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Bible study

Lecture series: “Who was Jesus, and what does that mean for me?”

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Jesus is a historical (despite the protests of some) and spiritual figure who has divided people for centuries since his brief period of public ministry. It seems safe to say that no one has ever impacted the world in such a short time. No one could, except for one who came as the son of God.

We sometimes take for granted that Jesus is the anchor of our faith, the source of our salvation, the reason that we have hope in this life. Growing up in what I would consider conservative churches of Christ, I think we’ve had a tendency to take this side of our faith for granted. We talk a lot about obedience, about following God, about morality, and those are things we ought to talk about. But sometimes we have a tendency to lose site of why it is that we assemble every Lord’s Day in the first place. It’s vital that as followers of Christ, we keep our eyes focused on the one we’re following!

I had the opportunity to visit the Vegas Drive church of Christ in April and deliver a weekend series of lessons on the topic of Jesus, and I thoroughly enjoyed being with my friends and spiritual family again. I had preached there on a part-time basis for about five years before moving on, and it was a blessing to be back. But the greater blessing was spending time talking about various aspects of our Lord.

I’ve included links below to the audio and also the presentations I used, and I hope you find the contents useful and encouraging – and maybe informative!

Lesson 1:

Was there really a Jesus?

Without opening a Bible, we have strong reason to believe that there was a literal living man named Jesus who went around the region of Judea teaching about the coming kingdom of God. The record of his existence, teachings and life as passed down through the early church, coupled with historical finds from that time period and the undeniable explosion of Christianity after his death are compelling reasons to ask the question: how did this insignificant man in this remote part of the world manage to change human history forever?

View slides: Was there really a Jesus?

Lesson 2:

The ultimate stumbling block: The empty tomb

There is no way to have an honest discussion about who Jesus really was without dealing with the question of the empty tomb. Despite a wide range of speculation and various theories put forth, there has been no explanation given for how a man could predict his own death, successfully stage that death at the hands of a disinterested government, and then make people believe he had risen from the dead. There is even less reason to believe that his disciples later contrived the resurrection account, submitting themselves to torture and death for a cause they knew to be untrue, and somehow managed to convince thousands of people who were all present during the time when the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection took place.

View slides: The empty tomb

Lesson 3

Was Jesus the son of God?

This question goes hand-in-hand with the question of the resurrection. Without a resurrection, the claims of Jesus as God would be empty. Without Jesus being God, his resurrection would have been impossible. Skeptics who deny one must also deny the other. But the growing list of writers who argue Jesus never made the claim to be God’s son are based on a dishonest and selective view of the scriptures. We find overwhelming evidence in all four gospels as well as the epistles and the early church writers that not only did his followers worship him as God, but that Jesus accepted and approved that conclusion.

View slides: Was Jesus the son of God?

Lesson 4

Understanding the thief on the cross

Once we arrive at the conclusion that Jesus was in fact the son of God, sent to live among men, die on a cross, and rise from the dead as the chosen Messiah, we have to start asking what all this means to us? We see Jesus sending out his apostles to all the world to “preach the gospel to every creature.” It is a message of hope and joy, calling men and women of every nation to repent of sin and worldliness, and turn their lives over to the Lord. The story of the thief on the cross in Luke 23 gives a remarkable vision of the grace of God and the saving faith that is required of us today. This is a story that’s often misused, but the central message is that if we believe Jesus’ message despite all the obstacles placed in our way, that Jesus will save us – but it’s his grace, his prerogative, and he decides the conditions of our salvation. Not us!

View slides: Understanding the thief on the cross

Lesson 5

Am I a Christian or a disciple of Christ?

The term “Christian” has become so common and so easily used in our culture, that in many instances it seems to have lost its meaning. Anyone can claim to be a Christian, and we often set the requirements as low as “someone whose family went to a church at some point.” More and more, our culture distances itself from what Jesus truly commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” Can we truly call ourselves Christians if we’re not disciples of Christ? What does it really mean to be a disciple? The Bible tells us it means much more than simply acknowledging that Jesus was a real person, or that we agree with his teachings, or even that his claims about himself are true. It means giving our lives to him, conforming ourselves to his image every day.

View slides: Am I a Christian or a disciple?

Lesson 6

The church that Jesus built

The religious world increasingly claims that you can talk about Jesus without talking about the church. But scripture clearly shows us that the church is the body of Christ – the two are inseparable! But what is the church? How does the Bible define it, and is it even still in existence today? If it is, then should I join it – or it is even something I can join at all?

View slides: The church that Jesus built

Knowing Jesus: Jesus got angry

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When we think of Jesus, we think of someone who was meek and mild. Drawings of Jesus almost always show him with a tranquil, calm, almost placid expression. We see him as being infinitely patient, perpetually kind, always speaking graciously.

We don’t spend much time talking about the angry Jesus. The Jesus who didn’t speak kindly. The Jesus who demanded much more than many in his audience were willing or able to give.

The same Jesus who turned the other cheek—who did not return evil for evil—still had reason to be angry.

 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand,” Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, ” Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. — Mar 3:1-6

There are very few passages that specifically say Jesus was angry, but there are plenty in which the word usage and context would indicate that he was. Whether we want to consider it anger, agitation, irritation or some milder version, we would most likely have witnessed the scene and come up away with the impression that the person was angry.

When Peter tried to correct Jesus concerning his impending death (Matthew 16:22), telling him “This shall never happen to you,” Jesus responded by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.” That sounds a lot like anger to me.

What made Jesus angry?

Jesus seemed to become angry resulting from four different scenarios. We’ll talk about all of these in greater detail as we get deeper into the series, but for now it’s worth pointing them out in a more general sense.

Hypocrisy from religious leaders

This is the one I suspect most of us think of first, and with good reason. Jesus spent a lot of time arguing with the religious leaders of the day, leading to his most heated exchanges. Invariably, Jesus’ anger led him to condemn the Pharisees and scribes because of their insincere devotion to piety and the law.

In Matthew 23, Jesus rips the leaders who had been constantly criticizing and undermining him throughout his ministry. Here he pointed out the various inconsistencies between their teachings and actions, calling them “children of Hell” (v. 15), blind guides (v. 16), comparing them to tombs filled with uncleanness and dead men’s bones (v. 27). But the worst rebuke is reserved for their claims to be upright children of Abraham, who loved and revered the prophets sent in past centuries by God:

 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. — Matthew 23:33-35

As we’ll see, hypocrisy was involved in almost all the instances in which Jesus was moved to anger.

Lack of compassion for sinners

Jesus clearly saw this a lot in dealing with men and women who were marginalized from Hebrew society for their sins. There is a difficult balance for a child of God in rejecting sinful activities and lifestyles while continuing to reach out to call the sinner back to the fold. Jesus found that balance, and it greatly bothered much of the religious community.

One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, ” Simon, I have something to say to you.” — Luke 7:36-40

We’re not told that Jesus is angry here, but clearly he wasn’t happy with Simon’s attitude. I suspect if someone responded to any one of us by turning around and saying, “I have something to say to you,” we would have already felt the sting of rebuke before the thought was complete.

Jesus went on to elaborate, pointing out that this sinful woman was genuine in her sorrow and desire for forgiveness, while the host hadn’t even bothered with the common courtesies typically afforded a guest in that culture (v. 44-46).

Unwillingness to listen

As already mentioned, Peter received a strong rebuke because he was so invested in his own ideas on how Jesus’ reign would work that he simply was not listening to what Jesus was trying to explain to him. It must have been difficult for Jesus to talk about his own death, and there’s nothing more irritating than trying to explain a gravely serious subject to someone who simply dismisses your concerns as invalid.

As seen in the passage from Mark 3, Jesus was angered “because of their hardness of heart”; they were so concerned with holding onto their own traditions that they had lost sight of what Jesus had been trying to teach them: that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). The Law of Moses taught that the Israelites should do no work on that day (Exodus 20:10, 31:14), but it said nothing about not helping someone in need or caring for someone’s injury or illness, or otherwise refusing to show compassion. Jesus pointed out that they gave more consideration for an animal in a ditch (Matthew 12:10) than they did for someone who wished for Jesus to heal him.

There was likely very little dispute about offering aid on the Sabbath in general, but there was a great deal of dispute about whether Jesus could do so.

Displays of irreverence toward God the Father and His word

The most vivid description of an angry Jesus is found when the gospel writers depict him chasing the money changers out of the temple (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17). John specifically notes that Jesus is enraged as a result of zeal for the house of God—witnessing it turned into a house of merchandise (and in some cases a dishonest one, at that).

Whatever you believe is meant by the “unpardonable sin” of Matthew 12, it’s clear that it relates to an irreverence toward the Holy Spirit. Jesus was accused by the Pharisees of casting out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Jesus refutes them with simple logic, pointing out that the Spirit of God is the true source of his authority and power. He then adds:

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. — Matthew 12:31-37

Jesus loved God the Father, and was completely devoted to doing God’s will and bringing glory to Him. He would not tolerate refusals to revere God or His law.

Isn’t anger sinful?

As we discussed last week, Jesus lived a life without sin. We never see Jesus becoming indignant because of his own pride or sense of self-worth. He did not return insults when insulted, he did not slander or speak evil of someone out of malice. The implication of Matthew 5:22 would seem to be that we are not to be angry “without a cause”, which is how the New King James renders the verse.

But some things are worth being angry about! Paul, under the inspiration of the same Spirit which came from Christ, wrote to “be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27). James wrote that we ought to be slow to anger, because “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).

What is the difference between a justified anger and the anger condemned by scripture? I believe there is a clue found in one last example from Jesus’ life.

Jesus’ controlled anger

When Jesus came to Bethany to raise Lazarus, he has an interesting reaction to the scene that awaited him:

Now when Mary came to where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, saying to him, ” Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ” Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” Then Jesus, deeply moved again, came to the tomb. — John 11:32-38

The word translated by the ESV as “deeply moved” is much disputed, because the word itself literally means “to snort like a horse” and is used as its primary meaning to describe a reaction of sternness, outrage or anger. Some translators have softened the meaning because they don’t see how Jesus would be angry in this situation and find the primary meaning inconsistent with the context. Others have noted (and I believe rightly so) the hypocrisy of a group of people gathering to weep and mourn a man whom they will shortly seek to kill in order to disprove the miracle Jesus is about to perform (John 12:9-10). It’s also possible (although less likely to me) that Jesus was angry at mourning that discounted a hope of the resurrection (which Martha confessed to anticipating in verse 24).*

Regardless, the word is only used in scripture three times and carries a connotation of sternness. But there’s something else in the grammar that comes out: in verse 33, we read that Jesus was “deeply troubled.” The term here describes a visible, physical reaction, and based on what I have read, the verb is active; in other words, it could be translated that Jesus “agitated himself.”* Whatever the emotion, Jesus was not surrendering to it, but rather controlling it completely and expressing it exactly how he chose to express it.

When we’re angry, are we in control? Are we angry for reasons that are in line with glorifying God, or are they based on our own injured pride and need for vindication?

Jesus was angry, and did not sin.

*NOTE: I’m not a Greek scholar, so please don’t take my word for anything I say on the subject of translations and grammar. I found the resources below to be of great help, and I’d encourage you to research for yourself to draw your own conclusions.

http://www.gty.org/resources/print/bible-qna/BQ083012

http://biblehub.com/commentaries/john/11-33.htm

 

Knowing Jesus: Jesus depended on scriptures

By | Christianity, Knowing Jesus | One Comment

One of the most significant things that we know about Jesus is seen in the only story we have of his childhood. Jesus’ parents discover that he is missing from the family caravan leaving Jerusalem, and eventually he’s found in the temple (Luke 2:46-47), “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”

Luke writes that Jesus grew in wisdom, and when we next see Jesus, it is as a man fully equipped to apply and teach the word of God (Luke 4). He stands up to the temptations from Satan with the same response each time:

“It is written.”

Jesus set an example we absolutely must follow in the way that he treasured the word of God. David wrote “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97), but Jesus’ relationship to the law was even more intimate:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. — John 1:14

Jesus understood the word of God better than anyone before or since, because it was part of him. He was the author of that law, and he was the physical embodiment of God’s word. In submission to God, he constantly pointed people back to the word.

The value of the Old Testament

By my count, Jesus quotes or references material from at least 15 different books in the Old Testament. That includes acceptance of the Septuagint as authoritative across all types of writing: law (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), history (1 Samuel, 1 Kings), poetry (Psalms), and prophecy (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Hosea, Jonah, Micah, Zechariah, Malachi). Some claim that he cited as many as 27 of the 33 books.

Regardless of the number, Jesus confirmed the value of all the Old Testament writings, indicating that even the Psalms of David were both law and prophecy (Matthew 22:42-44), because they were inspired of God. That doesn’t mean David and the psalmists were inspired in the way that an artist is inspired by a sunset or an inventor is inspired by an observed challenge. It literally means that the psalms of David, the prophecies of Isaiah, and the writings of Moses were all breathed out by God (2 Peter 1:20-21). And Jesus treated them with an appropriate level of reverence.

Understanding how to apply scripture

Jesus shows us the value of a deep knowledge of God’s word that goes beyond simply reading the text, but reading and understanding context, being able to make applications and growing in an understanding of God’s nature and His will for us. He provides an example of proper use of scripture in refuting the Pharisees’ accusations about his disciples working on the Sabbath:

He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him:how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice, ’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” — Matthew 12:3-7

Jesus cites:

  • Direct command: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings,” Hosea 6:6
  • Approved example: David is permitted by virtue of specific need to eat of food that by law he was not authorized to taste (1 Samuel 21:1-6, Leviticus 24:5-9)
  • Necessary inference: If the priests were commanded to perform “work” on the Sabbath day in order to carry out the worship on that day, then it is logical to say that there are examples where doing God’s will should not be prevented through observance of the Sabbath regulations on work – which in most cases were derived from the Jewish rulers’ interpretations of the idea of “work”, rather than the simple command not to work.

That is the essential model for understanding, interpreting and applying scripture. He does not appeal to opinion, human precedent, teachings of leading theologians, popular sentiment, or even conscience. He simply shows that the Pharisees were misapplying scripture because they did not fully understand it.

The word of God as our source of life

Jesus’ reliance on the word, reflected his teachings. When he told the Jews that he was the bread of life, and that his words were spirit and life (John 6:63), he was reflecting his own attachment to the word. When answering Satan in Luke 4, he quoted from the law of Moses in Deuteronomy 8:

And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years. Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, the Lord your God disciplines you. So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by walking in his ways and by fearing him. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land…  — Deuteronomy 8:2-7

He understood a principle that the Hebrews were meant to learn from their time with Moses in the wilderness: that they were sustained not by their own ability or skill, but by listening to and obeying all that God said.

Imagine being the hero in a movie where you’re required to land a pilot-less plane, with only the instructions from the tower to help. How closely would you follow? How intently would you listen? That is the way in which Jesus viewed God’s law. It is literally the source of life, because it connects us to God. And it is the means by which God guides us into “a good land:” our eternal inheritance.

If the Bible is our lifeline to God, how well do we know it? Is it a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105)? Is it dwelling in us richly (Colossians 3:16)? Are we able to handle it properly with the understanding of how to apply it to our lives and to our efforts to teach others (2 Timothy 2:15)?

Jesus didn’t just love the word. He lived it. So should we.

Is “the God that I know” really God?

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“The God that I know would never disapprove of that.”

“The God that I know won’t accept attitudes like yours.”

“The God that I know would condemn that.”

“The God that I know doesn’t judge me, he forgives me.”

Have you ever heard statements like that? Does it ever strike you that a lot of people who call themselves Christians seem to know a lot of different Gods?

The reality is that scripture tells us that there is no way to truly serve God unless we know God. And that makes sense, doesn’t it? How can I please a boss when I don’t know what they expect of me? How can i please a friend if I don’t know what makes them happy? How can I please the state if I don’t know what the law requires?

When I don’t know, I do whatever seems right to me. That’s how the people of Israel managed their lives for a large portion of the time in which they were in the land of Canaan. When there were no judges to right the ship, no kings to (preferably) impose God’s law on them, “everyone did what was right in his own eyes,” according to Judges 17:6. With a lack of instruction in the law of Moses from the priests and Levites, no one knew what the law was, or maybe just didn’t care. And that lack of knowledge would haunt God’s people throughout their time in the promised land.

My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge – Hosea 4:6

For you have forgotten the God of your salvation and have not remembered the Rock of your refuge – Isaiah 17:10

But those verses are a little deceiving out of context, because it sounds as if there were a lot of people running around the country who didn’t know there was a God. Or didn’t know who He was. Or maybe didn’t know that He had any requirements of them. I don’t think that’s the case, as even in Isaiah’s time, people were still worshiping God. They were just worshiping other gods at the same time. And as it turned out, they weren’t actually worshiping God the way He had commanded them to do it.

In 2 Kings 22-23, the writer tells the story of King Josiah, who found the book of the law during a renovation of the temple. Upon reading it, he discovered that the people had been expected to observe the Passover feast—which they had stopped doing some time back. It’s not as if it would be intuitive for them to reason that if there’s a God, then He clearly must want them to celebrate the exodus from Egypt on an annual basis with a ritual feast. That’s the kind of thing God has to tell people for them to know.

I can climb every mountain in the world, gaze out over sunsets every day of my life, listen to the birds singing in the wind until my cares melt away, and not one second of that will instruct me on what God wants me to do with my life. Because it’s one thing to know there’s a God. It’s another thing to know God.

And God doesn’t simply give you knowledge. You have to work for it.

 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. – Act 17:22-27

God isn’t easy to understand, let alone truly know. We read of God as being merciful and vengeful. Patient and fed up. Loving and punishing. Wanting all to be saved and yet unwilling to have fellowship with unrighteousness. Plenty of intelligent, thoughtful scholars have wrestled unsuccessfully with those seeming contradictions, and some have even left the faith because they simply didn’t think they made sense.

Because if they were God, they wouldn’t be like that!

The problem is, earthly wisdom and insights won’t bring us closer to God. They’re more likely to push us farther away.

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:20-21

God’s thoughts aren’t our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). If we find God agreeing with us all the time, we might want to revisit the scriptures, because God does not make decisions that we would make. He sees more, knows more and understands more than we can ever process. So why do we assume that if we don’t think something’s a big deal, God doesn’t think it’s a big deal either?

We have one way to understand God: to listen to what God tells us about Himself, either through his prophets or through Jesus Christ, his son (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus was God’s way of revealing Himself to mankind, taking on the form of a human and helping us to see God’s nature (John 14:9, 1:18) in a way we couldn’t understand through the Old Testament alone. And through the Spirit, Jesus passed that knowledge on to his apostles (Matthew 28:20, John 16:13-15), so that they could share that understanding with the world.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. – Romans 10:14-17

We can’t assume that we’ll simply figure out God on our own. God’s plan for salvation of mankind rests on our willingness to listen to the gospel—all the gospel, not just the parts that “sound like what God would say”—and place our faith not in our own ability to intellectualize God’s divine nature or to feel some intangible sense that God loves me, but in the testimony of earthen vessels and a belief in a God who surpasses all understanding.

Did Jesus really hate religion?

By | Christianity | 2 Comments

I want to address what many believe is the most diabolical, despicable, hateful word we can possibly use in 21st Century Christianity:

Religion.

Seems that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Anyway, to do that, I’m trying something a little different. Since my thoughts on this were a little more in-depth (or in preacher-speak, I “ran long”), I wanted to present it in a way that might be a little more digestible. And I’m hoping that this format will be helpful.

Please let me know your thoughts – is this a useful tool or should I stay low-tech and just write it all down?

Anyway, I pray you find this useful and in accordance with God’s will!

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