Archive for April, 2013

April 30, 2013

843 Acres: The Mask of Psalm 42

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 7 (text | audio, 9:54 min)
and Ps 42 (text | audio, 1:40 min)
and Ps 43 (text | audio, 0:47 min)
Highlighted: Ps 42:3, 9

Happiness: Our longing to be happy is not bad. In fact, C.S. Lewis says it is required: “It is a Christian duty for everyone to be as happy as he can.” What happens, however, when we are not happy? When things happen (or do not happen) that make us sad? Is it inconsistent to be a Christian and also to have feelings of sorrow, confusion and/or depression?

Depression: In Psalm 42, the psalmist struggles with depression: “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” [1]. He continues: “I say to God, my rock: ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?’” [2]. How does this psalm teach us to confront our feelings of sorrow, confusion and/or depression?

Preaching: “Have you realized,” writes D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, “that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you … Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? … Self, listen for a moment, I will speak to you.’ You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself … And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, who God is, what God is, what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then, having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world, and say with this man, ‘I shall yet praise Him for the help of His countenance, who is also the health of my countenance and my God’” [3].

Prayer: Lord, Thank you for inspiring psalms like Psalm 42 that do not conclude with an all-wrapped-up-in-a-bow ending. As we preach to ourselves, may we cling to your word, not our circumstances. Teach us to say, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? Put your hope in God!” May we not be like chaff that blows in the wind, but like trees that drink your water. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Psalm 42:3 ESV | [2] Psalm 42:9 ESV | [3] D. Martin Lloyd-Jones. Spiritual Depression.

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April 29, 2013

843 Acres: Terrify No More

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 6 (text | audio, 4:09 min)
and Ps 40 (text | audio, 2:31 min)
and Ps 41 (text | audio, 1:30 min)
Highlighted: Ps 40:1-3

Pit: Sometimes things seem like they cannot get any worse. A few weeks ago, as many of us were weeping over the murders committed by Kermit Gosnell, two bombs were set off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Then we learned about the massive fertilizer plant explosion in Texas. The Onion read, “‘Maybe next time we have a week, they can try not to pack it completely to the brim with explosions, mutilations, death, manhunts, lies, weeping, and the utter uselessness of our political system,’ said basically every person in America who isn’t comatose or a complete sociopath” [1].

Rescue: We do not know what situation inspired David to write Psalm 40, but we do know that he was in “a pit of destruction” [2]. He was desperate and helpless, sinking deeper and deeper every time he tried to climb out. God seemed distant, but he was—in fact—near. David sang, “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord” [3].

Imagine: The victims of Gosnell and the Tsarnaev brothers, along with those who died in the Texas explosion, will not return to us. As a result, our hearts are weak with grief, despair and anger. This, however, need not be the end of the story. Imagine a world in which death has lost its sting. Where pits are not ends, but opportunities for God’s rescue. Where justice reigns: “O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more” [4].

Prayer: Lord, This age is full of mystery because violence and perversion are all around us. “Strengthen our hearts according to your promises. Give us patience to wait upon your final act of justice, when everything will be made right. In that day, we will watch as you make terror the victim, a story never to appear on another front page” [5]. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] “Jesus, This Week.” The Onion. April 18, 2013. | [2] Psalm 40:2 ESV | [3] Psalm 40:1-3 ESV | [4] Psalm 10:17-18 ESV | [5] Taken from Marshall Segal. “Why Gosnell, God? Why Boston?” Desiring God. April 18, 2013.

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April 26, 2013

843 Acres: The Mask of Unmet Desires

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 3 (text | audio, 7:06 min)
and Ps 37 (text | audio, 3:58 min)

Advertising: The average person living in a city sees up to 5,000 advertisements per day [1]. In New York, ad messages are on subway turnstiles, cab televisions and airport security line trays—not to mention on Facebook, Google and Hulu. What happens when we consume so much advertising? Seth Godin writes, “A journalist asked me, Most people have a better standard of living today than Louis XIV did in his day. So why are so many people unhappy? What you have doesn’t make you unhappy. What you want does. And want is created by us, the marketers. Marketers trying to grow market share will always work to make their customers unhappy” [2].

Desires: David sings, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” [3]. How do we distinguish, however, between the desires of our heart and the wants created by marketers? Does the promise of Psalm 37:4 mean that God is going to give us everything we want?

Augustine: Prior to his conversion, Augustine lived a pagan and sensual life. His mother, however, loved the Lord. She begged God not to send her son to Rome because it was a city full of debauchery and sin. She could not imagine that her son would find God in Rome. In the end, Augustine moved to Rome and, when he left, “she clasped [him] tight in her embrace, willing either to keep [him] back or to go with [him]” [4]. Did God give her the desire of her heart? No … and yes. No, God did not prevent Augustine from moving to Rome. In a deeper sense, however God did give her the desire of her heart. For it was in Rome that Augustine came to know God. He confesses, “But thou, taking thy own secret counsel and noting the real point to her desire, didst not grant what she was then asking in order to grant to her the thing that she had always been asking” [5].

Prayer: Lord, We are inundated with advertisements, telling us what to want. Quite often, we even pray in accordance with those wants. O Father, who knows our deepest desires, do not listen to our words, but to our hearts. For we want what you want. Cause us to delight in you so that our deepest desire would be for your secret counsel to reign and our true prayers to be answered. Amen.

M’Cheyne Weekend Texts (our reading plan)

Sat, Apr 27: Num 4 (text | audio, 6:45 min) and Ps 38 (text | audio, 2:09 min)
Sun, Apr 28: Num 5 (text | audio, 5:11 min) and Ps 39 (text | audio, 1:49 min)

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 Footnotes

[1] Louise Story. “Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad.” The New York Times. January 15, 2007. | [2] Seth Godin. “Destroying Happiness.” Seth’s Blog. August 19, 2008. | [3] Psalm 37:4 ESV | [4] St. Augustine. Confessions and Enchiridion. Page. 72 | [5] Id. at 73.

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April 25, 2013

843 Acres: The Mask of Weekends and Vacations

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 2 (text | audio, 3:57 min)
and Ps 36 (text | audio, 1:23 min)
Highlighted: Ps 36:7-9

Wired: Do you get rest on weekends? When you return from vacation, do you feel rejuvenated or exhausted? Most of us never fully disconnect. We may leave the office physically, but our mobile devices keep us there mentally. Smart phones have become our syringes of choice, giving us our daily fix of information.

Disconnect: Recently, in the Harvard Business Review blog, Tony Schwartz wrote, “I needed a vacation, but what I needed most of all was a period of total digital disconnection. My brain felt overloaded and I needed time to clear it out” [1]. He went away on vacation—without his laptop, iPad or cell phone. On the plane, he did not read newspapers, answer emails or surf the Internet. Instead, he read a book. On his vacation, when he felt the need to Google something, he let it pass. The more he did that, the weaker the urge became: “By mid-week, that impulse was evaporated, and I realized how much richer and more satisfying any experience is when it’s not interrupted.” He read books and played tennis, and, “By the end of the nine days, I felt empowered and enriched. With my brain quieter, I was able to take back control of my attention. In the process, I rediscovered some deeper part of myself.”

Faith: It is an act of faith to disconnect. Schwartz put down his laptop, notebook and cell phone, because he had faith that “most everything can wait.” Yet there is a stronger faith that enables us to disconnect—a trust that God is in control. David sings, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light” [2].

Prayer: Lord, We must disconnect from the frenzy of the world if we want to connect to your abiding promises. Yet it is only by knowing your deep promises that we have the power and faith to disconnect from the world. What hope do we have? Give us your Spirit and increase our belief so that we say, No, to our daily fix of information and, Yes, to the abundance of your house and the river of your delights. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Tony Schwartz. “What Happens When You Really Disconnect.” HBR Blog Network. April 19, 2013. | [2] Psalm 36:7-9 ESV

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April 24, 2013

843 Acres: The Mask of Imprecatory Psalms

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 1 (text | audio, 4:00 min)
and Ps 35 (text | audio, 3:21 min)
Highlighted: Ps 35:4

Win: What must we do in order to prepare to meet God? Does how we live matter—is there no difference between living like Mother Theresa and living like Adolf Hitler? According to Rob Bell, the author of Love Wins, the answer is a rhetorical question: “Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?” Ultimately, he argues, “History is not tragic, hell is not forever and love—in the end—wins and all will be reconciled to God” [1].

Assumptions: Tim Keller, however, thinks that Bell is making some cultural and theological assumptions. Two years ago, at the Gospel Coalition conference, Keller piggy-backed on Stephen Um’s comment that his Korean grandfather would have had a harder time accepting God’s love than his judgment. Keller reflected, “The assumption is that all thoughtful people think it’s awful that God would judge a whole lot of folks and send them to hell—when the answer is, ‘No, some modern Western people do.’” Then, he challenged Bell’s assumption that God’s holiness and love are mutually exclusive: “It’s pitting the different attributes of God against each other; it’s like the love of God wins, but the holiness of God does not win. Well, no, on the cross, all the attributes win” [2].

Imprecatory: Imprecatory psalms are those psalms that invoke judgment, curses or calamity. For example, in Psalm 35, David says, “Let [those who contend with me and fight against me] be put to shame and dishonor who seek after my life!” [3]. Where there is a love for life and righteousness, there is a hatred for anything that threatens to take away that life and righteousness. There is not indifference.

Prayer: Lord, Although imprecatory psalms are still mysterious to us in many ways, we know that your holy anger is rooted in your magnificent love. On the cross, you show us how much you hate sin and evil because of how much you love righteousness and justice. Most of all, you show us how much you love us. Teach us how to connect our lives today with our lives to come, as we prepare to meet you. Let us love what you love and, therefore, hate what you hate. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Rob Bell. Love Wins. | [2] Video. | [3] Psalm 35:4 ESV

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April 23, 2013

843 Acres: Having All That Matters

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Lev 27 (text | audio, 4:58 min)
and Ps 34 (text | audio, 2:09 min)
Highlighted: Ps 34:8, 10

Having It All: These three little words leave most women feeling exhausted, inadequate, confused and guilty. What does “having it all” mean? It is even possible? Sheryl Sandberg writes, “Instead of pondering the question, ‘Can we have it all?’, we should be asking the more practical question, ‘Can we do it all?’ and again, the answer is no.” Oprah and Madeleine Albright are slightly more hopeful, saying that we can have it all—just not at the same time. Anne-Marie Slaughter takes a slightly different approach: “I still strongly believe that women can ‘have if all’ (and that men can, too). I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time.’ But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.” None of them, however, mention happiness or joy in any of their books, articles or talks.

Balanced Schedules: It is possible to live our entire lives chasing after a balanced schedule and never find identity, purpose or meaning. In one of his parables, Jesus warns against hearing the gospel and then letting “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches” choke the gospel until it “proves unfruitful” [1]. But what alternative is there? As a practical matter, we have to pursue financial stability, education, family, career and home, right?

Having All That Matters: These four little words are the promise of the gospel. In Psalm 34, David sings, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! … [T]hose who seek the Lord lack no good thing” [2]. Did you catch that? “Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Hundreds of years later, Paul explains what David means. He writes to the Romans, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” [3]. In Christ, God has given us all that matters—all things that pertain to life and godliness [4].

Prayer: Lord, Apart from Christ, life is like the Myth of Sisyphus—a meaningless, repetitive task that leads to absurdity [5]. We can schedule our lives like a Tetris game, but still end up without identity, purpose, meaning, freedom or joy. The resurrection of Christ shows us, however, that our lives have meaning [6]. Give us a vision to seek all that matters and to inspire those around us to do the same. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] See Matthew 13:1-23 | [2] Psalm 34:8, 10 ESV | [3] Romans 8:32 ESV | [4] 1 Peter 1:3 | [5] Wikipedia. The Myth of Sisyphus. | [6] See 1 Corinthians 15:58. See also. 843 Acres Reader’s Choice: “His Resurrection Gives Meaning to Our Work.” August 20, 2012.

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April 22, 2013

The Mask of Thwarted Plans

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Lev 26 (text | audio, 7:12 min)
and Ps 33 (text | audio, 2:12 min)
Highlighted: Ps 33:10-11

Thwarted: Last week, after the Boston Marathon bombings, Stephen Colbert mocked the terrorists, saying their intentions were thwarted by the very people they tried to hurt: “But here is where these cowards really don’t get. They attacked the Boston Marathon. An event celebrating people who run twenty-six miles on their day off … And when those bombs went off, there were runners who, after finishing a marathon, kept running for another two miles to the hospital to donate blood. So here’s what I know. These maniacs may have tried to make life bad for the people of Boston, but all they can ever do is show just how good those people are” [1].

Plans: In Psalm 33, the Psalmist sings, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations” [2]. Thousands of years ago, “lawless men” sought to silence the King of Glory, but God frustrated their plans. As Peter said, “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know—this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” [3].

Display: In Spectacular Sins, John Piper writes, “In the death of Christ, the powers of darkness did their best to destroy the glory of the Son of God. This is the apex of evil. But instead they found themselves quoting the script of ancient prophecy and acting the part assigned by God. Precisely in putting Christ to death, they put his glory on display—the very glory that they aimed to destroy. The apex of evil achieved the apex of the glory of Christ. The glory of grace” [4].

Prayer: Lord, Although much about the bombings in Boston remains a mystery to us, we know one thing—when we see terrorists try to spread fear and hatred and, instead, spread love and compassion, we see your glory. No plan of yours can be thwarted—not even when evil appears to have won. Give us a vision for spectacular sins that achieve the apex of Christ’s glory. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Ann Oldenburg. “Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert Salute Boston.” USA Today. April 17, 2013. | [2] Psalm 33:10-11 ESV | [3] Acts 2:22-24 ESV | [4] John Piper. Spectacular Sins.

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April 19, 2013

843 Acres: The Mask of the Sabbath

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Lev 23 (text | audio, 6:19 min)
and Ps 30 (text | audio, 1:28 min)
Highlighted: Lev 23:3

Sabbath: “The Sabbath,” writes Judith Shulevitz in the New York Times Magazine, “has become the holiday Americans are most likely never to take.” After detailing the history of the observance of the Sabbath, she laments, “So what do we do, today, with this remarkable heritage, which in the last century expanded to a generous two days, rather than just one? Much more than our ancestors could ever have imagined, and much, much less. We relax on a run and, in rare bursts of free time, we recreate. We choose from a dizzying array of leisure options and pursue them with an exemplary degree of professionalism and perfectionism … And yet there are important ways in which even our impressive recreational creativity fails to reproduce the benefits of the Sabbath. Few elective activities will ever rise to a higher status than work in our minds, and therefore cannot be relied upon to counterbalance our neurotic drive to achieve” [1]. What is the alternative?

Law: The Law commanded, “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work. It is a Sabbath to the Lord in all your dwelling places” [2]. Observation of the Sabbath was taken seriously. In fact, under the Law, those who profaned it were to be put to death and those who worked on it were to be cut off from among the community [3].

Imagine: Imagine what a Sabbath in your city might look like. It would be, as Shulevitz puts it, a day of “organized nonproductivity”. It would not merely be a day of refraining from work, however, but also a day of shifting our thoughts. Can you picture your city resting from its busyness and selling into reflection? What would that do for your city? How might things change? Shulevitz wants to “bring back the Sabbath”, and who better to answer her call to action than us, the church?

Prayer: Lord, As we celebrate the Sabbath this weekend, let its seriousness and importance dwell in our souls. Show us how to observe it in a way that honors and glorifies you. Give us courage to rest from our work, knowing that you are the ultimate author of all that is accomplished. For you are the Lord in all our dwelling places, and we trust in you. Amen.

M’Cheyne Weekend Texts (our reading plan)

Sat, Apr 20: Lev 24 (text | audio, 3:03 min) and Ps 31 (text | audio, 3:16 min)
Sun, Apr 21: Lev 25 (text | audio, 7:40 min) and Ps 32 (text | audio, 1:29 min)

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Footnotes

[1] Judith Shulevitz. “Bring Back the Sabbath.” The New York Times Magazine. March 2, 2003. | [2] Leviticus 23:3 ESV | [3] See Exodus 31:14; Exodus 35:2; Numbers 15:32-36. I highlight the severity of the punishment for breaking the Sabbath to show its seriousness, not advocate its reinstitution.

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April 18, 2013

843 Acres: The Mask of the (Google) Earth

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Lev 22 (text | audio, 4:47 min)
and Ps 28 (text | audio, 1:12 min)
and Ps 29 (text | audio, 1:07 min)
Highlighted: Ps 29

Hello, World: Recently, Google Earth has gotten some laughs for its bizarre distortions based on inaccurate algorithms—here and here. But have you ever played around on it? From the comfort of your own home, you can explore hydrothermal vents and seafloors. If you want to climb Mount Everest or Mount Kilimanjaro, you can just open Google Maps. You only need Wi-Fi to visit the Grand Canyon.  Google Earth unlocks the sky, the ocean, the moon, the trees and Mars. So what?

Hello, Majesty. In Psalm 29, David sings, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty … The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness … The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever” [1].

Hello, Accountability and Security. The greatness of Google Earth and Google Maps has, at least, two implications. First, one of the consequences of our being able to see the mighty hand of God in nature is that we will be held accountable. As Paul tells the Romans, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” [2]. Second, when we see his mighty hand in nature, we can trust that he is able to keep his unblushing promises about our joy, gladness, inheritance, etc. For he exercises “his eternal power and divine nature” to benefit his people. This is what David concludes in Psalm 29. After surveying the glory of nature, he says, “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” [3]

Hello, Lord. The earth and all that is in it is a “mask” by which you conceal your glory. When we see your mighty hand in nature, we can know your attributes and, as a result, we can trust your promises. This spring, as the weather turns from snow to flowers, open our eyes to give you glory and honor, knowing that the changing seasons show us your power. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Psalm 29:2-4, 7-8, 10 ESV | [2] Romans 1:20 ESV | [3] Psalm 29:11 ESV

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April 17, 2013

843 Acres: The Mask of Gifts (and the Boston Marathon)

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Lev 21 (text | audio, 3:04 min)
and Ps 26 (text | audio, 1:06 min)
and Ps 27 (text | audio, 1:55 min)

Boston: After the explosions at the Boston Marathon on Monday, one eyewitness recalls, “We gave the runners money so they could get on the T when it worked again. We gave them our coats. ‘How will I give it back to you?’ one runner asked as she shrugged on a dark green fleece. ‘You don’t need to. You never need to,’ a man next to me told her” [1].

Economy: Even in our most vulnerable moments, it is hard to know how to accept another’s generosity. In The Gift, Lewis Hyde distinguishes between a commercial economy, where the purpose of gifts is to make exchanges, and a gift economy, where the purpose of gifts is to create community. He laments, “When exchange no longer connects one person to another, when the spirit of the gift is absent, then increase does not appear between gift partners, usury appears between debtors and creditors” [2].

Gospel: The economy of the gospel is a gift economy, not a commercial one. God “masks” his love for us in gifts that he gives, but he calls us to seek his face, not his hands. To seek a relationship, not a transaction. In Psalm 27, David sings, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’ Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not, O God of my salvation!” [3] The greatest gift we can receive is God’s presence, not his presents: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple” [4].

Prayer: Lord, Expel our thinking that we are debtors and you are our creditor. Ingrain in our hearts that you say to us, “You don’t need to pay me back. You never need to.” That is our only hope because, indeed, we cannot pay you back. Instead of making an exchange with us, you have given us a gift. You have cloaked us in Christ. We, in turn, share that gift with others out of an overflow of your love. Amen.

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Footnote

[1] Carrie Jones. “I Have a Bad Feeling.” The Huffington Post. The Blog. Women. April 16, 2013. | [2] Hyde, Lewis (2009-07-01). The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World (Vintage) (Kindle Locations 2312-2313). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. | [3] Psalm 27:8-9 ESV | [4] Psalm 27:4 ESV

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