How We Know If We Love God

In a recent conversation, I was asked, "How would you measure whether someone is growing in the Lord?"

Religion would say that we measure it by church attendance, financial giving, bible study, and prayer.  Those might provide us with concrete methods of measurement, but if we use them as our criteria, even the Pharisees would have a dynamic spiritual life.  We're called to something much more significant than just a few religious rituals.

The true rule of measurement should be Jesus' teachings.  To him, the greatest commandments were summed up in two:  Love of God and love of neighbors.  Loving God is pretty intangible; it's not something we can see.  We can't measure it by how often, loud, or passionately someone sings songs of praise.  We can't measure it by how frequently someone attends services at a church.  My knowledge of Scripture is no evidence of my love for God.  All of the typical measurements that we like to fall back on do not really tell us if we are growing spiritually.

The Apostle John explained how we love God.  He said that if we claim to love God but do not love the people around us, then we are lying (1 John 4:19-21).  Our love of God is shown in only one legitimate way, and that is by loving people.  If our love for our neighbors does not increase, then we are not loving God.

Unfortunately, we often make the mistake in thinking that loving people is telling them the truth.  That's not the case.  We need to be prepared to let them know the truth when they ask about our love, but we love whether or not we get an opportunity to preach the message with words. 

Our vision at Riverside is to be a real, authentic community in Christ, have a passion for Jesus and His work, and to love people around us in tangible ways. It is our hope that through doing this, people’s lives will be transformed and God will add to our number.  It culminates in us loving God.  If our life together and our passion for Jesus do not lead to us loving people, then all of the religion is meaningless.

The measurement of spiritual growth is not measured in how excited we are, in how knowledgeable we are, in how devoted we are, or any other religious criteria; it's measured in whether our love for others is increasing.   Are we spending more time now loving our neighbors, co-workers, and friends?  Are we looking for opportunities to share God's love by helping meet people's physical needs throughout the day?  Are we encouraging others?  Those are the true measurements of spiritual growth.

An Alternative to Traditional War and Soldiers - Voluntary Military Service and Just War

If a nation believes the wars they fight are just, then that nation should allow its soldiers to decide whether to fight in specific wars.  Voluntary Military Service would allow for individuals to decide whether the war they are fighting in is just or not.

With a truly just cause, the soldiers would be more than willing to volunteer and fight. If the war is not just, then the lack of volunteering soldiers would reveal that the war is not one worth fighting. Voluntary Military Service would be a preventative measure from fighting too many wars while at the same time insuring the effectiveness of the military in fighting the wars it does fight.

From a purely military perspective, morale would be much greater if a soldier could make the conscientious decision that he believes the war he is to risk his life in is worth fighting.

From a social perspective, the citizens of the United States would know for a fact that the soldiers were not giving their lives away for something they did not believe in.

From a political perspective, Voluntary Military Service would have a taming effect on the nation, forcing it to be more particular in where and how often military incursions are undertaken. No longer would leaders be able to send people to war without making a solid and convincing case for that war.  But when the nation would go to war, the politicians would know that the people are behind it.

From a religious perspective, this would allow people to join the military that believe in the "just war" theory. Right now, proponents of "just war" should not in good conscience enlist in the military.  A soldier has to subject their opinion on whether a war is just or not to the heads of the State. When they join the military, in effect, they are making a permanent surrender of their religious conviction to the decision of the leaders of that nation. For an enlisted soldier, it does not matter if a war is just or not; it matters whether they have been given a command or not.  Religious beliefs should not be subjected to the state.

The very idea of "just war" means that in every war there is at least one side that is unjust.  The logical conclusion is that at least one side should have people conscientiously opposed to that war.  It is very convenient, although intellectually dishonest, to say that our side would always be on the just side in a war. 

For Voluntary Military Service to be implemented, transparency of information from the top of the executive branch all the way to the soldiers in the barracks would need to occur.  Information on why a war should be fought could not be withheld if the government needed to convince its citizens that they should enlist and fight in a war.  This would not give the soldier freedom to disobey orders once he has enlisted in a specific war; what it does is allow the soldier the option of deciding whether to participate in a war that they felt is just.

The benefits of allowing soldiers to decide whether to fight in a war outweighs the detriments to such an unorthodox process. Just wars would be decided based upon the conscience of the people rather than the conscience of a select few. The bar for the case for war would be raised. The responsibility for war would be on the shoulders of those actually fighting it. All soldiers would be allowed to participate with a self-perceived clean conscience. There is nothing to fear in allowing soldiers to decide whether they will or will not fight in a war if the war is just.  Unless we fear not fighting in wars all of the time.

Learning to Live Again - The Life of the Church in a Post-State Era

Throughout much of the history of the Church, the Church has just followed society hook, line and sinker.  From the time of Jesus until 313 AD the Church had an on and off again relationship with the State.  On again meaning that the State was persecuting and killing them; off again, meaning that the State would leave them alone despite Christianity still being illegal.  In 313, that all changed.  Constantine issued the edict of Milan making it legal to be a Christian.  Throughout the 4th century laws were passed until Christianity became the State religion and all other religions were made illegal, and with that, a dark era for the Church was inaugurated.  No longer was the Church viewed by Christians as a kingdom without borders, colonies of God’s kingdom here on earth, people not of this world; Christians began to confuse the State with God’s kingdom, and the State and the Church started dating while Christ waited for His Bride to come back around.  It wasn’t until recently, that this hold of the State on the Church and the lust of the Church to control the State have waned.

Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony
Stanley Hauerwas shares this watershed moment by telling a story of his childhood in Greenville, South Carolina.  On one Sunday night in the summer of 1963, “in defiance of the state’s time-honored blue laws, the Fox Theater opened on Sunday.  Seven of us—regular attenders of the Methodist Youth Fellowship at Buncombe Street Church—made a pact to enter the front door of the church, be seen, then quietly slip out the back door and join John Wayne at the Fox…On that night, Greenville, South Carolina—the last pocket of resistance to secularity in the Western world—served notice that it would no longer be a prop for the church.  There would be no more free passes for  the church, no more free rides.  The Fox Theater went head to head with the church over who would provide the world view for the young.  That night in 1963, the Fox Theater won the opening skirmish.” (Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon, 15-16).  And the church has been reeling ever since.  Now, we are beginning to find our legs.  We are not in cahoots with the State any more.  The seductive siren call of power, law, and control never fit well with the call of Christ to be a servant one to another, to love our enemies, and to go the extra mile.  Jesus never meant for His Church to wield to power of the State.

Instead of being the bride of Christ throughout the centuries, the Church has been dating Themis, the goddess of Law.  And breaking up was tough.  During the fifteen century affair, the Church forgot its purpose and how to function although their have been faithful remnants and glimmers of God's Kingdom that we can look to in relearning our role as the Bride of Christ.  Since breaking up with Themis the Church has gone through a deep depression, tried dating around, but now we’re finally getting back to Jesus.  And dating Jesus doesn’t look like the way the Church has been since the time of Constantine, but it’s the way that Jesus has designed us to be.  These are good times to be following Jesus.

Pope John Paul II on What is Art

Each authentic work of art interprets the reality beyond sensory perception.  It is born of silence, admiration, or the protest of an honest heart.  It tries to bring closer the mystery of reality.  So what constitutes the essence of art is found deep within each person.  It is there where the aspiration to give meaning to one's life is accompanied by the fleeting sense of beauty and the mysterious union of things.  Authentic and humble artists are perfectly well aware, no matter what kind of beauty characterizes their handiwork, that their paintings, sculptures, or creations are nothing else but the reflection of God's Beauty.  No matter how strong the charm of their music and words, they know that their works are only a distant echo of God's Word.

From Pope John Paul II at the Mass for Artists in Brussels, May 20, 1985.

Lyla, Temporary Tattoos, and Community

Last Saturday, a group of friends went to a coffee house to hear Walt Schilb's band Revelation.  It was an enjoyable time hanging out with friends, drinking decaf coffee, and listening to live music.  God is good.

Lyla was the life of the party.  She would dance with random people, clap to the beat, and smile all the time.  And her joy was contagious, except for those few in the crowd who dislike children, but those people are unhappy anyway. 

There was one guy sitting nearby who had arms full of tattoos.  Lyla saw his tattoos and decided to walk up to him and show her nice temporary tattoo.  In her two-year-old mind, they shared a love for tattoos.  A kid, through their joy and innocence, can bring everyone closer together.

In my recent studies on finding and fostering community, I ran across a quote in The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community that made me think of Lyla on Saturday night:
Children, I suspect, are instinctively attuned to the climate of human relations around them and experience an inner joy and serenity, a feeling that all is well when the adults in their lives relax and laugh in one another's company.
May we learn to live in community like our children.

Taxation is Stealing, The Purpose of Government Spending and Taxes

Drudge's headline reads, "ROB THY NEIGHBOR: HALF OF HOUSEHOLDS PAY NO FED INCOME TAX."  The real article is more even keeled:  Nearly half of US households escape fed income tax.

Nothing like inciting people through calling someone a thief.  We're trained from childhood to stop thieves from stealing.  The inflammatory headline ignores the complexity of the situation.  In a system that taxes, it is inevitable that some will receive more benefits than others.  That is the purpose of taxation and government programs.  If not, then everyone would just keep their money and spend it however they wanted.  As libertarians propose, we could have private jails, private security, private roads - private everything.  However, most of us see the benefit of using our money collectively for the common good.  

The frustration that becomes expressed in Drudge's headline comes not from indignation that the government is helping the poor, but a shift from a form of socialism that protected the rich while allowing the poor to be prey to all of the varying markets.  The United States is still a society that has socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor.  This situation might be changing, and the people who were benefiting from it previously will not take that lightly.  On the right, Thomas Sowell, a popular commentator, made this point in an article on real estate and eminent domain:
"A very different form of socialism for the rich protects their communities from even the dangers of a free market...For example, the "open space" laws that have spread across the country to protect upscale communities represent one of the biggest collectivizations of land since the days of Josef Stalin."  

On the left, James Clancy, the president of the National Union of Public and General Employees, made a similar point: 
"Ordinary public taxpayers who worked hard and played by the rules and were exploited in the first place are now being forced to bear the risk and responsibility for the financial mess but get no help with their priorities. It’s a classic case of socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor."
The question that Drudge's headline ignores is, "Who did most of the work that made those who pay taxes have the money to be in an income bracket that has to pays taxes?"  That wealth did not just appear out of thin air.  It was built on the backs of the workers who are now receiving more back in taxes.  Inadequate compensation is more unfair than taxes being levied on those who gained disproportionately to the rest of the work force, but it does nobody any good to start labeling the other group as thieves.

Many people never pay enough in taxes to pay their public schooling off, but that doesn't mean that giving them a public education is wrong.  Right now, at today's rate in Ohio, it would be just under $125,000 owed per student for an elementary and secondary education.  That does not include any preschool programs.   The cost increases when the student follows up high school by going to a public university, so most of us have taken a lot of money from the government for our education.  In the case of education, we're not talking federal taxes, although they do pay 10.5% of elementary and secondary education, but it's an illustration of the point.  Taxes we pay should be used for the betterment of society.  It does not mean that I have to receive proportional benefits for every dollar I pay, nor does it mean that I will only receive benefits equal to what I pay.       

Taxes are used to benefit society as a whole, and most of the time those who are on the poor end need the most help.  Helping them, through education for instance, is typically beneficial to society as a whole.  It is inevitable that some citizens will receive more than they paid and others will pay more than they receive.  That's the way a society that taxes works.  But maybe we should stop looking at it through a benefit-cost ratio and start viewing it through human-love lenses. 

We could be pursuing libertarianism, but most of the people that I hear complaining about taxes are not expressing libertarianism.  People seem to like the areas where the government helps them and dislike other people getting help.  But maybe we shouldn't have problems with people receiving help and living closer to the standard of living we have.


To hear ideas on libertarianism, you can listen to Free Talk Live, or visit other libertarian sites like Free Keene, the Cato Institute, or the Free State Project


I wrote on the subject of Jesus' teaching on taxes a while back: Taxation is Stealing, Health Care, and Jesus' Teaching on Caesar.

How to Train Your Child to be an Artist

Our second oldest son is showing some aptitude at being an artist, so we have started to explore ways of fostering his artistic nature.  The risk to reward ratio is pretty high when you want to develop an artist.  Either you will have the next Picasso or Van Gogh, or you will have created the next Hitler or Dahmer.  But civilization depends on parents like you and me fostering our children's artistic aptitude.

First, and most importantly, is chaining them up in a wet, damp basement.  You should do this a few hours every week.  Personally, I have found that Friday and Saturday nights work best.  Not only do I get to go out and have fun, but I am giving my future artist an experience that they can draw from to create great art.  And that's the key, trauma.

The next step helps if you are friends with a funeral director, but there are ways that you can do this even if you are not.  You need to lock your child in a room with a dead body.  If it is a special day at the undertakers, you can even do it with two dead bodies in the room.  You can pretend like it was an accident and your aspiring artist was playing and got lost, but you know that you are doing what it takes to make society better.

Finally, terrify them.  Tell him scary stories all the time.  Tell him there are monsters whenever you are not around, and then go for a walk and leave him home alone.  Tell him there are monkeys in the trees that will come and capture them when nobody is around.  This might sound cruel and unusual, but it is necessary to help your budding artist flower into what you know is his calling.

One thing that usually prevents an artist from developing into who they are designed to be is their parents.  They give in too easily to the screams and cries they hear from the basement, the locked room, or feel guilty about terrifying them.  Don't fall prey to this.  What you are doing is important for the sake of culture.  Don't give up. 

And I'm open to suggestions.  Maybe you have figured out better ways to nurture a young child's artistic spirit.  If so, please share.

We Could Learn a Lot From Rats - A Call to Action

In 1959, psychologist Russell Church conducted a study on the empathy of rats.  In the study, he trained the rats to push a lever to receive their food.  Then, in a twisted change, he fixed the lever to a a floor in the neighboring cage.  Every time the rat would push the lever, the rat in the other cage would get an electric shock.  Rats that had previously experienced shocks were very empathetic to the rat in the other cage.  Instead of selfishly pushing the lever and receiving its food at the expense of the other rat, the rat would quit pushing the lever and eventually starve to death rather than eat off of another rat's suffering (Empathy: Its ultimate and proximate bases and Do Animals Feel Empathy?).

We have a lot we can learn from rats.  Eddie Vedder noted this in Rats.

Rats by Pearl Jam (a homage to Michael Jackson's Ben)

They don't eat, don't sleep
They don't feed, they don't seethe
Bare their gums when they moan and squeak
Lick the dirt off a larger one's feet
They don't push, don't crowd
Congregate until they're much too loud
#### to procreate till they are dead
Drink the blood of their so called best friend

They don't scurry when something bigger comes their way
Don't pack themselves together and run as one
Don't #### where they're not supposed to
Don't take what's not theirs, they don't compare

They don't scam, don't fight
Don't oppress an equals given rights
Starve the poor so they can be well fed
Line their holes with the dead ones bread

They don't scurry when something bigger comes their way
Don't pack themselves together and run as one (2x)
Don't #### where they're not supposed to
Don't take what's not theirs, they don't compare...

Rats...They don't compare (2x)
Ben, the two of us need look no more (6X)

        Is not this the fast that I choose:to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?          Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?           Then shall your light break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up speedily; your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.       Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.  And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.              Isaiah 58:6-12 (ESV)

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me’ (Matt 25:35-40 [ESV]).

On to the Impossible - Impossible things are hard to believe

In 1895, Lord Kelvin declared, "Heavier than air flying machines are impossible."  Eight years later the Wright Brothers flew the first heavier than air plane.  

It wasn't until 1978 that two climbers reached the peak of Mt. Everest without the help of oxygen.  And people did not really believe them until Reinhold Messner repeated the act two years later.  It's tough to believe impossible things.  The road up Everest is littered with skeletons and abandoned camp sites of failed climbers, yet people climb it every year now.

On February 25, 1967, the inventor of the radio, Dr. Lee De Forest, stated, "Man will never reach the moon regardless of all future scientific advances."  Two years later, Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon.  And many now believe it was a hoax because impossible things are hard to believe.

Alice faced the same dilemma when confronted by the White Queen:
"I can't believe that!" said Alice.
"Can't you?" the queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again, draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."
Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said. "One can't believe impossible things."
"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
It is tough to believe impossible things.

For nothing will be impossible with God"  Luke 1:37 (ESV).

“With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God"  Mark 10:27 (ESV).

As Christians, we live believing an impossible thing every day.  That belief should spur us on to achieve more impossible things.  When life throws us wrenches and we think we can’t get through the day or that we can’t get over a problem, God will help us do the impossible.

When we wonder how we can help our neighbors, friends, and co-workers turn toward God - when we seek that with all of our heart, then we will start seeing the impossible creep into reality.  For the impossible becomes possible and routine eventually.  Let's work toward the impossible.

You Are An Onion - Tony Campolo on us being onions

I had the privilege of hearing Tony Campolo speak at the opening of a youth center in Coldwater, MI.  He told us we were onions.


Tony Campolo tells the story of a college sophomore who entered his office and plopped down in the chair.

He said, "Doc, I've decided to drop out of college."

Campolo, knowing the answer already because he had heard it spring after spring, humored the boy as if he would hear something new and asked, "What’s going on?"

A glassy veil dropped over the student's eyes as he looked longingly out the window of the office as he said,  “I’m going to find myself.  Everyone expects me to be someone I am not.  Friends, college, family, church, society.  They each have expectations of me and definitions of who I need to be.  I need to just get away from it all and find out who I am.  I need to find the real me.”
Campolo just shook his head and asked, "What if, after you peel away all these socially prescribed layers; after you pull away all the layers created by the church and your family and your friends, you discover that you are an onion?"

The young man was stunned.  “An onion?”

Then Campolo continued, "Now that may sound crazy, but what do you get if you peel away all the layers of an onion?  Nothing.  The onion is only the sum total of its layers – there is no center.  Many people will spend their whole life trying to peel away all the layers of their identity only to discover in the end that there is no “real me.”

Our identity - who we are - is not something we find; rather it is something that is created.  It is not something within us; it is something created from
the outside.  Who we are is determined by what we are committed to, who we decide to be – it is determined by what our commitments are.

Many people commit themselves to good things.  But if the good things they commit to are limited to this life, then they are ultimately futile.  When you commit yourself to God and his service, you are working for things that will make an eternal difference.

You are nothing more than the commitments you make.  You are an onion.

Jesus Fulfilling the Law - An End to One Era and the Beginning of Another

A comment on the article Why Evangelicalism is Failing a Generation asked another poster a tough question.  I thought I would give a shot at answering it

How does your church (or how do you personally) reconcile the fact that all modern christians choose to ignore most of their god's unwavering laws that appear in Leviticus and Deuteronomy?

The ones about not wearing clothes of two different materials, putting unruly children to death, shunning menstruating women and not allowing them into holy places - these laws are laid down in verses immediately proceeding and following the ones that call homosexuality an abomination.

I cannot for the life of me understand how humans who believe in a law-giving god can cling to some laws (mostly those that conveniently sanction or oppress someone else) while utterly ignoring others.

Much greater theologians than me have wrestled with this subject, but here is how I currently work through that great question.  For this article, I am going to ignore the specific issue at hand and deal with the broader principle of the law.

The role of the law in the life of believers was a debate even in the early church.  The whole letter of Galatians was written to a group of Christians who were still living under the law and trying to force others to do the same.  Paul wrote to explain why they did not need to live under the law.  He said, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" Gal 5:1 (ESV).  By this time, Paul was describing the law as a "yoke of slavery."  That is not a kind description.  Then he summed up the law after explaining why circumcision was no longer necessary:  
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Gal 5:13-14 (ESV). 
In Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus claimed that he came not to abolish but to fulfill the law.  The end result is the same - the law no longer applies, but the explanation on why it stopped applying is different.  He did not get rid of it.  Instead, he brought the law to its natural conclusion.  The law was like a seed that would spring to life in a new and better way to live with God (Hebrews 7:22, 8:6).  Paul would later explain that the law was not wasted for it revealed sin and led us up to the point of realizing our need of a Savior.  Jesus then went on to say that people would have to be more faithful than the most faithful legalists of his time in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus' teaching is that without his grace, which came through his fulfilling of the law, nobody would be able to be right with God.

In Romans 3:19-3:31, Paul wrote that nobody would be made right by the law.  The way to righteousness is by faith.  We are each sinners and have violated the law.  Paul states that the law's purpose was to show us what is sin.  He elaborated that we would realize the futility of trying to be righteous under the law.  For once we break one small part of the law, we have broken the whole law (James 2:10).  The law should leave us realizing our great need of grace. 

The writer of Hebrews 7:11-28 talks about when the priesthood is changed, there is a new law.  With Jesus, we moved out of a priesthood of the line of Aaron into the priesthood of Jesus, so we moved out of the Levitical Law into the law of Jesus.  The writer calls this new era a "better covenant."  No longer is there a need for ritual sacrifice because Jesus was the sacrifice for all, and the law has been simplified. 

Jesus narrowed the law down to just one teaching.  He described it as a "new commandment" when it was not new.  One would need to assume that Jesus was not just ignorant or forgetful but that he knew that his "new commandment" was an ancient teaching from Leviticus 19:8.  So what was he saying when he said it is a new commandment when it was an old one?  It would be an inference to the ten commandments and the entire law being fulfilled and the establishment of a new law.  No longer do we need to adhere to the old commands, which allowed people to be legalists and parse the law in such ways that they could follow the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law.  Jesus' new commandment sums up the spirit of the law and in a way that both narrows and broadens it.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.  John 13:34-35 (ESV)

And now I ask you, dear lady— not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning— that we love one another.  And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments; this is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, so that you should walk in it. 2 John 1:5-6 (ESV) 

It's Easter Time - Let's Follow Jesus' Example

When I was a youth minister in Michigan, I had a roommate. How I got the roommate was not through normal means. I had heard through one of the students in the church about a guy my age who was homeless and living out of his car. I found out where he was sleeping, went over there, knocked on his car window, and invited him to stay at my house. He lived in one of my spare bedrooms for around a year and a half and we became good friends.

While living at my house, he was caught in a traffic violation and was put in the slammer. I did not know it prior to this incident, but he had some outstanding speeding tickets and a warrant out for his arrest. After his sister refused to pay his bail, he called and asked if I could post the $250 bail.

The church I served at was located right between my house and the local jail. I was on the one side of the church, free.  And he was asking for freedom while sitting in the jail on the other side of the church.  It felt surreal to have a friend behind bars less than a football field away from me. 

I prayed and felt that God wanted me to pay the bail, tell him it was a gift from God, and that it was symbolic of how God frees us even when we do not deserve it. I followed through partly. I walked over to the jail and put up his bail, but I never followed through on the half that I thought was cheesy; I never said that it was a free gift from God and symbolic of how Jesus frees us. He told me that he would repay the money. I replied that would be okay. In the end, I never received that $250, but the most important thing is that I failed to love him the way that God told me to.

Thankfully, Jesus is more faithful to us than I was to my roommate.  When Jesus reached the point of having to go through the great sacrifice of dying on the cross so that our sins would be forgiven, he went through with it even when he did not want to. 

Jesus withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.  Luke 22:41-44 (ESV)

I chose to be unfaithful for $250.  My price was low.  Every day, if I examine myself, I see that I still lack faithfulness in many areas.  I give in to my own selfish desires too easily.  But the good news is that Jesus is still full of grace toward us, despite all of our failings.

Jesus set such a good example for us to follow and has paid the price for each of our sins.  The next time I catch myself being selfish and living for myself, I need to remind myself of the price that Jesus paid on that cross so that I can be free.  And then use that freedom, not for myself, but to further His will here.  That is a great privilege.  It's Easter.