Watershed Formation Studies

Chapter 12 - Consummation

In this final chapter, we are introduced to the most misinterpreted book of the Bible, Revelation.

The merchant (chapter 11) is now the head of an ekklesia which meets in secret and bands together as they are persecuted for their faith. Christians believed that Jesus, not the ruling power of Rome, was Lord and were paying the price with their lives and the destruction of their beloved Temple.

A letter had been circulating among the churches, to give the group stamina and remind them that God had not forgotten them. It challenged its readers to consider the central question Jesus poses to them: “Where does your allegiance lie?” Is it to Rome and the cult of emperor, or to Christ?

The letter states that the Lord is still on the throne though it may look like Rome is in charge. Rome is a powerful empire, but its glory has come through military and economic oppression. God’s kingdom gives a view from the “underside of history," from the perspective of the victims of Rome’s power and glory.

Kingdom people are asked to respond not with the violence of the empire, but with patient endurance and faithfulness, knowing that the ultimate battle has already been won with Christ. It may not always look like it, but God’s kingdom rules. To quote Greg Boyd, “God’s is the kind of power that will win the world, even though till the end it will look like we’re losing.”

Questions for Discussion

1) What is the purpose of Revelations?
2) What does Babylon look like in our culture?
3) What does the Tree of Life image evoke?

Author's Intent

Based on this chapter of Gladding or previous study, how would you describe the revelation that the author of the Book of Revelation is trying to express? What does this have to do with ‘allegiance’?

Paul Patterson:
When I read the book of Revelation I remember that apocalyptic literature is identified as the literature of the oppressed. The crush of iron-fisted regimes can both stifle and stimulate creative responses. In the case of Revelation, most likely written during the reign and persecution of the Emperor Domitian, Christians, like the Qumran cave dwellers before them, wrote in code. Those who read and understand this code are as Revelation says, ’blessed’.

They are blessed because the curtain of history is rent asunder and the hidden sovereignty of God is manifest. This tearing or revealing is called apocalypse. This vision provides a new sight, opening the eyes of those blinded by historical events. Revelation is a literary billboard that declares … “This is the way things really are!” And contrary to all appearances, the way reality actually is leads toward the celebration of the rule of God, praise of the one who holds the meaning of history, who is able to open it's meaning. This the suffering lamb of God will establish justice, vindicate the victims, expose and judge evil, by through his sword-like diction.

Allegiance to the message of Revelation involves long-suffering, faithfulness to the Lamb’s lordship as well as rejection and separation from Babylon’s hegemony (leadership or dominance). Hope filled celebration of the restoration of creation and anticipation of the garden-like city replaces Rome, and any other earthly utopia, as the ultimate home of those who preserve. The letters to the Seven Churches of Revelation are specific instructions on how to live a life of allegiance in the midst of apparent abandonment; each group is warned and each one blessed by the One who sustained them through his example, sacrifice and power.

Revelation’s blessing has been distorted by its various interpreters though the ages who have exchanged its prime theme, that of God’s sovereignty, for a time table of end-time events. Nor can the violent imagery of Revelation be interpreted as anything other than that of deep human lament over injustice and not a caricature of God’s character. The Lamb remains a peaceful warrior and though justice will prevail the call to ally with God is the final word.

See Seven Blessings of Revelations

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Cal Wiebe: It seems to me that the book of Revelation is meant as an encouragement to keep the faith to those suffering great tribulation. The writer rips off the veil that clouds us from clearly seeing and interpreting the events of history and lets us see what is happening behind the scenes. This vision of things behind the scenes is meant to give courage and strength to endure persecution. The fact that Jesus is Lord of history and is moving things to a peaceful consummation is not a vision of reality that can be obtained from the local newspaper. It is a Revelation from another place that has to be believed to be seen.

This is where the whole aspect of allegiance comes in. A common sense view of reality does not see Jesus as being in charge of history; that belongs to market forces and evil dictators and the political machinery of empires. To have a "believing allegiance" to Jesus means to trust that Jesus' vision of reality is the true vision and that living a life like his, no matter what the consequences, is a good and true way of living.

I saw an example of this last week in talking to Erik. We were talking about anxiety and identity and where we root our identities. In looking at a passage of scripture, (Ephesians 3:14-21) we realized that we can root our identities in anxieties and trying to please people or we can root our identities in a sense of being loved by God. When we live as people pleasers, we have no stable identity and we have no power to make lasting choices, but when we root our identities in being loved by God we have much deeper roots and firmer foundations and so we can make choices that have greater staying power. The whole conversation was an example to me of the power of story in our everyday lives. The story we are giving our allegiance to really makes a difference to the way we experience our lives.

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Linda Tiessen-Wiebe: The book of Revelation is trying to address the question of "Why does God not deliver us from evil? Why does God allow the wicked to prosper? Why does God stand far off, hiding in times of trouble?" Revelation is saying that God has things in hand, and has defeated the evil that oppresses the readers through the suffering death and vindicating resurrection of Jesus (the slain lamb). In the way Jesus lived and died, the character of God was revealed: One who compassionately restores creation through suffering love. In Jesus, God showed that love not violence is the last word. God took the pain of suffering and abandonment into Himself in Jesus and responded by resurrecting Jesus.

Because God has done this, the Spirit that lives in the relationship of Jesus and God is available to those who ask for it. This Spirit enables Jesus followers to stand against the powers that oppose the Kingdom of God. Whatever Power resurrected Jesus is made available to believers through the Spirit. So even though they suffer torture and die, believers show courage and hope, show in their own lives and death that love not violence is the last word. So Revelation is saying, "God is not standing far off in times of trouble, but is actually with us in the trouble, helping us to endure. God has defeated evil by showing us we need not fear death."

Revelation asks us which Story we will live by, give consent or allegiance to. The pragmatic story of just going with the way things are or the fantastical story of living with the Living Jesus. It asks you to be aware of which story you are choosing. I don't think it's "one-time" choice, but rather something we are constantly needing to be aware of. Is the light switch on or off? And it isn't that we drum up the will to choose ourselves. The more we are in relationship to God in Christ the more we will be evoked by God's love, and desire to respond in kind. So our allegiance becomes more a matter of loving response than determined effort.

There are, however, lots of snags along the way. I think we are easily seduced by "the way things are" and give misguided allegiance to powers. We aren't experiencing persecution, but the constant barrage of our culture towards self-fulfillment is a spiritual battle. There are many subtle or not-so-subtle messages to indulge in so many varieties of idolatry: despair, cynicism, consumerism, careerism, family, comfort, status, etc. And our own compulsions cooperate with these voices. Seen that way, we face spiritual battle just as threatening as John's community so the word of Revelation is very relevant for us. God is not standing far off as we flail away, but is with us in loving relationship, evoking our faith, courage and love through the Spirit. Turn toward the light switch.

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Verda Heinrichs: There is a lot of symbolism in the book of Revelation which has resulted in some pretty strange interpretations — as a book of signs foretelling the future when God will return and bring sweeping judgement over all that is evil (aka Armageddon). Instead, I like Gladding’s approach, seeing the message of Revelation as part of the overarching story of the Bible.

The book was written during a time when Christians were being persecuted, a time of chaos, and was written to encourage them to hold fast and persevere in the midst of these trials. The writer professes that in spite of appearances, even under the oppression of Rome, God is in charge and God will set things right. The central motif seems to be the recognition of what true power is, empowering strength capable of suffering rather than a self-aggrandizing display of force and might. This power is illustrated by the shifting images of the lion and the lamb. It’s a revelation because on the surface it appears as though Jesus death’ was just a shameful disgrace — but then you see ‘behind the veil’. The powers that be are actually what is death dealing and shameful and the real hope is in what was displayed through Jesus’ life.

What does this have to do with allegiance? The writer of Revelation sees the church as participating in the unfolding story on earth. Jesus’ life didn’t just point to salvation for some future date but to begin something new now. What is it about Jesus‘ life and resurrection that changes things? NT Wright writes: “Jesus’ followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice. Atonement, redemption and salvation are what happen on the way because engaging in this work demands that people themselves be rescued from the powers that enslave the world in order that they can in turn be rescuers.” Only allegiance to/following Christ can lead to a hoped for new earth.

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Lyle Penner: The author of Revelation was motivated by a deep desire to encourage fellow Jesus followers who were being persecuted by Roman authorities, or who were left behind by persecutions and felt vulnerable and likely close to hopeless. Would they be next? And where was God in all this? Using the genre of Apocalyptic Literature the author weaves together a stunning ‘reveal’ of what life is really like, beneath the veil — despite all appearances to the contrary. Yes, the Empire seems to be winning rather handily, and at our expense. But that is only a short-term or superficial understanding of reality and history.

The reveal is that Christ the Lamb and God the Father/Creator are actually victorious, having defeated all the powers of the world that seek to undermine and destroy all that is creational, genuine and loving. The socio-political reality was Pax Romana’s reign of terror by the ‘Son of God’ Caesar hailing from Rome. Yet the subversive and more powerful reality underneath was the powerful Lamb who has the desire and will to love his Enemies.

Having this paradoxical story told in such graphic form would have been a powerful encouragement to persevere and keep faith, with encouragement and loving judgement for the churches named in Revelation. Rome, and those aligned with Rome’s values, may harass and even kill, but the loving God has the last word.

So in view of the choice, where is their (and our) allegiance going to be? To the powers of Empire that control, dominate and subvert the good for its own self-defeating enhancement? Or to the power of the Lamb of God which fuels love to wash feet, is radically non-hierarchal, and offers to die for the love of God and God’s beautiful ongoing creation? To the early Christ-followers the choice was pretty clear.

It’s more ambiguous today, but maybe not as ambiguous as we would like :-). For myself who dislikes the messiness of conflict, situations may arise where I am called on take more stands for Christ and against Babylon than my ego would like. Listening and discernment in community is needed, because allegiance to Christ means open conflict is not always the way. It might mean subtle disagreement or encouragements. It might mean withdrawing from situations altogether.

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Dave Berg: Jesus is the authority all earthly rulers are accountable to. He reveals the nature of God to us. That nature is authoritative, as all human rulers claim to be. The difference is that Jesus is authentically the real authority that all human authorities pretend to be. What is the nature of that authority? It is powerful, like a lion, but paradoxically this power is expressed in suffering love, symbolized by a slaughtered lamb. In this sense he is the true witness as to the nature of God. The revelation meets a humanity that has consciously aligned itself to Jesus, and yet faces tribulation, both (1) externally from empire in the form of rejection, torture and death and (2) internally from the temptation to fall asleep and become disloyal to this revelation of God as suffering love. The temptation is to buy into a system that uses economic and military power to further our own interests.

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What does ‘Babylon’ look like in our culture? What does the ‘Kingdom of God’ look like (e.g. on earth as it is in heaven)?

Bev Patterson:
I guess the place to start is in the defining of Babylon - in scripture it is always seen as the force that stands in opposition to the God of Israel. Babylon uses power, usually military, to establish its place in the order of things, and this creates dissonance and oppressive hierarchy. Babylon also competes for loyalty in the realm of religious devotion. In ancient Israel one would show this devotion through cultic pagan practices & idol worship resulting in religious persecution and social ostracism for those who chose to stand against this polytheistic norm. Business and productivity would also suffer.

The spirit of Babylon assumes the mainstream and those who consciously chose a different stream would be branded with the stigma of "outsider". In this case the mainstream could also be "collectivity" which is where the spirit of Babylon is easily transferable to our own modern experience of culture.

We could use the same definition - Babylon for us is anything that opposes or stands against our loyalty to Christ and anything that stands in the way of our discipleship. This is where it gets tricky. To truly figure out our own personal Babylons and the Babylons that threaten community life takes discernment and careful listening.

It's no longer just about power found in the stereotype of military, although that is a huge & disturbing modern example. But for some of us, false worship happens at the altar of career, physical fitness & body obsession; others of us get snagged by family expectations, paying emotional indulgences in relation to people pleasing & getting status-points.

Then there's the worriers & control freaks among us. We stand among the true-believers and die-hard devotees of these ancient columns. We are most likely the ones who set out early in the morning, making our way in the doom of those early hours, hoping to be the first in line when the temple doors open, frantically offering up our plans and schemes, masked as fevered prayers, to one of many gods, shrouded in the darkness of pre-dawn suspicions and mistrust. We keep coming back to these dark shrines where no light is found, thinking that if we keep sacrificing our minds and allowing this gobbling god of worry to consume our thoughts we will leave with a pocketful of safety and security.

That is Babylon - intent on destroying trust, faith and the joy that comes from a loving relationship with God and keeping us beholden to a Gollum of franticness. This Babylon is intent on steering us away from fellowship with others and intent on snuffing out a vibrant imagination that loves stories of light and truth. This Babylon is all about forming allegiances around falsehood, betrayal, egoic power-plays, pretense, security measures, insider trading, destroying those who get in the way, hatred & deceit, etc.

BBC has a series called "Hotel Babylon". I've never seen it but I have seen ads for it. Hyperbolically it nails it down — glitz, bright garish lights and colourful, scantily clad women, overt sexuality with a backdrop of betrayal and infidelity as well as an overlay of criminality. As glaring and spectacular as it all seems, there is a darkness that hovers over and runs beneath this place and many places like it. It's the stuff nightmares are made of and these are images that make one think, "This is what hell looks like". It is a powerful image of 'unconsciousness' that feels at home in the darkness that beckons us all.

When we are saved from these nightmares, when we are met in such a way that we no longer make the daily trip to the temple and we find it in our hearts to become 'the invited', we wake up to a new kingdom with a new King. Darkness is replaced by light, lies are rejected for courage & truth, trust trumps suspicion, desire for approval is now a desire for service to God and a loyalty to faith in community. This is no less than mystery & miracle.

As we gather together, away from the main roads and the usual places of honor & empire, we gain in love and honesty which, through the spirit of Christ's resurrection, keeps us from our Babylons, forgives us when we stumble and helps us shine as a way of saying thank you to the one true God.

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Lyle Penner: Being in Las Vegas in a few weeks with Eldon and his brothers will provide opportunity to discuss and negotiate Babylon and Christ allegiances. How do we respond to the glitz and the glamour of the place, built to the temple of Self (times 10, as Linda says)? How do we act on the golf course with each other -- in frantic competition, or in playful cooperation and mutual encouragement? How do we respond when we are disappointed in ourselves or in another’s actions/attitudes?

At work at the Library, Babylon sometimes appears as working efficiently at the expense of maintaining good relationships with others. How do I respond when things go awry? Do I blame others for mistakes that inevitably happen, or do I correct and cover for others who inadvertently make errors without asking for any status points? Do I see my co-workers as people first, with storied lives, or as means to ends?

Babylon means a multitude of behaviors, attitudes and unconscious complexes that seek to divide, destroy and tear people down to their infantile worst. Babylon is all about appearances of success and self-sufficiency, when the reality is that we are vulnerable, flawed and complex people underneath. The Kingdom of God is about acknowledging and embracing the marginal, the suffering, and the sorrowful in each other and even ourselves. It is not playing victim though, but acknowledging suffering in light of a greater Light that is continually breaking into the present, and returning ourselves to our original intention in the ‘Garden’. It is all about Trusting the Invisible Partner that is God in Christ walking alongside us and offering us a hand up. Will we take it or push it away in order to maintain our appearances of being okay on our own efforts?

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Verda Heinrichs: One of the suggested exercises for this chapter was to create a collage of images for each kingdom. It seemed like a great exercise but also challenging because there is something more nuanced about understanding our interplay with these two worlds than finding images that obviously fall into either camp. As much as I love them, the most useful illustrations might not be the classic good versus evil stories.

Both NT Wright and David Benner referred to The Lord’s Prayer, and the difficulty we have in truly praying for God’s will rather than our own. Benner states we are always praying one of two prayers, the prayer for the Kingdom of the Self or the prayer of surrendered autonomy, for the Kingdom of God. “The choice is not whether to pray. The choice is which prayer to pray.”

It is likely that we have one foot firmly planted in both kingdoms. How do I continue to live in the kingdom of self and resist surrender to the reign of Perfect Love? Which kingdom has my heart and primary allegiance? (Paraphrased Benner) I think if we dig deep enough, our heart’s desire really does long for the Kingdom of God; it is part of being made in the image of God.

Some of the ways my resistance presents itself is when I’m living in fear — that I’ll be exposed in some way (e.g., for an inadequate thought or belief) or that I am not really loved; when I choose security over vulnerability in how I respond to people or comfort over discomfort. I have to admit I don’t ‘stand’ and serve very whole-heartedly. There are times when I’m taken up by God’s kingdom — when I experience deeper conversations, when my heart goes out to others in person or removed (e.g., watching the news), or when I’m taken up by a project or work of some kind. Benner asserts that we can’t ‘choose’ God’s kingdom through our own resolve ... and further we can only surrender our will to God when we are absolutely convinced of his love for us. So we pray that God will work this miracle in us. The book of Revelation seems to express this spiritual battle beautifully.

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Lydia Penner: I remembered back in May when Paul and I went to hear Mark Van Steenwyck talk at New Life Church. His talks were all about empire (another way of saying Babylon) and the “un-kindgom” of God, so I looked back at my notes and picked out some thoughts…

Empire is any domination system, a triangle where the rich and powerful of the world are at the top and the poor and powerless are at the bottom. It is something that Jesus came to topple. Essential to this system of Empire is the necessity of thinking in abstractions. So for instance, when homeless or gay people are thought of in the abstract, it is easy to judge or even abuse them. But when we come to know one of them personally, or take time to understand them in any way, the whole system is much harder to maintain. Jesus always allowed the system to be pushed aside when he related to people. He was radically present to people no matter who they were, which is why people flocked to him in droves.

The whole story of Moses is so brilliant. Moses was raised in the empire, but his birth identity was at the bottom, and when he grew older, he saw an Egyptian man beating a Hebrew, one of Moses’ own. He took a stand with his true identity by killing the Egyptian. So his story is an epic one between the power of Empire vs the power of the Kingdom.

Scripture and we at Watershed have often talked about the “principalities and powers” that can spellbind us, and these are surely Empire. Mark said that at the heart of empire, powers and myths are at work. Myths are the symbols and stories that are largely unquestioned, which allow (evil) powers to continue. For example, one power is racism, which is allowed to exist by the logical sounding myth that the inner city is very dangerous and not to be lived in. Another example is the power of poverty, which is carried out by the myth of “meritocracy” (the belief that people get what they deserve and have earned by their merit. "Poor people or gang members got there by their own choices").

Myths are always harder to expose than powers, because they sound so believable. “I worked hard to get to where I am today. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps when I was poor, why can’t they?”

Sometimes we get spellbound by powers such as family, which has the myth that we owe it to our parents to go to family gatherings, even when they do damage to us or do not honor our true vocation. Or we are spellbound by the power of a well paying job or insurance policies, which get us to anxiously look after ourselves, not trusting in God’s kingdom of abundance. I get spellbound by people’s supposed opinions of me. I want to be well thought of; getting a “positive stroke” from someone is like a drug for me, so that’s a big clue of Empire at work.

Mark Van Steenwyck talked about the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, where an important weapon in confronting Empire powers is “naming”. Anytime you perceive and “name” a situation correctly, you change it. When Jesus saw people, he saw past their roles, status in society, perceived “sins” or jobs (all Babylon powers) and saw them as human beings loved by the Father. So the woman at the well was not shunned for her status, the tax collector for his despicable job, nor the prodigal son for his mistakes. This is how Jesus was able to heal people, emotionally and physically, and restore them.

Another cool concept I remember — one of the marks of Empire is that it lives by not suffering, and by numbness. Bruce Levine, another author, coined the phrase “zombification”.

The Kingdom of God on the other hand, is not filled with apathetic zombies, but is marked by compassion. Compassion means to “suffer with," and Jesus is the ultimate model of suffering with people. He called the poor and the low in spirit blessed. In the midst of their suffering, he recognized their full humanity. Whenever we enter into the path of compassion, we will suffer like Jesus, but we will also experience joy.

Yesterday I experienced the Kingdom of God at Watershed. Paul nudged me a bit when he said he’d noticed that I was slipping in small ways into people pleasing as I’ve begun to volunteer more. “I thought that might happen,” he said and gently nudged me in our conversation into becoming aware of this deep rooted habit I have, reminding me that deeper ways of responding exist and what they look like.

I felt a bit like the woman at the well, “This man knew all about me.” Paul was taking the time to see past my habits to the person I am in my essence and called me to stay awake. I felt like there was room in the Kingdom even for the anxious person I had become lately. Paul saw past my enamourment with people pleasing, and instead of feeling annoyed with me (which he may well have felt), he suffered with me instead (compassion). I felt so grateful that someone took the time to have their day interrupted so he could talk to me in this deeper way, and I hope I can be this kind of a friend to others in return.

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Marilyn Heidebrecht: I'll talk a bit about my experience of another collective culture. When I go to see family in Alberta, I'm aware of another world view. These are the things that are important: hard work, family, and church. In the words of Brueggeman, I experience a worldview in terms of "voices" that give messages that can end up defining us and shaping our destiny." That's pretty powerful.

When I look at my lifestyle through the grid of collective values, I don't feel very good about my life. I haven't invested very much in cultivating family relationships, I don't work hard or have great success, I almost can't look after myself with money, and I'm not doing anything really notable. This probably arises in comparison to others who seem to meet the standard.

It’s not unlike when I assess my life from the perspective of my job context. I don't even have a car. I'm not asserting an adequate career path that will develop my skills. And I don't own my own house or have children. Neither am I building an adequate pension.

What does the kingdom look like? And how does it encourage deeper values in my heart and life? I know that I've always been thankful for an alternative community, which has relieved pressures to be in a romantic relationship or have children or a really great job. I still buy into messages like, "You really need to have adventures by traveling." and "How can you not be taking better care of your parents?"

I also have my own "priorities" like trying to preserve my physical health through "healthy" eating, obsessing about exercising more, and trying to find ways to develop myself.

Babylon seems like it’s "just around the corner" when we internalize values that assess our lives and prioritize things in a particular manner.

The death of Edith (from the senior’s home) actually helped me today. I think it moved me into my heart. I was more open to the students in my "boring class". I wondered, "Was I present enough to Edith?" Presence matters.

Also, when I listen to one of (my old pastor) Bill’s talks, it changes what I want to grow in the garden of my life: generosity, friendship with God. This increases communication. Prayer life is "where it’s at". And I want to open my heart to people.

And when I go to Watershed study every Wednesday evening, I am restored to my identity as a daughter of Christ. Reading becomes a form of nourishment. And words take on a living, dynamic character. There is depth and availability to the Spirit. I feel like putting my arm around my brother/sister beside me. Companionship matters, and spiritual vocation.

Context is everything. How do we grow and cultivate the context that is just, compassionate and Spirit-filled; in partnership with the rest of community; overflowing with Grace in the world; tending our discipleship?

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Tree of Life

We discover where the story is headed, the Tree of Life now the center of a new city ... “And just as the Story began with creation, it will end with the fullness of the new creation, humanity gathered around the Tree of Life in the Garden once more. ‘The Tree of Life, which bears twelve kinds of fruit each month. The Tree of Life, whose leaves are for healing the nations. Never again will anything be cursed.’ This is the full and final return from exile.” What does this image evoke and add as an endpoint to the overarching story?

Jen Nicholson:
I've really appreciated reading and beginning to digest your responses to this chapter. I especially like the way you make it personal (individually and corporately) which is reminding me, again, of the importance of giving God time to speak.

I was drawn to question #3 about the tree of life. It's an image that was given fresh meaning to this past year through Frank Viola's books. He claims that the tree of life is Christ and that eating of this tree is living by Christ's indwelling life. It's not about me trying to imitate Christ (that would be living by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), but, in faith, recognizing and submitting to Him to have His way in and through me... so not doing those acts of justice in my own strength and with my best intentions, but out of God working in me "both to will and to do for His good pleasure."

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