Monthly Archives: February 2014

Today’s Scripture – February 28, 2014

Philemon 6:  I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.

There is much about living in the kingdom of God that people can’t experience, or even concretely know about, unless they are active in sharing their faith with others.  The sad thing is, today the VAST majority of those in churches in America have never shared their faith with anyone, and most of those who have, have not actually done it in years.  Most of those have no concrete plans to share their faith with anyone in the immediate future, either.  Some of them suppose that if God drops an opportunity in their laps that they will quickly respond, but the sad truth is that they blindly drive or walk past a dozen of those opportunities every day.  And, since they don’t actively PLAN to share their faith today, they don’t even see them!

People who plan to share their faith each day DO share their faith each day.  And those people experience things that people who are not active in sharing their faith simply cannot.  They experience God’s power each time they speak to someone about Jesus.  They get to see the instantaneous transformation that God makes in a life first-hand.  They get to hear God’s voice consistently, and feel His leading continually as He guides them to each person whose hearts He has been working in.  They get to walk in God’s power and presence, and they get to see their world transformed one heart at a time.

None of these blessings can be experienced by people who do not actively share their faith.  And I’m not talking about “living a good life” and hoping that someone notices and “asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  (1 Peter 3:15)  The context of that verse, which many mistake for the great commission, is not sharing the gospel, but testifying under persecution.  The real commission to God’s people is not that, but “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)  God does not give the power of His Spirit to those who sit on the sidelines (who don’t actually need His power to do that), but only to those who are actively engaged in the mission.  He does not perform miracles for those who watch, but for those who are fighting on the front lines.  He does not  speak to those who are comfortable in their pews, but to those who are engaged in the battle to save souls, and who actually need His guidance.

To those who long for God’s presence, His power, and His guidance, we will never experience them through mere devotional practices, or by self-discipline.  But all of them are continually experienced by those who are actively engaged in sharing their faith.

Father, your word is crystal clear, and easily verified through experience, my own included.  Those times when I experience Your presence and power are those times when I am actively engaged in sharing my faith, on the stretch for souls.  Those times when I get involved in other things to the detriment of reaching people with the good news, Your voice becomes faint and muffled in my ears, and Your power fades quickly.  Help me to always be actively involved in the real work of the kingdom, so that I can truly experience every good thing we have in Christ.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 27, 2014

Colossians 1:9-12 (NIV):  For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.  And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.

So many people claim to be seeking God’s will for their life.  And seeking to know God’s will is not a bad thing.  Paul prayed powerful prayers for that very thing for the Colossian Church.  But it is vital to understand that God’s will for His people is not some dark mystery; it is actually made very clear through the teachings and commandments of Jesus.  God’s will for His people is that they actively live in His kingdom through constant relationship with Him, AND that they actively grow God’s kingdom through making disciples of all nations (including making disciples of those living in our own nation, their own communities).  Neither of these can be neglected.  Neither of them can be delegated or left to the professionals.  They are God’s will for each individual.

Paul refers to these facets of God’s will for the Church and for the individuals in it when he writes about the results that he is expecting from his prayers for knowledge of God’s will for the Colossians:

  • Living a life worthy of God, and pleasing Him in every way.  This life of obedience and growth in spiritual strength and stature is a direct result of surrendering to the Holy Spirit, and living in accordance with God’s commands.
  • Bearing fruit in every good work.  The fruit of the kingdom, the harvest that is to be brought in, is simply more disciples.  And the good works done by God’s people, whether miracles or ministry, all must be designed to achieve that end.
  • Growing in the knowledge of God, and being strengthened so that we have great strength and endurance.  This can only be achieved through living in intimate relationship with God, reading His word frequently and prayerfully, and spending quantity time with Him in prayer.  The greatest motivator for these to be present in the life of a person is for them to be active in the mission field that God has called each of us to.  That puts us in the place where our need for His presence and power becomes so apparent that we are driven to Him.  These practices then become, not a matter of spiritual disciplines or self-control, but a matter of sheer necessity.
  • Joyfully giving thanks to God because He has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in His kingdom.  This comes naturally, not because of some academic understanding of theology, but because we end up living so completely in God’s presence, and seeing Him working powerfully in and through our lives.  When we see that, we know in our hearts that all of God’s promises are true, without anyone having to persuade us of that!

All of these things come naturally as a result of not just knowing God’s will, but of actively and consistently DOING His will.  Only when we do that can we experience the explosive spiritual health and growth that is promised to us.  It is well worth praying for!

Father, I absolutely agree that only when we are actively doing Your will and obeying Your commands can we experience Your presence and power enough to say amen to all of these things.  Help us, Your people, to be filled to overflowing with the clear knowledge of Your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that we can DO Your will powerfully.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 25, 2014

Colossians 1:13-14 (NIV):  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Notice the verbs in this sentence; they are all in the past tense.  So many Christians seem to be anxiously waiting for the day when they can at last be rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought into the kingdom where Jesus rules.  But Paul knew that that reality is not held for some future date; it has already been accomplished.

If anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17).  That new creation includes the present reality of being rescued from the dominion of darkness.  When we belong to Jesus, the enemy no longer has control over us.  We have God’s own power working in us to be able to resist him, and when we do, he will flee (James 4:7).  The devil has no more power in our lives than we are willing to give him.  We can, from the moment that God comes to live in our hearts, walk in the light, which will keep the enemy far from us.  He may try to entice us, to lure us into some spiritual dark alley where he can ply us with his temptations, but we never have to follow him there.  He never has to gain control over us again.

All of that power over the enemy is a side effect of being brought into the kingdom of Jesus – a kingdom that is not a matter of talk, but of power (1 Corinthians 4:20) – God’s power working in and through each follower to live in and to grow that kingdom.  Power to demolish strongholds, arguments, and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:1).  Power over the enemy, over sin, over the things of this world that so easily ensnare.  No longer do God’s people need to struggle and strive, failing and struggling on.  Power is now ours, and because of the reality of that power, victory is ours as well.

This power and victory is not something that must wait until after death, or after Jesus’ return, as some teach.  Paul lived in that power and victory, as did the other apostles.  It was a done deal for them, and it is a done deal for those of us who follow Jesus today.

Father, thank you for giving us this freedom, this power, this victory.  We could never do any of this on our own, but with You working in us, this really can be a done deal in our lives today.  Help us to live out that reality, starting right now.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 21, 2014

Exodus 3:16-17 (NIV):  “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob– appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt.  And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites–a land flowing with milk and honey.’”

The descendants of Israel in Egypt during their 400 year sojourn had lost track of the fact that they were God’s people, and that He was their God.  In the midst of their toiling and suffering oppression, they had no sense that He was present with them, watching over them, and putting the pieces into place that would ultimately lead not only to their salvation from slavery, but to their inheritance of the Promised Land, as He had sworn to their forefathers.

At first the process seemed too hard.  Pharaoh increased their workload in response to God’s demand that he let His people go.  And the people almost lost heart.  They couldn’t yet see how God was working His plan, even in the midst of their trials.  Then came weeks of plagues that God brought on Egypt – plagues that devastated the Egyptians, but left His people untouched.  Only then did the people begin to realize what was really happening:  that the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, was really working on their behalf to set them free.  Only then did hope begin to spring up in their hearts.  Only then did the old promises, passed down through the generations, begin to glow with new life.

The thing is, God had been with them the whole time, even in the hardest of times.  He had been watching over them, guiding them, protecting them, and helping them to grow into a great nation (despite varied attempts to slow down the multiplication rate by Pharaoh!).  They were unaware of God’s presence, blind to the actions He was taking on their behalf, and ignorant of the thousands of graces that He showered on them every day; unaware of miracles that He was performing to keep them on track with His plans for them.  It was only when they found the burden too hard to bear, the trials too hot to tolerate, that they called on God to act, and their eyes were opened so that they could see His hand at work on their behalf.

Father, it would be easy to criticize these people for not seeing the many ways in which You were actively present, doing everything necessary to make all of Your promises come true.  But, Lord, how often are we the same as them!  How often do we fail to sense Your presence with us, Your hand protecting us from a thousand things each day that could ruin or kill us, but from which You protect us without us even being aware of the danger!  How many ways have You gone out of Your way to bless us, and we blissfully receive the blessing without even being aware of Your hand; without a single word of thanks!  Forgive us, Lord, for being so blind, so deaf, so senseless, and so lacking in gratitude.  Open all of our senses so that we can clearly see Your hand at work, so we can feel Your presence, so we can take heart that You are near in every trial.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 20, 2014

1 John 2:3-6 (NIV):  We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.  The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him:  Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

The standards for a Christian life that John sets forth in this letter seem too difficult to most people:  to obey all of God’s commands, and to walk as Jesus did.  Many theologians have spilled gallons of ink trying to figure out how much sin God will allow in a believer’s life, because they begin with the premise that living a genuinely holy life in this world is impossible; literally walking as Jesus did, in uninterrupted communion with God the Father, is unrealistic.  And so many have come to believe that John is merely using hyperbole here – exaggerating the standards in order to show how important it is to “try” to live a holy life.

But those theologians are missing the point.  If a person merely strives to do right in their own strength, if they try to obey all of God’s commands in their own power, if they attempt to walk as Jesus did by following a set of rules and procedures, then yes, they are doomed to failure.  The best they can hope for is a self-righteous Pharasaism, which Paul described as “rubbish” (literally “dung”) in Philippians 3:4b-9, and which Isaiah likened to “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

But John correctly identifies the keys that make this genuine righteousness and holiness of heart and action possible:  to genuinely know Jesus – meaning to have a real heart relationship with Him (2:3); and to live, or abide, in Jesus – to be completely immersed in His life (2:6).  When we truly come into a relationship with Jesus through repentance and faith, God’s Spirit comes into our hearts, and changes them in an instant.  This is the “new creation” that Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 5:17.  That transformation of our hearts enables us to truly live in God (which Jesus prayed for us in John 17:20-23), where we can remain, living our life in true communion with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  From that moment forward, it becomes possible for us to really live a righteous life, not in our own strength, but because God’s Spirit is living in us, guiding us, directing us, and empowering us to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philippians 2:13 NIV)  With that empowerment, we really can obey God’s commands (His arm is not too short!); His love really is made complete in us; and we really can walk as Jesus walked, in uninterrupted communion with Him.

Father, I see how, if we try to be righteous and Christlike on our own, we are doomed to failure.  But if we allow You to literally transform us from the inside out, the power of Your Holy Spirit living through us will transform our actions as well as our hearts.  Help us all to live out this reality, starting today!  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 19, 2014

John 10:2-5 (NIV):  The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.  The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”

Jesus is indeed the good shepherd of the sheep.  Even today He knows those who belong to Him, and calls them each by name.  And those who belong to Him hear Him, know His voice, and follow Him out of the security of the sheep pen, and out into the world.

Many people who take comfort in the image of Jesus as their shepherd still have a couple of problems:  they don’t know His voice, so they don’t get moving when He calls, and they don’t follow Him out into the world; they just want to be taken care of in the safety of the sheep pen.

When Jesus left for heaven, that was not the end of His work here in the world – it was just the beginning.  Luke got it exactly right in his intro to the book of Acts:  In my former book (the gospel according to Luke), Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven (Acts 1:1-2a NIV).  Everything recorded in the gospels was just the beginning – His work was far from accomplished.  In Acts, Luke tells us how Jesus, through His Spirit-filled followers, completed the next phase of His mission.  And in every age since then, in every place that Jesus has followers who will listen for, hear, and obey His voice, He is still working His mission to change the world by making people into new creations.

Every day Jesus is still calling His sheep out of the pen and into the hazardous world around us – like sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16).  But He is not calling us out for a leisurely stroll along peaceful streams, or merely to loll around in green meadows.  There is the work of the kingdom to be done.  When He calls us out, He goes before us, leading the way to where the harvest is ripe.

But only those who truly belong to Jesus are able to hear His voice.  Only those who hear and listen are able to follow Him out of the pen and into the world.  And only those who follow Him closely are able to see and take advantage of the opportunities that He leads us to, and bring in an abundant harvest.

Father, help us to keep our ears open to the voice of Jesus, our Shepherd.  Help us to follow Him closely every single day into the world, so that we can continue His mission.  Help us to see where He is leading, so that we can reap an abundant harvest for Your kingdom.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 18, 2014

Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV):  I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Verse 13 of this passage has been widely used, both in and out of the Church.  It has been put on posters, engraved on plaques, memorized, and pulled out whenever an impossible situation faces people.  And that is not necessarily a bad thing.  A person literally can do everything through God, the one who give us strength.

But in all of this, Paul’s actual context for this statement of faith is frequently lost or obscured.  And so this promise is used least of all in the specific context for which it was written.  Paul is specifically writing about how he had learned the secret to being content in every situation in which he found himself.  It is no great accomplishment to be content if you have a lot:  adequate food, adequate drink, adequate income, and enough stuff to make life comfortable.  It is another thing to be content with little food, with only water to drink, with little or no income, with no fellowship or friends nearby, and without many comforts that many people consider necessities.  Without even the freedom to come and go as you choose.  It is the rare person who could be truly content under those circumstances, and even Paul would not have been able to pull it off at earlier stages of his life.

But Paul writes that he has learned the secret of being content in every situation.  The secret is:  “I can do everything through Him who give me strength.”  It is not Paul’s gloomy acceptance of his circumstances that enable him to be content; it is God’s presence giving him the strength to be an overcomer, even in prison.  It is not his strength of character or willpower that help him to find contentment, even with no freedom; it is God’s presence giving him the strength to see the opportunities that exist right where he is, and the power to pull them off.

True contentment is in very short supply these days, even in the Church.  Yes, God can give strength to do whatever is necessary in a person’s life, even those things that seem impossible from a human standpoint.  But one thing that God’s people would benefit from hugely is seeking Him for the ability to be content, and therefore productive for His kingdom, no matter what our circumstances.

Father, forgive us for being less than content, even with all that we do have.  That discontentment shifts our focus off of the work of Your kingdom and onto a pursuit of more, a chase after contentment.  But real contentment is only possible in vital relationship with You; by living in Your presence, seeing Your face, and experiencing life and strength in the presence and power of Your Spirit.  Help us to seek You first as our primary source of contentment; to do the work of Your kingdom as the true measure of a successful life; to set our goals in accordance with Your guidance as the only worthwhile pursuits in our lives.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 17, 2014

Philippians 4:6-7 (NIV):  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul prayed a lot.  Not only did he pray for his own needs, but he continually lifted up the needs of the various churches that he was connected to or familiar with.  (Cf. Romans 1:9-10; 1 Corinthians 1:4; Ephesians 1:16; Philippians 1:4; Colossians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:2.)  And with all that he had to pray for, he could easily just launch into his list of wants and needs each day, like so many do.

But Paul always included abundant praise and thanksgiving in every prayer. Even in jail he had a lot to be thankful for.  He never had to scratch his head and search hard to find something to praise the Lord for.  His focus was on what God was doing ever day.  He saw how God met his need for food, not only through the jail system itself, but by gifts sent from the churches.  Every day Paul was preaching the gospel, so every day he got to see lives touched deeply, if not changed entirely.  God’s presence was powerfully present in his heart, so he knew that the Lord was always with him.  God frequently communicated His will to Paul, so that he was always certain of being where God wanted him to be, and doing what He had called him to do.

So when Paul prayed, a good deal of his prayers consisted of praise and thanksgiving, which actually empowered his petitions.  His instructions to present requests to God by prayer and petition, WITH THANKSGIVING are the key to receiving the peace which transcends all understanding.  Without a continual review of God’s blessings, a person’s focus in prayer becomes only on their unmet needs.  But by keeping God’s blessings, His provision, and the prayers that He has already answered on the front burner all the time, it inspires hope and a calm assurance of God’s presence and His working on behalf of His people, no matter what the circumstances.

Father, forgive our tendency to focus so hard on our wants and needs that we entirely miss Your blessings.  Forgive us for merely launching into our litany of requests, so that we forget to say thank You for the thousands of blessings that You already give us every day.  Thank You for this reminder.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 15, 2014

Philippians 3:1 (NIV):  Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.

People are often amazed at the upbeat tone of Paul’s “prison epistles.”  They wonder how a man could be so full of joy and praise while stuck in a Roman jail, having all of his movement restricted, and not even being able to choose what to eat or who to see.

The answer is in the short phrase, “Rejoice in the Lord.”  Paul understood that he was part of something much larger than himself.  He knew that his imprisonment was accomplishing something that could not otherwise be done (cf. 1:12-14).  He believed that he could still make a profound impact for the kingdom of God by telling everyone about Jesus, even those he met in the jail.

Paul could not control his circumstances, but he could control his focus.  And so he chose to focus on God.  And when he did that, he found that he had a lot to be thankful for:  his salvation.  The fruitful ministry that he had been given.  The reality of God’s power in his life.  The miracles that had been done, and that continued to be done, through him.  The people that God had brought into his life.  And, greatest of all, the assurance that, when this life was all over, he would spend all of eternity in the presence of his Lord and God.

When Paul took his eyes off his circumstances and placed his full attention on the Lord, on the blessings that He had given, and on the blessings He had promised for the future, he found that it was no problem to be full of praise and rejoicing.  He did not rejoice in being in prison, but in the Lord – Jesus was right there with him, empowering him to be an ambassador of the kingdom of God even in the jail.  He did not rejoice in his lack of freedom, but in the Lord – in the freedom of spirit that Jesus gave him even though his body might have less freedom than he wanted.  He did not rejoice in the limitations on his associations, but in the Lord – in the fact that every person that God brought into his life was either an aide in the work for the kingdom, or a target for evangelism.  When he focused on the Lord instead of on his circumstances, he found he had a LOT to rejoice about.

Father, thank You for helping me to see my ability to choose my response to my circumstances, purely by what I choose to focus on.  No matter what, help me to keep my focus on You, on all of Your great blessings, so that I can always rejoice in You.  ALWAYS!!  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – February 13, 2014

Philippians 3:10-11 (NIV):  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Yesterday we looked at the first two things that Paul wants:  to know Christ and the power of His resurrection.  Most Christians would say a hearty amen to both of these.  But not everything in Paul’s list is so positive!

  • The fellowship of sharing in Jesus’ sufferings.  A lot of Christians shy away from suffering, but Paul embraced it, pushing even harder when the tide of public opinion pushed back against him.  He saw his own suffering (an impressive list of which is in 2 Corinthians 11:23-33) as a way to identify more fully with Jesus (who told us that we would experience trouble in this world [John 16:33], and that we would experience persecution in the midst of our blessings [Mark 10:30]).  He understood clearly that he was bringing light into dark places, shining the full light of the gospel and of God’s presence on the lives of people who had sold themselves into the darkness.  He expected abundant pushback, and he got it.  But in every instance, his response, like that of the other disciples, was to rejoice “because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41 NIV)
  • Becoming like Jesus in His death.  When a person dies, the things of this world no longer have any hold on them.  Those things become worthless, and are seen for what they truly are:  merely part of this material world that is passing away, and of which the person who had died is no longer a part.  Instead, the only focus of people who have died is eternity.  When a person receives Jesus, they are to die to this world, and to live from that time forward as if the things of this world have no attraction for them – to live only as a member of the kingdom of God.  Paul’s conversion, as all true conversions, really was a death of his old self.  He instantly became a new creation in Christ (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17), a creation that shed the light of God everywhere he went, a creation who spoke God’s words clearly, and who moved in God’s power every moment.  But none of that could have happened if he had clung tenaciously to the present world, or had tried to live in both worlds at the same time.  Like Jesus, he completely released his hold on this world, died to it, and so was perfectly set up to receive a new life in return.
  • To attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Paul understood that the new-creation life that he received from God at his conversion was just the beginning; a down payment, or an “earnest”, of the completely new, immortal resurrection body that he would receive at the end of time.  Paul understood that, if he was still alive on that day, his bruised and battered physical body would be changed in a moment into a resurrection body that would be fit for eternity.  If he was dead when that day came, then he would be raised to life in that same resurrection body.

Paul knew that he had not yet reached the finish line of his life, so he intentionally continued to perfect the first four of these elements in his life so that, when the time came, he could experience the perfection of the fifth.  That is why he “pressed on,” “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead.”  That is why he “pressed “on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14 NIV)

Father, You are right when You point out that we tend to shy away from suffering and death.  But without a willingness to suffer, we will pull back from sharing our light when we could and should.  Without a willingness to experience a real death to the things of this world, we can never experience the new creation.  And without all of those things, we will never get to experience the resurrection of the righteous.  Help us, like Paul, to live every day with this end clearly in view, driving us forward, making us rely completely on You, and trusting You with every moment.  Amen.

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