Mystery

Discerning what is true by the spirit should be as easy as knowing which is the reflection in this picture from our former home in Montana.

Mystery could be defined as the sum of what we don’t know or can’t explain. If we choose to keep our attention on the first four dimensions (space and time), we’ll have very little mystery, but when we enter the subtler worlds of the other dimensions, mystery is abundant. In his youth, Einstein defied conventional wisdom – Newtonian physics – and developed relativistic physics. After graduating from university, his intended pursuits made him an outcast from the scientific community. He was venturing into the unknown, unseeable, and theretofore unmeasurable to pursue mystery. Few people dare to defy convention, orthodoxy, in the pursuit of truth. After his amazing breakthrough with relativity, Einstein stumbled into the discovery of the Quantum “world”, the realm beneath even sub-atomic particles, where particles and waves, matter, and light become confused. What is remarkable is that relativity had become orthodox, and Einstein could not launch into the unknown once more. While a few colleagues launched into Quantum Physics, Einstein worked fruitlessly for thirty years to explain it away seeking a mathematical explanation for the unknown.

Recently we’ve seen “science” bend to the will of political and social pressure. But nowhere is this compromise to conform to orthodoxy more pronounced than in religion. In the realm of the spirit, mystery abounds. But man, seeking to be in control or fearing to venture into the unknown, the miraculous, is constantly developing intellectual systems to deal with the uncomfortable, to deny the “impossible”. Like Einstein, we try to patch together rational systems out of opinions and old dogma.

“An ant can never understand a cell phone”, just like a 2-dimensional being can’t understand anything from three-dimensional reality. A Flatlander – a being who lives in a two-dimensional world – has a very hard time understanding a three-dimensional object such as a sphere. To them, if the sphere is not presently intersecting their world, it doesn’t exist. If the sphere is close by and intersecting their world, it looks like a circle. Try to explain a sphere to them…

Clue is an old mystery board game. Players have no way of knowing what the cards (the clues or bits of truth) are, although they’re right in front of them. But they’re upside-down! That’s how easily truth is hidden from us. But before you start to think that I’m a Camus-style philosopher bent on driving others as crazy as they are, we can extrapolate from the Clue game metaphor. Just like the game, life is a process of progressive discovery. In Clue one rolls the dice and turns over one card at a time and accumulates a piece of truth at a time. So in life, we catch a glimpse of truth bits and make a collection of them. Before you know it, you’re holding this ridiculous hand of cards, some of which fall out of your hand as you struggle to hold them all, and every so often you study all the cards (truth bits), try to decide which are truth bits and which are untruth bits. Well, you get the idea of the complexity of this process of shaping a worldview really is.

Mystery is something we don’t understand… like playing the game of Clue. As it progresses, you start to know some things that are not truth… one piece at a time you build a construct of knowledge segments some of which are bits of “what is” (truth segments) and some are “what is not”. In the game, you finally get enough bits of both types of truth, and you can piece together whodunit and where. That’s mystery and truth at its simplest level. That’s a type of binary truth, where everything is either true or false, You add it up and you get a result that is also binary:  true/ false, guilty/not guilty.

In the real world, truth is both more difficult to discover and much more nuanced. Take, for example, the question, “Is God good”? Of course, I’m really zinging to the opposite end of the truth spectrum. Before you can even start to answer this question, you have to start with the questions, first, “do I believe there is a God?”, “who or what is God?”, and “what is good?”. Each of those questions is definitely not binary or simple. Then sometimes, just when you think you’re making sense of some part of your worldview, your point of view changes or you pick up more chunks, and you see a different picture appear.

I’ve always held my worldview with a very light hand. Until the age of 26, I vaguely believed in a supreme being of some kind but rejected any kind of religion. In large part, this was a result of growing up in Italy in a Catholic culture which makes it their business (and I do mean business) to define truth. Through a somewhat complex process, they define truth and determine the rules and regulations by which you will play. This kind of truth is called dogma. Dogma is a mystery killer. Dogma is a truth impersonator. It pretends to be truth by means of authority and seemingly rational self-proving frameworks. Here is a dictionary definition:

Dogma: dôg′mə noun

  1. A doctrine or a corpus of doctrines relating to matters such as morality and faith, set forth in an authoritative manner by a religion.
  2. A principle or statement of ideas, or a group of such principles or statements, especially when considered to be authoritative or accepted uncritically.
  3. A settled opinion; a principle, maxim, or tenet held as being firmly established. ¹

I would say that some forms of dogma are more benign than others, and some are downright evil. Imagine being a good Muslim believer, and one day finding yourself strapped into an explosive vest. But I suggest that any dogma swallowed whole, without chewing or digesting, is a bad thing.

I hold strongly that we do whatever possible to catch a glimpse of those other dimensions. I know of no other way to speak of this other than using the metaphor of dimensions. How and what we do to catch a glimpse of truth beyond our four dimensions, those of space and time, is up to you. Meditation, prayer, contemplation are all meant to give you glimpses of what is transcendent, of what is beyond the mundane.

My personal journey led me to Jesus some four decades ago. I try to read the Bible with an open mind without wearing those religious dogma glasses. I propose that this is very rewarding but difficult to do because the wagon wheel ruts are deep and it’s so easy to let yourself just follow the path of least resistance. Those well-trodden ruts are the path of dogma.

Not all dogma is all bad: it may just not be all good. And there is no way to be a totally “independent thinker”. There is much that is good to consume in terms of writers and speakers. As I see it, many have some slice of the pie of Truth. Many of our esteemed Christian thinkers have much that can be useful in deciphering who God is, how the world works, how to be a good person, and so on. But NOONE has all of THE TRUTH. No-one! Having said that, not everyone is meant to explore the universe without any kind of map. Many are much more suited to some unquestioned religion. To pray without answers or miracles. Many wonderful followers of Jesus are happy with a very simplified dogmatic worldview. I think that’s wonderful if that works for them. I wish for them that life does not rock their boat too hard.

Pray expecting to hear. Ask expecting receive – even if it’s not what you expected. And remember that Jesus said that to enter the Kingdom of God one has to be as children, which I take to be humble and maybe even simple.

One final thought: however you manage your journey through life, I hope you find a way to open yourself to some direct input, some access to other-dimensional contact, glimpses of the prime cause, Supreme Being, spiritual inspiration. If you can find a way to be open to the right source of inspiration, that will give you wisdom as to reading all those cards you’re holding. Having said that, there are many transcendent sources that are not good. If you’re searching, I would suggest trying Jesus, Yahweh, and the Holy Spirit. Address them with your questions and needs and you will be safe. For me, they/He became the destination, but they can also be the starting point. But please be discerning, and don’t get lost in the weeds!

I pray that the Father of glory, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, would impart to you the riches of the Spirit of wisdom and the Spirit of revelation [Or “discovery.”] to know him through your deepening intimacy with him. (Ephesians 1:17, The Passion Translation)

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¹ The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition

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What is God like to you?

Tessy my Pointing Lab at the door of our studio.

I was seated with a school of theology after some kind of celebratory meal when unexpectedly a member of the faculty who was not particularly fond of me or my Biblical interpretations decided to challenge me to a debate. The subject he announced was to be how a Christian conceived of Jesus, whether a physical/historical Jesus; at once fully human and fully God; or a spiritual, invisible, everywhere-but-nowhere-in- particular kind of God. And did it matter? And I was to choose one side or the other and argue its merit. I was still a little stunned when this gentleman announce that I could go first. In other words, I would not have the benefit of pondering what in the world I would say while he took the lead discourse. As the dream continued, I stood and began to speak, and this is more or less what I said:

Jesus is, without doubt, many things. While on earth he referred to himself in his discourses in many ways: Son of God, Son of man, rabbi or teacher, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, and so on. Whether or not we see him as the physical Jesus of the incarnation, or an invisible unknowable God being everywhere and nowhere, I believe it definitely matters. How we perceive God matters greatly. If we see God as an angry God ready to punish man for our glaring imperfections and bad behavior – in other words, the God most Jews in the Old Testament portrayed – we will hide from him and run away in fear as they did in Exodus when he showed up on Mount Sinai. If we see God as perfectly revealed in Jesus, a God who is love, a God who allows himself to be tortured and killed in the eternity-changing event of the cross, we run towards God and allow the Holy Spirit to change us. Uttering the ultimate words of forgiveness, Jesus invited the Godhead to forgive and redeem mankind once for all time – the Godhead of which he is part. This picture of God will make us lovers and participants in his redemptive plan.

Although Jesus is mostly unknowable, we all develop a sense of who he is. For me, it’s been a lifelong journey of discovering bit by bit. When I was a child in Italy, my very Catholic grandfather would tell me about Jesus. My idea of Jesus was incomplete and misshapen. I particularly remember Francesco telling me about the parable of the denari, the parable of the talents. To whom much is given much is expected. I can’t imagine what I really thought of that, but I knew God had given me much and like my grandfather, he would expect much from me. As it turned out, my grandfather had expected much of his own son and was disappointed. As the story continues, my uncle expected much from me and others, and was also disappointed. He came to America and worked his way through a doctorate and a chairmanship of a department at the University of Texas but was never able to please his father. My uncle tried to talk sense into me when I was a teenager, but it didn’t take. I never got the Ph.D. he wanted for me, and I was practically dead to him as he was to his own father.

How we see our fathers, or grandfathers, or uncles, matters greatly. And how we see God and Jesus matters even more. Some believe that those of us with bad fathers make it difficult to see Father God as good and loving. My own journey began by being abandoned by my earthly father on the day I was born, but somehow I never judged the one through the dirty lens of the other. My own concepts began with a kind of New Age God, then began to change when I studied the Bible. At the outset, my Christian understanding was largely shaped by pastors, professors, and other mainstream sources. But with time I began to read more widely, especially with the early fathers who were closer to the actual days Jesus walked the Earth. And the most valuable lessons have come in those precious moments of inspiration and miracles that spoke more eloquently and clearly about him than words ever could.

As I woke up from this dream debate, I slipped out of bed quietly so as not to awaken my wife or forget the dream, and sat down at the computer to write. It was definitely a God moment. I never took a clear position in this supposed debate, but it really doesn’t matter, because it was all a dream. But it was a great dream. And as I began to awaken, I continued to “speak” most eloquently. What is your version of God? Don’t think me presumptuous if I just say that if that vision does not see a God who is love!,  then perhaps you should keep on searching.

Before signing off, I want to share just one episode in my journey that exemplifies the wonderful experiences of God that have modified how I view the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.   One wonderful Saturday in Montana, I was on the couch with a few books about God and a notebook, relishing this moment of peace and pondering Him. The phone rang and it was a neighbor inviting me over to bring my Labrador retriever and use the field in front of his house. He had a tiny little blind and a flock of goose decoys set up, and I could go and probably shoot a bird. I reluctantly left my books and prayers behind, more for Tessy my Labrador Retriever, than for me. She was a great couch dog, but also a very eager bird dog. It was a gorgeous clear blue sky of a day. A vivid cerulean blue with fluffy cotton-white clouds. I slid into this little tent and lay there with my shotgun on the ground next to me, pondering the big sky beauty of Montana, the mountains, and God seemed as close as he ever is.

I lay there for about an hour, feeling God more real than I ever could have those books I left behind. No geese were to be seen, and frankly, I was relieved. Tessy lay quietly behind me. Then I heard a voice as clear as ever I’ve heard. “Get ready, here they come!”… I gathered my wits, and lay there trying to comprehend the moment. I was ready, or thought I was. But I heard the voice again: “Don’t you need to pick up your gun?” I supposed I should, so I reached over and picked up my seldom used Benelli, and waited. Within no more than ten seconds, I heard it… “Honk, Honk…Honk”… and it got louder until they burst into my field of vision, laying in the little bivouac tent, and I sat up. Here they were, landing right in front of me! But wait, before you anti-gun people are too scandalized, I shot three times and missed. They were close enough for a double, but I didn’t even get feathers.

You may be wondering how this amazing day might have shaped my concept of who Jesus is. Did I conclude that God is pro-hunting? Does he enjoy a bit of sport from time to time? Some of the guys might be wondering if God likes a good game of football. But no, that’s not what I got out of it. I was struck by a God who wanted me to know just how much he cared about what I cared about. A God who would participate in even the most “un-spiritual” moment in my life. And what really made it perfect was that I didn’t have to deal with dead birds, feathers, and bird guts. Did he make me miss? Or did I manage that all on my own? That theological point would never be clear. How he stands on football is for you to find out.

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Truth and Dogma

The more I live the more I believe that growth happens with the disruption, change and even death of what were once closely held beliefs and world views. Beliefs that have become rigid and unchanging result in diminishing life, vitality, joy, and love. Eventually, a rigid world view becomes judgmental, intransigent, condemning of other’s positions and worse.

When we stop our spiritual growth, we stagnate and begin to die. The spirit lives in the in-finite; when we put our beliefs in a box we are looking for finite solutions, we’re trying to understand multi-dimensional worlds from the confines of our little four-dimensional perspective. (Read “Dimensions”) It’s worse than if you tried to measure the speed of light with a tape measure and a stopwatch. ¹

Spiritual growth is dependent on learning and experiencing “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard” 1 Corinthians2:9-10

Jesus tells the disciples, “There is so much more I would like to say to you, but it’s more than you can grasp at this moment. But when the truth-giving Spirit comes, he will unveil the reality of every truth within you.” ²

To understand God even a little bit, the Holy Spirit – the Spirit of truth – must be welcomed, invited and involved.

A rigid belief system becomes dogmatic, meaning that we begin to live by a set of rules and regulations rather than as a result of a dynamic relationship with a living God. Not only is dogmatic crystallization a problem for individuals, but also for groups and civilizations.

The ancient world predating Abraham consisted of a rigid construct based largely on mythical beliefs of a reality whereby humanity lived at the pleasure of a variety of angry and demanding gods. Although we tend to lump all the books of the Old Testament as descriptive of one homogeneous religion and culture, it is actually a document of a journey from a pagan, mythology-based reality to a more enlightened world view. As an example, after Abraham, child sacrifice was replaced with animal sacrifice. The mythical selfish gods were replaced with a supreme creator with plans for our wellbeing, and so on.

Jesus tells us that these Old Testament writings were meant to make the way for his coming and a new world view but men had perverted it into a dogmatic system that was in its turn resisting growth and transition. The Old Testament, it turns out was supposed to not only reveal the Creator-God better than had the mythological constructs of the ancient world, but to point to Jesus and a whole new way, new reality, and above all, to forgiveness, grace, mercy, humility, and love among many other revolutionary concepts. ³

Finally, just because some item of doctrine is preached from ten thousand pulpits doesn’t necessarily make it Gospel truth. For instance, does God really torture anyone that hasn’t prayed the salvation prayer- whichever one your church subscribes to? Is anyone damned to eternity because he or she hasn’t been confirmed by a priest or received last rights? Is anyone damned because they never heard about Jesus? Well, you get the idea. Start by reading the scriptures, but not just a few carefully chosen verses. What do the early church fathers say? They were closer to the source of it all. Most of all, don’t worry, God is a merciful father and he’s not going to damn you for not having perfect theology. He loves it when we want to know him better, but certainly, he isn’t going to blame us for not knowing the TRUTH about all things. I’m most suspicious about religious sects – Christian or otherwise – who tell you that only those of their group have the inside scoop that will save them and only them from damnation.

The absolute truth – sometimes referred to as “all truth” in the Bible – is unknowable in its totality because of how we are made. An AM radio can’t “know” what FM frequencies are being broadcast. The Bible gives us glimpses, and the Holy Spirit gives access to a bit more:  “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard… For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God” 1 Corinthians 2:9-10.

Searches all things… sounds like a cosmic search engine doesn’t it? All we need to do is align ourselves, tune ourselves with the Holy Spirit.

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¹ By the way, the speed of light changes relative to the observer and therefore is elastic and not a constant. The speed of light seems to be a very foundational factor used in the makeup of our world and used to be considered a constant. However, with the discovery of the sub-atomic particles and quantum physics, we have transitioned into a world that behaves more like the spiritual world than the physical world. In other words, God’s world transcends analysis by our limited minds. Only the spirit can reveal “all truth”.

² John 16:12-13 The Passion Translation

³ Read the Sermon on the Mount: it is his “manifesto”. This is the nitty-gritty ways of the kingdom out of Jesus’ mouth! It is the most trustworthy glimpse we have into the heart of God.  Matthew chapters 5 to 7.

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The Holy Spirit Has a Sense of Humor

Putting on the Armor of God by Christine Kerrick…I guess it’s poetic license to omit any protection for the regions below the belt.

The Holy Spirit cleared her throat to get my attention, and asked me why I wasn’t applying the insight she had imparted to me. I was pondering the passage in Ephesians chapter 6 in preparation for a home group we’re leading for the church we attend. In it, Paul likens armor piece by piece with the protective and offensive provisions from God.  If you’ve attended church for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard this passage preached more than once. Typically, a study of this passage remains a dry outline of all these armor parts and their spiritual equivalents. For me, this outline of armor parts had never yielded much, and I was just posing the question, how can this be rendered useful, immediate, even powerful? To add insult to injury, whoever prepared the leader study notes had made what I consider to be a significant mistake.
Verse 17 in several translations says something like this:”And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” The notes explained that the word of God refers to the Bible. This sounds very plausible, but for some reason I chose to look it up in the interlinear bible. If you’re not familiar with this source you might want to bookmark this app:
https://biblehub.com/interlinear/ephesians/6-17.htm
This is what you would see:

Sadly, if you went with Bible as the explanation of what the Sword of the Spirit meant, you would miss totally what Paul is saying. The sword is, after all, the only offensive weapon in the whole armor, so I would give this item at least some special attention. After all, if life is to be compared to war, you can’t win a war without an offensive weapon. Tragically, if you tried to throw your bible at the enemy, or even recite verses, I don’t think you could win the battle. What you will notice in the direct translation above is that the original word in the Greek is “rhema”. Now, by the magic of the internet, you click on the number above the word, 4487, and you will see its meaning in Strong’s Concordance, which used to be a big cumbersome book. But now, we are all sort of experts with just a click of the mouse.

4487 rhḗma (from 4483 /rhéō, “to speak”) – a spoken word, made “by the living voice” (J. Thayer). 4487/rhḗma (“spoken-word”) is commonly used in the NT (and in LXX) for the Lord speaking His dynamic, living word in a believer to inbirth faith (“His inwrought persuasion”).

The takeaway is that in the everyday battles of life, our main offensive weapon is to hear God speaking to us with his living, vibrant, creative Rhema-word, the same word he used to create the universe! As you can imagine, I was pretty pleased with myself for this discovery. This is the kind of stuff I live for… but it gets even better. In my defense, I really never think of myself as discovering anything in the realm of the spirit, but I was just savoring this insight or rather, gift. Just then, I “felt” or perceived someone as if clearing their throat to make their presence known and somehow, I knew it was the Holy Spirit.

“So, Franco, why aren’t you applying this to a certain little problem…” People say that the Holy Spirit is a gentleperson, never violating your freedom of choice. Well, I discovered she is also kind, choosing not to rub my nose in this “little thing”.  If I had to characterize this exchange, I would say it was almost humorous “Hmm, hmm…” – I really don’t know how to spell the sound you make when you clear your throat like that. But I immediately what the little problem was. In this case the Rhema word was not so dependent on the actual words. The message was more like a Vulcan mind meld.

Immediately, I started using this idea. The idea is that the battle is lost if we own a bad thought or emotion. If we can intercept the bad thought, the battle is won. But how? This may sound too simple to actually work, but I decided to just cry out, “Holy Spirit!!!” the second something unwanted “arrived”. The effect has been nothing less that spectacular. And although I’m sure there is much more to be extracted in this passage on the armor of God, I’m pretty content for now to have understood something precious about the Sword of the Spirit. Bottom line, this Sword of the Spirit, this word from God, has been completely effective in eradicating the so called “little problem”.

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Reading the Bible “In the Spirit”

With my wife Ann in Taos making new friends.

After more than thirty years of listening to many preachers, one year of Biblical Studies, many years of study on my own, and what’s more important, many, many years of a life journey with God – all three of him! – the Bible is coming alive with fresh meaning and excitement! So, if you feel that your Bible reading leaves you kind of feeling lukewarm, you’re not alone, but I think you’ll be encouraged. There’s a “trick” to it.
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Impregnated by the Spirit

Jesus established an open heaven when he was baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Why is it that for most of us, those early days of discovering Jesus are so exciting and wonderful. So much so that many of us feel guilty that we don’t feel that way now. I think the answer is that it’s part of the Holy Spirit’s “job” to woo us into the Kingdom. As He comes to us for this wonderful purpose, he acts first “while we were yet sinners”. We experience the Presence, the very presence of Heaven, of God Himself – the vibration, the dimension of God and Heaven. Heaven is a dimensional realm*, beyond the time-space continuum. It is everywhere in that it interpenetrates everything, but it is nowhere because it has no locality.

Normally, we four-dimensional beings, stuck in the five senses, identifying almost exclusively with this dense Earth, flounder around experiencing only the vibrational spectrum of the visible, tangible world. From the age of the so-called Enlightenment, we’ve come to identify even more with the concrete world. But the way of Christ is a supernatural undertaking and unfortunately, Christianity has succumbed to the ways of the modern world.
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Kingdom or Empire: The Sermon on the Mount – Part 2

The Ancient Romans valued power and supremacy over other countries and people. Without a doubt, we do too: “land of the free and the home of the brave”. But this is nothing new or confined to Romans or Americans. It has been man’s plight to want to conquer our neighbors ever since we refused to follow God’s ways and Cain killed Abel. We subjugated Native Americans and Africans, but they were doing it to each other way before Slavery and the pioneering of the North American continent. God made us for love (love for Him and love of others). We rebelled and went the way of conquest, violence, and taking what and who is not ours.

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Kingdom or Empire: The Sermon on the Mount – Part 1

The Fam: Wife Ann, our little boys, and daughter-in-law.
Should I kill somebody to protect them?

Lately, I’ve been hearing about this guy. He says he’s above the law, and that all the religions are out to lunch! He says he’s the real Commander in Chief, and he won’t pledge allegiance to any flag. His Facebook page has 50 Million followers, and his talks on YouTube have 200 million views, but Ted Talks refuse to give him webtime. The FBI and CIA are watching him. He hangs out with the dregs of society. And, if you can believe what people are saying, he heals the sick miraculously everywhere he goes.

Of course, I’m talking about Jesus if he had waited another 2000 years to come. Jesus was scandalous in everything he said or did. He usurped all the titles of Caesar, the emperor of almost the whole known world. We are so removed from the historical context of Jesus that we don’t realize the King of Kings, Son of God, Prince of peace, and more, were all titles that Rome bestowed on the emperor before Jesus was born. Continue reading

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Wrapped in the Arms of Jesus

Jesus was crowned King of Kings on the Cross. His crowning act was to love mankind so much that He would lay down his life, completing God the Father’s repetitive acts of forgiveness toward man.

The first time I read the Old Testament quickly through, I was in seminary school, and it was assigned as a speed read. It was probably the most memorable assignment I can remember. Reading the Jewish Testament slowly or piecemeal, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by its pieces and parts. But reading it rapidly, one gets the overwhelming feeling of God giving His chosen people repetitive opportunities and they, time and again, falling down miserably. Moses goes up Mount Sinai to meet with God and receives His guidelines sculpted supernaturally in stone. Moses’ face is shining from exposure to God’s radioactive radiance, His glory. But as he descends he sees the people God just delivered from slavery in Egypt having an orgy. What’s worse, they’ve built a huge golden idle and are worshiping it. This cycle repeated over and over until the final solution came: Jesus.

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Intertwined With God – The Woman at the Well

Sin takes us away from God, from intimacy with Him, and if it ultimately takes us away from partaking of salvation – the ultimate and lasting intertwining with our Creator’s nature and redemptive purpose – then it’s results can be as destructive and final as the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima.  Notice I’m not putting this intertwining with God off until after death. In fact, salvation begins with choosing God, right here and now. It involves the journey in  Him that we call Christianity, and of course beyond death. Salvation was never meant to be just a ticket to heaven. We have a simple choice: believe in this redemption which occurred with the coming of Jesus (the incarnation) and culminated at the cross and resurrection, and move towards intimacy with God. Or, choose to move towards the stuff that draws us away – sometimes by inches, sometimes by miles –  until we discover we’ve gone too far… But no, never too far! Continue reading

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