Dear Salvation Army, Is It Just ‘Busy’ Work?

It is a question I have often asked myself.
Something I’ve pondered.
Waged war with.
Chewed on until my jaws ache.

Have I (personally speaking) focused too much on the ‘busy’ work instead of the priorities of salvation? Am I spending so much time doing the mundane, the time consuming, soul-sucking tasks that offer no vital substance to life?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not viewing certain tasks as beneath me. I am, instead, uncovering something that I feel has been convicting to me…and perhaps it has been revealed to you as well by the Holy Spirit.

We, as an Army, have grown far beyond a movement birthed out of the ashes and smoke the industrial era. This movement has grown arms and legs in order to meet human needs in Jesus’ name. But with that growth, it becomes inevitable that we develop not so good traits as well. Over working ourselves. Demanding more and more income to support bloating projects. Straining for every ounce of local and federal funding sources. Funds are, of course vital to our cause, but there is a danger here: We might become tempted, in our busyness to trust less in the provision of God and trust more in our own efforts, our own donors, our own coffers.

Have we allowed busy work to shape our faith?
Have we entered into simply trusting in the next financial campaign instead of diligently seeking out what God would have us do? I pray this is never the case!

I am certainly not negating hard work, I am simply pondering whether in the midst of our hard work we have stopped looking to the Author of all things in exchange for the things He has created? Instead of commanding time, time is commanding us. In a very real sense have we lost our first love and replaced it with busy work?

I understand that we mustn’t grow tired of doing Good (Galatians 6:9)
But there should be moments of reflect that we do in order to be brought back to our first love and first priority – Loving God. THEN we are able to reach out and offer our soup, soap and salvation.

So how do we avoid making what we do just ‘Busy Work’?

3 Ways to Avoid The Trap of Busy Work:

1) Practicing the Presence of God Daily (Even moment by moment)
Brother Lawrence was right – we need to get into the practice of communing with the presence of God moment by moment. We need to fellowship with our Creator during the most trying of tasks to the most mundane of them. When we open up our lives and everything in them to God, we begin to share our experiences with Him. We are inviting Him to participate in them with us. Just because we have to do required mundane tasks doesn’t mean that it is busy work. ‘Busy work’ is done when we have no purpose, no mission or no aim. Busy work leads no one to Christ, consumes all our time and offers nothing in spiritual nourishment. When we enter into God’s presence throughout our day, we begin to eliminate the busy work. When we ask Him to commune with us, we begin to see what truly matters and life (and tasks) are given purpose once again. Why? We because we are not living for ourselves, our own hard work, our own ambitions, our own understanding…we are now dying to self, dying to corporate ladder climbing, dying to the search for approval and acceptance of others. Instead, we are living a new created life born out of holiness and the desire to be selfless.

2) Asking the question “Why”?
When we find ourselves caught in the busyness trap, we need to begin to asked questions. Like, “why am I doing what I am currently doing”. “Is this task or habit really what I should be doing?” “What is this contributing to the Kingdom building process?” Why do I catch myself falling into this ‘busyness’ trap again and again?

Habits are hard to break, and I believe busy work can be one of these bad habits that needs to be broken. We all are given time to do the necessary reports, chores, tasks…yet how often do we catch ourselves staring blankly at a computer screen? How often do we labor away at things that don’t really matter? I’m not saying we don’t do them, I am saying that perhaps we place too much emphasis on them. We give them too much importance and so our time gets eaten up in the non-Kingdom building habits.

There comes a point where we must look up.
Where we see where God desires us to go. Perhaps it is to talk to that person in the Social Services waiting room. Maybe it is to go and visit corps members, sit with a person that needs a friend, or spend a few solitary moments in the chapel praying. Are we looking up? Or do we go about our day with our heads down and buried in our computers, meanwhile making all of our tasks and duties “busy work”?
Why?

3) Connect with others.
I have mentioned this already in the second point…but it begs saying again: we MUST connect with other people (and not just on social media). Look people in the eyes. Really listen to their needs. Hear the hurt. See the longing for fellowship. Be a light to someone in need. Winning the world of Jesus begins with one or two people. If we aren’t reaching people for Christ what is the point of calling our selves an army of salvation?

When we realign ourselves with our first love and, in turn, pour that love out on others, we will have eliminated all ‘busy work’? How?
By turning each moment and each task into an opportunity to serve God. When we change our perspective and our priorities, we reorient our mission and purpose to the place it should have been all along.

Dear Salvation Army…is there ‘busy work’ taking place in your ministry right now?
Do you find yourself missing the mark and feeling unfulfilled in your calling?
Perhaps you must look up.
Perhaps a reprioritizing of life needs to take place.
Perhaps a rededication, a recommitment, a reigniting of the heart is in order.

Busy work happens to all of us…but we mustn’t remain there, we need to get up and move.

Something more for our Army to ponder today.

The Problem With Submission…

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you.” -James 4:7-8

I have a tough time with one word in this passage.
It has nothing to do with God, faith or salvation…it has everything to do with how this word is used in the world, sometimes maliciously, in order to put people in their place.

What is the word?

“Submit”.

I don’t do well with submission.
Honestly, it makes me feel like a prisoner having to obey the warden. (Images of Shawshank Redemption come to mind)…

Perhaps it is because I have personally witnessed that word being used and abused.
Perhaps it is because I struggle with my own need for freedom.
Regardless of the why, there is still the issue with the how…how do I submit…and the ‘who’ – who am I to submit to?

For some of us it is the trust involved in such an act.
Questions like, “what if my trust is betrayed”, and “can I really trust them”?
Many time it isn’t even about submitting to God, but rather authority figures in our own lives; Bosses, business advisors, managers, family members…etc. Then, when we have been burned by submitting to a faulty human-led system, we transplant this disappointment and disillusionment upon God…as if He too is imperfect and will let us down.

I too have struggled with this notion, meanwhile transplanting my own mortal experience upon an immortal God. But have I short changed God when I’ve done this? Do I still struggle with these trust issues? Can I fully submit to God in spite of my past hurts and the numerous failed dumpster fires of attempted human submission?

Maybe I’m overthinking this…have you ever done that?
I’ve counted all of the variables, outcomes, pros and cons way before ever taking a step. My 1st Grade Teacher’s voice keeps ringing in my ear as she said, “look before you leap.” But maybe in this case, it’s the other way round?! Perhaps I just have to go for it and place my all before God when I do.

In James 4:7-8, perhaps it’s more about coming near to God than it is about submitting to Him…because wouldn’t we naturally do that anyway when we really, really know someone? After all, didn’t God come close to us first when He sent Jesus into this messed up world? He met us more than halfway as He hung on a cross for our sins.

You see, I know all of the theological implications of such an act. I know Jesus intellectually, but are there still times when my heart does not know Him…when I’m not near to God, in fact, I couldn’t be further from Him? Have you ever felt like that? We have all of the head knowledge, but when it really comes down to it, there’s a heart issue that still needs working out.

If you’re anything like me, perhaps you’re still trying to reconcile what submission looks like with God. I’ve been on this journey for quite some time, and I feel that the Holy Spirit has led me this far, I’m going to have trust Him in the things I have yet to figure out. He hasn’t given up on me, and I’m positive He certainly hasn’t given up on you either. Perhaps it’s not so much submission that He’s after, but rather a closer relationship with us. After all, doesn’t submission come from a place of trust? I cannot submit to something I don’t trust, and I cannot trust if I don’t come close enough to God.

The trouble with submission is we aren’t close enough to a God who desires a relationship with us…and I’m still working through this. I don’t have a Mary Poppins answer for you, just a notion and a nudge to deepen your relationship with the Almighty…we just might discover that is what was needed all along.

-Something more to ponder today.

Fear the Walking Faith…It’s a journey!

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matthew 17:20

Oh how our faith can waver sometimes.
It seems that the gusting of a slight breeze of discord or worry can shake our quivering feet of faith.

Have you ever come to a moment of realization that your faith is not as deep as you once thought it was? We all encounter times, while on this journey, where the feel as though we have entered into the desert and we are found lacking in our resolve and fortitude. This journey will take us into places that require us to dig a little deeper and to endure the dry and thirsty places – where we find ourselves questioning everything and reaching further for God…who seems to have gone silent.

Have you been to this place?

I remember when I first learned to swim.
My parents would take me into the deeper part of the waters where my feet couldn’t touch and then let go of me, and as they let go of me they step back out of my reach. I remember there was a momentary panic. The saving hands were no longer on me and I found myself struggling to keep my head above the waters. I remember having to reach out my arms while kicking my feet so that I could reach the safety again. As I did this, without realizing, I began to swim by myself for the first time.

My intentions were not to swim. My intention was to reach the safe arms of my parents who were just out of reach.

There is growth within the tension and fear.
Growth that can only take place when we are left to our own devices.
Growth that can only transpire within the turmoil and desert places of our faith journey.

It is as if God steps back from us, and we are faced with the seemingly terrifying notion that we must step into the deep alone. The truth is that we are most certainly not alone, but rather there is growth that is only found in desert. And so we step out, unsure of ourselves…unsure if we can reach those safe arms of Christ again.

Remember Peter on the waters before Jesus?
He is asked to step out into a turbulent, uncertain space.
Peter takes a couple of steps, loses sight of the arms of Christ and begins to sink.
He takes his eyes off of Jesus.
He considers the impossibilities of such a journey.
He must have recalled his inability to do this feat, and as the doubt sinks in so does Peter.

We often chastise Peter for his lack of faith.
We often sermonize this passage to implicate the lack of resolve that ‘the Rock’ had…
But where were the other disciples?
Do we read about their steps of faith on the waters? No.
They were still in the boat watching it all go down.

We have to get out of our boats.
We will encounter dry and thirsty times in our faith journey.
It will feel as if we are all alone out in the wilderness, but we are not alone.
God steps back and watches us within the tension of deeper waters.
And it is within those deeper spaces that we grow.
It is through perseverance that our character and the very image of Christ becomes clearer in us.

Some have turned back and returned to the safe places.
Some have given up because they have felt abandoned.
Others have persevered and they have grown.
The Lord desires all of us to deepen our faith, and so these times of dryness should be seen as opportunities to grow up into this amazing faith.

Being like Jesus isn’t easy.
It takes determination and desire on our part.
Are you prepared to allow God to deepen your faith?
Is it your desire to get off of spiritual baby formula and begin to feast on more sustainable spiritual nourishment?

Take that next step…don’t be afraid, He’s got you, and He isn’t far from you right now!

Something more to ponder today.

Dear Salvation Army, The Fish-Bowl Effect…

Dear Salvation Army, are we fooling ourselves?
Are we seeing one thing within our ivory towers while the reality looks quite different?

Please don’t take offense.
I mean no disrespect.
I just wonder if there are times that we are disconnected from how things truly are as opposed to how we perceive them to be.

It’s like the notion of missing the mark of evangelism & missions…It is like aiming for the lost with a harpoon when what you needed was a loving hug and a warm cup of coffee. Or perhaps, there is this grandiose idea of what success will look like (we envision a mega church with people all neatly lined up trying to get in) when in reality it is meeting with that single mother and ensuring she has enough to feed her family and she takes the leap of coming to church on a Sunday morning.

Do we miss the mark because our notion of successful mission has been aligned with a faulty or unrealistic sense of who we are serving and what they need? It can become that illustration of insanity, ever endeavoring to do the same thing over and over again, only to realize that it hasn’t worked in thirty years.

Perhaps we need to wake up.
I fear we have become too insulated in our own fishbowls, be it the corps, divisional headquarters, territorial headquarters or beyond. We cannot sit in our offices and expect the people to come to us. Yes, our branding is recognizable, but that doesn’t mean that we become lazy in our planning and in the reaching for the lost, hurting and oppressed. We cannot afford to sit in our fishbowls. We cannot become complacent, overly busy with interior paperwork, when outside in our communities families and individuals need to see the hope that the Holy Spirit is prodding us to give because we serve more than just an Army, we serve the Lord first and foremost.

Dear Salvation Army,
I am fearful that we have lost our way, because of mission drift.
I am fearful that leaders from every rank have forgotten what it means to have a heart to God and a hand to man. This is a broad brushstroke, not aimed at offending, but perhaps prodding those who need it. There are many, many saints in our Army. I wish to recognize that as fact, may we ever endeavor to emulate their great faith!

Lastly, we cannot program our army to death.
We cannot course correct without first dispelling the faulty realities that have gotten us to this point.

Questions to Ponder:
What fishbowls do we need to get out of today?
Do we truly know the communities and people that we have been commissioned to minister to?
Have we prayed about our mission and vision for the lost in our areas of influence? (Not all of these places will look the same, or require the same kinds of ministry tools to reach the lost and disciple the faithful).
How can we (I) encourage 1 person today (maybe more, but start with just one)?
Can we pray that God would reveal to us the hindrances and hang ups in our lives right now that prevent us from having a greater impact on the Kingdom in His name?

As I sit here and write this, I admittedly have first considered the fishbowls that I have placed myself in. No, this has nothing to do with appointments or rank, but as a follower of Christ there are walls that I have constructed that have not been ordained by Him. Constructs that insulate my selfish heart and profit nothing for the Kingdom of Heaven. Perhaps you can relate, dear Soldier. I believe that if we do not first dispel these walls and climb out of our fishbowls, so too will our impact for the Kingdom be limited.

Can we identify these fishbowls?
Are we prepared to climb out of them?

Something more for our Army to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

Silence is a Killer…A Devotional Pondering.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Let’s face it, we all encounter difficult days…some more difficult than others.
There are days that we can manage on our own, and then there are days when we are completely floored by the problems that come our way.  The pressures may seem impossible to overcome, and sometimes that may be true…

I know what you’re thinking, “that doesn’t sound very encouraging to me”…let me finish:
The pressures may seem impossible to overcome, and sometimes that may be true…but we were never meant to handle it all on our own.

In the Apostle Paul’s day, the new believers in Thessalonica were encountering all kinds of trouble.  Thessalonica was the largest city in Macedonia which boasted over 200,000 people.  This city was known for being a military and commercial port city.  So within this large city in Macedonia, these young Christians were encountering all sorts of trouble – even persecution and death because of their new-found declarations of faith.  In the midst of their living testimonies, they longed for the day of Christ’s return.  What does that mean?  They lived in fear every single day, and couldn’t wait for Christ to come back.   And so these young Christians lived expectant lives while encouraging each other onward.

The persecution in Thessalonica must have been fierce for the Apostle Paul to remind them that they needed one another and they ought to continue (“just as you are doing”) to encourage one another.

Let’s put this into perspective:
We might not be facing certain death for our faith, instead we might be struggling to pay rent, finding funds to feed our families, enduring a tough problem at work or at home…all of these situations are arduous and, at times they keep us up at night.
The killer is silence. 
What do I mean?
We think no other Christian is struggling, and if they are it must mean that their faith isn’t strong enough.  This could not be further from the truth.
We have this idea that we shouldn’t let other Christians know how discouraged we really are, because we don’t want them to think less of us.  Because we don’t want others to talk.  Because we fear judgment of others.  Because we believe in the perfect Christian life that really doesn’t exist…because we’ve bought the lie that to be a Christian means we don’t struggle with these things anymore.

And so, silence is a killer.
No one knows.
We don’t share.
And our hurts go unchecked, unnoticed, and unaddressed.

Dear Christian,
How can we encourage one another if we aren’t being honest with each other?
How can we carry each other’s burdens if we allow silence to slowly kill our souls?
We cannot continue to buy the lie that everything is fine when we face times of trial and we keep it private.  (Some will laugh at this and say, but church is full of hypocrites and gossipers…then find REAL believers in whom you can confide!)

Healing can begin with out this kind of encouragement, but long is the process and deep the scars.  When we have others who will journey beside us, and encourage us, we will find added strength, hope, abundance and encouragement.

Don’t let silence kill you.

A prayer for passion and re-ignition

If speech and arts are not accompanied by love and passion

they will fall horribly short and mean nothing but empty sound. 

If actions are done out of obligation without compassion and care

they will reach numbed hands and cold hearts in a winter world.

If our actions are compelled only by our pay checks and selfish desires

we will start fires in our pocketbooks but not in the hearts of men.

It will all be for naught and this world would have inherited another cold soul.

Passion, fire and love begin and end with a heart knowledge of God.

Without such an intimate experience we can live, but it will be temporal

it will be less, it will be empty and vacant where He could reside and stoke

the fires of our souls and passions.

Dear Lord, Ignite our flames once more.

Ignite in us Your burning passion for Holiness and compassion

for this world in which we live.

May our worship not be out of obligation or command

but out of love and this deep desire to know more of You, 

and through this engulfing flame, may our eyes

see others the way You see them and be spurned to act

without our interests in mind, but to capture the hearts 

of others for You and Your kingdom come. 

-Amen.

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What Parents aren’t saying to their kids

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Like it or not our culture and society is progressing.  Progressing where, well that remains to be seen.  But if the trends are any indicators where we’re going may not look so good.  I don’t mean to sound all ‘doom and gloom’ here but what exactly are parents teaching their kids these day?  And on the flip-side what are they not saying to their kids?

History Lesson:

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How and who teaches our kids makes a world of difference.  Don’t believe me?  The Warlords in Africa understand this notion.  Why do you think they abduct young boys and recruit them for their armies?  He who controls the youth controls the next generation.  Right or wrong (and that last example is most definitely wrong) the principle is still constant and true.  Who is responsible for instructing the youth of our next generation?  The Parents!!!  But what are the parents not saying any longer?

Here’s a list of a few things they aren’t saying: 

1.  NO!

Discipline has become inconsistent at best.  Children are allowed to do more, stay up later, eat whatever they want and parents aren’t telling their children ‘NO’.  Let me make a confession.  As a parent of four children I think I know a little bit about kids.  And if we as parents don’t tell them no when we know what is best for them they will begin to craft their own ideals and notions of right and wrong.  I am the parent!  You are the parent and we have to set boundaries for our children especially when they are young and in the formative stages of life!  I’m not saying it’s too late for teenagers if you’ve never said ‘no’ to your child, but much of a child’s understanding of right and wrong begins when they are young.  Say no, not just to say it, but when it applies to situations and circumstances that may endanger your child, when they act up or push the boundaries…have the guts to be consistent and say no.  There are far too many lazy parents in our world today who just don’t have the time to tell their children no.  Be a better parent than that!

2. Wait!

We live in a fast paced, fast food society.  Everything is based on instant gratification. But what is that teaching our children?  Good things don’t come to those who wait, no good things come to those who get it now!  Whatever ‘it’ is get it, why wait?  This applies to purchasing items that are beyond our financial means, eating foods in over indulgence, and even sexual pursuits.  Parents, we have got to step up to the plate and tell our children to wait!  Don’t let them make decisions based on what their friends are doing or what modern media is telling them is okay.  Have ‘the talk’ with them.  Get involved in their lives and remind them that God does have a plan for their lives…and some of it involves waiting.

3.  I love you

Let me be clear on this point, many parents are saying the words ‘I love you’ but they’re not backing it up with action.  If you love your child don’t just say it be involved in their lives, actually listen to them as they share with you their day.  Be available to them so that they have someone to come and talk to.  They say body language is sometimes more important than actual verbal language at times.  So put the tablet, cell phone, or laptop down and actually make eye contact with your child!  Let them know that you love them by paying attention to them!  Parents we cannot afford to be selfish when it comes to sharing our love with our kids.  We only have them for 18 years of their life and then they go out into the world on their own.  Make it count, help them show love in the same respect by being there and being attentive to them.

4. Your choices matter!

Start young with this!  Make sure they understand what consequences are for both good and poor choices!  Instruct them properly and help them to weigh out their choices in this life.  We are witnessing a whole generation of young people growing up in a world where no one is responsible for the consequences of poor decisions.  How does that happen?  It starts at home.  If the parent can’t admit wrong doing or own up to bad choices, the child learns from this as well.  The child has learn to blame others for their mistakes, to ignore the consequences and to just do what makes you happy.  Parents we have to be adult enough to show our children how to admit wrong doing, and to help them make better choices in their lives.  It’s not a weakness to admit that we were wrong at times.  Doing so displays something that is lost in our society today: integrity and courage.

5.  Love the Lord with all your heart and serve Him first!

I understand many do not live in Christian homes, but for any parent out there who attend Sunday School as a child or still goes to church today this is one of the most fundamental building blocks for any child’s development!  Without knowledge of God’s love and our reciprocation in word and deep we stand to lose an entire generation to ignorance and faithlessness.  Understanding that God is real and that His love saves us has to be at the forefront of our children’s development.  I’ve heard it said that it’s not our job to get our kids saved, I offer an contrary view.  It is our job to point our children in the right direction and to instruct them in the ways of God!  If we feel ill-equipped then I think we’re doing it right.  It won’t be easy but when our children see faith in action through us the Bible lessons about God and our relationship to Him will be that much clearer!

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Parents I cannot stress it enough, we cannot omit these important instructions from our children’s development!  The dangers in our society today are very real.  We are facing the possibility of an entire generation blind to faith and lost in sin.  We must instruct our children.  We must take the time.  We cannot afford to be selfish with our time and our knowledge of God.  Don’t dismiss this as just another alarmist, get involved with your children, tell them no, tell them to wait, help them to learn to make better choices in life and that consequences do exist.  Lead them and point them to God…make sure that you also display in word and deed these same principles and attributes in your life!

-Get on with it!

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Friends & Cheers…and belonging!

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Isn’t it everyone’s longing and hope in this world to find a place that you belong?  Isn’t that the hope of every person living?  We want to find acceptance, understanding and people who will love us for who we are…truly love us regardless of our faults and flaws.  Isn’t this why television shows like ‘Cheers’ and the more contemporary ‘Friends’ became so popular in the first place?  We find identity within characters who have found this formula don’t we?  We, perhaps covet their meaningful relationships because we too crave this type of deep level of fulfillment in others as well.

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Sure the characters are flawed, have issues, aren’t perfect and yet these characters had people coming back for more each week to find out how their favorite fictional characters were getting on.  These syndicated comedy shows have been so popular that for Cheers they’ve aired followup episodes to please its following, and rumors are they are planning this type of event for the cast fan base of ‘Friends’ as well.

Perhaps it’s loneliness that drives these franchises to popularity, or perhaps they touch on a very familiar topic and emotion in the majority of our world…we want to be loved and find belonging.

Perhaps a passage of scripture that seems obscure or a book in the bible you don’t often read says this to us about God’s love and our search for belonging in this life:  Zephaniah 3:17 “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.

Perhaps some of us feel lonely in this life…know that God is with you!  Perhaps some of us feel unloved or unlovable…know that God ‘will quiet you (and your heartache) with his love’!    Perhaps some of us worry about how our bills will be paid, where our next meal will come from or even the relationships (no matter how broken they may appear)…God will rejoice over you!

Do you need to be cheered up today?  Are you in need of Friends?….I know sorry about that play on words there, but God wants to be involved in your life and to remind you that you aren’t alone, you are never alone!  He loves you so much and wants you to find fulfillment in this life through others as well as your relationship to Him.

Be of good cheer. Do not think of today’s failures, but of the success that may come tomorrow. You have set yourselves a difficult task, but you will succeed if you persevere; and you will find a joy in overcoming obstacles. Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.” -Hellen Keller

“Walk in the Light” Sermon Podcast

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Click on this link for Sermon Podcast:  Walk in the Light (Sermon Podcast)

1 John 2:1-6 (NIV)
1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. 2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. 3 We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. 4 The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. 5 But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: 6 Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

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