Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Is Jesus still "good" even when life goes badly?

Our local church just celebrated "Good Shepherd" Sunday. This yearly observance reminds us how Jesus is "good" and how Jesus is our "shepherd".

It's around this time of year that our young people (8th graders for us) are invited to make a public profession of faith and take the Lord's Supper for the first time. This is after they have been instructed for several years in the bare minimum teachings that every Christian needs to know to have a faith that will mature throughout their entire life. These young people continue the rest of their walk with Jesus through the troubles and joys of this life with the reminder of their Good Shepherd's personal, never-wavering interest in them.

But, it is possible that many of us have had various doubts recently that Jesus is our "Good Shepherd".

It has calmed my heart to reflect on the stories of Peter, Stephen, and Paul these last few weeks. Their stories played out shortly after the resurrection and remind us that Jesus is our Good Shepherd even when life goes very, very badly.

You could say Peter had instant success in doing what Jesus wanted him to do. 3000 people started to follow Jesus along with him after one heart-wrenching speech!

But fast-forward to the end of his life when he faced a similar kind of death to what Jesus faced. Jesus even told him this would happen. Jesus foreshadowed his friend's death! He said Peter's death would "glorify God!" (See John 21:19) Death glorifies God? Jesus knew about this and told Peter about this, but didn't prevent it? Jesus was still Peter's Good Shepherd after all this?

Now, we come to Stephen. The leaders of the early Christian church tapped Stephen on the shoulder to step into a leadership position. He was tasked with caring for widows, along with 6 others. The leadership recognized without a doubt that Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit, grace and power. In other words, Stephen was God's man.

But before long, jealous rivals rise up and drag him to court unfairly. They take him outside the city and they pelt him to death with stones. And yet, as he looks up, he sees heaven opened. He sees his Good Shepherd waiting for him. And he is able to say, "do not hold this against them." Jesus sees it all, but doesn't stop it, but he's still Stephen's Good Shepherd?

And finally, we come to Paul, who stood approvingly at Stephen's execution. He held the cloaks of the guys who did the deed. But then, Jesus' path and Paul's collided and Jesus greatly humbled Paul. Paul learned how "good" Jesus was to turn him from his bullheaded ways, leave his past stupidity behind, and put him on a new track. Paul worked tirelessly to spread the grace of Jesus that he had personally experienced.

But now, fast-forward to the end of his life. Notice the shipwrecks, hunger, opposition, and disrespect he gets along the way. And now you see him rotting away in a prison cell awaiting execution in Rome, writing his dear mentee Timothy about how to keep following and serving the Good Shepherd after he (Paul) is gone.

So what was so "good" about following the Good Shepherd? All three of these men did what Jesus wanted them to do, and yet they were rewarded with death and some stories that got written into a best-selling book because of it.

Only Peter, Stephen and Paul can tell you all their reasons for following the Good Shepherd when we dwell in His house forever together. But for now, we will consider what they've already told us.

Peter followed the Good Shepherd because even though Jesus knew how horrible of a man he was, Jesus told him not to be afraid. Jesus told him to set his heart on the work Jesus had in store for him. This was right after Peter got his entire boat filled with fish by the God-man. (Luke 5)

Later on, Peter may have had a reason to fear Jesus after his resurrection, since Peter had pretended he didn't know Jesus during his trial. And yet, after another unbelievable catch of fish, Jesus cooks Peter breakfast, pulls him in, and re-emphasizes Peter's leading role in caring for Jesus' sheep. (John 21)

Stephen followed the Good Shepherd because his spirit was at rest in His care, even when his flesh was failing with each stone throw he endured. The Holy Spirit of God energized him to care for others (widows) with his entire heart when things were relatively peaceful. The Holy Spirit of God gave him peace even when things were terribly violent. Stephen had enough peace in his heart to even ask God not to hold this incident against his murders.

Paul followed the Good Shepherd because the Shepherd hooked him in with his staff, preventing him from plunging off the cliff into an entire life of hot-headed anger, hatred, and superiority. He healed Paul by showing Paul through his lifetime that He, Jesus, was all Paul needed, even when Paul was hungry and lacked income and safety and friends.

Life is going badly for a lot of people. The Good Shepherd is still good. Take another look at him through Peter, Stephen and Paul's stories. Jesus has not turned his eyes from you and never will. He will do whatever it takes through good times and bad to bring you back where you belong...with him.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Mental Health-calling Christians to care

Christians have become known throughout history for their willingness to care about human health and well-being.

Christians established and organized hospitals that still exist to this day. Christians founded orphanages at times when those societies could care less about the parent-less. Christians stayed and cared for the sick during times of plague when many others fled for their lives. And while Christians addressed these physical needs, they continued to care for the spiritual needs of one another and the people they cared for. They continued to worship, pray, and commune together on a regular basis. They lived what they learned. They gave away what they had received from God. They did what God said. They modeled their attitudes and lives after Jesus'. The most beautiful thing is that they did all this not to gain God's favor, but because they had God's favor and because they wanted the hurting around them to know and experience the grace of God too.

In fact, caring about human health and wellness became an authentic way for Christians to witness. After becoming the hands and feet of Jesus and literally "washing" feet as their Lord did, they were asked big questions. They were given an opportunity to share their deepest convictions. Their sacrificial ways gave them a captive audience. 

And what did they gain many times from their faithfulness in dire circumstances? Maybe one more friend. Maybe even the illness of the person they cared for. Maybe a financial drain on their resources that they considered more than worthwhile. And beyond all this, one more brother or sister in Christ. One more baptized. One more family awaiting the resurrection from the dead and life everlasting.

Sadly, I have noticed two unhelpful and unbiblical trends in our day when it comes to church's stances towards human health and wellness.

On the one hand, some churches declare that they leave human health completely up to the doctors, social workers and the like. I try not to engage in red-faced arguments about this because it would be an unnecessary drain of energy. I try, imperfectly, to continue to "participate in the sufferings of Christ" by being available to get deeply into people's lives. I try, imperfectly, to continue to lead my church family to do the same with me. 

I simply ask, can you divide a person like you cut up a pie? Can you divorce a person's physical, emotional, and mental well-being from their spiritual well-being? Can you then isolate the spiritual well-being, treat it, and send it back into the pie and hope it survives? I not only learned to ask these questions from real life ministry experience, but first from the brother of Jesus, 

"If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?" James 2:16

This does not mean I doctor them, become their mental health professional, make an exercise plan for them, or proclaim myself their life coach. I know my pastoral role, (which is limited but essential because I introduce them to the Surgeon of Souls and continue to apply his wisdom to their hearts and minds), and I know my limits. Therefore, I find other people to help them with all other areas. At times, this means other Christians within the body of Christ with specific gifts that meet their needs, other agencies in the community with expertise, or other professionals who specialize. 

I am learning how to do this because of my biblical convictions that people are complex and amazing creations, "fearfully and wonderfully made", who must be cared for holistically. Let us use all the gifts God has given in this world to help each other. This includes his revealed Word in the Scriptures, the waters of baptism and the Lord's Table. This also includes modern medicine, research-based psychology and mental health practices, safe natural remedies and personal trainers, just to name a few.

On the other hand, some churches only address human health and wellness issues and largely ignore spiritual issues. Topics like heaven and hell, angels and demons, atonement and conversion are either not addressed or are watered down. Perhaps they are perceived as too controversial. Perhaps they are considered too futuristic and some would rather focus exclusively on the human condition in the here and now. 

I advance a few more simple, respectful question that need more dialogue. Can we really claim to care about human-kind if we try and make them comfortable, equal, and empowered in the here and now, but don't offer to prepare them for the life beyond this one? Can we truly be comfortable, equal, and empowered in the here and now if we don't know the author of life and salvation? By what means, by whose means, will we make people comfortable, equal and empowered in the here and now? Will we do so by the conflicting ways and words of people or by the ancient, eternal ways and words of the God of ages?

I am convinced there is a wiser way for the Church (us) to fully engage with the world's suffering. I have seen it with my own eyes! I have experienced it personally even before getting into the trenches with others! I need Jesus in the trenches with me to even be able to be in the trenches with others, and he is! 

Just as the gospel of Jesus called earlier Christians to care about physical health and well-being, social problems such as orphans, the widowed and the aborted unborn, the gospel of Jesus calls us to care about mental health and well-being. The gospel of Jesus actually addresses the basic needs every human being has (another post to come). When we see how Jesus has addressed these needs for us and continues to do so through his "living and active" words that now live in us, we will get it. 

And when we care about what Jesus cares about, we will "go and do likewise".

More to come.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A recovery story

Jesus said, "it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick." Mark 2:17 One of the most meaningful things in my pastoral ministry so far has been learning from people who have addiction in their story. When they give me permission to walk with them through the darkness, I gain an understanding of how they got there that I never had before. I see how alike we really are. As I learn what is all behind the addiction, I find that I am flawed in similar ways. Tears come to my eyes when I see Jesus come between us, take both of our hands and lead us to the light of his forgiveness and a new life of healing and service. I am beyond thankful to have permission to share one such story with you from someone who continues to teach me so much through their faith-filled struggles.
-Pastor Aaron Schulz

I’ve kept the job, my family loved and supported me, I even had a church family. I struggled in isolation surrounded by many. I cannot pinpoint exactly how, why, or when things became unbearable, unacceptable, and desperate.

In my journey I had been given the suggestion to go into detox, because the person feared, in my situation, I had been drinking far too much to quit on my own, that it could possibly turn fatal. Rare for an alcoholic, I took the advice. After a long month of wanting to get on with the next phase of my life, which was terrifying, on December 26th, 2015 I was admitted to a treatment center. From there I was given choices, suggestions,  and a direction. 

I learned that in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous that I could have a stronger connection with God. I was blessed with the opportunity to contrast a Sunday morning church service that I regularly attended with what I had just heard shared at the meeting. Almost always there was a God connection and a solution to any thoughts I may have been struggling with.

A few months after I became sober my family relocated across the state. God had removed the obsession to drink. The community in which we were transplanted offered a variety of meetings to go to. Again surrounded by a church community and with the help of AA, my sobriety was on a well maintained path. I met with my pastor, my sponsor, and a therapist. All three expressed the importance of each of their roles and also the others to my early recovery. 

The problem with addiction is not the substance, but the thinking. Attitudes need to be shifted and our brains need to be retrained into focusing on a solution and not on what is unacceptable to us as addicts. It is cunning, baffling, and powerful when alcohol or any substance enters an alcoholic or addict, all goodness and light is clouded by the darkness of the disease. 

About a year after settling, I was approached by the pastor, he told me that there was a need for recovery in our church and wasn’t sure how to get a group started. I offered to start a group or two, one in the evening and one in the morning. I gave the pastor all the literature I could to educate him on the way an AA meeting is run. The success of the program is based in christian values and principles. Traditionally the meetings close with the Lord’s prayer. By using Alcoholics Anonymous our church has reached a greater part of our community. A wide variety of the attendees do not attend church at St Paul’s, however we are opening the doors and offering a safe place for recovery. I have many inquiries about our church from questions about our organ to how to register for our school, or even about services and times. Some of the attendees were raised in the church and at some point in their life and were treated badly by church leadership at the time. The meeting offered those individuals an anonymous way to reconnect to the church, and to receive some healing. 

My experience has allowed me to be of service and connect the suffering to a solution, if they will listen. The stars aligned in a way I can only attribute to God. The meetings are held at St Paul’s are not only vital to my recovery but help so many others, from the addict to their families. I am grateful for the opportunity to share my experience, strength, and hope.  

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The wedding ring that won't come off

I have been missing a significant item in my Every Day Carry (EDC) for nearly 6 months...my wedding ring.

I actually felt embarrassed that I was missing it and could unintentionally give the wrong impression. If anyone knows me, you know I adore my wife and want to show that to her in every way possible.

But I couldn't bring myself to buy a replacement ring. There were plenty of options, of course. We could go pick one out. We could order one of those silicone ring sets online. In fact, my wife did order one of those sets (an off-brand). I tried them on and couldn't get over how "cheap" they felt. I value our marriage so much that I wanted a proper ring to symbolize that. And in my mind, it had to be the original!

I've taken my ring off to split wood and do yardwork. When I head into the woods to hunt, I leave it in my cupholder so it won't fall off in the "pursuit" of wild game for dinner. I've even had it slip off my finger while pulling a fish into the boat or through the hole in the ice, so I've been extra careful. I couldn't resize it because it is tungsten. This time, I had no idea where it went. I held out hope that I'd find it when I clean out the garage, shed and truck in the spring.

But after 6 long months, I came home, and my wife is going down on one knee, laughing, "will you marry me?" A few days before, I had been thinking about the significance of the man going down on his knee, laying his life and his future down for the woman who may say yes or no. He is laying his heart on the line along with all his hopes and dreams for their life together. And here is my wife on her knee.

Where did she find it? In the glove compartment of our van, inches from where the passenger sits. She promptly ordered inserts that can be put inside the ring to make it a snug fit. Alissa comes through again!

I'm going to take this beyond marriage now, to the enduring spiritual thing marriage really points to. Marriage is for this life, but marriage points to a love that outlives this one. Marriage is a vivid picture of Jesus Christ's love for his people, for all people really. A love that's so true. A love that's really love. Jesus' love is the ideal we all strive for but seem to fall short of. But that doesn't make his love any less "ours".

Jesus got down on his knee for us. At creation, he envisioned a people who did not yet exist. A people he could love and bless. And his vision became reality when God got on his knees in the dirt, formed man, and breathed life into him. But he wasn't done. Man was not complete. He was missing something, someone. God put Adam to sleep and knelt down again. God took a rib from Adam's side and made woman.

Man and woman lived to lay down their lives before God and each other. They knelt in a position of mutual love, respect, and service. But, they wanted to stand on their own two feet. They stood up against God's purposes for them to live in harmony and stretched for the fruit. And as they stretched and ate, they fell horribly. Marriage and family life and work life went to pot.

But God didn't ask for the ring back. He didn't serve them papers. He came and found them as they hid in regret and shame and fear. And he promised to keep laying everything on the line for them so he could lift them up once again. He promised to lay down his Son for them.

When you read the Old Testament or study it in this fantastic podcast https://www.1517.org/podcasts/40-minutes-in-the-old-testament, you will see this story of trying to be independent from God repeating over and over. You and I will find this attitude in ourselves if we look in the mirror. But you will also find that God keeps coming after you. He keeps warning you of the heartache of living apart from him. Hear these as calls to come back! Come back to where you belong! And in the Old Testament, you will see God doing everything within his power to preserve a people from which the man of true love could enter the world.

This man knelt down before God and agreed to do whatever it would take to bring us back. As he knelt before God, he let himself be placed into a woman's womb. He knelt before God his Father and before his parents in everything he did. He knelt down to the sick, to the mentally ill and the demon possessed, to those who knew little or nothing about God or who thought they knew a lot about God. Finally, he fell onto his knees as the weight of his cross, our guilt, shame, and regret, drove him into the ground.

He comes to you today and kneels before you and me, offering us a ring that will never come off. He holds out his hand, "come, follow me." He will teach us to lay down our lives with a truer love than ever before. We have nothing to lose because with him there is no more guilt, shame, or regret. There is only forgiveness, approval and a new tomorrow. Only unconditional love. A ring that will never come off.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

A prayer for the distressed

I often find myself coming face to face with reality. A whole lot of it. I have a friend who is not afraid to speak of reality. I appreciate that. When you really know what you're dealing with, you can actually work on it. Or, more and more often, pray more specifically about it and look to wise ones for counsel.
When people bring their realities to me, I try to 1. help them understand that reality as a fellow human being with my limited abilities 2. help them understand that reality with the wisdom God gives in Scripture and 2. assure them that God is with them in that reality, no matter how dark the road.
I remember praying this one Psalm daily, if not several times a day during some rough stretches of college.
I recently opened up a Bible study on "Dealing with Depression" with this Psalm to give those who suffer in the "cloud" a light. Does it make the cloud go away right now? Not necessarily. Is the light there in the cloud? Yes, even if you can only see a sliver of it. And even if you're wondering why you can't see the light yet, remember how the star led the wise men to see Jesus even as Herod sought to kill Jesus. Remember how God's smile glowed from heaven when he was baptized, even though Jesus would later be condemned for what we have been and said and done that God frowns upon.
Our light, Jesus, had much more darkness in front of him after those moments in the spotlight. In fact, the darkness was always all around him while he was here. But every time he came up against darkness, his light pierced it. Demons fled. Diseases reversed. Life came from death for Lazarus and for him. Jaw-dropping perfection came from his life instead of oh-so-common sin.
And even though he now sits in the most brilliant light in the heavens, he is with us in our darkness. He has rescued us from the darkness of not knowing God or where we stood with him. He has brought us into God's light. Why would he turn the lights off on those he has already rescued? His light can't go out because in him there is no darkness at all. He will finish what he started. He will lead us all the way through the darkness. He will light our way through our present darkness until light is all there is and all we see.
Psalm 13 English Heritage Version (I love the guidance in praying this Psalm that the headings provide)

Anguished Questions

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I experience worries in my soul,
sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy tower over me?

An Urgent Prayer

Look at me. Answer me, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes
    so I do not sleep in death,
    so my enemy does not say, “I have overcome him,”
    so my foes do not rejoice when I fall.

A Solid Answer

But I trust in your mercy.
My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he has accomplished his purpose for me.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Be courageous in 2020!

As for man, his days are like grass.
Like a wildflower he blossoms.

Then the wind blows over it, and it is gone,
and its place recognizes it no more.

Psalm 103 gives us a liberal dose of reality at the end of 2019. You might even say a harsh dose of reality.
That’s why you’ll  want to pray the rest of the psalm.

In this new year, the Psalms give us a liberal dose of reality. And the Psalms give us a liberal dose of
courage. That’s why it’s good to look at the world every day and year gone by, every new day and every new
year, through the Psalms.

You might argue that we get enough reality just by paying attention to the global and national news. You may
be right. Partially.

We get one side of reality. We get the human perspective on what’s going on. You remember when the Notre
Dame burned this past year. Horrific. 12th century religious architecture that will now take years to repair. And
it was almost gone forever. From a human perspective, what a relief that it didn’t burn to the ground! We can
rebuild it! Wow, just like that, something so iconic can melt away in the flames. We better be more careful. We
better improve our wiring systems so this doesn’t happen elsewhere. Human progress will win after all! We will
always rise from the ashes! Do you see where the human view of reality can lead us?

But what if we look at this event from God’s perspective, through Psalm 103? “As for man, his days are like
grass. Like a wildflower he blossoms. Then the wind blows over it, and it is gone, and its place
recognizes it no more.” A liberal dose of reality. We are but mortal. We are like the grass. We have our time to
grow and produce and build and accomplish and blossom. And then something comes along. A windstorm. A
fire. Winter. And the grass is gone. It dies. Goes brown. Blows over. Unless you’re in southern Wisconsin,
apparently people are still cutting their grass there during the holidays. But winter will soon move through there
as well. 

So that’s the reality God wants us to see? Yes. Part of it. A liberal dose of it. Why? He wants us to see our
condition as it really is. He doesn’t want false hopes to mislead us. He doesn’t want our trust to be placed in
human progress and achievement. He wants us to see our limitations. Our frailty. That “the wages of sin is

And once we have drunk that reality down and it’s burned our throat and our nostrils like that nasty medicine
we have to take this time of year, then he gives us another dose to follow it up. A liberal dose of courage.
The very next verses of Psalm 103...

“But the Lord’s mercy is from eternity to eternity
over those who fear him,
and his righteousness is with their children’s children,
with those who keep his covenant,
with those who remember his precepts in order to obey them.
The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his royal power rules over all.

Buildings burn down, people die of ebola and tropical storms, Walmart shootings, synagogue shootings, Isis,
and old age. But the Lord’s mercy doesn’t vanish or fail us. The Lord blankets us with his mercy through all of
this. The Lord does not forget to be merciful to us! No matter how many times we have abused his mercy or
taken advantage of his patience. No matter how often we have sinned knowing full well what we are doing and
all those other minute by minute sins of attitude we don’t even realize. You know what does vanish? You know
what is forgotten? All of our sins from 2019!

His mercy is over those who fear him.  We fear him because we see reality. We see our frailty. And we see God
putting his hands around us through the winter storms and the chaos of this world like a gardener cups their
hands carefully around a tender new plant. He takes delight in us. His mercy will do anything to keep us in his
care. How can we be sure of this going into 2020?

We just saw again this Christmas how our Lord Jesus sprung up like a tender shoot. He grew into full maturity,
full blossom, exactly what God’s will was and is for everyone he has created! To borrow the words of Psalm 1,
Jesus did not walk the way the wicked world walks. He did not stand in line with sinful humanity, going with the
flow. He did not sit in the company of mockers and demean others and spend his whole life griping about
everyone and everything. But his delight was in the law of the Lord. He meditated on his Father’s law day and
night. He truly was like a tree planted by streams of water, which yielded its fruit in season, his leaf did not
wither—whatever he did prospered!

Until he walked the painful road towards God’s judgment on Calvary, the road to the slaughter that we would
have walked. Until he stood in our place right between us and God as if he were the guilty one. Until he sat
under the mockery of the crowds, the soldiers spit and games, the sign over his head, and the thief next to him
on the cross. And ultimately, worst of all, God hid his face from Jesus because he could not stand the sight of
him who took our place. And then he was assigned a grave with the wicked, though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

But the Lord’s mercy is from eternity to eternity! He did what we cannot do with our bodies, our aching joints,
our failing organs and forgetful minds, our things and buildings that rust and break down...he sprung back to
life, better than ever! My friends, he has blanketed you with his mercy as a quilt covers you in the cold. He has
covered you and blanketed you and your children and all those who fear him with his righteousness before
God! You are under God’s mercy, not his judgment in 2020, no matter what happens. You are righteous, not
wicked, in his sight. Fear him. Respect him. Be amazed by his mercy again this new year, just one year in an
eternity of years to come. Meditate on his Word, the Psalms, his mercy, his law and how he would have you
live. In 2020, you live underneath his throne no matter who is elected. In 2020, his power rules over you, no
matter what other powers threaten you.

We appeal to his mercy every day in 2020 as we continue to see humanity and our great works blossom and
then blow right over and be forgotten. Here’s what it could look like to process current events from now on like
Psalm 103 does.

Be courageous in 2020. Get your courage from God, from the prayers in the Psalms he has given you.
A liberal dose of reality. A liberal dose of courage!

We pray the rest of Psalm 103 courageously together.

“Bless the Lord, you his angels,
you strong warriors who obey his word
by listening to what he says.
Bless the Lord, all his armies,
you who minister to him,
you who do whatever pleases him.
Bless the Lord, everything he has made
in all places where he rules.

Bless the Lord, O my soul.”

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The gift of repentance

Repentance is like that pair of socks you open on Christmas. Some of us say, "Ohh! Socks" Some of us think, "Ohh....socks again." Socks are such a practical gift. Our socks get holes in them and get stinky and we need new socks. But maybe some of us wanted something else than socks. (Just for the record, I'll take socks anytime!)

We get worn out in life. We get worn out by frustrations that pile up and don't seem to have solutions.  We lose our cool and get angry and resentful. We get worn out by flaws in our character, "I can't believe I said that again. I can't believe I treated her that way again." Maybe you feel like a pair of worn out socks much of the time.

We need new "socks" every day. We need repentance every day. But maybe we don't want repentance because it can be painful to come face to face with our true selves. Maybe we would rather have God take away all of our problems. But where would we be then? If he did away with all problems, he'd have to do away with us, right?

His gift of repentance is much better than what we may tell God to give us. Repentance is the gift that keeps on giving. Repentance is the blanket that comes wrapped around that baby Jesus in the manger.

"Repentance" has been the topic of a lot of my teaching in December. I recently learned that the early church emphasized this gift of God before the Christmas season as well. When the church began to celebrate Christmas, they used the time leading up to Christmas to intentionally practice repentance. This helped long-time Christians enjoy the gift all over again like a little kid running downstairs Christmas morning. This helped teach new Christians about how the gift of Jesus in the manger and a "new birth" in their baptisms would be followed by a lifetime of enjoying the gift of repentance. 

Emphasizing repentance a few times a year gets us into the habit of "repenting" all year long.

We've all seen the young boy who gets in trouble have a hard time looking their parent in the eye. They may even have a hard time admitting what they did wrong. We can be much like this when God "catches" us in the act of wrongdoing. I'm ashamed to admit that I'm more embarrassed sometimes about losing the respect of other people than I am about offending God. This, too, I repent of.

But the gift of repentance invites us to look God in the eye and see that look of loving concern on his face. The gift of repentance keeps us from pulling our hand away as God reaches for it. The gift of repentance allows us to walk with God as he takes us to the manger to peak over at our sleeping Savior. We then walk with God as he shows us "family videos" of Jesus' life. We see a man much like us who didn't fall into the same traps we do. We see a man who lived life to its full potential. The last video clip we watch is that grown up Jesus breathing his last. 

We gasp, "Why him? That should have been me!" God gives us that look of understanding and then points behind us as we see our long lost brother Jesus coming on the clouds with his welcoming party. "Welcome home!"

Repenting means to turn. Turn from offending this wonderful God. Turn to his Son this Christmas, every morning, noon and night and when he comes again.

Enjoy your gift. Repent with me, my friends. Repent.