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Tag Archives | discipleship

7 Characteristics of a Mature Christian

spiritual maturity

Would you describe yourself as a mature Christian? How would you even know? Honestly, that term feels sort of subjective. What one person considers mature, another might not.

So, should we even worry about it? The quick answer is “yes.” First, the Bible makes it clear God wants us to be spiritually mature:

“…until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Eph 4:13, NIV

 

The Greek word translated as “mature” in Ephesians 4:13 is teleios. It means to be “complete, perfect, brought to end, of full age.” Spiritual maturity is God’s goal for us.

In fact, our spiritual maturity is so important to God, He allows trials into our lives to grow our faith:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4

If our maturity is this important to God, perhaps we should take it more seriously. But how can we know if we’re growing spiritually? What does a mature Christian look like? Thankfully, we don’t have to depend on our opinion or best guess. The Bible tells us what spiritual maturity looks like.

7 Characteristics of a Mature Christian

The Bible gives us many marks of a growing believer, like perseverance and spiritual fruit, but the Bible specifically mentions the following 7 characteristics in conjunction with the Greek word teleios:

  1. Recognizes the difference between right and wrong – then does what is right (Hebrews 5:14)
  2. Not easily swayed by false teaching (Ephesians 4:13-16) – So grounded in the truth of God’s Word, she quickly recognizes falsehood.
  3. Rooted in love (Ephesians 4:13-16) – Our words and actions flow from love for our fellow believers.
  4. Serves the church (Ephesians 4:13-16) – A Christian cannot grow to her full potential apart from a vital connection to a local church. She must find her place of mutual service and encouragement.
  5. Lives with an eternal perspective (Philippians 3:13-15) – The reality of the spiritual and eternal drives her life. She purposefully strives to continual spiritual growth because she knows this life is temporary.
  6. Controls her tongue (James 3:2) – If a Christian has good control of her speech, you know she is on a path to maturity!
  7. Reflects God’s character to the world (Matthew 5:48) – God wants us to grow in spiritual maturity in order to reflect the character of Jesus to a watching world.

So how are you doing? What area do you struggle in the most? Why?

Want to be purposeful in your spiritual growth? You may find this post helpful: “5 Tips for Setting Spiritual Growth Goals.”

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The 5 Most Challenging Bible Verses

challenging Bible verses

Some verses in the Bible are easier to swallow than others. Even though I wholeheartedly believe them all, there are some I honestly just don’t like very much. In fact, some Bible verses are too challenging.

Let me explain.

Some verses, like “He gives strength to the weary…” and “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurable more than all we ask or imagine…” cause me to throw my arms open wide and yell “Bring it on, Lord!”

But others cause me to sigh and take a deep breath and think, “Really? Isn’t that kind of difficult?”

5 Bible Verses that Challenge Me

Below are 5 verses that I find really challenging to fully embrace and live out every day. Oh, there are others too – and I may have a slightly different top 5 tomorrow – but these will definitely stay in at least the top 10 for the indefinite future.

  1. Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I really like the last half of this verse about God supplying my needs, oh yes! But when we read the whole thing in the context of the passage, we see the primary topic is worry. Jesus said we spend too much time and energy worrying about our needs. We allow worry to keep us from pursuing Jesus and His Kingdom. The challenge: To turn off the worry and turn to Jesus. Or better yet, turn to Jesus to turn off the worry!
  2. James 1:2 – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds...” James doesn’t waste any time with small talk in his letter. Essentially he says, “Dear Jewish believers, be full of joy when life punches you in the gut.” (My paraphrase of course.) Sounds unrealistic right? James says we can be joyful in spite of our circumstances because we know God plans to use them for our spiritual good and for His purposes. The challenge: To keep our eyes on the spiritual and eternal rather than the physical and temporary.
  3. Romans 12:2“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” God wants us to be like Jesus, not like the world around us. But truly, it’s like fighting a battle every day. Our culture constantly bombards us with values and behavior that is contrary to the character of Christ. The challenge: To strap on that spiritual armor, refuse to compromise, and yield ourselves to the Spirit’s transforming power. (Mandisa shares one battle story here.)
  4. John 15:12 – “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” Okay, let’s be honest. Sometimes our fellow believers aren’t easy to love. Plus, did you notice that Jesus said we should love each other “as I have loved you.” Well, Jesus gave His life for us, so this is really extreme. He wants us to be willing to die for each other. To put others’ needs ahead of our own. To honor others over ourselves. The challenge: To take off pride and selfishness and put on humility and selflessness in order to genuinely love others.
  5. Galatians 2:20I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Wait a minute. My life isn’t my life? Nope. Jesus purchased my life on the cross and it’s His to do with as He sees fit. But if I can remember this, the previous 4 challenging verses suddenly get a lot easy to live out. The challenge: To consciously choose every minute of every day to give my life to Jesus.

Jesus’ way may seem challenging. But the reality is, He only wants what’s best for us. His way is abundant and satisfying and joyful. His way is life.

Please feel free to disagree with my list. Or add to it! What Bible verses do you find the most challenging and why?

Other posts you may find helpful:

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5 Tips for Setting Spiritual Growth Goals for 2018

discipleship goals

This time of year, many of us reflect on the condition of our lives. We may evaluate the health of our bodies, our relationships, or our work situation. We may even “resolve” to change things. But if we’re really serious about improvement, we will set some goals and establish a plan to move forward. But have you ever considered doing the same with your spiritual health? The New Year is the perfect time to do some “spiritual evaluation” and set some goals for spiritual growth.

We can’t cause our spiritual growth. Only the Holy Spirit has the power to transform us into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). But God does expect our obedient and active cooperation (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). One way we can purposefully “train ourselves to be godly” (1 Tim 4:7-8) is through spiritual evaluation and goal setting.

This post includes both a “Discipleship Evaluation” tool and a “Spiritual Goals Worksheet” for you to do just that. But keep in mind, resolutions and goals are often hard to keep. Statistics show that, at best, only 46% of New Year’s resolutions are still kept six months into the year. People lose their resolve quickly because they set unattainable goals.

First, use this free Discipleship Evaluation form to honestly evaluate your current spiritual condition. This tool covers 17 different key discipleship areas. Your weakest areas can be great growth areas in 2017.

Next, set spiritual growth goals using the five tips below. Planning is not “unspiritual.” Living a life that glorifies God will not happen by accident. This free “Spiritual Goals Worksheet” walks you through specific areas of discipleship such as time with God, ministry, service, and Christian education.

Most importantly, ask God to guide you as you evaluate your spiritual health and set goals for growth. He will bring the spiritual transformation as you strive to live a live that pleases Him.

5 Tips for Setting Goals for Spiritual Growth

The following five tips will help us set personal discipleship goals that will keep us growing through the year:

  1. Concentrate your efforts. Set just one, two, or three goals at a time. Don’t spread yourself too thin. When you experience success then add another goal.
  2. Be realistic. Set attainable goals. If you don’t read your Bible regularly now, don’t set a goal to read the entire Bible in three months. Instead commit to read it 3 to 5 times per week.
  3. Think concretely. Set goals so progress can be measured. For instance, this goal is too ambiguous: I’m going to spend more time with God. Instead be concrete: I will read one Bible chapter and pray for 10 minutes five times a week.
  4. Include strategies. Develop strategies designed to move you toward your goals. If one goal is to memorize Scripture, determine how you will do that. What verses you will memorize? How often you will tackle a new one? What memorization techniques you will use?
  5. Create manageable steps. Break your overall goal into a series of smaller goals that are doable and will foster success.

How do you feel about setting spiritual goals? Have you ever set spiritual goals in the past?

This last group of resources focuses on a specific area of discipleship like quiet time, prayer, Bible reading, or Scripture Memory.

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A Bible Reading Plan for the Rest of 2017

Get ready to be shocked – there are only 10 full weeks left in 2017! So, how have you done with your 2017 resolutions? Maybe you resolved to regularly read God’s Word this year, but life got in the way. It’s not too late to start over. To begin again. And I’ve got the perfect Bible reading plan for you.

This Bible Reading Plan is Rich and Doable

I’ve developed a 10-week Bible reading plan highlighting the life and writings of the Apostle Paul. Paul’s ministry and letters dominate the New Testament. Much of our doctrine of faith came from God through Paul’s pen. The “Roman Road,” the lavishness of God’s grace in Ephesians, God’s strength for us in trials, and the role of the church.

This 10-week reading plan chronologically melds Paul’s life and ministry with his letters. The plan includes 5 days of reading per week, each roughly about 30-40 verses. The two “off” days give you plenty of time to catch up when needed, making this a worthwhile, but doable plan.

Bible reading plan

Let’s Read the Bible Together

I would love to help you make and keep a commitment to get into God’s Word. So… I will read along with you! I have created a closed group connect to my Facebook page so we can keep all our discussion in one defined place. If you begin the plan on Monday, October 23rd, you will finish the plan Friday, December 29th. It’s always a good time to make a commitment to get into God’s Word.

2017 Finish Strong

Don’t wait until January 2018 to recommit to spending time regularly in God’s Word. Start now and finish the year strong! You’ll have a spiritual running start on 2018! Download and print the Bible Reading Plan here.

Will you join me? Let me know in the comments. Then go to the Facebook event page and “join!”

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3 Practical Steps to Turn Your Faith Right-side Out

faithDo you too often feel like you are doing religion instead of living out an abundant relationship with Jesus? If you tend to fall into legalism, busyness, or burn out, your faith just may be “inside-out!”

In Monday’s blog post, we defined inside-out faith and explored three consequences of doing Christianity instead of being in a relationship with the Object of our faith. Today, we will consider three practical steps that will help us turn our inside-out faith right-side out.

Unlike inside-out faith, right-side out faith is characterized by surrender and discipleship. One verse that consistently challenges me describes what it looks like to be completely surrendered to Jesus.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Our culture has a negative view of surrender, but if we want to experience the full, abundant life Jesus promised, surrender is vital. Surrender means we “die” to our own will and way and yield to the authority of Jesus. We no longer live for ourselves, but we allow Jesus to live His life through us.

Discipleship goes hand-in-hand with surrender. After we surrender to Jesus’ lordship, we then purposefully follow Him wherever He leads.

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? Luke 9:23-25

3 Practical Steps for Right-Side Out Faith

So, how do we do this? How do we purposefully live faith with our focus on Jesus and our relationship with Him instead of going through the motions of religion? The following three practical steps will help us put the relationship first, allowing the works of service and obedience to flow naturally from Jesus through us.

  1. Seek Jesus First – Our top priority should be to foster our relationship with our Savior. That means spending regular time in His Word and prayer, listening to Him. Initially, it make take disciplining ourselves. (For some helps, tips, and resources for spending time with God, check out my resources page.) But just as we can develop a craving for sugar – the more we eat, the more we crave – our discipline will turn into delight! Soon, we will run to meet with Him each morning. (See Matthew 6:25-33.)
  2. Follow His lead – God has a specific purpose for you. He has specific works for you to do. And His way in every circumstance is always best. But how can we know where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do? If you have a saving relationship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives within you. He is waiting for you to listen to His leading and follow Him. Read Romans 8:5-14 for more about following the Holy Spirit.
  3. Live it in Community – God has designed us for community, to do life with others. We cannot be everything God wants us to be or fulfill the purpose for which He has called out, outside of a vital connection to a local body of believers. A church will encourage, support, equip, and challenge you! (See Ephesians 4:11-16.)

Don’t keep living your faith inside-out! You will miss out on God’s best for you.

Have you been living your faith inside-out? Maybe even in little ways? What do you see that needs to be turned around?

My book “Fed Up with Flat Faith” may also be helpful as you seek to turn your faith right-side out. 

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9 Tips to Help You Choose the Right Bible Study Material

Bible studyThis post first ran in August of 2014. But the tips for choosing a Bible study still apply!

I have dealt with Bible study from almost every conceivable angle. I have studied my Bible and used Bible study materials for decades. I have participated in countless Bible study groups. I have led Bible study groups. I have organized women’s Bible study for several churches. And I have written Bible study curriculum.

Yet, there is one question I still must grapple with again and again. “What study material should I use?” Whether you are a ministry leader selecting material for a group or an individual choosing a book for your personal study, your question is the same. “What study material should I use?”

With so much great material available, the answer is seldom easy. The sheer abundance of choices can be overwhelming. Add to that the scope of your options – everything from looking at classic TV shows with a biblical lens to in-depth, exegetical Bible book studies – and the task becomes daunting!

9 Tips for Choosing Bible Study Material

However, these tips can get help you narrow down your choices. The following tips were written from the women’s ministry leader’s perspective but are also applicable to the individual Bible student!

  1. Establish your purpose – Recall why you study the Bible and keep that foremost in your mind. Through His Word, God reveals Himself, His ways, and His will. Our primary goals should be to know and experience God more deeply and to allow Him to make us more like Jesus. A good Bible study will have the same goals for its readers.
  2. Contemplate the needs of the students (or yourself) – For instance, do they need the doctrinal basics or are they ready for something deeper? If part of your purpose is to appeal to seekers, consider a study on a topic such as parenting. Young moms have different life needs and interests than empty nesters. They also have less time! Make sure the topic and the time required will fit your group.
  3. Consider the experience of your leaders  – Less experienced leaders will benefit from a study that has a solid, helpful leaders’ guide. Those with more experience won’t necessarily need one. If your leaders are inexperienced or not confident, look for a study with lots of leader helps! If you plan to study on your own, consider your own level of experience. For instance, if this is your first time to do a Bible study, fewer weeks may be better to start.
  4. Enlist a few trusted friends – Enlist 3 or 4 women who have lots of Bible study experience to help you in the process. First, ask for study and author recommendations. Then later, after you have gathered a few possibilities, ask them to help you read through and review the selections. If you are an individual, ask trusted friends for their recommendations.
  5. Do a little research – Visit your local Christian bookstore and browse the Bible study section. If you’re looking for a very specific topic, check the non-fiction or Christian living section. Many trade books now include group discussion questions. Also do topic searches on online bookstores like Amazon and ChristianBook.com to find lots of options!
  6. Explore a few new authors – During your research, take a look at a few authors you’ve never used before. We all have our favorites, but different voices can bring freshness and encourage us to look at timeless truths in new ways. Visit the authors’ websites, check their “statement of beliefs,” and check out reader reviews.
  7. Gather some options – After your research, narrow it down to a handful of options and purchase a single copy of each. Review those choices with the help of your enlisted friends.
  8. Check the doctrine – Just because a book is published by a Christian publisher doesn’t mean the author’s doctrine will line up with your church’s understanding of God’s truth. Some things are insignificant like how often we should partake of the Lord’s Supper. Others – like how we are saved – are non-negotiable. Make sure the material is on solid ground!
  9. Confirm the material encourages spiritual growth – Go back to your purpose to make your final decision. Some material can be engaging and even grow our biblical knowledge, yet not encourage application and growth.

 Cover it all with prayer and you’re ready to select the next Bible study for your women. Happy studying!

What tips do you have for choosing new Bible study material??

 

 

 

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I Don’t Want to Go Church Shopping

church shoppingMany of you know my husband and I recently moved to a new area and are now looking for a new home church. We are just a couple of weeks into the search, but I already have a bit of a battle going on inside me. The church shopping mentality threatens to take control. My desires are trying to push their way to the front.

I want a church that… I’m looking for a church that will… I’d really love for our new church to… Wouldn’t it be nice if…

I have this idea of the church I want. It combines the best of our past church homes. Incredible, worshipful music. Solid, engaging teaching. Believers that do life together. Heavenly involved in missions. Strong community outreach. Active women’s ministry.

And we could look for a church like that and probably find one. We could make a list of all the attributes we desire in a church and compare each one we visit to that list. Does this one meet the criteria? Does that one make the cut? Do we cross off that last church?

But Lord help us – and I mean that as a prayer – I don’t want to find our new church home that way. In fact, I will boldly say, God doesn’t want us to find our new church home that way. I don’t want to choose my favorite; I want to search for and find the church God has already chosen for us.

The term “church shopping” rubs me the wrong way. Yet, sadly, not only do many of us use it, but it also adequately describes how many of us look for a church. We shop for one like we do a car or a prom dress or laundry detergent. Honestly, it’s easy to fall into that mindset. Our consumer-oriented culture programs us to think that way.

But God doesn’t do things the way we do. The Bible tells us that God puts the body together like He desires (1 Corinthians 12:18). He places the people He has chosen into leadership (1 Corinthians 12:27-28). He determines the gifts to individual believers and selects their place of service (1 Corinthians 12:7-11, 27-28).

God’s Word applies to my life today. He already has a church and places to serve picked out and waiting for us. I am determined not to “shop.” I want to seek His will and then follow it. May He help us do just that.

How does this biblical view compare with what we usually hear?

You may be interested in the following:

 

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Why Do You Read the Bible?

Why do you read the Bible? If you and I had coffee together and I asked you that question, how would you answer?

Why Do Americans Read the Bible?

A 2016 study by the Barna Group shows that about 1/3 of Americans read the Bible at least once a week. The same study also cites why people read the Bible. Here’s a quick rundown of the top answers:

  • Brings me closer to God (55%)
  • To receive comfort (16%)
  • To find direction or an answer to a problem (16%)
  • Because I am supposed to (6%)

Why do I Read the Bible?

As I write this blog, I’m thinking about how I would answer this question. I mean, honestly answer this question. And you know what? I think my answer would depend on the day. Absolutely I want to be closer to God. But, some days I do read it because I know I should. Other days I need some godly direction or an answer for a specific problem. And on tough days, I just need some comfort.

And you know what? I think all those reasons are legitimate. God’s Word does give comfort, offer direction, and have answers for life today. And yes, sometimes we really should read our Bibles when we don’t necessarily want to, because Christian life requires discipline and purpose. We must “train ourselves for godliness”(1 Timothy 4:7-8).

While all those reasons and more are wrapped up in why I read the Bible, there is another reason. One I desire to be my primary reason.

I want God’s Word to shape me. To refine me. To make me more like Jesus.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Hebrews 4:12

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

And as it does, all those other things will happen too. My intimacy with God will deepen and grow. His constant presence will comfort and guide me.

So, now it’s your turn. Why do you read the Bible? Maybe your current reason isn’t what you’d like it to be. Or maybe you don’t read the Bible regularly now. The best way to create a hunger for God’s Word to simply to begin to read it. Once you get a taste… (Psalm 34:8).

Why do you read the Bible?

If you’d like to begin to read the Bible but you aren’t sure how to get started, check out my free resources page. It is full of helps, including quiet time tips and Bible reading plans! 

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3 Quiet Time Cautions

Quiet timeWe are five days into the New Year. Five days into starting fresh. And, for many Christians, five days into working toward a new set of spiritual goals. Perhaps you even set some goals and strategies for a regular quiet time.

Regularly on this blog and when I speak, I encourage believers to “train themselves for godliness.” This website offers dozens of free tools and resources to help. Including quiet time tips. But today, I want to go to the flip side of the coin and share some words of caution about quiet time.

3 Cautions for Your Quiet Time

  1. Don’t do all the talking – Why do many of us always talk more than we listen? It’s a bad enough habit with our friends and family, but it’s far worse with God. Yet, often we allow prayer to become a one-way conversation. We end up talking at God instead of with Him. Honestly, this is a struggle for me. I have to remind myself to listen, to sit quietly and allow the King of the universe to speak. And isn’t it amazing that He does?!
  2. Don’t be unprepared – It is not unspiritual to plan and prepare. Jesus told His disciples to count the cost of following Him. Paul wrote to Timothy that he must “train Himself for godliness.” Both teach us that we must be purposeful and diligent in our discipleship and spiritual growth. Keep your tools – Bible, pen, journal, etc. – together and at hand, ready to go each morning. And have a Bible reading plan. Dropping open your Bible and pointing your finger is haphazard at best.
  3. Don’t succumb to legalism – This point does not contradict caution #2. Our goal should be to be prepared but flexible. I am a list maker who loves to check off the boxes. Too many times, I have found myself rushing through my Bible reading so I can check off the day’s box. Or I felt guilty when I missed a day of quiet time. Legalism in our quiet time robs us of its joy and inhibits the intimacy we long to have with God. Let’s keep our goals in mind, but let’s also follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to “get off script,” and give ourselves some grace when life gets in the way.
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Today’s My Birthday. Am I “Old” Now?

BirthdayToday is my birthday. I am 55 years old. Some days I feel old. Some days I feel like I’m just getting started good.

But this specific number –  “55” – comes with an “old age” stigma. I keep thinking about this group they had at church when I was growing up. They called it the “Double Nickle” club. It was for the “old people” at church and they met once a week for lunch and games. Probably Bridge. That strikes me as a game for old people because my grandmother played Bridge every week with a group of friends. But I digress…

So, one day not long ago, I was thinking about turning 55 and it hit me – the “Double Nickle” club was for people 55 and over. I am now old enough for the “Double Nickle” club.  And for the senior menu at iHop.

I must look it too. A few weeks ago my husband and I went to see the new Star Trek movie. He dropped me off to buy the tickets while he parked. The young man at the ticket booth quoted me a price less than I expected for two tickets. When I questioned him, he told me that included the “senior discount.” Turns out the “senior discount” is for those 62 and above. The young theater employee just assumed I qualified.

But I really don’t feel “old” – most days anyway. But, ask me again some morning after I worked in the yard for hours the day before. Funny, my Bridge-playing granny told me something about aging when I was little that I still remember. She said, “Your body ages, but your soul never does.” I didn’t really understand her statement then, but now I think I do.

God created us for eternity. Oh, yes, we have a temporal, physical “tent” that breaks down and falls apart. But God’s purposes for His children are eternal. And He wants to keep using us here on earth as long as He allows us to remain.

But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house. They flourish in the courts of our God.
Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.
They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock! There is no evil in him!”
Psalm 92:12-15

Here’s my conclusion. I am not necessarily “old,” but I am “older.” And until God is finished with me here on earth, I am certainly not “done.”

So no “retirement” for me. Nope. As long as I’m able, I want to serve the Lord and His people. On that day when God calls me home, I want to be able to declare with the Apostle Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7

And discounted movie tickets and cheap pancakes are just an added bonus!

 

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