Forgiveness

  • Hypocrisy? Re-imagining Church Conflict & Community

    blogpic.ConflictCommunityA sermon preached on Matthew 18:15-20 & Ezekiel 33:7-11 at Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Florissant, MO for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost on September 10, 2017

    It took me a long time to stop being surprised by sin. I didn’t want to see it in those I loved, in myself and certainly not in my church. I was well into adulthood before the sin and brokenness in Christians stopped surprising me. I have served three congregations as a solo pastor and two of them suffered from significant conflict.

    It’s why many people say that they don’t come to church—you’ve probably heard it as often I have in casual conversation in daily life: "the Church is full hypocrites." The Barna Group has done research that bears this out. The #1 reason people don’t go to church is that “it seems irrelevant today, and there are too many moral failings of its leaders—they’re hypocrites.”

    When I hear this, part of me wants to say, “welcome to the club!” Of course, we all our hypocrites including those who cite this as their reason for not joining us. There’s not a human being on the planet—not me, not you, not our Bishop, the Pope nor Mother Theresa, who behaves perfectly according to their faith and principals every moment of every day. The Apostle Paul wasn’t kidding when he said, “all sin and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).

    But when my husband and I worked in new church development, I was saddened by how many people we talked with who had been hurt by someone in the church—stories from all different denominations, pastors and lay people, members and employees. And it wasn’t just that people had been hurt by the church, but that there was no accountability, no process, no repentance, no effort at healing.

    Perhaps if congregations of every stripe read Matthew 18 with more rigor, there would not be so many people who stayed away from churches because of a perceived hypocrisy combined with a lack of effort at repentance and healing.

    In our text today, Jesus certainly is NOT surprised by sin, brokenness, and pain in the community of his followers. In fact, Jesus EXPECTS conflict to happen in any and every gathering of 2 or 3 people, even among his followers. Rather than criticizing us for having conflict, Jesus gives us two things that distinguish the Christian community in dealing with disagreements and pain.

    The first thing Jesus gives us is a process by which to deal with conflict or hurt when it inevitably happens. Some congregations have even put this passage, Matthew 18, in their Constitution:

    The first step is that you speak directly with the person who has hurt you or who’s behavior is harming the community (I would qualify that by saying, "only as long you feel safe doing so"). This also means that it’s not appropriate to go tell everyone else what so-and-so did when you haven’t spoken to that person yourself. If that doesn’t resolve it, then you bring 2-3 people into the conversation. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, then and only then do you go to step three in which you bring the issue into the public before the whole community.

    Matthew reads as if you do bring your issue before the whole community, that they will see things your way. But of course, the whole point of the passage is that we might also be found in the wrong and in need of repentance. As followers of Jesus, all of us then, must be willing and open to have our sisters and brothers in Christ admonish or challenge our behavior, as much as we are called to do this for others.

    When I arrived at one of the congregations I served, there was a very active couple who were relatively new members. I had a great rapport with the husband, but I could tell his wife did not like me or my style, or my "out there” personality (I admit that when I was younger I was much more “out there” than I am now!). After several months, they each wrote a single-spaced one-page letter to the President of the congregation, which he brought before the Council. It detailed all my faults and shortcomings and excoriated just about everything I did in a cruel fashion.

    Were there things that I needed to learn from what they said? Absolutely, but it was hard to hear them because their method was so deeply painful. Of course, I wanted them out of the congregation, and I was surprised to see a couple Council members who were upset over their possible departure. Did they not just read the same letter I did?

    Jesus concludes his conflict resolution process by saying that if the offending person does not listen to the whole community then, we can treat them as “a Gentile and as a tax collector.” Matthew’s community might have breathed a sigh of relief, like I did, after receiving those letters—at least after doing this three-step process Jesus lays out, we can kick the buggers out!

    Well, not so fast. We have to ask the question, “how did Jesus treat Gentiles and Tax collectors?” Well, he hung out with them, he healed them, he called them to repentance, he forgave them, and he kept reaching out to them to bring them into the fold of God’s love!

    But the sinful behaviors needed to be changed, and I think this is the hardest part for us in the church. We jump so quickly to Christianity as some milk toast pablum of “being nice” which sometimes allows harmful and hurtful behaviors to go on unchecked. When Jesus engaged with sinners, he wanted the harmful behavior to stop: Jesus told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin more (John 8:1-11); Zacchaeus, the tax collector paid back those whom he had defrauded 4-fold, and he needed to stop cheating (Luke 19:1-10). Even today’s passage in Ezekielaffirms this need for repentance, “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live.” But once confronted and amended, the person then must be forgiven and welcomed and restored to community.

    A couple of weeks after those awful letters arrived, there was a crisis in the family of the couple who wrote them. Their adult daughter had attempted suicide and she was in the ICU. They had not transferred their membership even though they had stopped coming to church. I was still their pastor. To be honest, I wanted to run screaming in the opposite direction; I knew that I did not have the emotional nor spiritual strength to go to the hospital. I went into the sanctuary and kneeled at the railing. I stayed there and prayed a long time—I told Jesus I didn’t want to go--but Jesus kept me on my knees until I could go to the ICU and make my visit about them and their daughter, and not how deeply they had hurt me.

    When I walked into the ICU, they were as surprised to see me as I was to be there. After a prayer, the mom and I went out to the waiting room and she said to me, “I’m so sorry I wrote that letter, I don’t know why I did it or what got into me.” If Jesus hadn’t make me go, I probably never would have received her apology and the healing that resulted.

    How many times do we forgive and welcome them? Is three tries enough? In verse 21 of Matthew 18, four verses after our passage today, Peter asks this question of Jesus, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as 7 times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but 77 times." Seven is the number of completeness on the Bible, so in other words, your willingness to forgive needs to be limitless—just as God’s love and forgiveness of YOU is limitless.

    And that is the second thing that Jesus gives us when conflict happens—first he gives us a process, then he gives us a promise—the promise of his presence: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” When the woman who wrote the hurtful letter apologized, it was Jesus’ presence with us who helped me say, “I forgive you.”

    Jesus promises us as his followers that he is with us—in the process, in the conflict, in hurt, in pain, in forgiveness, in restoration and in community. When we’re running the business of the church, it’s easy to forget that Jesus is right there in that room, around that table with us. Maybe we should make sure there’s an empty chair at every church meeting as a visual and concrete reminder that Jesus is sitting right there and calling us to love our neighbor as he loves us.

    That couple never did come back to church, but I would call them periodically and see how they and their daughter were. During one phone call, they told me that she was doing great and was engaged to be married.

    I have a colleague who, when she does her new member class at church—she tells them up front:

    We are doing our best to be a loving community for each other. But we’re human and we make mistakes. There will be some point when we hurt or disappoint you—not because we want to, and not because we don’t love you and love Jesus, but because we are human and we’re all sinful. And when that happens, I hope that rather than leaving, you will stick around and talk with me or our church leaders about it. Because being aware of our sins, and asking for and receiving forgiveness is when the really great stuff happens—a deeper sense of belonging, a profound connection to each other, and the power and presence of Jesus Christ is seen and felt and experienced.

    A seminary professor at Luther told another story of one such community. One of his students came from the Mennonite tradition. In his congregation, when someone’s behavior needed to be admonished or corrected, they would not have a one-on-one “confrontation”, but rather, they had a “care-frontation”. The offended person would bring sandwiches and have a “care-frontation” with the person that hurt them—so that the wrong-doer would know that they came in love, with a desire to keep them as a loved and growing soul in their church.

    This is the kind of community to which Jesus Christ calls us. Not perfect and surprised by sin, but human and broken and accountable and forgiving and reconciling—a place where Jesus’ presence is seen and felt and experienced in one another. That’s what people today want in a church—a community of integrity and grace and care, where harmful behavior is not excoriated and beaten with the stick of judgment, nor allowed to flourish unchecked, but rather, one characterized by Matthew 18 and its instructions for “care-frontation”.

    When we show up in the world with these values and behaviors, people out there will know what kind of community we are in here. Our story doesn’t end at hypocrisy—that’s where the really good stuff begins! For amid our human failings, we are a church where the process, the promise, the presence and the power of Jesus Christ is alive and active in every one of us and where two or three are gathered in his name. Amen

    Photo Source: http://www.kcisradio.com/2017/04/05/matthew-1820/

     

  • Stepping Into Your True Self

    blogpic transformationA sermon preached at Lutheran Church of the Atonement, Florissant, MO on June 26, 2016 based on Luke 9:51-60, Galatians 5:1, 13-25

    It sounds like Jesus is having a bad day. First he’s rejected in Samaria, and his disciples want to rain fire on the Samaritans to punish them. Then it sounds like Jesus is taking out his frustrations on the next three people who want to follow him with these three hard sayings. I want to ask, “What gives, Jesus? What’s up with these seemingly snarky comments?”

    Contrary to how it sounds to us, in these three sayings, Jesus invites his disciples and us, into a new kind of freedom. Maybe that’s why they sound harsh. Following Jesus beckons us to allow him to transform us from who we are into who God created us to be. Franciscan priest and author, Richard Rohr, calls this transformation moving from our false self to our True Self and it can be a painful process. Jesus lets us know in no uncertain terms that following him means letting go of what is comfortable, what we think matters, and what’s familiar in order to embrace who we are in the kingdom of God. Each Jesus’ hard sayings, reveal a false way of following Jesus and pushes us toward the freedom of living as our True Self in union with God.

    The first would-be disciple comes up to Jesus with bold assertion, I will follow you wherever you go. Jesus responds with his first challenging statement: Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.

    You’re not going to get rich following Jesus. Social climbers and material girls need not apply. Jesus has no sleep number bed, no fluffy pillow, no down comforter. Jesus might be sleeping in a straw bed in a barn one night and the cold hard ground the next. Jesus doesn’t own anything and doesn’t seek creature comforts.

    This is a hard message for us who live a very comfortable life in a consumer culture that entices us to consume more and more—a bigger house, newer car, the latest styles, the most advanced gadget, the best beer, the latest anti-aging miracle cream. Advertisers prey on our anxieties about having enough, being secure, being loved, and successful—relentlessly encouraging us to find peace, happiness, and comfort through stuff that is More! New! and Better!

    Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head. Jesus invites us to stop looking to material comforts and outward success to assuaghhe our anxiety, and instead, to draw near to Jesus who offers us an inner peace and comfort that no amount of money can buy. In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul says it this way: 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…I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In Chapter 26, the prophet Isaiah says it this way: Thou dost keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee.

    No matter what our physical circumstances, the God-sized hole inside that drives our anxiety can only be filled with presence of Jesus Christ. Jesus invites us to let go of the false self who looks to the material world for peace, and to step into our True Self, who trusts that all I need comes from Jesus Christ. Jesus’ first hard saying, invites us into this deep freedom from anxiety.

    A second would-be follower says to Jesus, Lord, first let me go and bury my father. But Jesus said to him, Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.

    This response from Jesus sounds particularly harsh. Surely the commandment to honor our Father and Mother includes giving them a proper burial. So what is Jesus getting at?

    In ancient Israel, there were strict Temple rules, requirements and rituals about burial. These requirements were so important that those who were tending to burial tasks were relieved of saying their morning and evening prayers in order to make sure their duty to bury was properly fulfilled. Until the proper burial had taken place, the one responsible for burial was considered ritually unclean. They could not enter the Temple; they could not attend worship, or participate in any religious activity.

    If this would-be disciple followed Jesus without attending to these ritual requirements of burial, he would forever be ostracized from the Temple, like a leper or other outcast. They had to get the rituals right—they had to follow the letter of the law. By saying, Let the dead bury their own dead, Jesus dismantles the rigid requirements of the law. Jesus sets us free from having to do everything right and perfectly in order to be loved by God and saved for eternity. This is exactly what Paul is talking about in our text from Galatians. For freedom Christ has set us free! We are freed from trying to be perfect and now the standard is not whether you’re doing everything right, but whether you’re doing everything with love. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, as Paul reiterates Jesus:You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Bury your father out of love and not in order to earn your salvation by following the rules perfectly.

    When I was in seminary, Jesus’ invitation to let go of being perfect was driven home to me in a powerful way. There was an Institute for Spiritual Direction down the street from the seminary, and I thought it would be a good idea to give spiritual direction a try. A Spiritual Director is someone you meet with monthly who helps you pay attention to your relationship with God. So I sat across from a Director-in-training, Christine, for my very first session and she asked me to tell her about myself.

    Well I was a Type A, perfectionist, over-achiever who worked very hard at earning everyone’s love and approval through compulsive accomplishment. I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do—what God, my parents and everybody else expected of me. I followed the rules. After I told her about all of my accomplishments, Christine looked at me and she held up her index finger. Making spokes in the air coming out from her finger, she said, Here’s Linda and her straight A’s, her speech trophies, and her choirs, and her campus ministry work, and her urban plunge, and her awards.

    Then she held up her finger with a quizzical look on her face as if to say, when I take all of those accomplishments away, who is Linda?

    It was like a building imploding from the inside. My whole life collapsed around me, and there I was covered in dust and dirt in the middle of the rubble. I had done everything right, I followed the rules. I had done everything I thought I was supposed to do, and now I’m 23 years old and I have no idea who I am?

    I was so mad and depressed at the same time. Did I transformation can be painful? It was time to let go of my false self–the one who tried to earn love, approval and salvation, and begin to develop my True Self—For freedom, Christ has set us free.

    The first step was to accept my true identity. Who is Linda? I am a Baptized child of God, I am loved and forgiven through Jesus Christ who calls me to love others as God has loved me. And that’s it. That’s all I need; that’s all you need. No list of accomplishments.

    Jesus says, Let the dead bury their own dead and go proclaim the kingdom of God. Jesus invites us to let go of our false self who earns love and salvation and to step into our True Self whose identity is grounded in God’s love in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ second hard saying, invites us into freedom from perfectionism and the freedom to love as Christ loves us.

    A third would-be disciple approaches and says, I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home. Jesus said to him, No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

    We have all heard the phrase, first made by philosopher George Santayana, Those who cannot remember the past are condemned …to repeat it. And, Hindsight is 20/20. We all understand the importance of learning from the past, so what is Jesus getting at?

    This time Jesus uses a farming metaphor: A plow in Jesus’ time was most likely made of a single blade with 2 handles for the farmer to hold. The blade was strapped to mule or ox and with the 2 handles, the farmer would both steer the animal and cut the furrow. In order to cut a straight furrow, the farmer had to keep her eyes straight ahead, exactly on the edge of the field where she wanted to end up. The second the farmer looks back, looks away, or does not have her undivided attention on her destination across the field, the animal waivers and walks whichever way she looks and the farmer ends up with a wavy, crooked furrow.

    Wavy, crooked furrows make for bad farming and a poor harvest: patches of land will go unused, watering is more difficult, and your harvest will not be as abundant. But when you have straight furrows, everything else that you do becomes easier—watering, irrigation, drainage, and harvesting are all much easier, plus you have used your land most efficiently.

    So the most successful farmer always keeps his eyes on the future—his eyes are always locked on his destination on edge of the field he’s plowing—and that future arrival point, is what determines his plowing in the present moment—not the past, not the last harvest, not what happened ten years ago, and not whether he feels worthy to be a farmer.

    Jesus knows that the problem of living with one eye looking back, is that we use the past to limit us and close down possibilities in the present and future. Haven’t we all created crooked wavy paths out of our life by keeping one eye looking backwards? If only I hadn’t done that. Why did she say that to me? What are they going to think of me now? If only I had made a different choice, if, if, if.

    We rehearse past events, nurse resentments, and let guilt and shame fester. We all have those painful experiences in life—our first broken heart or a time where we put ourselves out there either in a relationship or a project at work and we felt shut-down or rejected. We react by making a decision internally that affects our future: I’ll never put myself out there again, or we create a new negative belief about ourselves—I don’t deserve to be loved,or I’m just not worthy of a good job,or I don’t deserve happiness, or whatever story you’ve told yourself that you’re now living inside of. We live as if the past determines the future, and off we go with a crooked furrow that grows from a crooked and limited self-understanding.

    Jesus’ third hard saying invites us to be defined not by our past, but by our future—a future that is already determined by Jesus, a future that is secured by Jesus’ death, and defined by Jesus’ resurrection. We already know the other side of the field—the other side of the field is life eternal with God through Jesus Christ! It doesn’t get better than that!

    So in the kingdom, we don’t live from the past forward, but rather, like someone holding a plow, we live from the future backward to the present. We keep our eyes on the kingdom of our risen Lord and we plow a straight path in our life, trusting that in his death and resurrection, all of our past with its pain and disappointment is already redeemed! Then our straight furrow produces a rich harvest of the fruits of the Spirit that Paul identifies in Galatians: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

    Jesus says, No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.

    Jesus invites us let go of the false self that clings to past failures and hurts, and to step into our True Self who lives from God’s promised future. Jesus’ third hard saying, invites us into freedom from the past and to live right now, in the heavenly kingdom that has already been won for us in Christ Jesus.

    Within these hard sayings, Jesus invites us to a spiritual freedom greater than we had imagined. Jesus invites us to live in freedom from anxiety, freedom from perfectionism, and freedom from the past.

    Let the love and power of the risen Lord continue to transform you into your True-Self; your True-Self who completely trusts in God as the source of all you need, the author of who you are, the redeemer of your past, and the future toward which you are living.

  • Weeds & Wheat, Brokenness & Freedom

    19748394 10213643478988452 265816475924292413 nA sermon preached at Atonement Lutheran Church, Florissant, MO on July 23, 2017 on Matthew 13:24-30, 36-40; Romans 8:12-25

    Those of you on Facebook might have seen that I recently spent 3 weeks in Sweden, Norway and France. For the Scandinavian portion of our trip, we traveled with one of my sisters, Pam, my dad, and his girlfriend, Helen along with our daughter, Leah and her best friend, Morgan. So we were a group of 7 traveling together for 2 weeks with the goal of not only sightseeing, but meeting some of my parent’s cousins whom my dad had met on previous trips.

    In many ways, it was the trip of the lifetime and things went as well they possibly could as a logistically complicated trip with 7 people who had never traveled together. We had fun, saw incredible beauty, and had the loveliest and most meaningful time with cousins in both Sweden and Norway. We had 2 nights left on the Scandinavian portion of our trip after which Pam, Dad and Helen would head home, and my husband, Dan, Leah, Morgan and I were going on to Paris for a family wedding on Dan’s side.

    I was tired, but feeling silly and was goofing around and I said something that Dan found hurtful. I didn’t even know I had hurt him, until he told me privately later. I didn’t mean to hurt him, I wasn’t mad, I didn’t have any underlying, unresolved issues; on the contrary, I felt so blessed and grateful, like one of the luckiest people in the world to have had these experiences.

    But there it was: the weed of sin, brokenness, and my own capacity to hurt someone I love the most—coming up, sprouting, and bearing painful, rotten fruit.

    “Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest, for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them” --meaning, you would uproot the wheat before it has a chance to bear good fruit. The parable continues, “at the harvest time I will tell the reapers, ‘Collect the weeds first and bind them in the bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.'”

    This parable of the wheat and the weeds, like the parable of the sheep and goats, are parables of judgment which only appear in the Gospel of Matthew. The Christians to whom Matthew writes in the late first century, are less concerned about their own sin, as they are about those who are not true believers, who do not believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah. Matthew’s audience is also struggling against the power and oppression of the Roman empire—the Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed, and their safety, livelihood and faith were all threatened. They wanted God’s judgement on these evildoers in their community and in these larger structures of society.

    We can understand why people who are victims of oppression, violence, war, abuse, or terror of any kind, want the evil that caused their pain, eradicated. This is as true today as it was in the first century. There is sin in the structures, institutions and governments that exist in this country and around the world.

    We’d like to think that it’s as simple as “some people are good and some people are bad,” allowing us, with Matthew’s community, to suppose Jesus’ harsh words in this passage apply to the evil and sin of those people over there, and in those structures, religions or countries over there. It would be nice if this were true—we wouldn’t have to look at ourselves.

    In verse 41, however, Jesus says, “The Son of Man will send his angels and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers.”

    So it’s—not just all those other evildoers—those people and those oppressive systems over there —but all causes of sin, including in here,in our own hearts. Jesus doesn’t let us point the finger at others’ so easily.

    The truth is, that some of those causes of sin are in everyone, some of those causes of sin are in me and in you—our selfishness, envy, addictive behaviors, fear, and capacity to cause pain (what Paul calls living according the flesh) even when we don’t mean to. We cannot escape our brokenness and sin, as much as we would rather spend our time and energy pointing out other evildoers and blaming them.

    In our passage from Romans, Paul goes as far to say that the whole creation itself is broken from sin and groans with us to be restored from decay and death. But the decay and death, the tsunami and the earthquake, the hurricane and the drought, do not prevent us from beholding the majesty of Norwegian fjord or the Rocky Mountains, the hope of a new sprout in spring, the awe of a breath-taking sunset, the peace in a family of deer in the twilight, or the sacredness in the face of a newborn.

    Reformer Martin Luther explained this experience of the wheat and weeds, the sacred and sinful, the beautiful and the broken, the love and the pain, indeed, the very goodness of God existing side by side with evil, in his teaching that we are, simul justus et peccator: we are at the same time, sinner and saint. We are justified and made righteous through Christ on the cross AND we live in a fallen state. We cannot escape sin until the Son of Man returns and brings the kingdom and the whole creation to fulfillment.

    Paul describes this eloquently in Romans chapter 7 when he says, "I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me."

    And so out come hurtful words from me, even while I am feeling embraced by God and loved by family.

    You may have heard of the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, who is an author and an ELCA pastor serving in Denver, CO. She’s a recovering drug addict with tattoos of the church calendar up both arms, and she has a growing and unique ministry to people in recovery from addiction and others, who need to hear the Gospel of grace. Several years ago, I heard her speak at one of our National Youth Gatherings, and she told the story of learning from her now-husband, (also a Lutheran pastor) about Luther’s understanding of Simul Justus et Peccator. We are at the same time, justified by Christ and a sinner.

    I’ll never forget her saying that it was the first time somebody explained to her why she had this great capacity to hurt and damage others, AND also had such a great capacity to love and to do good. The truth that God, in Jesus Christ, forgave her sins and worked through her to bring love, forgiveness and joy to others, EVEN WHILE she would always struggle with brokenness and the effects of addiction, led her on a journey of faith and a call to ordained ministry. THe congregation she started in Denver is in fact called "House for All Sinners and Saints."

    After he describes our inner struggle between good and evil, Paul says, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death."

    On our trip when Dan told me I’d hurt his feelings, I apologized profusely and felt terrible. The next day, I was still subdued and as we walked to our first destination, he came up and held my hand. He forgave me and we moved forward, enjoying the rest of our trip, which was as wonderful as the first two weeks.

    Saturday morning, when I asked Dan permission to share this story of hurting his feelings on our trip, he asked, “what are you talking about?” He didn’t even remember it. That’s what Paul means when he says that Jesus sets us free.

    Forgiveness sets us free—free to continue to love and serve! Forgiveness waters and feeds the good seed that God has planted in us, helping us to bear the life-giving fruit of forgiveness, love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control.

    These fruits of the Spirit enable us to participate with the good wheat in others, in our society and world, all the while trusting that Jesus will return. At the end of the age, the Son of Man will defeat all causes of sin in us and the whole universe, including death itself, restoring us, with all of creation, back to God.

    Through Christ, we all will return to God, the very source of love and all that is good—who doesn’t even remember our sin—and instead, makes us shine like the sun!

    Picture: Dan and me at the top of the Arc d' Triomphe in Paris with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

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