Turn And Be Blessed


One of the chief ways God blesses a man is by turning him away from his wickedness. 

God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.

Acts 3:26

Strapped for time today, so allow me to get directly to my point.  I see a pervasive reluctance to call sin sin in the wider Christian environment in America.  Not in every Christian church or in every Christsian home or in every Christian pub, but definitely as the majority posture of the mainstream American Protestant environment.  I see a fear of offending the dominant culture, the one that is dark and under the sway of Satan and in need of a Savior (see Ephesians 2:1-3).  It’s a sort of, “Yes, yes, we know abortion is murder and homosexuality is sinful, but why do we have to talk about it?”  And the answer of course is that people are dying, because sin both physically and spiritually kills.  And we have no problem talking about racial hatred or greed or judgmentalism being sinful, because those are chic and acceptable and cool conversations to have in 2017 America.  But a prophet doesn’t call for repentance from only the sins everybody is in agreement on.  And every nation needs Godly prophets.  

Every nation needs men and women who will tell it all that the Bible says.  

The Word of God is a good thing, meaning it is a thing meant for our good and it is itself intrinsically good and beautiful and true.  Our neighbors need it.  And we need to have the conviction that they need it.  We should lovingly, patiently tell people, people we care for and sacrifice for and listen to, about their wickedness.  

Or they’ll never turn from it and be blessed.  

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He Doesn’t Control Some Things

  
That’s right.  He controls all things.  

Is a trumpet blown in a city,and the people are not afraid?  Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it? 

Amos 3:6

Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?  Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?  Why should a living man complain, a man, about the punishment of his sins? 

Lamentations 3:37-39

For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

Acts 4:27-28

And this is very, very Good News.  

The greatest comfort I can give a child of God, and I can only give it to a child of God (meaning someone who has been adopted by God through faith in Jesus Christ), is that God is in total, absolute control of your pain.   And the reason why that’s comforting for the Christian is that God promises to work all things together for the good of His elect.  

This is a God whose hand predestined the worst sin in history for His people’s rescue.  

He does no evil, but neither is He perplexed or surprised by any evil.  And He will work all things together for His good purposes.  

From the other side of Christ’s return, there will not be one moment of history, from Eden’s tree to Calvary’s Cross to Hitler’s Holocaust to Hell’s shut doors, where Satan will be able to say, “Well, at least He didn’t get to work that one out for His purposes.”  When all is said and done, God’s glory and beauty and His people’s good will be pulled from every page of history, even the bloody and awful and scary ones.  And the greatest proof of that is Christ’s bloody and awful Cross.  

Some of you who are born again and in chaos or agony need to internalize this.  

What is frustrating to the unbelieving heart is peace to believing one:  There is no sovereign but God.  

I am telling you to pray to the God who will roll up the sky like a blanket, who set the Milky Way spinning as though it were a top, who fashioned all our souls from His own creative heart.  This is not a God who will win at the last second on a Hail Mary.  I am here to tell you there is a King in the Heavens.  A King.  God is not a powerful figure with good intentions who can only do so much.  This is the King of all creation, and He is taking audiences with all who will call upon Him in faith.  

There is nothing that befalls us that is not ordained by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

Keep all your gods, America.  I have met the only One who can save a man like me.  

This God is in control.

The Second to Last One

  
*The following is my second to last e-mail to CrossBridge Church.

The answer is nothing. The question comes at the end.  

The book of Acts ends with Paul under arrest and awaiting his execution. Also, he’s getting rejected by a good number of his fellow Jews in big-city Rome.  

Not a very American-style end to a story. We like big, epic finales, here. If you’re going to die at the end of your story, we’d prefer it be with a massive soundtrack playing in the background. If you’re going to fail, we’d rather you do it in the second to last act, right before you figure out what it is you’ve been missing the whole time, and muster your wits and strength to vanquish him/her/it. We like flashy stories.  Truth be told, we like stories where we’re the hero.  A Paul sort of ending, all faith and obedience and quiet, doesn’t really resonate with us in 21st century America.  

Next week’s e-mail will be the last, because next week’s church gathering will be the last. 11/29 will be our final fellowship. And it’ll be my third time saying goodbye to an ekklesia, a little body of Christ, a family, in five years. The following week, in a bittersweet twist of sovereignty, I’ll drive down to Kentucky to help some old friends do it themselves.  

The first time I had to do a goodbye like that, I read and explained the God-wrought words of my brother (and father of sorts) Paul, in Acts 20. I read it to the sheep I’d been entrusted with. I tried to speak them like he did: With blood-earnest belief in salvation and sanctification and damnation.  Paul’s sendoff had been about Jesus, and I’d wanted mine to be, too.  I read Paul’s inspired farewell, explained it, and we’d cried and prayed together. 

In Acts 20, not long before Paul got arrested and would face his very unglamorous, uncinematic death, he spoke this to the brothers of the church he’d planted in Ephesus:

“And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

May I crush our perceptions, yours (I’m guessing) and mine (I’m sure) here, by the power and truth of God’s Word? Paul thought the best ending to his story as Ephesian pastor was a simple call to obedience to Jesus Christ. He spent his last words to Christian family saying, with tearful and gut-level honesty, “Watch yourselves and follow Jesus.”  

No fanfare. No majestic finale. Just a man who knew Jesus is real and that people live forever, either in Heaven or in Hell, based on where they stand with Him.  

Paul spoke to the church’s leaders in his goodbye with full knowledge that this life is a vapor, a morning mist. And that soon, the sun will rise fully over those hills.  And when it does, everything this world chased will vanish like shadows, and the One it rejected will be revealed for as wonderful and bright as He always was. 

This life, just like this e-mail, is your second to last one.  

So I commend you to God, entreating you to make it count.  

Oh, and the question?  

What would I have changed about my time with CrossBridge?

In a love bigger than my heart, 

Wade 

Wrath and Compassion

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Jesus had incredibly harsh words to say to the unrepentant and unbelieving. He also had fierce, rescuing mercies to give to those who did repent.

True Christians should be ashamed of neither.

The same Jesus who said He would strike the unrepentant Jezebel in the Thyatiran church dead also told the sinful, broken woman who washed His feet at Simon’s house that she was saved and forgiven.

If you claim Christ but have believed or stated in the past that Jesus never judged anyone or would never condemn anyone or some similar thing, I am pleading with you to read Him. It is foolish to claim a man you do not know, and it is dangerous to misrepresent a man you do not read.

And if you claim Christ but believe there is something unredeemable about a homosexual or a pedophile or a Muslim terrorist or a gossipy co-worker, I am pleading with you to read of the Jesus who saved a criminal in the middle of his execution and a Christian-hater who was on his way to arrest believers. Jesus will save any who repent and put their faith in Him, any who will turn from their sins and call upon His Name.

Jesus will come in fierce, flaming wrath and He will come to finally rescue all the miserable wretches whom He has washed and clothed in white. Revelation tells us He will make the last war in order to make the final peace.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are filled with His hard rebukes and His tender compassion. Jesus the Messiah has both wrath and grace. Judgment and forgiveness. He proclaims both the coming punishment and the coming reward
in the four Gospels and in Revelation. His apostles preach both in Acts and their letters.

In these days when we are stuck in the residue of a once Biblically-literate country, it is imperative that those who truly know Jesus proclaim Him as He has revealed Himself. We are surrounded by many people who think they are Christian but who have never read or believed in the real Jesus of Nazareth who is returning to judge the living and the dead.

If you claim Christ, follow the real Jesus. Not the one of your imagination.

What You Lose When You Deny Creation

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What comes from denying we exist as creatures in a place that was created?

What results when you believe that most biological diversity can be explained by genetic mutation and natural selection? That some form of evolution is the sole reason that there are bears and birds and bats, and not simply a planet containing single-cell organisms?

What results when you believe that gravity and time and hydrogen, as opposed to Jesus Christ and His voice and His plan, can result in fiery stars, mountains of cold stone, and impossibly deep waters?

Well, you won’t be in awe when you read God say to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”

And you won’t tremble with awe or feel it in your guts when you read “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”

When you deny that God created what He says He did how He says He did it, you also deny yourself the joy of praising Him for it. Of fearing Him for it. Of seeing Him in it.

Our place in creation is a gift. Granted, it is now a creation that’s groaning for the return of Christ because of the terrible effects of sin, but our God-ordained role within it is still a gift. And great, psalm-writing, prayer-making, evangelism-inspiring gladness and awe come from seeing it that way. From seeing creation as His doing and His gift for His glory. The way His prophets and apostles and Son did.

“Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?”
Isaiah 40:12

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
Matthew 6:26-27

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.”
Acts 17:24-26

We see Him better and know Him better when we see His world for what it truly is.

Earlier this evening, outside my open front door, I heard warm rain slapping the mud in our front yard. My three-year-old daughter was laying on my lap. I was able to feel in my bones, sitting on my couch with warm spring air you could smell coming in through the screen door, thankfulness that such a world was authored. That this sort of Earth was fashioned by the decision and power and providence of God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. That clouds and soft spring rain and children exist because He made them as Genesis 1 and 2 tell me He did (and that He has allowed sin and made the way for sin’s demise as a part of His plan for His glory, as Genesis 3 and the rest of His Bible tell me He has). I was given a moment of stilled, humble worship of Him because of the world He’s made, has sustained, and will remake.

God is obvious in His creation, but humans are born dead in sin, and so sinners love everything but God. Our race has always found ways to deny that God is God; and one of the current ones is naturalism. It’s simply commonplace in our day and place to deny that God made the ground we stand on, the air in our lungs, the moon over my head, the crickets who will soon be chirping outside. To deny that He made us humans male and female, that He is has good, wonderful authority over this sin-scarred planet, and that what we do with our bodies and our minds is all done under His jurisdiction.

It’s instead claimed that this is a rock amidst rocks, made by no one and filled with animals that have no purpose. It’s claimed by people whose hearts are far deader (though far more decisive) than their instincts that no one directly made us and there probably isn’t any One to whom we have to give an account.

And no one we should have to give praise to.

Whether you are a follower of Christ who has been subtly deceived by such talk or someone who has never been born from above to see and know Jesus, if you’ve bought this lie you have been short-sold. To deny the Giver is to deny the gift. You can marvel at colors or sounds, but you will never rightly enjoy them until you acknowledge and know their Maker. You will never fully grasp the beauty of redwoods and seashores and newborns until you recognize and love the One they point to; until you understand them as creations from and under the hand of the Most High.

To accept naturalism and see the universe as its own, unmade closed system isn’t to see nature for what she is, but to see her less clearly than ever. She was made by God and will be remade for His people. She is beautiful still (though under the weight of sin and death), because He is more beautiful. Nature is His doing. She makes a terrible god but a marvelous worship song.

To believe that matter and animals and humans came from anything other than the voice and hands of the Creator and through Christ is to be robbed of the delight, worship, and joy that they are meant to inspire. To deny Creation was created is to blind yourself to her purpose. To believe naturalism is to lose nature.

When the One Who is Offended is Wrong

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The words “offended” and “offensive” carry a lot of weight, a lot of cultural currency, in our day and place. For most 21st century Americans, if someone tells you what you just said was “offensive,” the conversation stops, your heart speeds up, your palms get a little sweaty. You just did something terrible, and you’re about to be the office/family/neighborhood pariah. If you don’t apologize or walk it back quickly and rightly, you will be culturally radioactive. Contaminated. An untouchable numbskull. A brute, a dolt.

We’re told in John 3 about Jesus’ coming in to the world that “this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”

People often hate good things. We are often offended by the light because we don’t want our sinful deeds and loves exposed.

So the fact that something is offensive does not mean it is wrong. The problem, the malfunction, can lie within the one being offended.

How can you know if this is the case?

1) When what is offending him or her is good, beautiful, and true.

If it offends me that Jesus Christ is the rightful King of the Universe, and that I am morally obligated to bend my knees before Him and be joyful about it, then the problem is with me. If it offends me that there is only one God and that He deserves and is worthy of all the worship in the universe, the problem is with me. If it offends me that the new Heaven and new Earth will be filled with forgiven, faithful saints of all races and all languages, there is something wrong in me.

There are times where I am offended by forgiveness. The fact that I am told by Christ to repeatedly forgive those who wrong me, and that if I refuse I might be displaying that I never knew Him or that at the very least I am not resting in His forgiveness, is at times an offense to my bitterness. The problem isn’t with forgiveness, or with God for commanding it.

Antibiotics are offensive to bacteria; good and healthy things are often offensive to bad, damaged, or mutated ones. Mercy is offensive to my grudge-holding, forgiveness offensive to my desire to gossip, worship offensive to my desire to idolize people or things because I still have sin lurking in my heart.

God has told us that many things are good which, at one time or another, in one place or another, have offended people:
-That the Gospel is for Gentiles, too.
-That divorce (apart from extreme circumstances) is sinful and against the will of God.
-That He will resurrect the all the bodies of believers in Jesus who have died.
-That wives should submit to their husbands and not teach or have authority over men in churches.
-That men should sacrifice for and lead their wives in love and holiness.
-That it is sinful and harmful for men to pursue sex and romance with other men, and for women to do so with other women.
-That it is good and beautiful for a man to pursue sex and romance with one woman in faithfulness and marriage.
-That Christ-followers have a responsibility to live like Christ-followers, and to not commit sexual sins, be drunkards, be given to much anger, etc.

Each of the things in this tiny, impossibly limited list are offensive to some people. But spoken and lived the way God commands and teaches them in His Son and His Word, they are wonderful, life-giving, God-honoring truths. If a good thing is offensive, the problem is, in some form or fashion, with the one being offended. Christians can and should address such people and situations with mercy, but also should understand that altering the Word is not an option. God’s Word is wonderfully true. It is beautiful, accurate, and the most reliable source of knowledge and goodness there is.

2) When the person has a long or regular history of being offended.

This one is different from the above one in that it is not universally true. Number 1 is always true: if a good thing offends someone, something is definitely wrong in his or her heart, soul, or body. But this second marker is not necessarily true, not always the case. Someone could be regularly offended in a legitimate way by something truly wicked, nasty, or evil. That said, in a workplace or a family there are often people who feel slighted, wronged, or become outraged at virtually anything. Being told by such a person that what you have said is offensive is still a bit scary, but it usually becomes more and more difficult to take the person seriously. If they really are unreasonably thin-skinned, then I think that’s actually okay.

Again, address such a person mercifully, and remember that those of us who know Christ are commanded not repay evil for evil (Romans 12:17) and are to turn the other cheek when slapped (Matthew 5:38, and being told you have just said something offensive in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner can feel like a slap). But if he is unable to give family or co-workers or friends the benefit of the doubt, if he is unable to forgive words he perceives as wrong or careless (whether they truly are or not), then there is a wrinkle in his own heart that needs to be ironed out.

3) If the person is only ever offended by things that (relatively speaking) impact him or her.

Have you ever met someone who was greatly offended by the idea that the Bible says men should honor their wives as the weaker vessel? I have. And the person I’m thinking of was a man. Admittedly there’s some overlap with number one, here, but allow me a bit of space to explain the nature of this sort of offense.

It wasn’t that wives should submit to their husbands that bothered this man, it was that I told him (lovingly, I think) that he shouldn’t say mean-spirited things about his ex-wife. That the way a man treated women, the way a man spoke about the mother of his children and the wife of his youth, mattered to God. That same man was offended when I told him at a different point that the Gospel was for all races, and that one of the first Gentiles who believed and was baptized in the book of Acts was an Ethiopian.

He was offended because what I was telling him would hinder his bitterness toward his ex-wife and his anger towards African Americans.

This man, a man whom I befriended and care about and tried to share Christ with on numerous occasions, was offended, but not by violence, poverty, oppression, or wickedness that harmed other people. It was almost exclusively hurtful things done or spoken against him that he was offended by.

This third barometer can work even with actual sins committed against us, not just the Word of God being pressed against our twisted hearts. If I am only ever offended by slander when it’s done against me, then even though slander is a sin against God I am revealing that there is something wrong within me. If I am only ever bothered by deceit when I’m the one being lied to, I am not healthily hoping for righteousness and a good world.

If my heart is in line with the God of Scripture, the God of Jesus Christ, I should be offended by:
-The murder of infants in their mothers’ wombs
-Famine and poverty all over the world
-Abuse of the weak, fatherless, widow, or foreigner
-Idolatry in my own heart
-Rampant sin among people claiming to know Jesus Christ

Again, that’s a very limited list, there, but it demonstrates concerns that should be on the hearts of those who love what God loves and hate what God hates.

What we are offended by reveals a great deal about ourselves. It is an open, indisputable display of what we value. What thing, person, relationship, or idea we treasure, prize, and find our identity in. Do I prize my reputation? I’ll be offended when it is tarnished. Do I treasure my political views and political identity? I’ll be frustrated when they are assaulted. Do I value my children? I’ll feel an irritation when something comes against them. Whether it’s a good thing or sin, a beautiful thing we should love (though we perhaps might love too much) or an evil thing we shouldn’t love at all, our hearts’ treasures are very often revealed by what offends us.

I’ll close with an anecdote. I was sitting with a genuinely Jesus-loving, Jesus-following young man a few weeks ago. He was talking about a manger scene here in the Cincinnati area that had received quite a bit of notoriety this past Christmas. The owner of a home in one of our eastern city suburbs, I would imagine for shock value or (less likely) out of a misguided sense of harmless fun decided to put up a mock manger scene in which the “characters” were horrific zombies. The young man was telling me about this, and I was just listening to him, not particularly moved in one direction or the other. Towards the end of his description I was probably getting my aresenal of opinions ready, backed up by the first applicable Scripture I could think of, ready to pounce with a position and defend it with rhetoric. But then he did something that was, quite honestly, beautifully refreshing to a flawed and often false man like me.

As he finished telling about the crib in this mocking manger scene, the place where normally a little statue or a doll representing the baby Jesus Christ would be, but had in this man’s creation been replaced by a gory zombie replica, his face stiffened. His eyes flickered that serious combination of sadness and anger you get when you’re genuinely mad at some nasty violation of goodness in the world. When something awful and wrong has been done, and you want it to stop. Then he said, plainly and with no pretense, “That’s my God.

He wasn’t debating whether such a thing should be legal or restricted. He wasn’t arguing the moral decay of a country that might be the cause of such behavior. Such debates and dialogues have places, but they weren’t the sort of thing that was spilling from his heart and prompting the authentic, visceral anguish in him as he sat across the table from me. They weren’t what I find so refreshing in this memory.

He simply treasured the King, Jesus Christ, and so it offended him to see Him mocked.

I love that imperfect, still-being-sanctified young man’s heart. I love it. I want to emulate it.

His offense revealed what He loved. And in this case the problem was not with him, because he loved, he adored, the thing most worthy of that affection in the entire universe.

His offense was noble because his treasure was true.

Two Ways to Love Our Cities

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In Acts 2-4 Peter and John love their city in a Godly way by (at least) doing two things. Two things that most of the people around me in 21st century America would tell me are irreconcilable. Diametrically opposed.

1) They care for some among the city’s weak.
2) They proclaim to those in the city their sins.

For what it’s worth, I’m proof that both are vital. I needed love and affection and compassion in my broken and out moments, but I also needed someone who had seen the light to boldly tell me of my evils. I can tell you from experience that a narcissistic drunk doesn’t just need a friend. He also needs someone to tell him that drunkenness leads to death, wrath, and judgment. Peter had Godly affection for the weak of his city of Jerusalem, and he also told the people of his city that they had sinfully killed the Savior.

Here’s some of Peter from those chapters:

“Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and the elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by Him this man is standing before you well.”

“You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of Life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. And His name – by faith in His name – has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in presence of you all.”

“This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Hatred, indifference, greed, homosexuality, idolatry: It is unloving or cowardly to leave our city in the dark about the death they bring and the wrath they store up. We help sinners by telling them that God has saved us from our sins, and that He can save them from theirs. We do not help them by hoping that they’ll somehow figure out on their own that they are sinners and that Jesus offers them salvation.

But Peter and John also loved this crippled man outside the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. When he asked Peter for money Peter didn’t disdainfully tell him to get a job, or uncomfortably look the other way. Godly love is bold enough to call sin sin, to proclaim the Good News to its neighbors, and to care for the overlooked or incapable. It is true enough and big enough to do things the world doesn’t believe should go together. After all, the world doesn’t understand how a judge can be a Father.

It is an incomplete Christian who will not take a stand, when given a chance, on sin and the only One who can wipe it away. And it is an incomplete Christian who will not ever lift a finger or open his wallet for those who have little or no way to help themselves.

Nursing homes, foster homes, mental disability facilities, middle schools, and drug treatment centers in our cities are filled with people who could use a Christian hand or our Christian sweat. And office buildings, construction sites, restaurants, and city halls in our cities are filled with people who desperately need to repent of their sins and believe in Jesus of Nazareth.

Peter demonstrates two ways a Jesus-follower can love his city in a truly Godly way, here. We should courageously warn sinners of the wages of their sins and the free Gospel offered to them, and we should reach a merciful hand out to those image bearers who can’t help themselves. Our cities may not know that both are loving, but those who are added to our number will be singing gratefully with us into eternity. And that’s more than enough.