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Archive | Spiritual Growth

What should I do with Philippians 3:14?

Recently I joined a First Place 4 Health online small group for prayer, Bible study, and accountability. Our activities include a weekly Scripture memory verse. This week – our first week – we were challenged to memorize Philippians 3:14.

Philippians 3:14I taped the Scripture card to my desk where I can see it all the time and began to work on it. But soon I began to have questions. I needed to know more about the verse. If I’m going to work to “hide God’s Word in my heart” then I need to know its meaning, its truth, so I can understand it and apply its principles to my life.

First, I needed to understand the context. So I backed up and read the entire third chapter of Philippians. Paul began by addressing a false teaching plaguing the Gentile believers in Philippi. Jewish Christians were pressuring them to be circumcised. Paul passionately reminded the Philippians not to place in any value in works or accomplishments. Instead they must focus on Christ and push forward to God’s purpose for them.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:14, NIV

Once I had the basic context, the specific verse prompted three questions I wanted to answer. So back to the larger context to find my answers!

  1. What is the “goal” I’m to press toward?

My “goal” is to be all Jesus saved me for and wants me to be (Philippians 3:12) – including experiencing the resurrection of the dead (Philippians 3:11) and receiving my glorified body (Philippians 3:21).

2. What is the “prize” God has called me to?

Our “prize” is glorious! Here are the things I found:

  • To know Christ – and that’s priceless gain! (Philippians 3:8)
  • To have Christ (Philippians 3:8)
  • To become one with Christ (Philippians 3:9)
  • To experience Christ’s mighty power (Philippians 3:10)

3. What does it look like to “press on?”

“Pressing on” requires discipline, diligence, and determination. It’s a lifelong process of following Christ in trust and obedience. Here are a few specifics I found in chapter 3.

  • I must get my priorities straight – Jesus over earthly things (Philippians 3:8)
  • I must trust in Christ’s ability to save and not my own abilities (Philippians 3:9)
  • I must focus on my sanctification (Philippians 3:12)
  • I must not dwell on past failures – or successes – that would keep me from moving forward (Philippians 3:13)
  • I must “dethrone” my earthly appetites and enthrone Jesus (Philippians 3:19)

Wow! There’s a lot of punch behind that one little verse. These 20 words reflect a lifetime of faith and discipleship. I’d say that’s worth taking to heart.

How do you feel about memorizing Scripture? Do you find it too hard? Are you working on a passage now? If so, I’d love to hear what it is!

Want to memorize Philippians 3:14? Print this Scripture memory card to help! (Click on the photo below to access the printable PDF.

Philippians 3:14

Want some help memorizing God’s Word? Here are some Scripture Memory resources to check out:

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6 Things You May Not Know about Apostle Paul

Apostle PaulI thought I knew him. I’ve followed his ministry. And over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time reading his writings. But recently, I realized I didn’t know as much about the Apostle Paul as I thought.

While studying Paul’s life for my latest Bible study, I discovered several “new” things about the apostle of grace. Of course they were there all along; I had simply overlooked them. Maybe some will be new to you too.

6 little-known facts about Paul

  1. Paul didn’t jump right into long-term ministry (Galatians 1:13-18) – In my mind, Paul met Jesus on a dusty road, spent three days fasting in Damascus, regained his eyesight, then jumped right into ministry to the Gentiles and never looked back. But a closer examination of Scripture tells a little different story. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote he “went immediately into Arabia (Galatians 1:17).” In fact, he didn’t return to Jerusalem for three years (Galatians 1:18). What did Paul do during all this time in Arabia? Many scholars feel this may have been a spiritual retreat for Paul, a time to reconcile everything he knew from the Old Testament Scriptures with his new reality in Christ. In Arabia, Paul could immerse himself in the reality of his Savior and focus on learning and growing in preparation for ministry.
  2. Paul’s nephew saved his life (Acts 23:12-35) – After Paul’s arrest by a Roman commander in Jerusalem, 40 Jewish men bound themselves in an oath to not eat or drink anything until they had killed Paul. The Jewish leaders agreed to help them by petitioning the Roman commander to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin for questioning. The assassins planned to attack Paul during the transfer. But the son of Paul’s sister heard of the plot and reported it to Paul at the Roman barracks. When Paul told a centurion, the Roman commander ordered a detachment of almost 500 guards to move him to Caesarea under the cover of night.
  3. Saul’s name was not changed to Paul (Acts 13:6-9)– During the biblical account of Paul’s first missionary journey, Luke writes: “Then Saul, who was also called Paul…” (Acts 13:9). From this point forward, Luke only refers to the apostle as “Paul.” This shift does not reflect a name change, as has often been said, but rather a conscious decision on Paul’s part to use a name he already had. Since Paul was a Roman citizen, he would have been given three names at birth. The third – Paul’s Latin name – was a better fit for the predominately Roman environment. “Saul the Pharisee” chose to be known as “Paul, citizen of Rome.”
  4. God gave Paul more than he could handle (2 Corinthians 1:8-11) – Paul and his companions suffered such extreme pressure during a particular situation in Asia they “despaired even of life.” Scholars aren’t sure what event Paul referred to in these verses, but it was a situation so dire Paul believed he and his companions might die. He saw no way out of the life-threatening situation. And indeed, without God’s miraculous intervention, they would have perished. When all human hope was lost God delivered them by His grace through the prayers of the believers (2 Corinthians 1:11).
  5. Paul visited heaven before his death (2 Corinthians 12:1-10) – God gave Paul a glimpse of heaven during his early years as a believer, perhaps during his time of spiritual retreat in Arabia (Galatians 1:17). Paul didn’t know if he had been physically transported or was there in spirit. But he saw and heard “inexpressible things.” Pride would be the natural sinful response to an experience like this, but pride and conceit have no place in God’s servant. Therefore, God allowed something into Paul’s life to foster humility – a “thorn of the flesh.”
  6. Paul felt deserted by everyone but God (2 Timothy 4:9-18) – Throughout Paul’s ministry he suffered trials and persecution for the sake of Christ. He was stoned, beaten, imprisoned, shipwrecked, and betrayed. He often went without food, sleep, and shelter. During his Roman imprisonment, he also felt alone with no other person to support or defend him. Demas left him because he loved the world. Alexander did him “a great deal of harm.” Yet through it all, the Lord stood with him. Paul was comforted and strengthened by God’s powerful presence.

I would love to sit down with Paul and hear all his stories, find out all those things not recorded in Scripture. Perhaps he would recount all the Gospel victories and tell me more about the suffering he endured for the name of Christ. Pain and struggle may have marked his life, but God’s lavish grace sustained him every moment.

Was one of these facts about Paul new to you? If so, which one? Do you know any other little-known facts about Paul?

This article first appeared on www.Crosswalk.com on July 15, 2016.

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Spiritual Junk Food

Spiritual Junk FoodYesterday, in the grocery store, I made some poor choices. The Super Bowl was my primary excuse. My husband’s requests ran a close second. But much of the junk food also happened to be my favorites.

Nothing required any preparation and met the requirement of having “plenty of snacks for all four quarters.” Chips. Hot wings. Jalapeno poppers. Ice cream. Popcorn. You know, football food.

Instead of buying real food and committing to the effort I know must accompany it, I bought frozen, pre-made, easy-to-fix, nutritionally lacking junk food. Sadly, the only benefit that kind of food can give is momentary pleasure.

As I loaded my selections on the checkout counter I thought about two things. First, I knew I would regret my “food” choices on Monday. And second, I thought about how often I make the same mistake with my spiritual health. I resist the effort it takes to feast on the nutritional meat of God’s Word and instead binge on spiritual junk food.

The author of Hebrews addressed a similar issue with his readers:

There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.  Hebrews 5:11-14, NLT

These “Peter Pan” Christians didn’t want to grow up. Their diet of spiritual milk temporarily relieved their spiritual hunger. Contentedly skipping along on the surface of their faith, they took in the same basics over and over. They refused to put forth the disciplined effort that spiritual growth and maturity requires. They took the easy path instead of working to ingest the rich, healthy meat of God’s Word.

We often live the same way, filling the holes in our spirits with mere baby food, or even spiritual junk food. We play in the shallows and talk about how great the water is when we could – and should – be in over our heads.

Examples of Spiritual Junk Food

Spiritual junk food sits eye level on the shelf. It’s easy to grab for a quick bite. Here are a few examples:

  • Quick devotional thoughts based on a small passage pulled out of its context
  • Visually pleasing memes with an inspiring, spiritual-light slogan
  • On-the-run prayers substituted for time on our knees

Characteristics of Spiritual Junk Food

While a few things on the spiritual fast-food menu can give some benefit – I enjoy a beautiful meme as much as the next person – they should be appetizers or snacks, not the basis for our spiritual diet. Evaluate your spiritual diet by reflecting on these characteristics of spiritual junk food:

  • Gives quick, but fleeting spiritual satisfaction
  • Lacks deep, real spiritual value
  • Provides a “feel good” spiritual high with no correction, challenge, or call to obedience

Our spiritual health requires preparation, hard work, discipline, and persistence. If we want to be spiritually mature, we must train ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7-8). We can’t microwave spiritual growth.

How’s your basic spiritual diet? Is there some junk food in your diet you weren’t even aware of?

If you’d like to evaluate your discipleship check out this post.

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Is Your Past Pointless or Purposeful?

purposefulWhen you look back on your life, do you feel it to be full of things and events that are pointless or purposeful? Is it all just random or is everything in some way relevant?

Our lives are collections of life experiences, education, relationships, griefs, trials, wins, losses, failures and successes. We may see some – or much of it – as a waste. Pointless. But nothing in our lives that we may see as a twist, turn, or detour was a surprise to God.

God doesn’t waste anything. What we may see as “bad,” God wants to use for our good. What we may see as a difficult random road to nowhere, God sees as a purposeful path. A purposeful path He has forged to lead us into the future He has for us.

When God saves us, He doesn’t merely save us from our sins and an eternity separated from Him. He also saves us into a purposeful life serving Him.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10

He works in and through everything in our lives to shape us, equip us, and prepare us for His purposes. For instance, God uses all our trials and difficulties of life to refine and grow us spiritually. He works through them to make us the people He can use for His glory. (See 1 Peter 1:6-7.) He uses our background, education, experiences, and passions to shape us into the tool He needs for the works He has prepared for us.

No matter how random your past road may look to you, it’s God’s purposeful path to His future for you. If you aren’t sure what God wants for your life now, look back. Review see where He has taken you and what He’s allowed into your life.

Your past can bring clarity to your future. Do you see it?

 

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What is the Unpardonable Sin?

unpardonable sinHave you ever worried that you’ve committed the “unpardonable sin?” That one thing Jesus won’t or can’t forgive? Even though I’ve been a Christian a long time, I still sin regularly. A selfish thought. A careless, hurtful word. Or something even more harmful. So, is it possible for me – or you – to commit the unforgivable sin? How can we know if we have?

Jesus is the One who warns us about this unforgiveable sin (Mark 3:20-30 and Matthew 12:22-32.) “Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28-29).

Jesus defined this “eternal sin” as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Greek word translated as “blasphemy” means “to speak contemptuously of God; to speak evil of God.” And the grammar in this passage shows continuous action. But we need more than this definition to really get a handle on the unforgiveable sin.

The context of the two Bible passages that contain Jesus’ warning helps us tremendously. In fact, right after His declaration in Mark, the Gospel writer clarified with this: “He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.”

Jesus had been performing miracles, including freeing many people from possession by evil spirits. The “teachers of the law” refused to acknowledge His power came from the Holy Spirit and instead claimed His power came from Satan. Jesus showed them the foolishness of their “logic.” How can Satan drive out Satan?… If Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come (Mark 3:23, 26).

These teachers of the law were committing the unforgiveable sin. They refused to acknowledge the power and work of the Holy Spirit, and in fact, gave Satan the credit.

A post on BillyGraham.org helps us understand this concept:

The sin of the religious leaders, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, was a refusal to accept the witness of the Holy Spirit to who Jesus was and what He had come to do, and then submit their lives to Him. Jesus said concerning the Holy Spirit, “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). They chose rather to reject the Spirit’s witness to their sin and to Jesus, and accused Him of being demon possessed!

 Once again, the unpardonable sin is not some particularly grievous sin committed by a Christian before or after accepting Christ, nor is it thinking or saying something terrible about the Holy Spirit. Rather, it is deliberately resisting the Holy Spirit’s witness and invitation to turn to Jesus until death ends all opportunity.

The unpardonable or unforgiveable sin (blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) is a continual rejection of the identity, authority, and work of the Holy Spirit. In the Jewish leaders’ case, the deliberate rejection of the HS’s work through Jesus. Someone commits the unpardonable sin only when they continually reject the Holy Spirit’s conviction of sin and His invitation to receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ. If you are a believer, you have already accepted the Holy Spirit’s invitation.

 

 

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3 Quiet Time Cautions

Quiet timeWe are five days into the New Year. Five days into starting fresh. And, for many Christians, five days into working toward a new set of spiritual goals. Perhaps you even set some goals and strategies for a regular quiet time.

Regularly on this blog and when I speak, I encourage believers to “train themselves for godliness.” This website offers dozens of free tools and resources to help. Including quiet time tips. But today, I want to go to the flip side of the coin and share some words of caution about quiet time.

3 Cautions for Your Quiet Time

  1. Don’t do all the talking – Why do many of us always talk more than we listen? It’s a bad enough habit with our friends and family, but it’s far worse with God. Yet, often we allow prayer to become a one-way conversation. We end up talking at God instead of with Him. Honestly, this is a struggle for me. I have to remind myself to listen, to sit quietly and allow the King of the universe to speak. And isn’t it amazing that He does?!
  2. Don’t be unprepared – It is not unspiritual to plan and prepare. Jesus told His disciples to count the cost of following Him. Paul wrote to Timothy that he must “train Himself for godliness.” Both teach us that we must be purposeful and diligent in our discipleship and spiritual growth. Keep your tools – Bible, pen, journal, etc. – together and at hand, ready to go each morning. And have a Bible reading plan. Dropping open your Bible and pointing your finger is haphazard at best.
  3. Don’t succumb to legalism – This point does not contradict caution #2. Our goal should be to be prepared but flexible. I am a list maker who loves to check off the boxes. Too many times, I have found myself rushing through my Bible reading so I can check off the day’s box. Or I felt guilty when I missed a day of quiet time. Legalism in our quiet time robs us of its joy and inhibits the intimacy we long to have with God. Let’s keep our goals in mind, but let’s also follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to “get off script,” and give ourselves some grace when life gets in the way.
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Discipleship Resources for 2017

Discipleship ResourcesDid your purposeful commitment to spiritual growth fall by the wayside some time during 2016? Maybe your time in God’s Word became sporadic. Maybe your prayer time dwindled. Well, there’s no better time to renew your commitment to discipleship and recommit to your time with God than the New Year. This post is chock full of discipleship resources, tips, and tools to help you get started and keep going all year.

A Place to Start

The following four posts/tools will help you figure out where you are spiritually and where God is leading you in the New Year.

  • Discipleship Evaluation Tool – honestly evaluate your current spiritual condition. This tool covers 17 different key discipleship areas. Your weakest areas of 2015 can be great growth areas in 2016.
  • Spiritual Goals Worksheet – Planning is not “unspiritual.” Living a life that glorifies God will not happen by accident. This tool walks you through specific areas of discipleship such as time with God, ministry, service, and Christian education to help you set New Year goals.
  • Setting goals for spiritual growth – These five tips will help you set doable, personal discipleship goals that will keep us growing through the year.
  • 3 Steps to Create a Hunger for the Bible – Do you long to hunger for God’s Word but right now your desire is limited?

General Discipleship Resources

The following posts each offer a collection of resources and tools to help you meet your goals.

Specific Discipleship Helps

This last group of resources focuses on a specific area of discipleship like quiet time, prayer, Bible reading, or Scripture Memory.

I hope these resources will help you meet your 2017 spiritual growth goals. I’d love to hear from you about how God is leading you to step out in the New Year!

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5 Tips for Setting Spiritual Growth Goals for 2017

2017 Spiritual GoalsThis time of year, many of us reflect on the condition of our lives. We may evaluate the health of our bodies, our relationships, or our work situation. We may even “resolve” to change things. But if we’re really serious about improvement, we will set some goals and establish a plan to move forward. But have you ever considered doing the same with your spiritual health? The New Year is the perfect time to do some “spiritual evaluation” and set some goals for spiritual growth.

We can’t cause our spiritual growth. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to transform us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). But God does expect our obedient and active cooperation (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). One way we can purposefully “train ourselves to be godly” (1 Tim 4:7-8) is through spiritual evaluation and goal setting.

This post includes both a “Discipleship Evaluation” tool and a “Spiritual Goals Worksheet” for you to do just that. But keep in mind, resolutions and goals are often hard to keep. Statistics show that, at best, only 46% of New Year’s resolutions are still kept six months into the year. People lose their resolve quickly because they set unattainable goals.

First, use this free Discipleship Evaluation form to honestly evaluate your current spiritual condition. This tool covers 17 different key discipleship areas. Your weakest areas can be great growth areas in 2017.

Next, set spiritual growth goals using the five tips below. Planning is not “unspiritual.” Living a life that glorifies God will not happen by accident. This free “Spiritual Goals Worksheet” walks you through specific areas of discipleship such as time with God, ministry, service, and Christian education.

Most importantly, ask God to guide you as you evaluate your spiritual health and set goals for growth. He will bring the spiritual transformation as you strive to live a live that pleases Him.

5 Tips for Setting Goals for Spiritual Growth

The following five tips will help us set personal discipleship goals that will keep us growing through the year:

  1. Concentrate your efforts. Set just one, two, or three goals at a time. Don’t spread yourself too thin. When you experience success then add another goal.
  2. Be realistic. Set attainable goals. If you don’t read your Bible regularly now, don’t set a goal to read the entire Bible in three months. Instead commit to read it 3 to 5 times per week.
  3. Think concretely. Set goals so progress can be measured. For instance, this goal is too ambiguous: I’m going to spend more time with God. Instead be concrete: I will read one Bible chapter and pray for 10 minutes five times a week.
  4. Include strategies. Develop strategies designed to move you toward your goals. If one goal is to memorize Scripture, determine how you will do that. What verses you will memorize? How often you will tackle a new one? What memorization techniques you will use?
  5. Create manageable steps. Break your overall goal into a series of smaller goals that are doable and will foster success.

Be sure to come back by on Monday for a resource list to help you meet your goals!

How do you feel about setting spiritual goals? Have you ever set spiritual goals in the past?

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5 Reflection Questions for 2016

2016 ReflectionWith a new year just days away, it’s the perfect time to reflect on the year just ending. But why bother to look back? Shouldn’t we forget the past and focus on what lies ahead? After all, we cannot change what has already happened. We can’t go back. We can only move forward. In fact, didn’t the apostle Paul tell us to forget what is behind? Here’s his words from his letter to the believers in Philippi:

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Paul did not mean we should never reflect on the past. In fact, earlier in the chapter, he had done just that. (See Philippians 3:4-6 and check this post for more.) His point in verses 12-14 was that he refused to allow anything in his past to foster a false sense of “arrival.” Dwelling on past spiritual “accomplishments” would only lull him into inactivity. Instead, he committed to continue moving towards spiritual maturity with determination.

Reflecting on what God has done in our past can help us see His continued path for us. The clearer picture we have of what He has been doing, the better sense we can have of where He is taking us next.

5 Questions for Purposeful Reflection on 2016

  • What trials and difficulties has God brought me through this year that He may want to use to comfort and encourage someone else who will go through similar circumstances?
  • What learning or training experiences did God bring into my life that could be His preparation for future areas of ministry?
  • What new people have crossed my path in 2016 that God may want me to develop a relationship with?
  • What major life change or event occurred in 2016 that God may want to use as a crossroads for a new direction?
  • What has God taught me about Himself this year – Who He is and how He works – that needs to impact my relationship with Him and others?

My 2016 has been full of significant life events – some joyous and some painful. My husband Wayne and I have already done a lot of reflecting, talking, and praying about how it all impacts what God wants to do with us in 2017. Some major changes seem to be coming in the near future. (Stay tuned!)

I pray God will give you insight and wisdom as you take time to reflect on the past 12 months. May He also grant you clear direction for the year ahead. Happy New Year!

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3 Potential Dangers in Over-Celebrating the Trump Win

Trump winFor almost a week now, Christians across America have been celebrating the Trump win. And yes, if he follows through on his campaign promises, America could see a positive shift in many important principles.

I also long to see things like a stronger military and conservative Supreme Court judges, but I am concerned about the response to the election I’ve seen from many Christians. Since last Tuesday, praise, conservative high-fives, and victory laps have filled social media. It was as if believers had placed all our hope for the future in getting a republican in the White House.

But Trump cannot heal America. No man – or woman – can. Yet I see this prevailing attitude among Christians that we must “take back” American for God. It seems we’ve forgotten that the United States of America does not equate with the Kingdom of God. So why do we spend so much time and energy trying to conform the world to “godly values?” That is not the mission Jesus gave us.

Sometimes Christians get so distracted trying to conform the culture around us we lose sight of our prime directive. Our God-given task is to take the Gospel to the world (Matthew 28:18-20). To implore the world to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

The world needs Jesus, not dogmatic diatribes about right and wrong. Yet we expect non-Christians to share our standards, values, and viewpoints. When they don’t, we sometimes try to force them to accept and live by our Christian standards and worldview.

A “Christian America” won’t save the world. A conservative in the White House is not the answer to our country’s problems. In fact, “over-celebrating” this Trump victory may actually create a few problems.

3 Potential Dangers in Over-Celebrating the Trump Win

  1. Harm the Gospel –So many of our social media posts are divisive. Because Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton sincerely believe in liberal principles and values, our “celebration” fosters an “us against them” mentality. The world will simply close its ears to anything else we have to say. We have ruined any opportunity we might have to share the message of Christ.
  2. Handicap the Church – God’s people have a tendency to focus on the temporary and physical rather than the eternal and spiritual. But it’s nothing new. The disciples even asked the risen Christ if He was about to “restore the kingdom to Israel” (Acts 1:6). Trump’s temporal “victory” could easily distract us from our real mission. A republican president might be a cultural victory for conservatives, but it is not a spiritual victory for the Gospel. Our mission is NOT to shape the culture or build a “Christian” nation. Our mission is to share Christ with a lost world.
  3. Hinder our Growth – An American return to conservative principles could easily make us spiritually lazy. The more the culture looks like the church, the less incentive we have to conform to Christ-likeness. And a victorious attitude drops our guard. We may fail to purposefully “watch and pray,” always pushing forward toward our real goal.

This country does not have to be a “Christian nation” in order for God to fulfill His purposes in the world. Let us reveal Christ and share the life He alone offers. Simply Christ and Him crucified. America needs Jesus. Not a Christian political agenda.

 

 

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