The Fuel of Suffering

Family watching television, c. 1958

Family watching television, c. 1958 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine if you will that we are in the studio audience for a game show.   Now look on stage at the three doors you and I could choose – consider this:

  1. 1.     Behind door number one – an extreme makeover for your house – your dream home right here.  It could be in the most wonderful, as they say in real estate, location, location, location.  It comes complete with choice of style, the most amazing appliances in a dream kitchen, a garage-workshop lined with the best power tools, and curb appeal to impress any and all guests.
  2. Behind door number two is the perfect family.  Everyone is on their best behavior, everyone gets along and they are your pride and joy.  Enough said.
  3. 3.     And behind door number three is a simple sign that says, “Suffering that you might grow closer to Christ.”

Our human natures wouldn’t let us to choose and open that third door.  We wouldn’t.  As much as we would like to think we would, none of us wants to suffer.

As difficult as it is to consider, here are some positive things suffering can do:

  • Suffering establishes a common denominator with others who suffer in different ways.  It might be health issues, an aggressive cancer, a financial reversal, a job loss, the loss of someone close to us through death, the end of a treasured relationship, the list goes on….but when we accept suffering, unjust as it may be, we “get” the suffering of others and can give and receive sympathy on a whole new level.
  • Suffering can make us more tender-hearted and compassionate and use the fueled energy for something good.  Many powerful society-changing movements are birthed out of suffering.  We are seldom moved to sacrificial action when life is easy.  It takes those circumstances that tear us apart inside to give us the courage, determination and energy to make a difference. 
  • Suffering saves us from living a superficial mediocre life. 
  • Suffering helps us understand what is important, and what is not.
  • Suffering shines the light on what position God holds in our lives.
  • Suffering helps us to identify with Christ with the realization that He suffered more and so He understands on a level of no one else.  What Jesus willingly took on in submitting to a crucifixion is described as excruciating mentally, physically and spiritually.  Jesus “gets” our suffering.
  • Suffering can increase our thirst to know Christ more intimately.
  • Suffering refines us.  It is a tough process, but suffering is able to burn away things like pride, a self-sufficient attitude, a tendency toward resentment and a host of other things that can cause war within our souls.
  • Suffering enlarges our ability to trust in God alone for our future.
  • Suffering makes us long for heaven.  Suffering helps us understand it’s not all here and now and that some day in His timing, God will have the final word on everything.

We would never in a million years choose suffering.  But when it chooses us we can purpose ourselves and encourage each other to search out those silver linings to the dark clouds on our horizons.  How grateful I am for the kind words, selfless work and encouragements given to me.  They have made many days endurable, comforting and even hopeful.  Maybe our suffering will be used – somehow in someway – to make a brighter day for someone else.   Just perhaps something significant will grow out of the unlikely soil of anguish.  That gives a sense of hope when we are deep in hurt.  We all want something that outlasts us and our suffering, painful though it is, is an oft-used vehicle for powerful positive change.


Filed under Broken Dreams, Storms of Life, Suffering

How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?

Back in the day the Bee Gees sang “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?”  It’s a question we all have to answer at some point in our lives.  I’m in the middle of a season of the broken heart right now.   I certainly don’t have all the answers and my strength and resolve fluctuates as I go through a grieving process.  I’m quite sure that is normal.  We can grieve many kinds of losses in life.  Sometimes it is not a person who dies, but very often it is dreams that die, and we have to face that reality.

Some things that have helped me tremendously so far on this particular journey are:  the support of family, the loving care of friends and community, my church, cards in the mail, having lived fifty-five years and having survived other heartaches, the counsel of wise mentors, prayer (this is a big one), encouragement, practical assistance, kind words, hugs, reading the Bible, and feeling the peace of God which passes all understanding.

It’s a long journey, these seasons of the broken heart.  But we have tremendous promises in the Bible to hold on to and know that the storms of life come, and at some point they dissipate.  The intensity of pain will not always feel the same as it might feel today for you and for me.  Hold on to hope if this is a season of the broken heart for you as well.

Here are some encouraging words from Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman:

Poverty, hardship and misfortune have pressed many a life to moral heroism and spiritual greatness. Difficulty challenges energy and perseverance.  It calls into activity the strongest qualities of the soul…Many a headwind has been utilized to make port.  God has appointed opposition as an incentive to faith and holy activity….If for you He has appointed special trials, be assured that in His heart He has kept for you a special place.

And some comforting words from Christ:

I’ve told you all this so that trusting me, you will be unshakable and assured, deeply at peace. In this godless world you will continue to experience difficulties. But take heart! I’ve conquered the world.”  (John 16:33,  The Message)



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Musings on Troubles, Faith and the Goodness of God

Are you weighed down by troubles?

The journey of faith for a believer in Christ is, it seems, a series of mountains that we climb.  We would like to think that the life of “following Him” makes life easier and we sometimes find ourselves perplexed at having trials.  Or perhaps we are perplexed at the kind of trials we endure.  They seem random, or the perfect “non-fit” for us.  While we are promised that God desires to give us an abundant life, the implications of “full and meaningful” seem contrary to the troubles we sometimes experience.


FAITH (Photo credit: cacigar)

To be sure everyone in the human race has ups and downs.  For the believer, the “mountain top experiences” can be so exhilarating that their memory propels us on even as we go through a season bombarded with troubles.  I don’t believe the only purpose of good times is to get us through bad times, but they often help.  They are memories of God’s faithfulness and what gets us through is not the going back in our mind to good and pleasant times so much but the reminder that  God was good to us then and He will continue to be good to us in the future.  We learn to think on a deeper level about what “good” means.  We would prefer an existence without anxiety, but we find it is very human to experience such.  Some chapters of life can become overwhelming, especially if our focus is on the problems without a vision beyond them.

God, the Master Artist is working out a Masterpiece in our lives not only for our benefit, but for those around us. Like the pain-staking work of Michelangelo, and infinitely more, sometimes the sculptor’s tools have to break off some sharp edges to make the God-given potential within us fulfilled.  His divine purposes, though often not easy, are infinitely good.  The building up of our faith has great meaning to Him, and vital to the final picture.  We cannot possibly envision the unveiling and that’s where we get caught up.  We just want to understand, but faith is not about understanding, it is about trust.

The author of Streams in the Desert quotes spiritual giant George Mueller in responding to the question as to the best way to have strong faith:

The only way to learn strong faith is to endure great trials.  I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.”

A “severe testing” carries with it a temptation, and that temptation is to give up.  Giving up can mean many things.  It can be as seemingly subtle as becoming cynical, to forfeiting the hopes we have based our lives upon and worse.  Instead of placing our broken dreams in God’s hands we elect to hold it tight which can make us bitter.  At many levels giving up is dangerous to our souls.  If we believe our troubles serve no eternal purpose or of trivial meaning then we are in a fragile place that can cause us to give in to depression or despondency.

Madame Guyon said,

I entreat you, give no place to despondency. This is a dangerous temptation – a refined, not a gross temptation of the adversary.  Melancholy contracts and withers the heart, and renders it unfit to receive the impressions of grace.  It magnifies and gives a false coloring to objects, and thus renders your burdens too heavy to bear.  God’s designs regarding you, and His methods of bring about these designs are infinitely wise.”

It is in that infinite wisdom of God that we see colors that are true-to-life.  This requires the spectacles of faith. An intense focus on our troubles make them appear larger than life.  Large though the testing may be, within the scope of God’s purposes, personal pain can carve and craft our souls like an exquisite sculptor until every perfect detail is in place.  We cannot see the image in the Great Sculptor’s mind, but we can trust in His goodness, His vision, His perfect artistry and the promise of tumultuous joy after a long night of tears.  And that kind of joy is not trivial but magnificent.  For if we have been educated in the school of tears we see more clearly and have developed a capacity to experience joy and contentment on a level never before experienced.  Truly the storm clouds develop the most brilliant silver lining before our eyes when we least expect it!  When we see a glimpse of the purposes revealed, there is great cause for celebration!

Child of God, there is hope ahead.  As much as we would like it to, it is human to see our hope in the solving of our problems.  But when we experience the peace of God, right in the middle of the unsolved riddles of life, therein is a soul and rest with a capacity to receive all good ahead that God has planned.

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God’s Word = Beautiful

GodsWordBeautiful copy

Finished a painting I started long ago, then made a little video from the thoughts I found inspiring.  It is symbolic for me.  A painter tries to create visual beauty like a dancer tries to create exquisite lines or a musician works to create pleasing harmonies.  Picturing the Bible in this painting makes me recall many a morning as I searched for answers, saw words of hope for the future and passages that have encouraged me along the way.  Over time this morning practice has become “beautiful” to me.  Hope you enjoy this little “morning devotion” from Psalm 19.

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A Beautiful Life – Psalm 19

GodsWordBeautiful copyQuotes from Psalm 19 – The Message

God‘s glory is on tour in the skies, God-craft on exhibit across the horizon. 2 Madame Day holds classes every morning, Professor Night lectures each evening.

Sunrise and sunset are glorious moments with spectacular colors painted across the skies.  God often presents us with masterpieces that I do not even notice.  Yet, they are silent love letters to us, His creation.

3 Their words aren’t heard, their voices aren’t recorded, 4 But their silence fills the earth: unspoken truth is spoken everywhere.

The Great Artist’s handiwork is everywhere and His signature must be the roses.  Every good and beautiful thing God made testifies of His truth – His goodness, His mercy, His justice, His love.

God makes a huge dome for the sun – a superdome! 5 The morning sun’s a new husband leaping from his honeymoon bed, The daybreaking sun an athlete racing to the tape. 6 That’s how God’s Word vaults across the skies from sunrise to sunset, Melting ice, scorching deserts, warming hearts to faith.

God gives us incredible moments that cause us to stand in awe of who He is, and what He has done for us.

7 The revelation of God is whole and pulls our lives together. The signposts of God are clear and point out the right road. 8 The life-maps of God are right, showing the way to joy. The directions of God are plain and easy on the eyes.

God’s Word is beauty!  He speaks to us, warns us, shapes us, fills us by His mighty Spirit whispered through the words of life.  Oh, that I would fall more in love with His Word that I might know Him better!  How my life is improved by sitting at His feet!  I have so much to learn but it scares me to think of where I would be without the Word of God in my life!

9 God’s reputation is twenty-four-carat gold, with a lifetime guarantee. The decisions of God are accurate down to the nth degree. 10 God’s Word is better than a diamond, better than a diamond set between emeralds.

What God has for us is the best – even when times seem like the worst.  His Word promises that all things work together for those who love God and are called to His purpose.  What precious promises in the Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter of our lives!

You’ll like it better than strawberries in spring, better than red, ripe strawberries.

Some of my favorite things – an old pocket watch, cut crystal, an antique oak table, a treasured old blanket, beautiful flowers point to a love for God’s Word.  His Word is a treasure.  Oh Lord that I would delve into Your Word more deeply that I might know You more and more!

11 There’s more: God’s Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure. 12 Otherwise how will we find our way? Or know when we play the fool?

Yes!  Decisions based upon Your Word give me peace of heart and mind.  Decisions that I make based on my own way of thinking can get me in trouble!  You tell us straight out what is right and wrong and how to keep our feet on Your road.  Hold me tight Lord – keep me hungry for Your Word!

13 Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh! Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work; Then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime of sin.

Thank you for the freedom of forgiveness!  You alone suffered and died in my place so that I might come before you clean – not because of me, for I am a sinner saved by grace.  No, it’s all because of You!

14 These are the words in my mouth; these are what I chew on and pray. Accept them when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Altar-Rock, God, Priest-of-My-Altar.

Thank You for Your Word, O God.  It points me to You – the God who knows me completely, and still loves me!  Amen and Amen!

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Heart-to-Heart Fellowship

It’s so good to be home, we both agreed.  Each of us, in different circumstances, transitioned in our careers and found ourselves working from home and being an everyday participant in our grandchildren’s lives.  Neither of us were planning for this outcome, but looking back we realized God had orchestrated this timing and as we talked, our appreciation for this special season of life increased.  Before we left we clasped hands and prayed thanking God for this time in our lives, for our friendship and gave Him some practical ” I-need-you-Lord-today” requests.


Matti (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The sweetness of Christian fellowship means that we can talk about the reality, struggle and heart aches in our lives and we can also bear witness to how God has turned around bad circumstances for good.  We share joy, we laugh.  We encourage each other and strengthen one another’s faith.  It is heart-to-heart.  Fellowship – true fellowship in which we are sharing about what Jesus is doing in our lives today, yesterday, and in this season.  Much more than visiting or socializing, fellowship is a precious bond that can be described in terms of spiritual chocolate – it’s just “the best.”  We are designed for relationships and fellowship fills us up to the brim.

Because God is love, he treasures relationships. His very nature is relational and he identifies himself in family terms: Father, Son and Spirit. – Rick Warren

Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church.

Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

God is active and working in our lives today.  By sharing what our Heavenly Father is doing, how we are responding, and what treasures we are finding in His Word, we speak on the level of “brothers and sisters”.  That special relationship we enjoy is worthy of celebration and thanks.  Fellowship is heart-to-heart.


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Strained Relationships

Acceptance – there is a lot of thing in life we just have to accept, and things we should never accept.  Knowing the difference is the challenge.  This is true in many things including strained relationships.  Before my days leading a Celebrate Recovery the “Serenity Prayer” seemed a cliché.  Now, after having repeated every week for thirty-seven weeks, the words have sunk into my soul and I realize their incredible power.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

It’s that wisdom to know the difference – that is what keeps us on our knees.

English: Their are thousands of artworks creat...

English: Their are thousands of artworks created in the art world depicting St Paul. This painting was created by the famous artist called Rembrandt. It hangs on the walls of the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many years ago my husband wrote an in-depth Bible study on the life of the Apostle Paul, and since then I have been especially captivated by the many human and God-inspired facets of this sinner turned saint.  Paul was indeed a “people person.”  Although many of his adventurous and dangerous ministry endeavors were circumstances he had to face alone, there were at the same time many close people in his life and they played some important roles.

Of particular interest is Paul’s relationship with Barnabas.  This was a close spiritual and destiny-joined relationship.  In Acts 13 the Holy Spirit spoke to a small group and said:

Dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.”  Acts 13:2b

Broad Overview of Geography Relevant to Paul o...

Broad Overview of Geography Relevant to Paul of Tarsus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re not just talking about two great believers who became friends.  God put them together and gave them a common destiny, a calling to accomplish in unison, a glorious partnership to complete a specific ministry.  And together they made tremendous strides for the gospel.

Consider some of the things which occurred in the relationship of Paul and Barnabas, and how these experiences have a bonding effect when people go through them together:

  • Road Trip!  Paul and Barnabas not only traveled together, they did so in a place and time where travel was primitive against today’s standards and time-consuming.  Think about some of the bonding that has taken place on family road trips, and why we tend to travel with those with whom we feel a closeness.
  • Common successes!  Paul and Barnabas worked together in boldly proclaiming the good news, and people listened and were converted.  Think of how a team grows together when they are working well together and they are on a winning streak.
  • Persecution!  Nothing brings two people together as much as having opposition.
  • Prayer!  Real, heart-felt prayer, and much of it is an intimate activity as two people join their souls in seeking the Almighty and clinging to His promises, direction and provision.
  • A Shared Goal!  Paul and Barnabas were passionate about the ministry God had entrusted to them.

Ponder what a deep spiritual relationship Paul and Barnabas enjoyed.

Until, they had a major disagreement.  That’s a polite word for an argument.

The two agreed to revisit all the cities where they previously preached.  Then, Barnabas suggested they bring along his cousin John Mark on the journey.  Paul didn’t like the idea.  He felt so strongly that the two agreed to separate – with both Paul and Barnabas choosing different traveling companions and they split.

The Expositors Bible Commentary explains the situation in these terms:

The fact that Luke does not gloss over the quarrel between Paul and Barnabas shows his honesty.  Yet far from letting the disagreement harm the outreach of the Gospel, God providentially used it to double the missionary force, with Barnabas taking Mark and returning to Cypress (cf. 13:4-12)…Paul’s selection of Silas to accompany him on his return visit to the churches was wise…Silas was a leader in the Jerusalem congregation.”    by Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger III

Could it be that God would allow people of this spiritual stature and depth of relationship to disagree so that their effort might be “doubled”?  It’s a curious thought.  It is clear in later Scripture that Paul and Barnabas reconciled, and that is key.  The “Son of Encouragement” – Barnabas and the major writer of the New Testament certainly knew much about relationships.  Yet, they were human and at one point in time struggled with each other.

What can we learn from this incident in the lives of Paul and Barnabas?

  • Even the best of friends and ministry partners can have vastly different convictions.
  • As Luke reported the event honestly, it does no good to gloss over the incident just as if nothing had occurred.
  • If people are committed to not harming the outreach of the Gospel, God can use even these circumstances for the ultimate good and God’s glory.
  • If there is a strong disagreement and separation among such people, they are to keep working at reconciliation.  It is vital.

    Apostle Paul on St.Isaac cathedral (SPb)

    Apostle Paul on St.Isaac cathedral (SPb) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Relationships are mysterious, but God gives us examples in Scripture – some to imitate, and some to learn from and not repeat.  No one likes strained relationships, especially with people they love and respect.  Any ministry worker would look up to and seek to be like someone as a Paul or a Barnabas, human though they were.  Their example gives us hope when we are less than perfect, when we have strong convictions that we both think are God-inspired, and also the example of reconciliation at a later point on the journey.

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Friends and Ministers

They had no idea how much their visit meant and that they “made my day.”  We talked about real things, not the weather.   They had suffered a significant loss this year and we all talked about how much we all missed her.  She asked kindly about my struggles.  I knew I could share, or not, and they would be ok with either way the conversation went.  We didn’t pray but we talked about prayer.  We talked about how God is working in our lives, today, yesterday and recently.  We all agreed that God was good.  He shared about how he asks God to be a blessing to someone each day and the marvelous “divine encounters” he has experienced.  She talked about a great message she had heard, but did so after she had evidenced how much she cared for me.  Listening to her was like drinking in cool water after being out in the hot sun all day without a drink.  Her words soothed my soul because she talked about Jesus and encouraged me.  It was real fellowship, the way it is supposed to be.  They had no idea how much they encouraged me.  They came as friends, but truly, they are ministers.

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Parable of the Plum Tree

But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God…II Corinthians 1:9b

The mature flowering plum-tree in our front yard, with its dark maroon leaves and divided kid-friendly trunk, stands in high contrast to the white Victorian picket fence and white-barked birch next door.  Driving from either way down the street it is the way to spot our house.  It’s a landmark.  But it wasn’t always so.

Twenty-two years ago we picked out the rather long overgrown twig at Dorothy’s nursery in Carlotta.  We planted it on a mound in the front of our newly constructed home and had to tether it to large wooden poles to keep it from blowing away or being damaged.  On its own it was still fragile.

Decorative blooming of a plum tree

Decorative blooming of a plum tree (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Months passed.  The day came to remove the poles.  The tree had grown to a place where it could stand on its own. and to keep the poles there would mean that the tree would not gain the internal strength it needed to stand against the wind and rain.  For it to continue to mature, the supports needed to be taken away.

Sometimes in life our supports, either willingly or against our will, are taken away.  It may because of a change in health, the loss of someone important in our inner circle, a move, a job change, or a variety of other life circumstance.  We find that the people we leaned on for spiritual strength are no longer available in the same way they once were.

This is a time of decision.

Do we frantically try to find support replacements, or do we allow God to take away those “poles” so that we might fully lean on Him?

While Christianity is lived in community, there are some deep and shadowed passages of the soul that one can only walk with Jesus alone.  In those times we either made daily decisions that will result in either cooling off spiritually or embracing Him more fully.

When we come to a place where God is all we have, we find that God is all we need.

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The Gift of Forgiveness, Part I

We hear often how forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves.  While this is absolutely true, in the bigger picture, the ability to forgive others is a gift given to us from God…because truly “to forgive is divine.”  Within ourselves we human beings just don’t seem to have the capacity to wipe others slate clean in our minds and hearts on our own power.  Our form of forgiveness is convoluted with strings attached, hidden pockets of pain and bitterness that surface at the most inconvenient times – complete with elephant-type memories regarding the deeply painful acts and attitudes toward us.  How we struggle with forgiveness!  Pure forgiveness is indeed a freely-given gift from the only perfect forgiver, Jesus Christ.

The Lord's Prayer (1886-1896) from the series ...

The Lord’s Prayer (1886-1896) from the series The Life of Christ, Brooklyn Museum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We know we are supposed to forgive.  The Lord’s prayer, reads in part:

and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.  Matthew 6:12


Forgiveness (Photo credit: poportis)

This is clearly not an option, but a command from God who has forgiven us – that we MUST forgive those who have inflicted pain upon us to have a clear relationship with God.  But, oh how we struggle!

In a sense, granting forgiveness is like hitting bottom with a drug or alcohol addiction.  What finally causes one to surrender is unique to each person.  Those who love an addict agonize in prayer over them and keep hoping that each new crisis or even happy “big life moment” will be THAT THING that will cause that one to admit there is a problem, surrender to Christ and submit to a program that will help them overcome their addiction.  But that turning point is indeed different for every person who has made that huge u-turn in life.  And so it is with forgiveness.  For the person who knows they need to forgive and willingly travels that journey toward totally releasing that person or group of people in their lives that has caused pain, the point of letting go mentally and emotionally differs.

But God is faithful.  Forgiveness is for real.  If we are seeking to obey Him in this area, He will provide that necessary ability to forgive fully, but it is a journey.  It is a process.  The gift of forgiveness – the ability from God to forgive others is a sweetness to our soul.  It brings smiles and relief and often times reconciliation and tenderness to a relationship that looked like it was beyond recovery.  Forgiveness is a miracle.

Forgiveness is and isn’t many things.

Forgiveness does not mean that we minimize what that person has done.  Forgiveness most certainly will cost us in some way.  We may have to endure the consequences for the other person’s sin against us, and perhaps for a very long time.  Forgiveness does not mean we necessarily go back to “life as normal.”  The act of forgiveness sometimes means that we are separated from that person, yet our hearts are at peace.  Sometimes, the relationship becomes stronger and more connected with granting forgiveness.  We do not have power over the outcome of granting forgiveness, but obeying God by forgiving is always for our good.  The is greatness and exhilaration in the peace that God provides to our souls when we forgive.

Forgiveness lesson from flowers

Forgiveness lesson from flowers (Photo credit: juliejordanscott)

Forgiveness is freedom.  We give up the notion to desire any punishment or ill will toward that person in our minds.  We can pray that God will bless them and mean it, and go on with our lives.  We find ourselves to be “bigger”, stronger, more generous and sweeter human beings.  The best part of forgiveness is that it opens the doorway to run to God full throttle, leaping up into His arms and experiencing that sweet communion that cannot be described in words.  There is nothing between God and ourselves when we willingly forgive others, and in the process admit our own sins and weaknesses.

Our hearts are softened by granting forgiveness.  This too is a gift from God.

I will given them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them.  I will take away their stony stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, so they will obey my decrees and regulations.  Then they wil truly be my people, and I will be their God.  Ezekiel 11:19-20



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