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The Profit in Faith….

Jas 2:14  What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?

Just a quick note to say that this verse was on my screen today. The thought occurred to me that in James’ question, which is really to ask if there is any value in a faith that does not have works, that we might also ask that question: What profit is there in faith?

Much in every way, because it is by faith that we are saved. But we tend to look not at the things which are not seen but at the things which are seen. We focus on the reality around us and become near sighted to the point of blindness, we wander around with doubts and fears, we look at the winds and storms of life and think…It is not worth it.

 Rom 8:18  For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Notice that word “worthy”. Is it worth it? the problems we have are not worth the comparison.  Is it worth the pain of child birth to bring in a new child into this world? The pain is not worth comparing to the joy of a new child. Is it worth giving up what the world sees as profitable? The sacrifice is not worth the reward of Heaven. Was it worth it for Jesus to set aside his throne and his power and his life to die a horrible death on the cross? The loss is not worth comparing to the honor he has and the salvation we have?

What is the profit in Faith? Lots and lots….May your faith be a living one so that you receive that profit.

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Flee and Pursue

2Ti 2:22  So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

In this passage Paul has given Timothy a lot to work on. Presenting himself as a servant approved and not giving into the irreverant and idle chatter of those who need to be silenced. In telling Timothy what NOT to do though, he tells him what he SHOULD do. So often we tell people NO NO NO but do not share with them what IS acceptable as an alternative. Paul does not fail to encourage Timothy in this way.

Flee. Run away, Get out of Dodge, “Feet do your stuff”, move move move. The one thing that we should do when it comes to youthful lusts (which do not only present themselves to our youth) is to leave. Just as Joseph did with Potiphar’s wife. He left his coat in her hands and fled from her presence.

Far to often, we try to get close to sin, figure out that magical line where we can say “this far and no further”, “up to this point, I have not sinned” and we get really defensive when someone suggests that we need to remove ourselves from the situation or environment. Just try to suggest to people that Desperate Housewives or Grey’s Anatomy are not appropriate shows for Christians and you will quite possibly get lots of reasons why that is a ‘blanket’ statement. (And we ALL know that blanket statements are wrong.)

No, youthful lusts are not just for the youth. The point is that by the time we mature, we should be past those desires that they youth find so enthralling. (side note: Thrall is an ancient word meaning slave. To be enthralled is to be enslaved by something even though that meaning is not commonly given to the word today).

Pursue. The positive thing that we are to do. Chase, run after, Seek, track down and just basically not give up the hunt in trying to obtain 4 things: Righteousness, faith, love, and peace.  Excellent qualities and if sought after in the sense of pursuit, will not just make you a better Christian, will limit the time you have to be concerned with those things you are fleeing.

You might think of this illustration too. If you are Fleeing, it is because you are being chased and there is danger. If you are chasing something it is because it has value and there is value. So while you chase, don’t forget to flee. Because if your feet are not pursuing something, neither are they fleeing anything.

Seek ye first…

As is the case with verses memorized when I was a child, I can’t seem to get rid of the “Ye”. But included or not, one of my most favorite verses is Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

We really like the promise of this verse; that all these things will be added to us. We love that God will take care of us and we love that he will provide for us the things we need. In the context, it is clear that he is discussing food and clothing and yet, we can easily expand it beyond food and clothing when we read “Are you not of much more value” than the birds and lilies.

We take great comfort and rest in the idea that God will just do what we need. We seem to forget something too. That all of those people in the world, you know, the ones who are NOT seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness…they also are getting food and clothing.

Mat 5:45    For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

So it isn’t like we are getting special treatment in the food and clothing area, is it?

No. What makes the difference and what makes us different is that we follow after God. Jesus said to “Seek”. This is a word that we do not use often today and which most people would equate with “look for” but I would like to suggest that it should be “diligently look for”. There is an effort and urgency in the word “seek” There are also two things we are supposed to seek.

1)His kingdom (or His rule). that is, the way he wants things done, a place where His laws stand and are followed.  2) His righteousness, that character or quality that is His of being right or just.

No matter how you slice it, you will soon discover that this means we look to follow God and we look to become like God. It doesn’t happen overnight but that is what we should put our efforts into. You will also note that “first” means before all other things.

Too many Christians are focused on the food, clothing and temporary things. They are focused on the education and the degrees they can get. Our highest calling is to serve God and further His kingdom. If we can do that and get a degree then ok, but God comes first. If we can do that and accumulate wealth, great, but God comes first.

If you do not know what to do, it is a good sign that you are not reading enough of the Scriptures because the Scriptures can equip a godly man/woman to be prepared for every good work. 2 Tim 3:15-16

Seek more, trust more. Read more, Do more.

ALL I have to do is believe?

The idea of belief and faith is one that I think Hollywood and others have misappropriated for their own purposes. It seems to be true that when a person is up against the wall that they are told that is the time that they have to have the most faith. The problem is that such faith is generally not based in any real evidence. Consider two passages, one from Romans and one from Hebrews.

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God,
(Rom 4:18-20)

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
(Heb 11:17-19)

The Faith of Abraham is an heralded example for us to follow, as well it should be. However, Abraham did not believe based on nothing. God had already been working with Abraham. For Abraham, the situation was not as we sometimes think, that he just ignored all the facts based on nothing (and the way people sometimes use faith today, it is truly nothing). No,  his faith was in the God who had called him to leave his homeland and had blessed him through the years. So what if 90 year olds don’t have babies and women who are both in their 80’s and barren on top of that don’t suddenly conceive. Those facts he could ignore, the fact he put his faith in was the promise of the Almighty. So what if a childless son who dies can not have children, Abraham could ignore the fact that dead children do not produce heirs, and put his faith in a promise that God had made that through that son, whom he was about to kill, God would make Abraham a great nation. How Abraham jumped to the conclusion that God could raise him from the dead is amazing in its simplistic faith. It may be simple but it was not based on “nothing”.

How do you define belief? In the last post we revisited the idea of  “fact acceptance” vs “actions in alignment with that fact that you accept”. To accept the fact and not live the fact, is of no value. Can that faith save? (James 2:14) However, there is also the idea that I can do whatever I want, as long as I accept that fact. That it can mean to me whatever it needs to mean to make me happy and satisfied. This is also an unfortuanate view.

When God struck down Nadab and Abihu, Moses told Aaron that God is to be sanctified by those who come near to him and glorified among the people. (Lev 10) So many want to do what they think is best and ignore clear Biblical teaching. When we repent, which I would argue is also something we need to do when we believe, we are not simply repenting of our sins, as in being sorry for them, but rather, changing our mind and mindset, doing a 180 degree turn from Satan who we were serving toward God whom we now choose to serve.

If you want to have a faith like Abraham’s, a saving faith, you need to believe and do as Abraham did. He followed God. No, not perfectly (which is a good thing since we would soon be discouraged by our imperfection) but faithfully.

Here is a question to consider: If you had been a Gentile in the day of Moses and came to the temple and wanted to follow God, what would they tell you to do? Why would they tell you to do that?  If you are a spiritual Gentile today and want to come to Christ, what are you told to do? why do they tell you to do that?

Lord, willing I will answer those in later days.

Who is Jesus to you, really?

The question of “Who is Jesus?” is a question that is asked many times. Almost everyone has heard such a question. The question of course, can be asked in many different ways and I won’t take the time to list them here (but I just became inspired for sermon outline. LOL).

To the Christian, Jesus is the Lord of all. He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, the Redeemer, the Lamb of God, the Sacrifice for our sins, the One who brings peace between God and man. He is the King and Ruler and all authority rests with Him. That last one is important.

Authority lies somewhere. You might have a problem at a business establishment and so you talk to the clerk and maybe the manager and if the problem is bad enough, you can talk to the owner or the CEO and even then, you can go further to the stock holders or the public opinion route. If the offense is bad enough you can talk to the courts and if the laws aren’t what they should be you can talk to your congressional representative, up to the president and Supreme court and then back again to the people to change the law if needed. All in a search for the person with the authority  to deal with the issue.

You can’t go higher than Jesus. The Father has given to Jesus all authority. (Mt 28:18-20) So to the Christian, the statement that Jesus is Lord and King, should mean allegiance to Him and what he wants of us.

I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” (Joh 8:24)

We accept that statement as Gospel truth. However, now the question is, Since we know who Jesus is, do we live like we believe it? Take for example, James’s statement:

You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder! (Jas 2:19)

Mark records that they knew him as well.

And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God.” (Mar 1:23-24)

And he healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons. And he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him. (Mar 1:34)

Do your actions show your belief in Him? Knowing him, believing that God is one, and even calling him the Holy One of God was not enough to save the demons. (For those who have read my blog for a while, you will remember that James is breaking the word “believe” into components and uses it to indicate a simple “mental acceptance of a fact” and lacking actions that show that the fact has any importance to you.(read this or this one)

So again, I ask: Who is Jesus to you really? The answer can be found, not in your words but in your actions. Even reading the Bible might not be an indication because we are “to be doers and not hearers only” (James 1) but doing something like ‘visiting the widows and orphans” while certainly an action, might not be done in faith. Both are necessary.

Here is the challenge: 99% of us will read a post like this and think , Yes, I can, or need to, do better. Well, make a plan to do so. Pick ONE item today that if you start doing it will make a difference in your spiritual walk with the Lord. It might be more time reading of the Bible (and that is a great place to start so that you will know better what to do), more time praying, it might be taking the list of sick in the church bulletin and sending a card to them. A 101 other activities can be done to help and not all actions will make a difference in your life or in your life today. However, we, a Christians walk and talk and live in a certain way. Let’s do more of it.

Who is Jesus to you? Really?

A lesson in Envy and Covetousness

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  (Luk 12:13-15)

Undoubtedly, this brother who was on the short end of the inheritance felt he could do a better job with the money. Perhaps he felt he deserved the money laboring under the impression that he deserved it. Funny thing about inheritances, you have to wait till someone dies to get it. Which begs the question, what is more valuable, the person or the gift the person left behind? Only when the person is of more value, can a person truly appreciate the inheritance left.

The difficulty when others have money and you don’t is that you often feel as if you could benefit from what they have, especially when that money is viewed as a surplus. “They have enough”, “they won’t miss it”, “a little given to me won’t be missed”, you begin to think judgmentally. If you spend enough time thinking about this, it can quickly become a source of covetousness, envy, or jealousy that will ruin relationships.

Let’s start with a basic fact: God is in control. If you don’t know that and name the name of the Lord, you need to go back and read the Bible in places like Daniel, Joseph, and Job. Learn that God is in control. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights (James 1) and he is a generous God who also knows what we can handle and what we cannot. The brother in the text above may not have been capable of dealing with more money.  Can you deal with a lot of money? (The parable Jesus tells next demonstrates a person who could not handle it and used it poorly)

Second, even when you have money, it is not your life. If we have food and clothing, with these we should be content. Here was a man who wanted to money and without it did not seem to be content. His brother had the inheritance and it just didn’t seem right. Even if the money had been divided, life is not found in physical possessions, nor even in good health. Your life ( the whole of man) consists of fearing God and keeping his commandments. God is able to take care of you.

Still, even in the lesson, we can learn something for both sides. Those with and those without money. Your life does not consist in what you have, or what you can buy. The parable that Jesus tells next, I think addresses those who want and those who have much money.  Money is a tool and the best use of that tool is promoting the Kingdom of God. For an individual, that means that they work to have for their needs and yet, should not fail to do good to those who have a need. Still, the rule of thumb is your family needs first because to not tend to your family needs makes you an infidel, actually worse than an infidel. Then you have to give to those who have a need also.

This brother would have been better off focusing on his relationship with God first and let God bless him as He saw fit. At the very least, we know that those who serve the Lord, are laying up for themselves treasures in Heaven.

Joseph, an example of Jesus

Today’s morning sermon dealt with the similarities of Joseph to Jesus. It was not a full look at these similarities but there are so many that one could preach several lessons on such a topic.

Just look at a few of the things that Jesus had happen in his life. He was with his father before coming to his people. His father sent him on His mission. His people did not receive him, sold him for a small amount of money. He was condemned for something and yet he was innocent of the charges. The condemnation might have been the end of the story except that God had other plans and raised him up and exalted him to sit on his throne. Jesus also suffered temptations that would have thrown him off his path.

If you are familiar with the story of Joseph you will easily pick out the similarities to Jesus. Joseph suffering his own family problems and being sold and condemned, though innocent, and yet, in the end, God was with him and raised him up to sit on his throne and rule.

It is interesting to me that the book of Genesis, is in a way, a summary of the world and the whole Bible message. You start in the beginning and end with someone on the throne and by that person, many lives are saved. The whole Bible, of course starts with Creation and ends with Jesus on the throne with many lives saved.

Today’s lesson focused on the temptation of Joseph however, because such temptations are common even today. We may think of people in the “olden days” as being more moral but it is apparent when you read passages like this that not everyone was a moral person. Potiphar’s wife tempted Joseph, pestered him, hounded him, and finally framed him. Joseph, on the other hand did everything he could to avoid her. Look at the passage and a couple thoughts I shared.

And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God? And it came to pass, as she spake to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. (Gen 39:7-10)

I have emphasized some interesting phrasing in these verses. I admit that it may not have been in the intent of the text but it does fit a common problem today when someone is in a predatory mode.

The first request of Potiphar’s wife was to “lie with her” which is a clear invitation to commit adultery and violate the marriage covenant that she had with Potiphar. Many implications of this relationship could be made by such an invitation but Joseph was much more concerned about avoided a great wickedness and not sinning against God.

But she was not finished. She kept at it. Notice verse 10 and see what else Joseph was avoiding. He also did not listen to her to “lie by her” OR to “be with her”. I have to admit that this sounds an awful lot like “oh, let’s just lay here on the bed, nothing will happen” or “well, let’s just spend a little private time alone, just talk with me”. Now, I grant you that “spending time with someone” is a good way to get to know a person better, but you have no business “getting to know” someone else’s wife in such a setting much less either of the other two options.

Jesus provides us a perfect example of doing the Lord’s Will. Joseph, being human, undoubtedly was not perfect but his story is still an example for us to follow and serves as a mold or type/anti-type of Christ. I would encourage all of us to strive to do the best we can to follow the footsteps of the author of our Faith and those, like Joseph, who followed those same steps even before they were made.

The sermon, if you would like to listen, is here.

 

You or God first?

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?
(Hag 1:2-4)

For many people, the time to serve the Lord is when things are better in their life. This is a very short sighted perspective. If your life got better so that your dream life became a reality, whatever that might be, we need to know that it is only temporary. Not temporary in the sense that the job you have or life you have will end in ten years with an economic downturn (though that can happen), but temporary in the sense that in 100 years, you will not be there to enjoy it. For some of us, that number is 50 years. When God cannot get his people to pay attention to his priorities, you can be sure, He is not going to pay attention to theirs.

It is always time to work to rebuild the house of the Lord. While the house in Haggai’s time was a temple where people would go to worship, we know from Jesus’ own words (John 4:21) that the worship of God is not confined to one location, it is something that his people do on an ongoing basis and they make up the temple of God.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (1Co 3:16)

(sidenote: 1 Cor 6:19 which says almost the same thing is a verse of the individual Christian, but the above first fits more as the congregation that Paul is writing to, a group of Christians)

The sad thing is, that just like a house that is not constantly being mending and tended to, it will begin to deteriorate and that, whether fast or slow, is a type of destruction we should not be part of:

If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple. (1Co 3:17)

Sure, I think most people would tend to think of rampant active destruction, but we should also consider the destruction that comes about due to inactivity and neglect.

Look at your checkbook. It has been said that a person can be known by the items his money is spent on. For me, you would see a number of Sonic Happy Hour drinks (For those not in Texas, Sonic is a fast food establishment and “happy hour’ is 1/2 priced soda drinks from 2-4pm), you would find Netflix charges, Half priced book charges among the various bills for rent, gas, lights, regular weekly contributions to the congregation, etc. In other words, you might be able to deduce that I like specialty sodas and watching movies along with other things but you would also see a desire to help the congregation meet its task to spread the Gospel.

Look at your life for the last week. If you were to look back at the last 168 hours, and look for things that built the house of the Lord, what you find? 3 hours at worship services (4 if you went to midweek study) and then what? Prayer, reading, calling a sick brother, visitation, talking to someone about God? Talking about God’s laws to your kids when they get up or sit down or go to bed? Memorizing scripture?  What do you do to build up the house of God?

It is true you are one brick in that house, so be sure to build yourself up but it is often better to be built up with others, be in a group study, be in contact with other Christians.  It is also true that God builds us up. Humble yourself before the Lord and He will lift you up. Spend time in prayer and study of His  word, grow in the knowledge of Christ, let the Scriptures which are able to make you wise unto salvation and adequately equip you for His service live inside of you.

Put God first and HE will take care of you. Easy to say, hard to do…unless you live by faith.

 

what is right in your eyes

In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Jdg 21:25)

This statement, found twice in the book of Judges is often used as a theme for that book. The verse says that two conditions existed for the nation of Israel at that time. 1) there was no king and 2) everyone did what they thought was right.

That there was no king was true, at least not in the earthly king manner. When the people finally asked Samuel to set a king over them (I Samuel 8), someone to be in charge, the response of God was first to calm Samuel down. He said “They haven’t rejected you…” It was not a slap in the face of Samuel at all. There was no cause for Samuel to feel slighted.

What God went on to say though is something that should have caused Israel to pause. “…they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them.”  Rejected God? or just Rejected God’s reign? It didn’t matter. The effect was the same, they wanted to be like the other nations and so they were not satisfied to let God rule their lives from heaven.

We see that they did whatever was right in their eyes. I have not yet lived 50 years in this world, but I have noticed that my perceptions of what is right and wrong have changed from time to time. Of course, most of that change has come from my reading and studying God’s word, as I see an error in my life clearly, I eliminate it and continue to grow. But even among those who do not learn from God, standards they had when they were young change into adolescence,adulthood, when children come along and for a whole host of reasons.

It seems so clear to me that the world has rejected God as being King in their life. Jesus was given all authority in Heaven and on Earth (Mt 28:18ff) and yet, there are many who will not follow his authority, they want another one instead. True, in the world, there are lots of choices to make when it comes to standards you will follow, but among those who name the name of the Lord, there is and should be only ONE.

It saddens me when I see people who would rather listen to their pastor or some special preacher rather than understand the  item themselves.  It is no problem to talk to a minister and ask for some insight, or their insight into a particular issue. However, it is another thing when you won’t look at the text yourself and verify that the person is correct.  Children are taught stories that make things easy for them to understand. The whole story may not be completely revealed to them but as adults, we should learn for ourselves.

How many of you grew up hearing that Noah took 2 pair of every kind of animal into the Ark or that the wise men came to Jesus in the manger? By now, you should know that Noah took 2 pair of the unclean animals and 7 pair of the clean. (When I was a child, I was thinking but did not ask about that animal Noah sacrificed, perhaps I thought it was the unicorn and that is why we don’t have them anymore…it is clearer now). As for Jesus and the wise men, the text clearly says they came to the HOUSE where he was not the manger.

Are these great differences upon which we can base doctrine and salvation? Not at all, but those passages do exist.

There are those who think “I live a good Christian life” but do not even read the Bible, much less go to services. Then there are those who go to services but don’t read the Bible. They hear but I imagine it doesn’t last long.

There are those who hear and do what the word of God says. Those are the ones who say “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” They are the ones who are not hearers only but doers. They are the ones who say “not my will but thy will be done”. These are the ones who will be blessed in their doing.

Let’s not be like those in Judges who rejected God’s kingship and did what they thought was right, let’s listen to what He has said and do that.

Present yourself to God approved

Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2Ti 2:15)

While the advice given to Timothy may, in the context, be directed to an evangelist and the work of ministers, much of what Paul says to Timothy can be applied to every Christian. Put another way, there is no character that Paul asks Timothy to develop or exemplify in his life that every Christian should not strive to do as well. We may not all be preachers but we are all servants of God and in our work we need to be “not ashamed” as we present ourselves to God.

To be diligent about something is to make an effort. The ESV says “Do your best”. When my mom told me to clean my room, she was not asking me to make a half hearted effort, she wanted some diligence (which, in my case was needed because it was a messy room). Sometimes, in school, you face a challenging course and you need to be ‘diligent’ in studying for that class to pass the test. Timothy is being told here to be diligent in his work and not be half heared about it.

Paul had told him in the first epistle that he was in Ephesus so that he could instruct certain men not to teach a different doctrine. In this epistle, Paul has told him to teach others who are faithful so that they could teach others. Paul is urging in this context two things. Be an example and be able to come to God without shame.

As your boss walks by your cubicle and finds you facebooking, twittering or surfing the net, rather than working on your job, you may have reason to be ashamed. However, if you are doing your job, you have no reason to be ashamed. As Timothy does his job, he can present himself to God as a servant that can be approved, not ashamed. To do this, he needs to be able to divide the word of truth correctly. 

In the context, there are those who are arguing over words and teachings that are upseting the faith of some. Timothy is to do the opposite. His use of the word of God, the sword of God (Eph 6:17), as a skilled soldier not one who is inept in its use. A scapel in the hands of a surgeon can do great things, in the hands of a plumber, not so much. (Kinda like those commercials: Would you want your doctor to do your job? don’t do his). Timothy needs to be able to wield the sword of God in an effective and beneficial way for those who will hear him.

We can all learn a lesson by these words to Timothy. We, individually, need to learn the word of God.  We understand this principle in other areas but I fear are lax in the spiritual areas. In driving a car, we know that everyone should know the basics, how to turn on the car, how to put gas in, etc but there is much more we should know. checking oil, tire pressure and the radiator water level. Even if we lack the ability to change a tire, knowing where the jack is, being sure we HAVE a spare, and a set of jumper cables is just plain smart. Then for those who are mechanics, they have a specialized knowledge on how the engine operation in a car and a police officer would have special knowledge to operate the car safely at high speeds. 

We may not wish to excel to the level of a PHd in regards to bible knowledge but we can all grow in what we know and should be able to give an answer for the hope that is in us (1 pet 3:15). Over time, of course.

Be diligent. Do the best you can. Grow so that God can use you. Read, study, learn, be hearers of the word and then we can be doers.

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