Thursday, July 14, 2016

Muddy Waters

The Neuse River- near Raleigh, NC 
            I have always liked water, in every shape and every form. As a child I grew up along the banks of the Mississippi river. I swam in its waters, fished along its shores and did a little Jet skiing now and then too. I have hiked many times through the Smokey Mountains and crossed cold, rushing streams of crystal clear waters. Now I live near the Neuse River in North Carolina. For those who do not live around these parts they usually see the Neuse River and think it is very dirty, very polluted because it looks so murky. It does look very dirty, and in all truth it is.
            As I was riding my bike along its banks today I found myself comparing my life to its waters. The red clay that helps make some of North Carolina’s soil, mixed with the sands coming in from the coast make the Neuse look very murky and not very appealing. But it doesn’t start out that way. It starts out clean and fresh, but as it meanders its way through the various soils, the different towns and the different cities, its waters change and become dirty. They start to become stained with the redness of the clay.
My life, the day that I was born, started out good. I was fresh and new, unstained by the world that I just made an entrance into. But, as I grew and made my way through life, I picked up the dirt, the pollution and the sands of sin which stained and changed my life. Debris collected along my banks and my water has turned murky, dirty and sometimes it looks very unappealing. But, thanks be to God, it doesn’t have to stay that way!
As watched the waters of the Neuse roll by me I was reminded of a verse in James. James is writing to us to be doers of the word and not hearers only in chapter 1 verse 22. He then goes on to say that, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their afflictions and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27 ESV) Now, I have heard this scripture used over and over again about various ministries and by various churches. But usually, I hear this verse recited by people looking to justify their good works and the nice things that they have done for widows and children. They recite this verse to me after they have done some good deed like they needed to make sure they checked off their “religion” box for the day. But as I watch their life all I see are the stains of the world muddying up their works. We seem to skip over the most important part of the whole verse; to keep oneself unstained from the world.
Pictures I have taken on my bike rides 
Just like the Neuse River gets stained by the red clay of its banks, if we are not careful we will become so polluted by our surroundings that we will begin to look unappealing, and all our “religion” will be in vain. No one wants to partake in polluted waters. But yet, here I am, finding my life polluted by the world every day. I once heard a pastor say that the world was like sand at the beach. You rinse it off before going to your car, but before you can even get your car door open, more sand has collected at your feet. No matter how hard we wash it off, it just keeps coming back.
But, there is hope! There is a way for us to be unstained, for us to have fresh and clean waters again. It is through His Word. We need to take time out of our day, morning and night, as often as we see the stains upon us; to be washed and renewed in His Word. He is the giver of life and out of Him flows rivers of living waters. If we desire to live an unpolluted life, then we have to start by giving our time to His Word. Put down the remote, put down your phone and let your life be washed in the cleansing waters of His Word.
James also says that we are to keep ourselves unstained or unspotted from the world. What I think James is telling us is that we have to make a choice to not be like them, to not be like the world. Instead of following the easy path down river, we choose to make a new path and follow after God.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 6:17 that the call of God upon His people has never changed. He has always called us to be separate, to come out from among the world, and touch nothing unclean. I think we forget how holy our God is and how much He delights in our holiness. We will never attain to a level of perfect holiness on this earth, but He calls us to strive for it; to strive to keep ourselves pollution free. How do we do this? How do we keep our waters clean? How do we keep ourselves unstained from the world? We heed His call to come out from among them and be separate from them.
We need to identify those things in our lives that have polluted us, that have stained us and we need to wash them in the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. We need to separate ourselves. We need to walk away from going with the flow and choose to forge a new path. Perhaps your stains have come from partaking in gossip- separate yourself from it. Whenever gossip starts to build up around your banks, move away from it, forge a new path and separate yourself from it. Maybe you are stuck in a negative thought life and it causes you to be critical and stained with bitterness- separate yourself from it. Find what is causing you to become stained and remove it from your life.
Loch Raven- on the Neuse River
James writes that we are to keep ourselves unstained from this world. The choice to do so is ours. God does not wave some magic wand over your life and “abracadabra” the pollution is removed. You have to choose to remove it from your life. We can either go with the flow and keep polluting the rivers of living waters that flow through us, or we can separate ourselves from that pollution and be clean, fresh and new. We are responsible to keeping it clean. God promises to purify us once we have separated ourselves from it, but He won’t force you to remove it. You have to keep yourself from it.

My river is polluted, that is for certain. But, I find comfort and hope in His Word that if I choose to forge a new path and separate myself from the stains of this world, then He will turn my life into a pure and undefiled river of eternal waters before Him. My river will be pleasing and acceptable to Him, and that is good enough for me. Amen?