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How could we pray for revival? (Revised for 2017)

RevivalB America, religion, and revival are terms that go easily with each other. They bring up images of tent meetings, dramatic preaching, and mass conversions. Today, these are mostly nostalgic images of a past America where Christianity played a larger role in the public life and a call for repentance was more easily aroused.  In the battle for the culture on the national scene, we have seemingly been outwitted those opposed to orthodox Christianity and many among us are unaware of what actual faith in Jesus Christ is.  The need for revival is great.

But how specifically could we petition God for this revival? There are certainly many good approaches. The most important is starting out with a revival of faith and action in our own lives. We could all start by repenting of our own failures in our lacking of concern about others, and we could then rejoice in God’s mercy and love that we can start new today.

Here are a few things to think about praying for, some obvious, and some that you may not have considered:

Pray that we would pray. I recently read a book from a “Christian writer” who began the book by criticizing a seminar leader for taking a  time of reflection and prayer and instead of starting by first calling the church to action. Yes, we should take action. But action not directed by God, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, is not what we need for revival. (I wonder what might have been accomplished if the church in the early 1900’s had spent more of its time on its knees praying verses fighting for prohibition counter to the Bibles own words.)

Pray for the giving over of buildings. America is full of minimally used and marginally maintained church buildings. Pray that many of them become alive, or that they would  give over their buildings to those who would use them well to proclaim the Gospel, reach out, and serve their local communities.

Pray that Christians will use new media more to spread the true Gospel and not just to share good times, complain about the government, the news media, foreign interests, etc…  (Though these can be worthy things to do if done in grace, perception of actual importance, and moderation.) But these uses appear to outnumber loving presentations of the Gospel to a lost and dying world 10,000:1. I heard it once said and believe it mostly to be true. What you really care about in this world is what will be on your Facebook page.

Pray that followers of, and families in, Christ would not be guilty of the sin of Balaam without falling into the sin of self-righteousness. That they and would stand out in the culture by wise and loving choice of focus and activity. Pray that the dependence on popular culture for relating to one another in the church would be replaced by activities of greater grace, and that the church would be full of more genuine fellowship.

Pray that pastors will proclaim the Gospel in the pulpit and that they and their congregations would desire for follow the Word of God in all aspects of life even under the possibility of persecution.

And Pray for a transformation of our political and cultural leaders that they would fear God and love their fellow man. That we would pray for those who persecute us, and their would be transformation in their hearts.

Let us see what God may have in store for us in the next decade.

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Why you may matter more than you think

D-Day Celebration France

On June 6th 1944, one of the most pivotal moments in all of human history happened. One hundred and sixty thousand men attacked a beach in France with many being thrown into water 10 feet deep with heavy packs only to wade ashore walking into machine gun fire, barbed wire, and mines The goal was to liberate mainland Europe, or better yet “humanity,” from what is universally regarded as one of the most purely evil organizations ever— Hitler’s Nazi regime.

Why did the allies eventually succeed in storming the beach despite tactical blunders, a failed bombardment, and no strategic positions. Well, there were simply too many well supplied courageous people willing to walk into machine gun fire for the enemy forces to shoot down. What does this have to do with a “quiet” website whose focus is on prayer, bible study, and journaling. Well, last time I read the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul tells us we are in a spiritual battle.

Here are three comparisons between our spiritual battle and the landing at D Day:

Ultimate Victory is Assured: Yes, the landing at D-day had to occur. And yes, we have a very real and important battle against evil right now. The Allied forces were able to win because they were stronger in arms, supply, and motivation that the weakening German forces. Our enemy is not strong enough to defeat his own creator. And Jesus has already won the ultimate victory against evil on the cross. But the “Prince of this World” is allowed a “brief” reign, and we see the pain and suffering of it everywhere.   

The enemy really is evil but most of the individuals are not. If you grew up in Germany or Poland at the time and you were just a normal person, you could have easily well been the one firing down on the good guys storming the beach. It doesn’t excuse their actions and many noble people resisted, but let’s not think we are so wonderful we would have necessarily done something different.  In some ways, our task is a very odd one. We have the task of disarming evil and influence of the “Prince of this World” by helping rescue those who are fighting against us.

You matter probably more than you think. It is important to remember that not everyone who hit the beach in Normandy made it to the top of the hill. There were many who stepped on mines, drowned, and were killed by machine gun fire. But if everyone hadn’t been willing to hit the beach, the Allies never could have won. Maybe think of things this way.  The attack on church A could be taking our enemies attention away from organization B and church C allowing it to more easily to establish a beachhead. (The devil is not omnipotent.) This is why we should be very weary of pride. You may have made it to the top of the hill because someone else took a bullet for you getting out of the landing transport. (John 4:38)

For a lot of us, our battle is not a physical one. It is one for our hearts and minds. And in the western world, it may be a battle of resistance against the trappings over overwhelming affluence and worldliness that distracts us from God and his importance to what is temporary and fleeting.  We are eternally grateful for the soldiers who gave their lives at D-Day but let us take advantage of what they gave us. That is an opportunity to fight evil, by living quiet lives as Paul directs in the book of Thessalonians, and delivering the good news or Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world.

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Does God Believe in Grey?

Grey is simply white with some black in it. Does it seem to you that we live in a world where all truth (white) has a little bit of lie (black) in it? Where it is true when they say, “everything is shades of grey?” Where it is sometimes hard to determine who the good guy is and who is the bad? Does God, the one who said let your yes be yes and your no be no, believe in shades of grey? 

No. However, God is merciful and because of this is it can often appear that he does. He uses sin filled people in the process of being sanctified to do his work giving the appearance sometimes of a world filled with grey. The catch phrase we hear a lot these days is that God uses imperfect people. God also tells us that light and darkness, truth and evil, will be intertwined so deeply that they cannot be completely rooted out and separated in this world. But that they will be rooted out in a “harvest” to come in the end of the age.

Does that mean there is no complete truth? In some ways our entire life here on earth is the searching out of truth and acting out on this absolute, undiluted, and unbending truth against a completely corrupt evil. Through our sin filled minds, however, we often don’t see it that clearly. If fact, most of us feel uncomfortable by a pure truth or pure good. We are like the movie that throws in a few curse words so it doesn’t get that dreaded G rating.  We are all accountants that want to appear to be mild versions of the Hell’s Angels in order not to be thought of as dull.

This is most likely because we misunderstand God. We misunderstand how truly joyful God is. And we think, mistakenly, that there is an actual alternative to God’s joy. One a little less demanding. Maybe, even a little more fun. This is because evil is essentially living for the brief moment on what is often referred to as “borrowed capital.” The devil uses the good things God made while, for reasons only God completely understands, he has his brief reign as “Prince of this World.”

We can think of grey as pure truth diluted by sin. It is our job, our precious task, to undilute it in order for God to shine brighter into this world and life is more joyful, clearer, and we are more effective. How do we do this? We do this through prayer, working in his body, the legitimate church (a good, wonderful, and God designed organization that stands as the restrainer of evil) loving our neighbor as ourselves and loving God with all our heart. This can be played out in millions of unique and inventive ways. We are not to settle or surrender to dull grey but work to shine the true nature of the undiluted truth of Christ as a bright light into our world of darkness.

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The Distracted Life

                                       The road of distraction often ends here.

The tag line of our devotional site is “Connecting Busy and Distracted People to God.” This begs the question, “If we are not busy with God, doing the things that God wants us to be doing, as seen in his Word, just what are we busy at?”  Research says most of us aren’t busy doing very much at all. For example, in the United States, the average person who is not actively working (40% of America isn’t working), spends 6 1/2 hours a day in leisure activities including 3 hours of television watching. Even a person who is working still watches on average 3 hours a day of TV. The truth is that a lot of us really are not that busy with critical things. We are distracted.

Just what is distracting us? I could give a list of things that are obvious to most of us. I have already mentioned television, which is an example of something that can be good but is often misused. Other things like celebrity gossip following are not awful but have little edification value. And others like drug use and pornography have damaging effects that show our separation from God.  However, no matter what our activities, we need to be alert. The apostle Peter says we have an enemy that prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour.  

Most of us do not need an enemy always tempting us to waste the time God has given us. We are happy to volunteer as we go down three broad and well-worn paths. God warns us of these common paths in the book of First John.  

  • The pride of life. This one Got Adam and Eve who were living in a paradise. We get discouraged with the blessings already bestowed upon us and we want to elevate ourselves up to the level of God. We want others to look up to us and have our own kingdoms instead of desiring to be part of God’s story. We whittle away our time on things that bring attention to ourselves but are of little value to the Kingdom of God and other people.
  • The pride of the eye. This where we get distracted by all the stuff. The latest this and that and what the neighbor has. Of course, stuff isn’t bad. Stuff can save your life. Stuff can bring great joy. Stuff can show our neighbor we love them. But it can also distract us, giving us a temporary focus that at first provides a uniqueness, and then wears off if its only use is to be a God in and of itself. In the western world, we are loaded down with lots and lots of stuff. Even the average person in poverty in American has three television sets and a cell phone.
  • The lust of the flesh. This is where we get distracted by the things that satisfy our physical desires. A lot of these are very good things. After all, our God is a lover of pleasure and joy. Our enemy is not a creator. He is a created being very dependent on God, like everyone else, and takes the things God has given and twists them and misuses them. In addition, we follow his lead (most of us independently need little prompting from anything but our own selfish desires) and we misuse these things also, distracting us and separating us from God by things of the flesh.

The best way to move away from these distractions is to refocus on God. The Bible paraphrase “The Message” catches the spirit here in Philippians 15: 6-21.

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it. Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites. But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

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Praying the Scripture

ESV Reader’s Bible

Do you ever come away from prayer with the feeling that the words you prayed were trivial?  That you just didn’t seem to express what you were trying to say to God? Sometimes, we go through a lot of effort just trying to think of the right words to pray. Some say that God doesn’t care what you say, that it’s all about the heart. This is correct. But sometimes we just need to call out to God in a way that is edifying and encouraging to us, we need to hear the right words for ourselves.

And that is not an unexpectable thing to want. After all our religion is word based. In the beginning was the Word. And the Bible is not lacking wonderful words to express ourselves to God and God to us. It flabbergasts me the popularity of recent books that make up new words for Jesus to say as if God had not said enough already. Most of us radically under-appreciate the Bible we already have.  One of the most beautiful prayers in all the Bible is found in the old testament in the section right after the description of the Nazarite vow found in the book of Numbers chapter 16. The Nazarite vow is a special vow taken by those who deliberately wanted to consecrate themselves more to God by a set of physical actions.

Here is the prayer God himself gives us:

 “The Lord bless you
    and keep you;
 the Lord make his face shine on you
    and be gracious to you;
 the Lord turn his face toward you
    and give you peace.” (NIV)

 We can pray this prayer to God in asking for God’s blessing. It is also interesting that in giving us this prayer right after the Nazarite vow, we can see how our words and actions are intertwined and are virtually inseparable. That is why those whose words and actions are not consistent are such an offence to us and Jesus condemns them ferociously. Praying God’s words of the Bible to him can be a blessing to us and an instruction to us to act instead of prayer being exclusively a time of personal reflection and self-expression. After all as we have said, God already knows our heart. 

When we pray these prayers of praise and petitions from the Bible, we are sure we are praying for what God wants, and they can then be followed up in actions that “renew our minds” as the Apostle Paul says. Go through the Bible and find some of your favorite powerful verses to add to your prayer life.

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A Child’s Eye of Wonder

Jesus said to be like a child. In Mark 10:15, he specifically says,  I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. Those are not only surprising words, but they are an ultimatum. These are even more startling considering that at the time they were spoken, children had little intrinsic value in their childhood state. Their value being only in the future functioning adult years.  Those of us with children, who can be overwhelmed by the tasks of taking care of what is by nature immature and often challenging can ask, like the disciples who pushed away the children, what could the God man be saying?

There are, of course, two elements of a child. There is the selfish element that seems to disregard any thought of anyone else in the world’s needs besides themselves. This is what we see with the crying toddler throwing a tantrum in the grocery store when they aren’t allowed to buy the candy bar. This is a bare bones expression of the childishness of our original sin nature inherited from Adam. But I think we all suspect that this is not what Jesus is getting at here. There is an innocent element to children. And this is the intrinsic value to children, this is what we celebrate. The child with no guile, no alternative motive, who sees everything with a new and uncynical light. Good is good and evil is evil.

It this second element that Jesus is obviously referring too.  We must be like a paidion (Greek for young child) in approaching God. This is the attitude that Jesus commands us to have. We are to have the joy, beauty, and wonder of children as we approach our loving heavenly Father. There is also a secondary element coming out of this that may be worth calling attention to. And that is it what a child sees. The child sees and pays attention to the smallest of things. They can take pleasure in the most innocuous of items, a cardboard box becomes a castle, a small puddle becomes an ocean, a dandelion a thing of beauty to behold. They have joy in these small things. They grasp on to moment. They are not worrying about the big picture. They are lacking suspicion, their thoughts are not cluttered, they have trust, and they are into the now without the distraction of the past or the future just as we should be in prayer, bible study, and loving our neighbor. They can be this way because they are trusting their parents to take care of the rest just like we can trust our Father God.  

We do take all scripture in context. Jesus is not saying for us to abandon stewardship, parenthood, good government and other important things of mature adulthood to go and play unicorns in the field.  The scriptures are overwhelming in the call for responsibility. But we can take with us our maturity, and integrate it with the required wonder, vision, and trust of the small child and count on Jesus and the cross to “cover our backs.” We can put off the worry of the moment to take on the wonder of the day. In so doing, we take one more step to be more like Jesus Christ. Strangely, child-likeness with God is an unwavering command and not an optional lifestyle.

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A God Focused Desire

I was sitting on an airplane and someone had a book that was entitled, essentially that the secret of happiness, had to do with not giving a “blank” (fill in your favorite offensive word here) about what others think.  At that moment, the thought of not having to worry about anyone else but just myself seemed appealing. It would be great just to free myself up from all the multi-layers of obligations that I have.  When someone bothered me with work, family, or ministry issues, and I didn’t feel like dealing with it, I could simply say I am tired of this. I have decided I am just going to be happy and “blank” everyone else.

This is initially attractive because we all know how disappointing other people, and other people’s opinions of us can be. But slowly as I walked through the airport terminal the truth sank in. Yes, being a slave to others opinions can be exhausting. But pleasing ourselves only can also a very fickle and disappointing project.  The Bible tells us that “the human heart is the most deceitful of all things.” (NLT) As many of us have discovered, we often think we know what we need to be happy then find out later that we didn’t have a clue. In the first chapter of Romans, the Apostle Paul tells us that as a punishment God gave men over to their own desires, and he lets us get what we want until we find out that our own self-focused desires destroy us. The substance lover is destroyed by the drugs, alcohol, or food, the lottery winner devastated by his riches, or the social-approval-driven come face to face with their phoniness. Our hearts deceive us.

When the selfishness of the moment passed, I thought that we as Christians, as followers of Jesus, have agreed to take on a better task than just pleasing ourselves. We need only to please God. When we chafe at this as we often do, it is because we lack wisdom. But it is easier to please God than ourselves because we all know that we have a tendency to misjudge ourselves. But God does not misjudge us. He knows what is in man and knows what we need in order to grow and be sanctified. He knows what gives a peace beyond understanding. That is a peace that can go beyond the happening based happiness of the moment to a joy that has eternal capabilities.   

God’s commands, what God wants us to do, are not a secret. Often however, we think we need to guess at what they are. His commands, the outline for our lives, are given to us in the Bible. (As a warning to many, they are not found from the self-appointed “apostle” down the street.) We can wake up the next morning and set off to do them. But God also does a very strange thing. When we believe on Jesus, he also transforms our hearts from one of “stone” to one of “flesh,” and he begins to expose the good things in our hearts. He gives us desires and then tells us to pursue them. Something my pastor said a few weeks back caught me off guard when he said that yes, we really can do what we want and pursue our desires. They just need to be in the parameters of our loving God’s design. God is lover of pleasure, joy, and peace.  As we live for God, he takes away our deceitful desires and fills our hearts with our true desires that he has built into us.

In Psalms 37 God says,

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness.
Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.

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It’s ok…you can resign as commander of the universe.

Have you ever secretly felt you had the job of ruler of the universe? Perhaps, like most, you didn’t realize you had taken on this tough job.  And perhaps, those around you didn’t realize you were the ruler.  We had a pastor who had everyone raise their right hand and resign as ruler of the universe. We all did it and laughed. But you know what they say about comedy, its funny because it can be strikingly true.  If we were to authentically analyze our worries, a lot of us think that we are responsible for the universe. For those of us carrying this burden, I have good news: Today is your day of freedom!  Both you and I can quit worrying about everything, everywhere, all the time.

A lot of us spend a lot of time worrying about things that we have no control over and have no way of effecting. Even the best of self-help realizes this, anyone of the millions of people who have read Mormon Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, knows that we need to spend our time where our circles of influence (what we can do something about) and our circle of concern (what bothers us) intersect.

But hold on a second! Doesn’t the Bible spend a lot of time telling us to get involved? The Bible doesn’t call for a self centered disconnected life. In Matthew it says, go into all the world and make disciples. After all, we get to be part of the work God is doing in the final defeat of his enemy, in the salvation of others, and in the sanctification of those who believe on him.   Our lives have effects in far greater spheres than we imagine, and we need to be concerned about what is going on in far off places, after all we need to be reaching them for Christ. We need to be interceding in prayer. And we need to be vigilant about false teaching, and we need to support the innocent, and so on and so on. 

Are we just supposed to sit by the pool and chill out and just let anyone do anything they want? No. (At least not most of the time). But God told us we don’t have to be the ultimate judge, jury, and executioner of everything. He told us we are not responsible for everything. He is. We don’t need to stay up night worrying if evil is going to win. We know ultimately it loses. And we are given a clear standard to judge. We are to judge as we would want to be judged against the Bible and to judge the fruit of others as it corresponds with the fruits of the Spirit (see Galations 5: 22-23).

Jesus told us we don’t need to worry about being ultimate judge and executioner because we aren’t capable or gifted to do it. But by our pride we are determined that we are. We are under literal orders to absolutely not to stay up late into the night worrying that we have unsuccessfully directed the universe and separated good from bad. Look at what Jesus says in Matthew 13:24-27

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’  But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’” (nkjv)

In 20 A.D., a plant called darnel, which looks a lot like the wheat, would get caught up in the wheat. In fact, you could not tell it apart until the harvest and much damage to the wheat could be done trying. When the church has tried (i.e. the inquisition) it has gotten it very, very wrong. Let’s go forth and sow wheat, but leave the final harvest and ruling the universe to God.

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Got the Easter Spirit?

I have been driving around town looking for the Easter banners put up by the local civic authorities with the word Believe on them like they did at Christmas. But apparently they had forgotten to put them up.

I was at the mall looking for the mass of shoppers preparing for Easter Day, and thought I would wander through the store looking at and enjoying the Easter decorations. It must have been an economic malaise that has recently hit the country, because except for the card store it seems everyone forgot to check their calendar. Easter is just a few weeks away.

On the drive back to my house, I turned on the radio to listen to some Easter music on the easy listening pop channel that each year plays holiday music. There wasn’t any. I clicked on the Christian radio station to catch a couple of hip updated versions of “He is Risen.” But alas nothing.

I know that Easter has not been completely forgotten. There was a nice collection of dresses for little girls at the department store. I got an advertisement from a local church on special services. And I did read that the average family spends $200.00 on Easter each year for candy, decoration, and dinner. But lets just be honest here, society just doesn’t change like it does at Christmas. There is no Easter Spirit among the community at large.

Like it or not, people have a tendency to be different at Christmas. More prone to be generous, secular musicians sing songs about Christ, and profound atheists have symbols of a Turkish Bishop named St. Nicholas all over their children’s rooms. But at Easter…it…well…just doesn’t happen.

Is it that  bunny that lays eggs and decorates with pastels? Or is it that secular society says enough is enough. We will go along with you on Christmas and give you the virgin birth. But raised from the dead, that we call a halt on. I just don’t know. It is just that, be honest, for most of America Easter doesn’t have it.

However, one of the great problems with Christmas is that it doesn’t stick around. All those good feelings slide away as the credit card bills come at the end of January. Those who catch the Easter vision. It is more than just catching a wave of societal goodness. The realization that you have been chosen by God for eternal life. That Christ died and rose again for you is permanently life changing, and the spirit doesn’t quit two weeks into January.

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It’s my journal and I will cry if I want to. (Rules for Complaining)

Fifty four years ago teenager Lesley Gore made famous the song, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.”  For a lot of people journaling is just that. It’s our journal and we’re going to cry if we want to because for the most part no one will ever read it. Why not let it all hang out?

But is that the best use of your journals? A better question to ask would be is it a Biblical use of journaling? How should our journals compare against say…King David and the psalmists? One source claims 40% of the Psalms are laments, 30% praises, and 17% thanksgiving, and 13% other topics. The Psalms are full of complaints against the status quo. A calling out on justice to be done. It would seem lamenting or complaining would be a legitimate us of journal time. But is that all our journals are about: Me, myself, and I? Our are complaints just affronts to ourselves or injustice against God? Do our journals also show ourselves as people who are patient in tribulation, rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep? Do we hate iniquity or are we just obsessed that we have been affronted.

Here our five self-imposed complaint rules.

  • Complaining is OK. It’s even Biblical. But let’s realize that it is God who is in control.
  • Does our complaint show a desire for repentance and improvement?
  • Is it something God would be dismayed with also?
  • Is what we are writing something that we are going to be able stomach reading 5 years from now?
  • Are we asking and giving solutions in line with his Word to God. God commands, encourages, cajoles us to ask. But he want us to ask for things in line with his will shown in the Bible.

The Biblical life is not one of grinning and bearing it. It is not telling everyone everywhere all the time that everything is just fine. There is a time and a place for lament, apparently according to the Bible a lot of time and place for lament. In addition, the damage the enemy does to ourselves, our world, and most horribly to those who reject God is worthy of great dismay. But God does not leave us there to dwell in the valleys of life forever and without hope even in this world. (See Psalms 27) It also a world of new dawns and rejoicing. A world of rising out of the sadness to the glory of God. Lament but don’t stay there forever. Kind David didn’t and neither should we.

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