Who is influencing us and rubbing off against us?” What threatens God’s place as #1 in our lives?

There is only one God.

“You are my witnesses,” declares the LORD, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me” (Isaiah 43:10).

Questions for Reflection
– What’s your number one commandment?
– What is the overarching principle that drives your life?
– Is God first? Or is he merely one among many?

God Doesn’t Want Tim Tebow to Play Football

So Tim Tebow is signing with the Philadelphia Eagles. Tebow Tim is one of those players that causes a lot of controversy in America. And the controversy isn’t because of bad behavior off the field like so many other football players. He hasn’t beat his child or his girlfriend. Hasn’t been arrested for anything. No drunken bar brawls.

He’s just flagrantly Christian.

This little fact has set football fans against each other. Non-Christian football fans seem fed up with Tebow’s holiness (the clean-cut, wholesome, praying on the field young man). Many Christian football fans seem bent on declaring the Lord’s favor upon Tebow’s football career BECAUSE Tim is a Christian.

I’m not a Tebow hater. I think he’s an incredible guy. I like who he is as a human. His Christian behavior and attitude seems authentic and not just a façade. But I don’t think he’s blessed as a football player because of his faith. I don’t think God really has a vested interest in football.

God watches HockeySo Christians: keep in mind, an athlete’s success probably has very little to do with the hand of God. Non-Christians: give Tebow a break. He’s the kind of guy that would thank God for anything, on or off the field. It’s just who is as a person of faith.

He lives out the words of Colossians 3:17 ~

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

This is the way we should all be living – no matter what our job is. We can be football players, school teachers, plumbers, or anything else. Live life for Jesus, giving thanks to God.

Will people scoff at us? Probably. Non-believers don’t get it.

That’s okay – do it anyway.

If you have a sense of humor, you can see a funny sketch from Saturday Night Live about Tebow and Jesus here. If you don’t have a sense of humor about religious things, just avoid the sketch.

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
I welcome all discussion, just keep it civil and polite. If this post resonates with you in any way, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or email!

The Really Real Truth About What God Is

God?
God?

Recently I’ve found myself in some discussions with atheists. Well, not really discussions. None of them actually wanted to discuss. They wanted to rail against God and people who believe in God. I’ve been called a fool, stupid, and other names not so pleasant.

They called God a faerie tale, a hoax to control the masses, and one person called God our “sky daddy” (that one actually made me laugh).

Then a friend contacted me and said, “In honor of Easter, let’s play a hashtag game called #GodIs and get people to share who and what God is to them.”

So last night we kicked off our GodIs movement. Here are some of the contributions:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deuteronomy 6:4-5

What is God to you?

Christians Don’t Do a Good Job of Consoling Others…

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We do a HORRIBLE job of consoling people who are grieving and hurting. It doesn’t really matter what the loss is about – we suck at consoling.

When a loved one passes away how many people say, “I’m sorry for your loss”?

Why? Didja kill him?

Or consider how we treat couples who have lost a child…. God did not “take the baby because He wanted him in heaven.” That is not only stupid and hurtful – it is bad theology.

The next time you have an opportunity to talk to someone suffering through a loss, think about what you say and the significance of your words.

Think before you speak – if you even speak at all.

Remember, it’s not about making yourself feel better in the situation – it’s about bringing comfort and compassion to the one hurting.

When Science and Faith Collide

Image courtesy of ponsulak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of ponsulak at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yesterday I saw a headline that really grabbed my attention:
400,000 year old human DNA adds new tangle to our origin story.

It’s not really as big a tangle as the headline would have you believe – it seems that the DNA of Neanderthals in Spain is similar to a different ancient population from Siberian known as the Denisovans.

The family tree is more webbed than science originally thought.

Okay.

That’s fine.

The idea that remains in Spain are genetically connected to remains in Siberia doesn’t bother me. To me it speaks of a single creator and a common ancestor to all of humanity. Hmm…even the Bible talks about that.

Where many Christians will take issue with the article is the age assigned to the remains and DNA. If the remains are 400,000 years old then the stories in the Bible can’t be right…right? But if the Bible is right then the science must be faulty…right?

And once again science and faith collide.

The problem comes when we insist on a rigid, literal reading of the biblical stories. We get lost in the nitty-gritty details rather than step back to see the big picture of what is being communicated.

Simply put – the Bible is not (and never was) intended to be a science textbook. It is a book of faith. It doesn’t teach us how to be forensic experts. It draws us into relationship with God, the Creator of the universe.

The idea of an “Old Earth” doesn’t bother me. Even conservative theologians like Millard Erickson concede that the Hebrew creation stories don’t have to mean a literal six days but could refer to epochs or long periods of time (you can see Erickson’s Christian Theology for his detailed presentation).

So we can go with an Old Earth – but what about humanity? The Bible is clear that humanity has an origin in God, not a spontaneous arrival. Ancient genealogies were not exact for the purposes of record keeping like Ancestry.com is. Genealogies are as much of the storytelling process as any of the narrative portions of the story. They inform the story, but are not intended to be scientific records for all posterity.

In the end I look at it like this: does the Bible fit science’s understanding of an Old Earth? Yes, it does. If humanity is older than a literal reading would have us believe – if there are massive gaps in history that the genealogies don’t cover – is my faith ruined? No, it is not.
The story is till the same. Everything has value because it has been made by God. Out of nothing, God created everything. Does it matter how long He took to do it? Not to me.
In the end the clash between science and faith is not as big as many would try to trick us into believing, and faithful Christians can fully embrace their faith and scientific discovery.

Because the world that God has made is a unique and marvelous thing – and we should learn as much about it as possible.

Related Post:
Jesus Loves Dinosaurs

Birdseed Christians

Whisper
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last year we took a family trip to a nearby zoo. There was one section designated the “petting zoo” where children could interact with animals. I asked my oldest if she want to go in and feed the goats and she said yes. As we were walking through the animals my daughter seemed okay. She was a little timid but there was nothing to be concerned about…until we approached the feed dispenser. When the goats saw us nearing the dispenser they knew what was coming and rushed over to grab some food. At this point I had the feed in my hand and goats were rearing up and some were butting heads to get the food. When they reared they were taller than my daughter, and at this point she was starting to panic and was clinging to my leg. I was knocking goats away, trying to protect her. Finally I just tossed all the food away and the goats swarmed it. That’s when we made our break and escaped the petting zoo – never to return (read that last phrase in an ominous voice).

My wife and I had a similar experience visiting St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. The square outside the Cathedral was famous for pigeons. Thousands of them! And tourists could stand in the middle of the square, hold out birdseed in both hands, and have the birds flock to you and land on you. It was quite a sight (and yes, I tried it). You’ve got to be careful with that birdseed.

BIRDS!
BIRDS!

The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Ephesus

22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:22-32)

Notice that he says Christians “put off the old self” – the language is very similar to changing clothes, taking off one outfit to put on another. There is supposed to be a difference in Christian behavior from the way the rest of the world operates. Our outfits are supposed to be new and different. That plays out specifically in our language and how we use our words. Paul says to put off unwholesome talk or “foul language.”

I’ve heard many people use this verse to tell others not to use profanity. The debate about what words are (or should be) taboo is for another time, but suffice to say that Paul isn’t talking about that here. “Foul language” is not about profanity but about language that tears down others. With our mouths we have the power to harm or to heal, especially when it comes to rumors and gossip (some of the most “foul language” around).

Our words become like birdseed and those crazy pigeons. Every time you jump in the rumor mill you are spreading birdseed. Even if you get the facts right later the seed is still out there. I’m still trying to clean up birdseed from a over year ago. “Did you hear that Pastor Chris did…? Did you hear that Pastor Chris said…?”

You have probably had to deal with this in your life. “Did you hear about…?” And the birdseed gets scattered. Then the hungry birds come and devour the seed and then fly away. What do full birds do? They poop! Someone miles away might get pooped on because of the seed you were spreading. How do you stop birds from pooping on people? Stop spreading the birdseed! This isn’t what Christian behavior is supposed to look like.

The book of Acts does give us a picture of what the church SHOULD look like. It’s supposed to be characterized by 1) authentic community – the church is supposed to be a place where you can experience relationships the way they were meant to be, 2) wholehearted worship – the church is where God gets the glory He deserves, 3) spiritual growth – the church is where you can become the best YOU that you can be, 4) financial care and responsibility – the church is where our time, talents, and treasure get invested for eternity, and 5) reaching others – the church is where everyone gets adopted into God’s family. When the Church embraces those characteristics it becomes a powerful force in the world and in people’s lives.

We Choose. What type of Church community would you prefer to be part of? The birdseed model or the Acts model? We choose what kind of people we are going to be. It is my prayer that we refuse to be birdseed Christians and start being the purposeful people we see in Acts.

Stop throwing birdseed. Be the people He calls us to be.

If You’re Lost and Feeling Far Away…

Come Home
Come Home

Think about a time when you were away from home for an extended period. You don’t have your own bed. You don’t have your own food. You don’t have your own bathroom. You don’t have all of the things that make up what you know as “home.” After a while you really being to long for home. I experienced this a little while back when I was activated with the Army. Three months living in Army housing, not being able to kiss my wife and play with my kids, not being with all of the comfort that comes with being home is a hard thing to do. But there is nothing like the feeling of returning home, of coming back to where you belong! The Bible talks about returning to where we belong.

In the book of Joel, the prophet addresses Israel in the midst of crisis. A horrible plague of locusts is devastating the land and Joel attributes the locusts to a spiritual cause. His message to Israel is that it is time to return to God. It is time to come home to where we belong.

12 Even now—this is the LORD’s declaration—turn to Me with all your heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. 13 Tear your hearts, not just your clothes, and return to the LORD your God. For He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and He relents from sending disaster. 14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, so you can offer grain and wine to the LORD your God. 15 Blow the horn in Zion! Announce a sacred fast; proclaim an assembly. 16 Gather the people; sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even those nursing at the breast. Let the groom leave his bedroom, and the bride her honeymoon chamber. 17 Let the priests, the LORD’s ministers, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say: “Have pity on Your people, LORD, and do not make Your inheritance a disgrace, an object of scorn among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:12-17)

I believe God is pointing us towards home today. I believe that, no matter who we are or where we are, God wants us to move back home. He wants us to come back to where we belong. And Joel gives us three directives that reach out to us wherever we are. First, Joel tells us that It’s Never Too Late to Come Home. Look again at verse 12: “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning….” English translations miss the force of the Hebrew in the opening phrase “even now.” It is a strong adversative, a big “but” that cancels out and makes conditional the chaos of the Day of the Lord that the prophet just talked about. The locusts have ravaged Israel. The end is coming and is even in sight because Israel strayed from God’s path. But….even now…. “Come home,” is God’s cry. What none could have hoped or believed possible, God still invites you to the hope of salvation. God is signaling the possibility of a reversal of our sinful fortunes.

Sometimes we feel that we have strayed too far from God to ever return to Him. How could he let us back in the Kingdom? “Don’t you know what I’ve done? Don’t you see the chaos and damage in my life?” But, like His call to Israel, God beckons us to return. If we allow God to change us then we can escape the final judgment. If we allow God to change us then we can see the reversal of the devastation of sin in our lives. It is never to late to come home.

Second, Joel tells us that Returning to God Requires More Than an Outward Show – it Takes an Inward Change. Look again at verse 13: “And rend your heart and not your garments, Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness and relenting of evil.” Let there be the inward sorrow of heart, and not the mere outward manifestation of it by “rending the garment” When God led Israel through the conquest of Canaan, Israel lost a battle at Ai because of the greed and sin of Achan. Joshua did not know why they lost the battle and so showed an outward sign of humility and sorrow before God.

Sometimes, though, we go through outward shows of humility and repentance but we do not let that condition become a condition of our hearts! God doesn’t want an empty show, but a sincere turning of our hearts and lives. Turning towards God must be more than skin deep. I would venture to guess that all of us, at one time or another, have expressed sorrow but didn’t really mean it. If the heart is centered on God, faith and obedience will follow, for what comes out of the heart determines the whole manner of life. This is what Jesus talks about in the Gospel of Mark.

Where is your heart today?

The description of God in this verse (gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, etc.) is an ancient creed, showing up 8 times in the OT (also in Exodus, Numbers, Nehemiah, 2 Psalms, Jonah, and Nahum). Loving kindness is a translation of the Hebrew hesed – it has more the idea of action based on relationship. It is God’s action towards man because of the covenant relationship. If these are the characteristics of God, we should strive to make these our characteristics too! God has the right to punish, yet he offers grace, compassion, etc.

Joel’s final comment to us is that, when we come back to God, we need to Go Big or Go Home!. Look again at verse 15-17 ~ “Blow a trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, gather the people, sanctify the congregation, Assemble the elders, Gather the children and the nursing infants, Let the bridegroom come out of his room And the bride out of her bridal chamber….” Joel calls for a big deal in the return of Israel. Blow the horn. Announce. Gather the people. Weep before the Lord. These are strong words regarding gathering an entire nation together to mourn, weep, and repent! Israel needs to go big in its return.

To be sanctified is to be set apart for the purposes of God. The assembly isn’t only to relieve the people of the suffering under the plague, but to bring about God’s purposes for them. This isn’t about an insecure God protecting a shaky reputation. The sole purpose of Israel’s life (and ours) is to glorify God. When our lives are preserved and transformed, God’s power and mercy are magnified before the world.

It is never too late to come home. Returning to God requires more than an outward show – it takes an inward change. Finally, go big or go home. This is God’s call to Israel through the prophet Joel. This is God’s call to us in the midst of our own lives! In Luke 15, Jesus tells people a story about a lost son who finds his way home. And the son’s father, upon seeing the son walking home, rushes out to greet the boy and welcome him back. Our heavenly Father is no less excited and waiting expectantly for us to turn our backs to the world and begin walking home! Examine you life. How much chaos is there? Where have the locusts of sin and self left you barren and suffering? How has the spiritual drought left you thirsty and hungry for something more, for something real? God is waiting for you to come home. The entire point of the cross is so that you and I can be reconciled to God! Embrace the cross. Chris Tomlin writes in his song “Come Home Running,”

So come home running, His arms are open wide, His name is Jesus – He understands, He is the answer you are looking for, so come home running just as you are.

It’s never too late to go home…

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