Divine Dress Code – Kindness

Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

Last week I began a series of articles on what I call “the divine dress code,” as we read it from the inspired pen of the apostle Paul in his epistle to the church at Colossae. We took an extended look at the compassion our Lord commands us to wear; today we will examine kindness.

Jesus was as kind as He was compassionate, and His Spirit is working to create the same heart of love in those of us who claim His name. I think the best way I can describe how to practice biblical kindness is to be patient with those who try our patience over and over again. It is easy to lash out with a harsh word or to form a negative opinion about those who try our patience, but kindness refuses to surrender to that kind of fleshly response. Instead, we embody the biblical command to “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

It’s easy to see that without the ability to forgive, kindness is impossible. It’s easy to be kind to those who are kind to us, those who don’t rub us the wrong way or put obstacles in our way. But this is not the way of our Lord. Remember, He told us to be kind to our enemies (Luke 6:35), and he has clearly demonstrated His incomparable kindness to us:

When the kindness of and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:4-5)

God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:6-7)

Think about God’s kindness this way: His cosmic kindness caused the coming of His only Son into this world to save us and to give us our eternal hope. Over and over again, the Bible commands us to be kind. John wrote, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). I don’t believe I am taking any liberty with Scripture when I say that, in the same way, we are commanded to Be kind because He was first kind to us.

Take a moment to prayerfully consider those whom you admire most in your life. Why do you feel this way? No doubt, their kindness toward you shows up at the top of the list. Now consider your interactions with others and ask yourself: In what ways am I reflecting the kindness of Christ? and In what ways am I not? And finally, ask yourself, What must I prayerfully work to change in order to put on kindness?

May the divine dress code of kindness be the confession of our lives, regardless of the cost or circumstance. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Divine Dress Code-Compassion

Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

I am going to devote the next several articles to offering you encouragement and exhortation through what I call “the divine dress code,” as we read it from the inspired pen of the apostle Paul in his epistle to the church at Colossae. Today I will focus on the first article of clothing Paul instructs us to wear: compassion.

To understand compassion from a biblical perspective, it is important to combine the Latin terms com (with) and pati (suffering). To be compassionate is to connect at the deepest heart level with those who are suffering and in pain, just as our Lord did time and time again. Do you remember what happened when Jesus saw the blind men who were asking Him for sight? We read, “Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him” (Matthew 20:34). The Greek verb splagchnizomai that Matthew used, which our English Bibles render as “had compassion,” is taken directly from the word root that Paul used with the Colossians; it means to feel a yearning “in the bowels”—to say it inelegantly but quite accurately, it is to feel sympathy in your guts.

Who can forget our Lord feeding the 5,000 after a long day of teaching? When Jesus saw a large crowd, “he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). The verb Mark used is the same splagchnizomai; our Lord was deeply moved with emotions of kindness and mercy, and He promptly acted to help His lost sheep.

Here are two important points we are to glean from the scores of passages in sacred Scripture which describe the compassion of our Christ:

First, Jesus took notice of those around Him. In a word, Jesus was “other-oriented” in every aspect of His life. When we are self-absorbed, we miss what is going on around us. We become more concerned with meeting our own needs rather than the needs of those around us. If we are always looking at ourselves, we simply cannot take notice of others. If we are to be faithful disciples of Christ, we must be willing to shift our focus away from self and look with eyes of compassion on the people around us.

Second, Jesus met those around Him in their place of need. Why? Because He cared for them. Those who imagine that the Lord God Omnipotent is some distant, disinterested deity are completely and profoundly wrong in their thinking. I have written articles here about Scripture’s instruction to “Cast all your anxiety on [God] because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, emphasis added). Our Lord cares, and cares deeply, about mankind, who is made in His image. If we are to be faithful disciples of Christ, we must be willing to model His compassion as we go through life.

One of the most important lessons I have learned during my years as a pastor is that our compassion for others is a measure of our commitment to God. In the story of the Good Samaritan, it was not the priest or the Levite, those who were most outwardly “religious,” who demonstrated the compassion of Christ. Both those men actually crossed the street to avoid contact with a beaten man who had been robbed and left for dead. Rather, it was the outsider, the despised Samaritan, who put his life on hold and cared for the wounded man (Luke 10:33). This Samaritan understood the divine dress code and clothed himself with compassion.

Can the same be said about you and me? This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Are You ‘Yet’ A Christian

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:18)

Growing and maturing in the Christian faith means we are moving more and more in the direction of being a “Yet Christian.” In our passage for today, you need to see what Habakkuk was experiencing before he got to “Yet.”

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

When we understand the cultural context at the time of Habakkuk, we see that he is describing a calamity of cosmic proportions. Crop failure and the death of the livestock would spell utter disaster for the people of Judah. But the inspired prophet wrote that no matter what happened in his life, he would continue to rejoice in the Lord. The waves of challenge would not tip Habakkuk over, no matter how relentlessly they washed over him, because he refused to take his eyes off of His God, He who can be trusted in all circumstances even when He cannot be traced. Think about it this way: In the face of utter hopelessness, Habakkuk still had hope because of the One He hoped in.

To praise God in times of plenty and peace is easy; to praise Him in times of poverty and pain is hard. Yet this is the key to being a Yet Christian. It is easy to be loyal to our Lord when He is leading us through a period when the sky is blue, the clouds are fleecy, and the sun is shining brightly. But what about those days when thunderclouds roll in, blocking the sun, and storm winds begin to shriek? A Yet Christian not only sees the Savior in the storm, but understands that the Savior has sent the storm for God’s glory and for the Christian’s ultimate good.

That is the mark of a Yet Christian. Is it your mark today?

If your answer is something like, “Uh . . . not yet,” I’d like to offer you one final word of comfort. In an earlier chapter, Habakkuk provided us with the key to becoming a Yet Christian: “The just shall live by faith” (Habakkuk 2:4). The key to living a victorious Christian life, no matter how difficult your circumstances, is to live by faith. Believe me, I know full well that is easier said than done! But know too that when you fall short of that goal, your God has not departed from you or turned His back on you; He is still at work within you, making you a joyful Yet Christian, and He will not finish His work until you cross the Jordan. You have His Word on that!

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Asking Aright

The mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. (Matthew 20:20-22)

The mother of James and John was right to come and place her petitions at the feet of the Savior. Where she erred was in over-asking—that is, asking for more than what had been promised. Jesus had indeed promised a throne to each of His disciples (Matthew 19:28), but He did not make provision for the placement of those thrones at His right and left hand. This praying mother—and you and I as well–needed to learn about asking aright. I hope you will read on and be encouraged today.

James, the brother of our Lord, admonished the church, “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4:3). It is easy for you and I to emulate the wife of Zebedee and over-ask in many ways. We believe that if a little is good, much more would surely be better. We remember that our God has invited us to come boldly before the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), assuring us, “Ask and it will be given to you” (Matthew 7:7); but we sometimes forget that He never said that He will give when we ask for more than He has promised.

I have written here on several occasions that God has promised to meet all of our needs, not all of our wants. Yet what do we have a tendency of doing? We re-classify some of our wants into needs. We tell the Lord we “need” a bigger house, a nicer car, a better job, or a bulging bank account. The list is endless. We fall into the wrong thinking that views God as some kind of cosmic genie who is there to make our every wish His command.

We are all a little bit like Lot. When the angels came to deliver Lot and his family from the destruction of Sodom, it was not enough for Lot to be saved. On the way out of town he made a request as to where he would like to settle. When told to flee to the mountains and not look back, Lot began to bargain with the angels for a place of his choosing. How often do we ask God for deliverance, promising, “Lord, if you will just get me out of this, I promise I will . . . ,” but when we are delivered, we immediately begin bargaining for a better blessing? Come to think of it, maybe we are all a lot like Lot!

We all must learn what the apostle Paul learned by way of personal experience: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Philippians 4:11). Paul had learned contentment, and in contentment he learned to ask aright by asking for nothing more than God has promised. Even in asking for the thorn to be removed, which God did not remove, Paul stopped at three requests. Remember, ask and you shall receive . . . but only when you ask aright. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Protection Is A Person

So do not fear, for I am with you. (Isaiah 41:10)

The principle of protection for the natural man is quite different from the principle of protection for the supernatural man, who has been born again to new life in Christ. For the natural man, protection amounts to anything that works to protect him or her from people, places, and things. But for the child of God, protection is a Person . . . and His name is Jesus Christ. Read on and be encouraged today!

There are countless pictures of protection as a Person throughout the pages of sacred Scripture. Perhaps there is none better than what we see in the beautiful biblical account of the first Passover.

The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt. (Exodus 12:13)

Another way to understand the words “pass over” in that passage is to read them as “hover.” God was saying to His people Israel that when He saw the blood of the sacrificial lambs smeared on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses, He Himself would hover over those dwellings and cover them, providing divine protection.

We see this truth expressed through the prophet Isaiah: “Like birds hovering overhead, the Lord Almighty will shield Jerusalem; he will shield it and deliver it, he will ‘pass over’ it and will rescue it.” (Isaiah 31:5).

In the opening words of that same chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy, God made it clear what we are not to trust in for our protection: “Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 31:1). When we walk by sight and not by faith, it is easy to get caught up in looking for protection from the things of this world (that is, to “go down to Egypt”), things that are always smaller than God. That is why we are commanded to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), who has promised never to leave nor forsake us.

When we live in this way, we truly will have no fear. We can echo David and exult –

The Lord is my strength and my shield;

my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.

My heart leaps for joy

and I will give thanks to him in song. (Psalm 28:7)

So . . . what have you been trusting in for your protection lately? Personally? Professionally? Relationally? Make no mistake, your protection will always and in every way be found in the presence of God. He will cover you from your enemy. He will hover over you and come between you and your enemy. And He will do this right up until the moment He calls you home into glory. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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No Stepford Savior

The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever. (Deuteronomy 29:29)

If you remember the plotline of the movie The Stepford Wives, you will remember the husbands of the fictional town of Stepford, Connecticut, schemed to have their wives turned into robots who would do what they wanted them to do without any input or argument. It was the husbands’ idea of a perfect world, where their wives would unquestioningly meet their every need. There is only one problem with this fantasy; there is no real relationship with a robot. Relationship, by definition, demands the invitation and the ability to question and to contradict each other in order for it to be real and personal and intimate.

Far too many people would like to have a “Stepford Savior” who does not question, contradict, challenge, or correct. When they read the Bible, they receive the portions they like—those sections that don’t offend them or run counter to their will. When they come across “difficult” passages that require more of them than they are willing to give, they ignore them, picking and choosing what they want to believe and what to reject. Older readers may recall the infamous “Jesus Seminar,” made up of a group of so-called “scholars” who voted with colored beads to arbitrarily choose which words of Christ were “accurate” and which should be rejected.

Make no mistake, if you have a god who cannot contradict you, you don’t have the real God! What you have is a god of your own making, a god of your imagination, not the Sovereign Lord of revealed truth. You have a created Stepford Savior, something which has no more relation to reality than does a robot wife.

This is not for you! Jesus came to this world, lived a sinless life, and died a sacrificial death in order to have a real relationship with you. During that relationship there will be times when you won’t understand what He is doing in your life. Abraham had this kind of relationship with God; he was called to leave his home and follow God wherever He would lead. Moses had this kind of relationship with God; he was called to be the deliverer of the Israelite nation. The apostle Paul had this kind of relationship with God; he had his Damascus-road encounter with the risen Savior and was told to go into the city and wait for instructions. All these men, and many more men and women of whom we read in Scripture had a real relationship with a real God, not a robot. They worshiped the One who would challenge them, confront them, confound them, and correct them along the way to fulfilling the call He had placed on their lives.

What kind of Savior do you have? To answer that question, you need only consider how you view the Bible. Is it authoritative in your life? Does it always get the last word, even when that word is contrary to your will? Remember, in a real relationship with the real Savior, you will not always get what you want, but you will always get what you need exactly when you need it.  

This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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When Barred Ways Are Better

He has barred my way with blocks of stone; he has made my paths crooked.(Lamentations 3:9)

Let me ask you a question: When is a barred way better than an open way? The answer is simple: When God is the One barring the way! Read on and be comforted today.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking God to lead you on a straight path toward your destination. We see the psalmists praying this time and time again. David prayed, “Lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors” (Psalm 27:11). And God certainly was faithful to deliver David from his enemies. But we also see the example of Paul, arguably the greatest human evangelist in history, who, during his second missionary journey, was “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6). Do you have any doubts that Paul and his companions prayed earnestly for a straight path to winning souls in Asia? Yet the Spirit of God barred the way.

We all know from both personal experience and sacred Scripture that God will sometimes bar our way with blocks of stone and make our paths crooked. Why would He do this? Because our God knows exactly what we need; He knows precisely when we need it; and He knows how best to deliver it to us. Barred ways are definitely better when it is our God who is barring the way.

Always remember, Christian, that the barred way does not mean that God has withdrawn His loving-kindness from you. It’s just the opposite! If we could understand everything that God is doing in our lives, He would not be God and we would not need Him. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29); God need not explain His ways to us, just as He did not explain His ways to Job, for we have the sure and certain promise that His way is good and wise and the absolute best way we could travel, regardless of any blocks of stone or crooked paths that may impede our travel. There is no need to pray for an unbarred way, because our God has promised to be with us every step of the way, and that is enough for us to know.

Have you been confronted by any barred ways in your personal or professional life lately? Certainly the whole world has been turned upside-down by the recent onslaught of the coronavirus. People have lost their jobs, some have lost their businesses, and some have lost loved ones to this dread disease.

Perhaps your barred way is something much more mundane; perhaps you were just turned down for the promotion you had been hoping for at work. Perhaps you are a rising high school senior who has just learned that you will not be accepted at the college or university you most wanted to attend. Get your eyes off the blocks of stone that are in your way and fix your focus on your beautiful Savior! He is guiding you on the perfect path that will ultimately accomplish the two most important things in this lifetime: God’s glory and your good. And I am sure you will agree with me that anything that brings us to our knees and into intimate communion with Him, no matter how painful in the moment, is a better way.

Remember these words from God, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8). When God is barring the way, it is because He is preparing to lead us in a much better way. This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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Not “Rules” . . . Just Right Relationship

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:30)

Far too many people see Christianity as nothing more than a long, arduous list of rules and regulations. They think of God as a stern, cosmic killjoy, uttering innumerable, picayune “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots,” all designed to keep us in line and control our lives. I freely admit that there was I time when my thinking was much the same; I believed that Christianity was all about “following the rules” . . . until I learned it is really all about following the Ruler. Read on, and be both encouraged and empowered today!

God’s rules and regulations—the Law of God—are designed to show us just how sinful, wretched, and broken we really are. The Law was never given to be the end-all of our relationship with God, because we have no ability to keep that Law.

“Be perfect, therefore,” Jesus said, “as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Have you ever tried to be “perfect”? Be honest; how long was it before that plan collided with reality? Have you ever loved God perfectly—with all your heart and soul and mind and strength—for even 60 seconds? I rest my case. You and I and everyone everywhere have all sinned and fall miserably short of the glory of God.

God gave His commandments to point us to a Savior who could and actually did keep the Law perfectly, satisfying every one of God’s righteous commands, thereby paving the way for our return to right relationship with God.

The giving of the Law made it clear that following “rules and regulations” is not the way to relationship with a holy God, simply because we are utterly incapable of keeping them. Rather, the Law leads us to a relationship with the only perfect One, who loves us in spite of our guilty inability to full follow His sinless example. The righteous requirements of God’ should bring us to our knees before Him, crying out like the tax collector in Luke 18:13, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Think about it this way: When you read through the New Testament and follow the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ, we see clearly that Christianity is rooted in a right relationship with Him, not in obeying a set of regulations. We must keep in view how rigidly scrupulous the Pharisees were about keeping “the rules,” both God’s righteous commands and rules of their own making. Yet the several stinging rebukes they received from Jesus make it clear that they had reserved for themselves the wrath of God. Why? Because they missed the most important thing about keeping the rules, which is keeping in relationship with the Ruler.

Make no mistake, all relationships carry within them inherent rules that must be followed if the relationship is going to function and flourish. But when was the last time you thought that a close relationship with a spouse, child, or friend was a dreary requirement for rule-keeping?

Regardless of where this message finds you today, remember that the primary importance in Christianity is your right relationship with Christ; when you are focused on that, you will naturally begin following more and more of the righteous requirements He has set forth in sacred Scripture. When Jesus pointed to the greatest commandment in all of Scripture it was love, in which the Law of God found its fulfillment. When love is leading our walk with Jesus, Christianity is not about rules . . . just right relationship with Him. And then we will become a beacon of hope to others, the fragrance and the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14-15) to those who desperately need to know and experience the saving love of God.  This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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God Equips the Called

I have given ability to all the skilled workers to make everything I have commanded you. (Exodus 31:6)

We have before us a word of eternal encouragement from this section of sacred Scripture, for just as God gave instructions to Moses about the building of the Tabernacle, its furnishings, and all of the priestly garments, He also gives us one of His most important biblical principles:

God Does Not Call the Equipped . . . He Equips the Called

As a pastor, I often have the opportunity to speak with people who are sensing that God is calling them to move into some particular area of service. And all too often I hear them lament that they are not equipped for the job. This simply cannot be true! God is in the business of calling people into His service who have no previous experience in that particular area. Moses was never a prophet to lead God’s people out of bondage until God called him and equipped him for the job. Esther was never a queen to save God’s people from annihilation until God called her and equipped her for the job. The fisherman Peter was never an apostle to preach the Gospel to the people of Israel until God called him and equipped him for the job.

You see the point don’t you? God does not look around until He finds someone who is fully prepared and equipped to serve Him. Rather, He places His call into the hearts of individuals and then equips them for that particular call. I remember when Kim and I were sensing God’s call into the pastorate, which neither of us would have dreamed of in a million years; we wondered how we would ever be able to answer that call. Then a wise mentor pointed us to this portion of Scripture, making it clear that if God truly was calling, He would see to it that we would have everything we needed to answer that call.

Have you been sensing God’s calling in any particular area of life? Have you been hesitant to answer that call for fear that you are ill-equipped for the job? Perhaps you can identify many others whom you believe would be better suited for that service? Those thoughts are just Satan’s means to keep you from becoming the man or woman whom God is calling you to be.

Remember, Christian, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). Keep your eyes on Jesus and follow Him wherever He is leading. You can be confident that God will give you the skill you need to do what He has called you to do. And in that way, He will get the glory if you surrender your life to Him . . . and you will experience the joy!This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.  (John 14:20)

Never has the tiny, two-letter word “in” brought so much meaning, significance, comfort and encouragement as it does when we see it in the verse set before us today. When was the last time you gave serious thought to this truth about the word in as it relates to your relationship with the Triune God? Let’s pause to consider it today and allow the cosmic comfort of Christ to wash over us.

When Matthew called the Lord Immanuel (“God with us,” Matthew 1:23), he was saying God is with us in every imaginable way. God is not only for us and God is not only with us, as marvelous as those two truths are, but God is in us, and that makes all the difference in the world! The psalmist tells us that our God is “an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Our God is not some distant deity who cares little for His creation. He is here; He is in-volved in every aspect of our lives. He is our Shelter and our Strength. He is our Rock and our Redeemer. He is our Help and our Hope. He is “a fortress of salvation for his anointed one” (Psalm 28:8).

Jesus is in-volved in our personal lives. He is in-volved in our professional lives. He is in-volved in our relational lives. When our Lord promised never to leave nor forsake us, He meant what He said! We will never be left as unwanted orphans, for we are His, having been purchased by His precious blood. And we are to know this truth by way of personal experience. We are to be conscious of Christ’s presence as we participate in His life, walking by faith and not by sight, trusting Him even when we cannot trace Him.

Because of what Jesus has done for us, we are now temples of the Holy Spirit. In Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28) . . . and He lives in us! Regardless of where this message finds you today, ponder this for a moment: The God who created the universe created you in order to dwell in you and have a deeply personal relationship with you. Isn’t that wonderful? Isn’t that almost unbelievable?

Sadly, for some Christians, everything I’ve written here is unbelievable, because it is not their experience. They do not sense God’s presence; they do not feel that He is in-volved with them at all. And I’m sure that’s true from their perspective; this intimate relationship with the living Lord does not just “happen.” James tells us, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8 ESV). We must spend time with Him every day in order to sense His in-volvement in our lives. I often remind our congregation that if you feel like God is distant, it was not God who moved away; it was you who moved away from Him.

How is it with you today? Are you inviting Him in . . . to every aspect of your life? When you do that, fully and sincerely and consistently, you will know the peace that passes all understanding of which Scripture speaks, and you will be filled with the inexpressible and glorious joy that is the promise of our Savior’s presence.  This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!

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