Sovereignty

Mystery & Clarity (Romans 11:25-36)

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Learning to live with mystery is an integral part of the Christian life. The topics Paul has been writing about, election, human responsibility, God’s plan in redemption for the Jewish people and the Gentiles are hard to grasp fully.

God’s words to us recorded in Isaiah 55:8-9 are a helpful reminder of our limited capacity to grasp the ways of God;

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts; neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Moses counselled God’s people who were trying to wrap their heads around God’s actions in judging the nation of Israel for their sin in breaking His covenant with them saying;

“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

Similarly, the apostle Paul, having written about the mystery of salvation history and having written to the Roman believers about how the majority of Israel has been hardened so that the full number of elect Gentiles will be saved. Having written about how God will do a new work in the future in Israel in which He will save all “Israel” somehow, in faithfulness to His covenant promises. Then after writing about these things, the apostle breaks out in wonder and worship at the mysteries of God’s ways;

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)

We are so limited in our understanding. If I am honest, I don’t even really know how the toaster I am about to use works! May we remember that, when we dive into the deep end of the mysteries of God’s ways in election and redemption history and what does it mean that ‘in this way, all Israel will be saved’? (vs26)?

Living with worshipful trust in the presence of mystery is essential for the believer. There will be lots of things, even in our little lives and the lives of those we love that will not be solvable to our limited understanding. May you, may I trust God and worship God in those moments, knowing and holding on to that which is clear in Scripture;

And this is what is clear; “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

  • All things are from God; God is sovereign over all things
  • All things are through God; God is both the creator, the author & the sustainer of all things (Colossians 1:15-17)
  • All things exist for God’s eternal purpose of His glory being displayed and magnified in all things and by all people and all of creation forever and ever!

And, you and I are part of that good plan of God to glorify Himself. Election, grace and all of the mysteries of redemption history are part of that good plan to glorify Himself. What we can understand and what we can’t understand are all part of God’s plan. So even though we don’t understand it all, we can know with utter certainty that God will always be working in us and through all of creation for His glory and we can know that we who believe in Him are wrapped up in that grand plan and through it are blessed forever and ever!

So trust God and worship Him in the midst of mystery thanking Him for the clarity He has given us which is enough to worship Him forever with.

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God: Free to Choose (Romans 9:16-29)

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In Romans 9:1-16, we learnt that God is mercifully sovereign in choosing anyone to be His people.

(Romans 9:16-18): God’s sovereign choice of actions is not limited. God works in all of human history; God even works through evil despots for the purpose of His will – “that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (vs17). God is free as the sovereign One to have mercy on those He chooses to and to harden whomever He wishes for the broader purpose of His will.

God is not unjust in acting in this way. After all, as Paul demonstrated in the early chapters of his letter, that all human beings are sinful and guilty in God’s sight (3:9,19&23), nobody deserves to be saved or chosen by God. “Therefore, if God hardens some, He is not unjust, for that is what their sin deserves.” – John Stott

(Romans 9:19): But if God is so much in control and since we cannot resist His will – then the question arises; “How can God find anyone guilty?” The answer to this question completes the verses of the chapter.

(Romans 9:20–23): Scripture never defends God’s sovereign free will to choose to show mercy or to express His righteous wrath and to still hold people accountable for their sin. Instead, Scripture insists that we, as finite human beings, are totally out of order rebelliously questioning God’s ways! When we do so, we are like the clay disrespectfully calling the potter to account for his actions in choosing to make what He wanted to out of the clay. “God created a world in which both his wrath and his mercy would be displayed. Indeed, his mercy shines against the backdrop of his just wrath, showing thereby that the salvation of any person is due to the marvellous grace and love of God. If this is difficult to understand, it is because people mistakenly think God owes them salvation! ” (ESV Study Bible)

(Romans 9:24-29): In his grace and mercy, God has called people to himself from both the Jews and the Gentiles just as He promised He would do through the prophet Hosea (Hosea 2:23 & 1:10). God did this to illustrate His stunning undeserved grace. All people who are called by God are sinful underserving people; God has shown His grace to the Gentiles just as He showed His grace to Israel by saving them and choosing them as His own even though they were all undeserving. Anyone being chosen by God for mercy and not wrath is pure mercy on the part of God!

(vs27-29) Remember that not all of ethnic Israel was saved, or were truly God’s people, but only a remnant was the true Israel of God as was prophesied in Isaiah 10:22–23 and experienced salvation and not God’s judgement (Isaiah 1:9).

Are you battling with some of what’s revealed about God in Romans 9? Ask yourself why you’re battling? Is not all of Scripture God-breathed and useful to teaching and rebuking us (2 Timothy 3:16)? Are you not in danger of being the clay screaming at the potter about what ought and ought not to be? We need to be so careful that we do not elevate our thoughts or questions above the revelation of Scripture in such a way that we end up judging Scripture rather than allowing Scripture to interrogate our hearts and minds!

Spurgeon once said when asked about defending the Bible;

“Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it, and it will defend itself.”

This is the revelation of Scripture regarding God’s sovereign merciful free will in choosing some and not others to be saved. May we, may I humble ourselves grateful that God elected to choose to show mercy to us and may we rejoice in His gracious choice and worship Him for His mercy.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?

God’s Merciful Choosing (Romans 9:1-16)

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Background

Remember that this book of Romans was written to the multicultural church in Rome working out how to be united in Christ despite their diversity.

  • Romans 1-3:20 outlined the common problem of sin.
  • Romans 3:21-5:21 revealed God’s solution, a righteousness that comes by grace through faith in Jesus!
  • Romans 6-8 unpacks the believer’s new relationship with the flesh, sin, Satan, the law & our new position & experiences as God’s children, empowered by the Holy Spirit and Romans 8 ends with promises of the future for all those who believe in Jesus.
  • The question which Paul now addresses in chapters 9–11 is whether the promises God made to Israel will still be fulfilled? This is important because if God’s promises to the Jews remain unfulfilled, how can Gentile Christians be sure that God will fulfil the great promises to all believers that conclude chapter 8?

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(Romans 9:1-5): As a Jew himself, Paul expresses anguish over the many Jews who reject the good news about Jesus the Messiah. He would rather be personally cut off from Christ if that would change the situation. The Israelites were an honoured people; God chose them; they experienced God’s glory; they received God’s covenant promises, the Law & God’s instructions on worshipping Him. The heroes of the faith were Jewish, and so was Jesus the Messiah – they are a blessed people!

(Romans 9:6): Yet the vast majority of Israelites have not believed in Jesus, but this is not because God’s word has failed in some way; instead, it is because of God’s purposes in election.

(Romans 9:7-13): Paul shows how the true Israel (God’s children) have always been not an ethnic group but rather those God elected (God chose).

  • Isaac & Ishmael were both children of Abraham, but God chose only Isaac
  • Jacob and Esau were both children of Isaac, but God chose only Jacob and did so not because of anything good in Jacob (vs11)
  • God did this so that His purposes in election (choosing) might stand (vs11).
  • We are saved (become God’s people) not by works or by ethnicity but by the sovereign choice of God (vs11).

(Romans 9:14-16): But is God unjust in choosing in this way? “By no means!” (vs14). God is sovereign and free. No one deserves God’s mercy; no one deserves God’s choosing of them. God revealed Himself to Moses, saying; “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” God doesn’t need to answer to anyone regarding why He has acted as He has.

Salvation for the believer depends not on the will of human beings or the effort of human beings, but totally on God the merciful one (vs16).

If you are a believer in Jesus, then you have been chosen by God (adopted by God as we learnt from Romans 8)! You have been included in the great family of faith, the people of God, the children of Abraham, the children of promise. All of this was the plan and the purpose of God who has been merciful to you in choosing you in this way so that He might be glorified as the One who chooses.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?

What do you rejoice in? (Romans 5:1-5)

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What types of things get your joy-juice flowing?
And what form does your rejoicing take?

In popular culture, the most common public expressions of joy are often supporters arms aloft, jumping, hugging strangers and yelling because their team scored.

I have the joy of serving with a fantastic fellow elder, Sibongiseni Dlamini who simply cannot contain himself in certain moments in church life. He can not stop his feet and arms from doing a little high-speed mini-dance at certain times. Like when he sees God at work in someone’s life, or that moment in one of our church services (www.recroadchurch.co.za) when a diverse crowd of Christ followers is passionately worshipping God’s name all in unison or when someone comes to faith in Christ – pure joy!

What do you rejoice in?

In Romans 5:1-5, Paul mentions two but lists four things we rejoice in as Christ followers.

1. We are at peace with God
2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God
3. We rejoice in our sufferings
4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit

1. We rejoice because we are at peace with God

May we never tire of rejoicing in the wonder and goodness of our salvation – that God has justified the ungodly (Romans 4:5). We were saved FROM the consequences of our sin, but we were saved FOR relationship with God and access into His presence continually.

Those who have been declared righteous by God because of their faith in Jesus now are in a position of ‘having peace with God’. We were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10), but now we have been reconciled to a right relationship with Almighty God.

More than this as we will discover in later in Romans 8 we are granted the privilege of being adopted as the children of God because of our faith in Jesus (John 1:12) and therefore we have free access into the presence of the Holy God, calling out “Daddy” as we come to him (Romans 8:14-17).

When they were young (and to some degree still today) my children never asked if they could please interrupt me by bashing open my office door or bedroom door! If they wanted me, they came in without hesitation. They were confident and secure that whatever I might have been focused on was not as important as they were.

Come like that, rejoicing that you are at peace with God because you have been declared righteous (justified) by the grace of Jesus. Come knowing this is where you belong.

2. We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God

We rejoice knowing that we are not what we once were (‘sinners’ & ‘enemies of God’) and that we are not all that we will one day be! The best is yet to come. Although we have access into our Holy Father’s presence already, there is greater unlimited access & proximity to come in the new heaven and the new earth when this will happen;

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new..Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 21:1-5 & Revelation 22:20)

This is our hope. Unrestricted eternal access in the presence of God living in a new earth where all of the damage of sin and death and suffering has been eradicated! It’s hard to imagine, but it is our eternal and sure hope which we rejoice in. The future is very, very bright for the believer in Jesus.

3. We rejoice in our sufferings

Oooooh. This seems to be the odd one out. Seriously is there not a typo here? The most challenging word here is the word “knowing” in verse 3. Paul expects the believer in Jesus to rejoice in sufferings because they know something. Do you KNOW it? You need to KNOW it before you’re in it because once you’re in some suffering/pressure/hardship that will not be the right to try to get to KNOW this thing that Paul assumes you KNOW.

We rejoice in our sufferings because we KNOW;

1. That although in this age we suffer because of the sin of others, and because of the effects of the fall all around us in our bodies, creation & society around us. We know that Jesus is both with us in it, and ultimately is coming back to make all things new!

We know that; “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

2. We also rejoice in our sufferings in that we know that they are not outside of the loving, sovereign control of our Heavenly Father who will use even the worst things, even sinful things to shape us more and more into His likeness and show us His love for us. We KNOW that suffering with a right perspective (Hebrews 12:10-11) results in us developing the muscle of endurance. A muscle which can only grow with the resistance training of hardship. We also KNOW that endurance produces authentic character in us, Christ-like godliness, which is only formed under pressure. And lastly, we KNOW that godly character results in a view of the world that is filled with hope because we are convinced of what Scripture says about the future coming age of Christ.

It is only possible to rejoice in sufferings if you KNOW God is still in control, if you KNOW God loves you, if you KNOW your loving Father is able to work through all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), if you KNOW that this suffering has some purpose & that it will end and be swallowed up by eternal life to come and superseded by glory!

4. We rejoice that God has poured His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit

We rejoice because God the Father loves us with a love that is purer, deeper and more powerful than anything else in all creation. And we rejoice because this love has been given to us, not in some small measure, it hasn’t been rationed to us, it has been poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit! So rejoice, that you get to drink deeply of the love of God, by at any time inviting the Holy Spirit to overwhelm you again and again with the fullness of God’s love.

We have so much to rejoice in!

9:1 (Luke 17:11-19)

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Ten people all in a desperate situation.  All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions.  Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition.  They all needed God.    

One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives.  Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?  

“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?”  “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?”  “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”… 

It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like; 

“Guys this is our moment!  If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!”  And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)

Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith.  There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment.  But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.

Jesus sees them.  Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society.  Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help.  Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them.  Jesus is amazing!

Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter.  I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal.  A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa).  He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say.  In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness.  Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!

Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14)  They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)

It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith.  Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him.  Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you.  Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed.  They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.

All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.  

Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years.  We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear.  God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).

But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received.  May we be like this guy!  May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him.  After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come.  Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.

I AM… (John 8:12-59)

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God who encountered Moses in the burning bush moment, God who revealed Himself to Moses using the name; “I AM who I AM” (Exodus 3:14) is the unseen Almighty God of Scripture.  John in his gospel reveals that Jesus is the visible, tangible, personal revelation of that same unseen God, Yahweh (John 1:18).

In this encounter, Jesus is engaging with the Pharisees & Scribes who had just prior to his brought the adulterous woman to him in an attempt to catch him out and have him arrested.  Jesus authoritatively restores the woman to a place of dignity and challenges them regarding their self-righteousness and spiritual blindness.

They’re still standing there in what appears to be a hostile mood and so Jesus engages them in some verbal jousting.  Jesus is provocative!  He uses a phrase translated “I am” 13 times in this single encounter.  Now in one sense he is just using an ordinary phrase; “I am going” but He knew what He was doing.  He was making a point implicitly which he eventually makes explicitly in vs58.

The Greek translation of the Hebrew OT (called the Septuagint) uses the same phrase Jesus uses 13x in His conversation with the Jews opposing Him here in the Genesis 3:14 account of God with Moses. 

Here in John 8, the Jews are demanding that Jesus answer the question; “Who are you?” (vs25) and throughout this conversation Jesus is hinting at Exodus 3:14 until eventually He says it explicitly in John 8:58 and when He does they immediately picked up stones to stone Him on the spot as they got it – Jesus was claiming to be the same God who encountered Moses in Genesis 3:14.

Who is Jesus?  

This is the question that every person on the planet needs to answer at some stage in their life or ultimately on the day Jesus  Himself returns.  And when it comes to this question, we really only have three options;

    • Jesus is a ‘Conman’
    • Jesus is a ‘Madman’
    • Jesus is ‘God/man’

Some people would want to add that maybe Jesus was a simply a ‘Good man/Good teacher’ but that’s not an option really if you consider that we don’t call people who have delusions of deity good and would not encourage people to sit and learn from such people either – we would resign such a person to the Conman or Madman categories!

When Moses encountered God in the burning bush moment, God told Moses; “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) and in that moment in response “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6)  Similarly, when Isaiah encountered God and saw a vision of God in glory in heaven, he crumpled before God falling on his face keenly aware of his sinfulness and God’s greatness (Isaiah 6) – this is who Jesus was claiming to be.

Friend, although Jesus was and is a man, don’t for a minute loose sight of the fact that He is one and the same God of glory, majestic and mighty, holy, or as Colossians 1 says of Jesus;

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.  (Colossians 1:15-20)

So, worship Jesus, stand in awe and wonder at Him, bow before Him and surrender your whole life to Him and then live the rest of your days for Him and for His purposes alone.  Amen.

God-Moments God Created (Mark 6:45-52)

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In Mark’s Gospel account, just after Jesus multiplied the five loaves and the two fish to feed the thousands, Jesus then encouraged the disciples to get into a boat and travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee while He stayed to dismiss the crowd.

Jesus created this God-moment!  He did so by sending the disciples on before Him so that He could then walk by them on the water.  Why? 

Was it so that He could continue to answer their question recorded in Mark 4:41; “Who then is this; that even the wind and the sea obey him?” which had not yet fully answered by Him?

Do you ever get that feeling?  Like God has organised things, events, timing, meetings with people, conversations and there is more going on that what’s maybe visible on the surface…?  God does this all the time actually. 

Here in Mark 6, we get to observe from the outside – and so it is relatively easy to spot God’s hand in the circumstances.  However, it is not always so easy when we are in the thick of it.

Why did Jesus create these circumstances?  Jesus wanted His disciples to know Him, to know His deity, His power over creation and the laws of nature (multiplying food, walking on water, healing diseases…).  And so Jesus sent them ahead in a boat, fully intending always to catch them up by walking across the water, walking past them (vs48) so that they could see Him.

And when they do see Him, their first thought is not; “Hey Jesus!”  Their first thought is more like; “WHAT!  A Ghost!”  Aren’t you and I like that? 

We are all too often filled with fear not faith, doubt not delight.  If they had been on land they would have probably run for their lives, but they were captive on that boat, captive to the circumstances.  Sometimes we are in the midst of a circumstance God Himself has orchestrated but we don’t see God or His handiwork, we just see dimly and have a tendency to freak out like they did.

Jesus didn’t want to make them afraid, and God’s not playing with your emotions either.  And so, as soon as Jesus sees their fearful terrified response He spoke to them calling out to them; “Take heart, it is I.  Do not be afraid!”  

Friend, God is always with you, even when you can’t see Him obviously, even when you can’t feel His presence or hear His voice above the storm and the winds of life.  In those moments remember what God has promised; “never will I leave you and never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5) and “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20)! 

So call out to Him, He is there and when you do call God will come rushing to you and will speak to you, comforting you as He comforted them with His words of affirmation, with His presence (Jesus climbed into the boat with them – vs51).

Just like the other storm which was calmed by Jesus authoritative words (Mark 4:35-41), this storm too suddenly abated and peace was restored.  The disciples are dumbstruck, they are in awe and wonder, astounded (vs51) at who Jesus really is – God almighty.

God arranges moments in our lives that will help us to see Him more clearly, moments that will demonstrate who He is to us in ways that no sermon or song could ever convey. 

So, next time there is something of a storm in your life, ask yourself whether God might be in the storm in some way?  Ask whether God might be wanting to reveal something more of Himself to you?  Call out to Jesus, He is there with you already, but He will come rushing to show Himself to you and to speak words that calm you just like He did for the disciples.  Trust Him that He can silence wind and calm waves with one whisper of His voice.  Worship Him, be amazed at Him, trust Him, grow in your love and knowledge of Him continually.  Amen.