Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Giving Up Your Cheerios, Not Broccoli

Let me begin by saying I'm a Lucky Charms kind of guy. I was the kid who would pour me a nice bowl of Lucky Charms and skip over the puffs and dig for the marshmallows. But this post isn't about me, it's about my kids.

When Luke was a baby and started eating solid foods he loved Cheerios. I believe if we would have offered Cheerios for breakfast, lunch and dinner we would have never had any of those arched back, red-faced, closed-lips-which-won't-let-anything-through kind of fits. He loved Cheerios. Broccoli, not so much. When you would put a Cheerio in front of his face his mouth would open, his head would move forward and the face would light up with joy. Hold up some broccoli, his mouth would close more securely than a bank vault, his head would swivel, move and juke with cat-like elusiveness and his face would turn red. I don't miss those battles.

On one particular I was serving breakfast to him- a nice bowl of Cheerios. I was half awake, sitting in the chair beside him watching him go to town on his beloved Cheerios. He was too young to talk but he did something to me that communicated something I'll never forget. He took one of his beloved Cheerios in his fingers and reached toward my mouth. What I am about to say may seem really dumb to you, but my heart melted. My son had offered me a Cheerio.

He had no problem offering broccoli to daddy. He didn't hesitate to offer other vegetables, but he rarely offered to share Cheerios. They were his favorite. They were the best he could offer.

I wonder if we are offering God broccoli or Cheerios? I think we would all like to think we are giving God the best we can offer, but are we really? Is God getting the best or just the leftovers? Is God getting things from us which are a sacrifice or is he just getting what's convenient? It's a good question.

In Nehemiah 8-10 the people of God rededicated themselves to the Lord. In doing so, they made a covenant with God. The covenant is described in Neh. 10:29- "They...entered into a curse, and into an oath, to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord, and his judgments and statutes." Let me paraphrase: We are entering into a covenant to live in obedience to God.

It's important to understand the depth of this covenant. Incomplete obedience to God is not living in covenant with Him- that is disobedience. Giving God less than the best of your life is not living in covenant with God- that is disgraceful. Living for yourself and giving God the leftovers is not living in covenant with God- that is idolatry.

Living in coveannt with God is obediently giving God the best of your life. After making this covenant with God it affected their attitude toward marriage (Neh. 10:30), it changed their attitude toward obeying God's law regarding the Sabbath (Neh. 10:31), it changed their attitude toward money (Neh. 10:32) and it changed their attitude toward the house of God (Neh. 10:32-39).

The fact that they were willing to give God their best is seen in the word "firstfruits" in Neh. 10:37. The firstfruit was first in order and quality. In other words, they gave to God first and they gave Him their best.

Can the same be said of you? What are you offering to God- Cheerios or broccoli? Are you only willing to give God the leftovers of your life or is He first in order and importance?

I know how it felt when my son offered his best to me. I know the heart of God is moved when His children do the same.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Incomplete Obedience is Disobedience

I consider myself a "compartmentalizer." I'm not even sure if that's a word, but it describes me perfectly. Allow me to define it for you (although you may have already looked at dictionary.com to verify the word). A compartmentalizer is someone who likes to put things into categories. If you were to check my file cabinet at home you would see this is true. I love to file things and have them orderly so I can easily locate them when needed.

However, my tendency toward compartmentalizing bleeds over into my walk with God. Unfortuantely I will sometimes try to compartmentalize the will of God. One comaprtment is labeled "Big Deal to God." The other one is labeled "Not such a Big Deal to God." Now you may not have ever given much thought to your labels, but it is highly likely that you have compartmentalized God's will as well. For example, it is likely that you believe the teaching of "salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone" is a bigger deal to God than the biblical teaching about faithfulness to church, or tithing or baptism.

The problem with compartmentalizing the will of God is it leads to incomplete obedience, as illustrated in Nehemiah 8. After the walls of Jerusalem had been rebuilt the people found themselves face to face with God's word and His will. The Jewish people had a festival known as the "Feast of Tabernacles" or the "Feast of Booths." God's instructions for how this feast was to be celebrated are spelled out in Lev. 23:33-43: the first day was a Sabbath day of rest (v. 35), seven days of offerings to God (v. 36), keeping of the feast after the ingathering of the harvest (v. 39), and building temporary booths to live in for 7 days (v. 42).

As Nehemiah, Ezra, the priest and the people looked into the word of God something happened- "And they found written in the law which the Lord commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the fest of the seventh month" (Neh. 8:14). It's obvious in other portions of scripture that the people of Israel had celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles at least since the first exiles returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 3:4). Although they were celebrating the feast, they weren't obeying completely. They had been celebrating the Feast (Big Deal to God), they just had not been making the booths and living in them (Not such a Big Deal to God). Somewhere along the way their compartmentalizing had led to incomplete obedience.

It seems logical, doesn't it? They were keeping the feast for 7 days. Wasn't that enough? Did God really care about the booths? What if they just kept the feast but they did it in another way? The booths weren't nearly as important as the feast, was it? We do this, don't we? I go to church, is it really that big a deal for me to serve? I've been saved by grace through faith, but is baptism that big a deal to God? I am faithful to church, but is it a big deal if I'm not sharing the gospel with others?

Another term for "incomplete obedience" is "disobedience." The slide from "compartmentalizing" to "disobedience" and although it may be more convenient to compartmentalize the will of God, it is harmful to do so. God had a specific reason for asking the people to live in booths- "That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (Lev. 23:43).

The Feast of Tabernacles wasn't about the people. It wasn't about the booths. It was about the glory of God. The booths were a reminder of God's provision for them in the wilderness. The booths were a reminder of God's deliverance. The booths declared the glory of God among the nations- "He is the Lord our God." That message was lost because the people did not obey completely.

Although we may feel compelled to file some of the teaching of God's word in the "Not Such a Big Deal to God," foler, doing so will cause the message of God's glory to be lost in the shuffle. Your file cabinet for God may look nice, but your life will not declare the message of God's glory as effectively. Complete obedience helps makes His glory known in your life. So stop compartmentalizing and start obeying...completely.