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Archive for March, 2013

Crucifixion IV

Crucifixion IV (Photo credit: Remara Photography)

Seems like a cruel oxymoron, doesn’t it—to put the words glory and cross together. Glory carries positive connotations of splendor, radiance, and goodness. The cross is a symbol of horrific pain and suffering.

But the cross is also “an exhibition of the nature of God” (Oswald Chambers). You see, God’s glory is the fullness of who God is, his nature, and includes all his attributes and characters traits. Many of those attributes were at work when God provided the way of salvation for us. The glory of the cross includes:

1. Love

God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Such love is incomprehensible. How could he possibly desire to be in relationship with us? How could he delight in us, frail and self-centered as we are? It makes no sense.

Yet, he sent his Son, Jesus, to take the punishment we deserved and to offer us eternal life. When we invite Jesus into our lives, God takes us from the gutter of depravity and elevates us to the status of beloved children. We are adopted into the family of God (Ephesians 1:5). Incredible!

2. Grace

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

What is grace? All the facets of God’s love—his forgiveness, benevolence, presence, peace, provision, and more—made available to us, who don’t deserve it. Grace prompted God to provide a way for us to experience his love—through the sacrifice of his only Son.

Did you notice? God is the one who provided the way to him; we do not have to figure it out for ourselves, and then hope for the best. By God’s grace, he has made salvation (rescue from death) a sure thing. We can know our place in heaven is secure!

God’s grace, put on display at Calvary, sets Christianity apart from any other belief system in the world.

3. Power

I pray that…you may know…his incomparably great power for us who believe…, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead” (Ephesians 1:18-21).

No one can raise someone from the dead except God. When Jesus was resurrected, he demonstrated his power over death, and proved the validity of eternal life, not only for himself, but for all those who believe in him.

But Jesus’ resurrection was not the end of his mission. Read the next couple of verses (22-23) to discover that, after Jesus rose from the dead and ascended back to heaven, God seated His Son at his right hand (the seat of honor). Now Jesus’ power and authority is above all other rule and authority in the universe.

And someday, Jesus will share that power with us. Those of us who have accepted Jesus into our lives will reign with him in heaven (2 Timothy 2:12). My heart is filled with wonder and awe at such a privilege.

4. Faithfulness

God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord is faithful” (1 Corinthians 1:7).

Faithful to forgive. Faithful to see us through the journey of this life. Faithful to win the battle over evil in the end. Faithful to keep his promise of eternal life, because of the sacrifice of his Son on the cross.

Our faithful God made salvation so simple for us, but it cost him so much.

5. Justice

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus…He did this to demonstrate his justice” (Romans 3:23-26).

We all deserve punishment, and our guilty consciences confirm that truth. But God made it possible for us to be forgiven and ushered into relationship with him. He declared us “not guilty” because Jesus paid the penalty..

I love the way Eugene Peterson explains it in his paraphrase, The Message: “Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ” (Romans 3:23-24).

A pure, precious gift; paid for at Calvary. The glory of the cross.

For you. For me.

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I love words. I love the rhythm of syllables, like automaticity or higgledy-piggledy.

I love the precise images words can create: glam-shackle house, iridescent skin, aquamarine waters.

I thought about water

                                                   (Photo credit:  www.flickr.com)

And some words I love for their depth of meaning.

LEARN is just such a word. (Leave it to this former teacher to notice the word LEARN!)

When curious about a word and its nuances of meaning, a good place to begin research is with the dictionary. LEARN means: 1) to gain knowledge, comprehension, or mastery of through study or experience, 2) to fix in the mind, 3) to become informed.

Those definitions certainly describe the LEARNing that is part of the Christian life. God wants us to:

• Gain knowledge of Him and His Word (Psalm 9:10; 119:24)
• Comprehend His ways for us (Psalm 25:4)
• Seek mastery over selfish impulses (Romans 13:14)
• Keep focused on Him (Psalm 141:8)
• Become informed about what pleases Him (Ephesians 5:10).

And God promises blessed dividends as we LEARN, like contentment, joy, and fulfillment in life. But how do we accomplish all this LEARNing?

A bit of research produced the following steps that also form an acronym of L.E.A.R.N.

L = Laws. “I will praise you with an upright heart as I LEARN your righteous laws” (Psalm 119:7). God’s Instruction Manual, the Bible, lays out the way to a rich, satisfying life. A wise person LEARNs all he/she can, because the Author is 100% trustworthy. He will never lead us astray.

Reading the Christmas Story

                                                   (Photo credit:  www.flickr.com)

E = Effort and Experience. “Continue in what you have LEARNed and have become convinced of” (2 Timothy 3:14a). What we learn from God’s Words we put into practice. Yes, it takes effort, but as our experience grows, so will our resolve.

I’m reminded of how I feel before my work-out most days. I hate exercising. But like so many distasteful tasks, getting started is the hardest part. Once I’m into the routine, it’s easier (not easy, just easier!) to keep going. The results of regular exercise are what motivate me: 1) The strength and energy I feel. 2) My back doesn’t give me as much trouble. 3) Moderately-firm flesh trumps flabby!

Exercise

Exercise (Photo credit: sanchom)

You see, I’ve LEARNed that effort (to exercise) leads to experience (the results are worth the effort). The same holds true in the spiritual realm. As I make the effort to apply God’s Word to my life, the experiences prove God’s way is best. And I like the results—the peace, joy, and contentment mentioned earlier.

Am I successful every day to apply God’s truth? No. But I take great encouragement from Philippians 1:6: The God who began this good work in me will keep at it and bring it to completion when Jesus returns.

A = Acclamation. “Blessed are those who have LEARNed to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O Lord” (Psalm 89:15). Practice acclaiming—enthusiastically approving—your God. We can establish several “interludes of gratitude” into our daily routines—even leave notes here and there as reminders. Whatever it takes. According to the verse, great blessing awaits!

R = Righteousness. “Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still. Teach a righteous man and he will add to his LEARNing” (Proverbs 9:9). The more we LEARN, the more teachable we become. LEARNing accelerates. It gets easier.

I remember looking at my grandmother with admiration. She seemed perfect to me. How does she do it, I wondered. No doubt it came through years of attention to God’s Word, effort that produced experience, and much acclamation for her God.

Grandmother

Grandmother (Photo credit: Samantha Steele)

N = Notice. “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you…Whatever you have LEARNed or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put into practice” (Philippians 3:17; 4:9).

Paul was not claiming to be a perfect. Back in verse 12 he had made clear, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect.” Paul, too, was LEARNing.

But his life of passionate pursuit after Christ-likeness was a worthy pattern to follow.

Perhaps there is someone in your family, church, or small group that would make a good role model. Look to him/her and LEARN.

And why is all this LEARNing about God’s Word and godly behavior worthwhile?

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (Proverbs 16:20). To flourish in my soul, to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit, to rest in trust—these are the ends that more than justify the means of LEARNing.

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Long ago, David wrote a prayer of praise, marveling at God’s omnipresence, omnipotence, and omniscience—Psalm 139. David celebrated that God is present everywhere at the same time, he is all-powerful, and he knows all.  It’s one of my favorite psalms.

In the middle of this prayer, David says, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well” (vs. 13-14).

Even back in 1000 B.C., David recognized that the human body is an amazing work of engineering and art. But centuries of scientific discoveries only increase our wonder as we begin to understand the intricacies of how the human body works.

One of the most amazing finds occurred in the middle of the twentieth century: the discovery of DNA, researched by Francis Crick, James Watson, Rosalind Franklin, and Maurice Wilkins.

 

Maclyn McCarty (June 9, 1911, to January 2, 20...

(Maclyn McCarty with Francis Crick and James D. Watson.

Photo credit:  Wikipedia)

 

You may recall from biology class that all living cells contain a chromosome, a single molecule of DNA bonded to various proteins. These chromosomes contain the genes that determine inherited traits. In all eukaryotic cells (those that contain complex structures enclosed within membranes), the chromosomes are thread-like strands, located in the nucleus.

75 pxThese thread-like strands form a spiraled ladder, called a double helix. One side goes up, the other goes down. “Base pairs” interlock in the middle, keeping the distance constant between the two helixes.

(If you remembered all that, you either studied biology recently or have an incredible memory! And if I have misread the research and reported the facts wrong, please set me straight in the Comments section.)

Scientists now know just how many bits of information are coded onto each chromosome: twenty billion! That amount of information would take three billion letters to record.

If the average word contains six letters, the information on one human chromosome equals about 500 million words.

If there are 300 words on a printed page, the information would require two million pages to record.

If these pages were bound into 500-page books, the resulting library would contain 4,000 books.

The human chromosome carries 4,000 large books of information!

Chromosome segregation during mitosis

Chromosome segregation during mitosis (Photo credit: TheJCB)

Part of that information is to instruct each cell about its job. There are more than 200 different cell-types in the human body. DNA instructs each one how to function—as bone, muscle, organ, brain, hair, fingernails, blood vessels, etc. DNA programs all 100 trillion of each body’s cells. And every hour one billion of those cells are being replaced.

Suddenly, David’s words, “We are fearfully and wonderfully made” take on fresh meaning. We shake our heads in amazement. And we’ve only considered one tiny miracle out of thousands that occur every day within our own bodies, much less everything else happening on our planet, in the galaxy, and in the universe.

Almighty God, our hearts fill with awe and praise as we consider your infinite genius, manifested in the wonders you have made. You are the all-wise Designer of everything, a perfect God whose work is perfect.

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 4:11).

We proclaim your glory and honor and power!

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What wonder of God’s creation fills you with awe? Share with us a fact or two that has caused you to marvel.

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Just a Tourist

“You’re going to New York City? Fantastic! Have you ever been there?”

Tiffany, hairdresser and New York native, energetically snipped at my hair, as she bubbled with enthusiasm over the news. Another teacher from my school and I were going to the Big Apple to attend a workshop.

“This will be my first visit,” I told her. “To tell you the truth, I’m a bit nervous.”

“Well, Honey, just try not to look like a tourist and you’ll be fine.”

My eyes must have given away my cluelessness.

Tiffany took me under her wings of experience. “OK, number one. Don’t take your map out in public. That’s a dead giveaway. And number two: Don’t look up at the buildings and study the architecture. Nobody does that in New York.”

 

Tiffany and Company Building in New York City

 

She shared more with me that day, but those are the only two rules I remember.

A few weeks later, D. and I were on our way.

We arrived the day before the workshop began, enabling us to do some sightseeing that afternoon. Tiffany would have been so proud as we studied our maps in the privacy of our room, determining our itinerary.

All went according to plan. D. and I disembarked at the precise station we had chosen, trotted up the stairs, and headed for the corner, to cross the street. There we stood, waiting for the light to turn green.

 

New York City

 

Tiffany’s words echoed in my head. “Don’t look up at the buildings and study the architecture.” I kept my eyes on the street light.

A gentleman came up beside us. I did not smile; didn’t even look at him. The light held my attention.

“Ya not from New Yawk, ah ya?” he suddenly asked.

WHAT?! How could he tell? Not even a corner of a map was peeking from either of our purses. Had D. forgotten Rule #2 and looked up at the buildings?

His answer indicated Tiffany had forgotten to mention one important rule.

“Nobody pays attention to the lights,” he said. “Ya just cross when the traffic cleahs.”

With a quick smile, he was gone, even though the light was still red.

That experience planted a question in my mind: Can people tell from my behavior that I’m a Christian, as quickly as that gentleman could tell D. and I were not New Yorkers?

What kind of behaviors would identify me as a believer in Jesus?

Friendliness.

Caring.

Active listening.

Understanding.

Appreciation.

Patience.

Kindness.

Generosity.

Self-Control.

Love.

How quickly might a stranger pick up on the fact that my true home is with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8)? I’m just a tourist here.

Oh, Heavenly Father, may I be mindful that everywhere I go people may be watching. I do NOT want to spoil their opinion of you because of what I say or do. Rather, may my words and actions quickly identify who I am: a daughter of the King, a resident of your kingdom. May my choices draw others to you.

 

(Photo credits:  Wikipedia.org and kaysha)

 

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I’ve mentioned this before: Heroes of the faith from times past pique my interest. Many of them endured great hardship, yet remained strong in their faith. From their examples and writings I find encouragement, challenge, and inspiration.

Today’s example: Paul Tournier.

Paul Tournier

Paul Tournier (1898-1986) was a well-known doctor, author, and Christian by the middle of the twentieth century. But it’s doubtful that those who knew him as a youngster would have predicted such an outcome.

His parents died when he was very young. Paul and his older sister were taken in by an aunt and uncle. The boy became withdrawn and shy, struggling with the issues of identity and self-worth.

Perhaps those difficult years of his youth prepared Paul for the lifework God would give him. He held a lifelong concern for those who suffered. When Paul was just twelve years old, he decided he’d become a doctor. That was also the year he became a Christian.

Paul achieved his boyhood dream, and started his medical practice in Geneva, Switzerland, 1928.

Nine years later, Paul was introduced to the Oxford Group, a new Christian movement. Paul was impressed by their life-changing commitment to Jesus, and he, too, was led into deep transforming faith.

As Dr. Tournier’s experience in medicine increased, so did his dissatisfaction with drugs and surgery as his only options to help patients. What about the interplay of mind and body? More importantly, how do spiritual matters impact physical well-being?

Paul sought ways to include psychology and faith into his medical practices, and called it, “the medicine of the whole person.” Surely part of that “medicine” was to contribute to his patients’ identity and self-worth, the same issues that had plagued him as a boy. Perhaps it was in analyzing how people discover purpose in life that brought Dr. Tournier to this conclusion:

“For the fulfillment of his purpose God needs more than priests, bishops, pastors, and missionaries. He needs mechanics and chemists, gardeners and street sweepers, dressmakers and cooks, tradesmen, physicians, philosophers, judges, and shorthand typists.” – from The Adventure of Living

As the focus of Dr. Tournier’s medical practice began to change, so did his routines. Patients were less frequently ushered into examining rooms, and instead, met with the doctor in the living room of his home. There they’d sit by the fire to talk, sometimes joined by Tournier’s wife, Nelly.  His first book, The Healing of Persons (1940), grew out of these experiences.

Part of his genius, perhaps, was in listening. Here’s what he had to say on that topic:

“In order to really understand, we need to listen, not reply. We need to listen long and attentively. In order to help anybody to open his heart we have to give him time, asking only a few questions, as carefully as possible in order to help him better explain his experience.” –from To Understand Each Other

His medical practice grew into a ministry, including speaking engagements around the world, and many more books. The Meaning of Persons, published in 1957, received particular distinction. Christianity Today magazine named it one of the top 50 books to have influenced the Evangelical world. Dr. Tournier was also called the twentieth century’s most famous Christian physician.

On serving God, he had the following to say:

“I do not serve God only in the brief moments during which I am taking part in a religious service, or reading the Bible, or saying my prayers, or talking about him in some book I am writing, or discussing the meaning of life with a patient or friend. I serve him quite as much when I am giving a patient an injection, or lancing an abscess, or writing a prescription, or giving a piece of good advice. I serve him quite as much when reading the newspaper, traveling, laughing at a joke, or soldering a joint in an electric wire. I serve him by taking an interest in everything, because he is interested in everything, because he has created everything and has put me in his creation so that I may participate in it fully.” — from The Adventure of Living

I have to wonder if Dr. Tournier was thinking of Colossians 3:23-24 when he wrote that observation:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

Years ago, as a young mother with three children, I wrote in the margin of my Bible next to those verses, “including housework!” I tried to visualize myself dusting and scrubbing and vacuuming for Jesus!

I am NOT fond of housework; Dr. Tournier probably did not enjoy lancing abscesses! But. There is strength and perseverance, purpose and fulfillment in knowing such tasks serve a purpose.

Even a divine purpose.

Countless people have undoubtedly been transformed by that principle and others, taught convincingly by Dr. Paul Tournier.

(Photo of Dr. Tournier from wikipedia.org.)

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Given: the Baby Boomer generation is quite large.

Given: As children, many of those Boomers accompanied their parents to church.

Given: Many readers of this blog belong to that fine group!

Therefore, the following lyrics may sound familiar to you.

Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing thy grace…

Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
Hither by thy help I’m come.

Yes, I am at church. Amen

While singing this energizing hymn in the church of my youth, I wondered more than once, What on earth is an Ebenezer?  But by the time I arrived home, my mind was on the roast beef in the oven or the comics in the paper.

So, for any of you who live with a curious mind (albeit forgetful) as I do, here it is finally—an explanation of that puzzling term, raising an Ebenezer.

The answer is hiding in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel. During this period of Israel’s history, their archenemy was the Philistines.

The prophet, Samuel, explained the way to victory. “Rid yourselves of the foreign gods, and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines,” Samuel said (7:3).

The people obeyed the word of the Lord, given through the prophet, Samuel. God did indeed come to the rescue. “The Lord thundered…against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites” (v. 10).

In celebration of the victory, Samuel took a stone and set it up as a memorial of what God had done that day. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far has the Lord helped us” (v. 12). The word, Ebenezer, means “stone of help.”

English: Large Rock Giant rock at the side of ...

Every time an Israelite walked by that memorial, he would be reminded of God’s miraculous help against the Philistines that day. It would bring to mind the faithfulness and goodness of the Lord to his children.

Years ago I read about a family who kept a special rock collection in a glass jar, up on a bookshelf. On each flat stone, in permanent ink, was recorded a brief description of a special event that demonstrated God’s power and goodness to their family. They raised their own Ebenezers. The jar of stones represented the ways thus far the Lord had helped them (1 Samuel 7:12).

I don’t have such a jar of river stones. What a lovely tradition! But I do have a blessings journal, started in 1983. I’ve mentioned this collection before. Recorded within its pages are the wonderful, miraculous works God has accomplished for our family. The number of entries is now approaching nine hundred.

A few samples:

1985 – We were in need of some furniture; the choir director of our church “just happened” to have some in storage. Most of it was exactly what we needed.

1991 – My daughter and I were almost involved in a 4-car pile-up on an expressway entrance ramp. God protected us.

1994 – ‘Came out of the mall, after shopping for an hour, and discovered I’d left on the lights of the car. I prayed; God answered. The car started up just fine.

1998 – Our son, who never had much use for school, made the dean’s list.

Dean's List certificate

2003 – That same son was working for a dying business, and his paycheck was ten days past due. A friend offered him a job in their family business at the same salary, and allowed him to start immediately.

2008 – We attended an out-of-state wedding at which a small acappella ensemble sang. I thought, Wouldn’t it be fun to sing in such a group. Less than two months later, that’s exactly what I was doing! Our church choir director invited me to join a quintet he had been inspired to form.

2011 – We needed a china cabinet and hutch. While visiting the home of a friend, I couldn’t help but notice theirs—the exact style I would have liked. But M. had found hers at a thrift store and refurbished it. What were the chances we’d find a similar one? A month later, at a warehouse of estate sale finds, our china cabinet was waiting for us—very similar to M.’s.

Come to think of it, perhaps it’s a good thing I haven’t used rocks for our nine hundred Ebenezers. They’d never fit in a jar! For us, numerous pages in a notebook prove that “thus far the Lord has helped us (1 Samuel 7:12).”

Writing

And, no doubt, the Ebenezer-collection will continue to grow. God isn’t finished with us yet.

*      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *      *

What Ebenezers can you raise, that prove thus far the Lord has helped you? Share an example in the Comments section, to encourage the rest of us.

 

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Today I submit a few tidbits you might find thought-provoking, maybe even helpful.

1. “Circumstances are like a mattress. If we get under them, we will suffocate. If we get on top of them we will rest” (Arnold Prater).

A pillowtop mattress (U.S. size "queen")

How do we get out from under circumstances? Most of the time we can’t pry ourselves out. The circumstances are outside our sphere of control.

But we can praise our way out. We can praise our all-knowing God who’s never caught by surprise. He has known from the beginning of time that this situation would arise.

We can also praise our powerful God with whom all things are possible. In the time it takes to say, “Be gone,” God can remove those troubling circumstances.  Sometimes he does.

But just as miraculous? The way he can uphold us—lovingly and continually–while the circumstances continue. I have known people carrying great burdens of health problems, family crises, and ongoing relational struggles. Yet their lives are characterized by joy and peace.

I’m thinking of one friend in particular who’s now with Jesus. You’d never know the heartache she endured to look at her. Lynn* was always calm, always smiling.

More examples?

Ava*, who smiled her way through breast cancer—the chemo, the surgery, the radiation, the uncertainty, the pain.

Debbie*, who lost her soul-mate husband to cancer, after forty-plus years of marriage. She has depended on Jesus for strength and peace—and continued to serve him with passion and joy.

Jim*, who hasn’t been able to find steady work after being laid off. Yet he maintains a positive attitude and a delightful sense of humor, knowing God will provide.

Neon

No doubt you know of people dealing with thick mattresses of circumstance. But they’re not underneath either; they’re resting in God alone (Psalm 62:1).

Oh, Lord, forgive me for moments of self-pity. At the first little petty thought, prick my conscience with remembrances of these saints who have learned to be content in spite of their circumstances (Philippians 4:11).

*(Names have been changed.)

2. “My mind is like a sieve, but at least it’s getting cleaned.”

tea strainer

I heard this comment from a pastor on the radio, and had to heartily agree. I can read the Bible and other Christian books by the hour. But ask me the next day what I read, and chances are I won’t be able to tell you much.

I can listen to Christian radio, but again, too little of what I hear sticks in my memory.

Such lack of retention used to bother me greatly until I heard this pastor shine a positive light on the problem. I may not remember all the information of a book or sermon, but the influence of the words has its purifying effect on my mind and spirit.

At least while I’m reading or listening, my mind is occupied by what is noble and right (Philippians 4:8)! And that’s a good thing.

Thank you, Father, for renewing my mind even when my memory fails me. Although I might forget the exact words, their effect gives me strength and perseverance. Thank you that “the unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130)—including this simple woman with a memory like a sieve.

3. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit” (Aristotle).

What are some things that we repeatedly do that create excellence? Possibilities include: Bible study, prayer, praise, gratitude, self-discipline, singing praise songs and hymns, and uplifting conversation.

English: Personal bible study Português: Estud...

And what are some things that we repeatedly do that are not creating excellence? Too much screen time. Negative thinking. Gossip. Overeating. Self-indulgence.

Oh, Lord, help me strive for excellence in the choices I make. I want to have a positive impact on others and please you.  I don’t want to waste my life on trivial pursuits. Keep me mindful of this truth: Out of excellence will grow peace, contentment, strength and joy.

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