The Ten Best Books That I Read In 2015

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I had a good reading year in 2015. Here, in no particular order, are my ten favorites.

Lion of Liberty by Harlow Unger

Patrick Henry is definitely the most underrated of the founding fathers. This book will help you to appreciate the man, flaws and all, who helped to build our nation. It also shows you that it didn’t take long after the revolution before the very people who fought against the throne wanted to replace it with something eerily similar. Patrick Henry did his best to keep that from happening and we should all be grateful. The United States could really use a Patrick Henry these days but if he were running for president today, he’d probably be polling around 3 percent.

“As this government stands,” Patrick Henry thundered, “I despise and abhor it … I speak as one poor individual  but when I speak, I speak the language of thousands. If I am asked what is to be done when a people feel themselves intolerably oppressed, my answer is … ‘overturn the government!'”

The Appeal by John Grisham

I started reading this book just as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was gaining traction. The similarities were troubling.

 

“Coley would make a beautiful candidate – loud, outrageous, colorful, able to say anything with no concern about the fallout. An anti-politician the press would follow like ants.”

On Writing by Stephen King

I’ve never read a Stephen King book before. Unlike his usual work, this one is simply meant to help you to become a better writer. Whether that’s what you want or not, you’ll still find On Writing interesting.

“One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words, because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones.”

The Martian by Andy Weir

Weir knows his science. At least I think he does. How would I know? This book reads like he does. The Martian gets pretty technical but it is a very interesting concept and the story really picks up at the end.

“Six days into what should be the greatest two months of my life, and it’s turned into a nightmare.” 

Twelve Ordinary Men by John MacArthur

I read this book while preparing to preach on Jesus calling his twelve disciples. MacAruthur did in this book what many authors try to do but fail. He gave a lot of information in a readable, efficient manner. If you’d like to learn more about the disciples as the real men that they were, I can’t think of a better book for you to read.

“In other words, he knew all their faults before he chose them.”

True Courage by Steve Farrar

This easy to read book uses the life of Daniel to encourage Christian men to live with conviction in a culture that is hostile to their faith.

“God abandoned the nation, but God never abandoned Daniel. God never abandons His people, even in times of great distress and tyranny.”

Depression by Ed Welch

I read this book for a counseling session that I was leading. If you have a friend who is struggling with depression and you don’t know how to help him, it would do both of you a lot of good to read through this book together.

“Therefore, depression, regardless of the causes, is a time to answer the deepest and most important of all questions: Whom will I trust? Whom will I worship?”

The Real Lincoln by Thomas DiLorenzo

There’s a pretty big difference between the Lincoln you grew up learning about and the real Lincoln. This is a fascinating book.

“Between 1800 and 1860, dozens of countries, including the entire British Empire, ended slavery peacefully; only in the United States was a war involved.” 

How To Survive the Most Critical Five Seconds of Your Life by Tim Larkin

This is an interesting book on self-defense. Hopefully, you’ll never need it. But if you ever find yourself in a fight or flight situation, you’ll benefit from this book much more than you would by simply relying on what you saw in the first three Rocky movies.

“Once you decide to act, act immediately.”

Through My Windows by Soup The Chemist

I’m probably the only guy I know who read this book. It’s written by one of the forefathers of Christian hip hop and it gives a really intriguing backstage look at life before Lecrae.

“That experience planted a seed in me, causing me to think heavily in my teenage years about how this white man had given his time to us bad black kids every Sunday morning.”

Unless I just can’t control myself I won’t be writing for the rest of the year. Thank you very much for reading my pastoral ramblings. I appreciate you very much and I sincerely hope that you’re Christmas is merry and your new year is happy.

Grace and Peace!

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The Five Most Memorable Things That Happened To Me In 2015

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2015 has been a bad year for the Atlanta Falcons. It was a bad year for the Georgia Bulldogs. The same goes for the Braves. And America. 2015 was a really bad year for America.

But it was a good year for me.

There’s a sermon in there somewhere about placing your identity in things that will inevitably let you down but I’ll spare you for the moment. Here are five really good things that happened to me in 2015.

I baptized my youngest son. 

He had been wrestling with the gospel for quite some time. It was really cool to be there with him when he finally lost the battle. I got to talk to him about repentance from sin, the love of God and the resurrection of Christ. And I got to watch him finally embrace those truths. Being there to baptize my son as my brother will go down as one of the highlights of my life.

I lost 25 bucks.  

My wife made a joke right before my oldest son’s soccer game. She told my him to ask me if I could pay him $50 if he ever scored a goal. My wife and I laughed. My son did not.

“So, can you?”

I said no but I promised to pay him half of that if he ever got a goal. He spends most of his time doing a fine job of defending his own goal so I felt that I had made a responsible financial decision. Two minutes into the game, he got the ball and dribbled the length of the field for a goal. He turned to me with that Donald Trump look in his eye. His team ended up losing the game and I lost my $25. And that was okay.

Clear eyes. Full hearts. Can’t lose.

Pastors are often asked what book they reread every year. As much as I love reading, I don’t have one of those. When I finish reading it, I’m done with it unless I need to look up something in it.

Not so with quality movies and television shows.

My wife and I started watching Friday Night Lights again. I know, it’s not very pastoral. But it is a lot of fun. I don’t watch much television but I really enjoy watching television with my wife and talking about the messed up characters the next morning.

And although the show is fictional, there is a lot of reality in it. One of those realities is that if you are looking for a job where you would like to make a difference in young lives, you can’t do much better than a coach or a teacher.

I got to eat lunch with an old friend. 

My lifelong friend Keith Keller has spent the last few years in the Czech Republic. In 2015 he had to come home for a few months. When he left for his new European home, I didn’t know if we’d ever again get to eat Mexican food while talking about Good Will Hunting. In 2015 we did. I’m really going to miss him in 2016.

I’m still preaching through Matthew. 

I started that at the end of 2014. Right now, I’m in chapter ten. So by my math, I should be done preaching through Matthew about the same time that Donald Trump finishes building that wall he keeps talking about.

Matthew has been a challenging but rewarding book to preach through. There have been quite a few intimidating passages but, as always, God is faithful and his word is powerful.

I didn’t visit Europe in 2015. No one made a movie about my life. The folks at Time didn’t name me Person of the Year. Even if those things did happen, I don’t think that this list would be any different. The most memorable moments of our lives are often the ones that are seemingly mundane at the moment.

So if you ever find yourself in the middle of a dull moment in 2016, put down your phone or else you just might miss one of the highlights of your year.

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

The Good News About Ouija Boards

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The cartoon voices I was hearing suddenly changed.

That’s probably a bad way for me to start things off here. Please don’t report me.

The voices I was hearing were coming from my television, not my head. My kids were taking it easy and watching one of their favorite shows. But while I was crawling under the Christmas tree to add some extra water, I noticed that the voices had changed. The characters weren’t the same. My kids were watching an entirely different show.

My first assumption was that some intern down at cartoon headquarters hit the wrong button and switched shows before he was supposed to.

It turns out that I was wrong.

My kids told me that the characters on the show they were watching started talking to spirits and playing around with ouija boards. Now remember, this was a Saturday morning cartoon.

Ouija boards.

Ouija boards!

What ever happened to the days when all we had to worry about was the Coyote dropping an anvil on himself?

Something didn’t sit right with my boys. So they changed the channel. Now to be fair, the cartoon they switched to had characters who were farting on each other but I’ll take that over ouija boards any day.

I was proud of my boys for their discernment and I told them so. The decision they had made on their own reminded me of a few important things about parenting.

First, unless you want your kid to be featured on Intervention or Celebrity Rehab one day, don’t use the television as a babysitter. Just because it’s a cartoon doesn’t meant that your kids should be watching it.

Here’s the second lesson. Remain in an open conversation with your kids. When you watch television together and you find garbage, don’t just change the channel. Explain what the problem is. And then change the channel. Do this quickly.

Finally, you can’t and shouldn’t be with your kids at all times. If you are, it will do just as much harm to them as allowing the TV to be their babysitter. At some point, they have to make their own decisions. And those decisions will be based on the way that they see you making your decisions. If you allow the media to spoon feed you whatever it is that they happen to be selling that day, your kids will be down for the same thing. But if they see you questioning the narrative and calling evil what it is, there’s a good chance that they’ll follow in your footsteps.

Our kids won’t always make the right decisions. There will be times when they keep watching what should have never been on in the first place, when they say what they should have kept to themselves and when they do something really, really stupid. Our children, it turns out, are just like us. We all do dumb things.

But when they get something right, you need to let them know.

When I praise one of my sons for doing something right, he usually says the same thing.

“Can I get paid for that?”

We’re a capitalist family.

I always say no when my son asks me that question. There are some things you just do because it’s the right thing to do.

But a parent’s job is more than simply training kids to make right decisions. It goes deeper than that. The job of a parent is to train the hearts of our children to spot foolishness when it pops up. Even if it happens to be during their favorite show.

You can be sure of this. Your kids are growing up in a world of foolishness. Without your instruction, they’ll never know the dangers that are waiting for them. They’ll believe everything every professor, pastor and politician ever tells them. As they get older, the ouija boards are less obvious but they are most certainly still there.

The bad news is that you won’t always be there.

The good news is that your influence can be.

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The Christian’s Guide To Being Called All Sorts Of Ugly Names

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It’s inevitable.

It doesn’t matter how loving you are or how articulate you are. No amount of charity and goodwill on your part will help you to avoid it.

If you are seriously committed to following Jesus, you will be called names.

Here are a few of my favorites.

Hater.

Lunatic.

Neanderthal.

Caveman.

Bigot.

And then there are the ones that I can’t print here with this being a family blog and all.

The first step to responding to the name calling is simple. Simple to understand, that is. It’s not always simple to apply.

Rejoice.

When Paul was on trial for his faith in Christ, we are told that he was cheerful in his defense (Acts 24:10). Peter tells his readers to rejoice because their suffering is a reminder of their union with Christ (1 Peter 4:12-14).

So the next time someone calls you a right-wing, hate-filled Bible thumper because you quote a Bible verse, take it with a smile.

When religious leaders brought Paul before the governor, they referred to him as a “plague.” Although much has changed in the hundreds of years since the Paul Plague, some things have not. The world still sees Christians as a plague.

In a world where it’s completely normal for grown men to self-identity as six-year-old girls, the absolute worst thing that could be said about any Christian is that they fit right in. But still, that’s what many leaders in the church are trying to do. So we have pastors pretending to be celebrities on the Oprah channel and so-called Christian professors wearing Muslim headgear because, “we worship the same god.”

The Church will not make a difference in the world by acting just like it. Difference comes by being different. That’s what Jesus meant when he told his disciples to be salt and light. Salt is different from the decay around it. Light is different from the darkness. If not, what’s the purpose?

The call to follow Christ is a call to be different. Not by making signs that tell people who God hates and screaming on some college campus. And not by dressing like it’s the 1800s. No, the difference we are called to make comes by living a lifestyle that reflects the gospel. And no matter how kindly you do that, you will face hardship. Salt and light aren’t always welcomed guests.

At best, you will be called names.

But you could also lose your job.

Or family and friends could abandon you.

And you could even have your head removed from the rest of your body.

Regardless of the package that persecution comes to your door wrapped in, take it with a smile. Jesus was ridiculed, abandoned by loved ones, beaten and murdered. Why should you expect to be treated any different from your Master?

It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. Matthew 10:25 (ESV)

Jesus didn’t come to give you a life of ease. He didn’t come to make you popular. And he didn’t come for your glory. He came for his glory.

And a real good way for that glory to be seen is on the smiling face of one of his followers who has just been called some terrible name.

So the next time you are called a hater, a bigot, a plague or worse, just remember, you’re in good company.

And whatever hardship you face on this earth is no match for the eternal joy that awaits you when your time here is done and you are with Christ forever.

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 1 Peter 4:19 (ESV)

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Ayesha Curry Versus The Foolishness Of Feminism

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Feminists directed their digital anger at Ayesha Curry earlier this week. Curry, the wife of last year’s NBA world champion and MVP, Stephen Curry, used her Twitter account to openly question current trends in clothing styles that involve wearing very little actual clothing. Curry said, “Everyone’s in to barely wearing clothes these days huh? Not my style. I like to keep the good stuff covered up for the one who matters.” The one who matters here of course is her husband, the aforementioned MVP and world champion.

She went on to say, “Just looking at the latest fashion trends. I’ll take classy over trendy any day of the week.”

Rather than celebrating Ayesha Curry’s sense of style, feminists and others who have made careers out of being offended and outraged about something new with each passing week accused her of being self-righteous, “slut shaming” and compared her to those who blame sexual assault crimes on the victims.

How tolerant of them.

In an article for ESPNw, (by the way, what is ESPNw?), Brande Victorian gave us this gem.

“The Currys are devout Christians. Rarely does an opportunity go by that the two don’t speak about their faith and how it shapes their day-to-day lives. Christian women are taught to be modest from the time they first set foot in a church, and part of that modesty is wrapped up in the underlying teaching that you are to glorify God with your body, which is only meant to be shared with your husband once you make a covenant before God. It may be an antiquated school of thought by today’s standards. It may even be heavily rooted in sexist patriarchy when you consider the authors of the Bible and the times in which its chapters were written.”

Allow me to translate.

The Currys are Christians. That means that they believe the Bible. And we all know that the Bible hates women because a lot of it was written by and about men. Gasp!

In just a few days, many of us will be celebrating an event that was first introduced to us from the Bible that Brande referred to as “antiquated school of thought” that is “heavily rooted in sexist patriarchy.” Maybe my male privilege is clouding my judgement here but what exactly is sexist about God, who could have came to earth any way he pleased, allowing himself to spend nine months in the womb of a teenage girl?

And what is sexist about women who no doubt were treated as second class citizens in Jesus’ day being some of his closest followers and the first to witness his empty tomb?

And what is so sexist about God using a harlot (that’s the “antiquated” word for prostitute) by the name of Rahab to rescue his people and that same woman being a part of the genealogy of Jesus?

I think I know.

Mary, Rahab and the other women of the Bible never danced around like Beyoncé does. Well, maybe Rahab did but you get my point. They weren’t liberated. They got help from men. On the playgrounds when I was a kid the favoritism of one gender over the other resulted in a made-up disease called cooties. Now it has resulted in a made-up liberation movement known as feminism.

In the world of feminism, clothing is not a reflection of a person’s character. It’s just a fashion choice. That argument falls all to pieces of course when some guy decides to wear cut off jean shorts, Crocs and a Hillary for Prison shirt to the next Planned Parenthood black tie affair.

Clothing really can reflect a person’s character. If you walk outside with hardly anything on, it doesn’t matter what you tell yourself, you are telling the world to look at your “good stuff.” And there is nothing at all classy about that. Parents, remember that the next time you send your daughter off to the mall in short shorts with something stupid like “Too cute” written on the back of them.

Some are sure to take that to mean that I’m blaming rape on the victims. Nothing could be further from the truth. Rapists are monsters. But feminists are often naive. And the two do not make for a good combination.

The world has enough half naked women in it. But there will never be enough women who go against the trendy yet still somehow antiquated ways of the world by sharing their minds and their talents, not their bodies, with the outside world.

But even for those who choose to go that way, there is still hope. Unlike most of the rest of the world, God’s love for you is based on his grace and not your body. Grace means that he offers true liberation by forgiving you of your sins, setting you free from the pressure to fit into some skirt and giving you a new identity in him.

If you don’t believe me, just find one of those “antiquated” books we call the Bible and read about how God rescued and worked through one of Jesus’ ancestors, a girl named Rahab.

And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? James 2:25 (ESV)

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The Last Days

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The last days are not near. They are not rapidly approaching. They are already here. Congratulations, you get to live in the last days.

I’m not saying that these are the last days because of something Obama said or because someone found a red heifer walking around Jerusalem. I’m saying that these are the last days because that’s what the Bible says.

When the Bible talks about the last days, it is referring to the period of time between the resurrection of Christ and his return. So when Jude says that, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions,” he’s talking about his own day. And ours. If you don’t believe me, turn on the news.

So what should we do? Well, there are a lot of options. You could do nothing. After all, the last days have lasted some 2,000 years now so who’s to say that they wont carry on for another few thousand years? Or you could devote your life to constant speculations about when Jesus will return and figure out how every major politician fits into the book of Revelation while you stock up on supplies and head for the hills with the rest of your followers.

Both responses are wrong.

Jude gave his readers better advice.

[20] But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, [21] keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21 (ESV)

Make disciples.

Pray.

Love.

Keep your attention on Jesus.

In other words, in the last days, keep doing what you should be doing anyway. As you do that, you can be certain that the rest of the world will keep doing what comes natural for them.

Disregarding God’s commands.

Mocking prayer.

Hating.

Never giving Jesus a second thought.

As we see our culture reject God in increasing ways, it’s easy for us to sit back and tell ourselves, “Just wait, they’re gonna get what’s coming to them.” Again, this is the wrong response. Yes, they will get what’s coming to them but we should be doing everything we can to keep that from happening. Here’s what Jude says to do.

[22] And have mercy on those who doubt; [23] save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. Jude 1:22-23 (ESV)

Show mercy.

Show mercy to those who doubt whether or not Jesus rose from the grave or whether he was born of a virgin. Be patient with them. Remember that God, not you, is the one who is in charge of their salvation so lay off the Facebook status updates in all caps reminding people of how right you are. If this is your typical method of evangelizing, you just might be helping the other team more than your own.

Show mercy to blatant sinners. Hate their sin. Love them. Don’t focus on one or the other. Regardless of what you tell yourself, if you don’t hate sin, you’re not really loving people. The two go together.

These are the last days.

The end is near, at least it’s nearer than it was this time yesterday.

Many Christians act as if the return of Christ is a contest. Whoever gets closest to predicting the actual date gets a golden street named after him in heaven. It doesn’t work that way. Instead of fooling around with charts and figuring out which presidential candidate is the AntiChrist, we need to be loving lost people. We need to be loving the church that we are committed to. And most of all, we need to be worshiping Jesus because we love him.

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Is Satan Okay With Your Church’s Christmas Eve Candlelight Service?

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Matthew had himself a good government job and he was well compensated for what he did. His job with the government, however, did not win him any popularity contests.

Simon was completely different. He hated the very government that Matthew worked for. He even belonged to a group known to assassinate some of those government officials.

Despite their differences, Simon and Matthew got along just fine. But how? What was it that made a government man and an anti-government man live side by side as brothers and play a part in changing the world?

Please forgive me for the Sunday School answer but here it is.

Jesus.

When Jesus’ earthly ministry began, he hand picked the least likely men to be his disciples. To put it in today’s terms, Jesus selected some guys from the cast of The Deadliest Catch, a crooked IRS agent and a guy who had Don’t Tread On Me tattooed on his forehead to leave their old lives behind and follow him. As different as all of these men looked, they still had a few things in common.

They all sinned. That sin may have shown itself in different ways but it was still there.

And, with the exception of Judas, they were all saved by a gracious and loving God.

Your church would do well to remember this. It’s Christmas time. Many churches, the good ones at least, are looking for ways to help families and entire communities. That’s a good thing. But it is possible for all of that hard work, donating and volunteering to be a complete waste of time.

There were times when Jesus sent his disciples out on specific, short missionary efforts. He never sent them out as individuals. There is no biblical evidence that he divided them up according to their political views. Even if they went out in groups of two, they went as one.

No matter how much good your church does this Christmas, it will all be overshadowed if the people in your church don’t love each other. If the pastoral staff and the deacons are fighting with each other, all of the fruit baskets in the world won’t cover it up. If the group of people in charge of decorating has it out for the group of people in charge of cleaning, your church (the body, not the building) will always be ugly.

The Christian call to unity is not a call to place our doctrine to the side so that we can all get along. Instead, it is a reminder that all true believers share one thing in common.

Jesus.

When we get a grasp of that, it somehow makes the petty things that divide us seem, well, petty.

On Tuesday, I heard a woman talk about how she was brought up in a Satanic household. For a portion of her life, she would visit evangelical churches with her mother. They weren’t there out of curiosity. They were there to infiltrate the church. The girl, who is now a believer, said that they weren’t just there to bring in false doctrine. They wanted to create instability within the church. According to her, this was done most often through gossip.

Gossip.

Not goat sacrifices.

Not weird chanting.

Gossip.

It could be that your church doesn’t need to be infiltrated by some Satanic organization. The gossip being spread by the so-called believers who are in the church are already doing a fine job on their own of creating instability.

If a church is unified under Christ, they won’t throw their doctrine out the window. They will however throw gossip out. Along with bitterness. And envy. And anything else the is contrary to the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Satan is not worried when your church serves soup to homeless people this Christmas. Your high dollar Christmas play does not give Satan a bit of concern. Neither does your Christmas Eve candlelight service.

Just as long as the people holding those candles, singing those songs and serving that soup do not get along with each other. Satan feels right at home in such a place.

But when your church carries out its ministries with a spirit of unity, even between the lady with the government job and the guy with the Come And Take It sticker on the back of his truck, all hell shudders in fear.

I think that’s because Christians working together for the glory of Jesus Christ remind Satan, ever so subtly, of the eternal terror that awaits him.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Philippians 2:1-2 (ESV)

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Just Collecting Dust

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My great grandfather keeps to himself. He never says anything about politics, sports or religion. He’s a quiet man.

That’s because he died a long time ago.

Your faith works the same way. If you can keep your faith to yourself that’s usually a good indicator that your faith is dead. Now that doesn’t mean that if your faith is real you’ll be standing out at some intersection tomorrow morning holding a sign reminding us all that we’re going to hell. It does mean that genuine faith in Jesus Christ cannot at the same time be a private faith. Genuine saving faith always produces action.

So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. James 2:17 (ESV)

Last week the Internet got pretty peeved at Mark Richt, the former head coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. In his last meeting with his players he told them, “Life is about people, not rings. Rings collect dust.” One of the players tweeted out that quote and scores of college football fans whose emotional well being is directly linked to the Georgia Bulldogs hit the roof.

“That kind of talk might work for a pastor but this is football,” seemed to be the most common response. The idea there is that faith is fine on Sundays but not on Saturdays. Faith, many would tell us, cannot thrive in the real world where if you want to succeed, you do so at all costs. Just win, baby!

This sort of phony faith is great for making you feel better about yourself. It’s great for tricking you into believing that you won’t go to hell when you die. But it’s terrible at actually saving you.

Faith, if it is genuine, is not some buzz word we use to help us to get elected to a public office. It is not something that can be turned on and off as we desire. It is not merely the belief that whatever it is that you want is your God-appointed destiny.

Faith is trust. It is trust that Jesus is Lord and that he is enough to make you right with God. And faith doesn’t take up residence in some closet in your heart only to be brought out on Sunday mornings. If your faith can frequently be put to the side when it gets in the way of the really important things that you have to do, one of two things is just as dead as my great grandfather.

 

Your faith or the object of your faith.

The object of the Christian faith, Jesus Christ, is alive. And if you are really following him, your faith will be too.

So what about your faith?

Is it alive?

Or is it just collecting dust?

For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:26 (ESV)

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