In July I saw a book advertised in an email entitled The Duty and Blessing of a Tender Conscience that got my attention. As I read about it my interest increased when I saw that it was originally published in London in 1691. That’s an old book! Intrigued, I ordered the 2019 reprint in which spelling, formatting, and grammar changes have been made. It has been a relatively easy read with a lot of challenge and conviction.

Author Timothy Cruso (1656-1697) begins his discussion about the subject with a partial verse in II Kings 22. The account is about good King Josiah and his response to God’s message to him through the prophet Huldah. Cruso cites part of her message from God to the king “Because thine heart was tender . . .” (II Kings 22:19).

Those five words from the King James Version provide the starting point for The Duty and Blessing of a Tender Conscience. A broader statement about Josiah’s tender conscience is given in the full verse from the New International Version: “Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord” (II Kings 22:19, NIV).

Chapter four in the book has the title “The Proper Ingredients of This Tenderness of Heart.” First is the hatred of sin. That certainly makes sense as long as we keep the oft quoted saying in mind: “love the sinner, hate the sin.” Second is love of holiness. Without this ingredient no one will be truly tender in conscience. Third is a fear of God. My sense is that our love of holiness and hatred of sin are the automatic outcomes of what is the real meaning of a fear of God (which is often misunderstood).

I can’t repeat everything in the book in this post, but I do want to relay Cruso’s “The Evidences and Tokens of a Tender Conscience” (chapter six):

            1. The first evidence is a zealous concern for the honor of God, when it interferes and stands in competition with our own, both in matters of faith and practice.

            2. A second evidence is a strict endeavor that both the ends that we propose, and the means which we employ upon all occasions, may be equally good.”

            3. A third evidence is a vigorous resistance of the most plausible and powerful temptations.

            4. A fourth evidence is an impartial shunning of the smallest sins.

            5. A fifth evidence is a particular care in bridling the tongue, and setting a watch against those common unobserved evils that are especially incident thereunto.

At the risk of including too much, I want to also share six things Caruso suggests we need to monitor to have a tender conscience: much speaking, passionate raging, foolish jesting, rash vowing, unregarded promises, and needles protestations.

With these selections I’m confident you see why I said the book is challenging and convicting. I won’t bore you or set myself up by telling you on which of these I most need to work. But I do encourage you to review what I have borrowed from the book and do some self-examination. Do you have a tender conscience?

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Before reading this post, please note that it is different from my description of what my blogs are about. My site says in these posts I am “Considering the Christian life, the Bible, and the Church.” Clearly that is not true about this one. Yet it is something I have been thinking about and I wanted to share.

Like many who are paying attention to the current political climate as we move closer and closer to Election Day, I am disappointed and embarrassed. It seems to me that grown women and men who are politicians and leaders should be showing more maturity, class, and gravitas, as well as respect to their fellow candidates, politicians, and the public.

I’ve been following presidential elections since 1960 when I was nine years old and cannot remember any political season lacking these qualities as much as we are witnessing now.

And I have in mind not just the two presidential candidates, but their running mates also, as well as the senate majority and minority leaders and the speaker of the house. To me the only one of this group who exhibits these qualities very much at all is the Republican VP candidate.

When it comes to gravitas, where is the seriousness, sobriety, and solemnity in demeanor in campaigning and giving speeches? You would think we would especially see more gravitas when the candidates are interacting with one another or being asked hard questions.

To have class “means to be a gentleman or a lady the old-fashioned way: a respectful, considerate, elegant, discreet, well-mannered, cultured, civilized, witty, funny, faithful, and kind gentleman or lady” (copied from a definition on the internet). That’s a high standard for sure, but I think most of us think our current leaders could and should do far better than they are.

I watch speeches, rallies, and interviews with our candidates now and wonder where the respect politicians showed one another years ago is? It seems like every four years respect between candidates on different sides disappears more and more.

And it’s not just the candidates and leaders who are failing in these crucial qualities. As disappointed as I am with the candidates and political leaders, I am even more disappointed in and by the political commentators and news reporters. So many on their cable shows are lacking in gravitas, class, respect and maturity.

But it is not just people who are involved full time with politics that we see and hear a lot that lacks these important qualities. Many in the entertainment business are as bad if not worse than the candidates, the politicians, the news reporters, and the political commentators.

In the title of this post I listed four qualities I think we are missing from our candidates, political leaders, political news reporters, and many celebrities. The one of the four I have not mentioned is maturity. My challenge to everyone who tries to stay informed about this political season and discuss it with others is simple. Don’t you think it’s time we grow up and show some maturity? I think with some intentionality we all could do better.

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Thank you for reading; in my next post I will be returning to “Considering the Christian life, the Bible, and the Church.”

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While not original with Chick-fil-A, their network of restaurants made the phrase “Have a Blessed Day” a common expression. When we first moved to Amarillo a few years ago I was surprised that almost everywhere I went to shop or be served employees told me “Have a Blessed Day.”

What does it mean to be blessed or to “Have a Blessed Day?” I’m reminded of a song we sang in grade school that declared what “Happiness is.” The refrain of the song reminded us that happiness is “different things to different people.” My sense is that today “being blessed” and “having a blessed day” means different things to different people.

The Bible uses the word blessed many times in both the New and the Old Testaments. And when the Bible uses this word the writer or speaker is declaring that those who have and practice certain characteristics are blessed. Blessed suggests God’s favor, approval, pat on the back, or congratulations. We call these descriptions of those who are blessed beatitudes.

One of the best known uses in the Old Testament is Psalm 1:1 and 2, “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” To get the full explanation look up Psalm 1 and review verses 3-6.

Probably surprising to some readers, the last book of the Bible – the book of Revelation – has seven declarations about those who are blessed. One of my favorites is Revelation 14:13, Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.”

The best known beatitudes in the Bible are the eight pronouncements Jesus made in Matthew 5:3-10 in the opening verses of the Sermon on the Mount. He underscores eight qualities or attitudes of people who are blessed. And after each pronouncement Jesus specifies the special blessing that goes with the quality or attitude.

My sense is that the first of Jesus’ beatitudes is the most misunderstood, and at the same time the most important. In Matthew 5:3 Jesus declares, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (NIV).

The quality “poor in spirit” means more than simply being poor. One misunderstanding of the phrase is to shorten it to say “poor-spirited.” But to be poor in spirit does not mean a person has no value, or that he or she is unimportant or insignificant. It isn’t to be like Eeyore who is pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, and no fun.

A couple of different translations of the quality helps us better understand what it means to be “poor in spirit.” The Good News Translation renders the first beatitude “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!” The New Century Version reads “They are blessed who realize their spiritual poverty, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”

To be “poor in spirit” is to be aware that on our own we are not worthy of God’s love.  It is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty and therefore humbly depend on God’s mercy and grace. I hope it is obvious why I suggest this first beatitude is so important.

The specific blessing (in addition to the general blessing) of being “poor in spirit” is to be a member of the kingdom of heaven. Christians acknowledge their need for God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. The kingdom belongs to us because we belong to the kingdom.

Have a blessed day!

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Do you know any saints? Do you know what a saint is? The second question reminds me of a song we sang as kids defining happiness. You may remember the refrain that proclaimed happiness is “different things to different people.” I think the same could be said about the meaning of saint.

In everyday conversation most people use the word saint to describe someone who is an exceptionally kind, caring, giving, unselfish, and loving person. Not only that, what leads someone to be that kind of person is their holiness that comes from their closeness to God.

In Roman Catholicism a saint is a Christian who has died following a life of exceptional commitment, holiness, and service. In Catholicism a person can only become a saint following their death and going through steps to be officially recognized and honored as such by the church. Mother Teresa is a recent example who most of us would agree was a saint.

The word saint or saints is used in both the Old and New Testaments to describe God’s people and followers of Jesus. The basic meaning of the word saint is “to set apart” and suggests holiness as a quality of those who are members of God’s people. Set apart, however, does not mean that saints should not, or cannot, have contact or involvement with those who are not saints.

Here are a two usages of the word in the Old Testament that underscore what it means to be called a saint. In Psalm 16:3 the NIV renders the word (saints) “holy ones,” and in Psalm 50:5 the NIV renders the word (saints) “consecrated people.” 

The New Testament uses the words saint and saints 67 times, always referring to believers in Jesus. Six of Paul’s letters to churches are addressed to saints: Romans, I and II Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. In these salutations, as elsewhere in the New Testament, the word is never used of a special group of Christians who are more dedicated and holy than other believers. The New Testament is clear that all Christians are saints.

While all Christians are saints, all believers are not at the same place in terms of their growth as followers of Jesus. A new believer cannot be expected to be as mature in living the Christian life as a long time believer. The challenge for every Christian is to continue to grow as a saint.

Two suggestions about the usage of the word saint in the New Testament give us more insight about the meaning. One writer notes, “the Bible views every Christian as someone set apart for God’s work” and cites Ephesians 4:12 to make the point. Every Christian is a saint, and every saint is to be engaged in some way and at some level doing God’s work. Obviously not every saint is serving in the same way, but every saint is called to serve.

Another writer makes a second suggestion: “Christians are called saints because they are called to live set apart from the corruption of the world. Followers of Christ are called to be holy” (see I Corinthians 1:2 and I Peter 15 and 16). Simple stated, the point is that saints (Christians) are different from those who are not Christians. But there is no place for arrogance and an attitude that “I’m better than you are” toward those who are not Christians.

The Oxford Companion to the Bible says in the Old Testament “saints are ‘holy people’—holy, however, not primarily in the moral sense, but in the sense of being specially marked out as God’s people.” And “in the New Testament those who comprise the church are also called holy, ‘saints’, because they too are set apart to God” (p. 668).

My favorite quote from my reading about this subject is from William Barclay. He writes, “a person who is hagios [a saint] in the Christian sense of the term is a person who has separated himself [sic] from the world in order to consecrate himself to God. Sainthood, in the NT sense of the term, is concerned, not so much where a man [sic] is, but with the direction in which he is facing” (New Testament Words, p. 150).

I think I know what a saint is and am pleased to accept the Bible’s term. Barclay’s words encourage and challenge me; I’m not where I want to be, but I am facing in the right direction. How about you?

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Yesterday I bought a book in the BARGAIN BOOKS section at our local Christian bookstore; and having read the introduction and first chapter last night I’m pretty sure it was a good buy. (Mere Discipleship by Alister McGrath, Baker Books, 2018)

Usually when we use or hear the word disciple we think of those who are followers of Jesus. While the term most often does refer to a follower of Jesus, disciple is not limited to such usage. One definition of disciple is “a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.”

Surprising to me, the word disciple is found in the New Testament only in the Gospels and the book of Acts. And it is the usage of the word in the Gospels that gives us the basic definition of a disciple as a follower. In the Gospels Jesus’ first disciples literally followed him.

Today a Christian is a disciple of Jesus, but obviously is not someone who physically follows him as his first disciples did. Nevertheless, even though we as Christians do not and cannot literally follow him, we are still his followers. To be a disciple of Jesus today means to follow him in ways that go beyond walking with and behind him.

Our following Jesus today as his disciples is where the word discipleship comes in. And I learned last night that the word discipleship is not used in the Bible. However, the way we use the word discipleship today is clearly a biblical concept.

My own definition of discipleship is that it is the process of becoming more and more the person Jesus has called us to be as his followers. It’s about growing as a Christian and it is a process that is never complete in this life. The teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, and the teachings in the letters in the New Testament, are about walking on the path of discipleship as a follower of Jesus.

I find that to be both challenging and exciting. And if you are like me, sometimes it’s three steps forward and two steps back – but the result is that we are making progress. Discipleship is about learning from the Bible how we are to live and putting what we learn into practice.

I conclude with a quote from McGrath’s opening paragraph about discipleship, “It is about a conscious and committed decision to be followers of Jesus Christ in every way possible, including the way we think, love, and act. It is about growing in our faith, as we quest for wisdom rather than the mere accumulation of information about Christianity” (p. iv).

It’s a journey worth taking.

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The Bible instructs us with so many challenges, reminders, and promises that in all honesty I often forget and fail to put them into practice. This past Sunday I was privileged to preach in our church’s current study of I Peter, and as always when I preach, I got more out of it than anyone who heard the sermon.

The passage begins with instructions to church elders, but then moves to address everyone. The verses in the passage that speak to everyone are I Peter 5:5b-7, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

The challenges in this passage are “clothe yourselves with humility” and “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand.” The Bible (both Old and New Testaments) is filled with calls to be humble. Peter suggests “humility is to be worn like clothing.” One commentator suggests, “When we begin the day and dress, we must also be careful to include an attitude of humility.”

Peter reminds us how important it is by quoting Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” God opposes and resists the proud, but he promises his special favor on those who are humble. Peter tells us if we humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand he will lift us up in due time. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want God opposing me – but I would like his favor on me. Don’t you?

This passage concludes in verse 7 with a much needed suggestion and vital reminder for all of us: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” Peter is borrowing from Psalm 55:22 when he tells us to cast our anxiety on the Lord. Some of us struggle with anxiety more than others, but all of us experience it at times. Looking back over the last few months, and looking ahead to the coming months, these are times of anxiety for many of us. Peter reminds us that we need to take our anxieties to God.

Why does the Psalmist and Peter both urge us to cast our anxieties on the Lord? The answer is so comforting and encouraging: “because he cares for you.” I think it would be helpful and appropriate for us to remind ourselves from time to time that God cares for us. No matter what we are going through, one thing we can always be sure of is that God cares for us.

Challenges: Clothe yourselves with humility and humble yourselves under God.

Reminders: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Promises: God will lift us up and he cares for us.

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Since I stepped down in October of 2014 from my ministry of 30 years at Discovery Christian Church I have been reading and thinking a lot about aging, dying, and death. At the age of 63 I thought those were some things it would be good for me to learn about.

A few years after retiring from Discovery we moved to Texas to be close to our grandsons. After a few months of attending our new church I was given the opportunity to join the church staff as Pastor of Senior Adult Ministry. That position intensified my thinking and reading about aging, dying, and death.

Since November of 2018 I’ve been sitting on a Christian Century cover story about a smartphone app called WeCroak. Those who get the app are notified five times a day (at different times) of the same thing: Don’t forget, you’re going to die. While the message is true, it’s not something I want or need to be reminded of. Unless Jesus returns first, we all are going to eventually die (see Hebrews 9:27).

Death is something everyone thinks about from time to time and something many think about more often as they age. The Covid-19 pandemic has probably increased thoughts about death among those who are older.

What reminded me of this unneeded app was a visit earlier this week Jan and I had with an 85 year old man in our church who was recently put on hospice care. From the day we first met him when we visited what became our church home he reached out to us and always made us laugh.

During our visit in his home earlier this week he was still upbeat, gracious, and funny. One of the great things about hospice care is the goal of minimizing pain and making the patient comfortable. As I have said many times following such visits, our visit did as much for us as it did for our friend.

Ten months after the issue with the cover story about the death reminder app, Christian Century had an issue with the cover story “Preparing to Die: The conversation no one wants to have.” The headline of the article was We need to talk about death followed by two opening sentences: “It’s not as if it’s a big secret that we’re all going to die. It’s just that for many of us, most of the time, it seems like an event that’s going to happen to someone else, some hypothetical me in the future.”

I guess it is appropriate and needed for us from time to time to be reminded of and to think about death. Death is not pleasant, although it is sometimes a blessing, but it is real. And it is probably good to sometimes be reminded it is real.

When talking about death people are often asked about being prepared and ready for it. As a Christian my answer is that I am prepared, but I am not ready. What about you?

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Readers who are in my age range will probably remember Glen Campbell’s 1970 hit “Try a Little Kindness.” It was a good challenge for people then, and it is still good advice for us today – perhaps especially today!

Kindness is listed by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22 and 23 as one of the nine fruit of the Spirit. Most versions translate the fifth fruit as kindness, but it is obvious that several of the other qualities listed overlap: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

We all know what kindness is when we see it, but how can we define the quality? In The Message Eugene Peterson renders the word “a sense of compassion in the heart.” But it’s more than that, isn’t it? In a 2017 Psychology Today article author Karyn Hall (Ph.D) suggests “Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.”

Some synonyms include compassion, gentleness, benevolence, thoughtfulness, mercy, consideration, and helpfulness. Perhaps the root of kindness is “a sense of compassion in the heart,” but kindness is expressed by both words and actions. Kindness can be as simple as smiling at someone or attentively listening to someone.

Kindness is not always automatic, but must be something we choose to practice. For many it becomes a habit that is automatic. We express kindness to our family members, friends, neighbors, and to those we don’t even know. Showing kindness is not contingent upon someone showing us kindness.

“What goes around comes around” is often true, but we do not show kindness with the expectation of something in return. Nevertheless, Jesus’ Golden Rule in Luke 6:31 applies to our expressions of kindness: “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

The great example of kindness is seen in God’s actions toward us as well as demonstrated in the life of Jesus. Philip Keller notes “throughout the Scriptures the great theme of God’s unrelenting kindness is great toward us.” One of the reasons we are called to be kind to others is to respond with gratitude for God’s kindness shown to us.

It’s obvious that expressing kindness is important to God when it comes to his children. I like the title of Karyn Hall’s brief article in Psychology Today: The Importance of Kindness. She echoes God’s words in Jeremiah 9:24, “let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord.

It goes without saying that being unkind should never characterize those who are followers of Jesus. I agree with Karyn Hall’s assessment, “While kindness has a connotation of meaning someone is naive or weak, that is not the case. Being kind often requires courage and strength.”

Christopher Wright reminds us that when we are shown kindness we sometimes say to the person “thank you, you’re very kind.” At other times people will say, “that was a very kind thing you did.” Wright summarizes, “Kind deeds are done by people who are themselves kind by nature and character” (Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit, p. 84).

We are called not just to do kind things but to be kind peopleAnd listen again to or check out for the first time Glen Campbell’s song “Try a Little Kindness.”

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I just counted the books in the prayer section on my book shelf and I have over 25 of them. I’m pretty sure I have read all of them, and would think I’d be much better at prayer than I am. The title of one of the books, The Struggle of Prayer by Donald G. Bloesch, probably describes a lot of us in terms of our practice of prayer. It certainly does me.

I can relate to Professor W. David O. Taylor’s assessment, “My own prayer life comes and goes. At times I have prayed faithfully every morning before starting the day’s work. At other times I have managed only tired prayers at the end of the day, and they often have not been very good prayers. At still other times I have found myself without prayer, or, more truthfully, without any desire to pray.”

I want to pray, and I want to pray regularly, but that is a challenge for me. After all these years I have still not settled into a daily and consistent routine of prayer. I think Anthony Delaney’s observation that “we pray a lot more when we are trouble than when everything’s going well” is spot on. And I think he’s right because what he says is true for me.

The Bible says a lot of about prayer as well as gives us a lot of examples of prayer. Jesus clearly expects us to pray as three times in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:5-7) he tells us “when you pray . . .” what to do and what not to do. In verses 9-13 he gives us a model to follow. In his final instructions to the Thessalonians in his first letter the Apostle Paul tells them “pray continually” (I Thessalonians 5:17).

Pastor and author John Starke encourages me with his suggestion that “the Bible imagines prayer to be a very ordinary thing for very ordinary people.” (In other words, you don’t have to be a spiritual giant to pray.) And then he convicts me with his observation that “It’s not an overstatement to say that the most transformative thing you can do is to begin to spend unhurried time with God on a regular basis for the rest of your life.”

Professor Taylor’s definition of prayer also encourages me: “Prayer is a funny thing, of course, it is about talking to God and listening to God. In practice, prayer is anything but simple.” I think praying can be simple, but listening to God in prayer for me is more challenging.

I think for many who pray, what can be frustrating is what we consider no response from God. With simple honesty, in one of his books Scot McKnight notes “we lay ourselves before God and sometimes we get what we want and sometimes we don’t.” As I have heard many believers say, God sometimes says “yes,” sometimes he says “no,” and sometimes he says “wait.” It’s the “no” answer and the “wait” answer that frustrates many who pray.

I would not charge anyone whose prayer answers were “no” or “wait” of being guilty of his warning, but Pastor Dustin Crowe’s words are worth our consideration, “If honest, many of us pray self-centered, self-absorbed, selfish prayers that sound more like ‘my kingdom come, my will be done’ than ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

In his book Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer C.S. Lewis makes a powerful point. He says the clearest asking prayer in the Bible is Jesus’ request in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Lewis writes, “He asked, but did not get what he asked for. But he asked with a reservation—‘nevertheless, not my will but thine.’ This makes an enormous difference.”

I’m thinking the challenge and the frustration of prayer are both real, but my prayer life could be much more satisfying if I would follow Jesus’ example and ask with the reservation he did.

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A few weeks ago one of my favorite families in our senior adult ministry called and asked me if they could stop by – they said they had a gift for me. Of course I said yes and when they came the gift was in a bag and very heavy. They told me it was for both Jan and me and so I told them I wouldn’t open it until Jan was home.

When we opened the gift we were taken back by a cross. As you can see in the picture above, it is not anything like what most decorative crosses are. Not only is it heavy, it is rough and rugged. It looks like it is pieced together and it has a smaller cross attached to it.

To Christians the cross is a central symbol of what God did for us through the sending of Jesus to die for us. We sing a variety of hymns, songs, and choruses that say something about the cross. One of our favorites is “The Old Rugged Cross.”

What cannot be seen on the picture above of our cross is the entire collection of Bible verses and sayings all over it. I want to share them with you to encourage, affirm, and challenge you as you give some thought to Why the Cross Means So Much to us:

Strength, Hope, Faith, love, grace

Trust in the Lord

A Friend Loves at all Times

May the Lord bless and keep you

Amazing Grace

Live Laugh Love

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

The Joy of the Lord is my Strength

Lord hear my prayer

Rejoice in THE Lord

Let’s also be reminded of some selected passages in the New Testament that speak to us and our relationship to the cross:

Luke 9:23, “Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’

Luke 14:27, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Galatians 6:14, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

I Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

Hebrews 12:1 and 2, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

I agree with hymn writer George Bennard, I love that old cross!

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