Toil and Rest

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-by7yf-118be64

When mankind fell, enmity and disharmony entered creation. We are restless and at war – with each other, with our spouses, with creation, with the ground, and with God Himself.
But Christ has promised rest – He will take that enmity upon himself and bring us rest.

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Dark Places

The problem with dark places is that you can’t see.

You don’t know what is happening, you don’t know where it will end.

You don’t know if it will end. You don’t know what is on the other side.

Dark places are terrifying because monsters are real and monsters are terrifying.

Dark places strip us of our confidence. Dark places expose us as blind and weak. We are afraid to step forward. We can’t go back. We can’t bear the moment.

The pain is too much and we are tired. So, so tired.

The dark places creep into your soul and leave you wounded and limping.

So, so much loss. So, so much pain. So, so much.

There was a time when you had your best friend and you had a drink with him and didn’t know it was the last time.

There was a time when you told a joke and your child laughed and rolled her eyes and you didn’t know it would be the last time.

There was a time when you walked through a store without pain and didn’t know that would be the last time.

Your joints hurt; your bones hurt. You heart hurts. And you are so, so tired.

We learned in church that dark places don’t happen if you do everything right. But they were wrong.

We learned in church that if you loved God enough and raised your kids right and followed the marriage rules and had enough sex with your spouse, everything would be “happy, happy, happy all the day.”

But then kids run. Health collapses. Friends hate you. and you find yourself in yet again another dark place.

And you are so, so tired. You don’t know if she’ll call again.

You don’t know if you will hear back from the doctor or if they can even do anything.

You can’t go back; and you can’t go forward. All you can do is huddle in the dark and cry out, “Lord, how long!?”

Abba, Father.

But what if I told you that in that dark place is where you find your savior? What if I told you that God is the God of dark places. He knows what is there.

He also knows that it won’t ever take you from his love.

He also knows how long the dark will last.

And he knows what is on the other side.

It WILL eventually break forth, heaven will open, the light will shine down. The rainbow will glitter and the meadow will glisten and the lion will be there lying down with the lamb just waiting for you to run your fingers through its mane.

But you won’t do it, because you have another thing on your mind, in these green pastures.

The bridegroom is there. And the only way to see the bridegroom is through the dark places. He is also walking with you, even if you don’t see him or feel him.

Because he longs for you like you long for him.

I don’t know why the dark places are necessary. I don’t know where there are so many of them. I don’t know why the wicked seem to prosper and those who long for the revelation of the sons of God are so plagued with so much pain.

The answers about gold being refined and laundry being clean don’t really help much in a long night of fear and pain and weeping…but it is true anyway.

In your tears, God is there. He is keeping them.

In your blindness, he sees. He knows what is in the dark.

And he knows what is on the other side.

Patience, dear ones. Your Saviour is coming.

Please wait. Please rest.

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9 things for Christmas

If you don’t have a problem with Donald Trump in the pulpit on Christmas Sunday, then you have no right to have a problem with Beth Moore. Nor do you have the right to complain about “taking Christ out of Christmas.”

If you are grieving this Christmas, grieve. God collects tears. God doesn’t rebuke you for mourning. God hears your cries even if you can’t say anything more than “help me help me help me help me.”

God became flesh; he is Immanuel. He knows what it is to feel sad, lonely, abandoned, despised, hurt and even dying. He bore it all so that we might live. Hold to that.

Mary wasn’t a girl. She was a bright, godly, intelligent, and incredibly courageous woman. The angel didn’t ask her father’s permission. Nor did he ask Joseph’s permission.

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if there is a leader in your church that is using the Christmas Story to perv on girls, then he is a wolf and a son of Belial. Please report him. Crush his head. No second chances. And yes, this happens.

I have no problem saying “Happy Holidays”; Christmas is a holiday; People carry burdens I know nothing about; And it is better to be kind than to win some kind of weird culture war, especially one that has Donald Trump in the pulpit.

If you say, “Happy Holidays”, you won’t be struck dead by lightening, you won’t take Christ out of Christmas, you won’t anger God – you will simply cause your neighbor to smile and say, “Happy Holidays” back. You’ll make a connection. For a moment, your heart will be lighter, and so will your neighbor’s.

There might be someone who will respond with “Don’t take Christ out of Christmas!” And then they’ll shout rather angrily “Merry Christmas!”, snort, and give you that look like they sure told you. But it is better to smile at that guy and ignore him than to become that guy yourself.

If you haven’t heard Andres Segovia play “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Francisco Tarrega then you haven’t really lived yet.

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Where abuse thrives

For many years, I worked in the Food and Beverage industry. It has a way of creeping into your pores and into your vocabulary.

I’ve seen restaurants shut their doors because of foodborne illness. Little pathogens and toxins sometimes attach themselves to food and cause illness or even death. Very few restaurants can survive an outbreak.

I don’t know of any restauranteurs that will confess a love of germs. If asked, they will proclaim strongly how much effort and energy they put into the destruction of germs and how clean their establishments are. But the proof is seen in the washing of the hands, the monitoring of food temperatures, the cleanliness of the corners and the walk-in refrigerators, the labelling – in the routines.

Whether a restaurant is truly safe is not dependent upon whether they SAY they are opposed to foodborne illness; but in the environment they keep. Some environments give themselves wholly to the growth of germs and toxins. In order to be safe, good restauranteurs learn how to create an environment that is hostile to germs. It is that simple.

For 20 years, I taught restaurant employees how to create a hostile work environment. Not hostile towards health and goodness and nutrition and peace; but hostile to pathogens and illness and toxins.

Some got it. A few never did. It takes effort and intentionality, and not everyone is willing. They will eventually cause an outbreak.

I’ve been thinking about this lately. I don’t know of any pastors who will just say that they enjoy having pedophiles, revilers, and abusers destroy their ministry. Every one that I know will say, with varying degrees of skill, that they are opposed in the strongest way possible to those who would hurt a child, or revile their spouses.

But that really isn’t the question. The question is this – are they creating an environment where abuse thrives? A quick glance at the news will show us that there is something in the teaching of modern evangelicalism that causes abuse and revilers to thrive.

But in order for sheep to be safe in church, the environment must be “hostile” towards the wolves.

This is why I write what I do. It is for the same reason that I taught young restauranteurs how to protect against food-borne illness. We who have the power to do so must do whatever we can to protect life, to protect health. We must be people of life carrying the savor of life.

And that, very often, means the savor of death – to pathogens and to children of Belial.

In restaurants, the savor of life often smells like sanitizer.

In churches, the savor of life smells like the gospel – that in Christ, God is with us.

And if God is with us, children are safe. The weak are safe. The outcast are safe. And those who hurt and destroy are cast away, for none shall hurt or destroy “in all my holy mountain.”

When we are loyal to our brand first, and our people second, we allow wolves to thrive.

When we refuse to learn about the tactics of abusers, we allow them to thrive.

When we arrogantly assume that we know the Bible, so we know all there is to know about abuse, we allow abuse to thrive.

When we refuse to believe the victims unless they meet a burden of proof so enormous that no evidence actually qualifies….

When we force non-disclosure agreements…

When we teach that women’s bodies are created to serve men…

When we teach that all women are to submit to all men…

When we teach “sanctified testosterone” instead of meekness…

When we teach that “all boys experiment with young girls. It’s no big deal…”

When we normalize pornography…

When we call lust “every man’s battle…”

When we refuse to cooperate with the law when they are doing what they are supposed to be doing…

And I’m sure that we could all come up with more.

Please think about it like this. If you are a restaurant owner, and you believe that foodborne illness only happens to the others, that it can’t ever happen to you – and you take no precautions whatsoever to teach your people how to protect against it – then you will eventually close, after causing a lot of sickness and perhaps death. It takes vigilance to protect against germs.

So also, if you believe that abuse only happens to others, to the other denominations, the other people, the liberals, those who aren’t as clever as we are, God will eventually remove your candlestick. But I pray that you won’t continue to cause death and destruction to those who have come to you for rest.

It takes vigilance to protect the sheep. Sometimes you have to take up your cross to do it.

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9 things for December 8th

Gas prices are so high I just saw them out buying tacos with Snoop Dog. This might be the stupidest thing you read today, unless you follow “The Transformed Wife.”

Here is a note for those insiders (those with power, pastors, elders, ministry leaders, bosses): with the Duggers, Ghislaine Maxwell, Liberty University, and the Supreme Court taking over the news, people that you care about are triggered, anxious, worried. Their minds are full of trauma, recovered memories and they are seeing the face of their abuser everywhere on every news channel. Please be kind.

The primary horizontal relationship that the prophets spoke of is justice. Perhaps we shouldn’t mock and ridicule those who call out injustice. I do think, though, that it is OK to gently mock those who talk about “vertical” and “horizontal” relationships. It’s just silly.

Whenever you hide an ad on Facebook, you are asked to select a reason. In the pop down menu, you have several to choose from. None of them ever apply to why I actually hid the ad.

My disabled daughter paints my toenails and puts glitter on them. I let her do it because I enjoy the bonding time, I’m not a jerk, it calms her, and I don’t need to prove anything. It also, as a bonus, gives ammo to people who insist on hating me. I perversely enjoy that. “Yep. My toes are painted. And I’m also wearing a shirt with flowers on it. What’s your point?”

If sex in your relationship is used for currency, you are doing it wrong.

As far as I can tell, there is no material difference between a chocolate muffin and a chocolate cupcake. Perhaps when one is eating a cupcake for breakfast it soothes the guilt if you refer to said cupcake as a “muffin”.

Normalize cupcakes for breakfast.

An interesting observation – those who insist that a woman is responsible for a man’s lust are weirdly contradictory. On the one hand, they insist that the man is naturally the leader, is to be in charge of his home and she is to submit. But on the other hand, they insist that the man is not even in charge of his own heart, but is led about against his will by every woman he sees. There is something strange about that.

Have a joyous day and rejoice, because the Lord is rejoicing over you!

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The Joy of the Lord

10 Then he said unto them, Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and send portions unto them for whom nothing is prepared: for this day is holy unto our Lord: neither be ye sorry; for the joy of the LORD is your strength. (Neh. 8:10)

I heard something today that disturbed me. I sat outside and smelled the night air and pondered it. What I heard is that this verse, particularly the last phrase, is used to rebuke those who are downhearted, gloomy or weeping.

I have heard this phrase. It seems to be a frequent guest lodging itself in annoying praise tunes. The idea is this:

Dance, be happy, rejoice, laugh – because God has commanded you to be full of joy in the Lord. Otherwise you will be weak and pitiful.

What bothered me is this – what about all of the times when God’s beloved people wept, or cried out to him? What about God keeping our tears in his bottle?

What about those times when violence and hatred assail our soul and we are trapped?

Or what about those times when we are bowed down by sin, crushed by the knowledge that we have offended a holy God?

That is actually the context of this verse. The people of Israel were mourning over their sins, and Nehemiah was giving them comfort.

Was he comforting by adding another commandment – be joyful!

Knowing that scripture never contradicts itself this is like an itch. I mull. I sit on the porch in quiet and think it over.

And then it occurs to me. It was like a light, a flash of joy and a thought so profound and wonderful that it doesn’t seem quite real!

What if the one with joy isn’t me? But God himself?

The word “of” can mean a variety of things. It can mean here that Israel’s joy in the Lord is their strength. OR it can mean that God’s joy in Israel is their strength.

In the context, there can be only one interpretation that fits. Israel, although convicted by the law, is told to stop weeping, get out the food, eat and drink and give generously to those who have nothing.

Why? Because even though they have sinned before God, God takes great joy in them. The joy is the Lord’s for Israel, not Israel’s for the Lord! And this changes everything.

Rather than being a command to Israel, it is a motive for OUR joy. In Christ, God’s anger is taken away. He rejoices over us. He even sings over us. He delights in us.

THIS is our strength. God’s joy in his people.

If we look within to see our joy in God and try to work some up so that God doesn’t zap us, we will never succeed. How can we rejoice? How can we love, if we view God as a harsh lawgiver ready to stomp us down any moment?

The answer is that we cannot. We can only rejoice when we fully understand that God delights in his people. The joy of the Lord is our strength.

Meditate on that. Think about how God delights in you. You are acceptable, loved, wanted, desired. Yes, your sins are many. But God’s grace is far greater.

Yes, the pain is real and the tears are real. But God isn’t in heaven scoffing at you for weeping at his harsh providence. He is holding your hand; walking with you. He is leading you to quiet pastures because he actually WANTS to. He loves you freely, not from compulsion – but that love means that he actually delights in you.

Do you know those parents that tell their kids, “I love you, but I sure don’t like you very much right now.”

And you see the child just crumple. How painful it is to not be wanted, to not be delighted in. We were created to be delighted in.

And yet in the cursed world, we are very used to the door slams, the unfriending on Social Media, the booting out of the inner circle – Jesus even said that they would throw his people out of the synagogues.

But being an outcast isn’t who you are before God. You are accepted and loved.

The joy that comes from the Lord, freely given to his people, is their strength.

Amen!

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The Meaning of Christmas

From the archives.

My Only Comfort

It’s inevitable this time of year.  People seem obsessed with “putting Christ back into Christmas”.  They seem to mean by this that we should put Nativity scenes up instead of Christmas trees, and that we should rant incessantly about spelling the holiday “Christmas” instead of “xmas”. Soon we will be asked to share memes if we agree that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Even now, perhaps there are some that are concerned that I might be taking too light a view on changing Christmas to “xmas”.  No, I’m not. “X” is simply a Greek chi, and for 2,000 years it has stood for the name “Christ.” Everyone relax.

I agree that at many times the holiday seems overdone, vain and aesthetically offensive. Christians are not immune to this charge.  There are only so many times that you can hear “Jingle Bell Rock” or “Mary did you know?”

On…

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Clothed with dignity

I’ve been thinking about clothing lately.

In my bible studies and in my preaching, I seem to come across this idea frequently. It bears some meditation.

“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isa. 58:7)

`I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ (Matt. 25:36)

These are the practical outworking of love, according to the Bible. A person who is born again by the spirit has been given new eyes and a new heart, and this new heart sees their neighbor differently than before. It is what is means to be united to Christ – to be more and more conformed to his image.

So when we say, “To be like Christ is to clothe the naked”, what do we mean? Of course, there are many other things mentioned – feeding the hungry, providing for your own relatives, comforting the lonely and downhearted, and so on, as well as other duties summarized in God’s law. But this is a blog, and I would just like to leave you with a couple of thoughts on just one word picture: What does it mean to clothe the naked?

The obvious is to provide clothing to those who are too poor to afford any. But I think it goes deeper.

Nakedness is always viewed as shameful in the scripture. It is exposure to the contempt and ridicule of others. To be naked is to be shamed, helpless, exposed.

In fact, in the Hebrew language, to be stripped naked is the same word used for being “exiled”. One who was captured and sent away was first stripped naked.

When one is stripped naked, they are no longer clothed with dignity and honor. They are no longer men or women to be respected, but slaves to be mocked.

Slaves were sold naked on the auction block. The clothed people who were the “masters” wanted to see their potential “property”.

In other words, to be naked is to no longer be viewed as an image-bearer of God, with dignity and honor. It is rather to be exposed to the leers and contempt of those who are clothed.

The first thing that we need to see is this – Jesus was stripped naked before he was nailed to the cross. He was stripped naked so that we might be clothed with his righteousness.

He was the fulfillment of the sign of the skins in the Garden of Eden. Right after the fall, God clothed Adam and Eve with the skin of an animal, pointing to the day when their shame and nakedness would be covered by the Sacrifice that God would provide.

Jesus was that sacrifice. He bore our shame. He bore the ridicule of the “clothed ones” so that I might be His forever, without shame, without sin, without nakedness. And he did this because of the “great love with which he loved us.”

We are now one step closer to seeing what it means to be like Christ in clothing the naked.

As far as we know, Jesus never donated coats to goodwill. He was poor his entire life and only had one garment. But he clothed all of his people with righteousness, holiness, wisdom, acceptance, belonging – the richest clothes imaginable.

To walk in his footsteps is to do as he did: View each person you meet as an image-bearer of God, worthy of dignity and honor. It will only come as the outflowing of a heart that is born again.

If God has provided richly in material things, then certainly give coats and clothing to the poor. Be generous with your charity. This is most certainly commanded in many places in the Scripture. But Christian love goes deeper, and “clothing the naked” applies whether you have money or not.

It means to be consciously aware of those around you – each one is worthy of dignity, whether they know it or not. Treat everyone you meet as worthy of your respect and dignity.

I will use one example that I heard from someone years ago, that I have not been able to forget.

First, from the perspective of the “church lady”.

A young woman, perhaps 18 or 19, enters the church and sits in the back row. Everyone sees her walk in. She is wearing an extremely short skirt and high heels. Her midriff is bare. Her cleavage is showing. She isn’t wearing makeup. She sneaks in the back and sits down.

The men leer at her. The church lady, out of the goodness of her heart, draws her to the side and explains to her that her outfit is making the men lust, and they can’t worship with her dressed like that.

She leaves the service and never returns. What happened?

What happened was that the congregation did not “clothe the naked” as Jesus clothed us.

Let’s look at the same scenario from the point of view of the young woman.

A young woman is sexually assaulted over and over again by her mother’s boyfriend. No one has ever been kind to her. No one has ever viewed her as anything other than an object to be used and discarded.

She runs away from home at age 13. While on the streets, hungry and cold, a young man comes to her rescue. He brings her home and begins to groom her. It is the only life she knows. By the time she is 14, she is turning tricks to keep her new “boyfriend” from throwing her out or hurting her badly.

When she turns 18, she hears a preacher on the radio speak about Jesus and how he forgives sin, how he came to rescue those who were lost, and how he seeks and saves…she works up every bit of courage she can muster, puts on her very best outfit, and braves the church…

And she is told that the men, who profess to follow Jesus, are lusting after her and she needs to put on more clothes.

Where can she be safe, if not the church of Jesus Christ? Her worst nightmare has come true, that even God views her as an object to be used and discarded.

We can do better. Of course this young woman is a sinner. She would be hard around the edges. She has learned how to survive in ways that would cause us the flinch.

But Jesus clothes the naked.

“When you found me naked, you clothed me”, Jesus said. You didn’t mock me. You didn’t condescend to me. You didn’t lust after me. You didn’t clothe me with shame.

You didn’t tell me that I was not acceptable, not wanted, not worth dignity and love.

What you did was you clothed me. You treated me with kindness and honor. You heard me. You saw me. You treated me as if I were valuable, worth saving. You treated me as if I were a lost coin, rejoicing that I was found.

Of course, if you view the body of an 18 or 19 year old as an object to be lusted after, no matter how they are dressed, you have far deeper problems and I would suggest you fly to your redeemer yourself before YOUR nakedness is exposed, but that is another blog for another day.

As the body of Christ, should we not learn to view people as HE viewed people while he walked on this earth?

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Peopling is hard

My brain sometimes behaves like an 8 year old. It hides behind things and jumps out at me in the hopes of messing me up. One of its favorite tricks is to blend words that people say to me in new and unique ways so that all I am hearing is gibberish.

As an interesting example, when I was a child, a minister friend of my father’s would greet me with “What’s new?” My brain scramble would hear, “What snew?”

“What snew?” I have no idea what to say to that. Like my brain just jumped out at me and said, “Gotcha!” and all I could do is go, “waaaaaaaahhhhh” but that doesn’t contribute anything at all to the conversation. I would function enough to know that simply going waaaahhhh would get me sent away, so I just gaped.

Since that brain scramble wasn’t enough, my brain decided to disconnect the circuitry that responds to anything. After rejecting waaaaaaaaahhhhhhh as inadequate for the situation, I would say nothing and just wait for something to load….

“Snew…” “snew.” *file not found. critical error. abort immediately.

From the perspective of the adults around me, I’m just a drooling imbecile. But my brain runs Vista and frequently shuts down.

As I got a bit older, I started to just say, “What?” Or, more politely, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.” Or perhaps “pardon me?”

But then he would just say, “What snew?” again, which isn’t exactly helpful.

How many times does one say, “What?” before one just gives up and says the first thing that pops into his mind?

“What snew

“What?

“What snew?

“I purpled a thing and I can’t dog anymore.

Peopling is exhausting sometimes.

Of course, as an adult, I am far more understanding of the gaping child. Look at it from his perspective: he is sitting there minding his own business. His mind is pondering. His unicorns are unicorning and his purpling is purpler than ever before. He is thinking through the mysteries of self and why I am me and you are you and what is the dogness of the dog and then some giant man shouts at you…

“What snew?”

That’s just too much input. Critical error. This is going to take some time to boot up.

I need a nap now. This, mom, is why I just would give up and go to bed at 9:30.

If I’m gaping at you, or my words are not the expected response, please be assured that I am really trying. Also please be aware that I might just need a nap.

Jesus said to deal with your neighbor as you would have them deal with you. We all have a basic need to be understood. God created us to know and to be known.

But we teach our kids to be silent, to conform, to be just like everyone else. In fact, our whole education model is based upon making the children conform. No wonder anxiety and depression and ADHD are rampant. God didn’t create us to conform. He created us to commune! We aren’t borg. We are image-bearers of God.

But we have had generations of teaching children “Sit still. Answer the adults. Be respectful. Regurgitate your lessons properly. Don’t fidget in church. Don’t embarrass your parents by being different…”

Let’s try a different strategy. Let’s try communing with our children instead of making them conform. Listen to them. Provide a safe space for them to thrive. Let them be themselves, with all of their glorious coloring.

“I think that those who would try to make you feel less than who you are…that’s the great evil” (Fred Rogers).

Let’s stop the “I turned out just fine” model and learn from the past.

And when a child is staring with an open gaping mouth, maybe give him a break. Things that come easily to you might not come easily to everyone else, and that is OK. All of us have our own glorious purpling.

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9 things for November 10

I’m teaching piano to the grandkids. Last week, I gave one an assignment to practice. We worked on it, and he was ready. Today, he came to the piano, sat down. Looked at the music. Looked at the keyboard and said, “Am I supposed to press the keys?” This doesn’t bode well.

If your theology requires that you be served, whether at home or anywhere else, it isn’t of Christ. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve. He calls us to imitate him specifically in that area. It isn’t about authority and power. It’s about service and love. Put on the apron. Quit subjecting others to your whims.

The occupation of mocking others for being “stupid” is not something I can get behind. I used to join in easily, but then I was convicted. People make mistakes. People have different gifts. People sometimes don’t see what others see as obvious. Calling another “stupid” merely exposes one’s own pride and desperation.

Rahab’s father, mother and entire family were brought into her house, under her “umbrella of protection” and were saved because of her faith. God delights in turning the norms of a patriarchal society on its head. This merits some mulling over. He didn’t tell her to go to her father’s house. He told her father to go to her house.

The scripture teaches that riches and poverty do not come by chance, but by the hand of our heavenly Father. We have no idea what drives some into poverty while some prosper. Riches are a matter of “dumb luck” more often than not. Can we honestly say that the world’s richest people are smarter and harder working than others? Or were they rather “at the right place at the right time”.

I don’t say this out of envy, for I have no desire to be wealthy. It is not my goal. I say this so that we will stop considering wealth as the measure of a person. Success on earth and success with God are entirely different things.

Because, as I said, God delights in turning the norms of the patriarchy upside down. He delights in those who fear him, not those who know how to squeeze a buck or make fortunes. Will he who made the gold and diamonds be impressed with the one who knows how to collect them?

The album “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” has many delights and deserves it’s place as one of the greatest. I am awestruck every time I hear “I’ve Seen That Movie Too.”

Be thankful in prosperity and don’t forget to share. Be patient in adversity and don’t forget to rejoice that your name is written in heaven. And for what is future, have good confidence in your heavenly father, that nothing can remove you from his almighty hand.

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