Grace shown through Forgiveness

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This is a public domain image of Joseph forgiving his brothers

Genesis 45:5 Now, therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.

Read Genesis 45:5, 50:15-21  Joseph forgave his brothers with grace for selling him into slavery.  Although his brothers didn’t recognize the forgiveness given in 45:5, he reasserted his complete and total forgiveness in 50:15-21 after their father Jacob’s death.  By forgiving his brothers when they obviously didn’t do anything to deserve it, he showed God’s grace toward his brothers.

The story of Joseph is an amazing story of trial and tribulation and growth and grace. It is also a very long story going from Genesis chapter 37 through Genesis chapter 50. Joseph starts out as pretty much a spoiled brat whom his brothers decide that when they have an opportunity to get rid of him they will.  They actually plan his death, they hate him more than they love their father.  I have a few younger brothers, and so I know what it is like to grow up with people who seem to make it their life’s goal to be annoying and irritating.  Thankfully, like Joseph, as we grew up we all changed and matured.   Can you imagine just how annoying Joseph must have been to the older brothers for them to actually take it so far?  Here are a few points in the story that tell us the personality Joseph had….1.)  He has a dream where all his siblings and his parents too bow down to him in the dream.  The dream isn’t the problem it is that he announces it first to his brothers, then to his father as if they should start bowing down immediately! He certainly could have delivered the news of his God given dream to his father privately and asked him what it was all about…or he could have kept it to himself too. 2.)  He is a tattle tale…his father sends him to see if his brothers and the flocks are well and come back and tell him. 3.)  He is the spoiled favorite who gets all of the good stuff and doesn’t have to do any work.

Usually, when we read or hear the story of Joseph and his coat of many colors and all that he went through we only hear how Joseph was abused by his brothers.  We don’t usually look at Joseph, himself, that much.  He is looked upon as the innocent in the story.  Just as none of us are innocent of sin, neither was Joseph.  However, as Joseph later told his brothers…”what you determined in evil…but God determined good from it.” (paraphrase of Genesis 50:20).   God knew all of Joseph’s faults all along…so he sent the dream to Joseph to tell him the future (and probably to give him hope in later hard times), and to set things in motion to bring about his plan for both Joseph’s maturity into someone whom God could use for great things, and to heal the relationship between Joseph and his family.

If all of those things had not happened to Joseph he would not have become the person who was humble enough and trustworthy enough to handle the task that God had given him.  If Joseph had not been enslaved, falsely convicted of attempted rape, jailed, and then brought before the Pharaoh and saved Pharaoh’s life…he would not have been the person that would have had the wisdom to help Pharaoh to save the land from drought, and also to be able to save his own family.  All of his trials made him who he was, and they humbled him to the point where he really learned who God was, and that God would get him through anything.  Joseph relied on God and looked for God’s will in every situation….he came to understand what his faults were, and also that God was a God of grace and forgiveness.  Once you understand that fact, then it becomes easier to forgive those around you who have wronged you.  Those who are forgiven much, love much. (Luke 7:47)

If you have not read the story of Joseph completely I encourage you to take the time to do so.  He is one of the Patriarchs of the Bible and the story is really interesting and worth the time.  It will also help you to understand his path of faith and how he became someone who could forgive his brothers so simply.  When you are challenged in life there are always two ways to respond….one is the response of the world, which is selfishness and hatred…the other is to respond in the way of God, which is love and forgiveness…a “what can I learn from this experience that will help me to draw closer to God” kind of attitude.

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The Resurrection

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When Jesus comes back all of the tombs will be emptied and we will all be judged on our faith

John 11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

Read Matthew 28:1-10  This is the story of Mary Magdalene and the other Mary going to visit Jesus’ tomb, but not finding Him there.  It is noteworthy that considering the status of women in biblical society, that the first people Jesus appeared to after His resurrection were women.  It is also evidence in the bible of the truth with which the apostles reported their experiences that they listed these women as being first to see Jesus alive again.  Women did not serve as credible witnesses during that time period in any court, yet they were the first credible witnesses listed in the bible to witness Jesus’ resurrection.  This is an excellent example of the first being last, and the last being first.

One of the things that we sometimes miss from just sitting in the church and hearing about Jesus’ resurrection is that Jesus did not just rise from the dead and hang around a few days visit all his disciples and then go to heaven.  There were far more than just those few people, who saw Jesus and could testify to his resurrection.  Jesus was on the earth after his resurrection for 40 days (Acts 1:3) and he appeared to over 500 people who as Paul tells us at the time when the book of 1Corinthians was written down (about 25 yrs later) were still alive to affirm the truth of Christ’s resurrection from death.  (1Corinthians 15:6).  That is one of the great things about the New Testament…the books were all written within a time frame whereby there were many many living witnesses to the truth of the writings.  This means to us many generations later that we can count on and trust that truth.

In Matthew 28:1-10, we are told that the men who were guarding the tomb where Jesus’ body lay saw an angel who appeared suddenly after a violent earthquake and his appearance was like lightening and his clothes were as white as snow.  That event was so shocking to the men that they fainted.  Personally, I find it entertaining that the angel then sat on the stone that had covered the tomb.  If we go and read about other times that God has had angels make an appearance to people they do appear suddenly, but usually, it is accompanied by a “fear not…”  In this case, the actions seem more like God demonstrated concretely to the men guarding the tomb and to all of us through the telling of this tale, that he is almighty and definitely in charge, and “don’t you forget it!”  It’s like him saying to us all, “Look!  I don’t want you to ever forget that I am in charge of death too…this piddling little stone you put in front of the tomb is nothing to me!”  The seated angel reminds me that the job of conquering death was completed.  The sins of man had been atoned for…there was nothing else that God had to do in the future…he had already sacrificed the best that he had for the sins of man!

You would think that these guards who had this experience would have become believers…wouldn’t you?  But if you go ahead and read Matthew 28:11-15  you find that this is not what happened.  These same men when they woke up from their faint ran to tell the Chief Priests all that had happened to them.  The Chief Priests then told the Elders  and they hatched the scheme to hide this miracle from the world.  The guards accepted the bribe and agreed to spread the story concocted by the Jewish Elders. The story that Jesus’ body was stolen in the night by the Disciples.   Despite the huge impression that the angel made on these men, their sense of survival and greed overtook it.  To be fair to them they would have, almost certainly, been killed if they had refused to fall in with the scheme.  Guards who failed to guard, generally, were killed for that failure in the Roman army, and with the added problem that these same elders and priests had made sure that Jesus was killed when he went up against them.  On the other hand these men could have chosen to believe in God’s power, (and possibly die) rather than continue on the path set for them.  After all, it is 2000+ years later, look at the number of people following Jesus and believing in his death and resurrection and the atoning power of his blood…and are there that many people who really believe that his body was stolen by the Disciples?  It is obvious that, God definitely made his point!  God is the one with the power and nothing that man can devise will stop his plan!

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. (ESV)

Grace Defined

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The empty cross is a reminder of God’s grace toward us that he wipes our sins clean as though they never existed to him. 

Grace Defined:   Grace is when you are forgiven for something which you should have been punished for, and you have done nothing and there is nothing you can do to deserve not being punished.  It is simply a demonstration of grace that you continue to not be punished in spite of your wrongdoing.  You must accept the fact that you were forgiven, and that something happened in the person’s or God’s eyes which mitigated your sin, but was not of your own doing.  You cannot get to heaven by doing good things.  You only get there by accepting Jesus as your Savior who died for your sins, which mitigated them because he already paid for them.  Then by accepting Jesus, you are living under God’s grace.  You may still fall into sin, but as long as you continue to genuinely repent, and accept God’s gift of his son in your life, you will continue to be saved by Grace.  As you grow in grace you will find that your old self is put aside, and that many things which you enjoyed which were sinful are not things which you want to do now.  With God’s help and the Holy Spirit living within you, you won’t want to do things outside of God’s approval. In the old testament, people lived under the law of Moses, not under Grace.  However, there were times when God demonstrated grace towards old testament people.  For instance in Lot’s case, Abraham used intercessory prayer and God spared Lot as a righteous person out of Sodom.  The Old Testament shows us that grace can be a synonym for mercy.  Traditionally by Christian definition there is no grace without Jesus Christ.

Note:  When I say you may still fall into sin and you will repent…it is not to say that sin is acceptable if you just plan to repent later…the Bible clearly warns against doing that sort of thing.  

1 Corinthians 10:13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Read:  Genesis 18:17-Genesis 19:29.  This is the story of Abraham praying for Sodom and Gomorrah.  It was evident that Lot was the only righteous man in Sodom.  Therefore, due to Abraham’s prayer Lot was spared along with his family.

Remember that Lot was only marginally righteous at best, he was Abraham’s nephew, and when given the choice of land he chose for himself the “green land” and left Abraham the desert.  This speaks to Lot’s character of greed, and his need for personal comfort which makes you believe that he probably didn’t go to any great lengths to discipline his children.  However, he did stand up for the angels in Sodom, when the crowd came to harass them. 

Thought questions:  Were there times when you were forgiven for things you did wrong when you weren’t expecting it.  How did that  make you feel?  Think about times when you have been unforgiving!  How did being unforgiving toward others affect you?  Did you feel bad or good about still harboring a grudge?  Was it easy to keep harboring a grudge, or was it hard work?  How do you feel when someone is unforgiving to you?  Grace, and mercy and forgiveness are all linked together!  God directs us to forgive.  We are to forgive repeatedly as God forgives us repeatedly.  Even when the person  doesn’t deserve forgiveness.  You forgive in obedience to God.  He forgives you repeatedly and you don’t deserve it either. 

Do you know that being unforgiving toward others and toward yourself stands in the way of your relationship with God and also stands in the way of your happiness and contentment in life?

Matthew 5:22-24  “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.…(NIV)

The Faith of a Child

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Luke 18:17 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein. (KJV)

Read Daniel Chapter 1:  This story is of the captivity of Daniel and others from Judah.  These young people were in a difficult situation having been ripped from their homes and put directly into the King of Babylon’s palace to live in a completely foreign environment.  The object of the King of Babylon was pretty obviously to raise the children of Judah as members of his household, so that they became more like his own people, than their own people, learning the customs and habits of Babylon.  The King of Babylon was trying to keep them from wanting to rebel and seek freedom as adults.  This method of control has been used by conquerors for centuries.  To control a vast empire from a central location you either had to be a benevolent dictator or didn’t interfere in their culture very much, or you had to find a way to make  your culture their culture, or constantly deal with outbreaks of rebellion and war within your empire. Anyway, the King ordered that Daniel and the others be fed from his very own table.  The King got the very best food, so he thought that this would ensure their health. 

Unfortunately for Daniel, the food that the King of Babylon ate was in direct opposition to what God had told Daniel (who was a Jew) to eat.  Evidentially, the King ate a lot of pork, and blood products, maybe even organ meats.  Also the King’s food was almost certainly food that had been offered to the false gods of Babylon.  These rules about food were dictates put down in the old testament .  Daniel stepped out in faith and took God at his word that he was only to eat certain things.  So, in spite of the King’s decree, he approached the man who was in charge of feeding and caring for them and asked for different food so that he (Daniel) could follow God’s rules. 

Daniel could have said, “Well, I’m a just a slave, I’m helpless, I have to eat what they give me….”  or he could have said, “ I don’t understand why we can’t eat their food, there’s nothing wrong with it…” but he didn’t, he was determined to trust and obey God as far as he was able, even without explanation.  God rewarded this childlike faith with prosperity for Daniel.  Children trust their parents even when they don’t understand  why they are told not to do something, or to do something.  This is the kind of trust God wants from us.

Here is a modern illustration of the childlike faith:  Two fathers are out walking with their sons on a trail, both fathers know that there is a cliff up ahead, and that the rocks near the cliff are loose.   The boys are running ahead.  The fathers each shout out, “Son, Stop!”  One boy stops without taking another step, immediately.  The other boy, hears his father, and starts thinking about why his father wants him to stop, but keeps playing. He hits the gravel and starts to slide towards the cliff edge.  The boy who stopped immediately without question is the son with childlike faith.  His father later explained why he wanted him to stop, or he saw the reason later, but he stopped because he trusted his father.  This is how we are to trust God.

Looking for and Testing God’s Answer

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Rainbow over the Atlantic Ocean in the Caribbean

1John 4:1 Dear Friends, Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 

Read  1John 4  This chapter talks about the character of God, that people should be able to recognize when something or someone is Godly or unGodly.  The essence of God’s character is demonstrated in his love for us, his children.

Judges 6:36-40 Read the story of Gideon and the Fleece.  Gideon was given a task by God, and he wanted to make sure that he was listening to what God wanted him to do.  So he prayed for visible evidence.  He told God what kind of evidence he needed to see in order to know that God was talking to him.  This was okay with God, even though Gideon felt that he might make God mad by asking a second time he asked anyway to ensure the answer was not a fluke.  God understood that Gideon’s motive was to be obedient.  So with love, God, gave Gideon what he needed to comfort him with the knowledge that what Gideon was believing was God’s direction was truly God’s direction, and not something Gideon misinterpreted.  It is okay, to ask God for confirmation of your answer to your prayer.  This is not a lack of faith.  This is an acknowledgement that there are outside factors which may lead you astray in your quest to be obedient to God.

The other day, I had an occasion where I was trying to decide what God wanted me to do about a situation…it was a “do I just take action on my own because I don’t really have an answer, or do I just stay where I am and keep doing what I am doing because I don’t have an answer” type of question.  I had about decided that I was just going to go ahead with my original plan, but was really looking for God’s direction and let him know through my mental discussion with him as I worked.  God was listening as usual, and he went ahead and gave me the answer pretty quickly….I finished working and went to my car, turned on the radio just to hear a minister (Alistair Begg) proceed to announce:  “Do you ever have a hard time knowing what God wants you to do?”  I thought, “Well, that was quick, it appears my answer may be here!”  The minister went on to talk about taking action, and what action to take.  The statement was made that if you don’t know what action to take and you are not doing anything that goes against God’s character or being obedient to him in general that the best thing to do is to continue to stay where you are and continue to do what you are doing until you receive clear instructions from God to go or do something else.  I thought, “Well that is certainly in keeping with my knowledge of God..thanks for the quick answer, Lord!”  Sometimes God answers your questions pretty directly!  When he does you will just “know” from knowing God’s character and the sense of peace and satisfaction you get that it is your answer.  The doors that God opens are usually obvious and easy to go through whenever you are in keeping with his will for your life.  I was just getting impatient, so I will continue to wait, until I have a clear direction in which to proceed. It will all go much better that way.

Being Content in the Lord

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This is Patches she is 17 years old, and has been frost bitten (she is a barn cat)…she is contently lying in the sun.  We have to bring her in during the Winter now, but she is healthy for her old age.

Read Philippians 1:1-21  Paul demonstrates his contentment in waiting on the the Lord’s will for his life where ever he is, and in whatever circumstances he finds himself in.  This letter was written to the church at Philippi while Paul was under house arrest in Rome(Acts 28:16).  It had come to Paul’s attention that the people at Philippi thought that his imprisonment was hindering the spread of the gospel.  Paul wrote to tell them, that on the contrary his imprisonment was allowing him to spread the gospel to all the palaces, and that it also emboldened others to speak out and spread the gospel.  Through his imprisonment Paul was able to speak to Herod Agrippa who replied that after hearing Paul’s witness that he could almost become a Christian. (Acts 26:28 KJV). Overall in this letter Paul asserts continually his contentment to wait upon the Lord’s will for his life, while continuing to pray and spread the gospel.

Also read Acts chapters 25 thru chapter 28…this will really fill out the lesson and really drive home the point of how difficult Paul had it and how he really found ways to be content and trust the Lord in all situations that he was in.

Note:  The KJV of Acts 26:28 was used because it seems more reasonable that Agrippa would be “almost persuaded” by a man of Paul’s changing background from persecutor to the most devout disciple, and by Paul’s charisma, also Agrippa’s parting words in verse 32 seem to be in sympathy with Paul’s plight, not overly skeptical as the NIV version seems to indicate.

Looking at the world today we see a lot of discontent in people’s lives.  We are trained to always want to achieve more, more, more…more intelligence, more material goods, a better house, a better job, a better body…etc.  While wanting to be the best that we can be and really respect that we would like to live up to being all that God created us to be is a good thing most people get carried away and focus on what they don’t achieve and what they cannot do or have not done instead of what they have accomplished.  The World view is very skewed to look down on people who are less than others in those achievements.  The fact of the matter is that we are all different.  God created us all differently and we are all created for different purposes in God’s plan.  Some of us are as smart as Einstein, and others are not gifted with intelligence at all.  (I am not taking a dig at anyone here!)  Our society has a role for people intellectually gifted, and also for people who are not so gifted.

 Some folks are gifted with the ability to fix anything mechanical, almost as if the machine itself talks to them.  There are others who cannot seem to change the oil in their car, but can design a computer chip that revolutionizes the world.  In the world view the computer chip designer is valued more because they can do something for the whole world.  However, if a person who relies on their car needs their car fixed, then the most valuable person is the car mechanic…at that time, there is no value to the computer chip designer in their life. It is all a matter of perspective.  Just as what is going on in your life and how difficult your life is…that is a matter of your perspective versus the world perspective.

 The saying that God doesn’t give you more than you and he can handle is a prime truth.  It is also a prime truth that some people can handle more difficulties than others.  A lot of times we will have a melt down in a situation where someone watching us would say, “What is happening here?  Why are they so upset, this seems like such a minor thing?!!”  Well, some things that are minor for one person, can be the last “straw” for another.  It is again all a matter of perspective.  So the next time you get into one of those “last straw” moments…take a breath and ask yourself…”Next week will I even remember this issue?  Next year will it be an issue?  In the scheme of my life, is this really important?  How can my reaction to this situation I am in best serve God’s purpose in showing another person who God is in my life?”  That is the most important question of all…I had a failure in this very area this week…thankfully, I was given the opportunity to rectify it with the person involved.  God is good in giving second chances, but it is always nice when we don’t need them.  Unfortunately, most of us do flub up once in while in our relationships with others, and with God.

It is nice to stop and consider the situation from another perspective… God’s perspective, if possible.  The thing about it is that you cannot know God’s perspective unless you study the Bible and get to know God.  Paul really understood who God was, and that every situation we are in is an opportunity to serve God.  He learned to be content that he had a relationship with God no matter what situation he was in, and to wait and embrace the situation as an opportunity to serve God!  We should all attempt to do that same thing…it leads to a much less stressful, much happier life!

Giving God the Glory

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This is the eternal light peace memorial at Gettysburg inscribed on it is:  “An enduring light to guide us in unity and fellowship.  With firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right.”  Abraham Lincoln

Romans 4:20  Yet he (Abraham) did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God.

Read 1Kings 18:17-40  This is the story of Elijah praying to God to demonstrate the power of his Godliness by burning up the Bullock offering which has been wet down with water.  After allowing Baal prophets to attempt to get Baal to burn up their offering.  Elijah gave God glory for the action even before it took place, and then had the false prophets of Baal destroyed. It really gives you quite a mental picture Elijah taunting the Baal prophets with “what?  is he asleep?  or traveling? or busy? maybe Baal isn’t hearing you?”  Imagine their frustration. Then Elijah, wanting to make his point that his God was the greatest in the most final and awesome manner so that there would be no doubt about it…he even had the wood wet down.  Anyone who has ever tried to start a fire with wet wood knows that this is not an easy thing….even when using liter fluid it takes a lot of time.  Elijah didn’t need liter fluid…he had the one and only most awesome, greatest God of the universe on his side!  

When God answers your prayers it is important to always worship and glorify him by offering thanks, and telling others about the answers to your prayers.  You may strengthen their faith by the answers you receive, and cause them to pray more often and look for answers for themselves.  Note, if your prayer is intensely private it is okay not to share it, but you must share your faith and thank God.

Think about times you have had something wonderful happen and have not given God the glory for that blessing…it is never too late.  There are many times when we will give ourselves the glory for things that God has done for us or through us for others.  It is best to remember that all of our accomplishments are through God’s great gifts that he has given us.  If you are very talented and even if you have worked hard to develop that talent…all of that talent is coming to you from God…even having the stamina and strength of mind and character to develop a talent or attain a goal…all of that is coming to you from God.  Even bad things that happen can be used by God to strengthen your faith and your character…so be thankful and glorify God in all things.

Exercises in Faith:

Read Psalm 145 one verse at a time, and say “Glory to God in the Highest” after each verse.

Write your  own psalm to glorify God personally…just as the Psalmist did in the Bible. Try reading it each day for a week and see if it helps you to focus on giving God the glory for the things in your life.

Help My Unbelief

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This is a view of the Alps from an airplane..just as God has a larger view of the world because he supersedes all boundaries of time…than our view…the largest view of the world we can get is from the sky and then we are still only viewing a portion of it.

Mark 9:24  And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief. 

Read Mark 9:17-29  This story explains the importance of prayer and fasting in healing, and you come to understand that the father of this child had probably been to many other healers and doctors for his son over his son’s lifetime.  He had probably been praying for a long time. So, as a consequence of his son not being healed for such a long time period the fathers belief in the possibility of the healing taking place diminished.  Therefore when he goes to see Jesus he adds an additional prayer along with the prayer for healing…the request for help with his belief problems. 

I don’t believe that the father was doubting God’s ability to heal, but that he was doubting whether the healing of his son would be God’s plan. Jesus’ disciples not being able to enact the healing was a problem for them, and Jesus evidenced frustration with the disciples inability to do the healing, but when they questioned him he gave them another lesson with patience.  It is good to remember that God’s timetable for answers to prayer is not the same as ours. 

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Note:  The NIV for some reason omits the words “and fasting”.  I don’t have a problem with that omission because there has been a lot of textual study in ancient scriptures (ex. the Dead Sea Scrolls were not discovered until the 1940’s)  that were not around at the time of King James which have not found the words “and fasting” in the scripture so the thought is that this addition was a later statement from the early church which put a lot of emphasis on fasting. Fasting is a physical act which helps a person to concentrate less on the body and more on God.   Also there can be an occasion when you wish to use fasting to better express your sincerity when you are praying.  However, a person cannot get more from God by fasting; that would be like trying to make a deal with God.  As Jesus says to the father in this story, and we are told over and over throughout the Bible…it is the act of faith that matters to God.  Of course, if God tells you that you should fast, then you should fast.  Sometimes that is what God requires as an act of obedience to Him.

I am including a link that you can read more about this issue of the omitted verse if you like.  You can read it and make your own decision.  One thing about the NIV that should be remembered is that it is written for the ease of the reader’s understanding of God’s word; not extreme word for word textual accuracy.   I really enjoy it for this ease of understanding as it is helpful in teaching others, but KJV is more textually accurate in it’s phrasing.  I could give you other examples of these differences.  Everyone has their own preferred version of the Bible.  I believe that as long as you are studying the word of God avidly, God will guide you to the answers you need.  That said, it is always a good idea if you are ever confused to go and look at another version or two or three.  There are many on line sites which will give you about every version there is to read…side by side.  A couple of my favorite sites are Bible Hub and Bible Gateway.  As I come across differences I will try to make them clear.

The Omission of “and fasting”