Living a Long Life

Is Age Really Just a Number?3-28-13 long life 1

This topic idea has been festering for a while. I say festering because I hate aging. Hate seems like a strong word, but I really struggle with the idea that I am aging and can do nothing ultimately to stop it. My last birthday may have amplified this struggle just a bit too.

Festering because I wondered if I can legitimately address this issue having lived just 40 years (gee, I hate admitting that), hopefully not even half my earthly life yet. I get told over and over again how young I am, but I’ve notice that the people saying this are, well, older than me.

The amount of days I truly feel young lessens with every passing year. I hear that age is a state of mind, but that just concerns me more since what my mind says about my age and what my body says are very different.

Because of my struggle with aging, the question of “How can I live a long life?” comes up from time to time.

How to Live a Long Life

I read a lot of books and magazines, and many of them at least touch on the topic of extending your life and looking and feeling younger. They include topics ranging from exercise and diet to managing stress and staying connected.

The Bible is also a part of my regular reading, and it also has a lot to say about living a long life. But not only does it just get at the physical side of life, it also gets how our character impacts the length of our days.

Consider the following Biblical instruction on how to live a long life.

  1. Fear God. (Proverbs 10:27)
  2. Get wisdom. (Proverbs 9:11)
  3. Obey God. (Deuteronomy 5:33)
  4. Honor your parents. (Ephesians 6:2-3)
  5. Avoid wickedness. (Ecclesiastes 7:17 & Psalm 55:23)
  6. Pursue God. (Psalm 91:9-16)

As I consider this instruction, I am acutely aware that it doesn’t always work. I mean, someone can follow this advice and still not live a long life in earthly terms. And I realize this is because God’s will doesn’t always happen on earth as it does in Heaven (think abortions and murder as extreme examples).

So, doing what the Bible says we need to do to live a long life does not guarantee increased years on this earth.

Yet, I know that my gift of a long life extends beyond the physical and into the eternal. Psalm 91:16 says that along with salvation comes the gift of a long life. It’s that gift that motivates me to live as long as a life this side of heaven as possible, living out His will on earth as it is done in Heaven.

3-28-13 long life 2Not Getting Any Older!

Even as I struggle with the aging of my body and still seek to live out God’s will on this earth, I find great comfort in knowing that what I see is not really reality.

Yes, my body is getting older, dying actually. That’s true for all of us. But the part of me that will live forever gets renewed every day. So, in a very real way, more real than the aging process I see in the mirror and feel in my joints, I AM NOT GETTING OLDER.

I find tremendous comfort in knowing that while my physical body ages and I can’t do anything about it, God renews my spirit daily (2 Corinthians 4: 16). And that spirit is what will live with Him in eternity.

As if that weren’t enough, I also will one day get a NEW BODY that won’t decay (1 Corinthians 15:53). Even though I can’t put my order in on exactly what age I want to be in that new body (29 would be nice), knowing I am getting a body that God intends to live for eternity is very exciting to me.

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What Have You Been Missing?

3-26-13 the end

Wait Until the Lights Come On

Movie watchers typically stop watching a movie as soon as the credits start to roll. Yet, my family and I have learned to wait until the lights come on in the theatre before getting up to leave.

After the credits for The Avengers and each related movie (Captain AmericaThe Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, and Thor) there’s an extra clip that shows further connections among the movies. Of course, turning off the movie or leaving the theatre before the credits finish means missing the extra.

(You’ll find “extras” at the end of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Amazing Spider-Man too.)

Waiting out the credits, and in some cases just part of them, involves persistence. Even if you fast forward through them, like we do at home, getting to the extra clip still takes time. Yet, persistence pays off in giving a preview of a coming sequel or a connection you might have otherwise missed.

Faithful Persistence

This idea of persistence, waiting through the monotony, translates well into our spiritual lives. Let’s look at a few examples.

Elijah showed persistence when he prayed for rain in 1 Kings 18:41-46.  Rain did not come after his first prayer, or his second one, or even the third. Elijah prayed 7 times before rain came. What if Elijah had stopped praying before the 7th time?

Jesus gives another example, recorded in Luke 18:1-8, of the importance of persistence.  He tells of a persistent widow and her requests to a corrupt judge. The judge eventually gave her what she wanted to get her to stop bugging him. Jesus ends his story by asking a rather disturbing question. “How much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?”

What Have I Been Missing?

These stories stir in me a rather bothersome question. “What am I missing because I lack persistence in my prayers?”

I’m equally bothered by the question, “Will Jesus find persistent faith in me when He returns?”

Don’t lose heart.

As I attempt to answer these questions, I stare a very real truth in the faith. I have often given up too soon. I have gotten discouraged and lost heart. I have often lacked persistence in my prayers as well as in my waiting for God to move.

Jesus’ reason behind telling the persistent widow story is explained before the story even begins.

“Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lost heart.” (Luke 18:1)

In other words, don’t give up. Don’t get discouraged. This was the purpose of Jesus telling the parable of the persistent woman, and I suspect that this is a reason behind the story about Elijah too.

Amplifying Persistence

Unlike with movies, I can’t rewind my life and see what I missed. I can’t go back and play through the credits again. But I can be more persistent now. I can push through in faith in my current circumstances.

I can seek His will and then ask according to His Name. I can believe that He will answer based on that will. Then, I can live in the confidence that only comes from trusting in Him.

And at the same time, I must realize that my ability to know His will and to believe in faith that He will answer comes from Him. Without Him giving me the ability to be persistent, I’ll continue to miss out because I’ll continue to leave before the lights come on.

DISCUSSION: How do you see persistence playing out in the life of a Christ follower?

Daily Downloads & Touch Points

In my guest post The Big Picture: My Own Life Plan Method at Christian Faith at Work, I detailed the approach my husband and I take together to create a focus for our marriage and individual lives. One important aspect of our approach is including daily downloads and touch points. These were so beneficial to us as husband and wife, we’ve allso incorporated them into our family structure.

3-21-13 home graphicFocusing on My Family

When my oldest started kindergarten 9 years ago, we started the habit of daily downloads. Every day after school, each of my sons tells me about his day. They talk about each class, what they’re studying, homework they have, and tests coming up, and they also share stories about interactions, both positive and negative, with teachers and other students during the day.

My boys expect these daily downloads and even ask, “Don’t you want to hear about my day?” when I get distracted and take more than 5 minutes to stop and listen.

We also integrate regular touch points into our family’s routine. Pretty much every morning, we eat breakfast together while each of us does a morning devotion, and then we pray together before heading off on our days. We also make a point to have dinner together regularly, usually 6 days a week, and this time usually consists of another round of daily downloads.

Knowing that one-on-one time is also important, my husband “tucks” our boys in at night after doing a devotion with each boy individually for his regular touch point with each of them. My individual touch point is the daily downloads every day after school.

3-21-13 road trip

On a more big-picture level, we take 2-3 vacations as a family every year, and during this time we focus on connection and just being together. We also talk about goals and dreams during these times even to the point of setting yearly goals together. We all have separate goals, but we create them together. This time away is a sort of a concentrated touch point made up of lots of downloads.

Then, throughout the year, we check in with each other’s progress on our goals. Just the other day, my 12-year-old asked me, “Mommy, how are you doing on your goals?” A good discussion took place afterward. Our touch points and downloads seem to cultivate this sort of accountability and encouragement naturally.

Another touch point involves windshield time. Whether driving to/from a vacation spot or just 20 minutes away for a shopping trip, we rarely listen to music and usually have a discussion of some sort. In fact, we never watch a movie for trips less than two hours, and we rarely listen to music for trips less than an hour. My boys don’t even turn on (and often don’t take) their various media devices when we go somewhere. We’ve simply grown attached to connecting during windshield time.

Virus Protection for the Family

3-21-13 virusOne way to look at the importance of daily downloads and touch points within a family is to consider why computer users regularly update their virus protection. New viruses appear daily, and a computer needs updated virus definitions to protect against these new threats. Failure to update virus protection can result in an infected and severely compromised system.

Daily downloads and touch points do the same for families that virus protection does for computers. Regular updates allow for a family to remain healthy and avoid infection and compromise from the outside world.

DISCUSSION: What suggestions do you have for strengthening the family?

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Just Do What’s Next

3-19-13 Things to doWe all make our “to do” lists a bit differently, but the same basic premise exists behind them. Maybe you use a less structured process like the one I detailed in Living in the Details: My Daily Plan. Or, maybe you prefer a method like the The Daily Game Plan: A Must Use Tool! that Chris Patton at Christian Faith at Work uses. Perhaps you prefer using a Master Task List approach like the one Michael Hyatt details in Before You Create a To Do List.

Regardless of the method you use, you’ve likely a lot to accomplish just like the rest of us. And maybe sometimes, maybe often, you simply don’t know where to begin. What tasks do you tackle first?

Setting priorities can be a struggle. So much, maybe everything, is equally important. So, where do you focus first?

When I taught at a community college, organization was crucial for juggling 4 classes and 80 students, and everything was very deadline oriented. As a result, I learned the importance of developing and then consistently applying the following 3 time management principles.

  1. 3-19-13 Long to do listRefuse to let being overwhelmed stop you. See my post Too Overwhelmed to Become Less Overwhelmed for more on how to develop a system even in the midst of being overwhelmed. We all have too much to do at some point, so learning to work through that is crucial to overall success and personal satisfaction.
  2. Do what’s next. Ask yourself, “When is the next due date?” For example, if I have to teach Sunday School on Sunday and have to write a post for the Thursday before, the post obviously comes first. You’ll still feel like you can’t get everything done at times, but eventually this “Do what’s next” state of mind creates an “I can only do what I can do” attitude that keeps you moving forward.
  3. Be ready with time fillers. Only have 5 minutes before the kids get home from school? That’s enough time to sweep the floor, switch laundry or empty the dishwasher. Have a list of items you can do during these in-between times. Instead of doing a mass house cleaning and getting all of these things done before moving on to other work, I integrate them into small times slots within my day. This transfers well into an office with things like making copies, editing a document, reading an article or answering an email as possible time fillers. I personally get more accomplished with this approach.

These principles probably seem painfully simple to some people, but they truly create a structure to help keep me focused and from being overwhelmed. Some people schedule and script their day more, but doing so never worked well for me. But, as I mentioned in The Big Picture: My Own Life Plan Method, the best system for managing time and reaching goals is whatever works for you.

So be encouraged! Keep trying different methods, keeping what works and ditching what doesn’t. Steal ideas from others, knowing that your approach will be a combination of what others do and what you learn through trial and error.

And in those overwhelmed moments when you want to run and hide, say a little prayer, then “just do what’s next.” I literally say this phrase to myself, and this approach has kept me sane in the midst of chaos many times in the past 15 years.

DISCUSSION: What advice do you have for managing everything that needs done in a day?

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Too Overwhelmed to Become Less Overwhelmed

So often, people fail to work on developing a time management and goal-setting system simply because they feel overwhelmed. They feel like they are so far off track and have too many changes needing made that they just don’t know where to start. As a result, they don’t start anywhere and simply maintain the same dysfunctional system that got them to their current state of frustration.

Where to Start3-14-13 Where to start

Often, the answer is to simply just start. Just take a step forward. Yet, too often, the weight of perfectionism, too many choices or both prevents even that first step. Sometimes, setting big goals and getting your life organized simply seems insurmountable. When you feel this way, start the process of change by focusing on small changes that added together will make a huge difference over time.

The following tips can help you to start this small change process.

  1. Consider the extremes. Ask yourself what’s working well and what’s not working at all. Then look for ways to tweak what’s already working and to change with what is absolutely not working. Don’t worry about what falls in between.
  2. Get and stay teachable. This point has far reaching implications. Being teachable, or having the willingness to always learn and grow, is essential to a productive life. Within the context of goal setting and time management, being teachable involves a willingness to try different things. It means knowing that you can tweak what works and toss what doesn’t.
  3. Stick with what works. Or, at least with what kind of works. Really, something has to be working at least partly, or you’d be dead. You’ve got to be doing at least one thing right. When you’re already overwhelmed, trying to change everything at once just makes matters worse. Some changes can wait.
  4. Take the plunge. This means diving in with a new approach or method and being willing to experience failures. It means taking chances and continuing to do so until you find what works. Failure can be the greatest teacher, but we never know what will or won’t work until we give it a shot.
  5. Struggle through. Life will never be free from struggle. Not giving in, not being apathetic or complacent, not settling… that’s where the value in continuing to struggle exists.

If you make no other commitment today, commit to making your life a process of small change. Some days may involve huge leaps, while others will simply be successful when you don’t go backwards. Simply committing to lifting up your foot and taking a step starts the process of change.

When to Start

3-14-13 Start

Some people struggle with starting something new until every condition is perfect. Experience tells me this results in never starting. So, the perfect time to start is right now. Just one small step forward. Something. Anything. In order for small things to add up over time to make a huge difference, you have to be doing some small things. Choose one and start right now!

A Final Note

Know that person who seems to have it all together? She’s organized, in shape, and eats healthy. Her kids and husband seem content. You want to be just like her, right? Well, first realize that rarely are things as they appear. Secondly, know that being like her is impossible simply because you’re not her.

In other words, be you. Figure out the systems and approaches that work for you. Yes, they’ll be a combination of the approaches of others, but no two people have the exact same system for managing time and reaching goals.

For more on this, check out my guest post entitled The Big Picture: My Own Life Plan Method and its sequel Living in the Details: My Daily Plan at Christian Faith at Work. Then, check out Chris Patton’s articles entitled 3 Keys to Creating New Habits and The Daily Game Plan: A Must Use Tool! Not only will these give you some very different perspectives on goal setting and time management, they’ll help you more fully understand how we truly are all unique in our approaches to life.

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God Math

3-12-13 numbersDuring my attempt at sales, the motto was “It’s all about the numbers.” While I worked in education, the question was, “What do the research numbers indicate?” When goal setting was my intense draw, the idea that “what you measure grows” was the driving force behind SMART goal setting.

While math has never been my strong suit and numbers and statistics don’t flow easily through my thinking, I get the meaning behind each of these sayings. But, I don’t completely agree with them. Some part of me always felt like the numbers weren’t always getting at truth.

On a more personal, even intimate, level, numbers sometimes consume my thoughts and really distort my perspective. The number on the scale. The numbers on my blog’s stats page. My running mileage. My running time. The credit card bill. The bank account. Even the number of pages I read. And, the weight of numbers grows heavier when I compare my numbers to other people’s numbers. Never good enough.

They say that numbers don’t lie, but they sure don’t always make any sense in guiding my steps. But God math does. God math may not add up with man’s numbers, but it sure makes sense when viewed in light of eternity. That’s because God math gets at the truth. God math is as real as it gets.3-12-13 numbers 2

When God wanted to destroy Sodom and Gomorra, He agreed to not destroy it if there were just 10 righteous people living there. (Genesis 18:16-33)

God continued to reduce Gideon’s numbers until the total would clearly indicate that God, not man, won the victory. (Judges 7)

God cautioned David to not count the people. He warned Him that the numbers didn’t matter. David didn’t listen, and the consequences were devastating. David’s math certainly failed to line up with how God wanted him to think of the numbers. (2 Samuel 24)

Jesus encouraged leaving the 99 to seek the one who is lost. (Matthew 18:12)

And God sent His only Son to die for the sins of all mankind. Just One atoned for the sins of ALL (John 3:16-17).

Nope, God math doesn’t make sense in human terms, but oh my does it resonate deeply in light of eternity.

Most likely, my thoughts will always feel like they are wading through mud when I try to do math and make sense out of numbers. Yet, God math continually makes more and more sense to me the more I decrease while He increases.

DISCUSSION: How do you feel about God math?

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The Lord’s Prayer – An Outline for All of Our Prayers

Guest Post: This is a guest post by my 14-year-old son, Jonathan Scare. “Mom,” he says. “I studied the Lord’s Prayer and wrote this. Do you want to use it as a guest post?” Without hesitation, I said “Absolutely!” In my mind, I’m thinking, “My junior high son studied God’s Word and wants to share what he studied with others. Of course I’m going to post it!” I’m one proud momma!

When Jesus said this is how you should pray, He meant that we should use The Lord’s Prayer as an outline for our prayers.3-7-13 Lord's prayer

“Our Father in Heaven” – This means that the first thing we should do is address God personally. This will help you have a better relationship with Him.

“Hallowed be Your Name” – This means that you should be humble before God and praise His name.

“Your kingdom come” – You should pray for the church so that it may grow, also pray for Christians around the world to grow in God.

“You will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” – Now you should pray that God’s will will be done all around the world by everyone.

“Give us this day our daily bread” – Now you can pray for your needs and problems.

“Forgive us our debts as we have also forgiven our debtors” – This means you should ask God to forgive your sins and to ask Him to help you forgive others.

“And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil” –  This means you should ask God to help you obey Him and to not fall into temptation.

The Lord’s Prayer helps us to know what every prayer should be like. Now, if you ever don’t know what to pray for, go to the Lord’s prayer, and it will help you.

DISCUSSION: Do you use the Lord’s prayer as a pattern for your prayers?

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Struggling to Change

Change is often forced upon us. Yet, we also can choose how to react to change and whether or not to resist it. And sometimes, we may feel the need for change and not be quite sure how or what to change. This is where I find myself today. With that thought, please allow me to take you on a journey through what’s going on in my mind of late.

3-4-13 Change aheadChange is in the Air

In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix after Delores Umbridge was announced as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, she interrupted Dumbledore to make this speech.

Thank you, headmaster, for those kind words of welcome. […] The Ministry of Magic has always considered the education of young witches and wizards to be of a vital importance. Although each headmaster has brought something new to this… historic school, progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged. Let us preserve what must be preserved, perfect what can be perfected and prune practices that ought to be… prohibited!

Dumbledore’s response was simply, “Thank you Professor Umbridge. That really was most illuminating.” Most had no idea what Umbridge was saying, but Hermione provided some insight by saying “It means, the Ministry is interfering in Hogwarts.”

As anyone who has watched the movie or read the book knows, Umbridge’s motives were self-serving and out of a deep need for control at any cost. Yet, I can’t help but find some niggling of motivation in her words. Before you think me sadistic too, let me explain.

“Progress for the sake of progress must be discouraged.”

Progress often happens just because it can. We never have the most up-to-date electronics, and we clearly have way more information than we can ever digest. So, for me, I hold back on following trends and try to choose progress that fits the steps I feel directed to take (Proverbs 16:9).

“Preserve what must be preserved.”

As with all of these statements, this one should exist as a personal choice. In other words, what must be preserved often operates on an individual level instead of in a corporate mandate with a one-size-fits-all approach. For me, this means that some of what I do may seem outdated or even complicated to others, but they work for me. Regardless of what experts suggest as the best approach, sometimes we keep what works because it works.

“Perfect what can be perfected”

While I am a big proponent of doing what works for the individual based on personality and temperament, I also realize that one person doesn’t have all the answers. Much of my processes were created as I watched others and adapted what they did as my own.

“Prune practices that ought to be… prohibited!”

This statement can be interpreted in a lot of ways, but it has got me thinking about how detrimental going through the motions of life can be. For me, this needs prohibited. While I am not sure exactly where His steps are taking me, I do know that I need to move forward in a way that allows the negative thoughts and practices that have been holding me back lately to fall away.

In the past, a “funk” like this has sent me deep into a pit of depression. I am refusing to let that happen again. This practice must be prohibited.

What’s the point?

I realize that much of this may make little sense, and that’s okay. I also realize that this post deviates from my blog norm. I’m okay with that too.

The point is that I need to make some changes, to change up my routine and hopefully my thought processes at the same time. To do this, I am looking at my daily routine and making adjustments, as well as considering projects I’ve put off that perhaps need to come to the front of my attention.

In addition, I am going to change up my blog posting schedule a bit. For now, this means regular posts on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But going forward, this may mean trying a few different things before I discover what works, and I hope you’ll hang in with me through that process.

DISCUSSION: I encourage insight, input, etc. into how to implement change, especially when you don’t know exactly what that change should be.

Note: Thank you to Chris Patton at Christian Faith at Work for inspiring me to finally move forward and make changes. Specifically, check out these posts by Chris:

The Avenger

The Avengers

One of my family’s current favorite movies is The Avengers. We even have all the related movies (The Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man & Iron Man 2, and Thor), and we like to watch the series to make connections between the different stories.

An altruistic super-soldier fights alongside a narcissistic man of iron. An immortal god joins forces with an angry, seemingly indestructible, mutated scientist. And two uniquely skilled humans operate with seemingly fearless intensity. Together, the are considered “The Avengers“?

To “avenge” means taking vengeance or exacting satisfaction for some perceived wrong. Quite often, vengeance comes for someone on behalf of another, such as when The Avengers unite to defeat the narcissistic, power hungry Loki.

Vengeance involves inflicting harm, injury or humiliation on someone who has harmed another. Vengeance is at times also described as “violent revenge.”

We enjoy fictional stories like The Avengers, I think in part, because we find comfort in the idea of a hero coming to our rescue when all otherwise seems lost. This type of story connects with us at a deeper level and goes to a part of us that wants to know we can survive impossible odds.

In addition to being entertaining with action and humor, The Avengers satisfies a deeper need in all of us to know someone is keeping us safe. We like the idea of a hero willing to protect us at all costs, one willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good.

While Captain America may be called “The First Avenger” in Hollywood, Christians know that isn’t true. Let’s explore that fact further.

The Avenger

The character of God is vast and awesome. I often find myself completely stupefied as I contemplate all of what scripture says He is. God never changes (Hebrews 13:8). God is love (1 John 4:8). God is patient (2 Peter 3:9). God is light 1 John 1:5). God is healer and redeemer (Psalm 103). God is the creator, and He is everlasting (Isaiah 40:28).

AND God is vengeful and jealous. Wait! What?

3-2-13 Nahum 2The LORD is a jealous and vengeful God; the LORD is vengeful and strong in wrath. The LORD is vengeful against his foes; he rages against his enemies. The LORD is very patient but great in power; the LORD punishes. His way is in whirlwind and storm; clouds are the dust of his feet. He can blast the sea and make it dry up; he can dry up all the rivers. Bashan and Carmel wither; the bud of Lebanon withers. The mountains quake because of him; the hills melt away. The earth heaves before him— the world and all who dwell in it. Who can stand before his indignation? Who can confront the heat of his fury? His wrath pours out like fire; the rocks are shattered because of him. The LORD is good, a haven in a day of distress. He acknowledges those who take refuge in him. With a rushing flood, he will utterly destroy her place and pursue his enemies into darkness. (Nahum 1:2-8)

I love to think of all of who God is until I come to vengeful and jealous. I struggle with this. But, I also realize that it’s as much a part of who He is as are all His other character traits.

Yes, God is THE Avenger. He caused the walls of Jericho to fall at the trumpet blast (Joshua 6). He caused the armies of 3 nations surrounding Jeoshaphat and the Israelites to fight themselves instead of attacking the Israelites (2 Chronicles 20). God caused the altars to be completely consumed even though they were drenched with water in Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). The Old Testaments holds story after story of supernatural victory over the enemies of God’s people.

What’s more, scripture clearly indicates over and over again that God will avenge all evil.

“Celebrate, nations, join the praise of his people. He avenges the deaths of his servants, pays back his enemies with vengeance, and cleanses his land for his people.” (Deuteronomy 32:43)

“Then the Master said, “Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help? Won’t he stick up for them? I assure you, he will. He will not drag his feet. But how much of that kind of persistent faith will the Son of Man find on the earth when he returns?” (Luke 18:6-8)

“Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. ‘I’ll do the judging,’ says God. ‘I’ll take care of it.’” (Romans 12:17-19)

When evil overwhelms, when dishonest people seem to prosper, and when all hope for this world seems lost, I need to remember all the times God has avenged His people and all the promises He has for doing so again in the future.

DISCUSSION: So much could be said about God as The Avenger. What does this aspect of His character do for your perspective?

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