Training Our Children for Spiritual Warfare

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My nephew turned six in June, and for his birthday he requested to fly to Florida to see his cousins. Accompanied by my sister and mother, he flew to Tampa to celebrate with our family. That beautiful Monday morning with the palm trees towering just under the sunshine, we loaded up the car and drove to LEGOLAND in Kissimmee, Florida to celebrate. While my sister and I waited with three of our kids for the Flight Lessons roller coaster, I did what all parents do at some point: I worried about the safety of the ride. The what if’s seemed to flutter in my mind.

As we climbed aboard the flight coaster, our feet dangling beneath our seats, I asked the worker, this doesn’t go upside down right? He assured me that this roller coaster didn’t. All the same, as the coaster began, I reached over and grabbed my son’s arm and held on tight. Let go mama! he politely squealed with excitement. No! I am holding on, buddy. As he wriggled his arm away for the second time with the biggest grin on his face, I acquiesced…but then later grabbed on again. In the event that something did malfunction, I am quite certain my arm would most likely have been a futile safety net. But it did wonders for my conscience.

Isn’t your child’s first (or maybe 200th) time on a roller coaster a bit of a foreshadowing of the rush of feelings we as parents have when our children approach adolescence and then soon after head out the door to college? We work to ensure that every precaution is taken, instructions given and followed, or restated, reinforced, and tried again. Then we send them out the door with friends, off in the car for the first time alone, or out the door to make their own way in life most hopefully in the will and admonition of the Lord Jesus. We watch with baited breath as they are given more liberty and freedom, subsequently tempted, and then wait to see how they will respond. Will they stay the narrow course? Will they detour? Will they fall?

To continue reading and for Five Ways to Equip Your Children for Spiritual Warfare, head over to iBelieve.

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A Brief Note to Parents on the State of Humanity

A Somber 4th of July

Today we deeply mourn the loss of life and the latest evidences to the degradation of humanity within our culture. These days we can wear our grief like a cloak never fully making it to the wardrobe.

We have turned on one another; which frankly isn’t new in human history. However, this turning against our brother at this scale and with this fervency is new in the course of recent history within our own particular sphere of the globe.

Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream that little black boys and little black girls would hold the hands of little white boys and little white girls as brothers and sisters. I would argue that his dream has been realized. I am sure of it. I witnessed this dream in action only this morning.

Loading up the kids, we headed to the local zoo. Inside the zoo were a slew of children at the splash park area. Brown, white, yellow, and black children all splashing together in the same water. Oblivious to the hateful murders of the night, they played together in one accord. The children were busy laughing in the warm Florida sun, sharing space and time in the chlorinated waters of the zoo playground where a mere 60 years ago this would have been unlawful for those not white skinned.

The color of a man’s skin need not have been an issue in our past, and it most certainly should not be one any more. Yet, we can’t get away from it all together in the grown-up world. Lord Jesus save us from ourselves.

I do not briefly address the audience on this blog today with any semblance of answers that are easy, quick, or flippant. Nor do so with any intent to sweep away the violence and loss of life occurring as recently as last night. But I come to you today offering hope and a few words of encouragement as we pause and grieve, weep, repent, pray, and express thanks to those who serve and protect.

There is much beauty and goodness in this world if we will take the time to witness it, and to create it. Today, I witnessed it in the laughter and play of children all shades of btown and tan on a splash pad.

Deeply saddened for the loss of life and the loss of humanity we see in our country, we need to remember this: Change starts inside our homes and reverberates throughout our culture and world. Press on dear friends as we grieve with those who grieve and mourn deeply the current situation. Change is possible by the grace of Jesus and our homes are perhaps our greatest, though indeed not our only, conduit for revival. Our job as parents is not easy…it never has been. Our task is significant…it has always been. Our time is now.

Even so come Lord Jesus,

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Valuing Our Children’s Unique Pasts

Please welcome my new friend, and fellow foster-adoption mama, April Swiger, as she shares a part of her family’s foster-adoption story. For more information on the foster-adoption journey, please see the links below to her blog and her new book, Dignity and Worth: Seeing the Image of God in Foster Adoption. Welcome, April, to This Temporary Home!

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Upon meeting someone a few years ago, Adam and I shared our adoption plans with her.

Without missing a beat, she replied, “You’re not adopting from foster care, are you? All of those children are damaged!”

I didn’t know how to respond. At the time, we were trying to adopt an infant, so I probably mumbled something about that fact, hoping to appease my new acquaintance and end a terribly awkward conversation.

When I recall the thoughtless things that people have said to me, that interaction strikes me as unusually devastating. The issue isn’t that the comment offended me personally—although it did—so much as it is that the comment promoted the faulty belief that children in foster care or from orphanages abroad are not worth adopting, that their lives can’t be redeemed.

Many of the children who have been in foster care or orphanages have experienced neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, homelessness, hunger, and/or domestic violence. The trauma they have experienced often leads children to cope through unusual behaviors. They may rock themselves to sleep in silence because no one is there to hold them and meet their needs, they may use feces to ward off an abuser, or very young children may begin to parent even younger siblings because no one else will. Suffering has trained their brains to respond to events in certain ways, ways that the child who is born into a loving, structured, and stable family has never had to learn.

In addition to abnormal behaviors, children’s responses may take the form of developmental and cognitive delays, attachment disorders, learning disabilities, and other challenges. These challenges likely won’t disappear as soon as a child has been moved into a safe home. Foster children often need to learn how to trust other people again, or for the first time. This learning journey requires time, effort, and thoughtful parenting strategies that may differ from the status quo.

Over the years, I’ve received a handful of comments similar to the “damaged kids” remark. When I find this happening, I try to draw attention to the gospel and to the way that God values human life. My goal isn’t to rebuke others but to remind myself of this truth and to be an ambassador for children who can’t advocate for themselves, who can’t explain that they are not too “damaged” or “too far gone” for adults to invest in them.

Isn’t that the gospel? We were dead in our sin, totally damaged by the effects of the fall, separated from God, and unable to save ourselves. Without Jesus and the resurrection, sin makes us “too far gone” in the sense that there is no hope for salvation through our efforts. God sent his son to live a perfect life, die for our sin, rise from the dead, save us, and bring us close to him. Salvation makes us new creations who have access to the Father’s throne through divine adoption. There is eternal hope in this gospel and immense hope for foster children because there is one God who restores relationships in this life and the next.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that foster parents take on a savior mentality. Adoptive parents are not Jesus, and we are not doing our children any favors by “rescuing” them from foster care, as if adoption is strictly about charity. These children owe us nothing. They are welcomed into our families, fully and completely, regardless of where they come from, how they behave, or who they grow up to be. Adam and I never expect our children to be grateful that we chose to parent them and, ultimately, adopt them.

On a related note, Christians are instructed to care for the fatherless, specifically in James 1:27, which says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Caring for the fatherless is a practical way to live out our faith in Christ. Life is valuable and full of purpose, and foster children, with everything they have lost, deserve a family where they can experience that life.

I say it all the time: We have the best kids. Adam and I often pause in the kitchen, look at each other, and ask, “How in the world did we get such great kids!?” God has been very kind to us.

To be honest, though, I didn’t exactly experience love at first sight when Jayda arrived. In that moment, fear eclipsed love. Jayda had no obvious flaws, but we had never been parents before and were terrified.

After only a few hours, this little boy was winning over our hearts with his high-pitched toddler giggle, extensive vocabulary, and love for eating ketchup on everything. Our affection for him hasn’t waned a bit; it’s only grown since those first few days together. We knew the importance of committing to Jayda, and parental affection flowed from our hearts as we made the choice to attach to a child we might lose.

 

Excerpt from chapter three (Valuing Our Children’s Unique Pasts: Learning How to Honor and Respect Their Losses) from Dignity and Worth: Seeing the Image of God in Foster Adoption.

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April Swiger is a wife, mother to two awesome little boys (Jayda and Zay), homemaker, and blogger. In 2013, her family moved to her home state of Connecticut, where her husband, Adam, serves as the worship pastor at Christ the Redeemer Church. Living in a 100-year-old farmhouse, being debt-free, cooking nourishing food, and enjoying introvert-friendly activities are some of her favorite things.

You can join her for more “Faithfulness in the Mundane” at www.aprilswiger.com and Instagram.com/aprilswiger/.

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A Guide to Making Friends at Church

Seeking the Imago Dei

Time has not dulled the recollection of being a new member at church. My husband and I were newlyweds of just a few months when we moved back to his hometown and began the search for a church family to call home for us.

I remember asking him if we could look at several churches in the area before we landed on our church home. I was certain that we didn’t need to return to his church just because it was the pre-college fit for him as I felt we needed to explore a few other options to find the right fit for us.

When we landed on his church as our church, I had no friends that I had not merely known as acquaintances because they were friends of my husband. To be honest, being in a new city, in a new state, looking for a new church home for the first time since college, and away from my family more than a mere 100 miles for the first time in my life (the only person I knew was my husband), I was hesitant to jump into old friendships he had—for better or for worse.

Now, nearly 15 years later, I can truly say that I have become a part of the community at our church. I once was a first-time guest with little to no acquaintances, and now I would be hard-pressed to pass through the lobby without seeing several people that I know and could carry on a meaningful conversation with.

What is the secret to belonging at church? How do we go from being a guest looking in, to a member reaching out and joining hands with our sisters and brothers?

Read the Three Essential Steps to Making Friends at Church, here at iBelieve.

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Lessons from a Dirty Fan

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The last two-to-three months has found our family in the midst of two property renovation projects. Gratefully, this weekend we finished up the last touches on the second house we are putting on the market. As I dusted and wiped down the ceiling fans, it occurred to me: we each are like a busy fan whirling and whirling. Like the ceiling fan I was cleaning, we too are frantically flying through our days working, or trying to get from point A to point B, meeting goals, beating deadlines, checking off our to do lists, or even distracting ourselves to death; however, we are nonetheless collecting dust, stains of the earth. Newton proved that objects in motion will stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force; but dust seems to land on anything moving or stationary!

In the frantic pace of life, even for people like myself who try to keep a simple, steady rhythm, we circle round again and discern that we haven’t taken the time to stop and reflect on our souls, our situations, our strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps, at best, we have paused. We haven’t completely halted to inspect the accumulation of dust, rather we have forged on with little notice of the cleaning of the heart and mind that needs our attention.

Hearts, like fans hurtling headlong day in and day out, can look the picture of health and beauty, but upon closer inspection can be layered with a thick covering of dust and earthly filth.

In our own homes, we tend to get in the spring cleaning mode as the spring days quickly glide into summer. We may find that we are dusting off shelves, emptying closets, and cleaning out drawers…even cleaning ceiling fans. As we do that, perhaps those actions could be mirrored in spring cleaning of the soul. Some time to stop and consider:

  • what practices do I need to cease in order to become more like the image of Christ?
  • what practices should I resume or initiate?
  • who do I need to forgive, or forgive again?
  • who do I need to seek forgiveness from?
  • where am I wasting resources that could be of better advantage used differently?
  • what is God whispering to me by the power of His Holy Spirit that I’ve been too busy to notice?
  • what leading have I dodged from the Holy Spirit?
  • what have I been lamenting over that I need to praise God for?
  • what passion needs to be further put into practice to see God’s Kingdom come?
  • what distraction do I need to do away with?

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. ~Psalm 51:10

It seems ceiling fans aren’t the only thing that needs a little dusting off.

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What Do the Books You’re Reading Say About You?

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When I graduated from my master’s program in college, one of my friends gave me a gift card to a local Christian bookstore with a note that read, now you can buy something to read for your pleasure.

In a seemingly simple moment, the transition was made from read what I must, to read what I will. Freedom, glorious freedom, to choose what influences, entertainment, and knowledge pool I would dive into from that moment forward. It was frankly a novel idea for me as a recent graduate ready to embark fulltime into the workforce. No longer would I spend late nights studying copious notes and reading text after text concerning speech and language disorders, anatomy and physiology, the workings of the brain, nor information on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Now a choice was possible, and time, for the moment, was available.

Fast forward twelve years and perhaps hundreds of book choices later. My reading pile has run the gamut from Beth Moore Bible studies, to science, government, Christian worldview to young adult fiction, and childcare to flood geology.  What does the current stack of books on my beside table say about me? What does the pile of books you are reading say about you?  What literary choices are we making that speak volumes about our current season of life?

Continue reading and join the conversation at iBelieve.com.

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Lessons Gleaned from the Sea

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They stoop low at the ocean’s edge inspecting a Florida horse conch. The sun has just begun to peak out from beneath the clouds and warm the day.

I snap their picture and think, this is what learning looks like from here.

Bent low, searching, seeking the knowledge and adventure that await in a moment of exploration. God’s sea creatures each tell a story, and the seemingly peaceful shore mocks the real truth that life in the sea is fierce and tumultuous even as the soothing, rhythmic sounds of the ocean lull me into a peaceful state.

There is always this tension just beneath the surface of life.

There is no escaping the forces of good and evil when we live on this side of eternity.

There is a constant need to bend low and search out the still, small voice of God that can also boom like approaching thunder.

Near the supposed age of Christ during his final year in earthly ministry, I feel what most people feel as they steadily grow older: wisdom comes with age and it is harder not to be blinded by the cares of this world nor the skepticism reality brings with each passing year. I am learning that I can no more hold on to the present than it becomes the past. I must enjoy each moment for what it is, for it only comes once and then a memory.

Is it any wonder that God asks us to approach Him with the faith of a child? The child that is oblivious to the cares and demands of life. The child that sees not distractions, but opportunities to explore and learn. The child that sees now even as she anticipates the future. The older they grow the faster they desire to grow up and shed the contentment of their age at present.

Life, like the tide, is in a constant state of give and take, come and go. With the passing of each year, birthday after birthday with our children and friends, we join with the throngs who utter, “Where did the time go?”.  But hidden with the jewels of the sea, there are lessons to be learned, discoveries to be made that utter even of the passing of time. Anne Morrow Lindbergh captures a few of these lessons in her book, Gift from the Sea:

One learns to accept the fact that no permanent return is possible to an old form of relationship; and, more deeply still, that there is no holding of a relationship to a single form. This is not tragedy but part of the ever-recurrent miracle of life and growth. All living relationships are in process of change, of expansion, and must perpetually be building themselves new forms.

~Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea

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The jewels of the sea grow larger with age–their age brings constant rebuilding of their present forms. So do we, don’t you agree? We shouldn’t look the same at fifty as we did at five, nor should we come to the same hobbies void of new knowledge and understanding.

I have always loved the shore. The splash of waves and the picking up of shells. However, now I enjoy it with specificity. That is, I see it more like God sees it. Crying forth its message of creation, fall, redemption, life, death, catastrophe, and rebuilding. I can name the shells I once only admired. Isn’t that grand, that learning from here continues, but looks different than nearly three decades ago?

I can only imagine the discoveries I will make and the view-point I will take in one, two, or perhaps three decades time. Then, maybe I will stoop with my grandchildren and ponder, So this is what learning looks like from here.

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Five Ways to Strengthen Your Christian Worldview

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Every day we are faced with information that will either affirm, assault, or sharpen our worldview. Worldview is the lens through which we view life, make decisions, and interact with our fellow-man. The greatest way for Christ-followers to strengthen our Biblical worldview is by actually reading and memorizing God’s Word. If we are to live as Jesus lived then we should study that which He studied as a boy (the Old Testament), that which He lived (the Gospels), and that also which came after Him as inspired by the Holy Spirit (the remainder of the New Testament).

Every song we listen to, every book we read, and every media we watch, is derived from a worldview held by the person who wrote the lyrics or the script. We as Christians need to arm ourselves to recognize the worldview messages behind the media we ingest. In this way, we can sort through the surface message to get to the truth claims, or marketing, that media holds out to us.

Here are five ways to strengthen your Christian Worldview:

1. Albert Mohler’s The Briefing daily podcast. In each day’s twenty-minute podcast, Dr. Mohler summarizes and interprets via a Biblical woral score, the   daily news events
2. Russell Moore’s Signposts weekly podcast. Covering a wide range of topics, Dr. Moore tackles a cultural topic be it movies, practices within the church, or politics and puts it in perspective of the cross and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. Read any of Nancy Pearcey’s books. Nancy Pearcey is a worldview expert and will help you summarize and inspect the truth claims of science, art, and religion.
4. Subscribe to Breakpoint.org daily radio one and three minute broadcasts.Anoyhr great resource started by the late Chuck Colson, which covers the topics of our day.
5. Read  God’s Word daily. The Bible has the greatest ability to change our lives and solidify our Christian worldview.

These exercises take only minutes a day, but the dividends have the potential to be eternally impactful.

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The Gospel, the Value of Women, and the Debauchery of Donald Trump

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No doubt you saw last week’s tweet by Donald Trump including a split screen image comparing his super-model wife, to the Harvard graduate wife of Senator Ted Cruz. If not, then venture here. In response, Dr. Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Council, had these words to say on Instagram:

If you have a wife, a sister, a mother, or a daughter, and you can still defend this, you have a seared conscience. Only a culture trained by pornography could be drawn to this misogyny. ~Russell Moore

Amen, Dr. Moore, amen!

This kind of sexism is what started Trump’s one-sided battle with Fox anchor, Megyn Kelly. Since the first Republican debate, Trump has lashed out in personal attacks via Twitter over the relevant question she posed concerning Donald Trump’s statements towards and about women. He has not stopped since that debate belligering Megy Kelly and even calling her Crazy Megyn.

It seems Mr. Trump is only entertained by women and can not view them apart from their sexuality. Tough, intellectual women–of beauty I might add–are an enigma to Mr. Trump. I ascertain that he has saturated himself in pornography, for what may be decades, resulting in his objectification of women and his reduction of women to mere outward appearances.

Last week, Ted Cruz overwhelmingly won the Republican primary in the state of Utah–perhaps the most religious state in the union, thanks, sadly not to Christianity, but to the Mormon religion. That same state of Utah, WORLD magazine reported last Wednesday, may become the first of many states to declare porn a health crisis. (See Utah’s Bill SCR009 here.) What’s the harm of pornography? Well a great deal actually. According to an article by the Family Research Council, Pornography changes the habits of the mind, and its use can easily become habitual, leading to desensitization, boredom, distorted views of reality, and an objectification of women.

I don’t think it is coincidental the same state to contemplate decrying pornography as a health crisis also voted against the current frontrunner of the Republican Party who has repeatedly objectified and demeaned women (cue Carly Fiorina). Pornography permeates a person’s worldview and interactions with others. Perhaps the religious citizens of Utah were better poised to recognize that correlation in Donald Trump than the evangelical voting block. (Though, they are no more immune to the vice of pornography as a 2009 study tracking subscriptions to online porn sites ranked Utah No. 1 in the country. Hence the legislative cry of crisis.)

In contrast…

Jesus highly valued and esteemed women. Consider the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, His friendship with Mary and Martha, His respectful attitude and care for His mother, Mary. Moreover, if that’s not enough, Jesus revealed His divinity to women specifically; the Samaritan woman and to Martha upon the death of her brother Lazarus. (See John 4 and 11.)

Jesus knew and knows the deleterious and potentially eternally damning effects of lust and sexual sin. (See Matthew 5.) 

Pornography is a problem for nearly every demographic, from teenage boys to senior citizens. For men primarily though not exclusively. While pornography was once limited to a costly subscription to Playboy Magazine, today it is a free-for-all digital enticement (see here: section four on hedonism).

You may think, so what?

The gospel.

The gospel and salvation message of Jesus Christ is the only remedy to our sin sickness as individuals, a nation, and the world.

The gospel of Jesus Christ can take a brain ravaged by pixilated images and redeem and renew it. The gospel of Jesus Christ can take a person dead in his or her sins and make he and she alive in Christ. Additionally, the gospel of Jesus Christ says that we should not use our freedom in Christ to continue sinning so that grace may abound, but that there is mercy and forgiveness in new life when we die to our sin and live in Christ (Romans 6).

It is inarguably true that we are a society ravaged by pornography. It is a real and present danger in the midst of our culture and even in our churches. Yet, our Savior who saves us also promises to complete the good work that He started within us. We must each be faithful to put on the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel shoes, take up the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the mighty Sword of the Spirit to fight the good fight of faith (Ephesians 6). In all wars there are moments we advance and moments we fallback in defeat. The good news regarding every battle we wage with sin is this:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

James 4:7-10, ESV, emphasis mine

We can win the battle, we can fight the good fight of faith, we can stand up when we get knocked down by our flesh and renew our mind in God’s word daily. We can change the way we think towards one another when we seek the power of the Holy Spirit. Finally, we can change the culture by changing minds with the message of the gospel.  Then and only then will we be able to see one another for what we are: image bearers of the One True God. Not objects to be used and disposed of.  Not figures and forms to compare and contrast.

There is good news when we turn our eyes away from the entrapments of this present world and in repentance turn our eyes to Jesus…even if you happen to be Donald Trump.

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Thank You For the Cross Lord

Thank You For the Cross

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.

~ Matthew 27:24-26

Many people believe that they are good people. Failing to compare ourselves to God, we can always find someone worse than us. I’ve even had an elderly lady tell me she doesn’t do bad things like those politicians!

Following the example of Pilate, we wash our hands of Jesus blood when our pride blinds us to our sin and we reason that we are good people.

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

~Romans 3:23-24

Jesus did not drink the cup of God’s wrath for good people. Rather, when sin entered the world through Eve and Adam eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, good people ceased to exist. All people thereafter became fallen, sinful, lost people separated from their Creator by our sin nature. Christ drank the cup of God’s wrath against sin so that fellowship between God and man could be restored for eternity.

Christ’s sacrifice is not a blanket forgiveness for all people. His blood sacrifice provides forgiveness of sins for those who repent, turn from their sin in confession and action, and believe on Christ Jesus for salvation.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. ~Romans 10:9-10

The priests and onlookers shouted out that Christ’s blood be on them and on their children. However, His blood is on each of our hands as we have all sinned against God.

Praise the Lord Jesus Sunday comes after Good Friday. However, today, I am thankful for the cross of Christ Jesus. I am thankful that He would look on a pitiful sinner like myself and lay down His life so that I didn’t have to suffer eternity apart from His Father and all good things.  Let us ponder today the cross and crucifixion of Christ and praise Him for His substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf. He alone is worthy of our praise.

Thank you for the cross Lord,

*Photo by Hannah Foster, used with permission.

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