Reflections of Glory

Candle, Meditation, Hand, Keep, Heat, Confidence, Rest

Pixabay

One of the most moving memorials I have ever witnessed is the Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  I have written about it in the past, but I refer to it now as an example of a spiritual point that I would like to examine today.  In that memorial space in Israel, a mere five candles are reflected by a series of mirrors to produce an infinite number of points of light.  Those relatively tiny light sources produce a solemn but glorious spectacle.

Glory is often manifested in light, and light in turn is a wonderful metaphor for glory.  One of the definitions of glory in fact is “splendour, brightness, or majesty.”  God is by definition glorious, as He is the ultimate expression of splendour, and majesty.”

The glory of God is referenced throughout scripture.  Isaiah 40:5 tells us that the revelation of that glory will be seen by all: “And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  And that glory shouldn’t be missed or overlooked, for as Psalm 19:1 says: “How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory!  How plainly it shows what he has done!”  We are told in Acts 7:2 that Abraham beheld God’s glory, and in the Exodus account God’s glory took the form of pillars of fire and of cloud.  But this was no mere allegory to link God and nature.  God’s glory was ultimately manifested in his Son.  We see this in John 1:14 – “ The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father’s only Son.”

But here is the thing – just like those reflected beams of light at Yad Vashem, God’s glory can shine through us.  We are reflections of His glory.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:14-16 that “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl/bushel. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  And this attestation of God’s people should not be a surprise.  Paul wrote in Romans 2:10, “But God will give glory, honor, and peace to all who do what is good, to the Jews first and also to the Gentiles.”  God-servers, those who do good (a godly good) will shine with his glory.

Are we being the glorious examples of the One who shines within in us today?  Let’s get rid of those bushels.

 

Padre

 

Video of Children’s Memorial

Witness*

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Luca Giordano – Crucifixion of St Peter: Wikimedia Commons

Simon Peter stood before the emperor.  He did not avert his gaze, but stood confidently before the most powerful man in Europe and beyond.

“I understand you have been causing unrest throughout my realm,” Caesar stated.  “They tell me that Herod failed to kill you, and that you somehow escaped.  It will not be such a simple matter here.  So tell me what are these exaggerated tales you peddle?”

“Your Majesty,  Jesus Christ – a righteous man – was falsely charged and executed by you Roman’s.  But he has come back to life, and of this I am a witness,” Peter proclaimed.

“Nonsense,” the emperor snapped. “The dead do not return to life.  I charge you to depart, and never speak such fanciful yarns again.”

“Yes Mighty Caesar, but I am constrained to tell the truth that Jesus Christ – a righteous man – was falsely  . . . ,” Peter said boldly.

“Yes, yes.  You have had your say, now no more of it!”

“But Jesus Christ – a righteous man, was falsely charged, and . . . ,” Peter rejoined.

“Do you not understand that I have the power to kill you?” Caesar bellowed.

“Yes, Your Highness, But Jesus Christ – a . . . .”

“Do you not realise that I am going to crucify you?” the emperor warned.

“No, Caesar.  Not that I beg you.  I am not worthy to die in the manner of Jesus.  For he was a righteous man . . . .”

And Peter remained bold in his proclamation.  He even then repeated his testimony, and he in his boldness was spared being executed “in the manner of Jesus.”  Simon Peter, the fisherman from Galilee was crucified upside down.

 

Padre

*based on extra-biblical tradition.

Tuesday Writing Prompt Challenge: Tuesday, August 26, 2019: Crucified

 

 

Testify or Not To Testify?

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Faith is in crisis! Now that I have your attention, it seems that in Western Europe (Britain and France especially) Christian faith is on the decline. Is this an objective statement? According to polls and official censuses the answer may be yes. Fewer people state a belief in God (according to YouGov “33% of British adults do not believe in God or a greater spiritual power of any kind”). The 2011 census had only 59% of the British population as Christian.

Many of my students express an atheistic world view. But do these views, especially those expressed in a public forum, stack up? While outward confidence in God is seen to be a minority view, especially among the young, does this mean it is actually in numerical decline? Is it an issue of being timid in the face of potential ridicule rather than a lack belief or at least hope in God.

Fair enough the scriptures, and the traditions of the champions of the faith, and the martyrs of old would hold such a “silent belief” to be a betrayal.  This is not to justify the timid by the way. I have written several times about the current obsession with worldly fame, and the desire for public acceptance.  In a world of “image,” people shy from anything that might make them “the other.”

I don’t know the answer to my previous questions by the way. Is it a real decline in the number who believe? Is it just a decline in the strength of faith and dedication? Whatever the case there seems to be an imperative for those of faith to make a stand.  If numbers are falling, are we stepping into the breech and actively “recruiting.” Are we making the witness we should? If it is that faith is meek, are we being bold examples?

If it seems that the being “faithless” is normative, are we missing the chance to say, “wait a minute – your faith isn’t alone.” In I Kings, Elijah believed he was alone in his worship of God.  God corrected him!  For those with doubts today, do we leave them with the same feeling? Is our testimony also too quiet, as to make others feel “alone?”

For those with faith, let’s make it bold.  For those with leadership, let us give example! Psalm 89: 1- 2 is a wonderful approach. I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.” Think about it, if we all did, all the time, might the sense of decline be shown to be false.  If we have a voice of testimony, would anyone be able to hide behind the facade of their own silence?

Padre

More Than Just Image

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Integrity is a great concept.  It is about who we are, who we really are. We are more than image.  It is our inner self, that matters. But today, too much emphasis is put on the externals.

Where do the externals get us? There have been many cases in recent years of role models failing in their example. They are often role models because of the externals. Whether they are entertainment celebs, sports stars, and yes, ministers of the word, these failing models have had things in their lives that have brought about public condemnation, and a fall in popularity.

In this world of instant “news” and social media it doesn’t take long for iniquity to be exposed. But do we fail to remember that it isn’t public opinion that should keep us on the “straight and narrow.” Solomon wrote, Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out (Proverbs 10:9).”

The Hebrews writer puts this in context for us, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Hebrews 4:13).” Are we mindful of God’s view of us? Do we live with integrity, or do we hope that somehow our “secret selves” will be hidden?

Integrity is much under-appreciated today, however. It in part comes down to self discipline, something that a “if it feels good do it” morality shies from.  When I was at university, one professor speaking on the idea of discipline said, “As a parent you have about 18 years to instill discipline, then it is up to the child to make it their own.” How archaic that sounds in 2018.  I have witnessed a shift over the years as an educator.  From parents totally supporting teachers, to “I can’t tell them off, they are my friend”, to  “I can’t discipline them they might hurt me.” But it is not the outward, even in youth, that should be the driving force in integrity.  It is heart motive.  The desire to be good, and to have relationship with God and man.

It is heart motive that is difficult to hide, it is often the herald, of the failings we would like hid.But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander (Matthew 15: 18-19).” Yet, how often do we hear people make a really hurtful, selfish, or rude statement, only to conclude “only joking?”

I started this post with allusion to celebrities, but really the focus here is on ourselves.  Are we people of integrity?  Do we have a heart motive of service? Do we seek to live godly lives, or do we try to hold a little back for ourselves?  Lord, help us to be people of integrity.

Padre

 

 

Testimony

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Testimony (noun):

“a formal written or spoken statement, especially one given in a court of law.”
“evidence or proof of something”
       The term testimony also has a religious connotation. “A public recounting of a religious conversion or experience.”
       It is that context that I have most often come into contact with testimonies.
      Religious testimonies vary greatly, and it is a great evidence that all are called (even if few respond).  I recent times I have been witness to three such public declarations.
       The first by a pastor, who had been involved in gang life, was a drug dealer, and who had faced brutal encounters with law enforcement. He only later through the prayers of those who nevertheless loved him, found Christ.
       The second, a pastor who had felt the call to ministry from his early teens, and spent his life on the path of Christian service.
       The third by a sister, who had a traumatic childhood, and yet found God in her late teens, but who still took years to find true solace in God’s promises.
       What do they have in common? They were personal encounters with God. God finds us where we are. No two of us have the same life experience. Each of us has our own story to tell, our own hurts and hurdles to overcome.
       The apostles Peter and Paul show us this. Peter a rough and ready fisherman.  A man who spoke his mind.  Yet, when he first encountered Jesus, runs from Him.  “Go away Lord, I am a sinful man.”
       Paul, raised at the feet of one of the leading rabbis of Judaism, a man full of commitment to religious tradition, and orthodoxy, still had to have an encounter.  This man, who believed so fervently in his vision of God’s expectations, had to become blind in order to see the truth.
       Our testimonies may seem trivial to us.  We may feel our stories are not important.  We may think others have so much more to share than we do.  But, have you ever considered that others may be in a similar life position to you?
       Most of us are “Joe or Joan Ordinaries,” we are not former drug dealers, alcoholics, or glowing examples of righteousness. We in our day to day struggles have met God in our own way.  Maybe that is what someone in a similar position needs to hear.
       God had bought you with a price. He found you in your journey, and led you onwards. Perhaps today is the day, YOUR story needs to be heard by those who need it.
        Are you a Peter? A Paul? Maybe neither, but you are you – a child of God. Go tell the world about the relationship you have with your Daddy. You might just acquire a few siblings because of the effort.
Padre

Beyond General Revelation

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When we come to the topic of God’s revelation to humanity, my students are taught that such manifestations take two forms: General and Specific Revelation.

  • General revelation is the universally available, but indirect revealing of truth. God can be revealed through reason, conscience, the natural world, or moral sense.
  • Specific revelation is direct revelation to an individual or a group. This sort of revelation includes dreams, visions, experience and prophecy, and the scriptures inspired by them.

I have written before about the design and cosmological arguments for the existence of God. These are forms of general revelation via reason.  The experience of the “still small voice” is similarly known and experienced by many, and Cardinal Newman’s moral argument grows from this, and expands upon the moral sense.

Romans 1: 19-25 reflects upon the natural world’s ability to teach the nature and existence of God.  Yet, humanity still fails to recognise it.

” . . .  since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.”

This inability, or refusal to recognise general revelation, has led God to directly speak to us.  The prophets were given direct revelation of God.  Their recorded experiences and insights formed the body of scripture, and  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3: 16-17).”

Greater still was the revelation of the coming of Emmanuel.  God came to be with us.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. . . . The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1).”

The gospels contain the testimony of this ultimate revelation of God manifesting Himself. We are the inheritors of these revelations.  We have the prophets, and the gospels. These in our hands and hearts give us all the tools of 2 Timothy 3, but there is more.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).”

We have the means to change the world.  We have the dual revelations of nature, morality, and reason; and the specific God-breathed revelation of scripture.  We are gifted beyond general revelation.

Marshall Keeble said, “You’ve got a book and you can take that book and conquer the world, but you can’t do it with it under your arm. You’ve got to have it in your heart.”  If in our hearts, then we too should be “alive and active,” informing and changing the world.

Padre

Ten Thought-provoking Quotes by the Brothers Wesley

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John Wesley (photo credit: )

Although John Wesley never intended to start a separate denomination, he did spark a movement. His call to Christian service and devotion inspired a generation and beyond. While it may not be provable, as many points in history are not, I had a professor in my graduate study who maintained that the reason the English did not have a French-style revolution was largely on account of Wesleyan/Methodist ideals. Political implications aside, the brothers Wesley called people to seek and serve God, and their fellow man.

1.”Be friends of everyone. Be enemies of no-one.” Charles Wesley

In seeking fellowship with one’s fellows, peace must necessarily follow. Jesus had said, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Charles reminded us of that.

John Wesley took this idea of brotherhood and neighbourly love to a new level which moved beyond parochial boundaries. 2.”I look upon the whole world as my parish.” John Wesley

But John went beyond mere sentiment in his reaching out to all men.  For him it was a duty. 3. “[W]ere I to let any soul drop into the pit whom I might have saved from everlasting burnings, I am not satisfied that God would accept my plea ‘Lord, he was not of my parish’.” John Wesley

The Wesleys traveled thousands of miles in this pursuit.  John proclaiming the word of God in his teaching and sermons, and Charles magnifying God in his hymns. John summed up this attitude of service well,  4. “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” John Wesley 

Miles of travel on horseback, sea journeys, and exposure to the dangers of such endeavours did take a toll. Their message was not always well received, either.  But As for all those who “take up their crosses” to follow Jesus, Charles remarked,  5. “The person who bears and suffers evils with meekness and silence is the sum of a Christian man.” Charles Wesley

The mission was greater than the hardship. Fear of man, fear of elements, and even the fear of evil were not to stand in the way. 6. “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.” John Wesley 

“The desire of nothing but God,” seeking and serving him with gladness was on the tongue of the Wesleys. 7. “Rejoice, the Lord is King! Your Lord and King adore; Mortals, give thanks and sing, And triumph evermore: Lift up your heart, lift up your voice; Rejoice, again, I say rejoice.” Charles Wesley

And why rejoice? Why desire nothing less than Him? John remarked, 8. “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” John Wesley

So the Wesleys preached, wrote and served.  As should we, single-mindedly and faithful. 9. I build on Christ, the rock of ages; on his sure mercies described in his word, and on his promises, all which I know are yea and amen.” John Wesley


We God’s people should show the same faith and dedication as John and Charles. We should have the same heart to reach the lost. And we God’s people should seek to share the Wesley’s vision of border-less, boundary-less fellowship. Remember we are 10. “One family–we dwell in Him, One church above, beneath . . .” Charles Wesley

Padre

 

 

Speaking Beyond Fear and Doubt

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Of Oratory

Of General Application

The fear of public speaking is a much commented upon topic.  Some studies suggest that it is in the top five social anxieties, and at least one puts it above the fear of death. Yet, most of us are comfortable sharing our views with our own “dear and near.” But why should it be so?  Is it the conviction that friends and family “have your back” or the assumption that their affection for you will override any faux pas?  If this is the case then we are building our security through familiarity.  Fair enough.

But if we see this as security, how much more can we take comfort in anonymity?  An audience is often addressed only once. And is it likely that a group of people who have gathered to hear you will bear you any ill will?  Why then did they bother to come?  Audiences have spent time, and sometimes money to come.  They too have your back, they have a vested interest.  They want you to succeed.

If what you say is safe with friends, then saying it to others is also safe.  If your message is worth sharing, it is equally valuable to any hearers. Roger Love has rightly observed that, “All speaking is public speaking, whether it’s to one person or a thousand.”

Of Christian Application

So far I have been “speaking” to anyone who has apprehension about addressing others, and especially those who dread speaking to strangers.  But to those who are aspiring pastors or other Christian “labouers in the field,” the point is even more fervently made to you.  You have been entrusted with “the words of life.”  How much more should you feel bold with your message, which in deed is not “yours” at all but that of “He who has sent you?”

Look at the call of Moses,

So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’Then what shall I tell them?”  God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you’ (Exodus 3: 10-14)”

Moses was sent (as are we)! But even with his more profound “call to serve” than any of us can hope for, he nonetheless responded,

“Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say (Exodus 4:10-12).”

His hesitation was countered by God.  And this message is not just for pastors and evangelists. Remember always that “go ye” means “go me.”

Take heart as you speak.  Make the message pure and relevant, and it will be heard.  If it is not spoken, it cannot be heard.  If it cannot be heard, it cannot be listened to. If it isn’t listened to, it cannot be heeded. And remember that at least of you listeners is among your “near and dear.” So near and dear that He laid His life down for you.

Padre

Truth: Beyond the Masks

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Mask

Pilate asked the question, “What is truth?”.

We all like to be liked.  To achieve this many people create a narrative and external image that is appealing to their target audience. This in time becomes their own “reality” no matter how much falsehood, or masquerading  is involved. Some people are so caught up in the the fabrications of their own story, that they cannot recognise the truth in others. This is sad, as even those who realise that their own facade is phony, come to believe everyone else equally duplicitous.  There becomes a lack of belief in integrity.

The Christian witness counters this.  Everyone is flawed (you, me, everyone).  Honest Christian witness is not that we are perfect, but that we are forgiven for our shortcomings.  How much more powerful is that to tell the world – “I am flawed, just like you, and it doesn’t matter in eternity, because there is One who will accept us regardless.”   We don’t need to put on masks, as the One who sees through all masks, still is willing to accept us as we are.  What is better than liking being liked? Loving being loved!

This mask wearing does however have a pervasive power in today’s world.  In a world of “self” the image of that self becomes more important than truth itself. Some mask-wearers even take pride in their ability to see beyond the masks of others. But, they themselves, play their self appointed roles, in order to sell their lies to the widest possible audience.

And why do people do this? Jesus notes in John 8: 44, the origin:

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father, he was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Such sons of the devil (or sons of this world) thrive on deceit.  Luke records Jesus’ parable of the corrupt steward in 16: 1-8,

 “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.  I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measure of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’  So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.”  

While Jesus’ story was illustrative of a different point, it nonetheless shows the attitude difference of “the sons of this world” and “the sons of light.” Truth, and integrity are outpourings of light. Jesus said in John 14: 6, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” God with us, the Emmanuel was the embodiment of truth.  And if we are in Him, we should be manifesting Truth.

In fact Jesus promised that better than image, we can have freedom in the truth. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).”

Why live in a world of masks, when real freedom, and real acceptance is found in the truth?

Padre

Addendum: My wife and I have been assailed of late by lies.  Some have been perpetrated by those who cannot see beyond their own masks. Others have been deliberate attempts to deceive and to benefit financially at our expense. Very few have been direct lies about us, as they have mostly been lies to us.  Some hurt has additionally been heaped on by belittling our own honesty.  No, not assertions we are dishonest, but attacks on our faith for being “Too Honest” and our “stupidity” for not “seeking advantage” by lying. Whatever the motivations of those who have assailed us however, devastation and pain are still the consequence.  I pray that I can be a walker in the truth, and that I do not cause the same distress in others.

 

 

 

 

Christian Example: “Walking the Walk”

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Photo credited to Jay Westcott

Let’s face it, organised religion is getting a lot of bad press these days.  There are those in the media that would like to paint not only “religion” but all people of faith as hypocritical. Fair enough “religions” have made terrible mistakes and failed to truly promote the values of their founders, much less God Himself.  This does not however mean that faith is invalid.

It is our faith, and our desire to live up to the values and expectations of God, that should drive us. In this light we should reflect on the “Great Commission.” If we are to go into all the world making disciples, we need to “practice what we preach.”  If not, we will only feed the world’s “all believers are hypocrites” bias.

The 19th Century evangelist, D.L Moody noted, “A good example is far better than a good precept.”  And while not a Christian, Mahatma Gandhi echoed this view when he said, “An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”  More importantly, Jesus made this a clear principle for us to follow, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:16 ).”

This “teaching by example” is not just for our impact on skeptics, or militant atheists, however. We need to remember that we have weaker brethren, and our own children to consider as well. Roy L. Smith reminds us that, “We are apt to forget that children watch examples better than they listen to preaching.” Our actions, then, are the first step in our responsible raising of our young, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it (Proverbs 22:6).”

With no intention of cliche, let us practice what we preach; and with full intention of cliche “if we are going to talk the talk, then walk the walk.” But better still, let us steadfastly remember Paul’s admonition of Philippians 4:8,

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

And by application, do these things!

Padre

 

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