Do Not Be Afraid

There have been a few times in my life when I have been struck by genuine fear and terror.

Maybe the first time I had a paralyzing fear was when I heard of the bombing in Oklahoma City. I was just married, living in Kansas, and I never thought that this kind of home grown terror would ever strike so close.

That was until I watched the Twin Towers fall on 9/ll. We were uncertain of the cause, unsure of what this kind of global terrorism would mean for our future, and I was genuinely concerned for our friends who lived in New York City.

Perhaps the worst fear I’ve ever known, though, was the time my  youngest son was hit in the chest and stopped breathing. In the midst of prayers and tears I administered chest compressions until the ambulance arrived. He’s fine, healthy, and strong. But I knew fear that day.

We live in an age of fear. There is a virus spreading around the world and no one is sure how easily it spreads or how lethal it may be. Affecting more than just the physical health of the world, the markets have taken a beating as business are shutting down and citizens are required to shelter in place. The media only seems to fuel and thrive off of the ensuing panic. I visit with church members and fear is the thing that we are dealing with; fear of the future, fear of the virus, fear of the unknown.

Isn’t it remarkable then, to know that the most often command repeated in Scripture to the people of God is this: “Do not be Afraid.” Just a quick search on Logos Bible Software brought up over 85 occurrences of this direct command from God. I don’t have the space to write of all the times this charge is given in God’s Word – so allow me to summarize.

The command is given when the people are rightfully afraid:

When they were facing tremendous obstacles – For example, when Joshua was leading the people into the promised land, repeatedly God commands him to be of good courage, to have no fear. When enemies were attacking, God would often remind his prophets and people not to fear, for He would be with them to deliver and protect them (Isa 41 & 43; Jer 42; Ps 46).

When they are encountering God – We especially hear the command “Do not fear” when the Lord appears to His people. When the angel of the Lord visits (Abram, Hagar, Gideon, Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds in Luke 2, etc.), the people are rightfully terrified.  They are in the presence of the Holy One, and they are not holy, therefore standing under the judgment of God.

In every circumstance, whether encountering the living God, or facing the terrifying circumstances of the day, the repeated command is clear: Do not be afraid.

Why?  What is the source of courage in the face of terror. What assurance do we have in overwhelming circumstances? What hope do sinners have in the presence of a holy God?

We do not fear for God is with His people. Isaiah 41:1 & 5 say, “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine… Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.'”

God is for His people. Rev. 2:10 says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”

I think it is helpful to remember in the midst of trials and suffering that God is greater than the terror we are facing; and God often works through seasons like these to bring about His ultimate purpose for His glory. What man, or nature, intends for our harm, God uses to draw us close to Him, to help us see His mighty hand is able to save, and to wean us from the false and empty gods of this age.

So I encourage you, d.o not be afraid. I know that is easier said than done. But remember His promises. Remember His goodness. Remember what God has done for you in Jesus Christ to bring about your salvation. And remember, if God has done all of that for you, nothing you face in this life can ever separate you from God’s love and saving grace (Rom 8:38-39).  Do not be afraid in these times, but look to your Savior Jesus Christ and be of good courage.

SDG

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Loving One Another in the Quarantine

This time of isolation and quarantine is difficult. But it has had at least one benefit: I have been renewed in my appreciation of the gathering of the body of Christ.  “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” so they say. I couldn’t agree more.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in the book Life Together, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” How true! This echoes the sentiment of the Psalmist, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).  The opportunity to come together for worship, fellowship, and discipleship ought to be the highlight in the life of the believer.

Though we cannot come together, we are doing what we can to maintain some semblance of regular life and ministry in the church.  The doors are still open for those who want to come and meet for prayer and study. We continue to offer our Sunday morning worship, even though we are recommending that everyone tune in via our cable broadcast and Youtube. 

Still, it’s not the same.

I am reminded of those times when Paul wrote to the churches about his desire to come to them (Rom 1:10, 1 Thess. 2:8) to share in their fellowship and ministry. He also wrote to Timothy and Titus at times, urging them to come to him when he was in prison (2 Tim 4:13; Titus 3:12). John, in writing to the church, twice states that though he had much to write, “I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 John 12; 3 John 13). To paraphrase the apostle, I have much I could write in my blog, or say on Facebook Live – but I would rather talk with you in person, so that our joy may be complete.

But for the time being we continue with the quarantine. 

This time of social distancing, however, need not hamper our expression of love in Christ for one another. As a matter of fact, social distancing, and forsaking our rights and privileges for the sake of those around us, may be one of the greatest demonstrations of love we can ever show.  Paul wrote in 1 Cor 13, “Love does not insist on its own way…”  For the sake of loving our neighbor, we are called to lay down our own lives, our own desires, our own preferences, all to show the love of Christ.  “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

We are practicing isolation so that we do not wrong our neighbor, and in this is love (Rom 13:10). Martin Luther, when asked what the Christian’s response should be during the midst of the plague, wrote:

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate (disinfect), help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.” (Whether One Should Flee From A Deadly Plague – To Rev. Dr. John Hess)

If we want to be the body of Christ, and love one another well, let us recommit to praying for one another. Call the members of your church, your neighbors and friends; find out how they are doing, and pray for them. Intercede before the throne of God on their behalf. 

Long ago I heard a pastor talk about just how powerful a sign of love intercessory prayer really is. You have this opportunity to come before God, to ask Him all that your heart desires. Your first desire is for His glory, but long before you pray for yourself, you pray for those around you. Saying I will pray for you is not some cliche line to end a conversation, it is a pledge that you are on my heart and I will plead your case before our heavenly Father.  This is love.

Another way to encourage one another, even though we cannot be together, is to bless one another with the Word of God. Send cards, emails, or post on Social Media scriptures of promise and hope. As you spend time in the word daily, share what you’ve been reading.  When you call on your fiends and loved ones, share with them God’s Word. Don’t miss the opportunities God has given to let His Word be spoken. Build up and encourage one another with the gift you’ve been given.

Remember, the church is not the building, it is the people of God. Even in this time of isolation and distancing, especially in this time of isolation and distancing, we are to be the Church for one another. Beloved, let us love one another.

SDG

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Plagues and the People of God

These are unprecedented times.  The world has come to a standstill, towering economies brought to their knees, social constructs completely disrupted – all because of the Coronavirus. The ethos of fear and anxiety has surpassed that of 9/11, and like those bleak and troubling days, we have no sense of when this will come to an end.

And yet, this is nothing new.  Last week I shared a video about how John Calvin and the Company of Reformed Pastors in Geneva responded to the plague in their day. The Church has, throughout its existence weathered the political, social, and physical storms of each generation with a witness to the Gospel and a shelter for the soul.

Knowing this, I turned to the Scriptures and did a quick search on plagues in the Bible, trusting that God’s Word would give us insight into the crisis we face even today, so that we might have a heart of wisdom and know how we should respond. Here’s a brief summary of what I found.

  • The Scriptures are very clear that plagues, famines, and sicknesses do in fact come from the hand of God. The first plague we read of in Genesis 12 was brought upon the people of Egypt by God to prevent them from abusing Sarai. After that, we read (Exodus 8-12) of the 10 plagues upon Egypt, through which God brought out His people from slavery. From that point, the majority of the plagues we read about in Scripture are upon the people of Israel, as in the case of the people’s rebellion with Korah (Numb 16), their grumbling about meat (Ex 32), or for their infidelity and immorality as they were led astray by Balaam (Numb 25 & 31).
    The Westminster Confession reminds us that “God the great creator of all things doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of  his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.”
    To that end, we must come to understand that all things, even times of sickness and sorrow, come from the Sovereign will of God, who orders all things for the praise of his glory.  We must learn to see even pandemics such as this as God’s instruments through which He brings about His good and perfect will.
  • We know that the plagues against Egypt served to demonstrate that God is able to save His people, and to show that God alone is worthy to be worshiped and praise.  In Exodus 9:14 we read, “For this time I will send all my plagues on you (Egypt) yourself, and on your servants and your people, so that you may know that there is none like me in all the earth.” The plagues that come from God are the demonstration of His power and justice.
  • In Habakkuk 3:5, we read that when God makes Himself known, pestilence and plague come before and after, making His divine judgment upon the nations known. Likewise, in Zechariah 14, we are told that God will humble the nations that do not serve Him through plagues and punishment, so that every knee will bow in worship before the Lord.  This theme is picked back up in the book of Revelation, where in chapters 9 and 15-16, we read of the plagues of the judgment and wrath of God against the sinfulness of the world.

It is evident, through these passages, that God sends plagues upon the world as a demonstrated of His wrath and judgment of sin. But these aren’t the only times we read of plagues.

  • The majority of the plagues in the Old Testament are not directed toward the nations, but actually to the very people of Israel, the congregation of God’s people.  Here is a list of examples:
    • Ex 32 – A plague of the people of Israel because of the golden calf that Aaron made.
    • Num. 11:31-25 – When Israel complained of manna and insisted on meat, God sent quail to them, but brought a plague upon them while they were eating.
    • Num. 16 – Following Korah’s rebellion, the people complained that Moses had actually killed the rebels, and a plague broke out because of their grumbling.
    • Num. 25 – Called the sin of Peor, a plague came upon the people because of their immorality and infidelity.
    • Num. 31 – There was a plague on the congregation of Israel because many had been led astray by Balaam’s teaching.
    • 2 Sam 24/1 Chron 21 – A plague comes upon Israel because of David’s census.
  • These plagues are sent upon the people of God as discipline. The people were rebellious, unfaithful, and immoral, and God would correct them of their sin. The wrath of the Holy God of Israel  was visited upon His people when they sinned against Him.
  • Each time a plague comes upon the people, there is an intercession, by Moses or David, a prayer to relive the suffering of God’s people.

We see, then, through the Scriptures, that God sends plagues upon the land as a demonstration of His wrath against those that do not honor Him; but also to discipline His own people for their faithlessness, idolatry, and immorality.

But does this apply to this world-wide epidemic today? The circumstances may be different, but the principles remain the same.

This virus is not outside the bounds of God’s sovereign plan and design. This too will serve to bring Him glory, honor and praise. Even that which we consider evil, God will use for His good purpose.  Remember the story of Joseph, whose brothers sold Him into slavery. At the end, when he is reunited with his brothers, having saved them from the famine, he tells them, “What you intended for evil against me, God meant for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive” (Gen 50:20).

We cannot know, in the midst of this trial, just what purpose God is working in these trials and challenges. We can, however, use this as an opportunity to repent and seek after Christ more and more.  The plagues came upon Israel because of their unfaithfulness to God, so that they may learn not to trust in false idols, but to worship God alone.  Our hearts are still prone to idolatry, and we must cast down the false gods that catch our eye, and look only to Christ, fixing our eyes upon Him.

We are different, however, from the people of Israel in one important point – we are redeemed, saved, and delivered from the wrath of God through Jesus Christ our Savior.  All the wrath of God for our sins was poured out upon Him, so that He has borne God’s judgment and punishment in our place.  We need not be terrified of the plague of God’s wrath, for Christ has become the plagued for us.

That does not mean that we will not still come under the discipline of God, for as a loving father disciplines his son, so our Heavenly Father disciplines those whom He loves that they may share His holiness (Hebrews 12:6-11).  God may use this time to wean us from the things of this world that were competing for His glory and attention.  God will refine and recreate His people in the image of His Son, and this time of upheaval may be just one of the means through which He chooses to bring that about.

In all, let us look to our Sovereign God, who cares for His people, and will never let them out of His hand. Let us trust in Jesus Christ for our salvation and peace. And, as the Holy Spirit moves upon us, let us grow in holiness and devotion to the Lord.

SDG

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Outbreaks & the Church

I know that the outbreak of Covid19 (Coronavirus) has been on everyone’s minds.  If you go to the stores, there’s been a run on some of the staples (and toilet paper for some reason), and many of the non-essential activities in the community have been canceled to encourage “social-distancing” to slow the speed of the virus.

How should the Church respond? This has been the pressing question your elders have been asking, but it’s not a new question. We face this question every time there is severe weather making travel to the church unsafe. We’ve faced this question when there has been an outbreak of the flu or other community crises.

This is an interesting and unique situation.  The virus spread quickly and easily, and it affects the elderly and immunity-compromised more than any other group. We are reminded to wash our hands well and often, to avoid touching our faces, and to limit interaction with others so as to not be exposed to the virus or pass it along.

Still, there are few standard responses that apply to every situation that we should remember. Like washing your hands, these are always applicable:

  1. Pray – If you are healthy, take the time to pray and give God thanks for keeping you healthy and strong.  But also remember to pray for those who are affected by the virus, those who are sick, full of anxiety, or facing financial difficulties because of loss of work.
  2. Love – Pandemics and social crises tend to bring out the worst in people. We’ve seen how this current issue has been politicized, only adding to deep divisions in our nation. We’ve also seen how there has been a run on essential needs in the stores, as people race to make themselves secure.  Let us not forget that, even in times of crisis, we are to love one another and care for each other.  Remember to put the needs of those around you before yourself, and as we’ll hear in the sermon on Sunday, to be willing to lay down your life for the sake of your brothers and sisters.
  3. Be-Sober Minded – This is one of my favorites instructions in Paul’s letter.  Basically, in today’s vernacular, Paul is saying, “Don’t lose your head.”  Don’t panic. Don’t freak out. Remember that death has no power over the Christian, and that no pandemic, no virus, no sickness, can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Trust in the Gospel truths, and let them stand as your bedrock when the rest of the world is shifting sand.
  4. Remember Who Is In Control – When the government, the press, the scientific community, and even social media get’s everything wrong and can’t seem to get their act together, this is a reminder that those who put their faith in the strength of man will be ultimately disappointed. Put your hope and truth in God, for He is still on His throne, and even this is part of His good and glorious design.

Here are some links to a couple of things I’ve read/watched, that may be encouraging for you as well:

Should Christians Be Anxious About the Coronavirus? From Todd Wagner writing for The Gospel Coalition – With the increasing coronavirus cases outside of China, many believers across the United States wonder how to respond to the increasing alarm. What would God have us do in the face of a growing international health crisis? Should our churches close their doors for fear of spreading illness? Should I take my kids out of school? Cancel travel plans? How should we help a panicked world?

How did John Calvin and the early Reformers Respond to the Plague?  This is a video from a PCA Pastor Matthew Everhard on how Calvin and the company of pastors in Geneva cared, at great cost, for those affected by the plague.

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Frustrated!

As I began to write this article today on “Frustration” my WIFI network crashed. Instantly, all access to my bog-site, youtube videos for illustration, catchy quotes on wiki-quotes – all gone.

WHY DOES THIS ALWAYS HAPPEN TO ME!!! THIS IS SO FRUSTRAT….

Oh. Wait. There it is, the frustration monster rearing its fuming head.

It doesn’t take much, just one little nudge, and the plans of mice and men have gone awry.

How frustrating.

How fitting that the network would crash, frustrating my efforts to accomplish my goal That’s the verb form of the word. As a noun, frustration is the feeling of irritation or annoyance because of an inability to achieve one’s goals.

What frustrates me? Here’s the quick list:

Choppy internet connections

People who don’t know how to drive, especially at roundabouts

source-1

Constant interruptions that keep me from what I’m doing

Having to deal with the same problems over and over again

My own inability to live up to the standards that I have set for myself.

Now, if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice that all of these, even the internet thing, all stem from my sense of self-importance and entitlement.  People should drive better so they don’t slow me down. Why can’t you do what I told you the first time, the way I told you to. An honest self-critique reveals that I am frustrated most when others don’t do things like I would do them, when my own lack of power and control i exposed, when I realize, once again, that I am not God.

Of course, the scriptures reveal the genuine source of my frustration – my own disobedience and willfulness. In Deuteronomy 28 God warns of His curse upon those who do not obey the voice of the Lord, that he will send confusion and frustration upon them. In Job 5, we are told that the Lord frustrates the plans of the crafty. In Psalm 33:10 we read that God frustrates the plans of the peoples, but the council of the Lord stands forever.

Frustration is evidence that even still His ways are not my ways; that I must continue to die to myself and follow after the Lord.  It is proof that the old man in me, though slain by grace (for I have been crucified with Christ), still rears and rages from time to time.

So what is the solution to my frustration.  Here are some quick thoughts.

  1. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). My frustration comes primarily when I am full of myself, insisting upon my ways, and putting myself in the place of God. When I sense frustration building, it is a good reminder to humble myself in the sight of the Lord, to know that He is Sovereign and I am not.  And that’s a very good thing. Nothing can frustrate His councils, not even my own weaknesses and shortsightedness. “He who has begun a good work in you is faithful to bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).
  2. Let Love for God and Neighbor Replace A sense of pride and arrogance.  1 Corinthians 13 teaches, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” These characteristics of love are the exact opposite of frustration.  Let love for God and one another be that which soothes and abates the fires of frustration.
  3. Preach the Gospel to Yourself. Simply trying to replace frustration with love would end up making me more frustrated, because that would be a works-based remedy, and remember, the source of frustration is making myself the center of everything. No, the best cure for my frustrations is always the gospel.  Knowing that Jesus has taken my sin, my brokenness, my failures, my shame, and died upon the cross for me, so that by faith in Him I have new life; this is my hope and peace. Now, if ever there was someone who had a right to be frustrated, wouldn’t it be Jesus?  He is the righteous One, who never sinned, but was sinned against by all, and bore the sins of the world upon His cross. Yet as Hebrews 12:2 reminds us, he, “for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” By His grace I am delivered from the curse of frustration of the old life, and raised to joyful life in the Spirit.  Proverbs 3:5-6 teaches, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.  Feeling frustrated? Turn to, and trust in, Jesus Christ for your salvation. He will make your paths straight!

SDG

PS – Here’s the video I thought I’d share on Frustration – can’t help it, it’s Ray Romano and Grover.

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In the School of Prayer

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1)

There is a scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet in which Hamlet plans to kill his uncle Claudius, but cannot because Claudius is praying, and Hamlet would not want Claudius’ soul to be cleansed and rise to heaven. Setting aside the unbiblical and misguided understanding of salvation, what has always resonated with me in this scene in Claudius’ comment after he rises from prayer. In great irony, Claudius has found no comfort in prayer, saying, “My words fly up, my thoughts remain below” (III.iii.96). His prayers have been insincere, ineffective, and his soul remains unchanged in prayer.

Often have I shared this feeling when rising from prayer.  I draw near to the Lord, but feel my words have merely bounced around the room; never penetrating the roof, much less the throne room of grace. How can I be prepared for an eternity before God in His new Heaven and new Earth, when I grow weary after 15 minutes in prayer?

Spiritual disciplines require a similar approach in training as physical disciplines.  If you want to run a marathon, you start by running 1 mile. If you want to grow in prayer, then you must start praying.  Pray, seeking God’s Holy Spirit to give you the words to pray, to give you a spirit of prayer, to increase your passion for praying.  The old puritans taught, “pray until you pray.”

So I’ve decided this year to enroll myself in the school of prayer.  To sit under the teaching of God’s Word, reading and studying the prayers of scripture to increase my heart for prayer.  I’ve picked up a couple of books on prayer, and some collections of puritan prayers, and those will help – but the most important part is simply to pray.

I was reminded recently that prayer is not the work of the Church, it is the very heart of the Church. Without prayer there is no connection with God, no seeking His face, no being led by His Spirit. Without prayer, all the labors of the Church are in vain. So let us then ask the Lord to teach us to pray; and may we know the great power of prayer as it is working (James 5:16).

I’ve added here some of the bullet points from the opening chapter of D.A. Carsons, A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Prioritiees from Paul and His Prayers (Baker Books, 1992, Grand Rapids, MI) Digital Copy.

  1. Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray. We do not drift into spiritual life; we do not drift into disciplined prayer. we will not grow in prayer unless we plan to pray.
  2. Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift. Vocalize your prayers, pray over the scriptures, make prayer lists, journal your prayers – find ways to keep your mind focused on the act of prayer.
  3. At varies periods in your life, develop, if possible, a prayer partnership. Seek someone to teach you to pray, or someone you can teach. Prayer-partner relationships are as valuable for the discipline, accountability and regularity they engender as for the lessons that are shared.
  4. Choose models – but choose them well. Listen to others pray. Read books of prayer. Study their content, their breadth, their passion, their unction – but do not ape their idiom.
  5. Develop a system for prayer lists. Whatever the system, use prayer lists.
  6. Mingle praise, confession, and intercession; but when you intercede, try to tie as many request as possible to Scripture. One of the most important elements in intercession is to think through, in the light of Scripture, what it is God wants us to ask for.
  7. If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers. Public prayer ought to be the overflow of one’s private praying.
  8. Pray until you pray. Pray long enough and honestly enough that you get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attend not a little praying.
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The Purpose of Worship (its not what you think)

There has been some great conversations going on in Reformed/Protestant circles about the nature and purpose of Christian Worship.  This isn’t about the style of music or length of sermons (that’s an entirely different conversation). Rather, its about why we worship in the first place.

Along these lines, I share with you this video of David Platt speaking at the Sing! 2018 conference, an event hosted by songwriters Keith and Kristyn Getty to help people grow in their understanding of Gospel-centered worship.  Platt is an author and pastor of McLean Bible Church in Washington D.C.

I encourage you to watch the video, and I’ve written up some bullet point notes below.

  • The Psalms is a hymnbook that God wrote for Himself (the illustration is great!)
  • God blesses His people for the sake of His own praise and glory.
    • Isaiah 43 – He blesses for His glory.
    • Ezekiel 36 – Its not for your sake, but for my great name.
    • Matthew 28 (and others) – You are saved so that you may be a witness to all nations.
    • Galatians 1 – God revealed His Son to me so that I may proclaim Him.
  • The Danger we need to be aware of:
    • We who are blessed are prone to disconnect God’s blessing in our lives from God’s purpose for our lives.
    • The Church is prone to disconnect God’s blessing in the church from God’s purpose for the church.
    • A self-centered Christianity, with grace centered on us, misses the purpose of God.
  • How do we disconnect the blessing from the purpose?
    • We say the message of Christianity is God loves me so much he sent His Son
      • This is not the complete message!
      • If the story ends here, the point of Christianity is all about me.
  • The message of Christianity: “God loves me so that His glory may be made known to all the nations.” God is the object of Christianity.

May our worship of God, both corporate and private, delight in His blessings, and make His glory known to all the nations.

SDG

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