Book Report

If any man be in Christ, he is a new creation.  Old things pass away, all things become new.  – 2 Corinthians 5:17

I read this book that has changed me in certain ways.  The book is called “I Dared to Call Him Father.”  It is by a lady named Belquis (think “Bell-Keys”) Sheikh (like “shake”).  She was a Muslim in Pakistan and Jesus called her to follow Him.  She did just that.

There is a stark contrast between giving your life to Jesus in the middle east and doing it here in America.  Belquis was quite aware of the price tag each time she took a step.  Over there, life has no choice but to change for you if you choose to call yourself a Christian.  I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer it will be before this happens in America.  In general, if someone here chooses Jesus and tells someone, they mostly get “that’s great” or “good for you.”  I remember the first person I ever told said to me, “that’s nice, but it won’t last.”  Nobody would wish for persecution, but it sure makes it obvious who is truly in and who is out.  

I won’t give too much of the book away, just in case you want to read it.  I say I “read” it, but I listened to it on audiobook.  I was more moved by the small details of her life that changed than the big ones.   For example, she had servants who would bring her breakfast and fix her hair.  They would dread dropping anything in her sight because they knew they would get a scolding.  After her conversion, she made a point to say how badly she wanted to still scold them, but she refrained and simply said, “that’s okay.”  Later in the book, one of her servants would tell Belquis, “When you speak of Jesus, your whole demeanor changes.  It’s like you are a completely different person.”  I wondered if it is like that with me.

Here is the one that got me.  I’ve been talking to a young man about Jesus for a long time.  At first, it was pure.  I just wanted this kid to know Him.  As I’ve watched him sink deeper and deeper into sin, my talks have become more corrective in nature than simply making an introduction to Jesus.  Belquis was witnessing and basically letting the person know they needed to change and think differently.  The presence of the Lord left her, and she wondered why.  God revealed to her that the only thing required when witnessing is to have His presence when she spoke of Him.  He would do the work on the man’s heart, not her.  As soon as I read that line, I prayed for forgiveness.  How many times have I tried to play the part of the Holy Spirit?  I’ll never come close to being able to play that role.  

Lord, thank you for using this lady’s story to change me.  I want to grow in you, and I want to grow in your ways.  I want it to be obvious that I know you.  Help the church in America to look like you.  We seem to be so much more concerned with our likes and dislikes than yours.  Thank you for people who have truly lived the Christian life.  May our paths be lit by them.  Father, I don’t want to play holy spirit anymore.  Please allow your presence to remain with me so you can go to work in the hearts of men.  You are still and always will be the greatest thing this planet offers.  Thank you for saving me and working in me.  I love you.  Amen.

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“Because I Know the Story”

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid.  Go home and do as you have said.  But first, make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.”  — 1 Kings 17:13

Recently, I was teaching this youth group.  I told them the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.  I built it all up and stopped right here at verse 13.  I asked each of about a dozen kids what they would do.  Would you give some of the last little bit of bread to this preacher?  Or, would you say, “I’m sorry, what little bit I have left is only for me and my son”?    It is a good question.  If you were really in that situation, what would you do?

Kid after kid answered, “I’d take care of my family and their needs first.”  They even made it sound noble.  I was kind of discouraged until the very last kid.  He simply said, “Because I know the story, I would give some to the preacher.”  At that point, I read them the rest of the story.  Many of them tried to justify their original answer and say they were still doing the right thing.  Others said, “Look what we would have missed!”

Ever since then, I have had the simplest approach to obedience.  I’ve been harboring unforgiveness in my heart.  I said to myself, “because I know Matthew 18:21-35, I choose to forgive.”  I found myself at an altar this past Sunday laying down the last of my unforgiveness simply because I know that story.  What else do I need?  

Lord, I heard a preacher talk about being dead.  He said, “if someone hated me in this life, came to my funeral, and began punching my dead body out of rage, I wouldn’t care . . . because I’m dead.”  The more I think about it, I haven’t been crucified with Christ like in Galatians 2:20.  I don’t “die daily” like Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15:31.  Many old things haven’t passed away like in 2 Corinthians 5:17.  Help me become like a dead man with all my feelings removed.  Help me say, “Because I know what God’s Word says . . . I will obey.”  Amen.

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My Portion

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul.  “Therefore, I hope in Him.” – Lamentation 3:24

Last week, I used Lamentation 3:22-23.  I read the next verse and almost included it, but the more I thought about it, I didn’t really know what it meant.  So, I decided to study it further.  I have heard very few Christians use this term.  I don’t think my soul has ever uttered these words.

A few weeks ago, I was preaching.  After the service, a lady approached me and said, “I love the Lord, I really do, but I realize today that I don’t really trust Him with my life.”  I had forgotten her words, but reading and studying “cheleq”, the Hebrew word for “portion, tract, territory,” has brought them to the forefront of my mind.  The more I think about her words, I begin to wonder if I truly trust Him with my life.  If I have to wonder, that means I probably don’t.  I think the Lord connected these two things over this past week because my answer comes in truly making the Lord “my portion.”  As always, it is much easier said than done.

The first meaning that I see has to do with something divided up into parts.  It reminds me of how Joseph gave his brother, Benjamin, twice as much food as he gave the other brothers.  When it came to dividing up land in general, the oldest got 2/3 of the inheritance, while the second in line got 1/3.  Once, in Luke 12, a guy shouted to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”  Jesus simply said something like, “I’m not here to do that kind of thing.”  How much time do I spend thinking about my next meal, the land I own or want to own, or the size of my bank account?  If I spend more time thinking about worldly possessions than God, then He is probably not my portion.  

The meaning I like the best comes within the context of Joshua dividing up the land among the Israelites.  Every tribe got an allotment of land, except the tribe of Levi.  Deuteronomy 10:9 says, “Levi has no portion nor inheritance with his brethren; the Lord is his inheritance.”  It is crazy how up until probably right now, I would have thought, “man, they got ripped off.”  Turns out, they got the best part.  The other tribes had to work their land and use part of the resources to help support them and keep up the temple.  All Levi had to do was focus on the Lord and His work. They would never inherit any land, but they would inherit the Lord, for He was their portion.

I’m sure I only scratched the surface of what all of this means.  Mostly, it means I must change my thinking. For the first time, my soul is saying to itself, “Lord, You, are my portion.”  

Thank you so much, Lord, for teaching me this morning.  The first thing you ever asked of me was my honesty.  I read these words this morning and know that You aren’t truly my portion.  As you look into my soul, I pray that you find that I really want you to be.  I have looked too much to the pleasures and treasures of this world.  All of it will fade away, but you . . . you are eternal and will stand forever.  The Word of the Lord will stand forever.  Cleanse my heart, soul, and mind this morning as I make probably my thousandth fresh start with you.  You, Lord, are my portion.  Amen

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The Bus

It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.  They are new every morning:  great is thy faithfulness. – Lamentations 3:22-23

Every morning God’s mercies are new.  I’m sitting here this morning wondering just how many mornings I have rejected the opportunity to receive God’s mercy.  How many times have I been lazy and started my day without acknowledging the faithfulness of the Lord?  Yet, when I come to my senses, He is always there to give me new mercy.  He is always there to show His great faithfulness to me. 

A while back I was driving a morning bus route.  There was this one stop where the student rarely got on.  Sometimes dad would let me know in advance this person wasn’t riding, most of the time he wouldn’t.  The student was absent a lot.  The stop was my last stop and was only a couple of extra miles from the previous stop.  Unless dad told me they definitely weren’t riding, I always drove to the stop.

One day another student began to ride.  I had driven her for about a month, and she began to be aggravated about me making the stop.  “Why do you drive down here?  You know they’re not getting on,” she said.  All I could think to say was, “You know, every morning the Lord drives His bus by my house and stops to pick me up . . . I’m so glad He does, even if I don’t get on sometimes.”  

Lord, I’m so thankful that you are so merciful to me.  I know how I am, and I know what I deserve, yet you have been so faithful.  Who else offers mercy every single day?  Where else can such great compassion be found?  I do love you, Lord.  Thank you for stopping by every morning.  I have been on this planet for 46 years and I’ve let you come and go so many times.  If I live for 46 more years, help me to make the most of the mornings I have left.  Amen

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Burning Hearts

They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” – Luke 24:32

This past week, I was sick . . . kind of painfully sick.  I spent probably the least amount of time I have ever spent with the Lord in quite a while.  If I did spend time, it was kind of mechanical and even cold feeling.  There was no real sense of His presence.  Late in the week, I got a call from one of my pastor friends asking if I would fill in.  I immediately told him that I’d be glad to preach on Sunday morning.

As soon as I got home, I still felt miserable.  I tried to spend some time with God, but just still wasn’t feeling it.  I did begin to pray and ask, “Lord, would you still use me Sunday?  I know You have a word.”  I woke up in the middle of Friday night and God basically downloaded into my mind what I would preach.  I got up just to take some quick notes in case I forgot after going back to sleep.  I had no time to look at them Saturday . . . plus, I was still sick.  

Sunday morning comes and I print out the most pitiful set of notes I’ve ever used.  I’m about to panic when I just decide to go walk for a bit.  I listen to where I left off on my YouVersion Bible App.  I’m finishing up the book of Luke and I hear the verse that I am using this morning.  That is all I ask of the Lord, “Lord, when I preach and talk about You and the Word this morning . . . will You let our hearts burn?”

I return home and we do our normal scramble to get everyone ready and out the door on time.  I’m not preaching every week, so I begin to wonder if God will really come through for me again.  I wonder if I will just stumble and fumble through my sermon.  I decide that I don’t really care, He can do with me whatever He wants . . . I will just open my spirit to Him.

I have to say, it was one of the sweetest, sweetest senses of His presence I’ve had in a long, long time.  I might be saying that because that week up to that point was probably the weakest sense of His presence I’ve had in a long time.  But here is the thing . . . He answered my prayer.  When I began to talk about Him and the things He has done in my life, my spirit just burned.  I cried at a story I’ve told 100 times and never cried before.  In fact, I can only remember crying 2 other times in my life while I was preaching.  At the end, some people just hung around, not wanting that sense of presence to leave.  I continued to have conversations with individuals and couples, and our spirits continued to burn.  

The thing that strikes me the most this morning about all this is how little I deserved for Him to use me like that.  There is still some religious thing in me that thinks I must study the Bible for hours every day, pray a ton, fast for a period of time, take copious notes, and earn the right to have His Presence fill the place when I preach.  Man is He teaching me otherwise.  There is nothing on this planet like truly opening myself to Him and allowing Him to speak.  Time and time again He proves Himself more than faithful.

Lord, thank You for continuing to use me.  Thank You for continuing to give me opportunities to share Your word.  Not one time have I ever asked to preach somewhere.  I’ve only asked You to open doors for me.  To this day, I don’t see how You do it.  Help me to understand that You love me and are for me.  Help me to get that even if I did every religious activity possible for 168 hours one week, You would be no more proud of me than You are right now.  You continue to give Yourself away to me.  I really want to learn to give myself to You.  Man oh man, there is and never will be another like You.  Amen.

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The Morning After

At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him.  – Matthew 26:3

Last week, I was struggling with people talking about me in a negative way.  I feel kind of stupid for making a big deal out of it now.  However, it worked itself out in just the most wonderful of ways.  I only bring it back up because of what happened the very next morning.  The very next section of Bible reading that I had on deck was Matthew 25-28.  I read of all that they did to Jesus and couldn’t believe that I complained.

Matthew 26:3 brought back to mind once when I was on a church leadership team (I’ve been on 3).  It was late one evening and something just wasn’t sitting well in my spirit.  I longed to just go and lie down on my favorite spot at the altar and just be with God.  I didn’t really want to leave my house and drive out there, but I knew God was saying, “Go.”  So, I drove to the church thinking I was going to hang out with the Lord.  When I arrived, I found the team meeting without me.  Immediately, I thought of Matthew 26 and realized that I was about to no longer be welcome on that team anymore.  I think God revealed it to me early so I could prepare my heart.  In hindsight, at least they weren’t plotting to kill me.

The point is, no matter what I go through.  No matter what happens to me.  No matter what people do or say about you or me, Jesus had it so much worse.  I am a flawed human who gets it wrong a little too often.  I pretty much deserve what comes to me.  But Jesus . . . He was perfect.  How do you meet and make plans to destroy the guy whose only crime was making you look bad?  He healed so many.  He helped so many.  Yet, in their hearts and minds, they said, “that guy has got to go,” and by go . . . they meant “die.”      

There I was reading the rest of Matthew.  My Lord was mocked, beaten, spit upon, crucified, and placed in a tomb for dead.  Never once did He complain.  Never once did He call out or seek revenge on His accusers.  He just took it.  He knew what He was doing.  He knew He was giving His life as a ransom for any and all who would receive the mercy and grace that is the Gospel.  

He took it for me. 

Maybe, just maybe, before I draw my last breath, I will be able to take it for Him.

Lord, grow me into what You would have me be.  If all things really do work together for my good, I can rejoice on every mountaintop and in every valley I’ve ever visited.  Help me not complain.  Help me not seek revenge on my accusers.  Where would I be had You never entered my life?  How much could you complain about me if You wanted to?  What if You were vengeful towards me?  I’d have no chance.  Help me to honor You with my entire being.  Help me to keep the greatest commandment and love You will all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.  You are still and always will be the greatest thing this planet offers.  Amen.

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It Doesn’t Feel Blessed

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. – Matthew 5:11

People are hard to deal with.  It doesn’t matter if they say they follow God or not . . . friction just seems inevitable.  I have dealt with nothing to the degree my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has dealt with.  Once, when He drove out an evil spirit, some people said, “He drives out demons by the prince of demons.”  (Matthew 9:34) Another time a woman with a sinful past was just adoring Him and worshipping at His feet.  People just couldn’t help themselves, “If He were a prophet, He would know what kind of woman was touching Him.” (Luke 7:39) I imagine they loved going off and badmouthing Him, completely unaware that He was the very one who loved them the most and wanted the best for them.  

With all my heart and every fiber of my being, I’m trying to be like my Lord.  I want to work for Him.  I want to preach for Him.  I want to sing praise songs to Him.  I take every reasonable opportunity to tell people about Him.  I wish I was better at it, but I take as many opportunities as I can to pray for people.  Yet, there always seems to be someone talking.  Nine out of ten times, I can let it go.  I feel like I let it go to the degree that I don’t even think about it or remember it.  But still, there is that one time out of ten that it just will not leave.  I can say “I forgive” or “Take this from me, Lord” a zillion times, but it just lingers.  

Unfortunately, I know this is rooted in the ultimate sin . . . pride.  I know I’m loaded down with it.  “How dare they say that about me?” or “How dare they throw shade at me?”  Sometimes I don’t even know who I think I am.  What makes me think I’m so special that I would be above reproach?  I’m sitting here asking God “How do I deal with this once and for all?  How can I pass this test so that I quit having to take it?”  

Matthew 5:11 is all that keeps coming to my mind. 

Blessed.  I’m blessed.  But, how?

I guess for one, if people talking about me is my biggest problem, then I probably live in some first world country where my basic needs are more than met.  Two, how else can I grow in the Lord?  If they talked about Him, they are probably going to talk about me.  The question is, can I take it?  Can I keep focusing on the mission and commands He gave me and just keep looking straight ahead?  Man . . . I’m trying.  Lastly, in the grand scheme of things, what is being said isn’t that big of a deal at all.  I have no clue what I would do under real persecution, though I like to think God will give me the strength precisely when I need it.  

What worries me the most is that I see people who think they are being unfairly insulted and persecuted . . . yet, they bring all that activity upon themselves.  They either treat people horribly, they are lazy, or they are just constantly looking to tear down others with their words to feel better about themselves.  They are playing the dangerous game of comparison.   I must examine my heart and ask the question, “Am I being the same way?”  I am trying so hard to make sure I’m not being any of those three things.  There have been times when I have deserved it . . . other times I haven’t.  I’m begging God to fill me with His Spirit so that I may simply do what is right.  If I can honestly say that I am living as simply as I can for the Lord and focusing on Him and His Word as much as I possibly can, then I can only come to one conclusion . . . 

I’m blessed.

Lord, help me get this so I don’t have to keep taking this test.  If I’m focused on You and the mission, I don’t have time to worry about those who speak evil of me.  I’m more than aware of the pride that lives in me.  It is the same pride that lived in Lucifer when he said, “I will be like the most High.”  I want to be like You, too, but not by force . . . not because I’m anything special.  I want to be like You because You have worked in my heart, mind, and life.  I want to be more like You because I have been like a seed planted in the ground and I have grown to be more like You.  Help me realize that I am blessed . . . even when it doesn’t feel blessed.  Amen.

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This Kind (Part 2)

However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. – Matthew 17:21

Last week I wrote about prayer requests being at what I felt like was an all-time high.  I vaguely mentioned a few, but I sure had one specifically for myself and my family.  It was one of those where my faith was kind of lacking.  I wasn’t really sure that God could do what I needed Him to do.  Maybe I knew He could . . . I just wasn’t sure if He would.  

Well, show up for me He did.  It was one of those mouth left open in awe kind of moments.  I had fasted and prayed all day.  There was a time at about 1:00 p.m. that everything in me wanted to quit and eat.  I happened to open Facebook and someone said they were joining me in the fast.  There was no way I was going to let that person just take my place.  It was exactly the motivation I needed to finish strong.

The next morning before I got on the bus to drive, I called my wife.  When my wife and I pray, it is usually for monstrous sized things.  I told her, “You know, we ask God for things together and He comes through for us.  Let’s not ask Him for anything . . . let’s just thank Him for what He did for us.”  We said maybe the simplest and shortest prayer ever giving thanks to God.

I write all of this just to say what happened next.  The flood of emotion that came over me and the tears I began to cry were nothing short of spectacular.  God filled me to overflow.  I could not pour out enough praise.  I could not stop saying “Thank You, God.”  My mind was flooded with “I don’t deserve it . . . How could You possibly come through like that for me?”  I just soaked in that presence as long as I could.  

When we read the Bible, it is easy to think that God showed up mightily for His followers all the time.  The truth is, most just had a handful of moments that they always remembered.  This is definitely one of a handful of moments that I will always remember.  I think over time I might forget the prayer He answered for me, but I will never forget the presence that flooded me after saying “Thanks.”   

Lord, I don’t even want to think of my ratio of answered prayers to “thanks” for those answered prayers.  I imagine it is pretty pitiful.  But, Lord, I want to say thank You right now for being the awesome God that You are.  Thank You for really and truly caring about me.  I so want my life to be pleasing to You.  Amen. 

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This Kind

However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting. – Matthew 17:21

The context of this verse is a boy in need of healing.  His father is pleading with the disciples for healing.  When Jesus enters the picture, the boy is easily healed.  The disciples are left wondering why they couldn’t do it.  Jesus simply states the verse I have used for today’s WMD.

There is a little bit of controversy surrounding this verse.  You will find that the verse is in the KJV and not in some of the more modern translations.  The reason is that the verse appears in some manuscripts, but not in some of the manuscripts that many scholars believe to be older and more reliable.  They believe this verse was added as time went on.

Personally, I’m glad the verse is included.  The fact is, there are times when I say short simple prayers and they are gloriously answered.  Then, there are other times that I feel a simple prayer is not sufficient.  When these moments happen, I think of Matthew 17:21.

Right now, prayer requests are at what I would consider an all-time high.  I have friends fighting cancer.  I have friends praying for lost loved ones.  I have a friend fighting for her life in the aftermath of having coronavirus.  I have one person that I have been trying so hard to draw nearer to the Lord.  The more I try, the more it seems that hell’s fury gets unleashed in this person’s life.  I have prayed, but things just seem to escalate.

I say all that to say this:  I am going to fast from sunup to sundown today.  I believe part of the reason fasting works is because you get uncomfortable really quickly.  The discomfort serves as a constant reminder to pray.  If you have urgent prayer needs right now, I ask for you to join me.  One friend in particular, her name is Donna, is fighting for her life as I type this.  I don’t mind mentioning her name because her family has made it public.  Please remember her in your prayers.  Also, feel free to comment any prayer requests and those who participate will cover them in prayer and fasting.  After all, if this verse does in fact belong in the Bible, some things only happen by prayer and fasting.

Lord, I praise You.  Lord, I magnify Your great name.  There are so many needs this morning.  I ask that You meet those needs.  Not so we can go on with our lives as normal, but so we may give You praise, glory, and honor.  So those who do not know You can see that there is a mighty God who heals and saves.  I so quickly forget the great, mighty, and wonderful things You have done for me in my own life.  I even more quickly forget to really lift up the needs of others.  I ask that You bring to my mind, and the minds of whoever takes the time to read this, anyone who really needs a touch from God.  Heal, Lord, for only You can.  Save, Lord, for only You can.  There is no one like You.  Show Yourself mighty this day.  Amen.

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Stories of Obedience

We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands.  Whoever says, “I know Him,” but does not keep His commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys His work, love for God is truly made complete in them.  This is how we know we are in Him.   – 1 John 2

How can we know for sure that we are saved and that we know God?  I don’t know about you, but it was a long time before I was certain.  I was constantly answering altar calls to be saved for years.  I just wanted to know that I knew Him.  I’m guessing that John wrote 1 John after he had been a follower of Jesus for quite a few years.  He had a lot of experience.  I imagine when he wrote these verses that he had a lot of experiences under his belt where he obeyed God.  I believe it is these experiences that give us confidence in our salvation.  If you or I never do anything hard for God, how can we know without a doubt that He is in us?  I’m not saying at all that these experiences save us, but I am saying that these experiences provide the confidence and assurance that we are truly in Him.

When I look back, my mind always goes to this t-shirt that I saw.  On the front, it said “If you died today, where would you go?”  On the back, it said, “It is the burning question,” with flames all around this verse:  

But the fearful, the unbelieving, the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.  – Revelation 21:8

I went straight home and looked up Revelation 21:8 to make sure that was in there.  The word “liars” really scared me because that is what I was.  I immediately knelt next to my bed and repented.  The next morning, I had to work, so I prayed and told God that I would not lie today and asked Him to help me.  All was fine until I wrecked a golf cart being stupid.  The front end was caved in, and I had to take the walk up the pro shop to tell my boss.  Absolutely everything in me wanted to tell a lie.  I had plenty of good ones.  Just before I walked in, God reminded me of my promise.  I took a deep breath, said “Ok God, here goes,” and told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  My boss ended up respecting me for being honest.  I thought I’d have to pay for the damages and that I would lose my job.  I did neither.  On the drive home, I could not thank God enough.  I knew in that moment that He could be trusted with my life.  It is one of many stories that provides that assurance that I know Him.  I would never have told the truth if I hadn’t been saved and been learning from His Word just how He wants me to be.

What I’d like for you to do is think back over the course of your Christian life.  Is there a story of obedience that gives you confidence today that you know Him?  Is there a hard decision that you have made simply because you knew it was what God wanted you to do and not at all what you wanted to do?  Take the time to write it in the comments. If you write it here on WordPress, I may cut and paste it onto my Facebook thread.

Lord, thank You for working in my life and giving me stories I can look back on to strengthen my faith and my obedience.  I pray that You prompt many to write and through their stories You will inspire others to simple obedience.  Help us who say we are Your followers to truly be the light that shines before men.  Amen

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