Posts tagged ‘Faith’

What Does God Think of You?

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In Daniel 4, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, loses his mind. In punishment for his pride over his accomplishments as king and his power over his kingdom, God strikes him with a bout of insanity that causes him to believe he is a wild beast:

He was driven away from people and ate grass like the ox. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. (Daniel 4:33)

God restores Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity when, instead of reveling in his pride and power, he looks toward heaven and praises his Maker:

I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified Him who lives forever. (Daniel 4:34)

His song of praise to God is particularly notable:

His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back His hand or say to Him: “What have You done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)

Nebuchadnezzar’s ad hoc worship song sounds pious, but its theology is a bit off. The Psalmist asks:

LORD, what are human beings that You care for them, mere mortals that You think of them? They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow. (Psalm 144:3-4)

The Psalmist admits that, before God, humans are nothing. And yet, he also marvels that God cares for them and thinks of them anyway.

Nebuchadnezzar sings:

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. (Daniel 4:35)

But this is not how God regards people. He cares for them and thinks of them. In fact, He cared for Nebuchadnezzar so deeply that He personally disciplined him in his pride so he could learn the value of humility. Certainly, being struck by insanity did not feel to Nebuchadnezzar like God regarded him as much of anything. But Nebuchadnezzar was wrong. What felt like abandonment by God was a gift from God to, ultimately, sanctify him.

We, too, are regarded as precious by God. When things turn hurtful or hard, it may not feel that way. It may feel like we are nothing to God, or perhaps like we have been abandoned by God. But even times of trial can be used by God to sanctify us.

The Psalmist is right. God cares for us and is mindful of us – so much so that He sent His one and only Son to us.

May 16, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Daily Bread

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As inflation continues to wreak havoc and interest rates rise, the future can feel uncertain and even ominous. Before I wrote this blog, I checked my stocks. They were all red. My stocks weren’t the only things that sank. My heart did, too.

And yet, in the midst of uncertain times, we are called to trust God with our resources. In fact, we are called to trust that God will give us all the resources we need. We are called to believe that God will answer our prayer: “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

Jesus’ words from this famous in line in the Lord’s Prayer echo a story from ancient Israel. In Exodus 16, God feeds the Israelites with bread from heaven as they wander through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land:

The LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow My instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” (Exodus 16:4-5)

God provides the Israelites with all the resources they need. But His provision comes with a provisio – they are only to gather what they need for each day. It is daily bread. And on the sixth day, when they are to gather what they need for two days, this is so they might rest on the seventh day.

Unsurprisingly, the Israelites struggle to follow God’s instructions. Some try to gather more than what they need for each day:

Some of them kept part of the bread until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. (Exodus 16:20)

Others, instead of saving bread so they can rest on the seventh day, try to work every day:

Some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. (Exodus 16:27)

The Israelites’ struggles mirror our own struggles. On the one hand, like the Israelites who tried to hoard bread, we can fail to trust God for what we need each day. On the other hand, like the Israelites who failed to sufficiently save bread and tried to work on the seventh day, we can also fail to save for tomorrow so we can enjoy rest one day. Gathering and saving. Working and resting. And, above all, trusting. These are the pillars of stewarding what God has given us.

The Israelites lived in a world where resources could feel scarce. We do, too. But just because resources feel scarce doesn’t mean they are scarce. God still provides. We are called to trust that. We are called to trust Him – even in a time that can feel uncertain.

May 2, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Help Needed

Moses had gotten himself in too deep. As he and the children of Israel were traveling through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, he had not only taken on the role of leader, but of judge:

Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. (Exodus 18:13)

The Israelites were going a bit stir crazy in the wilderness, and they were getting into so many disagreements and disputes with each other that Moses was spending all day trying to arbitrate their altercations. He had time for nothing else.

When Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit his son-in-law, he is impressed by what God has done for Israel, but is concerned over what Moses is doing with Israel. He says to Moses:

What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. (Exodus 18:17-18)

Jethro knows that Moses needs help. He cannot judge alone.

Jethro’s words hearken back to God’s words when He saw that the first man He created, Adam, had no one to help him through and with life:

It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. (Genesis 2:18)

So, God created Eve.

In a world where it is noble to be a self-made person and self-sufficiency rules, Jethro reminds us that our limits are blessings. We cannot do it all. We need help. Contrary to our cultural myths of independence and autonomy, it is not good for us to be alone and to try to carry every burden alone.

We don’t always like to hear this, because our limits humble us. Sometimes, we’d prefer to live under a delusion that we are, if not theoretically and theologically, at least functionally omnipotent. But our limits are ultimately meant to bless us. Because they create opportunities for us to form relationships with others who we need – and who need us.

Who do you need to ask for help? The help you ask for may just be the start of a beautiful friendship that you need. And that is good.

April 11, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

What’s So Great About God?

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In Hebrew, the name “Micah” means “Who is like the Lord?”

In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah concludes the book that bears his name with the question his name asks:

Who is a God like You? (Micah 7:18)

Right before he asks this question, Micah speaks of God’s unmatched power on behalf of Israel:

“As in the days when you came out of Egypt, I will show them My wonders.” Nations will see and be ashamed, deprived of all their power. They will put their hands over their mouths and their ears will become deaf. They will lick dust like a snake, like creatures that crawl on the ground. They will come trembling out of their dens; they will turn in fear to the LORD our God and will be afraid of you. (Micah 7:15-17)

Just as God dazzled the world when He rescued the people of Israel out from under their slavery to the world’s preeminent superpower at that time – Egypt – God will do so again during Micah’s day when, again, He rescues His people out from under their oppression under the likes of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

But this unlimited and unmatched power is not what makes Micah’s God unique. It is not just that Micah’s God can “beat up” on other nations’ gods.

Instead, what makes Micah’s God truly unequaled is something other than His power:

Who is a God like You, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of His inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

What makes God matchless, according to Micah, is His mercy. All other religions and gods find their foundations in merit – you do your best, and the gods will perhaps sweep in and do the rest. But Micah reminds us that even when we do our worst, God, though He may discipline us, ultimately takes our worst and hurls it down into the deepest ocean trench and, in exchange, gives us His compassion.

Power, then, is not what foundationally makes God, God. Mercy is. Yes, we should fear God’s judgment on our sin. But we can actually see God’s mercy for our sin. Because “we do see Jesus” (Hebrews 2:9). And there is no one like Him – One who would die for our sin.

March 14, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Fair-Weather Faith

Credit: “King David Playing the Harp” by Gerard van Honthorst (1622) / Wikimedia

In 2 Samuel 7, David, king of Israel, comes to the prophet Nathan with a concern:

Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent. (2 Samuel 7:2)

David wants to build a temple for God, whose place of residence has, up until this point, been a tent that the Israelites took with them across the wilderness on their way from Egypt to the Promised Land.

In Psalm 132, we learn more about just how committed David was to procuring a more permanent residence for God:

He swore an oath to the LORD, he made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob: “I will not enter my house or go to my bed,I will allow no sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the LORD, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob.” (Psalm 132:2-5)

The oath that David swears as he is considering building a temple for God is the same oath that David will hear just chapters later after he has committed adultery with another man’s wife.

When David sleeps with Bathsheba, the wife of one of his military commanders named Uriah, and gets her pregnant, he tries to cover up the affair by summoning Uriah in from the battlefield and encouraging him to go home and “enjoy” his wife so that no one will suspect she has been forced into sleeping with another man. But Uriah refuses, telling David:

The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing! (2 Samuel 11:11)

Like David four chapters earlier, Uriah refuses to go to his home while the ark of God is in a tent and his men are on a battlefield. But the same oath that David once made has now become a liability that David has. So, David commands his general, Joab:

“Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.” So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died. (2 Samuel 11:15-17)

It turns out that David’s oath to God was a fair-weather oath. It was fine for a building project that would make David look good, but it was discarded when David was caught in a sin that made him look bad.

We are called to be more than fair-weather fans of God. Our faith in Him is refined not when it’s easiest to commit to Him, but when it’s hardest. In the words of one of Jesus’ followers named Peter, who himself struggled to stick with his faith when things got tough:

Trials have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

May the oaths that we make be the oaths that we keep. May we be faithful. After all, God has been, is, and will continue to be faithful to us.

March 7, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

God Is With Us

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Credit: “Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden by Johann Wenzel Peter (c. 1815) / Wikimedia

God has a funny way of defying the expectations people put on His presence.

When God appears to the first two humans, Adam and Eve, we find Him searching for them by “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:8). But this paradisical picture soon turns ugly when He finds out they have fallen into sin by eating fruit from His forbidden Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In punishment, God casts the couple out of the cool and lush Garden of Eden with a warning to Adam that now “by the sweat of your brow you will eat your food” (Genesis 3:19). The refreshing cool of the garden is shut off to humans and exchanged for a sweltering sweat. And it feels like God has barred humanity from His presence.

But He hasn’t.

In Genesis 18, we meet a man named Abraham who is “near the great trees of Mamre…sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day” (Genesis 18:1). Because “the cool of the day” of the Garden of Eden has gone, Abraham tries to shade himself by some trees and with his tent in “the heat of the day.” But in the middle of this sweaty scene, we read:

The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. (Genesis 18:1)

It turns out that God shows up not only in the cool of the day, but in the heat of the day – not only in a garden, but in a desert.

Too often, we harbor unexamined assumptions about how God’s presence has manifested itself in our lives:

“I got new job because God was with me.”
“I didn’t get the virus because God was with me.”
“I won the award because God was with me.”
“My life has turned out well because God was with me.”

All these statements may well be true. But their inverses are most certainly not:

“I didn’t get the new job because God wasn’t with me.”
“I did get the virus because God doesn’t care for me.”
“I didn’t win the award because God is against me.”
“My life has turned out tragically because God has forsaken me.”

God is with us in the garden and in the desert – in the cool of the day and in the heat of the day.

God’s presence with us even when life makes us sweat should come as no surprise to us. The word “sweat” is found twice in the Bible – once when Adam is cursed in a garden and once when Jesus is struggling in a garden:

Being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. (Luke 22:44)

Jesus knows what it’s like to sweat. And He’s promised to be with us when we sweat, too. Our circumstances – even when they are difficult and tempt us to become despondent – are not barometers of His presence. He is present with us because He has promised to be. Period.

January 31, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sneaky Polytheism

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Credit: Mt. Olympus gods / Wikimedia

One of the most startling religious claims made by the ancient Israelites was that their God was the only true God. God Himself argues for His singularity when He says through the prophet Isaiah:

 I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from Me there is no God. (Isaiah 45:5)

This echoes the command God gives to the children of Israel through Moses:

You shall have no other gods besides Me. (Exodus 20:3)

In our religious milieu, unlike in the ancient world, the majority of people of faith are monotheists – that is, they believe there is only one God.

Yet, even if monotheism is common to believe, it is much harder to practice. Isaiah explains why when he speaks of the fall of Babylon:

Now then, listen, you lover of pleasure, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, “I am, and there is none besides me. I will never be a widow or suffer the loss of children.” Both of these will overtake you in a moment, on a single day: loss of children and widowhood. They will come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and all your potent spells. You have trusted in your wickedness and have said, “No one sees me.” Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, “I am, and there is none besides me.” (Isaiah 47:8-10)

God’s judgment on Babylon feels horrifyingly harsh to us. But notice what God’s judgment is in response to. It is in response to those who say of themselves:

I am, and there is none besides me. (Isaiah 47:8, 10)

Sound familiar – like what God has just claimed for Himself two chapters earlier in Isaiah?

It turns out that the Babylonians were not just worshiping many gods, they were putting themselves in the place of God, claiming, “We are all who matter! We are all we need! There is no one else who can do what we do!”

Even if theological polytheism no longer appeals to many of us, sociological polytheism is just as prevalent in our day as it was in Isaiah’s. We are incessantly tempted to believe that our moment in history is the pinnacle of history. We understand what those who have gone before us did not and could not. We can solve the problems of the world – and, indeed, must solve the problems of the world – because our forebearers were too doddering to do so. We are quick to quip: “I am, and there is none besides me.”

This kind of arrogance is what leads Isaiah to say: “Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you” (Isaiah 47:10). Our forbearers were not as incompetent as we can sometimes think they were, and we are not as smart as we can sometimes think we are.

So, what do we need? We who declare “I am” need to humble ourselves before the true and great “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). We need to realize that having “none beside me” is not desirous, but disastrous. We, in short, need to know our place. We are under God and beside each other. That’s right where we’re supposed to be. And that’s a great place to be.

January 17, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Celebrating Christmas Slowly

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Credit: “The Angel Appearing to Zacharias” by William Blake (1800) / Wikimedia

When the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah in Luke 1 while he is performing his ritual duties at the incense altar in the Holy Place at the temple in Jerusalem to announce that he and his wife Elizabeth will have a son who will prepare the way for Jesus, it signals a remarkable turning point in the history of the nation of Israel. The Old Testament ends with a dangling prophecy:

See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction. (Malachi 4:5-6)

This prophetic word is both retrospective and prospective. It is retrospective because it hearkens back to Israel’s greatest prophet, Elijah, who lived over 400 years before this prophecy was proffered. It is prospective because it looks forward to another and greater Elijah who will create a new family out of the remnants of a nation that has been scattered and battered by years of exile and conquest.

And then ­­–

Gabriel shows up and announces:

Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John … And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. (Luke 1:13, 17)

This fulfillment had been a long time coming. Again, over 400 years had elapsed between the time Malachi had forecasted the coming of a new Elijah and Gabriel had announced the arrival of this new Elijah. Indeed, the last time Gabriel had shown up to anyone was over 500 years earlier to another prophet named Daniel:

While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the Lord my God for his holy hill – while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. (Daniel 9:20-21)

It is interesting to note that Gabriel appears to both men while they are making sacrifices. The angel seems to like to show up in the midst of worship.

The apostle Paul writes of Jesus’ birth:

When the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. (Galatians 4:4-5)

It turns out that sometimes, God’s “set time” takes a long time to get here – hundreds of years, in fact. And this is one of the many things that Christmas can teach us. In a season that is known for its hustle and bustle, Christmas is best celebrated slowly and patiently – waiting for God to work in His way in His time. In a culture that prides itself on social media platforms like Instagram, cooking gadgets like Instant Pots, movie franchises that are Fast and Furious, and even Covid tests that are rapid, slowness does not find pride of place in our imaginations or priorities. And yet, it was a promise slowly but faithfully kept that changed the world – and is still changing eternities.

The name Zechariah means, “The Lord remembers.” By the time Gabriel appeared to this old priest to announce that he and his wife would have a son, it must have felt like they had been forgotten. But they had not been. God was just working slowly and patiently. May our character reflect God’s work this season – and each day.

December 13, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Everyone Needs a Home for the Holidays

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Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:17)

The apostle Paul penned these words in the midst of a socially stratified society. People were not warmly received, but coolly ranked along ethnic and economic lines. But when Jesus arrives, He breaks through these lines in the most surprising and even socially offensive of ways. When He, for instance, strikes up a conversation with a Samaritan woman, she is startled, for “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” (John 4:9).

In the Bible, a warm welcome that crosses cultural boundaries is called “hospitality.” In our world, this word has been reduced to an industry. “Hospitality” is reserved for those who can pay for a reservation at a hotel or restaurant. But in early Christian thinking, hospitality was when you welcomed someone no one else had room for. When Jesus was born, there was famously for Him “no place…in the inn” (Luke 2:7). Christians are called to make room to welcome people in, for when they do so, they are ultimately welcoming in Jesus (cf. Matthew 25:35). The full inn of Bethlehem serves as an invitation to make sure we have open homes.

One of the many things I love about Thanksgiving is that it is one of the all-too-rare moments left in our culture where biblical hospitality is on beautiful display. Families welcome relatives they have not seen in a long time into their homes. They also welcome a service member who is far away from his or her family to share a feast with them. Groups go to serve meals to the under-resourced. People are welcomed and loved as ethnic and economic barriers fall around the sight of a dressed turkey and sides.

Hospitality is not only the call of the Christian, it is endemic to the very order of creation. After all, God did not have to make room for us when He created the heavens and the earth, but He did. The very fact that God made this world for us is evidence of His hospitable heart.

As we begin this holiday season, how can you show hospitality? Who can you welcome in – not for a price or with an expectation, but simply out of love? Christ has joyfully welcomed you into His family by faith and is painstakingly preparing for you a place in eternity (cf. John 14:2). May we joyfully open our homes and hearts to bless others with broken homes and broken hearts. May we welcome others as Christ has welcomed us.

November 29, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Preemptive Thankfulness

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It has become a tradition on this blog during Thanksgiving week to take a moment to reflect on a Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation. Thanksgiving is a holiday birthed by our history and in our land and, each year, the president issues a proclamation meant to focus our attention on all the reasons we have to be grateful.

This year, I’d like to take a moment to remember a Thanksgiving Proclamation that was issued after Thanksgiving on December 26, 1941 by President Franklin Roosevelt. He had issued a more traditional Thanksgiving Proclamation on November 8 of that same year, but then, in light of the vicious December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor that lurched us into World War II, President Roosevelt felt the need to issue a second Thanksgiving Proclamation. It read thusly:

It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord.” Across the uncertain ways of space and time our hearts echo those words, for the days are with us again when, at the gathering of the harvest, we solemnly express our dependence upon Almighty God. The final months of this year, now almost spent, find our Republic and the nations joined with it waging a battle on many fronts for the preservation of liberty. In giving thanks for the greatest harvest in the history of our nation, we who plant and reap can well resolve that in the year to come we will do all in our power to pass that milestone; for by our labors in the fields we can share some part of the sacrifice with our brothers and sons who wear the uniform of the United States. It is fitting that we recall now the reverent words of George Washington, “Almighty God, we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection,” and that every American in his own way lift his voice to heaven. I recommend that all of us bear in mind this great Psalm:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me I the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; Thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Inspired with faith and courage by these words, let us turn again to the work that confronts us in this time of national emergency: in the Armed Services and the Merchant Marine; in factories and offices; on farms and in the mines; on highways, railways and airways; in other places of public service to the nation; and in our homes. Now, therefore, I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, do hereby invite the attention of the people to the joint resolution of Congress approved December 26, 1941, which designates the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day and I request that both Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1942, and New Year’s Day, January 1, 1943, be observed in prayer, publicly and privately.

Shortly after Thanksgiving Day 1941 and what was at that point the worst attack on American soil in its history, President Roosevelt issued a proclamation already looking forward to Thanksgiving Day 1942 – nearly a year in advance.

Such a proclamation might, at first, seem tone-deaf. After all, who feels thankful when mourning so much loss, as Americans were after Pearl Harbor? Such a proclamation might also feel premature. After all, by the time Thanksgiving Day 1942 rolled around, wouldn’t the president’s proclamation from the close of 1941 have been long since forgotten? But, despite such concerns, this proclamation was needed.

Gratitude is needed most when history does its worst. For it is at these moments that gratitude focuses us – not so much on what we do or do not have, but on the One to whom we are called to be thankful. Gratitude needs an object. And, as President Roosevelt reminds us in his declaration, the object of our gratitude is rightly God.

It is no secret that 2021 has been a trying year. A pandemic has worn on longer than any of us desired or expected. Political, social, and cultural unrest, upheaval, and distrust have run rampant. And our economic future feels uncertain. How should we respond to times like these? Let’s take a page from President Roosevelt’s book and be preemptively thankful. Thankfulness is not a product of our circumstances, but an orientation of our hearts toward the One who receives our thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving.

November 22, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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