Sure remedy for anxiety – it’s as close as your face!

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No matter our maturity as Christians, we still struggle with worry and anxiety.  We all know that we are supposed to cast our cares into our Father’s lap, but earthly matters tend to dog our minds, keeping us sleepless.

worry

Jesus’ remedy against worry (which also serves as an explicit command to refrain from worrying – Just stop it!!) seems simplistic on the surface.

  • Matt 6:33 (don’t worry about the ordinary but necessary stuff of life, like non-Christians) But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and ALL these things will be added to you.

What struck me the other day were the first 3 letters of the command SEEK.  We’re to SEE, to LOOK UP from our immediate and pressing concern.  And what is the object we are to seek out?  God’s Kingdom.  

Now what in the world does THAT mean?  First things first, let’s hearken back to where we might have heard this phrase. One obvious place is in the Gospel of Mark, that quick-paced eyewitness account of Jesus’ ministry. Right from the get-go, Jesus travelled around proclaiming the startling news that because HE was HERE in their midst as the incarnate God on earth, that the Kingdom of God had arrived. 

I think that by intentionally SEEing this fact, the new government and what that implies, we can reboot.  That means we exhale our distracting thoughts and breathe in life-giving truths, like: 

  • If Jesus has inaugurated His kingdom, then He is also ruling it
  • that He loves me (how do I know that? – if I am trusting Him as my righteousness, then I have already accepted the fact that He died for me on purpose.  That’s pretty strong evidence of love, wouldn’t you say?)
  • that I have an inheritance awaiting me in the near future and hundreds of grace-filled promises at my disposal RIGHT NOW in the midst of all these troublesome situations

So at the break of the new day, in every circumstance, whether segueing to a new task or initiating a difficult conversation or fulfilling an obligation, we are to stop and look up and SEE reality, which is this: “King Jesus is alive and well and at God’s right hand praying for us and talking to His and our GOOD Father”

Well, what about the 2nd part – the exhortation to SEEk His righteousness?

The term ‘righteousness’ is an example of ‘METONYMY’, that is – a shorthand term representing a concept.  For example ‘Hollywood’ is a metonymy that stands for the US film industry.  Or calling a white-collar managerial-level employee a ‘suit’, or the top generals in the army are referred to as the ‘brass’.

Righteousness 

When Jesus calls us to stop being anxious like the pagans and SEE (consider, observe, remember, center back on, enjoy the fact of) evidence of His Kingdom, He also is reminding us to SEE Him.  The righteousness that goes along with the Kingdom IS Jesus.  Jesus is Jehovah-Tsedek, the LORD-Our Righteousness.

Again when we look up and center on Jesus, we lose the craziness.  The needs are still there, but we don’t have to panic or distract and fracture ourselves by all the pieces and layers of concerns.  Jesus has PROMISED to provide; He is trustworthy; we can therefore trust Him. 

For those of you who are interested, here are Strong’s definitions of the two Greek verbs.   Do you see how close in meaning they are? 

The Greek word for SEEK is 2212 or ZETEO – to search, look for, inquire, demand, 

The Greek word for SEE is 3708 or HORAO – to notice, perceive, recognize (and understand)

By the way, I heard a pastor mention that the most common command in the entire Bible IS the verb to SEE or LOOK (1100 times).  We even use this verb in everyday parlance when we’re trying to make a point. Did you ever hear anyone say: “Lookit!” to strengthen his case?

It DOES matter what we focus on, whether we use our physical eyes or the eyes of our hearts.  

And if Paul is correct, that we become more like Jesus by looking at Him, then why not really take Him at His word and shift our gaze from our very present and real worries to the very present, real and powerful Creator of the Universe, Jesus Christ who ALWAYS acts righteously. 

taste and see

I

What’s your: ‘Well, at least I…..

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Lion and Christians - endurance

Luke 21: 16 – 19 (NET)  

You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will have some of you put to death.  You will be hated by everyone because of my name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish.  By your endurance you will gain your lives/souls. (Greek Word 5590 – psyche)

When bad stuff happens, where do you go in your head to steady yourself?  What’s your # 1 solace?

Until recently, if you follow this blog, you know that my chief ‘go-to’ was my weight.  So when ‘bad stuff’ would happen, be it parent complaints at school, or unexpected bills, or a sleepless night, or a concern regarding my husband and family, or an unresolved issue in a friendship I would say, “Well, at least I weigh X!”  And that was my foundation I counted on to make myself feel better, to regain my equilibrium, aka ‘happiness’.

Pretty flimsy underpinnings on which to live life, right?  God obviously thinks so.  He loves me too much to leave me to my illusions.

He has persistently and continually rocked that bedrock to show me both its flimsiness and my willing self-deception (as well as SIN!)

Here’s the bottom line:  anything other than Jesus can be taken away.  And if we make something OTHER than Jesus our foundation, we won’t have any security in this life.  As a Christian, I should know better.  But my practice has not yet caught up with my beliefs. Maybe as a fellow expert in self-delusion you have also creatively built your life on faulty bedrock.

What might some of these be?  To start, how about:

Well at least…..

  • I am well thought of at work (or, at least I have a job!)
  • It all worked out (whatever ‘it’ is)
  • I have my health
  • I’ve surpassed my parents in education, status and career
  • I am married and have kids
  • I have enough money
  • I give away a lot of money
  • I have completed my bucket list
  • I am a respected Bible teacher or pastor or gifted in hospitality
  • I have a huge following on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook
  • I am an American
  • I’m not as bad off as________
  • I live in a safe neighborhood/city/country
  • I don’t live in a hurricane zone
  • No one knows my past
  • I feel at peace with myself
  • I can think for myself and speak up
  • I survived the accident, the health scare, the attack, the storm, the crisis

All those and a ton more are just ‘plain ole flimsy’ and can easily be removed by God.  Here’s a sure promise:  we will be afraid and vulnerable to what appear to be the whims of fortune if we make anything else but Jesus our bedrock.

If you have been found by Jesus and have made Him your ‘all in all’/what defines you then He can’t be taken away from you.  This then, the Eternal Son of God as Lord and Savior and Brother and Advocate and God and King and Friend and Priest and Intercessor, is what HAS to be first or foundational in our lives.

What’s all this have to do with those strange verses from Luke?  How do we square the statement that we may perish with the promise that not a hair on our head will be harmed?

I recently heard Tim Keller (pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) teach on this passage.  To the apparent contradiction of our body perishing but our hair remaining safe, he explained that what is eternal about us, our soul or our life (that Greek word ‘psyche’) is what remains when we die. Everything else is temporary.

But what was MORE fascinating than that clarification was his point that whatever is at our bottom, underneath all those layers of heart desires and motivations, that X (for me it was a certain # on that infernal scale!), is THAT which possesses our soul.  Only through suffering, if we view suffering rightly (ordained by God for our ultimate good), do we let go of the temporary and grab hold of that which we can NEVER lose, Jesus.

Keller framed it as this:  either something else possesses our soul/the ‘us’, OR we are SELF-possessed by clinging to Jesus with both hands.

Have you ever thought of the term: ‘self-possessed’?  It denotes calm, imperturbability, and equanimity.

So back to the question/title of this post: What is your, what is my ‘at-least-I….’ default treasure? Truth is: Christ is the only treasure that both satisfies us 100% AND can never be taken from us.

Dear Father – I’m so fickle!  I keep removing those false gods, those temporary things that promise to sustain me and bring me joy.  AND I keep falling back into WANTING my former ‘at-least-I _____’ idols.  I fantasize that maybe this time, this X might actually make me happy and give me the deep peace I crave.  Give me a hunger and thirst that only You can satisfy and set THIS FOOD in front of me.  I am often senseless like a sheep and prone to wander from You.  I need to be led, dearest faithful Shepherd.  Thank you for your promise to come after me when I’m lost.  Amen

sheep

What makes you happy is a clue to who you are

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Matthew 16:26 – What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

“I need to get an A on my Psych test this week!”

  • Why?

“It’ll make me happy!”

  • Why?

“If I do well in my major, then I can get into a good grad program.”

  • Why do you want that?

“So I can have a career as a clinical psychologist”

  • Why?

“I think I’ll be happy in that profession and find it rewarding!”

  • Why?

“When I was a child, my family and I were greatly helped through some sessions with a counselor.  I think that I’d be happy assisting people the same way.”

The pastor who shared this scenario did not go any deeper with his questioning of the college student.  But had he probed closer, a possible subsequent question might have been:

  • Why does it make you happy to help people?

I think the truthful answer to that question is key to revealing the source of our hope, joy, value, identity, purpose – in a word, our VERY essence.

Here is why it matters.  If our hope, our happiness-source is anything but Jesus, we have engaged in a DOOMED quest for 2 reasons:

1) we’ll never be satisfied the way we are wired to be

2) we can lose THAT which we might gain

This reality came to a head for me on Friday.  I started my day at 4:20 am with my ritual worship at the alter of MY WEIGHT, aka the bathroom scale.  Talk about God’s sovereignty – He controls my body to such a degree for His good purposes, that just like previous days and weeks, I was stuck 5 pounds higher than I want to be…..a fact painful to me since November when I realized that I had added to Maria’s substance.

I KNEW that this moment was crucial, that I was battling idolatry and who and what was most important in my life.  I wrestled with this truth on my morning walk, recognizing the approaching ‘line in the sand’.

Line in the sand

Was I going to worship MY happiness or submit to God as Lord of my life?

So once again, I decided to abandon this morning ritual. (I don’t need the scales to help me eat in the manner that provides me with the most energy – we’re talking about something SICK in my soul, an obsession with the scales and a numeral!)  This time, I pray, the decision stays final.  (cynics or realists might rightly ask, “Where have I heard THAT resolve before?!”

Listening to John Piper’s sermon in the car on the way to school and applying his line of probative questions to what I describe as that which makes me happy, I saw the foolishness and futility of imbuing 5 pounds with THAT much power over me.

For MY bottom line with the weight idol is this: If I weigh X lbs, I’ll be happy.

That’s stupid!  Our lives are just a vapor,

As James says in chapter 4, verse 4- ….You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

Why should you or I allocate that many resources of mind, heart and strength to the shell, the temporary? Where is my concern with the main part of me that will last eon upon eon of time?  And if, as the Bible teaches, we are going to be completely changed upon seeing Jesus face to face, why am I angsting over what will drop off and decay?

As our pastor Patrick quipped this morning: When we die, the nut that we were leaves behind the withered shell of our body. (That got me pondering: Am I a peanut, a chestnut, a walnut, a pistachio????)   I’m 57 years old.  This weight issue is OH,SO temporary and 40 years from now I won’t be even thinking about it.  So why waste my earthly energy TODAY worshipping the outer casing that is going to disintegrate?

Back to the title of this reflection:

Who are you?  Who am I?  Are we our own god?  or are we worshippers and lovers of the only true and living God?  Truth is – we have souls. We were created and wired only to be satisfied by the best – God, Himself.  Why waste our happiness on junk when we can experience a partial joy NOW learning about and savoring God, all along knowing that ‘fullness of joy‘ awaits us. (Psalm 16:11)

PS:  One final thought about the student who might have answered that her idea of happiness was helping others.  If we help others to FEEL good about ourselves, that is sin.  If we help others to PLEASE our heavenly Father and do that work in His strength, honoring Him in the process, that is what the Bible calls ‘good’.  Inner motivation DOES matter. The Pharisees sought man’s approval and esteem through outward ‘righteous’ behavior.  (Read again Jesus’ words in Luke 18:9-14)

 

Lost in thought – musings about abiding in the Vine

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Lost in thought

 

 

 

John 15:5

 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

I came across my friend, lost in thought. He didn’t hear me approach. Reaching out gently, I touched his shoulder so he wouldn’t jump. “Where ARE you? You look deep in thought!”

Don’t we sometimes refer to the content of our thoughts as a place?

At the very least, this illustration from ordinary life helps me to understand and apply what it means to abide in Christ.

Pondering again the whole viticulture analogy Jesus uses to differentiate HIS role from ours yielded some clarity.

If Jesus is the vine (think: TRUNK) and you and I are branches growing out of the vine, we are dependent on nourishment from the trunk. We need to stay connected, no matter how forceful the storms of everyday life blow. Our ‘soul’ survival and our spiritual vitality while inhabiting this current Earth depend on our on-going union with Jesus.

What role does the Father play? God the Father is the farmer, the vinedresser whose job it is to (superin)tend HIS garden. That means He sometimes cuts away new growth if it isn’t headed in the direction He deems best. His pruning sheers clip away the dead stuff as well. And He occasionally transplants us somewhere we didn’t choose, sometimes in soil that doesn’t seem to suit! But apparently, in His wisdom, He knows this particular dirt is rich and will cause us to produce more. I don’t always like the TASTE of His nourishing compost piles. There’s other plant food I would prefer, (namely, my COMFORT)!

Not only does the Master Gardner govern our physical setting, His Son as the vital vine, instructs us in how to be a ‘good branch’. Seems the only job He assigns us is to ‘abide’ in His Son, the vine.  But what does THAT mean? And how are we to do that?

Remember my lost-in-thought friend? We actually abide wherever our thoughts go. If we want to stay connected to Jesus, then we need to think often and hard on what He says in His word. Applying a quote from my favorite puritan, William Gurnall, we must ‘suck hard at the breast of the Covenant’. I think the idea is to be like a dog, working over a bone, aiming to get every last drop of tasty meat and residual flavor that he can.

In the same manner, I want to make it my chief daily activity to turn over Jesus’ promises, His deeds, His words, in order to gain as much nourishment and joy as I can.

What about the Holy Spirit? What role does He play? Ah, this is what is cool and encouraging. God’s Spirit is the One who actually produces the grapes, that is the fruit, through us.

Until recently I thought that ‘bearing fruit’ meant PRODUCING fruit. It doesn’t! It means to be the living stalk attached to the trunk from which the 3rd member of the Godhead grows the fruit. Our branch mission or job, therefore, is to focus on Jesus and His living Word.

This is actually work? Just pondering and thinking?   I know, I know, it’s pretty humbling, isn’t it! We think we’re to do GREAT things for Christ. But remember how Jesus actually addressed our labor?

John 6:28-29 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

That’s all! Think on and believe what Jesus says.

If it is we who produce the fruit, then we could claim credit and look for glory. The way God has set it up, He alone gets the credit. Well, what about us? At least we get the fruit, right?

Yes and no. The fruit isn’t primarily meant for the branch that holds it up, that bears it; it’s for others. Nonetheless, we get the privilege of being part of God’s provision to the Church and the confused world. And when God’s fruit grown in us nourishes others, we ourselves are replenished! What a good deal!

Proverbs 11:25b ….those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

Bottom Line? What we think about matters!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The twin evils of smugness and envy

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I was feeling smug. Admiring my ability to juggle this and that. Compared to others.  Evaluating myself next to another sister. He pulled me up short. As realization of sin spread, so did horror.

Juggling life

“I repent, Lord! Forgive me! I see! Truly! I humble myself. You don’t need to do anything else to get my attention. Seriously!”

 

For what had flashed across my consciousness about God was this:

“You, the all-wise and infinitely good God, have perfectly arranged this fellow Christian’s plate with the appropriate palate of weaknesses, strengths, characteristics, bents, abilities, talents, habits (good and bad), circumstances, and experiences all intended for her to grow in the knowledge and love of your Son. Every piece on that plate of hers is necessary to her sanctification and growth in holiness. You planned each one, the good and the ugly!”

And You have done the same for me. Who am I to boast about this or that as though they were due to my efforts and smarts? All along You are the one who has traced out our paths? And more pointedly, who am I to complain about the potholes in the road if they are according to Your will?

“Father, I see that this constant comparing of me with others produce either envy or pride and both are evil! Deliver me from these sins, please! Pride says: Look at me!  Envy says: You are a bad God not to give me what I want/deserve!

Since that day a week ago, He has continued to show me that He does indeed ordain and govern all circumstances. Because He is in charge of every molecule in the universe I can trust what He commands me to do:

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love kindness and mercy, and to humble yourself and walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6-8

Not evaluating, not judging the circumstances of others is wise. That’s God’s business. Do you remember Peter’s comment to Jesus as told by John after Jesus appeared to his eleven disciples post resurrection?

“So Peter seeing him (John) said to Jesus, “Lord, and what about this man? Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’” John 21:21-22

Several times a day as my smug-o-meter rises, (that is – when I awake to this sin), I put myself back in my place. I say to myself:

“Maria, you have died! And the life you now live, you live by faith in Jesus. (Gal 2:20) That is to say – you move and live and have your being attached to Him. If there be any good in your life, it is only good because of Him. So give it up, this thinking that there is something good in or about you alone!”

That truth not only humbles me, but it liberates me. Since all that is good in me through faith is a gift, I don’t have to worry about earning it. And since Jesus has given me the most costly gift, Himself, I can trust Him to give me any and all such that He deems good for me for godliness and life (2 Peter 1:3)

PS:  When I caught myself later on in the week doing my ‘I’m-so-good dance’, I realized that God was showing me a specific way to PRAY for this fellow Christian.  Again, I repented.  We are all different, intentionally.  He has arranged each of us in the Body of Christ as He sees fit.  Therefore, we are to encourage and pray for one another. It’s in our best interests, after all.  Another gentle smack-down!

It’s good to be a sheep

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sheep

 

 

Psalm 23:1, 3  The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want……He restores my soul. 

What peace and grounding there is to be found in the first psalm I ever remember learning.  Thank you, Cousin Terry, for reminding me of the rest and assurance that is available to all believers!

We were catching up over the phone.  In response to my question of how she was doing financially (she lives on a fixed income), she confidently recited verse 1, that she lacked and desired nothing due to our shepherding Lord.

After we hung up, I savored recalling each truth and promise packed into those six verses of the 23rd psalm.

Here are my take-aways from just one and a half verses:

From verse 1 –

  • I’m a sheep.  As a simple beast, I don’t have the vision or the wisdom to know where to find green fields and clean, refreshing waters.  I need a GOOD shepherd.  Yet most of the time I operate as though I know what is best for me and where I should head.
  • The shepherd knows me well.  After all, He is MY shepherd.  That means I am HIS little sheep.  I belong to him.  And Jesus knows best how to take care of me.  I act like a foolish beast when I don’t trust Him and His provision.
  • If I don’t have the thing I think I need or want, then that something is not what I should have at the moment. In fact, I will NEVER not have what my maker knows I need.

From  verse 3 –

  • Restoration is a big deal.  The Hebrew word shuwb (#7725 Strongs) refers to life-giving actions that my Shepherd performs, namely….RETURNS, REFRESHES, STRENGTHENS, REPAIRS, CONVERTS.  So often I’m scattered, distracted, worried, headed off on an unhealthy tangent or plan.  I NEED a wise and good shepherd who knows best and doesn’t hesitate to perform holy restoration/restauration.

feeding 4000

 

 

 

  • What Jesus, my Shepherd, repairs and restores is what the Old Testament calls the soul, or nephesh (#5315 Strongs). For the Hebrews, nephesh represents the entire YOU.   Your immaterial feelings, thoughts, pleasures, desires and dreams as well as your material or physical self.

Does that include my disappointments?  what about my ‘yet-to-be-realized dreams’? And my shame?  YES!

Does that include my energy and desires, my ‘get-up-and-go’ as my Dad used to call it? In a word, YES!

This master shepherd CAN and DOES guide, provide, love, encourage, feed, console, motivate and protect me in just the right amounts and combinations at the most kairos or propitious of times.

So with just 1 verse and a fragment, the Psalmist answers my anxiety.  God is always communicating a message of rest, of peace, of provision.  My life is not as complicated as I make it out to be.  And I bet yours isn’t either.  After all, if we are Christians, we know we are just sheep, senseless and stubborn at times, but well taken care of.  Aren’t you glad our Shepherd is committed to us?

Resting in Doctrine – God’s in charge!

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Job 14:5 -A person’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.

Psalm 139:16 -Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.

News of a recent hostage death has caused me to think through whether God is in charge or not.  What we believe about God is called doctrine and doctrines DO matter.  They affect our thoughts, which influence our feelings.  These rational and emotional aspects reside at different layers within us, some conscious and others beyond our conscious awareness.  It’s apparent to me that we are guided by thoughts and feelings originating in both camps, whether we know it or not.  Who hasn’t been appalled at a choice comment that slipped out before we could filter it: ‘Where did THAT come from?” we genuinely exclaim in horror.

Garbage in, Garbage out: ‘right’ thinking about God matters.  So what is ‘right’ thinking or doctrine when it comes to whether God is in control of all that happens in our universe? The Bible, the definitive source of doctrine, affirms that He is in fact the first cause* for all that happens. The term for that 100% authority and rule that belongs to God’s is His Sovereignty.

If a king is sovereign over his lands, then what he says is the law of the land.  How much more is it with God who is the author (hence – authority) and creator of all that IS.  And if He is sovereign, by definition then, that quality of being in charge includes the notion of having and exercising all power.  There is no such thing as impotent sovereignty.

Back to the hostage who died.  My heart goes out to the family who is dealing with pain and loss. If they are followers of God, there is one comfort that should hold them up in their grief:

God’s plan for their dear one was not thwarted.  Therefore, they need not take on all the piercing, painful ‘what ifs’ that often assault survivors.  Rescue attempts did not succeed because God sovereignly ordained the day the hostage would die.

This is NOT fatalism because that would mean that it doesn’t matter what one does, that regardless of our actions, the outcome is the same. God’s sovereignty is different because He chooses to carry out His will in our lives through both our human actions and His divine workings.  Rescue attempts ARE appropriate because they might be the means God uses to save lives.

We have an example of God sovereignly determining different outcomes with two of Jesus’ apostles.  James, son of Zebedee,  was the first to be murdered by the Romans.  Wasn’t anyone praying for his rescue?  Undoubtedly!  Then there was Peter, also imprisoned by the Romans.  This time similar prayers led to his miraculous rescue from jail. What made the difference?  God and His sovereign will!

So, why is this doctrine so important?  For one, it is PEACE-producing.  We don’t need to beat ourselves up with the ‘what-ifs’.  That self-inflicted torture implies our actions are sovereign.

So sweet is this aspect of God!  His unchanging character guarantees that His sovereign decrees will always be done.  This in turn lifts the immobilizing burden of possible mistakes off of me.

  • What if I make a wrong decision?
  • What if I should have known better than to make that trip to the Holy Land and fall prey to a terrorist attack?
  • What if I had taken a different route to the bank?
  • What if I had chosen a different spouse, a different job?
  • What if I hadn’t indulged in that immoral behavior?

I can easily wallow in regrets, if I start thinking that I am in charge of my life.

Jesus breathes comfort and peace into our troubled minds:

  • John 14:27 -Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

*Although God is the First Cause of all that happens, there are other doctrines that exclude Him from being charged with the evil we do. Even though God is sovereign, we are still guilty for bad stuff we do. That’s a complex theological discussion that I cannot take up here.

 

Be awed and encouraged by God’s plan for marriage

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I just listened to John Piper’s sermon (the 3rd in a series) about God’s view of marriage.  This will enlarge your vision of marriage and inspire you, whether you are single, thriving in your marriage or struggling. You can listen or read at this link.

Link to website for sermon

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

Valentine's Day

 

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