Saturday, February 7, 2015

Stop Feeding Those Strays

                When I was a little girl we lived in the small town of Rochester, Iowa. The town is nestled next to the banks of the Cedar River, not too far from Tipton, and just a little ways from Muscatine. The town itself was not very large. When I was living there it probably had maybe 100 people living in the actual “town”. Everyone knew me, and I knew everyone. My grandparents lived around the corner, and my great-grandma lived across the street. I had cousins down the lane, and just down the street. It was your typical rural small town that
Rochester, Iowa
you find in the prairie lands of Iowa. One of the things that reminded me of growing up in Rochester this morning was the stray cats and dogs I used to bring home to my mother. Rochester seemed to attract strays, and I seemed to be the one to always find them. I would beg my mom to keep the little dog or little cat that I had found, but she always told me no; we had a dog and we had a cat already, and then she would always tell me- “don’t feed them.” I didn’t always listen to her, and I would sneak my dinner scraps to them and feed them. Do you know what happens when you feed a stray? They keep coming back for more, and the more you feed them, the more demanding they become.
Today, the Lord showed me how I have let some strays into my heart and I have been feeding them. I am beginning to be disobedient to Him and not doing what He is asking of me. This is leading me down that same path of sin that I am so desperate to get off of. But here I am, bringing in the strays and feeding them, again. If you find yourself repeating the same thing over and over again, and find yourself often at the feet of Jesus begging Him to forgive you for the exact same thing over and over again, then it is very possible that you have a stray in your life. My mother would tell me to get rid of the animal, to take it somewhere else, to remove it from our home- that was the only way to ensure it did not come back. I usually took it down by the river, or off into the woods, but sometimes, I would hide it and keep it all to myself.
“If your right eye causes you to sin; pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin; cut if off and cast if from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” Matthew 5:29-30
Jesus started this chapter with the Beatitudes, and has now begun to address the conditions of our hearts. He tells us that if we are angry with our brother, then we are sinning in our hearts and basically committing murder. He also tells us that if we are lusting after someone then we are committing adultery in our hearts. Our sin begins in our hearts. Our disobedience to His Word begins in our hearts. It all starts with our hearts. So how then do we guard our hearts against the sin of disobedience? We pluck it out and cast whatever it is that has strayed into our hearts away from us.
Jesus tells us that if our “right eye causes” us to sin, then we should pluck it out. Is there something in your life right now that is causing you to stumble? Is there something in your life that you are listening to, watching, or taking part in that you know God has told you to walk away from? Perhaps it is a friend, a co-worker; perhaps it is something you are watching on television, or listening to on the radio, or internet. Remember, when we let a stray in, and we feed it, it never
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leaves. What are you feeding in your heart right now that you know God is telling you to get rid of? For me, personally, the issue is still the television. I did not even realize I had begun to let that stray back into my heart until He asked me last night why I was sitting there, watching it again.
It all started the other day when I was extremely tired from a long day and sat down to rest for a few minutes. Then the next day I did the same, and then the excuses started to come. I began to tell myself that I was doing okay, I could spend at least one day sitting in front of it. The next thing I knew I had fallen back into my old habits, and I was in direct disobedience to the Lord. I had let that little stray in and gave it food, now it was taking over my days and my nights, and the Lord was being pushed to the side. I need to pluck it out and cast it off into the woods so it would not come back.
                Now, I am not saying that I need to go and throw my television out the window, or that I need to destroy it, what I am saying is that we must be determined to rid our lives of any strays that are hindering us in our obedience to the Lord and His Word. Vine’s Expository Dictionary describes “pluck it out” as an action that involves us being determined and prompt “to strike at the root of unholy inclinations, ridding ourselves of whatever would stimulate them”. If you find yourself walking in disobedience to what He has clearly told you to let go of, then most likely you have a stray in your heart and you need to pluck it out and cast it away from you. If you keep asking Him to forgive you for it, then you must not have rid yourself of it quite yet, and are doing what I used to do- you are trying to hide it from Him.
                Paul writes to the Galatians and asks them what has hindered them, they were running so well, then something happened, and now they were off track. (Galatians 5:7) He then goes on to tell them that a “little leaven, leavens the whole lump.” (Galatians 5:9) They have allowed something into their hearts that has drawn them away from obeying the truth of God’s Word. Whatever it is, Paul is reminding them that even if they only give it one small morsel of food, it will never go away, but will continue to grow more demanding until their whole heart and life are affected by it.
                You see, what happened to me was that I allowed a little bit to enter into my heart. I sat down for a few minutes, and then those few minutes led to a few hours, which led to a few days, and I have found myself off track. I even let the study and passion that I had for His word begin to dwindle because I let that stray into my heart and fed it. I started well, but then I picked back up and brought it home-again. I did not listen to my Father when He told me to get rid of it, to pluck it out, instead I hid it and I fed it. Now, it is there again, causing me to meander from the path that He and I were walking together.
                “If part of our life is given over to sin, we must be committed that it is more profitable for that part of our life to ‘die’ rather than to condemn our whole life.” (David Guziak, Commentary on Matt. 5; If we are not willing or determined to get rid of whatever it is that is causing us to sin, then we will continue to go down the same path of destruction over and over again. If you have a friend that likes to go to parties and to nightclubs and always wants to bring you along, but God has convicted you and told you to stop going, yet you continue to go- you have fallen into sin and are in disobedience. Pluck that friend out, cut it off and cast it as far away from you as you can. Stop feeding the stray and it will go away. Isn’t it better to enter the kingdom of God limping and blind, then not enter at all?
   Not all of us have the same convictions. For me, television is something that I must be determined to cut completely out of my life. If I do not, then I end up getting pulled away from that which God has clearly called me to do. I stray from the path to follow after the strays that are in my heart. For some of you it may be a friend or a co-worker that is causing you to walk down a path you know Jesus has told you to walk away from. Perhaps it is something that you are watching online, or reading on your tablet, perhaps it is a video game that takes up most of your time and you spend no time in His Word. Whatever it is that God has asked you to get out of your life is for your benefit. It is profitable for you. It is expedient; it is for your own good. Paul tells us that all things are lawful for us, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for us, but we should not be brought under the power of any of these things. (1 Corinthians 6:12)
There is a reason why God asks us to get things out of our lives. He knows what causes us to sin. He knows our weaknesses, and what it takes to lead us down that road to temptation and disobedience. He knows what is in our hearts. He is not asking me to let go of television because it is all bad for me, but He is asking me to let it go because it causes me to be disobedient to His calling over my life. It leads me to sin and He desires to lead me into righteousness. Do we not pray, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil”? (Matthew 6:13) He is answering our prayers; we just choose not to listen.

                I do not know what you are going through today, or where it is that you are in your path. But one thing I do pray for you today is that you would let go and get rid of all those strays in your life. If there is something in your life that God has asked you to walk away from, to let go of, to pluck out and cast away, then with all determination and promptness let today be the day we finally do it. Let today be the day that we enter the kingdom of God blind rather than be cast into hell because we don’t want to give up our eyes. Let today be the day that we becoming willing and ready sacrifices for our Lord, determined to get rid of the strays that we have been feeding in our hearts. Don’t keep feeding the strays, take them to the woods and leave them there, then we will be able to walk in the righteousness that He has called us to walk in. May the Lord and His Word be glorified today, for His glory and honor and power reign forever and ever; amen and amen.