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Archive for the ‘Christianity’ Category

They’re often the nicest people – cheerful and kind, unreservedly helpful to friend and stranger alike.  They’re the ones you’re glad to see on a Monday morning at work and you wish you were like them in many ways.  They might follow natural disasters to help in the aftermath; they might build homes or serve medically in impoverished nations; they may sponsor a number of children in deepest Africa.  They would lay down their lives for their spouse and children.  If they attend church, they may be found teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, or working on the kitchen, lawn, or maintenance crews.  Indeed, they check “Christian” on their census form, believing their good works speak for themselves.  But, as you attempt to talk with them deeply of spiritual matters, there is some vague uncertainty which niggles at you.  You wonder if they’ve just been around enough to be able to talk the talk or if they walk the walk out of mere humanitarian duty instead of a regenerated heart.

 

I’m following a delightful video series from Ligonier Ministries by Derek Thomas on The Pilgrim’s Progress.  This classic piece of literature, once eclipsed in sales only by the Bible, has been set on dusty top shelves and only a few 21st century Christians have read it.  I only read it for the first time a couple years ago and am sorry it was not a part of my literature reading from an early age.

 

There are so many fine (and not fine) characters which the loving pastor, John Bunyan, wrote into his 17th century allegory of The Pilgrim’s Progress (parts I and II) which personifies the pleasures and pitfalls along a Christian pilgrim’s journey to our heavenly home (the Celestial City, as Bunyan writes).

 

Through his travels, Christian, the protagonist of The Pilgrim’s Progress – part I, meets two such travelers who evidence that vague lack that indeed niggles away at Christian and makes him burdened in spirit for them.  One is the man, Ignorance, and the other is Talkative.

 

Ignorance believes that Christ plus works will be his plea when he stands before God’s throne on the last day.  Because of Christ’s death, Ignorance believes that his own obedience is now an acceptable sacrifice unto salvation.  Our friend, Christian, emphatically corrects him: “Thou believes with a fantastical faith for this is no where described in the Word” (p113).

 

Christian declares to Ignorance God’s Word: “There is none righteous, there is none that do good” (Romans 3:10-12) and that “every imagination of the heart of man is only evil, and that continually” (Genesis 6:5). To this Ignorance replies, “I will never believe that my heart is thus bad” and here is Ignorance’s problem (p112).

 

He is under the modern delusion that he may choose Christ and salvation by his own will and on his own terms.  He does not conceive the extent to which he is an enemy to God and spiritually dead in his trespasses and sins, unable to move an iota toward God in this fallen state.  Christian’s traveling companion attempts to set him straight:  “Christ is so hid in God from the natural [understandings of all men], that He cannot by any man be savingly known, unless God the Father reveals him to them.”  It must be [brought about] by the exceeding greatness of His mighty power” (pp. 114-115).

 

Ignorance, at no time, has been under a conviction of his sins before God and so he does not fear that his state is dangerous.  The “naturally ignorant” do not understand “that such convictions [are for one’s good] and therefore they desperately seek to stifle them and presumptuously continue to flatter themselves in the way of their own hearts” (p.115).

 

Ignorance does not understand that the fear of the Lord begins by a saving conviction of one’s sins.  It is this conviction which “drives the soul to lay fast of Christ for salvation” and continues in the soul a “great reverence of God, his Word, and ways; keeping it tender and making it afraid to turn from them to the right hand or to the left – to anything that may dishonor God, break its peace, grieve the Spirit, or cause the Enemy (i.e. Satan) to speak reproachfully” (p. 116).

 

The last we see of Ignorance, Christian is unsuccessfully pleading with him:  “Be awakened then, see thine own wretchedness, and fly to the Lord Jesus; and by his righteousness… thou shalt be delivered from condemnation” (p. 115).

 

Well, Ignorance, will thou yet foolish be,

To slight good Counsel, ten times given thee?

And if thou yet refuses it, thou shalt know

Ere long, the evil of thy doing so.

Remember, man in time – stoop!  Do not fear!

Good Counsel, taken well, saves.  Therefore, hear!

But if thou yet shall slight it, thou will be

The loser, Ignorant, I’ll warrant thee. (p. 115).

 

But there is another who masquerades as a fellow traveler to the Celestial City.  Sadly, like Ignorance, on the day of harvest, he too will be separated from the wheat, perhaps to his own surprise (Matthew 13:29-30).  This wanderer is not willfully ignorant, but is instead, insincerely Talkative.

 

Talkative walks with Christian and his friend, Faithful, through several pages of our book and wields many pious words and speeches, often seemingly in agreement with the two travelers.  Faithful is willing to take Talkative at his word and claim him as a fellow pilgrim, but Christian is not so sure.

 

“Religion has no place in his heart or house or conversation; all he has, lies in his tongue, and his religion is to make a noise with it” (p. 62).  “He talks of prayer, of repentance, of faith, and of the new-birth; but he knows only to talk of them…  He is a saint abroad, and a devil at home” (p. 63).  For Talkative, “saying and doing are two things” (p. 63).

 

We know this person.  They can speak about biblical truths and they know all the right words.  It’s not uncommon for them to speak of answered prayer and the help they receive from their faith or from God (general), but there is something suspiciously missing.  They rarely use the name of Jesus lovingly or out loud and there is little evidence they have owned their personal sins which caused Christ to endure the wrath of the Father on their behalf.  When Faithful begins to see Talkative for who his is, he explains that when the grace of God is in the heart, “it shows itself by inclining the soul to abhor its sin.”

 

Here, Derek Thomas is helpful in exposing what is lacking in these Talkative ones:

“It is not enough to say that sin does bad things or that there are consequences for bad behavior.  You have to hate that sin.  You have to turn away from that sin and walk toward Jesus.

“A man may cry out against sin… but one must not simply cry out against sin (or I might add, cluck our tongues at the evil in the world), but we must abhor sin. People will readily decry the ungodliness of the world, but does our friend do the utmost to see it in his own heart, to decry its residence there, and to determinedly rid himself of it?”

 

Faithful rightly declares, “Great knowledge may be obtained in the mysteries of the Gospel and yet no work of grace in the soul.  Yea, if a man has all knowledge, he may yet be nothing and so, consequently, be no child of God” (p. 65).  “A work of grace in the soul,” Faithful continues “gives [one] conviction of sin… This sight and sense of things works in him sorrow and shame for sin… and the absolute necessity of [settling with the Savior] for life… hungering and thirsting after Him” (p. 66).

 

Talkative bristles at being caught in his charade.  He does as many do who are so exposed – he tries to divert the blame to Faithful.  He accuses him of being judgmental and peevish and “not fit to be [talked] with” (p. 67) and so bids him farewell.  Christian, observing the whole exchange, says to Faithful, “I told you how it would happen – your words and his lusts could not agree.  He had rather leave your company, than reform his life… The loss is no man’s, but his own.”

 

How Talkative at first lifts up his plumes!

How bravely does he speak!  How he presumes

To drive down all before him!  But so soon

As Faithful talks of heart-work, like the moon

That’s past the full, into the wain he goes.

And so will all, but he that heart-work knows (p. 68).

 

In the end we see that both Ignorance and Talkative desire “a God without wrath [Who] brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through… a Christ without a cross” (H. Richard Niebuhr).

 

As Talkative walks away, Faithful recalls Ezekiel’s charge to be a watchman.5 He settles the matter in his own mind, “I have dealt plainly with him and so am clear of his blood if he perishes” (p. 67).  This is our sober charge as well – to be faithful ourselves in the proclaiming of truth.  In the end, Faithful clings to one hope:  “I am glad we had this little discourse with him.  It may happen that he will think of it again.”  And this is our sober hope as well.

 

 

All dialogue is quoted from The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and Cynthia Wall, W.W. Norton, 2009, pp. 62-68, 112–116.

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In the midst of a time of grieving (his and ours), Andrew sent us this beautiful reminder of our secure hope.

It is not death to die
To leave this weary road
And join the saints who dwell on high
Who’ve found their home with God.

It is not death to close
The eyes long dimmed by tears
And wake in joy before Your throne
Delivered from our fears.

It is not death to fling
Aside this earthly dust
And rise with strong and noble wing
To live among the just.

It is not death to hear
The key unlock the door
That sets us free from mortal years
To praise You evermore.

 

©Integrity’s Praise! Music/Sovereign Grace Praise.
Words: Henri Malan (1787-1864), tr. George Bethune (1847); Bob Kauflin
Music: Bob Kauflin.

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Today, the body of believers to whom we have committed ourselves, communed with each other and with our Lord Jesus over the elements of His Supper.  These days, I am trying to discipline myself to personal reflection as the elements are being passed around – to review that “I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior” (Newton).

 

I want to be mindful of the great honor I have received – “once His enemy, now seated at the table” – wonder of all wonders!  Further, this memorial meal foreshadows the meal we will share with King Jesus in eternity at his wedding feast when the Lord himself will dress himself for service… and He will come and serve those who have watched for his return (Luke 12:35-38) – what?!? how can this be?

 

My time around the Lord’s Table has been enriched by a message given by Sinclair Ferguson at the 2017 Pastors’ Basics Conference sponsored by Parkside Church, Chagrin Falls, OH, and their pastor, Alistair Begg.  Ferguson likens the Lord’s Supper to a dress rehearsal for that glorious day when we, Christ’s bride, set apart by Jesus himself, will be presented to our Bridegroom in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing – holy and without blemish, having been cleansed by Him by the washing with the Word (Ephesians 5:26-27).

 

These days it’s common for the wedding party to celebrate a joyous meal together after the rehearsal.  Ferguson points out that the rehearsal dinner or Groom’s Dinner, as we call it, is traditionally paid for by the groom’s father.  And so it is with the meal we celebrate in our churches around the Lord’s table – it is a meal paid for by our Groom’s Father…  and at the dearest of costs (John 3:16).

 

Similarly, the banquet we celebrate following a wedding is traditionally paid by the Bride’s Father… and so it will be on that resplendent Day. The bride’s Father, our Father, will have provided all for that Day – that day of rejoicing when we will glory in our beloved Groom and need never be parted from Him ever more.   No wonder we will sing and shout the victory – “Hallelujah!  All I have is Christ!”

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Many of us are mourning the loss of an American era with the passing of a man, I think we won’t soon see the likes of again.  The beloved preacher and evangelist, the Reverend Billy Graham, passed away on Wednesday, February 21, 2018, and was laid to rest in Charlotte, North Carolina, after his March 2nd funeral.  He was 99 years old.  Among other endearing terms, Rev. Graham is being remembered as God’s Ambassador and America’s Pastor, having provided spiritual counsel for every United States president since Harry S. Truman (our 33rd) right on to Barack Obama (our 44th president).

When I think of Dr. Graham, I can’t help think of my Dad who always encouraged us girls to sit and listen whenever a crusade was being televised (on network T.V. no less). I never told dad or mom, but I responded to one of those crusades, back when we lived in town (so prior to 8th grade). I sent for the follow-up material too, writing to “Billy Graham, Minneapolis, MN – that’s all the address you need” as Billy directed us from every crusade.  What came was a summary of his Steps to Peace with God and a study of the book of John.

I attribute that experience to a sensitive period in my life when God was softening my heart and mind to his, eventually leading me to receive the gospel truth.  I would not fully put it all together until my college years when God through his Word in Ephesians 2:8-9 caused me to once and for all lay down my works which I had been trying to offer all my life as an acceptable arrangement; one which I hoped would make God pleased with me and lead me to eternal life.  My plan had been Jesus + me = salvation, never realizing that the only thing I could contribute to Christ’s offering, was the sin that made it necessary.  Using the small faith God gave me for just that moment, I gave all that I knew of myself (my whole sin-saturated self and my inadequate works) to all I knew of Christ (my only rescue).

During college, Dana and I would counsel for a Billy Graham movie or two (World Wide Pictures) at the Cinema Theater in town (now the WDAZ studios).  After one particular movie, The Prodigal, Dana was completely broken and rededicated his life to the Lord.

A highlight for us was counseling for the Billy Graham live crusade in Fargo the summer of 1987 when we were expecting Ashley. We brought my cousin Paul with us one of the days (who was living in Grand Forks at the time, in the restaurant business with my Uncle Warren).  I’m sad to say, though, that I seem to recall my dad was unable to go to Fargo with us to see Billy in person, amounting to a double loss since the entertainment was another of Dad’s favorites, Johnny Cash (and his wife, Rosalind).

Rev. Graham’s gravestone briefly summarizes his life – Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ – and then makes reference to John 14:6, “Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.'” One of my favorite Billy Graham quotes was printed on his funeral brochure:  “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now.”  I pray God will enable me to be faithful and about the King’s work to the end – in whatever capacity I am able – just as the world has observed in the life of God’s good and faithful servant, Billy Graham.

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Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God,
and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
Anyone who does not love does not know God,
because God is love. 


In this the love of God was made manifest among us,

that God sent his only Son into the world,
so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we have loved God

but that he loved us
and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 


Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God;

if we love one another, God abides in us
and his love is perfected in us.

1 John 4:7-12

– – – – –

 

 

In this well-known passage on God’s love, we see in the ESV that John uses love (or the beloved) no less than 15 times in six verses.  It is love, love, love all over this passage – “love one another”; “love is from God”; “God is love”; “if we love one another… his love is perfected in us”; etc.

 

But in the midst of this treatise on the love of God, we find in v10 the reason God can love us – “In this is love… [He] sent his Son to be the propitiation (satisfaction) for our sins.”  Propitiation – “a sacrifice that turns away the wrath of God and thereby makes God propitious (or favorable) toward us” (Grudem, p.575)a.

 

Those who have placed their sins under the blood of Jesus find God propitious toward them.  His just wrath on their sin has been fully satisfied by the sacrifice of his pure Son.  The modern hymn Before the Throne of God Above gets it right, “God, the Just, was satisfied to look on Him and pardon me.”

 

There is absolutely no trace of wrath left in the Father toward those who approach his throne, clothed now in Christ’s righteousness, not their impotent own.  Every last drop of wrath toward the believer was spent entirely on the Son.  What remains is only love, love, love toward his people.  Even when we don’t walk in our new natures, but instead give into the influence of our old man – when we sin against God – we can turn to Him in repentance and be assured of his Fatherly love toward us.  He may chasten us, true, but it is always done redemptively as we might with our own children – with our greater good in mind, coming from his all-knowing wisdom.

 

In this truth, the child of God can find assurance that what the sovereign God allows in his or her life is born solely from God’s unfailing love for them.  Our circumstances may prove hard to bear, but that is not the same thing as loss; God wastes nothing.  Under his watchful care, it can only work us good in our earthly lives or in eternity to come.

 

Of course, it must be mentioned that those whose lives are not hidden in Christ – who have not, by repentance and faith, applied Christ’s blood to the doorpost of their sinful hearts (cf. Exodus 12:13) – must bear the wrath of God in their own bodies.

 

Oh, but for the child of God – what a sweet and cherished doctrine is that of Christ’s propitiation which won the Father’s favor for us.

 

Ah… this is love.

 

 

a “Systematic Theology.” Systematic Theology, by Wayne A. Grudem and K. Erik. Thoennes, Zondervan, 2008, p. 575.

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Surely, this is the time between times… our dear pastor calls it “the dawn.” After centuries and centuries of darkness, it is a time of hope rising, a new day has most-assuredly broken upon history now that God has walked among us.

 

Jesus alone did what we could not.  He lived righteously all his days on the earth.  He became our sin and bore its eternal penalty.  When all God’s wrath was spent on our sin, death had no further claim on Jesus and the grave could not hold him – He lives and has been given His promised place of eternal honor.  O yes, there is an enemy in the camp, but he is fatally wounded and his end is sure.  Even now the King makes preparation to come again in power and rightness.

 

Just as we are often unaware when dawn ends and day begins, so many move about unaware of the King’s sure coming.  Full Day will soon be upon us; soon Jesus will gloriously come again to set all things right.

 

When the dawn gives way to new Day, Jesus will draw those who are his into his marvelous safe kingdom where they will behold his beauty and know his goodness forever.  C. S. Lewis pictures for us the new Day in this way:  “All their life in this world and all their adventures… had only been the cover and the title page – now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read, which goes on for ever, in which every chapter is better than the one before.”

 

Still, we have this moment of time before full Day breaks.  For God says, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”  Do not waste the dawn.  When the True Light appears the gates will close in the wake of his procession.  Now is the time of favor.

 

I tell you, the Day is on its way. The King’s men will soon declare, “The term is over – the holidays have begun. The dream is ended – this is the morning” (Lewis’ The Last Battle).

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There are many today who, if they speak of God at all, refer to him almost like a folklore or something out of their childhood which still brings a bit of comfort and nostalgia, much like visiting a childhood home or finding a childhood doll or stuffed animal.  These materialists are convinced only by what they can see, smell, touch, hear, or taste although I would guess even the materialist would not deny the existence of the wind or gravity.  Although they cannot be seen, their effects are undeniable.

I am not a materialist.

I believe in both the material and the non-material world.  I know them to both be equally real even though the non-material is primarily not experienced through the senses.  Now I believe in more than this, but I do not believe less than this.  If you are unable to believe or are closed to the possibility of a non-material world created by a God we cannot see, then there is nothing that follows that will be life-giving to you.  There is only hollow cheer-leading and vain hope in the power of positive thinking.  To me, that is the best the world can offer and I find it wholly inadequate and incoherent to answer life’s questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.

Apart from Jesus Christ, there is no hope for any who wonder about these deep questions of life in the dark hours of the night.  Man is under a curse from his first breath.  There is no hope for self-salvation from this curse, though many try and many pacify their questions and fears by whistling past the grave yard as it were, attempting to make as happy a life here and now for themselves as they possibly can.  Because I believe in the one true God of the Bible, I believe the Bible’s account of this God.  If this is a bridge too far for you, then what I share will be meaningless at best and trite and silly at worst.

I believe in an eternal, self-existent, three-in-one God (Father, Son, and Spirit) who is the source and sovereign over all creatures and things that are material as well as all creatures and things that are immaterial.  His standard of right living is not a list, but the standard is He, himself.  He is the one by whom He compares all things and there is none like him, all fall short in mercy and graciousness and patience and steadfast love and faithfulness and righteousness and holiness and splendor and glory.  This is the God I know and I would be an aimless wanderer in this big world if I was not convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that this God exists and that he is ruling over all, throughout time and location, bringing all the world to a sure and certain end according to his own plans and purposes.

Growing up in the Catholic faith, I knew that my sin separated me from this holy God.  His standard is himself and it was impossible for me (or anyone) to live up to that standard.  I knew that my sin was a debt that would need to be paid for, but who can pay for such a thing?  I knew that if the debt were not paid by someone, I would pay it myself throughout eternity.  But, I also knew from my upbringing in the church, that God’s great plan was to pay that debt for me through Jesus Christ.  Since He did not carry his own burden of sin, his death was an acceptable payment for the debt of the sins of mankind.  In ancient sacrificial imagery, Jesus was identified as the lamb which takes away the sin of the world.  I just didn’t know how to appropriate his death to my personal sin.

I also didn’t understand at the time the inadequacy of my attempts to help my case before God by trying to “live a good life.”  I didn’t realize how anemic my attempts were (the Bible calls them “filthy rags”).  As if this would ever work in our physical lives – if we owed the bank a large sum of money, but asked them to forgive that debt on the promise that we would do better from here on with any future debts we might incur – ridiculous.  Instead, I came to realize that there was no object or work I could offer this great God that would be useful or needed by him.  He is self-sufficient and needs nothing from the creatures He has made.  I was under condemnation and a curse for my life that runs in rebellion to the nature of this God.  There was no recourse for me but to come to him as a beggar, longing for what He might give me – a solution to the problem of my sin which weighed me down and cut me off from union with this magnificent God.  If He would not help me, I was both lost in this life and for eternity.

This is how I came to him in the break room of Sears so many, many years ago.  I realized I had been trying all my life to do things right so I might be acceptable to God.  That day I realized that my striving was all meaningless and didn’t move me one iota closer to him.  My soul was dead in my sins and no amount of church attendance, confession, or good works could remove that sin and revive my dead soul.  In the break room at Sears that day, I realized as I read verses 8 and 9 of Ephesians 2 for the first time in my life, that it was only by God’s goodness to me, coming to him in simple faith, that I could have my sin debt, which I owed God, wiped clean.  My soul was dead so I could not even produce the faith I needed to come to him.  Even faith to trust and believe had to be gifted to me by God.  This took away all opportunity for me to think well of myself for “meeting God half-way” in my good works.  It had to be all him; He did it all!

I went into the break room that day with my sins on my back, and I left with my sin and its debt completely removed; I went in a dead and condemned person and I left newly awakened, alive, and free.  As promised by God, his Spirit took up residence in my once-hard heart.  Indeed He gave me a new heart to love the things that are of Him.  From that moment on through God’s Word, prayer, and meeting with God’s people as well as through God-ordained trial, He began to shave off things in my life that weren’t of him and to mold and shape me into the image of his son, Jesus.  At times this “shaving” has been very painful, but it has always produced good in my life.

This has now been about a 35-year process and He continues to use these same means (Scripture, prayer, suffering, and fellowship with other believers) to do this in my life to this very day.  I know He will see it through to completion on the day He returns.  On that day, He will establish his new, eternal kingdom with those of us who have run to him for salvation.  That Day is ever before my mind and I await longingly for it when I will actually see God face-to-face; He who is my greatest treasure.

This is all I have to give a lost and hurting world.  All other hope is just a bandaid on cancer.  Perhaps you gave up on my letter many paragraphs ago.  But if I have said anything that rings true for you, I would invite you to see what God has said about himself; see if it doesn’t awaken something in your spirit.  I’d recommend starting with the book of John where Jesus declares over and again that He is God and that He and the Father are one; here, Jesus shows us by his life the type of God He is.  There has never been another who said or did the things that Jesus did.  I would encourage you to beg God in humility on your knees with all your heart and soul, to reveal himself to you.  There is a sure day when all will meet him – either in death or when He comes in final judgment; but for now, God sits on a mercy-seat all year long to give pardon and forgiveness to those who will come to him empty-handed for salvation from their sins.

Here is a prayer from the 1600s which is a good example of what one might pray in their need:

God, be merciful to me a sinner and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ.  I see that if Christ had not died righteously to remove the sins of the world, including my sin, and if I do not have faith in his death as the only available payment for my debt to you, then I am utterly cast away.  Lord, I have heard that you are a merciful God and you have planned that your son, Jesus, should be the Savior of the world.  Moreover, I have heard that you are willing to bestow Christ upon such a poor sinner as I am (and I am a sinner indeed).  Lord, take therefore this opportunity and enlarge your grace in the salvation of my soul, through your Son Jesus Christ, Amen.

God has said, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).  Like the beggars that we are, lay hold of Him and do not let go until you receive the blessing you require – the answer to the pray for which you beg – Christ himself.

This is the only true hope that I can offer for this life and the life to come.  If you are not at the point of seeking this yet, I’d invite you to hold your hands open to it.  Consider the lives and hope of those you know who have had their burden of sin removed at the cross.  Do not judge us entirely on our works.  We do not supernaturally become sinless when we place our sins under Jesus’ blood.  We are only forgiven sinners, but by God’s power we are moving toward the likeness of Christ in us, each of us at different stages along this journey.  But evaluate the hope and the joy of those you know who walk in Christ’s righteousness, not their own.  They know beyond doubt that this world is not all there is to what is real.  And they know that they know that they know they are heading to their Father’s house and that they will be admitted into his everlasting kingdom because they wear, not the filthy rags of their good works, but the clean white robes won for them by Jesus, himself.  I’d invite you as the Bible puts it to, “taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the [one] who takes refuge in him” (Psalm 34:8).

With regard and affection.

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