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10 Key New Books for the Fall

Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors

I loved Katie’s first book, Kisses from Katie and was deeply touched by her moving story.  When I realized that she had a follow up book coming out this fall, I knew I had to read it.  When Katie Davis Majors moved to Uganda, accidentally founded a booming organization, and later became the mother of thirteen girls through the miracle of adoption, she determined to weave her life together with the people she desired to serve. But joy often gave way to sorrow as she invested her heart fully in walking alongside people in the grip of poverty, addiction, desperation, and disease. This book is about a mother discovering the extraordinary strength it takes to be ordinary. It’s about choosing faith no matter the circumstance and about encountering God’s goodness in the least expected places.

Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken

I loved the concept of this book from the moment I discovered it was being published.  Hardly anyone ever asks the question, “Does my church make me uncomfortable?” and if they do, they often leave it.  In this book, McCracken poses a different question, “what if instead of searching for a church that makes us comfortable, we learned to love our church, even when it’s challenging? What if some of the discomfort that we often experience is actually good for us?” This book is a call to embrace the uncomfortable aspects of Christian community, whether that means believing difficult truths, pursuing difficult holiness, or loving difficult people—all for the sake of the gospel, God’s glory, and our joy.

White Awake by Daniel Hill

In a time when “white privilege” and “Black Lives Matter” dominate conversations, this book is a much-needed addition to the dialogue.  Daniel Hill will never forget the day he heard these words: “Daniel, you may be white, but don’t let that lull you into thinking you have no culture. White culture is very real. In fact, when white culture comes in contact with other cultures, it almost always wins. So it would be a really good idea for you to learn about your culture.” Confused and unsettled by this encounter, Hill began a journey of understanding his own white identity. Today he is an active participant in addressing and confronting racial and systemic injustices. I look forward to wrestling with his seven stages to expect on the path to cultural awakening.

The Last Arrow by Erwin McManus

So, I have to confess that I was intrigued with this book as soon as I saw the cover.  Erwin McManus is the founding pastor Mosaic, an innovative church in Los Angeles and a great writer.  This is what he has to say about this book, “When you come to the end of your days, you will not measure your life based on success and failures. All of those will eventually blur together into a single memory called “life.” What will give you solace is a life with nothing left undone. One that’s been lived with relentless ambition, a heart on fire, and with no regrets. On the other hand, what will haunt you until your final breath is who you could have been but never became and what you could have done but never did.”  I desire to live a life fully committed to the plans that God has for me and look forward to being challenged by McManus to leave nothing on the table – to be “all in” everyday.

Be the Hands and Feet by Nick Vujicic – coming out in February 2018

I was disappointed to see that the release of this book was pushed back to February of 2018.  Who could resist wanting to read a book about being the hands and feet of Jesus from a guy who has no hands and feet. Nick is known worldwide for his incredibly courageous story and for the fact that he believes that nothing in life is as exciting and satisfying as introducing Jesus to people who have never met him. In this new book, he explains how the example of Jesus Christ motivates him to travel and speak broadly because the”good news” of the Gospel is just too good to keep quiet!  Although the world has so many problems, no challenge is too great for the God who promises to move mountains. What an inspiring book this promises to be.

Whisper by Mark Batterson

I have enjoyed reading Mark’s books since he wrote, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day.  His writing is not sophisticated and his message is direct and I need more books like this in my life.  Lead Pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C. and prolific author, Batterson has written a book that should be read by many Christians.  In this new book he helps readers learn how to listen to God. The voice that spoke the cosmos into existence is the same voice that parted the Red sea, and made the sun stand still in the midday sky. One day, this voice will make all things new, but it’s also speaking to us now! That voice is God’s voice, and what we’ve learned from Scripture is that He often speaks in a whisper. Not to make it difficult to hear Him, but to draw us close. Many people have a tough time believing God still speaks. Sure, in ancient times and in mysterious ways, God spoke to His people, but is He still speaking now? Mark Batterson certainly believes so.  With so much noise in my life competing for my attention, I look forward to letting this book transform my prayer and devotional life.

Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas

A new book from the writer of the much-acclaimed Bonhoeffer biography is a must read for me.  The fact that it is about Martin Luther and is releasing in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation is an added bonus.  On All Hallow’s Eve in 1517, the young monk named Martin Luther posted a document he hoped would spark an academic debate, but that instead ignited a conflagration that would forever destroy the world he knew. Five hundred years after Luther’s now famous Ninety-five Theses appeared, Metaxas, paints a startling portrait of the wild figure whose adamantine faith cracked the edifice of Western Christendom and dragged medieval Europe into the future. Written in riveting prose and impeccably researched, Martin Luther tells the searing tale of a humble man who, by bringing ugly truths to the highest seats of power, caused the explosion whose sound is still ringing in our ears.

Exploring the Bible by David Murray, Illustrated by Scotty Reifsnyder  I am always looking for new books for children that will actually make a difference in their lives.  Far too often, books written for kids assume that they can’t really handle reading the Bible on their own, nor would they want to.  This new book takes a different approach. Murray believes that reading the Bible should be like taking a trip through God’s story, setting out to explore and experience the beautiful views found within. But without a map, it’s easy to get lost. Exploring the Bible leads kids ages 6–12 through the Bible one day at a time over the course of a year. For use alongside any Bible, this workbook will help them see the overarching story of God’s Word and lay the foundation for a lifetime of discovering truths about God, humanity, and the gospel.  Besides being beautifully illustrated, it includes  – daily Bible readings, prayer points, memory verses, discussion questions and space for sermon notes and reflections.

God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life by Tim Keller

A new devotional from Tim Keller based on the book of Proverbs – need I say more?  Well… I guess so.

From pastor and New York Times bestselling author Timothy Keller comes a beautifully packaged, yearlong daily devotional based on the Book of Proverbs.  Proverbs is God’s book of wisdom, teaching us the essence and goal of a Christian life. In this 365-day devotional, Timothy Keller offers readers a fresh, inspiring lesson for every day of the year based on different passages within the Book of Proverbs. With his trademark knowledge, Keller unlocks the wisdom within the poetry of Proverbs and guides us toward a new understanding of what it means to live a moral life. God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life is a book that I will be able to turn to every day, year after year, to cultivate a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with God. It makes a perfect companion to Keller’s devotional on the Psalms, The Songs of Jesus.

The Nearly Infallible History of the Reformation by Nick Page

This was one of my favorite books of the year so far and while it was very informative, it was also hilarious.  Who could resist reading a book that has the words, “You were predestined to read this – John Calvin” printed across the top of the cover.  What an endorsement.  While it is published by a British publisher, it should also available here in the USA. In the book, Nick Page brings his skills as an unlicensed historian to bear on this key period in European (and world) history in order to uncover everything you need to know about the Reformation – with a fair few bits you never wanted to know thrown in for good measure. Historians tell us that the Protestant Reformation laid the foundations for the Industrial Revolution, religious freedom, and all sorts of other Good Things. But what actually happened? Who were the winners and the losers, the ogres and the beauty queens of this key moment in church history? (spoiler: there weren’t any beauty queens). In-depth research, historical analysis and cutting-edge guesswork combine to scintillating effect in this fast-moving examination of the strange and wonderful whirlwind that was church life in late medieval Europe.

 

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A Fellowship of the Foolish

Every now and then I find myself thinking about Sisyphus, the character from Greek mythology, pushing that famous rock up a hill only to have it roll down and to have to push it up again.  Not that I really knew his real name until I Googled it, but I certainly feel his frustration on a regular basis.  There are so many times in the life of our ministry that the problems we face seem like huge boulders and for some reason it feels like I am pushing the same rock again and again.  Trying to make evangelical Christian resources available to everyone in the world and to do so economically and effectively is not just a daunting task – it seems like a virtual impossibility – some might even say it is a fool’s errand.

This week I met with our “fellowship of the foolish” otherwise known as the leadership team for CLC International and we discussed our worldwide ministry in over forty-five countries.  There were many moments when I could not help but think of my grandfather’s book, “The Foolishness of God” that was inspired by 1 Corinthians 1:25- 27 where Paul writes:

  “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”

We are serving in countries like Venezuela where people do not have enough money to buy food and medicine and yet they are still buying Bibles.  We are serving in places like Dominica where we had just gotten books and Bibles to the freight forwarder in Miami and Hurricane Maria nearly wiped out the island.  We are serving in places like Sierra Leone where the adult literacy rate is less than 50% and yet we have just run out of key supplies for our new print-on-demand system because we have printed more than 3000 books in the first three months since it has been operational – far more than we expected.  So many opportunities and so many challenges.  This is not a work for the faint of heart.

Praise God there are a few more foolish people around who have similar priorities.  During the week we had the privilege of listening to Paul Miller, the founder of seeJesus.net and author of A Praying Life, share his passion for the church around the world and his desire to see interactive Bible studies become a key component of their approach to discipleship.  Later, we met with a band of brothers from LifeWay Global and learned about their renewed commitment to providing Christian resources to the nations, especially Bibles and discovered that they had sixteen containers on the way to India.  This is the beginning of their official “on the ground” resourcing of the church in Southeast Asia as they are now registered in India.

By the end of week, I was beginning to have a new vision for the task ahead.  Maybe it is not just one person or one organization pushing the rock up the hill after all.  If we work together, that rock may move faster and finally get to where it belongs.  If we do this work in partnership with likeminded brothers and sisters, maybe the task of getting these life changing resources to people and pastors in far flung places will actually happen.  If we choose to work hand in hand for God’s glory and not our own, maybe His kingdom will be expanded and a light will be shined in dark places.

As I begin to dream, I can now imagine:

  • Print-On-Demand systems in many nations changing the very nature of Christian publishing and making it possible to get books inexpensively to the far corners of the earth.
  • Bibles being printed in vastly more languages in economic editions that make it possible for huge numbers of new Christians in the global south to own and read a Bible for the first time.
  • Discipleship materials becoming available in all shapes, sizes and formats – both digital and physical.
  • Church leaders having access to world class Biblical education through highly curated and contextualized resources.
  • The Bible coming to life through new resources that help answer the question that the Apostle Philip asked the Ethiopian official “Do you understand what you are reading?”

God truly is using the foolish things of this world to shame the wise and I for one am glad to be a part of this Fellowship of the Foolish.

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Making a Difference – CRT 2017

With Jim Williamson and Geoff Bearham at CRT 2017

Something special is going on in the UK these days and I don’t mean Brexit.  After years of decline and contraction, Christian bookselling and publishing is beginning to look up again.  This was clearly evident at the Christian Resources Together Conference that just finished.  The energy, excitement and vibrancy of the attendees was palpable and the event has grown significantly.  After the demise of the Christian Booksellers Conference (CBC), Steve and Mandy Briars decided to try something entirely fresh and new when they founded CRT just a few short years ago.  Initially it was a modest gathering of likeminded Christian resource providers – both bookstores and publishers in a retreat like setting.  Speaker, Nick Page, joked that the first year was so small they had to huddle together just to keep warm.  This year, several hundred people came together to celebrate what God is doing and to learn from each other.  So many people signed up that the spacious Hayes Conference Center was not big enough and some had to get hotel accommodations off site.

I had been asked to come and share some insights from my book, The Bookstore that Matters, and hoped to be an encouragement and inspiration.  To my great surprise and joy, the time spent with folks who attended CRT was probably more of an encouragement to me than I was to them.  The format of the conference was very conducive to small group interactions and one on one conversations.  People were excited to see each other, to share their stories and to get ideas from fellow book lovers.  As an outsider, I received a warm welcome despite the frequent comments about “challenges” on the other side of the pond.

One of the most invigorating aspects of the conference was meeting new and younger people that are now getting involved.  Many come from secular companies and bring fresh insights and ideas and also a sense of passion and calling to this new type of work.   It was so refreshing to see how people are genuinely working together to overcome obstacles that we all face.  Some time ago, a private Facebook group was set up for the Christian retailers and publishers in the UK.  I am privileged to be a member of the group and have been amazed at how helpful people are to one another.  As soon as someone poses a question, another person is likely to respond in a matter of minutes.  This ongoing collaboration is making a real difference and people from all over the UK are actually “bearing one another’s burdens”.

Interestingly, innovation is taking place in the publishing world as well.  I met several people who have started publishing companies in recent years.  They are using print-on-demand technology to keep inventory costs to a minimum while allowing them to take risks on new books that might not have been published in the past.  Many of these books are of high quality and are being produced with proper editing and good cover design as well.  The CRT event welcomed authors to attend and they seem encouraged about the recent developments in the marketplace and the ability to get books produced with a variety of potential publishing partners.

The format of the conference is clearly one of the keys to its success. Emphasis is given to training, worship, learning, speakers, author presentation, etc.  The trade show aspect is actually not the highest priority.  While there were many vendors present and attendees did visit these booths and appreciated what was being presented, this was done in a very low key and collaborative way.  No high pressure sales tactics or coercive marketing techniques were being deployed.  Working together was the key ingredient and people genuinely seemed to love being together.  Well done Steve and Mandy. I hope to come again some future year.

With Jim and Elizabeth George at CRT 2017

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Resistance Will Adjust

I was just getting started on the elliptical machine at the gym (OK, yes this is a real story and not just my optimistic imagination gone wild) when I noticed the words on the machine – Resistance will Adjust.  I had noticed that the harder I worked out, the machine kept making changes and now I knew why – it was simply adjusting to my pace.  The more effort I exerted, the more it seemed to make the work out that much more strenuous.  The simple response would be to slow down my pace, but the longer I worked out the more I stopped noticing the machines adjustments and simply paid attention to my heart rate.  That was the point – paying attention to my heart rate and keeping it at the right level.  The machine was not my enemy, but simply a facilitator of my goal – no matter how hard it seemed at first.

This past week, I got one of those texts that leaders never like to get.  One of our colleagues in Central Asia had just suffered a tragedy when one of their children had fallen out of second story window and they were on the way to the hospital.  This would have been difficult enough in any circumstance, but this family had already been having a pretty tough year.  Our spiritual enemy was clearly not happy about their work and resistance was adjusting.  Right before that news, I had been praying for two CLC authors who were pastors in Houston Texas and were dealing with the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey on their community.  They had taken a huge risk in leaving a large well-known church and had planted a church together that was now growing and the gospel was flourishing – and then the storm hit. Resistance was adjusting.

Far too often I think that we in the west are like the frog in the kettle.  Our enemy is at work all around us and we seem oblivious.  The spiritual temperature is rising and we are none the wiser.  We may notice the big things like the evidence of moral decay all around us, but we seem unable to notice the increasing hostility between fellow believers.  Somehow the pot is beginning to boil and we don’t even realize we are in the water.  C.S. Lewis spoke to this issue in his book The Screwtape Letters when he said, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”  So, what is one to do?  How do we keep a clear focus on reality in a culture of distortion and subterfuge?

I think the answer lies in paying attention to our hearts.  What are we enamored by?  What captures our passions, our time and our energy?  The irony of the maturing Christian life is that learning to resist the enemy is not the real answer to growing as a Christian.  In fact, self-motivated resistance is actually exactly what our enemy wants.  Instead, we are called to a life of surrender, patience, listening and obedience.  When we are weak, He is strong.  I used to think that building my “faith muscles” was exactly what God wanted, but now it seems like not seeing my muscles at all is His actual goal for my life.   When I experience victory in my life over sin, it is because He has grown more powerful and I am have embraced His will despite how painful that might be.  There is nothing that bothers our enemy more than seeing a Christian recognize their own weakness and begin submitting every thought and action to the will of their heavenly father.

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An Enriched Life

It had been an impactful week already when I first saw the picture.  I was co-hosting a gathering of our team leaders from all over the Americas and we were sharing our stories.  Our Uruguay team leader Humberto was telling us about their mobile ministry where they use a van to take books and Bibles to remote villages and towns.  In the picture, an old man sat at a wooden table in a very simple home.  He did not seem to have much of worldly value and I wondered if he could even read.  Humberto smiled as he showed us the picture and then proceeded to the next image that showed several bookshelves of books and  chairs.

As it turned out, this man -Alberto – could not only read, but he was one of their best customers.  He had been buying and reading books for a long time and they were his treasure.  He took the time to number every one of the books and was even in the habit of lending them to other people in his church.  His collection was so large that it was really a small library.  Books had changed his life and he wanted to share that experience with others no matter what economic conditions they lived in.  He had invested his own limited resources in things that would matter for eternity.

This story from Uruguay had powerful resonance as we listened to the plight of our team in Venezuela.  The last few years have been a time of struggle and suffering as the economy of the country has collapsed and people cannot even find basic food and medicine.  Over the years, our local team had grown to eleven stores and a warehouse and had been a catalyst in the significant growth of the evangelical church in this part of the world.  They had also used vans and other vehicles as a part of a mobile ministry to take books to remote areas.  Now they have almost no books in the warehouse and very few books on the store shelves.  It is truly a season of mourning and lament in this once prosperous nation.

In a time when almost no one has money for new books in Venezuela, I couldn’t help but wonder how many old men had stockpiled their treasured books for just such a time as this.  Now that electricity is intermittent and it is often dangerous to leave the house because of protests and violence in the streets, it may time for people to take some of the books off the shelves and read them once again.  I can imagine that many people are reading and sharing books all over the country as they remind one another that God has a plan for them – a plan to prosper them and not harm them, plans to give them a hope and a future.  This may even be the beginning of a spiritual revival as God grips the hearts of his hurting people and reminds them of His love through the pages of His word that was purchased many years ago.

Getting books to “the least of these” in remote places all over Latin America is a hallmark and legacy of our global ministry.  In Ecuador, the local team even makes periodic trips up the rivers and into the jungles to visit the indigenous tribes with books ad Bibles.  Carlos, our team leader, remarked that it was amazing how hungry they are for new resources and that they often saved up their money to be able to purchase whatever was available.  He said that many of the tribespeople were Christians and the fruit of missionary work that had taken place over one hundred years ago.  They not only purchased and read the books we provided, but they are growing in their faith and some even had deep theological questions for our team.

Spending the week with my CLC family members who are diligently exploring new ways to make evangelical Christian literature available to all nations renewed my vision and passion for our work.  As I head back into the hustle and bustle of everyday work life this week, I know that I will be dealing with the reality that many of us face.  There will be the typical barrage of e-mails, meetings and projects vying for my attention and social media posts trying to fill every spare moment.  How I respond to this will be deeply impacted by that old man at the table with no computer, no phone and no internet.  He has challenges of his own, be he has chosen to live an enriched life by investing his money and time in things that will last and will change lives forever.

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Willing to Stay

This week I met a saint and he was dead.  No, I didn’t meet a ghost, I simply attended his memorial service and learned what true faithfulness really looks like.  Elwin Palmer was ninety-three when he went home to be with the Lord and had lived a full and impactful life, but not one that he had anticipated.  After serving in World War II, including participation in the Battle of the Bulge, he came back to the USA prepared to study Agricultural Engineering and to return to the poverty-stricken area of Mississippi where he grew up.  He hoped to make a real difference in the lives of the next generation of farmers and their families and he was on track to make that dream a reality when he met his wife.  Her commitment to world missions and his willingness to listen to the still small voice of the Lord led them to Colombia Bible College and then they joined WEC International.

WEC was founded by C.T. Studd and has always been a pioneering ministry.  Some people that knew Elwin felt that he too wanted to follow in CT’s footsteps and to be a pioneering missionary himself on the foreign field.  In the early days, Elwin helped the small WEC USA team get the campus in Fort Washington, PA ready for occupancy and spent many days and probably a lot of nights fixing windows and many other problems in the huge building that we call “the castle” today.  The large property in suburban Philadelphia had fallen into a major state of disrepair as it had been abandoned and then looted for several years.  My mother grew up in that building and often commented that the most important abilities of a missionary were flexibility and availability and Elwin exhibited those qualities every day.  After serving for a few years on the home staff of WEC USA and having gone through their candidate training program, Elwin was ready to leave for a foreign land to begin his “real” missionary career.

This never happened and it devastated him.  The leadership of WEC USA at that time did not feel that God was giving them a peace to release Elwin and his family to serve overseas and probably had good reasons for saying so.  Whatever those reasons were, it did not sit well with Elwin and he certainly experienced his dark night of the soul wrestling with God over that decision.  Despite this, Elwin submitted to God’s will and to the leadership decision and stayed on the team.  He didn’t quit, despite being recruited at one point by a college that wanted him to serve on their staff.  Over the years he served in a variety of positions and was known for his wisdom, humility and faithfulness.  In 1968, to his great surprise he was nominated and elected to serve as the WEC USA director and he did this for the next fifteen years.  Countless missionary families received training and preparation for service under his watchful care and went to the field to serve God in very difficult circumstances.

Elwin’s later years were not easy as he was faithful to his wife who suffered from illness for many years and he was her constant companion and prayer warrior.  I only knew Elwin from afar through the eyes of his daughter Grace who worked in our ministry.  Her quiet commitment to excellence as she proofread manuscripts was a testimony to her father and his training and example of living the deeper Christian life.  Saying yes to Jesus was the hallmark of Elwin’s life even though it meant hardship and disappointment at key moments along the way.  His willingness to lay down his own ambitions for a greater calling is an example that will live on as one of his greatest legacies.  Many leaders, including myself, would do well to follow in his humble footsteps and to learn to love Jesus the way he did.  Sometimes, God’s will is for us to stay in the place he has planted us even when it is really hard.

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What Are You Bringing?

So, I have a confession to make.  I am a huge fan of potluck picnics.  For those not familiar with this particular tradition, this is a combination of a typical outdoor barbecue with the twist that the guests are invited to bring a dish along to share with others.  Given that I like to grill and eat just about any type of meat that exists and am an extrovert, these events are often the highlight of my summer.  With one small exception.  Occasionally and I mean occasionally, these events can get partially derailed by that guest who brings something “special” that only they appreciate.  If you are a fan of potluck picnics, you know what I am talking about.  Somehow, they show up with a wilted salad, a left over vegetable medley or my least favorite – anything (with the exception of coleslaw) that includes cabbage.  If you are like me, you hold your nose and walk right by that stinky cabbage and look for the fresh corn on the cob or the just baked rolls to compliment your pork barbecue or burger.

This got me thinking.  How does this happen anyway and why would anyone want to ruin a wonderful picnic with side dishes like this?  And then it hit me.  A lot of life is like a potluck picnic.  Every day that we wake up, we have a choice to make.  What are we going to bring?  How are we going to choose to interact with others?  Are we going to bring our best or just the leftovers?  Being involved in a ministry that deals with the public on a daily basis, I have been faced with this question a lot and am I not sure that I have always been the one bringing the corn on the cob or the rolls.  So why is that?

The truth is that I and many others tend to bring what we have into any interaction in which we are involved.  If we have a fridge full of fresh corn and oven full of hot rolls, we will bring that.  Unfortunately, more often that I would like to admit, my personal fridge is full of leftovers including the wilting salad and the day-old veggies.  Sometimes, if I am really honest, I even cook up a mess of stinky cabbage with my words and actions and then bring that to the party too.  Worst of all, I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that if I just make cupcakes too, it will make everything better.  As an eternal optimist, I am way too confident that simply “turning that frown upside down” will fix whatever needs fixing.

Recently, I have been convicted that to truly bring my best to the party, I need to take it to the recycling plant first.  OK, I know that sounds weird and may not even make sense, but hear me out.  As much as I would like to have fresh strawberries and scones in my fridge every time I open it, that just isn’t going to happen.  I will wake up without enough sleep, some difficult circumstance will produce anxiety and I am not always going to be my cheerful self.  So what can I do?  I have to take my stuff to the only place that can make any real and lasting transformation – the foot of the cross.  Only my savior, who died in my place and says “come as you are” will really be able to do something lasting and permanent about my stinky cabbage.  Sadly (for me), this is no magic formula and my left overs are not automatically transformed into prize winning potato salad.  Instead, my savior requires repentance and daily surrender to His plans for my life.  This process is painful and time consuming, but is the only way that I will ever bring anything worthwhile to party next time I am invited.

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