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I wonder…what was in that cup?

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Of all the events leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus, there is one that leaps out at me more than all the others. Perhaps it is because of the sheer magnitude of what is about to happen to him. Maybe it’s the fact that the humanity of Jesus is front and center.

Whatever the reason, there in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus uttered a statement that for over two thousand years has been studied, preached about, and been the source of countless debates.

As the hour of His death approaches, Jesus does what he has always done for the past three and a half years. When he feels he needs encouragement and strengthening, he withdraws from his disciples and begins to pray to His Father.

And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed, Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.   Luke 22:41-43 emphasis mine

“Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me” is the anguished cry from Jesus. We understand, of course, that the cup that Jesus was referring to was the impending scourging of His Body and eventual crucifixion.

While I am not a scholar or a theologian, I believe that there was far more to this cup then we may suspect. So, with that in mind I ask that you allow me, an ordinary, simple man that loves God, to share with you what I believe was in that cup.

Fear…yes, there was fear in that cup. Jesus had no doubt seen many crucifixions. After all, it was a preferred method of execution by the Romans, one reserved for slaves and the worst of the worst criminals. So common was crucifixion in those days that it hardly drew the attention of the masses. [1]

Rejection…Jesus had already experienced the rejection of His disciples. As gallant as they may have tried to appear on the surface, when it came down to a choice of whether to identify with Christ, and thus risk death, or  flee to safety, all of them chose the latter. Add to this the weight of scripture that refers to him as a man despised and rejected, a man acquainted with grief, and you can begin to get a sense of the magnitude of rejection he felt. [2]

Humiliation…There were many ways the Romans could have chosen to kill Jesus, yet the scriptures foretold that He would be crucified. Crucifixion was a humiliating way to die. Unlike the popular paintings we are all familiar with, the ones that for modesty’s sake depict Christ partially clothed, the fact is that Jesus hung on that cross completely naked. Beaten, bleeding, forsaken, and now humiliated before his family and a multitude of mockers. [3]

Suffering…The Romans chose crucifixion as a means of inflicting the most amount of pain and punishment possible on a human being. Crucifixion was a slow, agonizing, and tortuous method of execution typically reserved for the most violent of criminals. Though modern medical science has attempted to describe in accurate detail what happens to a person who is crucified, our minds struggle to grasp the horror of such barbarity. [4]

Darkness

The gospel of Mark tells us that it was the “third hour” when Jesus was crucified. A day began at six o’clock, so it would have been nine o’clock in the morning when this took place. [5]

For three long, tortuous hours Jesus endured the agony of the cross. The taunts and jeers of the crowd, the insults, the mocking. He endured it all for three hours. Then, something happened that had never happened before.

From the sixth hour [noon] until the ninth hour [3:00 PM], darkness came over all the land. (Matthew 27:45)

This wasn’t a solar eclipse, as some have tried to explain. No solar eclipse lasts for three hours! It was if God Himself suddenly cast the world into darkness.

Separation…Darkness had settled over the earth. Many believe that this is the moment when God looked away from His Son. Because Jesus became sin for all of mankind, their thinking is that because God is Holy, He cannot look upon sin and therefore was forced to look away.

While I understand this train of thought, I think there’s was another reason.

Eons before God ever created man and placed him in the garden, sin was present in the form of rebellion against God. The angel Lucifer had permitted pride to enter his heart, and he decided that he would be as God. [6]

From that moment in time God has had to look upon sin, and there has never been a moment since that He hasn’t been looking upon sin. From the fall of man in the garden to the sins you and I committed today, God has looked upon sin.

If He were not able to look upon sin, as the common thought is, why then did God not turn away from you and I while we were still sinners? How is it that He looked to us instead of away from us, if it is true that He cannot look upon sin?

The answer is obvious, isn’t it? The fact is that God can and does look upon sin. He never looks away from us because of our sins, just as He never looked away from Jesus because he had become sin for all of mankind.

Why then, did God look away from Jesus while he was on the cross? It is because Jesus had to die completely alone. With no support from his disciples or family members, and especially not from his Heavenly Father.

As impossible as that sounds and as hard as it is to believe, Jesus was alone on that cross. He had to be, there was no other way for Him to bear our sins except that He did it all alone. Being made the scapegoat meant going it alone.

It is important to remind ourselves that God never stopped loving his Son. On the contrary, Jesus said “Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. (John 10:17). How could his Father cease to love him while he was willingly laying down his life? How could any father do such a thing?

No, the Father did not stop loving the Son during those three long hours of darkness. But for Jesus to bear the sins of the whole world alone, He had to be separated from this love.

Think of this: Jesus is now in a place where he has never been: the love that the Father and Son have enjoyed for all eternity, is now for the very first time beyond his grasp.

And on that cross, the sinless Son of God comes face to face with the sheer terror of this separation. This causes him to cry out “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”? Matthew 27:46

You see…God had to look away from his only Son, because had he not done so, He would have had to intervene. God did not look away because He couldn’t look upon sin. He looked away because if he hadn’t, He would have taken his Son off that cross in order to stop his suffering.

Just as any loving father would do.

And you and I, indeed all of mankind, would have been lost for eternity. God looked away from his suffering Son so that you and I could escape the punishment our sins demanded. He looked away from his only son and looked to you and me!

Which brings me to the final thing found in the Cup of Gethsemane. You must look hard to see it. You must look past the fear, the humiliation, the darkness and the separation to find it.

It’s cloudy at first, but the more you look at it begins to come into focus. Finally, you realize that what you are staring at is your own image. There, in the bottom of that cup lies a portrait of you.

When it was all said and done, it was your image that Jesus saw in that awful cup. And when He saw you, nothing could stop him from fulfilling His destiny to die for you on that Cross. When He saw you there in that cup, there was no turning back.

I am so thankful that Jesus Christ would die in my place on that cross. The Hell I deserved He himself willingly endured on the cross.

Good Friday and Easter mean redemption has been made possible through the blood of the spotless, sinless Lamb of God. My prayer is that all of us will take some time to reflect upon the enormity of such a sacrifice.

God bless you all,

Ron

 

[1] The history and pathology of crucifixion:   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14750495

[2] Matthew 26:56   But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. Then all the disciples forsook him and fled.

Isaiah 53:3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with griefand we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

[3] Psalm 22:7,8   All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,  He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.

[3] Psalm 22:16   For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.

[4]The history and pathology of crucifixion:   https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14750495

[5] Mark 15:25 And it was the third hour, and they crucified him.

[6] Isaiah 14:12-15….How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Being separate from the world does not mean ignoring the world

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In such a time as this, when the lines of distinction between the church and the world are growing ever more indiscernible, we must exercise caution in order not to fall prey to deception and false teaching.

While there are a great many beliefs today that are outright heresies, there are also beliefs that contain a modicum of truth yet miss the mark entirely when applied incorrectly.

Such is the case with the teaching that Christians are to separate themselves from the world. Certainly, no true follower of Christ should argue that we are not to emulate the world and its behavior. Nor are we to align ourselves with its un-Christ-like ideologies. Scripture makes this very clear; I believe.

We must be careful however in our application of this teaching because God has called us to be salt and light to this world. Or to put it another way, if we are to be effective witnesses for Christ we must interact with this world. We cannot hide our light under a bushel. [1]

To sequester ourselves apart from the world is to destroy both our witness and our credibility. The world today is in desperate need of a Savior, and you and I have been assigned the awesome responsibility of taking the Savior to the world, not hiding Him from the world.

It’s true that God has called us to be a people set apart unto himself. Sadly, due to a misapplication of this concept, many people use this as justification in setting themselves up as morally superior to everyone that doesn’t subscribe to their erroneous doctrine.

We see this attitude on display among pseudo Christian cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as well as certain “fringe” Christian groups like Oneness Pentecostals. Both groups consider themselves to be the “elect of God” and anyone not in agreement with their doctrines as apostates, thus condemning any “outsiders” to be lost. [2]

Obviously, we need to examine the scriptures in order to determine the truth about the whole notion of separation from the world. Here is what Paul said about this in his teaching to the church at Corinth.

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.”

 Therefore “Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.”

“I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.”
   2nd Corinthians 6:16-18

So, is Paul teaching that Christians are to have nothing to do with those outside the church of God? Of course not! That is the hallmark of a Pharisee, to see oneself as superior to others because of religious position or tradition. [3]

Paul is saying here that once we have been born again, God’s Spirit takes up residence within us and we then become His dwelling place, or temple. As such, God both lives in us and walks with us, all of which means we are on intimate terms with the Creator.

This special, intimate relationship requires that we abstain from those things, or idols, that defile our hearts and corrupt our intimacy with the Father. We may be in the world, but not of the world.  [4]

What are these idols Paul speaks of, the ones we are to come out from and separate ourselves from? Some are obvious, such as having no other gods in our lives, but some are not so obvious. And dare I say they can be different for all of us?

An idol is essentially anything that comes between you and your Creator. Whatever consumes the bulk of your time, or so much of it that you have little time left to worship God, is an idol.

For some of us it is sports. Maybe TV takes all your time. Or a job that demands most of your waking hours. It could even be your boat, golf clubs, or fishing rods. For some of us it’s our electronic devices, such as cell phones and iPads.

What Paul is NOT saying in these verses is that we are to cut off all contact with anyone who isn’t part of our tribe (church). True enough, we should not hang around with people who are obviously negative influences. None of us should desire to become best friends with the neighborhood drug pusher, for example.

The fact remains however that even the worst among us needs a Savior, just as you and I did at one time. We may not have been the neighborhood drug pusher, but we were just as lost as they now are before coming to Christ. Our hearts were just as sin-laden as any other lost person. [5]

After all, sin is sin, and lost is lost. Race, ethnicity, income, ancestry, or any other factors notwithstanding, everyone needs the Savior. That’s why Jesus came: to seek and save that which was lost. [6]

Paul tells us that because God now dwells within us, we are the sons and daughters of God. As such, our light should shine before all men that they might come to know Jesus Christ as Lord. [7]

Come out from among idols? Absolutely! Separate ourselves from those things which turn our hearts away from the Lord? Without question!

Please don’t however, turn away from anyone in need of a Savior just because they aren’t like you. Don’t distance yourself so far from them that you can no longer have compassion on their plight.

Remember: that was you and I at one time.

Be blessed, in Jesus name.

Ron

 

[1] Matt. 5:14,15…You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.

[2] Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult because they deny the deity of Christ, which makes them anti-Christ even though they claim to be ‘Christian’. John 1:1 states “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. In their New World Translation, Jehovah’s Witnesses translate John 1:1 as “the Word was a god”, thus denying Christ His divinity.   Emphasis mine

[3] Matt. 23:1-7…Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.

[4] John 17:14…I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.

[5] Colossians 1:21,22…And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight

[6] Luke 19:10…for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

[7] Matt. 5:16…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

 

 

What do you see?

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There.

In the pew.

Sitting over there.

What do you see?

Dressed for success?

Clothed in hand-me-downs two sizes too small?

A crisp, new outfit?

A rumpled,wrinkled shirt?

Who do you see?

The preacher’s daughter?

A woman branded with a scarlet letter?

Perfectly dressed boys and girls driven to church in a shiny new Cadillac?

Ramshackle kids from the other side of the tracks who arrived in an old school bus transformed into a makeshift Sunday School taxi?

What do you hear?

A heavenly choir?

A wannabe rock band?

Too loud?

Too soft?

Just right?

Whispers of “what is he doing here”?

The muffled cries of the broken and abused?

Yes, here in God’s house, the one place where at the foot of the Cross the ground is level for all….

What do you see?

Who do you hear?

Maybe the better question is do we see and hear the same things that Jesus does?

 

 

Who’s really in control of YOU?

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No doubt you’ve heard the expression “one step forward, two steps backwards”.

Have you ever really thought about this statement? What does it say about us?

I think it says that we are trusting more in our own abilities than we are the Lords.

It says for all the world to hear that we are controlling things, or at least we are trying to. And when we try to be in control, our progress is always being hampered by US. We get in our own way and make a mess of things.

Hence, we take “one step forward and two steps backwards”.

Of course, being a human being carries with it a certain “issue”, one that we all have, which is that we really like to be in control don’t we? The thought of someone, anyone besides ourselves calling the shots is, for the most part, unthinkable to our carnal nature.

C’mon, admit it. You like to be the one calling the shots don’t you? I know I certainly do! We all have this compelling need within us to take charge of the situation and bulldoze our way through it.

But what about when our own capabilities, talents, and skills leave us on the wrong side, or short of the goal?

More often than not, we go backwards don’t we?

Did you ever think that maybe, just maybe, those two steps backwards was where the Lord wanted you to stand and be still for a time and a season? That maybe He wasn’t ready for you to move forward just yet. Or that YOU weren’t ready to go forward yet because there were still lessons to be learned ‘back there’?

There is a verse in the Old Testament that talks about standing still and seeking out the old paths. Perhaps you are familiar with it?

Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.   Jer. 6:16

Israel had a terrible time with simply walking in the place God had called them to walk in. Seems they always had a better idea, or so they thought. If ever a people was known for taking “one step forward and two steps backwards” it was the children of Israel.

So prevelant was their penchant for backsliding that in the long history of Israel, only two little words are necessary to sum up their predicament. These two little words say it better than an entire library full of scholarly works.

If Only.

If only they would have listened. If only they would have followed the Lord instead of trying to take charge themselves. If only they would have stood by the Lord and asked for the old paths, where the good way was.

If Only.

The whole of human history has been one gigantic battle of “If Only”, and that includes you and me.

If Only we would have listened to the warnings of the one who had already walked where we were about to tread.

If Only we would have sacrificed and taken our children to church when they were still young, instead of either taking them to the lake or soccer practice or worse yet, permitting them to do whatever they wished to do.

If Only

Who’s really in control of your life? If we’re honest, that’s a very easy question to answer isn’t it? As long as we continue to take “one step forward and two steps backwards”, the answer is obvious.

The question then becomes are we willing to give up control in order to gain rest for our souls as the Lord desires us to do?

Something to think about on this Lords day.

Be blessed, in Jesus name.

Ron

Playing With Fire

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It seems that everywhere you turn today people are mocking God with a greater intensity and frequency. Surely the fear of God has disappeared from the hearts and minds of untold millions of people who curse His name as easily as they curse at a dog.

This is not surprising however. After all, the Apostle Peter clearly warns us that in the last days will come “scoffers, walking after their own lusts”.  [1]

The Apostle Paul also goes to great lengths to warn the church of impending disaster, when in the last days the world would fall headlong into apostasy. In his 2nd Epistle to Timothy, he lists a multitude of dangerous and ungodly character traits that would be manifested in the hearts of unbelievers at that time.

When you see people described as “lovers of their own selves, blasphemers, fierce, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness” etc…, you can be assured that these people are playing with fire.   [2]

As we see these days closing in on us, I am so very thankful that in His mercy God saw me in my wretched condition and pulled me out of the miry clay. How many of us can identify with this beloved Psalm?

He also brought me up out of a horrible pit,
Out of the miry clay,
And set my feet upon a rock,
And established my steps.   Psalm 40:2

Contrast these words of hope and restoration with the solemn warning from Hebrews about those who live their lives in outright rejection of God.

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.  [3]

To fall into the hands of the living God speaks to another part of God’s nature that unregenerate men choose to ignore. They would rather live their lives in any manner they wish, believing that in the end everyone gets in to heaven.

But that is not what is going to happen when we come to the end of our days. If we have not received Christ as our Lord and Savior, it will be a fearful thing because once we take our final breath, we are immediately confronted with this living God.

And that, dear readers, is playing with fire.

Ron

[1] 2nd Peter 3:3

[2] 2nd Timothy 3:1-5

[3] Hebrews 10:31

The Righteous Judgement of God

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Lately I’ve been reading the thoughts of several people who have been engaged in a discussion over whether or not God’s punishment of the unrighteousness will be eternal or temporary.

One thing is clear in this discussion, and that is that there seems to be a consensus that in the end, God will relent and end the punishment/suffering of those who rejected Him in this life, and ultimately permit them to join the righteous in heaven.

I should point out that this discussion is among Evangelical believers of primarily Baptist and Pentecostal faiths. Traditionally, both of these camps have held to the belief that God will punish the wicked for all eternity, yet something has apparently changed in how they interpret scripture today, at least according to the discussion participants.

It would seem that there is now a new level of consciousness, or awareness in the church that because God is a God of love, he could not possibly have meant that forever is, well, forever.

It’s as though we are replaying the serpent in the garden where the serpent tells Eve “you shall not die“. [1]

To our carnal minds, the notion that a God of love could meet out such punishment just doesn’t compute. We recoil at the very thought that God would somehow justify sending one of His creation to eternal suffering.

The Apostle Paul wrote about this very thing in 2nd Thessalonians, chapter one. The church at Thessalonica was under severe persecution at this time, with their patience and faith being sorely tested. Paul wrote to these persecuted believers to let them know that they had not been forgotten, neither by himself or by all of the churches. [2]

He went on to say that it was a “righteous thing” with God to ‘pay back’ those that persecuted them when Jesus returns from heaven. What is this ‘payback’ that Paul speaks of?

Pauls said that the Lord Jesus would return “in flaming fire, taking vengeance on them that know not God,and that do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ“. [3]

Does this sound to you like the gentle Jesus born in a manger? The Jesus often portrayed as a shepherd carrying a lost lamb on His shoulders? I submit to you that this is the resurrected Christ, coming as conquering King of Kings!

That’s not the worst of it however. Paul then goes on to say that those he just mentioned “shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power“. [4]

How long is “everlasting”? While our finite minds struggle to comprehend the magnitude of such a length of time, in fact it means for the rest of eternity. There will never be an end to it.

For those that see the words “everlasting destruction” as a contradiction, Paul is not saying here that the unrighteousness will be annihilated because if they were their punishment would not be “everlasting”.

Annihilation only takes a second to accomplish, then it’s done. If someone is doomed to “everlasting destruction” however, as Paul states here, there must therefore be an everlasting existence.

If we are to take the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, we have no choice but to accept it for what is says. And what it plainly says is that unbelievers do not get a second chance, nor do they ever come to an end of their suffering and punishment.

There really is nothing to discuss here, unless one wishes to debate the validity of God’s Word. The judgements of God are fair, just, and righteous. How can this be so if God is love?

One need look no further than the Cross of Calvary to find God’s perfect justification. To reject the sacrifice of the Eternal Son of God is an act worthy of everlasting separation from God.

That is the Word of God. The unchangeable Word of God.

End of discussion.

Be blessed,

Ron

 

[1] Genesis 3:4

[2] 2nd Thessalonians 1:4

[3] 2nd Thessalonians 1:8

[4] 2nd Thessalonians 1:9

Fight the battles God has called you to fight

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But leave the rest to Him!

Be honest, how many of us tend to take on more than we should? How many of us get caught up in certain causes to the point of being emotionally ready to take on any giant that dares get in our way?

I know I am guilty of this. Certain subjects that I am very passionate about, like poverty, child abuse, abortion, and clergy sex predation are all subjects that tend to send me into full attack mode.

I imagine you have your own list as well, don’t you?

Yet other than to write a few words on a little-read blog, my efforts go largely unnoticed. Well, that and my blood pressure rises.

To be sure, I am a passionate person who always roots for the Davids in their struggles against the worlds Goliaths. Frankly, I think the world could use a few more passionate people who care about those who have no real voice. So, in that sense I don’t apologize.

Where I get into trouble though is when I stray too far out of my lane and end up in areas far beyond my capability to offer anything in the way of real,or tangible help.

And lets be real here, words only carry so much weight when they aren’t backed by substantive means.

To be the most effective, it’s important to focus on what we do best, or from a strictly spiritual perspective, to focus on what God has called us to do. If we stay in the lane to which we have been assigned, the Lord will take our efforts and bless and prosper them far beyond what any of us could do on our own.

When we try to take on areas outside of what God has equipped us to deal with however, well lets just say the results are almost always less than stellar.

It’s true, all of us have unique giftings from God, and every one of us is but one small part of the body of Christ. As such, we all have a specific role to play in order for this body to function at its highest capacity. [1]

Looking at the church, I find it both interesting and fascinating to see how the Lord puts this body together in a way that works best for His purpose. To see people who have specific gifts and talents use them for the Kingdom is nothing short of amazing!

God does things strategically, meaning there is purpose to how He places people in this body. Even though there are times when we may question this purpose because we cannot see the future, we can rest assured that all things work together for good.  [2]

There is a saying that gets tossed around the church that says to “bloom where you’re planted”. There is a lot of wisdom in those few words. For us to get to the point that we “bloom” requires time, patience, and sometimes plain hard work!

Far too often however we allow our eyes to become fixated on the green grass on the other side of the fence. When this happens we begin to doubt that the place where God has planted us will ever measure up to what we perceive to be on the other side of that fence.

That’s why we are to stay in our lane. We must focus on the battle, or work, that the Lord has called us to and not allow our attention to be diverted. Do what the Lord has called you to do and know that the rest is in His hands.

There remains a great harvest to be gathered before the coming of the Lord. By staying in our assigned lane, allowing the Lord to work in and through us, and fighting the battle we have been called to fight, the body of Christ is best equipped to reach this harvest.

Don’t try to take on more than you can handle. Be faithful in that which you have been called to do.

And leave the rest to Him!

Be blessed in Jesus name,

Ron

 

[1] Romans 12:4-6, 1st Cor. 12:12, 27,

[2] Romans 8:28

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