Posted in Christianity, Love

Seek Right By Letting God Do The Heavy Lifting

1 John 4:16

In their song, “Sawmill Road,” Diamond Rio reminisces about the past, lamenting that innocence went out of style, and we just watched it go. 

Too often these days, I feel the truth of that statement. In an effort to be politically correct, we have forsaken not only morality but even decency in our misguided efforts to avoid giving offense or to simply appear “cool.”

Could our failures come from a lack of understanding of the true nature of love? Jesus tells us that the whole of the commandments can be summed up in two objectives: first, love God above all things, and second, love others as you yourself want to be loved.

Too many of us make the mistake of thinking love means putting no restraints on others, that if we really love someone, we will let them just be themselves. But the love God models for us just doesn’t work that way. The freedom God gives us in love is to choose to do right, to choose to stay in relationship with Him, where the only true peace on this earth can be found. That also means we have the choice to disobey God, to take ourselves out of relationship with Him because of our sin. That choice usually brings about very unpleasant consequences. God’s love means letting us experience those things, too.

Choices that go against what God clearly asks of us disrespect our Maker and put us out of close relationship with Him. We all make these mistakes at some point in life, which is why we all need grace to save us. But, when we continually make choices that show God we do not actually love Him or even want anything to do with Him, we have to be aware that eventually He may just give us what we ask for. Is it possible that hell is not so much fire and brimstone but a reality in which there is no God?

For God, love is not never having to say you’re sorry. His word repeatedly reminds us that a loving father disciplines his children, that God will humble a proud spirit, that He alone determines not only how the tides ebb and flow but also the rights and wrongs of a world He alone created.

We humans too often mistake freedom of choice for a license to be free. God has gifted us with the will to choose to serve Him. But that free will does not negate the straight and narrow path that God has defined as the true sign of walking by faith.  Our freedom to do whatever we feel like is really limited to the narrow choice between following God or refusing to accept Him as Master.

What does God-love do with sinners? One of the best examples comes from Jesus’ experience with the adulteress in John 8. The spiritual leaders in the town want to stone the woman who has been caught in adultery. They are within their rights according to Mosaic law, but they want to catch Jesus in a trap. So, they ask Him what they should do. He replies, let the person who is guiltless himself throw the first stone. Since no one is without sin, the crowd disperses without lifting so much as a pebble. Jesus tells the woman He will not condemn her for her one sin, but He tells her to go forth and sin no more.

There are several love lessons in this interlude.  The first is that God alone has the right to condemn. This does not mean that God alone has the ability to recognize sin. Not only did the spiritual leaders know the sin committed by the adulteress. They also knew the sins they themselves were guilty of, the sins that kept them from picking up the first stone. The responsibility for not sinning falls on the shoulders of the individual. Jesus tells the woman, “Go, and sin no more.” Having been forgiven this sin, the woman is now tasked with refusing to fall into the trap of that sin ever again.

God loves the sinner but hates the sin, a balancing act we humans find hard to accommodate at times. We don’t quite know how to speak out against sins like adultery without giving offense to the adulterer. Sometimes, we take the risk and wind up making enemies because our listener hears only condemnation and not love.  Other times, we remain silent and leave the impression that actions that actually go against God are somehow OK.

When I live my life right, I am so busy keeping my thoughts on God and the ways that He wants me to make a mark on this world through helping others, that I am too caught up in living Christ to find time for judging other people. When I do these things correctly, I am also reflecting the kind of peace and “togetherness” that draws other people. They want to know what it is about me that makes me who I am. I become a living example for them of the importance of Christ in one’s life. When they decide to accept Christ, He does the work in them that will keep them from sin, just like He works on me every day of my life.

Trusting God to do the heavy lifting in this life is one of the hardest things for me to do, and yet when I succeed in embracing this philosophy, my life is always at its best. I pray to remember this lesson the next time I am confronted by those who want me to accept choices that go against God’s definition of right.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

3 Lessons from David

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After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’  (Acts 13:22)

When you read about one of Israel’s greatest heroes, David, you can see his passion for God, but you also see his humanity.  Despite David’s love for God, he still does things that go against God.  He takes another man’s wife.  He takes a census of his people, even though that denied God’s claim that Israel would become a nation so large, it could not be counted.   He lives a life of such violence to secure the Israelite nation that God leaves the building of His temple to David’s son, Solomon, whom God promises will be able to live in a peaceful kingdom.

There are many lessons to learn from the story of David’s life.  Here are three pointers that have stuck out for me in the previous weeks:

Lesson 1: Repent with everything you’ve got

When David returns the Ark to its home in Jerusalem, he rejoices in God’s glory with his whole self, dancing with such exuberance in front of all his people that one of his wives reprimands him for it because she finds his actions undignified.  But God, who sees the heart, knows the truth of David’s love for God and actually punishes the woman for her attitude towards David.

When David messes up, he repents with the same kind of passion with which he rejoices.  He wears burlap, he fasts, he begs for God to forgive him, he doesn’t try to blame anyone else or his circumstances for what he ultimately did.  Most importantly, his repentance means something because he really intends not to mess up in the same way again.  He wants to do what is right in God’s eyes.

David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” (2 Samuel 24:10)

Lesson 2: Acknowledge God’s Sovereignty

David had plenty of opportunities to let his worldly successes go to his head.  Even though he had to fight many, many battles during his lifetime, he won.  As a young shepherd, he even took on a giant an entire army didn’t want to fight and killed Goliath!  Women fell at his feet, men bowed to his will, and almost no one had a bad word to say about him.  Think about how we Americans idolize the famous in our country and how few of them even believe in God, and you will begin to realize the real challenges David faced to not let his successes make him think he was close to being a god himself.

But, because David did have a heart for God, he didn’t fall into the trap of claiming his worldly successes for himself.  As you read through David’s story, he always gives God the credit for any success he has.  He asks for God’s permission before making battle plans.  He begs for God’s help for every problem that he faces.  In short, David understood that every step he took was under the protection and oversight of his heavenly Father.

I will extol the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. (of David, Psalm 34:1)

Lesson 3: Believe in God’s Love for YOU

No matter what bad things happen to David in his life, whether he felt he deserved them or not, he never doubted that God loved him and would see him through according to God’s ultimate plan.  When David’s son born out of his sinful relations with Bathsheba ultimately dies, David rises from the fasting he had been doing to ask God to change His mind, cleans himself up and begins the hard task of living again.  Because David accepts that God knows best and realizes that God loves him, he can continue to live by trying to follow God’s edicts and worship God for the One and Only God that He is.

Throughout the story of David, in even his most despairing Psalms, David always expresses the belief that God is good, God loves him, and God’s will being done is what is ultimately the best thing to happen–even when what happens really hurts.  Ultimately, I think, it is David’s sincere commitment to believing in God’s love for us that makes David’s heart like God’s own.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.   Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;  so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.   Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;  you taught me wisdom in that secret place.  Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;  wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.  Let me hear joy and gladness;  let the bones you have crushed rejoice.  Hide your face from my sins  and blot out all my iniquity.  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  Do not cast me from your presence  or take your Holy Spirit from me.  Restore to me the joy of your salvation  and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  Then I will teach transgressors your ways,  so that sinners will turn back to you.  Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,  you who are God my Savior,  and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.  Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.  You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;  you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.  My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;  a broken and contrite heart  you, God, will not despise.  (Psalm 51:1-17)

The Next Step

Being like David, flawed but loving God with all your heart, is a really grand goal.  You might consider it a first step toward the ultimate goal of being like Jesus, who had nothing to repent, but loved God, acknowledged His sovereignty and followed His will as an example for all of us.

Luckily for us Christians, we have Christ’s sacrifice so that the wrath we so deserve He took upon Himself on the cross.  With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have a guide to help us be more Christ-like each day.  Following David’s, and Christ’s, examples, we should find ourselves praying more, throwing our whole selves into our relationship with God, and growing our faith.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Posted in Christianity, Faith

HIS mercies are always new

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You wouldn’t know it just looking at this photo, but this young tree in my backyard represents a sort of miracle.

When we had one of the bad hurricanes blow through a few years back, a full-grown version of this tree covered my back patio, bearing a fruit that I couldn’t identify, but that the guys who did my yard liked to pick and eat, so I know it was edible.

The mighty winds of the storm up-rooted my beautiful tree, so I had the guys cut it down, letting them leave the trunk in place to save everybody a lot of hassle.

Imagine my surprise when I looked out my window one day to see what looked like a tiny weed coming up by that trunk. Before long, the weed started looking more and more like my old tree. Some day, I believe the yard guys will have fruit to snack on again.

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I am no credit to my ancestors. I have actually killed bamboo! So, when I looked out this cold winter at the bare branches of another tree in my backyard, I figured the cold had finally killed it.

But, Spring has come and with it, the leaves and beautiful flowers I love to see as I do dishes. It happened without my even noticing, this renewal. One day, the branches were bare. This morning, I was blessed to notice the tree had bloomed again.

Our relationship with the Maker of all things is like that. Every day, whether we realize it or not, He is ready to let us begin anew. He is working His Spirit in us to make us bloom.

The love of Christ is new for us every day. No matter how badly we mess up, He is ready to forgive. We can begin clean again.

And produce the fruit that feeds forever.

In Christ,
Ramona