Tag Archives: Anger

You Can Call Me Peter

Among Bible characters, I have often identified with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus. I can easily spend time in contemplation about God or spiritual matters, essentially sitting at the feet of Jesus, while the chores of the day go unnoticed.

I have also identified with the apostle John, who referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” I know that Jesus loves me in the same way. Plus I love John’s gospel, epistles, and account of his vision in Revelation. I love the way he writes and his focus on the deity of Christ, and I identify with him because of my desire to do the same in my writing.

But this week I found myself identifying with a Bible character I never really identified with before. And that is the apostle Peter.

In Bible Study Fellowship we are studying the book of Matthew, and there is much about the character and behavior of Peter in that book. Last week we were studying Matthew 26. In that chapter, at the Last Supper, Jesus warns all the disciples that they will fall away that very night, and Peter fervently denies this, saying he will die with Jesus if he has to, even if all the others do fall away. Jesus then tells Peter he will deny Him three times before the rooster crows the next morning.

In the next scene, the little band of disciples is off to Gethsemane following their Master after a long day. In the garden, Jesus goes off to pray but brings Peter, John, and James with Him. He tells them to stand watch and pray, but all three fall asleep instead of praying. Jesus awakens them and again tells them to pray because “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Then He goes a little further to pray again His heartbreaking prayer that the cup of the Father’s wrath be taken from Him if it is possible. Jesus returns to the three to find them again sleeping and not praying.

In the next scene, Jesus has submitted to the Father’s will and awakens the disciples yet again to go and face His betrayer and the crowd that is coming to arrest Him. In spite of Jesus repeatedly telling the disciples that His arrest, crucifixion, and ultimate resurrection are the Father’s plan, Peter takes matters into his own hands and pulls out his sword, lopping off the ear of one of the crowd. Jesus rebukes him and tells him to put the sword away. Then as Jesus (and Old Testament prophecy) predicted, the disciples, including Peter, all scatter.

Two scenes later we see Peter again, slinking around the fire outside the courtyard where Jesus is being unjustly tried by the high priest. Three times Peter is asked if he was with Jesus, and three times Peter denies that he even knows Him, just as Jesus predicted.

Many times this year in BSF, something has happened in my life that fits right into whatever the lesson is for that week. Maybe God knows I learn better when the lesson is directly relatable to my life.

This week is no different as I find myself identifying with Peter. This bold and sometimes hot-headed disciple faced a great difficulty. And though he was warned by Jesus about what was to happen and admonished to pray so that he would not fall into temptation, Peter did not heed that warning.

I faced a difficult situation this week. I felt the Spirit’s nudge to pray about it, and to do so earnestly. Yet I did not pray. Although I didn’t literally sleep instead, I might as well have because I filled the time I should have been praying with useless activities. Then I found myself unprepared to face the situation. Instead of meeting it calmly, with love and grace, I exhibited my Peter-like hot-headedness. I met the situation with anger and fear instead of forgiveness and faith.

The good news is that if I repent of my sin and turn to Jesus, He will forgive me and restore me, just as He did Peter. And His plan will prevail in spite of my failings, just as the plan of redemption through His crucifixion and resurrection prevailed in spite of Peter’s failings.

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Tears – A Poem

Tears of sorrow, anger
drench my soul
course without end
eroding pain, anguish

Where once only aching
occupied my heart
now is a deep empty ravine
carved by a river of tears

Tears of forgiveness
water my soul’s riverbed
allowing flowers of love
to flourish and grow

Peace arises in my heart
held aloft by God’s promises
the fragrance of sweet alyssum
blossoms of my soul

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book.
Psalm 56:8 (NIV).

Shared today at dVerse Poets Pub for Open Link Night. Head on over for some more great poetry and join the celebration of the 2-year anniversary of dVerse.

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Battling Enemies – A Book Review

A couple of months ago our pastor did a sermon series based on Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley. He encouraged the whole congregation to read the book along with the sermon series. I resisted buying it because I knew if I went to Amazon to buy it I would end up with one or more other books in my cart so that I could get the free super saver shipping that comes with spending more than $25.

Then one evening my husband found a towel rack for our kitchen on Amazon and since I have an Amazon account he asked if I could get it for us. Well, of course I had to add something else to the cart for that super saver shipping. So I decided to get Deep & Wide. But once I added it to my cart I still was below $25, which prompted me to look around for another book to buy. I ended up with another Andy Stanley book called Enemies of the Heart.

I have yet to crack the spine on Deep & Wide, but I read Enemies of the Heart cover to cover in less than a week. I found in this small book some truths that I knew but needed to hear again in a new way.

The great thing about Andy Stanley is that his writing style is so readable. The concepts he shares are deep, but he doesn’t use big words and convoluted arguments to convey them. The message of Enemies of the Heart is simple: there are four emotions that if left unchecked will control our lives in a negative way, but God has provided a way to deal with each of these toxic emotions. The four emotions are guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy.

I’m going to share Stanley’s insights in a nutshell, but I strongly encourage you to read the whole book because it is the anecdotes and the scripture references he uses to flesh out these insights that have really helped me to hold onto their truth. So here’s the nutshell version:

  1. Guilt says, “I owe you.” This emotion stems from actions we have taken that have hurt others. The solution is confession, not just to God but to the person we have hurt.
  2. Anger says, “You owe me.” This emotion stems from actions others have taken that have hurt us and the debt we feel they owe us. To solution is forgiveness, which requires that we figure out what the other person has taken from us, and then to make the conscious decision to cancel that debt.
  3. Greed says, “I owe me.” This emotion stems from a fear that we will lose what we have, that our future is uncertain, and a tendency to hang onto our possessions matter what. The solution is generous giving, which ultimately leads to a trust in God to provide our needs.
  4. Jealousy says, “God owes me.” This emotion stems from a belief that if God could provide a nice car, a big house, a great job, etc. for my neighbor, then He could have done the same for me. Jealousy is not a problem with the person who has what we want, it is a problem with God, who has not provided us with what we want. The solution is to celebrate the blessings of others.

All of these enemies of the heart involve debt—and debt must either be repaid or cancelled, or it will always cloud relationships. Sometimes we don’t even realize a debt is owed, so often just identifying the enemy is the first step. Stanley does a great job in this book of getting to the heart of the matter and helping the reader to identify the emotional enemies that are holding them back from enjoying loving and vibrant relationships with family, friends, and God. I would give this book a definite 5 out of 5 stars.

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Forgiveness Set Me Free to Love – A Poem

Each year WordPress provides me with an annual report of my blogging activity for the past year. Included in the top five posts of 2012 was an article titled Forgiveness that I wrote for my church newsletter and was the second thing I posted when I started this blog in September 2009. I realized that the subject of forgiveness is timeless and so I decided to write more posts on that topic in 2013. I am starting with this poem about how forgiveness leads to freedom from despair.

Forgiveness Set Me Free to Love

Anger tethered me to the past
holding on strong, holding me back
imprisoned in a dungeon of my own making

Deceived into believing
the walls had been built by another
solid walls I could not escape

Blame fostered thoughts of revenge
of justice for the transgressor
as the Accuser spurred me on

The future seemed a blur
of decades in darkness and woe
with no hope of joy or love

Then through tiny cracks
in the walls of my misery
a light shone, beckoning me escape

The light whispered in the darkness
Forgive and let go
Leave justice to Me

It seemed too simple
and yet to forgive was impossible
without the light to show the way

I could bear the darkness no more
the anger had made me weary
the hatred was draining all life

Trusting the light
I chose to forgive, even the unforgivable
I clung to love instead of hatred

Like the walls of Jericho
the prison of my despair
crumbled and fell at His word

Forgiveness set me free
to live and to love in peace
with hope for my future in view

As this poem began to form in my mind, I thought of the families of the 20 children who were killed in Newtown, Connecticut. These children are now in heaven with Jesus and have no need of lessons on forgiveness. But the families left behind to mourn their loss will need to learn to forgive the troubled young man who perpetrated the evil that took their children away from them.

The natural reaction will be anger and hatred, but unless those feelings give way to forgiveness these families will be trapped in a dungeon of despair. They will need the light and love of God to free them. My prayer for them is that they will be able to trust the Light of Christ to tear down the walls of anger and to ensure true justice prevails.

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Out of the Heart

I know that we are not supposed to judge others (see Luke 6:37), and that only God is able to see into the heart of a man (see 1 Samuel 16:7).

But right after command us to not judge, Jesus says:

“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:43-45 (NIV).

So even though we are not to judge others in terms of pronouncing their ultimate fate — for only Jesus is our ultimate judge — we can still sometimes tell what another has stored up in their heart, whether it be evil or good, by the things that they say.

One who stores up anger, hatred, envy, jealousy, and pride in their heart will often speak ill of others, revealing the evil that they cling to. They will constantly complain about and judge others. Having people such as this in our lives can be truly exhausting as they are difficult to love as the Lord has commanded us to love.

Each of us must be careful of the words we speak and be aware of any evil in our own hearts that words of bitterness might reveal. When we see such bad fruit in the lives of others it is a good time to take an inventory of our own fruitfulness. It is also a good time to practice the lessons our Lord has taught us about how we are to live and not allow such evil to spread to our own hearts.

Above all, I believe the Lord calls us to be a witness to and pray for those in our lives whose bitterness, envy, and pride can cause us such grief. Quoting in part from Proverbs 25:21-22, the apostle Paul wrote:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
   if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:17-21 (NIV).

When Paul, quoting from Proverbs, says being kind to your enemy “will heap burning coals on his head,” what exactly does he mean? According to Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, this phrase signifies “retribution by kindness, i.e., that, by conferring a favor on your enemy, you recall the wrong he has done to you, so that he repents, with pain of heart.” Vine’s pg. 107. In other words, by repaying another’s evil with kindness, you might cause him to return to the Lord and be saved so that Christ might reign in his heart.

But it is important to remember that it is only by the grace of God that we are able to treat the one whose bad fruit seems to plague our lives with love. It is Christ living in us who loves them and wants to change their heart, to destroy the evil in their heart and replace it with good, who is alone able to give us the capacity to show them love. For it is when we store up Christ in our own hearts that we are able ourselves to bear good fruit.

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Mad Is Easier than Sad

As we enter the Lenten season, and I ponder the sins I struggle with, a thought occurred to me that encapsulates my struggle: mad is easier than sad.

In other words, when someone hurts me and I feel sad, it is easier to decide to be angry or mad about what they have done than to feel sadness. If I decide to be mad, then I can cling to the illusion of control that is absent in the midst of sadness.

But the control I feel really is only an illusion. When I choose anger instead of sadness, I have given over control to the devil because it is the devil who wants to see me angry and unforgiving.

As I opened my Bible to our scripture readings for the Ash Wednesday service last Wednesday, my eye fell upon a passage that preceded our reading. We were reading from Matthew 6, but my eye was drawn to these words of Jesus:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:21-22 (NIV).

This is not the only place in scripture where we hear Jesus telling us to not be angry. In fact, He says that if we do not let go of our anger and forgive others then we will not be forgiven. See Matthew 6:15. He also tells the wonderful parable of the unmerciful servant who is forgiven a huge debt by his master, but then refuses to forgive his fellow servant’s debt owed to him. Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV).

It is clear from scripture that as easy as being mad may be, it is not what our Lord wants for us or from us. Anger and unforgiveness are serious sins that need to be repented of. I must turn to God and ask His help in overcoming this sin.

As I thought about how much easier it is to be mad than to be sad, it occurred to me that the latter is not a sin. Nowhere in scripture (that I am aware of) does God tell us not to be sad and to turn from our sadness. In fact, in the beatitudes Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (NIV). In Romans 12:15, Paul tells us to “mourn with those who mourn.” Mourning and sadness are not a sin, but an acceptable response when we encounter trials and tribulation. Even “Jesus wept” and mourned. John 11:35 (NIV).

During this season of Lent, my goal is to turn to God and turn away from the sin of anger; to seek His help in being more forgiving. I want to not take the easier path, but to take up my cross and follow Christ.

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Psalm 4 – God My Righteousness

In pondering what Psalm to post for today, I decided to just start at Psalm 1 and post the first one in order that I had never posted before. Turns out I’ve already posted Psalms 1, 2, and 3, but have not posted Psalm 4. As I read through various translations on Biblegateway.com, I settled on the New Living Translation. Although the various translations are different, there are a couple of things about the NLT that speak to me.

First, in the first verse God is called the one “who declares me innocent.” Other translations refer to God as “my righteous God” or “God of my righteousness.” But this NLT translation, which is not substantively different from the other translations, states who God is to me in a way that ties in with some of the other posts I have written lately, including my post yesterday titled “Is a Little Faith Enough?

Second, as one who has all my life struggled with controlling my anger and have been able to do so only with the help of God, verse 4 is a great reminder that my anger, if uncontrolled, only leads to sin. Other translations also admonish the reader to “not sin” but do not focus on anger as being a source of that sin.

There are other great verses in this Psalm, which is why I posted the whole thing, but these two are the most meaningful to me.

Psalm 4

For the choir director: A psalm of David, to be accompanied by stringed instruments.

 1 Answer me when I call to you,
      O God who declares me innocent.
   Free me from my troubles.
      Have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

 2 How long will you people ruin my reputation?
      How long will you make groundless accusations?
      How long will you continue your lies?
                         Interlude

 3 You can be sure of this:
      The Lord set apart the godly for himself.
      The Lord will answer when I call to him.

 4 Don’t sin by letting anger control you.
      Think about it overnight and remain silent.
                         Interlude

 5 Offer sacrifices in the right spirit,
      and trust the Lord.

 6 Many people say, “Who will show us better times?”
      Let your face smile on us, Lord.
 7 You have given me greater joy
      than those who have abundant harvests of grain and new wine.
 8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
      for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe.

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Learning to Forgive – A Poem

Many years ago the Lord taught me the importance of forgiving others. The command to forgive as we have been forgiven is not meant to be a burden, but rather a means of giving our burdens to God and lightening our spiritual load.

I never intended this blog to be a poetry blog, and I’m sure it will never exclusively be poetry, but I seem to be drawn to this medium lately. The other day this poem came to me about my own journey to forgiveness.

Learning to Forgive

I held it inside
The anger, the bitterness
I hated you
I blamed you for everything
For every tear and every dark cloud
Because of what you did
But you didn’t care
You didn’t even know
I only hurt me more

He let it all out
The anger, the wrath
It poured out with His blood
He loved me
He forgave me for everything
For every tear and every sin
In spite of what I did
But I didn’t care
I didn’t even know
I only hurt Him more

Then He showed me the way
To let go of the anger, the bitterness
To forgive as He has forgiven
To love as He loved me
I don’t hurt anymore

When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:33-34 (NIV).

9/20/11 Update: I linked this poem at dVerse Poets Pub for the Open Link Night Week 10.

 

 

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Understanding Vindictiveness in the Psalms and Real Life

I’ve been reading (slowly) Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis. It is going slowly in part because, having read through chapter 4, I was compelled to go back and reread chapter 3. The title of chapter 3 is “The Cursings.” As is typical with Lewis, he begins this book by first addressing the more troubling aspects of his overall topic before getting on to the more palatable aspects. This chapter is sandwiched between the chapters on “Judgment in the Psalms” and “Death in the Psalms,” both of which were interesting and challenging.

But there was something about chapter 3 that seemed particularly interesting to me. There is something in this chapter that shines a light on the topic of mercy that I and some fellow bloggers have written about recently, and that light reveals a very different side of the equation.

First, what exactly does Lewis mean by the cursings? Some specific examples that he refers to include:

 6 Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy;
   let an accuser stand at his right hand.
7 When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
   and may his prayers condemn him.
8 May his days be few;
   may another take his place of leadership.
9 May his children be fatherless
   and his wife a widow.
10 May his children be wandering beggars;
   may they be driven from their ruined homes.
11 May a creditor seize all he has;
   may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
12 May no one extend kindness to him
   or take pity on his fatherless children.
13 May his descendants be cut off,
   their names blotted out from the next generation.
14 May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD;
   may the sin of his mother never be blotted out.
15 May their sins always remain before the LORD,
   that he may blot out their name from the earth.
Psalm 109:6-15 (NIV).

8 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
   happy is the one who repays you
   according to what you have done to us.
9 Happy is the one who seizes your infants
   and dashes them against the rocks.
Psalm 137:8-9 (NIV).

This sort of cursing, even of one’s enemies, seems quite harsh to Lewis, as it does to me. And yet there is something in me that imagines that God will treat the truly wicked in such a way. Those who abuse women and small children, those who commit murder and seem to have no remorse, and those who greedily swindle the elderly and the downtrodden out of their last penny, deserve such punishment, and so this type of cursing seems natural.

But when we read the words of Christ telling us to ” love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43 (NIV)), it is difficult to reconcile this with the prayers of cursing that are found in the Psalms. I have often, in my own thinking, reconciled these seemingly conflicting notions with the understanding that the Psalmist trusted God to know when to answer the prayer of cursing because God knows the hearts of the enemy that is being cursed. I think Lewis has pondered out a better way to reconcile the cursings and the command to love, and shown the value of an attitude that might lead one to pray such a prayer in relation to the truly wicked.

Lewis tells a story of overhearing some soldiers during World War II who believed that their government had fabricated the evils of Hitler and the Nazi regime in order to “pep up” the troops; and yet those soldiers were not the least bit bothered by this. “That our rulers should falsely attribute the worst of crimes to some of their fellow-men in order to induce others of their fellow-men to shed their blood seemed to them a matter of course.” Reflections, pg. 29. Lewis argued that these uncaring soldiers were in a worse condition than the vindictive Psalmist because they had seemingly lost any moral compass of right and wrong. Although a vindictive reaction might be a sin, it at least indicated an awareness that a wrong had been committed.

Lewis goes on to write:

Thus the absence of anger, especially that sort of anger which we call indignation, can, in my opinion, be a most alarming symptom. And the presence of indignation may be a good one. Even when that indignation passes into bitter personal vindictiveness, it may still be a good symptom, though bad in itself. It is a sin; but it at least shows that those who commit it have not sunk below the level at which the temptation to that sin exists — just as the sins (often quite appalling) of the great patriot or the great reformer point to something in him above mere self. If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously. For if we look at their railings we find they are usually angry not simply because these things have been done to them but because these things are manifestly wrong, are hateful to God as well as to the victim. Reflections, pg. 30.

Of course, as Lewis also points out, the danger exists of letting one’s indignation over wrongs that are hateful to God turn into self-righteousness, spiritual pride, and persecuting zeal. As with many good intentions and aspirations, taken to an extreme hating sin can become the sin of hating the sinner, and forgetting one’s own sinful nature.

I still believe that the better course of action, when faced with someone who has committed an evil act, is to pray for their repentance and salvation. It is far better, in God’s kingdom, that the lost be found than that they be abandoned. But I am grateful to Lewis for shedding light on a different side of the indignation and vindictiveness I have seen expressed towards various “evil” people who have been in the news. That’s what I love about C.S. Lewis; I always find something in his writings that challenge my thinking and help me to better understand God and my fellow human beings.

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Silence in the Face of Accusations

One of my favorite Old Testament prophecies about Jesus is found in Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12, titled “The Suffering and Glory of the Servant.” Within these words about what would happen to Jesus when He was crucified, we find this passage that holds for us a wonderful example of how we should respond to accusations, complaints, and persecution.

He was oppressed and afflicted,
   yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
   and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
   so he did not open his mouth.
Isaiah 53:7 (NIV).

This verse was fulfilled during Jesus’ “trial” before Pilate:

But when the leading priests and the elders made their accusations against him, Jesus remained silent. “Don’t you hear all these charges they are bringing against you?” Pilate demanded. But Jesus made no response to any of the charges, much to the governor’s surprise. Matthew 27:12-14 (NIV).

Sometimes in life, we face opposition. Others say things about us that are unkind, maybe not even true, in an attempt to provoke us or to get us into trouble with someone else. Jesus warned that we would face troubles and persecution, even that others might hate us because of Him. He told His disciples and us: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b (NIV). So the fact that others unfairly complain about us and that we face troubles is not really all that surprising.

Painting hung at the Cathedral of St. John the Devine in New York City

What is important is how we respond in such situations. Jesus provided an example for us to follow when He remained silent before the accusations of the leading priests and elders. I have found that His example is a good one.

Many years ago in a previous job, I faced a situation in which someone unfairly suggested that I and the people I supervised were not doing our best. At the time, I did not follow Jesus’ example. Instead, I became very angry and basically chewed the person out in front of a bunch of other people. I am not proud of that moment, and within 30 minutes of storming out of the meeting I felt compelled to apologize to all those present. I had not been a good role model for my staff and I had not been a good witness for my Christian faith. That was also the end of any helpful relationship with the person I had yelled at.

I suppose I could say I was like Jesus when He overturned the tables of the money changers in the temple, and that my anger was righteous in that I was defending my staff; but that would just be making excuses for my own poor behavior.

I have since learned there is a better way to deal with complaints, accusations, and persecution. The better way is to follow Jesus’ example of staying calm in the face of opposition. Often, by staying calm and saying nothing until the time is right, we allow others to see the falsity of the accusations against us rather than being convinced by our angry response that the accusations must be true. The saying “Methinks the lady doth protest too much” from Hamlet comes to mind.

The natural reaction to being falsely accused or having someone complain about us is to want to vehemently defend ourselves against anything being said against us, but that natural reaction does not often work to our advantage; nor does it further the Kingdom of God because it does not show the difference faith in Him makes in our lives. Responding with Holy Spirit gentleness and self-control will go a long way.

So the next time you face opposition or accusations, remember Jesus’ example. Step back and pray about it, just as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane when He knew persecution was on its way. Then when complaints and false accusations come, remain calm and silent until the Holy Spirit bids you speak. When you do respond, do so with gentleness and self-control so that others might see the work of God within you, and He be glorified.

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