Come Home

It’s Football season again here in the U.S. (American Football, that is). High Schools and colleges across the country are having “homecoming” festivities, as their teams return “home” after playing games on the road. Elaborate floats, dress-up days, pep rallies, parades, ceremonies, homecoming princes and princesses, dances, tailgate parties..homecoming is a big deal. There is something about the idea of returning home that captures our emotions and brings out joy and excitement.

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One of the most famous of Jesus’ parables involved a son who comes home after living a life of dissipation, folly, and dishonor. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+15%3A11-32&version=NIV. As he is making his way home, but is still “a long way off,” his father sees, him, has compassion on him, and runs to meet him and welcome him. He then commands that clothes should be brought, and a feast prepared to welcome his son back home.

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What a beautiful picture of God’s love for us–it overcomes shame and disgrace, dishonor, and ruin. God watches for us to change directions and seek His face. But He doesn’t demand that we crawl home in defeat and beg Him to take us back. He runs to meet us with joy and excitement even greater than all the parades and floats and dances of any homecoming celebration. All of Heaven rejoices over every one who comes to repentance!

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But there are two sons in this story. The “other” son does not want to join in the celebration– he is resentful and bitter over his brother’s behavior and his father’s willingness to celebrate. We do not get to know all the reasons why he might be resentful, but his father gently reminds him that he is loved and secure, and still has his inheritance. The return of the brother doesn’t change any of that.

In prayer, we should remember this parable and some of the lessons it can teach. Let’s ask ourselves:

  • Am I making some of the same mistakes as the “prodigal son?” Am I running away from “home” and God in selfish pursuits? Am I asking God for an “advance” on my inheritance–wanting blessings and rewards before God’s time or outside of God’s will? Am I wasting time or resources or talents that God has given me? Am I stubbornly refusing to return home, even when it’s obvious that “my” way isn’t working? Do I think I need to work my way back to God by bargaining my good works?
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  • Am I making some of the mistakes of the “other” brother? Do I resent God’s mercy toward people I think of as “unworthy?” Do I refuse to celebrate and welcome my brothers or sisters who have come “home?” Do I blame God for “withholding” blessings, even though I never sought them? Do I doubt God’s love for me because my life story isn’t dramatic or filled with miraculous demonstrations of grace (apart from the ultimate miracle of the Crucifixion and Resurrection!!!)
  • Am I watching and running with the Father to welcome others “home?” Am I joining in the Homecoming festivities for those who are being rescued from ruin and death? Am I filled with joy and excitement about the Gospel?
  • Am I anticipating the ultimate “Homecoming” –the indescribable joy of spending eternity with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, along with all the saints in Glory?

Lord, help me to see the faces of my neighbors and friends, and enemies, and even strangers, as you do–help me to delight in their redemption, ready to celebrate and share in the joy; help me to search for them, run to them, and lead them to You! And help me to never take for granted the amazing love you have for me–even me!

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  1. Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling,
    Calling for you and for me;
    See, on the portals He’s waiting and watching,
    Watching for you and for me.
    • Refrain:
      Come home, come home,
      You who are weary, come home;
      Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
      Calling, O sinner, come home!
  2. Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
    Pleading for you and for me?
    Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,
    Mercies for you and for me?
  3. Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing,
    Passing from you and from me;
    Shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming,
    Coming for you and for me.
  4. Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised,
    Promised for you and for me!
    Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon,
    Pardon for you and for me.

Promises, Promises…

God keeps His promises.  Not just small promises, not just some of them, or some of the time.  God Keeps His Promises!  Every single one.  Every single time.

In this world of failed promises, assumed promises, “campaign” promises, and broken promises, it is almost impossible to believe.  Surely there must be some promise that God has not fulfilled– some promise that he has taken back or “modified” somehow…

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Isn’t there?  There are people who claim to have examples– proof that God cannot be trusted.  They list tragedies that God allowed to happen, or dreams that did not come to fruition.  They list times they could not feel God’s presence, or understand His ways; times He seemed silent or harsh.  Didn’t God promise His unfailing presence?  Didn’t He promise peace and love and joy?

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Good questions–just what DID God promise?  To whom did He promise it?  When?  Were there some promises that were conditional, and, if so, what are the conditions?

  • God’s presence–Jesus said, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 ESV)  There are numerous other passages where God says to Israel, or to one of Israel’s leaders, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  The writer of Hebrews echoes this in chapter 13 of his letter as he seeks to encourage early Christians.  This is a solid promise, and one that we can trust.  But we won’t always “feel” God’s presence.  That’s one of the reasons for the promise– to give us an anchor for our faith when our feelings are confused.  God will be with us even (and often especially) when we feel alone, frightened, overwhelmed by our circumstances.  What makes the thought of Hell so frightening is that it falls outside of this promise– at the “end of the age”, there will be a time and place where God’s presence cannot be felt– God will not be there, nor will the essence of God be available.  No love, no peace, no light, no life, no joy, no hope.  Even those who utterly reject God in this life still have access to hopes and dreams, love and goodness, because God is still present in His creation.
  • God’s promises to Israel–God made hundreds of specific promises to the nation of Israel.  Some were made for specific circumstances and times.  Some were made to be eternal and never broken, canceled, revoked, or transferred.  Many promises (including those given through prophecies) were given to specific nations, including Israel/Judah/Judea as it existed at that time.  Others were given to a restored Israel– one that has not yet been completely restored.  Other promises were made to those who are the spiritual heirs of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob– regardless of their genetic heritage.  It is very easy to co-opt a promise that isn’t really ours to claim in the context of when or how it was given.

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  • “Circumstantial” or “Personal” promises– God fulfilled certain promises to individuals throughout the Bible.  These are recorded to remind us of God’s faithfulness and His power to bring about miracles.  They are not meant to act as personal promises to us because We want the blessings that God gave to someone else in other circumstances.

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  • “Difficult” promises– Not all God’s promises are ones we want to remember!  God has promised that we will suffer.  He promises that people will hate us, abandon us,  or persecute us on account of our faith.   Death and judgement are stark realities– God has promised that we will face both– and that we can face both without fear!  Jesus himself foretold of natural disasters, war, poverty, disease, injustice, hunger and other difficult circumstances that will continue until His return.

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  • “Victorious” promises– God has promised future restoration and renewal– eternal life, a new Heaven, and a new earth.  But He hasn’t promised easy victory.  He promises Justification, not “just a vacation” by Faith.  When we face struggles, it is not God breaking His promises.  And it is not always because we aren’t praying enough or don’t have enough faith.  Sometimes, God sends us into the thick of the battle for reasons we don’t understand.  He doesn’t give us the victory we think we deserve or the victory we dream of.  But we can trust that the victory already belongs to Him.

Prayer is more than just a wish or a vague hope– it is trusting my life, my future, my fears, and my heart to the one who can be counted on to listen and to respond.  Always!

The Road to Hell…

I started down the boulevard,
Freshly paved, smooth and gleaming,
Its lanes clearly marked and a gentle rise
Toward a glorious horizon.

New construction sites caught my eye;
Here was progress– here was the future!
I drove on, excited in my new course,
Dreaming of destiny and fulfillment.

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Gradually, the scenery changed.
Construction gave way to abandoned projects:
Half-finished high-rises, silent storefronts,
Driveways leading nowhere, weedy parking lots.

Now the road, so smooth at the beginning,
Twisted and turned without purpose.
Gravel and broken pavement lined with
Abandoned cars and broken glass.

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Frightening thoughts intruded–
I had seen no open stores, no gas stations,
No houses, or other cars for miles.  I was alone.
There were no crossroads; no places to turn around.

The road that had begun with so much promise
Was now a rutted path going nowhere.

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I woke up in a cold sweat– it had been a dream.
More– it had been a warning.

I had “good intentions” for my journey.
But the easy road, the appearance of future success
Had lured me away from the path marked with suffering
And paved with ancient truths.

I had packed no maps, ignored the GPS, and trusted to “instinct”
To lead me, not to a fixed destination, but to “discovery.”

I drifted back to sleep, and dreamed that I was back at the beginning.
Roads branched out all around me.
The gleaming new boulevard no longer held any appeal.
But now I studied the other roads.

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There were so many; roads leading to “enlightenment”;
Roads offering “fame” and “immortality”;
Narrow paths promising “mysticism”;
Superhighways advertising “happiness.”

Off to the right, there was a tiny filling station–
The old fashioned kind, with a service man.
He offered to fill my tank, but then he said,
“They all end up in the same place, you know.”

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I looked up into his eyes–eyes that held in them
The wisdom of the ages and boundless love.
“Enter in at the narrow gate…”
“I am the way, the truth, and the life…”
“This is the way, walk ye in it…”

He turned and walked through the back door
And I followed him down a sunlit path,
Up a small rise, and into glory.

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“Wait For It…”

Movies and Television shows are breeding grounds for popular phrases that enter the culture and resonate with millions of people.  Just utter the phrase, and nearly everyone in the group “gets” the reference.  A recent American sitcom has made the phrase “Wait for it..” an iconic reference to comedic timing.  It’s often the anticipation of a punchline, a pratfall, an ironic twist, that makes it memorable or noteworthy, and a clever person will use the timing to maximize the humor in a joke or prank.

We have an innate desire to see “what happens” next in life– “Where will I be in five years?”  “Will I get the job?”  “When will the baby come?” “Will she say ‘Yes’?” “Will the tests come back negative?”  The last thing we want at such times is a clever, smug comedian sitting back and using our anticipation for his own entertainment.

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Some people imagine God sitting in Heaven, smug and distant, pointing at us and laughing, “Wait for it..”  Every time they face disappointment, frustration, oppression, they raise their fists to Heaven and blame their creator for everything they haven’t gotten, every missed opportunity, every setback, every heartache.  “If God really loved me, he would not let me be hurt/sad/poor…”

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But, when God says “Wait for it…”, he’s not talking about a punchline or an ironic twist of fate.  He knows that bad things will happen, but he’s not asking us to wait for those things.  And he certainly isn’t sitting back laughing at our pain and disappointment.  He’s asking us to wait for something better.  Something we cannot even begin to imagine.  A restoration of all things– the dead brought back to life, the sick completely healed, the love we long for lavishly poured out in its fullness.

Anticipation is not part of a joke; hope is not corny or naive– it is built into the very soul of each person.  We long for what we have never experienced, but what we know is “out there”.  In this world, we will be left anticipating, because NOTHING can measure up to what God has in store.  Even the best of relationships, the best of comforts, the best of experiences, will leave us wanting something more.  And this is a gift, even though it can leave us disappointed, restless, and even hurt.  In light of what’s coming, there is no loss or setback so great as to cancel out the hope and the promise that stirs within.

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It’s because of this that we can pray with confidence in the midst of our struggles, and with abandon in times of frustration and pain.  We live in the finished work of the cross, but the unfinished and ongoing work of renewal and restoration.

Wait for it..

This Little Light…

Yesterday, I wrote about reflections– about being a reflection of God’s character in a dark world.  Today just happens to be the 49th anniversary of the first moon landing, so I’d like to revisit yesterday’s theme, but with a slightly different analogy.

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Mirrors, lakes, glass, and more can be used to reflect both light and images.  The moon reflects light from the sun to light our way at night.  God created it to do just that, and I believe that God never wastes an opportunity to teach us lessons in nature.  So I want to look at just some of the ideas that occur to me about how the moon can teach us about reflecting God’s light in our darkened world.

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First, the moon generates no light on its own.  The moon is NOT the sun– it does not and cannot generate light or heat.  On its own, it is lifeless and cold.  But because of where it is, and what it is, it provides light, acts on the oceans to create tides, and helps us chart the weeks, months, and seasons.  The moon doesn’t act independently, but it has purpose and beauty in reflecting the sun and following its prescribed orbit around the earth.  If the moon were smaller, farther from the earth, nearer to the earth, or different in its nature, the effect on the earth and on all life would be devastating.

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Second, the moon can only reflect the sun’s light when it is in position to do so.  Moonlight is different every night because of its changing position.  We have names for all the many phases– full moon, half-moon, quarter moon, crescent moon, new moon, and so on.  Even more dramatic are the eclipses– when the world comes between the sun and moon, we get a lunar eclipse– the moon is shadowed because the sunlight cannot reach it– the world gets in the way.  And, if the moon comes between the sun and the earth, there is a solar eclipse– the world becomes dark as the moon gets in the way of the sun’s rays.  There is a good lesson here to us.  If we are to reflect God’s light and character to the world, we cannot afford to let the world block out our light source.  Worse, we cannot reflect light to the world when we step in front of our source and block out the Son!

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Third, the moon can be visited– it can be mapped, studied, comprehended.  We can look directly at the moon, stare at it, look at it through a telescope, and not go blind.  We can send people in rockets to walk on the moon, take samples of its dust and rocks, plant flags on its surface, and even leave trash on its surface.  There is still mystery and fascination to be found on the moon, but it doesn’t have the glory and awe of the sun.

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Another interesting observation– there is no moon, nor need for it, in Heaven.  There will be a new heaven and a new earth, but there is no mention of a new moon.  There will be no seas (no tides), and no night.  We will no longer be a reflection of God’s character to a darkened world– instead, we will be living in the actual light of His presence.  What an awesome thought!

Obviously, like most analogies, there is no perfect correlation here.  These are just some random thoughts and observations, and I’m no scientist or theologian.  But, today, as we (hopefully) enjoy some time in the sun, and tonight as we reflect on the moon, I pray that we would get a special glimpse of His glory, and that we may use any opportunities that come our way to reflect it.

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All Creation Sings His Praise

Tigers and turtles; flamingos and fleas; whales and warthogs; skinks and skunks; rocks and rosebuds; Eskimos and Ecuadorians–God’s world is filled with variety.  Chirping birds and thundering herds; roaring seas and buzzing bees.  Colors, sounds, smells, and sensations– we are surrounded by glimpses of glory, echoes of eternity, and hints of Heaven.

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Often, we take for granted the beauty of God’s creation– we don’t stop seeing it, we just stop marveling at it.  Instead of drinking it in, we drown it out.  We criticize, analyze, and theorize…why did God make rats?  how does He exist outside of time?  when will He change the seasons this year (will we have spring?  how long will winter last)?  what is the purpose of dust?  why are some animals (or rocks or plants) colorful, or noisy, or deadly, or smelly, or slow?   And we miss the forest for the trees– we get caught up in the amazing details and infinite variety in creation, and miss the majesty of the creator– His sense of the ridiculous in things like tumbleweeds and walking sticks, dust devils and platypuses, or His artistry in butterfly wings, dew on spiderwebs, and cascading waterfalls– in geodes and dimples and mewling kittens.  We miss the elegant design in a bees knees, or galaxies, or a banyan tree.

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God creates– it is an element of His character.  And we are made in His image– we long to create.  From drafting sentences to making a pie to shaping a piece of wood into something sturdy and useful– we long to produce, to concoct, to cause growth, to heal, to nurture, and to effect change.  We are also created with a deep appreciation of creation– the wisdom and the work it takes to set planets spinning, and ecosystems cooperating, and to unfold a new sunrise every morning.

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If you haven’t already, take a few minutes asking God to open your eyes and ears to the song and dance of creation today–from dandelions to darting dragonflies to the amazing variety of people dodging traffic or making conversation around you.  Join in!

When Sorrows Like Sea-Billows Roll..

My mother and I shared a wonderful morning shopping and enjoying the spring weather.  We both arrived home, only to be greeted with the news that one of our extended family members had died in an accident.  Just the day before, another member of our family had passed on at age 94.  Both of them left a legacy of faith, hope, joy, and kindness that leaves us grateful, but grieving their loss.

And it is a loss– even though both of them were Christians, even though we have the great hope of being reunited with them in Heaven, even though both of them led full lives–they were unique on this earth, and everything that made them special and irreplaceable to friends and family is now absent; a gaping, aching hole, lined with teasing flashes of memories, echoes of laughter, and unanswered questions.

Some days, the hits just keep coming– an unexpected expense, a misunderstanding at work, a fender-bender during the commute, a plumbing nightmare, a migraine, the phone call with bad news.  Each new pain rolls over us, throwing us off balance, and trying to drag us under.

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“Even so, it is well with my soul.”  The story of this favorite hymn has been told many times, but it bears repeating. ( It Is Will With My Soul. wikipedia.org )  The author of these words had lost everything– his only son had died; shortly afterward, he lost almost all his money and property in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  A friend, knowing of his troubles invited him to bring his family to England for an evangelistic campaign.  Mr. Spafford (the above-mentioned author of the hymn) had to stay behind and sent his wife and four daughters ahead.  Their ship, the Ville du Havre, was struck by another vessel and sank.  All four of the daughters were drowned, and only his wife survived to send him news of the tragedy.  As he made the heartbreaking voyage to rejoin his wife, he passed the place where his daughters had most likely gone down.  At that moment, Mr. Spafford felt a welling of peace and hope beyond human understanding, which led him to pen the words that have given comfort to so many in the years since:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Nothing can prepare us for the sorrows that sweep over us at unexpected moments.  Nothing can stop them, and though we know they will come, no one knows how high they will rise, or when they will crest and break around us.  No one except the one who set the boundaries of the sea, the one who has walked on its waters, and the one who can calm the storm.

God doesn’t remove the sorrows or tragedies from our life or prevent them from washing around and over us.  But for those who trust in him, there is a promise that we will not be consumed. We may be in a storm-tossed boat in the middle of a raging sea, but at our faintest cry, Jesus will walk on choppy waves to be by our side and bring comfort.  He will teach us to be in awe of him as he commands the winds and waves to obey him.  He will teach us to trust him in the good times and the bad.  He will teach us to say, “It is well with my soul!”

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Ask, Seek, Knock

God knows our innermost thoughts, wishes, and needs.  So why do we pray?  We’re not telling God something he doesn’t already know.  He asks us to seek him, though he is omnipresent.  He tells us to knock, and the door will be opened, yet he also says he stands and the door and knocks.  Is this another Bible mystery?  An oxymoronic enigma?

I don’t think so– I think it is a case of God laying out some ground rules of relationships– his with us, us with him, and even us with each other.  God is spirit, but he ask us to build dwelling places where he can meet with us– temples, tabernacles, churches.  He wants to abide, to live in relationship and companionship.  Ultimately, he offers to dwell in each of us.  But he has created each of us as a unique being. And just like a unique building, we have walls and windows and doors.  When we reach our eternal dwelling place, this will still be so.  We will be changed, purified, sanctified, and glorified, but our souls will not be subsumed or merged into a single temple or a single “soul.”   Heaven is not like Nirvana.  God is eternally God and we are eternally his creation.  Living in communion is not the same as merging or evolving into something not ourselves.  We remain uniquely individual, and as such, we need to learn to take initiative to open our doors and windows– to interact, to serve, and to honor each other.

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Have you ever been blindsided by someone who expected you to read their mind?  You know they are hurt and angry, but you find out later (sometimes much later!) that they wanted you to comment on their new hairstyle, or they expected you to ask them out for coffee.  Maybe you know the pain of being on the other end– wishing someone would notice your weight loss or ask about your day.  God wants us to learn to reach out, to ask, seek, and knock, instead of isolating ourselves behind locked doors.  We are to be active, not passive, about noticing others, sharing with and including others, and serving others.  But we are to do it in love and humility– with grace and mercy and love, not with bullhorns, fists, or combat boots.

God is the Almighty one– yet he stands at the door and knocks.  He could barge through our stubbornness and rebellion, and drag us kicking and screaming to the altar.  He could tear down the walls of isolation and storm crush our pretentious justifications and excuses.  But he stands, waiting for us to open the door, and seek his face.  The one who spoke the universe into being waits for us to begin the conversation!

 

Solitary Prayer?

So often when I pray, I do so in isolation, and I think of it as a solitary activity.  I am communicating with God– often silently–it is a private conversation.  Or is it?

At any given moment on any given day, millions of prayers are ascending to Heaven.  Consider the arithmetic of prayer– millions of prayers, millions of pray-ers, and God is part of each one–twice the number of participants.  But God is triune– so now there are four participants in every “personal” prayer, and four participants for every one in a group prayer!  It’s mind-blowing to think of all the spiritual investment that is happening through prayer at this very instant around the world.  And in heaven?  Our prayers ascend; God likens our prayers to incense– a pleasing aroma.  If I light a scented candle, or burn incense, the aroma is not personal– it permeates the air, penetrates my clothing, clings to my hair, lingers and touches on all who are nearby.  This doesn’t diminish the intimacy of prayer, but transcends it, and transforms it.  God is relational– from the intimacy of private prayer to the glory of his kingdom– he wants us to belong, to share, and to love.  Love doesn’t happen in a vacuum.  It is not a solitary activity, nor one in which anyone is “just a number.”

I think we are often deceived and intimidated by numbers and statistics.  We sometimes feel very small and powerless and alone.  We measure our prayers by their duration or the number of our words, or how small our perceived influence.  We pray alone or in a tiny group, or seem to get swallowed in a crowd, and we think our prayers travel a linear path to God’s ears and they are ended.  May our eyes be opened to the reality that we are never alone, never helpless, and never unimportant to God–that our prayers, like incense, linger, radiate, and echo as they ascend.

God uses the small and humble things in life to confound those who think they are wise and powerful and important.  He is the God who changes our suffering into sufficiency, and our abiding into abundance.  He multiplies our faith, and increases our joy; he divides our sorrows and cancels out our sin.  He hears our every sigh.  He dries our every tear.  He knows our every thought.  He inhabits the praises of his people– let that sink in as we pray today.

 

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