Sunday, July 29, 2012

Throwing Stones

Throwing Stones
July 30, 2012
John 8:7  "When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, 'Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.'"

We LOVE to point the finger at other people's faults.  It is so easy to see the wrong doings of others, but we seldom point our own finger toward our selves.  While someone might be in the wrong at an exact moment in time, pointing it out in a fault finding manner is never what the Lord intended.  In general, instead of pointing out the faults in others, a right thought process to have is: "I'll allow the Lord to work in his life, as I'd like the same consideration for myself."  The Lord knows each individual heart; He knows just the perfect way to correct every one of us.  He is sovereign and it is best to place it all, including the person who is in the wrong, in His hands.

Consider the story of the woman who was caught in adultery.  Jesus appeared to a crowd who was just about to stone a woman to death.  It was a stoning crowd formed with the intent to kill, not a few rogue vigilantes.  The woman was caught having an affair and the rules of he day allowed her to be stoned.  It is probably safe to assume that her adulterous act did not take place on that exact same day, but rather she had been through a due process administered by a few religious leaders.  In fact, back then, the woman's husband could have forgiven her and taken her back, but instead he probably gave consent to the stoning and may have been present in the crowd.  To begin the stoning, a religious leader then had to give permission for the first stone to be cast, setting it permanently in motion.

Very few of us consider the emotions of the husband and the wife in this story.  It is probable the marriage was arranged and he much older and respected in the community.  She was property and possibly one of a few wives.  It becomes easy to see how a person in this type of scenario could find emotional contentment in another's arms.  For Jesus to forgive her, without passing judgment on her in that crowded moment, she must have had a contrite heart about her indiscretion.  Jesus didn't feel the punishment fit the crime, especially at the hands of those who were holding the stones.  The husband did not extend forgiveness or try to stop the stoning.  He and the religious leaders decided that putting the woman to death was the best option for her failures.  Jesus disagreed.  He reminded each and every one in that crowd of their own sins, that they all had many failures, even the religious leaders and the husband of the adulterous woman.

I do not condone adultery, nor am I suggesting it is an easy offense to forgive, but I do know that each and every one of us has many faults and failures we would be ashamed to see made public.  And no man or woman is above any sin; we are each capable of making the same mistakes as others.  The faults of others may not be as obvious as the sin of adultery, but we still like to make it known to others that they are failures and worthless, maybe even deserving of great punishment.  But the Lord would say to you to allow HIM to work on the individual; allow HIM to extend mercy and forgiveness at the perfect moment, correcting and leading in His sovereign manner.  After all, the Lord has done this for you and saved you from those who would cast the first stone at you for your failures.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Proverbs 10:12, Proverbs 17:9, Matthew 7:1-5, 1 Peter 4:8

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Deer Water

Deer Water
July 23, 2012
Psalm 42:1 "As the deer  pants for streams of water, so my soul pants  for you, my God.."

Deer are mammals that need a great deal of water.  Pound for pound, deer actually need about twice the water consumption than humans.  Despite living in moderate climates, a constant water source is not always available, certainly not guaranteed.  Deer can metabolize a good portion of their water from plant matter they ingest, but it takes a lot of leaves to generate the full amount of water they need. It is far easier to drink from a flowing stream than it is to suckle the leaves of the forest for five quarts of water a day.  Because of this need for so much water, they work hard to identify permanent water sources.  Deer prefer clean moving water as opposed to stagnant ponds, but they will take what they can get.  When their young are born, they teach the other family members where the good water is located.  This is critical to their survival.

Since deer have such a deep dependence on a reliable source of good water, a refreshing watering place becomes a place of comfort for them in times of difficulty.   If they need a lot of water quickly, or when they are hurt or dying, they immediately head toward their comfort source of water, panting heavily for it.  They need it; their survival depends upon it.  It is instinctual for them to run to that water source.  The Psalmist understood this about deer when he penned the words of this Scripture: "As the deer  pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God."  This is an analogy of a dire situation in need of refreshment.

When this Psalm was written, the author was in a deep and troubling time in his life, knowing the only thing that could help his ailing spirit was the refreshing presence of the Lord Almighty.  His soul was in anguish and required the Lord.  But the writer was not suggesting that the only time he needed the Lord was when he was in trouble.  He recognized that he needed the Lord's presence daily, but when he was in trouble, he needed MORE of the Lord and he needed it NOW.

It is far easier to run to a water source in an emergency when you know where it is located.  For deer, if they don't have a permanent water source, then in an emergency, finding it can be difficult and could prove fatal.  The Psalmist was grateful for his permanent water source, a known place of refreshment where he could get more in times of trouble.  So often, people, even Christians, only turn to the Lord when they are in trouble.  The Lord did not intend for us to live this way.  He desires to be the permanent water source for your spirit, keeping you refreshed at all times, even more so in times of trouble.  But turning to Him only in an emergency is only crippling yourself.  The path to the spiritual water source might not be so easily traveled in times of difficulty if you haven't traveled it daily.

Deer run to their known water source when they are in trouble.  Where is yours?  When your spirit is in dire need of refreshment, who is the first person you call upon?  Is it a family member or is it the Lord?  When your soul is thirsty beyond belief, what is the first thing you turn to in order to quench it?  Do you turn to a sleeping pill, a glass of wine, or an unhealthy relationship?  Or do you desire the Lord?

Though the Psalmist was in trouble, he at least knew what was needed.  He needed refreshment from the one who gives living water.  How deeply do you long for the Lord today?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Psalm 41 & 42, Psalm 119:82, Is 26:8-9, Is 58:11, John 4:7-15, John 7:38

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Not Guilty

Not Guilty
July 16, 2012
Romans 8:1 "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus . . ."

Guilt. It is a feeling we are all too familiar with. There are people in our lives who can make us feel guilty, but the worst kind of guilt comes from inside when we review our past mistakes. No one is perfect and even the best of Christians has regret, feelings of remorse and embarrassment all wrapped into one. We remember our moral failures and wish we could erase the past, even our recent past as we continue to make some of the same mistakes. Living with guilt can be wearisome. Living with guilt can even be attributed to death. It disrupts sleep cycles, healthy eating habits, and the immune system. If you weaken the body, don't eat well, and aren't getting any sleep then the human body will start to shut down. The feeling of guilt can certainly kill you.

Some people are naturally more guilt ridden than others. Though their past mistakes aren't any different from yours or mine, some people re-play their mistakes over and over in their minds, never letting it go, always living with regret. It is understandable why Paul needed to address the feeling of guilt and condemnation for all Christians in one of his many letters to the churches. He said there is no condemnation from above, if we belong to Christ. The words for condemnation mean to declare someone in the wrong and require accountability. The Bible says that if you are in Christ, then even Jesus Christ does not declare you wrong anymore for your past failures.

When Paul wrote this, he was reviewing his own personal sin. Despite being an amazing man of God, Paul still sinned. Read the Scriptures right before Romans 8:1. Paul continued to wrestle with his sin and felt guilty that he was not perfect at all times. The feeling of guilt affected his relationship with the Lord but he finally realized that he was the only one who saw the past mistakes. Christ had forgiven him and wiped them away from memory, yet Paul continued to feel guilt, as if it would make him a better person. It did not. Christ didn't declare him wrong anymore and Paul finally understood this. It freed him, realizing that Christ didn't condemn him for yesterday's failures.

You might be ridden with guilt for your past mistakes, maybe even your recent mistakes, but Christ would say to you today that you are forgiven and He does not hold those sins against you. He does not condemn you and neither should you. Let go of the past moral failures and the sin of yesterday. When you remember your mistakes, you are attempting to nullify the work of Christ's forgiveness in your life. Guilt is never a feeling from the Lord; it is lie from the pit of Hell and you are to be free from this burden that is weighing you down. You cannot move forward if you are replaying the past. Be free from your guilt and know that Christ does not condemn you. Receive His forgiveness and live free from condemnation.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Psalm 103:12, Romans 7:7 - 8:11

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Elusive Happiness

Elusive Happiness
July 9, 2012
Eph 3:19 "and to know this love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

Happiness is sought after but rarely attained.  We all make efforts to be happy, engaging in activities we think will bring us happiness.  Usually, though, those efforts leave us feeling empty, maybe even worse than before we started our quest.  Our rationale is that when we have whatever it is we are striving for, THEN we will be happy.  But when we get what we want, we always seem to want something more, something different, because we didn't actually achieve happiness.  Happiness seems elusive; it IS elusive.  We feel an emptiness inside, a void, that we want to fill with something that makes us feel good.  No one wants to feel emotional discomfort; we want to feel happy, to BE happy.  While the desire to be happy is common, it is achieved by only a few, those who have figured out the key to happiness.  The key to happiness is something you can only understand when and if you experience it.

The key is found in what you are trying to put into that empty space inside of you.  I cannot teach it to you, and I don't always have it myself.  Happiness is revealed as a direct result of having a relationship with the Lord.  Happiness is not the actual relationship, but what comes from having that relationship; it is being filled with all the fullness of God.  We feel emptiness inside because we are not filled with Him.  The only one that can fill us is the Heavenly Father, and the only thing that will satiate the emptiness is being filled with His love.  We have been programmed to not feel loved unless we think we deserve it, as love in the human sense is usually conditional.  We carry that belief over into our relationship with the Lord and don't understand why we still feel emptiness, the lack of happiness.

Recognizing this human tendency to block out the Lord's love and therefore hinder happiness, the Apostle Paul wrote about it in a prayer.  Ephesians 3:15-19 contains a prayer for us, explaining the fullness of God.  Read it for yourself.  It is a power that is brought to us through His love, an experience of being full of Him that satisfies all the emptiness inside.  But you cannot be full of the Lord while you are full of everything else.  To be full of the Lord, and His power, you have to spend time in His presence.  And you cannot be in His presence while you are sinning; therefore sin and happiness are mutually exclusive.  

You cannot be selfish and still pursue happiness.  You cannot be full of the Lord's love and full of greed or hatred.  You cannot be full of the Lord's love if you are bitter and angry.  You cannot be full of the Lord's love if you ignore Him, don't spend any time with him, and generally have a disregard for His Word in your life.  In other words, you cannot be happy if you are disregarding the Lord.  But the opposite is true, as well.  If you have an amazing relationship with the Lord, then you have every opportunity in this world to be truly happy, to fill what is empty in your life by experiencing His love for you.  Though you may have felt His love once or twice, it takes a constant effort to block everything out (worry, fear, anger, frustration, jealousy) in order to have His presence constantly.  If you don't feel loved, then you aren't spending enough time in His presence or being filled with Him, and you won't EVER be happy.  Show me an unhappy person and I will show you a person who is not filled with ALL the FULLNESS of God.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: John 3:29, John 16:24, Eph 3:14-21

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Right Not Right

Right Not Right
July 2, 2012
1 Cor 8:9  "Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak."

We always like to be right, to prove to others that we know what we are talking about, to gloat when the facts prove our point.  We go out of our way sometimes to let others know we are in the right (especially our spouses).  It is a contradiction of self if we are wrong; we HAVE to be right, our personal security and self worth rest in it.  We find ways to support our own beliefs and refuse to look foolish if there is a possibility we are wrong.  We even plan our defense beforehand at times, just in case someone might question if we are right.

The Lord allows us to be right (and wrong).  He has given us a free will and we are allowed to do what we want, though He may not approve of everything.  You are allowed to do anything you'd like, even if it is a sin.  You can even prove to others when you are right and assert your rightful place in life.  But it is not always best to do so.  In fact, you have the right to demand your rights, but you also have the recommendation to keep your rights to yourself.  The Lord actually recommends that you keep it all to yourself, especially when it is usually in the best interest of others.

Consider drinking alcohol for a moment.  Though getting drunk is a sin, consuming alcohol, in and of itself, is not a sin; it is not wrong.  You have the right to drink a glass of wine.  However, if in drinking that glass of wine, you might offend your brother or cause someone else to struggle, then the Lord asks you to keep that right to yourself and not exercise it.  You have the right to be right, but you also have the right to not exercise your rights.

Scripture says many times over that it is better to keep things to yourself than to cause a scene, create drama for someone else, or enable someone else to stumble.  If you lived on an island, by yourself, then there are few things you could do that could be considered wrong.  But when there are so many other people who are affected by your life and actions, it is your duty as a Christian to lay down your rights in an effort to promote peace and the well-being of others.  The Lord commends you when you lay down your rights and actually says it is BETTER to not assert your rights.  This seems backward, but it does not matter if others know you are right.  As long as the Lord is aware, and knows what you've done, you have done the better thing.  Being right is not actually right.  Laying down your rights is best, as it is then that you are exemplifying the embodiment of Christ and demonstrating love for your fellow man.

Keep your actions to yourself and your mouth shut when tempted to prove how you're right.  In doing this, you will gain the favor of the Lord and accomplish His will on this earth.  Promote others ahead of yourself; you have the right to do this.  Prove to me how you're right and I'll show you where you're wrong.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Prov 21:2-3, Prov 31:8, Is 1:17, Is 51:7-8, Matt 6:1-3, Rom 6:13, 1 Cor 6:12, 1 Cor 7:35, 1 Cor 9:1-15, 1 Cor 10:23, James 3:18, 1 Peter 4:8