Christianity 201

August 5, 2017

Ministry Give-and-Take

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:31 pm
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The Message, Philemon 8-9 In line with all this I have a favor to ask of you. As Christ’s ambassador and now a prisoner for him, I wouldn’t hesitate to command this if I thought it necessary, but I’d rather make it a personal request.

Today we’re paying a return visit to the rather unusually named Chocolate Book with writer Jackson Ferrell. Each day the author has a chocolate flavor of the day and a reading for the day (seriously!) working his way through the Bible chapter by chapter. (This is another excellent blog to bookmark if you want a commentary source in the future.) To read this at source, click the title below.

You’re encouraged to begin by clicking through to read the entire book of Philemon before beginning.

Philemon – Gospel Negotiations

Today’s PassagePhilemon

Welcome to the third-shortest book in the Bible by word count. It’s Paul’s letter to Philemon, a man who had come to faith through Paul’s missionary work. Philemon owned a slave named Onesimus, who had run away, encountered Paul, and been converted to Christianity. In the ancient world, fleeing as a slave was a capital offense, but Onesimus had tended to Paul’s needs while in prison and proven himself an enthusiastic and helpful follower of Christ. Paul found himself in a tight and complicated spot, and the letter gives us a look into his response to the problem at hand.

Full disclosure: I’m drawing heavily from N.T. Wright’s commentary on Philemon in Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters. It provides an excellent perspective on a situation that it could be easy to misunderstand, particularly when one is inferring based on nothing but a quick read of a 335-word letter. Wright’s done his homework, and his insights into Philemon come highly recommended.

But if you aren’t familiar with the letter or its background, Paul’s actions may surprise you: he’s sending back Onesimus to Philemon. He writes, “I have sent him back to you in person, that is, sending my very heart” (12). He’s sending a runaway slave back to his master, who in the Roman world would have every right to punish a slave as severely as he sees fit.

Paul, however, has another plan. He tells Philemon, “For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother…If then you regard me a partner, accept him as you would me” (15-17). Paul makes an appeal, strongly suggesting that Philemon should not only accept Onesimus without penalty, but go further and free him. Paul negotiates shrewdly throughout the letter, but here we see the ace up his sleeve. If Philemon has in fact accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, if he’s a partner with Paul in furthering God’s kingdom and embracing the love of Christ as a way of life, then he should no more return Onesimus to a life of slavery than enslave Paul himself. The implication is subtle but serious: if he doesn’t free Onesimus, then what kind of partner in the gospel is he?

Slavery in Paul’s writings, as we’ve seen before, is a thorny issue. But in his actions we see what is perhaps his strongest stance against slavery, a push to free slaves without resorting to a violent overthrow of the Roman social order, and an appeal to brotherhood between believers. And he puts his money where his mouth is, telling Philemon, “But if he has wronged you in any way or owes you anything, charge that to my account…I will repay it (not to mention to you that you owe to me even your own self as well)” (18-19). One gets the impression that even as he pushes against anticipated arguments, Paul is ready to pay the cost of Onesimus’ release, if Philemon would dare to charge him for it.

That’s the third-shortest book in the Bible by word count. It’s Paul’s letter to Philemon, a man who used to own a slave named Onesimus.

August 1, 2017

Back to the Bible

When I was much younger, my mother would listen each day to a radio broadcast, Back to the Bible, taught by Theodore Epp (1939-1985). I have some vague memories of my parents driving to Lincoln, Nebraska in order to see the headquarters of the ministry firsthand. So today we’re featuring two shorter devotionals by Dr. Epp. There are several different teachers on their devotional page; I hope you’ll click through to see more.

God Knows the Heart

Read: Exodus 9:22-35Against the backdrop of this awful judgment is a verse that reveals God’s protection of His own: “Only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, was there no hail” (Ex. 9:26).

Goshen was part of Egypt, but God controlled the circumstances so that the Israelites were untouched by the judgment that Egypt experienced.

Notice what Pharaoh’s response was to this awful judgment: Although Pharaoh seemed to be conscious of his wickedness before God, it was only a feigned confession made in order to escape judgment.

Moses was not fooled by Pharaoh’s false confession. God had given Moses insight so he knew what was in Pharaoh’s heart and was not fooled in any way.

This reveals how hardened Pharaoh really was; it did not bother him even to fake a confession of sin to God. But God knows what is in each person’s heart, and He was not deceived for one minute.

God had showered His mercies on Pharaoh, but Pharaoh had refused to respond positively in any way. So in the remaining plagues God further hardened Pharaoh’s heart so as to fulfill His plan of total revelation of Himself as absolutely sovereign.

Shall not God search this out? for he knows the secrets of the heart” (Ps. 44:21).

When Is It a Sacrifice?

Read: 2 Samuel 24:18-25The Lord not only stayed the plague, but through Gad He also instructed David to build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan, the Jebusite (1 Chron. 21:18).

The Lord was very specific about this and left no alternative in the matter.

Why this particular spot was chosen does not appear in the narrative, but later on in 2 Chronicles 3:1 we have this statement: “Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the Lord appeared unto David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.”

If David had been a grasping, selfish man, he might have looked on this as an opportunity to fulfill the will of God without any cost to himself.

He had been passed over when the plague struck men in Israel, and now a rich man had offered him a threshing floor for an altar and animals and grain for the offerings.

But David refused to bring before the Lord that which cost him nothing. “And the king said unto Araunah [Ornan], Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt-offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing” (2 Sam. 24:24).

What a tremendous lesson for us. It is one thing to serve on boards and committees that handle the affairs of others; it is quite another to make decisions that affect us personally.

It is not a sacrifice to the Lord if we give of that which costs us nothing.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

 

 

 

July 31, 2017

A Gentle Spirit; An Honest Spirit

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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Today we’re paying a return visit to Partners in Hope Today, a website we last connected with over four years ago. The devotionals posted there — in print and in audio — are especially focused for readers who are in a recovery program.  We offer you two shorter readings today, but click the titles for each in order to see the graphic images or link to the audio versions.

The Beauty of a Quiet and Gentle Spirit

While it is important to show gentleness towards those we are in contact with, it’s also essential that we learn how to treat ourselves with gentleness.  That doesn’t mean that we look for a “softer gentler way” that avoids issues and allows us to continue in whatever is convenient and comfortable, but is ultimately harmful.  It does mean that we seek gentleness everywhere we find ourselves.

God invites us to a lifestyle of gentleness where we respect truth, respect the dignity of everyone including ourselves, and delight in the joy and wonder of each new day.  Surround me with your tender mercies so I may live, for your instructions are my delight.  (Psalm 119:77 NLT)

Gentleness helps us admit that we are struggling and it’s okay to seek help.  He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.  (Psalm 103:4 NLT)

Gentleness is protected by the setting of safe boundaries in relationships.  Lord, don’t hold back your tender mercies from me. Let your unfailing love and faithfulness always protect me.  (Psalm 40:11 NLT)

Gentleness is often experienced in our spirit when we take the time to slow down and notice life around us – a flower on a summer day; a baby in a stroller; the aroma of food; the beautiful colours in the sky as the sun goes down.  God has made everything beautiful for its own time. The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, Psalm 19:1 NLT)

Gentleness in us flows and grows as we sit quietly and have a conversation with God.  Just reading the Bible often brings peace and gentleness to our souls and when we speak to God in response to what He is conveying to us in His Word, a gentleness of spirit seems to wrap itself around our hearts.  Let my teaching fall on you like rain; let my speech settle like dew. Let my words fall like rain on tender grass, like gentle showers on young plants.  (Deuteronomy 32:2 NLT)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help me to live in the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit that comes from within and which is precious in Your sight.  AMEN  

Freedom Through Telling the Truth

“We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

How hard would it be to trust such a power if we thought he was a liar?  How could we even think about turning our will and our life over to his care?  Fortunately, one of our Heavenly Father’s basic characteristics is truth.  In fact, it is impossible for God to lie.  We can completely depend on every word God says and every promise He gives us.

It is impossible for God to lie.  Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. God tells the truth, even if everyone else is a liar. (Hebrews 6:18, John 14:6 NLT, Romans 3:4 CEV)

God always speaks truth, even difficult truths, but does it with such kindness and love that it draws our heart closer to Him rather than driving us away from Him.  There’s a story in the Bible in John 4 that tells about Jesus’ encounter with a woman who was hiding the truth.  Jesus engaged her in conversation and revealed the complete truth about her life’s circumstances, which weren’t all that great.  Amazingly, in just a few minutes that woman, who had lived in shame in her community for years because of her circumstances, ran back to town and invited everyone to come and hear Jesus because He had revealed everything that had happened to her:  Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could he possibly be the Messiah?  (John 4:29 NLT)

When God, who loves us unconditionally, speaks truth to us, life and hope and a desire for healing fills our hearts.  God’s wants to reveal the deception and lies we’ve been told by society and those we’ve lived under, because lies always harm and drag us down.  God wants to set us free from the bondage of lying, lift us up, and draw us closer to Himself.

What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them with ropes made of lies, who drag wickedness behind them like a cart! (Isaiah 5:18 NLT)

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for always speaking the truth in love to me.  Help me to live in the freedom of always speaking truth to you, to myself, and to others.  AMEN

July 21, 2017

Liberty to Pay it Forward

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:37 pm
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This is our third time at Inspire a Fire and this time around the writer is author and pastor Josh Clevenger. Don’t miss the second-last paragraph. It’s short but crucial to understanding what God expects.

Liberty in Christ

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. Galatians 5:1 NLT

God’s gift is free and has no blind spots in the contract.

Believers have been set free from the bondage created by the Law of Moses. The law was unable to make anyone righteousness and was flawed because it only exposed humanity’s weaknesses. When Jesus died on the cross, He died to fulfill what we couldn’t through good works and sacrifices.

Christ-followers have been given righteousness through Jesus Christ. We have the ability to be at rest with God, satisfying the struggle for God’s approval once and for all. We don’t have to offer anything to God to be received as worthy. The process was simplified to one basic element: Christ alone.

Believers don’t—and can’t—add to the salvation equation. We have to believe Jesus Christ is. When that is established, salvation is given freely. We aren’t required to give anything because the debt is too great for us to pay. God saw our inability to be righteous apart from His intervention and provided His Son as the bridge between us and Him.

Believers don’t have to earn anything from the Lord. Trying to earn His approval underestimates what Christ did on Calvary. Our society associates the term free with cheap. Salvation was not cheap, because it cost God His Son.

We can express our gratitude to the Lord by loving others in the same way we are loved by Him. The Lord does not require payment. He just wants us to spread His love to those around us.

Do not be yoked again to fear or shame. Be set free from false obligation, and be united in the Lord to know your freedom in Christ.

 

July 5, 2017

When the Flood Waters Run High

Just two months ago, we introduced you to the website Dust off the Bible, which contains news, reviews, quizzes and a daily devotional. We thought we’d give you another opportunity to explore this excellent website. Click the title below to read this at source. (Often the passages are covered by two writers, which is the case today.)

Daily Bible Reading Devotional [Psalm 69:7-18]-June 28, 2017

Psalm 69:7-18

69:7 It is for your sake that I have borne reproach, that shame has covered my face.

69:8 I have become a stranger to my kindred, an alien to my mother’s children.

69:9 It is zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.

69:10 When I humbled my soul with fasting, they insulted me for doing so.

69:11 When I made sackcloth my clothing, I became a byword to them.

69:12 I am the subject of gossip for those who sit in the gate, and the drunkards make songs about me.

69:13 But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD. At an acceptable time, O God, in the abundance of your steadfast love, answer me. With your faithful help

69:14 rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

69:15 Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

69:16 Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

69:17 Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress–make haste to answer me.

69:18 Draw near to me, redeem me, set me free because of my enemies.


Much like yesterday’s reading, this passage calls for the Christian to stand up for the name of Christ. This however, is a prayer that God would give strength to those who are enduring persecution and mocking for the sake of following after God. We cannot live this Christian life alone and we are not meant to. Jesus is always there to give us peace and strength, especially when are facing hard times.

The Psalmist here is recognizing that yes, there has been some very hard times for being a follower of Christ. He names how family no longer cares for him, the people around him gossip, even those who are at the lowest form of the social ladder, are making fun of him. The sacrifice to follow after Christ is great and costly. Yet, there is no cry about frustration and bitterness. There is a cry for strength and a means of being sustained as he goes through this.

Whenever we are mocked and questioned about our faith, let us remember that Jesus Christ endured the greatest form of mockery in spreading the Gospel. He was beaten, humiliated, spit upon, mocked and killed. Our strength comes from the one who has endured it all and we can rest assured that He will answer us during times of persecution and hardships. He gives strength to the weary, peace to the anxious heart and joy to the sad.


Sometimes, the storms are what make us seek God the most. They are times where we need to seek something outside of ourselves and our surroundings. We need a supernatural event. While we should encourage others to call on God daily, know that it’s normal to call on the Lord more in our times of need. In fact, this is what King David often did and that is why so many Psalms are written from a place of despair. However, there is no need to despair. God is listening to us already. He is listening before we even speak.

If you are in a place of need at this moment, go find a quiet place and pray the words of King David;

With your faithful help rescue me from sinking in the mire; let me be delivered from my enemies and from the deep waters.

Do not let the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the Pit close its mouth over me.

Answer me, O LORD, for your steadfast love is good; according to your abundant mercy, turn to me.

Do not hide your face from your servant, for I am in distress–make haste to answer me.

Draw near to me, redeem me.

 

 

May 22, 2017

All Things Under His Feet

Today’s thoughts originate with Dust Off The Bible, a website I had bookmarked for about a week now that I’ve wanted to share with you. I think the devotions on this site are quite good, but there are some books reviewed I wouldn’t endorse and one of the quizzes is overly simplistic. The artwork below is from Warren Camp Designs. (Or this link, which offers more selection.) To see the devotional site, click the title below. (Clicking the above link to the site, the devotional it provides may differ from the one below if it is after May 22nd.)

Daily Bible Reading Devotional – Ephesians 1:15-23

Eph.1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Here in this life we feel the pain of evil deeds. We feel the hurt of evil people. We get disappointing, annoyed, scared, and full of anxiety. Yet scripture tells us that God has already put all things under His feet. He has already brought His kingdom to the earth. So why does it often feel like we’re still waiting on God?

Despite the fact that the Spirit of God resides in His children, God’s kingdom is what we call “already but not yet”. This a familiar phrase that means God’s kingdom is here yet we are still waiting for part of it to arrive with Jesus on the day of His second coming. That is when all evil will be wiped away from the earth. There will be no more pain and suffering in the presence of the Lord. So what is the purpose of the kingdom that has arrived already?

The purpose is two-fold. First, we need this power of God, in the Holy Spirit, to endure this evil world and to sanctify all those who are in the body of Christ. Secondly, it is the witness of Jesus Christ, who died for our sins and for the sins of the world. This current age will end when the fullness of saints it met.

I  do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25)

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters were killed just as they had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)

April 26, 2017

Who Was Thomas Doubting?

John 20:24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

This is actually part two of two posts by Jon Swanson at 300 Words a Day who we linked to many times in the early days of C201. A link to part one is found in the first paragraph, but I especially appreciated the insight found in this part of his study on Thomas.

More on Thomas

(Part two of a message from April 23, based on John 20:19-31. See part one.)

And we say, “But what about Thomas’ statement when he heard about the night?” He says, “unless I see his hands and side, and I touch him, I won’t believe.”

That’s the sure sign of a doubter, right?

May I ask a question? Who is he doubting? Jesus? Or is he doubting Peter? The man who had said he would stick with Jesus and then denied him. Is he doubting Nathaniel, who had been the original doubter of Jesus? Is he doubting the word of a bunch of guys who are never recorded as saying anything at all?

Thomas had no reason to trust these guys who talked to him about seeing the hands and side of Jesus. So when he says, “unless I see” he’s not doubting Jesus, not necessarily. But he is doubting them. He’s wanting the same evidence that they say they received.

And Jesus knew. Because Jesus loved Thomas. Jesus wanted him to believe, to trust. So a week or so later, Jesus gave Thomas the evidence that he wanted. Jesus appeared. He offered his hands. And Thomas believed. He didn’t even have to touch.

Because he was known by Jesus, I think. The person who had called him by name years before. The person who had fed him, taught him, walked with him, died in front of him, was alive and calling him by name. With gentle scolding and clear conversation.

Some of us resonate with Thomas.

We are active people, willing to move ahead, even in risky times. We, or I should say, “you”, don’t much care about the resisters, about the opposition, about those who are making threats. You are practical people, aware that if you die, you die, because everyone does some time.

But you have questions. You’d love to have the kind of evidence that other people say they have. Just once, you’d like to hear a voice from heaven like other people claim to have. Just once, you’d like to see the evidence of Jesus that other people claim they have.

Not miracles, not healing necessarily, not everything going great.

You just want to know that God knows you. For who you are. And to you, the story of Thomas says, “just say it.” Just tell Jesus that you’d like to hear him in the way that you can know it’s him.

And I’m confident that you will. If and as you listen.

I’m a little envious of Thomas, by the way. His honesty, his perseverance, his courage. Those were things the people who knew him saw. The rest of the disciples I mean. And Jesus.

People who lack discernment may call him, and you, “doubter”.

But Jesus doesn’t. After he said to stop doubting, He calls you friend.

And maybe you are ready to take steps that Thomas didn’t at first. You can take the words of the rest of the disciples-and Thomas-that this is Jesus, died and risen. And God.

April 24, 2017

Water for the Thirsty and the Great Co-Mission

Today we’re again paying a return visit to David McGee who writes at Cross the Bridge which is carried on his own website as well as at Lightsource.com. There are two shorter devotions today and we’ve posted the link for each.

Give Me Some Water

John 4:15

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me some of that water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to haul water.”
NLT

The Israelites and Samaritans lived in a dry, thirsty land; in a desert. It is hard for many of us to imagine how valuable water is in such a desperate place. Yet, we live in a spiritually dry and thirsty land; we are often oblivious to the lack.

I wonder how many times a day someone tells us they are thirsty. Perhaps not “Please give me some of that water,” but they put it another way. When they speak of problems with their children, troubles in their marriage, trials in their life, they are really saying, “I am thirsty.” When they are short tempered, worn out and angry, they are saying they don’t know how to quench their thirst. I also wonder how many times we don’t really understand their plea and their thirst. How many times we walk past opportunities to minister to them. Look for the thirsty and look for the dry. Hear their cries and offer them living water.

Life Lesson: We should be pouring out to the world what God has poured into us.

Dear God,
Thank You for loving me so much that You allow me to serve You. Lord, I lift this land up to You and ask You to raise up workers for the harvest. You offer the water that completely quenches our need and You offer it abundantly and freely. Open the hearts of this world to Your gift and allow me to play a part in the quenching of this thirsty world. I thank You that the results are in Your almighty hands. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Great Co-Mission

Ephesians 5:14
Therefore He says: “Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.”

NKJV

The scriptures teach us that we have light when we are in Christ. When we have His light we have His insight. We can begin to see the world the way that He does and love people that way that He loves us.

Matt 28:18-20
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.
NKJV

Jesus was the lamb without blemish offered up for our sacrifice. Jesus, through His sacrifice, has now made us the bride of Christ without blemish also. Because of this we can begin to look at other believers the way that He looks at us ñ without blemish, with no condemnation. And for those who haven’t yet come to the Lord we offer the message of our Messiah, the Gospel, to share in eternal life. Have you invited someone to hear the Gospel or to be a disciple at your church recently?

Life Lesson: Your mission is to reach and teach: to evangelize and disciple.

Lord, thank You for Your sacrifice so that I might be without blemish. Please forgive me when I fail to allow Your light to shine through me to the dying world around me. Give me the power to see things and do things with the same heart that You have for me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

March 13, 2017

Spiritual Drift

This article appears at BibleStudyTools.com. To read it there and read the comments simply click the title below. Chris Russell is an Ohio pastor whose biography states, “He believes that ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) is one of his ‘spiritual gifts.'” You can also read it on his blog Sensible Faith.

5 Things That Cause Us to Drift Spiritually

Several years ago a friend of mine took his wife and kids to the ocean for a week of R&R. While they were there, they purchased a small, inflatable boat for recreational use on the beach. One day the wife jumped in the boat and launched out into the water to just lie back and soak in some sunshine. After what seemed like a short span of time, she opened her eyes and realized that she was several hundred yards away from the shore. In a panic, she screamed for help.

Only one person on the shore seemed to hear her call, and that was her husband. When he realized her predicament, he immediately attempted to swim out to rescue her. That did not turn out well, because he was soon in need of being rescued as well!

Fortunately the lifeguard was doing his job well that day, and he was successful in rescuing the husband and the wife. By the time he was able to get to the wife in the raft, they were nearly a half mile from the shore.

As I have thought about that experience over the years, it has often made me think about how Christians often drift away from the Lord spiritually. It really doesn’t take much time at all to drift so far from the shore spiritually that one can scarcely even see the land anymore.

As a pastor for the past couple decades, I have noted several key things that tend to cause Christians to drift away from God. Here are five of them:

1)  An Out-of-Control Schedule.

Ephesians 5:16
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

One of Satan’s greatest weapons against our generation seems to be his ability to make good people busier than ever before. We so often sacrifice the best things in life by spending time doing things that are just “pretty good.”

If you desire to walk closely with God, you will absolutely, necessarily have to begin by taking a close look at your calendar. It is likely that you are currently doing too much. And it is also likely that your overly hectic schedule is affecting your relationship with God. So take out your pruning shears and begin to cut out any activities you can that will allow you to focus more time on your relationship with your Creator.

2)  Misplaced Affections

1 John 2:15
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

Be careful not to set your heart on things that really don’t matter. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen good people lured away from church life because they have fallen in love with things or activities that have no eternal merit. For example, children’s sports can certainly be a thrilling activity for your kids to pursue. But if those sports begin to adversely affect the spiritual involvement and development of your family, then pull the plug immediately.

3)  Discouragement

1 Peter 1:6,7 1
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

During the past couple decades that I have served as a pastor, I have often watched Satan using his weapon of discouragement to drag people away from spiritual activities. I have seen it many more times than I can number.

When the trials of life cause a person to become discouraged, he often begins focusing on those problems and takes his eyes off of Christ. It reminds me of when Peter walked on the water. He did great until he took his eyes off of Jesus and began looking at the waves beneath him and the clouds above him.

It is important for you to know that when life’s clouds grow dark and your trials become fierce, that is the time to run TO Jesus and not FROM Him.

4)  Abundance

1 Timothy 6:10
For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

We Americans are so fat with our own prosperity that we often make wealth our god and not the true King of heaven. This has also been a recurring theme throughout the entire Bible. People struggle, God blesses them, they become prosperous, and then they depart from God. Ironic, isn’t it?

The chances are great that you probably do not feel like you are prosperous. But the reality is that nearly all Americans are extremely blessed and have more abundance than the vast majority of the population of the planet. If you are an American, you are most likely already a “One-Percenter” (wealthier than 99% of the world’s population).

People of abundance often choose recreation over worship. Why go to church if you could be out golfing, boating, camping, or going to movies or sporting events?

Satan wants us to be prosperous, because our prosperity and abundance often lure us away from our Creator.

5)  Parasitic Sins

Hebrews 12:1
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,

Many people begin to drift away from God, because they have sins in their lives that cause them to feel guilt when they show up at church. And they feel reluctant to pray or read their Bible when they know they have these issues in their lives.

Recently, I stumbled upon the most revolting video I’ve ever seen (through my Facebook news feed). The video showed an eye surgeon removing a parasite from a human eye. I won’t go into detail. That brief description alone is enough to send chills down the spines of many. All I can say is that the video was even worse than what you’re thinking right now!

When I watched that video, it dawned on me that many people have sins in their lives that are damaging them just like parasites in one’s body. And those sins will almost certainly affect your spiritual vision.

The solution here is not to run/drift from God. The key is to confess your sin to God who will restore you and make you whole again (1 John 1:9)!

How have you done in your journey with God over the past year or the past few months? Have you drifted? Now is the time to return. Call out to God before you are so far from the shore than you lose all sense of spiritual direction.


1 In both versions of the original article Chris did not have a reference on his third point. We took the liberty of adding one. See A Diligent Heart or OpenBible.info for other related verses.

 

 

March 2, 2017

Scripture, Tradition, Experience, Reason

Do an image search for Wesleyan Quadrilateral and you'll find various attempts to explain it.

Do an image search for Wesleyan Quadrilateral and you’ll find various attempts to explain it. I’m not sure the one on the bottom left is what Wesley had in mind.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace – Eph 1:17 ESV

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.Colossians 1:13-14

And are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. – Romans 3:24-26 ESV

With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. – Hebrews 9:12 NIV

Capt. Michael Simpson is an officer in The Salvation Army in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. He wrote this originally for the local newspaper there as part of a rotation where area pastors and church leaders contribute a weekly article.

Some days I just have to pinch myself

There have been moments over the past few months when I have suddenly had the feeling I exist in an alternate reality. I won’t use this space to talk about “Red vs. Blue” or “The Left vs. The Right,” or even about “facts.” What does concern me? What does cause me to pinch myself at times; the concepts of critical thought, truth and its reverse…“post-truth.”

Back in November of 2002 I had the task of writing a paper for my very first theology class in seminary. The title of this paper was simply, God as Redeemer. With the birthing of The Salvation Army in Victorian England and its grounding in the Wesleyan Holiness tradition, it only made sense that I would apply a new-found tool of my critical thought/theological tool box in approaching and writing the paper; the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. In this method, tradition, experience, and reason are employed, while being subject always to scripture, when forming and applying our theology. Each of the “legs” of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral must be taken in balance, and none of the other three apart from scripture should be viewed as being of equal value or authority with scripture. None of these should be taken in isolation without the balancing effect of the others, and always Scripture should have the central place of authority.

The purpose of that essay was to look at the redemptive nature of God, specifically the idea of God as redeemer, working through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and what that means for humanity in this present age. First of all, what did the biblical story, and especially its focus on Christ, have to say concerning redemption? Secondly, how has the church throughout its history understood Christ as its redeemer? How is the notion of redemption viewed in our present context, both personally and communally? Lastly, what difference does the idea of redemption make in the personal and corporate life of Salvationists, or all those who identify with the Church.

While I will refrain from answering these questions in my remaining words I will put forth a challenge. That challenge is to think critically. Think critically regarding all that goes on around you in these days. When you read a news article or listen to a radio program… think critically. Apply these 4 “lenses”, if you will, in how you view and then respond. What does scripture say? What about tradition? Experience? What does reason have to say? At times I am guilty of allowing myself to get caught up in popular thought without really thinking for myself; without basing my response in truth. Ah, there it is… truth! My dislike of a truth does not make it less truthful. We understood this in grade school… but today… this is why I need to pinch myself sometimes.


After checking our archives, I realized we haven’t discussed the quadrilateral here and only briefly at my other blog. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, or Methodist Quadrilateral, is a methodology for theological reflection that is credited to John Wesley, leader of the Methodist movement in the late 18th Century. The term itself was coined by 20th century American Methodist scholar Albert C. Outler.

This method based its teaching on four sources as the basis of theological and doctrinal development. These four sources are scripture, tradition, reason, and Christian experience.

Upon examination of Wesley’s work, Outler theorized that Wesley used four different sources in coming to theological conclusions. Wesley believed, first of all, that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in “scripture” as the sole foundational source. The centrality of scripture was so important for Wesley that he called himself “a man of one book”. However, doctrine had to be in keeping with Christian orthodox “tradition.” So, tradition became in his view the second aspect of the so-called Quadrilateral. Furthermore, believing, as he did, that faith is more than merely an acknowledgment of ideas, Wesley as a practical theologian, contended that a part of the theological method would involve “experiential” faith. In other words, truth would be vivified in personal experience of Christians (overall, not individually), if it were really truth. And every doctrine must be able to be defended “rationally.” He did not divorce faith from reason. Tradition, experience, and reason, however, are subject always to scripture, which is primary.

Each of the “legs” of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral must be taken in balance, and none of the other three apart from scripture should be viewed as being of equal value or authority with scripture. None of these should be taken in isolation without the balancing effect of the others, and always Scripture should have the central place of authority.


wesleys-quadrilateralFurther reading: Travel back to 2009 and explore the elements of the quadrilateral as flour, milk and shortening, baking powder and salt. The author contends that like the recipe for baking powder biscuits, the elements are combined in different amounts.

February 14, 2017

Saying “I Love You”

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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I’m hoping I will tell my wife I love her several times today. It’s not only Valentine’s Day, but it’s also our anniversary, and a special one at that.

Words like “I Love You” that can make a difference.

Last year we introduced a new (to us) author, Robin Patchen who lives in Edmond, Oklahoma and is the author of three books and blogs at Quid Pro Quills. The site actually features six different writers, and today we’re featuring another one, . As usual, click the title below and encourage these authors by reading their works at the original site.

Words

What are the last words you spoke to the last person with whom you spoke?

To be fair, I’ll share mine: “I love you, too.”

But if you’d heard my words yesterday, they would’ve sounded less beautiful. More… ungrateful. Untrusting. Unkind.

Words have the ability to encourage or the ability to destroy. When you add emotions, exhaustion, and ego to the mix, communication can be a minefield. The paradox? We frequently mete our harshest words to the individuals we love the most.

Why is that? Don’t you hate it? I do. I want to be a better listener. A better problem-solver. I want to end a conversation with someone knowing that I’ve affirmed him. In times of disagreement, my desire is that when the conversation is over, the problem has truly been resolved instead of postponed. I want to stop falling into the same speech traps that constantly leave me disappointed and defensive.

The gift of speech is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given, but I’m so inept at utilizing the spoken word. That’s why the Proverbs wield power. These wise sayings help me to love God and my neighbor.

“Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 12:18

“An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” Proverbs 12:25

“He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

“It is to a man’s honor to avoid strife, but every fool is quick to quarrel.” Proverbs 20:3

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver.” Proverbs 25:11

Sometimes the best use of the tongue is to keep it sealed behind our lips. Silence is a powerful form of communication. The best Communicator who ever lived, Jesus Christ, chose to remain silent even when He was unjustly accused and on the way to His crucifixion. I would’ve been screaming. But He was silent. He knew He was right. Therefore, He had nothing else to say. His final action of love was all that was necessary.

It’s tough to control our words. We should think before we speak, and if we do have to say difficult words, they must be spoken in love. One of the scriptures most difficult to apply is this: “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.”

Father, give me wisdom. Use my speech to glorify You and encourage others. Make my words agents of Your healing.


Check out these related C201 articles:

August 12, 2016

3 Types of Righteousness

Today, we’re paying a return visit to Wade Burleson at Istoria Ministries. Click the title below to read at source.

Imputed, Imparted, and Imbedded Righteousness

Righteousness is a big, important word that  conveys one of the life’s most vital concepts.

The Bible declares that God is righteous.  “O LORD, God of Israel, You are righteous!” (Ezra 9:15). “The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” (Psalms 116:5). The LORD is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made” (Psalms 145:17).

The Hebrew word translated righteousness has as its root the meaning of “right” or “straight.” The Old English word used to translate the Hebrew word was “oughtness.” God is right. God is straight. God is as He ought to be.

To be righteous is to be right. It is to be a person who is not crooked in character or conduct. However, because of sin in all of us, there is “no one righteous, no not one.” (Romans 3:10). Nobody is as we ought to be. We are not righteous in character, and we are not holy in conduct. Holiness is but the outward expression of internal righteousness, and without holiness “no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrew 12:14).

How then, does a sinner become righteous in the eyes of God?

Imputed Righteousness

The word “impute” means to “credit to an account” of another. It is an accounting term. When God imputes righteousness, it means that God credits “righteousness” to the account of a sinner. How can I be seen by God as “righteous” when both God and I know that that I’m a sinner.

“This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Romans 3:22).

God credits me with perfect righteousness when I believe in Christ. My trust (faith) is credited as righteousness to me” (Romans 4:22).

“I am found in Christ, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:9).

“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).

You are declared righteous by God through the gift of His righteousness given to all those with faith in Christ.

Imparted Righteousness

“Imparted righteousness” identifies the internal work of God when He regenerates those who trust in Christ. Believers in Christ become “partakers of the divine nature” (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). It is this principle of righteousness imparted to men in regeneration which is ever in conflict with the old Adamic nature.

It is critical, however, to maintain the distinction between the “imputed righteousness” of Christ which is the basis for justification and this “imparted righteousness” which may be seen as the basis for subsequent sanctification.

Imbedded Righteousness

For all you English majors out there, imbedded is a legitimate variant spelling of embedded.

To be imedded means “to fix into a surrounding mass; or to incorporate as an essential part or characteristic.” 

When something is imbedded, it cannot be removed. The characteristics of that which is imbedded are seen in the mass in which it is imbedded. For example, when red dye is imbedded into plastic, you have red plastic. When paint is imbedded into canvas, you have art. When righteousness is imbedded into a sinner, you have a person who begins to pursue what is right.

In essence, nobody has warrant to say they have been given the gift of imputed righteousness, and have in them the presence of imparted righteousness, until they life a life that shows evidence of imbedded righteousness. 

Nobody who knows Christ continues in their sin. We all sin. We who have received the righteousness of Christ have righteousness imbedded within us, and therefore, the characteristics of living right are always present – for we can’t help it.

It’s imbedded within our DNA as followers of Jesus.

August 11, 2016

Yet

Today we’re paying a return visit to A Simple Christian. The author is unnamed, but is a pastor at Concordia Lutheran Church in Cerritos. Ca. You may click the title below to read this at source.

17 For though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit appears on the vine, Though the yield of the olive fails and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls,  18 Yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God. 19 GOD, my Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet swift as those of deer and enables me to tread upon the heights.  NABRE – Hab 3:17-19

Yet – 3 Powerful Words of Powerful Faith.

Anything done out of love is important, however small it might appear. God has come to us, even though we are miserable creatures, and he has told us that he loves us: “My delight is to be among the sons of men.” Our Lord tells us that everything is valuable—those actions which from a human point of view we regard as extraordinary and those which seem unimportant. Nothing is wasted. No man is worthless to God. All of us are called to share the kingdom of Heaven—each with his own vocation: in his home, his work, his civic duties, and the exercise of his rights.

Nothing is wasted!   What marvelous words are uttered by St Josemaria!

Words that resonate with the Habbakuk’s conclusion of his book. Let me paraphrase!

“Life Sucks!  YET I will rejoice in the Lord! YET I will exult in my saving God!”

For as our souls, our very lives are entrusted to Him (something the Holy Spirit does, because Jesus paid the price to make it happen on the cross!) everything has meaning, and we begin to see how all things can indeed work for good, for those who love God.

That’s a hard thing to trust God for, especially when we think of him as the deists did in the centuries following the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment.  Because they couldn’t trust the God they couldn’t see, they reasoned he left town,  Because they couldn’t understand that God was there in darkest points of history, they assumed he wasn’t there, and that He didn’t care and abandoned those He promised to walk with, those He promised to support, and heal, and strengthen.

Nothing is wasted.

Man is that hard to hear! For there has been much that I can’t count as beneficial without coming to the same conclusions.  Where are you, my God?  Why did You abandon me?  Why did I have to go through this?  Why do I see it repeated?

Nothing is wasted.

Not even the times of emptiness.

Not even the times where I cry out in anger, in pain, in fear.

Those words talk of dependence, of the greatest level of what we call faith.  The point where rock bottom we realize He is hear, and just go, “Lord, I can’t anymore, all I have to cling to are Your promises, the promises I can’t believe are true for me.

“Yet, I abandon myself to you, I will depend on what I can’t see, what may be beyond my logic, but what you promise is real.

“You are here… I can see that today…when I couldn’t last week, and may struggle next month to see it.

“You are here!”

So I will praise You, So I will rejoice in a God who wrote those promises through prophets, and etched them in the hands of His Son.

Yet… a powerful word.

One I need to pull out and use… often.


August 4, 2016

The Bible’s Vice Lists

This article deals with a particular form we see in New Testament writings. This may interest some of you more than others, but I hope you’ll gain some understanding of the type of things academics and Bible historians wrestle with. This was posted at The Christian Century. Click the link below to read at source.

What’s a vice list for?

Colossians 3:1–11

by Daniel Schultz

For more commentary on this week’s readings, see the Reflections on the Lectionary page, which includes Schultz’s current Living by the Word column as well as past magazine and online-only content. For full-text access to all articles, subscribe to the Century.

Fun fact: when Paul tells his readers in Colossae to

put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)

it’s an example of a common ancient rhetorical device called a “vice list.” (This is not actually fun, but bear with me.) There’s another one later in the same passage, where Paul talks about “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language.” And there are several other examples in the New Testament, sometimes with corresponding virtue lists. The idea is straightforward: don’t do these things. Do these other things instead.

Further fun fact: a couple hundred years after Paul, vice lists gave rise to the seven deadly sins. In the monastic guide the Praktikos, Evagrius Ponticus writes about what he calls “evil thoughts”: gluttony, impurity or lust, avarice, sadness, anger, acedia, vainglory, and pride. Through translation and adaptation, eight evil thoughts became seven deadly sins: pride, envy, anger, lust, gluttony, sloth and greed. The emphasis shifted as well–while Evagrius spends as much time on anger as anything, in the medieval world, pride became much more important.

Like Paul’s lists, Evagrius’s evil thoughts somehow managed to get codified into law, or the next thing unto it. Taking part in one of the deadly sins put one’s immortal soul in danger; it was cause for confession before a priest and a mending of ways. This moral pattern came along with no end of discussion over who exactly was guilty of what, and why, and how much they ought to be shamed for it. (In some cases, it became a how-to manual.)

Likewise, Paul’s list of sexual transgressions has always been better remembered than the other failures he mentions. For nearly 2,000 years, it’s been used to shame sexual expression and keep women in their place. I know many who reject Christianity because of Paul, or dump the apostle and keep the rest of the New Testament.

Evagrius seems to name barriers to progress in spiritual discipline, the thoughts and attitudes and attachments that would prevent desert monks from truly emptying themselves so that they could be filled entirely with the Holy Spirit. I wonder if something similar wasn’t also true for Paul. By the time he wrote to the Colossians, he was an experienced church planter and pastor. He knew how little heed congregants pay to moralizing from the pulpit.

Neither Paul nor Evagrius appears to want his readers to think they will roast in hell for offenses named in these lists. Instead, the goal seems to be a fulfilled life. In Evagrius’s case this means a life united with God and freed from petty sorrows and regrets. For Paul, the goal is never the straight and narrow path. It’s to take part in the new creation, clothed in “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience,” as we were before the fall.

Yes, that’s a virtue list, and it forces upon us a question. Not what are the rules?–that’s too simple. It’s the great question of ethics: who are you? Are you the kind of person who behaves like this, or the kind of person who behaves like that?

Our society might be moving past telling people who they can and can’t sleep with. But this larger question–who are you?–remains to be wrestled with eternally.

 

July 29, 2016

Judge Like Me

Judge Not

 

Matthew 7:1   “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Today we pay a return visit to Read it and Do It, written daily by Tennessee pastor Todd Stevens. Click the title to read at source, we’re jumping into the 3rd paragraph…

Stop judging me!

READ IT
Today’s chapter: Matthew 7

…The Scripture passage that gets quoted most often these days is from Matthew 7. We usually hear it said in the good old King James vocabulary: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” People typically say cite this verse when they feel like they’re being judged and want to make it stop. They play the Bible card, which seemingly dictates that making judgments is always wrong.

Most people seem to understand Jesus’s words as a matter of law and order. Some think it’s saying to not be like a judge by making decisions about guilt and innocence or right and wrong. Others think it means we’re not supposed to act like police by going around enforcing any standards of behavior. When we dig a bit deeper, though, we discover Jesus isn’t saying either of those things.

The church is notorious for policing people outside the church. One would think we’d have learned by now we’re not going to scold or boycott anybody into the kingdom. That approach has never worked yet, so I’m not sure why so many Christians still do it with such enthusiasm. Besides, those outside the church never agreed to live by Christian values. Since they never bought into that standard of behavior, they’re certainly not going to appreciate being criticized for not living by it.

The church’s misunderstanding of this issue is why it often has such a bad reputation. Legislating morality is a silly goal anyway. Even if we were successful at getting nonbelievers to live and behave like Christians, would it be worth it? All we would have accomplished would be to populate hell with nicer and more moral people. That’s not even close to what Jesus called us to do.

When Jesus said “do not judge,” if He meant we aren’t supposed to discern right from wrong, then He did some things that don’t make sense. In fact, He didn’t follow His own teaching. He often labeled people’s sin as “sin,” which is very judgmental. He also made some incredibly harsh statements to the religious leaders of the day and told them they would “be judged by hell.” Ouch. Tell us how you really feel, Jesus.

Jesus isn’t saying don’t make judgments. He frequently displayed piercingly judicial discernment. Instead, He actually instructs us to judge like Him. We just have to keep reading the next few verses to see it. He clarifies in this passage how, when, and why we’re to judge.

In verses 3-5, Jesus explains that this type of judging is something you do with your brother: a fellow believer. We typically shy away from confronting people we know about sin. It feels much safer to pass judgment on outsiders because we can do it from a distance and not have to deal with any messy relational fall-out.

Instead, we’re supposed to love our brother enough to “remove the speck” from his eye. Although it might be more convenient for me to ignore whatever is going on his life, he needs me to love him enough to not enable him to continue making destructive choices. He needs me to be more concerned with helping him to see God and to see the potential consequences of his actions than I am with my own insecurities and fear of rejection.

But when I see my brother stumble, my first response isn’t supposed to be pointing out his error. Instead, step one is taking a look in the mirror at myself. Jesus says I need to identify the plank in my own eye. What’s my real motivation for approaching my brother about the speck in his eye? What personal issues have I been justifying or overlooking rather than dealing with? What is the log in my own eye that needs to be removed?

Jesus makes it clear that the log in my eye isn’t supposed to become a reason for not helping my brother and aborting the entire process. Instead, I need to remove it so I can get an unobstructed view of his speck. Then I’ll be able to see clearly enough to make a good judgment and to help him see more clearly, too.

DO IT
Think about your closest friends at church. What sin can you see in their lives that they don’t seem to be aware of? Start by prayerfully asking God to reveal the plank in your own eye. Allow Him to remove it so you can be free to see more clearly. Then love your friend enough to have a one-on-one conversation about his speck. It might seem like a risky and uncomfortable step to take, but it’s what real love looks like.

 

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