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eisenhower librarySherrylee and I just returned Saturday from a two-week road trip vacation—which is why this blog station has been silent for a while!  For the first week we were in Kansas, Iowa, and Minnesota looking up dead relatives . . . if you know what I mean.

I must admit that I find it great fun to dig around in court records and libraries, even the walk through cemeteries, looking for clues to how my great- and great-great- grandparents lived, why they moved from one place to another, how they met their spouses and lived their lives. It’s certainly more fun and entertaining that watching fake people’s lives on the soaps!  I guess this is my own version of reality TV!!

The second week of our trip we drove across Minnesota and South Dakota to Mt. Rushmore—a beautiful drive this time of year and an impressive monument.  While Sherrylee searched the antique stores of Rapid City for treasures, I drove over to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, a place I’ve been attracted to since seeing Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

OK, I will also confess that driving back to Rapid City from Devil’s Tower, I stopped in both Sundance, Wyoming, where the Sundance Kid took his nickname because he had been jailed there, as well as Deadwood, SD, where Wild Bill Hickok held aces and eights for the last time. I don’t find it very inspiring that people leave half-empty whiskey bottles and old playing cards on his grave.

From South Dakota, we started home, but first had a very important stop in Abilene, Kansas. Here’s the story:

Shortly after President Reagan died in June 2004, Sherrylee and I visited his library and museum in Simi Valley, California.  Our visit was especially meaningful because our memories of his funeral there were still quite vivid, but we were amazed at how well done and interesting the museum itself was—and that was even before they had the retired Air Force One on display there.

Some friends of our try to visit all the classic roller coasters in the U.S..Others travel to and tour baseball stadiums. Some of our dearest friends set a goal of seeing all 34 Vermeer paintings—I don’t know if they include the disputed paintings or not—but I think they have or will soon complete this fancy.

Sherrylee and I decided we wanted to see all of the presidential libraries/museums.  There were only twelve at the time, but now there are thirteen official presidential libraries.

Franklin D. Roosevelt established the first presidential library in 1939 as a repository for his papers. In addition, he donated part of his Hyde Park, NY, estate to house them. Harry Truman decided he wanted to do the same thing and so a pattern developed that was codified by Congress, first in 1955 in the Presidential Libraries Act, then even more firmly established in 1978 and 1986.  The result is a wonderful set of museums, strung like pearls across the United States, literally from coast to coast, operated and maintained by the National Archives and Records Administration.  Here is the list and location:

Herbert Hoover Library West Branch, Iowa
Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Hyde Park, New York
Harry S. Truman Library Independence, Missouri
Dwight D. Eisenhower Library Abilene, Kansas
John F. Kennedy Library Boston, Massachusetts
Lyndon B. Johnson Library Austin, Texas
Richard M. Nixon Library Yorba Linda, California
Gerald R. Ford Library Ann Arbor/Grand Rapids, Michigan
Jimmy Carter Library Atlanta, Georgia
Ronald Reagan Library Simi Valley, California
George H. W. Bush Library College Station, Texas
William J. Clinton Library Little Rock, Arkansas
George W. Bush Library Dallas, Texas

 

Now you know the reason for our important stop in Abilene, Kansas.  Our visit to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library means I have visited all of the libraries.  Sherrylee still lacks two, and I’m sure we will eventually see those two together.

The presidential libraries are like heaven will be!  The full story of every president’s life is revealed.

  • I bet you do not know what an extraordinary generous man Herbert Hoover was, a man who spent much of his life and personal fortune helping the hungry and homeless.
  • I bet you didn’t know that George H. W. Bush was raised as a man of deep faith, and that he served as an elder in his church.
  • I bet you don’t know that Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, was raised by a pacifist mother, and that he hated war!  He said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

I say the libraries are like heaven because the stories of these men’s lives are told to show what led them to greatness and to show the good that they have done with the lives they were given.  When essential to their story, their failures are admitted—Watergate, Bay of Pigs, Great Depression, etc.—but when you get to the end of the museum, you always feel like you have been in the presence of someone who cared deeply about his country and his fellow citizens and who was wholly committed to upholding his oath as president.

After commanding millions of soldiers in war and sitting in the most powerful seat in the world for eight years, Dwight D. Eisenhower was buried in a regulation army casket in a chapel in Abilene, Kansas.  That simple casket is the fate of all of us—great or small.

Presidential libraries might be like Heaven on Judgment Day.  Because of the justice of God, our lives will be openly displayed, but because of He is full of mercy and grace, most prominently displayed will be how God has worked the days of our lives together for good along with those good works He prepared for us to do.  Our sinfulness is acknowledged, but overshadowed by the love and light of Jesus, so that He will be glorified when He says, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

 

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MCDGODZ EC052Sherrylee and I almost always choose our movies by consensus. Occasionally, however, one of us gets a wild hair and just wants to go see something that neither of us would normally choose.  If I want to remind her of some crazy films that we have seen together which were her choice, then all I have to do is refer to Snakes On A Plane (2006), which is so bad that it might become a cult movie someday.

Thursday night she decided we needed to see the premiere of Godzilla (2014), so we invited friends to join us and hurried to buy early tickets and beat the crowd. Before the film began, we were talking about the older Godzilla films, and Sherrylee says, “I liked the one with Faye Raye better than the Jessica Lange version.”  Oops!

After a little research, it turns out that Sherrylee was more right than she thought; apparently, the word godzilla was intended originally to invoke the idea of a gorilla. Gojira is the Japanese name, which is a combination of their words for gorilla and whale. In spite of the fact, that Sherrylee was disappointed not to see King Kong, I think she enjoyed the film!

The first Godzilla film, a Japanese film, was released in 1954, and most people agree that the monster was originally a metaphor for nuclear war. This sauric creature is awakened from his pre-historic sleep by nuclear blasts, he feeds on nuclear energy, and one of his trademark weapons is his atomic breath, with which he can destroy his enemies. In later films, he even has the power to shoot out atomic laser-like beams through his eyes!

Nuclear fears were behind many of the 50s monster movies, but even though Cold War fears subsided and nuclear energy became more common, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, survived by becoming a more sympathetic creature, often saving humanity rather than destroying it. Buildings, mountains, weapons, cities were destroyed, but not human existence.

Interestingly, however, Godzilla is not really the friend of humanity; rather, the monster usually acts out of a sense of self-preservation.  His now famous signature roar (at which the audience on Thursday night clapped in delight!) seems like rage, but the roar is more animal than human, a physical response to threat more than an emotional reaction to evil.

The producer Shogo Tomiyama reportedly was asked if Godzilla was good or bad.  His reply was that the creature was neither; Godzilla, he says, is more like the Shinto “God of Destruction,” not human and not moral at all.

This is where I slip over into Christian movie-watcher mode because the message of the 2014 Godzilla, is “if you leave it alone, nature will take care of itself and preserve its own balance.” 

As have been many of the earlier Godzilla films, this movie also pits modern technology and modern science against nature. Modern science and modern technology—especially weaponry—really only feed the monsters and do nothing to save humanity.  Only when left to its own devices can Nature (Godzilla) overcome the threats to the world.

I really have no trouble with the current recurrent cultural bent toward nature.  But I do find it atheistic!  Our world has adopted both figures, the more benign and comforting Mother Nature as well as the frighteningly powerful and destructive monster Nature (Godzilla), to explain the world we live in.

As a Christian, I do not believe in Mother Nature or Godzilla because I do not believe in a self-created, self-sustaining, self-preserving force called Nature.  I believe rather in God the Creator who through the Son created the universe. The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command (Hebrews 1:2-3).

There is nothing amoral about God. He creates the world and sustains it and holds it together because of His nature. There is purpose and plan in life and death; there is a beginning and an end, terminal warfare between Good and Evil, and, best of all—God so loved the world!

Godzilla is a good Saturday matinee film! The well-known actors have almost cameo parts, which should tell you that the monsters, the battles, the action are what the film is about. It is not really one of those sneakily propagandistic eco-films that you have been mildly disappointed with in recent years, so go see it!

But don’t forget that Nature is just as fantastical as Godzilla. Only God can save the World.

 

 

 

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Philomena2Revenge has always been an intriguing subject
because of the inherit struggle between good and evil. Revenge can contribute a degree of complexity to a story because it races ambiguously towards either justice or hatred, with the vigilante often not knowing which is his/her motivation—nor even if there is a real difference in these polar opposite moral positions.

With two recent very well-done films, Hollywood has discovered that the journey toward forgiveness can be just as dramatic.  Early last year, Philomena (2013)was released in time to secure three Golden Globe Awards and four Academy Award nominations as well as a number of other accolades.

Judi Dench delivers an extraordinary performance as Philomena Lee, the mother of a boy who was forcibly taken from her and given up for adoption by a sanctimonious Mother Superior in the convent community for unwed mothers like Philomena.

After living with the secret for fifty years, Philomena reveals her secret to her daughter who persuades a journalist Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan) to help her mother try to find her son.  They begin, of course, at the convent where Philomena had been, but are again rebuffed and are turned away as had happened in previous attempts by the mother to find out about her child.

I want you to see the film, so I’m not going to tell you more except that the story is bittersweet!  After the drama of the search is resolved, Philomena confronts the sisters of the convent one last time with her pain and agony, suffering which had been cloaked in shame for fifty years, laid on her by the unmerciful sister.  The journalist is livid and vitriolic in his attack on the heartless woman, but Philomena instead forgives her.  That’s the surprise ending that won’t ruin the story for you.  It’s not cheap grace, it’s not sappy and maudlin—it’s a choice to not be destroyed by hatred.

Last week, Sherrylee and I saw The Railway Man (2013)with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. As was Philomena, this film isThe_Railway_Man_--_movie_poster also based on a true story, that of Eric Lomax. Lomax was a British officer taken as a prisoner of war by the Japanese early in WWII. He and his mates were not only made to work under horrendous conditions on Thai-Burma railroad (think Bridge Over the River Kwai), but tortured as well for building a radio.

Viewers only learn these secrets of Lomax’s through flashbacks because the actual story takes place in Great Britain in the 1980s. Lomax, a fanatic railroad enthusiast, falls in love with a younger woman (Nicole Kidman) he meets on a train. After their marriage, she learns the truth about the considerable psychological suffering that he still experiences from the trauma of torture.  Reluctantly from his war buddies she forces out the whole story with the hope that she can help him.

But she also learns from his mates that her husband’s main torturer is still alive. Lomax doesn’t want to hear about this, but is forced to confront not only the existence of this man, but his own years of hatred toward him as well as the perpetual imaginations of revenge that he has fed on for forty years.

Lomax tracks down his torturer and confronts him with a knife in his hand.  But as he learns of his opponents own mental anguish and sees how he has tried to make some amends for his crimes, Lomax finds that it is more healing to forgive him than to kill him.

Two real movies about two real people who suffered horrible atrocities and injustices, who nevertheless chose to forgive their enemies—there’s a lesson here!

In thinking about these two movies, I couldn’t help but think about the young man in Jordan, a Palestinian whose family had fled Israel during the ’67 War after their home and their life there was lost.  He hated the Jews for what they had done to his father and mother. He hated Israel—as do so many in the Middle East for the injustices they believe have been done to their families and their peoples.

And the Israelis appear to have an arrogance born of fear—fear of future holocausts, fear of being pushed into the sea by their enemies.

When you talk with people in Jordan and Israel about politics, they very often fall back to a safe position with “It’s complicated.”  And it is.

But I do know that until someone is ready to forgive someone else who has wronged them horribly, there will never be peace.

Jesus taught us this first! 

 

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churchofchristsignI think many Churches of Christ are caught in a dilemma that they don’t even know will have a long-term effect on them.  See if you agree with me.

Prior to the last quarter century, Churches of Christ viewed as part of their core identity their non-denominationalism.  In fact, the earliest roots of the Restoration Movement in the U.S. were a reaction to the fact that denominationalism had become the means of excluding those from one’s fellowship who had different creedal beliefs.  By laying aside all human creeds and denominational organizations, restorationists believed they were more perfectly practicing the unity of the Spirit in the one Body of Christ.

During the 1970s, many in Churches of Christ began to believe that regardless of our theology, our practice had become denominational.  Churches of Christ had in practice adopted a brand that was defined by its own traditions and that brand was used to exclude rather than include.

Whereas in the sixties, we argued over whether to write “church of Christ” with a capital C or not, by the 70s, those debates were over, and we had become totally tolerant of talking about “Church of Christ” preachers, “Church of Christ” colleges, “Church of Christ” elderships, buildings, JOY buses, and when asked about personal membership “Church of Christ” was the only acceptable answer.  The term “Church of Christ” no longer was just a descriptive name borrowed from Romans 16:16, but rather a brand name and trademark of a very particular group of Christians—the very definition of denominationalism.

Interestingly enough, about the same time period, two new developments began to surface in the broader Christian community:  a number of new non-denominational  groups like Calvary Chapel, The Vineyard,  and The Way were started.  Also the whole Bible church and community church movements flourished. These were typically individual congregations very loosely associated with other churches, if at all.

As these independent non-denominational churches became more numerous, they were seen to be taking advantage of growing tolerance among evangelical Christians in particular.  Congregations of mainline denominations, seeing the tide moving away from denominationalism, began changing their congregational names to more generic names.  New names like Harvest Church, Covenant Church, New Life Church, etc., replaced old names and left old denominational identifications to very small fonts in parentheses, if visible at all.  Some of these churches quit their denominational organizations, but most just changed names.

 So as I see it, about the time the Churches of Christ became comfortable about being one among many churches—at least among evangelical churches (although I myself think we are very inconsistent to only identify with evangelical churches),  those same denominations started moving away from that very position and towards the non-denominational position that Churches of Christ were abandoning.

Here are my conclusions for Churches of Christ:

  • Churches of Christ need to return to their roots and recover their non-denominational theology.  What a great opportunity to be what we have historically claimed to be, a unity movement.  What a great time to preach and actively embrace the unity in the Body of Christ.
  • Churches of Christ need to quit trying to imitate “successful” churches and decide who God wants them to be and what He wants them to teach. Turning to market research for our identity has two big drawbacks: It leaves us being a lesser imitation—a knock-off—of an original, and it means we are always catching up to the “latest trends” often after those who established those trends have moved on.
  • The highly autonomous congregational approach to church is robbing Churches of Christ of the power in community, in fellowship, in “many members but one body!”  We must learn to be more collaborative, to look for true fellowship in the work of the Gospel, and to welcome partnerships with other members of the Body.  Isn’t that the only way to be a whole and healthy Body!

Watch for more on this last point later.

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dutch speed skatersThe Olympics bring out the nationalism in all of us. We love to see the Americans win, stand on the podium with a tear in their eye, trying to remember the words to the national anthem.

But I have to confess something:  I love it that the Netherlands has won 22 medals in speed skating so far!!  I love their devotion to orange! And I love that the king and queen are there in their orange sports attire, cheering their skaters on!

Now Norway has more medals, but I don’t really have the same feelings for Norway. The Russians and the Canadians feel to me like long-time rivals, so I don’t cheer for them either.  I do love to see the Germans do well, but they are a powerhouse country, so they should do well—maybe better than they are doing!

So why do I love the Dutch? I’ll come back to answer that question in a minute.

Let’s move to a different plane and switch from talking about national sport teams to talking about which countries God loves.

Sometimes we Americans think that God is an American and that He loves all the other countries, but just wishes they were like His special country!  That’s pure jingoism—and not really harmless nationalism.

Some people think Israel is God’s favorite country!  But Jesus said, And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). God does love the children of Abraham . . . the true ones.

We don’t have to guess about this: here is our final answer!  The final answer is “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . . .”  Red and yellow, black and white—and all the colors in all the flags—and all the people standing and singing all those foreign anthems.

So now we can get back around to the Dutch:  maybe if I can figure out why I love the Dutch, then I can better understand what it will take to love the Norwegians, for instance.

From a lifetime of being involved with the world, here are some tips I have learned about how to learn to love the world:

Travel to other countries, but not with a bunch of other Americans. If your only experience in other countries is disembarking from a cruise ship for a few hours, or flying over, traveling to all the sights in a bus with your former classmates or some other affinity group, then you may have had a great trip, but you have not given yourself a chance to really fall in love with other people.

Go to one country at a time—not as many as you can squeeze into seven days.  From the Netherlands you can get to Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, and the U.K (by hovercraft) in less than two hours, so it is tempting to use Amsterdam as a jumping off point to “see it all.”  But then you won’t love the Netherlands!

Just within an hour of Amsterdam are Haarlem, Leyden, Alkmaar, Zaanse Schans, Keukenhof, Marken, Vollendam, Delft, den Haag, and a lot more wonderful and fascinating sites and places. If you take a one-hour canal tour of Amsterdam and then leave for the next country, you have missed almost everything!!

Get to know some local people! This may not be as easy as it sounds. Here are some tips that might work for you:

  • Go to church on Sunday.  That’s where Christians are on Sunday, so if you want to meet local Christians, go where they are. Be prepared to accept an invitation to eat with them afterwards.
  • Go with a short-term mission group that interacts closely with local people. In Let’s Start Talking projects, you can sit and talk with locals all day long!
  • Stay at a bed-and-breakfast instead of a tourist hotel.  If you are young and brave enough, the youth hostels are also a great place to meet people.
  • Travel by train instead of by car.  Cars insulate us; public transportation throws people together.
  • Go to a “small” event.  We have gone to high school soccer games, local school performances, local church-sponsored concerts, auctions, flea markets, for instance.  You just have to appear to be open to meeting new people and they will come up and introduce themselves to you.

Learn about the country: history, culture, current events, art—not in order to become an expert, but because we don’t care very much about things we don’t know much about! I hardly know anything about Norway; that’s the problem, isn’t it!!

And here is the big secret I have for you:  you will begin to love every country where you begin to know people who live there!  I’m quite sure that national boundaries have very little to do with why God loves the world.  He loves the world because He loves the people of the world.

One of the comments that we hear often from LST workers coming back from their short-term mission trip is “I used to always pray for all the people in the world, but now I know some of those people, so I pray for them by name.”

If you only love Americans, you have not begun to tap the capacity of your heart for loving people.  God made your heart big enough to love the world too!

 

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little leaguerFor weeks now we have been listening to the almost vicious rhetoric of Washington politicos as well as their radio and TV surrogates, attacking the other party, predicting catastrophe, twisting truth to their own advantage, and leveraging the economic welfare of the entire country for the sake of their political ideology.

Even after the last-minute aversion of going over the brink, the pundits were talking about the visceral “hate” directed toward the President and/or toward the Tea Party. No pejorative, no twisted truth, no ad hominem seemed to be off-limits.

Today all of the morning shows are highlighting the very sad case of Rebecca Sedwick, a twelve-year-old girl who jumped to her death from a tower as the result of being bullied by girls at school. The bullying took the form not only of verbal insults across a variety of social media, but also words like “You should kill yourself,” and “You should die.”

The conclusion on the morning shows is that mean girls are getting meaner.

Does anyone else see a correlation between this adult hate-mongering and our children doing the same thing with their peers?

When I was in high school at a private Christian school, we started a music club for the high achievers in the school’s music program. Certain standards were set for membership: a high grade average, a certain number of performances, etc.  But we also included a “blackball” rule.  It only took one member’s “No” vote to keep someone out of this school-sponsored club.

In today’s world, this sounds pretty bad, but I’m just remembering all the country clubs, sororities and fraternities, and other social groups which had similar rules at that time.  We kids were mirroring in our immaturity the behavior we knew to be common in the “best” circles.

Is it possible that our children are simply mirroring the aggression that they hear at the dinner table or on the ball field or on the car radio as we drive to church?

Try these questions and see if they make a difference:

  • Would you use the same descriptive words about your spouse or best friend with whom you disagree as you use on those who offend you politically?
  • Do you really want to expose yourself AND your children to the ratings-oriented rantings of radio talk shows?
  • Do you want your children talking to teachers and school authorities like you talk to referees, umpires, and opposing coaches?
  • Do you really want to teach your children that a person’s relationship to God hinges on whether they approve of universal healthcare or not?

Are these verses still in our New Testaments?

 All of you must yield to the government rulers. No one rules unless God has given him the power to rule, and no one rules now without that power from God. So those who are against the government are really against what God has commanded. And they will bring punishment on themselves. . . . This is also why you pay taxes. Rulers are working for God and give their time to their work. Pay everyone, then, what you owe. If you owe any kind of tax, pay it. Show respect and honor to them all. Romans 13

Yes, I know that in a democracy we participate in government and, in fact, ARE the government, if you buy into “of the people, for the people, by the people,” but I don’t think that fact gives permission and certainly doesn’t require citizens to be mean-spirited or aggressively disparaging towards those with whom they disagree.

If anything, I think it suggests that we Christians have a greater obligation to be “peacemakers,” to “honor the king,” and to “do good to all men.”

And if not for our ourselves and our country, surely we agree that we should not teach our children to be mean!

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Sunday mornings I seem to find myself humming hymns as I make the coffee, take a walk, and start getting dressed for church.  Maybe it’s the new year, maybe it’s the time of life, or maybe it’s just God’s Spirit, but I woke this morning with the old hymn Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand in my head.

Our older son Philip was not an easy baby to put to bed. It seems like we would spend hours rocking and patting and singing quietly to him to coax him to give up and go to sleep.  We had the usual repertoire of lullabies that parents our age knew, but because we had to have LOTS of songs, we often slipped into some of the older, quieter hymns from our childhood.

One of Philip’s favorites from those old songs was Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand. The chorus almost  pulsates with the emphasis on each word, and even baby Philip quite quickly picked up the refrain and would start singing it with us—much to our chagrin, since we were trying to get him to go to sleep! But it was sweet as well.

Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand was written by F.L. Eiland, a 19th century pioneer of church music in the Restoration Movement.  He not only wrote many hymns himself, but he, along with others, published hymnals and started  Southern Development Normal in Waco, Texas, a school for educating those who would learn more about music.  You can find out more about him at http://www.therestorationmovement.com/eiland.htm .

I have always loved the song because in music and lyrics, it speaks truth about God’s faithfulness, especially His steadfast love!

Time is filled with swift transition! If the days were short in the 19th century, imagine how much shorter they feel to us in the 21st century! Our electronic calendars delete the days, weeks, months, and years of our lives with very short keystrokes!  Fifty-year-old neighborhoods are knocked down for new houses, five-year-old Ipods are throwaway toys for our grandchildren as we move on to Ipads. You realize one day that everyone in your favorite old movie is dead now!  Naught of earth unmoved can stand!

Trust in Him who will not leave you, /Whatsoever years may bring, /If by earthly friends forsaken/ Still more closely to Him cling.

Sherrylee and I were driving the other day and talking about how many of the people with whom we were closest twenty-five years ago are now not part of our lives any more. One or two have died, some have moved—actually we moved away—some have changed, some are divorced and remarried, and a few just don’t like us anymore!

The emphasis on relationships and community that postmodernism has reintroduced to us is absolutely wonderful and certainly more godly than an every-man-for-himself society, but we are foolish if our faith is in relationships with people instead of God! Only God will never leave you!

When your journey is completed . . . I could never remember the third verse because the tradition in our church was always to sing only the first, second, and last verses. Life has a last verse too and it comes so quickly that you wonder if you haven’t skipped a verse or two in life as well.  Brevity makes it even more  important to sing the last verse well!

Build your hopes on things eternal. Hold to God’s unchanging hand! 

Next time you see one of those cute pictures of an old couple, or a dad and his daughter, or a baby and its grandmother holding hands, let it remind you of God holding your hand. And don’t be afraid of all those changes and transitions and new chapters and abridgements—because He will never let go!

Hold to His hand, to God’s unchanging hand!  Let that pulsating refrain be your heartbeat –and you’ll sleep better every night of your life.

 

 

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