Dear Salvation Army: Emergency Disaster Services – Touching Lives, Not Networks.

I have been watching and praying for my fellow Officers and Soldiers who have served and are currently serving on Emergency Disaster Services teams in Texas and Florida.
Some of the devastation is heartbreaking as many families have lost everything.  Many organizations have been on site since day 1…including The Salvation Army.   EDS2

Confession:
I have to confess something, I would often get upset when other relief organizations would get all of the press time on television networks.  I would grow weary of the lack of reporting of all of the good things my fellow Soldiers, Officers and volunteers of The Salvation Army were doing on the ground. It seemed that there were many media hogs seizing every minute of television and radio time but as soon as the cameras were gone…so were they.  On behalf of the movement I faithfully serve, I felt gypped.

I expressed this salty opinion to one of my corps members, I was in a cantankerous mood. This corps member is a far wiser person than I will ever be.  He had perspective and with calm, sage advice said, “You know, it has never been about how much press time we get…we aren’t there for the applause or public acclaim, we’re there to serve the hurting as best as we can as we rely on the Lord to guide us.”  With one fell swoop, he cut me off at the knees – which was a good thing.  He brought a great sense of perspective to my heart.  There I was, getting so upset in the halls of public opinion while completely forgetting the primary purpose for our ‘Army’ existing in those places of disaster – to faithfully serve others with the love and grace of the Lord – regardless if it was seem through the lenses of some camera.   prayer

I was reminded of a passage of scripture, and I don’t use this to get preachy or to sound judgmental, but rather to put some sobering perspective back into my heart and perhaps others who might be struggling with this as well:  “….Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others.”  (Matthew 6:1,2)

-If we serve because we want to be seen, we have gotten it all wrong…
-If we serve because it brings fame to any organization, we have gotten it all wrong…
-If we serve because it makes us look good, we have gotten it all wrong…
…and we will have already received our reward, if so then God help us!

Instead, may our service, especially those unseen by the world around us, bring glory to God!  It should never be about our air time or the many external fund raisers on our behalf – The Lord will provide – be faithful in this!  Our consistency in serving Him is paramount to all of these things.  We are called to offer compassion, care, love, hope…with all of those things, who has time to worry about anything else?

Pray!!
Please pray for the many hands and feet of God currently serving in Texas and in Florida!  Continue to pray for this hurricane season…and the upcoming storms.  Don’t forget the Emergency Disaster Service personnel in the Western Territory either!  Prayer is not a last resort, but a means to continue to bring the needs of many before the Lord continuously!

Something more to Ponder…To God be the glory!!

A Conflicted Refugee

This pondering might incite disagreement – that is not my intention, but so be it if it does happen.

I have to honestly tell you that I am conflicted with this whole refugee crisis.  The whole conversation that politicians from both sides of the isles are having.  The whole debate within the Christian Church about where they stand.  I. am. conflicted.

parisI get that we don’t want to experience what Paris has just horribly experienced.  I understand that terrorists wish us harm.   I know that we must protect our families and our communities…and we must.  BUT, (and here’s where the “conflicted” part comes in”) does this mean we completely shut our borders and treat every man, woman and child as a suspect of terror?  -No.

I don’t think anyone is saying that we shouldn’t be careful.
I don’t think this debate is about if terrorists exist – because they do.
I think this debate is about safety as well as judgement.
But here comes the element that sometimes can be missed within the whole conversation about refugees – COMPASSION.

times.jpgSome might argue that if we allow refugees (because of compassion) to come into our country, we will also allow terrorists in as well.  This can be a valid point, and I get why some are calling for stiffer screenings, but we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of people…  Others have argued that their state will flat out refuse to accept any refugees, citing that this is why/how the Paris attack happened.

This is where I am conflicted. 
I don’t have many answers, just a pondering about the whole topic in regards to people who have been displaced from their homes and homeland.  I do not wish to be snarky about it – as some people have been from both political spectrums… (it has truly been discouraging and sad to witness).   But, something has to be done.
spectrum
On one side, we ought to fight for the lives of the innocent regardless of where they were born (they didn’t get to choose where they live).  If you are a believer of social justice then you can’t help but be moved with compassion for the plight of the innocent regardless of ideology.  If we have the resources to protect, defend and actually DO SOMETHING other than protect our own interests – then we should feel compelled to act on the behalf of the innocent throughout our world.

On the other side, we should be reminded that terrorists like those found in ISIS will attempt to infiltrate and disguise themselves by surrounding themselves with innocent people – this is not a new strategy, albeit a deplorable one.  We ought to be vigilant while facing this crisis with compassion.

borders.jpgDo I feel we should completely close our borders to those who wish to make a home within our free country?  NO.  Do I believe all who come to this country should follow the same procedure to citizenship through education and understanding?  Yes.

For those seeking safe refuge from war and militant beliefs – I say we welcome them in.

The debate within this refugee crisis should also consider what happens to those who are shut out and are not welcomed…does this/could this push people to identify with militant extremist groups as well?

And what of the Christian Church? 
church.jpgWhat is their part to play in all of this?
We ought to remain a moral compass – not political, but one who fights for the innocent, ones who help to cast the light of hope into hopeless situations and lives broken by war, hunger and loss.  In other words, we ought to do all we can for God’s Kingdom here on earth to share love, hope and compassion.   We ought to continue to fight for the innocent, and to share this amazing love with all the world – so that Christ might become evident and lives can be saved.

I am conflicted, but not on the need to share compassion and grace.
We continue to pray for the people in Paris, and other regions of our world where terror is still evident.  We know that everyone of us will reap what we sow…please continue to pray for our world leaders, Church leaders and for Christians in our world facing martyrdom for their faith, because they will not be silent in declaring Christ Jesus as Lord.

Something more to ponder today.

To God be the glory!

Dear Salvation Army, Expressions of Christmas Distribution…

distributionIt hasn’t happened yet…but, “Santa’s Workshop” is in full swing as presents and other gift items are placed on folding tables where our Sunday School class usually meets and are now being carefully sorted by a precious few volunteers.  It sort of feels like a big build up to a crashing finale’ in an orchestra piece.  The triple fortes are being played and soon the timpani will come exploding in the rallying final note that is held out, emphasized and controlled by the conductor’s raised hands…I’m waiting for the signal, the final “cut off”, the conclusion.  It all culminates and concludes here.  All the hard work, the radio spots, the television minutes, the rushing from place to place in order to drop off angel tree tags only to return numerous times to retrieve bags, boxes and ornately wrapped (even though year after year we ask for “unwrapped gifts”) presents.

Sometimes it seems a far cry from a small infant who was born into our world and placed in a feeding trough for animals.  Sometimes, I can kind of see a glimpse of the nativity from our chapel from here.  Sometimes, I wonder if this is as vital as we make it out to be, or if we’re missing the point…and by “we’re” I mean both you and me and those who receive such services.

flashbackBut…Flashback from last year…
I saw Jesus.
I glimpsed His smile in a mother who’s cheeks were wet with tears because we could help her make ends meet this Christmas. -Times had been hard for her.
I glimpsed His caring eyes as parents came to our Social Worker and gave her a thanks laden card that said “you matter and without you here we would not have had a Christmas this year.”
I glimpsed His nail scared hands in the numerous voluntary services those who had come to give of themselves and of their time to this Christmas cause.  In these simple gifts of services I saw a servant Jesus stooping down again to wash the disciples feet – how humbling such acts can be to behold!

I recall Jesus’ words to His disciples when they were squabbling over who would be the greatest disciple in the kingdom and Jesus cuts them off and says, “…whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.” (Mark 10:44)  Sometimes I think this ministry is anything but “greatest work”, it is hard laborious, back breaking work.  It has some rewards in this world, but notoriety and fame is certainly not a part of that.  Sometimes living out this expression of servant demands far more than we’re willing to give.

Thankful and Thankless…
Not everyone will receive these gifts with grace.  Some, with great pride will look upon such an offering and refuse it because it is beneath them.  Some will scorn these works and the efforts put forth hour after back breaking hour by priceless volunteers because it doesn’t meet their standards.  Yet, as infrequent as it occurs, a few will come having worn the bruises of this world, and with eyes welling up and choking back the weary restrains, say “thank you!”.  These few make it worth while, not that we are looking for their gratitude, but it does help to know that an impact on our community has been made.  It does help to feel productive for the Kingdom.  No, perhaps souls were not won at some kind of “Toy Shop Mercy Seat”, but perhaps a seed of generosity, grace and love was planted here.  Perhaps such acts of mercy will cultivate a loosening of the soil around hardened hearts.

And…as they go from that place, with bags of toys, clothing and food, children’s lives will be altered.  Perhaps a glimmer of hope will be found.  Perhaps this simple expression of love with spark a child-like interest in the Divine.

These Aren’t Just Toys…toy story
This isn’t about the blockbuster movie series “Toy Story” where toys will come to life.
This is about something more, something deeply heartfelt, some sort of of personal/spiritual contact with another soul who is searching.  This is not just about toys and physical needs being met…this is something more.  This can be about something more if we can look past the tired eyes, the weary bones and herculean Christmas effort.  Yes, it can be a sin to overwork ourselves.  Yes, it can be wrong if we misplace the true meaning of Salvation born in a manger.  This can be about so much more than just providing gifts at Christmas…but the question remains what will we make it to be?

lineNot Just Another Production Line…
I’ve been to Walmart, Target, Bestbuy and other market places this holiday season.  I’ve seen the madness.  I have witnessed the rush to get the perfect present.  I too have stood in those check-out lines, waiting impatiently for my turn.
BUT…when families and individuals come to The Salvation Army,  who are in need, we cannot treat them like just another number in a long line of other “customers”…they are people!  There is dignity in grace.  There is compassion in calling on names rather than numbers.  Can we change this persona?  Can we make it personal?  Can we become something more than just another production line?

It’s coming…and as we provide these basic human services  to those who are in need at our distribution, will they see Jesus in us?  Can we share that hope?  It may sound like lollipops and rainbows here, but the reality is what we do matters and we can truly make an impact for the Kingdom!

Are you ready?  
Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

nativityIsaiah 9:6
For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Dear Salvation Army, Expressions of an Officer at Christmas

hope2
The “Hope” for all the world!

Perhaps this will sound poetic and a little disjunct…perhaps you will relate.
Every year we gear up, dear Officer, staff, volunteers and friends.
Every year we spend countless hours planning, preparing and executing a plan for “others”.

Expressions:
I am tired.
I am weary.
I am a little banged up and bruised.
I am bruised physically,
but most of it is on the inside…the frequent personal encounters.
the connections with the cynical, the battered, the broken, the apathetic.
many have given up.
many have lost touch with compassion.
many are consumed with self-driven purpose.
sometimes all I can do is find one solitary moment and exhale.
sometimes I have laid tired bones upon a pew in a sanctuary that is far too often deserted.

at night, following the long burdensome day
I drive home and on my way I peer past windows and homes
illuminated by twinkling Christmas lights and trees carefully donned
with ornaments, keepsakes and aspirations.
lights1I cannot help but covet in these moments.
I cannot help but long for something that vaguely resembles idealic Christmas’
I have seen on the big screen.
I cannot help but pine for something out of reach to me.
It is selfish, I know.
It is a little melodramatic.
it is, at times, unrealistic…it is a dream, a blur in my rearview mirror.
I park the car in the driveway, hang up my coat, lounge for a time and slumber for a while
only to do it all again.

Expressions of Purpose:
In spite of these emotions.
in spite of these longings.
in spite of my covetous spirit…I plod on.
There is a reason.
There is a purpose to this.
Something beyond working tired bones to a daily grind.
Something past human personal needs.

eyesI have seen tired, hopeless eyes.
these eyes are not the ones staring back at me in the mirror.
I see them every day.
I see them in faces of parents desperately trying to make ends meet.
I see them in the eyes of single mothers who  work three jobs
and is weeping in front of me.
I see hopelessness in the dirty work clothes of an underpaid worker
coming in for a foodbox because this month’s rent is late.

We could all just pretend these needs are not real.
we could imagine they all deserve the circumstances they find themselves in
we could easily compartmentalize this
push it down
swallow the guilt and conscience…
but we are soldiers.
fightwe are fighters
we fight for more than food boxes and funding
we fight for the lives of these hopeless souls
we fight even in the midst of our covetous moments…
when in the rearview mirror we see a life that glitters and glimmers
beckoning to us…

sometimes we have to dig down deep to keep fighting.
sometimes we have to be pulled up short to be reminded.
sometimes we enter the fray with jaded hearts.
sometimes we would prefer to spectate, deliberate and end our day
by putting it all out of our minds.

Expressions of Reason:
Yes, dear soldier,
we work this insanity at Christmas
yes, sometimes it seems unholy, improper
all in vain.
walking awayWe could walk away,
others will pick up the slack
others will finish what we started
others will lend a helping hand.
Does faith play into this?
Where does our walk with the Lord lead?
Have we left Him behind in OUR works?
Have we begun to do this great thing
for man’s glory instead of His glory?
Are our intentions pure?
Or are we just chasing the dollar signs?
Capturing notoriety….
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me...”
(Luke 9:23)
Is this what discipleship looks like?
Do we get it wrong sometimes?
are we truly denying ourselves in this?
Is this “cross” worth carrying?
These questions arise in me during this time.
Sometimes His holy presence stills these thoughts
other times they get bantered about
tossed around, chewed on, bitten into
sometimes they get spit out…

Expressions of Compassioncompassion
But in the eyes of the hopeless
in the lives of the desperate
in the darkness of the forlorn
I have an opportunity to help.
I have a chance to mend brokenness
I have these hands that are able to pick up
the broken pieces and, with the holy spirit, help
to put the pieces back together again.
Can I attain and capture this compassion?
No.
It isn’t in me…it never was, nor will it ever be…
homeless1It isn’t something I am born with
or some sort of innate empathy for complete strangers…
I am, at times,
the priest that walks on by in that parable of the Samaritan.
I am incapable of it…by my own strength, heart, and power.
Without Him, I can do nothing.
Without His strength, heart, and power
this compassion is far beyond my reach.
But…
I want to help.
I want to serve.
I want to live this set-apartness
To experience this holiness
To shine His light…
Lord,
help me to express
your restoration
your forgiveness
your deliverance
your love.
-Amen.

These are some expressions of an Officer at Christmas.
There’s nothing wrong or right about it, just expressions, inflections, conversations of the heart.
Often times these conversations become reality and represent us.
I understand weariness.
I understand frustrations.
I understand fighting this – for good and for ill.

In the end, at least for me, it boils down to where my heart is…whose heart is mine…what or who I serve…
this makes all the difference between pointless, mindless work and mission-filled service to the Almighty.

Something for the Army to ponder today.
To God Be The Glory!

Personalizing Homelessness

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Can we identify with those who live on the streets?  I don’t mean hopeless conversations and pre-judgement calls such as “Well, they’re drunks and if I give them money they will just spent it on more booze…” That isn’t identifying with homelessness, that’s passing judgement on them.  Yes, something needs to be done, but casting blame, brow beating and ugly talk will not restore lives.  

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Just this past week, London’s Mayor Boris Johnson called for the removal of the “ugly, stupid anti-homeless spikes” in a modern upscale neighborhood after many took to social media sites to decry this horrific practice and homeless deterrent.  (source: http://rt.com/news/164952-anti-homeless-spikes-remove/) 

Although we can see this as a success in “spreading the word”, we shouldn’t just stop here to rest on our laurels, much work still remains to be done.  

Personalizing Homelessness – breaking the prejudgements:

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Some have argued that these protests against anti-homeless constructions infringe on the rights of the landowners or landlords.  Understandably, this is a concern.  Certainly those who are good stewards of their property wish to maintain a safe and aesthetically pleasing environment for their tenants, but at what cost?  

How are we to care for others while taking care of the properties around us?  This is a troubling issue, and both sides of this argument require consideration.  Yet many times the campaign of driving homelessness from the streets of our cities is something done quietly. Why would it be done quietly? Some may wonder.  The reason is because of fear of public repercussions.  There are times when law enforcement officials are encouraged to drive homeless individuals to locations outside of town and drop them off.  When this type of practice happens we begin to dehumanize people. What is the value of a life today?  Even if that life is smelly, dirty and unhealthy, that person is still human.  

Making it personal: 

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What if that person on the street is your brother or sister?  What if that homeless person is a son or daughter?  Wouldn’t you want others to treat them fairly?  Would you want someone to help them?  There are many root causes of homelessness, drugs and alcohol are usually the first things we assume brought them to homelessness, but mental abuse and disabilities are also contributors.  These are the least of these in our communities.  These are people without voices.  What if we made homelessness personal.  What if we humanized these poor wretches for a moment.  I don’t use that term to make them seem “under” me by any means, but how much of a difference does it make to see them as equals to us?  Sure they may be without homes, incomes and families, but are they not still loved by an Almighty God who knows their names and loves them the same as He loves us?  

The difference between apathy and mercy:

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There’s a vast difference between these two words.  One speaks of indifference to others while the other speaks of compassion and love.  One is uncaring while the other cares.  Which are we?  Do we see people living on the streets…actually see them?  Is there something that WE can do?  I certainly don’t propose that we go and put ourselves in danger…but there is something we can do to avoid apathy in these situations.  Care.  Find places like The Salvation Army who can go in uniform with many hands to help clothe, feed and show love.  Become involved, volunteer in church groups who minister through soup kitchens and other feeding programs.  One such program is The Salvation Army’s Bed & Bread club – http://www.usc.salvationarmy.org/usc/www_usc_detroithl.nsf/vw-text-index/9b2226ecdc63d0518025717f007045c7?opendocument

http://salvationarmynorth.org/community-pages/bed-and-bread-club/

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Contribute to authentic ministries and missions who actually go and help those living on the streets. Make homelessness personal. Each person who sleeps out there under bridges and in the nooks of buildings are still people.  Some of these homeless individuals have family members still looking for them.  We can either construct crude spikes on a street or park bench and drive them from our sight, or we can lend a helping hand without prejudging their motives or intentions.  

Homelessness should be personal to us.  We should care about others, and if we can help…we should. 

 

-Just another thought to ponder. 

Prayer: Lord help me to see others the way that You seen them.  Help me to be an instrument of Your peace.  Remove my prejudgments and prejudices.  Grant me wisdom and love, fill me with Your mercy, and may my hands become Yours.  -Amen.  

“Brothers don’t shake hands…Brothers gotta hug!”

The title I have used today is a quote from one of my favorite Chris Farley movies: “Tommy Boy”.   In it he discovers (falsely so) that he has a brother and so he is ecstatic to welcome him into the family.  The film is a little crude at times, yet Chris Farley had a way of hamming it up for cameras which made him extremely funny.

Do you know what’s not funny in this world though?  Brothers and sisters in Christ facing discouragement and frustrations alone in life.  Why does this happen?  Isn’t the Body of Christ supposed to uplift and encourage?  Where are the helping hands at times to come along those who are suffering through various blights of discouragement?

Paul puts it rather plainly for the early church and for us still today when he says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV) 

Why then, in times of despair, does it seem as if some are trudging through it alone?

Do you remember the story of the paralytic who wanted to be healed by Jesus?  How did he get to Jesus?  He certainly didn’t walk there.  No, instead his friends took the time to care for him.  They took the time to pick him up on his mat and take him to Jesus.  In fact they had to go to great lengths to place their friend at the feet of Jesus.  When they got to where Jesus was teaching they discovered that the house was full of people, there was absolutely no room for them to carry him in on his mat.  So instead of calling it quits or abandoning their friend they instead devised a shrewd plan.  The hefted him, laboriously up onto the owner’s roof and tore a hole in it so that they could lower him down to Jesus.  (Mark 2:4)  What friends!   They took the time to encourage and lift (literally) their friend to Jesus.

What of us today?  Do we take the time to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ?  Or are we too preoccupied with our own worries and our own busy schedules?  These friends who lowered their paralyzed colleague down through a roof could have called it quits once they found the house to be too full of people.  They could have shrugged their shoulders and said, “well we tried” and carried him back home with no change in his living situation…yet they didn’t.  They took time out of their busy schedules.  They went the extra mile.  They weren’t interested in what they could get out of the situation.  It wasn’t about them, it was about their friend, their brother on the mat who couldn’t move.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is sometimes a danger of becoming too comfortable in our lives that we lose focus on others around us.  Others who could use some encouragement.  Others who need to hear a word of love and kindness from their peers.  We can’t afford to be little isolated islands or clusters of Church goers who never engage and connect with other parts of the body of Christ!

The poet John Donne once wrote:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; 
It tolls for thee. 

Today, there are fellow Christ-followers who need your support.  Today there are brothers and sisters in Christ who are about to give up because they feel all alone with no one to support them.  Today is another shining opportunity to be a brother or a sister to the discouraged and distraught.  You can be a source of encouragement.  You don’t need to be a professional counselor or a degreed Psychologist to help, you just need to be present and available.

Are you willing?  Are you available?  Ask the Lord for guidance and discernment and then get involved in the lives of other believers which will extend far beyond the pew on Sundays.  Give them a hug, love on them and then allow God’s fellowship of love to penetrate your hearts so that self isn’t number one but Christ is first and others are even before our own wants and needs.

-Just a thought for today.

and we sent Timothy, our brother and God’s fellow worker in the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you as to your faith...” 1 Thessalonians 3:2

A Steadfast love!

Lamentations 3:21-23 (NIV)
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

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Do you sometimes have trouble recalling the love of God in your life?  Are you far from God right now?  Are there days when you wonder what God is doing with you?  Are you struggling right now?

If the answer is yes and ‘I don’t know’ to these questions let me encourage you today.  The inventor of love, the Creator of the Universe thinks that you are special!  He thinks that you are worthy of His fellowship!  Now when I bring that statement to mind how do you feel?  I hope it evokes in you a warmth of love and peace because our Father in Heaven wants us all to know that we matter to Him!

These beautifully written verses tell us that His grace and love are new every morning for us.  How awesome is that?  No matter how badly we’ve screwed up in the past our God wants to mend and forgive.  The only issue that keeps us from receiving these promises of love and compassion…is us.  Do you doubt?  We cannot allow doubt to replace faith in our lives.  Doubt can pull us away from God because we just can’t grasp Him in a tangible sense.  But know that He is there and faith is the evidence of things unseen and believing in Him!

Do you stumble and trip in sin?  I want to caution you that this life isn’t a game.  We are granted grace by God, but that grace isn’t some ‘get out of jail’ card that we flash every time we choose to sin and think callously ‘oh well God will forgive me.’  We have to get serious about our faith, meaning if it is in our power, which it is and God can grant us that power, we must avoid the trappings of temptation all together.

Yes God’s love and compassion are steadfast!  These attributes of God are not going anywhere, but we have to wise up and shake up our lives in order to receive them from God!  He is spurring us to change our patterns and to accept Him and His renewing grace every day!  Will you receive it anew today?  He loves us so very much and desires for us to love Him back without strings or conditions attached.

This beautiful passage always strikes a chord in my life and evokes for me a sense of His perfect peace that He offers anew to us each and every day.  How awesome is that?!

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