He Is Always Good

Kia ora everyone. Rob here.

As I thought about today’s blog, the question came to me:

What would be really good to know right now?

The answer, I believe is that God is and always will be good. A helpful daily practice for God’s people right now would be to affirm the reality of God’s goodness. I suggest this because believing that God is good is actually quite difficult when you’re surrounded by things going from bad to worse. It’s also helpful in times of uncertainty. God’s permanent goodness is a rock where we can place our feet. It leads to hope and hope is a fuel that energises us when giving up seems like a viable option.

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The failure to believe in God’s goodness, like most human failings, is rooted in the story of the garden. The serpent comes to Eve and says this:

“Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’ For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

What he’s really saying is,

God is holding out on you. He’s not good or trustworthy. You can’t be free when he’s in charge.”

The problem is that going our own way and trusting in our own best thinking has never really worked for us, has it? I really like Isaiah 26:3

You will keep in perfect peace
    those whose minds are steadfast,
    because they trust in you.

The path to peace is to trust God, especially when times are hard. When you feel like the whole world is against you, God says, “Trust in my goodness.” The question is, how do we do it?

There’s the short daily practice of agreeing with God’s goodness:

God: Father, Son, Holy Spirit I agree with your goodness today. I affirm your goodness in all circumstances and in everything that happens to me and around me today. Amen.

It’s also good to make a habit of stopping and thanking God for anything good that happens in your day. You can thank God for the sun shining, for a bargain at the supermarket, for a kind word from someone, for having enough today, for having breath.

Something that helps me is to remind myself that it’s all going somewhere. Things may feel hopeless but in reality it’s all going somewhere. That phrase helps me to know that God is in control, he has a plan and it’s good.

Another really good thing to do is to break any agreements with the idea that God isn’t good. Any variation of, “God is holding out on me,” needs to be renounced and broken. Otherwise you start viewing your whole life through that lens and you fail to see the goodness of God in your midst.

There will be other practices and you know what helps you. Time in creation, worship music, cuddling your kids or your pet, getting some exercise and more. Do whatever it takes to remind yourself of the goodness of God. Reading your favourite scriptures really helps too. Just do it and keep doing it. The world needs you to be in touch with God’s goodness because they need to see it, hear it and feel it.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Naming the Grief

Hello everyone. Rob here.

There is a sense right now that the world is grieving. We are seeing the stages of grief being played out in the public sphere – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – as we come to grips with a world being shaped everyday by a global pandemic and all its associated consequences.

Here in New Zealand we have gotten off very lightly and yet the impact of the pandemic is still real. The grief is real. I was reminded in a podcast today that the initial human reaction to change is to experience it as loss. There is a grief to every change. How much more so when there is real loss to contend with? The losses may be small like missing out on sports games or your annual overseas holiday. Or they may be much more soul-affecting like not being able to farewell a lost one properly or losing your job or business. Whether they are big or small, the losses all add up. We tend to minimise these losses knowing that people are in much worse situations or we dramatise the losses as if we’re the only ones to have suffered such a fate. I suggest a much better action is to name the losses, big and small, take them to Jesus and invite the Holy Spirit to bring comfort and counsel to us. We also need to collectivise the losses; that is to acknowledge that we are feeling loss as a community as our normal communal acts are, out of necessity, removed.

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Paul writes in Romans 12:14-16,

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

This is a call to empathy for the people of God. It’s a reminder that we wear masks to protect the vulnerable and we keep our distance for the same reason. It also reminds us that people who are participating in lockdown protests and voice their displeasure online are grieving too. It’s coming out as anger and denial but it’s still grief. It’s also a warning against cursing others, pride and conceit. If that’s your attitude you are standing against God’s purposes for community. We see that when leaders adopt those attitudes they create and enable a divided society and no longer work for the common good. Paul puts out a different call for God’s people. He calls us to humility, empathy, harmony and love. These are the attitudes that enable people to flourish and communities to thrive.

So, what will you do with your grief? Can you put a name to it? What is it that you are grieving? Human touch? Church meetings? Inability to travel? Financial security? Feeling in control? The more specific you can be the better. Ask the Spirit to help you name your grief. Then take it to God. Father, Son and Spirit welcome you into their intimate life of loving unity. It’s a safe place, the best place for a grieving soul. You will find much healing there, maybe some correction, maybe some interpretation, but always love.

What stage of grief are you in? There is no right or wrong answer here. It’s only a question of what you’re doing with it. Lockdown protests, online trolling and unfounded rumour spreading is no place for your grief and it only adds to the grief of others. Being stoic and silent with your grief is no good either. Find someone you can be safe with and let it out. Not just for your sake but for us all. We’re in it together and if we all grieve well, with empathy and love, then we can get through it and even thrive a little.

Grace and peace everyone.

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Good Question

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I’m thinking about a question. Here it is:

What is the change I want to see in the world?

Before that question I was thinking about another question.

What do I want to do with the rest of my life?

I prefer the first question. Here’s why.

The second question is self-absorbed. It’s about me. What do I want to do with my life? It’s inward looking and it looks to me to generate an answer to it. The second question is outward-looking and it implies that there is some greater work that I can participate in. The second question has an implied question of, what will give me pleasure? The first question has at its core, what will give me purpose?

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As a man of faith I have a core desire that lies behind both questions. That is, I want to be about God’s work in the world. The first question helps me get in touch with that desire. The second question, less so. The desire is related to belief. In particular a belief that Ephesians 2:10 is true.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

By asking, what is the change I want to see in the world, I am acknowledging several things. One is that the world needs to change. That seems obvious but we can become very much at home in this world. Our true home is the kingdom of God. And so Jesus prays…

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.

The change needed in the world is for God’s kingdom to come into it and take it over. There will come a day when this happens in totality and life in all its fullness will be ours. For now it happens in part and it especially happens when God’s kingdom representatives (that’s you and I and many, many others) bring God’s kingdom to bear in our sphere of influence.

One friend of mine does this in the world of media and social media. Another does it in the classroom. Another does it in the world of science. Others do it by leading churches and ministry organisations. My wife does it through prayer and kindness in our neighbourhood. The list goes on. They see a change they want to see in the world and they go about God’s work in God’s strength to see his kingdom come and his will be done on earth in their sphere of influence.

As for me I’m feeling the need to name the change I want to see to help me focus my activities and be more in touch with what truly energises me. Because God gives us different eyes to see the different changes that the world needs. If we all answered the question of the change we want to see in the same way there wouldn’t be enough change.

So, what is the change I want to see in the world? The answer has always been there. I just need to look at the evidence of my life. As I look at what has energised me, stirred my passions and unlocked my gifts, the answer is freedom. I want people to be free. Free from lies, oppression, religiosity, small-mindedness – anything that keeps people from walking in freedom with God as sons and daughters. Free for worship, intimate friendship, the ability to love and be loved, purposeful activity, joy and so much more.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

Ask yourself the question,

What is the change I want to see in the world?

Then look at your life and see what it is you’ve already been working towards. God prepared your work in advance so you’ve probably already been doing it!

Grace and peace everyone.

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Good Trouble

Hi everyone. Rob here.

In Christianity we often talk about becoming Christlike. We think that becoming more like Jesus is to become nicer or calmer, more serene. The reality is that becoming more like Jesus is to become a righteous, yet subversive, troublemaker. Jesus managed to upset everybody at some stage. He certainly upset the powers and principalities. he died on a Roman cross after all. He upset religious leaders. He upset many who followed him, including his friends. One of them was so upset with him he betrayed him to the authorities. I don’t know about you but I hate getting into trouble. I hate upsetting people and I hate people being against me. People pleasing has held me back in following Jesus. I need to become more like him who only ever obeyed the Father and was never bound by the opinion of others.

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Jesus was only a trouble maker because the powers of the world stood squarely against the kingdom of God that he was announcing. His announcing of the kingdom happened because God loved us so much he sent his Son to bring us the good news of God’s rule. If trouble making isn’t done in the name and power of God’s love then it’s just another self-serving way of being in the world. Trouble making is good if it means challenging the old creation to make way for the new. It’s good if it challenges earthly powers to take note of heavenly mercy.

John Lewis was a hero of the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s who went on to become an effective and well-respected congressman. He was also a friend of Jesus. A couple of years ago he tweeted this:

Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.

What kind of good trouble is the Spirit inviting you and I to get into? I know that I’ve been getting increasing upset by a form of Christianity that keeps God in a box, keeps things in nice tidy categories and by doing so it seems to turn the Good News into bad news. What do I do with the agitation I’ve been feeling? I know that I need to press into it prayerfully, seek wisdom, but also seek courage. Some of you may be feeling the need to stand up for racial justice. Good! The earth itself needs advocates right now. The gap between rich and poor is ridiculous. Maybe it’s to be like Barnabas who stood with Paul (then Saul) and helped him get accepted by the disciples even though he was trying to kill them not that long before. Maybe you need to stand alongside someone and let the consequences fall. I don’t know but I do know that God knows the good trouble we need to get into.

It’s a time for the friends and followers of Jesus to become more like him. We become obedient to God’s words and free from the influencing power of words that don’t belong to him. We advocate for God’s kingdom and let the world (or the church, your family, your organisation) feel the weight of who we are in Christ.

Grace and peace everyone.

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He Is Our Help

Hi everyone. Rob here.

This morning I found myself thinking about Psalm 121. It starts like this:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains –
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

I love the picture of the Psalmist pausing, taking a deliberate moment, and reminding himself that his help comes from the Lord and no one else. It is a good reminder to us to do the same. There are a lot of voices trying to tell us that they are our help. This is especially so in election season, as it is here in New Zealand and in the United States. And it’s true that an effective government is a very helpful thing. Many things, many people and many institutions are helpful, but God alone is my ultimate help.

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The Psalm tells us why. He is the “Maker of heaven and earth.” He is personally invested in his creation. John 3:16 tells us how far this personal inestment goes:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

We know that God’s help comes because God’s help came. Through Jesus God came for us. He came to invite us home; to take our place in God’s kingdom as restored human beings, forgiven, free and alive.

Like you, I need help. Often. I need help to be courageous and not give in to fear. I need help to be kind and loving and not selfish and self-protective. I need help to live by faith and not by sight when the heartbreak of the world starts to create cynicism and despair in me. I need help to be hopeful, joyful and trusting. I need help when I’m tired, sad and angry. I need help always. And I can’t find the help I need anywhere except in God.

So I look to Jesus:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me (John 15:4).

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).’

Jesus is our help. In these uncertain times there lies an invitation. Cling to Jesus. Jesus knows the way from death to life. He is the good shepherd and the king of the kingdom. He is our hope and our life. He knows the way.

I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6).

Yes he is. Emulate the Psalmist. Take a deliberate moment and ask yourself – “where does my help come from.” Where are you looking for your help? To whom are you looking for your help? If your answer isn’t Jesus then it’s time to change course and make that correction. You’ll be glad you did.

Grace and peace.

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Love and Joy

Hi everyone. Rob here.

John Eldredge was once given this bit of advice:

The enemy is out to steal your joy.

In a year like this one – pandemic, lockdowns, economic upheaval, race protests, climate protests, school shutdowns and the normal hard stuff of life – how is your joy?

woman doing hand heart sign

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The thing about joy is that we don’t have to conjure it up. It isn’t generated by us. It is given to us by Jesus. Reflect on this from John 15:9-12:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

Keeping commands is deeply connected to maintaining intimacy. Jesus kept the Father’s commands because he kept on receiving and believing the Father’s love for him. He then passed that love on to his disciples and to you and to me. We are invited to follow the same pattern. We keep presenting ourselves to God so we can receive God’s love in order to pass it on. By doing so we keep the Father’s commands, especially the commands of loving God and loving one another. When we live this kind of life we receive joy, the same joy that Jesus has. Jesus gives us his joy. It’s a joy that is the fruit of a life of love.

When we feel that our joy is being stolen it is often because we are losing our capacity to love. This happens to all of us. The world drains us. the enemy assaults us. Every day we hear that we need to be more and do more. This is why it’s so important to pursue a life of loving intimacy with God. We come to Jesus because he’s our brother and friend and the lover of the church. We come to the Father because we are his beloved children. The Spirit brings this love to our hearts and nurtures us with maternal care. We remember Jesus’ invitation:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

May you know joy, the joy that Jesus knows. It is his joy and he wants to give it to us. May we be anchored in his love and live a life of love so that his joy may be in us. May nothing and no one steal our joy or our capacity to love today.

Grace and peace everyone.

 

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I Agree With Love

Greetings everyone. Rob here.

God is love.

I wonder how well you’re believing that this year? Do you believe that whatever God is up to in our world right now is being done out of perfect love? Do you believe that whatever God is up to in your own life and in the life of your family is being done out of perfect love?

Because it is.

God can’t do it any other way. Love is the only way he knows. He can’t help but act out of perfect love.

But it sure can be hard to believe sometimes.

man kneeling while praying

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Did Jonah know that God chased him down and put him in the belly of a fish because he was acting out of perfect love?

Did Jeremiah know that God was acting with perfect love when he had him keep prophesying in the face of intense persecution?

Did Jesus know the Father’s perfect love on the cross?

Do you know that God loves you perfectly right now despite your circumstances and despite your struggles to believe that it’s true?

I suggest that you stop reading right now and take a moment to agree with God’s perfect love for you.

Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, I agree right now that you love me perfectly. You are love and I agree with your love. Amen.

Right now, in a world that is increasingly full of hate and division , agreeing with God’s love is the best and most radical act of faith you can do. It sets your heart right, renews your mind and gives the enemy nothing to work with. It helps you love others with God’s perfect love too and the world desperately needs us to do that.

This week may you agree that God is love and that his love for you is perfect and unceasing. May you keep on agreeing with that most beautiful truth.

Grace and peace.

 

 

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Believing What God Believes

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I was irritable last night. I was grumping at my teenage son for having expensive ideas after a week where we’d had to pay some big bills. Behind my irritability was fear and shame. Brand New Heart Ministries doesn’t pay the bills and my search for part-time work has been fruitless so far. Some of the shame is the masculine ego that says, ‘you have to be the provider.’ Behind the fear of running out of money is the fear that I didn’t hear God correctly when he said (twice!) ‘be patient. I will provide.’ My irritability eased when my wife calmly said, ‘our finances are fine and your activities did contribute this week.’ I sense the enemy at work and I’ll pray into that more today, but for now let’s confess that just below our very real faith, fear and shame lurk.

This scenario is not unique to me. This is common territory for people venturing into the unknown of new ministries and new businesses. It’s also being played out around the world as people lose their jobs or see their businesses suffer hit after hit. It’s a fragile and scary time. This is a time that requires us to have a lot of kindness and compassion, not just for others, but for ourselves. But it’s also a time that really requires us to put our faith into action.

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One of the definitions I use for faith is, “believing what God believes.” Or to go deeper, “taking to heart what God has taken to heart.” Part of this act of faith is believing what God believes about us.

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

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:14-17)

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  (John 15:15)

Those verses are but a small fraction of the beautiful things that God believes about us. If we can come to a place where we take those beliefs to heart it brings constant assurance and security. We also come to see more clearly and regularly that these verses apply to every other person also. We are all invited to take our place as God’s children. Like the son in the story all we need to do is wake up and come home.

I just spent my lunchtime walking around a park and declaring these things to be true in my life. I chose to believe what God believes about me. Tomorrow I need to believe it again. Fear and shame may lurk but I get to decide who and what I open the door of my heart to. When I believe what God believes I become a much better guardian of my heart.

This week may you meditate on the above verses and take to heart what God believes about you. May that truth give you courage and strength to live and love in his name. Grace and peace.

P.S. If you are wanting to support this ministry here’s a great way to help and grow at the same time.

https://www.patreon.com/brandnewheart

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Know Your Bible!

Hi everyone. Rob here.

In New Zealand at the moment we’re living with an uneasy freedom. Our success in eliminating community transmission of Covid-19 means that we’re enjoying freedoms that many parts of the world can only dream of. But we’re wary. We know that it’s a fragile freedom. Our nerves have gone up with every quarantine escapee knowing that it only takes one person with the virus to set off a chain reaction. We’ve watched Australia go from near elimination to full-blown crisis in a matter of weeks and we know that could be us. We’re also aware that the economy is even more fragile than our health and our previous way of life may have to change drastically. It’s with this context that I recommend the following as a way of learning to deal with this new world: keep reading and getting to know your Bible.

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That sounds like an awful Christian cliche doesn’t it? And it can be if we’re talking about reading your Bible because it’s what good Christians do. I’m talking about reading our Bible because it’s full of stories about God’s creative faithfulness and imperfect human courage in times of change, uncertainty and duress. We need to take those stories to heart so that we can take heart at a time like this.

What we see in Scripture is that God doesn’t give us quick and easy solutions. In fact, God’s solutions barely make any sense to us at all. Abraham has to leave everyone and everything he has ever known in order to go to a new land. Enslaved Israelites have to trust a former Prince of Egypt who was driven into exile to stand up to Pharaoh and win their freedom. Gideon’s army has to shrink to almost nothing. Ruth has to seduce her kinsman-redeemer. On it goes. In the New Testament God entrusts his message to uneducated fishermen and hated tax collectors. He sends a man who used to gloat over Christian’s dying to be his ambassador to the Gentile world. In Jesus himself we see that victory is won by a cross, a humiliating means of execution.

The only thing that the stories have in common is that God’s people have to let go of their agenda and their way of doing things. And that is the hardest thing of all. It involves a bunch of concepts that we don’t like. Perseverance, suffering, patience, spiritual warfare, surrender and loving when we don’t feel like it. That was our journey for starting a family, finding our calling, saving our marriage and for trusting God no matter what. It involves faith; choosing to believe that God is at work when all the evidence suggests otherwise.

In the middle of a global pandemic this is the kind of faith that God’s people are being called to have. Tough and resilient; patient and loving; trusting and vigilant. As you read scripture you see that these are God’s qualities as well. He’s so committed to us becoming like him that he puts us on journeys that only he can understand. When we learn to die to ourselves we come to see through his eyes and understand that his way is always best.

Wherever you are and whatever your situation is right now may the grace and patient love of God sustain you, strengthen you and transform you.

 

 

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When We Don’t Have The Answers

Hi everyone. Rob here.

I have been reading the first few chapters of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was given the call to be a prophet, a spokesperson for God, as a very young man, probably mid to late teens. Josiah, a good king, was in charge but the hearts of the people had been hardened after many years of idol worship and the corrupt rule of King Manasseh. Jeremiah’s words to faithless Israel seem very relevant to our time as we face the consequences of human ego and pride. We are now a planet in peril and we have ourselves to blame. God alone is our hope. Listen to Jeremiah’s words in chapter 4:

O Israel,” says the Lord,
“if you wanted to return to me, you could.
You could throw away your detestable idols
and stray away no more.
Then when you swear by my name, saying,
‘As surely as the Lord lives,’
you could do so
with truth, justice, and righteousness.
Then you would be a blessing to the nations of the world,
and all people would come and praise my name.”

This is what the Lord says to the people of Judah and Jerusalem:

“Plow up the hard ground of your hearts!
Do not waste your good seed among thorns.
O people of Judah and Jerusalem,
surrender your pride and power.
Change your hearts before the Lord,
or my anger will burn like an unquenchable fire
because of all your sins.

person holding red candle in a dark room

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This passage speaks about the human tendency towards self sabotage in the name of our pride and power. We like to think we have the answers! But as Covid-19 continues to wreak havoc, climate change continues apace, economies wither and we wage our private battles with depression, anxiety, apathy, cynicism and a desperate search for meaning, we see very clearly that we don’t. And we weren’t meant to. At least, not without being surrendered to, and therefore connected to, God.

Our love of power and control gets in the way of God’s transformative vision for our lives. This is so at all levels of life; from governance to commerce to our own households and hearts. The irony is this. By believing in our own grandeur we end up living in a much smaller story than the one God has written for us. God wanted Israel to change the world by being a blessing to it. All they were interested in was being buddies with whatever empire would have them. Instead of influencing the world by their faith, they were being manipulated by empires because of their lack of faith. The moral is that when we try to live by our power alone we end up more powerless than ever before.

At the moment the world is trying to exercise power over a virus and largely failing. Nations are trying to exercise power over other nations and making themselves less safe in the process. We try and fix the environment but our greed keeps getting in the way. We try and make ourselves happy but our idols refuse to give us joy. Wisdom would tell us that our pride isn’t working. It’s time to humble ourselves before the God of grace and goodness who wants to give us lives of hope, joy and love.

So stop. Breathe. Remember. God made you. God loves you. Through Jesus, God has saved you. God invites you to surrender your power and your pride so that you may have life. A Spirit-led, Spirit-filled, Spirit-powered life. It’s the kind of life that matters, makes a difference, blesses the world and brings joy to your heart. Let’s lay ourselves down and seek it together.

Grace and peace.

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