Archive | January, 2014

What a Couple of Blind Men Saw

January 31, 2014

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Jesus heals two blind men - 19th century - Julius Schnorr

Jesus heals two blind men – 19th century – Julius Schnorr

I have read about an experiment where a bunch of bananas are hung at the top of a pole in a monkey cage. When the monkeys tried to climb up to get the bananas, they would get squirted with a fire hose until they were knocked off the pole. Eventually, the monkeys would quit trying to get the bananas.

The interesting thing happened when a new monkey was put in the cage and knew nothing about the water. The original monkeys would tackle him to keep him from climbing up the pole. Eventually, they trained that monkey to attack other new monkeys – and so on.

The occasion of Jesus healing the two blind men in Matthew 20:29-34 makes me think of that experiment. The experiment was used to illustrate the power of the crowd. If we let the crowd tell us what is possible, rather than go with what we know about ourselves, we will never be anything but what the crowd wants us to be.

I don’t know why the crowd was telling the blind men to be quiet. Maybe they were a crowd of Pharisees that were jealous. Maybe they were just the kind of people that want the unfortunate and homeless to stay out of sight. Either way, those blind men did not allow the crowd to tell them how to act.

How is it that a couple of blind men knew that Jesus was the Son of David? They were so sure about who he was and what he had done that …

  • they didn’t let a crowd of people with some other agenda get in their way
  • they didn’t make excuses about their disability
  • they were very specific in their request from Jesus

The blind men saw more that day than all the Pharisees put together – whose spiritual blindness kept them from the rewards that God promised.

The crowd wants us to remain like them. Stay in the dark. Stay ordinary. Depend on them.

Jesus wants us to be like him. Shine your light. Rise above. Depend on God.

What do you usually choose when faced with the choice of turning to God or going with the crowd?

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How God Treats His Laborers

January 30, 2014

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The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard - 1637 - Rembrandt (1606–1669)

The Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard – 1637 – Rembrandt (1606–1669)

Did you ever notice the order the vineyard master paid his laborers? I know you have read it, but did you really notice how he did it? (Matthew 20:8) When we read about the laborers in the vineyard, (Matthew 20:1-16) we see the early arrivers make a firm deal with the master. The people that came later leave it up to the master to pay them what he would.

What did the master have in mind when he paid the latecomers first – right in plain sight of the early arrivers?

The chapter 20 break gets in the way of the flow of the conversation here, but the group is still in a discussion about rewards from chapter 19. The disciples still had a lot to learn about the grace of God and just what it was they were laboring for.

If you felt a little pang of unfairness when you read the text, you are probably not alone. Our earthly lives teach us that we are supposed to get a day’s pay for a day’s work, but Jesus is warning us here that following him requires a new way of thinking. The old way of thinking creates the kind of Christian that…

  • Has been going to church all their life and is somehow more spiritual
  • Has been a member of a congregation since its beginning and has more authority than the new members
  • Gets angry when one clearly qualified becomes an elder or deacon when they haven’t “been around as long”

Jesus shed light on the contrasts of a bitter and petty laborer and one that put his trust in the master. We should use that same light to examine ourselves. Jesus’ goal for his church is that it operate as a smooth unit, one member just as important as the next. We are all trying to get to heaven, and we all need to be available to help others get there too.

What will you do this year to help a newcomer fit in?




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How to Get Your Money Through the Needle

January 29, 2014

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Christ and the Rich Young Ruler - 1889 - Heinrich Hofmann (1824–1911)

Christ and the Rich Young Ruler – 1889 – Heinrich Hofmann (1824–1911)

If the Bible doesn’t mention money more than any other subject, it certainly addresses it more than most other things that affect our spirituality:

  • You cannot serve God and money (Matthew 6:24)
  • She gave out of her poverty (Mark 12:41-44)
  • Be content with your pay (Luke 3:14)
  • Count the cost (Luke 14:28)
  • Your money perish with you! (Acts 8:20)
  • The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10)

… and lots more!

The rich young man found out that his money was going to block his access to eternal life. (Matthew 19:16-30) Notice that Jesus never said that having the money is what going to keep him out of the kingdom of God. What made entry impossible for the young man was his attachment to the wealth.

Prioritizing money is not just a problem for those that have gained excessive financial wealth. (I’ll leave it to you to define that.) It can be just as much of a hindrance for those of us with modest means and even those without enough. There is plenty that can be said about How to Get Rich and How to Get Enough, but Jesus made it pretty simple: you can’t be with God if he is not your priority! (Matthew 19:25-26)

What are some ways you can improve your money handling that glorifies God?



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Just How Merciful is God?

January 28, 2014

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Parable of the Wicked Servant - ca. 1620 - Domenico Fetti (1588–1623)

Parable of the Wicked Servant – ca. 1620 – Domenico Fetti (1588–1623)

I love how beautifully The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant sums up how important mercy and being merciful is in our relationship with God. (Matthew 18:21-35)

The sum owed by the servant was several times more than the annual revenue of most of governments at the time, so hopefully the listener was shocked into realizing how hopeless his own case is and how forgiving God is.

If you haven’t already, read the passage and look at how this parable is a parallel to our own salvation:

  • We are all servants of God
  • The unredeemed servants have a debt that cannot be repaid
  • Unredeemed servants fool themselves into thinking they have plenty of time to repay the debt
  • God’s grace is given to his servants without any merit on their part
  • A servant’s failure to act in the same way towards others will cause him to fall
  • God’s mercy is 100% revocable if we do not become – and remain – merciful and godly people

Having forgiveness for others might be tough for us sometimes, but we know that Christ went through a pretty tough time for our own redemption.

What was the last situation where you needed to be more merciful to someone?

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How to Beat Temptation

January 27, 2014

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Temptation of Christ - 16th Century - Simon Bening (circa 1483/1484–1561)

Temptation of Christ – 16th Century – Simon Bening (circa 1483/1484–1561)

Temptations are a part of life.

The Bible uses the word “temptations” either as “lures to sin” or “trials and tribulations”. For now I want to concentrate on the things that lure us into sinning.

Jesus taught us how to deal with temptation in short fashion:

“If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away…” – Matthew 18:8

When Jesus addressed our temptations to sin in Matthew 18:7-9, he didn’t leave a lot to the imagination, and he didn’t leave a lot of wiggle room to make excuses. For Jesus to use such a strong metaphor for dealing with the temptations in our lives, he meant for us to get drastic. He meant for us to remove the things that tempt us most in our lives – and remove them in a way that can’t be undone!

Let’s think just a minute on the major sources of temptations:

  • Our workplaces
  • Our family
  • Our friends
  • Our hobbies
  • Our habits

It is relatively easy to talk about giving up a hobby or changing a habit but …

What about changing who you call your best friend?

What about quitting your job?

What about cutting off a close relative?

These sources of temptations are the ones that we usually give each other leeway on when they are causing us trouble. But …

Should I really suggest that you find another job because it is keeping you out of church too much?

What Jesus says in Matthew 18:7-9 makes me think so.

I understand that we will never have complete control over the environment we live in, but we can certainly remove a large number of opportunities to sin. Sometimes only one or two changes is all we need to remove most of the temptation from our daily routine.

Personal challenge: What can you change in your life to remove a recurring temptation that you face?

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How to Slow Down the Leaven

January 24, 2014

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Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees - between 1886 and 1894 - James Tissot (1836–1902)

Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees – between 1886 and 1894 – James Tissot (1836–1902)

The idea of “leaven” is used in both good and bad ways in the New Testament, but it is most often used like it is in Matthew 16:5-12 where Jesus discusses the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

The two groups had formed a powerful and loud opposition to Jesus. Despite his miracles, teachings and the fulfilled, they were failing to recognize (or at least acknowledge) that Christ could possibly be the Messiah. They were making sure they kept doubt and denials fresh in the people’s minds. They attempted to discredit him by saying things like:

  • Elijah had not come
  • His signs were of the devil
  • He sinned against Jewish traditions
  • He violated the Sabbath
  • He ate with sinners
  • He was a glutton and drunk

This campaign against Jesus is a lot like what is still going on. People have placed themselves above following Christ’s simple gospel and are working overtime to get the masses to accept sin. They even approach it as if there is some moral imperative to be tolerant of even sinful behavior.

The points we can make from this event are a lot like what I posted in the No Longer Silent article – We have to be aware of those that are undermining the gospel. Just like the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the leaven of the liberal and sinful world will slowly consume “the whole lump”. We cannot remain silent or fail to take action when we see it in action.

Here is how we defend Christ against this so called leaven entering into the attitudes of Christians:

  • Know why certain behaviors are sinful
  • Know how to properly reference the Bible context that make an action sinful
  • Know the tricks they use to wrest the Scriptures’ meaning

What are some current issues for which you need to be better informed? (Both in scripture and the dissenting viewpoints)


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How to Demonstrate Faith

January 23, 2014

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Jesus exorcising the Canaanite Woman's daughter from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15th century.

Jesus exorcising the Canaanite Woman’s daughter from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15th century.

Every time I read the account of the Canaanite woman, the speech and actions from Jesus and the disciples makes me stop. (Matthew 15:21-28) At first glance it is all seemingly contradictory to the core message that Jesus has taught so far. To make it worse, the disciples elevate themselves above this woman for no other reason than her race. They have no reaction to the way Jesus spoke to her!

I wonder if the apostles thought back to this day when they began to realize the gospel was for all. The Jews were going to have to be retrained to think of all people as God’s children, and this is the beginning of that training. Jesus teaches us at least three things in this short passage:

Jesus demonstrates the importance of faith over any entitlements or preconceived notions. We know that God is no respecter of persons. (Acts 10:34) Wealth, race, beauty, nationality or any other human metric have no bearing with God.

Jesus demonstrates that it is important to maintain faith even when we feel like we are not getting what we need. Sometimes our faith wavers a little bit when we have tough times. Jesus gave the woman two opportunities to walk away empty handed, but her faith kept her there reasoning with him.

Jesus demonstrates that what he provides is more than enough. Jesus did not go back to the house to heal the daughter. He merely spoke the command to the woman that everything was going to be as she had asked. The woman went home without questioning that.

We have been left with enough evidence of God and what he wants from us through his word. It is up to us to protect and nurture the faith that comes from studying that evidence. (Romans 10:17) Our faith will be tested often in this earthly life, but those tests are what helps us grow, and have hope, when we learn to deal with them. (Romans 5:3-5)

What was your last test of faith and what improvement did it make on you?

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Consistent Faith

January 22, 2014

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Faith in God is how to avoid worry.

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee – 1632 – Rembrandt (1606 – 1669)

Did you ever notice that people need constant work to make their faith grow? You might have also noticed that there aren’t many that admit it. It is difficult to show others consistent faith through the thick and thin of life.

Even the disciples had to go through some rigorous training before they were on their own to spread the gospel. As Jesus walked up to them in the middle of a storm, on top of the churning water, they were afraid. They were afraid of Jesus and they were afraid of the wind and the waves. (Matthew 14:22-32)

By the time the event was over, the group – probably euphoric from amazement – were “believers.” (Matthew 14:33)

That was not the first miracle they had witnessed though. Just a few hours before, they had participated in the feeding of the five thousand.

Their biggest show of fear, or lack of faith, was yet to come – they were going to scatter in every direction when Jesus is arrested and put on trial.

This is the kind of thing that people do all the time. There is an ebb and flow of those that say they follow Jesus. Depending on the circumstances, they might or might not be full of faith on any given day. Every time Jesus said “Oh ye of little faith…” to the disciples, he was demonstrating his displeasure with them. That is the same boat we are in when we are not consistent in our faith!

What does it take for us to be more consistent? More study? More worship? It is probably different for all of us, so challenge yourself to grow. What one thing can you do over the next year to make that happen?

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To Tell the Truth

January 21, 2014

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Solome with the head of John - Caravaggio (1573–1610)

Solome with the head of John – Caravaggio (1573–1610)

Previously, in How to Earn Jesus’ Praise, we thought about John the Baptist’s steadfastness in teaching the truth. In Matthew 14:1-12, we get to see how he carried that steadfastness to his death.

The marriage of Herod to Herodias was unlawful in a number of ways and the Jews detested him for it. According to Josephus and others:

  • He was already married
  • She was his brother’s wife
  • She was his niece

While the Jews in general did not have the courage to deal with the situation, John made no bones about it. He went to prison for telling Herod he was in an unlawful situation. (Matthew 14:3-4) The truth in John’s mind was more important than his personal safety. He took a risk in a situation where he had enough influence to try to correct it.

We are hearing more and more about the same type of situation in the news. Those willing to speak up against sinful laws and celebrated lifestyles are finding themselves threatened with financial ruin and endure personal hardships as a result. Some businesses have even made it a condition of employment to remain silent about certain sins.

The odds are becoming quite favorable that each one of us will have to decide how to act in this scenario. This will be the big test of our own steadfastness. Can you look into a coworker’s eye and tell him you cannot go “have drinks” with him because you believe drinking alcohol is a sin? If not, how would you respond to a larger threat?

Based on the Biblical examples, we do not have permission to opt out of teaching others about what is sinful. Like John, Pricilla and Aquila, (Romans 16:4) and all the apostles, we have to teach the full counsel of God.

Now is a good time to practice not being “a reed in the wind.” As Christians we need to become mature enough – to be courageous enough – to say something when we see sin.

What if we start small and practice on those close to us? Most often, those are the ones who are willing to accept correction given in a loving way.

Do you have a situation where you could begin practicing?

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January 20, 2014

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Jesus teaching in the Temple, from the book Standard Bible Story Readers, Book Five (1928) Authors O. A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland

Jesus teaching in the Temple, from the book Standard Bible Story Readers, Book Five (1928) Authors O. A. Stemler and Bess Bruce Cleaveland

Matthew 13:58 makes me sad.

The people of Jesus’ hometown did not get the benefit of his blessings because of their unbelief. If you let that sink in and then read Hebrews 3, we see a similar statement at the end of that chapter:

” … they were unable to enter because of their unbelief.” – Hebrews 3:19

The children of Israel failed to enter the rest because of their lack of faith  – even after all of the signs and miracles they witnessed.

So many that were born and raised in a Christian family turn away from the God. They have been given the knowledge and lived the lifestyle, but they choose to believe something else.

They have been warned and God has turned away from them without offering a single blessing. Why bless them when there is no desire for blessings? Why fill needs when they think they don’t need anything?

There are so many in that precarious state right now – What are some things you can do to help the ones you know?




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It Takes “One Another” To Make a Strong Church

January 18, 2014

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Elders and deacons were prescribed and defined as an essential element in building a strong congregation of worshippers. The interesting thing about the qualifications of these positions (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5ff) is that they aren’t intended just for the leadership – all of them describe commandments and goals of Christians in general. (Obviously I am not talking about the ones related to marriage here.)

It takes everyone

Christianity involves one another more than self

Christianity involves one another more than self

Since every member of the church is required to grow and mature, (Hebrews 6:1-3) it follows that it takes every member working together to make a strong church. When I talk about a strong church, I am talking about just a few basic things:

  • The membership enjoys being together
  • Members are all inclusive and do not tend to clique
  • A high percentage of the membership meet at every opportunity
  • It is easy to find willing contributors
  • The focus is God and not the programs

There are no “perfect” congregations because the membership is made up of people. The point is that each one is doing everything they can to try to become perfect.

New Testament Examples of our Responsibility to “One Another”

Paul made extensive use of the idea that we are responsible for “one another” and depend on “one another.” In the context of strong Christianity, here are a few things he said about the people involved:

  • We should prefer one another (Romans 12:10 KJV)
  • We admonish one another (Romans 15:14 KJV)
  • We have forbearance for one another (Ephesians 4:2)
  • We are kind to one another(Ephesians 4:32)
  • We are forgiving to one another (Ephesians 4:32)
  • We are to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18)

The focus of Hebrews on the Membership

Since the whole point of Hebrews is to change the mind of the Christians backsliding to Judaism – or just outright falling away, the writer spoke directly to the membership to warn and remind them of the part they play in Christianity.

While leadership in the church is important, it is not the only thing required to keep a group together and motivated. It takes the involvement and example of each and every member of the body. As such, relying on one another is a recurring commandment in the New Testament, as I listed above, and as the Hebrews writer did in at least three places:

  • We are to exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13) – Christians are to rely on each other to get through our weaknesses and temptations. So many of our sins are hidden from our own eyes through their own deceitfulness.
  • We are to provoke or stir up one another to love and good work (Hebrews 10:24) – It is very difficult to attend a worship assembly of a close knit church and come away with no refreshment. The desire to know each other more and to work together grows at every meeting.
  • We are to encourage one another through our attendance (Hebrews 10:25) – It is impossible to be an influence to fellow Christians if we are not there to influence them! We should take advantage of every opportunity to meet with the saints, whether it is a scheduled formal worship or less formal opportunities to study and work together.

The church is not the preacher.

The church is not the leadership.

The church is each and every one of us. The strength of which depends on each and every one of us.

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How the World Attacks God’s Word

January 17, 2014

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Jesus at the House of the Pharisees - Tintoretto (1518–1594)

Jesus at the House of the Pharisees – Tintoretto (1518–1594)

As I make notes about the opening verses of Matthew 12, I see an amazing picture being drawn. With a quick reading of Matthew 12:1-8 this is what jumps out at me:

  • The Pharisees nitpicking Jesus actions
  • The Pharisees holding their interpretations of the law more sacred than the law itself
  • The Pharisees excusing David’s sinful actions but condemning Jesus’ perfectly legal actions
  • Jesus demonstrating his superior knowledge of the law
  • Jesus using logic to silence the Pharisees

The leadership of the Jews thought they had a pretty good excuse for resisting Jesus. I say they were in fear for their way of life. They had an opulent setup that had no future if Jesus really was the Messiah. It must be the nature of people to not want to change, because they sure haven’t changed yet.

The enemies of Christ are still around and they still fear for their way of life. They’re even using the same old tactics against him:

  • People nitpick Christians’ beliefs at every turn
  • People want to hold what they “feel” is right more sacred than God’s word
  • People are tolerant of sin but intolerant of obedience to God’s word

It is up to us to stand firm against those that are trying to bring down Christ. We are in charge of using our superior knowledge and logic to counter those who want to silence God.

Would you have known how to argue against the Pharisees in the Matthew 12:1-8 event? What can you change today to get better at defending God’s word?

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How to Make Jesus Thankful For You

January 16, 2014

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Jesus (on the left) is being identified by John the Baptist as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world", 17th century depiction by Vannini.

Jesus (on the left) is being identified by John the Baptist as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”, 17th century depiction by Vannini.

Previously, we looked at something that Jesus found praiseworthy – that being people willing to stand firm in claiming him and believing in him. There is also an attitude in people that Jesus was thankful for. In Matthew 11:25, he gave thanks for people that aren’t so vain about their wisdom and knowledge that they can take the time to believe in God.

This bit of scripture is often referred to as “The Great Invitation.” (Matthew 11:25-30) For those willing to listen, Jesus offers a life that no earthly “wisdom” can match:

  • He offers rest – a sinful lifestyle is difficult to maintain and leaves only sadness in the end
  • He offers sympathy – Jesus became one of us, so he knows exactly how we feel when we are troubled
  • He offers help – Jesus’ yoke will help us deal with much more than we can on our own

Answering Jesus’ call starts with two simple commandments:

  • Love God – Matthew 22:37
  • Love your neighbor – Matthew 22:39

When you have these two things down – living according to the rest of God’s law is easy.

What can you change in your life to make Jesus thankful for you?

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How to Earn Jesus’ Praise

January 15, 2014


John the Baptist - Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)

John the Baptist – Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519)

If Jesus ever gave a higher opinion of anyone than he did of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:7-19, I don’t know where to find it in the Bible.

I particularly like the question, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” (Matthew 11:7)

What Jesus noticed first and foremost in John was his steadfastness – Once he knew the truth, he never strayed from it. He never stopped asserting his message even when faced with prison and death.

The power of the world’s message today depends on Christians that can be bent every which way the wind blows.



Social drinking…

Immodest dress…

So many that claim to be Christian have softened their resolve against these sins and are willing to overlook them. Some go so far as to participate.

I realize it is difficult to stand firm against the world. The world will not be pleased with God’s word no matter how we approach it. Jesus proved that to us when he contrasted John’s and his lifestyles and pointed out the people mistreated them. (Matthew 11:18-19)

In the end, the ones that Christ will praise will be those who are not shaken by the winds of society. So, like Jesus and John the Baptist, let’s be strong enough to let “Wisdom justify her deeds” (Matthew 11:19b)

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No Longer Silent

January 14, 2014

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Calling of the Apostles - 1481 - Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494)

Calling of the Apostles – 1481 – Domenico Ghirlandaio (1449–1494)

In Matthew 10, Christ gives a complete set of instructions to the newly empowered apostles to carry out their first and limited commission. They were to only go to the Jews (Matthew 10:5-6) and were sent despite the personal danger that they were about to walk into.

I believe they concentrated on the Israelites as a way to counter the influence of the Sadducees and Pharisees, who were doing their best to discredit Jesus and lead the Jews away from notion that this was the Messiah. They could no longer remain silent against them.

Even though this was a special instruction meant only for the twelve, there is still a lot of application for us. The world is certainly doing its part to discredit Jesus these days, and this is something we have been given to work against.

In just a few verses, we can see what we should be doing:

  • Matthew 28:18-20 – The full commission to go into all the world, teaching and baptizing is given
  • 2 Timothy 2:2 – Follow the apostles example and teach others
  • Philippians 4:9 – Follow the example of Paul
  • Hebrews 2:1 – Don’t be neglectful of the word
  • 1 Peter 1:6-7 – Keep going even when it is challenging

If we remain silent, the noise of the world obscures Christ from honest seekers. This sample of instructions gives us the same responsibility against the world as the twelve had against the Jews.

I’m sure we all know someone that is receptive to the idea of Christ. What can we do to light their way to him?

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