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Posts Tagged ‘praise’

A friend recently asked me what are my family’s traditions for Christmas.  Besides a formal meal, we also purchase and decorate a Christmas tree, the latter usually to the backdrop of nostalgic Christmas songs and candlelight.  But the most familiar tradition, even an oft-lamented one in our materialism-saturated society, is the exchanging of gifts.  But I am convinced there is nothing inherently wicked with either the getting or the giving of presents.

Gift and give are newer forms of a presumed old, old root, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) *ghabh- meaning “to give or receive”.  Before it reached English, it appeared in the Old Norse with a definition “gift, good luck”.  For a while it was pronounced yiven, before the guttural ‘g’ resurfaced.  An initial ‘h’ sound is also associated with the root, developing into the somewhat opposite word have.  Isn’t it interesting that giving and receiving are so closely linked that they’re all mixed up with the same family of words?

Present specifically carries the notion of something offered, freely, but before it is received.  It is set in the presence of one, placed “before their face”.

The word receive has a more Latin than Germanic heritage, entering English c. 1300, about 200 years after the Norman French conquest of England, from the Old North French, meaning at that time “seize, take hold of, accept”.  I like the emphasis on the fact that a gift cannot simply be thrust on someone; the action is interactive, with the receiver willingly taking the gift.  In earlier forms, found in Latin, the word meant “regain, take back, recover, take in, or admit”.  There’s a sense of vengeance contrasted with the sense of hospitality.

Hospitality is, in Greek, xenia, especially referring to the “rights of a guest or stranger”.  There is a city in Ohio named for this word.  I think that is a lovely motto of which to be reminded every time one’s city is mentioned.  It is not so much seen in our country as in many other nations, including the Israelite tribe whose generosity to the poor and stranger in the land was mandated by the Mosaic Law (see also this passage).

Hospitality is also a French/Latin borrowing, also since the 1300’s.  It comes from a word meaning “friendliness to guests”.  Compare this to the word host, whose entry at Etymonline.com goes further than the longer form hospitalityHost goes back to the PIE *ghostis- which is supposed to have referred to both the host and the guest, with an original sense of referring to strangers, on whichever side.

In the 1993 movie, “Shadowlands”, based on the life of C.S. Lewis, there is a scene about Christmas in which he is discussing the fate of the season in their mid-century culture:

One [Inkling] laments, “I’m afraid Christmas, as I remember it, is rather a lost cause.”

Jack, as his friends call him, and sounding rather like his voice is echoing out of far-away winter-bound Narnia whispers, “It’s because we’ve lost the magic… You tell people it’s about taking care of the poor and needy, and naturally they don’t even miss it.”

To which his friend, a Roman Catholic priest, responds, “The needy do come into it: ‘no room at the inn,’ remember?  The mother and child?”

I do like to remember that.  I like that older songs remember that.  I like that my friend this year asked for suggestions of how to make our holiday reflect the truth of this verse, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” She wanted to know how to celebrate being made rich and to imitate Christ’s poverty-bearing, rich-making love.

There is a tradition of being charitable particularly at Christmas.  (This is in the line of other, biblical feast-days, during which kindness to the poor was encouraged in response to God’s blessings of abundance that were being celebrated, especially in the harvest-feasts of Firstfruits and Tabernacles.  It is a way to recognize that it is God’s undeserved blessing that provides enough to survive or feast.  If we, by pleasing Him, do not relinquish His grace, we are to expect His continued blessings.  And He is pleased when we remember the poor and have charity towards them.  We can give like the saints in Philippi, depleting our own storehouses, knowing that the God who is using us to care for the poor will faithfully provide for us as well.)

This responsibility to the poor is communicated by the history of the word generous, which originally meant “of noble birth” (same root as genus, referring to biological descent and classification into kinds or races or families) and only by implications of the duty, of those blessed with more, to share with those who have less did it come to mean “magnanimous”.

Benevolence, “disposition to do good”, is a compound word, from the Latin bene “well” and volantem “to wish”.

Alms is another term for this benevolence.   In Old English it was ælmesse, occurring also in German, and Latin, where it is spelled eleemosyna.  This was, in turn, borrowed from the Greek eleemosyne, referring to “pity, mercy”.  In modern English, though rare, it means a gift, especially of money or food, given out to the needy.

Charity is from the Old French, “charity, mercy, compassion; alms” from Latin, “costliness, esteem, affection”.  Isn’t it instructive, the impulse of expressing love by costly, sacrificial giving?  It can be satisfying, and blessed, to give.

Love is, by own definition, the giving of a treasure.  Treasure comes from the same Greek root as thesaurus, and it means “hoard, storehouse, treasury” – presumably of something worth enough to be collected and kept safe.  Can stores be shared?  What does it say when one is willing to disperse a hoard?

Donation is attested in Latin, donum, “gift”, from the PIE *donum.  The same word is found in Sanskrit: danam “offering, present” and in Old Irish dan, “gift, endowment, talent”.

In my family’s tradition, the focus is more on expressing love to one another than to those less fortunate.  Our gifts are an exchange, late 1300’s, “act of reciprocal giving and receiving”, from the Latin ex- “out” and cambire “barter”.  Cambire is supposed to be of Celtic origin, the PIE *kemb- “to bend”, developing in the sense of altering the current state, then specifically changing something by putting something else in its place.

At Christmas especially, the packages under the tree are almost always wrapped, so as to be a surprise.  Unexpectedly, this word used to mean only “a taking unawares; unexpected attack or capture”.  The roots are sur- “over” and prendre “to take, grasp, seize”.  It might be ironic that though we think of thinly cloaked gifts as surprises, at Christmas they are not always unforeseen or unexpected; who hasn’t made a Christmas wish list?  In fact, it is perhaps a disadvantage of our custom: that gifts come to be expected, or even demanded, by the recipients.

When the word wrap appeared in English around AD 1300, it meant “to wind, cover, conceal, bind up, swaddle”.  I think we do this to increase the ornamental feeling of festivity, not as a symbol of the baby Jesus being similarly wrapped before being placed in a manger.

Swaddle seems to come from a word meaning a slice or strip.

Ribbon, which often adorns our gifts, might have a similar historic meaning, if it is related to band, “a flat strip” and “something that binds”, a rejoining of two divergent threads of Middle English, distinguished at one point by different spellings, band referring to joining together and bande to a strip or even a stripe (where it likely morphed into ribane, a stripe in a material).  The original root of band is, PIE *bendh- “to bind”.

Something else we use to hold things together when we’re wrapping them?  Tape.  My cousin says, “tape, lots of tape.”  This Old English tæppe is a “narrow strip of cloth used for tying or measuring”.  It could be formed from the Latin for “cloth, carpet”, tapete, or it might be related to the Middle Low German tapen, “to pull, pluck, tear”.

(These words are so fun, the way they communicate the action by which the thing got to be – or the state that inspired and enabled an action.  What was life like for the people who named a strip of fabric tape?  Well, maybe they were pulling on cloth {reminiscent of one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Little Women”, where the ladies of the house spend time tearing old sheets into strips to be used as bandages for those soldiers wounded in the American Civil War}.  Why would they do that?  To have something with which to bind things together.  It’s a different world from our manufacturing-driven lifestyles, where tape and ribbon and string are purchased in packages off of shelves.  They’re things made originally for their purposes, not improvised from something else.  It’s like a history lesson in a word!)

The other reason we think of gifts during the holiday season in which we remember God’s entry into our world in human flesh is because His birth was honored by gifts from wise visitors from the East.  These men recognized that Jesus was born to be the King, the long-prophesied King of the everlasting kingdom.  And though this God-King could have turned stones into bread, and summoned armies of angels, He chose to experience poverty.  Though He experienced the lowliness of being born to a poor mother and living as a refugee, a stranger, in Egypt, he was honored by costly gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh when a very young boy.

Such is the nature not only of love, to give sacrificially, but also of worship.  How remiss would any of us be, to overlook the presence of the Highest King?  Not only is His worth expressed by Kings giving Him treasures; it is demonstrated by the “sacrifice of praise” every person can offer:  The Christmas carols sing that the wise men have “come to pay Him homage,” Old French “allegiance or respect for one’s feudal lord”, from Latin homo, “man”.  Or in “What Child Is This?” we are bid to “haste, haste, to bring Him laud”, also Old French, “praise, extol” from Latin laus, “praise, fame, glory”.  A cognate, or brother-word in Old English was leoð, “song, poem, hymn”.  He is worthy of the richest treasures.  We owe Him everything we have, everything that is.  We also owe Him our allegiance, our praise, our songs.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Many thanks and credit to the resources of www.Etymonline.com and www.Dictionary.Reference.com in compiling these definitions and histories.  Also to www.BlueLetterBible.org for Scriptures.

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May my hands be open to receive God’s gifts: I need to be humble, not trying to earn the good things I want, but to take what God will provide by His grace.  I need to accept what comes, even if they aren’t the things I want, and trust that they are good. 

 

May my eyes be open to notice God’s blessings: I want to notice where He’s at work, the way He’s supplying my needs and granting my prayers and showing me mercy when I’m not even asking for it. 

 

May my lips be opened to praise God for His works: I should express my gratitude when I see the way He’s been involved in my life.  Others should hear me give testimony of my experiences with the God of the universe’s lovingkindness.

 

To God be all glory, 

Lisa of Longbourn

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II Corinthians 1:20

“For all the promises of God

in Him are YES,

and in Him AMEN,

to the glory of God through us.”

You don’t hear it as much as you’d expect in Christian circles.  Should it stand out so much to me when I hear a friend say, “Praise God”?  The praise and worship music movement has swept the Church up.  Some of us even mean what we sing.  But outside of the songs, do we magnify His name?  Do we let our light shine that men may glorify our Father in Heaven when they see our good works?  Can we say with the Psalmists that it is good for God to have us alive because we praise Him more than if we were dead?

Grant that our friends practice gratitude.  We’re praying people and watch for answers.  When we see good gifts, we know they are from God.  And so it is more common to say aloud, “Praise God.  He answered my prayer.”

But we only tend to say that when He answers with a “yes.”  If God gives us what we want, we praise Him.  If not…

There are any number of reactions I have observed in myself.  I may become discouraged.  I might complain.  Even a good Christian is tempted to “help themselves” when God doesn’t take the initiative we want Him to.

This year, I resolved to praise my good God.  When He says “yes” to my requests, and when He says “no.”  He is acting with wisdom and love either way.

So even when I am hurt or sad or tired because of God’s “no”, I will praise Him.  Praise Him for knowing better than I do.  For denying my making of mudpies (to refer to CS Lewis) that He may bring me to the sea.

And in acknowledging God’s worthiness, may I know Him more.  May I anticipate and accept suffering, not cheating it of its purpose nor denying its redemption.  May I see with His eyes and expect the unfathomable ocean of blessings He has prepared.  He is a God of completion, faithful to make perfect that which He begins.

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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I’m in between churches right now – between congregations. All summer and fall I’ve been casually attending the meetings of various friends. I can’t tell you how wonderful it feels to not be obligated to make an appearance at any one building on a Sunday morning. I might tell a friend I’m coming, or I might decide Saturday night. Some Sundays I sleep in. Sunday morning heathenism is rather refreshing.

Except it isn’t heathenism. A lot of what happens in those buildings on Sunday mornings is of heathen origin. But heathenism is a lot more than skipping a sermon and praise concert. It is a lifestyle of rejecting God, and that I certainly have not done.

I believe the Bible teaches Christians to gather regularly with each other. That isn’t something I have abandoned either. My recent experience is filled with times of fellowship and encouragement with other believers. We do ministry together, hold each other accountable for our walks with God, philosophically tackle the dilemmas we’re facing, study the Bible, and pray. During these times we also tend to eat, to play games, to laugh and tease, sometimes to work. Kids running around get swept up by disciples of Jesus, who – like Him – love children.

About a month ago some friends invited me to their church. I went that weekend. This week they asked me what I thought, and didn’t I like it (since I hadn’t been back). And I froze, because, well, I did like it. The people were friendly and the teachings were biblical and stimulating. But I don’t think I’ll join. This Sunday I did go back there, though. And my friends’ thirteen-year-old son confronted me, “I thought you said our church was just ‘ok’.”

Hard to explain. This particular church is on the good end of mainstream churches. They have good doctrine. A lot of their money goes to missions. Kids are with parents in church for most of the time, and youth aren’t separated from their families. The music isn’t too loud or too self-centered. With a congregation of about 50, the pastor and teachers can know everyone.

After pondering for a day or so, here is my answer to the thirteen-year-old friend: (it’s alliterative so I can remember!)
1) Plurality. There is only one pastor at the church. He’s the head man. I believe Jesus is the head of the Church, and that leadership beneath Him must be shared among more than one equal. Whenever real life cases are discussed in the New Testament, the word is used in the plural. (Elders) In this way they can model cooperation and problem solving. Congregations and pastors are kept mindful that Christ is the true head, and that the Church is His project. Also, when one is weak, there is another to be strong, the proverbial man to pick you up when you fall. Two are better than one and a cord of three strands is not easily broken. Pastoring is a lonely job, being at the top instead of a part of your congregation as friends and brothers. My Bible describes a different sort of dynamic, where pastors are respected for being respectable and where everyone is exercising his gifts for the good of all: pastors, prophets, discerners, helpers, administrators, on and on.
2) Property. This was quite confusing to my friend, who expects people to scorn his church for meeting in the club house of a condominium complex. Whether you own a building, rent it, or have borrowed money from a bank to claim that you own it, all represent instances where the Church of God has used resources God entrusted to them not to do what He has instructed: caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and missionaries – but to have a separate place to meet. I believe churches are meant to be gathered in homes. Limited in size, surrounded by hospitality and everyday life, the atmosphere of house church encourages the participation of everyone, the familial fellowship of believers, and the synthesis of sacred and secular.
3) Preaching. The New Testament describes and even commends preaching. Except almost always the lecture style sermon was delivered to an unsaved audience. It is a tool of evangelism. And evangelism is not the purpose of the regular gathering of believers. In fact, the church meetings described in 1 Corinthians are much more open and unstructured than what we usually think of as church. No one was scheduled to speak. Anyone (any man?) was allowed to bring a word, be it a prophecy, a teaching, a tongue – as long as he spoke it for the edification of the group. He may share a testimony of God’s work or an instruction or challenge the Spirit laid on his heart to give to his friends. A teaching might be towards an identified deficiency of understanding or may flow out of the studies individuals are making during the week on their own. Prophecy may correct the direction the congregation is going, may identify weaknesses and strengths among them, may warn them, or may give them hope and vision for the future. Some verses indicate that individuals may also bring songs of their choosing to the meetings of believers, with which to encourage each other.

Now that I’ve said those things, I do believe that there is a place for the lecture-style teaching we call sermons. I really enjoy Bible conferences, and am not opposed to worship concerts where the band has practiced and is intending to honor God. When I visit my friends’ churches, I usually view those services as conferences, and I look for the Spirit-driven gatherings elsewhere. At this stage of my life I’m not content with the small groups and Bible studies that have been getting me by. So I’m still looking, reading books and searching websites from people who are practicing what the Bible teaches about Church. I’m excited to see where that leads.

Some questions remain, stronger tensions between the familiar and the ideal: how is authority supposed to work in the church? Is it important? Is it a matter of exercising authority or of submitting to authority? How much should we submit? What shall Christians do for evangelism? Wouldn’t it be better to team up? But is it wrong to invite people in to hear the gospel, or should we go out to them? Are women to speak in the church meetings? If not, why on earth did Paul say so? – Just to prove I don’t think I know everything!

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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I once heard a refutation of the idea that music isn’t important; only lyrics are.  A pianist sat on his bench and told us to close our eyes, picturing Cinderella in her ball gown.  He played a gentle waltz while he kept describing her meeting the prince, taking his hand, and beginning to dance.  But while he talked, the music changed into the eerie, dark whine of a scary movie soundtrack.  Then all of a sudden, the music went choppy and light, high little notes running like ballerina steps across my imagination, erasing all attempts to keep Cinderella there in my mind’s eye.  Like a dream where rationality leaves you to the whim of memory’s slideshow on random, shaped into a story, the music carried me beyond any intention of feeling or thought. 

When discussing the pro’s and con’s of speaking in tongues, Paul offered this interesting illustration:  “And even things without life giving sound, whether pipe or harp, except they give a distinction in the sounds, how shall it be known what is piped or harped?  For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?”  Sounds matter.  We interpret sounds.  For the music to have any purpose, it has to do something to us. 

And music does affect us.  There is soothing music, rousing music, happy music, sad music, romantic music, even angry music.  The music and its effects are amoral.  There is nothing good or evil about a certain tune.  However, there are several ways to affect the morality of a song.  Most obvious is adding lyrics with a moral content.  If a tune is associated with a certain immoral practice or belief, its impact on people familiar with it cannot be edifying.  Also, if the volume or other special effects cause physical pain (headaches, heart palpitations, or difficulty breathing), that music is immoral.  Finally, when a style of music is brought into an inappropriate circumstance, it can be wrong.  Take Cinderella.  To play the full moon music while she is dancing is not helpful.  Or the situation could be worse.  Times exist for everything under heaven, including anger, but when one has no right to be angry, listening to angry music encourages a mood of violence rather than forgiveness or peace. 

To believe that music is powerless, that a song is ok as long as its lyrics are not wicked, is dangerous.  I have known unsuspecting young people who begin to listen to a style of music that is heavy and dark, depressed and angry.  They do not expect to be affected by the music, but gradually they settle into a mood that mirrors their music, until the music is the creator and true expression of their identity.  I invite you to imagine what happens when a teenager becomes constantly depressed and angry.  Relationships are ruined.  Schoolwork fails.  They are tempted into further association with the dark and the violent. 

Why the obsession with loud music?  I don’t necessarily mean the music so loud and disorderly that the cacophony directs the listener to insanity.  I’m talking about simple volume.  God calls us to be sober, to do everything heartily.  Passive entertainment, I contend, is not godly.  I believe we should interact with our music, not have it attack us.  If ears are in pain, why not turn it down?  And whether there is pain at individual notes, if the over all tension of the music gives headaches, why endure such torment?  When the bass is so strong that it seems to have gotten way beyond modesty and penetrated your skin, pounding against your organs, why pursue that style of music?  Is it that we have become numb, our relational experience leaving us unable to feel without stimulation – even painful stimulation? 

Music can be employed to direct moods.  David played his harp for Saul and cured his fits of temper.  A romantic dinner is that much more romantic if the violins play sweetly in the background.  Carnivals play fast, fun music to heighten the sense of wonder.  Who doesn’t appreciate a good movie soundtrack? 

One common use of music is in “worship,” the part of a traditional church service in which praises, testimonials, or encouragements are offered in the form of songs.  Worship is in vogue right now, the subject of dozens of books, conferences, and contemporary Christian music CD’s.  Churches are trying hard to create worship experiences.  Bands practice during the week and present their “worship” concerts complete with strobe lights, smoke, bass guitars, drums, and exciting videos with the words scrolling across for the audience to sing along.    Some churches light candles.  All this to get people in the mood to worship.  A more energetic band will get the audience to jump up and down and to clap its praise.  The contemplative environment with little altars for worshiping through pottery-making or painting or eating crackers and drinking juice, lit by soft scented candles is more likely to evoke tears.  Either way the people walk away with an experience, feeling that they have been through something important that touched their heart. 

Is that what worship should look like?  Is that even worship?  What is the purpose of worship, and what styles of music and other arts are aligned with those objectives?  What about worship together?  Isn’t the point to be with each other, rather than isolated by volume and darkness?  When creating an “environment conducive to worship,” should churches manipulate people into energies and emotions not already inspired by meeting, knowing, and walking with Almighty God?  If we as people are not willing to lift up our voices in thanksgiving and praise, lament and victory to our God – without being drowned out by the drums and the pervading bass – are we not merely flattering God? 

How dangerous is it to do worship our way, in a way we enjoy and in which we are gifted?  What if those ways detract from the purposes on which worship is built?  Is the focus on God or on the band or on the audience?  I have heard worship described as therapy.  Should we participate for healing and comfort, for strengthening?  What sorts?  We know that offering worship their own way caused the death of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron the priest.  Did God give any sort of specific instruction, example, or definition which we might be profaning through our creative expressions?  Should we sing in church?  Are those melodies to be directed as praises, or as encouragement to those around us? 

I am concerned at how many gifted musicians use the gathering of Christians to springboard into a musical career.  If the band is supposed to be leading worship – an endeavor doubtful in its biblical foundations already – what are they doing with microphones and amps that power over the congregation’s voices?  Why sell CD’s and t-shirts boasting the band’s name?  Is this about people bringing the sacrifice of praise, or about people having a good time and enjoying a concert?  Can bad or inappropriate music prevent an atmosphere conducive to worship? 

The Psalms direct the whole earth to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.  How can we reject anyone’s joyful offering?  Is everything we “enjoy” joyful?  Perhaps the screaming and growling sometimes passed off as singing is fun for those doing it.  So might be roller coaster rides or even the thrill of stealing candy at the grocery store register, but those things are not considered to be worship. 

Music is powerful.  God is mighty.  Worship is meaningful.  God is worthy. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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A God you know about, but don’t trust, that’s useless.  A God whose love you affirm but reject experiencing, that’s miserable. 

 

But He really is my God, by His smashing grace.  Knowing who God is (theology) increases the value of His love for me.  Because He is perfect, yet suffered shame, I praise His love more.  Because He loved his own Son so much, but sent Jesus to suffer in my place, I am humbled by His grace.  Because He is able to create and maintain the whole universe, yet chooses to interact with me on a daily basis, I crumble with joy!  Because He is infinitely good, I have peace passing understanding. 

 

I live in a sphere of truth as I know it.  Truth is something I crave and cling to because it enables me to love my God.  When a part of that sphere is bombarded with doubt (from within or without), I get defensive.  I whirl around in my little world, reexamining associations, texts, and experiences.  Whether I had been wrong about the truth or the doubt had been unfounded, I go through that experience every time.  Some questions are smaller.  Others challenge me to re-read my whole Bible with the tension of interpretation presented by a different view.  Contradictions can even turn out to be paradoxes when I go deep enough into them. 

 

To entertain questions, engage discussions, and comprehend a sense of truth (even as presented in creeds or “institutes”) is not, I conclude, wrong.  Here let me clarify.  If the motive for acquiring truth is to better experience God’s love and return it – if the pursuit is in the context of your relationship with God – and if the odyssey is not harming other people, then it is not wrong. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Tonight I finished watching Joan of Arcadia, Season 1 on DVD.  I could watch the episodes all night.  The end of Season 1 has a scene where Joan is convinced god, whom she has been seeing all season long, from whom she has been drawing comfort and instruction, is not real.  God comes in and stands by her hospital bed.  I sat there watching, desperately wanting him to say something, give her all the answers, reassure her, give her proof.  Or he could just hold her hand so she knew he was there.  In the very least he could stay.  He doesn’t.  He walks out. 
 
That’s really hard to watch.  It’s hard to even think about God leaving a room.  And what about the people who don’t believe in Him?  Isn’t the walking away symbolic? 
 
Apostles had to watch Jesus leave.  He promised to send them the Comforter, but I imagine they had pretty big needs for comfort by the time the Holy Spirit came.  No wonder they were so fervent in prayer after Jesus’ ascension.  If it were me I wouldn’t want to do anything else. 
 
I need God.  And I miss Him, the physical face to face Him. 
 
In Joan of Arcadia the doctor god is one of my favorite images.  He looks at people, speaks patiently and gently.  He takes care of people, and gives answers that, while not directly satisfying, are still comforting.  God takes care of me, and I know he loves me.  I’m an intellectual person, and I know it sounds cliche to say those things.  I don’t like saying them because some people would demand evidence and proof and ask how I know.  Tonight it’s just a praise, a thanks, and a testimony. 
 
We don’t need all the answers.  We need Jesus Himself.  I need Him. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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