What’s so unbelievable?

This is for you – my friend who doesn’t believe. And you, the one who doubts. You know who you are. I have to ask you, “What’s so unbelievable about this story of God?”

img_1406My purpose is not to convert you or to make you believe. I have no power to do that. I don’t really have any expectations, either. My mission is simply to Share God’s Story in my life – in this one life – that you might think upon your suppositions and assumptions, and seek – full time, from here on out – to know and understand and become aware of more and more and more and more. I have no doubt of what you will find, though I may never see you conclude. He, not I, will convince and convict you by your own life and circumstances.

img_1140Who is this God? To start, look around you. It is He who made everything – with intent, not randomness. Consider the complexity of this creation, these laws of Nature. How perfectly it all comes together! This is no design of lottery!
(That’s a mushroom from my lawn – golden-domed. Awesome!)

And you, yourself. I know you’ve heard Shakespeare:

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What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals!
Hamlet

Why does your feeling change when you hear it in the Word of the Maker?

The word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart;…”
Jeremiah 1:4-5

Who is this God? Yes, He brought everything together. Then He became a part of it. He was born into this world as His Son – mortal; one of us. He needed to understand existence from our point of view, from our perspective, to hold a common frame of reference with us. His mortal life is a message to us, an example for us. Proof that a human being can live a pure life. The Standard of the living. A body can live with great, Godly patience, and can teach, show, help, and tell others this same message with thankfulness, gratefulness, loving all others, no matter what!

img_1356Who is this God? He, who gave us free choice, because He knows “if you love something let it go, if it returns, it is yours.” He, who saw that we would want to try going it on our own, alone, listening to whispers of doubt about Him. But, so that His absolute justice and love for us would be reconciled, He sent Himself to trial and a sentence of death for our crimes, in our place. He experienced the cruelest, most painful process of execution for all our sins.

What’s so unbelievable? Every tale in our every history has that whisperer; Good vs evil, right vs wrong, light vs dark, pure vs polluted. This world – this life – is a war – not of this world – but very much for this world.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, … the authorities, …the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Ephesians 6:12 NIV

Sharing God's StoryFor though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we use are not the weapons of this world. One the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Indeed, there is a real enemy, and his very first strategy is to hide and disguise himself. He’s quite happy to have you disbelieve. It’s his idea that you “Question everything,” rather than “Testing everything against what you know to be true.

But test everything; hold fast what is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:21

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My  name is Marshall

Indeed, the primary battleground in this war of the spirit is within the individual human heart and flesh. It is not me against you, us against them. It is a fight within you, and an ongoing struggle within me. Have you surrendered? From birth, we have the will to do what is good, but we fall so easily to the distraction of our senses, the hoarding of our physical pleasures, the dream that all is well and we can stay at ease in our comfort.

What’s so unbelievable? We must fight! We must fight ourselves, for our very souls!

Be self-controlled and alert! Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith.
1 Peter 5:8-9

Put on the full armor of God:
– the Belt of Truth
– the Breastplate of Righteousness
– feet fitted with the Readiness that comes from the Gospel of Peace
– the Shield of Faith
– the Helmet of Salvation
– the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God
Ephesians 6:13-17

img_0886Do you know the deadly sins? Lust, gluttony, avarice/greed, sloth, anger/wrath, envy, pride/vanity. They are countered by the Fruit of the Spirit, grown in a daily relationship with the Creator and Savior: Peace, Joy, Love, Patience, Kindness, Goodness/Humility, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control, along with the Holy Virtues of Chastity, Abstinence, Temperance, and Diligence. It is only in ourselves that we can develop these solemn and guiding principles. I cannot force you to have them. There can be no law that requires them. I can only demonstrate them in my own life. I can only Share God’s Story in my life:

Journal Entry, upon the Milestone of One Year in Recovery

“Tuesday, April 14, 2009
It’s amazing to me how much has changed in my life in one year – all because I realized I was helpless and hopeless while spiritually alone.

“Oh! How many times before this past year did I wish, plan, dream, hope, try to change, to be different, to make myself something else, someone else.

“And what happened, every time, to every one of my figurative and literal ‘New Year’s Resolutions’ can be summed up very neatly by a cliche: “Stick a fork in him/it (me)” (Except, of course in my case, it was a knife.)

“It’s almost as if – instead of working on whatever change I really wanted to make, my full time occupation was blame. Blaming myself, blaming physical parts of me, blaming others. My ‘job’ was diverting myself away; distracting myself; defeating myself.

“Did I accomplish anything all those years? (Anything good, that is – cause I was really successful at purposely wasting time being frivolous and getting my jollies: playing games, drinking to excess, etc.) Did I accomplish anything good on purpose? By my own efforts? ([By] waiting for something to happen?) …

“Perhaps all that really happened one year ago was that I figuratively gave a mortal wounding to the old me – the lone ranger, the solo single. And that person has been bleeding out over the past 365 days – those fluids being replaced by a new spiritual fuel.

“April 14 was the day I looked at myself in the mirror and – for the first time – really saw ME: naked and bleeding and alone and shocked! Shocked! And I really asked myself, ‘Is this who I really want to be?’

“The Bible tells us that we must die to ourselves before we can give ourselves over to Christ. Yes, I think that’s what happened one year ago today. A wounding, beginning a slow death, and a coup de grace on July 25 [when I attempted suicide] – a spear in the side, perhaps.

“Up to that point, I had been trying to make me different. But what had to happen was that the ME who believed he was alone had to go, had to be replaced, had to die; and WE: myself and God and Jesus are who I see now in the mirror.

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“I am changed. You change me.
God, my Father, is with me, and is helping me make things happen.

“Thank You, Father, for doing more in one year with me than I – in more than [four] decades – could do without You.”

With What GOD Gave

… The man who never enjoyed what God gave him… might live 2000 years. But if he does not enjoy life, then [a] baby who was born dead has found the easiest way to the same end.
Ecclesiastes 6:5-6 ERV

What do we do – what have we done – with what God gave us, individually and collectively? Has my life been lived? Do I enthusiastically pursue God and what He has planned for me, or do I mope and cry, regretting what might have been, wishing for what could have been? Do I lose myself in dreams of what I petulantly demand should be, completely ignoring what is and the incredible potential therein? I know those are things I used to do – Until I found Him; until He reached me where I was.

Ecclesiastes repeats over and over how pointless life is. It can seem a depressing book at first glance, for sure. After reading it for myself and from study guides, however, I understand it to be written with a kind of ‘reverse psychology’. It makes perfect sense only when it is read from a thoughtful foundation of belief. (Believing is knowing what I can not prove.) It backs up my faith. Living in this world is not all there is to life. And ‘existing’ is not the same as ‘living’.

My feelings confirm this – and override what logic can only suggest. For example, the thought that struck me, and stuck with me as I studied chapter six, was the question, “what have medical science and technological advances meant for us- in our earthly existence AND in our relationship with God?”

I speak as one who, a few generations ago, would not have reached age 54 due to failed health. I would have died from kidney failure and its complications. Medical science has certainly made longer life possible for me. Of course, this pleases me BUT, in the process, I have learned a bigger lesson: to be content and to accept whatever “really” happens. And to reconsider what to do with all the free time that technology has created.

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Philippians 4:11-13 NIV

This has brought me to the place where I can fervently claim and lean into:

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Phil. 1:21 NIV

I believe this is very different than trying to change reality or filling my “spare” time with entertainment. I hear all about what else surgeons can do these days, but it seems to me that these are nothing more than bizarre attempts to find happiness in and from this world, as if there were no other. This is a completely different focus than undergoing life-saving procedures or undertaking new, life-changing behaviors and mindsets. Will I accept the world as it is, or will I demand that it change to suit me?

You are only what you were created to be – a human, and it is useless to argue about it. People can not argue with God about this because He is more powerful than they are and a long argument will not change that fact.
Ecc 6:10-11 ERV

 

There are two types of people: those who think that happiness can be found in and through the things of this world, and those who believe (believing is knowing what can not be proved) there is something more. Something greater. Something very meaningful, over and above this place.

I submit: countless stories of serenity, joy, and purpose found in lives miraculously changed and saved by faith, by something that is not found in any doctor’s office or the latest gadget. All because a point of ‘last resort’ had been reached.

I submit: countless stories I have heard and read of continued misery despite trans-whatever, despite hoarding (both literal and figurative), despite the fulfillment of every consumer want, every move to greener grass, every gain of fame and fortune, and every building of bigger barns. All because satisfaction with what God gave is still not … seized, like the day.

My motto? Start with – if not contentment – then acceptance, at the least, and live from there. It’s really just an attitude adjustment. I used to think, “If or when I get x, y, or z, then I’ll be happy.” But now I know to

“Start now, from where you are, with what you have.”
T. Roosevelt

 

An Earful

It was a blustery day. “Think… think… think…” -Winnie the Pooh

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We have many trees where I live. This region does, and our house lot, too. Of course, this means much work come the blustery fall, as the leaves drop and play in the wind.

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Walking in the leaves

In my first autumn of blogging, it’s natural for this topic to drift into my writing. I don’t like raking – I never have. My parents would, in my childhood, draft us kids into the movement. We all recognized the pointless labor. No matter how much we gathered and bagged, by the next day the yard was covered again. I vaguely recall being very small when fun was allowed and we jumped in the piles, but, as we got older, so, too, did that game. (And it was certainly discouraged by responsible adults.) These days, I just want to get the thing done as fast as possible, and my thoughts can get surly as I think about what else I could be doing.

… Mary was sitting as Jesus’ feet and listening to him teach.
… Martha was doing all the work that had to be done. … Martha went in and said, “Lord… Tell her to help me!”
“Martha, Martha you are getting worried and upset about too many things.
“Only one thing is important. Mary has made the right choice, and it will never be taken away from her.

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A leafless season

I’m definitely a Mary-type. I’d rather soak up the warmth of the light of Spring than bustle about in brisk breezes.

Now, I’m not saying the leaves should be left (especially when they tend to migrate to the neighbor’s tree-less yard), but I believe even the most mundane task can be done joyously – if I can find something about it that reminds me of God’s beauty and purpose in it.

Reading Ecclesiastes 1 the morning of leaf day does not help – well, not until after the job’s done. Several days after the job is done, actually.

I decided to study and to use my wisdom to learn about everything that is done in this life. I learned that it is a very hard thing God has given us to do.
Ecclesiastes 1:13 ERV

Having finished my journey through the New Testament in the Easy-To-Read (ERV) translation, I decided to study next this most challenging of books. It’s written in a kind of reverse-logic way, showing the practical strength of faith “by pointing to the grimness of the alternative.” (Eaton, as quoted in The Blue Letter Bible Study Guide by David Guzik.)

Imagine, then, the prospect of leaf upon leaf upon leaf awaiting collection without the promise of an Almighty Creator. Talk about pointless!

…I learned that trying to become wise is like trying to catch the wind.
:17b

I looked at everything done on earth, and I saw that it was a waste of time. It is like trying to catch the wind.
:14

That phrase, “catch the wind”, was a breath of fresh air in my wonder of this Fall folly.

wind-blown-leavesThis time of year can get windy here in the Northeast, and the air is filled with the sweeping sound of skittering, scatter-rattling leaves. We used to live in Colorado’s Front Range, and the Chinook Winds roaring down the slopes were something to see and hear and feel. I’ve been to the top of Pikes Peak and to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean – where great gusts give a  breathless earful.

But those memories stirred my imagination, and now I think maybe I was hearing God’s whispering voice.

leaf-blowers
He was saying, “Enough! Give the landscaper a call! Have you seen these guys with the blowers?? Amazing!”

 

Oh, and listen to this song by Big Daddy Weave, with some majestic video from the state of Utah!

Maker Of The Wind

 

Christianity Is: Exposing Himself

terrified
Did that title catch your eye? I find it interesting that some words and phrases have come to have such a default risque association. The use of double entendres is truly an art. Just consider the vanilla definition of “expose” (it comes from Latin expositus ‘to put or set out’) and the difference when a pronoun is added.

It occurred to me, though, that what we Christians are called to do is exactly that: to expose Christ Himself to others. To “introduce someone to” Christ and the Good News, and to do this – not in a preachy, “thou shalt” way, but by quietly, simply living His example fully in our own lives, that it may be seen in us first. Then, when asked, we are enabled to explain:

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
1 Peter 3:15 NIV

And what is this “Good News”? To begin with, ‘good’ is hardly descriptive enough. This is gggrrreeeaaattt! Amazing! Miraculous! It is the answer to every problem! It’s simple secret is in its ability to make everything right– not because it changes anything outside us, but it transforms the very heart of us. It’s a divine attitude adjustment, altering how we view ourselves for ever after – because we finally understand that we are made right.

imageHow does this happen? As I’ve expressed before, the fundamental question that we each must answer for ourselves is whether or not there is a creating ‘force’ or ‘being’ with a ‘personality’ and/or purpose for the creation. You either believe there is or not. The decision is based on the physical evidence of the world around us – and, if we will “admit” to “seeing” them – the meta-physical realities, as well. Call it what you like: spiritual, mystical, coincidental, miraculous – there is an element to this universe that has no ‘rational’ explanations, but our minds demand one.

What I believe – and believing is knowing what I can not prove – is in God as told of in The Bible. He created. Man, despite being made in His image, chose and fell. But God knew this would happen, and had already built into creation the resolution: Salvation which both restores Man to relation with Maker, and fulfills all need for justice.

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.
John 3:16

A response of “yes” to God – His existence, purpose, and nature – satisfactorily explains everything. Without divine intent, the question of “why” can never cease to be asked.

forgivenessConsider what this perspective gives me: By my faith in God I believe – I know – I have been granted many things by God, including the ability to accept what is. It’s really that straightforward. The past is past, over and done with, no regrets, no changes. The future, while clouded in mystery, is going to be good, whether just figuratively (because of my outlook) or literally (because any stormy season will pass). I have just this moment to live in, and I do have a purpose – something meaningful and good to do. Something greater than myself.

I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – testifying to the Good News of God’s Grace.
Acts 20:24

“God, grant me the serenity.” Peace. It’s just one of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Together, they are the exhibition (oops, another racy word) of God indwelling me. For you to observe. Hopefully, for you to wonder at, and derive some hope of your own.

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you.
That is, that we may be mutually encouraged by eat other’s faith, both yours and mine.
Romans 1:11-12

 

Christianity Is: Tearing Your Heart

Have you ever been really sad? I mean heart-broken, heart-wrenchingly miserable, so completely wretched with sorrow that your voice can not express it and the only thing to be heard is the wordless wailing of your soul?

Have you ever been that sorry over something you’ve done?

Can you feel that way on purpose?

I’m all too familiar with this feeling, both from things I perceive done to me and from my own regretted words and actions. But, as a Christ-follower, it is an emotion I seek daily, as the opening note in my song of crying out to God. I want to be heart-torn, in preparation for His reparation.

broken-heart

Tear your hearts,
not your clothes.
Come back to the Lord your God.
He is kind and merciful.
He does not become angry quickly.
He has great love…
Joel 2:13 ERV

Humility begins with my acceptance about who I have been, who I am, and who I can be in Christ. It recognizes my ongoing, desperate need for God’s forgiveness, understanding, mercy, encouragement, and strength (Running On Fumes, 4/12/16). When I can sincerely reach this agonizing point, I am ready to listen to Him and to fully commit to His path for the day.

mended-heart
But I wipe away your sins because of who I am. And so, I will forget the wrongs you have done.
Isaiah 43:25 CEV

I say I daily search for this, and I do mean that, these days as a believer, it is not so much a sensation found as it is achieved by my morning practices of prayer, meditation, journaling, and Bible-reading. (Would that make them ‘mourning’ practices?) God has promised to forget my sins, but my past is what has made me what I am today, and it will continue to shape me for tomorrow. In other words, knowing who I have been motivates me to strive to be who I could be.

In truth, what I yearn for is the incredible passion of those first encounters with God’s redeeming love; the so-called “mountain-top” experiences. I worry that with anything less I will fall short of realizing my true condition. I fear that pride in myself – in thinking that I have accomplished anything – will creep in and dilute me, will weaken my stance. But this is the leap of faith I must take. It is simple trust in what God says. It is the belief in the unseen. It is faith.

…Maybe He will change His mind about the bad punishment He planned.
(the last line of Joel 2:13 ERV)

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Want another way to think of it? It is the confidence with which one approaches a daunting operation, like open-heart surgery. I put my life fully in the surgeon’s hands. I had to be assured that God’s will would be done.
(Image: early 2015, about 6-8 weeks after the surgery)

And I want to know that every day.

How Can I Keep From Singing?!

joyFascination With God can be found in everything/anything around us when we “Find The Beauty”. Nature, art, beautiful sounds and smells and sights, acts of kindness, praise and worship, and giving ourselves in service and love pump us up with this totally freeing super-good-and-purely-natural high. When we truly look or listen or sing or feel what these things are made for, we experience true joy, and it’s our first baby-step on the path to a permanent (or, at least, prominent) serenity. We might need to start with a crawl before we can stumble and walk, but soon we are running and leaping into the air to soar on wings like eagles.

bird-singing

chris-tomlinFor me, music is a primary expression of my Fascination With God,and one of the best at delivering it in an easy and simple way is Chris Tomlin. One of my favorite ‘topics’ of praise and worship is, very plainly, the urge to sing. Make a joyful noise!

Hope you like this one:

microphoneHow Can I Keep From Singing?!

There is an endless song
Echoes in my soul
I hear the music ring

And though the storms may come
I am holding on
To the rock I cling

How can I keep from singing Your praise
How can I ever say enough
How amazing is Your love
How can I keep from shouting Your name
I know I am loved by the King
And it makes my heart want to sing

I will lift my eyes
In the darkest night
For I know my Savior lives

And I will walk with You
Knowing You’ll see me through
And sing the songs You give

How can I keep from singing Your praise
How can I ever say enough
How amazing is Your love
How can I keep from shouting Your name
I know I am loved by the King
And it makes my heart want to sing

I can sing in the troubled times
Sing when I win
I can sing when I lose my step
And fall down again
I can sing ’cause You pick me up
Sing ’cause You’re there
I can sing ’cause You hear me, Lord
When I call to You in prayer
I can sing with my last breath
Sing for I know
That I’ll sing with the angels
And the saints around the throne

(2006 sixsteps Music Thankyou Music Vamos Publishing worshiptogether.com songs Wondrously Made Songs)
Chris Tomlin, Ed Cash, Matt Redman

Get Out This Bed of Doubt!

My Friends,
I have a confession to make: I’m having trouble in bed – that is, I prefer to be in it too often.

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If you have pets, perhaps you can relate – have you ever noticed how much our furry friends sleep throughout the day? We host four cats, a dog, and two guinea pigs, and I am home with them quite a lot. We allow them on our bed. (No, not the guinea pigs.) During much of 2014-2016 (the first half), I was physically recovering from surgeries and draining health issues, so I hope you’re not surprised that I, too, grew into the habit – the addiction? – of napping. (Yes, one of my aliases is The Furry King.)

On the positive side, it’s actually been a beneficial schedule. Probably because I do sleep so often during the day, I routinely wake up between 2-4 AM. This is my “quiet” time – or “work” time. I read Scripture, journal, pray, and blog on Sharing God’s Story in the beautiful, peaceful silence of early, early morning. I definitely would like to keep this productive aspect. Writing is, after all, my new career! (I hope you will agree that it is going well – at least considering the quantity of posts this past year.) (And this would be a good time, of course, to point out the “donate” button on this page. If you get anything out of my thoughts, please make a one-time gift!) (Please also feel free to share these posts with your followers and audience!)

However, double dipping on dozing does have a symbolism – or perhaps a stigmatism to it, and it certainly nags at me, knowing, as I do, some key Bible verses. For example:

Proverbs 6:6 ERV
You lazy people, you should watch what the ants do and learn from them.

Ephesians 5:14 NIV
This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Romans 13:11 ESV
Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed.

(and many more)

542So, that I myself am conflicted about over-resting as either a bad habit I should now work on changing or a completely understandable extension of two years marked with long hospital stays which has evolved into an “alternative” workstyle, the perfect metaphor is “A Bed of Doubt”. And doubt, itself, being a much larger faith challenge, only deepens the comparison (like a king-size, pillow-top, super-comfy mattress), and it fails to give any relief from the urgent need I feel to “Get Out This Bed of Doubt”.

I refer to one of the first verses I met in my journey of following Christ, Psalm 30:5

…Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.

I’ve had many occasions for crying (and hiding in bed) these past eight years:
– each of my parent’s (and others of their generation) passing,
– the rock-bottom moments in my recovery from multiple addictions/bad behaviors,
– the career miracles my recovery had me pridefully expecting (which didn’t happen),
– all
 of my health incidents of the past two years,
– and even the vitriol of this past US election and the fear we all must have about the change that it is bringing (yes, even for those who voted for the winner).

morningBut the “morning” for each of these issues has dawned with a growing sense of trust, faith, serenity, acceptance, courage, wisdom, and joy in The Lord and His ultimately Good Purpose for me, for every one of us – at least on His part, and for the eventual reparation of creation. I want to get up and get busy – but let go and let God at the same time!

There is another factor increasing the stress I am experiencing over my doubt. I “believe in believing” in the Creator God of the Bible, His Savior Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. This is the key to Christianity. Fallen by choice, humanity must be made right with its Creator and still have His Supreme Judgement fulfilled. There is only one path to this: Christ.

But, whether the Old Testament is literal truth or analogy for God’s capabilities and character, I don’t know – yet. I’m not sure it’s important to have the answer to that question. Regardless, that which is to come – Revelation – is sure. It is prophesied, and is coming true before eye that see. And my studies are not proving – beyond a doubt – anything except this: I desperately need to keep asking myself, “Am I on the right road; the narrow or the wide?”

Revelation 17:17 ERV
For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.

Doubt plays a necessary part. Doubt is vital. Doubt, so to speak, keeps me “on my toes”, at least as far as my spiritual well-being is concerned. Doubt motivates me to stay in the Word, testing everything I hear, no matter where I hear it.

563And this just further enforces what I believe to be the aim of the Great Commission: to demonstrate to anyone/everyone in our sphere of influence the unbelievable importance of an ongoing, consistent, one-to-one relationship with The Higher Power, The Creator, The God of the Universe. It is in deciding for ourselves what we believe, and double-checking ourselves – which can be done only with proper study of relevant things – that we can understand our individual salvation (and our need for it). With this understanding, we can then daily follow Christ for the right reason.

The means do not justify the end. The “why” and “how” we do something, is of equal – perhaps greater – importance than the “what” we do. Ultimately, in other words – and this is the fulcrum of good and evil in everything – there is no good without God as the source of moral Truth, with the two Great Commandments at the center:

Luke 10:27 NIV
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”