Core Truth:

Though we were created in the image of God and therefore in perfect harmony with him, we willfully disobeyed God’s authority and distrusted his goodness. As a consequence, our relationship with God was broken, resulting in a spiritual death, which in turn tarnished our relationship with him, ourselves, others and creation. (Discipleship Essentials, Ogden, p. 81)

Scripture Reading: Genesis 3

As it is written: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness." "Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known." "There is no fear of God before their eyes." Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 3:10-23, 6:23

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him and he with me.
Revelation 3:20

A thought for today:

By Beth Acanfora

As we all know too well, the pain and consequences of sin really are truly so devastating to us that without God’s forgiveness and grace we are among the “walking dead” physically, spiritually and emotionally. My own experience of living with the consequences of sin have led me on a lifetime journey of discovering for myself just how much God loves me in spite of my sin, frailty, greed, pride and self-centeredness. 

As a young child I grew up in an idyllic setting in upstate New York with a stay at home Mom, a Dad that made a good living as a county agricultural agent and two big brothers. We went to the Presbyterian Church in our small town every Sunday, ate dinner together every night and in the meantime, I climbed trees in our woods, learned to swim and ski, went on farming rounds with my Dad, rode horses and played with our beloved Labrador Retriever.

When I was just eight years old we moved for a year to Ithaca, NY so my Dad could study for his Master’s Degree in Agronomy at Cornell University. I attended a little country Baptist Church with my brother Chris that year while my parents and older brother David went to Cornell to hear world famous theologians preach. It was there in that tiny church that I first experienced Jesus without really understanding it. Chris and I went to Sunday School and Wednesday night kids group all leading to a spectacularly beautiful Easter morning when I accepted Christ and asked Him to come into my heart. I believed that day and every day since that Jesus is the Son of God with the innocence only a young child possesses. No questions, no debate. I remember sharing this with my Mom, but I don't think she understood how meaningful it had been for me. She just smiled and shook her head. Although we always went to church, relationship with Jesus was never discussed in our home. We said grace before dinner, learned to be very polite and disciplined but that was where it ended. I learned the great Bible stories but never learned to connect them to my own life. I had a Pollyanna view of God. I really thought He loved and would protect me no matter what. I loved church, the hymns and the warmth of the people there. Our small-town church was home for me.

But as I grew up in a home with very high expectations and with strong pressure, especially from my father toward perfection I began to rebel. I did try very hard to be perfect, especially to please my parents and my Grandmother Esther.  But at a very young age I learned to lie with such regularity along with my brothers that half the time I didn't know what the truth was. Lying covered the imperfections I perceived within myself and helped me to avoid my father and his verbal wrath. Even in first grade I remember on parent’s night being petrified of my Dad seeing my papers laid out on my school desk. There were many A papers but there was a B and I knew he would pick out the B and ask me why it wasn't an A. My Mom was always very loving, but Dad’s love was conditional. He was a very complex person; smart, humorous and beloved by everyone who met him. He had an engaging personality, but at home he was very high strung, angry and driven. My big brother Chris has a wonderful, humorous way about him, so there was also a lot of laughter in our home. Laughter was our plunder- it kept us knit together in a relatively stable happy home.

My rebelliousness ramped up and began a journey in high school and later in college at Syracuse University of risk taking, drinking and drug use and when, as an 18-year-old in my sophomore year of college I found myself pregnant, a sickness crept over me and a fear that practically smothered me to death. I made an appointment with a clinic and called the bank where my college money was kept safely in an account my parents and grandparents had set up for me. The decision to have an abortion was the only possible way. I was a young woman brought up in a culture of a “women's right to choose.” It didn't seem bad- if it was legal of course it was alright. No one had ever discussed any of these issues with me. It just seemed like what I had to do to keep my parents in the dark. And so, I had the money withdrawn and the procedure done. Everything was fine as far as my parents were concerned.

The next few days and weeks were horrific as it dawned on me what I had done. I found the strength to drag myself to classes, but I was like a shell moving around in an empty body. And as so often happens after a woman has an abortion, the emptiness and enormous pain unconsciously drive her to become pregnant again very quickly. Suddenly there I was, pregnant and dodging my parents attempts to get me on the phone. I was so young and thought I was in love, but I was completely isolated from my family and friends. Denial would probably best describe the next few months. I could not quit school because that would be the worst thing that could possibly happen. It wasn't until the end of that spring semester and six months pregnant that the true fear inside me came fully to life. I had to face my parents and tell them. 

Their response to this devastating news was swift. They consulted our pastor and I was soon swept off to Albany, NY to a maternity home for unwed mothers. My parents told absolutely no one. My brother Chris came to visit me, but David was in Africa in the Peace Corps, so he was kept out of the loop. 

My beautiful daughter was born on August 19, 1978. The Holy Spirit told me specifically not to marry her father who was quite unstable, and for once I was obedient. I begged my parents to help me for just two more years so I could finish college and raise my daughter, but they pushed for adoption. To be fair, it was a different time. Dad was an Elder of the church and this was just not going to happen. They were coping as best they could and wanted me to have my “perfect life” back. I had three days to hold my baby and two more months of heartbreak while she was in foster care before making the final decision to sign the papers that would forever separate my child from me in a closed adoption.

“Normal life” for me consisted of pulling up the rug and shoving everything under where it would be forever hidden. But I knew that God was there and that He heard my cries to Him. I prayed for two parents that would adore my daughter and for His protection for her. But mostly I prayed for another daughter. An inner vow was made. I would be perfect, and God would give me another daughter. It felt like the only way I could ever get through the pain. 

In 1980 I finished my nursing degree and my marriage to Joe in 1983 seemed the answer to my dreams as I strived for a normal, perfect life. I had the wedding, the gown and the beautiful home but we were both very broken people. Joe had been there to support and love me when we met soon after the adoption papers were signed but he was also coping with his parents’ ugly divorce.  We were just 24 years old. Everything on the outside looked perfect, and we were very much in love, but I had a band aid over a hemorrhaging heart that no matter what I did would not stop its terrible wrenching pain.

I worked in hospitals for many years in NICU, pediatrics and labor and delivery and it was somewhat healing. But somehow, no matter how hard I worked in my personal and professional life, nothing could erase my terrible underlying sins. Nothing. I knew God forgave sins, but I could not forgive myself. My secret life had been shoved so far under the rug that exposure to the light was not possible and still I prayed for another daughter. After going through three more pregnancies and having our gorgeous sons, I began to realize that God was not going to answer this desire of my heart. I searched and searched the Bible and became more and more depressed and distressed. Joe was farther and farther away, and I knew I was losing him and I could not understand why God was being so utterly cruel to me. I loved my sons with all my heart. I adored them and Joe and they were all my life, but I knew deep down I could not have another child.

It took many more years of counseling for me to finally truly understand that no child can ever replace another. It sounds so simple, but it was a huge breakthrough for me. The lesson was painful but necessary on my way to understanding God’s goodness toward me and not see it as punishment. 

When our boys were old enough to understand I told each of them about their sister because we didn't want any surprises or secrets causing mistrust in our relationships with them. Through the years we tried several different ways to find out any information we could about my daughter but to no avail. Joe searched on line and we even went back to Albany, but no one would help us. When we moved to VA in 2012 we made the bold move to hire an investigator to find her. Just a few months ago when they contacted Joe to tell him they could not find her he didn't tell me, not wanting to take away my hope.

Time and time again the evil one tried to tell me I was not clean, not enough, not a good wife or mother and how in the world did I ever think I could be a pastor’s wife? He tried relentlessly to make me believe I was worthless, and if people really knew all my sins I would be unlovable. He tried to destroy my marriage and family and nearly did. If not for forgiveness through Jesus Christ for one another our family would have been torn apart years ago.

The one best and greatest lesson that Jesus has revealed to me through many years of walking beside Him is that He has the final say and yes, He moves the mountain in His perfect timing!  Just before Christmas 2017 our son Joey called us on a Sunday evening with detailed information through a DNA test he had taken the previous year that matched him with a young woman. She initially made contact with him and said she was searching for her birth family. Every detail fit our puzzle! And she lives in Gaithersburg, MD! Joe, our son Joey and I recently met Jennifer Elizabeth, her husband Bill and her adoptive parents and we are all anxiously planning a summer reunion so she can meet Luke and Michael and our extended families. All of our family and friends have been overjoyed for us! God has answered every prayer and desire of my heart. I have finally been able to thank Jenni’s parents and husband in person for taking such wonderful care of her. I have been able to hug her tight and see pictures of her as she was growing up. It's been a joy and truthfully a grieving process once again for all that was missed. But, the tremendous weight I carried under the surface of my life has finally been lifted after 39 years! Where every human effort failed to bring her to us, God opened this miraculous door! 

Earlier that Sunday, the day we received the news from Joey, I had been doing an Immanuel exercise with our high school Girls Bible study group. I don't often hear an audible voice when the Holy Spirit speaks to me. Occasionally it will be an impression or occasionally words. That day I heard “Behold, I make all things new.”

I can only begin to fully understand the faithfulness of God and how He works all things for good. But I know that He does. He loves you too, beyond human reason or anything you could ever deserve. You don't have to keep searching for love in all the wrong places. He’s ready to forgive you. He’s ready to heal you and fill you with His life-giving Spirit. Will you allow Him into your heart? Will you give Him His rightful place in your life? Will you trust Him in your brokenness? Will you accept the most precious gift of eternal life with Him? If you are having trouble letting go of your sins will you seek out help from your pastor or a Christian counselor? I pray that you will, dear friends. It will undoubtedly be painful, but it will lead you to a better place; a place of truth, peace and rest with your miraculous Savior.