Sunday Morning Word

What Has Your Father in Heaven Given You?

Today, on this Father’s Day, we celebrate the wonderful, giving fathers in our lives. Whether they are fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, godfathers, or father figures, we thank them for their wisdom, their leadership, and their guidance in bringing us up to become the people we are today.

But on this day, let us not forget our Father in heaven, who gave us the greatest gift in all of human history…

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17

Throughout the Bible, we read scriptures about how God gave. Probably one of the most famous or well-known verses is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Another one of my favorite verses that talks about God’s gift of life is in Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ (1 John 4:10), God gave us life, and not just life, but life abundant (John 10:10), life eternal.

The greatest gift our Father in heaven gave us was salvation through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8), but He didn’t stop there; because what do we do after we’re saved? after we’ve confessed with our mouths and believed in our hearts that Jesus is Lord of our lives (Romans 10:9)? How then do we live it? We’re not perfect, we don’t always make the wisest decisions, so how do we live a life that is pleasing to God? one that shows that we were worth the sacrifice (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)?

God gave us another gift: the Holy Spirit. In John 14:18, Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” He promises us that the Father will send a “Helper” to live in us and be with us 24 hours a day (John 14:16). After we’re saved, this “Spirit of truth” comes to guide us into all the truth (John 16:13) and in the ways of Jesus. Jesus says the Holy Spirit will teach us all things and bring to our remembrance all things that He has said (John 14:26) so that we can continue to live this life right, keeping in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25), in pursuit of God, following His commands, and producing fruit, that is, goodness, kindness, love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

What a great gift indeed!

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” John 15:26-27 (NKJV)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your great love! Thank you for giving us the right to call you “Father.” Thank you for your gift of salvation through Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Thank you for giving us the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us in the ways of Jesus. Thank you for blessing us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ! We can ask for nothing more, only that you continue to show us your great grace and mercy as we continue to pursue you in all that we do so that we can live a life that is pleasing to you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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Hump Day Prayer

Hump Day Prayer: Renew Our Minds

It’s Wednesday, also known as Hump Day. Do you need to get over the hump? Here’s a quick prayer to help you finish this week strong!

Emily Dickinson, a notorious shut-in whose poetry didn’t become famous until long after she was dead, once wrote:

“Much Madness is divinest Sense—
To a discerning Eye—
Much Sense – the starkest Madness—
`Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail—
Assent—and you are sane—
Demur—you’re straightway dangerous—
And handled with a Chain—”


“but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.” (Daniel 11:32b)

These days, we feel so much pressure to be something other than what God has called us to be–holy, sanctified, set apart. When it comes to what is accepted as right and wrong, the Word of God and society often contradict. Of course, we know that God’s Word will always prevail, and because of that, we are often treated as “straightway dangerous” and “handled with a Chain” when we don’t “assent” with the “majority.”

Jesus warned us that the world will hate us because of Him, but He also said that “he who endures [stands firm in his faith] to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22), and He encouraged us to “take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Remember this when you feel the pressure to turn your back against God with everyone else. God has greater in store for you when you do right by His Will.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Hump Day Prayer: Heavenly Father, renew our minds to minds that think like you, minds that are after your wisdom, your holiness, and your goodness. Shield us from conforming to the accepted wrongs of this world and enable us to be a light to this world, a city on a hill drawing others to you. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Sunday Morning Word

Is It Too Late To Come Back When You’ve Turned Away From God?

When I look at my relationship with God, I often compare myself to a dog. I am house broken, or “church broken”; I’ve been trained on how to live a Christian life, one that that is pleasing to God. I know how to set myself apart as holy and apply God’s Word to my daily living and my interactions with others.

Unfortunately some days, I get those urges, and all my godly training seemingly goes out the window. Like a puppy who pees or poops on the carpet, I squat in a corner to do my business and try to convince myself that God won’t notice. I get a little taste of something forbidden but fun and tear in to it, wreaking all kinds of havoc when I think my Master isn’t looking.

And just like a puppy, I know it the instant I do wrong. I try my best to avoid reproach, but eventually I know I’ll be found out. And so I come around the corner, head bowed, eyes wide and looking up, pleading, tail tucked firmly between my legs, hoping that my punishment won’t be too severe, and more importantly, that I will be forgiven.

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:22-24

We’ve all had our “Bad dog!” days, but the beautiful thing about God is that He is always willing to forgive us. He is waiting for us to come back to Him.

In Luke 15, Jesus uses three parables of lost things found to describe the kingdom of heaven, but the most telling of those parables is the parable of the lost son. In this parable, we see a son who takes his inheritance from his father and squanders it on nothing but wild and lustful living (v. 12,13); verse 30 says he squandered it away with prostitutes! After all the money is gone, he literally hits rock bottom. He hires himself out to feed pigs and is reduced to begging to eat scraps with those pigs (v. 15,16). Like the sad little puppy, he finally comes to his senses and eventually returns home, tail between his legs, feeling unworthy of his father’s love (he had his “woe is me” speech in the ready!) and prepared to receive whatever punishment his father deemed fit.

But something unexpected happens. Instead of chiding him, his father kisses him (v. 20). Instead of making him like one of the servants, his father dresses him in the finest clothes and instructs the servants to prepare a feast in celebration, for his lost son has been found.

This is how God is with us when we repent of our sins (v. 7). God doesn’t want to see our death and destruction (2 Peter 3:9). Instead, He gives use chance after chance to get things right (Matthew 18:21,22; 1 John 1:9).

Where we often mess up (myself included) is when we allow our guilt to take over, and instead of seeking God for forgiveness, we hide away in shame (Genesis 3:8). But the Bible says, “He who covers [hides, conceals] his sin will not prosper” (Proverbs 28:13a). Jesus says in John 8:24 that we will die in our sins lest we repent and believe in Him. 1 John 1:10 says, “If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” There is no one righteous, not in and of ourselves, not a single one of us (Romans 3:10).

We all have moments of weakness, times when we should’ve known better but did wrong anyhow, but the best part of the second half of that verse in Proverbs is that we are not left to deal with the weight of our sin and guilt on our own: “but the one who confesses and renounces [his sins] finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13b). Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” So don’t hang your head in guilt, don’t hide away in shame. It’s never too late. Come to God through your faith in Christ, and know that you are forgiven!

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your forgiveness. Thank you for your Son Jesus, who died on the cross for my sins. Thank you that although I don’t always do things right, you give me chance after chance to try it again, to clothe myself in Christ, to live by your Spirit, and to be holy, as You are holy. Continue to lead me and guide me in everything that I do. And I pray that I keep your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. In Jesus name, I pray. Amen.

Sunday Morning Word

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

This week I’ve been reading the book of Job. This is my second time reading the book in its entirety, and I’ll be honest; the first time I read it, I didn’t like it. I thought all Job did was whine and complain about his problems. He questioned why all this calamity had befallen him when he was guilty of no wrong doing, he demanded to have an audience with God so that he could prove his innocence, he even wished for death so that all his suffering would end, and I just wanted him to shut up. I even wrote in my prayer journal that I didn’t want to be a complaining saint like Job. In the end, I didn’t really understand what the point of all of it was, what the book was really trying to tell me about God, about myself, about how to live this life when things go bad.

So in my quest to read the Bible cover to cover in a year, I read Job for a second time. In this second reading, I focused more on the speeches of Job’s friends and his responses to them, and to my amazement, I received a totally different understanding from the Holy Spirit, and He brought this title to my attention:

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” (Job 1:1-2; NIV)

With all the craziness that is happening in our world today, I hear this question a lot, spoken by unbelievers, Christians whose faith is being tested, and just folks who want to get a better understanding: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Whenever there’s a mass shooting, or natural disaster, or some other great tragedy that results in extensive loss of life, there’s always at least one person who asks the question, “How could God let this happen?” It’s an interesting question, and in some cases a frightening one, for those who don’t know how to respond to it, but I want to attempt to answer it, and I want to answer it by first looking at Job.

Job’s friends have a very fundamental understanding of morality, or right and wrong. If you do good, then you are rewarded, but if you do evil, then you are punished. Simple, easy, basic. But that’s not what happens with Job, and we get our explanation why in the first chapter. Job was a very wealthy man; he owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and countless servants. What’s amazing about this verse of scripture is that when the angels and Satan come to present themselves to God, God say to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Job 1:8). God knew that Job was a true and devoted servant of the Lord. He did what was right, and he loved and revered God. Could God say the same about us? Could He be so confident in our love and devotion toward Him, that he would invite the enemy to test us, knowing that whatever hurt, harm, or danger comes our way, we would never cease in praising and worshiping Him?

Well, Satan, who is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10), had a different idea.

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything his has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)

Satan proposes a question: Is man’s love for God truly sincere, our does he only “love” God and do good for personal gain. What would happen if he were to lose everything?

So God allows Satan to take everything Job has. And that’s what happens to us sometimes. We get to a point in our walk when our faith in God is tested. Maybe it’s in an overbearing supervisor who is making life at work miserable. Maybe we’ve had a lot of deaths in our families this year. Maybe we were victims of a horrible attack, or we’ve been stricken with disease and need healing. Maybe we lost our homes, our means of transportation. Or maybe we’re struggling to deal with a mean and nasty person in a proper, “Christian” way.

All of these are ways your faith can be tested. James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Sometimes, in order for us to grow, our faith must be tested. If God is going to use us for His will, He has to know that we are committed, and if the slightest sign of trouble turns us away from Him, what good are we?

Remember that God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac, and when He saw that Abraham was willing to do it, he stopped him and said, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:17-18). Because Abraham obeyed God, he was given a ram to sacrifice in place of his son, and through Isaac and his descendants, we are given Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world. If Abraham did not truly fear (a better word for this is revere, which means to show great respect for) God, trust in His word, and do what He said, who knows where we would be today.

So Job was tested. One by one a messenger came to tell him of these freak disasters that result in him losing everything. His sheep were consumed in a fire, his camels, oxen and donkeys were raided, his servants were murdered, his oldest son’s house collapsed under a mighty wind during a feast and all his children were killed. To all of this, Job responded, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21; NKJV). Can we with confidence say we would do the same? That when things got tough we would fall prostrate to the ground and pray harder, worship louder?

Then there is the question: Why do good things happen to bad people? All throughout Job, his friends accuse him of obvious wrongdoing because of his circumstances, and they proclaim that if he’d only repent, things would get better. But Job adamantly defends himself and professes his innocence, and he even goes so far as to question the common assumptions about morality by suggesting that the wrong doer has it good while he who is blameless goes on suffering. “The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure—those God has in his hand” (Job 12:6). In a later chapter he says, “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (Job 21:7). Maybe you feel this way sometimes—that the bad guy always wins; that no matter what you do, the enemy always has the upper hand; that God lets the wicked get away with everything.

We have this crazy idea that God sits up in heaven watching our every move with a lightning bolt in His hand, ready to zap us the moment we do wrong. Even Job thought this when he said, “What is mankind that you make so much of them, that you give them so much attention, that you examine them every morning and test them every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me along even for an instant? . . . Why have you made me your target?” (Job 7:17-20). If God was that kind of God, zapping everyone at the first sign of sin, what hope would we have of ever being saved? But we know that God is a merciful, loving, forgiving God, and He is slow to anger. Jesus said that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45), so instead of whining and complaining and hating on what your enemies have, love them and be blameless and perfect, as God in heaven, so that you won’t be at fault when the time of judgment comes.

“Let both [wheat and weeds] grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)

Don’t think that God has forgotten about those who consistently do wrong—“For the wicked are reserved for the day of doom; they shall be brought out on the day of wrath” (Job 21:30, NKJV). Ephesians 5:5 tells us that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will ever inherit the kingdom of God. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Christ shows us where the “prosperous” wrongdoers will end up; “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:22-23). Even scarier, all who do wrong will have to face the white throne judgement, the one place no one wants to be, where they will be judged according to what they have done, and anyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be tossed into the lake of fire, which is the second death (Revelation 20:11-15). So I think it’s safe to say that God’s got it covered, we just need to worry about ourselves and make sure that we continue to do what is right in His sight.

There is so much to know about God that we can’t even fathom. Our human minds are too small to begin to understand even a smidgen of who God is and why He does or allows certain things to happen in our lives. In the later chapters of Job, when God finally speaks, He says, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” (Job 38:4). Who are we to question God’s motives, this God who sees all, knows all, is in control of all, and is all-powerful? Instead, we should humble ourselves before Him, as Job did, and for that he was rewarded double what he had.

In closing I want to reiterate that sometimes God allows certain things to happen, and it doesn’t always make sense to us. If you ever find yourself in a trial or storm that you don’t understand because you’ve always tried to be good and perfect in God’s sight, I charge you to always keep in your remembrance Romans 8:28.

“And we know that all things work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for ever doubting the plans you have for our lives. You said in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” So we put our lives in your hands, Lord, knowing that promotion comes not from the east nor the west nor the south, but promotions come from God. We praise you, and we thank you for always providing us with a way to withstand the pressures of the enemy. And we know that every trial and storm we go through is working to perfect and strengthen us in your sight, so that you can continue to do your will through us. So we welcome every testing of our faith, Lord, with joy and gladness. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

Originally published June 4, 2017

Hump Day Prayer

Hump Day Prayer: Thank You for Being the One Thing We Need

It’s Wednesday, also known as Hump Day. Do you need to get over the hump? Here’s a quick prayer to help you finish this week strong!

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and if you’re cooking for the family this year, chances are you’ll be spending most of today making the preparations. You’ve scrubbed and vacuumed all the floors. If you’re having overnight guests, you’ve changed the bedding for fresh, clean sheets. You’ve sanitized the bathroom, dusted the furniture. You’ve taken all the seasonal dishes and plates out of the china cabinet and set the table.

Now it’s time to start cooking, and you start to get frazzled. You recently switched to a whole foods diet, so you’ve decided to make everything from scratch. But you quickly regret that decision because the cranberry sauce is too tart to be edible, the macaroni and cheese is bland, the stuffing looks more like bread budding, the greens are bitter, and to make matters worse, you didn’t factor into your cook time that you would have to thaw the turkey first. Now it looks like it’ll be in the oven overnight, and you still have three other sides to bake!

Stop.

Sit down.

Breath.

Inhale . . . 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . .

Exhale . . . 1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . .

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” Colossians 3:15 (NIV)

It’s usually during this time of year when we tend to get the most anxious. Cooking such a wide spread for a large group, and if you’re cooking by yourself, it could feel like too much to handle for one person. Dealing with the frustrations of backed-up traffic on the highways or airline delays if you’re flying, and added stress if the weather is bad. Wanting to make sure everything is perfect for visiting family members you haven’t seen in years, or if you don’t have any family, having to suffer through this “festive” season all alone.

But amidst all of this, don’t forget the one thing that truly matters. Remember the sisters Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42. Martha busied herself serving and waiting on Jesus and His disciples. Typical actions of a hostess entertaining guests. But Jesus was no ordinary guest, and Martha spent so much of her time distracted by her many preparations that she didn’t recognize what was truly needed.  Mary did, and she sat at the feet of Jesus, listening to His every word in worship.

While Thursday shouldn’t be the only time you give thanks, this is the season to be thankful. So while you’re being thankful, remember what is most important and what is most needed. It’s not that juicy roasted turkey, hot from the oven. It’s not all the fixin’s spread across the table in an array of fall harvest colors. It’s not even all the things you will buy at the Black Friday sales the next morning.

It is Jesus Christ, who eases our minds when we are worried (Philippians 4:6-7), who gives us rest when we feel burdened (Matthew 11:28), who comforts us (Psalm 23:4) who heals us (Isaiah 53:5), who understands what we’re going through and can help us deal (Hebrews 4:15-16), who gives us grace to overcome (2 Corinthians 12:9).

If you’re feeling overwhelmed this Thanksgiving, remember these scriptures, and any others that remind you to be thankful for all the things your Father in Heaven has done for you. Just sit down and pray, because maybe you’re too busy like Martha, maybe you’ve forgotten what is needed, maybe you need to come back to the feet of Jesus.

God bless.

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.” Psalm 121:1-4 (NKJV)

Hump Day Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for being the one thing we need. You are our comfort, our shelter, our protector, our healer, our rest, our everything. Thank you for never leaving or forsaking us. Thank you for answering when we call. Thank you for being an ever-present help in our times of trouble and worry. Most importantly, thank you for your Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for our sins. If it had not been for Him we would be lost, dead in our sins and trespasses. But through His death and resurrection, we have life everlasting, and because of that we are eternally grateful. Thank you most of all, Lord, for saving us. You are the rock of our salvation and we praise your holy name. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Sunday Morning Word

Have You Thanked God Lately?

When was the last you told God thank you? Was it when you woke up this morning? Before you went to bed last night? Do you say it throughout the week or only in church on Sundays?

This Thursday in the U.S., we celebrate Thanksgiving. A time when family and friends gather together, usually around a huge feast, and give thanks for their many blessings throughout the year—love, prosperity, peace, joy. But don’t you know you can be thankful for these things any time of the year? Thanksgiving shouldn’t be the only day you tell someone, “Thank you.”

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV)

The Bible says that we should give thanks always, in all things, in every circumstance. In fact you won’t find many scriptures in the Bible that don’t involve some form of thanksgiving. I’m sure I could write a 1,000 word post quoting nothing but thankful Bible verses, and that still wouldn’t be all of them. And there’s plenty to be thankful for—the air in our lungs, health and strength in our bodies, food on our tables, warmth during these colder months, and for the more spiritual matters, eternal life through Jesus Christ, an inner peace when everything around us is falling apart, strength to overcome temptation, and forgiveness in those times we fall.

This brings me to the things I am most thankful to God for. I know I don’t thank Him enough, but when I look back on where I was headed and I see where I am today, I am so grateful that God brought me through, and it’s only by His love, His grace, and His mercy.

So let’s first thank Him for His love.

 Thank You, God, for Your Love

“Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 106:1 (NIV)

We should thank God every day for His love. Do you remember the hymn we used to sing as children in Sunday school? “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” Yes, the Bible does say so. In fact the Bible goes as far to say that God is love, according to 1 John 4:8. Some of us may have never learned what true love is if it had not been for God. But to know love means you know God, and to show love means you exemplify the God who lives in you. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

What I love most about the verse from Psalm 106, and many other verses and psalms like it, is that it says that God’s love endures forever. This means He will never stop loving us. Not like a fickle boyfriend or girlfriend who is in love with someone else the next week. Not like a husband and wife who fall out of love with each other because they base their love on happiness. Not like a parent who is cruel to a child and eventually abandons them because they never wanted children to begin with. But God’s love is eternal.

God says in Exodus 20:6 that He shows “love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” If a generation is on average about 30 years, imagine how long a thousand of those would be! That’s me, my children, my children’s children, their children, and their children, and so on, and so on for a millennium! And that’s just how we as humans understand time, but God and His love is everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2, 103:17); He exists outside of time itself, so to Him it is even longer!

Hebrews 13:8 says that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That means that He loved us yesterday before we were even born, He loves us today despite our many faults and flaws and that we don’t always return His love, and He loves us into tomorrow, after we have died and gone on to be in His presence forever.

To know God’s love, all we have to do is look at what He has done for us, which takes us into the second thing I am most thankful to God for.

Thank You, God, for Your Grace

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

When I think of God’s grace, I think of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, which goes hand in hand with His love. For He says in John 3:16 that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The following verse, John 3:17, says that He did not come to condemn the world but to save it.

We should thank God every day that He doesn’t want to see us perish for our sins (2 Peter 3:9), but that He has given us the gift of salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). And this is not something we could have earned on our own, because according to Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and yet verse 24 says that we are all “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” That word “justified” means made right in God’s standing, and this was a free gift. There was nothing we could do on our own accord to be saved except by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Do you remember when the disciples asked Jesus who can be saved? Jesus responded, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:24-26). Because of this gift from God, we are saved.

So often I hear the phrases, “When I quit drinking, I’ll come to church,” or “When I stop gambling, I’ll come to church.” But God is after you now. Jesus says in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Remember when I said He loved us yesterday? Yesterday, before we ever existed, when Jesus was dying on the cross and He saw all the horrible sins we were going to commit before we accepted Him and even after, He still willingly gave His life. Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Don’t think that you have to change first, because there is nothing we can do on our own. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” The only thing we should boast about is our faith in God’s grace.

God did all the hard work. He sent His Son to die on the cross for the sins of the world, and then He conquered death by raising Him up. The only thing required of us now is to believe (Romans 10:9). I believe, and because I believe, I thank Him for His grace.

There is one last thing that comes with His grace that I am also thankful for.

Thank You, God, for Your Mercy

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1 (NIV)

When I think about God’s mercy, the first thing that comes to mind is peace. Peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Peace of reconciliation with God (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18). Peace in the midst of storms (John 14:27, 16:33). And simple peace of mind, knowing that I can live this life right, now that I have God in it (John 14:16-18).

When I look up the definition of mercy in my Bible, I find the following: “kindness and forgiveness, especially when given to a person who doesn’t deserve it.” Yes, God’s mercy is His kindness, His compassion and forgiveness, and I am so thankful that He has forgiven me. I am thankful for His forgiveness through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (Matthew 26:28). I am thankful that He has forgiven me after I confessed my sins and invited Him in to cleanse my heart (1 John 1:9). I am thankful that He’s forgiven me because I learned to forgive others (Luke 6:36-37).

God’s mercy brings everything we’ve talked about today to a full circle, because it’s hard to see His mercy without also seeing His love and His grace. It is in His very nature! In Exodus 34:6-7, God proclaims that He is “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” He loved us enough to give us His grace, and by His grace we obtain mercy.

Like His love, His mercy (kindness, goodness, compassion, forgiveness) endures forever. Some versions of the Bible even use “mercy” in scriptures such Psalm 106:1, and like Psalm 106:1 says, let us give God thanks, for His love, His grace, His mercy, for His everything, which endures forever, because He deserves it.

God Bless.

“always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you. Thank you for your love, your grace, your mercy. If not for these things, we would have died in our sins, yet we have life by grace through our faith in your Son, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for many, who shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, who showed His great love for us by laying down His life. For this we are eternally grateful. So we enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. We are thankful to Him, and we bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations. Thank you, Lord. Again and again, we thank you. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Music for the Spirit

“I Won’t Complain” by Twinkie Clark-Terrell and the Florida A&M University Gospel Choir

“Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” Romans 3:13-14 (NIV)

Have you ever asked someone how they were doing, and then immediately regretted it because all they did was complain? They complained about their job, their family, their church, their finances. Any grievance they had that day, they shared with you, and while the Bible does instruct us to bare one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), this person wasn’t seeking after help or spiritual guidance, but just wanted to gripe about any and everything, from the car not cranking up on the morning of the season’s first frost, to the coworker who didn’t speak as they passed by in the hallway. They found a problem in everything and wanted to be justified by your agreement with them.

I was once that complainer. A friend gave me the nickname, Naggy, because all I did was nag and whine and complain about everything. Nothing anyone could do satisfied me, and rarely did I not have a negative or pessimistic comment to say about something or someone. While the nickname was meant to be endearing—at least for the person who gave it to me—I knew there was some truth behind it, and I hated that.

“What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” Mark 7:20-23

The things we say reveal a lot about us, our character, who we truly are on the inside. I wasn’t called Naggy because a friend just wanted to tease me, but because what was coming out of me, the fruit of my lips, showed the type of person I was underneath. Jesus says in Matthew 12:34 that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Proverbs 23:7 says that as a man “thinks in his heart, so is he.”

In a previous post we looked at James 3:6, which says that the tongue corrupts the whole body. How does it do that? Just as Jesus explains in Mark 7:20-23, all these evil things come out of us, off our tongues. That’s why so many Bible verses warn us to be careful in what we say. Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21), and Jesus gives us a perfect explanation for this proverb in Matthew 12:37; by our words we will be acquitted (justified, made right in God’s sight, given eternal life), and by our words we will be condemned (must face the guilt of sin, sentenced to death and destruction in hell).

I didn’t want to be known as the woman who was always nagging and complaining, who always had something negative to say. So I asked the Holy Spirit to help me to recognize when I complain; to close my lips in those moments; to teach me to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19); to help me to seek Him first if anything is pressing on my mind, for His word says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:1-2

I also understood that I needed to renew my mind in Christ Jesus, that if I really wanted to change the way I spoke, it had to start from within. So I began to meditate on scriptures like Romans 12:1-2, Psalm 51:10, which says, “Create in my a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me,” and Philippians 4:8, which says, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Does this mean I never complain anymore? Of course not; it’s a constant battle (Romans 7:22-25), and sometimes I let the words out knowing it’s not pleasing God, and it’s definitely not edifying His body. But isn’t it awesome that He is a forgiving God; that no matter how many times we stumble, we can still get back up and try again (Proverbs 24:16); that He has given us grace to overcome the weakness of our flesh (2 Corinthians 12:9)? Each day is a new day, and each day I pray that I become less and less of a complainer and more and more of a believer in the plans God has for my life.

I pray that for you as well.

God Bless.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:16-17

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for our careless words, for being so free with our lips. You said in your word to draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools, to be not rash with our mouths, or hasty in our hearts to utter anything before you, for you are in heaven, and we on earth. So let our words be few. Let no corrupt word proceed from our mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from us, with all malice, was we continue to conform to the image of your Son. In Jesus Christ’s name, we pray. Amen.

Hump Day Prayer

Hump Day Prayer: Forgive Us for Our Careless Talk

It’s Wednesday, also known as Hump Day. Do you need to get over the hump? Here’s a quick prayer to help you finish this week strong!

What are you saying about the people around you? Your coworkers, your fellow church-goers, your family and friends? Are you speaking words of encouragement on them? What about when they are not around? Is your speech still positive, or are you talking negatively about them behind their backs?

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” James 3:9-10 (NIV)

James calls the tongue untamable and restless (James 3:8). Anyone who is able to control it he deems perfect, able to keep their whole body in check (James 3:2). Unfortunately most of us set fires with the words we speak (James 3:5-6), especially when talking about others.

“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ [an Aramaic term of contempt] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:22

Have you been guilty of “bad-mouthing” someone? The driver of the pick-up that cut you off on the way to work this morning; the coworker who tells you how to do your job as if she were your boss; your in-laws who make sure you know that you are only an in-law and not truly a part of their family; your ministry leader who says things in service that you don’t always agree with?

Are you paying attention to what you say about others? Have you learned to “bridle” or hold your tongue, or do you just have to say your piece and be through? Do both blessings and curses come out of your mouth? Remember, such things as foul language, slanderous talk, gossip, etc. are not pleasing to God, so who are you really cursing when you say these things?

“But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.” Colossians 3:8

As we strive to be more like Christ, we have to remember that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”  (Luke 6:45), and what we say reveals a lot about our character. Are we being true followers of God when we speak negatively about His people? Is this the type of fruit God expects us to produce when we live by His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-25)? No, He wants to see our love toward others, our joy and peace in fellowship with one another, our patience with those who are difficult, our kindness and goodness toward them, our faithfulness in not giving up on them when they stumble, our gentleness and self-control in our conversation with them.

Colossians 3:9-10 says that we have put off the old self, along with its evil practices (including evil speech) and “have put on the new [spiritual] self who is being continually renewed in true knowledge in the image of Him who created the new self.” Be renewed in your mind, and especially in your speech. Ephesians 5:1-2 tells us to be imitators of God, as children imitate their father, and walk in love, as Christ loved and gave Himself up for us.

The Amplified text of James 3:9-10 explains that “we have a moral obligation to speak in a manner that reflects our fear of God and profound respect for His precepts.” What I find interesting about this scripture is that it reminds me so much of 1 John 4:20, which says, “Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” The concept is the same for both scriptures here: If you truly fear God, if your truly love God, if you want to prove that you are a true and faithful follower of God, you have to show it in your actions, especially in your actions toward the people you come in contact with every day. For how can we expect compassion and mercy from God, when we can’t ourselves give it to others (Luke 6:36-38)?

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:29-32

So is your conversation always full of grace, seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6)? Do you always answer gently and respectfully, keeping a clear conscious so that those who talk about you can eat their words (1 Peter 3:15-16)? Jesus says in Matthew 12:36-37 that we will have to give an account for every empty and careless word we have spoken; by our words we will be acquitted, and by our words we will be condemned. Make sure your words always reflect the Spirit that lives within you so that you don’t find yourself on the wrong end of judgment when that fateful day comes.

“Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” James 5:9

Hump Day Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for our careless talk. You said in your word that whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble. Lord, we want to exemplify your Spirit in our speech, that we may not be condemned by our words. Don’t let us become like one who talks too much, who always has something negative or slanderous to say about another. Such babble only leads to ungodliness, but we seek to be more like you, conformed to the image of your Son, who loved and gave Himself as a sacrifice for all. Set a guard over our mouths. Let us not be quick with our words and opinions, for too much talk leads to sin, but he who restrains his lips is prudent. So each day, as we continue to walk in your light, we try our best to bridle our tongues, seeking your wisdom in everything we say, for you know the words that are needed. And your word we have hidden in our hearts that we might not sin against you, in deed or in speech, in Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Sunday Morning Word

Are You Talking Too Much?

Have you ever been told you talk too much? That some things are better left unsaid? We’ve seen the consequences of people who just don’t know how to shut their mouths— the habitual liar caught in a lie, the procrastinator making excuse after excuse for why he hasn’t finished or even started on an assignment that was given to him weeks ago, the gossip who always has something negative to say about someone else, the quarreler who further escalates an argument because she has to have the last word.

Has God ever told you to be quiet? Better yet, has He ever sternly told you to shut up? He has to me. I didn’t listen. And because I didn’t listen, I made the situation I was in much worse. Walls were punched, pots smashed, bodies pushed down, dinner lay ruined on the floor. If only I had learned to shut my mouth.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20 (NIV)

Proverbs 18:21a says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” warning us to be careful of what we say. Likewise, James 3:8 calls the tongue an untamable, “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Earlier in that scripture he compares the tongue to a small spark that can set the whole course of one’s life on fire and is itself set on fire in hell (James 3:6). So be mindful when you speak, that you don’t curse yourself or others.

“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

Think of some of the horrible things you’ve heard people say that led to their ruin. The bully who was expelled from school for teasing the other children. The male politician who lost endorsements and eventually the race because of his misogynist comments about women. The NBA owner who was banned from the league and subsequently lost his team for making racial slurs about black players. The Hollywood producer blackballed for inappropriate behavior with actresses. All of these people had one thing in common: They could not control their mouths.

As Christians, we have an equal, if not more urgent obligation to watch what we say. In an earlier post, we talked about how our lives are always on display. That there is always someone watching, whether it’s to follow our Christ-like example (1 Corinthians 11:1), or to catch us in a sin (1 Peter 2:12), and our actions—or in this case, our speech— may be the one thing that brings them closer to God or drives them away. Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), and every aspect of our lives should reveal that light, including what we say, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). So let that abundance in your heart be good, not evil.

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26

Whether we’re talking with other believers, with nonbelievers, or with God, we should take care in learning when to and when not to speak. When Jesus teaches on prayer, He says, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7). Instead, when we enter God’s presence in prayer, we should come ready to listen, as written in Ecclesiastes 5:2; “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” God’s word tells us that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, His ways higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9); He has plans for us, plans to prosper us and give us a hope and future (Jeremiah 29:11); He’s ready to give us exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). Jesus already said that God knows what we need even before we ask (Matthew 6:8), but how can we ever receive it if we don’t shut up and listen?

There comes a time when we are to be quiet, but there also comes a time when we are to speak, and the best way to know when that is, is to rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). He knows exactly what you should say and when precisely you should say it.

“Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words . . . But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?'” Matthew 22:15, 18

Let’s look at Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees and teachers of the law as an example. Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Pharisees persistently sought ways to trap Jesus with His words. But Jesus recognized their evil intentions and always had an answer prepared. Likewise, since we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), which is Jesus living in each of us (Romans 8:9), we should never get tongue tied when the enemy throws trick questions our way (Ephesians 6:11), but as Peter writes, we should always “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Where do we get this answer? From the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says in Matthew 10:19-20 “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Allow Him, whose thoughts are higher than your thoughts and whose ways are higher than your ways, to speak through you. And don’t ever add to what He says (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32, Proverbs 30:6, Revelation 22:18). As we often say in the country, God does not need your two cents from the peanut gallery. His word alone is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). So don’t nullify its power because you still have something to say.

Remember, God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

God Bless.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6

Prayer: Heavenly Father, set a guard over our mouths; keep watch over the door of our lips. You said in your word that on the Day of Judgment we will all have to give an account for every careless word we have spoken, for by our words we will be justified, and by our words we will be condemned. Father, please forgive us for every mean-spirited, perverse, deceitful, and slanderous word we’ve ever spoken. We wish to abide in your word, to let the word of Christ richly dwell in us as we teach an admonish with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thanks in our hearts to you, doing everything in the name of Jesus. And let our conversations always be full of grace, seasoned with salt. Let every answer we give be directed by the Holy Spirit, and that each answer comes with gentleness and respect, so we keep a clear conscious and anyone who speaks maliciously about our good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. May the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Inspirational Spoken Word

“Peculiar People” by Smashed Saint

“But My righteous one shall live by faith;
And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him.

“But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” Hebrews 10:38-39 (NASB)

I want a faith that saves. Don’t you? Throughout the Bible, we read about a generation of peculiar people, whose steadfast faith in God and in His promises, despite their circumstances, proved them to be righteous in God’s sight. Like the beggar who cried out to Jesus to make him see again (Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43). Or the Samaritan man healed of leprosy who came back to Jesus, praising God (Luke 17:14-19). Or the men who tore open the roof of the house Jesus was in to lower a paralyzed man inside to be healed (Mark 2:3-5; Luke 5:18-20). Or the sinful woman who cried at Jesus’ feet, wiped His feet with her hair, and poured out all she had in an alabaster jar of perfume (Luke 7:36-50). Or the woman with the issue of blood, who reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ garment to be cleansed (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48).

By their faith, all of these people, and many others, were healed of their diseases, their ailments, they were forgiven of their sins. Their faith opened their eyes to recognize Jesus as the Christ, the Savior of the world. Their faith saved their very souls because they believed in the power and mercy and goodness of God.

Another person had this kind of faith—Abraham.

“Even when there was no reason for hope, Abraham kept hoping—believing that he would become the father of many nations. For God had said to him, “That’s how many descendants you will have!” And Abraham’s faith did not weaken, even though, at about 100 years of age, he figured his body was as good as dead—and so was Sarah’s womb.

“Abraham never wavered in believing God’s promise. In fact, his faith grew stronger, and in this he brought glory to God.” Romans 4:18-20 (NLT)

Abraham believed in God. He believed in the promise God made to him, even when it sounded absolutely crazy. And don’t you know, God will tell you some things that sound absolutely crazy? Like when Jesus told Martha that her brother, dead four days, will rise again. But she believed (John 11:23-27), just like Abraham believed.

And even in the ultimate testing of his faith, when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice his son, his one and only son, through whom God had promised many nations, Abraham still believed. He believed that God would provide a sacrifice in his place. But he continued to walk by faith, obeying God, and holding on to that promise. He built the altar, arranged the wood, tied up his son and laid him there. And just when he was about to drive the knife through him and slay his son, the angel of the Lord stopped him.

“‘Do not lay a hand on the boy,’ he said. ‘Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.’

“Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.” Genesis 22:12-13 (NIV)

Abraham’s faith was so strong, that he was willing to give up his only son, for whom he’d waited 100 years. I believe this event foreshadowed what God was about to do Himself. Seeing the faith of Abraham, and all who would come after him, God did not spare His own Son, Jesus Christ, but gave Him up for all of us (Romans 8:32), for our faith.

For we have that same firm belief as Abraham had, that God can and will do anything He promises, including sacrifice His one and only Son for our sins and raise Him up again so that we may belong to Him.

If you believe this, like these peculiar people, your faith has saved you.

God Bless.

“And when God counted him as righteous, it wasn’t just for Abraham’s benefit. It was recorded for our benefit, too, assuring us that God will also count us as righteous if we believe in him, the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.” Romans 4:23-25 (NLT)

Prayer of Salvation: Heavenly Father, I desire to be of this peculiar people, whose firm belief in your promises has saved them. You said in your word that if I confess with my mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead, I will be saved. Father, I confess that Jesus is Lord, I believe that He died on the cross for my sins, and that through His resurrection, I have eternal life. Lord, please forgive me of all my sins. Cleanse me as you did this peculiar nation who’s only hope was that if they could just get close to you, if they could just touch you, they would be free. Touch me now with your Holy Spirit. Fill me with your grace, which you have freely given. Make me a new creature in you, for my old self has passed away and I now live a life of faith in your Son, Jesus Christ, who loved me and gave His life for me. To your name be all the glory for all you have done for me, then, now, and in the times to come. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.