Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Want Polish? Try Elbow Grease

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As I have come to discover writing about practical steps to shine His light over the last several weeks, I have discovered (as is always the case) that the most practical approach to being more Christ-like is right there in His word. The Sermon on the Mount is a step-by-step guide to living the Christian life. My last post mentions two really good books on this Sermon if you would like to study it beyond the Sermon in the Bible.

Do you play a musical instrument? If you do or ever have, then you understand the kind of practice it takes to get any good at it. The same can be said of playing sports, crafting, or even writing. Anything you want to do well, you need to practice and repeat, practice and repeat if you expect to get good at the skill and stay good at it.

Take this concept a step further. For those of you who used to play an instrument well, what happens the first time you take up that instrument after a long period of absence? Do you sound like Mozart or clunk around a little? In the privacy of your own room, maybe how great or how terrible you sound wouldn’t matter so much to you. But, what if you had to make your first such performance in front of all the people you most want to impress in the world?

Staying in practice to live the life Christ wants for us should be like making that once-in-a-lifetime performance every day. Yet, too often, we let days slip away where we let our interactions with other people and with God idle on automatic, paying little or no attention to the being part of our Christianity because we think we are too busy just trying to remember what groceries we need to buy for that evening’s dinner. In other words, we treat life like a dress rehearsal instead of the real performance.

One person who, despite his reputation for stumbling in some of the ways of Christianity, understood the importance of being perpetually thinking about bettering his own actions was Benjamin Franklin. You may remember him as the guy who “discovered” electricity with a kite, string and key, but he also was a prolific writer. His “Poor Richard’s Almanac” includes countless wise sayings, advice on practical living.

Despite Franklin’s tendency toward wit, he took self-improvement very seriously. Did you know that he kept lists of goals to improve his speech, his personality, etc.? He also took the time to track his progress. Practice, practice, practice. No matter how hard it is to look at ourselves with high scrutiny, how else do we expect to know when to bend our knees before the Father in true repentance? Without repentance, how can we expect to become more Christ-like?

For those who drink tea, nothing is more impressive than a highly polished silver set, so bright that you can see your own reflection. If you own such a silver set, you know how much “elbow grease” it takes to make the silver shine.

Shining the light of Christ is so much more valuable than a shining silver tea set. But, the glory of it all is that we have help with this journey! Christ says that He will give us the Holy Spirit to dwell in us when we accept Him as our Savior. He also assures us that His “burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).

So, the end of this series on Practical Steps is actually a beginning because the wonderful thing about God and His mercy is that His forgiveness is always available to those who truly repent, as many times as it takes. As Nicole Nordeman sings in another of her great songs, “His mercies are new every morning.” Thank YOU, Jesus, for Your sacrifice and for the privilege of shining Your light.

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Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

The Challenge in Stones: Practical Steps to Shine His Light

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Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”   “I tell you,” He replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”  Luke 19:39-40

Stones are fascinating things. They are so hard, they form mountains only TNT can blast through. Yet, they can be smoothed and carved over time through the flow of a river or even just a dripping of water. We carry small stones, smooth and oval, in our pockets to rub soothingly. The casting of stones symbolizes judgment.

The first time the concept of the stones crying out was driven home to me was actually through the imagery evoked in one of Nicole Nordeman’s hits, “My Offering.”  She sings:

Give the rocks and stones voices of their own, if we forget to sing praises to our King.

The idea that something so hard and silent can be made to speak just underscores the awesome power of our God. But the idea of stones crying out also reminds us that God wants our praise. Let that sink in a minute. The God who created Heaven and Earth, who tells the sun where to rise and the oceans how to flow, who needs nothing because He made everything desires your praises. I don’t know about you, but that realization always makes me want to shout!

There is another side to stones, however, that is equally important to the concept of praising God with our voices, and that is the practical side of living the Christian life not just by a profession of our faith with our lips but through our actions.  Jesus explains it this way:

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like.  They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” (Luke 6:46-49)

The foundation of practical living from a Christian perspective is laid out for us in the Sermon on the Mount.  The teachings contained in Matthew 5-7 are the core of what authors on the subject dub “Kingdom Citizens,” who are you and I, believers in Christ working our way through this life in a quest to become more Christ-like. Kingdom living is not easy.  It requires the best of us. At the same time, we are never alone when we are attempting to walk in the footsteps of Christ, for He promises to be with us always (Matthew 28:20).
There are, I am sure, many wonderful works on the Sermon on the Mount, but there are two in particular I would like to recommend. One is Invitation to a Spiritual Revolution by Paul Earnhardt.  The other is Living Jesus by Randy Harris, who writes,
These students understand that the Sermon on the Mount is calling Christians to a way of life, not a demographic choice like checking a box.
Earnhardt adds,
A distorted view of “justification by faith” has been a popular subterfuge. Boiled down, this approach holds that Christ has no concern with how you live, only how you feel . . . . But this is not faith in God but “faith in faith” — a self-serving ‘believism.’  We are certainly justified by faith, but a faith that manifests itself by obedience to God’s commands (Luke 6.46; John 14.15, 21, 23; 15.10, 14; Gal. 5.6; Jas 2.14-26). That is clearly the message of the Sermon on the Mount.
Another famous story involving stones in the Bible underscores the narrow way. Remember when Moses struck the stone to bring water forth for the Israelites instead of speaking to it as God commanded him?  The consequence was that God showed Moses the Promised Land but did not allow him to enter it! For a man who had spent 40 years talking directly to God, doing what God asked, leading a mass of people against his own wishes, failing in one of God’s commands leading to such dire consequences just emphasizes how important it is to God that we do as He says!
But, another message of the Sermon on the Mount is the blessings of Christianity as a way of life, which the Bible (as well as Earnhardt and Harris’ books) also make clear:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
My best friend likes to say that God often hits us with pebbles, and if we ignore Him long enough, He’ll get our attention with a stone to the head. As I work to approach Christianity as a practical way of life, I will be sensitive to the pebbles this week and pray about acting on the opportunities to shine His light.
Posted in Christian Living

Up the Steep Hill: Practical Steps to Shine His Light

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Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  James 1:22

We have reached the point in discussing the practical approach to the Christian life that is not easy to write about because plain, truthful speaking is never easy to do well. How do we call ourselves and others to a higher standard of living without risking offending? In days of old, preachers like Jonathan Edwards embraced the fire and brimstone approach with sermons like, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Today, some pulpits are so afraid to drive off potential parishioners that their watered-down sermons don’t seem to resemble God’s word at all.

But as the book of James plainly tells us, we are not meant to just hear God’s word. I believe we are also not meant to just believe God’s word. We are meant to hear it, believe it, and act on it.

I heard minister Matt Soper put it this way:

Do you live by your conviction or by your convenience?

If we live our religion according to our convenience, we are very far from shining the Light of Christ.  Convenient religion–(I say religion because it would be blasphemous to connect the words convenient and Christianity, wouldn’t it?)–goes to Church some Sundays, usually holidays, follows the rules when it will feel good to pat oneself on the back after, usually self-reflects only when there is something positive to reflect upon, easily sees the flaws in others and tends to lean toward the desires and needs of the immediate moment instead of the eternal. James warns of this kind of religion: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder” (James 2:17).

Christian conviction, on the other hand, realizes that one must, as Paul admonished the Philippians,:

. . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (2:12-13).

James puts it another way:

. . . faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead (2:17).

In action, Christians become the salt and light to a world in the dark. In action, we prove our convictions about what we believe. Our actions, in fact, are our most practical approach to Christianity of all.

As Professor/Author Randy Harris explains, “I find it very interesting that both salt and light require two things. First, the elements salt and light need to be different from the things that they are a part of. . . . Second, salt and light need to penetrate their environment or other ingredients in order to make a difference in them” (from Living Jesus: Doing What Jesus Says in the Sermon on the Mount).

When you study the Sermon on the Mount as a way of life, you begin to see what Christ means to be different from the world but penetrate that world at the same time in order to make a difference, in order to shine His love for a world lost in darkness.  Living according to the model given us by Christ is not convenient. You must be kind, non-judgmental, slow to anger, a devoted helper, generous, hospitable. You must love others as you love yourself and act accordingly.

Christianity takes conviction. It is the narrow way up a steep hill that many seek and few find. It is thinking before acting. It is praying daily, or even moment-by-moment, for the will of God to be done in one’s life. It is choices made due to the same insight. It takes God behind you serving as the counterweight up the hill.

James offers several, practical tips to Christianity by conviction:

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless (James 1:26).

and

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice (James 3:13-16).

and 

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness (James 3: 17-18).

and finally

If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them (James 4:17).

Convenient things are quick and easy. They go by so quickly, we often do not take time to enjoy them, just get through them. But loving Christ and acting on that love is something worth taking all the time in the world for. The things of this world last only a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things, but the eternal reality of Christ literally is the grand scheme.  Conviction means slowing down enough to feel yourself breathing, to give yourself time to think before you act, time to pray before you act.

Conviction is Christ, God Himself as man, allowing Himself to be nailed to a cross for the sins of you and me, we who too often lean toward convenience.

The practical approach up any steep hill is slow and steady, taking the time to know where one foot needs to go next and where the other foot has been. It takes patience and strength and the will to succeed.  When you accept Christ as your Savior, you take the last step up the steep hill by yourself. The Holy Spirit will guide you from there, as long as you get out of the way.

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Believing God’s Good Intention: Practical Steps to Shine His Light

Wheat

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  (Hebrews 11:1)

Believing is the basis of everything a Christian does.  It is with faith like that of a child that we are encouraged to come to Christ (Luke 18:17).  It is faith that gives Abraham the courage to follow God’s commands to the point of almost sacrificing the very child God had promised him, a faith that is credited to Abraham as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).  It is faith that allows Joseph to see his exile in Egypt as a positive thing.  He tells his brothers:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives (Genesis 50:20).

Faith guides Peter to found Christ’s church, sees Paul through more than one perilous mission trip and long periods of imprisonment, gives Ruth the courage to follow her mother-in-law, heals the woman who touches the edge of Jesus’ garment with her fingertips.  Throughout God’s word, we are provided with examples of faith-based responses to the best moments and the worst moments in a person’s life.

So, even though I know all this, why do I still worry?  I don’t have an answer for that, except maybe the same prayer as the father of the demon-possessed boy, who cried out,  “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

In a media-driven world, we have plenty of heroes, usually action stars like Indiana Jones or Rocky or Captain America.  These men usually hold in their emotions, are good in a fight, and ultimately win.  But most of them are not heroes of faith.  In fact, most profess a faith in nothing except themselves, the individualism that marks American culture.

However, in the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by the heroes of faith in the Old Testament like Abraham and Joseph.  When I read how Joseph had such conviction that the events of his life were worked to the good by God, I found a new hero.  I thought to myself, what kind of power would I give to my life if I started seeing it in light of the same kind of conviction?  Wouldn’t I worry less if I kept reminding myself that God will work to the good everything in my life, maybe even especially the challenges?

Courage that can face the good and the bad in life with perfect peace is the kind of courage that means true heroism.  Read the rest of Hebrews 11 for a list of other heroes of faith.  Shining the light of Jesus starts with the first bold step of faith.  And if you don’t think you have it, all you need do is ask:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Our Weapon in Secret: Practical Steps to Shine His Light

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  Matthew 6:6

Child Praying

Do you remember the first time you tried to ride a “grown up” bike–no training wheels, just you and two wobbly tires and the hope that when your parent let loose of the seat, you wouldn’t smash immediately into the ground?  Or what about the first time you slipped behind the steering wheel of a real car, with your parents’ permission or not.  If you were smart, you knew just enough to be a little bit afraid of the almost 2,000 pounds of machinery you had in the palms of your hands.

There is almost nothing besides breathing that we humans do not do without first having some help figuring out how to do that something well.  Even though Paul explains to us that “. . . the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Romans 8:26), we can learn much about how to pray, not only from the Bible, but also from each other:

“Let us never forget to pray. God lives. He is near. He is real. He is not only aware of us but cares for us. He is our Father. He is accessible to all who will seek Him.”
― Gordon B. Hinckley, Standing for Something: 10 Neglected Virtues That Will Heal Our Hearts and Homes

“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one”
― Bruce Lee

“Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at His disposition, and listening to His voice in the depth of our hearts.”
― Mother Teresa

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”
― Abraham Lincoln

“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.”
― Meister Eckhart

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
― St. Francis of Assisi

But, lessons on prayer don’t have to be from someone “famous.”  Each church meeting is a chance to listen to others pray and learn from them.  If you listen closely, you will often hear phrases from the Bible and hymns, humble requests in full recognition of God’s will, a truthfulness about ourselves and our relationships with others that is sometimes so raw as to be almost painful.  You will also hear the calm serenity of true peace that comes with the acceptance of that will.

The Bible, of course, is full of examples of prayers and advice about praying:

Philippians 4:6-7

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing. in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Psalm 50:15

And call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me.

James 5:13-15

Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praises. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him
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And sometimes, lessons on prayer can come when you least expect them, like sitting on the floor of your office putting together a new chair and having your father-in-law ask you point-blank how you pray.  Luckily, after you stumble through your answer, he gives you three really useful pointers for your prayers that go something like this:

  1. Begin by picturing yourself in the long, flowing robe you have been walking around in all day.  The robe was clean when you put it on, but now it is dusty, dirty brown from the sandy path you have been walking.  Pray for God to wash away the grime in the name of Christ; watch the ugliness of sin melt away from your robe until it is beautifully, glaringly white.  You are in a peaceful meadow, washed clean, and ready to enter the perfect Presence of the One and Only.  Take a moment to be thankful of this opportunity to communicate with the Maker of Heaven and Earth, an opportunity purchased for you through Christ’s blood.
  2. Now that you are fully in the presence of God, you can ask to have a heart like Christ’s so that you might fulfill the commandment which encompasses all the others:   “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).  A heart like Christ’s will embrace compassion, seek God always, see through eyes of love.
  3. Finally, you can pray for the wisdom of Christ, so that you might know the true will of God and do it.  Wisdom knows the Bible in its totality and doesn’t decide right and wrong based on what “feels right.”  Wisdom is self-aware of one’s own frailties and failings.  Wisdom is slow to anger and knows that judgment is that work of God and not of man.

When you have prepared your mind in this way as you pray, you will find that your heart and brain are working together to really pray to God with your whole self.  You are more focused on thinking about the needs of others as well as yourself.  Most importantly, you are fully aware of the privilege of standing before the throne of God.

I Will Shine His Light this week by practicing my prayers.  Knowing that, like any good thing worth doing, prayer too takes practice, I will rejoice in my opportunities to approach the Father.  I will be glad that even if my prayers are only groanings, I can be confident that God understands me anyway.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Seeing Past the Speck: Practical Steps to Shine His Light

Various hands being held

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  Matthew 7:3

Jesus asks this question of us for such a valid reason.  How easy is it for us, after all, to see what is “wrong” in others and not realize that we, too have faults.  Isn’t it also often the case that the things that bother us most about ourselves, especially those things we haven’t fully acknowledged to ourselves that we possess, are the very things we think we see so clearly in somebody else?

If we manage with the help of the Holy Spirit to become master observers of our own actions and thoughts, then we take a step closer to doing the very thing Christ asks us to do:  we look at others to see their true needs without judging them.  In other words, we see right past any “specks” to reach out in what Paul would call “brotherly love.”

One of the easiest ways to start looking out for others without judging them is to pray for them.  When you start bringing other people’s challenges before God, like illnesses, job issues, stresses, loss, etc., you realize how much we humans have in common.  You come closer to walking a mile in the other person’s shoes, which means seeing the world through the other person’s eyes, the ultimate step toward achieving the Golden Rule:  Do unto others as you would have them do unto you or Treat others as you would treat yourself. 

As with any Christian action we want to take, our prayers must begin and end with love.  We cannot make a request of God that is actually a judgment we have wrapped up in “concern” to make it look better.  God sees through our words to the true motives deep in our hearts, after all.  By concentrating on the will of God to be done in any situation, we can become more peaceful about any situation because we have handed it over to Him.

Part of our prayers for others should include asking for guidance on what our actions should be in the situation.  What should we be doing to help, if anything, beyond our prayers?  Should we make some food to take to the person, send the person a card, offer to go with the person to a doctor’s visit, simply be sure to acknowledge the person and his/her pain when we see them, etc?  If we ask God for guidance on a regular basis, He will provide it to us.  And we will be more open to that guidance because we are in ongoing, open communication with Him.

Looking past the speck of those around us to try to see people as God sees them can be as simple as smiling at the people you pass in the hall at school, leaning down to help somebody pick up something they have dropped, holding open a door as you go in or out of a shop.  If you see things in others that make you recoil, before reacting in judgment, take a moment to think about where you would be if God had looked at the REAL you without mercy and grace:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23)

Only because Christ loved us enough to die for us are we saved from our sin and able to approach the Almighty God in prayer.  That gift of grace alone should make us gracious to others on a daily basis.

But, living in a fallen world where the devil takes stabs at us every chance he gets, being gracious takes dedication, devotion, the Holy Spirit, practice, and God.  The most practical way to shine the light of Jesus may just be to realize that, though we stumble, it is the fact that we keep rising again, ready to start anew in our commitment, that makes us children of the Light that is Jesus.

My practical step to shine His light this week: I won’t be looking for specks.  I’m going to see the part of me I want God to love in the faces of the people I encounter this week.  And I’m going to treat them just like I want that inner, most vulnerable part of me to be treated.  And I’m going to need God’s help to do that all the way.  He will provide.

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Mastering Observation: Practical Steps to Shine His Light

Practical Steps to Shining the Light of Christ, Part II

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September is National Yoga Month. That doesn’t have much to do with shining the light of Christ, except I’d like to borrow a concept from yoga to apply as a practical step in following Christ. Indulge me a bit here, please. Stick with me until the end and see if you agree or disagree with my idea.

One of the fundamental skills that makes yoga a success is one’s ability to focus, and I don’t mean focusing on some goal like winning the lottery or making all your dreams come true. What I am talking about is focusing on your own body, going inward with your thoughts to really feel what is going on inside your body.

By connecting the mind with the body in this way, in theory, you ultimately reach the kind of centeredness that allows you to stand on one leg for an hour or feel like your strongest, most peaceful self. When you are centered in this way, you are not affected by the things that happen around you. A rainy day doesn’t make you sad. Your decisions and your actions are not easily swayed like the wind.

To achieve this focus, yoga beginners first have to understand the difference in observing ourselves between watching and judging. All the while you are in a difficult pose, or even a relaxed, breathing posture, you are supposed to be paying attention to what you are feeling in your body. This can be hard to do at first. Most of the time, your mind wanders to what you didn’t finish on your to-do list for the day or what you plan to eat after workout.

As you improve in your skills at looking inward, the next difference between watching and judging becomes even more important. You may observe that your left leg feels tight. If you are watching, you breathe through the pain of the tight leg. You accept the tightness. You understand that, if you continue to practice your stretching and breathing, the tightness will eventually go away. Your mind stays inside your body. It stays focused.

If, instead of watching your left leg pain, you begin to judge it, you have a different outcome. As soon as thoughts like, my leg is always going to hurt, or I’ll never be able to do this enter your mind, you are no longer inside your body. Your focus has scattered and in a negative way that will not help you achieve your goals of a healthier body.

Just like a yoga master, a practical doer of God’s word has to master the art of observation: watching instead of judging. Watching means paying attention to our thoughts, words and actions. When we note that these do not align themselves with the word of God, we should immediately shift our efforts into getting back on the right path.

Jumping right into judging ourselves, and most often others, instead of watching is a sure way to get us focused on the wrong thing. In fact, I would venture to say judging is exactly what the devil would like to keep us busy doing.

But, judging is NOT in our job description. God tells us He is the judge. Christ tells us to worry about the log in our own eye before worrying about the speck in someone else’s eye. When the town wants to stone a woman to death, Christ challenges the crowd that if anyone there can look inside and see no sin, then let him cast the first stone.

At the same time, Christ holds us up to the Gold Standard. He promises His yoke is light, which means He is prepared to help us stay on the narrow path. When He tells the woman whom no one stones that He will also not judge her, He also tells her to “leave your life of sin” (John Chs. 7-8). It isn’t enough for the woman to acknowledge her sin. True repentance comes with her leaning on God to turn from the life of sin she had been leading.

So, not judging doesn’t mean not doing what is right in the eyes of God. And, the only way to really know what God says is right and wrong is to study His word. Some people like to think that they can go by how actions make them feel. “God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy,” they say. But God’s definition of happiness is not restricted by the vagaries of the human heart, “the great deceiver” (Jeremiah 17:9). God’s happiness includes what is ultimately the best thing for our spiritual life, which is the most important thing.

When we take it upon ourselves to judge our sin instead of observing it, we take away the strength we need to fight the nature of our flesh. Think about it: what do we gain by telling ourselves we don’t deserve to be loved by God because we have done something bad? Wouldn’t it be more productive, as an observer, to tell God, I acknowledge my sin. I need your help to do better the next time?

God knows we are going to stumble. That’s why He came to the world as a man and died for our sins to save us from our own weaknesses. He loves us enough to give us the freedom to choose Him. He loves us enough to forgive us. All we have to do is ask.

Spiritual watchers acknowledge their stumbles, repent, and continue trying to do better. Like becoming a Kung Fu master, growing as a Christian is a life-long practice that takes commitment, patience, and love.

Observation leads to improving your Holy Spirit muscle, just like watching your body in exercise instead of judging leads to improved muscles and health in the body because observing your spiritual life instead of judging it helps you stay inside yourself, where the Holy Spirit dwells and is waiting to help you back into the Light.

My shine-the-light practice for this week: I will work on improving my spiritual focus by practicing watching my spiritual walk this week instead of judging it.