The Truth Principal

Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline, and understanding. Proverbs 23:23


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To Obey Is Better Than Sacrifice

Earlier this week, the Lord brought to mind this verse from 1 Samuel 15:22 (NIV).

But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.”

I have been thinking about this verse all week. Have you ever really thought about what it is saying? Obviously, it is saying that obedience is important, but as I thought about it this week, I thought about this verse differently than I have in the past.

The context of this verse is during King Saul’s reign. God had sent the Israelites into battle against the Amalakites and He instructed them to destroy everything – every person, every animal – without exception. Though the Israelites defeated the Amalakites, Saul kept the king alive and the Israelites kept the best of all of the livestock. When Samuel confronted Saul, Saul said that they had kept the best of the animals to offer a sacrifice to the Lord. Saul even said to Samuel that he had “kept the Lord’s instructions”. But he really didn’t did he? Obeying most is not obeying all. The disobedience was so great from God’s perspective that it was because of this that God rejected Saul as king.

I’ve always thought of this passage in terms of not obeying completely, but now I’ve been thinking about the contrast of what a situation would look like if there had been obedience from the beginning, as opposed to how it changes when there has been disobedience and then sacrifice. For example, I remember once when we were kids that my brothers were throwing something in the living room and it hit and broke a vase. If they had obeyed and not thrown the object, the vase would not have been broken. Although they were very sorry, and my dad did his best to glue the vase back together, the vase was forever changed. Many acts of disobedience are far more consequential than a broken vase. Disobedience can result in damage to relationships, physical damage, emotional damage, and even death.

What was the purpose of sacrifice except to pay for someone’s disobedience?  While someone might be repentant and sorry for their sin, the damage is already done.  Repentance doesn’t erase the pain or injury that has been caused and would have been avoided by obedience. While the sacrifice or penalty for disobedience meets the requirements of justice, it does not have the same result as if the person had obeyed and done the right thing in the first place. Sacrifices without repentance are a “stench” to the Lord. Sacrifices offered with genuine repentance are a “fragrant offering”, but how much better to not have disobeyed at all!

When I was a little girl, I was very shy. When I realized I had done something wrong, either because I was in trouble for disobeying, or because I had been unkind, I would feel bad, but I was too timid to say I was sorry. So I would try to show that person I was sorry by how I behaved, and I would promise myself that I was never going to do THAT again – whatever it was that caused the trouble. Committing myself to not behaving that way again is in keeping with repentance, and that’s a good thing, but demonstrating by my actions that I was sorry, while it’s at least something, is not the same as confessing what you have done, acknowledging the pain you caused, or asking forgiveness. It was sort of my self-imposed penance or my “sacrifice” to make things right.

I’ve often heard people say that “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”.  Isn’t this the same as saying sacrifice is better than (or perhaps as good as) obedience?  You usually hear this in the context of someone wanting to do something they know or suspect they won’t get permission to do. They surmise that if they go ahead and do it and then apologize, somehow the apology makes it OK.  But it is not OK.  Even if they perceive no real harm was done, it damages the relationship.

This week, as I am wrapping up our theme of obedience, I want to help my students see that obedience is always better, to obey is better than sacrifice. I want to help them see the “before and after pictures” of decisions to obey in contrast to the “before and after pictures” of disobedience followed by sacrifice, apologies, repentance, restitution. Doing the right thing is always the better choice. Disobedience brings pain.

Yet none of us obeys perfectly do we? By God’s grace, Christ came to pay the ultimate sacrifice for our sin, bringing both forgiveness and reconciliation.

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

Romans 6:17-18

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Entitlement Christianity

What does it mean to be entitled? It means to have an intrinsic right or claim to, usually because of position or birth. The president is entitled to certain rights and privileges that are inherent to the office of president, such as round-the-clock secret service protection. In our society, entitlement has come to mean “deserving” something that you haven’t earned either because of your race, your gender, or other socioeconomic class, your desire to have it, or for no particular reason at all except someone else has it and therefore you “should” too.  At least, that’s how it appears to me. At its core, entitlement is self-centeredness.

Recently, I have become disappointed by how vastly the entitlement mentality has infected Christians. It’s everywhere and so often, we don’t even recognize it. It is glaring in my children’s generation. I have thought about this a lot. This is the generation whose parents worried about damaging their self-esteem. So little girls were treated like princesses and they grew up to think they actually were and everyone should treat them as such. Competition was frowned upon (“it would hurt their self-esteem to lose”) so everyone got a trophy they didn’t earn. Those same children, all grown up, think they should always win, and because they haven’t had the experience of losing and losing and finally winning because of hard work, skill, effort, and perseverance, they give up easily. There is no reward quite like winning after so much struggle, but in order to avoid a little pain and tears along the way, we robbed them of this joy. We made their whole childhood about them, and now, remarkably, we are surprised that they still believe it. All of our foibles in parenting were done with such good intentions, but we allowed societal and church fads and trends to lead us.

Ultimately, regardless of who our parents were or how well we parented, every person makes their own choices about who they are and what they allow to define them. We have all seen people from terrible home situations overcome their past to be thoughtful, productive, gracious, loving people. We have likewise seen people raised in loving homes with every benefit waste their lives in laziness, addiction, or empty and self-centered pursuits. And we know that, by God’s grace, when we give our life to Him, we become a new creature; new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

As I have been thinking about this plague of entitlement alongside my theme of obedience, they keep intersecting. God calls us to a life that is completely opposite of entitlement. If anyone has a legitimate claim to entitlement, it would be Jesus, the King of kings. And yet…

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Matthew 20:28

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

 Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
     he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:5-11 

He gave up his divine privileges. Can you imagine? No person on earth, no matter how rich or powerful, can even come close to having what Christ gave up. This is amazing. And He gave it up for us – to serve and save us – not because we are “entitled” but simply because of His great love for us, love that we don’t deserve.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.”  Matthew 16:24 


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Guidelines for a King

As I have been studying obedience in preparation for my next chapel with my students, I came across the guidelines God gave Israel for a king, before they ever had one. It can be found in Deuteronomy 17. The verses that caught my attention were verses 18-20. They say, “When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy for himself this body of instruction on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.  He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees.  This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.” (New Living Translation)

There were several things that grabbed my attention in this passage that I had never really thought about before.

  1. The king is commanded to copy for himself God’s law. He already had the law, so it wasn’t because he didn’t have it that he needed to copy it. As an educator, this is striking. God is the Teacher of all teachers, and He knows that copying something assists in learning. The king was required to make his own copy in his own writing. After copying the full law, he should be intimately familiar with it!  It would have been a crash course – Law 101.
  2. He is to copy it in the presence of the Levitical priests. No summarizing or rewording. No adding to or taking away from. Presumably the priests would ensure the accuracy of the copy he was to make. Deuteronomy 4:2 says, “Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you.”
  3. He must always keep that copy with him and read it daily as long as he lives. Now this wasn’t the full Bible that we have today, of course. It was simply God’s law – probably just the book of Deuteronomy. But he was to read it every day. I don’t think this was a “verse a day” reading. I think God intended him to read the whole law every day. Regardless, reading it every day would ensure he was intimately familiar with the law. He would know it inside and out.

And why did God require all this?

  1. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of these instructions and decrees. He will learn to fear the Lord by obeying, and you cannot obey completely without knowing what needs to be obeyed. Unlike other countries where the king was the law maker, Israel belonged to God and He was the Ruler of all and the law giver. The king was learning his rightful place “under” God.
  2. This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. Leaders often behave as if they are “above the law”, so maybe the daily reading was intended to keep the king grounded. I think that the more he understood the law, the more his own sinful heart would be exposed and it would humble him.
  3. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. Throughout Deuteronomy, it is clear that God expects complete obedience to every detail of the law. Just like a dieter who stops counting and weighing and logging their food intake, it’s easy to let things slide a little. The accountability of daily reading would ensure complete and consistent obedience.
  4. And it will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel. God repeatedly promises blessings for those who faithfully obey his laws, not only for that king, but for generations to come as long as they continue to obey.

I wonder if any of the kings actually followed these directions, from making their own copy, to reading it daily until the day they died. If you read through the books of Kings and Chronicles, I think you would be hard pressed to find someone who did. We know that Saul, the first king over Israel, did not. In fact, he lost the throne because he did not obey completely. You can read about that in 1 Samuel 15. While David was a “man after God’s own heart” I think the sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband might not have happened if he had been reading the law daily. Many kings did what was “detestable” in God’s sight, so we can be sure they did not.  Maybe it was Josiah that did. The “Book of the Law” was found during a renovation of the temple in the 18th year of his reign. He immediately read it and humbled himself before God. 2 Kings 23:25 says, “Never before had there been a king like Josiah, who turned to the Lord with all his heart and soul and strength, obeying all the laws of Moses. And there has never been a king like him since.”

There have been many disappointing and heartbreaking stories in the news recently of Christian leaders who have fallen for one reason or another. I think God’s instructions for a king are really appropriate instructions for all of us, particularly those of us in leadership. Meditating on this passage today has really challenged me to be more intentional and diligent, reading God’s word daily, so that I can be more firmly grounded in the truth and more completely, wholeheartedly obedient.


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Random Thoughts on Obedience – Inside and Out

Have you heard the story of the little boy (some variations are of a little girl) who has been told to sit down for time out, to fasten a seatbelt, or to sit in a highchair? The child refuses repeatedly, then finally sits, but declares, “I’m still standing on the inside!”

As I have been pondering obedience, that story comes to mind. Did the child obey? Well, he wasn’t quick to obey, but did he obey? Yes, he did eventually sit, so that was certainly outward obedience. As a parent or a teacher, we aren’t always satisfied with that level of obedience, are we? We want our children to obey both outwardly and inwardly.

Another story also came to mind. Jesus tells a parable of two sons. Matthew 21:28-32 (NLT) says,

“But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’  The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway.  Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.

“Which of the two obeyed his father?”

They replied, “The first.”

The first son clearly did not want to obey, but he did it anyway. The second son said what the father wanted to hear. He seemed willing, but he didn’t follow through. He didn’t obey. Obedience, then, is the doing of what is required and it is not necessary to like it or agree with it to fulfill the requirement.

The third thing I have been pondering along these lines is submission. Unlike obedience, submission isn’t limited to those in authority over us, and it is a choice we make; submission is not coerced or mandated. When we submit, we put aside our will and do the will of the one to whom we are submitting. It could be a one time thing or a constant sacrifice of love to a beloved. But unlike obedience, submission is a choice. It is a gift, an act of love and respect for the one to whom we are submitting. The most vivid picture of this occurred when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane. He prayed, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” and ““My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (from Matthew 26:36-46) Although Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”, He set aside His will to do the will of His Father. That is submission.

When we are training children, they must obey. Sometimes they obey willingly. These are the children who, when told to sit,  are also sitting on the inside. They are the ones who are learning to submit along with learning to obey. I hope as I and my faculty teach our students, that we nurture a willingness to submit that leads to hearts fully submitted to the Father.


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Obedience

Obedience. The word doesn’t exactly inspire joy in us, does it? As adults, we may tend to consider “obedience” as something for children. In fact, we would prefer to be obeyed than to obey. But the reality is we all have authorities over us whom we are required to obey. Obedience is for all us. And, I would submit, that obedience is for our good and could bring us joy.

A few years ago, I was sitting at lunch with some coworkers who were discussing their experiences using the invisible fence training their dogs to stay in the yard. When an invisible fence is installed, flags are put up around the yard where the fence is as a visual cue for the dog. If the dog tries to venture past the flag, they get a shock from their collar. Eventually the flags are removed and the dog learns their boundaries. The purpose of the invisible fence is to give their dog freedom in the yard while preventing him from going into the street where he could get harmed or lost. It’s a boundary that allows for an appropriate amount of freedom while protecting from dangers.

One of my friends told how her dog did not like the restriction of the invisible fence and would always run through it, getting shocked along the way, and get outside the perimeter of the yard. It always caused pain, but he persisted. Eventually, he was hit by a car and injured. My other friend had the opposite response from her dog. Her dog was so alarmed by the shock he could get at the perimeter, he stayed right by the house, too terrified to venture out into the yard.

As I listened to my friends’ dog stories, I though how much like them we are. God has given us commands to obey. He has given them to teach us right from wrong so that we can live a life that honors Him. His commands give us both freedom and protection. If we obey, He promises blessing and if we disobey, He warns of consequences.  Leviticus 25:18 says, “Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land.” Isn’t that sort of like the invisible fence? Obedience to God brings safety. Some of us, like the first dog, feel restricted by the law and choose disobedience, but it leads to pain, injury, and even death. Others of us are like the second dog. We are so fearful of disobeying that, like the Pharisees, we create rules of our own, more restrictive than God’s rules, to be sure we don’t disobey God. By doing so we miss the freedom that is ours!

Many of us choose to restrict ourselves from some things that we have the freedom to enjoy in moderation. Sometimes our choice morphs into “law”. Some Christians view drinking any wine or alcoholic beverage “sinful” and prohibit its use entirely, judging any believer who may responsibly drink wine on occasion. Of course there are good reasons for many to avoid it entirely, especially if they or their loved ones struggle with alcoholism. That is simply wisdom; a wise choice in light of loving our weaker brother. While this is a wise choice for many, avoiding alcohol entirely is not required by God. It is a man-made rule for a particular person or circumstance. The complete prohibition of anything with alcohol is an extreme to avoid excess which leads to drunkenness, which is sin. Like the Pharisees, we sometimes try to put our man-made rules equal with or above God’s. When I diet, I may try to avoid sweets entirely, and set a rule for myself to not eat cake. But if I decide to eat cake one day, I am not sinning. I am only breaking my own rule and possibly sabotaging my efforts to lose weight.

When we are afraid that we might “accidentally” sin, we sometimes set up our own fence much closer to the house so we don’t get zapped. But in doing so, we also miss the freedom of the yard. 1 John 5:3 says, “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” His commands are not burdensome! They provide boundaries of safety inside which we have tremendous freedom. Jesus says that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light. (Matthew 11:30)

In my neighborhood, there is a dog that has been trained by his invisible fence. He romps and plays all around the yard and when I walk by, he goes right to the edge of the boundary and barks at me to his heart’s content, but is a safe distance from me, protecting both him and me. I think when we understand that God’s commands are good for us and protect us from dangers, we can have the same joy in obedience. I think this is why David spends so much time in Psalm 119 rejoicing in God’s law.

“I will always obey your law, for ever and ever. I will walk about in freedom, for I have sought out your precepts.” Psalm 119:44-45