Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

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6 Lessons from Failure

Michael Jordan QuoteA few years ago I was excited to be a part of a professional learning organization that was bringing John Maxwell into our community for a speaking engagement. I was very active in promoting the event, including placing an article in my department’s newsletter at work. However, in doing so, I had overlooked the impact that hundreds of people attending the event would have on my department’s budget. I was too focused on publicizing the event to see the big picture. After being questioned about that by a senior leader, being told to come up with a plan and then discussing it with her, she stated, “Well, I hope you learned something from this.” That was quite the understatement.

We all make mistakes and fail from time to time. I have struggled with a fear of failure for as long as I can remember. A few years ago I read Dr. Alan Zimmerman’s book Pivot: How One Turn in Attitude Can Lead to Success with a team member. I remember joking as we started the book that it was funny that two positive people with good attitudes were reading a book about attitude. However, as it turned out, Dr. Zimmerman included chapters about worry and failure in the book. I have to admit that I worry about failing. My wife can tell you that I tended to stress about each new class at seminary after receiving the syllabus. After looking it over and feeling overwhelmed before class even started, I thought there was just no way I was going to be able to do it.

Since we all fail, the key is what we do with those experiences. I’ve been helped in this area by John Maxwell’s books Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn and Failing Forward. Maxwell has written that the major difference between achieving people and average people is their perception of, and response to, failure.

Here are six lessons from failure:

  1. Failure is difficult, but worth it. Anyone who has tried something and come up short (and that is all of us!) knows that it can be painful. Think of a child learning to ride a bike. There could be some skinned knees and elbows experienced before success is achieved. John Maxwell has written that those things that hurt, instruct. Can you think of failures that have been painful but well worth it in retrospect?
  2. Failure isn’t necessarily bad. We can be so afraid of making mistakes that we never take any risks, and just play it safe. As a result, we aren’t innovative or moving our organizations forward. Instead, we hold back and never achieve results that we could have. John Maxwell has written that if you succeed at everything you are doing then you are most likely not taking enough risks and not really moving forward. Are you so afraid of making a mistake or failing that you don’t take any risks?
  3. Don’t make the same mistake twice. Mistakes are going to happen. The key is to learn something from them and not make the same mistake again. If you do make the same mistake over and over, then you haven’t learned anything and there will have to be consequences. However, if you learn from your mistakes and don’t make them again, that can be a positive experience. What is a mistake that you learned from?
  4. Share your experiences with others. I have shared the story that opened this article with many people since it took place about eight years ago to encourage others to learn from their mistakes. John Maxwell has written that mistakes are painful when they happen but years later a collection of mistakes is what is called experience. Share your experiences with others so that they can learn from you.
  5. Practice makes perfect. Think of something you’ve worked hard at to master, such as playing the piano, hitting a golf ball or making a presentation. Chances are your early efforts to learn these new skills were embarrassing, but they helped you to grow and develop those skills. Malcolm Gladwell talked about the “10,000 hour rule” in his book Outliers to illustrate his point that achievement is talent plus preparation. What is something that you failed at for some time but now are proficient at?
  6. Be motivated by failure. I worked with a summer intern a few years back who told me that she was stirred up when someone told her that she couldn’t do something. That made her all the more motivated to prove them wrong. Another team member demonstrated to me on several occasions that he could take feedback, sometimes hard to hear and disappointing, and turn it around and use it for something positive. Make failure your friend and be motivated by it.

These are just a few examples of lessons from failure. There are many, many more. What lessons do you have that you could share?

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MOVIE REVIEW ~ Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Mission Impossible;  Rogue NationMission Impossible: Rogue Nation, rated PG-13

The fifth film in the Mission Impossible series over nineteen years with Tom Cruise is also my top film of 2015 thus far. It is an exciting, well-made film right from the incredible opening scene, which will remind you of an opening sequence from a James Bond film. The film includes deception and betrayal, action scenes featuring car and motorcycle chases, a fight high above the stage of an opera, a scene underwater, beautiful scenery from London, Vienna, and Casablanca, a strong cast and a score featuring the familiar Mission Impossible music.

Cruise, who looks great and shows no sign of aging at 53, returns as Ethan Hunt. He and the IMF (Impossible Mission Force) team – Jeremy Renner as William Brandt, Simon Pegg as Benji Dunn and Ving Rhames as Luther Stickell – continue to pursue the Syndicate, an international rogue organization. In the opening scene Tom Cruise as Ethan climbs on the outside of a flying airplane (an Airbus A400M) without the use of special effects or a stunt double. At times he was suspended on the aircraft 5000 feet in the air. Cruise who tends to do his own stunts was injured 6 times during the making of the movie.

But back in the United States, the IMF is shut down by CIA Director Hunley (Alec Baldwin). Brandt then becomes a part of the CIA. Ethan is in London pursuing Solomon Lane, played by Sean Harris. This will be the last IMF mission, as Hunley is now pursuing Ethan. Rebecca Ferguson plays a major role as the British Ilsa Faust. Throughout the film you don’t know whose side she’s on. She’s working for Lane, but seems to help Ethan at times. Can she be trusted?

The film is written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who won an Oscar for writing The Usual Suspects in 1995, and has worked with Cruise in last year’s excellent Edge of Tomorrow, 2012’s Jack Reacher and 2008’s Valkyrie. The previous film’s (Ghost Protocol) director Brad Bird turned this film down to direct the boring Tomorrowland (big mistake). In fact, each of the five Mission Impossible films have had different directors.

The film earns it’s PG-13 rating from the violence you would expect in a Mission Impossible film. There is no sexual content and minimal adult language. It’s the perfect summer film to enjoy. Highly recommended!

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MOVIE REVIEW ~ The Wolfpack

The WolfpackThe Wolfpack, rated R

This documentary is directed by Crystal Moselle. It won the 2015 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, and is most likely unlike any story you’ve ever seen before.

Moselle ran into six young men (the Angulo brothers, nicknamed the Wolfpack), wearing dark suits and sunglasses, on a New York City street. She asked them about their story which is told in this film, mostly through the boy’s own words.

The director found out that the boys had rarely been allowed to leave their family’s four bedroom apartment in a public housing complex in New York’s Lower East Side. One of the boys tells her that sometimes they would be able to leave nine times a year, sometimes only once.

The boy’s parents (Oscar and Susanne) met in South America. Oscar, their abusive father, doesn’t work, and distrusts the outside world. The boys were taught by Oscar to avoid others and stay indoors. They are homeschooled (it appears effectively), by Susanne, who talks about the bad socialization in schools. The father, a devotee of Hare Krishna, gave all of the children Sanskrit names, and they all have grown their hair very long.

Having their apartment as their entire world, the boys spend their time watching popular films (they have a collection of some 5,000 films), such as Pulp Fiction and The Dark Knight. They then creatively recreate the films in their apartment. We see some footage of that, along with some film from their childhood. Later in the film we see the boys, now between 11 and 18 years old, start to venture out into the real world and attending their first film in a theatre.

In many ways this was a heartbreaking film to watch. It’s hard to imagine these children living almost their entire lives in their New York City apartment. One wonders why their mother allowed this to happen. Although five of the boys are no longer on speaking terms with their father, they seem to have a close bond with each other.  We can recommend this film if you want to see young men triumph over adversity with their creative imaginations.

The film is rated “R” for adult language.

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MOVIE REVIEW ~ Paper Towns

Paper TownsPaper Towns, rated PG-13

The title of Paper Towns refers to a trick that mapmakers use – they will insert fake places (called copyright traps or paper towns) onto their maps to make sure no one is copying them. The film is directed by Jake Shreier, and is adapted from John Green’s 2008 Paper Towns and by The Fault in our Stars (also written by Green) screenwriters Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber.

The film stars Nat Wolff as 17 year-old high school senior Quentin in Orlando, Florida (Wolff also portrayed Isaac in The Fault in Our Stars, which made $307 million internationally). His two best friends are Radar (Justice Smith) and Ben (Austin Abrams).

Quentin has had a crush on neighbor Margo Roth Spiegelman, played by Cara Delevingne, ever since her family moved into the neighborhood. The two were inseparable when young, but have grown apart as Margo has gotten more popular. She’s now the most popular and mysterious girl in school. In real-life, Delevingne is also one of the highest paid models in the world. Shailene Woodley from The Fault in Our Stars, was originally cast as Margo, but had to drop out due to the clash of filming schedules with Insurgent.

After taking Quentin on an all-night vengeful adventure through Orlando (which she tells him will be the best night of his life), Margo suddenly disappears and leaves behind clues as to where she might be. She has always liked mysteries and clues, and has run away five times before. As a result, Margo’s mother isn’t concerned about her, but Quentin is, even though they had barely talked for nine years. He believes he knows from the clues he has found where Margo is. Time for a road trip just before Prom. Tagging along for the unplanned road trip are Ben, Radar and his girlfriend Angela (Jaz Sinclair), and Margo’s former best friend Lacey (Halston Sage), who’s worried about what might have happened to Margo.

The movie kept my interest and didn’t necessarily go the way I thought it would. The film shows the friendship of best friends Quentin, Ben and Radar, who will soon be going their separate ways to different colleges. It also includes some brief male nudity (played for laughs), a lot of teenage sexual dialogue, the abuse of God’s names several times, along with some adult language.

The movie was filmed over five days in the Skybrook neighborhood of Huntersville, NC (North of Charlotte) in mid to late November 2014. The author, John Green, who also serves as executive producer, makes a cameo as the voice of the shotgun-wielding father of Chuck. He states about his books, “Basically, I wanted a different definition of “paper towns” for each section of the book, each representing a different way of Quentin imagining Margo. In the first part, he’s viewing Margo very one-dimensionally. She’s paper-thin to him; she is nothing but the object of his affection. In the second part, he’s seeing a girl who’s half there and half not–so he’s thinking about her with more complexity but still not really thinking of her as a human being. In the final part of the novel, his complex imagining reconnects him to her, albeit not in the way he might’ve hoped.”

Patrick Lencioni Quote

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5 Ways to Build Trust at Work

Patrick Lencioni QuoteI’m increasingly reminded of the importance of trust in healthy work (and all), relationships. I’ve read books by authors such as Patrick Lencioni, Stephen M.R. Covey and Ken Blanchard on the subject over the past few years. Dave Kraft recently posted a helpful article entitled “I Don’t Trust You”, stating “When it comes to business, church and family (just about anything having to do with relationships), trust is critical. Probably one of the worst things anyone can say to another person is, ‘I don’t trust you.’”

In his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, one of the most helpful books I’ve read and a book I refer to often, Lencioni states that trust is the foundation of real teamwork. Covey writes that the first job of a leader – at work or home – is to inspire trust. He states that regardless of the relationship – sports team, business or family, if you can’t trust one another there’s going to be trouble.

If trust is so important, how can we build and maintain it? Here are five ways:

  1. Start with trust. Ken Blanchard writes that trust is a delicate thing, taking a long time to build, but it can be lost in a matter of minutes. My parents often told me that it is the last thing that someone does that people remember you for. Think of the sad Bill Cosby situation, for example. In the expectations/philosophies document I send new team members I state “You have my trust – that is my starting point. You will have it unless you give me reason to withhold that trust”. Where do you begin in regards to trust?
  2. Maintain trust by developing strong relationships. Lencioni writes that like a good marriage, trust on a team is never complete but must be maintained over time. Covey states that in relationships of high trust we can say the wrong thing and people will still get our meaning. However, in relationships of low trust we can be very measured and precise but people will still misinterpret us. How do you build strong relationships so that you can maintain trust with your teams? See my article, “5 Ways to Know Your Team Members Better”.
  3. Show trust in action. Blanchard writes that today we hear a lot of talk about trust and even more about the lack of it. He states that people need to see trust in action more than they need to hear about it. What are some ways you show trust in action? For example, are you able to keep confidential things that people share with you? Do you keep your word and can people depend on it?
  4. Work hard to restore trust. Even if we start with trust, there are times we will do or say things that will damage trusting relationships. We need to work to restore that trust by being accountable and repentant. Lencioni states that the key ingredient to building trust is not time, but courage. Members of trusting teams admit weaknesses and mistakes to one another. A friend once told me that once trust is lost, she will never give it again. I don’t think that’s a healthy approach. What do you do when trust needs to be restored?
  5. Be intentional about maintaining trust. Demonstrate daily that those you work with can count on you. By consistently showing trustworthiness in action on a daily basis and over a long period of time, you make daily deposits into your trust account with each team member. How do you intentionally do that?

These are just a few thoughts on how to build and maintain trust at work. There are many, many more. What are you doing to build trust with those you work with?

music quote

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Music News:

  • This is Not a Test - Toby MacNew Toby Mac Album. This Is Not A Test, Toby Mac’s first album since Eye on It debuted at the top of the charts three years ago, will be released August 7. Four songs have been released thus far, and this looks to be one of the top releases of the year.
  • Andy Mineo Uncomfortable Tour. For those of you in the Midwest, you might want to check out Andy Mineo at the House of Blues in Chicago on October 17.
  • My Worth is Not in What I Own. Keith Getty writes “’My Worth Is Not in What I Own’ is a song that speaks to the subject of worth by reminding us that true significance is found in our identity in Christ.
  • All I Have is Christ. Tony Reinke interviews Bob and Jordan Kauflin about their hymn “All I Have is Christ”, which is one that we sing regularly in our church.

Music Quotes:music quote

  • Nothing will happen today that hasn’t first ran through the good intentions of the Sovereign God. So why worry? KB
  • Let’s be honest. No one is ever truly “just saying”.  Propaganda

Song of the Week

He’s All You Need by Steve Camp

This week we look at Steve Camp’s “He’s All You Need”, a song that was a blessing to me during Tammy’s serious illness early in our marriage. You can listen to the song here.

When you’re alone, your heart is torn, He is all you need.
When you’re confused, your soul is bruised, He is all you need.
He’s the rock of your soul, He’s the anchor that holds
Through your desperate time.
When your way is unsure His love will endure, a peace you will find
Through all your years, the joy, the tears, He is all you needSteve Camp

When you give in to that familiar sin, He is all you need
Guilt as you’re paralyzed, it slowly it eats you alive,
He is all you need
He’ll be faithful to you though your heart is untrue
And your love’s grown cold
His forgiveness is real, it’ll comfort and heal your sin-weary soul
Well, God loves you so, He’ll never let you go
He is all you need.

He’ll be faithful to you though your heart is untrue
And your love’s grown cold
His forgiveness is real, to comfort and heal your sin-weary soul
Through all your years, the joy, the tears, He is all you need.


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Book Reviews

A Well Ordered ChurchA Well-Ordered Church: Laying a Foundation for a Vibrant Church by William Boekestein and Daniel R Hyde. Evangelical Press. 190 pages. 2015

This book is written by two pastors about organizing and running a Reformed church based on principles from Scripture and Reformed Confessions. It is well-written, and will be most helpful to pastors and elders as they read and discuss how to be a “well-ordered church”.

The authors state that the goal of the book is to bring us back to the basics of ecclesiology, or, the biblical doctrine of the church. They include helpful discussion questions and resources for further reading at the end of each chapter. The discussion questions will aid in applying the information included in the chapter, and will be helpful as church leadership teams discuss the book.

As an elder in a Presbyterian Church in American (PCA) church, I read this book with particular interest. The authors organized the book into four categories:

  1. Identity. What is the church in general? Who are we as a church in particular?
  2. Authority. On a practical level, from whom do we as a church receive our marching orders? How does a church make decisions?
  3. Ecumenicity. How should one church relate to other churches?
  4. Activity. What is our mission? What should we as a church be doing?

As I read the book I was mentally comparing how we organize and run our church with what the authors were saying. A few thoughts that I found particularly helpful or challenging were the following:

  • Do the pastors, elders, and deacons regularly visit their members to check up on their spiritual and physical well-being?
  • A well-ordered church is a teaching church, a worshiping church, a witnessing church, and a repenting church.
  • Worship is the goal of the church’s mission.
  • A current trend is to allow contemporary culture rather than Scripture to determine the manner of the church’s worship. Ironically, God specifically warns against this.
  • The practice of removing children from the worship service is a relatively new invention reflective of our consumer-driven culture with its desire for choice and specialization.
  • Missionaries should not be accountable to a board or network but to the leaders of an organized church of Christ.
  • The priority of the mission of the church over that of para-church organizations should also impact the way congregants and congregations tithe. Honest para-church organizations tell their audience that their first responsibility is to give to the local church.
  • Unfortunately, for many churches and Christians, evangelism and missions is an appendix rather than a core component of their task.
  • Non-witnessing churches are definitely not well-ordered.
  • There are a million and one causes that your local church could be supporting; but our priority should be to fund ordained ministers planting churches. This means that our congregations need to be allocating a sizeable portion of our spending to foreign missions.
  • Many of us don’t witness because we lack a method.
  • The church is a reflection of God. When rebellion is permitted in the church of God, his reputation suffers.

The authors include an Appendix on Foundational Principles of Reformed Church Government.

I found this book to be helpful. As Michael Horton writes, all readers may not agree with everything presented in the book. However, where you don’t, you will be challenged from Scripture and historic Reformed Confessions as to why you might disagree.

 Discovering God's Will by Sinclair FergusonDiscovering God’s Will by Sinclair Ferguson. Banner of Truth. 128 pages. 1982.

A few months ago Banner of Truth finally announced that they would begin offering some of their excellent books in an e-book format. That was great news for me as I almost exclusively read e-books on Kindle, while also listening to audiobooks. Sinclair Ferguson is one of my favorite authors/preachers, and I’ve seen him at Ligonier Ministries National Conferences since 1997 and read several of his books. This one is well worth reading in any format.

This books is about guidance. Ferguson states:

“There are three particular areas in which we form patterns of life which largely determine the whole course of life. We form patterns of behaviour—a life-style. We decide which occupation and career we will pursue. We decide to marry or not to marry. To each of these areas of vital concern, I have devoted a chapter. You will find principles which, when conscientiously applied to your own circumstances, will keep you in the pathway along which God’s will may be discovered. To that extent I have tried to deal with practical issues.”

Ferguson writes that he has tried to convey that we learn about guidance primarily by learning about the Guide. It is the knowledge of God and His ways with men which ultimately gives us stability in doing his will. His prayer is that the book will provide the reader some help and clarification about how God will guide us and perhaps be granted illumination on the very areas of our lives which perplex us at the moment.

For a short book, I highlighted a significant number of passages. I would like to share some of them with you below:

  • The very idea that God guides us implies that we live according to the path which he has laid down, that our lives have a purpose in the present, as well as a destiny for the future.
  • There is, in fact, no more basic question for us to ask than this: Will this course of action tend to further the glory of God? Is the glory of God the driving principle of our actions? If we do not seek his glory, we cannot be walking in the way of his blessing. If we seek his glory, then we can be sure that we shall discover his light shed on our paths.
  • What does it mean that our lives should reflect his glory? It means likeness to Jesus. To live for the glory of God means to imitate Jesus. It means to live in dependence on the Holy Spirit who has been given to us with the specific function of bringing glory to Jesus in our lives (John 16:14). It means to live in dependence on the Holy Spirit who has been given to us with the specific function of bringing glory to Jesus in our lives (John 16:14). According to Ephesians 4:20-24, it means to live in righteousness and holiness.
  • If there is one critical issue we must face about divine guidance it is this one. Is Scripture our guide? Is Scripture ultimately ‘the only rule to direct us how we may glorify’ God?
  • How then does God make his will known to us? Primarily by teaching us about himself and our relationship to him. As we come to know the character of God, and his ways with men, we shall increasingly discover this wisdom—that is, the practical knowledge of his will and the ways in which it is to be put into action.
  • The chief need we have, therefore, is that of increased familiarity with and sensitivity to the wisdom of his Word.
  • Very often when young people say they are having problems about guidance, what they are really faced with is a problem about obedience. The issue at stake is whether we will walk along the paths of righteousness in which God will lead us.
  • The experience of discovering the will of God has two aspects to it. We have been considering some of the objective guidelines which Scripture provides. But there is also a subjective element in coming to know God’s will. After all, it is my life, not another’s, and my obedience, not another’s, which are involved in my coming to the conviction that one specific course of action is the Lord’s will for my life.
  • The point of contact between God’s revealed will and my personal obedience and walk in his will for my own life lies in the heart.
  • Before God, as we seek his guidance, there must be a developing harmony between our motivations to serve him, and a true condition of the heart. There must be fear and humility, and also obedience and trust.
  • How are we to walk worthy of God? Paul indicates that it is by living in a way that is consistent with his revealed character. To live in the will of God is to walk in love, to walk in light and to walk in wisdom.
  • The first characteristic of walking in the light is separation. The child of God will not become a partner in sin, nor with men in the pursuit of sin. The second characteristic—his life is identified by contrast. He was once darkness, but now he is light in the Lord!
  • There is no sincerity in our profession to want the will of God in our lives if we are not in tune with his will for personal holiness.
  • Few things are more common among those who complain that guidance has become a very frustrating thing for them than the failure to use the present opportunities God has given to them!
  • Guidance is the way in which God leads us as we think through the implications of his truth, and seek to find practical application of it in our lives. It involves using our minds to think through the path which God wants us to take in his service. It requires familiarity with Scripture, and fellowship with the Spirit, who alone knows the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:11-13).
  • Wherever we search in Scripture for teaching on the guidance of God, we invariably meet this combination. Guidance is supernatural; the will of God is made known to us spiritually. That is why we need to walk in the Spirit. But it is also made known to us through the Word. That is why we must walk intelligently in the Spirit.
  • No action which is contrary to the plain Word of God can ever be legitimate for the Christian. No appeal to spiritual freedom or to providential circumstances can ever make what is ethically wrong anything else but sinful. For the Christian is free only to love and obey the law of God. Therein lies his true freedom.
  • The question I must learn to ask is: Will it bring benefits, as far as I am able to judge, so that my relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ is strengthened? Will it draw me nearer to him? We are no longer speaking about whether a course of action is lawful for the Christian. We are considering only actions which are. But something which has a neutral influence on one person may be detrimental to another.
  • So the real question is: Can I take Christ there and look him in the face without shame? Is this course of action, this decision I am taking, totally consistent with my personal confession that ‘Jesus Christ is my Lord’?
  • We must not rest content with asking whether a course of action will be personally helpful. Will it have a like beneficial effect on others? Indeed, do I engage in it with a view to serving and helping them?
  • ‘What would Paul have done?’ ‘What would Christ himself have done?’. These are the questions we can now ask. Are there incidents, or is there teaching in Scripture, which can be applied to the situation in which I find myself?
  • Is it lawful? Is it helpful? Is it enslaving? Is it consistent with the Lordship of Christ? Is it helpful to others? Is it consistent with the example of Christ and the apostles? Is it for the glory of God? For that matter, am I living for the glory of God?
  • For the Christian the choice of a life-calling will be seen as one of the most important decisions he ever makes. It will determine many aspects of his life. It is essential therefore to be assured that we are doing the will of God.
  • There is no text in the Bible which tells you: This is what you are to do with your life. There are texts which say: These are things which you must not do. How then are we to arrive at the personal knowledge of God’s will?
  • We will never come to know and enjoy the will of the Lord, and find it good, perfect and acceptable until we first gain a true view of God and his fatherly character towards us.
  • If we are to marry, only God can bring us to the person we are to marry. There are principles enshrined in Scripture which will give stability, safety and wisdom to you as you contemplate the prospect, or possibility, of marriage.
  • For such people, there is a final word of biblical counsel. It has a wide application and is relevant to every Christian who longs to know the will of God. It is the one word: WAIT! Wait for the Lord!
  • We are sometimes unwilling to bow to the sovereign providences of God in our lives. We become bitter against him, and consequently refuse to wait for his leading. We become frustrated with God.
  • All impatience can be traced back to a disbelief in God’s ultimate goodness. That is why, if we are to appreciate the wisdom of God’s guidance, it is important for us to understand not only the nature of his guidance, but the character of the Guide himself. Trust him for his goodness, and we will trust him for his guidance!
  • God has his own place and time to act. He has his purposes to fulfil in us as well as his will to reveal to us.
  • The fact that we cannot see what God is doing does not mean that he is doing nothing. The Lord has his own timetable. It is we who must learn to adjust to it, not vice versa.
  • Do you not see that only in his will can you ever find the glory of God and the joy for which he created you? Will you not respond, and begin again to walk.

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