Guilty, But Not Stoned

John 8 shows how Jesus dealt with a woman’s sin and a crowd’s thirst for blood. The Word of God and the actions of Christ were not, are not, and never will be like those of the world.

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning He came again into the temple, and all the people were coming to Him; and He sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?’ They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court. Straightening up, Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said, ‘I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.’” NASB

I was humbled by the passages God placed in my path this morning. The lessons this week have centered around courtrooms and guilty pleas from my own heart and from the media frenzy that has played out during the trial involving George Zimmerman’s killing of Trevon Martin. The verdict came late last night as I was returning home. I first noticed online and turned on the television to get more details about the terrible case that is the best example of a lose/lose situation I’ve ever seen. There was no good solution to the case, and either verdict was bound to create havoc. I don’t know what will happen as a result to the actions of both men and the decision of one jury, but I know that it has divided, is dividing, and will continue to divide the nation.

The woman in John 8 is clearly guilty, as am I, as are we all. She deserves to be stoned to death according to the law. The Pharisees know that; the people know that; the woman knows that, and Jesus knows that. She was in the very act when caught, and Jesus knew about everything she had ever done. He knows the same about me.

Jesus reminded the crowd, and still does, that everyone is guilty. If He had taken a stone and killed the woman, He would have been within the letter of the law, and He was without sin and could have thrown the stone in good conscience. If He had taken that path, the crowds would have joined the Pharisees in stoning Him to death for claiming to have no sin. The religious authorities didn’t care what loophole killed Him as long as He was out of their way. The mob just wanted to satisfy their own bloodlust.

Jesus surprised the crowd and the woman by His actions. I’m sure they went away mumbling because a mob wants blood, but they didn’t get any that day. Jesus was saving His blood for Passover. The witness of Jesus is a witness of love, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and hope. Jesus stays with the woman rather than leaving with the crowd or going in a different direction. If He had left the scene or looked at her with disappointment or disgust, she may have killed herself out of grief or run to her lover to find comfort in his arms. Jesus loved her and extended forgiveness to her. He did not condemn her because John 3:17 makes it clear that God didn’t send Him to do that.

For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” NASB

The Christian witness isn’t about condemnation or judgment; it is about love, forgiveness, grace, and hope. Christ is the perfect example to follow when witnessing, and the woman in John 8 is a good example when it comes to sinning. She knew very well the humiliation and guilt that comes with sin, but she also felt the power of love and forgiveness; so do I. She heard Christ’s heart when He told her to go and sin no more. If she was changed by Christ’s precious love, she went in a new direction after her encounter with Jesus. The same is true for me.

Christ didn’t add an “or else” at the end of His request. He didn’t promise to gather the crowd and help them stone her to death if she sinned again. He knew then, knows now, and will always know the struggle sin presents for each of us. He loved the woman and saw more in her than she or the crowd were able to see. He does the same for me and bids me to do the same for others. It is what witness is all about.

I don’t know what the woman in the scriptures did after her encounter with Christ. I don’t know what will happen in the coming days as a result of the Zimmerman trial, but I do know that the world likes a reason to pick up stones. The mob screams revenge and is thirsty for blood. Jesus offers another way. 

Photo from the epic miniseries “The Bible”

Guilty, But Not Stoned

The Sin of Seriousness

The sin of seriousness is very serious indeed. It is not only accepted, but those who take themselves seriously are often seen as saints. I’ve taken myself far too seriously for far too long, but God gave me a wake-up call this week. I’ve seen the path to God’s presence as a path of piety, and it most certainly is about being devout and taking God seriously. The problem with piety is that it can lead to a pious attitude of moralizing which can quickly become hypocrisy when seriousness is directed inward.

When simplicity in worship is replaced with self-centered seriousness, God is lost in the shuffle. Sweet silence and time in prayer is lost in activities which put personal agendas ahead of God’s. The first worship services took place in the homes of believers who shared communion and prayer together so they would not forget the cost of their salvation. Now, it’s difficult to see God in all the busyness church has become. Pastor John often talks about the difference between an organization and an organism when it comes to church. The body of Christ is an organism, but it so often resembles an organization or a club. Exclusivity is as big a problem as is trying to please everyone.

Reading God’s Word and praying together is at the heart of worship. Music is also important for me, but only when it complements and doesn’t drown out or draw my attention away from praying and hearing God. I love to hear beautiful music, but I also like to hear the sweet silence of God’s people turning their hearts toward Him in unison. As we took communion on Sunday, I found myself wanting silence in the moment which is a time of profound seriousness to me. I suppose my need for silence caused as big a distraction in my heart as the organ music did in my ears:) Inner silence doesn’t need outer silence, and I know the problem was in me.

When I find myself judging or criticizing, I know I’m heading into dangerous territory. God always gives me a very vivid reminder of my own humanity to remind me not to take myself so seriously and to give me a dose of humility which is the only antidote when piety turns into hypocrisy:) The good news is that the lesson was a funny one that gave me a chuckle. The lesson itself was a serious one that reminded me that the only things about myself I need to take seriously are my sins and the price Christ paid so I could be forgiven of them. I know that was at the heart of my angst during communion.

It’s easier to look for excuses in the form of music playing too loudly or not loudly enough, ministers who don’t say what I want to hear, uncomfortable seating, not enough activities, too many activities, and on and on when it comes to problems with my worship. The heart of my worship is my heart, so when I am uncomfortable, I need to look in it instead of elsewhere to find the source of the distraction. When I find it and take it seriously, then I can worship with an undivided heart as God desires. Love is about unity, and what doesn’t unite me to God and Christ’s body will surely divide more than just my attention.

The Foolishness of Fighting Alone

When I try to do things on my own, I end up in a terrible mess. That is never more true than when I think I can handle my sin without help. I set myself up for a fall if I think I can do what only Christ is able to do. Bravado leads to destruction, and courage kills any chance I have at righteous living if I attempt to battle Satan alone.

Ephesians 6:12 is a vivid reminder that should be memorized by those who like to do things for themselves or think they can save someone else.

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” NASB

Being saved does not make me God, and that becomes painfully clear when I attempt to do what only He can do. When faced with evil, my job is to swallow my pride and cry out to God. He hears my cries and brings peace. If I start a fight I cannot finish, I am in for a bad bruising or worse.  Pride comes before my fall when it makes me think I can handle everything on my own.

Matthew 11:30 is another verse to keep in my heart.

“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”NASB

When I allow God to be God, my burdens become light as He takes then and turns them into lessons that nudge me a little closer to Him and to those in my path. Before I can give him those burdens, I have to deal with my pride. With pride out of the way, humility has room to take root in my heart. Then, I can truly walk in God’s kingdom and not stomp all over it!

Good For My Soul

The forgiveness Christ offers makes confession good for my soul. The difficult part of confession is letting God show me the areas of my life and heart that need clearing out and cleaning up. Like an attic or basement rarely visited, the places where sin hides in my heart need an opened door, a light turned on, and a good airing out.

The scriptures and lessons this week opened the door, shed God’s light on my shortcomings, and allowed His Spirit do some much-needed work. Just like in a forgotten attic, I found things I thought long gone. God bid me to take stock and clear out this week. I cannot get rid of what I’ve forgotten I had, and that’s why taking an inventory first is essential.

God lets me leave sin tucked away,  but He will help inventory the contents of my heart when I’m ready for His help. I did ask Him to help me this week and was humbled by the pile of junk He laid before me. He will help me find the junk, but it’s up to me to decide what goes. I can resist or say not now, and I often do that when faced with a mess I’m not in the mood to clean. Turn off the light, shut the door, and leave it alone for now. I was ready to face the mess, so I asked God to lend a hand.

Once God brings those things which don’t belong from the bottom of the pile, it’s easy to let go. Seeing sin is like smelling garbage; it motivates me to take action and make changes. My heart feels like an attic that’s been cleaned and rearranged into a beautiful new living space where cherished treasures are seen, and the junk is history. It’s a great feeling once I’m finished:) God provides a wonderful Counselor in His dear Son and a great Comforter in His sweet Spirit. The three working together make for an amazing design team:)

Confession is good for my soul. Truly letting go means acknowledging sin for what it is, getting rid of all excuses to keep it around, and letting God do with it what He does best-get rid of it and redesign the space. Honesty is the key to both cleaning and letting go. It isn’t easy; I feel as if I’ve been in a week-long boxing match with an angry gorilla. That’s what monkey mind becomes when confronted and asked to leave. Those racing thoughts do not go away willingly, but they do take off when they come face to face with God. The peaceful eleven hour sleep last night was well worth the battle:)

God often uses those in my path to help me recognize the need to clean. When I find myself offended or irritated, I must look deeply at that person and at myself to see what is in them that I am denying in myself. It’s like pulling teeth without novocaine and involves a level of honesty and pain that is too much to handle alone. I never like it when I see the same thing in myself, but I have to see it before I can toss it. I know I’ve truly gotten rid of the junk when that person no longer gets to me. I can then move on, and that frees space in my heart and my mind.

Freeing is the word I would use to describe the lessons this week. Confession freed my heart and mind, then God redesigned both spaces. That’s a wonderful feeling that makes me want to empty more space!  Empty space can be daunting, but it is much better than clutter. Space takes on new meaning when I let it be an empty canvas upon which God can paint His hope on my heart. Paint away Lord! Paint away:)