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Posts Tagged ‘mercy’

My niece, a young wife and mom, is dealing with cancerous brain tumors. My husband’s nephew, a young husband and father, is dealing with thyroid cancer. It is my way to encourage them through written letters. Here’s the one I sent them both today.

This morning in my devotions I read about Ezekiel’s call from God. What happens between God and Ezekiel strikes me as very significant for you. Let me try to paraphrase:

God tells Ezekiel to stand up so He can speak to Him. The Spirit enters Ezekiel and he hears God’s instruction. God tells Ezekiel to go to the stubborn and rebellious Israelites. God tells Ezekiel not to be afraid of them, even if “thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions.” Then God tells Ezekiel to open his mouth and eat the scroll that He puts in his mouth. He tells Ezekiel to go speak “My words to them … the house of Israel.”

God explains that the people of Israel won’t want to listen to Ezekiel because those people have “a hard forehead and a stubborn heart.” But then He says, “Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.” (Excerpts from Ezekiel 2:1-3:11)

Now, you haven’t been asked to go speak to rebellious Israelites, but you are up against a stubborn and rebellious enemy who hates the human life that God so loves. As God’s child you are not only living in a world broken by sin, but your body and soul are engaged in physical and spiritual battle. In sickness and difficulty, Satan wants you to doubt the mercy and work of Jesus Christ. He wants you to think that God has abandoned you.

God has not told you to “eat this scroll” and then speak to a rebellious nation, but He has told you to digest the Word He has given you for life—the Word fulfilled in Christ Jesus. He wants you to trust His Word and then use it to speak to the fear and doubt that comes in your weak and weary moments.

Here’s the profound part of the dialogue between God and Ezekiel that I think applies to you. God made Ezekiel’s “face as hard as their faces” and his “forehead as hard as their foreheads.” In other words, the Lord prepared Ezekiel for the challenge he would experience. He gave to Ezekiel the strength and determination needed to stand up to strong-willed and determined people. He comforts Ezekiel, saying, “Fear them not.” I believe that God has prepared you for your own challenge. With the faith He has given you comes determination and courage even in the face of cancer. He promises you His Spirit who comforts you and intercedes for you (Romans 8:26). And when a neighbor or caregiver struggling with their own difficulties and fears sees your eyes resting on the Cross of Christ, can you deny that God might work through you to turn their eyes there, too?

God is God. And He will be exalted (Psalm 46:10-11). Repeatedly throughout all of Scripture, we read how God is exalted at those very times when Adam or Abraham or Jacob or David or even the disciples believed everything was hopeless and lost. That is how it is with Almighty God. That’s how He works. Nothing overcomes Him. He overcomes everything. In His way. And for His purpose. If this mighty yet merciful Lord and Savior is our God, then you and I have nothing to fear.

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“People have trigger warnings and safe zones because they feel powerless against the ideas they’re facing, but when students grasp reality through a biblical worldview they don’t feel powerless.” (Jeff Myers, President of Summit Ministries).

When I was a young woman, I don’t remember being “triggered” or needing to seek a “safe zone.” But then, I wasn’t nurtured by parents, teachers, pastors, or the culture to think that an emotional gut reaction to a problem or alternate way of thinking is acceptable and healthy.

Ok. I get it. The times have changed.

But people have not. Women and men have always had–and on this earth will continue to have–emotions triggered by sights, sounds, smells and, yes, those ideas that oppose our own.

Whenever given the opportunity, we ought to engage not a whole crowd of “triggered” people, but one triggered person at a time. For example, when someone rants against Christianity, we can ask, “Why are you angry? What has caused you to respond in this way? What barriers stop you from living the Christian life?”

When we talk about the things we haven’t done right, we give others liberty to talk more freely about things they haven’t done right. Carrying the burden of guilt can prevent someone from living a life that’s wholesomely committed to Jesus. Holding on to guilt, pride, or fear puts us all in the position of being taken captive by some deception, myth, or dangerous ideology.

So perhaps, when we encounter a “triggered” person, we can be an example of how to confess sin. We can explain the mercy and forgiveness of God in Jesus Christ and, in this way, lead from despair to hope. We can make use of the fruit of the Spirit which includes patience and kindness as opposed to emotional outbursts and harsh rhetoric.

We can profess with confidence, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23).

Source: “Generational Guidance,” WORLD, 9-1-18

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thinking womanLet’s continue with opportunity #3 —

#3 — MENTOR BIBLICAL WOMANHOOD

A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30b).

Fear and Love the Lord.  Martin Luther begins each of the meanings for the Ten Commandments with: “We should fear and love God . . . .”  In a sinful world, “fear” and “love” hardly seem to fit together.  But the Heavenly Father can be both feared (for His justice) and loved (for His mercy).  How does this give freedom to modern women?

Reject the Deception of the World.  The Christian woman is often reminded of the Proverbs 31 woman.  But do we know why she was praised?  Church Father St. Bernard of Clairvaux draws us away from the idea that this woman was praised for her spectacular work.  He wrote, “You have been able to reject the deceitful glory of the world . . . you deserve to be praised for not being deceived.” (The Lutheran Study Bible ESV, Commentary on Proverbs 31:30-31, page 1047.)  How was the first woman, Eve, deceived?  Why did Satan approach her rather than the man?  What is the deceitful glory of the world?  How do we resist it?  How do we help others resist it?

Discern Personal Mentors.  Whose counsel and advice do we seek?  Do we surround ourselves with women in the same situation and circumstance as our own or do we glean wisdom from “older” women who have matured in the face of challenge?  What kind of reading material is on our coffee table or by our bedside?  Have we been influenced by human opinions and fickle emotion… or the Word of the Lord who calls Himself “the Alpha and Omega”?

Resist the Temptation to Divide Generations.  Bring older and younger women together in Titus 2-style groups.  Suggested resources include Titus 2 for Life, Dressing for Life: Secrets of the Great Cover-up (a ten-lesson reproducible Bible study on modesty and clothing available from CPH [#LFLDFL]), Men, Women and Relationships: Building a Culture of Life Across Generations (a 12-lesson Bible study with leader’s guide from CPH [#LFL901BS]), The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood by Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Mahaney Whitacre, and Lies Women Believe and the Truth That Sets Them Free by Nancy Leigh DeMoss.  We can encourage and be encouraged by building relationships across generations.

Take Care Not to Burn Bridges.  Sometimes, the relationship of two women can suffer because of a difference in thought or behavior.  Even so, the Holy Spirit may keep that person close to the heart.  Perhaps we will be nudged to send a simple “thinking of you” card or a gift on her birthday.  We do well in not resisting opportunities to reach out.  For example, years after a Christian woman had an abortion followed by a divorce, she wrote her friend, “Thank you for keeping the communication open and not burning any bridges.  You have not abandoned me.”  That friendship was restored in greater measure.  How do such invaluable lessons encourage others?

Send a card.  This may be the age of e-mail, texting and Facebook, but none of these replace a personal phone call, handwritten note or card.  We all like to be remembered, don’t we?  It is not uncommon to send a card and then have the recipient, sometime later, ask, “How did you know that I needed encouragement that day?”  If we can’t find the right message or can’t afford a pricey card, we can write a favorite Bible passage on a note and tuck it in an envelope with a tea bag or pre-packaged coffee pouch.

Start a Mother’s Group.  Include “older” and “younger” moms.  In a mobile society, young moms are often miles away from their mothers and grandmothers.  They are in need of older women who can mentor self-control, purity, homemaking, kindness, and why submission to husbands is obedience to God (Titus 2:5).  Offer opportunity to learn from faithful biblical practice in the home, but also mistakes made and lessons learned.  Experienced moms can point to the discipline of God’s Law and offer the forgiveness and life-changing hope of the Gospel.  Even in a changed culture, God’s Word for women provides all we need to persevere in the vocation of motherhood.   Can you count the ways that godly motherhood influences children and impacts society?

What’s Next?  #4: Mentor a Changed Attitude

Ezer’s Handbook is a resource developed by
Linda Bartlett and presented at Titus 2 Retreats

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writing a letterDear Friend,

It was my hope to write much sooner.  I hope this finds you growing in the confidence of our Father’s mercy and love.

Our paths crossed for a time on this earthly journey.  Choices you were making brought suffering to your family and those you care most about.  Those choices forever changed their lives… and yours.  Perhaps the sexual sin that held you captive for too long is part of the reason why I’ve been working on a project.  A very difficult project.  A book that I’d rather not write.  The actual writing began almost two years ago, but the experiences and lessons learned over a period of nearly thirty years laid the foundation.  For now, the working title is The Failure of Christian Sex Education: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity.  I have no idea when the last sentence will be written or, if published, who will want to read it.  But the book begged to be written.

Over fifty years ago, those who promoted the new concept of sex education in both public and parochial schools said it was necessary to decrease unwed pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.  To parents and congregations they said, “Stop teaching so many ‘nos.’  Let us teach your children to say ‘yes’ to the wonders of sex because, after all, children are sexual, too.”  They promised: “Getting everyone comfortable with their sexuality will benefit marriage.”

All that I see proves that too many of us believe the lie that “children are sexual from birth.”  Kinsey built that lie on skewed research and criminal behavior.  He called it science.  Those of the humanist faith were waiting for such “science” to reform the whole of society, one child at a time.  But children are not “sexual” (as Kinsey meant it) from birth.  And we are certainly more than sexual beings, we are spiritual beings.  We will live forever — either with or apart from God.  The Church has forgotten to be distinctively different from the world and, in doing so, failed to encourage children and adults to see themselves as God does.  As baptized persons, we are sons and daughters of God in Christ.  That makes us holy.  Holy means being set aside for noble purpose.  We are not common, but uncommon.  As such, we are useable not just by anyone but by God.  What a difference it makes to see ourselves this way.  Sadly, the world convinces too many of us to identify ourselves as sexual beings and that — from early on — has set the stage for promiscuity, abortion, living together, homosexuality, re-definition of marriage, pedophilia, and a great deal of sin, suffering, and separation from God.  The humanists may claim some victory now, but we know Who has the final Word, don’t we?  Souls are in danger… and for that reason we need to do battle with the sinful world and our own corrupted nature even as we fall at the foot of the Cross — every day — and thank God for his mercies in Christ.

My deepest sense tells me that you know what I mean.  We modern sinners are no different from our first parents.  Eve doubted and thought she could become god of her life.  Adam failed to remember God’s Word and use it to bring order out of the chaos.  Ever since, the enemy of our lives comes to us in our weakest moments, tempting us to doubt God’s strong Word.  We think ourselves wise, but we are foolish.  We think ourselves “good” and, most certainly, we are not.  So, at the end of every day, it is a great privilege and comfort to entrust ourselves to our Savior, poor miserable beings that we are.  In the morning, all things are new and, because of His forgiveness, we can begin all over again.  You know this.  You believed this.  But wrong choices taught you how much sin hurts.  It changes lives.  Covered sin saps our strength.  It shapes us more and more into a common vessel useable by our enemy.

However, there is hope.  There is always hope!  Hope came to us in the Son of God Himself.  Harold L. Senkbeil wrote a revealing book entitled Dying to Live (The Power of Forgiveness).  It explains what the Incarnation — the Word made flesh — means for us.  Simple water, bread, wine and words work in sinful lives to make people over into new creatures.  We can’t go back to Eden.  We live in a dying world.  But God is with us!  Like Moses and Elijah, we cannot look directly at God, but God comes to us in mystery.  Senkbeil calls Jesus (who is God) the “backside” of God.  He is the part of God we can see.  He came in flesh — to teach, to sacrifice, to die — but also to conquer Satan and eternal death.  For me, this is a new way of thinking about Christ.

Consider what this means.  God comes to us in the mystery of water (Baptism), bread and wine (Communion), and His Holy Word.  Wow!  God really has come to you and me… to all who are dying to live 🙂  I think you would like what Harold Senkbeil has to say about the power of forgiveness.  May you know that power in Christ.  May I know that power in Christ.  And may we persevere — with our families and loved ones — on this journey through a strange and unfriendly land to our eternal home.  Can you imagine?  There, at the banquet table, we will be able to rest our eyes on the magnificence of God.  He will no longer have to hide His fullness from us.  We will know His glory in every way.

Your life took a dramatic and traumatic turn.  Sin never improves us but, rather, beats us up.  You have known guilt, regret and great loss of relationships.  Your family, friends and loved ones have also suffered.  But each new day is new opportunity.  The past is what it is.  We are affected by every choice that we make.  Life becomes much more difficult and painful when we fail to use the Word to bring order out of the chaos of life.  But no matter those choices and circumstances — no matter our sins, or lack of health or popularity — our identity never changes when we cling to our baptism.  We are sons and daughters of God in Christ.  Think of what this means!  We really do have hope.  New hope every morning!

May you cling to your baptism even as I will strive to cling to mine.  I am amazed that God continues to carry me.  Forgive me.  Work through me.  It is for this reason that I have grown in a deeper appreciation of the Divine Service.  God doesn’t need my praise, but this empty vessel sure needs to be filled with His Word and Sacrament.  I need to be divinely served by Him in a service distinctively different from the world… and then, in response, I can praise Him in my work, relationships and service to others all week long.  I pray that you know his Divine Service in your life so that, no matter what the days ahead may bring, you will be able to say: I am not common.  I am uncommon in the hands of a mighty God.  I am poor.  I am miserable.  I am unworthy… but I am chosen as a son of God in Christ.

May you know the overwhelming mercy that only God Himself in the humility of Christ can bring to you.  The Cross changes everything for us.  We are no longer captive to sin, but set free to leave old ways behind.  Dear friend, let us both pray for a diminished pride so that we don’t get in the way of the Spirit’s work in us, through us…

… in spite of us.

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There was a time when I would have said that worship was something I did on Sunday mornings.  To worship, I thought, meant to “go to church;” to sing hymns, participate in the liturgy, and listen to the pastor’s sermon.  While it’s true that this is worship, it is only one kind of worship.

Romans 12:1 describes a worship that takes place every minute of every day.  God’s Word says to me, “. . . In view of God’s mercy . . . offer your body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.”

Worship means living my life in such a way that brings glory to God.  If I truly believe that God had great mercy on me, a poor and miserable sinner, and that Jesus Christ sacrificed His life because of my sins, then I have opportunity to live like a new person.  I have opportunity to respond to God’s great love in a way that pleases Him.  That shouldn’t just be on Sunday during congregational worship, but on every day of the week and in ever circumstance.  The choices I make, the work I do, the way I serve others, the attitude I have – all of these common, everyday thoughts and actions are either worship of God – or self.

It’s far too easy to worship self.  I do this every time I insist on my own way, or put my needs before others, or whine, or pout, or feel sorry for myself.  But, to worship God, my Creator and Redeemer, I must “become nothing” so the Holy Spirit who lives in me can alter my thinking, choices and behavior.  How does this work?

Jenna is in college… and pregnant.  The father of the baby wants to marry her.  They love each other, but the timing is all wrong; after all, she has plans for a career, travel, and the joys of marriage for a while without children.  Her dreams are shattered.  But, in view of God’s mercy, Jenna has the opportunity to sacrifice personal desires for the life of another.  Her choice to adjust plans in order to welcome a precious new life is her spiritual act of worship.

Max is a grandfather.  The patriarch of his family.  He is plagued with one physical challenge after another.  He had wanted to be the strong one for his wife and family; instead, he is the one who needs constant care and medical attention.  But, in view of God’s mercy, Max has the opportunity to adjust his attitude and his plans for “life after 80.” Rather than wasting time by complaining, Max chooses to sharpen his wit and laugh in the midst of adversity.  He encourages friends and family by turning their attention toward running the race marked out for them (Hebrews 12:1).  This is his spiritual act of worship.

Since childhood, Jake had wanted to be a physician.  Between the university and med school, he served his country in the military as a medic.  On a routine mission, something went terribly wrong and Jake’s life was forever changed.  He endured a series of operations intended to restore the use of his hands, but it was the Holy Spirit who performed the miracle.  In view of God’s mercy, Jake had opportunity to sacrifice personal goals and, instead, travel a different path.  He entered seminary, married, and became a father.  Several  years later, Jake and his family became missionaries.  His spiritual act of worship made a difference in the lives of countless men, women and children who might never have known Jesus Christ without Jake.

Our everyday lives are filled with opportunities to worship God  At work, we have the choice to give the best we can offer… or just get by.  In the neighborhood, we have the choice to engage ourselves in serving others… or remain unengaged and self-focused.  At a party, on a date, or at a sports event, we have the choice to please God… or please ourselves.  In view of His great mercy, we are encouraged to think, say, and do holy things… things that please God.

How do I know what is pleasing to God?  He tells me in His Word found in Romans 12:2.  “Don’t conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing, and perfect will.

What does worship mean to me?  The Holy Spirit has been patient with me.  Slowly (and against my will) opening my eyes to see.  To hear.  I’m beginning to understand that I have opportunities to worship with every attitude.  Every choice.  My behavior toward others.  Even my tone of voice.

Do I worship well?  No, I’m still a poor, miserable sinner.  But, in view of God’s mercy, I am a forgiven sinner.  Because of what Jesus Christ did for me, each new day is an opportunity to start over.  To try again.  To live differently than the world around me.  I am not captive to my past mistakes.  Because of Jesus, I have the freedom to make choices that are pleasing to God, but also a blessing to my neighbor.

My prayer is that I will worship on Sunday with thanksgiving and praise for what God has done.  God wants to see our faces turned toward Him.  But, even more, He wants to give to us.  I come to church on Sunday empty.  Used up.  Ready to be filled.  I don’t give to God on Sunday.  He gives to me.  He fills me with His Word and Sacrament.  Walking out the church door, and for the rest of the week, I have opportunity to live in response to His great mercy.

Each word, work, or service can be my worship — to His glory.

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This culture seems bent to the will of a liar.   Jesus knows who he is.  Calls him what he is.  “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

The father of lies comes often to our door.  He doesn’t have to work very hard.  He hisses, we listen.  We listen because he appeals to our selfish desires. “Do this one thing and find happiness.”  Or, “Determine what will make you happy and don’t let anything get in your way.”   Believing the lie, we trip over ourselves to step into God’s place or, if we acknowledge Him at all, declare that He’s not relevant to our happiness.

The liar stood often before a woman named Traudi.  But, to her last breath, she testified that God was not only real, but the very Source of her happiness.  No matter what.  In all circumstances.  Whenever I think of Traudi, I am encouraged in my own battle with the lie.  Traudi taught me that happiness isn’t what we create.  It doesn’t come when our will is done.  Happiness is often a surprise.  What we least expect.  A peace in the midst of a storm.   Traudi appeared to have so little in life, yet so much spilled from hers to others.  If ever I’ve seen anyone’s well replenished in the midst of drought, it was Traudi’s.

Traudi was a young girl in pre-war Austria.  She grew up in a culture that believed it could find happiness if certain people were removed.  She and I once compared The Holocaust to legalized abortion.  I asked, “How could you and your family allow neighbors to be taken away to be murdered?”  Her answer was sobering.  When the lie is told often enough and we believe our happiness is at stake, “we blame those who might steal it away and do whatever we have to do.”

Traudi admitted being mesmerized by a man who used the lie to his advantage.  “I once passed by Adolph Hitler,” Traudi told me.  “When I looked him in the eye, I sensed a certain power.”  An entire culture, in times of vulnerability, can succumb to the power of the lie.  See it as some sort of salvation.  Traudi helped me see what even people who call themselves by God’s name are capable of doing.  Citizens of Traudi’s beloved Austria re-defined what they considered human and turned their backs on helpless neighbors.  Were they so different from the Israelites who failed to trust God and, instead, believed the lie that claimed their firstborn children on the altar of Baal?  Did they offer the blood sacrifice of one life so that another’s might be better.  Richer.  Happier.

The war ended, but Traudi’s trials had just begun.  Austria came under Russian control.  She and other women her age feared abuse at the hands of immoral conquerors.  One day, she met an American soldier who asked her to be his bride.  Traudi imagined a happiness beyond her dreams.  Go to America?  Leave pain and poverty?  “Ja!  Bitte!”  No matter if it meant traveling alone.  Her fiance went ahead to tell his parents about her and prepare a home.  Traudi arrived in New York frightened and without a penney.  No one covered her fare.  No one assisted her.  And, when she found her way to Iowa, she was rejected by her husband’s family.

The lie came frequently to haunt Traudi. Your happiness, it hissed, is dependent on other people.  But, her new American family didn’t like her.  Her husband offered little support or encouragement.  Their only son broke her heart with his foolish choices.  But, I never heard her complain.  To this day, I can’t find anyone else who heard her complain.  There were so many sad things all around her.  But, her well of happiness was never dry.

When cancer invaded her body, she attended to the cares and concerns of others.  Once, walking across the street, she was hit by a car and tossed to near death, but she was the one who brightened the days of her visitors.  When her only grandchild was torn between divorced parents, Traudi devoted herself to full-time mentoring as well as full days earning the family income.  The lie told Traudi to think of herself.  But, The Word reminded her that she didn’t have to.  Her Robe of mercy was secure.

Traudi helped me understand that happiness does not come when we focus on ourselves.  We do not create it, nor do we plan it.  We do not demand it from others.  It comes to us by surprise.  It is, Traudi discovered, all the gifts of the Spirit that come just when we need them.  Love.  Peace.  Patience.  Kindness.  Faithfulness.  Yes, even self-control.

It was my privilege to be mentored by this woman of faith.  She’s gone on ahead to pure happiness, but I am left with her example.  It serves me well.   The lie wants me captive.  But, it didn’t hold Traudi.  And, because of Christ, it can’t hold me.

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My pastor believes there is ultimately only one thing he can do for the souls entrusted to his care.  He can be faithful to preach the Word and offer the Sacraments.

Nothing — not one thing — will do more for me or any other member of my church family.  Nothing but the Wisdom of the Word, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and the Body and Blood of the Savior Jesus Christ will carry us on this earthly journey to our heavenly home.

But, when my pastor started offering the Lord’s Supper not just twice a month, but every Sunday, the complaining began.  Stubbornness set in.  Attendance dropped.  Those who guard the finances began to worry.  My pastor didn’t suggest the change because he’s enamored by the power of authority, but because he’s under authority.  He opened God’s Book.  In adult class and a series of sermons, he spoke God’s Word of instruction.   He explained the illness of sin and the Source of forgivness, healing, and strength.  Then, with faith in the Great Physician, my pastor stopped the practice of withholding medicine — saving it only for this Sunday or that — and started offering it every Sunday.   There, at the Lord’s Table, I am reminded that I’m forgiven and do not have to carry the burden of my sin baggage.  I am strengthened for the week’s battle against satan, the world, and my own sinful self.  I am filled for a week of worshiping God by serving others.

So, here is my pastor faithfully preparing the Lord’s Table every Sunday for us.  For a sick, burdened, and weary flock.  With arms open, he speaks The Word: Come!  Here is Christ… “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”  But, some in the flock have chosen to voice their dislike of weekly communion by refusing to attend church as regularly as they were.  In fact, there are whispers: Maybe if pastor sees the attendance dropping and money not coming in to meet our budget, he will stop this practice.

Do these people hear what they’re saying?  “Stop, pastor!  Stop offering us so much Christ!  Stop, or else… .”

Could it be?  Are some people really saying: We want more blessings!  We want more members to join!  We want more money for our storehouses!  We want success!  We want a place in the community!  We want more stuff!  But, we don’t want more Christ.

“Give us music, Pastor.”  “Give us joy, Pastor.”  “Give us opportunity to praise God, Pastor.”

But, Christ.  The Word in human flesh here for us.  Forgiveness for us.  Abundant life for us…

Just not so much.

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