Walking In Step

I had the privilege of visiting Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day. The place was buzzing that day and security checkpoints occupied every entrance. There was a special ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the president laid a wreath. The president being there caused quite a spectacle. The streets were lined with armored guards and military personnel. After the president’s motorcade drove by us, the soldiers began to disassemble in a unified march. They were perfectly in sync, step by step.

The steps of the soldiers, in perfect unity, makes me think of the things we walk in step with in our lives. When we walk in step with something, we are becoming like those soldiers – a unified troop. We become one with it. In the book of Psalms, we see some great advice in regards to the things we walk in step with.

Psalm 1:1-3 1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers. 

Blessed is the one who does NOT walk in step with the wicked, but who walks in step with the ways of the Lord. In order to walk in step with what is right, we have to stop walking in step with what is not. We can love the Lord and believe that His ways are good, but still walk in step with the wicked. When we do that, we don’t see the blessing of God in our lives. When our hearts are in step with what is wrong, we don’t live in a way that is right.

When we are intentional about walking in step with the ways of the Lord, we flourish. We are like a tree planted by streams of living water, and we see the fruit of that in our lives. We don’t wear out and dry up. No! We do not wither; we prosper. If you find yourself in step with the wicked, get out of that rhythm today. Start walking in step with the ways of Lord and discover the blessings that follow.

Stay Here

When I was a teen, I took part in an outreach group at my church. We learned extremely important evangelism skills such as balloon animals and street dramas.  We might have talked about how to lead someone to Jesus; I don’t remember. I will say that the balloon animals has come in very handy as a dad. Kids are apparently impressed by a balloon sword or giraffe. That’s right, I’ve got skills.

stay-hereNow as for the drama part, they actually were a great outreach tool. But if you’ve ever been on outreach, you know that the outreach is also an in-reach. It reaches into you. There was one drama in particular that has always stuck with me. It was called “Stay Here.” The premise was that some girl wanted to go out to a party and Jesus tried to tag along. After all, she had asked Jesus to be with her wherever she goes. But she wasn’t having it when it came to him following her to the party. So she tells him to stay here, stay put, don’t follow me. It ends with her nailing him back to the cross to “hang out” until she gets back. Ouch.

This picture has stuck with me throughout my life. Are there places where I go that I intentionally leave Jesus behind? Do I dare continue on my journey without God by my side? Well, in the book of Exodus, God told Moses he wasn’t coming along for the next part of the trip. Moses didn’t think that was such a good idea.

Exodus 33:3, 14  3 “Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”  14 Then Moses said to him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” 

Now I spliced a couple of verses together there, but only for the sake of brevity. Please read the whole chapter so you can see the whole picture. Essentially, Moses asks God to reconsider because he really needs God to be with Him for this to work out. Good call, Moses. Good call.  It was a bold move, because God thought he might kill these terrible people along the way. They might argue loudly in the back seat and God might have to ask them if “they need him to come back there.” Even so, Moses knew that no matter what, having God with them was better than the alternative.

kids-fighting-in-backseat

The good news for us is that God doesn’t think He will destroy us along the way. Instead, He redeems us along the way. Because of the work of Jesus, God doesn’t want to kill us. I know that sounds weird, but the truth is that if I had to stand alone on my own merits, I would be condemned. But because I stand under the sacrifice of Jesus, I am made right with God. I am made holy. I am, essentially, perfect in His sight – even though I am far from perfect in my own sight.

The question I have for us today is this: Do we want God with us? I mean, do we really? All the time? Do we desire His presence to be with us in the midst of trial? You bet. But do we desire His presence to be with us when we are about to do something that we know is sin? I hope so. After all, He is the only one who can deliver us from it.

 

In too deep

I’ve never been a big fan of swimming in the ocean. A key reason for that is probably because I live in Washington and the ocean here is cold. If I lived in Hawaii, I may have a different opinion on that. When I was a kid, I remember going to the ocean with my family and swimming through the waves. It started with a little wave jumping then turned in to swimming with the waves, through the waves, under the waves.  It was fun at first. That is, until I went in too deep. It was then I discovered how powerful the waves really were. I caught a big one… well, it caught me, actually. Under the water I went, unable to come up, as wave after wave pounded on me. It felt like I was in a wash machine. It was a scary moment, being held underwater, unable to come up for a breath. Fortunately, my dad grabbed a hold of me and pulled me up.

in-too-deep

The problem wasn’t the ocean. It was that I had gone in too deep. I had not treated it with respect. I had allowed the waves to tempt me, calling me into the power of their pull. In life, we can have the same kind of problems. Problems like allowing ourselves to be pulled into the power of temptation. We can get in over our heads, and we can get in too deep. In the book of Exodus, Aaron had the same problem. And instead of swimming for the shore, he went in deeper.

Exodus 32:22-24 22 “Do not be angry, my lord,” Aaron answered. “You know how prone these people are to evil. 23 They said to me, ‘Make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.’ 24 So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewelry, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!”

Before you read on, I’d encourage you to open your Bible and read all of Exodus 32 so that you can see what is really going on here. Because Aaron isn’t so innocent. The truth is, the people did come to him and ask him to make them a god. They did get impatient and wonder where in the world Moses had wandered off to. But he did absolutely nothing to be a leader in the situation. And I think that in the midst of this conversation, he knew he had blown it. He was busted. He made a stinkin’ calf out of gold for the people to worship!

Yes, Aaron was in deep. Instead of swimming for shore, though, he went in deeper. This was his moment to confess, to come clean. It was his opportunity to say “I blew it, Moses. I’m sorry. I was afraid and so I gave in.” But that’s not what he said. He told Moses that he threw the gold in the fire and a calf magically came out. There’s no way that Moses bought this lame story, but nonetheless, this is what Aaron’s brain told his mouth to say.

When we get in too deep, we have a choice to make. We can go in even deeper like Aaron and try to cover it up, or we can swim to shore and come clean. Don’t be lame like Aaron. Don’t start sputtering nonsense about a golden calf magically appearing. The people in your life aren’t buying it. Just come clean. Own it, deal with the consequences, and move forward. Everyone will be glad you did.

Do NOT be a good neighbor!

Exodus 23:31-33  31 “I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. 32 Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods. 33 Do not let them live in your land or they will cause you to sin against me, because the worship of their gods will certainly be a snare to you.”

bad-neighbor

Well now, that doesn’t seem very neighborly, does it? Yet this was God’s instruction to His people. He was about to give them some serious real estate. When they got there, they were not to move in as friendly neighbors. It was intended to be a takeover. There would be no oaths, no handshakes, no loaning the neighbor their lawnmowers. It would be a purging.

Interesting.

If you’ve ever lived in a neighborhood you can probably relate. Sometimes your neighbors, as nice as they may be, have very different values. And if you aren’t careful, they can have more of an influence on you than you are on them. Now we aren’t called to kick our neighbors out of the neighborhood, but the Israelites were. Why is that? Because God knew those neighbors would cause them to sin.

The same thing rings true for us today. Yet I’m not talking about the people in your neighborhood. I’m talking about the neighbors within us. You see, we’ve asked Jesus to come and take residence in us. We in a sense, invite him into the neighborhood of our lives. So now we are a Christian neighborhood. Our values are holiness, righteousness, kindness, love, and the like. But we do something foolish in this Christian neighborhood. We violate Exodus 23:33 – we let places of sin live in our land. We hang on to unhealthy life choices.

God knew that His people would be easily convinced to give their hearts away. He knew that they would, by default, follow the customs and patterns of this world. It was for this reason that He instructed us to kick out the old residents in our new neighborhood. He desires a holy land. He desires a pure land. He desires the best for you and your neighborhood. He knows that if alcohol is your source of peace, He can’t be. He knows that if you worship image, you won’t ever pursue being made into His image. If you listen to what is common, you won’t be made holy. 

So I encourage you today, do NOT be a good neighbor. Don’t let bitterness live next door. Give an eviction notice to envy. Serve lust with a homeowner’s association violation. Do not let these things reside in your land. Set God as first in your heart. Set God as ONLY in your heart. Jesus doesn’t need neighbors. When it comes to the land of your life, He gets it all.

 

Are you paying attention?

I live in Washington; it rains a lot. This time of year, outdoor furniture is on sale everywhere. I have a hard time understanding why in Washington, they sell the kind that has the thick cushions. Don’t people know that those are just going to be wet all the time? It doesn’t make sense for the Northwest, yet it continues to be what I see the most. Is anyone paying attention? It is going to rain! And because it is going to rain sooner or later, you can’t leave stuff outside like you can in places like Arizona. The kids have to bring their shoes in at night. Bikes must to brought into the garage. Stuff must be sheltered or else stuff will get ruined.

hail-storm

In the book of Exodus, God was sending plagues on the land of Egypt so that the Pharaoh would let God’s people go. In chapter 9, God sent some hail. Now it hails here sometimes, but this was some serious hail. Like giant hail that destroyed stuff. Unfortunately, some of the people didn’t pay attention to the forecast. And their stuff got ruined.

Exodus 9:20-21 Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored the word of the LORD left their slaves and livestock in the field.

It baffles me, really, that people who have just experienced other plagues would not pay attention to God’s weather forecast. He said there would be hail and there was hail. Crops were ruined. Livestock was killed. People died. All because people didn’t want to pay attention to the Lord’s warning.

God warns us today, too. Sometimes it is the gentle caution of the Holy Spirit that tells us to change course. Or maybe it is His Word that tells us that the wages of sin is death. But we continue to sin. We continue to live our lives contrary to His leading. He has told us what will happen, but we don’t pay attention. 

It’s avoidable, really. I mean, not ALL trouble is avoidable, but much of the heartache that we get ourselves into is. If we would just heed the voice of the Lord. If we would just pay attention to what He is saying to us, we might find that He actually knows what He is doing. And we might avoid some of the consequences of our poor decisions. So be like those who feared the Lord, believed His forecast, and saved themselves the heartache!

Covered in dirt

Genesis 38:24-26 About three months later, Judah was told, “Tamar, your daughter-in-law, has acted like a prostitute. And now, because of this, she’s pregnant.” “Bring her out, and let her be burned!” Judah demanded. But as they were taking her out to kill her, she sent this message to her father-in-law: “The man who owns these things made me pregnant. Look closely. Whose seal and cord and walking stick are these?” Judah recognized them immediately and said, “She is more righteous than I am, because I didn’t arrange for her to marry my son Shelah.” And Judah never slept with Tamar again.

dirtyA friend who is addicted to alcohol criticizes your smoking habit. Your girlfriend gossips about your gossip problem. It’s what people do.  We judge others when we are just as guilty of the same things. I saw a sign recently that read, “don’t judge me just because my sin looks different than yours.” Now don’t get me wrong, we need to be called out on our sin. We need accountability. We need friends who steer us toward God. But let’s not burn the prostitute when we are the ones who slept with her… so to speak.

Judah was a man of God. He had no business sleeping with a prostitute; he knew better than that. Unbeknownst to him, the prostitute he slept with wasn’t a prostitute at all – it was his daughter-in-law. Ew. A while later, Judah is told that Tamar committed an act of prostitution. Now here is where awareness of your own sin comes in. This is when you think to yourself, “I really want to punish her, but I just slept with a prostitute myself.” Instead, he recommends burning her.

Dude.

Jesus said that we should remove the plank from our own eye before we point out the speck in our brother’s eye. That’s like someone covered in dirt saying to a friend, “Hey, you’ve got a little dirt on your face.”  What’s a little dirt on a friend matter if you are covered in it yourself? It was upon the realization that he was filthy himself that Judah changed his tone. He exclaimed that this sinner was far more righteous than he was. He became painfully aware of his own shortcomings and it caused him to have grace on her. If we would only do the same, we might be able to extend some grace also.

Is your pointer finger covered in dirt?

Change the channel

Genesis 35:1-2 Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes.

remote controlIt’s that awkward moment when you walk into the room and the person watching TV quickly changes the channel. Have you experienced that? The kids are watching TV and they change the channel or turn it off real quick when you walk in. Or maybe you have been the channel changer. You were watching something inappropriate and upon someone entering the room, you changed the channel. It’s all a little bit embarrassing, really. It makes people wonder what was going on.

When God showed up to invite Jacob to Bethel, he changed the channel, too. Upon this invitation, he tells his family to get rid of the foreign gods. He tells them to get pure and change their clothes. What they were watching wasn’t good, but it took God showing up for them to change channels. It seems to me that with all of God’s blessings on Jacob’s life, that he wouldn’t have to scramble for the remote. There shouldn’t have been foreign gods there in the first place. Why not follow the Lord with all your heart even when no one is watching?

Let me ask you the same  question: why not follow the Lord with all YOUR heart even when no one is watching? Does it take someone walking in the room to change the channel? Does God have to show up on your doorstep for you to serve Him? I hope in my life the answer is no. I hope to serve Him the same when I am in public and when I am in private. I hope to honor Him when no one is watching. Because it shouldn’t take God calling me in for a meeting to change the channel. I should be on the right one to begin with.

*Do you need to change some channels in your life?