When They Cry

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On Wednesday afternoon I had the privilege of picking up my sons from school. When they climbed into my truck, something wasn’t right. One son was his normal self. The other one was not. My parenting instincts kicked in. I asked if something was wrong. He said that there wasn’t. His answer did nothing to ease those nagging parenting instincts so I asked again. This time he said that he wanted to wait until we got home to tell me what was wrong. In private.

By this point, I really knew that something was wrong.

When we got home, I took him to the private place that he seemed to be longing for. When he sat in my lap, the tears poured out of him. And they came out loud.

He explained to me that another kid at school was mean to him earlier that morning. I could barely make out his words between the wailing. I thought about whoever the guy was who made up the saying about sticks and stones and words that never hurt. That guy  obviously never had anyone say anything mean to him. The words spoken to my son earlier that morning had broken his bones.

I let him cry and held him tight. When he got a little quieter, I told him to cry some more. “Get it all out, son. It’s okay,” I told him. And so he did.

When all of the tears were gone, we had a good talk. All of it, the mean words that morning, the tears that afternoon and our private conversation, were an answer to prayer.

Minutes before I picked up my kids that afternoon, I said a prayer. Sitting in my truck in the car line, I asked God to help me to be patient. I asked him to give me the right words to say to my sons. I asked for words of grace. God rarely answers our prayers the way that we expect him to.

Sitting there in that room with my sobbing son on my lap and my shirt wet from his tears, God gave me what I asked for. He gave me not only the words to say but the opportunity to tell my son what he needed to hear.

I told my son that looking like everyone else is a dead end game. I reminded him about his true identity in Christ. I let him know that part of being a man who leads and does significant things means that people will take shots at you for no good reason. I reminded him how much his family loves him and how much more Jesus loves him. It was good to see him smile at the end our our talk and cry session.

On his way out of the room, I thought about my own childhood.

I thought about wrestling magazines.

I used to get bullied a lot. Once, after a nasty encounter with one of the neighborhood bad guys, I ran into my room and looked at wrestling magazines while crying. I grew up in a single-parent family. My mom had to work. I had to spend a lot of time alone. As I looked at those magazines, I wished that Ric Flair could somehow jump out of the pages and give me a few pointers on how to put the figure four leg lock on that bully. It sounds crazy I know. But it’s not uncommon.

A lot of kids today are growing up without a father around. Or if their father is around, all he has to offer them is tough talk on getting over it and a plea to shut up with the crying. I do a lot of counseling for my job. There are a lot of young men who have sat across the table from me who had dads like that. Dads who gave them nothing when the world was giving them its worst.

Dads, there is a difference between whining and crying. Our kids need to know the difference. And so do we. Whining is what kids do when they don’t get their way. When kids whine, they need to be corrected in love and told to stop. Crying is what kids do when their world caves in on them. When they cry, they need to be held and told that it’s okay to cry. Keeping pain bottled up isn’t manly. It’s foolish and dangerous.

I’m glad that God answered my prayer the way he did that day. I hope that through his tears, my son could see what his father had looked for and not found in a wrestling magazine.

I hope that he learned that the world can be a mean place.

I hope that he remembers that sometimes it’s okay to cry, no matter how old or how manly you are.

And I hope that our conversation the other afternoon gave him a vivid reminder that when the tears do come, he is still being held by his Father.

For I, the LORD your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who say to you, “Fear not,
I am the one who helps you.” Isaiah 41:13 (ESV)

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Parenting Books And A Friend Like Keith

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Ten years ago, when I found out that I was becoming a father, I was a little scared. Growing up in a single-parent family, I wasn’t around a continual example of fatherhood. My mom was great but she couldn’t be a dad.

I taught myself how to throw a baseball and shoot a basketball. That didn’t end well for me. I didn’t even bother trying to teach myself how to change brake pads or replace a water heater. To this day, pretty much all I have to offer in that category is, “Lord, please keep my brake pads and water heater working properly.” So far, so good.

Fatherhood really worried me. I knew that I was supposed to be a godly father but I wondered if I really knew what that meant. Is it just a matter of going to church? Can I get away with just telling my kids, “If you can’t be good, be careful” when I drop them off at the skating rink? Do kids still get dropped off at skating rinks?

Keith Keller is the wisest man I know. He makes me think about things I otherwise wouldn’t. There’s no telling what kind of casual Christianity wasteland I’d be in if it were not for him. A lot of people can say that about Keith Keller.

When Keith found out I was going to be a dad, he gave me a call to congratulate me. And then he gave me some wisdom. It wasn’t that kind of, “Look here, boy, this is what you need to do” wisdom that a lot of people share without being asked. Keith was humble when he told me, in so many words, “Look, people are going to be telling you all kinds of stuff and recommending all of these books to you but here are two that I think you should read.”

The first book was called On Becoming Baby Wise. In some circles, saying that you followed what was written in that book is about like being caught with a copy of Mein Kampf. And in others, if you haven’t read Baby Wise, you need to be brought before some parenting court. People either hate that book or they belong to a cult where they worship it. It helped my kids learn how to sleep and, so far, they haven’t turned into serial killers so I’m thankful for it. Just not thankful enough to join a cult.

The other book was even more beneficial. It’s called Shepherding A Child’s Heart and it was written by Tedd Tripp. Once my kids learned how to get to sleep on their own, I quit thinking about Baby Wise. I’m ten years into parenting and I still haven’t quit thinking about Shepherding A Child’s Heart.

Most parents settle for some version of behavior modification whenever their kids start acting crazy. When little John Henry gets caught pouring paint all up and down aisle seven at Wal-Mart, John Henry’s mom goes nuclear in order to get him to stop. Once he does and she’s away from the scene of the crime, the problem is solved. Or so she thinks. Really, all she’s done is applied a bandage to a cancerous mole. It might look like the problem’s gone but it’s still there. And it’s deadly.

Shepherding A Child’s Heart, while certainly not neglecting the importance of discipline, encourages us to address the real root of the problem. Our kids do not simply have behavior problems. They have heart problems. They have a sin problem.

I’ll spare you the book report. If you are a new parent or you know someone who is, Tedd Tripp’s book is a must read.

I don’t remember most of the gifts that my wife and I got while we were expecting our first child. I’m sure that there were a lot of diapers involved. For that, I am thankful. Well, I was. Not so much now. Those days are gone. But I’ll always be thankful to my friend Keith Keller who gave me a couple of solid book recommendations. And I’ll always be thankful to God for giving me a friend like Keith Keller.

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I Don’t Belong Here

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I don’t feel at home here. More and more, I’m feeling like an alien. Or the uninvited guest who brought the bad potato salad to the picnic. I just don’t belong.

When I watched the debate on Wednesday night where Hillary Clinton justified the violent murder of a full-grown baby, I kept thinking about how I don’t belong here.

The following morning I saw political experts on major news channels support her serial-killer like description of partial birth abortion as if it were nothing more than a trip to the dentist’s office. It made me feel out of place in my own home.

When I realized that out of all of the people who could have been standing opposite of Mrs. Clinton to defend the cause of life, we are left with a reality TV star who just a few years ago voiced his support for partial birth abortion and just a few months ago praised Planned Parenthood, the very organization behind most of the abortions in this country, I really felt out of place.

Over the past year, I’ve looked to the church as a whole for relief. Sadly, when I see many of her leaders justifying the evil of one candidate because it is somehow lesser than the evil of another candidate, I really feel like an alien. Big name Christian leaders who I once admired for standing against the current have contorted scripture simply to see their candidate get into office.

I’ve never felt more out of place.

Minutes before Wednesday night’s debate, my son asked me a question. He wanted to know why the culture was getting so bad so quickly. He had just seen a commercial on TV that sort of put it right before his eyes. I don’t remember what I told him. I hope it was good. But I’ll never forget his question. It’s one I ask myself quite often.

I think often about how quickly our world has changed and how out of place I feel in it. And in a way, I hope that both of my sons feel the same way. As parents, we do all that we can to make sure that our kids fit in. In reality, we should be training them to do the exact opposite.

Some find their identity in a political party. When I look in that direction, I see groups of people who care nothing about me or the God I serve. All they want is to stay in power.

When I look to the church, more and more, I’m seeing a body that has lost its way. Relevance and pragmatism have taken the place of salt and light.

The more I read my Bible and look at the world, the less at home I feel.

I think that’s sort of the point.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14 (ESV) 

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Four Things To Remember Before Fear Consumes You

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Christians are not immune to frightening situations. But we do not have to be consumed with fear. If you are in Christ, here are four things that are true for you. They were true on the day that you became a Christian. They’ll be true the day after the elections.

Your reasons to trust in God are greater than your reasons to fear man. 

To the choirmaster: according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths. A Miktam of David, when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many attack me proudly.
When I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can flesh do to me?

Psalm 56:1-4 (ESV)

God’s justice is greater than man’s schemes.

All day long they injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk;
they watch my steps,
as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape?
In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

Psalm 56:5-7 (ESV)

The one who is for you is greater than the one who is against you.

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the LORD, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
What can man do to me?

Psalm 56:8-11 (ESV)

The God who lifts you up is greater than the grave that holds you down. 

I must perform my vows to you, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
in the light of life.

Psalm 56:12-13 (ESV)

When you feel overwhelmed by the evil schemes of man, just look to the character of God.

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Bad News

Just because the Olympics are over doesn’t mean that you can’t watch gymnastics on TV. All you have to do is turn on the news.

On Thursday morning I watched the folks on CNN contort themselves to make Hillary Clinton look better than she really is. It didn’t take too long until I finally had enough so I switched it over to Fox News. Over there they were doing backflips to try and explain away Donald Trump’s latest act of foolishness.

Christians are people of the truth. Being people of the truth in today’s climate requires quite a bit of work. If you care about finding out what’s going on in the world, you have to be your own editor.

That means that you can’t just listen to the people who only say nice things about your favorite candidate or political persuasion. If all they ever tell you is what you want to hear, you aren’t getting the full story. That’s the best case scenario. More than likely, you’re just being lied to.

A few years ago, I wrote for a small sports website. The website was owned by and named after a prominent athlete. Guess what the managing editor told us about the stories we wrote. Don’t say anything that could hurt the guy who signs the checks.

The major news networks are a lot like that. The only difference is that the checks are bigger and the people signing them are much more powerful and influential. That means that the major news network that pays it’s bills by attracting an audience of a certain political persuasion will not spend a lot of time covering a story that would make that certain political persuasion look bad.

That’s where your job as the editor comes in. You have to back up the stories you hear with your own research and facts you already know to be true. It’s not enough to believe something just because you wish it were true.

There is no doubt that CNN leans a bit to the left. But you don’t correct that by getting all of your news from www.billybobsconservitivehideout.tv. While we enjoy all of the benefits that come with having more access to information we have to remember the other side of that coin. More people have access to giving you their information. And they don’t care if it’s true or not. They just want your click. Or money. Or vote.

But you care more about the truth than any of those things.

As Christians, we should not only be concerned about the truthfulness of the information we receive but also the information we pass along. If our non-beliving friends on social media frequently find us posting articles about how Hillary and Donald spent the weekend playing cards with Tupac and Elvis, good luck trying to get them to believe you when you tell them about a man who was born of a virgin, rose from the dead and is coming back to earth.

If the truth matters, and it does, than we should make the effort to look for it rather than having some lesser version of it fed to us. And we should be careful not to put our name on something less than the truth.

“Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy.”

Joseph Pulitzer wrote those words on the wall of his newsroom.

Joseph Pulitzer died. Sadly, it appears as though his three word code of ethics for reporting the news died with him.

There are still shreds of accuracy left in journalism.

But you have to go looking for them because if reporters are too generous with their accuracy, it might not make the people who sign the checks too happy.

Be your own editor.

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A Political Warning For The Church

Silver Islet, Sleeping Giant / Sibley Peninsula, Ontario, Canada

There are a few people in my church who will be voting for Hillary Clinton. There are more who will vote for Donald Trump. And then there’s me. I’ll find someone else to vote for because I don’t like either candidate.

But I love the people in my church, regardless of who they’re voting for.

We really need to be careful. This election year has been more intense than any I have ever seen. The country is divided. It’s been divided for a while but the divisions are becoming more and more obvious. And if we don’t watch out, those divisions will find their way into our churches.

Two emotions seem to rule our political age. They are anger and worry. People are angry with the way that politicians are representing them. And for good reason. But inevitably, that anger toward a broken system usually redirects itself toward other people. We’re not just angry at Washington D.C. We’re angry with one another.

And we’re afraid. Some are afraid of what might happen if Hillary is elected and rules the country with her progressive agenda. Others fear the chaos of a nation led by President Trump.

With that in mind, the words Paul wrote to the Philippian church two thousand years ago seem like they were written this morning.

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Philippians 4:2 (ESV)

Some issue had divided these two Christian women. It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t simply tell them to figure out how to get along. And he doesn’t tell them to find some common interest that they can agree on. If he were writing it today, Paul wouldn’t tell these women to vote for the same person. Instead, he tells them to agree, “in the Lord.”

Everyone in our churches won’t vote the same. There will be people who have different opinions on education, state politics and who the next president should be. And not everyone will agree with the pastor’s political views. We shouldn’t want that. An assembly where everyone shares the same views on every single cultural issue is more like a cult than a unified body.

So the source of our unity will not be our politics. For the church, Christ is what binds us together. At the appropriate times, we can have discussions on school choice and Hillary and Donald. And we can agree to disagree. But we must always find agreement in the reality that Jesus Christ is the crucified and living God who died for the sins of his people and is coming again.

There’s another “in the Lord” phrase in this passage.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Philippians 4:4 (ESV)

The answer to your fear of Hillary is not found in Donald Trump. Your worries over a Trump presidency will not ultimately be relieved by a Clinton presidency. Yep, you guessed it. The remedy to our fears are found, “in the Lord.”

When we place our identity in a political party or candidate, consuming fear is a natural result. But when we realize that as believers our identity is found in Christ, we really start to respond to scary situations differently.

Instead of doubting God’s sovereign control, we worship him (Philippians 4:4).

Instead of lashing out at others, we treat them with grace and love, knowing that the Lord is always near (Philippians 4:5).

And rather than allowing ourselves to become consumed with fear, we take our concerns to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6).

That’s when we experience the peace of God (Philippians 4:7).

In just under a month, we will elect a new president. That new president will have a lot of power. But the next president of the United States will not have the power to heal fractured relationships. And that president will not have the power to bring genuine peace to our hearts and minds.

So, no matter our political differences, let’s remember to love each other. And let’s not believe those who profit from preaching a gospel of fear. Let’s not look to Hillary or Donald to give us what can only be found in the Lord.

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We Need Pastors Who Bleed The Gospel

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We need pastors who bleed the gospel. We don’t need pastors who are pawns of some political party. We don’t need pastors who get their marching orders from their favorite political websites and TV stations. We don’t need pastors who are too afraid of getting fired.

We need pastors who, when beaten and bruised by their opponents, bleed the gospel.

That means that we need pastors who are more interested in following the examples of the Old Testament prophets than they are in turning a profit at next week’s offering. These are the pastors who will say the hard things, the things that were once obvious but no longer are.

A funny thing happened after Sunday night’s presidential debate. The people at Fox News and the Drudge Report were telling me that Trump won. Meanwhile, the folks at CNN and MSNBC were saying that Hillary won. That’s the thing about our current political climate. Love it or hate it, it does have a way of exposing allegiances. Sadly, on both sides of the aisle, there are those churches and pastors who have been exposed for being more aligned to a presidential candidate than the gospel of Jesus Christ. And as a result, those pastors who are supposed to be speaking against evil end up swimming against the stream of scripture and common sense in order to keep their presidential hopeful propped up.

We don’t need pastors who act like pimps prostituting out their churches in order to give Hillary Clinton another campaign stop.

We don’t need pastors who consider it their duty to defend Donald Trump no matter what because, after all, his sins aren’t as bad as Hillary’s.

No, we need pastors who bleed the gospel.

Imagine if Hillary Clinton was your church secretary and she deleted a few thousand e-mails a week or so before being questioned by the police about some shady Internet dealings she’d been involved in. Most likely, she would be fired. But, for some reason, in the eyes of a lot of pastors, such actions do not disqualify her from being the president of the United States.

Imagine if your wife or daughter worked for Donald Trump. Imagine if she was the one he was talking to Billy Bush about assaulting all of those years ago. Would you still call it “locker room banter”? Would you still say it was just words? Not likely. What is more likely is that you would try to have him fired. But, for some reason, in the eyes of a lot of pastors, such conduct doesn’t disqualify him from being our next president. We’re not hiring a pastor-in-chief, they tell us.

One of the most disturbing things I have seen in my 41 years on this earth is the degree to which some church leaders will distort or even ignore scripture just to see their candidate elected.

For some, the fact that Hillary is a woman gives her the right to sanction the murder of babies under the banner of a woman’s right to choose.

For others, the fact that Donald isn’t Hillary gives him a free pass to do or say whatever he wants under the banner of making America great again.

Pastors, we have to be above this. We can’t scream, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” when one candidate blows it and call down fire from heaven to punish the sins of the candidate with whom we don’t agree. We must remain true to the scriptures. We must be consistent. But that’s hard to do when the blood of a political party runs through our veins.

We need pastors who bleed the gospel.

People won’t like it when you refuse to jump on one candidates bandwagon. I’ve been told that I’m what’s wrong with America. I’ve been told to stick to the Bible. It’s likely that we’ll hear worse. Don’t let that get you down. Never forget that preaching the word isn’t just done one day a week behind a pulpit.

We need pastors who bleed the gospel. Every day of the week.

That means that we need pastors who love the Trump supporters and the Clinton supporters while simultaneously opposing the godless policies and actions of both candidates. That’s easier said than done. Refusing to just play along and wave the flag of a political party or candidate might get you run out of town. It might lose you a few church members. Offerings may go down.

But that’s okay. Jesus called you to be a shepherd, not a hireling. A shepherd risks everything to protect the sheep. A hireling only looks out for his own interests and takes off running when the heat gets too thick.

Pastor, one day you will stand before Jesus to give an account for your life and ministry. You will not be questioned about whether or not your were liked? You will not be questioned about how appreciated you felt. You will not be questioned about what you did to swing the balance of the Supreme Court.

In so may words, you will get a question sort of like this one.

Did you bleed the gospel?

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. James 3:1 (ESV)

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Teachers, Never Stop Displaying Christ!

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Recently, I was informed of a new directive from a local school district. It had nothing to do  with how much homework teachers can give. It focused more on what teachers can hang on the walls of their classrooms. Or wear around their necks. Or have written under their name on the e-mails they send out.

Teachers in this particular school district, right smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt, are being told that they are no longer allowed to display crosses, prayers, Bible verses or even angels in a place where others might see them. But, on the bright side, teachers are allowed to keep a religious symbol in their desk or filing cabinet as long as no one else sees it. Gee, thanks, government!

Yet again, those in power wishing to suppress the free exercise of religion have gotten it all wrong, at least in regards to Christianity. Yes, Christians sometimes hang crosses on our walls. Some of us put angels atop our Christmas trees. We even decorate our homes with Bible verses. But the heart of our faith runs deeper than that. Our faith is one of devotion, not decoration.

So what should you do if you’re a Christian teacher who has committed the terrible crime of displaying the Lord’s Prayer in your classroom? Is it somehow a compromise of your faith if you obey your power-hungry overseers and take the cross off of your wall and put it in your drawer?

The answer to that question rests in the other place where you choose to display your Bible passages. You see, the government can tell you to take your favorite Bible verse down off of their wall. But they can’t make you take it down from your heart.

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11 (ESV) 

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not arguing for Christians to keep their faith private. A faith that is always kept private is a dead faith (James 2:14-26). I’m arguing for quite the opposite, really.

When you became a Christian, the Holy Spirit took up residence within you. And, more than simply receiving a Get Out of Hell Free Card, you were given the power to live in obedience to the commands of Christ. Paul calls it the fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV)

While some of your colleagues may simply be drawing a paycheck and counting down the days until Christmas break, you have an opportunity here. You know that kid that all of the other teachers hate? Love him with the radical love of Christ. When racial tensions spill out into the cafeteria, be an agent of peace for the glory of Christ and the good of those under your care. While the state’s curriculum focuses on teaching kids how to put condoms on bananas and calling it health, teach them instead what is good. Teach them self-control. Model gentleness. And do it with patience and faithfulness.

To put it another way, the state can use its power to make you take a religious display off of your wall but there is nothing they can do to keep you from displaying the real, risen Jesus through your life. Do your job with excellence for the glory of Jesus Christ. And if one of your bosses tells you to stop doing that, remember who your real boss is. And if it costs you your retirement, remember the real inheritance that awaits you.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23-24 (ESV)

Here’s something you can count on. At some point, tragedy will strike your school. I wish it wasn’t that way but it is. It might be an automobile accident or a national catastrophe. It may lead to an empty desk in your classroom or few unplanned days out of school. Either way, tragedy will come. Count on it.

And when it does, the same state that told you to take down your cross will send in their grief counselors to counsel kids and their families. But their thoughts and godless prayers won’t be able to help. Anyone who has abandoned the truth of the gospel ultimately has no hope to offer to those in need. But that doesn’t take away the pain of those in need. So guess where those hurting hearts are going to turn?

You.

The teacher who was forced to take the cross down from your wall but who absolutely refused to remove its impact from your heart and your words and your actions.

Anyone can put a cross on a wall. But only a truly devoted follower of Jesus Christ lives with that cross at the center of everything. As you do that, something is happening.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:16 (ESV)

That light shining through you is not your award-winning personality or superior teaching abilities. Let’s face it, we all have our days. No, the light is Jesus himself.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12 (ESV)

Remember, they can take the display of Jesus off of your wall but they can’t take him out of you.

In what sound like something straight out of George Orwell’s 1984, the school district is telling teachers and other employees to inspect properties in case any religious symbols got overlooked during the initial cleansing. And then there is the reminder that these properties are under the ownership and control of the government.

That may be true of the walls in your classroom but it is not true of you. You are under the ownership and control of Christ. So let the government inspect you all they want to. Just so long as when they do, they find Christ.

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:27-29 (ESV)

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