Living in Truth

As we enter Easter month, our series from the Gospel of John brings us to chapter 18, one of the grimmest chapters of the Bible. This chapter recounts the betrayal and binding of Jesus. What makes this chapter especially grim is that Jesus’ betrayal and binding take place at the hands of people who should have known better.

Judas Iscariot was Jesus’ own disciple. More than anyone else at that time, the disciples experienced Jesus’ love and saw countless numbers of His miracles. Along with other disciples, Judas preached the gospel of the kingdom. Jesus commissioned him with power to heal the sick and cast out demons. Yet this man who saw and experienced so much of God threw it all away for 30 pieces of silver.

Annas and Caiaphas were relatives. Each served as high priest and headed the powerful Sanhedrin, the assembly of elders. They knew the prophecies concerning a coming Messiah, but they chose to interpret them their own way. Instead of seeing the obvious signs of Jesus’ divine presence in their midst, they chose their own political and religious agendas over the truth of God, corrupting themselves and helping to condemn generations of their people.

Pontius Pilate, the cynical (“What is truth?”) Roman governor of Judea, saw through the jealousy and false accusations of the Jewish religious hierarchy. He found Jesus innocent of any crime, but still gave up Jesus to the mob for crucifixion. Cheap politics paralyzed his ability to do the right thing when it counted.

We look with horror at these villains who should have known better and wonder at how wickedly they tortured and killed the Lord of glory. But we should also examine ourselves for times when we bind Christ in what we do (or don’t do) and say. For example . . .

Do we read the Bible as a religious habit rather than to hear His voice and express more of His light and glory through our lives to a darkened world around us?

Do we secretly judge others for whom Christ died and rose again, acting more like Annas and Caiaphas than our Lord and Savior who died for us?

Do we regard Jesus as something less than Son of God, King of kings, brother and best friend?

Do we deny Christ by behaviors/attitudes that clash with our professions of loyalty to Christ?

Do we tie His hands, through unbelief, from doing His mighty works through us?

Do we fail to trust Him with the issues of our lives, with the lives of those with whom we live and work, and those in places of authority in government and culture?

Do we fail to live the gospel in its fullness, or deny to the world the salt and light that Jesus intended to come through us?

Do we fail to obey Christ when His commands conflict with our understanding and desires?

Thank God that Jesus Christ did not stay bound! After three days, He rose again and destroyed the power of death and every other weapon of Satan. In His boundless love, He has forgiven us and given us His Holy Spirit to help us. Let us confess our sins and thank God for His everlasting love for us in spite of ourselves. Then let us tell everyone how He has taken away our sin and overcome the world.

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Not of, yet in

We live in a depressing and troubled world.  We face many trials in our personal lives and as a society.  It is tempting for us to want to escape it all.  In the past century, rapture theology has become extremely popular in many churches.  Many people spend much time wishing God would “take them home.”

Personally, I believe the Bible teaches the rapture, but in these troubled times there are other important things we must keep in mind, otherwise we will find ourselves in rebellion against God and His purposes.

In John 17, Jesus’ prays for His disciples (and for us).  His prayer does not allow us any kind of escapist thinking.  He prays, “I do not ask You [God the Father] to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (v. 15).

As Jesus’ prayer makes clear, we are not of this world, run by Satan, but Jesus does not want to remove us from the world.  The previous chapters indicate He has too much for us to do for us to leave.  He wants to replace Satan’s kingdom with His own.  He wants us to become involved with Him in making it happen.  We can’t do that if we get raptured or retire to the sidelines of life and wait for His return.

In this prayer, Jesus asks God to sanctify them (and us) in the Truth for the task—for here and now.  He sends them (and us) forth into the world—now.  He wants them (and us) to live in unity—now.  He gives them (and us) the power to live in His glory—through His Holy Spirit.

The gospel of the kingdom has not been well taught in many of our churches.  As a rule, the church has not generally lived in unity in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Our governments, educational systems, businesses, media industries, arts and entertainment, etc. all seem under the domination of anti-Christ forces.  Non-Christians have called the shots while the church reacts defensively to the world instead of taking charge as Jesus commanded.

For Jesus to rapture His church now would signal defeat—a failed experiment.  Defeat is never in God’s vocabulary. His original plan has never changed.  

Who of us will remain faithful to Christ’s original aim to establish His kingdom on earth as it is in heaven?  Who of us will live in the world and take the world for His kingdom in the power of the Holy Spirit?  That’s what our troubled world really needs right now—a united church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, ready to represent Christ in every facet of our cultures and societies.

Has the Great Commission been fulfilled in India and the rest of the world?  Has the kingdom of God come to earth through the church as Jesus envisioned?  Is there unity in the body of Christ?  If not, then we are not yet finished with our tasks on earth.  Let’s not think of escaping quite yet!  We must stay around until we have done it all Jesus’ way.

Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus tells us to “occupy until I come.”  In other words, keep busy for Him in the here and now and let God the Father decide His future return.

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Re-discovering His Power

Go into a mortuary and try to carry on a conversation with a dead person lying in a casket. No matter how charming, charismatic or logical your words, you will get nowhere. That dead person cannot respond.

A spiritually dead person cannot respond to the things of God. God is a stranger to him. He cannot perceive God in the world or people around him. A life with God is meaningless to him. He has no longing for God. He gives his life only to those things perceived in the five senses. 

Most people see imperfections in themselves and in others, but tend to blame them on forces in our past, other people or, in places like India, on the bad karma of past lives. Blame is put upon something wrong in the environment. We attempt to “clean up our act” through moral discipline and religious practices.

All of this is like putting band-aids on cancers. Morality and religion do not deal with the root problem which is sin. We sin because we are sinners. Sin is another word for spiritual death.

Just as a dead man cannot respond to the world around him, a spiritually dead person cannot respond to the things of God. Logic and eloquence are of no use. Only the Holy Spirit can change the situation.

In John 16, Jesus tells His disciples that He will soon leave them, but He will give them the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

The Holy Spirit, the creator of life, is the only one who can bring life out of spiritual death. Only the Holy Spirit can awaken a spiritually dead person to his sin. Only the Holy Spirit can awaken a spiritually dead person to the righteousness of God greater than his sin. Only the Holy Spirit can awaken a spiritually dead person to the Good News that Jesus has judged his sin at the cross and makes him righteous before a good and righteous God.

When the disciples spoke under the power of the Holy Spirit, spiritually dead people came alive by the thousands. In the Book of Acts, the church added and then multiplied the number of people who were being saved.

Such is not the case in most of our churches today. Churches rely on gimmicks rather than the power of the Holy Spirit. As a result, few people are convicted of sin. They do not see the righteousness of God to which they fall disastrously short. They do not conceive the power of Jesus at the cross and in the resurrection to judge the devil who has darkened their minds. As a result, our churches have become powerless, and society has become a mess.

The solution to our basic problem is both simple and profound: re-discover the Holy Spirit and His power to convict of sin, righteousness and judgment. Then we will see a big turnaround that will surprise everybody.

We will also see the gospel reach into every corner of the world. I can tell you from experience, millions of people in India are groaning for the Desire of the Nations. Only the Holy Spirit can convince them that His name is Jesus Christ.

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One Trillion Species

In the most extensive study of its kind, the National Academy of Sciences sought to discover how many living species inhabit our earth. They sought for living species on land and sea, on all continents except Antarctica. They included not only species we see with the naked eye but also the tiniest living microorganisms. 

After a long and detailed study, they estimated that this earth is home to more than one trillion species of life forms. Just one gram of soil may contain up to a billion organisms representing as many as 10,000 different species.

This mindboggling number tells us something of the creative mind and imagination of God. It displays the power of the Spirit of God, who Genesis 1:2 tells us, was involved in the creation of the world. This same Holy Spirit dwells within each of us who has given our life to Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit can do far more than we expect—if we let Him.

Why is this important? In John 15, Jesus warns His disciples they will face stiff opposition. They will be hated and persecuted. Alone, they will not have power to accomplish the task He has given them.

But they will not be alone. They will have the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit will enable them to abide in Him as branches abide in the vine. The Holy Spirit will enable them to love one another. The Holy Spirit will empower them to face opposition by those who hate Christ.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we should always be the best witnesses possible. We must prepare ourselves for the task. But our preparation alone will not convince others of the truth of our message. That witness must also come from the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who created the world from nothing, 

This principle applies not just to evangelists and pastors but to all believers. We are all priests of Jesus Christ, mediating Christ to the world in our homes, vocations and schools. We can do nothing the way God intended apart from the Holy Spirit. Alone, we cannot withstand opposition, nor can we love one another as we should.

There is much unforgiveness and lack of boldness among Christians, a strong temptation to compromise the truth of God. Too many Christians and churches fail to pray. Much activity takes place in the churches, but that is not always the work of Holy Spirit power. The miserable state of society today reflects this lack of Holy Spirit power among people who call themselves Christians.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon has said, “The best man that mere morality ever produced is still ‘without form and void’ if the Spirit of God has not come upon him.”

God’s plans for us and for the world always exceed our own. Becoming convinced of that changes how and why we pray, helping us to match the mind of God’s so He realizes His perfect plans in and through us.

God is glorified, not by doing everything Himself, but by doing it in and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. As we approach Christmas and a New Year, let us come to know the Holy Spirit better. This is why Jesus came to us.

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A Fierce Love

The love of Jesus is beyond our comprehension. We get a glimpse of this in the foot washing episode of John 13.

In a few hours, Jesus will face a mock trial. He will be flayed without mercy by sadistic soldiers. He will face mobs of people who cry for His death though He has likely healed many of them. He will die by crucifixion, a death so obscene that no respectable person mentioned it. Our tame pictures of the crucifixion do not convey what Jesus endured. Varnished church crosses numb us to what He actually experienced. 

All of this loomed over Him and was on His mind. Yet just a few hours before His impending death, He thinks of His disciples and their comfort in one of the most humbling and trifling of details—their feet. He, their Master, even takes the role of a lowly servant and washes each disciple’s feet, including those of Judas Iscariot who will soon betray Him, and Peter who will deny Him with curses. Soon, the others will flee and abandon him, leaving Him completely alone to His executioners. 

He knows all of this will soon take place, yet He performs this humble task anyway. 

All the gospels portray Jesus’ disciples as dull learners who, over the past three years, forget what He says almost as soon as they hear it. Yet He says to these twelve pitiful men, “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God.” His love for them never wavers in spite of their habitual stupidity.

The love of Jesus is stronger than death. It is a fierce love that stops at nothing, is discouraged by nothing. His love accepts the full reality of sin but completely overrules and overcomes it by good. It crushes every lesser thing in its path. 

Charles Spurgeon once said: “Earthworms are miserable company for angels . . .yet love made our great Master endure the society of His ignorant and carnal followers.” His great love is conditioned by nothing.

In contrast, our own weak and sentimental love is conditioned by a thousand different things. We are always getting offended by something or someone. We allow trivial things to divide us. Political correctness is a symptom of how unloving we have become as a society and within the church itself.

We are told that only about 4% of today’s young people maintain contact with the church. The church remains unattractive to most because they see church people as unloving. They fear coming to church to hear more rebuke than encouragement. They are aware of their sins and feel guilt over them. They hunger for redemption and release, but they do not hear it.

Once more, the church needs to experience the fierce love of Jesus that stops at nothing and will not let us go. This is the greatest weapon by which we fight the works of the devil. This is how we defeat fear and hopelessness. This is how we stop medicating ourselves with materialism and worldliness. The fierce love of Christ restores relationship and ends mere religion and legalism.

When we recover the fierce love of Jesus, we will have the one thing for which the rest of the world hungers. May that day come sooner rather than later!

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How a Fragrance Can Impact Eternity

Mary had her faith tried hard but vindicated beyond expectation. Lazarus was not just healed from his illness but raised from the dead. Jesus possessed a greatness she never anticipated. What she saw left her eternally changed and grateful.

She could never repay Jesus, but she wanted to show her gratitude in a unique way. She chose a rare perfume which cost a year’s wages, poured it over His feet and wiped His feet with her hair. This act signified her subjection to Jesus at her deepest level. It was a public act of thanksgiving for a work of Jesus like no other.

Mary now understood in a deeper way who Jesus was: her long-promised Messiah. Her submission to Jesus was not one of subservience, but of release and freedom. By trusting Jesus beyond her comfort zone, she prepared herself (and us) for an even deeper revelation of Him in a few days.

A little later, the Gentile followers of God said, “We would see Jesus.” Long excluded from the temple, these true followers knew Jesus was their only hope of gaining access to the Father. Soon, they would rejoice in thanksgiving as the veil of the temple would be torn in two from top to bottom, giving them access to God along with the Covenant People.

Jesus’ next act would not just resurrect Lazarus. He would destroy the work of the devil. Since the days of Adam, the world lay in the bondage of corruption and death. Now, Jesus would free the whole world from Satan’s stranglehold. He would release the captives, proclaim sight to the blind, set free the oppressed. He would pour out His Holy Spirit. He would establish His ekklesia and bring the kingdom of God on earth, through ordinary men, women, children.

The world has never been the same since Mary’s thankful heart helped pave the way with her jar of rare fragrance. From that day, the rare fragrance of the gospel has spread from Mary’s house to the entire Roman world and beyond.

Mary’s act of gratitude and submission and the Gentiles’ seeking after Jesus contrast sharply with the reactions of just about everyone else who should have known better. Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ own disciple, witnessed Lazarus’ resurrection, but he condemned Mary for wasting her money. The chief priests refused to recognize Jesus’ divine authority and saw Him as a threat.

The following Sunday, Jerusalem crowds waved palm branches to welcome Him as king, but they saw Jesus’ miracle only through their own limited political expectations and hatred of their Roman oppressors. In a few days, their “hosannas” became, “Crucify Him!”

Soon, their hard hearts and blindness to Jesus’ authority and Messiahship, and their lack of thanksgiving to Him would bring needless tragedy. Judas Iscariot would betray Jesus and commit suicide rather than repent. In 70 AD, the Romans would destroy the temple and its corrupt system. Starvation and bloodshed would destroy the people of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, many of them turning on each other.

This grim lesson from history is clear: only a spirit of thankful generosity towards God leads to further revelation, freedom and fellowship with Him, extending to more and more people who catch our spirit. Let us call upon Him to give us the thankful and generous spirit of Mary.

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Perspective Through Troubling Days

Let the story of Lazarus challenge and encourage your faith during troubling days.

Lazarus, a close friend of Jesus, got sick and died. We read about this in John 11. Knowing Jesus well did not exempt Lazarus or his two sisters, Mary and Martha, from life’s griefs and sorrows. Nor does it exempt any of us.

As soon as Lazarus’ illness became life threatening, Mary and Martha sent for Jesus, expecting Him to immediately show up and heal His good friend. But one, two, three days had passed since he was laid in a tomb, and Jesus, the Great Physician, remained absent.

Only on the fourth day, did Jesus appear. Both Mary and Martha became distraught and said to Him, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When we read the narrative further, we discover that Jesus had bigger things in mind than another healing. “I am the resurrection and the life,” He said. “He who believes in me will live, even if he dies.” Then he did what they did not expect—He raised Lazarus from the dead.

Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus from death prepared the way for His own resurrection, just days away, and the total defeat and humiliation of Satan, ending the power of death by which Satan kept us all in bondage.

None of this was on Mary’s and Martha’s minds. All they saw was what happened to their brother. They did not see the big picture. They counted themselves as good friends of Jesus (and they were), but they did not know Him as well as they thought they did. Jesus was moving them to trust Him in ways they never trusted Him before.

Jesus wanted Mary and Martha (and us) to trust Him for greater things beyond their (and our) present experience. Their faith (and ours) increases only when faith is enlarged through various trials. When Lazarus died, Mary and Martha stepped into unknown territory. Would they still trust Jesus when they reached the end of their comfort zones? Or was their faith (and ours) only a “fair weather” faith? Mary and Martha let their trial prepare them for God’s bigger purpose.

At this writing, we continue to live in troubling days. For many of us, it is a time when we are all well outside our comfort zones. Things seem to be getting worse, not better. For some of us, evil and death seem to have the upper hand. Many of us wonder—why is God taking so long to do something?

God always seems to take longer than we prefer, but He always works from a standpoint of love, relationship and faith. It is better to know that Jesus has power over death, not just that He can heal the living. He is getting us ready now for that greater thing.

Jesus is the same today as He was 2,000 years ago when He allowed Lazarus to lie for four days putrefying in a tomb. We may have ideas of what He should do now and become impatient when He doesn’t meet our timetables. But He always has more in mind than we do.

He who brought life to Lazarus will bring life to lost and dying men, women and children from every corner of India and the world. He will deliver them out of every form of spiritual and physical bondage and death.

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What Does Abundant Life Look Like?

In John 9, Jesus heals a beggar blind from birth, enabling him to live a full life, not just live on the edge of life. The religious leaders of the day opposed this healing for silly and irrelevant reasons. In John 10, Jesus responded to the religious leaders with the parable of the Good Shepherd (Himself), contrasting Himself with the false shepherds of that day.

Unlike the false shepherds, Jesus says, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”

What would Jesus say about today’s prominent religious leaders and Christians? Do we live the abundant life, reflecting our Master? Truth is, to the world, the church often appears weak and irrelevant. Too many churches do not preach the Word. They dilute the gospel and its mission. Its people are rampant in unbelief. Its young people look elsewhere for answers the church does not provide.

Christian marriages fail as often or more than those in the world. Where are the signs and wonders? How many churches go for years without a single conversion or baptism?

Recently, I heard of a church that was closed down and sold to Buddhists. Weak preaching and teaching and lack of faith in God’s power gave the people no motivation to keep coming. The few who were left sold the building to the highest bidder. False shepherds.

We have more Bible reference books than ever, better-trained pastors—but more ignorance. Most people still cannot give a reason for the hope in them. They don’t know how to pray with power. Again, false shepherds.

As a church, we have allowed the world’s agenda to govern our lives and attitudes. Few Christians develop a Christian worldview, applying Bible standards to situations in the natural world. Is it any wonder the humanists and secularists have taken over? It is because of our weakness, not their strength. False shepherds, just as in Jesus’ day.

What does the abundant life look like? Think of Brother Lawrence, a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery, a man of limited schooling, born in poverty, suffering from wounds of war and imprisonment, awkward and rough in appearance. He had none of the things most of us count as needful for life. Yet he exhibited a profound wisdom found in few men. He found such joy in practicing the presence of God, he became the envy of all who met and knew him.

The collection of his letters and conversation, “The Practice of the Presence of God,” has become a classic portrait of the abundant life Jesus intended for all of us.

What does this mean for us today? To really believe and practice God’s presence means His presence will be strong in our meetings. We will no longer need gimmicks to attract people. People will hunger for God’s Word and ways. Preachers will preach with Holy Spirit anointing. The church will manifest the presence of God in signs and wonders.

Salvations will come by the millions from every class and age group. The love of God in our midst will overcome oppression, racism, immorality, hatred, anger, fear. Social transformation will take place. The gospel will burst out of the churches into the surrounding communities and into other nations of the world. Laws will change, becoming more righteous and just.

Amen! Let that day come, Lord Jesus!

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Which Camp Are You In?

The Gospel of John’s account in chapter 9 of Jesus’ healing of the blind man at the temple gate that we examined last month brings us to another side of the matter.

John shows us that the blind man’s healing did not suddenly end all his problems. When Jesus healed him, not everyone rejoiced and praised God for this good thing.

The religious Pharisees became very upset. Although the man had sat at the temple gate for years, they apparently paid no attention to him. They did not take compassion on him. They did nothing to help the man to better his condition. They just left him at the gate to beg and barely survive. They just assumed the man was a sinner who deserved his fate. Jesus’ compassionate act put them in an embarrassing position.

These religious Pharisees were those to whom others traditionally looked for religious advice and counsel. But Jesus demonstrated godly authority, power and compassion they did not possess. He demonstrated that they were really charlatans. With this healing, they must humble themselves and submit to Jesus or resort to reckless means to discredit Jesus. They unwisely chose the latter course.

Jesus’ healing violated their protocols about how and when these things should happen. Also, since they were unable to heal the blind man themselves, they feared that people would look to Jesus rather than to themselves as their authority. None of this met the man’s real needs.

They regarded themselves as a religious elite. To them, Jesus threatened the social order, namely, their own power. Behind their anger lay fear and jealousy because this man, Jesus, from a small town demonstrated God’s power and authority they lacked.

These religious phonies also reacted by attacking the healed man’s character and throwing him out of the temple as an example to others who dared to challenge them. They wanted to intimidate others who might question them. They refused to consider the possibility that Jesus’ power to heal demonstrated His authentic authority from God. Their power over the people meant more to them than a diligent search for truth.

The work of Jesus always winds up dividing people into two camps—those who accept His transforming power and those who rely only upon themselves, even when they use religious terms.

Does not this story of the blind man reflect what has happened to many of you who read this? Like the blind man, you have submitted yourselves to Him, but there are people in your lives who do not rejoice with you in your new-found freedom. They see you as a threat.

Jesus did not leave the man alone in his predicament with the religious leaders. He came to him and encouraged him. The man submitted to Jesus, and Jesus met the man’s need in the face of fierce opposition. He will do the same with each of us who puts our ultimate trust in Him.

We believers in Jesus Christ must ask ourselves: Are we more like Jesus or the Pharisees in our attitudes toward those who suffer for no fault of their own?

Let us who know the power and authority of Jesus Christ in our lives help to make His saving power manifest in all of India and throughout the world.

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What does a good God do with evil?

John 9 is a passage that probably applies to most if not all of us. The story really begins at the end of the 8th chapter when Jesus leaves the temple in Jerusalem. On His way out, He and His disciples meet a blind beggar who sits at the temple gate.

The man has suffered blindness since birth. The context suggests he was a fixture at the gate for years, seen by everyone as they entered and left the temple. He was a familiar sight to the disciples who asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”

It was the wrong question, and Jesus corrected them. His response is usually mis-translated in our English versions. Without going into all the technicalities of Greek grammar, His response should be translated something like this: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but let the works of God be made manifest in him.”

Jesus’ response should become a comfort to all of us. Not all of life’s misfortunes result from personal or family sin. This includes events such as the loss of friends or loved ones, congenital illness, accidents, death of a child, or a host of events that prevent us from developing gifts or fulfilling good and reasonable dreams.

The disciples reacted to the blind man like Job’s “friends” reacted to his calamities. Jesus reminds His disciples (and us) that God does not cause evil. He does not bring sorrows, calamities and limitations in our lives, even for His glory. These misfortunes come from the devil, whose work He has come to destroy. In other words, the only one at fault is Satan.

This should be good news to all of us who suffer for seemingly irrational purposes. We may even wonder what sin we have committed for God to punish us like this.

Jesus demonstrates to the disciples (and to all of us) that God desires to bring good out of the evil in our lives. Having secured the blind man’s permission, He heals the blind man, enabling him to see for the first time in his life. No longer does he have to sit and beg at the temple gate. Now, he has the opportunity to live a fulfilling life rather than live on the edge of life.

What a lesson to us! Jesus wants to make the works of God manifest in us. He especially wants to heal those areas of misfortune in our lives that come to us through no fault of our own. When we give Him permission to heal, no longer are we bound to our past or to family or environmental circumstances we cannot control.

God does not cause evil, but He can use evil to humble and prepare us for His greater works in us. When we give Him permission, He will change our circumstances in ways possible only with Him. He will make a way where there is no way.

Someone has said, “The Crucified God is not in control of evil, sickness and suffering because He is too busy destroying them and bringing good out of them.”

All of this is part of the Good News that we should make part of our own lives and share with those who have yet to hear of Him.

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