Friday, 16 August 2013 18:57

Walk in Their Shoes

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This past week Judy and I kept our grandchildren. This has been a delightful responsibility since they live overseas. However, I forgot how much energy is packaged in children ages four and two. My grandchildren are (obviously) little angels, but this task reminded me of an important principle. I was forced to put myself in the shoes of my son and daughter-in-law. For instance, when you have children that age you have very little time for other things.

This principle is vitally important as you pastor a church. I remember when I started pastoring in the mid-70s I had high expectations of people and I was quick to remind them of my expectations. (I know none of you ever do this.) I remember hearing excuses on a regular basis. I will use young parents for illustrative purposes. Young parents, not that they are the only excuse makers, would often say things like:


• I would have a morning quiet time with God, but the children wake up too early.
• I would attend church more often, but the children might catch a bug from other children at church.
• I would teach, but I do not have time to prepare.
• I would attend training, but I have to get the children to bed on time.


You have experienced similar conversations.

Such excuses could be a covering for commitment issues. However, that is not always the case. As pastors we should compassionately "walk in their shoes." The Golden Rule says "Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the Prophets." (Matt. 7:12) My paraphrase of this verse is "Walk in their Shoes."

In discussing this principle I refer to your committed people. Many uncommitted people will not be moved by a bomb. Church planning should first and foremost take into account your committed people. With this in mind let me share several lessons I have observed in working with church people.


• Take into account their schedules. Many young mothers work full time jobs, take care of children, and keep up a household. This is the group who does most of the childcare and teaching of children at church. Churches often schedule too many activities. We think we have to plan every activity that comes down the information highway.
• Work around holidays. Most people are busy on holidays. Give your people a break on these special days. Remember you plan around the committed, not the uncommitted.
• Listen to your people. Get feedback from your committed people. Let them advise you about scheduling concerns. Be careful about letting older members dictate church schedules. Lead older members to understand the challenges younger adults face. Older adults do not have the time pressure that young families face. Also, do not let Pharisees dictate church schedules. They are legalistic about everything, even when you call off a service on a holiday.
• Be cautious about judging others. The thing you call apathy may, in fact, be impossibility. For instance, the mothers mentioned in bullet point one have very little time or energy left to invest in three or four children's activities at church. We are not living in the 60s any longer. People's schedules are different and times are different. I remember when revivals and VBS were two weeks long. That schedule makes me tired just thinking about it. Failure to acknowledge and adapt to change will leave us and our churches dying in the past.

Monday, 12 August 2013 09:44

Leading from Behind

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Do you ever find yourself leading from behind? What a repulsive idea for a leader, leading from behind. When you serve in a church this is often a reality, but also a necessity. We do not live in a perfect world.

So what do we mean, leading from behind? I remember, years ago, hearing John Maxwell speak on the subject of leadership. He defined leadership with one word "influence." Maxwell shared a story from his first pastorate. He said there was a deacon in that church who was the unofficial leader of the church. His name was Claude. Claude was a good man but he carried excessive weight in the church. Whatever Claude said carried the church. Maxwell explained how he led that church by working with Claude. He planted seeds and asked questions to determine Claude's opinions. Maxwell said he adjusted his leadership as he worked with Claude. Maxwell was leading from behind.

You can call this concept compromise, politics, or church tradition. Regardless of how you label it, it is the truth. In churches there are times when we must lead from behind. Consider the following examples:
• When there is a strong individual who carries excessive weight in the church
• When the church is hung up on seeking consensus
• When the church is strongly influenced by tradition
• When the church is led by a strong group such as deacons
• When you must work through engrained church polity

As I wrote this article I racked my brain in seeking Biblical guidance on the subject. I was led to the passage in John 13 when Jesus washed the disciple's feet. Jesus was their leader. Jesus was their Lord. However, he took the form of a servant and washed the disciple's feet. This was not a job for a leader. The very idea of a leader washing feet. Jesus was leading from behind. He realized no one was going to step up and fulfill the task. He was willing to lead from behind.

Leading from behind is a frustrating task. When you go into a church you will face a plethora of leadership issues. Working with a power group is not fun. Working through endless committees is not fun. Working with engrained tradition is not fun.

When forced to lead from behind, what should you do?
1. Pray a lot and ask God to change what needs to be changed.
2. Focus on your spiritual growth.
3. Acknowledge that you did not create the issues. Be gracious with yourself.
4. Serve the people. When Jesus washed feet He was serving and setting an example.
5. Remember, when leading from behind you are still a leader. The wise leader knows to adjust his leadership approach when circumstances are not ideal.
6. Talk to other leaders about influencing from behind.
7. Lead people from where they are instead of where you want them to be.
8. Lead the people and work with them instead of pushing, trying to force them or trying to change them too quickly.

You were called to serve where you serve. The important thing is that you remain faithful. Be a leader, even if it means leading from behind.

 

Thursday, 01 August 2013 15:12

Zoned Out

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Do you ever find yourself zoned out? You know, you are encapsulated in your own little world. The zone could be compared to day dreaming, but it tends to last longer and reflect a more intense mood. We pastors visit there often. It is not like we are doing anything wrong. This is not some dark unethical behavior. However, it may reflect other situations that are happening in our lives.

When I zone out I tend to shut out everything else in my life. My wife may speak to me, but I behave as if she is not there. During these times I am not intentionally ignoring her or anyone else for that matter. The zone tells a story to which I should listen.

A good example of the zoned out pastor is found in Matthew 16:21-23. Jesus was headed to the cross. He had shared many truths and much teaching with His disciples. He emphasized His approaching crucifixion and suffering. For some reason the disciples had trouble comprehending Jesus' words. In fact, Peter goes so far as to rebuke Jesus for such talk. It was as if Peter and the disciples were in their own little world.

Why did the disciples miss the point of Jesus' teaching about His suffering? It could have been any number of reasons.
• They could not comprehend the Messiah dying.
• They had preconceived ideas that were wrong.
• They were caught up in the emotion of the moment.
• They were close minded.
• They were human and were struggling against the flesh.
Regardless of the reason, their comprehension and the resulting behavior were wrong.

What happens when we zone out? We close out other people. This could be our wives, children, friends or fellow ministers. We are not cruel to them, nor do we misbehave toward them. We simply ignore them or treat them as if they are not present.

When we zone out we become preoccupied with our thoughts. Preoccupation with thoughts is a natural, God given act. Some of our greatest ideas and most productive thinking occur in these times of retreat. God gave us a wonderful gift called the subconscious. The subconscious works even when we are not consciously working.

When we zone out we miss out. We miss important truths. My wife often accuses me of not listening. When this happens I prefer to respond that I was caught up in productive thinking. Most of the time that is not the case; I am zoned out!

When a person zones out, there are certain questions that should be asked.
• Am I shutting out someone who is special to me?
• Closely related to the first question, am I allowing my feelings to cause insensitivity with other people?
• Am I not managing myself properly (proper rest, conflict with others, excessive demands)?
• Am I bringing my work home with me?
• Am I overlooking someone I need to be serving (listening, helping, supporting, etc. etc.?)

When highway workers construct a highway they erect signs to indicate a work zone. Those zones protect the workers and warn drivers of potential dangers. A zoned out pastor may be flashing some warning signs. Those signs tell a story. May we heed these God given friends.

Friday, 26 July 2013 12:34

The Original Morning Sickness: Anxiety

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The best time to get run over in interstate traffic, I have decided, is the morning rush hour. People are dying to get where they are going. I’ve come to a conclusion as to the root cause.  It’s anxiety.

Some drivers are late to work or class, some are afraid of being late, and the others are early and trying to stay that way. So they rush. They tailgate the motorist in front of them, they cut in front of the fellow to one side or the other who dares to leave a gap between him and the next car, and they dart in and out incessantly.

A couple of miles up the road you notice they’re stuck in traffic in the lane to your right or left, all their frantic lane-jumping having done them absolutely no good. The problem is not their car’s motor; it’s their own inner motor. Something inside them is racing, dying to get to their destination, and they do not know how to control it or turn it off or, or they do not know that it’s even there. They rush out of habit.

Yesterday morning the car that was bullying everyone on the freeway pulled onto a side street in the direction I happened to be going, and one block later turned off into a driveway. They were just going home. I felt like stopping and asking, “What was all the rush about?”

I think I know the answer. Their answer to my question would be, “Huh? What rush?” They are not even aware what they’re doing. It’s a pattern, a really bad habit, they’ve fallen into. They get in their car and the anxiety kicks in and they have to beat everyone else on the highway.  It’s destructive, self-defeating, harmful to one’s health, even suicidal. It’s murder on their car, terrible on their tires, and a burden on their billfold. It endangers their families and the people in the other cars.  Let the city or parish install cameras at intersections to catch red light-runners and they holler to high heaven, as though a sacred right of theirs has been taken away. They foolishly blame the rear end collisions on the officials who installed the cameras. Blame-placing, denial, anger—highway sports in America today.

Anxiety is a problem we all deal with and a killer in a hundred ways. The highway is just one of the locales.  Everyone deals with anxiety in its various manifestations. You start a new job and can’t sleep the night before. You have to leave town early tomorrow and afraid of oversleeping, you toss and turn tonight. You have an important painful confrontation tomorrow, so tonight’s rest is a total loss. Some would call it worry. It’s likewise a form of fear. One thing it is not is faith.  Anxiety is worry and fear on steroids. And whatsoever is not of faith is sin. (Romans 14:23)

Meeting with a group of pastors, I threw this out to them: “Give me your best counsel. What do you do to fight anxiety?” Here are some of their answers.


1) Write it down. What is bothering you? What do you anticipate happening? You’ll be amazed at how puny your fears appear on paper.

2) Tell the Lord. Pray to Him. “Be anxious for nothing,” Paul told the Philippians. “But in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God…shall keep your hearts...” (Phil.4:6)

3) Give yourself a good talking-to.

“Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” (Psalm 116:7) “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” (Psalm 103:1)  Sometimes I will simply quote the words to the wonderful hymn, “It is well with my soul.” That could be just the reminder we need at that moment.

4) Laugh at it. “The very idea of me being anxious! Ha! God has everything under control and I’m in His care. This is the enemy’s way of trying to neutralize me, and I’ll not let it happen.” So, laugh. Laugh out loud. You’ll be delighted to find what a tension-reliever laughter is.

5) Focus on the big picture. One of our pastors said, “When I get worried, I think of our Lord on the cross. My hurts and pains are nothing compared to His.” The 53rd chapter of Isaiah was the chapter he frequently focuses on at these times.

The Reader’s Digest told of a 93-year-old widow who was burdening her family with her worries about the future. She especially worried whether she had enough money to live on. Finally, her son pulled together all her financial records, did some calculating, and drove over to her retirement home. “Mom,” he said, “you have enough money to last you for the next 16 years.” The elderly woman did not bat an eye, but said, “Oh my, what will we do then?”

Friday, 19 July 2013 10:58

Still Passionate!

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Are you still passionate for ministry and hungry for God? Heaven forbid that any of us should lose passion for serving in ministry and walking with God. However, the loss of passion occurs. In considering this subject there are several questions that should be examined.

First, what does it look like when we lose our passion? Some of the symptoms are:
• We lose our passion for God's word and fellowship with Him. Prayer, praise, and Bible study become chores rather than privileges.
• We become cynical of people and ministry is a job rather than a joy. In this scenario people become a problem rather than the object of joyful ministry.
• We lose enthusiasm for learning, growing and discovery. We stop reading good books and pursuing fresh ideas.
• We procrastinate and drag our feet while fulfilling simple tasks.
• Other activities get more attention than God's activities.
• There is a loss of physical energy.
• We become irritable and driven by negative emotions.
• We yearn for alternatives: another place of service, another job, and new challenges.
• We withdraw from others.

Second, what causes us to lose passion?
• We lose passion when our lives are self- driven rather than God-driven. It is easy to neglect our personal walk with God. When this occurs we are more focused on preparing to teach and preach than on feeding our own souls.
• We lose passion when we do not allow time for recovery. The daily rigors of ministry and the weekly demands of shepherding lower our physical/spiritual reserves. It would be nice if we could pull up to a pump and refill those reserves instantly. However, God's replenishment is similar to that which occurs when a cell phone recharges. It takes time and down time. Things such as vacations, a weekly Sabbath, taking time to laugh with others, and taking time to attend a conference or read a good book.
• We lose passion when the demands of ministry overwhelm us. If you visit the beach there are times when officials will raise warning flags due to dangerous waves and undertow. When this occurs, the relentless waves or undertow will defeat you. You might survive for a few minutes but, without assistance, the vicious attack of those enemies will pull you under. In ministry there are enemies of the soul: difficult people, traditions, time pressures, disillusionment, and physical demands.

In II Timothy 4 Paul discusses his approaching death and the trials he has endured (loneliness- 10-12, 14, 16; persecution- 6; desertion- 10, 14-16; lions-17). In the midst of the trials Paul rejoices that he has been able to finish well (7). He hungers for the sweet fellowship of fellow ministers and the truth of God's word. In short, Paul remains passionate about ministry and the things of God.

My prayer is that each of us would finish well. In addition, I pray that we would be filled with passion until the very end. Some people die when the heart stops beating while others die a slow death when passion ebbs from the spirit.

Saturday, 13 July 2013 16:49

Did You Hear Her?

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My wife Judy wrote an excellent two-part article for pastors. This article was posted the past two weeks in The Shepherds Connection. I would encourage you and your wife to go back and review that article. The article covered a subject men struggle to grasp, feelings.

Husbands/pastors have one of several options when it comes to our wives feelings:

  1. We can dismiss our insensitivity as a male thing.
  2. We get so caught up in ministry that we fail to grow in this important area.
  3. We acknowledge the feelings and fail to respond, which means we probably did not hear what she said to begin with.
  4. We listen to her and continue to grow.

I must admit, I have struggled with each of these responses.

As I examine this subject I am reminded of a conversation Judy and I had years ago. We were discussing female submission. Paul teaches mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21), but we seem to enjoy talking about female submission. Judy said “Tim, when a husband loves his wife as Christ loved the church it is not hard for a wife to submit.” I have never forgotten that sentence.

In reading Judy’s article I chose two areas to discuss. First, I have been guilty of using her as an illustration on many occasions. Most of the illustrations were harmless acts of fun or real life stories that happened to our family.  If such stories cause my wife to feel showcased then I should avoid using them. If I feel that I must use a given story then I should at least ask her permission before I use a given story.  I have tended to ask her permission more as I grow older.

The second area of guilt involves expectations.  Over the years, especially in our younger years, I tended to stereotype Judy and expected certain behavior from her that placed extra pressure on her. I did not believe those stereotypes, but was pushed into acting upon them because of tradition.

In considering this male/female tension what should we do?

  1. Ask God to help you be a better listener.  We should listen to the words, but we also need to listen to the hidden feelings, such as described in Judy’s article.
  2.  Remember the words of Jesus, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it.” (Eph. 5:25)
  3.  Prioritize your family.  Many times pastors get so caught up in caring for other families that they neglect to take care of their own.

This marriage discussion brings up a point of irony.  We who speak for Christ can be guilty of neglecting His words.

Pastors, as leaders, can be a bundle of pride.  As such we struggle to release our hidden failures.

The disturbing part is that divorce is a common occurrence in the lives of those who serve in ministry. The pressure to build a church often drives pastors to neglect their marriages and families.

This sobering truth should drive us to our knees. My prayer is that all of us would raise the standard of marriage.  I pray that we would be an example in both word and deed.

Sunday, 07 July 2013 15:23

I Just Want You to Know How I Feel (Part 2)

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The feelings expressed in this two part series may not reside in every pastor’s wife. However, they are real feelings expressed by pastor’s wives. Pastors, please listen to your wives. They need you!

Thoughts from a Minister’s Wife:

I feel a sense of belonging when you include me as your ministry partner. I’m talking about a relationship not a possession that belongs to the church. However, I also feel a sense of belonging when church members include me in their activities in and outside the church (BBQ’s, fish fries, holidays, etc.).

I feel lonely when night after night I sit at home all alone watching TV, reading, sewing, playing computer games, or anything to keep my mind occupied while you are away. Where are you? I also feel lonely sitting by myself in church. Why won’t someone invite me to sit with them?

I feel respected when you and the church seek my counsel. I also feel respected when you and the church give me freedom to “just be me.”

I feel imprisoned and trapped when I’m confined to a stereotype. Yes, your comments such as, “no one else will take this job in the church, please, will you. . . “, or “You need to. . . “, (and I could mention other remarks) make me feel trapped. Church members also use similar tactics to lure me into their prison of expectations.

I feel a sense of worth as a minister’s wife.  It’s nice to know that I’m part of the bigger picture in God’s Kingdom. My sense of worth comes from my relationship with Jesus Christ. What an honor to know that, “. . . our God would count [me] worthy of this calling . . .” (2 Thess. 1:11 NIV)

I feel a loss of Identity when you and the church fail to recognize my giftedness. Please allow me to do things in the church that enhance my Spiritual Gifts. Do not expect me to do things in the church that do not align with the Spiritual Gifts that God has given me.

I feel a sense of pride when you stand before God’s people and proclaim His Word. I feel a sense of pride when church members say kind words to me about you. This blesses my life!

I feel helpless when you are going through endless struggles in the church. When this happens you repeatedly talk about issues until I come to my rope’s end. Yes, it’s true, I feel respected when you seek my counsel; but when my counsel doesn’t seem to help then I feel helpless. Maybe an accountability partner, like a fellow minister, would be a better choice for venting. This would also relieve undo stress upon me. Weighting me down with negative issues regarding the church causes me to build resentment over being a minister’s wife. I also feel helpless when church members make unfair comments about you or the children. I want to lash out at them; but I dare not!

I feel special when you listen to me. I like it when you make me feel special. Thanks! I feel special when church members say kind words to me. It’s so nice to feel appreciated!

I feel hurt when you say ugly things to me. Sometimes, you let out on me your frustrations toward the church. I feel like a target on a target range where you go to vent—bull’s eye, you got me! Church members also hurt with their cunning remarks. Don’t they know I have feelings too?!

Honey, I love you and want you in my life. I am trying to balance my feelings. Please understand I just want you to know how I feel.

Editor’s Note:  If you are a pastor’s wife and would like to connect with Judy or another member of The Shepherd’s Connection ministry, please visit our Contact Page  http://theshepherdsconnection.org/prayer-requests

Saturday, 29 June 2013 17:27

I Just Want You to Know How I Feel (Part 1)

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Honey, I know you’re busy—preparing multiple sermons for Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday prayer meeting; getting ready for the deacons’ meeting—nervous about their reaction to your suggestion that the Lord’s Supper be served before the sermon instead of after the sermon as they’ve always done; a wedding to administer this weekend; hospital visitation; new visitor visitation; the Johnsons need marital counseling this week; and this is just the beginning of your long “to do” list for the week.

I understand why your mind is in another world most of the time. But, I want you to know how I feel about being a minister’s wife. My feelings are evoked by my relationships with you and with the church. After all, how can a person have feelings without relationships? Relationships are the foundation in which feelings are formed. 

As I express my feelings, they may seem inconsistent.   My feelings fluctuate because our circumstances fluctuate.  Just when we think things are going well in the church, something comes up to mar the sweetness of our fellowship with fellow church members. (Satan is always out to destroy!)

I think it’s important that you know how I feel because I love you. David once said, “My heart grew hot within me, and as I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue. “  (Ps. 39:3 NIV) David understood that suppressed feelings do not solve problems. Suppressing feelings only ignite a fire of bitterness.  I love you and never want a fire of bitterness to flame up and destroy our marriage, our lives, our children’s lives, or the lives of church members who hold you in highest regard. So, here’s how I feel.

I feel joy in being your wife. God has ordained our marriage and consecrated the two of us for His service. It is a blessing to know that I am “called out” to partner with my husband for ministry in the name of Jesus Christ. I feel joy in being the pastor’s wife to the church we serve. When I consider my position in the church, my heart radiates with joy and contentment over the sense of fulfillment I feel as a minister’s wife.

I feel depressed because I am overwhelmed by the expectations you and the church place upon me. The feelings of “I have to. . .”, “I should. . . “, or “I can’t. . . because I’m the minister’s wife” drag me down to a dark pit. Sometimes, I think I can’t climb out—will you help me?

I feel loved when you praise and show appreciation for me in private and in public. I also feel loved when you spend time with me. The church makes me feel loved when the members welcome me into their fellowship rather than treating me as an outsider.

I feel “showcased” when you use me as an illustration in your sermons. When you use my name in your sermons all eyes turn toward me and away from the pulpit. I feel showcased by the church every time I step into the church building. Just once, I wish I could go to church and be just a “regular” person going to church!

Honey, I love you and want you in my life. I am trying to balance my feelings. Please understand, I just want you to know how I feel.

Editor’s Note:  Be sure to check back next week for Part 2 of Judy’s article. If you are a pastor’s wife and would like to connect with Judy or another member of The Shepherd’s Connection ministry, please visit our Contact Page  http://theshepherdsconnection.org/prayer-requests

Monday, 24 June 2013 04:31

Wait!

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The command to “wait” is one of the most difficult words in the English language. I think this word is especially difficult for those who serve in ministry. Why? It is difficult because ministers are leaders. We are action oriented. We want to see results. However, one of our greatest trials occurs when we have to wait. Are you waiting on a particular result to find its fulfillment? Are you waiting on God to place you in a more desirable place of service? Are you waiting on your church to start growing? Are you waiting on a specific prayer to be answered?

One of the last things Jesus instructed His apostles was “to wait for the Promise of the Father.” (Acts 1:4) You would think that simple command would be easy to follow. After all, those guys had been through a number of trials in the previous days. They had been through the loyalty test and received an “F.” They had seen their friend and Savior die a cruel death on a cross. I could go on and on.

Jesus knew His disciples, like us, needed a little fine tuning when He issued the command to wait. My question: What did they need that we also need? What did He want to teach them? First, Jesus wants us to trust God’s timing. God’s timing was not right for the gift of the Holy Spirit. God chose the time when Jesus would ascend to Heaven. Many times God has a plan, just around the corner, when we are ready to give up. It is not easy to trust God’s timing. God’s timing is always superior to our own. It may be that His providence has not finished the lesson He wants us to learn.

Today, I attended a church building dedication that took eighteen years to find its fulfillment. They had to wait. When Abraham and Sarah received the heir of God’s promise, Isaac, there was a timing issue. The fulfillment of that promise was a long time coming. Noah’s construction of the ark and the fulfillment of God’s prophecy was a long time coming. Noah had a long wait. Timing is everything!

After timing, God might be teaching us to “abide” in Him. The word “abide” refers to trust, dependency and reliance. In John 15:5 Jesus instructed us that the secret to bearing fruit is abiding in Him. It takes patience to wait for the ripening of fruit. We are painfully reminded of this truth if we have eaten a piece of green fruit. Green fruit will sour your stomach and draw your mouth.  

For me personally, the most important aspect of waiting is to avoid impulsive behavior and decisions. If we get impatient we may run ahead of God and do things that are poorly timed and outside of His favor.

The result of waiting is success. Isaiah advised the Israelite people to wait on God. “But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (Is. 40:31) The Israelites had endured years of failure, if judged by man’s standards. They had lived as slaves in captivity. Yet Isaiah encouraged them to remain to wait on God (timing) and to remain faithful (abiding).

Success is not measured by man’s standards. Success is determined by trust, dependence and reliance on God. Some of you, who are reading this piece, feel as if your life is a failure. However, you have been faithful. You have turned to the Lord and sought His face. By God’s standard, that makes you a huge success. Please, do not get discouraged and give up. Wait on the Lord!

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