“Finally”…

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As a young boy, I was baptized into the Disciples of Christ Church in Marion, Kentucky.

Sometimes I wonder why I recall things so vividly in my past but I truly remember my baptism. It was a full immersion baptism inside the church. I don’t even know if the font is still in the church; the church building does still exist. I think what caught my attention about this event is how I felt when the baptism was over. Later in the day, I had a horrible backache. A young kid does not normally have backaches but something in the dunking and pulling me from the water must have wrenched my body. Today, I wonder if a backache is what people should remember about their baptism.

Here is what I did not feel at that baptism. I did not really feel like I knew Jesus Christ.

Like so many Christians [especially kids], baptism was just an outward sign that I was ready to be a member of a church. Sometimes children are baptized to please their parents or their pastor. It is not bad to do this but when Pastor Billy Graham writes about “baptism of the Spirit,” he is not describing my childhood baptism that was done primarily for the benefit of others. He is describing something that happened to me about twenty-five years ago. He is describing the moment I received Jesus Christ as my Savior.

That was a moment of great need. To that moment, I had lived my life on my own power so to speak. I had several trying times in my life but I “toughed them out” [to use a cliché]. I had no relationship with a higher power to help me through my situations. I knew about God. I knew about God’s Word. I had been to church but I did not really believe that God was there to help me on a daily basis. Then I had the biggest crisis of my life and I absolutely did not know what to do, but I knew I needed to do something. I did not know the next step, so I cried out to God for the first time in my life and simply said “Please Lord, just tell me what to do next!”

He did.

I have often wondered if God looked down on me that morning and said “finally.”
That morning is the moment I received Jesus Christ as my Savior.

Not everyone comes to Christ in a moment of crisis. For some that is not necessary. They accept Christ without all the drama. They know they need Him and they dedicate their life to Him without all the fanfare. They don’t have to be “brought low.” But for some it takes dramatic circumstances to make a solid impression.

Some may believe we receive Jesus at the moment we are baptized. Others see the altar rail conversion as the moment. Still others see the Spirit coming after conversion; if you don’t have the Spirit, God can’t use you and when He does, you have It. Others think that some outward sign or gift accompanies the arrival of the Spirit. I had a good friend who told me she agonized a bit because she could not speak in tongues. “Everyone else in church did; why not me?”

The main thing is that you become a member of God’s holy people because you realize the need to have Jesus Christ in your life and you receive Him as your Savior.

Pastor Graham writes about baptism of the Spirit: “This [moment of conversion] is the only Spirit baptism. At this time, we can and should be filled with the Holy Spirit, and afterward be refilled, and even filled unto all fullness. As has been said, ‘One baptism, but many fillings.”

Too often we focus on differences of interpretation. Some churches baptize babies, others do not. Some sprinkle or pour while others only immerse. These concerns are ok and they should not divide Christians trying to live their lives for Christ. What is solid is this: when a person realizes they need to be saved and they give their life to Christ, they receive the Holy Spirit. That does not mean that they are filled with it or they are controlled by it. The most important, most central thing is that when we come to Christ, God gives His Spirit to us.

Pastor Graham (credited with inviting 3.2 million people to have a personal relationship with Christ) tells of an encounter with an old-fashioned southern revival preacher in Florida. Graham described him as “The speaker [who] made up in thunder what he lacked in logic.” Graham says this man probably knew many in his audience because he stopped his message many times and asked people directly “Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit?” They would reply, “Yes pastor, by the grace of God” or some other affirmation. Finally the pastor turned to Graham and asked him a different question: “When were you baptized with the Holy Spirit?” Graham replied back “The moment I received Jesus Christ as my Savior.”

The pastor had a puzzled expression: he said “That couldn’t be.”

Graham writes about the thought he had but did not say to that pastor: “But it could! It was.”

That moment of conversion: a new man, a new life…born again.

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Blessed Assurance…

 

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Romans 6:6 “We know that our old man was crucified with Him so that the body of sin would no longer dominate us, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

Ephesians 2:15; 4:22-24 “When He nullified in His flesh the law of commandments in decrees, He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace…that you were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth.”

Colossians 3:9-11 “Do not lie to one another since you have put off the old man with its practices and have been clothed with the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the One who created it. Here there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in all.”

The “old man.”

We know that the Holy Spirit comes into the new believer’s life when he or she is born again. We know the Holy Spirit convicts us and calls us to lead better lives in Christ. We know the Holy Spirit regenerates us as we seek to move forward from where we are in life, from sin to repentance, to forgiveness, to a closer relationship with God the Father.
Where does this “old man” come into play, that old man that can come out of the bag from time to time? That “old man” who reappears?

Recently in my Sunday school class, I asked the class if someone could lose their salvation. One of my students responded “no.” He said “we can walk away from it but we won’t lose it”.

Here is where Pastor Graham* writes the Holy Spirit assures us that we won’t lose what God has given us. “After we receive Christ as Savior we may be confused sometimes because many of our old temptations [“the old man”] have not disappeared. We still sin. Sometimes we lose our tempers. Pride and jealousy may crop up from time to time. This is not only confusing it is discouraging and sometimes leads to spiritual depression.” He mentions “besetting sins” which could be bad habits or addictions that we just don’t have the power to conquer.

When we are born again, we have a “new nature” but our “old nature” does not immediately go away. The reappearance of the old nature in the born again person’s life is a severe problem. When one continues committing sins from the past, those sins are from when we were born in the flesh. When we are born again, we are born again in the Spirit; we are now children of God.

It is doubt that we fight. Satan wants us to doubt what has happened. He does not want us to have a new nature. He wants us bogged down in our old way of life.

The Holy Spirit is the key to understanding what is going on. It is the Holy Spirit that assures us that we have truly been born again. Hebrews 10:15 says “And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us.” Romans 8: 16 says “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”

Pastor Graham adds his personal assurance to God’s word: “By the written Word of God, and the quiet work of the Spirit in our hearts, we know we have been born again—regardless of the accusations of Satan” [62].

Yes, our old nature does not immediately go away when we give our lives to Christ. Indeed the old nature will reappear from time to time. Sometimes the temptation is so strong that we walk away from Christ and find ourselves acting just like we did before we were saved. But the Holy Spirit is there, calling us back to God. We may not choose to listen but we can.

And the message is pretty clear to me…

Stuff that old man back in that bag and move forward to a new life, a better life in Christ.

*from his book The Holy Spirit

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Pick Yourself Up…

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Regeneration…

I had a talk with a pastor friend of mine and the topic was sin. I went to talk with him as a friend but also as a pastor. I have known him for a long time [even before he was called to preach]. Don’t get me wrong, he was a devout Christian before pastoring but he had his issues.

It was good that I knew his personal concerns. Even when a man or woman is called to preach, I don’t believe problematic issues necessarily go away. I recall blogging on a book by well-known Pastor John Bevere. He confessed his weakness before becoming a pastor and sure enough, that same weakness dogged him for many years as he pastored his first church.

My friend admitted as much to me; his weaknesses still existed. God had not taken them away. He was a fighter though and he refused to give into sin. He gave me good advice. “When I sin, I am ashamed, but God understands me. He knows everything about me. It is not long before I repent, seriously repent, praying for forgiveness. I don’t want to grovel too long because God has work for me to do. Essentially I try to pick myself up as soon as possible, dust myself off and move forward with His grace.”

I really thought this was good advice.

Pastor Billy Graham calls this regeneration by the Holy Spirit. I have written on the role of the Holy Spirit in salvation. Certainly the Holy Spirit manifests itself when a person is saved or “born again”, but like my friend, sometimes we need to be “born anew.”

Graham writes “The Spirit of God takes the Word of God and makes the child of God. We are born again through the operation of the Holy Spirit. . .God’s spirit brings life to men. At this point, the Holy Spirit indwells a person for life. He receives eternal life.”
But that does not mean we are “sin free.” In Acts 8:21, Simon Peter tells Simon the Sorcerer after baptizing him “Your heart is not right before God.” To get a better relationship with the Father means a commitment to long-term change. John Wesley referred to this as sanctification. This means that salvation is not a static, one-time event in our lives. It is the ongoing transformation of God trying to make us into whom God intends us to be. Through God’s “sanctifying grace”, we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived.

It is a daily challenge but our inner thoughts and motives, as well as our outer actions and behavior, can come to be aligned with God’s will over time. Graham says that many find Christian life a terrible problem as they try to attain a stronger relationship through “good works.” Titus 3 says it best: “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done but according to His mercy.” A person can join every civic club in town, volunteer for every charitable project and still not be regenerated.

I have tried making resolutions but that does not work either. Trying to clean up a life and moving forward based on one’s will alone does not work. We don’t have the power to accomplish our goals alone. Isaiah 64:6 states “All our righteous deeds are like filthy garments” in the sight of God.”

Graham says “Some well-meaning people even try to find regeneration through imitating Christ, but try as hard as we might, we are sinners.” Graham even says we are “dead in sin.” Jesus was pure and what we need can only be supplied by the Holy Spirit through transforming regeneration.

There is no doubt that an honest effort at committing your life to Christ will bring about a change in your relationship with God and that change can cause an alteration in how you relate to your family, yourself and your neighbors, but God wants us to have a new life for our whole life. Too many people rest on their salvation, thinking I have done all I have to do to get to eternity. A cold hard look at ourselves will reveal that we all have a lot more to do. For most of us, the Christian life is like the old carnival game “Whack-a-Mole.”* When you whack one mole down, another pops up instantly.

We fail daily. At least I have to admit that I do.

I think my friend’s advice is appropriate. Repent, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving forward, with His grace.

You can do this, but only with the help of the Holy Spirit and the power of regeneration.

*apologies for comparing life to a carnival game, but it seems appropriate…

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Leaving the Darkness…

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I have felt convicted many times in my life. I know what it is like to lie awake in the early morning hours, tossing and turning and feeling so discouraged, ashamed and downright dirty. In these times, I know that God has set a standard for me and I have failed to meet His standard. Paul’s words ring true: “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate” [Romans 7:15].

I am suffering.

You see the Holy Spirit has opened my eyes to my sin.

I know what I did when I was sinning. I know I was not thinking. I shut my mind and heart off from God. All I focused on was the fleeting pleasure of the sin. I wanted that pleasure more than I wanted God. Second Corinthians 4:4 states “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

But it is not just the unbelievers who suffer because they are blind; it is the believers also.

First John 2: 27 speaks to the believer: “Christ has poured out His Spirit on you. As long as His Spirit remains in you, you do not need anyone to teach you. For His Spirit teaches you about everything, and what He teaches is true, not false. Obey the Spirit’s teaching then, and remain in union with Christ.”

Pastor Graham writes that the Holy Spirit convicts us and calls us. As a sinning believer, I chose to forget what I had been taught; I chose to forget what is true. I embraced the false and was no longer in union with Christ.

Indeed the Holy Spirit can help us avoid sinful episodes like mine and if we fail to avoid sin, the Holy Spirit will let us know we have fallen short of God’s standard.   “One of the most devastating effects of sin is that it has blinded us to our own sin. . . .Only the Holy Spirit can open our eyes. Only He can convict us to the truth of the Gospel” [Graham, 54]. J. Gresham Machen writes “There must be the mysterious work of the Spirit of God in the new birth. . . .Without that, all our arguments are quite useless. . . .the Holy Spirit…clear[s] away the mists from man’s eyes and enable[s] him to attend to the evidence.”

Graham writes that the Holy Spirit not only awakens us to our sin but the Holy Spirit warns us about sinning so much that our hearts become hardened. It is true that when one comes to Christ and is saved that the Holy Spirit begins to guide the “born again” believer, but it is also true that any believer can be so embroiled in sinning that the Holy Spirit will be no longer a strong guiding force. Genesis 6:3 says “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever.” Graham says that this verse is a warning. Man’s heart can be so “calloused” and hardened by sin that the voice of the Holy Spirit will no longer be heard.
If we would only listen to the Spirit’s urging, victory over sin comes from the Holy Spirit…

Sometimes you read something that “sticks.” I have read a lot of thoughts from the pastor and author John Piper and a simple phrase of his has stuck in my mind and it applies here. A believer who listens to the Holy Spirit and says no to sinning “loves God more than he loves the sin.” John 2: 14 says “I write to you young men, because you are strong; the word of God lives in you, and you have defeated the evil one.” Later in verse twenty, John says “you have the Holy Spirit poured out on you by Christ, and so all of you know the truth. . . no lie comes from the truth.”

Many Christians think the Holy Spirit is like the idea of conscience. Maybe The Spirit does manifest itself that way. I like to think that this guidance manifests itself in the light that we can all experience if we cling to God. In the first letter of John, it says “God is light, and there is no darkness at all in Him. If then we say we have fellowship with Him. . .we are living both in our words and our actions. .. we live in the light—just as He is in the light.”

As a believer and a sinner, when I have those agonizing times in the very early morning darkness, I should remember that I have an Advocate who pleads with The Father on my behalf. Jesus is working to restore me to fellowship with God. His blood purifies me from every sin I have committed. The Holy Spirit conviction I am feeling is trying to deliver a message.

God is light…David leave the darkness.

Come to The Light…

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The Holy Spirit…Born Again

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The story of Nicodemus in the Bible is the story of a man who led a “good” life. He was wealthy, but he did not horde his wealth; he tithed his income. He was a noted religious teacher and a member of the Sanhedrim, the ruling council of the Jewish nation. He probably fasted several times a week and spent time each day in the Temple in prayer.

If Nicodemus was a Christian and living today, most of us would probably say he is a fantastic role- model.

In the story, as Nicodemus encountered Jesus, he addressed Him as “teacher come from God” which may mean he respected Jesus and His connection to God. However, Jesus knew Nicodemus needed something more than a teacher. Instead of a teacher, Nicodemus needed a savior.

Jesus went right to the heart of the matter; He told him “You must be born again.”

Can you imagine how this man felt? He thought he was good enough. Nicodemus’s problem is a problem that many of us have; many of us may think we are “good enough” but we aren’t.

Pastor Billy Graham writes “Jesus knew what lies in the hearts of all men—the fatal disease that causes lying, cheating, hate, prejudice, greed and lust.” Jesus says in Matthew “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things that defile the man” [Matthew 15: 19-20].

Try as hard as we can, it is impossible for us to avoid revolting against the will of God, even the best of us.

You see, we have that pesky sin nature that goes back to the Garden, to our ancestors Adam and Eve.

Many think that sin is a willful turning away from the straight path that God would have us take, but it can also be not doing what we know God wants us to do or even stopping short of what we know God would want us to do. First John 3:4 describes sin as “transgression of the law.”

Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again and guess what, we need to be “born again” also.

Maybe like Nicodemus, you don’t consider yourself a bad person. You lead a decent life. But maybe what is nagging you about life is the “high bar” set by Jesus and His Father God. You know you have fallen short. To be born again, you must realize you are a sinner.

The Jew Nicodemus was face to face with Jesus. You don’t have that experience but you know that Jesus Christ has come to save you. You know you deserve to die for the sins you have committed but Jesus loves you so much that he has died for your sins. He has taken your place.

You can repent of your sins; you can truly feel sorry for the fact that you have sinned. You can turn your back on your sins and accept God’s grace, letting God direct you in a better direction.

As you do that, you can learn to live by faith and trust Christ.

There it is: the steps to being “born again.” Realize that sin is a part of your life, accept the fact that Jesus came to die for your sins, honestly repent for the sins you have committed and begin to trust that God has a better life for you ahead.

This is called transformation.

It is not from science or technology. Economics has nothing to do with this. This is not a self-improvement book, course or lecture that you need to attend.

This is a transformation that comes from God, through the working of the Holy Spirit which comes to us when we are saved.

Graham states “No one can come to Christ unless the Holy Spirit draws him to the cross, where Jesus by His blood cleanses away the sin of each person who places his faith in Him.”

Why can’t we see this pathway to a better life, this offer of joy and peace? To keep it simple, we are blinded by a devil who tells us we are ok where we are, that what we are doing is not bad and life is fine without being as fully committed to God as we can be.
Jesus told Nicodemus of a wilderness journey of the ancient Israelites. The people were deep in sin and God sent serpents to bite them. Many were dying so God told Moses to fashion a brass serpent and lift it high on a pole. All who looked at that serpent would be saved.

Was it the brass in the serpent that saved them? Did Moses dispense medicine to rub on their snake bites? Making an offering to the pole serpent did not do the trick. Even praying to the serpent did not save them.

The point of the story is the people needed a simple child-like faith. They needed to do what God told them. When they looked at the serpent, they were looking at God Himself. Likewise Jesus said “I am going to be lifted up—look unto Me and be saved.” Of course Jesus’ “lifting up” was on a cross.

Let the Holy Spirit draw you to the cross. Move forward with the Holy Spirit showing you how to live your life with grace and faith.

And you will be transformed; indeed, you will be “born again.”

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Who Would Not Want All This?

 

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“It was like the firing of an arrow—all the speed and force depended on the strength of his arm in bending the bow; now it was like a fire of a rifle ball—the force depending on the power, needing only a finger touch.”

This was James Hervey describing the change that took place in John Wesley when he began to preach under the influence of the Holy Spirit, when he began to proclaim the word of God with increased force. Note that Wesley’s effort went from the strength of his arm to the touch of his finger. The power of his message increased but it was not his physical power that increased it.

It was the power of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Billy Graham admits this in his book The Holy Spirit. In previous posts, I have discussed the role of The Word in the believer’s life. Graham states “Thousands of pastors, Sunday school teachers and Christian workers are powerless because they do not make the Word the source of their preaching or teaching. [It is] when we preach or teach the Scriptures, [that] we open the door for the Holy Spirit to do His work.”

As a speaker (note I did not say preacher), I have had times when I tried to speak from my own power. Being a speech professor, I know the “techniques” of writing a good speech. Knowing the audience is key. Have a clear-cut organization. Work hard to have a memorable opening and closing. Sprinkle “attention-getters” throughout the speech etc. etc. Being so knowledgeable of technique can get in the way of God, because I have found that if I call upon Him to guide me, the results are so much better. God will use my knowledge of technique to bring forth a message that is pleasing to Him. Not all audiences I have spoken to are religious in nature, but He has found a way to work Himself into my comments.

As a teacher, I have years of experience in the college classroom, a college that was not Bible-oriented, a public community college. Over the years, I developed ideas to help me express various subject matter but in a church setting, the teaching is different. I was pretty good in the college classroom but my goal was different that teaching in church. I wanted students to be competent in their knowledge of the subject I was teaching. In church, I hope that my teaching brings insight to Christians who need not only knowledge but also comfort in hard times, guidance when they are lost, power they realize they don’t have and liberty from the burden of sins. It is a much higher bar, but I can’t even begin to reach it without the Holy Spirit.

I am in a battle to achieve God’s efforts in my life. We all are in that battle. We cannot call on the Holy Spirit to fix things, like sitting on Santa’s lap with our wish list. When the Holy Spirit chooses to fill us, it is a privilege. When it happens, it is an experience like no other. The right thing is said to people at the right time and despite all the planning in the world, the power of The Word is there. It may not be on the notes but it is there.
We can call on God to lead, guide and direct us and He will, if it suits His purpose. We will be vessels for God if we are worthy enough to carry His message. We will bear fruit for Him if we are firmly attached to the vine.

Ecclesiastes 8: 4 says “Where the word of a king is, there is power.” Second Corinthians 3:17 says “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” Pastor Graham says power and liberty characterize the words of a man who proclaims the word of God.

I would go one further. When the Holy Spirit visits us, there is joy. Like King David dancing with all his might when the Ark of the Covenant came to Jerusalem, his joy was emotional and it was special. It was overwhelming. He understood as a child of God that he was being blessed by God’s grace.

There is only one question to ask about all this?

Who would not want all this?

I know the answer.

I do.

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Still Learning…

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I guess one might say I know a little bit about teaching. It was my pleasure to be able to earn a living in the classroom for thirty-six years. I saw evidence of learning in the classroom [student responses to questions, testing and behavioral performance]. It was always fulfilling to see my efforts bear some fruit. Just the other day at a public function, a community leader came up to me and confessed that my classes were tough to get through [public speaking] but now he sees their worth. He said he uses the skills I taught every day. I guess sometimes it takes a while for fruit to come forth from the vine.

It may be that way with the Bible. As Christians, we know we are supposed to read God’s Word, but Pastor Graham goes one further. He says that not only are we supposed to read His Word, we are supposed to study it. Not only are we supposed to study it, we are supposed to study it over and over as we live our lives.

Why?

The Holy Spirit is in charge of our teachable moments. In my Bible reading, I reread passages that I have encountered before and even though I recall earlier exposure to the information, sometimes I see things I have never seen before. Graham calls that “speaking to our hearts.” The more study that a person does, the more a better understanding comes about. We give the Holy Spirit a chance to enlighten us and do His work in us. Study bathes our hearts in His Word, even if we are not conscious of every word we are reading.

Someone trying to read the Bible may be on a Bible reading plan to read it in a year and then they stop. It is a fact that many Christians hear Scripture from the pulpit on Sunday morning and that is all of the Bible they will hear.

That is not the study that Graham is writing about.

Graham quotes Reverent Gottfried Osei-Mensah: “It is the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal truths previously hidden from human search and understanding, and to enlighten men’s minds to know and understand them. . . .If the role of the Holy Spirit is to teach, ours is to be diligent students of the Word.”

Some wait on God to communicate to them, to lead, guide and direct them in their daily lives. They believe God is still in the teaching business [I would venture to say they are right]. In the earthly days of Jesus, He was referred to as teacher many times in the Bible and there is ample evidence that He produced many teachable moments for His followers, but with the Bible it takes a bit of work and commitment on our part to tap into the teaching that can come from Bible reading. What Pastor Graham is telling us is that there is a ready source of learning material from God right in our Bibles every day of our lives.

One can only imagine the number of times Pastor Graham read his Bible, but attend to the words he says about repeated study: “As I have studied the Scriptures, things I might have known intellectually for years have come alive to me in their fuller spiritual significance almost miraculously. As I have studied the Scriptures, I have also learned that the Spirit always lets more light shine from the Word. Almost every time I read an old familiar passage, I see something new.”

It is that “more light” that we should desire. We don’t know everything about the Bible and we never will. We need to constantly study the Word of God, for there is more there than we can ever imagine.

Toward the end of my teaching career, I added a nice phrase to my door at my college. Over the years I have seen many professors’ office doors and it seems that most would put pictures, newspaper clippings or expressions on their doors, things that communicated some insight about them. The idea was that maybe students would come to the door and learn a little about a professor before knocking and coming in.
I put a phrase in Latin on my door. I knew that most students probably did not know Latin but I hoped some would ask me what the phrase meant and I would have a chance to tell them. I removed the phrase from my door when I retired and I have it at home now in a frame. It was “ancora imparo”, a phrase attributed to the Italian renaissance genius Michelangelo.

In my thinking, it applies to students of God’s Word, doing lifelong work to learn from God, via the Holy Spirit. The Spirit illuminating Scripture for our benefit as Christians.

The phrase means, “yet, I am still learning”…

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