Peace for a troubled conscience

The US Government has a fund called the Conscience Fund, made up of anonymous contributions sent in by people whose consciences are troubled by things they should have paid for but didn’t. They also keep the letters, like the one that said: ‘I’m sending ten dollars for blankets I stole while in World War II. My mind could not rest. Sorry I’m late. I want to be ready to meet with God.’ A similar thing happened in Australia following the Billy Graham Crusades. Government departments received a flood of anonymous payments for everything from undeclared tax to unpaid train fares.
It reminds us that Jesus said if you want to be at peace with God, put things right with your fellow human beings first. Repentance and restitution are the only things that bring peace to a troubled conscience.

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Virtue is in what you choose to do

People once thought that to get out of bed on the left side was to open oneself to evil spirits. That’s why we talk about somebody in a foul temper having got out of bed on the wrong side. And medieval theologians argued that since a ladder leaning against a wall forms a triangle, and a triangle is a symbol of the Holy Trinity, anyone who carelessly walks through this mystical space is risking divine wrath. That’s why they used to make condemned prisoners walk under the ladder that led up to the gallows.
However, God’s displeasure does not come from random acts outside of us, but from calculated attitudes within us. “What does the Lord require of you,” the Bible says, “But to act justly, to love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.” Luck may be about what life throws your way, but virtue is what you do about it.

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Seeing the light or just feeling the heat

You’ve heard the old saying about a leopard not being able to change his spots. Well, a psychologist friend of mine tells me that in his experience people can change, but they only usually do it when it becomes too painful not to. It reminds me of a man who was constantly in trouble with the law. He went to confession and told the priest that he was going to change his ways. The priest asked him if he had finally seen the light. ‘No, father, he said. ‘I’ve felt the heat.’ Feeling the heat may well be the thing that forces people to change. But it’s far better to see the light and be inspired to do so. Like the man who wrote the psalm that says, ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me…and restore to me the joy of your salvation.’

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Life’s too short for fussing around

I know of an old lady who looked forward for months to taking a short train journey to visit a relative. When the big day came she boarded the train and set about arranging all the things she’d brought with her, so she could settle back and enjoy the trip. She fiddled with her suitcase, lunch box, thermos flask, book to read, knitting and so on. Then, just as she got to settle back they called out her station and she had to pack it all up again. She said later, “if I’d known we would get here so soon, I wouldn’t have wasted my time fussing around.”
That’s how life is for many of us. We spend our energy getting things ready so that we can settle back and enjoy it, forgetting how short the journey is. That’s why Jesus taught us that the best way to enjoy the journey is to concentrate on the destination.

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‘Jesus, this is Jim.’

Bruce Howell used to tell the story of Jim, a Londoner who, every day at Noon, would slip into a church where he would sit quietly for five minutes and then depart. The minister of that church got to recognise him and one day got close enough to watch what he did, and he heard him say: ‘Jesus, this is Jim.’ And that’s all he said. He came to expect Jim’s five-minute visits and would always greet him as he left. But then the visits stopped. He asked around and eventually found out that Jim was dangerously ill in hospital. So, he went to visit him and found him all alone in a ward for the terminally ill. Jim was glad to see him and said: ‘They’ve left me here to die, you know. But it’s OK. Jesus has spoken to me.’ ‘And what did he say?’ The minister asked. Jim replied: ‘He just said: ‘Jim, this is Jesus.’

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The Devil made me do it

In another twist on the old ‘the Devil made me do it’ excuse, a little girl who had been sent to her room for misbehaving, was heard saying her prayers and blaming God for what had happened, because she’d prayed to be a good girl, and she wasn’t. It’s like the man who sued a hospital after having raided a refrigerator following his stomach stapling operation and tore open the staples. He blamed the hospital for having a refrigerator near his room, claiming the temptation was too great and therefore the hospital was responsible.
Refusing to take responsibility for our own actions seems to be part of the human condition, and blaming God for problems caused by human shortcomings is a common manifestation of it. But, as the Bible says: in the end, ‘Every one of us shall give account of himself to God.’

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Ask somebody who has it

Back in the glory days of the American car industry Packard was the last company to get into advertising. It didn’t happen until the founder died because whenever he was asked to buy advertising for his cars, he would always say: ‘I don’t need to advertise Packards; just ask the man who owns one.’ And after his death, ‘Ask the man who owns one’ became the Packard slogan; and it worked.
In the same way, faith in Jesus has also been spread primarily by word-of-mouth. The Shepherds at the first Christmas may have heard the good news from angels, and the Wise Men were led by a star, but most people who come to faith do so because of the influence of someone whose life has been changed by it.
What’s the value of faith? Just ask the person who has it.

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