Monthly Archives: August 2015

Faithful in Relationships Part 4 — Utterly Awesome!

. . . if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.  II Tim 2:13

God is faithful.  Nothing we do can change that.

We will ALWAYS be on His heart.

Is Ephraim my dear son? Is he my darling child? For as often as I speak against him, I do remember him still. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, declares the LORD.
 Jer 31:20

His love is boundless, endless, measureless.  The more we realize it, the deeper it goes.

Every day we can discover new dimensions of God’s love and righteousness, and be in awe.

God is committed to us.  The question is: Will we be fully committed to Him?

For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. II Chron. 16:9

Will we be committed to others?

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

… there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  Prov 18:24

For this is what our soul craves.  This is what matters.

A God who has our back, who is our everything, who is our delight.

Friends who are partners.

And as we see more and more that we have this, WE ARE faithful, because it is our greatest joy.

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you. . . Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live . . . Ps 63

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.  Ps 16:3

We SING and CELEBRATE, just as God celebrates us!

Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. Ps 63:7

And when the world seems like dust around us, when chaos rules, when failure is palpable,when we are overwhelmed, the perfection of God that includes faithfulness is a lifeline.

As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him. Ps 18:30

He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.  Deut 32:4

Until finally, we are ready to commit to Him in intimacy our very spirit.  Trembling and vulnerable, we bring it out and lay it into His hands.

Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, LORD, my faithful God.  Ps 31:5

As our Savior did, we entrust our lives completely, because He is completely for us.

And when we do, in our Savior, faithfulness is multiplied.

We have the Spirit, an intercessor, forgiveness, freedom from sin, answers to our impossible prayers.  We are thoroughly equipped for every good work.

There is grace upon grace, and every spiritual blessing.

There is faithfulness so deep, so high, so all encompassing, so strong, how can we but walk in peace and fullness of heart?

For as the ultimate act of faithfulness, He gives us His righteousness as our own.

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  II Cor 5:21

I will find joy in the LORD. I will delight in my God. He has dressed me in the clothes of salvation. He has wrapped me in the robe of righteousness like a bridegroom with a priest’s turban, like a bride with her jewels.  Isa 61:10

tia wedding

tia and Karl

 

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A Citizen of Two Kingdoms

(NOTE:  The following article was written by my husband, Ken Watson, and I think it is awesome, so I wanted to share it!)

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor. I Peter 2:13-17

Some time ago, a brother who is well-known to most of us in our fellowship posted an article urging and encouraging us to treat our political leaders with respect in public forums.  This was in response to some members of our church who were using social media to openly criticize political leaders they don’t like and engage in arguments with those whom they disagree.

I want you to carefully consider: Is there any possible good for the cause of Christ that can be accomplished by giving vent to your displeasure with those that serve in government on public internet forums?  I am also talking about public commentary on various trials and matters of justice in the news – which most people know absolutely nothing about except for the hearsay reported in news media articles.

I used to read those articles on Huffington Post, on Fox, CNN and MSNBC.  And then I would read the comments of all the people responding to these articles and responding to each other.  They aren’t even listening to each other and having a real dialogue.  They are trading insults and cursing each other in the vilest ways.  If there is a reasonable voice in those discussions it is usually drowned out.  And I realized that (in addition being a corrupting influence on my own heart) it was a monumental waste of time.

As Christians are we not to be different than all that?  I was reminded of this passage in Titus 3:3-5 — At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.”

Participation in these political controversies just makes us more ungodly.  Even as observers. 2 Timothy 2 Paul says,“Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.”

I love my country.  I grew up here and it’s all I know.  I know its good parts and its bad parts. I value the sacrifice of those to try and have a form of government that is representative of the people…but – like Peter said in his letter – what good am I doing to silence the ignorant talk of foolish people?  Or am I just becoming one of them? Also in 2 Timothy 2:22-24, Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.”

Now, the context of this is dealing with opponents of Christ, not opponents of whatever political sphere you identify with.  But are these not character traits that apply across the board in our dealings with all people?

If your highest allegiance is to a political system or a leader set up by people then you are on the losing side.  Do you realize that?  Are you a student of history?  All societies and nations come and they go.  And this one will be no different.  There is only one eternal King.

One of the greatest kingdoms of the world was ancient Babylon.  The prophet Daniel saw its greatest glory and its downfall.  The city of Babylon itself had massive walls, considered impregnable.  Do you remember – in the book of Daniel – when Belshazzar is partying with all his officials in the King’s Palace (using objects taken from the temple in Jerusalem as their dinnerware, incidentally)?  They are thinking: “We’re safe, there’s no one getting in here!  No one has ever been able to.”

But God said it’s time for a change. Then the writing on the wall, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.”  There was a river that ran through Babylon.  The Persians under Cyrus diverted the river and then walked on the riverbed right under the walls and into that city and took over.

And through all the regime changes Daniel just lived as a faithful follower of God, faithfully preaching God’s Word.  Sometimes he was hated for it, sometimes he was loved for it, sometimes he was in trouble for it.  He was always respected for it.  And he was a government employee!

The purpose of a disciple of Jesus is to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, which Jesus very clearly said is not of this world.  That is the Kingdom that lasts forever.  That is the Kingdom of which we are supposed to be calling people to become a part, by giving up their allegiance to this world with its desires that are passing away, and instead submitting to the true and eternal King.

We are free to have our opinions. But when you argue politics and talk very publicly about who you dislike and all the bad things they do, you alienate all the people who have an opposing opinion, people to whom you are supposed to be offering some hope.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.  Romans 13:1-7

You realize of course who the kings were in the times that Paul and Peter were writing these commands?  Roman Emperors like Nero, Domitian.  What we know about these men is that many of them were venal, murderous, cruel, vicious megalomaniacs who constantly killed people they suspected of being a threat to their regime.  Until some plot finally succeeded in doing them in.  And they were right to be suspicious because usually somebody was trying to do them in.  The Roman transfer of power was often dog-eat-dog, kill-or-be-killed kind of government succession.  They certainly had no qualms about killing Christians or anybody else that they considered to be in their way.

Ultimately we need to leave to God to be concerned with who runs these earthly Kingdoms according to His will and His purpose.  Part of our duty as citizens of the eternal kingdom is to be the best citizens we can possibly be of whatever earthly kingdom we’re a part of – paying our taxes, obeying the laws – and yes – showing respect – unless or until we are told to disobey our God – which we cannot do.

But rarely (if ever) have we been called by the US government to oppose God, though we acknowledge and respect our brothers and sisters who do not live under such privilege in some places.   Peter says: “If you are eager to do good who is going to harm you?” Hopefully everyone will see that as true disciples of Jesus what harm would we bring to anyone?

This is also a big matter of unity within the church.  Paul says this is a matter of conscience. Don’t defile yours by simply ignoring the scriptures. By your words, are you promoting unity or are you destroying it?  I’ve heard some people say: “Well if everybody just sits back and lets everything happen – like you are seeming to propose – we will all be living under tyranny in no time.”  Listen: everything is going to happen the way God directs it whether you trust Him or not.  You can’t really control it.

We have the right to vote in this country…so vote.  But if you signed up to be a disciple of Jesus, your job and my job is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.  That is the only answer to making the world a better place.  There is none other.  There is no political leader that will ever offer a better answer than Jesus Christ.

But short of that, let me encourage you to use God’s Word to shape your opinions and your attitudes about those whom God has chosen to govern us.  Let me encourage you to pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.  To Him be glory and honor and power for ever and ever, Amen.

For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14

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Mind boggling!! Faithful in Relationships (Part 3)

God is committed to us.  We’ve been studying it, and it is rock solid true.

I can’t stop talking of it, and finding examples.  Chris Lucy did communion on Sunday and talked about Hosea.  What a fantastic illustration of God’s commitment to his people!  God told Hosea to marry an adulterous woman as a symbol of how God will be faithful to the adulterous nation, Israel.

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”

That is just amazing.  Anyone would think that Hosea should dump his wife for good, and yet he takes her back after she has been unfaithful over and over again.  The Israelites sinned against God time and time again, yet He was faithful to His relationship with them.

This is how He was faithful:  He PROVIDED a way for the relationship to endure.

As it says in Isaiah 59:16 about God,  “…he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm achieved salvation for him.

Through Jesus, God himself rescued Israel when she was mired in squalid unfaithfulness.

And at the same time He made available a rescue for all of us.  “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5:8

Because that is who God is.  Look at Ps 40:1-3  I waited patiently for the LORD. He turned to me and heard my cry for help. He pulled me out of a horrible pit, out of the mud and clay. He set my feet on a rock and made my steps secure. He placed a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.

God hears.  He is moved to the depths of his heart.  He cannot but act.

“I called on the LORD in my distress. I cried to my God for help. He heard my voice from his temple, and my cry for help reached his ears.  Then the earth shook and quaked. Even the foundations of the mountains trembled. They shook violently because he was angry. . . He reached down from high above and took hold of me. He pulled me out of the raging water.” (Ps 18)

You know, everyone loves Jeremiah 29 because of the passage, I know the plans that I have for you, declares the LORD. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope.”

But do we see this passage as a picture of God’s faithfulness in relationships?  Even though He would allow Israel to go into captivity, He would bring his people out again and shower them with abundant prosperity. “This is what the LORD says: When Babylon’s 70 years are over, I will come to you. I will keep my promise to you and bring you back to this place.”  Jer 29:10

And then it would be as Zephaniah prophesied: The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zeph  3:17)

Like the father of the prodigal son, God can’t wait to CELEBRATE his relationship with us. That relationship means everything to Him.

God is RIGHTEOUS. He won’t let us down.  He sticks to us like glue.  He will rescue us, even when we don’t deserve it.  He will answer our prayers.

Just let the immensity of that, and what it means for you, sink in for a moment.

And let it change your outlook, and your day.

 

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Faithful in Relationships (Part 2)

Relationships matter.  When I think of all we strive for — the jobs, the accomplishments, the cars, the houses, the nice yards, the clothes, the vacations, the recreation, physical fitness, the achievements for our children, and so on — I realize how easy it is to get off base about what really is important.

What does God think is important?  We are to love Him with all our heart, soul strength and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves.

God thinks relationships are what is important.

So it makes sense that God’s sense of righteousness is tied up in relationships.

Here are some awesome passages:

  • But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”  Isa 49:16
  • If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  Ps 139 9-10
  • For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39

God cannot forget us.  So firm is His interest in us, that it is like we are engraved on his hands.  We MATTER to Him.  We are on His heart.  The power of His affection for us cannot be measured.  “For love is as strong as death.”  (Song of Solomon 8:6)

So here are three things to take away from this.  If relationships are important to God, then we can know —

That He will answer prayer.  Yesterday, in our sermon (which was awesome by the way!)  we talked about how Jesus said in Mark 9:23, “Everything is possible for one who believes.”  We even learned how God is offended that we don’t believe.  Jesus rebuked his disciples, “You unbelieving generation!”  He said this because they should realize, as should we, that we are of utter importance to God.  Of course God is listening, and wants to answer our prayers.

That He will be with us.

  • Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.  Joshua 1:9
  • But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. II Tim. 4:7
  • And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matt 28:20

That He will shape us into what we need to be.

  • And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.  Phil 1:6
  • God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.  Heb. 12:10
  • for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.  Phil 2:13

When we know these things, our outlook and lives are different.  Because God treats our relationship with Him as important, we start treating our relationships with others as important.

Who are your heroes, people who go to great lengths with their lives to demonstrate that relationships matter?

It was great to see the Enterprise ministry at church on Sunday.  They drove two hours to be with us.

Some of the Enterprise folk at our picnic.

I think of my friend Nancy. When Nancy’s good friends had to go back to Mexico, Nancy and her husband. Peter, got guardianship of their friends’ 16 year old daughter, Jennifer, so she could finish school in the US.  Jennifer is now a part of their family, and they are helping her to attend college.  Here’s a picture of Nancy with her birth daughter and Jennifer.

Nancy

We all have many examples.  Let’s strive today to have confidence in our relationship with God, so we can pass it on.

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Faithful in Relationships (Part 1)

Righteous God

One of the most life changing concepts I have been studying lately is righteousness.  I’ve blogged about it before, but the article that inspires me is “Right or Righteous” by Fred Faller.

The idea is that being righteous isn’t just doing the right thing according to a moral code.  Hebraic righteousness, that of the Bible, means doing right by someone.

Understanding this starts with the recognition that there are obligations associated with having a relationship.

The more I think about this, the more I realize this is true.  We gave a shower Saturday for our friend Tia.  Why did we give the shower?  Because she had been a part of our ministry, and we love her.  What kind of friends would we have been if we just wished her well and went on?  Having a relationship with Tia meant that of course we would celebrate her upcoming marriage with her and give her gifts.

IMG_6040

After that I went door knocking with Ken.  I was so tired, this was the LAST thing I wanted to do.  But my husband was motivated to do this, and I am his partner.  So I sucked it up and went out with him.

Friday night I got a phone call from my old friend Lin.  I could have let the call go to voicemail, but I answered.  Why?  Because I care about Lin.  I’m not going to blow her off.  Friends are there for one another.

Thursday my neighbor was having a tree cut down in his front yard, and it fell on my house and bent my gutter.  My neighbor made sure that I knew he would take care of getting the gutter fixed.  Why?  Because that’s what you should do for your neighbor if you mess up their property

I could go on and on.  Our days are filled with things we do for people because we have some level of a relationship with them.

God is the same way.  He does things for us, not simply because He is good.  We are his creation.  We are his people.  He cares about us.  And thus, He sees it as an obligation to take action on our behalf.

For God, love is not just a warm mushy feeling towards someone.  One Hebrew word for it is “checed,” “lovingkindness,” which can also be translated “covenant loyalties.”  God sees himself as bound to be loyal to His people.  That is His very nature.

The Hebrew word "checed"

So here is a great exercise for today.  As you go through your day, identify ways that you are fulfilling the obligations of a relationship.  Then try to see how God is the same way in His relationship with you.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!  Matt 7:7-11

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Patience in the Journey

curse fig tree

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

Wait!  Jesus had just been talking about fig trees and mountains throwing themselves in the sea, about faith and fruitfulness.  How did forgiveness get thrown in there?

One reason is that forgiveness is so vital.

You know why I think we need to forgive people so much?  It’s not necessarily because they’re always sinning against us directly.  It’s because we’re always getting indignant.  We rail, “How could they do that?”   We get huffy, “I can’t believe they said that.”  People just blow our groove.  They disturb our peace.  They interrupt our flow.  They don’t conform.  They disrupt our idea of how the world should go.

Notice that Jesus calls what we do “holding” something against someone.  This is so true.  We keep our grudges close, like they’re a possession.  We nurse them.  We love to think about how wrong that person is.  We don’t let it go.

The bottom line is we don’t tolerate weakness in others well.

Yet we are all weak. Yes, we may be baptized disciples. We may have repented and changed to be a better person. But there are parts of our character that take time to transform. Deep change is a process.

We’re all on a journey. I love to read and write fiction. You know what makes a good story? Character growth. I’m reading a book by Catherine Ryan Hyde, and there’s not a lot of exciting action in the book. It’s just a story of people going through real life challenges. But it’s a great book because the characters in this story are so flawed and real. They have to overcome timidity, immaturity, fear, resentment, hurt, and when they finally do, the reader rejoices.

One book I really enjoyed by Catherine Ryan Hyde

One book I really enjoyed by Catherine Ryan Hyde

I don’t pretend to understand the workings of God, but it’s the same for us.  Our characters are forged through life.

And there’s nothing more inspiring.  As I look around church, I see people who are changing on the inside over time.  It’s impressive to see how different they became when they studied the Bible.  But it’s maybe even more moving to see what they become through the years as God works on them.  It’s amazing to remember the trials they went through, and see them triumphant on the other side.

It was so encouraging to honor Tuskegee graduate Devonte Jones last Friday, and celebrate all he has done.

It was so encouraging to honor Tuskegee graduate Devonte Jones last Friday, and celebrate all he has done.

THIS glorifies God SO MUCH!

So we can’t be afraid of weakness in others.  It’s their journey. We’ll cheer them on, and help them along the way.  We’ll pray fervently for them.  And then we, and the Universe, will watch in anticipation to see if they will CHOOSE to overcome, if they will call on God to help them overcome.  Not everyone will.  That’s what makes it so powerful and compelling when someone does.

Antoinette's AU graduation  on Saturday.  It has been awesome to watch her growth!

Antoinette’s graduation. It has been awesome to watch her growth!

Experiencing this with someone is one of my greatest joys.  But it also incurs my greatest struggles.  I go through their triumphs with them, AND their messes.

We have to accept that If we have a relationship with someone, we’re going to experience their mistakes, their foolishness.  We have to be PATIENT!

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. I Thes 5:14

Because the crazy thing is, that when Jesus said this about forgiving, he was on his way to Jerusalem, knowing he was about to die for people who were unfruitful, like the fig tree he cursed.  He was preparing to perform the ultimate act of forgiveness.  He would soon say, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus knew that, in the end, all of his teaching about doing right would not be enough.  He knew that even with all of our efforts, we would not make enough good choices.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. . . . For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Romans 5:6-10

While we were sinners Christ died for us

While we were sinners Christ died for us

Jesus was PATIENT with us. He did not treat us as our sins deserve. Instead, he stepped forward to clean up the mess caused by our foolishness. If we keep that in mind, it is much easier to forgive others for their weaknesses.

So what Jesus was basically saying to his disciples was, “Forgive them, even though they are undeserving.”

I love how the Amplified Version phrases Mark 11:25:

 And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him and let it drop (leave it, let it go), in order that your Father Who is in heaven may also forgive you your [own] failings and shortcomings and let them drop.

Let it go.  Drop it.  Don’t hold onto it.

Because that’s what God does with us.

And because we recognize that God’s writing a story in each one of us, and that thing we don’t want to forgive is a part of the story.  The drama of the story will be in the way He teaches us to overcome.

I have to remind myself that I really don’t know how to get people to that point.  I know some things that will help.  But ONLY GOD knows how to orchestrate character change.  I have to pray and let Him guide.

So what does forgiveness have to do with fig trees and mountains, with fruitfulness and faith?   Jesus showed us true forgiveness so that we could truly be fruitful and our prayers be answered.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.  John 15:7-8

It’s all connected, following Jesus, forgiving, bearing fruit.  One leads to the other, which leads to the other.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. John 15:12

God gives his love to us, the unworthy, and we pass it on.  And that opens the way for God to work in us and through us.

Let’s pass it on.  Let’s practice forbearance, not frustration.

And we will experience abundance and happy endings.

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  II Peter 3:0

“No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jer 31:34

“So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. Is 54:8-10

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