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Archive for January, 2014

 

Ever attend an elaborate breakfast buffet that was a feast for the eyes as well as the appetite?  Perhaps a kaleidoscope of sparkling fruit grabbed your attention first.  Then you noticed the fresh breads of all shapes and sizes overflowing from broad baskets.  And last, large chafing dishes displayed scrambled eggs, sausage, and French toast.

Just imagining the scene makes me want to be there!  But that’s not enough. Someone who only observes such a display receives no benefit from the bounty.  She has to partake in order to be fully satisfied.

Paul tells us in Colossians 2:10, “You have been given fullness in Christ.”

But there’s no benefit from his bountiful goodness if we don’t partake.

Just how do we do that–partake of the fullness in Christ?   It’s one thing to talk about the concrete experience of participating in a buffet.  You fill up a plate, sit down at a table, and eat.  Simple!

It’s another matter to understand an abstract concept like “partaking of the fullness of Christ.”  Here’s one view:

The fullness of Christ includes the fullness of his character, the fullness of his blessings, and the fullness of his promises.

Are you feeling empty, weak, or deficient?  Come to Christ, to “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:23).  Nothing is missing; nothing is left out.  He is everything we need–everything that has to do with value and meaning in life, everything that has to do with joy, peace, and fulfillment.

I’m picturing a buffet, laid out for us by Jesus.  But instead of fruit, bread, and egg dishes, I see attributes, blessings, and promises.  Just as we fill our plates with delectable things at a buffet, we can fill our minds with everything exquisite about our Savior.

Here’s a sampler platter of…

…Christ’s attributes:

  • His constant presence (Matthew 28:20).
  • His tender compassion (Matthew 9:36).
  • His kindness and attentiveness as our Good Shepherd (John 10:14).

…Christ’s blessings:

  • The precious gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23).
  • Provision of everything we need (Matthew 6:31-33).
  • Peaceful rest from fear and worry (Matthew 11:28-30).

…Christ’s promises of:

  • Endless possibilities , because everything is possible with God (Mark 9:23).
  • Wisdom and guidance through the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17, 26).
  • Companionship with the King of the universe (John 14:23).

Chances are these are not astonishing new revelations to you, any more than berries, cinnamon buns, or sausage are never-tried foods.  But if you are enjoying a delicious meal with someone, invariably you will talk about the delectable flavors, even though the dishes are familiar fare. Sharing augments the pleasure.

So talk about the fullness of Christ–his character, blessings, and promises. Even if you have to talk to yourself!  Revel in his fullness–the bounty he provides.

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What aspect of the fullness of Christ is most precious to you and why?  Join the conversation below!

(Photo credit:  http://www.pixnio.com)

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“No hugs today,” Laura said as she stepped back from my outstretched arms.  “I’ve got a cold.”  Laura proceeded to turn around and we shoulder-bumped, laughing like school girls.

You know what?  That shoulder bump felt just as good as a hug.  It provided connection, silly as it was.

Research shows that physical touch actually causes a number of health benefits.  Lowered blood pressure and cortisol levels are two positive outcomes, which in turn reduce stress.  In addition, the hormone, oxytocin, is released, creating a sense of well-being.  Studies have also shown that touch eases asthma symptoms and migraines.  The power of touch even impacts the quality of a person’s sleep.

And it’s not just hugs.  Many different types of touch suffice.  Of course, loving hugs from family members or friends would certainly be at the top of the list. But a squeeze around the shoulders, even a touch on the arm can have a positive influence, creating happiness and joy in our spirits.

In 2006, a research study determined we can accurately communicate a number of emotions through touch alone, including:  anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy.  The study involved total strangers using touches on the forearm.   No words, no body language, no facial expressions.  Just touch.

There is power in human touch.

There is even greater power in the touch of God.   Have you felt it?

Perhaps you’ve heard a sermon and the minister seemed to be speaking directly to you.  That’s God’s hand on your shoulder, communicating encouragement.   “You, see, child?  This is the way that will take you forward.”

Perhaps you’ve been overcome with emotion at the sight of sunbeams breaking through rose-hued clouds.  That’s God enveloping you in a loving hug, saying, “This gift is for you.  I do love you, child.”

Perhaps while reading the Bible, a particular truth has stood out.  And as you began to apply the principle, change occurred—not necessarily in your circumstances, but in your attitude and ability to cope.  A quiet sense of joy pervaded your spirit.  That’s God squeezing your shoulder, infusing confidence, and saying, “Well done!  Press on!”

Perhaps tears have welled up in your eyes as you’ve sung to God a praise song from your heart.  Peace enveloped you.  That’s his hand tracing your brow with comfort as he says, “My peace I give you…do not be afraid” (John 14: 27).  “Let my joy be complete in you” (John 15:11).

“What a wonderful thing to be touched in the heart by God…When the heart is touched, the core of our being is touched.” – John Piper

Have you ever heard someone gush about shaking hands with a dignitary or celebrity? Many people place great importance on the value of such a touch.

Now think of being touched by the sovereign King of the universe .  The all-powerful, all-wise, always loving and kind God reaches out to touch each of our hearts.

Incredible, isn’t it?

*     *     *     *     *     *     *    *     *     *

Thank you, Father, for the power of your touch  that offers peace and comfort, encouragement and support, strength and confidence.   Thank you for coming so close, so frequently, to touch our spirits.  I thrill with adoration and gratitude every time! 

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Once again I found myself dashing out the door after…my quiet time of Bible study and prayer, making the bed, writing two get-well cards (couldn’t put that off another day), printing some documents to read and prepare with comments, breakfast, showering, drying my hair, putting on make-up, getting dressed, etc., etc.

I hurried to get in the car, and checked my watch.  In twenty minutes I was due to meet Steve at church , about fifteen minutes away.  I had just enough time to stop for gas.  After the fill-up, and back in the car, I checked the time again.  The pit stop had taken four minutes.  If the traffic lights worked with me instead of against me, I’d arrive at my destination with a couple of minutes to spare.  Whew.

In the peaceful quiet of the car, I prayed as I often do:  “Lord, help me be a blessing to those I meet today.  May I be an attentive listener, speak words of encouragement, and maybe even share a bit of wisdom from you.”

Soon I was pulling into the church parking lot.  According to the dashboard clock, I did indeed have two minutes to spare.  Hallelujah.

With a deep cleansing breath (a holdover habit from Lamaze classes) and a smile, I opened the door…to this news from Steve:

“I’m  so sorry, Honey.  The computers at Northwestern Mutual just went down.  I tried to call you, but you didn’t answer.”  (Must have been while I was pumping gas.)  “They said they’ll have to reschedule our meeting for next week.”

For a split second I wanted to say, “WHAT?!  After all the rushing around I did this morning in order to get here on time?  All that effort for NOTHING?!  I have a long to-do list I could be tackling!  This is so UNFAIR!”

But just who deserved that rant?  Certainly not Steve.  It wasn’t his fault the computers at Northwestern Mutual weren’t working.  So just where could I direct my angst?  Nowhere.  I had to stuff it down.

And while I was stuffing, my prayer spoken in the car came to mind.

Oh, boy.  I had just asked God to help me be a blessing to whomever I might meet.  And when a small monkey wrench gets thrown my way I want to throw it back.  Some blessing.  Will the day ever come when I can react with a  gentle and quiet spirit–even in the first moment of upset?

And speaking of upset, this little setback is nothing compared to the heartache and suffering of others.   Why do I allow an inconsequential matter, like a postponed meeting, to steal my joy–even for a second?

God is still teaching me some important lessons (because I’m a slow learner):

  • What seems to be a waste of time in my shortsightedness may not be, in God’s long view of eternity.
  • The to-do list is not a binding, legal document.  The wise person leaves space on the page and in her spirit for serendipitous possibilities.
  • Changes of plan and interruptions (another bug-a-boo of mine) may be God-engineered events.  Greet them with expectation and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit.
  • Live in the present.  Put aside the frustration that the plan for the day has been reconfigured.  Accept the moment as a surprise gift–to be passed on to someone else who needs a favor, a listening ear, or a bit of encouragement.  Another possibility?  The moment may turn out to be a gift for you.

I did indeed receive a gift that day.  Instead of attending that meeting, I ended up having an impromptu lunch with some of the church staff–a delightful group of people!

Steve has said for years, “Blessed are the flexible.”

I’m starting to catch on.

(Art & photo credits:  www.diggerfortruth.com; http://www.marci-itsalwayssomething.blogspot.com; http://www.stevewright.info. com; http://www.morgansullivan.wordpress.com; http://www.eighthourday.com.)

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“There is no fear in love.  But perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18).

M-m-m.  Interesting.  John doesn’t say perfect courage drives out fear.  Not even perfect faith.  Why does he say perfect love will drive out fear?

First of all, this verse is not talking about fears of financial ruin or life-threatening events.  Verse eighteen gives us the context.  John is talking about Judgment Day.  He’s reminding us that, if we know Jesus, there is nothing to fear when we leave this earth for eternity.  Jesus gave his life to save us from the consequences of our sin.  Our place in heaven is secure, if our faith is in him.

And once that matter has been settled, other fear-producing questions can be put in proper perspective. We have to remind ourselves that earthly life fades quickly like the leaves (Isaiah 64:6).  These questions will cease to matter–questions like:

  • Will my job survive the cutbacks?
  • Will I be able to keep my health insurance?
  • Will my kids make it through their personal crisis?

But such questions can cause torment to the point of ulcers and high blood pressure.  If we allow fear to control us, we’re saying that the troubles we face are more powerful than our God.

So here are a few ways to fight against fear:

  • Rename your difficulties as possibilities—possibilities for God to do something glorious.  Without a problem, there’s no opportunity for a miracle.
  • Picture God Almighty accompanying you all day long.  He’s standing right behind you at the sink.  He’s sitting beside you in the car.  His ever-watchful eye is upon you,  his infinite strength is available to you, and his perfect wisdom will guide you.
  • Don’t feed your fear with worry; feed your faith with the truth of God’s Word.  Psalm 23 is a perfect place to begin.  Remember verse four?  “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
  •  Listen to what he says:  “I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you (Isaiah 41:13).  Visualize God holding you by the hand as you walk through each day.

Years ago, when a I was a young teenager, my family visited Lookout Mountain in Tennessee.  Dad and I were hiking over the mountain paths when we came to a deep, narrow ravine.  He easily jumped across, turned, and held out his hand for me.

“I can do it myself,” I announced confidently.  Then I looked down into that deep ravine.  What if I fall? I thought.  Grinning sheepishly at Dad, I said, “’Guess you’d better help me after all!”  I had great confidence in my father.  I knew he loved me and would never let me fall.

God is ready to walk hand-in-hand with me along the mountain paths of life.  Problems arise, though, when I repeat that moment on Lookout Mountain and focus on the ravine, the what-ifs.  The  result?  I’m frozen with fear.

How downright foolish of me, when my loving, trustworthy Heavenly Father has assured me:

“Don’t panic.  I’m with you.  There’s no need to fear for I’m your God.  I’ll give you strength.  I’ll help you.  I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you” (Isaiah 41:10, The Message).

 You see, perfect love drives out fear because we can trust the perfect love of our perfect God.

(art & photo credits:  www.gracevine.com; http://www.visualphotos.com)

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Sad Reba

She was a pitiful sight, the pit bull/Labrador/terrier mutt that our son, Jeremy, and his wife, Nancy, adopted from the Humane Society.  Her head hung down, and her tail did not wag.  Even her eyes conveyed great sadness.  She never barked and did not know how to play.

Jeremy and Nancy decided to keep the name given her by the society staff:  Reba.  No use adding confusion to the poor dog’s problems.

When they first brought her home, Reba wouldn’t  eat.  She also suffered from anxiety, shaking uncontrollably when faced with uncertainty.  (She still does, sometimes.)

Reba’s symptoms aren’t much different from those of humans, when we experience extreme stress.  Depression and anxiety can quickly take over.

Jeremy and Nancy adopted Reba the summer of 2010. That December when we saw Reba again, it was as if Jeremy and Nancy had adopted a new dog.  Now her head was up and her tail wagged merrily.  She could run and jump to catch a tossed tennis ball in mid-air.

Happy Reba

If Reba could talk, she would undoubtedly have abhorrent stories to tell of her past.  But I have a feeling she would finish by saying, “My new life with Jeremy and Nancy is completely different.  I love it here!”

Reba has found a sanctuary—a place of refuge and protection where she feels safe.  Her life has been transformed.

We, too, have a sanctuary available to us.  “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble” (Psalm 9:9).

When David composed that psalm, the tabernacle tent-church was the sanctuary for the Israelites.  God had told Moses centuries before, “Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8).

For over fifteen hundred years, the tabernacle, and then the temple in Jerusalem, represented God’s presence among his people.

But that was only temporary.  God provided an even better way to be with his people, through his son, Jesus.

Those of us who know him now experience his sanctuary within. 

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19).

At the cost of his Son’s life, God “bought” us as his dwelling place.

We don’t have to go to Jerusalem.  We don’t even have to be in a church building to experience the sanctuary of our God.  His love, peace, and comfort are available wherever we are, whatever we’re facing.

Now that is life-transforming news.  But I have to avail myself of its truth.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Thank you, God, for being a sanctuary within me.  At any moment I can turn to you, and you are attentive to my cry.  As I focus on you—your wisdom, power, and benevolent care, my concerns deflate.  I know you have a plan for my life, for those of my loved ones, for my country and the world. You are in control.  I imagine you taking hold of my hand, giving it a pat or two and reassuring me, “Don’t be afraid.  I will help you”.

 You are incredibly good to me, O God, my refuge.  I reaffirm my trust in you. 

(Psalm 34:15; Jeremiah 29:11; Psalm 9:7-8; Isaiah 41:13; Nahum 1:7; Psalm 91:2.)

Photo credits:  Jeremy Ruegg

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I awoke around midnight one evening in December, crept out of bed, and peeked out the loft window facing the street.  All was quiet.  No cars passed, no breeze rustled the trees.  The pavement below glowed faintly under the street lamp.

Again, around two, the same tiptoe trip to the window.  Same view; same stillness.

No, I was not watching for Santa.  I was watching for snow.

The last snowfall this Floridian witnessed was thirty-eight years ago.  So during a rare Christmas visit to Ohio, when snow was forecast during the early hours of one morning, I didn’t want to miss it.

The third time I awoke, around three o’clock, my trip to the window was rewarded.  In the dim light, I could make out large flakes falling fast and straight.

As much as I anticipated its arrival, now I looked forward to the accumulation that had been forecasted: at least several inches.

Sure enough, the pale light of morning revealed a world transformed.  Each tree branch, even every twig, appeared iced in white frosting.

And yet more snow was falling.  Now the flakes were lighter and smaller, drifting gently and softly to the ground.

Donning my coat, I slipped out to the front porch, and extended my arm.  Soon I had a lovely collection of tiny star-shaped flakes on my sleeve.  Delicate displays of lacy symmetry.  Each one a magical wonder.

The next day, under a crystalline blue sky, we rode through a nearby cemetery where the snow created an even more stunning display.  Hillsides, ancient trees, and tangles of bushes were majestically trimmed in sparkling white.  Frozen ponds glistened subtly, like great pearls.  By contrast, the streams twinkled, as if crystals had been laid out on rippling, steel-gray silk.  I oohed and aahed at every turn.

Those of you who experience snow every winter may not be so enthusiastic.  There’s a dark side to the white stuff!  Bundling up in extra clothing for outdoors, then shedding the layers for indoors.  Slow, snarled traffic.  Shoveling.  Scraping off the car.

But, oh, the beauty!  The splendor!

“He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes” (Psalm 147:16)

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Thank you, O God, for the glorious wonders of your winter creation.  I marvel that you design each tiny snowflake unique from all others.  How mind-boggling to consider the millions of flakes required to cover just one tree, much less a forest or a whole region.  And  I marvel at your artistry with just one color—white!

How great and glorious you are, the almighty Creator and Sustainer of the universe! How  awe-inspiring to know you are also our loving Heavenly Father.  And that same awesome power that paints winter-white landscapes is at work in our lives, creating the beauty of holiness.   Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you. 

(photo credits:  www.r2square.wordpress.com; http://www.shutterstock.com; http://www.allposters.com; http://www.journals.worldnomads.com; http://www.dance.net.)

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Family

A happy family is but an earlier heaven  — John Bowring.

Steve and I are enjoying an earlier heaven with a post-holiday family visit.  I’ll return on Monday with a new post.

Thank you, faithful followers and visitors!

 

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“…So the doctor recommended B-12 shots,” my friends explained.  “Hopefully they’ll do the trick.  I’m so tired of being tired!!”

Got me to thinking.  Some days I’ve had to drag my spirit around.  Discouragement, hurts, and concerns weigh me down.  Maybe what I need are some spiritual B-12 shots.

“B” might stand for beauty.  Something lovely and joy-inspiring is always energizing.

And the number twelve might stand for the twelve months of the year.

So what beauties are there to behold each month that would foster joy?  Here in Florida, the change of seasons is subtle, not offering as much variety as climate zones to the north.  But there are other splendors in which to delight.

January:  The fresh start of a new year, the reorganizing (after all the decorations are put away) that provides satisfaction in tidiness and motivation for productivity!

February:  I love our annual Festival of Choirs. A number of church choirs come together, provide two selections of their own, and then everyone joins together for several rousing anthems.  It’s a taste of heaven to hear 200-plus voices unite in praise!

March:  Such glorious weather we enjoy–the low humidity, balmy temperatures, and clear skies. Migrating birds passing through the area give us occasional glimpses of rare species.  One year a small flock of indigo buntings pecked about in our backyard.  Such intense blue I had never seen!

April:  I love the euphoria of Easter morning!  He is risen indeed!

May:  Roadways clear after the Snowbirds go home, and driving becomes less stressful.  However, there are a number of Northern friends we’d love to keep with us here!

June:  The schedule slows down as the summer warms up.  The slower pace is most welcome—at least for a while.

July:  I love the patriotism that comes to the forefront as we celebrate America’s Independence Day.  “The Star Spangled Banner” still stirs pride and gratitude in my heart.

  

August:  The best time to visit the old-fashioned ice cream shop in town.  Such delightful flavors to choose from!  And a hot August day only augments the pleasure.

September:  Rehearsals begin for Christmas.  This is one of the reasons I love to sing in choirs and ensembles.  We get to enjoy the music of Christmas for three months instead of three weeks!

October:  The weather begins to cool a bit, renewing energy.  And while many northerners enjoy hillsides of fall foliage, we Floridians have our golden rain trees.

 

November:  Right after Thanksgiving Steve and I decorate for Christmas.  I love unpacking the decorations, many of them given to us by family and friends.  Memories of times past bubble merrily in my heart as I arrange the crèches, angels, candles, and bows.

December:  Oh, how glorious to end the year with a crescendo of music, camaraderie, secrets, surprises, and worship.  Christmas would not be complete without the Christmas Eve candlelight service.

Beautiful moments through all twelve months of the year.  B-12 shots of joy.

What are your favorite B-12 shots?

*     *     *     *     *    *     *     *     *     *

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for providing a pleasing cadence to the year.  As one month flows into the next, your goodness is on display.  Thank you for those events and experiences that come at expected times, providing rhythm, delight, and comfort to our lives. 

(art & photo credits:  www.aarticles.herald-mail.com, http://www.hdwallpapersinn.com, http://www.forwallpapers.com, http://www.nolanature.wordpress.com, aimeepoolphoto.com.)

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The holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day fills our senses with:

  • Sights of Christmas trees, candles, Santas, and angels.
  • Sounds of carols, from the light-hearted “Frosty the Snowman” to the heart-stirring “O Holy Night.”
  • Textures from prickly pine to plush velvet.
  • Aromas of cinnamon, spice, and gingerbread.
  • Tastes of iced sugar cookies and egg nog.

But the seasonal pleasures are over for another year.  And the uncertainties of our times—political, economical, as well as personal—that we set aside for a few weeks, are coming to the forefront again.  If we’re not careful, troublesome thoughts can raise our blood pressure and take away restful sleep!

What to do?  Take comfort in God’s Word.  “Great peace have they who love your law,” said the psalmist,” and nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165).  I suppose that would include uncertainties, don’t you?

Two verses have ministered to me lately, Romans 8:30-31:

“Those he [God] predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified, those he justified, he also glorified.  What then, shall we say in response to this?  If God is for us, who can be against us?”

Of course, those key words in the first sentence beg to be examined more closely.

Predestination has been the subject of entire books and sometimes causes controversy.  I like the way the Living Application Bible explains the concept, in a footnote to Ephesians 1:5.  “Predestined” means marked out beforehand.

God knew each of us and loved us before we were even born.  He provided the way of salvation so we could be in relationship with him.  That does not negate our responsibility to believe in Jesus, in order to bring to pass God’s predetermined plan.

Called means we have been divinely summoned or invited.   Some Christians are divinely summoned for specific tasks.  Peter (John 21:15-17) and Paul (Acts 9:15) are perfect examples.

Most of us are called to love, obey, and serve God right where he’s placed us—in our homes, churches, business, schools, and neighborhoods.

Whatever our task, he cheers us on to work heartily because we’re doing it for him—to please him and bring him honor (Colossians 3:23-24).

And with his call comes hope, peace, joy, and blessing!

Justification is God’s way of making us right with him.  Out of his gracious love for us, he declares us “not guilty” for our sins. We deserve harsh punishment, but he treats us as righteous if we put our trust in Jesus.  Then the perfect sinlessness of God’s Son is credited to us  (Romans 3:22-25).

Imagine standing before a mighty king who’s dressed in elegant robes.  And there you are, wearing ragged, smelly clothes, staring at the floor, and wishing to be anywhere else but in this imposing throne room.

Suddenly the king’s words break through your embarrassment.  He’s calling for one of his son’s perfect robes to be brought for you.  He doesn’t just want to trade your rags for a  beautiful, pristine robe—he’s eager to do it!  And then, even more amazing, he welcomes you to his banquet table.

That’s justification—being treated as if we weren’t soiled by sin.  Being treated like  a royal son or daughter of the king, though it’s the last thing we deserve.

Full glorification  will occur when we arrive in heaven.  It refers to that moment when you and I will become like Christ (1 John 3:2.)  It is so certain, Paul uses past tense.  Our glorification is taken care of; it’s just a matter of when.

But the process has already begun.  Our glory—that is, anything that brings honor and praise to God—is developing day by day as we allow the Holy Spirit to have influence of our thoughts and choices.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Now consider the magnitude of these four processes which God lovingly, even anxiously, works within us.  I like the way Ken Taylor expresses verse twenty-nine in The Living Bible:

 “Having chosen us, he called us to come to him; and when we came he declared us ‘not guilty,’ filled us with Christ’s goodness, gave us right standing with himself, and promised us his glory.”

 And last, in light of whatever you may be facing in 2014, please take comfort in these joyous words:

“What can we ever say to such wonderful things as these?  If God is on our side, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:30, The Living Bible).

 

 

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