Beyond the Rules

A friend and I are reading through the Old Testament and sharing what we learn. We are currently in Deuteronomy, reading all the rules God gave the Israelites.

Our biggest takeaway has been thankfulness to live under grace instead of the law. Most people in the Old Testament did not have the Holy Spirit inside to help them obey God. Rules clearly defined God’s standard of right and wrong for them, leaving no doubt.

Some of the rules in Deuteronomy make sense to us. They clearly offer provision, protection, and blessing:

When you lay siege to a city for a long time…do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit.  (Deuteronomy 20:19, NIV)

If you see your fellow Israelite’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to its owner. (Deuteronomy 22:1, NIV)

Do not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy (Deuteronomy 24:14, NIV)

But as we read these passages over 3000 years later, we find some of the rules to be…odd. For example:

Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together (Deuteronomy 22:11, NIV)

If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family (Deuteronomy 25:5, NIV)

If two men are fighting and the wife of one of them comes to rescue her husband from his assailant, and she reaches out and seizes him by his private parts, you shall cut off her hand. (Deuteronomy 25:11-12a, NIV)

God had a reason for these rules; each offered provision, protection, or blessing. They seem odd to us because the rationale behind them is unclear. For some rules, we no longer see the need because life conditions have changed. For others, we cannot see the need because our cultural perspective has changed. But the Israelites knew following these rules would keep them in good standing with God.

The rules had dual purposes: to show the people what righteousness was and to make the people clearly aware of their unrighteousness. As Galatians explains, the law prepared the way for Christ to offer us forgiveness.

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:23-24, NIV)

Don’t suppose that I came to do away with the Law and the Prophets. I did not come to do away with them, but to give them their full meaning. (Jesus speaking in Matthew 5:17, CEV)

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:19, NIV)

Today, under the New Covenant, our standing with God is secured by following Jesus Christ, not rules! By acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah who took the punishment for our sin and submitting ourselves to Him, we become spiritually right with God…forever. We still have the capacity to sin, but much of the desire is gone. While we used to find pleasure in sin, now we find far more life in righteousness!

Even though we are no longer under the mandates of the law, we can still learn from it. We can better understand how incomplete our understanding is compared to God’s. We can also learn about God’s character and what is important to Him. Here are some things I have discovered from studying the laws He decreed:

  • God sees sin in black and white terms. He draws clear lines about right and wrong.
  • When the details are important to God, He shares them. He does not leave His people to guess about what is right and pleasing to Him.
  • God knows we are incapable of being righteous on our own, so He does not abandon us to sin. He graciously provides a righteous way out of sin rather than giving up on us.
  • God’s overarching goal is to be in relationship with people. He wanted the Israelites to be holy so He could have a relationship with them. He offers us holiness through Christ so we can have a relationship with Him, too.
  • When we do not understand God’s logic, we can still trust His character. Some of the laws are hard to accept as loving, just, or fair. While we may not understand why God allowed or commanded certain details, we can be certain that He loves and values us. He wants us to be holy. He wants to protect us from evil that would destroy us. His intentions toward His daughters are always good, even when the law seems harsh and unfair from our imperfect perspective.

Once we are in good standing with God, far more life is found in righteous living. Doing right is the by-product of a redeemed and righteous heart. The apostle Paul states that for Christ-followers:

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (Galatians 5:6, NIV)

Far more life is an outgrowth of our faith in God and our love for Him. We move beyond the rules to do what is right because our heart is linked with His.

Sisters,
Do you tend to be a rule follower, a rule bender, or a rule breaker?
How do you respond to man-made rules that do not make sense to you?
How do you respond to God’s rules that do not make sense to you?
What have you concluded about God’s character from His rules? Do other Scripture verses reinforce or negate that message? If they contradict each other, dig deeper!
How much good does God require from you to offset your sin? (Hint: read Romans 3:10, 5:6, and 6:23)
Thank God for letting you move beyond the rules to find far more life.
-Shari

Copyright 2022, Shari Damaso

Every Spiritual Blessing

May blessing (praise, laudation, and eulogy) be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (the Messiah) Who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual (given by the Holy Spirit) blessing in the heavenly realm! (Ephesians 1:3, AMPC)

In Christ, we have every spiritual BLESSING. What exactly is a blessing? Some dictionaries define it as God’s favor and protection. You have God’s approval and support. You are under God’s protection. This is far more life.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32, NIV)

No one is stronger, smarter, or richer than God. He alone can change the course of nature, history, or the cells in our body with a word (Psalm 33:6; Psalm 103:20; Psalm 107:20). His love for us prompts Him to freely give us all we need. But sometimes it seems that we are not blessed. We do not feel protected and favored. Far more life feels distant and unattainable.

At those times, we need the next key word: spiritual. In Christ, you have every SPIRITUAL blessing. It is easy to focus on our physical blessings, like health, possessions, and good circumstances. These definitely make life on earth more enjoyable and comfortable. But they are temporary. Spiritual blessings are eternal and far superior. They are described in these verses:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, (Romans 8:28-29a, NIV)

The biggest spiritual blessings we can receive are to know Jesus and be like Him. Know Jesus as Savior and Lord. Be like Him in character, beliefs, thoughts, words, and actions. Imagine what life would be like if we always had God’s perspective, God’s responses, and God’s character…that would be amazing! Our worry, fear, and frustration would be gone. Instead we would be filled with peace and hope as we clearly recognized God’s plan, presence, and power. Thankfully this is possible as the Holy Spirit works in us! We find spiritual blessing — far more life — by recognizing where we are not like Jesus, exposing our underlying beliefs, and exchanging them for His perspective. Good news: God promises to faithfully continue this process in us until we become like Christ at His return (Philippians 1:6-11; I John 3:2-3).

In Christ, you have EVERY spiritual blessing. Nothing is withheld from us. God gives His children every good thing:

The Lord God is our protector and glorious king. He blesses us with kindness and honor. The Lord freely gives every good thing to those who do what is right. (Psalm 84:11, ERV)

He freely gives every good thing. We can get stuck on the “do what is right” phrase and think our sin disqualifies us from receiving God’s blessing. But this verse was written under God’s old covenant that was dependent on following His law to earn His favor. People of that time did not have the Holy Spirit inside of them; they were separated from God by their sin. We now live under grace and have been declared right with God through Christ (Romans 5:1); even our sin does not separate us from Him (Romans 8:38-39). We have access to every spiritual blessing, including unlimited love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control, and more. In other words, we have access to far more life.

IN CHRIST, you have every spiritual blessing. In order to receive His blessing, we have to stay connected to Him. If we put our trust in other things — our own abilities, other people, food, pleasure, power, money, or anything else — we miss out on God’s best for us. At those times, we do not recognize or value the blessings He offers. In fact:

Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. (Jonah 2:8, NIV)

We get to choose the extent of blessing in our life by choosing the object of our faith and devotion. When people are our primary source of wisdom and comfort, we forfeit far more life. When we turn to food for comfort, we forfeit far more life. When pleasure, power, or money are our primary motivators, we forfeit far more life. When we make Jesus our best friend, primary comforter, and mentor, we choose far more life and every spiritual blessing. He is always available and willing to be chosen. Fortunately, any time we recognize we have chosen idols we can immediately repent and turn to Him instead. The blessings begin to flow into our hearts and minds as soon as we put Him back at the center of our heart and mind.

As I grow in understanding the privilege of every spiritual blessing available to me in Christ, I want to join the songwriter in proclaiming: Praise God from whom all blessings flow! And I want to add: Praise Him for far more life!

Sisters,
What blessings have you received from God? Where is His favor and protection evident?
Do you value physical or spiritual blessings more? What will help you grow in your desire for His spiritual blessings?
What barriers keep you from believing He offers you EVERY spiritual blessing?
What worthless idols compete with Christ for your devotion?
Look for God’s spiritual blessings this week and praise Him for giving you far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso

Far More Strength

I find rest in God; only he can save me.
He is my rock and my salvation.
He is my defender; I will not be defeated. (Psalm 62:1-2, NCV)

I enjoy reading good post-apocalyptic stories, where some disaster has ended life as we know it and people are struggling to survive. One characteristic of these stories is the constant battle for safety and rest. Those who are alone are vulnerable and do not last long against savage attackers and the harsh realities of life. However, those who join forces with trustworthy and resourceful people are more likely to survive.

Sisters, you may feel like you are living a post-apocalyptic life. If not physically, then perhaps emotionally or spiritually. Trying to survive alone makes you vulnerable. You need a place of rest, a solid rock to support you, a defender who is stronger and wiser than your enemy, and someone to fight beside you when danger arises.

Far more life finds strength in God. It admits weakness, exhaustion, and vulnerability. It depends on Him to lead, strengthen, protect, and defend you.

How long will you attack someone? Will all of you kill that person? Who is like a leaning wall, like a fence ready to fall? They are planning to make that person fall. They enjoy telling lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse. Selah. (Psalm 62:3-4, NCV)

It’s not just your circumstances that makes life hard. It often feels like you are being attacked by other people. You may be misunderstood and rejected. Or slandered by someone spreading false information. People may say one thing to your face and another behind your back. It is painful, and you can feel helpless. You can feel at the end of your strength, barely holding on. Where is far more life then? What should you do?

The Psalm continues:

I find rest in God; only he gives me hope.
He is my rock and my salvation.
He is my defender; I will not be defeated.
My honor and salvation come from God.
He is my mighty rock and my protection.
People, trust God all the time.
Tell him all your problems, because God is our protection. Selah (Psalm 62:5-8, NCV)

Turn to your Heavenly Father. God is your only secure source of hope and protection. He sees what is exposed and hidden (Daniel 2:20-22). He understands your heart; no explanation is needed (I Samuel 16:7). He loves you (I John 3:1). He is always trustworthy (Psalm 145:13). Stay connected to Him and draw from His strength. Telling him your problems opens your heart to receiving his protection, provision, and perspective. You may find other sources of temporary strength, but eventually they will fail you. His strength is secure.

The least of people are only a breath, and even the greatest are just a lie. On the scales, they weigh nothing; together they are only a breath. Do not trust in force. Stealing is of no use. Even if you gain more riches, don’t put your trust in them.
God has said this, and I have heard it over and over:
God is strong.
The Lord is loving.
You reward people for what they have done. (Psalm 62:9-12, NCV)

God says you have no reason to be intimidated by people; they have no more power or control than you do. They live within the boundaries that He has established for them (Psalm 139). On the other hand, you have no reason to push for your own way, manipulate, coerce, or forcefully take what you need from others. Power, position, and wealth do not bring far more life. You can be honest with God. He sees and and knows all, yet He responds with grace and mercy. There is no reason to fear Him. There is no need to hide from Him.

Far more life trusts in God’s strength and finds safety there. It recognizes our own weakness, but not in a hopeless, helpless way. The Apostle Paul sums it up this way:

For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:10b, NIV)

God can accomplish the seemingly impossible in your life. He is your personal superhero who will save the day. He is listening for your cry and is eager to ensure your needs are met. He loves you more than anyone else ever has, ever can, or ever will. His love is pure with no hidden agenda. It is secure, so nothing can separate you from His love: no secret from your past; no current weakness; no failure lurking in your future. His love is the source of all that is good, and He enjoys blessing you with good gifts — especially the strength to walk in love, joy, and peace. He enables you to do good then rewards you for it.

Far more life is built on God’s strength. It accepts His leadership. It trusts Him to fight every battle with you and for you. It is confident He will lead you to safety and eternal blessing.

Sisters,
In your struggles do you go it alone or cling to God?
What line of this Psalm describes the help you need from God?
What other sources of hope and protection are you tempted to turn to?
How has God been your personal superhero?
Thank him for leading you to far more life!
-Shari

Copyright 2019-20, Shari Damaso
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