Spiritual Growth

Where’s Your Home?

Many of us are spending a lot of time at home right now. Some of you probably live in tiny apartments, others live in mansions. Some live in picturesque villages, others in cities. Some live on a farm in the country, others live in a development in the suburbs. But wherever we are, that is home to us.

Is home a safe place for you? Is it a happy place? If so, then the stay-at-home order isn’t as bad as it could be. Of course, if it’s not happy and, worse yet, if it’s not safe*, then this time stuck in our homes has been a great, great trial for you.

No matter what our view of our earthly home, as believers, we have the fantastic promise of a future home in heaven–

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God;[a] believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[b] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

Jesus is preparing a home for us. Isn’t that just amazing when you stop and think about it?

I do like my home and I am so blessed to have a wonderful place to live and, more importantly, to share that place with people I love dearly. However, the events of the last few weeks have really put all of the physical blessings on a bit of a shaky level that they have never been on for me in my lifetime.

I have this house now, but will I have it in a year?

I have plenty to eat now, but will I have enough in six months?

I can go to the local hospital now, but will it still be around when I need it?

I can worship God freely now, but is that going to change soon?

The “What-Ifs” can eat us up alive if we aren’t careful. Articles of doom abound on social media and the scary thing is that many of them raise very valid questions. The ramifications of this all are still unknown and with each day of lock-down those ramifications grow exponentially.

The foundation of our materials blessings and innate freedoms has always been a very solid one here in the United States for most of us. There was no lack of food on our store shelves, no fear of businesses collapsing en masse, no threat of churches not being able to meet, not even the hint of a thought about being unable to visit our families…or shop, golf, and travel.

And then came the “pandemic” and the ensuing fear that closed the world.

As we start to tentatively open countries and economies back up, may we not fall too quickly back into our status quo.

May we remember that our home is not here. Oh, God has blessed many of us with wonderful, comfortable homes and we love them dearly. But our eternal home is where we need to keep our focus. This is the hope that we have and this is what we are to “set our minds” upon. Paul puts it like this in Colossians 3–

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:1-3)

As believers, we are to seek the things that are above. In a life bustling with activities and material blessings and freedom, I all too soon forget that eternity is coming. But when all that came screeching to a halt and those things were taken away and threatened, it made me think. Really think.

Where does my hope lie? Do I really view myself as a pilgrim on this earth? What brings me joy? And peace?

And I had to come face to face with the fact that I was seeking earthly things, not heavenly ones. I wasn’t doing this purposely. I was reading God’s Word and studying it. But there is nothing like a pandemic to release our tight grip on this world just a bit more, is there?

Have you, too, felt your grip releasing on the things of this world? Have you, too, felt this bump out of status quo grow you in ways you didn’t even know you needed to grow?

I don’t want to go back to the “old me”. I want to remember the lessons in faith and trust that I have been learning these past eight or so weeks, whether we go back to normal or everything has changed forever.

Life is never easy. And we have all faced a myriad of different trials throughout our lives. I am not sure, however, that we can say that we have ever all faced the same trial together. But that is exactly what has happened these past few weeks. We are all dealing with empty store shelves, economic ramifications, being stuck at home, and all of the other dynamics that are part of this pandemic. It’s a strange time to be alive, but may we not waste it.

You may not need lessons in faith like me, but perhaps this has grown you as a spouse or parent. Perhaps your lessons were in areas of impatience or anger or time management.

In whatever we have grown these past few weeks, may we not slide back into the comfortable place we were before they occurred. Let’s keep taking the next step on that narrow path. God will never waste any experience in our life and that includes a world-wide pandemic!

 

 

*I have been deeply burdened specifically for women and children of abusive spouses during this time and cannot imagine how hard this forced home stay must be for you. If you are in this situation, I would like to pray for you specifically. Please email me at leslie {at} growing4life {dot} com or use the contact page here. No one else will see the email but me.

 

What Do We Know? And What Should We Do?

You may not realize that I am actually rather rebellious. I always laugh inside when someone calls me legalistic. This actually couldn’t be further from the truth. I hate stupid rules. If something isn’t firmly grounded in scripture, I am not going to be doing it anytime soon.

This is making it a bit difficult for me right now. Mandate after mandate is being thrown down by the government. These mandates are eroding or outright removing the rights of every law-abiding citizen that we were given by the constitution of the United States upon its inception.

I don’t want to obey. I am angry and I don’t want to obey. This is for a number of reasons, but the greatest is that the statistics do not match the mandates. The fear that has been instilled in people by the media doesn’t match the actual facts. The damage that is being done by the mandates is astronomical! The ramifications will be felt by some families for generations, as they lose businesses or loved ones commit suicide or die because they are afraid to go to the ER.

Something much deeper is going on here. There are a million theories out there and analyzing them isn’t the point of this post. However, I think that those of us who have studied eschatology to any degree quickly recognize that this is part of the end game. We can see how these events are moving the world in the direction it needs to go for the one world economy and government prophesied in Revelation. (Actually, in this way it is encouraging because it is so incredibly confirming of scripture! )

Okay, so it’s clear that I don’t really buy the story we’re being told. This makes it even harder to obey rules that don’t make any sense.

I’ve had lots of conversations about this part of the quarantine with my family. We are supposed to obey the law. But when does obeying the law become wrong? At what point should we obey and at what point do we protest and even fight?

I am sure many of you are hoping I have an answer to these questions. But I don’t. I am sorry to disappoint you but I haven’t done a thorough enough study on this yet to give any kind of biblical answer.

But these are big questions. And we have to find our footing and remember our foundation in the midst of them. Any search for answers must be done through the lens of scripture.

At first, the novelty of all of this kind of filled us with that adrenalin that takes you through times of shock. None of the people on earth had ever faced anything like this before and we were reeling. After four or five weeks, however, we started to chafe against the restrictions. We became aware of families that were hurting, companies going bankrupt, depression and people committing suicide, people dying without their loved ones close by and with no funerals. Postponed weddings, canceled trips-of-a-lifetime, and high school and college seniors losing their final precious months that they can never get back again.

Some of us trust what we are being told by the health officials. And some of us don’t. But, no matter, where we find ourselves on that scale, I think I can safely assume that almost all of us are deeply saddened by what is going around us and feel pretty hopeless to change anything.

And, no matter how this ends, we all have to face the reality that our freedom was only an illusion. Our freedom dissipated in the face of fear like the early morning fog dissipates when the sun rises. We thought we were free but now we know we aren’t. Not even a bit. And this is something we need to live with, no matter how this turns out.

At any moment in the future, this could happen again. We could be ordered to do things we don’t want to do and there is nothing we can do to stop it.

Doesn’t that make you feel so powerless? We thought we were so independent and find out we aren’t at all.

So how do we, as believers, reconcile all this with what we know from scripture? This is where we must turn, isn’t it? What do we know, for sure??

We know that God is still in control. No matter what goes on or how awful it gets, He is still on the throne. (Jeremiah 10:10)

God did not abdicate his throne during Nero’s persecution of Christians. He didn’t disappear during the Black Death of the Middle Ages, the French Revolution, the reign of Pol Pot, or during World War II. And He has not abdicated His throne during this time. God is still on the throne.

We know that God wants us to obey our government as long as it doesn’t require us to disobey Him. (Romans 13:1-2)

We are told in scripture to obey our governments. There is no caveat there for rules we don’t like. This can be hard for independent Americans to swallow particularly. But it is there. We can, of course, agree that when the government tells us to do something that is in opposition of scripture, we can and must disobey. Where that line is drawn is something all of us are probably increasingly thinking about.

We know that there is a plan spelled out in the books of Daniel and Revelation, that must come to pass at some point.

Could this be a part of that? I think it is very, very likely. If you’ve done any study of end time prophecy then this makes so much sense. Whether the rapture is tomorrow or in a hundred years, we can see how the events of the past few weeks will most certainly be used to further a one world economy and a one world government. We can also see how this will break America–something that must be done in order for globalism to succeed. We can make no predictions of when, but I do believe we can say with certainty that this event took us an exponential step forward towards the New World Order.

We know that, through all of this, God can and will grow us to look more like Christ. (Romans 8:28-29)

Romans 8:28 uses that tiny word “all” to remind us that everything that happens to us–whether small or large–is being used to make us look more like Christ. We are to glorify God in this process, drawing men to Him through our godly attitudes and actions. This can be a bit eye-opening if you’ve been deceived by the “name it and claim it” kind of faith or believe that Jesus exists to make your life easier and to fulfill your big dreams. But when we finally understand that our goal as a believer is to glorify God and to look more like Christ, then the trials and hardships make so much more sense.

We know that God loves us and will give us grace to endure whatever comes. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

One of the most horrifying things about all that’s going on is the fact that it is being used to further ungodly agendas. I have seen terrifying articles on the unfair treatment of churches and pastors, on the necessity of the state to raise children, and on the promotion of abortion. One can only wonder how this is all going to end up for us as Christians. It is almost like the pandemic gave a burst of speed to Satan’s evil agenda for the world.

I was feeling a bit discouraged and frustrated the other day and so I read a bit in the Foxe’s Book of Martyrs to remind myself how much worse life could be. It is truly hard to comprehend the torture and persecution sanctioned by the Catholic Church during the Reformation. Thousands died at the hands of wicked, wicked men who delighted in torturing their fellow human beings. And yet, to read of the believers’ fortitude and commitment to the truth was astounding. They stood strong in the face of the threat of horrible torture, refusing to be bullied into the Catholic faith. In fact, many of them sang hymns as they burned at the stake. We know that only God can give this kind of strength. If God gave that kind of strength hundreds of years ago, then He will surely do the same for us, if and when the time comes that we need it.

And, finally, we know that we are not the center of the Universe. (Philippians 2:9-11)

We can get a little confused about this one. Many pastors preach like we, personally, are the center of the universe. Kids are raised to believe they are the center of the universe. We hear it everywhere. We need to help others and be kind, but at the end of the day, it’s about you. Take care of you.

Well, that isn’t the message of the Bible. While we most certainly need to care for ourselves as any normal human being would, we must recognize that God is the center of the universe. That all is about Him and His sovereign plan.

This can be a hard place to get to, because we have such big dreams and hopes for our lives. This current situation leaves most of those up in the air at best and has dashed them at worst. Surrendering our dreams and hopes may be one of the hardest things we have to do as Christians. Recognizing that perhaps it is not God’s will for us to do that thing we most longed for is a hard pill to swallow. But we are just a speck. A flower that blooms for a short time and then fades away.

Of course, the other side is that we know how much God loves us! He cares and gives strength and peace and joy, as we trust in Him. It’s a beautiful thing when we can surrender our lives and trust in God. But, of course, this is not easy. Releasing our grip can be very painful.

_______________________________

So these are some things we know. And these are the things we must remember as we continue to inch forward into the unknown. Many of us were on autopilot in our lives. We may not have even realized it. And now we are dealing with big questions. Some are dealing with really big problems. I think it’s safe to say that autopilot is now turned off for all of us at this point.

The circumstances are different for all. The spiritual and emotional dynamics are different. This new world is bringing to light different sins and weaknesses in all of us. To some it is overwhelming and to others it is not.

So, I’d like to encourage one final thing before I close today.

Let’s be so kind to one another. Let us have so much grace for the responses and outbursts and frustrations of others. Let’s humbly point fellow believers to the Word and share the Gospel with the lost.

I think we can all agree that the world should be a better place because Christians are in it. There is no better time than now to make sure that is true!

 

 

Some Options for Those with Extra Time

Okay, so by now we are a week or two into our isolation/social distancing. Some of you are still working crazy hours and serving the public (we thank you!!) but there are others who have a little extra time. Our churches do not have services, Bible Studies and meetings and get-togethers have been canceled. Restaurants, stores, gardens, zoos, and most other public places are closed. Many of us have little to do and fewer places to go. And so we are doing all of the things we never get around to doing such as cleaning and organizing and cooking.

But, let’s face it–you can only do so much cleaning.

So I got to thinking…

What are some other ways we can spend this gift of time that many of us have been given?

Lots of things come to mind. Now may be the perfect time to learn to knit or to find a YouTube tutorial on painting with watercolors. It’s a great time to start gardening or baking again. Perhaps it’s time to lift the covers off of old instruments packed away or rediscover our love of photography.

It’s also the perfect time to think outside the box regarding how we can serve others. What are some ways we can encourage others during this strange time in our world? Writing cards, making phone calls, sending texts and emails, and running errands for those who are high risk are just a few ways we can do this during this time.

But one of the best ways we can make use of this time would be to dig into the Word in a more meaningful way. So often we skim or quickly read. Perhaps now is the time to grab a notebook and a commentary or two and really dig in a bit.

In the upcoming month of April we will be reading John 15-21 in the Growing4Life Bible Challenge. When I planned the schedule I had no idea we would be reading the story of Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection in the same month we celebrate it! (Only God, right?? I love how He does things like this!) If you do not have another study going at this time, I want to invite you to join me in reading the last third of John and focus on Christ and what He has done for you during this coming month. You can find more details here.

Here are some other way to grow your knowledge of the Bible and its influence on the world around you–

This is the perfect time to dedicate yourself to Scripture Memorization. I use the Bible Memory App to help me with this and it’s been so incredibly helpful. But you can also memorize many other ways. Find the best way for you and dedicate yourself to hiding God’s Word in your heart and mind.

I have been amazed at how, during this time of uncertainty and change, my memorized verses have come to my mind and comforted me. A few weeks ago, I woke up early one morning–long before it was time to get up–and, in thinking of the current events, felt myself grow panicky. And then Isaiah 26:3 came to my mind: You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You. It was just the balm I needed. God’s Word is truly a treasure.

We can learn doctrine through A Crash Course in Systematic Theology. You will find it here. Taught by Pastor Dean Good to his Men’s Bible Study at Grace Church of North Olmsted, it is a review of the main doctrines in the Bible. It is easy to understand and wonderfully comprehensive.

The Institute for Church Leadership is offering a course on Hermeneutics for free during this unprecedented time. It will be offered through April of 2020. You can check it out here.

I have signed up to take this course which is taught by Dr. Abner Chou. I have appreciated his teaching and am looking very forward to this opportunity to learn more about correctly interpreting God’s Word from him.

Way of Life Literature publishes some very interesting courses. The three listed here each come with powerpoints that are full of visual proofs and photos that make the course come alive. They are currently not shipping hard copies, but you can still purchase the ebooks. If you enjoy history, you will enjoy these (descriptions are from their website) —

Bible Time Ancient KingdomsBible Times and Ancient Kingdoms is a training course on Bible geography, Bible culture, Bible history, and Bible archaeology, which has a two-fold objective: to present apologetic evidence for the Bible and to give background material to help the student better understand the setting of Bible history.

Jews in Fighter JetsJews in Fighter Jews covers the past 2,500 years of the history of the most important and amazing nation on earth, the only nation directly created by God and called by God “my people,” the nation to whom “were committed the oracles of God” and “of whom, as concerning the flesh Christ came” (Romans 3:2; 9:5).

History of the Churches — This enlightening course on church history begins with the apostolic churches and ends with the early 1800s. We show that sound churches have existed side-by-side with apostate ones through the centuries.

I am currently on chapter three of Bible Time Ancient Kingdoms and I am finding it fascinating. It is well written and so informative. You will find lots of other ebooks and Bible studies there. There is even a nice selection of free ebooks for download. While I don’t agree 100% with the author on every topic, I do find that the majority of his work to be sound and edifying. (And, after all, who do we agree with 100% of the time…? That will be one of the most wonderful things about heaven! We will all know the truth about every single doctrine big or small and, therefore, we will all agree!)

The Fuel Project over at YouTube has a FANTASTIC series called Know Your Enemy. It is a thorough overview of Satan’s influence on history. You will never view the world the same again after watching it. It is well-documented and very eye-opening. It gives you the knowledge to understand who our enemy really is and clearly shows how he often presents himself as light and good, all while being the mastermind of deception. I really can’t recommend this highly enough.

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However we choose to use any bit of extra time we’ve been gifted, may we use it wisely. May we not waste hours and hours glued to the news or scrolling through social media. These things aren’t bad, in and of themselves, but let’s keep them from stealing an over abundance of the precious hours we’ve been gifted with.

 

 

An Unmistakable Mirror

I think I’ve been over-using the word “unprecedented”. I’ve said it more times in the past two weeks than I’ve said it in my entire life. We are facing unprecedented times.

I find it extremely hard to function in my “normal” way currently. I find it hard to think about “normal” things. I find it hard to do “normal” activities.

That’s pretty much because it’s so not normal right now.

I generally try to write posts that are not closely connected to current events so that, no matter when they are read, they are applicable to one’s life.

However, it seems like a good time to break my own rule (I broke it last week, too) since we are all facing this virus and the government’s subsequent restrictions and mandates that have completely swept away our freedoms. Literally.

So there are all kinds of theories and opinions out there as to just what is going on, but no matter what is happening, there is one thing we do know: It IS happening and very few of us are unaffected by it all.

Whether we have had our lives grind to a halt or we have been overwhelmed with work duties because we work in an “essential life-sustaining” field, this has affected most all of us.

As I was reading John this morning, I was thinking about Peter and his promise to the Lord that he would never leave his side–

Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake.” (John 13:27)

In the very next verse, Jesus predicts that Peter would very surely deny that he even knew the Lord!

Jesus answered him, “Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times. (John 13:28)

If we read on, we find out that, yes, Peter most certainly did deny he knew the Lord, even though he loved him dearly.

This account always has a way of both disturbing and comforting me. If Peter, who was one of the great apostles, could be so cowardly, what can I expect from myself?? But, it’s also comforting. If Peter could do that awful thing and yet still go on to live and die for Christ as a martyr in the early church, then perhaps there is hope for all of us to be of use in God’s Kingdom.

What’s going on in these days is not really a situation like Peter’s, so you may be wondering where I am headed.

And I guess it’s here: We have a choice, just like Peter. We can make the intentional choice to do the right thing or we can very easily slide into the wrong thing. The wrong choice is always the easier choice in the moment. (It’s NEVER the easier choice regarding long-term consequences.) It was easier for Peter to deny Christ than to take the heat for knowing Him. It is easier for us to sin than to not sin.

A pandemic like this (or any other trial, for that matter) shows us our true selves in ways we’d probably rather not see. What has come rearing up in the past few weeks in my own heart has not been good. Anxiety and fear; discontentment; self-centeredness; self-pity; laziness; even gluttony are real challenges for many of us in this situation. With close quarters, tempers flare, selfishness abounds, and we may be easily irritated as we are unable to leave our homes. With the incredible stress and long hours so many of you are facing at work, things come to the surface about yourself that you’d probably rather not know. With our favorite activities and the abundance in our stores taken away, we are faced with who we really are.

 

When our normal ordinary life is stripped away, we see ourselves as we really are.

 

A trial like this is a giant mirror into the state of our soul.

So what do we do about it?

As believers, it is important that we examine our hearts using the Word and then let this be an opportunity to grow.

So easy to write.

So hard to do.

As we look into the mirror and examine our hearts in the midst of an unprecedented time of uncertainty and craziness throughout the entire world, may we trust God to do a real work in our lives and grow us up spiritually in a way we couldn’t have otherwise.

May we come out of this strange, unprecedented time stronger, purer, and holier than when it started!

 

 

Some Thoughts on the Current Events

I can’t even think of any word but “crazy” to describe what is going on in the world right now. I am not sure this word even fully expresses what we are all feeling. It’s funny how you can play out and worry about all sorts of scenarios and never even dream up the one that actually happens. Coronavirus and “social distancing” was just not anything I had ever even considered.

Not that this is that bad. The percentage of people actually getting sick is low and the death toll is even lower. Us “younger folk” are just a little bit sheltered. Especially in America. We haven’t lived through the Spanish flu, the polio outbreak, or the wars of last century. While 911 is more recent and did affect us, it didn’t really affect the majority of us personally. And look up the Black Death in the middle ages. This is when it pays to know a bit of history. Really helps to keep things in perspective!

So I guess we all realize that (for most of us, anyway) it could be so much worse. But perhaps the real question is: Will it get worse?

And this is probably making us all a little unsettled and nervous. We are facing empty store shelves, keeping our school kids occupied, lack of Christian fellowship due to closing churches, and giant questions about how this will affect our economy (and, closer to home, our own jobs and income).

We are so independent, particularly those of us Christians that live in westernized nations. We’ve had so little opportunity to rely on the Lord.

So here we go. For all of us, this will prove to be a test: Do we really believe what we say believe?

Do we really trust God to provide? To carry us through the challenges this event offers to us? Do we know, without a doubt, that He will carry us through whatever is to come?

And how do we prepare for what is to come? What can we do to prepare for any trial–whether it’s across the world or just a trial I am facing alone?

Yes, these are important questions.

I read an article recently that talked about how unprepared people were for this latest turn of events. So few people stock emergency items or even a decent amount of food in their homes. The author mentioned how his grandmother was always ready for an emergency, with rows of canned goods on her shelves. They would store food and other items to prepare for any unexpected emergency–whether it would be a snowstorm or a war.

But somehow, as materialism and wealth grew in this country and there was always an over-abundance of goods on our store shelves, we grew lazy and short-sighted.

I was thinking about this in light of our spiritual preparedness. I have always loved Psalm 1 where it talks about the tree growing by the river. A strong, healthy tree has deep roots going way down into the soil. You can’t see the roots but when the winds blows that tree is prepared for it and will stand strong through any storm.

I want to be like that tree–totally prepared for any storm! I want to be ready to weather any unexpected turn of events, whether it be a world crisis or anything else.

Psalm 1 gives us insight into what it takes to become like that tree–

Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the [a]ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he [b]meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the [c]rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.

From this we can find two basic things we can do to grow deep roots of faith that will prepare us for any storm–

1. Remove ourselves from the influence of the ungodly and the company of sinners.

2. Meditate on the Word.

In a nutshell: Eliminate worldliness and all its influences and fill our mind with God’s Word.

Remove as much of the darkness as possible from our lives so that we can fully walk in the Light!

None of us know what trials will befall us, but we can be ready for any trial if we are walking close to God and basking in His light. That doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or that we never question. It just means that we can rest in the Lord. That we experience peace and joy, despite the trials. That we can think outside of ourselves and remember that we aren’t the only ones facing uncertain, troublesome times.

I don’t really have this down quite yet myself. But I have watched godly Christians around me. I am also drawing on the many biographies I’ve read of strong Christians. I know this is true. God is so faithful.

And so I continue to strive to grow and deepen my roots. I encourage you to do the same.

Because storms will come and storms will go. May we be like the strong tree that stands strong and gives hope in the midst of any storm that arises!

 

You will keep him in perfect peace,
Whose mind is stayed on You,
Because he trusts in You.
Trust in the Lord forever,
For in Yah, the Lord, is [b]everlasting strength.

Isaiah 26:3-4

 

 

 

On Knowing God’s Will

There are so many books, blog posts, and sermons about finding God’s will. Every Christian seems to be searching for God’s will for their lives. How can we know what His will is? Why doesn’t He just tell us?

This thing of God’s will remains a bit of a mystery to those of us who long to follow biblical principles. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought recently. It all started with a bit of commentary I read by Henry Morris–

“This could be read: ‘If any man sincerely wants to do His will, he shall know…’ Thus the first prerequisite to ascertaining God’s leading in some matter, or the truth about some doctrinal question, is a genuine willingness to believe the truth and to follow God’s will before they are made known, even if the answer goes against one’s preference.”

I am not sure why but this really struck me.

When we think of God’s will, we always think about the big decisions in life: Who do I marry? Which job should I take? Should I buy this house?

But isn’t knowing God’s will so much more than just these occasional big decisions?

A little later on that day, I was just sitting down to eat lunch when my husband came in, making a request of me. My flesh wanted to quip a smart remark and tell him to wait. But, suddenly, the thought came to me: What is God’s will in this situation? 

I knew what His will was. It was that I treat my husband kindly and do what he asked.

Throughout the rest of the week, time and time again, I was faced with these seemingly unimportant situations and this same thought would come to me: What is God’s will for my life right now?

And I suddenly realized something: I was faced with knowing exactly what God’s will was time and time again and made a choice not to do His will because I didn’t prefer it. My flesh didn’t like it or it was just too hard and so I made a choice to not follow God’s will.

Here are some ways we choose not to follow God’s will each and every day, even though we know exactly what His will is–

We respond unkindly, even though we know that God’s will for our lives is to be kind to others. (Ephesians 4:32)

We don’t take the time to listen to someone because we are busy doing something that could easily wait, even though we know God wants us to put others ahead of self. (Philippians 2:3-4)

We choose to waste time staring at our devices or the TV instead of doing something productive, even though we know God doesn’t want us to waste time. (Ephesians 5:16-17)

We choose to ignore prayer and Bible reading rather than make it a priority, even though God makes it clear that we need to know His Word and spend time with Him. (Matthew 6:33; John 15:5)

See what I mean? I could give so many more examples. I am sure you probably could, too.

We don’t speak up about Christ because we are afraid of what others will think. We don’t discipline our kids because we want them to like us. We don’t love others because they are mean and unkind to us. We don’t test and compare the things a teacher or author are saying against scripture because what they say makes us feel good. These things are clearly shown in scripture to be God’s will and yet we choose not to do them.

And I can’t help but think that we if we don’t prefer to actively pursue God’s will in these things, then why would we choose to obey the Lord in the big ones?

We are given a thousand opportunities to follow God’s revealed will every single day of our lives. And yet we so often choose not to do so. As I reflected on this, I realized that we often relegate these little choices to “personality” (Oh, I get angry, that’s just who I am or I don’t really like to read so I don’t need to read the Bible) OR we believe them to be insignificant–as if somehow they don’t really matter with so much other more important stuff going on in life.

But then I am reminded of this verse from Luke 16:10:

He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.

I believe the principle of this verse applies to multiple situations, including today’s topic.

How important it is that we are faithful in following God’s will in the little things, so that we have a heart and mind prepared for following His will in the big things.

Sometimes we do not want to follow God’s will. This is when we must train ourselves to do so, anyway. We must raise ourselves above our unreliable, treacherous feelings and make the right choice.

So, you see, as life generally goes, we already know what God’s will is. We just don’t really want to follow it. Oh, we do in theory but when it comes to actually putting our desires into action, we so often fail.

Perhaps this is the beginning of knowing God’s will: Actively doing what we already know to be His will. Doing so will make us much more likely to follow His will when those big decisions come along. We will have trained ourselves to be ready and willing to obey, no matter which way God directs and no matter what we prefer.

 

 

Time for a Change

Have you ever felt like you were in a spiritual battle when you started to really give sincere effort to read and study the Word? There’s a reason for that.

Satan knows that the power for the Christian life is in God’s Word.

It’s not in a book about God’s Word, it’s not in some mystical experience that could be God (but surely isn’t), and it’s not in the music that makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. These are counterfeits. They are designed to make us feel close to God without really being close to God. 

It’s called deception.

I am amazed at how few Christians study the Word. They say they are a Christian and, yet, there is no love in their heart for the Bible.

Of course, we can see why this is.

The church has, ever so steadily, been moving its focus from the Bible to other things. Things like entertainment, programs, social justice, and political agendas.

And so its people are left without the nourishment of the Word, without the protection of the Word, and without the reward of the Word. And they do not even realize it.

It wasn’t until I was in my 40s that I really started digging into the Bible. It was then that I started actually understanding what I believe.

I am so ashamed to even write this. How could I be a strong believer and wait that long to study the Word?

While I was full of conviction and dedication and commitment to God, my half-illiteracy of the Word was a very real encumbrance.

So this is why I write. Many of you have read all of this before. I’ve included it in earlier posts. But I just keep thinking about this right now.

God’s Word has been relegated to the background by most Christians as they try to live their lives the best they can. They search out books, counselors, and even medication to help them cope when life throws a curve ball. While these things aren’t necessarily wrong, why is God and His Word always our last place to go? Why do some of us never open up the Word to search for answers there?

I remember hearing someone say about twenty years ago that the next doctrine that would be severely attacked is the sufficiency of God’s Word. Boy, was he right. This is being attacked in so many ways, it is hard to keep track.

The mainstream church is teaching its followers that–

The Word is no longer sufficient to help us with our problems.

The Word is no longer sufficient to deepen our intimacy with God.

The Word is no longer sufficient to teach us the Truth.

The Word is no longer sufficient (or relevant enough) to reach the lost.

This lack of interest in and disbelief in the power of the Word has even trickled into biblical, conservative churches. Maybe even your own church…

Oh, how sad! How tragic!

For the Word is sufficient for all of these things and so much more!

And Satan knows it. And THIS is why we feel spiritually attacked when we make an effort to study the Bible. THIS is why Satan and his minions are attacking the Word so fiercely, inside Christendom and without.

Sometimes I feel like a broken record in writing this but, truly, if I can accomplish no other thing than to draw fellow believers to actually study what they say they believe, I will feel like I did something to further God’s Kingdom on this old, broken, sorry earth.

For too long now, we Christians have declared our faith in God and, yet, have relegated His Word to a shelf somewhere. Many don’t even get it out to go to church anymore because churches aren’t even using it.

So maybe it’s time for a change.

If you call yourself a Christian but make no time for God’s Word, then it is probably past time for a change.

If you, like me, have become aware of the inestimable value of God’s Word in your life, then why aren’t we saying anything to other Christians around us? Perhaps we need to change, too. Those of us who get it must speak up! We must encourage believers to get in the Word.

We need to change, too–we need to be bold and courageous enough to point people to the Word in a church scene that just doesn’t really care.

All we need for salvation and eternal life is in the Bible.

All we need for life and godliness is in the Bible.

All we need to be close to God is in the Bible.

All we need to know to reach the lost is in the Bible.

It’s all there.

So let’s study it, know it, and encourage others to do the same!

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Recently, Pastor Dean (my brother) has been preaching on Psalm 19, which has naturally led to sermons on God’s Word. A short series of those sermons, titled “The Inestimable Value of God’s Word”, may encourage you as you reflect on what I wrote here today. I thought I’d go ahead and share them for anyone who may be interested–

The Inestimable Value of God’s Word, Part 1

The Inestimable Value of God’s Word, Part 2

The Inestimable Value of God’s Word, Part 3

By the way, you can find the whole series here (just scroll down until you see Psalm 19 in the lefthand column). It’s a great series and I highly recommend!

 

Should I Expect to Understand Everything?

The other morning we were talking in Bible Study about how there are just some things we can’t understand. I mean can we really wrap our brains around how we are chosen by God (Ephesians 1; John 6:44) and yet we have a free will to choose Christ? (John 1:12-13). Or can we comprehend how God moved men to write the Holy Bible–using their own styles and personalities–and yet every word written by each of those fallible authors was and is the timeless, infallible, and inspired word of God (2 Peter 1:20-21)? And then there is prayer. I am supposed to pray (Philippians 4:6) and yet God has already ordained what will happen (Daniel 4:35; Acts 2:23)? How can this be?

I am here to tell you that I have no idea. I can’t fully understand quite a few things that I believe scripture teaches.

And, honestly, I am okay with that. Now, in writing that I am okay, it may lead you to believe that I am simple-minded and too easily satisfied. But, before you set your opinion, let me try to explain exactly why I am okay.

The other day my daughter told my three-year-old grandson that they were going to go vote. Here’s a bit of the conversation–

As she was explaining that mommy and daddy were choosing between two men who would help make decisions for our state, he asked a very wise question:

“Is one red and one blue?”

Amazed that he actually chose the right colors that signify the two political parties, she said “Well, yes, something like that.”

“Can we vote for the red man since that is my favorite color?”

She laughed and responded “yes, because the red man believes a lot of the same things we do.”

So far, so good.

However, she realized how little he really understood when he asked this question after they were done voting: “Now that we are done ‘boating’, can we bring the red man home with us?”

(Our family all had a good laugh over this story.)

Now we can see that he really didn’t understand. And, actually, there was really no possible way for him to understand. As my daughter said, he doesn’t even know what a state is yet. He is absolutely incapable of understanding the voting process.

Of course, we’d never expect a three year old to fully understand this process, would we?

SO why then do we expect to understand everything God understands? If there is such a large gap between the comprehension of a three-year-old and an adult, then how much bigger of a gap must exist between the comprehension of a created human and the God of the universe?

Consider Deuteronomy 29:29–

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

You see, there are secret things that we can’t understand. There are questions we can’t answer. And there are doctrines that are totally beyond our comprehension.

At some point, we need to accept this.

It is pride and arrogance that demands understanding. It is the idolatry of intellectualism that pushes man to insist he can make sense of it all.

This pride and idolatry has led to broken relationships, messed-up families, and split churches. Scripture gets twisted to mold God and His ways into something that makes sense to our human brain. How important that we take scripture literally and at face value–even if it doesn’t make sense or seem fair.

While the Bible does contain some puzzling things, oh, how much we can understand. God has revealed what He wants us to know. What we need to know, we know.

The world and even many in the church will call us foolish for not insisting on knowing every single detail. But who cares? Just like a three year old can’t understand voting, so a human brain can’t fully understand how God works. We must bow humbly before our King and realize that God is way bigger than us and His ways are much higher than ours.

 

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-9

 

 

Making the Most of Time Spent in God’s Word

Have you ever talked to someone and found them to be unreasonable? They won’t listen to your side of the argument but are ready with their opinion before you even finish speaking? (Maybe we are that unreasonable person. It’s such a temptation for most of us). This can be so very frustrating, but never so frustrating as when we are discussing biblical matters.

I remember several conversations with Christians throughout the course of my life where there were such strong opinions that even when biblical evidence to counter it was presented, they ignored or dismissed it. They were people who claimed to be in the Word on a daily basis so I was befuddled, to say the least. The topics were clear from scripture and not gray areas.

But they wanted to believe what they wanted to believe.

As Christians, perhaps we all may do this at times. We come to the Bible with everything that makes up who we are: The spiritual environment of our homes growing up; the opinions of the teachers, professors, and preachers of our lives; the doctrine and rules of all of our past churches and denominations; the voices of the authors we’ve read; the beliefs of our spouses, parents, siblings, friends, and other people we may love dearly. We also come to the Bible with our personalities–optimistic, pessimistic, realistic, etc.

This means that, without careful and deliberate intention, our Bible study will be tainted by our experiences and with worldly wisdom.

The Bible is the only certain truth we have in this world. It is our only anchor. Since the inception of Christianity and throughout the following centuries, this has been central to the faith. The Bible is God’s Inspired, Inerrant, and Authoritative Word. Any branch of Christianity that dismissed and negated the authority, inerrancy, and veracity of scripture was considered a false religion.

Oh, how things have changed.

God’s Word has been relegated to the backseat in favor of experience. Many people no longer even take a Bible with them to church. The worldly church hungers for entertainment and excitement, always craving bigger and better.

How did the church get here? How did we end up in a world where what is called “Christianity” is nothing like biblical Christianity?

I believe Biblical illiteracy has much to do with this. People stopped reading their Bibles and so they were easily distracted and deceived.

Hopefully, you are here because you want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you. The main purpose of this blog is to point you towards God’s Word and to encourage you to know it and to study it.

But, even as I noted above, there are many who claim to read God’s Word who don’t seem to be transformed by it. How is that? They claim to read the Scriptures, and yet they cling to unscriptural principles and doctrines.

How can we make sure this does not happen to us? What can we do to make sure that we are not tainted by our past and our personalities when we come to God’s Word? How do we ready our hearts and minds, in order to be transformed?

There are five things that will maximize the work of God’s Word in our lives. Without them, the Bible will be just another book to read.

As we study God’s Word, let’s make sure that we are bringing these five things to our study–

1. FAITH. Faith, according to dictionary.com, is confidence or trust in a person or thing. Faith, in the biblical sense, is complete and utter trust in God. We trust in Him to save us from our sins and we also trust His Word. We have complete confidence that what He says is true.

There are many, many people who read the Bible. They read it for educational purposes. For its history. Out of a sense of duty. But this does not mean they are saved. Without true faith the Bible is just a book full of myths. Without the Holy Spirit to illuminate the scriptures, the Bible is just another religious book.

2. SUBMISSION. There can be no transformation without a willingness to yield to God’s Sovereignty. This can be hard and lies at the heart of every complaint and every heart-rending question of “why”. It lies at the heart of many physical illnesses and most cases of depression and anxiety. When we aren’t willing to submit to God’s Will for our lives, we rob ourselves of peace and joy. And, like a tiny ant shaking its fist, we demand our own way.

When we aren’t willing to submit, our will becomes the primary focus. Our desires and our dreams become the centerpiece of our religion and the heart of our Bible study is utterly self-centered.

This will completely render our study ineffective and useless. The Bible is not about us. It is about God. He is the Creator and we are the creature (Genesis 1-3). He is the potter and we are the clay (Isaiah 29:16). Oh, how important to understand this as we approach God’s Word.

3. HUMILITY. So often we have an agenda when we come to God’s Word. We want to believe certain things about God or mankind and so we focus in on the verses we like and skip over the ones we don’t like. But true humility takes God’s Word at face value. Instead of trying to pridefully turn and twist it to say what we want it to say, we humble ourselves before God and accept the Word literally and in its entirety.

Humility also recognizes that there are many things that can’t be understood. For example, we cannot understand how God draws and man chooses at the same time. These are parallel truths that our human minds can’t comprehend.

Deuteronomy 29:29 reminds us that we don’t know everything and that’s okay–

 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”

We must release our pride, our selfish agendas, and our need to understand everything in order to make the most out of our time in God’s Word.

4. WILLINGNESS to OBEY. If we aren’t willing to obey what we read, then we will never be transformed. I will take it a step further–if we aren’t willing to obey what we read, we probably aren’t saved. I John 2:3-4 makes this abundantly clear–

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

Obedience isn’t just something God would like us to do. Obedience is the sure evidence that we are Christ’s!

5. TIME and FOCUS. These two things are scarce, aren’t they? In a culture that demands busyness, we can quickly become over-committed.  In a world that is full of distractions, it is hard to focus. We must intentionally change this or we will greatly impair our Bible Study time. It must become a priority. When we recognize the importance of God’s Word in our Christian walk, we must then deliberately take steps to be in the Word and to protect that time.

How do we do this?

It won’t be easy. But there are some steps we can take. I am working on these in my own life, so I am right there with you on this!

First, we must set a specific time, that is rarely altered. If we work, it may be setting our alarm clock earlier (which usually means turning the TV off and going to bed earlier); if we have infants or toddlers, it may mean taking that first half hour of naptime and dedicating it to God’s Word. Carve out a time that becomes regular. Don’t let a few days derail you from your plan. Illness happens. Teething babies happen. Other things sometimes get in the way. But let’s make a commitment to get back to our regular time when it is possible.

Second, we must eliminate the distractions. Oh, this is hard! But we can make a few little changes that will be immensely helpful. First, get a real Bible. A Bible app on your iPad or phone can be helpful, but it’s best not to use it for your quiet time in God’s Word unless you put it in airplane mode. Second, put all tech temptations in a different room as you read and study God’s Word. Intentionally give your undivided attention to the Bible for an hour. A half hour. Whatever time you have designated. Any time is better than none!

________________________________

As we dedicate ourselves to the reading and study of God’s Word may we bring to it a right heart attitude. May we pray about these things. Let’s ask God to fill us with faith and humility. Ask Him to help us to yield to His will and to be obedient to His commands. And let’s pray that He would open up a way for us to spend undistracted time in prayer and in His Word. We know this is His will so we can pray with confidence!

 

 

Twelve Things I’d Change if I Could Live my Life Over

Oftentimes, we evaluate our lives as we approach the end of the year. We examine our life in regards to health, career, education. We consider our bank accounts and we reflect on our relationships. We ask: What could we do better next year?

The most important questions we can ever ask ourselves as we evaluate our past year are: Do I look more like Christ? and Did I learn any spiritual lessons? After all, these are the only things of lasting and eternal value.

Education, good jobs, making money, and beautiful homes are nice, but they aren’t the heart of a Christian’s life. Popularity, fame, and 100,000 Instagram or Facebook followers may be very gratifying but it’s not what really matters in life.

So now is a good time to ask: What are my top priorities for the new year?

As you consider this, I compiled a list of a few things that I’d love to go back and change if I could live my life over. Some are major and some are not-so-major. Other than the first two (which I consider, by far, the most important), they are not in any particular order. As I evaluate my life, these are the things I’d love to do differently. This list is not exhaustive and I know that there are some that are just not coming to mind right now.

If we have a priority to walk with God and to teach our families to walk with God in the upcoming year, then I hope this list encourages you and gives you some practical ideas of how to get started–

1. Be more faithful in reading and studying Bible; memorize passages. God’s Word is transforming. We need the Bible in order to know and love God. It is our guidebook, showing us how to live. It is our mirror, convicting us of sin. And yet, I hindered my walk for years by being satisfied with shallow devotionals instead of actually reading the Bible. And yes! Memorize! I just started this last year and I can’t even begin to tell you the difference this has made in my walk with the Lord. Oh, why didn’t I do this earlier….??

2. Be much more diligent to have my kids learn and study and memorize God’s Word. God’s Word was always the authority in our home, but, oh, how I wish I would have been so much more faithful in having my kids in the Word and memorizing it in a much more systematic way. This is the only thing that will carry them through the trials that come to us all and the only way they can stand under the persecution they can expect to receive as Christians.

3. Put my distractions aside and play more with my kids. The laundry, the dishes, the household work, the phone call, the tv show–they could have waited. Not that I never played with them. But, looking back now, I realize now just how fast the time goes and I wish I would have spent even more time with them.

I am so very glad I didn’t have the temptation of looking at my phone when I had kids. I feel rather bad for those of you who have smartphones and tablets at your fingertips, tempting you to check on them and then pulling you in at all moments of the day. I encourage you to put them in a room far away and focus on your kids! Trust me, you will regret it if you don’t.

4. Be more diligent to keep an eternal perspective in all things but especially when it pertained to raising my kids When we are in the midst of parenting, we are often concerned about two things–will my kid still like me if I do or don’t allow this? And will their friends still like them if we don’t allow this? But neither of those matter. It’s so much more important that our children love and serve the Lord than that they fit in with the in-crowd–this one fact changes so many decisions we make as parents! Sure, they may be mad at us or even scream at us, but standing firm pays off in the long run. For the most part we stood firm on God’s Word in our family and we were often ostracized because of it, but as I reflect on our parenting years, I do regret some of the decisions we made based on peer pressure. (Let me add here, that there is also the opposite–where we make far too many {unnecessary} rules that have nothing to do with scripture. Please don’t do that. It breeds rebellion. If you have a rule, make sure it has a scriptural principle behind it and that your kids know what that principle is.)

5. Be much more careful in what I set before my eyes and listen to with my ears; I was always fairly careful, but even things I would have considered “innocent” I can see now were promoting infidelity or bad language or lying. They were full of human wisdom or showing an ungodly model of a family (just how many sitcoms can make Dad look like a complete idiot?!?). I would work harder earlier in my life to eliminate all forms of entertainment that do not glorify God. I know some of you may think I am “over the top” but entertainment changes us. We are fooled into thinking it doesn’t matter but it most certainly does. I still have so far to go in this area, but I do feel like a different person since I have eliminated quite a bit of what is worldly entertainment from my life. But that’s a topic for another day…

6. Be kinder to my husband; I think I am especially cognizant of this because of losing my sister-in-law this past year. I’m sure my brother would only love to have her there, irritating him in whatever way she may have done so. It is always hardest to be kind and loving with the ones that we live with. I really want to be more intentional in nurturing my marriage this coming year.

7. Have far more grace for others; I didn’t have a lot of grace for others as a young person. I am so very thankful that God has brought situations and people into my life that have wrought a great change in this area. But I sure do wish I would have recognized way earlier in life that “but for the grace of God, go I”.

8. Let the minor offenses go; This is another change God has made in my life due to people and situations. I had to intentionally forgive and choose not to hold a grudge–many times without the other person even knowing that they hurt me. Eventually it became natural (at least much of the time), but it took me too long. Life is so much more enjoyable if we stop being so easily offended.

9. Speak the truth of God’s Word with lots of love and kindness. I never had too much trouble speaking the truth, but the love and kindness part would sometimes take a backseat. I hope that I have made progress in this, although I am sure I sometimes still fail. Those of us who passionately love and defend the truth can often struggle with the love side of things. Would I have done more for God’s Kingdom if I would have changed my tone or said things differently as a younger person? Only God knows. In this, I am so very thankful for God’s forgiveness and mercy.

10. Think of others more often. I was SO selfish as a young person. Looking back, I am dismayed and distraught seeing it. I still can tend to be that way and I have to literally fight against my flesh and do what is right. Sometimes I win that battle and sometimes I don’t. But I truly want to be a blessing by thoughtful words and kind deeds–rather than a burden through sarcasm, human opinions about things that are not scriptural, and selfish acts. This is certainly an area in progress and I sure do wish I was much further along in this one!

Along with this, I wish I would have shared the Gospel so much more freely, without worrying what people think! I am so self-centered that I am {still} often more concerned with what people think about me than I am with someone’s eternal destiny!

11. Recognize that my parents are people who have feelings and need support. I am so dismayed when I consider how selfish I was as a teen and twenty-something. When I was getting married, my grandma was in the hospital. And then she passed away two weeks before I had my first child. I was so wrapped up in my life that I was not there for my mom. Oh, how I regret this! If you are blessed to have parents, realize now that they are people, too. That their life is not solely comprised of you and your world. Oh, how I wish I would have understood this sooner.

12. Waste far less time worrying about what “could happen”. Worry and anxiety are a prison. They destroy the present and do nothing to change the future. And yet, how many of us find ourselves in that prison, held tightly by their chains? This is a battle in many of our lives but we must fight it instead of cave into it. We are, in essence, saying we do not trust in God. And therein lies the issue. Oh, how I wish I would have wasted far less time in this useless and faith-sapping activity.

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So there’s the list. Not that I have arrived. Some of these continue to be quite the challenge for me. One of them I thought I conquered and then, years later, it came back with a vengeance (#12, if you want to know!)

Most, if not all, of these things are changed by intentional choices with the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit. I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to this over the course of the past few months.

Some of the things above have changed over the course of my lifetime, simply from growing in Christ. It has sometimes been two steps forward and one step back, but, gradually, over time, they got so much better. Not perfect but better. But even these things came from changing a small habit or behavior. Making a conscientious choice to sit down with God’s Word in the morning or to mentally turn away from the negative thoughts when someone says something hurtful or to choose to offer grace when someone does something I just can’t understand. Although sometimes still a challenge, it is far more natural now to respond correctly. But it wasn’t always the case. I had to intentionally make a choice.

It is hard to improve anything without intentionally choosing to do so. Before you think I am all caught up in man’s wisdom and the “I can do anything I set my mind to”, I want to stop right here.

I am not saying that lasting change can be had without the Holy Spirit. What I am saying is that becoming more Christ-like isn’t just going to happen one day without any work from us at all.

Galatians 5:24-25 says this:

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.

We have to crucify our flesh. It’s an action on our part. In this verse and earlier in that chapter we can also see that we are to walk in the Spirit (v. 16) Again, it’s intentional action on our part.

Life is like a quickly fading flower. Those of you who are young will blink and find yourselves where I am. You, too, will look back over your life and wonder how in the world you ever got here so incredibly fast. Live intentionally now so that your “things I’d change” list is shorter than mine!

(For those of you who have lived as long or longer than I have–what would you change? Your comments on this may help a younger reader. We are all different and have different struggles, so I’d love for you to share your thoughts on this.)

 

 

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