Paul Madson


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6 Principles for How to Argue When You Disagree

You may have noticed that I have a newly updated design on my blog – all thanks to my son, James Madson (JM Designs)! It was a timely and much appreciated gift from him for Christmas this last year. Thanks James!

One important update – there is a new “Search” feature now included which allows a person to search the past eight years’ worth of blog posts by topic, author, scripture or word. 

I found these 6 principles from Tim Keller timely and helpful… both in our interactions within the Church and among secular culture. They remind us that we as Christ-Followers are to interact with people that we may disagree with in a way that integrates biblical wisdom and grace.

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” (Colossians 4:6 ESV)

6 Principles for How to Argue When You Disagree
by Andy Naselli

Here’s what Tim Keller writes in an extended callout in Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City:

All Christian movements must be based on commonly held biblical truths, and yet they must be characterized by trust and a willingness to unite around central truths and accept differences on secondary matters that—in the view of ministry partners—do not negate our common belief in the biblical gospel. On the one hand, we must realize that if we are going to maintain a healthy movement over time, we have to engage in direct discussion about any doctrinal errors we perceive. On the other hand, we must engage in such a way that we show great respect for the other party and aim to persuade them, not just punish them.

How can this be done? I suggest the following principles for “polemics”—contending over doctrine—that is seasoned in tone and strategy by the gospel itself. As I’ve read a number of respected Christian authors over the years, I have distilled a few “rules of engagement” that I believe can keep us from either avoiding polemics or engaging in it in a spiritually destructive way.

1. Take full responsibility for even unwitting misrepresentation of others’ views. In our Internet age, we are quick to dash off a response because we think Mr. A promotes view X. And when someone points out that Mr. A didn’t mean X because over here he said Y, we simply apologize—or maybe we don’t even do that. Great care should be taken to be sure you really know what Mr. A believes and promotes before you publish. This leads to a related rule.

2. Never attribute an opinion to your opponents that they themselves do not own. Nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Archibald Alexander stated that we must not argue in such a way that it hardens opponents in their views. “Attribute to an antagonist no opinion he does not own, though it be a necessary consequence.” In other words, even if you believe that Mr. A’s belief X could or will lead others who hold that position to belief Y, do not accuse Mr. A of holding to belief Y himself if he disowns it. You may consider him inconsistent, but this is not the same as implying or insisting that he actually holds belief Y when he does not. A similar move happens when we imply or argue that if Mr. A quotes a particular author favorably at any point, then Mr. A must hold to all the views held by the author. If we, through guilt by association, hint or insist that Mr. A must hold other beliefs of that particular author, then we are not only alienating him or her; we are also misrepresenting our opponent.

3. Take your opponents’ views in their entirety, not selectively. A host of Christian doctrines have an “on the one hand/on the other hand” dimension about them—and without both emphases we can fall into heresy. What if we find Mr. A making what appears to be an unqualified statement that sounds very unbalanced? If that is all Mr. A ever said about the subject, it would be right to conclude something about his position. But what if Mr. A has been speaking or writing these statements to an audience that already believed certain things, and therefore he was assuming those points of doctrine without stating them? At minimum, we must realize that Mr. A simply can’t say everything he believes about a subject every time he speaks. We should not pull out certain statements by Mr. A while overlooking or actually concealing explanations, qualifications, or balancing statements he may have made elsewhere.

4. Represent and engage your opponents’ position in its very strongest form, not in a weak “straw man” form. This may be the most comprehensive rule of all in polemics, because, if you adhere to it, most of the other policies and principles will follow. Do all the work necessary until you can articulate the views of your opponent with such strength and clarity that he or she could say, “I couldn’t have said it better myself.” Then, and only then, will your polemics have integrity and actually have the possibility of being persuasive—which leads to our next point.

5. Seek to persuade, not antagonize—but watch your motives! John Calvin was a Reformer in Geneva, Switzerland. His comrade in this work was William Farel, who was outspoken and hotheaded by temperament. At one point, Calvin wrote Farel a letter in which he urged Farel to do more to “accommodate people”—i.e., to seek to persuade them, to win them over. Calvin then distinguished two very different motivations for seeking to be winsome and persuasive: “There are, as you know, two kinds of popularity: the one, when we seek favor from motives of ambition and the desire of pleasing; the other, when, by fairness and moderation, we gain their esteem so as to make them teachable by us.”

The Farels of the world believe any effort to be judicious and prudent is a cowardly sellout. But Calvin wisely recognized that his friend’s constant, intemperate denunciations often stemmed not from a selfless courage, but rather from the opposite—pride. Writing to Pierre Viret about Farel, Calvin said, “He cannot bear with patience those who do not comply with his wishes.”

In short, it is possible to seek to be winsome and persuasive out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. We may be winsome in an attempt to be popular. It is just as possible to be bold and strongly polemical out of self-centeredness rather than God-centeredness. And therefore, looking very closely at our motives, we must take care that our polemics do not unnecessarily harden and antagonize our opponents. We should seek to win them, as Paul did Peter, not to be rid of them.

6. Remember the gospel and stick to criticizing the theology—because only God sees the heart. Much criticism today is filled with scorn, mockery, and sarcasm rather than marked by careful exegesis and reflection. Such an approach is not persuasive. No one has written more eloquently about this rule than John Newton in his well-known “Letter on Controversy.”

Newton states that before you write a single word against your opponent “and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing.” This practice will stir up love for him, and “such a disposition will have a good influence upon every page you write.” Later in the letter, Newton writes:

“What will it profit a man if he gain his cause and silence his adversary, if, at the same time, he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made? … Be upon your guard against admitting anything personal into the debate. If you think you have been ill treated, you will have an opportunity of showing that you are a disciple of Jesus, who “when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not.”

Newton also reminds us that it is a great danger to “be content with showing your wit and gaining the laugh on your side,” to make your opponent look evil and ridiculous instead of engaging their views with “the compassion due to the souls of men.”
The fourth principle above is especially important. Compare what Keller says earlier in the book:

  • The first step in active contextualization is to understand and, as much as possible, identify with your listeners, the people you are seeking to reach. This begins with a diligent (and never-ending) effort to become as fluent in their social, linguistic, and cultural reality as possible. It involves learning to express people’s hopes, objections, fears, and beliefs so well that they feel as though they could not express them better themselves. (p. 120, emphasis added)
  • Directly address and welcome nonbelievers. Talk regularly to “those of you who aren’t sure you believe this or who aren’t sure just what you believe.” Give several asides, even trying to express the language of their hearts. Articulate their objections to Christian doctrine and life better than they can do it themselves. Express sincere sympathy for their difficulties, even as you challenge them directly for their selfishness and unbelief. (p. 308, emphasis added)

Related: “How Should You Relate to Fellow Christians When Your Consciences Disagree about Disputable Matters?”, ch. 5 in Conscience

Wisdom from Proverbs

One of the things that God used in my life as a young teenager (and brand new Christ-follower) was being given a copy of The Living Bible (a paraphrase of the Scriptures by Ken Taylor). It was the early 1970’s and the only Bible I had used up to that point was the old King James Version.

For a Jr. High student who loved sports more than school – and a poor reader too – slogging through the KJV was tough for me to understand. Then I was given a copy of The Living Bible – and I began to read the book of Proverbs. Wow!

I began to underline and highlight verses – and Scripture came alive to me in a whole new way (then, on my 15th birthday, I received from my parents my much beloved NASB Bible that I still use to this day).

I encourage young people – older Elementary age, Jr. High, High School & College age, in particular – to read the book of Proverbs regularly and take to heart the wisdom that is contained there.

The Apostle Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that…

“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (NASB)

This includes the book of Proverbs… which is profitable for “teaching, reproof, correction, for training in righteousness.”

Recently I was skimming through my old copy of The Living Bible (pictured above) and I was reminded again of the verses that impacted me throughout my early teenage years. Here are a few verses from Proverbs that were very impactful for me (from Proverbs chapters 10-16).

I would encourage everyone to consider reading through the book of Proverbs every month (one chapter each day – 12 times a year). It will allow this wisdom literature to sink deep within our hearts. And if you have young children (or grandchildren), consider sharing some of these proverbs with them.

Don’t talk so much. You keep putting your foot in your mouth. Be sensible and turn off the flow! When a good man speaks, he is worth listening to, but the words of fools are a dime a dozen. Proverbs 10:19-20 (TLB)

A wise youth makes hay while the sun shines, but what a shame to see a lad who sleeps away his hour of opportunity. Proverbs 10:5 (TLB)

Hatred stirs old quarrels, but love overlooks insults. Proverbs 10:12 (TLB)

A wise man holds his tongue. Only a fool blurts out everything he knows; that only leads to sorrow and trouble. Proverbs 10:14 (TLB)

Anyone willing to be corrected is on the pathway to life. Anyone refusing has lost his chance. Proverbs 10:17 (TLB)

The Lord hates cheating and delights in honesty. Proud men end in shame, but the meek become wise. A good man is guided by his honesty; the evil man is destroyed by his dishonesty. Proverbs 11:1-3 (TLB)

To quarrel with a neighbor is foolish; a man with good sense holds his tongue. A gossip goes around spreading rumors, while a trustworthy man tries to quiet them. Proverbs 11:12-13 (TLB)

Without wise leadership, a nation is in trouble; but with good counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14 (TLB)

Your own soul is nourished when you are kind; it is destroyed when you are cruel. Proverbs 11:17 (TLB)

To learn, you must want to be taught. To refuse reproof is stupid. Proverbs 12:1 (TLB)

A fool thinks he needs no advice, but a wise man listens to others. A fool is quick-tempered; a wise man stays cool when insulted. Proverbs 12:15-16 (TLB)

Some people like to make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise soothe and heal. Proverbs 12:18 (TLB)

Pride leads to arguments; be humble, take advice, and become wise. Proverbs 13:10 (TLB)

An empty stable stays clean – but there is no income from an empty stable. Proverbs 14:4 (TLB)

Before every man there lies a wide and pleasant road that seems right but ends in death. Proverbs 14:12 (TLB)

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words cause quarrels. Proverbs 15:1 (TLB)

A quick-tempered man starts fights; a cool-tempered man tries to stop them. Proverbs 15:18 (TLB)

A sensible son gladdens his father. A rebellious son saddens his mother. Proverbs 15:20 (TLB)

Plans go wrong with too few counselors; many counselors bring success. Proverbs 15:22 (TLB)

Everyone enjoys giving good advice, and how wonderful it is to be able to say the right thing at the right time! Proverbs 15:23 (TLB)

A good man thinks before he speaks; the evil man pours out his evil words without a thought. Proverbs 15:28 (TLB)

If you profit from constructive criticism, you will be elected to the wise men’s hall of fame. But to reject criticism is to harm yourself and your own best interests. Humility and reverence for the Lord will make you both wise and honored. Proverbs 15:31-33 (TLB)

We can make our plans, but the final outcome is in God’s hands. Proverbs 16:1 (TLB)

We should make plans – counting on God to direct us. Proverbs 16:9 (TLB)

How much better is wisdom than gold, and understanding than silver! Proverbs 16:16 (TLB)

It is better to be slow-tempered than famous; it is better to have self-control than to control an army. Proverbs 16:32 (TLB)

Life is but a Breath – Making the Most of 2017

“When you come to the end of your life and have nothing but death to look forward to and nothing but memories to look back upon, what will you need to see to determine that your life was significant and well spent?”

Recently I taught on the brevity of life and what matters most – and how we as followers of Christ can (and should) focus our life in the new year. Below are a few quotes and thoughts from my message (to access video and audio of the message, click here):

Augustine, one of the great leaders of the early church, once said:

“Asking yourself the question of your own legacy – What do I wish to be remembered for? – is the beginning of adulthood.”

“Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath.” (Psalms 39:4-5a | NIV84)

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.” (James 4:13-14 – NASB)

One of the questions that I have asked myself dozens of times over the past few decades – and I would encourage you to ask yourself this same question – is this:

“When I come to the end of my life and have nothing but death to look forward to and nothing but memories to look back upon, what will I need to see to determine that my life was significant and well spent?”

Augustine, in his classic book Confessions, reminds us of where real life is found.

“You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You.”  – St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430)

Augustine reminds us that it is a God-centered life – not a me-centered life – that is ultimately most satisfying. He reminds us that life is not ultimately about you – or me. It’s about God.

“Teach us to number our days…so that we may present to You a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12 – NASB)

“Live life, then, with a due sense of responsibility, not as men who do not know the meaning and purpose of life but as those who do. Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days.” (Ephesians 5:15-16 – Phillips Translation)

“Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 – NASB)

How we spend our time is how we spend our life.

“Doest thou love life? Then don’t squander time. For that’s the stuff life’s made of.” (Scottish Poet and Novelist Sir Walter Scott – 1771-1832)

The late Dallas Willard, well-known Christian author and former head of the Philosophy Department at the University of Southern California, said:

“Feelings make excellent servants, but terrible masters!”

The habits that you and I practice on a regular basis will shape our future (for good or bad) as much, if not more, than anything else in life.

Human beings, when left to themselves, do not naturally drift toward health and success.

Grace is opposed to earning, not effort!

“…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7-8 – NASB)

“Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:12-14 – NASB)

“My son, if you will receive my sayings, and treasure my commandments within you, make your ear attentive to wisdom, incline your heart to understanding; for if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the LORD, and discover the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:1-5 – NASB)

Anne Ortlund, wife of Ray Ortlund Sr. (both of whom have gone home to be with the Lord), wrote the following many years ago about the importance of spiritual disciplines:

“What major lesson have I learned over the years? That Spirit-motivated disciplines facilitate the Christian walk. Oh, I’m not discounting all the warm feelings along the route, when I’ve sung Jesus-songs and held hands and the rest. But our sensuous age forgets that feelings come and feelings leave you, but the disciplines of life are what get you to where you want to go.”

I love the title of one of Eugene Peterson’s classic books: A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

As you look to this new year, ask yourself this question:

What habits (or disciplines) do I want to begin to implement in 2017 that will help me to “focus” my spiritual life and grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ?


Early on in my Christian walk (this was back in the mid to late 70’s) I read a book by Calvin Miller – a well-known pastor and Christian author. The title of the book was That Elusive Thing Called Joy. It was later re-released in the mid-80’s by NavPress under the title: A Taste of Joy: Recovering the Lost Glow of Discipleship. It had a huge impact upon my life – in particular, the following quote:

“Many disciples would like the happiness that comes from discipline, but they also want to avoid the hard work. Millions of us believers do not take our Christianity seriously simply because discipleship is rigorous and tiring. We drift from service to service, studying only enough to keep a little self-respect with our peers. We have misinterpreted disciple to mean “convert.”

“No lazy student ever felt good on report-card day. But countless serious students feel great when they receive good marks because they have been industrious.

“Never have there been so many disciples who did so little studying. Yet in our age the proliferation of Christian resources for study is astounding. Books are everywhere. It is only in recent history that we have had such time and resources. In spite of this, our day is plagued by hordes of miserable Christians whose pitiful study habits give them few victories and much frustration. Serious students will develop dynamic minds and a confident use of the gifts God has given to them.

“Consistent joy is mind-first rather than mood-first. While everyone likes to be in a good mood, it is treacherous to try to build anything stable for Christ solely on the basis of our moods.

“…Conversely, consider Christianity. Many adults know little about the Bible. The preacher is not thought of as a teacher but as a devotionalist. His job is not to educate but to “inspire.” Sermons are constructed more often to elicit some emotional response than to stimulate thought. In some churches logic seems to cease completely.

“If this judgment seems harsh, one has merely to probe the surface to demonstrate its truth. Any one of the recent questionnaires given to church members indicates that among those who attend regularly there is widespread ignorance of Scripture. On one such poll, many could not name four of the apostles, and few could quote more than one verse from the New Testament. Some even thought “epistles were the wives of apostles.”

“The title of a Christian folk musical may be an indictment against us—Natural High. The implication is that Jesus is the “trip of a lifetime.” And that the emotional plateau we can reach with Jesus is greater than one with cocaine.

“Many Christians are only “Christaholics” and not disciples at all. Disciples are cross-bearers; they seek Christ. Christaholics seek happiness. Disciples dare to discipline themselves, and the demands they place on themselves leave them enjoying the happiness of their growth. Christaholics are escapists looking for a shortcut to nirvana. Like drug addicts, they are trying to “bomb out” of their depressing world.

“There is no automatic joy. Christ is not a happiness capsule; he is the way to the Father. But the way to the Father is not a carnival ride in which we sit and do nothing while we are whisked through various spiritual sensations.”



Quotes to Note – New Year 2017

“Jesus Christ knows you completely. Why would you ever run from someone who knows everything about you and still loves you?” (Colin Smith)

“As pain tells us of the need for healing, worry tells us of the need for prayer.” (Richard Lovelace)

“If I am growing spiritually, that means I am becoming more bothered by my offenses than I am by yours.” (Scott Sauls)

“The more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you.” (Tim Keller)

“No amount of regret changes the past. No amount of anxiety changes the future. Any amount of grateful joy changes the present.” (Ann Voskamp)

“It’s one thing to be grateful. It’s another to give thanks. Gratitude is what you feel. Thanksgiving is what you do.” (Tim Keller)

“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art… It has no survival value; rather it’s one of those things which give value to survival.” (C.S. Lewis)

“Secular liberals have moved from denouncing religious intolerance to embracing an irreligious intolerance of their own.” (Nicholas Kristof)

“When I lay down on the floor in prayer, face down, it’s hard to look down at anyone or judge them. We all need God’s grace.” (Jack Miller)

“Worship more than you worry.

Listen more than you launch.

Reflect more than you react.

Love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with your God.”

(Scotty Smith)

“Christian suffering is meaningful. There is a purpose to it, and if faced rightly, it can drive us like a nail deep into the love of God and into more stability and spiritual power than you can imagine.” (Tim Keller)

“Resolved: to follow God with all my heart.

Resolved also: whether others do or not, I will.”

(Jonathan Edwards)

“Christians believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. Materialists believe in the virgin birth of the cosmos. Choose your miracle.” (Glen Scrivener)

“What we take as darkness is really light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all, God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us, whatever men may do to us. They cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer – writing this from prison, during Advent, while awaiting execution from Hitler)

“God’s love is his most amazing trait, and likewise should be his followers’ most evident mark.” (Tim Keller)

“God’s grace has forever freed us from needing to prove our righteousness and our worth.” (Paul David Tripp – from his devotional, New Morning Mercies)

“You will face loss, trouble, and disappointment, but nothing has the power to separate you from your redeemer’s unrelenting love.” (Paul David Tripp – from his devotional, New Morning Mercies)

“We don’t really ‘hold a grudge.’ Grudges coil around us like boa constrictors and slowly crush the life out of us.” (Scotty Smith)

“Christmas means not just hope for the world, despite all its unending problems, but hope for you and me, despite all our unending failings.” (Tim Keller – from his new book Hidden Christmas)

“At any moment in time, God is doing 10,000 different things in my life and I’m aware – at most – of three or four of them.” (John Piper)

“Having a sense of being loved deeply by Christ allows us to forgive when someone wrongs us because we can afford to be generous.” (Tim Keller)

“When amazing realities of the gospel quit commanding your attention, your awe, and your worship, other things in your life will capture your attention instead. When you quit celebrating grace, you begin to forget how much you need grace, and when you forget how much you need grace, you quit seeking the rescue and strength that only grace can give.” (Paul David Tripp – from his devotional, New Morning Mercies)

“The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.” (Max Lucado)

“People are messy; therefore, relationships will be messy. Expect messiness.” (Tim Keller)

“Our theology is like a skeleton. A necessary foundation, but if it’s the only thing visible about our faith, we are malnourished or dead.” (Scott Sauls)

“As followers of Christ, we are…rooted in the love of God, standing in the grace of God, hidden in the Son of God and ruled by the throne of God.” (Scotty Smith)

“Nobody made a greater mistake than the one who did nothing because he could do so little.”

“Worship, like love, is mostly a choice that leads to a feeling, not a feeling that leads to a choice.” (Matt Papa)

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” (C.S. Lewis)

“Remember that if you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will.” (Greg McKeown, from Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less)

“Don’t believe everything you think. You cannot be trusted to tell yourself the truth. Stay in the Word.” (Jerry Bridges)

“What is spiritual discipline? It is a practice undertaken with the aid of the Spirit to enable us to do what we cannot do by human effort.” (Dallas Willard)

“We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment.” (C.S. Lewis)

“The gospel insults us before it dazzles us.” (Jack Miller)

“I am fully persuaded that on the last day, there will be countless brothers and sisters in Christ, unknown to the annals of history, many of them illiterate or semi-literate, who have been starved, maligned, beaten, imprisoned, mocked, and finally killed (“the world was not worthy of them,” Hebrews 11:38), brothers and sisters who never enjoyed one day of spotlight ministry, who will be given the crown of martyrs never earned in spotlight ministries.” (D.A. Carson)

Hidden Christmas

Matt Smethurst, Managing Editor of The Gospel Coalition, recently interviewed Tim Keller about his brand new book Hidden Christmas.

Here are a few questions from the interview with selected excerpts from the answers (click here to read the full article):


Tim Keller wants you to stop underestimating Christmas

By Matt Smethurst

Why is Christmas “the most unsentimental, realistic way of looking at life”? 
The Bible doesn’t say “from the world a light has dawned” but “upon the world a light has dawned.” The point is that the world is a dark place that needs salvation to come from outside of it. This means the end of cheery statements like, “If we all pull together, we can make the world a better place.” No, we can’t. We don’t have what it takes. This is a clear-eyed, realistic approach to our problems. It’s not rah-rah optimism. Yet it’s not pessimistic either, because there is hope, and a certainty that God will eventually destroy all evil.
Neither the god of moralism nor the god of relativism would have bothered with Christmas, you observe. Why not?
Moralism is essentially the idea that you can save yourself through your good works. And this makes Christmas unnecessary. Why would God need to become human in order to live and die in our place if we can fulfill the requirements of righteousness ourselves? Relativism is essentially the idea that no one is really “lost,” that everyone should live by their own lights and determine right and wrong for themselves. The “all-accepting god of love” many modern people believe in would never have bothered with the incarnation. Such a god would have found it completely unnecessary.
What can we learn about the difference between closed-minded doubt and open-minded doubt from contrasting Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1?
There’s a kind of doubt that really is seeking more information—that “wants” to believe if it’s possible. There’s also a kind of doubt that really is looking for a way out, that doesn’t want to believe or submit, that’s looking for a way to keep control of one’s own life.
This is a wonderfully nuanced approach to doubt. The Bible doesn’t view doubts as always rebellious, nor does it encourage people to live in doubt perpetually. That’s why we’re told to “be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22). 

How Christianity Flourishes


I wanted to share a timely article from author Jared C. Wilson that I found to be hopeful and encouraging. Enjoy!

How Christianity Flourishes
By Jared C. Wilson

Christian mission has always thrived by surging in the margins and under the radar. When we somehow get into positions of power, the wheels always come off. This is pretty much the way it’s always been. I once heard Steve Brown relate this story on the radio: “A Muslim scholar once said to a Christian, ‘I cannot find anywhere in the Qur’an that it teaches Muslims how to be a minority presence in the world. And I cannot find anywhere in the New Testament where it teaches Christians how to be a majority presence in the world.’”
Indeed, as Christianity spread throughout the first few centuries as a persecuted minority people, the conversion of Constantine paved the way for its becoming the official state religion of the Roman Empire by the end of the fourth century. That’s quite a turnaround for some backwater sect splintering off an oppressed Palestinian Judaism. But as my old religion professor in college, M. B. Jackson, used to say, “When everyone’s a Christian, no one is.” And once Christianity became the official religion, the church lost its prophetic voice and its vibrancy.
Many religions, like Islam for example, seem to thrive on conquest and power. Christianity grows best under hardship. Christianity is in decline in America, and Christendom is already in ruins in Europe, but in the East and in Africa, where it is new, a grassroots movement, and/or under persecution, it is spreading like wildfire. I sometimes wonder if God has set the growth of Christianity to work this way to keep in the forefront of our minds the treasure and glory of heaven over and above the treasure and glory of earth. Jesus sets the tone for Christians’ quiet mission this way:
Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt. 6:1–4)
Unlike other religions, where good works are central to success, Christianity proclaims the glory of Jesus Christ and his work, and the good works of his followers become the beautiful dust stirred up in our following him wherever he goes. Christians are not earning their salvation with their good deeds; they are working it out (Phil. 2:12).
Since Christians believe that the work of salvation is already accomplished by Jesus, and there is nothing left for them to do to contribute to this work, they are now free to unselfconsciously love and serve others without worrying about recognition or reward. They will be vindicated in heaven, even if they are violated here.
Christians are called to good works. This is how people know we are Christians. But they also know we are Christians—and not charitable Buddhists—because we don’t make good works our boast.
(This is an excerpt from Unparalleled: How Christianity’s Uniqueness Makes it Compelling)
Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. 

Quotes to Note – October 2016


“The burdens of this day aren’t bigger than the shoulders of our God.”

“Bad discipleship: Giving God a place in our story. Gospel discipleship: Taking our place in God’s story.” (Scotty Smith)

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it, including you.” (Anne Lamott) #Sabbath

“Nazi death camp survivor Viktor E. Frankl (1905-1997) wrote, ‘Happiness [is] the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.’ This explains why so many of us aren’t happy – we’re our own biggest cause, the most important people in our lives. And we’re way too small and powerless to create or sustain our own happiness.” (Randy Alcorn, from his latest book Happiness – page 172).

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.” (Corrie Ten Boom)

“You get to decide whether you’re going to spend your one life trying to make an impression and look good —or make a difference and do good.” (Ann Voskamp)

“Life’s ultimate statistic is the same for all people: One out of one dies.” (George Bernard Shaw) #‎perspective

“The faint, far-off results of those energies which God’s creative rapture implanted in matter when He made the worlds are what we now call physical pleasures…What would it be to taste at the fountainhead that stream of which even these lower reaches prove so intoxicating? Yet that, I believe, is what lies before us. The whole man is to drink joy from the fountain of joy.” (C.S. Lewis)

“Worry is our way of inviting our fears to disciple us. A day of worry is more exhausting than a week of work.” (Scott Sauls)

“Mercy is the theme of God’s story. Mercy is the thread that runs through all of Scripture. Mercy is the reason for Jesus’s coming. Mercy is what your desperate heart needs. Mercy is the healer your relationships need. Mercy is what gives you comfort in weakness and hope in times of trial. Mercy can do what the law is powerless to do. Mercy not only meets you in your struggle, but guarantees that someday your struggle will end. Mercy is what this sin-broken world groans for. Mercy triumphs where justice can’t. If God offered us only justice, no one would run to him. It is the knowledge of his mercy that makes us honestly face ourselves and gladly run to him. And it is mercy that we will sing about and celebrate a million years into eternity.

I love the words of Lamentations 3:22-23: ‘The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’ Let these amazing words sink it. If you are God’s child, they describe your identity and your hope. They give you reason to get up in the morning and to continue. They enable you to face and admit how messed up you really are. They allow you to extend mercy to the failing people around you. And they allow you to be comforted by God’s presence rather than be terrified at the thought that he is near.” (Paul David Tripp, from his new devotional, New Morning Mercies – August 14)

“Everything is necessary that God sends. Nothing can be necessary that God withholds.” (John Newton)

“Whom have I in heaven but You?

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

(Psalm 73:25-26 – NASB)

“Moral stupidity comes in two forms: relativism & legalism. Relativism sees no principles, only people. Legalism sees no people, only principles.” (Peter Kreeft)

“Truth aims at love.

Love aims at truth.

Love shapes how to speak truth.

Truth shapes how to love.”

(John Piper)

Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Dr. Timothy Keller

I wanted to share about an excellent new book released by author and pastor, Dr. Timothy Keller. Matt Smethurst, Managing Editor of The Gospel Coalition, wrote the following about it on Tuesday:

“In Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (Viking) [20 quotes], Keller offers a prequel to his bestselling The Reason for God (2008). Whereas that book assumed interest in a rational case for the faith, Making Sense of God doesn’t. It starts farther back.

“Christianity makes more ‘emotional, cultural, and rational’ sense of our lived experience than any alternative worldview, Keller has long insisted. In The Reason for God, he made the rational case. In this volume, he tackles the other two.”

Author Timothy Keller made these additional points about the new book, and how it is differentiated from The Reason for God:

“My overarching point is that Christianity makes sense emotionally, culturally, and rationally. We come to believe in a universe without God—or with God—by consulting our emotions, relationships, and reason. Making Sense of God is actually a “prequel” to The Reason for God because it argues that Christianity makes sense emotionally and culturally. It shows that secularism has major problems giving people meaning, satisfaction, freedom, identity, and hope; Christianity has better resources for all of them. This does not, of course, prove Christianity is true. But it does make the case that if you really reflect on things, you should grant that it would be great if Christianity were true.

“If after Making Sense of God you’re motivated to explore the rational case for Christianity, you can move on to The Reason for God. In general, I’d say that younger non-believers need to hear why Christianity makes emotional and cultural sense before they’re willing to devote significant time to weighing the more traditional, rational arguments for our faith.”

20 Quotes from Making Sense of God
“Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov sarcastically summarized the ethical reasoning of secular humanism like this: ‘Man descended from apes, therefore we must love one another.’ The second clause does not follow from the first. If it was natural for the strong to eat the weak in the past, why aren’t people allowed to do it now? . . . Given the secular view of the universe, the conclusion of love or social justice is no more logical than the conclusion to hate or destroy. These two sets of beliefs—in a thoroughgoing scientific materialism and in a liberal humanism—simply do not fit with one another. Each set of beliefs is evidence against the other. Many would call this a deeply incoherent view of the world.” (42–43)
“All death can now do to Christians is to make their lives infinitely better.” (166)
“If there is no God, then either original matter sprang from nothing, or original matter has always existed without a cause, or there is an infinite regress of causes without a beginning. Each of these answers takes us out of the realm of science and the universe we know. They are nothing short of miracles.” (218)
“Jesus himself is the main argument for why we should believe Christianity.” (228)
“In the whole history of the world, there is only one person who not only claimed to be God himself but also got enormous numbers of people to believe it. Only Jesus combines claims of divinity with the most beautiful life of humanity.” (237)
“[These are] Christianity’s unsurpassed offers—a meaning that suffering cannot remove, a satisfaction not based on circumstances, a freedom that does not hurt but rather enhances love, an identity that does not crush you or exclude others, a moral compass that does not turn you into an oppressor, and a hope that can face anything, even death.” (216)
“The declaration that science is the only arbiter of truth is not itself a scientific finding. It is a belief.” (35)
“To move from religion to secularism is not so much a loss of faith as a shift into a new set of beliefs and into a new community of faith, one that draws the lines between orthodoxy and heresy in different places.” (31)
“If you say you don’t believe in God but you do believe in the rights of every person and the requirement to care for all the weak and the poor, then you are still holding on to Christian beliefs, whether you will admit it or not. Why, for example, should you look at love and aggression—both parts of life, both rooted in our human nature—and choose one as good and reject one as bad? They are both part of life. Where do you get a standard to do that? If there is no God or supernatural realm, it doesn’t exist.” (47–48)
“Through faith in the cross we get a new foundation for an identity that both humbles us out of our egoism yet is so infallibly secure in love that we are enabled to embrace rather than exclude those who are different.” (147)
“A moral judgment about something can never be made apart from an examination of its given purpose. . . . How, then, can we tell if a human being is good or bad? Only if we know our purpose, what human life is for. If you don’t know the answer to that, then you can never determine ‘good’ and ‘bad’ human behavior.” (186–87)
“Why is freedom so important [today]? Why is that the absolute, unquestioned ‘good’—and who gets to define it as such? Are you not assuming a value-laden standard that you are using to critique all other approaches to life? Are you not, then, actually giving a universal answer to the Meaning question, namely, that the meaning of life is to have the freedom to determine your own meaning? Are you not, then, doing the very thing you say should not be done?” (63–64)
To read more, see this article (also by Matt Smethurst) from The Gospel Coalition blog. 

Important thoughts on the worst mass shooting in American History (Orlando, FL)

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I wanted to share with you (what I consider to be) some very important, thoughtful, wise and ultimately Scriptural thoughts having to do with the Orlando tragedy.

I pulled a few quotes from the two best articles that I read this week on the subject. I wish every Christ-Follower could read them. Hyperlinks are included below to the full articles. But today, for the sake of valuing your time, here are just a few highlights.

Scott Sauls and Russell Moore are the authors of these pieces. For those who may not know them, here is a brief background:

Scott Sauls: He was mentored and trained under Dr. Timothy Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Sauls filled the pulpit many times when Keller was not speaking. Sauls then went on to plant two churches, and now he serves as Sr. Pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, TN. He is also author of Jesus Outside the Lines: A way forward for those who are tired of taking sides (Tyndale Publishers). Scott is an outstanding, insightful writer (and speaker)… and I don’t use those words lightly. Scott’s blog is one that I regularly read.
Russell Moore: Dr. Moore is President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. His article appeared in TIME Magazine (online) this week. Again, very wise words, from a very thoughtful, kind, gracious, biblical communicator.
Here are a few excerpts from Scott Sauls’ article


“Violence Toward LGBTQ: A Pastor’s Reflection”
by Scott Sauls

It was seventeenth century Lutheran theologian, Rupertus Meldenius, who first coined the famous words:
In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.
Today, and especially in light of the horrendous massacre in Orlando, in which forty nine souls had their lives cut short by a shooting spree at a gay night club, I would like to focus on the third of Meldenius’ three statements. For the purposes of this reflection, I will add the words, “and toward all people and all people groups” to the charity part.
Because of the way that Jesus came to us in love—not while we were at our best but while we were at our worst, not when we were treating him as a friend but when we were treating him as an enemy—we Christians of all people should find creative and consistent ways to love, listen to, and serve all kinds of people… especially in their days of need and loss and sorrow.
In light of the Orlando tragedy, I am especially moved to highlight this basic gospel imperative, to love your neighbor as yourself. This is not a time to be silent about the horrible injustice that occurred in Orlando last weekend. And it is not a time for preaching one’s views about right and wrong when it comes to sexuality. This is a time to love. This is a time for compassion. This is a time for tears, to enter into the sorrow and the loss, not with answers but with presence.
And, whatever one’s beliefs may be about sexuality, silence is never an option where abuse and injustice are perpetrated. Because, as Dr. King once said, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Furthermore, Jesus never seemed too concerned about sending “mixed messages.” He welcomed sinners of every kind—religious sinners and irreligious sinners, sexual sinners and pious sinners, bottom of the barrel and holier-than- thou sinners—and ate with them. Without caveats. And he took a lot of criticism for it from pious religious folk. But he didn’t seem to care.
A day or two after the Orlando shooting, I came across a tweet by an LGBTQ advocate named Tamara Lunardo, retweeted by Rachel Held Evans, which said the following:
“Straight friends, especially you Christians, please know: We hear your silence so loud.”

Now, before you get defensive (as I – Paul – did initially), please read on!

According to Ms. Lunardo, most of the outcries about Orlando seemed to be coming from everyone except those who identify as followers of Jesus. It’s as if she was saying, “Hey you Christians, they are hurting down there in Orlando. So then, you Christians, where are your tears? Where are your outcries? Where is your compassion? If it’s there, let us see it and feel it and experience it. If you have a light, you Christians, this is most certainly not the time to be hiding it beneath a bushel.”
There are exceptions to Ms. Lunardo’s concern, like this thoughtful piece about weeping and mourning together over lives and loved ones lost from the Southern Baptist leader, and a relatively new friend of mine, Russell Moore. Or one tweet and then another from another friend of mine, pastor Matt Chandler, to his sizable number of followers:
“What a horrific act of evil. Christians your Muslim friends & neighbors woke up this morning wondering how they will be viewed. Love them. Also consider the fear and pain this will have in the LGBT community. Let’s be the people of God in this heinous and awful violence.”…
Is it possible to disagree with each other on sensitive subjects, and still maintain meaningful and even loving friendships with each other? And, as Russell Moore suggests, is it not only possible but imperative and right to weep and mourn across such lines…and in such a way that the lines become transformed into bridges?…
“Who is my neighbor?” the teacher of the law asked Jesus.
Your neighbor, O child of God and heir of the Kingdom, is anyone who is near and anyone who has a need…
You know, Jesus…the same Jesus who healed ten lepers even though only one of them would say thank you, the same Jesus who made a Samaritan the hero of his story about neighbor-love right in the face of the reality that Jews hated Samaritans and Samaritans hated Jews, the same Jesus who commended Rahab for providing refuge for Israel’s spies even though she was still, at the time, an active prostitute, the same Jesus who went after Peter in love when Peter had denied him three times, before Peter ever repented or said that he was sorry, the same Jesus who looked a prostitute dead in the eye, while she was still dressed like a prostitute and had come to him straight off the streets to kiss his feet with her prostitute’s lips and douse his skin with her prostitute’s perfume, and praised her for her expression of love, regardless of how unorthodox it may have been to the cultural norms of the day.
…Chick Fil-A, a Christian owned and operated restaurant, did [something] in response to the Orlando shootings. On Sunday, the day that Chick Fil-A is always closed so its employees can worship God at their churches and observe a Sabbath rest, they decided instead to brew gallons of tea and prepare hundreds of their sandwiches, and then they handed them out free of charge to people who were donating blood for the LGBTQ shooting victims
The truest disciples of Jesus, not in spite of their Christian beliefs but because of them, take initiative to love, listen to, and serve those who don’t share their beliefs.
It is God’s kindness that leads us to repent.
It is not our repentance that leads God to be kind.
Let’s make sure that God’s kindness is tasted not only on the pages of Scripture, but through our lives and through our loving. Because the more we are into Jesus, the more conservative we are in our belief that every single word of the Bible is right and good and true, the more liberal we will be in the ways that we love
The response that makes us suspect in the eyes of those who are religiously smug and relationally scared, the response that leads some to even accuse us of being soft on law because we are so heavy on grace. The response that causes onlookers, especially the more pious ones, to mischaracterize us as “gluttons and drunks” because of the aroma of Jesus, who was similarly accused, that seeps out of us
And so I ask again, is it possible to profoundly disagree with someone and love them deeply at the same time? Is it possible to hold deep convictions and embrace people who reject your deep convictions simultaneously?
Yes, it is.
Do you remember Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man (Mark 10:17-27)? Do you remember how Jesus told the man to sell all of his possessions, give to the poor, and then follow him? Do you remember how the man then turned away from Jesus because he had great wealth? If you do remember the encounter, did you catch these two incredibly significant details? First, Jesus looked at the man and loved him.
Second, the man walked away from Jesus feeling sad. Not judged. Not ticked off. Not feeling bullied or dismissed or excluded or marginalized. Not saying to Jesus and his followers, “I hear your silence so loud.” No. Not this. But SAD. The man walked away in the tension of paradox—held captive by the chains of his money idol, yet sensing a forfeiture of a different and perhaps more life-giving form of wealth.
So let’s ask ourselves, what will matter more to us in the end—that we successfully put others in their place, that we took a “moral stand” regardless of who we alienated and whose fragile spirits we crushed in the process…or that we loved well enough for lines to turn into bridges?
God have mercy on us if we do not love well because all that matters to us is being right and winning culture wars and taking moral stands that put people in their place but don’t win any people’s hearts. I want to contend that truth and love can go together. I want to contend that truth and love must go together.
Into a climate in which Christians were routinely made fun of, maligned, and persecuted for their convictions, Peter wrote these words:
“In your hearts honor Christ as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:15-16).
Critics turned to friends, lines turned to bridges…through gentleness and respect. Can you imagine it?

And finally, here is the excerpt I wanted to share from Russell Moore’s excellent piece featured on TIME magazine’s site:

Can We Still Weep Together After Orlando?
by Dr. Russell Moore

It seems now that there’s rarely a time of grieving together.
We woke up Sunday morning to news of the worst mass shooting in American history, as a terrorist murdered and injured over a hundred people in a gay nightclub in Orlando. In the aftermath, we’ve seen some of the best aspects of America: people lining up, for example, to give blood for the victims. We’ve also seen some of the worst—as the aftermath turned into an excuse for social media wars over everything from gun control to presidential politics. What I wonder is whether the country still has the capacity to grieve, together, in moments of national crisis.
When we’re accustomed to seeing news in real time on our television screens and on our phones, it is sometimes easy to forget that the news we are viewing is real. At least 50 people—created in the image of God—were slaughtered in cold blood. Families who were waiting to see their loved ones are finding out that they will never see them again in this life. That ought to drive us to mourn.
Our nation has shared moments of crisis and tragedy before. Think of Pearl Harbor, when the country rallied around President Roosevelt and toward a common purpose of defeating the Axis Powers. Think of the John F. Kennedy assassination, when the country—even the Kennedy family’s enemies—seemed to grieve together. Think of Sept. 11—before the fracturing of the Iraq War—when the country looked to common cultural expressions, from the service at the National Cathedral to the cold open of Saturday Night Live, for a sense of lament together.
It seems now, though, that there’s rarely a time of grieving together. The time of lament morphs almost immediately into arguments over what the President should have said or whether this validates or annihilates someone’s views on guns or immigration or whatever. Some of that, of course, is just the speed of social media. People are able to discuss, rather publicly, issues much quicker than they could before. But there seems to be more than that.
Our national divisions increasingly make it difficult for us not just to work together, but even to pause and weep together. We become more concerned about protecting ourselves from one another’s political pronouncements than we do with mourning with those who mourn…
How then do we weep with those who weep?
Let’s call our congregations to pray together. Let’s realize that, in this case, our gay and lesbian neighbors are likely quite scared. Who wouldn’t be? Demonstrate the sacrificial love of Jesus to them.
We don’t have to agree on the meaning of marriage and sexuality to love one another and to see the murderous sin of terrorism. Let’s also pray for our leaders who have challenging decisions to make in the midst of crisis. Let’s mobilize our congregations and others to give blood for the victims. Let’s call for governing authorities to do their primary duty of keeping its people safe from evildoers.
As the Body of Christ, though, we can love and serve and weep and mourn. And we can remind ourselves and our neighbors that this is not the way it is supposed to be. We mourn, but we mourn in the hope of a kingdom where blood is not shed and where bullets never fly.
**(All bold & italics are mine – to help emphasize key portions of these articles)

Are You Called? Thoughts to Stimulate and Challenge Your Idea of Calling

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“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Frederick Buechner)

The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does his Christian duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.” (Martin Luther)

“Do we enjoy our work, love our work, virtually worship our work so that our devotion to Jesus is off-center? Do we put our emphasis on service, usefulness or being productive in working for God—at his expense? Do we strive to prove our own significance? To make a difference in the world? To carve our names in marble on the monuments of time? The call of God blocks the path of all such deeply human tendencies. We are not primarily called to do something or go somewhere; we are called to Someone. We are not called to special work but to God. The key to answering the call is to be devoted to no one and to nothing above God himself.” (Os Guinness)

“Beware of anything that competes with loyalty to Jesus Christ. The greatest competitor of devotion to Jesus is service for Him… The one aim of the call of God is the satisfaction of God, not a call to do something for Him… The men and women our Lord sends out on His enterprises are the ordinary human stuff, plus dominating devotion to Himself wrought by the Holy Spirit. Be absolutely His.” (Oswald Chambers)

Everyone will be forgotten, nothing we do will make any difference, and all good endeavors, even the best, will come to naught. Unless there is God. If the God of the Bible exists, and there is a True Reality beneath and behind this one, and this life is not the only life, then every good endeavor, even the simplest ones, pursued in response to God’s calling, can matter forever.” (Tim Keller)

“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’” (Martin Luther King Jr.)

“If all that a believer does grows out of faith and is done for the glory of God, then all dualistic distinctions are demolished. There is no higher / lower, sacred / secular, perfect / permitted, contemplative / active or first class / second class. Calling is the premise of Christian existence itself. Calling means that everyone, everywhere and in everything fulfills his or her (secondary) callings in response to God’s (primary) calling. For Luther, the peasant and the merchant—for us, the business person, the teacher, the factory worker and the television anchor—can do God’s work (or fail to do it) just as much as the minister or missionary.” (Os Guinness)

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