Agreeing with Satan = my self-condemnation

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There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1

There it was, PROOF!  – a ‘poochy’ in a photo we asked someone to snap of us at the peak.   I was horrified to SEE it.  Two days earlier I had realized the evidence of what I had been reluctant to admit, I had gained a few pounds over the past few months. I could feel it and see it in the mirror, but now here it was in living color, digitally for the world to see!

The self-recriminations had set in 60 hours earlier and I had been battling them armed with God’s truth SOME of the time.  At other points, my brain buzzed in the high RPM range, figuring out what I was going to do to lose the 5 pounds.

What also bothered me was I thought I had put the Weight and Body Image Battle behind me, having even declared VS Day – Victory over the Scales Day on 5 Dec 2015.  That day marked a turning point when I symbolically moved the scales off the throne of my heart to make room for Jesus as supreme treasure and pleasure.

But by the full force of this self-recriminating skirmish, all I had done was substitute a different but equally deadly joy-sucking idol for that morning metric measurer, the bathroom scales.   What was this new enemy? –  the concept of leanness as my supreme good.

After the hike, I took my journal outside on the deck to see if I could get to the bottom of this seeming forever struggle.  And God was faithful to spark some gut-wrenching insights into the sin underneath this internal drama.

Here are the questions I wrote down:

  • Why does having a ‘poochy’ bother me more than my sin of idolatry and scorn against a Holy God?
  • Why is ‘leanness’ my ultimate and mostly elusive good?

The first question brought immediate remorse over my topsy-turvy value system.  The scales were just the outward and visible manifestation of my inward and wicked heart as represented by ‘the leanness idol’.  Abandoning my quest to maintain a certain weight didn’t take away what I still valued most in life.

The second question led to digging beneath the visible layers in my heart. By continuing to ask WHY, I tried to reach the bedrock of what drives me.

  • Why do I value leanness?  Because I most admire those women who are lean and fit
  • Why do I admire those kinds of women? Because they are free of self-loathing.
  • Why would NOT being ‘perfectly’ lean bring self-loathing? Because in myself, I can’t stand the feeling of a roll of fat or pudginess or tight rings or clothes.  They make me mad and I feel stuck and depressed.  And all that negative emotion pushes me inward into a seemingly self-perpetuating prison. I do all this to myself!

And then a question that directed healing light to that dark place in my heart.

  • What is the opposite of all that yuck I just described? Contentment with myself.  When content, I find it natural to forget about myself and focus on God and others.  Balled up in myself distracts and distorts the destination of my energy.
  • So if I seek a more lasting and better contentment and inner peace, what would God rather me choose as a source?  Why pleasing Him by being satisfied in Him, of course! The answer was clear as day.

Just at the moment that the Holy Spirit enabled me to ponder this pleasant place of happy and restful contentment, He called to mind Paul’s words about having LEARNED to be content in all seasons.  Hmmm.  If Paul could learn, through practice, then so could I!

A bit energized I started to reason biblically:

  • If God is FOR me, who can be against me?  (not even Maria’s self-criticisms count or SHOULD be able to pierce my peace)
  • If I have been declared ‘just’ by God (as a gift, through the mechanism of grace, and secured by Jesus’ redeeming payment with His life – Romans 3:24), then I already possess a permanent unshakeable peace with God.
  • When I beat myself up for having gained 5 pounds, I am participating in condemnation – Satan’s hideous and soul-eating handiwork.  He is the Accuser par excellence.  Agreeing with Satan mocks Jesus’ extravagant gift to me.

I was almost at the point of echoing my ‘Uncle Paul’s despair-filled cry, Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” – Romans 7:24.  At that very moment, I think a whimsical but life-giving picture came to me. I imagined Jesus looking at me with a twinkle in His eye and saying:

Maria has a poochy and I LOVE her poochy!

What a startling but gentling image. Is it really so far out of the realm of divine possibility?  After all, it was my husband who used to say with tender and happy love about our cat Calvin, Calvin has a poochy!  And Calvin was his favorite cat!

If it’s TRUE that there is nothing I can do to make Jesus love me more or less than He already does, then why not THIS scenario of Holy Joy in one for whom He died?

I think the healing took root at that point, Saturday afternoon, on our deck in the sun, journal and pen in my hands.

Almost with embarrassed hesitation I shared these new insights with my husband.  I felt that unless I articulated them out loud to another person, then I might slink back into the dark, dreary cave where I have beat myself up for far too long.  But there it was, in the light of day, publicly proclaimed for the person most dear to me and uttered out loud ALSO in case that the devil, himself, might be lurking.  And I, too, heard this new ‘fact’.  Maybe it was more important for ME to hear those words spoken out loud, witnessed by my husband and the Holy Spirit.

So I’ve been saying to myself several times a day, ‘I have a poochy and Jesus loves my poochy!’

 

Can we lose our salvation?

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Treasure

2 Cor 4:7

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Many Christians (regarding whom, I have NO doubt that they are authentic believers) fight the fear that they are just fooling themselves when it comes to the status of their eternal salvation.

Like a radio with antennae continually seeking strong signals, so too do I search out scriptural truth to bolster the hope and assurance of struggling brothers and sisters I love.

So when I heard John Piper talk about desire being the key to authentic Christianity, I saw something true and comforting that I might be able to pass on.

When we are born again through the Spirit of God it’s like we are given a new set of eyes. We begin to see clearly just what IS treasure and what is trash.  New desires germinate and start to flourish.  Yes, growth can be slow and seem irregular in direction and pace.  But the overall trajectory has been changed.

But what do we do when doubts like these below plague us?  (who do you think ‘might’ be behind these doubts? – not God!)

  • What if the Bible and how one is saved isn’t true?
  • What if I really haven’t believed?
  • What if I’m not a TRUE believer?
  • What does it mean that I don’t seem to feel as enthusiastic or sure as other Christians?

What do we do?  We look at the treasure!

Think about the man who stumbled upon buried gold or silver in that field (Matthew 13:44). Quickly reburying it, he sold everything he had (fields, house, furnishings, livestock) to put together enough money to buy the entire pasture.  Once he possessed the plot of land, do you think he moved on to other pursuits, ignoring the treasure?  No!  I can picture him digging it up and handling it, savoring it, thinking about what it meant to his future.  His imagination easily filled in the blanks.  He might have used some of it for the present, but the rest he protected as his inheritance or retirement fund.

His joy would have remained and been stoked and even grown with every re-imagining and glorying in this treasure.  Had he started to doubt whether he actually possessed this wealth, he would have wasted no time pulling it out and savoring all that it represented.

That’s what we have to do with OUR most precious possession. As believers in Christ, we have:

  • forgiveness and peace with God
  • a new Spirit in us – no longer of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind
  • Christ’s continual presence THROUGH this indwelling holy Spirit
  • and a bright future to be lived in His presence where ‘fullness of joy’ is promised.

So what do we do either to ward off the doubts or deal with them?

We just need to ‘visit’ and ‘revisit’ our treasure every day, holding fast to it.

Whatever it takes to hold on to our faith, we must do.  Faith is our most valuable possession.  John Piper exhorts fellow believers to STRENGTHEN the gift by realizing that:

Little faith = Little joy

Stoked faith = MORE joy!

How do we fan the fires that heat up our faith?  By reading about this great gift in God’s Word and learning what it means for us to be partakers and heirs of God’s kingdom. Remember that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Rom 10:17).  I need to hear God’s truth every day, throughout the day.  And it’s MY voice rehearsing God’s promises out loud that help me most to HEAR.

LOVE the Treasure!

PONDER the Treasure!

PRAISE the Giver or the Treasure!

GET TO KNOW the Giver!

Look at this concrete advice to early Christians battling unbelief:

Hebrews 3:14

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly to the end the assurance we had at first.

The danger of freedom

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I’m learning to think through what I hear in sermons and what I read.  When God wants to impress a truth on me, He tends to funnel the same message through multiple media.  The lesson last week that perked down into my resistant sinful pattern of thinking was: It’s not about me!

Before you scoff at how obvious that message is, let me assure you that it is VERY counter-cultural.  As pastor John Piper teaches, our society has been saturated with the mantra of the importance of Self-Esteem.  And you know as well as I, that a lie repeated oft enough takes on the weightiness and respectability of Truth.

self esteem

We slavishly work to think well of ourselves or gather praise from others.  That need becomes more than something nice to have.  It becomes our master, our God, and we its slave.

The other day, though, I was given a new thought.  I was feeling ‘sick of myself’ – just tired of thinking about me, what I eat, what my body feels like, how I’m doing with that perpetual thorn, how it’s the lens through which I view the world, the regulator that governs how much positive energy and interest I give to others.  Gradually, a life-altering truth took on substance:

  • It’s not about me.
  • It doesn’t have to be about me.
  • I don’t HAVE to even think about me.
  • Thinking about me doesn’t bring me any joy or energy.
  • I can actually be freed from thinking about me.
  • In point of fact, it’s about Him.  I exist, the birds sing, the trees sway, the oceans roar, the stars glisten, all of us alive to make much of God!

I had gone to bed the previous night with such new inklings swirling about in my head.  And when I awoke and greeted the gravel road for my morning walk and conversation with God, I started to think about me, as ‘per usual’.  But suddenly, the fragrance of freedom tickled my nose and I looked up at the stars and said:  I don’t HAVE to think about me today.  I’m FREE!!!

Well, if I’m not pondering me or my problems, then what am I thinking about when not occupied with teaching or conversing with someone or reading?  In all those interior, unencumbered moments, I get to mull over what makes our God so great.  And in fact, the Bible promises that far MORE joy, TRUE joy comes from those God-truths than any introspection.

  • Psalm 1:2  (How happy is the one who….) delights in the teachings of the LORD and reflects on his teachings day and night.
  • Psalm 119:97  Oh, how I love your instructions! I think about them all day long

There’s also that statement of fact in verse 11 of  Psalm 16In your presence is fullness of joy….. I don’t think the psalmist is referring just to when we are in heaven with Jesus.  We are present with Him in a conscious way when we are thinking of Him. Therefore, joy comes from shifting the focus of my waking mind off of ME and onto God.

All day long, I felt like a little child, giddy with delight over a secret treasure.  I would stop and reflect, “Why do I feel so happy?” and then all of a sudden, the truth would flood back. “That’s it!  I don’t have to think about me!  I’m free!!

ball and chain

Do you want to know what happened that night?  I risked sharing this oh-so-tenuous feeling of potential permanent freedom with Mike.  He got it, what I was feeling.  All was well. We were enjoying some close moments of joy that come from sharing truth about God.

We sat down to our treat of dinner on trays and another episode of Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. At the conclusion of both, a tiff flared up ‘out of nowhere’ that isolated us one from the other. Mike headed down to the smoking cave in withdrawn silence and I mulled over delaying a grace-filled loving response to his probable text apologizing for his anger. “I want him to know how it feels to be the recipient of his chill!” I selfishly thought.

I sat down to read the paper and sure enough within 10 minutes, ‘ping!’, the apology popped up.  But his words changed my feelings.  He wrote: “I don’t know what came over me!  These feelings came out of nowhere!  I’m confused and hurt!’

Suddenly, I knew.  It was spiritual attack.  I immediately closed ranks with my husband.  Fingers flew furiously as I consoled him that none of this was about us, but about a new God-truth, that promise of freedom he and I had rejoiced over.  Satan does NOT want us to trust God.  He works to thwart that glorious Freedom from Self.  This enemy of God also wants to disrupt and destroy married couples.

With that life-restoring revelation from God, our conversation whipped back and forth as we discussed this dark assault.  We moved closer together but weren’t quite restored.  More conversation by email brought light and by our evening reunion, we were back on the same side, glad to be reunited.  But we were more aware of the need to remain one with each other, with God at our back, our side and in front.  He is our sure refuge in times of trouble AND in times of blessing.  Blessings can be dangerous, too, if we are not aware of our vulnerability.

PS:  It’s been 4 days and that freedom from self IS authentic and available anytime I want to let go of the boring!

A gentle Father

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Stop hand

 

 

 

I don’t react kindly to criticism.  In fact my mother-in-law once told me I was spoiled (I’m an only child – maybe it goes with the territory)!

So when my husband held up a hand to stop me from butting in while he was speaking, I felt shut down.  When I voiced my objection, he said he didn’t appreciate being interrupted. Not much I could say to that, for my remark definitely and abruptly had been an attempt to cut into his explanation. And it wasn’t the first time.

“I’m just raising a question!” I sputtered.  Even as I tried to justify my rudeness, I began to see for the first time how this breaking into someone’s verbal train of thought was actually habitual with me.

Scenes from visits with my adult sons flashed through my mind.  How many times in our discussions about God had I inserted MYself with MY views right in the middle of their sharing.  Much to their credit and my shame, they always patiently yielded to me when I cut in to pass on my brilliant God-moment.

Back to that incident in the kitchen with my husband.  This was not the first time he had gestured to me when I started to jump in with my 2 cents worth.  In fact, I had showcased the very same annoying habit the previous evening with friends over for dinner. Stung, I self-righteously felt wronged when he had put a halt to my butting in with discrete body language.

But this night I had seen my action for what it was – just plain rude and unloving. It was like the Holy Spirit opened my eyes.  A bit humiliated, I nonetheless discerned an emboldened desire to pray for help in retraining myself.

Since that ‘teaching moment‘ in the kitchen two weeks ago, God has provided reinforcement of not only my need to change but the truth that I CAN change. He has brought podcast remarks and scripture across my path, reminding me of supernatural power available to those who have been transferred into God’s kingdom of light (evidently, there is enough light for even me to see the need to change!)

Kingdom of LIght

Peter encourages us to make every effort to add moral goodness to the faith that we have been given (1 Pet 1:5).  But this is AFTER he has reminded believers that we have been given FAITH to become partners in the divine nature of God as we KNOW and TRUST Jesus’ promises.

What I’m learning is that all of the promises of power in the Bible are ours as God’s regenerate children.  But we have to act on them, using the faith that we’ve been given. (we don’t ‘gin up’ the faith ourselves)

John Piper created an acronym to assist himself and us in accessing God’s help during those moments when we see our need:

A – Admit you are helpless  – sounds like an AA principle!

P – Pray and tell God what you need

T – Think of one of those encouraging promises from God’s word and Trust it (like- I can do ALL things through Him who strengthens me – Phil 4:13)

A – Act on the promise, though you don’t FEEL any power. Take the action necessary, trusting that God is 100 % faithful to come through as He has said.  This is walking by faith and not by sight.

T – Thank Him after the fact for supplying the power, provision and/or whatever you asked Him for

**

Humble heart

 

 

 

I’m ashamed to admit that this is only the second time in my life that I have attempted to change my behavior in response to God’s nudge.  Oh, I’ve tried self-transformation before, but these adjustments have been me-centered, to make me happier or make others think better of me (grand-parenting skills, weight, fitness, sleep habits, intellect, hobbies).

The first time was 14 years ago when serious fissures in both my and Mike’s view of marriage threatened to torpedo our covenant.  I read books and prayed and sought out wise Christian women to guide me in adopting a Biblical view of marriage, something that was foreign to me even though I had been ‘in church’ since the age of 9.

But it has been years since that crisis. And thanks be to Him and the manner in which He got our attention, our marriage is now a source of true joy for both of us. It obviously took God hitting me with a padded 2×4 to get my attention.  At least this time, the catalyst to change my unloving interruptions was less painful.

I wonder what else is in His divine lesson plan for me!

 

How to act around ‘pagans’ aka un-believers

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I was meditating again on the fruit of the Spirit, those qualities that the Holy Spirit nourishes and grows in us as we stay connected to Jesus.

Fruit of the Spirit

God had given me a large window of time to mosey around in Scripture, a true gift.  Chaperoning the 8th grade trip meant that we spent a fair number of hours on a comfortable touring bus last week as we took in a few college visits, cultural experiences as well as caving and zip-lining.  I had not expected to have 2 seats to myself on the bus and time to read and meditate.

During my study the Holy Spirit connected the fruit of the Spirit description in Paul’s letter to the Galatians to God’s explanation to wives regarding how they should conduct themselves daily with their unbelieving husbands.

  • Wives, in the same way (as Jesus trusted God and submitted to misguided but wicked men), be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the Word, they may be won over without words by the BEHAVIOR of their wives

Just what does this behavior look like?  Like the fruity verbs of the Spirit!  When – empowered by supernatural divine power – we react with love to others’ attacks, mean-hearted comments or inadvertent damaging acts, we catch them by surprise.  The world operates on a tit-for-tat basis.  You cut me off in traffic, I give you the finger or worse.

But a counter-worldly response characterized by joyful, gentle, patient self-restraint will stop someone cold in their tracks.

We all know that, even if we can’t DO it.  But nothing is impossible with God!  And here is a new thought that might make you at least WANT to try out this response again.

While away from Mike on the 8th grade trip, I experienced a nightmare.  I don’t usually recall my dreams, but this was vivid enough to stay with me upon awakening.  We were fighting, my husband and I.  One of those verbal and emotional encounters where I was checked by my superior sparring partner.  Mike is far more articulate, able to think quicker on his feet and empowered with rhetorical and emotional bullying flourishes.  In my dream I FELT humiliated and frustrated and stomped on.  What a relief to wake up and know it was only a dream!  To be fair to my beloved husband, these ‘fights’ rarely happen and have tapered off over the years as the Lord claims more of us, inch by painful sanctifying inch.

Out of this dream, however, came a powerful remedy for the next time someone hurts me or tries to browbeat me.

  • Peter encourages Christian wives married to pagans (unbelievers) to respond with Holy Spirit empowered behavior.

But here is what’s so cool!  Even when CHRISTIANS treat other Christians poorly, this remedy can work.  That means that when

  • another brother or sister-in-Christ in the office
  • my husband
  • my adult children
  • my mother-in-law
  • a church family member
  • a Christian girlfriend

…..’spews’ over me or hurts me, I can choose to say

If he’s going to act like a pagan, then I’m going to treat him like a pagan…….

– with LOVE, JOY, PEACE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS, FAITHFULNESS, GENTLENESS AND SELF-CONTROL.

Why?

  • it’s a startling, unexpected tactic that will prove far more effective than trying to use the same weapons as my opponent
  • this response promises to bring my adversary, ANEW, face-to-face with the unearned, POWERFUL and totally surprising gospel love of God (and we all need reminders, daily!)

I’m not ASKING God for a fresh experience of ‘meanness’ from the world, but this is the world I live in. So I don’t think I will have to wait long.  I just pray the Holy Spirit will bring this better response to mind in time for me to head in that direction rather than default to my natural and well-worn groove of retaliatory meanness.

What about you?  Have you tried this and want to share what happened?

Bottom line – if someone acts like a pagan, let’s treat them like a pagan – with the powerful weapon of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control!  If nothing else, our response will surprise the ‘hell’ out of them – hopefully!

 

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.

 

Expect opposition if you are in God’s will

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Opposition - chess pieces

 

 

 

Saul had just been anointed Israel’s first King as recounted in the book, 1 Samuel, chapter 10.

24 Samuel said to all the people, “Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen? Surely there is no one like him among all the people.” So all the people shouted and said, “ Long live the king!”……
(25b)….  and Samuel sent all the people away, each one to his house. 26 Saul also went to his house at Gibeah; and the valiant men whose hearts God had touched went with him. 27 But certain worthless men said, “How can this one deliver us?” And they despised him and did not bring him any present. But he kept silent.

I am learning that you can be in God’s will and right where He wants you to be AND there will be push back and opposition.  The question then emerges: Why are we surprised?

Here are 3 facts:

1) Trials are intended to grow our patient trust (called steadfastness) in God.  They are necessary for us to be complete.  They are required if we are to be fully equipped, lacking nothing.

  • James 1: 2-4 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.

2) God uses every aspect of these trials, aka painful circumstances & suffering, to bring about our maturity, training and equipping.

  • Romans 8:28  And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose

3) Sometimes the secondary cause, the deliverer of the suffering/trial/hardship, is via spiritual forces of wickedness.  God, the first-cause, allows these attacks for His own good and loving reasons.

One of those ‘good’ reasons is so we will KNOW how real and safe God’s Word is.  Last week, I re-learned that lesson.

I had gone about 6 weeks with no parent complaints in this my first year in a new school.

No complaints since

 

 

 

 

I really didn’t see this one coming.  And when the complaint filtered down to me via my principal (I explicitly excluded a disruptive child when I passed out mini marshmallows for good participation in class), I was emotionally drained.  My confidence and enjoyment of the students had been growing since the nadir in January.   But this episode set me back.

My tête-à-tête with my principal happened on a Thursday.  And the following Monday I felt even lower.  It was like I had lost all sense of purpose in life. I seriously considered how much money I could make cleaning homes as an alternative to THIS!!!

My poor husband didn’t know how to react to his normally optimistic, perky wife.  But he defaulted to the most effective use of his time and words.   He prayed fervently most of the evening, unlike Job’s friends.

And praise be to God, the next morning, something that Tullian Tchividjian said in a podcast brought relief.  He was recounting his ‘year from Hell’, his first year as senior pastor of  Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft Lauderdale.  And MY thought was this: “I bet Tullian seriously considered resigning and going to work at Lowe’s to support his family!”   My next thought tumbled out: “Wow!  Then we would have been deprived of his ministry of grace, his books and the Liberate Conferences!  I bet this was spiritual attack by those who were bent on stopping any advance in the Kingdom!”

Spir Warfare - the lion

 

 

 

And just with that thought, I was ‘right-side-up’ again with purpose and renewed resolve NOT to let the enemy defeat me.  It might be that God’s will for me at that school is just for this year.  That decision is in His hands.  But for now, I will fight on, determined to reach out to my students and colleagues and be available to them.  I am learning the absolute reality and security of God’s word.  As my cousin Terry reminded me:

No wpn formed against you

 

 

 

 

 

And thank you, Michael, for your prayers.  As James points out, “the fervent prayers of a man who is in right-standing with God make A LOT of power available!” (James 5:16)

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