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Spiritual tips

Renee Ellison's spiritual thoughts for the day.

Do you suffer, relationally?

Wednesday, 28. September 2016 by Renee Ellison

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Relational suffering is truly vicarious suffering—suffering due to someone else’s choices or behaviors. Why are the saints of the Lord not exempt from this kind of suffering; didn’t He already bear it?

There is a mystery here:

“I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body” (Colossians 1: 24).

Huh? What? His colossal work on the Cross did not complete the suffering needed in the universe? It wasn’t enough?


Yes, it was enough—for Him. But, no, apparently it wasn’t enough for us. The thing couldn’t be fully understood until those who are called by His name taste of it, too.

The Lord did the lion’s share of it, but He left his saints still to experience some personal, specific, additional suffering around the edges. He left some wheat to be garnered, after His own cosmic plowing and harvest. The purpose? That we might understand at a more visceral depth what it is He did for us. He purposed that we should share the experience of suffering in order to be ever more one with Him for eternity. It has been said that “love is what we’ve been through together.” Rest assured that in all of His perplexing dispensations, the Lord is ever only after increased camaraderie with us—camaraderie in all its fullness. He is the consummate lover. He knows how to do this thing called love.

Vicarious suffering also extends the Savior’s suffering through His saints to the world—even after He returned to heaven. There is bleeding still. We bear in our bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus. So, homeschool mother, wife, let us be patient and let us trust. Let us yield to His sure hand. His work is ever deep and infinite, both upon us and through us.

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

Divorce for selfish reasons

Thursday, 28. July 2016 by Renee Ellison

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Love is most fully defined/expressed when it gives the beloved the freedom to even not reciprocate, yet continues to love afresh and lavishly in the private set of the soul. That is the kind of love Christ modeled for us. He gives us enough rope to hang ourselves—and He never jerks on the cord. The marvel of the story of the prodigal son in the Gospels is that after the father has given the son everything, the father waits. He waits for the son’s own thirst to develop. He says nothing; he sends no messages; he doesn’t shed his own flashlight upon the path. The son himself rises up—in the counsels of his own heart. And when the son loves, the father then can do no wrong (in the son’s view of things).

A spouse who drops his marriage for selfish reasons vainly imagines that he dances with high thought, when actually he is staggering through low delusion. What such a person doesn’t reckon with is that while he lives in a fantasy reality, the actual reality doesn’t go away. Real reality sits there in his world like concrete, and he will repeatedly turn and stub his toe upon it. Until and unless he bends, he banks on there being no relational fallout as a consequence of any of his actions or his thought life. He counts on still receiving the same kind of affection from his children (in the world of reality), the honor of his parents, etc. He will be the last to know that real esteem for him has gone south.

What such a person doesn’t see is that he has exchanged private personal integrity for the hollow praise of an eventually fickle public. Instead of a quest for personal identity, he will wake up to relational failure. He simply has no idea what relational “work” is all about. Rather, he wants to skim relationships—like skipping rocks. Doing so, he will discover that he will do that even with new relationships. He doesn’t know it in the early phases of this dissolution of his key relationships, but he has embarked upon a sea of ever-shifting relational expectations with everyone he interfaces with (both old and new) from there on out. He will thenceforth encounter no satisfactory relationships anywhere. Oddly, he desperately wants the other person to have enduring relational character (most especially, his children in their regard for him) while he possesses none toward them. He will restlessly dump new “better” relationships as easily as he dumped the old ones. Such a person has thus entered a cauldron of relational dissatisfaction.

A spouse who willfully spurns his marital commitment is like a young child trying desperately to cram a square block into a round hole. Outside of the Lord he is doomed to furtively dart from one fantasy to another—and they will never deliver what he hopes for.

What is the lesson? Life is all about expectations. “If you expect it to be a five-star hotel it is awful, but if you were only expecting a reformatory it isn’t half bad” (loosely paraphrased from C. S. Lewis).
Life is fixed and designed, not for temporary and fleeting assorted happinesses but for sanctification—for us to grow in love of God and in trust in His big plan through it all.

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

The key to marital bliss: KNOW your spouse

Thursday, 09. June 2016 by Renee Ellison

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Marriage is an adventure in adjustment.

Loosely paraphrased, C. S. Lewis profoundly commented about life (not just marriage) with something on the order of: “the chance to live life well is all about expectations; if you are anticipating life to be a 5-star-hotel you’ll be disappointed, but if you thought, on the other hand, that life was going to be a reformatory, it isn’t half bad!”

The same is true of marriage. If you think you are going to ride off into the sunset in the arms of more of “me” then you’ll soon falter on your ride. If, on the other hand, you think you’ll need to “learn” your spouse in depth and then grow in your ability to adapt to him/her, the potential for your ride into the sunset will be sure-footed, long and surprisingly fulfilling.

Remember that the person you marry, no matter what kind of a saint, or Who’s Who he or she is, comes with 200,000 hours of pre-programming that is quantumly different from your own, and was, in fact, hardwired with a given personality, desires and habits that are just as entrenched as your own. It is a great adventure, which yields personal growth in direct proportion to what you put into it—just like with all things that are “hard won”.

1 Peter 3:7 in the KJV version says: “Husbands, dwell with your wife according to knowledge” (of her specifically; the inference here is that every wife is different, so work at gaining a knowledge of how YOURS is! ) The spiritual inference is that the wife will need to gain knowledge of how her husband “works”, “clicks”, “IS”, as well. This dynamic, is, in fact, true for every relationship, that we must learn one another—and love accordingly.

To listen to more on this topic, listen to today’s 2-part broadcast with author Dr. Gary Chapman on Focus on the Family.

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

A mere man makes a poor god

Tuesday, 10. May 2016 by Renee Ellison

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[Some of what we teach—and learn—in homeschooling is a lifetime lesson. This is one of them—perhaps the most important that we can start to teach our children when they are still growing into manhood and womanhood:]

To figure out the grand mystery of life there are only two starting points. One must either defer to an external and eternal God or throw out the one true God and make a god, internally, of oneself. Descarte’s statement “I think therefore I AM,” showed that he preferred himself as a god. And many have followed him, plunging themselves into an insupportable dichotomy, as we shall see.

If one chooses to throw out the external God, replacing Him with oneself, instead of emerging emancipated from all responsibility, as he had anticipated, he now is immediately faced with the heavy burden of re-writing origins and realities. Everything is up for grabs. All boundaries slush around; all realities must be dredged up from the face of the deep. For such a man, the earth is again “without form and void.” Re-writes become his new raison d’etre—and eventually his prison.

Am I a man or a woman? Am I black or white—merely by my own assertions? Are laws, laws? or suggestions? or are they just obstacles in my way? Can I only be married to one person? Seriously? I’ll have them all, even if they fight and scratch each other. Do words mean what they have meant historically or are they malleable in the eyes of the beholder, meaning whatever I want them to mean, in this case, and something different in the next case—according to my own advantage? Such a person’s swim is a deep dive into an abyss. Assuredly, he will face rapids and whirlpools.

The descent into his overwhelming burden does not stop there. A man will be faced with rewriting reality, not only allegedly to somehow make sense of things to himself, but also to authenticate an indulgence or two (his own, ever shifting and ever more) or to assuage a guilt (a mincing deviance from the old order, which lingers with him still, and then a larger one here and there—as he gets pulled further and further from his actual roots).

Bewilderingly, he soon finds that his re-written realities—oops, grown at cross purposes—have implications that he hadn’t anticipated, can’t reconcile and won’t work in the real world that he was born into. His new world will eventually surround him with insanity; it is bound to run amuck.

Even then, his burden doesn’t stop. He will now chase around after an exploration of his own angst for the rest of his life. Without absolute answers, absolute realities, life has become an exploration of personal angst. That is the “heroic” new narrative. It is, however, only another tale of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”—claiming to be the ultimate reason for life, for winning a place on the bestsellers page, putting pen to paper in a new sophistication—it is nothing. “I’m contorted; where do I run?”

This new modern perspective, “I am because I am,” flatters the individual into thinking his struggle is uniquethink our struggle is unique, unusual, individual, highly intellectual—aristocratic—needs my own solutions to relieve my own pain—needs new discourse. But as in the case of a man torn in the dilemma of choosing between his career and raising his own children—if someone were to wake him up, he embarrassingly discovers it is every man’s dilemma and it is never an “either-or”. This “either/or” dichotomy is a trap—a mirage.

The answer is to put God back into His story and then go humbly ahead with Him as one’s escort into all human dilemmas (of which the dilemma before him now, that seems insurmountable, and is all consuming, is merely the beginning). God designed life with its apparent dilemmas, a myriad of them. And the Almighty has a passage through them. But God will be God, first. A mere man will eventually discover that he makes a poor god—by his own self-made contortions.

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

Are God’s ways narrow but our culture’s ways broad?

Friday, 06. May 2016 by Renee Ellison

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Strange as it is to our natural mind, when studying the holy scriptures we begin to notice that God not only provided redemption for His people, He also apparently designed a rhythm and a lifestyle for us.

Upon close examination of the scriptures, we uncover that God designed the year to hang upon an agricultural calendar. He invited His people into periodic stoppings and musings, rejoicings and feastings. He also arranged for and intended that His followers would look UP at least once every month (and not just at one phase in history but for all time) to remember the miraculous hanging of the moon (see Isaiah 66:22-23). Viewing the moon, the closest object in the firmament, is a representative glance into the heavens. Why? Because by remembering the cycle of agriculture (that the Almighty brings forth life from the earth—yes, from mere dead dirt—and hangs celestial heavens above us; we look down AND up) we find ourselves worshiping.

Such a design for our year’s celebrations! He keeps us “on the press” of cultivating an expanding awe. By continually “looking”, throughout the year, we discover that there is a depth of mystery embedded in what we are encouraged to look at. From mere agricultural glances we are led eventually to the profundity that “the earth will [also] give birth to her dead!” (Isaiah 26:19). Aha! Our experience of agriculture is an object lesson, a look at a precursor and microcosm of what happens to redeemed humans! They get resurrected, after a perplexing and long time of itching and churning in the dark, dank earth. Further, by contemplating the moon we gradually come to realize that we ourselves will live with a “limitless Him” in a large universe—will inherit the firmament AND the earth—will traverse there, and here, in another realm that is beyond time.

Without such frequent reminders to partake of earthly and heavenly gazes, we descend into a narrow materialism. Make no mistake, the pagan who kicks God out of His story does not sit in neutral. The vacuum is quickly filled with trivia. He (in partnership with Hallmark cards), immediately and hastily designs another kind of year, a materialistic counterfeit year, to absorb us. We leap from Halloween to Groundhog Day, soon followed by Valentine’s Day and President’s Day, and then to an Easter Bunny Easter, while also filling our calendars with competing and exhausting birthday rituals, concluding each “year” with a tinseled, frenetic and vain Christmas, to ...etc… We exchange looking downward and upward at the miraculous, for looking inward at an “endless shallow me-ism.”

The seven Biblical feast days (initially spoken of in Leviticus 23, but seen continually throughout scripture) perhaps come for a reason, from “the Lord Almighty, whose plan is wonderful… whose wisdom is magnificent!” (Isaiah 28:29).

[To read about the Biblical holidays, download our free e-book: Jewish [Biblical] Holidays Made Simple.]

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

Hidden beauty

Tuesday, 03. May 2016 by Renee Ellison

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Most women—including the gorgeous ones!—wish they were more physically beautiful than they are. It seems to be a universal anxiety for nearly all women. That feeling is not helped by having to see photoshopped and airbrushed pictures of physically perfect women in magazines, or by daily viewing news anchorwomen who have whole teams of people “work on them” before they come on the air. One news-anchorwoman when doing a tour through the TV studio said to her guest: “See this room over here? This is where they turn a sow’s ear into a raging beauty!”

Let’s look at this from a spiritual point of view. How come we all didn’t come out of the birth canal flaming beauties? What might be going on here if we look at the whole phenomenon with a little larger perspective?

The scriptures tell us about our maker/redeemer that He had no handsomeness/beauty, no natural physical draw when He himself visited earth. Hmmmm—Almighty God limited His own physical physique on purpose?

“He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him…” (i.e., on that basis) (Isaiah 53:2).

Could it be that in this choice, He was making sure that there were no distractions to work through to get to the core of who He really was? It seems that the Father did it with deliberateness in crafting the Messiah, via His incarnation and He then apparently additionally allowed it in the great majority of us, no doubt, for the benefit of other gains to our souls, while on earth, and to His kingdom body, as a whole.

Apparently this is not the TIME of glorification, (‘tis reserved for a future chapter) but rather of humility! This is the donkey chapter; the white steed in us comes later. The whole creation waits “to see the sons of God [blindingly and spectacularly] revealed!” (Romans 8:19). This is the “covered glory” chapter; the UN-covering (the slight tweak of the cheek and nose moved into perfection, the tweak of the character into holiness), shall assuredly yet BE! “Those who look to Him are radiant” (Psalm 34:5) “And those who wait for Him will not be ashamed” (Isaiah 49:23; also see Romans 9:33).

My mother used to tell me, regarding any personal shortcoming: “Remember, people care more about their own headache than if you die!” I’ve noted through the years that exceptional personal beauty (and it is the exception) is important only in the initial ten second introduction of people and even then it is quickly eclipsed in all persons, as the personhood behind the edifice immediately pumps forth. People are first and last drawn to the emanation of love, alone. Many a man (in relationship to a woman) has sadly found out that his enjoyment of a beautiful face turned south after an experience or two with the not-so-beautiful self-absorbed character behind it.

It is important to look as nice as we can, given what we’ve got—being unkempt is no joy to be around, either—but we can safely stop at good grooming, cleanliness, pleasant colors, and well-ordered, God-honoring, modest clothing. If we, as believing women, major yet further on improving our insides and on emanating more love (for, who of us doesn’t still have a ways to go in these areas?), He will see to it that a kind of additional heavenly beauty will manifest upon our countenances. We will have beauty at our core—His beauty. And then, those around us wouldn’t trade that for anything.

A woman bedecked only as an ornament or as a glossy model (i.e. merely used by the world as a coat-stand or as a clothes hanger) can, in a matter of minutes be regarded as a waste of humanity—exerting no real contribution or influence upon a very needy world. Everywhere, the world cries for the gentle impress of a godly woman upon people’s souls and circumstances.

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

Re-write your past points of personal pain

Wednesday, 10. February 2016 by Renee Ellison

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All of us have things that happen to us that were not pleasant memories, perhaps from grade school or Jr. High, or maybe even from our parents (oops, now we are parents—careful—ouch—we all get our day on stage—what is our children’s point of view re: our parenting?) or from clueless peers or thoughtless neighbors or pre-occupied relatives or stubborn cashiers, or overbearing, egocentric bosses, etc. No one is immune from emotional pain; no one is privy to perfect relationships 24/7 for 90 + years!!!

So what do we do with those persnickety episodes that we reeled from, and perhaps still reel from? Well, here is a private personal chess move that practically guarantees release from those vexing re-runs: re-write those episodes with some positive gain to yourself.

Realize that each of us has the potential to grow from negatives, as well as positives. Negatives might even help us grow faster in acquiring discernment and wisdom. That way, when you re-visit the pain it serves you rather than slays you. You have total permission to re-write any episode in the cathedral of your own mind. Ain’t nobody able to stop ya! It is, in fact, soul-enriching to do such a thing. Trust that God did and will use it (no matter what your “its” were/are) for your good.

Joseph in Egypt said to his brothers: “You meant it for evil, but God used it for good” (Genesis 50:20). We can take it a step further, even regarding a clumsy person who didn’t mean us any harm or was oblivious to the hurt they were inflicting. That, too, can be torqued for good. Doing this exercise releases the other person to just be a person—not a perfect person—and fuels you to get past your past! You can move ON, get over it, and say quietly to yourself, “Not My Problem” (or abbreviate that and say “NMP” as you wish). You don’t have to just drive past the crash. Driving through the crash at this point puts positive metal to your own pedal.

As for yourself and your own relational initiations? Determine to look for ways to “inflict encouragement” upon your friends and enemies at every turn. Be head-spinningly positive. Be a lifetime good lover with whomever, and see to it that you do so, wherever. Be fleet-footed and free emotionally and you’ll spill blessings all over scores of “next guys” that you just happen to stumble upon—or stumble over!

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

Dealing with escape artists and manipulators

Monday, 25. January 2016 by Renee Ellison

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Most of life is filled with two-choice dilemmas. For the most part, which of the two choices we pick will actualize who we are, as we go. Our choices—all of them—begin to define us as people. A creative person may cobble together a combination of parts of those two choices or sometimes compromise parts of those two choices, to achieve a later higher goal, but he (or she) will still reckon with the two choices, i.e. deal with the parameters of reality as is. In other words, a mentally healthy individual won’t try to defy gravity, moonlight, or sunlight. He/she lives in the light of such immovables.

Conversely, your tell-tale sign of dealing with a person who routinely escapes reality will be to note that that person will not reckon with boundaries, at all. He/she will attempt to finagle his/her way around them, live as if they didn’t exist, or delay his/her confrontation with them on purpose, indefinitely. Often this sort prefers to run—either psychologically, physically, or both. Leaving town might be his/her answer to everything—or leaving relationships might do it for him/her, too. If he/she is out of control financially he/she may hurry to take bankruptcy as the path of least personal pain.

He/she is a master at washing his/her hands of any implications or any nod toward even his/her own future. In other words, he/she will not submit to life as it is. His/her bolder methods of escape may include any number of options: drinking, self-sabotage, delay, drugs. (His/her ultimate way of escape, of course, is suicide. For many, though, the self-love is so strong that that avenue of problem-solving is not seriously entertained in his/her arsenal of defenses, except to feign it to exert a manipulation, if needed. For others it is a real option.)

If you know of someone who seems eel-like to deal with, or who flairs (i.e. goes ballistic, or punishes you someway) when coming under real parameters or having to face real boundaries, you no doubt have some of this going on. The best solution is to pit his/her outcomes against himself/herself. Alcoholics may find their last hope in an outside intervention. For other types of humans’ problems, the routes back to health aren’t so clean and obvious. Nonetheless, one thing is for sure: he/she will not deal with himself to please you. It has to sting and sting badly in his/her own psyche to be of any value for a turn-around. Therefore, hunt for nailing those issues and having those discussions. Remove yourself from the middle of their equation; you’ll have more peace of mind and the other person will be forced to face his/her own dilemma sooner.

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

Marriage advice to newlyweds

Thursday, 21. January 2016 by Renee Ellison

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We go into marriage with all sorts of subliminal expectations—expectations we don’t even know we have. We would, at the outset, classify them as “hopes”—but in the next breath we privately say to ourselves, insistently, that “they’d better be hopes that COME TRUE!” Marriage is full of surprises, however, and the biggest surprise of all is that you didn’t ride off into the sunset with more of “yourself.” You rode off into the sunset with a truly significant “other.” Married, you are literally in bed with that “otherness.” Not only is that other “significantly” hard-wired differently from you, he/she comes with 120,000+ hours of different software, too! His/her background is different than yours, the imprinting was different, the social exchanges within his/her birth family were different—you name it—it’s DIFFERENT!

For you two to “get along” you’d think this different-ness would be a recipe for disaster, but, when you are in the Lord, and you are sure that this marriage is of Him (that He sanctions it because you are both spiritually alive in Him), we find out that it comes with great design. God is starting a new dynasty with each new couple that now somehow influences future generations. He is the one who designed that the new marriage would have a distinct character/difference from the pasts that each spouse brought to the marriage. He actually WANTS this new metamorphosis!

To make this mutual conversion work is, for every couple, a lifetime tussle with our own cocoon. We’d sometimes rather stay in our cocoon (our past comfort levels) than wrestle with the work it takes to emerge as a butterfly. It will take self-denial to make it work—to learn to bevel, to grow together. On the day of my marriage my father told me (with a twinkle in his eye), “marriage is an adventure in adjustment!” And how true that is.

Instead of fighting the adjustment, look forward with eagerness to the adjustment and it will make a far more refined, mature and loving YOU. Marriage is one of God’s finest schoolrooms to teach you how to get past yourself and move into the wide ocean of His huge kingdom. You can’t possibly know now what God is making of you. You can’t dictate how it should be, out there in the future, because you can’t possibly know God’s purposes for it, nor how to get there. Given all the dimensions of the unknown, humility sets in in a hurry. And this is part of the story—a big part: losing yourself in a world that is bigger than yourself.

Therefore, learn to cooperate with the story, readily, at every turn. You will experience surprising delights in marriage, IF you don’t look for them. There will come unexpected wondrous moments that settle in your heart, like the butterflies—elusive to catch, but they come when you don’t anxiously seek them. Instead, keep your focus on going to God for ever new life-giving, coping strategies, and graces for personal relinquishments, if needed, and He will show you how to NOTICE the butterflies when they come gently and unannounced.

Learn to ENJOY your spouse AS HE/SHE IS. Instead of remaking him/her into your image, imagine yourself sitting back in a big easy chair, smoking a cigar, with your slippers on, content to OBSERVE and watch for the evening! Marvel at how different he/she is, and seek to stretch yourself to comprehend what it is like to live inside his/her head. This is a GOOD exercise. It broadens you immensely, helping you to understand life even outside your marriage where another six billion significant others live.

This is the secret to a good marriage: seek to “love” rather than to “BE loved” and you’ll progressively and mysteriously grow to be like the Great Lover above. In the end you’ll find that you traded your smaller self for a far larger better self—to say nothing of the joys and contentments you will have brought to your spouse.

Filed Under: Spiritual tips

Wish that the big parameters of your life were different?  Think again.

Saturday, 02. January 2016 by Renee Ellison

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If given our druthers, who would design our life best? God, or us?

Even if we were allowed the possibility of re-designing our “lot” in life (a real temptation for many who would like to start over, pick a different spouse, not have children, or at least not have that child, or, conversely, wish that they had had children, but couldn’t, or painfully wish that they could jettison protracted unwanted singleness, or skip the mind-boggling and long dissolutions and loneliness of old age, or miss all bouts with illness, injury and unavoidable surgeries, even live in a different country or a different time in history, and certainly have different neighbors, relatives and/or bosses), would we even want the job?

As believers, serious contemplation might lead us, eventually, to eagerly say, “no!” The reason? —because we couldn’t possibly know, with our finite minds, what is best for the shaping of our spiritually-infinite character for eternal ends. Realizing that we are people who now last forever (and ever and ever, world without end, amen!), we can’t fully (or even feebly) fathom where all of this is headed and what is necessary for the future journey.

However, look at the conscientiousness with which God designed it for us:
If He had not loved me, “...surely He would not have made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part; surely He would not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire” (2 Samuel 23:5).

The following verses, too, indicate a loving sovereignty even over our path withIN our parameters:
• “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).
• “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

What a confidence is ours, as believers, that we wake up and go to sleep (even our final sleep, at the end of life) held securely in divine hands and in divine plans. When we finally “see” the results of carrying each and every perplexing burden, all in hindsight, we might even actually rejoice at our chosen lot, for we will have found that our hard boundaries were, in fact, lined with tender mercies, and our confusions, stumbling and chafings were all understood and marked well by matchless vigilance. “He does not take His eyes off the righteous” (Job 36:7a). For, “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10b). What resolute love it all demonstrates. Surely we could never have dreamed of finding human gold in such places.

Filed Under: Spiritual tips