Vinegar and Milk

Vinegar is a highly acidic liquid. Milk is a base liquid. When you combine the two, it causes a chemical, neutralization reaction. Almost instantly, the proteins in milk (called casein) lump together. If you planned on drinking the milk you’ll discover it has soured and is no longer palatable. You might end up throwing it out because it is useless as a drink. But, this concoction is not entirely worthless. The combination is an excellent replacement if you want to bake a batch of delicious buttermilk biscuits. What was on the one hand considered awful, ruined and without use can become a vital ingredient in creating something worth eating (if you like biscuits).

We look at people around us who make horrible, awful choices for their lives and shake our heads. In our estimation, their lives are ruined, without merit, useless. We don’t think they can be redeemed or ever change their trajectory. Their sins have become like vinegar. However, if given the right circumstances and encouragement and hope their lives can be restored and become useful.

In the Bible we read the story of the woman who was caught in the act of adultery. We can assume, this was not the first time she had participated in the act and she was well-known in the area. An angry crowd drags this woman (not the man) and throws her down at Jesus’ feet. “This woman is an adulteress and the law says she is to be stoned,” exclaim the Pharisees in the crowd. “What do you say?” Jesus pauses, stoops down and scribbles in the sand, and then says, “Whoever is without sin cast the first stone.” Of course, given those parameters no one could accuse her and the crowd dispersed. Jesus then takes her by the hand and, instead of berating her for her sin, he tells her, “Go and sin no more.”

This woman’s life could have been destroyed by the “vinegar” of her sins but instead her life was changed and we assume she lived a completely new life after her encounter with Christ. Instead of throwing people away because their lives have become curdled and spoiled, we need to embrace them and show them how their lives have value and how they can become useful and new. We aren’t called to be judges; we are called to be healers and restorers of spoiled lives.

Remember–every one of us has been touched with the “vinegar” of sin. Not one of us is unspoiled. All our lives have been curdled by our choices. But, we have been forgiven, redeemed, and have been given the hope that our lives can be used for something good. Let us extend the same redemption and hope to those who are hurting around us who feel their lives are too spoiled to be changed. Let’s make some biscuits instead of throwing out sour milk.

How Much Do You Love Yourself?

When asked the question, “How much do you love yourself?” What is your answer? Well, I love myself enough to make sure I have food to eat, clothes to wear and a warm place to sleep. I also love myself enough to want to have close relationships with my children and family, to bring happiness to others and to enjoy intimate friendships with other people. I also love myself enough to want to hear encouraging words, compliments and uplifting messages. I love myself enough to want to avoid painful situations, to run away from abusive relationships and to have people help me and forgive me when I fail. I love myself enough to want to survive.

I have been struggling with some deep issues in recent days involving an unforgiving heart, deep disappointment and anger. I know in my head I need to let go and trust God to work situations out but I have this roiling, churning uneasiness in my spirit. In my devotions this morning, I was reading Matthew 22. Jesus was confronted by the religious leaders who were trying to attack his teaching. One Pharisee asked him a ridiculous, simple question any Jew would have known. “According to the Law of God, what is the greatest commandment?” Instead of ignoring the trite attack, Jesus answered promptly, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” But, he didn’t stop there. He looked at the smug, self-righteous leaders and replied, “And the second greatest commandment, equal to the first, is to love your neighbor as yourself.”

You see, I have been stuck on the first part. I love God on all levels and I strive to know him more personally each day. I don’t consciously do it but I can be like the religious leaders on my high horse sitting high and mighty above the “dregs of society”. I can be judgmental, and have been, and can consider my life better than some people. I pat myself on the back and say I’m not in the mud with the drug addicts, the alcoholics, the child abusers, the failures. Truth is, though, even if I keep the first commandment but don’t keep the second, to love my neighbor as myself, I’m no better than any of them.

Jesus was constantly criticized for fraternizing with prostitutes and tax collectors. He faced down his critics by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17) Those were his neighbors and he was loving them as much as he loved himself. He met not only their physical needs but their emotional and spiritual needs as well. His love for God didn’t end with himself; it extended to the world around him to people entrapped by pain, hopelessness, suffering, addictions, and guilt.

I asked for God’s forgiveness for my unloving attitude, which was eating away at me, and I also asked for his help in seeing people with his eyes. In my own power, it is difficult to see the small grain of hope buried in the desperate, seeking heart of another human being but if I strive to see people as God sees them I can overcome my prejudice and judgment and love my neighbors as I love myself and as God loves me. There have been times in my life when I was no better (on many levels) and yet God’s loving eyes, his forgiveness, changed me.

How would my world change if I asked, when confronted with difficult people, “Do I love this person as much as I love myself?”