Posts Tagged ‘obedience’

passover-lambIt’s easier to read the story about God “testing” Abraham when you know how it turns out. As I contemplated this tale, I wondered if Jesus remembered this story as He was being dragged to the cross, knowing full well that He the was Lamb. But that’s another story. In this one, who knew?

Genesis 21:7
Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”
“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.
The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

As a mother, I cannot do anything but head right for the emotions of the moment. How did it feel to be Abraham preparing the sacrifice of his son at the command of God, who had been all about the promises of descendants as numerous as the stars? Despite departing right away the next day, it was still a three day journey to the mountain where the sacrifice was to take place. Three days of contemplating the loss of his beloved son. Three days of wondering how God would work things out. Three days of surrendering. It could not have been an easy journey.

And how did Isaac feel, once they arrived, tied up and placed on the prepared altar, wood loaded and knife in his own Father’s hand? Did he go calmly? Did he really think, “Wow, my Dad is truly faithful. He’s amazing!” I don’t think so.

In fact, we don’t really hear about the relationship between Isaac and Abraham after this experience at all until Abraham is “very old” and acquires a wife for Isaac who is now forty years old. What was Isaac up to all those years? No telling. We will never know.

But it doesn’t change the story, does it? Whether they feared or not feared, whether they cried or screamed or complained, it didn’t matter. Abraham acted. Abraham took his “here I am” seriously, because “here I am” also means I am willing to do whatever you ask me. No one says, “Here I am” to God and then follow up with, “I’ll think about it.” And because Abraham had already agreed to do whatever God asked him to do, he followed through.

And really, here’s the truth of it for me. When I became a follower of Christ more than thirty years ago, I also said, “Here I Am.” I think I’ve been forgetting what it meant. And, quite honestly, I’ve put my head in the sand about the lamb, figuring Jesus did all that hard work. And that’s basically true, but there are the daily sacrifices and the long-term ones. There are still challenges and obedience.

The lamb is here.

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Not all of the translations include the phrase “through the Holy Spirit” when it comes to obeying the truth, but I see that as an essential piece. Otherwise, it’s a lost game. Obedience needs the grounding and grace of Spirit; so does love for that matter.

I Peter 1:22
Since by your obedience to the Truth through the [Holy] Spirit you have purified your hearts for the sincere affection of the brethren, [see that you] love one another fervently [deeply] from a pure heart.

So what is the “Truth” here. Some commentaries simply say it’s the gospel: to obey the gospel? I think I can believe in the gospel, but I don’t believe that obey would be the same thing here. Alternatively, of course, there is obedience of the Christ, also called in the Truth (by Jesus himself) in John 14:6 (as in “I am the way, the truth & the light . . . ).

In the Old Testament, the truth of God is more often rendered as faithfulness. It is a form of truth, this dependability in what God says and what God will do or promises to do: whether it’s destroy, repair, or restore.

We do know the opposite of truth is falsehood. And no good thing comes from falsehood, no good thing comes from a lie, no obedience to a deception will produce good fruit. So, even if we don’t know exactly what “truth” is, evidence eventually piles up.

But let me turn to the One who helps us obey the Truth (whatever truth might be), and that is the Holy Spirit, my favorite topic of late, my hope in the midst of all challenges, my resource, my guide, my closest ally. “When the Friend I plan to send you from the Father comes—the Spirit of Truth issuing from the Father—he will confirm everything about me. You, too, from your side must give your confirming evidence, since you are in this with me from the start.” [John 15:26-27, The Message]

In the same way that asking for wisdom on regular, daily basis is effective and necessary (like manna from heaven), I’m thinking that asking the Holy Spirit for help to “obey Truth” is a reasonable and maybe insightful addition to my prayer routine.

I’ve never been too good at the obedience code anyway. There’s a little rebel in me I guess. And although that has held me in good stead on occasion, giving me a foot up when it comes to thinking outside the box or creatively, it also lands me in a little hot water, pushing back against authority, etc.

Now, as to loving deeply, this too requires Holy Spirit participation, only because deep love, coupled with a pure heart, can only have one Source. I cannot love deeply or purely on my own. And of course, deep love is honest . . . it’s rooted in Truth. They are woven together.

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Obedience stories really, that’s what most of the faith stories are all about. The ancients heard a call and followed, even though they did not see what was promised, they believed the One who called.

Hebrews 11:7b-8
By faith Noah . . . built an ark to save his family. . . . By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

There are a few prerequisites in these faith transactions. As noted earlier, one must believe that God exists. Once a person is past that hurdle, the next one is to trust that God is sovereign and can do all things, change all things, maintain all things. And God’s motive is pure.

So far, these traits pretty much go against human norms. We tend to disbelieve what we cannot see, we are slow to trust (particularly those in authority because we have observed so much abuse of power), miracles seem few and far between, and finally, our motives are usually self-oriented.

Nonetheless, there are humans who have traveled upstream. We have these old examples, but I need to look for contemporary examples. Is it possible to recognize the men and women of faith in the midst of their lives? Maybe not. Perhaps it is history that gives context to faith. That would make sense.

Something to ponder today: who is hearing God clearly enough to follow despite the appearance of conflict, blockades, poverty, global change, and fear. What is the message?

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Photo by Mike Dykstra

How often do we need to remind someone? In my house, we must remind teenagers every day (and more than once a day) to clean the cat box, empty the trash, and put the dishes in the dishwasher. And how many more times if we added, “choose what is good today.”

Titus 3:1-2
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone.
[NIV 2011]

I haven’t been able to verify this piece of information, but I did read somewhere that parents, in order to teach a small child or toddler to say “please” and “thank you,” must be remind the child at least 10,000 times before he or she will remember. That’s daunting. In a year, that’s 27 times a day. And if one has more than child . . . you do the math.

Apparently, it’s not much better with adults who must learn the basics of walking out the faith, the very faith they have chosen to follow and even profess. They must be reminded to choose “good,” to obey authorities, to be considerate and to be gentle towards everyone.

If we must be reminded, the implication is clear: we’re not doing it. I’m not doing it either. Why?

As Samuel Johnson is quoted as saying: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Is it really just forgetting to do it? That’s what my kids say, “I forgot.” My husband is particularly irked by his ignored requests, taking that behavior as a choice and therefore lack of respect.

Maybe it’s just our human tendency to take the easier way, the wide road. After all, choosing to “do good” might take me out of my way or inconvenience me. Being obedient might entail putting that person’s request above my own plans. Or, it could be a type of laziness.

But what about the other elements of this teaching from Paul to Titus? What excuse would there be for not keeping the peace or conducting oneself gently? Is it easier to be argumentative and domineering? Perhaps it’s a safety issue again, a control issue. Somewhere along the line, the idea of being gentle feels too much like being a door mat and keeping the peace may mean giving way to my ideas or my decisions.

Or, maybe I just need to be reminded.

Where do the reminders come from? Sermons? Reading? Small group meetings? Blogs? Music? Yes to all of these and more. We immerse ourselves in these mediums to help us remember.

Other faith traditions do the same thing, keeping feasts and festivals and rituals to help the people remember the why’s of faith.

Today is Good Friday, 2011. It is a day for us to remember the Christ who died, crucified, and the mystery that would be revealed. And as we do, we might also remember the rest of the story, the part that leads us to choose a better way each day.

Thanks be to God.

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I’m not doing too well with this idea of abstaining from something . . . anything . . . just because it’s a problem for someone else. And yet, if I hold true to the concept of the “sacred other,” can I choose to do anything else?

I Corinthians 8:13
Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.

Sometimes, these choices are a cakewalk. Obviously, if I have friends who struggle with alcoholism, I would not guzzle around them. That’s insensitive. But then, the cost to me for not drinking in their presence is minimal. But what about other things? What about movies or books that cause my conservative friends to stumble? What about eating meat around my vegetarian/vegan friends? What about wearing dresses instead of pants around traditional Mennonites or Amish?

There are such fine lines between being true to oneself, being a chameleon for the sake of fitting in, and choosing to abstain out of concern for the other.

I believe my previous “unconsciousness” in these choices were the ultimate problem. I might abstain but I did not do it out of love, but with resentment and even negative judgments.

It’s a type of reluctant obedience that is no better than just going ahead and doing it.

And yet, Jesus stretched a lot of observers to places they did not want to go. He ate without ritual washing, he allowed sinners to touch him, he healed and touched contagious disease. He broke Jewish laws with knowledge but also with kindness.

It all comes back to love and motive. Abstaining for the sake of another should be conscious and intentional. And probably, that act should be accompanied by conversation.

Keep me mindful today Lord.

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Waiting for the second coming is really no different than waiting for answered prayer. They both require faith and an active participation in the waiting process.

I Corinthians 1:5, 7
For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge . . . Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.

Like the servant who has grown lazy because the Master has tarried and therefore, the servant chooses to act dishonorably, so could our situation be if we are not faithful [Matthew 24:50].

Waiting is not easy.

So often, we use the length of the waiting period as an excuse for all kinds of bad choices and bad behavior. I know how angry I become when I’m waiting for someone. I keep checking my watch and with each minute beyond the expected time, I become more and more aggravated. And why? Because it’s all about me. I’ve made the delay a direct affront on me and my so-called precious time. (And yet, I myself run late on a regular basis — and unfortunately, it’s for the same reason: it’s all about me! What I am doing in the moment has become more important than arriving on time. That’s inexcusable really and as I write it, I am embarrassed.)

So, my first correction must be a personal one. Part of my “waiting” for Christ needs to be other-focused. Some people refer to this as “my witness,” which means my behavior should reflect and edify my Leader, my Boss, my Lord, and my God. We are asked to do this in the business world all the time. When we are out in public, we represent our companies or other organizations. Is this any different? It’s part of the “rules of engagement” that we agree to when we enter into relationships.

Whether it’s a marriage or a family, a neighborhood or a company, a church or a club, we reflect the make-up of that group by our behaviors and style.

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

This is the key to waiting. So simple.

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Our culture recoils at the word “slave.” Our corporate guilt over the many peoples we have enslaved compels us to resist. As a result, we overlook our own “state of enslavement.”

Romans 6:16
Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?

As much as I don’t want to admit it, I am still a slave to the wrong voice in my heart. I listen more often than I should to the voice that says, “Oh, what the heck! Why not?” or “Might as well… ” or “Who will know?” This voice gives me permission to indulge myself by eating too much or wasting time in front of the television or daydreaming myself into discontentment about my life. This voice would encourage me to have an affair or get a divorce. This voice is sarcastic and mocking. This voice is relentless.

The slavery begins when I listen. The slavery intensifies when I act. The slavery becomes a yoke around my neck over time.

But the Spirit carries the sword of truth and can slash through that yoke. The Spirit of Christ is my champion. There is only one hitch: the Spirit is also a Master, a benevolent Master, if I choose to follow, believe and confess.

“Obedience” is really a form of confession. To be a slave to confession is a powerful and transformative process. I am not very good at obeying because I keep making mistakes. But anyone can be good at confessing and as the breath of forgiveness and grace blows over me, I grow strong enough to step away from sin, to close my inner ear to that other voice, to turn toward the light.

I can be a slave to confession.

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