Why do we dread events?

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Deut 7:21 – You shall not be in dread of them, for the Lord your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God.

  • The doctor’s appointment
  • The confrontation
  • The all-important exam or presentation
  • The looming busy week with one event after another
  • Going to bed and the potential of another sleepless night

I sometimes find myself dreading what is next in the week or in my day.  Why is that?

I’ve been chewing on this for a while.  The days when not a single dread-laden happening threatens are days I anticipate with relief. As if I could predict the future?

I seem to gravitate toward this illusion of ease because I prefer to cruise on neutral.

The truth is, my idols are comfort and success.  We all know that the nature of idols is that they take the place of God.

Hebrews 13: 5b to 6 – …..be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” 6 So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

If God is ALL THE TIME with me, and I value His presence more than anything else, then comfort, time, success, money, work, country, family, friends, health – all those arenas in which the tides move in and out, don’t matter as much as what I already have.  Him.

And the other feature of dread (or happy neutrality) is the baseless assumption that I know what is going to happen in my day!  I am  not omniscient.  Thank you, Father!  For what I might fear, why do I act as though God has not already planned and stockpiled mercies and provisioning grace?

thermometer   Maybe dread is actually a helpful alarm or indicator that I’m worshipping a false God.  That I’m loving and treasuring something MORE than the God.

Paul prays for believers in Colosse that they will GROW in the knowledge of the true God.

Col 1:9-11   For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.

Who is this true and living God?  Only the One who left perfect fellowship to live in a human body and experience my pain.  Only the One who chose to live and die FOR me so I could experience and enjoy intimate fellowship with the most loving and happy triune personal God. When I talk myself into how bad something might be, I am blind to this God.  That’s why I need to preach Gospel truth to myself daily.

Know your heart AND your bowels!

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Proverbs 3:5  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding

Good life advice for Christians, right?

But wouldn’t you think the inspired author of Proverbs would have called us to trust with our mind or our will instead of our heart?  After all, don’t we decide matters rationally?

Hebrew heart language is NOT an anomaly.  Here’s another verse from the Old Testament:

Proverbs 4:23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Looks like the Bible is again telling us that our actions stem from what’s in our heart.

Here’s advice from Moses that reinforces that point:

“The word is very near you,says Moses to a rescued Israel, “in your mouth and in your heart (from Deut 30:14)

My husband and I have a running friendly disagreement.  I say that feelings flow from thoughts. And he maintains that feelings surge up unbidden with no connection to thoughts. He maintains that he has little control over those very strong emotions that seem to take over in extreme situations like:

  • being blocked unfairly, whether in the car or in a conversation
  • being accused of having let someone down with that wrench to the gut and tell-tale invasion of red flush across the face

The Hebrews AND the Greeks did recognize and identify the source of THOSE powerful emotions.  They sprang from the gut or the bowels!

Lamentations 1:20 refers to this organ as the origin of the strongest feelings – no rational thinking or deciding going on here!  Look, O LORD, for I am in distress; my stomach churns; my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword bereaves; in the house it is like death.

What about the New Testament?  Jesus gives us a vivid example of deep anger arising from within.  Do you remember when he and his disciples journeyed to Lazarus’ house? Before they even reach the house, sister Martha meets him and dialogues rationally with a calm Jesus.  Martha slips back in the house and notifies her sister Mary who runs out to see Jesus. Mary’s weeping when she meets him triggers a responsive emotional echo in the Son of God that is other than rational.  Jesus allows Mary to lead him to Lazarus’ burial site accompanied by a growing crowd.  John 11:33 – When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled,

That groaning is the same gut feeling that wells up unprompted by rational thought or beliefs.  I’ve heard pastors explain that Jesus practically snorted like a horse, so indignant at death was he.  Rationally Jesus understands the cessation of earthly life, but his physical reaction is beyond thinking and feeling.  It’s in a different category.

Why does this matter, this distinction between gut feelings/bowels and the heart?

It turns out that my husband and I ARE both correct in how we evaluate feelings.  There are those that well up from our depths over which we seem to exercise little control.  More often, though, we deal with the ‘ordinary’ and frequent feelings that flow from our thoughts and beliefs.

And because ordinary feelings spring from what Bible language terms, ‘the heart’, then we CAN learn to change them and that is GOOD NEWS!

Not only CAN we replace and rework the content, we must!  God emphasizes the heart and commands us to control this mind/thought/feeling/-deciding organ.   Garbage in , Garbage out goes the prosaic adage. When we DO filter the content of thought and ideas , our heart changes.

Since having recently recognized that the Bible tends to look at the heart more as the thinking organ of will and choice, I see this distinction all 0ver the Bible!  And I am helped.  Before, I had concluded that I had little chance to fight worry, fear or anxiety, but now I know that I CAN, due solely to the Holy Spirit in me.

God, through Paul writing in Romans 12:2b exhorts us…..continuously be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you may be able to determine what God’s will is—what is proper, pleasing, and perfect.

My current ‘go-to’ steadying truth these days seems to be:

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about (at fearful circumstances, either real or potential) for I am your God!  I will strengthen you; Surely I will help you; Surely I will hold you up with my victorious and righteous right hand! Isaiah 41:10 (Amp)

With practice (like in any other skill) I am learning both to desire and to obey my Dad’s commands.  I want to please Him!

More details about the Bible’s understanding of ‘the heart’


What do you want for your kids – Happiness or Holiness?


Scales - balance

For years I was a ‘normal parent’, that is I would echo the other moms in my peer group at school: “I just want my kid to be happy!” Happy in what, about what?  Happy at school, happy with their friends (that they HAVE a friend!) happy with their teachers, with their sports or music activities, happy with our family.  I was an insecure mom!

Then I started to grow in my Christian convictions and practices as I was “being transformed by the renewing of my (your) mind.” Romans 12:2.  

I changed sides to the “I just want my kid to be holy!” I felt smug and in the know. In my mind I diminished the moms who cared only that their child was ‘happy’.  How shallow and worldly, I would remark to myself.

Recently I’ve had my beliefs changed for the better by Randy Alcorn’s book, Happiness

Happiness by Randy Alcorn

Having re-discovered the abundance of scripture verses that command and describe happiness in God, his actions and his creation I am convinced that there is NO conflict between happiness and holiness.

We were wired BY GOD himself to be happy in him and to be dissatisfied with anything less.  How ‘novel’, to find out that God is not against us being happy.  Not only is God a happy God, he in fact both commends happiness and joy AND commands it:

  • Happy are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will tread on their heights – Deut 33:29
  • Happy are the pure in heart, for they shall see God – Matt 5:8
  • Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!  Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!   See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. Zechariah 9:9
  •  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Phil 4:4

Having considered happiness, what about holiness?  I know I don’t need to articulate any texts, but what I do want to do is show the connection between holiness and happiness.

Take a look at Deuteronomy 6:18 – And you shall do that which is right and good in the sight of the LORD: that it may be well with you,…..

I first read this verse in French and was startled – ‘be well with you’ in French was rendered ‘happy or heureux’.  Intrigued, I looked up the Hebrew translation and found out that YATAB (Strongs # 3190) lists as a primary translation – to be joyful or happy.

I think it’s safe to claim that ‘do that which is right and good in God’s sight’ is equivalent to ‘do holiness (or be holy)’.

I’m beginning to see how when we OBEY God (exercising holiness), we are happy!

Sometimes favorable circumstances ALSO accompany this ‘happiness’ but not necessarily.

This discovery greatly encourages me.  Not only does God COMMAND me to be holy, He also COMMANDS me to be happy.  And the way to be happy in God’s kingdom corresponds to how He has wired us.  We are happy when we are holy.  No conflict there!

So in light of this insight, were I to be raising children again, I would teach: Be happy by being holy!



Suffering – a daily reality

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“Expect suffering every day”   – so says Tullian Tchividjian in his book Glorious Ruin – How Suffering Makes You Free.

Just that concept, that suffering is part of daily life, is liberating.   I have spent too much energy trying to ward off suffering, rather than relaxing in the knowledge that Jesus is with me in my daily trials.

Maybe you share some of these false ideas that I have entertained:

  • if my suffering isn’t as bad as starving children, persecuted Christians, languishing prisoners, tsunami-victims, cancer patients, then it doesn’t count
  • if I pray effectively enough, I can block or mitigate the suffering in the lives of those whom I love
  • suffering is to be avoided
  • if I’m suffering, then God is either absent, doesn’t care, can’t do anything or  just is not good

As I have written before, I wouldn’t have chosen or planned ANY of the suffering in my life, but I do see the blessings that have come to me from

  • eating disorders
  • anxiety issues
  • marriage problems
  • money crises
  • perplexing parenting decisions and situations
  • fears of POOR parenting
  • inadequacies I have seen and still see in myself
  • consequences of bad decisions
  • relational pain that I have caused friends and family members because of my sin
  • spiritual ups & downs
  • being fired once
  • receiving a poor performance review at a former school
  • pets and parents who have aged and died
  • lost dreams

And so now, in the present moment, as I currently suffer with

  • a dying cat
  • a rough start in a new school
  • a tighter budget
  • doubts about my abilities in all my roles with others

…….I remind myself that just as there were past blessings that flourished in the soil of suffering,  God has good (what the Hebrews call TOV) planned for me that will be revealed in the current pain.  Therefore,  I strengthen myself in the Lord with His promises of present help and future grace.  Here are just 4 of many, many great proclamations from our loving and all-wise Father:

  • Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10) 
  • No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly (Psalm 84:11b) 
  • Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1: 2-4)
  • Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of _______(whatever the circumstance) _______ for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deut 31:6)

What promises of God are YOU clinging to?

Love rolls downhill

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“Love me, love my dog!” were words we often heard when we would have dinner with my dad.  He had 2 spoiled poodles that he adored.  And that love was definitely requited!

It seems to me that God, the Father exhorts us likewise:  “If you love me, then you’ll love my Son!”

I’ve been reading a book about the Trinity.

And already, having enjoyed my way through the introduction and into Chapter 1, I’m hooked!  Michael Reeves asserts straight away that a primary characteristic of God is His Fatherhood.  He’s always been Father. And for Him to BE Father requires God the Son to have eternally existed as well.

We know that for God to BE God means that He doesn’t change.  What follows then is this:  He couldn’t have been single God who created the Son, thus adding ‘Father’ to His résumé.  God as Father and God as Son have co-existed since eternity.  (I won’t expand this discussion today by delving into God the Holy Spirit)

Of course I pray most often to God as Father. Furthermore I know that the Bible is replete with references to God as Father.  Yet, I’m seeing divine Fatherhood in a wholly/holy different light.  I’m noticing how often God is really called Father in both the Old and the New Testament. Although more developed in the NT, the Fatherhood of God is nonetheless THERE – for example:

          “The LORD your God who goes before you will Himself fight on your behalf, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as a man carries his son, in all the way which you have walked until you came to this place.” (Deuteronomy 1:30-31)

          “But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.” (Isaiah 64:8)

So….you say, what’s new about that? Just that, Father-love is different than love between equals.  Hear me out…I’ll try not to be heretical or introduce the idea that God the Father and God the Son are not one.  They ARE one and they DO exhibit the same essence and same nature, BUT…their roles are different.

·         The Father loves the Son and the Son delights to obey the Father. But it doesn’t stop there.

·         The Son loves the Church and the Church is called to lovingly submit to/obey the Son.

·          Husbands love their wives and wives are called to delight in respectfully and lovingly helping (and submitting when necessary) their husbands.

·          Moms love their children and children are to respectfully and lovingly help and submit to their moms. (Dads are to train their kids)

·         Humans love their animals and their animals, if well trained, will devotedly and joyfully follow their masters.

In other words, love flows downhill.

I used to feel guilty because I sensed that I loved people unequally.  For example – I always knew my mom loved me with an intensity that I didn’t reciprocate. Yet when I became a parent, I understood that kind of love.  I think Mike and I love each other differently, too.  And we definitely love our cats MORE than they love us. (Think about our fears as our pets age!)

What does the fact that God loves us more and differently do for our security? (Take as a given that His love for us is qualitatively/quantitatively beyond our capacity to imagine.) For one thing, it lifts the guilt I have always felt?  And I feel more reassured and secure that God’s love won’t ever depart from me.  He can’t NOT love me;  it’s His nature to love His children.

I’ll leave you with this question– How do you see love between friends?

 PS:  I’ve just started a blog entitled about Logic for the ordinary person – in it I discuss in bite-sized measures what I have learned from teaching formal and informal logic to young teens.   Surprised by Logic


It’s God who sends the trials

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“Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you” Psalm 55:22a

If God is sovereign over all of life, then all things come from or through Him.  Our trials are included in these ‘all things’.  This knowledge comforts me. Horrifying would be the thought that life is random, that I am exposed and subject to cosmic, cold, uncaring CHANCE!

But no, trials (‘peirasmos’ in Greek) are ‘any adversity, affliction or sorrow which God brings His people through in order to encourage and prove their faith and confidence in Him’ (my NASB study Bible notes).

Since all my trials are from God, I can draw several conclusions. (Let me offer two of my more ordinary, but painful recent experiences):

  • Last week God allowed/authorized my ailing cat and my broken computer.
  • God has two goals for my life:  His glory and my transformation into the image of my older brother Jesus (if I am a Christian).
  • Since He plans trials, He knows the end and has prepared resources that I will need.  I call these pre-positioned stockpiles of grace.
  • There is nothing to fear if everything good & bad comes from God.
  • (I had to remind myself of the above point when I read about 3 local traffic deaths/serious accidents in the local paper).
  • Since chance and luck and randomness don’t exist, there is nothing to fear or to hastily maneuver away from.

These trials are the ever-changing variables of daily life.  They never end.  The circumstances just vary.  Why isn’t life free of trouble? Two reasons are given to us and God conceals the others.  One, we live in a world marred by the Fall. Two, troubles are used by God to grow our faith which is ‘more precious than gold or silver’.

But take heart. Trials are just the ‘light and momentary’ afflicting variables.  They pale in comparison with the unmovable big things.  Let me summarize these sturdy pillars.  I’ve organized them into blessed words that begin with the letter P.

These P-words jumped out at me as I was meditating on the seamlessness of the Bible.  The Old Testament presents us with many promises of God’s PRESENCE and PROTECTION and His ‘all-mighty’ POWER.  The psalms are rich with these kinds of verses.  Psalm 46 talks about God being a very PRESENT help in time of trouble.  Psalm 146 focuses in on the POWER of almighty God who is head of the angel armies.  And the man or woman who has the present PROTECTION of the God of Jacob and the hope of El-Shaddai (God Almighty) is blessed, that is happy and blissful (‘asher’ in Hebrew).

Now couple those promises with rest of the story in the New Testament and we get the PRIZE and the PURPOSE.  If you are a Christian, the greatest inheritance you have is summarized in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (and remember, this is not the “I–wish-it-were-so-hope”, but the “sure-rock-solid-it’s- going-to-come-to-pass” expectation. You can take it to the bank!)

So I look at these 5 P-words (Presence, Protection, Power, Prize and Purpose) as forming the frame work of our life here on Earth.  They do not change, for they are based on God who does not change.  All that changes are the new and passing trials that come and go based on God’s good plans for our eternal nature.

Do I like trials?  NO!!! Do I fear them?  Yes, and that is why I have to continually re-orient my thinking to line up with God’s word.  I get out of kilter and my feelings follow my thoughts.  But thanks be to God who has given us His precious Word.  So eat up, feed on His promises, and not just once a day. If you are like me, you eat some kind of food 3-4 times a day.  It’s just as reasonable to think that we need spiritual food as often.  Both the Old and New Testaments remind us that ‘man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’.   Bon appétit!

The sin of fear and how to fight it

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A young Christian woman I met confided that she had recently lost a baby at 28 weeks and that was after 2 previous miscarriages.  She asked that I pray for God’s help in dealing with her persistent fear that she might lose other precious members of her family:  her 3 yr old daughter or her husband.  My heart lurched when I read her email.  What pain! Imagining what she might be going through made my heart sink.  I could well understand her fear, her drawing back and throwing herself in front of her husband and daughter as a brave ‘warrioress’, shouting:  “No further, Angel of Death!”

John Piper gave a talk at a recent Passion weekend to college students about why we should memorize scripture.  He reminded the audience that the Sword of the Spirit, i.e. God’s Word, is the ONLY offensive weapon we have.  He said that when we talk, announce, declare, shout out God’s promises which are ‘alive and full of power’ (Hebr 4:12) we wage active war against our sin.  And the first sin he mentioned was FEAR.

Fear and its cousin, anxiety, are ever-present enemies.  They are sins because they replace our trust in God.  John Piper who has battled depression and fear throughout his life has a useful acronym.  I shared it with the grieving mom and thought it would help all of us.  It is:  A-P-T-A-T

A – admit you have a need and are helpless, whether it is worry, lack of wisdom, money problems, ANYTHING that you can articulate. Spell out the problem.

P – pray and ask for help from God (remember that we have not because we ask notJames 4:20)

T – trust God that He will provide.  Pick a particular promise and make that your friend.  I googled ‘verses to fight fear’ and found a whole list. Here’s a good one from Deuteronomy 31:6   Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them (i.e. fearful, anxious thoughts); for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”   When the fear thought pops in to your mind, you can say, “No!! I will not fear.  I WILL be strong and courageous for God is my Lord; He is THE ONE who goes with me.  He will not leave me or forsake me….and…(you can add other truths like – He is Jehovah Sabaoth – Lord of the angel armies)

A – act and do what you have to do, counting on the Holy Spirit to be with you and provide what He has promised.  We have to move out despite the fear.

T – thank God for what He IS doing and has done to slay that sin.

And I would add an RAPTAT and Re-APTAT…as in, when we succumb to the sin of fear, anxiety, lust, idolatry, self-centeredness (and the list goes on…) that we REPENT and start again.  Even if we have to use this tool multiple times a day, it doesn’t matter.  There is ‘NO (SHAME or) CONDEMNATION for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).  It’s pure pride to give up and say, “That’s just the way I am, I am a worrier, I am a fearful person, I cannot overcome this sin of ______!”

Let’s put on our boxing gloves, and fight the good fight of faith, using the ONE weapon God has given us, His Holy Word.

If you want to hear the talk by John Piper on God’s word as a weapon and the power of memorizing scripture, here’s the link:

John Piper’s talk


Daily C-Rations and Getting the CAR in gear – a metaphor

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I like to simplify doctrine down to mnemonic devices I can easily recall.

The other day I was thinking about what I need to remember, to feed on each morning to reorient myself for the day.  There is something perverse about a night’s sleep.  I tend to lose a correct theology somewhere in the wee hours of the night. I can go to bed being thankful to God and conscious of Him and then wake up in the morning a ‘worldling’ again, living as a functional atheist.  So each morning, I have to RECALL deliberately what is true about God and about me.

The other day, as I was walking and reflecting about how to be more automatic in God-thoughts, the picture of C-rations sprang to mind.  These days, the prepared meals for an Army in the field are called something else, but you know what I mean. I thought about how a soldier might draw his daily C-rats, enough calories and nutrition to provide him with energy for his 24 hour duty period.  Jacob prayed for spiritual C-Rats for his son Asher:

As your days — so shall your strength be.” Deuteronomy 33:26

Being consistent with Moses, I imagined what spiritual C-rations we should draw.  For fun, I came up with lots of C-words to illustrate God’s gifts.  As I ran through some of these God-given daily provisions, I was reminded of what Paul says.

The apostle emphasizes in his letter to the Ephesians that we have been given every spiritual blessing in Christ.  What are some of these daily spiritual ‘C-rats’ issued to us and available for our sustenance?   As His covenantal children, we are entitled to help ourselves to gifts such as Charity, Compassion, Courage, Character, Control over self, Companionship of Christ….you get the idea…think of your own C words.  What is key is that God provides what we will need for the trials and tasks of the day, not more, not less, but just what is necessary.  (Remember how the Hebrews tried to stash some away, “just in case”, but it rotted?)

But life is more than drawing food or getting equipped for the day.  As I was ruminating about my C-rats plan, it dawned on me that there were some daily actions I could embark on first thing in the morning and then with God’s help sustain.  I came up with three and they too begin with the letter C J.  Here’s an acronym – CAR.  C stands for CASTING all my CARES on Jesus, not only as an act of humility (so Peter exhorts us) but also so I don’t have to carry them around.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due     time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Pet 5: 6-7

If I heave them onto Jesus, He can handle them, fix them, and imbue them with grace.

The A stands for ABIDE.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  John 15: 4-5

Now I must admit, the How-To of abiding is a challenge.  But I heard Andrée Seu (columnist from World magazine) give a simple tip on how to abide.  She recommends thanking God as a method for keeping one’s mind on Christ.  Now that makes sense.  If all of a sudden I ‘wake up’ and realize I haven’t been abiding in Christ, I can look around and thank Him for something right at hand.

Today, I caught myself not even aware of God while on a walk with my husband.  It was Mike’s birthday AND Memorial Day, so we were out enjoying a 5-mile wooded trail.  When I startled and it dawned on me that I wasn’t abiding in (i.e. thinking about) Christ, I looked at the textured bark on the trees and thanked God for His design and creativity (another C word!)   That one observation led to other delights and all of a sudden I was abiding.  My momentary appreciation and love for God grew.

What about guilt for the hours that had passed without thinking of God?  The 3rd letter of CAR reminds us that we get to REPENT each time we catch ourselves distracted about worldly concerns with no thought toward God.  I’m so grateful for the gift of frequent repentance:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Now applying the CAR metaphor a bit further, I imagine an engine with pistons that operates on a continuous 3 stroke cycle (we have to S-T-R-E-T-C-H the analogy a bit, I know! My husband has explained that cars have either 2 or 4 cycles).  I cast my cares on Christ, I abide in Him and when I FORGET about Him I come to my senses. Then I get to repent and thank Him for gently bringing me back to my senses. And so it goes.  The car engine won’t function unless the pistons are moving up and down.  Neither will I function well as a Christian unless I am continually Casting, Abiding, and Repenting.

So what’s the plan when you wake up tomorrow morning? We’ll draw our C-Rats for the day and put the CAR in gear.  Let me know what other C blessings make a difference in your day.

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