Thursday, May 31, 2007

Facing the future with confidence

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You have anointed my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23).

Nearly everyone worries about making it in today’s economy. We worry about our expenses. How much will the price of food go up because of fire, late spring frost, or flooding? How deeply will we have to dig into our pockets to pay for fuel to heat our homes and run our vehicles? How can we afford medical treatment in the face of rising health care costs? The way that tuition keeps going up, how can we afford to send our kids to college? How many more opt-outs will the school board ask for? How much will the government want to raise our taxes?

We also worry about our income. You might have a good job now, but businesses go bankrupt all the time. And even if your business is doing well, what if they reorganize and you end up in a lower-paying position? What if they implement cost-saving measures and cut your benefit package? Retirees are not exempt from worrying about the future either. What if Social Security or Welfare benefits don’t keep up with inflation or are cut? You might have investments, but what happens if the stock market takes another downturn? What if the economy turns sour and the value of your property depreciates? I suspect that even Donald Trump knows—perhaps better than the rest of us—how quickly wealth can disappear. In this world, no one ever feels secure for very long.

What a comfort it is to be adopted by God as one of His children. He promises that we have a home with Him forever in His kingdom, a place where He will see to our every need! In His home, we won’t have to sweat just to get our basic needs met; we will be like contented sheep who don’t have to find food or shelter because our Shepherd will provide them for us. We won’t have to worry about our long-term security, because our Savior will provide eternal security for us. Since we have this promise of security, we can face life with confidence. In spite of job outsourcing and bosses saying 'you’re fired' and the threat of Social Security going belly-up, we know that a far better life without stress or worry is awaiting us.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Are you on an emotional rollercoaster?

May your unfailing love be my comfort (Psalm 119:76).

How are you feeling today? Are you happy? Are you sad? Are you angry? Are you afraid?

What is making you feel this way? Are you happy because you are infatuated with someone? Are you sad because someone you love has left your life? Are you afraid of what you might find out the next time you go to a doctor? Are you angry that someone has hurt you?

Living with emotions can be like a ride on a roller coaster. You’re up, you’re down, you’re tossed around, you’re disoriented—emotions can be exhilarating and terrifying. Not only that, emotions can cause problems—they can set us up to make hasty decisions that we later regret.

Some people can’t handle the stress of emotions. They might ask a doctor to prescribe something to take the edge off, or they might medicate themselves with alcohol, nicotine, chocolate, marijuana, or any number of other mood-altering substances. In extreme cases, some even flee their emotions by committing suicide.

Is there any way to keep control over your emotions so that each day won’t be quite such an adventure? I’d like to suggest an alternative to substance abuse and suicide. Try Jesus. Jesus is the best solution I know for emotional peace and stability. He can help you manage anger. When Jesus was put to death for our sins, He did not get mad at those responsible for His death—instead He said, Father, forgive them (Luke 23:34). Jesus forgives us for causing hurt, and helps us learn how to let go of hurt and forgive others.

Jesus can help you overcome fear. He commanded, and storms ceased; He spoke, and the sick were healed. Jesus says, Trust in God; trust also in me (John 14:11). When you learn to trust Jesus, you realize that you have the Son of God Himself looking out for you; what can you possibly fear?

Jesus can lift your spirits when you are sad. He promises eternal life in paradise to everyone who believes in Him; He said, I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies (John 11:25-26). Knowing this, death need not be a final farewell but only a comforting ‘see you soon.’

And Jesus can fill your life with happiness. He said, I have called you friends (John 15:15). You have the love and affection of God Himself, held out to you in Jesus’ nail-scarred hands.

With anger let go, fear calmed, sadness removed and the promise of God’s love, you can be confident that the majority of your days will be characterized by happiness.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Respecting authority

The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him" (Genesis 2:18). With these words, God took one lone man and made him part of a society.

God had never intended for Adam to be alone. "Aloneness" is an idea that is foreign to our Triune God. From eternity, God has existed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit—one God who is communicated with as three distinct persons. How God can be one and three at the same time is a mystery our limited minds cannot understand, but what is important for us to remember is that, because God has three persons, God has never existed in silence with no one to talk to. In Genesis 1:26 we are given ear to the Trinity speaking together: Then God said, "Let us make man in our image." Since God had never existed with no one to talk to, it is not surprising that God gave the first man someone to talk to as well. It is not good to be alone.

The Bible puts much emphasis on fellowship. When Adam and Eve are introduced to each other, the first command that God gives them is be fruitful and increase in number; Adam and Eve were not intended to be a society of only two (Genesis 1:28). When King David looked for a place to build God’s Temple, the spot approved by God was in the capital city of Jerusalem, a major population center. After Jesus ascended into heaven and the apostles were forming churches for worship, the writer of Hebrews urged his readers, Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). Throughout the Bible, we see that the people of God are always part of a society, and that each of them has responsibilities within that society.

The essential building block of any society is the family. It is within the family that a child is given life. It is within the family that a child is first introduced to God, as the parents bring him to the pastor for baptism, bring him to church and Sunday School, and read Bible stories to him at bed time. It is within the family that the child learns how to cooperate with others, by learning how to participate in chores and how to share toys. It is within the family that a child learns how to lead and how to follow, from living under the authority of parents. All the essential skills for adulthood are learned in the family.

This is why God gave us the commandment, Honor your father and your mother (Exodus 20:12). This Commandment means, "honor the family that brought you into this world and seeks to train you in the things needed to have the best possible life." Martin Luther understood this commandment to extend beyond the family as well. He wrote: "We should fear and love God, and so we should not despise our parents and superiors, nor provoke them to anger, but honor, serve, obey, love, and esteem them." The family structure, with parents given the responsibility to care for the children, and the children having the responsibility to cooperate and mature under the guidance of their elders, is the pattern upon which society is based. All authority in society is an extension of parental authority. Teachers help parents provide education. Firemen and soldiers protect when parents cannot. The government ensures that everyone cooperates together where individual parents cannot enforce such cooperation. Society is an extension of the family, and honoring your parents, by extension, includes honoring the caring authority of your society.

How do we violate God’s commandment? Most obviously, we sin when we are disrespectful to our parents. When we are very young, disrespect takes the form of refusing to do our chores and yelling at our parents. As we grow up, we discover that our parents are every bit as much sinners as everyone else; and especially in our teenage years, it is tempting to dismiss what our parents say as too corrupted by sin to be worth listening to. But although our parents are sinners just like us, God still expects us to be obedient to them. Jesus was without sin, yet He submitted Himself to the authority of two sinful people, His earthly mother and stepfather; Luke tells us in chapter 2 that Jesus was obedient to them. Paul writes, Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (Ephesians 6:1).

But just because we’ve reach adulthood ourselves, this does not give us leave to stop honoring our parents. Clearly, parents are not to run our lives as adults; speaking of marriage, Jesus says: for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh (Matthew 19:5). When a man and a woman get married, they have committed to being the leaders in a new family and take on the responsibility that goes with it—their primary obligation shifts from following their parents to leading their own children. But that does not mean the grown children are to stop honoring their parents, and we show such dishonor when we cannot find time to visit our parents, listen to their troubles, or help them with their problems. Some ungrateful children have even gone so far as to take advantage of their elderly parents by stealing from them through trickery or intimidation. Such behavior angers the God who gave us life through those very persons.

We also sin when we act irresponsibly in society. God expects us to respect those in authority and to cooperate with our peers. We sin when we show disrespect to those who have been given the responsibility of leadership. Peter writes, submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men…Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king (1 Peter 2:13, 17). We are to do this because God has created the power of government to rule people for their good, just as He created the power of parenthood to rule children for their good. Paul writes, Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:1-2). Now just like parents, people in authority are all sinners—but that does not remove God’s expectation that we live as law-abiding citizens. Insulting a judge is a sin. Speeding is a sin. Procuring alcohol or cigarettes for someone who is underage is a sin. Refusing to pay your taxes is a sin.

We also sin when we do not do our share as members of society. Just as a child is expected to do his chores, so we as adults are to do ours. If we are called for jury duty, we are to serve. If we are called up for military service, we are to go. When elections are held, we are to study the issues and try to vote in accordance with God’s good and gracious will. English philosopher Edmund Burke said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." God has given us a blessing few Christians in history have had—the opportunity to shape society according to God’s statutes through our ability to vote; we sin when we refrain from voting and let Satan’s followers dictate the final outcome.

Pontius Pilate is an example of someone who did not act as a responsible member of society. Pilate was appointed the job of governor over Roman-controlled Israel. It was his job to see that the people were ruled according to Roman law. When Jesus was brought before him, Pilate could find no evidence that Jesus had done anything illegal. Pilate said to the crowds hungering for Jesus’ death, "I find no basis for a charge against this man" (Luke 23:4). But the people responded, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar" (John 19:12). When Pilate saw his political future threatened, Matthew tells us: he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" (Matthew 27:24) Rather than obey the laws of the empire, Pilate allowed the greatest injustice ever done to take place by claiming that he, personally, was not responsible. Because of people who did not respect authority, Jesus was put to death—Jesus died to forgive those who do not respect authority.

Jesus always respected God and those who exercised authority. Jesus was holy and John the Baptist was not; so when Jesus came to John for baptism, John tried to deter him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" Jesus replied, "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness." Then John consented (Matthew 3:14-15). When Jesus prayed to His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, He said, yet not my will, but yours be done (Luke 22:42). When Peter urged Jesus to resist arrest, Jesus told him, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:53) When Pilate tried to intimidate Jesus by saying, "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?" Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above" (John 19:10-11). When the religious leaders who had demanded His crucifixion mocked Jesus, saying Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe, Jesus could have used His divine power to come down from the cross, but He did not (Matthew 15:32). At no time in His life did Jesus refuse to submit to those who were in positions of authority, because by submitting to them, He was submitting to His Father’s plan to save us from our sins by becoming the punished criminal in our place. Paul writes, he humbled himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:8)

And Jesus honored His mother. As He slowly died upon the cross, blood dripping from the wounds in His hands and His feet, every breath a struggle as He hung in a most unnatural position, suffering God’s anger for our every sin, Jesus still thought of His mother, now widowed and soon to lose her first born. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home (John 19:26-27).

Jesus died to forgive you for every time you yelled at your mother or father. Jesus died to forgive you for every time that you brushed them off because you were too busy with other things. Jesus died to forgive you for every time that you broke a law, were rude to a policeman, or were too preoccupied with other things to vote on a referendum. Jesus was perfectly obedient and perfectly responsible because He knew that you could not be, and He was willing to forgive you in spite of that. May our Lord’s Holy Spirit move you to repent of living your life as if no one else mattered, because it is not good for a man to live as if he were alone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sin and love

I have loved you with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3).

A middle-aged businessman hurried to the hospital. He had received word that his elderly mother had been rushed there by ambulance, and she was not expected to survive the night. As the man strode down the corridor to the Intensive Care Unit, his steps began to falter. He hadn’t spoken with his mother for years—what would he say to her if she was conscious? The man paused, then shook his head and entered the room where his mother lay in bed, connected to a spider web of wires and tubes. If only hours of life remained to her, he had to be at her side.

As the businessman draped his coat over a chair, the dying woman opened her eyes and softly spoke his name. Eyes downcast, her son turned and took her outstretched hand in his own. The room was silent, save for the sounds of medical equipment vainly trying to forestall the inevitable. Finally the old woman said, "I’m so glad you came."

The man finally looked his mother in the eyes and nervously cleared his throat. "I wasn’t sure if you wanted to see me, but after I heard what had happened to you, I had to come." The woman’s eyes widened in surprise. "Why would you think that I wouldn’t want to see you?" she asked. Her son replied, "You were always so disapproving of me. The friends I spent time with, the way I earned and spent my money, my bad habits—it seemed as if I could never be good enough to suit you. Then, when I filed for divorce, I figured there was nothing I could say to you. I know I’ve been nothing but a disappointment."

The mother’s hand tightened its grip on her son’s. "Is that why you’ve stayed away all these years? I love you, son! I’ve always loved you! Yes, I did disapprove of many things you did. You were hurting yourself and the people in your life. You were hurting me. But I never stopped loving you. So I was patient—I hoped that if I waited long enough, you would get tired of the hurt and come back to me for love." The man’s eyes filled with tears—tears for the years he had foolishly wasted. And his mother hugged him with a strength surprising for a woman of her age.

The love of God is like this. God disapproves of your sins, but He still loves you. He is waiting for you to get tired of the hurts caused by sin and come back to Him for love. It may not feel like it right this moment, but God has always loved you, and His arms are waiting to embrace you with surprising warmth and strength.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Seeing the world upside down

The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (John 1:5).

All photography is based on a simple principle that has been known for over 2,000 years. The Romans named this principle camera obscura, which means ‘dark room.’ It works this way: you set up a room that is shielded from all light. Then you make one small opening in a wall, which allows a single ray of light to enter. That ray of light crosses the dark room and strikes the far wall, creating a faint image of the scene outside the little window. But there is one thing wrong about that image—it is upside down!

This principle of photography illustrates how we human beings tend to see God. The disciple John tells us, God is light (1 John 1:5). When Moses returned to the Israelite camp after standing in God’s presence on Mt. Sinai, Moses’ face still glowed with the light of God (Exodus 34). Jesus, the Son of God, said: I am the light of the world (John 8:12). And Revelation chapter 21 tells us that when God remakes this world in perfection, no sun or moon will be needed, because the glory of God will give it light, and Jesus will be its lamp.

But there’s a problem. Because of sin, we live in darkness. Our world is like a dark room, a camera obscura. When Jesus came among us as a baby, He broke a small opening into our world and allowed a ray of God’s light to enter. Thanks to Jesus, God’s light forms an image on the wall of our dark room, a faint picture of our holy God and His glorious home. But just like the image in a camera, that picture projected into our darkness looks upside down. John tells us that although Jesus is the light of the world, the darkness has not understood it.

Because of the darkness that we live in, we tend to see things upside down. It appears to us that the most important things in life are popularity, wealth and authority. It seems obvious to us that God would reward those who do the best job of following His rules. But darkness inverts the truth. From God’s perspective, the most important things in life are humbleness, charity, and service. God rewards those who trust in His love to forgive them for their failures and who look to Him for leadership every day. Mary tells us: He has taken princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly. He has satisfied the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands (Luke 1:52-53). This reversal of our expectations has led many to reject Jesus, yet it makes perfect sense when we realize that the darkness of sin has turned our thinking upside down.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hatred vs. forgiveness

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, `Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, `Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell (Matthew 5:21-22).

With these words, Jesus dramatically shows us that the Commandment You shall not kill goes far beyond the crime of taking another person’s life. Today, we will take up Jesus’ challenge to consider just how far-reaching this commandment of God truly is.

What lies at the root of murder? What is the emotional motivation behind the desire to end another person’s life? I think that murders happen because the killer views his victim as an obstacle that must be removed. A jealous wife kills her husband’s mistress to remove the obstacle blocking her from her husband’s love. A thief kills a store clerk to remove the obstacle blocking him from the money in the cash register. An abused teen kills his father to remove the obstacle blocking him from having a happy childhood. In every case of murder, the killer views his victim as a problem that cannot be resolved in any other way, except by violence.

The problem, then, lies with the perception of other people as obstacles, as problems that must be overcome by whatever means are necessary. A person with a killer’s mentality does not concern himself with other people as human beings; he does not wonder what their feelings are, what their needs are, what their dreams may be. He does not wonder why the other person opposes letting him get his way—all he knows is that the other person is being a nuisance to him.

Of course, most people are not murderers. But we have all been guilty of reducing other people, in our minds, to nothing more than obstacles that have gotten in our way. When we regard people as things, we try to get them out of our way by using techniques that don’t respect them as persons. If we are at a meeting where the decision to be voted on is not going our way, it is tempting to undercut a person opposing us by suggesting that he doesn’t know what he is talking about—in essence, calling him a ‘fool’. We feel that we can win, if we can make our opponent look as if his opinions cannot be trusted. We see this kind of behavior all the time in political campaigns.

Besides discrediting someone, another popular technique is to intimidate them into allowing us to have our way. We see this on the playground when a child sees a group of bullies do something wrong, and they tell him not to squeal or they’ll beat him up. A more subtle, adult version of this behavior, is to use emotional blackmail on someone. Have you ever used the line, "If you loved me...?" Implied in this threat is that, if you don’t do what I want, being married to me is not going to be enjoyable. In the office, this can take the form of "do this for me, and I’ll see what I can do about that promotion that you’ve wanted." In each case, a person has been forced to knuckle under if they want to avoid some sort of future harm.

A third technique for removing people who we see as obstacles is to try and get them put somewhere where their words and deeds can no longer affect us. The old Soviet Union was infamous for sending political protesters to places where no one could hear their challenge to the government. But we can do this too, by nominating people we disagree with for job positions where their decisions can no longer affect us. A sneaky wife could suggest that her husband work longer hours at the office or join his friends for frequent nights out, in order to prevent him from noticing that she is having an affair.

Jesus would compare all of these behaviors to murder, because they all result in harm to another person. Taking a person’s life is a terrible thing, of course, but is it any less a sin to tell your child that she’s worthless? Harm can come to another person both physically and mentally. Being beaten up by bullies is traumatic and can affect people for the rest of their lives. Being a victim of emotional blackmail can plunge a person into severe depression. Being intimidated into silence can destroy a person’s sense of self-worth. When people are treated like objects, it inevitably results in harmful pain.

When you are faced with a person who is opposing you, you only have two options: you can either view him as an obstacle to be removed, or you can view him as a fellow child of God. If you choose to look at him as a fellow child of God, your whole approach to the problem between you will be different. First of all, you will recognize that both of you are sinners, driven by sinful impulses to work towards goals that are not always pleasing towards God. When you realize this, it becomes possible to consider the possibility that what your opponent wants might be more pleasing to God than what you want. Or it may be that both of you are pursuing sinful goals. Regardless, the way to find out is to talk with each other, share why you think that your needs must be given priority, and pray together for God’s help in finding a mutually agreeable solution. Only by acting in this way, by showing respect for the position of our opponent, do we show that we love them.

Ultimately, it is all about forgiveness. If I am up against another person, do I hate him or do I love him? Do I need to defeat him, or do I need to forgive him and seek forgiveness from him in return? Hatred is not interested in forgiveness. Hatred is not interested in listening and compromising. Hatred labels my opponent as the enemy and urges me to take decisive action. Love, on the other hand, wants reconciliation and partnership. Love seeks unity in purpose. Love labels my fellow Christians as my friends, and non-Christians as people helplessly drowning in an ocean of sin who need to be rescued before they drown. People who are drowning are known to panic and fight with those who try to rescue them—the challenge for the Christian is to overcome their fighting with loving strength, not brutal force. Love forgives the person who hurts me as I try to rescue him with the life jacket of God’s holy Word.

All conflict comes from sin. Sin is any action that opposes the good and gracious will of God. When two people come into conflict with each other, at least one of them—and quite possibly both of them—are acting on sinful desires, or are trying to use sinful means to achieve their goals. The only remedy to sin is forgiveness—thus, the only remedy to conflict is forgiveness. When we are in the wrong, patching things up must be our first priority; Jesus says, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-34). And when we are clearly in the right in a conflict, Jesus tells us, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Forgiveness is the only way that we can be freed from being in conflict with God because of our sins, and instead find reconciliation with Him—the same holds true for all human relationships.

Jesus came to earth to end the conflict between sinners and God. God hates sin, but He loves His children who are enslaved by sin. So God sent His only Son to teach us to pray, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Jesus said plainly, if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins (Matthew 6:14-15). Forgiveness is at the heart of every successful relationship; true love cannot exist in an unforgiving heart. Jesus is the highest example of forgiving love; He was willing to take His very life, a life that was divine because He was God, and trade that life for death, the death that our cold and stony hearts had deserved. Because Jesus offered His life in place of ours, His forgiveness frees us from conflict with God, because His life has paid for our sins.

Caiaphas serves us as an example. In the Gospel of John chapter 11, we are allowed to eavesdrop on a conversation that took place among the religious leaders of Israel concerning Jesus. "What are we accomplishing?" they asked. "Here is this man performing many miraculous signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation." Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, "You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." Caiaphas viewed Jesus as an obstacle. When the Romans occupied Israel, they took away all political power from the Jews. But being very religious people, the Jews still had some who they regarded as having authority over them—their religious leaders. The Romans tolerated these religious leaders, on the condition that they use their influence to keep the unruly Jews from rebelling against foreign occupation. Caiaphas feared that if Jesus made the religious leadership appear to be unnecessary, the Romans would strip them of the little power that they had over the people and would dominate the Jews completely. To Caiaphas, Jesus was an obstacle to keeping his position of power over the people. Caiaphas hated Jesus—he was not interested in talking to the Lord, he wanted Jesus put out of the way. Under Caiaphas’ leadership, Jesus was captured and turned over to Pilate for execution. Jesus was put to death because of hatred; Jesus died to forgive men of their hatred.

Jesus died to forgive you for your acts of hatred. Jesus endured whipping, taunts, ridicule and beatings so that you would not be punished by God for your making fun of others to puff yourself up, for your making threats in order to get your way, for your unwillingness to listen and compromise, for all the times when you didn’t want to forgive or admit that you were wrong. Jesus was hated so much that people made fun of Him has He hung from bloodied nails, dying on the cross; yet instead of lashing out at those who hated Him so, Jesus instead prayed "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

May our Lord, who loved so much, drive all hints of hatred from your heart, and fill it with His perfect love instead.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Looking forward, not back

"No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62).

You cannot be successful in going forward if you are preoccupied with looking behind you. During spring planting, if a farmer spends too much time looking out the back window of the cab, he will have a horribly messed up field to contend with at harvest. A driver on the highway who is distracted by what is happening in his rearview mirror will eventually end up in the ditch. You can’t maintain a straight, safe path if you are constantly twisting around to look behind you.

Jesus warned His followers about the dangers of looking back. When we join Jesus on the straight path to heaven, we are required to leave behind the sinful pleasures that lead to hell. But while there is a sense of relief in leaving some things behind, others are not so easily abandoned. In Genesis chapters 18 & 19, we are told how God destroyed Sodom. The residents of that city were thoroughly despicable—not even ten righteous people could be found within the city walls. God warned Lot to take his family and flee the city without looking back. However, Lot’s wife had apparently enjoyed her life in Sodom, and she made the mistake of disobeying God by looking back with regret on what she was leaving behind—that moment of weakness cost her her life.

You can’t make straight rows with a plow if you don’t focus on what’s ahead. You can’t get through traffic safely if you don’t keep focused on what’s ahead. And you can’t expect to stay on the narrow path to heaven unless you keep your focus on the future that Jesus is beckoning you towards. Jesus said, The way that leads to destruction is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose the easy way. But the gateway to life is small, and the road is narrow, and only a few ever find it (Matthew 7:13-14). To look back at the sinful life Jesus wants you to leave behind is to risk stepping from the narrow road to heaven and stumble back onto the broad road that leads to hell.

Jesus always kept looking forward. Even when the days ahead included abandonment, ridicule, beatings and crucifixion, Jesus did not look back to the past. He kept His eyes on the goal beyond the cross—a bright future where He would be raised from the dead and crowned King of the universe, a wonderful future where we would be freed from sin and the fear of death. Knowing that rest in heaven awaits us at the end of the straight and narrow road, we are encouraged to look forward and leave the past behind.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14).

There was once a class of schoolchildren who loved to go outside for recess. Their teacher was very generous—if the class had been well behaved and had finished their work, he would let them start recess a few minutes early. The class received this reward quite often; they were usually attentive and quick to finish their assignments.

But one day the class was having problems. Paper airplanes were flying. Hair was being pulled. Talking was nonstop, and homework was simply not getting done. Suddenly, the teacher called for everyone’s attention and said, "Time to go outside." Silence gripped the room as every student stared at the teacher in shock. He could almost hear what they were thinking: "Why are we being let out early? We don’t deserve to go out. We haven’t been paying attention; our work isn’t done." In answer to these unspoken words, the teacher said: "I want you to learn something from this. There are times in life when you are given gifts that you don’t deserve." With that, the students slowly walked outside, a bit confused and unsure about the new world they had just stepped into. For the very first time, some of these young people experienced what grace truly is. They were given a gift that had neither been earned nor deserved.

We were raised to believe that there’s no such thing as a ‘free lunch.’ If someone gives you a gift, they will expect to receive a gift of similar value; if someone does you a favor, they will eventually seek a favor from you in return. But God’s grace is not like that. God’s grace is a gift, pure and simple. Because of sin our souls were under Satan’s control, but because Jesus does not want to see us suffer in hell, He gave up His life on the cross so that we could belong to the family of heaven. What a gift! What a favor! How can we possibly repay Jesus for this great act of generosity? We can’t. Jesus Himself says, what can a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26) The answer is: nothing.

Thankfully, our Savior does not expect us to repay Him. Writing to Timothy, Paul tells us that God saved us, not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. Jesus makes only one demand of those He rescues—that you cling to Him alone as your passport into heaven. Yes, He wants us to turn our backs on sinful things, but this change in lifestyle does not in any way balance the scales for what Jesus suffered on the cross for us—only God’s grace guarantees us rest in the Savior’s arms.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Slavery to desire

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13).

A problem every one of us struggles with is desire. But by desire, I do not mean the pursuit of material goods or riches; by desire, I refer to the human craving to experience pleasure. Desire is the powerful drive within us to make our bodies feel good.

Desire takes on many forms. Our bodies can be pleasured in a lot of different ways, and marketers are constantly pushing all sorts of products at us to make us feel good. We want to smell pleasant things, so new perfumes and aftershaves hit the shelves every year. We want our skin to feel comfortable, so we are offered body oils and silky clothing. We enjoy looking at beautiful things, so artists paint pictures for our living rooms and web page designers offer us a bewildering array of desktop themes and screensavers. We like hearing pretty sounds, so musicians constantly record new songs for us to purchase and listen to.

But besides the obvious problem of constantly spending money to get the next new product, the desires of the senses can lead us into sinful behavior. Consider food, for example. Americans, as a whole, are more overweight today than at any time in history. We have access to such a wide variety of foods at grocery stores and restaurants that there is considerable temptation to try everything. To make matters worse, many fast food outlets let you buy larger portions at a discount, encouraging us to order too much because we think that by purchasing in larger quantities, we are getting more for our money.

The problem with being overweight is that it is unhealthy for the body. This is a concern because of what St. Paul writes in 1st Corinthians 6:19-20: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. We are to regard our bodies as we regard the church where we gather to worship God. If we meet in a church where the paint is peeling, the roof leaks, the windows are broken and the altar is mildewed, what does that say about our love towards our God? And since our bodies are God’s instruments in showing His love and care to those in need here on earth, what does it say about our devotion to God when we are too out of shape to climb the stairs in an apartment building to visit a widow, or that after feeding ourselves we have no money left to give to the poor? Paul says of Christ’s enemies, Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things (Philippians 3:19). Their god is their stomach; Paul tells us that the pursuit of feeling good in the body can become a false religion, a lifestyle that hedges God out of our hearts.

Related to the sin of overeating is the sin of substance abuse. Marijuana, cocaine, nicotine and alcohol all have one thing in common—they make us feel good, while offering no benefit to the body. People do not become healthier as a result of smoking, drinking, or shooting up. And the problems with substance abuse go beyond the abuse of our bodies. Addiction dictates the choices that we make. The need for more heroin can drive an honest person to steal. The need for a drink can prompt a husband to lie to his wife. The need for nicotine can make a person risk their health by standing outside in below zero temperatures during break time. Addiction controls behavior, and whatever dictates our choices has become our god.

Additionally, substance abuse hurts those whom we love. How many hung-over parents have missed seeing their children compete at school? How many women have been beaten up by an out-of-control husband? How many people have been killed in accidents caused by drivers who were unable to think clearly or react quickly? How many babies have been born with birth defects because their mother was addicted to smoking or drinking or drugs during her pregnancy? Substance abuse fills the body with pleasure, but at a terrible cost.

One more type of bodily desire that needs to be discussed is the desire for sexual pleasure. Sexual desire is a gift of God; it is intended to draw a man and a woman together into a life-long marriage of body, mind and soul. But our society has separated sexual gratification from life-long monogamy; the media constantly tells us that sex is just one more thing that you do to feel good. And sex, taken out of marriage, is behavior that is both sinful and damaging.

The act of making love is intended by God to strengthen the bond between a man and a woman. But when sex is reduced to a recreational activity shared with several different people, it loses its ability to act as a glue because it has been spread thinly among many people, and its attempts to create connections have been broken repeatedly. When person who has treated sex in this way gets married, one of the powerful glues of marriage has been dramatically weakened, and the marriage is at greater risk of eventual break-up.

Another problem with focusing so much attention on the pleasures of sex is that it can all too easily lead to infidelity. In Exodus 20:14 God commanded: You shall not commit adultery. When two people get married, they pledge to each other their fidelity—in other words, the act of showing love through sex is reserved for they alone; sex is the outward sign of their committed love. Adultery is the breaking of that vow. Adultery happens when the desire for sex becomes separate from the desire for a permanent partnership. Adultery breaks the marriage vow of committed love.

Adultery is destructive to relationships. When a husband or wife has been cheated on, it is such a complete betrayal that the Bible gives permission to get a divorce. Adultery destroys marriages, and thus families—and families are the backbone of any society. All relationships are built on trust—and anyone who has seen trust so terribly betrayed as it is through adultery, finds it very difficult to trust in any relationship in the future—including trusting in the God who never will betray them. In the final analysis, this is why God condemns adultery so strongly—because the betrayal of adultery destroys the ability to trust, and without trust we cannot have a saving relationship with Jesus.

Adultery starts with sinful desire. In Matthew chapter 5 Jesus tells us, you have heard that it was said, `Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. This sin is so serious that Jesus goes on to say, If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Now of course we do not take Jesus literally here; if we were without hands or eyes to guide them, our effectiveness as His servants would be greatly lessened. But Jesus strongly urges us to avoid those things that can lead into sin. If you are tempted to cheat on your wife with a woman at the office, consider getting a job where you will not see that woman every day. If your friends tempt you to join them in binge drinking, cultivate new friendships. If you are tempted to overeat, don’t fill your kitchen with fattening snacks. Paul writes, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Paul warns us not to be like godless people: Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (Ehesians 4:19). Lust is a consuming desire for pleasure, be it sex, drugs, or fattening food. Notice Paul’s concern--a continual lust for more. A full stomach soon becomes empty; every high is followed by a crash; sexual union only satisfies sexual appetite for a short time. When we become addicted to pleasure, it is an addiction that is never satisfied for long.

King Herod was a man controlled by his desires. His lust for his brother’s wife moved him to marry her in violation of God’s law. His lust for partying left him vulnerable to manipulation; besotted with a young woman’s dancing, Herod ended up getting tricked into ordering the beheading of John the Baptist (Mark chapter 6). Herod had the Savior of the nations standing before him on Good Friday, but instead of using the opportunity to repent of his acts of lust and murder and seek Jesus’ forgiveness, the only thing that Herod wanted from our Lord was for our Him to perform miracles for Herod’s entertainment. Since Jesus would not jump through Herod’s hoops, Herod sent our Lord back to Pilate to be put to death (Luke chapter 23). Jesus died because of people whose lives were controlled by desire; Jesus died to free people from slavery to desire.

Jesus was not a slave to the pleasures of the body. Jesus was always in complete control of Himself; His thinking was never clouded by drunkenness. For Jesus, meals were not a time to take pleasure in eating; rather, they were a time to take pleasure in the company of others and to teach about the kingdom of God. The Pharisees resented Jesus for eating with ‘sinners’, but it was as they dined together that Jesus spoke of the truly important things—about God’s love for sinful men, and His desire that all people turn their backs on sinful pleasures and instead dedicate themselves to following Jesus as the only way to the Father in heaven. It was at a dinner table that Jesus broke bread, blessed it, and gave it to His disciples saying "Take and eat; this is my body" (Matthew 26:26). It was at a dinner table that Jesus blessed the cup, gave it to His disciples and said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you" (Luke 22:20). When the devil tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread, Jesus replied: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). Later on in His ministry, Jesus told His disciples, I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world (John 6:48-51). Jesus tells us that, in the long term, earthly pleasures do not satisfy—only Christ can give us true satisfaction.

We do not need to be slaves to pleasure. Paul shows us the alternative in Philippians chapter 4, verse 11-13: I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength. We can live without addiction to earthly pleasures; ask Jesus, and He will free you to be truly content in Him.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The Bible

Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures" (Matthew 22:29).

During the Dark Ages, ignorance and superstition were more common among Christians than knowledge of the Bible. In many places religion was little more than empty ritual, people just going ‘through the motions’ of worship. During those years, cathedrals were built and crusades were launched to reclaim the Holy Land for Christianity. Yet the hearts of most people were far from God; many clergymen had become lazy, failing to educate their people in the Holy Word. The Bible was virtually an unknown book to thousands of people who called themselves Christian. During a tour in which he visited many congregations, Martin Luther was horrified to find that even many clergymen had shockingly little knowledge of what lay in the pages of Holy Scripture.

Tragically, history is starting to repeat itself. Today, the Bible is a book which is unfamiliar to millions of people. The Bible is still one of the most widely distributed books in the world and remains a best seller year after year. Many homes even contain multiple copies of the Good Book. Yet in spite of all these copies just an arm reach away, few take the time to open them and become familiar with the contents.

The Bible is not a self-help book; Scripture teaches us that we are helpless slaves to the sin that twists our thinking, that no effort on our part can overcome our evil desires and achieve perfection. Nor is the Bible mythology, a collection of imaginative make-believe tales written to teach a moral lesson.

The Bible is a mirror that confronts us with the reality of our corrupt spiritual condition and our desperate need to find a different way to live. The Bible is a telescope that lifts our focus from the temporary thrills of today to the bleak future that awaits everyone who unashamedly delights in sin. The Bible is a lighthouse, a beacon that shows us where dangers lie and where rest from the storms of life can be found. The Bible is a love letter from God, expressing His desire for us to be part of His family. The Bible is a stream of pure water, offering to wash away the filth of our sins and refresh us in the desert of our despair. The Bible is a roadmap by which we are shown the path to never-ending peace and joy in heaven. The Bible is a meal, where Jesus, the living Bread from heaven, offers us Himself to strengthen us for the journey. And the Bible is a set of powerful arms through which the Holy Spirit lifts us up and supports us along every mile of our life’s journey. But the Bible cannot be any of these things to you, if you do not read it.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Soul calluses

Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-4).

One wonders if Franklin Roosevelt would have ascended to the presidency if he had not had to struggle with polio. That apparent tragedy helped make him into the man that he became. Someone once asked him how he could remain so patient through the bitter and vicious attacks brought against him by the press and radio commentators. Roosevelt simply replied, "Brother, if you had spent two years learning how to wiggle your big toe, you would learn what patience is, too."

Life is full of struggles. Sometimes we enjoy the challenge—most athletes gain more satisfaction from a narrow, hard-fought win than from an easy, blowout victory. But when struggles drag on and on, when we can see only faint hope for overcoming a problem, then all fun drains from the challenge. We whine and complain, acting like children waiting for someone to rescue us; we get angry and bitter, lashing out at those around us to make them join us in feeling miserable; we get depressed, giving up trying to find a solution and pulling away from those we love.

God teaches us that times of struggle are also times of opportunity. Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. Hard work results in pain as calluses form, but those calluses protect you from future pain and allow you to work with less fear of getting hurt. What is true of your body is also true of your personality.

It works this way: you find yourself in a rough spot, and you desperately pray to God to see you through. When things get better, you thank God for bringing relief. When the next problem comes along, you can face it with a better attitude, knowing that since God got you through before, you can be confident that He will do so again. Experience will show you that sometimes God delivers you quickly, while other times require that you wait; this teaches you to not give up during a lingering period of trials, because you know that however long it takes, God will bring brighter days. With such confidence, you are less and less likely to respond to times of suffering with whining or bitterness or depression; through these hard times God is growing protective calluses on your soul so that you can work hard, living a life of giving love, without suffering devastating hurt. If you let Him, God will use the tough times of your life to build your character.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


You shall not steal (Exodus 20:15).

An employee assigned the responsibility to open the store at 10:00 each morning routinely arrives at work between 10:15 to 10:20. He always fills out his time sheet as having arrived at 9:55 a.m.

The president of a major corporation overextends himself, making it impossible to keep up on the payments for his new sports car. He spends late nights at the office adjusting the company records so that he can take a couple million dollars for himself, and make it look as though the money was lost on the stock market.

A woman who is stuck in a low-paying job accidentally spills hot coffee on her arm while in a fast-food drive-through. When she sees that she has received a 1st degree burn, she decides to profit from this mishap by suing the fast-food company for a quarter of a million dollars.

A high school girl has a cocaine addiction. With her wallet empty, and desperate for more of the drug, she takes money from her mother’s purse while Mom is in the kitchen cooking dinner.

These four people all have one thing in common—they are all thieves.

Put simply, stealing is taking some kind of property from someone else without their permission. Stealing is about improperly taking money or the things that money can buy from another person. But although we usually think of stealing as something obvious like purse snatching or breaking and entering, stealing can also be a subtle, sneaky sin that even people who pride themselves on honesty can find themselves guilty of.

The first example of theft that I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon is the theft of time. How much time we can devote to working determines how much money we can make, and the amount of time that we invest in a project will determine its overall quality and final value. When our time is wasted, our ability to produce results is reduced. This is why we resent junk mail on our desk and spam in our e-mail; these things waste our time, time that needs to be devoted to something more important. Wasting time becomes a sin, when it hurts another person financially. If a person reports late to work, takes excessively long breaks, or leaves early, but fills out his time sheet as if he kept to the schedule, he bills the company for work he did not do, and the company pays for service it did not receive. The employee has stolen from the company.

This is a form of laziness. Laziness is expecting other people to take care of you, when you are perfectly capable of caring for yourself. When you are lazy, you are stealing time from other people. A lazy child steals his parents’ time by not making his bed, leaving his dirty cloths on the floor, or by expecting his parents to help him with his homework by telling him what the correct answers are. A lazy husband or wife steals their spouse’s time by refusing to help with household chores, neglecting to provide care and discipline to the children, or by failing to promote family growth through activities like joint participation in church events or shared leisure activities. When a man or woman is saddled with a lazy spouse or child, that person has to work harder at home to compensate, and has less energy to earn a living when they are at work.

A related form of stealing is cheating. Cheating is just another way to be lazy. A college student who cheats on an exam wants a good grade and the good job offers that could follow, but without having to work for them. A cheat ends up less qualified for a job than the person who learned through diligent study; a cheat ends up cheating an employer out of profits by being less productive than the employer expected, due to his lack of proper learning.

And then there are the people who file frivolous lawsuits. This is yet one more example of being lazy. Instead of seeking more skills to earn better pay, many people in America hire a lawyer to get them easy money by accusing a business of being negligent. The most silly I’ve heard of is the person who sued suing a fast-food franchise for serving junk food that has resulted in the plaintiff now being fat! But with juries constantly giving huge settlements to people who never exercised common sense or personal responsibility, there is always a lawyer ready to represent a person who wants to make a quick buck.

In a sense, all stealing boils down to two things—laziness and impatience. We do not like to work hard, and we are unwilling to wait until we have saved enough to buy what we want. We get credit cards so that we can "buy now, pay later". But for those who cannot get credit, stealing can become an alternative. And our society even honors thieves in some cases. Robin Hood was justified in thievery, because he stole from the selfish rich and redistributed wealth to the poor. There is a certain charm to the stories of Bonnie and Clyde, Jesse James and the like, because they were people who knew what they wanted and took it. Movies like The Godfather and shows like The Sopranos reveal the American interest in getting wealthy at any price, even if the price is cheating, swindling, and stealing.

In Exodus chapter 20, God issued this simple Commandment: You shall not steal. In a more subtle fashion, Jesus reminded us not to steal when He taught us to pray, give us this day our daily bread—ours, not somebody else’s. This petition of the Lord’s Prayer reminds us that everything that we have comes as a gift from God; when we steal, we are taking what God intended for somebody else and are making it our own. This is why stealing is a sin. Stealing is our way of telling our Lord, "God, I don’t like the way that You have distributed money in this world. I know better than You what I really need and what my neighbor really needs, so I am going to fix the mistake You made of giving him too much and me not enough".

When we steal, we show that we do not trust God to take care of our real needs. Jesus said, do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:31-33). If we take Jesus at His word, there is no need to steal because He has promised that God will see to our needs. Of course, it is understood that we do not expect God to fill our bellies if we are lazy; Paul writes, "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Thessalonians 3:10). Proverbs 10:4 declares, Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth. This is because God blesses the hands that are busy in service to Him.

Jesus trusted God. When Jesus went 40 days without food in the desert, Satan tried to get Jesus to stop waiting on His heavenly Father and take matters into His own hands by turning stones into bread. But instead of giving in to the sins of impatience and lack of trust, Jesus instead responded, It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God' (Matthew 4:4). Because Jesus trusted His Father to provide for Him in all ways during His earthly life among us, Jesus never gave in to the temptation to steal. Nor was Jesus lazy. He worked hard, keeping long hours teaching and healing and travelling; Scripture tells us that He became tired (John 4:6). Today, we take great comfort in Jesus words, "My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working" (John 5:17). There is never a time that our Lord is not attentive to our needs.

St. John says this about Judas, he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it (John 12:6). It was Judas who betrayed Jesus into the hands of those who wanted His death, and Judas committed this crime for the sake of money. Judas profited at Jesus’ expense; the Pharisees later referred to the 30 silver coins involved as blood money (Matthew 27:6). Jesus’ life was taken because of thieves; Jesus allowed His life to be taken in order to save thieves. By the agonizing hours of suffering on the cross culminating with His death, Jesus suffered God’s anger at every act of theft, every incident of cheating, every moment of laziness that each of us have been guilty of. Jesus died for us willingly, trusting that His loving Father would not let His Holy One see decay in the grave (Psalm 16:10), but would instead raise Him up so that He could lead all repentant believers out from their graves to follow Him into heaven.

Paul wrote near the end of his life, godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that (1 Timothy 6:6-8). If you are content with what God has chosen to give you, you will not feel the need to cheat or steal from others. If you dedicate your time and energy to doing work that is pleasing to God and beneficial to others, He has promised to see to your true needs. God never promises luxurious living. But God does promise to give you what you need so that you can serve Him faithfully with your life. Pray to the Lord for food for your stomach and work for your hands, and the Lord will give you more than enough to see you through.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007


Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

The story is told of a woman who was made bitter by loneliness. She frequently found herself home alone in the evening, and over time she became enraged over her husband’s absences. She kept a journal in which to pour out her feelings, but eventually it became a book blackened by hatefulness; in it, she started keeping track of every minute her husband was absent from the house. When he was present, she railed at him for his absences. Her husband began looking for excuses to stay away from home, and eventually he only came home a couple of nights each week.

But this angry woman was a Christian, and she faithfully spent time with her Lord in devotion and prayer. So it was that Jesus spoke to her heart; He showed her that by wasting the few precious minutes she had with her husband by berating him, she was actually driving him even further away. She realized that on the cross, Jesus forgave the very people who were killing Him—forgave them even though they felt no remorse for their actions at the time. She concluded that if her marriage was to be healed, it would have to start with her—she asked Jesus to forgive her for her bitterness, and to help her lay it aside and replace it with forgiving love. Since she only had limited time with her husband, the woman decided to make the most of every minute. She resolved to fill their moments together with happiness and pleasant conversation. Every page blackened by bitterness was ripped from her journal and destroyed; instead, she only set pen to paper to preserve joyous memories.

It did not take long before her husband started spending more evenings at home with her. In time, he even came to shame-facedly admit that he had been neglectful in his responsibilities as a husband. But his wife had already forgiven him in her heart, and with his admission of wrongdoing, the marriage entered a renewed period of strength and growth. Forgiveness was the key. First, the wife had to admit to her Lord that her own behavior was sinful and must be abandoned. Then, she made a commitment to set aside the hurts caused by her husband—to forgive him. And eventually, the forgiving love of Jesus that had revitalized this woman’s life led her husband to seek forgiveness as well.

Forgiveness—it is Christ’s gift to heal the present and build the future.

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