Some Not-So-New New Year’s Resolutions

Last week saw the old year 2015 slip away from us. Actually we never had it to begin with, did we? Such is the way of things. As we get older it seems the days, weeks, and years, fly on by. Plans and dreams we intended to realize or put into effect in the previous year may or may not have been fulfilled. Yet each new year gives us a good reason and opportunity to start over with a clean slate.

Here are some resolutions I think are worth at least striving for. The list is by no means comprehensive. Just consider it a good starting point:

Pay more attention to things that matter: Bible reading, prayer, participation in church services and programs, being a good neighbor no matter what. We are children of the Day (1 Thess. 5:5-11). Let’s walk in the light of it as God’s elect.

Keep a tight rein on the tongue. Hold it when necessary, loose it when useful. It can render help or hurt, praise or poison, grace or slander, love or hate. Be mindful that all of us will give account to God concerning its use, and abuse, on Judgment Day (Matthew 12:36). Let’s ask ourselves if what we mean to say to someone about others builds them up in their eyes or tears them down. Then we can make a righteous decision on whether to say it or not.

Look for the good, the best, in others and yourself. It is so easy to find fault, even within ourselves. God made us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). That alone is testimony to our worth and value to Him as it should be to one another. People who consistently keep a negative view of others can never truly be happy in this world. They, above all people, should be pitied. Don’t be like them.

Stop making excuses. No matter what it is: ill behavior, apathy, foul language, bad habits, unwise associations, absenteeism, etc. Excuses are for losers and faithful Christians are anything but that. Correct what needs correcting and move out with renewed zeal in the Lord’s service (1 Corinthians 11:31).

Be the best you can be at whatever you can do. God has given us all different skills, talents, and abilities (Romans 12:4-8). He expects us to use them for His glory and the good of others. If you cannot decide what it is you can do, ask God for wisdom (James 1:5). He will show you the way.

Try doing something you have never done before, or have been afraid to do. Sometimes we make a monster out of something that turns out to be a teddy bear after we do it. The old saying, “You never know until you try” is both true and wise. How can we say we cannot do something before we even try? Who knows, we might surprise ourselves and others when we do! Ask God to give you strength, courage, and ability and trust that He will. We can do more than we think we can if we rely upon Him.

Nothing about these is new. You may be doing them already. If so, keep up the good work! The Lord will not forget it (1 Corinthians 15:58; Hebrews 6:10); the world will be better for it, and so will the church. May God bless us in the doing of His will each and every day of every year.

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Are You a Sabanrab?

The world is filled with unhappy, discontented, people who cannot stop themselves from finding something to criticize in others. Far from obeying the Lord’s command in Matthew 7:3-5 to remove the glaring defects (beams or logs) of their own lives before pointing out the minor inconsistencies (motes or specks) of others, they unfailingly finger-point, harp, carp, and find ways to turn others’ joy into pain. Psychologists might elaborate on that, telling us since such people have very low self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy they seek to tear down others to make themselves feel better at others’ expense. Regardless, it is something that needs correcting because it is a sinful, ungodly, habit (2 Corinthians 12:20; Colossians 3:8).

In the New Testament, Barnabas stood out as one who was known for his efforts to build up others. His nickname, “son of consolation (encouragement or exhortation)” (Acts 4:36) proves it. He was a generous giver (Acts 4:36-37), a missionary (Acts 13:1-3), and one who stood up for someone who was rejected by someone else (Acts 15:36-39). He symbolizes the spirit of the type of person who, in the vernacular of today, “has your back.” (Dear Lord, what ever became of that spirit? Did it die with him?)

I am sure in the process of exhorting he had to do some rebuking and correcting, but it was done out of love and no doubt face to face, not behind the back. Those who persist in being critical, gossipy, and even slanderous, are him in reverse.

Scripture tells us not to find fault (tear down) but to edify (build up) (Colossians 4:6; Ephesians 4:29). The difference is important. Fault-finding is merely the ability to detect inconsistencies in others and do nothing except talk about them. It is at the root of all gossip and slander. Encouraging others means that while we may observe those inconsistencies, we 1) keep quiet about them unless they are serious, and 2) when they are, we offer advice and counsel directly and only to those affected. Encouraging can and should be done from the pulpit through preaching in a general way (1 Corinthians 14:3) but also face to face and one on one. Furthermore, while fault-finding is motivated by selfishness and evil desire, encouragement originates from love, the seeking of another’s welfare.

The following are some examples of both. Can you see the difference?

“They are always late to church.”
“Brother, it might set a better example to try to be in worship on time if it can be helped.”

“He is stuck up and snooty to me. He won’t speak unless spoken to first!”
“Brother, are we all right? I’ve noticed you readily extend a handshake to others but never to me.  Have I wronged you in some way?”

“They’ve got another new car. How many does that make them – one a year?” (The insinuation is that they make too much money or waste it or both).
“That’s a nice car! New isn’t it? You’ll have to take me for a ride in it sometime!” (smiles and means it).

The difference is clear.  The italicized statement is a spoken critique, a gossip-generating topic of conversation directed at no one in particular and having no value to anyone. The other is a voiced concern aimed only at the one affected or a compliment at another’s good fortune, a blessing if you will.

The church, not to mention the world, would be a far better place if people would say things only that build up others, keeping the harmful negativity to themselves. That’s not just for others’ sake, but for the sabanrabs as well since sins of the tongue left unchecked will land one, no matter how holy they think they are, squarely in the fires of hell (James 3:5-12).

No one is immune. Preachers are some of the worst gossips around, using it as a means to show just how much they know of others merely to impress somebody. They are not alone. Otherwise doctrinally sound members, who could debate the Bible all day with their religious neighbors and friends, cannot help themselves from passing on a juicy tidbit of gossip or toss around slander as if they are entitled to it.

It does matter. The Bible says so. It is a nasty, vile, habit, and if we are doing it we had better repent right now.  And yes, this physician will seek to heal himself too.

Are you or I a Barnabas or a sabanrab?

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Support Your Local Church!

“Church” is a greatly misunderstood or at least misused word. It is commonly used in reference to a building, a place where people meet to do certain religious things or a denominational organization. Yet according to scripture it is spoken of as an organism primarily, not as an organization. Called the “body” of Christ by the inspired Apostle Paul proves this (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 12:12-19). Too often Christians do not seem to understand the full import of this distinction. If they did they would not act as they do sometimes.

Organizations such as the Lion’s Club and Rotary Club exist for the benefit of a community at large, presenting programs, benefits, events, etc. to achieve a humanitarian end. They do not require as much hands-on personal participation as they do financial. Much of the planning and preparation is left to the elected officers, the “pros.” The worst thing that might happen if they fail at some project is wasted time, effort, and money.

On the other hand, the “church” as an organism exists to present, reflect, and carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ, reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19) and the offer of redemption and salvation, to a world rampaging toward the damnation of eternal darkness and hell’s flames (Mark 16:15-16; 2 Thessalonians 1:1-10). Its business is, therefore, supremely serious, even critical. If it fails its mission the worst is catastrophic – beyond tragic – a disaster of monumental proportions and monstrous scope.

Since an organization’s goals cannot compare and are certainly not destiny-altering, they do not require one hundred percent participation of their membership.

The “church” does. If its members become lax, indifferent, apathetic, or worse, someone dies lost who might not have; someone’s faith diminishes when it might not have; negative decisions may be made and conclusions reached that may determine adversely the eternal destiny of some impressionable soul. Lack of any sort may leave a soul and community with the wrong idea – that the “church” IS merely an organization established to serve its own ends and goals.

Furthermore, since the “church” is an organism, a body, why would its members treat it as if it were anything but? Millions of dollars and hours are spent by people to nurture, beautify, groom, or otherwise keep their bodies healthy, happy and presentable. Why should members of the Body of Christ not exert all their power, skills, and resources to ensure it remains viable, beautiful (to Christ) and pristine (read ‘holy’) in the face of an ugly, degenerate, soul-destroying world? Why would they treat it as if it didn’t matter what it looked like to the public, the Lord, or anyone else – neglecting it, disrespecting it, leaving it unfit, unpresentable, and unworthy as the Bride of Christ?

The next time you or I are tempted to skip “church”; donate scraps and leftovers into the offering plate; be “no-shows” at programs, services, and church-sponsored events; harp and criticize others for what efforts, however feeble, they DO for the work, worship, and general welfare of the church; whine about what isn’t being done enough of – let’s ask ourselves: “How much, or to what degree, am I contributing toward the “church,” its mission, goals and aspirations MYSELF? Am I treating it like it is an organization or an organism? Is its work vitally important to me, the welfare of ALL its members and the community, or am I laboring under the delusion that it is just a country club where I pay my dues and let that suffice?

Support your local congregation of the Lord’s Body. Be there. Be ready and willing to serve and participate. Be prayerful. Be active. Volunteer. Find your place – we all have one as members of the Body of Christ. We are ALL greatly needed to fulfill our mission. The Lord expects it of us and the salvation of lost souls depends upon it.

 

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Seven Days

Likely you know about the movie where people who saw a video tape died seven days later.  Though I did not see it myself, I am sure it revealed all the horror of their scrambling for salvation such a prospect might generate. Imagining the terror of imminent death is not hard to do.

Yet I want you to imagine a greater concern. Imagine for a moment that the entire world, not just your life, will end within seven days. You are not sure of the exact time, the hour, day or night – you just know that is the span of time in which it will happen. Further, you are absolutely certain of your information. You know for a fact that Jesus Christ is returning in glory and the world will be destroyed by fire. At that time He will deliver His saints from this present evil age, resurrect the dead, transform them and the living into immortal spiritual beings and restore the kingdom to His Father. Everyone who has ever lived will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, to be judged for their life’s actions whether good or evil. The righteous will shine like the firmament of heaven and all others will have their place in the lake of fire along with the devil and his angels for all eternity (Luke 21:25-28; 2 Peter 3:10-13; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Acts 1:9-11; Matthew 3:11-12; John 5:25-29; Daniel 12:1-4; Revelation 19:20; 20:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Romans 14:10-12). You know this will happen within seven days; you are as certain of it as you are your own name.

No doubt most people would try to spend as much time with their loved ones as possible. Some, even many, might do crazy, insane, things to fulfill some repressed desire, not at all concerned about the consequences of their actions. Others might ignore it, and go on their way, convincing themselves that it just won’t happen, being willing to take the risk. But you know they would die just as they are – sinners in need of a Savior.

Behavior could also depend greatly on whether one is already saved or not. A non-Christian might feel compelled to obey Christ and be saved. Their first thought would be to do whatever is necessary to ensure against total ruin, finally realizing that their worldliness has meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. They might scramble to shore up what needs shoring up, spiritually. They would be as the “eleventh hour” laborers, but they would be wise and saved nonetheless (Matthew 20:1-16).

What might Christians do? I think we would likely do what we should be doing now, because a version of this scenario will become reality (please review the scriptures listed above if you doubt it). True, we are not given the precise time of Christ’s return (Mark 13:32) but we should know enough of scripture to believe it will happen one day. We should be warning everyone that this is what is coming. It should make us frantic to get the word out – not merely a message promoting fear-mongering but one to fill in the rest of the story – that it does not have to be this way, that peace with God through the obedience of faith to the gospel of Christ provides absolute protection, full assurance that we will have a place among the redeemed in heaven when this old world is consumed by fire on that Last Day (John 6:39-40, 44; 11:24; 12:48). I believe we would hurry to warn our relatives, friends, neighbors, and even strangers to save themselves from the coming destruction not caring what their attitude might be. Even if they threatened us or hurt us we would speak out, as love for them would forbid silence. Nothing would contain us, hinder us, or keep us quiet. We would tell them to rely solely upon Jesus Christ for salvation, that positing faith, trusting obedience, in Him alone, not in our own good works, is the only way to be saved (John 8:24; John 14:6; Acts 4:12). We would speak out against sin to identify and expose it, proclaiming the need of repentance (renunciation) of it (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38). We would urge them to confess the Name of Jesus Christ as the Son of God (Matthew 10:32, 33; Acts 8: ; Romans 10:9-10) and to crown it all by being baptized, immersed in water, as directed by Christ and His Apostles so that our sins might be forgiven by His blood-bought sacrifice at Calvary (Matthew 28:18-20; John 15:15-16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:3ff) and to live faithfully in Christ for whatever time is left (Revelation 2:10). We would do this as much as we could, as often as we could, whenever and wherever we could.

Whatever resistance we met would be brushed aside because we know this to be right: that salvation in Christ is based upon His promise to the obedient, not as a prayer to Him as many claim. We would not care who condemned or derided our words for we know in whom and in what we have believed, and there is none other who can save.

Though we do not know when the Lord will return we know that He can at any moment. We have lived many weeks holding onto a very real knowledge and firm belief that He could have returned any day of them. What have we to show for it?  Have we been wasting the time?

Praying is not enough; it will not get the job done. We must get the word out to all people everywhere. We must tell them: “Jesus Christ is coming back! Are you ready for His return in flaming fire? Do you know what to do to be counted among the saved? Would you care to know? Friend, please give me a moment to tell you how. We haven’t much time! For the love of God and Christ, and the destiny of your immortal soul, won’t you listen?”

We may not have seven seconds, much less seven days, until the end of all things. Are we as Christians making a plea to the lost? Are we sounding a warning to them?  Don’t wait on someone else to do this.  If we believe Jesus is coming back, and the world as we know it will end, then for love’s sake, let’s act like it.

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America’s Greatness

‘Early in the nineteenth century, the French statesman, Alexander de Tocqueville, made a study of democracy in our county and wrote as follows:

“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there.

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her fertile fields in her fertile fields and boundless forests, and it was not there.

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there.

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her public school system and her institutions of learning, and it was not there.

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her democratic congress and her matchless constitution, and it was not there.

Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.  America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”’     – Stories from the Heart.

If Mr. Tocqueville’s test for greatness and genius is correct, and I agree that it is, then our nation is now failing it miserably and he gives the reason why.  For many long years pulpits of churches have jingled with little more than soothing platitudes and comforting cooing that might be whispered from any atheistic psychoanalyst.  Words of ’peace’ ’peace’ when there is no peace routinely fill auditoriums of church houses.  For many preachers, and his (or her) listeners, sin has ceased to be sin or at least nothing worth teaching about much less preaching against.  Decades have passed with seldom a sound of warning against the perils of encroaching sin lying in wait by the door, and the beast has now entered to find the warm welcome of a gracious host.   As Jeremiah, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote of the general mindset of the people of his day, so it is with ours:

“Who can I speak to and give such a warning that they will listen?  Look, their ear is uncircumcised, so they cannot pay attention.  See, the word of the Lord has become contemptible to them—they find no pleasure in it.”  (Jeremiah 6:10 – HCSB).

Whoever you give your attention to on matters of a spiritual, godly, nature, (that is, your favorite preacher or Bible instructor) insist that they return to the “pattern of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13) that God has always expected of His messengers past, present, and future.  And if they refuse, kindly bid them a sincere farewell and move on; they care more about their job than what their job requires of them.

If America is to be wise and great again, pulpits must resound nationwide with a penitent call to a return of personal holiness and righteousness that can only come when the people of God want and demand it of themselves and their religious leaders.  That is the first step on the road back to greatness.  Will we have the moral courage to take it?

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The Supreme Court

To no one’s surprise who has been keeping up with its progressive agenda, the loftiest court in the land voted that states must legitimize same-sex marriages.  Perhaps ‘Supremacist Court’ would be a better title for it.  It most certainly is not “The” Supreme Court (Heaven’s Tribunal, henceforth so designated in this article).  For decades, the Supremacist Court has taken upon itself to be the ultimate guiding force in legal matters.  By all appearances, it believes its power is ultimate, fully expecting the President, Congress, and the American people to abide by its decisions or face the consequences.  Unless and until we elect a Congress and President who recognize their equal, not subordinate, powers to it, dredge up the intestinal fortitude, and resurrect a virtuous if not entirely God-honoring nature, to rein it in, it will continue to rule the land as if it were Omnipotence Incarnate.

This latest ruling changes some things, but does not change others.  It does change:

  1. How succeeding generations of Americans (and others) will view marriage. While the Supreme Court (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) have expressly stated what marriage is – the heterosexual binding of one man and one woman for life, unless fornication is committed by either party and divorce is sought (Matthew 19:5-12) –  this ruling sends the message that God’s Commandment on it is of no effect and irrelevant.  They have raised a fist in defiance of the Almighty and cast a “stumbling block” in the path of others.  May God have mercy on their souls and all those whom they have misled (Luke 17:1, 2; Revelation 2:14-16).
  2. Whether Christians and Church leaders will conform or not. If not and preachers refuse to perform “gay marriages” it will likely mean loss of money, buildings, property, etc., arising from lawsuits.  Opposition leaders may even face jail time.  On the other hand, those who conform to this ruling will compromise the faith and will be revealed as “men-pleasers” (Ephesians 6:6), too cowardly to stand up for Christ’s words (Mark 8:38).  To the good, this will assist in the separation of the “wheat from the chaff” (Luke 3:15-17).   For many long years the Body of Christ has needed a purging – the final cutting off of dead limbs that no longer are producing the fruit of the Spirit within the Vine (John 15:1-6).  All will see and know.  This works as a litmus test for politicians, too.  We are either in Christ and for Christ or we are against Him; we either gather together with Him or we scatter.  “Fence riders,” cowards, the fearful and turncoats will be exposed for what they are so we all may know wherein their true allegiance lies (Matthew 12:30; 21:25; 1 John 2:18, 19; Revelation 3:15, 16; 21:8).  Even something horribly sinful may have a silver thread running through it, if not a silver lining.

This ruling will not change some things:

  1. God’s definition of marriage has not changed nor will it – ever. The Supreme Court has given its verdict.  What any earthly, humanistic, Supremacist Court has ruled is rendered utterly false and invalid according to Holy Writ.
  2. People will still be judged by The Supreme Court’s ruling. All the joyfulness, dancing, revelry, and sordid exhibitions of sexual freedom that are resulting from this decision will turn into horror, dismay, anguish, and ultimately torment when the Supreme Court is called into session at the Last Day and all of us give account unto God (John 12:48).  Please note that this is something that all those who love the souls of all people should grieve over.  The prospect of our fellow human beings, whom God loves despite their sin, being cast out from His Divine Presence for all eternity is certainly nothing for Christians to be happy about.  Yet it will happen regardless and no power on earth can stop it.
  3. Some of us will not stop preaching the truth. We are to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) when it comes to matters separating truth from fiction, truth from lies, primarily that which will lead the lost further down the road to eternal ruin.  We know we must all stand before the judgment bar of God and Christ to “give account of deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil” (John 5:28, 29; Hebrews 9:27).  Being numbered among those good deeds will be the possession of a godly spirit which will not be threatened, bought, beaten down, humiliated, or silenced into submission by those bent on rejecting God’s will.   Our conviction is firm.  It is unassailable.  Therefore, if we suffer, we suffer; if fined, we pay; if threatened, we bear it patiently; if we die, we die.  Will you and I, O Christian, be of this sort, or will we draw back? (Hebrews 10:38).

This is one more sign that this nation as a whole has rejected God.  We must not take this personally.  As God told Samuel when Israel sought a king – the rejection of the Divine is what is at the heart of all worldly “progressiveness” (1 Samuel 8:7).  God often allows the godless to have their way.  He will, however, in His own time and own way, enforce a reckoning and, in my belief, the process has clearly already begun.

Don’t be overwrought by this decision nor despair.  It is not the Supremacist Court to whom we must ultimately give answer.  Rather, we must be prepared for when The Supreme Court invokes and enforces its ruling once and for all, upon us all.

We may be viewed as “on the wrong side of history” but we are surely on the right side of eternity.  Let us remain so.

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Love Gone Cold

Psycho, a Greek word used once in the King James Bible in Matthew 24:12, translated to “wax cold.”  Strong’s in usage notes states: “to breathe (voluntarily but gently… by implication of reduction of temperature by evaporation) to chill (figurative) :- wax cold.”  Jesus uses this word one time to describe “the love of many” which would grow cold when things got really bad in the world (at a set time but any given time, really).

For years I thought He meant as things grew worse and the world became more deluded, self-seeking, godless and evil, that most people would become heartless, cruel and loveless. I did not give that interpretation a second thought, until not too long ago.  While that is what it may mean, and does often happen, I do not now think that is what Jesus meant it as.

I am convinced He is talking about OUR love growing cold; those of us who profess Christ, Christians.

How so?

First, it would not be something unexpected.  It is quite common for a general populace of any given place and/or time to become self-centered, cruel, ruthless and loveless when evil and immorality abounds (see Romans 1:18ff). Except, apparently, in Japan (research the lack of it when the tidal wave hit there a few years back) what city of any nation does not get looted, burned and generally pillaged during a crisis, natural or social? Such things bring out the worst in most people.  Jesus would not be saying anything new.

Secondly, He is giving this warning to His own disciples in an explanation about evil times yet future.*  In the context of Matthew 24, Jesus is warning about the rise of evil in the form of: 1) false Christs (24:5); 2) general warfare (24:6); 3) nature’s upheavals (24:7); 4) persecution of His disciples (24:9-10); and 5) false prophets (24:11).  His disciples of that time needed the warning, but so do we.

A young man in a store saw a lady he had known for a long time.  They had been friends of his, she and her children, and attended the same church.  Not having seen her in a long time, he approached her extending his arms to give her a friendly embrace. To his horror, she frowned, stepped back and turned away from him, unwilling even to speak, behaving as if he were leprous. He was crushed, naturally.  And she claimed to profess Christ.

She did not turn away because he had children out of wedlock, or because he had been divorced and remarried ‘X’ number of times without Jesus’ approval (i.e., an adulterer), or
because he was co-habiting with a girl or was a notorious slanderer or gossip; he was none of those.  No, she turned away because she knew he was homosexual.

It is remotely possible she shunned him as a fornicator or idolater which Paul commands us to do with erring brothers or sisters in Christ who will not repent (1 Corinthians 5), but I seriously doubt it. Doing that should be difficult and painful when we love someone dearly as family in Christ (2 Corinthians 2:5ff) but the frown revealed the only pain she felt was from disgust at THAT type of sin.  Besides Paul did not forbid communication.  Like some of us, she would have at least been cordial had he been one of the aforementioned sinners. No, her love for him went cold as ice because he was a certain type of sinner.

It is evident that this world is an evil place and getting worse all the time. But when it gets so bad that even saints refuse to love the lost, no matter what sins taint them, the mission of the church of Christ is doomed to fail.  The truth is we will never evangelize the world to Christ hating certain types of people, all of whom Jesus died for to save.

I am not telling anyone how they should feel. One has to change the way they THINK before they can change the way they FEEL. If our thinking remains hostile toward sinners, we will continue to feel hostile toward sinners (never mind that we sin also!) and our love will wax cold just as Jesus has warned. And without love, we are nothing and imperfect before God (1 Corinthians 13; Matthew 5:43-47).

Never mind the lack of love the world has – do not allow pervasive evil to put a chill on yours and mine.  Let die the pharisaical spirit that was none of Christ.

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Matthew 11:19 (HCSB)

“While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples.   When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”  But when He heard this, He said, “Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do.  Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:10-13 (HCSB)

 

* Which some interpret as the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of its temple in A. D. 70 under the Roman general Titus and his legions, while others believe it is speaking to some degree also about the end of the world when Jesus returns or both. (I am not writing this to debate or discuss those points of view so please don’t miss the point I am trying to make).

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