Predestination: Is It Corporate or Individual?

Chosen FlowerBoth the word and concept of predestination occurs several times in the New Testament:

On Pentecost, Peter preached the following:

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2.22-23)

It wasn’t just that God foresaw the events which would take place; He definitely planned them according to His unshakeable, unbreakable will.

The believers prayed together a few days later:

“…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4.27-28)

Paul writes in Romans 8 concerning predestination and salvation:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Rom. 8.29-30)

In Ephesians, Paul also treats the subject of predestination. Allow me to quote Ephesians 1.3-12:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Gathering FlowersThe hotly-debated question is whether this predestination is corporate or individual in nature. In other words, did God predestine a group of people in Christ (i.e., the body of Christ), or did God foreknow and predestine you and me specifically in Christ? Did God choose me before the foundation of the world, or did God choose the church before the foundation of the earth?

Think about a man picking flowers in the field. Did the man examine the field and predestine each flower he would pick, or did he simply say, whichever flowers end up in my arms will be my bouquet?

As you might imagine, taking a definite side one way or the other tends to have far-reaching ramifications to your belief system. Or, perhaps, your belief system may dictate which side you are willing to take. Have you studied predestination?

One thing I know–if I’m in Christ, I’m chosen! Praise God for His awesome foreknowledge and His perfect plan to save us from our sins! If He had not acted, all would be lost. Life would not be worth living. I’d rather be dead. But He did act, and He has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

However God predestines, I thank God I’m among His predestined people today!

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Gender Transition and the Gospel

Transgender PlightTeenage Charlie Hobman used to be Kate Hobman. In his TEDx talk, “Gender Is Not a Straight Line,” Charlie describes a little about what it’s like to be transgender and what he’d like society to change in order to accommodate transgender individuals. “I want to walk into a men’s bathroom without being yelled at. I want equal rights. I want not to be oppressed.” As he dreams about how the world should be, he insists, “It shouldn’t be weird for a man to wear a dress.”

In referring to Charlie as “he” I’m already confused. I can only imagine how he feels. He entered the world with female sexual parts but came to consider himself male. Charlie explains three parts to thinking about sex and gender:

  1. Sex: determined by your body parts
  2. Gender Identity: how you think of yourself
  3. Gender Expression: how you present yourself

Charlie’s main problem was in “coming out” with his male identity. “I’m afraid of telling people who I am.” This he considers to be a result of systemic problems within the sex education community, and he would like to see sex education put more attention on transgender issues; he explains there are far more gender identities than just male and female (he mentions gender neutral and “gender fluid” as two of many more options).

Gender NeutralCharlie wrapped up with a plea: “We are here to be loved. We are human beings.”

Logan Brouelette used to be a pretty female in college, but he knew he was really male, and long before he got on testosterone and had surgery he was already asking his female teammates to use masculine personal pronouns and call him “Logan.” He relates part of his story in a TEDx talk, “Demanding Change: Transgender Inclusion in NCAA Athletics.”

In his talk, Logan lays out the three layers of sex-gender understanding:

  1. Sex (Female – Androgynous, Intersex – Male)
  2. Gender (Woman – Genderfluid, Agender – Man)
  3. Expression (Feminine – Androgynous – Masculine)

“Only you can be the expert in your own body and your gender identity,” Logan solidly declares, and then proceeds to advocate the adoption of “gender-neutral language.” He has a problem with society’s usage of masculine terms (i.e., “hey, guys”) to address mixed audiences. What if we said, “Hey, Ladies”? Wouldn’t that offend a mixed audience? “It’s about changing our language. Language is everything,” he says. If we change our language, we change our thinking. Changing language to blur concepts and lines is a powerful tool to begin destroying those concepts and lines.

My heart goes out to Charlie and Logan. They face fear and confusion on the inside, hate and bigotry on the outside. Most of all, I’m sad because they genuinely don’t know God and who they were created to be. Although they speak loudly to the world that they know they are male, God created them female, and they cannot accept God’s work in them. This is the greatest sadness–but it illustrates the problem of sin and corruption in every one of our hearts. You and I are just like Charlie and Logan–lost and confused about life and who we are–until we listen to the true Father of all. Who does God say we are? He created men and women for specific roles and purposes–what are they?

Reading BibleWhy do so many gladly accept the transgender and homosexual movements today, even though they themselves may never undergo a gender transition or participate in a same-sex relationship? Crowds applaud these people’s coming out for the same reason the GLBT community so strongly speaks out about itself. The GLBT community wants to be accepted, Charlie says, as human beings; more than that, they want to be accepted as morally justified in society. Those who nod their heads in moral justification refuse to acknowledge the existence of sin in general. They set themselves up as their own gods, creating their own morality, crowning themselves the designers of their own destinies.

God clearly explains we do not own our own bodies (1 Cor. 6.15-20: “you are not your own”). We must not declare, “It’s my body and I can do what I want with it,” because we directly contradict the Lord.

God demands we mark and avoid the works of darkness: “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful to speak of those things which are done  by them in secret” (Eph. 5. 11-12). When we blur moral lines, when we promote sinful activities out of “love,” we fellowship darkness. It’s difficult to be the light–because the light shines so brightly in the darkness! All who hate the light try to extinguish it, and the darkness can feel overwhelmingly oppressive at times.

But we should love these folks who are dead in their sins, corrupted by and walking by the flesh, lepers needing healing, blind needing to see–just like we all once were (Eph. 2.1-3). What do they need? They need the gospel, just as we do. They need to accept and understand their sexual identities and gender roles are God-given. They need to know Jesus!

Who will love Charlie and Logan enough to tell them the truth?

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Spiritual Heroes All Have Back Stories

Father HeroCan  you imagine what it must have been like to be an Israelite, reading of their greatest heroes, identifying with those renown men and women, rejoicing in their awesome victories? However, in every case the Israelite must have hung his head in shame as he noticed the blatant spiritual blemishes on his ancestors.

  • Abraham, the father of the faithful and friend of God, lied at least twice because he feared for his life.
  • Gideon, that great deliverer, along with all his achievements also fashioned a golden ephod out of the spoils of war which became a snare to him and his household (Judges 8.27).
  • Need we mention much about Samson? His womanizing and partying got the best of him.
  • Both Eli and Samuel turned out to be lousy fathers.
  • Saul, Israel’s first king, began heroically but slid into shameful striving against the Lord, eventually committing suicide on the battlefield.
  • David was probably the greatest hero of all time…but he committed woeful acts of betrayal, murder, and adultery.
  • Despite his wisdom, Solomon still succumbed to the influence of his idolatrous wives.
  • Good King Jehoshaphat allied himself politically with evil King Ahab and Queen Jezebel in the north.
  • Elijah, victor of Mt. Carmel, sank quickly into depression and hid in the wilderness hoping to die.
  • Great King Hezekiah weakened in his leadership towards the end of his life.

On and on we could go, but what is the point? Every spiritual hero has a back story, and every back story includes sin. Every human walks in weakness and falls to the flesh. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And every one of us can only be saved by the mercy and grace God decides to extend!

Spiritual heroes will never be perfect. They will err–sometimes making big, fat, hairy mistakes. But what sets the true heroes apart from the rest is that they remain committed to God; they stand back up after their fall and return to the work of the Kingdom; they continue to trust in Yahweh no matter what.

Be a spiritual hero your friends and family will remember with great fondness. Yes, there were those shameful episodes back there (and there may be more ahead); they were real; but just remember that Jesus bore our shame on the cross. It’s forgiven in Christ! There’s nowhere to go but forward, my friend–so ask God to show you the way and move!

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Nine Blacks Killed–Pray for Peace

no more hateThe first I heard of the Charleston shooting was on the radio this morning as I headed to work. As the details were laid out, I began shaking my head. “No, no, no, no,” I murmured to myself.

“This has to be racially motivated,” I thought.

By this time, you probably know all the details better than I. A white man in his early 20s entered Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last night around 9:00 p.m. EST to shoot and  kill the black congregation gathered for prayer. For PRAYER! How hateful and cowardly can a person get?

Nine black Christians were being slaughtered right around the time our little church disbanded from our Bible study last night.

Do you ever wonder why God sent Jesus to the womb of one of the most hated nationalities in history? Jesus was a Jew. He knew oppression, injustice, racial hatred. To add insult to injury, He was even hated by His own people. Jesus intimately knows and feels what it’s like to be hated both for what He was and what He believed and taught.

One of Jesus’ main purposes was to destroy brotherhood hatred, and when I write “brotherhood” I mean between any two human beings on this planet. There should be no rising up of a Japanese against Chinese, German against Dane, Russian against American, aristocrat against pauper, white against black, male against female. Remember God destroyed the world in a cataclysmic flood because of the violence He observed among men.

CrossJesus teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves and to pray for our enemies. I reckon I ought to pray for this hateful enemy of peace, as much as I despise the thought of him right now. God created government to wield the sword (Rom. 13.1-4), so we must let the government prosecute this perpetrator; our duty is to stand and pray for God’s peace (1 Tim. 2.1-4).

Jesus “is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” (Eph. 2.14-18)

Jesus came to create peace between brethren. In Him there no longer exists distinctions such as black or white, male or female, rich or poor, but you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3.28).

On the other hand, He also brought a sword (Matt. 10.34-36), warning that a man’s enemies would be those of his own household.

To His disciples, Jesus clearly said, “Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.” (Matt. 10.21-22)

We who follow Christ are people of peace, even as we expect violence from the world, who don’t love God and refuse to submit to King Jesus. We look for a better city, not of this earth, not made by human hands, and one day we will sit with our Lord and reign over all this. Until that day, stay strong in the faith, brothers and sisters, and stand beside Jesus for peace.

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His Door Was Always Open

Bible StudentThe following description comes from St. Augustine’s Confessions at the end of his chapter entitled “Monnica at Milan.” This was during Augustine’s early life before he came to the Lord, while his mind and heart were embattled with the flesh. There was a preacher named Ambrose who worked with the church of which Augustine’s mother had joined. Here is a partial description of Ambrose:

His life was taken up with listening to and counseling a multitude of active people. He served them when they were weak. During what little time was not taken up with them, he was either taking a bare minimum of food and rest or he was absorbed with reading. As he read, his eye glided over the page, and his heart studied the meaning, and he rested his voice. His door was always open to all and anyone who wanted to see him had immediate access. When we visited him we often saw him absorbed in his reading. At such times we didn’t want to intrude, so we sat quietly because we hated to leave his presence.

Though Augustine didn’t trust his heart to this preacher, Ambrose made a lasting impression on him.

How far might your example go? Do people see you in the word? Do your coworkers know to call on you when they experience spiritual trouble? Are you a source of steadfast peace and constant comfort?

If not, what will you do about it?

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What If He Wants Us to Be Like Him?

ConcernedWhy could they not recognize the most beautiful One in their midst? How could they not feel His power and sense His majesty? Why did they not only reject Him but attempt to commit the most sinful crime of hating and slaying their perfect Savior? This is the question we should ask because it’s deeply relevant to you and me right now. As the song goes, “Would you believe and Jesus receive if He were standing here?” Would we recognize Him for who He really is—the Son of God? Do you think you would click with His character? Or would you want Him away from you, banished from your sight? Would He make you feel angry or so hurt that you couldn’t stand His eyes or His words?

Many who label themselves “Christians” today have bloated themselves with pride as the special people of God, just as the first-century Jews once did. Many feel some inherent goodness or righteousness resides inside them which makes God love them—they are special. They feel comfortable, accepted, and blessed just as they are.

Love OthersBut then they hear Jesus saying things like:

  • “I really love your poor neighbor who sits out on his porch every weekend drinking and smoking. He needs healing. Why don’t you go talk to him?”
  • “That woman who just lost her legs to diabetes needs help—go help her.”
  • “That single mother has two autistic kids she can barely handle. She needs some special attention and care.”
  • “That college kid is completely adrift, going off the deep end, and looks like he’s going to commit suicide. Someone needs to quickly speak good news into his life!”

Many Christians balk and choke, because these are not part of their accepted, sterilized, friendly group. These kinds of folks will drain the pocket book, for sure. And the time it will take to care for them and the emotional strain! Are we sure we like this Jesus? This is the Jesus who eats with sinners and tax collectors, who touches lepers, who takes the time to chat with an old woman who’s been married five times and is now sleeping with a guy, who allows men to lacerate His body with scourges and pound actual metal nails through His ankles and wrists in order to love people!

I mean, it’s great for Jesus to be like that, but what if He wants us to be like Him?

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Why People Divorce

WHY PEOPLE DIVORCE

by Doug Hoffman

Just MarriedWhen I was young, I thought that people divorced because they “fell out of love.”  They just didn’t have the same feelings anymore and they began to think they were moving in different directions, not growing together.  They just didn’t seem to have the same goals.  In some cases there was sin involved, but, for the most part, it seemed folks just weren’t happy and they wanted more…like it was before when they first got to know each other and were excited.  Then I started working with couples in their difficult times and discovered the common thread for their dissatisfaction–even among those who claim to be Christians.

I found it wasn’t that they didn’t FEEL right, they simply didn’t ACT right.  That’s right!  They forgot or didn’t know how to love.  Love, agape, is an action, not a feeling.  Agape is often motivated by feeling, but, since God asks us to “love (agape) our enemies,” it’s apparently bigger than that and can be exercised regardless of my feelings…even in the absence of them or even when love is not reciprocated.  John 3.16 is the greatest example of loving (doing something for someone) even when you don’t know them.  Or maybe you know them but don’t like them…you can still love them.

So if we understand what love is and how it’s demonstrated, I suspect we would agree that divorce could be eliminated.  Divorce happens because one or both of the parties have forgotten how or are unwilling to love as they should.  Sounds simple, but I really think it is.  In every divorce there is sin, and more often than not the sin is hateful behavior in the absence of love.  See if you agree.

Heart RingFrom the ESV of I Cor. 13.4-8, love is patient and long-suffering.  Enduring difficulty or being patient with someone’s misdeed must be rooted in a deep appreciation for the grace that has been extended to me.  If God can forbear my stupidity, my bumbling, my inattentiveness, shouldn’t I do the same for my wife?  If I can’t, I need to know why.  Love is kind or benevolent.  Being a servant and submitting myself to my wife in the right way (as commanded in Eph. 5.21) simply proves that I am interested in her well-being above my own.  It is possible for me to do this without giving up headship because Jesus, my role model, did (Phil. 2.6).

Love does not envy–specifically, I think it does not envy the gift(s) that my spouse possesses.  Instead of coveting her ability to think about others more than me, I should own that and make it a part of our work together.  What’s she is good at should make US good at it…because we are working together, in synergy.  By the same token, love does not boast of its accomplishments, either individually or together.  We are simply grateful that we have the ability to take advantage of the opportunities God has afforded  us.  This kind of quiet sense of achievement is attractive…no one needs to spike the ball.

Love is not arrogant.  I just think no one likes a braggart.  Let others admire you and accept it.  I love talking about what a great wife I have; frankly, it makes me look good because I chose her.  I’m thrilled that she is so much better at some things than I am, and I truly believe that feeling is mutual.  It’s comforting to know I don’t have to brag on myself when I am secure that she is noticing and sometimes says so to others.

Love is not rude or unbecoming.  I don’t want to embarrass my wife by doing or saying stupid things.  So, when she wants to critique me, am I will to listen and see her point of view or do I stiffen up and insist on having my own way?  Oh, that’s the next one.  Love does not insist on its own way.  I really don’t think this is talking about my demanding to eat at Outback over her interest in Olive Garden but rather an attitude that makes me unapproachable and defensive.  Nothing gets accomplished if we can’t talk about where we’re failing.  That’s not easy, but it’s a conversation that must be had.

Married CoupleLove is not irritable, even when it’s late, I’m tired, and I haven’t eaten yet.  Recently I heard about how sleep deprivation causes us to be irritable and not think clearly. How difficult is it for a wife to live always walking on egg shells for fear that her exhausted, or otherwise irritable husband, will explode at any minute?  What kind of peaceful, secure home environment will that create for the kids? Easy answer: it won’t! I should have thick skin, and if I don’t I should pray for it.  There’s no reason others should pay for my short fuse.

Love is not resentful.  It is too easy to keep score.  When we do, we become resentful and everyone pays the price.  Learning to forgive and forget is not just a wish; it’s an action.  It is not overlooking a wrong done against me but the willingness to address it, knowing it will be best for me and her if we can work through it, forgive each other, and move on.  Many a marriage has failed because a sin could not be forgiven.

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.  When truth is important to both of us, we take joy in our common faith.  I see this as very practical because we need to agree on what we consider right and wrong; otherwise, each could be perceived by the other as rejoicing in something wrong.  It’s important to be able to share the same values.

This is where the real test in marriage begins for me.  Love bears all things.  I like this word “bear,” to cover over with silence.  How often a word of disapproval creates a bit of sadness, and with much disapproval comes disheartening hopelessness.  Can I be as tolerant of her as I expect her to be of me.  This is a tough one.  But, in many ways, it starts with believing that she wants the best for me.  To believe in her motives rather than thinking there’s always some sort of hidden agenda like, “she just wants to change me.” Maybe I need changing!  But love believes, trusts in her goodness and in her steadfast love for me, even when it seems otherwise.  Satan will not get a foothold here!

Old CoupleLove hopes all things is not some shallow desire that it will eventually get better but a deep, abiding expectation that we are getting stronger and growing closer every day.  It’s not long distance; it’s right here, right now.  Each day I can take comfort in the reality that we have tried our best to love each other and tomorrow will be better.  This hope sustains us in difficulty and binds us in a singular hope.  We are both expecting the best of each other.  It’s a tall order but a great way to live.

Love endures all things so it perseveres.  Love can take whatever Satan throws at it.  It’s what makes me honor the vow I made the day I got married, “through sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part.”  Who knows what tomorrow brings, but, with this kind of deep abiding commitment to love, we can handle it, endure it, and ultimately win.

It’s exciting to think our relationship will be taken into heaven with us.  We may not be married over there, but we will have a deeper bond than we can imagine because we were married, and that love will never end.  In fact, we will be able to spend an eternity seeing the life we shared here in a new and better perspective.  I’m convinced we will better understand why it went the way it did on earth.  For now, I want to make sure my investment in this relationship pays off, and I’m convinced that the biggest contribution I can make to it is love.  With love, all things are possible, and without it the marriage will end.  Everyone will pay a price, and that price is too great to bear here or over there.

May God grant me the wisdom to see how important it is for me to simply be who I am supposed to be and love as I am supposed to love–that is, as He has loved me.  In this, I might learn to be perfect.  Matt. 5.43-48

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Harness the Power of the Question

Higher Order QuestionsOne of Jesus’ favorite teaching tools was the question. He would spin His students’ and challengers’ minds by asking them to ponder a quick point. For example…

As some scribes said within themselves, “This Man blasphemes!” because Jesus had forgiven a man’s sins, Jesus asked, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Arise and walk’?” (Matt. 9.5). How would you answer the question; which would you pick? Jesus quickly said, “Arise and walk,” and the man arose, rolled up his bed, and went home! Jesus’ question teaches us about His authority and power.

On another occasion, some Pharisees challenged Jesus’ disciples because they were plucking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Into Jesus’ face they forced themselves: “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!” Jesus responded with a favorite question, “Have you not read…?” (Matt. 12.3). His aim was not to get them to read their Bibles but to recall a familiar event in biblical history and apply it correctly to the current situation. Of course, they knew the story, but they failed to connect with its practical value. Jesus followed “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry…?” with “Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless?” (Matt. 12.3-6). Think hard and apply Scripture properly!

That Is the QuestionA little later, Jesus led the Pharisees through a series of questions designed to expose truth, expose their error, and evaluate a situation correctly. They had charged Jesus as being under the influence of Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons (Matt. 12.24). So Jesus asked:

  • If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand?
  • And if I cast out demons by  Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out?
  • But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.
  • Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man?

Jesus queried His disciples in Matt. 16.13-15 in order to draw out a confession of the truth:

  • Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?
  • But who do you say that I am?

Jesus, the master teacher, used the question as a living, effective educational tool. Questions spark thoughts which would have otherwise never flickered. A well-aimed question can begin a dynamic discussion and lead someone towards truth. “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” (Matt. 17.25). “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?” (Matt. 18.12). “Why do you call Me good?” (Matt. 19.17). “The baptism of John–where was it from? From heaven or from men?” (Matt. 21.25).

If we can learn from the Master and harness the power of the question, we can excel in our teaching ability and effectiveness. What do you think? How does it read to you?

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A Question of Comparison

Soccer BallWhat are some similarities and differences between a soccer ball and a brick?

Possible similarities:

  • They both have mass.
  • They both can be thrown.
  • They both can be dropped.
  • They both have an outer surface.
  • Their shapes are both well-suited to their respective purposes.

Brick
Possible differences:

  • The soccer ball is filled with air; the brick is solid material.
  • The soccer ball is spherical; the brick is block-shaped.
  • The soccer ball rolls easily; the brick rolls with great effort.
  • The soccer ball bounces; the brick thuds.
  • When you head a soccer ball, it doesn’t hurt that much; when you head a brick, you might die.

Through the medium of comparison, we discovered a number of the characteristics of these two objects. Without the comparison, we might not have thought of some of these. Probably if we kept going, we could list many more.

QuestionAsking good questions is an excellent method of studying, whether it’s just you and your pencil or with a group. Ask a good question and get the juices rolling; begin to ponder deeply by thinking through and around your subject of study.

Someone told me recently that if you compare anything to a rock you’ll learn a lot more about it.

Think about the following:

What are some similarities and differences between the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18.9-14?

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