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The Temple (Part 4)

1 Kings 8:14,  20-21, 25-26 “14 Then the king {Solomon} turned around and blessed all the assembly of Israel, while all the assembly of Isra...

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Most Beautiful Christmas Tree

The tree lot was empty that night except for us.  “Find a tree,” I said rather foolishly to Jeremy and Erin.  They ran among the rows of trees.  “I want this one!” cried Erin.  “No, I want this one!” yelled Jeremy.

Erin ran to another tree.  It was a huge tree meant for a room with a vaulted ceiling, not for our den.  She stared at it longingly, but she knew it was not to be.  After a while, Erin and Jeremy ran to the same tree.

“I want this tree!” shouted Erin.

“I saw it first!” said Jeremy.

Melanie and I looked at the tree.  It was the right height and shape.  Melanie envisioned how it would look in our den.  I untied it from the stake and turned it around, and she looked at it from all angles.  She pulled her hand across the needles to see how dry the tree was.  

“It looks good,” she said.  And that was that.  We bought the tree.  I helped the salesman load the tree into the trunk of the car.  Once home, I stood the tree up in a bucket of water outside on our deck.  

Two nights later we pulled out the boxes from the storage room under the stairs that held all of the tree decorations.  Each decoration holds a memory of a Christmas past.  So, as we placed each decoration on the tree, we relived all of our Christmases together.

When we finished we stood back to look at it.  It was beautiful, not because we had done such a good job but because of all the excitement and joy of the event itself.  The tree could be nothing but beautiful, no matter what or how we had decorated it.

The children ran to the lamps and turned them off so they could see the full effect.
“Let’s go outside,” said Erin, “ so we can see what it looks like from out there.”

We bundled the kids in blankets, just as we had done since Erin was a month old, and carried them down the steps onto the front lawn.   We looked at our Christmas tree, shining through the window into the night.

“I remember when we first did this,” said 4-year-old Jeremy beneath the blankets in his mother’s arms.

“No you don’t,” yelled eight-year-old Erin, looking over my shoulder at him.  “I’m the oldest and we’ve been doing this since before you were born.  I remember when we first did this and you don’t.”

“Hey, it doesn’t matter.” I told them.  “Let’s look at the tree.”

As we stood in the dark in the front yard, the lights on the tree seemed to shimmer and dance.  “This is the beautifulest tree we ever had!” exclaimed Jeremy.  His words turned to steam as he spoke.

We all agreed.  The tree was beautiful, more beautiful than any other tree we had ever had.  But they all were, and all had been, and they all would be more beautiful than the last.

Copyright ©2012 by Eric Lanier.   The right to download and store the materials from this website is granted for your personal use only, and the materials may not be produced or reproduced in any edited form. Any other reproduction or editing by any means, mechanical or electronic, without the express written permission of Eric Lanier is strictly prohibited. For additional information, contact Eric Lanier at ericelanier@gmail.com

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Refrigerator Love

Our refrigerator is getting some age on it and soon it will be time to replace it.  I dread that time because I remember how hard it was for me when we replaced the last one.   My wife and I have been married 40 years and we have replaced only one refrigerator.

When we replaced it, it was on its very last leg.  A noise came from it that began with a low hum then slowly progressed into something that sounded like someone banging a hammer on an anvil while a jet raced down a runway.  We were always having to explain the noise to any company that visited us.  "It's our refrigerator.  We are going to replace it."  But we lived with that noise for years!

Why?  It was not a very spacious refrigerator.  No ice maker.  But, I had my reasons for keeping it.  It was part of the family.  It was here before we were here.  It welcomed us into our new home, even though it had been rejected by the family that had moved away.  It served us well, providing us with food and cold drinks when we needed them.

But, most of all that refrigerator was rooted in the memories of our children; our children learning that they could open it, gaining access to forbidden foods such as soft drinks and desserts; our children, their faces lit by the light of refrigerator, searching for something just beyond their reach, standing on tip toe in their onesie pj's.; me, getting the ice trays from the freezer and making slushies using our ice crusher as watchful little eyes followed my every move; me, holding my children up so they could find their favorite juice.

And when the delivery men came with the new, spacious, modern refrigerator with an ice maker and carried our old, empty one out the door, it was as if they were carrying a coffin that contained part of my life within it.

It is funny how we give life and love to an inanimate object.  But I swear to you, some mornings when that refrigerator began to hum, I know that it was a love song.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Saddest Song

The saddest song I ever heard was sung by a little, blond haired girl named Jackie in my third grade class during Talent Day.  The teacher had asked us all to prepare a song, a story, a poem, or something we made and present it to the class.

I wrote a very short story about a dog getting lost and finding his way home (aka Lassie) and one of my friends planned to sing the song "Teenage Idol", recently made popular by Ricky Nelson.  When I asked him why he was singing that song, he said, "Because that's what I am.  Just a teenage idol."  I could not understand how an eight year old boy could be a teenage idol, but I let it rest.

The class spent several days preparing for the big event.  During that time I noticed that Jackie, who sat near me, was not at school.  She did not return to class until the day of the big talent show. Normally, Jackie was a ball of energy, talking and laughing.  But on that day, she sat with her head down on her arms.  The teacher would occasionally come by and pat her on the head, as if she knew why Jackie was so sad.

Finally I was able to ask her what was wrong.  "My daddy is leaving us," she said.  "He is moving away and leaving us."  And she started to cry.  

The talent show began; stories and poems, songs, and kites, pictures of kittens and trees floated in front of my eyes but I could not see them.  I had never known anyone whose dad or mom had left them.  I didn't even know such things could happen.  And then I saw Jackie stand up and walk to the front of the class, the teacher asking, "Are you sure you want to do this?," and Jackie shaking her head, "Yes."

And then she began to sing, without music, in the sweetest voice I had ever heard, the words of the song that I will never forget.

*"Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
If you don't love me anymore."

And I felt the hot, burning tears choking me and I put my head down, but I could still hear her voice.
"Why do the birds go on singing?
Why do the stars glow above?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
It ended when I lost your love."

And I was lost in the thought that if her dad would leave, mine might leave too, and the tears burst out of me.  And then I heard the angry voices of my parents arguing in the middle of the night as I lay in the darkness of my room, listening.
"I wake up in the morning and I wonder.
Why everything is the same as it was.
And I can't understand,
No I can't understand why life goes on the way it does."

And still she sang, and the teacher's tears streaked down her face and she wiped them away with the back of her hand.
"Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don't they know it's the end of the world?
It ended when we said goodbye."

Jackie came back to her desk.  I could not look at her.  And I could not read the story that I had written.  Lassie would remain forever lost.
*Song- "The End of the World, written by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee, sung by Skeeter Davis

Thursday, June 8, 2017


My mom died this morning.  It is hard to believe.  I no longer have a person on this earth that I call mom.  Hopefully she is in heaven.  Or maybe she is in the heavens.

Alan Sandage, quantum physicist wrote,  "Every atom in our bodies was once inside a star."  Maybe mom's atoms have been released into the heavens and are again part of the stars.  I would enjoy looking at the stars and knowing that mom is part of them.

Mom grew up on a farm in the 1930's.  Life was not easy on a farm in the depression.  They had little to do for entertainment.  I am sure that she and her siblings sat on their porch at night looking at the stars, wondering about the universe, wondering about God, wondering about their lives and what would happen to them when they grew up.

I hope that mom's life turned out the way she dreamed it would as a child.  I hope that as the darkness was closing in during her final moments, that she remembered the stars.  And I hope that as her atoms were taking flight to the heavens, a child, sitting on a porch somewhere, saw the stars grow suddenly brighter.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A New Day

Each day is a new day.  Unlike any other day.  Yes, the sun comes up in the east, but as it rises there is a newness about it, as if it had never risen before and I am seeing the sunrise for the first time.

Each day I am reborn.  Reborn with the new dawn.  Reborn as the rays of the sun run slowly across my yard, piercing the darkness of the dark woods.  Reborn in the light.

A new beginning.  A chance to be made new.  A new day to get it right, to say the right things, to walk the path of righteousness.  A new day to show the love and forgiveness that I did not show yesterday.  A new day, a new gift from God.

The possibilities are endless.  As this new person, on this new day, I can choose anew.  I can choose to be different.  Old habits are fallen away.  All things are made new.  Old problems can now be seen in a new light, approached from a new angle by this new person that I now choose to be.

Old relationships can be made new.  Forgotten friendships can be renewed.  Words never spoken can be spoken.  Frowns can become smiles.  Rejection can become love.

And as this new day progresses, I am either a force for good or a force for bad.  I am a stillness or I am a movement.  I am a scratchy noise or I am a symphony.  I am a shout or I am a calming hum.  I am the warmth or I am the cold wind.  I am a unifier or I am a divider.  I am an encouraging word, or I am the voice of destruction.

At the end of the day, do I find myself at peace?

As I watch the sunset, am I inspired by the promise of a new day?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Garden of Love

All of my adult life I have planted a small family garden in the backyard.  We normally plant tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, and peppers.  I have occasionally planted corn and beans, but have had no great luck with them.

I love a garden most when all the work is done and I can stand in front of it and look at the neat, weedless rows of plants; all of them green and growing.  The soil is still loose and fresh from tilling.

But as the summer progresses, the weeds begin to grow, the soil becomes packed, and some of the plants begin to show signs of stress.  So, I put on my gardening clothes and shoes, get out my tiller and till again between the rows, being careful not to till up the plants.  I get down on my hands and knees and pull out the weeds that seem to grow purposely intwined in my plants.  I fertilize the plants that are struggling and then I water everything.  All this is done in the heat of a summer day.

When the work is completed, I stand again tired, covered in dirt and sweat, in front of my garden looking at its renewed newness, filled with a sense of joy and love.  That is the only way that I can explain it.  That is my only justification for spending my time in this way.  I love my garden.

The reward for this work are vegetables that are soon ready for picking. There is nothing better than a tomato sandwich made from a tomato just picked from the garden.

The saddest time of gardening is in September when I am hoping against hope, but my plants continue to fade, the vegetables are few, and the weeds are almost unweedable.  I know the end is near.

I close my garden in October.  I pull up all the stakes and pull up the plants that are now dead and diseased and dispose of them.  A sad ending to a glorious beginning.

But a true gardener lives in the promise of the year to come; when the soil is freshly tilled, and all plants are green.  And everything is growing in neatly planted, weed-free rows.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Looking at the Stars

Studies have found that the average working person spends 92% of their time indoors. Children today play an average of 30 minutes a day outside.  I believe that we are not meant for this kind of life. And because we will not open the door to our homes and go outside we suffer with seasonal affective disorder, insomnia, anxiety, vitamin D deficiency, a higher risk for obesity, diabetes, substance abuse, and depression.

There is something calming about the outdoors that the indoors does not offer us.  If our stress levels are high, all we have to do is go for a walk and we will soon be back to normal.

Somewhere along the way, we lost our way.  It wasn't very long ago that President Kennedy was challenging Americans to take 50 mile hikes.  Today, this kind of challenge would be considered a cruel joke.

Not only are we suffering physically from living a life indoors, but I believe we are suffering spiritually.  It is easier to deny God's existence inside.

And after a lifetime of staying inside we may actually view the outside with scorn and lose our ability to see the wonder of God in nature.  A rainfall is a nuisance.  A waterfall becomes a power source, and a mountain range an obstacle.

Years ago, when my daughter was 2 years old I was unbuckling her from her car seat one night.  I gathered her in my arms as I maneuvered myself out of the car and began my walk up the driveway to our home.  Erin looked up into the night sky, her face close to mine, and pointed her finger upward. 

“Look, Daddy,” she said.  I looked up.  I saw nothing.

“Look, “she said again.  I resumed my walk after looking and seeing nothing, again.

“Lights” she said in wonder.

I looked up.  This time I saw them.  The sky was full of brilliant, shimmering stars.  I had not noticed them.  My mind had been so cluttered with worries and problems that I could not see the miracle that was just above me.

Holding her close, we stood there, looking at the stars.    

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sitting in Sunlight on a Cool Morning

Life if full of striving.  Striving to find the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect neighborhood, the perfect car.  Striving to be promoted.  Striving to be better at something.  Striving to grow. Striving to shrink.  Striving to impress.  Striving to raise children.  Striving to earn.

I once heard a woman say the she and her husband lived in the wrong zip code and would have to move soon if they wanted to succeed at their jobs.  I remember a time when all of our County Commissioners attended the same, large, prosperous church; as if going to the "right" church was a political necessity.  I also remember a man who attended church for the purpose of selling insurance and when he had tapped that congregation for all he could squeeze, he move on.  I overheard a student talking as she walked with a friend about how her father could not succeed at his job because he did not like to schmooze.  In her words he did not have his "politics together".

And where has all of this striving gotten us?  Are we better people now than we were 1,000 years ago?  Have we had fewer wars and conflicts?  Do we know the secret of world peace?  Are fewer people starving? 

Georg Sheehan, in his book Running and Being, quotes the philosopher Teilhard de Chardin as saying, "We are all seeking not to enjoy more or to know more, but to be more."  Well, I think we may have failed on all counts.  After all these hundreds of  years of striving, we are not one inch closer to solving the large problems that face humanity.

So, instead of striving, why don't we make time to just sit in the sunlight on a cool morning and enjoy the sound of the birds, smell the freshness of the air, drink that first cup of coffee and watch the steam rise from the cup.

And on a morning such as that, how could we be more.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Finding Home

The first time I saw the mountains I was 12 years old.  I had dreamed of seeing them years before I actually saw them.  As far as I know, I had always wanted to go to the mountains.  Being from eastern North Carolina, we were beach people.  My dad always rented a house at the beach for one or two weeks each summer.  I liked the beach, but deep down inside me, I loved the mountains, without ever having seen them.

And when I saw them for the very first time, I knew that I was home.  At last, I was home.  Something in me was at peace.  Something in me was somewhere very familiar.  I was in a place where at last I belonged.

We did all of the things tourists do in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We went to Ghost Town.  We listened to blue grass music.  We bought apples at a roadside stand.  We toured the Cherokee Indian reservation in the town of Cherokee.  

But all I really wanted to do was stare at the mountains surrounding me and breathe the mountain air and make each day we were there last forever.

We never vacationed in the mountains again.  But I knew that I would return.  I learned about Appalachian State University during college night at my high school.  When I heard the representative say they were located in Boone, North Carolina, I knew that is where I had to go.  So, I applied; the only University to which I applied.  And I was accepted.  But I had no money to go.

Walking home from my high school graduation at the nearby baseball park (I just felt like walking and being by myself),  I stopped by the railroad tracks and asked God, "What's next?  How am I going to get to Boone?"  There was no immediate answer.

But the next morning around 7:00 am, the phone rang.  A friend of mine wanted to know if I wanted to help him paint warehouse roofs that summer.  I had nothing else to do, so all summer we painted the tin roofs of the acres of tobacco warehouses in downtown Rocky Mount.  On the last day of the last warehouse, as we were climbing down the ladder, a voice from below called up, "Do you have a driver's license?"  I yelled, "yes", to the voice below.  "How would you like to drive for the tobacco buyers down in Georgia?"  And that is how I earned enough money to pay for my first year of college in Boone, NC.  

As my parents drove away, leaving me in Boone on my first day of college life, I felt the same feelings that I had felt when I was 12 years old.  I was home, at last I was home.  And I breathed a giant breath of mountain air, knowing that I was in the place that I belonged.  

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 40 of 40: Living the Teachings

Matthew 7: 28-29
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.

The Sermon on the Mount contains the best known teachings of Jesus and it contains the longest teaching by Jesus in the New Testament.  It is one of the most widely quoted sections of the New Testament, and contains the central tenants of Christian discipleship.  St. Augustine regarded it as the perfect standard for the Christian life.  Jesus, himself, said these teachings were to be the rock on which we are to build our lives.  Yet, it is regarded by some modern scholars as the least understood of Jesus' teachings by Christians.

When the scribes taught, they were very careful to cite the references of their teaching; this rabbi may have written and taught this, or that rabbi may have taught that.  This way of teaching was not a way of showing deference to a scholar as much as a way of name dropping and showing off one's education.

Jesus, when He taught, said "Verily I say to you."  He taught as one who was saying things for the first time as if he were speaking for God.  And the people were amazed.  

So, this teaching, this Sermon on the Mount, is straight from the heart and mind of God and it is meant to be a teaching around which we should center our lives; lives in which we are to be concerned not only with our outward actions but also our inward thoughts; lives in which love is our sole motivation; lives that embody God's mercy, grace and forgiveness not just to those we know and care about but also to those who are hard to love, even our enemies; lives that show the world a new kind of righteousness, a new kind of justice, a new kind of love; lives full of joy and peace and humility; lives full of trust in God; lives of prayer and forgiveness; lives built on a solid foundation.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 39 of 40: House on Rock, House on Sand

Matthew 7: 21-27
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!

My wife and I were in Jackson, Wyoming several years ago.  Above our hotel across the highway was a house on a high hillside that was split in half.  The owners of the house had begun noticing gaps in the floor and walls, cracks in the walls, doors that would not shut properly.  Years went by, more cracks and problems.  Then suddenly, overnight, their home was split into two pieces, the kitchen and living room separated from the rest of the house by a slow moving, ever present landslide that suddenly decided to slide several feet down the mountain instead of the steady quarter of an inch or so.  The family moved out of the house.   The slow motion landslide continued to carry the house down the mountain.  At the bottom of the mountain sat a newly built pharmacy.  

When you build a life on shifting ground, you will have problems and those around you may have problems.  Christ tells us that his teachings are the rock upon which we should build our lives.  In order to do this we are to listen, hear and act.

If we do not make an effort to listen, then we do not hear.  Amid all the clutter and chatter of modern life, we must constantly make an effort to hear the voices and messages that are important to us.  I know a man who rises at 4:00 am every morning to study his Bible before his busy day begins.  He is making a effort to hear God's voice first, before any other voices in his day.  In order to listen effectively we must clear our minds of any and all distractions, any and all worries or problems.

In order to hear Christ's words, we must study them and carry them in our hearts, meditate on them, internalize them.  Some people memorize them.

But carrying them around with us is not the answer to building our lives on a solid foundation.  We must act on them.  The real difference between two people who profess to know Christ is in their doing; the way they live their lives, the way they treat others, the way they reach out to those in need.  The person who says they know Christ, but does not attempt to act on Christ's words, is building their home on shifting sand.  And bit by bit, crack by crack, their home is sliding down the mountain in a slow motion landslide.

Tomorrow we conclude our study.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 38 of 40: The Heart of a Disciple

Matthew 7: 21-23
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’

Sometimes we think we are doing good but we are really doing evil.  The Apostle Paul, before his encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, thought he was doing God's work by persecuting Christians.  Many Germans thought they were doing good by hauling Jews to concentration camps.  Many southerners thought that keeping and enforcing Jim Crow laws was good.

Sometimes we think we are standing up for God, but we are really pushing God away.   Not long ago I saw a man standing on a street corner yelling through a megaphone to people that were entering and exiting a Beerfest that "You are going to hell!  Go ahead into the sinfest, I am sure they serve cold beer in hell too!"

Sometimes we do work in the name of God, but it is not really God's work at all, but our work, our achievement.  And we are puffed up with self-pride when we tell people all the good things "God" has done.

Many works done in God's name are not, in reality, the works of God.  They may be works of pride, prejudice, or anger.  They may be works that actually help people but done with a grudging heart.

In these verses, Jesus is telling us that we may prophesy, we may cast out demons, we may work perform many deeds of power but still not know Christ.  

Before we can do God's work, we must first sit at the feet of Christ and let the Holy Spirit do a work in us.  Before we can transform the world for God, our hearts must first be transformed by God.

Tomorrow we study foundations.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 37 of 40: True and False Prophets

Matthew 7: 15-20
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Just as we are to choose the narrow gate over the wide gate, and the difficult road over the easy road, we are to choose the the true prophet over the false prophet to help us find and lead us through the narrow gate down the difficult road of spiritual living.

How are we to know who the true prophets are?  We are to look at the fruit of their lives.  A tree that does not bear good fruit cannot be called good, and a prophet or leader who does not live what he or she teaches cannot be called good.  

False prophets may appear genuine by their outward appearances and their words, but these things fall away in the light of their personal lives.  Do they teach love but show hate for others?  Do they teach peace but cause disorder?  Do they teach mercy and forgiveness but practice retribution and hold grudges?  Do they teach humility but practice arrogance?

I think we are also to examine our own lives in this way.  We are all teachers and prophets to someone, whether we know it or not.  Someone is always looking at us, and listening to our words to determine if they match the way we live and act.

How do we stand up to this scrutiny? Are we good fruit?

Tomorrow we study the heart of a disciple.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 36 of 40: The Narrow and Wide Gates

Matthew 7: 13-14
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

When I was 7 or 8 years old, my father asked me to take the hammer to my brother who was on the other side of the yard.  I did not want to walk across the yard so I threw the hammer to my brother.  I remember seeing the hammer leave my hand and watching it, as if in slow motion, fly through the air toward my brother, knowing that I had made a bad choice, wishing I had not thrown the hammer, wanting that hammer to return to me.  But the hammer continued on its slow course toward my brother's head and struck him just beneath the eye.

Life presents us with a constant stream of choices.  Researchers say that the average adult consciously makes about 35,000 decisions each and every day.  Life will not let us stand still.

For many of these choices there is a right way and a wrong way, a "high" way and a "low" way, a hard way and an easy way, a moral way and an immoral way.  People enjoy shortcuts.  But in the spiritual realm, there are no shortcuts.  There is no easy way.  

I have seen many gifted people in the sports world, the acting world, the political world, the business world, who have tried to take the easy way or went down a dark path, and they squandered their gifts.  The skills of someone who is truly gifted are a wonder to behold.  But what we do not see are the long hours of practice and the attention to details that are required to reach their level of excellence.

Excellence, either temporal or spiritual, is never arrived at by taking the easy road.  The easy road may look inviting, but what the easy road invites are things that cause us to be led astray, things that cause us to fail, things that rust and are soon broken.

The hard road looks difficult, and it is, but it leads to excellence and to life.  Everything worth having, all eternal things, are found on the hard road.

Which road do we take?  That is the decision we are really making 35,000 times each day.

Tomorrow we study good fruit and bad fruit.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 35 of 40: The Golden Rule

Matthew 7: 12
In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you; for this is the Law and the Prophets.

In this summary of the entire Old Testament, this one verse gives everyone a simple way to remember how to act in every situation.  People are naturally self serving and this rule gives us all a standard by which to measure our actions, "Am I acting in a way that I, myself, would like to be treated?"

This is a very old concept that can be dated to Confucius who said, "What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others."  Buddhists developed a similar saying, "Doing as one would be done by, kill not nor cause to kill."  The philosopher Epictetus put it this way, "What you avoid suffering yourselves, seek not to inflict upon others."

The ancient philosophers were telling their students to refrain from doing to others what they did not wish done to them.  Refraining from negative actions enables people to live together.

But, refraining from acting is not what Jesus was after.  Notice, Jesus takes what the ancient philosophers had been teaching for centuries and turns it around, reshapes this wisdom into a positive command; one that requires action, positive action.  Instead of do not do, His command is do to others.

Refraining from an action is not a very difficult thing to do.  Taking action is more difficult.  We must show love and kindness as we want kindness; we must serve as we want to be served; we must forgive as we want forgiveness.

The Golden Rule expressed in the positive is now a spiritual rule rather than a temporal rule.  It is a rule that requires us to suppress our own selfish desires and put others first; to translate our love for God into love and service for others.

Tomorrow we study the narrow and the wide gates.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 34 of 40: Ask, Seek, Knock

Matthew 7: 7-11
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.  Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 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 good gifts to those who ask him! 
Prayer is a necessary part of every believer's life.  It is the means that God has given us to express our deepest emotions, our deepest desires and feelings.  It is a way of moving ever closer to God and for us to understand God's will in our lives.  God answers our prayers, but in His own time, in His own way, in His own wisdom, and in perfect love.  
So, we must pray in faith; faith that there is a God that loves us and hears our prayers; faith that God will answer our prayers in the way that His love and His wisdom dictate.  
Jesus tells us in these verses that we are to pray persistently.  The Greek words used for ask, seek and knock indicate that we should keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.  We are to persist in our prayers and never be discouraged.  But in our persistence we must be willing to submit to God's will.  In Isaiah 55: 8-9 we read "For my [God's] thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways,".
But there seems to be something more to the words ask, seek, knock than just persistence.  There is also an urgency about these words.  We are to ask as a destitute person asks, with great humility but with great urgency; a starving person seeking help, seeking assistance from the hand of the one and only one who is able to provide.  We are to seek as if we are lost, trying to find our way out of a tangle of trails that lead to nowhere.  We are to knock heavy handedly, pounding on the door until it is opened to us.
Matthew Henry, a great Puritan commentator on the bible, put it this way, "Pray; pray often; pray with sincerity and seriousness; pray, and pray again; make conscience of prayer, and be constant in it; make a business of prayer, and be earnest in it.  Ask, represent your wants and burdens to God and refer yourselves to him for support and supply.  Ask as a traveller asks the way.  Seek as the thing of value that we have lost.  Knock as he that desires to enter into the house  knocks at the door."
Monday we study the golden rule.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 33 of 40: Pearls to Pigs

Matthew 7: 6
Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

These verses seem to say that the gospel and its message of God's love, mercy, grace and forgiveness are exclusive and should not be shared with people who are considered to be dogs and swine.  Would this not contradict the previous verses in which Jesus told His disciples not to judge?

A similar statement is found in the Old Testament, “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly” (Proverbs 26:11).  The Pharisees used this to justify the exclusion of the gentiles to their faith.  The early church used this verse and Matthew 7: 6 to exclude certain beliefs that were considered heresy and to reserve sacraments like communion only for members of the church.

There are certain people who are not yet ready to hear the word.  In fact, any mention of the gospel makes them angry.  Their minds are closed to words.  But their hearts are still searching.  What they  need is an example of faith, to experience faith through the actions of others.

We are not to judge these people but continue to love them; to pray for them and to offer them mercy, forgiveness and peace.  Hopefully our example will reach them where our words cannot.

There was a man that I knew in my youth who was a one man welcoming committee at our church.  Each Sunday he could be seen shaking hands, laughing and smiling at people who were coming through the doors.  He made everyone feel welcome and glad to be there.  

One Sunday I was fortunate to hear his testimony.  He said that he had been living in a room in a boarding house, down on his luck, drinking a lot, without a friend in the world.  But every Sunday morning, the woman who owned the house would climb the stairs to his room and knock on his door and ask if he would like to go to church with her.  He would yell, "No" through the door and he could hear her footsteps walking slowly down the stairs.  This happened each Sunday for over a year.

Then one Sunday morning, as he heard her footsteps coming up the stairs, he decided he would go with her.  And on that Sunday, he found a new life and a new reason for living.  "All this happened because she showed me the love of Christ over and over every Sunday, even though I rejected it.  If it was not for her persistence, her example, I would not be here."

Tomorrow we study ask, seek, knock.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 32 of 40: Judging Others

Matthew 7: 1-5
Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and    the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor,‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ has asked us to be humble and merciful, to recognize our own sins, to hunger for righteousness, to love our neighbors as we love ourselves, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, go the extra mile, give the coat off your back, give to the one who asks, be the light not the darkness...

As you can see, Matthew 7: 1-5 is in keeping with Christ's teachings of a new kind of love, a new kind of righteousness, and a new kind of justice.  What did Jesus mean when he said "Judge not"?  Jesus previously asked his disciples not to act or speak the way the Pharisees did; to surpass them in righteousness (Matthew 5:20). The Pharisees had a prideful way of judging people.  They approached people not to build them up but to tear them down.  They judged others as if they themselves were beyond judgment.  There was no mercy, no love, no humility in their judgment.  

We are not to judge the way the Pharisees did.  We are first to see the log in our own eye, before we see the speck in our neighbors.  In order to do this, we must first see ourselves as sinners; we must see ourselves in the same light as the people that we are judging.  When we do, we will be humbled.  We will remember God's mercy and love and forgiveness toward us.  It is only then that we should approach another person.  

Whenever we desire to correct another person, we should examine our motives.  Is our desire to tear down that person or is it to build them up?  If we approach them in pride or in anger, then we should back away.  If we approach the person in a genuine spirit of humble love and mercy to build them up in Christ; if we can approach them in the same way we would want to be approached, then and only then should we should speak with them.

Tomorrow we study pearls and swine.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 31 of 40: Worry, Part II

Matthew 6: 25-34
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you- you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or "What will we wear?'  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today's trouble is enough for today.

There was once a Mixed Martial Arts fighter who went deep into the California desert without sufficient water supplies.  He sent several texts to his friends once he realized his error asking them to contact authorities to rescue him.  His trip to the desert was to have been a soul searching retreat after he had lost a fight that he thought he should have won.  Apparently his loss worried him more than the searing desert heat.  After many days of searching, authorities found his body a half mile from his camp.  The autopsy revealed he died of dehydration and heat exposure.

In our ordinary, everyday lives we need to worry.  We need to worry about, if nothing else, the details of survival; planning a safe route through the dangers of life; a route near water sources and shade.

There is a place for worry in our lives, but like anger and money, if we let it consume us it becomes our god; a false idol.  Most people think that they worry too much about things they should not worry about.  How can we avoid this?

Jesus' advise is not to live a life so full of worry that we lose all joy in living.  He tells us to live in the present and concentrate on the Kingdom of God; discovering and doing God's will.

How do we live this way? Even in the time of Jesus a person had to have water and could not wander into the desert without planning a route near a water source. To a certain extent, we have to worry.

We should make plans, then live within these plans one day at the time, trusting in God  and not worry obsessively over each detail. This way we can be at peace in God wherever we are, whatever our plight;  exercising care but living a life of trust.

Tomorrow we study judging others.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 30 of 40: Worry, Part I

Matthew 6: 25-34
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they?  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  And why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you- you of little faith?  Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or "What will we wear?'  For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  So, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.  Today's trouble is enough for today.

Why do we worry?  This is the subject of many papers written by psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, ministers, etc.,.   We worry about losing the things that we have, like our health, our wealth, independence, status.  And the list goes on.  We worry as a form of self-protection; to anticipate, plan for and head off any problems or bad events from happening.  And if they do happen, we want to have a plan in place for dealing with them.  This is why we have wills and pre-paid funerals. This is why we have insurance.  This is why businesses have business plans and disaster plans and succession plans.  This is why buildings have evacuation plans and fire drills. Life is not a sure thing, and we want to make things more secure.

Let's explore Jesus' philosophy about worry.  Jesus addresses the worry of having the very basic things: food, water, clothing, shelter.  Today, over 1 billion people go to be hungry and worry about their next meal.  Over a billion people have inadequate access to water and worry about their next drink of water.  Over a billion people have inadequate housing and worry about the next rainfall or snowfall or cold spell.  Nearly one half of the world's population live on less than 2.50 dollars per day.  Certainly Jesus' reached out to serve and help and to heal the least the last and the lost.  He was conscious of their dire needs.  He was not telling these people not to worry.

Jesus was telling his disciples and followers not to worry, as they served others in need.  They were to put their trust in God that He would provide them the resources necessary to accomplish their missions.  When Jesus sent His disciples out two by two to go into the nearby towns and villages, He gave them these same instructions, "Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.  Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you eat what is set before you. (Luke 10:4, 8).  Jesus wanted His disciples to recognize that they were totally dependent on God for their subsistence.

This does not mean that we do not take positive steps to raise money, or create an awareness, or plan ahead.  It does mean that we should not let the many details, the problems that arise and the situations that confront us in our service overwhelm us.   The Apostle Paul put it this way,"I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Luke 4:10-13). In our service, Christ's followers are to have complete faith in God.

For the most part, excessive worry never adds anything positive to our work.  Christ tells us to focus on today.  Be fully present with God in the work He has asked us to do.  Know God's will and work within that.  Worry becomes secondary or non-exsistant when God becomes the dominating power of our lives and our service.

Tomorrow we study Worry, Part II.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 29 of 40: Serving Two Masters

Matthew 6: 24
No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth.

During the first century AD, laborers would frequently have more than one employer.  Acts 16:16 describes a slave with more than one master.  While Jesus does not deny that this situation might exist, He describes a situation that results in turmoil for the slave, hating one master while loving the other, devoted to one and despising the other.

Jesus warned us earlier not to forsake eternal treasures for temporal treasures and to live a life imbued with spiritual light.  Now He is telling us what happens if we try to have it both ways, if we try to be a slave of God and a slave of the world and the world's number one temptation, wealth.

Wealth is not necessarily a sign of God's blessing.  In other passages, Jesus warned of the danger of wealth.  In Luke 18: 24-25 Jesus says, "How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."  The rich farmer (Luke 12: 16-21) who accumulated wealth was called a fool by Jesus, saying, "So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God."  In His call to His disciples to live a life of sacrifice, Jesus warns in Mark 8:36, "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?"

Being a follower of Christ is a commitment that affects every aspect of our lives.  It changes the way we see things.  When a person comes to faith, people become more important than things.  The accumulation of things at the expense of people is shown to us to be wrong.  Wealth, while not evil in and of itself, is subordinate to serving and loving God.  The problem with wealth is that it can become a person's primary desire; their God.  The possession of wealth is not a sin, but is a very heavy responsibility.  We cannot let the accumulation of wealth take the number one position in our lives or distract us from our vision of God, our vision of service, or our vision of sacrifice.

We must always ask ourselves, does the way I accumulate my wealth please God?  Does the way I use my wealth please God?  Does my wealth interfere with my relationship to God?  Am I a slave to wealth or am I a slave to God?

Tomorrow we will study worry.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 28 of 40: The Light

Matthew 6: 22-23
The eye is the lamp of the body.  So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If, then, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

In a room full of light, we can see clearly where all of the entrances and exits are, and where all the obstacles are.  We can see the beauty of the room and we can see all of its imperfections.  The eye is the entrance to the mind and the heart.  The healthy eye will be an eye that is full of light, seeing and perceiving things clearly, seeing things for what they are and for what they can be.

In order to fill our eyes with light we must walk in the light of Christ's example and His teachings of love over hate, mercy over revenge, humility over pride, forgiveness over punishment, reconciliation over dissension, peace over war.  Once we are filled with light we choose eternal things (treasures of heaven) over temporal things (treasures of the earth).

Walking in darkness results in stumbling and falling.  Walking in darkness results in a dark soul and eventually our loss of desire or inability to see the light.  And soon we mistake the darkness for the light.  1 John 2: 9 says "Whoever says 'I am in the light,' while hating a brother or sister is still in the darkness."

As a result of living in darkness, temporal things become the things that we seek above all spiritual things and they become the gods that we worship.  The bad eye cannot see the beauty of living in God's will.  The bad eye sees as foolish a life of love, forgiveness and peacemaking.  The bad eye knows no mercy.  It is a worldly eye and only sees temporal treasures.

Years ago, I read a story about a farmer who sold his farm and wandered the world in search of riches.  His search yielded nothing and his dreams of being wealthy did not come true.  Finally, penniless and poor, he threw himself into the ocean off the coast of Spain and drowned himself.  Meanwhile, the man who purchased the farmer's farm found great peace and joy in the beauty of his surroundings and he thanked God everyday for his great fortune.

Sometimes we cannot see God's blessings, even though they are right there in front of us.

Monday, we will study serving two masters.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 27 of 40: The Eternal

Matthew 6: 19-21
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Oak Island is a 140 acre privately owned island off the south shore of Nova Scotia. It has become known primarily for a century old legend that hidden treasure of pirates, or Templars, or Spanish explorers, or Vikings lies somewhere on its shores.  Many people have searched in vain for this mysterious treasure.    It is said that once you arrive on Oak Island, you develop tunnel vision (treasure sickness) that blots out anything but the vision of the hidden treasure.  Many people have lost their life savings searching for it.  Six people have lost their very lives in the attempts to find it.

In these verses, Jesus compares earthly treasure with heavenly treasure; temporal things vs eternal things.  All people need temporal things that are necessary to survive such as food, clothes, shelter, money, etc.,.  Jesus is saying that while these things are important they should not become the God that we worship.  They should not become the main purpose of our existence.  In our efforts to provide earthly things for ourselves and our families, we should keep the eternal things ever before us.  

I once observed a woman  through my office window walking very briskly down the sidewalk.  Her manner and her gate made me think that she was very focused on her objective and very determined to get there.  Behind her a small child followed.  I think she must have been about 3 or 4 years old.  I also think this child belonged to the woman she was following.  This child was singing as she walked and kicking at fallen leaves; picking them up, throwing them, laughing; her hair blowing in the wind.

Like this woman, if we focus our time and energy only on earthly things, we have no vision to see God's gifts (the eternal things) such as love, mercy, grace, forgiveness.  Our eyes ought to be focused steadily on these.  These are the things which do not rust; these are the things that no one can steal; these are the things freely given.

Tomorrow we study the light.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 26 of 40: Humility in Fasting

Matthew 6:16-18
And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.  But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Jewish people, during the time of Jesus, fasted privately during times of mourning, when making amends for sins, when preparing for major events in their lives, when struggling with decisions, to seek deliverance and protection, to express repentance, to overcome temptation, and during times of urgent physical or spiritual needs.

A fast often lasted from sunrise until sunset, (2 Samuel 1:12) and it could be a total or partial abstinence from food (Psalm 35:13).  The objective of the fast was to focus a person's attention on God, to humble oneself before God, and to emphasize a person's total dependence on God.

There was only one day, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), on which public fasting was required. On that day, the High Priest performed elaborate rituals to atone for the sins of the people.  The Pharisees, however, took fasting to new heights and fasted regularly on the second and fifth day of every week, much of which was done in public so that their piety could be observed for all to see.

In the verses above, Christ describes the lengths that the Pharisees went to be seen as pious.  They put on an expression of suffering, they covered their faces with ashes and dust, they disheveled their hair, they dirtied their clothes and they walked through the streets for everyone to witness their suffering.

There is no religious value in practicing a spiritual discipline, such as fasting, for its own sake (mechanically or routinely with no passion or emotion) or as a demonstration of piety, or for any other ulterior motive (such as losing weight).  Once the focus shifts from God to the person practicing the discipline, it becomes wrong.

When we fast or, for that matter, make any kind of self-sacrifice that is for spiritual reasons, Christ says that we should go about our public lives as normal so that our sacrifice is seen only between us and God.

Tomorrow we study eternal treasures.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 25 of 40: How to Pray, Part IV

Matthew 6:13
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.

The word temptation is usually associated with something bad.  A slice of chocolate cake is a dietary temptation; a relaxing day reading a book is a temptation to someone who has a lot of urgent work to do; a twenty dollar bill lying on the ground is a temptation to someone without a strong moral compass.  But in the Greek in which the New Testament was written the word peirasmos means the trial of a person's fidelity, integrity, virtue or constancy. 

A temptation, in this context, means a test of a person's ability to withstand adversity; the strength to hold back; a test of loyalty.  Jesus' temptation in the wilderness is an example of such peirasmos.  And remember, Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil.  God led Him into temptation.

Temptation, when God is involved, is not designed to see the person fail and make that person a sinner. Hopefully it will make that person stronger, more focused, and ready to serve.

When we are tempted to sin, we must remember that it is not God that is tempting us but the power of evil.  In the wilderness, even though the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted, it was Satan that did the tempting.  Life, the good and the pain, are all tests allowed by God with temptation provided by Satan.  Confronting us everyday in everything we do is the question, will I honor God on this day or will I reject God.

These verses are asking God to keep us from being overwhelmed by our daily temptations and asking God to deliver us when this is about to happen; to keep the pleasure or pain that we are experiencing from interfering with our faith life.

Finally, John Stott wrote this of the Lord's prayer.  "When we pray the Lord's prayer we are expressing our dependence on God for our food, for our forgiveness, and for our deliverance.  God the Father gives us our food.  Jesus provides our salvation (forgiveness), and the Holy Spirit rescues us from the evil one.  The Lord's prayer is actually a prayer to the Trinity."

Tomorrow we study fasting.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sermon on the Mount, Day 24 of 40: How to Pray, Part III

Matthew 6: 12, 14-15
And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.   But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

A debt is something that is legally due, something owed, a duty.  The Greek word is opheilÄ“ma, one
of five Greek words in the New Testament used for our word, sin.  Sin, in this usage, reflects a failure of duty.  None of us can say that we have completely fulfilled our duty to God.  We all fall short.

In order for us to have a relationship with God, we must, first, recognize our sins.  It seems that we can readily see the sins of others but have trouble recognizing or admitting our own.  Jesus, in Matthew 7:3 asks, "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?"  The Holy Spirit leads us into faith and then convicts us of our sins and continues to convict us the rest of our lives....if we listen.  It is possible for us to quench the voice of the Holy Spirit.  The Apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 tells us explicitly never to do this.  Our salvation depend upon it.

After we recognize our sins we must repent.  Repentance is not saying we are sorry in the way children apologize to a brother or sister.  Repentance (metanoia) means having a change of heart, which means we also have a corresponding change in behavior.  Repentance, then, is a turning away from our old ways, a turning away from our old relationships if they had a bad influence on us, a turning away from our old thoughts.  With God's help (which we seek each day) we are made new- new ways, new friends, new thoughts. And if and when we sin again, we repent again.  And we ask for forgiveness.

How many times will God forgive us?  God's forgiveness is infinite and when we sincerely ask for it we shall receive it.  This is hard to believe, but we must have the assurance of this.  Not believing this can hinder our relationship with God and our growth as Christians.  One of the largest hindrances that can stand in a people's way of having a deep and abiding relationship with God is the belief that their pasts cannot be forgiven; their sins cannot be washed away.  But it is true.  When we repent, we stand before God as a new creature and our past sins are forgotten, as if they were never committed.

However, there is one more thing.  In order for God to forgive our sins, we must live a life of forgiveness.  We must forgive others. When we pray the Lord's  prayer and we have not forgiven others for their sins against us, we are asking God not to forgive us our sins.

People tend to take the forgiveness of others lightly, thinking that it is ok for them to harbor a grudge or remain angry at the actions of others.   But the forgiveness of others should not be taken lightly since it is essential for our salvation.

There are several aspects of our forgiveness of others that we should consider:

1.  How many times are we to forgive others?  Jesus tell's Peter that there is no limit (Matthew 18:21).  Why?  Because this is the way God treats us; not because we necessarily deserve it, but because God is merciful and full of grace.

2.  Our forgiveness of others is not contingent upon them asking for forgiveness.  Too often I hear people say, "They are not sorry, so I cannot forgive them."  Christ's cry on the cross "Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing" serves as a model for us.

3.  Forgiveness of others may take time.  Before he died, C.S. Lewis wrote: "I think I have at last forgiven the cruel schoolmaster who so darkened my youth. I had done it many times before, but this time I think I have really done it." Forgiving someone who wronged us may be a long process.  But what is important is that we make up our minds to forgive that person.  And over time, after many, many times of saying "I forgive you," we may actually be free of that heavy burden.

4.  Forgiveness  of others does not require our forgetting.  In Isaiah 43:25 God says, "I am he who blots out your transgression and I will not remember your sins."  But we are not God.  There is absolutely no way that we can forget the abuse and harm suffered at the hands of another.  But we can will ourselves to forgive them.  Forgiveness frees us from the anger and hate that have weighed us down and held us back in our relationship with God and is indispensable to the life and health of our souls.

Tomorrow we study the time of trial.