With One Voice

I lost the tag that told me the name of this little rose bush. It blooms just as happily without it. I’m fascinated by flowers of different colours springing from the same root. It brings me joy.

Unity is not uniformity, but neither is unity a random occurrence, without anything in common. I have known groups formed around the concept of unity that were so accepting of almost any idea they no longer have anything in common. That’s not true unity any more than response to a man-made rule that forces everyone to dress the same and act the same is true unity.

Unity in the spirit is about receiving from and responding to the same source, the way these lovely roses receive nutrients from the same root and yet each bloom expresses itself in a different way.

Unity is more than having faith in whatever. Unity is having faith that is connected to the One who is faithful. True unity is about being and rooted and grounded in the Creator’s love.

“Now may God, the source of great endurance and comfort, grace you with unity among yourselves, which flows from your relationship with Jesus, the Anointed One. Then, with a unanimous rush of passion, you will with one voice glorify God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

(Romans 15:5,6 TPT)

Grace and That Time God Hit Restart

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My kids must have seen me coming. They managed to catch the chairlift for one more run down the mountain seconds before I arrived to pick them up from a school activity at the ski hill. At least I got a wave from them as they rose higher. That’s how I ended up sitting in the car with nothing to do for at least another half hour.

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I could have taken refuge in the coffee shop, but I didn’t feel like making small talk with anyone I might bump into. My life was falling apart. It was getting harder to fake it.

My identity was built on becoming a successful singer. I mainlined standing ovations. But those tiny membranes that created the sound were not working reliably. I kept getting laryngitis. A rival (with frustratingly robust health) told me that a singer is only as good as her last performance. My last performance was cancelled due to bronchitis. And the one before that. And the one before that. Calls stopped coming.

I tried to be a good mom, but I didn’t know how to do that either. My kids didn’t respond to techniques I read about in books on child rearing. I began to invent privileges just so I had something more to take away as a consequence for poor behaviour. Well, I was going to take you to the circus, but you just blew that.

I tried hard to be a good Christian, but I was tired of never feeling good enough. When I went to church my ears screened out everything but the shoulds. I don’t remember anybody saying it, but somehow, I picked up the idea that I was only as good as my last performance there as well. When my voice gave out while singing a song about love and I realized I had no idea what love was, I left the platform. A few weeks later I quit going to church at all. So much for happiness all the time and wonderful peace of mind. I possessed neither. Life felt like a bleak landscape.

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Sitting in the car that snowy day, I saw my Bible rolled up in the back seat where I tossed it a few weeks before. Loose pages fell out of alignment and it had a forlorn sat-upon look. I picked it up and dared God to speak to me. This was a showdown. He was real or he was not.

I opened the book at random. At first I read passages about God being good and never leaving. I shrugged them off. Then I flipped again, like another roll of the dice. This time it fell open to the book of Hosea, the story of a prophet whose life became a picture of God’s feeling toward faithless Israel. Hosea had married a prostitute.

Suddenly, I felt something different than I had felt before. It was a strong sense that what I was about to read would mark a moment when my life would begin to change. I can’t explain the feeling except to say that I knew God was there and he was tender and terrifying. I wanted to cling and run at the same time.

This is what I read:
“Therefore, behold, I will hedge up her way with thorns,
And I will build a wall against her so that she cannot find her paths.”

And further down the page:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Bring her into the wilderness
And speak kindly to her.”

I thought God only spoke when he was about to smite something.

“Then I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the valley of Achor as a door of hope.”

I needed hope.

“And she will sing there as in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.”

Sing again?

“It will come about in that day,” declares the LORD,
“That you will call Me Ishi
And will no longer call Me Baali…
I will betroth you to Me forever;
Yes, I will betroth you to Me in righteousness and in justice,
In lovingkindness and in compassion,
And I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness.
Then you will know the LORD.”

I admitted I didn’t know him, not like this. Later, at home, I looked up Achor. It means trouble. The valley of trouble as a door of hope? That didn’t sound good, but I knew God was somehow in this.

The valley of Achor for me was depression. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t concentrate. I lost confidence. Memories of my unexamined history surfaced and shook my world.

It’s hard to see things we don’t want to see. My escape routes were “hedged up.” I wandered in a bewildering wilderness resisting God’s help, trying to fix things myself.

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I had believed lies that led to self-loathing and insecurity. I had turned to forms of comfort that would have destroyed me eventually. I was headed in a direction that could have caused great pain for more people than myself. Even though striving and busyness look good and are admired in our culture, they separated me from God.

Trouble forced me to let go of my image of God as an impossible to please old grump. I gradually let go of my image of myself as a stressed-out performer trying to placate God and everyone else to earn a place in this world.

Grace took the form of trouble. Without it, the door of hope would have remained closed. I had to let go of the old ideas before I could hold on to new revelation and walk through that door into a life of faith.

In the place of isolation, in my wilderness season, cut off from my usual escapes of busyness and performance, I began to hear the Voice of love. Words bringing condemnation, anger and disapproval didn’t come from him. I began to understand that even if I never did another thing to try to win his favour, nothing would change his for love me. I experienced his kindness in this drastic intervention.

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He allured me. He became my Ishi — hero husband, instead of my Baali –- master overlord. I sang to him in response to his singing to me. It was like he hit the restart button and my life began anew.

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I’m writing about this experience now, because I see so many people who find themselves in a fear-filled wilderness of isolation due to restrictions around covid-19. I know what it is like to be unable to turn to the usual distraction of constant occupation or watch things I worked so hard to accomplish fall apart. I recognize the silent questions. This sudden massive interruption of the world shakes our assumptions about how life works.

This atmosphere feels familiar. I recognize the finger of God about to hit the restart button. Some people are in a place to examine the previously unexamined and meet God for who he really is for the first time. Others will hear the faint sound of an invitation to return to what they knew from the start. Others will encounter opportunities to step into greater adventures with the Creator.

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These are troubled times, but these are also times of enormous hope for a deeper relationship with the Lover of our soul. He cares enough to use something the enemy of our souls meant for evil for good. He intervenes to say stop. He has so much more empowering grace for us to receive.

When God gave a promise through the prophet Jeremiah to people taken captive by trouble, he wasn’t offering a feel-good quick fix. He was talking about starting a process and a journey that would thoroughly change them and their values. Trouble would be an agent to give them a future and a hope.

Are you in that place? Stop. Wait. Listen. Be still until you have a better sense of who God is. Let his voice allure you. This could be your opportunity to start again.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

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Under the Weather

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To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.
-Karl Barth

The expression feeling under the weather means feeling unwell. It comes from a nautical expression. If a sailor on a ship felt sea sick due to rough weather he was allowed to go below deck until the storm was over or the ship sailed out of it or he developed sea legs.

The storm most of us find ourselves in right now with the threat of the covid-19 virus and the financial repercussions of efforts to mitigate the spread, have left many feeling sick with anxiety.

When people are overwhelmed with waves of anxiety crashing down on them they react differently than they normally would. They say or do things that escape normal healthy inhibitions. There is grace for that.

Sometimes it’s better to take a break and metaphorically go below deck to find a less stressful place and wait out the chaos. Sometimes I have to quit watching the news or listening to social media squabbles because they upset me. I’m liable to lash out in a way that embarrasses me in the way suddenly vomiting in a crowd is embarrassing.

Some people are called to hands-on-deck practical action – and for those people I am extremely grateful. Some of us are called to a quiet place where we can re-focus and listen to God’s heart for us. It’s only then that we battle, not from a place of fear, but a place of rest and confidence that God is still for us and still good.

God is not tethered to the timeline like we are. He sees the storm, but he also sees the resolution of this atmosphere of fear-inducing disorder.

It’s okay to take a break when you need to go below decks. Rest. Drink in God’s love. It’s the thing that casts out fear. Worship and give thanks, as you wait for the peace that passes understanding that Jesus promised. When you are full and can give out of the overflow, rise up and do the things that are consistent with being the person God sees when he looks at you. If you don’t know who that is, now is a good time to ask.

So now we come freely and boldly to where love is enthroned, to receive mercy’s kiss and discover the grace we urgently need to strengthen us in our time of weakness.

(Hebrews 4:16 TPT)

 

 

 

Ain’t No Grave

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A song has captured my attention. It’s not even my style. It reminds me of “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” style of dancin’ and stompin’ or “The Beverley Hillbillies” theme song style of pickin’ and grinnin’. I’m from a different culture. But I keep listening to it because I hear an essential satisfying message that sits well in my soul.

There’s more than one way to be dead. There’s John-Brown’s-body-lies-a-mouldering-in-the-grave captive to physical weakness dead. There’s I-owe-my-soul-to-the-company-store captive to hopelessness dead. There’s nobody-knows-the-trouble-I-seen (or caused) captive to shame dead.

Molly Skaggs sings, “Shame is a prison, as cool as a grave. Shame is a robber and he’s come to take my name.”  She also sings, “Love is a resurrection,” and “Love is my redeemer, lifting me up from the ground.”

Telling a person their messed up choices are going to kill them, or shame is robbing them of their potential and they need to repent and come to Jesus is like telling a mummy in a sealed tomb to unwrap themselves and step out of the sarcophagus. If you could see him, the mummy would be rolling his eyes, if he had them. He would if he could, but he is not able. He’s kind of tied up right now.

Jesus came to set the captives free and to give new life. It’s his kindness that leads us to change. The ability to change is a gift of empowering grace that comes from God’s love which is greater than our greatest weakness, the most hopeless situation we find ourselves in, or the most shameful thing we have done.

Some well-meaning Christians believe they’ve got to convince people that something is a sin so they can repent, clean up their act, and come to Jesus. John the Beloved told us Jesus didn’t come to condemn the world, but that the world, through him, might be saved. When we focus on sin we assume the sinner is unaware of his or her sin. Even a child knows the difference between right and wrong and understands regret. Only the Holy Spirit can convict us of sin without burying us deeper in condemnation.

We forget many people are coping as best they can within the limits of the size the graves of shame, hopelessness and loss of true identity restrict them to. Demanding repentance is demanding they pull themselves out of that hole. They would if they could but they are not able. Bootstrap transformation has never succeeded in the long run. This is what Paul called being dead in transgressions and sin.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ… (Ephesians 2:4-6a NIV)

Jesus went through hell for you. He said he’d rather die than live without you. So he did. Then he walked right up to the devil, and said, “I’ll take those now,” as he grabbed the keys to death and hell. He conquered death just to show how much he loves you.

Jesus said, “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” (Revelations 1:18)

He came to set the captives free – by his grace. It’s the gift of God offered to those who accept it. It’s his kindness that leads us to change.

Jesus, if you walked out of the grave I’m a-walkin’ too!

Okay, now I’m stompin’.

Grace/Disgrace

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I was known, as a child, as the kid who asked too many questions. I remember one exasperated church lady saying, “Questions! Questions! Why do you have to ask so many questions? Why can’t you just have faith?”

I felt reprimanded and like I was about to be assigned to the lower decks of the good ship Faith. I thought about it for a while, then realized that if I didn’t have faith that God is good and has an answer waiting discovery, I wouldn’t be brave enough to ask questions.

I still ask impertinent questions, but now I have a somewhat better sense of where and when it’s safe to ask them. Maturity or pragmatism? I’m not sure.

I ask God a lot of questions. Sometimes I get a direct answer in sundry ways. Sometimes all I get is a nudge to rephrase or ask a better question. Sometimes God asks me a question in response to my question. That happened this week.

I woke up to the clear question, “What’s the opposite of grace?” (I was too focussed on how wonderful my pillow still felt to come up with it myself.) Two mugs of coffee later I contemplated the opposite of grace. The question, “What does grace feel like?” (here) took months to answer. I’ve learned not to rush when my heavenly Father asks something he already knows. Something important this way lies. This time it didn’t take as long.

What is the opposite of grace? Disgrace, I guess.

And what is disgrace?

Help me out here, dictionary. The pre-fix dis means to do the opposite, to deprive, to exclude, expel, annul. If we put the prefix dis on a word it changes the meaning to the opposite. To empower is to give power to someone. To dis-empower is to remove power. Dis-ease is a medical condition that negates ease. When a lawyer is dis-barred, he is not called to the bar, he is sent away from the bar. It’s like a “not” added to the word. Dis-agreeable means not agreeable. When we say something is a disgrace it is without grace. It is loathsome, unhelpful, shameful. When we say someone has been disgraced, they have been dis-honoured, shamed.

I think that’s it. When someone has been disgraced, when there is no grace for them, they have been shamed. When someone is a disgrace, they are an embarrassment, a source of shame, an object to be rejected. (Guilt comes from something we have done wrong. Shame is the feeling that we are something wrong.)

There you have it. The opposite of grace is shame.

Why are you asking me this, Lord?”

So then, what is grace?

Your grace is the empowerment to become the person You see when You look at us.*

Grace is not an excuse to be content with dis-obedience or dis-function. Grace empowers transformation. Ah! I get it. Dis-grace wraps a wounded soul in a trash bag, hides it in the trunk, and hauls it to the dump when no one is looking.

I realized how many times I have seen dis-grace masquerading as grace: unrequested judgmental prayer or “prophetic words” that mislabel, unfaithful “wounds of a friend” that leave marks, demands to maintain “standards” that are really about maintaining power, discipleship training that instills dependence on a leader, sermons emphasizing sin-focussed “shoulds” that dis-courage, or traditions that make putting on a façade of respectability more important than enjoying the freedom found in a loving, honest relationship with God.

I realized that although I write about grace, I still have areas of my life in which I have believed the lie that I didn’t just do something wrong, I am something wrong. Every time the enemy of my soul wants to make me less effective, he tugs on the lie like yanking on a rug and I topple over. Sometimes I even hide under the rug. I have not always soaked in the grace God lavishes on us, but rather have self-applied dis-grace, mistakenly thinking that shame could motivate anything other than temporary change.

My prayer in the days before I heard the Lord’s question was like David’s in Psalm 139:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way. (verses 23, 24 NASB)

After I asked to be shown any place where a lie had taken residence in my heart I saw an area of my life in which I felt like I was still a failure, even after years of effort to measure up. For the next few days, I was sucked into a vortex of shame and anger. (But God! It’s not fair!! I have tried so hard!) I wanted to hide. I realized later, that in his kindness God was not showing me the hurtful way at the root of so much frustration; he was showing me the shame that kept me bound to the lie that I expected him to reject me like so many others have.

He hasn’t rejected me. Instead, in his kindness, he is showing me a little more of who he is, and a little more of how he sees me. Shame is what he intends to remove by his grace. He says I am a person he enjoys walking with. He continues to lead in the everlasting way.

*via Graham Cooke.

Grace’s Baby

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It was the same sermon we heard this preacher deliver many times in the five or so years we sat in rows of hastily assembled chairs as he expounded from the pulpit. The illustrations varied from week to week, but the theme seldom did.

“Okay. Got it. Can we move on now?” my friend mumbled over her coffee later. “I think the man has issues.”

The man had issues. But here’s the thing: we all have issues. If you read or follow the same person for any length of time you will probably sense a theme. If the theme is one that prompts you to say, “Good grief. What’s your problem?” you either move on or, if a sense of duty keeps you entering the same doors week after week, volunteer in the nursery, or spend sermon time counting the offering, or  make coffee or something.

If the theme aligns with your own familiar issues, and if you hear God’s voice in another person’s words or actions, you listen, ponder, and engage. And ask more questions. I appreciate people who share what they have learned, but I know the really helpful concepts come out of their weakness, not their expertise, because the struggle is real.

If you read through the stories of people who have wrestled with God, you will notice he chooses people with issues. Answers floating around in the air only gain value when they attach themselves to questions.

The answer my questions have latched onto is grace. The twin enemies that have dogged my steps since childhood are fear and despair — fear of rejection and despair because I’ll never be good enough. They tell me I’m only as good as my last performance, which was, again, disappointing.

I have learned and I am learning. I have learned to apply the grace freely poured on me by the Giver of grace. I am still learning, because fear and despair still poke their ugly noses into my life when challenging circumstances show up. The Lord reminds me there is yet more empowering grace to experience.

For a long time, I mistook mercy for grace. I thought grace was a free get-out-of-jail card – unmerited favour. That’s mercy — and mercy is absolutely great. But grace goes beyond mercy to empower us to become the person God sees when he looks at us in Christ. He sees our true identity.

Sometimes I forget who he says I am. I see something else. I asked him to show me again.

I had a dream. A man who reminded me of Jesus was driving me around a neighbourhood similar to my childhood street. He stopped in front of a house and told me to knock on the door because someone in there was anxious to meet me. I did so reluctantly, because, well, I was afraid. The person who met me was excited. Apparently this was the home of my birth mother. Now I heard my own mother complain about my birth enough times to know I was not adopted in real life, but in the dream it seemed plausible.

A small older woman entered the room supported by several friends. Her name was Grace. Just like in the TV shows about reunions, she held me and wept with relief and affection. Then she and her friends brought me gifts. These were gifts she collected for me since birth. Since I have reached retirement age in real life, the number of wrapped presents was overwhelming.

I noticed a name tag on all of them. It said “Ashira.” I had never heard this name before. Grace said it was the name she gave me at birth. My “driver” stood in the doorway, smiling. I woke.

I searched the name Ashira. I found it on one of those baby name sites. It means “she who sings.” Then I realized the dream was telling me I was a child of grace and now a recipient of the gifts of grace. Nice.

A few minutes after I told my husband I felt curious about the dream, people arrived for the Bible study he leads, we read a passage in Galatians 4. This chapter is about freedom from performance-based religiosity. Paul includes an allegory (I love allegories.)

Abraham and Sarah were promised a child. When no child was conceived they tried to make it happen their own way using Sarah’s slave. That didn’t turn out so well for any of them. Eventually, miraculously, supernaturally, a child was born to Sarah. He was the child of promise, not slavery, not self-effort that thinks the end justifies the means.

This is the passage in The Passion Translation that stood out to me:

These two women and their sons express an allegory and become symbols of two covenants. The first covenant was born on Mt. Sinai, birthing children into slavery—children born to Hagar. For “Hagar” represents the law given at Mt. Sinai in Arabia. The “Hagar” metaphor corresponds to the earthly Jerusalem of today who are currently in bondage.
In contrast, there is a heavenly Jerusalem above us, which is our true “mother.” She is the freewoman, birthing children into freedom!” 

My dream! I met my “true mother.” She had gifts for me. Verse 28:

“Dear friends, just like Isaac, we’re now the true children who inherit the kingdom promises.”

I asked, “Lord, who am I?” He answered. I am a child of the free woman, the child of grace.

Verse 31: “It’s now so obvious! We’re not the children of the slave woman; we’re the supernatural sons of the freewoman—sons of grace!”

Oh, and Ashira? She who sings? I’ve learn that for me, the best way to defeat fear and despair is by singing about the goodness of God. He’s reminding me my weapon is a melody. My chosen pen name means Grace Song. I was a singer most of my life and now I use my “voice” here and other places to communicate this theme: God’s grace is sufficient. He loves people with issues, because His power is perfected in weakness.

Who do you think you are? Who does God know you are? Do the identities match? Ask him.

 

 

Words That Both Pierce and Heal

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No one speaks words so anointed as this one—
words that both pierce and heal,
words like lilies dripping with myrrh.

(Song of Songs 5:13 TPT)

A woman told me how excited a doctor was when he diagnosed her mother with an extremely rare disease. He was quite proud of himself.

“The problem,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes, “was that he could offer no cure. She died soon after.”

Living under religious laws is like that. Performance-based religious systems are quite good at telling you what you are doing wrong and why, but without empowering grace to change the heart, well, nothing changes. The law is like a doctor who can tell you what you’re dying of, but can’t fix it.

I have learned that truth hurts, especially when I’ve been avoiding it for too long. But I’ve also learned that unlike people who have knowledge without power, the Lover of my soul never puts his finger on a pain in my heart that he doesn’t intend to heal. Like a surgical laser, His words both pierce and heal and the result is always greater freedom.

For if you embrace the truth, it will release more freedom into your lives. – Jesus

 

Resting in Greatness

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Ever lift Thy face upon me

As I work and wait for Thee;

Resting ‘neath Thy smile, Lord Jesus,

Earth’s dark shadows flee.

Brightness of my Father’s glory,

Sunshine of my Father’s face,

Keep me ever trusting, resting,

Fill me with Thy grace.

 

Jesus, I am resting, resting

In the joy of what Thou art;

I am finding out the greatness 

Of Thy loving heart.

 

(From Jesus, I am Resting by Jean Sophia Pigott. 1845 -1882)

All the Way

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I held the hand of an elderly friend after she learned her disease was in the final stages. She asked me to sing for her.

“What would you like me to sing?” I asked.

All the Way My Saviour Leads Me,” she answered, without hesitation. I sang.

All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well;
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

After the second verse she said, “It’s true, you know.”
She smiled. “Sing that verse again.”
I did.

All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread,
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living Bread.
Though my weary steps may falter
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see;
Gushing from the Rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.

As I looked through a cache of photos I took of a winding country road near Turner Valley, Alberta a little while ago, I thought of her. It wasn’t until her home-going celebration that I included the last verse. With tears rolling down my cheeks I sang:

All the way my Savior leads me,
Oh, the fullness of His love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my Father’s house above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way;
This my song through endless ages:
Jesus led me all the way.

It was as if all nature was proclaiming with her, “It’s true, you know.”

 

All the Way My Saviour Leads Me, lyrics by Fanny Crosby

Potential

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I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Philippians 1:6 TPT

Sometimes we are so quick to evaluate people-in-progress as if this is as good as it’s going to get. Maturity is a process. Even in old age the process continues. There is grace for you to change, so you can afford to extend grace to others.

Some people are stubbornly foolish and will not be content until everyone submits to their foolishness. Keeping a distance may be a wise decision in these cases, but many (okay, all) believers need time to fully become what the Lord created them to be. If you pull away now you may miss seeing something wonderful blossom later.

God is not finished with us yet.

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