And Justice For All

courtroom-898931_960_720   She was walking home from work one evening. She had made this walk dozens of times since she took the dinner shift at the restaurant where she worked. Almost always between 10:00pm and 11:00pm; her route took her down the street, through the park, and just over the bridge near her apartment. Once across the bridge it was a quick stroll across the back parking lot and she was home. Very routine. She never imagined she would one day join the list of #metoo victims but this night there was a man waiting for her.

She had served him a few times at the restaurant, and he had taken a fancy to her. So much so that, hiding along her route, he had watched her walk home night after night for a couple weeks. He knew her route and he knew her routine. She always walked with her headphones on, her waitress outfit was dark red, the restaurant’s color, so passersby rarely noticed her, but there was little traffic anyway and rarely was anyone around at that time of night. He formed a plan. He was a very troubled man, and this was not the first time he’d done this.

One night, he hid between the cars in her apartment parking lot and waited. When she crossed the bridge and started through the parking lot, he stood up behind her, followed her quietly to the door. Coming up behind her, acting as if he was just going to see friend, he struck up a brief conversation, as two people heading to the same destination might, and she easily let him follow her inside and up to her floor, where he had stated his friend lived also. But as she unlocked her apartment door, he suddenly turned around and violently pushed her inside. And there, in her own apartment, he brutally attacked & raped her.

Thanks to the video surveillance at her apartment, it did not take the police long to identify the attacker and arrest him. And the DNA evidence assured a speedy trial and easy conviction by the jury. The evidence against the man was simply overwhelming. And there he stood at the sentencing before kindly old Judge Thomas. The judge was known as a loving family man and a deeply caring friend, always putting the needs of others before his own. But here, in the courtroom, faced with such convincing evidence and the resulting guilty verdict, there was only one thing the benevolent judge could do – he handed down the maximum allowable sentence.

And would any of us handle it differently than Judge Thomas? Surely not! In fact, knowing the facts of the case, we might feel that no punishment is harsh enough; such cases usually trigger our emotions in ways that are deeply passionate. This is not really all that surprising, though, because we are created in the image of God and we know that, in addition to being a perfect, loving Father, God is also supremely just, and he punishes sin wherever he finds it. Like the judge in our fictitious story, God is loving, caring, and benevolent…but completely just.

And so while we don’t often like to talk about judgment, the Bible tells us judgment is coming and we do well to understand this. The writer of Hebrews notes that it is appointed to a person to die once and then comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). John the Baptist spoke about God’s coming judgment saying, “Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees.” (Matthew 3:10) and Jesus frequently spoke of coming judgment with statements such as: “But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!” (Matthew 5:22) and: “And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.” (Matthew 12:36) and: “Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged.” (John 16:11) So the coming judgment might not be a popular topic we see that it is one of vital importance.

At this point many might say, “I’m am not concerned about judgment because I’m not that bad of a person, surely my good deeds will outweigh my bad on judgment day.” But even a statement like that reveals what we all know to be true about ourselves, that despite the good things we have done, we all have done bad things, too. So let’s not be disingenuous by refusing to admit our sins. We all have guilt and we all know it intuitively. And God doesn’t grade on a curve like your high school teacher, he judges sin wherever he finds it.

But God, being the loving, perfect, and just judge, made a way for us to be redeemed by sending his one and only Son to the cross to pay the penalty for us. And here we find the real conundrum; regardless of our sins, we can be forgiven only if we accept God’s free gift of grace through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. But many refuse. And this is where judgment comes. Jesus said, “But all who reject me and my message will be judged on the day of judgment by the truth I have spoken.” (John 12:48) And in John 3:19 he said, “And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.” And in John 3:36, “And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment.”

But in Romans 8:1 we read: “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” And in John 3:18 we read that: “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him.” So it is really very simple, we all know we have sinned, but we can avoid God’s judgment simply by acknowledging our sin and believing the Gospel message that Jesus died and rose again for us. The Apostle John wrote: “God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him.” (1 John 4:9) and “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life.” (1 John 5:12) That is the Gospel message. If you haven’t already, won’t you please believe starting today?

And for those who may be victims, who may have suffered by a crime committed by another, please know that Jesus loves you dearly and he stands with you, arms wide open, able to understand by his own suffering, and that he will one day make all things right. He spoke these words in John 16:33: “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” And we are assured in the book of Revelation that one day: “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:4) So we cry with you, come quickly Lord!

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
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True Confessions

true confessions  Would it be fair to say that you have something in your past that you wish you wouldn’t have done? Something you regret? Someone you hurt you wish you hadn’t? A dark moment that you’d do differently if you only could? If you’re like most of the human race, you probably have several such things lurking in your past. And from time to time, they problem tug on your conscience.

The past does have a way of creeping into our thoughts and affecting our future. Try as we might, we can’t always escape the consequences of our prior actions, and sometimes the residual effects of our past affect us in unpredictable ways. So what do we do when faced with our own history? Is there any escape from the regret we feel? Any way to truly put the past in the past?

Fortunately, the answer is yes! God has made provision for our forgiveness and our path forward. His mercy is actually part of his very character and when we turn to him and sincerely seek his forgiveness, he does not withhold it from us. “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.” (1 John 1:9) God actually wants to forgive us.

In twelve step recovery programs, dealing with the past is paramount to success. From the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, pp 63-64: “We launched out on a course of vigorous action, the first step of which is a personal housecleaning, which many of us had never attempted. Though our decision was a vital and crucial step, it could have little permanent effect unless at once followed by a strenuous effort to face, and to be rid of, the things in ourselves which had been blocking us.”

Indeed, in AA, steps 4-9 all deal with setting the past right. Steps 4-7 primarily focusing on setting our relationship with God right and steps 8-9 solidifying that spiritual direction by pursuing reparation with those we have hurt. Few people realize that the twelve steps are based on Biblical principle, which certainly explains why they have been so successful for so many. Turning to God is the natural solution for our Creator longs to render us aid!

So when those darker things from your past creep into your today, turn to the one whose very character is defined by his love, grace, and mercy. Find a close friend, confidant, or spiritual leader and make your confession. You will feel an instant and tangible easing of your burden, like having a weight taken off your shoulders, and you will start to feel a new freedom and a new nearness to your Creator. “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16)

God loves you. More than you will ever know or understand.

Here are some links that you might find helpful:

The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous

KnowGod.org

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.

Eventually, You Will Do This…

man-1394395_960_720  Connor had a dilemma on his hands. He took on a side job, helping someone with a building project. It wasn’t his normal line of work; he normally worked in a small company in shipping and receiving. But his dad was a building contractor and Connor had grown up in the business so he knew a thing or two about construction; and it wasn’t unusual for him to take on a few small side jobs; a little trim work here or there, perhaps. But this job was bigger, much bigger.

He wouldn’t have taken the job at all, but it was for a friend’s parents and it was originally going to be just a small addition. But one thing led to another and it turned into a much larger project. Nothing Connor couldn’t handle, though, and even working only evenings and weekends he managed to complete the work quickly enough to earn a bonus on top of his original quote. And just like that, Connor suddenly had a lot of cash in his bank account.

But when tax time came, Connor didn’t feel he should have to pay taxes on the money he earned from his side project. He had worked for cash, after all. And he had given up his nights and weekends for more than three straight months. Talking it over with Peter, his friend and coworker, Connor put it this way, “It’s my money. I earned it. I deserve to keep it. Besides, I spent most of it on that new truck of mine and the rest I put down on my house.”

“But it’s the government, Connor, they have ways of knowing these things,” Peter pointed out

“They sure do,” chimed in Sally, who couldn’t help but overhear the conversation.

And, indeed, the government did know about the extra money he had earned. They knew in two ways; the couple he had done the work for filed forms claiming tax deductions for the energy savings they would realize from the project; listing Connor as the contractor, of course. And financial records indicated that Connor could not afford his fifty-thousand-dollar new truck on his meager income as a shipping and receiving clerk.

So while Connor firmly and sincerely believed he should not have to pay taxes on this side project, the law said he did and the government soon sent him a letter stating just how much tax they calculated he owed, plus a small fine for paying late. But Connor ignored the letter, being so firm in his belief that he did not owe them a thing.

He eventually received another piece of correspondence from the government, this one a bit more emphatic than the last. The fine was bigger this time, too, raising the total he owed to a truly eye-opening amount. And again, despite the warnings of his coworkers and friends, Connor ignored the letter, sure that he did not owe them a thing.  And then something happened that Connor could not ignore. He went to buy groceries after work and his card was rejected. And when he went out to his shiny new truck, it was being hauled away on a flatbed.

Having called Peter for a ride, he arrived at home and found the notice on his door. The government had seized his home and all its contents. And as he sat down on the stoop in utter shock, the federal officers arrived with a warrant for his arrest. At least the jail would be someplace warm to spend the night. Turns out, tax evasion is a pretty serious offense, and though Connor didn’t believe it, he was now in the throes of some rather harsh consequences.

And so we see, despite Connor’s firmly held belief to the contrary, he was guilty of tax evasion and there was a penalty to be paid. In his case it was a severe one, and his disbelief didn’t in anyway change that reality. And so it is when it comes to Jesus, what we believe or don’t believe doesn’t change reality at all. Many people choose disbelief, ignoring the historical reality depicted in the Bible and rejecting the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. This isn’t all that surprising, actually, for Jesus said, “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

But the reality is that you will acknowledge Jesus is Lord, whether you choose to do it now, willingly, or later, posthumously. For God has told us that He “gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

We all inherently know we are not perfect, that we have done wrong. Our conscious convicts us of that fact, whether we will admit it to others or not. We are being disingenuous if we deny this. And there is a penalty to be paid for our wrongs, whether we want to admit it or not. But if we walk through the small gate and accept the redemptive work of Jesus, our penalty is paid in full. Are you ready to take the narrow road?

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