Saturday, August 31, 2013


In everything you do, stay away from complaining and arguing (Philippians 2:4).

Some time back, researchers studied how frequently Americans complain.  They listened to people having conversations with each other, and evaluated each sentence: was it a question, a statement of fact, or a complaint?  The results of this study surprised me.  For the average American, 75% of what comes out of his or her mouth is a complaint.  The amount of negative comments rises to 90% for those people whom we see as grumpy.  But astonishingly, even those with the most pleasant of personalities were found to spend fully half of their time complaining!

Complaining is so very easy to do.  The weather can provoke any number of complaints: “The sun is awfully hot today.”  “That darned wind messed up my hair.”  “We could sure use some rain.”  Drivers have a whole litany of sour remarks: “Where did that idiot learn to drive?”  “It’s going to take forever to get through this construction.”  “Gas prices went up again?”  The workplace gives us endless opportunities to complain: “I can’t believe how much the government takes out of my paycheck!”  “No matter how hard I work, I never seem to get caught up.”  “The boss is just so unfair.”  And our homes are no haven from negativity: “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.”  “All these channels, and nothing on.”  “Why do we always have the same things for dinner?”

We complain to show our dissatisfaction with the way things are.  But why do we complain so much?  Some people believe that complaining is healthy—a way to blow off steam.  But when 75% of what you hear from others is pessimistic, it is going to be exceedingly difficult for you to maintain a positive outlook.  Master propagandist Joseph Goebbels once observed, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”  If you are constantly being told that something is unsatisfactory, eventually you will come to see things pessimistically and join in the chorus of complainers.  Complaining does not make you feel better by blowing off steam; rather, it only pulls others down to join you in feeling bitter.  It was a wise man who gave the advice, “if you don’t have anything good to say, then say nothing.”

Through the apostle Paul, God offers an alternative to complaining: fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8).  Brooding on your problems does not solve them or make you feel better about them; it just wastes time and distracts you from the good things in life.  If you truly want to feel better, our Lord invites you to look to Him and His teachings to be uplifted.

It is said that ‘misery loves company’.  And so countless numbers of unhappy employees use break time to pour out their frustrations to each other.  They find solace from being reassured that they are not alone in their pain, that other people are just as miserable as they are.

But what kind of comfort can you really gain from finding out that another person’s marriage is also on the rocks?  How does it help you to know that other people are also strangers to their children because they have to work three jobs to keep their family fed?  Does it really make you feel good about your situation to hear that your friends are just as unhappy as you are?

Although you can get a feeling of camaraderie from trading tales of woe with others, such exchanges don’t provide you with what you really need—a ray of hope.  It is much more helpful to spend time with a person who has successfully dealt with problems similar to your own, because they can give you hope that, like them, you too can experience better days in the future.  Perhaps they can even pass on some advice from their experiences to help you through your present days of darkness and struggle.

But no matter who you talk to, the value of their advice will be limited.  What they went through can never parallel your own situation exactly; solutions that worked for them may offer little or no help to you. There is only one person who knows exactly what you’re going through.  There is only one person who can offer advice that is truly relevant to your situation.  That one person is Jesus Christ the Son of God.  He wove your DNA strands together in your mother’s womb; He created your immortal soul and attached it to your embryo at the moment you were conceived.  He has witnessed everything that’s happened in your life, listened to every thought that’s crossed your mind.  He knows you, knows what you’ve suffered, knows what you need.  In fact He knows your needs personally, because He Himself lived and suffered and died.  Hebrews chapter 2 tells us, since He Himself has gone through suffering and temptation, He is able to help us when we are being tempted; all we need do is turn our problem-filled lives over to Him.  He is always ready to guide us; copies of His Bible are everywhere, the Good Book wherein He tells us of many challenges that others have faced and how God saw them through.  It is in the Bible that the Lord shares His wisdom with us, gives us the advice we need when faced with life’s tough puzzles. 

“You can’t understand what I’m going through!”  A lot of people feel this way.  They feel isolated, alone with their problems.  They don’t believe that anyone else can possibly understand how they feel, what their life is like at this moment.  “You can’t understand what I’m going through!”  With these words, the suffering person pushes away those who would offer help.  They feel that any advice from someone clueless to their pain would only be a waste of time.  In fact, they fear that having to explain their pain will only make the hurt feel worse—better, they think, to just be left alone.

But you know what?  Everyone knows what it feels like to have their trust betrayed.  Everyone has been lied to.  Everyone has been made to cower in fear by cruel words or the threat of violence.  Everyone has had something stolen from them.  Everyone has been insulted or treated with disrespect. 

God gave the Ten Commandments to regulate our behavior, because it is our nature to act without regard for the pain that our choices might inflict upon others; and it is because of our unwillingness to obey the Commandments that every one of us knows what it’s like to be betrayed, lied to, threatened with harm, stolen from and disrespected.  Sin is a problem common to all people, as is the pain that comes from being hurt by another person’s sinful behavior. 

A woman whose husband has cheated on her might say to me “You can’t understand what I’m going through!”  Now it’s true that I am a man and that my wife has never cheated on me; nevertheless, I still know from experience what it feels like to be betrayed by someone whom I trusted implicitly.  I can still sympathize with that woman’s feelings of betrayal and her reluctance to ever trust anyone again.  A man home from war might say to me “You can’t understand what I’m going through!”  Now it’s true that I’ve never been shot at; nevertheless, I still know from experience what it feels like to be unexpectedly attacked by someone wanting to do me harm.  I can still sympathize with that man’s fear of sudden, unexpected noises, of being defensive around strangers.  Sin levels the playing field for all of us.  We all commit sins; we are all victims of the sins committed by those around us.  This is why we need Jesus to walk with us, hand in hand, every day.  Jesus suffered the torment of every sin on the cross to win relief for us.  Only He can forgive us for hurting others.  Only He can give us true release from the pain of being victimized by sin.

Why are people so negative and pessimistic so much of the time?  It’s because, deep down, they are afraid.  Negativity comes from fear.  Pessimism arises from fear that things will never get better.  Discouragement results from fear that you will fail.  When the things that we fear make us feel helpless, we often become angry, sometimes even violent; other times, feeling powerless prompts us to flee from what is making us afraid, trying to hide from it somehow.  Fear gives rise to all sorts of negative attitudes and behaviors.

Fear can suck all joy out of life.  How can you enjoy life when everyone around you is constantly complaining about how unhappy they are?  How can you enjoy life when you’re expending most of your mental energy on worrying?  If you let pessimism filter your view of life, it will eventually blind you from seeing opportunities, leaving you feeling as if there is no way out, no way to change things.  When this happens, the result is despair, the mind-numbing belief that there is no longer any hope. 

Fear is a very old problem—as old a problem as sin.  All the way back in the Garden of Eden when the first sins were committed, our ancestors immediately hid themselves.  Why?  Because they were afraid--afraid of what was going to happen when God found out what they had done.  Yet God responded to their fear in an unexpected way.  Yes, He was truly angry.  Yes, Adam and Eve were punished for disobeying Him; their lives would now be maintained only at the cost of hard, sweaty labor, and would eventually end in the grave.  But their Lord did not strike them down for their sins, as they deserved—we are told that Adam lived for 930 years before he died.  Instead, the heavenly Father gave them a promise to cling to—the promise of a descendant, a Son of Man sent from heaven to destroy the power of sin and free mankind from the suffering that evil brings.  That Son of Man sent from heaven was Jesus, who came to earth to free us from fear by suffering in our place God’s punishment for our sins.  Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can be forgiven--we need no longer fear God’s displeasure.  In fact, God the Father adopts everyone who believes in Jesus and turns away from the love of sinning.  When the Lord of all creation promises to care for us as His own dear children, what can we possibly be afraid of?  How can anything cause us to worry? 

With God’s love filling our hearts, there is no reason to be negative or pessimistic, no reason to ever complain.  When life gets you down, don’t pull other people down to wallow in self-pity with you; instead, take your concerns to the Lord in prayer.  Heed the words of David, preserved for us in Psalm 62: Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.  And when you speak with others, listen with sympathy to their troubles, but don’t then weigh them down with your own; instead, follow Paul’s instructions in 1st Thessalonians: Encourage one another and build each other up

You are a child of God, redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Rejoice in the LORD and be glad (Psalm 32:11).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Chosen to love

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last...This is my command: Love each other (John 15:16-17).

Jesus says that we don’t choose Him, but that He chooses us.  The sobering fact is that we were incapable of choosing to follow Jesus.  In Romans chapter 8 Paul tells us, the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so.  In 1st Corinthians he says, People who do not have God’s Spirit do not accept the things that come from his Spirit. They think these things are foolish. They cannot understand them, because they can only be understood with the Spirit’s help. Unless God intervenes, the sin that blinds us to everything good and holy and righteous makes it impossible to see Christ for who He really is, or find any value in becoming a disciple.

Thankfully despite all that, Jesus chose us to receive His mercy, chose us to learn from Him, chose us to follow where He leads.  He chose to look past our glaring imperfections and establish a personal connection with the precious individual God designed each of us to be.  He took action to establish the relationship which we were incapable of initiating.

You and I, we were chosen by Christ for a purpose.  The Lord says, I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.  We are selected to do things that have long-term ramifications, important things that have eternal significance.  We are appointed to share the message of Jesus with individuals who have not yet heard it. 

Fruit that will last—that fruit, that blossom of a life well-lived, is love.  Love for individuals who are caught up in futility, aggravation, hopelessness and despair.  We are to show a love that gets involved in hurting lives, a love that wants Jesus’ circle of friends to grow by another person.  Jesus wants us the bear a fruit of love that touches lives and changes them, not just for an hour or a day but for a lifetime.  Love has that kind of power when it flows from the heart of Christ.  His love has the power to free hearts from the darkness of corruption and fill them with the light of everlasting life. 

Jesus said, this is my command: love each other.  Love is more than affection, more than showing respect for dignity or rights.  Love is reaching out to offer strength, assistance, relief, support.  Love is sharing what Christ gives us, that all might know Him by our love.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Servant or friend?

I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends (John 15:15).

Servant or friend?  Given the choice, I prefer being named a friend. Servants merely do as they’re told.  As the Lord says, a servant does not know his master’s business.  You just follow orders, not privy to the purpose or value of your actions.  It’s hard to get excited about doing something when you don’t understand why it needs to be done.  And being treated as a servant is humbling as well; you just feel like an interchangeable part in a large assembly of moving pieces.

Thankfully, our Lord chooses to treat us differently. He does not want us to follow Him blindly like robots, doing what He commands with no understanding of why.  He does not want us dragging our heels because we don’t get why hard things sometimes need to be done.  And He certainly doesn't want us feeling as if we have no personal value to Him as individuals! 

God created each of us to have a uniquely personal relationship with Him.  Although He doesn’t need us, God wants us to walk at His side as friends.  Of course, friendship requires communication and lots of it.  The Lord of all things already knows everything about us since He is our maker; sadly our spiritual blindness prevents us from knowing God with any kind of familiarity.  This motivated Jesus to come live here on earth; He shared the heart and mind of God with us through His words, words that have been preserved for all people in the Bible.  Through Christ we are made privy to what God is doing; we are invited to work with Him not as ignorant servants but as valued friends. 

Knowing the Almighty King changes our perspective on being His people.  Christ has revealed how much God hates sin and the lengths He was willing to go to in order to free us from its curse—giving His own Son to the shame and agony of the cross.  Such knowledge deflates our unwarranted high opinion of ourselves and triggers a response of grateful service.  Knowing what Christ suffered to make us His friends, we are prepared to endure some hardship of our own in order to share His love with others.  Knowing how much we are valued helps us to value each other even when we’re not particularly lovable. Through the words of Christ we are elevated from mere servants to beloved friends, friends who are privileged to know who God is and what he is about.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Equipped for battle

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should
(Ephesians 6:10-20).

It is easy to live in fear.  Read or listen to the news, and you are bombarded with stories of war and crime, political corruption and unethical business practices.  During break time at work, there are people who are anxious to share juicy gossip—tales of addiction, money troubles and adultery.  When the kids come home from school, they talk about things that make you feel uneasy about their future.  Our lives are a-swim with bad news and negative talk, making us ask the question “what’s going to happen next?”

My friends, we live in a war zone.  We are under constant attack by the forces of evil.  The government passes laws that allow immoral behavior.  The Internet is filled with content that promotes lust and hatred.  Movies glorify violence and television programs encourage poking fun at people instead of respecting them.  There are kids offering to teach your children about drugs and sex.  There are adults who urge you to do whatever is necessary to reach your goals, even if that means breaking promises.  There are well-spoken extremists who want you to share their prejudices.  Evil assaults us from every side, every day, trying to wear us down so it can take us captive.

It sure would be nice to avoid all the conflict.  Some people come to Christianity with the hope that Jesus will empty their lives of turmoil.  They are disappointed when they find out that isn’t the case—Christians struggle with evil just like everyone else.  Being a follower of Jesus does not guarantee a stress-free life.  But being a Christian does have its advantages–God does not leave us alone on the battlefield, ill equipped for battle. 

Evil assaults us from every side, but there is a pattern to the attacks; there is a military commander hiding in the shadows, coordinating the offensive.  Paul reveals this truth in today’s Epistle lesson: our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  Behind the corrupt government officials, behind the fanatical terrorists, behind the abusive husbands and fathers, there is a dark spiritual influence.  These are the demons—fallen angels commanded by their leader the devil.  They whisper lies and distort the truth.  They encourage hostility, fear and despair.  They entice whoever they can into making rash and harmful decisions.  They are a vast army, and no mere human can withstand their influence.

Thankfully we have God on our side, and God is more powerful than Satan and all of his minions combined.  God is the King of Creation and His Son Jesus is our Prince of Peace.  Yes, that’s right—in the midst of war with the powers of darkness, Jesus has won the peace.  He did it on the cross when He died to save us sinners from the devil’s control.  You see, by nature we are unclean; we are born tainted by sin, inherited from our parents like a birth defect.  Sin makes us blind to God’s pure light; all we see are shadows and deep darkness.  We come into this world cut off from God and easy prey for the devil, who is a master of shadows and darkness.  His demons have free reign to play with us as they will, and knowing no better, we play along.  We become willing pawns of evil and don’t even realize it.

Of course, God hates evil; He designed hell as a prison for those who sit in darkness, where they will suffer His righteous punishment for all eternity.  But God is also loving and compassionate; He wants to free us from the devil’s clutches and make us members of His precious family.  So God sent His Son Jesus to suffer and die in our place.  All the agonies of hell that our sins deserved were inflicted on Christ as He hung on the bloody cross.  Through that sacrificial act, the Lord settled our debt of sin.  When He died, our Lord visited hell to proclaim His victory over Satan and the demon horde.  Then Jesus rose from the dead to open heaven for us; He is the living Savior, and He alone is authorized to forgive our sins.  Through His great mercy, we have peace with God—and so Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  Through Him we are freed from the devil’s leadership, and we join the holy army of God.

Of course, no commander likes having traitors defect from his ranks; when Jesus frees us from the devil’s control, Satan gets enraged.  He wants to completely demoralize us, and attacks with everything at his disposal.  It’s a good thing, then, that our Lord equips us for the battle.  Paul writes, Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Christ has made us soldiers under His leadership, and He offers all the equipment that we need to survive the battle and remain standing until the end. 

Paul tells us about the field kit that the Lord offers to give us.  First up is the belt of truth.  A belt keeps your clothing in place so nothing will slip and leave you embarrassed.  That is what the truth does—it keeps you from making a fool of yourself.  Whenever you get taken in by a lie, the devil has you in his grasp.  He uses lies to get you angry, so angry that you say or do things that are foolish.  Without the belt of truth firmly in place, the devil can use falsehood to yank down your pants and humiliate you in front of everyone.  The truth frees us from the Satan’s lies; Jesus said, the truth will set you free (John 8:32).

Next, Paul mentions the breastplate of righteousness.  A breastplate is the piece of body armor that protects your heart from injury.  Satan loves to go after your heart; he wants you to feel bitter over the pain you’ve suffered, because bitterness chokes out love and compassion.  The breastplate of righteousness reminds us that God can always be counted on to do the right thing.  He does not treat us unfairly; He does not let us suffer needlessly.  In 1st Corinthians chapter 10 Paul writes, God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.  In His letter to the church in Rome Paul says (chapter 8), we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.  The breastplate of righteousness protects our hearts from despair with the assurance of God’s love.

Next on Paul’s list is the footwear of the Gospel.  The devil wants to trip us so that we fall flat on our face in the mud of sin.  He works to knock us down over and over again, until we get too worn out to continue on.  He wants us to lie down, give up and die.  But the Gospel gets us back on our feet, no matter how many times we slip and fall.  The Good News of God is that Jesus forgives our sins whenever we confess them; He is always at our side, ready to lift us up, clean us off and support us with His strength as we walk in His ways.  As Peter wrote, Humble yourselves…under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6-7).

Another important piece of God’s armor is the shield of faith.  The devil is like a sniper; he hides from sight and takes shots at you when you least expect it.  He’s trying to chip away at your confidence; the devil wants you to question whether fighting him is worth the constant struggle.  Paul compares these attacks to deadly flaming arrows—first they draw blood, then they burn you as well.  Thankfully, God gives us faith as a shield to protect us.  We trust that God is stronger than the devil.  We trust that Jesus won the victory for us when He died on the cross, and that Satan knows his position is hopeless but is so desperate that he won’t give up the fight.  The shield of faith gives solid protection in times of trouble; as Psalm 125 says, Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

The last piece of armor on Paul’s list is the helmet of salvation.  One of Satan’s favorite tactics is to attack the mind.  He asks us if God is real, or just something the church made up?  He challenges us to explain why Christianity is true and every other religion is wrong.  He wonders if the promise of heaven is worth giving up sinful pleasures in the here and now?  The devil plays mind games with us, hoping to stir up confusion.  But salvation is real.  Salvation is God’s free gift offered through Jesus alone, a gift that promises life after death with God in paradise.  Salvation is the goal of Christianity—through Word and Sacrament the Lord places faith in our hearts, moves us to reject sin and adopts us into family of God.  We are saved from the darkness of evil so that we can live in the light of goodness and love.  The helmet of salvation protects us from confusion with the promises of God, so we can press on towards the goal of everlasting life.  Among those promises is this one, spoken by Peter in Acts chapter four: Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

Yes, thanks to God we are well armored.  But what good is a soldier without a weapon?  And so the last piece of equipment Paul mentions is the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  Make no mistake—God’s word is powerful.  When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, our Lord drove the devil away simply by quoting Scripture.  That’s why pastors insist that confirmation students memorize Bible verses; the more of God’s word that you know by heart, the sharper your sword will be when fighting off the devil’s attacks.  This is why Luther wrote, "Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us.  This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will; He can harm us none—he’s judged, the deed is done.  One little word can fell him" (A Mighty Fortress).

Of course, armor and weapons do no good if you don’t put them to use.  If you are willing to accept what other people say at face value instead of searching for the truth; if you prefer to nurse grudges rather than forgive; if you would rather do the easy thing instead of the right thing; if you don’t think that building your faith through worship and Bible study is important; if you’d rather live it up now and worry about heaven later; if you don’t want to risk making people angry by fighting the good fight, then you are walking into the battlefield completely unprepared and the devil will have you for lunch. 

My advice?  Listen to Paul; take his advice seriously. Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes…And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Vibrant love

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13).

What is the nature of love?  Is it just a feeling of attraction, of affection and closeness, or is there something more? 

Love must result in action or it is fatally stunted.  Love can’t help but get involved in other people’s affairs, looking for some way to make their situation better.  The apostle James writes, Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? (James 2:15-16)  Love is not just a warm fuzzy glow in the heart; love is a drive to bring compassion and kindness into the life of another person, even if such involvement is messy and unpleasant. 

True love is willing to stick its neck out whenever necessary.  It’s willing to get out of bed at two a.m. to comfort a distressed child or go on an ambulance call.  It is willing to sit at the bedside of someone confined to a hospital or nursing home.  True love is willing to discipline a child, knowing that tears now will give way to mature behavior later on.

True love will give up anything, even life itself, for the sake of another.  That’s what Christ did—demonstrated a love so committed to our welfare that He willingly suffered and died on the cross.  We deserved God’s punishment for violating His commands.  We bend His rules when they get in the way of what we want.  We just plain forget about His laws in the heat of passion.  Every day, we add to the mountain of guilt that results from our irresponsible behavior.

But Jesus cares for us with the kind of love that is willing to get its hands dirty.  He left the glories of heaven to share in our mud-spattered lives here on earth.  God the Father promises strict justice in response to sin, but His Son took that punishment in our place.  He gave His life that we might find welcome in God’s magnificent kingdom, a joyful existence that will never come to an end.

True love is willing to give anything, even life itself, to make another person’s life better.  Christ Jesus loves us this way.  He laid down His life that we might live in His love.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Unconditional love?

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love (John 15:10).

Is love conditional or is it unconditional?  We struggle with this question in every relationship.  We say that we will marry a partner for better or worse, yet half of all marital unions reach a point where problems overwhelm love and divorce is the result.  The love between a parent and child should be unbreakable, yet there are times when children feel compelled to run away from home or are told they are no longer welcome there.  It would seem that love is conditional, as much as we might want it otherwise.

God’s love is conditional too.  I know that some of you might squirm at reading that, but it’s the truth.  The Lord Almighty gives life to everyone, and loves all of humanity as His children.  But Jesus says, If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love.  That is a condition.  Breaking God’s Law brings a terrible consequence—punishment in the pit of everlasting darkness. 

You don’t show Christ love or respect by doing the opposite of what He commands.  Jesus told us to honor God with our time and praise.  He taught us to forgive those who cause us pain or make us mad.  He urged us to make prayer an important part of our daily routine.  He instructed us to show love to others by caring for them in times of need and introducing them to the Savior if they are living in unbelief.  When we put these commands on the back burner, when we say and do things that cause hurt and tear down relationships, how can we remain in the love of Jesus? 

The answer is found at the cross.  On that awful instrument of suffering, Jesus paid the penalty incurred by all our transgressions.  Through Him we are forgiven, held close in love despite our failures.  He has taken our obligations upon Himself and fully satisfied every requirement of the Law we have failed to honor.  The result?  God now demands only one thing from us.  In John chapter six the Son of God was asked, "What must we do, to do the works God requires?" Jesus answered, "The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent."  That’s all.  That’s all God demands as the condition for His affection.  We can remain in Jesus’ love simply by holding Him close in our hearts and entrusting our lives to His care.  Nothing is more important. There is no other way to have the joy of Christ within us, the undeserved gift that makes our joy complete.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Leaving the church

Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. Joshua said to all the people…

"Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD."

Then the people answered, "Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods!  It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled.  And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God"
(Joshua 24:14-18a).

It’s always a sad thing when a church loses members.  Some are taken by the Lord through death; and while we can take comfort in knowing that the dearly departed now rest in the arms of Christ, we still miss seeing them on Sunday morning.  Others switch membership to another congregation because they have moved to a different city or state.  Although they stay in touch by email or cell phone, church life just isn’t the same without their participation.  But the real tragedy is when a person leaves the Church to pursue a different path elsewhere.  They might join a church body that has different beliefs about God and salvation.  They might stop going to church altogether.  Either way, they have put their soul at risk and that is something that should concern each and every one of us.

Walking away from God and the fellowship of true believers is nothing new.  It happened among Jesus’ followers; in John chapter six we read about many becoming disillusioned with Jesus’ teachings and walking away from the Savior.  In the lesson above, Joshua challenges the Israelites to stick with the Lord and ignore all the other tempting religions they were exposed to.  The people said they would be faithful to God; sadly, history tells a different story about the quality of their devotion.

40 years earlier, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt.  They were raised in a culture that worshiped the sun and the elements as gods.  They were told that Pharaoh, king of Egypt, was a son of the gods and ruled by divine right.  These were gods that you could see; every day the sun god looked down on them from the sky above.  But then Moses came, an agent sent by the one true God of heaven and earth.  Moses said that God was greater than the Egyptian god of the sun and the Lord made the sun stop shining, plunging the land into darkness.  God afflicted Egypt with ten plagues, each of which showed who was really in charge of the universe.  Then God led the Israelites to Mount Sinai where He dictated the terms of His relationship with them.

But while God was giving Moses dictation, the people got restless; they wanted an 'old time' worship service like they were used to back in Egypt.  A statue of a calf was made out of their gold jewelry, and the people prayed to it and celebrated with a wild party.  They made God so mad that He threatened to wipe them out then and there.  As it was, 3,000 people were put to death while the rest were punished with a disease sent by the Lord. 

Forty years went by; the Israelites who grew up in Egypt all died, as did Moses.  Joshua was leader of a new generation, one that had grown up in God’s word and service.  Joshua led these people into Canaan the land of their forefathers, a country God had promised them for their own.  But Joshua was an old man who worried about the future; at the end of life, he challenged the Israelites to resist the lure of false religions and stick with the only true God. 

Joshua was right to be concerned about the future; it wasn’t long before some Israelites began switching to other religions.  This problem got worse after King Solomon died; eventually God allowed the country to be overrun by hostile foreigners as punishment.  But why did the Israelites change religions?  There are three main reasons.

Part of it had to do with worship.  People like to have a good time, and time spent in worship is no different.  Some of the Canaanite religions were devoted to fertility; you prayed to the goddess for a good crop, healthy calves, a large brood of children.  How do you worship a goddess of fertility?  By having sex.  These religions had temple prostitutes on staff to help believers worship the goddess ‘properly.’  Worship the goddess of fertility and you were guaranteed to enjoy yourself.

Another reason that some Israelites changed religion was because of promises made by the priests.  The message was simple yet compelling—make the gods happy enough and good things will come your way.  Make the god of the sea happy and he won’t sink your fishing boat.  Make the god of the rain happy and you’ll get the right amount of moisture for your crops.  People worry about making a living, and any religion that talks about turning a profit is going to be popular.

But the biggest reason that people walked away from God had to do with choice.  In those days most people worshiped lots of gods, all at the same time.   A fisherman might pray to the god of the sea for a good catch and the goddess of fertility to give him many healthy boys.  A farmer would spend more time praying to the sun god and the rain god.  There were all sorts of gods to worship, and the Canaanites felt free to venerate whichever ones they liked best or needed most to make their lives better.  People like having choices, and the variety of Canaanite gods and goddesses allowed each person to customize his religious beliefs. 

Sadly, there are Christians today who walk away from God and His Church for the same reasons.  People try other religions because they want a worship experience that is fun and exciting.  They experiment with other religions because they are looking for a message that offers a way to get everything they want.  They walk away from God because they want to decide for themselves what to believe, picking and choosing ideas from different religions like a man filling his plate in a buffet line.  This is a tragedy, because when Christians do these things they put themselves at spiritual risk. 

Some people want worship to be exciting and fun.  Of course no church offers temple prostitutes, but the root problem is the same.  Somehow we think that an hour with God should leave us feeling as if we are on cloud nine.  But here’s the danger: such an attitude makes worship about us, not about our relationship to the Lord.  Worship is not like going to a movie or a play; we don’t enter God’s house to be entertained.  Church is a place of meeting, a place where God connects with us through Word and Sacrament and we respond to Him through hymns and prayer.  Through worship, we are strengthened in our relationships—to God and our fellow Christians.  This is important, because shallow relationships can weaken and die.  We should leave worship feeling good, because God’s Spirit has enriched us through His gifts.  But having a good time is not the goal—we come to church to submit to God as our Maker, praise Him as our Redeemer, and seek His help with our problems.  Going home feeling joyful is just the icing on the cake. 

Some people want the sermon to make them feel good.  But God expects His messengers to speak the truth, and the truth is not pleasant to hear.  You and I, we are sinners—each of us has angered God by breaking His laws.  We crave things that are not good for us.  We lie and cheat and twist the truth to get our way.  We waste the time and money God has given us to use wisely.  We break promises--sometimes carelessly, often deliberately.  We let hatred dictate our words and actions.  We don’t treat each other with love and respect.  We don’t support God’s Church as we should; a lot of the time we treat membership as a right instead of a privilege.  Worst of all, we ignore God—we don’t pray as we should, we ignore His laws, and we whine when He doesn’t give us everything we want.  Yes, we are sinners, terrible sinners.  But we are also full of pride.  We don’t like to admit our mistakes.  We are quick to point out that other people are worse offenders than we are—in fact, we’re not all that bad when it comes down to it.  We try to hide our sin and deny it when exposed.  But the message of God holds our feet to the fire.  The message of God does not let us deny the truth—that we are habitual offenders who deserve God’s judgment.

But the message of God does not stop there.  God loves sinners, loves you, loves me.  God loves us despite our sinfulness.  He loved the Israelites so much that He forgave them for worshiping the golden calf.  He loved them so much that after the nation was destroyed by foreign invaders, He restored the faithful remnant back to the land of their ancestors. God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).  The Son of God came down from heaven to live among us as a man—a man who would suffer and die because we are sinners.  We are the ones who make God angry; we are the ones who deserve His eternal punishment in hell.  But Jesus became our scapegoat.  He suffered that we might be forgiven; He died that we might live forever in paradise.  Jesus was perfect in every way; it is manifestly unfair that He pay the price for our transgressions!  But He did it out of love.  He did it to show us mercy, mercy we did nothing to deserve.  As Paul writes, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21)

This is the Gospel, the Good News of salvation.  But it cannot be taught apart from God’s Law.  If we don’t recognize our need to be forgiven, we won’t see the value of what Christ did for us on the bloody cross.  Law and Gospel—the message of God contains both.  Hearing the law is never pleasant, but the Gospel of Christ brings balm and healing to hearts wounded by sin.  The Gospel gives peace in the midst of turmoil; it eases fear, calms anger and provides hope.  These are what make life pleasant; if you cling to the Good News of Jesus’ love, then you can be content even when you have to scrape to get by.  Paul wrote in Philippians chapter 4, 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

Finally, there are people who leave God because they don’t like some teaching of the Bible.  They go in search of a religion that tells them what they want to hear.  In fact, Paul warned us of this in 2nd Timothy: the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  Some join other religions, others assemble their own custom-designed system of belief.  But they are ignoring an important fact: the Bible is God’s Word, cover to cover.  We don’t get to pick and choose what parts to believe.  Through Moses, God told the Israelites do not add to what I command you, and do not subtract from it (Deuteronomy 4:2).  God expects us to show Him respect, submit to Him, and take His every word to heart.

There is great danger in walking away from God and His Church.  Don’t let a desire for fun and exciting worship distract you from what’s really important—growing closer to the Lord.  Don’t let a desire for pleasant sermons make you stop listening when God points out your sins; remember that Jesus was gentle with contrite sinners and harsh with those who did not seek His mercy.  Most important of all, don’t fall into the trap of believing that there are many ways to heaven; only the blood of Christ can take away your guilt and make you fit to join God in His royal city.  I pray that you will always agree with Joshua when he said, as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Religious art

Gaze upon the beauty of the LORD (Psalm 27:4).

What is the purpose of art?

When an artist is a commercial success, criticism is leveled that he only gives the public what they want.  The critics want pieces that are novel and thought-provoking; the artist wants to produce a canvas that makes the buyer feel good looking at it hanging on a living room wall.  Who is right?  What should be expected from a piece of art?

Art can serve many good purposes.  Centuries ago, the average person was unable to read and books were both scarce and expensive.  So artists filled churches with paintings, tapestries, sculptures and stained glass windows, all of which were designed to educate the worshipers.  The most important stories and lessons of Holy Scripture were depicted, reminders of what God wants His people to know.  Art can reinforce the teaching of the Bible.

Art can also provoke serious thought and discussion among its viewers.  A well-composed photograph of suffering can motivate Christian charity in a way that no amount of words on paper can.  A disturbing image that shows the tragic consequences of sin can help to deter thoughtless behavior.  If used properly, art can make us uncomfortable with the status quo and spur us to change things for the better.

Another good thing art can do is remind us to appreciate the beauty of God’s wonderful creation.  Majestic landscapes, colorful still-lifes, portraits of birds and animals and fish, such pictures can fill our souls with joy and thankfulness.  Beauty is a gift from God to make our lives pleasant, and art that uplifts beauty can move us to thank the Creator for filling our lives with vibrant color.

And art can give us comfort when we are feeling low.  A picture of Christ taking care of sheep when we feel lost and confused.  A simple wooden cross hanging on the wall when we feel overwhelmed by guilt.  An illustration of Jesus standing at heaven’s gates, arms stretched wide in welcome, when death has us terrified.  Art can remind us that through Christ, God has made us His own dear children, loved and cared for always.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


The rod of correction imparts wisdom (Proverbs 29:15).

There was a time when disaster movies were all the rage.  Sinking ocean liners, skyscrapers on fire, passenger jets unable to safely land—movies like these were filled with a large cast of characters, each of whom had to deal with a personal issue before facing the likelihood of death. 

These movies were popular for two reasons.  Of course, there were the special effects—nothing invites spectacle like a major disaster.  But just as important was the human drama.  Would the divorced couple reconcile before it was too late?  Would the coward find some courage in time to be of use?  Would the crook admit the error of his ways and die with a clean conscience?  With a large cast of characters you could never be sure who would live or die, who would find redemption and who would end life having learned nothing from his mistakes.

Sadly, it often takes a time of crisis to make people re-evaluate their lives.  Someone has to wind up in a hospital bed before you realize how important it is to mend fences.  A family member has to move out before you acknowledge that you’ve been mean-spirited or neglectful.  You have to go bankrupt before you admit that gambling has become an addiction and you need professional help.

People wonder why God lets crises come into our lives.  I think that there are times when He has to shout because nothing less gets our attention.  It has been said that sometimes God has to lay you in a hospital bed to get you looking up towards heaven; sometimes He has to drive you to your knees to get you in the right position for prayer. 

Sometimes we are reluctant to punish our children—we feel bad when discipline makes them cry, so we hold back.  God is wiser than we are; He knows exactly how much pain to use if painful correction is what we need.  His goal is to shape us into better people—people who don’t treat each other badly, people who take seriously their responsibilities as children of God.  Most of all He wants us to repent of wrongdoing, leaning on His Son Jesus for mercy and for guidance.  He doesn’t want to use harsh measures to get your attention; listen when He talks softly, that you might avoid unnecessary drama.

Saturday, August 03, 2013


Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is.  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:15-20a).

Do you any of you know someone named Sophia?  It’s not a name that gets used much these days.  But that’s a shame—Sophia is a wonderful name.  The name Sophia comes from Greece; in English it means ‘wisdom.’

God blesses us with all kinds of gifts, but wisdom is one of the best.  Wisdom isn’t the same as intelligence; there are a lot of smart people who aren’t very wise.  Let me give you an example: Kirby was a smart guy.  He breezed through school with honors; he could get straight As without breaking a sweat.  Kirby went on to medical school and graduated top of his class; soon he had a private practice of his own.  But Kirby was unhappy.  He did not see how his long hours at work were hurting his wife; when she filled for divorce, he was completely surprised.  The employees in his office were constantly bickering, and Kirby had no idea what to do about it.  His bedside manner was terrible; many patients who were impressed by his skills were put off because he didn’t seem to understand their concerns.  To put it simply, Kirby was smart but he was also clueless.

A person can be wise even if she is not well educated.  Let me give you another example.  Sophie never did well in school.  She struggled with reading.  She struggled with math.  She managed to graduate high school, but just barely.  Some of her friends dropped out and urged her to do the same, but Sophie was not willing to give up; even though it was hard, she understood the value of getting that diploma.  Sophie worked as a waitress; she was a favorite with the customers because she always seemed to know when someone needed a little extra attention.  Sophie dated lots of guys, but she wouldn’t let any man push her around; she took things slow because she didn’t want to get attached to a person who was wrong for her.  Eventually Sophie got married and was blessed with kids; as they grew older, they found out that lying to their mom was pointless because Sophie could always tell when someone wasn’t being straight with her.  Although she had trouble helping her kids with their homework, Sophie was the wisest person in their lives.

In today’s Epistle lesson, Paul urges us to avoid foolish behavior by seeking wisdom from God.  He says, Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.  We live in a world that doesn’t cut you any slack; do something foolish and people will rush in to criticize you or take advantage of your mistake.  Leave your keys in the ignition and someone will be tempted to steal your car.  Start dating someone you met at work and you will be the featured topic of office gossip.  Get your facts wrong and people will accuse you of trying to manipulate them.  The days are evil; we cannot afford the luxury of foolish mistakes.

Instead, Paul urges us to make the most of every opportunity.  God gives us all sorts of opportunities every day—opportunities to live wisely.  Every time you speak to another person, you have the opportunity to make his life better.  You can make it better by speaking the truth in love.  Lives are not improved by lies and half-truths.  Lives are not made better by telling someone what they want to hear.  And lives are not improved by using the truth as a weapon to cause hurt.  Lives are made better when the truth is spoken with love. 

But let’s get specific.  How does wisdom enable you to speak the truth in love?  It starts with observing.  Look at the eyes.  Look at the mouth and forehead.  Look at the shoulders.  Is the person confused?  Scared?  Depressed?  What does their face and body tell you about how they’re feeling?  It is foolish to ignore such things. 

Listening is important, too.  What emotions are revealed by speaking volume and tone of voice?  Do the words reveal doubt, anger, or worry?  Has the person thought things through, or do her words reveal a mind in turmoil?  The wise person pays attention to such things.

Wisdom also affects how you react to what the other person is saying.  Foolish people don’t take the time to watch and listen; they are too busy planning what they’re going to say next.  Wise people are patient; they take it all in and think carefully before responding.  They want their words to be helpful, not patronizing or nasty.

Sharing words of truth and wisdom is how relationships grow.  You might chat with a buddy about football stats, but those kinds of visits don’t build a true friendship.  You can text someone all night long about what’s going on in school, but you don’t grow close to others unless you start talking about personal stuff, stuff that is important and involves your emotions.  And good relationships won’t last if they are based on lies and foolish talk.

Lies and foolish talk—these destroy our relationships with each other, and they also destroy our relationship with God.  Remember Psalm 14?  David writes, The fool says in his heart, "There is no God."  Remember Proverbs chapter nine? Solomon writes these words: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Remember what Jesus said: I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).  Relationships depend on truth and wisdom; God is the source of truth and wisdom.  To have solid, satisfying relationships, we need God to help us.

In Proverbs 9:1-6, Solomon compares wisdom to a hostess who opens her home to the needy.  She invites everyone who lacks good judgment to come eat her food and drink her wine; these will give the blessings of life and understanding.  This is picture language of course, but it reveals how important wisdom is.  “Let all who are simple come in here!” she says to those who lack judgment.  A simple person—one who lacks wisdom—does not have good judgment.  He makes mistakes without even realizing it.  A person without judgment does not understand that he is angering God and will be punished eternally for his foolishness.  Those who lack judgment have no relationship with the Lord, and mess up every human relationship as well. 

To have good judgment, you need to know God—know that He exists, know what He says, know that He keeps His promises.  As Paul says, we must understand what the Lord’s will is.  Without wisdom this is impossible.  Without wisdom we cannot tell the difference between lies and truth, and the devil knows it.  Satan knows that we would rather hear a pleasant lie than a hard truth, so he hits us with a constant barrage of lies, hoping to bury God’s truth in all the noise.  Without wisdom, we prefer to believe the devil’s lies—lies like “God doesn’t care about you; you’re on your own.”  “God could never forgive you for what you’ve done.”  “God is just like Allah or the Buddha; all roads lead to heaven.”

We need wisdom to see the truth.  God cares about you; Jesus said: Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Luke 12:6-7).  God hates your sins, but He gave His Son up to death so you can be forgiven; Paul writes in Christ, God forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).  But there is only one way to heaven; Peter said Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12)

Wisdom gives understanding and life.  When we recognize the truth of God and reject the devil’s lies, we’re on the right path.  Foolishness and lies urge us to reject the Spirit of God and bar Him from our hearts.  Such rejection keeps God away and guarantees an unhappy eternity of suffering in hell.  Paul speaks of this in 1st Corinthians chapter one: the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  It is foolish to reject the Savior; in Revelation chapter three Jesus said be earnest, and repent.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne.  Look at the wonderful blessing Jesus promises if we overcome our foolishness and bad judgment with the wisdom that He offers us!  Wisdom will lead to good judgment and eternal life.

But such wisdom only comes from God.  He gives it through His words.  He also gives it through the Lord’s Supper.  In the Old Testament lesson referenced earlier, wisdom gives us life and understanding through food and wine; Jesus does the same through the bread and wine that carry His body and blood.  Look at John 6:51-58; the Lord says Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.  Jesus made this promise something we can touch on the night when He was betrayed; While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you.  This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:26-28). Through the Sacrament Jesus fills our hearts with Himself, and He brings with Him the gifts of wisdom—understanding and everlasting life.

Of course, even when you have wisdom that doesn’t mean that you will necessarily use it.  We all have friends that we turn to because they give good advice; but when they tell us something we don’t like, it’s easy to ignore their wisdom.  It’s the same with the wisdom Jesus shares with us.  Our sinful nature still listens to the devil’s lies, still wants to make impulsive decisions that turn out poorly.  We don’t like to be criticized, even when the words are true; we don’t want to take the time to observe and listen and then think carefully before opening our mouths. 

Thankfully, Jesus does not make hasty decisions.  He values having a relationship with us and works hard to keep it healthy despite our failures.   He looks deep into our hearts and listens to our very thoughts.  He understands how we are feeling; He knows exactly what we need to find lasting happiness.  So He offers to forgive us.  He offers us His wisdom and peace, His strength and patience.  He offers to bless our lives with His love, a love that fills us up and comes pouring out in a generous flood to bless other people as well.  Through Jesus, God offers all of this to us, if we are wise enough to appreciate its value.

Thursday, August 01, 2013


I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life (1 Timothy 1:16).

For Christians, Paul is one of the greatest teachers to follow Jesus. Raised to be a member of the religious elite, Paul was a scholar of Holy Scripture, advanced in his studies. When He met Jesus in a vision, Paul saw how the entire Old Testament pointed to Christ and His ministry of salvation. Paul organized three extensive missionary trips, establishing numerous congregations as he went. He wrote multiple letters, letters that were to be read in church as sermons, letters that were collected and made part of the New Testament. Yet for all his accomplishments Paul was a humble man, calling himself the worst of sinners.

Paul was not always humble—in fact, as a young man he was arrogant and full of himself. He did not accept Jesus as his Savior, not at first. When Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, He told His followers to spread word of Him throughout the world. The message was simple—believe in Jesus and be saved, because without the forgiveness of Christ, heaven won’t be open to sinners. But Paul did not accept this teaching; he was convinced that Jesus was a fraud and that His followers were misleading people to eternal damnation. Paul became an eager destroyer of Christians, getting them arrested and approving their punishment by death. It was not until Jesus confronted Paul in a vision that the scholar realized how wrong he had been, how his arrogance had blinded him to the truth (to the detriment of his many victims).

We understand all too well the trap of pride. We confuse opinions with facts and stubbornly defend our views as if we know better than everyone else. Paul is an example for us that is both good and bad. God reminds us that when we accomplish something good, it is only with His help and despite the sin which taints everything we say and do. Paul writes, it is God who works in you, to make you willing and able to please him (Philippians 2:13). There are times when we let arrogant self-confidence lead us into acting like bullies; although we don’t enjoy it, praise God that He confronts us when we’ve gone off the rails. Because He corrects us, we can humbly admit that we’ve done wrong and receive the blessing of His undeserved mercy.

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