My Bethlehem – My “House of Bread”

After 25 years a house gets old and begins to need major repairs. Living through that is an interesting experience. So as the pounding of the hammers and roar of saws and rivet guns and whatnot began to put This Girl into adrenalin overload, I escaped to the nearest  quiet restaurant for peace to focus on a Bible study I was writing. Day 1 was so productive that this escape became the norm for a few days.

On day 5 as I sat in Panera enjoying my coffee, I took a deep breath, stretched, and thought how very thankful I was for my life. As a semi-retired, empty-nester I was getting to do what I loved most: research and write Bible lessons. I was digging into Revelation at the moment and 1:3 hit me with power and beauty, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.” All I could think was Yes! 

pexels-photo-179912.jpegWith my Bible open before me and a table full of commentaries and notebooks strewn all around, a strange thought came to my mind. Here you are sitting in a bread shop consuming the Bread of Life. This is your House of Bread, your Bethlehem.

I’ve always been intrigued by names and symbolism in scripture. And the Word Bethlehem is one of my favorites. From the first mention of the Bethlehem in Genesis to its distinguished spot as the birth place of Jesus in Matthew 2 and Luke 2, Bethlehem, the House of Bread, intrigues me. Many years ago in a Christmas message, I first heard my pastor speak of Bethlehem as the House of Bread. I’d never caught that before. But it dawned on me that day, the one who said, “I am the bread of life,” was born in the House of Bread! (John 6:35) Bethlehem, the place where the Son of God came to meet us and meet our evey need – how symbolic.

If you follow the word “bread” beginning in Matthew, you’ll find it a thread woven heavily in the gospels and on throughout the New Testament. One of the first mentions of bread in the NT is Jesus reminding His enemy, and us, that man doesn’t live by bread alone, “but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) In His model prayer Jesus prays for God’s kingdom to come (a grand thing) and for our daily bread to be provided (an ordinary thing). (Matthew 6:11) One of his many miracles was multiplying bread to feed thousands! (Matthew 14:7)  He ate the consecrated bread in the temple (Matthew 12:4) and reminded the disciples not to even worry about taking bread with them as they went out to minister. (Mark 2:26 and 6:8) And in his final hours He took bread, fed His closest 12, and set up a symbol of His life with bread – “Take and eat, this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26) Who knew bread was such an important symbol in God’s word?

pexels-photo-461313“Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life…” But the thing that hit me that day sitting in Panera Bread was the rest of Jesus’ words in John 6:35, “…Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’ ” The spiritual reality hit me heavily that morning. So many days and seasons and years of my life have been spent hungering. Hungering for that undefined, unfulfilled need to be met. Stuffing in anything to fill that hole in my heart that hungered and yearned for meaning and for purpose and for more out of life. And this day I encountered the “Bread of Life” in a new way. I realized a satisfaction and fulfilled hunger in my soul as I sat with Him “listening” to His written word and absorbing His love for me, His purpose, and His ways that are beyond my understanding.

I leave you today with a hope for you and a challenge. I hope you too will find Jesus to be the Bread of Life that satisfies your hunger. And I challenge you to dig into His word, and as Jesus challenged His disciples in John 6:27, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” In your soul hunger, turn to The Bread of Life and find satisfaction living in your Bethlehem!

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One of Those Days

I’m feeling like a failure today.

No quirky intro or cutesy story to start things off today. Just the nitty-gritty-ness of having “one of those days.”

I know it’s a spiritual attack.

It’s a battle and it feels like The Enemy of our souls is winning. I know He’s been defeated by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, but I’m just not “feeling it” today.

I know I can’t trust my feelings, that instead I need to trust the truth of what God’s Word says about me. But I can’t seem to shake it today.

f-school-letter-gradeHow did I get here? Who knows. Sometimes I know. I sometimes realize sin or grief or disappointments in life or illness or lack of exercise or some other factor may be at the root of that horrible feeling. But then there are days like today when I have no clue.

So what am I gonna do with it? This feeling, that is.

I could wallow. I could cry. I could eat chocolate. I could do retail therapy. If I were the type, I could toss back a drink or two or some pills. But what would any of that do for me in the long run? Nothing.

I think because the spiritual life is just that – spiritual – that we don’t bother to look at spiritual things in a logical, practical way at times. God gave us a bright mind, so let’s use a little logic and practicality.

If my toilet is stopped up I don’t throw chocolate down it – so I’ll rule that out as an option here too. Passing something through the plumbing is no help.

Tears may offer a slight biological release, but mostly they just get my shirt wet, make my eyes puffy, and cause me to feel sorry for myself. So I’ll nix that idea.

Wallowing sounds selfishly appealing. Maybe I could make everyone around me miserable as I do that?! Nah. I hate it when others do that to me.

Retail therapy sounds really fun! But then I will create more of these down days for myself. The day the bill comes in. The day that money is actually needed and isn’t there. The day I want to offer monetary help to someone God has put on my heart but my indulgent lifestyle prevents it. … Ok so retail therapy is out too.

And fortunately the other two options are an automatic “No” for me. I learned early in life the physical, mental, emotional, and relational damage that can be done by trying to depend on substances inside me to solve my problems. Kinda like the flushing the chocolate, only you destroy the toilet as you send it through.

So what do I do?

nemoWell number one, I’m gonna do a Nemo and “just keep swimming.” Or like Kris Kringle of the 70’s Santa Claus story sang, I’ll “put one foot in front of the other.” I’m going to get up and do the next thing God has before me whether it is going to work or doing laundry or encouraging my husband and kids even though I don’t feel like it.

Number two, I’m gonna read the Word. I don’t care how dry it “feels” or how little I’m interested in doing that at the moment, that’s what I’m going to do. ‘Cause the truth is, His Word accomplishes something. It won’t go back to Him empty-handed. It will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purposes He has for it.

Number three, I’m going to pray. I spend way too much time calling up a girlfriend when I’m having a bad day and too little time going to my Creator and the Lover of my soul who can actually offer real help to a hurting heart.

Fourth, I’m choosing NOT to trust my feelings, but to remind myself of what I know to be true. I’m going to constantly engage my mind in the kind of thinking Philippians 4:8 tells me to. I’m going to exercise self-control by controlling my thoughts. I choose to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and  praiseworthy. That will leave me no time for thoughts of failure. And as my thoughts go, so go my feelings!

And last, I’m going to focus on someone else. If I allow myself to focus on myself my “feeling bad” grows into problems, the proverbial making a mountain out of a molehill. But if I turn my attention to others’ needs, my problems grow smaller. My own little “rough places being made plain” and the glory of the Lord being revealed.

So in my down-ness today, I choose to send a friend an encouraging text. I choose to write a card to someone God puts on my heart and mail it. I choose to buy a rose and hand deliver it to someone with a smile. I choose to take a store-bought cake to an older lady I know who has become homebound. I choose to see what my husband’s needs are and seek to meet them. I choose to be nice even though I feel grouchy. I choose to see the best in people and situations even though I feel the worst. I choose to not give in to a negative feeling.

The apostle Paul tells us,

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:1-4)

There is encouragement in Christ! When we act in humility considering others before our self and looking out for their interests we are obeying and pleasing God. I think a hidden truth for our down days lie within these scriptures. When we obey God’s word and look out for the interests of others they are blessed, uplifted, and encouraged and we are too!

So Be gone feelings of failure! I choose not to live with you today!

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On Fences, Walls, and Open Pastures

Boundaries are important.

In the old west, ranchers had fences. Or on the really huge tracts of open pasture they branded what they owned to show it belonged to them and was under their authority. If you’ve ever watched a 1960 cowboy show you’ve seen this. What always happened on Gunsmoke or Bonanza? A guy in a black cowboy hat (bad guy) was rustling cows, robbing the stagecoach or train, blocking water rights, or taking over land illegally. And the guy in the white hat (good guy) always came to the rescue of the damsel in distress whose possessions or boundary was threatened.

Boundaries are important. From Genesis 1 God established boundaries. He separated light and dark, heaven and earth, land and sea, work and rest, and he made distinction in kinds of animals and plants. In Genesis 2 He established a separation, a boundary, between male and female. He set very distinct boundaries for the beautiful home He had made for Adam and Eve (verses 10-14). He set a boundary of what they could and could not eat. By chapter 3 (out of 1,189 chapters in the Bible) the Enemy had already come to tempt Adam and Eve to push the boundaries. And they did. And there were consequences: doubt, greed, rebellion, sin, but also hiding from God, fear, deception, broken relationships, blame, strife between women and men, unfulfilled desires, domination, pain and toil all their life, thorns & thistles, sweat, separation, loss of the simplicity of a beautiful life, and death. They were now outcasts of the Garden.

pexels-photo-451818Today the Enemy still does the same thing. He tempts humans to push the boundaries.  When they do, just as with Adam and Eve, people experience the devastating consequences too. Life and relationships are marred with pain and betrayal and separation and other negative consequences because individuals don’t honor those boundaries as God’s Word instructs us to, but instead ignore moral boundaries, marital boundaries, property boundaries, societal boundaries, and legal boundaries – just to name a few of the most common violations.

Blessings follow as children of God obey and honor boundaries.

Property Boundaries

Except for kleptomaniacs, this one boundary seems pretty easy for the average Christian to honor. Think: I don’t want anyone to steal my lawnmower, so I’m not going to steal yours. Makes sense. Easy, right?

Or is it? What about the office supplies that end up at the house, taken home with good intentions, to do some work, but the surplus never returned? Hmmm. Or how about the $20 bill  found on the sidewalk, tucked in the pocket, as the new owner walks merrily away singing “Finders keepers, losers weepers”? Hmmm. Need I go on? Vigilance is required in order for Christians not to find themselves going over those giant bumps of a mega slide headed down a slippery slope.

Moral Boundaries

Most people consider themselves to be moral people. They understand right and wrong. If someone lies it is a betrayal of trust. If another woman steals someone’s husband, anger and a break in relationship is a correct response. Society understands that it should protect the innocence of children and the fragility of the elderly and infirm.

Often moral boundaries don’t become an issue for Church folks until they find themselves halfway down that slippery slope and starting to grab at any handhold along the way including denying, justifying actions, lying, and manipulating people and circumstances. Often a person will give in to temptation the first time in a small way without even realizing it, unless they are vigilant. For example: At work a married woman makes a business call to a man. At the end they share a silly joke and laugh together. She hangs up. Her day is brightened. Nothing wrong with that. However, Satan has cracked open a door. Does she have the safety chain on the door? If not, she may find herself developing a friendship, enjoying the attention of that man, spending time fondly thinking of him, accepting his flirty compliments, and then she finds herself in a spot. She is flirting with a moral boundary she never saw herself having to deal with.

To keep moral boundaries secure, a woman must be vigilant with her thought life! She can lie to herself if not careful.

Relational Boundaries

What are relational boundaries? These are the interpersonal skills of how a person takes care of their own inner needs and outer duties and commitments. They help distinguish a person’s unique identity from that of another person. These boundaries are essential for leading a healthy, balanced life, and they include physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual boundary lines. Frequently, people struggle with these type boundaries because of their personality traits or habits developed in their upbringing. Consider the following.

Ever met a person who seemed to have never grown up? It’s not always obvious what issue they have, but a person hanging around them may end up feeling a pull to take on responsibilities that are not theirs, either materially, physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally. The person continually borrowing the $10 that is never repaid. (Material boundary.) The person wanting someone to come to their rescue in a crisis, but then never reciprocating. (Emotional/physical boundary.) The teen whose bedroom is cleaned by Mom, only to have it back in the same shape within 6 weeks, which then ignites Mom’s anger at them that they aren’t taking care of their responsibilities. (Physical/mental boundary.)

pexels-photo-93417On the flip side of that are the people who seem to never need anyone. It is apparent that they could use a hand, but they continually decline all offers and send the message, “I got this.” They are walled off in a self-protective way that allows very few people in. (Emotional boundary.) They have a rigid boundary of self-protection, that surely does keep the bad out, but also prohibits good from entering.

Then there are individuals that sin and suffer consequences but never accept the truth that it was their sin that caused the problems. They still want to point fingers and play the blame game which cycles them into more sin, because blame is lying (saying it is another’s fault when it is not), and these lies are keeping the person distant with their Heavenly Father. (Spiritual boundary.) This boudary issue keeps God at a distance and keeps the boundary-less person from reaching full repentance and resolution. The Gospel “brings hostile parties together (Colossians 1:21) and heals relationships between God and humanity, and between people.” (Boundaries, p. 135)

All of these people have boundary issues.

Henry Cloud, in his book Boundaries, reminds Christians of the need and purpose of relational boundaries. The purpose of boundaries is two-fold: to keep out things that will harm and to allow in things that will nurture. They should be like fences with a gate, not walls. Things and people come and go in life for a person’s good if they exercise appropriate boundaries. No one is required to allow angry or abusive people into their lives. However, scripture does command us to forgive them. Forgiveness means turning them over to God and letting them off our hook, not allowing them to keep harming us. As for the second purpose of boundaries, if Mrs. Lone Ranger is acting in a self-sufficient manner, she’s missing out on her deep relationships and needs being ministered to, but she is also depriving others in the body of Christ of an opportunity to exercise their God-given gift of mercy or exhortation or service or giving. Each member of the body of Christ must minister and be ministered to, just as the cells, tissues, and systems of our physical body work together yet are independent in their purposes. They each carry out their own job, but are supported by other parts doing their own jobs as well.

Roping our Steer

8142599351_b3e0ec35e9_mIt’s time to grow up Little Cowgirls! We need to grab our rope, mount our horse, and chase that steer that belongs to us. We are responsible for things within our boundaries. Are we taking care of them? Or are we trying to pass the blame just as our sister Eve did? Just as God gave Adam & Eve responsibilities and boundaries, He has given us responsibilities and boundaries.

How are you most tempted, to push the boundaries morally? To not handle relational boundaries appropriately? It’s time to learn how to set boundaries. (Check out the link above for more info.) It’s time to exercise self-control. Call your spirit to attention in Jesus’ name and have a talk with it, or allow Him to speak. Speak scriptural truth to yourself, immerse yourself in God’s Word, memorize it, purify your mind, and pray.

Colossians chapter 3 is full of wisdom on how to shape up boundaries. If a woman spent all her mental effort living out the commands of this one chapter, boundaries would be a tiny issue if any issue at all.

Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” (3:2-4)

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” (3:5)

“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” (3:8)

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (3:9-10)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (3:12-14)

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace and be thankful.” (3:15)

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” (3:16)

“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus. (3:17)

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.” (3:18)

Children, obey your parents in everything.” (3:19)

Do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” (3:20)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (3:23)

Christ is your life! Go live your life with those boundaries!

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Life with boundaries can be beautiful!

 

Can God Use a Neon Yellow Shirt?

colored-shirts-2646-neon-yellow-shirt-1000-x-1250As I was about to run a quick errand and then go to the track to walk, I grabbed a neon yellow shirt – one that is really NOT in my color palette and therefore I only use for exercising – and threw it on thinking I wouldn’t be in the store long and I didn’t want to get a shirt I liked sweaty when I exercised.

At the store a woman struck up a conversation with me. Finding out she hadn’t lived here long, I began to think how I might reach out to her. After listening to her drop several curse words in the first part of our conversation, and then having her share a few disapproving anecdotes of Southern “Christian” behavior that had offended her northern sensibilities, I realized God might have more for me to share. She moved on to speaking of a death in the family, wounds to her heart, and the issuses that had prompted her move south. Compassion welled in me and I began praying and thinking: How should I meet her very real needs, both physical and spiritual? Should I just invite her to church? Should I offer to pray about some of the things she was sharing? Would it progress to me sharing the gospel with her?

As lonely people will, she talked continuously, until at last she proclaimed that I sure was sweet but that she had to run meet someone. For all she knew I was just a nice Southern lady. Although I had been a compassionate listener, nowhere in the conversation had I brought the focus on God! Should I tell her to look me up on Facebook? Give her my phone number right quick? Maybe that would give me a chance to stay in touch and say more and let her know that Jesus was why I was sweet to her.

But I didn’t do that.

As I walked away I felt disappointed in myself. Why hadn’t I jumped in with something God would’ve been proud of?! I’m not a pushy person by nature, but maybe I should have been more pushy. No. I don’t believe in whacking people with the Gospel just to say I shared it. But what did my Heavenly Father think?

096652I asked God if He was disappointed with me? No answer. But my first thought was of the Believing God Bible study I was in at the time. So I decided while walking to the register that I was going to simply pray and believe God to use our chance meeting in her life. Whether she were to find me on Facebook by some weird mutual friend thing or for us to bump into each other again or for this to be all I would ever know of her until Heaven, I believed God that He had a purpose in our meeting and would work it out for His glory.

I drove home and got out of the car still berating myself for disappointing God. And then I had a GodStop! As I was getting the groceries out, I reached up to close the hatch and caught a glimpse of the word ”Christian” on my neon yellow t-shirt! I looked down and realized that neon yellow shirt was a Christian school shirt from the last year I had taught high school! I NEVER wear this shirt out in public other than to the school softball games! But today I did! She DID know I was a Christian! In fact, she probably read my shirt mid-conversation – right before she quit cursing I’m guessing. And maybe her surprise at my kindness (just hoping here) is that I acted lovingly toward her and she didn’t expect Christians to act that way. I don’t know. But God comforted me and reminded me that He works all things together for His purposes. And you bet I’ll let you know if I have another GodStop with her where we bump into each other or I get a Facebook friend request!

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.'” Acts 17:24-28

Seeing Through the Obstacles

A lake retreat brings God’s lessons.

The house was beautiful. Decorated like those in a magazine with the latest touches from the Pinterest boards. Plenty of bedrooms, windows overlooking the lake, and a dock perfect for jumping off of into the refreshing waters. But my favorite part was the huge deck that stretched the length of the back of the house. And being a writer, my favorite place on that deck was at the charming wrought iron bistro table with my back to the windows, my Apple in front of me, and a panoramic view of the deep green waters. There, each day, I spread out God’s word and my journal and leisurely visited with my Abba.

Almost immediately there was a fly in my ointment so to speak. (But even those flies carry lessons!)

My table, appropriately located in a cozy nook beside the door and just outside the kitchen window, had one drawback. A large red oak had, years ago as a little acorn, made his home about 8 feet from me, directly in front of my favorite chair looking off the deck toward the lake. Now he was a big old boy, probably 2 feet in diameter, that blocked a large chunk of my lake view. With the door and porch railing hemming me in, there was really no place to move the table that would make a big difference. Adirondack chairs had their place on the other side of the door, so it was my opportunity to enjoy the blessing in spite of an imperfection.

As I sat watching my kids jumping off the pier that second afternoon, leaning this way and that to see them well around the tree as they floated off on tubes this way, or kayaked around that way, enlightenment came. God did what He so often does with me, He made a lesson out of the mundane and the annoying.

As I stood up and moved toward the railing to call to them for some reason, I realized a truth: the closer I was to that obstacle (the tree) the more of my view it blocked. And the antithesis of that: the further I drew away from the obstacle, the more clear my view was of the reality around me.

My spirit stirred. I suddenly was aware of the spiritual ramifications of this lesson from the physical world. We humans frequently have obstacles come into our lives. Whether it is the relatively minor getting a head cold the day you have a big presentation at work, a larger obstacle like having your taxes audited, or a really huge life issue such as a serious illness or tragedy. We tend to see these obstacles as material, physical world problems, but they greatly impact our spiritual walk.

As we face the larger obstacles, we become just like I was with my tree. We are consumed with the big thing in front of us, and not with the rest of God’s plan being carried out beyond that. We can sit in a ladies Bible study, so inwardly focused that we miss tuning in to God’s great plan going on around us. We can stay cooped up in our homes staring at that “tree” of grief in front of us and not be aware of the beauty of the “lake” just beyond us. We may verbally gripe so much about our current obstacle tree, that the only words that escape our lips are negative, bitter, sour words of disappointment and fear. And we may even hide behind our obstacle tree, because we are so used to that ongoing obstacle in our lives, it becomes easier just to live hidden behind it than to make the effort to reach out to the world beyond, despite our obstacle.

So what’s a girl to do? We all have problems.

First, get some distance on that tree whenever possible. When you are staring down that problem a foot away from you every day, it looms huge in your line of vision blocking the majority of what you see. Granted, we have huge obstacles crop up, but we don’t have to give them the central place in our lives and cozy up to them. Just as when I stepped back on the porch I could see more of the lake, when we step back from those obstructions we see more of the world beyond our difficult situation. A rebellious teen in the house? Accept the husband’s offer of a get-away. Finished that chemo and waiting on results of scans? A family celebration or second honeymoon trip might be a good choice. Your best friend is in financial crisis? Offer them your home free for the weekend for a romantic vacation while you are on that road trip to visit the in-laws. Find creative ways to give yourself (or others) a bit of distance from those besetting hindrances and the perspective and refreshment that come with distance.

Second, look beyond. God is carrying out a good plan all around us. If you can’t pull away for a while from troubling issues to get some perspective, then refocus your outlook, and start looking at the part of that view beyond that tree that you can see. The world is carrying on around you, and God has a role for you in that world as long as you are breathing – problems or not! Invest your life in God’s plans beyond your problem. When we invest in others, both are blessed.

Third, examine that tree. It’s just a tree. One with dead leaves and bark and ants crawling on it. It may be a 100 foot tall, 2 feet in diameter tree, but it’s still just a tree, a created thing. It’s just an obstacle. Nothing is impossible with God. Because of fear maybe, have we mentally made that obstacle more mighty than the Creator? He is still in control. He is not surprised by that tree being there; He saw that little acorn fall there and plant itself before we ever had an inkling we’d even be in the same neighborhood as that tree, maybe even before we were born. The good news: He has the axe necessary to get rid of that tree!

Fourth, move to one side. Look at your tree from a different angle. Could your parent’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s be a blessing to draw you two to spend time together in their later years? Could your broken heart over that rebellious teen prepare you to minister to other broken hearts you encounter along the way? Could that car wreck bring a hidden blessing? Could this trial be drawing you back to prayer? Obstacles, in some way, have God’s hidden blessing and glory tucked behind them. He is active in your life. So get a different perspective on that tree and see what good God may be bringing along with it.

Fifth, pray in faith for God to chop it down. There’s never harm in asking God to remove obstacles from our lives. Jesus did that the night before He was crucified; ” ‘Abba, Father,’ he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36 NIV) That last statement gets us! Are we willing to live with that obstacle always there if God chooses NOT to remove it? He’s got a good plan for us. And He’s got the axe… remember?

IMG_5875And last, see the good in that tree. Count your blessings. My tree has a cheerful little squirrel who chatted with me every day of my vacation and a gorgeous green canopy that shaded me from the heat of the afternoon sun. It’s massive presence reminded me of the strength and stability of the Father, and it’s leaves offered pleasant whispers in the breeze. Your obstacle has hidden blessings too. Maybe it restores a broken relationship, brings a new friend into your life, humbles you, makes you sit still and enjoy the moments more, changes the direction of your child’s life, or causes you to listen and understand new life lessons. God is using it in your life.

So let us not grow so focused on the negative. Yes, bad things happen, but like a diamond, they are many faceted, and may have hidden treasures bound up with them. Are we embracing the spiritual lessons that come our way through the pain? Are we consumed with the Father, or are we consumed with the fear, dread, confusion, doubts, and what ifs of this obstacle? Are we angry or tender-hearted? Let us look with spiritual eyes to really see – to look beyond that obstacle!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

On Nation Under God

Fireworks, watermelon, American flags, cookouts, and patriotic music – these are just some of the things that make up the Fourth of July for many Americans. As we prepare to celebrate, my mind wanders back to those Independence Day celebrations of my formative years….

I recall the warnings to be careful with sparklers and firecrackers and the cold refreshment of hand-cranked homemade ice cream at the end of a sweltering July day in Alabama. I also vividly remember as a kid the first time I heard the joke “Do they have a 4th of July in England?” After thinking No, of course not, and then Why would England celebrate our independence from them; I finally realized Oh yeah, July 4th is just a date on the calendar. (I’m slow. I know.) That little moment woke me up to the rest of the world. Suddenly, I was a child of the world, not just an American. In a similar way, we as Christians in America need to wake up to the world.

As an elementary school kid, patriotism and love for our “dear ole USA” was encouraged. And as a Christian, honoring and respecting our country and its laws went hand in hand with the godly values taught. Prayers were said at school (back then) and the pledge of allegiance to the country was recited at the church Vacation Bible Schools. It was all meshed together in my mind – the whole “being an American and being a Christian” thing. Somehow faith and nationalism became mixed in the minds of many. And now we find ourselves as adult Christians who serve up Western culture right along with Christianity at times.

This Independence Day as we ooh and aah over fireworks displays set to our favorite patriotic tunes, let’s plan to do some self-evaluation.

  • Let’s separate those expectations based on American traditions from expectations based on the mandates of Scripture.
  • Let’s realize that respecting our country is good, but honoring God is best.
  • Let’s be more concerned over the fact that the people we encounter each day are lost souls rather than that they are Democrats or Republicans – foes or friends it seems these days.
  • Let’s exercise our freedom to pray and speak about Christ more than we lament how we feel those freedoms are being threatened.
  • Let’s fight against those inner tendencies to buy into the American dream more than we sell out to Christ.
  • Let’s respect all nations, peoples, tribes, and tongues, and develop a hunger to pray for them, relate to them, love them with the love of Christ, and reach them with the Gospel.
  • Let’s treat every man, woman, and child we meet – no matter where they come from, what they look like, how they are dressed, what color their skin is, or how much the media tells us to fear them – as they truly are: men, women, and children Christ gave His life to save.

Enjoy celebrating America’s birth! Examine your perspectives. Let’s live out Scripture even when our walk is oddly out of sync with American culture. And take some time this holiday to demonstrate Christ’s love to all the folks you encounter at the fireworks display!

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A Story of Mercy: The Six Licks

When the kids were little, my husband and I decided early on that a spat on their bottom was acceptable for us. (Please don’t judge!) We came to consensus on some basic rules to make sure we treated the kids well. Rule 1: Never spank in anger; cool down before you administer any punishment. Rule 2: Always spat on the padded bottom – plenty of fatty tissue, clothes, and diapers! And Rule 3: Never more than 3 swats at a time. We loved our children and wanted to discipline them without hurting them.

But this is NOT a blog about corporal punishment. 

This is the story of a simple, ordinary spring morning. But that day the usual routine of motherhood took a turn that would bring tears, create a memory for years to come, and teach a precious spiritual truth.

The setting. The third bedroom/nursery of our home. This was the “school room” for our three oldest children and lessons were churning away slowly as I held baby number four and worked with the younger children on their lessons. As I turned to check on the eldest, bliss was shattered. What his particular infringement of the day was is lost to me in the shadows of my memory, but I do know it was important enough that it warranted a, “That’s one lick. You know better. Now get back to your school work on your own until I finish with the girls.” Most days this would’ve been enough and school would have continued on peacefully. This particular day, it was just the beginning.

As I got up to change a diaper and my presence was removed from the vicinity, more chaos ensued. My return and awareness of the childish disobedience going on necessitated the promise of more licks “as soon as I get through taking care of the baby.” But this was still not the end.

Over the next half hour, after a string of other misbehavior, including being aggressive and mean toward his sisters, my firstborn had accumulated a total of 6 promised licks! Six! What would I do?!

While I finished nursing the baby and listening to the reading of the girls, my mind raced trying to figure out how I would handle this. I don’t give more than three licks! Why had I kept promising more? I was so busy with the other three children the situation had snowballed on me. I couldn’t break my word. But I couldn’t give 6 licks either! I had to exercise consistency. I had to teach that I kept my word and that actions have consequences you can’t worm out of, while still maintaining my own convictions that protected my children.

“This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.’ ” Zechariah 7:9

The girls’ lessons were finally finished and the baby put to sleep. As I called my son to lunch, I knew the punishment had to happen right then. So I flung an emergency prayer up to heaven, “Lord, help me know what to do! I’ve gotten myself in a fix.” Should I overlook his mistakes? Punish his mistakes? How could I love this little sinner without endorsing his sin? Because endorsed sin becomes repeated sin.

My son walked into the room, and I sat down before him eye to eye to talk about what he had done before I gave him a spanking. As I took his little hand and gazed into his eyes, the answer to my prayer came – a God inspiration at that very moment! I reminded my child of what he had done wrong and why it was wrong. I told him he deserved punishment, and that I was going to have to give him 6 licks today even though my rule was only 3 licks. He looked at me a bit puzzled. Then I took his hand and began to actually lick his hand with my tongue, counting “One – two…”

black-hair-girl-showing-tongue-13316972I didn’t get any farther before the wails started. You would’ve thought I was physically beating him. He squirmed and cried and begged, “Noooo, Mommy! Don’t lick me!” I managed to give him all six licks, just like I was enjoying a Tootsie Pop, even amid the squirms and tears. When it was over he ran to his room crying as if his heart was broken.

Just recently I asked him if he remembered that event, and his response was a hearty, “Oh yes!” even as a 30-year-old. It was a lesson that stuck, with him and with me.

The lesson I saw in it was a lesson of God’s mercy.

When we sin, we put God in the same position I was in as a mom. I was trapped between owing my son justice, but loving him so much I desired to offer mercy – having to uphold the truth I had spoken, but desiring to show kindness to my beloved little one. And ladies, is that not a glimpse of how God is with us?

God was faced with two equally unappealing options – to be just or be merciful. Be true to His word or be kind. Overlook or punish our sin. How could He redeem the sinner without endorsing the sin? And just like He inspired me to do, God also found a third option, a way around the problem, and it is called The Cross of Christ. By placing the punishment we deserved on the shoulders of His own son, He could obtain justice and still show us mercy at the same time.

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.  But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:3-7

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” Colossians 1:21-22.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14

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“He paid a debt He did not owe. I owed a debt I could not pay. I needed someone to wash my sins away. Christ Jesus paid a debt that I could never pay.”

Being

Who of you is a night owl? A choc-o-holic? A shoe girl? Who’s a worrier? Flamboyant?Easy-going? I can almost see some of you waving your hand and calling out “I am.”

I am.

The shortest phrase in the English language.

It only has 3 letters – I – A – M. Yet it carries great meaning. It shows existence. It allows us to define who we are and what we’re feeling. And Yahweh, the Almighty God, claims it as His name.

We relate people’s characteristics to their name. Maybe you have a name that you adore because you loved a person who had that name, and their characteristics will forever be attached to that name for you. Or just the opposite, maybe you swore you’d never name your son a certain name because a guy with that name was a jerk to you.

In the Bible we frequently see this concept of a name representing a person’s character. The names of the people exhibited their nature. Think about it Jacob – the deceiver, Jabez – pain, and Abraham – father of many. And while we may not name a daughter Rahab, we look upon that name kindly because she helped the Israelites, stood up for her family, and was in the lineage of Jesus.

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In Exodus 3:13-14 God reveals His name to Moses as “hayah,” a Hebrew word which literally means “I AM” or “to be” or “the self-existent One”  From this Hebrew word we get God’s Old Testament name, Yahweh. The letters “YHWH” with no vowels. This is referred to as the Tetragrammaton (tetra meaning “four” and gramma meaning “letter”.   Simply – “the four letters.” The Jews wrote God’s name this way because they considered it too holy to be uttered or to be written out entirely. This Tetragrammaton for God’s name is what is translated in scripture as Yahweh or Jehovah, and is written in our current translations as “LORD.”

This is NOT a name people chose to call God. This is THE NAME Father God called Himself. Father God could have revealed Himself to us in any way He chose and could have given Himself any name He wished. Therefore it is significant that He chose to tell us His name was I AM.

He was showing His eternality by stating His name as “I am” – the self-existent One. He is always I AM. He is not here today and gone tomorrow. He is not “I was, but am no more.” And He’s not “I will be, but not right now.” Every moment is now to Him. He is the creator of time, so He is outside of time. “He is” in every moment. That’s why He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) God is dependable.

Why would He choose this for His name?! If I were Him I would have named myself “Creator of All” or “ Mighty King” or “ Ruler of the Universe.” I would be saying “look what I’ve done!” But He was interested in revealing His character NOT His actions. b0b1e9e459f6d3d80df018e153c9ec6cHere in Exodus 3, He is making Himself known to us by who/what He IS rather than what He DOES. He is defining Himself for us with a “being verb” not an “action verb.” Now I’m a teacher. And I love English. So I really get into this. Action verbs show action. Duh? Words like run, play, create, read, serve, pray, witness… Whereas “being” verbs are words that relate what something is. There are 8 of them: is, am, are, was, were, be, being, been. And by using this kind of verb He is identifying Himself as He hopes we will identify ourselves. By who we are more than by what we do. That’s what He wants from us. He wants us to “be” His, to “be”-come more like Him internally.

So… How about us? Do we define ourselves by what we do or by who we are? Are we evaluating our Christian walk using action verbs or being verbs?

We all know that there is action/work/doing necessary in the Christian walk. We are told in James 1:22 – “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” In other words, if we go to church to hear all great sermons, but we don’t start applying the lessons to how we live our life, we are deceiving ourselves. Our Christian faith involves action: ministry, serving, self-control. When we truly follow Christ we will be doing things. We will be busy. Our time is not our own, it is His and we must consult Him with how we use it.

BUT…

pen-calendar-to-do-checklist.jpgThe “Be”-ing should come before the “Do”-ing. Look at James 1:22 again. It says we are to “BE doers of the word.” Many of us sacrifice time alone being with the Lord in a quiet time and becoming who He wants us to become in order to do, do, do. We read this verse and believe God wants us to “be a doer.”  We teach, take meals, sing, act, study, perform,… all the while being stagnant in spiritual growth.

But now read James 1:22 and let the Lord stop us on the first word. “Be…” Be. Period. Realize, the “Be” comes before the ”do” in that sentence. To me this verse, that is a command for us, insinuates that I have first sat and heard or “been” with the Father. And then I become a doer. It presents to us a 1st thing (hearing and being) and a 2nd thing (doing). That was His plan for us. We are “to be” before we are “to do.”

From the first time God tells us His name in the OT, He introduces Himself by what His nature IS, and NOT by what He has done or can do. Now all through scripture we see God called by names that emphasize what He does, but here in Exodus 3:14 God simply called Himself “I AM.”

While the Christina life involves both being and doing, I encourage you to let the Great I AM release you from doing and draw you to just BE. Be immersed in His Word and prayer. Be with Him. Be holy. Be ready. Be yourself. Be all He made you to be. Be all that you can be. Be like Him, then the doing will come.

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only – James 1:22  

Message to a Young Mom

Today my mind is on life, work, and purpose. As a semi-retired, stay-at-home wife right now, I wonder, Am I contributing to the world? What is my purpose? What do I have to offer? Am I where I need to be? Am I doing what the Lord wants me to do?

So today I write to you, the Me of 20-30 years ago, to encourage you. You are in a similar, yet totally different, situation right now, but you are having some of those same type5319000-pile-of-dirty-clothes-for-the-wash-stock-photo questions. The constant stream of laundry – Mt. Never-Rest, as my friend Susan calls it – is a major feat to be accomplished in any given week. Rocking babies, clearing the toys away, rushing to t-ball or gymnastics or whatever, cleaning house, and the constant cooking and dish-washing go hand in hand with the laundry to use up many of the hours in your day. Been there. Done that.

As a young mom with your hands full of babies and dirty diapers and a messy house, you may wonder How am I really contributing to the world right now? You know your husband and children need you, but that seems like such a small thing. Comparing that to working to save the lives of critically ill people or living in a mud hut in central Africa ministering to an unreached people group or keeping a huge corporation running as you click around in your high heals meeting pressing needs and brushing shoulders with other important people or teaching and training the next generation’s leaders, your life may seem simplistic and full of repetitive busy tasks that have to keep being done over and over with no apparent progress made. After all laundry and dishes and the house just get dirty again, and cooking and bathing and dressing have to be performed over and over each day.

baby-child-kid-girl-161593If you are at that stage of life where spit-up on your shirt, puffy eyes from little sleep, and day old ponytail hair seem to be the hallmark of motherhood, take heart! It won’t always be this way, In fact, these days pass much too quickly, taking their joys and wonder away with them. But what do you do in the meantime, in this phase of life where purpose and meaning can feel lost or we can feel insignificant?

Well, dearest Me, let me offer some thoughts for perspective – things I wish I had been told or was told, but didn’t allow myself to believe when my babies were young.

  1. Cleaning and scrubbing really CAN wait til tomorrow!

I had this little poem by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton posted in my children’s nursery, but I couldn’t allow myself to fully believe it:

“Cleaning and scrubbing can wait til tomorrow,
For babies grow up, we’ve learned to our sorrow,
So quiet down cobwebs, dust go to sleep,

I’m rocking my babies, and babies won’t keep!”

A former pastor’s wife used to say, “The days are long but the years are short.” And now that my “babies” are 30, 27, 24, and about to turn 20 years old, I realize how right she was. Where did the time go? When I call my grandson by his daddy’s name, it’s not because I’m old and senile, it’s because my mind can’t grasp that my baby is old enough to have his own baby. I remember the day that I realized I wasn’t a young mother any more. It shocked me! I thought, “How did I get to this point? I was so busy doing all my required duties as a young mom and suddenly I’m out of a job!”

So if I could go back in time, I’d tell Younger Me – Savor the moments! Welcome the distractions! Sit down and play. Hug and love on those little ones. One day you will wish you could again. Supper burns – oops! Laundry is piled high – who cares. You eat PB&J sandwiches again – so what! Your house isn’t a Southern Living showcase – there’s another season for that. In years to come, what your heart will rejoice over or regret is the hugs, kisses, moments of joy, and memories made with your family – or the lack of those.

2. Image doesn’t matter. Who you really ARE does.

But as a Mom of littles, society sends us a different message. We get this message from society at large as well as from well-meaning friends, parents, husbands, or from media, movies, and magazines full of pictures of perfect houses, gourmet meals, and beautiful people.  Satan shouts lies to us through posts on social media. Over and over we hear “You’re not enough, you don’t measure up.”

When we get caught up in how we appear to others, we lose sight of those little hearts being formed under our command. In other words, the more we look at things through the world’s glasses, the less we truly see our lives as they really are. We’re in a rush, so we don’t see with compassion those sad eyes full of tears; we see them with annoyance. We greedily look forward to those “free” moments where we can escape to TV or friends or Instagram or even alcohol, possessively guarding them because we tire of being self-sacrificing. And we waste our time trying to live up to some vague standards, rather than investing our time in the eternal work of loving, guiding, teaching and nurturing these tiny souls.

“The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

3. Take time to renew.

We moms are a paradox. For all our whining, wanting OUR time and being irritated that we are in constant demand, we will turn around and label ourself “selfish” for taking some alone time to renew and do what’s truly good for us. That’s crazy! Jesus, with all he had to do on earth, took time to be alone. So plan for those essential personal moments to exercise, nap, be with your husband, go on a date, read God’s word, think, grow, and refresh your spirits.

4. Time with the Lord in His Word and prayer are essential.

What we really need… is time alone with the Lord to bathe in His love, see ourselves clearly, get correction from His Word, have our worldview aligned with scripture, grow as Jesus did – “in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52) and to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind.” (Romans 12:2) Second Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” And James 5:16 reminds us to “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” We see that scripture is useful and prayer is powerful and effective. instagram-cell-phone-tablet-device-163148Those are the worthwhile things to invest our time in that have eternal consequences. In the down moments you have between the demands of motherhood, do you reach for God’s Word or for the smart phone?

5. Being a mom is not a small thing! You ARE contributing to the world!

Raising kids is a thing of great importance. Just glancing around at the selfishness and lawlessness of our world a person can readily see the significance of raising kids full of godly wisdom and character. Training children can be tedious. It is repetitious. A mom doesn’t always see any fruit of her efforts. But you are doing a job that will bear fruit for generations to come and one that will bear far greater dividends than any Fortune 500 CEO could ever hope to achieve.

Will your child be an average responsible citizen, a rebel, or the next Billy Graham, who knows? Only God. But Sweet Mother, you DO have a purpose! To follow God faithfully and seek Him every minute of every day. You DO have something to offer! Little Mommy, you give every ounce of yourself every day for those you love. You are right where God wants you! Don’t let Satan cause you to doubt. You are doing EXACTLY what the Lord wants you to! He gave you those little charges to love and to teach and to cherish.

Now you’ve been told. Believe it!

And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men. Colossians 3:23 

He is God (And I Am Not!)

A phone call with my sisters-in-law over some issue of family life often gets dramatic and opinionated. But at some point in any given phone call, you’re likely to hear one of us say, “Your omnipotence is showing.”

person-sunglasses-woman-smartphoneThat little phrase sprang out of a similar conversation years ago. One of us (most likely me, I’m the whiner – my sisters-in-law the wise ones) was lamenting over a “creative opportunity” (problem), and explaining what we thought God should do in the situation.

The other person commented that the real issue was a matter of wanting to control the situation. But THAT is God’s job, not ours. We are not omnipotent. He is. In that moment the phrase was born. And boy does it come in handy! We’ve used it dozens of times since then to remind each other that as much as we would like to be omnipotent – having all the power and all the answers of God – we don’t. We are limited and imperfect human beings.

We have a God complex. We like to control things over which we have no power or authority. We’re trying to BE God in those situations. We pridefully put ourselves in the driver’s seat, expect to be in control, and demand it be done our way. And that’s scary! Because this was Satan’s sin – putting Himself equal to God. Pride.

pexels-photo1Each of us has control issues. We think we know best, and if the rest of the world would just listen to us things would be ok. We believe we sit at the control center of our own lives. Occasionally, we will let loose of our grip on the reins of control – after all, we’re generous people – as long as what the people around us do is tolerable to us. But when things begin to rub us wrong, we jerk those reins right out of the hands of our husband, children, friend, whoever dares to have a differing opinion on an important issue. At that point our pride and selfishness and sin nature kick in. We all need someone there to tell us our omnipotence is showing.

Remember the story of Job? He thought he was thinking wisely, until He was brought up short with no answers when the God of the Universe questioned him. In Job 38:4 God asks him, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding.” And in 38:12 the Father asks, “Have you ever in your life commanded the morning, And caused the dawn to know its place?” And then in verse 19 of that chapter God inquires, “Where is the way to the dwelling of light? And darkness, where is its place?” If we could put ourselves in Job’s place I imagine we’d be trembling a little bit at that point.

God’s questions to Job aren’t really asked to be answered; they are rhetorical, questions used to make a point. These would definitely get a person to think. Me? They remind me how small I am and how little I know. It’s easy for me to feel like I am oh-so-wise when I’m measuring myself against another fallible, sinful human. But when God is showing His knowledge and power, wisdom and dominion, my measurement shrinks to an infinitesimal size! I suddenly become an absolute zero in comparison to Almighty God.

Years ago there was a song that many of our kids learned at Centri-kid camp. It’s called “Absolutely Zero.” The song is a conversation really. At different times, the lines are sung to different people. Hope it comes across clearly.

[To the crowd:]
“You’re absolutely zero when you count on fitting in this earth.You’re absolutely nothing til Jesus gives you worth.

[To God:]
For You are God and I am not, so give me understanding. To know your will and seek your way

[Pointing to those around you:]
For you are God – No you’re not!

[Pointing to God above:]
You are God! Yes you are!

Ladies, we are not the creator of the universe. We are the created. We do not know the best way to handle things, although many times we think we do. We are not Father God, full of perfect love and perfect wisdom. We are not the one who created time, has all power, and knows every thing there is to know in any situation. We are finite creations, limited in our wisdom and our ability to love purely. Limited in knowledge and power.

As we fight that daily struggle with our flesh, from inwardly judging a friend because they chose a path we think is unwise, to wanting to tell our husbands what to do because we know best, to controlling everyone and everything around us, let us check up and put ourselves in our places at times throughout the day. Let’s do some self-examination of the heart.

Many times since I first learned that little song at Centri-kid Camp, it has drifted into my mind to put me in my place. Often I’ve been worshipping in church singing a song with the phrase “You are God” and I’ll immediately think – “And I am not,” and the Father will begin to open up my mind to ways I’m trying to take on His role in my life. I have to repent of that self-sufficiency and controlling attitude.

Humility is hard. Dying to self is hard. Giving up wanting to have our way is hard. But I want to be whole-heartedly His, don’t you?

So let’s give up our faux-omnipotence, repent of that God-complex, and allow Him to have His way! He is God! And I am not!

And He [Jesus] was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?” Luke 9:23-25

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