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Long-View Living in a Short-View World

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George Bernard Shaw's most popular play is, without question, Pygmalion, which can be traced back as far as 1871. Shaw's play hit the public stage in 1913. It has since been revised and updated multiple times, been performed on stages around the world, and has most recently been reworked as both musical and film.

The story revolves around the proposed transformation of poverty-stricken Eliza Doolittle, a young woman who eeks out her living by selling flowers on the street. The tension of the play/film rises when phonetics professor, Henry Higgins, strikes a wager with a Colonel Pickering, asserting that he can pass Eliza off as a duchess by teaching her proper speech. From there, the play unfolds with humor as Eliza struggles to fit into a world completely foreign to her.

It is terribly unnerving to try to fit in where one simply does not fit. Whether it is a church family, school groupings, social clubs, even online gatherings - if you don't fit, and try to do so, the end is going to be one of intense discomfort.

Strangers and Aliens

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who reside as aliens, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia...
1 Peter 1:1a, NASB
Peter called them “strangers” παρεπιδημος (parepideimos), or aliens. They were pilgrims or sojourners.

As Christ-followers, we are here, now, in this world, on this planet, but this is not where we belong. We do not fit in, and it is a mistake for us to try to do so.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. - 1 Peter 2:11, NASB
Again, the use of the descriptors "aliens" and "strangers." Because we do not belong to this world system, there is much the system offers that is harmful to us, so much so that Peter characterizes involvement with that system as war waged on our very souls.

The apostle Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven, not here on earth (Philippians 3:20). We were not designed for permanent residency on earth.

Just as it was with Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob, so it is with us.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. - Hebrews 11:13-16, ESV
Even the Lord Jesus, in his wonderful John 17 prayer, said that we are not "of this world" any more than he is of this world.

Sufferers and Separatists

As we are not of this world, we neither value, nor are driven by what drives and draws those who are of this world. We have an ethics and values system that the world has no capacity to understand. They think us odd, and they heap abuse on us for what we value and how we choose to live.

They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation and they heap abuse on you. 1 Peter 4:4, NIV-1978
Jesus said, "All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Matthew 10:22, NIV-1978). But he also said that in such suffering and persecution, we will be blessed (Matthew 5:11). The apostles understood that suffering for Christ was to be expected, and they chose not to see it as a bad thing.
They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. - Acts 5:40a-41, NIV-1978

Peter will refer to the suffering of Christ-followers a minimum of fifteen times in 1 Peter, and he will use eight different Greek terms in doing so. As Peter describes the suffering and persecution, he exhorts his readers to understand that such suffering is neither bad, nor unusual. Indeed, it is one way to separate the disciples from the pretenders.

Consider this from Peter:

These [persecutions] have come so that your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may be proved genuine and result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. - 1 Peter 1:7, NIV-1978
When you suffer for the name of Christ, and you endure that suffering with patience, glorifying God through it all, that proves your faith genuine! The pretenders, when suffering comes - they run. They cave in. They deny. They dive headlong into the dissipation mentioned above.

I do not suggest that we should seek out persecution and trial. To be sure, it will find us easily enough. But neither do I want us to run from it, or to think it a strange thing with it occurs.

But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. - 1 Peter 4:13-14, NIV-1978

Keep the faith, my friends.

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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This week, we take our second look at the apostle Peter's repeated use of the phrase "these things" - ταυτα. By way of reminder, this is a single word, "these," in the Greek text, but the various translations will append "things," or "qualities," or some other phrase-completing word because it feels awkward in English to just say, "these"

Last week, we saw how the phrase, "these things" is tied to the power and the promises of God. This week, the list of "these things" is much longer!

The Rebirth

Coming to Christ is not merely a change of position, where we were "in the world," and now we are "in Christ." Without question, that happened, but there is so much more to the transition than that. So extensive is this change, that the Bible describes it as a new birth (John 3:3-8), (1 Peter 1:3, 23).

But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins. - 2 Peter 1:5-9, NKJV

This rebirth in Christ is the beginning of something completely new. And with life, new life, there must be growth. Without growth, we know something is terribly wrong - illness, malnutrition, something...

Our granddaughter, Peyton, is just recently two years old. Alean watches Peyton several days each week while her mother and father are at work. Alean and I look toward those days with eager anticipation of "what's she going to be doing this week that she wasn't doing last week?"

For example, Peyton has started dancing to music with fairly accurate rhythm. She spins in circles and marches to the beat of the song. Her vocabulary is growing, and with that, one of her favorite games to play (this week) is whispering "Hi." She whispers it, and we whisper it back. She whispers it again and we whisper it back. About the third time, she busts out with a silly giggle. She wants to feed herself, and gets irritated if we try to hold the spoon to feed her. She knows the exact routine for changing a diaper and getting redressed.

All of this is growth, expected growth. It is maturing (though it feels silly to use that word in connection with a two-year-old). If I am your pastor, and I cannot detect quantifiable growth in you as a two-year-old Christ-follower, I am going to become deeply concerned about your spiritual life and health.

Just as a newborn infant needs feeding and exercise to grow, a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) does not grow automatically. The apostle Paul tells us to "work out our salvation," because God is at work within us to will and work his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12–13).

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation. - 1 Peter 2:2, ESV

These 7 Things

Peter lists seven of "these things" that characterize a growing follower after Christ. These characteristics are not items on a checklist that we plow through as accomplished disciplines. Neither are they seven levels or stages of disciple development. It is easy to view them as such when we see the list started with the phrase "add to."

The term translated "add to," επιχορηγεω (epichoregeo) means to provide for, to support, to supply. This gives us a picture of the growing, or maturing Christ follower. To grasp the singularity of the concept, it might be helpful to think of it in terms of the fruit of the Spirit from the apostle Paul's letter to the Galatian churches.

Far too often, I hear believers speak of the fruits (plural) of the Spirit, as though there are many, and that some may be more prevalent within me/us than are others. This is not a biblical concept. If you look up Galatians 5:22-23, you will quickly see that it is fruit (singular) of the Spirit rather than fruits (plural). It is true that the fruit has numerous qualities, but it is singular fruit. I have it, or I do not.

It is the same with "these things" in 2 Peter 1. I am growing in these things, or I am not. And I am to work at growing in these things. Do not lose sight of the phrase in Peter's charge that we "apply all diligence" or "make every effort" regarding "these things."

We Start With Faith

We begin with faith, knowing that it is by grace we are saved through faith. Then we begin amplifying "these things" [attributes] of our growth in the Spirit of God.

Virtue: The initial character quality listed is virtue, meaning goodness or moral excellence. In a secular sense, the word means to fulfill a purpose - my hammer is "aretei" [virtuous] because it drives nails. A Christ-follower shows excellence in living up to hir or her God-infused purpose of glorifying God and being transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Knowledge: Much of what takes place in Christian assemblies today focuses on the experiential, the emotional. It is from this vantagepoint that we get absurd phrases like, "God really showed up tonight." Without discounting the validity of the emotions God gave us, Peter says to grow in knowledge. This is discernment, understanding, or comprehension. It is completely cognitive.

The knowledge Peter (and Jesus) calls us to requires action on our part. It requires obedience. Where one may say, "Once I know, I will obey," Jesus says, rather, "Obey, and then you will know."

If any one chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. - John 7:17, NIV - 1973
Obedience precedes knowledge.

Self-control: "A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls" (Proverbs 25:28, ESV). Notwithstanding the reality that self-control is fruit of the Spirit, the concept of self-control and discipline is ubiquitous in scripture. The apostle Paul speaks of training his body, disciplining it to keep it under control (1 Corinthians 9:24–27). In Acts 24, Paul taught the governor, Felix, about self-control. He instructed Titus to teach the men to be self-controlled.

Perseverance: Whereas self-control is resisting indulgence in pleasure, perseverance is the endurance of difficulty. Also translated as patience or steadfastness, this is a necessary component for enduring the inevitable challenges of a disciple's walk.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. - James 1:2-4, ESV

Godliness: Eusebia (godliness) is not a mindset, but an action. It is a devout practice, the substance of one's walk as a disciple. While I have been known to teach emphatically that our faith-life in Christ is not a matter of what we do, but rather one of who we are, in this case, "godliness" is absolutely referring to our actions as a disciple. It is piety.

for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. - 1 Timothy 4:8, NASB
The man or woman walking in godliness is at peace both with God and with humanity. He or she lives above the pettiness that attaches itself to much of society (particularly in social media!), and in this godliness seeks not only God's will, but also what is best for others.

Brotherly kindness: This is philadelphia. As we love Jesus, we are to love our brothers and sisters in Christ. Elsewhere, Peter called on us to practice an "unfeigned" love of the body of Christ, and to love one another earnestly from a pure heart. The apostle Paul taught the Roman church to "Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor," almost as though it were a love and honor competition (Romans 12:20, ESV).

Love: We have all read and heard a great deal about agape. This is the love that is a choice, a decision. This is the love God has toward us even when we were/are drowning in sin. It is the love the apostle Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13. It is the love the Holy Spirit has poured into our hearts (Romans 5:5). Where brotherly love is for our brothers and sisters in Christ based on our shared faith in Jesus, agape is for everyone, without exception.

We saw last week that we are "partakers of the divine nature." This week's list gives us a glimpse of what that means. We cannot accomplish "these things" in and of ourselves. This is a work that we must surrender to, a work that we allow God to do within us. In allowing this, we become increasingly "conformed to the image" of Jesus.

Blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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I have been reading in 2 Peter this week, and am finding it such a rich time that I'll probably stay here for a bit, and may blog more about what I'm seeing in Peter's letter. As you know, one of the things I like to do as I read my Bible, is to look for recurring phrases. I'm seeing one in 2 Peter that I hadn't noticed before.

Peter keeps talking about "these things" - ταυτα. So, this week and next (at least) we are going to look at "these things."

It's a single word, "these," but different translations will append "things" because it feels awkward to just say, "these."

As I read through 2 Peter 1 this morning, that repeated phrase stood out to me. We see it in verses 4, 8, 9, 10, 12, and 15. The chapter is only fifteen verses long, so better than a third of it is talking about "these things."

Power

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through [these things] you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. - 2 Peter 1:3-4, ESV

Do not ever doubt, Christ-follower, that your life, your very existence has been infused with power - divine power, God's power. What started out with your faith in the work and the person of Jesus has moved forward into an infusion of power that gives you everything pertaining to both life, and godliness.

When we discuss our walk with Jesus, a walk of holiness and godliness, the phrase "I cannot" never escapes our lips. We may say, "I don't want to..." or "I am choosing not to..." but saying, "I can't" is not a valid expression for the Christ-follower.

The Transition

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked - Ephesians 2:1-2a, NASB

We were dead in sin. I was dead in sin, and you were as well. Later, in that same letter, the apostle Paul said...

Awake, sleeper, And arise from the dead, And Christ will shine on you. - Ephesians 5:14b, NASB
So, we were dead in sin, yet there is this concept of life being thrown in here.
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. - John 5:24, NASB
Can you even fathom the power involved in bringing non-life back to life? We have passed from death to life! Selah! Chew on that one for a bit.

The Power

If God exercised the power required to bring us to life, he will exercise the power required to keep us alive. He will grant us all things pertaining to life and godliness.

The move from death to life is characterized in the pages of scripture as a rebirth (John 3:3-8), (1 Peter 1:3, 23).

When we are born into the family of Christ, we come complete, ready to go, with everything we will ever need to live a life of godliness. No special tools required. Your life comes fully assembled. Just go live it! It's like Steve Martin's biography - we are "Born Standing Up."

The apostle Paul told the church in Colossae, "you are made complete in him" (Colossians 2:10). In this rebirth, God has called us to "glory," and "virtue" or excellence. And again, we do not claim the inability to live up to that calling, because God has equipped us through his power to rise to the call!

We are equipped and abundantly supplied to proclaim God's excellence.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. - 1 Peter 2:9, ESV

The Promises

Our calling involves great and precious promises. We have all we need for life and godliness, and that comes with great and precious promises of one who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18).

To Peter, the promises of God are precious, and as such, Peter puts them in a class with precious faith (1 Peter 1:7), the precious blood of Jesus, the lamb (1 Peter 1:19), the precious living stone (1 Peter 2:4), and the precious cornerstone (1 Peter 2:6). All that is precious has been entrusted to you and bestowed upon you.

Through these irrevocable gifts and promises, we become partakers of the divine nature. In saying this, Peter uses the same word he used to say we partake, or participate in the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:13). Through our participation in that divine nature, we escape the corruption of our default sinful desires. It is these desires that caused us to be children of wrath.

Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. - Ephesians 2:3, NASB
But now, with a renewed heart, and renewed mind, we passionately desire those things that are in harmony with the divine nature, that which is true, just, and holy. We become a new creation. The old passes away and all things are made new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Having escaped the defilement of the world, and taken on the divine nature, the world's defiling filth no longer holds our interest. It is only when we "make provision for the flesh" that our lust for what was overpowers the reality of what is. Peter describes this state as blind, short-sighted, and forgetful.

For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. - 2 Peter 1:9, ESV

We will play with this idea a little more next week. Until then, blessings upon you.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

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I wrote a blog post about four years ago regarding the believing community's tendency to wrench Jeremiah 29:11 from its context, and how we need to give greater care, and show greater respect when working with passages of scripture. We will revisit that concept today.

Jeremiah 29:11 is ubiquitous, easily found in memes, on Tee Shirts, bumper stickers, and posters. It can be heard in sermons and is sung in praise choruses. It is the ultimate feel-good passage - one with which you are undoubtedly familiar.

'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.' - Jeremiah 29:11, NIV-1978

How can we read, sing, or hear that without smiling and feeling warm inside. It is a verse promising hope, surety, prosperity. We want to do a fist-pump and shout, "YES!"

So, why write about this again? It is because I have heard, or read this verse three times in the last two days, and in each case (as is almost always the case with this verse) it was dislodged from its context and used in a way that suggests that God was/is speaking these words to us. He was not, and is not.

Context

The context of Jeremiah 29 is a context of captivity. As punishment for the sins of Judah, God allowed his people to be carried off into Babylonian captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar. From a worldly standpoint, Nebuchadnezzar did this as a retaliation when Judean King Jehoiakim stopped paying tribute to him.

Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem, destroyed the city, including the temple, and transplanted some 10,000 Jews from Judea to Babylon. Their lives were completely uprooted. They were vulnerable, destitute, and bewildered, not knowing what to do with themselves.

God's message to the captives, through Jeremiah, was to live their lives in that circumstance. Build homes, plant gardens, marry, have children. God told them they were going to be in Babylon for a very long time, and it is in that context that God says, "I know the plans I have for you..."

Expanding our focal context by backing up one verse to Jeremiah 29:10, Jeremiah assures God's people that the captivity is temporary, and that they will return home after seventy years. Bear in mind, however, this assurance was spoken to them as a nation, a culture. Given a seventy-year captivity, many, if not most of them died in Babylon.

This is what the LORD says, 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.' - Jeremiah 29:11, NIV-1978
This is God's assurance to his people that though they are in captivity, they are not forsaken. They will not be in captivity forever, but rather, they will be restored. God has plans for them as a people, a nation.

Afterward, God said, "'Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and will bring you back from captivity'" (Jeremiah 29:12-14a, NIV-1978).

As with verse eleven, this latter passage was not written or spoken to us, yet you likely recognize it as another meme, tee-shirt, bumper-sticker verse. It was written for a nation of people who were enslaved six centuries before Jesus was even born.

Does that mean, then, that the passage is of no value to me? Is there anything I can glean from it?

Yes, there is.

Continuance

Jeremiah 29:10-14 teaches us about the heart of God for his people, and how he extends grace and mercy toward those he loves. We know he is YHWH, and that he changes not. As God, within his own nature, acts on behalf of those he has chosen and loves, though the specific promises of Jeremiah 29 were not spoken to us, or about us, we can extend the concepts of Jeremiah 29 to the church today.

The explicit promises of Jeremiah 29 were made to the Babylonian exiles, and we have similar promises God has made to the Christ-followers of today, promises of deliverance from our enslavement to sin, promises of righteousness and justification, promises of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Just as God had plans for a hope and a future for the Babylonian exiles, he has plans for hope in Christ, and a future in his presence for us. Those are awe-inspiring realities.

While it is true that Jeremiah 29:11 was never intended to apply to the Christ follower, if we consider our secure blessing in Christ, the sentiment expressed to the exiles by God through Jeremiah is appropriate and applicable. Jesus will never abandon us. The Holy Spirit works within us. We will fully realize our inheritance in Christ when this life is completed.

Blessings upon you. I hope to see you on the other side.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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This coming Sunday (August 11, 2019), I have the privilege of bringing the word of God to the family of faith at Victory Christian Fellowship in Lynden, Washington. We will be talking about the nobleman who went away to receive a kingdom and then returned (Luke 19:12-27). With so many unknowns in the world, so much uncertainty, one thing we can be sure of, King Jesus is returning. Bank on it.

Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen. - Revelation 1:7, NIV-1978
Be very clear - Jesus IS coming, not "will come." Later in this same book, we read, "Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed" (Revelation 16:15, NIV-1978).

His coming is a sure thing, but it will happen with no preamble, no "ready, set, go." Thus, it is something for which we need always to be prepared, expectant.

The Timing

The coming of Jesus is a future event for those of us alive today. Yet, in Revelation 1:7 it is spoken of with such surety, as though it had already taken place. The verse says he "is coming," or "cometh," as though it is happening as we speak.

We humans are time-bound and linear. We have a past, and we remember it. We have right now, and we have what is yet to come. It is difficult (but helpful) for us to grasp what it means not to be bound by time, to exist outside of time, where it is always "now," which is itself an expression of time.

That's where Jesus is - outside if time - so, he can say he "is actively coming" even though, for us, it is a future event, just as Jesus can say, "Before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:58).

Just bank on it, and be ready. Though it is a future event, Christ will return.

The Clouds

Revelation says he is coming with the clouds. The cloud theme is popular with God. You'll recall that a pillar of cloud led the Hebrew people on their exodus from Egypt (Exodus 12:21-22). Now, Jesus is coming "with" the clouds just as the prophet Daniel prophesied.

I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. - Daniel 7:13, NASB
Jesus echoed this reality in Matthew's gospel. "Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory" (Matthew 24:30, ESV) That sounds very much like what the apostle John said above in our focal verse from Revelation.

Similarly, Jesus said this in Mark's gospel, "And Jesus said, 'I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.'" Following Jesus' resurrection, he was talking with the disciples and was taken to heaven in a cloud right before their eyes. It had to mess with their minds just a bit to watch that happen.

And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven." - Acts 1:9-11
According to the German scholar Friedrick Düsterdieck, later Jews referred to the Messiah as the "Cloud-Man."

The Clatter

When this cloud return happens, it will be no secret. Everyone will know!

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. - 1 Thessalonians 4:16, NASB
I'm not certain what the shout from an archangel and the trumpet of God sound like but I fully expect it will have my complete attention!

John says, "Every eye shall see him," and he does not specifically say that includes only those who are alive at the time. This seems to include the living and the dead, Jew and Gentile, saved and unsaved. We will all see this amazing return! For some it will be thrilling, and for others, terrifying.

Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." - John 20:29, NASB

The Response

Though John does not specify this, for those who are in Christ, the bride of Christ, this will be a very exciting event. Not so much for those who are not in Christ.

The tormentors of Christ will be in great distress. Those who pierced him will be in anguish as it becomes clear what are the consequences of their actions. Clearly, this is a reference to Israel, but by extension, the collective sins of all humanity pierced Jesus.

Some have been reconciled to God through the sinless blood of the Lamb (Jesus), and we will delight at his appearing. Others have not been reconciled and refuse to be so. Even so, he is coming. Trim your wick and keep your lamp lit. When you least expect it, expect it.

Blessings upon you. I hope to see you there.

Victoriously in Christ!

- damon

DamonJGray.org
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Acts 17:28 - ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν