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Adages of Wisdom Quotes by Master Sheng Yen

A positive life pivots on modesty; the bigger the ego, the greater the insecurity.


The noble pursue the path, the average pursue their duties, and the misguided pursue fame and fortune.


Live up to your role and status, and fulfill your required duties.


In peace and harmony, seize the promise of today, and live out a fresh tomorrow.


While worry fuels unnecessary torment, carefulness breeds security.


Wealth is like running water, and giving like digging a well. Just as the deeper the well, the more water it holds, the more you give, the more wealth you have.

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Pearl Buck

"I have the habit of forgetting what I do not care to remember."

American Novelist

1892 - 1973

Memory makes a strange bedfellow.  Have you ever forgotten something you needed to remember?   Or have you remembered something you needed to forget?  Some people can remember the smallest of details.  I tend to forget the details, particularly of place and fashion.    Clothes rarely appear in my conscious mind let alone in my memory.  And if I have been insulted by word or deed, I usually forgive and forget.  My parents and my wife can not understand how I forgot so much of my childhood.  

And yet the strangest of details will find their way into my poems.  Details from somewhere in my past.  The last twenty years have seen an unusual growth in memoirs — both truthful and false.  Yet memory continues to haunt.  Remembering the wrong events can hold you hostage to your past.  What we remember impacts how we behave in the here and now.  Our memory defines who we believe we are.  What memories do you need to forget?  What memories do you need to hold onto?  What memories influence how you behave and help create the person who you have become?  What memories appear in your writing or your art?
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John Quincy Adams

"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, you are a leader."

American President

1767 - 1848

Leadership is about influence.  As a creative leader, do you inspire others through your art, writing, music or storytelling?  For me life is about our relationships — the people we meet, the people we help.  As a creative leader do you mentor other creative people?  We each have a responsibility to pass on what we have learned to those who come after us.  We have a responsibility to teach our skill to others — to help other become better.  

Creative leaders often are not aware of the lives they touch.  As a speaker, I speak to many groups of people and often I don't even get to know the audience.  And unless people follow-up with you by letter or email, you never learn whether you touched their lives.  And in many respects the same is true of writers and artists.  Someone may look at your painting and be inspired to try painting himself.  Someone may read your book  or story or poem and be inspired to be a better person.  We often don't know the lives we touch.  

We also don't know who is watching us, observing us.  How we behave impacts people's lives.  I know of speakers who say one thing on stage and do something else in their private lives.  They don't practice what they preach.  And, believe me, people see this.  As a creative leader, you need to walk your talk.  
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Malcolm Forbes

"Failure is success if we learn from it."

American Publisher

1919 - 1990

Have you ever felt like a failure?  Have you been told that you couldn't write?  Or that you couldn't paint?  Or that you couldn't sing?  I have been told all my life that I can't sing.  And people still today tell me I can't sing.  Yet out of this failure came one of my greatest successes.  I have been paid to sing and to lead others in singing for the last twenty-four years.  As part of a seminar that I teach, I lead others in singing.  I have been able to turn a weakness into a strength.  No, I have not learned how to sing.  But I have been able to use my weakness to my advantage.

In every failure, you can find an opportunity if you look hard enough.  And as Forbes said, if you learn from your mistakes, it was not a failure.  I have come to believe that we often learn more from our failures than our successes.  Our successes usually don't teach us anything because we think we did everything right.  We should learn to tear our successes apart like we do our failures.  Then maybe we would learn something from success.  If you feel that you have failed, I encourage you to examine what happened and learn from it.  

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Joyce Cary

"For the essential thing about the work of art is that it is work, and very hard work too."

— Joyce Cary

Irish Novelist

1888 - 1957

What most people who are not writers or painters don't understand is how much work it takes to create a work of art.  Writers appear to spend hours doing nothing.  What people don't see is what is going on in the mind.  The mind is working double overtime.  Even families of writers often don't have any clue about what is going on in the mind of the writer.  Sometimes the conscious mind must do nothing so the subconscious mind can connect the dots.  And when the subconscious is finished, it pushes the idea into the conscious.  Often the writer feels like the idea came out of nowhere.  And the same can be said about painters, storytellers, musicians and other creative leaders.

Unlike many people who work a nine to five job, a creative leader cannot turn off his mind.  Part of him is always working — whether he is grilling chicken, washing clothes or changing the oil in the car.  Writing and painting are 24/7 types of jobs.  You are never off-duty, even when you are having a beer with your buddies.  So don't let your family and  friends put you down because they think you are not working.  You are probably working harder than them.

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Lucian Freud



"A painter's taste must grow out of what so obsesses him in life that he never has to ask himself what it is suitable for him to do in art. . . . The painter's obsession with his subject is all that he needs to drive him to work."

British Painter

1922 - 2011

When I graduated from college in 1971 with an English degree and no job, I wanted to be a writer, but I didn't know where to start or what to write about.  In college, I had written poetry but no short stories or fiction.  I wanted to write but I had not subject.  I had no obsessions.  During a four month trip through western United States and Canada in 1972, I came up with an idea for a novel.  I decided to write a historical novel about John Kaufman, a Mennonite sleeping preacher in the early 20th century.  Kaufman would go into a trance and preach a coherent sermon.  People stuck needles in him to see if he would wake up.  While in Oregon I did some research.  When I returned in early November to Goshen I continued the research.  When I reached my hometown of Roanoke, I tried to interview some people who knew Kaufman and I was told to cut my hair and find a job.  I let the novel slide into my subconscious. 

Sleeping Head

I have taken years to figure out what my obsessions are.  In looking back over the more than 5,000 poems that I have written, a key subject stands out:  my relationship with God.  I write to understand God.  Even forty years ago when I wanted to write a historical novel, my subject was God.  I have been told by atheists and non-believers that I should not write about God.  And conservative Christians are often offended by what I have to say about God.  Yet write I must.  I am obsessed.

What are you obsessed with?  What drives you to paint and to write?  What wakes you up and inspires you to pick up your paint brush or pen?

Here is a video showing several of Lucian Freud's portraits and includes interviews with some of the people who had their portrait painted.

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Diego Rivera

Woman Grinding Maize

"Looking back on my work today, I think the best I have done grew out of things deeply felt, the worst from a pride in mere talent."

Mexican Artist

1886 - 1957

The old saying is that pride goeth before a fall.  And there is some truth to that statement.  There are two sides to pride — bad pride and good pride.  If we are vain and arrogant, pride is a negative and should be cast out of our lives.  But I believe there is a good side to pride.  You need to have pride in yourself and what you do.  A better word might be self-confidence, but I think pride works as well.  

But Rivera is right to say that art that is not based in feeling and only in technique and skill will never be as powerful or as great as art that is inspired by emotion.  When you deeply feel about what you are painting or writing, you will do a much better job.  If you have no feeling for your subject, you are simply going through the motions.  You are not connected to the subject so it doesn't matter  what you paint.  Technique is the only thing of importance to you.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

Paint what you are connected to.  Write about what matters to you, not what you think the publishers want.  Sing songs that touch your heart.  Have pride in the work you do.  Believe that what you do is important.

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Blaise Pascal

"I bring you the gift of these four words: I believe in you."

French Writer, Mathematician

1623 - 1662

One of the greatest gifts that any creative leader can receive is the gift of knowing someone believes in his artistic ability.  Do you have someone who believes in you and your ability to create works of art?  Is it a parent?  A child?  A spouse?  A friend?  A teacher?  A mentor?

I have had a number of people in my life who believed in me.  My parents believed enough to send me to college and to pay for it even when I disappointed them with my religious views.  I have had teachers and professors who encouraged throughout my school years.  When I was in the fourth grade, a teacher pulled another boy and me aside and told us we needed to take a leadership role on the playground and prevent fights.  In college a professor asked to publish one of my poems in the college magazine my freshman year in contrast to another professor who criticized the poem in public and called me an ass.  Through out my 38 years of marriage, my wife has been very supportive of my need to write even when it brought us no money or security.  It took my time and energy.  My daughter has shown her support by incorporating my poems into her paintings.  Each one of these people said through their actions that they believed in me.

Who have been the people in your life who supported you and believed in you?  Have you said thank you lately.

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A Sufi Story : Nasrudin's Chickpeas and Bread

Mulla Nasrudin was eating a poor man's diet of chickpeas and bread. His neighbor, who also claimed to be a wise man, was living in a grand house and dining upon sumptuous meals provided by the emperor himself.

His neighbor told Nasrudin, "If only you would learn to flatter the emperor and be subservient as I do, you would not have to live on chickpeas and bread."

Nasrudin replied, "And if only you would learn to live on chickpeas and bread, as I do, you would not have to flatter and live subservient to the emperor."
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Wayne Thiebaud

"If we don't have a sense of humor, 

we lack a sense of perspective."

American Painter

1920 - 

Pies, Pies, Pies

Have you laughed today?  In these crazy times (and when have they not been crazy?), we need to be able to find humor in the absurdity of living or we will quickly lose perspective.  We will fail to see the forest.  Laughter and humor are essential for maintaining one's sanity in a difficult, confusing and chaotic world.  

Humor is something I have to work at.  I often don't laugh at what others find funny and yet I will have moments of belly shaking laughter which seem to arise out of nowhere.  Rarely, do I find comedians funny, particularly humor that puts down some group of people.  Yet, I will be listening to a news show on National Public Radio and I will find it funny.  I find humor in the absurd.  And politics are absurd.  Last week I was listening to a preacher on a CD and I broke out laughing.  I know that was not his intent, but I found what he said as ridiculous.  

Do you have a sweet tooth?  Then you will enjoy the art of Wayne Thiebaud — lots of pies, cakes and ice cream.  Go get yourself a bowl of ice cream and sit down and watch this video.  And don't forget to find something to laugh at today.  

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Roger Crawford

"Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional."

American Speaker, Author

1960 - 

We all face challenges throughout life — both personal and professional.  Some are physical challenges and others are emotional.  How we handle these challenges helps determine our character.  Some people throw in the towel when the going gets tough and other pick themselves off the ground and keep going.  What do you do when you face challenges.  Do you quit and give up or do you keep going.  

One of the things I've learned about dealing with obstacles is that you don't have to confront them head on.  You can go around them.  Shift into reverse and find another road to take you where you want to go.  Challenges can teach us a lot about ourselves.  Just don't let them overwhelm you.  The sun will rise again tomorrow.  Nothing lasts forever.

Take a few minutes and listen to Roger Crawford and be inspired.

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Susan Sontag

"I was not looking for my dreams to interpret my life, but rather for my life to interpret my dreams."

— Susan Sontag

American Author

1933 - 2004

I am a firm believer in dreams.  I believe they have a lot to teach us if we learn how to interpret them.  But I am not in the Jungian camp where dreams have universal meaning.  I think dreams are our own personal mythology.  I believe creative leaders should learn to pay attention to their dreams because they can help us with our writing, painting and other creative endeavors.  Dreams help us find the way through our problems.  They help us change who we are.  They help us become who we need and want to be.

Are you listening to your dreams?  What are they telling you about your life?  Your painting?  Your writing?  Your music?  I would love to have some of you who follow this blog to share a dream that has touched your life or changed your life?  I believe I shared in an early blog about the fact that I dreamed about my wife before I ever met her.  What have your dreams communicated to you?  What have you learned from your dreams?  

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Francis Bacon

Self-Portrait with Injured Eye

"You know in my case all painting — and the older I get the more it becomes so — is an accident.  I foresee it, yet I hardly ever carry it out as I foresee it.  It transforms itself by the actual paint."

— Francis Bacon

British Artist

1909 - 1992

Even when we plan our creative work and think we know where we going, we often don't end up there.   The creative muse has a mind of her own and chooses to go where she wants to go.  Often what we set out to create is changed and molded through the process of creating.  Forms and shapes evolve and are reborn.  Words shift and transform themselves into something other than what they are.

Do you believe the creative work that you do to be an accident?  Or do your creative works turn out as you imagined them?  Do you work along side your muse or do you hide her in the closet and tell people she does not exist?  Do you ever surprise yourself by what you create?  Or does one plus one equal two?
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Fyodor Dostoyevsky

"Taking a new step, uttering a new word is what people fear most."

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Russian Novelist

1821 - 1881

Why is it that we often fear attempting something new?  A new job?  A new place to live?  The unknown scares us whether we are creative leaders or not?  And often this fear translates into anxiety.  People often wonder why Hollywood actors who seem to have everything, lose their temper, overdose on drugs, and make foolish mistakes.  I think the underlying issue is anxiety.  We are afraid of the unknown?  What will tomorrow bring?  Will I still find work as an actor, writer, singer or artist?  Will my fans still love me?  

In reading Cheever by Blake Bailey, I saw how anxiety can drive a creative individual to drink.  We all have anxiety at one time or another.  Not having enough money is one of my anxieties and it has prevented me from starting my own business over the years.  I have a need for a regular paycheck to pay the bills.  Once I was offered an opportunity to go into the speaking business and I panicked — froze on the spot.  

What fears are holding you back?  What fears are you willing to live with?  What fears do you put into your work?  What fears restraint your creative efforts?  What fears inspire your creative work?  The fear of being poor inspires some people to work hard to be financially successfully.    

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Arthur Koestler

"Every creative act involves. . . a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief."

Arthur Koestler

Hungarian Novelist and Writer

1905 - 1983

Creativity involves breaking down old ways of seeing and believing and discovering new perceptions and ways of understanding the world.  Creativity must first be a destructive force as it destroys the old patterns and beliefs.  We must tear down before we can build.  Then destruction gives way to rebirth and renewal and the generation of innocence and hope.  This is the paradox of creative energy: Death and Rebirth.  Destruction and Rebuilding.  Cynicism and Innocence.  Doubt and Faith.

Are you looking at the world in new ways?  Have you discovered new ways of thinking about your art?  Have you liberated yourself from the prison of the past?  Have you found hope in what you are creating?  Have you opened the door to the future?

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Frederick Franck

"I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have not really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle."

Dutch Painter, Sculptor, Author

1909 - 2006

What we know of the world we know through our senses.  Yet, we often spend so much time in our head with our thoughts that we don't experience the world around us.  Have you ever walked past a flower, a tree or a stream a hundred times and yet know nothing of the stream, or tree or flower.  What have you missed in the world around you because you are so busy thinking about your life, your problems or your family?  When you begin to see the tree as it is, will you paint it in a different way.  Franck also said, "Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world."  Are you rediscovering the world around you through your drawing?

Do you hear the conversations of your friends and family members or are you so busy thinking about what you are going to say that you fail to listen to them.  A writer of dialogue must listen to the language used by the people around him.  Do you see how the people around you dress?  The way they carry themselves?  How they move about the room?  It is through the behavior we see that we find the clues to who the person is.  And it is through the behavior we describe that our readers know our characters.
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Beatrix Potter

"There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story.  You never quite know where they'll take you."

English Author, Illustrator

1866 - 1943

Few things can be more exciting than starting a new project whether that is a painting, a poem or a story.  I get caught up in the excitement of the moment and want to know where the story is going.  I follow it down a crooked path, through the woods, and into a meadow of wild flowers.  And there sits Peter Rabbit laughing at me.   Some people struggle with the blank page or the blank canvas, afraid to put down that first word or that first brush stroke.  I find that the easy part.  I am eager to get started.  I can't wait to put my words down on paper and see where the story leads me.  The same holds true for painting.  I have some picture in my mind and I want to see what happens to it the pastel or the ink touches the paper.  Beatrix said it beautifully: "There is something delicious about writing the first words...."  So what new project are you starting today?

Have you seen the movie, Miss Potter?  If not, I encourage you to do so.

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Donald Hall

"I don't know where a poem comes from until after I've lived with it a long time.  I've a notion that a poem comes from absolutely everything that every happened to you."

American Poet

1928 -

Do you know where you creative work comes from?  Have you ever been surprised by something that you created?  Everything that happens to us and everything that we do ultimately influences what we create.  That quarrel you had with your spouse this morning may one day make it into your painting, or story or poem.  Watching the sunset today with your lover may someday find its way into a novel or a play that you write.  That stranger you saw at your local coffee shop this evening may have a walk on role in that short story you are writing.  I once wrote a story called Bath Day about an old woman who lived in a nursing home.  I had a walk-on part in the story as a young man who times how long it takes to give the woman a bath.  This bit of action is based on a time when I was doing a time study of how long it takes to give a bath.  In one of my story poems, Mary Lou, the fact that my father showed Grand Champion hogs at state fairs showed up in a poem about young love and the loss of virginity.

Here is a poem by Donald Hall.

White Apples

when my father had been dead a week

I woke

with his voice in my ear

                                              I sat up in bed

and held my breath

and stared at the pale closed door

white apples and the taste of stone

if he called again

I would put on my coat and galoshes.

Here is Donald Hall reading his poem, Affirmation.

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Rafael Alberti

"In the very beginning I looked to painting as the medium for addressing concerns in shapes and colors.  Then it was poetry where these concerns found expression through the medium of word and metaphor."

Rafael Alberti

Spanish Painter, Poet

1902 - 1999

I am fascinated by creative leaders who use more than one medium to express themselves.  Rafael Alberti was one of those who was at home both in the visual arts and the written word.  The need to create and communicate one's feelings transcends the medium.  Some writers work in short stories, novels, poetry and plays.  Some artists paint, draw and sculpt.  And then there are the writers who also paint and the painters who also write.  Or the musicians who paint and the actors who play music.  We all have the urge to express ourselves.  The medium of paint, words or music is just the vehicle to carry the communication.

What vehicles do you like to use to express your artistic desires?  Poetry?  Music?  Painting?  Acting?  Plays?  Dancing?  Sculpting?  Novels?  Short Stories?  Have you stepped outside your comfort zone and tried something new?  
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John Cheever

"The need to write comes from the need to make sense of one's life and discover one's usefulness."

American Novelist

1912 - 1982

We all have a need to understand our lives and the things that happen to us.  Some turn to religion.  Others turn to history or politics or science.  Creative leaders turn to their art.  The stories we tell help us to make sense of who we are and why we are here.  And often we change the facts of our lives to tell a better story.  What stories are you telling in your artistic works?  How have you altered the facts of your stories to tell a greater truth?  

John Cheever is a perfect example of a writer who rewrote his life in his short stories and novels.  Born on May 27, 1912, John Cheever was the unwanted second child.  His father tried to convince his mother to have an abortion.  A storyteller from a young age, Cheever read Proust's In Search of Lost Time at the age of fourteen.  He dropped out of high school and never went to college.  He sold his first story to The New Republic at age 18.  For more than twenty years he published only short stories.  His first novel was not published until he was in his mid-forties.  In 1979 three years before his death, he won a Pulitzer Prize for a collection of his short stories that I highly recommend all creative leaders read.

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John Steinbeck

"Ideas are like rabbits.  You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen."

American Novelist

1902 - 1968

Do you ever have too many ideas?  Sometimes when I am writing I am swamped with ideas and sometimes I don't know which ones to choose.  Writing fiction is full of opportunity.  Do you make the main character tall, short or medium height?  Does he have blonde, black or curly hair?  Does he have physical, social or mental disability?  Hundreds of questions.  Thousands of answers.  Sometimes having too many ideas can become a barrier to creating.  Writing fiction requires making choices — choosing a path to follow and not looking back.  The characters take on a life of their own.  

What is the best path to follow?  What are the best choices to make?  Sometimes I have ten ideas, but only two or three are worth keeping.  Don't be afraid of choosing — of following a path to where it takes you.  And keep the ideas coming.  Even bad ideas can lead you somewhere new and inviting.  The good ideas won't appear if there are no bad ideas on which to stand.  Light a candle and watch the ideas grow by leaps and bounds.
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Inspirational Zen Story : Heaven and Hell

Hakuin, the fiery and intensely dynamic Zen master, was once visited by a samurai warrior.

"I want to know about heaven and hell," said the samurai. "Do they really exist?" he asked Hakuin.

Hakuin looked at the soldier and asked, "Who are you?"

"I am a samurai," announced the proud warrior.

"Ha! exclaimed Hakuin. "What makes you think you can understand such insightful things ? You are merely a callous, brutish soldier ! Go away and do not waste my time with your foolish questions," Hakuin said, waving his hand to drive away the samurai.

The enraged samurai couldn’t take Hakuin’s insults. He drew his sword, readied for the kill, when Hakuin calmly retorted, "This is hell."

The soldier was taken aback. His face softened. Humbled by the wisdom of Hakuin, he put away his sword and bowed before the Zen Master.

"And this is heaven," Hakuin stated, just as calmly.

We create our own heaven and hell.

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Oprah Winfrey

"For all the major moves in my life — to Baltimore, to Chicago, to own my show, and to end it — I've trusted my instincts.  I take in all the information I can gather.  I listen to proposals, ideas, and advice.  Then  I go with my gut, what my heart feels most strongly."

American Actress, Television Talk Show Host

1954 -

When making decisions, one should always gather the information and opinions available.  But in the end, when it is decision time, one should listen to one's gut.  One must learn to trust that quiet voice deep inside.  Listening to one's gut requires silence.  At some point, one must shut out the voices sharing their opinions and make up one's own mind.

As artists and writers, this is important advice.  We must learn to trust ourselves.  There are friends, teachers, critics and even strangers who are happy to share their opinions about our creative works.  While it is important that we listen to what they say, we must learn to sort through the garbage and find a few nuggets of truth.  And in the end, we must listen to our own quiet voice telling us what to paint or write.

Here is a short video biography of Oprah Winfrey.

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Joyce Meyer Quotes

Approval Addiction: Overcoming Your Need to Please Everyone 
“Many times in our lives, we are dropped, crumpled, and ground into dirt by the decisions we make and the circumstances that come our way.  We feel as though we are worthless.  But no matter what has happened or what will happen, we will never lose our value in God’s eyes.”

“Our desire for approval can only truly be met by receiving God’s acceptance and approval of us.”

“…God’s total chest has some interesting things in it.  He works with what the world would reject as useless and would throw away as trash.”

“Get up everyday, love God, and do your best.  He will do the rest!”

“Remember God is not surprised by your inabilities, your imperfections, or your faults.  He has always known everything about you that you are just now finding out, and he chose you on purpose for himself.”

“When we face our fears, we can find our freedom.”

“We don’t have to run from anything; we can confront all things in the power off the Holy Spirit.  It is time to stop running, to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord.”

“In and of ourselves we are absolutely nothing of any value, but in Christ we partake of everything he deserved and earned.”

“…If we look to God for our approval, we will never experience the pain of withdrawal because we have a constant, steady flow of his love and acceptance.”

“We suffer much agony because we try to get from people what only God can give us, which is a sense of worth and value.  Look to God for what you need, not to people.”

“If you want to be unhappy, uncomfortable, and insecure, just spend your life trying to do something that is not right for you.  It is just like trying to wear shoes that don’t fit.”

“If people’s opinions, judgments, and attitudes toward us are sometimes inspired by the devil, instead of agreeing with what they think and say, we must resist it.”

“If we know God is for us, then it shouldn’t matter how we feel, or what other people think of us.”

“Grace is God’s power coming to us free of charge to help us do with ease what we could never accomplish on our own.”

“As believers in Jesus Christ, our work is to believe while God works on our behalf.”

“Knowing who we are in Christ sets us free from the need to impress others.  As long as we know who we are, we don’t have to be overly concerned about what others think of us.  Once we know who we are and accept ourselves, we no longer have anything to prove… we can relax and be at ease in every situation.”

“Everything we do must be done in faith to be acceptable to God… because he knows faith is the doorway to enjoying life.”

“…When we are made right with God, we begin to think right, we begin to talk right, and we begin to act right.”

“The Holy Spirit works in us, helping us become the fullness of what the father wants us to be in Christ.”

“The fruit of your life will be what you believe you are.”

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