Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Religious Relationship 

Some people say, “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.”   I am curious why one thinks that these two ideas are mutually exclusive.   A religion is a relationship, a connection between God and man expressed in certain defined doctrines and practices.  One would be hard pressed to find anyone within Christianity who would actually say that the empty performance of religious ritual is a good thing.  Our worship ought to be a matter of the heart, or in other words a matter of sincerely held belief, and not just vain formalism.

If this is what people mean when they oppose religion to relationship, they’re right, though I fear that they often mean something else.  Often, by “relationship”, people seem to emphasize entirely just one side of that relationship, their own, so that by a “relationship” they really mean an experience, a feeling, a particular emotional ecstasy.  Too often it seems that it is the very idea that God has regulated our relationship with Him that people find offensive.  Is it the case that we want to be in control of the way that relationship functions, of how and when we experience that relationship? 

It is a relationship, but because God is who He is and we are who we are, that relationship must be defined and regulated very carefully, and we are not the ones who do the defining and regulating.  So it is a “religious relationship,” a relationship with God which is governed by order and sound doctrine.

Cain’s problem was not that he didn't want a relationship with God.  He wanted one, but he wanted to be in control of it.  He wanted to offer God the sacrifice that he chose to offer, rather than the one God had taught him to offer.  He wanted to change the terms of the relationship.  God responded by rejecting that sacrifice and calling on Cain to repent.  Over and over we can see the same pattern being repeated.  Every kind of sin there is basically boils down to this impulse.  Even atheists, whether they are willing to admit it or not, are demanding to have a relationship with God on their terms, because they insist on the right to enjoy God’s good creation without submitting to Him.  This is right at the very essence of the sin of idolatry.  The practice of idol worship was at its heart a desire to fix and control one’s relationship to the god, governing my relationship to the god by the things that I myself have made.

God is sovereign over us and can never be anything but sovereign.  We can never be in charge of our relationship with God.  So whether or not we will have a relationship with God is not the question.  As His creatures, we will always be in relationship with Him.  The question is, whether we will submit to His rules for that relationship, or whether we will insist on writing our own.  This principle will be reflected in everything we do, and it will be seen in our worship above all else.  Is our worship driven by God’s own revealed truth?  Or is it driven by our feelings, opinions, and priorities?  Do we desire to generate certain kinds of emotional experiences and call that worship, or do we desire to submit ourselves to the God that made us? 

We are called to a religious relationship with God, and that relationship will be an extremely blessed one.  God has all the treasures in the world, and desires to give them to His people.  He will always do so in a way that is true to His own nature, that reflects His sovereignty and rule.  In grace, He sovereignly reveals the truth to His people, opens our eyes to the true nature of our religious relationship with Him, so that we can be conformed to the truth of His sovereignty and receive all of His gracious gifts.

This is all revealed in Christ.  His life was one of perfect obedience in submission to the will of His Father.  His death showed that fellowship with God can only be had in conformity to His law; since God’s law demanded death for our sin, that price had to be paid, and it was.  His call to us is to believe on Him, to be covered by the blood He shed for us, and thus enter into a right and gracious relationship with God which honors both His sovereign justice and His gracious love.  This is the heart of what people find so offensive in the cross.  It expresses perfectly the truth that our relationship with God can only ever be had on His terms, not on ours, that God will sooner undergo the horrors of death Himself than give up His sovereign right to rule.

It only reveals the desperate condition of sinful man all the more that so many continue to reject this perfect offer of fellowship and continue to insist on writing the rules of our relationship with God ourselves.  It would be like the Gauls trying to dictate to Caesar the terms of their surrender after Caesar had utterly crushed them.  God holds all the cards here, yet He has approached us in grace and mercy.  It is only reasonable then that we give up any attempt to try to dictate to God what our relationship with Him will look like, and humbly and simply look to Him to instruct us in the religious relationship, the sovereignly ordered worship and life to which He has called us.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Getting to Know God 

From the church site:
Like a Japanese gardener who shapes a miniature tree over years by carefully tying its branches and trunk in particularly chosen ways, so the worship of God, through patient repetition, will shape us. It will guide us in the way we grow. This is not a matter of simply showing up, but truly being bound to God by personal trust and faith, since it is the personal relationship that forms the connection, not simply physical presence or outward activity. This shaping will not happen all at once; the change will often be imperceptible. We might not think anything is going on at all. But over time, those forces will gently, slowly and certainly shape someone. If the worship services we choose to go to are dominated by the opinions and ideas of men, then that is what will shape us, and our hearts will be far from God. But if the content of our worship is controlled by the personality of Jehovah, then we will be conformed to the image of Jehovah.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Handmade Heidelberg Catechism from The Purple Carrot (review) 

Heidelberg Catechism, with Scripture Proof Texts
I received this item from The Purple Carrot for review purposes.  It’s a handcrafted Heidelberg Catechism.  The cover in front and back is hard, like a hardback book, but with a sewn-on cover that you can get in a number of different patterns.  It has a binding that I think you’d call stitched or sewn.  I don’t know a lot about book binding.  But I would think that the nice thing about this kind of binding, besides its aesthetic value, is that it seems to be able to open and close and lay very flat without stressing the binding much at all.  It seems like it would be quite durable and stand up to some use. 

That durability would be very nice for a piece like this, because one of the chief uses I could foresee for it would be as a gift for church members having a child baptized.  You’d want something that looks this nice to last a while, and to be actually usable without just falling apart.  Inside is a title page, an introduction to the Heidelberg Catechism, and each of the questions.  All the proof texts are listed as well, very helpful for catechetical study.

I think the price is pretty reasonable for something hand-crafted like this ($20).  I think it would be a really nice touch to give something like this to families with a new baby or new member families or those kinds of occasions.  The Purple Carrot makes a few different versions of this- I think right now they have the Heidelberg Catechism, the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Catechism for Young Children.  The translation for the Heidelberg that was used is I believe the same one some of the more conservative Dutch churches.  It’s the same as is listed here on Westminster Theological Seminary's site, which says it's the one the Canadian and American Reformed Churches use.  But there's only minor differences in wording between this and the one we are using in the RCUS right now, which itself has been modified a few times with more modern language.  I've been told that The Purple Carrot is putting one together using the current RCUS translation as well.

Overall, I really recommend it.  Well-made, reasonably priced, very useful and attractive item.  Good for churches who want to buy it as a gift item- or buy it yourself for your own family.  I love the Heidelberg of course, but the Westminster Shorter Catechism and the Catechism for Young Children are both great resources too.  If you don't know which one to get, get the Heidelberg!

Here is a link to The Purple Carrot's website.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Family Planning and the Christian Couple 

I regularly get asked questions about whether it is acceptable for a Christian to use birth control or family planning.  Within Reformed and Evangelical circles there is a perspective or a movement even, sometimes called "Quiverfull", that teaches against any form of birth control.  I believe this movement to be contrary to Christian principles, primarily the principle that only God is the legislator.

The “Quiverfull” movement describes a belief that Christian couples ought to be open to having very large families.  In particular, those that describe themselves as “quiverfull” people usually mean that it is sinful to use any method to limit the number of children that the couple has.  There are a variety of expressions of this belief; some hold to the position that artificial methods like chemical or mechanical means of preventing conception are forbidden; others simply state that a couple ought to engage in intercourse naturally at all times without concern for whether it will produce a pregnancy or not.  So some might think that timing intercourse around fertility cycles is acceptable while others would deny it.  

The Catholic position on this subject rests on natural law arguments and the belief that the primary purpose of sex is procreation. The Roman Catholic Church has always viewed sex with suspicion, and for understandable reasons (at least a long time ago), due to the great depravity of the Roman Empire in which the church originally rose.  Attitudes toward sex developed early in that depraved environment and then got locked in place later due to unbiblical theories of the infallibility of church tradition.  So the Roman Catholic Church has always viewed sex as a necessary evil, really only acceptable for procreation, and is seen in its insistence that the holiest and most spiritual men and women will be celibate.

Within Protestant Evangelical circles the argument tends to take a different form.  Here is one example of such an argument.  The argument rests on the very Biblical idea that children are a blessing from God.    The "quiverfull" name comes from a memorable passage from Psalm 127: "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one's youth.  Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate. (Psa 127:4-5 NKJ)"  Though it starts with a Biblical principle, it makes unwarranted applications of that principle, applications which run afoul of other Biblical principles.

The argument goes that since the Bible frequently describes children as a blessing, we ought to be open to receive as many of them as God will give us (which is of course true).  Therefore it is sinful for us to do anything that would prevent that from happening (and here is the unbiblical and unwarranted inference).  God commanded Adam and Eve in the garden to "be fruitful and multiply" and repeated that command to Noah after the flood.  In 1 Timothy 5:14-15, the apostle expresses his desire that young women marry and bear children.  In 1 Timothy 2:11-15 the apostle even says that the woman will be saved by childbirth.

Since all of these passages promote childbirth and procreation, therefore it should be taken as a Biblical command to procreate freely, to do nothing to prohibit or delay it, and consequently in most cases to have very large families.

Christian Liberty
My major counterpoint to all of this is the principle of Christian liberty.  One of the strongest criticisms that Jesus leveled against the Pharisees was the charge that they set themselves up as lawgivers for other people.  He said,  "Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: "These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Mat 15:7-9 NKJ)"  In particular, the Pharisees were fond of making rules for others based on logical inferences from Scriptures, inferences which were often quite tenuous.  Many of Jesus' Sabbath disputes were based on this kind of reasoning, as were the purity rituals of the Pharisees.  They complained that Jesus' disciples did not fast, for example, when their fasts were imposed by the Pharisees, but nowhere commanded in Scripture.  The Scriptures said in different places that fasting was a good thing to do, and therefore the Pharisees decided that fasting twice a week is something any good Jew ought to do.  Or the Old Testament taught that eating certain foods were polluting, and therefore the Pharisees would not even eat with a Gentile for fear of this pollution, something not required in the Law of Moses. Even though Jesus was perfectly obedient to that law, He freely ignored these rules.  It was their "tradition", meaning the body of law that had arisen as application of the Law of Moses.  Jesus constantly criticizes the Pharisees for teaching this tradition as if it were the same as the Law of Moses.

This is a great temptation that the church has continually failed to see.  As another example, the Scriptures teach that drunkenness is a sin, and something to be very careful about.  Therefore, many Christian groups over the century have taught that a Christian ought not drink at all, simply to avoid the danger.  We all must make applications of the Scripture to our own lives and circumstances.  But when we then take those applications that we have made, and teach them as law for others, then we have usurped God's sole right to be the Lawgiver, and set ourselves up as the Lawgiver for others.  This is a great offence, as Jesus' words in Matthew 15 and many other places show.  

The Apostle James says the same thing: "11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (Jam 4:11-12 NKJ)"  James here says that if I judge my brother then I have judged the law.  James is talking about decisions I make myself about the rightness of my brother's actions.  Telling people what the law of God says is never judging them.  All I am doing is speaking the truth that God has revealed.  But when I make up my own law and judge my brother by that law, then I have acted as if the law of God was insufficient (what he means by "judging the law").  I've set myself above the law of God.  But there is only one Lawgiver.

The great question always comes over what God's law actually says.  Those advancing the "Quiverfull" doctrine of course believe that their doctrines were not invented by themselves, but are derived from Scripture.  We need to determine whether they are right or not.  But I start with Christian liberty because that doctrine is not in doubt at all.  So clear is the Scripture on this point, so frequent the warnings, so strong the language, that it ought to teach the Christian to be extremely cautious before proclaiming what the law of God is to others.  If we proclaim that the Law of God prohibits or commands some behavior, we had better be very sure that we are right.  To fail to do so is to set ourselves up as the Lawgiver, and to usurp God's exclusive right.  We must simply be very, very cautious before ever declaring confidently what other people must do or not do.  Who are we to judge another man's servant?  When the Scripture speaks clearly, so should we.  Otherwise, we should be silent.  God will judge.

Responsible Hermeneutics
With that said, then we can examine the Quiverfull argument.  What we see in this argument is a consistent use of a very questionable hermeneutic (meaning, interpretive approach to Scripture).  It is a similar hermeneutic as that employed by the Prosperity Gospel, which will use examples of times when God made someone healthy or rich as proof that God wants all of us to be healthy or rich.

Just because something happens in the Bible does not mean that it is good.  Further, just because something happens which is stated to be a blessing does not translate into a command for all people in a wide variety of differing circumstances.  Saying that "children are a blessing" does not translate into a command that we ought to pursue having some number of children, or that it is always wrong to delay having children.

In order to be on safe ground declaring that the Quiverfull principles are indeed law, an actual command or articulation of a moral principle needs to be found in Scripture.  It is true that part of the creation mandate was to "be fruitful and multiply".  But this is a general command given to the human race.  Does it apply in exactly the same way to every individual?  Jesus never had any children, even though He was under the Law.  Paul remained single.  They both clearly thought that the command to be fruitful and multiply did not apply to them in their particular circumstances.  Further, does the command "be fruitful and multiply" imply anything about how many children I am to have?  The command says nothing about how specifically it is fulfilled.  It does not give me precise instructions, but is merely presented as a general principle.  We ought to regard children, and having children, as a good thing- true.  But it says nothing about how many children it may or may not be wise to have.

Paul expresses his desire for young women to marry and have children.  This is a good indication of what the normal life of young women will look like, and we ought to follow it.  But Paul also expressly allows and even encourages people in some circumstances to delay marriage for a time (1 Cor. 7) or even to remain single.  In Matthew 24:19 Jesus expresses the idea that during certain times of tribulation it might be undesirable to be pregnant or nursing.  In short, nothing about the general statements about the goodness of marriage and childrearing overrides all prudential or circumstantial concerns.

I Timothy 2:15 says that the woman "will be saved by childbearing."  If this is taken to mean that bearing children is the way of salvation for women, meritorious for her justification, or anything of that nature, then our whole system of doctrine is overthrown.  This is a notoriously difficult passage, and difficult passages are never good grounds for doctrines which are not clearly taught elsewhere.  Salvation is often taken by some to mean "conversion", "the way to get into heaven" or "the way to be forgiven of sins", but often the Scriptures use the word "save" in the sense of the whole process of sanctification and perfection- an ongoing process throughout our lives.  If taken in this likely sense, then Paul is saying that childbearing will be one of the normal means that God uses to sanctify and grow women in their personal righteousness, an observation that rings very true to experience.  But again, nothing is said about women in every condition or circumstance.  Can infertile women then not be saved?  And nothing is said about how many children are necessary to make this process happen.  Is a woman with ten children more sanctified than one with five?  These are all unwarranted inferences from the text.

The hermeneutic approach employed by the Quiverfull movement is similar to that which would take warnings against drunkenness to be prohibitions against alcohol.  It is an irresponsible hermeneutic which twists Scripture to be saying things it does not say, to find commands where there are none, and to find specificity in commands when there are only general statements.  We have in the Scriptures a call to the human race generally to procreate, and to regard children and family life in general as a good thing.  We have instructions that teach that most people's lives will be and should be characterized by marriage and family.  These are all principles that our selfish death-worshiping culture desperately needs to hear.  But none of them translate into a prohibition against a couple making decisions about when to have children and how many children they should have.

Responsible Childrearing
On the contrary, the Scriptures also give us commands about caring for children.  Paul says that he that does not care for his own, especially those of his own house, has denied the faith.  He also tells fathers to bring his children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.  Both of these statements imply that parents have a responsibility to their children.  Children require resources- financial, physical, emotional and spiritual.  In this life the resources that God gives us are limited and we are called to make wise choices about the use of those resources.  To be faithful to the commands God gives us regarding our children requires that we make prudent decisions about time and resources.    The sixth commandment requires us to guard life and health, and that includes the life and health of our wives.  In a sin-cursed world, childbearing has health risks which should be considered.

The financial costs of childrearing are often overblown in our culture.  Children do not require many of the luxuries that people seem to think they need, and in fact such luxuries often work contrary to spiritual formation in our children.  But they do cost money.  They need health care and dental care, not to mention food and clothes.  It is not illegitimate for parents to consider their financial state when making decisions about childrearing, especially given Paul's commands to the effect that people should not willingly make themselves burdens on the church.

Even more importantly, however, is the time required to properly train and nurture children.  If older children are doing most or all of the raising of younger children, then parents are not truly discipling and nurturing their children.  We all only have so much time to go around, and it is not responsible for us to choose to have children that we cannot actually raise.  Certainly, sometimes God in His sovereignty overrides our plans and gives us challenges we did not think we were capable of withstanding.  He will certainly give grace in such circumstances.  But none of that excuses us from the responsibility to make wise choices as best as we can.  God's sovereignty is never an excuse for recklessness or foolishness.  God's sovereignty is never an excuse for failing to plan.  We are called to be in dominion, and being in dominion means being wise and prudent, laying up for the future, at the same time as we recognize and trust that God certainly holds the future in His hands and makes all final decisions.  God's sovereignty also should direct us to prioritize the children that God has actually given us over future children that He may or may not provide.

Based on my own experience and observations, I believe it wise for most couples to delay children for some time when first married, to give them an opportunity to put their marriage on a very strong foundation.  I believe it wise to be careful about financial stability, though this is often abused in the service of selfish materialism.  I believe it wise for couples to space children out to a certain degree to give a wife time to recover from the rigors of childbearing.  I also believe that parents ought to consider whether they are being faithful in the Scriptures' call to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, a call which requires time, individual time, for each child.  Children are not just commodities. They are not animals to be herded into pens and fed from troughs.  They are individuals, each one a spiritual being created in the image of God, each distinct and unique.  To be nurtured and trained, they must be treated as individuals.  That means the first and foremost concern needs to be the good of those people already existing- the good of the children and the wife that you already have, and not the hypothetical good of children the Lord has not yet provided.

There is also the service of the church itself to consider.  If it is Biblical for some to seek to stay single in order to serve God in unique ways (and it is- see 1 Cor 7), then it is also Biblical for a couple to seek to forego or limit children in order to free them to serve the church (always while also recognizing that raising godly children is a huge service to the church).  Again this should never be a cloak for selfishness or self-serving.  And yet, Paul chose to remain single so as to serve the church in the way God had called him to particularly, and he explicitly allows this choice to others as well.

The primary purpose of marriage in the Scripture is not procreation, but companionship.  The original reason for the creation of the woman is not said to be childbearing, but companionship.  The importance of this principle is the recognition that a married couple that has decided for prudent reasons to delay or limit the children they have are not contradicting or nullifying the purpose of marriage, since children are not given in Scripture as the purpose of marriage- companionship is.  "It is not good for the man to be alone."

I believe it wise for married couples to consider all these things.  But because I am not the lawgiver and have not been given the role of judging my brother's faithfulness, I would never try to issue any laws on this subject.  I love big families.  My wife and I each come from families of six.  We have four children ourselves.  But these decisions are to be made by Christian people themselves.  Where the Scriptures do not legislate, let us be silent as well.  Let the Spirit guide each couple in the way that they apply these principles to the size of the family they choose to have.  Let us not be driven by selfishness, nor yet by a legalistic desire to earn some favor from God by our works, nor yet by a hypocritical desire to set ourselves up as higher or more spiritual Christians by external and carnal measures like family size.  Let us be driven by a humble trust in God and a desire to serve others in love, including our own children.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Speak, Lord, for your Servant Hears 

These are the words which Eli gave to Samuel, teaching him how to respond to God’s call.  Oh, that Eli himself had listened to those words!  Instead, his sons used the house and worship of God to enrich themselves and satisfy their lusts, and Eli did nothing, ineffectually rebuking them when the outcry got too big, and failing to remove them, and execute them, as he should have.  He decided that he knew better how to accomplish good outcomes than God Himself did.  Even if he didn’t articulate it that way, that is the effect of substituting his own goals for God’s.

There is a great deal of talk about what the church should be trying to accomplish, what goals we should have for our ministries.  We have vision statements and ministry models and the like.  Some say their great goal is to save sinners, or to promote missions.  Some want to “be” the gospel, promoting social justice, or cultural transformations of one kind or another.  There is currently an article going around about how the church needs to be more outspoken about abortion.  Some think that healthy families are what we need to be promoting; some push political change; some have some other idea.

But Eli’s instruction to Samuel gives me pause.  It seems to me that we are far too often goal-oriented, when as servants of God we really should be task-oriented.  Samuel says, “Your servant hears.”  A servant shows up at his master’s beck and call simply to be commanded, to be told what to do.  He has no right and no ability to tell the master what the goals ought to be.  He just does what he’s told.  Is that not our relationship to God?  Ought we not simply to faithfully do what God has told us to do?  We have no control over outcomes.  We cannot control which way the culture goes or which way our own churches go.  Those things are in God’s hands.

Jesus set the vision for the church in Matthew 28, and spelled out the details through the Apostles.  Our job is to preach the gospel and to teach people to observe what God has commanded.  We are to preach the whole counsel of God, to watch out over our flocks, to refute false teachers, to warn and exhort people.  That is the task the church has been given.  Whenever the church has tried to shape the outcomes, the results have been terrible.

It’s not that there isn’t plenty to do.  Our people need taught the truth.  Sin needs to be rebuked.  The gospel needs to be faithfully preached.  People need to be encouraged and exhorted as the Scriptures lay out for us.  So many ministers are so involved in their various causes and programs, one wonders- are their churches being pastored?  Are the brokenhearted being built up, the proud rebuked, the sick visited, the children trained?  Are they so involved in all their various pet projects because they’ve so mastered the work of ministering to the local church, there are no needs to occupy them?  Have they so faithfully fulfilled their Master’s commands that they now feel free to go and pursue their own agendas?  Or is it perhaps that the difficulty of the work before them causes them to neglect it in favor of easier and safer pursuits?

Even for those things that fall into the work of the church, like calling people to repentance or training them in discipleship, much of the church’s failure, I think, comes from this tendency to be goal oriented instead of task oriented.  When our goal is to make disciples, we tend to think of how we can best accomplish that goal, and then adjust our techniques to the mode that will effectively achieve that result.  So in the past we got indulgences, clerical celibacy, monasticism, mandated fasts and holy days, all in this attempt to do what, in our wisdom, would accomplish the right goals.  Today we get the seeker sensitive movement and the like.  I have heard people say that they don’t do church discipline because “it doesn’t work,” as if it was up to us to decide whether God’s commands were effective or not!  If instead we recognized that it is God who truly makes disciples through His Spirit, then we would just be busy about the tasks that God gives us- preaching the gospel, teaching His word, governing His church according to His rules, and trusting Him to work the results He wants to work through our labors.  This is what it means to be task-oriented instead of goal-oriented.

Paul exhorted Timothy to preach the word, in season and out of season- meaning, when it’s heard and when it isn’t, when it’s popular and when it isn’t.  We just need to preach the word.

In a company, there is the board of directors and then there’s the guy in the mailroom.  I remember in my foolish youth thinking that the companies I worked for ought to be run differently than they were.  But the guy in the boardroom sets the vision and goals for the company.  The guy in the mailroom just delivers the mail.

In the church, and in the world, we are just the guys in the mailroom.  God knows what He’s doing, and has no need to be advised or informed by us.  Eli, Hophni and Phinehas made their own decisions about what God’s church was for.  God killed them as a result.  He raised up for Himself a faithful servant in their place and taught that servant to say simply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.”  May He continue to raise up faithful servants to Himself in our day as well, who will put away the pride of thinking that we get to decide what the church should be and what it should do, and simply be faithful to the tasks that God has given us, in His strength.

Friday, January 10, 2014

40 Years On 

1973 was the year Roe v. Wade was decided, legalizing most abortions.  That year, a poor family with five kids went into the hospital to discuss a sixth pregnancy.  The doctor asked them if the pregnancy was planned, and they answered, "no."  So the doctor said, "We'll schedule the abortion."  Appalled, the family refused.  Right at the beginning of 1974, 40 years ago, as a result of their willingness to sacrifice their own finances, time, and even health for the life of another, I was born.

That was the first of many testimonies to me to what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  I am who I am because an awful lot of people have been willing to suffer for my good.  In that, they follow the example of Christ Himself, willing to suffer the wrath and curse of God for my salvation.  I have been greatly blessed in my life, by the grace of God, and that decision that my parents made was just one example of that.  I just would not even be able to name all of the people in my life who have done good for me, often at costs that I didn't appreciate for many years after.  Many of them never received any thanks or recognition from me.  I am sure that I am not even aware of many of those people, many of those sacrifices.  And they all flow from that One Sacrifice, the lamb who was slain for the sins of the world.

I will celebrate my 40th birthday in two days.  I thank God for my life, for what He has given me and continues to give me, and I pray that God would teach me grace, teach me to take up my cross for others, that I might learn this year a little bit more what it means to die to self and live for God, as so many before me have done.

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