life

How can my heart not be filled with hope?

Christina was the only black girl in my elementary school.

I didn’t notice that she was the only black girl, I only noticed that she was a nice girl.

So we ran around together at recess – swinging on swings, playing four square and tetherball.

I had no inkling that being friends with her was any different than being friends with anyone else.

Until a holiday gathering at my aunt’s house.

I didn’t hear what my grandma said, but I heard my mom reply, “Julie has a friend who is black.”

As if it were unusual.

As if my small, ordinary friendship with Christina was part of a large debate.

As if it were something for which to be proud?

That overheard, twenty-second interaction between my mom and her mom sowed a seed.

A subtle notion that befriending a black person was a charitable thing to do.

I’m listening to the talks from the MLK50 Conference in Memphis held earlier this month, which marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The one I listened to this morning is excellent:

“How could my heart not be filled with hope?”

I thought about the subtle insidiousness of open-hearted seeds sown benignly that are not benign at all.  

I thought about how impossible it would be to root out every pretty weed that springs from them.

Every pretty weed that looks like it could be a flower.

Impossible if not for Christ.

A friend from my distant past – so distant that he didn’t know I am a Christian and it’s been over 35 years – recently sent me a message.  In it he wrote, “…white Christians are done on this planet…they can flail against the wind all they want…no avail regardless or your politics.”

God’s aim is to restore everything back to the way He created it to be. Acts 3

He’s been setting mankind straight ever since He sent Jesus to show us what He’s really like, what He really cares about.

He’s setting us all straight and He’s started with His own house.

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 1 Peter 4:17

Christians – no matter our color – are not done on this planet, but we are undergoing a transformation.  So I guess it would be accurate to say white Christianity as it currently thinks and acts is done on this planet. And I hope so.

But Christians aren’t done.

And thank God, because if we were, what hope would there be for my message writing old friend?

#bestow

 

 

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life, Light

My Heart Melts Like Butter

“Nobody’s ideals form them like their loves form them.” – Ann Voskamp

I paused on page 117 of The Broken Way, the morning sun streaming through my bedroom window and across my bed, putting a spotlight on my slumbering, gently snoring beagle.

I thought of an old friend, who turned down open-hearted friendship in favor of fellowship with close-minded ideals.

I felt something stir.

Hope.

Longing.

Love.

Maybe Love would one day draw him.

Maybe, in the end, Love would form.

I read on to a new chapter.  Mean girls and devouring women.

Unexpected tears rolled.

Not sobs, not even a cry, just a few stray tears churned up by a benign sorrow.

p. 189: “I’ve made wide berths around women for years and skirted the communion of community because who knew when smiles could turn into fangs if you turned your back?”

You and me both, Ann.

I closed the book and put in a load of laundry. Socks and underwear.

I love any piece of writing that churns a memory, an emotion, a “me, too.” I love writing that keeps me pondering long after I’ve put it down.

I’ve had far more male friends than female friends in my life.

I thought about my friendships in general, about how I was able to keep my heart wide open, how I was able to turn the other cheek and expect good things as a non-Christian child, yet watched my heart increasingly close as a Christian adult.

We Christians often think that our children’s hearts are in danger of being corrupted, wooed, enticed away from God by the world, but I think it’s much more likely that they will be pushed, shoved away from Him by members of His church.

Waiting for the dryer to dry I jot down that thought.

I love writing that inspires a thought, even a post.

It’s what God called “worthwhile, not worthless words.”

It’s what I hope to someday write.

Good job, Ann.

#churn

 

 

 

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faith, Jesus, Light

Low & Mighty on Passover Eve

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Exodus chapter 12 describes, well, the exodus, the mass departure of the Israelites from Egypt.  On the night they were to leave God instructed them to roast a lamb and eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. They were to eat in haste with their loins girded, sandals on their feet and staff in hand.

“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.”

And so it is that the Passover is celebrated faithfully, year after year.

In the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John we learn that the Last Supper took place before the festival of the Passover.  It was Passover Eve.  Not Christmas dinner, but Christmas Eve dinner.  The rehearsal dinner, not the actual wedding banquet. The Last Supper was not the actual Passover Seder, it was the night before.

John’s gospel tells us a few more things about that evening:

  1. Jesus was aware that He would soon be returning to His Father.
  2. He was aware that each and every one of His dinner companions had been given into His hands.  That’s what the phrase, “knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands” means.  “All things” is better translated as “each and every one.” Each and every one of them was gifted to Him, even Judas.
  3. He loved His charges with an agape  love. One aspect of agape is “to be full of good-will toward.”

And so it was with love and good will that Jesus sat down to His last human supper.

In Chinese culture, jade symbolizes nobility, perfection, constancy, and immortality. It is viewed as the most valuable of all precious stones.

A Chinese boy set out to learn all about it. He went to study with a talented old teacher.  The old gentleman put a piece of the stone into the youth’s hand and told him to hold it tight.  Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun and almost everything under it.  After an hour the teacher took back the stone and sent the boy home.  This procedure was repeated for weeks. Finally the boy became frustrated – when would he be told about the heavenly properties of jade?! – but he was too polite to interrupt his venerable teacher.  So he held the stone and listened. Again and again. Then one day, when the old man began their lesson by pressing a stone in the boy’s hand, the boy cried out instantly, “Hey wait! That’s not jade!”

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.” (italics added)

It seems out of place, that third sentence, “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him,” since John doesn’t speak again of Judas until later in the chapter, but it isn’t out of place, it’s the reason Jesus got up from the table.

He knew He was about to be betrayed, He knew human nature full well. Perhaps at that moment He remembered back to the disciples’ argument about which of them was the greatest, perhaps He remembered all the way back to when Adam and Eve disobeyed so they could be like God, perhaps He remembered even further back to when Satan wanted to be greater than God. He may have also looked ahead to all the ways evil men would infiltrate the church and exploit Him for selfish gain.

It was His awareness of our propensity to competition, our desire to be “better than” that got Him up from that table.   It’s what caused Him to take off his outer robe, tie a towel around his waist, pour water into a basin and press a precious stone into His disciples’ hands one more time.

So they would remember what He feels like.

You know the foot washing story and you know Peter. When Jesus got to his ten piggies, Peter said, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

In other words, “You’re too good to wash my feet!”

Jesus answered, “You don’t get it yet, but you will.”

Peter insisted, “You will never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

And so Peter, being Peter, said, “In that case, wash all of me!”

So Jesus laid it out for him. Again.

“One who has bathed does not need to wash.”

Wash and bathe in this passage are separate greek words.

“Wash” is nipto – to cleanse (especially the hands or the feet or the face); ceremonially.

It was customary back then – as it is now – to wash their hands before a meal.

“Bathe” is “louo,” it is a word used in the context of washing a dead person or cleaning blood from a wound.

Peter was already bathed as a dead person when he was baptized, when he was crucified with Christ and raised to new life.  He never needed to be bathed in that way again.  Just as a person doesn’t need to keep going forward at every altar call.  Once is enough.

All of the disciples had been bathed in the waters of baptism, except one. Scripture doesn’t tell us how and when Judas was called to follow Jesus, but it is telling us right here that he was never baptized, never raised to new life.  Even so,  Jesus loved each and every one of the 12 His Father had given Him.

“So Peter,” Jesus was saying, “zealous, enthusiastic Peter, you don’t need to be bathed, you only need to be washed.  Bathing is for souls, washing is for feet.  Feet that get dusty trodding through this sin-filled world.”

If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive them and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

Our souls need to be bathed only once – through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit – it’s our bodies and minds that need daily cleansing from the stink of sin.

After Jesus washed their feet, put back on his robe and returned to the table, He asked:

“Do you get it?

I just pressed something important into the palms of your hands.

I’m not too good to wash feet and neither are you.

Peter had it backwards. It’s not a matter of being too good, too high and mighty; it’s a matter of being good enough, of being low and mighty.

Servants are not greater than their master, so if I’m good enough to wash feet, then you be good enough, too.

Once you understand this concept, and do it, you will go through life blessed.

Isaiah said so, too: ‘take care of one another and then your light shall break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up quickly;…

The Lord will guide you continually,

and satisfy your needs in parched places,

and make your bones strong;

and you shall be like a watered garden,’

Take care of one another and you will flourish.”

As someone who is chronically dehydrated and has osteoporosis, I like Isaiah’s wording – strong bones, well-watered….

Be low and mighty enough to serve others and you’ll like your life.

The lectionary for Maundy Thursday (you’re reading the homily I gave last night) skipped over the details of Judas’s departure, but you know how it went down. It picked up again at verse 31:

“When [Judas] had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.'”

Judas’s departure set Jesus’ finest hour in motion.

His finest hour as a man – enduring physical and emotional abuse, bearing false accusations silently, as a sheep before its shearer.

I watched a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber Wednesday night.  At the end of it,  John Legend, who will play Jesus in Sunday night’s live presentation of Jesus Christ Superstar, asked Andrew for advice on playing the role.

“It’s all about redemption after all,” Andrew replied.

John mentioned the angst and fear and doubt Jesus experienced as He faced the cross.

“And yet He went through with it,” Andrew replied.

“Yes,”  John smiled slightly, “He went through with it.”

He was glorified as the Son of Man by going through with it.  By laying down his life for his friends – there’s no love greater than that.

His finest hour as God was defeating sin and death, which no man can do.

His Father’s finest hour? Showing a restraint in the face of His Son’s suffering the strength of which no human father could match.

John didn’t mention the bread and the cup in his account of the Last Supper, but our epistle reading from 1 Corinthians 11 did.

“…the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

The Passover feast was a perpetual ordinance for God’s people to remember their deliverance from the physical bondage of slavery.

And now a new perpetual ordinance has been instituted, to remember our spiritual deliverance from bondage to sin and death.

My body broken for you. My blood shed for you, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

Jesus, Our Passover Lamb.

Our gospel reading ends with a precious plea:

Little children, I am with you only a little longer.

At my church the children come forward and crowd in the aisle between the rows of pews for “The Lamb’s Liturgy.” The pastor gives a brief lesson and then touches each of their heads and blesses them before they head off to Sunday school. It’s my favorite part of the service. I love to see them walk back down the aisle, their little heads blessed, their faces Hopeful, expectant that the future has good things for them.

The tenderness with which the pastor blesses our children is the tenderness with which Jesus beheld those at the table, on the eve of His great suffering:   “Little children, dear ones, my charges, my responsibility, my baby chicks, my friends…

I’m leaving and you can’t come with me.

So just love one another.

By this everyone will know that I taught you well, if you love one another.

By this my Father and I will be glorified.

By this our strength will be shown.

Because no one can live low and mighty apart from us.”

Amen.

#betrayed

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life

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Jesus didn’t involve Himself in politics when He lived among us and that’s one of the things I love about Him.

His people wanted and expected their Messiah to be their champion, to render powerless any political authority over them.  And since Jesus had no interest in politics, He was disqualified and rejected.

And so with the intention of entangling Jesus in His words – a political strategy still in use today – those who rejected Him sent a delegation to ask: “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

Jesus answered, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.”

So they brought him a denarius.

“Whose likeness and inscription is this?” He asked.

“Caesar’s,”  they answered.

“So render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.  (Matthew 22)

Let’s marvel at the little phrase, “and you do not care about anyone’s opinion,” because it’s one of the things I love about Him.  He didn’t care about being politically correct or about being popular. He knew who He was, He knew His mission and He knew the truth.

His mission had nothing to do with politics and power.

Case in point: James and John. They wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left in glory, so they asked if they could.

When the other ten heard about their bid for power, they became indignant with James and John.

So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

It’s not about power and prestige, it’s about heaven.

Jesus sent a bunch of guys (72) out ahead of Him to every town to which He was about to go. “I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves,” He said. He sent them with the authority to bring peace and healing to households.

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

That’s His mission – not to defeat political, or even spiritual, enemies – but to write names in heaven.

So I cringed a little, one recent Sunday, when I passed this sign on my way in to worship:

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Not because I disagree with it but because it’s political.  And Jesus wasn’t.

I want people of all nationalities to feel welcome everywhere.

But the sign, in typical political fashion, oversimplifies the issue.

It’s not about where a person is from, it’s about how a person behaves.

I decided to ignore the political implications and embrace the sign at face value. I began to hum along with Mr. Rogers each week as I approached it.

“Would you be mine, could you be mine, won’t you be my neighbor?”

And then last Sunday our pastor announced that the sign was found tossed in the bushes.

And a message had been spray painted on the back of the church.

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And I wondered two things:

1. What does the sign have to do with worshiping devils?

2. Are we glad our paint-can-wielding neighbor is our neighbor?

I wondered whether we should put up another sign, spray painted in the parlance of the perp, “No matter how you express yourself – as long as you do so legally, peacefully and respectfully – we’re glad you’re our neighbor.

Because the issue is, after all, behavior.

As the pastor set the Eucharist table he said all are welcome – even our graffiti spraying neighbor.

That’s what I like about him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus

Without Compassion or Love

Thursday night the hub and I binge-watched 5 of the 8 episodes of Manhunt: Unabomber.

Last night, after he returned from his weekend fly fishing trip, we watched the final three.

And though I found the whole series interesting, I was very disturbed by episode 6.

Why is it, I wonder, that I was more disturbed by the evil done to innocent minds than I was to the evil done to innocent bodies?  Have I simply become numb to physical violence?

Or is it because I am so aware that, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me,” is so NOT true.

Or was I disturbed by episode 6 because the evil done by Dr. Ted Kaczynski was rightly reviled as evil while the evil done by Dr. Henry Murray was lauded as science?

As far as I’m concerned, both should be in prison – if Dr. Murray were still alive.

If you aren’t familiar with the unabomber’s backstory, he and his IQ of 168 enrolled in Harvard at age 16, where he volunteered to be a subject in a very unethical 3 year psych experiment. Unethical and evil.

Forgiveness.

At the end of episode 8, at Ted’s sentencing, the victims were given a chance to speak. They described the horrendous impact Ted’s actions had on them and their families and then one of them said this:

“As you start your life sentence in prison, this is what I wish for you: Given that your victims were blinded by your bombs, may you also be blinded by being deprived of the incredible light of the moon, the stars the sun, the beauty of nature for the rest of your life. Given that your victims lost their hearing because of your bombs, may you spend the rest of your days in stony silence. And given that your victims were maimed by your bombs, may your body be shackled with the same violence and hatred that have already imprisoned your mind. And given that your victims were killed by your bombs, may your own death occur as you have lived – in a solitary manner, without compassion or love.”

That last phrase especially – “without compassion or love” – made the hub and I both wince.

“That’s all so wrong,” I said, shaking my head.

The hub nodded in agreement.

We prayed this yesterday in church, we pray it often:

“Lord, in compassion, help us see beneath the surface of things to the wounds and sorrows in the hearts of those who sin against us. Deliver us from a pride which accounts them as sinful and us as righteous. We are not better than them. We are one with them at the foot of the cross. We cry out, ‘Forgive us!’ Set us free from the snares of hatred. Enable us to see our enemies as you see them from the cross, as persons you created and intended them to be, and make us instruments of their healing.

Lord, remember not the suffering the enemies of the cross have inflicted on creation and humanity; remember instead the fruits your disciples have born – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – which have grown out of the trials they inflicted, and when they come to judgment, let the fruits your persecuted ones have borne be their forgiveness. Lord, hear our prayer.”

“Let the fruits your persecuted ones have borne be their forgiveness.”

That’s all so right*.

Because the persecution Jesus has borne, and the fruits He has born, has been our forgiveness.

It is right that Ted Kaczynski remain in prison for the rest of his life, but depriving him – or anyone – of compassion and love makes us more like Ted and less like God.

It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance.

*even as it is so, so difficult.

#believe

 

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life, Light

Manipulation & Weenies

“Christian manipulation at its finest,” my daughter said, as she walked into the kitchen.

“Let’s hear it.”

She proceeded to read a Facebook message from some random guy who wants to connect:

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[link removed]

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Free Dream Interpretation Line?

Needless to say, she denied the request.

“It isn’t the same kind of manipulation,” I said, “but it reminds me of a time, when I was your age, that I received a letter in the mail at work.  It started, ‘Dear Julie, You are unattractive, no one likes you and you are a failure at work…’ The letter continued to insult me for several paragraphs before inviting me to a seminar on self-esteem.

What? You’re going to tear down my self-esteem and then invite me to pay you $250 to build it back up?

Unfortunately for the letter’s sender, I was really cute back then, had lots of friends, and I had just received a raise, so I couldn’t have been too much a failure at work…”

Manipulation of the Weeny Sort.

The hub was away fishing this morning so my daughter and I went out for breakfast. Over omelets and pancakes she told a familiar tale of manipulation of the weeny sort.  One of her friends, who has been seriously dating the assistant minister of a hip downtown church, just got dumped.  They had been dating for a very (4+ years) long time.

“He probably said something like, ‘The Lord told me it isn’t His will for me to continue in this relationship,’ ” she said, “because that’s what they always say.”

They being the “fine” Christian men who date, dump and then blame it on God.

“Four years of her life,” my daughter said, shaking her head, “and then trying to pass himself off as all spiritual.”

“If I were the young woman being dumped,” I said, “I’d want to know whether God mentioned anything to him about the relationship not being His will FOUR YEARS AGO.”

Because the fact is, he’s a jerk.  He can pretend that the break-up is him being all godly and obedient, but where was his obedience 4 years ago?

If the relationship is not God’s will now, then the relationship was not His will then. So either he ignored God then, or God has nothing to do with it.

Chances are good that it was the hip young minister’s idea to date her – take her off the market for 4+ years with no intention of marrying her – and it was the hip young minister’s idea to dump her.

Because God doesn’t string people along.

“I want to smack him silly,” I said as I finished my orange juice, “because how is anyone supposed to argue with, ‘blah, blah, blah, blah, blah … and I must be obedient to God.'”

As if God has any part in breaking a young woman’s heart.

 

 

 

 

 

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Light

Wearing Nothing But a Belt

I’m studying the book of Romans this year with a group of women from a wide variety of age groups, races and religious denominations. It does my heart good to see the body of Christ in all its jasper and carnelian glory.  (See The Throne of God.)

However, studying Paul’s letters in any setting with any group, listening to everyone-but-me speak of Paul with glowing affection and adoration, I can’t help but wonder:

Who died and made Paul God?

Jesus?

We evangelicals tend to treat Paul as though he is a deity. We do. I was in a blog comment discussion once with a guy who actually wrote, “Paul was God.” To be fair, what he meant was that Paul’s words are on par with God’s. But are they?

Paul wasn’t a prophet – he didn’t speak forth the very words of God. He was a missionary, a church-planter. A flawed, human church planter. And though he had some really good things to say, he wasn’t any different than the flawed human missionaries and church planters you might know.

Everyday Christians who do not do the good they want to do, but the evil they do not want to do. Continually.

I have often wondered when this evangelical love affair with Paul began and now, thanks to my Bible study notes, I think I know. It began with Martin Luther:

“When I learned how the justification of the sinner proceeds from the free mercy of our Lord through faith… then I felt born again like a new man,” Luther wrote, … “In very truth, this language of St. Paul was to me the true gate of Paradise.” – J.H. Merle D’Aubigue, The Life and Times of Martin Luther (Chicago: Moody Press, 1958), 55-56.

“Later, Luther called Romans ‘the chief part of the New Testament and the very purest gospel.’ He taught that ‘every Christian should know it word for word, by heart, [and] occupy himself with it every day, as the daily bread of the soul.’”  – Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1976), xiii.

Purest gospel? Purer than the gospels written by those who actually lived with, served with and sat at the feet of Jesus for three years? Of those who recorded His actual words. In red letters?!

If it all began with Martin Luther, I can see how the adoration of Paul would be foundational to being an evangelical, to being born-again. No wonder I feel like the kid yelling, “The emperor is naked!” among crowds who are admiring his new clothes.

Pointing out human flaws in Paul’s logic, pointing out his sometimes defensive posture and his convoluted writing style makes me highly unfashionable. Leprous even.

But then, take a look in my closet and you will see that I’ve never been all that concerned with fashion.

Why does it rile my soul?

Because I think it does harm to the church to look at Paul’s writing through such a (falsely) rosy lens. It insults my intelligence when Bible commentators twist themselves into pretzels trying to make sense of Paul’s baffling words in order to preserve the idea of his perfection rather than just telling it like it is: Paul was human and humans get defensive, try to please everyone, misquote their sources, embellish when trying to win an argument and just plain misspeak.

The church would be healthier if we were allowed to point out the elephant in the room. Isn’t ignoring the elephant the thing that makes a family dysfunctional?

Telling the truth would also make church a lot more appealing to those who say they are too intelligent for church as well as to those who, like me, notice a bit of nakedness but feel pressured to pipe down, dress up in good Christian clothes and pretend.

I have a lot to say about Paul, whom I actually like in many ways. It’s not his fault we put on these unfortunate glasses.

If you want to know more about Paul and me, type “Paul” into the search bar at the top of this blog and scroll away.  If you’re about to throw 2 Timothy 3:16 at me, type “The Inerrancy of God” into search and read, read, read.  🙂

In the meantime, I’ll keep the belt of truth buckled firmly around my waist.

#fashionable

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