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Has Your Life Turned Out As You Expected?

How many of you can say your life has turned out exactly as you thought it would?  From an early age, we form a picture in our mind’s eye of what life will be like.  What we imagine often evolves from vague dreams stemming from a natural desire to feel significant and valuable. Maybe you mostly dreamt of being a hero, like a fireman who pulls frightened families from burning buildings, a nurse who expertly and compassionately cares for the sick and injured, a missionary who brings the good news of Jesus Christ in foreign fields, or a photojournalist capturing truth for the world to see during times of violence and mass confusion.

What shall you be when you grow up?

Whatever you dreamt, it probably centered around a desire to live a life of purpose and meaning.  When I was 13, I wanted to be a model because I believed no one could call me ugly if I had the world’s stamp of approval.  Later I wanted to be involved in the most important thing on earth.  At the time, I thought it meant finding a cure for cancer.  As a baby Christian, I wanted to evangelize everybody because things eternal always beat things temporal.  And now as a maturing Christian, I want to worship God by doing His will in Christ.

Of what kind of life did you dream?  I doubt your plans had much to do with wiling away the hours in a bland cubicle, crossing T’s and dotting I’s on paperwork that never ends. Your dreams probably weren’t all about working in retail, laying carpet, waiting at tables, collecting cash at a tollbooth, bagging groceries, or working for someone else’s dream. And I highly doubt you ever aspired to a future of  homelessness, prostitution, or poverty.

So what did you dream?  What did you want to be when you grew up?  Has your life turned out as you hoped it would?  Is this a measure of success or failure in life?  Why or why not?

What do you think the following words of wisdom mean?

Proverbs 16:3 Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 19:21 Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.

Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

This is not a treatise on the world’s view of success.  I don’t believe we can be anything we want through willpower alone.  Not everyone is capable of being a brain surgeon.  And because of your own or someone else’s sin, life can land you in places you never thought you’d find yourself.  It doesn’t stop there, however, because God can bring good out of the most horrific circumstances.  The key is Christ who died on the cross in order to bring us into a right relationship with God.  God has a plan for each of us that includes both success and failure as He molds and shapes us into a vessel for noble purpose.  True success is the natural outflow of our relationship to God in Christ because it is nothing less than living life His way, on His terms.  He is, after all, God.  In other words, by following after the Lord in faith and obedience, you may live a far different life from what you once imagined, but you’ll never live more perfectly.

This life satisfies our hungry hearts like nothing else because we were designed to find true satisfaction only in God.   Our greatest longing, whether we recognize it or not, is for God Himself.  It is His will to give us the desire of our hearts – Himself.  Sin has spiritually separated us from God, but the good news is that Jesus’ death on the cross paid the debt of our sins and we have only to avail ourselves of His free forgiveness in Christ.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

It is our choice to receive Him or not.  In the end, we get what we have sought after in life – eternal fellowship with God or separation from Him forever.

Romans 10:9-10 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.

Do you agree with God that you, like everyone, are a sinner in need of forgiveness?  Pray something like this:

“God, I know that I am a sinner.  I want to be reconciled to you.  I believe that Jesus’s death on the cross fully paid for my sins and that you raised him from the dead.  I want to live for you.  Put your desire into my heart.  Be my Savior and Lord.  Amen.”

If you prayed this prayer, please tell a Christian you trust or get in touch with me (see contact page).  It is important to grow in your faith alongside other Christians, learning to trust God for true success and satisfaction in your life and beyond.  Welcome to the family of God.

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2011 in Adventures in Bible Study

 

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Me On The Move

In Far Away Lands

Sometimes I think I hear God calling me to a future ministry on the move.

Traveling to distant places; suitcase, camera, and laptop in hand.

Utter reliance on God for everything right down to a place to lay my head.

Speaking.  Teaching.  Training.  Photographing. Journaling.  Telling Stories.  Giving shots.

Whatever.  I dunno.

I’ve been picturing a wild, beautiful adventure in Christ as I go where He sends me.

It’s begun already, even now as I sit in the warm and secure place I call home, caring for my Alzheimama, our kitties, and the birds of our back yard.

Where life is slow, but steady.

It is present now as I worship God and lay down what I want for what He wills.

Perfection for compassion.

Independence for freedom.

Entertainment for contentment.

It is in full swing, even now as I put on my adventure wear (Ephesians 6:10-18) and gather my adventure gear (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Stepping out in faith.  Just as I am.  In Christ.

Even in my recliner, I’m already on the move.

 
 

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Out With Old, In With The New Year Goals

Just before the close of each year, I like to spend a little time reviewing it according to the vision, goals, and objectives set the previous January.  This year, I’m happy to report that I met most of my goals.  There are several reasons for my success.  First of all, I tossed out the whole idea of new year resolutions a long time ago.  Surely I understand by now that there is nothing worthwhile I can accomplish in my own power, no matter how sincerely I may resolve to do so, yet, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NKJV).  God empowers us to do His will, therefore the place at which to begin is with God himself.  With that in mind, I changed my entire approach:

  1. I spent time with God in prayer and petition, seeking His will;
  2. I formed goals based on the principles of His Word, not on a self-centered wish-list or worldly idea of perfection;
  3. I refrained from merely creating a depressing list of my faults, and
  4. I focused on goals and measurable objectives that were challenging, but not impossible.

The question to ask before committing your goals to paper is not, “What do I want?”, but, “What do You want?”  I found that by putting God first, the goals He set were not burdensome.  “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29:30, NIV).  This can also be summarized by Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”

Unsure how to recognize God’s voice?  Make your goal this coming year to know Him better.  The more intimately acquainted you are with God, the better you will discern between His voice and your own or that of the enemy.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice (John 10:4).

Keep in mind that the spiritual maturing process won’t be over any time soon: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).  Develop goals that you are actually able to meet in a single year.  Instead of saying you’ll lose 50 pounds and never eat cake again, why don’t you start with something a bit more realistic, like asking God to use this year to help you understand what is behind your overeating and under-exercising.

Finally, focus on the growth God wants to bring about.  Matthew 21:22 says, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” This is because you are asking according to His will, not your own.  More than that, it is because in offering yourself fully to God as a living sacrifice your mind is renewed.  You – and your will – are transformed (Romans 12:1-2) into the image of Christ.  Remain watchful, therefore, for your answer will come … in God’s timing, according to His ways.  After all, whom do you really desire to be the lord of your life – yourself or God?

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:19-21).

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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The Sure Thing

Ever wonder why our daily lives seem so, well, daily?  Same stuff, different day.  Same old tired argument, same old bickering, same old knee-jerk reaction.  You look ahead to the years before you and wonder if things will ever change, if you’ll ever change.  And a change of heart comes so ssssssssssssslowly.

Steady as she goes ...

Sometimes I feel trapped by circumstances.  I think I know where I want to go, but it’s taking forever to get there.

I have this great vision of how my life should be.  I should be an in-demand Christian women’s speaker and teacher, traveling to and fro, bringing the light of the Word to a motivated and hungry world.  Wherever I go, ministry happens.  Women are comforted, encouraged, and grow strong in the Lord. People everywhere turn to Christ.   I should have a book or two tucked under my belt and a lively, well-trodden blog through which I interact with scads of other Jesus freaks and true seekers.  I should have my perfect, pretty little house to come home to and wonderful clothes to wear on my slim, trim, healthy, & strong body.  I’d be properly plugged into my local church serving alongside women who love Christ and one of them would be my best friend.    I’d have plenty of time and energy for hiking and reading and just messing around.  All my bills would be paid on time and in-full, especially my credit card.  There would always be more than enough money to go around and I could give furiously and extravagantly.   My family and friends and, well, just everyone, would love me.  My whole being would honor and glorify God all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

My real life is nothing like that.  My real life is so daily: making uncomplicated meals for my mom who has Alzheimer’s, helping her dress appropriately at least a few times a day, and generally keeping her entertained so she doesn’t start in with “Where’s the baby?”, “I have to go to work,”or her latest, “It’s time to go home” scenario.  And all the while trying to time everything so she’ll go to bed without a fight that evening.  Arguing with my mom is fruitless.  I’m getting better and better at taming my tongue, but there’s still a lot of habit to break in that domain.  Taking care of my mom is mentally exhausting.  Sometimes I want to tune her out.  I spend a lot of time confessing, but only some of the time actually repenting.  Most of the time, I just want to sit in my recliner all day lazily sipping coffee, reading, writing, and playing on the computer.  There doesn’t seem to be much energy leftover for exercise, get-togethers, and the like.  Of course, this is actually the easy part of caring for my mom.  Things will only get worse as time goes by.  She’ll progressively require greater physical care as more and more of her brain’s ability is usurped by Alzheimer’s.  

That’s when I wonder if this is what my life is all about.  Am I going to spend these years caring for Ma and then just collapse and die afterward never having done the things I want to do?  Is this all the daily bread there is for me?

I cannot know the future, but this I know.  God has called me to this season for purposes of His own.  I have a pretty good idea that these years are essential to the work He is completing in me.  It’s my job to take my eyes off the circumstance and stop asking, “What’s in it for me?”

And that, my friends, is what this season is all about.  It’s an opportunity to obey His call to live for the sake of another.  It’s about humility, considering my mom better than myself.  Not for a crown or reward, but for love of Christ.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”      -Philippians 2:3-8

These are not wasted days.  This is prime time.  My dream is a nice one, albeit a bit magnified.  But given the choice – and we are, my friends, we are – I choose God’s plan, His dream for me.  What about you?  God’s plan is always so much bigger and better than our limited imagination.  And better yet, it’s a sure thing.

 
 

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God Is Good, Part 2

Continuing on from God Is Good, Part 1: During my second year of seminary, I drove every Sunday afternoon from my home near Seattle to the seminary in Portland, Oregon; every Thursday afternoon I drove back to be with my family.   And every night in between, I rolled out a self-inflating mattress and sleeping bag on the floor of a closet in the big, old-fashioned house that was the girls’ home.  Yes, you read it right – a closet.  It was free; it was perfect.  God is good.

 

Queen Anne's Lace

 

 

And then it happened.

I’d been sleeping in the closet four nights a week for several weeks.  One Sunday I arrived, books and clothes in hand, to find the closet filled, floor to ceiling, with empty cardboard boxes.  Why on earth would they would fill the closet – my closet, as I thought of it – with boxes, leaving no room for me? Why would they do such a thing?  The house was huge – they could have stacked their boxes just about anywhere.  Why fill up the closet when they all knew I slept and studied there?  I felt pretty unwelcome.  I don’t think there could have been a more succinct way to communicate rejection.  All that week my mind simmered with embarrassment, pain, and anxiety.

First there were excuses like, “We have no place else to store our boxes” or “We don’t want to leave them out – it doesn’t look nice.”  I soon discovered, however, that at the heart of this hurtful behavior was sheer resentment on their part that I had been given free accommodation in the same house for which they had each paid a pretty penny.

“Yeah, but I’m sleeping on the floor of a closet” was apparently no excuse.  It was still free housing for me versus expensive housing for them.  At the time, I didn’t fully appreciate their feelings.  All I could think of was my own feelings.  Their actions hurt me deeply and I responded as I always do when hurt.  I got angry.  Really angry.  Burning, churning, spitting mad.

Itt was Thursday and I was driving home.

Late fall in the Northwest means dark skies and rain, lots of rain.  I drove out of Portland into sheets of rain pouring down on my car the long journey home.  I could barely see the cars in front of me.  Semi’s drove past, soaking my windshield over and over, further reducing visibility.  Already tense with anger and anxiety, I started shouting at the truck drivers.  Before I knew it, I was shouting at God.

“What am I supposed to do now, God?  Where can I stay?  They don’t want me and I don’t want them!  You can’t possibly ask me to go back there!  They treated me badly!  I only had the floor of a closet!  It’s not like I had a whole room to myself.   What do you want me to do?  Do you want me to stay in a motel?  How will I pay for that?  What am I supposed to do, God?  What am I supposed to do?

I screamed and yelled and cried all through that long, long drive in the pouring rain. Poor visibility pushed anxiety to the limit.  There I was, crying and shouting out to God, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, GOD?  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?  WHERE SHOULD I GO?  WHAT SHOULD I DO?”

Suddenly a car pulled in front of me.   My eyes went straight to the only part of it I could see – its back bumper and license plate.  I was screaming and shouting, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO, GOD?  WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?” when I read the car’s license plate:

FORGIVE it said.

I fell silent.  God had clearly spoken.  I’d like to say I fell prostrate with grief over my bitter anger (well, maybe not prostrate since I was driving).  I’d like to say that, but in fact, after only a few seconds, I opened my mouth again.

“Forgive them!  Why should I have to be the one to forgive?”

I spent the last hour of the trip home arguing that I didn’t want to forgive and they didn’t deserve it.  I complained about it most of that weekend, yet all the time I knew that God had spoken and there was no getting around it.  Forgiveness was the only recourse.

I thought a lot about what it means to forgive.  It means letting the other person(s) off the hook.  No strings attached.  It means no longer using the incident as a weapon against them.  It means I could not stay angry, fight or ignore them.  I must not gossip, especially in the ignoble guise of a pretend prayer request.  Forgiveness means choosing to actively do good to that person, no holds barred.  This is not mere neutrality, but positively seeking to bless and pray for those involved.  It means confession, repentance, forgiveness, and faith.  More important, it is doing so without any guarantee, expectation, or demand that others do likewise.  It is admitting and accepting the consequences of my part in the conflict.  Most of all, it means obedience to God.

I chose to obey God.

When I returned to seminary the following Sunday afternoon, the first person I saw was a girl from the house.  She saw me and flinched.  Before she could turn tail and run, I walked up, hugged her, and asked for forgiveness, explaining my change of heart.  She met me halfway, apologizing for their harsh maneuver.  By the end of that day, we – all of us – had worked through confession and repentance, and came out of the conflict through forgiveness and faith.  We could appreciate the other’s perspective.  Lastly, we came to a mutual agreement on the matter of the boxes.  The haze of selfishness disappeared and we saw God clearly in our midst.

God is so good.

 

Queen Anne's Lace

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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God Is Good, Part 1

Diane, tell us a story …

 

Our Front Steps

 

During my seminary days, I was housed in some unusual accommodations.  The first semester I stayed for free with an elderly Christian lady who had a spare room.  It so happened that while I was on the phone with the seminary’s head of housing, this lovely lady called in on another line.  Within minutes, my need and her desire to help became God’s provision.  I was given the incredible blessing of free housing and she, a lonely little old lady, had company and a little extra security.  I spent each day on campus and every evening in her company, talking, praising God, and watching Seinfeld together.  To this day I’m amazed at how perfectly He brought us together.  God is so good.

But that’s not all.

At the close of that semester, during the Christmas break, she became very ill.  Her daughter called to let me know that I would probably need to find other arrangements for the following semester.  About two weeks later, she called again, this time with bittersweet news.  Her mother, my hostess, had died in the hospital.  Now here’s the sweet part: while lying on her deathbed, this incredible woman spared some of her last thoughts for me, a woman she’d known for only a few months.  While she lay dying, she took the time to instruct her daughter to allow me to stay in her home, for free, the following semester.  And her daughter, while wary of a complete stranger living alone in her mother’s house, was faithful to her promise.

What an incredible gift!  The housing itself was a huge blessing, but more than that, I was absolutely stunned that this loving woman had chosen to bless me in obedience to the Lord’s calling on her life, even from her deathbed.  What an example of faith in action!

 

 

Fall Colors

 

Now, fast forward through the spring and summer to fall of my second year in seminary.  New housing had to be found.  This time there was no little old lady with a spare room.  Campus housing was full and I had no money to stay elsewhere.  Driving from Seattle to Portland and back again, six hours round trip, four days a week was out of the question if I wanted time to study.  I considered sleeping in my car as a last resort.

Fortunately, the seminary’s head of housing came through again.  She offered me a place to lay my head each night for, you guessed it, free.  It would not be glamorous or even particularly nice.  But it was free.  I accepted on the spot.  Every Sunday afternoon I drove from Seattle to Portland, Oregon; every Thursday afternoon I drove back to be with my family.   And every night in between, I rolled out a self-inflating mattress and sleeping bag on the floor of a closet in the big, old-fashioned house that was the girls’ dorm.  Yes, you read it right – a closet.  It was perfect.  God is so good.

And then it happened.

Coming Soon:  God Is Good, Part 2

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2010 in Adventures in Christ

 

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Making God Happy: Three Essential Steps … Not!

 

Dreamstime image used with permission

The righteous requirements of God were given to His people in Exodus 20:1-17 and are known today as the Ten Commandments.

  1. No idols
  2. No graven images
  3. No taking of the Lord’s name in vain
  4. Keep the Sabbath
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. No murder
  7. No adultery
  8. No stealing
  9. No false witnessing
  10. No coveting

Written in stone.  Unchanging.  God is holy and so also must His people be.  Selah and amen.

On the whole, it seems fairly simple.  Do and don’t do.  Easy enough. For most people, it’s a dream position, isn’t it?  “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”

Making God Happy: Three Essential Steps To Holiness

  1. Learn the Ten Commandments,
  2. Do and don’t do accordingly;
  3. Reap the results.

Simple!  Nothing complicated here.  So easy a caveman can do it, right?  Let me ask you this: Have you ever lied?  Cheated?  Stole something?  Ever disrespected your parents?  Ever done something they told you not to do?

Sinner!  You’re in good company.  “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Every one of us is guilty before God.  And you’d better believe that we are reaping the results.  The Israelites had the whole sacrificial system in place to deal with their mistakes.  Whenever they messed up, they just sacrificed an animal or two … or two thousand.  Now, before you starting searching the yellow pages for Animal Sacrifice, think first about the sheer number of bulls, goats, and turtle-doves they actually sacrificed over the ages because of sin.   And yet, “Every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11).  What?!

We have all sinned.  No one has completely kept God’s Perfect Ten.  So why bother sacrificing those poor animals if doing so does not take away sins?  As a Christian you are thinking, “Because the wages of sin is death!”  How right you are.  Blood is required for all sin.  “And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22).  The constant problem of sin is the reason so many animals were sacrificed.  

But, you say, if sacrificing animals didn’t completely take away sin, what good was it?  “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Even in terrible situations, God can bring out good. Rest assured no Israelite could forget about sin for very long.  The daily blood and guts of an animal sacrificial system was undoubtedly in-your-face to remind them.  The sinful state of their hearts could not be avoided.  They were constantly aware of the discrepancy between their hearts and God’s standard of holiness.

The Law – all those commandments resulting in all those offerings – had a purpose.  The purpose of the Law is to lead us to Christ.  First, the Israelites had to perceive the holiness of God.  Second, they had to recognize their own sinfulness.  Third, they had to come to understand that sinfulness is not merely outward behavior, but a condition of the heart.  It is the same today.  We sin, not because we weren’t paying attention or because of a mistake, but because it is the very condition of our hearts.  We are rotten to the core.  No matter what good we may do or what love we may give, it is always, always infected with the disease of self.  “As it is written:  There is none righteous, no, not one; there is no one who understands; there is none who seeks after God …” (Romans 3:10-11, from Psalm 14:1-3 and Ecclesiastes 7:20).

The law was designed to show us that sin and death have penetrated to the very marrow of our being.  Because the commandments reveal sin, we realize we are sinful.  And no matter how hard we try to clean up our act, we cannot, and in any event it is too late.  Already we have sinned.  Already spiritual death has overcome us.  We have behaved, and continue to behave, according to the dictates of our heart.  Sin is not just a set of behaviors that we sometimes do.   No.  Sin is a heart issue. It is ever-present within us.  “As in water face reflects face, so a man’s heart reveals the man” (Proverbs 27:19). We don’t just sin; we are sinners.  We cannot change this.  We need rescue.  We need salvation.   We need Christ.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). As sinners, our very life is required of us.  Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.  We are truly caught between a rock and a hard place.

But here’s the good news: “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).  Only Jesus kept God’s commandments perfectly.  This is why, when Christ willingly gave his life and died on the cross, his death satisfied the righteous requirements of the Law.  The evidence that God’s justice was satisfied in Christ is seen in Christ’s words, “It is finished” (John 19:30).  The result was the resurrection.

When we confess our sin to God, when we believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead, our sins are forgiven and we are saved from eternal death.  “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).  Do you believe this?  Do you?

Are you saved?  Have you availed yourself of the free gift of salvation and forgiveness in Christ?  If so, then ask God to continue to help you to seek His face that holiness would be your heart condition.  If not, please pray in sincerity something like this:

God, I believe you.  I have not kept Your commandments.  I confess that I am a sinner.  I believe that Jesus’ death on the cross fully paid the debt of my sins and that You raised him from the dead.  I place my trust in Jesus who died that I may live forever with You.  Amen.

If you prayed this, please tell someone!  Talk to a Christian friend or pastor.  And email me.  I’d love to pray for you.

 

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2010 in Adventures in Bible Study

 

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