Only What Is Done For Christ Will Last – C.T. Studd

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We are not all promised the same things in this life. Some of us will know much joy, others of us much sorrow. Some will be given fame and fortune, others nothing but obscurity and poverty.

But one thing we are all promised is that our life will soon end and we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). There, before our Maker, we will give an account of how we used the days, words, relationships, dollars, skills, and opportunities God entrusted to us.

Charles Thomas Studd, who served as a British missionary to China, penned a famous poem that helps us to consider the only worthy way to use the life God has given to us—for Christ! May God help us to be ever mindful that only what is done for Christ will last. Lord, help us.

Only One Life

By C.T. Studd

Two little lines I heard one day,

Traveling along life’s busy way;

Bringing conviction to my heart,

And from my mind would not depart;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past, 

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, yes only one,

Soon will its fleeting hours be done;

Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,

And stand before His Judgement seat;

Only one life,’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, the still small voice,

Gently pleads for a better choice

Bidding me selfish aims to leave,

And to God’s holy will to cleave;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, a few brief years,

Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;

Each with its clays I must fulfill,

living for self or in His will;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

When this bright world would tempt me sore,

When Satan would a victory score;

When self would seek to have its way,

Then help me Lord with joy to say;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Give me Father, a purpose deep,

In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;

Faithful and true what e’er the strife,

Pleasing Thee in my daily life;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Oh let my love with fervor burn,

And from the world now let me turn;

Living for Thee, and Thee alone,

Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Only one life, yes only one,

Now let me say,”Thy will be done”;

And when at last I’ll hear the call,

I know I’ll say “twas worth it all”;

Only one life,’twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last. 

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

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Precious and Very Great Promises: Truth for the Journey

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“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” 2 Peter 1:3-4

During this Sunday’s sermon we considered this text and how God’s precious promises are the means by which we grow in godliness and escape the world’s corruption. You can listen to that message here if you’d like.

 

In the late 1670’s John Bunyan penned The Pilgrim’s Progress during his imprisonment in the Bedfordshire prison. For good reason, this book is the second most widely read book in history behind the Bible.

The story, which is an allegory of the Christian life, is a captivating tale about a man named Christian, who is traveling from the City of Destruction (the world) to the Celestial City (heaven). At one point in the journey, he and a friend named “Hopeful” are taken captive by the “Giant Despair.” He locks them for half a week in the dungeon of “Doubting-castle.”

During their time in the dungeon they were beaten, tempted to surrender their faith, and even commanded to take their lives by suicide. Things grew bleak for Christian and Hopeful, until they began to pray and Christian remembered…

“What a fool I have been, to lie like this in a stinking dungeon, when I could have just as well walked free. In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in Doubting-Castle.” “Then,” said Hopeful, “that is good news. My good brother, do immediately take it out of your chest pocket and try it.” Then Christian took the key from his chest and began to try the lock of the dungeon door; and as he turned the key, the bolt unlocked and the door flew open with ease, so that Christian and Hopeful immediately came out.”

Bunyan knew that God’s promises were the key that granted God’s people freedom from the slavery of sin and circumstance. Because of their power, he believed they were more valuable than any treasure in the world.

In Sighs from Hell, Bunyan says,“I tell thee, friend, there are some promises that the Lord hath helped me to lay hold of Jesus Christ through and by, that I would not have out of the Bible for as much gold and silver as can lie between York and London piled up to the stars because through them Christ is pleased by His Spirit to convey comfort to my soul.”

Do you have a precious promise like that? Do you have a promise in God’s Word that is so valuable that you would not trade it for all the money in the world?

Christians are people who live on promises. We grow by promises. We are sustained by promises. We please God by trusting His promises (Hebrews 11:6).

So I must ask you, what promises are you clinging to and trusting God to prove faithful to keep?

The Certainty of God’s Promises

We have great confidence to believe God’s promises because of what He has done for us in Jesus Christ.

The Old Testament is a sweeping story of God promising time and again to send a Savior to rescue us from judgment. God kept His promise by sending Jesus to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus accomplished His work by dying on the cross and rising from the dead—just as He said He would.

God’s faithfulness to keep His word is seen most clearly in His faithfulness to give us Jesus. When God gave us Jesus He gave us everything!

The Apostle Paul says, “all the promises of God find their ‘Yes’ in Him. That is why it is through Him that we utter our Amen to God for His glory!” 2 Corinthians 1:20. Does God promise you something? Then He says “Yes and Amen” when we ask Him to prove true to His word. How can we be so sure of this? Because Romans 8:32 reminds us that “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?”

When Jesus died on the cross, He not only received the punishment we deserve for our sin, but He also purchased every promise that God ever made His people. This means that if we are in Christ, we can claim and cling to God’s promises because He has purchased them with His blood.

Precious and Inexhaustible Promises

As Christians, we are all part of our own “pilgrim’s progress” toward the Celestial City. As we take steps of faith toward our heavenly home, we need promises to empower our souls and unlock doors of opposition in our own Doubting Castles.

What follows are a limited list of promises that we can claim and cling to as we face trials and temptations on our way to our heavenly home. These promises do not tarnish or fade, so use them and use them again. Or as the witty Charles Spurgeon once observed, “Some say ‘You can’t have your cake and eat it too.’ It’s not so with God’s comforts. You can enjoy a promise and still have it.”

This means that when you read God’s Word, you are going hunting for invaluable and inexhaustible treasure that you can have and hold and believe for the entire journey Home.

75 Promises for the Journey Home

What follows are just a sampling of God’s glorious promises that He has given to His people. Take these, consider them, and ask God to use them to stir your faith in Him.

When your sins haunt you, remember that in Christ, God has promised to forgive and forget them…

  • “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
  • “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned…” John 3:18
  • “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1
  • “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” Isaiah 1:18
  • “…I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” Jeremiah 31:34
  • “…as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103:13
  • “…in love You have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” Isaiah 38:17

When you wonder if God will be faithful to keep you through all your trials, remember…

  • “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” John 6:37
  • “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28
  • “He who began a good work in you will complete it unto the day of Christ” Philippians 1:6
  • “He is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” Hebrews 7:25

When you feel dry and weary and desperately need encouragement to draw near to God, recall these invitations…

  • “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?…” Isaiah 55:1–3 (cf. Rev.22:17)
  • “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
  • “…God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God…casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:5–7
  • “…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

When you pray, you do so believing that God hears and answers your prayers…

  • “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” Matthew 7:7
  • “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” John 14:13
  • “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

When you lack wisdom to make decisions concerning the future…

  • “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5–6
  • “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with My eye upon you.” Psalm 32:8 
  • “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” James 1:5

When you feel fearful to share the Gospel, remember that you are not alone as you go…

  • “…I am with you always until the end of the age” Matthew 28:20
  • “…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses…” Acts 1:8

When you preach or minister to people, take confidence in God’s promises…

  • “My word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11
  • “…I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Matthew 16:18
  • “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:7–9

As you strive to serve God and grow in holiness, rest in the promise that He supplies your strength

  • “As your days so shall your strength be.” Deuteronomy 33:25
  • “Work out your own salvation…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:12–13 (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:10; Colossians 1:29)
  • “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13
  • “Whoever serves, let him serve as one who serves by the strength that God supplies.” 1 Peter 4:11
  •  “My grace is sufficient for you, My power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

When you go to work and feel like what you are doing is meaningless, remember that…

  • “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” Colossians 3:23–24
  • “Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.” Ephesians 6:5–8

When you find yourself filled with fear and anxiety, pursue peace by remembering God’s promises…

  • “…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
  • “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
  •  “…do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on…Look at the birds of the air…your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…Consider the lilies of the field…if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:25-33

When you feel like the assaults of temptation are too alluring to resist, remember…

  • “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
  • “…the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3
  • “…because [Jesus] has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:18

When your unfaithfulness leaves you despairing, remember that His faithfulness is our promised hope…

  • “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
  • “…if we are faithless, He remains faithful— for He cannot deny Himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13

When you are overcome with anger, let promises give you strength to trust God…

  • “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” Romans 12:19
  • “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet.” Nahum 1:2–3

When you feel tempted to fear people and their opinions, flee to God and trust in His promises…

  • “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Proverbs 29:25
  • “Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord…Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord.” Jeremiah 17:5–7
  • “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation…Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God…” Psalm 146:3–5
  • “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” Psalm 34:8

When lust promises you sensual satisfaction, fight its lies with faithful promises of a better fulfillment…

  • “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11
  • “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6
  • “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8

Have you fallen into great sin?…then fall upon the promises about our great Savior…

  • “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate w/ the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1
  • “Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” Romans 8:34
  • “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25 

Are you broken over your sin or circumstances?…God promises His healing presence

  • “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
  • “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51:17
  • “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

Are you struggling to be content with what God has given you?…He promises perfect provision…

  • “…be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5
  • “…the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:11
  • “…God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

As you look toward the day of your death, take encouragement from these certain words…

  • “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” Isaiah 46:4
  • “…if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also…I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:3, 18
  • “absent from body is present w/ the Lord” 2 Corinthians 2:5
  • “He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken.” Isaiah 25:8
  • “When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”…thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:54-58

God promises that the suffering and persecution we face in this life will one day be eclipsed by glory…

  • “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:11-12
  • “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18
  • “…this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:17
  • “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

If the Lord calls you to face trial or martyrdom for His Name, He gives you promises to carry with you…

  • “…when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” Luke 12:11–12
  • “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28 (cf. Isaiah 51:12-16)
  • “…If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39

When you become tempted to think that persevering in faith isn’t possible, take heart in these promises…

  • “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24
  • “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” Jude 24–25

As you take each stride in faith toward heaven, be moved by the promised eternal day that awaits you…

  • “according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:13
  • “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 25:34
  • “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  Revelation 21:1–5

 

Thanks to John Piper for his biography on John Bunyan and his book Future Grace. Both have blessed my life and this post. 

Want Some More Promises?

Five Promises for Your Bible Reading and Prayer – John Piper

How to Find Strength in the Strength of God – John Piper

Which Promises Are For Me? – Jen Wilkin

Future Grace (book) – John Piper

Using God’s Truth to Battle the Tempter’s Lies – Garrett Kell

Is Jeremiah 29:11 a Promise for Christians? – John Piper

Do Promises in the Psalms Apply to Me? – John Piper

When I Feel Afraid – Leeann Stiles

A Summary of How to Kill Sin (sermon) – Tim Conway

Purity Among God’s People – Fighting Sexual Sin with God’s Promises (sermon) – Garrett Kell

 

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What Would Jesus Say to Someone Like Leelah Alcorn?

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Leelah Alcorn Selfie

On December 28, 2014 a 17-year old high school student apparently committed suicide after a difficult journey with confusion over gender identity. In his suicide note, Josh Alcorn said that since he was 4 years old he felt like “a girl trapped inside a boy’s body.” Because of this Josh desired to be called “Leelah” and wished for people to relate to him as a woman.

I will refer to Josh as “Leelah” in this post, but will also refer to him as a male, please bear with me, even if you passionately disagree with either of those choices.

This is an excerpt from Leelah’s final words posted shortly before taking his own life:

Leelah Alcorn

 

The letter goes on with sad details that I hope none of us are ever tempted to write or left to read in the wake of losing a loved one in such a tragic way.

Leelah’s final request was, “my death needs to mean something.” I could not agree more.

It is heart-wrenching to know that a young person was so overwhelmed with pain that their only response was to stop living. That should mean something. Whether you’re LBGT, Christian, liberal, conservative, religious or otherwise—we are humans and a tragedy like this should lead us to stop, weep, pray, and take notice.

For me, it made me wonder what I would say to my own child if they felt the same way Leelah did. And more importantly, it made me wonder, what would Jesus say to someone who feels the same way Leelah did?

I do not know exactly what Jesus would say them, but there are a few truths from the Bible that give me a pretty good idea.

1.     Jesus would say…“You are made in My Image, and I love you.”

 Just like Leelah, all people are wonderfully made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28). We are each knit together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14) and brought safely into this world to walk as an image bearer of God. When people see you, they see a reflection of the glory of the God who made you.

Jesus would say to you that you have value and worth because God made you. He would say something like, “no matter what anyone tells you, you are valuable and I love you. Come and find refuge in My faithful arms, I made you and I will protect you” (Psalm 91:4).

 2.     Jesus would say…“You are broken, just like everyone else.”

Leelah was an image bearer of God, but he was a broken one. Just like you are. Just like I am. Every person who has ever been born, except Jesus, is deeply and totally affected by the curse of sin (Psalm 51:4; Romans 5:12). We are all relationally, sexually, morally, rationally—broken. Sin does this to us. It corrupts our feelings and desires and understanding of life and of ourselves. We are all aware of this brokenness, though we experience it in different ways.

Jesus would say to you there is hope for your brokenness because “in me you can have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

3.     Jesus would say…“You have a unique struggle, and I will use it.”

There’s a scene in the Bible where Jesus declared that a man was born blind so “that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3). God works in the mist of our fallen, sinful, broken lives for His glory. In fact, He only uses broken, sinful, needy people who have sinful struggles.

That does not give us an excuse to give into temptation, but it does give us hope that God can use even the most heinous sinful struggles to display His grace and sufficiency in our lives. If God did this with a self-righteous murderer like the Apostle Paul (Acts 9) and an impulsive denier like Peter (John 21), He can do it with you and me.

Jesus would say something like this to you, “I know you do not understand how I can use your struggle and your pain, but I can. I can work all things together for the good of those who love Me and are called according to My purpose—I can even use your struggle with transgender feelings in ways you cannot imagine” (Romans 8:28).

4.     Jesus would say…“I came to rescue people like you, so trust in Me.”

Jesus didn’t come to rescue people who had it all together. In fact, He said “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32). It may seem insensitive to talk about sin at a time when you already feel so unloved and misunderstood, but all of our confusion about who we are in life flows from this very issue.

All of us, whether we consider ourselves straight or gay or transgender or anything else, are sinners. That means that we have disobeyed God’s design in every imaginable way. In the way we think, the way we talk, the way we treat others—the ways are too many for us to count. But God has counted our sins, none have escaped His eye (Psalm 69:5).

But in spite of our rebellion against God, He still loves us. There’s a place in the Bible where we are told “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus came to rescue us from our sin by dying in the place of sinners and then rising from the dead to forgive us of our sins.

For those who truly believe in Jesus, God will never turn away (John 6:37) and rather than count all their sins against them, He will forgive them and throw them “as far as the east is from the west” (Psalm 32:1-2, 103:11-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19).

Anyone who says that is a message of hate is not listening to what has really been said. That is the greatest act of love anyone could ever show us (John 15:13). Jesus laid down His life so that we could be forgiven and made right with God. Does this new relationship change us? Yes, in every way. But please do not dismiss this good news because God calls us to change. He only wishes to transform us into the image of His own dear Son (Romans 8:29). He is better than whatever else we wish to hold on to. Ask God if it is really true that Jesus died for you.

5.     Jesus would say…“The journey is hard, but it is worth it and I will help you.”

 Just because someone becomes a Christian, does not mean things get easy. There is still much pain in this life. People you love will still hurt you at times. You will still be misunderstood by some people. You will still struggle with sin—in all sorts of ways (Romans 7:15-19). Your affections will change toward sin, but often that change doesn’t happen all at once and sometimes it happens very slowly (2 Corinthians 3:18).

You may never “feel” like your body looks. Your sexual desires may never be redirected. But as you walk with Jesus you will understand and respond to your passions differently. This may be a struggle for a long time, possibly for your whole life. But Jesus promises that you don’t have to carry the weight alone. He says to you “come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

If you are a born again child of God (John 1:12), your primary identity is now rooted in God’s acceptance of you in Christ. This radically alters the way you see everything, including your gender identity. This journey of understanding how to please God in spite of your struggles may be daunting but it will be worth it because it comes with the promise “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

6.     Jesus would say…“Your parents aren’t perfect, but they love you.”

I am a parent and as I’ve reflected on this heart-breaking story, I weep for Mr. and Mrs. Alcorn. I cannot imagine how anguishing it must have been to see their child struggling and despairing over such deep questions. I’m sure they wish they had answers to help their child understand why God allowed this pain into their child’s life and how to trust God in the midst of it all. I’m sure they wish they could take their child’s pain and bear it themselves.

Some will scorn Christian parents for attempting to help their child live according to their biological sex, but ridicule is not the answer. You may be upset that it sounds like I’m taking the parent’s side. I’m only saying that sympathy needs to go both ways in a situation like this.

Parents who love God and love their children will do all they can to help their child live in God’s perfect ways. How parents do this will sometimes be right and sometimes be wrong. There are no easy answers for parents either. I wish there were.

If you are at odds with your parents like Leelah was, I want to encourage you to be patient with them. Your parents aren’t perfect, but I suspect they do love you—even if their love feels oppressive. There is a great difference between being an abusive parent and a parent that in good faith is trying to help guide their child.

If your parents are pointing you toward trusting Jesus, don’t receive that as unloving—it is the most loving thing anyone could ever do for you. If they are doing it in a way that hurts you, talk with them and pray for God to help you not give up.

7.     Jesus would say…“Go to my people, they will walk with you in grace and truth.”

Many of your friends may tell you that the church is filled with hateful, bigoted, backwards people. Sadly, there are some people who do horrible things in the name of Christ—things that Jesus Himself would condemn. Sometimes Christians fall short of Jesus’ standard of love, but there are countless others who are trying by the grace of God to do better.  You need to find a church that is not Christian in name only. Find a Bible-believing, Spirit-led community that will love you and walk with you

Jesus came “in grace and truth” (John 1:17) and His people are to live in the same way (John 15:12). The church is filled with people who need your help to walk in humility before God, and you need them to do the same (Hebrews 3:13, 10:24-25). Jesus would tell you that you should not struggle alone, and that the people who tell you the truth are the people you can trust the most.

A true church is a community of people who are patient and compassionate—because Jesus been patient and compassionate with them. They are a people who will help you fight against your sins—because Jesus has forgiven their sins and helps them fight against their own issues. You may be surprised to find how many Christians there are who struggle with the same kinds of things you do.

8.     Jesus would say…“Don’t give up on life, I make life worth living.”

 There are some struggles that feel like they are too much to bear. Sometimes it seems as if ending your life will bring you the peace that has been so fleeting up until now. Maybe it feels like the only way to silence those who hurt you or get the attention of those who won’t listen to you.

If this is how you feel, Jesus would say do not give up because “the Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). He would say your weeping is not ignored and “I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears” (2 Kings 20:5). Jesus would tell you that He made you and He has all your days numbered in His book (Psalm 139:16).

He would tell you to not give up on life because He knows how He plans to work all of this together for your good if you will surrender to Him (Romans 8:28). And He would tell you that a day is coming when God “…will wipe away every tear from (your) eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

This is the promise for those who trust in Christ. Do not give up on life, but cling to the Jesus who will bring you through the many trials and temptations you are facing.

 

Some will say that because I am a Christian and believe the Bible to be true that I am the kind of person who causes deaths like Leelah’s. If you feel that way, please look past any of my shortcomings in this post and consider Christ Himself. Take up the Bible and read about Jesus for yourself.

There are no easy answers for any of our brokenness, including the kind of brokenness that Leelah Alcorn knew so deeply. But that does not mean that his death should mean nothing. It should lead us to listen to one another’s stories rather than spew hate at one another. Jesus is the hope for those who are LBGT, just as He is the hope for everyone else. He is the one who understands us, and our brokenness, even when no one else does. Draw near to Him in faith and ask Him if this is true and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

 

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It’s a Good Time to Remember, Reflect, and Resolve

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“Consider your ways.” Haggai 1:5

The Lord gave this sobering command to His people after they drifted from rebuilding His temple in 520BC. They began well, but when opposition came, their faithfulness fizzled out. Left in the weeds was God’s house, overgrown due to lack of attention. But the Lord graciously intervened and the people reflected, repented, and reengaged in the work He had entrusted to them.

Most of us would probably do well to “consider our ways.” If you’re anything like me, you get overloaded and feel a persistent strain on your devotion to God. We get distracted and begin to drift, and as D.A. Carson says, “we do not drift toward holiness.”

If we don’t regularly take time to evaluate our heart, we can, often unknowingly, drift into sluggish and sinful patterns.

To fight against this deadly drifting, it’s wise to prayerfully consider our ways. And while there’s nothing magical about doing this at the turn of the year, a completed calendar does provide a natural opportunity to intentionally remember, reflect, and resolve with hopes of developing deeper devotion to Christ in the year ahead.

 

Take Time to Remember

In the days leading up to New Year’s Eve, my wife and I take time to separately develop two lists. Once the big night comes, we get cozy and share our lists together.

 

The first list is of the five things we’re most thankful for from the past year.

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember Your wonders of old.  I will ponder all Your work, and meditate on Your mighty deeds.” Psalm 77:11-12

 

Taking time to remember what God has done over a whole year is sweet for our souls. We tend to forget the many mercies that fill our day, but we’ve found that preparing our lists helps us think back through the peaks and valleys of the past year. During that journey we’re afforded a prime opportunity to remember God’s goodness. During our time of sharing we’re often reminded of things we’d forgotten and blessed to see how God used the same event to affect us in different ways.

What are you thankful for from this past year? Who can you share these memories with?

 

The second is a list is of five things we’re hoping for God to do in the year ahead.

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act.” Psalm 37:4-5

 

Since God has been so good to us in the past, we find great joy in looking with hopeful expectation toward the future. We’ve found that if we aren’t prayerfully trusting God for great things, our faith can grow weak and we can slip into spiritual cruise control. This list helps us to  trust God to do specific things in the year ahead. Our lists often include the names of people we hope God will save, particular sins we desire to experience victory over, or ways we hope to see God move in our church. This list stirs us to hope in God because we know He delights in doing great things for His people (Ephesians 3:20-21).

 What big things are you trusting God for in the year to come? Who can join you in praying for these things?

 

Reflect on Your Heart

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any previous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24

The Lord knows us better than we know ourselves. We need Him to open our eyes to see where our hearts have strayed from His ways. One of the best ways unearth the calloused soil of our hearts is by considering heart-probing questions. Questions serve us uniquely because they force us to step into the light as we answer them.

A number of years ago a friend shared with me a list prepared by Dr. Donald Whitney that contained questions “to prayerfully ask in the presence of God.” These questions are designed to help us do the kind of heart work that we all desperately need.

Below are the first 10 questions, but a full list of 31 questions can be found here. 

1. What’s one thing you could do this year to increase your enjoyment of God?

2. What’s the most humanly impossible thing you will ask God to do this year?

3. What’s the single most important thing you could do to improve the quality of your family life this year?

4. In which spiritual discipline do you most want to make progress this year, and what will you do about it?

5. What is the single biggest time-waster in your life, and what will you do about it this year?

6. What is the most helpful new way you could strengthen your church?

7. For whose salvation will you pray most fervently this year?

8. What’s the most important way you will, by God’s grace, try to make this year different from last year?

9. What one thing could you do to improve your prayer life this year?

10. What single thing that you plan to do this year will matter most in ten years? In eternity?

 

Whether you consider these questions alone or with someone else, they will be well worth your time.

 

Resolve to Go Deeper

 Most New Year’s resolutions have something to do with losing a few pounds, getting on a budget, or to make our communities a better place. Those resolutions may be good, but Christians shouldn’t stop there. Remember that “while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” 1 Timothy 4:8.

Our resolutions should primarily center on growing in godliness, not just in reducing our waist size. The best model I’ve ever seen of making spiritual resolutions is Jonathan Edwards. When he was 19 he composed a list of 70 resolutions that he committed to re-reading each week in hopes of keeping them faithfully. Matt Perman developed a thematic arrangement of these resolutions that you should check out.

Here are a few of Edwards’ resolutions that I strive to keep as well:

#7 – “Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.”

#10 – “Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.”

#14 – “Resolved, never to do anything out of revenge.”

#15 – “Resolved, never to suffer the least motions of anger to irrational beings.”

#22 – “Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can…”

#30 – “Resolved, to strive to my utmost every week to be brought higher in religion, and to a higher exercise of grace, than I was the week before.”

#67 – “Resolved, after afflictions, to inquire, what I am the better for them, what good I have got by them, and what I might have got by them.”

Whatever your resolutions may be, here are two things to keep in mind.

1.      God gives us grace to keep our resolutions.

We must not fall into the trap of making resolutions that lead us to rely on ourselves. Jesus said “apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God gives grace to do what we resolve (1 Corinthians 15:10; Philippians 2:13) and He gives us grace when we fail to keep our resolutions (1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 12:9). God promises to give us grace and as Matthew Henry said “God’s promises to us are more powerful and effectual for the mortifying of sin than our promises to God.”

2.      Don’t find righteousness in keeping your resolutions.

God won’t love you more because you make it to the gym more often.

God won’t love you more because you finish the Bible in a year.

God won’t love you more or less because of how many people you witnessed to.

God won’t love you more if you fast twice a week.

We should resolve to grow in practical righteousness, but we must not look to our resolution-keeping for our positional righteousness. Our righteousness is found in the One who resolved to die on a cross for sinners who failed at their resolutions toward self-improvement. Our justification is found only in a resurrected Savior who clothes us in His righteousness. Rest in the righteousness Christ gives us through faith, not in any kind of righteousness we resolve to achieve.

So, let us be a people who remember, reflect, and resolve with the hope that God will deepen our love for Christ and guard us from drifting from His perfect ways.

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I Don’t See You As A Black Friend

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I Don’t See You As A Black Friend

Garrett Bio

I grew up in the hills of West Virginia and had no African Americans in my graduating class. I attended a university with a fairly diverse campus, but most of my interactions with people who weren’t white came on the basketball court.

My experience in church was much of the same. After I became a Christian, I moved to Texas and was part of a solid, but mostly white congregation. I later became the pastor of a church plant in a small oil town named Graham, TX. In the seven years I pastored there, we had one black member, a brother named Bobby who’s “amens” and “tell’em preacher” encouragements still ring in my soul.

Though I had a few black acquaintances, most of my friends looked like me, thought like me, felt like me, and experienced life in the same way I did. But all that changed in 2011 when I moved to Washington, DC to do an internship at Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

Our intern class consisted of 6 men, one of whom was black.

 

The Conversation that Changed Everything

- Trip Lee

Trip Lee was a quiet guy with a baby face. When I met him, I thought he couldn’t be more than 13 years old, but as our friendship developed, I grew to respect Trip for his devotion to Jesus and desire to be a humble servant of Christ’s church. We had regular discussions about theology, church, culture, and then one day—we talked about race.

As the discussion went deeper, Trip mentioned something about him being a black man. I leaned in and with all sincerity said to him, “Trip, when I see you, I don’t see you as black. I see you as my brother in Christ. I see you as a friend, but I don’t see you as a black friend.”

My intention was to communicate respect and to ensure him that I was “color-blind” because that was the height of love—right?

Wrong.

Trip looked at me and gently said, “Listen man, we are brothers in Christ, and that means something. But if you and I are going to be able to be real friends that go deep, you need to know that I am a man—but I am a black man.”

After a moment of silent staring, I pushed back and said that I didn’t understand. I explained that I never thought of myself as a white man and I wouldn’t want him to think of me as his “white friend.”

Trip said to me, “I hear you, but you’ve got to know that being a black man affects everything I do. Every time I walk into a store, every time a policeman looks at me, every time I step into our very-white church. I feel it. I breathe it. I live it. I am a black man, that is who God made me.”

He went on to explain that being a black man meant that, in many ways, he experienced life differently than I do. His pains and joys and fears were similar to mine, but also very different. He has fears for his children that are different than the fears I have for my children. He has hurdles in relationships that I don’t have to jump. He has to trust God in ways that are both similar and different than me. And those differences matter.

 

A Journey of Love

That conversation with Trip proved to be pivotal for me. It opened my eyes to the fact that not everyone sees and experiences life in the same way I do. This shouldn’t have been such a revelation to me, but it was.

- Shai Linne

I later became the lead pastor at Del Ray Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA. Our church is mostly white, but is slowly increasing in diversity. Shai Linne, our assistant pastor, is an African American brother who has graciously allowed me to ask him questions and wrestle openly with things I find confusing about race and ethnicity.

After George Zimmerman was acquitted of killing Trayvon Martin, Shai and I had several conversations about why the news was so upsetting to many of my black friends, including him. We eventually had a public discussion with about twenty other people where I (the ignorant white friend) got to ask Shai questions about how he saw and experienced the tragic event—not just as a Christian man, but also as a Christian black man.

During our dialogue, Shai humbly shared about a time when he was walking down the street and was stopped by police. He was questioned, cuffed, and put into the back of a police cruiser because he “fit the description of someone they were looking for.” He described to us the pit that formed in his stomach when a car with a white woman pulled up next to him to identify if he was the person they were looking for. He said, “my life flashed before my eyes. In that moment I knew that if she said, ‘that’s him’ that my life was over. I was going to jail. My whole life hung on what that woman said.”

I will never forget his tears as he told his story. I never knew that about him. But it made me love him and hate our fallen world and desire for Jesus to come back in a way I hadn’t felt before.

Nor will I ever forget the interaction Shai had with his young son after the news broke that the police who killed Eric Garner would not be facing any charges. While watching the news, his son asked, “daddy, what are they talking about?” Shai said to him “black lives matter.” And then with innocent eyes he looked at his father and asked “why are they talking about that?”

Now, as a father, I’ve had to answer tough questions from my children before. But that kind of heart wrenching questioning has never happened in my house. Shai and my other black friends have to explain things to their children that I don’t have explain to my children.

Yes, we have the same kinds of concerns about the persecution our children will face if they follow Christ (2 Timothy 3:12), but most of my black friends and their children have had and still do have, a path that with more obstacles than the one I and my family walk on.

The Lord has given me relationships with friends from different ethnicities and cultures to open my eyes, not just to what it means to be black or Asian or Hispanic, but to what it means to love people who are different than I am. Moreover, these relationships have even impacted the way I read and apply the Scriptures.

 

Seeing More Clearly

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Your law.” Psalm 119:18

I’d like to highlight three passages from God’s Word that have taken on a whole new meaning for me because of the diverse friendships God has brought into my life.

#1 – “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” Romans 12:15

If my black brothers and sisters weep and lose sleep over something, God-glorifying love calls me to care about it. I may not understand why they are weeping, but if they hurt, God calls me to sympathize with them and to seek to understand. There is no room in the heart of a Christian for apathy or indifference toward other believers (1 Peter 4:8).

Not all my black friends have been affected in the same way by the Ferguson and Eric Garner decisions. But many of them have—and that must mean something if I am a Christian. Why? Because we are “members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25) and “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” (1 Corinthians 12:26). Jesus says that I am to “do to others what [I] would have them do to [me]” (Matthew 7:12) and I am certain that when my day of weeping comes, I will want others to weep with me.

#2 – “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

We live in a fallen world that is filled with suffering. In many ways, all people’s suffering is similar, but there are also unique burdens each of us bear. Many of my African American friends have unique burdens to bear. And though understanding why they are burdened by certain events may not come natural to me, loving them (fulfilling the law of Christ) requires that I ask them to help me understand how I can bear their burden with them.

Sometimes this burden-bearing comes in the form of a prayer or a phone call. Often times it comes just through listening and striving to learn more about your brother’s suffering. One of our white church members recently asked if he could have dinner with a few African American couples to talk about the issues of racial tension in our country that have been exposed through the events in Ferguson. They graciously agreed and one of the brothers said to him, “I really appreciate you asking to talk with me about this, because from my experience, it is very rare that someone would reach out to talk about these issues.”

Burden bearing begins by taking a step of love toward another and saying, “do you need help carrying that? I’m not sure I can help, but if I can, I’m here, and I’d like to try.”

#3  “when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy…their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel…” Galatians 2:11–14

In days past I would have wholeheartedly dismissed the notion that “race issues” were Gospel issues. But the Apostle Paul clearly states here that because Peter and Barnabas (Jews) segregated themselves from the Gentile believers, “their conduct was not in step with the truth of the Gospel.” It was anti-Gospel to step away from brothers and sisters who weren’t like them in order to keep traditions that Jesus died to set them free from.

One of the goals of Jesus’ saving work on the cross is to “break down the wall of hostility” between Jew and Gentile and to create in Himself a new humanity where hostility is put to death and we are united in peace (Ephesians 2:14-16). The church is to be a “city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:16) in which the glory of God is seen through the love and unity His people have for one another (John 13:34-35, 17:20-21).

If there is any place that love and unity seems tenuous, it is along racial lines. Marin Luther King famously said, “the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” While we can praise God that there has been tremendous progress in race relations in the church since Dr. King’s day, we must all admit there is a long way to go.

And what is the way there? It is the way of Christ. God calls all His people to be “of the same mind in the Lord” (Philippians 2:2, 4:2). That doesn’t mean we will always agree on how we see an issue, but it does mean that we are to follow the example of Christ and humbly “count others more significant than ourselves” (Philippians 4:3).

It is through loving those who are “other” to us that we most walk in step with the truth of the Gospel. It does us good to consider the fact that we are more “other” to Jesus than any of us are to each other. Jesus is God, and it doesn’t get any more “other” than that. Yet, what did Jesus do? He was moved by compassion and love for sinners to come and serve and die and rise for us (Philippians 2:1-11). Jesus teaches us what it means to love.

Shai recently preached about loving those who are “other” in this sermon from Philippians 3:17-4:3.

 

A Few Final Lessons About Love 

While there is much that could be said, I want to conclude with three reminders about what Gospel love requires from us.

#1  Love requires relationship

If we are going to learn to understand people who are different than us, we must pursue relationships with people who are different than us. This isn’t limited to black and white relationships of course, but it is certainly true for them. If love is going to flourish in the church, we must be willing to risk stepping out of our comfort zones and into the lives of other people.

I can hear what black men and women think on blogs and interviews, but love must go beyond this. As Shai said in the sermon I referenced above, “the more time and conversations you have with someone, the more sympathy is developed. It’s not going to happen through Facebook. It’s not going to happen on Twitter. It’s not going to happen on a blog post. It won’t be through watching news on cable, but its gonna be over the dinner table.”

How are you stretching yourself to develop authentic relationships with people who are different than you?

#2  Love listens.

Love requires that I listen. I have learned that it is best for me to ask more questions and make fewer assumptions. This allows my brother the opportunity to speak for himself. And where better should we have the freedom to have these kinds of conversations than with our church family?

White police officers should be able to sit down with black members and talk about their mutual fears. They should also be able to encourage each other with how the Gospel gives them mutual hope. God is glorified in this, and the world is amazed.

#3  Love risks.

If you walk down the path of love, you will be hurt and you will hurt others. As John Piper recently said, “there is no love in this world without tears.” If you take the risk of walking with people, you will encounter relational briars of racism and apathy and skepticism and bitterness and cynicism. These will hurt you, and your own briars will hurt others.

And this is why I am more convinced than ever that diversity in relationships is one of the best catalysts to our spiritual growth. When we are stretched to love and forgive and rejoice and weep in ways that are not natural to us, we are forced to lean upon Jesus in freshly desperate ways. And when we are all equally desperate before Jesus, we have great hope that He will move to unite us in ways that will call the world to ponder the power of our Lord.

 

There has been progress in our country and in our church. We have great reason to hope that God will grant even more progress. But this progress will not come from being colorblind. Progress will come when we see each other as we are, and prayerfully draw together for the honor and glory of God.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

 

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How Our Family Gives Gifts at Christmas

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Christmas Gifts

“Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” – Isaiah 9:6

During the month of December our family gives special attention to God’s gift of His Son Jesus. We try to spend time each evening doing an advent calendar with the kids and some sort of family devotional together before bed. This year we are enjoying The Expected One by Scott James which recounts 25 of God’s promises to send a Savior to rescue His people.

Some years we are more consistent than others, but we certainly reflect more on Christ’s incarnation during the Christmas season.

Gift Giving

Our month long reflection on the incarnation of Jesus concludes on Christmas day when we share gifts with each other. We’ve talked with friends about how we approach gift giving and they have encouraged us to share it with others. So, here’s a little window into how we think about sharing gifts with each other and with those the Lord has placed in our everyday life.

My wife and I are always nuancing this, especially as our children (6, 4, 3, 1) continue to grow up. This is not a perfect system, but it’s food for thought.

Gifts for the Kiddos

In our family we don’t do Santa Clause, so our kids know all their gifts on Christmas morning are from us. That being said, we don’t teach our kids that “Satan Claus” has come to steal the real meaning of Christmas. Instead, we try to approach it thoughtfully while respecting that other families choose to do Santa.

This article and this article basically summarize our approach to Santa.

When it comes to giving gifts to our children, each of them get three gifts from us: one thing they want, one thing they need, and one thing to help them grow spiritually.

For the gift they want, we allow them to share with us something they think would be fun to have. It can be a game, a toy, or basically whatever. We explain to them that there is a budget and that they aren’t going to get a pony or a 4-Wheeler or something like that, but we want them to help us pick something out that would be fun for them to play with. We think it’s good to have a little fun in life and this gift communicates that.

For the gift they need, we get them something that helps them in everyday life. This can be a new pair of shoes, a new bed spread, or some some other practical gift. With this gift we try to communicate that giving something that helps them in every day life is always a good idea. We want them to learn that it’s better to be intentional with our gifts and give something that can be used rather than wasting money on junk that they’ll stuff in a closet and forget about.

For the gift that helps them grow spiritually, we get them something that points them to Christ and His Gospel. There are many wonderful age-appropriate resources out there. A few excellent ones for younger kids include The Jesus Story Bible (Sally Lloyd-Jones), The Big Picture Story Bible (David Helm), The Gospel Story Bible Discovering Jesus in the Old and New Testaments (Marty Machowski), The Dangerous Journey (Pilgrim’s Progress kid’s remix – Oliver Hunkin) and Big Thoughts for Little Thinkers books (Joey Allen).

Some friends have also recommended Sandra McCraken’s album Rain for Roots, You Can Change the World (Operation World for little ones which goes well with spin the globe and pray time), and for you iPad users Tim Keller’s New City Catechism is getting good reviews.

I’m sure there are tons of good essentials I’m missing, but this is a good start.

We also allow the siblings to collectively give small gifts to each other. This encourages the children to work together to bless each other. This is a new thing for us, so we’ll see how it goes.

Gifts for My Wife and Me

My wife and I also exchange gifts, and we also follow the pattern of something we want, something we need and something to help us grow spiritually. We enjoy spoiling each other a little, and my wife is very thoughtful, but we do strive to keep within our budget. When we shop for each other, we include the kids so the gifts to each other end up being from the whole family. This helps keep things more simple and can be fun, or a complete disaster. Either way, its memorable.

Some of our favorites from the “help to grow spiritually” category include the ESV Study Bible, A Steadfast Heart (Elise Fitzpatrick), Moments with the Savior (Ken Gire), The Cross of Christ (Stott) and Soul Winner (Spurgeon).

Sharing With and Serving Others

For our neighbors and people we know, our family likes to make cookies or some kind of gift and give them a family picture. (Note: getting a family picture where all of us are smiling and not crying is a mild miracle. To Jesus be all glory for His mighty works).

Many of these people don’t know the Lord, so we may, depending on where we are in our relationship with them, consider giving a copy of What is the Gospel (Greg Gilbert), More than a Carpenter (Josh McDowell), The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus (John Cross), The Reason for God (Tim Keller), The Prodigal God (Tim Keller) or The Case for Christ (Lee Strobel) along with a little note explaining what Christmas means to us.

These aren’t the only good books out there and which book we might give simply depends on where our friends are in their thinking about God. We have been developing good relationships with our neighbors, so pray for open doors for the Gospel.

Our family also seeks out ways to serve people who are in need of help, gifts or encouragement. Examples of things we’ve considered including sending gifts to a Compassion child, visiting nursing homes to sing Christmas carols, serving in a soup kitchen, and giving gifts to people in need that our church community has befriended.

Of all the ways we can improve as a family, it is probably in looking outward more, though I have been encouraged by the way our family strives to make this a regular part of our lives throughout the year.

A Final Word About Other Family Members 

One of the exciting opportunities for Jesus to show up at Christmas is when it comes to dealing with in laws, immediate family members, and distant family members. When it comes to gift giving, we tell people we love them, but that they shouldn’t expect gifts from us, and we aren’t expecting any from them.

This kind of conversation could be like waling through a mine field for some, but it usually goes better if you have the conversation in September rather than December (sorry for the late notice).

The only exception to this is that our family will always get our parents / step parents each a collective gift, and if we are spending Christmas with other members of the family, we may do something very small like a book or ornament.

 

This is our family’s ever-evolving way of approaching Christmas. We don’t do it perfectly, but this is how we try to think about gift giving during the Christmas season.

Whatever your family decides to do, we pray it will turn your hearts and those who don’t know Christ toward Him who came to take away sin. May He come again soon!

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Love Awaits – We Wait for Jesus, Jesus Waits for Us

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Bride pathway (pretty)

I often have the honor of performing wedding ceremonies. These celebrations are sweet to me for many reasons, but in particular, because I get to witness couples enjoy the fulfillment of love’s anticipation. They have planned for, prayed about, and waited for this day.

A few minutes before the ceremony beings, I pull the groom aside and share an important reminder with him. I look him in the eyes and say, “what’s about to happen is one of God’s great gifts to you. Your bride is about to walk down that isle. She’s coming for you. Fix your eyes on her and drink deeply of this moment. She is God’s answer to your prayers. Enjoy this moment.”

After we take our places, we wait for the bride to make her entrance. As the congregation stands and the doors open, I look at the bride—but then I always take a peek at the groom.

In those moments there is a child-like joy that radiates from his (sometimes sobbing) face. Love has awaited this moment. She is radiant, coming to him. He is readied, receiving her. This scene is a picture of love anticipated and love realized.

What happens in those moments is also a small foreshadowing of what will one day happen when the church, the bride of Christ (Revelation 21:2, 22:9-11), and Jesus, the bridegroom (Isaiah 54:5; Ephesians 5:25), are united together at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:6-9).

We Wait for Jesus

In Hebrews 9:27-28 we read of the church’s anticipation, “as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him.”

Christians are a people of eager expectation. We serve and love those around us, but we do it with an eye turned toward heaven—waiting, longing, hoping that today might be the day our beloved Lord comes to complete our salvation (Luke 12:35-43; Romans 13:11; 1 Peter 1:5).

We believe that Jesus died for our sins and rose from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). Because of that, we have forsaken our idols to follow the true God and now “wait for His Son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10). We are those who no longer love the fleeting pleasures of sin, but rather are “those who love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8; cf. Philippians 3:20). We “live…godly lives…waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13; cf. 2 Peter 3:11-14). 

In the New Testament’s 260 chapters, Christ’s return is spoken of over 300 times. The hope of His return ought color our every thought. Our hearts ache and when we hear Jesus say “surely I am coming soon” we say “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20).

But we are not the only ones who are awaiting our beloved. Jesus is waiting as well.

Jesus Waits for Us

Just a few verses after considering our waiting for Jesus, Hebrews 10:12-13 tells us “when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet.”

What is Jesus doing right now? He’s interceding on our behalf (Hebrews 4:14-16, 7:25; 1 John 2:1), He’s preparing a place for us to dwell with Him forever (John 14:1-3), and He is awaiting the command of the Father to come and get His bride (Matthew 24:36; Acts 1:7; 1 Thessalonians 4:16).

On that day, Jesus will leave His throne in heaven and return to earth. He will afflict those who have oppressed His bride (Psalm 103:6; 146:5-9). He will strike down those who have persecuted His beloved (Psalm 31:14-19; Matthew 5:11-12). He will put those who have set themselves against His rule underneath His feet (Revelation 19:11-16).

And then, we will be with Him forevermore.

He will take us to be with Him and we will be “called sought out” and “My delight is in her” (Isaiah 62:1-12). He will “rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 32:41).

And what will we do?

Isaiah 25:9 tells us that “It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, that He might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

Oh what a day that will be—when the Father will send the Son to usher His Spirit-indwelt bride to experience the bliss of eternal Trinitarian love. We will thank Him forever (Psalm 52:9) and rejoice forever about His steadfast love toward us (Isaiah 65:17-18).

While We Are Waiting

A bride and groom spend much time, money, and energy preparing for the day when they will become husband and wife. In the same way, we should be preparing for the day when our Lord will come for us.

1 John 2:28-3:3 says “little children, abide in him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at his coming…Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see him as He is. And everyone who thus hopes in Him purifies himself as He is pure.”

When our hope is set upon the return of our Savior, it has a purifying affect on our hearts.

Sin seems ludicrous when Jesus is seen as lovely.

Persecution seems endurable when Jesus is seen as valuable.

Loving this world seems foolish when Jesus is seen as fulfilling.

As the early 1900’s songwriter said,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

Let us be a people who long to see Jesus above everything else. And let us draw strength and encouragement from knowing that He longs to be with us as well.

 

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

Let your soul be encouraged by this version of Come, Lord Jesus, Come by Shai Linne featuring Joint Heirs.

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Jesus is the Mighty Magnet

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This is the October 4th entry from Charles Spurgeon’s daily devotional Faith’s Checkbook. 

A wonderful encouragement to proclaim Christ with hope and expectancy.

The Mighty Magnet 

“And I, if l be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto Me”   (John 12:32).

Come, ye workers, be encouraged. You fear that you cannot draw a congregation. Try the preaching of a crucified, risen, and ascended Savior; for this is the greatest “draw” that was ever yet manifested among men. What drew you to Christ but Christ? What draws you to Him now but His own blessed self? If you have been drawn to religion by anything else, you will soon be drawn away from it; but Jesus has held you and will hold you even to the end. Why, then, doubt His power to draw others? Go with the name of Jesus to those who have hitherto been stubborn and see if it does not draw them. No sort of man is beyond this drawing power. Old and young, rich and poor, ignorant and leaned, depraved or amiable–all men shall feel the attractive force. Jesus is the one magnet. Let us not think of any other. Music will not draw to Jesus, neither will eloquence, logic, ceremonial, or noise. Jesus Himself must draw men to Himself; and Jesus is quite equal to the work in every case. Be not tempted by the quackeries of the day; but as workers for the LORD work in His own way, and draw with the LORD’s own cords. Draw to Christ, and draw by Christ, for then Christ will draw by you.

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Unashamed of My Abortion – Hope for Leyla Josephine

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LEYLA-JOSEPHINE

 

“I am not ashamed. I am not ashamed. I’m so sick of keeping these words contained. I am not ashamed.” – Leyla Josephine

Leyla publicly shared her story about abortion, so I thought I would publicly share my thoughts with her. I hope these words are received with the grace they are intended to convey. If you have not seen her video, you can view it here, but be warned there are a few expletives in her presentation.

 

Leyla-

I recently watched your “I Think She Was a She” poem and think you are a gifted spoken word artist. I have several friends who do spoken word poetry and I’d encourage you to check out this poem by Blair Linne whom I trust you’ll agree is gifted as well.

Having these kinds of discussions publicly is a challenge. They are much better done over coffee with people you know and trust, but since you have chosen all to hear you, I assume it is acceptable to reply in this way. I’ve laid out a few questions for you to ponder and my wife and I are happy to discuss them with you if you would be willing.

Why did you share your story?

You say “this is my story and it won’t be written in pencil and erased with guilt. It will be written in pen and spoken with courage.”

We all have a story to tell and I think you are a skillful storyteller. You have a unique ability to use words that draw listeners into your pain, your confidence, and your ideas.

Have you considered why you want to tell your story? I’m not talking about your desire to encourage women to feel unashamed for decisions they make. I’m referring to reason behind that reason.
In your poem, you mention life being “His-story.” I’m not sure if you are making a reference to God or to man-centered history, but I would suggest that God is the reason you want to tell your story. In the Bible, we see that God is the great Storyteller and our lives are all part of that story.

God tell us that we are each made in His image. This truth is reflected in your passion to communicate your story to others. The Bible also says that all of our stories are filled with pain and suffering because of our turning away from God. That’s why life is so difficult and despairing at times.

The story of the Bible also calls us to look up from our suffering and see that God came into the world to liberate us through His Son, Jesus. Jesus is the great rescuer of rebels like us. He died on a cross and rose from the dead and will soon return to receive those who love Him.

Lelya, have you ever considered that God’s story is what gives your story, and my story, meaning? You said that if your daughter were here “she would have wondered about all the things that came before.” What a wonderful thing to ponder!

If you have never read the story of Jesus, I would encourage you to. In it you will find answers to that question and many more. I suspect you might be amazed at God’s story of love in the Bible.

What does it mean to be a woman?

I am not a woman, but I am married to a woman and have two young daughters. As a pastor, I also help give guidance to many women who desire to know who God made them to be. Because of this, I was perplexed by what you said about being a woman.

You said “This is my body. I don’t care about your ignorant views. When I become a mother, it will be when I choose.” Is being a woman really about having a right to choose what you want to do with your body?

Leyla, I do think you have rights over your body. You should be able to say “no” when you don’t want someone to touch your body or “yes” when you want them to. But this isn’t just a woman’s issue. It is a human issue. My sons have the right to tell someone “no” and “yes” just as much as my daughters do.

But the question that I have been wrestling with from your video is, do you really want to communicate to the world that being a woman means you have the freedom to use your body to do whatever you want, including taking the life of your daughter?

Leyla, this is the heart of your message. You say “I am woman now. I will not be tamed.” Do you really think that the supreme expression of being a woman is the freedom to use your body to stop the development of your daughter’s body?

Doesn’t being a woman of “courage” mean that you will accept responsibility of your actions for the good of others? Shouldn’t liberated women own their right and responsibility to use their bodies to love, protect, and care for others?

I certainly hope you don’t think that being a woman means that you are free to do anything you want, including sacrificing your child on the alter of your convenience. Saying to your daughter that I’m sorry I had to end your life, but you “came at the wrong time” does not sound like liberation toward love. Please don’t buy the lie that being a woman is about freedom to kill others. That isn’t what it means to be a woman, or a man.

Why not mutter murder on you?

“Don’t you mutter murder on me,” you requested.

Why would you not call what you did murder?

You said, “I had to carve down that little cherry tree that had rooted itself in my blood and blossomed in my brain. A responsibility I didn’t have the energy or age to maintain. The branches casting shadows over the rest of the garden.”

Is not a tree that has been planted and is blossoming alive?

What happens when you chop down that tree?

She had roots in your womb. She was blossoming. She was looking for you to maintain her. You said, “she could have been born.”

Please hear your own words.

Did you not stop a life from continuing?

What do you call that if you do not call it murder?

I do not ask you all these questions to paint you into a corner, but to urge you to step into the light and see what you have done. When someone stops another’s life, it is murder.

I do not share these weighty words with you as some self-righteous bystander screaming from the sidelines. I share them with you as a fellow human who also misused my right to choose. I too took the life of my own child. If you care to hear about my story, you can read more about it here.

Do you know the story of hope for people like you and me?

Leyla, I do not write these words to heap condemnation on you. Rather, I write them to point you to the story of hope about Jesus.

You said “I would have supported her right to choose. To choose a life for herself, a path for herself. I would have died for that right, just like she died for mine. I’m sorry but you came at the wrong time.”

The good news found in the Bible is that Jesus gave up His rights as God’s Son to come and lovingly surrender His rights to life so that we might have the “right to become children of God” when we believe in Him (John 1:12). The Bible says He came at “just the right time” to take our judgment on the cross and rise from the dead to now extend forgiveness and healing for all who will come to Him (Romans 5:6).

Jesus’ story is the story that gives your story and my story and every other person’s story hope. Leyla, God will forgive you for what you have done if you will draw near to Jesus in faith (Romans 10:9-13; 1 John 1:8-9). He will give you a new heart that loves Him and loves others.

So pray to God. Tell Him what you’ve done. Tell him you hardened your heart against your daughter. Tell Him you chopped her down. Tell Him you have called others to not feel guilt in doing the same kind of thing. Please, cry out and tell Him.

God will hear you if you truly seek Him (Jeremiah 29:13). This good news will give you something that you can truly be unashamed of because “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

 

Leyla, my hope for you is the same hope that I have for myself—that you will become unashamed of God who desires to give you new life. If you do turn from your sin and walk in that new life, you will begin a new chapter in your story. He will transform your story from being one that unashamedly takes life to one who unashamedly receives life and forgiveness from Him.

Please consider these words. My wife and I are happy to speak with you off line if you are willing.

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Can I Ever Wear My Adrian Peterson Jersey Again?

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Adrian Peterson

I’ve been a longtime NFL fan.

More specifically, I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan.

My earliest childhood memories include watching games with my parents and hearing grandpa grumble about how much he hated the Dallas Cowboys.

Before the 2014 season began, I printed out a sheet with all the NFL team helmets for my 4 year old son. We talked about each team and whom he wanted to root for and whom he was never allowed to root for (Bears, Packers, and Jets).

A couple days later, we had a Fantasy Football draft at my house. In Kell family style, my two sons and I got decked out in our Vikings jerseys. Football has provided some solid fun in our family.

But things haven’t been quite as fun the past few weeks.

This isn’t because my Vikings are striving for mediocrity once again, but rather it’s because of the stench that surrounds all things NFL. The league has been oozing headlines about domestic violence scandals, concussion cover-ups, and most recently child abuse charges against my favorite player, Adrian Peterson.

My aunt, who is a Patriots fan, wrote me this week and said “what is happening to our beloved game?…I was going to email you before [the Pats and Vikings] game last week but AP took all the fun out of that.”

To add to the nauseating situation, we’ve seen the NFL execs’ lust for money broadcast in high definition. The waffling of the Panthers, Ravens, and Vikings organizations in the handling of their respective scandals has been directly tied to public outcries that threatened to cost them money, lots of money.

All of this has left a bad taste in my mouth toward the NFL and toward some of the players, including Adrian Peterson. Right now his jersey is hanging in my closet, and I’m not sure what to do with it.

To be clear, I never wore my AP jersey because I thought he was the model of morality. I wore his jersey because he’s an electrifying player who helped my team win. Granted, he also seemed to be an upstanding young man, and even professes to be a Christian. I respected his posture off the field, and that made it easier to wear his jersey.

But with everything that has come out about the apparent child abuse, I have been debating whether or not I’ll ever wear it again.

Though this wardrobe decision is pretty low on my priority list, the way I think about the NFL and its players is more important. I’ll keep it brief, but I’d like to share two lessons I’ve taken away from my consideration of all this NFL nastiness.

1. I need to take the log out of my own eye.

Jesus said, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).

In those piercing words Jesus warned against pointing out other people’s sins while not first addressing the sins in your own heart. This is where I have found some much needed correction.

Before I point the finger at what I perceive to be money-hungry executives and the Ray Rice and Adrian Petersons of the world, I need to first look at the nastiness in my own heart.

Can you guess what the first thing was that I thought about when the Peterson news broke a few days ago? I thought about how it affected my hopeless Vikings and how it would impact my fantasy football team.

I reduced Peterson to a commodity and the abuse of his child to an obstacle to my sports enjoyment.

How sick is that?

What about the trauma that Adrian’s child has been through? What about his other children? What about the mothers of his children? What about Adrian’s soul before God?

Left to myself, I’m just as greedy and self-interested as the people I was criticizing.

Does that mean I can’t critically think and speak about their wrongs? Of course not. Jesus didn’t tell us not to judge others, He told us not to be hypocrites when we judge others (Matthew 7:1-5). What it does mean is that I must prioritize the examination of my own heart. I must come face to face with the fact that I’m not all that different from the people I was criticizing.

My selfish, consumeristic mindset defaults to using people rather than loving them. My self-righteousness strives to find a reason to condemn people rather than care about their ultimate good. My pride looks at the sin of others and tempts to be less convicted about my own sin. (Adrian abuses his child?  I guess my raised voice or harsh words to my child aren’t so bad after all).

How dangerous is that?

Child abuse and domestic abuse are heinous evils and need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But as I wrestle with all that is happening in our world, I must not avoid examining the evil that remains in my own heart. If I neglect this work, I fear how far I could wander into the darkness of my own sin.

2. Human heroes will always fail me.

Thankfully, I’m not enslaved to sports anymore. My afternoons aren’t ruined when my team loses and my heroes are no longer men in tights running through a field carrying a piece of dead pig. Maybe I’ve just grown calloused because of all the sports heartbreak over the years, but I’m hopeful that it is the Lord changing my affections toward eternal things (Colossians 3:1-3).

Through all of this, I’ve come to realize that while we can admire people for the way they play sports, we should never make them our heroes. Why? Because ultimately, they will fail us.

Sure, not everyone will act in the grievous way Adrian Peterson is accused of acting. But the fact is that all people, even the best of people will fail us.

Does this mean there aren’t any great men and women of character for us to learn from? Of course not. Does this mean we can’t be inspired by phenomenal athletes? Of course not. Does this mean we can’t wear the jerseys of our favorite players? Of course not.

What it does mean is that we must never forget that Jesus is the only One who will never put us to shame when we associate with Him (Psalm 25:3, Romans 10:11). In fact, He is the One who graciously covers the shameful sins of all those who draw close to Him in faith.

Christ is the never-failing One who promises grace and forgiveness to any who believe in Him. This promises is extended to child abusers, greedy executives, and hypocritical self-righteous preachers like me.

That is the beauty of the Gospel. Jesus is the hero who rescues us from the depths of our sin and now promises to never leave those who come to Him (John 6:37). No other person can ever promise that.

Trip Lee’s song about Jesus being the ultimate Hero captures this well, check it out here.

So will I ever wear my Adrian Peterson jersey again? I’m not sure yet.

If I do, it won’t be because I condone his behavior. It would be because of the way he responds to this incident and because I respect him as a player.

If I don’t, it won’t be because I think I’m a better person that he is. It would be because I wouldn’t want to send a confusing message to those who might see me wearing it.

But in the end, what matters isn’t if he or anyone else ever wears a #28 jersey again. What matters is if God will bring healing to his children, reconciliation in his family, and transformation to his life. We should pray and ask God to do that.

I could only hope you would do the same for me if I were the one wearing his jersey.

 

 

 

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