Could all road leads to Heaven?

If all roads lead to Heaven. . . do all passwords lead to access of my stuff?

I hope not.

One access point means authenticity and protection.

I don’t want people getting into my email account.  I don’t want my emails destroyed, or damaging emails sent out.  So I protect my email account with verification and extra verification.  There is only one password for my account, not a free-for-all.  If someone gets into my account–barring a hacker, which is possible in this fallen world–it would be because I trust that person–really, really trust that person.

God doesn’t give us multiple access points.  For one thing, God isn’t letting all His enemies into Heaven so they can try to destroy His Kingdom.  But more importantly, there isn’t any other way to get to Heaven except Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the only access point, because Jesus is the only one who can lead us to the Father in spirit and in truth (see John 4:23-24).

There’s no hacking into the Kingdom of God.  God has given one way, and only one way, for us to receive salvation.  What is incredible is that, rather than realize or focus on that God has given us a way to salvation, we often fixate that God has given us only one way to salvation.

It would be a little like me giving a password out that gave an incredible, unprecedented trove of access to anyone to receive, and then people complaining that I’m not fair because I use only one password and not just anything goes.  It doesn’t make any sense.

We don’t, in even our wicked standards, really live where anything is acceptable.  No one I have ever known invites people access into their computer who is intending to maliciously slander them and destroy their life.  (Much less inviting that person into your home–eternally.)

God isn’t going to allow us to enter Heaven just because we think it would be nice for Him to do so.  We’re forgetting–we’re liars, and we don’t know truth!  Without God’s Son as our sacrifice, we are malicious towards God, and can’t act in any other way.

Why would we expect or demand that He should invite people into His Kingdom who don’t want to serve the King?

All roads don’t lead to Heaven.  But that isn’t bad news.  That’s just reality.  The good news is that there is a road that leads to Heaven: Jesus Christ.  He is the access point to God’s love.

Sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth. (Jesus’ prayer to His Father before His death, praying for His followers–quoted in John 17:17, AKJV)

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See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

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Published in: on February 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Any language

1 Corinthians 13:1 says:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (ESV)

And 1 John 4:16b tells us:

God is love (ESV)

Any language, without God, is worthless.

“Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life.” (John 6:68, CEV)

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Photograph by x3shuqi, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/x3shuqi/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Published in: on February 12, 2012 at 3:29 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Allegiance

As an American, when I pledge allegiance to our flag, I don’t say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and Mexico and China and France and Kenya and Canada and Germany and Australia and India and Japan and Brazil and Ghana . . .”

How could I do this?  The government and rules in each country are different.

Christians are accused sometimes of being intolerant when they pledge their allegiance only to the God of the Bible, but that’s like saying it’s intolerant to only pledge allegiance to the American flag.  Pledging to the American flag isn’t even really about intolerance, it’s about (or is meant to be about) true devotion.  With national devotion naturally comes “intolerance” to devotion to other countries.  Pledging allegiance to God–it’s the same way.

Yes, it’s “intolerant” to pledge allegiance to one God, if you believe that all religions are on equal playing ground–but who really believes that?  That in itself is it’s own religion.  That’s similar to believing I should pledge allegiance to the world, but not to any particular country.  In a way, this belief is actually “intolerant” too–because I would be refusing allegiance to any one country.

(Not to mention, I don’t think too many countries would be very accepting of that kind of devotion.  It wouldn’t be very popular in America, for example, to stand up at a baseball game and sing loudly, “O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er America and Iran, and Iraq and Egypt?”)

I really am devoted to God.  And with that really does come “undevotion” (a.k.a. “intolerance) towards other religions.  But that’s so natural!  Other religions have done nothing for me–why should I try to serve them equally?  And how could I, when all other religions are in complete disharmony with Christianity?

I want to serve the God who died for me.  That’s the God I’ve given my allegiance to.  Anybody else’s god . . . isn’t my god.  I can’t agree to serve that god, too–I don’t even believe there are other gods, because my Bible tells me there aren’t.  I would be a ridiculous fraud, and incredibly disloyal, to give any other religion my allegiance . . . or even my respect . . . when I have met the God who took away my sins because He wanted to remove the infinite punishment from my soul.

I’m okay with being intolerant, if that’s what serving one God devotedly means nowadays.  I’m committed to Jesus, and on Him I want to pour every offering of allegiance I have.  But there’s more than just that–I want people to be led away from false religions to the true God.  That makes me doubly intolerant, I guess, in some people’s books–but I’m not out to be good in some people’s books.  I’m out to serve the God who was willing to become human so He could die to save me.  I’m out to serve the God who can bring me into Heaven by His grace.

I don’t believe in alternate Heavens or that all paths lead to Heaven’s gates.  It’s an impossibility.  Jesus says,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (from John 14:6, NIV)

Now there are only two options: either He was right, or He was wrong.  If He was right, there is no other way to God except Jesus.  And if He was wrong, it is impossible that all ways could be right because He would be wrong.  Believing all paths lead to Heaven is a self-refuting idea.

Because I don’t believe all paths lead to God, but only the way of Jesus Christ, it’s only natural that I would want people to follow Jesus.  I don’t want to see my friends or family go to Hell.  I don’t want to see anybody go to Hell.

Here’s where the allegiance to the flag analogy kinda breaks down.  There are other countries that I wouldn’t mind people committing themselves to–like Australia, for example.  But if there was only one country that was run justly, and all other countries were tyrannical and abusive and tortured their citizens, I would long for everyone to be a citizen of the country I knew to be safe.

It’s that way with God: I long for everyone to know the true God, the living God, so that they can live eternally in His Kingdom.

I want to live my life, not in such a way that others are proud of my tolerance, but in such a way that others are curious of my devotion.  All tolerance is, really, is accepting things as okay when they aren’t. I can be tolerant of the abuse happening to women in countries run by tyrannical governments, for example, but I don’t find anything admirable in that tolerance.  In the same way, I don’t find any beauty in pretending to stand in harmony with any religion that drops people off in Hell.

I pledge allegiance to the God who sent His Son to suffer and die for my sins, and to be raised up to defeat the power of sin once and for all.  That’s my God, and He holds all my allegiance.

There can’t be any allegiance left over to give to any other “god”.  Not if I really understand the cross.

Who would have believed what we now report?
Who could have seen the Lord’s hand in this?
It was the will of the Lord that his servant
grow like a plant taking root in dry ground.
He had no dignity or beauty
to make us take notice of him.
There was nothing attractive about him,
 nothing that would draw us to him.
We despised him and rejected him;
 he endured suffering and pain.
 No one would even look at him—
 we ignored him as if he were nothing.

But he endured the suffering that should have been ours,
the pain that we should have borne.
All the while we thought that his suffering
was punishment sent by God.
But because of our sins he was wounded,
beaten because of the evil we did.
We are healed by the punishment he suffered,
made whole by the blows he received.
All of us were like sheep that were lost,
each of us going his own way.
But the Lord made the punishment fall on him,
the punishment all of us deserved.

He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly;
he never said a word.
Like a lamb about to be slaughtered,
like a sheep about to be sheared,
he never said a word.
He was arrested and sentenced and led off to die,
and no one cared about his fate.
He was put to death for the sins of our people.
He was placed in a grave with those who are evil,
he was buried with the rich,
even though he had never committed a crime
or ever told a lie.

The Lord says,
It was my will that he should suffer;
his death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness.
And so he will see his descendants;
he will live a long life,
and through him my purpose will succeed.
After a life of suffering, he will again have joy;
he will know that he did not suffer in vain.
My devoted servant, with whom I am pleased,
will bear the punishment of many
and for his sake I will forgive them.
And so I will give him a place of honor,
a place among the great and powerful.
He willingly gave his life
and shared the fate of evil men.
He took the place of many sinners
and prayed that they might be forgiven. (Isaiah 53:1b-12, GNT)

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Good News Translation: Scripture taken from the Good News Translation in Today’s English Version- Second Edition Copyright © 1992 by American Bible Society. Used by Permission.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Unnested

I grew up outside of city limits, and then in the country, and one thing we always had was trees.  And with trees, birds.  And with birds, baby birds that had fallen out of the nest.

I grew up in the generation that was told baby birds couldn’t be put back in their nest, because their mama wouldn’t feed them.  So we would always be locked between two unpleasant options: taking the baby bird into our garage to spend the night and die in the morning, or leave it outside in hopes the baby bird would somehow make it back into its nest.   Either way, the baby bird always ended up dead.

The first time we found a baby bird and put it in our garage, I was very optimistic. I was sure we could feed it and love on it and that would be enough.  One day, we could release it back into the wild.  But when I woke up the next morning to excitedly greet my baby bird, my parents told me it had died in the night.

I didn’t understand.  Hadn’t we given it a warm habitat?  Wasn’t our water and food good enough for it?  Why had it died?

I was disillusioned enough that one day, when I found a baby bird out on an autumn day, and my mom said we couldn’t do anything to help it, I left it alone in the hopes it would get back into its next, feet and feet above it—which might as well have been miles and miles–somehow.  I came back outside later and found it dead on the cold earth.

It seems to me like what Romans tells us is we’re all like these baby birds.  We’ve all fallen out of the nest.  We’re all in despair, utterly helpless, doomed to die.

People all around the world are trying to invent cures for the human condition.  Whether through medication or psychology or entertainment or “good works” or career opportunities or romance or social networking or starting a family or anything else, we’re failing miserably.  It’s like we’re placing human souls in our own garage of philosophy, using what we reckon will surely help them, but they are as spiritually starved and abandoned under our care as they were before.

Other people have given up on trying to fix other people.  They walk past people who are in the last stages of spiritual death.   They see them floundering, maybe even pleading for help, but they rationalize these people just can’t be helped if they won’t get themselves to the help they need.

Now this is how the world treats people who are unnested, but what about Christians?  How do we treat people who are unnested?  Surely differently, right?  After all, the key to our Christianity is that we are now nested and we see the whole world unnested.  We hurt for those people.  So what do we do to help?

Sadly, sometimes we’re not much more help than the world.  We, having grown up in the world, believe their false tales about how to nest people back to where they belong, and we try to use their methods.

Sometimes we pick up nonChristians, if you will, and try to fix them ourselves.  We try to love on them enough, care for them enough, that they will be fed and well.  But, it just doesn’t work that way.  No matter how hard we try, we wind up with lost people who were hungrier and closer to death than before.

Sometimes we try “tough love” on nonChristians.  We advise them how they can fix their lives to be right with God.  If they would only quit this, do this, try this, they’d find themselves back up in that nest in no time.  But this is no more good than asking a baby bird with no feathers on its wings to fly back up to its nest.

Sometimes we feel justified in leaving lost people alone because, it seems so far as we can tell, God has abandoned them.  After all, why are they on the ground in the first place?  Maybe they got kicked out of the nest.  Maybe even if we could put them back, God wouldn’t take care of them anyway.

. . About the time I was twelve or thirteen, the idea about unnested baby birds was changing.  There was a new, radical idea experts were offering: put the baby bird back in the nest.  The mother might take care of the bird again, and it was the best chance the little bird had.

I remember the first time I knew of my family placing a baby bird back in the nest.  My grandfather climbed up a ladder and put the bird back in the nest.  To my wonder and joy, the mother accepted the baby bird back and began to care for him again.

The one thing, the only thing, I can do as a Christian that will actually help my lost friends, is bring them back to the nest of God.  I can’t climb a ladder, though, and tuck them back into Heaven.  Then again, I didn’t become saved by a Christian carrying back to God.

No Christian picked me up off the ground and put me back into God’s nest.  There’s no way.  Just like I was struggling for survival because I was a little bird, all of us, Christians and nonChristians, are little birds, too.  One little bird can’t carry another little bird to a tree.

What did happen for me is that I found out through the Word of God and Christians in my life that God is not a helpless parent bird, or a parent bird who would reject us even if we did somehow make it back into His nest.  God is actually eager, eager, to receive us back into His kingdom.  But we can’t get there by letting someone carry us away and put us in a cardboard box in a garage.  And we can’t get there by trying to will ourselves to fly back up to Heaven.  What we have to do, and all we have to do, is tweet Him.

True.

God tells us, from Genesis to Revelation–irrevocably, irrefutably recorded in His Word–that when we call on Him, repenting that we fell out of the nest, and ready to live in His Kingdom according to His Authority, He will cup His hands over us and carry us back to His nest.

We tweet, “Lord, help!”

And He is there.  Faster than the fastest internet connection, He is there.

God promises us three times:

And everyone who calls on the name of the LORD will be saved (Joel 2:32a, NIV)

“‘And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” (Peter, quoting Joel, Acts 2:21, NIV)

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Paul, quoting Joel, from Romans 10:13, NIV)

We can’t get back in the nest on our own or by anybody else rescuing us.  We can only get back in the nest by the rescue of God.  This is the message of salvation.  Not Christians saving nonChristians, but Christians testifying that anyone who sincerely tweets God will be placed back in His nest.

Have you tweeted God?  There is nothing mysterious to the tweeting.  The mystery is that God wants to place us back in His nest.

But He does.

And that’s why my Twitter account is with God.

All those who the Father gives me will come to me. Him who comes to me I will in no way throw out. (Jesus, quoted in John 6:37, WEB)

I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (Jesus, quoted in John 10:28, ESV)

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First photograph, baby bird out of nest, by Ben Husmann, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/benhusmann/

Second photograph, baby birds in nest, by Kyle MacKenzie, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/kylemackenzie/

Photograph is under Creative Commons License.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

tangled & unraveling

I didn’t have a video game system as a young kid or a computer, so when kids came over to the house and we wanted to play an indoor game, we often played board games.  Whenever I had friends over, we would pick one of my games to play over and over and over.  They never got boring to me.  (I played Candyland way, way, way past the suggested age.  What can I say? Candyland rocks.)

One of the game we played (with a higher suggested age limit) was a spaghetti game.  I don’t remember the name of it, and I don’t know why I don’t have it anymore.  Maybe it’s hidden in my garage somewhere or maybe it wound up in a garage sale.  The basic idea of the game was to get your “spaghetti” all wound up on your fork.

The “pizza” gameboard had lots of deep holes.  There were “topping” pegs (pegs with stickers on the top with a pizza topping image) you placed in the holes.  The topping pegs were pretty strong (I’ll tell you how I know in a minute).  There were forks attached to “spaghetti” (colored yarn), and the other end the yarn was attached to a plate.  The forks would pop into the plate so you could wind the yarn up.

The catch—literally—was that you were supposed to let the forks with the yarn “fall” over the topping pieces, looping around some of them.

Of course, that was not the way we played it.

We were kids.

We wound the yarn around as many topping pieces as we possibly could.  We would wind them multiple times around the same topping piece (which actually made it easier, but I guess we didn’t realize it then).  But we would get the yarn in ginormous messes.  Since it was a 4-player game, there was red, blue, yellow, and green yarn in absolute mess across the board.

We would have that yarn wound so tight, looking back I have to give the manufacturing company a lot of credit.  Almost always, the pegs would stay in place.  One might pop up if we yanked really, really hard and if it had a ridiculous amount of yarn wrapped around it.

In the game, players took turns rolling a die with different topping pictures on each side.  If you got a mushroom, for example, you could pull up any mushroom peg.  You would always try to pull up one that would help you—but since we wound the yarn so much, it would very often help at least one other person, too.  Then you’d wind up the yarn as fast as you could.  Again, the manufacturers must have known they were making this game for kids, because the durability was great.

. . . . . I was remembering that game today, thinking about my life.  Sometimes, my life seems like a big old mess of yarn all tangled around pegs.  I roll the die desperately to try to untangle some part, but then I end up enabling some enemy like bitterness or frustration to roll up part of their yarn, too.

I feel like I’m the one who’s got the most yarn still tangled on the field, while feelings like bitterness and frustration have reeled most of their yarn in.

Not only do I have to deal with the competition of my sin nature and the sins of others around me—all vying to win, too—but, as if that isn’t enough, lately I feel like every time I get a peg loose, Satan is finding another peg to wind and twist the yarn around.

What’s the point? I hear myself asking, and it is not a part of myself I like.  Why try?  What difference will it make?  What difference do you think you can make anyway?  You’ll only tangle things up worse if you try.

Well, with these “eager words of encouragement”, it’s kinda hard to feel motivated.  I want to just throw in the towel and say, “Okay, Satan, you won with me”—and stand back and wait for God to do all the work.  I want to lay down on the sidelines of the race and cheer for the Christian who is able to run faster or smarter or longer than me.

Giving up doesn’t do any good—and just about the whole world will tell you that.

But what most of the world won’t tell you is that trying your best won’t do you any good either.

I am convinced that there is no way I can ever untangle the mess in my life.  And, in case I ever forget that, all I have to do is pick the least tangled peg and try to uproot it to remember how useless and worthless my own efforts really are.

I am convinced that there is no way God is going to be pleased if I just throw my hands up and give up.  Jesus told a parable of a servant who hid his master’s money in the ground instead of earning more money with it, or even just depositing it in the bank (see Matthew 25:14-20).  In the parable, the master wasn’t pleased or even marginally tolerant of the servant’s laziness when he got back.  Instead he cast the servant out—forever.

What on earth is the solution?  I can’t “earn” the right to remove obstacles from my life, and even when I try, I can’t succeed.  But I am held responsible for the way my life is when I die.  I find myself empathizing with Paul when he says:

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? (Romans 7:24, NLT)

Fortunately, he doesn’t stop there.

Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Romans 7:25, NLT)

There are a lot of tangles in my life.  And there’s not a one of them I can undo.  But Christ can unwind every mess.  Christ doesn’t call me to passively sit back and watch, however.  He calls me to follow Him by faith, through grace, to clarity, peace, and the unraveling of sin.

In Him, I find the truth of who I can be through Him—and I can’t believe who He sees.  But through His untangling of my sin in His payment on the cross,  I can not only be forgiven forever—as if that is not astonishing enough—but restored, whole, walking on the straight-and-narrow.

It’s the glorious untangling that only Christ can offer through His payment for all our tangles.

I want to be untangled, Lord.

I’m ready.

Please unravel my sin through Your goodness you gave as payment on the cross.

“I tell you the truth, everyone who lives in sin is a slave to sin. A slave does not stay with a family forever, but a son belongs to the family forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be truly free.” (John 8:34b-36, NCV)

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See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Revelation: The Power of True Prophesy

About 2,000 years ago, a fisherman banished to a lonely island because he believed his friend had been resurrected from the dead and was God, wrote down visions he said he’d seen of his friend and what would happen at the end of the world.

These visions have been called Revelation. Not “revelations”, but Revelation–the final prophesy of the Bible, the final book of God’s Word, the final Scripture we have.  2,000 years have gone by, and though some people have tried–and some people have tried mightily–no further words have ever been added to the Holy Bible.

What we read today is what John the fisherman wrote down about 2,000 years ago–only in English of course (for me).  For my friends in Bangladesh, the Words have been translated to Bengali.  For my friends in South America, Spanish.  For my friend in Togo, French.  And for my friend in India, well, she can read English, too, but they’re also in Hindi.  The words of Revelation have been translated into languages around the world–and the translation process is far from halted as more and more people groups are reached with God’s Word in their own language.

I don’t know any other book of prophesy that has had close to that kind of success.  This isn’t because Revelation is one of the best fiction books ever written.  I don’t know about you, but if I’m reading what I think is a nonfiction book, and I find out it’s actually fiction, I don’t want to reread it and give it to others to read.

I also don’t know any other book of prophesy that has been so deliberately misused.  It’s undeniable–lots of people are out to make a profit on the book of Revelation.  Fortune-telling makes money, and there are a heap of people in the world who want to use anything they can to try to forecast their way into peoples’ wallets.  The tragedy is, if these people actually understood the book they were trying to prophesy about, they would never try to twist the words in Revelation to build their income empire.  Instead, they would flee from all scams and get right with God asap–now, pronto!

One of the most common misunderstandings about Revelation is people (and some who are not con artists) look for an exact date for when Jesus will return.  But if they were to actually find that date, they would be contradicting the words of Jesus Himself, who says:

“No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mark 13:32, NIV)

Can I possibly think that I can know something Jesus Himself chooses not to know?  Not a chance.  (Jesus is not less God because He did not know the date, because He chose not to know the date.  I don’t know whether He still chooses not to know or not, now that He is ascended to Heaven.)

If I read Revelation in humility and not thinking I can solve the mysteries of God by my own “brilliant” brain (ha ha ha), I know there is no way I can “crack the code” of Revelation.  For one thing, I can’t even fully understand Jesus’ Words in the Sermon on the Mount, or when He told the parable of the lost sheep, or when He forgave the soldiers who were mocking Him and spitting on Him.  How on earth could I say that I fully understand God?  It’s not just that I’m mortal.  I’m a mess.  And it’s more than that, too.

How can I say I can relate to the love of God?  No way.  I can’t do that.  I wouldn’t send my child to die for a group of hateful, ugly people (I’m talking about all of us here) who would be the ones to kill Him.  I wouldn’t create a master plan that would mean I would wait thousands of years for just the right time and then come to earth to be tortured.  Understand that?  Oh, there’s no way.

I can’t understand the wrath of God, either.  I don’t know how deep sin runs.  I’m used to sin.  I’m in sin.  I don’t get how destructive or everlasting it really is.  I can’t forecast the consequences.  I can’t get my brain around Hell.

Steven Curtis Chapman says it: “God is God and I am not.”[1]  What would make me think I could master any of the Words of God, when He is my Master?

Sometimes when I see the efforts of people to try to explain or depict Revelation, I want to cringe.  Our best understanding is just weak.  That’s all there is to it.  One of the writers of the New Testament, a man who spoke to Jesus Himself, recognized how far apart we are from the Lord Jesus’ understanding of things:

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:12, NIV)

Other people go a whole other route.  They want to stay away from Revelation altogether.  Revelation seems so hard, so intricate, so overwhelming, that they would rather stay out of end times.  This is usually where I’ve found myself.

But this is a problem, too.

Revelation stresses again and again to listen, listen, listen.  God doesn’t command us to listen because we can’t understand.  Even though I feel like I probably have only a speck of understanding in Revelation, I do have a speck.

I get that the coming Judgment is going to be the most catastrophic thing that has ever happened or will ever happen to us.  I understand that the word terror doesn’t even begin to explain what’s going to happen to people who will face God without Jesus as their intercessor.  I understand that bad times are coming (and have come) for those who believe in Jesus.  I understand there’s going to be the worst battle ever, and that people who call themselves Christians but don’t really love the Christ they claim to know are going to fall away–and Christians who hold true are going to be in for the night before the dawn.

I get that there’s going to be an epic battle that’s going to make every epic battle that’s ever been portrayed in a movie melt away in comparison.  And I know that Heaven is going to be unimaginably, unfathomably, unforeseeably, mortally unspeakably, forever unmistakably great.

But it is just as the Scriptures say,

  “What God has planned

   for people who love him

   is more than eyes have seen

   or ears have heard.

   It has never even

   entered our minds!” (1 Corinthians 2:9. CEV)

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Acknowledgement: The idea that Revelation is the Revelation and not “revelations” is something I never realized or thought about before hearing from a childhood pastor, Doug.

[1] “God is God”, Steven Curtis Chapman

Scripture taken from the Contemporary English Version © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.