Trusting in what I can see – just plain stupid!

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Psalm 20:7  Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (NIV)

Who wouldn’t want to have at one’s disposal a stable full of strong, thoroughbred horses and a complement of iron chariots?  Think how reassuring that stockade of muscle and might would feel!  Especially when the enemy rattled sabers and the rhetoric intensifies.

But that seeming crutch is not what God has in mind for His children.  No! As the psalmist asserts, the people of God purposefully reassure themselves NOT by gazing at their OWN provisions but by rehearsing and remembering the facts.  The Head of the supernatural angel armies is our King, our Protector, and Provider.  He’s that invisible kind of force.  Just as real and ready, but not the kind you can see or touch.

We, humans, tend to prefer what we can feel and finger and count. At least I do!

This divine and very different sort of defense force depends on our using the faith God has given us.  The difficulty is this:  faith is an invisible gift. It’s REAL and it’s THERE. But it only becomes operative in the very moment we choose to trust who God is and what He has promised to do and move out in reliance on Him. When we act as if we really know He will come through, He comes through!  Always.

You’d think that with each God-success under our belt, it would get easier for us to trust Him.  I admit, to my shame, that I find even WANTING to rely on God a constant battle.  I think it would be easier just to have the resources myself.

For instance, I don’t FEEL like a naturally creative teacher.  I plan lessons a few days in advance and then when I get to right before a particular French class bustles in, I find that I don’t feel confident about the activity I foresaw.  When I fling myself on God’s promise to provide what I need, I get real help.   Somehow He shifts my thinking and suddenly I can SEE what something that might work and be more effective.

And the class DOES hum and I’m grateful.  HE actually provides, each time I consciously cry out and depend on Him and do what He provides.

Last Monday I didn’t do that submitting my plan prayerfully and dependently to God for His help.  I relied on myself.  And the entire day’s classes proved to be flat.  I hated it.  In fact, I wanted to give up teaching altogether as I walked out of school to my car.  Then the Holy Spirit gently brought this question to mind, “Maria, did you even ask for My help? After that first class, why didn’t you think to hand over the next level’s plan?”  Stunned, I realized that I had not prayed at all that day about my teaching.  How could I overlook such a basic resource?

The truth is, in my natural flesh, I just rather have the resources at hand – ahead of time.  It’d be much easier to be a naturally gifted, creative French teacher who had her students eating out of her hand and speaking French.

But I know better.  The Bible teaches us that we are designed and created to be needy from our birth:

Psalm 22:  9-10Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
    you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
 On you was I cast from my birth,
    and from my mother’s womb, you have been my God.

So my prayer daily, even though I sometimes forget, is for God to make me glad and content in my dependence on Him.  When I fling myself on Him, and He comes through, I get the help and relief and He gets the glory.

Our Creative Designer and Sustaining Father calls this system, this way ‘GOOD‘.

Psalm 84:11 – No good thing does He withhold from the one who LIVES moment-by-moment depending on Him to come through. (what He calls being ‘walking blamelessly or uprightly’)  And if you think about it, if we are upright, that means we have our hands raised to Heaven, imploring and crying out to Him, instead of looking horizontally either at the need or what we can do to meet it ourselves.

Father, please help my unbelief!

 

 

 

 

Don’t be discouraged by James’ marriage of faith & works

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Patrick has been continuing to preach on that often controversial passage in James 2 about how faith and works relate.  Yes, we are saved by grace through the gift of faith.  But the changes in our thoughts, words and deeds (‘works’) that follow our conversion offer proof of the genuine nature of our new faith.

James 2:14 – What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?

Having just finished Michael Crichton’s novel – State of Fear, a fast-paced thriller about stopping some extreme eco-terrorists, I easily recalled a perfect example of this faith needing works to be legit.

State of Fear

Toward the end of the race to save America from an induced natural disaster, the main character is challenging the claims of both a housewife and a TV actor that the environment is their primo cause that motivates them.  Their testimony or profession crumbles with each pointed question:

  • Why is it that your main residence has 10,000 square feet?
  • How do you also justify maintaining an apartment in NYC and a vacation home to which you travel?
  • Why is it that you jet here and there to environmental conferences?
  • Why do you live so far away from your husband’s office that he commutes daily by vehicle, thus adding to carbon emissions?
  • Why is it that you think that those eking out an existence in ‘natural’ jungles in the 3rd world are content and we should all return to the wild?
  • Why haven’t YOU given up living in a 1st world country, then?

It is not enough to claim you believe something without proof that your convictions have changed the way you live.  As James points out so pointedly,

James 2:19 You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.

This morning I was reading in 1 Samuel 11 about the terrorized people of Jabesh Gilead whose village was besieged by the Ammonites.  They sent word to Saul and Samuel who through the Holy Spirit united all of Israel to come to their rescue.  See if you can discern how faith and works are coupled in this next verse: 

1 Samuel 11:9 They (the mustered Israelite army) said to the messengers who had come, “You shall say to the men of Jabesh-gilead: ‘Tomorrow, by the time the sun is hot, you will have help [against the Ammonites].’” So the messengers came and reported this to the men of Jabesh; and they were overjoyed.

That last word, ‘overjoyed’ is evidence of the Jabeshites’ faith in the messengers’ news. Anxiety and fear fled when they trusted the communiqué. How do we know?  Look at how they rejoiced – not just a little, but with exUBERance.

Their demeanor and response backed up their profession that they believed the messengers. There was no longer a ‘need’ to fret.

Works don’t have to always be big actions.  Our settled feelings, our resting in God prove our faith.

Are these kinds of works easy? No!  I have to sometimes fight the fear and anxiety when facing a situation for which I have no answer and see no solution.

Just this week God has gifted us with a new opportunity to prove our faith.  An old enemy, a bodily response to worry sprang up suddenly, attacking my husband 3 days ago.  This condition had not plagued him for 4 1/2 years, so the return was a shock.  You know how the fear works, the well-worn pattern of thinking and ‘what-if-ing’ that accompanies these situations.

Immediately I pulled out my go-to weapon of choice, Psalm 84:11 NO good thing does the Lord withhold from those whose way is upright.

I have to conclude, by reason, that if God has seen fit to allow this old enemy to plague us, then He has only good in mind.  By His grace, Mike and I ARE stronger and more practiced at trusting and wielding the sword of the Spirit.

Yes, it’s hard and continual, but I trust our good and loving Father.  And I want the spiritual forces of darkness AND my Christian brothers and sisters AND the unbelieving world to witness what faith in God looks like in a Christian.

Habakkuk 3:17-18 Though the fig tree should not blossom and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold and there be no cattle in the stalls, YET I will exult in the LORD, I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.

Stay tuned for how God brings us through this excursion into the valley.

 

 

One antidote to lessen anxiety

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We all know that fear and anxiety tend to be the common human response to the unknown future.  I say ‘future’ because few are anxious about the present moment.   It’s already here! Our stress tends to be when we anticipate what MAY lie ahead.

But here’s where I think we go wrong.  When we imagine the next 5 minutes, or tomorrow with trepidation, we anticipate what I call ‘NAKED’ trials or suffering.  All we can picture is the worse that we think might happen.  But without taking into account God’s mercies and grace that He promises to provide IN the suffering.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end

They are new every morning; Great is your faithfulness!  Lamentations 3:22-23

What do we think all those promises in the Bible are for?  Poetry?  Or maybe they are true only for people ‘back then’ or ‘super Christians with a lot of faith’?

Here’s the good news.  If you have ANY modicum of faith in Jesus as your rescuer and substitute, those promises are YOURS!  How do I know?  Because the faith that you have is not something you initiated. God GAVE it to you.  You wouldn’t have even asked for the gift of faith or wanted it!  It’s ‘unnatural’ to desire God.  Only the man or woman or child who has been brought to spiritual life finds Jesus appealing.   So if you have ever exercised any measure of reliance or faith in the biblical Jesus, you belong to God as His child.

I once heard John Piper talk about his fear of betraying God were he to face a martyr’s death like those burned at the stake for translating the Bible into English.  What he finally realized that overcame this fear was that even in that extreme a circumstance, God provides GRACE for the moment to endure and die well.  How can we possibly imagine what that grace would look like or feel?  We can’t.

That is why we walk by faith and not by sight.

Take heart, dear fellow Christian.  Bank your all on God and His Word.  His promises and His character keep Him faithful to all His children.  God can NOT lie or change.

God in the future

Does God need anything?

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Yes, He does. He needs our weakness!

Checkbook of Grace

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me2 Cor 12:9

What an amazing and imbalanced swap!  We give God our weaknesses and in exchange, He provides His unlimited power and strength.

In Paul’s case, God did not remove the illness or disease (that ambiguous thorn in his side), but gave Paul endurance not only to bear it but to rejoice in it.

I’ve been thinking about 3 things – ‘boasting in weakness’ as Paul puts it, God’s provisions and my needs.  John Piper writes in his book Faith in Future Grace that most of God’s word to us is in the form of promises.  It’s like God hands his redeemed kids an unlimited checkbook called Grace.   If grace is the set of all of God’s gifts to us, then within that purse or checking account or cupboard (whatever metaphor you prefer) are coins/checks/containers of different resources.

God's Grace Venn Diagram  You probably can’t read the small titles, but I think you’ll get the idea.  The big circle is all the grace available to us; the points are names of the forms of provision like:

  • mercy
  • strength
  • forgiveness
  • peace
  • financial resources
  • time
  • healing
  • patience
  • understanding
  • faith
  • rescue

The promises become precious to you and me only when we are desperate and bank our all on them, moving out of the paralysis of fear into the open space called ‘trusting God to do what He says’.  Hence the checkbook.  Some of us carry a checkbook around in a pocket or purse and when we need something and don’t have the money in hand, we write a check and count on both the merchant accepting it in lieu of cash and our bank honoring it.

It’d be stupid to continue to be needy all the while carrying a valid checkbook!  But that is how we act with God’s word.

Okay – so here is where this gets real for me.  What is my # 1 weakness?  It’s the continual fear that I won’t have ENOUGH TIME to do what I need to do for school and home AND……have some time left over for me to do what Maria wants.  Daily and hourly I face and fight that fear.  So God, in His kind design to wean me off my fear and grow my default mechanism to trust Him continually, SEEMS to give me more stuff to do than I can SEE time available to me.

I’m a slow learner.  But I’m getting better.  My thoughts are lining up more times than not (80%) with God’s word. My heart, however, still drags its feet.

To help both you and me, here are some encouraging words.  Take them as reasons to believe that these promises ARE indeed meant to be used.  The first one states the fact that we actually POSSESS these promises if we are indeed Children of God:

  • (Paul lists several promises and ends a chapter quoting a promise from the Old Testament in 2 Sam 7:14 ) “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (Paul then reasons…) Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends…... 2 Cor 6:18 – 7:1a   

  • But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus – Phil 4:19
  • For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength – Phil 4:13
  • I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of Egypt.  Open wide your mouth and I will fill it – Psalm 81:1

There are hundreds and hundreds of promises that will stun you if you will accept them as truthful words from a reliable source.

But how can we really know that God will come through and the check not bounce? I’ll leave you with two realities that reassure me:

  1. All I have to do is look back over my past (recent and long ago) and see the many ways He has come through when I both relied on Him and doubted Him. (call that “mercy and kindness added to provision”).
  2. The definition of God is composed of His attributes.  So when you consider just ONE characteristic –  ‘faithfulness to His word’, if anyone could top God then that person would be God.  The very definition of ‘God’ means that no thing or no one tops Him in  ANY and ALL of these qualities.  So we can reason and relax that when it comes to doing what He pronounces He will do, then He WILL do it!

So tell me, which promise of God is most precious to you?  What is your # 1 ‘go-to’ pronouncement of provision in this season of your life?  I’m composing my own ABC list of promises that I can have at my disposal and I’d love to be reminded of other treasures in the Bible.

Can we really trust God?

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George Mueller   George Mueller is my hero in the faith. He’s the pastor who together with his wife undertook orphan care in 19th century England. His primary purpose was NOT to provide love, care and education for children, BUT was to collect evidence to share with ordinary Christians that God had NOT changed and could still be trusted. In his words, Mueller wrote in 1835:

  • “….so many believers with whom I became acquainted were harassed and distressed in mind, or brought guilt on their consciences, on account of NOT trusting in the Lord: (these) were used by God to awaken in my heart the desire of setting before the church at large, and before the world, a proof that He has not in the least changed; and this seemed to me best done, by the establishing of an Orphan-House.”

Two features stand out about this adventure in trusting God:

  1. Mueller NEVER asked for funds.  He and his wife and the matron who worked with them prayed the money in, by taking God at His Word, by banking their all on His promises to provide.
  2. When all was said and done by 1870, 1722 children were being taken care of in 5 purpose-built homes that had required 100,000 English pounds to build, all provided by God through unsolicited donations.

So…the other dark day, in the midst of despairing over my own particular sin ‘bent’ that was overcoming any joy in the Lord, it came to me (thank you for your prayers used by the Holy Spirit, dear friend!) to tackle it once more but BY FAITH in God’s promises rather than by determination and Maria-power.  (yes, a novel idea, you rightly smirk!)

I’m embarrassed to share that this struggle with sin revolves around eating and my weight and the pre-eminent place all that still holds in my heart. The fight against idols persists. But the truth is my weight has gone up AND (creating the unpleasant dilemma) I like to eat. Reflecting soberly about this situation for the umpteenth time, I moved cautiously in the following direction.  So as not to change the kind of healthy foods nor the PORTIONS of the 3 meals I eat,  I settled on cutting out snacks between meals, a small change I know.  The daily deficit would be about 300 calories.

The next step after setting on a plan was this: I named my fears in black type on the white screen in an on-line journal:

  • That with such an incremental approach, I’ll just kind of ‘forget’ I’m doing this and go back to my old way of eating. I’m an expert at rationalizing and changing my mind.
  • That I will be hungry and unsatisfied between meals and feel sorry for myself and won’t be able to stand those feelings.

I knew I needed a go-to verse as my first weapon, if I was going to undertake this adventure in Holy Spirit power.  So I cobbled together 2 verses that quickly came to mind:

When I am afraid, I will put my trust in you, the God who is able to do IMMEASURABLY more than all I can ask or imagine, according to Your power that is at work in me! Ps 56:3 and Eph 3:20

My husband has often shared with me his joined-at-the-hip pair of verses that he prayed for our son Wes to lean on as he underwent the rigors of Ranger School:

Apart from you I can do nothing; but I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!  John 15:5c and Phil 4:13

So yesterday, day 1, we walked in the rain, it being a Saturday and NOT a hiking day.  I knew that given our leisurely start, I would not be able to eat my packed lunch until we reached the turn-around point of our walk at Biltmore Estate. As I anticipated being hungry and not having my habitual baggie of almonds to snack on, I leaned on God’s promise of provision.

152 - Biltmore in the rain on 10 Oct 2015

I took that fear and looked past it to God’s promise to provide in ways I can’t even project.

And He did!  No surprise there.

We ate lightly for supper, as I tried a new recipe for wild-caught flounder.  But again I contented myself with the assurance that each time I started to ‘panic’ I could take comfort in the God who IS living and runs the abundantly full cupboards of grace set aside for each of His children.

Day 1 – victory in Christ and on to adding to God’s track record of proof.  I know that He can be trusted.  I just need to prove it to myself again in that dark place that has been my hold-out, a stronghold of self-control and sin.

Is worry normal or is it a sin?

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Worry

Yes!

Yes, anxiety is normal and yes, practicing anxiety is a sin.

And there is good news.

I’m being trained to look behind a statement in scripture to reason about the condition of the author.  For example, yesterday morning I paused at verse 4 while reading Psalm 86:

  • Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.

Since it was a rainy, gloomy Saturday morning I immediately asked God to gladden both my and my husband’s hearts.  But afterwards I realized that the only reason the Psalmist would have penned such a request was because he was struggling with the blahs or worse and knew he could count on God to help him!  Why ask for something of which you have no need????

Here’s another verse from Matthew 6:25

  • I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear.

Why would Jesus dedicate these minutes to expound on worry if He didn’t SEE or KNOW that worry was present in the hearts and minds of those listening to Him?

How about the command NOT to fear?  I read in the on-line Christian Post (5 Nov 2014 blog post entitled Faith over Fear) that Jesus’ primary teaching was: to love others. (125 times taught in the Gospels) According to the writer of the post, Jesus presented and organized His teachings by theme.  And the primary theme (21 times) for His instruction was about FEAR.  Do not fear; don’t be afraid; be courageous; be firm in your faith.  This means that Jesus exhorts us to LOVE by NOT FEARING.  Hmmm, could it be that fear drives out love?  Is that the reason that the apostle John pens in 1 John 4:18?:

  • There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear,

And why would Jesus repeat such a message if it weren’t a glaring problem?

So YES – worry and anxiety are normal, but they are neither GOOD, nor HEALTHY, nor appropriate for Christians.  In fact, worrying is a sin since God commands us NOT to worry.

So how does it help to know that worry is both a sin AND a normal reflex?

Because God doesn’t leave us to battle it on our own. There is supernatural power to fight sin.  And we are called to enter into warfare every day of the Christian life. Through daily practice similar to our workouts at the gym, we will strengthen our reflex to rely on His promises and character, growing more like Jesus.  But let’s be realistic; we will not eliminate anxiety 100 %. Therefore, we can expect to have to engage this enemy of the faith daily, WITH the resources God provides. Even my hero of the faith, George Müller, admitted that the decade of his 90s were the hardest.  I imagine his struggles had to do with declining health and increased physical limitations.  There are always new fears to confront.  But God promises fresh mercies each day (‘our daily spiritual bread’)

It’s not for rhetorical reasons that Paul exhorts young pastor Timothy in his first letter, chapter 6, verse 12:

  • Fight the good fight of faith 

This same Paul is the one who explains how to dress daily for the warfare.  Besides defensive armor, he reminds us that there is ONE offensive weapon – God’s word.

The only way to drive the worry dragons away is by saying or singing or shouting or meditating on God’s many promises to BE our strength, to BE our peace and then to bank our life on those promises given to us by a Loving Father whose character is trustworthy.

Here’s one more look at a desperate psalmist and how he deals with danger or suffering

  • If your law had not been my meditation I would have perished in my affliction. Psalm 119:92

The fact that he mentions his affliction is significant.  Like us, he had a choice of mediating on how bad his circumstances were and how he couldn’t see a way out OR he could chew on the truth of God and what He has said.  This Old Testament man of faith makes it clear had he chosen the former course of limiting his view to the present, he would have died.

Aren’t we blessed to have the Bible which does not sugar-coat life’s sufferings?  Instead, it tells us that pain is real and there is help that is equally real and available.

I’ll leave you with an ‘oldie-but-goodie’ sermon link of the man who is teaching me to read my Bible and mine it for MORE than the explicit words:

You can either read or listen to the sermon here

Will you be disappointed to know what God’s will is for your life?

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I’m ashamed to admit that in my early years as a Christian I used to brag about my UN-answered very ‘selfless-sounding’ prayer when Mike and I were in a career bind.  We were living in England and he was ‘stuck’ in a commission-only sales job and hated what the stress was doing to his body.  Nurtured by a small group from our church, we began to learn about God from the Bible.  Since we were in a bind about this job crisis, we crafted a spiritual request:

  • Father, just show us your will and we will do it!

No matter how much we pleaded with God, we didn’t receive any nudges or clues from God about what to do job-wise.  In the end, we stumbled our way through several dead ends and moved back to the States.  Even after we were finally settled into a new career path for Mike, I often shared the story of this ‘failed’ prayer request.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned what God’s will for my life was.   It’s the same as for your life, if you are a Christian. And it’s bigger than individual problems or unpleasant life circumstances.

It’s called RADICAL HOLINESS. 

radical

Before you flinch at either word, BREATHE!  We’ll look at each word and find some good news.

Let’s take up first the term, ‘holy’. It should come as no surprise that God wants us to be holy.  He started with Abraham and grew a separated people, the Hebrews, to BE holy. The OT is the story of how they, like us, kept failing at their calling.  Take a look at a few verses:

  • Be holy, as I am holy  (found in the OT, for example in Lev 20:26 as well as in the NT, for example in 1 Peter 1:16)
  • For it is God’s will that you should be holy (or sanctified) 1 Thess 4:3   holiness or sanctification is Hagiosmos in Greek  (we get the word hagiography, referring to stories about the saints, aka believers)

What about the first concept of ‘radical’?  Is that crazy-wild holiness like John the Baptist, complete with eating flying insects and getting stung gathering honey?

john the baptist

Not specifically. I don’t doubt that this forerunner committed his life to growing into God’s holiness.  But the TRUE meaning of radical is ROOT.  We are to be like God down to our very roots, not just LOOK holy to wow each other.

It’s the difference between eye-impressing pietistic outward behaviors and growing in godliness from the surface all the way to your core.

I have to admit that on the surface that might sound boring.  If so, then the fault lies in me and how I think about holiness. There’s also the very real problem that God is committed to transforming me closer to the image of Jesus, whether I find his goal for me exciting or not!  And he does this by…….

organizing one training exercise…… after another trial….. after some practice after..  every single day! (repeat until we graduate, aka go to be with him!)

I was reading a bit last night in John Piper’s book, Future Grace.  His premise is that all of God’s promises in the Bible are units of grace that are future to us. AND they are as sure as God himself is the following:

  • who he says he is (as written in His book, the Bible),
  • and who he has demonstrated himself to be (evidence from the past – both in others’ lives and ours).

Piper connects actually relying and believing God’s promises with growth in holiness.  Here’s his quote,

  • I pledge myself to a holy dissatisfaction until my thoughts and my words and my deeds express the radical holiness that comes from the wonderful, joyful freedom of living by faith in guaranteed future grace. (p. 108 of Chapter 7, original edition)

Piper takes as a key teaching about the assurance of God’s promises to us and for us these verses in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as recorded in 2 Cor 1:20-22 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

So how I summarized Piper’s thesis was this:

  • God calls/commands me to be holy.
  • I grow more holy as I soak in and move out, trusting the invisible but very real promised provision as detailed in his scripture promises.
  • When I pray to God I ask him to help me trust what he says. I need his help to stake my every-day moments on his word. So in my prayer I say Amen, aka Yes!, to God’s promises which are grounded in Christ and shored up by the permanent deposit of the Holy Spirit in me.

So, do you see?  Becoming more and more holy is actually a joy-producing adventure.  God doesn’t want us to worry and carry the burden of life on our shoulders.  But we won’t believe him that his way is the better and happier way.  So he orchestrates these tests, EVERY day, forcing us to exercise our spiritual muscles.

For me these tests seem to center around my perception of having too many tasks today and too little time AND have some time left over for me to relax by reading.

I’ve been meditating on Piper’s teachings the past few days.  This morning I woke up feeling anxious about ‘all I needed to get done’ today after church.  Then I remembered that I don’t HAVE to worry.  And in fact maybe, just maybe, God has piled all ‘all this stuff’ deliberately to crunch me and force me to take the practical exam of trusting his promised future grace. For that is how he is making me holy, right down to my core.

Question:  What’s your holiness training plan like?

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