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Archive for July, 2011

This week I’ve been preaching to teenagers at some nightly youth events.  I’ve never really seen myself as a “youth leader” and have avoided “youth work” for most of my ministry.  I wouldn’t go as far as Philip Larkin but I’ve always understood his line about childhood:  “Growing up I thought I hated everyone.  Now I realise, it’s just kids I hate.”

I’m not saying I’m completely with Larkin.  But I know exactly what he means.  I spent my childhood wishing I was a grown up.  And now every time I happen across Radio 1 I frown in stunned incomprehension – at the music, but even more at the DJs.  I have never worn a “hoodie”, still less one with a cool Christian slogan.  And I have a violent allergy to all those motivational pep talks you hear at youth events, encouraging teens to “step up their commitment to Christ” and “burn for Jesus.”

Thankfully these youth events weren’t like that.  And the kids just lapped up the Bible – obviously so.  That’s the cool thing about young people, if they’re bored they’ll let you know.  If they’re engaged they’ll jump up and down on their seat in wide-eyed glee.

There was a moment on Wednesday when I was talking about Isaac – about to be sacrificed as the beloved son on a mountain on the region of Jerusalem (see more here).  A girl in the front row turned to her neighbour and said loudly “Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh.  It’s totally Jesus!”

And that’s my favourite preaching feedback ever.

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jesus gun

Three pictures of manliness in the gospels:

ONE.  Jesus, pictured as the father in Luke 15, (seriously the father is Jesus.  Just straightforwardly and obviously Jesus.  There’s no question in my mind).  Where was I?  Oh yes, Jesus, pictured as the father, is turned in his stomach with compassion, hitches up his robes, runs to his good-for-nothing son, flings his arms around him, falls on his neck and smothers the boy in kisses.

Here is the most poignant picture of Jesus’ love for sinners.  And Jesus chooses a patriarch to show it.  We might think he looks pretty motherly and not fatherly.  We might question the masculinity of this scene.  We’d be dead wrong.  Here is a picture of total Jesus-shaped manliness.

TWO.  Jesus gets up from the evening meal, downs his drink in one, belches and then challenges Judas to a cage fight.  No wait.  That’s not John 13.  In John 13 He gets up from the table, takes off His robe, picks up a towel, and He gets down on His hands and knees to wash and pad dry the dirty, naked feet of His friends. 

Was this a detour from His otherwise robust masculinity?  No, it was the expression of it.  Here was Jesus showing the full extent of His love (v1) – the Bridegroom washing His bride in sacrificial service. 

THREE.  Gethsemane: Jesus, overwhelmed with sorrow, actually lets His friends in on His distress – inviting Peter, James and John to watch with Him.  The Passion of the Christ gets this wrong – Jesus does not say ‘I don’t want them to see me like this.’  The only reason we know about this episode is that Jesus must have told them all about it.  Desperate praying, sweating blood, heart poured out, never has Jesus looked weaker.

I’ve heard Driscoll repeatedly describe Gethsemane as a portrait of femininity – Jesus in submission to His Head, the Father.  Of course both men and women need to look to Christ as Model.  But frankly I think Driscoll is avoiding something that ought to challenge his macho-man masculinity. Here is Man in submission to God.  This is what man is made for.  The Ruler under God, in the garden, obeying submissively in total dependence and willing to die for His bride – here is the Last Adam, the true picture of manliness.   

Of course it doesn’t look very macho.  It isn’t.  But it’s what Jesus-shaped masculinity looks like.

To be a man like the Man doesn’t look manly to men.  A man must be man enough to reject men and follow the Man.

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Some more posts on gender here.

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Happy Friday

3D Street Art – see them all here.

 

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How does porn impact a young girl who discovers her father’s stash?  Michelle VanLoon writes about it in My Father The Porn Addict.  This sentence struck me more than any other:

Porn taught me that the single most important thing to grown-ups was this mysterious world of fantasy, pain, and animalistic impulses too powerful to ignore.

Porn peddles a lie that becomes “the single most important thing” for those who buy into it.  Actually it peddles many lies, but here’s a prominent one: Porn tells us that love, respect and mutual honour are window dressing.  Behind closed doors it’s “fantasy, pain and animalistic impulses.”

Loving commitment and kindness are like mating calls.  The real business is mating.  People might talk about relationships and fidelity, actually it’s about glands and groans.  On the surface it’s love and trust, underneath it’s power and gratification.  And that’s what’s basic, primal, bubbling away.

To believe the lie is to feed it, to participate in it, to grow connected to it and then to see the world through its lens.  Porn sacramentally reinforces the worshipper in that creed and the cycle spirals down.

When a Christian is embroiled in this other religion, what happens when they are told to ‘clean up their private world’?  It will likely be heard as the demand to ‘put a lid on what’s real.’  Renouncing porn will be like agreeing to deny the truth, simply because the truth is too dangerous or shameful or powerful to acknowledge or indulge.  And so the determined porn-denier will commit to living in the unreality of kindness, mutual service and self-control.  All the while power and gratification throb away in heart and mind.

Combatting the lie will take more than a resolve to label pornography as ‘harmful’ or ‘bad.’  We need to know that it’s also ‘untrue.’  And why is it untrue?  Let’s cut to the chase:  God is as He is towards us.  God is not different ‘behind closed doors.’  He does not display sacrificial love as window dressing.  The Lamb is at the centre of the throne (Revelation 7:17).    Push through to the deepest depths of God and you will find a faithful marital love that gives itself for the other.  His gracious gospel offers are not mating calls to woo us while back at home He’s all about power and gratification.  No!  He is love ‘all the way down.’

Not every god will help you to conquer porn.  There are many gods who are power and gratification pure and simple.  And there are many Christian doctrines of God that offer a split-personality God – sacrificial in public, selfish in private.

But just imagine… what if, actually, the primeval passions that determine us are intimate, committed, self-denying deferrals to the other?  What if it’s respect and mutual love that are really bubbling away underneath?  What if it’s serving the other that drives this world, not using.  What if giving and not getting is ultimate?

And I don’t just mean, Let’s escape mystically into some godly sphere where that love stuff is true.  I don’t mean, Let’s affirm these religious truths (all the while knowing that ‘the real world aint like that.’)  No, let’s fling wide those doors that we’re always closing because we imagine that darkness rules the roost.  Let’s declare that Jesus really is Lord.  This really is Christ’s universe.  Light really is this world’s driving force, not darkness.   And all that other stuff is parasitic, corrupted, ugly, unnatural, ephemeral and passing away.

The lie of pornography will be unmasked and the bedrooms of Christians, both single and married, will be revolutionized when we see God aright.  Behind closed doors there’s not a throbbing, coercive power too dangerous to name.  The primal urge is not grunting but grace.

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Discuss!

 

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Emma’s got a great post up contrasting Amy Winehouse and Anders Breivik:

One person couldn’t cope with fame.  The other couldn’t cope with ignominy.  One person’s life was out of control.  The other was extremely disciplined.  One was full of self-doubt.  The other was certain he was right.  One revealed her problems to the world (“I told you I was trouble!”).  The other kept it all inside.  One took it out on herself.  The other took it out on everyone else.

Is it too far to suggest that these two (obviously extreme cases) represent the apogee of female and male anger?

And if not, what kind of pathologies develop when an angry man (i.e. a man) marries an angry woman (i.e. a woman)?

 

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I’ve been asked to give some talks to teenagers on Christ’s “mission impossible” – that’s the name of the camp they’re on.  They suggested I do it from the OT.

I thought at some point in each talk I’ll address a sneaking suspicion that Christians have deep down that eats away at our faith.  So, something like:

Jesus and Adam (Genesis 3) – “Jesus can’t be that important.”

Christ is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and End, the world’s only hope.

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Jesus and Abraham (Genesis 22) – “The bible’s weird and sometimes shocking.”

The bible is not a rule-book, but with Christ at the centre it makes sense.

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Jesus and Moses (Exodus 3) – “I can’t believe in God in a suffering world.”

The LORD meets us in suffering to lead us out.

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Jesus and David (1 Samuel 17) – “I’m too weak for Jesus.”

The gospel is not, do it for Jesus, it’s: Jesus did it for you.

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Jesus and Isaiah (Isaiah 53) – “I’m too sinful for Jesus.”

Jesus’ mission is for sinners – He’s for you!

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Anyone have any ideas for good youth-friendly video clips or jazzy stuff.  I’m not the youthiest, jazziest speaker ever!

 

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Recently someone complained about the sermons at my church:

“You go on and on about ‘Adam and Christ’, but where do I fit in to that??  You say Adam takes us down to hell and Jesus lifts us up to heaven, but where’s the place for me to make my decision about Jesus, and repent and turn to the Lord for times of refreshing.  If it’s all about Adam and Christ, there’s no room for me.”

But let’s be honest, we all think it.  This person just had the temerity to say it!

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Happy Friday

One of the best… about some of the worst…

And anyone who says sarcasm is the lowest form of wit should take it up with the LORD.

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… the ultimate plague (i.e. judgement)  (Ex 11:1)

… judgement upon the gods (Ex 12:12)

… the defeat of the Enemy (Ex 6:1)

… liberation from slavery to overlords (Ex 13:14)

… liberation to the service of the LORD (Ex 8:1)

… the cause of unparalleled sorrow for the enemies (Ex 11:6)

… the cause of great joy for the redeemed (2 Chron 30:21)

… the distinction between the LORD’s people and the world (Ex 11:7)

… in darkness (Deut 16:6)

… a sacrifice (Ex 12:27)

… substitutionary (Ex 12:13)

… bloody (Ex 12:13)

… a sign for the LORD’s people (Ex 12:13)

… for the LORD Himself to see (Ex 12:13)

… to be memorialized in perpetuity (Ex 12:14)

… community-defining (Ex 12:47)

… open to non-covenant people (Ex 12:49)  but…

… for those who enter the covenant and own its sign (Ex 12:48)

… time renewing (Ex 12:1)

… the ultimate revelation of the LORD (Ex 6:7)

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What is the cross?

Exactly the same.

[this is a repost]

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Good on diagnosis I think…

As for cure…

Dealing with self-righteousness takes more than pointing out its folly.  Or showing the broad vistas of human discovery that open up when we “step outside the tiny terrified space of rightness”.  Maybe it’s just me, but the minute I make that step on the road to open-hearted humility, I start to feel superior to all those prudes, stuck in their “tiny spaces.”  Is that just me?  Or is it also Ms Schulz?  And everyone who gets the “right” idea about wrongness?

Note how Jesus seeks to free us from self-righteousness in Matthew 6 (I recently wrote about it at the King’s English).  Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t care about reward and being seen.  Just do good people, it’s not hard.”

No.  Jesus knows we care deeply about being seen.  He knows we care deeply about reward.  And He doesn’t seek to deny those urges for a second.  He just re-orients where we seek those things.  Instead we are to seek them in our Father who is unseen.

Same with rightness.  You can’t just say “Don’t get hung up on being right.”  We’re built to be right – for the Father to declare us “holy in His sight” (Col 1:22), for the Son to say “there is no flaw in you” (Song 4:7).  We can’t just laugh off our silly rightness crusades as an easily discarded hang-up.

Our need to be right mustn’t be denied, but fulfilled.  Fulfilled apart from any of our efforts or qualities, but no less fulfilled.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but I think it’s true – the way to relinquish our petty insistence on rightness is to know that we’re perfect.

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I was reading Job 11 and 12 this morning.  It struck me how very “God-centred”  that worthless comforter Zophar was.  Or so he would claim.

Job has been insisting on his innocence in suffering throughout the book.  Long chapters consist of Job saying “I really am suffering, but no I’m really not guilty.”  But the existence of righteous suffering is not a possibility in Zophar’s philosophy.  (Of course the works-driven flesh detests the idea that our rule-keeping can’t insulate us from calamity).  So Zophar addresses Job with impatience, saying:

4 You say to God, ‘My beliefs are flawless
and I am pure in your sight.’
5 Oh, how I wish that God would speak,
that he would open his lips against you
6 and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom,
for true wisdom has two sides.
Know this: God has even forgotten some of your sin.

7 “Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
8 They are higher than the heavens—what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths of the grave—what can you know?
9 Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.

And you can read this and think, Well said Zophar.  Some kind of confrontation with God is indeed in order here.  And all that stuff about God being greater than our doing and knowing, that is very much a theme which the LORD Himself will take up when He enters the fray from chapter 38.

But as far as Zophar is concerned, the real power to reverse Job’s fortunes lies with Job himself:

13 “Yet if you devote your heart to him

and stretch out your hands to him,
14 if you put away the sin that is in your hand
and allow no evil to dwell in your tent,
15 then you will lift up your face without shame;
you will stand firm and without fear.
16 You will surely forget your trouble,
recalling it only as waters gone by.
17 Life will be brighter than noonday,
and darkness will become like morning.
18 You will be secure, because there is hope;
you will look about you and take your rest in safety.
19 You will lie down, with no one to make you afraid,
and many will court your favor.
20 But the eyes of the wicked will fail,
and escape will elude them;
their hope will become a dying gasp.”

Well again there’s distorted truth here.  There will be a dramatic reversal to Job’s fortunes.  Chapter 42 will be like sunrise on the darkness of Job’s suffering.  But how will the reversal happen?  Zophar thinks it’s all up to Job.

And right there he reveals his true colours.  Not so God-centred now are we Zophar?  All those protestations of the transcendent majesty of God, but what it all boils down to is “God helps those who help themselves.”  And who is then left centre-stage?  Well the spotlight is on Job.  Does he have it in him to turn things around?  Is he righteous enough to force the hand of the LORD?

Well if he is, how sovereign is this God Zophar speaks of?

In Job, this is what brings the reversal.  It’s nothing that Job does.  The LORD shows up.  And, absolutely, He blows Job away with a display of incredible power, speaking out of the whirlwind.  But then it’s the LORD who restores Job’s fortunes, and it’s the nasty legalists who need to be forgiven (Job 42:7-9).

The gospel according to Zophar says God is like karma-writ-large.  He is some giant force of natural justice, punishing the bad and rewarding the good.  And the more he “centres” on such a god, the more his moral performance becomes the real star of the show.

But what if there’s a Righteous Sufferer at the heart of our faith?  To be centred on Him means a radically different approach to God… He really does take centre-stage (I mean He takes it!)… and suffering – the answer is not to pull up your socks.

And once we’ve grapsed that, we can give the Zophars of this world both barrels of our sarcasm shot-gun:

1 Then Job replied:

2 “Doubtless you are the people,
and wisdom will die with you!  (Job 12:1-2)

Older sermon on Job.

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[Some notes from part of a talk I did yesterday morning]

The bible’s influence on…

Science

Other cultures produce technology, ingenuity, inventions, not science

Other cultures seek to investigate the world, but by different means

Some cultures good at the practical, but they’re not looking for patterns (or “laws”)

In other cultures they believe in laws (Reason) but it doesn’t occur to them to check the facts

E.g. Aristotle thought flies have four legs, it was taught for a thousand years

He thought there was a necessary universe and reason alone discovered it.

Christianity says there is Reason that takes flesh – which can be handled (1 John 1:1-4)

Here is a solid foundation for scientific enquiry.  Both practical and patterned.

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Economics

Ancient cultures only knew two responses to wealth: either horde or display.

Neither is good for economic growth

A culture is reared on the stories of Jesus – much about reinvesting

According to Jesus, the ‘horder’ is wicked. The ‘displayer’ is a proud fool.

More generally, grace and money is linked throughout the bible (riches of grace 6 times in Ephesians)

2 Corinthians 8 – from Christ to us and from us to the world

God never wants “payback” but “pass on” – freely you have received, freely give.

What happens when people apply that economically?

The end of hording and display – reinvestment… economic flourishing.

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Democracy

When did the phrase “gevernment of people by people for people” appear in English?

John Wycliffe – in preface to his bible translation (14th century!)

Bible provides standard by which to challenge divine right of kings

Charles I judges according to Scripture and executed.  Divine right of kings also dealt death blow

More than this – biblical idea of priesthood: representation by one of us.

Not even God believes in the divine right of kings per se.  There needs to be human representation.

The Son becomes Man in order to sit on the throne!

Our rulers need to be of the people.

 


 

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Happy Friday

I’m off to see Dylan Moran tonight!  Enjoy this (language warning):

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How do you answer that question?  It’s been a very tough week and there you are sipping a cuppa after the service, and someone asks cheerily ‘How are you?’  What do you say?

Emma and I have had experience of chronic illness of one kind or another for many years now.  I confess that when people ask about it we don’t really know what to say.  I know other friends who have degenerative illnesses.  And every week the questions come at church ‘How are you?  Any progress?’  And they answer ‘Yes indeed – the illness has progressed… and barring divine intervention it will continue to progress.’  The “comforter” frowns and asks ‘So the doctors haven’t helped?’  And of course the doctors have helped… as much as they can.  But…

– …’Oh, because I read in ‘Chintz!’ magazine about a woman who recovered after eating a steady diet of Goji berries and Quinoa – perhaps you could try that.’

– ‘Maybe!’

– ‘Give that a go and let me know next week.’

– ‘Look forward to it!’

Don’t get me wrong, I know the trouble from the other end.  In our home group we have a woman who’s struggled with insomnia for 50 years. Fifty years!  But when she reveals this, what is our response?

“Have you tried a hot bath with a drop of lavender?”

“Long walks in the sea air.”

“Listen to the shipping forecast”

“A drop of badger blood on the pillow…”

She shows extraordinary patience, listening to our home-spun wisdom for a good quarter of an hour.  Eventually she says, “I have struggled with this for 50 years you know”.

Hmmm.

Our trouble is we don’t know what we can offer unless it’s a quick fix.  So when we run out of fixes all we can think to do is offer prayer.  Which is good I suppose.  But even then – what’s our goal?  The fix!  And how are we treating the other person?  What are our interactions all about?  Solving problems?

Here are some questions for us:

Can we handle sickness that doesn’t yield to the quick fix?

Can we face the struggles that aren’t solved by the tried and trusted common sense we take pride in?

Can we enter into the struggles of others and not make ‘the fix’ into the goal?

Can we journey with others in their mess and allow the Spirit to encourage us both in the Christ who is known best in the storm?

And, on the other end of things, when people ask us about our long-term stuggles, what can we say?

I’ve recently taken to one particular line that I picked up in a Tim Keller sermon, I’d love to hear any you have.  His was this:

– How are you?

– Nothing a resurrection won’t fix!

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Christ Alone: Luke 10 by Rich Owen

Trinity and Polyphony by Doug Jones

Psalm 22 by Steve Levy

Revelation 2 by Paul Mallard

Psalm 66 by Paul Mallard

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Rich and Steve’s sermons are some of my very favourites of this year.

 

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Sermon Audio

When I lived in London, one of the things I loved to do on a Sunday was visit Speaker’s Corner.  Every Sunday at Speaker’s Corner you have the right to go and proclaim whatever you want to proclaim about – could be true, could be a pack of lies, doesn’t matter – as long as you are 6 inches off the ground you have total freedom of speech and you can just let fly.  So naturally enough this attracts any number of religious nutters – like me – and you can wander the length of Speakers Corner and listen to pretty much every religion under the sun.

On a sunny day the speakers will get up on their soapbox and point to the wonder of creation and say – “Look what the God Ram has done.”  A few metres down – “Look what Allah has created.”  A few metres down – “look what I have made.”  Everyone’s looking at the same sun shining on the same blades of grass, listening to the same birds.  And yet it seems there are as many gods and spiritualities and philosophies as there are people.

Why don’t we all have a clear picture of God?  And why isn’t everyone’s the same?  What do we make of all these religions in the world?  And where does Christianity fit in?

Well I wonder how you answered our first question: “What do you picture when you think of God?”

I imagine we have as many answers to that question as we have people here this morning.  That’s a very question.  And if you look at verse 15 of our passage you’ll see why it’s difficult to picture God.  Do you see v15.  Why’s it difficult to picture God?  He’s invisible.

And that’s not just a conceptual difficulty.  It’s not just that He’d be a difficult Pictionary clue.  In the Bible – seeing God is caught up with the idea of knowing Him.  To see Him is to know Him and to be known by Him.

And the bible says we don’t know God.  We just don’t.  Everyone talks about God.  Most people believe in God.  Billions pray to God.  The trouble is we don’t know God. (more…)

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If you can find a use for this, feel free to use it – A5 tract, folded to A6:

Publisher File

PDF

Putting words in our mouth

Have you ever “made a peace offering”? Or found a “scapegoat”? Ever been at your “wits’ end”? Or “given up the ghost”? Then the Bible has been “putting words in your mouth”!

This year is the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. It’s the most widely read translation of the world’s all-time best-seller. It’s given us hundreds of words and phrases—shaping the English language more than Shakespeare or any other source.

Turning the world upside down

But it’s not just language. The Bible has shaped our culture. From scientific enquiry to the abolition of slavery; from literature and art to the flourishing of economics; from schools and hospitals to the emer-gence of modern democracy; the Bible has inspired western civilisation. Our world would be unrecognisable without this book.

And yet there is widespread ignorance about the Bible. Most people consider it a dusty rule-book or an ancient history. What is the Bible all about?

In the beginning…

The Bible begins with a loving God who made all things through His Word—Jesus Christ. He put hu-mankind at the pinnacle of His creation. We were meant to live in loving harmony with God, with each other, and with the world. It started out as paradise. But soon paradise was lost…

How the Mighty are Fallen…

The first humans—Adam and Eve—mistrusted God and wanted to go it alone. When they broke fellow-ship with God, the whole world was broken. Yet right from the beginning there was a promise…

The Messiah

The Old Testament—the part of the Bible written BC—spoke of Jesus. God’s Son would come as “Messiah”— meaning God’s King, full of the Holy Spirit. He would take our sins and suffering on Him-self and die as our sacrificial “scapegoat.” Then He would rise again to lead us back into perfect relation-ship with God. The Bible has always directed our hope to Jesus—the Saviour of the world.

The Good Samaritan

When Jesus came in the flesh He was the Ultimate Good Samaritan. The first four books of the New Tes-tament—the Gospels—tell the story. He saw us dying under the weight of sin and He took it all on Himself. When He “gave up the ghost” on the cross, He made the perfect “peace offering.” And He did it for you!

The rest of the Bible tells how Jesus rose from the dead to immortal, bodily life. Today, He offers this life to us spiritually. If we come to Jesus we have the gift of His Spirit, complete forgiveness, an eternal friendship with God. And when He returns to put the world to rights we will share His physical life too, forevermore.

The Truth shall set you free

If you want to know the real power of the Bible, pick it up for yourself. As you read, ask God to show you Jesus—He is the true King of the King James Bible.

Write to receive a free Gospel of John in modern language along with a free booklet called “The King’s English”. It will guide you through the Bible, showing how Jesus makes sense of it all.

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