Open the Door to Halloween

From Desiring God:

How you spend Halloween may reveal a good deal of what you think of sanctification.

There is a chain of inseparable realities in our local churches that shape the way we look at the costumes shuffling down our streets and knocking on our doors this Friday night. The first reality, as Jeff Vanderstelt explains, is the fluency of gospel proclamation in our communities of faith. We want to be churches that proclaim the gospel to one another, believers to believers. And then, building off this reality, it’s inevitable that we begin to share the gospel with those who don’t know Jesus — that is, if we understand sanctification.

It is easy for us to get locked into Christian bubbles and soon lose contact with those who desperately need to know the good news. And it’s easy to mistake sanctification to mean separate from the world instead of separated for God’s work in the world. But Christians, says Vanderstelt, are truly called to move toward need, and be in the middle of the brokenness. We are not of the world, butwe are sent into it.

Like Jesus, we are called to “move into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). We can take the “normal rhythms of life and do them in such a way that the world takes notice of our generosity, love, and care.” And that might start with Halloween, as Vanderstelt explains in this three-minute video:

When Halloween Demands a Gospel Explanation from Desiring God on Vimeo.

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True Recovery Cannot Escape Confrontation

There’s a part of Moses’ story that often gets lost in the midst of climbing the mountain of God, performing miracles in Egypt, and leading a train of captives out of bondage. Before all that, Moses spent forty years in the desert. And I suppose that in those forty years, he learned something about routine and hiding.

Before his time in the desert, Moses had great dreams, too. Educated and indoctrinated into the royal family of Egypt, Moses was raised in luxury. Despite that, he harbored aspirations of returning to his people as a great leader. In fact, he was so convinced that this was his destiny and God’s purpose for his life that he killed an Egyptian taskmaster hoping to incite a rioting army of slaves to follow him. It didn’t work.

Instead Moses ran from Egypt as a fugitive in disgrace. But the place he ran to is particularly interesting. He ran to the desert, just like me. Dry. Isolated. Frayed at the edges. The desert was a good place for both of us, just two guys living a life of “should have beens.” Moses undoubtedly had lots of questions, maybe some anger, probably some bitterness. Spiritually Moses was in a dry, dry place. He was in a place filled with doubt and anxiety and sin; he was in a place far from the refreshing waters of the Lord.

Where better than the desert for him to gaze at the sky and ask, “I thought I was the deliverer? Why have you abandoned me? Why have you given me this vision for my people and then taken it away?” Where better than the desert for him to lose himself in the routine? Where better than the desert for him to forget about everything that might have been?

He ran into routine—a routine of tending sheep, an unceasing monotony that lasted four decades, but a great place to get lost and avoid engaging in those questions. No longer was he cooking up great schemes about how to get back into the proverbial promised land. But God took it on Himself to invade the routine of the prince-turned-rebel-turned-shepherd and force him to stop hiding.

Moses went from the prince of Egypt to the bottom rung on the socioeconomic ladder, and he spent the next forty years of his life feeding sheep. And watering sheep. And protecting sheep. I don’t know a lot about shepherding, but I would guess that it’s pretty boring. Day after day, staring at the backsides of sheep for forty years. But on the plus side, he didn’t have any daily reminders of what his life was “supposed” to be like. He had hidden, and he had hidden well. Maybe he had even talked himself into believing that he had recovered from what had happened in his life and had moved on to a regular, everyday existence. Moses had created a new normal for himself.

But then, on a day like any other, when the questions that had driven Moses to the desert in the first place had long since been pushed down into the pit of his soul, he chased a sheep up a mountain and everything changed.

A fire. A bush. A voice spoken on holy ground.

Moses was suddenly engaged by God. And isn’t that always the way it happens? We trick ourselves into believing we have recovered when all we’ve really done is hid in the desert. But God is content to wait us out and then eventually to come storming into our lives all over again. We can never really hide from Him.

Something happens. We read something that should in no way make us as upset as we get. We see something that jars us emotionally. We smell something that reminds us of a time long ago. We encounter a bush on fire, and suddenly the wounds of the past—or at least those we thought were in the past—suddenly come to the surface. God finds us out because part of any type of recovery means confronting those issues and questions that drove us to the desert in the first place.

Taken from my book, Wednesdays Were Pretty Normal: A Boy, Cancer, and God.

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Let Me Introduce You to Smallgroup.com

I love being a Sunday school teacher. At our church, we don’t have Sunday school classes divided by ages; instead, we rotate the focus of the classes about three times a year. Right now I am team-teaching a class walking through the parables of Jesus in the gospels, and it’s rich.

Every week.

Each week that I teach I get to stand in front of a room of thoughtful, faithful people who want to know God’s Word and follow it at an increasingly vigorous level. The conversation is always stimulating and more times than not, I walk out of that room feeling like I learned and was challenged more than anyone else in there.

But being a Sunday school teacher is hard. It requires prayer and preparation, study on top of study. I want to know when I walk into that room that I’ve prepared and thought through not only the content itself, but the most engaging way to present that content in order to inspire good and reflective conversation that leads to real life change in someone.

Because it’s a hard job, I’m thankful to not only be able to use, but have worked to develop, a tool that has dramatically impacted the way I teach.

So today I want to introduce you to a website that the team I work on here at Lifeway has been working on very heavily for the last 9 months.

Smallgroup.com is an online tool for creating and distributing custom Bible studies in minutes. Our team has built a customizable library of more than 1,000 studies (with up to 50 more added each week) from all 66 books of the Bible and on more than 200 topics. At smallgroup.com, you can log in, create a church profile, change the look and feel of your study template, and then begin to plan your teaching series. Once you choose the study that fits your text or topic, you can then further customize it with your specific teaching points, language, and illustrations.

Because I’ve been involved in the development of the site, I’ve also been able to use it for this season of preparing for my Sunday school class. And it has greatly helped. For the Sunday school teacher like me, it means that I never have to start from a blank sheet of paper again. Instead, it means that because I know the dynamic of my class, I can edit the study as little or as extensively as I need to.

I, along with our team, believe that because of the quality of the content at the site, its extensive nature, and how easy it is to make it your own, that smallgroup.com could literally change the way people in churches all over the world study the Bible in their classes or small groups.

If you’re a Sunday school teacher, it means you can put together a whole class based on any topic or text you’d like and make it your own.

If you’re on a church staff where you write small group guides for your leaders, it means you can align the content to your pastor’s sermon series in minutes.

If you’re a pastor, it means you can help your Bible more personally discuss your sermon ideas in a transformative way.

If you’re interested, you can actually try out smallgroup.com right now. The site is currently in an open beta test, so it’s not completely finished, but you are invited to try it for two weeks. This is a chance for you to kick the tires and see how it can help you create custom Bible studies in a fraction of the time it would ordinarily take you. Just head to smallgroup.com and “try is now for free.” I think you’ll like it.

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JI Packer Became a Christian 70 Years Ago Today

You can read the full retelling of his conversion here, but I’ve pasted sections of the article below that chronicles the night JI Packer became a Christian:

On Sunday, October 22, 1944—seventy years ago today—it is doubtful that anyone noticed a soft-spoken, lanky, and decidedly bookish first-year university student leaving his dormitory room at Corpus Christi College and heading across Oxford for an evening Christian Union service at a local Anglican church.

18-year-old Jim Packer had arrived at Oxford University less than three weeks prior, a single suitcase in hand, traveling east by train from Gloucester using a free ticket available to family members of Great Western Railway employees.

He later described himself at this stage of life as ”immature,” “shy,” “introverted,” “awkward,” “intellectual,” and an “oddball.” He was an “outsider” who was “bad at relationships” and “emotionally locked up.” He was also a “churned-up young man, painfully aware of himself, battling his daily way, as adolescents to, through manifold urges and surges of discontent and frustration.”

Packer came from a lower middle-class background and a nominal Anglican family that went to St Catharine’s Church in Gloucester but never talked about the things of God or even prayed at meals. As a teenager Packer had read a couple of the new books coming out by C. S. Lewis (fellow and tutor in English literature at Oxford’s Magdalen College), including The Screwtape Letters (1942) and the three BBC talks turned pamphlets that would later become Mere Christianity (1942-44). During chess matches with a high school classmate—the son of a Unitarian minister—he had defended Christianity.

Packer thought of himself as a Christian. But the events of that evening would convince him otherwise.

On this cool autumn evening, he made his way west across Oxford, past Pembroke College, and into St Aldate’s Church, where the Christian Union occasionally held services. The lights in the building were dimmed so that the light emanating from the building would be no brighter than moonlight—a recent relaxation of England’s “blackout” regulations to avoid air-raid attacks in World War II.

The service began at 8:15 PM. The preacher was an elderly Anglican parson named Rev. Earl Langston, from the resort town of Weymouth. The first half of the forty-minute sermon consisted of biblical exposition that left Packer bored. But the second half was a personal narrative of how Langston had been converted at a boys’ camp. The key component of that conversion had been a challenge posed to the youthful Langston by a camp leader as to whether or not he was a Christian. Langston had been jolted by this question to conclude that he was not actually saved. That, in turn, led to his coming to personal faith in Christ as Savior.

This autobiographical narrative was riveting to Packer, who had entered Oxford believing himself to be a Christian. Packer suddenly saw his own story in Langston’s narrative and realized that he was not a Christian. It was a traumatic realization. It was accompanied by an imagined picture that Alister McGrath reconstructs as follows:

He found a picture arising from within his mind. The picture was that of someone looking from outside through a window into a room where some people were having a party. Inside the room, people were enjoying themselves by playing games. The person outside could understand the games that they were playing. He knew the rules of the games. But he was outside; they were inside. He needed to come in.

Packer was particularly convicted by the latter awareness: “I need to come in.” So by the Spirit’s prompting he came in. 

(HT: JT)

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A Glimpse Into Life Under ISIS

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When You Can’t Take the Words Back

Words create worlds.

Words are powerful, and the way you use them determines the culture you create. It’s true in a business organization, it’s true in church life, and it’s true in the home. I am recognizing more and more the sheer power that language plays in all these arenas, but this weekend I became more acutely aware of the “home” area. But we weren’t at home this weekend. We were camping.

And, admittedly, I’m not a great camper. I’m trying to learn how to be because my oldest son is, in fact, a really great camper. But by the time I got to night 2 with my 3 kids, staring down a night in the 30′s, with everyone drawing their energy from hot dogs and just a few hours sleep, my patience was running thin. And because it was, my words were running thick. I said some things that I shouldn’t have said.

It was one of those moments when, directly after a statement is made, you wish you could have it back. I knew it was too much, too direct, and the way I knew it was by how good it felt. I felt so righteous and so justified, and I know my heart; the vast majority of the time when I feel that way something has gone haywire.

But words are powerful; you can’t take them back no matter how much you wish you could. Once it’s been said, it’s been forever said. And words have a way of lodging themselves in our memories. They set up camp deep inside our minds and stay there.

So what do you do when you can’t take the words back?

You recognize the power of words, and you use them again.

James wrote about the power of words in chapter 3 of the book that bears his name:

“Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. Every sea creature, reptile, bird, or animal is tamed and has been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil full of deadly poison” (James 3:3-8).

Though James was instructing us about the negative potential of words, the power works both ways. Granted, a positive use of words might not necessarily be equivalent to the negative, but the power still remains:

“Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21).

When you can’t take the words back, make sure the next ones are ones you don’t want to:

“I’m sorry.”

“Please forgive me.”

“I was wrong.”

These are words that flow so much harder from the tongue than the ones of impatience and anger, but these words have power, too. Don’t neglect that power while you’re mourning what’s already been said.

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Why is Patience Such a Big Deal?

Love, joy, peace – these are the fruit of the Spirit that seem to get all the press. They should – these are all attributes that make the Christian distinct. What makes them even more distinctive is the fact that, for the Christian, these fruits seem to grow in the least likely of environments. That’s because they aren’t dependent on the environment; they grow based on the strength of the vine they are attached to.

When we love those who hate, when we have joy in the midst of pain, and when we have peace despite the churning circumstances around us, we show that the source of these characteristics is not those circumstances but instead the work of God in us.

But once you get passed these characteristics in Galatians 5:22-23, the passage in which Paul lists these many fruits of the Spirit, you find one attribute that we often don’t pay as much attention to. That’s patience.

Patience is a big deal. And like love, you, and peace, it’s one of those things that when displayed shows the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Here are 3 reasons, then, why patience is indeed a big deal:

1. Patience is an act of humility.

When we become impatient, we betray our inner assumption that we had the best thing planned. When our plans for our day (or our lives, for that matter) are interrupted and we have to go a different way, our level of patience shows how convinced we are in our own ability to make plans. When our plans are disrupted and we patiently adapt and act accordingly, we show that we humbly recognize how short-sighted we are in vision and wisdom.

2. Patience is an act of service.

I’m finding this to be more and more true as a parent. There are three little people who live with me, and most of the time those little people need something. Sometimes it’s help with homework; sometimes it’s a drink of water; sometimes it’s a 47th reminder about a rule we have in the home. During each of those needs, I’ve got the choice about whether I patiently help or whether I impatiently respond. Every time I choose patience, I am choosing to put my own desires on the back burner and embrace the holy inconvenience of service.

3. Patience is an act of faith.

One of the core questions we must answer every day is whether we truly believe God is sovereign or if we do not. If we do, then we must also recognize that He ultimately is the One directing our steps. Many times those steps aren’t the ones we would have chosen for ourselves; they’re the ones He chose for us. So, then, when we are patient, we display our firm belief that God not only is ruling over the circumstances of the world, but that ultimately His way is indeed right.

Patience is a big deal – probably bigger than we think it is. But our part, as God works in us, is to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. That includes exercising the muscle of patience. You’ll have a chance to exercise that muscle today; as you do, do so as an act of humility, service, and faith. And even if you’re only getting that kid a drink of water (again), know that you are embracing the work of God in you.

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Lewis, Clark, and the Gospel Exploration

In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned the Corps of Discovery, and named U.S. Army Captain Meriwether Lewis its leader. Lewis then selected William Clark as his partner. Their journey would take an arduous two years and would go up the Mississippi River, then west across the Continental Divide, eventually all the way to the west coast.

According to Jefferson himself, one goal was to find “the most direct & practicable water communication across this continent, for the purposes of commerce.” Jefferson asked for the expedition to explore the land the United States had acquired during the Louisiana Purchase, land that was officially part of the country but had yet to be fully explored and evaluated.

In other words, Lewis and Clark were laying claim to what had already been claimed. They were “discovering” what had already been “acquired.”

Such is the case with the gospel.

If you’re a Christian, Jesus has purchased your heart and soul. He has planted the flag on your life and declared it to be His territory. There is, then, from your east coast to your west, top to bottom, no part that is not owned under the lordship and authority of Christ.

It is acquired but not discovered. It has been claimed but now must be laid claim to. So the question for you and I is whether or not the gospel is taking more and more territory in your heart. It’s not that there is an area of your heart that hasn’t yet been claimed; Jesus has done that once and for all. What’s happening now is the exploration and discovery of the fullness of His claim.

These nooks and crannies of our soul must be explored. They must be researched and discovered. And in each one, the flag of the gospel must be planted as we claim that which Christ has already claimed. We apply the gospel, day in and day out, to all of these areas of our life in order to actualize the reality of the ownership and authority of Jesus.

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7 Things to Pray for Your Children

Encourage post from Jon Bloom here about how to pray for your children:

1. That Jesus will call them and no one will hinder them from coming.

Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” And he laid his hands on them and went away.(Matthew 19:13–15)

2. That they will respond in faith to Jesus’s faithful, persistent call.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

3. That they will experience sanctification through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit and will increasingly desire to fulfill the greatest commandments.

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

4. That they will not be unequally yoked in intimate relationships, especially marriage.

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)

5. That their thoughts will be pure.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)

6. That their hearts will be stirred to give generously to the Lord’s work.

All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord. (Exodus 35:29)

7. That when the time is right, they will GO!

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

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The Best Things About the Boring Parts of the Bible

This is such a great post from Nancy Guthrie:

10

After a poetic Creation and a cosmic disaster, the story of the Bible slows down in Genesis by tracing the sons of Adam and Eve’s son, Seth through numerous generations. Why do we need to know this? Because God made a promise recorded in Genesis 3 about a particular descendant of Eve. The whole of the Bible is most significantly about this descendant. So, the tenth best thing about the boring parts of the Bible is:

Tracing the line of descendants from Adam and Eve forward keeps us tuned in to what is most important in the Bible’s story, or really who is most important — the promised offspring who will one day be born and will do battle with the offspring of the ancient serpent and win.

9

In Genesis 6-9 we witness the population of the world narrowed down to just Noah and his 3 sons and their families. The begats of the Bible pick up again in Genesis 10 focusing in on the descendants of just one of Noah’s sons — Shem — and finally on one descendant of Shem — Abraham — to whom God makes incredible promises. Further lists help us to trace the coming of the promised descendant through Isaac and Jacob and Judah and David until we read in Galatians, “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman.” Keeping our focus on this promised One helps to keep us from making the Bible all about us instead of all about him.

The book of Exodus begins with the vivid story of a baby in a basket on the Nile River who becomes the deliverer of God’s people from their slavery in Egypt. On their way to the Promised Land, God gives Moses detailed instructions for the design of the tent they are to construct in which God will come down to dwell among them. In the detail of the design we see gourds and open flowers woven into the fabrics, a basin made to look like a lily, lampstands made to look like trees with branches. The writer of Hebrews says the tabernacle and later the temple were, “copies of true things,” and “a shadow of the good things to come.” So for #9:

The detail of the tabernacle and temple design reminds us of Eden and fills us with anticipation for the beauty and perfection of the new heavens and new earth.

8

As we continue in Exodus we read exacting detail about the clothing that was to be made for the high priest who would serve in the tabernacle. It was to be holy, glorious, and beautiful like God himself, which is appropriate since the priest represented God to the people. The priest also represented the people to God. He wore an ephod and a breastplate that had stones with the names of the twelve tribes on them. So when the high priest entered the Holy Place, it was as if he took the people and their concerns into the presence of God with him.

The detail of the high priest’s clothing assures us that our Great High Priest, Jesus, carries our burdens on his shoulders and our concerns on his heart as he intercedes for us in the presence of God.

7

In Leviticus 1–7 we find detailed instructions for offering sacrifices which were like flashing neon signs saying: “sin brings death . . . sin brings death.” But the sacrifices also revealed that God accepts the blood of an innocent substitute to pay for sin.

The requirements of Old Testament sacrifices help us to see what sin costs as well as the fullness of our forgiveness made possible through the once-for-all perfect sacrifice of Christ.

6

Let’s face it — the laws about what make a person ceremonial clean or unclean found in Leviticus 11–15 are strange. Yet when we study them, we see that everything that makes a person unclean is something that reflects the effects of the curse of sin on this world. Animals fed on other animals only after the curse. Bodies bled and developed disease only after the curse. Mold and mildew, the visible evidence of decay, came into being only after the curse. Everything designated unclean in Leviticus demonstrated that things are not the way they once were in the Garden—the way God originally intended them to be.

The laws regarding clean and unclean in Leviticus give us hope that we who are unclean can be made clean through an acceptable sacrifice, and will one day be made holy to enter into the presence of God.

5

Jesus, who was perfectly clean, took our uncleanness upon himself so that we might be made clean and he is at work even now, by his Spirit, making us holy. God will not abandon our world to its uncleanness forever! He will make it clean.

The book of Numbers begins and ends with a census. In Numbers 1 we find the record of the generation who rebelled and refused to believe that God was giving them the land of Canaan and therefore died in the desert. In Numbers 26 we read the census record of the second generation as they prepared to enter into their inheritance and abundant life of the Promised Land. Why do we need this information?

The census records of Numbers encourage us to examine whether our names are to be counted among those who refuse to believe and will die in the wilderness of this world, or if we are counted among those who believe God’s promise of an inheritance and have life in the abundance of the Promised Land to look forward to.

4

In Joshua 13 -21 we read the geographic details of the land in Canaan given to each tribe. Because we are unfamiliar with the ancient geography, it can be a boring list to us. But if we were familiar with these places and with these people, we could better imagine the sense of wonder among God’s people as each tribe was given a huge amount of territory in the Promised Land. Likely the people of each tribe would have looked at each other and said, “All of this for us?”

The allotment of territories to tribes in the land of Canaan gives us a preview of what it will be like when our greater Joshua, Jesus, leads us into the eternal Promised Land where we will inherit all that God has promised.

3

One day our Greater Joshua will read out the inheritance that will be ours in the new heaven and the new earth, and we won’t be bored! Surely we will breathlessly say, “All of this for us?”

First Chronicles includes chapter after chapter of genealogies that begin with Adam and stretch to the descendants of Judah, Benjamin and Levi—the kingly and priestly tribes—who made up most of those who returned to the land after exile.

The genealogies in 1 Chronicles help us focus on where history is headed—the son of David, seated on the throne of the universe.

2

This list should reorient our hearts toward the coming of our great king when we will hear a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.

When Nehemiah was trying to figure out who among the returned exiles should take up residence behind the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem, he pulled out the book in which the names of those who returned to Judah when the opportunity was first given by Cyrus’ decree to come home were listed.

The list of names in the book Nehemiah read that included all those whose hearts God stirred up to leave Babylon for Jerusalem should make our hearts glad to know that God likes to keep lists of those whose hearts he has stirred up with a longing for his city, those who will inhabit the New Jerusalem.

1

In Revelation 21 John tells us, “Only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” will populate the New Jerusalem. We will not be bored when that list of names is read! We’ll be on pins and needles listening for our names.

The New Testament begins with a genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. And oh the grace we find in this boring part of the Bible! There in the lineage of Jesus is Abraham who pretended his wife was his sister and gave her to a godless king; Judah who fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar, his daughter-in-law; Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute who put everything at risk to get in on the promises of God; Ruth, a Moabite who left everything behind to make Israel’s God her God; David, who took another man’s wife and then had her husband killed; Solomon who allowed many foreign women to turn his heart away from loving the Lord. So the #1 best thing about the boring parts of the Bible is:

The genealogy of Jesus shows us that Jesus welcomes flagrant but forgiven sinners into his family.

This gives outsiders and outlaws like you and me hope. He is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.

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