The Maturing of Self-Awareness is Self-Forgetfulness

John Calvin wrote in the beginning of The Institutes of the Christian Religion these words in regard to knowledge of God and knowledge of self:

“Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.”

I’ve found this experience to be true; self-awareness and God-awareness are linked together. That’s not to say, however, they are the same thing. God and humanity are different from each other, and the pathway to God is NOT found through exploring oneself. At the same time, the link is strong. As one begins to plumb the depths of who God is they inevitably have the same experience as Isaiah in Isaiah 6. In the light of the knowledge of God we are forced to recognize the true depth of our own depravity. And as we see ourselves in light of Him, we are again forced to reflect on who He is as He is different than we are.

And so the circle goes. As we know more and more of God, we also become more and more aware of ourselves. And as we become more and more aware of ourselves, we look increasingly at the character of God.

Self-awareness is a good thing, then, for all kinds of reasons. For one thing, it forces us to recognize in our faults that God exists apart from those faults. For example, we might find ourselves a desire for justice to be done in the world, and yet through our increasing self-awareness recognize that we want this justice to be done to others at the exclusion of ourselves. It’s good for everyone else to be held accountable, just not ourselves. But God is not like that.

Another reason why self-awareness is a good thing is because of the effect on our relationships with others. We can be more sympathetic and compassionate toward others when we recognize the same characteristic at play in our own lives.

But this self-awareness is not an end in itself; it can’t be, or otherwise we become people who live for no other reason than knowing ourselves. We become our own God; we are the object of our pursuits. This, unfortunately, is the unintended result of our emphasis on “authenticity” and “community.” We become people who justify our sin and our shortcomings because they are known and acknowledged and shared with others. We no longer feel conviction about this stuff in our lives that has yet to be fully claimed by the gospel because our struggles are common and even understandable.

Like all other parts of our lives, there is a certain kind of maturity to our self-awareness that happens as we grow in Christ. The maturing of our self-awareness is, ironically, self-forgetfulness. This in the end is what true humility is made of.

Here, too, we have some confusion, because we tend to think that humility means thinking we are worthless. It means the deflection of compliments and a refusal to accept that we might be good at doing a particular thing. Instead of simply saying “thank you” when someone offers us a word of encouragement, we brush it off all the while longing in our souls that someone else will pick up the compliment and continue the conversation on our behalf. Or that by our deflection, we will actually intensify the admiration of another so that they think not only we are good at a particular thing, but that we are also really good at being humble.

Messed up, right? Right.

Part of self-awareness is knowing that we are, in fact, good at things. But the other side of that coin is being aware that even when we are doing something that seems to be pretty selfless in the moment, our motives are tainted with vain conceit and self-indulgence. We serve, but we want to be acknowledged for our service. We pray and study but we want others to recognize how much we’ve done. We give but we feel slighted when we aren’t recognized for what we’ve done.

This is where the maturing of our self-awareness come in. By God’s grace, hopefully we are moving in the direction where we know ourselves more and yet think of ourselves less. That’s because more and more we find our gaze fixed first on God, second on others, and we see ourselves in relation to how we might serve them both.

The profitable question for us, then, might not be whether we know ourselves better and better; maybe it’s where that self-knowledge is taking us. Is it taking us down the road of self-justification and indulgence, or is it taking us into that blessed realm of self-forgetfulness?

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God Not Only WILL Do; He Is Doing

What we say really does matter.

We shouldn’t be surprised; it was Jesus who said beginning in Matthew 12:33, speaking to the Pharisees:

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

In other words, the fruit reveals the root. If you want to know what’s in your heart look at what’s coming out of your mouth. Jesus’ brother, James, echoed the Lord’s words in his own letter when talking about the revelatory nature of words:

Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening? Can a fig tree produce olives, my brothers, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a saltwater spring yield fresh water (James 3:11-12).

What that means for you and I, among other things, is that we may think we believe one thing, and yet what we say reveals what’s really true in our heart. We might, for example, say we believe that God is with us all the time through the Holy Spirit, and yet when we pray, we ask that God would “be with” so and so during their time of need. What we mean is that God would comfort them, help them, let them feel His presence, but what we say implies that deep in our hearts we truly believe that the presence of God ebbs and flows based on our circumstances.

Here’s another case study that I often find in myself. I look around and see illness. Suffering. Persecution. Trouble. Hardship. And I say to myself and out loud, “God will do something about this.” And that’s true; God will eventually do something about all these things in a visible, tangible, apparent way. He will fix it, and He will fix it all.

But if the only thing I ever say is that “God will,” then I am selling short the presence and power of God. God not only will do; He is doing. Currently. Presently. At this very moment.

It’s a much harder thing to embrace the “is” in addition to the “will”; embracing the “is” means choosing to see passed the surface level. It means choosing the road of faith. It means choosing to believe something that contradicts what our senses tell us to be true. And ultimately, it means assuming that I know what redemption and good looks like in a given situation.

I do not.

And because I do not, I must prepare my heart for the fact that God’s good, His fix for a given situation, might not be what I have in mind. It will likely be different than my limited view and calloused heart can imagine; and it will be far greater than what I have in mind. That’s what He is doing; He’s in the middle of His work and has not pushed pause.

While we long for what we believe by faith to be experienced by sight, we must not only embrace that coming day when it’s a reality, but also embrace the present day by faith. Even though it looks like a downward trajectory all around us, God is still here. He is still at work.

He is the God who is. Not the God who will be.

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Lord, Make Me a Generous Father

“Lord, make me a generous father.”

This is a prayer I’ve been praying recently. I started praying it because I read Jesus’ description of our heavenly Father in Luke 11:11-13:

“What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

It’s my responsibility as a dad to teach my kids, both implicitly and explicitly, what their true heavenly Father is like, and it is a mighty responsibility. It takes my breath away to consider that, whether they know it or not, the primary way my kids are learning about their Father in heaven is through their father on earth. So what kind of Father is He, and therefore what kind of father must I strive to be? Among other things, He is a generous Father.

This whole passage is about giving gifts; not paltry, surface-level gifts, but real ones. Good ones. Extravagant ones. And, as these verses tell us, not always the gifts my kids have in mind, but gifts nonetheless. That’s what led me to the prayer – that I would not be a stingy father, but a giving one. A father who is marked by generosity with his children.

But I also am beginning to think that we define generosity too narrowly; we think about it in terms of the tangible and even monetary, but it goes well beyond that. Money might be the most easy measure of generosity, but it’s certainly not the only one. In light of broadening that definition, here are three areas of generosity for me to grow in as a dad:

1. Time generosity.

This one is both easy and difficult at the same time. It’s easy because time is a commodity that everyone has, but it’s hard because it’s also the commodity that we tend to hold most tightly to. At least I do. There are a limited number of hours in each day, and I am finding it more and more difficult to relinquish my strangle hold on mine. But our time, as fathers, it one of the truest measures of our affection. We might give financial gifts all day long to our children, but do we spend time with them? Time doing what they want to do? Their activities? Their interests? Their passions and pursuits? All of those things have a cost to them, and the cost more times than not is our precious time. I pray the Lord would make me generous with these minutes I have.

2. Attention generosity.

What does it look like to be generous with my attention toward my children? The easiest answer, of course, is to take notice of them, but it goes well beyond that when you start to consider the implications of that statement. To take notice of your children really means to be a student of your children; it means taking the time to know what’s really going on in their minds and the hearts, and knowing that takes the intention of asking regular questions and paying attention to the answers, and then following up with further questions. I’d like to be that kind of father – the one that has made it his pursuit to truly know his children.

3. Financial generosity.

There is, of course, there is financial generosity. This is where we have to be careful, because there’s a difference between throwing money at your kids and being financially generous with your children. In the pursuit of the latter, it means making sure that I am financially responsible in the everyday to make sure I can be financially generous with my kids. This also, of course, is where each family will differ. Some parents believe in paying for college tuition; others do not. Some parents believe in purchasing a car; others do not. Regardless of where you line up on each of those issues (and a whole lot more), as parents, we can make choices about our lifestyles that reflect the fact that we want to be generous with our children. That, along with time and attention, doesn’t happen by accident; it happens through a disciplined approach to the assets you have.

And that seems to be the common denominator to all these areas of generosity. We have limited time, limited attention, and limited money. We can be generous with these assets when we make the choice to do so, and that large choice of generosity impacts the small choices we make every day about time, attention and money. As we choose to be generous, we are choosing to be parents who give fish and eggs so that our kids might believe in a God who gives even better fish and eggs.

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An Acquired Taste

Once upon a time, there was a still slightly young man named Michael who didn’t like coffee. Instead of drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, he would accompany his eggs, sausage, and biscuits with a diet Coke. To him, coffee had a bitter taste; it did very little to wash down the food and provide any kind of refreshment.

Still, he liked the idea of coffee. He liked the thought of sitting on the porch with his wife on a lazy Saturday morning, both enjoying a steaming cup of liquid. And then one day, he decided that adults did indeed drink coffee in the morning, and so he started brewing cup after cup of coffee.

And he still hated the taste.

It took a while for me; I started with the idea of coffee, and drank my way into enjoying it. This, I believe, is what’s called an acquired taste. It’s something that you choose to partake in, even though you might not enjoy it immediately. Then over the course of time, as you actually take it in, your taste buds begin to change. That’s how it happened for me.

Many things in life work this way; some things we are pre-conditioned to enjoy and love; many other things we only grow to enjoy and love after we actually start doing them. It’s this way with many of the things of God.

Bible study? Prayer? Fasting? Solitude? These are the mechanisms by which we grow in our relationship with Jesus. And there are seasons of life in which we are excited by them, each and every time. But much of the time, these are acquired tastes. We grow to love them more the more time we actually spend doing them. Like the taste of vegetables to a child, we begin by participating in these spiritual disciplines because we know they are healthy, and then, over the course of time, we find that we have actually developed a taste for them.

If that’s true, then there are many implications for us. Here are three:

1. Don’t wait to start until you feel like it.

If we wait to start doing these things until we have a taste for them, then chances are we will never develop the kind of consistent habits that help us spiritually grow. We can’t wait to start until we want to start; we need to start now because we know it’s good for us.

2. Don’t stop when you feel like it.

Often, the times when we don’t feel like participating in these activities is probably the time in which we need to do so the very most. In the end, we can’t be governed by our tastes. When our tastes run contrary to what we know to be true, we must choose to live by faith which runs against what we see, or in this case, what we feel.

3. Let time be your ally.

Developing new tastes take time. Instead of being frustrated by the time it takes to grow and love these new habits, think of time as your ally. Remind yourself of the power of consistency. God is in this thing for the long-haul – because of the gospel of Jesus, we know He’s not going anywhere. Because we know He’s in it for good, we can stay in the fight.

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Two Reflections About Cynicism

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

I’ve sung that song for years. In fact, I’ve sung it so much that at one point in my life I grew cynical to the simplicity of the call. Music should challenge the intellect and not just be pleasing to the ear , I would pontificate seated squarely atop my high horse. And it’s not just in terms of music. I can be cynical about most anything, especially when it involves the things of faith.

That’s my luxury. I live in an affluent and free society. And cynicism is the luxury of the affluent. I’m not worried about someone busting into the worship services I’m attending; I’m not very concerned about the government arresting me for being a Christian; I’m not anxious about even one of the 15 Bibles I have in my home being confiscated and taken away.

Because I’m not, I’m free to pursue other interests. Like cynicism. I can freely and easily judge away what I might determine to be a less sophisticated way to express my faith. Which brings me back to that simple chorus:

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Cynicism is a luxury of the affluent; but cynicism is also a poor substitute for obedience. And that’s what I use it for most of the time.

I criticize those who might be trying to obey the Lord because I find their expression of obedience uncomfortable. It’s frankly much easier to criticize someone else rather than being obedient on my own.

I bet, and I’m really just guessing here, that those who are seeking with their whole heart to be obedient to the revealed will of God have little room for the kind of cynicism I occupy myself with much of the time.

Cynicism is the luxury of the affluent. And cynicism is a poor substitute for obedience. Far better is to trust and obey.

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Unity, Apart from the Gospel, is Self-Exaltation

God loves unity.

In John 17, Jesus’ high priestly prayer just before His death, He could have prayed many things for His followers, and He did. But one of the recurring themes in that passage of Scripture is unity:

  • “…protect them by Your name that You have given Me, so that they may be one as We are one” (v. 11).
  • “May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You” (v. 21).
  • “May they also be one in us, so the world may believe You sent Me” (v. 21).

But unity is not an end in itself. In fact unity, apart from the gospel, is self-exaltation.

There was another group of people, years and years earlier, who were unified, but they were unified around the wrong things:

“At one time the whole earth had the same language and vocabulary. As people migrated from the east, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky. Let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise, we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:1-4).

These people had all the ingredients any marketing consultant might tell you are essential for a group to accomplish great things together. They spoke the same language, they had a big goal, and they were motivated to take action. The problem was they were unified around the wrong thing, and when you come around something from the gospel the end result is always going to be self-exaltation.

All in all, it’s good and right that any group of people knows who they are and what they’re going after together. But if we want it to last, we should do well to make sure we aren’t worshiping the goal:

“So from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth, and they stopped building the city…” (Genesis 11:8).

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3 Surprising Ways to Boast in the Lord

What does it mean to boast?

Even if you can’t quote the definition, you know it when you see it, just like our kids do. There is a certain way you tweak your voice, a certain way you hold your head, and ultimately a certain way you view yourself that is boasting. Through all those signs, whether they are explicit or implicit, boasting is an inflated view of oneself and one’s accomplishments. But according to Paul, boasting has a good and right outlet.

It’s like that with a lot of things. Sex is not bad; it’s a question of how our sexual desire is expressed. Neither is study, neither is eating, neither is zeal. The desire or inclination isn’t what’s bad; these desires become sinful when they’re expressed in the wrong ways. On the subject of boasting, Paul finds room for it, but only when the cross looms large in the background:

Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. But it is from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption,  in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:26-31).

What does it look like to boast in the Lord? There is, of course, the most straight forward meaning – that boasting in the Lord is not being proud of your own accomplishments, but instead sharing freely and loudly what Jesus has done on the cross. It means a vocal testimony of the grace of Jesus in your life – that you were dead in your transgressions and sins, but by grace alone through faith alone and in Christ alone have been made spiritually alive and brought into the family of God. But is that the only way to boast in the Lord?

Maybe not. In fact, here are three other surprising ways that we might also boast in Jesus:

1. Through silence.

If you’re a parent, maybe you know the feeling of reading the proverbial bumper sticker that says that another kid is an honor student, or on the travel ball team, or knows how to eat all their vegetables without complaining. When you’re in a conversation with other parents, and the conversation turns toward the children, there is this thing that rises up inside you to compare. To say something better. To make sure that other person knows that your kid might not do the thing their kid is so awesome at, but he or she does some pretty great stuff, too.

That’s boasting. But it’s boasting in an inappropriate outlet. That’s the kind of boasting that comes from a compulsion to validate your own parenting or your own child. At the root, then, it’s insecurity. Boasting in the Lord means, sometimes, just being quiet. It means being able to allow someone to enjoy their moment in the sun and congratulating them on what they’ve had happen instead of making sure to get your own stuff wedged into the conversation.

2. Through peace.

Anxiety is one of those things that runs rampant in our lives; it seems we have an endless capacity for worry. For me personally, anxiety invades my heart even on the best of days and during the best of times. Tomorrow is always out there, and there’s always something to worry about. But every so often you come across that very rare person that seems to live in a much more free way than you do. It’s not because they have less things to be anxious about; it’s because they are anxious about less things.

Where does that lack of anxiety come from? Well, in the best case scenario, it’s because that person truly takes Jesus at His Word when He says not to worry about tomorrow because God will take care of you then, in His way, just as He took care of you today in His way. The presence of that kind of peace, which does indeed surpass understanding, is one of the ways we boast in the Lord. We brag about a Father who can take care of us despite all the evidence in the world that might make us wonder whether He will.

3. Through honesty.

Truly owning our sin is extremely difficult. Even when we know we are in the wrong, even when we know we should apologize, even when clearly the fault is ours, we want to find some wriggle room. We leave ourselves a back door with apologies framed in terms of “…but”. We practice the art of self-protection by making sure that everyone knows how much stress we are under or how great the pressure of life is so there’s some understanding for why we have done what we’ve done.

But when we are honest – when we just apologize; when we just confess; when we just acknowledge we made a mistake in judgment; and leave it at that without explanation or justification, we are boasting in the Lord. That’s because in that moment of absolute honesty and ownership, we are expressing our confidence that the true Judge has already pronounced us forgiven. Because we know we are forgiven, we are free to be truly contrite and broken instead of holding on with white knuckles to the crutch of self-justification.

Boast in the Lord explicitly. Share the gospel far and wide. And while you are, boast in the Lord implicitly. Boast in the Lord in the way you don’t speak, the way you look at tomorrow, and the way you embrace your own fallenness today.

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Security in Christ is the Only Path to Truly Loving Others

So many different things masquerade as love in our culture. Sex, loneliness, convenience, co-dependency – they can all wear the mask and pass for love in our culture. They’re not, obviously, but why are they not? What is at the core that separates all these things from love in its true and pure form?

Maybe the answer is related to the old story of how to spot a counterfeit piece of currency. There was a time when it was easy to spot a counterfeit bill, but as the fakes became better and more sophisticated, it became impossible to identify all the differences from the original. The story goes that treasury agents were trained not in spotting the fakes, but in the nature of the real. They were to become so intimately familiar with the real thing that even though they might not be able to list off all the potential ways a bill might be fake, they would still know something was off.

So, then, if we want to know what makes these fake forms of love fake, then let’s start with what makes the real kind of love real. And for that, we have not only a point of identification but an actual definition:

“God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent His One and Only Son into the world so that we might live through Him. Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).

This is what love is. This is how it’s defined. And because it is, this is the gold standard, the real thing. It’s not that we loved God, but that God loved us and demonstrated that love. Now we can start to see exactly what’s off about these counterfeits. When we hold them up to the real thing, we see the true differentiation. The love of God, demonstrated by the cross of Christ, is giving in nature. It is motivated not by lack, but by abundance.

That stands in sharp contrast to these other kinds of “affection” – in each and every one of them, the insecurity of the human heart is on full display. In lust, loneliness, convenience and all the rest of the things that pass for love, we are approaching others for what we can get from them. They are, to us, only carriers of their bodies, or their needs, or something else that we think can satisfy our desires. We use then to try and secure something for ourselves.

That’s why the gospel is the only path to truly loving others. It’s because it’s only in Christ that we can be truly secure. It’s only when we are secure in Christ that we can stop seeing others only for what we can get to them. Then, and only then, can we truly and freely love.

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Be Careful of the Small Compromise Now

Once I built a retaining wall in our backyard.

We had a wall that kept the mulch and dirt out of our driveway, but it had eroded over time. It seemed like a relatively simple project. All I had to do was rip up the existing brick and put new cinder block down in its place. But, as often happens with me whenever I try to do something around the house, it got more complicated. The ground needed to be leveled; the blocks had to be sealed; and above all, they needed to be straight.

But I got frustrated. I got impatient. I only had a limited amount of time to do this because, well, I was bored. So instead of using the right tools to make sure that my lines were straight, I eye-balled it. The first few blocks in the row seemed, to my eyes, to be pretty dead on the money. But as I added more and more blocks, the retaining wall line started to drift. What I thought was a straight line at first curved as it ran along the edge of the driveway.

I compromised at the first and paid the price at the end.

Be careful, friends, of what seems like a small compromise right now. It might not seem like much in the moment, but when you make a small drift at the first it expounds into something much more noticeable later.

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Life is About Big Choices Actualized in Little Choices

Life is about making decisions. Most of the decisions we make we don’t really pay attention to; we choose what radio station to listen to, what to eat for dinner, or what movie to go see. We don’t spend hours agonizing over decisions like that; the choice presents itself and we make it and most of the time just carry on with the day.

There are those times though when the decision seems bigger – we have to choose a career, choose a home, or choose a spouse. These are the kinds of decisions that keep us up at night; they move us to seek council from others and carefully weigh out the options.

Big or small, we are always deciding something. But the big and the small are not isolated from each other. In fact every small decision is in reality a reflection of a larger one.

In other words, life is about big decisions actualized in little choices. Here are a couple of examples:

Marriage is a big choice. At a moment, you commit before God and others to honor your husband or wife, no matter what may come. You promise to be faithful and cherish them throughout whatever life throws at you, whether rich or poor or sickness or health. That’s a big decision. But today, you have the chance to actualize that decision in a ton of little ways. Will you ask caring questions about your spouses daily activities and feelings? Will you serve them by doing the household chore they hate to do? Will you put down your phone or remote and listen to them earnestly and genuinely? All these little choices are just a reflection of the bigger decision you’ve already made.

Here’s another one. You choose to honor God with your body. That’s a big choice. But every morning, you have to decide whether you will go to the gym or sleep in. Then you have to decide if it’s going to be tacos or salad for lunch. You have to decide whether or not you will go to bed at a decent hour or whether you’ll stay up. Those are little choices, but they too are a reflection of the larger commitment you’ve made.

You can really look at any small daily choice like this. If you want to filter it through this dynamic, then just ask yourself what’s the larger decision behind the smaller choice you’re making right now? In fact, you can actually hold up this dynamic to your faith.

Believing in Jesus? That’s a big choice. The Bible puts it to us in the form of the two twin towers of a relationship with Christ. Those two towers, the foundational pillars of what it means to be right with God, are summed up in these words: Repent, and Believe.

The big choice of repentance is that you once and for all decide to repent of your self-lordship. You turn from your natural commitment to rule your own life driven by your own personal desires.

The big choice of belief is that you believe that Jesus is Lord over all, including you. You repent and believe.

But today you and I will both have a myriad of opportunities to actualize those big decisions through a ton of much smaller ones. We will choose a thousand times today whether to repent and believe in all these little ways. And each and every time we choose to repent of our selfishness, greed, pride, lust, and everything else that represents our self-lordship; and each and every time we instead choose to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord in our relationships, our finances, our homes, our marriages, and every other area of our lives; we are actualizing what it meant when we first stood before God and others to say that we are not the Lords of our own lives. Jesus is.

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