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Loss and Gain

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John 12: 24,25 “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

     Do you have  a pattern of behavior that you wish you could control but always end up saying to yourself; “I’ve done it again!  Why do I keep doing it over and over again?  When will I learn?”  These patterns of behavior you may eventually come to hate about yourself. How do you deal with them?

     When I was a young child in elementary school, I was bullied terribly.  One particularly nasty incident occurred when I was in grade three.  Some kids invited me out to play with them in the school yard.  I was thrilled.  At recess time we all went outside to play.  As soon as we walked around the corner of the school and out of sight of the teacher, my ‘friends’ grabbed me and pushed me to the ground.  They held me down and one of the girls stepped on my face.  I remember seeing her shoe coming down on my face.  She did it slowly so as not to put a bruise on me.    She ground her shoe on my nose. I’ll take that memory to my grave.  I remember thinking – I thought they liked me! As an adult I have huge trust issues.  I also do not like to be placed in any situation where I perceive myself to be vulnerable.  No one bullies me today!

     Many people see me as a very successful person;  well educated,  good reputation, accepted and independent.   I love to be seen in this way.  Who wouldn’t?  I love my life as seen through other people’s eyes.  I work for approval and succeed at getting it.  What people don’t see – what I hate to look at is my fear of rejection, my fear of being hurt, my anger and my resentment when I perceive that others devalue me.  All of this is underneath, much of it a result of my experiences as a bullied child.  I’m guarded and very poor at sharing what I really feel.  I have built many walls around myself to keep me safe.  I hate this about my life.

     The experiences of my childhood created a hardened shell around the ‘seed’ of what God has purposed for my life.   As long as I cling to that husk, as long as I hide within it, not letting it go I will hang on to my life in this world.  I’ll never be bullied and I’ll never really be free of fear and anger.  As long as I hang on to the lies I have come to believe about myself – that I am not worthy, that I am not acceptable – I’ll live addicted to the approval of others for the rest of my life.  Driven to succeed; driven to be liked. And never really believing that I am successful or liked.

     Jesus is telling me that by letting go of the old me – dying to it – new possibilities will open up.  What greater personal transformation can occur than to start living without fear and free of resentments?  What greater personal transformation can occur than to start trusting again?  The apostle Paul tells us that such a transformation is possible – A new person can be born into eternal freedom;  “And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, and ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:2)

No way out!

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John 8:7  “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
     The Pharisees and Teachers of the Law wanted to catch Jesus in a trap so they brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus and asked; “In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” (John 8:5)  If Jesus had compassion and said; “No, don’t stone her”, he was going against the Law.  If Jesus said “Stone her like the Law says”, he would have no compassion.  It looked like Jesus didn’t have any choice, there was no way out!
     Have you ever been in a situation where someone has trapped you with words – no matter what you say you’re condemning yourself (and someone else maybe)?  There is always a choice. There is always a way out.  The nastiest traps are those that deceive people into believing that there is no escape.
    Jesus’ response showed how to tackle these sorts of traps.  Start off by taking time to reflect; you don’t have to answer right away.  As you’re reflecting search out the underlying root of the situation. With the woman caught in adultery the root was all about double standards, self-righteous judging and condemnation of others.  I notice that it was only the woman who was brought forward to be stoned? Yet, shouldn’t a man also have been brought forward to be stoned?  Jesus’ answer cut right to the heart of the matter.
     Judging others is one of the deadliest things we can do; to others and ourselves.  Jesus said;   “And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released …” (Luke 6:37).  When we judge others; we judge ourselves.  The condemnation we heap on others; we heap on ourselves.  That is the way it works.  “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you.” (Matthew 7:2)
     I am a judger.  I have struggled with this tendency all of my adult life.  I don’t know if I was born a judger but I sure learned to be one.  Sometimes, I feel this wickedness is so ingrained that no soap in the world could ever scrub it out of me; to scrub it away would be to scrub me away.  I have been accused of being a self-righteous judger many times.  Even now I can see myself in the crowd shouting for the woman to be stoned. My accusers point at me and rightly so for all I can say is; “guilty as charged”.  No way out, forever to be condemned.  And this is a trap; to feel so wicked that you’re beyond reach!

     Jesus died for me while I was yet a sinner (Romans 5:8)!  He knows me far better than my accuser(s) (Psalm 139:1,2,3)!  My way out is the same as the woman’s.  “At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said. ‘Then neither do I condemn you, Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’ (John 8:9-11)

Faithfulness in an unfaithful world

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Ruth 1:15 – 17  “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”  But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. …”
 
     Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law was in a tough spot.  Her husband had died.  And her sons had died leaving her daughter-in-laws widowed.  Naomi had decided to return to Judah as there was no help or hope for her in Moab.  She urged her daughter-in-laws to return to their families because their prospects were poor if they stayed with her.  One did leave but Ruth wasn’t having any part of that plan.  She would stick with Naomi through thick and thin.  Ruth loved Naomi and stood by her even though they were headed to a place where Moabites were not all that welcome.
 
   The book of Ruth portrays life during the time of the Judges which as we have seen was a time of   unfaithfulness and crisis after crisis.  Within that turmoil, the story of Ruth is a story about faithfulness in the midst of tragedy, in the face of hardship and redemption against all odds.  What would I have done, had I been faced with a choice similar to Ruth’s.  What would you have done?
 
     Popular psychology tells us that you have to know when to cut your losses and run;  “Sometimes, you don’t know when to throw in the towel.   As time passes, it becomes clear that things aren’t working out as you planned.  You realize that pursuing whatever it is that you’re pursuing – whether it’s being successful in your current career, mending a troubled relationship, or renovating your house from top to bottom –  will cost you too much financially or emotionally, or take too long.  But instead of moving on to new opportunities, all too often you simply stay the course and sacrifice your own wellbeing in the process.”  ( from “The Science of Success: How we can all achieve our goals.” by Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D.)
 
     Orpah, Ruth’s sister-in-law, knew when to throw in the towel.  We don’t know what happened to her other than she chose to ‘move on to new opportunities’.  Granted, Naomi urged her to go back to her people and her gods.  Orpah was free to choose and so was Ruth.  We always have a choice!  Not to be too hard on Orpah, at some point in time we are all faced hard choices.  But how do we come to the right decision?  Do we follow the ‘science of success’?  

     A relationship is not an economic transaction. The Bible described the deep friendship of David and Jonathan as a ‘knitting together of souls’.  Ruth and Naomi’s relationship went far deeper than any cost-benefit analysis can describe.  Perhaps the application of a ‘science of success’ is appropriate for shallow relationships.  The Bible helps us to understand what far deeper relationships are about.  Love is an essential ingredient for relationship.  Love is the highest expression of selflessness available to a human being.  Ruth loved Naomi.

     Ruth didn’t throw in the towel and she became the great grandmother of King David.  God blessed Ruth’s faithfulness down many many generations to the birth of Jesus.   Jesus clearly set the standard for relationships;  “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12,13)

Everyone does as they see fit

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Judges 17:6  “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”

      The book of Judges depicts life in Israel around 1000 B.C.  Yet the last six words of the scripture are as true today as they were then – everyone does as they see fit.  The credo of this day is based on the idea that everyone is free to do as they please provided no one is hurt.  No one can impose their own standard of behaviour on others nor will anyone accept any absolute standard of behaviour. Generally,  the path of least resistance through whatever situation a person finds himself in determines his behaviour.
     How does this happen to a society?   My Bible’s introduction to the book of Judges describes this time in Israel as a time of ‘unfaithfulness’ and surrender to the ‘allurements’ of the surrounding paganism.  As a result, ‘the story of redemption stood still’.  Israel was mired in scandal after scandal, crisis after crisis and couldn’t make any headway.  Does this sound familiar?
     The people of Israel had abandoned their covenant relationship with God, worshipped idols and adopted the lifestyle of their pagan neighbours.  If you read Judges 17: 1 to 18:31  you will see that Micah decided to have his own religion, he found a  priest that would be only too happy to trade in his religious convictions for ‘job security’ and everyone gave in to what was expedient.  Does this sound familiar?
     Few people read the Bible today.  Even fewer people try to make the Bible’s teachings a daily reality in their lives.  When people throw aside their heritage and abandon their relationship with God they lose their moral compass.  Indeed, even with worldly kings, Israel lost one of its sacred books – a vital part of  its heritage only to discover it years later when the temple was being repaired under King Josiah:   And it came to pass, when the king had heard the words of the book of the law, that he rent his clothes. … Go ye, enquire of the LORD for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found: for great is the wrath of the LORD that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not hearkened unto the words of this book, to do according unto all that which is written concerning us. ” (2 Kings 22:11,13) 
     Today, we are loosing our heritage because few care about the Bible and many are outright hostile to the idea of it.  The idea that an absolute moral standard exists in any book is contrary to the ‘postmodern’ mindset.   Today’s ‘moral compass’ swings towards the expedient, the politically correct and the path of least resistance.  The same book that many ignore  predicted this sad state of affairs!
     2 Timothy 3: 1 – 5 describes our times perfectly:  “But know this, that in the last days grievous times shall come.  For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, railers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, without self-control, fierce, no lovers of good, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God; holding a form of godliness, but having denied the power … ” 
     Does this sound familiar?

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