“Christian” is not an Adjective

Jesus wasn’t very “Christian”.

Language matters. The words we use and the way in which we use them convey meaning: words not only reflect the ideas and meanings we have in our heads, but words convey those ideas and meanings to others.

It is through language that ideas and culture evolves in groups and societies. If we hear the words enough times we eventually come to believe those words. This is why marketing and advertising work: if we are continually hearing that a product is good and that everyone loves it, we generally come to accept this as true. In the same way, when the news media says the same thing over and over, we generally come to accept this as true as well.

Language can be used intentionally to shape perceptions and opinions.  What today we call “political correctness” really refers to using language to shift and reinforce perceptions and opinions. We see this concept at work in the differences between “undocumented worker” and “illegal alien”, between “physically challenged” and “handicapped”, and many other such phrases.

But through this same power, imprecise language can bring about unintentional perceptions and opinions. I would argue that using the word “Christian” as an adjective is one such example.

Originally the word “Christian” was a noun. It was first used in Antioch in ancient Greece as a label for the followers of Jesus Christ. (Acts 11:26) The word literally meant “little Christs”, probably in a derogatory sense. That is, people were said to be “Christians” if they believed and followed what Jesus taught.

Today, “Christian” is often used as an adjective that generally means little more than “nice”, or “compassionate”. For example, someone might say, “That wasn’t a very Christian thing to say.” Or worse, it can mean something of or pertaining to a perceived subculture, as in “Christian bookstore”, “Christian music”, or “Christian bumper sticker”.

The use of “Christian” as an adjective has done much harm. By simply using the word “Christian” in this way we have grown to accept that Christianity is focused on the attributes people think of when they hear the adjective “Christian”: nice, compassionate, law-abiding, generous, narrow-minded, judgmental…or whatever other attributes one might want to add to the list.

The phrase “Christian church” ought not to mean “a church that has the attributes that we associate with Christian”, but rather should refer to a gathering of people who are in fact believers and followers of Christ.

Christian is a noun, not an adjective.

Christianity is not about “Christian” behavior, nor about being part of a “Christian” subculture.

Instead, Christianity is about Christ, the almighty God who became human with flesh and bones so that he might live a perfect life for us, be put to death as punishment for our sinful condition, and be raised back to life to prove that he succeeded in defeating sin, death and the devil. Christianity is about God’s doing, and not about our doing.

I am a person who trusts in and follows Christ. I have been baptized into Christ’s death, so just as he was raised from the dead I too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4) I am a Christian because God made me one through faith and baptism. I am a Christian because God gave me Christ’s perfect righteousness even though I had no merit on my own. I am a Christian because God has declared that I have eternal life together with all the saints in heaven.

If you were to examine my life, you would likely find that I am not very “Christian”. I do things (and fail to do things) that make my actions inconsistent with what people consider to be the “Christian” way to live…whatever that means.

Much of my not-so-very-Christian life stems from the fact that I have been a sinful human since before birth…and consequently I do things that are contrary to God’s law. I confess and repent of my sin, and trust that Christ’s perfection has been given to me through faith. I stand before God as his restored prodigal son, as one who deserves nothing but has been given everything.

Some of my not-so-very-Christian life is due to the fact that what people think of as being “Christian” really has nothing to do with Christianity, but is instead about some sham veneer of niceness and respectability. That I don’t live up to what people think of as being “Christian” should not trouble me, for even Jesus didn’t live up to these kinds of expectations: Jesus said of himself:

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Matthew 11:19)

Jesus wasn’t very Christian: he did not live up to society’s suppositions of what he ought to do.

If I am a Christian, a follower of Christ, than chances are that I won’t be very “Christian” either.

Much of the so-called “Christian church” has gotten confused on this distinction as well. Much of the church is running around trying to get people to be more “Christian”. Doing so is a pointless exercise that does more harm than good.

People’s behavior reflects what is in their heart. (Mark 7:21) The church is to be about preaching that Christ was crucified for the forgiveness of sins, calling people to repentance and faith, baptizing them, and teaching them that Christ’s perfection is theirs through faith. The changing of people’s hearts is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit, and he does this work exclusively through the preaching of Christ crucified.

Even if the church could successfully nag, coerce or entice people into changing behavior (which it cannot) this would be of no spiritual value: without Christ’s forgiveness and imputed righteousness even such a “changed” person stands before God as a lost and condemned sinner.

By focusing on outward appearances and behaviors instead of Christ crucified, the church deprives people of the one thing they need (Christ) and instead tries to provide them with misplaced faith in themselves and their ability to change.

The word “Christian” is a noun, and not an adjective. The mission of the church must be to proclaim Christ crucified and thereby make disciples—not to make people more “Christian”.

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God’s Heart

King David was “a man after God’s own heart”. 1 Samuel 13:14

In 2 Samuel 18 we see a glimpse into that heart.

David’s reign as king was clearly of God–God chose him out of obscurity, gave him his kingship, gave him success against his enemies and affirmed his leadership.

David loved his son Absalom. When Absalom led the rebellion against David to take his throne, David had a difficult conflict: God wanted him to reign, but he wanted no harm to come to Absalom.

David had to take action for the sake of the kingdom and to follow God’s will.

Yet despite Absalom’s treasonous plans against David, David loved his son and wanted good things for him. It would have been easy (and just) if he would have ordered Absalom to be killed–but instead he ordered his military officers to “deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom”. 2 Samuel 18:5

In this story, sadly David was not able to protect his son from the consequences of his sin: David’s officer killed Absalom against David’s direct orders. 2 Samuel 18:14

When David learned of Absalom’s death David was very sad, and said “Would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 2 Samuel 18:33

So what is God’s heart like? God must reign, for the good of his creation. We his children sinned because he wanted to be like God (i.e. take God’s place on his throne). Genesis 3:5

Yet despite our treasonous plans against God, God loved His children and wanted good things for them. It would have been easy (and just) if He would have ordered them to be killed–but instead he acted in accord with His heart: He actually did die instead of His children.

Like David, God was able to quell the rebellion and remain in control for the good of his kingdom. Unlike David, God was able to do what David was unable to do: He saved His beloved children by sacrificing His own life.

Love in spite of treacherous rebellion, self-sacrifice to preserve relationship with wayward children, faithful leadership for the good of subjects despite adversity: this is the heart of God.


Written by David Rueter August 14, 2006

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Who is my Accuser?

Who is my Accuser? (Part 1)

John 5:22-24
Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him.  “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

One picture of a particular “theory” of atonement is that of God the judge looking down at sinful man, ready to pronounce judgement, and Jesus interposing himself and taking our punishment instead.

While this picture can be helpful in understanding that God is both just and loving, and understanding how Jesus’ suffering brought about our forgiveness, there are some problems with this image.

First of all, since it treats God the Father and Jesus as separate entities, it does not do a great job of embracing the unity of the Trinity.

But perhaps worse, this illustration leads us to think that the Father is still out to punish us, and that it’s only Jesus holding back his wrath.  This is not the case at all.

In John 5:22 Jesus clearly tells us that the Father has entrusted all judgement to the Son.  He says directly that the Father judges no one.

We know Jesus was compassionate and loving.  More than that, We know that Jesus endured agony and separation from God, and  gave his very life for us.

If it is this same Jesus to whom has been entrusted all judgement, what are the implications to us?  Is the compassionate and loving Jesus going to keep record of our sins and dole out punishment?  Is Jesus who suffered death for us going to throw the benefit of is agonizing work out the window so that he can strike us down from his judgement seat?

Of course not.  Jesus died for us, and rose triumphant over sin.  He loves us completely, and wants us to receive the benefit of his redemptive work.

Is Jesus going to cast down judgement on us Christians because of our sins and shortcomings?  We don’t even need to guess at the answer to this question.  In John 5:24 Jesus specifically says “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”

There you have it.  God the Father isn’t in the business of judging:  that is Jesus’ job to do.  And Jesus has already cast his judgement on me:  I have heard Jesus word, and I believe the Father who sent him to die for me.  Jesus, aka the judge, has found me, the defendent…not guilty.  The verdict:  I have eternal life.  I have crossed over from death to life.

Praise God!

So… who is now my accuser?  Any takers?  Does anyone want to accuse me now that the one rightful judge has already pronounced his verdict?  Anyone?

I thought not.  There is none to accuse me.  And without an accuser…I am free!

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October 4, 2012 · 12:11 am

Remember The Sabbath

Have you ever felt confused by the Third Commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”?

Is this a law for us to keep? Do we keep this commandment by attending church on Sunday (instead of Saturday)? What does it mean to remember the Sabbath? Why is this even important to God?

I kind of understand God’s rationale behind the other commandments—such as “Do not commit murder”, or even “Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” But keeping the Sabbath? It seems kind of odd to have this seemingly “little” rule receive so much attention, and to be on par with the other 9 commandments.

And then, to add to the confusion, Jesus comes along in several stories (like Luke 6:6 and other places) doing “work” like healing, plucking grain and the like on the Sabbath—and thereby clearly engaging in activities that at least the experts in Jewish law thought were prohibited by the 3rd commandment.

We’ve probably heard how the Jews (perhaps out of good intentions, or perhaps to perpetuate a sense of self righteous elitism) enacted stricter laws that went beyond what God actually commanded. That makes sense, but does not seem to shed much light on the question, “What exactly IS it that God is commanding about the Sabbath?”

Being good Lutherans we could open Luther’s Small Catechism and read “We should fear and love God that we may not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred, and gladly hear and learn it.” OK, holding God’s Word as sacred, and hearing and learning it is good stuff—and (hopefully) we do this at Sunday morning worship.

But Exodus 20:8 seems pretty specific to me: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

I’m not saying that Luther is wrong, or misses the point or anything like that. I’m not saying that the editors of the 1943 edition of Luther’s Small Catechism were off track with questions and answers such as:

Q: “Did God command us Christians to observe any day?” A: “God did not command us Christians to observe any day.”

… and then providing references to back this up.

Romans 14:5-6 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.

Galatians 4:9-11 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.

But I’ve always had a feeling that God’s command about the Sabbath had something more to it than just “take some time, whenever it is, to worship”, especially when I don’t see much of what we take for granted in public Christian worship described in Old Testament Israel.

Recently as I puzzled over the many questions I’ve had about the 3rd Commandment I was blessed with a glimmer of insight.

First, I read again the account from Genesis 2:1 of the original Sabbath day: “And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.”

Was God resting because he was tired? Somehow, I don’t think the omnipotent God gets tired.

Maybe I had been misunderstanding the word “rest”. Maybe the word “rest” as used in Genesis isn’t synonymous with “recuperate” or “rejuvenate”. So, lacking Hebrew linguistic skills, I clicked on the word “rest” (in Genesis 2:1) on my Pocket PC to pull up the Strong’s concordance information, and found the word “shaboath” had definitions like:

To cease, desist, brought to an end

What if God “rested” in the sense that he stopped working?

And why did he stop? Not because he was tired, but because his work was done. Creation was GOOD. Creation was complete.

Fast forward a few centuries to the hungry children of Israel in the desert. Our loving God provided food (manna) for them to eat, but made it clear that they should gather only as much as they could eat in a day—for the rest would spoil. (Exodus 16:19-22) The Israelites, being humans (and good Jews) figured they could save up a bit for the future anyway. They tried it, and sure enough by morning “it bred worms and became foul.”

“and Moses was angry with them. And they gathered it morning by morning, every man as much as he should eat; but when the sun grew hot, it would melt.”

Deuteronomy 8:3 provides us with some commentary on this manna: “And He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD

Manna was God’s direct providence and sustenance for Israel, but God used manna to teach trust in this providence and sustenance daily, continually. Very literally, the Israelites had to live with the knowledge that if God didn’t send the manna tomorrow morning, they would starve.

(On a side note, this is very much in the heart of what Jesus taught us to pray in the Lord’s Prayer when he said “Give us this day our daily bread.”—but I digress.)

So what does manna have to do with the Sabbath? Ah, the interesting exception to the “leave none of it to morning” rule was on the 6th day. On the 6th day, the Israelites were permitted to gather two days’ worth of food so they would have plenty to eat on the Sabbath.

Now it came about on the sixth day they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. When all the leaders of the congregation came and old Moses, then he said to them, “This is what the LORD meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.” So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul, nor was there any worm in it. And Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.” Exodus 16:22-26

God provided completely for the Israelites, even giving them surplus food to eat on the Sabbath.

So what’s the point? First, the Sabbath must have been important to God. But second, Israel is observing the Sabbath by “resting”—by being done with work—and enjoying and reflecting on the completeness of God’s providence.

Interestingly, Israel was commanded to “remember” (not observe) the Sabbath day, the Sabbath day in which God stopped working and recognized the completeness of his work.

Sabbath is a tribute to the completeness of God’s work. We honor the Sabbath when we remember that God created a perfect, “good” earth. We honor the Sabbath when we remember that God provides for us through his perfect completed work.

And what about for us Christians? Are we to remember the Sabbath day? Most certainly! We should remember God’s original Sabbath day, and the completeness of His work. And we have even more reason to do so:

When on the cross our Savior cried “It is finished” [John 19:30], God once again stopped his work, and acknowledged the completeness of that work. God’s creation had been redeemed, restored. When we Christians remember the Sabbath day, we remember the completeness of Christ’s work as well.

Armed with this understanding of Sabbath, other pieces then start dropping into place, like Hebrews 4:9-10:

There remains therefore a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His.

And Jesus in Mark 2:27-28:

And He was saying to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. Consequently, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

It’s not that Jesus removed the obligation to remember the Sabbath, it’s that he instructed us that the whole point of remembering the Sabbath is not to do something for God, but to remember that God has done it ALL for you!

And finally, the icing on the cake: By choosing Sunday as our day to remember the Sabbath, we celebrate Christ’s glorious resurrection on that first day of the week, the day we saw tangible proof of God’s redemptive work in Christ.

And at the same time, there is a notion of an “eighth day”: the first day of Adam’s life in the Garden of Eden, and the first day our new life in Christ in which we “rest” secure in God’s beautiful creation (and re-creation), relishing the completeness of God’s work, acknowledging his perfect providence for us, and savoring our newly restored relationship with our Eternal God.

May we ever remember the Sabbath day.

Praise to the Lord, who o’er all things is wondrously reigning
And, as on wings of an eagle, uplifting, sustaining.
Have you not seen / All that is needful has been / Sent by His gracious ordaining?

Praise to the Lord, who will prosper your work and defend you;
Surely His goodness and mercy shall daily attend you.
Ponder anew / What the Almighty can do / As with His love He befriends you.


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The Man In Linen

Ezekiel 9:1-6

Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring near those who are appointed to execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.” And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand.

Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”

As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the old men who were in front of the temple.
God’s word is amazing. Here in this old testament writing of the prophet Ezekiel that is filled with rich imagery that is regarded as difficult to understand, here in the midst of ferocious punishment of God we have a beautiful picture of the work of Christ and a reminder of our baptism and salvation.

Earlier, God tells Ezekiel about the wickedness of Israel and His coming punishment:

And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing–the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” Ezekiel 8:6

In other words, the wickedness was blatant, but that was the tip of the iceberg. There was even worse stuff going on. Consequently, severe punishment was coming: men, women and children were all going to be slaughtered by the six men with deadly weapons. None would be spared, there was no escape.

But before the six men with deadly weapons were released to slaughter everyone, “the LORD called to the man clothed in linen”, and instructed him to “put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” And to the six men, he commanded them “Slaughter [everyone], but do not touch anyone who as the mark.”

Sinfulness is a big deal. Holiness cannot tolerate sinfulness: sinfulness will always be violently destroyed. Slaughtering men, women and children is uncomfortably harsh–but not unwarranted or unfair. Those who have reduced their understanding of God to only a simple “God is love” are undoubtable shocked, confused, fearful and angry at this righteous punishment. But the fact is that holiness cannot tolerate sinfulness.

Sinfulness cannot be made less sinful or less abominable, and holiness cannot be made to be more accepting of sinfulness. Holiness and sinfulness are by their natures incompatible: like fire and ice, light and darkness. God is holy and all-powerful: sinfulness will be destroyed. That is just what happens when sinfulness encounters holiness, just like ice melting in fire and darkness being obliterated by light.

We are without hope and face only certain slaughter…except for the man in linen who places his mark upon our foreheads.

The Bible tells what happened to the body of Jesus after he died on the cross:

So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mark 15:46

Jesus Christ, the man in linen. The only holy, sinless one. The only one who could literally do the impossible by providing a way to not only spare the sinful from certain slaughter, but to actually make the sinful holy.

Jesus Christ, the man in linen whose sign is placed upon our foreheads in baptism: “Receive the sign of the cross upon your forehead and upon your breast as a token that you are redeemed by Christ the Crucified.” We sing “All newborn servants of the crucified bear on their brow the seal of Christ who died.”

Jesus Christ, the man in linen whose sacrifice we remember on Ash Wednesday as we impose on our foreheads his mark, covering ourselves with ashes as we grieve and lament over all the detestable things done in the world.

Jesus Christ, the man in linen who is our only hope of salvation…but who is our sure and certain hope of salvation.

Why should God spare me, a sinner, from the righteous slaughter of his punishment? There is only one reason: my forehead bears the mark of the man in linen.

And now what? Beginning at his sanctuary we too go throughout the city with the man in linen, placing his mark upon the foreheads of all who grieve and lament over sin.

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Citizen of Heaven

But our citizenship is in heaven. Philippians 3:20

The Bible does an amazing job of revealing God’ nature and his truths to us in ways we can understand. Consider this phrase “citizens of heaven”. The Bible clearly tells us in a number of places that we are citizens of heaven.

This year we will hold elections for the US President in November. Immigration and citizenship are issues that are important in the minds of many voters. Globally, financial issues in the European Union raise interesting questions about national sovereignty and maintaining membership in the “euro zone”. Human rights and civil liberty issues are still important around the world. In this the year 2012 the notion of “citizenship” is as relevant as it ever was.

We know quite a lot about citizenship: It has requirements. It brings certain rights and privileges. It entails certain obligations. Citizenship is not just geographical, as citizens can live abroad. Citizenship is often associated with birth, but can later be renounced. And that’s just a few simple aspects of citizenship that come to mind.

We are citizens of heaven. We can take our knowledge about citizenship, and apply it to being citizens of heaven–and thereby learn quite a lot about God and his kingdom, our relationship with him, and the life that he has given us to live.

This week the Real Life, Real Truth study I am leading will begin to examine what is involved in that phrase “citizen of heaven”. The class will be available in person Wednesday evenings in person at 7:00 pm at Mount of Olives Church in Mission Viejo, CA, and will also be available online in a live webinar on Thursday evenings at 9:00 pm PST.

For more information about the class, visit http://realliferealtruth.com or follow us on Twitter @reallifestudy.

I plan to also blog about some highlights here.

Praise God that he has made us citizens of heaven, and has given us such a clear and poignant phrase to help us understand him and the life he has given us.

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Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…
Philippians 3:13-14
If where I am is where God wants me to be then there is no place that I would rather be.
Whether my present circumstance is for my future gain or part of God’s complex eternal plan to bring about good for others matters little.  I know that God is good, and that he is in control.
Do I believe that I am in fact where God wants me to be?
I know that years of prayer and blessings have led me to where I am.  I know that I have intentionally sought the Lord’s will.  I know that I strive to live with “open hands” from which God can remove anything and into which he can place anything.
I know that God is sovereign and can bring about his desired results with or without my willing participation, and that his ultimate will cannot be thwarted, even by my sinful unbelief.  But this does not mean that my every action is necessarily in line with his will:  I want God’s will to be done through me, and not despite me.
There may have been different steps I could have taken during my life that could have led different circumstances.  But I think that my steps were undertaken with prayer and submission and I have confidence that they have been in line with God’s direction.  More than that, I know that forgiveness because of grace covers even my missteps.
When viewed from the vantage point of the present, the past is not instructive for future direction.  Paul exhorts, saying that the one thing he does is press toward the goal–forgetting what is behind.  Forgetting what is behind is a prerequisite for straining toward what is ahead.
George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  While this seems to make pragmatic sense, I am not sure this is particularly sound advise for the Christian.  In scripture, exhortation to remember is always focused on remembering the Lord’s goodness and commands.  The fallacy in Mr. Santayan’s now-cliché phrase is that outcomes, past and present, are not directly the result our doing but rather come from the hand of God.  Our call is not to remember to avoid the mistakes of the past, but rather to remember the goodness and commands of God.
My past actions and those of fellow man serve only to demonstrate our sinful failings.  Even if present circumstance exists in some measure due to past actions and decisions, our call is to repent and obey.  Having repented and having been forgiven, the past serves only to hold us back from pressing forward.
Contemplation of the past brings anxiety, as it robs me of certainty that present circumstance is of God.
Lord, I trust in you.  I resolve not to be anxious for the past, present or future.  My present circumstance is in fact from you.  You have sanctified me and forgiven me.  Who I am and where I am presently is gift from you as much as the future of where you will send me and bring me.  My specific and unique circumstances serve only one purpose: to provide the context in which your love and grace can be made manifest to me and those around me.
Let me forget the past.  Let me remember you.  Let me press forward toward the goal of your great prize for which you have called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

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