Tag Archive | Bible Study

WHAT’S SO IRRESISTIBLE ABOUT GRACE?

salvation 2

Dear Readers,

I’m so sorry to let so much time go by without posting, let alone right in the middle of a series on the five points of the doctrines of grace. I never wanted to be “that blogger” that let so much time slip away, yet here I am, several months later with no excuse. Life gets in the way, and unfortunately, I let it! It’s ironic that I stopped right between “Limited Atonement” (point 3) and never persevered to get to the “Perseverance of the Saints” (point 5)!

Hey, maybe completing this series on my part may serve as an analogy of that biblical principle – no matter what, falling away or otherwise, God’s elect will eventually persevere. (lol)

So onwards and upwards.

If you look backwards to the last few posts, you will notice that they build upon each other. The Depravity of Man, Unconditional Election, and Limited Atonement all construct into the solid doctrine of God’s salvation:

  • If men are unable to save themselves due to their fallen nature (The Depravity of Man – Eph. 2:1), and
  • If God has purposed to save the elect through no merit of their own (Unconditional Election – Romans 9), and
  • If Christ has accomplished the salvation of the elect, (Limited, or Particular Atonement – John 6:37-38)…

Then it is logical that God must also provide the means for calling them into the salvation He has already given them:

After all, why would He leave any work undone? Remember Philippians 1:6: “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus”, and also Romans 8:30, “And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified”.

This brings us to the fourth point of the points of grace: Irresistible Grace.

Why does the term “Irresistible Grace” mean, especially since many don’t respond to God’s gift of salvation, but instead reject it?

We begin by explaining that there are two calls: An outward call, and an inward call.

The outward call is the one that is audibly heard. It is the words uttered to the masses. It can and may do a number of things. It can inspire, perhaps bring reflection or respect, but one thing it cannot do is save. It is simply the general message that summons the hearer.

For the Gospel to bring about salvation, the outward call must be accompanied by the inward call of the Holy Spirit, for (as the Bible states), He is the one that draws them to Himself. (John 6:44). This refers not to a moral or intellectual change, but to a heart change. It is a true-to-the-core spiritual transformation, the spiritual difference between life and death. Note Jesus’s words to Nicodemus when he described this rebirth:

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit” (John 3:6)

When God stirs a heart to Himself, that call is said to be irresistible. That is, it cannot be frustrated or thwarted.  While some may argue that it is possible to resist God’s (inward) call, to say “no” to a true stirring by the Holy Spirit and walk away, I must ask: have you ever heard of a baby that has successfully resisted its own live birth and stayed in the womb? You see, spiritual birth is as real as physical birth. We can no more resist our own spiritual rebirth than a baby can stop himself from being born.

It is also interesting to point out that it is precisely because of our stubborn nature that God MUST have an influence that is greater than man’s resistance.

Note this scripture: “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God”. (1 Corin. 2:14)

If we cannot, in our natural state,  say “yes” to the Holy Spirit, how is it that anybody has said “yes” at all?

Comments welcome!

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SOMETHING TO PONDER

salvation 2

Dear Friends,

One of the statements I hear most often from Christians is that God is in sovereign, that He is above all creation and governs all things as He sees fit. Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “sovereign” (adj). as “having supreme rank, power or authority”. The Bible testifies this of our great God:

“Whatever the Lord pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).

He “works all things after the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11).

“From Him and through Him and to Him are all things” (Romans 11:36).

So here’s my question:

If we truly believe that God is sovereign, wouldn’t that mean that we believe He is sovereign over everything?

If there is any area of which God is not in control, wouldn’t that make Him less than God?

If you answered “yes” to either question, wouldn’t God’s sovereignty also include His sovereignty over matters of salvation?

Yet, when referring to predestination, many people (among whom are godly leaders I respect, I might add) have made a statement that goes something like this:

Let’s say God, from eternity past, was able to look into the future and see that someone will want to be saved upon hearing the gospel. Then based on this foreknowledge, God decides to save him or her.

Upon first reading, this seems very reasonable, until you consider the perspective a little more closely.

If I can say that I am saved because I had anything to do with my own salvation, including the choice to follow Him, wouldn’t that be a salvation based on my own merit? After all, in this scenario, I wouldn’t be saved unless I FIRST decided to follow Him.

Who is the one reacting to the other in this scenario? Is it God or man?

What’s more, if I were left in my natural state, without the Holy Spirit, I would have never chosen God, nor ever will:

“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corin. 2:14).

I don’t deny the theological discussion that could arise from these questions. Many could point to scriptures that seem to put the responsibility of salvation squarely on man’s shoulders, such as the numerous passages that call the sinner to repent and be saved. The irony is that although it is God’s initiative to save, He nevertheless uses the earthly means to do so. He uses the preaching of the gospel and call to repentance to woo the sinner, to stir his heart, and to open his ears to respond. I’m not writing today to contemplate the mystery of predestination vs. free will, but simply to challenge two areas of our thinking: our view of God, and our view of man.

Of God, again, is he sovereign over all? Can man, at any point ultimately override what God will or won’t do?

What of man? What do we really believe his natural condition to be? Do we believe he is inherently evil or do we think there is a glimmer of goodness in him, (even if a tiny bit), to FIRST reach up to God for salvation?

A reading of Ephesians 2:1 says, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience”

The word for “dead” in the Greek translation of this passage is the word “Netros”, which means “a corpse. (Strong’s concordance, P. 49, Greek Dictionary)

If “dead” means “dead”, (not swooning, or kinda weak, or even trying real hard to be alive), then the consequent questions we must then ask would be:

Can the dead raise themselves?

Can the dead recognize abundance of life?

Can the dead, who are blind, give themselves sight?

Can the dead, who are deaf, give themselves hearing?

I’m gonna take a stab at this and say, um… no.

But let’s say we did have a tiny bit of (spiritual) life within us, just enough to raise a cold, perishing hand to God for salvation.

Wouldn’t you still have to ask who put that spark within us?

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Comments welcome!

 

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CITIZEN (PART 2)

Passport kingdom of god

Dear Friends,

In my last post, I shared some thoughts about what it means to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, specifically the blessings inherent in it.

For one, when we are born again by faith in Jesus Christ, we gain the undeserved privilege of being called a child of God. We are given His Holy Spirit to dwell within us and to transform us to be more and more like Him. (Romans 8:29).  Our focus as His own now turns from the earthly to the eternal. As we grow in our faith, the goal is to align more and more with God’s purposes and His glory. We strive to do his will, as stated in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done”. (Matthew 6:9-13).

Jesus commissioned His disciples, (and all of us), to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16-20).

So you see, as citizens of the Kingdom of God we are given a holy mission that transcends whatever obligations we have that is earthly. A citizenship by any definition is not only to know the blessings of belonging, but it is also an opportunity to gratefully serve that to which we belong.

So, to continue this series, let’s look at our citizenship in the Kingdom of God in terms of our commissioning. Is there a sense of responsibility I bear as a citizen of the Kingdom of God? What does being a citizen mean from this perspective? I thought of a few:

Responsibilities of a citizen would include:

Allegiance – If I am a citizen of a country, this means I give up all prior allegiance to any other nation or sovereignty. If our citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven, we align ourselves with God first, above all else. The motivation is gratitude for what we have been given. We are told in Exodus 20:3-5 to cast way any idols that could become bigger than God to us:

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:3-5).

Defense – If called upon, I am to defend my country. Even more so,  for someone who professes to be a Christian, am I not called upon to stand up for my faith, to speak up when my God’s name is taken in vain? Sadly to admit, I have fallen short, and I’m convicted of these words:

 But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Here Peter says it in a nutshell…be alert, always ready to stand up for your faith. Our attitude shouldn’t be argumentative and aggressive, but done in love and respect in order to share the hope we have.

Obey the laws – If we obey the laws of the land, how much more should we obey God? Yet, here again is the key: God does not demand compliance out of a sense of duty, but from the heart. We as Christians long to do what is pleasing to Him, not necessarily because He has decreed it, but because He has enabled us to want to (if we willfully submit to Him) by the Holy Spirit.

One final word: As a good citizen of this country, I’m supposed to obey the law and follow the decree of the land, but what if a given law goes against what God has said? What do I do then? If you are a Christian, what would you do?

I don’t think it will be long until we are all personally confronted to give an answer, one way or another.

 

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CITIZEN

Passport kingdom of godWe in the U.S (if you haven’t noticed) are in the middle of an election year. In light of the present threats we face, I believe that the outcome will be pivotal to this country. Without getting too political, let’s just say that I believe this election could mean the difference between a steep decline or restoration for our country.

As I think about the times we live in, I have to remember two things that bring me back to faith:

1) God ultimately rules over the offices of the government and our leaders. There is no one who holds a prominent position that has not, or will not be used for His purpose. (Romans 13:1).

2) Although we are citizens of this country, as Christians, we ultimately hold a greater citizenship in the kingdom of God:

Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”.

This encourages me to focus on God’s great and mysterious plan until the day when He will make everything right. It got me thinking about what it means to call ourselves citizens of a given country. Then I looked at God’s word and what it says about our citizenship in heaven. Here’s a little perspective I thought you might enjoy:
Being a citizen means:

1) I have certain rights and privileges within the country to which I belong – Here in the states, it means many things, from voting to getting certain jobs.

Being a part of the kingdom of God means far more. For one, Galatians 4:4-7 tells us that we are given the undeserved privilege of being joint heirs with Christ Himself:

“But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

2) I have the protection of citizenship – in the case of unrest or emergency, being a (US) citizen can be helpful to obtain assistance. We can seek asylum in U.S. Consulates or call upon the government while abroad.

Being a part of the kingdom of God is to be protected by Him from anything that would sever our inheritance or citizenship. We read in 1 Peter 1:4-5 of this inheritance:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Just like citizenship does not come without certain requirements, notice here that this citizenship, this alliance with God comes to those who are born again, (made spiritually new) because of Christ’s death for us and His resurrection. This not only involves belief, but a covering of sin, obedience to Him, which is the righteousness of Christ. It is trust in Him alone, and living out of that faith as evidence of our salvation.

3) Last, being a citizen means I have a confirmed passage back into my country. For example, as a law-abiding individual, this status is meant to give me the security of knowing that I am recognized back into my home with relative ease.

I remember once many years ago when I was traveling abroad, when our borders were more secure. We had landed in New York, a very busy airport for international flights. I vividly remember airport security waving those of us with US passports right through the gate while a very long line of non-citizens were held back for further screening.

As great as this nation is, I’m pretty sure we will all want heaven’s gates to open to us even more. The word of God tells us clearly what will provide the only passage:

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

May none of us ever know the frightening judgement of separation from God. If you have not done so, I plead with you today, in love and not condemnation, to trust Christ alone for His gift of salvation, while the gate is still open for you.

THE RESURRECTION OF CHRIST: THREE POSSIBLE SCENARIOS

Easter 2Pretend with me that we are a forensic investigators, and we’ve been given the call to respond to a just-happened crime scene. We drop everything and rush to the location. From there, what do we do? If you’ve ever watched crime drama TV shows or real-life documentaries, you know that one of the first things we would do is carefully examine the scene.  We would not just scan the area but carefully inspect how it was arranged. We’d consider the rules of time and space and science. From there, we would use our sense of logic to rule out different scenarios to reasonably, and many times without question come up with a conclusion of what happened. The evidence would speak for itself.

We are bound by this physical world we live in, so much so that there are many who believe that’s all there is. How then, do we explain one of the most hotly debated events of history, the resurrection of Christ?

I was reading about the resurrection the other day and I came upon the first investigation of exactly how His tomb appeared that morning. It is written by the disciple John, an eyewitness and one of the first sleuths on the scene, together with another one of Christ’s disciples, Peter.

John writes of himself, reporting in the third person:  “He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there, but did not go in. Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’s head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen”.  (John 20:5-7).

To understand the scene, we need to understand the mode of Jewish burial at the time. As was the custom, the deceased would be wrapped in linen bands and spices. A mixture of aloe, (a powdered wood like fine sawdust), and a gummy myrhh would be inserted between the folds of the linen to preserve the body.

Yet the body was missing. There were only three possibilities of how and why Jesus was no longer there:

1) The body was stolen,

2) Jesus got up on his own, resuscitated, having only swooned not really died), or

3) He rose from the dead.

First of all, it is significant that the burial cloth was there at all. If the body was stolen, the linen cloths that it was wrapped in would have been taken with the body. Not only were they still there, but they were undisturbed. The word that John uses for the word “lying” is “keimena”,* which refers to things that have been carefully placed in order.  John noticed that there had been no disturbance in the tomb. Criminals (or the disciples themselves, as unbelievers would speculate), would not have had any time, to take the body apart from the graveclothes, and certainly not to fold the cloth that had been around his head.

Did Jesus merely wake up from a very bad beating? In that case, he would still be in a physical body and would have left behind evidence of a physical body freeing itself from the strips of linen. If so, they would have been displaced. Even if we can imagine that he got up and put everything back as if to appear that he rose from the grave, the spices used to preserve the body would have scattered and stained the floor.

The disciples saw none of these things. Jesus had risen, and in a resurrected body.

The Bible tells us that we who trust and believe in Him will be as He is:

“Buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection.” (Romans 6:5-6)

Our tired bodies that hurt and die will no longer give us grief and pain. Having taken the punishment for our sin, He gave us His righteousness in exchange. Because of that first Easter morning, because Christ has paved the way, we can know that physical death is not the end, and we’ve been given a glimpse of our eternal hope.

He is risen, He is risen indeed.

*The Gospel of John: Volume 5- Triumph through Tragedy, John 18-21, James Montgomery Boice, P. 1567

IF YOU NEVER WORRY, DON’T READ THIS EITHER (PART 2)

worry 7For the few of you, (two or three, or so it seems smiley face ) that are never tempted to worry in this day and age, please scroll right along. For all the rest of us, a timely reminder:

Do not be anxious [do not worry] about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil. 4:6)

We could worry about a thousand things, yet this passage says do not worry about anything.  I can’t think of a thing that wouldn’t fall under the category of anything. Additionally, we are to bring everything to God in prayer. There isn’t a circumstance that is outside of His care for us, nothing that escapes his sight. In fact, God’s word says that He knows our needs before we even ask Him. (Matthew 6:8)

To overcome anxiety, according to this passage, is to come to the Lord in the right understanding of who He is. The passage, as stated by the synonyms “prayer” and “supplication” all indicate a specific, direct petition to God.1 This is shown in a context of humility and not rebellion. It indicates an attitude as one would approach a loving Father, as One who is “an ever-present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

It also tells us to come to Him with thanksgiving. In “Anxiety Attacked”, John MacArthur points out the example of the prophet Jonah. Even when a great fish swallowed him, he prays:

“I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me…while I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to Thee…Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to Thee with the voice of thanksgiving…” (Jonah 2:2, 2:7, 2:8-9).

I have a long way to go in this area, but what helps me stay in a mindset of thankfulness is to keep a journal of answered prayer through tough times. It helps to show me how much worse a circumstance could have been, and it is a way to record an ongoing testimony that I can draw from in times when I need more faith.

God never promised us that He would eliminate pain from our lives, but He has promised His supernatural peace if we trust Him. Read the next verse in this passage:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)

The word “guard” here is the transliteration “Phroureo”, which is a military term, implying the vigilant protection of our hearts and minds as a soldier might protect his own.2

The next time you are tempted to worry, ask God for this peace that is beyond you. Ask Him to protect your heart and mind by the promise of His diligent care.

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Are you struggling with a specific care or worry? Why do you think it is so easy to hang on to? Take those specifics to Him. He already knows our every need.

What are some of the many mercies of God that you can draw upon in grateful prayer?

 

1. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Philippians, 283

2. Ibid, P. 284

 

 

 

 

ONE CONFUSING STATEMENT

“Everything happens for a reason” must be one of the most head scratching statements I’ve ever heard…not just because this “reason” is often undefined, but because I never know the speaker’s perspective in making this statement.

They could mean that everything has a material cause, that is, a building exists because of the elements of brick and mortar.

They could mean that everything has an efficient cause, much like the domino effect of the decisions we make. For example, I could say that I failed a class because I failed the final, and I failed the final because I didn’t study, and so forth and so on.

Still, there is a final perspective that can be taken, which refers to a higher purpose or goal behind an outcome or event, an overriding reason that may not be immediately apparent.

Even then, I’m still puzzled by the ambiguity of saying “everything happens for a reason”. What is the impetus that runs the order of purpose, if any? Is it karma? Is it the universe? Are these already-laid-out goals specifically good purposes or bad purposes?

I’ve heard it from acquaintances, celebrities, even news anchors and athletes. It seems to have become a modern cliché, an “insert-your-own-meaning” phrase which in essence conveys a message of comfort and control, often when things don’t go as planned. Everyone assumes what the other person is saying, when it fact this statement is more loaded than a plate at a free buffet.

From a Christian perspective, the best way to describe the statement, I believe, is that it’s simply incomplete and out of context in itself. I say this based upon the scripture of Romans 8:28:

“And we know that all things work together for the good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose”

Do our lives amount to nothing more than random drifting, or is it up to us to steer the outcome as best we can? How much does God play into the direction of our lives? I can’t begin to scratch the surface of theology in this post alone, but I can shed some light on God’s promise for the meaning of our lives through this scripture.

He communicated this through the Apostle Paul in starting out the scripture by saying And we know. God’s sovereignty in our lives is not a speculation or guess. What’s one thing that we can know without a shadow of a doubt? That all things work together for the good. Let’s break this statement down further by looking at each phrase in this wonderful scripture:

All things

It clearly states that ALL things work together for the good…not just some things, not just the good things, but ALL things. This includes all joyful, good events as well as all sad, painful events in our lives. It would include our bad decisions, our failures, our set-backs and yes, even sin. There’s nothing that qualifies “all things’. How would it all play out? Well all things…

Work together

How in the world could anything good come of heartbreak or loss… or the consequences of a horrible decision? What about emotional pain inflicted by betrayal or the physical pain of illness? It’s easy to blame God for not listening or caring. I know I have. I’ve flat out defied Him to answer in my worst suffering. Yet, I look back and see that He was there all along, in mercies that got me through day by day. Circumstances may not make sense individually. This promise states that each experience, be they good or bad, will weave together for our ultimate benefit.

It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. If you look at each piece individually, it doesn’t make sense.

Jigsaw puzzle piecesSome pieces are dark and uninteresting. Others are bright and colorful, but none of them show the whole scene of the completed puzzle.  It’s not until they are all put together that we see the whole picture.jigsaw-puzzle-art It’s interesting that no matter what a piece displays, each one is vitally important. Lose one and the picture is ruined.

That’s how it is with our lives. We can’t see the full picture by looking at just one of the pieces. God sees the whole.

Great examples come from the Bible itself.

For instance, there’s the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob. He was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers, then taken into slavery in Egypt. It just got worse from there. He was falsely accused of adultery and thrown in jail. Finally, after many years in jail, he found himself in a position of power over Egypt. The brothers who were so cruel to him as a kid were at his mercy when they had to travel to Egypt for famine relief. He forgave them, saying, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good.” (Genesis 50:20). God used the passage of time and all these hardships to mature Joseph to be the man of God that he turned out to be.  He used the famine to bring his brothers to humility and gratitude, and He brought everyone into a place of healing.

For the Good

We may be able to point back and say, for instance, that if we lose a job, God will lead us to a better one. I don’t believe that concept to be true in all cases. As we’ll see in the later part of this scripture, the benefit referred to here is of spiritual value—to make us more like Christ. He can definitely bless us with earthly gain and ease, but “good” is not measured this way, or everyone, (even those who hate God), could claim His favor. He can and does bless materially, but He is after a far greater value in our hearts and lives, a value we won’t see completed until we are made perfect with Him in eternity.

To those who love God 

Here’s where the incompleteness of the statement “All things happen for a reason” comes into play. From a Christian perspective, the peace of mind of knowing that all is for a purpose is stipulated only to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.  What does it mean to love God? Well, here are some of the characteristics of someone who loves God:

  • They keep His commandments (Psalm 25:10)
  • They put God first in their lives (Luke 10:27)
  • They acknowledge that the Father and Jesus, the Son, are One. (John 10:30)

How can we say we love God if we don’t know Him and keep His commandments? This brings up another question. How much “keeping” of his commandments would merit us as one who loves God? Do you ever wonder if you qualify? Well, read the next clause:

And are called according to His purpose:

What does it mean to be called according to His purpose, and what does it have to do with obedience? That question is answered in the next scripture, Romans 8:29:

For whom He foreknew, He predestined to be conformed to the Image of His Son…

Isn’t that glorious? You see, although we are called to love and obey God completely, how many of us do this perfectly? None of us…but it says here that if we are believers in Christ, we are predestined, we are pre-appointed, no less, to be conformed to Him.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (2 Corin. 3:18)

That is His purpose for us, and that is what He has promised to do.  This whole passage comes full circle when we see that we cannot love the Lord and not be called to His purpose. We see that it is His work in us, and not our efforts that bring us to want to love and obey Him. We see that He uses all things to work together towards that end.

What an awesome promise! If we are predestined to this purpose of transformation in our lives, it’s a done deal. Romans 8:28 is the explanation of the answer to the “everything happens for a reason” question. Our response is nothing less than gratitude for His sovereignty and glory to Him.

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Like Joseph, have you ever gotten to see some of the reasons for hardship in your life? Have you been able to look back at a difficult time and see the intangibles you would have never had otherwise? What were they? I’d love to hear your stories!