i don’t want to go through the motions

Category : Jesus, Matthew, fear, living a life of faith, taking action, trust

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I admit it.  The last few weeks have been a bit up and down on R3.  I haven’t been able to post the usual three times a week.  It seems events have been conspiring against me.  At first I was sick.  Then I realized it was NaNoWriMo.  (That’s National Novel Writing Month for those of you scoring at home.)  And after writing about 20,000 words of a book, I had to put virtually everything on hold because, my friends, I have some good news to share.  I was offered a job on Monday and accepted.

That means after all this time I will finally be employed.

If you’ve been following R3 for any length of time you know that this last year has been hard.  I’ve been unemployed since the first of the year.  And that takes a toll on you.  More than just financially though. You can easily begin to doubt yourself.  And at times I really questioned where I was going.  Unemployment can also shake your faith.  There were times when I really wondered if I was really following God or just going off on my own tangents.  It also can impact your relationships.  It’s hard to be loving and engaged when you wonder where you will get enough money to pay the bills.  It’s also hard to stay active with your friends when they want to go do something that costs money and you don’t have the funds for that.

Looking back on the year I realize just how much I have learned and just how much I’ve grown.  I don’t even feel like the same person anymore.  And none of that would have been possible without trusting God and quitting my job.  The ironic thing is, that despite all the pain this year has caused, it’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything.  In fact, it’s probably one of the best years I’ve ever had.

You see I don’t want to go through the motions.  I don’t want to look back on my life and wonder, “did I really give everything?”  I don’t want to just be that guy who punches the clock and that’s it.  I want my life to make a difference.  I want to advance the Kingdom in powerful ways, or at least in whatever ways I can.

Jesus once told the parable of the talents.  In it he described three men who were each given talents (which was a sum of money equivalent to about 3 months of wages).  Two of the men doubled what they had been given.  But the last man didn’t do anything with his talent.  He was afraid and therefore didn’t act.

When the master of the three men returned he demanded an account of how they had used the money.  The first two were rewarded greatly, and the last man was punished.  Not because he lost the money.  But because he didn’t do anything with his talent!

That terrifies me.

I would rather lead a life of adventure, and chaos, and unpredictability than live a safe, comfortable life that wasn’t about pursuing God.  I knew that I had a choice to make about my job.  Stay there and be comfortable, but do nothing with my “talent.”  Or be willing to trust God so much that I would walk into a completely unpredictable world.

I chose to act.

I don’t always choose to act.  And I’m not saying everyone should quit their job.  But I don’t want to look back some day and think, “why did I waste my talent?”

This is why the Matthew West song “The Motions” has become a theme song of sorts.

I don’t wanna go through the motions
I don’t wanna go one more day
Without your all consuming passion inside of me
I don’t wanna spend my whole life asking,
“What if I had given everything,
Instead of going through the motions?”

That’s how I want to live.  How about you?  Are you going through the motions?

God gives us freedom

Category : God, Jesus, different, taking action

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Football coaches are known for their paranoia.  They fear that the slightest bit of information might give an advantage to their opponent.  Now in a game that can be decided by fractions of a second or just a few inches of height that seems understandable.  How many games have been decided by a ball that just flew over the outstretched fingers of a defender?  It seems like the last couple of Super Bowls have played out that way.

But sometimes coaches get caught up in their paranoia.  It takes on a larger role than just a precaution, it begins to determine their actions.

One such example comes from a former University of Pittsburgh coach.  During the middle of practice the head coach began to suspect his team was being spied upon.  So he called down to two police officers and told them to check out the “suspicious” guy who was leaning against a telephone poll a few hundred yards away.

The police, doing what they were hired for, jumped in their car and sped toward the man.

A few minutes later they returned.

“Well?” asked the coach.

“He’s waiting for the bus.” they replied.

The problem with freedom isn’t that we can’t have it – it’s that we don’t know how to get it.  We’ve fallen for the lie that to get something we have to “power up.”  That if we aren’t fighting for what’s “ours” we aren’t going to get anything.  Then, when we do get something, we need to be so controlling that we start hoarding it.

That’s what the University of Pittsburgh coach thought.  He was so set on protecting his winning record that he saw a spy behind every telephone pole.  Fortunately not all of us make the news when we’re paranoid or controlling.  But we all have areas where we struggle.

You might call these areas “strongholds.”

We start out thinking these strongholds are going to keep us safe.  If you’ve ever been hurt by a loved one, you can understand this.  We build walls so high around our heart that no one can ever enter.  But eventually we learn these aren’t to protect us, they are to imprison us!

What was once a way to protect our broken heart has become the very thing that makes us so lonely.

Freedom does not come from strongholds.  It doesn’t come from being on the attack.  Or defending what’s ours.  It comes from God.

Freedom is being who God designed you to be.

The reality is, every stronghold you have prevents you from experiencing that freedom.  Those walls keep you a prisoner.

So how do we break free?  Simple: by enabling other people to become free.

That sounds pretty radical.  But then does pretty much everything Jesus said.  Do you think the Pittsburgh football coach was free assuming that everyone was out to spy on him?  Do you think you are truly free when you hold onto your anger and pain over being wronged?  Of course not.  But those are the natural results of what happens when we try to do it “our way.”

Jesus recognized that as long as we try and hold onto our resentment and bitterness we would never be free.  It’s only be releasing our claim on people who have wronged us, that we can become free.  That’s why it is God’s place to judge.  That’s why Jesus said we should love our enemies.  It’s why Peter told Jews (who were slaves to the Romans) to be subject to their masters.

Holding onto anger, resentment, pain puts us into bondage.  It steals are freedom.  It is no way to live a life of faith

Only by giving up control can we set others free.  And only after we set others free, can we ourselves be set free.

blessed are those who mourn

Category : Jesus, Matthew, bible, faith, hope

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In the history of R3 I don’t think I’ve ever gone close to two weeks without a “serious” post.  In fact it’s rare that I miss a single post during the week.  But such was the case for the last two weeks.  What I thought was going to keep me down for a few days turned out to floor me for nearly a week.

When I get sick I usually go in a very set pattern, and it lasts just about 3 days.  This time it was different.  In fact, even though it’s been 15 days since I first got sick, I’m still not feeling 100%.  This is near record territory for those of you scoring at home.  But in the course of all that something interesting happened – I was reminded how grateful I am for my health.  Most days I don’t give my health a second thought.  And I never really think about how lucky I am not to have any health issues.  But these last two weeks have given me many opportunities to do just that.

Sometimes the Bible says some pretty crazy things.  For instance, Jesus once said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  I’m not even sure I really understand what that means.  At least not fully.  To be honest I don’t even want to think about that!  I don’t want to be blessed because I’m mourning.  I want to be blessed because I have a nice car and a nice house.  I want to be blessed because my life is easy!

Yet after being sick I can see how mourning leads to being blessed.

When we suffer we face a choice.  We can become bitter and angry, and that suffering holds us in place.  How many movie villains have their origin in just such a scenario?  How many of us have our identities rooted in pain?  Our other choice is to not let suffering control us.  It’s a chance to embrace mourning as part of a natural healing process.  It’s an opportunity to try and learn something from mourning.  Even if all we learn is that we need more of God.

Because I went through a time of “suffering” I now more fully appreciate what it means to be healthy.  Without losing my health, I never would have really understand what it meant to be healthy in the first place.  Sure, in the big scheme of things this wasn’t catastrophic.  But you don’t always need to have a catastrophe to learn from God.

I think this type of knowledge was what Jesus was driving at.  God’s Kingdom is often upside-down.   And this is just one more example.  Jesus knew that.  He knew that suffering can lead to appreciation.  Which is why he tells us such a counter-intuitive thing.  Maybe we should all embrace our mourning instead of trying to run from it.  Maybe it’s true, “blessed are those who mourn. “

biblical leadership: that you my king should die for me

Category : Jesus, bible, choice, faith, living a life of faith, revolutionary, taking action

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Leadership.  Each of us has an opinion about what makes a leader.  Some people will argue that leadership is all about your genetics – it’s what you’re born with.  Others will argue that leadership is something you can learn.  Or maybe that it’s about the situation you are in.  While we can’t always articulate what leadership really is, we tend to give the old cliche “I know it when I see it.”

But what does the Bible have to say about leadership?  Is there such a thing as Biblical leadership?  The short answer is “yes.”  The Bible makes a strong case for what leadership should look like.  And it looks a lot like sacrifice.

Does that surprise you?

It should.

Because it goes against almost everything we’re told about leadership today.  Most leaders have people who are willing to die for them.  That’s the whole idea behind the Secret Service or a body guard.  The idea is that the leader is so important that he (or she) can not die.  Therefore someone else must be willing to sacrifice their own life to protect the leader.  In other words we die for the King.

In the Bible, however, leadership looks a whole lot like the King dying for us.

The Newsboys capture this in the song You Are My King.  The song says, “Amazing love how can it be?  That you, my King, should die for me

The world tells us that we need to lay down our lives for our King.  That our lives are less important than the King’s.  Yet the Bible is the reverse.  The King should lay down his life for us, the servants.  Jesus had everything he needed.  He didn’t need to die for us.  He chose to die for us.  The one person who should not have to suffer chose to suffer.  To save people who don’t want to be saved.  That, my friends, really is Amazing Love.  That is revolution.

Don’t be fooled though.  Biblical leadership isn’t something reserved for an “elite few.”  It’s supposed to be lived out by everyone who has a relationship with Jesus.  It happens when you live out a life of faith.  When you chose to sacrifice to protect someone weaker than yourself.  When you chose to give something up so that someone else can have something more.  When you lay your own life down, and pick up the cross that God hands you.  That’s living out a life of faith.  That’s Biblical leadership.

That’s a revolution.

Where are you supposed to take leadership in your life?  Who are you to lay your life down for?  Who are you to sacrifice for?  Your wife?  Your boyfriend?  Your kids?  A stranger?

Where will you display Biblical leadership?

using loopholes to avoid trouble

Category : Jesus, Matthew, choice, different, faith, living a life of faith, taking action

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Have you ever noticed how everything in the world is geared towards justifying our choices, our actions, and our decisions?  We live in a world obsessed with finding excuses, reasons, and explanations for why our behavior should be the exception.

“Well officer, I didn’t mean to speed, I just had to go to the bathroom.”
“I’d love to play with you tonight son, but I had a hard day at work.”
“Everyone else is doing it…”

We are always looking for loopholes.  Always looking for an out.

I find it interesting that God is just the opposite.

God closed the loopholes.  No, scratch that.  He doesn’t “close” loopholes, he slams them shut, nails the door, and moves a giant bolder in front of it.  God does not accept “well I just wasn’t paying attention.”  God does not accept excuses and justifications.

Is there anything more revolution, more counter-cultural than that?

We often have this impression of Jesus as a “nice guy” who was in complete contrast to the “big, mean” God of the Old Testament.  But that’s not the case.  Both treated sin in a very-counter cultural way.  And yes, it was counter-cultural 2,000 years ago.   Much to the shock of the Jews of the day, Jesus ramps up the intensity of the 10 commandments:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5: 17-20)

If that’s not enough.  Consider what Jesus said about murder.  “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Wow.

I don’t know about you, but that’s terrifying.  Hating someone is the same as murdering them?  God doesn’t see shades of gray?  You can be condemned to Hell for that?!  Talk about closing the loopholes!

Why was Jesus like this?

I believe it’s because God knows how we operate.  He knows that we’re always looking for loopholes.  He knows that if there was any wiggle room we’d be asking, “how close to the line can I get?”

If God has closed the loopholes should we still be seeking to justify all of our actions?

That’s what Israel did.  In fact that was their entire history.  They were constantly trying to get as close to the line as they could without crossing.  And you know where that led?  To hardened hearts.  To spiritual death.  And to a life lived not in faith, but a life lived in mindless obedience to minute laws.  A place where there was no room left for God.

There is good news though.  While you and I can never live up to Jesus’ standards.  That doesn’t matter.  Jesus took the punishment that we deserved.  He suffered where we should be suffering.  He paid the price that was ours to bear.  That’s what’s so amazing about God.  At the very moment he was closing all loopholes, he was opening up the front door.  No more sneaking around, we could boldly and confidently walk in the front door.  As Michael W. Smith says in Come To The Cross, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, everyone can come to the cross.”

If God has closed the loopholes should we still be seeking to justify all of our actions?  Should we still be trying to avoid trouble by wiggling our way free?  Or should we boldly move forward and simply ask God to forgive us?  Jesus may have closed the loopholes, but by doing so he made it easier to enter Heaven, not harder.

I ask you this week – where are the loopholes in your life?  And what are you going to do to close them?

A life of faith is guided by God, not controlled by loopholes.

Jesus keeps his promise his way

Category : Jesus, different, faith, hope, prayer, trust

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One of the hardest things to do as a Christian is to trust in the promises of God.  We want to throw our own promises into the mix.  When we read that God gives us freedom, we think, “well that must mean I can retire with a six figure salary.”  When we hear Jesus say that we will be blessed, we think, “that’s great, that must mean I will have an easy life.”

Yet it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that these things don’t always happen.  Is it any surprise that we become quickly disillusioned when our prayers “aren’t answered”?

I grew up believing in the religious “check box god.”  This was a god who would reward you if you just managed to get enough points or answer the questions correctly.  As long as you could do that it didn’t matter what was in your heart or how you lived your life.  Avoiding making a “big” mistake was all that mattered.  And of course “big” was defined as any mistake you hadn’t made before.

But that’s not what Jesus had in mind.

Jesus keeps his promises his way.  We can’t allow ourselves to insert our promises and call them God’s.  It doesn’t work that way.

I was reminded of this in my daily blog reading.  Jim Hamilton a pastor and professor discussed his experience with starting a church.

Sunday after Sunday, month after month, the same four families and a few singles gathered for worship at Baptist Church of the Redeemer.  As this happened, the Lord slowly disabused me of the notion that the church was going to grow because of me.  It hurts to have your pride molded into humility, but it feels good, too, and how liberating!  Not to mention the way others prefer humility to pride.

Through this experience, I learned that Jesus keeps His promise to build His church.  I learned the power of the Word of God.  And I learned – or made progress in learning – to love people.

As I’ve been out of work for 9 months now, I can’t even tell you how many times I have let my assumptions become what I thought was a promise from God.  And it was in those moments that I’ve been most tempted to turn away from him.  But Jesus keeps his promises.  He’s never let me down.  I just need to trust that his promises will be kept in his way, not mine.

forgiveness

Category : Jesus, Matthew, bible, different, hope, living a life of faith

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Think for a moment about someone you really dislike.  Maybe you even hate them.  Maybe they’ve hurt you.  Maybe they’ve lied to you.  Or maybe you just find them annoying.  Are you thinking about them?  Good.  Now what are the first three things that pop into your head?  Is one of them forgiveness?  Because it should be.

Forgiveness.  That’s not something I like to even think about, let alone do.  I have a very hard time backing down from arguments.  I like to be right, and I’m not afraid to fight to be seen as “right.”  So when someone does something that harms me, I have a hard time letting go.

R3 focuses a lot on the idea of living out your faith.  And for a Christian, forgiveness is a major part of that life.  But I really struggle with it.  Intellectually I understand what’s going on.  I even get why God would ask us to do it.  But it’s just hard to pull the trigger on forgiveness.  It’s so much easier to hate.

That’s why I find Jesus’ interaction with Peter so interesting.  And scary.

Jesus radically raises the bar for forgiveness.  When Peter asks him how many times he should forgive someone, Peter suggests seven would be a good number.  Now in Jewish culture you were obligated to forgive someone 3 times.  So Peter was going above and beyond what was expected.  Plus, he chose the number 7 knowing full well that in Jewish culture it  implied a “completeness”.  Peter was trying to say he would forgive someone a lot, more than maybe anyone else.  He thought he was doing something good, going way above and beyond his duty as a Jew.

But this still wasn’t what Jesus was looking for.  Jesus isn’t interested in us “trying harder.”  He’s interested in our lives radically changing.  So he told Peter, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  Jesus wanted to make the point that there isn’t some magical number you hit and then you’re “good.”  Instead, it’s about changing your heart and aligning yourself with God’s forgiving nature.

In the end it was Peter who ultimately needed to receive that forgiveness which Jesus spoke of.  As Jesus was lead away by authorities, Peter had a chance to show support, all he had to do was simply say he knew Jesus.  Yet three times Peter denied even knowing him.  Peter abandoned Jesus when Jesus needed a friend the most.  Yet Jesus still forgave Peter, and actually went on to use him to build the Jerusalem church.

I may never figure out how to forgive people 77 times.  I may only be able to do it once.  But I am grateful that God is forgiving.  Because I know  I certainly need it.  And maybe, right now, the best thing I can do is simply struggle with the idea of forgiveness.  Maybe it’s that struggle in applying Jesus’ teachings to our lives that ultimately builds our faith.  And in turn, allows us to forgive 77 times.

reader comment: will the evildoers never learn

Category : Jesus, faith, living a life of faith, reader comments, sin

Chris, over at Got-Fruit.net, had a good addition to Friday’s post “will the evildoers never learn:”

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1st John 1:9)

Perhaps this is a case of semantics, but I would say that it’s not that we’re captives of sin but rather that as you later say in your post; “it still lingers” ie;  we still struggle with sin even though we’ve been sanctified and justified by the blood of Christ.  In my own experiences as a Christian I can recall being so occupied with being good; not sinning, that I missed the point of Christianity, that Christ has already done all of the work, therefore there’s nothing that I can do to add to it. (Ephesians 2:8-9).

When you enter into a relationship with God, you are most certainly set free from the final bondage of sin (something I should have made more clear in that post).  Yet it seems that on some level we are willing to pick that bondage back up.  We seem to want to be put back into slavery. And the truth is, we do this willingly.

So while we are fully sanctified and justified by the blood of Christ (something I agree with, and believe the Bible teaches, and am grateful to Chris for pointing out) I think we are at least perceptually controlled by sin, if not in actual reality.  And as most psychologists would tell you, perception is reality. We live by how we see the world.

I don’t know where I fall on this fine line of semantics.  Maybe this is just a word game, or maybe it’s meaningful theology.  But what I do know is sin destroys people’s lives.  And if we’re not careful, even though Jesus’ death atones for our sins, we end up living out a life as if it didn’t.

living a life of freedom

Category : 2 Corinthians, God, Jesus, choice, different, revolutionary

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Have you ever stopped and thought about your freedom?  Not your freedom in the political sense.  But your freedom in the spiritual sense.  The more I think about these issues, the more I realize just how quickly we give up our freedom.  We give up our freedom for the promise of security, for power, for control, and even for what we think is love.

But it seems that the last thing we should do is to want to give up our freedom.  As Paul told the church in Corinth:

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3: 12-18)

Think about that for a minute.  Wherever Jesus is, there is freedom.  Do we live our lives like that?  Do we act as if we have freedom?  Or do we continually give up that freedom to fit in?  To be safe?  Or to not make waves?

Paul is saying that we should be bold because we have Jesus in our lives.  But are we?

I don’t want to live my life in bondage.  I don’t want to give up the freedoms God gives me.  I am not interested in ritual if it doesn’t draw me closer to God.  I am not interested in answers that sound nice, but have no substance.  I want the radical, revolutionary, different nature that is God – not the watered down things that make me feel better.

I want the God that brings freedom – not bondage.

the pope, nazis, and Israel

Category : Jesus, barbarian, bible, different, living a life of faith, sin

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This week the Pope is in Israel.  Surrounded by history, tension, politics and controversy.  But no lions and tigers and bears.

I rarely talk about current events for one reason – when you live a life of faith current events don’t matter.  This isn’t because current events aren’t important.  They are.  Or that current events can’t affect you.  They can.  It’s because living a life of faith is about following principles not trends.  If you stay true to what the Bible teaches you will be able to live a life of faith in any time, in any situation, under any circumstances.  The more you leave that path, the harder it becomes.  The more you will fall.

So while current events may be important, they aren’t always relevant to living out a life of faith.  But sometimes current events help to highlight themes.  They can show just how challenging Jesus’ teachings are because we have invested emotion in current events.  These topics become “very real” to us.

I think the Pope’s visit to Israel is one of those situations.  The primary controversy surrounding the Pope is the fact that he may (or may not have been) part of the Hitler Youth.  Because of this, some people are questioning his speech to the Jews in Israel.  And his support of a Palestinian state.

I have no idea if the current Pope was a member of the Hitler Youth.  I have no idea if he believed in the Nazi teachings when he was a kid or if he was forced into service.  In a dictatorship you hardly get to say “no”.  And before anyone starts saying, “he should have said ‘no’ anyway” think about your own life.  Do you have the courage to face the consequences like that?  Most of us, myself included, probably lack the courage.

God redeems each of us, no matter what horrible things we've done in the past.

But this isn’t the 1940’s.  It’s an entirely new situation, with presumably an entirely new person.  When you enter into a relationship with God, he transforms who you were into something new.  Even if that starting point was from the Hitler Youth.  That’s the whole point of baptisms and being “born again”.  This is why Paul said, there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.  God redeems each of us, no matter what horrible things we’ve done in the past.

I believe the Pope should own up to his involvement (or non involvement) in the Hitler Youth.  Doing so wouldn’t weaken his position – it would make it stronger.  It would show how a powerful God takes someone from the hate of Nazism to the love of Christ.  It would put him in the company of David (murderer and adulterer) and Paul (chief of all sinners).  Plus, as I mentioned, there is this whole “no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” thing.

Of course this isn’t the approach the Pope’s handlers are taking.

The Vatican has said he “had ‘never, never, never’ been in the Hitler Youth.”  Of course that “never, never, never” statement didn’t last long.  Because in a day of internet it’s easy to find out that the Pope had written about his time in the Hitler Youth.

Oops.

Now as I said, it’s entirely possible that the Pope was forced into the Hitler Youth.  Hitler wasn’t exactly a nice guy.  But every time the Vatican spokesman has to back off a quote it reeks of political maneuvering.  It makes it feel like the church is playing politics.  Something that should never happen.

I say, so what if the pope was associated with the Hitler Youth.  I say if the Pope has repented, then it doesn’t matter.  There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.  We all have dark sins.  We all have hatred toward someone.  If we didn’t we wouldn’t need Jesus.  But we are all fallen.  It’s time to forgive our enemies and move on.  Harder to do than say, I know.  But that’s the model Jesus left us, and the model we need to live out.

The world is looking to destroy the church.  It desperately wants to live in a secularized society, devoid of consequences and responsibility.  The world wants to push people of faith out of the way.  Why must we be so unChristian and give them easy opportunities to ignore our message of grace, love, and hope?  Why must we look more like politicians than Jesus?  Why can’t we just say we’re horribly fallen people in need of a merciful God?  Why can’t we say, “yes I was forced to be a Nazi, and I’m sorry.  Let me support you now.”?  Why can’t we let the fact there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus be enough?

Repentance frees us from the guilt of sin in God’s eyes.  Maybe it should free us from the guilt in man’s eyes too.