The Secret To Loving Jesus Much

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The more we realize how much Jesus has forgiven us, the more we will love him.

In Luke 7 a woman of ill repute shows up at a meal Jesus is attending in a Pharisee’s home. She breaks open a flask of expensive ointment, then, weeping over Jesus’ feet, wipes them with her hair and anoints them with the oil. The Pharisee, named Simon, most likely disgusted that Jesus would let this unclean woman touch him, thinks if Jesus were a prophet he’d know the kind of woman this is and have nothing to do with her. Jesus tells him:

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” (41-43)

Then after mentioning Simon’s lack of courtesies – he didn’t wash Jesus’ feet, welcome him with a kiss or anoint his head with oil – he pointed out how the woman washed his feet with her tears, kissed his feet and anointed them with oil. Then he delivers the punch line:

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” (47)

Before he saved me, Jesus let me sink into a self-made miry pit of sin, selfishness, and misery. I couldn’t get out and couldn’t stop sinning. God is sovereign.  He could have kept me from sinning.  But he allows us to plunge deeply into sin.  One of the reasons is so that when he does rescue us, we’re far more amazed and grateful than if we’d never sinned.

The same thing happens even after God saves us. He could keep us from ever sinning again. He could deliver us instantaneously from all pride and anger and self-centeredness. But he allows us to fall and struggle at times so we’ll have a fresh appreciation of his grace, forgiveness and love. And as a result we will love him all the more.*

John Newton said:

“…when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, willfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility — they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ; Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls. They love much, because much has been forgiven them!”

Have you blown it repeatedly? Messed up so many times you can’t recall? If you haven’t turned to Jesus yet, do so today! He paid for every one of your sins on the cross and freely forgives all who call upon him in faith to save them. He’ll cleanse you of your every sin, and in turn you’ll love him much.

Maybe you’ve believed for years, yet you’re discouraged in your struggle with sin. Remember, Jesus paid for all your sins long before he saved you. Ask him for forgiveness and he’ll forgive you and cleanse you of all unrighteousness. Not because you deserve it, but because he loves you. And you too will love much because you’ve been forgiven much.

I don’t advocate continual, morose, Eeyore-like dwelling upon our sins. But I DO advocate contemplating how much Jesus has forgiven us, because the more we realize the height and width and breadth and depth of Jesus’ forgiveness, the more we will love him.

The secret to loving God much: contemplate the immeasurable debt Jesus paid for you and how vast is his mercy and grace to you.

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*The reality of God in his sovereignty allowing us to fail to reveal the depth of our sin, our weakness and need and the greatness of Christ’s mercy and love is explained well by Barbara Duguid in her book “Extravagant Grace: God’s Glory Displayed in our Weakness”

Two Things We Must Be Clear About When We Talk About Homosexuality

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You don’t have to read many headlines to recognize that homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and a host of other related topics are hot-button issues these days. In previous generations Christians only had to give passing thought to the Bible’s teaching on these matters, but no longer. We may want to avoid the controversy, but it’s coming whether we like it or not. In some way, at some time or place, every Christian will have to take their stand on this question: what does the Bible say about homosexuality? Let me suggest two points I think we must state with both compassion and clarity.

1) Homosexuality is a sin

There are six texts that explicitly mention homosexuality: Genesis 19, Lev. 18.22, Lev. 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 1:10. In addition, Jude 1:7 references the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19 without using the word “homosexuality.” The clear teaching of these passages, Old and New, is that homosexuality is a sin.

Despite the clarity, however, there are many who argue that Scripture doesn’t actually say what it appears to say. Some pit the Old Testament vs. the New Testament – sure, there may have been some obscure law under Moses that forbid homosexuality, but the New Testament is about love and compassion and acceptance. But the obvious flaw with that line of reasoning is that the New Testament is just as clear in its labeling of homosexuality as a sin.

Others, noting that those three New Testament passages are all in Paul’s letters, pit Jesus against Paul. “Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners,” they say. “Of course he would have accepted homosexuals! It’s Paul whose the problem, introducing rules and polluting Jesus’ religion of love.” Notice what happens if we take this view. We’ve put ourselves in the position of judging which parts of Scripture we accept and which we reject. We stand above the Bible and render a verdict of true or false. But we’ve lost the ability for Scripture to ever confront us and tell us something different than what we already believed. It’s just those times when Scripture challenges us and brings us up short, even angers us with its audacious claims, that prove it’s the word of a living and active God. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it’s only dream furniture that never stubs your toes and only a dream “God” who never corrects you.

There’s at least one more nuanced approach to explaining away Scripture’s clear teaching. This view argues that the commands against homosexuality are only against sexual excess, not committed homosexual relationships and that the Bible knows nothing of the modern concept of sexual orientation. But here’s the problem. The Bible not only gives commands about sexuality and condemns homosexual behavior, it also tells us why. And it’s that why that is so important.

The commands against homosexuality (and all heterosexual sin as well!) are set in the context of the story line of Scripture, and especially the goodness of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. There we learn that gender – male and female – is part of our very essence. There is no such thing as a gender-less human; we are either men in God’s image or women in God’s image. Sex cannot be divorced from gender. It is a gift of God with specific purposes that all take place in the context of the marriage relationship in Genesis 1-2. Appealing to “homosexual orientation” as a way to bypass God’s prohibition against homosexuality doesn’t work because God has already told us what our sexual orientation is supposed to be: one man for one woman, in the context of a marriage covenant. Just as you wouldn’t use an iPhone to hammer a nail (Steve Jobs didn’t design it for that), so too you cannot use God’s gifts for purposes that are contrary to his.

Despite the arguments against the biblical texts, it’s clear that Scripture says homosexuality is a sin. But there’s more we must say.

2) Homosexuality is a sin

The first point speaks to those who argue homosexuality really isn’t a sin. But now we have to emphasize that homosexuality is only a sin, not the sin. Some rationalize homosexuality, others demonize it. Think of the news clips of people screaming and holding “God hates fags” signs. This is just as much a distortion of Scripture as trying to make Scripture approve of homosexuality. “God hates fags” is a gross caricature of the gospel message, one that draws the line between “us” and “them,” with “them” defined as “sinners who do things I don’t do.” In truth, God hates sin in all its manifestations. Sometimes it marches in gay parades and sometimes it gossips over the fried chicken. Both are equally hateful to God.

No passage is clearer in labeling homosexuality as a sin, but only one among many sins, than 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (emphasis added).

Note what Paul says. Men who practice homosexuality are among the unrighteous. So are idolaters and verbally abusive people. But the gospel changes the identity of just such people: “And such were some of you” – until God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit intervened!

Here’s the heart of the matter. The Bible refuses to let us label them as the problem. We are the problem – and that we includes kindly old grandmothers, card-carrying lesbian activists, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth farmers, and everyone in between. Our problem is much bigger than any one expression of sin. Our problem is a planet of 7 billion people each going his or her own way, with thousands of years’ worth of backstory to that rebellion. The tangled web that all of those rebels weave, a web of sinning and being sinned against, creates chaos and confusion that impacts every corner of the planet and every nook of our lives. Yes, homosexuality is part of that rebellion. But it’s not the sole cause of the rebellion. Labeling it as the sin causes us to miss our own culpability for vandalizing God’s good creation.

Homosexuality is a sin, but only a sin. In our current cultural climate, with pressures from multiple sides, faithfulness to Scripture requires us to say both.

Photo by Ethan Lofton

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up On The Church

 

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This article was originally Published at RelevantMagazine.com.

I grew up in the church. No really, I grew up in the church. I am a PK and spent countless hours in church and doing church activities. I am a church native and familiar with all its quirks and cultural oddities, with all its strengths, and with all its failings. As the son of prominent evangelical pastor, John Piper, I not only saw the inner workings of my own church I was exposed to church leaders from around the world and saw the good and the bad from their churches too.

Many people like me, who grew up immersed in church, have given up on it. Church is archaic, domineering, impersonal, hypocritical, irrelevant, contentious, petty, boring, and stale. It’s institutional instead of authentic and religious but not relational they say. I have seen all this in church and can agree that each accusation is true in instances. A PK sees all this up close and far too personally and feels each fault even more intensely. It really is enough to make one want to bail on church.

And I had my chance. Despite growing up steeped in sound Bible teaching and a loving context, I grew up empty in my soul. I believed but didn’t fully believe. I obeyed but kept parts of my life for myself, bits of dishonesty and secrecy. I knew Jesus and knew He was the only way to be saved from my sin, but I didn’t give my life to Him. In the end it blew up in my face and I was faced with the decision: stay in church and work through my mess or leave and be free. I stayed.

While leaving was an option, it was one that I looked at and saw emptiness. Sure, the church can cause a lot of pain and annoyance, but it’s where Jesus’ people are connected. And really, that’s what it is about – Jesus. That’s what made it so clear to me that staying was best.

The church is a messy place by nature. That’s what happens when a bunch of sinners come together anywhere. But it is a messy place designed by God to be his face to the World, and all those sinners reflect Him in unique ways. Nothing reflects God to the world like the church does. No, we don’t “do” church 100% correctly, and we never will. No, church is not a perfect place. Yes, church displays the sins of all its people very publicly. But none of that changes what it is or can be.

To leave the church is to hurt yourself and to hurt others. I don’t mean hurt like a slap in the face (though in some cases it’s a bit like that). I mean hurt like malnourishment. We were created by God to connect with others and, in that connection, reveal more of Him to each other and to the world. When we depart we deprive ourselves of those aspects of God others reflect and we deprive them of those aspects we reflect. Leaving is starving our souls and others’.

Solitude is wonderful. But many things in life, maybe most things, are better enjoyed with others. Including God. That’s why we’re called to worship with others, to study with others, to pray with others. And church is the outlet for that, an imperfect outlet, but the outlet nonetheless. God wants us to experience Him to the fullest and that is done with others in song, in study, in reflection, in prayer, in tears, in confession in celebration – with others, doing church.

Leaving the church is escapism. You may find stresses relieved and conflicts avoided. It may feel like a breath of fresh air to leave behind traditional stuffiness and legalistic hypocrisy. Even now, I often want to slap the stupid out of the church. It can be such a maddening collection of people. (And I suspect I contribute to the stupid that needs slapping just as often.) But none of that changes what it is: the organism of God’s presence and kingdom in the world. It is His means of connecting people to the gospel, to hope, to life. No matter your frustrations and hurts, it cannot be abandoned. You need it now whether or not you know it, and someday you will have a need nothing and no one else can meet. And the church will be where Jesus shows himself to you.

 photo credit: Bradley N. Weber via photopin cc

When You’re Tempted To Be Annoyed At The Weakness Of Others

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And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 1 TH 5.14

God saves all kinds of people, puts them together in his church and says “Now love one another.” The family of God includes those who have walked with God for years and those who are still rubbing their eyes in amazement that God saved them two weeks ago. God joins weak and strong, and tells us to live together in a way that will glorify him.

Sometimes we need to admonish others.

Apparently there were those in Thessalonica who weren’t working. Perhaps they’d quit their jobs believing Jesus’ return was imminent.  Perhaps they were simply lazy, but Paul says to admonish, them, warn them. Exhort them to work, provide for their families, and be diligent.

But be patient with them. It’s easy to feel annoyed at someone who’s lazy. When you get up early, endure rush hour traffic, slog away at your your job, put up with a demanding boss, then come home to find that this brother sleeps till noon and then wants to borrow money from you it’s easy to be irritated. Talk to him. Admonish him. But be patient with him.

Notice that out of the three types of people Paul mentions, two thirds are “fainthearted” and “weak.” Apparently, more Thessalonian believers were tempted to discouragement than idleness. That’s been the case in my experience pastoring over the years.

Paul says, “encourage the fainthearted” – the discouraged, feeble, and timid. They want to give up. They’re fearful. They have a hard time having faith. You spend a couple hours encouraging them, they leave confident and trusting the Lord, then the next day they’re back as discouraged and unbelieving as ever. Be patient with them.

It’s easy to become frustrated with the fainthearted, especially if you don’t struggle like they do. God has given some of us a gift of faith or we’ve grown in faith over the years so we’re able to trust God when he takes us through flood and fire. Others don’t have this kind of faith. They’re constitutionally and continually “fainthearted.” They can’t seem to believe God’s promises. They want to. They try to. They do for a while. Then they sink again. Don’t look down on them. Bear with their sinkings. Be patient with them.

Other believers are “weak.” They don’t have much spiritual strength. They fail repeatedly and can’t seem to conquer sin. Be patient with them.

It’s easy for those who are strong to judge others out of their strength.

My dad was a great guy but just couldn’t understand why people had such a hard time quitting smoking. “I smoked for twenty years, then one day I just decided to quit and I did. Never had another cigarette after that. You just decide to quit and you quit.” It wasn’t so easy for me. I’d only used tobacco for a few years when I quit as a young believer. It was so hard for me. I failed repeatedly and it took me quite a while to finally quit.

It may be sexual sin or bulimia or anger, but many of us are weak in some area. Those who have never struggled with a particular sin can be tempted to look down on those who do. It’s easy to be impatient with someone if you haven’t been through it.  Rather than just telling someone to buck up, get over it, just quit or just do it, Paul says “help the weak.” Help them with prayer. Help them with encouragement or gently holding them accountable. And be patient with them when they fail. Jesus will help them. They’ll grow. Maybe slowly, but they’ll grow.

God has been incredibly patient and longsuffering with me. How can I not be patient and longsuffering with others? Jesus has put up with my failures, unbelief, laziness, and multipe weaknesses for years, yet he’s never given up on me. How can I not be do the same for others?

1 Corinthinans 13…Remixed For Today

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If I status update with such insight, hilarity, godliness, or profundity, that I get a thousand retweets and likes, yet have not love, I’m a cellphone that won’t stop ringing, or a car alarm at 2 AM.

If I understand every nuance of every complicated doctrine, including eschatology and predestination, and am a constant defender of orthodoxy, and if I am renowned for my ability to communicate truth with passion, but have not love, I’m nothing more than a first grader in the kingdom of God.

If I am a fantastic worship leader, able to lead hundreds of people in passionate worship of God, yet have not love, my skills are worth jack.

If I am a blog warrior, constantly on the attack against those who would distort the faith, yet have not love, I’m that yippy dog next door who won’t stop barking…even at 3 AM.

If I live a life of radical sacrifice, crazy love, and wartime mentality, and sponsor lots of kids through Compassion International, and go on mission trips in “closed countries”, but have not love, I gain nothing.

If I am a great artist, able to capture a snapshot of the glory of God on canvas, or in song, or in prose, or on film, and yet have not love, my creative “genius” is utterly useless to God.

If I preach like Piper or Chandler or Chan or Platt, and yet have not love, I’m nothing more than a squawking parrot who likes to imitate others.

If I read all the books by all the smart theologians, and can quote them off the top of my head, yet have not love, WHO REALLY CARES!!!!

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Should Girls Play Boy Sports?

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You’ve got a wicked case of the Mondays. The only cure is another episode of The Happy Rant. In this episode, Ted, Barnabas, and I, cheerfully rant about:

  • A startling new development in the life of Ted Kluck.
  • Should girls play “boy” sports?
  • What sort of career should a creative person pursue?
  • Other brilliant, scintillating topics.

Here’s what you do:

If God Knows Our Every Need, Why Does He Tell Us To Pray?

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Most of us don’t like to humble ourselves. At least I don’t like to. And prayer is an act of humility. Prayer is an act of weakness. When we pray we admit to God that we desperately need help. That we’re weak and needy and not in control of all things. That we are not self-sufficient.

But God is attracted to this act of humility. So in one Peter 5:6-7 he tells us:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

We humble ourselves “under the mighty hand of God.”  In other words prayer acknowledges that God is sovereign and controls all things. We bow before his sovereignty. We acknowledge that God rules but his mighty hand and we can’t control a single thing in and of ourselves.

Prayer waits for “the proper time” for God to lift us up.  Waiting for God is humbling for again, we acknowledge that we can’t change anything and must wait for God to.  We must patiently wait for the One who knows the end from the beginning, the infinitely wise one, who knows the absolute perfect time to come riding in to rescue us or supply our need.  He knows the perfect time to answer our prayers. Our affliction won’t last one second longer than he determines.

God tells us to cast all our anxieties on him. Why must we tell God our cares when he already knows them? Because asking is an act of humility, and since God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5), prayer puts us in the position to receive grace.  God so longs to pour out his grace on us he tells us the best way to receive it!

God tells us to cast or anxieties on him “because he cares for you.” When we pray it’s important to remind ourselves that God, the creator of the galaxies, the sustainer of heaven and earth, is deeply concerned for us – individually. I used to think God was so busy running the universe he didn’t have time for my “petty” needs. But I found out that God loves and cares deeply about his children individually.  He knows us by name.  He knows every hair on our heads.  So pray because God cares about you and your anxieties and needs.  If he feeds the sparrows of the field and the ravens that cry out, how much more will he hear the cries of his precious blood-bought children?

Don’t be proud. Don’t try to tough it out and get through life on your own. Humble under the hand of the Almighty who is tenderhearted, sympathetic and generous, and waiting to pour out grace. Cast your anxieties on him and he will lift you up at the proper time.

A Tale of Two Poems

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When I was a kid, I hated poetry. Too obscure, and too much obsession with rhyming, I thought. Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I took the one with no poets pining behind the pine trees.

Over time, however, I’ve come to see poetry’s value. Good poetry is about life, the stuff of universal human experience, but distilled into concrete, specific moments. It is a window into the human heart: what do we believe, feel, long for, fear, crave?

Take, for instance, the most universal of all human experiences: death. What is it like to face death, to know it’s coming next just as surely as an appointment on your calendar? And what does that experience say about what we’re made of, who we really are? Here’s one approach from the poem Invictus by William Earnest Henley.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

 Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Don’t speed read it! (Hint: “speed” and “poetry” are words that go together as well as, say, ketchup and peanut butter.) Read it carefully. Let its message bring you up short. You can summarize this poem’s approach to death in one word: defiance. It’s raw; there are no filters on the poet’s words. Master. Captain. Unafraid. Isn’t this one hard-boiled, extreme expression of Isaiah 53:6: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – every one – to his one way”?

There’s another way, however. Consider the poem Even Such is Time by Sir Walter Raleigh:

Even such is time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with earth and dust.
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wander’d all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days;
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust!

If Invictus is defiant, Even Such Is Time is dependent. It’s about the same human experience, but Raleigh stands – we might say, kneels – on a totally different viewpoint. The sorrow of death is vividly portrayed – remember, Scripture calls it the last enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) – but rather than despair or defiance, this poem leads to confidence. Earth, grave, and dust do not have the last word. That right belongs to the God who raises the dead.

Two poems. Two diametrically opposed viewpoints. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is only about the end of life. Every human trial, every human struggle, ultimately contains either defiance or dependence at its core. Does God exist for me (whatever gods may be?) Or do I exist for God, whatever the story of my days may be? That is the essence of the moral drama we wake up to each morning. That is the drama you are living out even now. Defiance or dependence. Unbelief or faith. Pride or humility. Which will it be? Perhaps, we might even say:

Two roads diverged ‘neath a cross of wood…

Photo by Lydur Skulason

You Can’t Catch Sin Like a Cold

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It’s my favorite time of year. That time when we send our children off to slap five, share books, and suck on the same water fountains as hundreds of other little germ carriers at the Petri dish we call “school.” Every time one of my daughters comes home and says a classmate went home sick or missed school my wife wants to boil her in bleach, wrap her in Clorox wipes, and lock her in a hyperbaric chamber. If only we could quarantine them to keep them safe from all those nasty germs.

Sadly school is a necessary evil so we have to expose them to the ills and ailments. This is much the way many Christians think of “the world” – that necessary evil that we must be exposed to full of evil and vices and insidious temptations. If only we could quarantine ourselves from that too.

And many Christians do live in cultural quarantine, shutting themselves off from what they see as sinful influences. They avoid “bad” people and even places. They talk about those people and places like they are disease carriers – “We can’t have them around” or “We couldn’t go there.” They act like someone can sneeze sin onto them, that they will catch the bad decisions and guilt of another through physical proximity. What does his shunning communicate to those we have labeled “unclean”? Exactly that, Christians think they are unclean. Not the ideal way to draw people to Jesus. But sin is not an infectious disease

We don’t “catch” sin. It’s in us from birth. We are sin carriers. It’s only by the grace of God that we can become immune to the virus that lives in us, that we can live a life without its symptoms oozing and coughing and exhaling out of us onto others. Because of the work of Christ we are able to choose whether or not to sin. It is a decision, one that we often have a very hard time making, but a decision nonetheless. Sin is a theology too. It is a belief, or lack thereof, in the goodness and work of Jesus. It is this theology, this belief that informs our decision and drives us.

So, when we are around obvious sin, those people and places, we can’t catch their sin. We can choose their sin, but that is a matter of decision, of belief, of theology. If we hold fast to Jesus there is no risk of that sin invisibly taking hold of us like a flu bug might. How freeing! We no longer have to keep our distance or live in cultural quarantine. We can engage those people with grace and freedom without fear. Because we are near Jesus we can be near to anyone without fear that they will make us more like them than like Him.

But it would be nice if they used Purel and covered their mouths when they sneeze.

Win A Boatload of Books From Logos Bible!

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I’m psyched today to give away a bunch of books from Logos! Here’s the details!

The Prize

NavPress Spiritual Formation Collection.

The winner will be chosen at random on September 19th and the collection will be sent to the winner’s Logos account. Don’t have an account? No problem! You can sign up for free here and download free apps to read your books on any device here.

How to Enter

Login below with your email address or Facebook account and follow the steps in the widget. That’s it! Each prompted action you follow will earn you additional entries. You can always come back and share a link to the giveaway with your friends for additional entries.

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