How Can I Be Sure?

Mark 8:27-38
I John 5:1-13

In 1967, I went with high school buddies to the historic Akron Civic Theater to my first rock concert to see one of my favorite American bands, The Young Rascals. The band was famous for Good Lovin which appeared on their first album in ‘66. That summer they released their second album Groovin’ that contained two singles Groovin’ and the song How Can I Be Sure.

“How can I be sure, in a world that’s constantly changing,
How can I be sure where I stand with you.”

If I asked you, ‘Do you know for sure that you are a Christian and have complete confidence that when your name is called up yonder that you will be going home to be with the Lord in His heaven?’ what would you say?

The truth is that there are several different ways of thinking about and answering a question like that.

It’s probably true that some here whom we might categorize as seekers who would say something like, ‘Not at all sure if my faith is real, I’m not sure that there is a place we go after we die, that’s why I am here; to find out if there is a God and if He has anything to offer me.’ But can you be sure?

It’s probably true that there are some here who have progressed beyond being a seeker and although you feel you have faith in Christ you have doubts about that. You might be thinking something like, ‘I think I believe, I’m pretty sure I have accepted Jesus as my Savior, but sometimes I wonder about whether or not I am really going to heaven.’ How can I be sure?

Then there are those who hope that there is a heaven and hope that because you worship with those who believe there is that you are going with them someday. And so you have made this worship thing a routine been showing up, some been showing up for years. You too wonder, how can I be sure?

How can we be sure?

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Who Do You Say I am?

Mark 8:27-31
Isaiah 53 (selected)
Romans 5:6-17

I have another question for you this morning. I call it the question of the ages. For in my mind, there’s no more important question that can be asked of any living human being residing on the face of this planet. For the answer to this question will forever shape the future of the one who accepts the challenge to answer it.

Matthew and Luke join Mark in providing this little vignette, in which Jesus takes His followers aside to ask this vital question: “Who do you say I am?”

But before we go any further, it is interesting to note the place Jesus took them to ask this vital question. Caesarea Philippi is located 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee region which served as a base of operations for Jesus. It was in the time of Jesus a very modern Greco-Roman city located at the base of Mt. Hermon which rises up 9,200 feet above sea level. The question is why would Jesus take the time and trouble to make a 50 mile round trip journey on foot to make this inquiry?

Caesarea Philippi was known for being associated with the four main religions of that part of the world at the time. There is a large cave that was said to have been the birthplace of the Greek god Pan. Also, note the head of the Jordan River which springs from underground to make its journey south to the Sea of Galilee and into the Dead Sea. We know that the Jordan River was very much associated with the Jewish religion, being mentioned 175 times in the Old Testament. Notice also in this picture the man-made cut-out in the face of the rock. This was one of no less than 14 little shrines that honored the Old Testament Canaanite storm-god Baal. Finally, Herod the Great had a large white marble Temple built  here to honor Caesar Augustus, who demanded to be worshipped as a god.

So Jesus leads His followers on this pilgrimage to a place steeped in religion to ask, “With these four major world religions looking down on us, who do you say that I am? In other words, people, where and how do you think I fit in?”

It is for sure a question that is more relevant today than it was back then simply because there are so many more religions of the world.

And the question for us is the same as it was for those first followers of Christ. In the midst of the world’s religions, where does Jesus fit in? For us the question is “What makes Christianity different from all the other religions of the world?”

Years ago that very question was being discussed at a church conference. Some of the participants argued that Christianity is unique in teaching that God became man. But someone objected, saying that other religions teach similar doctrines. What about the resurrection? No, it was argued, other faiths believe that the dead rise again. The discussion grew heated. C. S. Lewis, a strong defender of Christianity, came in late, sat down, and asked, “What’s the rumpus all about?” When he learned that it was a debate about the uniqueness of Christianity, C. S. Lewis immediately commented, “Oh, that’s easy; grace.” 1

You better believe it! What makes the Christian religion different from all other religions? Grace!

What do the religions of the world have in common? They all believe in an after-life. And they believe that gaining entrance to that after-life is based upon how righteous one is in this life.

How many times a month do you worship? How many days a week do you read your religion’s holy book? How many hours a day do you pray to your god? How much money do you give to the religious institution of your choosing? How many times a day are you kind to someone else?

Or, on the other hand, if God is keeping track of righteousness points, how many swear words did you let fly today? Have you ever stolen anything from anyone? Ever coveted; that is, wished you had something that someone else has? Ever lied? How many times a day?

And Peter and the rest of these guys have been weaned on this kind of religious thinking that in order to merit heaven, you must live a righteous life.

And Peter is frustrated because he knows deep down inside that he messes up on a daily basis. And because he does, he lives in fear that he doesn’t measure up, he lives in fear that he is storing up more demerits than merits.

And in the midst of all this religiosity, Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” Am I here as a representative of just another two-bit religion? What do you think, what do you say, who do you say I am?

And Peter says, “I believe you are the Messiah.”

And immediately Jesus begins to define the kind of Messiah He will be: “Then Jesus began to tell them that the Son of Man must suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but three days later he would rise from the dead” (Mark 8:31).

He is the one of whom Isaiah spoke in Isaiah 53:

He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (53:3a). “But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins” (53:5a). “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all” (53:6). “And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for He will bear all their sins (53:11b).

How will they be counted as righteous? “He will bear all their sins” (53:11b).

People are counted as righteous, that is right with God and eligible for heaven; not by their good works, not by what they do or refrain from doing, but rather by having their sins forgiven.

And how are our sins forgiven?

But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins” (53:5a).

Jesus would offer His life upon the cross so that sins could be punished and therefore forgiven.

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:21).

So who do you say Jesus is?

To answer that question requires us to come face to face with Jesus as he hangs upon the cross.

Bible scholar and pastor, N.T. Wright, tells the story about an archbishop who was hearing the confessions of three hardened teenagers. All three boys planned to make a joke out of it so as they each met with the archbishop they confessed to a long list of ridiculous and grievous sins that they had not committed. The archbishop, seeing through their bad practical joke, played along with the first two who ran out of the church laughing. But then he listened carefully to the third prankster, and before he got away told the young man, “Okay, you have confessed to these sins. Now I want you to do something to show your repentance. I want you to walk up to the far end of the church and I want you to look at the picture of Jesus hanging on the cross, and I want you to look right into His face and say, ‘You did all that for me, but I really don’t care.’ And I want you to do that three times.”

And so the boy went up to the front, looked at the picture of Jesus and said, “You did all that for me, but I really don’t care.” And then he said it a second time. But then he couldn’t say it the third time because as he stood there looking up at Jesus he broke down in tears.

And then N. T. Wright says, “The reason I know that story is true is that I was that young man. There is something about the cross; something about Jesus dying there for us which supersedes all the theological discussions, all the possibilities of how we explain it this way or that way and it grasps us. And when we are grasped by it, somehow we have a sense that what is grasping us is the love of God. 2

Who do you say Jesus is?

C.S. Lewis, the brilliant and once skeptical Cambridge University professor who was eventually won over by the evidence for Jesus, wrote:

Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.” 3

Who do you believe Jesus to be? Was He crazy? It is difficult to reject Jesus as crazy when His teaching did so much to expose the craziness all around Him.

Was He out to take advantage of people? It is difficult to suspect him of being clever or manipulative when He lived so humbly and died so selflessly. Did He suffer from delusions of Messianic grandeur? It is difficult to accuse Him of this when there are so many Messianic prophecies that perfectly match the life of Christ.

If Jesus is who He claims to be, then our conclusions about Him, one way or the other, speak more of who we are than anything else. We can’t change the truth of who He is and what He has done. We can only change our orientation to the truth.

I sincerely hope and pray that you are not here today to earn religious points in order to merit heaven. Because if you are, it is a slap in the face of the One who died for you. So, who do you say that He is? It is not Jesus who is being put to the test by this question; we are!

Who do you say He is? It is life’s most important question precisely because its answer has a direct bearing on what happens after death.


2 Adapted from N.T. Wright, Grasped by the Love of God, N.T. Wright Online; submitted by Kevin Miller, Wheaton, Illinois


Raising the Bar

Matthew 5:21-30
I Thessalonians 4:1-10

Talk about raising the bar, I found this true story online where the author says: “Last weekend, a group of my friends were waiting in line for a concert in the city. My girlfriend excitedly started pointing at a hotel a few blocks away; ‘Look at the top of that building! I think that’s an indoor pool on the top floor!’ A debate started about whether or not it was actually a pool, until I stated that it was obviously a bar.
‘Why do you say that?’ said my girlfriend.
‘Because nice hotels like to set the bar high.’ I’ve never been prouder to make a group of people groan.” 1

Talk about groaners, perhaps it’s time for me to raise the bar on the jokes I tell!

Talking about raising the bar, my grandson, Matthew, is a high jumper; a very good high jumper.

In the sport of high jumping, when a participant clears a particular height they raise the bar another inch, and when the jumper clears that height, they raise it another inch. Why do they raise the bar? Raising the bar creates interest for the spectators. And raising the bar creates competition for the participants and, therefore, the incentive to become better.

What motivation would there be for Matthew to keep striving to be better if the bar was left at 6’ 1”? How many times would he clear 6’ 1” before his interest would begin to wane?

There’s something about raising the bar that brings out the best in a person! And in a church!

Just ask Jesus, who in His Sermon on the Mount, is obviously intent on raising the bar for His followers.

“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment. But I say, (raise the bar) if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!” (Matthew 5:21-22).

“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, (raise the bar) anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

Four more times in this chapter, Jesus uses the same formula “You have heard it said, (lower the bar), but I say (raise the bar) to you.”

And if the bar hasn’t been raised high enough, Chapter 5 concludes with Him saying, “You must be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).

According to W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words ‘perfect’ means, ‘finished’ or ‘completed’ as in ‘having reached its end;’ and therefore, implies a ‘growing process’ into Christlikeness. 2

If we are going to work toward achieving that goal, we are going to have to raise the bar.

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.” 3

The apostle Paul follows the example of Jesus by continually raising the bar for the churches he writes to. “Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more” (I Thessalonians 4:1). Or as the NASB has it: “that you excel still more.”

If you and I are going to grow individually to become more like Jesus; if we are going to become the kind of church that Jesus is calling us to be, we must talk about raising the bar. As followers of Christ, we must never settle for the status quo, we must refrain from falling into the trap of becoming satisfied and, therefore; complacent with who we are and where we are on our journey toward Christ. Rather, we must always be moving upward to reach new heights as individuals and consequently as a church.

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote “I find the great thing in this world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving: To reach the port of heaven, we must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it; but we must sail, and not drift, nor lie at anchor. 4

So, what are some ways that we can raise the bar at CrossPointe?

We can become a High Expectation Church.

Our leaders are currently being trained in church revitalization by watching 26-30 minute video presentations by the noted pastor, author, church consultant Thom Rainer. He talks about the importance of raising the bar as it concerns having high expectations of church members. And one of his most practical ways to raise the bar is to have a new member’s class.

We will name it something different because we don’t have official membership. So perhaps we’ll call it Christianity or Discipleship 101.

I have designed the components for such a class and plan on offering the curriculum on an as needed basis to new people who begin to attend CrossPointe. As I began thinking about this, it occurred to me some of you would feel left out. I also thought it would be beneficial for all of us to participate in such an endeavor. At the same time, I knew that it would be a daunting task to arrange and organize multiple classes to accommodate all of our timing needs. So it made perfect sense to me to hold these membership classes on Sunday mornings at 10:30am!

So, yes for the next several weeks, my messages will encompass the material that will be included in a Discipleship 101 class. To be sure, all the information conveyed will be based upon the word of God. We will cover the topics of what does it mean to be a Christian, what does it mean to grow in Christ, and it means to be part of the body of Christ.

Rainer went on to mention another way to raise the bar is through preaching. I mentioned before Christmas that I would like to dig a little deeper in my preaching this year. After Discipleship 101, look for a sermon series on how to overcome temptation. And after Easter I will begin some expository, as opposed to topical preaching, as we will make our way verse by verse through book(s) of the Bible.

In these ways, we will be raising the bar at CrossPointe.

That great 19th century preacher, pastor, author and teacher, F. B. Meyer, wrote: The law for Christian living is not backward, but forward; not for experiences that lie behind, but for doing the will of God, which is always ahead and beckoning us to follow. Leave the things that are behind, and reach forward to those that are before, for on each new height to which we attain, there are joys that befit the new experience. Aim high, press forward, the best is yet to be! 5

For many years Admiral Hyman Rickover was the head of the United State Nuclear Navy. His admirers and his critics held strongly opposing views about the stern and demanding Admiral. For many years every officer aboard a nuclear submarine was personally interviewed and approved by Rickover. Among them was Ex-President Jimmy Carter who, years ago, applied for service under Rickover. This is his account of a Rickover interview:

I had applied for the Nuclear Submarine Program, and Admiral Rickover was interviewing me for the job. It was the first time I met Admiral Rickover, and we sat in a large room by ourselves for more than two hours, and he let me choose any subjects I wished to discuss. Very carefully, I chose those about which I knew most at the time, current events, seamanship, music, literature, naval tactics, electronics, gunnery, and he began to ask me a series of questions of increasing difficulty. In each instance, he soon proved that I knew relatively little about the subject I had chosen. He always looked right into my eyes, and he never smiled. I was saturated with cold sweat. Finally, he asked a question and I thought I could redeem myself. He said, “How did you stand in your class at the Naval Academy?” Since I had completed my sophomore year at Georgia Tech before entering Annapolis as a Plebe, I had done very well and I swelled my chest with pride and answered “Sir, I stood fifty-ninth in a class of 820!” I sat back to wait for the congratulations which never came. Instead the question came. “Did you do your best?” I started to say, “Yes, sir”, but I remembered who this was and recalled several of the many times at the Academy when I could have learned more about our allies, our enemies, weapons, strategy, and so forth. I was just human. I finally gulped and said, “No, sir, I didn’t always do my best.”

He looked at me for a long time, and then turned his chair around to end the interview. He asked one final question, which I have never been able to forget or to answer. He said, “Why not?” I sat there for a while shaken, and then slowly left the room. 6

2 Vine. W. E., Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. [ © 19] Pages


4 Holmes in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. Christianity Today, Vol. 33, no. 5.

5 F. B. Meyer in Our Daily Walk. Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 1.

6 Twelftree, Graham. Get the Point Across. [Crowborough, England: Monarch Press, © 1996]. Pages 34-35

Strengthen What Remains

Ephesians 1:15-23
Revelation 3:1-6

In the old days, about the only method used to bring about what we today call ‘church revitalization’ was the old fashioned revival.

In one town, three churches sponsored a joint revival. After it was over, the three pastors met for coffee to discuss the results.

The Methodist pastor said, “The revival worked out great for us! We gained four new families.”

The Baptist preacher said, “We did better than that! We gained six new families.”

The Presbyterian minister said with a sly grin, “We did even better than that! We got rid of our ten biggest troublemakers!”

Jesus is the architect of church revitalization because He is the architect of His Church!

The great Apostle Paul testifies of Him in his letter to the Ephesians: “He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else; not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made Him head over all things for the benefit of the church. And the church is His body; it is made full and complete by Christ, who fills all things everywhere with Himself” (Ephesians 1:21-23).

When it comes to church revitalization, Jesus is the champion, the cheerleader, the chief executive, and the head coach. He is the Creator, Savior, and Sustainer of His Church and because He is He has a vision for His Church to be the very best it can be! As evidenced in the letters to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3, where His major thrust is revitalizing those local congregations: to set right what is broken, to rebuke what is false, and to give new life to what is dying; in other words to revitalize!

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I Beg to Differ

Isaiah 9:2, 6
Matthew 1:18-23

A lady named Mary Northrup reports that she was in labor for 23 hours for the birth of her first child. 23 hours of labor is not that unusual. I am sure that some of you gals sitting here could top that. What made Mary’s circumstance noteworthy was that Mary’s husband, Mark, presented her with a 2-foot tall trophy inscribed with the words, “For a championship delivery; thank you. Love, Mark.”

I doubt that Joseph could afford a trophy for his betrothed wife, Mary, but he gave her something of far more value. For no matter how delicately Matthew describes the situation, it is evident that although Joseph is Mary’s husband to be he is not the father of the infant in her womb. This creates a dilemma; a Christmas dilemma for Joseph. What’s a feeler to do?

Now in accordance with his legal rights under Jewish law, Joseph has two choices: (1) He can break off their engagement publicly; embarrassing her and her entire family by parading Mary’s sin before the community. Or (2), it was within his rights to have her publically stoned. So what’s a feller to do?

Matthew indicates that Joseph has a gentle and compassionate side, who BEGS TO DIFFER with the harsher side of the Jewish law. He determines he will break off the engagement quietly in order to spare Mary any further public humiliation.

Joseph, in other words, is a BEG TO DIFFER kind of guy. To the Jewish Law that said “stone her” Joseph said, “I beg to differ.” To a society that said ‘at least publicly humiliate her’ Joseph said, “I beg to differ.” To friends and family members who were probably encouraging him to “divorce her, even if quietly,” Joseph said, “I BEG TO DIFFER!”

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God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Isaiah 9:1-7
Matthew 2:1-16

The familiar Christmas carol God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen is one of the oldest that exists, going back to at least the 16th century, if not earlier. Five hundred years of changing language use has rendered its title a little nebulous.

Many people today miss the meaning of the first line because they misplace the comma, thinking the title should say God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen. This is not a song about ‘merry gentlemen,’ hanging out at The Village Inn. It helps to know that the word ‘merry’ originally meant strong or valiant, as in Robin Hood and his band of Merry, that is, strong, valiant, Men.’ And the word ‘rest,’ as in ‘God rest,’ meant to ‘make.’

So the first line really means, “God make you strong and valiant, gentlemen.” That explains the second line, “Let nothing you dismay.”

And what is it that makes us strong and valiant in the face of the struggles of life? “Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray (a reference to the forgiveness of our sin through Jesus) O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy; O tidings of comfort and joy.”

This Christmas as at every Christmas, we need to be reminded of the glad tidings of comfort and joy; in other words ‘hope.’ Because the truth is Christmas has a way of magnifying any sadness brought about by negative aspects of life experienced in Christmas past or being experienced now.

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Meekness and Majesty

John 1:1-18
Philippians 2:5-11

I recall many years ago, packing the kids in the car and setting out for Lima, Ohio where my Nana was still living in her home at 654 Ewing Avenue. When we got to Findlay, we stopped at Burger King for a Whopper. After we chowed down on those flame-broiled delights, we hit the road heading south on I -75 toward our destination. About halfway between Findlay and Lima, I recall hearing Jennifer say, what all parents love to hear: “Oh, oh”
“What’s the matter?”
“I don’t have my retainer (orthodontist had Jennifer wearing a retainer).
“Where do you remember having it last?”
After a few seconds, I heard her say what I already suspected but definitely didn’t want to hear, “At Burger King.”

So I got off at the next exit, flipped around to head back north and began to think this situation through. Jennifer took her retainer out to eat, she probably placed it on her food tray and since she didn’t have it now it was probably left on the food tray such that when we got up to leave the trash and the retainer went into the trash receptacle.

We had no other choice; when we got to the Burger King, about 40 minutes after we left, I explained the situation to the manager who informed us that the receptacle had recently been emptied and gladly allowed me to choose a bag out of the dumpster out back and begin sifting through the refuse. So I dove in and began fishing through grease-soaked sandwich wrappers, catsup soaked french-fry holders, and saliva-soaked napkins. A shiny layer of trashcan slime was clinging to my arms by the time I finally grasped hold of Jennifer’s precious retainer.

But that’s nothing compared to our dumpster-diving God, who left a glorious, immaculate, magnificent, perfect, pristine, and sinless heaven to search through the filth and rubbish of this fallen world for something precious to Him—you and me.

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Season of Surprise

Luke 1:5-17
Matthew 1:18-23

Unexpected surprises often have a way of interfering with our Christmas expectations.

77 years ago Friday, people across this great land were preparing for Christmas in all the familiar and expected ways when suddenly something very unexpected happened. Many people were disappointed with Christmas of 1941. My own father was 14 years old on that ‘day of infamy’ when the Japanese took everyone by surprise. He, like everyone else was preparing for Christmas in the usual way, hoping for a band new American Flyer sled. And he was disappointed when, under the circumstances, my grandfather thought it best to be financially conservative.

Christmas is not always about what we expect.

The first Christmas reminds us of that truth. Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph didn’t expect to see Angels from the Realms of Glory but they did. Zechariah and Elizabeth didn’t expect to have a baby in their old age. Joseph didn’t expect and was therefore surprised to hear that his finance was with child. Mary didn’t expect to be the mother of God. People didn’t expect the Son of God to be born in the hick town of Bethlehem. Shepherds didn’t expect to sing, Angels We Have Heard on High.

Please note that not all these unexpected surprises were welcome. I’m sure that when Mary and Joseph discovered an unplanned pregnancy they didn’t exactly jump up and down with glee! And yet because they exhibited faithful determination and patience, they eventually experienced great joy.

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Face to Face

Jeremiah 31:31-33
Luke 1:26-38
Galatians 4:4-7

An online dating service interviewed 3,000 of its members to find out what the most annoying clichés are that people put in their profiles. The winners were, Biggest Clichés Women Use in Profiles: “No liars or game players!” “This isn’t enough space to sum up my life” followed by a long summation. Biggest Clichés Men Use in Profiles: “I really know how to treat a lady.” “I enjoy long moonlit walks on the beach.”

Would you believe that there are online dating services for about every taste? If you are drawn to farmers, check out Their motto is: ‘city folk just don’t get it.’ If you’d rather go where no one has gone before, try with a motto of : ‘love long and prosper.’ And for those who are into mixing dating with marijuana, their motto is: ‘why toke alone’ 1

If you are one of those 50 million who have dabbled you have discovered that there is a 3 step process involved in hooking up. The first step is to connect in a chat room, exchanging written messages. Perhaps we could refer to these messages as ‘hard copy.’

Couples who discover hard copy compatibility move on to the next step: voice. Yes, they actually speak to one another on a phone. If this goes well, the potential couple sets up an actual meeting in person; in real space instead of cyberspace . . . an actual face to face encounter.

A three-fold process: hard copy, voice, face to face.

It’s not unlike the three-fold process God used in His attempt to hook up with us.

Think about it. When the Lord was looking for a way to say, “I love you,” to the world He first chose to go hard copy, then voice, then face to face.

First, He employs hard copy written on two tablets of stone. That’s right, the ten-commandments; major hard copy! He gave His law to His people, Israel, not because He wants to be a controlling tyrant but because He loves them and knows if they live their lives in accordance with His will they will be blessed. Unfortunately, His people preferred to live their lives on their own terms rather than in obedience to the One who was trying to bless them.

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