Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Letter and Spirit of God’s Law

One of my little boys came into the house for the evening looking like any kid after a summer’s day of hard playing. I ordered him to go upstairs and get into the bathtub.

Thirty minutes later, my son reappeared in the den wearing clean pajamas, but his hands and feet obviously had not been washed. “Why didn’t you get in the tub?” I asked him.

“But, Daddy,” he protested. “I did get in the tub.”

He certainly had not had a bath, but his protest sounded sincere. I didn’t want to call my boy a liar. Then I remembered how it was when I was his age and said, “But you didn’t put any water in the tub, did you?”

“No, Sir,” he admitted. “You didn’t tell me I had to get wet.”

What was a father to do? Should I laugh? Should I punish my son for disobedience? Should I just be sure to remember next time to stipulate that water be in the tub? I asked him to sit down and told him it was about time I explained to him the differences between the letter and spirit of the law.

Regrettably, our American judicial system is one which does not balance the letter of the law with the spirit of it. The letter of the law, or legal technicalities, matter most. Because of this imbalance in our judicial system our newspapers are filled with reports of known murderers, thieves and admitted criminals who have been set free by our courts because they managed to come within the letter of the law, regardless of how much they violated the spirit of it.

In the courts of God we are judged both by the letter and the spirit of His law. Jesus’ sermon of the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is perhaps the best example on the subject ever given. Jesus made it clear that he had not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. He added a new spiritual dimension to the legalistic interpretation of the law given by the Pharisees.

As examples, Jesus pointed out that the letter of the law forbids murder, but the spirit of the law makes it just as wrong to hate. According to the letter of the law it is a sin to commit adultery, but the spirit of the law says that those who lust have committed the same sin in their hearts.

Jesus was a “friend of sinners,” but when it came to the legalistic religious people he could be very harsh. The Living Bible paraphrases His words: “Yes, woe unto you, Pharisees, and you other religious leaders – hypocrites! For you tithe down to the last mint leaf in your garden, but leave the more important things undone.” Matthew 21:23.

Once Jesus stopped for a drink of water at a well outside a village in Samaria. A woman there, one of the best known sinners in town, questioned Him concerning some legalities of God’s law. The answer Jesus gave her still applies to all God’s children everywhere: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Don't Worry; Be Happy!

That’s a simple sounding slogan but it’s a very tall order. Telling some people not to worry is like telling the sun not to shine.

Burdened by debt, Sir Walter Raleigh was once told by his physician to stop worrying or he would die. Raleigh replied, “I can’t stop worrying as long as that debt is over my head. It may kill me, but you might as well tell my cook to order the water in the kettle not to boil as to command my brain not to worry.

According to Dr. John A. Schindler, 50 percent of all people going to doctors in the United States are victims of one disease – worry. Out of 500 admissions to the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, fully 77 percent were sick of this same malady – worry.

Studies reveal that heart disease is the No. 1 killer in America. But worry may be then number one cause of heart disease.

Don’t worry; be happy,” is an idea at least as old as the Bible. King David, who had more reason to worry than most, said, “Do not fret because of evildoers.” Jesus admonished his disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled.” The Apostle Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing….” All of this can be summed up as a command of God’s word, “Don’t worry; be happy.”

Anxiety is an insult to God. It demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s goodness and power. Here are four scriptural principles to help a person worry less and enjoy life more:

1. Invest time in working instead of fretting. Remember the Old Testament Prophet Elijah in his utter despair. God sent him back to work. Dr. Charles Mayo of the famed Mayo Clinic once said, “Worry effects the circulation – the heart, the glands, the whole nervous system. I have never known a man who died from overwork, but many have died from doubt.

2. Learn the difference between needs and wants. At the beginning of the 20th century sociologists reported that the average American wanted 72 things, 18 of which were necessary or important. When the 21st century dawned the want list had grown to 496 things, of which 96 are considered essential to happiness. In the first century the Apostle Paul listed only two absolute necessities, “… having food and clothing, let us be content.”

3. Concentrate on today. You can’t change the past, and most of the things we fear concerning the future never happen. Paul advised, “Forget those things which are past.” Matthew said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow … each day has trouble enough of its own.”

4. Focus on good things. Look to God instead of your circumstances. Sure you have problems, but God is greater. The prophet Isaiah said, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast.” Philippians 4:8 advises “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things…. And the God of peace will be with you.”

Despite all the good Scriptural and logical reasons not to worry, some people still insist on carrying around an unnecessary load of anxiety. They remind me of the fellow who set an elaborate scheme to keep the elephants out of his garden. When informed there were no elephants within a thousand miles he replied. “See, my system works.” His attitude was, “Don’t tell me that worry doesn’t do any good. I know better; the things I worry about don’t happen.”