Prosperity Not Gospel

When John the Baptist came preaching in Judea, he did not have even a shirt on his back. The Bible says:

“And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey.”  (Mat. 3:4)

The man was that poor materially. Moreover, John went on and preached, saying:

“He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise.” (Lk. 3:11)

When Jesus lived here on earth, the Bible says of Him:

“The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” (Mat. 8:20)

And, pray, what have we here today? We have preachers who own private jets and million-dollar homes and cars and who claim to preach the same gospel that John and Jesus preached.

Aw, c’mon! C’mon!!

[Prosperity preachers are not much different from this fellow. Scheming and conniving to get their paws on their material “dues”]

“Much Tribulation”

21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city, and had taught many, they returned again to Lystra, and to Iconium, and Antioch,

22 Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God. Acts 14:21-22

What would you rather have preached in your church?

Today, the church has a wide range of choices when it comes to what people want to hear. But this wide range of choices is a dangerous thing for all these things cater to the flesh. The Apostle Paul warned his young protégé Timothy:

“3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”

To which he added an admonition:

“5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”

Notice that “endure afflictions” is firmly tucked in there. We may have a choice today, but the early church did not have the luxury of hearing what they wanted to hear. No doubt they, just as much as we, would have liked to hear a “soft” gospel, one which promised them a comfortable and trouble-free life here on earth and eternal life in the hereafter. But God would not allow that, for in surrendering to the flesh there is no life.

The apostles were men sent of God. They had in their hearts a revelation of Christ, Christ crucified. They therefore had only one message to deliver:

that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

I wonder how you can reconcile this Biblical message with the man-made messages of financial and material prosperity, promotion and whatnot. In today’s gospel setting, it seems you are not allowed to upset people. It is more important to talk about the “abundant life”, whatever that is, than the suffering that we are to endure for the gospel’s sake.

But if we live, we live for Christ, and if we die, we die for Him also. This is borne out by the example of the Apostle Paul himself who, when addressing Timothy, writes:

“16 At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me… 17 Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.” (2 Timothy 4:16-17)

It would have been wonderful to read that God delivered Paul from harm in order that Paul could continue living his own life. But this account states otherwise. It says here that God preserved Paul in order that he might continue preaching the gospel. God preserves us for a purpose – His purpose. There is no place in scripture to believe that God preserves us in order that we might continue doing our own thing here on earth. God preserves us in order that we might preach and live the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is for this reason that God brings the cross into our lives. The cross is God’s plan for mankind. The cross involves all the things listed in 2 Corinthians 12:10:

“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”

In this gospel, people will stamp on you and you will tried and tempted in many different ways. And God expects us to take all that patiently.

The Bible makes clear that you can enter into the Kingdom of heaven minus many of the things that we think are important in our lives – financial success, promotion at work, healing; Jesus even said you can enter with one eye and one hand (Mat. 5:29,30) – but you cannot enter the Kingdom of God without living out the cross in your life. The Bible says that we must through much tribulation enter into God’s heavenly Kingdom. That means suffering and bearing with a lot of negative things in our lives as believers.

That being the case, how about we begin thanking God for the problems instead of wishing them away. We might have been taught otherwise in the mega-churches; but we just might find we are on the right track here. Actually, the Bible says we are.

“Confirming the souls of the disciples, and exhorting them to continue in the faith, and that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.”

To exhort means to encourage. You encourage someone when they are undergoing challenges and hardship. The Christian life is a challenge. Living the Christian life is actually the greatest challenge there is in life. The reason for this is because this challenge is not necessarily about physical or material deprivation. Rather, it goes deep into the nether parts of our souls and challenges us there. Here, the deepest things of our hearts are challenged. Here, our pride is challenged. If you are white, your whiteness will be challenged. If you are an African, your Africanness will be challenged. If you have a greed for material wealth like the rich young man we read of the other day that will be challenged also.

These and other carnal traits are the things that make up the un-Christlike character in us, and God wants them out of our lives. God sends us His servants to exhort us to bear with hardships for the gospel’s sake. They encourage us to die to self and to our lusts. After we are truly and fully dead, the grace of God – which is the life of Christ – will increase in us, and we will be able to please God in every area of our lives.

[What would you rather have preached in church?]

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Tortoise Or Giraffe Meat?

11 But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.

12 For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

13 For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it:

14 And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by his grace,

16 To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:

17 Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus…

21 Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;

22 And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:

23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.

24 And they glorified God in me. Gal. 1:11-24

The people amongst whom I live eat tortoises. Or at least they used to eat in former times, for the story I am about to narrate is of long bygone days. Tortoises, though, were eaten as a last resort, when there was no other meat available. The story goes that one day, a man was walking in the bush when he came across a large tortoise. He immediately caught it and put it on his head and headed home. As he walked along he met two men going in the opposite direction. The men asked him, “What is that you are carrying?”

“It’s a tortoise”, replied the man.

“Throw that away”, the men told him. “We just received news that a giraffe has been killed in the valley and you can go take as much as you need.”

The man quickly threw away the tortoise and headed to the valley with his two friends. There they found the dead giraffe and all the vllagers were taking away as much meat as they could.

In a related development… Two years ago, myself together with a team of five other pastors were travelling to a neighboring country to attend a conference. These were pastors who had recently ‘converted’ to the gospel of the cross, and they were eager to hear more about the cross.

A few hours into our journey, one of the men received a call. After the initial greetings, the conversation proceeded as follows:

The caller: “Where are you?”

The pastor: “I am on a bus.”

“What bus?”

“I am travelling to Nairobi.”

“What?! What are you going to do in Nairobi?”

“I am attending a conference.”

“What conference? You mean you will no longer be attending our classes?”

“Er, not exactly, but for the next few days I won’t.”

“If that’s the case, then we need you to hand back our books, how do we get them?”

“Unfortunately, you will have to wait until I come back”, said our man.

We were all seated on adjacent seats, so we all could hear our man’s side of the conversation. In any case, there are people (myself included) who, when on the phone, have an undefiable inclination to talk in a loud voice. The reason for this propensity to talk loudly on the phone is another story altogether which I shall reserve for later. And our man was talking as if he was in a shouting match.

After he had hung up, the pastor seated next to him asked him, “What was that about a class and books?”

“Oh, it’s a class on discipleship that I have been attending.”

“What discipleship?”

“Well, y’know, becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.”

“Do you have those books with you here?”

“I have one”, replied the pastor.

“Let me see it.”

At which the pastor pulled out from his bag a medium-sized Christian manual.

Without even opening it, his fellow told him, “Throw that tortoise out the bus window. How can you still be carrying a tortoise when we are going to eat giraffe meat?”

Ever since that day, our team has fashioned many anecdotes based on the story of the tortoise and the giraffe.

But, on a more serious note, such a conversation can tell you immediately the man whose eyes have seen in the Spirit and one who has not; the man who has caught the revelation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the gospel of the cross, and one who has not. The one who has caught this revelation talks like the Apostle Paul:

“But we preach Christ crucified…” (1 Cor. 1:23); and

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

The first thing that happens when a man or woman receives the revelation of the cross is that they think and talk differently, not just from the world, but from the charismatic gospel. The cross is always on their lips. They talk a language you cannot hear in the charismatic gospel.

In his epistles the Apostle Paul talks about the revelation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This revelation was the basis of what Paul preached. He preached “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23); an assertion which, as we just saw, he repeats in 1 Corinthians 2:2.

But this revelation was not a burst of light nor some form of inspiration. On the contrary, it was a work of the Spirit in the inner man, as he tells us in Galatians 1 above:

“23 But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed. 24 And they glorified God in me.”

As we see here with Paul, we live the gospel that we preach. Our lives transform and we change. In other words, we live the crucified life, where the old man in us is daily crucified to this world and the new, who is formed in the image of Jesus Christ, is daily formed in us, unto perfection. As the Bible says in Galatians 5:24:

And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”

These people heard about the transformation that had taken place in Paul’s life!

[Children playing in a village in central Tanzania]

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Deception vs the Cross

I don’t know when this video was taken. Nevertheless, I thank the Lord Jesus Christ so much! The people in this video are men and women whom I would not, in a million years, have the faintest chance of matching in terms of brainpower, power, status or worldly wealth. (There are people here being asked for a single donation of 10,000 U.S. dollars!)

And yet, thanks to the grace of God, even though I am light years away from their class, I cannot imagine being scammed on the massive scale that these people are being scammed. Not that I am judging them. On the contrary, my heart goes out to them. These are people who had not the revelation of the true gospel of Jesus Christ – “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) – in their hearts. They probably had never heard it preached. But, again, in their day, there probably was no teacher of the gospel who taught this revelation.

But, today, God has brought to light the gospel of the revelation of the cross of Jesus Christ and it is spreading all over the earth. And yet, even today, there are equally level-headed people – God’s people – who are being conned on an even bigger magnitude than what we witness in this video clip.

I have no words to express my gratitude to God, who delivered me from gospels of preachers such as these, who do not have the revelation of the cross in them; to whom, I hasten to add, I was once enslaved.

“(The Lord) brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.” (Ps. 40:2)

It is a sad tale, the tale of where today’s men of God have taken the church to. They have taken God’s people back into the miry pit.

Sadly, everything in this video clip – the beautiful piano music, the soothing voice of the man speaking in the background, the preacher’s well-modulated intonations – are all used to euthanize the minds of the people this preacher is targeting.

The Road To Error

For in him we live, and move, and have our being. Acts 17:28

Most people think that cults are only those that are led by people with dreadlocks and who mumble unintelligible mumbo jumbo. But I can assure you that your average church could very easily be a cult. The Bible doesn’t mention the word “cult”; but the Biblical definition of a cult would be: “A place of worship – call it church or whatever – where men, and not Jesus, are placed on a pedestal”.

About 10 years ago, my friend Joshua and I were invited to preach in a certain church. I do not remember the exact details concerning the pastor of this church, but I do recall that we came away with the distinct impression that this was a man who was “full of himself”. He was in total control of everything and he presented himself in such a manner that he was revered tremendously.

To this day, Joshua and I still use the phrase “a man full of himself” since, in the course of our ministry, we have met many men of God who use their influence to draw attention to themselves.

Upon reading the Bible, however, it is evident that the Godly men of old did not talk about or draw attention to themselves. On the contrary, they talked of and represented God. In the New Testament, our Lord Jesus Christ, Himself being the prime example, talked so much about His Father that, one day, Philip said to Him,

“Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.” (Jn. 14:8)

This scripture does not mean, as some people suppose, that Philip and the rest of the Apostles were telling Jesus off, or that they were tired of hearing Him constantly refer to His heavenly Father. On the contrary, it infers that they were so captivated by the kind of life that Jesus kept referring to as belonging to God the Father that they wanted to know, literally, what kind of God was this? And, could such a lifestyle be possible with man? It sounded so surreal!

Their jaws must have dropped when they learned, through Jesus’s answer that, in Him they were looking at the very God He was talking about!  Jesus confirmed to them that, through the kind of life that He had lived with them, He was God. His was a perfect, blameless life.

God, and not man, is the subject of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Throughout the ages, Godly men have been full of God, and not themselves.

After Jesus had ascended to heaven and after the apostles, through the Holy Spirit, had validated that Jesus indeed was God, thereafter, in the totality of their ministry and lives, they laid it thick on the Lordship of our Lord Jesus Christ and on the Godhead of our Heavenly Father. At every opportunity, they emphasized only these two things.

But concerning themselves, they had only the most abasing things to say. The Apostle Paul, talking of himself, could only say:

“…I be nothing.” (2 Cor. 12:11)

Recently, I was watching a documentary about a cult called the Heaven’s Gate, where members were told that they would be transported to heaven by an alien spacecraft. That farce ended with the suicide of 39 of the sect’s members. Incredibly, some of those who escaped the collective suicide, speaking in the documentary, told of how they still believed in the man who organized it and in his teachings. Unbelievable, to say the least.

In November, 1978, the Jonestown cult orchestrated the forced suicide of more than 900 of its members. They had all been brainwashed by a madman called Jim Jones.

These and countless similar incidents all point to the dangers of believing in men. Men, hearkening to seducing spirits, have long been leading multitudes of men and women to hell through demonic teachings and ‘revelations’. Some years back, in our neighboring country of Uganda, a ‘prophet’ named Kibwetere directed his congregation to sell all their property and to prepare to go to heaven. After taking all their money, he then locked them in his ‘church’ and torched it from outside. Everyone died, and to this day Kibwetere’s whereabouts are unknown.

In Nigeria, just last year, over a hundred people, many of them South Africans, were crushed to death when a poorly-constructed building fell them. They died at the very place they had gone to seek healing for their bodies and other miracles. The list of such things is endless.

Let me reiterate that, however holy, however sincere, however ‘good’; even if a man has the best reputation both in heaven and on earth, still, he is nothing. Christ is all in all. True, we are called upon to follow men, but the men we are called upon to follow are men who have crucified their lives with Christ.

“Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” 1 Cor. 11:1)

We need the revelation of the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ to discern such men, for many will come in sheep’s clothing, but on the inside they are ravenous wolves.

Christ is the foundation of our faith, not men. Today, people are putting men on a pedestal at the expense of Christ. The reason for this, of course, is what Jesus said in John 5:41-44:

“41 I receive not honour from men. 42 But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. 43 I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. 44 How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only?”

Men who love giving men honour also love receiving honor from men, and the Bible here tells us that such people have not the love of God in them. They do not love God, their claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

Why should we want people to praise us, anyway? It is because we want to appropriate His glory for ourselves. Now, in worldly terms, that is called treason. And, in every country of the world, the punishment for treason is death. When you attempt to challenge the authority of the king, you arouse his highest level of wrath.

The same applies to God.

Many so-called churches today are nothing but cults. The reason is, simply, that men, and not Jesus, are exalted in these churches. And when we exalt men, we exalt nothing but the flesh.

But when we exalt Christ, we exalt Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And in Him alone who died and rose again is to be found the life of the Spirit.

Where is man in the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and Him crucified?

Here, man has been crucified with Christ.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2:20)

[There are a whole lot of fascinating things going on in this clip, from the shakings to the fakings. From the woman yelling, “Puuuuush!!” to ‘Manpower’. For me, though, it is the speed with which T.D. Jakes raises his hands as 1m. U.S. dollars closes in on him that generates the most interest]

Seeing Into God’s Kingdom – Part 1

15 Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints,

16 Cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers;

17 That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:

18 The eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,

19  And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power… Eph. 1:15-19

I have a brother, a fellow pastor, who goes from one conference to another, from seminar to seminar, and I have come  to discover that all he is really after is money. Most of the conferences that he attends are hosted by organisers who promise numerous perks to the attendees: return tickets, free food, free accommodation and even, sometimes, pocket money. The truly big fish that a preacher can land in these meetings, of course, is to ‘connect’ with a wealthy ministry that can support him financially.

In my heart, I have refrained from judging this brother because I was once in exactly the same boat that he is in right now. There was a time when I thought that “gain is godliness” (1 Tim 6:5)!

But the revelation of the gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ has helped me to know that God’s Kingdom has absolutely nothing to do with anything of this world, much less its material and financial propositions. Therefore now, even though I may not have everything that I need in this world, yet my eyes are not set on these things.  I run a different race now, a difficult one in the flesh, but refreshing in the Spirit.

Notice, in the above scripture, that Paul prays for the Ephesians that, as believers in Christ, their spiritual eyes may be opened to the end that they may see or “know” something different from what the world is chasing after. The things that he wants them to see are spiritual:

  • The hope of God’s calling upon their lives;
  • The riches of the glory of God’s inheritance in the saints; and
  • The exceeding greatness of God’s power in us who believe.

The Letter to the Ephesians is an incredibly powerfully spiritual letter. Right from the beginning, it compellingly portrays our spiritual inheritance in the Spirit. But for us to know these things, our spiritual eyes must be enlightened.

Most people assume that, because they are saved, that they can see everything, that they know everything. But that is a wrong assumption. Notice how Paul addresses the Ephesians in verse 13:

“In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise…”

In other words, these were people who had believed in Christ Jesus. They were saints. Moreover, they were filled with the Holy Spirit (“… sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” – refer Acts 2:39). The Ephesians were Spirit-filled, tongues-speaking believers!

And yet the Apostle Paul prays for their eyes to be enlightened. How can that be?

It is scenarios like that of my pastor friend that show that the church’s eyes are not enlightened yet, even though we are saved. When a baby is born, it is born with its eyes closed. The mother looks for nothing else but the eyes. She eagerly anticipates the moment when her baby’s eyes will flip open and, as she looks deep into her baby’s eyes she says, with deep emotion, “Welcome to the world, baby!”

It is even so with God. God’s earnestness is for us to see into His spiritual Kingdom. Not until our spiritual eyes have been enlightened to see into His spiritual Kingdom can God feel truly satisfied and say, “Welcome to My Kingdom, my beloved son/daughter!”

[Below: “The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” Ps. 24:1. Many nationalities, including Chinese, are welcome in Tanzania]

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On To Spiritual Maturity!

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 1 Cor. 13:11

It is clear here that Paul is referring to two states of his spiritual life. In other words, both these experiences occurred during his life as a believer.

There was a time, Paul says, when he lived a childish spiritual life. No doubt he was referring to the time when he ‘served’ God under the law. This was the time when his heart was so twisted that he went about persecuting and destroying the church, the heart of the very God he thought he was serving.

Spiritual childishness brings these things into our lives. The works of the flesh are evident in our lives when we are living in this state.

So, what brought about the change? What was it that transformed Paul from being “a child” to being “a man” spiritually? What removed the spirit of war in him and turned him into the world’s biggest punching bag? Was it the passage of time that changed Paul? Hardly. There are people who live thirty, forty years in salvation and they are still spiritual babes.

What transformed Paul is the gospel that he received. The Bible says that Paul received a revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:12). This gospel of the revelation of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2) nurtured Paul and brought him to a state of spiritual maturity.

There are many gospels to be found within the Body of Christ, but not all are edifying. Not all build up the inner man of the spirit. Today, the gospels that are most popular with believers are those that talk of material blessings, healing, and so-called generational curses. But these gospels bring no growth to the inner man of the spirit. They do not address the problem of the old man of the flesh.

That is why with Paul there was only one gospel: the gospel of the cross. He tells the Corinthians:

“For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18)

“Them that perish” here refers to believers. Paul was addressing the saved Corinthians here. And he was telling them that they needed to hear and steadfastly cleave to the gospel that would continually crucify the lusts of the flesh in their lives – “the preaching of the cross”! Otherwise, Paul warned, they would perish spiritually.

Why would they perish spiritually? It is because they would remain “babes” forever. Spiritual “babes” will never get to see God, neither in this world, nor in the next, for it is written:

“Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.” (Mat. 5:8)

Spiritual “babes” cannot preserve a pure heart. Their hearts are easily muddied.

This is the reason God wants us to go on to spiritual maturity.

Probably, upon seeing the great works that the Holy Spirit worked in their midst, the Corinthians thought that this was the true power of God. But Paul wanted them to know that the gospel was more powerful than just working miracles. The true power of the gospel was to be found in its ability to transform the inner man through the working of the cross in the heart of man.

If all you ever know about the cross is that Christ died for your sins, you will never grow to maturity. You will remain unaware of the deep work that needs to happen in your heart through the Spirit. But if you arrive at the revelation of what the cross of Jesus Christ is meant to accomplish in your life, that revelation, or gospel has the power to bring you to spiritual maturity.

That is why all the gospel we need to hear preached is “Jesus Christ, and him crucified”.

Paul therefore says that when he was a child, he spoke as a child, he understood as a child, and he thought as a child. He is talking about his spiritual walk. During the time that Paul’s spirit was nurtured by a different gospel – the gospel of the law – Paul lived a childish spiritual life. Then, hatred, anger and bitterness ruled his heart.

Let us consider the importance of the fact that Paul wrote the scripture we are discussing as the conclusion to his famous teaching on love. What has becoming “a man” got to do with love?

It is because now, on becoming “a man” spiritually, Paul’s heart is no longer ruled by the weak elements of the carnal man. Now his heart is ruled by the powerful attributes of the Holy Spirit: love, patience and forgiveness.

Romans 13:10 says,

“Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Love is the perfect fulfilling of God’s holy law. We fulfill God’s law by working no ill to our neighbor. In order for that to happen, we have to crucify the lusts of the flesh. Only through this can we learn to forgive, to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. That is what it is to work no ill to our neighbor.

Of all the things that abide – faith, hope and charity – “the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Cor. 13:13)

And Jesus taught:

 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn. 15:13)

Obviously, you can love and love. But the greatest form of love, as we see from Jesus’ and Paul’s teachings, is the laying down of one’s life for another.

The gospel of the cross of Jesus Christ teaches us to do just that.

[Below: The thought processes and actions of a child are vastly different from an adult’s]

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