This Valentine’s Day Beware a Cold Heart

heart-of-christ-webI was saved in a Baptist church and blessed to find myself under the tutelage of one of the finest Bible scholars I have ever heard. In that atmosphere, as a young Christian, I was happy to accept whatever doctrine was advised to me, not only by my mentor, but also by those good Baptists who surrounded me in fellowship. As a Southern Baptist, I was committed to live and die by the Southern Baptist Faith and Message. Understand that I did not follow that doctrine blindly, those who know me, know that the very idea of me following blindly is laughable. I read the Faith and Message to near memorization and I dug into the Bible with the conviction of a monk.

I accepted Southern Baptist doctrine because it made perfect sense to me… in theory, at least. It took a number of years for me to recognize that, in practice, there was a great deal of error. When the SBC changed the Faith and Message in June of 2000, adopting an exclusionary doctrine that was clearly errant and elitist, I left the confines of that fortress to “Go” into the world and seek the Kingdom of God. In the course of my search, I have rejected the model of denominational Christianity and the institutional church altogether. I find that, like all of the institutions of men, the model is broken beyond repair. I am convinced that God will soon and undeniably support my claim, for I am not alone in hearing God’s voice in the rapidly changing flood of circumstances that have come upon us.

One of the things that troubled me most within the walls of the fortress church was the tendency toward Phariseeism, a need to separate ourselves from the world based on a misunderstanding of scripture. That tendency creates an “us vs. them” view of the world that ignores the church’s true mission. In addition, the “us vs. them” worldview engenders legalism and the idea that the solutions to our nation’s problems are political, rather than spiritual. Because of this view, false prophets have entered the fellowship, “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” bringing with them the most dangerous religious thinking on earth, the worldview of Utopianism, an elitist doctrine that says, in effect, “You’re doing it wrong. Do it my way and together we can make a perfect world.”

It is the kind of thinking that, on any scale has failed over and over in the past while, on a grand scale has been responsible for great violence and suffering in the world. It is a worldview based on a doctrine that believes the end, a perfect, utopian society, justifies any means necessary to accomplish the goal.

Look around you today, look into history, and see the prevalence of Utopian theory and the dark consequences of its practice. It is Utopian Elitism that drives “us vs. them,” thinking, the kind of thinking that leads to every kind of violence men can conceive.

Utopianism within any institution can only lead to division and strife. It becomes fortress thinking, the building of walls to separate one group from another. It is the enemy of freedom and leads to endless, restrictive rules, and enforcement intended to control every behavior, even one’s thoughts. It is a worldview that enslaves populations, especially those who are not members of the elitist party in power. Remember, it was Joseph Stalin who said, “Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not allow our enemies to have guns, why should we let them have ideas.”

I say all this to set the stage for a scripture that spoke very loudly to me this week, a word from God that ought to be preached from every pulpit in our land. It is one of those obscure scriptures that compels you to stop and think, to reassess doctrine you have come to accept, and cause you to question the security of your own salvation. It is one of those hard scriptures that includes the words, “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.”

We are living in a time of great division and strife that is being driven by spiritual forces invisible to this temporal world. We are living in a time long prophesied in many scriptures of the Bible, as far back as the days of Noah, or the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. We are living in the day of Romans, chapter one when God is pouring out the poison of our own depravity upon a world that has despised His Son and turned its back on Him. The stage is being set for the grand entrance of the Man of Lawlessness and the final confrontation between good and evil. As I watch, I have seen the church fall into the lie of utopianism. I have watched the walls go up and seen the fortress gates closed, locking the “elect” inside. That’s why I am calling to you today, warning you of the danger, speaking with the very words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“Because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” Matthew 24:12, 13

I implore you to search yourself. Can you feel the cold creeping over you as the love of Christ fades from your heart? Are you thinking more in terms of us, vs. them? Do you seek solutions in politics and the institutions of men? If so, you have believed in a lie called Utopianism. I implore you to come out from behind the shuttered gates, come out from the fortress walls. Repent of the seat of judgement, fill yourself with the love of Christ and GO into a lost world with His gospel. GO with nothing, willing to suffer and to sacrifice, as He did, for the mission we have all been given, to share the good news that has overcome the world so that many will be saved.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

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A New Year’s Resolution

Redefining Purpose:

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I’ve been very neglectful of this blog over the past year. There are innumerable reasons for that, among them, a great deal of tragedy and suffering and the ministry related to it, but also family, travel, and a major focus on completing my latest novel. It’s that focus that has to change in the coming year.

A while back I read Bruce Wilkerson’s excellent advice in his great book, “The Dream Giver.” A truth lies in that book that I have struggled with ever since I finished reading it. The truth it revealed to me is the principle of the New Testament tithe, a principle that is well and intentionally misunderstood by the church, who conveniently adopt the old testament tithe of ten percent. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t represent the call of Christ that we are to die to self, so we might “live as Christ.” (Ref. Mark 12:41-44)

In the New Testament there are many examples of the principle Wilkerson suggests. Overall, the clear message from Jesus to His disciples is what I call, The Change.” The change is a paradigm shift, announced by John the Baptist, whom Jesus referred to as the “Greatest of Prophets,” a change that says we cannot be constrained by the law alone, living only for the flesh. History, and the record of the Old Testament have proven Him right again and again. Jesus teaches us that, what is important to God is not so much our behavior, as our motivation. God would prefer that we be motivated by our love for Him, more than our fear of the law and its consequences. Jesus led a selfless life in just that way, by loving God more than He loved Himself.

Again and again, He made a point of the priority of spirit over flesh. For example, in Mat. 5:27, 28, Jesus tells us that Moses has said, “do not commit adultery. But I tell you, everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (And ladies, you are not pardoned from this charge.) Also, as example, in the case of Annanias and Saphira, beyond their lie and at its root, is the selfish motivation of their hearts.

In conclusion, the only way for us to be changed is to die to self, as we symbolically represented in our baptism. The challenge to us all, following that symbolic commitment, is the requirement for our intentional effort to accomplish it, to “pick up our cross, daily, and follow Him.”

So the tithe is no longer ten percent, but our willing sacrifice of the whole check, placing it before Him as our voluntary offering, motivated by our love for Him, and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us from there, asking only for “our daily bread” in return. In the same way as that symbolic check, we must also place our dreams, that thing we perhaps covet, we must place it on the Alter of God, for His determination.

In “The Dream Giver,” Wilkerson puts it this way, “When your relationship with God deepens into a genuine trust in His character, you will be ready for the final invitation. … Now God will ask you to consecrate yourself to Him — and surrender your dream.”

That’s the threshold I stand on today. Having completed the first draft of the manuscript for my next novel, the time has come for me to take my dream of being a novelist, and surrender it to Him. I do so with a trembling heart and the knowledge that I must trust Him in every area of my life. I must commit myself now to prayer and meditation on His word, to discipleship, worship, ministry, fellowship and to sowing the seed of His Truth, while I wait for His determination in my life.

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Lasko Strong

Again I must apologize for not having posted in a very long time. As before it has been a matter of priorities, where we each place our hearts in the day to day circumstances of life. It’s not that I don’t think my followers important, I do, but there are things in life, people and events, that must take precedence, even over this.14022253_10207104679004437_4880648477642960711_n Having said that, I can explain that for the past twenty months we have been ministering to a dear friend whom we consider family, as she and her family have struggled with brain cancer. Last week, our beloved Lisa went home to be with the Lord. It is difficult to express our feelings right now and impossible to sum up her life in a few words, but here are my thoughts:

First I want to offer my deepest condolences to Tim, Lindsey, Timmy, Andrea, Theresa and the rest of the family. I want you to know that I sincerely feel your loss and pain and, In that pain I offer a warning about the spirit of grief whose desire is to destroy your relationship with God, by dragging you back to the pit of grief and holding you there until you give in to it and give up on life. Don’t go there. Pick up the pieces of your life, with your loving memories of Lisa and walk away from the circumstance of her death. Move forward with her legacy and with your own, show the world that Lasko Strong means strong of faith in the resurrection of Christ and His promise that, “If you obey my commands, you will never experience death;” that is, to pass from this life to the next in an instant.

To defeat the spirit of grief, we need a new paradigm, an attitude that Lisa would encourage. Ellen G. White described it well when she wrote thus,

Praise the Lord, even when you fall into darkness. Praise him even in temptation. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” says the apostle; “and again I say rejoice.” Will that bring darkness and gloom into your families? No, indeed; it will bring a sunbeam. It will be the gathering of rays of eternal light from the throne of glory, and scattering them around you. Let me exhort you to engage in this work, scatter this light and life around you, not only in your own path, but in the paths of others with whom you associate. Let it be your object to make those around you better; to elevate them; to point them to Heaven and glory and lead them to seek, above all earthly things, the eternal substance, the immortal inheritance, and the riches which are imperishable.”

I assure you that, today, Lisa has gotten what she deserves. Today she knows the joy of Heaven, in part because Lisa was all about determination.

Nancy and I call Tim and Lisa our kids, them among many others who are here today. Together, we were the ROCK class. We met each Sunday for Bible study and the only way up to our classroom was a steep, exterior stairway, twenty six of them in fact, steel, like the stairs of a fire escape. Lisa was very pregnant with Lindsey at the time she first started coming, and I remember being concerned about her making that climb in the summer heat. Concerned that it would be too much for her, concerned that if she made it to the top that Sunday, she would never be back, but I didn’t know Lisa very well, did I? My concerns were unfounded, because Lisa was determined that she and Tim would have a church family and a relationship with the Lord before they started their own family. Because of her determination, she reached the top of those stairs each Sunday for many years to follow and, when she arrived, it was with that beautiful smile of hers, a smile that exudes the joy that fills her heart even now.

Lisa was a person filled with Joy. If some considered her a Pollyanna, then we need more Pollyannas in this present darkness. More families like hers, who model the love of Christ in their daily lives. More joy to push the darkness away. It may seem that her joy has been taken from us, but I implore you, even in the midst of your pain to look to the Holy Spirit and find her there, Lisa and her joy, made bigger than ever by the most powerful force in all the universe, that is, God’s eternal love for those who will love Him back.

That Love has been modeled to all of us, over the past twenty months, by Lisa’s beautiful family. Modeled by a husband and children and an extended network of friends who have cared for Lisa with a devotion that can only be born of the love of God, a model of The Body of Christ in action, for all to see. I truly feel that in future editions of the dictionary, beside the word, “Devotion,” there should be a picture of Lisa, Tim and their children.

Know this, and write it on your hearts, we will see her again in a place where every tear will be wiped away by the hand of a loving God. Lisa has finished her climb to the top of the stairs. She arrived with her trademark smile and her joy in the Lord. Her reward was waiting for her there the moment she arrived, along with the words, “well done my good and faithful servant.”

We love you Lisa. We give thanks for the model of your joy, devotion and determination.

 

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Speaking of Suffering

2 Chronicles 15:5 “And in those times there was no peace to the one who went out, nor to the one who came in, but great turmoil was on all the inhabitants of the lands. 6-7 So nation was destroyed by nation, and city by city, for God troubled them with every adversity. But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!”

As with most other scripture in the Bible, this one speaks on many levels and with layers of meaning. I present it to you today in its role as prophesy. It was originally written as an historical record, a chronicle of events that had occurred in Israel’s  past, in particular, in a time when the people had “forsaken” God. In chapter 15 Azariah, a profit of God, is warning the king, Asa, that he sees the same pattern of “forsaking God” taking shape in the Kingdom of Judah.

The pattern is familiar and repeated throughout the old testament, the Bible and through all the written history of man in his relationship with the living God. The judges of old, the prophets, and the apostles, all addressed this problem of apostasy among the people of God. The cycle begins in suffering, when the people cry out to God in earnest, pleading for His help. God hears their cry and in His mercy, He rescues them from their own foolishness, protecting them from the consequences of their own sinful desertion. They repent, He forgives, they obey, He blesses, they travel a road He has made straight for them, finding their way back to prosperity, abundance and self reliance. Self reliance leads them to apostasy, the people turn their backs on God, seeking their own way, seeking their own pleasure. They turn their backs on God and God turns His back on them, thus they are returned to suffering, the very state in which they began their journey.

In the scripture Azariah warns Asa of impending disaster, but the record of his warning is historical. In creating the chronicle, the Jews of his posterity were warned and in their turn the early Christians and then Paul warns the Romans in the first chapter of his letter to the church in Rome. Thus the pattern, the cycle of apostasy, and the warning about its consequences echoes through the ages to every generation, right up to the present. In his letter, Paul speaks very specifically to the people of this age, who are about to experience the suffering that comes from “forsaking” our relationship with the Living God. In his warning he describes the state of affairs as follows:

“For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.
Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:18-25)

If I read the signs correctly, the suffering we see in the world today is nothing compared to what is soon to come. So, knowing that, how will you respond? I urge you to repent, to fall on your face before the Living God and cry out to Him for his mercy.

“We beg you please, don’t squander one more moment of the marvelous life God offers. As He reminds us, ‘I heard your call in the nick of time; The day you needed me I was there to help.’ Don’t wait another moment. I tell you now is the time of God’s grace. Today is the day of salvation!” (Paraphrase 2Cor. 6:1-2)

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A Season of Suffering

“Do you not comprehend that, as you stand on the Earth, you are standing at the very conjunction of Heaven and Hell, the gate of which lies before you.”

(B. James Wilson, “Kingdom of Light“)

 

Who among you, who confesses their faith publicly, has not been challenged by the plaintiff accusation, “If your God is so loving, why would he let this, (some earthbound suffering), happen?”

Indeed, why?angels-army_00238476-1

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matt. 10:34

It seems to me there is enormous misunderstanding among both believers and non-believers regarding the nature of suffering in the world and the nature of God, and His will, in that suffering; so much misunderstanding, in fact, that the question itself requires examination.

First, in the usual case of the non-believer, the question is not so much a question, as an accusation, rhetoric, that requires no answer at all. “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth. ” (Isaiah 53:7)

And as it is for the Teacher, so it will be for His disciple. In such a case it is better to pray for that person than to give answer, because the question is not a question, it’s a debate, a challenge to God’s sovereignty and authority in the world. In its nature, the question, asked in this way, becomes the very illustration of the problem. It is the heart of rebellion against God, the very heart of sin and not deserving of the knowledge of the mystery of His grace and mercy. Better to pray.

Sometimes, however, the question is truly a plaintiff cry, a wounded heart who cries out seeking answer, seeking understanding. In this case the answer is simply the gospel of God’s love for the individual. Not a defense of His authority, or sovereignty, but an outpouring of His love and compassion through the believer, His ambassador on Earth. God points out His role to us in Job 5:18, “For He bruises, but He binds up; He wounds, but His hands make whole.”

Perhaps you note here that God accepts responsibility for Job’s suffering. Such is the nature of a great king, the seal of His sovereignty, accepting the reality that “the buck stops here.” God has never been shy to announce His involvement in human suffering. He clearly accepts responsibility for the Great Flood, for the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, even for the destruction of His people in Israel and Judah in their exile, Amos speaking for God, in 3:6, “If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?”

This reality may be shocking to some, but God has a purpose in human suffering, just as He had a purpose in the suffering of Christ Jesus, His own son, whom He sent to die on a cruel cross, saying through Him, In John 10:17-18 “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

In these words of Jesus, lies the key to our misperception of suffering and death. You see, as much as you may not like to hear it, God does not place the same value on our temporal lives, here, on Earth, as we do. As Jesus points out to us, He has the power to lay down life and to pick it up again. He proves it again and again from creation to Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones, and from Jonah to Lazarus, of whom Jesus said, In John 11:14-15 “Lazarus is dead. And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.”

I repeat, “that you may believe.” You see, what is important to God is your faith, not your life; not that life is not precious to God. It is, and He has plenty to say about that, but your life here, on temporal Earth, is not as precious to Him as His purpose for it. So the real question to be asked is not, “Why would God allow this suffering,” but, “What is God’s purpose in this suffering?”

Believers suffer too. And, like Job, they cry out to God wanting to understand the reason for it. The answer today is the same as it was for Job, in his day. That answer lies, veiled, in the opening scripture of Job’s story, That Satan, a fallen angel, leader of a rebellion against God, is free within God’s permissive will, to challenge faith by bringing suffering upon the faithful. What we, the faithful, fail to understand and what we fail to teach, or even speak of in our churches, is the fact that we are the subjects of a war, an invisible war that surrounds us every day in this temporal world; a war in which we are forced to choose one side or another. That truth is well put in the song, “You Gotta Serve Somebody“, by Bob Dillon. We are free each day, in joy or suffering, to choose between God, or Satan, between goodness, or evil, between darkness, or light. The Gray Empire in which we try to live our lives, to hide from our responsibilities and to hide from God, does not truly exist. It is a myth, it is the only true myth, for all other mythology has some basis in truth. Unfortunately, our fallen nature leaves us more prone to making the best choices while we suffer than when we live in joy and, so, God allows suffering to come to us. Sometimes as an attack on our righteousness, but mostly just the coincidental result of the fallen world we live in.

For those who believe, those of us who recognize the battle that surrounds our lives here, on Earth, the refrain, “onward Christian soldier, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before,” takes on a special meaning. Paul reminds us of this purpose for our lives in his letter to the Ephesians, when he says, in 6:14-18 “Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints—”

These are our draft notice, our marching orders, announcing that we are at war, and war always brings suffering, especially to the “innocent”, those who are lost and confused.

There is one other purpose for the suffering of the faithful. Jesus promised that it would come to us as it came to Him, but there is another purpose.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.”

In the end, as difficult as it may be to accept, God allows us to suffer when we deserve to suffer, or when our suffering can turn us to Him, or when our suffering can prepare us to serve Him. The patterns of suffering in the Bible clearly demonstrate that when God’s people are living according to His will, that is, his moral will and His specific will, suffering in their world is greatly reduced. The opposite is true when the situation is reversed. So what is God’s purpose? It is to put an end to the rebellion that has torn His Kingdom in two. Unfortunately part of that process includes a great deal of suffering. More importantly, however, is God’s will in all of this. His will clearly demonstrates that His love is the driving motivation behind all His actions, from creation to the fact that He sustains us from breath to breath. God’s will is that all should be saved and none lost, as in 1 Timothy 2:3-6, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,”

So, take joy in your suffering, for in it lies the perfect will of God.

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A National Day of Prayer Challenge

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What’s on my mind? The National Day of Prayer and the message from God through Rabbi Cahn, which I missed in the live feed. It is far too important and too inspiring to be missed, however, so I share it with you now. Click on the link in his name to hear what he has to say.

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What Would Amos Do?

Official_Ben_Carson_for_President_2016

Please forgive my absence over the past several weeks. Life once again interferes with schedule. It’s okay really, life is more important. In that time I have watched and listened in disgust to the developments of the presidential campaign, especially on the Republican side. I don’t like politics and I like even less bringing it up in this blog, but I am shocked by what I see among my fellow Christians and in the various polls related to this race.

For that reason, I’m getting ready to donate to Ben Carson’s campaign. I was following Marco Rubio because of his greater political experience, but in learning that he voted for TPP and TPA, I was disappointed. Now, in his sudden change of campaign strategy, adopting Trump’s style, probably because his managers point out the it works for Trump, I am put off by seeing that he is a chameleon, willing to forgo his own principles in order to please his handlers, or accomplish a desired result. So, even though I don’t believe he has a chance of winning, I’m voting for Ben Carson. As a Christian, he’s the only option left to me, the only candidate out there who believes in unity in the fear of God.

How do I know he can’t win? Because “winning”, “making America great again”, is not in God’s agenda right now. This nation and, indeed, the world have come to a place where the cup of iniquity is filled to overflowing. “Just as in the days of Noah,” we are undeserving of righteous leaders, only prophets, like Amos, can save us, rising up to point out our wickedness and call for our judgment.

We need God to raise up these prophets more than we need Jesus to return. If you’re a Christian, that may seem a shocking statement to you, but believe me it’s true. Jesus will not return to us a lamb, ready for the slaughter. When He comes, He will come in power and glory, for judgment, not for grace. God has said of that day, “Woe to you who long for the Day of The Lord! What will the Day of The Lord be for you? It will be darkness and not light. It will be like a man who flees from a lion, only to have a bear confront him…” Won’t the Day of The Lord be darkness rather than light, even gloom without any brightness in it?”

Better to pray for forgiveness, repentance, revival and the prophets needed to bring those things about. Without listing our atrocious sins against God, because you know them well whether you confess them or not, how could anyone today believe that God is not angry with this nation in the same way that He displayed his righteous anger against ancient Israel, Judah and the nations that surrounded them. (ref. Amos 1 – 5) And, for them, did He raise up leaders who could lead them to greatness again? No, He raised up prophets to bring them to repentance, prophets who were ignored, beaten and murdered by a nation who had become contemptuous of their God. So, instead of prophets, God raised up their enemies, the Assyrians, in the case of Israel, the Babylonians, in the case of Judah, and He cleared the way for their enemies to destroy the nations of His own people. Such is the judgment of our God, or had you, in your familiarity, forgotten who He is.

On the political side, there are many who will say that a vote for Ben Carson is a vote for Hillary Clinton and I clearly understand that logic, but I say to them, “so be it.” I have always believed that America gets the leaders America deserves. It’s the principle by which I see God’s anger against this nation, by seeing whom He raises up to lead us. So, no matter who wins the next presidency, I know it will be because that’s who God chose for us, based on what we deserve.

If you’re a person who believes in prayer, better to pray for more time, time to repent. Better to pray for prophets, better to pray for God to relent from His anger. Pray also for our nation, that God will raise up real leaders, not necessarily those we deserve, but leaders who can lead this nation back from the edge of the abyss, back to unity, all together in the fear of God, not familiarity. pray for Ben Carson.

 

https://www.bencarson.com/issues

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