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Does it Matter What My Church Believes?

church doctrineJust last month, my husband and I moved to a new town. Yesterday, we began the search for the church God has for us. Our actual address may be small town Texas, but since we live on the fringes of the Dallas/Ft Worth area, church choices abound. We could visit for months – maybe even years – without attending the same church twice.

How do we begin? How can we narrow our search? Before we made the first visit, we narrowed the possibilities significantly based on what the church believes.

What? Doesn’t the preaching and the music and the programs and the community involvement carry a lot of weight? Does a church’s doctrine really matter that much?

Yes, a church’s doctrine is that important. Not only do the biblical truths and principles on which it stands shape its people and its ministry, but if what it believes does not align correctly with God’s Word, then the church is not following Christ.

I realize that’s a bold, brazen statement, but it’s based on the teaching of the New Testament. For instance, in Paul’s letters to the churches in Corinth and Galatia, one of his primary purposes in writing was to combat false teaching and to admonish them to cling to the truth of Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Galatians 1:6-9). Paul describes the warped gospel they were following as “no gospel at all.”

And in the book of Revelation, Jesus Himself called the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira to repent from following false teaching before they experienced God’s discipline (Revelation 2:14-16, 20-22).

Yes, what a church believes – and therefore teaches and acts on – absolutely matters.

I can hear wheels turning. Do you mean everything? What about the differences between denominations? Are you saying that only one denomination is right?!

Many differences between denominations and even individual churches within denominations are peripheral to the heart of God’s gospel. They do not impact key doctrinal truths. These kinds of differences can be held loosely. In fact, we can enjoy and even celebrate the variety within God’s church.

Things like style of music, order of worship, and areas of ministry focus broaden and strengthen the worldwide church. Even other beliefs like the role of women in ministry, the view of end times, and the structure of church leadership are not considered core essential truths. These types of areas are considered “minor doctrines.” There is room for differences.

But in other areas, those considered to be “major doctrines,” there is little if any room for difference. With these doctrines – ones that are central to Christianity and have significant impact on other doctrines – we must hold firm. These fundamental truths flow from the nature and character of God and His saving work.

We can’t fully cover all these major doctrines in one blog post. But here is a quick list of many of these essential truths:

  • The nature of God
  • The Trinity
  • The deity of Jesus
  • The authority of the Bible
  • The nature of mankind and our need for salvation
  • Salvation solely through faith in Jesus
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus
  • The return of Jesus

What a church believes about essential doctrines are deal breakers for me and my husband. For instance, if a church believes there is something more required for salvation than faith in Jesus – or that salvation can be found anywhere else – that one doesn’t make the cut. If a church doesn’t hold to the truth that God is one God yet three distinct persons, there is no need for us to visit.

Why are we so dogmatic? A church that does not hold to the essential truths of the Christian gospel is not following the gospel at all. Overall, as believers, we can be gracious in those minor doctrines, the non-essentials, but we must be hold tight to the essential truths of our faith.

If you aren’t sure what your church believes about the major doctrines, find out. Many churches have “statement of beliefs” on their website. (I even have one on this website!) If you aren’t sure what you believe, start studying! Of course the Bible is your first and primary source. But if you’d like some additional resources, check out the list below.

Do you know what your church believes about the major doctrines? Does it matter to you?

Suggested Reading:

 

 

 

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A New Chapter Begins

Yesterday my parents said goodbye to friends and paid a final visit to the house they called home for almost 50 years. Today, we begin a two-journey to their new home 700 miles away.

Dad’s health took a nose-dive last summer. Three hospital stays back to back sapped his strength and he ended up in a nursing facility for extended rehab. Since mom cannot stay home alone, she joined him. This arrangement was intended to be very temporary.

Many of you know how difficult it is to watch over someone from a distance. My parents have lived in Shreveport, Louisiana their entire lives. I live in Houston (for another month anyway, but that’s another story.) My brother lives in Knoxville, Tennessee. Our goal – my brother’s and mine – was to move them to Knoxville.

Finally, after months of getting their affairs in order, the journey to Knoxville begins! The bulk of their belongings are already waiting for them in their new home, which is one mile from my brother’s home. My husband Wayne and I, Mom and Dad, two little dogs, and the last of their belongings will caravan in two cars over two days.

Knoxville or bust!


Yesterday was bittersweet. We took mom and dad back to their house for a final visit. The rooms were empty and the walls bare, but the memories were still there. Dad sat in the middle of the den and pointed out features he loved about the den they added four decades ago. Neighbors popped by to say goodbye.

It’s hard to begin again at any age. But Shreveport is the only home my parents have ever known. But they are looking forward and ready for what God has in store.

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Saying Goodbye to My Childhood Home

HomeI watched as the last of my parents’ belongings were loaded on the moving truck and began the long journey from Louisiana to Tennessee. Except for a stray roll of packing tape and a few water bottles all the rooms are empty. Well, not really empty. Each space holds memories. Every corner echoes with days gone by.

I know. I sound pretty melodramatic. But I’m feeling really sentimental, so maybe you can humor me for just a few minutes?

My parents lived in that home for almost 50 years. They raised two children. Hosted countless youth and church events. Endured dozens of slumber parties and probably hundreds of sleepovers. Our home was truly open to everyone. My mother was always the life of every party. I think my friends came to see her more than they did me. My dad was the most patient and giving man I’ve known.

Some memories stand out from the others. Like the 4th of July when a firecracker ignited a gas leak by the sidewalk and the fire department closed off our entire block. And when I backed over the mailbox and wedged it under the car. And when my heart was broken and my mom hurt with me.

All these and more are part of me. The house on Dianne Street was center stage. It was home base for our family and a training ground for faith. Our parents purposefully and consistently shared Jesus and the things of God with me and my younger brother, both verbally and by example. They lived a life of faith that made me want it too.

They have also loved well. We never had to doubt their love for each other or for us. And although circumstances are very different today, they still love each other well and their affection is still obvious.

Life is difficult for my folks right now. Leaving their home was a necessity, not a choice. That makes the empty house even more bittersweet. But we will do our best to love them well. We have had fine examples.

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Spiritual Junk Food

Spiritual Junk FoodYesterday, in the grocery store, I made some poor choices. The Super Bowl was my primary excuse. My husband’s requests ran a close second. But much of the junk food also happened to be my favorites.

Nothing required any preparation and met the requirement of having “plenty of snacks for all four quarters.” Chips. Hot wings. Jalapeno poppers. Ice cream. Popcorn. You know, football food.

Instead of buying real food and committing to the effort I know must accompany it, I bought frozen, pre-made, easy-to-fix, nutritionally lacking junk food. Sadly, the only benefit that kind of food can give is momentary pleasure.

As I loaded my selections on the checkout counter I thought about two things. First, I knew I would regret my “food” choices on Monday. And second, I thought about how often I make the same mistake with my spiritual health. I resist the effort it takes to feast on the nutritional meat of God’s Word and instead binge on spiritual junk food.

The author of Hebrews addressed a similar issue with his readers:

There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.  Hebrews 5:11-14, NLT

These “Peter Pan” Christians didn’t want to grow up. Their diet of spiritual milk temporarily relieved their spiritual hunger. Contentedly skipping along on the surface of their faith, they took in the same basics over and over. They refused to put forth the disciplined effort that spiritual growth and maturity requires. They took the easy path instead of working to ingest the rich, healthy meat of God’s Word.

We often live the same way, filling the holes in our spirits with mere baby food, or even spiritual junk food. We play in the shallows and talk about how great the water is when we could – and should – be in over our heads.

Examples of Spiritual Junk Food

Spiritual junk food sits eye level on the shelf. It’s easy to grab for a quick bite. Here are a few examples:

  • Quick devotional thoughts based on a small passage pulled out of its context
  • Visually pleasing memes with an inspiring, spiritual-light slogan
  • On-the-run prayers substituted for time on our knees

Characteristics of Spiritual Junk Food

While a few things on the spiritual fast-food menu can give some benefit – I enjoy a beautiful meme as much as the next person – they should be appetizers or snacks, not the basis for our spiritual diet. Evaluate your spiritual diet by reflecting on these characteristics of spiritual junk food:

  • Gives quick, but fleeting spiritual satisfaction
  • Lacks deep, real spiritual value
  • Provides a “feel good” spiritual high with no correction, challenge, or call to obedience

Our spiritual health requires preparation, hard work, discipline, and persistence. If we want to be spiritually mature, we must train ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7-8). We can’t microwave spiritual growth.

How’s your basic spiritual diet? Is there some junk food in your diet you weren’t even aware of?

If you’d like to evaluate your discipleship check out this post.

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Lasting Joy DOES Depend on Your Circumstances

joyI’ve heard it said that, unlike happiness, Christian joy has nothing to do with our circumstances. Makes sense right? Jesus both assured us we would have trouble in the world (John 16:33) and promised us that no one would take away our joy (John 16:22).

Difficult circumstances and lasting joy. So surely, Christian joy has nothing to do with our circumstances. Circumstantial “happiness” and lasting joy have to be different. Right?

But wait just a second… when I looked up the meaning for the Hebrew and Greek words most often translated as “joy” they have essentially the same meaning as “happiness.” Biblical joy can be defined this way:

Joy, gladness, pleasure, happiness; the opposite of grief and sorrow; feelings that result from circumstances

 The difference in fleeting joy/happiness and the joy no one can take away is the circumstances on which we base it. If we look to our temporary, earthly circumstances for joy, it will be stolen from us time and again. But if we rely on our eternal circumstances, our joy will be firm and secure.

3 Circumstances for Lasting Joy

Although I know my list could be longer, here are three reasons for lasting joy God gives us in His Word:

  1. Salvation (1 Peter 1:5-9) – Peter beautifully shows how rejoicing in our eternal salvation far outweighs the grief of our temporary earthly trials. In the midst of our trials we are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
  2. God’s Love (Romans 8:35-39) – Paul experienced great hardships and persecutions in this life. In spite of these things he experienced the joy of Christ (Philippians 1:18). How? No matter what he suffered, nothing could separate him from the love of God.
  3. Intimate Fellowship with Christ (John 15:5-11) – On the night He was betrayed and arrested, Jesus wanted to make sure His followers knew how to find their joy in Him. As we “abide” in Christ – stay closely and vitally connected to Him in obedient relationship – our joy will “be complete.”

Are you experiencing this kind of joy? You can! Read these Scripture passages and ask God to show you how to find joy in your eternal circumstances!

What other “reasons for joy” do you see in Scripture? Let’s share them with each other today!

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3 Tips to Help You Fight Off Satan’s Attacks

Unbeaten Lindsey BellThis post is part of Lindsey Bell’s blog tour to celebrate her new Bible study and devotional, Unbeaten: How Biblical Heroes Rose Above Their Pain (and you can too). To celebrate the release, she’s giving away a HUGE bundle of books! Leave a comment on this post to be entered to win. Drawing will be Friday, April 29th. You can get more entries by commenting on other blogs in the tour as well. Get a full list of participating blogs here:

Satan’s attacks come in a variety of ways. He attacks us with trials of this life: sicknesses, deaths, car accidents, job loss, infertility, broken relationships, etc. He also attacks us from within: depression, anxiety, and doubt.

In the past five years, he’s attacked me in two primary ways: with secondary infertility and with doubts that resulted from our recurrent miscarriages.

He often whispers into my ear, “Did God really say…” just like he whispered to Eve in the garden years ago.

Did God really say He would never leave you…because it sure does seem like He has left?

Did God really say He loves you…because if He really loved you, He certainly wouldn’t allow this?

Did God really say that prayer is important…because it doesn’t seem to be doing any good in your situation?

Maybe Satan has whispered similar questions into your mind too. Here are a few things that have helped me fight off his attacks.

Unbeaten

3 Tips to Help You Fight Off Satan’s Attacks:

  1. Look to God’s Word.

Just as Jesus used the Bible to fight off Satan’s attack in Matthew 4 when he was tempted in the desert, we can use God’s Word to fight off Satan’s attacks too.

Our feelings can lie to us, but God’s Word will always tell us the truth.

  1. Look Out to Others.

God often uses the Church to help the Church.

What I mean is this: when one of us in the body of Christ is struggling, God often uses another person in the body to encourage him or her.

When we want to fight off Satan’s attacks, the first place we look is in the Scriptures. But it’s also wise to seek accountability, encouragement, and assistance from other believers who have your best interests at heart.

  1. Look Up to God.

1 Corinthians 10:13 says this: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”

God is faithful, and He has promised us that he will provide a way out when we are tempted. So the next time Satan whispers into your ear, look to the Word, look to others for advice, and look to God.

What other things help you fight off the attacks of Satan?

Don’t forget to leave a comment here to enter the book bundle giveaway!

About Unbeaten:

Why does life have to be so hard? If you’ve ever asked this question, you’re not alone. Difficult times often leave Christians searching the Bible for answers to some of life’s most difficult questions.

Questions like:

  • Does God hear me when I pray?
  • Why isn’t He doing anything?
  • Does He even care?

Lindsey BellIn Unbeaten: How Biblical Heroes Rose Above Their Pain (and you can too), Lindsey Bell walks with readers through the stories of men and women in the Bible who went through difficult situations. In this 10-week Bible study and devotional, she addresses many of these questions and helps readers learn how they too can be unbeaten.

About Lindsey Bell:

Lindsey Bell is the author of the Bible study and devotional, Unbeaten, and of the parenting devotional, Searching for Sanity. She’s a stay-at-home mother of two silly boys, a minister’s wife, an avid reader, and a lover of all things chocolate. Lindsey writes weekly at www.lindseymbell.com about faith, family, and learning to love the life she’s been given.

 

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Special Place in Hell?

A little over a week ago at a rally for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright made a bold declaration about hell:

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”

HellThis is not the first time Secretary Albright has used this line. She’s recycled many times over the last ten or twelve years. It’s even appeared on the side of  Starbucks cups. But the underlying message this time was specific and unique. “Women who don’t vote for Hillary for president will experience special punishment in the hereafter.”

Now, I don’t think Albright really believes that. She’s merely using the statement to shame any woman who dare not vote for the female presidential candidate. But I do think it’s foolish to speak about hell so casually. Hell is no joke. And it’s certainly no laughing matter.

I have no idea what Secretary Albright really believes about hell. But her statement last week got me thinking. I don’t think I’ve ever written a post about hell before so I’ll keep this really basic – for your sake as well as mine!

3 Primary Truths the Bible Teaches about Hell

  1. Hell does exist – Numerous New Testament passages speak of the reality of hell (Matthew 10:28, Luke 16:19-24). Jesus Himself clearly taught about two distinct eternal destines (Matthew 13:40-43, Matthew 25:31-46).
  2. Hell is a place of eternal punishment – In hell, God’s righteous wrath will be poured out for all eternity (Matthew 25:46, 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Revelation 14:9-14). But back to Albright’s “special place” statement, are there “special places” in hell? The Bible does seem to indicate more severe punishment for those who’ve had greater opportunities to believe in Jesus (Matthew 11:20-24, Luke 12:47-48).
  3. Hell is reserved for those without a saving relationship with Jesus – Here’s the biggest thing Secretary Albright got wrong. We won’t go to hell if we don’t vote for Hillary. We won’t go to hell if we aren’t “good enough.” No, the thing that sends us to hell is rejection of the one true Savior, Jesus Christ (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, John 3:16-18).

But the Good News is…

I know, we need some Good News about now. The Bible says that God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell. God wants all people to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9). Our sins have separated us from God and earned us the death penalty (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23). Without Jesus we all stand condemned (John 3:16). But because of His great love for us, God sent His Son to take our punishment (John 3:16). Jesus’ death is sufficient to cover the sins of the world. God extends this forgiveness if we will but receive it through Jesus. Anyone who believe in Him is NOT condemned (John 3:18). Anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13).

Yes, hell is real. Yes, hell is horrible. No hell is not reserved for those who don’t vote for Hillary. But it is reserved for those who don’t call on Jesus. You can know Him today!

Have you called on the name of Jesus for eternal salvation?

To learn more about what the Bible teaches about hell, an excellent resource is “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan.

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De-stressing Christmas

De-stressing Christmas 1

This post is a giveaway! You can enter up to 4 times. See how to enter below. The winner’s name will be drawn at 7pm Sunday, November 8th.

I have a confession to make. I’m a recovering Christmas junkie. I struggled for years. And if I’m not careful I will fall back into that black hole of tinsel and holiday baking.

Too many decorations. Too much cooking. Too much shopping. And that’s just the beginning.

The wrapping has to match the tree. And I have to make goodies for the neighbors. And host the Christmas coffee. And the Sunday School Christmas party.

Then a few years ago, on Thanksgiving weekend, exhaustion hit. I realized I was already dreading Christmas. Totally shouldn’t be that way.

So, I gathered the family and starting asking questions about what was most important to them.

Big Christmas dinner? Not necessary. Soup would be fine.

Tree? Oh yes. That’s important.

So, we put up the tree but skipped the big dinner. Wow! Brilliant. And that was just the beginning of taking back Christmas. We decided to keep the things we enjoyed the most and forget the rest. Less stuff and activities would mean less stress!

In her book Get Yourself Organized for Christmas, my friend Kathi Lipp encourages readers to plan for and celebrate a “clutter-free” Christmas:

“A clutter-free Christmas says that we are doing only those things that are truly important. We are not getting weighed down by unnecessary expenditures, obligations, or craziness.”

Enter for a Chance to Win!

organized for ChristmasKathi’s book is full of practical, doable “projects” to get your Christmas honed down, organized, and clutter-free! And guess what? She gave me a copy so I could give one away to you! You can enter up to 4 times:

  1. Comment on this post below and share your favorite Christmas tradition
  2. Share this post on Facebook and comment again here to let us know
  3. Share this post on Twitter and comment here again to let us know
  4. Share this post on Pinterest and comment again here to let us know.

Too Early to Think about Christmas?

You may be wondering why I’m talking about Christmas now. Before Thanksgiving. We need to talk about this before Thanksgiving. After will be entirely too late. By then, you’re already in the middle of it.

So, before I get all worked up and all stressed out, I’m going to take a step back and purposefully give Christmas some thought before I dive in. Will you join me?

This post is the first of 3 that will help us “de-stress” our Christmas. (Be sure to check back for the next 2 Thursdays!) Today, I encourage us to take one action step:

ASK

Ask yourself and your families what’s important and what’s not. What Christmas traditions and activities are “must-haves” for you and your family? What isn’t that important? You may be surprised!

Don’t forget to comment and share for your chance to win a copy of Kathi Lipp’s book “Get Yourself Organized for Christmas.” Share you favorite Christmas tradition!

 

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The Trees Sang in Praise

Have you ever heard trees sing? Yesterday, I heard them. Oh yes, they loudly praised our glorious God.

I am in Alberta, Canada this week. Yesterday, some friends and I drove into Banff National Park to go hiking. Our destination – the Larch Valley. The Larch tree – the only deciduous conifer in the world – grows only in this area. Its green needles turn to gold in mid to late September. The timing was perfect.

The trail head begins at Moraine Lake about 20 kilometers above Lake Louise. It then rises 1,500 feet providing incredible views of Moraine Lake below and the famous Ten Peaks that surround the valley.

A view of Moraine Lake after a few switchbacks of the trail.

A view of Moraine Lake after a few switchbacks of the trail.

Every turn in the trail revealed new wonders. I snapped dozens of photos in an weak attempt to capture the rare, raw beauty. The golden trees, the majestic mountains, the cascading water all sang praise to the One who formed them.

The first sight of the golden Larch trees!

The first sight of the golden Larch trees!

They lifted their voice to glorify our Creator God. And we heard their song.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let them say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
Let the trees of the forest sing,
let them sing for joy before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.  1 Chronicles 16:31-33

Larch Valley with an incredible 360 degree view!

Larch Valley with an incredible 360 degree view!

Praise be to the LORD God , the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to His glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen. Psalm 72:18-19

image

When was the last time you “heard” creation praise they Creator? When was the last time you listened?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Whose Handiwork are You?

It’s really hard not to be self-focused. For starters we live in such a self-absorbed culture. Everything we hear and see encourages us to put ourselves first. Then there are the day-to-day necessities involved in keeping ourselves alive and properly presentable.

So too often when we sit down with God’s Word, we bring the same self-focused attitude. See if any of these thoughts sound familiar:

  • How can God’s Word help me in this situation?
  • How can God’s Word encourage me today?
  • How can God’s Word make me feel better about myself?
  • What guidance can God’s Word give me today?

Ephesians 2:10Lately, God has been showing me that I far too often approach the Bible with selfishness and even pride.

I’ve been reading “Women of the Word” by Jen Wilkin. In the first chapter, she writes about several ways we wrongly approach Bible study. Here’s a collection of quotes from her first section “Let the Bible Speak of God:”

“From beginning to end, the Bible is a book about God… We must read and study the Bible with our ears trained on hearing God’s declaration of Himself… The Bible does tell us who we are and what we should do, but it does so through the lens of who God is… If our reading of the Bible focuses our eyes on anyone other than God, we have gotten backwards the transformation process. Any study of the Bible that seeks to establish our identity without first proclaiming God’s identity will render partial and limited help.”

Did this hit you like it hit me? While intellectually I know that the Bible is about God – and not me – I still had to admit that I often think about me first when I go to God’s Word.

I’ve been working to purposefully think of God first and foremost when I open the Bible. So, when I read I familiar passage the other day, I saw it in a different light:

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10, NIV

In the past, when I read this verse, I focused on the idea that I am God’s poem, His beautiful handiwork. And while that’s true, God should be the primary focus.

To emphasize this point, let’s take a step back and read this verse in its larger context:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

God has miraculously saved us by His grace. Our salvation is His work from beginning to end. Since we cannot do anything to save ourselves, there is no room for pride. We cannot boast about our accomplishments. God is the One who has done it.

Yet, we get to verse 10, and we make it about us.

Read verse 10 again, out loud this time. Once with the emphasis on the word “handiwork” and once again, with the emphasis where it should be:

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

We are saved only because of His gracious work on our behalf. We are who we are only because God has created us anew.

No room for pride. No cause for boasting. Only praise and thanksgiving.

Did your out loud reading give you a new perspective on Ephesians 2:10? If so, how?

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