Saturday, June 27, 2009

Principle or Precept… You decide!

As I consider the Word of the Lord for today (actually tomorrow), my thoughts go back to a conversation I had with God this last week. Oh stop, I’m not the only one that has conversations with God and most of the time I do it out loud.

What we were talking about was the difference between principle and precept. In a nutshell the difference is this. Principles are derived from bits and pieces of wisdom teaching. Not always visible to the naked eye or brain, but they’re there. Often they are a compilation of precepts. Precepts are things that God lists in clear language like commands or admonitions that He expects us to follow or obey.

Law is precept. Yet there are laws buried deep in principles that God gives. If we decide to follow God’s principles, it’s very likely we’ll be following many if not all of His laws. But just because we follow certain precepts or laws, it doesn’t necessarily mean we are living by principle or even wisdom.

Let me go a bit deeper.

As a pastor, teacher, prophet and part time evangelist (not to mention being a husband, father, painter, carpenter, handyman, office manager and all around good guy) life is very compressed for me. I’m tired much of the time and the amount of time that is given to prayer and study of the Word is far less than ideal. As a matter of fact, because I work outside of the church to earn the majority of my living, I’m deeply saddened that I don’t get more time to do such necessary work.

As a result the bottom line is this: Preaching the precepts of God is way easier and requires far less study time than preaching principle(s). Yet herein lays my dilemma. People need far less of God’s precepts as they do His principles. For precepts (dos and don’ts) only go so far. Most often they become prohibitions that we who are religious use to control each others behavior. But it rarely works in the long run. And it’s usually fraught with guilt and condemnation. I think that’s very wrong.

Principles are what people really need to live by (core values maybe). Principles are the why behind God’s precepts. Principles are where the real wisdom of God is found. But principles require a greater amount of time in the depths of God’s gold mine – the Bible, and time on our knees before the thrown of Grace.

Reference, cross reference, compare and contrast, pray, think, write, re-write, pray and pray more and study a bit more. Internalize the Truth you’re mining from the Holy Ghost mother load. Yet all of this TAKES HUGE AMOUNTS OF TIME and EFFORT!!!

So what do I end up doing? I find simple precepts and cast them at my sheep. I don’t know if it helps them live better, but I figure I’m not gonna be held to blame if people don’t know what God expects from them. Right?

But that’s the problem, Jesus took the Law and lived it and fulfilled it. All the precepts of God that are necessary for an eternal and earthly relationship with God are fulfilled in Christ. Can you see the problem I’m dealing with?

Now we need the Wisdom of God that comes as we live by principle and not simple precept alone. Precepts like law will bring death if that’s all we have. Principles become the path by which we travel our lives, the path that leads to life and freedom.

So even as I type these words, my heart is broken. Because less and less of God’s people are learning and living by principle. More and more of God’s precepts are being used, but often to little avail. Oh not because they’re powerless, but because principle is what remains even when we can’t live by precept alone.

Principle keeps me loyal to God, because therein are found the stones on which I can build my life. Therein is found the basis of all our faith. Therein is found the proof of what God teaches in His precepts.

So the next time you opt out for the supposedly easy road of living by Law, stop and ask yourself: WHY would God command me in this manner? Maybe if you ask that question, He will lead you into the principles that uphold the precept. And you will discover that all things are lawful, but not all things are expedient… because principles matter and wisdom is real!

Well I better go find some more principles to bring with me to the pulpit in the morning!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Strive No More

I was just listing to an old Keith Green song When I Hear the Praises Start and it flipped a switch inside me. It reminded me once again that all of my striving is in vain. The best of my efforts can never hold a candle to the power and majesty of the work Christ did on the cross.

My head can’t seem to get around that truth, but that really doesn’t matter. What matters is the Work that Christ did in my stead. Because I could not, He did. He did what He did so that I may find rest and comfort in Him alone, so that my rest and comfort are not contingent upon living comfortably. Because more often than not, living comfortably is elusive at best and at worst it is expensive, vain and empty.

Let me ask you, do you know the difference between comfort and comfortable?

Most of us don’t, until all hell breaks loose and the comfortable explodes into chaos and loss. For those baptized in loss, God’s truth seems rather amazing, almost impossible. That we can, in and through Christ, find comfort even when we are not comfortable with outward circumstances?

Over thirty years ago, my youth pastor Jerry Holte, coached a handful of disciples to memorize scripture. Not so we could attain some kudos from God, but that we may know the freedom that only comes from the promises of God. That we may know genuine comfort, despite the fact that life can sometimes be uncomfortable. Because in life there are often great losses, yet God promises comfort from Heaven.

The passage of scripture that stuck with me was Philippians 4:13. I won’t quote it because maybe you could look it up and read the context for yourself. But the Apostle Paul was teaching the truth about God’s comfort and strength – with or without the comfortable things of life. Paul was teaching us that as we cease our striving for the comfortable, we can find genuine comfort in and through Christ our Lord. That truth is just as real to me today as it was in 1977. I just needed a gentle reminder.

Thanks Keith, thanks Jerry, thanks Holy Spirit, thanks Dad.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

Is your soul at rest this hour? Are you striving for something that you cannot attain? Are you running life’s race in vain? Do you work hard and find little solace for your soul? Are you religious and fearful that you cannot ever measure up to God’s expectations? Are you emotionally tired? Are you feeling empty?

May I encourage you to go to Jesus? Consider this, being comfortable in life is of little significance if you do not have comfort of soul. If you have never known the Comfort that only comes from God the Father, as He draws near with Love and Grace, cry out today and receive. Tell Him you are tired of striving. Tell Him you need His Comfort more than you need to be comfortable. I promise you, He will deliver. You will find the Comfort that only He can supply.

So go ahead. Stop striving. Stop working to please an unattainable standard or formula and start relating to a Father who will come and slake your hunger and thirst for what only He can supply. Remember, comfort is about relationship. Comfortable is about stuff. Which would you rather have, greater relationship or more stuff?


Friday, June 5, 2009

True Repentance

In the New Testament John the Baptist and Jesus both inaugurate their place on the timeline of life and Kingdom purpose by including a word that is so often left out of our religious vernacular. Usually because we just don’t know or understand the real meaning of the word.

I’m no Greek scholar (that’s my brother-in-law Jac Perrin), but a simple understanding of the word in context can clarify our need for its use and application in many if not all areas of our lives.

Many people repent over the course of a lifetime. And most of the time it has little to do with God or their eternal destination.

Let me note the definition of repentance: to change one's mind, i.e. to repent; to change one's mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one's past sins.

"Repentance (metanoia, 'change of mind') involves a turning with contrition from sin to God; the repentant sinner is in the proper condition to accept the divine forgiveness." (F. F. Bruce. The Acts of the Apostles [Greek Text Commentary], London: Tyndale, 1952, p. 97.)

Let me elaborate on this matter that seems all too often like a bitter pill for many to swallow.

People all over the planet and all through human history have lived out the practice of repentance. How many of us have “changed our minds” for the better? Maybe we’ve changed jobs, changed relationships, changed our worldview on matters of conscience, and even changed brands despite long term loyalties to one product over another. Why?

Because we’re all looking for an upgrade and that upgrade only comes when we change our thinking about our present condition. Some might argue that they are content in all areas of their life and they aspire to no change or improvements, but I would suggest that by our very embrace of technology and lifestyle improvements, we’re all hooked like a first time crack user.

Whether it’s any of the things I’ve mentioned above or a myriad of other things we face in life, change happens and especially in our minds. And most of the time we’re not conscious of the progression.

Because thinking affects behavior, biblical sin begins with thinking that does not reflect God’s heart or mind. Granted, none of us could match God’s thinking prowess nor the depths of His heart, but because we are created (Imago Dei sorry I just like those words) in His image we are designed to be like Him.

When we stray from our original design and purpose (relationship with the Designer) therein emerges the element of sin. Make sense?

Because none of us can fully know Truth (until we meet Truth face to face) all we have is a collage of facts, ergo the joy and frustration of science and religion. Neither the greatest scientist nor the greatest theologian can fully get their minds around ALL the facts. Therefore, no one has cornered the market. Real Truth is the ability to know the beginning and the end. That is simply impossible for the human heart or mind to comprehend. All we can do is string together bits and pieces of facts (and even those can be suspect) then throw the dice and hope we don’t discover something that would cause us to repent of our thinking on previously held sacred ground.

If and when that happens, I mean the reassessment and realignment of our thinking on any matter for the better, we have repented. For this I have no fear. And I would challenge each of you readers to embrace the same.

Let me end with this. Ever wonder about the proliferation of gambling? People are looking for the ultimate upgrade. Despite the facts that the house always wins, people still gamble.

Facts have not ultimately stopped stupid human behavior nor have they raised the incidence of wisdom. Yet historically mankind has always sought for an upgrade. May I suggest that we all repent? Change our thinking. Come into alignment with the facts as we know them and fill in the gaps with faith. We cannot prove God’s existence, but we can marvel at the facts as presented and wonder with awe at the mysteries unexplained. And we cannot disprove God’s existence either, because the beauty of science is the use of a hypothesis. Of which leads us to the next hypothesis, and the next and the next and the next.

See the pattern? Repentance IS the fabric of advance, and in my case, the ultimate goal of reconnecting with God and living by His original design. When I’m wrong, deep in my heart I want to change. But entropy of the soul keeps me unrepentant. That’s when my faith in Jesus and what He came to do, kicks in.

As it stands, I’ve spent most of my life experiencing change of thinking for the better. When gaps exist in the continuum of facts, we tend to throw in theories (faith). My theory (an old and historic one) God IS and I’m not and Jesus is the Christ (the designed answer to fill in the gaps between the facts) and I want to know and experience Him as much as I possibly can… because I still want an upgrade. Don’t you?

Metanoia to All