HOLY HUGS AND HELLOS

I know that many skip over this last part of Paul’s letter of greetings, but in it I find so much affirmation. “Be sure to welcome____”,  “Say hello to ____” begins a list of the people doing the work of the Lord in all kinds of ways.  It shows that Paul knows the people well almost as much as God knows their hearts for loving and serving him.  Paul takes the opportunity to AFFIRM the work God is doing in and through them!

Dear Friends, we do not give as much honest affirmations like this as we should in and out of God’s church.  We get so busy surviving another Sunday with one or more services without even a smiling nod of approval or a word of thanks much less an “I love how you serve” holy hug.  This is part of the work, according to Paul, for people are God’s work in progress.  How will people know if they are on the right track of serving if we do not tell them as leaders?  A little bit of affirmation multiples exponentially.  When someone affirms me, I work ten times harder and immediately affirm others.  God planned it that way, I’m pretty sure.

Jesus affirmed women in his work while on earth which was counter culture for that time.  Now, it is good to see that Paul does the same.  Look at the list of affirmations he gives to specific women in the work of God’s Kingdom.  Paul will do this many times in his letters to the churches he helped to develop.  Watch for it…

Finally, Paul teaches us a very important aspect of affirmation.  We affirm, not the person, but Jesus IN the person leading them to do what they are doing for Him.  This huge difference we must not miss.  Vain flatteries are merely comments of self and produce only conceit.  But affirming words, prompted by God’s Holy Spirit, build the Body of Christ.  Notice that Paul ends all these affirmations with;

All of our praise rises to the One who is strong enough to make you strong, exactly as preached in Jesus Christ, precisely as revealed in the mystery kept secret for so long but now an open book through the prophetic Scriptures. All the nations of the world can now know the truth and be brought into obedient belief, carrying out the orders of God, who got all this started, down to the final detail.

All our praise is focused through Jesus on this incomparably wise God! Yes!

Affirm someone in the work of the Lord today, tomorrow or next time you meet.  You will discover that every time you sincerely affirm someone else in the work, attention on self disappears, we gain strength, more at peace with joy overflowing from God, the One who makes us all strong. 

How do we do it, you might ask? 

I learned many years ago that the holiest way to affirm someone while doing the work God gave them to be and do is;

“Fred, Mary, I see Jesus in you when you _________”. 

Fill in the blank with what you see Jesus doing in them while they are serving Him.  This “holy hug” will be embedded in the hearts of those who serve God with all their hearts, minds and souls.  “Nice haircut or nice clothes” are personal but do not build the Body of Christ who said, “Don’t worry about what you eat or wear.”  “Love each other as I have loved you.”

Ooh, now I think we get it, Lord.

ROMANS—OUR CARE AND CALLING

Romans 16, The Message

1-2 Be sure to welcome our friend Phoebe in the way of the Master, with all the generous hospitality we Christians are famous for. I heartily endorse both her and her work. She’s a key representative of the church at Cenchrea. Help her out in whatever she asks. She deserves anything you can do for her. She’s helped many a person, including me.

3-5 Say hello to Priscilla and Aquila, who have worked hand in hand with me in serving Jesus. They once put their lives on the line for me. And I’m not the only one grateful to them. All the non-Jewish gatherings of believers also owe them plenty, to say nothing of the church that meets in their house.

Hello to my dear friend Epenetus. He was the very first follower of Jesus in the province of Asia.

Hello to Mary. What a worker she has turned out to be!

Hello to my cousins Andronicus and Junias. We once shared a jail cell. They were believers in Christ before I was. Both of them are outstanding leaders.

Hello to Ampliatus, my good friend in the family of God.

Hello to Urbanus, our companion in Christ’s work, and my good friend Stachys.

10 Hello to Apelles, a tried-and-true veteran in following Christ.

Hello to the family of Aristobulus.

11 Hello to my cousin Herodion.

Hello to those who belong to the Lord from the family of Narcissus.

12 Hello to Tryphena and Tryphosa—such diligent women in serving the Master.

Hello to Persis, a dear friend and hard worker in Christ.

13 Hello to Rufus—a good choice by the Master!—and his mother. She has also been a dear mother to me.

14 Hello to Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and also to all of their families.

15 Hello to Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas—and all the followers of Jesus who live with them.

16 Holy hugs all around! All the churches of Christ send their warmest greetings!

17-18 One final word of counsel, friends. Keep a sharp eye out for those who take bits and pieces of the teaching that you learned and then use them to make trouble. Give these people a wide berth. They have no intention of living for our Master Christ. They’re only in this for what they can get out of it, and aren’t above using pious sweet talk to dupe unsuspecting innocents.

19-20 And so while there has never been any question about your honesty in these matters—I couldn’t be more proud of you!—I want you also to be smart, making sure every “good” thing is the real thing. Don’t be gullible in regard to smooth-talking evil. Stay alert like this, and before you know it the God of peace will come down on Satan with both feet, stomping him into the dirt. Enjoy the best of Jesus!

21 And here are some more greetings from our end. Timothy, my partner in this work, Lucius, and my cousins Jason and Sosipater all said to tell you hello.

22 I, Tertius, who wrote this letter at Paul’s dictation, send you my personal greetings.

23 Gaius, who is host here to both me and the whole church, wants to be remembered to you.

Erastus, the city treasurer, and our good friend Quartus send their greetings.

25-26 All of our praise rises to the One who is strong enough to make you strong, exactly as preached in Jesus Christ, precisely as revealed in the mystery kept secret for so long but now an open book through the prophetic Scriptures. All the nations of the world can now know the truth and be brought into obedient belief, carrying out the orders of God, who got all this started, down to the final detail.

27 All our praise is focused through Jesus on this incomparably wise God! Yes!

Lord,

I love you with all my heart, mind and soul and so do millions of others who believe.  Help us to holy affirm each other, spurred by our love for you that prompts us to love each other they way you love us—without conditions. 

In Jesus Name, Amen

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PRAY FOR ME

Friends, when we ask for prayer, who do we go to first?  We go to those we know pray with sincere hearts, wanting God’s best for us.  Right?  Hold that thought…

As believers in Jesus, we are all ministers of the gospel—the Good News that all can be saved for eternity by believing in Jesus.  God’s work in us is to listen for His prompting, timing, right words, with His Spirit of delivery of those words to the lost.  Paul went where no other apostle had been before, telling the Good News to the Gentiles as well as his fellow Jews.  Paul was powerful, passionate and productive in God’s work, giving all the glory to God for whatever was accomplished.  We love that about Paul.  We also love that often Paul humbly asked for prayer. 

We love that about anyone in the church today who does not seek glory for themselves as they do God’s work.  Friends, God invites us to His work, equips us and leads us. So, to HIM be the glory for all that is good from the results of our yielding to Him.  When pray asking for help, it is only fitting and sensible to give glory to the One who helped us.  When we get this wrong, we are in trouble and peace alludes us.  When we get this right—walk humbly with God—we walk in His peace.

As Paul brings his letter to the churches in Rome to a close, he asks humbly for the church to pray strenuously for him.  Paul, who seems to have it all under control, strong and courageous even while in prison, always preaching in all circumstances, asks for earnest, strenuous prayer. This is the kind of prayer that “wrestles” with God to know exactly what HE wants.  This is the kind of prayer Paul is asking his friends to pray with him.  Paul knows, without doubt, WHO is really in control.  God and His will are what Paul seeks. Why?  Because Paul knows that prayers of sincere hearts bring the peace of God in all circumstances—even in jail.

ROMANS—OUR CARE AND CALLING

Romans 15:22-33, The Message

Part three of three

22-24 And that’s why it has taken me so long to finally get around to coming to you. But now that there is no more pioneering work to be done in these parts, and since I have looked forward to seeing you for many years, I’m planning my visit. I’m headed for Spain, and expect to stop off on the way to enjoy a good visit with you, and eventually have you send me off with God’s blessing.

25-29 First, though, I’m going to Jerusalem to deliver a relief offering to the followers of Jesus there. The Greeks—all the way from the Macedonians in the north to the Achaians in the south—decided they wanted to take up a collection for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. They were happy to do this, but it was also their duty. Seeing that they got in on all the spiritual gifts that flowed out of the Jerusalem community so generously, it is only right that they do what they can to relieve their poverty. As soon as I have done this—personally handed over this “fruit basket”—I’m off to Spain, with a stopover with you in Rome. My hope is that my visit with you is going to be one of Christ’s more extravagant blessings.

30-33 I have one request, dear friends: Pray for me. Pray strenuously with and for me—to God the Father, through the power of our Master Jesus, through the love of the Spirit—that I will be delivered from the lions’ den of unbelievers in Judea. Pray also that my relief offering to the Jerusalem believers will be accepted in the spirit in which it is given. Then, God willing, I’ll be on my way to you with a light and eager heart, looking forward to being refreshed by your company. God’s peace be with all of you. Oh, yes!

WHAT WE HAVE LEARNED ABOUT PAUL…

Paul explained the characteristics of his ministry in this chapter, don’t miss what God is teaching us—

  • Paul’s ministry was received by grace (vv. 14–15).
  • It was centered in the gospel (v. 16).
  • It was done for God’s glory (v. 17).
  • It was done by God’s power (vv. 18–19).
  • It was according to God’s plan (vv. 20–24).

Like Jesus went to the Father in continuous prayerful communication before doing anything of significance, Paul has learned to go the Father, asking for His specific plan, by His power, in Jesus Name, for His glory as he centers God’s work all on the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Who are we, as believers, to do anything less?  Pray for me and I’ll pray for you, sincerely and strenuously…

In Jesus Name, For His Glory, Amen.

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PIONEERING

“Going where no man has gone before” is a phrase made popular through its use in the title sequence of the original 1966–1969 Star Trek science fiction television series, describing the mission of the starship Enterprise. The complete introductory speech, spoken by William Shatner as Captain James T. Kirk at the beginning of each episode, is:

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life and new civilizations. To boldly go where no man has gone before!”

As believers, called to tell the Good News of Jesus as Savior and Lord, we are pioneers when we yield to God’s leading to go where no one else will go to tell what many do not know.  Pioneers are also called “missionaries” in the church world.  Paul describes himself as a “trailblazer” which is another word for missionary and pioneer.  He relates, “In such ways I have trailblazed a preaching of the Message of Jesus all the way from Jerusalem far into northwestern Greece. This has all been pioneer work, bringing the Message only into those places where Jesus was not yet known and worshiped.”

Friends, are we settlers, settling for what others have already done and said for us?  Or are we willing to be pioneers who will tell the Good News of Jesus to anyone who has never heard of Him?  We don’t have to go around the world or up into space to find people who do not have the greatest relationship known to mankind.  “Mankind” could be across the street, down the block, at the grocery store, at the park with their kids, at the Y getting exercise for the month of January to pay for all the food sins and lack of exercise the other 11 months of the year. (Smiling)

People need a Savior.  People need to know what puts a smile on our face even when in pain or facing adversities of all kinds.  Humans all around us need to know the most important relationship they will ever have—One with Jesus who speak for us before God!  God is our Provider, Healer, Protector as well as our Savior through His sent Son.  Jesus pioneered a life for us to live while He was on earth.  His life, before laying it down to save our lives, was lived in the most excellent way, full of love and compassion for everyone He met, teaching us, by example not to look to own interests but to the interests of the others.  Paul took us to a higher level of thinking about Jesus when he wrote about Jesus in Philippians 2:5-11;

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.”

THIS is what Paul preached, going where no man had gone before with the gospel Good News of Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord of our lives forever!

PAUSE TO PRAY AND REFLECT

(Take all the time you need, I am)

What Good News am I ready to tell, no matter where I am or what I’m doing? 

If God sends me somewhere else, am I ready and willing to go? Frontier or across the street?

What are my top interests?  Myself or others?

Is being “equal” more important to me than being humble?

ROMANS—OUR CARE AND CALLING

Romans 15:14-21, The Message

Part two of three

14-16 Personally, I’ve been completely satisfied with who you are and what you are doing. You seem to me to be well-motivated and well-instructed, quite capable of guiding and advising one another. So, my dear friends, don’t take my rather bold and blunt language as criticism. It’s not criticism. I’m simply underlining how very much I need your help in carrying out this highly focused assignment God gave me, this priestly and gospel work of serving the spiritual needs of the non-Jewish outsiders so they can be presented as an acceptable offering to God, made whole and holy by God’s Holy Spirit.

17-21 Looking back over what has been accomplished and what I have observed, I must say I am most pleased—in the context of Jesus, I’d even say proud, but only in that context. I have no interest in giving you a chatty account of my adventures, only the wondrously powerful and transformingly present words and deeds of Christ in me that triggered a believing response among the outsiders. In such ways I have trailblazed a preaching of the Message of Jesus all the way from Jerusalem far into northwestern Greece. This has all been pioneer work, bringing the Message only into those places where Jesus was not yet known and worshiped. My text has been,

Those who were never told of him—
    they’ll see him!
Those who’ve never heard of him—
    they’ll get the message!

(Emphasis mine)

Lord,

You have taught us how to repent, how to pray to God our Father, how to live a life of humility, to walk justly and to love mercy, putting others first in line, ahead of all that we think we need.  Now, help us live the Good News out loud so others will know you more by telling your story for your glory.  We need you every hour of every day to do this well, in the most excellent way, with your love in us, flowing through us.  Come Holy Spirit.

May all we think, say or do today be pleasing to you, Lord.  I’m listening.  I believe.

In Jesus Name, For His Glory, Amen

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HOPE LIVES IN HARMONY

A great choir director has sharp, keen ears to hear when one person is out of tune and needs help to hear the harmony.  The Great Director will move the out-of-tune person to a place where they can learn to hear with one who has achieved the skill to sing in harmony. After a time of learning, maturing through listening, the once out-of-tune, out of sync and rhythm member comes back into harmony with the rest of the choir.  “Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus! 

The Great Director smiles as believing members of His choir are filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, brimming over with His Hope, as they sing together in harmony in the rhythm of His Grace!

Dear Friends, as we read Paul’s words to the church at Rome, we are encouraged with his words that ring true today as we dive deeper in our own understanding.  Paul reminds us of God’s original intent for His created choir.  Godly harmony is where life and hope come together.  God loves ALL, is in ALL and above ALL.  God is our Great Director.  God loves all of us, insiders and outsiders, so much that He sent His Son to save us.  Jesus, is the root of Jesse, through the line of David, who saved us from our sins.  Jesus is our Hope for today, in the coming year, and forever!

“There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse,
    breaking through the earth and growing tree tall,
Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!”

“Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!”

Lord, this is my prayer for all of us…

In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen

“All God’s creatures got a place in the choir…”  (Song from my past…)

ROMANS—OUR CARE AND CALLING

Romans 15:1-13, The Message

1-2 Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?”

3-6 That’s exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t make it easy for himself by avoiding people’s troubles, but waded right in and helped out. “I took on the troubles of the troubled,” is the way Scripture puts it. Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!

7-13 So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! Jesus, staying true to God’s purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them. As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God. Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do! For instance:

Then I’ll join outsiders in a hymn-sing;
I’ll sing to your name!

And this one:

Outsiders and insiders, rejoice together!

And again:

People of all nations, celebrate God!
All colors and races, give hearty praise!

And Isaiah’s word:

There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse,
    breaking through the earth and growing tree tall,
Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!

TAKE NOTE—Be like Jesus

Followers of Jesus follow what Jesus said and did, as directed by His Father, the Great Director.  We also must follow the lead of the Director.

Jesus said,

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”  Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

Yes and Amen! 

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RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD AND EACH OTHER

Disunity has always been a major problem with God’s people. Even the Old Testament records the civil wars and family fights among the people of Israel, and almost every local church mentioned in the New Testament had divisions to contend with. The Corinthians were divided over human leaders, and some of the members were even suing each other (1 Cor. 1:10–13; 6:1–8). The Galatian saints were “biting and devouring” one another (Gal. 5:15), and the saints in Ephesus and Colosse had to be reminded of the importance of Christian unity (Eph. 4:1–3; Col. 2:1–2). In the church at Philippi, two women were at odds with each other and, as a result, were splitting the church (Phil. 4:1–3). No wonder the psalmist wrote, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Ps. 133:1).

Pleasant and joyful, relaxing and stimulating indeed, when we come together because of our relationship in Christ!  How wonderful to worship and praise Him minus thoughts about our petty differences among our sisters and brothers!  Often, my dad would say when faced with differing opinions of others; “relationship trumps differences, don’t lose the relationship”.  It begins with Jesus.  Our relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship we will ever have.  Seek and develop this relationship daily.  The deeper we love and commune with God through Jesus, the stronger our relationship grows with Him. Over time, because of this developing relationship with our Master, we discover our relationships with each other grow stronger, deeper, unassuming and sweeter each day.

The closer we get to Jesus, the closer we become with each other in relationship.

ROMANS—OUR CARE AND CALLING

Romans 14, The Message

Cultivating Good Relationships

Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

2-4 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
    “every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
    that I and only I am God.”

So mind your own business. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

13-14 Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.

15-16 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!

17-18 God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.

19-21 So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you? I said it before and I’ll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.

22-23 Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.

WHAT WE LEARN FROM PAUL…

  • We are saved by Jesus.  We are answerable to God.
  • Keep a holy day.  Be grateful to God.  Live in gratitude and praise to God.
  • Only Jesus is the perfect judge“Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God.”  He is God and we are not.
  • All attention and focus must be on our own intimate, growing relationship with God.
  • Christ died for all.  Let God show what is right for us.  Don’t confuse each other with personal opinion.
  • Our task is to single-mindedly serve Christ!
  • Agree to get along with each other.  When God’s kids get along, we must make him smile.  Parents, how do you feel when your kids work and play together in loving ways?  Same with God. 
  • Our primary calling—share the story of Christ.  May all our thoughts, energy and compassion for others, because of our love for Jesus, drive our behaviors!  “You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent.”
  • First, love and cultivate a relationship with God.  Then develop God-honoring relationships with each other.  God loves that.  Love God.  Love Others.  Jesus told us these two commandments (not suggestions) are the most important.  I believe Him, don’t you?

Lord,

Our primary task is to tell your story, without our opinions.  Our opinions are not necessary and pale in comparison with your Truth.  Give us wisdom in our relationships.  May we grow closer to you so we grow closer to each other in the coming year.  May 2022 be the year of unity—One with You.  One with each other because of being One with You.

I believe.  Help me to behave like I say I believe.

In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen. 

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LIVING RESPONSIBLY

This is New Year’s Eve 2021.  Commercials are flooding the media with “drink responsibly”, “call a cab”, etc. What does the word “responsibly” really mean?  Some dictionaries say, “answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power, control, or management”.  Others define this word as it directly relates to our behavior. “When you do something in a careful, trustworthy way, you do it responsibly. If you spend your money responsibly, you’ll probably be able to save some of it.”  Webster sums it up with, “able to be trusted to do what is right or to do the things that are expected or required.”  This is a person who behaves responsibly.  Okay.

Paul takes us farther down the road with what is right in the eyes of God who is responsible for creating us, giving us free will to choose what is right and good but with all the help we need when we ask for it.  God gives us His Word who became flesh and lived on earth and taught us how to live responsibly, serving others from a heart of pure love, being our perfect example to follow.  Jesus then became our perfect sacrifice for our sins paying the full amount of our debt of sins forevermore. God gave us His Holy Spirit as a gift at rebirth (our salvation) to come live in us to guide, correct, encourage, comfort and direct our thoughts that lead to subsequent behaviors. 

Living responsibly is allowing God’s Spirit free reign to guide us to all that is good.  God’s best life begins with us leaning into His holy guidance. 

Many years ago, I would pray a prayer about this time of year to grow in one particular element of God’s character for the coming year.  I thought it to be too hard to grow in all His traits at once time!  I’m not that good, Lord!  So, Lord, work on me, chip away what is not pleasing to you one blow at a time. 

One year, I remember praying to be more gracious, to be a person who could extend grace before judgement.  It is at this time that I begin to journal my prayers.  At the beginning, my written prayers were messy but honest, complaining about those who irritated me, telling God what needs to be done, and asking Him to fix them so I could live at peace.  What happened instead was by writing down the words from my gut to only God, I noticed I said less irresponsible words out loud to others.  God was changing my heart which led to changing my mind.

God isn’t finished with me yet, for I am still journalizing my thoughts in prayer, going first through God’s “carwash”, cleaning up the words I say out loud.  Leaning into God’s filter and clean up is living responsibly.  I cannot do life without God.  I cannot not mature in His character without His Holy Spirit.  I cannot be gracious without His grace growing substantially, taking hold, in me.

Paul’s advice to believers in Jesus is valuable and so appropriate at this time of living under the oppression of the Roman government.  Life isn’t fair, but Paul tells them to live as good citizens, while emphasizing to live responsibly as good citizens. Even under burdensome, unfair oppression, “Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.”

ROMANS—OUR CARE AND CALLING

Romans 13, The Message

To Be a Responsible Citizen

13 1-3 Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear.

3-5 Do you want to be on good terms with the government? Be a responsible citizen and you’ll get on just fine, the government working to your advantage. But if you’re breaking the rules right and left, watch out. The police aren’t there just to be admired in their uniforms. God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.

6-7 That’s also why you pay taxes—so that an orderly way of life can be maintained. Fulfill your obligations as a citizen. Pay your taxes, pay your bills, respect your leaders.

* * *

8-10 Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along. The law code—don’t sleep with another person’s spouse, don’t take someone’s life, don’t take what isn’t yours, don’t always be wanting what you don’t have, and any other “don’t” you can think of—finally adds up to this: Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.

11-14 But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!

SUMMING IT UP…

Live responsibly where you live, obeying the laws of the land.  “God also has an interest in keeping order, and he uses them to do it. That’s why you must live responsibly—not just to avoid punishment but also because it’s the right way to live.”

Love each other.  “Don’t run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe each other. When you love others, you complete what the law has been after all along.

Avoid all the “don’ts”.  Love other people as well as you do yourself. You can’t go wrong when you love others. When you add up everything in the law code, the sum total is love.

Dress yourselves in Christ…live like He taught us to live—responsibly, for and to others with love, mercy and grace.

Lord,

I love you with all my heart, mind and soul.  I need you every hour.  I love getting up each day to speak with you first, hear you, then be guided by you for the rest of the day.  When I mess up, you are quick to realign my thinking and behavior.  I am so grateful for your correction which brings peace, joy, love, mercy and grace to my heart and fills my soul.  Thank you for not giving up on me.  Thank you for your continued “finishing touches” on your salvation work in me.  I can only live responsibly with you helping me.

In Jesus Name, Amen

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THIS!

Some of us look for a word that will guide our thoughts to what we need to work on most to improve our well-being.  That’s good.  Some of us decide that we need a mentor for the coming year to help us be better in our walk.  That’s good, too.  Others of us are just trying to survive our ordinary, get up and go to work, come home, go to sleep then do it all again the next day lives.  I get that.  But, seriously believing friends, don’t we desire more?  In our heart of hearts, we who believe in God, reconciled to God through His Son who saved us from our sins, want more out of THIS life we live each day?

Paul began Chapter 12 with, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. (v1-2).  Paul, like a good teacher who’s been there, done that, he tells exactly how to EMBRACE what God does for us as we transform to be all He has created us to be.  THIS is God’s best in us!  We must joyfully embrace what God is doing in us, day by day, hour by hour in our ordinary lives. 

The embraced character traits God is growing in us is THIS…

ROMANS—OUR CARE AND CALLING

Romans 12:9-21, The Message

(Part two of two)

9-10 Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.

11-13 Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.

14-16 Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.

17-19 Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

20-21 Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.

Want a word for 2022?  Choose from this great list that Paul, inspired by God, gave us!

Love

Friendship

Hospitality

Second

Fueled

Aflame

Alert Servant (okay two words but we can’t separate them!)

Remember, God helps us.  His Holy Spirit lives in us to discipline us to growth with encouragement.  Every ordinary day.

And when we think we are ready to quit?  Paul has remedies for our down times…pray all the harder, pray for your enemies and do good to them, laugh, cry, take your enemy to lunch!  What?  Smiling.  I’ve done this.  It did more for me in my letting go of the hurt of my enemy than it did for my enemy…did God know that?  I’m sure He did.

Finally, the phrase of the year for me is THIS: discover beauty in everyone”.  When we do, we discover the beauty God puts in all of us, even in our enemies.  THIS is where God wants us to be in our “ordinary life—our sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—as we place our lives before God as an offering.

“Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.”  THIS is what I want and how I want to think. 

Placing and embracing—no other way to live life at God’s best!

Lord,

THIS, all of chapter 12, is my prayer,

In Jesus Name, For His Glory, Amen. 

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2022 – Romans 12 – Goals!

Be still and know God (Psalm 46:10) means letting go of our control for His sovereign control.  Why?  Because…

Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

Romans 11:36

I discovered something early on as a new parent, long ago in a galaxy far, far away that holds true in every learning experience. What I discovered would also help me to be a better teacher of first graders, then later with other age groups.  A child will not grasp what you are telling them unless you show them, step by step, how the task is done.  Just watching you isn’t enough.  You must talk about the steps it takes to make a bed, organize toys, fold and put away laundry, or making a sandwich along with the reasons for doing the tasks.  You can tell by the look in their eyes, when they “get it”.

This begins as soon as they can walk.  Toddlers will follow you everywhere anyway so teachable moments are inexhaustible.  Toddlers are more moldable and willing and think what you do is amazing and fun.  Take advantage of that!  Ask them to join you in what you are doing.  Ask questions, “what do you think I will do next?”, “what is the next step?”  Doing life together shows them the value and reason behind the work that makes life better for everyone that lives in the household.  The “watch me, join me, do it while I encourage, now you do it” philosophy of teaching was introduced by Jesus, our Master Teacher.  His disciples carried it on in their writings.

From teaching in public school classrooms, God then called me to go into church ministry.  The “classrooms” expanded to teen, young adults and older adults.  The same principles of helping someone grow and mature in their walk with God apply with added nuances. 

What I have learned and still learning:

  • I do not have all the answers.  No one does.  Only God does.  We will never have all the answers, only God knows all, is in all because He created all.  (See our previous chapter 11 in Romans!)
  • We can only take people where we have walked.  We can only go as far in our teaching about God as far as we have been in our own learning.
  • We cannot tell people to spend time with God each day, if we are not willing to do so.
  • We cannot ask people to do what we are not willing to do.
  • We do need to be authentic, venerable, and trustworthy.  When trust is gone, teaching ceases.
  • When we cease to learn, we cease to be teachers.
  • We must lay our lives before God as an offering to Him each day.  This is where it all begins.

Paul spent eleven chapters telling us WHO we are in Christ.  Now he teaches all of us who believe what we must DO in Jesus Name, for His glory.  We all have a “part to play” in the God’s Kingdom.  Paul now takes us on a journey in the subsequent chapters with step by step, simple, understandable instructions with how to live as believers together in Christ. 

Friends, so we don’t miss the significance of this powerful instruction for living life in the most excellent way, we will take this in two smaller bites.  This is part one of two.  This is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible.  I have used this passage many times in teaching others how to love and treat each other as they serve God.  It begins with laying down my own life before God, waiting for His Word to me, embracing all of God’s best for me.  Because of my imperfections, a work still under construction, I must place my life daily before God as an offering so He can perfect His best in me.

This placing and embracing is key to learning to think and behave more like Jesus.  We yield and God does the work to change us from the inside out.  We cannot do this by ourselves.

ROMANS—OUR CARE AND CALLING

Romans 12, The Message

Place Your Life Before God

12 1-2 So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.

4-6 In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.

6-8 If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.

Lord,

Living for you is a tall order and too much for us unless your power to working through us to change us daily.  Thank you for your love, mercy, grace, patience and goodness that brings us closer to you each day.  I love you with all my heart, mind and soul.  I worship you for all you are.  I pray for all of you to be in me.  If I had a “word” for 2022, Jesus, it would “embrace”.  I embrace all you have for me and all you want to do in me.

In Jesus Name, Amen

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JESUS—THE EQUALIZER

The Equalizer is a new TV drama about Robyn McCall, an enigmatic woman with a mysterious background.  She uses her extensive skills to help those with nowhere else to turn. McCall comes across to most as an average single mom who is quietly raising her teenage daughter. But to a trusted few, she is “The Equalizer” — an anonymous guardian angel and defender of the downtrodden, who’s also dogged in her pursuit of personal redemption.  She has her own set of problems.  She is not perfect, only driven to help others who are bullied in life. 

As I watch this drama, I think of how Jesus came down from heaven and willingly “moved into our neighborhood” of unfair, unrighteous behavior to set things right with God.  He came to redeem us.  Jesus was perfect, the only real equalizer, who could do what God had planned long before sin took hold of our world.  Jesus did more than equalize the situation, he saved all sinners who would believe in Him.  Life is still unfair but with Jesus we can be made right with God.

When we were young in high school, there was no better feeling when one of the “cool kids” invited you to sit at their lunch table or go in their car to the nearest McDonalds.  You, who sat on the outside watching, was suddenly on the inside hearing the chatter of the cool kids.  You soon discover that they are just like you with the same wonderings about school life, similar problems at home, figuring out what parents want, along with just wanting to have fun with real friends.  And, sometimes they use you to have someone to pick on because they used up everyone else.  Yes, there’s that. 

As we “grew up”, we discovered that this social stratum, with same behaviors is also carried into our church life—if we allow it.  Most people are welcomed with open arms, at first, until we find out if they are “like us” or not.  If guests come back in the coming weeks, then the acceptance phase sets in with information formed through gossip.  Don’t tell me this doesn’t happen in our body of believers; I’ve seen it and experienced it—from the outside.  We are so troublingly human with our judgmental habits that these behaviors can be spotted within ten minutes of arrival as a guest to our churches. 

The “cool kids” stand in a group/clique sizing up who enters.  They laugh and talk loudly, pat each other on the back while hugging those they know and accept.  “Aren’t we a friendly church?” they think they are saying but in reality, this behavior pushes new people away and confirms they do not belong.  Cool kids see new people and smile but immediately turn their attention to those they know and love.  Guests will not be invited or accepted into their homes until they pass the test, whatever that is because it is created by the culture of the cool kids themselves.  Smiles will be automatically given but as a way to size up the new people coming in.  The cool kids put off a pompous air with “we are holier than you are” assumptions that comes from how many more years they have attended coupled with how many volunteer hours have been clocked—as if that led to super salvation and the right to lord over others who have not done the same.  (Sigh.)

Sounds a bit like the Jewish clan Paul is addressing, doesn’t it?  But we do the same in varying degrees without thinking.  We must look inside ourselves.  We must evaluate who we treat as outsiders and how we behave in their presence.  We must consistently evaluate our habits of assumptions and assessments of people who enter the doors of our church seeking help for their lives…just as we did.  Are we truly helping people find and follow Jesus?  Or looking to lord over those who are not like us?

GOOD NEWS!  Insiders and outsiders have a super equalizer!  He is Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord, for all.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  God still loves THE WORLD, Jews and non-Jews, insiders and outsiders, and has a plan to bring us all together.  Our champion, Jesus Christ, is coming to clean house!  Jesus Christ is Lord of all.  Are we ready?  Jesus IS coming back, you know…

ROMANS—OUR CARE AND CALLING

Romans 11:25-36, The Message

A Complete Israel 

(Part 3 of 3)

25-29 I want to lay all this out on the table as clearly as I can, friends. This is complicated. It would be easy to misinterpret what’s going on and arrogantly assume that you’re royalty and they’re just rabble, out on their ears for good. But that’s not it at all. This hardness on the part of insider Israel toward God is temporary. Its effect is to open things up to all the outsiders so that we end up with a full house. Before it’s all over, there will be a complete Israel. As it is written,

A champion will stride down from the mountain of Zion;
    he’ll clean house in Jacob.
And this is my commitment to my people:
    removal of their sins.

From your point of view as you hear and embrace the good news of the Message, it looks like the Jews are God’s enemies. But looked at from the long-range perspective of God’s overall purpose, they remain God’s oldest friends. God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded.

30-32 There was a time not so long ago when you were on the outs with God. But then the Jews slammed the door on him and things opened up for you. Now they are on the outs. But with the door held wide open for you, they have a way back in. In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in.

33-36 Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out.

Is there anyone around who can explain God?
Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do?
Anyone who has done him such a huge favor
    that God has to ask his advice?

Everything comes from him;
Everything happens through him;
Everything ends up in him.
Always glory! Always praise!
    Yes. Yes. Yes.

Lord,

You loved us first.  You created a plan to save ALL of us from the beginning of time itself.  That plan was your Son, sent to save us from our sins.  Once and for all, you did save us.  Who are we to question this marvelous plan?  Who are we, the sinful people we are, to keep anyone away from your plan of salvation?  Who are we to question your extravagant generosity to ALL people? Lord, I don’t want to be a “cool kid” who looks for ways to keep others out.  I want to be like you, dear Jesus, who taught us to love each other, unconditionally, like you love us.  So, make your thoughts be my first thoughts.  Make your desires be my desires.  Realizing the depth of love you have for me causes me to love others even more.  Help me to walk in your ways.  To you be the glory forevermore! 

In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen

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GRAFTED AND GIFTED FROM THE ROOT

There are many reasons that pride, boastfulness, thinking more highly of ourselves when life is going well, are evil activities that get in the way of our growing in God’s ways. The very minute we think we can be good on our own, we are not.  Only God is good.  Only God is to be praised for all the good in us.  God is at the root of our redeemed lives in Christ.  God IS the root of all that is good, thriving, growing and maturing into a beautiful bounty of life-producing fruit in us.

Pride spoils the fruit.  Boasting that we are responsible for the miracle growth of the fruits of God’ Holy Spirit in us is irresponsible and leads to a “pruning”.  We cannot be good on our own.  (We have discussed this before with Paul!)  Only God is good.  Only God creates and reproduces what is good from Him into us.

Let’s step back and review God’s character traits, all that is holy, that He works into us comes from His root of salvation.  Paul lists these traits as the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit because it is HIS powerful Spirit that helps to nurture and mature these fruits in us, changing us from our former sinful selves, saving us to grow into His forever life-giving, grated and gifted for His purpose, holy beings!  The list is found in Galatians 5:22-23…   “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”  Tall order, right? —only God in us produces this fruit as gifts to help us grow in His love, mercy and grace.  Allowing His Holy Spirit to do so is an act of worship to God!

Friends, all because of Jesus, we are now attached to the root of all that is good, growing and alive for eternity! Paul explains to his fellow Jews that now everyone can be grated into God’s root who believe and want to grow in Jesus Name, for His glory. 

We learn that God, the Miracle Grower, can and will graft deadwood back into His root of salvation.  The Jews who previously rejected Jesus (pruned as deadwood laying on the ground) but decide to come back and believe will be grafted back into the Life-giving root!  No one but God can do that!  What amazing love and grace!  And what a homecoming indeed, when ALL who believe will come together someday in unity with God and believe that Jesus Christ is King of kings and Lord of lords, Son of God, sitting at the right hand of God.  Jesus, the One and Only who saved us from our sins!

ROMANS—OUR CARE AND CALLING

Romans 11:11-24, The Message

Pruning and Grafting Branches

11-12 The next question is, “Are they down for the count? Are they out of this for good?” And the answer is a clear-cut No. Ironically when they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in. But the next thing you know, the Jews were starting to wonder if perhaps they had walked out on a good thing. Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom, just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming!

13-15 But I don’t want to go on about them. It’s you, the outsiders, that I’m concerned with now. Because my personal assignment is focused on the so-called outsiders, I make as much of this as I can when I’m among my Israelite kin, the so-called insiders, hoping they’ll realize what they’re missing and want to get in on what God is doing. If their falling out initiated this worldwide coming together, their recovery is going to set off something even better: mass homecoming! If the first thing the Jews did, even though it was wrong for them, turned out for your good, just think what’s going to happen when they get it right!

16-18 Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit. Some of the tree’s branches were pruned and you wild olive shoots were grafted in. Yet the fact that you are now fed by that rich and holy root gives you no cause to gloat over the pruned branches. Remember, you aren’t feeding the root; the root is feeding you.

19-20 It’s certainly possible to say, “Other branches were pruned so that I could be grafted in!” Well and good. But they were pruned because they were deadwood, no longer connected by belief and commitment to the root. The only reason you’re on the tree is because your graft “took” when you believed, and because you’re connected to that belief-nurturing root. So don’t get cocky and strut your branch. Be humbly mindful of the root that keeps you lithe and green.

21-22 If God didn’t think twice about taking pruning shears to the natural branches, why would he hesitate over you? He wouldn’t give it a second thought. Make sure you stay alert to these qualities of gentle kindness and ruthless severity that exist side by side in God—ruthless with the deadwood, gentle with the grafted shoot. But don’t presume on this gentleness. The moment you become deadwood, it’s game over.

23-24 And don’t get to feeling superior to those pruned branches down on the ground. If they don’t persist in remaining deadwood, they could very well get grafted back in. God can do that. He can perform miracle grafts. Why, if he could graft you—branches cut from a tree out in the wild—into an orchard tree, he certainly isn’t going to have any trouble grafting branches back into the tree they grew from in the first place. Just be glad you’re in the tree, and hope for the best for the others.

WHAT DO WE LEARN?

Don’t become deadwood—stay attached to The Root of our salvation and life forever!

Lord,

You speak to our hearts each morning with thoughts that help us to grow more deeply in love with you, depending on you for all that is good. Thank you for your patience as you watch us grow, helping us all along the way with your miracle growth of your holy fruit bearing in us.  It’s all about you.  It always has been.  Continue to weed out the evil and grow me to be all you created me to be.

In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen. 

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