Jesus Wins!

At Christmastime, we often hear the reminder that Jesus was “born to die.”  And that is mostly true. Of course, he came to die (John 3:14-16).  But He died so that He might live.

Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. (John 10:17)

Jesus died so that He could rise from the dead.  And though we could point to several purposes for His resurrection, the one that fits with our theme is His triumph.  Jesus rose from the dead so He could trounce Satan, who for thousands of years wielded the power of death against humanity. 

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Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

In the resurrection, God brought an abrupt end to Satan’s winning record.  Having defeated every man in death, Satan thought He could triumph over the Son of God as well.  And that was his fatal mistake.  Because when Jesus broke the power of death, Satan not only lost that battle, but he also lost the war.  In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death lost its power over mankind. 

We can delight in Christ if we consider the nature of His triumph.  Notice how Jesus trounced the devil:

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There Went Out a Decree from Caesar Augustus

Luke connects the story of Christ’s birth to the decree of Caesar Augustus.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (Luke 2:1)

Luke mentions Caesar’s decree for several reasons.  He wants us to know that Mary and Joseph did not travel to Bethlehem on a whim.  Nor did they aim to fulfill the prophecies concerning the birth of the Messiah. Instead, they went to Bethlehem at Caesar’s bidding.

Luke’s reference to Caesar provides historical context.  Historians tell us that Herod the Great somehow offended the Roman emperor Octavian, who ordered the taxing as a reprisal against Herod.  Intending to number the people and later tax them, Octavian required all the people to return to their hometowns.

Because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David, he found himself traveling the entire length of the country with his very pregnant wife, from his hometown of Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem in the south.  A family would not normally undertake such a journey on the final days of pregnancy. Joseph and Mary weren’t choreographing a prophetic fulfillment.  But I don’t believe Luke mentions this primarily for history’s sake.  I think Luke means to remind us of God’s sovereign hand in this entire story.

Octavian was probably the greatest of the Caesars. He brought the Roman Empire to its zenith and was the most powerful man on the earth at the time of Christ’s birth.  And he knew it.

Continue reading “There Went Out a Decree from Caesar Augustus”

Jesus Beats Santa

When I was a boy, my dad preached a message he called “Satan’s Claws.”  My dad was an avid doodler, and he loved to preach with a whiteboard marker in his hand.  So, while he preached his message, he drew up a Santa on the whiteboard, and then as he spoke, he kept adding details.  I remember particularly the claw he drew up on the board in that message. 

Immediately after the message, a great purging took place in our home, and for the next few years, Santa Claus was canceled in the Mallinak home.  No Santa hats, no Rudolph, no “Here Comes Santa Claus,” no Bing Crosby.  I think my dad found it tough to eradicate all the Santa references since they tend to be everywhere and in everything at this time of year.  But, he made a valiant effort.  Eventually, as things go, he didn’t feel the need to expunge Santa from the holiday.  But I have never forgotten those “Santa-free” years.

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Every culture develops traditions that reflect and reinforce the values of that culture.  Like it or not, Santa Claus is a cultural symbol.  Our modern-day, Coke-drinking Santa has been loosely connected to the legendary St. Nicholas from the fourth century, but the connections are hard to decipher.  I think of Santa as a modern-day American version of Robin Hood.  The legend of Robin Hood is loosely connected to an actual historical figure and shows up in a variety of ancient English Literature.  But somewhere along the line, Robin Hood became a cultural icon, representative of some of the virtues that English culture came to value.  Even so, Santa Claus.

The American version of Santa Claus, which has become the default version worldwide (due to our status in the world), started with a loose attachment to the ancient St. Nicholas. Once popularized, it quickly detached from the historical figure.  According to Stephen Nissenbaum in his book The Battle for Christmas, the very wealthy John Pintard spent an unhappy New Year’s Eve in 1820 as a band of ruffians stood outside his house making a very loud and peculiar form of music that involved banging pots and pans and singing off-key for several hours.  His daughter was frightened by the sound of a back door to their house opening, and in the morning, it appeared that several of the hooligans had broken into their home.  Such was the tradition of that time.  The rich and powerful enjoyed much ease and leisure during the holidays, while the poor and destitute struggled to provide food for their families.  To “even the score,” the poor would infiltrate wealthy neighborhoods late at night to harass the rich.  If the poor couldn’t enjoy their luxury, they could at least rob the rich of their peace of mind. 

To comfort his children, the next year Pintard commissioned a broadside of St. Nicholas, who he pictured as an Episcopal bishop.  The broadside included a very large picture of the bishop, complete with halo and scepter, then in the next frame a picture of a happy, giggling girl with her apron full of presents and a sobbing, crying boy who looks as if he has just been chastised.  Beneath the picture, a poem promises Saint Nicholas, “If you will now me something give, I’ll serve you ever while I live.”

Pintard belonged to a group of New Yorkers called the Knickerbockers, which included such imminent men as Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore, the author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”  Pintard is credited with inventing Santa Claus, and Washington Irving with popularizing him.  Initially, Pintard pictured St. Nicholas as a judge, come to reward the good and punish the evil.  Nissenbaum describes Pintard’s Santa as a teaching tool for children.

To be sure, this kind of Christmas ritual was designed largely for children, while Judgment Day was for adults.  Christmas took place once a year, Judgment Day once an eternity.  The “judge” at Christmas was St. Nicholas; on Judgment Day it was God himself.  And both the rewards and the punishments meted out on Christmas – a cookie on the one hand, or a birch rod on the other – were far less weighty than those of eternal joy or eternal damnation.  But the parallel was always there, and always meant to be there.  Christmas was a child’s version of Judgment Day, and its ambiguous prospects of reward or punishment (like those of Judgment Day itself) were a means of regulating children’s behavior – and preparing them for the greater judgment that was to come.[1]

Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: a Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday, p. 74
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To be sure, this kind of Christmas ritual was designed largely for children, while Judgment Day was for adults.  Christmas took place once a year, Judgment Day once an eternity.  The “judge” at Christmas was St. Nicholas; on Judgment Day it was God himself.  And both the rewards and the punishments meted out on Christmas – a cookie on the one hand, or a birch rod on the other – were far less weighty than those of eternal joy or eternal damnation.  But the parallel was always there, and always meant to be there.  Christmas was a child’s version of Judgment Day, and its ambiguous prospects of reward or punishment (like those of Judgment Day itself) were a means of regulating children’s behavior – and preparing them for the greater judgment that was to come.[1]

Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: a Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday, p. 74
Continue reading “Jesus Beats Santa”

The Gospel Preached to the Serpent

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.  

Genesis 3:15

Theologians call it the “protoevangelium”– the first gospel sermon ever preached.  After Adam and Eve sinned, when God heard the facts in the case, this was His immediate response.  God made a glorious promise, and our Christmas celebrations mark the opening act in fulfilling that promise.  As we rejoice in Christ over this Christmas celebration, we might find some bonus delights in this earliest gospel promise.  Here are a handful of points to consider.

The gospel was first announced as a curse.

When God asked Adam what he had done, Adam pointed at his wife and his wife pointed at the serpent.  Then, the Lord pronounced judgment on the serpent.

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And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.  

Genesis 3:14-15

The serpent’s curse brought Adam and Eve hope.

Imagine them standing before God, trembling and ashamed for their sin, waiting for God to announce His judgment against them.  They knew God’s law:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.  

Genesis 2:16-17

The criminals stood in dread, waiting for God to pronounce the death sentence.  God sentenced the serpent first, and the curse on the serpent brought hope to the other criminals.  Because the judgment on the serpent gave the first hint of a Savior for mankind.[1]  How could there be enmity between the serpent and the woman if the death sentence was immediately executed?  And how could there be a “seed” of the woman if the woman was put to death?  And how could the woman’s seed bruise the serpent’s head if the law was carried out against her?  This curse on the snake must have given Adam and Eve their first hint that God had prepared grace for them.

Here was the dawning of the gospel day.  No sooner was the wound given than the remedy was provided and revealed.[2]

God cursed Satan with the promise of a Savior.

Continue reading “The Gospel Preached to the Serpent”

A Gospel Message

To the readers of this blog: this is a draft of a letter we intend to mail to homes in our area if they are not home after two visits during our door-to-door canvassing efforts or if they have a “no soliciting” sign on their door. As a matter of policy, we do not knock on doors when they post “no soliciting” as we desire to respect the private property of those we would engage in gospel witness. The following letter will be mailed to their home instead.

I am asking you the reader to give me some feedback on this letter. Do you believe the gospel is presented clearly in the letter? Do you believe the letter to be engaging enough that people will read it? Do you think that a reader could understand the gospel enough from this letter to come to faith in Jesus Christ? What could be improved in the letter? What do you like, and what would you do differently? This is an invitation to engage with what I am doing. I would enjoy any feedback and appreciate your help. Just remember that I have tissue-paper-thin skin, so don’t poke too hard or I might wilt into a corner curled in the fetal position sucking my thumb.

Just kidding about the thin skin (in case you don’t have an ear for sarcasm. Thank you for any help you can offer.

Dear Neighbor,

Greetings!  Since we didn’t get the chance to meet you while visiting your neighborhood, we thought we would drop you a friendly line to say “hello” and introduce our church to you.  Berean Baptist Church was founded close to 65 years ago.  Our church is located across from Grandview Park on Jackson Avenue in Ogden.  We would be honored if you would visit one of our services.  Our church exists to praise and worship our great God and to show His glory to our neighbors.

We try to keep things simple in our services.  We sing Psalms and hymns, emphasize worship, and open the Bible together, desiring to receive His Word and know Him.  We visit neighborhoods throughout our area, hoping to share the gospel’s good news with our neighbors.  Maybe you have heard the gospel before now, but if you haven’t, will you please consider this message of hope?

The gospel is good news for bad people.  In fact, it is our badness that makes the gospel so good.  You may not like this way of introducing the gospel, but it makes no sense to call it “good news” if it doesn’t address something terrible.  When the Bible speaks of humanity, it doesn’t speak of us as if we were “basically good” people who are just down on our luck.  The Psalmist said that God looked down from heaven to see if there were any “good” people who understood and sought after God.  God concluded that “every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 53:3).  This is not the only place where the Bible draws this conclusion about the human race.  Consider what Paul says in Romans 1:8, for example.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

“Wrath” might seem like a harsh word.  Many believe that wrath is inappropriate for a loving God.  Yet, the Bible uses the word “wrath” several times to describe God’s response to sinful people (Matthew 3:7; Mark 3:5; Luke 3:7; John 3:36; Romans 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; I Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 3:11; Revelation 6:16-17). 

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God concluded that there was “not a just man upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).   He stresses the fact that He responds to our sin with wrath.  Rather than dispute this, we would be wise to ask why God responds to our sins this way and to see what can be done about His wrath.

God’s wrath against sin tells us that sin is not a small thing, a little mistake.  The fact that we look at it this way is part of the problem.  The wrath of God tells us that sin is horrible.  And no wonder when God has filled the earth with good things.  By our sin, we have said that what God has provided is not good or not good enough, that we can’t be satisfied with what He has given – we want what God has forbidden.  This is why all sin is an insult to God. 

We “sin” whenever we disregard God’s moral law – either by doing what it forbids or refusing to do what it requires.  Unfortunately, people often live without regard for God’s moral law.  God does not take this lightly.

Because we tend to be more concerned with pleasing self than pleasing God, and because we aren’t all that concerned about what God thinks of what we do, the Bible tells us that we are “alienated” from God – that is, we are separated from Him.  Sin causes a rift between God and us.  We desperately need to be reconciled to God.  But how can we be reconciled? 

This is where the “good news” of the gospel comes in.  Yes, God responds to our sin with wrath, but God has also provided a way for Him to appease His own wrath without pouring out that wrath on sinners.  And this is how: God sent His Son Jesus to take our sins on Himself, and the wrath of God against our sins, so that God might be just in punishing sin and at the same time justify (pardon and acquit) sinners.

This is the glory of the cross.  Because at the cross, God met sin with wrath and met men with pardon.  God poured out His wrath on Jesus instead of on us when Jesus died on the cross.  That is why Jesus died such a bloody death, why the cross included such brutality and torture.  And yet, the Bible teaches that God didn’t require Jesus to suffer in our place like some cruel sadist who can only be satisfied with a gory death.  Instead, the Bible says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.” 

God sent Jesus to the cross so He could provide a way for sin to be punished and sinners to be pardoned.  God satisfied His own wrath because Jesus, who is very God of very God, died in our place. 

God makes this very simple for us.  Suppose we don’t believe in Jesus Christ: in that case, the Bible tells us that “the wrath of God abideth” on us (John 3:36).  But if we turn from our sinful life and embrace Jesus Christ as our Savior, the Bible teaches that Christ’s death on the cross can then be applied to us, that we can be forgiven and pardoned and reconciled to God.  This is good news indeed!

If you recognize the justice in God’s wrath against your sin, you should also see how good God is to provide a way for your sins to be forgiven. 

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: (I Peter 3:18)

This is the good news of the gospel.  God provided a way for sins to be forgiven through the death of Jesus Christ in your place, suffering for your sins and dying your death.

If you have read this and desire to know more about the gospel, we would love to do a Bible study with you.  Please use the contact form at our church website, www.berean-baptist-utah.com, and we will be happy to schedule a time for Bible study with you.

May you be blessed to know God through Jesus Christ!

No Shocker: the LDS Church Supports the “Respect for Marriage” Act

On October 21, 2013, Al Mohler told an audience of faculty and students at Brigham Young, “I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together.”  I say this was bold: the faculty and students at BYU can’t conceive of an eternity where they would be anywhere but heaven.  But mainly bold because Mohler suggested that our shared opposition to homosexuality could land us all in jail. 

At the time, Mohler saw the situation correctly.  A few years before this speech, the LDS church provoked the wrath of homosexuals everywhere by supporting California’s 2008 Prop 8 ban on same-sex mirage.  California passed the gay mirage ban, which the courts later overturned.  And all of this happened several years before the 2015 Obergefell Ruling came from the Supreme Court, making gay mirage a sanctioned event in the U.S. 

When the extent of the LDS church’s involvement in the fight for Prop 8 was made known, the rage and fury of radical homosexuals came in like a storm.  And ever since, the LDS church has been doing penance in surprising (and disappointing) ways.  The collapse has been disheartening, to say the least, and the tension among rank-and-file Mormons is palpable.

So, when the LDS church announced their support for the so-called “Respect for Marriage” Act, the shock many felt was entirely uninformed.  It should surprise nobody.  It fits with the trend in the LDS church ever since the Prop 8 battle.  Perhaps it has been a long time in the making – I don’t think so, but I can understand why some, both in the LDS church and outside of it, might have been blindsided.  But the support for this “Disrespect for Marriage” Act fits with their general personality, political posture, doctrinal commitments, and overall culture.  Allow me to explain.

Personal Reasons

The LDS church puts a very high value on “nice.” It is the one virtue that every member holds dear.  LDS church members are legitimately some of the kindest people you will ever meet.  But it would help if you understood this not so much as a product of natural disposition but as a religious commitment.  Of all the sins one might commit in Utah, being mean ranks among the highest.  In Utah culture especially, we encounter a superficial niceness that cloaks (sometimes very thinly) an inward passive-aggressiveness.  According to a recent study, Utah tops the charts for the most confrontational drivers in the nation. 

This cult of niceness explains why you will see more rainbow flags and trans flags and “hate has no home here” and “Black Lives Matter” signs in Utah than in almost any other place.  I could step out my front door in my Ogden neighborhood and see a half dozen rainbow flags.  And this is not unusual.

This religious commitment to “nice” explains why Donald Trump is so unpopular in our state – even though Donald Trump won Utah quite handily.  It explains why Utah Conservatism is so frustratingly moderate.  It explains why pro-life conservatives in our state legislature routinely vote down pro-life legislation.  The LDS believe they are better “Christians” because they support LGBTQ rights. 

This past spring, James Lindsey spoke at an event near me, and I had the privilege of meeting him courtesy of Andrew Badger, then-candidate for U.S. Congress.  Though an outsider and somewhat unfamiliar with Utah, Lindsey pegged one crucial fact.  The reason that rank-and-file Mormons are embracing Wokeness, the reason our Governor announced his preferred pronouns, has nothing to do with political agenda and everything to do with the general demeanor of the LDS church.  The LDS church doesn’t want to be divisive or combative.  On the contrary, they want to accommodate people of all faiths and all lifestyles. 

So, their support of the Defense of Marriage Act shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Political Reasons

The LDS church sees compromise as the path to protecting religious liberty.  When our Utah politicians debate the thorny cultural issues of our time, they will inevitably speak of finding a “Utah solution.”  They pride themselves in finding compromises that satisfy both parties in the culture wars. 

Thus, in 2015, our Legislature produced the famed “Utah Compromise,” which granted equal protection to the LGBTQ+ while at the same time protecting religious liberty.  It was a ground-breaking compromise and became the template for similar non-discrimination laws in other conservative states.  The Utah Compromise was brokered and endorsed by the LDS church itself, which is why the LDS church has, for at least the past seven years, actively lobbied for similar legislation at the federal level. 

Continue reading “No Shocker: the LDS Church Supports the “Respect for Marriage” Act”

The Gospel Cure to Racial Hurt

In the Beginning

Racial hostility didn’t begin in 1619, nor does America own the patent on it.  Many long centuries before the founding of America, sin plunged the world into a pandemic of racial and ethnic hurt.  In Genesis 10, God called the nations of the world to scatter, subduing the earth.  In Genesis 11, mankind united against God under the leadership of Nimrod and built the Tower of Babel, “lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.”  At the Tower of Babel, we find the launch pad of racism. 

Genesis 11:1 tells us that “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech” – humanity united against their Creator God. God sent them to subdue the earth, but mankind refused to be scattered. They could not forget the absolute destruction caused by the flood, and they refused to believe God’s promise, symbolized in the rainbow, that He would never again destroy the earth with a flood. Rather than rest in His promise, men united to protect themselves and their offspring from such a tyrant God. They built a tower to the heavens in the vain delusion that if God again sent a flood, they would be able to escape it. As Matthew Henry explains,

God had told them indeed that he would not again drown the world; but they would trust to a tower of their own making, rather than to a promise of God’s making or an ark of his appointing.

Ethnic hostility is rooted in sinful man’s antagonism towards a holy God. When the nations refused to spread throughout the earth and subdue it for God’s glory, God introduced disunity between the different families of the earth:

Continue reading “The Gospel Cure to Racial Hurt”

Healing Our Racial Hurt, Part 3

Now that our racial hostilities have come to a fast boil – some might argue a volcanic eruption – I believe it is time we admit that our approach to the issue has been ineffective.  I would describe my approach to racial tension throughout much of my life in terms of ignorance and apathy.  I didn’t know, and I really didn’t care.

A little more than 20 years ago, God used a visiting evangelist to expose the racism in my own heart.  It came through a discussion we were having after a chapel service in our Academy.  I was an assistant pastor at the time.  My evangelist friend had just preached a message to our teens about courtship and marriage.  Our pastor had one objection, and he addressed it after the students were dismissed.  His objection? “You didn’t say anything about interracial dating.”

Before I relate our evangelist’s answer, I should remind you that a traveling evangelist depends for his livelihood on the relationships he has with pastors and churches.  It would be easy enough for an evangelist to be a little bit craven out of fear of losing meetings.  Our evangelist friend was not.  His answer stunned me, like an open-handed slap to my face.  He did not hesitate: “I don’t have a problem with interracial dating or marriage.” He explained: “You can’t tell me that a black girl and a white boy who grow up in the same church and live a few miles apart shouldn’t marry because of the color of their skin.  They were raised in the same environment, they have the same cultural experiences, there can be no Scriptural reason to forbid it.”

I interjected. “God separated the races at the tower of Babel.  Interracial marriage blurs the lines between those races.” He looked at me and shook his head: first, nothing in the Bible commands that we maintain “racial integrity” through marriage standards.  The idea that “God set the bounds of their habitations” came from Bob Jones, and (as my evangelist friend said it), “everyone knows that the old man was a racist.” Second, nobody could give a Scriptural breakdown of what constituted a different race, or which races were forbidden to marry one another.  He pointed out that some pastors say there are three races, some say there are more – some as many as seventeen.

I respected this man for his answer, but at the time, I strongly disagreed with him.  Since then, God has changed my heart.  First, my friend was right – God has not put a restriction on marriages based on skin color.  When Aaron and Miriam criticized Moses for his Ethiopian wife, God gave no credence to their criticism at all, though He did punish Aaron and Miriam for opposing Moses’ leadership.  Second, God reversed Babel on the day of Pentecost, when the gospel was heard in the heart languages of – you guessed it – seventeen nationalities (Acts 2:8-11).  Third, God has made of one blood all nations of men (Acts 17:26).  And while it is true (as Bob Jones argued) that God has determined the bounds of their habitation, He has never restricted a nation to that boundary.  Fourth, and I think most importantly, God has made us all of one blood.  There can be no Scriptural grounds for forbidding marriage between blacks and whites.

In the twenty years Continue reading “Healing Our Racial Hurt, Part 3”

Healing Our Racial Hurt, Part 2

On July 4th, at least two NBA players – Chris Paul and Donovan Mitchell – posted a meme on their social media accounts.  The meme said, “Free-ish, since 1865.” Predictably, many white fans were outraged by this sentiment.  After all, these men are NBA stars, millionaires. Hasn’t America been exceptionally good to them?  When have their rights been deprived?

But they have a point.  The road to freedom has been especially rocky for black people in our nation.  As I highlighted in the first part of this series, even after slavery, America treated blacks as sub-human, an inferior race and culture.  We degraded them, despitefully used them, and persecuted them.  Though I was never personally involved in the segregation that characterized the first half of the 20th century – and neither were my parents or grandparents – I can assure you that my attitudes as a teenager would undoubtedly have supported such a thing.  Had I lived in the days of segregation, I believe I would have been a fan of it.

Out of the 150 years since the Civil War Continue reading “Healing Our Racial Hurt, Part 2”

Healing Our Racial Hurt, Part 1

If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. (Romans 12:18)

Now that all the woke realtors have stopped using “master bedroom” and JPMorgan-Chase has dropped terms like “master” and “slave” from their internal tech code, I think we can all feel much better about our new and enlightened sensitivities.  After all, I don’t want my computer to be in a slave relationship to me.  I want my computer to master me like everyone else.  I’m not going back to Master Muffler until they get woke either.  Give me a better name, like Novice Muffler or Beginner Muffler.

Race relations is serious business, of course, and every Christian should be concerned about it.  Those Christians have it right who find the solution for our racial hostilities in the gospel.  But we should also recognize that many barriers have formed over time that make it hard for some in our society to hear the gospel preached.  Every Christian should work doubly hard to see those barriers removed so that the gospel can bring forth abundant fruit.

Even before a rogue cop murdered George Floyd, Continue reading “Healing Our Racial Hurt, Part 1”