What Does it Mean to Live Under the Law?

It’s Monday Grace!

Some people think the law means the Ten Commandments. Some think it means the rituals required of the Jews during worship. Some suggest that living under any set of rules is living under law, even the rules of your country, even rules of parents.

But when Paul refers to the law and to those still living under it, he is not limited to any of these. He is referring to a system whereby people seek to please or even impress God. Those under the law, in Paul’s heart, are those still trying to win God’s favor by their behavior.

You see, the key word in the phrase is “under.” The law still exists and still has value. I know that some grace folks will say otherwise, but Paul made it clear that he was not “without law,” but “under grace” because of Christ. (1 Cor 9:21) We are still to follow the Ten Commandments, for example. We are, in Christ, not to steal or kill or lie or neglect those for whom we have responsibility. In fact, if we do these things, we will suffer earthly consequences. Abusers, thieves, murderers, and other criminals—whether Christians or not—can and should be punished by earthly courts using earthly methods. God is under no obligation to intervene so that believers escape or avoid these moral punishments.

But God has placed Himself under obligation to remain with the believer through the earthly punishment. Why? Because the believer is under grace! Even the believer who sins is not rejected or disqualified because God’s grace is sufficient.

You see, the law has not gone away. There are many people who remain under the law. They may work to make God notice them, to like them. They are trying to earn their salvation (or, at least, God’s favor) by their behavior. If they are moral unbelievers, they think their efforts should count in their favor. If they are believers, they are under grace, but they might not know that or accept it because of bad teaching or an unwillingness to release their guilt to the Lord. They place themselves under the law because they think they should earn what God has already given them.

So, there are two groups of people who live under the law, unbelievers and foolish believers. Neither of them will ever find peace, not as long as they continue to strive for what God gives freely. The first group, the unbelievers, work hard and lay the offering of their efforts before the Lord. They ask Him if they have done enough. He says that their works are not enough, that they can only be saved through trusting in the free gift of the Son’s sufficient sacrifice. The second group, foolish believers, work hard and lay their efforts before the Lord. They ask Him if they have done enough. He says that their works are not enough, but they have already received the gift of His Son’s sufficient sacrifice.

Some will say that at least it is good for them to try. There must be some good in their efforts, they say. God should take that into account somehow. But God has no interest in their efforts if they refuse to accept what He has already done for them. By rejecting His work for them (or neglecting to use it as the basis for their life) they commit sin against Him. It might be a better world for the rest of us if they are trying to be good, but it profits them nothing.

To be under the law, either by nature (unbelievers) or by choice (foolish believers) is to be condemned to a life of working without accomplishment, of striving without victory. No victory is possible for those under the law because victory is found only through Jesus. So the streets are full of people in despair and grief because they feel rejected and ashamed, while the churches are full of the same kind of people. To come to Jesus and not fully accept or believe the gospel of grace is more than foolish, it is just sad.

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Let Your Parents Go

It’s Narcissist Friday!

“God could raise children in the woods and bring them out as adults, but He has things to teach parents.”

D. O.

Over the years, people have watched our family and have asked if I was going to write a book on parenting. My answer has always been that I am not done yet. Even though all my children are adults, parenting never seems to be over. It isn’t that they need me, but that I need them. I learn as I watch them, even now. I am encouraged to see their reasoning processes and frustrated when I don’t have the big answers they need. I stand ready to help, but find that they are usually quite able to handle life on their own.

Parenting happens in stages, I suppose. In the beginning, parents provide almost everything. By the end, almost nothing. In between, there is a process of negotiation. And all along the way there is the give and take of respect, compassion, and provision.

There are no good parenting classes or books. I know that’s blunt and somewhat discouraging. It also flies in the face of common thought. I know that some teachers are better than others in some respects. I also know that books and classes can only teach generalities. Parenting relationships are specific.

There are things to remember about parenting. First, every parent brings a past into their relationship with their children. There are things about your parents you don’t know, things you will never know. If you grew up knowing your grandparents, you might have noticed some things that help you understand your parents. But don’t forget that grandparents came with baggage also.

We have studied our family history in serious depth. We know a lot about our ancestors’ names and the places they lived. We might even know what their jobs were, and history can tell us a little of what their daily lives were like. But we never knew their hearts. We don’t know what they feared, what they lost, what drove them forward into life. We don’t know what dreams were shattered or how they felt about themselves. We don’t know how they got along together, whether the ones they were with were gentle or cruel. And, believe me, all of those things affected how they related to their children.

As you get older, you look at your parents and wonder about these things. At least you should. You should release them from the little parenting box they have been in and begin to see them as real people. You should begin to understand that their attitudes and actions came out of the environment that molded them, just as yours did for you.

When you do this, you may not like what you see. Some people were just bad parents. They were cruel or inattentive or controlling. All parents were bad at parenting sometimes. They had their own struggles to carry and perhaps little time or interest for yours. Sometimes they let their children go too early, sending them into a world for which they were poorly prepared. Sometimes they held their children too long, doing for their children what the children should have learned to do for themselves.

And they didn’t know what to do. Very few parents taught their children how to parent. The books they read, if there were any, didn’t talk about the struggles they had raising you in your environment. Let’s face it, every generation has its own struggles.

Add to that the fact, indisputable fact, that every child is different. You were not like your brother or sister. The things that helped your siblings might not have helped you and vice-versa. Your parents, even if they tried hard, were in far over their heads. Families are complicated.

You see, if you carry anger toward your parents, or if you seek desperately to gain their respect, or if you are still wanting what you think you should have had from them, be careful. There are people who would take advantage of this chink in your armor. If your relationship with your parents is a weak spot in your heart, someone may come along to pretend to fill that need. That may open you to abuse or manipulation.

So, I say, let your parents go. Learn to see them as people. If they failed you, I’m sorry. Move on in spite of their failure. You have no right to expect them to be any more than you will be to your children. In fact, you may not be able to expect that, since you have learned from their bad example. They had their parents to teach them. If you got something more than your parents had, they might have done something right.

Don’t blame your parents for who you are today. Whatever they did, you are already moving past it. Whatever they failed to do, you seem to have done alright without. If you make mistakes in life, it will not be their fault. You are making choices now. Make better ones.

If you disagree with their values, that’s fine. But you should respect their right to have those values, and they should respect yours. They may not understand why you choose differently from them, but they have to let you go. You may not understand why they made their choices, but you also have to let them go.

I hope you can always have a good relationship with your parents. Letting them go may be part of that. Some parents, however, are so broken that their children have to separate from them. Some parents become so bitter and controlling that their children have to find health apart from them. It may be that you will break a pattern of abuse and brokenness by that separation. You will honor your parents best by not allowing them to continue their brokenness through you.

Perhaps one of the reasons we call God our Father is so that we understand that the only true parenting in our lives is what He has provided as we looked to Him. This was His desire from the beginning. It was the separation of our first parents that began the lineage of challenge for us. The very best any parent can do is to lead his or her children to the Lord.

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.
Exodus 20:12

When my father and my mother forsake me, Then the LORD will take care of me.
Psalm 27:10

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What Does It Mean to Have Eternal Life?

It’s Monday Grace!

Christian teachers use the term “eternal life” with little definition, as though everyone knows what it means. And, of course, most people just think it means to live forever. But then we die.

Some people have been taught to believe that eternal life begins after they die. That makes some sense. It fits with a yet-to-be-determined result of judgment. You live your life, then you die. Then you are judged. Then you learn whether you rest in Heaven or burn in Hell. Yikes! And yet, that’s what so many have been taught.

The message of the gospel is quite different—and wonderful.

The life the Scriptures teach is life the way we are supposed to live it. Life as it was given to us—before we died. Remember that the Scriptures teach that we died when sin entered the world. That’s just what God told Adam would happen. At this point, we usually make a distinction between spiritual life and physical life. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help much since no one explains what spiritual life is.

So, let me give it a shot.

When God created humans, they were meant to live forever. Something was radically different about them, something that connected them to Him. When they sinned, they lost their “life connection” to God. They continued to breath and walk around, but now they suffered pain and death. That was new. Pain and death were the result of losing their “life connection” to the Lord. Frustration, betrayal, hatred, sadness, and all the other negative emotions came from that loss. In fact, and I don’t have time to go into this, all of them are expressions of that loss.

At that point, God considered them to have died. All humanity after them was born into death, without the life connection to God. That means that separation from God was the natural and normal state of humanity. The Scripture blames it all on sin, both the first sin and all following sin. People are dead apart from Jesus.

But what exactly is that life that our first parents experienced in the Garden? It may actually be beyond human description, but it is the real life, the life that Jesus lived. It has substance, wonder, and power. It is beyond time and physical limitation. That life connection with God is the flow of His life in us. Eternal life.

When Jesus exchanged His life for our death, when He died on the cross so that we could receive His life in us, He became our life. In Him was life, and He is in us. The life that flows in believers today is the life of Jesus. Eternal life.

So, believers receive eternal life the moment they believe. Eternal life is not about existing forever. It is about experiencing, owning, the life God meant for us to have. This is why we speak of restoration, even though what is restored is something we, as individuals, never had. This is why we speak of being found, even though we never knew ourselves to be lost. It was possible for us to continue to exist in this world apart from God and not realize we were dead.

But every believer knows that something changed when they came to the Lord. I realize that there are people who grew up knowing and trusting Jesus and cannot remember a conversion experience. That’s okay and valid. In fact, that’s exactly what I wanted for my children and grandchildren. But the majority of us today know a before and after, and there is something about the after that is profoundly different. Even if we have never experienced the wonder, our hearts know the wonder is there.

And, yes, because Jesus is God and God is eternal, the life in us is also eternal. We will never lose this life. It is something other than physical life and carries us past physical death to something new and good. What we will experience in Heaven will be something like what our first parents experienced in the Garden, but will never end.

Perhaps this opens the door to a host of other questions. That’s fine. The answer for today is that eternal life is that “life connection” to God that is restored in Jesus and will never end. After our physical life here ends, we will be free to experience a life more full and wonderful than we have ever imagined. Eternal life is found in the grace of Jesus Christ.

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You Are the Pearl

It’s Narcissist Friday!

What if you were the most beautiful thing in the world? More beautiful than flowers or crystals or sunsets or anything in nature? What if the heart of God looked at you and was blessed?

That’s not far from the truth, is it? The only difference is that you share that beauty with every other person. Humanity is the pinnacle of God’s creation, the best of all. And that means you.

Jesus told the story of a man who found a beautiful pearl in his travels. It was the most wonderful treasure he had ever seen. Its value was beyond imagination. Yet, it was for sale. The man immediately decided to sell everything he had to purchase the pearl.

That’s where the story ends. What did the man do with the pearl? We are left with the thought that the man just enjoyed the beautiful pearl for the rest of his life. Nothing else mattered.

And, in the real world, that seems like a silly story. What did the man have to live on after that? He sold everything to get the pearl. What value was the pearl to him if he couldn’t gain income or resale from it? He would have to protect it from thieves, take care when viewing it, and dedicate the rest of his life to having that pearl. The practical side of us has a hard time connecting with the story.

But the story is not about marketing, it’s about love.

And YOU ARE THE PEARL!

Jesus was talking about the kingdom of Heaven. The Father seeks the lost to bring them home. He reaches out to them in love. He paid the price, Jesus on the cross, to redeem us from the bondage of sin. Jesus suffered and died, with joy in His heart, to bring us to the Father.

Why? Was it so that we would be useful? Was it so that we would work for the Father? No, it was so that He could enjoy us forever. He just wanted us with Him. He paid the price because He loved us.

When God chose the nation of Israel, it was not because of their usefulness.

For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 7:6-8

Legalists and narcissists and many others see you for your usefulness. As long as you are useful to them, you will be valuable. When that usefulness goes away, for whatever reason, they will abandon you for another. Abusers never connect with you because of love.

But God loves you. He sees you as a person and values you as a treasure. He is not against you because of your sin. He washes your sin away. He does not welcome you because of what you can do for Him. He just loves you. And, yes, that mystery is beyond our understanding.

So, I would have you always consider yourself to be that “pearl of great price.” When you think of yourself, remember that God gave His best to bring you to Himself. No one can diminish your value. Criticisms, betrayals, rejection: these things only show that others do not see your value because they look only at themselves. Don’t accept their judgments.

Remember who you are.

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What Does it Mean to be Saved?

It’s Monday Grace!

“Saved from what?”

If you ask someone today whether they are saved, you would probably get a question in response. “Saved from what?” Interestingly, many Christians don’t have an answer to that question. In fact, the answer is somewhat complicated.

In the past, you might answer that people could be saved from hell, and most everyone would have an idea what that was. People understood that they would someday face the judgment of God. They admitted their sins but didn’t know what to do about them. Christians had the privilege of showing them the love of God in Jesus.

But the person on the street today may truly have little context in which to understand anything about salvation. As the Christian culture wanes, new teaching or apologetic ministries reach out to welcome unbelievers into discussion about spiritual matters. Understanding that the old pressures and ultimatums don’t work, Christians today must begin to talk of the reality of God and the struggle of the human soul.

So, out in the world, the question of whether someone is saved is rarely helpful. But among believers or in the context of the church, understanding what it means to be saved is not only useful, but important. There are those who would rob us of the hope we have in Jesus by confusing the basic things we believe.

What does it mean to be saved? “Saved from what?” is a fair question. The idea of being saved is not just something evangelicals made up. It was used extensively by Jesus and by Paul. The idea runs through the Old Testament and through all of history. The need for a Savior is a basic need of the heart.

We should understand. The cry for salvation comes from every human heart in times of trouble. We need someone to reach into our lives and pull us out of the struggle. It might be financial or relationship or health or addiction or anything. We need a Savior. When the people of Israel faced a powerful enemy, they cried out for salvation. When there was a famine in the land or a widespread disease, they called for deliverance. We do the same thing in our personal lives.

The idea of God as Savior reaches to every struggle of our lives. It is His desire to deliver us from trouble. Throughout the Bible we read of Him reaching out with help to those who are falling.

So, to be saved means to accept the deliverance God offers. Who might call on the Lord and receive deliverance? The answer to that gives us an idea of the extent of God’s salvation.

The wicked call on Him and are saved from the consequences of their sin.

The lost call on Him and are saved from their wandering and dissipation.

The dying call on Him and are saved from eternal separation in hell.

The disobedient call on Him and are saved from eternal judgment.

The oppressed call on Him and are saved from their suffering.

The specific need might be expressed differently by different people, but the Savior is still the same. Whatever the world offers can only be temporary and only for this life. True salvation, true deliverance, needs a real Savior.

What are we saved from? All of these things and more. We have little concept of the trouble we were in apart from Jesus. He reached into our lives and pulled us out to Himself. He recreated us as new creatures and prepared a place for us with Him forever. What might have happened without the Savior? We only know what we could understand.

To be saved means to belong to Jesus because He did what was necessary to deliver us from our trouble. And we are grateful.

1 Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. 2 Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from the hand of the enemy, 3 and gathered out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. 4 They wandered in the wilderness in a desolate way; they found no city to dwell in. 5 Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. 6 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses. 7 And He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city for a dwelling place. 8 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! 9 For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness. 10 Those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, bound in affliction and irons– 11 Because they rebelled against the words of God, and despised the counsel of the Most High, 12 Therefore He brought down their heart with labor; they fell down, and there was none to help. 13 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. 14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and broke their chains in pieces. 15 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men! 16 For He has broken the gates of bronze, and cut the bars of iron in two. 17 Fools, because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, were afflicted. 18 Their soul abhorred all manner of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. 19 Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses. 20 He sent His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. 21 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!
Psalm 107:1-21

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One Love is Enough

It’s Narcissist Friday!

We live in a world filled with love songs. Some of them share the wonder and beauty of reciprocated love. Some of them share the pain of separation. Some of them try to move us to fill our hearts with special relationships. But those who are alone find these songs hard.

We live in a world that almost worships romantic love. Movies, books, television, radio, besides nearly every facet of the internet. They all promote romance as the most important relationship. From the youngest ages, children are encouraged to think of relationships that go beyond just friends.

There is much wrong with this, but perhaps the most harmful thing is to make those who are single to feel as though they are somehow less than others. When you begin to feel like you are missing out, that you are not desirable enough, or find yourself longing for something you think you should have, be careful. That’s when the abusers come to take advantage of you.

Narcissists and other abusers are predators. They look for people who don’t feel good about themselves. That’s why it is so important for you to love yourself and accept yourself. But they also take advantage of your loneliness. They will offer to give you love, but they will just use you to satisfy their own desires. They know nothing of love and don’t care how they hurt you to get what they want.

Everyone has a built-in need for relationship. From the very beginning, God said that it is not good for us to be alone. Community, love, camaraderie: these are important to our health. We need others.

It may be that you will find and enjoy a special and very long relationship with someone who will love you and support you. Someone with whom you can walk through life. That is a good thing. But it is not for everyone. Some will not get married or will spend years without that kind of companionship and love.

That does not mean you will be alone.

There is One who is always with you and who fully loves you. You can learn to walk in His presence and enjoy His embrace. You can talk with Him and listen to Him. You can learn to fill your life with His love. And that one love is enough.

Focus on that one love. Build it, cultivate it, enjoy it. Never think that it is anything less than the most real love of all. In fact, never think that any other love will compare. That one love is your life, now and forever.

Some people will go through their whole lives satisfied and filled with this one love. Just them and Jesus. It will be enough. It may be that Jesus will lead you to another, and that “three-fold cord will not be quickly broken.” But the most special love you share with another can never be as deep or full as that one love with the Savior. His life flows in you, and it always will. From that love all other loves must flow.

One love is enough. Never let the romantic love the world promotes be the goal of your life. Never feel that you are less if you don’t find that. If you do, that will be a good thing. If you don’t, the one love will make you whole and fulfilled.

“I am my beloved’s, and he is mine.”
Song of Songs 6:3

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What Does it Mean to Trust in Jesus?

It’s Monday Grace!

Sometimes I wonder why we have to remember our past, the life we lived apart from Jesus. What good does it do for us to remember those things, those stupid decisions and immoral actions? I know that some people say we remember those things to keep us humble, so that we are constantly ashamed before God. What a terrible way to live!

No, I think it is to remind us of how poorly we did when we made our own decisions without regard to the Lord’s will. It is not to shame us, but to keep us aware of our daily, moment by moment, need for an active Savior. It wouldn’t take much for us to fall into the same holes again, would it?

Living the Christian life is a process of learning to trust Jesus. I have told people that, if they don’t know how to listen to Him, to hear His voice, they should dedicate the rest of their lives to learning. The desire of our hearts should be to follow Him, not just because that is right, but because we remember how we messed things up apart from Him.

Trusting Jesus means to believe He is alive and active. He did not stay dead after the cross. Nor is He a God far away. He is near to us, with us, every moment of every day. No matter where we go, Jesus is with us. That’s what He promised when He said He would be with us always.

Trusting Jesus means to begin living the life we will live in Heaven. I don’t know a lot about our life in Heaven, but I know we will be with Jesus. There will be no sin, because we will live fully in His presence and sin will no longer be a part of our lives. Today, sin is our defeated foe with no power over us. We sin because we are used to sinning, but we don’t have to. And we are in the constant presence of Jesus. So, our life here is a hint, a foreshadowing, of our life in glory if we trust Jesus.

Trusting Jesus brings peace to our lives because we no longer have to worry. Think about that. Jesus loves you. He is wiser than you, stronger than you, and more loving than you. He will lead you into the right decisions. You can relax as you walk with Him. That’s what it means to enter His rest. Trust that the results of the efforts He leads you to do will be just what He wants them to be. There is no longer any failure. He is never disappointed as you follow Him.

Trusting Jesus brings joy to our lives because we have Someone who always loves us and works for our good. Every day we will see His activity for us, His grace. Seeing Him and being reminded of His presence is a great blessing to us.

So, trusting Jesus is simple. It is like trusting your father or mother should have been, especially when you were little. It isn’t giving up, but giving over. We stop pushing and trying so hard when we trust Him.

Finally, Heaven is ours because of Jesus. You no longer have to worry about death and judgment. People might warn you, even the church might work against your assurance, but Jesus has saved you, and He will get you through. Jesus is your guarantee of Heaven. His righteousness. His obedience. His perfection. He gave it all to you when you became His.

So, trust Him!

In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 1:11-14

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Hold Your Friends Loosely

It’s Narcissist Friday!

At certain times in our lives, friends are the anchor to the world outside our family or even our own minds. Friends reveal parts of who we are, parts that are often overlooked in the layers of family relationships. Friends see us differently than family does. Too often, for parents and siblings, we are an echo of themselves. They see so much of themselves in us, that they fail to see us as separate from them. But friends offer that detachment that allows us to discover more about ourselves.

But let’s define a friend. To put it simply, a friend is someone at the right place and time to be an encouragement to you. By that definition, family members can be friends. So can chance and short-term acquaintances. Someone at work. Someone on the street. Someone you may never meet again.

Friendships are made of kindness and respect. In shared circumstances, certain people will affirm who you are and walk with you for a while. You will learn about them and they will learn about you and, in the process, you will learn about yourself. When they are no longer part of your life, you are still richer because of the time you had with them.

What that also means is that friends can be temporary connections. As important as friends are, it is also important to hold them loosely. Because of the special role of friends in your life, you will want to cultivate friend relationships where you are. There will be times when you have almost nothing in common with a friend except the special circumstances you are in at the moment. You may experience a wonderful connection with someone and never meet them again. You may not even remember his or her name.

As you grow older, you will find that you have only a few life-long friends. Many people have no connections from their childhood. Many move and leave friends behind with few or no continuing relationships. And those few people who continue to be friends over many years often need little contact to maintain the readiness for the next time you meet.

Some people, of course, never move away from their childhood community. They maintain connections with certain friends all their lives. At the same time, new people move into the community or neighborhood and become new friends. Old friends move away or pass away. Friendships come and go.

And that’s good. That’s how it should be.

Never allow your friendships to become exclusive. Sometimes people want to control you by chaining you to them and separating you from others. If you decide in advance that you will never abandon one friend for another, these abusers will find it harder to manipulate you. When an issue arises, try to maintain friendships on both sides. Your friends do not have to support your political position or even your Christian faith. However, neither should they be allowed to disrespect your choices.

When someone wants to take all your time and becomes jealous of others in your life, that person becomes toxic to you. If you have held the friendship loosely, you will be able to separate from them when necessary without guilt. They may become angry, but that will be more evidence that it is time to walk away.

Some people think that your spouse should be your only friend. The exclusive relationship you have with your spouse is different from what you have with friends. Your spouse should be your friend, even your best friend, but you have the right and the need to maintain other friendships. In fact, good friends will lead you back to the commitment you made to your spouse and to the Lord. Good friendships outside your marriage will be good for your marriage.

Stay away from those who don’t respect you. There will always be people who attach to you to make themselves look good. They will expect you to serve them and obey them. They will use your resources and energy. And they will call themselves your friends. Avoid them by holding all friendships loosely. When the time comes for you to realize what they are doing, you will be able to walk away.

And take into consideration the character of your friends. You do not have to go with them into sin. If they make foolish choices, their hold on you should not be enough to make you join them. Hold them loosely so that you can let go when you need to.

Friends are important. Be someone who respects others and enjoys the differences they present to your life. Then others will be drawn to you. I hope you have lots of friends throughout your life, people who lift you up and encourage you. Perhaps people who challenge your thinking and stretch your perspective. People you can encourage and bless as well. Others will need friends as much as you do. Be a friend for them.

The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray.
Proverbs 12:26

Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend, nor go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity; better is a neighbor nearby than a brother far away.
Proverbs 27:10

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What Does it Mean to Live by Formulas?

It’s Monday Grace!

There are some funny things on the Internet. If you sort through the garbage piles, you really do find some treasures. One of the things I have enjoyed is the side by side photos of how a craft or cooking project was supposed to look and how it really turned out. On the first side, the person who wrote the instructions shows this beautiful finished project. On the other, the follower shows how the project turned out for them. Sometimes the two do not look alike at all.

That seems to be the way it often th runs out with formulas. One person can follow a recipe and get one thing, while another seems to get something less. In the mathematical and scientific world, formulas should work. In fact, our lives almost depend on certain formulas. Any medicine or chemical or manufactured object we use is the result of a formula. Even though we might find it hard to follow a recipe or the instructions to a project, we expect formulas to work. If they don’t, we either didn’t do it correctly, or we need a different formula.

Formulas depend on two things. First, they are based on cause and effect. If you do this, then you will get that. One always follows the other. Generally, this means the formula has been tested many times and the reasons for the result are understood. If you invest X amount of dollars at X interest you will have X dollars at a certain time. Mathematical. If you mix this chemical with that chemical in the right proportions, you will have this reaction. Scientific.

Second, formulas must take into account all the factors. People who move to the mountains are often surprised to learn that altitude affects recipes. Humidity, air pressure, temperature all affect physical formulas. Control of environment is crucial to effective formulas.

Formulas take away the guesswork. That’s the point. No one wants to mix together a bunch of ingredients in preparation for supper without having a reasonably certain idea of how the dish will turn out. Do it right, and it will turn out right.

But what if we are talking about something other than physical formulas? What about raising children, for example? We would love to have a formula, wouldn’t we? Do this and get that. But the formulas we have been given don’t always work. Children are different. They don’t react the same to the formula ingredients. And there are so many factors in our environment that we can’t control them all. Things happen outside our knowledge and oversight. Formulas for raising children rarely come with guarantees. The same is true for spouses, even employees. People don’t respond well to formulas.

And what about pleasing God and finding favor with Him? Will God respond to a formula? What do you think? Personally, I think God actively resists formulas. If a formula could control God’s response, isn’t that formula stronger than God?

Well, whatever you think of that, the church has offered formulas for following God for many centuries. Just do the rituals, believe the right things, say the right words at the right times, and God has to bless you. Go to church, give the right offering, serve in the right ways, and be good according to some definition of goodness, and you will get to go to Heaven. You might even be blessed in this life. Do this and get that. Guaranteed.

Only it doesn’t work that way. It never has. No matter how much you might like to follow a formula for your spirituality, there are none. No matter how widely or fervently a formula is believed, there are none that work.

You see, people resist formulas. There is a wildness in every human relationship, an unpredictable and uncontrollable quality in every person. That’s especially true of God. He is a Person, and we relate to Him as a Person. If you think of God as an object or a project or an idea, you will be disappointed. Your plans will never quite come together. As I said, God resists a formula relationship.

The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.
Psalm 33:10

Formula Christianity is probably the most popular approach to God in the world and history. God sent a list of rules through Moses to prove that formulas don’t work. To save us, God sent His Son.

If people could influence God by formulas, the Pharisees of Jesus’ time would have ruled Heaven. But they didn’t even recognize the Son of God when He walked among them. Their formulas had been used and taught for hundreds of years, but they didn’t work. Formula spirituality simply does not work. The only thing that works, the only One who saves, is Jesus.

If you want to know more about this, check out “When the Formula Fails.”

Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, But they have sought out many schemes.
Ecclesiastes 7:29

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You Know Someone Bigger

It’s Narcissist Friday!

Robert Wadlow was 8’ 11.1” tall and still growing when he died at the age of 22 in 1940. Not a myth. Not a legend. A real person who looked like a giant to the people who knew him.

Some people think the Bible exaggerates the size of the giant Goliath who terrified the armies of Israel when David was a young man. We are told that he was over nine feet tall, nearly double David’s height. Robert Wadlow would have reached nine feet if it were not for the infection his body could not handle. Perhaps Goliath was not a myth either.

So, how could David stand up to such a giant? How could David dare to face the one everyone else feared so much?

David could face Goliath because David knew Someone bigger.

When he was just 9 years old, Robert Wadlow was big enough and strong enough to carry his father in a chair up a flight of stairs. Imagine having him as a friend when the bully came to pick on you. As long as you were with Robert, you would have been safe, right? And you would have felt safe. It helps to know Someone bigger, Someone who loves you.

There will always be bullies. Sometimes they will pick on you to get what they want. They may hurt you and make you sad. But you must always remember that there is Someone bigger than the bullies. And that Person loves you.

Abusers rule by intimidation. That means they try to make you timid, afraid. We are naturally afraid of those who are bigger or stronger than us, particularly those who are willing to hurt us to get what they want. But the narcissists and abusers, the cruel people who want to hurt us, are not as big as that Friend who loves us.

When the people of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, the spies came back with a hard report. They had seen giants. They told their people that they felt like grasshoppers when they compared themselves to the giants. But, you see, that was the wrong comparison. They should have compared the giants to the Lord who was leading them.

You must always remember that you know Someone bigger. Bigger than the bullies. Bigger than the oppressors. Bigger than the narcissists. Someday, those cruel people will have to stand before your Friend, and, believe me, they will seem very small.

There is Someone bigger than the giants you face today. Someone with more resources, more wisdom, more strength, more authority. He is wise and good, but He won’t jump when you snap your fingers. He is not yours to control. He is bigger than you and me. So the Lord doesn’t always do what we want, but He always loves us. We can trust Him to be wiser than our reason and stronger than our problems.

When you face your struggles, whether they are people or circumstances, remember that you know Someone bigger. You don’t have to be afraid or intimidated. Set your course to walk with Jesus and don’t let the bullies push you off that path. When the bullies look big, compare them to Jesus. Trust Him. He knows what you need, and He promises to be with you. You may not be strong enough to handle your problems, but He is. Lean on Him; walk with Him; trust in Him.

For who in the heavens can be compared to the LORD? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened to the LORD? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him. O LORD God of hosts, Who is mighty like You, O LORD? Your faithfulness also surrounds You. You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, You still them.
Psalm 89:6-9

Want to know more about Robert Wadlow?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Wadlow

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