The Unforgivable Sin

Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not. ~C.S. Lewis

I sat across from a middle-aged woman, a mother of seven beautiful children. A woman who knew the pain of unrequited love. She spoke of her mother.

“She told me many days, ‘I never should have had you. I should have had an abortion.'”

It haunts me, this thought that a child should know her mother would rather kill her than keep her.

Have you lost love?

Your heart leaps in your throat every time the phone rings, but the prodigal child refuses to call. There are no cards on Mother’s Day, no surprise visits pulling into the drive. Instead, there is silence that steals into quiet moments like gun shot and cannon fire.

Your eyes fill as you walk past your former-best friend’s house. You stand in line together waiting for the bus to take the children to school. You glance toward her, seeking acknowledgement, but the shoulder is turned. You shiver in the August heat.

We enter the world with soft hearts, beating the melody of love, harmonizing with the strains of joy and peace.

But at some point the aria fades into strains of discord. The lively tune becomes dark and foreboding. Dissonance plays on every instrument of your life, killing your love, mocking your peace and joy.

This is what Jesus knows.

The pain of betrayal, of neglect, of downright hatred by those you yearn to hold close . . . well, it’s unforgivable.

At least it feels that way.

But Jesus tells us there is only one unforgivable sin- denying that the Holy Spirit is from God. Confronting good and calling it evil.

And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Luke 12:10 ESV

It isn’t the prodigal saying you aren’t his mother. It isn’t the friend saying you never were friends. It isn’t even the mother saying she wishes you were dead.

Jesus knows those pains; he feels the heartache and distress.

And he forgives.

But the one who says Jesus has no power to forgive- he will not be forgiven.

Will you forgive? Won’t you sing the sweet refrain that God is Love?


My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. 1 John 4:7-10 MSG

How to Pray

This should be the motto of every follower of Jesus Christ. No matter how dark and hopeless a situation might seem, never stop praying. ~Billy Graham

“I asked them to translate the Lord’s Prayer into Chinese. I thought it might be helpful for me if I could pray a little in their language.”

“Why? It’s hard enough to pray in English.”

I was talking to an old friend, one I am sure has been praying for at least 50 years. I understood her question -praying in Chinese will be difficult to learn and it isn’t necessary -but her statement left me stunned.

Praying in English is hard.

For a nearly life-long Christian? How can this be?

In Luke 11, Jesus’s disciples ask him to teach them to pray. It was normal for a rabbi to teach their followers to pray. The disciples even comment that John the Baptist taught his disciples to pray.

Jesus gives them a simple way to approach the Father. Direct. Unassuming. Grateful. Full of forgiveness.

 He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“‘Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation.” 

It must have left the disciples stunned. No flowery speeches? No self-effacing condemnation?

Jesus follows his sample prayer with a lesson, a little story.

You need something badly from your neighbor, so you ask. It’s not a cup of sugar on a Saturday afternoon, but some money in the middle of the night. You’re humiliated to have to ask, but you ask anyway. The neighbor loans you the money.

Jesus wants to know why you’ll ask your neighbor, but not your Father? He encourages us to ask.

“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” 

But we have all asked God for something and he hasn’t given it. We’ve stood at the door knocking for years. Our knees are giving out, our back is weary, and our knuckles are bloodied.

Jesus asks, how many of you would give something horrid to  your child? Would you hand him a snake or a scorpion? Of course not. And neither will God.

 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

Good gifts?! Really?

Cancer sure feels like a scorpion. A prodigal child feels like a snake. The loss of a child, a job, a home, a marriage -it all feels like evil served on a platter.

This is where praying gets hard.

Do you trust Jesus? Do you believe that he and his Father have your best interest at heart?

Jesus says a strong man can protect his house until someone stronger comes along. You can’t handle the cancer alone. You can’t force the prodigal to come home. So many things you can’t replace.

But it isn’t up to you to do any of those things. God will take care of it all. He only asks that you . . . pray.


The Lord reigns forever;
    he has established his throne for judgment.
He rules the world in righteousness
    and judges the peoples with equity.
The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
    a stronghold in times of trouble.
Those who know your name trust in you,
    for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:7-10 NIV

Do What?

What you must do is love your neighbor as yourself. There is no one who knows your many faults better than you! But you love yourself notwithstanding. And so you must love your neighbor, no matter how many faults you see in him. ~Martin Buber

“What’s wrong, Traci? Are you sick?” One of my favorite ESL students was concerned because my voice was gravelly.

“No, I just have a frog in my throat.”

“What? You have a frog in your mouth?” Her eyes popped wide open.

She’s a very good English student, but sometimes knowing and understanding are two different things.

In Luke 10, we meet a man who knew, but obviously didn’t understand. He asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life, and Jesus returned with, ‘What do you think?’

The guy gave a great answer:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Luke 10:27 NIV

Jesus told him that he hit the bullseye.

But there was a frog in his throat that he just couldn’t swallow.

Who is my neighbor?

He didn’t understand what he had so correctly quoted. He had heard it all his life, even thought that he had it right based on his confidence to answer Jesus so quickly, but he didn’t understand.

Love God and Love Others.

What about you? Do you understand?

Are you willing to loan your car to some people, but not to everyone? (This is not a driving record issue.)

Are you comfortable inviting people to worship with you but refusing to worship with them?

Are you able to forgive a stranger but not your former best friend?

Do you see the homeless man, the CEO, the single mom, the childless couple, the refugee, the different skin tone, the drug addict, and the preacher with the same eyes?

Jesus never gives an answer to the man. Instead he tells a story of overcoming fear and hatred to have mercy on another child of God. Then he says:

“Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:37 NIV

It’s time for us to do likewise as well.


 Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18 NIV

The B-I-B-L-E

The book to read is not the one which thinks for you, but the one which makes you think. No book in the world equals the Bible for that. ~Harper Lee

I watched Fragments of Truth recently, a documentary about how the validity and historicity of the Bible is checked. Though it was very academic and demanded full-attention, it was an interesting, thoughtful movie.

I don’t know how many Bibles I have in my house. I have more than twenty available on my phone. I can view it in different translations, listen to it, even watch parts of it acted out in full cinematic wonder.

Because I live in America.

Chinese Christians, however, are now banned from purchasing the Bible.

The Bible was available in China through Christian bookstores and online retailers until a month ago. Then suddenly, it disappeared.

The Chinese government sent out a ‘white paper’ explaining that the Bible is being reinterpreted over the next five years to display a more acceptable socialist mindset.

I’m not sure what’s more socialist than Jesus and his apostles. They said take care of each other. Feed the orphans and widows. Visit those in prison.

But they also said, Jesus is Lord . . . King . . . Prince of Peace.

And that’s scary to those who want to be in power.

Because China has set its leaders up as God. The leaders decide what is right and wrong. The leaders decide who gets taken care of and who gets thrown out with the bath water.

But don’t take our American privilege for granted.

Though California’s lawmakers deny that if passed a new bill would prohibit the sale of the Bible, there seems to be quite a bit of gray area. They are concerned that people with identity issues might be told that acting on some of their desires would be wrong.

It might be easier for California to follow China’s lead and “reinterpret” the parts they don’t like.

That’s why knowing the Bible  THE WORD OF GOD is so important.

Are you taking it for granted? Would you be able to identify changes or reinterpretations?


For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Romans 15:4 ESV

 

 

God’s Goals

There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there. ~Indira Gandhi

My writing goal is to make God relevant again. I want people to love his Word. I want people to fall in love with his Son. I long for a time when people will gather to talk about what God is doing right now, right here.

I also want to sell my work.

So when a friend on Facebook rejoices that her Bible study about abortion is in the top 1% of Amazon sales, I have two options. 1. I can cry out in frustration, ignoring her success and focusing on my sales’ low ranking. Or 2. I can congratulate her, knowing that my goal is being met through her.

In Luke 9, the disciples argue about who is the greatest and Jesus shoots them down with a child. Not to be outdone, John tells Jesus that he saw a man working miracles in Jesus’s name, but the man wasn’t part of the inner-circle. John tried to stop him.

Jesus corrected John with this:

50 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (NIV)

Is your goal to raise godly children? Then why are you jealous of the relationships your kids have with godly people?

Is your goal to end homelessness in your community? Then why are you envious of other organizations promoting the number of people off the streets because of their work?

Do you want people to pray? Then why do you scoff at  prayer circles and Prayer at the Pole meetings?

Are the ideals you hold for the greater good actually for the greater good? Or are they all about what you can do and accomplish?


 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:9-18 NIV

 

Yogurt Deodorant

In our digital age, the Golden Rule is not enforced online. ~Whitney Wolfe

Several years ago I noticed something was changing. I wasn’t hearing things correctly. It became very apparent the day I brought home yogurt for my son.

“Here’s your yogurt.” I set it on the counter in front of him.

“Thanks?” He looked confused. “Where’s my deodorant?”

“What do you mean?”

I had no clue. The boy had asked for yogurt. Here was the yogurt. Was I supposed to read his mind that he needed deodorant?

It turns out I didn’t need to read his mind, I just needed to listen carefully. He hadn’t asked for yogurt, but he did need deodorant.

In Luke 8, Jesus tells the people to consider carefully how they listen.

Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.

 Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”

He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” Luke 8:18-21

How do you listen carefully?
By putting God’s word into practice.

Is someone trying to sabotage you at work?  Is your ex trying to turn the children against you? Does your neighbor threaten court proceedings for the tree on your border?

Jesus said to pray for our enemies.

Does a friend’s constant chatter about her new car make you want to slash her tires? Do you stay away from the baby showers because you’re angry with God for withholding a child? Maybe you schedule your car for a tune-up so you don’t have to meet the “Happy Pappies” for breakfast to talk about another trip abroad.

God tells us to rejoice with others.

You mutter all the way to work about your children making you late again. -Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.

You call the church fellowship committee to say that you can’t be a part of this weekend’s event. Something came up that sounds like “cap on the pouch.” -Let your yes be yes and your no be no.

Take care of widows and orphans. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Don’t look lustfully or covetously at another. Honor your father and mother.

How carefully are you listening? Are you putting the Word into practice?


Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:22-25 NIV

Better Than Deserving

Everybody is so talented nowadays that the only people I care to honor as deserving real distinction are those who remain in obscurity. ~Thomas Hardy

Nineteen nominations.

NINETEEN!

Susan Lucci, of American soap opera fame, was nominated for a daytime Emmy award an astounding 19 times before she won. It had become a joke to many; it had to hurt for her.

If you are nominated nineteen times for something, at some point you have to imagine you are deserving of winning. Why is there always someone, or something, better than you?

Maybe you aren’t even nominated. Maybe you just work hard with no recognition.

You clean peanut butter off of the refrigerator door, wipe snot off a  face, and wash urine-soaked bed sheets. No one says thanks.

You stay late to get the paychecks in the accounts on time, fix the printer that someone left jammed again, and send a bouquet of flowers to the secretary whose mother passed. No accolades are offered.

You burn the midnight oil scraping paint in the living room, spend weekends digging out wild weeds and bushes, and pay the neighbor boy to power wash the moldering wall. No one offers to help you put Dad’s house on the market.

It looks like a twentieth non-nomination is on the way. No one sees you. No one notices. No one cares.

In Luke 7, a local hero- most deserving according to the town leaders- needs some help. His friend and servant is sick.

He sends to the town elders to ask if they will go to Jesus on his behalf. He doesn’t feel worthy to go on his own merit. The men ask Jesus to do this favor for the centurion. He deserves it for his help around town.

Jesus goes.

The centurion finds out Jesus is on his way and he has a guilty conscience. He doesn’t believe he is worthy of Jesus’s attention. He sends messengers telling Jesus not to come.

The centurion’s humility results in the servant’s good health.

Luke tells us soon after this, Jesus goes to a little Podunk village called Nain where he sees a widow preparing to bury her only child. No one comes on her behalf. No one intercedes.

But Jesus goes.

He restores the son to his mother.

Whatever it is that you are doing, Jesus notices. When others say you’re deserving, and when you are alone in your grief, he’s there- healing, restoring, blessing.


I lift up my eyes to the mountains –
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip –
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you –
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm –
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and for evermore. Psalm 121 NIVUK

Name Your Enemies

The Lord gave me ‘Sojourner,’ because I was to travel up an’ down the land, showin’ the people their sins an’ bein’ a sign unto them. Afterwards, I told the Lord I wanted another name ’cause everybody else had two names, and the Lord gave me ‘Truth,’ because I was to declare the truth to people. ~Sojourner Truth

She was sincere and alarmed, disgruntled and uncomfortable. God was talking to her.

My young friend was having difficulties with a brother and sister. She felt that God was compelling her to pray for them. So she settled down, Bible on her lap, feet tucked under her, head bowed.

“God, you know these two are really giving me trouble.”

Say their names.

She sat stunned. Did she really just hear God? Did he really tell her she had to say their names?

“What? You want me to what? But they’re my enemies. I’ll pray for them, but I don’t want to say their names.”

Say their names.

She sighed and started praying again- naming each offender instead of each offense.

A week later she told me the relationships were mended.

Names are our identity. We are not a number, not another face in the crowd, not just another thing that has to be dealt with.

When my friend prayed for her enemies by name, she lowered the gate to her heart.

Jesus said:

“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6: 32-36 NIV

I’m guessing your daily life doesn’t include machine guns and tanks. You don’t fly stealth bombers. You don’t have night-vision goggles.

But you do know people who hurt you, say things about you. People who do their best to get under your skin. People who push your buttons.

Jesus said to love them. Be kind to them.

Go ahead. Try it.

Call them by name.


 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 NIV

Jealousy and Pride

It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels. ~Saint Augustine

This hurts to admit. I was not inducted into the National Honor Society until I was a senior in high school.

No, that’s not what hurts.

What pains me to admit is that when asked if I expected the secret induction, I answered, “Truthfully, I was surprised that I didn’t get in last year.”

Wow. Real humility, huh?

I always did well in school- academically and socially. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t inducted into the NHS as a junior with so many of my friends and peers. I had the grades. I had the extra-curricular achievements. What didn’t I have?

Have you ever been there?

You have the experience, but you were passed over for the promotion.  The younger girl with the longer legs got the job.

You filled out all the forms, but didn’t get the grant. It was awarded to the homeless shelter’s social worker. Again.

You always bake the best ham and loveliest lemon meringue pie for Easter. Your mother-in-law chose to join the other widows from church for lunch instead.

Could it be that we fail to see our own flaws, our own short-comings, our own pride?

In Luke 5, the Pharisees and teachers of the law are following Jesus around. They like what they see and usually what they hear. This is a guy who knows his religion. He has Scripture memorized and can throw down miracles like matzah.

But instead of partying with the Pharisees, Jesus chooses the tax collectors. Instead of inviting disciplined disciples, he asks kiss-ups and frauds like Levi to follow him.

Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:29-32 NIV

Jesus invites everyone to follow him.

But only those who realize they aren’t worthy truly find him.


Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  Philippians 2:3-4 NIV

The Struggle Is Real

All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today. ~Pope Paul VI

 

The Grand Canyon is growing 0.4 mm/year if you imagine it growing at a constant rate. But, of course, it isn’t. The Grand Canyon suffers from earthquakes and volcanic activity. It has seen major flooding in its long life. Some floods may have changed it in as little as ten hours. During other seasons it wore away at a minuscule rate.

Do you ever feel like the Grand Canyon?

All of the relatives are getting along, then Aunt Cathy dies and everyone wants a piece of her stuff.  The fighting and bickering that ensue damage the family and Christmas is never the same.

Your child received perfect scores all through Elementary school, but now in Middle school the grades are falling, the attitude is changing, the language sets your teeth on edge, and no one wants to be in the house with her.

You loved your job. The boss was perfect, so understanding and congenial. But she was promoted and her replacement is the meanest snake in the pit. You hate your new boss. You hate work. You’re even beginning to hate your co-workers.

Jesus gets it. He’s been a solid rock beaten by the winds and scorned by the rains of Satan.

His ministry began with healing and teaching and praising. God was on his side. He was baptized and told so.

. . . the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Luke 3:22 NIV

But that “life is good” moment was met with fasting, thirst, fatigue, and temptation.

Satan went after Jesus with everything he had.

And when Jesus didn’t succumb?

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. Luke 4:13 NIV

Things got better for a while.

The relatives came back for Christmas. The daughter kissed her parents and hugged her sister. The coworkers held a meeting and worked out all the problems.

But sometime later . . .

The flood came crashing over the lava walls and in ten hours chaos reigned. That’s the way of Satan. He doesn’t give up, just waits for a more opportune time.

But that’s OK, because Jesus said,

. . . I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 ESV

JESUS doesn’t leave for an opportune time.

He stays forever fighting beside you.


“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV

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