Practice, Practice, Practice

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Philippians 4:9 (NIV), “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

I don’t know about you, but there wasn’t much I excelled at the first time I gave it a go. There are many things I am good at and some things I showed a natural talent or aptitude for right away, however to really be excellent at something it takes tons of practice. I have always had a bit of an artistic eye, but I am no great artist. My artistic talents are in the flavor of home decorating, sewing, crocheting, and the like. Even those things took practice. The house I live in now is the thirteenth one we remodeled and that I decorated. It’s my favorite so far. The crocheted items I make now are many levels above the twisted, snagged first attempts.

As an example, let’s look at my reading and writing skills. I struggled with reading the first few years of school and didn’t understand that a letter made one sound this time, but another the next. In fourth grade I almost flunked English because I was doing so badly with the whole subject. My saving grace? I loved to read! I loved the stories and used them to escape real life quite frequently. By fifth grade I was getting A’s in English and reading at a college level. That’s also about the same year I started to write. In high school I had a teacher who honestly critiqued my writing, and though I shed a few tears over the remarks written in red at the bottom of the page, it helped me to become the writer that I am today. Now, as I read over my very first full length novel I wrote, I can’t help but cringe in a few places…thankfully I am still “practicing”.

It’s the same way in our walk with God. When we get saved, we don’t suddenly and miraculously know how to walk this walk perfectly. God knew we needed to work out some things, so He, in His perfect wisdom, allows us to do the work. We practice being like Him. We step out in faith and practice being patient and waiting in hope for the answer. Sometime we are slow learners, like I was in my early English classes. Thankfully, I never gave up! We can’t do that in our Christian walk. Stepping off the path only prevents us from getting to the finish line. Though I am not there yet in my writing, I am on my way. It’s the same with this road that I have chosen to walk with the Lord, I know that the finish line is ahead, so I keep going. Sometimes I stumble and often I fall, but I get back up. Even those times when I don’t have the strength to get up one more time, He is there to lift me, if I let Him. I have to acknowledge that I have fallen, or even worse, that I have wandered off the path, and then ask His Spirit to lead and guide me, to empower me to stay on track. He’s never told me “no” or let me down in any way. He is so Faithful!

How do we practice this way of life? Know who He is. I know I repeat this quite often only because it is so important. Then read the Bible. If you are having trouble with the language, try another version, one isn’t more inspiring than another. If the Old Testament seems dry, or you are getting the picture that God is a hard taskmaster, jump ahead to the New Testament. We have to remember that the Old Testament was written for people living under the Law, and the New to people living under Grace. He is the same God, but dealt with people in a different way. Once you truly know Him, reading the Old Testament still shows you His unfailing love and patience with a stiff necked, stubborn people.

We also have to be rooted in a family, a Church that love God and knows His word. Submit to godly men and women of God as a covering over us. Fellowship and break bread together (hang out and eat together). Get to know one another and share personal experiences, be real! Don’t put on a fake “church face” and act all holier than thou. Just be yourself, the good the bad and ugly. When you are in a real family, we very rarely shock one another, and quite often encourage and correct each other. Good advice comes from people who are genuine and who really love you despite your flaws, just like Jesus.

Confess God’s word over your life, even if it feels weird at first. Tell Satan to take a hike and to get his hands off of your family, stuff, and your life. Don’t give up if he sticks around for a while, though he doesn’t have the patience of God, he has more than you. Be consistent and insistent! The same power that raised Jesus from the dead now lives in you. You aren’t subject to the devil; he is subject to the name of Jesus. Use it.

One very important thing to remember, if you blow it, and make a mess, don’t give up! Never throw in the towel, the fight isn’t over until God calls you home. Remember each day is brand new, His mercies are new every morning. Ask God to forgive you, and move on. We are all on a path, not on a treadmill. There is an end, there is a finish line with prizes and rewards. Keep moving forward. Man up! Never get stuck in a pity party, never stop to “take a break”, get up go to Church, every time they open the doors go. So what if they aren’t preaching or teaching that day, go for the fun stuff too. Support the outreaches, fundraisers, women’s bible study, men’s prayer, etc. On the other hand don’t just go for the fun, and never let the sound teaching and anointed preaching change your hearts. Invite others over to your house and have fun! Just because you may be embarrassed over a mistake or a setback, don’t think that you are the only one to ever have to face that humility. We all do, more than once. That’s why it is so important to be real and go to Church with people you can trust and who will correct you if needed, but love you anyway.

Want to be just like Jesus?

Practice, practice, practice!

I John 3:1-10 (NASB), “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (Emphasis mine)

Book Review for “Draw of Kings”- Christian Fantasy

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Final book of the series, sad to see it end. I loved the set and this one was the best of all. Great writing, it sucks you into the story. The characters were great and the whole plot rocked your emotions one way or another. Humor, sorrow, hope, and just about every other one you can imagine. Well done! A new favorite author to add to the list. I give it five stars. I also recommend to anyone who loves fantasy or Christian fiction. Great for teens and up. No sexual content or swearing, lot’s of fighting and violence.

The Sin Scale

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We all have one, a “sin scale”, where we weigh those bad things we do. Or worse yet, we use it to excuse our bad behavior or habits by saying to ourselves, “my white lie I told my boss is only a two, my co-worker’s adultery is a seven…at least my sin is not as bad as his.” A lot of us, who claim to be Christians, love to point out the sin of homosexuality, armed robbery, murder, child abuse, and so on, and if there really was a scale, we would all agree that those probably are off the chart. However, there is no such thing as a “sin scale.”

To God, sin is sin. There isn’t some worse than others, and even more importantly, sin really isn’t an action or lack of one, it’s a nature! Those horrible, or less-than-righteous things we do aren’t in themselves the sin, they are a symptom or a corresponding action to our sin nature. We are all born with one, due to the fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden. But, praise God, when we surrender our hearts to Him, he gives us His nature. His nature isn’t sin! We are then the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. We aren’t as good as God, but we are as right as Him. Not from anything we did, or can do, but because of what Jesus did. Because we aren’t as good as God, we aren’t perfect, we continue to mess up, and miss the mark.

Matthew 19:7 (KJB), “And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”

Thankfully, since Jesus died for our sins, we just confess and turn back to God. Soon we sin less and less. Our sin doesn’t make us “sinners” because we don’t get our old nature back; we still maintain our rightness with God as long as we humble ourselves and repent.

So instead of trying to excuse, or weigh our bad behavior, instead we should be trying to please God. We need to have faith in Him, be confident that He is doing a work in us, that we are being changed from the inside out. God had told us that without faith it is impossible to please Him (Hebrews 11:6). We need to hear Him, believe in His great power, stand firm on His word.

Let’s take a look at what Jesus said to His disciples as He sent them out:

Matthew 10:11-15 (NIV) “And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it, and stay at his house until you leave that city. As you enter the house, give it your greeting. If the house is worthy, give it your blessing of peace. But if it is not worthy, take back your blessing of peace. Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet. Truly I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.”

He said, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words…it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment.” If you still have that sin scale on your mind, this should wipe it away. Not heeding, not hearing His “Good News” is worse than the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah…

Shall we continue?

Matthew 11:23-24 (NIV), “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.”

Jesus came to point the way to the Father, He showed God’s love and mercy, forgiveness and kindness. Had those miracles been shown in Sodom, He says that it never would have been destroyed, inferring that they would have believed and repented!

Sin is sin. We can’t categorize it, weigh it, label it, or whitewash it. The only remedy for sin is surrender. Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God and He will lift you up (James 4:10). He doesn’t cover it, as the blood of sacrifices did under the old covenant, He takes it away, and then even better, He forgets about it!

How many times have I stood at the altar (figuratively or literally) and thought to myself, “at least I am not like so-and-so” or “at least I have never done that”? Sound familiar?

Luke 18:9-14 (ESV), “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

How dare we stand like that Pharisee and think that somehow we are better because we placed our sin on the sin scale of our own making, and declared ourselves more righteous. As the body of Christ, we pray for souls, or should be, so we need to ask God to forgive us for expecting those souls to be rich, well dressed, un-broken, and good. Those very people we have looked down our noses at, those are the ones that our loving Father wants us to reach out to with His love. Separating ourselves from those who live in the world, can’t get us saved any more than hanging out with them will get us unsaved.

When they accused Jesus of wrongdoing when they found him eating and fellowshipping with sinners, His response was, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:7)

We don’t do what they do, we don’t participate in their wrong behavior, but we show them a better way. Hate doesn’t lead to repentance, judgmental attitudes won’t, God’s goodness will.

I think I will close with this scripture:

Luke 6: 35-35 (NASB), “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return

The Truth Is (My) Relative

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We have all heard the saying “truth is relative”, meaning that it depends on the circumstance, or the person, or some other outside influence. When Pontius Pilot is having a conversation with Jesus before the crucifixion he voices the same belief after Jesus tells him that “I came to testify of the truth”.

John 18:38 (NIV), “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.”

That common philosophy of Pilot’s day is still common in our day. So many people talk about the “grey areas” or that “there is no black and white, just different shades of grey.” I disagree.

Jesus made it very clear. There is TRUTH and it is HIM.

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

Instead of saying, “truth is relative” he said, “TRUTH is my relative”. I love that. I am one with Christ, a joint heir, a son of God, and Jesus is the way, the truth and the light, so I am related to Him.

God’s word is true, He is not a man that He should lie, and Jesus is the Living Word.

His word is alive! And it is True!

Truth isn’t relative, but He is my Relative.

Be blessed.

Brainwashing?

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Ephesians 4:22-23 (Holman Christian Standard Bible), “You took off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires; you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds;”

At our Church our pastors and teachers frequently tell us to “repeat after me” and then we say things like “God is my Father,” or “I can do anything through Christ,” and one of my favorites “I am the righteousness of Christ Jesus.”  We confess God’s word and His plans for us at Church and at home. It is a way of life, it is common place for us so I don’t think about it too much. Then I brought someone to Church with me recently, who isn’t in the habit of going to Church, and afterward when I asked her what she thought, she mentioned the “repeat after me” thing. In her words “it was like brainwashing to me, I don’t like someone telling me what to say.” I quickly explained that to retain what you learn you need to hear it, read it, and write it (the same explanation of why I took notes during the message) and that by saying it out loud, it helps us even more to remember what we have learned.

I don’t remember exactly what we repeated that day, maybe even a few things. It was either scripture or scriptural and uplifting, so I pondered that for a while. I thought, if we repeated something like “drink the Kool-Aid” or “kill the infidels” I would understand better the objection. Then I thought, people do that all the time in marketing seminars, self-help seminars, and feel good about yourself and life seminars. They repeat things like, “I am a winner,” “I can sell anything,” or “Nothing can stop me.” I don’t really have a problem with any of that. When I realized this didn’t bother me because it was positive thinking, it was to help and build up confidence, it suddenly dawned on me (or the Holy Spirit finally got through), it was brainwashing!

Now, I realize that a lot of bad brainwashing goes on. Just watch TV or any commercial. If we don’t have that new car, we haven’t arrived yet. If we don’t wear those clothes, we aren’t part of the in crowd. If we don’t drink that booze, we are so less than cool. We are brainwashed to believe that youth is the only type of beauty and then only if it is a size six with perfect skin, hair and nails, and teeth white enough to see from space. We are brainwashed into believing that the government can do a better job of raising our kids, and that a women that stays home to raise her own must be lazy. But, is all brainwashing bad?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Hebrews 4:12 (NIV), “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”

My answer I “NO!” If our minds get filled up with so much junk, bad words, bad images, bad attitudes,  pure “crap” from the world, and lies from the enemy, shouldn’t we be washing that all out! Of course.

So yes, I wash my brain and if you go to a good Church they will ask you to wash yours too. They may even say, “repeat after me.”

Less you think that just repeating a few lines on Sunday is enough to brainwash you, think again. True brainwashing happens by repeated and continual exposer. So, repeat, read your Bible, and then do is all again. Daily.

Happy washing!

 

It’s An Inside Job

I Samuel 16:7 (NIV), “But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.””

There is a very common saying that I have heard from the time I was little. I said it to my children, grandchildren, and those students that I had over the years. “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It’s a way to convince children that we can’t write someone off just because they have frizzy hair, buck teeth, old clothes, or different color skin. However, we all do just that (especially when buying books!) Because we have a tendency to do this, we project this trait on God. We think that we have to clean ourselves up before we totally surrender to Him. Worse yet, we expect others to do the same. That somehow changing what you wear, covering the tattoos, losing the piercings, cutting your dreads, or wearing a suit and tie, make us more acceptable to God.

The good news is, He had always accepted you. He loved you before you were created, in fact before He even created time. He can’t ever love you more, even if you surrender your life to Him and live perfectly (not that we ever will be perfect). On the flip side, He will never love you less. If you were to turn your back on Him and deny His very existence, He wouldn’t stop loving you. You are accepted in the beloved. God loves people. All people. Why? Because He is love. Not, He shows love, has love, feels love…He is love. Because of this truth, the whole performance issue of trying to look and act a certain way to gain His favor and approval is ludicrous. We may be able to fool a few people, maybe eve ourselves, but we can’t fool God. He knows us better than we do. Our mask of “spirituality” is made of clear glass. He sees right through it into our hearts.

Isn’t that what Jesus told the Pharisees?

Matthew 23:25-28 (NASB), “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full from extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup and of the platter, that the outside thereof may become clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which outwardly appear beautiful, but inwardly are full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but inwardly ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”

When has behaving “holier than thou” ever led someone to Jesus? Does that mask we put on make people want to be just like us? Isn’t that the main criticism of Christianity today, that we are a bunch of hypocrites?

So what do we do? Should we bag trying to live Holy and live like the world? God forbid. Do we need to air all of our dirty laundry and expose every weakness? Please don’t. But, we do need to be real! Our faith should be genuine, not an act. We will have days that our faith seems to be nonexistent, but we will attract people to God if we can show them that it is only a temporary setback, that God’s children get back up. We mess up, we act stupid, we forget who we are representing, often our foot is in our mouths, and we look ugly on the inside and the outside. The point is to let them see that we aren’t trying to just clean up the outside, that we are truly allowing God to clean us from the inside out. That it isn’t in our effort, but just in surrendering to Him and letting Him do the work in us. It’s about admitting those weaknesses and allowing God’s strength to work in and through us.

The greatest witness of Jesus is always His love. Was it His condemnation of that woman caught in adultery that changed her heart? No, He clearly said that He didn’t condemn her; He showed her love and compassion, by treating her with respect. Think about the things that Christ was criticized for compared to what modern Christians are criticized for: They complained that He was a friend to sinners, they say that we are judgmental and hate sinners. He ate with sinners and publicans, without conforming to their ideals and behaviors, we separate ourselves completely from them behaving like they have leprosy, or we behave just like they do and live the exact same way. He repeatedly said, “your sins are forgiven” and boy did that make the religious leaders mad, but we say “you’re going to hell.” He insisted that God loved them, we say “God hates homosexuals” or “God loves me, but not you.” Jesus wanted one big family of God, and we continue to preach “us and them.” He came to tear down walls, we continue to re-build them.

Before you get mad at me, I know that all Christians aren’t like this all the time. However, I confess that sometimes I find myself with that same ugly mindset. We have to constantly remind ourselves of who God is, and how we should be thinking. God is just like Jesus. He said so. We need to behave more like Him. Not is some cheesy “what would Jesus do” way, but in genuine love. Get to know the God we are supposed to be representing. Then represent Him well. God forgive us for letting the world think that you are unforgiving and quick to judge. Forgive us for letting them think that you don’t care about them, but are so concerned about how they think, act, and look. Forgive us for forcing them to think that they could never please you or earn your love. Help us to be more Christlike!

Romans 2:4 (NIV), “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

It’s when we show His love, how good He is to us, and to those who don’t even know Him yet, that they turn to Him. Repentance isn’t so much about turning away from sin, but more about turning to Him. Are we living in such a way as to help others turn to Him? Or are we too busy pointing out all of their faults, bad behaviors, wrong thinking, and sin? I have said it before, we aren’t called to be sin police. The Holy Spirit is quite able to do the job of convicting of sin and convincing of righteousness. We are called to preach the good news, heal the sick, cast out demons (including the demons of self righteousness and religion). We are called to love and to grow the family of God. What child in an orphanage wants to go home with the parents who spend their “getting acquainted” time pointing out all of the things they don’t like? “Your hair is much too curly, those fingernails will have to be clipped and washed, stop picking your nose, don’t play with that dirty boy over there, your grades are much too low, you need to apply yourself…” Some of those might be legitimate things to say to your own children as you help them grow up and train them up, others are just downright wrong, but all are inappropriate for conversation and expectations on adopting a new child. God has adopted us. Why did we run to Him? Because He convinced us of His love!

Are you getting this? The same thing that drew us to our new Daddy is what is going to draw this lost, broken, hurting world to Him. Love. All that stuff that needs to be healed and fixed, He’ll see to it in His own way and in His own time. We don’t have to try and clean them up. Again, not our job.

Loving others never means that we are accepting their sin as good. We can’t say, “So, you murdered your neighbor, that’s ok.” But we can say, “So you murdered your neighbor, God still loves you and wants your life to be better.” A victim of child molestation doesn’t want to hear that what happened to them was acceptable behavior, or worse, was ordained by God, but they do want to hear that God cares, He loved them, and wants to heal them. I am not saying we need to call evil good, or good evil, or that we ignore sin. I am saying that we need to convince them that their lifestyle choices don’t matter to God in the light of His love. He loves them anyway. Once they accept that, and they won’t do that if we keep pointing out how horrible they are, then the ever gentle, loving Holy Spirit will work on those things that need to be changed. We drive people from God, by pointing out sin. The Holy Spirit draws people to God, by wooing them with His love. Big difference.

Now, go be loving.

Target Fixation

 

 

“Target fixation is an attentional phenomenon observed in humans in which an individual becomes so focused on an observed object that their awareness of hazards or obstacles diminishes. The phenomenon is most commonly associated with scenarios in which the observer is in control of a high-speed vehicle or other mode of transportation. In such cases, the observer may fixate so intently on the target that they will not take necessary action to avoid it, thus colliding with it.” (Wikipedia)

A friend of mine said it this way, “I was on my bike and going around a curve, there was a big rock cliff in front of me, I saw it at got target fixation. I was supposed to look around the curve, but because I was fixated on the rock…you guessed it, I crashed.”

Target fixation is dangerous to motorcyclists, race car drivers, and to Christians.

What are you fixated on? Are you so fixated on the problem, that you drive into it head on? Or are you fixated on God, on Heaven, so that you meet Him head on?

It’s a choice really. I used to worry so much! I even worried about being worried too much. It’s an insane way to live. Anxiety will kill you. It was killing me and I was  born again, spirit filled, believer. What choices did I make that caused this cycle of self abuse? I chose to fixate on my problems, my fears, and even the irrational stuff that probably never would have happened in a million years. If I had a choice of bad or good news, I hung onto the bad. Was there a lump, though I never spoke it out loud, my heart would cry “CANCER” before the doctor ever said, “let’s send of a biopsy.” Going on vacation? I expected frequent trips to nasty rest stops and waysides, due to a stomach issue. So what did I get, frequent trips to nasty rest stops and waysides, due to constant worry and anxiety that caused that stomach issue!

I am much smarter now…until I start to worry again. Thankfully I am more sensitive to the Holy Spirit that reminds me of Who I should be fixating on! Even though it helps us so much to keep our focus on Him, and we know that everything else tends to face in the light of His glory, the most important reason to give Him all of our attention is that He deserves it! He is so wonderful, so gracious, so generous, so LOVING, why would we ever take our eyes off of Him? But we do.

Next time you find yourself fixating on the problem, remind yourself of “Target Fixation” and get your focus back in alignment!

“A life committed to Christ had nothing to lose, nothing to fear, and nothing to regret.” Pastor Isaac Litke

Hebrews 12:2 (NASB), “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”