No Condemnation

Being condemned is not something any of us look forward to. Rather we look forward to being rewarded. We desire getting the pat on the back. We seek those atta-boys and atta-girls. We like to be told we are doing well.

Our self-esteem is built up when we are told we are doing well. It makes us feel good. It is the gas that feeds the engine to cause us to continue to move forward toward a goal. We gain positive energy from the encouragement of others.

There is one encouragement we can take with us at all times. If we are in Jesus, we can no longer be condemned by Satan. We are set free from death. We are promised an eternal life with God. It is a promise that won’t be broken.

Yet, Satan will continue his attacks. He will do everything he can to discourage us. He will put obstacles in our way. He will attempt to confuse us. He will tug and pull at us to go in a different direction. He sends doubts our way. He doesn’t want us to be in Jesus. He wants us to trip and fall. His desires to chew up as many people as he can. We are told that he is a roaring lion looking to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). He will use every trick in the book, then make up new ones to pry us away from Jesus, our Savior.

But God has made a promise. If we accept Jesus as our Savior and hold on to Him, we are free. He has taken us out of the prison Satan would put us in. Only we can put ourselves back into that prison. We hold the key as long as we hold onto Jesus.

Isn’t it comforting to know that Jesus has broken the chains of the Mosaic law? Could you imagine having to periodically sacrifice an animal for your sins? We no longer have to concern ourselves with that. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, the lamb of God that takes away our sins (John 1:29). No, it doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want and suffer no consequences. It does mean we can ask for forgiveness and God will forgive us.

When you begin to feel discouraged, remember that Jesus has reserved a place for you for eternity. Take heart that Jesus has released you so that you can freely follow Him. The restraints were crushed when He was crucified for each one of us. The promise of eternity was sealed when He rose again. Death has been conquered.

I pray we all find encouragement in the promise of eternal life. I pray we look to Jesus for our salvation. I pray each one of us lives in the freedom provided by Jesus. No condemnation. Freedom to follow Jesus. You have been set free. Eternal life is promised. Be encouraged. Allow your soul to be lifted. Follow Jesus. Trust Jesus.

Romans 8:1-2 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

Cry Out To God

Have you strayed from God? Do you feel like you are trapped? Does it feel as though you are a prisoner, trapped in a situation with no way out? Are you on the verge of giving up? Does your situation feel hopeless?

We all experience a situation at some time in our lives that feels as though we have hit a wall, or the situation is hopeless. Perhaps we blame ourselves for not seeing it coming. We might blame someone else for tricking us into it.

We might feel the same about our relationship with God. We may be in a situation right this moment that is dark and dank and utterly miserable. It feels as though God has abandoned us. We may even believe it is because of our negligence or disobedience that has caused Him to leave us. Yet there is always an opportunity to repent.

God has the ability to break our chains, release us from the prison we are in. He is waiting for us to return to Him. He has the power to bring down the walls with a crash, leaving nothing but rubble. He may choose to take them apart one piece at a time.

What are we to do? We are to fall on our knees. We are to repent of our wrongdoing. We are to cry out to God for help. Our hearts need to turn to God. As we turn to God, honestly seeking Him with a desire to turn away from our sin, He hears and answers our plea.

We are to believe God has the ability to lift us out of the muck and mire. Our hearts and minds are to trust God. After all, we can see many dire situations in which God rescued His people, pulling them out of extreme situations safely.

I pray we all turn to God. I pray we trust Him to lift us up. I pray each of us will put our faith in Him each and every day. Cry out to God. Repent of your sin. Trust God to rescue you. Ask God to break the chains that hold you. Believe God has the power to release you. Put your faith in God.

Psalm 107:10-14

Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,

prisoners suffering in iron chains,

because they rebelled against God’s commands

and despised the plans of the Most High.

So he subjected them to bitter labor;

they stumbled, and there was no one to help.

Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,

and he saved them from their distress.

He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,

and broke away their chains.

Pursue Life

Do you desire to find peace? Are you looking to know what it is like to be content? Are you willing to leave behind your past and step into an unknown future filled with good? Do you seek a life of pure joy?

I believe we all would love a life of pure joy. Honestly, we see people pursuing it every day. They seek it in their jobs. They seek it in relationships. They seek in new toys. Unfortunately, they are looking for it in all the wrong places.

To find the pure joy we all seek, we must turn from seeking it in a worldly fashion. We must stop chasing the American dream. This world is full of illusions and false promises. Yet, there is One who makes promises in truth and His promises are fulfilled.

If we truly want to love life or have a life worth loving, we need to forsake this worlds desires. That doesn’t mean we don’t work. It doesn’t mean we don’t have relationships. It doesn’t mean we turn our back on the world in a physical sense. It does mean we stop allowing the world and its desires be our driving force. Rather we allow God to be our driving force.

When we allow God to be our driving force, we find the intangibles we can’t find in the world. We find eternal life in the here and now and in the future. We discover that He does really keep His promises and leave behind the disappointment we find in this world.

Does it mean it’s all unicorns and rainbows? No. Jesus promised that we would have hard times in this life. Haven’t we all seen and felt that promise come true? After all, we live in a world that has been corrupted by Satan. The pain and suffering we experience here and now is just a foretaste of what living apart from God for eternity will be.

Yet, we can also experience a foretaste of what spending eternity with God will be in the here and now. We can experience the fulfillment of His promises. Jesus has promised us life, if we will follow Him. When He speaks of life, it is eternal life. In fact, He typically used the Greek word for eternal life, even though it is simply translated as life in our English Bibles. So, go seek the eternal life Jesus promised. Take Him at His word. You won’t be disappointed.

I pray we all seek eternal life. I pray we take God up on His promises. I pray each one of us will share the life Jesus promises with others. Seek God. Seek eternal life. Experience God’s promises. Ask Jesus to fill you. Follow Jesus.

Psalm 34:12-14

Whoever of you loves life

and desires to see many good days,

keep your tongue from evil

and your lips from telling lies.

Turn from evil and do good;

seek peace and pursue it.

Praise and Curses

Have you ever been to the ocean? Did you swim in it? Did some of the water splash into your mouth? If it did, did you notice the saltiness of it? The water in the ocean tastes significantly different than fresh water coming from a deep well, doesn’t it?

The way we speak can vary as much as the salty ocean and the fresh water from a well. We can be speaking praises one moment and cursing the next. What does this say about our nature? Perhaps it reveals a far deeper issue in our hearts than we like to admit.

Our culture has become a culture of no restraint. It has become a culture all about self. If we don’t like something or someone, we no longer look for a compromise, we simply condemn whatever or whomever we don’t like. We see it on social media. We see it on the news. We see it in our workplaces. We see it in our families. Is it any wonder there is more division in our country than ever?

What can be done? James tells us in today’s passage that we are not to be this way. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to a higher standard. We are not to sing praises to God, then curse our fellow human beings. We likely agree with James. In fact, we probably have thought this very thought, but have given up and said, “It is what it is.” It doesn’t have to be that way.

As we saw in yesterday’s message, our words come from our heart. This is especially true when we are caught off guard and immediately react. If you want to know what is firmly planted in your heart, reflect on what comes out of your mouth when someone does something you don’t like. Do you curse the other person, or do you ask God to work in that person’s life? Do you seek to understand why they did what they did, or do you condemn them?

Jesus saw this in the teachers of the law. He called them hypocrites (Matthew 23:25-26). He saw that they were putting on a show on the outside yet were full of greed and self-indulgence on the inside. He told them to clean up the inside first, rather than simply polish the outside for show.

We, too, are being hypocritical when we praise God, ask Him for blessings, and yet condemn our fellow man. We are play acting at being a follower of Jesus. To do what Jesus says, to clean the inside, we need to ask Him to clean it for us. When our inside, our heart, is clean, the outside will shine brightly, and we will reflect Jesus to those around us.

I pray we all ask Jesus to clean us from the inside out. I pray we stop condemning on another. I pray each of us reflect Jesus. Ask God to cleanse you. Ask Jesus to clean out the dirt in your heart. Give up being a hypocrite. Be a true reflection of Jesus.

James 3:9-11 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

The Fruit We Cultivate

We all like fruit of some type. Some of us prefer the traditional apples, pears, oranges, or bananas. Others prefer tropical fruits such as papaya, mango, passion fruit, or pomegranates. No matter the type of fruit we prefer, we typically want it fresh and ripened properly.

If you know anything about fruit trees, you know the very young, freshly planted trees don’t bear fruit immediately. It takes years of tending to the trees, fertilizing and pruning, for a tree to begin to bear fruit. Continued care is needed for that tree to mature into a bumper crop producing tree.

Perhaps this is why Jesus used the fruit analogy when talking about a person’s heart. Much like a tree whose roots draw in water and nutrients from the ground around it, our hearts and minds draw from the inputs around us. There is a significant amount of those inputs at our discretion, far more than we think about.

Sure, there are environmental factors when we are children that are out of our control. But as we grow into an adult, we largely choose our environment, even when we are at work. We choose to hang around with our co-workers who are telling off color jokes, complaining about everything, judging everyone they see, and generally spewing discontent. We can walk away from them or choose to use headphones or earbuds at most office jobs.

We choose the books we read, the television shows and movies we watch, and the friends we hang around. Our choices are feeding our hearts and minds. Our minds remember far more than we believe or give credit to ourselves. Oh, it might not be brought to our consciousness, but it is the unconscious mind that plays a significant underground roll in what comes out of us. It is the unconscious mind that directs much of our immediate reactions. We say it comes without thinking. Yet we do think, it’s simply unconscious thinking.

Notice it is the unconscious mind Jesus is referring to in today’s passage. He is talking about the deep-seeded memories that we may have forgotten about consciously. Jesus is stating much of our behavior is determined by the piles of unconscious memories written on our hearts and minds.

Will those memories ever go away? No. But we can compile good in our hearts and minds that will overwhelm and reduce significantly, if not eliminate, the control the bad has over us. The good we take in will begin to change our behavior, causing us to produce good fruit rather than bad.

I pray we all decide to take in good. I pray we seek to overwhelm the bad from our past with good going forward. I pray each of us will become a person who produces good fruit. Feed good to yourself. Eliminate the bad influences. Produce good fruit. Reprogram your heart and mind.

Luke 6:43-45 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

Choose Your Words Wisely

We have all heard the children’s response, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.” Unfortunately, we know that is not true. Words can be very harmful…and we often use them to hurt others.

When we decide to speak to someone else, we can be helpful or harmful. We may intend to be helpful and yet be harmful. Our intentions may not always translate into the words we would like. Our words can be misinterpreted.

There are times when we find ourselves reacting quickly without thinking. We respond to someone with hurtful words because they hurt us. It is a normal human reaction. But we are called to be better than that. We are called to respond in love rather than anger. It isn’t easy and it takes time training ourselves through conscious thought to change our behavior.

We may take time to think through our words prior to an upcoming discussion, when we know there is a meeting scheduled ahead of time or we purposely plan to discuss something with someone else. But do we think about how the other person is going to respond? This can be a very important step to take if we believe the topic is touchy or controversial. Our words can make the situation harder for the other person to grasp the seriousness of the situation or cause them to respond defensively.

Often, I find myself more apt to be biased and have staunch opinions about a particular topic than I should. Based on my observances of others, I can see most of us are the same. We have our preferences and aren’t willing to compromise with someone else. This type of behavior is what leads us to separation and, in the case of countries, to war.

We can correct our behavior. We can train ourselves to be less combative over preferences. Sometimes, we are better off to simply be quiet. I’m reminded of something my Grandma used to say, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” That’s a good start, but we need to go further than that. The words we speak should be words of healing and love. That’s not to say there aren’t times when there is no room for bending, but those times are few and far between when compared with the shear amount of interaction we have with others each day.

In order to be the light of Jesus to those we encounter, we need to speak the words of Jesus. Our mindset must be in sync with His. We are called to not only know about Him, but to know intimately who He is and speak as He would speak.

I pray we all make a conscious decision to work on our interactions with others. I pray we decide to speak words of that uplift one another. I pray each of us seeks to speak as Jesus would speak. Make your words positive. Speak words of encouragement. Speak words of love. Know the difference between rules and preferences. Learn to compromise where possible.

Proverbs 18:21

The tongue has the power of life and death,

and those who love it will eat its fruit.

Devoted Love

Most of us who are Christians would agree that love is the most often characteristic associated with God. We hear more about God’s love for us than any other topic. Have you ever stopped to think about how often you hear love mentioned in sermons or Bible classes?

We hear love mentioned in sermons about Jesus’ birth, His crucifixion, His resurrection, in His teachings, and in the teachings of the apostles. If we stop to reflect on sermons we’ve heard over the years, we are likely hard pressed to think of sermons in which God’s love was not mentioned.

If we hear so much about God’s love for us, why is it we don’t see that love reflected in our lives? Could it be we are misinterpreting how we are to reflect God’s love? Have we interpreted it as only showing love toward God rather than sharing His love with others?

Jesus, Himself, commanded us to love one another in the same way He and the Father love one another and in the same way He loves us. The love Jesus speaks of is not merely words, but an active and engaged love that includes all facets of life.

We see in today’s passage that Paul is telling the church in Rome to be devoted to one another in love. Think about that for just a moment. What does it mean to be devoted? It reminds me of being dedicated to a spouse, devoted to a team, or striving to reach a goal.

Also notice that Paul says we are to hate what is evil and cling to what is good. I wonder if we are doing this very well. I wonder if we identify what is evil, or are we carried along on the wave of modern culture, accepting almost anything as being okay? Are we allowing Satan to pull the wool over our eyes and be fooled by his deceptions?

I picture the early Christians Paul was writing to huddling together to protect one another from the culture around them. I envision them spending time in prayer for one another every day. I think they were like a small group of soldiers set up in 360-degree defensive position surrounded by an enemy force several times their size. Unfortunately, I think we’ve lost this picture and attitude, and we have taken up mingling with the enemy rather than taking care of one another.

Devoting ourselves to one another in love is no small task. It requires us to set aside our personal preferences in order to care for one another. It requires us to put the other person ahead of ourselves. It means we take loving one another seriously, loving with our whole heart.

I pray we all decide to devote ourselves to one another. I pray we love one another with every action we take. I pray each one of us decides to reflect God’s love in all we do. Love God. Love Jesus. Love one another. Put your love into action. Do everything in love.

Romans 12:9-10 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Circular Reference

Have you heard of a circular reference? If you have, you might be a computer programmer or web application developer. It is a term used to describe computer code in two different places within a program that refer to each other and nothing else. If by chance that code starts executing, it stays in a continuous loop.

Seems odd to start a devotional with techie talk, isn’t it? But take a look at today’s passage and see if the term doesn’t apply. If we are willing to step into the command, we step into a continuous loop—a good one.

If your computer code has a circular reference, things can turn bad really quick. In fact, the only way to get out of it is to abort the program and you may need to restart your computer. Termination is the only way to stop it.

When we step into the circular reference in today’s passage, it works much the same way. Satan knows that’s the case and he is constantly trying to keep us away from it or cause us to abort the cycle. He doesn’t want us in this continuous loop.

It should be an interim goal of ours to step into this continuous loop. We should be seeking a way to put our lives into the circular reference. Why? It is the ultimate continuous improvement program. I’m sure many of you have heard of those as well.

We are told that love for Jesus is to obey His commands. His command is to love. We step into this continuous loop by loving Jesus. Our love for Him causes us to obey Him. By obeying Him we love, not only Him, but His creation, which includes everything and everyone.

The continuous improvement plan of God is one that starts and ends with love. Our love grows, becoming more mature as we obey His commands. This is a continuous improvement plan our world could use right now.

I pray we all choose to love Jesus. I pray we step into God’s continuous improvement plan. I pray each one of us decide to obey God’s commands. Love God. Love Jesus. Obey God’s commands. Step into the continuous loop. Choose God’s continuous improvement plan.

2 John 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

Our Perfect Example

Are you looking for an example to follow? Do you want a mentor that will lead you down the right path? There is a perfect example, if you are willing to follow Him. He set an example for all of us to follow that comes with fulfilled promises.

Many of us have had someone who was a mentor or someone we looked up to and wanted to be like. For some, it is their parents. For others, it may have been a friend of the family or someone they worked for.

I have had a couple of those types of men in my life. Perhaps there is a woman or man in your life that sets a wonderful example, someone you want to be like as you grow older. Usually, these folks are people who are well respected by others and perhaps honored by others as well. They have high moral standards, treat people well, and are high performers. There is often an aura about them that draws others to them or, in some case, may push people away because they are in awe of them. We may call it the “it factor.”

Jesus was this type of person. He had an air of authority about him that amazed the teachers of the law and the average person. He had an aura about Him that attracted the less fortunate and caused them to worship Him. His moral standards were perfect. He was shrewd when dealing with Jewish leaders. He was gracious when dealing with the common person. He taught with wisdom when teaching His disciples. He was disciplined in prayer to His Heavenly Father. He humbled Himself before the Father.

Jesus is our perfect example. As humans, we are incapable of achieving the perfection of Christ, especially on our own. This is the reason we are to rely on Him, turn our lives over to Him completely. His Spirit will work through us continuously to bring about progress in becoming more like Him each day. If we hold back, our growth is stunted.

My prayer is that I learn to give up myself, allowing Him to take control. That is also my prayer for each one of you. The more you and I give up ourselves, the more He works in us, molding us into His image. We start to acquire the same aura He had, one little bit at a time.

I pray we all give up ourselves. I pray we decide to follow the perfect example of Jesus. I pray each one of us will follow in His footsteps. Give yourself over to Jesus. Give Him all of you. Allow His Spirit to make changes in you. Become more like Him each day.

1 Peter 2:21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

Cycles

Have you ever noticed things seem to go in cycles? The first one that comes to your mind is probably the seasons of the year. It is true they are cyclical, yet I’m thinking more along the lines of world events.

Let’s take the Israelites as an example. They were chosen by God. They worshiped Him. They disobeyed. God punished them. They returned to God. And the cycle started over. We can see their cycle of obedience, disobedience, punishment, and return to God repeated several times.

What cycles can we identified in our country, if we look back over our history? What cycles can we identify within Christianity, if we do some research? What cultural cycles can we identify? Well, I see bell-bottom jeans are making a comeback.

But seriously, there are cycles within Christianity. It is unfortunate to observe that we more closely resemble the Israelites than we like to admit. There have been times of straying away and times of enlightenment. The crusades were certainly a dark time for Christianity.

Thankfully, we have begun seeing signs pointing toward a resurgence in seeking God’s Word. There are many who will state that attendance numbers in our churches are down…and that is true. I’m not talking about numbers, though. The resurgence is only starting and coming in the form of more of our core members digging deeper into God’s Word for understanding. This is a key indicator we are likely on the brink of more people turning to God. However, as the old saying goes, it is darkest just before dawn.

Why is it important that we see more people seeking understanding of God’s Word? As we gain understanding, we gain a better picture of who God is. We become in awe of Him, His creation, and what He has done for us. Our love for God is strengthened. We obey His commands, which increases God’s love and favor for us.

In today’s passage, we see the word fear. It means both being afraid and being in awe. It means we respect and honor God. The passage also states God loves, including caring for, those who keep His commands. At this moment, I’m thinking of the two greatest commands Jesus gave us—love God, love your neighbor.

I pray we all dig deeper into God’s Word for understanding. I pray we turn back to obedience of His commands. I pray each one of us are in awe of God. Study God’s Word. Gain understanding of God’s commands. Obey God. Experience God’s love. Experience God’s righteousness.

Psalm 103:17-18

But from everlasting to everlasting

the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,

and his righteousness with their children’s children—

with those who keep his covenant

and remember to obey his precepts.