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“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother who has sinned against me? Up to seven times?  Jesus answered, ‘I tell you not just seven times, seventy-seven times.'”  Matthew 18:21,22

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart”. Matthew 5:28

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”  1Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent and praiseworthy- think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

Why seventy-seven times?  In another translation, it reads that Jesus Christ responds seventy times seven times (I’m running out of finger and toes to get up that high).  Think about how many times Jesus talked about, not only He being a servant, but how important it was that the disciples think of themselves as humble servants as well.

On the sermon on the mount, Jesus Christ warns it not just about committing the actual act, murder or adultery, it about contemplating the act or working up toward the act, in the case of anger, that is an equal danger.  Why?

Throughout the letters that the apostles sent to the early churches and new beginners, they urged thought on things from above and abolish thoughts and acts of earthly or worldly things.  Why pray without ceasing?

I am not one who finds a conflict between thoughts of science and thoughts of spirituality.  Oh sure, there are some within the realm of science who ascribe to the idea that science has disproved the existence of God.  But it’s not science fault that some would use it incorrectly the same way it is not Christ’s fault that some have done unspeakable evil in His name.

We are creations of God, including Jesus Christ so thus, our Creator knows us and how we work intimately.  He knows how our brains function (or dysfunction at least at times in my case).

So why seventy-seven times or 140 times?  Scientists studying the brain have discovered a process in its operation called neural plasticity.  Now please understand, as I am no theologian, I am also not a brain surgeon or scientist.  Yet I’ve always been fascinated about how the brain operates and how amazingly complex it is.  Well in the concept of neural plasticity, with my limited understanding, it is the idea that as we have thoughts, and/or as we take actions; we are producing connections within the brain.  These connections become pathways.  Additionally, these pathways are not destroyed after one thought or action.  As we have the same or very similar thoughts or actions, those pathways get stronger, more easily accessible.

Now here’s the thing, if we deem those thoughts or actions to be positive, helpful or pleasurable, then we are more likely to go back to them over and over again.  Each time we go back, the pathway gets stronger.  Think of it (no pun intended) this way, your brain is like a forest.  Quite often if you’re walking through the woods/forest, you look for a trail that’s been cleared out that makes it easier, more pleasurable to walk.  While overly simplistic, that is an aspect of this concept of neural plasticity and its impact on our thoughts and behavior.

So let’s take forgiveness.  It may not be all that easy or natural of a thing to do.  Someone does us wrong.  Should we think or act on taking revenge or getting even with them, we’re creating a pathway.  If that thought or action feels good, we’ll tend to think or act that way more and that pathway gets strengthened.  Jesus Christ knows this.  Again He is our creator.  So Jesus declares we’re to forgive and keep on forgiving.  It may not feel comfortable or good at first, but as we keep doing it, five times, 10 times, 77 times, 140 times and more, we’re building and strengthening that path.  Before you know it, voila, that path becomes strong enough, that we find ourselves thinking and acting that way.

Additionally, that’s why Jesus Christ and later the Apostles, warn against the underlying thought and not just the action.  Indeed, it truly is the thought that counts.  For it is the looking in lust, the being angry and thinking of harm or killing that starts the pathway.  To the extent we tell ourselves, there’s no harm in looking or only thinking; neural plasticity would say that we’re wrong.  There is a credible harm, a changing of our brain just in the thinking.

Yet, I’ve heard folks tell me:  “Well maybe so for some, but that wouldn’t be me” or “that doesn’t apply to me”.  I’m not wise or omniscient enough to tell anyone that they’re wrong in what they know about themselves.  All I do is point out the real danger in the aspect of thinking:  I’ll try that drug just once, I can quit that website anytime I want, I wouldn’t have done it – I was only thinking it and other justifications we give ourselves for risky and/or destructive behavior.

Thus dear Sisters and Brothers, once again science reinforces a basic concept to positive living that Jesus Christ laid out thousands of years ago.  In the end it is best just not to go there.  Try to keep your brain from building those connections that concern the debasing, destructive aspects to life.  To the extent that the pathways may exist, stop using them.

In the articles that I’ve read about neural plasticity, seldom used pathways, fade in their importance.  New pathways can be forged based upon the thoughts that we have and the subsequent actions we take based on those thoughts.

Finally, we’re not left on our own.  The world has a whole lot of demeaning, destructive pathways it wants to build in our brains.  Jesus Christ instructs us to connect to our Heavenly Father through prayer to Him and study of His word.  In that Heavenly connection, through His power, we can be victorious over the worldly thoughts and pathways which want to lead us to our downfall.  Jesus Christ promises the Holy Spirit will come to us and empower and embolden us to keep us thinking as we should and lead us back should we stray.

Ironically, being on the straight and narrow path is not just a completely allegorical concept.  There are literal brain paths that, if we commit to relying on Jesus Christ to show them to us and empower us to stay on them, then we can live powerful lives of peace and joy that bring praise and honor to our Heavenly Father as well as us.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, if we are open to it, we praise how our understanding of science reveals Your underlying truths to us.  Pour out Your Spirit on us that we would be receptive to Your revelation and obedient to Your instructions for us as given by Your Son Jesus Christ.  Forgive us when, in our arrogance, we believe that we can go our own way and that our power is sufficient to keep us from harm and evil.  Lead us back to Your path, strengthening the correct path and obliterating the wrong path.  That in thinking about and then walking the right path, we might live lives of praise and thanksgiving to Your Most Holy Name.  We pray in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen

 

“Then those who heard it……went out one by one. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”  John 8:9

The forgiving of the woman caught in adultery; there are so many rich lessons to be learned by this act.  Of course there is Jesus’ love and mercy as well as his rebuke of the those who want to hastily judge others and not look to themselves.  Let us not forget the meekness that Jesus showed throughout the encounter.

And while it is wise to focus on Jesus in this encounter, I find that there might be some value in looking to the reaction of the crowd and even that of the woman when they are faced with the power of the Son of God.  For make no mistake, Jesus might have seemed meek, he might have quietly bent down and wrote in the sand; nonetheless His power was very much on display.  You see that woman, guilty or not was not going to die that day.  Some other day they might have surrounded her with her back against a wall and let loose their granite projectiles of ignorance and hate.  But if that was their plan, they made the mistake of bringing her to Jesus.  More probably they hoped to have two stonings.  First the woman and then, hopefully, Jesus himself due to some blasphemy or gross breach of the law.  But fortunately for the woman, they had no grasp of the Power of this Man from Galilee.

For the very moment they rounded the corner and thrust the woman into Jesus presence, she was safe, she was forgiven, she had met her salvation.  Regardless of the sheer number of the crowd, the vehemence of their anger or self-righteousness of their argument, Jesus was going to prevail.  God was in that courtyard and man had no chance of victory.

So how did Jesus show that great power?  Did He call a league of angels to come and kill all in the crowd?  Did He command lightning to come down and destroy all, except the woman, where they stood?  No, Jesus knew better than that.  He knew what button to push.  He knew that He could convict them in their own actions.  Since each had a conscience, Jesus spoke straight to it:  “Cast the stone in your hand if you’re free of sin.”  The stones dropped to the ground like rain.

Their reaction now is what get’s really interesting.  They were so certain of course.  The law was clear.  The law was on their side.  With the righteousness of justice, a woman would die and messiah pretender would be unmasked.  Power was on their side.  15 words, no long oratory, no long defense, no long reading or preaching from the Torah; 15 words and their faces contorted with confusion and their fingers relinquished their grip.  And now comes the truly sad part; they turn away.  They just had the most amazing experience of personally witnessing the power of the Son of God.  They just had a personal encounter with the only true Son of Man.  They could have stayed.  They could have bowed down.  They could have pleaded to hear more.  They could have fallen on their knees and worshiped.  Instead the slowly turned their back on their Savior, The One True Light, and purposely returned to utter darkness.

The self-righteous were lost.  What about the sinner?  What about the woman caught in the very act?  As soon as she saw the perplexed looks on their faces, as soon as the stones began to fall from their hands, she could have booked out of there.  Who would have blamed her?  “I’m not staying around to let them change their minds!”; she might have thought to herself.  However, she didn’t.  Why?  She was feeling the power of Jesus too.  She had never met this man before but she knew that He was different.  Even if she had run, she knew that there was nowhere she could flee that would He would not be able to find her.  She knew, Jesus had the power.  She knew Jesus could still condemn.  She stayed.  He loved.  He forgave.  She, the only acknowledged sinner, received the Light, received salvation.

Sisters and brothers in Christ, we may find ourselves standing in front of Jesus Christ.  Hopefully not, but we may be playing the role of the self-righteous judge declaring something unfair or someone due punishment.  Jesus may stop for moment just to let us think about what we are doing and then gently but firmly rebuke us.  He may push the button of our conscience revealing to us the sinfulness of our ways.  What then?  Are we to turn from Him?  Are we to walk away simply because we did not get our evil way?  Will we run back to the darkness from whence we came, fleeing the Light of Life?  I pray that we would not!

What if we are the sinner (and of course we are).  At the first sign of forgiveness, will we run away hardly thankful for our reprieve and all to ready to jump right back into our sinful ways?  Or will we stay.  Will we be awestruck by the mercy and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Will we filled compelled to drop to our knees in His presence and repent of our sins and praise His most Holy Name, giving thanks to God above.  I pray that we would.

Jesus Christ, has in the past, does now and will continue into the future to display the Power of His Love.  The question for us is; how do we respond?  Do we turn toward Him?  Or do we turn away?

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father we thank you for Your Perfect Plan of Salvation that brought Your Son Jesus Christ down to live among us on this earth.  Praise be to Jesus Christ that He displays His awesome Power by way of Love and Mercy versus the judgement and punishment we deserve.  Empower us through The Holy Spirit that when we experience the Power of Jesus Christ that we will not turn away from Him, but come to Him, humbly, lovingly singing praises to His and Your Holy Name.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

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