Suggestions or Rules to Live By

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I must be honest, I don’t like to read instructions.  I would rather try to figure things out.  Recipes for me are guidelines or suggestions but not necessarily something that must be followed exactly…unless I am baking and then I follow the directions pretty closely.  Of course, the time in the oven is negotiable. Every oven is different so when I bake I have to get to know my oven.  I have figured out that chocolate chip cookies need 8 minutes and 20 seconds.  They are done perfectly with this amount of time…just a bit of crisp on the outside and soft in the middle.  Many times when I make something new and it tastes really good my family will ask, “Will it ever taste like this again?” since I don’t always follow a recipe exactly and I don’t write down my modifications the taste is not usually quite the same.  I guess it keeps them guessing.

God did not leave instructions in His word as suggestions to be taken in whatever way we want or pieced together in our own way.

He left exact instructions for us to follow.  As seen throughout the many pages and stories of peoples’ lives, when God’s instructions are not followed life does not go well.  Not following God’s directives results in punishment, broken relationships, hardships, and broken hearts.

Unlike my cooking and baking, we cannot play around with God’s directives and pick and choose how or when we want to implement them.  They were meant to be followed just as they were written.

…but serve the Lord with all your heart.  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.  For the Lord will not forsake His people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make a name for Himself.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and right way.  Only fear the Lord and serve Him faithfully with all your heart. For consider what great things He has done for you. (I Samuel 12:20-24).

These verses were written\spoken by Samuel to the Israelites but have great application for our lives today.  Samuel gives directions to the people and to himself from God.

  1. Serve the Lord with all your heart
  2. Empty things are empty for they do not profit or deliver
  3. Pray
  4. Instruct what is good and right
  5. Fear the Lord
  6. Serve Him faithfully with your whole heart

Results:  The Lord will not forsake His people

Why:     Consider/Remember the great things God has done for you

It seems pretty straightforward.  Jesus when He was on earth simplified the directives given in the Old Testament to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30, 31).  We see throughout the pages of Scripture examples of how individuals lived out these directives and others who did not.  As we read through Scripture, we see an elaboration of these commands so we have a better understanding of how loving God and loving others looks like.

The six instructions listed above help us better understand how to love God and love others.  As most of us know, the more we love God the easier it is to love others.

God’s recipe for life is tried and true.  Look at the examples in Scripture.  We don’t have to guess what pleases God; He told us exactly what pleases Him.

Follow the recipe exactly so you don’t have to guess at the outcome.

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Do as I say…

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We are all familiar with the saying, “Do what I say, not what I do.”  We tend to call these people hypocrites.  Not too many people will readily take advice from a hypocrite.  Actually, not too many truly like to take advice from anyone.  None of us like to be told what to do, rather we think we have the answers and want to execute life according to what we think not what anyone else thinks.

In the Old Testament book of I Samuel, Samuel lays out some instructions for the Israelites and amongst those instructions to the people he lays out his own personal responsibilities.  Let’s take a look and see how it applies to our lives today.

 

Serve the Lord with all your heart.  And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty.  For the Lord will not forsake his people, for His great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.  Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.  Only fear the Lord and serve him faithfully with all your heart.  For consider what great things he has done for you.  But if you still do wickedly, you shall be swept away, both you and your king. (I Samuel 12:21-25)

 

These verses can be broken down into three parts:

The Israelites responsibility:        Serve the Lord with their whole heart

God’s response:                                The Lord will not forsake His people

Samuel’s Responsibility:                Pray for the Israelites and instruct them in the                                                                               right way

 

The people were not the only ones who had a responsibility.  Israel was to serve the Lord with their whole hearts.  God’s response to Israel’s obedience was that He would not forsake them.  Samuel was not only supposed to pray for the people but also to teach them the good and right way.

I think we would all agree that those we respect are those who lead by example.  A servant leader is much easier to follow than a boss or a dictator.  It is much easier to follow the example of Jesus because He showed us how to live out the instructions He taught in the New Testament rather than someone whose life does not back up their words.

Samuel lived his life serving and fearing the Lord.  The Israelites had an example to follow.  Samuel walked with the Lord and modeled the behavior he expected from the Israelites.  There was no hypocrisy or discrepancies in his life.

Hypocrisy will ruin relationships.  Hypocrisy will ruin our character.  Hypocrisy will ruin our integrity.  Hypocrisy will ruin our reputation.  Hypocrisy will ruin our testimony.

Avoiding hypocrisy comes through humility.

Humility comes through authenticity and fearing the Lord.

Authenticity comes with self-examination through a transparent relationship with the Lord and a humility with others.  Do others feel comfortable pointing out your faults?  When others do point out your faults what is your response?  Proverbs gives us clarity.

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Proverbs 18:2)

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Proverbs 19:20)

Avoid hypocrisy.  Embrace humility.  Seek Authenticity.

Like Other Nations

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“But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel.  And they said, ”No!  But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations…”  (I Samuel 8:19, 20).

The Israelites have a story like no other nation.  They were slaves.  They wandered in the desert for 40 years.  They walked between walls of water on dry ground not once but twice while following a cloud.  They ate bread that fell from heaven.  They drank water that came from a rock.  As they wandered in the desert for 40 years, their shoes never wore out.  Above all else, they are called “God’s people.”

The Israelites will never be like any other nation.

They have a story and a history that is rich with the hand of God seen in many ways.  The hand of God was obvious to all the nations surrounding them. This is what Rahab told the two spies that were spying in the city of Jericho.  “I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond they Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction.  And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, He is God in heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:9-11).

If God who had done all these wondrous, magnificent, and mighty acts on behalf of the Israelites which had struck fear in the hearts of the nations surrounding the Israelites, why did they want to be like all the nations?

They had the Creator of the Universe leading them.  They had God who divided the waters of the Red Sea directing their steps.  They had Jehovah Jirah who provided for their basic necessities.   They had God who is rich in love and mercy protecting them and fighting for them against their enemies.  They stood out among the nations.  “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God.  The LORD you God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 7:6).

Why would these people want to be “like all the other nations?”  They were unique, special, and chosen.

They wanted a king who would “Judge them and go before them and fight their battles.” (I Samuel 8:20).  It seemed God had done this for them and yet they were not satisfied with the leadership God had provided them.  They were not satisfied with the care that God had provided them.  They wanted what they thought they were missing out on.

Rather than enjoy the uniqueness of their nation, they desired to be like everyone else.

As the history of Israel is traced throughout Scripture, this desire to be like all the other nations caused them great heart ache, captivity, wars, separation of families, slavery, and death.  The blessings that God had so richly bestowed on them vanished in the presence of their desire to be like the other nations.

People of God cannot be like other nations and a treasured possession of His too.

Today, in our culture many strive to be like the world in the way they dress, the way they talk, and the way they live their lives.  Rather than strive to be set apart before God, they strive to be the same as the world.

God did not call Christians to sameness, He called us to uniqueness.  “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness in His marvelous light.”  (I Peter 2:9).

As Christians God has called us to be different.  If we live like the world, we have lost our uniqueness.  The whole purpose of being different is so that we can proclaim the Excellencies of God.  If we live like the world, God’s excellencies cannot show through our lives.  As the Israelites followed the king, the great and awesome works that God had done to bring them to the Promised Land stopped.

God allowed the Israelites to have a king.  He gives us each a choice.  We either follow Him or live like the world.  Those around us can see how we are living.

“Choose you this day whom you will serve…” ( Joshua 24:15).

Mount Up

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“They that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31).

Have you ever had to wait?  In our society of drive thrus, waiting is not our idea of a good time.  As a matter of fact, when we have to wait a myriad of responses are seen:  anger, impatience, frustration, anxiety, even depression.  Why?  To be blunt, we are selfish people and we always think our needs are more important than anyone else’s.

We have all seen the effects of anger, impatience, frustration, anxiety, and depression.  These qualities quickly rob us of our energy and even our joy as we stew about having to wait.

We may be praying about a situation and God has not answered our prayer.  We wonder why God would not answer this prayer.  It does not go against His character and yet, we wait.  The above mentioned negative qualities can begin to surface in our prayer life and in other relationships.  We pray and often times become obsessed with the issue.  We may begin a down ward spiral ending in anxiety or depression with frequent bouts of anger.  All of this saps our joy and our strength.

BUT…we do not have to live this way.  God told us to wait for Him and in the process of waiting for Him and HIS timing we would have some positives happen in our lives.  I am telling you from my own experiences that these results do happen even when prayers do not get answered the way I think they should.

When we actually wait on the Lord for His timing and His answers we see these positive results in our lives:

 

Our strength is renewed

We will run and not be weary

We will walk and not faint

We will mount up with wings like eagles

 

Have you seen an eagle take flight?  It looks so effortless.

Have you ever run?  God says we will not grow weary.

Have you have walked?  God says we will not faint.

 

Sometimes the process of prayer requires running and sometimes it requires walking. Sometimes, we need to put more effort in or we need to endure for a longer period of time; whatever the case God will only renew our strength when we wait on Him.  We will only mount up like the eagle, when we wait on God.

We all want the magic powder to be sprinkled over us so our prayers are answered at the Heavenly gate drive thru.  Sounds rather idiotic when we look at it that way.  Yet, that is what we think.   God knows when we are ready for our answer and the best way to answer.  It is hard to rest in God’s timing in the thick of an urgent prayer need, yet the alternative to waiting and resting in God is anger, frustration, anxiety, and even depression.

So the question is not about God’s timing because His timing is always perfect.  The real question is how will you respond to His timing?  Will you rest in it so that your strength is renewed and you soar like an eagle?  Or will you become angry and morose over the unanswered prayer and have your strength and joy sucked from you?

Humility Preserves

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I am reading through the book of Numbers during my time with the Lord.  I read a passage in Numbers 16 the other day that I do not remember ever reading or hearing about.  I grew up going to church Sunday morning, Sunday night, youth group on Wednesday, and AWANA.  I went to Bible College at Cedarville University and have been a part of numerous Bible studies.  Somehow, I have missed this story.  The humility and love for the people of Israel challenges and convicts me.

The story I am referring to follows a familiar story that many of us know:  the rebellion of Korah.  Korah was a son of Levi along with 250 chiefs of the congregation rose up before Moses questioning his authority.  Throughout the entire story of Korah’s rebellion Moses’ humility continues to shine through.  “When Moses heard it, he fell on his face.” (Numbers 16:4).  Later God spoke to Moses and told Moses to separate the congregation of Israel from Korah and all his followers and their families and again we see the humility of Moses, “And they (Moses and Aaron) fell on their faces and said, ‘O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with all the congregation?” (Numbers 16:22)

The rest of this story ends with God opening the earth and Korah, his followers, and their families are swallowed up by the earth because of their pride.  What I do not remember ever reading was what happened after Korah and his family and followers were swallowed by the earth.  As you read these verses focus on the humility of Moses and Aaron.  We have seen it in the story of Korah, but Moses’ and Aaron’s humility continues to be what shines forth from them.

But on the next day all the congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and against Aaron, saying, “You killed the people of the Lord.”  And when the congregation had assembled against Moses and against Aaron, they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it, and the glory of the Lord appeared.  And Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying “Get away from the midst of this congregation, thay I may consume them in a moment.”  And they (Moses and Aaron) fell on their faces.  And Moses said to Aaron, “Take your censer, and put fire on it from off the altar and lay incense on it and carry it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone out from the Lord; the plague has begun.”  So Aaron took it as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly.  And behold, the plague had already begun among the people.  And he put on the incense and made atonement for the people.  And he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.  Now those who died in the plague were 14,700, besides those who died in the affair of Korah.  And Aaron returned to Moses at the entrance of the tent of meeting, when the plague was stopped. (Numbers 16:41-50).

God is ready to consume the Israelites with a plague because of their pride, and Moses and Aaron intercede for the people of Israel and stave off their complete destruction and annihilation.  God was showing forth His justice, and Moses and Aaron were seeking God’s mercy, which He granted.

Consider how this applies to our own lives.  Do we sit back and watch or do we intercede on behalf of others.  Moses and Aaron did not just intercede, they went “quickly” and “ran” to intercede on behalf of the people of Israel.

I ask myself, “Am I quick to intercede, or do I think it is their just punishment?”  God saw the sin of pride rampant in the camp of the Israelites, and the honor of humility in the hearts and actions of Aaron and Moses.  It’s easy to see in this story.

Can we see pride or humility in our own story?  The closer we walk with God on a daily basis the greater our humility becomes.

Stop Talking

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We have all been asked the question, “If you could spend one hour with a famous person, who would you spend that hour with?”  Maybe it’s not a famous person we want to spend that hour with, maybe it is someone who has passed away before us.  Why is it we want to spend an hour with that person?  I am sure there are many answers to this question, but it all boils down to one main thought.

 

RESPECT.

 

The person we have imagined in our heads that we want to spend that hour with is not usually a crook, a liar, mean, or evil.  Rather, they have gained a level of respect in our eyes because of who they are.  To be able to be in the presence of someone who has done something great usually challenges us to be better people ourselves.

 

No one is clamoring to hear what the homeless drunk on the street has to say, rather people clamor to hear a well-known politician or a wise pastor.

 

Why?

 

Most people have a general desire to succeed, to accomplish something.  Depending on what they hold valuable will often times coincide with what they spend their time invested in.   Many times in life we need a chance to refocus our lives, our thoughts, or our energies.

 

Solomon addresses this in Proverbs 8:32-36.

And now, O sons, LISTEN to me: blessed are those who keep my ways.

HEAR instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.

Blessed is the one who LISTENS to me, WATHCING DAILY at my gates, WAITING beside my doors

For whoever finds me finds life and obtains favor from the Lord,

But he who fails to find me injures himself; all who hate me love death.

 

There are some keys here that many would find helpful in their lives if they would prioritize their lives according to these principles rather than the ones they think are important.

 

  1. Stop talking

 

The first key to listening is not talking.  We have all met people who like to hear themselves talk.  When we spend any length of time with them there is nothing we need to worry about saying, they will fill the empty space with their words.  When we talk, we are poor listeners.

 

  1. Start listening

 

Three times we are instructed to listen.  When we listen there are some very positive results.

  • When we listen, we learn how to keep God’s ways
  • When we listen to the right instruction, we become wise.  If we listen to evil, we will not become wise.
  1. Watch daily

 

Habits.  The people we are show up in our daily habits.  Just like we are what we eat, we are also the product of our habits.  What we do daily?  God wants us to meet with him daily.  As we meet daily with God earnestly seeking Him in His Word and through prayer, we become wise.  The word watch in the Hebrew means to be alert and sleepless.  Daily literally means from sunrise to sunset.  The idea here is not a quick check the box kind of meeting with God, rather it is a meeting where we yearn to know Him.  We long for His presence in our lives.  We begin our day devoting time and our undivided attention to reading His Word, praying/talking to God, and inviting Him to be part of every aspect of our lives.  Seeking to have our lives be transformed because of our relationship with Him.  We become so devoted our very words are easily influenced by these daily encounters with God.  Our actions are guided by our daily meeting with God.  Nothing escapes our lips or our hearts without first being checked through the filter of the wisdom that God imparts.

 

  1. Waiting

 

God is not the Jeanie in the bottle waiting for us to rub the bottle and make a wish.  Rather, God asks us to wait.  In the waiting, we show our faith.  In the waiting, as we gain faith we begin to experience peace.  The literal Hebrew meaning for wait also means to protect.  When we gain wisdom, it is our responsibility to protect the wisdom we have.  The only way to protect it is to continue to meet daily with God making sure our thoughts, actions, and habits are lining up with the truth of Scripture.

 

The results are seen in the last two verses.  If we find wisdom we obtain favor.  If we fail to find wisdom, we are injured or experience death.

 

Let us all yearn to be spending time with God, yearning to be wise through a relationship with Him.  The time with Him is not meant as a box to be checked, but a relationship to be cultivated and depended on.  What happens in this time is evidenced by the fruit of our lives.  What we talk about and what our desires in life truly are.  The greater our respect for God the greater our “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 8:13), the more our lives will be flourishing with the fruit of wisdom.

 

The time spent listening, watching, and waiting is evidenced by the fruit in our lives.

A Small Investment

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We all are drawn to things that please us.  The beauty of a sunrise.  The aroma of a bouquet of beautiful roses.  The taste of an exquisite meal. The joy of a treasured friendship/relationship.  If we only spend our time focusing on things that please us, we would live a very self-centered world.  In the quest for pleasing ourselves, there usually lays the carnage of people behind us that were in the way of or had to be used so we could get what we thought would please us.

I recently watched a secular video about how to improve your life.  As I listened to the video, I was amazed by how many Biblical principles were included in the talk without using the Bible as a reference.  God’s Word has been with us for thousands of years and the principles that God wants us to live by have been around for even longer.  So why do so many want change in their lives, yet they do not want to put into practice the things that will bring about that change.  As a general rule, we are seeking immediate gratification without thought of the long term effects.

If we choose to eat dessert or overindulge in a particular item at dinner, there may be no immediate results but over time those additional calories add up to extra pounds that were much easier to put on than they are to take off.  So why not exercise the pain of discipline now rather than having to deal with the pain of regret later?   We generally do not choose this route of avoiding dessert because we want to please ourselves right now.

God has given us many verses in the Bible that direct our attention towards how we are to live.  These directives are not given by God so He can laugh at us and watch us suffer.  Rather He wants us to live lives that are not just pleasing to Him, but also will produce for us good fruit.

We could use the analogy of a farmer who gets what he sows.  What about the principle of investing or saving now while denying ourselves a short term pleasure for a greater long term dividend.  The principle of pruning a rose bush of all the dead growth produces more beautiful roses in the end.

It is the little investment now that reaps huge benefits later in life. When faced with a choice, no matter how small there will be a consequence to that choice.  When we say yes to one thing we are saying no to something else.

“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.”  (Proverbs 12:22)

If what we say is not truthful or partially truthful, we set ourselves up for mistrust in our relationships.  Trust is easy to lose, but very hard to regain.  The lies may be “small white lies” but something so small can generate large levels of mistrust in our relationships.

“But He gives more grace.  Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” (James 4:6)

What kind of person do we want to be around? One who is proud or one who is humble?  Yet, we make choices each day that support our pride or our humility.  They may seem like small choices, but they do add up.  As they add up, our reputation will precede us as a proud or humble person.

“Love one another with brotherly affection.  Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12:10)

I am always up for a little bit of competition.  Have we ever thought about loving and honoring others so much it becomes a bit of a competition?  It changes who we think about.  It changes our focus from what we get to what we can give.  We all appreciate when we are shown honor and respect.  Yet, why do we not do the same thing for others.  Do we look for ways to show honor to every person we meet.  Jesus did not order the disciples to wash His feet, rather He outdid the disciples by showing them honor and washing their feet.  Those that are looking to compete in the honor category do not demand to be served, rather they look for ways to serve.

The list could go on, but I think we get the point.  What we invest will in the end not just benefit those that are around us, it will also benefit us.  God gives grace to the humble not the proud.

If we say yes to something we say no to something else.  If we embrace the pain of discipline now we will enjoy being free of the pain of regret later.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)