Run with Abandon

Life is hard. But God, our Father, is REAL! Reach for His hand today.

Archive for the category “God”

Twisted Thinking

Temptation is not sin but sin results when one chooses to ignore temptation! Temptation is a natural outcome to living in our earthly bodies and, as Christ-followers, this is a lifelong challenge we are instructed to address. If we do not admit the challenge or take action in dealing with it, then life will be lived obeying the wrong master. The Bible talks extensively about the war between the flesh and the spirit and it would be unwise to simply sit in the middle of a battle ground with the expectation that we will not be affected.   The blogs I write over the next several weeks will discuss various aspects of developing the ability to live in obedience to Jesus rather than the flesh desires as it pertains to temptation.

 

James 1:13-14 states “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desires, he is dragged away and enticed.”

 

The difficulty is that those “evil desires” may not seem “evil” at all. But, if they are contrary to how God would have us think or act, then they are evil indeed! Was it evil for the Israelites to grumble against Moses when they were thirsty and hungry in the desert? In our flesh, we completely understand their concern. But, if we stop to consider this from a spiritual perspective, then how could they grumble when they had just witnessed God’s mighty deeds in bringing them out of slavery. And, it’s easy for me to wonder how they could possibly not trust God after walking across a sea on dry land! But, my personal grumblings and doubts are no less of an offense. So, I must recognize my tendency toward the flesh desire overpowering my spiritual yearnings. I believe this begins in our mind!

 

When we are “dragged away”, we are allowing our minds to wander to the reality that we can think and act in the way of our own choosing. We have the freedom to fill our minds with the world’s answers rather than seeking first the things of God. Once we are “dragged away”, we have opened our mind to the enticements which include the possible ways to fulfill our needs and wants on our timeline. We may not consciously reject God’s methodology; we simply don’t choose to let His will reign over our own. We are thus fooled into believing that we must step up and take over because of the dissatisfaction we feel in the path life is following.

 

This battle between our flesh and our spirit is powerful and can only be overcome with a twist in our thinking! We are inundated with the logic of humanity and wonder why we have to suffer when we have served God so faithfully. Or, we recognize that we just don’t deserve what life has dished out and we don’t understand how a loving God could allow such terrible things to happen in our lives.  But, God’s word reveals the truth to us if we will apply our minds to learn. Gold is refined by fire….as are we! We see that suffering produces perseverance. And, it is when we are the weakest that God is the strongest within us! It’s a twisted way of thinking but why wouldn’t we welcome the fire, the suffering, and the weakness if we truly believe God is who he says he is? As hard as it is to remember and live out, the truth is that this life we live is not our own. We are servants of the Most High God! We are His to be molded, strengthened, and used for His glory! The first phase of learning to overcome temptation is to submit to this twisted way of thinking.

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Prayer or Wish List?

I received an unexpected diagnosis of breast cancer 10 days ago and began praying for peace, comfort, wisdom, and healing. My network of family and friends were also enlisted to bombard our heavenly Father with these requests. The sense of peace and comfort to the very core of my being was immediate. The comfort continued as I opened myself up to fellow Christ-followers who were on hand to give an encouraging word or a hug. I do not feel the wisdom for the decisions to be made but I am confident that it is being provided as I  move through this experience and at the exact time that I really need it. I believe I will become more and more aware of the path I am to take as I continue to seek the direction of the Father through the Holy Spirit that communes with my spirit. Healing has not yet occurred. I praise the Lord for the good news I received from the doctor a few days later in which she said “if you have to have cancer, this is a good one to have”. But, what about the times when I, or another, is not so pleased with the response to a prayer. Or, I don’t even feel an answer has been given? I think we have to keep in mind that our situation in this life is not based on what we feel but what we know! We are reminded in numerous places in the Bible to seek our Lord first and supremely. Then, let everything else fall into place as we walk with Him.

 

I share these thoughts because I think many of us struggle with the outcome of our prayers. We pray for what we want at any given time and are sincere in our attempts to leave them to the care of God. Unfortunately, it seems that we often view our list of prayers as an order to be submitted for immediate fulfillment in the exact way and time requested. But I can think of times in which a person in Biblical history was willing to submit the request but surrender the results. For example, we may be very familiar with the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being thrown into a fiery furnace because of their refusal to worship an image of gold even when commanded by the king to do so. They testified to their belief that the one true God had the ability to save them from certain death. For me, the really amazing part is that they confidently told the king that “even if he does not, we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Wow! They remained faithful to God and asked for His deliverance but left the outcome in His hands according to His will for His purposes. Then, we have the example of the Apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament. He writes to the Corinthians that he “pleaded” to God for a “thorn in his flesh” to be removed. However, that prayer was never answered! Paul says that the Lord’s reply to him was “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” He goes on to write that he, therefore, welcomes ALL forms of difficulty in his life because he understands that it is during those times of weakness that God’s strength shines through. Finally, we have the example of Jesus praying in the garden just before he is betrayed, arrested, and crucified. His plea to His Father was for a different way…another method of redemption for the sinful children. But, a gruesome death upon a cross was the will of the Father and Jesus surrendered himself completely for that purpose.

 

I have NO doubt in God’s ability to fulfill absolutely any request I could possibly bring to Him. The real question is if I can leave the outcome to the will of Almighty God…and trust that will! Am I willing to submit the request but surrender the results?

Imitate the Best

Our interests are as unique as we are! Our daughter loved to watch me prepare meals and experiment with some of her own ideas. Today, she is an amazing cook and is constantly creating new recipes. Our son, Drew, spent many hours practicing Tai Kwan Do and became a black belt in his early teen years. Our youngest son, Joshua, enjoyed team sports and particularly liked going to see a Major League baseball game with his dad as they discussed the many facets of the game. Yesterday, I watched a little boy on the beach as he learned to surf by observing his big brother. Our friend’s son watches golf on TV because he happens to enjoy that particular sport a great deal. What is the common factor? One of the best ways to learn a skill is to watch another who is proficient and imitate their methods!

If we want to be good at something, we might do research, take lessons, and start practicing in order to increase our skill level. Oftentimes, it would appear that it is laziness that interferes with success as the regular practice is uncomfortable or inconvenient. Or, perhaps an arrogant attitude is the culprit as an individual recognizes the work required but believes they are the exception and can achieve success without extreme effort. But, unless that person has some kind of unusual, raw talent, practice is essential to achieve success. But, one thing that seems to be universal is that we closely watch those who are the best in our area of interest.

We are called to “be imitators of God” in the first verse of Ephesians 5. In order to imitate God we must learn all that we can about the character of God. We can do that as we study the Old and New Testaments and we can read about the life of Jesus and learn the many ways he loved his heavenly Father and the people he interacted with daily. But we are often hindered in these efforts by our own lazy or arrogant ways. We are instructed in the Bible to reshape our attitudes and understand that this begins in the mind. What we think about absolutely affects how we act! And, what we think about is influenced by who we watch! It seems we are not always so willing to give up those areas of concealed sin.

Specifically, we must analyze what we put into our minds and evaluate how it affects our behavior. We need to consider what we watch and hear on TV, at the movies, on the radio, and among the people we hang out with daily.  It is a lie to believe we can fill our minds with unwholesomeness and expect God-honoring thought, words, and actions to result. We will imitate what we study. If we study just a little bit of unrighteousness, then maybe the output in our lives will be minimal. Is that really OK?  Ephesians 5: 3-6 seems to say otherwise as it states “there must not even be a hint” of un-holiness in our lives. We must understand that we have been called to a higher level of living. No matter how uncomfortable it is to be different from the world, that is exactly what we are commanded to do.  If
we want to get better at living our faith with passion in this world, then we must learn from the best. We must imitate the lifestyle of Jesus!

Recommended reading: The book of Ephesians (this blog focused on chapters 4 & 5)

Power is the Key

My computer died the other day in the middle of typing some thoughts for a blog. I lost everything because I didn’t listen to the warning! The electricity went out while we were staying at a condo on vacation and we bumped around in the dark because we didn’t have batteries for the flashlight. The last time I ran out of gas (and I hope it will be the last time) it was because I chose to ignore the little light that was telling me my tank was low. The electricity, batteries, and gas provided the power I wanted and needed at a crucial moment. I had access to all that I needed but I just didn’t take action to acquire it.

As Christ-followers, we have access to His power! The question is whether or not we will tap into that power.  Perhaps the problem is that it isn’t just a question of plugging in a cord or popping in a battery. Rather, we are called to be filled to the full measure of His power through the enlightenment of our hearts and allowing the Holy Spirit to live in our inner being. We accomplished this, and much more, as we know God better.  In order to know God better, we must choose to spend time with him and allow him access to change us from the inside out. That was stated in a few short sentences but is accomplished with diligent work!

The alternative is to live life without the power of Almighty God and exist like a sailboat on the water without a useful sail! The scripture says we will be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men and their deceitful scheming.”  The way this plays out in our daily living is that we decide what to believe about everything and everybody by how we think, feel, or reason about the situation or person. We draw conclusions that may not be accurate about ourselves, our circumstances, our existence, and those with whom we have relationships. The power we have access to in our relationship with Jesus is what enables us to live in the truth. We have a security that comes from His power that is better than any sail or anchor attached to a boat in a storm. We simply have to take action to tap into the power.

Getting to know the God we serve is a privilege and a challenge. Think about the opportunity before us! We have access to the same source of power that parted the sea before the Israelites and raised Jesus from the dead. This power belongs to God and is to be used for His purposes. But, one of His purposes is that we grasp the vast dimensions of His love so that we can live a life that reflects that love in order to share it with others! The challenge comes as we recognize the amazing strength of our flesh, or natural desires, in resisting the decision to know God in this way. We have a natural desire to acquire the power without any strings attached so that we can enjoy the accolades from others.  I encourage you to open your heart completely to God and let Him search out the things that hinder or limit your acquisition of His power. This usually involves admission of sinful areas in our lives.  This kind of transparency before the Lord is intimidating but rewarding. We must press on, be determined, to grasp the power from His mighty hand and use it to His honor and glory every day of our lives!

Recommended reading: The book of Ephesians (this blog focused on chapters 3) and Psalm 19.

It’s Crazy…but do it anyhow!

Learn what it means to live your Christian life in a very real, out loud, obvious, and extravagant way!  To do this, you must “know him better” (Ephesians 1: 17). It is a worthy pursuit but one that will take much determination!

I have been happily married for 31 years but am thrilled, and a little surprised, when I learn something new about Andy. As much as I think I know my children, who are now grown, I find that I am constantly seeing aspects of their character that I was unaware of the day before. I share openly with my best girl friend on a regular basis and, yet, we both reach a new level of insight into the other as time goes on. Relationships that are important to us must involve growth in order for them to remain healthy. If Andy only knew me today at the same depth as he did on our wedding day then I do not believe we would enjoy the same level of trust, companionship, and intimacy. One might think that this advice goes without saying but it does not! We must intentionally seek depth if we desire to possess it!

Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus when he tells them that he is praying that God will “give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better.” It is a good reminder to note that Paul is writing “To the saints in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus” and not to the unbelievers of the city.  In other words, he is encouraging the people of the church to pursue God more and to open themselves up to the hope, the riches, and the power that was simply waiting for them to grasp. They had access but did not necessarily recognize or accept what had already been given due to the grace of our Lord God. Going to church on the weekend and small group meetings on weekdays are great tools to assist in achieving this goal but it should not stop there.

Run this course so that “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” and you understand what it means to live radically different from the rest of the world. It may seem strange at first because you are choosing life patterns that are different from your former behavior. Your purpose is more completely tied to His purpose for your life. The more you run in this way, the more comfortable you will be with being different! The more you know the God you serve, the less you will care about what anybody else thinks of you.  The more you train your mind, the way you think on a daily basis, the more at home you will feel in new person you are in Christ Jesus.  The more you really know the person of Jesus Christ, the more you are able to tap into the grace you have been given and embrace the crazy concept of living a really radical life!

Recommended reading: The book of Ephesians

(this blog focused on chapters 1 & 2)

REAL Life is like my Beach Umbrella

As I recently enjoyed some quiet time by the ocean, the wind caught my umbrella and sent it tumbling down the beach. As I chased after it, it occurred to me that no one else’s umbrella was flying away. I retrieved it, stuck it back in the sand, and was forced to hold it for the remainder of the afternoon if I wanted to sit in the shade. Sitting there holding my unruly umbrella, I wondered what made the difference. Why did my umbrella blow away while others sat contentedly under theirs?
After thinking about it for a while, I realized that there were numerous factors to consider when it came to my umbrella incident. Other people may have dug their holes deeper and firmed up the sand by pouring water around the pole. It could be that their umbrellas were smaller and had less for the wind to catch. Or, as was the case on this particular occasion, perhaps I placed my umbrella in a poor location… like right at the end of a wind tunnel! I had walked down a street and onto the beach where I stopped to set things up. I did not realize that the buildings on either side of the street created a breezeway for the wind. Not only were the other umbrellas outside of this strong draft, but the beachgoers up and down the coast were protected by a sturdy line of Australian Pines. These were just a few of the factors that I had not stopped to consider when I chose my spot on the beach.
Isn’t that the way life feels at times? I may wonder why I seem to be the only one with deadlines at work that feel impossible to meet. No one else appears to struggle in relationships the way I do. Everyone else is making it financially while I struggle month after month.  Or, I may face a frightening diagnosis from a doctor while others casually go about their daily activities. We observe the lives of others, draw conclusions about what we observe, and then wonder why we are the only ones having a rough time! But we cannot possibly know the many factors that play into the outcome of another person’s life nor do we have insight into their very personal burdens.  I believe we are better off focusing on our own circumstances and doing all within our control to live according to the principles outlined in the Word of God. No matter how successful we are at accomplishing this goal, our stability in this life is still found in God alone! He is there for us when we are stressed, hurting, or frightened and when we have failed in our obedience to Him. His love never fails but it is up to us to turn to Him to accept it and receive the joy and peace that only He can provide. So if the winds of life seem to have you running after stuff, then perhaps it’s time to pause, put your conclusions aside, and seek answers from the only One who has the answers.

Living with Purpose – HIS Purpose

As much as I enjoy relationships, I would rather blend into the wall in a large crowd because I really don’t like being surrounded by people. This made our life in baseball interesting as I was often in the midst of large crowds at games. I was there because I enjoyed watching Andy pitch and wanted to support him in his career but I did not like being watched or noticed as a “player’s wife”.  It always amazed me that Andy could do his job in front of thousands of people with the knowledge that hundreds of thousands more watched the game on TV.  Andy explained to me that he had to learn how to tune out the distractions and focus on the task at hand. Andy had a clear understanding that his job as a pitcher was to throw quality pitches and get hitters out. This was an explanation I could understand! I gave a similar answer to a question from my daughter a few years ago. Robin had attended a speaking engagement with me and asked why I didn’t appear nervous when talking to a room full of women. My response was that my comfort came from the confidence that I was doing what God had equipped me to do.  Furthermore, I explained how completely uncomfortable I would be in her job as a preschool teacher!

Everyone was created by God and He gave each individual unique abilities. When we are involved in a growing relationship with the Creator, we are better able to discern what those gifts are and how He intends for them to be used. In other words, you are uniquely qualified to complete the meaningful work the Lord has planned for you. For example, I believe I was given the gift of teaching but that is not to say that I would be an effective teacher in every setting. It is my responsibility to seek the Lord’s guidance as to when, where, what, and who I teach.  I can take it upon myself to act according to my personal preferences as I am certainly capable of teaching without God’s guidance. And, it is true that God allows me to choose. If I choose to live life my own way, I am confident that God can see that His goals are accomplished without me. Our freedom to choose does not change the truth that it is His desire that we each live in relationship with Him and enjoy great fulfillment in that relationship. We can live in a way that we find pleasing to our flesh nature and ignore the raging war with our spirit. The reality is that the ongoing battle between our flesh and spirit is very real and the one that gets stronger is the one that is exercised more often.  Therefore, if we choose to do life apart from God then we experience the effects of that decision in our weakened spirit resulting in a spiritual ignorance and eventual hardening of our hearts toward the things of God. We can get to a point where we don’t ever think about God and we live entirely for our fleshly reward, enjoyment and glory. Then, our life is over and we face eternity in a broken relationship with God.

It has been my experience that people want to have a reason for living. I believe the life that brings the greatest sense of fulfillment is the one lived for the glory of Almighty God.  I often feel the temptation to work for my personal gain but, ultimately, those achievements are temporal. Whereas, if I choose to do all that I do as if I am working for the Lord God and for outcomes that I may, or may not, ever understand then the effects are eternal. When my life ends, my purpose lives on because it was always His. When I contrast a purpose that is temporary, in the grand scheme of life, to one that will literally affect lives for eternity then it is not difficult for me to decide which purpose I desire.  How about you?

Storms in Life are Inevitable…What will you do when they hit?

My grandson, Tristan, started 1st grade this year and, like many 6 year olds, experienced anxiety about the bus, work load, and general absence from the comfort of home. After much reassurance and encouragement, his mom reminded him to also pray to which he responded “I did talk to Jesus but I told him that I know there are other kids who are more scared than me so he needs to help them first.” While our motive may not be compassion, we may sometimes act like God really doesn’t have time to worry about my problems with all the more desperate issues of the world!

I was spending some time at the beach when Tropical Storm Isaac caused some problems. I listened to the news to determine whether or not I should evacuate. I watched the wind, seas, and rain with a sense of awe and, once again, marveled at the power on display in nature. I sat on the beach one morning, in between the rain, and made some observations that correlate with life. The waves were large and crashing on the shore with such force that they reached the dune line – the protective barrier of sea oats and sand between the surf and dry land. I had to move my chair back to avoid getting soaked. As far as I could see, the breakers were pounding and water was spraying as the swells collided in a disorganized way. As I looked up and down the beach, I could see numerous surfers enjoying this unusual occurrence as if it was Christmas morning and they were surprised with a fantastic gift! I felt the wind at my back and the sun on my face and felt a deep sense of relaxation. When I looked out toward the horizon, it was very dark and ominous and white caps were visible which could only mean that the waves were even larger out in the Gulf as Isaac passed by Florida. Soon, it began to rain again and I was forced to go back inside. This odd mix of enjoyment and beauty combined with a storm on the ocean could also be described as quiet stillness and peace in the midst of chaos.  This reminded me of a graphic description in Psalm 46 where we find the often quoted passage “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Like Tristan, it is so easy for me to become consumed with a particular set of concerns on any given day. I may become distressed over an unexpected expense due to a medical, plumbing, or pet emergency. Or, I have been known to wake up with a sense of calm and by 10:00 AM find that I am in an emotional whirlwind because of a serious bump in a relationship that I hold dear. It is not hard to go from feeling carefree in spirit to hoisting the weight of the world upon my shoulders due to a set of circumstances that are out of my control.  These are the facts about storms in our lives! The question is “How will we face the storms?”

When I read Psalm 46 in its entirety, I see a description of chaos like I have never experienced even in times where I have actually been in a hurricane.  Phrases like “though the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” and “nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall” are terrifying to me! But the reassurance comes as I reread the first verse of the chapter which says “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”  I strive to understand what “ever-present” means just like Tristan did during those first few weeks of 1st grade. Then I remember that the truth is made clear to me when I am “still” and “know” my God! I must renew my daily goal to “know” my Lord and Savior better today than I did yesterday and that certainly involves learning how to “be still” in His presence. I hold on with more confidence through the storms as I cling to the promise that “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”

Convention Wisdom for ALL

What would you say if invited to speak at one of the political conventions? My friend simply said “I would read the Bible to them”. While I believe that to be a wonderful idea, we would be wise to remember that the reading alone would not suffice! It is common knowledge that we can hear advice all day long and let it “go in one ear and out the other”. In order for the reading of God’s Word to make a difference in anyone’s life, it must be able to take root in the healthy soil of an open heart. This is where we must be careful because the only heart I can control or have responsibility over is my own. The question I have to ask myself is whether or not my heart is open to hear the Truth….not from either political party but from God himself!

As Christians, we have the unique ability to hear from God through His Holy Spirit which communes with our spirit. God is the only one who honestly and intimately understands each one of us and He is capable of letting His Truth be known in our innermost being. Will we listen? Or, will we have preconceived ideas of what His Truth is and keep our spiritual hands over our spiritual ears and refuse to hear? As always, God allows us freedom to answer that question on a personal level.

I do not write this to promote one political party over another but to encourage caution as we make our decisions in November. Unfortunately, we will not find a political party that acts like the “church” and we are not selecting a “senior pastor” but the President of the United States.  We must keep in mind that what is seen on TV or read in the news is not necessarily accurate. With the free access we have to information via the internet, perhaps we should spend some time doing old fashioned research and, as we were taught in school, double check our resources. At the very least, listen to both sides of the arguments from the original source and not from a person reporting what was said.

We cannot reasonably expect perfection from either party as perfection is not found in anyone except Jesus. We, who are called to be salt and light in this world, have a responsibility to listen carefully to the Light of the world.  Don’t tell God what you think or believe…..just listen to Him! In quietness before the Lord, open up your personal political views to the inspection of the Holy Spirit. Be willing to hear from Him. Then, make the decisions you believe would most please your heavenly Father and trust Him with the results.  Whatever the outcome now or in the future, God is still God and God is still good. We are aliens in this world but we are not alone. God is with us always and forever!

God wants YOU!

What do you need today?  I see more people with large and deep needs in 2012 than I have ever seen simultaneously in my lifetime. I also see that most people are unwilling to share these challenges with others. Sadly, this seems to be as true in the church as anywhere. So, I am prompted to ask an obvious question. Why? Is it pride? Is it because we just don’t want to bother others with our problems? Or, could it be a lack of understanding in how we are directed to behave in Scripture? Whatever the reason, I believe the answer can be summed up like this. God wants to use His people to meet the needs of people and people cannot meet needs that they do not know exist! Ok, so maybe that is not very concise but it is relatively simple.  So, what next?

There is plenty of Biblical precedence for individuals making their needs known to Jesus. We see the mother of Jesus letting him know that the wine was gone at a wedding feast and, soon after, Nicodemus going to Jesus in the night to seek answers to his questions. A Samaritan woman asks Jesus for the water that will quench her thirst forever and then a military official requests healing for his son.  Mary and Martha tell Jesus of their sick brother, Lazarus, because they fear he will die and Jesus does not accompany them home. In each case, a request was made known, verbally and publically, with confidence that the need could be met by Jesus. There was no guarantee as to when or how the need would be addressed and, as often is the case, the outcome was different than imagined.

Because my husband was a professional baseball player, the first 11 years of my marriage were spent in unfamiliar cities and I was often lonely. I made this known to whatever church ‘family’ I became acquainted with and I was able to receive friendship, support, and nurturing. Years later, when I injured my knee and had to walk on crutches for 2 months, a friend came to my house and picked up ALL of the family laundry. She returned it the next day washed, dried, and folded! As I write these thoughts, I am at a beautiful townhouse on Anna Maria Island because a dear friend knew I needed to have some quiet time to write. These needs were met because I was willing to open my mouth and tell someone that I needed help. This is not accomplished without becoming vulnerable and I believe that is the reason we often suffer alone!

Vulnerability is scary because we have no assurance that the outcome will be favorable. What if someone passes judgment as to why I have the need? What if they gossip or, even worse, misrepresent my circumstance to others. What if they ignore my need and simply walk away without a second look. These questions pose the very real risk we take when becoming vulnerable. However, silence means the potential of missing a two-fold blessing. First, we have the opportunity of our need being met and, thereby, experiencing God’s handiwork personally. Second, we are allowing someone else to be blessed as they respond to our need. Think about a time when you gave a much needed or desired gift to someone. Consider a birthday or Christmas celebration as you patiently waited for the opening of a gift you gave. When I have been in those situations it has brought great joy, emotional pleasure, and satisfaction. It is an unbelievable blessing to be able to help another person without any expectation of the favor being returned.

Vulnerability is worth the risk…even when pain results! I offer up these challenges for you this week. Share a personal need with a trusted friend, pastor, elder, or mentor. Then, be the one to give to someone in need.  Finally, leave it all to God in prayer and look for HIS hand in the midst of the giving!

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