What Does Follow Jesus Mean?

Whether to follow Jesus or to reject Him is a choice we all make, and we make it individually. We are not grafted onto the “Tree of Life” by virtue of our parents or church membership or good works. Jesus asks us the same question He asked His disciples: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” How we answer that question determines everything in our lives, both in this world and in the next. Do we follow Him or reject Him? Do we believe Him or ignore Him? Our choice. Our future. God in the Bible made it clear His choice for us: “I am offering you life or death, blessings or curses. Now, choose life!”

 

Then Jesus said to all of them, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23 BSB)

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9 NIV)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FOLLOW JESUS?

Jesus placed a high priority on obedience to His teaching and made it clear that He expects His followers to be all in for Him — nothing halfway.

In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus modeled perfect obedience to s33. Jesus Carrying His Cross.jpghow us how it was to be done. In Philippians 2:8, the apostle Paul says Jesus  “humbled Himself” to leave His spot in Heaven for an earthly stint as a mere human and, in addition, “was obedient to death” for our eternal benefit.

In the apostle John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us how significant that death was: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NLT), so, in effect, He was saying, “I’ll lay down my life for you because I love you and you are my friends.”

What does being Jesus’ friend mean? Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14 NLT).

What, then, does He command? “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17 NLT).

So, Jesus wants us to follow Him. That means we are to deny ourselves (take up our cross). He is willing to die for us because we are His friends, and, as His friends, we are to love one another.

Does this friendship with Jesus cost us anything? Does He do all the heavy lifting, and we just tag along?

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WELL, TO FOLLOW JESUS (carrying our cross) means denying our own self-interest in favor of His vision for our lives, even if that vision leads to hardships for us, in some cases even to the point of our physical deaths. Jesus anticipated our reaction to that  question. 33. Take Up Cross Matthew.jpgNot only did He set the example for us by laying down His life for ours, but He tells us not to worry. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” He told His disciples. “Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NIV).

In other words, He tells us to place our confidence in Him, and He will see us through the fires of this world and save us from the fires of the next world: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 NASB). “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).

But there’s more. Telling us He wants us to obey Him means He also has given us the freedom — the opportunity — to reject Him.

That rejection is the flip side of freewill, but with it, the Lord warns us that choosing that option comes at a cost. “But for those who reject him, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone’” (1 Peter 2:7 NLT) and “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36 ESV).

That means we have a choice whether to follow Jesus or reject Him. To follow Him, means, in His words, that we have “life and [we] have it abundantly.” To reject Him, means, in His words, that we “shall not see life” and that “the wrath of God remains on [us].”

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LOOKS TO ME LIKE A CLEAR CHOICE!

Yet, how many people make the choice to follow Jesus versus those who choose to reject Him?

In Luke 23, we read that one of the two criminals who were crucified on either side of Him “hurled insults” at Jesus, while the other one recognized that Someone special was facing a torturous death alongside him and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (vv 39-43 NIV).

That’s 50 percent.  34.Jesus.Narrow.Gate.jpg

Hard to slog through the multitude of Jews and Romans who passed by while Jesus hung on a Cross, struggling to breathe, the nails tearing his wrists and ankles, to determine how many were for Him and how many against. We can assume the tally was against Him at that point, in part because His followers, fearful for their own lives, were in hiding, and in part because the Holy Spirit had not been sent yet to empower them.

Let’s remember that Jesus had warned His disciples that following Him would be difficult: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18 NIV) and “So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13 NLT).

Jesus even encouraged them to walk the untrodden path. “Enter through the narrow gate,” He said. “For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 BSB).

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Whether to follow Jesus or to reject Him is a choice we all have to make, and we make it individually. We are not grafted onto the “Tree of Life” by virtue of our parents or our ethnic group or whether we take Communion or sing in the church band or choir.

Jesus asked His disciples in Matthew’s gospel who the townspeople said He was, but the more important question, recorded in Matthew 16:15 NIV, was this: “ “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

How we answer that question determines everything, both in our lives in this world and in the next.

Do we follow Him or reject Him?

Our choice. Our future.

We know which choice God wants us to make. He told us throughout the Bible. Here’s just one example, in Deuteronomy 30:19 NCV, where He made His desire abundantly clear: “I am offering you life or death, blessings or curses. Now, choose life!”

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PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, we praise You for Your everlasting mercy and Your overwhelming love for us. We bless You for sending Your Son to pay the price for our sin so that, by believing in Him, we can be reconciled to You as righteous and faithful servants. O Lord, hear our prayer. You have allowed us to choose You or reject You and rightly told us the choice is between life and death. Lord, we choose You; we choose life! In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen

God to Me: Let My Son Out of Your Wagon!

Kingdom work is serving Jesus fueled by the power of Jesus; it is not about getting ahead of Jesus and doing the job as we see it on our own. The beauty of God’s grace is that He knew in advance when He made us and gave us independent wills we would misuse the privilege and rebel against His authority. Yet with love so supreme, He sent His Son to bear our punishment, so that, believing in Him, we would become right with God again.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”  (John 15:3 NASB)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV)

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV)

TODAY, GOD TOLD ME TO LET HIS SON OUT OF MY WAGON.

I’m serious. I was deep in thought, walking some pain out of my back, when the Holy Spirit painted a very clear picture for me. 

Here I was, laboring along, feel stressed under the load of “Kingdom work,” when the  image suddenly flashed before me that I was laboring under my own power for, probably, my own glory, while I was straining to pull a wagon, you know, the kind little kids ride in, and there sitting in the wagon was34. Red Wagon.gif Jesus Christ!

The Second Person of the Trinity was right there with me, as He said He would be, but somehow, I had managed to shift Him from a leadership role into a support position, and the strain of it all was harming me.

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THE SHIFT IN HIS POSITION was odd, for sure, because I am one of those fairly new Christians who grabbed ahold of Jesus when He told us: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

So, what happened?

How come I was now pulling the wagon, and He was riding in it?

Let’s get to that in a minute. Here’s what God told me to do: He said to let His Son out of the wagon where I had put Him and let Him lead me, encourage me, and prop me up.

You see, Jesus should be walking in front of me, leading me as a light along the 34. ManCarriesHeavyLoadstraight path (Proverbs 3:5-7; Psalm 119:105). He should be walking alongside of me, to encourage me (1 Thessalonians 5:11). He should be walking behind me to pick me up when I stumble (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

Yes, He can be in all four positions — in front of me, flanking me, and behind me — at once. He just can’t be in the wagon, riding along as I drag Him, my back hurting from the strain, my legs buckling, my heart pounding.

Kingdom work is serving Jesus fueled by the power of Jesus; it is not about getting ahead of Jesus and doing the job as we see it on our own.

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BACK TO OUR QUESTION: WHAT HAPPENED?

Simply this: human pride, my own arrogance, my own desire to control and to make the world around me conform to my image. It’s safer that way, really. Didn’t the Christian singer/songwriter Matthew West recognize that fact in his song, “My Own Little World,” with these words, “population — me”?

This resistance to Divine authority is nothing new to mankind. It started in the Garden of Eden when the original man and woman, Adam and Eve, decided it would be okay to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil — even though God specifically told Adam it would not be okay to eat from that tree.

In fact, God told Adam, eating from that tree would cause death.

Still, even with that threat hanging over their heads, our forefath34. ManRefusesToListener and foremother thought they knew better. So, they disobeyed. God was true to His Word. He banished them from the Garden; their work, once glorified, now became a burden; and they were under a death sentence.

Many of us who follow Jesus recognize too often we lay our burdens down at the foot of the Cross, where every book in the New Testament tells us to take them, and then we … kind of … hold on to them … or, if we let go, we mark the spot and then … rush back to pick up our burdens … and carry them off as though we have stolen plunder.

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JESUS TOLD US HE CAME TO GIVE US LIFE.

In John 10:10 ESV, He said “The thief [Satan or the devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Then Jesus contrasted that reality with the new reality that He offers: “I came that they [us, mankind, you and me] may have life and have it abundantly.”

That looks more like the deal I wanted when I heard the Master implore me to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

So, I know that His promises are true. I believe every word He says. Why, then, do I act as though I haven’t heart a word He says, a promise He makes, an offer I can’t refuse.

Back in Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV, our Heavenly Father speaks to the Israelites through Moses, where He issues the famous commandment to “choose life!”


“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

Yet, we read time and again, the Jews in the Old Testament and then the Christians in the New Testament, failed to keep that Commandment.

The same failure that befell Adam and Eve.

The same failure that I make, and — maybe — even you make?

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THE BEAUTY OF GOD’S GRACE is that He knew in advance when He made us and gave us independent wills we would misuse the privilege and rebel against His authority. Yet with love so supreme, He sent His Son to bear our punishment, so that, believing in Him, we would become right with God again.

34. JesusEmbracingMan.pngNow, about that back pain.

He has that one covered, too.

See, in Proverbs 3:8 NIV, right after that verse that tells us to lean on God and not on our own understanding is another one of those grace notes, another promise God offers, if we’ll only listen and obey Him.

“This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

It’s time for me to stop pulling the wagon so I can let God’s Son hop out and take His rightful places — all four of them — in front of me, alongside me, and behind me.

Thank you, Lord!

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PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, Abba, Daddy, we are so blessed to be so loved by You. Thank You for Your promises, and thank You for your admonishments when we disobey. Thank You for Your love and mercy. We praise You, we thank You, we love You. In Jesus’ Holy and Precious Name. Amen

Writing Their Own Bibles-Making Their Own Rules

God’s Word is Truth. His Spirit guided the individual writers of the biblical canon. Jesus Christ is the centerpiece. The Old Testament points to His arrival; the New Testament records His visit and immediate aftermath, including His life and teaching and His death, resurrection, and ascendancy. It trumpets the Holy Spirit, which guides our hearts and reminds us of Jesus’ teaching. God, in all Three Persons, warns mankind against adding to His Word or subtracting from it. The canon is set. It is His Truth, which is the only Truth. His Word is not to be reinterpreted according to our likes and dislikes.

For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear. They won’t listen to what the Bible says but will blithely follow their own misguided ideas. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 TLB)

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20 NASB)

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 ESV)

TOO MANY PEOPLE WANT TO WRITE THEIR OWN BIBLES.

That is disturbing enough when non-Christians want to rewrite the Holy Scriptures, eager to make its pages reflect their own worldview; worse when those who call themselves followers of Christ rewrite God’s Word.

33-eve-and-adam-gardenRewriting God’s Holy Word is the favored tactic of those who claim to honor the totality of Scripture, as they see it, while dishonoring specific commandments and directives that cut across their “lifestyle.” In other words, they are willing to hold God to His promises of salvation and mercy but insist that His guidebook to us needs updating “to fit the times.”

Let’s not lose sight of original sin and man’s plight in this world. The very first sin  recorded in the Bible was of Eve, and then Adam, eating the fruit “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17; 3:6-7 NIV).

The reason for eating of the forbidden fruit? According to the serpent, the form taken by Satan to tempt the first man and woman, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV).

“You will be like God.”

That’s the crux of the matter.

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WE ALL WANT TO BE LIKE GOD, but only God can be God. The position is filled. It belongs to the author of all creation (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 NIV), not to the created beings, even those created  beings—man and woman—whom God created in His likeness (Genesis 1:27 NIV).

Nor is God willing to share the glory of being God — “I am the LORD, that is My name; 33-creationI will not give My glory to another,” (Isaiah 42:8 NASB) — even though He commanded our forebears to take responsibility for tending to creation (Genesis 1:28 NIV).

Wanting to be like God is “pride,” which is a sin. It is the sin that cost Lucifer, or Satan, “the devil,” his position in heaven. “This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels” (Revelation 12:9 NLT).

Jesus, of course, was present when God cleaned house. “So [Jesus] said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’” (Luke 10:18 BSB).

God takes seriously His position as creator and manager of all creation: “My Father is always working, and so am I,” Jesus said (John 5:17 NLT). His preeminence over all is without question: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” (Psalm 24:1 NLT).

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IN FACT, THE BIBLE CLEARLY WARNS US not to mess with God’s Word to us.

Early in the Bible, He warns us not to add or subtract from God’s commands to His people (“Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Deuteronomy 4:2 NIV).33-the-bible-inspired-of-god

Just to make sure we understand clearly what He said, He added this at the end of the Bible: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of prophecy in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18 BSB).

The Bible is a unified body of God’s Word to us, written by the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit through the hands of some 44 writers over a period spanning 1,500 years, with no contradictions or inconsistencies, when properly understood.

The apostle Paul tells us that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 HCSB), and the apostle Peter tells us (2 Peter 1:21 NIV): “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

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SO, WHAT’S GOING ON?

With so much in the Bible telling us that God’s Word is His Word and He’s fine with it as it is, and, moreover, God tells us He Is The Word (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – John 1:1 NIV), then why or how do some folks who claim to know the Lord also say they do not take His Word literally?

How do they reach the point of departure from God-inspired Scripture to say they “interpret” God’s Word according to their own  experiences and reason? How do they arrogate to themselves the right to reinterpret clear passages of Holy Writ to accord with their personal tastes, as though the Bible were a smorgasbord, where one can 33-the-word-became-fleshpick and choose whatever suits, as long as one eats everything on one’s plate?

How does that happen … unless they stop worshipping the God of the Bible and substitute for Him a god of their own creation, someone more to their liking. This is the reverse of Genesis 1:27, where, instead of believing that God created man in His image, man now creates “god” in man’s image.

Weren’t we warned about that 3,000 years ago in The Ten Commandments? “I am the LORD your God. … You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3 NASB)

Yes, the apostle John had it right when he wrote of Jesus coming into the world (John 1:10 NET), “He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him.”

Still — too often — true.

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PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father, our Creator and our Lord, we confess that too often we rewrite Your inspired Word in our hearts or pick and choose which parts we want to honor and which ones we’d like to forget, when You have warned us against adding or subtracting from Your Word. Forgive our pride and our disobedience, and give us new hearts, hearts that seek after You, hearts that love You, hearts that praise You. Thank You, Lord, for Your Word. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen

Teaching With Authority—It Helps When You Wrote the Book

The riveting stories of Jesus Christ become more amazing each time we hear them. Here is God humbling himself in human form to share our pain, to teach us wisdom, and then to take our punishment for all the sin we commit – past, present, and future – to reconcile us to the Father. Those who heard Him speak understood He spoke with authority, not like their religious leaders, whose learning was second-hand. Jesus spoke with authority because His Spirit guided the hands of those who wrote the Scriptures.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. (Matthew 7:28-29 NIV)

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV)

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3 NLT)

“Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17 MEV)

WHAT AN AMAZING SIGHT THAT MUST HAVE BEEN.

This common-looking man, with flowing mane, dirty feet, and only a carpenter’s learning, was sitting in a small boat preaching to a crowd of men, women, and children hungry for something in their lives, and the Bible tells us “they were amazed” because this man, of questionable birth “taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”32-jesuspreachesfromboat

Of course, His birth was questioned. Everyone knew that Mary, His mother, was unwed when she carried the child. They might have heard that an angel had assured his earthly father, Joseph, that the Holy Spirit of Almighty God had given Mary the child, but who really could understand that.

Yet, here He was was, preaching about love and hate, life and death, marriage and sex, divorce, coveting, murder, lust, adultery, and spiritual discipline, and He did so in such a remarkable manner, with such force and conviction that His listeners – humble folks just like Him – marveled at His authority.

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Continue reading “Teaching With Authority—It Helps When You Wrote the Book”

LoveAndGrace–2016 In Review

LoveAndGrace, my Christian-theme blog and baby, closes out its first year of publication, and I give thanks to God for His trust in me to spread the Word to those He places in my path. My prayers have migrated from asking His help in launching the blog to where they should be: seeking His direction in helping me write them. So far, 32 blogs have been posted in 2016 (the 33rd is going up tomorrow), and the stats are interesting. The two blogs I felt the least comfortable writing —“The Christian’s Response to Politics” and “Will Christians Lead the Political Debate or Abdicate Responsibility”  — were by far the most viewed, while the most important blog I wrote, “Praying Boldly,”  was the least viewed, and my favorite post, “God’s Key Question,”  also ranked near the bottom in total views. Stats show the blog was seen in countries outside the U.S., including China, South Korea, Venezuela, Spain, and Australia. Aah, the Internet. “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus said (Matthew 28:19) and “You will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth,” (Acts 1:8). Pray with me in 2017 that God will continue to bless this blog and pour His Grace into it and into the hearts and lives of those who read it. Be blessed, my friends.

Jesus, Who Is My Neighbor?

When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, He placed us in the story. Typically, we think we’re cast in the role of the Samaritan, the good man, the benefactor, but actually He left it open if we would be the benefactor. We also could be the innkeeper, who provided aide without certainty of full payment. Certainly, we are the two religious leaders — the “good” people in our community — but we’re also the victim in need of help. But there’s a sixth person in this story, the expert in Jewish law who asked who his neighbor was. Moses answered that question in Leviticus, written 1,300 years earlier. The legal expert should have known that. Since Jesus’ told the story, another 2,000 years have passed. Are we any closer to answering the question?

A teacher of the law, seeking to trap Jesus, asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to love God and obey His  law, including loving his neighbor as himself. The legal expert then asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:25-29 (edited)

IT’S CALLED THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN.

We think we know the story because it’s an easy tale to follow. We can readily pick out each of the four main characters — victim, priest, Levite, benefactor — and place ourselves in whichever role we wish to accomplish whatever result we favor.

Most of us probably see ourselves as the benefactor. He was  described as a Samaritan, which m31-robbersbeatingthevictimeans little to us, just a slight reference to nationality, nothing significant, so we let it pass.

The holy men who passed by the victim without offering assistance are easy enough to place also — they’re the hypocrites, and surely we see many of those around, you know, people who say all sorts of good things but who don’t follow through. We even have an expression: “talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.” They might be called the “good people” in our community.

Do we ever look at the victim?

Jesus describes him as a man walking from Jerusalem to Jericho, who was attacked by robbers, beaten, and left for dead. He gives us no other description, so we tend to ignore him. Continue reading “Jesus, Who Is My Neighbor?”

God Hates Sin, Man Loves Sin

God hates sin; man loves sin. We’re on a collision course. God says the wages of our sin is death, but out of His abundant love, He provided a way toward salvation. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to pay our price. Our belief in Him restores us to a right relationship with the Father.

“Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4 NIV)

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:18 ESV)

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 NASB)

“Let those who love the LORD hate evil.” (Psalm 97:10 NIV)

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, so that you obey its desires.” (Romans 6:12 HCSB)

GOD TAKES SIN SERIOUSLY. MAN DOES NOT.

That puts mankind on a collision course with the Creator of the universe. 

There is no good outcome for mankind when God wants us to go one way, and we want
to go another, when we continue to sin and God hates our sin.
Continue reading “God Hates Sin, Man Loves Sin”