Recently, I have been thinking about the gospel and how it affects (or doesn’t) their lives.

The truth is, the gospel should have a powerful effect on their lives. And not just in the way that most people think.

Many people think that the message of the gospel was given solely for the purpose of saving them from hell and giving them the gift of eternal life. Certainly, the message of the gospel does this, but the gospel is so much more. The gospel is meant to be an integral part of your life every day.

Each day, as you reflect on the gospel and what it means, it should shape the way that you think: namely, your attitudes, your values, your goals, and your perspective on life.

And it should shape the very way that you live.

This blog is about what this gospel is and how it is integral to our lives.

While this blog will hopefully be helpful for those who are seeking God for the first time and for new believers, my prayer is that it will breathe new life into the faith of those who have been Christians for a long time and cause them to really reconsider what they truly believe.

A few notes about this blog.

First, while I have done long-running blogs in the past, this one is meant to be very short, around ten posts.

Second, while all the chapters may be of interest to the person who is seeking Christ for the first time, the latter two will be more directed to the Christian.

Third, at the end of each chapter, I include “Questions to think about.” With a few exceptions, these questions are directed to both Christians and seekers.

I also include questions inviting you to “go deeper.” These questions are definitely more directed to the person who is already a Christian, although a seeker may find interest in exploring these questions as well.

Finally, because of the nature of blogs (last posts featured first), I’ve included a menu that will allow you to easily navigate between chapters.

May God bless you as you read and give you a deeper understanding of his gospel through this blog.

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Chapter 10 — So about those secondary things…

Today’s reading: John 10:7-14

I said back in chapter 1 that we would touch on things like how to find our identity, how to find healing from past hurts, and how to find happiness and success in life.

Hopefully, you have seen some of the answers to these things already in the previous chapters. But in case you haven’t, I suppose we should touch on those things now.

In today’s reading, Jesus talks about how he’s the door for the sheep. The picture here is of door-of-the-sheepfoldan enclosed place for the sheep, and in those days, the shepherd was literally the door. When the shepherd went to sleep, he blocked the only opening to the enclosure. So within the enclosure was food, safety, and life. Outside were all kinds of dangers that could be fatal to the sheep.

So Jesus says, “If you want to find security, joy, and life, you can only find it by coming into that enclosure. And I am the door to that.”

All of that comes back to what we’ve talked about before. No longer declaring ourselves independent of God, but putting ourselves under his lordship and thus his protection.

How can we know that we can trust him? Because he laid his life down for us at the cross.

Jesus says the thief, Satan, wants to steal from you. He wants to steal your joy. He wants to steal from you a relationship with the God who loves you. He wants to kill you and destroy you. This is not just in terms of hell, but in terms of your family, your relationships, your health, your career, and your very life.

But Jesus says that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

If you want to find your identity, if you want to be healed from your past wounds, if you want to find true joy, the questions are the same as what we asked from the very beginning: Do you trust him? Do you trust him enough to obey the things that he tells you. Do you trust that his ways are right? Do you trust that his ways give life?

So many Christians say they do, but their actions deny it.

Most often, they deny it by denying his Word.

“Oh, I know the Bible says I shouldn’t marry an unbeliever, but I love her.”

“Yes, I know that God says I should forgive, but I’ve been wounded too deeply.”

“I know that God says I’m to honor my husband, but how can I honor a man like that?”

And the list goes on and on. We can make any number of excuses to deny his word. But all of them display a single attitude: distrust.

You will never find who you really are, you will never find healing in your life, you will never find true joy in your life as long as you hold onto that distrust.

Life is not easy. God never promised it would be, no matter what some preacher on TV or on the internet or in some book may have told you.

The question is: will you trust him enough to do what he has said? Or will you not?

For many people, they may trust God, but they have no idea what he has said. And that’s why reading your Bible is important. That’s why getting good Christian counsel is important.

For others, while they have made the decision to trust God, it’s still a struggle to do so in everyday life. It’s not that they’re outright rebellious, but the patterns of distrust are too well laid down in their lives to simply unravel in a single day. If that’s you, trust begins one small step at a time. Do the little things that God has asked you to do. As you do, you will start to see God blessing you, and your faith will grow stronger. And the stronger your faith grows, the easier it will become to obey him in the bigger things.

Others struggle to trust because they have been disappointed in the past. God didn’t answer prayers as they had hoped, or they tried obeying God in the past and things went badly for some reason. Disappointment may be one of the biggest barriers to trust. But the thing God promises is that if you continue to put your trust in him, at the end of your life when you look back at all that has happened and you see the tapestry of all the good and bad that was woven into your life, you will see God’s hand in it all. And you will say, “It was good. God was good.”

As the apostle Peter tells us, “whoever believes in [Jesus] will not be put to shame. (I Peter 4:6)

But you need to choose to trust him and obey. A relationship of trust is where the gospel story begins. It’s also where it ends.

In the beginning, people trusted God and obeyed him. And they had life. They knew their identity. They had joy. They were whole physically and emotionally.

But then people declared their independence from God, and brokenness and death was the result.

But God in his love, while we were still rebels against him, sent his Son to pay the price for our rebellion. In doing so, he made a way for our sin to be forgiven and for us to be made right in his sight once again.

And now, when we turn to Jesus and regard him as Lord once more, when we put our trust in him daily as we were meant to from the beginning, we find life.

That’s the gospel.

May the gospel be something that defines not only your salvation, but defines your very life.

Questions to think about:

  1. How is your view of the gospel different (if at all) from when you first started reading this blog?

Going deeper:

  1. In what areas do you struggle to trust and obey God? Why do you think you struggle so much?
  2. What small steps can you take to help you start building your faith?
  3. Life is not always easy here in this world. If a struggling Christian were to ask you why they are going through such pain, how would you encourage them? What steps could you take to help them in their journey?
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Chapter 9 — So doesn’t that mean I can live anyway I like?

Today’s reading: Romans 6:15-23

I suppose the alternative title for this chapter could be, “Then why be good?”

“If we are saved by grace and can do nothing to be saved, why not just live how I want to?”

The answer goes back to the very beginning. What was the problem from the very beginning in the garden of Eden. Forgetting that we are responsible to God. Forgetting that he is our Lord. Even worse, choosing to rebel against him.

What happens when we do that? Life falls apart. So why go back to that?no-u-turn

That’s one of Paul’s points in this passage. The path we were taking before we turned to Christ led to shame and death. Do you seriously want to go back to that?

Some people think that they find freedom when they declare their independence from God. “I don’t have to do what God or anyone else tells me. I’m free!”

But Paul tells us that this is simply not true. We may be free from God, that’s true. But we become slaves of another: slaves of sin. We no longer are in control of our own actions; sin is in control.

That’s why people have so many destructive habits, despite knowing how destructive they are.

That’s why people continually hurt the ones they say they love, despite knowing how they’re wounding them.

They simply can’t control themselves. They say they’re free, but they can’t extricate themselves from the habits that are causing them shame and are even destroying them.

But when we turn to Christ in our misery, and say, “Jesus, please break these chains that are binding me. I acknowledge you as my Creator and Lord. I no longer put my trust in myself. I put it in you,” Jesus breaks those chains and sets us free. The end result? A sanctified life. Put another way, you receive a life that is made whole. This doesn’t happen all at once, of course. It is a process. But you will be made whole, and Paul tells us the end result is eternal life.

Having gone through all that, why return?

But if you are going to insist on going your own way, then the question you have to really ask yourself is, “Did I really repent in the first place?”

Remember what repentance is. It’s not merely admitting you made mistakes in the past and apologizing for it. Repentance is acknowledging God as your Creator and Lord and choosing to put your trust in him from that time forward. In short, it’s a total change in attitude. The former type of repentance often leads to the latter and all true Christians eventually reach that point. But it is possible to do the former, and never do the latter.

Can you honestly say you have repented if you’re still holding a heart of utter rebellion in your heart?

By definition, a Christian is someone who acknowledges God as Creator and Lord in their lives, and has put their trust in him. No person can call themselves a Christian and hold an attitude of rebellion towards God in their hearts.

You may still believe he is your Creator, but unless you acknowledge his lordship in your life and choose to put your trust in him, you cannot truly call yourself a Christian. If you insist on still calling yourself a Christian, then I would have to say you’re holding to a false gospel. Because the message of the gospel is completely contrary to the position you’re holding.

Remember the very first message Jesus gave. What was it? Repent. (Matthew 4:17)

Remember the very first message the apostle Peter gave. What was it? Repent. (Acts 2:38)

Any gospel that eliminates repentance from its message is no gospel at all.

What gospel are you holding to?

Things to think about:

  1. “Repentance is not merely admitting you made mistakes in the past and apologizing for them. Repentance is acknowledging God as your Creator and Lord and choosing to put your trust in him from that time forward.” Why is this distinction so important?

Going deeper:

  1. How would you describe your repentance when you first prayed to become a Christian? Did you proclaim God as your Lord and choose to put your trust in him from that time forward? If not, did those things come later in your Christian life? If so, when?
  2. Some people argue, “Well, I know some people that became Christians, went through a rebellious stage when they turned their backs on God, and then came back to God. Does that mean they weren’t really Christians at first, but then got saved later? Or does it mean that they lost their salvation and came back?” How would you answer?
  3. If a person claims to be a Christian and is in a rebellious stage, do you think it’s right to affirm to them that you believe they are saved? Why or why not?
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Chapter 8 — But don’t I have to DO something??

Today’s reading: Romans 3:21-28

One of the things people find hard to accept about the Christian faith is that we are accepted by God on the basis of grace alone, through faith alone.

And the question comes, “But don’t I have to do something?”

Well, I suppose it depends on what you mean by “do something.”

If you mean do something in order to be accepted by God, all can you do is throw yourself on the mercy of his court.

There’s no other thing that you can do to save yourself. You cannot “balance the scales” by doing a lot of good works. The truth of the matter is, the whole picture of balancing scales is a bad one anyway. Why?

There are two ways a scale can be balanced. One is if you have done enough good things to good-and-evilbalance the bad. But God is not interested in the good balancing the bad. He’s wants nothing on the bad side at all. So if you’ve done one bad thing, you’re already lost. And all of us have done much more than one bad thing in our lifetime.

The other way a scale can be balanced is if there is nothing on either side. But God is not interested in moral neutrality. He wants complete goodness from us, just as he is completely good. So the scale should not be balanced, it should be weighed completely down on the good side. Not only that, if you have failed to do one good thing God has asked of you, the good side will not weigh as much as it should. You’ve fallen short of the goodness of God. More, your failure to do what he asks you to do is sin in God’s sight. (James 4:17)

“But you’re talking about an impossible standard! No one can live up to that.”

Exactly. And that’s why there’s nothing we can do to justify ourselves before God. And that’s why in Romans 3:23, it says,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Only when we understand that, can we understand why Jesus came. When he was on earth, he lived a perfect life. And now his perfect righteousness is transferred over to us in place of our imperfect righteousness. Not only that, he died on a cross, and by doing so, he wiped off all the sins that were on our scales. And Paul tells us this is done for us purely as a gift. He says,

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (23-25)

We talked about propitiation in the last chapter, that Jesus took all of God’s wrath toward us upon himself. It also says here that he redeemed us. The picture here behind the word “redeemed,” is of a person buying another out of slavery. We were slaves to Satan’s kingdom and to sin. There was no way for us to free ourselves from these things. But Jesus bought us out of slavery to Satan and to sin. All we need to do is put our trust in him. That’s why Paul says that all these things are to be “received by faith.”

But that also means that all the work of salvation was done by God. So Paul concludes,

Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (27-28)

In other words, there is no way that we can stand before God and say, “I deserve to be let into heaven.”

All our righteousness came from Jesus when he lived a perfect life on this earth. And all our sins were taken away based on his death on the cross.

So what’s left for us to do?

First, be humble, realizing that in God’s eyes, there is no difference between you and any other person.

Second, be thankful. And live out that thankfulness with how you live.

How do we live out that thankfulness? We talked about it before: stop centering your life around yourself and your plans. Instead, center it around God and his plans. We’ve already seen that it is his plan to draw people to himself. And he calls us to join in with those plans, saying,

Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? (Isaiah 5:6)

Am I saying that you have to quit your job and leave everything behind to become a missionary somewhere? God may call some of you to do that. But for most of us, it starts much smaller.

It starts with our family. God says, “Whom shall I send to your family? Who will go for us?”

He then asks, “Whom shall I send to your  neighbors? Who will go for us?”

And, “Whom shall I send to your fellow students or coworkers? Who will go for us?”

And as you answer these calls, God may ask you to go out to other cities, or even countries as full time ministers.

Or he may not. Each person’s call is different.

But one thing’s for certain, wherever you are, and whatever place he has called you to, he has called you to go for him and join in his plan of rescuing people from Satan’s kingdom just as he rescued you.

And each day as we go out into this world, as we relate to our families, to our friends, to our coworkers, to the people around us, that’s what we need to keep in mind.

As we’ve said before, the gospel is not merely about you. It’s about who God is and what he is doing in the world and in the lives around you.

Questions to think about:

  1. If God made a balance scale to represent your life, what do you think it would look like? From what you read today, would your life be good enough in God’s eyes? Why or why not? How do you feel about that?
  2. Is it easy for you to accept that we cannot work our way into God’s good graces and that all we can do is put our faith in him and ask for his mercy? Why or why not?

Going deeper:

  1. Have you ever thought about the fact that not only did Jesus take away our sin by his death on the cross, but that he transferred his righteousness to us through the life he lived here on earth? From what you read today, why is that important?
  2.  Is the gospel so central to your life, that you live each day in thankfulness to God? Why would you say so (or not)?
  3. Some people would say, “If I don’t have to do something to be saved, what motivation do I have for doing good and avoiding sin?” From what you’ve read in the chapters so far, how would you answer that question?
  4. Do you ever fall into the trap (consciously or not) of trying to “balance the scales?” Why can that be a dangerous way for a Christian to think?
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Chapter 7 — But can it really be that easy?

Today’s reading: Romans 3:9-26

I suppose the chapter title speaks for itself. “Can it really be so easy to be made right before God? Just say, ‘God have mercy on me a sinner,’ and God will forgive?”

In a sense, yes. In a sense, no.

The yes part is from our standpoint. When we repent, God forgives. But remember what we said about repentance. It’s not merely saying “I’m sorry.” It’s a complete turning around. It’s once again recognizing God as our Creator. It’s once again recognizing his lordship over us. It’s once again placing our faith in him.

And when we do that, God forgives.

The no part is from God’s standpoint. It was not easy at all.

It was difficult for several reasons.

  1. Our rebellion was so hurtful to him. We see a whole list of that rebellion from verses 9-18 in today’s passage. And those are just the tip of the iceberg.
  2. God’s justice required retribution for this rebellion. As a judge, God could not have just let this rebellion slide and still be called just.
  3. Every single person was worthy of his retribution, and yet he loved each one.

And so God had several choices. One was to simply let all sin slide. But he couldn’t do that. He is too holy and just to simply do that. He would no longer be holy nor just if he did so.

Second, he could have simply destroyed everyone. But he didn’t want to do that either because of his love for us.

And so he chose a third option. He sent his Son to take our punishment for us. It says in verse 25 that God put forth Jesus as a propitiation for our sins. Propitiation is a ten-dollar word that simply means that Jesus took upon himself all of God’s wrath. The wrath we deserved fell upon him.

Do you want to know how deeply God loves you? Look at the cross. Do you want to know cross
how seriously God takes our sin? Look at the cross. Look at the beating that Jesus took on his face. Look at the gashes on his back from the whip. Look at the crown of thorns pounded on his head. Look at the nails in his hands and feet.

Was it easy for God to forgive our sins just because he loved us? No. He forgave us at a terrible cost to himself.

But because Jesus paid that price, we can now be forgiven in God’s sight.

The apostle Paul tells us in verses 25-26 concerning Christ’s sacrifice,

This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (25-26)

In other words, from the time of Adam and Eve until Jesus came, a period of thousands of years, numerous people came to God in repentance and God forgave them, not punishing them for their sin. But all that time justice was not done, to God’s hurt. It wrenches his heart to see sin not punished because he is a just and holy God. But he withheld his hand of punishment. Why? Because he knew that the time would come when he would send his Son into the world.

And when Jesus went to the cross, God poured all his pent-up wrath upon Jesus. Wave upon wave fell on Jesus. But not only were the sins of the past put on Jesus. All the future sins of the people Jesus was dying for were put on him as well. And God’s wrath for all those sins were poured upon him too.

In agony, Jesus cried out,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34)

But finally, after hours of this on the cross, Jesus felt that anger subside. God’s wrath on sin was completely spent. And when Jesus sensed this, he said, “It is finished.”

With that, all our sins were paid for.

So you tell me. Was all this easy? I don’t think so.

So never take your forgiveness for granted. Never take the grace you have received from God for granted. It was freely given to you because of how much God loved you. But it was paid for at  a terrible price.

Things to think about:

  1. Many people talk about God’s love, but few talk about his justice and holiness. Why are these two things important as we think about the cross?
  2. Do you ever take your sins lightly? If so, why do you think you do that? How are we treating Jesus’ sacrifice when we take our sins as lightly as we often do?

Going deeper:

  1. Some people say, “I can forgive sins without a price being paid. Why can’t God?” From what you read today, how would you answer that?
  2. A lot of people say (whether spoken or not), “Well, I know that what I’m doing is wrong, but I’ll just ask for forgiveness later.” What does that say about how much they understand how God feels about sin? What does that say about how much they appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice? What would you say to such a person?
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Chapter 6 — Grace

Today’s reading: Luke 18:9-14

The second point of emphasis we need to make concerning the gospel is a sweet five-letter word: g-r-a-c-e. Unless you understand grace, you do not truly understand the gospel.

But to understand grace, we need to go back to our first point of emphasis: how bad we really were in the eyes of God. If you have yet to understand how filthy you were in God’s sight, you will never understand grace.

We see that in this story.

Jesus tells a story of a Pharisee. Pharisees were a religious group who had a strong passion for God’s law. They were extremely meticulous about trying to keep every last letter of the law. Unfortunately, that meticulousness led to pride. Jesus told them that in trying to keep the law, they would strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. In other words, they concentrated so much on the minutia of the law, that the greater things went completely past their notice: namely justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23-24).

So when the Pharisee in Jesus’ story started to pray, he could say things like,

‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ (Luke 18:11-12

This man had no awareness at all of his need for forgiveness in his life. He couldn’t see the filth that covered him as he stood before God.

The tax collector in Jesus’ story, however, knew full well just how deep his sin was. Tax
collectors in Jesus’ day were a notorious lot, often cheating the people they were collecting taxes from. But struck with guilt, this tax collector beat his breast and cried out to God,

‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (13)

And Jesus said of him,

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted. (14)

What is grace? It is giving a person something they do not deserve. In this case, it’s the granting of forgiveness. Of a new start.

Did the tax collector deserve forgiveness? Did he deserve a second chance? No. He was neck deep in his sin. He had idolized money all his life, hurting both God and others in the process. But when he repented, God forgave him.

That’s grace.

We saw that same grace when we read Isaiah 6. Isaiah also was neck deep in his sin. But God showed him grace, forgiving his sins, though Isaiah did nothing to deserve it.

That last point is the key: Isaiah did nothing to merit God’s forgiveness. All he could do was cry out, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” And God forgave him.

It’s the same for each and every one of us. We have done nothing to merit God’s forgiveness in our lives. We betrayed him. We were unfaithful to him. We wounded him. And yet when we came to him in faith, repenting of our sins, he received us to himself. He cleaned up the filth that was on us. And he gave us a new start.

Meditate on these two things:have-mercy-on-me

  1. I was filthy before God. An adulterous wretch before him.
  2. God poured his grace on me and forgave me anyway.

Think on these things until they truly come home to you. Because until you understand these two truths, you don’t truly understand the gospel. Until these truths sink into your heart, you will ever be like the Pharisee in Jesus’ story, incapable of fully understanding the depths of God’s grace in your life.

Your understanding of these two truths shape how you see others. It shapes how you see yourself. And it shapes how you see God and your relationship with him.

How about you? Do you truly understand grace in your life?

Things to think about: 

  1. If you’re not a Christian, how does it feel to hear that you are filthy before God? Do you find that easy to accept? Why or why not?
  2. If you are a Christian, how deep was your awareness of your sin when you became a Christian? Why do you think so?

Going deeper:

  1. As one gets closer the light, the more clearly you should be able to see the dirt on yourself. If you have been a Christian for a while, can you say that this is true of you? Can you see your sins more clearly now than you could when you first became a Christian?  Why do you feel the way you do?
  2. How does a person’s understanding of the two truths mentioned in today’s blog affect their relationship with God?
  3. How does a person’s understanding of these two truths affect their relationships with others?
  4. How does a person’s understanding of these two truths affect their view of themselves?
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Chapter 5 — But am I really that bad?

Today’s reading: Isaiah 6

Before we press on, there are certain things that we do need to emphasize if you are to really understand the gospel.

The first is the seriousness of your sin. Most people simply don’t see how serious their sin is in the sight of God. Why is that?

There are many reasons for this. One is that they don’t understand what God’s standards for goodness are. They have their own standards in their minds as to what’s good and bad. And though they may admit that they never keep those standards perfectly, in their minds, they never really violate them too badly. Even if they do, they can think of a dozen different reasons why it was justifiable in that instance.

A second is that they are constantly comparing themselves with others. They think to scales-man-woman-11783392themselves, “Well, I’m not as bad as so-and-so. And I’m just as good as most other people around me.”

A third reason is that they don’t understand God’s holiness. They don’t understand that he is completely pure and free from sin. And they don’t understand just how much it revolts him when he sees anything impure in them. It’s this last point that I want you to think about.

When you lie, it it causes utter revulsion in the heart of God.

When a careless word comes out of your mouth and wounds another, it causes utter revulsion in the heart of God.

When you act selfishly and wound your family, your friends, or those around you, it causes utter revulsion in the heart of God.

But because our own standards of good and evil have become so warped, and because we have become so “used to” sin, it takes so much more for us to feel that kind of revulsion. So think of seeing a child molester standing on trial for his crimes. Think about how the thought of what he did would make you want to throw up. Think of how your heart would cry out for justice. That’s how God feels as we stand before him and he sees all our sins. Not only do our sins repulse him, his justice and holiness demands that a price be paid. He cannot simply ignore sin and sweep it under a rug.

Am I saying that child molestation is as revolting to God as lying or saying hurtful words is? No. But these things are much more revolting to God than I think most people realize. And that’s why we take them so lightly.

There’s another image that shows how repulsive we have become in God’s sight. God says that when we set up other idols in our heart, we literally make ourselves prostitutes in his sight. Think about how you would feel about your boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife if they not only started cheating on you, but began prostituting themselves. That’s how God feels when we prostitute ourselves to idols (Ezekiel 16, Hosea 1-2).

What do I mean by, “prostituting ourselves to idols?”

Usually when we think about idolatry (if we do at all), we think of worshiping statues of wood, gold, silver, etc. But you can make an idol of anything. You can make an idol of your job. You can make an idol of your hobby. You can make an idol of your girlfriend or boyfriend. You can make an idol of your family. Anything that you place before God in your life is your idol. And when God sees you setting up idols in your life, it’s not simply that he becomes a scorned lover. We have become prostitutes.

You see, we were created by him and for him (Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:16). And when we prostitute ourselves to these idols, we become utterly filthy in God’s sight.

That’s what God’s prophet Isaiah discovered in this passage.

For the first time in his life, he saw God blazing in all his holiness and purity. And when he did, he cried out,

Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (5)

No longer was Isaiah comparing himself to others. He was comparing himself to God, and he saw just how far short he fell of being as pure as God was. And one day, all of us will stand before God and see the same thing. On that day, all mouths will be silenced before him. No one will be able to stand before God and say, “See how good I am. You’re so lucky to have someone like me around.”

Until you see how utterly sinful you are in the sight of God, you don’t really understand the gospel. Unless you see how desperate your state is, you don’t truly grasp your need for the gospel.

The problem in Isaiah’s day is the same problem we have in our day. People hear the gospel, but they don’t understand it. They hear the call to repentance but don’t understand their need to do so. They see all creation and how it screams that there is a Creator, but they don’t perceive it. They see the sins and evil around them and in their own hearts, and never blink an eye.

The result? Judgment. As Israel was judged for their sin, so will we. We have only one hope. That God himself opens our eyes to his glory, takes away our sin, and atones for it as he did with Isaiah’s.

As we’ve said before, through Jesus’ death on the cross, our sin is atoned for and taken away. Put another way, when we turn to him, his blood covers our sin, and he makes us pure and holy in his sight.

That is the work that God is engaged in today. That’s what he’s doing now. And if you have understood your sin, how serious it was, and you have understood just how you’ve been forgiven, how can you not respond as Isaiah did?

God called out,

Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? (8a)

And Isaiah replied,

Here I am! Send me. (8b)

That should be our response to the forgiveness we’ve been given. Gratitude. Humility. And a desire to join God in his work to save others who are as we once were.

You see the gospel is not simply about God’s work in your life. It’s not simply about making your life better. It’s not simply about healing your inner wounds. It’s not simply about making you successful and happy.

The gospel is about who God is and what he’s doing in the lives of the people throughout this world. This holy and beautiful God is taking an adulterous, wretched people, making them his own, and making them whole. And once he’s touched us and done this in our lives, he’s called us to join in that work. We are not to simply rejoice in what God’s done in us. We are to join in his crusade to save others too.

And as we do, our life becomes centered on him as God intended from the beginning.

We’re centered on his beauty.

We’re centered on his love.

We’re centered on his grace.

We’re centered on his mercy and forgiveness.

And we’re centered on his mission.

And when our lives our focused on these things, that’s when we can truly say we understand his gospel.

Can you?

Things to think about:

  1. Finish this sentence: “God is _______________.” Why did you finish that sentence the way you did?
  2. When the angels worshiped God, they cried out, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of Hosts.” Why do you think they focused on that part of God’s character? How would you define “God’s holiness?” How should that definition shape how you view him and how you live your life?
  3. Can you see ways in which you have been acting adulterously towards God? What things have you placed before him in your life?

Going deeper:

  1. Imagine you were in Isaiah’s place, seeing God in all his beauty and holiness. How do you think you would you complete this sentence? “Woe is me. For I _________________.”
  2. How do you think Isaiah felt when the angel told him, “Your guilt is taken away. Your sin is atoned for?” Do you feel the same way when you think about how much God has forgiven you? Why or why not?
  3. Isaiah’s immediate response to forgiveness was a change of focus. No longer was he focused on himself, but he was focused on God and what God was doing. Can you say the same about yourself? Why or why not?
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Chapter 4 — Finding our way back

Today’s reading: Genesis 3

We saw in the last chapter that when Adam and Eve lost sight of true north, they quickly lost their compassway. Their relationship with God was broken, as well as their relationship with each other. And when God came to confront them with their sin, what was their immediate response?

First they literally tried to hide from God among the trees. When that didn’t work, they tried to shift the blame. Adam tried to blame Eve (and indirectly God, because God had given Eve to Adam as a gift). Eve in turn tried to thrust the blame on the serpent.

And in doing these things, they showed their root problem. They refused to recognize that they were responsible to God. But what God made very clear to them was that they couldn’t hide from that responsibility. Nor could they shift the blame. No matter how hard they tried, they were still ultimately responsible to him.

And there would be consequences for their actions. The common themes to God’s judgment on them seem to be struggle and pain. There would be struggle and pain within marriage. There would be struggle and pain in childbirth. There would be struggle and pain in work.

Why were these things singled out? Probably because for most people, these things define them. For most women it’s family. For most men, it’s work. These things were meant to be good things. They were meant to be part of our identity as people. But they were not meant to be the whole of our identity. Our relationship with God was to define who we are. We were to define our worth from the fact that he has specially created us and loves us.

But when we fail to acknowledge God as our Creator and his lordship in our lives, we often try to define ourselves by other things: by our marriages, our children, our work, or other things. What we quickly learn, however, is that apart from God, these things often become a struggle, and painful. We see this in the lives of people everywhere today. There is a high price for refusing to acknowledge God and his lordship in our lives.

God then banished Adam and Eve from the garden, never to return. But did that mean that they were forever damned to a life apart from God? Were they forever damned to live a life of pain and struggle?

No. God provided a way back. We see it first in the judgment he laid upon the serpent. He said,

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel. (3:15)

Here, God is not talking to the serpent itself, but Satan who had been speaking through the serpent. And God told him, “I will send an offspring of the woman to deal with you. You will get your shot at him, bruising his heel. But he’s going to bruise your head, Devil.”

We see the fulfillment of all this in Jesus Christ. Jesus, the descendant of Eve, went to the cross and suffered greatly there. But in doing so, he thoroughly defeated Satan.

How? By paying the price that we owe for rebelling against God that we might have a way back to him. In short, we deserved to die on the cross for our sins. But he died in our place.

We see that in today’s story. God had told Adam and Eve that they deserved death that very day for their sin. But they didn’t die physically that day. Instead, God killed an animal in their place and he used its skin to cover their shame.

In the same way, Jesus died in our place, and by his blood, all our sin and shame is covered.

Does this then mean that everyone has been forgiven in God’s sight? Unfortunately, no.

God requires something of us: repentance.

When I say repentance, I mean a return to acknowledging him as our Creator and a return to acknowledging his lordship in our lives. And most of all, I mean a return to faith in him. Believing that he is good. Believing that he knows what is best. Believing that he wants our best. And based on that faith, choosing to do what he has told us to do.

I believe that’s what Adam and Eve did. They heard God’s promise to send a Savior, and though the Bible never specifically tells us so, it seems that they chose to believe him. And so they abandoned the clothing they had tried to fashion for themselves, and instead accepted the clothing that God provided for them. From what we see afterwards, it seems that they acknowledged him as their Creator once again (Genesis 4:1, 4:25) and his lordship over them (4:26).

That is the road back to God. Repentance. Faith.

And the very first way we express both is by putting our faith in Jesus. Not by trying to earn our way into God’s good graces by doing a bunch of good works. And most certainly not by chasing after other gods and religions.

When Jesus was asked how to please God, he was very clear.

This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent. (John 6:29)

If we are to return to God, we need to look to Jesus on the cross and say, “You paid the price for my sin. You paid a price I could not pay myself. Thank you for this precious gift. Now God, I return to you. I acknowledge you as my Creator. I acknowledge you as my Lord. I choose to trust you in my life and to follow you. Amen.”

If you’ve never prayed that prayer before, won’t you do so today?

Questions to think about:

  1. When people point out the wrongs in your life, what is your immediate response? To try to hide? To make excuses? To shift the blame? Or do you take responsibility as a person who has sinned against God? Why do you think many people try to do everything but the latter?
  2. If someone had asked you before you read this blog, “What does it mean to repent?” how would you have answered? Is it any different from how repentance is described in this blog? Why is it important to define repentance as we have?
  3. When you think the definition of repentance in this blog, can you say you have truly repented? Why or why not?

Going deeper:

  1. Do you think repentance is taught well in churches today? Why or why not?
  2. Think about people you know who have fallen away from their Christian faith. How might a shallow understanding of repentance have led to their fall?
  3. A lot of people think that they can choose to accept Jesus as their Savior, but at the same time choose not to make him their Lord. That now that they have been saved, they can simply live any way they choose. Do you think a person can truly say they have repented if they don’t acknowledge Jesus’ lordship in their lives? Why or why not?
  4. Based on what you read today, how would you answer a person who said, “I believe there are many paths to God, not just Jesus?”
  5. Where do get your identity from? If someone were to ask you to tell them about yourself, how would you answer? What problems can you see in your own life come from trying to get your identity from other things besides God.
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Chapter 3 — How we lost our way

Today’s reading: Genesis 1:26-3:24

When God first created the first two people, Adam and Eve, they knew where true north lay.

We don’t know much about those early days of humanity. But it’s certain that they knew who their Creator was and that they were responsible to him. God in fact gave them the responsibility of ruling over the earth and caring for it, starting with the garden God had placed them in (Genesis 1:26-30; 2:15).

Those were joyous times for Adam and Eve. I can imagine that at the end of each day, they would tell God about their day, and ask him questions about the things he had created and the things they had experienced.

We also see that Adam and Eve had an ideal marriage. It says in Genesis 2:25 that they were naked but not ashamed. This is not merely talking about sex, although that is certainly part of it. It’s talking about a oneness between the man and woman in every way. A oneness in which they had no need to hide anything from each other. Imagine that. Complete openness, physically and emotionally, with one another. In short, because they knew where true north lie, Adam and Eve not only had a good relationship with God, they had a good relationship with one other.

So what happened? How did Adam and Eve lose sight of true north?

One thing God did at the very beginning was to put a tree called, “The tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” in the center of the garden. And he told Adam (Eve hadn’t been created yet), “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (3:16-17)

Why did God put this tree in the garden and give Adam this command? I think it was to help Adam remember where true north lay. True north lay in Adam’s recognizing his dependence on God, and the fact that he was responsible to God. Just as importantly, true north lay in Adam trusting God. Trusting that God loved him and that God was looking out for his best. If Adam failed to recognize these things, he would quickly lose sight of true north in his life.

The tree was the thing that brought all these things into sharp focus. And God said, “On the day that you eat from that tree, you will die.”

Why? Because if we walk away from the Author of life, trying to assert our independence from him and seeking life apart from him, what is left for us but death? There is no life apart from the Author of life.

For a while, Adam and his wife Eve kept the command.

But one day, while Eve was near the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a serpent came and started speaking to her.

How could this be? Serpents can’t talk.

Normally they can’t. But there is little doubt here that it was the devil, Satan, speaking through this serpent. We don’t know much about Satan’s origins, but it appears from the Bible that he had once been an angel before rebelling against God. And for his rebellion, he and his followers were cast out of heaven (Revelation 12:7-9). Now he was trying to instigate another such rebellion among humanity. So he said to Eve,

Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’? (3:1)

Eve replied,

We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die. (3:2-3)

You may notice here that Eve didn’t quite get the command right. God hadn’t said anything about not touching the fruit. But as I said before, she wasn’t there when Adam received the command, so it’s possible that Adam added that bit about not touching the fruit in order to protect her.

Anyway, Satan responded,

You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. (4-5)

What was Satan trying to do here? He was basically saying, “God’s lying to you. He’s holding something good back from you. If you eat this fruit, you will be like God knowing good and evil.”

Now Satan doesn’t say this explicitly, but I think one thing that he was hinting at was that if Eve could just have this knowledge, she could be independent of God. That with this knowledge she could be free to pursue her own path. The other thing that he was doing more explicitly was trying to destroy the trust that was between her and God. You don’t just tell a person that someone is lying to them without undermining that relationship.

Now whether Eve caught all these implications of Satan’s lie is uncertain. It’s possible that all she heard was, “You’re missing out on something good. If you take this fruit, your life will be so much better.” And so she took it and ate.

She then handed the fruit over to Adam, and he ate. But while we can say that Eve was deceived and perhaps didn’t understand all the implications of what she was doing, we cannot say the same of Adam. Why not? Because according to the apostle Paul, while Eve was taken in by Satan’s lies, Adam was not deceived. (I Timothy 2:14). Put another way, when Adam took the fruit, he knew exactly what he was doing and what the implications were. And he ate anyway. Eating that fruit was Adam’s “Declaration of Independence.”

But in doing so, he lost sight of true north.lost

What was the result?

1. A broken relationship with God. When God came into the garden in the cool of the day, Adam and Eve ran and tried to hide from him.

2. A broken relationship between Adam and Eve. The beautiful openness between them disappeared, and they suddenly felt the need to hide their bodies from each other. Not only that, when God confronted Adam with eating from the tree, instead of taking responsibility, Adam blamed Eve. And in God’s curse, you see the struggle that would occur not only between Adam and Eve, but every married couple after that.

3. Death. By God’s grace, physical death would come much later. But that very day, they died spiritually. Their relationship of perfect trust and dependence on God was broken. Oh, they most certainly did regain some of that, but it was never as perfect as it had been when they were first created. From that time on, there was always some doubt. “Is God really looking out for my best? Can I really trust him?”

In time, many of their descendants completely stopped depending on God. They forgot the God who had created them and even started creating their own “gods” to worship, gods created by their own hands. And because they had lost a sense of responsibility to the one true God, their sense of morals swiftly became warped. Certainly they maintained some semblance of right and wrong. God had ingrained that too deeply in them for them to abandon that sense completely. But nevertheless, their morals got corrupted, leaving a stream of hurting people behind them. We see this throughout society today.

Leaders accountable only to themselves abuse their power, and as a result, people are oppressed and wars are started.

Fathers accountable only to themselves no longer care for their wives and families as they should, so their marriages and families start to fall apart.

People accountable only to themselves place themselves and their wants and needs above all else, with little regard for others. As a result of this, other social problems appear. Crime. Poverty. Divorce. Domestic violence. Teenage pregnancies and abortion.

Have you ever wondered why this world is such a mess? It’s because we have lost sight of true north. And as God told Adam at the very beginning, death is the result. The death of a relationship with God. The death of marriage relationships. The death of parent-child relationships. The death of friendships. The death of a healthy society.

All because we have lost sight of the fact that God is our creator and we are responsible to him. Instead, we are living independent of him and are accountable only to ourselves. Ultimately, we will die physically for that attitude. And if we die holding that attitude, we will be judged for it, and experience spiritual death: a separation from God forever, one in which Jesus says there will be a perpetual wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:42)

What then? Is there no hope? No, there is hope. But that comes in the next chapter.

Questions to think about:

  1. Many people today say, “Well, if there’s a God, that’s fine. But I don’t think I really need him. So if he’ll just leave me alone, I’ll leave him alone. He can go his way and I’ll go mine.” What is the problem with that attitude in which people refuse to be accountable to God?
  2. I said in earlier blogs that though we will address things like “your identity” and “how to have a happy life,” these things are the “south,” “east,” and “west” of life. Do you understand more clearly why this is so? How would you explain it to others?

Going Deeper:

  1. Think about your broken relationships. What does this chapter tell you about why they are broken? What is the core issue of how to get things right? What does that mean for you, personally?
  2. Think about societal problems: corrupt governments, poverty, abortion, crime, etc. How does the gospel speak to these issues?
  3. Many people in the church call for Christians to solve the above societal problems, but fail to address the gospel in their efforts to do so. Why is this a mistake? What kind of balance do we need as we think about our mission as a church?
  4. Many pastors preach on “How to have a better marriage,” or “How to succeed in life,” and other such topics. Granted that the Bible talks about these topics, why can it be dangerous to only hear messages about such things?
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Chapter 2 — Our true north

Today’s reading: Acts 17:24-31

We said in the last chapter that so many people are lost today because they have lost sight of true north in their lives.true-north

And so before we do anything else, we need to see where exactly our true north lies, and that starts with God. Who is God? What is he like?

The apostle Paul did a wonderful job of describing him in Acts 17. Paul was talking to a bunch of a people who believed in a multiplicity of gods. They were so worried about not missing one by accident, they even made an altar to an “unknown God.” Paul seized upon that opportunity to show them who the one true God is. What did he say about him?

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’” (Acts 17:24-28)

That’s a mouthful. But there are many key things to note here.

1. God is our creator. We are not an accident of nature. Our parents may have thought we were an accident. But in God’s eyes, there are no “accidents.”

2. He is Lord of heaven and earth. He did not simply create this earth, set it in motion and turn his back on it. He is its rightful Lord, and all creation, including us, is to bow down to him. In short, we are not responsible to ourselves alone. We are responsible to him.

3. He “needs” nothing from us. God certainly desires much from us. Our love. Our worship. Our cooperation in his work. But need? Forget it.

Sometimes people think God created us because he was lonely. But in a mystery that defies complete explanation, though there is only one God, he is three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Father is not the Son; the Son is not the Spirit; the Spirit is not the Father. Yet the three are somehow the one God. This concept of God is what we call the “Trinity.”

What does that mean for us? Before we, the angels, or any other creature ever existed, God was in fellowship within the Trinity. The Father loved the Son. The Son loved the Spirit. The Spirit loved the Father. And the love was completely mutual between them. There were no feelings of loneliness in God. So banish all thoughts that God needed us because he was lonely.

Still, God chose to create us and share his love with us. The very natural response from us would then be love and worship, and a desire to share in his work. And God delights in us when we do so. But he doesn’t need any of these things. And he doesn’t need us. That’s one of the amazing things about God’s love. Often times we love others because we feel we need them in some way. God loved us despite the fact that he didn’t need us.

4. God may not need us, but we need him. He is the one that gives us everything we have on earth. Our very life and breath come from him and are gifts from him. Many people like to think they are truly independent. Independent from other people, certainly, but also independent from God. But when it comes to God, none of us are truly independent.

5. God has a plan. What is that plan? That we would know him and be his people. Everything he does is done with that plan in mind. From one man, he created all the people in the world. He decided when they would live and where they would live. And Paul tells us that he did so in order that we would seek him, grasp for him, and to find him. That is the plan of God in a nutshell.

So what does this all mean for us?

Paul tells us.

“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (29-31)

What is Paul saying?

1. Throw aside all your false ideas about God that you may have accumulated. Throw out the idea that he is like one of those idols that you see at Buddhist temples. Throw out the idea that he is some kind of genie that you can manipulate by doing things for him. Throw out the idea that he’s some impersonal force or that he set the world in motion and then turned his back on it. Instead, acknowledge God for who he is: your Creator and Lord.

2. Repent from rebelling against him. A lot of times when people think about sin, they think about lying or stealing or murdering or some other horrid sin. In God’s eyes, however, the ultimate sin is rebellion against him. It’s trying to live independently of him. It’s refusing to accept him as your Creator and thus rejecting his right to lordship in your life. And God calls you to repent of that, because one day, you will be judged.

How do we know this with certainty? Because in time and space, a man named Jesus Christ came into this world. He not only taught us about God, he was God in human flesh. This Jesus was crucified, and then he rose from the dead. And by rising from the dead, he showed everyone that he truly was God and that everything he had taught was true.

Now he holds us responsible for that knowledge and he will judge us. So the question is: “Are you ready? Are you ready for judgment day?”

For in God’s endgame, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:10-11)

Because Jesus rose up from the dead and will one day return to judge the world, that endgame is certain. The only question is will you say those words in worship, or will they have to be dragged out of your mouth through gritted teeth?

If you understand all these things, you have a pretty good idea of what true North is. Now the question is how did we get so far off track? We’ll be looking into that next time.

Questions to think about:

  1. Was there anything you learned about God from today’s reading that surprised you? If so, why?
  2. If our lives are not an accident, what does that say about how God views your life?
  3. How does it make you feel to hear that God is your rightful Lord and that you are responsible to him? Why do you feel that way?
  4. How does God’s definition of sin differ from what your idea of sin is? Is it very different? Why or why not? How does God’s definition of sin make you feel?
  5. When you stand before God and he asks you, “Why should I let you into heaven,” what will you say? Do you think he will accept anyone who has refused to accept him as their Creator and Lord in this lifetime? Why or why not?

Going deeper:

  1. If our lives are not an accident, how should that affect the way you view issues like abortion? How should it affect the way you think about euthanasia?
  2. What do you know (or think you know) about the Trinity? Could you explain it to someone if they asked you? What questions do you have about the Trinity?
  3. The Trinity is something that “defies complete explanation.” Does that bother you? Should it bother you? Why or why not?
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Chapter 1 — Where the gospel starts

Today’s reading: Exodus 3:13-14

What is the gospel?

For many people, they think it’s simply a way to punch their ticket to heaven.ticket-to-heaven-front-1024x585

When I was in college, I remember Christians handing out tracts that asked something like, “Do you know if you’re going to heaven?” And that was their segue into sharing the gospel.

But the truth is, the gospel is much more than a way to heaven. It’s a transforming force that changes your entire worldview; it completely reshapes the way you think and live your life every day.

And if the gospel you have received doesn’t do that, then it may be time to reinspect the gospel you say you believe.

The apostle Paul said to be wary of false gospels, because even in his days, they were starting to infiltrate the church (2 Corinthians 11:4). You may not have a false gospel, but there are certainly many people in the church today who have an incomplete one. And unfortunately, because of this, they have a warped idea of who God is, a warped idea of who they are, and a warped idea of how they should live.

But it is that first, a warped idea of who God is, that affects all the others. And if you want to know who you really are and how you should live, and how the gospel ties into all of that, you need to have a right idea of who God is.

In today’s reading, we see a man named Moses asking God what his name was. And God answered, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14)

That may seem a strange answer to you, but essentially what God was saying is that he is the eternal one. He has always existed and will continue to exist for all eternity. And God never changes.

In the past, when people tried to get their bearings, they often pulled out a compass which pointed them in the direction of north. (I suppose nowadays, people use the GPS function on their cell phone). Once they knew where north was, it was easy to figure out how to go not only north, but south, east, and west.

What does this have to do with God?

Because God has always been and ever will be, because he never changes, he is our true north in life. He is the one that we are to orient our lives around. But when we lose sight of him as our true north, we become completely lost in life.

But in the gospel, we have our compass that points us back to true north and we can find our bearings in life.

Many people today are seeking for their identity in life. Others are looking to be healed of past hurts. And many others are trying to find happiness and success in life. If you’re seeking these things, we’ll touch on these things in this blog.

But these are all ultimately secondary things. They are the “east” and “west” and “south” of life. And you can only find them if you know where true north lies. More specifically, you can only find them if you know God and have a right relationship with him.

So as we go through this blog, that’s primarily where we will be pointing. I hope you’ll take that journey with me.

Questions to think about:

  1. If you’re not a Christian, why are you reading this blog now? What were you hoping to get from it? Did anything you read today change your perspective on the gospel and what it’s about? Does it make you want to know the gospel more, or less? Why?
  2. If you are a Christian, why did you first become a Christian? Looking at your reasons now, do you think you were looking for “north?” Or were you primarily looking for “south,” “east,” or “west?” How did today’s reading change your perspective?
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