Confidence in God’s word for your salvation

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Magnet  Do you ever fear that you might not be a true believer?  Do you question your salvation because you feel so discouraged by a ‘losing fight’ with sin?

The other day, we talked about this, a young believer and I.  She shared that she often wonders if she indeed is one of God’s own.  As you and I struggle with recurring sins that weigh us down, so does she.

Actually, I find the very FACT that I’m bothered by my sin as EVIDENCE that I am saved. And when my Biblical glasses are on and the Holy Spirit confronts me, the ensuing chagrin prompts me to go to my Father, yet again, for Christ-earned forgiveness and cleansing from sin.

Pouring over 1 Peter 2, my friend and I parked on a couple of truths to understand better what frightened her in the first line, highlighted in red below:

Verse 8b: They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

She fears that she might be one of those unhappy people destined for disobedience.

To give her some concrete help, we reviewed some diagnostic questions that would demonstrate that indeed she is one of God’s chosen:

  • Did she recognize that her sinful condition and sins automatically make her an enemy of God?
  • Was she trusting Jesus as the only saving means to reconcile her to God the Father?
  • Was she overjoyed that she had been redeemed, forgiven and adopted by God to be His forever and favored daughter?

With YES to all 3 conditions, we looked further in 1 Peter 2 at our status per God:

Verse 9:  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

How amazing it is that our heavenly Father chose us just to HAVE us as His people!

On my walk this morning, I stoked and warmed my heart with this fact,  that God FIRST and FOREMOST wants me to belong to Him. Full stop!

Thinking of unbelievers or fragile new Christians, I searched for an image that simplifies the entire wrath of God and atonement combo, I pictured Jesus on the Cross as:

THE GREAT SIN-WRATH MAGNET

His willing atonement or dying in our place draws and absorbs forever two substances foreign TO Himself as the God-Man:

  • our sin
  • God’s wrath 

With our sin removed and God’s justifiable wrath toward us averted or appeased, we are FREED to see Jesus as beautiful and receive His righteousness accredited to our account! I’m not a science person, but the way I imagined this exchange like the polarity in a magnetic field.  Unburdened by sin, and without God’s impending judgment, our polar attraction changes so that we are drawn NOW to Christ’s beauty and inestimable worth. Without effort or merit we fly to Him out of desire, like paper clips to a magnet.  Christ’s work on our behalf is a ‘no-brainer’, not something we decide or choose.

This conversation with my sister-in-Christ and subsequent thinking makes me realize how important the Lord’s Supper is for believers.  We need to be regularly reminded of the FACT, that because of Christ’s willing and intentional living and dying in our place, we DO belong to God, our Father.  The cross of Christ is objective proof or evidence.

 

I won’t even do it for my pastor!

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Sunday morning.  The communion table’s shrouded plates drew my attention. My thoughts centered on Jesus and His saving work for me. “Father, give me a genuine sense of Your Son’s sacrifice for me!”

A bit of a grimace flickered across our pastor’s face as he prayed for our church and the world.  I decided to pray for him right then and there. An unbidden idea arrived -“What if I asked God to give ME Patrick’s headache or stomach discomfort for the duration of the service?”

As quickly as suggestion formed in my mind, I dispatched it with this humbling admittance:

  • I’m not willing to suffer Patrick’s stead, even for one hour!

My eyes settled once again on the surface bearing the elements.

Holy Spirit-inspired Truth landed on me.

Jesus PLANNED for and undertook to undergo my eternal punishment, cut off from the love of His Dad, a fellowship He had enjoyed since before time.

Not just MY eternal punishment but the weight of every other believer’s well-earned punishment too.  I sat there, half listening to Patrick and using my imagination to re-create the enormity of this formula:

  • Infinite punishment due one believer X number of men for whom Christ suffered X 3 days

My finite brain cells couldn’t expand sufficiently.  But I glimpsed a splinter of Jesus’ love for us.

The sacrament of the shared Supper drew forth a new kind of gratitude.  Thank you, good Father for answering my morning’s prayer.

 

Communion – an engagement promise reminder

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engagement-ring  I’ve struggled for years to grasp the spiritual richness of the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist.

Many Catholics and Episcopalians regard this sacrament as the highlight of their weekly worship experience.  I know.  I’ve talked with them, trying to glimpse and sense what it is that nourishes them so richly.

It’s NOT like I don’t make an effort to meditate on what Jesus suffered for me personally by going to the cross. It’s just that I feel enriched more through the sermon and corporate prayer.  And because some of my friends and family wax on about the centrality of the Eucharist to their worship experience, I keep feeling like I must be missing something.

Reading  Ann Voskamp’s  recent book  the-broken-way The Broken Way, I grasped a fresh understanding of what this sacramental liturgy might represent.

Voskamp reminds her readers that what Jesus performed during that last meal with his friends was a covenant, similar to a wedding vow.  Think about Hebrew culture two millennia ago and and how couples were first betrothed and then married. You’ll recall that the engagement itself bestowed legal status and rights. The initial commitment was the BIG DEAL.

When God births us the first time, we receive the spirit of life. When He births us the second time, He gives us His very own Holy Spirit.  Paul teaches in his letter to the Ephesians at 1:14 – The Holy Spirit is the down payment on our inheritance, which is applied toward our redemption as God’s own people, resulting in the honor of God’s glory.

So you could call the indwelling Spirit of God Jesus’ engagement ring – a very real promissory note whose presence we are meant to sense intimately and enjoy.

But knowing that we humans NEED tangible concrete reminders, Jesus instructed His Bride (us, the Church) to reenact often the engagement ceremony.   Re-reading the account of His vows would be a start, but incomplete.  Jesus put into place a practice of sharing a scaled-down version of the original covenant meal, meant to be enjoyed with re-awakened awe among fellow members of Jesus’ Bride.

Each time we eat and drink tokens from that historic and singular Covenant, we recall what Jesus performed FOR US in order to ‘win’ our hand. A few of those ‘challenges’ He embraced ‘for the joy set before Him’ (Hebrews 12:2)included these deeds:

  • He temporarily emptied Himself of His divine status and privileges and happy community
  • He accepted the weaknesses and degradations of Hebrew poverty under cruel Roman rule
  • He endured hateful and murderous scorn from family, neighbors, church leaders
  • He suffered abuse and murder due to false charges
  • He showed the entire Creation a righteous life, down to the last jot and tittle of the Law’s requirements.  He even exercised complete patience and strength to withstand every temptation Satan could throw at Him.
  • He took on to His perfect body and life all the sins of His Bride and paid off the debt she had accrued.

The New Covenant ceremony Jesus enacted was His announcement of His coming marriage to US!!!! And until the wedding date, He promised a Helper who would be the deposit guaranteeing this promised union and subsequent inheritance.  During the Covenant Supper He described the home He was going off to make ready for His Bride. And He told His Bride not only to ponder the reality of her new status as legally betrothed bride, but also to cash in the promises and call on her bridegroom’s Father who would now be her Father, too!

Can you catch a glimpse of the rich layers of this Covenant Reenactment and how much we need it?  

I frequently forget that you and I are legally engaged to Jesus.  With rights and privileges that make a difference in this life.  And although our Bridegroom has gone ahead to make our home ready, He has not left us alone.  He has given the Church His best friend who is His stand-in until He comes for us.  This supernatural Helper is the same as Jesus; only He is inside of each born-from-above believer, whereas Jesus in His resurrected flesh is with the Father. For the time being!

Ann Voskamp’s lavish unpacking of ‘Communion’ has made me very glad that our church holds to a regular reenactment of the engagement covenant.  I easily forget.  

Thank you, Jesus, that You have commanded that we DO this to remember You.

I’m a Friday person with my eye on Sunday

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I recently changed my ‘business card’.  For God has been weaning me from my dependence on merit badges or self-promoting tag lines. For years I felt the need to trumpet how great I am because I do XYZ. In my case – I teach French and many people have ‘oohed and aaahed’ appropriately upon learning that.

In the stripping away or burnishing off the tarnish, I have gone to a simple card that communicates my name, email, blog links and one verse.

Selecting just one God truth or promise as representative of what I believe challenged me.  I settled on:

  • sorrowful, yet always rejoicing from 2 Cor 6:10

Christians and non-believers look at life through different lenses – either via God and His good sovereign control over every molecule or via the haphazard, random circumstances of life.  This divide even extends to how we view the days of the week.

‘Worldlings’** or non-Christians live in the fog of Monday, but live for foggy Friday, which the world sells as the best day of the week.

Christians live in the Friday of this world (remembering the Cross) – that is they acknowledge that life on earth before Jesus returns is primarily one of suffering and sin, punctuated by joy and glimpses of beauty and goodness all the while bounded by God’s grace.

But Christians live for Sunday. For a restored and resurrected, categorically new and different heaven and earth.

Why am I writing about such heavy matters one week into the New Year?  For one, I am a happy realist.  The Bible has made me that way.  I’m learning, slowly, that through the school of neediness and suffering, our good Father blesses me.  In a recent broadcast (26 Dec 2016) Joni Eareckson Tada mentioned that very truth, a truth universal to Christians who rely on a Biblical lens to make sense of life. She explained Jesus’ challenge to His followers….

  • ….whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  Matthew 16:24 

….as an invitation to know Him through suffering.  That’s it in a nutshell:  the only path to know the 2nd person of our Triune God in an intimate, satisfying, joy-producing way is to walk yoked with Him in what has been named the Via Dolorosa, or ‘Pain Street’.

But our pain is NOT meaningless pain.  God’s directed hardships have many purposes. I give thanks for how they keep me desperate for Him.

I’m slowly learning the futility of trying to duck or avoid His purposeful pain.  I’m acquiescing to the fact that it’s easier, safer and quicker to cling gratefully to Jesus.

If you dipped into my blog posts from 2016 I think you’ll notice that I am growing to embrace this truth:

  • My neediness is God’s best gift to me.

Unable to handle life on my own (and willing to proclaim that truth to anyone who cared to listen) has taught me to call constantly on God.  And He always comes through.  This inability to live independently of my Heavenly Dad also keeps me glued to what He has to say to me in His inspired Word. I HAVE to meet with Him each morning, just like I HAVE to eat.

So ‘clingy’ to Jesus have I now grown, that wanting to advertise THAT central fact about Maria is what I want people to know about me.  In this area, I rejoice to see some progress, growing more like my Uncle Paul.

  • As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Galatians 6:14

 

**worldling

noun

1. a person who is primarily concerned with worldly matters or material things
Modern Language Association (MLA):
“worldling”. Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 28 Dec. 2016. <Dictionary.com http://www.dictionary.com/browse/worldling>.

Clothes make the man?

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Barbie

1 Peter 3:3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.

rather….1 Peter 3:4 You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God.

Our granddaughters visited this past week, eager to open the toy/book closet and bring out our one and only Barbie.  Thinking about her and the many outfits Mattel has launched over the years caused me to reflect about inherent versus infused versus imputed righteousness.

Since the Fall our essence is no longer inherently righteous;in other words, righteousness is not part of our nature. But some people try to dress themselves, like Barbie, in good works, thereby APPEARING righteous.  Then there are those who believe that the righteousness obtained by Christ’s death on the cross and His perfect obedience can be infused in us, thereby altering our nature. But that is not what the Bible teaches. In fact the 16th century reformers emphasized the historic, original biblical teaching that our righteousness  is by faith alone, through grace alone because of Christ’s work alone.

Since this reckoning or crediting of justification comes from Christ, it is an ‘alien’ righteousness, from outside of us. It’s more akin to an outfit that Barbie’s owner dresses her in.  Just as the doll’s garments cover her, so too Christ’s works cover us. It’s a false conclusion to think then, that ‘as are the clothes, then so too are we‘.  The clothes don’t make the man or woman, they COVER us.  Similarly, Christ’s righteousness cancels our sin in God’s books.

Even with the Barbie example in our minds, we can still be self-righteous and be unaware. Pleasure in any of ‘my’ obedience or good works weakens me so I succumb to pride and all of Satan’s other ploys.

As protection, I try to remember to ask the Holy Spirit to remind me of ‘the truth’.  Daily I mentally don the kind of apparel that my heavenly Father prefers, what Peter teaches:

  • a quiet and complete trust in God that eliminates all fear despite desperate circumstances.
  • spiritual armor that both protects and strengthens my faith, my most valuable God-given gift
  • my attitude towards us, specifically dressing myself as per Paul’s instructions: Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Col 3:12

The question that puts me in my place, as a dependent creature is this:

Maria, what are you trusting in this day to guarantee your salvation and eternal life with the happy, holy Triune God ?

Be awed and encouraged by God’s plan for marriage

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I just listened to John Piper’s sermon (the 3rd in a series) about God’s view of marriage.  This will enlarge your vision of marriage and inspire you, whether you are single, thriving in your marriage or struggling. You can listen or read at this link.

Link to website for sermon

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Valentine's Day

 

Not wearing that letter “A” any more!

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Scarlet Letter

James 4: 4 You adulterers!  Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? 

 

What a relief!  To come clean and admit that you have betrayed the one who loves you best.  With the ‘worst’ out in the open, there is nothing more to hide.  And in that public knowledge lives freedom.

But do we wear our branding of ‘unfaithful to God’ or do we cover it up, disguise it by good works, competence, religious behavior, helpfulness or talent?

Last week I was wrestling with the wrong kind of fear, the dread of others thinking poorly of me or less of me. But as I let God’s Word guide me in distinguishing fear of man from that ‘AWE-full’ thrilling though cautious respect of God, I found safety again and open spaces.

This week William Gurnall, my current 17th century author of choice, has given me a renewed appreciation for my God-given clothing.

His most famous book is a compilation of sermons he delivered teaching his flock about the reality of warfare in this life and the spiritual tools we are to use to be both safe AND useful as redeemed children of the Father.

500 Old Cabin Cove taken from Blue Ridge Pkwy

So each morning, as I tread up and down the gravel road in our cove, I pray for God’s help to pull together all the scattered thoughts of the previous day and submit them to God.  I mentally and almost physically tighten that first piece of spiritual clothing Paul describes in his exhortation to the Christians at Ephesus:  the belt of truth.

Belt of truth

Which truth? – the truth about who Jesus is and who I am since He bought and freed me.  What others might consider an accessory today is what literally holds us together.  Without that boundary line separating truth from confusion, we come apart.  So tighten your belt, friends!

Next I ready my feet, not with my own planned-out, agenda-bound shoes.  I don God’s sandals that are directed at bringing to those I encounter this day the counter-intuitive message of ‘How to find peace with God’.

Shoes of peace

Everyone is seeking it, though many don’t know that ‘being right’ with the God of the Universe is their biggest need.  But I have to remind myself before I leave the Cove for school that I’m not off to fulfill my plans, but God’s.  After all, I do work for Him.

Since I can’t face the world just with my belt and my shoes on, what is my basic uniform for the day? Certainly not that Scarlet letter of Shame: the Father has replaced that temporary tattoo with a permanent Blood-Stained R for Jesus’ righteousness.

Letter R

What the Romans wore as effective protection for the heart and other organs, God calls our breastplate.  It’s both armor AND an advertisement to the spiritual world of whose we are.  So front and center stamped permanently on me is Jesus’ earned and validated righteousness.

To round off  my equipment, I gather my helmet to protect and SAVE my mind from misleading thoughts and grip my shield to block the doubts and fears and what-ifs that are aimed straight at my heart and head and eyes that day.

By now my morning sweat and lactic acid producing walk accompanied by this mental spiritual dressing has brought me back up to our cabin.  I thankfully pour some coffee, fix a quick breakfast and sit down to sharpen my sword for the day. You know the only offensive weapon our Father gives us is the ensemble of truths and promises written down in the Bible.  I am so thankful for the time to fill up my mind with powerful fuel for the day.  Funny how all those insights that held me firm yesterday have drained away.   But why is that so strange?  After all, we take in physical food several times a day and expect it to tide us over only a few hours. Why should spiritual nourishment be any different?

So I eat with gusto and head out for the day.  Another page in the life of a thankful ambassador reporting for duty to her rebel outpost in that dark place called the World.

Question:  How have you personalized one or more of the pieces of spiritual armor?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wanting to be admired

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  MeVoilà my favorite topic – me! 

 

I’ve grown increasingly aware via my lived-out experiences as well as through reading Christian authors of this unpleasant fact: the more we grow in our knowledge of God and His standards of holiness, the more we realize how far short we fall.

 (Thank the good Lord that our salvation does NOT depend on meeting the bar, but on what Jesus did on our behalf!) 

So when the desire rises in me to boast, in a fake nonchalant way about myself or my kids, I have to pray to resist this pathetic urge.  For that is what it is – sick self-aggrandizement!

Why should I brag about how XYZ I am as though it is a true representation of my value?  Because it’s NOT who I really am.  Yes, I feel a momentary rush as I bask in my own self-proclaimed glory, whether you admire me or not.  But here’s the rub: it’s not the total picture of who I am.

Imposter Syndrom

To be honest, if you knew all those thoughts and feelings and actions that I keep from you, you’d laugh to think that I, Maria, even thought highly of herself for one moment.

 

 

 

 

So there we were last night enjoying supper with some friends on our deck overlooking God’s splendor.

Early Morning Mist at Gilead House - 14 June

And I was aware of wanting them to be impressed with how well I cooked as well as how smart, hardworking, well-read and fit I was.  And at the same time, I knew that to drop hints of my fake-veiled glory was to steal glory form the One who alone deserves to be magnified – Jesus Christ.  I even prayed about my tendency ahead of time, knowing that it would far better to do otherwise.  Admiring Jesus could be potentially life-giving to them and it certainly would satisfy me more deeply.

I think God allowed me to fall again into this sin and then have the opportunity in church today to repent and long to kill that instinct through His grace – aka HS power.  These 2 verses describe the Maria I want to be:

Psalm 34 – 2 to 3

My life makes its boast in the Lord; let the humble and afflicted hear and be glad.

O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.

 

If you’re going to dwell on something….

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If you’re anything like me, you might get caught up in ‘do-loops’ from time to time.  That’s when you can’t stop thinking about a problem or difficult situation and you go ’round and ’round, without getting anywhere.

Fast Merry Go Rounds on a playground

 

 

 

I have let myself get mired down in a situation like that – even though I have a teaching contract for next year, I keep thinking about other job possibilities.  The problem is – no doors have opened and few suitable situations loom – at least THAT I CAN SEE!

But what happens when you think about a problem?  You FEEL weighted down and depressed.  Joyce Meyer, a popular Christian speaker, has some advice:

Stop Thinking about a problem

 

 

 

 

 

But does that go far enough?  No!  If we don’t replace the now-forbidden topic with something else to think about, we’ll just go back to worrying about the same old problem!

The solution is to fix our gaze (our mind’s eye) on something else beside the problem.  This is what the Hebrew people experienced early in their desert wanderings with Moses.  In Numbers 21 the Jews complained about the food and water situation.  That was their problem.  And in their bitter recriminations –  a blatant slap in the face to God who had sprung them from Egyptian slavery, they looked at their lacks.

So God sent a worse problem – lethal biting snakes and many died.  But along with this punishment, God provided a way out for those who would alter the direction of their gaze.  Moses was instructed to cast a snake replica and fix it on top of a pole and hold it up.  Those who TRUSTED God’s instructions did what they were bidden, looked up at something other than their circumstances and were healed.

Moses and serpent on a pole

  •  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.  Numbers 21: 7 to 9

 

So, too, with us – if we want healing, we have to think about something else.

This account in Numbers is actually a picture of the Gospel in the Old Testament.  Just like those ‘wandering Jews’, we 21st century men and women are also practiced complainers against God.  And because of this inexcusable disobedience against our Maker, we are headed toward everlasting death.  But God has sent a remedy.  If we look up at Jesus and forsake our own attempts to save ourselves,  we can be healed.  The Son of God took the punishment we deserved by submitting to death on a cross.  His murder and resurrection produced 2 gifts for us:

One……

  • His death is both proof that the Father deemed the payment for OUR sins sufficient
  • Our trust in that ‘fait accompli’ means the payment applies to us

Two….

  • His resurrection to new life is proof that we too will also be raised
  • Our first-step trust** means we are now included IN Christ and are guaranteed to be raised to the New Heavens as well

(**Jesus’ death in our place only counts for us if we TRUST what God says about our dire condition and His Son’s work FOR us and if we STOP trying to save ourselves through what WE do)

Given all that (and that’s a lot), Paul tells us how to live in this sorrow-filled world:

  1. Rejoice in what the triune God (Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit) has done for you
  2. Give God all your problems
  3. Don’t think any more about those problems but INSTEAD about what is…true, noble, right and just, pure, lovely, acceptable, excellent and praiseworthy

The bottom line is this:  We become what we behold.

Become what you behold

Who wants to look like one of his or her problems!!!!

 

Feeding on the Mere Gospel

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Three times and you’ve got my attention!

In the past month, I’ve heard 3 different people explain how the Gospel of Santa Claus is bad news.  It’s “works righteousness” – a merit system.

  • You have to be earn your presents
  • He’s watching you all the time to catch you being naughty or nice
  • You never know if you’ve been ‘good-enough’
  • Santa assumes that you actually have the power to be good, which is highly debatable
  • He only visits once a year and you don’t even get to see him, or be with him.
  • The gifts you receive aren’t long-lasting

But the Good News for Christians is different:

  • We can know why we exist – the Happy and GOOD God-head of Father, Son and Spirit chose to create man, to partake in the divine joy
  • God keeps reminding us that we can’t earn our standing with Him.  There’s nothing to do but receive
  • Despite our bent to being rebels and our desire to replace God with ourselves as # 1,  God put into place a plan to save us
  • God himself chose to be as one of us, to identify more closely with our humanity
  • Jesus absorbed God’s wrath directed at us, so we don’t have to go to Hell
  • Jesus’ every righteous obedient thought and deed go into our ledger and result in a perfect score

(the answer is Yes!  – but not our own – they aren’t good enough to save us!)

So why do we choose the Santa Myth?

  • It’s easier, we think.  We get to be in control.
  • We really don’t want someone hanging around 24/7 reminding us of our deeds.
  • Legalism comes naturally.

What are the implications of these contradictory world views?

Two come to mind:

  • We have to drink in the Good News often.  That is – re-tell ourselves daily and even hourly, the Gospel truths.  Old Man thinking has us in a rut.  So as many counsel – Don’t listen to yourself; talk to yourself!  If you listen to your natural man’s running commentary, you’ll end up depressed and depressing to others.  You’ll be inclined to grumble and feel sorry for yourself.  And you’ll convince yourself that you’re just being realistic.
  • New thought for me (Thank you, John Piper)  – not only do we get forgiveness and reconciliation with God based on what Jesus has done, but something else.  His death on the cross purchased for us – ALL the promises in the Bible.   2 Cor 1:20 states –For as many as are the promises of God, in Him (Christ)  they are yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us.

So, next time you’re feeling worried, anxious, depressed, powerless, stuck, frazzled, frightened or bored, remind yourself that those states don’t have to be permanent.  Jesus died so that you COULD enjoy joy, peace, love, power and gratitude.

Question:  What Gospel Truth do you need to hear each day?  What’s your go-to Promise?

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