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Grant Us Purity of Heart

Nov 23, 2014 | Trevin Wax

pro818_handGrant us purity of heart
and strength of purpose,
that no selfish passion
may hinder us from knowing Your will,
and no weakness
hinder us from doing it;
but that in Your light
we may see light,
and in Your service
find our perfect freedom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

- Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (354-430)

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N. T. Wright On Marriage as a Signpost

Nov 22, 2014 | Trevin Wax

N. T. Wright’s speech at Humanum this week is a masterful exposition of biblical theology, from Genesis to Revelation, showing what marriage is within the symbolic world of Scripture.

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Know Your Southern Baptists: Jen Wilkin

Nov 21, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Jen WilkinName: Jen Wilkin

Why you’ve heard of her: She is a writer, teacher, and blogger at JenWilkin.net.

Position: She is the managing editor of The Village Church blog and leads the Flower Mound Women’s Bible Study, an interdenominational Bible study with about 700 members representing 68 different churches.

Previous: Jen was the Director of Women’s Ministry at Sugar Creek Baptist Church in Sugar Land, TX.

Education: She earned a B.A. in English and a Master of Business Administration from Texas A&M.

Books: Jen wrote Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds and has a 9-week DVD Bible study on The Sermon on the Mount.

Why she’s important: Jen grew up in Texas and came to saving faith in elementary school. Her childhood was marked by time spent in seven different denominations – a range of experience that left her with the conviction that knowing the Word was the only sure means of discerning truth from error.

Jen’s passion is to see women become articulate and committed followers of Christ, with a clear understanding of why they believe what they believe, grounded in the Word of God. She sees women as most frequently appealed to through their emotions. Because of that, she advocates for Bible literacy among women, their loving God with their minds, and for the voices and gifting of women to be fully leveraged in the church.

Notable Quotes:

The Bible is our burning bush – a faithful declaration of the presence and holiness of God. We ask it to tell us about ourselves, and all the while it is telling us about I AM.

Women flourish in the church when men care about women flourishing in the church.

The God of the Bible is too lovely to abandon for lesser pursuits.

Leadership is not about the strong looking for weaker people to lead. It’s about the humble looking for those whose strengths offset their weaknesses and complement their strengths.

God help complementarians if we spend our energies fastidiously chalking the boundaries of a racecourse we never urge or equip our women to run.

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

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Overcoming Evangelistic Paralysis with an Unbelievably Good Gospel

Nov 20, 2014 | Trevin Wax

cover2Earlier this year, I read Jonathan Dodson’s book, The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing (Zondervan), and found it to be a solid resource that gives careful attention to the message we proclaim as well as the person with whom we are speaking.

Dodson casts a vision for evangelism that goes beyond formulaic recitation of biblical facts, re-centers it within the grand narrative of Scripture, and refocuses our attention on the particular needs of the person who needs good news. This is a biblically faithful and contextually sensitive approach to evangelism that systematically demolishes the most common obstacles to proclaiming Jesus as Lord.

Jonathan is the lead pastor of City Life Church and a leader in PlantR and Gospel Centered Discipleship.com. I invited him to the blog today to discuss his new book.

Trevin Wax: Your work intends to renew our passion for evangelism, and you go about this from two angles. First, you want to eliminate the obstacles that keep Christians from sharing their faith with others. Second, you want to eliminate pre-packaged presentations that fail to correctly discern the best way to share the gospel with a particular person. Why is it important to pay attention to both these aspects?

Jonathan Dodson: Whenever I talk to someone about their struggles in evangelism, their reasons typically cluster around these two aspects of what I’m calling “unbelievable evangelism.” The first is defeaters, warranted evangelistic concern to not be preachy, intolerant, shallow, impersonal, and so on.

The second is gospel metaphors, a discerning and patient evangelism that is less concerned with dropping doctrine and more focused on getting the gospel into a person. In a sense, I’ve responded to both out of pastoral concern, but there are also cultural and theological reasons for addressing both of these aspects of unbelievable evangelism.

Evangelism that doesn’t use some sort of gospel metaphor approach has to rely on a rehearsal of gospel truth—saying the same thing to the same person over and over again, which in evangelical circles often amounts to “Jesus died on the cross for your sins.”

Much of American culture has become inoculated to this repetitious evangelism. It comes across as canned and insincere to Millennials, who screen it out. This is why much of our evangelism is mocked publicly through documentaries like Jesus Camp and films like Saved!

If we want to engage a secularized country with the hope of the gospel, we will have to understand and sympathize, wherever possible, with their objections. “Postmoderns” don’t want to be preached at; they want to be heard, and their doubts taken seriously. The approach outlined in the book suggests a natural, biblical, and discerning way to do that to communicate a gospel worth believing.

Now, before we chalk public indifference up to total depravity, we need to consider the fact that some of our evangelism might be fallen. Could we be motivated by performance-driven duty—getting evangelism done—more than grace, listening to see what grace could do in a particular life?

We should also recognize that humanity’s intellect and heart longings aren’t as fallen as they could be. The people we evangelize have a lot of information, experiences, and genuine longings that could teach us a lot about evangelism. John Calvin talks about “the seed of religion” that exists in every person. By this, he means that there are particular gospel longings in every human being that, if identified, can be connected to the good news about Jesus Christ. When they go unengaged, the seed of religion flowers into some aberrant spirituality. All the more reason to water the seed with particular gospel truth.

Trevin Wax: You say that we’re often so focused on what the good news is that we’ve missed how the news is good for others. What’s the difference here and why does it matter? 

Jonathan Dodson: In general, evangelicals know the gospel information but don’t know how to communicate it to others well. While we can rehearse gospel definitions and defend gospel doctrines, we don’t know how to translate it into cultural vernacular so that others can understand their need for it. This is the great missionary task, practiced by many missionary heroes.

Knowing the Chinese culture, missionaries knew the Chinese wouldn’t grasp the meaning of Christ as “the bread” of life, so they communicated Christ as the “rice of life.” The essential food for living in their culture.

In our culture, the overworked professional who is looking to impress his peers, boss, and possibly even his family needs to know there is a more enduring, freeing acceptance he doesn’t have to work for that comes through the gospel of justification. He or she needs to give up on acceptance by personal success and give into gospel success, perfect acceptance, won by Christ. 

Trevin Wax: You bring out five “gospel metaphors” like different sides of a diamond in order to show us different ways of communicating the good news. What are these metaphors and how do you utilize them in evangelistic conversations? 

Jonathan Dodson: The most succinct statement of the gospel is “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Everything we need is packed into Jesus as the Christ—Redeemer—and Jesus as Lord—King. Everyone needs to know how to respond to him. While there is one, eternal unchanging gospel, there are also many gospel metaphors that connect our need to God’s grace in profound ways.

Gospel metaphors stretch across the breadth of the Bible communicating God’s saving grace. They collect in the epistles as: justification, redemption, adoption, new creation, and union with Christ. These graces are not metaphors in the sense that they are symbolic of some deeper reality. Rather, each gospel metaphor actually represents a facet of the gospel. Here are three ways to connect people’s needs to God’s grace.

1) Seeking Acceptance/Justification

One of the greatest needs people have today is to be accepted, to know that they are welcome and won’t be rejected. Though we may try to deny or hide it, we all carry with us a sense of shame, a fear that we will be found out, rejected, and judged when people learn who we really are.

When we explain that, through justification, the holy God offers perfect acceptance through his unique Son, Jesus Christ, it can bring tremendous relief and joy to those seeking acceptance.

2) Seeking Hope/New Creation

The metaphor of new creation can be especially compelling for people who are longing for a new start in life. People whose lives have been littered with failure, scarred by abuse, humbled through suffering, darkened by depression, or ruined by addiction need the hope of becoming a new creation.

When we explain that, through new creation, their old life can be exiled and that God welcomes them into a new life in Christ, it can shed a bright ray of hope into the lives of the hopeless.

3) Seeking Intimacy/Union with Christ

Our search for intimacy in relationships seems to never end. Even the best friendship or marriage isn’t enough for our insatiable demand to be noticed, loved, and cared for. We all want a place where we can be ourselves and know that we are accepted. We want relationships that are secure, where we feel safe to share our innermost thoughts and darkest struggles.

When we explain that, through union with Christ, people can enter into the most intimate, loving, unbreakable, fulfilling relationship known to humanity, it can bring deep healing and joy to those seeking intimacy.

In order to share a believable gospel, we need to listen to others so well that we can discern which gospel metaphor to bring into their lives. If we know their hopes, fears, dreams, and concerns, we can lovingly show them how the good news is better than their best and worst news. To the beat-up, worn out drug addict, we can share the hope of new creation. To the guilt-ridden, shame-carrying mother, we can share the hope of sin-forgiving, shame-absorbing redemption. To the skeptical urbanite, we can communicate an authentic gospel that resonates with personal, intimate union with Christ. 

Trevin Wax: A lot of people feel inadequate when it comes to evangelism. They’d rather let the “professionals” handle it. What do you say to someone who feels unqualified?

Jonathan Dodson: It can be difficult to answer objections and sympathize with skeptics when we feel inadequate. It’s tough to sort through all the pop philosophy and bumper sticker truth claims. That’s why we need to understand that a reasonable defense is not always “the right answer.” To be sure, we must have clarity on the gospel and understand how it is good news for others, but must everyone become a professional apologist? I don’t think so. While we may not have the ability to answer every question, Jesus gives us the ability to be secure in our faith.

Consider Peter’s oft quoted statement: “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” Now listen to the preceding verse: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…” (1 Peter 3:14). Peter reassures early Christian believers facing mockery and hatred, not by drilling down into apologetics, but to sink their security deep into Christ the Lord, holy in their hearts.

Often we opt for intellectual security, “If I just had the right answers then I’d be a better evangelist.” We have the most profound answer in the gospel itself, but we put our faith in something else. Our security breech is deeper than our intellectual shortcomings—it runs deep, into our hearts. There the enemy plays upon our fears, chases us into the shadows, and lays a hand over our mouths. True apologetics begins with heartfelt confidence in Jesus.

In Christ, we possess a power that can rip the muffle off, chase away the shadows, and bolster winsome, authentic gospel witness. We need verse 14 to go with verse 15, to desperately to set apart Jesus as Lord in our hearts, not the approval of others as Lord. This is the where deep security is found. To get there, the idol has to be replaced with a greater God who offers deeper security and meaning. We need the gift of repentance, to exchange our adoration of what others think of us, or of ourselves, for what God the Father thinks of us in Christ—fully loved and accepted, no condemnation and no rejection.

You have every resource, every truth, and every power available to you in Christ. You are more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:37). The key is to return to this wonderful promise over and over again, to remain in Christ.

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Worth a Look 11.20.14

Nov 20, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection: 3 Series, 37 Volumes, 65 Authors, 1,000 Books, 18,000 Chapters, 16 Million Words$2.99.

The Greatest Christian Classics. Includes an Active Index, 37 Tables of Contents for all Books & Chapters and Layered NCX Navigation.

Micha Boyett – Ghostly Grief: On Miscarriage and Loss:

A friend recently sent me a note after hearing about my loss: “Miscarriage is the strangest grief, ghostly but intensely embodied.” That word, ghostly, has stayed with me. What is it to lose a child who never became? What is it to host death in your own living body? In the womb that always before gave life? Ghostly grief. Ghostly sorrow.

Until yesterday, I didn’t know the business guru Patrick Lencioni considers himself an “evangelical Catholic.” Here’s his article on 12 Suprises about Catholicism and Evangelicalism:

Over the past dozen years I’ve had the amazing and accidental opportunity to do something few Christians get to do: dive deeply into both the Catholic and Evangelical worlds. That experience has been enlightening, confusing, encouraging, frustrating and inspiring all at once. As a result, I’ve arrived at 12 realizations that surprised me about each side of Christianity, and the overlap between them.

Jen Wilken – Choose Hospitality Over Entertaining:

On November 10, 2010, I tweeted the Most Regrettable Tweet of my mediocre social media career. In anticipation of the holiday season, I decided to weigh in on hospitality. The tweet was a flawless blend of selective memory and self-righteousness, designed to heap condemnation on the heads of my followers, under the guise of offering wise counsel. It was a verbal “selfie” snapped from my best angle, positioned to make me look very, very good. Let’s have a look at it, shall we?

Thom Rainer – 8 Trends about Church Bulletins:

It is amazing to look at the total resources of time and money expended on church bulletins. Because bulletins seem to be such a trivial issue, we often fail to consider their impact or lack of impact. In reality, the impact is greater than we might imagine. Not only do we expend significant resources on bulletins, both guests and members tend to have pretty strong feelings about them. Our team has been observing some major trends regarding bulletins. Here is what we found thus far.

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What Happens When You Judge the Church “Now” By the Kingdom’s “Not Yet”

Nov 19, 2014 | Trevin Wax

TMM22WOODENCHURCH07_366450jDietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, a classic little book on the community of Jesus Christ, speaks a word of caution to those who fall in love more with the idea of Christian community than with the community they are actually a part of.

“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”

Bonhoeffer’s warning describes a Christian who is zealous for the church to be everything God has called it to be and fulfill its idealistic vision. This believer is earnest, with good intentions, but he or she brings to the church demands that stem from an “idolized community.”

In other words, the ideal has become an idol, and whenever this happens, we fashion a church of our own making. “Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it,” he warns, “for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.”

Kingdom “Now” and “Not Yet”

I thought about that famous quote from Bonhoeffer’s work when I was reading Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy, a book that emphasizes the overlap between kingdom of God and the church. Though I don’t go along with all of Scot’s line of argumentation (see my review here), I believe his reminder of the church as both “now” and “not yet” to be essential in helping us understand the right level of expectations we are to bring to our Christian communities of faith.

We believe the kingdom of God is here now and simultaneously not yet here fully. We call it the “now” and “not yet” or the “already” and “not yet.” Jesus has inaugurated His kingdom, but we pray for the ushering in of the kingdom in its totality at the consummation of all things. So, on the one hand, we have a real taste of God’s power at work in our world today, and on the other hand, we are waiting for the kingdom to come in its fullness.

Church “Now” and “Not Yet”

Scot applies the same insight to the church:

“What is said of the kingdom in the New Testament is also said of the church in the same New Testament: both have a now and a not yet. In their ‘now’ condition they are the same; in their ‘not yet’ condition they will be same” (94).

Why does it matter to see the church as both “now” and “not yet?” Because many evangelicals are quick to judge and condemn the church by holding it up to the standard of the kingdom’s “not yet.” We take the church “now” and compare it to the kingdom’s “not yet” and then use the kingdom as a sword that judges and condemns our own Christian communities – the vanguard of the kingdom we pray God will bring!

Instead of using the kingdom to judge the church, we should see the kingdom’s reality mirrored in God’s people. We shouldn’t be surprised that the local churches we belong to are communities where we see vibrant manifestations of God’s power and perplexing messiness at the same time.

In the church we see spiritual vitality and malaise, passion and apathy, victories and setbacks. Just as the kingdom in this world is a present reality of power but not yet fully here in all its glory, the church is God’s redeemed, sanctified, and empowered people who are not yet perfected. Note the paradox. We are diamonds in the rough, saints who sin, future kings and priests who bungle our tasks.

The “Now” and “Not Yet” of the Early Church

The early church was no exception. There were Christians suing each other, churches wobbling on the foundational doctrines of the faith, churches showing favoritism to the rich, teachers who were twisting Scripture to justify sexual immorality, and divisions around larger than life personalities. And yet through all this turmoil, the Spirit grew the church in size in power, expanding through its missionary reach to the rest of the world.

The power of Jesus was on display in churches far from perfection. If such was the case a generation after Jesus, why would we expect the church to be different two thousand years later?

The “Now” and “Not Yet” of the Believer

You understand instinctively the “now” and “not yet” to be true in your own life. You are indwelled by the Holy Spirit now, transformed in the heart now, a new person in Christ now, who is set apart for God’s purposes and promised the joys of God’s new creation now. But you are not yet sinless, you are not yet holy as you long to be, you are not yet free from the presence of sin and its temptations that drag you back to the slavery you once knew.

It may disturb you to think that there is so much “not yet” in your life “now.” But just as you have faith in God’s promises to one day finish the work He has begun in you, just as you confess the reality of your justification and your being clothed in the righteousness of your Savior, you continue on – not allowing your internal frustrations to lead you to despair, but instead to stir up in you more longing and hope for the day you will be – as the old hymn puts it - “saved to sin no more.”

Be Patient with the Church

The same patience and plodding consistency you demonstrate with yourself in your own faltering walk with Jesus is what we should show to our faltering churches – places where we are sometimes saddened by recurring issues of sin and unfaithfulness, places where self-righteousness takes root, where we find divisions and quarrels, immorality and immaturity.

This is the reality of the “not yet” still in the “now.” But don’t let it keep you from church. Instead, let the problems of the church lead you to commit to her all the more. After all, the Groom will soon return, and the wedding day is ahead.

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Worth a Look 11.19.14

Nov 19, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: A Theology for the Church edited by Danny Akin. $5.99.

Each chapter answers the following four questions: What does the Bible say? What has the church believed? How does it all fit together? How does this doctrine impact the church today?

Romania Gains a Lutheran President:

Evangelicals in Romania often face discrimination from the Orthodox Church, and many voted for Iohannis. While in Romania in July, I spoke with three evangelical members of Parliament who noted Orthodox attempts to marginalize them by claiming that those who are not Orthodox are not true Romanians. They also spoke positively of the United States and grew up hoping that someday Americans would come and free them from communism—but “you didn’t come.”

Thabiti Anyabwile – Will Ferguson Be Our Transformative Moment?

We gospel-believing Christians, preaching the crucified and risen Lord, are still this world’s hope for another world free from sin, death and injustice. The transformative moment comes when we live up to our calling.

Pope Francis Learns What Rick Warren, N. T. Wright, and Russell Moore Think about Marriage:

“There is always a danger in being the 28th speaker in a conference,” said Rick Warren during his speech today at Pope Francis’s marriage conference. “What’s left to say?”

Apparently plenty, as Warren’s speech—which he said he wrote from scratch the night before after yesterday’s speakers covered his previously prepared main points—was “probably the first time ever the synod hall resembled a revivalist meeting,” tweeted David Quinn, an Irish Catholic columnist. The Saddleback Church senior pastor reportedly received a standing ovation following his remarks defending marriage between a man and a woman.

Speaking of the colloquium on marriage at the Vatican, here is the transcript of Russ Moore’s remarks:

This is, it seems to me, the question at the heart of the controversies every culture faces about the meaning of marriage and of sexuality. Are we created, as both the Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus of Nazareth put it, “male and female” from the beginning, or are these categories arbitrary and self-willed? Do our bodies, and our sexes, and our generational connectedness represent something of who were are designed to be, and thus place both limits on our ability to recreate ourselves and responsibilities for those who will come after us?

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Book Notes: Village of Secrets / Life On Mission / The Stories We Tell

Nov 18, 2014 | Trevin Wax

51jQEulmfLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_VILLAGE OF SECRETS:
Defying the Nazis in Vichy France
by Caroline Moorehead

I first heard about the French pastor, Andre Trocme, and Le Chambon’s resistance to the deportation of Jews in Malcolm Gladwell’s David and Goliath. Caroline Moorehead’s work gives us a fuller picture of this village and how its inhabitants, joined together in common faith, rallied together to hide thousands of Jews during the worst years of WWII.

Village of Secrets tells an inspiring tale; it is a testament to what people can achieve when they work alongside one another in defense of the common good against tyranny. It’s also complicated, since some of the “good guys” did good things out of self-interest, debated the use of force in resisting the Nazis, preferred French Jews over foreign ones, or treated poorly the Jewish children in their care. Moorehead doesn’t shy away from the complexities of this remarkable village. She lets us see the activities for ourselves and come to our own conclusions.

Moorehead is an accomplished author, but I was not impressed with the way she told this story. Because she wanted to document so many stories – of survivors and rescuers alike – the overarching narrative sags under the weight of too many details. The flow of the book makes it hard to get invested in any of the characters, to the point that the tragedy isn’t as heart-rending as it should be. I usually enjoy books that introduce me to lesser-known parts of history (see my review of In the Kingdom of Ice), but not so much this time.

LifeOnMission_Book_TransparentLIFE ON MISSION:
Joining the Everyday Mission of God
by Dustin Willis and Aaron Coe

The evangelical church in North America was not built on professional mission workers and physical church buildings. It was the Holy Spirit’s use of everyday Christians living on mission, knowing their context, and seeing opportunities to start ministries and churches that fueled the spread of the gospel.

This book goes a long way in helping equip God’s people for the work of everyday mission and ministry. Willis and Coe have written an accessible guide that both explains why and how Christians can live on mission. The goal is “ordinary people with extraordinary power preaching, preaching, giving, and suffering for the spread of the gospel” (11).

81N56ssxNBLTHE STORIES WE TELL
How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth
by Mike Cosper

Mike Cosper is one of my favorite writers. I’ve enjoyed editing the sessions he has contributed to The Gospel Project, and I’m always challenged by his insights.

Mike loves the arts, particularly movies and television, and in this book, he lays out different ways that our culture’s most popular stories point toward and away from biblical truth. From reality television like Honey Boo Boo to dramas such as The X-Files, Mike explains why these shows strike a chord in the hearts of viewers, the deeper messages they communicate, and how they usually leave us dissatisfied.

Mike also explains the appeal of shows he does not recommend (Dexter, for example, because of its gratuitous violence), giving readers the ability to grow in understanding of our culture’s entertainment choices without having to watch them. The book wasn’t written to give Christians help in deciding what we should watch and stay away from, but even so, I wish there had been more along these lines, especially since I fear the evangelical pendulum has swung too far to the “anything goes…” side.

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Worth a Look 11.18.14

Nov 18, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill. $3.99.

Part memoir, part pastoral-theological reflection, this book wrestles with three main areas of struggle that many gay Christians face.

10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew about Evangelicals:

Warren Cole Smith is the associate publisher of WORLD Magazine. He is the author or co-author of several books, including A Lover’s Quarrel with the Evangelical Church. We asked him to give us 10 things he wishes everyone knew about evangelicals.

Jeremy Writebol – The Presence of Mind to Be Present:

As Kingdom citizens we display the patient, listening ear of the King as we listen and patiently involve ourselves in the lives of those sitting across the table from us. Some might call this “active listening,” I call it actually being where you are.

12 Struggles Singles Face:

When we hear the word “single” we usually think of one kind of single – someone maybe 25-50 who has not married. But there are other kinds of singles: widows, single parents, divorcees, those who suffer with same-sex attraction, and even those who are in loveless marriages – perhaps the most painful singleness of all. But for all singles, there are twelve struggles that must be faced at different stages and to different degrees.

J. D. Greear – Does God Have a Purpose for My Life?

Most people want to know God’s purpose for their lives, but they simply don’t know where to look. Is it possible to even know God’s purpose for our lives? And how do we discover what it is?

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