Faith • Leadership • Life

Water To Wine

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What do you think of when you think of God? Whatever it is that you think, I promise you He is greater. What is your perception of Jesus? He’s far better than you could imagine. Jesus came to reveal God to us completely. Jesus was God, therefore, to see and hear Him was to see and hear God. This is true of His earthly life and all that it entailed. The words, the stories, the love and the miracles all tell us who God really is, and the God we see is more incredible than we could have thought possible.

Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John chapter 2 tells us much about just how good He is. A country wedding was taking place in the little town of Cana in the countryside of Galilee. Two normal, run of the mill people deciding to make their love official. This is where the King of Kings decided to unveil His glory for the first time.

Notice that He chose a home instead of the temple. This tells us that Jesus is personal. Although He would spend plenty of time in the temple, He was just as comfortable in this little home. Also, He chose a wedding instead of a funeral. You see, Jesus is a God of life, not death. He came to overcome death and the grave, and that’s what He ultimately did with His eventual resurrection from the dead. He is a God of laughter, celebration and dancing. This is who God really is. He also chose a feast instead of a fast. The opening act of the Son of God was this little wedding. The opportunity came when the wine ran out.

In ancient Jewish culture, running out of wine at a wedding was a huge social mistake and a major embarrassment to the groom because it was ultimately his responsibility. Whether it was because the crowd was larger than expected or the groom was simply a poor planner, it was a big deal that the party was still going and the wine was all gone.

This is where Jesus stepped in. He commands the servants, privately, to fill the water jars used for ceremonial cleansing up with water. He then very quietly and simply tells them to take some to the master of ceremonies. They had no idea that the dirty water had been changed into the most exquisite wine anyone had ever enjoyed. Over 150 gallons of water had been instantly and miraculously turned to wine. Amazing. Stunning. Powerful.

While it is true that this miracle displayed Jesus’ amazing power, it also displayed His extravagant goodness. This major point of this miracle seems to simply be to show that He is good! He saves the groom from extreme embarrassment while providing the guests with immense enjoyment. Yep, that’s just good. Really good.

You may have to peel back your preconceived notions of Jesus to truly embrace just how good He is. This miracle does that for you. As the party continued and the people enjoyed the fruits of the Messiah’s kindness, He sat with His new disciples. John tells us that they believed. I think that it was not only His brilliant power that made them believe. I think it was also His goodness. The Jesus who turns the ordinary into extraordinary. And just think…..if He can turn water into wine, what could He do with your life and mine?

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What’s Inside Is Coming Out

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The ancient real life character at the center of the greatest disaster in human history had an inner faith in God that led to an outer obedience. The Bible is clear about the order of transformation in Noah’s life. It began with God’s initiation of grace. This has always been true of God and always will be…..He is the initiator of grace. Noah wasn’t saved because he was a good man. He wasn’t saved because he was so much better than the rest of the wicked people of his day. No, he was wicked just like them. Noah needed grace from a holy God and he got it. The Bible simply says in Genesis 6 that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord”. This is stunning truth. Noah wasn’t good or righteous first. He found grace first, which was initiated by a good and righteous God.

The text then teaches us that following the connection of God’s grace and Noah’s faith that Noah began to be considered righteous by God. This is because by faith Noah had believed in God for his salvation, a belief that was ultimately in what Christ was going to do in the future. God declared Noah free of guilt and righteous. This is the stunning power of the Gospel. Bad people declared good by a Holy God who is full of mercy and grace.

What happens next in Noah’s life is interesting and relevant for us. He was “blameless” among the people of his day. Again, this blamelessness did not earn him a ticket onto the Ark. Noah became blameless as a result of the transformation in his life after he placed his faith in the work of God. In other words, Noah had an inner change that led to an outer change. The transformation IN Noah began to renovate the OUTER life of Noah. What was inside was coming out!

This is a truth for modern believers to grab on to completely. If you have an authentic internal regeneration experience with God it will begin to show in your words, actions, and life. Like a sponge that when squeezed shows what it holds within, you and I will show in our outer life what’s really happening in our hearts. Noah certainly had a heart changing experience with God, but it didn’t stay inside. His faith led him to a radical life of obedience that paved the way to the building of one of the most massive water flotation vessels in history.

Jesus said in Mark 12:30-31 to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. There is the order.  It was true for Noah and it’s true for us. Our inner life will determine our outer life, and our outer life is the evidence of our inner life. What does your outer life indicate about your heart? Are your actions and words being guided by the changes in the deepest part of you? May it be so.

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Noah – There Is More To The Story

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At 3Circle Church we recently kicked off a 5-week teaching series on the Biblical account of the life of Noah. Found in the book of Genesis, his story spans only a few chapters.  Upon first glance you’d wonder how we could spend over a month on what seems like such a brief life story.

Of course most of us know there’s the whole flood and ark thing, but isn’t that it?  Actually, this guy’s life is loaded with relevancy for us.  Unfortunately, Noah seems to take his place alongside Jonah, creation, and the splitting of the Red Sea as cute Bible stories that are great for kids.  The problem with this approach is that we are missing out on the theological and practical treasures that these Biblical narratives hold.

Over the next few weeks we will explore Noah’s life and its context on this blog.  We will set aside our caricatures and assumptions and take a deeper look into the scriptures.  We will see the account of Noah the way God intended us to see it…..a gripping epic that reveals God to us while placing a mirror in front of our own hearts.

In Genesis chapter 6, the Bible describes the Earth as a place literally consumed by wickedness.  It is in this chapter that we are shown vividly the path of sin.  God condemns humanity twice before the flood, and His condemnations are in a specific order.  First, humans are condemned not for what they are DOING but for what they are THINKING.  This is a huge takeaway.  What we think matters more than we could imagine.

Unfortunately, we normally take much better care of our outer lives than our inner lives. We workout, tan, and spend loads on fashion while our hearts slowly fall apart.  The people of Noah’s day were consumed by wickedness to the point that their motives and thoughts we’re completely evil.

This is the path of sin.  Sin always begins in the heart and mind, and then moves outward.  You can trace sin back to thoughts and motives every time.  We mistakenly believe that we are safe as long as we keep our issues internal, swept under the rug of our hearts.  This is a completely faulty approach.  Proverbs 4:23 teaches us to “above ALL else GUARD our HEARTS.”  The truth is our inner life is our most important life. Everything that comes out of us comes from within, and everything that is in us is coming out!

The bottom line is that God cares about what’s going on in our minds and hearts.  He knows our every thought, motive, and intention.  The people of Noah’s day we’re alive physically but they we’re rotting corpses internally. The lesson for us modern day believers is that we need to pay attention to our inner life because it will decide every other area of our lives.

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Only One

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“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” was a huge hit for the talented Marvin Gaye in the late 1960’s but it could’ve been a slogan for the freshly liberated Israelites in 1600 B.C.  The Israelites had been living in a hyper-polytheistic culture for hundreds of years watching their captors worship every false God imaginable.  Whatever the Egyptians perceived to be their greatest momentary need would inevitably lead to the formation of a god.  It was out of this context that the Hebrews found themselves in a wonderfully new context…..monotheism.  After making the convincing case that He was THEIR God and had delivered them from slavery, the one true God gave the first of the great commands.

“Have no other gods before ME”.    This was a resounding singular shot across the false god filled bow of polytheism.  God was both affirming His oneness while demanding that His people recognize it.  There could be no more duplicity in their hearts.  No more confusion.  No more waffling.  In effect, God was saying CHOOSE ME!!  Like all the commands, it was ultimately for His glory but it was most certainly for their good.  Jehova God was the real thing….the great  I AM.

This command teaches us the exclusivity of God.  He stands alone and demands to alone have our hearts.  This leads to the motivation behind the command.  God knew that even those who choose to follow Him will fight the propensity to either move Him off of the throne of their hearts or make Him share space.  He will do neither.  He tells us in giving these commands that He is a “jealous” God.  He isn’t jealous in a human sense, for we are often sinful and petty in our jealousies.  No, God is perfect in every sense, including His jealousy.

You see, God is PERFECTLY jealous for our hearts.  He refuses to share even a square inch of the throne our hearts.  He alone is worthy of that sacred place, and to love Him completely we must love Him with all our hearts.  He must sit on the throne of our hearts.  The question we must ask is simply this;  does He?  Who or what sits on the throne of your heart?  Are you asking God to slide over so that you can worship some special person in your life? How about your career?  Are you bowing to that idol?  Maybe you worship God but also the opinions of others.

What is it that consumes your thoughts, resources, or energy?  That just may be your little God.  You see, our hearts are idol factories.  We don’t always intend to replace God, but we often try to have Him share the space that He demands be His alone.  This command is so foundational that you can’t break the others without breaking this one.  It is the slab on which the other commands are built.  I encourage you today to search your life and heart with the help of the one true God.  Remove anything besides God that is ON the throne of your heart and place it UNDER Him.  Only He deserves that special place.  Have NO other god before Him.

Rules of Life for Liberated People

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If you’re like me, you grew up with the 10 Commandments in close proximity.  Every home that I spent significant time in as a kid had a copy hanging somewhere on a wall.  My mom actually gave me the one from my childhood home for my first office.  Here in the great state of Alabama (roll tide) these commandments had a huge moment in the light as a bitter political war was waged over their placement in the state capitol.  This all leads me to this point; most of us have a degree of familiarity with the 10 Commandments, but few of us understand them and therefore few of us actually live them.  I think its time we remedy this problem.

In Exodus chapter 20, we find the Hebrew children of God at the foot of the famous Mount Sinai.  Led by Moses, this massive group of people had recently and miraculously been set free from hundreds of years of brutal slavery under the cruel hand of Egypt, the most powerful nation on Earth at that time.  To call the Exodus out of Egypt spectacular would be a huge understatement.  The great I Am had literally moved heaven and earth on behalf of His beloved people.  After the grand finale of a march through the temporarily split Red Sea, the freshly free Hebrews were about to get the greatest miracle yet…….God would SPEAK to them.  Yep, the terrifyingly powerful Elohim was about to become personal.

To understand and appreciate the commands you must grasp this aforementioned context.  You see, grace comes before law.  It always has and it always will. In Exodus 20:2 God reminds His people that He is  “the Lord YOUR God who brought you out of Egypt.”  He then gives the commands.  You see it?  Grace then law.  God is saying that He is a personal God who loves, provides, and even fights for His own.  It is out of the context of His amazing love for us that He gives us the commands.  To see the commands as simply a heavy handed rule book to keep us in line is to completely miss the heart of them.  This is a loving Father directing and protecting His family.  They are for HIS glory but also for OUR good!!  The more you see this the more you will want to understand, live, and even teach these commands.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be visiting the commands.  Today, I want you to focus on that 2nd verse of Exodus 20.  The Lord YOUR God gave you these commands.  Like the Israelites, we have all been saved from our own Egypt.  You see, the Exodus was just a preview to the main event.  What God did in setting His people free from Egyptian slavery was a foretaste of His ultimate setting of His people free on the Cross through Jesus Christ.  Jesus was the great freedom fighter on our behalf.

As you see the commandments I pray you’ll begin to see them in a fresh light…..the light of Christ.  They point to Him.  They come from Him.  So let’s embrace the commands and take a new look at them with open minds and hearts.   Remember, Jesus said “If you love me you will follow my commands”.

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Honest Questions and Uncomfortable Answers

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Questions are powerful.  The right question can lead to the right answers.  As busy people living busy lives, we have a tendency to become insanely over busy.  It is into this insanity that I would like to offer a couple of powerful questions that hopefully will help us all get to the heart of our issues with busyness.  Now, as a warning, these are questions that will be hard for you to answer honestly, but I urge you to do so.

You see, unhealthy busyness isn’t just an exterior behavior to be managed or modified, but it is a symptom of deeper issues of the heart.  That’s the point of the questions……to bore down through the layers of your image, walls, and veneer.  It would seem that the fix to crazy busyness would be to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and change.  This, unfortunately, is just a band aid for what is often a gaping wound.   Human issues are rarely just skin deep.  We are deeply complex creatures with deeply complex problems and tendencies.  So, crank up the drill and start drilling.  Here are the questions.

First, who are you serving with your serving?  Are you truly serving people or God for His glory and their good?  Or, are you really ultimately looking for your own glory.  Before you blow this off, allow it to really sink in.  As broken people, we tend to dress up our hidden narcissism with selflessness.  We are masters at making caring about what people think about us look like we are really caring for them.

Secondly, are you doing good or trying to look good?  Yeah, I know, it’s painful….very painful.  I know how you feel.  You see, I’m pretty good at doing things that look outwardly like they are for God’s glory and people’s good, but they are ultimately for my glory and for my good.  I’m broken just like you.  I’m not who I used to be….but I’m also not who I’m going to be!!  I, like you, am a work in progress.

Here’s the deal.  If you will allow these penetrating questions to shine light into the jagged crevices of your heart, the healing process can begin.  If you live in denial, it will just get worse.  If you are super busy because you’re trying to prove yourself and have a good looking outward image, you will walk this demanding trail to a potentially destructive end.  It will wear you out and leave you insecure and empty.  You will use people for your own good under the disguise of doing what’s best for them.  It’s an issue of WHY instead of WHAT.  It’s not just the things you’re doing, but it is the reason you are doing them in the first place.  So, why are you so busy?  What are you trying to prove?

The only answer to this issue is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  He called us to “come to Him and find rest.”  We must rest in the finished work of Jesus.  The only way we can serve God for His glory and people for their good is to be complete and secure in Jesus.  It is in and through Him that I find that I have nothing left to prove.  My identity is nailed down in Jesus.  It is a daily process of doing what we do underneath the shadow of the cross.  It is in that shadow that the purest light can actually begin to shine out from our lives.

Hopefully these questions will lead you to where they’ve led me…….to a statement.  I do what I do because of my identity in Jesus, not to find it.  This has set me free.  I hope it will for you.

 

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Busy Body

busybody-frontpagebanner“I’m busy.”   Yep, that’s my most used phrase when I’m asked how I’m doing at any given time.  I have different forms of the phrase too….like “I’m SO busy” or “crazy busy,” but the truth is often I’m simply TOO BUSY.

Maybe that’s you as well.  My hunch is most of us are living life like hamsters running on wheels.  We’re expending lot’s of energy and time, but we’re not really going anywhere.  While it can be funny and cute to watch our furry little friends play in a pet store, it’s not so funny when it’s an accurate description of our lives.

In the New Testament book of Ephesians, the Apostle Paul gives us a group of verses that have helped me harness the busyness in my life and I hope they will for you.

15 See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 16 redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. Ephesians 5:15-17 NKJV

 

First, Paul warns us that we need to be careful how we live our lives.  Unfortunately, many of us are living life without much care at all.  We add to our already over-packed schedules with little thought.  We allow life to simply happen to us rather than harnessing it’s vast potential and opportunity.  Life is fragile…we must handle it with care.

He then calls us to a life of wisdom.  Now, there is difference between intelligence and wisdom.  I know lots of smart people who aren’t exactly wise.  If someone claims to be wise take a look at their decisions.  Wisdom leads to good decisions.  Paul raises the bar on how we live and make decisions.  We must be wise because it will lead us to carefully develop margin in our lives rather than packing them so tight we can’t breathe.

Finally, the Apostle teaches us to “redeem” our time and do God’s will.  This is the opposite of carelessly burning our time like a trash pile in a field.  Our time is limited and none of us know just how much we have.  Every minute we live is an opportunity given to us by our Creator.  The sobering truth about time is that it has a no refund policy.  You can’t redo your life.  Once time is gone, it’s gone forever.  This is why God lovingly through the pages of scripture and the pen of Paul speaks to us with this reminder.  Use your time wisely.

Truthfully, I struggle with this issue of unhealthy busyness.  I’m a busy guy leading a fast growing multi campus church, preaching 6 times a week, and most importantly being husband and daddy to an amazing family.  I…..am……busy.  But, I don’t have to choose to be a busy body.  I don’t have to be unwise and foolish.  God’s called me to stop trying to do everything so I can do SOME things well.

I have a few crucial things I’m called to accomplish in my life, and with God’s help I want to see it happen.  What about you?  Are you just TOO BUSY?  Do you have any margin in your life?  Read these words in Ephesians and know that God has a plan for your life.  Ask Him to show you.  When you know the things He wants you to major on, the other stuff will end up where it should be…..in the minors.  If you’ll stop trying to do everything, you can do just about anything.

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Bringing People To The Table

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In the fourteenth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus was dining with a powerful group of Pharisees and teachers of the Law on the Sabbath when a very sick man showed up. Jesus healed the man, knowing He would be adding to the case the religious leaders were building to have Him executed. He then began teaching the men about the value of all people, and how they should treat others with more honor than themselves. I’m sure it was a tense time at the old dinner table!! Jesus always had a way of bravely speaking the truth. When one of the men tried to break the tension by basically making a presumptive statement about the group’s eventual joy in the Kingdom of God, Jesus told one of His most famous parables which was intended to teach them and us.

Parables were little stories that taught big ideas. Jesus was definitely teaching big ideas with this brilliantly told story. A good and generous master decides to host a feast and invite some folks to it. In Bible times, a feast was an enormous undertaking. There was no refrigeration, electric stoves or microwaves. A feast would entail killing, cleaning, and preparing an animal. Vegetables would need to be harvested and wine would be purchased. This was a big deal! A host would invite the guests first and when the feast was ready, the previously invited guests would be notified under the full assumption that they would attend. Well, in this story, they came up with horrible excuses to bail. The angry host, with the steaming hot feast prepared, sent his servants out again with the command to get people to the table. He said, “Make them come in so that my house will be full.”

Jesus was showing us the heart of the Father and the mission to which we are called. The feast is Jesus and the Gospel. The hard work was done and finished by Jesus on the cross. Blood was spilled to provide this feast. God went to unfathomable lengths to provide humanity with this feast. It is clear He wants guests at the table and the house to be full. He wants the lame, maimed, poor and blind at the table.

So what will you and I do this Easter season to “make them come in”. Will we invite? Are we willing to become uncomfortable for the sake of someone else’s eternity? What will we sacrifice to ensure God’s house is FULL? You see, God cares about the empty seats in our churches. Not the fabric and metal, but the person who isn’t sitting in it yet. We must align ourselves with the heart of our Heavenly Father. God loves people!! He sent His only Son on a mission to save people. Are you partnering with Him on this mission? My motivation comes from a powerful truth tucked away in this parable. You see, I am the poor, blind, maimed and lame. I came to Jesus with nothing to offer. I came to Him blind and in darkness. I showed up at the table maimed with wounds and scars from the past. I was lame and totally unable to help myself or move the needle of salvation in my life. I needed Jesus. I NEED Jesus. So, I must invite others like me to this table. Make them come in, so His house will be full.

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The Narrow Way

iStock_000000749845SmallEvery good communicator begins and ends a teaching or talk strong.  We call this the bookends.  Jesus, being the greatest speaker and teacher of all time, ended His famous Sermon on the Mount with a stunningly powerful and refreshingly simple teaching.  In Matthew 7:13-14 He introduces us to the narrow way.  While being one of His hardest teachings, it is also ultimately one of His most hope filled teachings.

Jesus tells us to “enter through the narrow gate”.  He goes on to state that there are essentially two gates or paths in life.  One is narrow, small, and difficult.  The other is wide, broad, and inviting.  Jesus is boiling all of life down to two crucial choices.  His path and then all other paths.  Philosophy tells us that life is much like a mountain with life and fulfillment and even God at the summit.  Like other mountains, this one has many different paths to get to the top.  Simply pick the path that best suits you and stick to it.  Eventually, it will take you to truth, fulfillment, and whatever you consider to be “God”.  This, however, is NOT what Jesus taught.  While Jesus was very open with His love, compassion, and service, He was extremely narrow when it came to truth.  He was so narrow that He emphatically states that all of the complexity of life comes down to a choice between two paths.

Interestingly, this principal of the Narrow Way is true in all areas of life. The narrow path ALWAYS leads to life.  If you want great health and fitness, you will have to walk a narrow path with your diet and exercise. Doing life the WIDE way like most others will lead you to the same mediocre destination as most others. To be an Olympic athlete a person must choose to live a radically different life than his or her friends. To have financial freedom you must walk a small path with your money……so small many will think your crazy!! Are you catching on?  The narrow way always leads to the most life.

This is true in all areas of life, and it is true in the most important area of life. Jesus said numerous times in the Gospels that He was the ONLY way to salvation, heaven and the Father. He left no flexibility.  He is it….the way, the path, the gate, the door.  It’s faith alone in Jesus alone.  It’s all that you are for all that He is.  In a culture that demands multiple choice answers to life, Jesus offers us one answer.  All other paths lead to destruction.  So, if you are a Christ follower, continue living the narrow life.  Love wide but live narrow.  Don’t live like everyone else.  Live the narrow life….walk the narrow path. If you’re reading this and you’ve never walked through the narrow gate called Jesus….well, I invite you to do it.  Yes it’s narrow. While the wide gate starts wide it ultimately ends in the most narrow place imaginable.  Jesus’ path starts so narrow that it may cost you everything to come through it, but it will lead you to the most wide place of freedom and life you can imagine.  The choice is yours.

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

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One of my favorite songs is “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. It is such a simple phrase with such huge implications. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands His followers to stop worrying. This is a breathtaking command to which many of us would say “yeah right”. It really does seem impossible, doesn’t it? Is it even possible for us to stop worrying? What seems impossible for us as humans becomes completely possible through the work of God in our lives.

Remember, the Sermon on the Mount is an introduction to the Kingdom Life, a life radically different than the norm. It is so against human nature that to live it is like writing with your weak hand…..it’s unnatural!! Yet, it is this radical life that Jesus calls His disciples to live. One of the elements of this radical life is a departure from worry and anxiety.

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches us why worry is destructive and wasteful. First, worrying is a total waste of time because it changes NOTHING about our situation or our future. He reminds us that no one has ever added to his or her life by worrying and becoming anxious. Think about the times you’ve agonized over the mere possibility of something happening that actually never took place. Jesus loves us too much to allow us to take part in this ridiculous activity unchecked.

In these verses, Jesus not only tells us to stop worrying, but He also gives us evidence that we have no reason to be anxious if we belong to Him. He tells us to LOOK and CONSIDER. Look at the birds and consider the lilies. Jesus is pointing out that birds and lilies do not fret and worry, yet they are provided all they need. He then powerfully reminds us that we matter so much more to Him than any other part of creation. So why in the world would we worry?

Admittedly, this is not easy. We are hard wired as humans to worry because we desperately want control and we instinctively lack trust in our Father. This started way back in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve allowed their trust in God to waver and their desire for control and freedom led to their fall. We live to this day under the consequences of that decision. Thankfully, through the second Adam, Jesus Christ, we who believe in Him are redeemed. We don’t have to bow down to the destructive power of worry and anxiety. The cross is forever a reminder that we are loved and will always be provided all that we need. We can take deep JOY in this truth. Jesus is enough!

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