Lesson From Lunch

2014-07-11 07.50.44Today was a day of grey skies, leftover snow flurries, and cold temps. I decided lunch at Culvers would warm me and Noah up, so at noon we hustled inside and settled at a cozy table by the window. At first, it was fun. We filled our ketchup cups and set out our napkins. Noah commented on passing cars. But then, after about three minutes or so, it got boring. I feel a little guilty admitting that because I know I’m supposed to enjoy him when he’s little because he’s growing up so fast and all that. But it’s still true.

I figured out why that is. It’s because Noah doesn’t have an interest in me that extends beyond what I can do for him. He doesn’t ask me how I’m doing, or care to hear about the things that matter to me. He doesn’t want to know what writing project I’m currently on, what I want for Christmas, or what movies I’ve seen lately. So, basically what happens is if we’re not talking about him, or what he likes, or what he doesn’t like, or what he wants, then he really doesn’t care. And if I had to guess, I’d say we’ve all known people like this. Adults (not three-year-olds) who aren’t interested if the conversation is not about them.

I think without realizing it many of us do this very thing in our daily walk with Christ. We pull a “Noah” on God. We pray, and go on and on about the things we need, or want, or care about. And of course this is what we should do. God wants us to come to Him as children to a loving Father. But we are missing out on a big part of that relationship if we don’t take the next step – if we don’t open up our Bibles, read His Word, and listen to what He has to say.

Now, get ready for the amazing part.

Even when it’s God’s “turn to talk”, it’s still about you and me, and how He loved us enough to send His Son for us.

God is a lot more patient and selfless than we are. He doesn’t want us to take an interest in Him because He’s narcissistic. He doesn’t need to brag about His latest accomplishments. He wants us to take the time to listen because He knows it will do two things for us: fulfill us while we live and transform us when we die.

One day, I will see God face to face. I will be able to ask Him anything I want, talk to Him, and yes, listen to Him. I can’t even imagine what that will be like. But I don’t want to forget that He’s here with me right now, every moment, every day. I can pour my heart out to Him and know He hears me.

And best of all, I know He will always answer if I but take the time to listen.

 

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Thank You!

This post is going to be a quick one to announce the winner of Chicken Soup for the Soul Merry Christmas, but first things first.

I want to say THANK YOU to everyone who shared my excitement and congratulated me on having a story published in this book. Getting a story published is a sort of like having a baby (on a much smaller, less painful scale, of course). You are so proud of all your time, effort, and hard work. You think your “baby” is just perfect, and you want to shout her arrival from the rooftops. Deep down you know that there are other babies out there, just as perfect, and many far more fetching. But you still have a special place in your heart for what is your very own.

So this is for those of you who took the time to comment, congratulate, and support me… who bought the book…and who continue to visit my blog and read the words I so love to write. Thank you. It means more to me than I can adequately say.

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Now on to the winner of the drawing…

The name pulled from the hat was Elizabeth Plath. (Hey, that kind of rhymes…) Your book will be arriving soon! (Unless, of course, you want to come for a visit and pick it up instead. Just a helpful suggestion.)

I hope to posting again later this week. Until then, wishing you all a warm start to a fabulous week!

 

 

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Merry (Early) Christmas!

So, if you know me even slightly well, you know how much I LOVE Christmas. I used to say I couldn’t pick a favorite time of year and then one July I realized that just wasn’t true. I  happened to be strolling through Hobby Lobby that day and was surprised to discover they had already begun setting out Christmas merchandise. YES. In July. Normally I would’ve been disgusted at this. I would’ve jumped on my Whatever Happened To Thanksgiving??!! soapbox and started preaching. But that day I just couldn’t because I was too busy being excited over the fact that Christmas was only five months away! And that’s when I knew (no flies on me) that I definitely had a favorite time of year.

One of my favorite things about the Christmas season is spending time with family and weaving old and new traditions together. Two years ago, quite by accident, we started a new tradition. It was Christmas Eve and we were just sitting down to open a few presents when the phone rang. Now, when you live in a pastor’s house, you don’t not answer the phone. You answer it during supper, or family game night, or birthday celebrations, or whatever because you never know who may be on the other end of the line and what they might need. Yes, even if it’s Christmas Eve and all the kiddos are nearly bursting to open the first present, and the littlest one has already pulled a scrap of paper off the corner…you still answer the phone. So while Nathanael jumped up and hurried to his office, and all seven children groaned as one, I looked around frantically for something to distract them with.

My eyes landed on a Chicken Soup for the Soul – Merry Christmas! book. Several writer friends had stories in this book, including one of my critique partners, the talented Lisa Ricard Claro. So I flipped to her story and began reading. The kids instantly settled (dare I say nestled snugly?) and listened intently to the stories I read. In true Chicken Soup fashion, some were heartwarming and touching, others were downright hilarious. I think both the kids and I were surprised to discover how much we enjoyed ourselves, sipping cocoa and reading stories while we waited for Nathanael to finish his phone call.

Chicken Soup for the Soul Merry Christmas! book cover

Since then, it has kind of become a tradition. And this year, I’m so excited that one of my stories - The 129-Year Snow – has made it into the Merry Christmas anthology this year! (Because if you know me even slightly well, you also know how much I LOVE snow.) I really enjoyed writing about the year we got our white Christmas while living in Georgia. It was such a special Christmas and I’m thrilled the editors at Chicken Soup thought so too, and chose to include it in their book. Come Christmas Eve, whether gift opening is delayed or not, I know for sure there’s at least one story we’ll be sitting down and reading together.

If you would like to order one of these books (which incidentally, make wonderful stocking stuffers!) they’re available in most bookstores or on Amazon. Visit the Chicken Soup website to read samples and browse all their available titles as well!

Of course, I DO happen to have an extra copy I’m happy to give away. If you interested in throwing your name in the hat for a chance to win, leave a comment and let me know!

Now, I will TRY and settle down enough to make it through Thanksgiving…but no promises.

 

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Yes, YOU

Hello? Anyone there? Anyone listening?

Anyone?

Ever feel this way? Like you are such a tiny, insignificant voice in the world that no one hears you? I felt that way just this morning, as I stood in my boys’ bedroom, piles of trash, dirty laundry, books and toys at my ankles. Before I even opened my mouth they had perfected the Vacant Stare. You know the one I mean. The one where they pretend to listen while actually plotting to shove everything in a corner the second I leave.

I find this particularly frustrating. And this is just one example of the kind of things that happen each day. It’s not just because I’m a stay-at-home mom of kids with little-to-no short term memory. I experienced similar frustrations when I worked full time. It’s discouraging to feel as though your voice is not heard, and it becomes easy to wonder What’s the point? Why even try?

A few weeks ago, I was reassured in the nicest way that, yes, someone is listening. I was at a conference when a woman I had never met came up to me. She said, “You probably don’t know who I am, but several years ago my daughter stayed with you…” She proceeded to tell me how her teenage daughter was blessed by the week she spent with me in our home. A warm feeling of complete joy filled my heart when I heard this – it was like coming home to a surprise package on the doorstep. Of course, I remembered her daughter, and the time we spent together, but I didn’t remember doing anything special. I remembered joking with her, talking together and watching a movie or two, just hanging out and doing normal stuff. But something I said in that week helped her daughter somehow.

I can think of so many people who have done the same for me – people who offered a word of two of encouragement right when I needed it. I’m sure, for example, my friend Bill has no idea he gave me confidence to keep writing when I wondered if I should quit. I’m sure my sister (in law) Whitney has no idea how much I needed her gentle reminder to forgive someone many years ago. I’m sure my friend Nichole has no idea how much she inspires me by all she does, especially those times her husband is deployed. And I could go on and on and on… Many of you would make my list as well with things you have said or done to encourage me.

This is especially important to remember as we make our Christian walk through the world. One of our goals is to witness to the salvation Christ gives, and we can do this in the quietest, most unassuming ways. We can just hang out, get to know someone, and offer a simple testimony of how the Lord works in our lives.  When the LORD came to Elijah, He wasn’t found in the great and powerful wind, or the earthquake, or the fire, but in the gentle whisper (I Kings 19). Likewise, our approach doesn’t have to be loud, in-your-face, revival style witnessing. It can be one small statement in one regular old conversation that makes a difference for someone. You likely will never even know it happened, but what an amazing thing it is to know God can, and does, use you. Yes, YOU.

So next time you wonder if you anyone hears you as you go about your completely normal and average day, remember that someone is always listening. And remember, too, the lesson of Queen Esther: For who knows whether the Lord has brought you here for just such a time as this?

 

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The Procrastinated Post

You may have noticed it’s been a while since my last post. I wish I could say that’s because our wires got crossed with Go Daddy and they pulled my entire blog right off the face of the internet and therefore I couldn’t write something even if I wanted to because they had to “retrieve” five years worth of writing from who-knows-where and charge me an arm and a leg to do it.

But, no, that’s not the reason.

I mean, yes, okay, the Go Daddy fiasco actually happened, but it didn’t bother me too much (aside from the arm and leg part). It was actually a nice little diversion from what’s been bothering me lately. What I felt compelled to write about, but didn’t want to because it’s uncomfortable and it might upset people I care about. But the weeks have passed and even though I’m still uncomfortable, now I’m ready. And what I want to say is this:

I have been so discouraged lately. My heart is so heavy it feels like it’s sitting way down in my stomach instead of beating easy up in my chest. Near as I can figure, there are two main reasons for this.

The first is Planned Parenthood. As gut-wrenching as it is to read about what’s going on in some of these clinics, maybe there is some good to come from it. As my friend Mike would say, it forces us to make a decision about what we believe. Shining the spotlight on the practices of Planned Parenthood reinforces what I know to be true about what God intended when He designed a woman’s body to carry and sustain life. As a woman, I take great offense at those who say defunding Planned Parenthood is just another battle in the war against women.  As a Christian, I view the abortive services Planned Parenthood provides as a glaring opposition to what God teaches us in His Word about what He requires of us and desires for us.

The second is gay marriage. Last month, Mankato held their annual “Pride Fest.” Every day for two weeks, as I drove my children to school, we passed under a banner promoting the LGBT lifestyle. It discouraged me to have to explain to them why some would take what God calls sin and turn it into something to celebrate, something to be proud of. It’s not the first time, and definitely not the last, that we will have these conversations and it saddens me that at such a young age they even have to know what “homosexual” means.

Such is the world we live in. As Christians, what can we do when faced with such discouraging news?

First, we need to remember our own, personal, damning sin. The problems that exist in our world are here because of sin. When we see something that goes against God’s law, our first thought should be to remember we are part of the problem. We fail every day to keep God’s law and maintain His requirement for righteous living. Naturally, this realization should be followed by hearts that overflow with gratitude for what Jesus has done for us, how He has pulled us from filth and mire of sin and imperfection and given us His holiness. It should also be followed by compassion for those who have not learned this truth yet.

Second, be in the Word. Always. Every day. This is part of my problem. I’ve been neglecting my personal devotion time and not filling my soul with the life-giving Word. So of course I am weighed down, discouraged, and sad. I’ve set aside my compass and am losing sight of the path. God promises there will be trouble and tribulation as long as we are on this earth, but He also promises to be with us. These are the truths I need to fill my mind and heart with, just as much – no, even more – than the newspaper reports of what is happening in our country and world.

Third, PRAY. God speaks to us in His Word, and we communicate back through prayer. Pray without ceasing, ask for strength, faith, wisdom, and guidance. Pray for those who do not know Jesus, and therefore can’t be expected to live their lives in accord with His Word. Pray to know when God is presenting you with an opportunity to witness, and pray for the words to say when that time comes. Even when you don’t have the words to say, and your heart is heavy like mine, the Spirit will intercede on your behalf and speak to God for you. So, pray. Pray. Pray.

Thank you for bearing with me as I made my way through this difficult post. If I sound like I have all the answers, I apologize. As a Christian, I’m constantly learning just how much I don’t know. At the same time, I’m so grateful God has given me His Word and the faith to know I can find every answer and every truth in those pages. Writing this post has helped me refocus on those most important things.

So whether you are feeling discouraged or peaceful today, worried or carefree, sad or joyful, my prayer is that you take time to open those pages and grow closer to Christ, and to remember that our God is always greater.

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Give Me Oil In My Lamp

This morning we leave for a short, three-day camping trip. In fact, as soon as I finish writing this post I’ll be up to my eyeballs packing enough camping gear to sustain nine people in the semi-wild for a few days. (Thankfully, it’s Nathanael’s job to figure out how to cram it all in our van.) This trip is a direct result of my practically desperate need to make sure we bond as a family before the summer’s out. Tell me, how can it be that we’re knocking on the door of yet another school year? Already?

Dad always said, “Time flies. And the older you get, the faster it goes.” I have learned that this, like so many other things he told me, is absolutely true. The good news is there’s something we can do about this. No, we can’t slow time down. Yes, we can prepare for eternity.

I had the privilege of teaching this lesson to my children (and reinforcing it in my own heart) the other night at our devotion time. We are studying the ministry of Jesus and happened to be in Matthew 25, where Jesus taught the parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. It begins like this:

“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish.  Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept.”

Even those who have never heard this story can likely guess what happens next. The bridegroom returns, and only the five wise are able to join Him at the wedding feast because the five foolish were away finding oil to fill their lamps. The lesson Jesus taught here is that we are to be ready for Him. We are to keep ourselves ready to be called Home at any time, and ready for His return.

The truth is that it’s not just this month that’s going fast, it’s not just this summer, or this year, it’s this life. Your life. My life. The reality of life is that “All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (I Peter 1:24-25) We aren’t meant to be here forever, and that’s a good thing. What’s coming next is so much  better that we can’t, in our wildest dreams, imagine what’s in store, for “eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”

Eternity is coming, but it’s not something to fear. It’s something to look forward to with joyful anticipation. So,how can we prepare for it? How can we keep our lamps full and be ready for Christ’s return? We need to be in the Word, every day. When we go to church, we fill our lamps. When we open the Bible, we fill our lamps. When we spend time with the Lord in devotion and prayer, we fill our lamps.

So the next time you think or hear the phrase “time flies” let that serve as a reminder to check the oil in your lamp, and to take some time out of this busy life to prepare for the next one.

oil in my lamp

 

 

*image courtesy of standrewsclayton.org

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Forgive and ?

Once up a time there was a girl who, by God’s design, was born into a family of many children. Though it may not have looked like it from the outside, this girl was blessed with many things. Grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles who loved her, sisters to play with and confide in, and little brothers to boss around. The world would have labeled her family poor, but you could not have convinced her this was so because she did not feel want or need.

There was just one problem. It seemed her skin was paper thin, and easily pierced to the heart by others. Sometimes, even, by those who loved her most. And so began her greatest challenge: To learn how to forgive.

To forgive whether she held partial blame or none at all. To forgive when words struck harder blows then a fist ever could. To forgive when misunderstood. To forgive before the sun went down. To forgive freely, without being asked. To forgive seventy times seven. In short, to forgive as she had been forgiven.

Time passed and the girl grew. She fell in love and married, and it just so happened that, by God’s design, she had seven children of her own. Soon she began teaching her sons and daughters all she knew about forgiveness, and how important it was, how necessary, how life-restoring. She watched with a heavy heart as they hurt each other and stubbornly withheld forgiveness. She mourned the pain they caused each other. She saw them with blinders on the eyes of their hearts, as they asked God to forgive them while at the same time stubbornly refusing to forgive others. They were so much like the Unmerciful Servant that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 18.

She pondered and prayed for a solution to this problem and one day it hit her: Perhaps they hadn’t learned the forgiveness lesson because she was unable to teach it correctly. Because she had not learned it fully herself.

She remembered the times she had been hurt and had offered forgiveness.

She remembered.

Could that be the problem? Justified in her mind by saying, “I don’t want to make that mistake again.” Or “Yes, I’ve forgiven, but…” And she wondered if forgiveness should come with such qualifications. Shouldn’t forgiveness be full and complete, no strings attached? Is it fair to say, “I’ve forgiven you” if the sin is pulled out from time to time and reviewed in the scrapbook of the mind? Is it right to replay it like a home video and allow the anger and hurt to fill the heart until there’s no room for anything else?

Other have told her it is. She supposed the saying, “I can forgive, but I’ll never forget” was born from such things. But it felt wrong to her for one simple reason: It’s not the way God has forgiven her. He has separated her from her sins, as far as east is from west (Psalm 103:12) and says He will remember them no more (Hebrews 8:12).

So ended her first challenge: To learn how to forgive, and so began her next greatest: To learn how to forget. She has a long, long way to go before reaching her goal. There will be days of marginal success and many more of complete failure. And considering all her sin and imperfections, she’s not even close to living happily ever after.

But one day, by God’s design, she will.

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Bathroom Art

Let me tell you about my bathroom art.

The first piece is one I forgot I even had, and only discovered it when packing for our move last year. Frame is a bit cheap, and the “mat” is drawn by hand with marker, but I love looking at this one.

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The second piece, entitled “Hope’s Drawing of Her Mom,” has a more modern look. Bold brushstrokes, vibrant color, and a startling likeness to the subject matter.

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The simple drawing of the five little girls in the tub came from my grandma’s house. My four sisters and I used to visit her, crowd her and Grandpa’s house with our bags, shoes, toys and noise. Leave our fingerprints on the windows and walls, our crumbs on the floor. I worried that maybe sometimes they didn’t want us there. That five little girls all at once was just TOO much. Then I’d see this picture hanging in her bathroom and I’d realize not only did she love us, she was proud of us, and thankful for us. And she wanted a reminder of us when we weren’t there. Looking at that piece of art made me feel cherished, and it still does.

The watercolor painting was, you probably guessed, done by one of my young daughters. It’s a portrait of me when I was eight months pregnant, and I love it. A friend saw this one hanging in my house once and said, “Couldn’t you have picked a more flattering picture to frame?” I just laughed. What looks like a pregnant muppet to everyone else just looks like love to me, created and given by sweet four-year-old hands.

A few nights ago as I brushed my teeth, I studied that drawing of the girls in the bathtub and thought about the impact that artist had on me. I doubt many know the name Julie Corsover. But her work has very special meaning to me. And I’m sure no one else is interested in the painting my daughter made for me, but again, it means a great deal to me.

We live in a “think big” world, where we derive value from the biggest splash we can make. We strive to impact, reach, influence, touch the greatest number of people we possible can. I’m no different. How I would love to see my books on library shelves all across the nation, to be like Harper Lee and write something that touches countless people. Not to say it’s wrong for me to have this lofty goal. The problem comes when I start to think that unless I’ve achieved this goal, all my writing is worthless.

Then there’s the conversation I  had with my friend Laura a few days ago. She was telling me about a friend who is preparing for work in the foreign mission field. I felt a stab of insignificance as we talked as I compared my life to this other person’s. My life’s work is not nearly so important as that. Becoming a full time missionary? That’s a BIG thing. That’s something that impresses people. Being a stay-at-home mom? Not so much.

But here’s the thing my bathroom art has reminded me: I have been called to be a mom, and a fledgling writer, and have been blessed with these jobs. They’re mine to throw my heart and soul into and do to His glory. It’s God’s to decide what fruit will be born from the seeds I sow. Who can know, in the end, what is more valuable or meaningful? To reach many with a big splash or to leave a lasting impression on just one?

Keep doing what YOU are called to do, invest your time and talents in those God has placed in your life. Then let Him decide whether your work will produce a quiet ripple, a big splash, or a tidal wave that brings glory to Him.

 

 

 

 

 

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A View From Below

Last week, while I drove the kids to school, it began to rain. As we passed acres and acres of newly planted fields, I felt thankful on behalf of all the farmers in the area. Sitting next to me in the front seat, Hope was thankful for a different reason. “I’m so glad it’s raining!” She said. “That means we won’t have to play Capture the Flag at recess.”

That didn’t sound like her. She has always loved that game. When I asked her why she told me it’s because she’s always the last one chosen.

Okay, I can understand this. You can too, I bet. Because it’s a completely natural thing to want others to like us. We want people to think we’re funny, smart, successful, talented, beautiful, etc. Decades after high school we still remember who the “cool” kids were. We like the feeling of acceptance and approval, some of us even thrive on it. And when we don’t get it, it hurts.

I had a similar experience at a conference a few weeks ago. I arrived early for a presentation, but the room was already full. Every seat was taken, except for two in the very back. I squeezed past and around people until I made it to that last table, only to find the seats I thought were empty were actually saved for someone else. It stung a bit to feel there was no room for me. I suddenly felt very large and very out of place, and even a little bit like crying. So yes, I could relate to Hope, even though I felt way too old for such things. But maybe God gave me that experience so I would know what to say to her last week, which was this:

What’s so bad about being last?

Doesn’t it sometimes feel like life is one giant Black Friday sale, and everyone is blindly shoving and pushing their way to the front of the line? Because it’s so ingrained in our society and thinking to watch out for Number One, to raise self, to focus on our accomplishments. We want the world to know we’re just as good, if not better, than anyone else.

The problem is, we’re focusing on the wrong thing. Or rather, we’re focusing on the wrong person. The life of the Christian is not about what we do, but what Christ has done for us. I doubt there are many Christians as strong in the faith and selfless as John the Baptist. People flocked to him, followed him, wondered if he could be the Promised One. Attention and accolades that surely would’ve gone straight to my head lead him to say, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease.” This, this, is what we need more of, and what life’s many disappointments can teach us.

Getting picked last? Getting passed over? Under appreciated? It’s okay. It’s good even. It’s an opportunity to remember your life isn’t about you anyway. It’s about Jesus.  And if He, the King of kings, could live a life of lowly service than so can you.

So, go ahead. Practice a little decreasing. Esteem others above yourself. Get comfortable at the bottom of the pecking order. Make yourself at home. You may well find you like it there.

humilty

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It Was My Sin

chief of sinners

Yesterday morning, as soon as I woke, my first thoughts were of Jesus and all He went through during the last week of His life. I thought of His entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday… His last night on earth, spent with His disciples… His arrest, trial and death. And I thought, I don’t appreciate this as I should. I don’t feel I had anything to do with His death.

But I did.

It’s easy to look at people like Hitler who clearly corrupted this world with their sin, and see how Jesus had to die for them. They were evil, and had no hope of salvation outside of Him. But I’m not as bad as that. I’ll trust in Jesus’ death to get me to heaven, but not because I really see that my sins put Him on that cross. He had to be there anyway, for all those “real” sinners, so He might as well cover my tab while He’s at it.

This was my Thursday Morning Realization.

It’s painful to be this honest with myself, and with you. To admit these thoughts lurk below the surface sometimes, and I don’t even realize they’re there. To admit that, in the eyes of the One who judges sin, I AM just as bad as the worst sinner imaginable. Sin is anything that misses the mark God has set, and whoever misses once is guilty of all (James 2:10).

It gets confusing because we don’t view sin the same way God does. We tend to think there are big sins and little sins, dangerous ones and harmless ones. I see this everyday in my children who think it’s okay to disobey as long as they get away with it. I see it in myself, when I justify sinful thoughts with the rationale that I “only thought it, I didn’t do it.” But for our Holy God, it’s all the same. And for my own good I need to remind myself…

It was my sin.
It was my sin.
It was my sin.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean we are without “real” sin, and no longer in “real” need of saving. It means we belong to Christ because He paid the price for us.

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Dearest Jesus, Help me to see that it was my sin that put You on the cross. Help me to understand that I am guilty of missing the mark and breaking God’s law. Then make me understand the great love You have for me, the great mercy the Father has for me, and the great blessing the Spirit grants me. Give me a truly thankful heart and a faith that trusts in You, and not myself. In Your name I pray. Amen.

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