Meditating on the Commands of Christ (33): Did Jesus Nullify the Old Testament Law?

Many people—even Christians—seem to think that the Old Testament code of ethics is no longer valid for today. After all, Jesus kept the Old Testament law perfectly, died for our sins (including all the ways in which we’ve failed to keep the Law), and now all we have to do is believe in Jesus and not worry about the Law, right?

Wrong! In Matthew 5:17, Jesus explained, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.” His goal was not to make the Old Testament instructions null and void, but rather to prove—once and for all—that the Law is good, that it is possible for humans to keep the Law, and that God gave his laws to us for our good, so that by keeping them we can experience a life of righteousness, peace, and blessing.

Which laws are we still supposed to keep? Well, there are various opinions on the subject, but the New Testament is clear that for non-Jewish people who believe in Christ, there are a few basic rules to keep: “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God:20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (Acts 15:19-20). That’s a pretty short list, but it includes idolatry, fornication, and drinking blood. If you’re still having a problem with worshiping yourself (which comes out as doing “that which is right in your own eyes” rather than obeying the teachings of the New Testament), or with sexual immorality, then you’re still sitting at the starting line and haven’t really taken off on the path toward holiness.

But, what about all the Old Testament laws? Are they no longer valuable as guides for daily life? I believe they are, but not as “We’ll be damned if we don’t” but as guides to healthy, happy living. Many of them are moot issues today. We don’t make clothing out of linen and wool, and we don’t seethe kids in their mother’s milk. We don’t (usually) forage for birds eggs, and those of us who keep laying hens don’t kill the hens who are producing the eggs . . . for obvious reasons!

What about keeping the Sabbath Day holy? What’s not to love about a day of rest? Why fight it? Why not make space in our lives for worship, for fellowship . . . for that “margin” everybody talks about not having but desperately needing?! I’m convinced that all the regulations God gives us, both those He gave to the Jews in the Old Testament, and the many instructions we’re given in the New Testament, are there to teach us the way of wisdom and truth. Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). All that God has given us in the way of laws and instructions are for our own good, to teach us what is right and good, to protect us from harm, and to help us experience an abundant, blessed life!

What about the Ten Commandments? Jews, Christians, and most non-believers around the world still believe in the goodness of not lying, not killing, not stealing, not cheating on your partner, honoring your parents, and not pining for what belongs to someone else. Right? Various religions fight over who the true God is, but they all believe in worshiping God. Even though these laws were commanded in the Old Testament, they are all verified again in the New Testament, even the Sabbath, where Jesus points out that “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). That doesn’t mean having a sabbath rest is no longer good for us; it means just the opposite! We don’t have to keep the sabbath, but a sabbath rest is good for us. We don’t have to keep the Ten Commandments to enter heaven, but we should keep them because they’re good for us—and for everyone else! And, if we don’t learn how to live morally upright lives, sooner or later we’re going to run into problems with our friends, our neighbors, and even the police!!

Let’s be good Christ followers, keeping the way of wisdom as set out for us in the New Testament! Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly, not to destroy it, but to prove its inherent goodness and value.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That’s “ALL!”

The beautiful illustrations above are used by permission of Yongsung Kim. His website and gallery of paintings can be found here: http://Havenlight.com

Forgiveness: A Grace Disguised

One of the most emotionally fragrant books I’ve ever experienced is A Grace Disguised, written by Jerry Sittser as a reflection on his experiences of losing his mother, his wife, and his daughter all in one fatal crash when a drunken man plowed into their car. The title includes “how the soul grows through loss.” I can’t begin to explain how inspirational and nurturing this book was to me, but I can just say, “Think about reading it!” (I have a copy if you live in the Grand Rapids area and would like to borrow it.) It’s a short book that walks you through his family’s life, their death, and his struggle to survive and establish a new life following this unthinkable tragedy. (He was left with three small children to rear alone!) Jerry is very open about the raw pain and excruciating process, but grace shines out all around like beams of light radiating from behind thunderheads. In fact, grace undergirds the story like a brilliant silver lining under black clouds, leaving the reader (me) with a deep peace in knowing that God was there through it all, steady and unchanging behind the storm.

The book is too full of wrestlings and wisdom to try a thorough review, but the single most moving chapter to me was his learning to forgive and his thoughts on the power and importance of forgivenesss. I’d like to quote the whole chapter, but let me just quote a couple of ideas. He starts by describing how he had a desire for revenge. “The real problem, however, is not revenge itself but the unforgiving heart behind revenge. Unforgiveness is like fire that smolders in the belly, like smoke that smothers the soul. It is destructive because it is insidious. Occasionally it flares up in the form of bitter denunciation and explosions of rage. But most of the time it is content to stay low to the ground, where it goes unnoticed, quietly doing its deadly work” (p. 136).

The problem, then, is to learn how to forgive, even if the offender has not repented and asked forgiveness (as his alcoholic offender never did). “Unforgiveness makes a person sick by projecting the same scene of pain into the soul day after day, as if it were a videotape that never stops. Every time the scene is replayed, he or she relives the pain and becomes angry and bitter all over again. That repetition pollutes the soul. Forgiveness requires that we refuse to play the videotape and choose to put it on the shelf. We remember the painful loss; we are aware of who is responsible. But, we do not play it over and over again. Instead, we play other tapes that bring healing to us. Thus, forgiveness not only relieves an offender from guilt; it also heals us from our sickness of soul” (144).

Sittser goes on to point out that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting (which we’ll never be able to do anyway). He grapples with his anger at God, too: “I held God responsible for my circumstances. I placed my confidence in him; I also argued with him. In any case, God played the key role” (147).


“Faith also changes our attitude about the people who wrong us, for it forces us to view their wrongdoing in the light of our own. Knowledge of God reveals knowledge of ourselves as well. We learn that we bear the image of God, but we also see that we are sinful. Sinful people need God’s forgiveness. Jesus once said that people who are forgiven much love much. The experience of forgiveness makes us forgiving. Once we see ourselves as people who need God’s mercy, we will be more likely to show mercy to others” (147).

Well, I can’t explain the book very well, but if you have suffered a great loss in your life and struggle to forgive, please consider reading Sittser’s story! As a supporting P.S of his life—I discovered that Sittser was teaching in Spokane, Washington, when the accident occurred. As I have a son who was also teaching in Spokane, Washington, I asked him if he knew Jerry Sittser. “Yes! We’ve had lunch together!” So, Jerry Sittser continues to thrive academically and spiritually, even years later!

While trying to prepare this, I was also touched by this wonderful consideration in the daily devotional that my son Joel gave me for Christmas (and we read together at the breakfast table):

“The final test of compassionate prayer goes beyond prayers for fellow Christians, members of the community, friends, and relatives. Jesus says it most unambiguously, ‘I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (Matthew 5:44); and in the depth of his agony on the cross, he prays for those who are killing him, ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’ (Luke 23:34). Here the full significance of the discipline of prayer becomes visible. Prayer allows us to lead into the center of our hearts not only those who love us but also those who hate us. This is possible only when we are willing to make our enemies part of ourselves and thus convert them first of all in our own heart” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, You Are The Beloved, May 19).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (31): Rejoice and Leap for Joy!

If there was ever a teaching of Jesus that you’d think everyone would be happy to comply with, it’s his directive in Luke 20:23 to rejoice and leap for joy! Right?

Well, maybe sometimes, but not when you read the context. The idea of rejoicing and leaping for joy brings to mind Jesus lying in a grassy meadow, basking in the sunshine of his father’s love with nary a care in the world . . . and I’ll bet there were a few times when Jesus felt just that happy and content. But, probably not too often after he began his public ministry when he was thirty. During those three years, he fully engaged with the people around him and began introducing the message of the Kingdom of God, which turned the contemporary cultural mores inside out and the world upside down.

Church at Mount of Beatitudes today

What did Jesus teach? Among other things, he taught what are today known as “The Beatitudes,” those states of being which cause God to bless us. These are not based on accomplishments but attitudes and conditions that most of us would consider very difficult: being poor in spirit, mourning, being meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and then three P’s: being pure, being a peacemaker, and being persecuted.

Probably all of the conditions listed in the Beatitudes lead upward and build on each other, but the last three are especially obvious in their cause and effect relationships. First, we need to be pure. If we are not, we’ll have no insight or incentive to be peacemakers. (Think about corruption in government and law enforcement.)

However, those who understand and ascribe to the goodness of purity will also try to make peace with others. In the event the “others” have no desire to live in purity and desire the freedom to live immoral lives, they will confound attempts at peace and eventually turn in anger on the pure in heart, persecuting the pure for not approving their ungodly life styles.

We see this (sadly) in America today, where sins that were condemned historically are now becoming so commonplace that people are persecuted for saying the behaviors are wrong! Jesus turned the world upside down, but now the world is trying to right itself by condemning the Bible as outmoded and no longer valid! “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

(Garden on the Mount of the Beatitudes,
where it is believed Jesus taught the beatitudes.)

If you find yourself confused by the changes in our culture, don’t be. Jesus forewarned us that this would happen, and He reminded us that our job is to continue faithfully following Christ, accepting the persecution that comes from trying to live a pure and peaceable life, knowing that you are in good company with those who came before us and were also rejected.

HOWEVER, one thing I’ve had to learn over and over again is that the first of the beatitudes come first: We need to understand our own poverty of spirit in order to be born again and enter the kingdom of heaven. We need to mourn over our sins and find the comfort that only God’s forgiveness provides. He need to learn meekness, so that we receive the blessing of experiencing unity with all mankind on earth. We need to continuously hunger and thirst after more righteousness so that we do become pure. Then, and only then, will be be in a position to be a true peacemaker!

A true peacemaker loves the sinner while hating the sin. He can accept the immoral person while rejecting their immoral actions. He can identify with, love, and grieve over fellow loved ones who are rejecting God and his ways. A peacemaker isn’t unkind. He isn’t mean. He respects. He doesn’t say derogatory things or do anything to harm someone else. His intention is always to express love and bring everyone together in the bond of peace. If this isn’t what you are doing or what you are seeing, then what you are doing or seeing is not Christian.

Nevertheless, Jesus made sure we understood that persecution for righteousness would come, and he tells us to do the opposite of what comes naturally. Just as being humble and seeking peace aren’t natural responses, neither is rejoicing in the midst of persecution! But, that’s what Jesus told us to do, not because we enjoy persecution, but so that we can find comfort in knowing that suffering for the sake of Christ is approved by God and he will bless us.

Texts for today’s meditation: “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12).

And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets” (Luke 6:20-23).

(Credits: All the photos are mine except for the painting of Jesus lying in a grassy field, which is used by permission of the artist, Yongsung Kim: Havenlight.com)

Alligator Waiter

Chef Specials
 
What’s for lunch today?
Want some alligator bites,
Or shall I bite you?

Any time we get within driving distance of Ponce Inlet on Florida’s Atlantic Seaboard, our car just seems to take us there! The inlet is protected from the Atlantic’s prevailing winds, so the sun always seems especially warm in spring, and the birds are just as interested in us as we are them.

We often stop for lunch at Salty’s Hidden Treasure Restaurant, where the food and ambience are unparalleled and the fish on your plate was caught that morning.

This particular day, we planned to order sandwiches, but a waitress came by with a plate of “alligator bites” (“cajun wild gator tail” the menu explained) that she would give us for half price if we wanted them because she had misunderstood the order from another table, and they would otherwise go to waste.

Yes! We were game to try. Better to lunch on alligator than have alligator lunch on us, we figured! 🙂 It was fun to try something new, even if (like rattle snake and most exotic meats) they did taste strangely like chicken (haven’t you noticed too?)!

BTW, have you ever tasted the bread of life and the water of life? They don’t taste like chicken McNuggets, but I guarantee you’ll be back for more once you savor some. Jesus himself is the spiritual “Bread of Life” (John 6:35) and offers us the “Water of Life” (Revelation 21:6). If you want to grow spiritually, take Him in through meditating on the Bible. Jesus doesn’t bite you, He feeds you!

“O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.”
(Psalm 34:8)

Celebrating the Resurrection at Northridge

Celebrate Easter!
Did you go to church? If not,
Why not listen now?

Did Easter slip by you this year? Many people work in industries where there is no option to stop and rest on Sundays, and for others, attending church wasn’t a priority. Maybe you’re among those who were super busy preparing a feast for family and friends, hiding Easter eggs, and enjoying the cultural aspects of the holiday. If you weren’t able to attend a service anywhere and feel a tug in your heart that you may have missed out, then it’s not too late!

Hundreds of churches around the world now have their services on line! Why not take a break and take in what’s been going on at Northridge Church near Detroit, Michigan? This church is so full of love and energy to reach out to others that on February 17, 2019, they received the “Liberator of the Year” Award for Michigan and Ohio for their involvement in helping with the human trafficking problem. (They are the first and only church to ever be given that honor!) Northridge has also been so excited about Easter that they held 18 services where over 21,000 joined in worshiping and praising God together. You might be happily surprised by what you see, hear, and learn! And, if you live in the area, this coming Sunday (April 28, 2019), Dr. Hugh Ross will be discussing the interconnection between faith and science.

http://northridgechurch.com/experience/talks/the-moment/310/

Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (24): Be Thou Clean!

One of Jesus’ most prominent ministries while he was on earth was his ability and willingness to heal people of all sorts of sicknesses, not only physical ailments, but spiritual problems. Furthermore, he wasn’t just able to heal some of them. He healed all of them: “Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them” (Luke 4:40). There was no sickness that Jesus could not heal, and there’s no record of him ever refusing to make anyone well who came to him for help.

In our passage for today, a leper came to Jesus seeking help. Do you know what leprosy is? I’d never heard of leprosy as a child, and it’s very uncommon in America, but it’s a terribly disfiguring, painful, progressive bacterial infection that can result in blindness, loss of limbs, and eventually death.

Arran Reeve, age 24 in 1886, suffering from Leprosy

It’s not just one of those diseases like small pox that has been largely eradicated, either. Hundreds of thousands of people (more than half from India) are still contracting new cases every year. Although it can be cured if treated early (and in the past 20 years, more than  sixteen million people have been cured), two thousand years ago when Christ lived on earth, there was no known cure. During biblical times, because it was contagious, people who had leprosy were ostracized from their families and communities. They were required by law to call out, “Unclean!” if anyone approached them. So, it’s not hard to imagine the distress the disciples might have felt to see a leper coming toward them. I think it’s noteworthy that this particular miracle is recorded by three of the gospel writers: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. The blind and lame were healed, but probably most people didn’t think they had contagious diseases. To have a leper approach meant possible contamination for all of them.  However, Jesus didn’t shrink away. Instead, he reached out his hand and touched the leper. Jesus wasn’t afraid of catching infection; he came to deliver us from evil: “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). In 1 Peter 2:24, we are reminded that Jesus “his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.”

Jesus came to heal, and he did: “And there came a leper to him, beseeching him, and kneeling down to him, and saying unto him, If thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.41 And Jesus, moved with compassion, put forth his hand, and touched him, and saith unto him, I will; be thou clean.42 And as soon as he had spoken, immediately the leprosy departed from him, and he was cleansed (Mark 1:40-42; See also Matthew 8:1-3 and Luke 5:12-13).

Isn’t this beautiful? From the second Jesus touched him, the leper was a leper no more! He would never have to shout “Unclean!” when someone approached him! He could be clean if he would be clean, and he desperately wanted to be clean! He was cleansed in a moment, and now he could shout, “Clean” whenever he wanted! 🙂

Do you ever suffer from feeling “unclean?” Would you like to be clean? Jesus can heal you if you’ll come to him and ask! I do not know of a single prophet, priest, or king on earth besides Jesus who has been recorded as being able and willing to heal “all” our diseases. Do you? Only God can heal ultimately and completely, and that’s one of the ways in which Jesus revealed that he was and is God. Come to him!

 “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits:Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases;Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies” (Psalm 103:2-4).

He Touched Me
(—William J. and Gloria Gaither, copyright Capitol Christian Music Group)

“Shackled by a heavy burden,
‘Neath a load of guilt and shame
Then the hand of Jesus touched me,
And now I am no longer the same
He touched me, oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know,
He touched me and made me whole
Since I met this blessed Savior,
Since He cleansed and made me whole,
I will never cease to praise Him,
I’ll shout it while eternity rolls
He touched me, oh He touched me,
And oh the joy that floods my soul!
Something happened and now I know
He touched me and made me whole.”

Meditating on the Commands of Christ (22): Search The Scriptures

While riding on a train in Scotland nearly fifty years ago, I sat next to a young woman about my age who was willing to engage in talking about the Bible. Near the end of our conversation, I asked if she believed in Jesus, whom the Bible presents as the Son of God.

“No, I couldn’t do that!” she responded emphatically.

Surprised, I asked why.

“Because if I really believed what the Bible says, I’d have to change the way I live, and I don’t want to.”

I never heard the Gospel until I was twelve, but I was immediately thrilled! Doubt wasn’t even an issue. I simply believed that God loved me and sent his Son to die for me (and everyone) so that I could have my sins forgiven and become God’s child. What’s not to love about that?! As a child, I didn’t have deep ruts already set in my life that would be hard to get out of. I don’t think I was even on a path at all. I was still simply roaming about the meadow, picking flowers, going no where in particular. I think that may be why young children so eagerly believe and are willing to trust. They don’t have their hearts set in stone yet, and they’re used to following, so to follow the Good Shepherd, who loves them dearly, sounds like a good plan!

My husband’s experience was more like that of the young woman on the train. He grew up in a church hearing about Christ but thought becoming a Christian would impede his social life. It wasn’t until listening to a straightforward Gospel message by Billy Graham on T.V. one night that he felt all his reservations melt away, and he saw no reason to resist God anymore.

If your true heart is to resist God’s love and choose your own way, then I can only pray the Lord will soften your heart so that you desire to know and love Him, because His love is better than anything on earth, and to know Him is life eternal! However, if you find that  you would like to believe but are struggling, then I’d like to encourage you with these words from Jesus: “Search the scriptures . . . they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).

How do the scriptures testify to the validity of Jesus as the Messiah (the One sent from God to save us)? There are hundreds of references to Christ in the Old Testament which were written hundreds (and even thousands) of years before Jesus was born. For a starter, the Jesus Film Project has listed 55 Old Testament prophecies about Jesus pared with the verses in the New Testament explaining how each prophecy was fulfilled. If you’re sincere about wanting to know the truth, please take a few minutes to peruse this article:

https://www.jesusfilm.org/blog-and-stories/old-testament-prophecies.htmlOver time, two of the best ways to increase your faith are by meditating on the Bible, perhaps starting with the Gospel accounts in the New Testament, and by praying, asking God to reveal Himself to you and give you faith to believe the truth.

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.31 If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.32 There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true.33 Ye sent unto John, and he bare witness unto the truth.34 But I receive not testimony from man: but these things I say, that ye might be saved.35 He was a burning and a shining light: and ye were willing for a season to rejoice in his light.36 But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.37 And the Father himself, which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape.38 And ye have not his word abiding in you: for whom he hath sent, him ye believe not.39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:30-39).

Jesus is All the World to Me
(Will L. Thompson, 1904, Public Domain)

  1. Jesus is all the world to me,
    My life, my joy, my all;
    He is my strength from day to day,
    Without Him I would fall.
    When I am sad, to Him I go,
    No other one can cheer me so;
    When I am sad, He makes me glad,
    He’s my Friend.
  2. Jesus is all the world to me,
    My Friend in trials sore;
    I go to Him for blessings, and
    He gives them o’er and o’er.
    He sends the sunshine and the rain,
    He sends the harvest’s golden grain;
    Sunshine and rain, harvest of grain,
    He’s my Friend.
  3. Jesus is all the world to me,
    And true to Him I’ll be;
    Oh, how could I this Friend deny,
    When He’s so true to me?
    Following Him I know I’m right,
    He watches o’er me day and night;
    Following Him by day and night,
    He’s my Friend.
  4. Jesus is all the world to me,
    I want no better Friend;
    I trust Him now, I’ll trust Him when
    Life’s fleeting days shall end.
    Beautiful life with such a Friend,
    Beautiful life that has no end;
    Eternal life, eternal joy,
    He’s my Friend.