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Praising Like Breathing

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood seraphim, each having six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they called out to one another:

Holy, holy, holy

is the LORD of Hosts;

His glory fills all the earth. 

The doorposts and thresholds shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke.  (Isaiah 6:1-4)

Last week, Ken and I listened to a sermon by a dear friend, Jameson Sofge.

Jameson was one of the founding members of our church 11 years ago.  For over five years we were on the leadership team of the church together with him and his wife, Danielle.  We have some wonderful memories of being in the trenches together and of fighting battles for our beloved church, and celebrating victories.

Jameson started his sermon by talking about the Lord’s prayer.  He told us how it can be a model for our prayers, and that the first line, “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name,” teaches us that an important part of prayer is praising God.  Jameson said that he wonders sometimes why he should praise God, because when he does, he often says the same as the last time he prayed.  But then he realized that our God is so awesome that we can never praise him enough. 

It’s like a line from one of my favorite songs, “If we had 10,000 tongues.  We would praise you with every one.”  And that is the picture we get in Isaiah — constant praise of the Lord, over and over again, because he is holy in an epic way. There’s a similar picture in Revelations 4: “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev. 4:8)

So the fact that God is holy makes it even more amazing that God answers prayers. Jameson went on to read verses 5-13,  ending with, “So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”  He marveled that the glorious, all-powerful God actually cares, and responds to us when we petition him.  

But the reason God cares and responds is actually because of his holiness.  Love and faithfulness are a part of God’s holiness.  In Exodus 34, the Lord was with Moses in a the form of a cloud, and it says, “the LORD passed in front of Moses and called out: ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining loving devotion to a thousand generations.'”  (Ex 34:6, 7a)

God’s very character is to have our back.  Although we may not be able to trust in the love of our fellow-man, God’s love is completely trustworthy.  That’s why we have verses like Romans 8:38-9 which say that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

This staunch devotion is like a family tie.  And I have to point out that, as God’s “family,” we are expected to be holy as well.  God proclaimed to the Israelites, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”  The parallel passage for us today  is, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (I Peter 2:9)

But getting back to the sermon, Jameson concluded by sharing three immensely moving stories of how God showed staunch devotion to him.  He told how, when he was in college, he and some friends prayed a very intentional prayer for great wives and their prayers were answered.  He shared with tears how he and his wife prayed fervently for a long time for a baby, and God gave them a their son, Mason.  He related the summer he and interns here at Auburn prayed like they had never prayed before, and the Lord blessed the church with new members as never before.  

And now, as I reflect on all of this, I see how much these stories are just the tip of the iceberg.  All of us have our tales of the ways God has answered our prayers. Some of these answers are massive, and some are small day-to-day matters,  But if we enumerate them, our hearts want to lift up and praise the Lord over and over again. 

And then, if we look around at the world God has made, praise bursts out even more.  And if we think of his character of compassion, righteousness, love and faithfulness, still more praises overflow from our lips. 

God pours his glorious essence into the world, and into our lives, and our praise of acknowledgement becomes like constant breathing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord. His glory fills the whole earth.”  

And maybe breathing is an apt metaphor.  God gives to us.  We give to God.  He blesses us.  We bless his name.  He is holy.  So we are holy. 

Like respiration, it’s an ongoing cycle that sustains life.  

 

 

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On Cleaning, and Staying Centered

house-cleaning

Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. Isa 4:3

A week ago my company left.  It’s taken me days to get my house back in order.  I mopped the sun porch where the cat stayed, washed the sheets, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed up a ton of debris.  When I was done, it was like my head was clean, too.  Looking around at the spotless floor and furniture gave me a sense of clarity and peace.

There’s something about getting things in order that strikes a chord with me, and I think it dovetails nicely with today’s devotional.

Isiaiah 4:3 says that God’s people left in Jerusaelm would be called holy.  It was always the Lord’s intention for his people to be holy.  He said in Exodus 19:5-6, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Of course, through history, Gods’s people were often anything but holy.  So God instituted a plan to shake his people up and refine them. That’s what Isaiah 4:3 is about.  Earlier, in Isaiah 3 we read about the destruction that would overtake the Hebrews.  “They parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.” Isa 3:9

But then in Isaiah 4, God promised a restoration.  A remnant would remain, and this remnant would be purified.  The cool thing is this action was only a part of God’s amazing master plan to enable everyone to be his holy people.  Look at these later verses of Isaiah:

  • And there will be a highway called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel it, only those who walk in that Way–and fools will not stray onto it. Isa 35:8
  • Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the ends of the earth, “Say to Daughter Zion: See, your Savior comes! Look, His reward is with Him, and His recompense goes before Him.” And they will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of The LORD; and you will be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken. Isa 62:12

God intended to make his people holy through a divine removal of their unholiness. Isaiah 4 goes on to read, “The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem.”

Of course, we know this was untimately fulfilled with Jesus, and the incredible salvation we have through him!   “But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  I Cor 6:11

Wow.  Do we remember that we are holy? That’s how the early Christians saw themselves.  They were even called “saints,” which is the Greek word, “hagios,” that can also be translated, “holy.”

  • To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” (I Cor 1:2)  (You can find other instances of Christians being called saints in Acts 9:32, 9:41, 26:10, Romans 1:7, 8:27, 12:13, 15:25, and the list goes on.)

So back to my analogy about cleaning.  I’m not like a German house frau.  My home isn’t always spotless.  But when my house goes on the market, that’s a different story.  Then I am wiping things down and vacumming every day!  My goal is not as much to clean, but to maintain the cleanliness.

So the way this all ties in is that we repent, and God makes us clean and holy, like when we do a deep cleaning on our house.  But just like I maintain the domestic tidiness when my house is for sale, it’s also up to us to maintain the holiness of our heart.  (Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but work with me.)

And the verse that is powerful for me and I’ve been using lately is, “Remain in me, and I also will remain in you.” (John 15:4)  If I stay centered in God, it keeps me from cluttering up my heart with all kinds of other things.  It keeps me dealing with my sin.  It reminds me of what is important.

Here is a video I got from my life coaching studies that actually helps me with this.  It’s an exercise in staying focused.  When I do it, I think of being focused on God, not this guy’s face!  I think of myself choosing to think of God instead of the million other things that distract me. I picture myself settling into Jesus and staying in him.

Oh, how troubled and distracted we can be!  Our insides can feel like our house after a toddler play date!

God has made us holy, and when we center in him, we can maintain this holiness and feel clarity and peace.

Ahhh.  Do some belly breaths, and inhale God’s goodness.  It’s going to be okay.

 

 

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Destined to Bear Beautiful Fruit!

branch fruitIn that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel.  Isa 4:2

What is the Branch of the Lord?  Isaiah 11:1 gives us insight, “A shoot will spring up from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit.”

The Branch of the Lord is the Messiah, who will come from the line of Jesse, David’s father.  So the prophesy of Isaiah 4:2 says that the Messiah will be beautiful and glorious, and that he will be associated with fruit.

Although we could take “the fruit” literally, and believe that it refers to a time of crops and prosperity for the Hebrews, I think it also has to refer to the progeny of the Messiah.  Look at Isaiah 26:7, “In the days to come, Jacob will take root. Israel will bud and blossom and fill the whole world with fruit.”

Doesn’t this remind you of the Great Commission?  Jesus told his disciples to go into all the world so that all could become worshippers and children of the Most High.

We get such a picture of God’s plan to bring vitality and abundance.

Look at how other prophesies speak to this.

They say that the Messiah would establish an ever increasing kingdom.  “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from that time and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this.” ( Isa 9:7)

They say that he would bring salvation.  “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. . . by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” (Isa 53:2, 11)

There’s just one caveat for the production of fruit. “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24

For the Messiah to bear fruit, he would have to die.  The rest of Isaiah 53 makes this clear. “because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.” (From Isa 53:12)

For there to be beauty and glory, there must first be death.

And the same is true for us.  If we want to be effective, if we want the life we long for, we have to die to self.

It’s a good thing to remember.  We just had a friend and his dad and cat stay with us for a week after Hurricane Michael. The time was a blessing.  I think in the way my husband and I served our friend, we planted a seed of faith.   But I also think I can learn from this how to die to self more completely, how to be more willing and wholeheartedly, and to do better next time.

I long for our church to grow.  It hits me like never before that this will only be accomplished as each of us dies to self.

And what other beauty do I long to see?  How does my heart yearn to see God work?

His work starts with my death.  It could be an action.  It could be surrendering the matter to him in prayer.

But I am the progeny of the Branch of the Lord.  It is my destiny to bear fruit as he did.

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

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The Value in Learning

Tell the righteous it will be well with them,

for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.

Woe to the wicked!

Disaster is upon them!

They will be paid back

for what their hands have done. (Isa 3:10-11)

Here’s what I am learning today:  What appears to be harsh may not necessarily be so.

It sounded like the Jews of Judah would be utterly destroyed forever.

But the same God who said they would be “paid back,” also said later in Isaiah,

For a brief moment I abandoned you,

but with deep compassion I will bring you back.

In a surge of anger

I hid my face from you for a moment,

but with everlasting kindness

I will have compassion on you,”

says the Lord your Redeemer. (Isa 54:7-8)

God didn’t permanently reject his people.  But he did allow them to experience the consequences of their choices.  They were his beloved children who had strayed away, but he intended for them to come back to him and be gathered into his arms and blessed like never before.

You know, the book of James says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:3-4)

Our trials feel harsh.  But James says to be joyful in them, because they are actually for the good.

I was talking with a friend recently, and she told me how she’s the “fixer” in her family.  But she’s beginning to realize that sometimes it’s better to not fix things for her family members, that there’s value in letting them learn from their mistakes.

And that is what God wants.  He wants us to learn from our mistakes.  More than that, he wants us to realize that there’s learning to be had in any situation.  Our agenda is to pray and ask him to fix our life right away.  But if he did, we would miss the growth.  We would miss the lesson of perseverance.

I really think God wants me to get this in my head.  After I started writing this blog, I was in my life coaching class telling my instructor how I was trying to help one of my clients come to a solution.  My teacher told me that helping the client figure out a solution isn’t always the point.  The point is also to help them see that there is value in learning from their struggles.  Ack!  There it was again!  It’s hard for me because, like my friend, I always want to help people fix things!

But even Jesus learned from his struggles.  “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)

And how did Jesus learn?  By wrestling in prayer. The Book of Hebrews explains, “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.” (Heb 5:7)

This verse has to refer to the time when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemene, pouring out his heart to God and begging that the “cup” would be taken away. As Jesus did so, he strengthened his conviction that no matter what, he would do God’s will, not his own.

What if Jesus hadn’t gone to the garden to pray?  He wouldn’t have been able to go through with God’s plan.  It seemed like a horrible plan, that he would have to be tortured and executed.  But we all are the beneficiaries of the plan.

Which brings us back to the original point.  What seems harsh may not necessarily be so.  There’s value in the learning we can have from the situation.  And what seems horrible can lead to good . . . IF we wrestle to submit and have a victory in the testing of our faith.

Oh, how we want to be able to have this victory!  And we will, if we remember that the God of Isaiah 3:11 is also the God of Isaiah 54:7-8.

That he’s the God of everlasting kindness.

That he wants to bless us like never before.

That he’s committed to us in love and faithfulness because we are his family.

For your Maker is your husband—the Lord Almighty is his name.  (Isa 54:6a)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!  (I John 3:1)

 

 

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Trading Up

Jerusalem staggers, Judah is falling; their words and deeds are against the LORD, defying his glorious presence. The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves. Isa 3:8-9

The people were defying God’s glorious presence.   Literally, the Hebrew means they defied “the eyes of his glory.”

This reminds me so much of the verse “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts completely belong to him.” (II Chronicles 16:9,)

God’s eyes are always watching.  He sees each person, and each action that is for him or against him.  He sees all the way into each heart, whether it is devoted to him.

His face is perpetually turned towards mankind.

And the Jews of Judah were like, “In your face, God!”  They paraded their sin.  Their expressions were rebellious.

We’ve got to be a people who seek God, instead of turn away.

Because what I love about II Chronicles 16:9 is that God will strengthen those whose who choose to put their eggs in his basket.

And that’s what I want to talk about today, making the choice to put our eggs in his basket.

The thing is, we usually don’t feel like our “eggs” look that impressive.  Our faith can seem, as one friend described it when she texted me this week, to be “smaller than a seed.” How can we come to God with a faith that doesn’t look like we think it should?

But that’s the thing.  We give God what we have.  We choose to put our trust in him, even if it’s not pretty.

My friend Yesenia told me about a book she’s reading, “Love Does,” by Bob Goff and Donald Miller.  In this book, the authors talk about how we “trade up” with God.  They tell the story about a guy who only had a dime, but he traded it for something a little better, and then he traded what he got for something a little better, and so on, until he actually had a truck.

And Goff and Miller say that’s the same way with God.  As my friend Yesenia told me,  “He asks us to give up ourselves (the dime) for something bigger and better (a life with him where we are fully engaged and living.”

We give God our puny little faith, and he gives us much more in return.

I have found this to be so true over the course of my life.  When I was in my late teens, I was adrift and struggling after my mom’s divorce.  I took a step towards God, and he gave me a a Christian husband and a church full of great people.  In my 20’s, I got off track and floundered.  We moved to Atlanta to seek God more wholeheartedly, and the whole course of my life improved.  We joined a church that made a tremendous difference in my life.

This pattern continued.  I had years when things were very hard.  Yet as I held to God, and put my eggs in his basket, he gave me more at just the right time. We had a tough time raising our kids through their teen years, and also felt like we were failing as we tried to lead a church family group.  But we moved to Auburn to help the small church here, and our life has been blessed beyond imagining.  I am so grateful.

God’s glorious presence is all around us.  His eyes are upon us.  Will we take a step towards him, or a step towards what we want instead?

Will we trade up or trade down?  It feels scary to trade up.  We would much rather rely on what we can see and do, especially when the winds of life roar around us.

But as I reflect over my life, I see that sometimes God allowed the wind to roar so that I would learn to surrender and put my life in his hands.  Then he gave me the blessings I really needed.

PC Bayou

From a family trip to Panama City. To me, it illustrates that the path to God leads to good!

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. Luke 9:24

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A Remedy for the Refugee

People will oppress each other— man against man, neighbor against neighbor.

The young will rise up against the old, the nobody against the honored.

A man will seize one of his brothers in his father’s house, and say,

“You have a cloak, you be our leader; take charge of this heap of ruins!”

But in that day he will cry out, “I have no remedy.

I have no food or clothing in my house;

do not make me the leader of the people.”  Is 3:5-7

I’ve been reading beautifully written novel about Syrian refugees.  It really brings home to me what it would be like to lose everything we take for granted — our  home, food, schooling.

It reminds me of this passage above.  Isaiah prophesied about a tumultuous time when people would oppress and destroy one another.  All would be laid waste, like rubble.  If this isn’t a description of a Syria, I don’t know what is.  I’m not saying this prophesy was about Syria, only that Syria gives us a good picture of what this passage is describing.

Here is a picture of Syria right now:

Syria

 

And here is a video with a view of what it is like to be a Syrian refugee.

Two of the Syrians who were interviewed in the video said, “We used to be comfortable and safe all day.  Now we have to stay here with nothing to do.. . . There is no water, you have to buy it.  Now you can’t get anything you need.  It is difficult to buy bread because we don’t have enough money.”

Over six million Syrians have been displaced.  It is estimated that 10,000 more Syrians become refugees each day.  They struggle for even their basic needs, and families are reported to spend up to twenty percent of their income on clean water.

We can see the hopelessness.  We can see the heartbreak.

It is as the verse in Isaiah 3 says, “I have no remedy.”  Or a more literal translation is, “I will not be a healer. In my house there is neither bread nor cloak.”

I have been thinking a lot lately about people’s souls.  For a long time, my dream has been for our church to grow, for it to be a place where people could come and find shelter from the world, could find wholehearted joy in God, and could worship in spirit and in truth.

But lately I haven’t been doing anything to help the church grow.  I haven’t been reaching out to people and inviting them.

And as I’ve thought about it, I’ve realized that my goal needs to be more than growing the church.  It needs much more be to reach out to people’s souls.  I need to long for each soul to be saved.

You know, when Jesus saw the people of his day, his heart went out to them.  He didn’t just condemn them for their poor decisions or their worldliness.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.

I so need to be more like Jesus!  People are like refugees on the inside, bereft, wandering, needy.  They need healing, and I have a remedy for those who would listen.

But it’s hard to be the worker who reaches out. I told myself this morning when I went to a kids’ consignment sale that I would open my mouth and share my faith.  I talked to two people, but didn’t get any further.  My motivation just wasn’t great enough.

And then I remembered that I have heard many, many people say that they were praying to know God better, or praying for a church, and within a few days someone shared with them.  And I thought, the next person I meet could be one of those people!  They could be the person God put in my path for a reason.

So when I went to pick up my groceries from Kroger ClickList this afternoon, I asked the young woman who loaded up my bags if she would like an invitation to church.  She told me about her church, and how she has a daughter who is 14 who feels called to the ministry, and the daughter has already given a couple of messages to the children in the elementary school ministry.  It was a heart warming story.  I don’t know if me sharing with the woman made a difference in her life, but it enriched me!

Let’s reach out more.

Maybe we will find someone who is searching.

Maybe there’s a little refugee in all of us, and we can touch one another’s souls.

 

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Hearts That are Bowed

The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty,

for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled),

for all the cedars of Lebanon, tall and lofty and all the oaks of Bashan,

for all the towering mountains and all the high hills,

for every lofty tower and every fortified wall,

for every trading ship and every stately vessel.

The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled;

the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear. (Is 2:12-18)

This passage talks about a day that is coming when man will be totally humbled, and God alone will be exalted.  Today we call this the “The Day of the Lord.”
On one hand, the Day of the Lord is Judgment Day.  Romans 14 says, “For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written: ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'” (Romans 14:9b-10)

And Romans 14 refers to Isaiah 45, when God proclaims,  “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are deliverance and strength.'”

But I think there is more to the Day of the Lord.  This chapter we’re reading in Isaiah starts with, “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.”

The time of humbling will not just happen at Judgment Day, it is a part of the “Last Days.”  What does it says will happen in the Last Days?  The Lord will be exalted.  It’s the same theme.

And man will find humility.  The beginning of the chapter goes on to read:  “Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’”

People will no longer follow their own ways.  They will look to God to be taught how to live.

Today, I believe we are living in the Last Days.  I believe that it is a time when people can see the uselessness of their idols and their empty way of life, and seek God instead.

Why do they seek God more at this time more than they had in the past?  Because of Jesus.  Look at this parallel passage in Philippians:

And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death– even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Phil 2:9-11

There’s something incredible in the story of Jesus.  It alone has the power to put us on our knees.

We see his humility.  We see our sinfulness, in comparison to his example.  We see how he took the punishment that should have been ours.  We see how he loved the least, the sinners. We see his power, his miracles.  We see the astounding work of resurrection from the dead.  We see his words, which resonate more with us than anything else on earth.  We see forgiveness, and salvation for our own souls.  We see value, and everything we esteemed pales in comparison.

Under the force of Jesus’s example, we can humble ourselves.

Or we can continue to be caught up in the conceit of our our lives, and be humbled on Judgment Day.

Lately people in our church have been going through some serious stuff!!  So my friend Marisha decided to have a few of us over to pray last Thursday.

prayer-night.jpg

We got on our knees and made fervent petitions to our Father.  It felt good to be on my knees, abject before the All High.  I wanted to kneel lower, and lower still, to be nothing, to put myself completely in God’s hands.

 

Since then, when I find myself awake in the middle of the night, my thoughts racing, I remember and picture myself being yet again on my knees, completely humble before the Lord.

It helps my heart like nothing else.

We are in the Last Days, and the Day of the Lord is coming.  Let us remember to live with hearts that are bowed.

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