Is God sovereign over technology?

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Being taught something, without putting into practice what you have received in theory is futile. All good teachers teach by that principle.  We know what we know, when we can DO something with it. When we first start applying and using ‘book learning’, we will make a lot of mistakes.  That’s why teachers regularly give us homework and evaluate our progress, often by means of unannounced ‘pop’ quizzes.

It’s no surprise, then, that the model teacher, Jesus, fondly employs this same method.

Fully aware of Jesus’ motives and desire for me to grow through his tailored lessons in ‘being holy as God is holy’, I wasn’t initially thrown off guard yesterday when he handed me an unannounced practical exam. I’ve been working very slowly through John Piper’s latest book, Providence. His developed arguments reinforce what Mike and I have known for some years, that nothing occurs in this world that is not designed and sent forth by God.  The Bible explicitly proclaims this truth throughout both the Old and New Testaments.

For example, Isaiah 45:7 is one of many places where the LORD testifies to his purposeful, planned happenings: I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things. ESV

Mike and I are slowly learning to relax and trust God when ‘things don’t go as planned or as hoped’.  That’s why we regularly pray for each other when problems pop up. These days, it seems that many of these unexpected ‘gifts’ are tech issues that suddenly confront us with the potential both to frustrate and rattle us.  God sends them for his good purposes, but Satan uses them, trying his best to cause us to vent, feel anxious, distracted or even angry.

Yesterday, God gave me one such ‘gift’.  Immediately, when a major problem with the raw recording of my latest English without Fear video suddenly occurred, I did not panic. Seldom does a week go by without a few divinely-initiated ‘monkey wrenches’ thrown into the mix.

Since I’m learning to expect problems, I immediately saw and attributed this issue as an opportunity to count on God.  I pictured a smiling God handing me a practice session to see if I really believe what I SAY I believe, that he controls all events in my life.

I talked with him as I worked through one possible fix after another. Nothing helped. 

While I kept trying to fix this issue, my mind played with many thoughts such as:

  • Does God always provide?
  • Can I count on him for this?
  • Is he who he says he is?

I googled the problem and learned that because I had updated the IOS of my MacBook Pro, my video recording software needed an upgrade.  That took time to install. 

Once squared away, a new issue presented itself – the settings! When I recorded a trial video, there was no sound.  I fiddled around, still proclaiming my faith in my sovereign and good Father. Bungling through one change after another, I grew hungry and frustrated.  Yet, I kept practicing patience.  ‘This is from my Father, so he means this for good.  I will NOT let Satan rattle me.’

Time was marching on.  I had a Zoom class to teach at 2 pm, so I temporarily gave up to clean up the kitchen before my class.  Wiping the counters and loading the dishwasher gave Satan the opportunity to heat up the temptation toward self-pity. I could actually imagine myself giving in to a vent: ‘I’ve wasted all this time and I’m still no closer to a solution!’

By grace, I called out to God and told him all the truth I could think of so as NOT to yield to Satan’s whispers. Suddenly, I remembered what I had written in my journal earlier in the morning.  My mom used to say, “For this, I have Jesus.”  I combined that truth with something I heard Kathy Keller share at a conference: “I trust the One who died for me.”

At 2 pm, as my English-language learners entered my Zoom room for our weekly conversation class, I had to leave the entire problem with God.

Ninety minutes later, I ended the Zoom session and checked a text from Graham, our video-content-creator son.  He told me which setting to check in my recording software.  I did and it worked!!! Hallelujah! I texted him and Mike the good news.  God had come through and I had NOT given in to Satan.

‘Well, there’s this week’s blog topic!’ I thought with a smile. Victory in Christ, thanks to his grace.

But God wasn’t finished with me. I woke up this morning and started to edit what had worked perfectly yesterday afternoon.  No sound!!! What?  There’s a Part 2 to this lesson? That DID catch me by surprise.

I had to laugh, though. ‘You must REALLY want me to get this lesson, that from you and through you and to you are all things’ (Romans 11:36).  Nothing happens or fails to happen except by you.  You are the first cause of every event.

What did I do?  I took screen shots of my recording, still in the recording studio software and sent them to Graham and Mike.  Then I had to leave for a doctor’s appointment. Again, I talked to God on my drive to and fro, affirming my complete confidence in his goodness and his plans. And I asked for help.

What happened?  I don’t know.  I couldn’t get the sound to work on what I had successfully recorded yesterday.  So, I did a test video.  There was sound. For the umpteenth time, I recorded my English without Fear episode and it worked. Praise God!

What will happen next time?  He only knows.  But today, I’m rejoicing in his help and in ‘passing the pop quiz of faith’.  Satan, you lost that one.  My God is sufficient.

Incoming artillery barrage from Satan: You’re not doing enough!

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There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set you free. Romans 8:1-2 Berean Study Bible

Oh, the places we have lived and the friends we have made.  England, Virginia and North Carolina enriched us the most. We now live in Alabama. My former school colleagues, church friends, neighbors with whom I WANT to stay in contact now number in the 20s, I would imagine.  These are people for whom I still pray and feel close, but in different degrees. Deciding who is in my ‘inner circle’ has been challenging.  I have limited emotional energy and time to invest. I imagine that’s the same for you.

Add to those different groups of friends from our past, God has planted us in yet another community with new neighbors, church friends and colleagues at Mike’s office.

How have I organized those in whom I invest? There’s my mother-in-law with whom I spend 30 minutes twice weekly on a Zoom call, keeping up with her. Two grandkids I occasionally (depending on their schedules) teach either French or Spanish by Zoom. Then there are two close friends I’ve chosen to invest in. With one gal, I connect daily through Voxer, an asynchronous audio messaging platform.  My other regular friend and I leave lengthy video messages for each other once a week, using Marco Polo. They are the gals who are closest to my heart. 

Yet, I feel overwhelmed with how to ‘handle’ other friends. ‘Shoulds’ distract me and cause me guilt:  

  • I need to schedule a catch-up call with Jane
  • We should reach out to neighbors and get to know them over a meal
  • Martha is a young mom at church with whom I click, I should schedule a walk and talk.
  • I haven’t talked with my sister-in-law in a while; I should find a time soon to connect.

So, what’s the problem?  There is not enough time to schedule in all these people, given my other responsibilities. Plus, I feel guilty in admitting that these ‘shoulds’ feel like a burden.  The background music in my mind keeps playing the same-ole refrain, “Something is wrong with me that I don’t want to stay in touch with everyone; that’s selfish!”

This morning I woke up heavy with, “I don’t do enough to stay connected to people, past and present.”

Journaling my raw thoughts during my morning time with Jesus and my Bible always help me process what I’m feeling and thinking. The Holy Spirit always helps me sort through the yuk and bring me out into the light.

Here’s how once again, he came to my rescue. 

With relief, I wrote down exactly how I was feeling condemned and distracted.  Having finished reading the appointed scriptures for the day, I then opened up my Oswald Chambers app on my phone. The first whiff of freedom emerged. ‘Don’t worry anymore about yourself….’

Copying Oswald’s exhortation, I then wrote this conclusion: ‘Every time I start to think I’m not enough, recognize that I am focused on the wrong issue. Leave it alone and hop over to the most important issue: ‘Jesus, YOU did enough for me.  I am enough IN you.’

That triggered this idea: ‘What if I focused and meditated on your ‘enufness’, Jesus? Oh! Didn’t I recently read something about being sprung from prison?  Yes!  Here it is, from yesterday’s scripture:  Psalm 116:16 You threw open my prison door.

That truth set me to considering a daring suggestion that seemed to spring up from inside.  ‘What if I DIDN’T initiate contacts with my other old friends and new acquaintances here?  What if I just trusted the Holy Spirit to lead people to contact me if they want to catch up?  Could I DARE give that a try?  That would feel SO freeing!

But what about all the exhortations to ‘one another’ and love brothers and neighbors?’

God encouraged me by bringing Philippians 2:13 to mind. You know that statement Paul makes where he writes that it is God himself who gives us the desire to work for his good pleasure.

I looked up ‘desire’ in the Greek.  Glancing down at the various meanings, I dared to hope that this was the answer.  Desire can also be expressed as:

  • being gladly inclined toward something
  • taking delight and pleasure in doing XYZ

With mounting energy, I asked, ‘What excites me?’ I didn’t have to think.  The answer flooded my heart:

  • Writing! Having time each day to write energizes me.
  • Learning Spanish fills me with joy

You know, that line in Philippians clearly teaches that it is God who plants desires in us that conform to his purposes and good pleasure. ‘Could it be that simple? To follow my God-given desires, especially this urge to write?  Is my craft, my calling to express myself beautifully in order to connect and encourage others? Is that why the Holy Spirit daily brings me fresh ideas that link his word with my life?

And the Spanish, well that’s clear. The absolute joy and pleasure of growing more proficient. For years, I taught French to adolescents. Now, I get to expand my areas of fluency, giving me entrée into a different world with fascinating people. Describing my language acquisition process and what I feel inside as a second-language learner thrills me.’

I put my pen down and closed my journal to get ready for my exercise class. Throughout the day, I have been letting these ideas sink in.  I think I’m on the right track, for not even three weeks ago one of my friends reminded me that the Holy Spirit corrects with gentleness.  He doesn’t condemn.

More than just a solution to ‘what do I do with all the people from my past’, God confirmed what he has called me to do.  Satan apparently likes to suck away our joy and burden us with duties that God maybe hasn’t appointed. I’m quicker to recognize Satan’s ploys, that shame-producing condemnation together with distracting thoughts.

Return to your rest, O my soul, for the LORD has been good to you! Psalm 116:7 Berean Study Bible.

I’ll let you know what happens, as I leave to the Lord my other friends and acquaintances. I believe I can trust him to let me know when I should engage.

No more stuffing feelings; adventures await!

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Hi Friends

It’s freeing to be able to share with Jesus each messy feeling and perplexing situation that come to me. With no reserve, not filtering out any detail.  And it’s Biblical.

Here are 2 entries from this past week.  What pleasure God gives me, to write daily, but no more than 175 words.  I love the limit!

**

December 10

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you, Psalm 55:22 NIV

…..casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you 1 Peter 5:7

Mike grabbed his lunch, headed to the garage. He admitted, “I’m fighting anxiety about this morning’s meeting we prayed about last night.”

Spotting Satan’s tactic I encouraged: “Mike, don’t fight the anxiety!  Cast it on Jesus!  Spit it out; tell Him all the details. Then listen for His words!”

Don’t we all tend to tamp down those thoughts of fear, worry envy, shame, anger….?  We have heard Satan’s lie enough times to believe it: If you were really a good Christian, you wouldn’t be feeling X, Y, Z!

That’s not true!  Remember the father’s confession to Jesus about his son’s healing?  ‘I DO believe, help my unbelief!

What relief when we confess all to our good Father.  Jesus knows Satan’s tactics, the slight twisting of the Word.  He understands the temptation to accept the lies.

His response?  Life-giving words of Love, not of fear and condemnation. Let’s train ourselves to recognize His voice and trust Him.

**

December 12

You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35 NLT

Spanish renders blessed as: ‘bienaventurado’.

I LOVE this word!  Separating bien from aventurado, you get well, good followed by adventurous, exciting! (Maria’s unconventional musing.)

So, when you GIVE, a great adventure with Jesus follows.  It’s way more fun than receiving a gift.

But, how much do we give? To whom? When do we give? So many questions left unanswered. Especially to one like me who finds it harder to give of my time than money.  Is Jesus calling us to do as He advised the rich young ruler? Sell all our stuff and give the proceeds to the poor? Or, in my case, dedicate all my time to the service of others?

We don’t have to guess, for Paul helps us in Acts 22:10 when he modeled the way: What should I do, Lord?

Jesus invites us to check in with Him, always. What a relief!

And what other great adventures with Jesus await? We can always check back to the Sermon on the Mount where He describes other circumstances, sure to be thrilling.

**

What about you?  What do you hear Him say when you’re honest?

Sticking to my word is costly

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But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes ‘ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil. Matthew 5:37 (NASB)

I bet you’d agree with me, that it’s easy to fall into trouble through what comes out of our own mouths.

Just a couple days ago I had one of those pop quizzes from God. It wasn’t new material; in fact it was a review of a character trait that he is working to form in me – that of being true to my word. Apparently, I still need the reinforcement!

I have a cousin in another state. Let’s call her ‘Sue’. Sue and her husband ‘Pete’ and I usually check in with each other by phone once every couple of months. She works during the day, so our catch-up calls are in the evening. The least convenient time for me.

When Mike gets home from work, I focus on him during our ‘sacred’ happy hour/dinner prep/sharing prayers and dining part of the evening. Then when the dishes are done, I enjoy sipping my tea, nibbling on my 100 % cacao dark chocolate and reading – ‘Maria Time’.

I knew that Pete’s oldest grandson was to start college this fall, so while I was cooking blackened salmon on Monday night, I texted Pete and asked for an update. He immediately called back, but I didn’t answer because it was time to flip the blackened salmon in my cast iron pan. Once safely searing on the other side I texted back: ‘Can’t talk now, I’m cooking salmon!’

He texted back: Call us when you finish dinner and I’ll tell you about the grandkids.

I inwardly grimaced and said, ‘How about tomorrow night!’ And so, it was settled.

The next day, my selfishness started kicking in. The urge to postpone grew stronger and stronger. Finally, I decided to ‘just be honest’ and propose a different time, maybe during the day (when it isn’t so costly to me to spend time with someone on the phone). But if it were during the day, I knew it would have to be a chat just with Pete who is retired, because Sue works full time still.

After dinner I texted Pete with that proposal. We ate dinner. I was relieved that I had been forthcoming with Pete, sharing that the reason I wanted to reschedule the chat to a day time was because I focused on my husband during the evenings, (leaving out the ‘Maria Time’ part of the truth).

But God began to chide me! I was not at peace.

Ignoring the lack of peace while we cleaned up the kitchen, I made some tea, sat down to check my texts and emails before settling in to read. I saw a response from Pete.

He simply had texted back: “Call Sue’s cell, mine is dying.”

There it was…foiled by God! Cornered into keeping my original word to Pete.

So, I called Sue’s cell. The three of us chatted, catching up. Toward the end of our call Sue asked me to pray about an important meeting happening the next day. I realize that had I allowed my selfishness to rule, I would have missed knowing about Sue and her need. I even took the opportunity DURING our chat to pray out loud for her.

When she wrote me after her meeting, she thanked me and reported that knowing that I was praying for her had kept her calm and at peace. Pinged!!!

Had it NOT been for the persistent nagging of the Holy Spirit I would not have kept my word. Thank you, Father!! I think I understand why keeping one’s word is important.

But I don’t think the Father believed I had REALLY learned my lesson. Two days later, He gave me another opportunity to practice faithfulness to what I had assured a friend I would do. She had asked me to listen to one of her pastor’s sermons. I replied that I would the next time I was on the treadmill.

I did set my iPhone to the podcast and started to listen to the 40-minute sermon once I hopped on the treadmill. But halfway through Satan ganged up against me WITH my natural selfish bent and whispered: ‘You can stop now, halfway through and shift to what you rather listen to. As long as you are honest and tell your friend that you listened to a good chunk of the sermon…..’

My response THIS time was immediate. I spoke back: ‘But I TOLD her, my words were explicit, that I would listen to the sermon during my treadmill time!’

This time it felt good to stick to my word, the FULL intent of my word. And you know what? I finished the sermon and STILL had time to listen to the podcast I wanted to hear.

God is SO good and gentle. And I am SO selfish, but…..I take comfort in his promise in Phil 1:6: And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in ME will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (ESV)

When fear is unreasonable

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“It is sheer unreasonableness for men created by a loving God and redeemed by a loving Savior to fear any man or anything that may happen. Richard Wurmbrand

What do you fear? What scares you?

I fear harm to my children and my grandchildren.  Thinking about my death or that of my husband doesn’t weigh heavy on me. I think the idea of my kids and their families suffering loss or injury is more about the imagined pain to ME.  When I love someone like I love my boys and their wives, then THEIR pain is my pain.  I bet you can identify. Haven’t we all said, ‘I wish I were the one sick or suffering and not YOU!’  I think it’s because we feel helpless to relieve the pain of the other person. Maybe that helplessness hurts more than what we think is their pain.

Scripture talks about how Satan has us chained by all kinds fear as well as fear of death:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Heb 2:14-15

Rereading this scriptural truth makes me think if perhaps ALL my fears are actually a product of Satan’s subtle suggestions and running commentary to the 24/7 information stream we take in.  Worldwide info-tainment feeds our dramatic and sometimes perverse interest in learning about the disasters others undergo.

And when we take in all this bad news (without remembering God who is sovereign), we are more susceptible to lose our confidence in Him. One byproduct of Satan’s fear mongering is discouragement. Last week, it occurred to me that one reason I find the Christian life SO hard is because of the Devil.  He is EVIL and he has a whole army of spirits at his beck and call whom he dispatches for his deadly work.  His goal?  To kill Christians, frighten and silence them or at the least render us ineffective and discouraged. But we are God’s greatly loved and redeemed children!  We mustn’t forget.

You don’t believe our anxiety and heavy hearts might be the work of the devil?  Tell me then, why do we forget God’s truths over night?  Why do we have to read His promises each day, building back and restoring our faith to yesterday’s level of restful reliance on Him. Why is that?  Wouldn’t you think we’d remember?  I mean, I don’t forget recipes that I make frequently.  I don’t forget my French and other languages I have.  But I forget how good our God is.  I forget that He has given me a stunning cosmic identity and eternal purpose through Christ who redeemed me.

What else is all this daily discouragement but the death of certainty?

Even though discouragement creeps in daily, recognizing who is at the source of my negative fearful feelings helps me a lot.

Knowing that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with ME is a relief.  Just living aware that Satan’s tactical goal is to get me to disbelieve my good Father EACH and EVERY moment increases my resolve to believe God and His Word all the more.

Drawing these thoughts to a close, if we are not to fear death or harm, is there anything we SHOULD fear? For as Richard Wurmbrand from Voice of the Martyrs commented, it is unreasonable to fear any created being or situation, whether Satan or man. Yes, there is One whom we are to fear.  We are commanded and commended to respect, be in awe of, to exercise a holy, righteous fear of the Lord.  Him alone.  This fear won’t send us cowering. This fear purifies and strengthens us.

Psalm 33:8

Let all the earth fear the LORD; Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.

Job 4:6 Is not your fear of God your confidence?

Psalm 112:1 Praise the LORD! How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, Who greatly delights in His commandments.

A writer for Christianity Today puts fearing God into a helpful context:

Unfortunately, many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than the world …. When we assume that the world is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, the world’s threats are temporary. When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to the world’s equal …. As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me. He rescues me from my delusions, so he may reveal the truth that sets me free. He casts me down, only to lift me up again. He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.

 

Discouragement comes from the Devil

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John 8:44 – You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

It happened again! And only 3 weeks since I wrote a post about this SAME struggle.

Monday morning.  Almost the end of October.  Questioning what I’m doing, still teaching French.  To middle-schoolers.  Driving almost an hour.  Dark when I leave. Away from home nearly 12 hours a day.

Feeling trapped.  And ineffective.  Maybe I’m too old to connect with squirmy middles-schoolers!?  But what else can I do for work?

That was my day.  And evening.

But God!  It took me 24 hours to spot the lies.  These were not MY dismal thoughts.  They were from Satan.  Again!

What opened my eyes?  God’s good and providential assigned scripture in our Chronological Bible reading plan. For He had appointed Chapters 7 and 8 of the Gospel of John for me for Tuesday!!!  I arrived at the verse cited above about the devil.  The darkness lifted.

These musings? NOT from me!  Satan had fired discouraging thoughts MEANT to drive me away. From where God has me assigned for ‘such a time as this‘.  (however LONG ‘this’ turns out to be).  I don’t have to believe them.  Or take them to heart.

Two other factors helped set me up to feel ‘hope-less’.  I was tired, having not slept well for several days. And I was having a few gastro problems.

Note to self:  when I am tired or not feeling well, expect discouragement.  Malaise can feel SO self-sourced.

This week’s skirmish did not involve any ally of Satan’s.  This experienced Liar used silent killer thoughts to drain both my energy and desire to continue teaching French.  In my secular school.  Where many of my colleagues need a listening ear.  Where I can drop Good News seeds of truth about the Living Hope who is available to all. All of a sudden God opened the eyes of my heart to SEE reality.

Sometimes Satan involves other humans to silence and stop us.  Like Sanballat who labored to stymie Nehemiah in order to halt the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. Neh 4:1 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews. But Nehemiah and his men did not cease their mission.  They did not succumb to discouraging and fear-inducing lies.

Father, awaken me immediately to future deception before it saps my peace, my contentment and confidence in You!

 

Those infernal lies that seem like my thoughts

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Mike and I have been talking about the number of lies we entertain in our thoughts. We usually assume they are true. In fact, they innocuously blend in with our other ruminations in a way that makes us actually believe they ARE our thoughts (and therefore true!).

I’m an expert at detecting these lies in Mike. They are easy to spot should he happen to speak one out loud –  these inner verdicts on reality. (analyze THAT Latin word! verus =true, dictum = statement).

I now understand this satanic tactic, a favorite of the ‘father of lies’.  He tends to whisper or suggest ideas and conclusions that feel SO much like our own. We think we are the source of the thoughts. There’s no warning sign or danger alert that they might be from someone other than us.

Here’s my most current example. I was experiencing a difficult time with some 7th-grade boys last week. They were distracting French class.  I started fantasizing about how pleasant it would be to teach adults who CHOOSE to learn French (or English) with me. (first mistake – discontent followed by coveting. How?  by imagining something other than what God has given me).  Within a few hours I was thinking:

  • Maybe I’m too old to be teaching middle schoolers.
  • Maybe this should be my last year.

I actually articulated those thoughts and conclusions 3 different times over the weekend.

Result?  I slid into a sulky, grumpy mood by Monday morning.

But God!

I actually WROTE down in my journal, “Father – HELP me!  Give me fresh ways and ideas to deal with these kids. Help my un-desire.”

And to my surprise, within 5 minutes of recording that need, a memory from several years ago arrived ‘front and center’.  At that particular time, I had written a pastor friend, asking him to pray during a VERY painful early year at my current school.  He immediately wrote back to encourage me.

He had exhorted me to keep in mind that one or more of these kids I was teaching might one day become a missionary in a French-speaking part of the world.  All because I had persisted in teaching students French.

Through this very memory, God infused my being with strength!  The hope-giving reminder of why I must continue teaching French vacuumed away the discouragement in a flash.  “I MUST persist,” I concluded.

What followed next was even more powerful.  Suddenly I saw that my feelings and thoughts of no longer belonging in the classroom were not MY notions, but planted FALSE ideas by my enemy, the devil.

That realization grew as I saw more clearly just why this ‘liar from old’ would not want me equipping someone to speak French.  Someone who might one day explain to a French speaker just who Christ was and what He has done.

So, I am reminded, how blind we are when it comes to spotting lies – in ourselves.  Therefore, brothers and sisters, we must help each other by engaging with others. We should:

  • CONFIDE our discouragement with brothers and sisters in Christ and ask them to pray!
  • ASK MORE THAN surface questions when we see others; press a bit deeper when we detect anxiety or heaviness in someone’s face and voice. We can offer to listen and pray.

We don’t know how close someone might be to throwing in the towel.  Discouragement is a real life-drainer.

1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

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