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The tenth commandment is that you shall not covet. (Exodus 20:17) In Proverbs 23:17-18, the term used is envy. They mean the same thing. Don’t be jealous of what your neighbour has that you don’t. I’ve been guilty of this lately. I don’t envy any particular neighbour, or desire anything that was gained through inappropriate means as Proverbs 23:17 suggests, but I have certainly desired to have things be different than they are. I and my family have been going through a lot of strife lately, from car accidents that resulted in injury, unceasing pain and the hassle of replacing a vehicle with insufficient funds to family members with brain cancer and kidney transplant rejection and friends who are suffering from cancer or have lost loved ones. Everything just seems to be so hard lately, and I envy those who appear to have things more under control than I do. Of course, that is just my perception and possibly an illusion. I guess we all have our struggles.

The point of these two verses in Proverbs seems to be to trust in the Lord. Oswald Chambers wrote, “Faith is deliberate confidence in the character of God whose ways you may not understand at the time.” We must trust God to be God and realize that although we don’t see the value in whatever hardship we’re enduring, He does. He knows the plans He has for you, and they are good plans. (Jeremiah 29:11)

I think the key is to control your thoughts. (Romans 12:2, Colossians 3:2, Philippians 4:8) Instead of focusing on how someone else is better off than you are, focus on what you can be thankful for. Focus on the hope you have for your future, and know that when we get to eternity in heaven there will be no more pain, no more sorrow and no more strife. (Revelation 21:4) We also need to focus on the character and promises of God. We know that He is a good and loving Father (Ephesians 2:4) who desires to give good gifts to His children. (Matthew 7:11) We know that even though all things are not good, all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) There is hope not only for peace and joy in eternity, but also for things to be better on the other side of this trying time.

I was having a conversation with my husband the other day, and I said, “The opposite of love isn’t hate; it is the absence of love. It is indifference.” He pondered that for a moment, and then did what every good techie does: he googled it. It turns out that, even though I was processing that thought for the first time, others had said it before, most famously holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel.

So, how do we know whether we are truly being loving or not? It’s not about feelings; it’s about conscious decisions. It is a choice. I John 5:2-4 tells us that we know we are loving others when we love God and keep His commandments. His commandments as summarized by Jesus are to love God and love others. (Matthew 22:37-40) Jesus also said that obeying his commandments is a natural progression of love for Him. (John 14:15) Later in the Gospel of John we read that if we obey Christ’s commandments, we will remain in Him just as He has obeyed His Father’s commandments and remains in His Father. (John 15:10) One assists the other: If we love God we will obey His commandments, and if we obey His commandments His love will remain in us.

These days, we use the term “love” quite loosely. I love chocolate. I love blue skies. I love my husband. These are examples that represent emotions and expressions of enjoyment. The kind of love discussed in these verses is unconditional, from the Greek word agape. A good summary of what that means and how it can be demonstrated practically is found in The Love Chapter (I Corinthians 13, particularly I Corinthians 13:4-7 ), but in general it means that we choose to love. Our love is not based on what we can get out of it, or even what we can give (and then feel good about). It is about loving others because God commands it, whether we particularly like them or not. That is something that is not easily done even if we really want to. It is only possible if we let the love of our Heavenly Father flow through us.

John 3:16 is probably the best known verse in the Bible.  Lots of children have memorized it in Sunday School, perhaps because it sums up the whole gospel so succinctly.

God loved the world so much that in order to redeem the world, He allowed His only son to die as a sacrifice for us.  That kind of love is hard to fathom.  And it was for the whole world.  When Jesus spoke these words, the people of the time thought that the Messiah was coming only for the Jewish people, and that the Gentiles would be condemned.  They expected judgement, but John 3:17 clarifies for us that Jesus did not come to condemn us, but to save us. All we have to do is believe in Him.  It is our choice.  The creator of the universe could choose to make us do whatever He wants us to, but He doesn’t.  He loves us so much that He lets us do whatever we want.  When we do choose to believe in Him though, we are rewarded with eternal life.  The Greek word used here for life represents not only life after death, but life here and now, and it represents the quality of life as much as the quantity—the more abundant life that John 10:10 describes.

I think this sounds like a great offer.  There is no need to perish.  The gift of life has been given; all we need to do is accept.  Why is it that there are people who don’t want to accept?  Fear, maybe?  Fear of losing control of their own lives?  Ironic when you think about it because God has given us so much freedom.  (II Corinthians 3:17, Galatians 5:13-14)

I chose this verse for today because I think of it as a Valentine verse.  I will share the Valentine with you here just in case you have never received it in an e-mail.  Happy Valentines Day everyone!

I’m a bit of an idealist, so I don’t like it when things go wrong, especially when bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it.  It’s one thing to deal with the consequences when you’ve made a mistake, but if you didn’t do anything wrong, it just seems so unfair.  Either way though, it is good to be able to call on God to rescue you.

Do you ever wonder if God really hears you when you pray?  Sometimes we feel like the pain, frustration and struggles will go on forever.  He says that He has a good plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11), but do you ever want to negotiate with Him?  Tell Him your side of the story?  Give Him your ideas for the plan?  I think that the Psalmist David must have felt that way when he wrote Psalm 13.  In the first two verses he asked “How long?” four times.  He felt ignored, anxious and threatened by his enemy.  We don’t know for sure, but he may have been running for his life at this point.  David didn’t end his psalm the same way he started it though.  He moved from complaint (Psalm 13:1-2) to prayer (Psalm 13:3-4) to praise (Psalm 13:5-6).

Philippians 4:6 tells us not to be anxious about anything, but with thankful hearts to present all of our requests to God.  This is what David did.  He asked the Lord to answer him, to revive him, and to save him, not only so that he would be saved, but so would the reputation of God’s name.

What caused David to turn from despair to praise?  Hope in God’s unfailing love and mercy.  David had faith that God was still God and would keep His covenant with him.  We must do the same when we face trials that have gone on so long that we think they will go on forever.  When we have lost our joy and our hope, we must cling to our faith.  We must remember that God is God and more importantly that we are not.  Even when we don’t understand what He is doing, we must believe that He does.  We know that He understands every trial that we go through (Hebrews 4:14-16), that He will not give us more trials than we are able to bear (I Corinthians 10:13) and that He longs to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11).  Think back on how God has brought you through trials before.  He will again.

I think that John 12:8 is sometimes misinterpreted and used as an excuse not to help the poor.  This, however, is not in keeping with the rest of scripture.  John 12:1-7 tells the story of Mary pouring very expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet.  Judas who would later betray Jesus asked why this perfume wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor.  Verse 8 is Jesus’ answer to Judas:  You will always have the poor; you won’t always have Me.  Jesus would have seen Judas’ insincerity and ulterior motive, just as John evidently did.  His response needs to be taken in light of the context.  We know that Jesus cared about the poor.  His answer to a young man who wanted to know what more he could do besides keeping all the commandments was to give to the poor.  (Matthew 19:21)

Was this use of perfume a waste as Judas suggested?  Again, Jesus could see Mary’s heart.  He knew that she was honouring Him by anointing Him in this way.  She did what she knew how to do.  She knew that He would not be with them much longer so she gave what she had of value and worshipped her Lord with it.   Worshipping the Lord and giving to the poor are not mutually exclusive; we should do both. (Luke 10:27)

I heard an interview recently with Arloa Sutter, Executive Director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries www.breakthrough.org and author of The Invisible. She believes that Jesus may have been quoting from Deuteronomy 15.  In Deuteronomy 15:4-5, we read that the Lord would bless the people if they would only obey His commandments—the ones referred to in Deuteronomy 15:1-3 regarding the cancellation of debts every seven years.  In Deuteronomy 15:11 the Israelites were commanded to make sure that they opened their hand to the poor and needy in the land.  We must do the same, but not grudgingly, and not only in view of the blessing we will receive, for the Lord loves a cheerful giver.  (II Corinthians 9:7)

Did Jesus mean to say that we don’t need to help the poor?  Certainly not.  Arloa Sutter said, “Jesus might be saying love them extravagantly.  I’m not going to always be here, but the poor you’ll always have.  So love them, because when you love them you’re loving me, and do it with extravagance.  Don’t hold back.”  Now that Jesus is not on Earth in the flesh, the way we honour Him includes what we do for others.  Whatever you do for the least of these, He said, you do for me.  (Matthew 25:34-40)

Matthew 7:1-5 is the passage, probably familiar to many, that tells us not to judge lest we be judged.  Whatever standard we use to judge others will be used to judge us as well.  Christ gives the example of trying to remove a speck of dust from your brother’s eye while you have a plank in your own.  Then we get to verse 6 which talks about dogs and pigs.  In Jesus’ time, both of these were considered unclean and undesirable.

Many commentaries will tell you that Matthew 7:6 means that we should not present the gospel to anyone who refuses to listen.  This view has support from other passages in the Bible, such as Proverbs 23:9 which tells us not to bother trying to talk sense to fools, and Matthew 10:14 which advised the disciples to shake the dust from their feet when they left a town where they weren’t welcome.  When a Canaanite woman asked Jesus to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28), Jesus told her that it was not right to throw the children’s bread to the dogs.

That is not to say that we should avoid talking to anyone who doesn’t believe as we do, or who questions what we believe, for Christ certainly did not set that example.  The Bereans were commended for their questioning (Acts 17:10-11), because it showed that they were eager to understand.

Other commentaries suggest that this verse continues the teaching on judgement.  Judgement in the first five verses of the chapter is about criticism or condemnation, something that we have no authority to do.  That is God’s job.  The judgement referred to in verse six is equivalent to discernment.  We must not badger or enrage someone who has heard what we have to say but refuses to agree with us, and it requires discernment to determine whether people fit into that category or are questioners like the Bereans.

My pastor has a different point of view.  He would explain to you that if you have withheld food from animals, even domesticated ones, long enough, they will turn on you.  If you throw pearls to hungry pigs, even though they are seen as valuable to you, they would be of no use to the pigs.  Therefore, my pastor would argue, you need to provide unbelievers with that which is helpful to them.  Consider what the recipient needs rather than what makes you look noble.  Getting back to the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:27-28, we see that she was commended for her faith when she answered Jesus saying that even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that fall from the table.

So what are we to do?  Exercise discernment, and if you need some, ask God for it.  (James 1:5)  Be willing to speak to anyone until you know that they don’t want to have anything to do with you.  Try to be helpful to those you encounter.  Don’t spout doctrine in “Christianese”, but answer their questions as clearly and honestly as you can.

Second chances.  Mulligans.  Do-overs.  Don’t we all appreciate another opportunity to get things right?  When Adam bit into that apple, and sin entered the world, we were sentenced to live in a world outside of God’s favour. (Genesis 3:17-19)  Thankfully through Christ we have a second chance. (John 3:16)

II Corinthians 5:16-17 tells us that when we accept Christ we become a new creation.  That doesn’t mean that we suddenly become perfect; it means that we have a new position as children of God.  We still have to work on all the old issues in our lives, but God is a god of second chances.  He forgives us for the things that we haven’t got right yet, and He is working on us, helping us to become more like Christ.

Verse 17 is a general view of what verse 16 tells us more specifically.  Just as we have become a new creation, when we are in Christ we no longer see people according to their human qualities—race, gender, nationality, etc.  Now we see them as we are, a person for whom Christ gave His life.  God gives us the grace to see that person with spiritual eyes.

Before Paul met Christ (and his name was still Saul), he judged Christ on what he had heard about Him.  He saw Christ as a contradiction of all the religious laws that he followed so strictly.  Then Paul met Christ on the road to Damascus, (Acts 9:1-22) and his views changed.  He began to see Christ, and subsequently humans, whether Jews or Gentiles, differently.

The world judges you based on your past.  God judges you based on your future.  The world judges you based on what you have done.  God judges you based on what you can, and what He knows you will, become.  Let’s do our best to see others through God’s eyes.

Do you believe in miracles?  Do you think that Christ still performs miracles today?  In Matthew 8-9, we read the accounts of several of Christ’s miracles.  Matthew 9:23-26 tells us of the raising of the synagogue ruler’s daughter.

When Jesus arrived at the ruler’s house, there were already mourners wailing and lamenting.  It was customary to hire mourners for this purpose to help express the grief of the family.  The fact that they were already there meant that they had no doubt that the girl was dead.  When Jesus said that she was only sleeping, they mocked Him.  These people knew Christ, knew His character and had already witnessed other miracles He had done.  Surely, if He said that the child was asleep, they should consider it a possibility.  Yet, they were so certain of her death, they thought His statement was ridiculous.  Christ, however, had a different perspective on the matter.  He knew that He was going to wake the girl up.

Before performing this miracle, Christ sent all the mourners and onlookers away.  Only her parents, and a few disciples remained with Him to witness her resurrection.  This meant that believing that the girl was raised from death would become a matter of faith for everyone who did not witness it, and perhaps even for those who did.  Had she really been just sleeping?

I don’t know about you, but I like to have things explained and know the details of how things work.  In this case, like many others, Christ didn’t allow the details to all be known.  He left some things a mystery.  That is still often the case today.  Either we can’t understand the explanation, or there is some possible explanation other than a miracle from God.  Those who choose not to believe in God, can find another way to rationalize what has happened, but those who do believe must often exercise their faith to do so.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.”  (John 20:29)

Since Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), we know that He can still perform miracles.  He is able to meet every need, but He cares more about your salvation than your comfort.  He wants you to rely on Him.  (Matthew 11:28)  Seek Him first, and He will take care of the rest.  (Matthew 6:33)

Sometimes things don’t go according to plan.  For that matter, it might be more accurate to say that usually things don’t go according to plan.  Our plans anyway.  That was certainly the case for Joseph, whose story is told in Genesis 37-50.  Let me give you the condensed version in case you are not familiar with the story.

Joseph was his father Jacob’s favourite son which made his brothers jealous.  When he was a teenager Joseph had a dream that was interpreted to mean that one day his brothers would bow down to him.  This didn’t endear him to his brothers who conspired to kill him.  One brother opposed the killing, but was willing to leave him stranded in a well, with the intention of coming back to rescue him later.  In the meantime the other brothers came up with a different plan—to sell him as a slave.  Joseph was taken to Egypt where he worked for Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.  Potiphar’s wife took a liking to Joseph and made a pass at him.  When Joseph refused her, she accused him of trying to rape her.  Joseph was thrown into prison where some time later he interpreted the dreams of two other prisoners.  Eventually one of them remembered him to Pharaoh, when Pharaoh needed a dream interpreted.  The interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream led to Joseph being put in charge of storing food for the famine that was to come, which saved the lives of many people including Joseph’s brothers who in desperation came to Egypt in search of food.  Joseph chose to forgive his brothers, but when their father died the brothers feared that Joseph would seek revenge.  Joseph’s answer to them is Genesis 50:20:  What you meant for evil, God meant for good.

God’s plans are not thwarted by the deeds of humans.  Because our perspective is so limited, it is difficult for us to really understand how things can possibly work out for good when we are in the midst of terrible situations.  I’m sure there must have been times when Joseph wondered why all these horrible things were happening to him, but he trusted God.  That is significant in itself since Joseph didn’t have the benefit of written scripture to encourage him.  Yet he must have had a good relationship with God, because scripture now tells us that the Lord was with Joseph, and Joseph continued to do the right things despite being physically harmed, sold into slavery and falsely accused and imprisoned.

Thankfully we get to see the end of Joseph’s story, and see that things worked out for the best.  Joseph saved not only his own family members, but also many Egyptians and whatever foreigners came to Egypt in search of food.  And because the Israelites were saved in Egypt, they went on to become a great nation.  Through the Israelites, Jesus came into the world, and brought salvation for all.  So Joseph saved more lives than he could have at that time imagined.  Joseph surely knew the promise that God had made to Abraham (Genesis 15:13-16), and he trusted God to fulfill it.

You may be in a struggle right now that you can’t see the end of.  You don’t know what will come of it, but God does.  He already knows what the ending will be.  I hope that you are able to look back at previous struggles and see how they worked out, and maybe that will give you some encouragement to keep going, and to keep doing what is right in God’s eyes.  God has a good plan for your life.  (Jeremiah 29:11)  Trust Him to fulfill it.

Do you ever feel like you want to just quit?  I do.  For example, right now it is the middle of winter which means cold, grey days and long, dark nights.  I am recovering from not one, but two car accidents within the last five weeks.  The second didn’t cause more injury, but it did create more hassle in car repairs and insurance paperwork.  The injury from the first accident, however, is still causing pain and severe headaches.  I have much I want to do, but little strength.  Others I love are suffering even more.  My aunt has a recently diagnosed inoperable brain tumour.  My sister-in-law is in the hospital being injected with harsh anti-rejection medications to try to save her second transplanted kidney.   Friends are dealing with work and family issues.  Sometimes I wonder, can we not just get a break?  Then I remember Galatians 6:9 and that we will be rewarded for our perseverance.

Galatians 6:7-8 tells us that we will reap what we sow.  Good seeds will produce a good harvest; bad seeds will produce a bad harvest.  Verse 9 tells us that we need to continue to sow those good seeds.  We need to be kind and helpful to others, and not give up.  Continuing to do good does not mean that we need to do everything.  We need to prioritize the things that consume our time and energy, but we also need to be sure that it isn’t all focused on ourselves.

Growing weary is not the same as growing tired.  Tired is a physical state that we encounter when we try to fit too much into our lives at the expense of rest.  Weary is an attitude of discouragement—we feel like it is just not worth the trouble.  Galatians 6:9 tells us that it is worth the trouble.  Some rewards will come sooner and some will come later, but this verse promises us that they will come.  The agricultural analogy is a good one.  Not all crops progress from seed to harvest in the same amount of time—some are ready in months while others take years.  It is possible that we will see the rewards for some of our good deeds soon, and it is possible that we won’t see others until eternity, but we are promised that we will see them, and when they come we will realize that God’s timing is perfect.  Take heart!  Don’t give up!