Power to obey Jesus

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What is the most difficult command God has given you? And how did you respond?

The other night, right before turning out the light, I read a brief devotion about Peter’s cry for help as he was sinking amidst the stormy waves. Jesus chastises him with question, “Why did you doubt?”

I’m thinking, ‘Hello, Jesus! it’s not every day an ordinary man tries to walk on water. Can’t you give him a break? Can’t you give him an attaboy for attempting to do something no one else has?

Curious to see what more might be in the text, I looked up the passage in my bedside-table Bible.

Matt 14: 28 – 32 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”  He said, Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.”  Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

Did you notice that Peter actually DID take some steps on the water without sinking?  How is that?  I think there are two conditions that he met:

– Jesus gave a command

–  Peter believed he could obey Jesus’ command

So, what happened?

Peter changed his belief.  At first he believed that just by the power of Jesus’ summons, he COULD do the beyond-ordinary feat. But all of a sudden, his fears and what he saw around him felt MORE real and true than Jesus’ word to him.

Let’s take Peter’s successful steps on top of the water and think more broadly. Does his experience mean that you and I CAN obey the commands God gives us? I think so. But the power is not in us. What I draw out of this scenario with Peter and Jesus is that:

  • Believers CAN obey (and are expected to obey their Lord)
  • But not without God’s power.

I’m reminded of Mike’s 2 favorite verses:

John 15:5 I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; APART FROM ME YOU CAN DO NOTHING.

Phil 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

Back to the other night. As I lay pondering these principles drawn from Peter’s experience, other commands came to mind:

  • Do not fear
  • Do not be anxious
  • Cast all your cares on me
  • Be holy
  • Love one another
  • Think about what is true, right, beautiful, praise-worthy, excellent etc

The list goes on and on. What’s new for me is the realization that we believers, grafted into Jesus, are not only expected to obey but we are to count on, depend on Jesus’s grace so that we CAN obey.

How does that help?

Practically, with my sinful default temptation of fearing the future and not trusting God!

The last couple of days each time I’ve been lured into sin, I’ve stopped and reminded myself of this FACT:  Maria, you CAN obey this command.  Not only CAN you, but Jesus expects you to given his promised grace. He provides the power and strength TO obey. No command of his goes out to the world without supernatural ability for believers to obey.

NEVER does our God envision us muscling through to obedience with our puny human strength.  That’s not only impossible, but absurd.  Rather, He expects us to rely on the fact that we are in union with Christ. We have access to His power. At least 80+ times the phrase ‘In Christ’ is written.  We are not alone.

So, brothers and sisters, be encouraged. And don’t forget that each time we disbelieve our Lord, we have been equipped to repent and receive immediate forgiveness. Obedience not only pleases our Holy, Triune God, it makes us happier.

 

 

Does God care about the little things?

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“Oh, He is too busy running the world to care about this little issue of mine!”

Have you ever been politely put off by someone pretending to be humble?

Here’s the Truth – our God LOVES to take care of ALL our issues, cares, problems, burdens.  “Cast ALL of your cares on Him, for He cares for you!”  1 Peter 5:7

I’ll tell you a story about one of those ‘little things’ that my Father took care of yesterday and the bigger take-away.

It’s almost Thanksgiving.  We’re living in a rental house with a small frig. Family arrive next week to share the holiday.  I had been fretting on my inability to do any food prep and baking ahead of time due to the size of our freezer section.  Mike to rescue! He seconded my suggestion about buying a chest freezer NOW (instead of waiting until we move into our new house).  Relief!

Home Depot here in Huntsville had a sale. The freezer fit in the back of the Subaru. Mike set it up and turned it on. Monday, I happily purchased the $40 frozen organic turkey, along with some wild-caught Sockeye on sale, also frozen.  Placed them and some bacon in the new freezer.

But the next morning after working out in the garage, Mike reported that the turkey felt soft when he checked it.  Oh, no!  It had been solid as a rock when I purchased it the day before.  My mind flashed to all the rigamarole it would cause us, especially Mike, to have to load the freezer in the car, take it BACK to Home Depot…..et cetera. And when would he have the time to do that?

By God’s grace, I knew immediately what to do:  I handed the entire mess over to the Lord.

“Father, you tell us to cast ALL our burdens on you.  Handle this, please. You know I just spent a bunch of money and that I need a freezer. And how I had planned to do some baking this afternoon.  Help!”

Finishing my quiet time, I bundled up for my walk and prayed on and off during the 30 minutes. I continued to have a steady confidence that this was one of those tests and that the Lord would come through.  Entering the house, I hung up my jacket and took out my phone.  Following Nehemiah’s example, I formulated another quick prayer as I punched in the number for Home Depot, asking God that the manager would be in the store this early (8 am).

He was!  But first I had to go through customer service.  I really hadn’t wanted to explain the situation to the gal on phone duty, but she asked before connecting me to the manager.  Her empathetic response reassured me, “Oh, how awful! Of course, I’ll put you through right away to Drew.”

Drew grasped my situation immediately.  Asking a few questions, he assured me that he would send a replacement over as soon as possible.  By 9 am, I had a new freezer humming in the garage.  And praise be to the Lord!  Per Google, my turkey which had been kept cool over the past 18 hours but not frozen in the defective appliance, could be safely refrozen, if within 3 days.

With joy, I texted Mike to share the good news of how quickly God had worked. Furthermore, by 3 pm I had placed one baked item in my new and fully functioning freezer.

What about that corollary or bigger take-away from this on-time grace?

It’s this:  like all of you, Mike and I have a BIG need that we have committed to God.  We pray every day, asking for a resolution as well as the strength to endure and trust him in the meantime.  And our Father has seen fit to tarry.  Frankly, some days it’s a real struggle to hold on by faith to his promises as well as to remind ourselves of all his past answers.  We intentionally rehearse his goodness as we read about him in his Word and see hourly and daily evidence of his love.

So, in his very rapid handling of our freezer problem, I see reassurance from a loving and kind Father that he really does care about us. Through this quick supply of grace, it is as though he is reassuring us that he IS indeed at work in our big need. But that in his perfect wisdom, he has planned a wait.  So, we await HIS timing and continue to pray.  But not frantically, not desperately.

Oh, by the way, the next time someone thinks to put me off with a quip about God having more important things to do than handle a problem like a defective freezer, I’ll confidently say:

The one and only true, living and loving God cares about ALL that concerns me, AND you, AND the nations at war, AND the environment, etc. And compared to his GREATNESS, and from his point of view, all these problems are little items!

How to offer specific hope to someone today

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Something Caleb Kaltenbach wrote a while back for Christianity Today came up in my prayer feed yesterday morning.  Mike and I use Prayermate to collect and ‘feed’ us prayers each day.  I had cobbled together some of Kaltenbach’s thoughts on the futility and sin of worry and composed them into a prayer for myself.  What caught my attention yesterday morning, praying again through these truths was the possibility of offering REAL hope to someone I might encounter in the next few hours.

Kaltenbach wrote: “What is the hope I can offer a fellow believer?”

He then answered: “God has already created and planned tomorrow…… “

Now that is real hope.  No matter how fraught with problems tomorrow turns out to be, knowing that God has planned every event of the day IS a relief.

But we need more.  The thought of something awful can still be fear-inducing, even if it IS part of God’s plan.

Here is the ‘more’ I must have to let go of fear. Caleb finishes his thought: “…..and He will walk with you into it.”  God promises to be present in the perplexing, the unexpected, the difficult, and yes, the AWFUL.

“Okay, ” you or the  recipient of this encouragement might respond, “Where can I go in God’s Word to SEE that this is so, that God actually teaches both His sovereign control AND His presence?”

I had to know for myself what foundation had already been laid for this claim.  With a few minutes of reflection, this is what came to mind. One of my favorite promises is from Psalm 31:15: My times are in your hands….

You know me well enough by now, if you’ve read this blog, that I love looking up the Hebrew/Greek or Aramaic meaning of our English translations.

From BlueLetterBible.com the English term TIMES is translated from the Hebrew ETH.  However, in Hebrew ETH means so much more:

  • events, ‘nows’, experiences, happy and calamitous seasons

Conclusion?  EVERY occurrence is in God’s hands.  THAT fact is enough for the Psalmist to continue:

Psalm 31:15: My times are in your hands, (so) deliver me from the hands of my enemies and those who persecute me.

I wrote that down and continued looking for more Biblical support.

A few moments later, I ran across 2 Cor 3:5 where Paul writes: My sufficiency is from God. 

Right before that verse Paul pens, “We have confidence through Christ toward God”.

What was the basis of Paul’s confidence? A phrase from his first letter to believers in Corinth points to the reason for Paul’s happy reliance on God: “but the grace of God that is with me” (1 Cor 15:10)

So, pulling this together for myself and because I want to be ready to offer it as an encouragement to someone else, here is how I am tucking Caleb’s exhortation into my mind for ready access:

Let’s suppose we listen to a co-worker or talk with a friend today and they have a heavy heart. We can listen and then say:

This is what helps me in times of suffering or difficulty:

  1. God has already planned your tomorrow and He will be walking WITH you through it.
  2. He promises that all your times and events are in His hands, not necessarily to prevent a suffering but to rescue and deliver you IN each situation.
  3. You don’t need to look at your insufficiency and feel afraid because, as Paul learned, Christ’s grace toward us IS sufficient for the day.

Sounds VERY good, but does it ‘work’?  Does this offer true encouragement, a life-line when discouragement hits?

I soon found out.  I left this blog post to sit until today, Sunday, when I planned to edit it.

And yesterday afternoon, the disabling spirit of discouragement attacked.  After wallowing a bit, I remembered ‘how to offer some one HOPE’!!!!

It turns out that the first person God planned for me to encourage was me.  I lay in bed talking to myself last night and was able to fall asleep.  Then, this morning, even though I woke up feeling VERY unspiritual, I again talked to myself and turned to the reading for today and prayed:

Holy Spirit, this is Your word. It is alive and full of power.  Feed me. Encourage me.  Let me see marvel-worthy things.

And He did. By grace.

The hope we offer others, I’m seeing, is best tested on ourselves.  I know intellectually that one reason we suffer is to be able to hold out God’s comfort to others, that comfort that we receive from Him.  I tend to be able to see God’s good hand AFTERwards. Hindsight IS valuable if we remember it.

 

 

 

I am Mephibosheth, sort of

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The news stunned him. Acid began contorting his stomach into a paroxysmal attack.  Ziba had just come back from the palace, dropping this bombshell, one he had been fearing ever since his dad and grandpa had been killed in battle.

Now that Israel’s true hero David, the one who had slain Goliath without hesitation, reigned in King Saul’s place, Mephibosheth had known this day would arrive.  He had expected it weeks, even months ago.  Everyone knew that new kings wiped out any and all people connected with previous rulers. The only explanation for his delayed execution was that David had more pressing enemies.

“Defeating the Philistines is keeping the new king busy.  Maybe he’ll….forget about me?  After all, what threat do I, a man who can’t even walk, pose.  It’s humiliating enough that my steward Ziba assigns men to carry me from my bed to the bathroom to the table to the veranda.  There is no way I could stage an overthrow to take back what is rightfully mine.”

Yes, Mephibosheth was the rightful heir to Saul’s throne as the only surviving male in the dynasty.  But his dad Jonathan had in effect given up the right to succeed Saul when he took off his ‘heir apparent’ cloak and placed it on his most trusted, beloved friend and comrade, David.  Jonathan had announced to Mephibosheth and little grandson Mica that David would be the next king, not he. Never had Mephibosheth pictured that his dad and his uncles would die in battle WITH the king.  He had trusted Jonathan’s friendship with David.  But all changed when Dad died.

Resigning himself to the inevitable execution in the next week days, Mephibosheth prepared his heart. If this summons meant an audience first with the King before dying, then he knew in what manner he would face David.

Little did he know David’s true intent:

2 Samuel 9:1: David asked,”Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Someone recalled Ziba, chief over all the attendants serving Saul’s household and family. Messengers located Ziba and then escorted him to the palace in Jerusalem.  From Ziba David learned that Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, survived.  Apparently, Mephibosheth maintained what he thought was a low profile up north in Makir’s house.  Ziba directed his men to transport this crippled former heir to dead King Saul.

Let’s pick up with the dramatic tête-à-tête:

2 Sam 9:6  When Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, he bowed down to pay him honor. 

David said, “Mephibosheth!”

“Your servant,” he replied.

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him,”for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan.  I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Mephibosheth bowed down and said,”What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?

Reading Mephibosheth’s response stunned me. His self-description ‘dead dog like me’ accurately reflected his status.  He was dead meat, for sure, no better than a ‘dog’. Contemporary culture at the time despised canines, often categorizing their heathen enemies as dogs.

So, what was it that startled me enough to think deeply about this vignette in David’s life?

I am Mephibosheth….in some ways.  Seeing Mephibosheth’s self-assessment reflects my true status. What is that? Simply that apart from God’s grace toward me, I remain an enemy by nature and deserving execution.  Like Jonathan’s son,  I am also a cripple, incapable and resistant to being in the King’s presence.

But here is how we differ:

  • I don’t REALLY believe that I am like a dead dog, and all that expression carried back then.
  • Therefore, I am unconscious most of the time of what my life would look like were it not for God’s grace.

Here’s my question for myself:

“If this news stunned the humble and honest Mephibosheth, what will it take for you, Maria, to SEE the unimaginable kindness of King Jesus toward you? Why don’t you wake up every morning, pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming, that your new status as friend of the King is REAL and SECURE ?  Where is your daily mirth, your transparent joy?  Does your face or any words or actions even hint at the enormity of this life-altering gift?”

I have no answer or excuse.  But I thank God for gently shining His light through His Word on my unholy responses to Him.

 

Glad to be dependent on God

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But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  2 Cor 12:9

I recognize that I am needy.  I experience my inadequacy most often as a teacher.  There never FEELS like enough time to get my plans done.  And to think on my feet and change gears to meet the interest and energy level of my middle-schoolers stresses me.

So DAILY I ask God for His help.  And He comes through.  Always.  As He has done for the past 27 years of teaching.

So what’s the problem? Plain and simple, I just don’t like having to depend on God day after day.  That’s the truth of the matter.  This past Monday, God enabled me to be sharp, to sparkle, and to adjust rapidly to my students.  It was a packed day, but because of the grace He supplied, I made it successfully to the end.  My heart response after thanking Him was pathetic and belied my spoken gratitude:  “Oh no, now I have to depend on Him all over again. Tomorrow!”

Then by God’s kind providence, on my drive home I listened to a John Piper sermon.  Piper was preaching on the duty and joy of delighting in God, his favorite topic.  IN PASSING, he spoke of Paul’s personal reaction to being needy.  Linking to some recent teaching by Nancy Guthrie, I recalled how she pointed out the POWER Paul describes as a benefit to neediness. (See above verse clause highlighted in red).

I also remember previously looking up the Greek word for ‘boast’ because that English translation didn’t seem to fit the context Paul was describing.  Why use a word that means to vaunt or strut?

The Greek word is kauchaomai and it means to glory in, to take joy in, to be glad about.

There you go! Paul is glad about being needy because God’s power episkēnoō or ABIDES WITH him. 

Do you see it? Not only is it NOT a bad thing to be needy and dependent on God, but it is a gift, a BLESSING. After our salvation, awareness of our state of neediness is another advantage or aspect of our divine endowment. How so?  Our weakness or ‘poverty’ keeps us calling on Him, keeps us close by, in His shelter.  This is how we have ‘communion with God’.  Do you recall how David says, It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes. (Psalm 119:71 KJV)

When we rely on God for everything, instead of depending on our ‘gifting’ or strengths,  we receive Christ’s supernatural power.  He ‘tents’ over us, descending and RESTING on us.

Just picturing God’s power hovering over me prompts connections to other facts.  For instance, James (1:2-4) exhorts us to…. Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

This morning I affirmed how good my Father is to create me to be needy, for then I cling to him.  And that is the conduit for communion with Him and power from Jesus, via the Holy Spirit.

Father, please remove that deep groove of wrong thinking that values ‘IN-dependence’ over neediness.  Carve a new and permanent default pathway in my thinking, through constant gratitude for such a mighty God like you!

 

 

More Spiritual lessons from a colonoscopy

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Genesis 39:9 How then could I do such a wicked thing, (such as WORRY), and sin against God?

If you read my previous post on this topic, you might remember that God granted me a ‘do-over’ of that lovely procedure, reminiscent of the movie Groundhog Day. Groundhog day image

As little as I relished prepping for yet ANOTHER colon check, I realized that God was giving me practice in being content, not grumbling and relying on Him.

In His providence, I have been slowly reading, taking notes and meditating on truths from a collection of John Owen’s works on sin and temptation.

John Owen

One truth from his pages seems to be a pointed message from God to me:

  • I need have only ONE focus in this life, as a redeemed and adopted child. Singular & total obedience to God.  That’s it.

Application? If I am called ‘only’ to obey God, per His instructions in His Word, then I don’t have to (in fact I am commanded NOT to):

  • worry
  • fear
  • stress
  • dread or even….
  • rush!

So what KINDS of obedience am I called to?  How’s this for starters? I’m to…….

  • Cast all my cares on Him
  • Be glad in Him
  • Trust and rely on Him
  • Glorify Him
  • Serve Him with gladness
  • Wait patiently for Him to act on my behalf

Can you see why I viewed an extra colonoscopy as practice in obeying God?  This time, I was determined, by grace, NOT to complain or feel sorry for myself.  I wanted to see if I could make it through the prep days relying only on His sustaining, provisioning grace.

As “C Day, 2.0” approached, I refused to indulge in worry, fear, stress or dread.  Each time I STARTED to go down that trail of sin, I caught myself up short, repented and reminded myself of the many, many promises of grace like:

  • My grace is sufficient for you (2 Cor 12:9)

The night before the procedure, Mike said a couple of time:

“You poor thing!”  or

“I’m so sorry you’re having to go through this again!”

Each time, I stopped his tender sympathy with:

“Don’t feel sorry for me, I’m okay.  The Lord is sustaining me! “

So…..where did I experience His grace?

One example is that the ‘morning of’ when I had to finish the gallon of ‘clean you out stuff’, the plastic jug had sat in the frig all night and grown colder.  As a result, the 7 cups I downed in an hour WERE, in fact, easier than the 9 doses the night before.

Other examples of grace I saw our good Father furnish WITHOUT the ‘help of my worrying’ were:

  • no trees down on our property impeding our way out (and perhaps preventing or delaying my arrival – something I had projected and feared the first time)
  • the doctor’s on-time arrival, having commuted 45 minutes to the hospital (a previous worry – What if he doesn’t show up and they have to reschedule?????)
  • no ‘doctor errors’ such as perforations…..
  • a wise post-procedure nurse who told me I did NOT have to submit to the doctor’s announcement that I needed yet a 3rd procedure –  a barium enema with X-ray because my prep was only ‘fair’ (although happily good enough for him to complete the colonoscopy)
  • no ‘abnormalities’ found

But the most significant gift to me was this:  to learn that YES, I can rely on God for potentially scary and unpleasant trials.  And with the help of His powerful Holy Spirit, I can resist self-pity and complaining.

The morning of the procedure I was reading and praying through our assigned portion of Scripture along with some devotions (and chugging my ‘cocktail’!)   I happened to read the Genesis verse at the beginning of this post. It struck me that when I worry/fear/stress/dread or rush, I am sinning greatly against God.  Really?  Yes! For God cares about our hearts.  Your and my behavior is just a tip of the iceberg.   This gentle reminder from Joseph in Egypt against his will reinforced my new and singular focus – obedience to God.

With full sincerity, I can now say that I see the value from God’s perspective, that of training me by arranging for me to go through this ‘trial’ again.  I want to build on what I learned in this ‘pop quiz’.   God’s grace IS sufficient for anything He sovereignly plans for us.  To God be the glory!

 

 

Why I liked ‘Star Wars – the Last Jedi’

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Disclaimer – I don’t watch movies for the internal logic of the story.  I look for examples of God’s truth and common grace.

Mike and I kept to our tradition this week – a once-a-year excursion to view a movie in the theater.  Yes, it had been an entire year.  So we were not prepared for 2 facts:

  • People reserve a specific seat online
  • Lazy-boy style recliners are the norm!

We were graced to be let INTO the 1 pm showing when the ticket gal released 2 handicapped seats to us!

A student had given me a gift card to Regal as a Christmas gift.  It was a free date with my husband!  We don’t buy snacks and we took our lunch with us, enjoying some free coffee (Starbucks rewards) before the movie. We left the house in Balsam at 11:10 am and made it home from Asheville by 5 pm.  That’s basically an all-day field trip.  But all it cost us was time.  Definitely worth it.

I praise excellence where I find it.  And God has endowed Christians and non-Christians alike with many talents.  Here is what I found praise-worthy in this Star Wars episode:

  • Female leadership beautifully modeled.  Both General Organa (Princess Leia) at age 60 and her vice-admiral, another older actress showed strength and made decisions with kindness and directness.  Women can be equally effective as leaders of men and women AND do it in a beautiful way that highlights their strengths of compassion and love.  My oldest granddaughter, Chloe who is 8 1/2 continued her father-daughter tradition of attending certain movies on opening night (i.e VERY late on a school night).  I was glad she had seen strong but kind women model leadership.  And effective OLDER women being productive too.
  • The other female warriors, in particular, Rose, drew a distinction between selflessly choosing to sacrifice out of love and giving one’s all motivated by hate. Noteworthy and encouraging.
  • Among the many ‘The Force Be With You!’ greetings passed among Rebellion members, was one ‘Godspeed!‘.  Made me wonder if director Rion Johnson intentionally shifted ‘the Force’ to a personal God.
  • Sometimes we need the brash effrontery of a young raw but bold officer such as X-wing fighter pilot Poe.  He gambled and won the brass’ confidence to command. There is a fine line between insubordination and leadership.  Gauge incorrectly and you face sometimes-dire consequences for your brashness.
  • Failure as a positive lesson to harness emerged.  Luke Skywalker finally admits to Yoda his painful remorse at having failed his nephew Kylo Ren by not spotting his turn to the Dark Side.  Yoda disarms his self-flagellation by suggesting that failure is a good teacher.  In the end, we see Luke has internalized this new thought to make effective use of it in conflict.  That’s a lesson ALL of us need to acquire.  Shame would be waste of a good failure!
  • Hope as a tangible and necessary good recurs several times.  Without hope, we give up.  The Rebellion is small, a mere remnant, dispersed in the galaxy with some silent supporters.  But as long as they hold on to hope, they can survive to fight another day. So too with Christians.
  • Just as our God often appears to His people to be the ‘God of the very last moment’, so it is with Hope for the Rebellion.  When seemingly trapped and Princess Leia announces that Hope has run out, God (or the Force) seems to use human hubris in Kylo’s character AND the instinct for survival of the ice fox to buy time and furnish an escape for the Rebellion.
  • Finally, though insignificantly small in number, the Rebellion represents Good in this epic struggle of Good versus Evil.  That battle illustrates the struggle in our world.  Modern westerners don’t want to think about spiritual powers, let alone dark, evil forces.  But they are real.  Roiling with hate, they oppose God and those who belong to Him.  Star Wars illustrates that truth.

An excellent movie, worth seeing.  Paraphrasing Abraham Kuyper, ‘All truth is God’s truth.’

 

 

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