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Mark, Episode 1: When Everyone Looked for Jesus

Welcome to the start of a new series on Reviewed Thought! As I announced last week, I will review the Gospel of Mark. We’ll start with chapter one and work our way through to the end, however many weeks that takes. Look for a post every Monday.

So let’s get started, shall we?

Mark 1

In this chapter, three things stood out to me about Jesus.

1. His Timing

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Credit: Lawrence OP (https://flic.kr/p/5RPzh7)

Isaiah prophesied that a messenger would prepare the people for their Messiah’s arrival. Mark introduces the messenger as John the Baptist and the prophesied Messiah as Jesus of Nazareth. John announced Jesus’ coming, but Jesus doesn’t enter the stage immediately and get to work. Nope. Instead he gets baptized and receives the Spirit’s blessing.

You’d think he’s ready to announce his candidacy, right? Nope. Rather than go to the people, he walks into the wilderness and lives with the wild animals. He stays in isolation from civilization for 40 days. Anyone who has made a Lenten vow knows 40 days is a long time to wait.

Then, when Jesus finally goes public, he silenced spirits who knew who he was and told healed people to not spread the news. Isn’t that contrary to the Great Commission given at the end of Matthew? If I were the promised Messiah, I would start my ministry full-throttle. Hire a marketing team! Build a platform! Get interviewed on late night talk shows!

But Jesus was more patient than that. He didn’t want short-lived sensationalism to jeopardize his long-term strategy. When the cleansed leper ignored Jesus’ instructions, it stirred up such attention that Jesus couldn’t walk freely in towns. But even that didn’t keep people from searching for him.

2. His Influence

Despite his attempts to lay low, Jesus held surprising influence wherever he went. He wasn’t a rabbi or political leader or other well-known public figure. Yet he immediately gathered disciples when he returned from the wilderness.

Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John all left their trades as fishermen at the call of Jesus. James and John left their father Zebedee behind. Mark writes that Simon had a mother-in-law and therefore also a wife. These men gave up their homes, jobs, and families to follow and be discipled by this unknown Jesus of Nazareth. What was it about him that was so compelling?

The people in the Capernaum synagogue were astounded by his teaching, unlike anything they had heard from the scribes (the equivalent of professors or keepers of the Jewish law). They are further impressed by his power over spirits. They couldn’t repost or tweet his teaching, but they do go out telling everyone in the region about Jesus of Nazareth. He went viral in ancient Galilee. What could he have preached that would be that infectious?

From then on, determined people who needed healing also start following Jesus. Remember they had only heard word-of-mouth rumors. They couldn’t go to his website for tour dates. But that didn’t stop people from pursuing him to whatever “desolate places” he had camped with his disciples. When Jesus took a break one early morning to pray, his disciples interrupt to say, “Everyone is looking for you.”

3. His Identity

At this point, no one knew who Jesus would eventually claim to be. Even the disciples. He was just an ordinary working-class person, a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. He had no rabbinic training. So how could anyone explain how he spoke with power in a way they had never heard? Or how he banished demons and healed diseases by his command?

Jesus stays silent and goes so far as forbidding an unclean spirit from revealing his identity. Jesus was undercover. He didn’t walk into towns saying, “Hey folks, the Son of God has arrived!” Instead of telling people his credentials, he let them make their own conclusions from observation.

In Matthew 11, John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to ask whether Jesus is the Messiah he had been sent to announce. Jesus’ answer? “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” In other words: “See for yourselves.”

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Posted by on March 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Writer’s Block and Overcoming Fear

Two posts in one week! Incredible! If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you will recognize this as a momentous moment. Posts here are as spotty as free coffee shop WiFi. It falls just shy of the standard for miracle-worthy.

So what could justify the sudden escalation of communication?

My former lack of communication. Writer’s block, to be blunt.

You see, Wednesday’s post was weeks in the making. I meant to finish it within a couple days of the idea. Actually writing the post wasn’t that difficult. But it was more difficult letting it be read. I hesitated to publish, rereading it, tweaking a sentence here or there, waiting for the fairy dust that would make it perfect.

I was worried what people might say. I wondered if it was even relevant to this blog. I thought maybe I should keep it to myself. Maybe it was only useful to me and no one else.

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Credit: Alun Salt (https://flic.kr/p/opKr6)

My drafts folder has other posts that may never get published. Some are half-formed thoughts I haven’t taken the time to finish. Others are a topic–a phrase or single line–more than a thesis. I told myself that my life was too busy, that I would blog more if I didn’t have so many other priorities. Meanwhile I watched other bloggers generate new posts every morning.

The same problem appears in writing beyond the blog. It’s gotten to the point that freelance articles take far more hours than they should and I’ve totally given up opening the Word document with my book manuscript.

Last Monday, toiling all evening on an over-due article, I complained to my sister, “When did writing get so hard?” Second only to Christ, being a writer has defined my identity since first grade.

I was thinking about this on Wednesday and why I hadn’t posted anything for so long. Not only could I not publish, but I couldn’t write. I am scared of typing something (which could be easily deleted) because it might not be perfect, it might be misunderstood, it might be rejected. Fear keeps me from both writing and publishing what I wrote.

My writer’s block is nothing more than fear.

I believe fear is one of our greatest dangers. Of course, fear saves us from harm, but it can also hold us back from good. The Israelites refused to go into the Promised Land because they were afraid of the Canaanites living there. They were so intimidated by the size of the Canaanites that they forgot how big God is. The consequence was 40 years wandering the wilderness instead of the land flowing with milk and honey (Numbers 14).

In the Bible, God tells his people repeatedly to not fear. Why do you think humans need this reminder so often? Whenever an angel shows up, the first thing he says is, “Do not be afraid.” When Jesus calmed the storm on the sea, he asked his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40). After Jesus ascended, when Paul was traveling to share the good news, the Lord spoke to Paul in Corinth: “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people'” (Acts 18:9-10).

I don’t want to be controlled by fear. I don’t want to be so afraid that I miss out on the Promised Land. I don’t want fear of people to keep me from blessing them, giving them everything I have to offer–even if it’s just a blog post. It’s said we should face our fears, so it seems the best method to overcome my fear of writing is to…write.

That’s why I’m starting a new series on the Gospel of Mark.

I’ve been writing on this blog four years. I’ve reviewed several books in that time. That’s where the title “Reviewed Thought” comes from. But never have I reviewed a book of the Bible. Since Jesus is at the heart of the whole Scripture, I’d like to start with one of the gospel accounts of his life. That leaves Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John. Matthew and Luke get a lot of attention for featuring the Christmas story. John includes many stories of Jesus that were left out by the other writers. John is also known for an unique, personal voice easily accessible to people unfamiliar with the Bible. But what about Mark?

Mark is the shortest Gospel of the four, but it’s believed to have been written before the others, even being used as source material for Matthew and Luke. It was also likely written for a Gentile audience, Romans who didn’t know Jewish history or scriptures. I can’t remember ever giving Mark much thought, so I’ve chosen this Gospel for my first biblical study on Reviewed Thought.

Look for the first post on Monday. I plan to add a new post from Mark every week. Posts on other topics may appear occasionally as well, probably on Thursdays or Fridays. Hopefully this new book study will keep me accountable to write something and not let fear stop me.

When have you felt fear holding you back?

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark 1:1

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 18, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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Seeing the End of Spiritual Slavery

Slavery still exists. The vision of International Justice Mission is to see an end to it.

People around the world–real human beings–are trapped, suffering, separated from their families, and forced to work. Because of IJM, thousands of slaves now have restored lives and freedom from their captors.

I watched this video at a conference for women seeking what it looks like to follow Christ. The video started tears in my eyes. I empathized with the suffering of slaves and what it must mean for them to be freed. To be reunited with their families. To receive medical treatment and counseling. To overcome fear. To embrace freedom.

And then I had another thought:

Forced workers and trafficking victims are not the only slaves in our world. There are others who are more hidden even than these, and yet they are right in front of us. There are billions of them.

They are the spiritual slaves (Rom. 6:16).

Some Christians tend to ignore that there are other spiritual forces at play besides God and his angels. But Jesus didn’t. So I won’t either. Actually he was constantly warning his disciples about Satan and his fallen angels, the ones who chose to rebel against God. The Gospels record multiple occasions of Jesus banishing demons from possessed people. These people had conditions we would now treat medically, yet Jesus didn’t give out drug prescriptions or herbal remedies. Instead, he called diseases as he saw them–spiritual oppression (Luke 13:16).

If such oppression existed in his day, has it disappeared in ours? Not likely. Rather, Satan continues to have great power over this world (1 John 5:19). He won’t be finally defeated until Jesus returns to claim what is rightfully his. For now, we continue to battle evil forces beyond human dictators, terrorists, or political candidates we don’t like (1 John 4:1).

As this thought came together in my mind, I recalled a few faces of people I love. I remembered lies that they had believed, pain they had suffered, or fear they had borne. God revealed these people for what they were in his eyes: slaves. They were deceived by Satan, burdened in sin, and condemned to death (Matt. 16:15-16, Rom. 6:20-23).

And instead of crying, I got angry.

I hated the thought that anyone would enslave people I care for. I wanted justice. I wanted them to be free and to enjoy full, rich lives. I wanted them to have the best of everything God offers for his children (Rom. 8:15-16). I wanted them to know and feel they are loved.

If one of your beloved family members or friends was sold for profit and forced into hard labor–with no rights, no help, no future–wouldn’t you do everything in your power to rescue them? Wouldn’t you defend them? Wouldn’t you refuse to rest until they saw justice and mercy?

If you had the opportunity, wouldn’t you rescue any person suffering in slavery, regardless of whether you knew or cared for them?

A speaker from the same conference put it this way: If this is the real spiritual condition of people, and if you have the good news that would free them, how much would you have to hate someone to stay silent?

Slavery still exists. What will you do about it?

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:1-7

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Texting God Isn’t Loving Him

 

Recently I took The 5 Love Languages assessment, which tells whether you give and receive love most through: words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, physical touch, or acts of service. It turns out my strongest love language is quality time. I love long, face-to-face conversations with people. Visits over coffee. Walks through nature. Meals at home. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we’re doing as long as we connect in a meaningful way. Even a decent phone call can communicate love.

But in the past months, I haven’t given God even that. Instead I settled for texting God. Life got busy, and I made excuses. I was doing lots of great stuff, all for him (that’s what I said). Meanwhile, we stopped talking like we used to.

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Credit: Lord Jim (https://flic.kr/p/8iH4En)

Many things can make fulfilling quality time. Texting is not one of them. Texting is useful for simple questions or quick information.

“I’m at store. Do we need milk?”

“Yes”

“K. Got it.”

“Thx :)”

Texting is a great tool. And a poor way to love someone.

We used to meet every morning. I’d settle in a chair with my breakfast, coffee, and Bible. Sometimes writing in a journal; other times meditating on what I read. I would tell him about the day I had planned. Sometimes he’d tell me what he had planned too. I liked to listen for a while and wait on him to interrupt the stillness. The front porch was a good place to sit on warm spring mornings, watching the tree limbs swaying and birds taking flight.

Now my prayers are short, direct, to the point. A few seconds sent heavenward. Texted prayers.

“Get milk.”

Usually I think of them in the car. “Thanks for the sunshine today, God.” Or, “This day is tough. Please give me strength to get through it.” Maybe it’s because driving gives me time to think or because the Christian radio station is playing. Maybe I’m lonely driving by myself. But texting while driving is a dangerous habit. Another driver or a light or the GPS soon distracts me. I press send and move on.

That kind of relationship never grows deep. How could it? There’s no time for intimacy in 140 characters.

In the book Too Busy Not to Pray, Pastor Bill Hybels writes:

“Some people tell me they don’t need to schedule regular time for prayer; they pray on the run. These people are kidding themselves. Just try building a marriage on the run. You can’t build a relationship that way, with God or with another person. To get to know someone, you have to slow down and spend time together.”

Some friendships can survive months or years without contact and yet the friendship won’t suffer for it. The friends say they “pick up where we left off.” But could you imagine treating someone you’re dating or married to that way? Your relationship will die. There may be nothing left to pick up when you get back to it. I’d guess most committed couples expect to hear from their partners daily. Months or years are out of the question.

If that’s the case, and there’s a God of the universe who cares for us, then how much more should we communicate with our Creator, Father, and Savior? No wonder Paul wrote to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2016 in Other thoughts

 

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Why Reason Needs Faith

mere christianityI was in ninth grade when I read Mere Christianity for the first time. C. S. Lewis compiled the book “to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” Nowadays, he’s better known for The Chronicles of Narnia than his extensive works in apologetics, the defense of faith. I remember struggling through a few pages of Mere Christianity every night before falling asleep. I’ve never opened the book since.

That is, until my life group decided to study it this fall. Now that I’m older, it’s strange how simple Lewis’ reasoning and examples seem. The whole book is fascinating, though one chapter in particular has captured my interest. Lewis describes the concept of faith in a way I have not heard anywhere else. Instead of pitting reason and faith against each other, he argues they are allies.

The real threat to reason is emotion, not faith. A person does not necessarily go on believing something is true because evidence convinces him. Sometimes emotion overwrites evidence and stirs up doubt. For instance, when someone decides to believe in Christianity based on its weight of evidence, Lewis predicts, “There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief.”

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Credit: Elise Communications, courtesy of The Hagley Museum and Library (https://flic.kr/p/7BR5JE)

Fresh evidence must be evaluated, of course, but regarding runaway imagination and emotions, Lewis calls it a virtue to keep faith in what reason told you is true. In his own words: “Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods.”

So faith becomes not about denying reason but rather the inconstant emotions that try to overthrow belief. This kind of faith is important to both Christians and Atheists alike, otherwise everyone would change their minds arbitrarily, depending on their mood of the day.

This definition of faith seems closer to what we now call being faithful. To be faithful is to be constant and steadfast. A faithful person keeps their commitments in spite of their emotions. A husband and wife may be overjoyed the day they commit their lives to each other, but they may feel quite the opposite by their one-week anniversary. We call spouses faithful when they choose to love even on the bad days. Perhaps that’s why “faithfulness” is listed in the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).

I had faith in Christ before I ever applied reason to his claims. But when I did…reason strengthened my faith. I remember the thrill of discovering that I didn’t have to deny my questions or doubts, that God had answers for skepticism, that he encouraged me to seek them out (Matt. 7:7-8).

After a while, I had enough encounters with God that apologetic arguments seemed superfluous. Nothing felt more natural than to believe. But that doesn’t make me immune to bad days. Lewis’ prediction still rings true for me…and every other Christian I’ve had the privilege to know. We all have days when none of what we believe feels right anymore, regardless whatever rational thinking first introduced us to belief.

On those days, we have to rely on faith to carry us through. Faith keeps us trusting in Christ, believing he loves us even then. I imagine it isn’t much different from the virtue that holds a husband and wife together “until death do we part.”

Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
bind them around your neck;
write them on the tablet of your heart. Proverbs 3:3

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2015 in Books

 

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Finding Hope in Suffering

I moved in with my sister’s family when she was already five months pregnant. She said these last few months felt more difficult than her first pregnancy. I wasn’t around the first time, but for this one, I had a front-row view of the restless nights, the back pains, the swollen ankles. Almost every day had its own challenge to endure. By the last month, she felt ready to be done. Instead, the pain continued to increase as the baby grew.

The contractions began two days before her due date. At first she wasn’t sure if the pain was part of labor or only false signs. We took a walk around the neighborhood, putting my niece in a stroller. When we returned home, the pains had gotten worse. She timed the lapse between each wave. Some made her halt in place, braced against the kitchen counter or couch back.

All the while, I stayed nearby and kept my niece distracted, wondering what else I could do to make my sister feel better. It gave me a new understanding of Romans 8:18-24. Paul writes about the groaning of creation, like an expectant mother, anticipating relief from its present pain.

“The midwife said that the hardest contractions are the ones that do the most good,” my sister told me.

That didn’t make it easier to watch her in pain. As the birth drew closer, the contractions magnified. They grew more painful and more frequent. My sister could do little more than shuffle restlessly around the house. But good was happening, even though it didn’t feel good at the time. When it came time to push, her groans rose to the crescendo of screams. Nothing less could express her agony. And in the end, the pain was overcome with joy when her second daughter took her first breaths. My sister glowed in euphoria, hugging the precious baby to her chest. The pain had been worth it for this gift. There were no more utterances for how much she hurt, only for how beautiful her daughter looked.

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Credit: David J Laporte (https://flic.kr/p/9jYqvc)

In Romans, Paul pictured childbirth to describe all of creation’s suffering. He wrote, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” I don’t know if Paul was ever close to a woman about to give birth, but after seeing my sister’s experience, I’m inclined to agree with him. Paul was thinking about the corruption of everything that was once good, which started with the original fall of Adam and Eve. Since then, nothing has been the same. God’s creation was damaged beyond healing. It was true in Paul’s day and it’s true now.

But like any childbirth, the pain is getting worse. We’re seeing widespread suffering and crises on a magnitude that Paul never experienced. Any regular reader of my blog knows that I don’t normally comment on trending issues. However, I wonder if current events like ISIS attacks, the Syrian refugee crisis, even the polarization of Americans, are all part of birth pains just like Paul said.

Agonizing events like the Paris bombings last week shock us all, not just because of what it means for particular people but its ultimate impact on all humanity. The state of this world isn’t looking good. Where can we find hope?

Paul wrote, “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

Thankfully, we’re promised that redemption is coming (or in process already). Joy will overtake pain. Good will conquer in the end. This is what we cling to; this is what creation longs for in groaning.

I don’t often write on issues under debate, the “timely” or “relevant” news, because I’d much rather focus on the One who will end suffering. If I only have a number of words to use in my life, I want to dedicate them to Our Savior, the only good news that is always timely and always relevant because he came to redeem all people. I’m called to tell the good news until my last breath. Why water down that message with trendy arguments and debates? They may tempt temporary relief, but what else sustains a mother like the expectation of seeing her labor’s result? If we must argue, let us argue Christ.

“And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains. … Be on your guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come” (Matt. 13:7-8, 33).

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2015 in Other thoughts

 

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“Boundaries”: How I Learned to Hear No

1f0be051b9b8121dc0f39c0218acb63dSome people can’t say no. Personally, I do not understand these people. I have the opposite problem. “No” is easy for me to say and yet hard to hear.

For a long while, I was in denial. I only recently admitted this to myself after reading Boundaries by Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. The book came highly recommended by several friends, which made me curious how good it could possibly be. After reading it myself, I have this to say about it: Eye. Opener.

My last post emphasized the importance of vulnerability in relationships, but too much openness can be as harmful as none at all. Vulnerability needs to be balanced with healthy boundaries. According to Cloud and Townsend, boundaries separate what we are and are not responsible for. Think of a fence surrounding someone’s property. The fence defines what belongs to the property owner as well as what does not.

“In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out,” Cloud and Townsend write. Boundaries should allow good to come inside while being solid enough to protect from danger.

The book is rich with case studies, practical applications, and biblical wisdom about the use and abuse of boundaries. Every page has some valuable lesson to draw on. Reading this book led me to reevaluate every relationship in my life. I feel equipped with new filters to judge what is healthy and working well in addition to what areas need adjustment.

For instance, I’m even more grateful to how my parents raised me (see Chapter 4: How Boundaries Are Developed). I know my firm sense of personal boundaries, like the power to say no, comes from lessons in early childhood. (I remember many talks about what to do if a stranger tried to lure me into a car. Hint: Don’t get in the car.)

Yet at the same time, I do have a problem with hearing no. I need to practice being aware and respectful of other people’s boundaries. If someone tells me no, I have to let go responsibility of their feelings, choices, and actions–everything I have no right to control.

The truth is: I’m a manipulative controller.

Credit: printmeister(https://flic.kr/p/6S3Z8r)

Credit: printmeister(https://flic.kr/p/6S3Z8r)

At least that’s my self-diagnosis after reading Boundaries. One of the early chapters describes the main personality types of people with boundary issues. Surprisingly, the types include both people whose boundaries are violated by others and the people who commit the violations. Manipulators are a violating type. They don’t have so much issue with their own boundaries as they do with the boundaries of others. They use deception and trickery to get around other people’s boundaries. Jacob is a biblical example of a manipulator. Twice, he tricked his brother out of his rights as the firstborn son. His name actually meant “deceiver”.

While aggressive controllers are more direct and demanding to get what they want, the manipulator is a sneaky little fox who may sometimes play the victim or fake virtue and goodness. Personally, I use the “good intentions” excuse. Or my hurt feelings. Whatever act they scheme, manipulators are ultimately crossing the boundaries of others to control them.

Boundaries confronted me with a mirror. It wasn’t too long before I tried manipulating one of my friends again. She didn’t give in to my tricks. I got angry and finally had to admit my problem. The next day I called her to apologize. Thankfully, she forgave me, and I hope our friendship won’t suffer for my temptation to trample boundaries. Repentance isn’t an overnight change. It’s something I expect to work on the rest of my life, one relationship at a time.

Do you struggle more with protecting your own boundaries or respecting others’? What do you find most difficult about relational boundaries?

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2015 in Books

 

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