The Choice Is Ours

Last night I dreamed about a huge snake! He was of such length that I never did see the end of him. Strangely enough, he was also flat–about a foot or more wide, and though menacing, never dared touch me. Instead, he hovered and lurked and watched.

I wonder if that was Eve’s experience, except that, as she stared at the incredible creature, it talked!

The serpent tipped its head, never taking its penetrating gaze from her. It seemed to smile. “S-s-so?” it hissed. “Did God really say that you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?”

Eve blew an exasperated breath. Of course not! “It’s only the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat or even touch it, or we will die.”

“You won’t die!” the serpent declared.

At this point, Eve had stayed too long. Within minutes, the serpent talked her into believing God was withholding something desirable. If she ate that delicious-looking fruit, she would be as wise as God! Eve fell for the serpent’s trick (Genesis 3:1-7). She ate the fruit and gave some to Adam. The penalty of death from which God had tried to protect them became their heritage and ours.

No doubt about it! God’s enemy is crafty. His purpose is to trick us into sin. He tempts us to question God’s goodness, to doubt the wisdom of following God’s commands. “You won’t die!” he hisses.

But Jesus called Satan the “Father of Liars.” That Father of Liars continually tempts us to believe that God is withholding some good from us. But the truth is: God wants to fill our lives with joy, satisfaction, and blessing, not destruction and regret.

The choice is ours, just as it was for Adam’s son, Cain.

“Why are you so angry? So dejected?” God says to us as he once said to Cain. “You will be accepted if you respond in the right way. But if you refuse to respond correctly, watch out! Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you … you must subdue it” (Genesis 4:7, New Living Translation).

The greatest love we will ever know is in our relationship with God. The best life we will ever experience is the one we choose to live in obedience to the Lord God Almighty because we love him.

We can believe the devil’s lies, or we can trust and obey God. The choice–and its consequences–are ours.

Focus: “The thief’s [Satan’s] purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My [Jesus’] purpose is to give life in all its fullness” ~ John 10:10, New Living Translation.

How about you? What’s been your experience as you’ve made one or the other choice? Which works best for you and why?

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Overcoming Thirst

Believe it or not, at one time no well had a bucket with which to draw water. Instead, each day a woman would bring not only a pitcher in which to carry water home to her family, but a rope and a hard leather bucket to draw water.

That’s why when Jesus and his disciples arrived tired and thirsty outside a small Samaritan town, they had no means to get water from the well. While his disciples went into town for food, Jesus rested at the well. Before long, a woman came with her pitcher and bucket, and he asked her for a drink.

She was startled! Why would he–a Jew–even talk to her–a despised Samaritan woman? This just wasn’t done!

But his question served its purpose. It opened their conversation, and she soon discovered he knew she was a woman whose life had turned out to be anything but what she had hoped. Married and divorced five times, she now lived with a man who was not her husband. Only minutes into their conversation, she begged Jesus for the “living water” he spoke of so that she would never be thirsty again (John 4:15).

We all know what it’s like to be thirsty. We’ve known hot days and parched throats. We’ve also known a thirst in our hearts that’s harder to define but just as insistent. Trying to satisfy that thirst, we turn to all kinds of things. But they fail us. They do  not possess the power of the “living water” Jesus promises.

After a while we begin to realize that he alone can supply what we need: (1) a brand-new cleanness through his forgiveness of our sins, and (2) the feeling of being wrapped in the bright and shining garment of being right with God, the one that replaces the wretched rags of our old sin-trapped lives.

The truth is that we know ourselves well and long to be better than we are. And we can be.

The good news is that Jesus stands beside his eternal well of love, ready to draw up all the “living water” we need. The moment we believe and plead for it, it is ours. His promise is true.

Focus: “Blessed (happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” ~ Matthew 5:6, New International Version.

So how about you? Are you ready for the “living water” Jesus offers to those who thirst for righteousness? If so, what are you going to do about it?

What Are We Living for?

You’ve heard it. You may have even said it yourself. “He lives for sports!” “I live to eat!” “They live for their children!”

Oh, yes. Whenever we pour our life energies into someone or something, we are definitely living for that pursuit.

And it isn’t only men who live for sports. Here in Wisconsin, women also spend every spare moment reading, thinking, and talking about the Packers. We deck ourselves out in green-and-gold and wouldn’t miss a game at Lambeau Field or on TV. We even show up at church on football Sundays in our Packer finery. Okay, I’ll admit it. I wear Packer earrings, jerseys, and socks on game days! I suspect it’s not much different for fans of other football franchises.

Oh, and how about those of us who love to eat? Love to collect and exchange recipes, try new foods, go on and on talking about our favorites foods and spreading the news about our favorite restaurants. We enjoy heaping our plates at the barbecues, banquets, and buffets. Wouldn’t miss a church potluck or family celebration. Oh, how we love our food!

And, let’s face it. We all know parents who pour the lives, time, and money into their children.

Is this bad? Not really.

Actually, it’s good to have a pursuit that captures our hearts and makes life worth living. Even Jesus cherished a pursuit that captured his heart and made his life on earth worth living. He poured himself into teaching, healing, and giving so that we each might know how much he loves us. He was so focused on gaining an intimate love relationship with us that he was willing to die to make it possible.

He knew that we could not have a love relationship with our holy God until someone paid the price for our sins. He volunteered, and it cost his death on the cross. The ultimate act of his love.

Since his resurrection three days later, Jesus has remained focused on his pursuit. He waits eagerly for us to respond–to be so captivated by his unconditional love that we joyfully pour our lives into learning to know and love him more each day.

Focus: “He indeed died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died for their sake and was raised” ~ 2 Corinthians 5:15, New American Bible.

How about you? Who or what do you live for? Have you already responded to the Lord’s love?

 

Love Your Enemies!

With increasing unease, Paul listened to his friend tell about seven years of suffering in a North Vietnamese POW camp.

Ron’s captors had tortured him relentlessly. He described how he had been bound tightly for days and left in agonizing pain. “I heard someone far away, screaming through the night. Then I realized. It was me.”

Paul clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. Oh, how he wanted to do bodily harm to those who had tortured his friend so cruelly! His eyes blazed as he growled and asked Ron, “You felt that way, didn’t you?”

“No,” Ron quietly replied. “All through those days and nights, I simply prayed that they might come to know and love Jesus as their Savior.”

Paul’s anger rushed from him in a heavy breath. “Wow!”

Somehow Ron had seen his tormentors with a heart that looked beyond what they were doing. He saw their deep need for Christ and chose to obey Jesus’ command to love his enemies.

Few of us have suffered in POW camps. Yet at one time or another, we have all felt the sting of undeserved pain. Some of us–or those we care about–have suffered cruelty again and again at the hands of another.

We may want to lash back, but God offers a better way. Instead of stewing in our anger and biding our time to get even, we can choose to obey his call.

Focus: “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” ~ Matthew 5:44-45, The Living Bible.

How about you? Jesus said we will always have trouble in this world. But how might our lives and our world change if we chose to trust him by loving and praying for our enemies?