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Whew! Glad that is off my mind!

I am not proud of those things I did 'before Christ', but there are things that taught me life lessons. There are things 'after Christ' in my life that have still been struggles and those things have taught me even bigger lessons. Lessons come in the oddest ways sometimes. I remember one lesson that came while holding a pen. Have you ever looked down, found you are using a really nice pen, then wondered, "Where did I pick this up?" Then, as quickly as you realize you have walked off with someone's pen, there is a twinge of guilt about having absconded with something which clearly does not belong to you! Or perhaps you have been in the grocery line, received a bundle of change from your purchase, then on the way to the car, you count it to make sure it is all there. To your surprise, there is an extra ten dollars in the mix! Some would face each situation with a triumphant, "SCORE!!!" Others would likely take a few moments to consider if anyone will really notice the missing pen, or argue the store has overcharged you at some point in history. Yet, the pen is not truly ours, and the extra money in our hand is making someone short in their till. In fact, the dilemma of "conscience" we go through is because we know it is not right to steal.

“You must not steal." (Exodus 20:15)

In a very "technical" sense, stealing is taking anything without someone's permission, or the right to take what it is we are taking. I never took the car keys in order to take the car on a joy ride when mom and dad weren't home, but I did my share of grabbing a few bucks from the cookie jar when I didn't think mom would notice! Even more telling about us is the ability to take something without even acknowledging an awareness of the issue in taking the item we are taking that clearly does not belong to us. I think God knows we may end up with a pen in our pocket on occasion, quite by accident, but I don't think he is very pleased when we justify why we are pocketing the extra ten dollars from someone's till! Nor was he pleased with the dips into the cookie jar! Look at our simple command: You must not steal. The one being addressed is "you" - that includes all of us. The imperative in this sentence are the words "must not". It does not say try your best not to, or if the circumstances are right, then don't. It is quite plain - we "MUST NOT" steal. We must not take what is not ours, or engage in any action that seeks to cover up using something without someone's permission.

What kinds of things do we "steal" on a daily basis? How about time? What we do with our time in secret is as important as what we do when we are being observed. How about credit? God tells us a laborer is worth his hire - in other words, if he is due credit for a job well-done, we ought to point it out. There are tons of things we probably "steal" everyday without really knowing we are doing it - especially when we consider it is taking/using anything without someone's permission, or the outright taking of what is not ours (even if by accident). God takes this whole idea of stealing so seriously. He made additional "rules" around stealing such as, "Take a man's ox and repay him five in return" (Exodus 22:1); "Take a man's sheep and repay him four in return" (Exodus 22:1); "A thief is to make full restitution - if not able, his life was to be sold in order to accomplish it" (Exodus 22:3). This principle of restitution is found throughout scripture. Clearly God wants us to 'own our mistake' and make a clear break from it!

So, if God takes it this seriously, shouldn't we? If we become aware of our sin, God's plan is for us to make restitution - to restore it. So, at the point I realize I am in possession of my friend's favorite writing instrument - it is time for me to let them know I will return it when we meet next, if not sooner. If I get the extra change in my grocery "bounty" - I may have to make a trip back to the cashier with the money in hand. God may ask you to point out where credit is due instead of hogging it all for yourself. He may ask you to do little extras around at time in order to "give back" what you have been taking away in non-productive time. Whatever it is, do it! The reward of a clear conscience is much better than anything else we could imagine! Just sayin!

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