Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Life is Full of Missteps

     This past week, I got out of my car to walk to the front door.  This is something I do every day when I get home from work.  My arms were loaded with items I was planning to take into the house.
 As I walked down the sidewalk admiring the recently trimmed shrubs, my right foot stepped on the edge of the sidewalk sending me into a headlong fall.  My left knee and left arm hit the sidewalk hard breaking the fall and helping me avoid hitting my head on the ground.  However, I was shaken to say the least.  I felt like I had just been in a car accident.  My neck hurt,  my arm was bloodied and my knee began to swell.  While I now laugh at myself, my first thought was did any of the neighbors see my graceful fall to the ground?  I know.  How silly can I be, but nevertheless it went through my mind.
     Of course, I never planned or even thought about the possibility of falling down while strolling up the sidewalk to the house.  It is the same way in our Christian walk.  Most of us do not set out to step off the edge of godliness into temptation and sin.  However, it can happen to anyone unless we remain vigilant.  All we have to do is remember David and Bathsheba or even Samson.  Both men toyed with sin thinking that no one would know about their actions.  Yet, we know that David fell into adultery and then murder in order to satisfy his sinful nature.  Samson, likewise, did not keep his Nazarite vows.  His sinful lifestyle led to Delilah's betrayal (Judges 16) and eventually his death in order to save Israel.  We may not be a King David or a Judge of Israel such as Samson, but we are called to live a life of godliness that glorifies the Lord.
     Peter warns believers in his letter:  "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (I Peter 5:8).  Anyone familiar with the hunting prowess of a lion should be on guard for anything or anyone who tries to lead us astray.  Furthermore, the Apostle Paul tells us to put on the full armor of God in order to resist the enemy in Ephesians 6:13-15.  To my way of thinking, these men of God would not have warned us if the danger of our wandering heart was not real.  Herein lies the problem.
     Most often, we get relaxed concerning sin and temptation.  We tell ourselves, "I've walked down this road many times and know my way around.  I have nothing to fear."  It is at moments like these when we can be our most vulnerable especially if we are leaning on our own understanding and moving in our own will power.  Just like I did, we can step off the edge of the walkway and fall.  To be certain, God is there to pick us up when we do fall, but the goal in Christian living is to walk in His power daily so we do not get injured or injure others with our sin.
     Though I have stated this advice in many of my devotions through the years, it bears repeating.  We need to be people of the Bible.  We need to read it, chew on it, digest it and make it an integral part of our daily walk.  This coupled with God's armor and being alert to the wiles of our enemy will do more to keep us on the path of a life set apart and sanctified for God.
     While we can recover from a fall, wouldn't it be better if we did not have to go through the pain at all?  God has provided for us His Spirit to teach us, His Word to direct our steps and His Son to serve as our foundation of faith.  We have all we need for life and godliness.  Therefore, let us be careful how we walk each day avoiding the pitfalls that surround us.  Trust me, one little misstep can really
be bone jarring.  May God help us stay the course and walk in His light so we will not stumble in the darkness of sin.  Selah!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New Every Morning

     Yesterday, our youngest son posted  verses that I have come to love and cling to especially in difficult days.  This wonderful reassuring passage comes from Lamentations 3: 22-24:  "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.  The Lord is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in Him."  What comforting words for our eyes to read!  These words were given by the Prophet Jeremiah at the time of Judah's judgment.  He felt sorrow for his people who had wandered far from God, but during this time, he began to consider God's grace, mercy, and compassion.  Isn't that what happens when we go through trials?  We are either driven to God or we run away from Him only compounding our problems.  Jeremiah ran to God for answers.
     While reading messages on Facebook today, I ran across a friend who was going through illness and an eye infection.  She felt miserable, but then, she began to think about others in her life who were facing the loss of a loved one, terminal illness of another friend and the many others facing trials far greater than hers.  She said that this made her realize that even though she did not feel good her situation was much better than others she knew about.  She was doing what Jeremiah did in the middle of his sorrow.  She turned to the Lord and counted her blessings.
     When we take a closer look at the term "steadfast" in verse 22, we see a term used at least 250 times in the Old Testament.  By using this term, Jeremiah was pointing out God's gracious love that includes His forgiveness, mercy, truth and compassion.  The word itself suggests a solid, dependable character.  Indeed, God is all of that and more.  His love never ceases.  Drink that thought in for a moment.  How wonderful to know that despite our faithlessness our God still loves us and calls us back to Him.
     In addition to his love never ending, His mercies to us do not come to an end either.  Instead, every morning, we receive a new batch of mercy from the Lord.  Just like the manna that God fed to His children as they wandered in the wilderness, God's mercies fall upon our hurting hearts each day.  This should give us good reason to rise with joy in the morning!
     Perhaps the greatest word of encouragement that comes from these verses is the news that God is faithful.  He will never leave nor forsake us.  While others may disappoint us, He will never be anything but faithful to the covenant made with those whom He has called through the blood of Christ.  Because of this trait, Jeremiah was able to write that God was His portion, and he would continue to hope in Him no matter what the circumstances looked like.
     No one can predict what tomorrow will bring in our lives, but we know that no matter what happens God is good, faithful and His mercies are new every morning.  This is a truth we need to cling to and rest in on a daily basis.  This is why the Word of God is a treasure for us to read, absorb and grow in.  As we saturate our minds in verses like this, we will find peace of mind and heart in Christ.
     When we rise tomorrow morning, let us thank God for the new mercies He offers us for the day knowing that His love for us is faithful and steadfast.  Selah!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Which Water Will You Drink?

          Several years ago, we had a serious decline in our rainfall producing drought conditions here in Florida.  Our lakes are lower than normal, and water restrictions were in place for a number of years.  Water is certainly a valuable commodity which we cannot live without.  However, some water is definitely better tasting than other water.
     When I was growing up, I used to visit my Great Aunt Mickey and Great Uncle Paul Eitzman at their farm near Holgate, Ohio.  We would spend a day visiting and having fun on their farm.  Unfortunately, they had terrible water!  Now they didn't think it was bad but like many farm families, they had sulphur water.  It smelled like rotten eggs!  They even drank it, and when I think about that, it turns my stomach.  I would often hold my nose if I needed water so I could quickly get it down.  They had another faucet in their home where they had treated water which was better, but I much preferred the water we had at home.
Pure clean Florida Spring water
     God's people didn't drink the best water either during the time of Jeremiah the Prophet.  In Jeremiah 2:9-13, we read:  "Therefore I will yet bring charges against you,' says the Lord,' and against your children's children I will bring charges.  For pass beyond the coasts of Cyprus and see; Send to Kedar and consider diligently, and see if there has been such a thing.  Has a nation changed its gods, which are not gods?  But My people have changed their Glory for what does not profit.  Be astonished, O heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid; Be very desolate,' says the Lord.  'For My people have committed two evils.  They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn themselves cisterns - broken cisterns that can hold no water.'"
     What God spoke through Jeremiah was true.  The children of Israel did not desire God the Father who had delivered them.  Instead, they preferred other gods.  They gave up their joy, their glory, their true lives for things that meant nothing in the end.  They exchanged the all powerful ever living Fountain of Life for sulphur water!  That is how I see this passage.
     Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Living Water and He asks us to drink deeply of him.  When we do, it is life and health to our bones.  When we drink of this world, we are drinking sulphur water and it stinks.  The result is that we stink too.
     How often are we like those people in Jeremiah's day?  Do we get tied up with the temptations, desires, and pursuits of this life to the exclusion of God?  I think we all do at one time or another.  We can tell ourselves all day long that sulphur water smells and tastes good, but it doesn't compare to clear, pure spring water.  My aunt and uncle got used to sulphur water so they didn't think much about it.  Likewise, we can get so used to our worldly viewpoints on power, money, and self that we cannot see where we have departed the path that God has laid out for us.  That's where the Holy Spirit comes in.  He is able to tell us that our lifestyle stinks just the way sulphur water does.  He is able to refresh us and open our eyes to the Living Water.
     Beginning today, let us ask God to open our eyes and give us a thirst for His Living Water that we may live to His glory and purpose.  As we seek Him, the Holy Spirit will reveal areas of our life where we have been willing to settle for sulphur water.  I would rather bathe in His Living Water of the Word than to be drenched in the smell of this world.  Selah!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Taking on the Offense of Others

     Have you ever been caught in the middle of two warring factions?  It is not often a pretty sight, and the worst part is that we can get caught up in it to the point that we are unable to lend true encouragement to either side should they ask us.  Furthermore, we may end up siding with one person in the dispute.  If this happens, it can lead to bitterness towards a brother/sister in Christ.  Taking on another person's offense only leads to heartache both for the person wounded and the one who has come along side.
     Certainly, as Christians, we want to encourage a brother or sister who is hurting.  God has called us to minister to one another.  However, the danger is that we can go from helping to judging the person who caused the pain when we may not have all the information.  After all, there are always two sides to every story.  None of us is sinless in any disagreement.  What we need to recognize is the sovereignty of God in every situation.
     For example, God may be using a disagreement between two people to bring about growth in one or both people.  He sees things from an entirely different perspective than we do.  His viewpoint is free from the tunnel vision that we have as creatures bound by space and time.  He also knows the beginning and the end of a matter.  There are been several times in my own life when I felt devastated over broken relationships, but always I recalled the verse of Jeremiah 29:11:  "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
I cannot even fathom the things God has planned for me, and I am certain you cannot either.  Therefore, we need to place our trust in Him for an outcome far better than we ever imagined.  If we throw ourselves into the middle of a conflict, we might be hindering the lessons God is trying to teach.
     In addition, we need to remember that painful circumstances and people are merely tools in the hands of God.  He will never let us be tempted beyond what we are able to bear.  Through Christ, we have the ability to persevere for He won the final victory over sin and death.  While we may struggle for a time, we will pass through the valley and once again, experience God's comfort and peace.  This is what we must remind our friend who faces pain at the hands of another.  If we get entangled in trying to sort out why things are occurring as they are, we may be no better than Job's friends who never really brought him reassurance he needed.
     For those of us concerned about loved ones in conflict, we must keep in mind that if we do take on the offense of our friend, we can become bitter towards the person who brought about the pain.  Romans 12:17-18 instructs us:  "Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.  If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."  The verses which follow tell us that it is up to God to repay.  We are to do what is totally out of character for fallen creatures.  We are to feed and give drink to our enemy which in turn heaps burning coals on his head. Then Paul concludes with these words of wisdom:  "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (vs. 21).  This is how we win the victory.  It is not in OUR nature to do this but by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can fulfill this call.
     Allowing anger towards another because they hurt a brother in Christ will also reap for us fruit that we will not enjoy.  We can become depressed, worried, fearful, angry, and develop a negative focus on life and even our own circumstances.  When it begins to reach this point, we have to stop and ask ourselves:  "Is God capable of righting wrongs?  Is he sovereign?  Does He love our brother in Christ as much as we do?"  If we answer "yes" to any of these questions, then we need to let go of trying to manage what is not under our control anyway.  In fact, if we continue to take on our friend's offense, we can become just like the person who caused the hurt to begin with.
     Instead, God calls us to put our focus on Jesus, our perfect example.  We also need to remember that God may be using a painful person in the life of our brother in order to give them a chance to let God reveal Himself through them.  He may be trying to teach us that as well.  The Apostle Paul reminds us to think on things that are good in Philippians 4:8:  "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  Far better for us spend our time in prayer for those in conflict and speak words of encouragement than to wallow in all the negatives.
     This I know and believe that God has an answer and a purpose for everything that comes to us or our friends.  Our goal should be to encourage and act as a peacemaker rather than an agitator.  The world if full of the latter, and they bring no comfort to anyone.  Therefore, let us make it our goal to glorify God and avoid taking on the offense of our brother so that those around us will see Christ in our lives.  Selah!