When Church Is Optional, You Set up Your Kids to Fail

When Church Is Optional, You Set up Your Kids to Fail May 13, 2019

“Hey Pastor, I just wanted to let you know that we won’t be at church for the next three months because my girl is playing ball and they have games on Sunday and practices throughout the week.”

My heart sank into my stomach. I wouldn’t call it shock, because I had heard this statement, or at least something like this, dozens of times from different parents over the years. Sports, plays, bands, fundraisers, on and on went the list of programs and distractions that would inevitably take the family out of church for a season. “Well, let me encourage you to reconsider that”, I began.

But there was no talking him down. I explained in a hushed tone the importance of his role as a father to set the standard for his children. I talked about the importance of putting the Lord first. I talked about the importance of *GULP* attending the local church (Heb 13:17). But, standing before me was a father and husband who, instead of leading his family in holiness was choosing to inflict them with spiritual wounds.

“Well they are saved, so what else is there?” he said, jovially.

I felt my face go flush. “What else is there?” I asked. “Life! The Gospel is for all of life; not just a ‘get-out-of-hell-free’ card. Being here as a family will do far more for them in the long run than this sport. Trust me.”

He snapped back, this time with a more serious tone, “Well, they [his kids] need to learn teamwork and stuff.” We exchanged a few more words and then he walked out – his children and wife in tow. We saw the kids at a couple more youth events and then never again.

Pastorally I still ache thinking about that exchange and others like it. As a believer who considers the gathering of the saints as a commanded, valuable, necessary privilege of grace; I had always struggled with these talks – I suppose I still do. I am stupefied at how readily professing believers throw God on the backburner – especially when the heart of their children is on the line.

Where did we go wrong? How can we sing on Sunday morning that Jesus is my “all-in-all” and then decide to sacrifice the glorious, life-giving truths of the Gospel on the bloody altar of hobbies? At what point did so many professing Christians parents exchange the instruction, “keep your eyes on Jesus” for “Keep your eyes on the ball”?

Oh great, another blog post about the evils of hobbies… I should say this, there is nothing inherently wrong with sports or any other kind of hobby, so long as it doesn’t violate God’s law. I am a huge Phillies baseball fan and an avid hunter (If you didn’t dislike me up to this point – you probably do now).

I wrestled with the tensions between hobbies and church for years. Swinging from one end of the pendulum – it doesn’t matter, to the other – all hobbies are evil and pull people away from God. I would like to think today, through studying God’s Word, I now have a more biblical understanding.

I do not believe that skipping out on the Lord’s Day services is ever appropriate unless divinely organized (sickness, hospitalization, etc.) Sunday is a special day for God’s people and ought not be treated like a second Saturday. This means that hobbies should fall second to the things of God. This thought is certainly counter-cultural. My unsaved family thinks I’m crazy, because every hunting season I come down out of the mountains with my wife and daughters, shower at a truck stop, and attend the service at a small rural church in the nearest town – effectively “wasting” the entire day… and I love it every time. Admittedly, there are times when I am driving down the mountain pass and thoughts of the big muley bucks I’m missing out on trot through my mind, but then the truth hits me, “Glorious are you [God], more majestic than the mountains full of prey” (Ps 76:4). Hobbies and convenience are no reason to disobey clear commands (Heb 10:25) – not even hunting season. I don’t ever want my girls thinking that we vacation from God.

I believe that the problem is not the sport or hobby itself – the problem is often the forgetfulness of the parents.

 

Parents Have Forgotten Who Is Responsible for Their Kid’s Spiritual Well-Being.

Children are a heritage and a blessing from the Lord (Ps 127:3-5), and as gifts from the Lord they are to be handled and cared for as precious beings made in His image (Gen 1:27). It is the parents that are commanded in scripture to discipline their children (Prov 25:19) and teach them what they are to know about God (Prov 22:6, Duet 6:7). It is the parent’s responsibility to introduce their child to the scriptures, “…which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim 3:14-17). Oddly, in all of the passages we read about raising children, nowhere are these responsibilities shifted to the church. If I must give an account for my family, then I must take these responsibilities seriously.

 

Parents Have Forgotten the Purpose of Youth Ministry.

We can argue the validity of youth ministry all day, but most of us should at least agree, as mentioned above, youth group is not an acceptable substitute for Godly living and training at home. I am the first to recognize that there are a lot of bad youth programs out there. However, youth ministry, in its purest form is to come along side parents in helping to equip, meet, and reinforce the spiritual needs and habits of their children. Unfortunately, instead of being used as a helpful tool, youth ministry is often used as a substitute spiritual guide. It is a sad day when spiritual care of kids is pawned off onto the church, who having them for an hour or two each week is supposed to make up for the lack of spiritual vitality and leadership at home. Is it any wonder that kids get “bored” and fall away? It is even less of a wonder that upon the child falling away the blame is often placed directly on the lap of the church. Imagine if parents took to regularly praying with, studying with, and investing spiritually into their kids!

 

Parents Have Forgotten the Purpose of the Local Church Gathering.

When parents choose to enroll their children in programs that will directly violate the clear commands of Hebrews 10:25, it is a sign that they have forgotten the purpose of the local gathering. It’s easy to say “___________” is more fun than church, the kids enjoy it more; forgetting, of course, that the purpose of the church is not to entertain you! Gathering together fulfills a much greater purpose than simply something to do on Sunday morning (as long as nothing else is going on.) Mark Dever summarizes the purpose of the church gathering in this way: “The proper ends for a local congregation’s life and actions are the worship of God, the edification of the church, and the evangelization of the world. These three purposes in turn serve the glory of God.” (A Theology for the Church, p. 809)

 

Parents Have Forgotten Their Greater Affection

Most Christians profess that they love God. 1 John 4:19 reminds us that, “we love because he first loved us.” In fact, love for God and love for others is the most prominent mark of believers (John 13:15). Jesus says in John 14:5, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Simply put, the Christians life is marked by love.

Consider the fact that Jesus lived, died and rose on your behalf. He died as the propitiation for your sins; satisfying the divine wrath of the Father that would have justly fell on you (1 Jn 2:2), had His mercy not spared you. You who were once dead in your trespasses and sins have been made alive (Eph 2:1). When you were born again, Christ took out that old stone heart and replaced it with a heart of flesh that would worship, honor, communion with, and glorify Him (Ez 11:19). You were bought with a price, believer, and you are no longer your own (1 Cor 6:20). Jesus and His commands are EVERYTHING to the believer and it is that love and passion for Jesus that we should be demonstrating and passing down to our children. Friend, as much as I like baseball and hunting – neither of those have done what Jesus has done for me.

When I pull my children away from the things of God for the sake of hobbies, I am not loving God and I am not loving them. I am programming them to be satisfied with lesser affections – I am programming them to fail.

 

Conclusion

Parents, we need to stop “programming” our children to fail in spiritual things by substituting spiritual things with an excess of programs (say that 10X fast), and get back to reminding ourselves of our responsibilities and showing our children that true joy is found in the presence of King Jesus (Ps 16:11).

 

 

This was a guest post from Blake Laberee. Blake is a husband, father of two, and the lead Pastor of a small Baptist Church in the Pacific Northwest. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Ministry and was a Youth Pastor for five years. Blake averages one book per week, is an avid outdoorsman, and is a fan of Phillies Baseball.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    Thank you for this article.

    In answer to the question “Where did we go wrong?”: The answer can be found through this:

    “Well they are saved, so what else is there?” he said, jovially.

    Why would someone say that in a jovial way? Because one thinks that salvation is all that matters.

    Why would someone think that salvation is all that matters? Because one has been taught that, or come to that conclusion by oneself.

    The notion that ultimately all that matters is salvation is one of the most common and problematic falsehoods among Christians in America today. Other problems stem from it, such as a lack of appreciation for discipleship and worship. Two of the sources of this falsehood are ignorance of apostolic teaching and an attitude which is man-centered, as opposed to one which is God-centered.

    The remedy: God-centered teaching and preaching of the Scriptures, especially the passages which teach discipleship.

  • Armed Citizen

    When Church is Optional…

    while i totally agree with the title of the page – it’s extremely misleading.
    see – in our days we are going to see a pushing of the National Sunday Law – and this is totally against the Law of our Creator and Redeemer as He never sanctified nor blessed the 1st day and didn’t make this day a Command – but Jesus and all of His followers always kept Holy the 7th day, which is the LORDs day – according to Scripture.

    this will be the final test for Christianity and it’s coming very soon with both sides pushing for these immoral stipulations.

    • Gene

      Upon the First day of the week the Bible says…..

      • Armed Citizen

        please continue @disqus_S5q7Q9dwcM:disqus , show us in Scripture where they kept the 1st day in service anywhere in the NT.
        in Fact – since we know the entire NT was written well after His ascension – it should be easy to find many.

        i have over 80 times that they gathered on the Sabbath for service in the book of Acts alone!

        so show me your Scriptures please, Sir.

        • Robert

          Acts 2:1 “When the Day of Pentecost come….” Pente = 50 days after Passover….Passover was on a SATURDAY…..49 days would be on a Saturday…..49+1=50. Thus Sunday. First Day of the Week.

          Now, for the technical: actually what the verse literally says is the first day after the sabbath. Sabbatarians say that all the time because of their not knowing how the Greek language works. To quote FF Bruce: “Σάββατα and σαββατων acquired the extended sense of the interval between two sabbath days, ie., a week.” The word μια means first, so you have the first of the week. No legitimate Greek scholar that I’m aware of argues with this translation.

          • Armed Citizen

            and yet in Acts 13, Acts 18 and over and over and over – (at least 80 times in Acts alone!) – we see that the Sabbath, not the 1st day, is kept in service.

            no Sir – His law has never changed.
            and if ya like more proof, just let me know.

          • Robert

            Sir, I respectfully ask if you even see the technical part? That same Greek is applied applied to Acts 13, 18, and over and over throughout the NT, The Sabbatarian point lacks credence and is based in the KJV, which some will say is the only authoritative Bible, and that too is an issue, as the NT is written in Greek, the words of which were posted above. I do not seek to argue with you on this subject, so I will respectful wish you a good day and peace with you.

          • Armed Citizen

            it really doesn’t matter which language it’s in Sir – our Creator did just as good in english as in the greek – there is zero in our Bibles, zero supporting the 1st day keeping – but only the 7th day is kept from Creation (Gen 2:2-3) to Recreation (Isaiah 66:22-23).

            it’s just not there, buddy.

        • Gene

          The first day of the week was the day on which Christ arose ans that is the day we honor in thd NT dispensation each Sunday John 20:1

          • Armed Citizen

            John 20:1 – says to change an unchangeable Commandment from our Creator??

            sorry – in Matt 24:20 – Jesus told them that they’d be keeping the Sabbath in 70AD – at the destruction of Jerusalem.

            and in Dan 7:25 an evil entity is noted as attempting to change one of His Commands – but this isn’t possible according to the Bible.

            time to make a choice Gene – follow the Infinite, Almighty Creator and Redeemer who says to always keep the 7th day (no other day IS Holy)
            or the papal demons who have trampled on the Sabbath and want you to follow suit.

            ‘If you love Me, keep 8 or 9 of My Commandments ~ Jesus Christ {John 14:15}

          • Gene

            That verse has nothing to do with AD 70 (yes, the AD goes before the date and BC is after the date) and no verses indicate that it is AD 70.

          • Armed Citizen

            ‘That verse has nothing to do with AD 70…’

            Matt 24:3 ~ ‘Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”’

            notice the verses before and after the verse in question.

            Matt 24:19-21 ~ ‘But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!

            20 And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.

            21 For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.’

            **indeed, the verses prove that this is talking about the very last days.

          • Armed Citizen

            now – Scripture does tell us exactly how we honor His death, burial, resurrection and ascension – and it’s by (full submersion) baptism – shown in Rom 6:3-4, 1 Peter 3:21 and Col 2:12.

            see, Sir – in the near future there will be a National Sunday Law – and this is against God and a stance for Satan. they are already here (blue laws) and just as the examples of true worship are written in the Bible for us – we too will have a choice to stand strong and follow Him or not.

            i pray you and yours follow Him, Sir.
            http://www.SabbathTruth.com
            God bless you and yours!

  • Bob Senz

    Brother, thanks for posting. I know it’s not popular to suggest that God actually wants something of his servants and that he may just know best what we need, but I appreciate the tone of the article and your gentle spirit. God bless!

  • Gene

    Love this….I’ve had people tell me that you don’t “need” to go to church “every” Sunday to be a Christian….. I’ve even had people honestly tell me that they can “worship” God at the lake, or on the golf course, or at the beach, or in the forest just as good as in a local church at 11 AM on a Sunday morning…..

  • Robert

    Solid! Thank you for sharing your story and your personal examination of this continuing issue with our modern society. When we minimize the Lord, we minimize our love for the hereafter, and increase the possibility of falling away.

  • Jeannie

    When someone has health issues, checking in on them and offering to pick up a child for church may be helpful and appreciated –

    • Lark62

      No decent parent should ever let their child near a church unsupervised.

      • Jeannie

        Children shouldn’t be anywhere unsupervised; daycare, school, doctor, with the boyfriend, Sunday school etc. Many parents have a criteria regarding who takes care of their children.

  • A good article, I especially like the part, “every hunting season I come down out of the mountains with my wife and daughters, shower at a truck stop, and attend the service at a small rural church in the nearest town…” I suspect this Pastor wouldn’t be found loitering in a Starbucks.

    But one thing pastors (and leaders) should not assume, nor over look. Though Sunday is what we call “the Lord’s Day,” but to me it is a ‘specific’ or ‘special’ Lord’s Day. Because I do not ‘turn-off’ my Christianity, nor Christian responsibilities the other six days of the week. If you’re local church is not placing an emphasis on ‘being the church’ the entire week, then what kind of church is it? As I said in another Facebook comment, “Though the teaching, edifying, and equipping of the saints is first and foremost, but how is the church demonstrating this faith once we leave the sanctuary? What are we doing with our classroom instruction? Are we just sponges taking it in? Or are we being squeezed for His glory?”

    Every day I wake up, it’s “Lord what will You have me do today?” Are we praying in ‘all prayers’ daily? Are we studying God’s Word daily? Are we edifying the Lord’s church daily? Are we worshiping HIM daily? Are we sharing the Gospel daily? Etcetera Etcetera Etcetera! Or, are we just waiting for the next Sunday?

  • Nick May

    My word, this is an infuriating line of thought. I honestly can’t believe how contradictory it is. In the beginning you argue that church is where kids grow spiritually. Then near the end you say it’s the family’s job. It’s hard to pretend this article isn’t motivated by attendance numbers. As a former pastor, you won’t convince me otherwise. I know what it’s like to use “spiritual development” as a false concern for low numbers. It’s so twisted to suggest that this father couldn’t do the same (if not better) job shepherding his kids at a baseball game than he could by pawning them off on his church every weekend. As a soon to be father myself, I’m intentionally keeping my kids out of this made-up “Sunday Sunday Sunday” mentality and assuming 100% responsibility for raising them to know Jesus. And to know church happens everywhere. Even at the ballpark.

    • Nick May

      You missed a HUGE opportunity to encourage this dad to use that activity as a way to teach his kids to BE the church even when they’re not AT a church.

    • Nick Westfall

      In your response, you forgot to refute the author’s understanding of Heb 10:25. Could you please include that?

      • Nick May

        Here’s my refutation. That verse implies in no way that “meeting together” has to be in a church building on Sunday.

        • Nick Westfall

          I totally agree! As long as they meet regularly. And yes, the baesball field is a great be-like-Jesus opportunity for them! The problem is, in my experience, that most Sunday morning/church going, recreational-supporting parents dont seek out nor teach their kids to seek out an alternative time to meet together, which is what i think the author was implying he knew. Meeting regularly with other followers is like the lowest expectation for spiritual milk drinkers if our aim is to become like Christ. If thats not happening, then its not a hard leap to make that they probably arent serious in their personal relationship with Christ either, especially in a free country where we are not threatened with death should we meet and worship Jesus. That’s the nauseatingly painful reality about it. Its when activites are chosen over Jesus that it becomes a problem, and meeting regularly (which is typically on Sundays) is a good measure of one’s true desire and hunger for the Lord and following His Word. That’s the defense i see the author making.

          • Nick May

            I get what you’re saying, but you’re still not attacking the sickness; only the symptoms. Like I said, this pastor missed a great opportunity to encourage that guy to do exactly what you’re saying—be intentional about helping his family find ways to alternatively participate in evangelism, discipleship, fellowship, whatever. That’s what a pastor who isn’t counting would do.

    • Kostya2

      Yeah, sure, church happens everywhere – except church.

      Raising your children to know Jesus without going to church is denying them an important and central part of what it means to be a Christian. This lack of a corporate vision of what it means to be a believer is deadly to spiritual life.

      • P. McCoy

        Sounds like a sneaky way to try to get money out of people. A family can pray at home or alone and be their own church.

        • Kostya2

          If all you care about is saving money, of course you can stay at home. But I think church is more than that. I think you can be your own family, and families should pray together and read the Bible together etc, but I question whether you can be your own church. Unless you are starting up some new denomination in your own home. How would you feel if one of your children decided to cut himself off from you totally and said he or she wanted to be family on his own.

          • P. McCoy

            You can view it as “If all you care about is money”, if you like; I would be careful about forcing religion so harshly down the throat of my children that they abandon God all together. I also, as stated earlier, don’t want my money supporting pedophiles who hide behind their leaders and dogmas.

  • SusanB

    “When you read the verses preceding Hebrews 10:25 …”forsake not the assembling of ourselves together’) it becomes apparent that the Spirit of God is not trying to get us to be more faithful to attend church services. In fact, when this Scripture was written, Christians did not have “church services” as we know it today (or church buildings, for that matter).

    So what does it mean? If you read the entire chapter (better yet, the entire letter), you find that we are being encouraged to draw near to God without fear, by a “new and living way”, through Jesus Christ our High Priest, Who has already assembled us together as the house of God in order to lead us into the Holy of Holies.”
    https://www.chipbrogden.com/gathering-but-not-for-the-better/

  • Obscurely

    Pastor Laberee: Please respect your readers enough to proofread your future posts for spelling errors. Examples — ‘alter’ for altar, ‘board’ for bored

    • Lark62

      And aught for ought

  • Mike Stidham

    And when the opportunity for that “meeting together” is limited to one hour on Sunday morning, you disenfranchise a lot of saints who work on Sunday morning.

    • Sharon McNeil Altermatt

      Well be a catholic christian then. We have Mass everyday and several times on Sunday. There are many options in even small towns. In large cities the options for attending Mass are endless.

      • Mike Stidham

        That is one area where the Catholics really excel. I’d actually considered it except for the whole “divorced and remarried” thing, which I am. But if I’m barred from the Eucharist and considered in mortal sin unless I kick my current wife to the curb, it really doesn’t make much sense for me to swim the Tiber.

      • P. McCoy

        But where do those offerings go? To support the maintenance of a church OR more likely to pay off those legal fees engendered by their plethora of pedophile Priests? Also few or no married clergy and people telling you how a condom is sinful. Far better to look somewhere else!

  • John

    Why don’t you get to know his family better, like go to one of his kids games or have them over for dinner? A personal connection with their pastor can have a big impact and give you more ground to speak into their lives. Build a stronger community. If all you have is Sunday mornings, then you may need to do more to help them.

    • Tusk

      Sounded like the family was doing well on there own…

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “When Church Is Optional, You Set up Your Kids to Fail”

    Set them up to fail at what, following a faith-based supernatural belief system?

    Would you prefer the parents make church mandatory but let the children choose the church? So it’s Ok that the children attend a Wiccan church or Hindu or Sikh one, as long as they attend a church?

    Or did you mean that “When Christian Church Is Optional, You Set up Your Kids to Fail”?

    And again, to fail at what?

    • Sharon McNeil Altermatt

      Fail at being a saint and making it to heaven. Duh….what do you think? And no, you don’t let them choose their own religion. You have to “train up a child in the way he should go.” That is what is taught in the Bible. It’s parents responsibility to train their children and at least they know something. If you wait till they are old enough to choose, it will never happen. Regardless if heaven and hell exist, kids learn a lot of good things at church. Love your neighbor as yourself, treat others as you want to be treated are just a couple. Obviously as church becomes “optional” therefore much less popular these days, it shows in character and behavior.

      • C_Alan_Nault

        “Fail at being a saint and making it to heaven.”

        There are not many religions that have saints.

        The article is titled “When Church Is Optional, You Set up Your Kids to Fail”. Wicca is a religion. So Wiccans aren’t setting up their kids to fail? What about Sikhs or Hindus? Are they setting their kids up to fail?

        “That is what is taught in the Bible.”

        Unless someone proves the god of the Bible exists, why should anyone care what the bible teaches?

        “Regardless if heaven and hell exist, kids learn a lot of good things at church. Love your neighbor as yourself, treat others as you want to be treated are just a couple.”

        And you don’t need church to teach your children those lessons. Churches also often teach terrible lessons,especially if they follow what the Bible says.

  • Tusk

    “Setting them up to fail??” LOL
    I think it’s more like saving their lives, not to believe in anything but themselves. Some may need a god but let the children figure that out for themselves, instead of being force fed by parents and clergy.

  • Sharon McNeil Altermatt

    The title says it all. That’s why for Catholic’s attending Mass isn’t optional. It’s a mortal sin to miss Mass unless you are sick or absolutely can’t make it. I was raised protestant and we never missed church unless we just couldn’t possibly make it. I’ve seen that changed with my family, who is all still protestant. They think nothing of missing their weekly service for most anything anymore. Very sad and I have no idea what caused the change. It’s a matter of priorities and when you miss church because you having something else you’d rather do, it speaks volumns. But hey, you’re saved right?! Such illogical theology.

    • Robin Warchol

      It would be nice if a majority of Catholics actually followed or took seriously the mandate.

      • jgti

        Yup, Sharon embarrassed herself with that one.
        To add to your comment, Robin, It would be even nicer if a majority of Catholics actually followed or took seriously the Bible. No more pope worship, or “prayers” to Mary, or bowing to statues…

        • Robin Warchol

          I don’t know anyone that “worships” the Pope. Maybe you ought to reread Revelations where it talks about about the saints in heaven standing before God with bowls of incense which are prayers from those on earth or where Moses set up a snake on a pole for people to look up to to be healed.

  • DDRLSGC

    I believe we need to concentrate about how the wealthy people and business leaders have set up their workers to failed. Furthermore, these wealthy people and business leaders have failed in helping their fellow beings even though many of them went to mass and religious schools for decades.

  • Dr. Bill Rudd

    Perhaps another part of the solution is to recognize that there is no NT mandate for the church gatherings being exclusively on Sunday morning. Saturday or Sunday evening are two of many other possibilities. Perhaps even better would be offering church gatherings at the soccer complex (or other sporting venue). Likely it would need to be a shorter service offered multiple times so that families could attend between, before, or after their games…and invite their unchurched friends. We need not be tied to buildings and time slots. In the past service times were often designed around the availability of dairy farmers, slaves, etc.

    • Jonathan H

      Good points. Yes, Romans 14:5 and other texts were not covered in the post.

  • LindaRobin

    Just because a person does not go to church does not mean they are being set up to fail. That is total nonsense, and nothing more than a justification for insisting that people go to church. Personally, I have never met a preacher yet who is qualified to tell me how to live my life. And, although there are many, many good church people, there are also some of the biggest hypocrites around who use the Bible and their church to mask their bigotry, hypocrisy, homophobia and racism.

    • You’ve just posted a 4-sentence confession. This is about you, not the Church.

      • jgti

        Indeed. I feel sorry for Linda.

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  • fractal

    There are more ways to Goddess than there are rays of the sun.
    Don’t you know that She too desires us?
    Any path we take eventually leads us back to our true self, and the spark of Divinity within.
    Where can you go, that the Sacred isn’t also present?
    Grace floods thru the most unlikely of humans, when least expected—who knows how it flows?

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  • Jonathan H

    Thank you for the article. However, there is little to no meaningful exegesis and developing a hermeneutic.