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The Story That Writes Itself

Feb 11, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Here’s a Mad Lib that should save sports journalists a lot of time in the years ahead.

Today (Sam, Jim, Jordan, Jason, Alexei, Miguel, Pat) became the first athlete to announce that he is gay in the world of professional (football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, curling, badminton).

While the response of the other players in the league remains to be seen, what is not in doubt is the tremendous (courage, bravery, fortitude, sense of self) it took to make this stunning admission. According to (experts, ESPN the Magazine, award-winning columnists, the scientific community), most of the league is expected to take the news in stride.

Of course, if (Jackie Robinson, Nelson Mandela, Ghandi, Abraham Lincoln, Rocky Balboa) has taught us anything, it is that (hate, prejudice, bigotry, religious extremism) does not go quietly into the night. Sad as it may seem, we can expect that some from (red states, rural areas, the Deep South, Utah, Awana Clubs) will darken this bright day with their (homophobia, rigid views, antiquated traditionalism, fear of the Other, Carman CDs).

As we ask ourselves the question “Why should this even be newsworthy in today’s world?” we pledge to you (around the clock coverage of this epoch-making event, cover stories in all the major weeklies, a special documentary this Friday on “Coloring Outside the Lines,” a shocking expose on Tim Tebow’s former Bible study leader).

Now is the time to see how far we have really come as (a nation of liberty, a special civilization, a welcoming society, a people worthy of our permanent seat on the UN Security Council). I for one believe (the future is now, the past is in the past, there is no gift like the present). If you cannot celebrate (marriage equality, the power of love, being true to yourself), then don’t be surprised one day if you wake to find yourself (on the wrong side of history, alone in a prison of hate, shunned by all polite society, wishing you were never born). But on this day, we stand with our brother in letting it be known in every locker room in every gym in every county in this great country: (all you need is love, we can work it out, come together, let it be).

You get the gist.

This post is not really about homosexuality. Of course, that’s the subtext: Michael Sam, a football standout at Mizzou and future NFL draft pick, came out of the closet over the weekend. I’m glad he was treated well by his coach and teammates. I hope he is treated with respect by future players, fans, and general managers. I’m not writing to bash a recent college student, as much as I disagree with his sexual choices (assuming he is a practicing gay man). I disagree with the sexual choices most professional athletes make.

The problem is that our ascendant moral logic amounts to an imposition: affirm me or else. It used to be that tolerance meant granting to your intellectual, political, or religious opponents the right to be wrong (as you see the wrong). Now tolerance means the freedom, if not the obligation, to utterly shame those you deem intolerant. Ours is a supremely moralistic age. I would call it puritanical, except I don’t want to insult the Puritans.

I heard Colin Cowherd (whom I often enjoy) say he was going to try not to be sarcastic in talking about those who don’t support gay rights, but it would be really hard. I heard him talk about how Sam would be accepted in the NFL because unlike in baseball, the players had been to college and have been educated to overcome such prejudices. Besides there aren’t as many Hispanics, who can be very religious. Sure, some players from the rural South would still hate on Sam, he opined, but the vast majority would not. Whenever the “first gay athlete” story breaks it becomes an excuse to strengthen a dozen prejudices in the interest of purportedly breaking through another. The narrative is nice and tidy because it’s already been written. Rinse, blather, repeat. All that’s left is for 72 hours of self-congratulatory punditry and the presumption that no thinking person can reach any other conclusion than that the celebration of sexual expression in virtually any permutation is the crowning achievement of all enlightened peoples.

There is no conversation any longer, just condescension. No acceptance of diverse viewpoints, just personal obliteration for anyone who dares to question Oceania’s Ministry of Truth. The talking heads and the purveyor’s of cultural correctness don’t feel the need to make arguments anymore. They don’t feel the need to listen either. After all, who can refute a sneer?

No need to prove your dogma when stigma will do.

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Monday Morning Humor

Feb 10, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

It ought to concern you if your church’s approach to sanctification looks anything like this:

P.S. I know nothing about this film or the other clips advertised. I’m not recommending all or any of the above.

HT: Steve McCoy

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Holy Laughter

Feb 07, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

You would be hard-pressed to find evidence in Scripture of God laughing with us, but you could find a number of instances where he is laughing at us–not at our honest sufferings, but at our puny little rebellions.

This reminds me of several years ago when Christianity Today ran an article on the New Atheists, and in the subsequent issue there was a letter to the editor from a famous Christian philosopher. I was curious to see how this extremely intelligent person would respond to the philosophical arguments marshaled against God and his existence. The gist of the response was simply to quote from Psalm 2:

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

I will tell of the decree:
The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.

Our Lord is not scared. Our God is not surprised. He is not scattered-brained and he will not be silenced.

It is easy to look at what is going on in the world—wars and rumors of war, increasing hostility to biblical norms, persecution of Christians around the world, volatile elections, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, mass shootings—and to wonder what does God think of this? Doesn’t he care? Is he still on the throne? Doesn’t God see what is going on down here?

God sees, and God knows. He has a plan, and his ways will not be overturned.

“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord. He directs it like a watercourse where he pleases.” (Proverbs 21:1)

Just like a child at the sea, marking a path for his sandcastle moat as the tide comes is, that’s how easily the Lord can deal with the kings, with the presidents, with the senators, with the MPs, with all the big wigs of this world. He will not always allow for this treason. He will not always seem silent. It is his great patience to restrain his fury that we might repent, and his great mercy to restrain what could be far great wickedness in these days. Who knows in how many countless ways the God of heaven is now sparing us from the worst of human beings here on earth? Frustrating our meager little Babel plans, just waiting for the time when he will look down and say, “Enough. They’ve hit the boundary line of providence. Scatter them. Disperse them.”

Our Lord is the God of the nations, and he is a God who can easily frustrate the plans of the nations—even yours, even mine.

He who sits in the heavens laughs.

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Do You Feel Tension in the Christian Life?

Feb 06, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

The Christian life can feel schizophrenic. It isn’t hard to recognize that there are numerous tensions filling the Christian life. Some find this exhilarating. However, many of us find that these tensions are a cause of discouragement, despair, hopelessness, and depression. We look at our lives and they are not what we want them to be. We see that:

  • We are set free from sin yet continue to yield to it (Rom. 6:2; Rom. 7:19)
  • We are saints yet sinners (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 John 1:8)
  • We have peace yet are to strive for peace (Eph. 2:14; Col. 3:15)
  • We have been saved yet are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Eph. 2:8; Phil. 2:12)
  • We are beautiful yet wretched (Song of Sol. 4:1; Rom. 7:24)
  • We have been given rest yet are to labor to enter that rest (Matt. 11:28; Heb. 4:11)
  • We are forgiven yet continue to need to confess sin (Col. 3:13; 1 John 1:9)
  • We know the love of Christ yet this love surpasses our knowledge (Ps. 89:1; Eph. 3:19)
  • We have died to sin yet must continue to flee from it (Rom. 6:2; 1 Cor. 6:18)
  • We are new yet we are not what we shall be (John 3:3; 1 John 3:2)
  • We have seen Him yet have not seen him (Eph. 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:8)
  • We have all knowledge yet are to increase in knowing Him (1 John 2:20; 2 Pet. 3:18)
  • We are a new creation yet battle the old self (2 Cor. 5:17; Rom. 6:6)
  • We have joy yet we are commanded to rejoice (Gal. 5:22; Phil. 4:4)
  • We have been set free yet are slaves (Rom. 6:18; Rom. 6:22)
  • We are fallen creatures and yet sons of God (Rom. 3:12; Gal. 4:6)

These tensions are real. However, this isn’t because Christianity is schizophrenic. These are good and necessary tensions; and they shouldn’t lead to discouragement, despair, hopelessness, or depression. If you are experiencing these tensions of the Christian life, there is a reason: you are a pilgrim on the way. In fact, you are only a sojourner in this land with eyes that have been set upon the “celestial city.” As Christians, we are caught in the in-between.  As has become a common refrain (and Jesus alludes to in His high priestly prayer), “We are in this world, but not of this world.” We have one foot on earth and one firmly anchored in heaven.

When we begin to fully understand that we are but pilgrims in this world, these tensions become avenues of sweetness rather than despair. Ultimately, they point us to what we shall be some day.

As 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see Him as He is.” On that day all the tensions in our lives will finally cease. The sinner will fully be transformed into a saint, our peace will be complete, our love will be perfected, sin will no longer be at hand, and our faith shall be sight. And how do we know that this day will be a reality? Surely, some of the greatest signs are the tensions we experience in the present. We are enjoying an appetizer of the benefits of eternity now. The eschaton has broken in.

The positive side of these tensions are a bright neon flashing promise that this future day shall come. Rather than lead us to despair, these tensions should lead us to hope. Come quickly Lord Jesus.

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How Many Motivations Are There for Godliness?

Feb 04, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Is there just one proper gospel-centered rationale for holiness? Should we, in speaking about sanctification, avoid threats and warnings and coming judgment and focus simply on our acceptance in Christ? How many motivations does the Bible have for godliness?

I see at least twenty. In the three chapters of 2 Peter alone.

1.    We pursue holiness so that we might become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4).

2.    We make every effort to grow in godliness because God has already set us free from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire (2 Pet. 1:4).

3.    We grow in grace so we will not be ineffective and unfruitful  in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:8).

4.    We pursue Christlike character so we will not be blind, having forgotten that we were cleansed from our former sins (2 Pet. 1:9).

5.    We work hard at holiness in order to make our calling and election sure, so that we will not fall (2 Pet. 1:10).

6.    We practice these godly qualities so there will be richly provided for us an entrance into the eternal kingdom (2 Pet. 1:11).

7.    We pursue godliness because Jesus is coming back again in great power, and we know this to be true because of the glory revealed on the Mount of Transfiguration and because of the prophecy of Scripture (2 Pet. 1:16-21).

8.    We walk in obedience to Christ because those who wander into sensuality are condemned and will be destroyed (2 Pet. 2:3).

9.    We are serious about holiness because we believe God knows how to judge the wicked and save the righteous (2 Pet. 2:4-10).

10.    We turn from ungodliness because those who revel in sin are ugly blots and blemishes, irrational animals, unsteady souls, and accursed children (2 Pet. 2:10-16).

11.    We pursue holiness because sin never delivers on its promises (2 Pet. 2:17).

12.    We pursue holiness because those who live in their sin again are like those returning to slavery, returning to mire, and returning to vomit (2 Pet. 2:19-21).

13.    We must remember to be holy because in the last days scoffers will come following their own sinful desires (2 Pet. 3:3).

14.    We make every effort to be godly because the world will not always continue as it does now; the heavens and the earth are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly (2 Pet. 3:4-7).

15.    We must take Christlikeness seriously right now because we do not know when the Lord will return (2 Pet. 3:10).

16.    We pursue holiness because all our works will be exposed on the last day (2 Pet. 3:10).

17.    We pursue holiness because whatever we live for in this life will be burned up and dissolved (2 Pet. 3:11).

18.    We strive to walk in obedience and repentance because in so doing we may hasten the coming of the day of God (2 Pet. 3:12).

19.    We living in righteousness now because we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness will dwell forever (2 Pet. 3:13).

20.    We pursue godliness so that Christ might be glorified both now and to the day of eternity (2 Pet. 3:18).

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Monday Morning Humor

Feb 03, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

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Simple Evangelism in the Church

Jan 31, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Loving one another in the body of Christ has many benefits. Two that regularly come to mind are the glory it gives to God and the way it affects the church. However, one of the primary benefits of loving one another is what it declares before a watching world. One of our most potent instruments we have for effective evangelism is Christians loving each other well.  I am “living” proof.

As a freshman college student and self-declared atheist, I attended a campus Christian fellowship to fulfill a promise to a Christian friend. I only had the intention to go once. It was merely duty and upholding my word, nothing more. I went begrudgingly, but I went. My life was never the same.

I walked into a room full of Christians and was struck by what I observed. Here was a diverse group. They were from every walk of life. I remember scanning the room and labeling people in my mind, “There is a jock, over there is a geek, and walking in the door is a boy scout.” But what struck me was that they were together. They weren’t just together in the same room, they were together in every sense of the word. They were actually talking with each other and genuinely seemed happy to be together. There didn’t seem to be division. Even in my atheist mind, I knew what I was seeing: they loved one another.

I had no categories for this, so I kept returning to find out why they had love like this for one another. Over the course of a few months I found the answer, or more accurately stated, the answer found me.

One of the best evangelism programs you can start at your church is to pursue loving one another well. At some point they will have to hear the gospel proclaimed from your lips or the pulpit, but that “strange love” will set the table before them. People will know that you are His disciples, because it is a shocking love. It has a gravitational attraction, because it is a love that is foreign to this world. A love that the inquirer, if seeking an answer, will find comes from heaven.

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Christians, Don’t Give Up on the Homosexuality Debate

Jan 30, 2014 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

Even before the Grammy Awards showcased Macklemore singing “Same Love” and Queen Latifah presiding over a “same sex couple’s wedding” ceremony, I had most of this blog written as the topic has been on my mind for quite some time.

I am not a Kuyperian or a Neo-Kuyperian, but there are certain watershed cultural issues for every generation of Christians; issues in which they cannot be silent. For our generation, abortion and homosexuality are key watershed issues. They are watershed issues, because abortion snatches away life and homosexuality reaches out and grabs hold of death.

The average Evangelical Christian continues to believe we should speak out against the acceptance of abortion in our culture. And the pro-abortion forces have been losing ground over the past five years. No doubt, much of that is due to the church’s resolve to stand against this agenda. However, it seems to me that in the past few years, Evangelical Christians in the United States have increasingly and passively grown in their acceptance of homosexuality. This should concern all of us.

I understand the discouragement. Our culture has done a quick “about face” on this issue. It was just yesterday that the Ellen DeGeneres sitcom announced its main character was homosexual (1997) and a firestorm erupted.  Now, it seems almost “normal” to have Queen Latifah presiding over a “wedding” ceremony of a homosexual couple. We cannot let it feel “normal.” Make no mistake, homosexuality may be the issue of the day. It brings secularism to the forefront like few other agendas and it undermines the foundation of family, church, and the Scriptures.

Therefore, it should concern us when Christians throw their hands up and declare with finality that the homosexuality debate in this country is over–the battle has been waged and lost. This agenda has fooled us into thinking it is here to stay and must be adopted and adapted to. It has bullied us into believing we cannot continue to speak out against the acceptance of practicing this sin in our culture. Too many denominations, Christian schools, churches, and individual Christians are raising the white flag. This is something we cannot and must not do.

Homosexuality is a matter of  extreme importance to us. Make no mistake, this is a gospel issue. When our culture embraces something that sends people to hell (1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:10) then it must matter to us. We cannot roll over and play dead. We cannot give up and just let the issue go. We are compelled to continue to engage our culture on this issue and challenge its wayward course. We are not doing this because we are feverish to return to the 1940’s or 1950’s or because we are a “backwards people.” Rather, we are a people looking forward to eternity and that is our motivation. Neither are we seeking to engage in this cultural battle because we are haters. We do so because we are lovers of men and God. We do not endeavor to be sticks in the mud, who refuse to change. We, of all people, know the value of change as we have been brought from death to life. However, we are only willing to change where we are freed by the Scriptures to do so. We are a people bound by the Word of God; our conscience is constrained by it, and from this position we cannot move.

We must be bold and courageous in our day. Not rabble rousers, but valiant and resolute according to our convictions. Our starting place, should be to disapprove of homosexual practice, knowing that we do so in the context of our own sexual fallen state. We are not haughty. We are not decrying the sins of others and ignoring our own, but neither are we willing to sit silently when our culture calls that which is evil “good.”

Let us resolve, that as we continue to speak against homosexuality and its acceptance in our culture, we will do so winsomely and lovingly; yet, we are also committed to doing so clearly. In our pulpits, in our conversations around the water cooler, with our children, or in simple talks over the fence with our neighbors, we will be clear that homosexual practice is a sin. We will not attempt to separate love and truth. A careful guard against the subtle language of “gay” and “gay marriage” should be in place.  Neither one of those terms should be used in our discourse about the homosexual lifestyle or homosexual union. There is nothing “gay” or God-honoring about the homosexual lifestyle, and it is not a God-ordained marriage when two homosexuals join together in a “state approved marriage,” even if it is a monogamous and committed relationship. We, as a people of the Word, know the importance of language and words, and it is crucial we give clear articulation of God’s purpose and plan for sex and marriage.

Even as we exercise our voice, we need a generation of Christians who are willing to do even more; willing to be courageous enough to minister with compassion and truth to the homosexual community. We need brothers and sisters in Christ, who know the depths of grace and are deliberate in ministering to others by that grace. We must raise an army of men and women, who are compelled, in all humility, to seek to understand the homosexual struggle and enter into relationships that will challenge, encourage, and hold friends and loved ones accountable. We need elders and pastors with a vision to establish churches where a person struggling with same-sex attraction or even homosexual practices are lovingly warned, discipled, and given care. We need to continue to declare that homosexuality is not the unforgivable sin, but that repentance is called for. We must be clear in our application of theology that identifying the sinful desire and abstaining from such practices does not negate personhood or necessitate the deprivation of joy.

Above all, we need to pray. We need to pray for those in our churches who struggle with same-sex attraction, for those who have given into this temptation and sin, and for the salvation of those who are trapped in a lifestyle that leads to death. We need to pray that our society would alter its present course on this issue and never look back.

It may be an uphill battle, but our God moves mountains. We serve a God who can change things in an instant. Does it seem impossible? Our God majors in the impossible. May it take a miracle? There is good news, we serve a God who performs miracles. We cannot roll over and play dead on this issue. It is too important. It is an issue with eternal implications for the souls of men and women. We believe in the power of the gospel, so let us believe it is good news even in the midst of this debate, and declare it without shrinking. May God turn the tide and do a mighty work of change in our generation, for His praise and His glory. He can do it. Never lose hope.

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Yes, All Things, In Fact

Jan 28, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

Q. What do you understand by the providence of God?

A. Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that lead and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty—all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 27).

*******

This is my favorite Lord’s Day in the entire Catechism.  I absolutely love its poetic description of providence.  ”Sovereignty” is the word we hear more often.  That’s a good word too.  But if people run out of the room crying whenever you talk to them about sovereignty, try using the word “providence.”  For some people God’s sovereignty sounds like nothing but raw, capricious power: “God has absolute power over all things and you better get used to it.”  That kind of thing.  And that definition is true in a sense, but divine sovereignty, we must never forget, is sovereignty-for-us.  As Eric Liddel’s dad remarked in Chariots of Fire, God may be a dictator, but “Aye, he is a benign, loving dictator.”

Coming to grips with God’s all-encompassing providence requires a massive shift in how we look at the world.  It requires changing our vantage point—from seeing the cosmos as a place where man rules and God responds, to beholding a universe where God creates and constantly controls with sovereign love and providential power.

The definition of providence in the Catechism is stunning.  All things, yes all things, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.”  I will sometimes ask seminary students being examined for ordination, “How would the Heidelberg Catechism, particularly Lord’s Day 10, help you minister to someone who lost a limb in Afghanistan or just lost a job or just lost a child.”  I am usually disappointed to hear students who should be affirming the confessions of their denomination shy away from Heidelberg’s strong, biblical language about providence.  Like most of us, the students are much more at ease using passive language about God’s permissive will or comfortable generalities about God being “in control” than they are about stating precisely and confidently to those in the midst of suffering “this has come from God’s fatherly hand.”  And yet, that’s what the Catechism teaches.

And more importantly, so does the Bible.

To be sure, God’s providence is not an excuse to act foolishly or sinfully. Herod and Pontius Pilate, though they did what God had planned beforehand, were still wicked conspirators (Acts 4:25-28).  The Bible affirms human responsibility.

But the Bible also affirms, much more massively and frequently than some imagine, God’s power and authority over all things.  The nations are under God’s control (Psalm 2:1-433:10), as is nature (Mark 4:41Psalm 135:7147:18148:8), and animals (2 Kings 17:25Dan. 6:22;Matt. 10:29).  God is sovereign over Satan and evil spirits (Matt. 4:102 Cor. 12:7-8Mark 1:27).  God uses wicked people for his plans—not just in a “bringing good out of evil” sort of way, but in an active, intentional, “this was God’s plan from the get-go” sort of way (Job 12:16John 19:11Gen. 45:8Luke 22:22Acts 4:27-28).  God hardens hearts (Ex. 14:17;Josh. 11:20Rom. 9:18).  God sends trouble and calamity (Judg. 9:231 Sam. 1:516:142 Sam. 24:11 Kings 22:20-23Isa. 45:6-753:10Amos 3:6Ruth 1:20Eccl. 7:14).   God even puts to death (1 Sam. 2:6252 Sam 12:152 Chr. 10:414Deut. 32:39).  God does what he pleases and his purposes cannot be thwarted (Isa. 46:9-10Dan. 4:34-35).  In short, God guides all our steps and works all things after the counsel of his will (Prov. 16:3320:2421:2Jer. 10:23Psalm 139:16Rom. 8:21Eph. 1:11).

It’s worth noting that Lord’s Day 10 is explaining what the Apostles’ Creed means when it says, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.”  If God is the creator of all things and truly almighty, then he must continue to be almighty over all that he has created.  And if God is a Father, then surely he exercises his authority over his creation and creatures for the good of his beloved children.  Providence is nothing more than a belief in “God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth” brought to bear on our present blessings and troubles and buoying our hope into the future.

You can look at providence through the lens of human autonomy and our idolatrous notions of freedom and see a mean God moving tsunamis and kings like chess pieces in some kind of perverse divine play-time.  Or you can look at providence through the lens of Scripture and see a loving God counting the hairs on our heads and directing the sparrows in the sky so that we might live life unafraid.  “What else can we wish for ourselves,” Calvin wrote, “if not even one hair can fall from our head without his will?” There are no accidents in your life.  Nothing has been left to chance.  Every economic downturn, every phone call in the middle of the night, every oncology report has been sent to us from the God who sees all things, plans all things, and loves us more than we know.

As children of our Heavenly Father, divine providence is always for us and never against us. Joseph’s imprisonment seemed pointless, but it makes sense now.  Slavery in Egypt makes sense now.  Killing the Messiah makes sense now.  Whatever difficulty or unknown you may be facing today, it will make sense someday–if not in this life, then certainly in the next.

We all have moments where we fear what the future may hold.  But such fears are misplaced if we know the one who holds the future. The fact of the matter is all my worries may come true, but God will never be untrue to me.  He will always lead me, always listen to me, and always love me in Christ.  God moves in mysterious ways; we may not always understand why life is what it is.  But we can face the future unafraid because we know that nothing moves, however mysterious, except by the hand of that great Unmoved Mover who moves all and is moved by none, and that this Mover is not an impersonal force but the God who is my Father in heaven.

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Monday Morning Humor

Jan 27, 2014 | Kevin DeYoung

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