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Sub-Kingdom Questions and Answers
Posted by Clare
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Q. Clare, please help me better understand the people in my sub-kingdom?

A. It may help to think of your sub-kingdom as four concentric circles of people over whom you have authority or influence and I’ve listed them in what I believe are the priorities given in scripture.

1. My family
2. Fellow Christians
3. The poor, aliens, the hopeless and helpless
4. My non-Christian friends and acquaintances.

All of these people who I personally know or will know in the future have been put in my life for a reason and with each circle, I have diminishing authority and influence. Nevertheless Jesus has entrusted them to my care (and he’s undoubtedly entrusted other believers with overlapping influence with the same people.)

Q. How does sin affect our sub-kingdoms?

A. A few years back I sat with the teenage children of a woman who left her husband for another man. I’m confident she still loves her children and divorce is not the unforgivable sin, but she no longer holds the same, high moral ground to inspire them to take the high moral ground. She used to lead Bible studies and was active in ministries but she’s backed off from all of that now. Her kids live with her but no longer respect her as much. Of course much of her influence can be won back over time by heartfelt confession, repentance and virtuous living – but for now her once growing, vibrant sub-kingdom is in retreat. She got what she wanted – but lost what she had.

“He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away.”
Luke 19:26

When I’m short tempered with my children, I diminish my ability to influence them, because their admiration for me dims, even if only for a few days. When I tell a lie and I’m found out, people trust me less. When I use my strong will to bully someone into doing something, their respect for me erodes. To be sure, I can recover, but each time it happens, something about my influence as Jesus’ surrogate diminishes. It doesn’t take outright sin to do that. Through laziness or indifference I can fail to accomplish all I might have if I’d been more faithful and diligent with all Jesus entrusted to me.

Q. How does laziness or indifference affect our sub-kingdoms?

A. Even when sin or a moral failure is not public, we still grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30) which hinders our relationship with God, leaving us weak, lacking in confidence both in ourselves and with God.

Believers will be held accountable to God for how they used their retirement years, which ought to give them freedom to actually increase their ministry in the kingdom.

When prosperity seduces a believer into a life of luxury and leisure, the influence they may have had or resources they may have used for the kingdom are lost, or squandered.

When a believer fails to grow spiritually and in the knowledge and wisdom of God, their ability to impact others with God’s truth is limited.

When a believer’s life primarily revolves around activities and people who can serve them and meet their needs, they distort the image of the servant Jesus we’re supposed to imitate and thereby reduce their credibility to those in their sub-kingdom.

Q. Can I expand my sub-kingdom?

A. I’ll tell you a story about how this works in evangelism, particularly when you think of the kingdom as the family business. I live in Ada, Michigan, the home of Amway. While Amway obviously isn’t evangelistic in the Christian sense, their sales people have one goal in mind to make Amway, its philosophy and products known and respected the world over. Twenty five years ago, the “kingdom of Amway” had no “believers” in China – no one in China knew about Amway or used their products.

Then Amway “missionaries” came to China. As people were introduced to the company, its founders and products, the kingdom of Amway grew until today there are tens of millions of converts. But, even among those who haven’t yet purchased Amway products, hopefully they still think well of the company and its distributors.

So, when you and I introduce Jesus and the teachings of Jesus to people who either don’t know him or have never felt his love, the kingdom of God expands. Even if they never become true believers themselves, hopefully because of how we act they’ll admire God more.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Q. What if I don’t have as many talents or gifts as others do?

A. It’s clear from the Bible that some have been great responsibilities, money, or influence “five talent Christians” (Matt. 25). Others are “one talent” Christians. It’s a real temptation to admire the five talent types, the folks with lots of money, high profile pastors – leaders of big ministries. The truth is it really doesn’t matter how many gifts we’ve been given, it’s only what we do to bring God glory, with whatever gifts he has entrusted to us that really counts.

There’s probably a lift truck operator, working in a warehouse somewhere, shy and a high school dropout, who though scared to death, led two kids to Christ in a backyard Bible club, who will be Billy Graham’s boss in the new kingdom someday. In God’s economy, that may be how it works.

“To whom much is given, much is expected.”

It’s been my experience that if we’re faithful with the people and resources we’ve been given, God will often entrust us with even more responsibility and authority. I’ve met people with what I’d judge to have very little talent, but were bold for God, who’ve accomplished many amazing things for the kingdom. Faithfulness trumps talent in this kingdom.

Q. Does anyone know where the kingdom of Heaven is?

A. Most of us picture God living in heaven somewhere in space, in a galaxy, far, far, away. The danger with that notion is that it distances us mentally from God and the kingdom over which he presently reigns. As children we heard stories of Jesus “preparing mansions” for us, which only re-enforces the idea that Jesus and the Father are working on projects away up in heaven, making sure things are ready when we arrive and making preparations for the future kingdom, when Jesus returns.

It is true; the Bible teaches God is omnipresent which means he is present everywhere in the universe simultaneously, including galaxies far, far away. But more importantly for us, Paul, at Mars hill told the Athenians, “God… is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) It is from the space immediately around us that God through his angels, watches, acts, and interacts with his people and all he’s created. The membrane between God and you is thinner than you may have ever imagined!

Then, if that weren’t close enough, we have the stunning reality of God – the Spirit of Christ – the Holy Spirit actually living in us!

“I have been crucified with Christ, I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Gal. 2:20a

NEXT WEEK: The Incredible Value of Having a Personal Mission Statement.

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The Kingdom – The Family Business – Part II
Posted by Clare
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The Kingdom (the family business) is the whole enterprise of God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the angels and all true believers (God’s sons and daughters), living on earth and presently living with God.  It’s everything that the family of God has done – is doing – and will be doing for all eternity to accomplish the ultimate purposes of God.

When I use the term family business, I don’t want in any way to diminish the majesty and the glory of God, or the seriousness which surrounds the unimaginable power by which he simultaneously manages both the whole universe, as well as what is about to happen to you and the flowers in your garden in the next few minutes.  But, think of it this way.

Imagine a business that could literally save the life of every person on earth – they could truly live forever.  Not only that, but each of those people whose lives have been saved, would have hope, a loving community around them and a purpose for living – they’d be part of a movement that can actually change life on this planet.  And, they’re so grateful; they can’t stop telling others about this company and its founders.  In fact, telling that story and helping others discover this new life becomes the driving passion of their lives.  That’s the kind of family business I’m talking about!

When I think of a healthy family business, each member of the family is important.  If someone doesn’t do payroll, no one gets paid.  If someone else doesn’t sell, there’s no reason to manufacture anything.  If other family members don’t take care for their departments, or do what they’re expected to do, and cooperate together, the whole business suffers.  Regardless of their giftedness, each uses what they have to passionately advance the cause of this business.

It all belongs to God!

However, the Kingdom of Heaven, or Kingdom of God is not dependent on humans.  God isn’t wringing his hands worried over our inability, or unwillingness to do what he wants done.  He’s ultimately sovereign over everything and everyone – he owns it all!

Through his angels and his divine will he is working behind the scenes, in our world and even in the lives of those who hate him to accomplish his purposes.  The only real question is, will you and I faithfully serve the sub-kingdom God has assigned to us?

Here’s why I’m not wild about the term kingdom. Most of us have no idea what’s like to live in a kingdom or under a king.  So, while the word and concept is biblically accurate, it’s not terribly helpful in today’s world.  But, I realize that I’m not going to get all of Christendom to stop using the word kingdom, for the family business, so I’ll drop it for now.  But, promise to think about it.

Our sub-kingdoms are all the people and resources over which we have authority or with whom we have influence.

My sub-kingdom consists of my wife, (I’m also in her sub-kingdom) our six children, our grandchildren, the women who work with me, all my friends and family, everyone with whom I have even some contact, all my spiritual gifts, my natural gifts, all my money, every day of my life, even the influence I might have with you, through The 10 Second Rule book.  I could go on.

So, what does your sub-kingdom look like?

Perhaps you’re a high school student; your sub-kingdom is obviously much smaller.  Unless you’re the captain of some team there’s probably no one under your authority, but many you can influence.  Your sub-kingdom might consist of your family, friends, teachers, the kids in your school, your car, your cell phone, spiritual gifts, natural abilities, a small amount of money – you get it.  Anything you have can be used for the glory of God!

But, back to my sub-kingdom and how does this authority, or influence thing actually work in real life?  My mission from God, the very reason I exist, is to care for the people under my authority or influence as if Jesus were actually here doing it in my place!  I’m his surrogate.  I’m to manage my life the way Jesus would if he actually lived in my house, spoke to my wife, drove my car, interacted with strangers, hung out with my friends and wrote my checks.  For better or worse, I represent the family to my world and I’m charged by Jesus himself to be the loyal, loving, servant/manager of everyone and everything Jesus has entrusted to my care.  Yes, Jesus is coming to usher in the future, perfect kingdom someday and followers of Jesus ought to yearn for it.  But it’s also here – now – today.  And, every true believer has been entrusted with just a sliver of it.

With some people we will have only a momentary and fleeting influence.  A hitch hiker – a homeless person – a waitress.  Nevertheless, Jesus wants us to care for them, even for a few seconds with a smile, an encouraging word – a generous tip – whatever we’re reasonably certain Jesus is asking us to do.  That’s the way it is with our sub-kingdoms – it’s that fluid.  It literally changes every day.  And when we live with that intentionality we bring God glory, the ultimate goal of our lives!

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matt. 5:16

Once you’ve finished reading this blog, this week please also read the following parables of Jesus and you’ll see this sub-kingdom/mission-from-God thread throughout all of them:

Parable of the Sower Luke 8:5-15

Parable of the Talents Matthew 25:14-30

Sheep and the Goats Matthew 25:31-46

You’re way more than just a Christian – you’re a stakeholder in the most powerful family in heaven and on earth.  It’s for this we’ve been saved!

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

The Church

When our various sub-kingdoms intersect and overlap, we have the church – the community of believers on earth.  The influence and power of the church is more than simply the sum of its parts.  When our sub-kingdoms mesh well and we live and work in unity, it’s a testimony to the world of the truth of the gospel and a foretaste of the perfect kingdom to come.

Therefore, we worship God together and care for one another, but there’s also a broken world outside our church walls, desperately in need of the kingdom, whether they know it, or not.  With a third of the world drinking filthy water how can we not work with others to address it?  How can we as the Church crawl into clean, soft beds knowing only a few miles away a woman and her children are trying to keep warm living in their car?  When we become aware of individuals and whole people groups, who have never been introduced to Jesus, it becomes our privilege as the Church – the people of God to do that.  When we do it says something powerful to the world.

“May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:23b

The church is that dynamic – or can be!  Unfortunately for many of us who’ve grown up in the church this part of the family business often appears ancient and out of touch.  The church feels more like the old General Motors – year after year, just cranking out the same reliable, but unexciting models and shocked to find showrooms half empty, except for diehards, loyal to the brand.  You and I can change that!

And on that Day…

I’ve had this thought.  I’m standing in line on judgment day – staring at my feet – waiting my turn – ready to give my report – getting all my excuses in order, saving my best arguments for my close.  I think I’m in pretty good shape.  And I wrote The 10 Second Rule book.  So, I got that going for me.

I already know I’m in because of what Jesus did for me on the cross.  So, the pressure’s off.  Finally, I’m in front of Jesus.

As I’m about to swing into my litany of good deeds, I make the mistake of looking directly into his eyes – those kind eyes.  The eyes that pierced Peter’s just before he fled the courtyard – and   I’m absolutely speechless.  Suddenly all I was so proud of seems so pathetically shallow compared to how I might have lived – the lives I might have more profoundly impacted – if only….  I’m tempted to compare myself to others, but then it dawns on me that Jesus isn’t grading on the curve in this judgment of works.  This is just between him and me.

What did I, Clare De Graaf, do with the life he gave me?  What others did with their lives is between Jesus and them.  I’m ashamed – and sad.  That’s where this scene in my mind often ends.

Of course, Jesus will wipe away every tear – I just don’t want him to have to.  Do you?

To whom much is given, much is expected.

Next week my blog will be a series of questions and answers about our sub-kingdoms and how they work in real life.  What questions do you have that you’d like me to address?

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The Kingdom – The Family Business – Part I
Posted by Clare
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Have you ever thought of the kingdom of God as the family business?

What I’m about to cover in this and next two week’s blog is the basis for my biblical worldview on why you and I exist and what it means to actually follow Jesus in real life.  These two blogs are longer than normal, so you may want to get a fresh cup of coffee and let’s get to it.

In my previous worldview as a religious Christian, prior to my own spiritual re-birth some thirty years ago now, I had a Sunday school understanding of the gospel and the kingdom.  Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection was all about me – getting me and others out from underneath this problem with sin, which we had with God.  Once that was done, I had my promise of heaven when I die, and living with God in his kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven.

But, here’s where I missed it!

At the moment of our surrender to Jesus, when we were truly born again, our “old self” died spiritually and the Spirit of the Living God came to take up residence in us.  We weren’t just forgiven – we were made brand new, infused with new – spiritual DNA, actually becoming the spiritual children of God.

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–  children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12, 13

As children of God, we were automatically adopted into the family of God!  God the Father became our father, Jesus became our elder brother and every true follower of Jesus, every man, woman and child are now my spiritual family.   “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:35

What I’m about to tell you may shock you, but please hang in here with me. The primary reason Jesus came to earth, died on the cross and rose again was not so you and I could go to heaven some day!

“And they sang a new song:  “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.  You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Rev. 5:9-10  (emphasis mine)

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” I Peter 2:9

We are Jesus’ gift to our Father!

Salvation’s ultimate purpose is to redeem spiritually lost men and women for God to serve in his kingdom both now and forever.  And Christ’s death, burial and resurrection is the amazing mechanism God chose to reserve and adopt his spiritual children into the family of God.

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” I Col. 1:13

My wife and I adopted two of our children from Korea.  When we decided to adopt, we didn’t daydream about the mechanism of adoption – the cost, the months of waiting, the court hearings and finalization of our adoption.  No!  What we dreamt about was having these children be part of our family – them loving us and us loving them.  However, it was necessary that we go through the process of adoption to make that dream possible.

So it is with salvation!  Yes, it’s true as it says in I Timothy 1:15b, “Christ came into the world to save sinners.” But, that was not the primary reason!  It was for God we were ultimately saved.  And when we joined the family of God – we also joined this conspiracy of the faithful, sold out to God, doing the will of God for the glory and pleasure of God, first in this life and then the next!

You’ve been given a sub-kingdom.

Dallas Willard, in The Divine Conspiracy, really helped set me straight on the kingdom.  He defines the kingdom this way:  “The Kingdom of Heaven is the range of God’s effective will – where what he wants done, is done”.1 Even though God rules sovereign over the entire universe including our world, because of Satan and sin, there are “pockets of resistance,” or ignorance over which his rule is not yet complete, for reasons known only to God.

Not only does God have a kingdom, but he entrusts each believer with a “sub-kingdom”, or as Neal Plantinga, the former President of Calvin Seminary, calls them “little kingdoms”- smaller spheres of influence and responsibility, within God’s kingdom over which we “have our say.”2

“Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21

The kingdom is in us!  Therefore, the ultimate purpose for every follower of Jesus – priests and co-workers in his kingdom, is the same – to shamelessly love God and both proclaim the good news and be the good news in those remaining pockets of resistance, wherever we find them.

You have a mission from God!

In The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren puts it this way, “Our time on earth, our energy, intelligence, opportunities, money and relationships are all gifts from God on loan to us.  We are stewards of whatever God gives us, to be used for his glory, not ours.  The first task God gave humans was to manage and take care of God’s “stuff” on earth.  That role has never been rescinded – it’s part of our purpose on earth today.”3

So when Jesus instructs us to pray, “May thy kingdom come, may your will be done”, we aren’t praying for the kingdom to come into existence.  It has always been and will always be!  And, we’re also not merely asking God wishfully for Christ’s future kingdom to come more quickly.  Rather, we are praying for God’s will to “be done on earth as it is in heaven”, in your life and my life as the redeemed of God on earth.

Do you remember babysitting when you were younger?  Before the parents left they gave you authority to “rule” in their place – that is, to keep order, protect and care for their kids and make the kinds of judgments they would if they were present.  In essence, they ruled through you.  Now, maybe it didn’t always go all that well and it won’t always in your sub-kingdom either, but that’s the idea.

So, when we became adopted into the family of God, we automatically joined what I like to think of as, “the family business” – the kingdom of God.  And, next week I’ll get right into how this incredible family business works.  But, here’s my definition for these sub-kingdoms.

Sub-kingdoms are all the people and resources over which we have authority or with whom we have influence.

Here’s a sneak preview of your sub-kingdom:   When you’re hanging out with your friends and your Christ-like character raises the level of conversation, Christ is ruling or influencing through you.  As a child of God, when you’re kind to a really difficult person and your “Jesus like” response, changes the dynamics of that exchange, your obedience causes the kingdom or the rule of God to come.  When you obey the 10 Second Rule and buy lunch for a stranger – the kingdom comes.

When you’re an advocate for a frightened person, or you help the poor – God’s grace comes – in the flesh – your flesh.   When you introduce a friend to God, or to the teachings of Jesus – the kingdom comes.  Darkness is in retreat whenever God’s will is done.  God is redeeming the world – taking back what is his, through you and every believer who takes their sub-kingdom assignments seriously.

Well, what do you think?  I’d like to hear your comments or questions, so let’s learn together!

1 Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, (New York: Harper San Francisco Publishers) Page 25

2 Plantinga, Cornelius, Engaging God’s World, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.) page 105.

3 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) Page 44

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Pride
Posted by Clare
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“If all my friends were blind I’d probably drive a Taurus.”

Have you ever thought about how much pride and envy shapes so many of our decisions every day?  I have.  Because, I’m smack dab in the middle of looking for a new car and talking to my closest friend Ted about it, and he makes the “Taurus” comment.  Ted knows two things about me for sure:  My friends aren’t blind and I haven’t been talking about Taurus’s with him.  (I’ve driven German cars for decades.)

So, what’s going on in my head and my heart that I’d not given some perfectly good cars any real consideration?

I have no idea how early in life that we begin to envy what others have, or become proud of what we own or have accomplished.  Did it start with wanting a nicer toy, bike, an A on a test, first in a foot race, or the prettiest dress?  Perhaps it was a parent that always compared us to other kids, or to themselves.  I don’t know.

But, this feeling we all had in common.  When we got we wanted, it made us feel good – superior.  We sensed the envy of others and we enjoyed our moment in the sun, sometimes even lying in bed at night re-living the memory over and over.  As we did and without even realizing it, we were developing an addiction for the affirmation of others and some of us are still full blown junkies desperately trying to feed the habit.

By the time I was a teenager I was hooked.  My parents were good, simple, middle class people, but I wanted more – even as a young kid.  I studied how rich people lived, where they lived, how they dressed – and, of course, what they drove.  I thought Jesus was wonderful, but I didn’t want to live like him – I wanted to live like them.  I raised materialism to an art form.

The old man just won’t die!

So, when I was born again at age 31 and “gave my life to Christ,” I thought the pride problem would melt away with the death of the “old man”.  And, I remember being surprised that it hadn’t – I’m still surprised and disappointed.

My (our) problem is this.  We all have this emotional memory bank of the things we wanted and the affirmation we’ve longed for, pre-salvation.  And, I’ve discovered it doesn’t just disappear with salvation.  It gets better because the Holy Spirit enables us to “set our minds on the things above”.  But like Pavlov’s dog, it takes next to nothing to get my juices flowing.  And my eyes and ears are still taking in the things I used to crave.  I’m guessing it’s similar to the feelings an alcoholic gets anytime they walk in a bar or see a drink in someone’s hand.  I’m told it gets easier over time, but never goes away.

“For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the father but from the world.” I John 2:16

So, what do we do about the problem?

Before I launch into my “ought to do” list for you, I hope by now you’ve gotten the message that I’m still a recovering affirmation – pride junkie who falls off the wagon weekly and even daily.  My use of these ideas has only made my relapses less frequent.  So, here we go:

1. Stay out of stores, show rooms or websites that tempt you to want what you do not need.  A friend of mine, who likes nice clothes, goes on “clothing fasts” for one to three months.  That means he not only buys no clothes, but won’t even go in clothing stores.

2. Make a decision to stop reading catalogues or magazines like Car and Driver, House Beautiful or Architectural Digest.  Perhaps it’s magazines about your hobby that has you always wishing for the newest boat, gun, kitchen, handbag, vacation or golf clubs.  Cancel your subscriptions and ask the companies to stop sending you catalogs.  Think of them as pornography for materialists.

3. The next time you crave something, stop and ask yourself why?  “Why is it I want this thing so much?  Where did that come from?” Be introspective.  What need for affirmation are you trying to meet?  Get some Christian professional help, if necessary, but find the root source.

4. If you’re serious about getting on top of this problem, set aside some time to pray and reflect on it.  Write down your earliest memories of wanting things or affirmation.  Ask the Holy Spirit to recall those memories to you.  Then write some personal boundaries for your life that will lessen the temptation to feed these desires.

5. Confess your sin (let’s call it what it is).  First confess it to God, and then tell a friend, a mentor or your pastor your problem.  Ask them to call you or ask you a month from now and ask, “How goes the battle?”

6. Confess immediately any covetous thoughts you have about anything or anyone!

7. Decide not to purchase anything that your friends would envy.  It can still be nice, good quality and stylish.  But when we’re fantasizing about how our friends’ heads will turn when we walk into a room, or park our car, or begin imagining what our friends will say about what we have, or have accomplished – we have a problem.  Two problems actually.

Not only are we feeding the pride problem in our own life, but we’re doing the same in our friends’ lives.  When we get something nicer, the bar just got raised for them and how do they top that?  Not your problem?  I think it is.  You and I have it within our power to stop the “pride wars”, at least among our friends.  This gets right back to Jesus’ statements that we are to be the yeast in the lives of others – that thing that causes the whole loaf to rise.  And like salt, that changes the flavor and improves relationships.

I’ve found this about the life of a follower of Jesus.  It’s up to us to raise the bar of virtue – not because we always want to, but because it’s the right thing to do.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:1-5

Oh, by the way, I decided to take my own advice and I chose a very nice car by anyone’s standard, but not the head turner I had and I really wanted again.  And also for the record, it made me a little sad when I did.  The old man doesn’t like losing.

Question:  What things have you done to curb your pride or envy problem?

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