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You fool! Matthew 5:22b

rascal

No matter how rotten or rascally Buddy acts, I never curse him out. Why? Because I love him.

However, it’s much more difficult when dealing with human beings. Unlike my faithful dog, they can inflict great hurt or act hatefully. I am particularly sensitive to people who are supporting political movements that are damaging the freedom, and threatening the liberty, of this great country I grew up in. I wonder if future generations are going to enjoy the freedom and prosperity that I have, and hope to continue to have, during my lifetime. But I have to remind myself of Jesus’ warning during His well-known Sermon On The Mount speech:

“But I say to you…whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”–Jesus, Matthew 5:22b

Because we’re all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), God demands that we treat each other with respect. God showers His love on all humankind through what is called “common grace,” meaning that He gives good things to all people through what He has provided on earth: food from the ground, rain for crops, air to breathe, etc.

But it’s really easy for me to forget that when I’m feeling passionate about a topic or frustrated because someone isn’t acting the way I think they should. I have to remind myself that one of God’s greatest gifts to us is free will: The choice to love and obey God freely or to choose not to. God, being all powerful, could force us to obey Him or zap us whenever we do what displeases him. Jesus could easily have struck the Roman soldiers dead who beat and flogged him before forcing him to walk to His crucifixion. But He didn’t. Instead, hanging naked and beaten to a pulp from the Cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing.”–Luke 23:34

Since I’m a follower of Christ, He expects me to glorify Him in this hurting world, to be light and salt, to stand out, to draw people into relationship with Him.

It’s a challenge for me because we’re not supposed to be cowards, standing idly by while people destroy themselves with sin or promote evil, but are exhorted to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). But I often find it difficult to figure out how to be honest yet not be condemning. I don’t feel like I have many roles models to pattern myself after. Which forces me to rely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

And some people seem to be naturally easy-going: nothing much fazes them. That’s not me. I have the passionate, artistic personality–that’s the way God made me. Emotions are not evil, but how we express them can be, when we hurt, injure, or mistreat others instead of loving, inspiring and gently exhorting them.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s a lot easier to be patient with Buddy, not only because I love him but because I do have more control over his behavior than I do people. I cannot make people love or be grateful or work hard or do good. I work at obeying God–to love others as I love myself (Matthew 22:39–and have to learn to let go and trust Him to work out His will in the lives of others, this country, and the world. Creation and humanity was His plan and He’s ultimately in control, not me.

***

If you’re not born-again, you will discover that, no matter how hard you try, you cannot improve yourself. Only God can change your soul and make you into the loving person you’d like to be. He made you with a purpose and loves you very much. If you’re tired of continually failing, please say this prayer:

Lord Jesus, I’m sorry that I’ve sinned and offended You. Please forgive me. I’m tired of trying to be a better person in my own strength. Please come into my life and help me to become the person You created me to be and to fulfill your will and purpose for my life.

If you’ve said this prayer, God bless you. You have eternal life and are starting a wonderful journey. Please find a local, Biblically-based church or Bible study where you can becomes friends with, and be grow in your faith, other believers. It helps you to stand strong when you don’t feel alone.

 

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Hurting People, James 4:11-12

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When I first adopted Buddy from Silky Terrier Rescue, he was terrified of me and my family. He didn’t utter one sound for several days, not even a sniff. We thought his voice box had been damaged by abuse but it turned out he was just too frightened to make noise. When he barked at the neighbor’s dog and was praised for making a sound, he realized it was ok to make noise. Now he’s our most talkative dog ever.

For years, however, whenever I reached toward him, he would duck as if I wanted to hit him. He doesn’t do it as often now, but he still does duck occasionally and it hurts my feelings because I have no desire to harm Buddy. I don’t know the details of his previous life and can only speculate. Only God knows, but now Buddy has a family who loves and cherishes him. He gets treats and walks and hugs and personal care.

Considering this, I realize that people often act like Buddy. There might be abuse in their past or adverse circumstances that I don’t know anything about that might be causing them to act the way they do. Sometimes people act nasty or fearful because of original sin, but sometimes there are other mitigating factors.

“Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law…There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor?”–James 4:11-12

When the check-out clerk who is scanning my grocery items looks sullen or is unfriendly, I try to remind myself not to react unkindly. I know how many things I conceal from people that I have far more contact with. The clerk may have been forced to come to work to save their job but may not be feeling well, their dog may have run off or been killed that morning, their kid may have just entered drug rehab, or a customer earlier that day was very rude and they haven’t been able to shrug it off yet. I just don’t know what may have happened ten minutes or ten hours ago in that person’s life. Only God knows.

Similarly, a coworker may be acting like a butt because they were told bad news about a relative or had an ugly family fight that morning. Or they may just feel cranky from lack of sleep and it’s an aberration and I need to be patient while they work it out of their system.

I’m not saying that people should make excuses for acting badly toward others, but we are all human and I am certainly not Miss Sunshine 24/7 myself and need others to forgive and be patient with me, too. “Love is patient, love is kind…” (1 Corinthians 13:4)

Now there are indeed times to judge because we are told to “Open your mouth, judge righteously…” (Proverbs 31:9)  We’re not supposed to remain silent and let evil triumph. “Like a trampled spring and a polluted well, is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” (Proverbs 25:26)

But in most circumstances of life, I need to remind myself to be patient, be kind, and not judge. Not to be reactive or defensive, but to be proactively loving. I’m still learning because I have my “hot buttons” but I think I’m doing better than I used to because of God’s life in me.

God bless you this week.

***

Without the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in our lives, it’s difficult to be the person we want to be. God gives us a new heart, a new spirit, and the mind of Christ when we admit we’re sinners and give our hearts to Him. Becoming born-again isn’t just about escaping Hell and going to Heaven; it’s about entering into a close relationship with God and becoming a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:7). If you aren’t a believer in Jesus Christ, He invites you to enter into relationship with Him. Please pray: “Lord, I admit that I have offended You and done what is wrong in Your sight. Please forgive me of my sins and enter into my heart and my life. Make me a new creation by the power of Your Holy Spirit.” If you prayed this prayer, please find a Bible-based church to fellowship with other believers and grow in the knowledge of God. As a fellow believer in Christ, I love you and so does the Lord.

Self-Righteousness, Jonah 3:10-4:1

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I love Buddy, not because he’s always a good boy, but because he’s my pal and my responsibility. I enjoy his company and am concerned for his welfare.

When Christians become self-righteous, it’s not usually because they’re bad people but because they don’t understand what salvation is. We don’t become born-again because our works are so wonderful that we’re worthy of Heaven: we are saved despite our flaws.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”–Romans 3:23

Our works are pleasing to God when we’re in a right relationship with Him (born-again), not vice versa. No one deserves to go to Heaven. We are so wicked, compared to God’s perfect holiness and love, that no one can boast about their goodness and earn Heaven. It’s His mercy and great love for us that causes Him to convict us of our sin and bring us back into fellowship with Him.

What’s this got to do with Jonah?

Jonah hated the ancient Ninevites for good reason: They were a very warlike, cruel and vicious race of people. Everyone was afraid of them. Yet, God loved them and wanted to bring them into relationship with Himself. He chose to send the Jewish prophet Jonah to Nineveh to preach to them to repent. But Jonah hated the Ninevites and didn’t want them to repent–he wanted God to judge and punish them.

You cannot thwart God. Jonah took a ship “to flee to Tarshish” (Jonah 1:3) but God stirred up a mighty storm. The boat crew realized that a god was responsible for their troubles and discovered that Jonah was the source. Though they were pagans, they didn’t want to harm Jonah but eventually were forced to toss him overboard, at Jonah’s suggestion, to calm the stormy waters.

Jonah would rather die than go preach to people he hated and see them be blessed by God. He forgot that he didn’t deserve to be loved by a holy God either.

Everyone has heard the story of how Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and when Jonah had finally given in to God’s will to go to Nineveh to preach the gospel of repentance, the whale vomited him up on shore.

Deliberately disobeying God is never pleasant. Not only that, God hates pride and self-righteousness. “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) I cannot emphasize this enough: NO ONE is good enough to go to Heaven.

Half-heartedly Jonah walked among the Ninevites, preaching the lamest sermon ever. But since a changed heart depends upon God’s power and not our greatness, a mighty revival broke out and the city repented of their sins.

“When the word reached the king of Nineveh, he arose from his throne, laid aside his robe from him, covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes.” (Jonah 3:6) The king declared that everyone, even the beasts and flocks of birds, were to fast and be covered with sackcloth, signifying repentance. “Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw his burning anger so that we will not perish.”

“When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. But it greatly displeased Jonah and he became angry.”–Jonah 3:10-4:1

God was not pleased by Jonah’s self-righteous, hard-heartedness.

Jonah didn’t have a right to be angry. He had forgotten that he was also a sinner in comparison to a holy God. Maybe he didn’t sacrifice his children to demonic gods or cut off hands and noses or spread people’s skins, but compared to a kind and loving and merciful God, he fell far short.

God loves everyone. People every day spit in His face, deny His existence, curse His name, and deliberately ignore his pleas for them to do good, yet He gives them life, wealth, children, food, pets, vacations, lovely sunrises and many pleasing and wonderful gifts. Jesus was spit upon, beaten, and flogged by the Romans before He was crucified, yet He never cursed them or zapped them, although, as God In The Flesh (Immanuel–Matthew 1:23), He had the power to do so.

I’m certainly not perfect in this area. I have to remind myself continually to “bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return…for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.” (Luke 6:28, 35)

God’s mercy is available to anyone who wants to forsake their pride and repent of their sin and enter into a love relationship with Him. “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”–Luke 11:13

You have to ask to receive. God bless you.

Waiting: Psalm 27:13-14

herding

Buddy loves to herd me when he thinks I’m walking too slowly on our “walkies”. He’ll swing around behind me and begin bopping me in the back of my left leg with his nose, trying to get me to speed up. He’s impatient to move forward more quickly.

I’m the same way with God. I hate waiting, particularly a long time. I would like to move out of rain-soaked Seattle but events are just not coming together to make it happen, although I am eager to make a fresh start somewhere else where it’s not a major event when the sun comes out.

King David in Psalm 27 also voices his despair. He’s feeling depressed because he wants to be delivered from his enemies. He reminds himself that although the days seem dark, God will come through for him if he’s willing to wait and trust in God’s timing.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the Lord.”

David reminds himself to be patient, that God will eventually come through and bless him in this life. He strengthens himself emotionally by focusing on God’s faithfulness.

Sometimes we’re not supposed to wait, but pray and then step out in faith. At other times, it seems like our hopes keep being dashed and roadblocks tossed into our paths.

May you find your strength in the Lord’s promises in the Scriptures as you wait on Him.

Scripture verses are NASB

Bronze Serpent: Numbers 21:4-9

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The day before I flew out of town last December, my little Buddy was in a great deal of pain and had to be rushed to the vet. Above, he is trying to get onto my family member’s lap in the vet’s office. Not only was he in pain, but I was in pain, listening to him squeal whenever we walked near him or tried to pick him up. I just wished he could tell us what was wrong.

Many skip reading the book of Numbers in the Bible as it has a lot of lists and numbering of tribes and persons, etc. which is, honestly, a bit of a snoozer and likely interesting only to archeologists. But there are some story gems sprinkled in the book.

The Jewish people were getting impatient with the journey to the Promised Land. They wanted immediate possession, not wandering about in the wilderness to get there. They didn’t trust God to lead them safely to the land in His timing. Once again they sinned by grumbling against God, displaying no faith in His goodness or willingness to bless them.

“The people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.'”–Numbers 21:5

The food being referred to was the manna that God miraculously provided for them. Talk about ingratitude. God didn’t take them directly to the Promised Land because they would’ve immediately encountered hostile tribes before they were properly prepared for warfare. The indirect route was His way of protecting them.

In response to their grumbling, God sent fiery serpents among the people which bit and killed many of them. When the people acknowledged their sin and asked for the serpents to be removed, God commanded Moses to create a bronze serpent set upon a standard. All anyone had to do to be healed of their wound was to look at the serpent. Those with faith in God’s Word through Moses, looked at the bronze serpent and were healed. Those who scoffed and refused to look at the serpent and focused on their wounds instead, died.

Jesus referred to this incident as recorded in the Gospel of John, 3:14-15:

“As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.”

I don’t think it’s any coincidence that the serpent image echoes the serpent in the Garden of Eden who led to the downfall of Mankind, causing Adam and Eve to sin, bringing both spiritual and physical death to their offspring. We all have a choice in life: To listen to the devil and focus on our sins, or by faith, look at the Cross of Christ. By simple faith, we can have eternal life by acknowledging our sin and believing in Jesus’ sacrifice to pay for our sins.

But, not only that, every day we all have a choice as Christians: to focus on the wounds the serpent, Satan, inflicts us with and our sinfulness, or look to Jesus for healing of those wounds by accepting His love and forgiveness. We can choose to be miserable, focusing on our hurting wounds and failures, or look to Him Who promises:

“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, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”–Philippians 4:8

The choice is yours: focus on Jesus Christ and His might, mercy and love, or wallow in your sin, hurt and guilt.

Not that I am perfect. How often do I agonize over my failures or someone’s bitter behavior toward me till I remember to look to my dear friend and Savior, to finally find peace for my soul.

Make the better choice, my eternal friend in Christ.

By the way, it turned out that Buddy had strained a muscle in his neck. When we walked near him, he was shrieking to warn us to stay away so that we wouldn’t accidentally touch him and injure his neck further. He’s doing great now, after a rather pricey vet bill, but I’m thankful I had the money to pay for it.

Note: All Scripture quotes are from the NASB. And I gratefully acknowledge the great Christian leaders who’ve shared their Biblical knowledge over the years so that I could put this blog together. It is their teaching, distilled today, that I share.

Impatience With God: Psalm 40:1-3

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The other day Buddy was fussing at me because I was making him wait for the meat I was cutting up for him. He could smell the delicious aroma of the beef from below the dining room table. I was making him wait, not to be mean, but because the steak wasn’t properly prepared yet. I wanted to cut it into Silky terrier-sized bites and mix in some little bits of cheese. If I’d given it to him when he wanted it, the chunks would’ve been too large to swallow easily and he wouldn’t have gotten the cheese.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me and heard my cry.”–Psalm 40:1

Often we get impatient with God. Because we’re hurting, we want Him to solve our problem RIGHT NOW! Often God tells us to wait for the answer to our prayers. He hears us but He’s often working silently in the background, getting people and events properly in place to bless us. God, I’ve found, usually works within the natural processes of the world He’s created. He’s not making us wait because He’s mean and enjoys watching us suffer. During the wait we learn to trust Him; our faith is being built up. And the next time we have to wait, we’re a little more patient because we’ve learned something good is being prepared for us.

“He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.”–Psalm 40:2-3a

I believe God’s New Year’s Resolution for me is to learn to be more patient. I can sometimes sound a little harsh or irritable with people or be frustrated with negative situations. I know I can improve. When people see me remaining calm in a tight, stressful or hurtful situation, I can point them to the reason why: trust in Jesus Christ’s love and care for me.

“Many will see and fear And will trust in the Lord.”–Psalm 40:3b

Buddy and I wish you a great week.