The Discipline of Silence, Part I

This series on The Discipline of Silence coincides with another series being posted by my good friend, Rick, at Planned Peasanthood. Please take time to read Rick’s first two posts in the series, Quiet on the Set – Discipline of Silence, Part I and Discipline of Silence, Part II – It’s Golden. Rick & I have “talked” extensively about this topic and felt that covering the topic of silence at the same time would provide a unique understanding of the role silence can play. Rick & I come from very different backgrounds, yet the Holy Spirit has weaved our perspectives together in a way that only He can.

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7-30-13 sshhShh! Quiet Please!

Libraries used to be quiet places to study and read with minimal distraction. Not so anymore. At least, not at my local public library. People are on computers watching videos without using earphones. Others talk on cell phones at conversational volume. Some use the library for meetings. Even patrons looking for books and the librarians shelving them talk as if they were in their living rooms.

Less and less silence exists for many people,  and seeking it out – even in places where silence used to be expected – is becoming increasingly difficult.

One of my favorite places to run is a local park with miles of trails as well as a disc golf course. When out running recently, I came upon some golfers carrying a radio with them. The sound of the radio in this natural setting was offensive to my spirit. For me, it further illustrated our culture’s avoidance of silence.

I know people who say they need the television on all day “for noise.” Others need music constantly playing, especially when alone. More and more, people seem unable to exist in quietness. And most don’t seem to think it’s a problem.

Why do people avoid silence? People avoid silence to avoid…

  • Hearing their own thoughts.
  • Their conscience.
  • Hearing the Holy Spirit.
  • Thinking about their problems.

If not for avoidance, maybe the absence of silence involves more a habit of…

  • Being entertained.
  • Laziness, apathy or idleness.
  • Letting culture dictate thoughts.
  • An undisciplined mind.
  • An uncontrolled thought life.

Or maybe a lack of silence speaks volumes about a person’s belief system. Perhaps people simply…

  • Don’t value in silence.
  • Don’t believe they need silence.
  • Think silence is scary.

Do you constantly need the television on “for noise”? Do you constantly have music playing? When was the last time you sat in silence, just thinking? Do you enjoy quiet places and spending time in quiet solitude? Consider these questions as you consider the role silence can play in a person’s life.

In our noisy culture, many fail to even realize the constant flow of noise. That is, until it’s taken away. When noise disappears, many realize they dislike silence and then proceed to do whatever they can to fill the void failing to get at the bigger question of why silence bothers them.

Our culture certainly advocates sounds and noises and busyness, all of which work against silence and quiet. Before delving into the value of silence, we must recognize that silence may not always be the best option.

When Silence Isn’t Golden7-30-13 silence

Yes, too much silence can be detrimental and can indicate a larger problem. Silence is not golden when it involves…

  1. Negative self-talk.
  2. Lack of connection.
  3. Lack of information.
  4. Unreasonable emotions.
  5. “What if” thinking.

An important aspect of mental balance and spiritual health involves interaction with people. As we live, work and play in the company of others, we  connect our thoughts in meaningful ways that fail to happen in isolation and silence.

The Need for Silence

We need balance between the noise we encounter and the silence we seek. Certainly, a completely silent and isolated existence does not create a healthy mental or spiritual state.  But our culture is not one where many people live in too much silence. In fact, too much noise often lies at the heart of many people’s lives.

And in that noise, we miss out on a crucial road to balance that only silence can provide.  We need silence to connect with our deeper selves. We need it to process our interactions and the ideas generated as we connect with others.  We need silence to process the information that comes at us constantly in our busy and noisy world. We need silence to grow as individuals.

Bob Edelstein in “The Power of Silence” says that “creative engagement with our internal processes allows us to discover more of who we are, to take in previously hidden aspects of ourselves, and to reconfigure ourselves, if we so choose. This is what allows us to be more deeply authentic in the present moment.”

In other words, we need silence to be who we were made to be and to do what we were purposed to do. The Discipline of Silence, Part II looks at the tremendous benefit that silence brings to our existence. We’ll look at scripture to discover the role silence plays in our discipleship and in our spiritual growth.

DISCUSSION: Why do you think our culture is so noisy? Why is this a problem?

Finish Strong

Quite frequently, I’ll hear a sermon or teaching or read an article or blog post and think to myself, “I wish I had thought of that.” This happened recently while listening to Nino Guarisco speak at my church.

Nino and his wife Tammy serve as missionaries to the students at the University of Michigan. You can connect with Nino on facebook.com/theitaliandude, on their web site, ninoandtammy.com or on Twitter @theitaliandude.

The following post comes from the notes I took when Nino spoke. While the wording, arrangement and some details are mine, Nino gets full credit for the main idea and scripture application. I truly do wish I would have thought of this!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~7-25-13 run

What do Chuck Templeton, Braun Clifford & Billy Graham have in common? Before even attempting an answer, you might be saying, “Who are Chuck Templeton and Braun Clifford?” And, asking that question is actually the point. No one remembers them.

Let’s take a minute to answer the question though. Chuck Templeton, Braun Clifford and Billy Graham have the following in common:

  • They were all in their mid 20’s in the 1940’s.
  • All began their ministries around the same time.
  • All began their preaching through Youth for Christ.
  • They were all well-known with good reputations in the 1940’s.

Here’s where the similarities end. Now consider the following…

  • In 1946 Chuck Templeton and Braun Clifford were featured in an article titled “The Best Young Men Used of God” published by the National Association of Evangelical. The article did not mention Billy Graham.
  • At age 25, Braun Clifford was preaching to thousands upon thousands of people everywhere he went.
  • Because of his good looks, Braun Clifford was invited to play the part of Marcella in the famous motion picture “The Robe.”
  • Chuck Templeton left ministry to become a journalist and by 1950 was agnostic.
  • By 1954, Braun Clifford lost his family and his health and became an alcoholic. At age 35, he was found dead of siroccos of the liver in a rundown motel in Texas.

People don’t know who Braun Clifford or Chuck Templeton are today. But, they certainly know Billy Graham.

The point? How you start doesn’t matter. Even the middle doesn’t matter too much. At least, they don’t matter if you fail to finish strong.

Consider Solomon

In the beginning of his life, Solomon asked God for wisdom (1 Kings 3:1-15). In the middle of Solomon’s life, God once again reminded Solomon of staying focused and not letting his attentions wander from God (1 Kings 9:1-9). But sadly, at the end of Solomon’s life, he did in fact turn his attention from God and toward the gods of his many wives (1 Kings 11:13).

Solomon started well, really well in fact. He even appeared to be running strong in the middle of his life. But clearly, he failed to finish strong.

How to Finish Strong

If you watched only one episode of American Idol 2013, you heard Nicki Minaj say at least once, “I’m obsessed with…” Interestingly, the object of her obsession changed from one episode to the next and often within a single episode. What we can learn from Minaj is that we do need to be obsessed. But, unlike Minaj, we need to keep the focus of our obsession on God Almighty in order finish strong the race set before us.

Let’s look to what 1 Peter 5:8-9 tells us about running the race and finishing strong, about how we can stay obsessed with pursuing God.

  1. Realize it’s going to be a struggle, a fight. We will struggle with Satan, and we will struggle with ourselves.
  2. Be obsessed with finishing the race. Finish everything you do well, no matter how big or small. If you can’t finish the small things, do you think you’ll have the endurance to finish the big? (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
  3. Keep the faith. This doesn’t happen through works and one’s own ability. (Romans 10:17)

Get Obsessed!

With what are you obsessed? If it’s anything other than finishing strong, crossing the finish line, consider reevaluating your obsessions. Refuse to be like Minaj who spreads her obsessions around. Refuse to be like Templeton or Clifford who started well but failed to keep focused on God and therefore failed to finish strong.

Refuse to be like Solomon at the end of his life when he allowed his focus to be drawn away from God. Determine to keep your focus on God alone and to not let another have any control over that focus. Become obsessed with God alone!

DISCUSSION: How does your life reflect that of a person obsessed with finishing strong?

Check out the post Finishing at Cycleguy’s Spin for more inspiration to not quit and instead to finish strong… to achieve victory.

Pursuing Perfection, Part III

Path to PerfectionPursuing Perfection, Part I defined perfectionism and helped us view it through God’s eyes. Pursuing Perfection, Part II showed how we are already perfect in God’s eyes because we receive the instantaneous perfection occurring at salvation. This third part in the series takes the idea of perfection further as we look at how perfection is a process (aka progressive sanctification).

We do have a part to play…

Perfectionists have one thing right, we are supposed to pursue perfection. But they go about it completely wrong by relying on their own efforts to achieve the objective.

Those with a “good enough” mindset have it partially right too in that the goal is impossible. Because our efforts don’t get us to the objective, we sometimes just don’t bother to try very hard. But, the “why bother” approach does not match up with God’s desires for us either.

(Note: See Pursuing Perfection, Part I to better understand the definition of perfectionism and perfectionists as well as what a “good enough” mindset entails.)

Fortunately, scripture clearly tells us what our role is in this process. And this role involves the activity of the Holy Spirit working in our lives toward perfection. The following are all a part of the process of being perfected:

  1. Endurance/Patience (James 1:4) – Never giving up. Reaching the end of the race. Crossing the finish line.
  2. Love (Colossians 3:14) – Binds us together in perfect harmony. The glue for unity.
  3. Holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1) – Get rid of the bad stuff that draws us  away and distracts us from God.
  4. Praise (Psalm 8:2) – Silences our enemies.
  5. Faith (1 Thessalonians 3:10) – Growing in faith takes us toward perfection.
  6. Good Works (Hebrews 13:21) – God equips and gives the desire to do them. They illustrate our faith.
  7. Unity (John 17:23) – We are more powerful as one, strong body than individual parts working separately.
  8. Strength/Power (2 Corinthians 12:9) Our imperfection (weaknesses) allows His power to show. When we try to be perfect in our own efforts, His power is no longer the focus.

If we focus on these attributes, which God enables in us through His grace, we can know we are moving toward perfection. They provide a gauge by which we can assess our progress. The specifics of how these are carried out through the work we do, ministry, our hobbies & interests, etc., are unique to each individual. This eliminates the need for comparisons or competition with regard to sanctification.

The Struggle with Perfection

The struggle with perfection comes because we live in an imperfect world, we are imperfect people, and perfection really is impossible for us. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on the goal of perfection. We can’t go to the other extreme and put forth little to no effort just because we know perfection isn’t possible.

A huge part of my spiritual growth has been the renewal of my mind in the area of perfectionism. But that doesn’t mean that mindset has completely disappeared. For me, it means that I choose not to let the perfectionist in me direct my life. Yes, I’ve learned not to let perfectionism rule and reign and instead to allow a perfect God to rule and reign.

  • I’ve learned that the perfect shoes, bag & hairstyle don’t exist.
  • I’ve learned that I don’t have to correct people’s grammar constantly.
  • I’ve learned that most people don’t notice when commas or periods are missing.
  • I’ve learned that my own efforts to be perfect lead to a muddy and miry pit.
  • I’ve learned that God perfects others, not me.
  • I’ve learned that compassion, flexibility & forgiveness require accepting imperfections.
  • I’ve learned that walking the road to sanctification (holiness) makes my friendships, marriage and kids want to strive for perfection too.
  • I’ve learned that imperfection allows God to be more fully present in my life as I admit my need for Him to perfect me.

At the same time, I want to encourage those who are discouraged to the point of not wanting to try because they know perfection is impossible. God wants us to pursue perfection but to do so depending on Him. He wants us to play the role He has given us to play and to always strive for our best. And, He’s given us a way to accomplish perfection, both now and in the progressive sanctification that is our lives.

So taking this to heart, we need to remember…

  • We cannot become perfect through our own efforts.
  • “Good enough” thinking leads to lukewarm Christians.
  • God, in His grace, has already made us perfect through Jesus.
  • We do have a role to play in the process of being perfected.

DISCUSSION: How does the process of pursuing perfection – also called progressive sanctification – exist in your life today?

Pursuing Perfection, Part II

As we established in Pursuing Perfection, Part I, God wants us to be perfect. He knows that won’t happen through our own efforts, though, so He made a way for us to be perfect. Our own efforts won’t bring perfection. The world’s path won’t either. Only God’s way provides a way for perfection to become a reality.

You’re Already Perfect!Path to Perfection

Consider the following people’s lives. If you read the scripture reference, you’ll actually see these individuals described as “perfect” “mature,” having “wisdom,” “blameless” “righteous” and even “without blemish.” All of these get at the idea of perfection in the eyes of God.

If these individuals and groups of people – with their human frailties and significant mistakes – are seen as perfect (without fault) to God, why can’t we, even on this side of heaven, be considered “perfect” too?

How do we reach perfection?

“People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have, and looking for it where they will never find it.” (Edith Shaeffer)

If perfection is impossible, why bother? Why not coast through life with a “good enough” mentality? For two reasons. First, God tells us to strive for perfection. Second, He has provided a way for us to be perfect.

We can be perfect through…

  1. God – His grace perfects, confirms, strengthens and establishes us (1 Peter 5:10).
  2. Christ – He has already achieved perfection for us (Hebrews 10:14).
  3. The Holy Spirit – Our human effort blinds us to the process of perfection the Holy Spirit leads us through (Galatians 3:3).
  4. God’s Word – Imperfect hands + the perfect tool (His Word) = adequately equipped (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).
  5. Ministry – Matures the body of Christ to perfection (Ephesians 4:11-13).
  6. Sufferings – Jesus, the author (perfector) of our salvation, was the perfect leader because of His sufferings (Hebrews 2:10).
  7. Love – Drives out our fear, including the fear of not being perfect (1 John 4:18).

The Pressure is Off!

“Grace is God acting in our lives to do what we cannot do on our own.” (Dallas Willard)

God perfected us through Christ, and nothing we do can reach the goal of perfection. But, that doesn’t mean we just give up and coast through life.

Scripture clearly says that perfection comes through Christ; it’s instantaneous at salvation. But, it also say that it’s at the same time a progressive work in our lives. Pursuing Perfection, Part III gets at how that progression exists based on scripture.

DISCUSSION: How does your life change knowing that the pressure is off to be perfect because, through Christ, you already are perfect?

Pursuing Perfection, Part I

Defining Perfectionism

This topic pulls at strings deep inside my heart and mind. Not only does it represent a personal struggle, it also reflects a struggle I see in those I love too. Perfectionism creates a focus on self, and many – myself included – find this mindset difficult to shake. For this reason, this series will address this widespread challenge and look at the path to freedom from its dictatorship.

7-16-13 perfectAre you a perfectionist?

Consider the following definitions:

Perfect = complete or to complete thoroughly

Perfection = the state of being entirely without fault

Perfectionist = a person who is displeased by anything that does not meet very high standards

Perfectionism = a personal standard, attitude or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything else

Still not sure? Read through the following signs to help clarify whether or not you’re a perfectionist:

  1. All or nothing thinking
  2. Critical eye (worse on self than others)
  3. Pushed toward goals by fear of not reaching then
  4. Unrealistic standards
  5. Focused on results instead of the process
  6. Depressed by unmet goals
  7. Fear of failure
  8. Procrastination
  9. Defensiveness
  10. Low self-esteem

Confession time: I said “yes” to all 10 of these. Clearly, a perfectionist mindset securely grasps my thinking. While this is a more widespread issue for me, many people are perfectionists only in certain areas of life. For example, my oldest son is a perfectionist with grades in school but not in other areas of life.

My Perfectionist Story

When I was a child & through high school, I lived life without much guidance or any focused plan. In college, I became a perfectionist. Why? Maybe I wanted control over my life, or perhaps I wanted to finally feel good about myself, or it could be I wanted others to acknowledge my accomplishments. Most likely it was a combination of these and other reasons.

Regardless of why it started, my battle with perfectionism eventually found its way into virtually every area of my life.

  • Perfect shoes – Guys don’t understand, but shoes matter.
  • Perfect purse/bag – So glad I have not kept count…
  • Perfect hair – A lifelong struggle still without resolution.
  • Perfect work – A missing comma is good reason to reprint & recopy.
  • Perfect friendship – Expectations of perfection resulted in lacking any longstanding friendships.
  • Perfect marriage – Being depressed over imperfection almost cost me my marriage.
  • Perfect kids – Always focusing on how to improve and forgetting to focus on progress.

I wanted perfection but at the same time knew perfection was impossible. I created a heavy burden for myself and others. I was not a fun person to be around.

The “Good Enough” Approach

At the other end of the spectrum are those with a “good enough” approach. They don’t even try because they know that perfection is impossible. So, instead of doing their best, they do enough to get by.

“So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot or cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16)

Doesn’t sound like just getting by really works well either.

The Impact of Culture

Perhaps you’ve seen the slogan, “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection” in a Lexus advertisement. I want a perfect car, don’t you? For me, that means never having to buy another car or fuel it up again.

For sure you’ve heard the sayings, “Practice makes perfect,” and “Nobody’s perfect.” So, we practice to achieve something we can never achieve? Why bother?

Probably the best example of how our culture impacts perfection lies in the beauty industry. Products to make us perfect and then more products that made the old perfect no longer good enough.

Without a doubt, our culture pushes us to the extremes telling us to be perfect but at the same time keeping it well out of our reach. We are set up for failure. Unfortunately, Our own expectations plus the mixed message of our culture bring us only to frustration. Perfection remains painfully illusive.

God is a PerfectionistPath to Perfection

Both approaches – perfectionism and “good enough” – focus on our own efforts, and that’s not what God had in mind when he told us to be perfect.

“Be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)

That’s right, God wants us to be perfect. He is a perfectionist, but He can be BECAUSE HE IS PERFECT. But here’s the difference… God provides a way for us to become perfect. Our culture and our own efforts do not.

Pursuing Perfection, Part II looks at the only way to obtain perfection… God’s way.

DISCUSSION: Anyone else have any perfectionist confessions?

 

The Lord’s Obedient Servant

slide-0Obedience seems to invade my thoughts a lot lately, maybe because I have 12 and 14-year-old boys who sometimes struggle with obedience. Sometimes there’s outright resistance. Sometimes there’s physical obedience with mental disobedience. And, sometimes, there’s true obedience out of love and respect.

My boys know that we have zero tolerance for two things: Disobedience and disrespect. Separating outright disobedience and disrespect from general teenage boy stupidity presents a challenge at times, but we do our best as parents to not just discipline when our kids are disrespectful and/or disobedient but to explain the serous impact of those behaviors both temporally and eternally.

Almost every time I discipline my boys for disobedience or disrespect, the Holy Spirit gently reminds me of the presence of both issues in my own life, especially disobedience. To help with this understanding, Isaiah 40:5-11 gives a picture of the Lord’s obedient servant.

Just as God did with Isaiah, He gives new understanding of His will on a consistent and daily basis. He only asks that we diligently listen to Him, refuse to turn away from Him and avoid hiding from Him (v. 4-6).

In obediently paying attention to God, the benefits of obedience become increasingly evident.

  1. Courage. Dismay becomes dispelled, replaced by a stone-like, immovable quality (v. 7).
  2. Determination. His will becomes all that matters (v. 7).
  3. Confidence. Assurance of victory (v. 7).
  4. Presence. Always near His righteousness (v. 8).
  5. Certainty. Enemies destroyed and guilt erased (v. 8, 9).

Isaiah then goes on to describe two alternate realities that exist in opposition to obedience. The first reality involves being so steeped in darkness we are incapable of turning to the light, and we can’t bear to see the lit path of obedience.

The second reality involves existing in a false light, one where we create our own reality and our own truth to the point of no longer having an awareness of God’s light, which shows us the path of obedience. This reality is actually worse because seeing a light within a light is almost impossible.

The result of these alternate realities involves “great torment” (v. 11), referring to an eternal separation from God. When I realize the devastation accompanying disobedience as compared to the joy of obedience, I find motivation to seek His light in darkness and to rid my life of any false light leading me down the wrong path.

As a parent, I want my kids to focus on the paths God lights before them and not on darkness or any self-created light. That perspective as a parent gives greater understanding of the fact that my Heavenly Father wants the same for me as His child.

So I seek to teach my boys the benefits of obedience that exist now and that extend into adulthood and eternity. At the same time, I also seek obedience and its benefits for my own life on both sides of Heaven.

DISCUSSION: How do we seek obedience and its benefits?

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Did you know God has tattoos?

7-9-13 quote 1

Why do people get tattoos?

In the article The Psychology of Tattoos, Dr. Michael R. Mantell, Phd., says people get tattoos for a variety of reasons including wanting to be noticed and identifying with a certain social group. They also get them to represent a loved one, for religious reasons, and for patriotism. And, some people admit to getting them by way of a bad choice.

Mantell goes on to describe tattoo-lovers as “a proud lot” who want to “declare that they are what they are.” In fact, Mantell says people with tattoos are “ordinary” except for having “a strong sense of identity they have no intention of hiding.”

I’m not advocating getting a tattoo. I don’t have one nor do I intend to get one. Just not interested. And I really don’t intend to get into a discussion on the debate surrounding tattoos (Collin Kapernick comes to mind here.). For this post, let’s just focus on the fact that most people who get tattoos do so with great thought and have great meaning behind their choice.

In other words, people who get tattoos hold something – a person or group or belief – as being so important to them they are willing to make it a permanent part of their body. Actually, perhaps we could use more dedication like that in our society.

Did you know that God has tattoos?

“Behold, I have indelibly imprinted (tattooed a picture of) you on the palm of each of My hands; [O Zion] your walls are continually before Me.” (Isaiah 49:16,)

Indelible means something cannot be erased, moved, changed, eliminated or forgotten. Zion here means God’s people, of which you are hopefully one.

Notice that the location of the tattoos are the palms of God’s hand. A sensitive area. A visible area. An area not easily overlooked. The point being that God has His people ever before His consciousness.

Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible says that God’s tattoo signifies…

“that his people were always in his sight, his eyes were ever upon them, and never withdrawn from them; as anything held in the hand, or tied to or wore upon it, as a signet or ring that has the name of a person on it, to which the allusion may be; which shows how near and dear they are to him, what affection he has for them, and care of them.”

Just like many people get tattoos (again, not advocating, just stating fact), as a reminder of something significant and valuable to them, we are tattooed on God’s hand for that very same reason.

What can our response be to this deep affection?

God does not want us to be discouraged. He does not want us to feel abandoned or neglected. He desires that we know and experience His compassion. We are so important to Him that we are a permanent part of His thoughts, something like how a tattoo becomes a permanent part of a person’s body.

In response, we can be diligent in making our calling and election sure, and we can rejoice in the hope and glory of God (2 Peter 1:10-11).

Personally, I would be uncomfortable with my name and certainly with my face tattooed on a person’s body, but I am certainly not uncomfortable with being tattooed upon the very palm of God Almighty’s hand. Realizing His ever-present thoughts about me makes me know I am valuable and significant to Him.

DISCUSSION: How does knowing God is always thinking about you change how you live your life?

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Thoughts About Freedom

7-4-13 freedom 1As part of his testimony, a friend of mine says that prior to being saved he was talking to a friend of his who was a Christian serving time in a state prison for crimes committed prior to giving His life to Christ. My friend says, “This guy was in jail and free while I was outside and in bondage.”

My friend’s testimony teaches me that our physical reality often has little to do with our freedom, and it reminds me of Paul’s testimony from prison on multiple occasions.

As I reflect on my own life, I can recall many times of chains. Probably the time I longed the most for freedom was in my battle with chronic depression. At my lowest, the hope of freedom literally kept me alive. As I now live free of those chains, I find myself ever thankful that depression no longer defines me.

Many people still live in spiritual chains. They don’t know freedom, and many don’t even believe freedom is possible.

As Christians, we exist as living testimonies of the freedom Christ bought for us with His blood. Our response can only be sharing that path to freedom with others by living lives exemplifying that freedom.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free.” (John 8:36) 

“So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”(Romans 5:21)

“So Christ really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.”
(Galatians 5:1)

DISCUSSION: Are you living a life that exemplifies the freedom that Christ won for you?

Note: I am on vacation this week with my family. I will respond to comments and join the discussion when I return. 

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