Election and Free Will in Scripture

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Scripture can be difficult to understand.
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When taken as a whole, when read as one, consistent story, it is easy to get confused by various passages that seem to state different realities.
One such difficulty is how we are able to accept God’s salvation.
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Some passages in Scripture (Ephesians 1 and Romans 9, as only two examples) seem to say that God decrees (or elects) some to be saved and some to be damned.
Other passages in Scripture (Romans 8 and I Peter 1, for example) seem to say that we are given free will in the matter and can accept or reject God’s salvation (having first been given by God the grace to accept). The election comes from God’s foreknowledge, not His decree.
This is, admittedly, a very simplistic version of these complex issues, but it is enough to get us started in our pondering and discussing.
How do we reconcile these? As much as we would wish to sometimes, we cannot ignore the sides of Scripture that are uncomfortable or distressing.
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We in our American culture and modern time cringe at the idea of not having complete free will. It goes against everything in us to think that we have no choice in the matter of salvation or that God would create beings in order to damn them.
Yet we cannot throw out Ephesians and Romans.
So where does that leave us?

Ev. Gesellschaft in Wuppertal Jahresversammlung März 1956 Karl Barth

A man named Karl Barth went the farthest in harmonizing the two varieties of passages. He noticed that in the passages that speak of election, the election is spoken of as in Christ.
We are chosen in Him (Christ) before the creation of the world…God predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ.
Barth’s idea is that both the election and the rejection spoken of by Scripture was applied to Christ.
Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man. Two separate natures fully united in one person. Jesus Christ is, then, both the electing God and the elected man, both the subject and the object of election.
God’s welcome and His rejection are both fulfilled in Christ, who was rejected by God for our sake.
Barth writes that “God has given to man the former: election, salvation, and life; for Himself, however, He has chosen the second: rejection, damnation, and death.”
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God’s no falls on Christ so that God’s yes can fall on the rest of us.
Is Karl Barth correct?
I have no idea.
I apologize if you were hoping for a definitive answer.
If the greatest theological minds over the centuries have not come to agreement on this, far be it from me to speak otherwise.
Yet Barth’s ideas make sense to me as I study and pray.
What do you think?

Thanks to Todd Daly for introducing me to many of these idea.

Art Credits: photograph of Karl Barth from the German Federal Archive; Three Crosses sketch by Rembrandt

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When You’ve had a Rough Week

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It’s been a rough week.
I had all sorts of things I wanted to write about this week: the idea of whether art can be Christian, how to reconcile Calvinism and Armenianism, the sacredness of everyday life.
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Yet here I sit, feeling weary and weighed down. All of those big and beautiful thoughts have flown and what remains is a muddled mess of ugly emotion.
Anyone else?
It’s been a rough week in the world.
Hurricanes and flooding in the south, earthquakes in Mexico, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.
It’s been a rough week at my home.
Multiple kids sick, cranky and ugly attitudes in both kids and parents, downright meanness in the way my girls treat each other. I may have hidden in the nursery closet for a while one day while I was supposed to be homeschooling.
What do we do with these feelings? What do we who follow Jesus do when we are unsatisfied, depressed, weary, weighed down heavy with all of the ugliness in the world and in our lives?
It is not a flashy, feel-good sort of answer, but I believe that Jesus would have us…
take another step.
Whatever the emotion you have swirling around inside, we are simply to continue as we were.
Contiue praying, continue praising, continue in Scripture, continue in study.
Continue serving, continue caring, continue loving, continue working.
Continue.
Perhaps the good feelings will return soon.
Perhaps they won’t.
I don’t think it really matters much.
Jesus didn’t ask us to follow Him when it feels good.
He asked us to deny ourselves to follow Him.
He told us to obey His commandments and then we will abide in His love.
And that is all that really matters. Abiding in His love.
If we know that we are in His love, the same love as the Father’s love for Jesus, we can know that we will be okay.
We may not feel okay, but that is…okay.
If we trust Jesus’ words more than what our feelings tell us, we can know that He in all of His unsurpassable love is with us.
So simply continue.
Take another step.
Do one more thing to make the world more beautiful.
Trust and obey.
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Choosing the Given

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Sometimes the life we are given is not the life we would have chosen.
Storm Clouds
We have plans that didn’t work out, dreams that didn’t come true, hopes that just didn’t happen.
Perhaps it is a career that became other than you expected.
Perhaps it is a relationship that feels as though it is failing.
Perhaps it is simply life in its sometimes drudgery that just feels
disappointing.
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Sometimes, too, the life we are given is more than only disappointing.
Sometimes it is terrible, full of pain and suffering and grief.
Those who know this sort of life understand that while God is love, His love can be a fierce love.
The love of a holy God sometimes blazes with a cleansing flame.
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We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be. ~ C.S. Lewis
Whether our life is disappointing or full of fire, this is the life we are given.
Is it possible to live a higher life than quietly resigned? Is it possible to accept with joy rather than fighting against what is?
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Jesus says it is.
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
To live with joy a life that does not look the way you hoped, you must choose what is given.
Sometimes? Sometimes you must choose fiercely, with the kind of determination that will outlast this world.
You must choose to look only at the given rather than at the might have been.
You must choose to pay attention to the right now rather than to the used to be or the perhaps someday.
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Annie Dillard compares it to a weasel gripping its prey with a grip that lasts longer than the life of the weasel itself.
A weasel that clutches its quarry with such nerve that its skull is found still attached to the throat of an eagle years after the weasel attacked.
Some days do feel that hard.
So hard, in fact, that it is only with the same Holy Spirit power inside of us that raised Jesus from the dead that we are capable of such fierce choosing.
Yet we do have that power.
We have that power and so it is possible to choose the given and to live as joyfully as Jesus means us to live.
I would like to live as I should, as the weasel lives as he should. And I suspect that for me the way is like the weasel’s: open to time and death painlessly, noticing everything, remembering nothing, choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will. ~ Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk
Choosing the given with a fierce and pointed will.
This is the way that leads to joy.

Art credits: storm photos by Kirk Sewell; fire photo copyright Made Sacred 2017; Christ Walking on the Water by Julius Sergius Von Klever; weasel illustration from Brehm’s Life of Animals

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The Burdensome Divide of Sacred and Secular

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Sacred and secular.
sacred
secular
It is a burdensome divide.
We drive to and from work and feel guilty for taking time away from godly pursuits to earn money to feed our families.
We spend our days disicplining children and wiping bottoms and wonder when we will have time again for God.
The secular pieces of our lives weigh us down heavy and we long to be lifted back up to the Kingdom.
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cooking
What if this is not what God intended?
Do all to the glory of God.
All? Surely that is only hyperbole.
Paul seems to anticipate our hesitation. Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do…
Eating and drinking to the glory of God.
When we look to Jesus and the life that He lived, we see the same. All that He did was pleasing to the Father. In everything, He obeyed the Father’s commands.
God meant for all of life to be sacred, for the mundane as well as the important to be done in a way that glorifies Him.
By doing the work that God gives us as excellently as we can, we are bringing His Kingdom rule into the space in which we live.
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gardening
When you are an excellent engineer, an excellent waiter, an excellent parent,
when you do yard work and clean toilets and cook meals excellently,
when you treat friends and store clerks and children excellently,
you glorify God and work towards bringing His Kingdom to earth.
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All those around you see the work that you do and they notice.
They notice when you have excellent work ethic and they notice when you treat others excellently.
People notice when a life is sacred. When all of the pieces of a life are woven together into a sacred whole, God is glorified.
Of such a one it may be said that every act of his life is or can be as truly sacred as prayer or baptism or the Lord’s supper. To say this is not to bring all acts down to one dead level; it is rather to lift every act up into a living kingdom and turn the whole life into a sacrament. A. W. Tozer in The Pursuit of God
To lift every act up.
laundry work
dirty toilet work
Even the act of cleaning dirty toilets.
This is what turns the whole of life into a sacrament.
And a whole life?
That is not burdensome at all.
It is exactly how God intended for life to be lived.
As sacred.

Art credits: Church photograph by Kirk Sewell; all other photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

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Hope for this Hard Season

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Sometimes you live in a season of hard.
season of hard
season of gray
Weeks, or months, or sometimes years of walking through a gray kind of life.
Sometimes it is living through a crisis.
Cancer. Grief. Debt.
Sometimes it is simply day by day trudging through a wearying routine.
Loneliness. Parenting. Career.
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You know that you cannot do this life on your own.
At least, that you cannot do it well on your own.
You pray for the Holy Spirit to help.
You plead for God to change your heart and produce fruit in your life.
You confess that you cannot do anything without Him.
Yet you do not become more gentle. You do not become more loving. You do not become more self-controlled.
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You fast in appeal for a transformed heart.
You search the Word for guidance.
You beseech the Spirit for wisdom and discernment.
Yet you gain no understanding. You acquire no flashes of insight. You feel just as lost as before.
hard path
Sometimes you cry out to God in the middle of your season of hard.
Sometimes you cry out at God.
Sometimes you cry and shout in helpless anger.
I know that I cannot do this on my own, but I feel like I have to do it by myself. You promised to help me. You promised that Your Spirit would be in me, giving me the strength and power to do what I cannot do on my own. You are not keeping Your promises. I am trying so hard, and I cannot do it. I pray and I beg and I fast but You are still silent. This is not easy and Your burden is not light. I confess that I need You and You don’t seem to be with me.
hard moment
Sometimes, perhaps not very often, but sometimes God answers your cry.
Perhaps it is a phone call
or a card
or a text.
God brought you to mind and I prayed for you.
I specifically prayed for you in…
I feel prompted to share this verse with you.
God breathes hope
Sometimes God breathes a little hope in your direction.
Nothing changes.
Everything changes.
Perhaps not very often, yet perhaps it should be more often.
Perhaps we should all listen a little more carefully.
Perhaps we should all leave a little more space for promptings.
Sometimes God might want to breathe a little hope through us for someone else’s hard season.

Art credit: all photographs are copyright Made Sacred 2017

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When You Crash into No

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What do you do when you barrel straight into a no from God?
Do you weep and wail?
No
Not yet
Stamp your feet and sulk?
Never
Forget it
A dream, a longing fills your heart, spilling over in attempts to fulfill.
What you thought possible becomes flattened by reality.
Perhaps your dream is not for now, is simply not yet.
Perhaps your dream is not ever, is I’ve got something better.
Either way, you wait.
Either way, you grieve.
Either way, it hurts.
You can flail and fight, you can sit and sulk.
Fight
Sulk
Whatever the emotions, you will have to work through.
You will have to release unto God.
Your plans. Your hopes. Your self.
When you submit your whole self to Him, He remakes it.
He holds it and forms it. He tenderly molds it.
And then?
Whatever the shape of the dream He gives back, it is lovely.
Accept with joy
God's way is lovely
And you love it because He loves you.
You love it because He transformed, both you and your dream.
He gives you your heart and He gives you a dream,
and your heart and your dream now glorify Him,
filling you to the brim with joy.

Art credit: all photographs copyright 2017 by Made Sacred

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Staying on the Path Matters

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This path of obedience we are called to walk is strewn with pitfalls.
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difficult path
I forgive and the next moment am assaulted again by bitterness.
I gently navigate one confrontation with a child and the next finds me reduced to ugly shouting.
I am able to genuinely desire God rather than self to be glorified and then congratulate myself on the achievement.
This path is narrow and rocky. It is hard to choose this way moment by moment.
rocky path
I stumble and fall and it hurts to keep going and sometimes even the sight of the crucified Christ is not enough to lift me to my feet.
Sometimes I don’t even want to obey.
Reviewing wrongs done to me makes me feel righteous. Yelling is satisfying when I am angry. I enjoy taking the credit for a job well done.
Obedience is hard and I am often unsuccessful.
Yet I suppose it doesn’t matter whether or not I am successful. I am not, after all, trying to earn anything.
What matters is that I do not leave the path.
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What matters is that I keep getting to my feet, regardless of my feelings.
it is a good path
What matters is God’s kingdom breaking through to the now and my choices aligning myself, and my own little piece of creation, with His kingdom rule.
All of my stumbling and falling, all of my failures, they don’t matter.
I am already beloved and I already belong.
What matters is that our wills begin to be oriented toward God, and that we show our gratitude for our free salvation by living as his willing children. ~ N.T. Wright, Small Faith-Great God
So don’t be discouraged and don’t give up.
When you struggle to obey, when you struggle to even want to obey, take heart.
Simply staying on the path matters.
obedience is our path
You’ll be able to keep walking someday.

Art credit: all photographs copyright Made Sacred 2017

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Swimming with the Spirit

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We are told that the Holy Spirit is in us.
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We are told that He is transforming us into Christ’s likeness, into who we were created to be from the beginning.
If we cannot do this work, then how does this renewal come about?
If we are saved by the blood of Jesus, before the metamorphosis takes place, how do we become like Christ once we have accepted God’s saving grace?
become like Christ
Do we sit back and let the Holy Spirit do all the work in us? Do we have to take it all upon ourselves and make our own selves into someone worthy of God?
A bit of both, actually. The first alone makes a mockery of the cross. The second alone makes an idol of our own selves.
Christianity is hard and requires constant work and watchfulness, but we do not have to walk this path on our own.
walk with Jesus
walk with the Spirit
Paul tells the Colossians, May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.
The word for ‘according to’ in the original Greek is the word we would use for something going down stream – according to the current of the river. The current carries the swimmer along with it. He or she has to swim too, of course, but with the help of the current the swimmer can go further and faster, and with less effort, than by his or her own power. And so it is when our weakness swims in the stream of God’s almighty power. ~ N.T. Wright in Small Faith-Great God
swimming
God's current
This is well-illustrated by a story that John tells in his gospel. After the resurrection, the disciples (not knowing what in the world else to do) went fishing. Keep in mind that John uses light and dark, night and day as a way to express truth.
John says that the disciples went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach…
fishing with the Spirit
Jesus tells the disciples to put their nets out on the other side of the boat and immediately their nets are filled to the breaking point.
Do you see it?
that night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach…
…and we can feel instantly, behind those simple words, the whole weight of the knowledge that the church in the person of Jesus, has come through the night of condemnation and impossibility into a spring morning of joy and hope. Then, of course, the whole scene comes to life. What the disciples had been unable to do without Jesus they can do easily and highly effectively at his bidding. ~ N.T. Wright Small Faith-Great God
And so it is with us. We must obey, but what we are unable to do without Jesus we can do easily and effectively at His bidding. We must go through the motions, but with the Spirit inside of us we can progress further and faster, and with less effort than by our own power.
So swim with the Spirit. Swim in the current of God’s almighty power.

Holy Spirit

God's grace

See what beautiful things He makes of your life.
See how wonderfully He transforms you into His likeness.

Art credits: photo of Holy Spirit dove and photos of the rivers by Kirk Sewell; Road to Emmaus by Robert Zund; Risen Christ by David Teniers the Younger

links to N.T. Wright’s book, Small Faith-Great God, are Amazon affiliate links. Purchases through these links allows you to help support this blog through no added cost to you. Thank you.

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Discovering Who I Am

This is week two of sharing an archived post with you as I am deep into planning for our upcoming school year. Enjoy the memories!

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I recently stopped nursing our last little one, and it was harder on my emotions than I expected.
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I expected that I would be grateful to have a little extra freedom. I expected that I would be glad to hand over some of the nighttime routine to my husband. I expected that I would be happy to have my body belong only to me again.
I did feel all of those, but only a little.
Overwhelmingly, rather, was a sense of loss. A loss of part of myself, of who I am.
It took me by surprise until I realized that for over nine years I have been either pregnant or nursing. No breaks at all.
Of course that would become a major part of my identity! Nine years is a long time. Almost a decade of being identified as a pregnant or nursing mommy is certainly enough to cement that into who I am as a person.
All of those big emotions (and I am normally not an overly emotional sort of person) made me pause and think hard about who I think I am compared to who I want to be.
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As a mom of four children, eight years and younger, it is so easy for that one piece of me to become my entire identity. I’m a mom. It’s what I do twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Even when I am away from my babies, my thoughts are still full of them.
Yet I recognize that I must be careful. Of course being a mom is and always will be a large part of who I am, but I need to guard carefully against it becoming all that I am.
Someday, after all, these babies will not be babies anymore, and being a mom will not fill up quite so much of my time. Or my house.
I must be careful to keep my heart close to God, to make sure that my primary identity is as His child. He is, ultimately, the most important piece of me, the One who is with me always.
I must take care to remain close to my husband. He will, Lord willing, be my dearest companion still when the children have homes of their own.
I must be mindful of my own self. I need to continue reading, continue learning, continue making my art, continue cultivating deep friendships.
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I believe wholeheartedly that if I lose myself in my children, I and they will be the poorer for it.
Yet that piece of who I am is so consuming that I cannot just drift along and expect to hold on to the rest of my self.
I must be deliberate about caring for the other pieces of me. The more I cultivate all of the fragments of me, the richer and deeper the whole of them will become.
I don’t often write about parenting issues, but I supposed that this particular struggle was one that was common to many. I pray that my written thoughts will spark your own heart-searching.
Peace.
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Reconciling God’s Promises with Life

 

I am deep into planning for our upcoming school year, so this week and next will be from the archives. Enjoy the memories!

To hear my blog post read aloud, just click the play button. If you’re reading this in an email, you may have to click here to hear the post on my site.

 

God’s Words are often difficult to understand.
I don’t know why this is so, why God wouldn’t want us to easily comprehend Him and His ways, but that is a wondering for another time.
All throughout His Word, God makes promises about what will happen when we approach Him. He makes promises about how He answers when we ask Him for something. He makes promises about what He will give if only we would ask.
Sometimes those promises seem to be contradicted by the reality we can see.
Jesus tells us that if we ask, we will receive.
Jesus tells us that if we ask together with others, we will receive.
Jesus tells us that if we ask in His name, we will receive.
Jesus promises that if we are just persistent enough, just have faith enough, just beg Him hard enough with our faces to the ground and our tears falling like blood in desperation, He will give us what we ask for.
This is not what we live.
This is not what we live when a young mother dies of cancer. This is not what we live when a child lives her life in chronic pain and then dies. This is not what we live when a family is torn apart by depression.
So how do we reconcile this? How do we reconcile the promise with the life lived in this world?
Because Jesus also made other promises.
He promised that we would have trouble in this world, that storms would come against us, that we would be hated by this world in which we live.
Did He lie? Is He crazy?
Or is there something deeper within His words that we have trouble understanding?
Is there something deeper that we cannot see from our place here on earth, tethered as we are to the physical, unable to grasp the spiritual all around us?
From one who is stumbling along in the dark with the rest of you, here is what I believe based on what I read in God’s Word as a whole.
What God does is not always what I want. What God allows is sometimes more than I can comprehend. What God gives is often too hard for me.
What God accomplishes is always best.
Best for me, best for someone else, best for our world. Just…best.
Not painless, not comfortable, not happy.
Best.
I know from my own experience as a parent that best is often painful and unpleasant. My children often are unhappy (to put it ridiculously mildly) with what I decide would be best.
When Jesus tells us to ask in His name, rather than His name being a magical incantation to get what we want, perhaps it is a way of living, of remaining in Him as He is in His Father.
When Jesus tells us to ask alongside of others, rather than it being a way to coerce others into asking for what we want so that we can manipulate God, perhaps it is a way to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts in a way that cannot happen on our own.
I don’t know.
As my Papa would say, “Well, I’ll tell you…
I don’t know.”
Here’s what I do know.
When I look at God’s Word in its entirety, whether that be the whole of Scripture or the whole of Jesus’ life, I see a God who is ultimate power and who is ultimate love.
And I see a God who has a plan that makes absolutely no sense while in the middle of it all. A plan that seems, frankly, insane while you are watching it all unfold.
A plan that, at its ending, is better, is more beautiful, is more glorious than anything I could have imagined or asked for.
A plan that is best.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And He was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”…  And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back – it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter that He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.
I think perhaps that is why He gave us Jesus. To show us what the end will be even when the middle seems to be crushing the life out of us.
That end?
Best.
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