1472) Sinners

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Christ on the Cross, 1874, Leon Bonnat (1833-1922)

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What I know about sinners I know chiefly about me.  We did not mean to do the deed, of course.  What we have done wrong— they seemed, or mostly seemed, small things at the time.  The word of encouragement withheld, the touch of kindness not given, the visit not made, the trust betrayed, the cutting remark so clever and so cruel, the illicit sexual desire so generously entertained, the angry answer, the surge of resentment at being slighted, the time we thought a lie would do no harm.  It is such a long and tedious list of little things.  Surely not too much should be made of it, we thought to ourselves.  But now it has come to this.  It has come to the cross.  All the trespasses of all the people of all time have gravitated here, to the killing grounds of Calvary.

–Richard John Neuhaus  (1936-2009)

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Psalm 51:3-5  —  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

I John 1:8-9  —  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

I Peter 2:24  —  He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

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I know, Father, that I must come to you just as I am.  But I also know that I dare not go away just as I came.

Often I have know failure– failure in the moral realm, failure in my actions, failure in my attitudes, and failure in my disposition.

I have confessed all these defeats to you, and you have graciously forgiven me.  Yet I know, Lord, that merely to forgive me will not suffice. For unless I am changed, I shall do these same things again.  At last I know, Lord, that only you can correct that within me that makes me do wrong.

Where I am blind, you must give me sight.  Where I fail to heed your voice, you will have to do something about my deafness.  Even when I deliberately choose to do what I know is wrong, you will have to do something about my will.

Lord, I acknowledge my total dependence upon you.  Make me over into the person you want me to be, so that I may yet find that destiny for which you gave me my life.  

In Jesus name I pray.  Amen.

–By Peter Marshall (1902-1949), Presbyterian pastor and United States Senate Chaplain; from The Prayers of Peter Marshall, 1954, edited by Catherine Marshall, p. 28.

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More by Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor for thirty years, and then a Roman Catholic priest for eighteen years; a theologian, political activist, social commentator, public intellectual,and author; and, an adviser to popes and presidents:

“In the absence of truth, power is the only game in town.”

“When orthodoxy becomes optional, it will sooner or later be prohibited.”

“Politics is chiefly a function of culture, at the heart of culture is morality, and at the heart of morality is religion.”

“Disguise is central to God’s way of dealing with us human beings.  Not because God is playing games with us but because the God who is beyond our knowing makes himself known in the disguise of what we can know.  The Christian word for this is revelation, and the ultimate revelation came by incarnation of Jesus.  God is the master of disguises, in order that we might see.”

“The main thing to say about politics is that politics is not the main thing.”

“Religion as a human phenomenon is as riddled through with potential for both good and evil as any other phenomenon.”

“The propensity to say and do dumb things, and even wicked things, is simply part of human nature.  One can blame the Church or Christianity for such things only on the thoroughly unwarranted assumption that Christianity claims to have abolished human nature.  The truth is that Christianity, and the Catholic Church in particular, is the mother of Western civilization, with all it strengths and weaknesses, including its frequently exaggerated penchant for self-criticism.  Like others who know what it is to be a mother, she is not surprised, although sometimes disappointed, when she is blamed for everything and thanked for nothing.”

“For paradise we long.  For perfection we were made.  This longing is the source of the hunger and dissatisfaction that mark our lives.  This longing makes our loves and friendships possible, and so very unsatisfactory.  The hunger is for nothing less than perfect communion with the one in whom all the fragments of our scattered existence come together.  We must not stifle this longing.  It is a holy dissatisfaction.  Such dissatisfaction is not a sickness to be healed, but the seed of a promise to be fulfilled.  The only death to fear is the death of settling for something less.”

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1471) Persistent Guilt

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By Eric Metaxas and Roberto Rivera, April 20, 2017, http://www.breakpoint.org

So, traditional morality is out, and freedom of everything is in. Then why does everybody feel so guilty?

     In 1966, Time magazine infamously posed the question “Is God Dead?” on its cover.  Recently, it ran the same cover, only with the word “Truth” instead of God.

     The literal answer to both questions is, of course, “no.”  But both questions point to an issue that has haunted the West for more than a century:  How do you justify morality in a society that increasingly lives as if there was no one to hold them accountable and define the difference between good and evil, truth and falsehood?

     Ironically, while we’ve reached the point where we’ve effectively cut the legs out from beneath the idea of sin, we are still very much in the thrall of guilt.

     That was the subject of a recent column by David Brooks in the New York Times entitled “The Strange Persistence of Guilt,” which, in turn, was inspired by an article of the same name by Wilfred McClay in the Hedgehog Review.

     And here’s what makes the persistence of guilt “strange”:  The dominant worldviews of our age, as Alasdair MacIntyre wrote in “After Virtue,” have turned beliefs about right and wrong, good and evil, into little more than expressions of feelings.  They should have freed us from feelings of guilt.

     And yet we still feel guilty.

     Instead of the easy-going relativism that should logically follow from believing that right and wrong, guilt and innocence, are a matter of feelings, we live in what Brooks calls “an age of great moral pressure.”  We may “lack the words to articulate it,” and “religion may be in retreat, but guilt seems as powerfully present as ever.”  Thus, as McClay writes, “Whatever donation I make to a charitable organization, it can never be as much as I could have given.  I can never diminish my carbon footprint enough, or give to the poor enough . . . Colonialism, slavery, structural poverty, water pollution, deforestation— there’s an endless list of items for which you and I can take the rap.”

     If we are tough on ourselves, we are merciless toward others.  In Brooks’ words, “society has become a free-form demolition derby of moral confrontation,” such as “the cold-eyed fanaticism of students at Middlebury College and other campuses nationwide.”

     This “strange persistence” of guilt leaves contemporary Westerners living in the worst of all possible worlds.  Secularism and relativism have not liberated them from the need to “feel morally justified,” nor has it freed them from feelings of guilt.

     What it has done is to deprive people of the means to do anything meaningful about their sense of guilt.  As Brook says “we have no clear framework or set of rituals to guide us in our quest for goodness.  Worse, people have a sense of guilt and sin, but no longer a sense that they live in a loving universe marked by divine mercy, grace and forgiveness. There is sin but no formula for redemption.”  That’s because if there were true forgiveness and redemption, there would have to be an acknowledgement that there was something that needed to be forgiven and something about us that needs to be redeemed.

     At this point, I’m left thinking about the passage from Matthew, where we’re told that when Jesus “saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

     Brooks ends by saying that what people need is more “than the cheap grace of instant forgiveness.”  They need a way to prevent the “private guilt everybody feels” from being “transmuted into a public state of perpetual moral war.”

     And they need a personal introduction— or re-introduction— to the Good Shepherd who has already shown how far He will go to love and forgive them.

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See also:

The Strange Persistence of Guilt
David Brooks | New York Times | March 31, 2017
 
The Strange Persistence of Guilt
Wilfred M. McClay | The Hedgehog Review | Spring 2017

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Matthew 9:35-36  —  Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Hebrews 10:22a  —  Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience.

I John 1:8-9  —  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

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PSALM 51:1-4…10:

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
    and justified when you judge…

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
    and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

1388) What are You Carrying Around?

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By Fred Craddock (1928-2015), Craddock Stories, ed. by Mike Graves and Richard F. Ward, 2001, Chalice Press, pages 101-102.

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     I remember the first time I went to a minister to talk about something personal; it was tough as toenails.  It was hard to go and talk to a minister.

     I had been baptized about two years.  Some fellows that I worked with in a box factory went uptown to get a hot dog or a hamburger for lunch. We had an hour for lunch.  I still had on my nail apron, and they had on their nail aprons; we drove nails to make these boxes.  We passed a blind man on the sidewalk with his guitar, a sign that said “I’m blind.  Please help me,” and a tin cup taped to the neck of his guitar.  It suddenly occurred to the three of us to play a trick.  Each of us took some nails from our nail aprons and dropped them in his tin cup, noisily, and he said, “Thank you, thank you very much.  May God bless you.  Thank you very much.”

     That began to eat at me; of all of the ugly, terrible things to do.  Well, I couldn’t get rid of it, so finally I did what some people do only in desperation; I talked to the minister.  I went to the minister and told him what I had done, and he sat up at his desk and said, “Are you aware that this country is in the biggest war of our history?”  It was World War II, the last year of it.  “People are dying by the hundreds every day; soldiers have been away from their families for years.  We don’t know how this whole thing is going to turn out, and people are dying and starving.  And you are worried about nails in a blind man’s cup?”  He let me go.

     My little problem was swallowed up in the problems of the world.  But it wouldn’t go away for me.  Finally, I went to the youth minister, Mignonne.  We didn’t pay her, but she was a minister.  I told her what I had done, and she told me that was a terrible, terrible thing to do.  She felt bad, like I felt bad, and she said, “God forgives you for that, but why don’t you next week when you have your lunch hour, why don’t you go to that same blind man and tell hint what you did and ask him to forgive you, and then if you have a nickel or a dime or a quarter, give it to him.”  

     I did, and that poor man forgave me, and he smiled and said, “I know how it is.  Lot of boys are full of mischief, aren’t they?”  He forgave me.  I had been baptized already, and I was carrying that around.

     Now that may not seem big to you, but think about what you’re carrying around right now.  Would you like to get rid of it?

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Psalm 38:18b  —  …I am troubled by my sin.

Psalm 30:10  —  Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.

Luke 18:37-38  —  They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”  He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Psalm 32:1-5  —  Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.  Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”  And you forgave the guilt of my sin.

I John 1:8-9  —  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Hebrews 10:22  —  Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

John 8:11b  —  Jesus said unto her, “…Go and sin no more.”

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Merciful God, I confess to you now that I have sinned.
I confess the sins that no one knows and the sins that everyone knows.
I confess the sins that are a burden to me and the sins that do not bother me because I have grown used to them.
Father, forgive me, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

1362) How to Repent (part two of two)

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     (continued…)   The next day one of the nurses saw her pastor who was visiting one of his parishioners in the same hospital.  She asked if he would stop in to see the woman, and he agreed to do so.  He went into her room and introduced himself and asked if she wanted to talk.  “It’s no use,” she said, “It is too late.  I have been a terrible sinner and I am going to hell and I deserve it.  But I am afraid.”

     “Well,” said the pastor, “the Bible says we are all terrible sinners, and you are right, you do deserve to go to hell, and so do I.  But Jesus died to save us from our sins.  Can I tell you about Jesus?”  The woman nodded, and the pastor continued.  He said, “The Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Romans, ‘While we were yet sinners, and enemies of God, Christ Jesus died for us.’  And do you know what Paul did before he became an apostle?  He hunted down and persecuted the early believers in Jesus, even standing by and approving as one named Stephen was executed by a mob.  But then Paul was saved.  And the Bible says that if you confess your sins and believe on the Lord Jesus, you too can be saved.  Do you want to confess your sins?”

     The woman listened attentively, but was confused.  “Confess?” she asked, “Now? To you?”

     “No,” said the pastor, “Not to me, but to Jesus.  But I will stay here to help you.  Are you sorry for your sins, and do you truly repent of them?”

    “Sorry, yes, I am sorry, nothing but sorry,” she said, “I am filled with regret; fear and regret and dread– I am feeling all of that right now.”

     “Well, that’s a good start,” the pastor said.  “The Bible says that fear is the beginning of wisdom, and that if are sorry for your sins you can be forgiven.  You are fearing God’s judgment and you have deep sorrow for your sins, and so you are ready to repent.  Shall we begin in prayer?”

     The woman bowed her head, and the pastor began.  He invited Jesus into the room, he told Jesus that this woman was a terrible sinner, and that she now wanted to confess her sins.  He asked her to pray a simple prayer from the Bible: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Sobbing, she repeated the words.  The pastor then encouraged her to begin to confess, and begin she did.  She started with how even as a child she was so mean to her parents, and then how, as a teenager she ran away from home.  She let them worry about her for months, not letting them know where she was or even if she was alive.  To support herself, she had gotten into a life of prostitution, which she was involved in on and off for years.  It was the only steady work she ever had.  Along with that she lied, cheated, betrayed her friends, and stole, doing whatever she could to stay alive and support her drug habit.  She had settled down a bit for a couple years, got married, and even had a child.  But the marriage ended and the child had long ago been taken away from her, and she made no effort to keep in touch.  Her parents were dead, her siblings had quit trying to contact her, and her few friends were all either dead or too full of their own troubles to come and see her.  She was alone with her regrets.  Her confession was filled with such crying that the nurses came in a couple times to make sure everything was all right.  Finally, she laid her head back on the pillow, exhausted and silent.

     The pastor said nothing for a long time, and then finally said, “You have indeed been a terrible sinner, and God hates sin.  But having confessed your sin, and being truly sorry for them, I can say to you, that in the mercy of Almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for you, and for his sake, God forgives you all your sins.  The Bible says, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, and that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’  Do you believe in Jesus and are you willing to invite him into your heart?”, the pastor asked.

      She replied, “I am not even sure what that all means, but yes, I want to believe.  I want to be forgiven and I want to go to heaven and not to hell.”

     “Just look to Jesus,” the pastor said, “just keep telling him that you want to believe, and he will take care of the rest.  When Jesus was on earth people came to him with even the smallest seed of faith, and he received them and blessed them.  When Jesus was dying on the cross, a thief was dying on a cross next to him.  And that thief came to Jesus then, just like you now, in the last hours of a miserable life.  And all that thief said was, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Jesus said some wonderful words to him.  Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  Let that be your simple prayer now and for whatever is left of your life; “Jesus, remember me.”  And then, when you fall asleep here, you will wake up not in hell, but in heaven with Jesus.  You have God’s word on it.  ‘Today,’ Jesus said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’”

     The nurse who invited that pastor in told him later that the woman died peacefully a few days after that visit.  And instead of hearing her constant crying, the nurses would hear her praying over and over again, “Jesus, remember me.”  It was the only prayer she knew, but she had heard the story of how Jesus received and honored even such a simple plea for mercy as that.

     The love of God isn’t just an idea or a principal, like the first chaplain presented it, but it is to be found in a Person.  And the love of God isn’t just an ointment that you can smear over everything that moves, like the first chaplain did, without any reference to that woman’s sinful life or her complete absence of faith.  The love of God is received by faith and confession and repentance and prayer.  That woman knew her sin needed to be taken seriously and dealt with; and that is what the second pastor helped her do, along with calling her to faith in Christ Jesus.  We know the love of God by knowing Jesus, and we come to faith in God through Jesus, who forgives our sins.

     Faith isn’t just whatever you want it to be.  Faith has a specific object and content, it is faith in something solid, in Someone who was here, and who had some specific things to say, both promises and commands.  That Someone is Jesus Christ, the way and the truth and the life.  Confess your sins, repent, and believe in Jesus, and you will be saved.

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Proverbs 9:10  —  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

I John 1:8-9  —  If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  But if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and will cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

John 3:16  —  For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

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God, have mercy on me, a sinner.  —  Luke 18:13b

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.  –Luke 23:42

1361) How to Repent (part one of two)

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 I heard this story from another Lutheran pastor.  I will tell it as I remember it, filling in the conversation a bit as I go– but this was the gist of it.

     A middle-aged woman was dying of cancer in a big city hospital.  She received no visitors, and she was not accepting her fate very well.  She wept day and night, and sometimes her loud cries could be heard down the hall at the nurses station.  The nurses tried to help by offering her a sedative, but she did not want that.  The nurses offered to call the hospital chaplain, and the woman did agree to that.

     The chaplain came in and asked the woman if he could help her.  She said, “I will soon be dead, and then what is next for me pastor?  I am a terrible person, and I am afraid of going to hell.”  Being careful not to offend her religious beliefs, he asked about her church background.  She said, “I have no church background.  I was baptized, and my parents dragged me to church for a few years, but that was it.  I never believed in much of anything, but I have heard about hell, and I know that is where I am going.”

     “Well,” said the pastor, “I can assure you, God is a God of love, and God loves you and accepts you, just the way you are.  You have nothing to fear.”  She stopped crying, listened quietly, and said no more.  Finally, the pastor said a brief prayer and left the room.  He told the nurses that he thought the woman would all right now, and they thanked him for his visit.

     But the woman was not all right, and was soon crying as much as before.  She made no complaints to the nurses, and was not asking anyone for anything; but it saddened the nurses to see her so distraught.  They asked the dying woman if they should call the chaplain in for another visit.  She said, “No, don’t call him back.”  (continued…)

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Psalm 51:3  —  For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me.

Lamentations 3:19-20  —  I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.  I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.

Hebrews 9:27  —  …It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that to face judgment.

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Ah Lord, my prayers are dead, my affections dead, and my heart is dead:  but you are a living God and I commit myself to you.  Amen.  –William Bridge

1359) Why Do I Need to Repent?

From The Word for Every Day, by Alvin Rogness, page 63, © 1981 Augsburg Publishing House

     Let me say at the outset that I don’t always feel the need to repent and be forgiven.  I believe I need to be; I know I do, because the Scriptures say very clearly that I do.  But what do I need to be forgiven for?  Like the rich young ruler, I have obeyed the commandments.  I have not murdered or committed adultery.  I’m not a thief, not even a minor shoplifter.  I’ve tried to be honest with IRS.  I may have stretched or withheld the truth at times, usually to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.  What’s so terrible about a little lie?  Certainly not terrible enough to drive Jesus to a cross for my sins.

     If I want to understand myself, and if I want to understand Christ’s love for me, I am told that I must find myself in the corner of bad people who need, more than anything else, the forgiveness of sins.  The question haunts me.  Is there in me, and in all people, some evil so subtle and pervasive and destructive (like a hidden cancer) that unless it is dealt with, any progress toward spiritual health (honesty, joy, love, hope) will be an illusion?  And does it take a therapy so radical that only the death of Jesus will do?  Our Christian faith says that it cost him a cross.

    You may be initially drawn to Jesus by his miracles of mercy, by his penetrating parables, by his indignation against sham and oppression.  Before long, as Jesus grows upon you, and you stand watching him die, you will know a strange uneasiness.  You don’t belong in the same company with him.  Like Peter, you’ll feel like crying out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”  Somehow the yawning gap between you and Jesus will have to be bridged.  Your most noble efforts won’t do it.  The only bridge is repentance and confession, and being caught in the tide of his forgiving love which sweeps all your sins away.

    Forgiveness has tended to slip out of the vocabulary of secular man.  If we believe that there is no God at the center to be accountable to and that the universe is but a vast machine, forgiveness is meaningless.  If man is but a cog in the machine, driven by his appetite and his chemistry, forgiveness is nonsense.  If we are but helpless pieces of some cosmic game, why ask us to repent and be forgiven?  You don’t forgive a dog for stealing a bone, nor a tornado for leveling a village, nor a river for overflowing its banks.  But we are created children of God, with holiness the expectation and demand, and as utter failures to meet the demand, there is no door but forgiveness for our return to God.

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“The recognition of sin is the beginning of salvation.”

–Martin Luther

“Repentance is not moaning and remorse, but turning and change.”

–J. I. Packer

“Chronic remorse is a most undesirable sentiment.  If you have behaved badly, repent, make what amends you can and address yourself to the task of behaving better next time.  On no account brood over your wrongdoing.  Rolling in the muck is not the best way of getting clean.”

 –Aldous Huxley

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I John 1:8-10 — If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Matthew 4:17  —  From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Acts 2:37-38a  —  Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?”  Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven.”

II Corinthians 7:8a…9-10a  —  For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it…  Now I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because your grief led to repentance; for you felt a godly grief, so that you were not harmed in any way by us.  For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret.

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CONFESSION OF SIN from the LUTHERAN LITURGY OF WURTTEMBERG, 1536

    I, poor sinner, confess before thee, my God and Creator, that I, alas, have sinned against thee grievously and in many ways: not alone by gross, outward sins, but much more by inward and inborn blindness, unbelief and doubt, despondence and impatience, pride and evil covetousness, secret envy, hatred and malice, and other wicked devices– as Thou, my Lord and God, dost perceive in me, and I, alas, cannot sufficiently perceive.  I repent of these things and grieve over them, and from the heart I implore grace through thy dear Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.
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“People are destined to die once, and after that, to face judgment.”  –Hebrews 9:27

“Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.  The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will disappear with a roar, and the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything that is done on it will be laid bare.”   –II Peter 3:8-10

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“You cannot repent too soon, because you do not know how soon it may be too late.”
–Thomas Fuller
“God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination”
–Augustine
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God, be merciful to me, a sinner.  –Luke 18:13b

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1335) God Is Not Mocked

From The Scarlet Thread, by Gardener C. Taylor (1918- 2015), p. 100f. Preaching on Galatians 6:7-9

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     We are willing and ready to admit to the presence of law, governing law, in every area of our existence except in the part we call moral and spiritual.  It would take a prize fool, indeed, to argue that there is no law of gravity.  “What goes up, must come down” is a common way of putting it.  Now, you would  consider somebody really off their rocker who would argue that there ‘might’ be a law of gravity, or that it does work ‘sometimes,’ or that certain people do not have to obey the law of gravity.  

     The law of gravity works everywhere and for everyone all of the time.  Let anybody, without regard to station or position, go to the top of an eighty foot building.  Such a person is free to jump or not to jump.  But if that person chooses to jump, then that person’s freedom is gone.  Then the law of gravity is in effect.  There is no use for that person once he or she has jumped to file any petitions.  It makes no difference who the person is, where he or she was born, who are the parents, what is the social status, or how many honors the jumper possesses.  The law of gravity is in effect and the mangled body on the sidewalk on the street below will give the evidence that the law of gravity cannot be avoided, appealed, suspended, seduced, or discounted…

     We accept this law.  

     But when we move into the moral and spiritual realm, we act as if we are on our own.  So many of us seem to think that we have things exclusively in our hand.  What we do is our business, and nobody has anything to do with it.  This is the philosophy of our generation– and our neuroses and psychoses run away with us, and our nerves crack, and our jails are full, and our marriages are hardly more in number than our divorces, and our liquor and drug bills soar.  Everywhere people are wringing their hands.  Thugs mug, legislators steal and rob, business executives plunder– and we wonder why.  What has happened?  What has gone wrong?

     Well, Paul tells us in Galatians that what we have forgotten is that there is a law governing the moral and spiritual affairs of life.  Indeed, it would make no sense if the God who put the physical world under the governance of regulations would leave the moral and spiritual life lawless and loose.  Could this be the case when the attributes, the qualities, of God are moral and spiritual?  Not at all, says Paul to the Galatian Christians.  Let nobody fool you.  “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, he shall also reap.”  This is the law.  It is written into the structure of things.  It is inscribed in the stuff of life, the makeup of the universe.  This is God’s Law.

      “Be not deceived.  God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”  This is a warning to those who need to be warned.  Live for your flesh, invest only in your flesh, and at the end you will have nothing but your flesh— fat, diseased, inflamed, corrupt, fevered, dead, and decayed.  Sow corn and you get corn, sow tomatoes and you get tomatoes.  When we invest lavishly in our physical comforts and luxuries, and starve our spirits, do not think that the Lord will understand and will see to it that we are not hurt.  Mark my words, not even God can save us from the consequences of His law.  We are not so much punished for our sins as we are punished by our sins.

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Galatians 6:7-9  —  Do not be deceived:  God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Jeremiah 2:17  —  Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when he led you in the way?

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Forgive me my sins, O Lord:  the sins of my present and the sins of my past; the sins of my soul and the sins of my body; the sins I have done to please myself and the sins which I have done to please others.  Forgive me my casual sins and my deliberate sins, and those which I have labored so to hide that I have hidden them even from myself.  Forgive me them, O Lord, forgive them all; for Jesus’ sake.  Amen.  –Thomas Wilson (d. 1775)

1269) Dealing With Envy (part two of two)

Image result for images of envy

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This two-part meditation is adapted from DAILY HOPE, Rick Warren’s excellent daily devotional (September 23-27, 2016).  You may read past devotional readings, and sign up to receive DAILY HOPE at:  

http://www.pastorrick.com/devotional

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     (…continued)  Envy is insidious.  It devalues others, it destroys relationships, and it makes you miserable.  It’s hidden, but it’s destructive.  And it causes you to miss out on much joy.

     You’ve wanted to be married, but you’re not married.  Or you were married and it fell apart.  Now you hate weddings.  When you get a wedding invitation, you start resenting.  You don’t like weddings, because you think that when someone else’s candle is shining, it will put yours out.  You’re wrong.

     You’ll enjoy life a whole lot more if you will learn to be happy over the successes of other people.  If you’re only happy when things go well for you, you’re going to be miserable most of your life, because things won’t always go well for you or anybody else.  But if you learn to be happy at other people’s successes and enjoy other people’s celebrations, you can be happy much more of the time.

     The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:4, “Love does not envy.”  Love celebrates God’s goodness to others.

CONTENTMENT IS A SIGN OF SPIRITUAL MATURITY

    Instead of being regretful, we need to be grateful.  Instead of complaining, we need to remember that everything is a gift from God.

    The Bible says in 1 Corinthians 4:7-8, “Isn’t everything you have and everything you are sheer gifts from God?  So what’s the point of all this comparing and competing?  You already have all you need” (MSG).

     Envy asks, “Why them?  Why does he have better health?  Why does she have a job and a husband, and I have neither?”

     Gratitude asks, “Why me?  Why do I get to drink clean water when so much of the world doesn’t?  Why am I not hungry?  Why am I not thrown into prison for my faith?”

     Envy is based on the myth that you must have more in order to be happier.  It’s just not true.  Happiness is a choice.  If you’re not happy now, you’re not going to be happy with more.  I could give many testimonies of people who have a lot more than you, and it doesn’t make them happier.  You are as happy as you choose to be.

     Ecclesiastes 6:9 says, “It is better to be satisfied with what you have than to be always wanting something else” (GNT).  This is called contentment.  All of us need to learn contentment.

     Why?  Because by nature you are not a contented person.  None of us are.  It is not natural to be contented.  It is mature to be contented.  Babies are discontented.  Unless everything is going their way, they’re not satisfied.  Maturity is learning to be content when things are not going your way.  It’s better to be satisfied with what you have than to always want something more.

     Let me clarify:  Envy is not desire.  Desire is good.  Envy is not ambition.  Ambition is good.  You ought to be ambitious and work for good things in your life.  Envy is not a dream.  You ought to have a dream in your life.  Envy is not setting goals.  Dreams, ambitions, goals, and desires are all things that God puts in you.

     Envy is resenting other people who have something already and thinking that you can’t be happy until you get it, too.  Both of those are lies.  Instead, learn to be grateful for who you are and what you have.  Everything you have is a gift from God!

ENVY IS A SIGN THAT YOU DON’T TRUST GOD

      One of the signs that envy is in your heart and you need to eliminate it is that you constantly use this phrase: “It’s not fair…  It’s not fair that he gets to do that and I don’t!  It’s not fair that it’s easy for her and not for me.  It’s not fair that their kids got the award and mine didn’t.  It’s not fair that they can afford that vacation and I can’t.” 

     Envy is actually a battle with God.  You’re in a war with God every time you envy.  Because what you’re saying is, “God, you blew it.  You didn’t get it right.  You didn’t have the brains enough to make me the way I ought to be.  Because if you really loved me, you wouldn’t have made me me.  You would have made me somebody else.” 

      And God says, “Huh? If I didn’t make you you, you wouldn’t exist!”

     The problem with envy is this:  You don’t trust God.  You don’t believe that he has your best interest at heart.  You don’t believe that he knows more than you do about what’s best for you.

     There are things in your life that you don’t have because God knows a reason why you shouldn’t have them.  There are some talents God did not give you.  There are some opportunities God does not give you.  And there are some experiences in life you don’t get.

     You can either trust God, or you can shake your fist in anger.  But God is smarter than you, and he knows better.

     God has given each of us a race to run.  You can’t run anybody else’s race, and no one else can run yours…  God wants you to run the race that he has for you…  The Bible says in Hebrews 12:1, “Let us run with patience the race that God has set before us” (TLB).

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O Lord, you have given me so much.  I pray for one more thing– that you give me a grateful heart.  Amen.

–George Herbert

1268) Dealing With Envy (part one of two)

Image result for images of envy

The next two meditations are adapted from DAILY HOPE, Rick Warren’s daily devotional blog (September 23-27, 2016).  You may read past devotional readings, and sign up to receive DAILY HOPE at:  

http://www.pastorrick.com/devotional

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FOUR WAYS ENVY DAMAGES YOUR LIFE

     The number one thing that holds you back from God’s purpose and mission for your life is a very subtle sin.  It’s not lust or pride or anger.  It’s not worry or fear or discouragement.  In fact, you would probably never even think of it because it is so insidious we don’t realize its damaging effect on our lives.  It’s envy...

     You need to understand the four ways envy damages your life so that you can eliminate it from your life.

  1. Envy denies your uniqueness.  Psalm 139:13-15 says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb …. Your workmanship is marvelous …. You watched me as I was … woven together in the dark of the womb.  You saw me before I was born” (NLT).  Envy blinds you to your own giftedness and uniqueness.  God didn’t make you to be like somebody else.  God made you to be you.
  2. Envy divides your attention.  You cannot follow God’s purpose and focus on other people at the same time.  You get a divided allegiance, and then you don’t get anything done in your life.  Jesus says in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters.  For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”
  3. Envy wastes your time and energy.  Ecclesiastes 4:4 says, “I have also learned why people work so hard to succeed:  it is because they envy the things their neighbors have.  But it is useless.  It is like chasing the wind(GNT).
  4. Envy leads to every other sin.  Envy can destroy everything and everyone around you.  The Bible says, “Where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16 NIV).  At the heart of the problem is a problem of the heart.  Envy is a heart problem.  Any time you envy you have gotten your worship misguided, because envy is a form of worship.  It says, “I desire that.  I want that.  I love that.  I want to live for that.”  That’s called worship.  And any time that item is not God, it becomes an idol.  If you’re going to eliminate envy, you have to ask, “What am I worshiping?  Am I worshiping God and his grace in my life?  Or am I worshiping what I want from other people?”

COMPARING IS THE ROOT OF ENVY

     Comparing is the root of all envy.  If you can get rid of comparing in your life, you can get rid of envy in your life.

     Here’s the problem:  comparing is our favorite indoor sport.  We compare everything.  We compare our size, our shape, our color, how we talk, our intelligence.  We compare our families, our kids, our jobs, our talents, and even our lawns.

     God warns about the foolishness of comparing yourself to anybody else:  “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves… They are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12 NIV).

     Every time you compare, you’re going to fall guilty to either pride or envy.  You’re always going to either find somebody who’s doing a better job than you, and you get full of envy; or, you’re going to find that you’re doing a better job than somebody, and you get full of pride.  Pride or envy is always the result of comparing.  And God says it’s foolish.  You shouldn’t do it…

     The Bible says in Galatians 6:4, “Let everyone be sure that he is doing his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work well done and won’t need to compare himself with someone else” (TLB). 

     When you get to Heaven, God is not going to say, “Why weren’t you more like this person or that person?”  He’s going to ask, “Why weren’t you more like you?”  You can’t focus on your purpose while you’re focusing on other people.

     When you get to Heaven you’re not going to be judged on talent you didn’t have.  You’re not going to be judged on opportunities you weren’t given.  You are going to be judged on how you lived and what you did with what you were given.

     There’s no need to compare yourself with others.  God has called you to be the best you can possibly be given the background, experiences, and talent that he gave you.

LOVE CELEBRATES GOD’S GOODNESS TO OTHERS

     The Bible tells us to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 ESV). Have you noticed that the second part of that sentence is easy, but the first part can be really tough?

     When somebody’s having a tough time, it’s easy to be sympathetic.  It’s easy to encourage people when they’re down.  But sometimes what we can’t stand is when they get a promotion.  We’re not very good at handling the success of other people.  Rather than rejoicing in it, we resent it.  In fact, we might even wish bad things would happen to other people, because somehow we think that if somebody else’s candle can get blown out, ours will shine brighter.

     There’s plenty of God’s grace to go around.  If God wants to give other people more than God gives me, so what?  I shouldn’t even worry about what he wants to give other people.  I should worry about what I’m doing with what I’ve been given.  (continued…)

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A PRAYER FROM PROVERBS 30:7-9: 

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

1217) Beyond Cure (part two of two)

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     (…continued)  What about you?  Have you always understood all of your own actions?  Or do you perhaps sometimes say to yourself, “I wonder whatever made me do that?” or, “I wonder what got into me to say that?”  Did you ever say anything stupid or mean or sinful or immoral or unkind, and then catch yourself saying, “Why on earth did I do or say that?”  If so, you can relate to the words of Saint Paul, that champion of the faith and author of half of the books in the New Testament.  Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “I do not even understand my own actions, for the good that I want to do I cannot do, but the very thing that I hate– that is what I do.”  We know what is right and we know what is wrong, and yet we so often forget the right and do the wrong.  “Wretched man that I am,” said Paul, “who can free me from this wretchedness?”  We wonder sometimes why there is so much trouble in the world and in our own dealings with other people.  Yes, the actions of other people are often hard to understand.  But do you understand yourself any better?

     So the Lord said through Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, who can understand it?”  Even if you think you understand yourself, you may very well be on the wrong track.  Why?  Because the heart is deceitful above all things.  Oftentimes, the one you are best at fooling and deceiving is yourself.  “All they ever do is complain,” he said to me one time, this cranky old man who everyone knew was the biggest complainer in the church.  That is what Jesus was referring to when he talked about removing the log from our own eyes before we try to remove the speck from our neighbor’s.  The heart is deceitful above all things, says Jeremiah.  

     In the first week of Psychology 101 class you learn about ‘rationalization,’ and how we are all experts at rationalizing away our faults and misdeeds.  Another word for that could be giving oneself the ‘benefit of the doubt,’ that is, to come up with understanding and sympathetic reasons why we just couldn’t help doing the wrong thing.  We learn to do that at a very young age.  But the Christian virtue described in the catechism as “explaining your neighbor’s actions in the kindest way” is much more difficult.

     So Paul asked how we could be freed from this wretchedness, and of course, he had an answer.  But for the first part of the answer we have to go back to Jeremiah, and hear again what God said through him.  “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.”  Right there is the first step in seeking help, admitting that we are beyond cure, and unable to help ourselves.  That is how Alcoholics Anonymous starts out their 12 step program of recovery, and why they have been so successful with so many people.  Their approach is very Biblical, beginning with admitting we are helpless, and then looking to God for forgiveness and help in forgiving.

     No amount of testing screening therapy or training will guarantee against even the brightest and the best falling.  Even the brightest and the best in the Bible, trained by the Lord himself, failed and fell on the night Jesus was betrayed– Judas by the betrayal, Peter by his denial, and the rest by their desertion.  The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure, and the sooner we admit that and look to God alone for help, the better off we will be.

     Then, after admitting our helplessness and confessing our sin, God is more than ready to forgive us in his love and by his freely given grace, won through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Of course, we can’t manage this on our own.  That is why Jesus died on the cross.  In looking to Jesus and believing in Jesus, we are not given therapy, but a new heart and a renewed mind.  Even Jeremiah predicted as much, saying just a few chapters later, “The time is coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with my people… I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts… and all will know me… for I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more”

     So now, with that in mind, be careful out there, says the Bible.  Be careful to obey all that you have been taught, says Moses, Joshua, Paul, Jesus, Peter, and all the rest.  They all knew the power of sin and the danger of temptation, so they said be careful, for the heart is deceitful above all things.  Look to Jesus, not only for forgiveness, but also for guidance and for the strength to endure temptation and resist the devil, for he continues to seek to ruin everything for you.  We are forgiven sinners, but still sinners, and need to be careful to obey and not fall away.

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I John 1:8-9  —  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Matthew 7:3  —  (Jesus said), “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

Romans 7:19…24-25  —  I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing…  What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

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Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

–Psalm 51:1-4…10-12