Don’t carry that heavy sin!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. (Hebrews 12:1, 2 NLT)

We all sin. The Bible is clear on that. The only sinless man that ever walked the earth was Jesus Christ, God incarnate. But even knowing that we may slip up sometimes, our goal should still be to live a life without sinning. Sin starts with a thought which if not dealt with at its root will quickly grow into an action. And one momentary action can quickly turn to a habit, a way of life. (One of my favorite songs is “Slow Fade” by Casting Crowns. “It’s a slow fade, when black and white has turned to gray.” Listen to it sometime.) We need to daily pray for Gods guidance and intervention in our heart so that hidden faults do not turn into deliberate sins. (Psalms 19:12-13*)

The Bible says that we have a cheering section. A cloud of witnesses that have lived life, with all its struggles, and have come out on the winning side. So as we run the race of life in their footsteps we need to cast off the sinful things that weigh us down and chip away at our endurance. Things like pride, envy, greed, lust, etc. … Things that quickly consume us until suddenly we find ourself living a lifestyle of sin. When we notice that something like this has crept into our minds, we must pray about it and redirect our focus to godly things instead. And if we missed the chance to catch it early and we suddenly discover it has become a full fledged sin in our life, we must call it what it is – sin – and repent immediately.

But how do we do it? How do we get to the end of the race without our sins slowing us down? By keeping our eyes on Jesus. He started it all and left us with clear instructions and the perfect example. And most importantly, he left us with the Holy Spirit to guide us. We’re not in this alone!

*How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. (Psalms 19:12, 13 NLT)

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Friendship

The Bible tells us to love our neighbor. (Matthew 22:39) But how does that translate into picking our friends? Knowing who we should spend time with? Who we should “hang out” with? Who should be our close companions? Our allies? Our associates? What does the Bible say about choosing our friends?

We should be careful about who we choose to be our friends. We should be sure we are not choosing to spend time with someone that will lead us astray. The people we spend time with should encourage us, help us, counsel us and love us. We should be able to learn from them. Pick up some good habits from them. Feel as though our life is better having them in it.

I think sometimes we allow ourselves to continue in a toxic friendship because we think we can be a positive influence on the other person. And in some cases that may be what happens. But if that’s not what’s happening, we must choose to part ways before we become ensnared. This doesn’t mean they become our enemy. We should continue to be kind to them and to pray for them, because as Christ followers that is what we are called to do. We just shouldn’t choose to spend time with them.

And just as important … we should be taking a close look at our own behavior. Are we the type of person that others should choose as a friend?

The righteous choose their friends carefully, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Proverbs 12:26 NIV).

Walk with the wise and become wise; associate with fools and get in trouble. (Proverbs 13:20 NLT)

Do not be misled: “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33 NIV)

Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared. (Proverbs 22:24, 25 NIV)

My child, if sinners entice you, turn your back on them! (Proverbs 1:10 NLT)

Don’t do as the wicked do, and don’t follow the path of evildoers. Don’t even think about it; don’t go that way. Turn away and keep moving. (Proverbs 4:14, 15 NLT)

Can two people walk together without agreeing on the direction? (Amos 3:3 NLT)

Lord, you sustain me

Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in the craziness of life. My arms are flailing about frantically as I try to keep my head above water. And there, right within my reach, is the ring buoy you tossed out to me. If I’d stop flailing my arms for just a moment I’d clearly see it. And once I grab onto it, you can pull me to safety. The worst part about this scene is that I know I shouldn’t be wandering away from you in the first place. I’ve done this before and the water gets deep really quickly. Yet somehow I keep finding myself back here.

Lord, you sustain me. You want me to lean on you. You never intended me to do any of this without you. I can’t be a good wife without you. I can’t be a good mom without you. I can’t be a good employee without you. I can’t be a good daughter, sister or friend without you. But somehow I always manage to get back to this place where I feel like I’m failing miserably in all areas and then I hear you ask: “Are you done now? Would you like my help.”

LORD, sustain me as you promised, that I may live! Do not let my hope be crushed. (Psalms 119:116 NLT)

The LORD hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. The righteous person faces many troubles, but the LORD comes to the rescue each time. (Psalms 34:17-19 NLT)

The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9 NLT)

Commit everything you do to the LORD. Trust him, and he will help you. (Psalms 37:5 NLT)

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13 NLT)

Boldly speak it… Humbly live it

We know that the Bible tells us to go into all the world and share the Good News of Christ’s atoning death and victorious resurrection and to share with them the Word of God. For some of us that may mean a pulpit with a large audience, but for many of us it means sharing the Good News regularly during our ordinary life with ordinary people. But no matter what our stage is or who our audience is, there are some important things to keep in mind. 

In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:7, 8 NIV)

Are we people of integrity?  Integrity is a sadly diminishing value these days, even for many Christ-followers. Many of us are walking around with the Sword of the Spirit in one hand and the swords of the flesh in the other.  The Bible is the most authoritative source on moral living. We need to be doing more than just talking to people about what the bible says. We need to be doing what it says. (James 1:22) Are we living it as much as we’re preaching it?  

Do we take God’s message and our role in sharing it seriously?  How can we expect others to take our message seriously when we don’t even appear to? Knowing God and his Word and acknowledging his one and only plan for salvation (Jesus) is a serious thing. Yes, it is very good news because the alternative is very bad news. 

Are we careful how we speak about God and his Word?  All too often our zeal for the message causes us to speak without thinking leaving a sound byte for others to condemn us with. It is not our job to attack sinners (since we, too, are one) but to show them that God loves them despite their sin and wants to save them from its consequences. Temporal and eternal consequences. 

If those of us that proudly proclaim our allegiance with the One True God are humble enough to lovingly speak the truth and boldly live it – those in opposition to our message won’t have anything to say when they wage their attacks. 

John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)

A popular verse, for sure.  Many people know it. So why is this verse so well known?  What does it tell us?  Let’s break it down. 

First of all, this was spoken by Jesus himself. The incarnate Word of God. (John 1:1)  “Red letter” verses should attract some extra attention having been spoken directly from the mouth of our Lord. 

Right off the bat he tells us that God “so loved the world”.   There are a couple of different Greek words that are translated into the English word “love” – and in this case, Jesus is talking about the “agape” kind of love.  This is the BIG love. The God love. An active, true love.  And when Jesus said “the world” – he meant all of us. Everyone that apart from Him were opposed to Him. 

Jesus goes on to tell us that because of his great love for all mankind he gave his one and only Son.  Jesus is fully God and yet he left his exhaulted place in heaven and became one of us. And not only did he do that, but he was given up to be mocked, beaten and crucified in order that the wages of sin, which is death, could be satisfied in full.  (Romans 6:23)

So what does this mean for us?  Well, Jesus states it quite clearly.  “…whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

This isn’t saying “believe” only in the sense that we acknowledge Jesus was a real person. A lot of people do that. Jesus was saying that we need to put our faith in him knowing that trusting him to accomplish for us what we could never accomplish on our own would have eternal implications. On our own we will never be “good enough” to spend eternity in the presence of God. On our own we all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.  (Romans 3:23) And falling short of heaven means landing in hell. 

And that’s how he sums it up. It is our complete faith in Jesus, and in him alone (John 14:6) that rescues us from perishing and provides us with the key to eternal life. 

So if so many people are familiar with this verse, why do so many people shrug Jesus off?  What part are they not getting?

The way God wants us to live

Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part. Our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on. Gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other, and always do your best to bring it out. 

Be joyful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. (1 Thessalonians 5:13-18 MSG)

I came across these verses today as I read the Bible, and as usual … they really spoke to me. It was yet another reminder that God doesn’t leave us out here once we’re born again in Christ wondering what we are supposed to be doing. Throughout Scripture he makes it clear. Whether it is through the example of those that got it right … or those that got it wrong. Or whether he spells it out in clear instructions like he does here. We can’t say that we don’t know if we’re reading the instruction manual – the Bible.  And we can’t do Christian life like we’re supposed to if we’re not. 

So as I start this day, I will pray that he keeps these things fresh in my heart and that as I move through each day, I will bring honor to God by walking the walk the way he wants me to.

1. “Get along among yourselves, each of you doing your part.” – This doesn’t really need a breakdown. I think the hardest part to remember is “each of you doing your part”.  Most of us do just fine getting along until we actually have to do something. But that’s when we need to remember to swallow our pride, give a little, be gracious and forgiving … do our part. 

2.  Freeloaders…stragglers…exhausted – There’s a clear distinction here. We are obviously called to help those in need. No question about that. But that doesn’t mean offering handouts to everyone that reaches out for one. There are freeloaders, which by definition are people that take advantage of others for free stuff. If they can earn their own living…they should.  Then there’s the “stragglers”. Those that have wandered off course a bit maybe due to life situations beyond their control. I like how the Message translation instructs us to “gently encourage” them. I think that this involves helping them out while they get back on their feet. I also think that stragglers that don’t rise up under our help and encouragement could end up turning into freeloaders.  And finally, the “exhausted”.  They need our help because sometimes their circumstances are more than they can bare on their own. We are told to reach out and pull them to their feet. 

3.  Being patient and attentive is getting harder and harder to do in our fast-paced, self-centered world. There’s been times I’ve looked back on an opportunity I had to be attentive to someone that I blew right by because I was too busy to notice.  And it pains me every time because I know Jesus was watching and hoping I would be the one to impact their life, even if it was just a small gesture that would’ve made a difference. But when I blow it, he’ll use someone else. We all need to remember to slow down and really see the people God brings into our path. 

4. When you get on each other’s nerves, don’t snap at each other. I like how this verse acknowledges that we will get on each other’s nerves. It’s how we handle it that matters. Count to three … or ten. Or wait 24 hours. Whatever it takes to avoid a snappy, hurtful response that we can’t take back. 

5. How often do we look for the best in one another? And when we see it, do we try to bring it out?  Just think about how amazing our families could be… or our office… or our governments… if people actually did this. If everyone felt empowered to be great by those around them.  If the fact that God made us great at different things actually created one great unit rather than bitter competition and envy.  This attitude needs to start with us. 

6. And finally, to sum it up rather nicely, – be cheerful, prayerful and thankful … always!

It will all fit together

Very early this morning I awoke singing this song in my head. (Fortunately I have a beautiful voice… as long as it stays in my head.) 

“One day I’ll stand before You
And look back on the life I’ve lived
I can’t wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit”

– Casting Crowns, “You’re Already There”

If we really stop to think about the fact that God is in control of every detail of our life, fitting them all together like a jigsaw puzzle, we could find tremendous comfort and hope.  His perspective of the circumstances in our life takes into consideration all of time, not just one particular moment. We don’t  have that perspective … yet. And when we’re faced with circumstances that are painful, it is hard to understand how it could ever look different. But one day, when we join our Savior in the heavenly home he’s prepared for us, we’ll get to take a look back and see it all before us as one beautifully completed puzzle. We will see all of the pieces of our life fit together, even the ones that we were sure weren’t going to fit anywhere. All of them bringing us to that very moment in His presence. The moment when our eternity with no pain, no sadness, no sickness begins. And it will all suddenly be worth it. 

So when we’re faced with circumstances we don’t understand, the “Why?” must wait until we get to see the completed puzzle in heaven. The question we need to be asking God while we’re still on this earth is:  “What?” — “What can I do with this to glorify you?”  That is when we will receive the peace of God and show the rest of the world what they’re missing. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 NLT)

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”…(Revelation 21:4-5 NLT)