On Death-Row

I am a prisoner on death-row, convicted, not by some criminal court, but by the court of my own memories and the memories of the people I have wronged. While the bars that restrain me aren’t physical, they are far stronger than any physical bars will ever be, because no matter where I go, they are still there, invisible to you, but very real to me. There is no escaping this prison.

As surely as the triple-murderer will never breathe the fresh-air of freedom, some of our past actions have lasting-consequences. My dad had several diseases when he died, but the only one that wasn’t curable was syphilis. Had it been caught and treated at an early stage, it would have been treatable, but by the time it was discovered, it was long-past being effectively-treatable. His past actions were part of his ultimate-demise.

While I don’t have an incurable-disease, some of my past actions DO have enduring-consequences. Yes, I know that, in Christ, my past is forgiven, but God doesn’t always release us from the temporal-consequences of our past. That I wasn’t as good a husband and father to my first wife and children had consequences then, and it has ongoing-consequences now. I became a suicide-survivor and widower in 1997, and my own children also disowned me in 1997. I lost my whole family in one fell-swoop.

That STILL hasn’t been resolved. My two younger daughters blocked me on Facebook immediately after I messaged one of them to notify them that their grandmother had just died. No response, just BLOCKED.

Recently I discovered that I now have six grandkids, by looking through my oldest daughter’s pictures on Facebook (the only one who hasn’t blocked me – yet). When I mentioned this to my brother Steve, he told me that I shouldn’t be doing this to myself. Am I supposed to forget my own flesh and blood?

I wish that I could say that everything has been peachy since then, but it hasn’t been. I still don’t have this “marriage” thing figured out, that is, how to make it last, because I have been married three times since then, resulting in two divorces and one permanent-separation. Permanent-separation? Yes, my wife moved-out of my house over five years ago and moved-in with another man forty-one days after we got married, and she is living as if she is married to him, not to me. While she is living in adultery, my consequence is that I CAN’T “move-on“, because I am legally-bound to her “til death or divorce do us part“. Oh, I forgot that the “or divorce” wasn’t part of our marriage-vows, so that means “til death do us part“. Do you get the picture?

Numerous people, including my counselor at the VA, have told me that I just need to “move on“. Try telling that to a death-row inmate…

Maybe you are thinking to yourself that I am being a bit over-the-top dramatic, but you haven’t walked a mile, or two or five, in my moccasins. Every time I start to experience a sense of “normalcy“, the defecation-hits-the-rotating-blades (SHTF) – again.

Christians are fond of quoting Romans 8:28 to each other during times of trial and distress. I’ve done it to myself quite a few times, but is it REALLY the right thing to say in the moment?

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This is wonderful theology for the long-haul, but poor comfort in the short-run. This verse has a decidedly futuristic-vision, a vision of glory in eternity that will make all of our earthly-troubles pale into insignificance, but it doesn’t deny that we still struggle.

Please, please, please, before you quote this verse to someone who is going through rough times, enter into their grief and pain for a while, be their comforter when they need one, and avoid pouring more gasoline on their fire, because, in the wrong context, Romans 8:28 can feel like a cruel, sadistic joke to someone who is going through hard times.

We are NOT promised that, in this life, we will ever breathe the sweet air of freedom. Many of us will die “on death-row“, never having experienced relationships restored, never having experienced a “good” marriage, never having experienced what most people consider “normal“.

If things are going fairly-well in your life, give thanks to God, and while you are thanking God that you have a good situation, pray for those of us who are still living “on death-row“. If you meet one of us, please be gentle with us. We need care, concern and understanding, rather than a theology-lecture.

In John 11, Jesus didn’t give Mary a theology-lecture. He entered into her pain, John 11:35. “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it is loaded with meaning. Even though Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He took time – first – to enter into their grief.

Blessings
Steve

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Happy New Year!!!

Yeah, I know, I am fifty-four days late, but better late than never. HAH! Just kidding… Actually, I am NOT kidding. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! This is a new year. This is the first day of the rest of my life!

Last year was a disaster just about from start to finish, but that disaster didn’t magically resolve-itself January 1st. Lest you have forgotten, I lost my mom to cancer April 4th, and a friend to suicide October 12th. His funeral was October 21st, the day before the 20th “anniversary” of Connie’s death by suicide, October 22, 1997. We had a memorial service January 13th for a friend who had been a part of Cypress Cove Bible Fellowship, and who passed away between Christmas and New Years. That means that 2017 really wasn’t “over” until after January 13th, or was it?

My Brother is STILL in Shand’s Hospital, after having been either in a hospital or a rehab-center for over five months. He has been an inmate in three different hospitals and four different rehab-centers. Yes, you read that right. He hasn’t been HOME in over FIVE MONTHS, and no, he hasn’t been “deployed” somewhere. SO, I have moved MY New Year’s celebration up to February 23rd, my birthday. No, I don’t want my birthday made into a Federal holiday. I’m not THAT important.

As I sat by the pool at Cypress Cove chatting with friends, walking by the lake, or soaking up some sun in the pool, wearing nothing but a grin, a hat and some sunscreen, I thought; “What a great way to start this new year.” I am hoping to get a lot more of that “sunshine-therapy” this year. It is good for both body AND soul.

While you may be thinking that I have lost my mind, I am hoping and praying this new year, beginning today, will truly be a new and better year than last year was.

Life is NOT always a “bed-of-roses” because rose-bushes are guarded by thorns, so to get to the beauty, you have to go through the pain. Reinhold Niebuhr captured these thoughts very elegantly in the “Serenity Prayer“.

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.
–Reinhold Niebuhr

Blessings!
Steve

The LORD is my Shepherd…

As we prepare to bid “Adios” to 2017, a year that, for many of us, has been very difficult, we need to be reminded that the same Shepherd that King David trusted in three-thousand years ago is still on His throne and will lead us onward into and through 2018.

I lost my mom to cancer April 4th of this year. She spent the last 2-1/2 weeks in a Hospice facility, and when I went to see her, I read the 23rd Psalm to her right before I left each time. Even though her thinking wasn’t very clear and she was minimally-responsive, when I read this Psalm to her, she would get the most peaceful-countenance about her as she imagined being led by her great Shepherd. It was all I could do to read the 23rd Psalm at her memorial service without breaking down.

Several of us lost a friend and brother to suicide October 12th. He left his young, pregnant wife and three adorable daughters behind. Other close friends also lost family members this year.

October 22nd was the twentieth anniversary of the death by suicide of my beloved wife, Connie. That kind of loss never goes away, and it is a loss that you don’t just “get-over”.

The 23rd Psalm is the best-know passage in the whole Bible, and even unbelievers want it read at their funeral or memorial service, because it speaks of the kind of comfort and security everyone craves. This is a phrase-by-phrase, part-by-part, meditation, and I hope to open up the richest meaning we can get from this marvelous Psalm.

King David, the author, had been a shepherd long before he was anointed as a king, so he knew intimately what the responsibilities of a shepherd were. As he applied it to us, as sheep under God’s shepherding, he has told us both what our Shepherd will do, and what our response should be.

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23)

The LORD – The LORD – Yahweh…the most personal name of God, the great I AM. This was the marvelous name God told Moses to use when he went back to Egypt to carry out the mission God commanded him to do…liberate the children of Israel from bondage.

Is my shepherd – The supreme God of the universe is the One who has taken on the task of being my God, provider, guide and protector. There is no higher authority…no better provider.

I shall not want – I shall not lack the necessities of life. We have become a seriously materialistic society, and we often confuse our “wants” with what we actually need. God is the provider of our needs, and we should be thankful for “our daily bread“.

He makes me lie down in green pastures – Lying down in green pastures is a picture of rest…rest in abundance.

He leads me beside quiet waters – In all the hustle and bustle of life, God wants to lead us to a peaceful place, a place of refreshing…quiet waters.

He restores my soul – Our souls are in turmoil. We see nothing but bad news…broken relationships, violence, wars, and personal brokenness, but God wants to repair and heal our brokenness, and restore us to a right relationship with Him.

He guides me in paths of righteousness – Our first parents left us with a legacy of sin and despair. We are sinners by birth, and sinners by choice, but God wants us to depend on Him for our righteousness. Then, with His enabling, we are able to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

For His name’s sake – God has staked His own reputation on us, and if we do what is right, we are a positive reflection of Him. We should do everything for His glory, not our own.

Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death – We will all face the valley of death, and maybe many times, as we lose friends and loved ones, but our Lord Jesus has already trod and conquered that lonely valley, and He will guide us safely through. Even though we all will die, unless our Lord returns beforehand, we should see our death not as an exit from this life, but as an entrance-ramp into eternity.

I will fear no evil – Evil IS everywhere around us, because Satan is on the prowl, but his days are numbered. Our Lord Jesus crushed the serpent’s head on the cross, and in so doing, gained the victory over sin and death. Even though evil men may kill us, our victory is assured in Christ. We need not fear the evil one or any of his schemes.

For you are with me – Is there any better assurance? God is with us, and if God is with us, who can successfully be against us. He is our guide, and He walks by our side and carries us when we need to be carried.

Your rod and your staff – These are pictures of both protection and guidance. The rod is a tool of protection from our enemies, and the staff is used to gently guide and direct us in the path.

They comfort me – What greater comfort can we have, than that we are both protected and guided by our faithful Shepherd, even though the path may be rough and steep. This life WILL bring tough times our way, but our comfort must come from the LORD.

You prepare a table before me – This is no ordinary table. It is a lavish banquet table in a magnificent celebration hall, set and prepared by the LORD Himself. We are His honored-guests.

In the presence of my enemies – Our enemies seek to do us harm, but when we are in God’s banquet-hall, all they can do is fuss and fume on the sidelines. God’s banquet-hall is a place of perfect safety and security. We are better-protected than any president ever will be.

You anoint my head with oil – Anointing carries with it a two-fold picture. It is a picture of healing, and also a picture of honor. Priests were anointed for their holy service, and we are anointed both for holy service and as a badge of honor in God’s house.

My cup overflows – A never-ending supply, and a permanent place at His table. There is a limitless supply of His wine of grace.

Sure goodness and mercy – Goodness and mercy=blessings and salvation, which come only from the hand of God. They are not things we can earn or merit.

Will follow me – They will not only follow me, but they will also surround me and en-dwell me.

All the days of my life – God, through Jesus Christ, has guaranteed these blessings for as long as we live.

And I will dwell – Live safely and securely.

In the house – We will no longer be out in the “fields” of life. Instead, we will be HOME, never to be put out to pasture again.

Of the LORD – Our eternal LORD is the provider of our “forever-home“. This reminds me of a child who has been in foster-care for many years, and who has never really had a place to call “home“, but when they are adopted, they are taken to their “forever-home“…the home of their new parents. We have been orphans, but God has adopted us, and He will take us to HIS home…our “forever-home“.

Forever – Do we really comprehend “forever“? If we see someone we haven’t seen in a long time, we may tell them: “I haven’t seen you in forever“, which to us means “a long time“, but that time isn’t even a pin-prick on the time-line of “forever“. The problem is that our minds are constrained by MEASURABLE time, so IMMEASURABLE time is incomprehensible. “Forever” is immeasurable, and we can’t wrap our brains around it, but in fact, that is how “long” we will dwell in the house of the LORD.

Is this LORD your shepherd? I pray that He is, and that you find great comfort in knowing that, no matter what kind of trials come your way, you are in good hands…the hands of the LORD.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Life Is Short – Love Well

You may be thinking that I should say “Life Is Short – Live Well“, but my friends, the key to living well is to love well. How many of us truly “love our neighbor as ourselves“? How many of us truly love our spouse and other family as ourselves? Do we REALLY place their needs and interests ahead of our own desires?

As someone who hasn’t always loved those dearest to me as myself, that is one of my deepest regrets in life. Unfortunately, I more often put my desires ahead of my family’s needs far too many times but I can’t live that way any longer. There is way too much at stake, and just because I lived that way for many years doesn’t mean that I am doomed to live that way for the rest of my life. I have the opportunity to love well, so I don’t want to squander that opportunity.

I am no stranger to death and dying. When I was five or six years old, the teenage son of my dad’s work partner was badly injured (burned) in an on-the-job accidents. The father was badly burned and had a very long recovery, but the son died of his injuries a few days later. My grandfather McFarland died on my eleventh birthday. We lost a dear family-friend in 1973 as they were prepping him for a surgery that would have given him a new lease on life and returned him to the tennis court. Since then, I lost a brother to cancer in 2011, my dad in 2013, and my mom this year.

I was a bagpiper for several years, and during that time, I played services for everyone from a 15-month-old baby, all the way up to people who were in their 80’s. Regardless of who I helped bury, I was affected by each one, not as a disconnected-observer, but as someone who identified with their grief. Death leaves an indelible-mark on our hearts, one that will never go away.

Yes, life IS short, even if a person lived along full life, because God didn’t design death into His original blueprint for mankind. We were meant to live, not die, but the Fall brought death into the human-experience.

Make no mistake about it, “loving-well” is NOT the “easy-path“. It is tough, it is costly, but it is supremely worth it in the end. Our supreme example, Jesus Christ knew from eternity-past what it would cost Him to show God’s love in this way. He knew, before He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary, that a “cross-shaped-shadow” would follow Him from the moment He was conceived until He died on the Cross. Yet, “for the joy that was set before Him“(Hebrews 12:2), He did it all, for me, and for you. What was the “joy that was set before Him“? That “He would bring many sons (and daughters) to glory”(Hebrews 2:10). He could bear suffering as our sin-bearer more than He could bear eternity without His chosen-ones – us. How would YOU like to know your destiny before you were even born. Jesus did, and He carried out God’s plan anyway.

How did Jesus command us to love each other? 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34-35). “As I have loved you”… How did Jesus love His disciples (and us)? He gave His life for us. 12 “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13) “Lay down our life for our friends”? Yes, that is what true love means, putting their needs ahead of our own, and even being willing to lay down our lives for them.

How can you “love well“? Start by holding your money and possessions loosely. He who dies with the most toys does NOT win, he just dies, and leaves those toys to others. Live modestly and within your means. You do NOT have to go into debt for the latest goo-gaw or play-pretty, and trying to “keep up with the Jones” will only result in more headaches and grief. Use your “spare” money to help someone less fortunate than you, and do so gladly. The Jones don’t care, but God does. Do what you do out of love, not because you “have-to“.

Perhaps the hardest part of “loving-well” is “being-there“, and I mean really “BEING-THERE” for those you love. Being “present“, “in the moment“, is very difficult when what they need most is a “listening-ear“, someone who will truly LISTEN to them with understanding AND without judgement. What we think or what we believe is NOT their “reality“, so unless you are asked for your opinion, don’t offer it. Keeping our mouths shut is one of the hardest things in the world, but we have been given TWO ears to listen, but only one mouth, and it MUST be connected to our brain. Don’t speak before you think – a LOT about what you are going to say.

That is what it means to “love-well“.

In Christ,
Steve

Baggage…

I have it, you have it, we ALL have it, but what is it? Our “baggage” is those things in our lives that we would rather forget, but can’t, those things we are NOT proud of. Lest you think that you don’t have any “baggage“, don’t forget that even Jesus had “baggage“. So did Matthew…

Jesus…
1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king. David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah. (Matthew 1:1-6)

Matthew opened his gospel by retelling Jesus’ genealogy, but why did he include some of the more “sordid” details? For him to include women in Jesus’ genealogy was unheard of in Jewish genealogies, but for him to include GENTILE women? Was he airing Jesus’ “dirty-laundry“? Or…

What was it about these women? Tamar was a Canaanite woman, and Judah’s daughter-in-law. Rahab was a harlot (prostitute) from Jericho. Ruth was a Moabite. David “stole” Bathsheba from Uriah and had him murdered.

Reading on in Matthew, we are told that Joseph found out that his fiance, Mary, was pregnant – out of wedlock, but it was “okay“, because she hadn’t “really” been unfaithful. This was to be a “miracle-baby“, and Joseph was going to have to raise him as his own. Let’s see: “miracle-baby“, unwed-mother, in a very “shame-and-honor” culture… It wasn’t going to be easy for them and it only gets “better“…

Jesus was born in a stable, in a barnyard. No baby-bed, just a manger. No baby-clothes, just “swaddling-clothes“. Their first visitors – bewildered shepherds. The “baby-shower” didn’t happen until a couple of years later, and forced them to run for their lives. Some “baby-shower“… Jesus then grew up in the hick-town of Nazareth, in Galilee, of all places. He was the son of a carpenter before He became an iterate-preacher. He was so “ordinary“… Is it any wonder that He drew the down-trodden, the sick and “sinners” like a magnet? Yes, Jesus had “baggage“…

Man who was demon-possessed…
After rescuing a man from wicked, violent, and destructive demonic oppression, Jesus says, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you” (Mark 5:19).

“Go tell your friends...” doesn’t sound like Jesus wanted him to “hide” his past, rather, the man was commanded to showcase God’s love, grace and mercy on him. He was a changed-man because Jesus had changed him, and liberated him from the bondage of demonic oppression.

Matthew…
Matthew was a tax collector, one of the most despised occupations in 1st century Israel. He had “sold his soul” to the Roman government in exchange for a “piece of the action“. Even though he was a Jew, he was a TRAITOR. One would think that, if ANYONE would have wanted to bury his story, Matthew would, but he didn’t. When Matthew walked away from his past, he didn’t leave his friends behind, he threw a PARTY:

9 As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:9-13″

The Pharisees were always concerned about “appearances“, but Jesus wasn’t. Jesus came to call those who knew they had a problem, a problem that only He could fix, and until we realize that we are broken beyond repair, we won’t see that Jesus is our ONLY solution, the only One who can heal our brokenness.

Matthew, as if to remind us of his brokenness and the healing he had received, when he listed the disciples in Matthew 10:2-4, he listed himself as “Matthew the tax collector“. Like Paul, Matthew’s brokenness is canonized in Scripture for us to see, for us to realize that NOBODY is “too broken” to be beyond God’s love, grace and mercy.

Your”baggage”…
What is YOUR attitude towards YOURbaggage“? Do YOU use it to showcase God’s forgiveness, grace and mercy in your life, making you more “relatable“, or do you want to bury it, causing people to think that you may be “too good to be true“, that you “have it all together“? Does it matter? Jesus and Matthew believe that your story “matters“…

During our CNA Spring Conference at Lake Como this last February, I told my “story” on Saturday evening, and then when I spoke Sunday morning, I used my “story” to help others build their “ministry-resume“, because I believe that our “stories“, our “baggage” really DO matter. There are parts of my story that are known only to God, and it will stay that way. We don’t see Matthew publishing a list of everyone he had defrauded, because some of those “details” don’t need to be disclosed, but both Matthew and I have told enough of our story for others to realize that he was, and I am, still a very broken man.

We are redeemed only because Jesus Christ has redeemed us. We couldn’t do it ourselves.

Please don’t hold a “funeral” for your “story“, for your “baggage“. Don’t be chained to your past, but don’t forget it either, because your story, my story, are all part of God’s grander story of redemption through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our sins were nailed to the cross, but our stories still matter.

In Christ,
Steve

Sabbatical

It is time for me to take a break, as hard as that is. My training and psyche are saying “Suck it up buttercup. You are a better man than that.” Sixty-one years of having my self-worth tied to my performance are saying “Suck it up buttercup. You are a better man than that“. I feel like I am letting my ministry and my good readers down by taking a break, but I have to take a break, so I am. It is also hard to admit that I am NOTSuperman“, because for many years, I heeded the “call to duty” regardless of when that call came in.

I am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. My “battery” is drained down to little more than “click-click” when I hit the switch, and if I don’t take a break and recover, the “lights” may not even come on. Yes, I know that I am using “automotive-jargon“, but it is something most people can relate to, and something that is fresh in my mind, because the battery in my truck DIED just a few days ago.

This was NOT an easy decision to make, but after reading “A Theology Of Vacationing“, by Pastor Mark Johnstone, I came to realize that Jesus not only taught it, He commanded it. He did NOT take a poll to see how many of His disciples “wanted” to take a break, He said “We ARE going to take a break” (Mark 6:31, my paraphrase). Jesus was the perfect God-man, so He understood and experienced physical, mental and emotional fatigue. In another scene in the Gospels, we find Jesus “passed-out” in the back of the boat as His disciples were struggling to row across the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:23-25). He was dog-tired, so when He had a chance to sleep, He did. If Jesus knew when to take a break, shouldn’t we take a break too?

Pastor John Piper posted a couple of podcasts back in May, 2014 about “A Theology of Vacations“, where he covered this topic from multiple-angles. He tied this theology in with God’s Sabbath ordinance which included rest for both man and beast. Resting one day a week was NOT an “optional-activity“. He also mentions that Jesus took these breaks, so why shouldn’t we do likewise. Both Pastor John’s and Pastor Mark’s articles are well-worth reading. How many of us actually truly rest and “recreate” one day a week. I have saved them to my computer for future-reference, for when I am tempted to play “Superman” again, and need to be reminded that I am just a frail human.

I posted “Time-Out” August 24, 2015, using these same passages, but have I been wise-enough to heed my own advise? What is good for the rest of you may not apply to me (or so I thought). Why not? Reread the first paragraph…

Why now? I needed to be hit between the eyes by this Biblical doctrine again, from a fresh-perspective, for it to finally sink-in. The more I researched this topic, the more convinced I became. The last time I took a real VACATION was in 2012. Time for another vacation.

So, my friends, I am going to take a sabbatical til the middle of September, to rest, recharge, and get my mental-faculties and emotional fatigue relieved and be ready for a busy Fall season. See you in September.

Blessings,
Steve

Studies in John’s Epistles – 3rd John

Some Things Never Change

3rd John is another personal-letter, which is also his last letter. So short, so telling. John is writing to his friend and brother Gaius. He seems to have been a leader in the church, and even though there are other mentions of men with this name in Scripture, it was a very common name; we can’t be sure if he has other mentions or not. Gaius was obviously serving others, and sharing God’s love with them. He was hosting a group of missionaries, and these workers were people he didn’t know.

You Walk in the Truth
1 The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

2 Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. 4 I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.

As we saw also in 2nd John, his personal greetings are warm and tender. Wishing “prosperity” and “good health” was a common Greek greeting, so we should not be surprised that John greets Gaius this way, but what wasn’t “common” was tying physical prosperity and health together with spiritual-health, so in that regard, this is no “ordinary” letter. Messengers have brought news to John that Gaius is acting in an exemplary-manner, which brings great joy to the Apostle.

5 Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; 6 and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. 7 For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. 8 Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.

Gaius is the kind of Christian who is worthy of imitation. He is serving in love, he is putting others first, he is doing the kinds of things we should be doing. John encourages Gaius to keep up the good work. But there is another guy who comes up in the letter…

9 I wrote something to the church; but Diotrephes, who loves to be first among them, does not accept what we say. 10 For this reason, if I come, I will call attention to his deeds which he does, unjustly accusing us with wicked words; and not satisfied with this, he himself does not receive the brethren, either, and he forbids those who desire to do so and puts them out of the church.

Uh-oh! Looks like John had a wannabe “big-shot” on his hands, a “big-shot” who thought that he knew more than John, who was an Apostle.

This dude Diotrephes is all too common in our day, and obviously they had this sort of nonsense going on even in John’s day. Did you catch what John said about him at the beginning? He said that Diotrephes “loves to be first.” Well that about sums it up! Do you know others who love to be first? They are the important ones, they are the ones who can’t be inconvenienced, they are the ones who always have the last word, who always get their way, and who must always be in charge. They want to be the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral. No doubt we are reminded of the words of Jesus when He said “the first will be last and the last will be first!

Diotrephes won’t welcome the Apostle to the church, and kicks others out for welcoming the strangers that Gaius has taken in. Diotrephes seems to have much to say about others. A bunch of nonsense (or gossip) is being spread about people like John himself, who should be given the respect they are due. I wonder if Diotrephes is doing this because he must be in the spotlight, and just can’t handle it when someone else gets attention.

I cringe when I see a ministry named after its founding-father and guiding-light, even though I know that there are many GOOD ministries so-named. All I can ask is “Why?

Maybe we’ll never know the exact motivation, but I think we recognize the person, and John is telling us not to emulate them or their behavior. Who can argue with that advice?

People follow all kinds of “role models” these days, but unfortunately, many people are following the wrong kinds of “role models“. We see big-name sports-stars get rewarded with even juicier contracts after an episode of wrong-behavior. What is wrong with that picture? Who do you know who would be a GOODrole model” for people to follow?

11 Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. The one who does good is of God; the one who does evil has not seen God. 12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself; and we add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.

Finally, another good guy is mentioned: Demetrius. So there you have it, two brothers who are serving faithfully, and one bad apple. It seems that the bad apple makes the most noise, but the faithful servants are making a difference for the Gospel. I’d say there might be a lesson in this for us!

13 I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we will speak face to face.

As we saw in 2nd John, the Apostle had many more things to say, but he wanted to say them in person. We read the words of Jesus in the Gospels, and read the Apostle’s writings, and yet, if Jesus or one of the Apostles walked through the door of this room, we would turn our attention to them and would be all-ears for what they had to say. Nothing beats face-to-face interaction.

Jesus and the Apostles said many things which were never recorded, but as John wrote in John 20:30, we have a very-adequate record for our needs and purposes, and while the ministries of Jesus and the Apostles only reached a few people during their lifetimes; countless millions of people have been reached by the written word they left behind.

15 Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends by name.

As John is closing this personal letter, he sends greetings from those who are with him, and Gaius would know who else to greet by name.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in John’s Epistles – 2 John 1

Unlike 1st John, which was very likely a chain-letter, 2nd John is addressed to very specific people, “the chosen lady and her children.” John isn’t breaking any “new-ground“; rather he is summarizing specific teachings into concise “bullet-points“.

Since the “chosen lady” is NOT identified, nor are we told where she lived, any speculation is useless. It IS quite-likely that she had read John’s 1st Epistle, because John only summarizes and reinforces the key teachings of his first Epistle.

2nd John is only one of many “personal-letters” (Epistles) which have been preserved for us in the New Testament. John wrote two, 2nd and 3rd John, Paul wrote four, 1st and 2nd Timothy, Titus and Philemon, and we must not forget that Luke addressed both his Gospel (Luke) and Acts to Theophilus. The New Testament would be much “emptier” without these books.

1 The elder to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in truth; and not only I, but also all who know the truth, 2 for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever: 3 Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.

As we saw in 1st John, John calls himself “the elder“. “Elder” is otherwise known as “Teacher“, “Pastor“, “Bishop” or “Minister” in the New Testament. The Pastor in many churches is also known as the “Teaching Elder“, as distinguished from “Ruling Elders”.

Chosen lady“…”chosen” by whom? “Chosen” by God. John didn’t just pull “chosen” out of thin-air, because everyone would acknowledge that the Jews were God’s “chosen people“. God “chose” Abraham to be the father of the nation whose ultimate goal was to bring forth the Messiah, the “seed of the woman” who would “crush the head of the serpent” (Genesis 3:15), and through whom “all the nations of the earth would be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). God then “chose” Judah to be the father of the tribe from which the Messiah would arise. Furthermore, God then “chose” David to bear a “greater Son“, the Messiah. If we dig back to the “root” of “chosen“, it will take us all the way back to Adam, and the son God “chose” to be the ancestor of the Messiah, and to Noah’s son whom God “chose” to be the ancestor of the Messiah.

John’s understanding of “chosen” was cemented in his mind and heart by his interactions with, and the teachings of Jesus, the Messiah. “Chosen” and “elect” are used virtually interchangeably throughout the New Testament. That would be an intensive study in and of itself, so I won’t delve into it here.

John not only addresses this letter to “the chosen lady“, but also to “her children“. These “children” may have either been her own “children“, or if she was a “spiritual-mother” to many other people, it could have meant to them too. “Whom I love in truth“, John had a deep affection, a spiritual-affection, for this particular group of people. John then enjoins everyone “who knows the truth” to be part of this great “love-circle“, “for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever.” As the result of being part of this beloved-gathering, he says; “Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” If we know and love the truth, this result will be in us as well, because “grace“, “mercy” and “peace” are ours in Christ. Even though we may have a lot of turmoil and trouble in this world, we are at peace with God through Jesus Christ, His finished-work and shed-blood on our behalf. We have been declared “righteous” before God, and that should give us an unshakable “inner-peace“.

4 I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. 5 Now I ask you, lady, not as though I were writing to you a new commandment, but the one which we have had from the beginning, that we love one another. 6 And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.

The glad-news had reached John that some members of this family were practicing what he had taught them earlier. How disappointing would it have been to get news that they had abandoned the truth, as evidenced by their un-Christ-like behavior? John reiterates his admonishment that they KEEP on loving one-another. Jesus, in John 13:35 said “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist. 8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

7 For many deceivers have gone out into the world, those who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the Antichrist.

Where have we seen this theme before? Didn’t John just address this theme in a significant-portion of 1st John? He is reiterating the point that our Christology (doctrine of Christ) matters, a LOT. It is easy to have a “soft” or “faultyChristology. All we have to do is “follow-the-crowd” and not study the Bible for ourselves. Having a strong and robust Christology is even counter-cultural in some religious-circles.

I think that many people who have a faulty-understanding of the Imago Dei (image of God in man) also have a “soft” or “faultyChristology, because, if they look upon our human-bodies with disdain, it is quite easy for them to disdain Christ’s full-humanity as well.

Even as they mouth the words of the Apostle’s Creed; “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen!” they are thankful that it doesn’t go into any more detail about His life as a Man, and they certainly don’t want us “filling in the blanks“. Yet, if Jesus Christ wasn’t fully-human, we aren’t saved, and we are wasting our time here. It is no exaggeration that our salvation hinges on the full-humanity of Jesus Christ. These are warnings we still desperately-need today.

8 Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 9 Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; WOW! Another bold-warning. Tenaciously cling to the TRUTH so that you get your full-reward, but what was “the teaching of Christ“? Have we forgotten about the two “Great Commandments“? Have we forgotten how Jesus commanded us to love one-another? Jesus said; “Love God above all else“, “Love your neighbor as yourself“, and “Love one another as I have loved you“. That is where “the rubber meets the road“. Do not forsake the truth that you have received, because, if you do, you DON’T EVEN HAVE GOD. We are to demonstrate, by our actions, that we are obeying “the teaching of Christ“. That is why, in addition to teaching sound-doctrine, I believe that our “greatest-asset” as a community of Believers is that we also having a “loving-community“. While others here at the Cove may reject the Gospel, it won’t be because we don’t love one another.

9b The one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If we abide in the “teaching of Christ“, we have the assurance that we are in Christ, and are accepted by the Father also. We have ASSURANCE OF OUR SALVATION. It is as simple as that.

10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; 11 for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.

WOW!! We aren’t to even associate or fellowship with these false-teachers, because, if we do associate and fellowship with these false-teachers, we are PARTICIPATING IN THEIR EVIL DEEDS. We are to shun and dis-fellowship them from our church-family, i.e., excommunicate them. I know from experience that they DON’T want to have their “eyes-opened” to the truth. They are so “set in their ways” that, no matter how much “evidence” you give them from the Bible, they will STILL refuse the truth. Some would even prefer that there was no “bodily-resurrection“, that they could spend their days in Heaven as “disembodied-spirits“, because they DISDAIN OUR HUMAN-BODIES THAT MUCH.

12 Though I have many things to write to you, I do not want to do so with paper and ink; but I hope to come to you and speak face to face, so that your joy may be made full.

In this day of “instant-communications“, there are still many things we CAN’T do “long-distance“. “Virtual-hugs” are better than none at all, but we all need real hugs, or try eating together – long-distance. I am a member of the CNA Board, and because we are geographically spread-out, we have had to have our Board meetings by phone-conference. Yes, we planned the CNA Spring Conference by email and phone-conference, but we also scheduled a Board meeting during the Conference when we could all meet face-to-face.

We may not have done any more business than we would have done by phone-conference, but there was something extra-special having the five of us gathered in a circle, in the same room, doing the business of CNA. That meeting will be long-remembered for being our first face-to-face meeting as a Board.

John understood this too, and he was looking-forward, as we did, to being with those he loved and cared deeply about. We were created for personal-relationships with one-another. I love this quote from Eugene Peterson, “Wonder can’t be packaged, and it can’t be worked up. It requires some sense of being there and some sense of engagement.”

13 The children of your chosen sister greet you. (2 John 1)

John is sending greetings from the children of another “chosen sister“, because everyone who is a child of God IS a “Brother” or a “Sister“. It is quite common for visiting-Pastors to bring greetings from their home-church, and when I speak at other venues, I always bring greetings in the name of the Lord from Cypress Cove Bible Fellowship. That reinforces the truth that, while we are geographically-diverse, we are still a part of the same body of Christ, the Church.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Studies in John’s Epistles – 1 John 5

John continues with his theme of “Love God and love one-another” which began earlier in this Epistle. He is no doubt recalling what Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)

This is where “the rubber meets the road“…

Overcoming the World
5 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.

This Is Written That You May Know
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.

21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (1 John 5)

Keep His Commands
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:1-5)

As we begin the final chapter of John’s letter, John continues to tell us that we must love God and love each other. He’s been doing this for dozens of verses now; for some who read this, John is going to throw you another curve!

The curve is in verse 2: This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. I’ve never heard anyone argue with the loving God part; that seems easy, almost abstract, but carrying out His commands is often a sticking point. As we have stated many times going through this letter, God’s commands can be summed up very easily. We are to love God, and love one another.

John just gave us a way for us to do our own “spiritual-checkup“. You have probably heard the old axiom, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating“. It may look good and even smell good, but whether it actually IS good is if it TASTES good. It is easy for us to SAY that we love our brothers and sisters, even that we love our neighbor, but talk is cheap if we don’t actually demonstrate love for our brothers and sisters, and love for our neighbor. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

Oh, hold on, did I forget one? Yes, thank you for reminding me, it is love God, love one another and make disciples. That’s the one many people get stuck on… There are all kinds of criticisms for this, as though I (or someone else) made it up or something, but that is simply not the case! What was Jesus’ overarching purpose?

“For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)

What was Jesus’ final command?

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

No, I didn’t make this up! Since we have talked about this many times, rather than to explain it again, let’s just try a new approach. First, how can we ever say that we love God, but we won’t follow His command to share that love with others? How can we say we love others, and not share the love of God with them? Come on now, that wouldn’t even make sense, would it? God first loved us, so He sent His Son to die for our sins, so if we don’t share God’s love with others who are lost, are we not sharing because God really didn’t love them as much as He loved us?

OK, fine. We share with the lost and they enter into relationship with Jesus Christ; now they are our brother or sister in the Lord. So what then? Will we just stand by and watch them struggle with their new faith, or will we help them along their way? Which choice demonstrates love in action?

Making disciples” isn’t just evangelism, although it includes evangelism. “Making disciples” involves “discipling” or training them. “Training them” for what? “Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you“, which includes training them to become “disciple-makers” themselves. “The success of a church must never be measured by its “seating-capacity”, but by its “SENDING-capacity“. We aren’t called to make “pew-sitters“; we are called to make more “disciple-makers“.

Jesus didn’t train His disciples for over three years to be “Bible scholars” or “academics“. He trained them to carry-on the work which He had started. That must always be our goal.

John goes on to mention that obeying His commands isn’t burdensome because in Him, we have overcome the world. Ever wonder what that has to do with anything? What is it that would hold us back from making disciples? Go ahead and make a short mental list of what might hold you back. Got it? OK, good. Does it have things like being afraid they’ll say no? How about not wanting others to think you’re weird? Maybe you’re afraid that you won’t know all the answers. Yes, there are other possibilities, but in my experience, these are the kinds of things people usually say. In Him, we’ve overcome the world, and these are thoughts of the world, not His thoughts. Was Jesus ever afraid of rejection or embarrassment or afraid of anything this world could do to Him? No. Why would we be concerned about such things? We have overcome the world! We have overcome the world because of our faith! Sometimes, like you, I need to remind myself about that!

To carry out God’s commands is not burdensome, because it is a joy! I can tell you from my own experience that there is no greater joy in this life than to see a person I have mentored grow in their faith, and step up to serve God because of their love for Him. Yes, it is by far the greatest joy there is!

Haves and Have Not’s
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:6-12

What an interesting text! Do you remember John’s warning about Antichrists in chapters 1 and 4? John was warning the people of his time against the false teachings of the Gnostics, who denied that Jesus came in the flesh, and that He was “from the Father.” John is taking aim at them again in this text when he speaks of the testimony of three witnesses. In our time, while this is still a very important point, we tend to get into arguments about the water and blood part, with various interpretations regarding John’s meaning. For our purposes, I’ll give you my idea on this point, but I’ll spare you the lengthy dissertation on it, since I’d prefer to focus on application rather than systematic theology, and you probably would as well.

One of the main points of contention between Christian teaching and that of the Gnostics was whether or not Jesus came in the flesh; in a human body. The Gnostic approach was that He came more in a spirit form and not in physical form, since everybody knows that the physical body is evil… or so they said. It is always interesting to me to hear Christians who maintain this, since the notion of the human body being evil or dirty is a Greek impulse, not a Biblical teaching… but alas, I digress! That the Spirit testifies that Jesus is from the Father is obviously a reference to the Holy Spirit who testifies about Jesus. The water, in my view, is a reference to His baptism. To be baptized is a physical activity, in which an actual body is needed; a spirit would be rather impossible to immerse in water. The blood, as I see it, is a reference to what Jesus did on the cross, since it would be a difficult thing to nail a spirit to a cross and have it bleed.

The water as a giver of testimony seems to me to refer to the baptism of a new follower of Jesus, who is immersed as a testimony of dying and raising again a new creation. The blood is declared when we partake of Communion, where we declare for all time the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When you put these three things together, you have an ongoing testimony about Jesus from the Holy Spirit, from millions of baptisms, and from our observance of Communion that Jesus came in the flesh from the Father. You might also note that the Old Testament Law requires the testimony of two or three witnesses, and John is providing three. If your reading of this is different from mine, that’s fine, for the larger point for us is what follows…

Let’s pick up John’s discussion here in verse 9:

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. (9-11)

His point that we will readily believe a human testimony, but not God’s is a warning to all of us. There are all sorts of human teachings about Jesus, many of which are designed to convince us that He never even existed, and the difference between life and death is whether or not we will accept God’s testimony, given not only by his Word, but by the Spirit. Just think about how crucial this is!

Then comes the most important, bottom-line statement of all in verse 12:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Please take a moment for this to sink in… and recall our discussion about keeping His commands.

Yes, this is what I think we need to consider. Some of John’s writings are a little cryptic; he has a way of meandering around in a circle, and his meaning is vague… until he drops the bomb at the end, and this is one of them. It’s one thing for us to say that life is in Christ, but the other side of the proverbial coin is that outside of Christ there is only doom!

Jesus has commanded that we make disciples, and that begins with leading the lost to Him. There is a great deal at stake with this process, and John has made that abundantly clear in verse 12, wouldn’t you agree? Maybe there was a time when you could share the peril and doom with a person who didn’t know Him, but if there was such a time, it is long gone. I am aware that many Christians have been impressed with this, and out of their misguided love, they have run out and shared the warning… and driven off those whom they had hoped to save. The world around us, our culture, and our society has picked up on this, and rather than be flattered that someone cared, they became enraged at the affront of it all, causing no end of trouble.

When Jesus Christ is involved, there is always hope! In this case, there is a simple, if not always easy, answer: Share His love in grace. In loving relationship, many will respond to His love. We must be sensitive to the fact that so many have a negative image of Christianity, whether it is fair or not. Approaching people in love means that we bother to actually care about them, it takes time, and it is a kind of investment in people, without judgments, without threats, without doom. Even the most hardened hearts can be mended by the love of God… and I think it is especially important to bear in mind that it is God’s love that we must display in sharing with others.

His Will
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:13-15

These three simple verses are encouraging ones, for they assure us of two wonderful things. First, we have eternal life. Second, anything we ask for in prayer will be done, if we ask in God’s will. This is our focus here: God’s will.

The whole idea of tacking “in Jesus’ name, Amen” has always struck me as trying to work the system just a little bit. Of course, we do that because Jesus is recorded three times in John’s gospel telling His disciples that anything they ask for in His name will be given them. Never mind that all three times were firmly within the context of doing God’s will, all we need to do is tack on the magic words… Only it doesn’t work like that!

Yeah, I hate to be the one who has to tell you that God thought of that one already.

Our prayers that are outside of God’s will aren’t guaranteed to be answered, because God is all about HIS purposes, and we are HIS servants, not the other way around. So, the question really is what is within God’s will? It isn’t always in God’s will that nice things happen, that the sick are always healed and that the bad guy loses the game. In fact, it can be quite difficult to discern His will in some situations, especially when we are emotionally invested. There are some things that are always within the scope of God’s eternal purpose, can you guess what they are?

Yep, that’s right, you got it! Things that pertain to saving the lost and making disciples are always within His will. Not things that just make it easier for us, or that make us look like heroes, but things that get those “Kingdom things” done. In this area, prayer is so powerful it can be scary… in a good way.

We must pray big prayers, with boldness, and with the sure expectancy that God will do great things with them, but we need to ensure that our prayers are to advance God’s priorities, according to God’s ways of doing things.

OK, here we go… big bold “God’s will” prayers and no more little “me” ones. Just watch and see what amazing things He can do!

Thrill-packed Ending
If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 1 John 5:16-17

As we move along through this letter, we think we have John all figured out, and then we come to these two verses, so near to the end of the letter. At first, they don’t seem to belong, what is John talking about? Where did this come from?

So let’s see if we can follow him… if a brother sins, we are to pray for him, and God will give him life. OK, I think I get it; God will forgive the sin, and straighten the guy out. Hold on, that is if the sin isn’t a sin that leads to death; but I thought death was the price of all sin! John’s making it sound like any sin can be forgiven, except one; and this one sin can be committed by our “brother or sister.” Obviously old John needs to brush up on his Calvinism!

All kidding aside, John could have at least mentioned what that sin is… leaving that little detail out makes this hard to follow, at least for me. I wonder why he would do that. Maybe he didn’t think he needed to mention it, maybe he thought he’d already covered that somewhere; could that part have been lost over time or something? Let’s think.

What was the letter about? Oh, yes, it was about false teachers, in fact it was about a certain kind of false teacher, Gnostic false teachers, who claimed that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh. Hold on, John came up with a special word to describe them: Antichrist! Aha! Now this is beginning to make sense, the Antichrist is not to be forgiven; you don’t need to pray for this. When your brother stumbles, pray for him, when you stumble ask God and He will forgive. Stay away from the Antichrist.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:18-20)

John is winding up the letter now, as he recounts some basic facts of Christian life. A follower of Jesus is not to continue in the old ways. He or she has been buried with Christ, and arisen again as a new creation, leaving the old behind. The “One who was born of God“, which is to say the Lord Jesus, keeps us safe from the evil one. This is a pretty important statement for us to keep in mind, especially when we are looking for somebody to blame for our mistakes. John points out that the whole world is under the control of the evil one, and you will no doubt recall that he has already warned us not to love the world, now you know why.

Now, John drops in a comforting and powerful thought: Jesus has given us understanding so that we may know who is true; it is Jesus who is true. If we have the understanding to know who is true, we can also discern who is not. Maybe this is why the arguments and understanding of this world can be so attractive to the world, and appear so idiotic to a follower of Jesus… and vice-versa. Hmmm, might want to ponder that for a bit. God is the one who is true, and the giver of eternal life.

Idolatry
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.

Idolatry is rampant and insidious in our society, and even though John wrote this almost two-thousand years ago, it is as valid today as it was when he wrote it.

Do you have an “idol” in your home? Do you have a shrine to your favorite “deity“? Do you have tributes to your favorite “idol” in your closet, dresser or on your hat-rack? Maybe you are wondering what I am talking about, because you would NEVER worship another “deity” besides God, and yet idolatry wasn’t just a problem in the Old Testament or when John wrote this letter, it is a real problem today, even among Christians.

Virtually every city or town in America has at least one shrine, and many major cities have dozens of shrines and grand temples to their favorite “deities“. Some of those temples have even been built with tax-payer money. Sometimes one of those “deities” will threaten to move somewhere else unless the city builds them a new temple.

Very few homes in America are without at least one altar to the family’s favorite “deities“, and many homes have one of those altars in every room in the house. Usually the biggest altar is in the living room or family room so the whole family can worship together, and the bigger the altar the better.

People spend hundreds, and even thousands of dollars to worship in their favorite temple, and many buy season-tickets to those temples so they don’t miss out on anything. They will stand in line for hours, and some have even been known to camp out overnight so they can get the best seats. Some people take expensive vacations to go worship in their favorite temple and bring homage to their favorite “deity“.

They throw elaborate parties to worship at the altars of their favorite deities, and it isn’t unusual for there to be lots of liquor involved also. People go crazy over their “deities“.

God said, in Exodus 20:3-6;
3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Another “god”…
Yes, maybe I have finally lost my mind, or maybe I haven’t. The reality is that the vast majority of Americans spend way more time and money on entertainment than they do in the worship of God. That, my friends, is idolatry.

We have “American Idol” and “Dancing With The Stars“…

The shrines…
In most homes, their shrine is their entertainment-center, and the altar, and most important part of the entertainment-center, is their television. Feeding that altar is usually a satellite dish or cable-TV provider, and we can’t forget that DVD player and the Digital Video Recorder. People are paying some serious money for those “special packages” which include subscriptions to all their favorite “deities“. They can worship all their favorite “deities” right in their own home, in the comfort of their own living room or family room. I have a friend who used to pay her Direct-TV bill even if she didn’t have enough money for her rent and utilities. She goes ballistic if she can’t watch TV. She also thinks that I am “deprived” because, even though I have a TV, it isn’t hooked up to anything. A recent Red-box movie rental ended up costing her over $100 after she paid the late-return fee and the overdraft fees on her bank account. NO movie is worth that much to see.

How many towns don’t have a movie theater? Sometimes there is even a movie theater in one of those “one-horse” towns, because movies are big business. New-release movies will rake in a hundred MILLION dollars in just a few short days. That is insane.

The temples…
If there is a major sports franchise in your city, you have at LEAST one temple to the city’s favorite “deity“. If there are several major sports franchises in your city, there will be temple for each, because, heaven-forbid, they share temple space with each other. A nice sports-temple costs a half a BILLION dollars and up.

The grand-daddy…
The grand-daddy of all of the entertainment venues in my neck of the woods is Disney World. That place rakes in money so fast it would make your head swim. It may be the “happiest place on earth“, but it is also the greediest. Tens of thousands of people flock there every day to empty out their wallet and be entertained.

The tribute…
Virtually everywhere I look, I see someone wearing some item of tribute to their favorite “deity“, a jacket, a shirt, a T-shirt or a hat. People love to advertise their favorite “deities” and pay tribute to them. Regardless of which “deity” is on display, the item cost way more than it is worth.

The real problem…
We have become “children of a lesser god“, the “god” of pleasure, the “god” of entertainment, and while we spend BILLIONS of dollars on entertainment, many churches have trouble coming up with enough money to cover their bare-minimum budgets. Our Senior Pastor had to take a ten-week, unpaid sabbatical about three years ago because the church didn’t have enough money to cover its expenses. Our Associate Pastor was also paid way less than what he should have been for the same reason.

We have a serious problem with our priorities. “Self” has taken the place of God, and pleasure has trumped responsibility.

When was the last time you took vacation to go to a church retreat? Are you more faithful at your favorite sports venue than you are to your church? Do you skip church to watch the Superbowl, or are Sunday-evening church functions cancelled because of the Superbowl? Some churches even have Superbowl parties…

We have turned entertainment “stars” and sports “heroes” into our IDOLS and pay them millions of dollars a year, for what, while our REAL heroes can’t even make a decent living and they do their work largely-unnoticed. Our value-system has been turned on its head.

Many of these “stars“, “heroes” and “idols” are also horrible role-models, and it seems like the worse they are as role-models, the more they get paid. There is something seriously-wrong with that picture.

John admonishes us; “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”

How about you?
Are you a “child of a  lesser-god“? Do you worship the idols of entertainment and pleasure?

If you do, God has a few words for you:

3 “You shall have no other gods before me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Sola Deo Gloria!

A Creational-Approach to Missions

Has the church been doing missions “wrong” for almost two-thousand years? No, but I believe that we can deepen our passion for missions by going back and asking “Why did God make man?” This also relates-directly to the greatest philosophical and theological question of all time, “Why am I here?

As I have worked on my message for the Sunday morning service during the 2017 CNA Spring Conference, I have been drawn to ponder more deeply what the foundation of that message should be. I believe that this must be rooted in what God has revealed about Himself in His Word, the Bible. Lest you think that I have finally lost my mind, bare with me and it should all start making sense.

Creation…
The first four words of the Bible are “In the beginning, God…” Our Creator-God pre-existed all of creation, so He decreed the “beginning“. The first two chapters of Genesis are the story of creation, what God did, and how He did it. As great as the cosmos is, they weren’t God’s ultimate-acts of creation. God simply spoke the cosmos into being, ex nihilo, out of nothing, but when He was ready to create man, He attended to that project personally.

Scientists love to talk about the “big-bang“, as if all matter coalesced into one place and exploded. Where did THAT matter come from? Matter isn’t self-generating. I also believe in a “big-bang“, a God-ordained “big-bang“, because when God said “let there be light“, and the nuclear-fires of a gazillion stars lit as one, releasing an enormous burst of light and energy, that WAS an unimaginably BIG BANG.

We pick up the story of man’s creation from Genesis 1:
26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. 28 God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30 and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to everything that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so. 31 God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. (Genesis 1:26-31)

What jumps out at you in Genesis 1?

From Genesis 1:
Man is created in God’s image.

That “image” is both male and female. We are neither one a “greater-image-bearer‘ than the other.

God gave two commands, “be fruitful and multiply“, and “subdue and rule over the earth“. God gave us the reasons for our existence from the very beginning, our “why’s“.

God created mankind to co-create more bearers of His image, and to continue His work in the world.

7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:7, 15-25)

What jumps out at you in Genesis 2?

From Genesis 2:
God got His hands dirty, because He hand-formed the man from the dust of the ground.

God performed the first “artificial-respiration“. God didn’t “snap His fingers” to bring His creature to life, He breathed His OWN breathe into the man.

There was only one restriction; do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Man needed companionship.

God performed the first “anesthesia” and the first “surgery“, making God the first Doctor.

The “companion” God created was NOT another man; it was a woman, the perfect-complement to the man. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.”

24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

Naked and not ashamed“: Adam and Eve had perfect-fellowship with God, just as God intended.

Why did God make man?
We often have trouble separating our “needs” from our “wants“, but God doesn’t have that problem. People have lived for thousands of years, and still do, in “improvised-shelters“, “shelters” that do what “shelters” are intended to do, “shelter” them from the elements. “Shelter” is a basic “need“, and yet, particularly here in the US, most of us aren’t content with “basic-shelter“. WE WANT MORE! We WANT homes with all the “amenities“, even when we could get by with much less. That is only one example of how we have inflated our “needs” into often-overblown WANTS.

Does God “need” anything? God has been totally self-sufficient and self-sustaining for all eternity. To put it more succinctly, God didn’t “need” to make man. The Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit ARE the PERFECT-FAMILY. There is no tension, strife or discord within the Trinity. As God told Moses from the burning-bush, He is the great I AM. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

What if God “wanted” something He didn’t have? What if God wanted a larger family, a “forever-family“? One of the few things God CAN’T do is procreate or replicate Himself. There always have been three persons in the Godhead, and there will always be three persons in the Godhead, because God is unchangeable.

If we want a larger family, we have two options, procreation and adoption. Many couples don’t have the option of procreation for a variety of reasons, one being endometriosis. Endometriosis runs in my first wife’s family, and even though Connie didn’t have that problem, our oldest daughter does, and has had since she was about thirteen. After trying for several years, she and her husband adopted a baby boy. She got pregnant shortly thereafter. They have two boys, and a “blended-family“, including ethnically-blended, because the boy they adopted is black, and she and her husband are white. I am button-popping proud of them as parents, and of both boys as my grandsons. A couple in my church has three children naturally, and they adopted three siblings. The youngest, a boy, is autistic.

For God to have a larger family, His ONLYoption” was “adoption“, which is why the theme of “adoption” comes up frequently in the New Testament. That, my friends, I believe, is why God created mankind, so He could have the larger family He desires.

What happened?
We have seen God’s plan to create and adopt a larger family, but something got in the way.

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; 3 but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” 4 The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! 5 For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings.

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” 11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” 14 The Lord God said to the serpent,
“Because you have done this,
Cursed are you more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you will go,
And dust you will eat
All the days of your life;
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall crush your head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.” (Genesis 3:1-15)

Something happened, and it wasn’t good. Satan attempted to usurp God’s place to build his OWNfamily“. While it appears that Satan succeeded in the short-run, God wasn’t having any part of it.

Did this turn of events catch God off-guard? If it did, God isn’t God. The reality is that God knew this was going to happen before He even began creation. God’s “plan of redemption” was NOT some “Plan-B“, and the rest of the Old Testament is the unfolding-story leading up the coming of the promised “the seed of the woman“.

Redemption…
4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons (and daughters). 6 Because you are sons (and daughters), God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son (or daughter); and if a son (or daughter), then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7)

Notice that glorious word “ADOPTION“. “Adoption” means that we are part of God’s “forever-family“, furthermore, we can call Him “daddy (Abba)“, and we have become “heirs” of God’s kingdom.

Jesus Christ was that long-promised “seed of the woman” who “crushed the serpent’s head” at Calvary, so that we could become part of God’s “forever-family“.

Why am I here?
For most of us, it is quite easy for us to determine “why” we are doing what we are doing at a particular moment in time, but when we get to the overarching question of “Why am I here?”, we are stumped. We don’t have a clue, UNLESS we have developed a Biblical view of our meaning in life.

About 350 years ago, a group of Bible scholars and theologians met in Westminster Abbey to scour the Scriptures for the most important doctrines of our faith. They summarized those doctrines in short, concise statements, in what became the Westminster Confession of Faith. Many churches and denominations still subscribe to that Confession, including my home church, Cypress Ridge Pres. I also subscribe to that Confession.

From that Confession of Faith, they set out to formulate teaching-tools so that those great doctrines could be taught to the masses. They produced two Catechisms, a Larger, more detailed Catechism, and a Shorter, or more simplified Catechism, which is suitable for even young children.

The very first question they asked was “Why am I here?” Thus, question and answer one is:
Q – What is the chief end of man?

A – Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.

If you are thinking that this question sounds suspiciously like “Why am I here?”, you are right, because the Bible should inform our understanding of “why” we are here, the “meaning of life“. If it doesn’t, we are looking for “meaning” in all the wrong places.

Why am I here? To be part of God’s “forever-family“.

Family rules…
For a family to function smoothly, there have to be rules, rules about how the children are to interact with their parents, and rules for now the children are to interact with each other. God’s family is no different; hence God gave us the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments tell us how we are to interact with God. The other six commandments tell us how we are to interact with one another.

20 Then God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.

4 “You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, 6 but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.

7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who [e]stays with you. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:1-17)

By the time Jesus came to earth, the number of rules and regulations in the Torah had blossomed to over six-hundred, covering virtually every aspect of life. If the Pharisees thought that God hadn’t been “detailed-enough“, they added even more rules and regulations. They were always trying to pick a fight with Jesus, but they ALWAYS lost. Not surprisingly, they kept trying, because He made them look like the idiots they were. Anything to save-face…

34 But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. 35 One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

We will now focus on that second Great Commandment:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself…

We can certainly think of many ways we can show love for our neighbor, and all of them are valid, however, what is our neighbor’s GREATESTneed“? Think about that “need” for a few moments before we go on.

God gave me a “love-project” for over three years, a sickly, injury-prone neighbor. She needed MANY things, many of which I was able to help her with, but since she thought that she had gotten her “ticket punched” when she was a young girl, she thought that she “had it made“, and had no interest in the things of the Lord. Her lifestyle reflects that belief. She ONLY goes to church when she thinks it will be “advantageous” to her. She has a great “need“, even though she thinks she doesn’t.

There are MANY like her in this world, for whom God may only be a “useful-accessory“, it at all. We see them everywhere we turn.

Every person belongs to one of two families, either God’s family, or Satan’s family. There is NOmiddle-ground“. They are also going to either Heaven, or Hell. Again, there is NOmiddle-ground“.

What is MANKIND’S GREATEST “NEED”?

Mankind’s greatest “need” is to be restored to a right-relationship with God, and to become part of God’s “forever-family“. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ IS the GOOD NEWS that we can be restored to a right-relationship with God, and join His “forever-family

God has given US the awesome-privilege of being part of His “adoption-agency“, so doesn’t it make sense for us to share the Good News of the Gospel so that others can become part of His “forever-family“, and participate in His ultimate-plan for mankind? I sure think so.

That, my friends, is how we can “love our neighbor” in the very-best-way possible.

Sola Deo Gloria!