The Problem of Evil

A perfectly good God exists, and evil exists. This is a challenging enigma to contemplate and understand. After all, a good God would stop all evil and suffering from happening, so we would not have to experience it, right? This is where we need to pause and consider some of the characteristics of God and consider how God works in the world.

God is omnipotent. This means that God is all-powerful. Wouldn’t it make sense that an all-powerful God would be able to eradicate all evil in this world? But there is still evil, and many use this as an argument against God, or his goodness. This argument comes in because we have a misconception about the concept and reality of real power, mainly how God uses his power.

Real power is not coercing and forcing your will and desires on other people or situations. Real power comes from restraint, as well. Underlying the all-powerful nature of God is that his nature is of love. God can, and maybe sometimes does, prearrange circumstances to make sure things turn out as he intended, but this does not mean this is how God acts all the time.

Real power also comes from restraint. Since God is all-powerful, he can do anything he wants. Since God is loving, he does not desire his creation, us, to follow and serve him out of anything but a desire and a sincere love for him. Everything has been set in motion and is perfectly aligned and created to make life habitable here on earth for humanity. If there were one, seemingly insignificant part out of correct alignment, life as we know it would end. For example, if the core temperature of the earth was a degree hotter, or the earth’s axis was off by .01, life would not be sustainable. This is true even if the moon was an inch closer to earth. Everything is placed in the proper placement and, therefore, has been given natural laws to run so life can continue. Even though J.L. Mackie says the argument that God limits himself in our world takes away from the teaching God is omnipotent (all-powerful), this is one of the best ways to describe what’s going on.

Another aspect of God’s restraint from merely taking control and erasing evil comes from his great love for the created order, especially humanity. If God wanted people to follow him, no questions asked, he would have robotic slaves. This is not what God desires. God desires a relationship with his creation. Because of this, God has given humanity the “gift” of free-will.

Free will has been a blessing and a curse for humanity. It has been a blessing because we have been allowed to learn, to make our own decisions, and to choose what we believe. It has been a curse because we have also been given a chance to do good or to do evil. There is much evil because people have exercised their freedom to bring evil into the world, maybe even into our situations. This is called moral evil.

Moral evil does not explain all that is wrong in this world because there are things that happen that occur because we live in a world where sometimes things happen beyond our control. We cannot stop the destruction of natural disasters. We cannot always prevent illnesses and diseases that take life. We cannot stop people from making the wrong decision. We cannot stop the consequences from the actions of others affecting us (i.e., Enron or financial systems doing what they believe is right). This is called natural evil.

This brings us to the next question, “did God create evil?” Saint Augustine argued that God only created/creates good things. And since the whole universe is God’s, it is fundamentally good. He also says that evil is not a created thing; it is an entity and, therefore, evil is the lack of good. God is all-powerful and has created an incredible world and universe. He is also unchanging and eternal, but the created order isn’t. Creation is mutable and changeable and, therefore, is corruptible to manifesting as evil. This lines up with the account of the fall in Genesis 3-11. Creation, humanity, rebelled against God, and brought evil into the world.

Bishop Irenaeus taught something a little different from Augustine. John Hick has his rendition of this teaching—Adam and the original creation were innocent and immature but were offered the opportunity to do good by loving God and people. He goes on to say that evil is here because this is an “inevitable stage in the gradual evolution of the human race.”

There is an argument that we cannot know good without knowing about evil. J.L. Mackie argues this with a few points: evil is a necessary counterpart to good, evil is a necessary means to good, and the universe is better with some evil. One of the issues with this kind of thinking is that it implies God is the One who created and brought about the evil and suffering we experience in this life. There is evidence to support this thought in scripture, but we also have to understand people are going to do what they are going to do.

To know evil means we have the opportunity to know good. To identify good means we know what is evil. And this is precisely why we were given the Law in our Bibles—to understand how we should live, so we do not end up living an evil life and corrupting the world even more. The created order is designed to do what God set in motion through natural laws. Humanity is the only part of the created order that has been given the gift of knowing right from wrong. God must have known we were going to make the choices we made and still make today, right?

Many theologians believe that God knows everything—past, present, and future—and lives within the space of being able to see and know all possible outcomes and scenarios (probable and factual). This means that God knows every possible way we could act or think. Some argue that this way of thinking about the knowledge God has means humanity does not have free will if God knows what we are capable of doing and do what we want. Scripture teaches God works all things together for good—meaning, God has a plan in place for every situation we might choose so his perfect will is done here on earth, even amidst the evil that surrounds us.

The biggest thing we have to wrestle with is not, why has God not eradicated evil, but what do we believe about God and what do we believe about how God works in this world and yours and my life. Sometimes faith has to go beyond the intellectual level and go into the heart level. This means there are some things we are going to have to be okay not being able to reconcile, and we have to trust that God is working for the good in this world. If we believe this about God, we can put simple trust that what the book of Revelation says about a new heaven and new earth are real, and God’s goodness will win in the end. The question now is, how will you and I choose to live?

Think Like This?

Mark 10:28 Peter said to him, “Look, we’ve left everything and followed you.”

Don’t you just love Peter? I love how he always seems to put his foot in his mouth. This is a great skill Peter has developed. I’m getting good at putting both feet in my mouth when I say things I shouldn’t. I have also learned how to add salt so it’s not as bitter. 🙂

Peter has been with Jesus almost three years up to this point. He has heard Jesus say “the last will be first and the first will be last.” Jesus also said many things which talk about humility. At one point, Jesus even calls Peter “Satan!” We have got to love Peter for his arrogance and for making sure he gets all that Jesus promised.

How does this relate to you? Honestly, I have felt like Peter. There have been times I feel like reminding God all I have done for Him and just want to make sure I’ll get my recognition. If we live in this kind of mindset for too long, we can easily become narcissistic and stop thinking about God’s glory and where our talents, and even life comes from.

This is the week we have been talking about letting go of things that potentially hold us back from living in the grace and light of Jesus Christ. Arrogance, pride, and even my ego are some huge things that keep a perception of me elevating myself more than I should. Truthfully, God is the source of why we do what we do. He is the reason and the foundation for our life. Jesus teaches and models a humble lifestyle that points toward God.

Even with all of my flaws, I am striving to give glory to God in all aspects of my life. Jesus has made a profound impact in my life. Each day I have to ask Him to be, which reminds me, the Lord and Savior of my life.

There will be times I will have similar thoughts and conversations like Peter; but God’s grace is incredible and is with us each day. I pray we all remember this.

Children of Grace

Mark 10:13-16 “People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” Then he hugged the children and blessed them.”

Children. The joys they bring. The laughter. The frustration. There are so many great things about children. Now, I am not going to pretend I am an expert on raising children. One thing is for certain, Jesus welcomed the children.

There are several verses that people use to elevate children. My guess is that e usually think about children as under 10 years of age when we read passages like this. 1 Timothy 4:12 is also used, along with the similar verses in Matthew and Mark.

What if Jesus wasn’t just talking about people under the age of 10? What if there is something more that he is trying to say. Yes, I believe Jesus welcomes children with open arms and loves all the people (including children) in the world. I have read that some scholars do not think Jesus is simply talking about young children. Instead, they say that “children” would have been used describing the young; but also describing someone who is under the authority of a teacher, or their father. We’ll see next week that Jesus called His disciples “little children.”

One of the points of this could be that Jesus is showing that grace is open to anyone and everyone, not just the people who seem to have it all together. He is especially showing that the insignificant people of society are welcomed graciously into the Kingdom of God. So if a student is one fire for the Lord, and studying, Jesus could be talking about them as well. We are not to quench the Spirit. We are to be enthusiastic about following Christ daily. This is what I believe Jesus is talking about when he says, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child…”

So, the challenge for us is to see how and who we can nurture faith in without trying to stop the fire they have in them.

Grace is available to all people.

Word of Grace

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Colossians 1:1-2 “From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by God’s will, and Timothy our brother. To the holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in Colossae. Grace and peace to you from God our Father.”

This is the beginning of April and Easter is just a few days away. Each month, I have been reading one of Paul’s letters in their entirety each day and then journaling about a few verses. This has been an awesome tool for spiritual growth. Not only do I have the opportunity to see the whole letter, but I also have been looking at shorter passages within the letter and seeing how it fits in with the whole context. I have learned, even more, how easy it is to take verses and ideas out of context and fit into what we want them to say instead of viewing them in the light of the entire work and historical context.

Before we jump into Colossians this month, I wanted to follow Paul’s example and offer you a word of grace. We have been on this 40 day journey through the season of Lent. This journey can bring up many feelings or attitudes and we can begin to feel like we are in the desert. When we begin to feel this way, we notice we become more distant from others, our temper has a shorter fuse, our frustration level and pet peeves begin to rise more. We simply forget that we are not alone. Yes, we may feel like we are in the spiritual desert, but Christ is with us as well.

We are not just taking a journey through the desert; we are taking a journey that will lead us to the cross. Most importantly, we are taking a journey that shows us the resurrection. The resurrection shows us the power Jesus has. This is the same power he gives to us. We may feel as though we cannot come back to life after being in the desert and parched for water; but Jesus can and does bring us back to life.

This is the great message in Colossians. Jesus Christ is central. Everything we do we should do for the glory of God. God is granting us the grace and peace to go through this life. We do not journey alone. We journey with The Creator of the universe, The Creator of you and I. This means we can experience peace beyond understanding in the midst of trials and scorching heat from enemies and challenges. God is freely giving grace to us so we are equipped to go through life and reflect the light of Jesus Christ in all we do, all we say, even all we think.

You are the “holy and faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” This is your calling. I pray God’s grace and peace will be reflected in you and through you in all you do.

Let’s take this journey to explore Paul’s letter to the people of Colossae.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Encouragers of the Faith

It is my expectation and hope that I won’t be put to shame in anything. Rather, I hope with daring courage that Christ’s greatness will be seen in my body, now as always, whether I live or die. Because for me, living serves Christ and dying is even better. If I continue to live in this world, I get results from my work. But I don’t know what I prefer. I’m torn between the two because I want to leave this life and be with Christ, which is far better. However, it’s more important for me to stay in this world for your sake. I’m sure of this: I will stay alive and remain with all of you to help your progress and the joy of your faith, and to increase your pride in Christ Jesus through my presence when I visit you again. (Philippians 1:20-26 CEB) 

What is it you hope to do in your life? Where has this dream come from? Do you have people who support you? Will you be willing to do what God is calling you to do unashamedly? I believe Paul has wrestled with those kinds of questions in his mind and has come to a deep understanding of who he is and what his mission is. Paul knows he has deep intimacy with God through Jesus Christ, so he will not do anything that goes against his calling.

There have been countless times in my life where I feel like I do not want to do what I know I need to do. Sometimes the life that God calls us to do is more challenging and more upfront than we are comfortable with. But, we can remember that Christ is with us and we do not live this life alone. Imagine how Paul was feeling. He was in house arrest, surrounded by guards all the time; yet he praised God for his situation. Paul’s personality was probably such that he didn’t mind talking with anyone and everyone. After his conversion experience (Jesus meeting him personally on the road to Damascus in Acts 9), Paul had a spiritual fire ignited in him and he did not allow it to be extinguished. John Wesley once said, “I set myself on fire and people come for miles just to watch me burn.”

The life that we are invited to live in by the grace of God does come with opposing thoughts at times. What I mean is this: we want to be with Jesus Christ always, and we want to be with people to walk with them in their life journey. Paul knows he wants to be with Christ in heaven. We can also experience this kind of life here on earth because God is with us and has never and will never leave nor forsake us, even when we try to turn from Him. Paul also knows he is called to walk with his congregation through their faith and be a source of encouragement for them. We are also called to be encouragers to people so they can be reminded of God’s presence in and around them and that they do not live this life alone.

We are not put on this earth to abandon people. We are here to be in community with others and be a source of strength and support when life gets rough. Paul knows this and tells his people that he loves being on this earth so he can encourage them. Paul knows who he is and he knows who his people are: children of God. He doesn’t say he wants to stay with them because he feels he is the only one who can provide this encouragement. That would be done out of pride. We should be careful of this attitude as well. Paul is saying that God is working through him so the people are strengthened and encouraged. It is God who is doing the work through Paul (look again at Ephesians 2:8-9).

Our challenge for today is to see who God has placed in our lives to encourage and find ways to walk with them through life to either find Christ, or to live life with the confidence Christ is working in and through them. Someone is doing that for you and I right now. 🙂

#BeEncouragersInTheFaith

Grace With You

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Ephesians 6:21-24 Tychicus, my loved brother and faithful servant of the Lord, can inform you about my situation and what I’m doing. I’ve sent him for this reason—so that you will know about us. He can reassure you. May there be peace with the brothers and sisters as well as love with the faith that comes from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. May grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ forever. 

Paul always ends his letters with a statement of grace. Even though there are times when he had to scold the congregations he planted, he wanted them to know and live into the grace that God was giving. I believe we could take the example of Paul and be sure to send people who will keep information correct about us, but also be there to support and build up the community.

These are trusted people by Paul and he knows their gifts and graces. Paul sends Tychicus because he knows the job he will do and that he will be able to reassure the people. Can you imagine what it would be like to have you leader thrown in jail and you are carrying on after this happened. What must have been going through their minds. But Paul is as calm as he can be and find great excitement in showing people the love of God in all his words and actions. This is Paul’s purpose.

He also longs for there to be peace among the brothers and sisters because there can be strife; but Paul wants the people to live in peace because this is the life that Christ calls us to. Peace even when everything seems to be going wrong around us. This peace is not just everything working out; but it is an inward peace which we have opened ourselves up to to show we are trusting in the Living God. This peace and faith comes through Jesus Christ and is offered to those who love the Lord Jesus Christ forever.

Paul’s salutation is full of life and grace. Is this how we leave people when we’re not around them? How can we work with God toward bringing the message of peace to those who need it most?

#TheGospelChangesUs

Guarding

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Ephesians 6:10-17 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and his powerful strength. Put on God’s armor so that you can make a stand against the tricks of the devil. We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Therefore, pick up the full armor of God so that you can stand your ground on the evil day and after you have done everything possible to still stand. So stand with the belt of truth around your waist, justice as your breastplate, and put shoes on your feet so that you are ready to spread the good news of peace. Above all, carry the shield of faith so that you can extinguish the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. 

As Paul is wrapping up his letter, he teaches about the most important thing we need to do in our lives.He has already talked about the relationships we have with those around us, and those in our families; now he is talking about our relationship with God. So in this, Paul is showing what it means to keep God as our guide and power of strength to live this life in a manner that is worthy.

How can we keep our hearts and minds focused on the power of God as we go through the day ahead? We have the opportunity to put on the tools and “armor” that will protect us, save our hearts, and guard our minds against those things and attitude that take our focus away from God. What is really fascinating, to me, is the manner in which Paul describes how we can allow God’s power to be our guiding force in our lives. We simply “put on the full armor of God.”

This imagery may conjure up negative images for some people, but this is really an important thing for us to do each day. When we get up for the day, we put our clothes on to protect our physical being, so why not put on the clothing that God provides to protect us emotionally and spiritually? So, Paul goes into the items that we should “put on” to help us allow God’s power to work in us and around us. There are so many forces around us that we are battling and that are fighting for control of our minds, emotions, spirit, relationships; but God provides a way to protect us from those things that are trying to pull us down and go against God.

We should put on the “belt of truth.” This means that we are allowing God’s truth to be wrapped around us so we constantly are reminded it is God’s truth that is holding us together and keeping us intact. Over our hearts, we wear the “breastplate of justice/righteousness” to guard our hearts from following those situations and ideals that culture can and does embrace but is not as God intends. Then we always have to have the “shoes” on our feet. This is what allows our feet to move so that we can travel to those who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. We can pick up the “shield of faith” to block those attacks that attempt to destroy us. The “helmet of salvation” protects our minds and allows us to meditate on God’s word and presence around us. The “sword of the Spirit” means we have the word of God ready within us so we can speak truth to people in love.

Putting on this “armor/clothing” is us allowing God to transform our lives and to be the light in the world. Since we are to be the light of the world and reflect God’s image and grace to those around us, why not put on shiny armor that reflects light. The Gospel of Jesus Christ protects us and changes our lives from the inside out.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Obeying and Respecting

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Ephesians 6:1-9 As for children, obey your parents in the Lord, because it is right. The commandment Honor your father and mother is the first one with a promise attached: so that things will go well for you, and you will live for a long time in the landAs for parents, don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord. As for slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling and with sincere devotion to Christ. Don’t work to make yourself look good and try to flatter people, but act like slaves of Christ carrying out God’s will from the heart. Serve your owners enthusiastically, as though you were serving the Lord and not human beings. You know that the Lord will reward every person who does what is right, whether that person is a slave or a free person. As for masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Stop threatening them, because you know that both you and your slaves have a master in heaven. He doesn’t distinguish between people on the basis of status. 

Paul has been talking about the life that God desires us to have. This life looks completely different from how we want to live, but it is the life that gives more freedom and more peace. Most of the things he has talked about so far seem fairly easy or at least simple to do, but now we come to this passage.

The end of chapter 5 has Paul discussing relationships in marriage and how the relationship should be between Christ and the church. This is an incredible picture because Christ is place in his right placement as head of the church. And now Paul goes into how children should behave with their parents and how slaves should treat their masters.

Children honoring and obeying parents? What kind of life would this look like? When we read this, Paul does talk about the parenting relationship as a two-way street. The children should honor and obey their parents because the parents have lived life and have important wisdom and guidance to pass on that will help give the children long lives and be able to navigate the challenges life can and does bring. The flip side of the relationship is the relationship from the parents to the children. Children are going to do things and say things that will cause the parents to become frustrated, so Paul is not talking about those times. Paul is talking about the rest of the times when parents have the opportunity to build their children up and instead actually tear them down.

Parenting is difficult and I am no where pretending to think I have all the answers or understand the unique situations each family faces. This is one of the incredible things about Scripture – that all aspects of human life are discussed. We can learn God’s will for individual families by spending time in prayer and listening for the voice of God as a family unit.

We do not like the fact that the Bible talks about slavery, but this is a different form of slavery than we might think of today. Again, Paul is talking about this relationship as a two way street. He says that if you are working for someone, then you should have the attitude that you are working for Christ and not the human boss. This does not mean to treat the human boss as a god; it does, however, mean that when working, we do our work as if we are doing it for Jesus Christ himself. This means we will do the best job we can do. The bosses are not to mistreat their workers. They are supposed to remember that the Master in heaven treated them with respect and this is how the workers are to be treated also.

There are many things talked about in the Bible we do not like to talk about; so this is one of the reasons I love to read the Bible and discuss it. There are so many things we can learn from Scripture and from discussing Scripture with other people. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not meant to keep us away from other people; it is meant for us to engage the culture and people around us. We become changed people because of the Gospel and we have the opportunity to show people and bring people the transforming message of Jesus Christ.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Light

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Ephesians 5:6-14 Nobody should deceive you with stupid ideas. God’s anger comes down on those who are disobedient because of this kind of thing. So you shouldn’t have anything to do with them. You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. 

Have you ever felt like you were just going through the motions in life and did not really know where you were going? That is kind of like what Paul is talking about here. He is writing this letter to show people the life in Christ that is waiting for everyone. We can all live in such a way that would embarrass other people and even fill us with guilt. Paul is reminding the readers that Christ came to extinguish the former way of life and move us into this new life that looks so different from how everyone else in the world wants us to live.

Light and darkness are a key theme throughout the New Testament, and one of the things I have thought about is how much of a difference light makes. When the light shines, we can see the path we should be on and see obstacles that are in the path that are trying to trip us up and cause us to change course. But when we trust that Christ is guiding us, our entire life is different and has a different purpose – life has an incredible purpose!

I love how Paul brings to light the life that is dark, that is going away from Christ. This kind of dark life leads us astray and we only think about ourselves and what we want and how we’re going to get it. But Christ, invites us to a new way of life that encompasses the entirety of humanity and desires us to bring more people into the light. This kind of life, where we embrace the life Christ gives, produces more fruit (lasting rewards) than anything we could do solely by living for ourselves.

When we walk in ways of darkness (see the end of Ephesians 4 and the beginning of chapter 5), it is like our soul is dead and sleeping and we cannot see or experience the life that Christ has to offer. But Christ comes along and shouts to our sleeping souls, “Wake up sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” This life is not always easy, but it is definitely rewarding and worth everything to have Christ shine his light on us so we can reflect his glory where ever we are and whatever we do.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Imitate

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Ephesians 5:1-5 Therefore, imitate God like dearly loved children. Live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us. He was a sacrificial offering that smelled sweet to God. Sexual immorality, and any kind of impurity or greed, shouldn’t even be mentioned among you, which is right for holy persons. Obscene language, silly talk, or vulgar jokes aren’t acceptable for believers. Instead, there should be thanksgiving. Because you know for sure that persons who are sexually immoral, impure, or greedy—which happens when things become gods—those persons won’t inherit the kingdom of Christ and God. 

Paul has been talking and teaching about the old life versus the new life. This is something that is of utmost importance because our faith in Christ is supposed to change us from the inside out. The power of the gospel is not just to show people heaven and bring people into the Kingdom of God; the power of the gospel is that it transforms and recreates us into new creations to live a life that is holy before God and we can bring people to faith through our life.

We are supposed to live like Christ; he was and is our example of how to live. How can we know how Christ lived? I would recommend reading the gospel accounts. Start with the Gospel of Luke to see the compassion of Christ, then go to the Gospel of John to see the divinity of Christ and the new life that comes from him. After that, go to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. Reading all of the gospel accounts will give a great picture of who Jesus is and how we should imitate him in our life.

The first thing that Paul speaks against is sexual immorality. We live in a culture that is obsessed with this and the truth is we do not realize how much this has control over us. It is important that we do not live in a way that immorality does not live in us because we should view each and every person as a child of God and a beautiful creation of the creator. People are made in the image of God, we just help them realize that fact to guide them to faith in Christ. If we look at people with the wrong set of eyes, we end up devaluing them and it is much more difficult to express the love of God though Jesus Christ when they are hearing a different message from immorality.

Paul then goes on to teach about how we speak to each other. Our words have much more power than we sometimes remember. Our words can bring hope and joy, and then the very next minute bring devastation and fear. Instead of talking down to another person, what if our language, jokes, and communication exuded love yet truth? This is a much more effective way to bring people to faith because they feel as if they are truly valued enough to become who they are made to be.

Finally, Paul warns that sexual immoral, impure or greedy are actually serving other gods, which is idolatry. The first and second commandments God gave Moses was “You must have no other gods before me,” and “Do not make an idol for yourself.” (Exodus 20:3-4) Idols are anything that distract us from the One God. We may or may not have idols in statue form today; but we do have idols in our life: money, sex, power, and anything else that forces our attention off of God. For us to embrace all that God has to give us, we should be of singular focus and see the Creator working all around us and in us.

God does not want us to acknowledge Him some of the time; He wants it all of the time. We do this when we treat others as the precious creations they are and help them see their value, not only to us, but to the Creator of the universe. Our entire lives (attitudes, thoughts, actions, words, etc) should reflect Christ to all we encounter and show that we are changed. That is an incredible power of the gospel.

#TheGospelChangesUs