The 10 Commandments of…

In our reading through the Bible (or part of the Bible) in a year, some of us have reached the first listing of the Ten Commandments (in Exodus 20). What I think is interesting and fun is that you can take a lesser topic or a sub-topic to “what God wants,” and you can create a ten commandments list for it. You can create a ten commandments list for parenting or fishing. You can do it for skateboarding, leadership, or outdoor cooking. And for me, each time I do this or see it, it reminds me of the real Ten Commandments.

There’s a good reason for this. Life is meant to be lived by the rules. More specifically, life is meant to lived by God’s rules. I know this sounds square of me, anachronistic, old-fashioned, maybe even overly religious. Still, it’s true. There are rules for everything. And this is a good thing. Some of us still carry around this less-than-intelligent view that it’s better to break rules than keep them. Pain is the guaranteed result of such thinking. Think of all the times today you’ll be happy following rules. Maybe it’s while you’re driving. Maybe it’s in how you choose breakfast foods. Maybe it’s in what you choose to wear. Maybe it’s in how you respond to the other humans in your life. Better decisions yield better results across the board. That’s the rules. When God says not to put anyone or anything before Him, not to make substitutes for Him or misuse His Name… when He says to rest, when He says to honor all the people in your life… when He says not to murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet… He’s giving us our rules for life. Break these and suffer. Period. Keep these and live. Of course, we break them anyway and we need grace and Christ and the grace of Christ. Amen, but still, let’s not call the Law evil. Breaking the Law – breaking God’s rules, in other words – this is what is evil. This is what Christ died to forgive us for: our sin. What is sin but God’s rules broken? So, yes, rules are good.

It’s serious stuff, but – because it’s true – we can have fun, and be edified by this fun, through looking at the rest of life this way. For example, sometimes I break the rules of fashion. These are times when others – especially my wife – must show me grace. You see, even on a superficial level, a great truth rises. We have rules. Good. We break rules. Bad. We need Grace.

So, below is my list for this Sunday morning. If you come up with one that you think people will enjoy, and you’re willing to share it, please send it along. (Note: there are some responses to my spot or blog writing challenge/offer that I have yet to post. I plan to post more!)

John’s (fun) ten commandments of getting to church on time on Sunday morning (not in any order):

  1. Thou shalt not stay up to watch Saturday Night Live. (It’s really not as good as it used to be anyway.)
  2. Thou shalt not attempt to launder the outfit you really want to wear to church anytime within 85 minutes of the beginning of the service you plan to attend. (No one will notice that you wore what’s already clean last week or the week before.)
  3. Thou shalt not eat anything on Sunday morning that requires a bib or unusual utensils. (You can eat whatever that is later… after church!)
  4. Thou shalt not overindulge in genuine Mexican, Thai, or Brazilian fare after 9:15pm on Saturday night. (It’s never pretty.)
  5. Thou shalt not have children in organized sports where the only game day and time is Sunday morning. (Yeah, I know. Been there myself.)
  6. Thou shalt not have family members who believe “kicking and screaming” are how one must begin every morning that involves leaving the house in the morning to get somewhere else at a certain time. (You’re not getting out of the house anytime soon.)
  7. Thou shalt not try to catch just one more (or worse, one last) episode of that awesome Netflix or Amazon series you’re presently binging on. (All forward focus shall then be squandered.)
  8. Thou shalt not commence Internet browsing or “research” at the exact time you know you should be getting in the shower. (No, you can’t make up time by skipping “lower priority” steps in you personal hygiene regimen. Please don’t.)
  9. Thou shalt not speed to church because you’re running late. (Every Sunday, in every town in America, police officers see vans and station wagons barreling through their towns filled with with agitated, arguing, formally dressed families.)
  10. Thou shalt not attempt to blame other family members for your late arrival. (We all know it was you.)

Power

There is no power in the universe that does not come from God. Before you nod your head in agreement and say “amen,” know that in some circumstances this can be a tough pill to swallow. It means that even demons and the Devil borrow their power for a season from God. Maybe we should say they steal it from God, but we have to be careful with this. Nobody can really steal anything from God. He is God. From Genesis to Job to Revelation, for sovereign reasons that are His alone, we see clearly that God lets His creatures, good and bad, have limited power for a limited time. We may never understand or appreciate God’s reasons, even in Heaven… because, even in Heaven, we will not be God. There is never a time or a place where we creatures will have full access to the mind of our Creator. We would have to be the Creator for this. And, of course, we will never be anything but His creatures. And besides, even if we had all the answers to our “why-did-this-have-to-happen?” questions, what good would they be? Such answers are overrated. This is why it says “Jesus wept” instead of “Jesus explained” as he stood before Lazarus’ tomb.

For help with this, let’s look at Exodus 7-8 and Pharaoh’s magicians, since these chapters and accounts are near where many of us are in our reading through the Bible in a year. Strangely, these magicians were able to reproduce the first two plagues from Moses/Aaron by their own magical arts. A river they worshipped turned to blood and frogs they worshipped became a menace. The big mistake to make here as a reader is to think that these Magicians had a power they got from somewhere else, that there are sources for power that God does not own, sources that He cannot access or control. The Magicians made this mistake. The Holy Spirit has us reading about them in Scripture so that we will not. And the Magicians did eventually learn the truth… the hard way. (See Exodus 8:19.)

God has no competition. He engages Himself and participates in our conflicts and contests, but, at the same time, He owns every molecule of every venue and created every cell of every contestant. He can pull the plug on everything in a second. (Sometimes I wonder why He doesn’t.) God alone has all this power and He never shares any of it. Again, I know the painful problem with this; it surfaces when God allows evil people to hurt innocent people or when we walk through a time of inexplicable loss. Pastors, especially, have to face this issue regularly. “Why, God?”

But, if in an effort to thwart pain, you subscribe to a “yin and yang” view of God, you’ll be in more trouble than ever. First of all, when bad things happens, where do you turn? Who do you bring your complaint to? The Psalms are not accidents. They are intentionally placed complaints, in many cases, of people concerned with what God has allowed or what He has not taken care of yet. If your God has to compete for power with Satan or Egyptian magicians or terrorists or just bad circumstances, then what kind of God is He? Is He God at all? The essence of the sin of idolatry is believing that authoritative, spiritual truth is a marketplace. It is believing that If God is not providing the robust customer service we’re entitled to, perhaps a new god can do better, maybe especially one we make ourselves (or make of ourselves).

Of course, maybe you have had some personal experience that is so horrible that you comfort yourself with the thought that the God you love and the God that loves you had nothing to do with it. Well, in one very important sense, you are right. He is not the author of or responsible for evil or its byproducts. (See James 1:13, 1 John 1:5, and 1 Corinthians 14:33.) But do not take this to mean that God tried to stop something, but could not, because other forces were, even momentarily, more powerful. You cannot say that anything is beyond His power. Here is the sometimes really painful truth: you cannot say that He did not allow it. Of course, we sometimes do not understand or appreciate this. One beautiful thing about the Scriptures is that they contain God’s way of letting us know that He knows that we have real problems sometimes with what He allows. Why do you think His angels are constantly telling us not to be afraid? But, if we lessen God’s power in our minds to lessen the blow of some event, then we also begin to lose track of God and our own souls. Then it is not God we are thinking of through our tear-filled eyes, but some lesser being of our own imagination: an idol.

The final (quickly approaching) victory of Jesus Christ over all evil and over all the fruit of evil is our constant, growing comfort. Read the Book of Job to learn that the sometimes troubling fact that God allows evil is, in time, more than countered by the fact that He overrules it. Evil does not get to keep its place. It gets put away. And the tears we have shed because of it; they get wiped away too… (See Revelation 21:4.)… by the very hand of the One Who sent His One and Only Son, Jesus Christ, to experience and overcome the entirety of evil for us on the Cross. Now that is power.

Inauguration

It’s a great word, regardless of whether you voted for the incoming President or not. As Christians in this nation, we’re all praying earnestly for the safety, success, and spiritual life of our new President, Donald Trump. Period. I heard someone say today that it’s both about him and about the White House within the history of our nation. It’s about America.

Inauguration. Having just read about Joseph being promoted from prison orderly to second-in-command in all Egypt, I love the idea of the word.

Here’s the first definition I found of inauguration on the Internet via Google…

  • in·au·gu·ra·tion
    iˌnôɡ(y)əˈrāSH(ə)n/
    noun
    noun: inauguration; plural noun: inaugurations
    – the beginning or introduction of a system, policy, or period.
    “the inauguration of an independent prosecution service”
    – the formal admission of someone to office.
    “Truman’s second presidential inauguration”
    – a ceremony to mark the beginning of something.
    “the inauguration of the Modern Art Museum”

Each presidential inauguration is a new beginning. But for many of us, we need a personal inauguration tooAnd that’s why we’re reading Scripture every day with passion and commitment. Christ has an inauguration just for us. There it is in His Word. Joseph pleaded with the cupbearer who benefitted from his dream interpretation to help him, an innocent man, regain his freedom. He dreamt of one kind of inauguration. God had something much, much bigger in mind. How about you? It’s like we have a second New Year’s Day this year. Are there areas in your life where you need a new beginning? In reading through Genesis, it’s like we trip over second chances given to failing people, generation after generation. The Bible is a book of second chances, that is itself not just our second chance, but, with God, really our only chance. May you undergo an inauguration of a fresh season with Jesus Christ in your life via His Word!

Freedom

It was interesting to hear Pastor David Myles in the pulpit of Goodwill Church in Montgomery, NY this last weekend say that when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died, by an assassins bullet on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39, he had a total of only about $6,000.00 to his name.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He was a world-renowned, celebrity-status leader whose positive impact on American and human history may not be fully known for decades to come. Most of us who own (or co-own with a bank) a car or a home have much more to our name. In no way, however, do we feel wealthy. Many of us describe ourselves as poor. He had little to nothing of this world, for whatever reason, yet “poor” is not a word we use for him. We’ve set aside a Monday each January in America to close schools and other federal facilities to remember the richness of his life and legacy, to appreciate what he taught and overcame.

The whole idea of rich and poor is called into question by this. Maybe they are the opposite of what we typically think. What we think makes us rich in this world might be what makes so many of us feel so poor. It’s peculiar; most of us want wealth in order to be free of worldly concerns, yet it chains us to them.

Apparently, the freedom Dr. King preached about is not a freedom that money alone can buy.

Many of us are into or past reading about Joseph in our reading through the Bible in a year. Joseph was a man who knew both the bottom rung of poverty and the top rung of wealth, power, and influence. Yet, as we study his life, we see this same thing. To recall a line out of Dr. King’s famous “I have a dream” speech, the quality of people’s lives comes from “the content of their character.”

 

Writing, Part 2

A couple of folks took up my challenge to write a devotional based on their Bible study and Christian walk. Here’s an inspiring word from Laurie Thorn…

Putting On The Armor of God

I struggled for many years, unbeknownst to me, with a scriptural misconception. When faced with challenges, I would, as Ephesians 6:10 told me, “Put on the whole armor of God…” The interesting thing is that I would “put it on,” but then fail to remember that it was there protecting me. I would forget I was wearing it, and allow the flaming arrows of my past, and the ones of the present, to penetrate it. It wasn’t until I finally, truly, gave my painful past to God that I saw that I didn’t need to “put it on.” This was because when I first declared that Jesus was my Lord, I put on “The whole armor of God” as described in detail in Ephesians 6:10-20, and I wear it All The Time! This realization came after REALLY giving my painful past to God. I learned that up to that point I might have prayed to be rid of these hurts, but I had not truly relinquished it all to Him! Only My husband and close friends know the very clear vision God gave me. It is Me, standing on a hilltop, arms akimbo, legs planted firmly on the ground, clothed fully in the armor described in Ephesians 6, shield in one hand, sword in the other, hair and a cape blowing in the breeze, with the biggest smile on my face! The only extra addition is a cape! Wonder Woman circa 1945. I still have my moments, but my past no longer defines who I am. My Heavenly Father does!

Amen!

 

Infertility and Blessings

Sometimes when women or couples experiencing infertility read Genesis or other books in the Old Testament, it can be discouraging. In certain parts of Scripture, infertility is declared a spiritual curse from God, and fertility a blessing. Infertile couples feel bad enough already. Now they read the Bible for hope and comfort and can end up feeling more rejected and damaged than ever. Add to this the “help” of some Christians who lay not-so-subtle, not-so-Scriptural judgment on them via referencing this. “Maybe you just need to pray more.” “Is there something holding back God’s hand from blessing you?” “Maybe it’s because you didn’t have so-and-so pray over you; his/her prayers for pregnancy always work.” “Well, I was having trouble, but I just gave it to God and got pregnant immediately; you should just release it to God too.”

The Bible seems preoccupied with fertility for only one reason, however, and that reason is Jesus Christ. Yes, the ancient world and the modern one, as far as I can see, both see infertility as tragic and painful, maybe for different reasons, but the lion’s share of fertility tracking in Genesis (and other places) is about preserving the kingly, Messianic line of Judah from which comes King David and then the King of Kings: Jesus Christ.

It becomes interesting to follow this. Genesis 22 is often seen as a chapter that points to Christ and our Heavenly Father in the near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. Isaiah 53:10 brings out the poignancy of this. Genesis 20 and 21, it turns out, are no less focused on Christ. Issac, the son of Sarah, is the chosen one, even though Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, are lovingly tended to. God keeps a promise to Abraham that is really a promise to each and every one of us. Jesus is the fulfillment of this promise.

It is helpful to consider what other big problems we may be going through in life and how they might not be about “bad things happening” because we didn’t do something right. This cold-hearted, proverbial view of God and His economy is shot down by the oldest book in the Bible: Job. Then it is completely invalidated by the Gospels and the story of the life of Jesus Christ to whom the worst of bad things happen. In the end, it is so important to realize that we don’t earn anything from God. (See Genesis 20:6 to see that not even our obedience can be credited to our account alone. God is behind everything!) We can’t buy blessings from God with behavior OR belief. Blessings from God are from God. We cannot control God or how His blessings are dispersed. We don’t pray to influence God; we pray so God will influence us. Though He often leads us to pray as part of the process of how He answers our prayers, the whole process belongs to Him. God gets to play the part of God every time. And what a relief this is!

Intermixed in these stories of provision, anointing, and blessing early on in Scripture is a constant, clear picture of a God who cares. So forget about trying harder to get something from God. Focus on what He’s already given. You’ll be surprised where this leads. Shannon and I have been. This is the key to inner peace Jesus presented at the end of Matthew 6. “Seek Me first,” He said. What He really is saying is “Seek Me INSTEAD; I’ll take care of the rest. You’ll see.” Forsake the blessings you crave for the Blesser, and be set free from hopelessness and any idol you may have made out of your desire for a blessing.

(Writing, Part 2 coming soon…)

Writing (Part 1)

I write and record these 60-second, 200-word pieces, which I call “spots,” for The Sound of Life, a local/regional Christian radio station our church supports and partners with. To my mind, they give a unique insight into how Bible study and Bible reading lead me to “have something to say.” I’m totally convinced that your time in God’s Word can do the same for you! Even if you are the only one to receive the message, which is often the case with me, time in Scripture does make preachers of us all! (Of course, a preacher would believe this.)

I’m going to post a variety of spots here for the next handful of days. The idea is to get you to write your own 200-word spot! If you are happy with something you wrote, send it along! I’d love to see what you come up with. I think the process of having to write something (or say something) about God and His Word can sometimes close the loop and add gravity to our Bible study and reading. If you know you have to say something about it, you tend to read the source material differently. What does it really say? What did it mean when it was first written? (Scripture cannot mean something different today than it did when it was written. It is not fluid or malleable like Play-Doh. We can’t mold it to mean what we want it to mean. It molds us.) What message does God have for me in these ancient, timeless, trustworthy words of His?

So here is one spot from last year titled FEAR ZONE…

  • “Sometimes… stepping out in faith feels the same as going too far. It’s supposed to. Hi. This is John Torres of Goodwill Church and I have a confession to make: I’m a little tired of hearing about my comfort zone. Here’s why: I call something my comfort zone because I don’t want to step out of it. In other words, I’m afraid. Comfort zones are not the issue; fear zones are. Faith is about stepping into my fear zone; faith is the courage God gives each of us to do what we are afraid to do. 2 Timothy 1:7 says that “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” So, what is your fear zone? The only way someone becomes an effective witness or leader for Christ is by stepping into his or her fear zone. Read the story of any hero of yours in life or faith and you will see the truth of it. You fear zone is not your enemy; it may be your destiny! Maybe it’s your faith zone! Let us know how we can pray for you, contact us at goodwillchurch.org.”

Yeah, that one was pretty fun. Here’s another titled COOKBOOKS…

  • You can’t eat a cookbook. Hi, this is John Torres of Goodwill Church, and maybe you, like me, have lots of cookbooks in your home. They’ve got recipes and pictures of the glorious food those recipes are designed to produce. These cookbooks are all about food. In some ways, they make food happen, great food, but they themselves are not food. Sometimes, if we’re not paying attention, we can treat the Bible like a cookbook that we only read. In Scripture we find a recipe for new life in Christ (the only recipe for new life anywhere, it turns out) and pictures of what this new life in Christ looks like, but if all we do is read or hear it, then something’s not working. If you just read a cookbook, and you don’t do what it says, you are left with no food, only descriptions and pictures. The same goes for the Bible. In James 1:22 James tells us plainly, “…be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” God’s cookbook for New Life is a book of action. It demands our response. Let us know how we can pray for you, contact us at goodwillchurch.org.

Yes, you too can communicate Gospel truth, but for any of us to do this, we each must first – to paraphrase a film character who shall remain nameless – “get it in my belly!” God bless…