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church faith millennials religion Uncategorized

Why Is A Generation Leaving Religion?

Neal Pollard

Pew Research Center recently revealed that “Four in ten millennials (those, according to this source, currently between 23 and 38) now say they are religiously unaffiliated”(fivethirtyeight.com). The data seems to indicate that “today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good” (ibid.). A contemporary study put out by the American Enterprise Institute reveals at least three reasons why: (1) They didn’t have strong religious ties growing up, (2) Their spouses are more likely to be nonreligious, and (3) They feel religious institutions are not relevant for shaping the morality and religion (or nonreligion) of their children. Parental example, dating choices, and biblical literacy and faith, then, are major drivers in this discussion. 

Those polled revealed their thinking. A majority felt that religious people are less tolerant of others, less informed or even intelligent than their secular counterparts, and less necessary for shaping their family’s moral viewpoints. At least, reading this one study and the authors’ interpretation, it seems that leaving church is a deliberate lifestyle choice of people who at least sometimes are encouraged out the door by poor examples of faith. 

Notice the startling closing paragraph of the article, which states,

Of course, millennials’ religious trajectory isn’t set in stone — they may yet become more religious as they age. But it’s easier to return to something familiar later in life than to try something completely new. And if millennials don’t return to religion and instead begin raising a new generation with no religious background, the gulf between religious and secular America may grow even deeper (“Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back,” 12/12/19, Cox, Daniel, and Amelia Thompson-DeVeaux). 

I found it important to share those findings for these reasons:

  • It is a matter of crisis. People abandoning God’s Word and will is foreboding (Judges 2:10ff; 2 Timothy 3:1ff; 4:3-4; 2 Peter 3:3ff). It is happening, and it must matter to us. It does to God. 
  • It is a matter of correction. The home can change course if it is on the broad way. Individual Christians can improve their ethics and morality in public (Ephesians 4:25ff). Soul-conscious Christians can make the most of our opportunities to share Jesus in Christlike fashion (2 Timothy 2:24-26). We must change what we can change. 
  • It is a matter of consequence. A culture does not get where ours currently is as the result of sincere devotion to Christ and His Word. Hosea 4:6 is incredibly relevant. The law of sowing and reaping is immutable, for good and bad (Galatians 6:7-8). Whatever we exalt as guide is leading us somewhere.
  • It is a matter of courage. The only way I can see for this to change is for you and me to not just believe something or hold a conviction. The early Christians didn’t confine their faith to the holy huddles of the assemblies. They stood up for Jesus every day and every way. 

Two of my three sons are millennials and the third is only a couple of years too young to qualify. This is, largely, their generation. They and their faithful Christian peers are faced with reaching them, and they need our help. Talk to them and have honest conversation about how to raise your effectiveness together in stopping and reversing this exodus. This is not about preserving a comfortable lifestyle, which is threatened by sin (Proverbs 14:34). This is about preserving souls, which will face Jesus some day (Matthew 25:31ff). 

Walking Away

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death example influence Uncategorized

The Influence Of Papaw Mitchell

Neal Pollard

May 14, 2004, was the day I preached my maternal grandfather’s funeral. It was a signal honor to do so. He had passed away early on Wednesday morning, May 12. The morning he passed, I wrote this about him:

Within you today are a temper and trends
A view toward the unfolding tomorrow
Have you stopped to question on what that depends
From what spiritual bank you do borrow?

Though each person forges his own internal road
Based on unique decisions and conscience
Before him to help pave it is an influence to goad
A role model, an example bestowed.

For those so endowed with a godly loved one
One righteous, driven by the Giver of grace.
To see their own faith is to look at one done
A journeyman who victoriously ran his own race.

I know one like that, a follower of Him
Who led much family both of flesh and of faith
Who shaped hearts and lives in times good and times grim
Who laid course that to follow was safe.

When we all get to heaven and give praises unending
Who knows what will be or how we’ll appear?
I know that for anyone in that Paradise spending
That all who shaped our faith will be clear.

Everyone that knew Harold Edward Mitchell, Sr., was closer to heaven because of his influence. He lived over 90 years, converting from denominationalism in young adulthood and ultimately serving decades as an elder. At his funeral, I shared five facts about my “Papaw Mitchell.”

  • He loved his family. He wasn’t gregarious, but rather reserved. Yet, he taught his family the right way to live and how to face death, to know what ultimately counts, what was right and what was wrong.
  • He had a sense of adventure. From semipro baseball as a teen to seeing the entire country in retirement, a lifelong cotton farmer had a wider view of the world. He came of age in the depression and endured some terrible grief, but no one could remember hearing him complain. 
  • He worked hard. He wasn’t a waster of resources, least of all time. He was up with the sun and down with the sunset. He instilled that work ethic in his children and grandchildren. 
  • He put Christ above all else. As a Christian, he took what the Bible guided him to do and be in life at face value. His life went beyond mere rule-keeping. He kept the rules, but he loved the rule-maker. You could see Jesus living in him.
  • He was ready to die. That’s the most important thing any of us could have said of us.

I saw grandpa the Monday night before he passed away. He was able to talk, but it was the first time I saw him that I felt he might not live forever in that earthly body he took such good care of. It was probably the first time I thought seriously about my own mortality. Our spirits are engineered for eternity, but our bodies of clay wind down more each day. In the fifteen years that have passed since then, I am more aware of that than I was even then. Our pilgrimage here won’t go on indefinitely, though we’ll live as long as God lives.

Examples like my Papaw motivate me to clear the hurdles from my path and stay dependent upon God to help me, like him, to finish my face. To die faithful and prepared means to live faithfully and make preparation. One day, someone will speak at your funeral and mine. What can they honestly say about the example and influence we will have left on others?

grandpa mitchell and uncle larry
Papaw (L) and Uncle Larry (my mom’s older brother), probably between 30-40 years ago.
Categories
faithfulness Uncategorized worldliness

The Problems Of A Two-Headed Snake

Neal Pollard

A woman in Woodbridge, Virginia, saw a rarity in her front yard: a two-headed copperhead snake. The snake only has one heart and one set of lungs, but each head has its own brain. This produces multiple problems. Both heads want to eat, and since eating takes time the snake is vulnerable to predators for twice as long. Second, each snake wants to go its own way. That means they can’t respond very quickly when under attack. Even getting water can be precarious, as one head can drag the other down when drinking. An expert at the Wildlife Center of Virginia said, “Based on the anatomy, it would be better for the right head to eat, but it may be a challenge since the left head appears more dominant” (Dana Hedgpeth, The Washington Post, 9/24/18). Experts also say that these internal conflicts prevent these rare “dual-cephalic” creatures from living very long.

James tells us that the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways (1:7) and implies that double-mindedness reflects impurity of heart (4:8). The first instance of the word relates trusting God or doubting in times of trials, and the second relates to following a spiritual leader, whether the devil and the world or God. It is hard to run with the devil and walk with God. So often, there’s the temptation to try to do both. But, this conflict is so basic and so contradictory that it will contribute to our spiritual death. It makes us vulnerable to attack. 

What this requires is decisiveness. Jesus taught, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Mat. 6:24). We must choose who we will listen to (Josh. 24:15). Otherwise, we will remain in peril and we will ultimately, spiritually die. Paul put it this way, that “they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:5-6). The struggle is real, but the problem must be overcome. We must strive to be singleminded in our dedication and devotion. That means we can’t live for the world and the Lord. It is an either/or proposition. Jesus says, “He who is not with Me is against Me; and he who does not gather with Me, scatters” (Luke 11:23). Let’s make the right choice and simplify everything. Let’s honor one head and make it the right one (cf. Eph. 1:22). 

two-headed-snake_759_fb

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choice culture doctrine truth Uncategorized

The Dilemma Of Discipleship: Doctrine Or Duty

Neal Pollard

Obviously, that’s not the dilemma. It is not either/or. It is both/and. But, as the church, we can find ourselves weighted one direction or the other. Some years ago, a close relative of mine was explaining why he had left a congregation that heavily emphasized doctrinal truth but were totally invisible to their community to go to a congregation heavily involved in the community but was not concerned with a distinctive message beyond the Deity and sacrifice of Jesus. Matters like women’s role, church music, the role of baptism in salvation, or even restoring New Testament Christianity were not even on their radar. When I asked him about it, he replied, “Which is worse? A church that teaches right but doesn’t practice, or a church that practices right but teaches wrong?” After a lengthy discussion, my question was, “Why can’t we strive our best to do both?”

Have we convinced ourselves that this is impossible, that one of the two have to be sacrificed upon the altar of faith? It cannot be! The early church impacted their community. They shared. They helped. They were known (Acts 2:47; 6:7; 17:6; Col. 1:23). But, their message was distinct beyond just a few vital facts about who Jesus is and what He did. There was an emphasis on teaching (Acts 2:42; 1 Tim. 4:16; 2 John 9-11; Jude 3). The inspired writers didn’t say, “If you have to choose one, choose Jesus.” No, choosing Jesus meant choosing to follow all that He commanded (Mat. 28:20; Col. 3:17).

We need to challenge ourselves by asking, “What are we doing to reach this community? Do the people near the building know about Jesus through us? Do our neighbors, co-workers, and other friends?” Yet, in increasing our efforts to be known to our community, will we have the courage to stand upon the rock of revealed truth (cf. John 8:32)? It is possible to do both, but we will always have to check and challenge ourselves. We can remain reverent and relevant. But we will always be fighting a tension between isolation and indistinctiveness. Let us have the faith and boldness to make that effort. The church is in a prime position to grow, given the cultural climate. We must be there, seen and heard for Him. If they did it in the first-century, we can do it today! Let’s keep trying.

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choice Christian living Christianity eternal life eternity salvation Uncategorized

Why Travel The Road Less Taken?

Neal Pollard

Gunnar Garfors is the youngest “hobby traveler” to have visited every country in the world. He’s written a book about it, entitled 198: How I Ran Out Of Countries. I have not read the book, but his website offers a very interesting article on The 25 Least Visited Countries in the Whole Wide World. Guess which one is least visited. He tells us, statistically, it is Nauru, a Pacific island country with no capital and no armed forces. It is 8.1 square miles in size, having only 10,000 inhabitants. They have the world’s highest level of type 2 diabetes and the highest obesity rate in the world (97% of men and 93% of women are overweight or obese). It has no seaport and no daily news publications. Perhaps some or all of these factors lead this country to be most frequently avoided by travelers, but somebody has to own that distinction (read more here: Independent UK, BBC, and Gunnar Garfors).  Perhaps none of these facts inspire you to work to help Nauru lose its notorious tourism distinction.

Robert Frost wrote his famous poem about the two roads which diverged in a yellow wood. He took the one less traveled by, and that made all the difference.  It appears he may have actually stood before such a fork, but he used the experience to speak metaphorically. We can all appreciate this figurative choice. We must choose a path in life, and the one we choose does make all the difference!

Jesus uses such a metaphor to describe the way of life we choose on this earth. He says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Mat. 7:13-14). In this familiar passage, He gives us multiple reasons why we should take His way.

  • Its aim (“leads to life”).
  • Its alternative (“leads to destruction”).
  • Its autonomy (it is a road each one chooses to “enter through”; it is not arbitrarily chosen for us).
  • Its assumption (one must choose between these two, and no other, ways).
  • Its accessibility (it can be “entered” and “found”).
  • Its attainability (Jesus says “few” find it and not “none” find it).
  • Its associability (one is not absolutely alone, for there are “few” rather than “none”).

Jesus compares our brief time on this earth with a road trip. We are not fated to stay on the broad way, but we are not unconditionally guaranteed a spot on the narrow road. As Frost surveyed the two paths and made his choice, so must we. Jesus says we make this decision daily (cf. Lk. 9:23). And our choices determine which path we are traveling. Be deliberate and prepared for this arduous journey that terminates all too quickly. The right choice is the one less taken and most avoided, but take it anyway!

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That’s the whole country of Nauru
Categories
authority choice free will freedom truth Uncategorized

The Logical Progression Of The Line

Neal Pollard

Suddenly, it has become imperative that bathroom concessions be made for those who are struggling with gender identity issues. The comprehensively consuming coverage it has garnered, the blistering backlash against any opposing of this baffling blurring of the lines, and the preeminent priority this has become for a problem pestering a puny percentage of the population is actually not surprising. At least, it should not be.

The premise behind “transgender rights” is the same as that behind gay rights, but also the “right” to choose abortion, the “right” to become sexually active before marriage, the “right” to divorce and remarry at will—as well as the “right” to commit adultery. Neither does this clamor for rights reserve itself to matters identified in scripture as sexual sins. The watchwords of our culture include “feel,” “want,” “choose,” and the variants of “I,” “me,” and “my.” Self has been enthroned and each call to express, practice, and flaunt each co-opted right is expected to be not just tolerated by everyone else, but wholly embraced by them.

If you think our society lost its collective mind overnight, you have not been paying attention. If you think that this sickening syndrome was born in the 21st Century, you are likewise mistaken. We are seeing the spoiled fruit of sinister seed planted by mankind in every generation since the first generation.  There is a moral ebb and flow in every civilization and generation, but the issue is ever-present. The majority succumb to the temptation to crown our desires and condemn the declarations of Deity.

It was an illuminating moment, looking at Mark 8:34-35 last night during Teens In The Word. Michael Hite pointed out a thread used by Mark that’s summed up in those two verses. Several times, Mark speaks of what individuals “want” or “desire.” Herodias wanted to kill John the Baptist (6:19). Her daughter wanted his head as payment for the dance which pleased Herod so much (6:25). Herod did not want to refuse her (6:26). People did whatever they wished with John the Baptist (9:13). Jesus speaks of those who desire to be first (9:35). James and John wanted a position of prominence (10:35). Jesus warns about those who desire greatness (10:43-44). But, if we desire to come after Jesus—to be His disciple—we must put self to death! This is a radical idea, one completely rejected by the world. Instead, the world says to keep moving the line to wherever you want it. You decide! You’re the boss. Discipleship acknowledges that God and His Word determine where the lines are drawn. We follow Jesus and stay behind His lines.

But Jesus does not ask us to do what He did not do to the greatest degree. Facing His imminent death on the cross, Jesus prayed in the garden, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will” (14:36). All these words, variously translated “desire,” “want,” and “will” in Mark’s gospel, are from a single Greek word meaning “to desire to have or experience something; wish to have” (Louw-Nida, BDAG). Jesus followed His Father’s will and denied His own. In essence, He says to us in Mark 8:34-35, if you want My salvation, you must do the same thing. The world doesn’t get that, but we must! This life is not about getting everything we want. It’s about self-denial, murdering self-will, and following Jesus. It’s about staying within His lines when it comes to everything. That’s a message we must gently share with a world bent on a self-destructive, self-guided journey!

line-in-the-sand

Categories
decision procrastination regret Uncategorized

THE PRISON OF “NOT”

Neal Pollard

Strayer University shared their video from the day they ran an ingenious experiment in New York City.  They put up a chalkboard on a busy street with this caption written at the top: “Write Your Biggest Regret.”  Scores of people wrote on the chalkboard.  Nearly every answer visible in the video included the word “not.” Interestingly, it was not confessions of sins of commission. Instead, it was about opportunities missed, dreams not pursued, and things they failed to do.

That exercise made me wonder how many are inmates in the prison of “not.”  While Strayer seemed more interested in highlighting regrets that were tied to career, that impacted quality of physical life, and the like, regret reigns in people’s hearts and has dominion over their spiritual and eternal lives, too.  Scripture shows us those challenged with the gospel message who ultimately refused to follow Christ. The rich young ruler was not willing to choose Christ over his stuff (Mat. 19:22). Many of the rulers believed in Him, but they put their stock in the approval of men rather than God (John 12:42-43). Felix trembled at truth, but ultimately turned away (Acts 24:25). His cohort, Agrippa, was nearly there but not quite (Acts 26:28).  Other examples can be found of those who came so far but would go no further.

How many people have been shown the way to eternal life and have acknowledged, to a point, that it is the way they should go? Yet, when push comes to shove, they refuse to leave the cell of self and confine themselves to the chains of a condemning choice. Before Christ, they will see their regrets realized in a rejection that cannot be remedied.

The incredible news is that they keys are in reach of this prison.  It was a running gag in the Andy Griffith show that particularly Barney would leave the keys on the peg of the Mayberry jail where the prisoners could reach the keys and let themselves out. Would you picture our spiritual circumstances this way? The Psalmist praises God for many reasons, including the fact that “the Lord sets the prisoners free” (146:7). In a Messianic passage, Isaiah writes of His mission to “proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners” (61:1; cf. Luke 4:18; 7:22; Mat. 11:5). He can emancipate lifelong slaves to sin (Heb. 2:15). He has left the keys where we can grab them, but we must want to be free and choose to be free.

This video ends with the participants taking an eraser and removing all the regrets from the board. One of them writes just two words in their place: “Clean slate.”  What an optimistic, hopeful, empowering difference that contrasting concept is. Regret can be replaced with resolve. Do you believe that is possible for your spiritual life? Don’t you think God wants you to experience that exhilarating hope? The proof is there at Golgotha and the sepulcher that could not keep His Son entombed. What He did there can provide you with a clean slate! Take possession of the freedom He came to give you!

Strayer video link: http://aplus.com/s/83d4dc91dee

paxp-deijewhat-is-your-biggest-regret-strayer-university-chalkboard-video-new-york-city-960x420

Categories
attitude discipleship joy

Enemies Of Contentment

Neal Pollard

Contentment is a learned trait (Ph. 4:11). It is a disciplined trait (1 Ti. 6:8). It is a commanded trait (He. 13:5).  Yet, it is such a rare trait! Some, like Dr. Rick Hanson, have written elaborate explanations for how contentment is a science, a matter of utilizing the neural capacity of the brain to hardwire positive experience into “contentment, calm, and confidence” (Hardwiring Happiness, New York: Harmony, 2013).  What he relegates to science, which we would attribute Christ as the creator of (Col. 1:16-17), is something even more and higher. It is something we learn from living life as His disciple. It is a spiritual discipline, gained from imitating Christ and His blueprint for living in this world. That said, we must watch out for the landmines to living the happy, satisfied, and fulfilled life God intended for us whatever circumstances we face in life (cf. 2 Co. 12:10).

  • Envy. Envy is “a state of ill will toward someone because of some real or presumed advantage experienced by such a person” (Louw-Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the N.T., 1996, p. 759). It is hard to be content with my circumstances when I am focused on how much better I think someone else has it. In fact, I will be full of resentment rather than contentment. Ironically, feeding this mindset makes joy and satisfaction impossible!
  • Ungratefulness. Paul marked being ungrateful as a sign of “difficult times” (2 Tim. 3:1,3). Have you noticed how some people, however hard life beats them up, remain upbeat? Maybe you conclude that they are just naturally inclined to be positive. But what about people who seem miserable and dissatisfied despite countless advantages and blessings? Gratitude, like contentment, is a learned discipline. When we don’t learn it, we darken our hearts with the evil of ungratefulness. Not being thankful is a link on a deadly chain that leads one to a lost state. Paul said some knew God, but “they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21).
  • Greed. You will notice that some of heaven’s harshest words are reserved for the greedy (Lk. 12:15; Rom. 1:29; Ep. 5:3; Co. 3:5; 1 Th. 2:5; 2 Pt. 2:3,14). It is lumped in with the most despicable of behaviors. What is it?  It is a desire to want more than others whether we need it or not. We think in terms of material possessions, and while that is a significant aspect of greed it can extend to the relationships, perceived happiness or popularity we witness others having. Our society tells us to pursue “top dog” position, letting no one have more or be more than you. That mentality kills contentment.

Whatever science is involved in contentment, there certainly is also an art. Better said, it is a spiritual discipline. You incorporate it only through diligence and persistence. Be aware of the enemies of contentment and root them out! You will be the beneficiary, and so will everyone who knows you.

Categories
choice decision politics Uncategorized

THE POLLS ARE OPEN

Neal Pollard

All over the nation, poll levers are being pulled, votes cast, and the office of many political positions is in the process of being filled by the winning candidate. People in this place of democracy are, at this moment, helping to decide the political fate of individuals vying for a place of public leadership. Those elected may or may not be persons of worth and integrity. Their careers may be starting, extending, or ending, depending on the majority’s say. They may gain or lose a place of authority based on their political, international, domestic, economic, and social philosophies. After all, public officials are always vulnerable to the fickle feelings of the voter.

Everywhere in the world at every moment, everyone is casting a vote of a different nature. Only one figurative ballot is used in this worldwide decision. Only two choices appear on the ballot. The issues are paramount in importance. This vote is not cast secretly behind a curtain, either. Many times, a righteous minority may be caused to suffer because of the foolish “majority vote” (cf. Proverbs 14:34). When all of life is over, the voting record of every individual will be made public. In fact, all people of all nations for all time will know which choice every individual elected to make in his life. And yet, with this poll, one can change his vote as long as life and opportunity are his.

Does the Kingdom take PRIMARY importance in your life? In Matthew 6:33, Jesus says, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Mat. 6:33). The head of this kingdom is Christ “and he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18, emp. NP). God demands first place. We must love Him more than anyone or anything else (Lk. 10:27). Whatever keeps us from attending the worship assembly, from actively seeking the lost, and from modeling true Christianity before the world, takes priority over serving and obeying God in His Kingdom.

Are you casting the VOTE of your life for or against Jehovah? All Israel stood before Joshua to decide to whom their life belonged. In Joshua 24:15, Joshua had said “God or gods.” “And the people answered and said, God forbid that we should forsake the Lord, to serve other gods; For the Lord our God, he it is that brought up and our fathers out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage, and which did those great signs in our sight, and preserved us in all the way wherein we went, and among all the people through whom we passed: And the Lord drave out from before us all the people, even the Amorites which dwelt in the land: therefore will we also serve the Lord: for he is our God” (Josh. 24:16-18). The people of God cast their vote out of appreciation, for they remembered the deliverance of God. The people of God cast their vote out of attention, for they recognized the power of God. The people of God cast their vote out of alarm, for they revered the justice of God. The people of God cast their vote out of aversion, for they rejected the enemies of God. Joshua reminded them that God would go with them only as long as they went with God. Because God is a jealous God who wants first place in our lives, He expects the import of our lives to reflect our submission and trust in His way.

Does King Jesus REIGN in your heart? The promise of Christ’s coming included the announcement of Gabriel, who said, “And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Lk. 1:33; cf. Dan. 2:44). The “throne of the heart” is often mentioned in figurative language. All of us place something there. We place our accumulation before that throne (Matt. 6:21), our affections around that throne (Col. 3:1; Rom. 12:2), and our allegiance before that throne (Jas. 4:4; 1 Jn. 2:15-17). Is Jesus “a resident” in the “castle” of your heart? If so, is He King or peasant to you? The Bible calls Jesus “the King of the ages” (1 Tim. 1:17), “The blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings…” (1 Tim. 6:15), and “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16). How much greater than the mere prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2) is our Almighty King Jesus!

God created every person with the ability to freely choose. He will not rule us dictatorially (tyrannically). He leaves the power of choice in our hand. Yet, we must choose carefully. The decision we make has eternal consequences. King Jesus says, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day. For I did not speak on My own initiative, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me commandment, what to say, and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life; therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (Jn. 12:48-50). Whether we elect Him King of our lives or not, He has been appointed by God to judge us on an appointed day. The polls are open. Will you choose Christ and His law?

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