Tag Archives: Old Testament

“What goes around, comes around.” Believe it or not, I found the source: Isaiah 3:11

Isn’t it interesting how we tend to pick up a phrase and use it over and over.  Often the phrase is one we learn from our own family while we are growing up, and many times we have no clue where it originated.

The phrase, “what goes around, comes around,”is one such phrase.  I remember hearing it some growing up, but in the last several years, it has been used and heard repeatedly in my own home.

First, I admit that that phrase has personally helped manage frustrations when something does not seem fair or when something we hear upsets us and we feel the action is not ethical.  

During the past couple of years, we utter the phrase almost every night as we listen to the daily news.  Oh oh, there it is again—someone did something that is against our belief system—“what goes around comes around.”

Now remember, I was working on reading the Bible—Old and New Testament—following a daily plan.  This week finished up Genesis and Romans, and now the plan focuses on Isaiah and Mark.

The reading for January 22 was Isaiah 3 & 4, plus the final section of Mark 1.  Admittedly I was surprised to jump from Genesis to Isaiah, but I am getting used to just accepting the plan as published and see where it takes me.

And so yesterday I am reading Isaiah 3 when I stumbled into verse 11.  Immediately I thought so that is where the old saying comes from:  “what goes around comes around.”  I had to stop, reread it, check the Wesley Study Bible Notes (NRSV) and reread it again:

Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are, for what their hands have done shall be done to them.

Doesn’t that read like the phrase we use so often today?  Well, I decided I should check into this a little deeper so went on line and googled the origin of the phrase “what goes around, comes around”to see what is the phrase’s origin.

Checking a number of sites, I finally located one that seems to bring all of them together:  https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/415499/is-what-goes-around-comes-around-african-american  

One thing I learned is that most believe the quote first appeared in Paul Crump’s book, Burn Baby Burn, written in 1962 about a man on death row.

Yet another entry indicates what one reader remembers her mother, in 1950s, saying, “You get what you give.”

An interesting addition to the page on this quote comes from three different dictionary entries:

  • Merriam-Webster defines it as: “if someone treats other people badly he or she will eventually be treated badly by someone else” 
  • Dictionary.com confirms and adds the ominous foreboding, “Retribution follows wrongdoing; justice may take time, but it will prevail” and suggests the proverb dates from the 1970s. 
  • Oxford Dictionaries simply states, “The consequences of one’s actions will have to be dealt with eventually.”

A final reference comes from the use of the phrase in the African-American culture.  This is the best summary of the comments from the website:  

Finally, Lewis King, Vernon Dixon & Wade Nobles, African Philosophy: Assumption & Paradigms for Research on Black Persons (1976) has this to say about the expression:

This point is well demonstrated by one of our more common proverbs. The Black child who is told that “what goes around comes around” may be receiving a specific admonition with regard to the consequences of his behavior, but he is simultaneously experiencing a reinforcement of the African world view, namely, that there are vital connections among events and experiences. Both the specific admonition and the general philosophical perspective are synthesized in the child’s developing conception of the world. …

It is no accident, then, that “what goes around comes around” is a common African-American proverb. As suggested above, the concept of continuity between events and experiences that is so fundamental to the African world view is clearly expressed here.

Certainly today’s language includes influences from all around the world and the discussion as to the origin of the phrase, “what goes around comes around”indicates an attitude that exists when something bad, wrong, unethical, illegal, etc. happens, somewhere along the line there will be an accounting for that behavior. 

I believe that the true origin of the phrase is in the book of Isaiah where the prophet is warning the people that they must remain faithful to God and to follow the Law of Moses.  Sadly, the prophecy did not cause the people to stop and correct their behaviors.  (God had to send Jesus, his son, to join us on earth so he could model how to live the commandment.)

Read Isaiah’s words and consider the meaning of our often-used phrase:


The look on their faces bears witness against them;
    they proclaim their sin like Sodom,
    they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
    For they have brought evil on themselves.
10 Tell the innocent how fortunate they are,
    for they shall eat the fruit of their labors.
11 Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are,
    for what their hands have done shall be done to them.
12 My people—children are their oppressors,
    and women rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you,
    and confuse the course of your paths.

13 The Lord rises to argue his case;
    he stands to judge the peoples.
14 The Lord enters into judgment
    with the elders and princes of his people:
It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
    the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people,
    by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts.

I ask, does that now sound just like what we are saying when we use that phrase, “what goes around comes around”?  What are we to do about it?

We know that we cannot judge, only God makes the final judgment; but we can remember that we are responsible for our actions and God tried and tried to get the message across that there is one simple law to follow:  Love one another as you want to be loved.

When I hear the saying now, “what goes around comes around,”I now will hear the words of Isaiah trying to warn the people that God will do whatever he can to teach us how to love one another.  I must remain faithful and not give in to what I know is against God’s commandment to love one another.

Please join me in prayer:

Dear Patient Father of All,

Thank you for the words of warning,

for the work of your faithful,

and for opening my understanding 

so I can learn from scripture 

how to live in today’s world 

loving one another.  –Amen

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Brrrrr, it’s cold out there. Better stay in and read.

During the past week, the sun has remained hidden. We had a huge snowfall Friday through Saturday, well even into Sunday.  Add to that the low temperatures hovering around 32 for a week, and my brain seems frozen.

For a long time, I have known that when winter moves in and the sun disappears, I can easily fall into a mental slump, and I have to admit I am there right now.  

And I have worked not to be stuck inside:  I shoveled snow.  I took the dogs out with me while I shoveled.  In fact, I realized they needed a path to walk around the yard—so I shoveled.

Now here is the thing:  that physical work keeps my body moving, but the brain is still struggling.  Last week I explained that I dove in to a year-long Bible reading plan.  And I can now say I am caught up and on schedule.

As of today, I have read through 42 chapters of Genesis and 14 chapters of Romans.  It is a discipline, and for these dreary winter days, I find myself escaping from the foggy days when I pick up my pencil, open the journal, and tackle the reading.

I can understand why John Wesley insisted that Christians read the scripture.  There is so much to understand, and having read as much as I previously have, reading it in a disciplined approach is still challenging.

My notes really are not a journal, more they are Cliff-note style.  In case that is not familiar to you, Cliff notes are a staple for college students, even high school students, who are reading literature and want a summary or additional notes to supplement the reading.

In a way, I find myself modeling the style of notes John Wesley wrote and are often referenced in the Wesley Study Bible I am using.  Maybe I write down too much, but when I write something down I have better memory of what I have read—something I learned about myself in my first college experience.

Reading like this lets me read it somewhat like a book, first.  If I don’t get something, I re-read it.  If something strikes me as unusual or significant, I write it down along with the summary of what I read.

I am not a fast reader, but I discover that reading three to four chapters in the Bible and making the study notes/journal entries takes me about an hour.  I was afraid it would take much longer, so the reading works into my day rather smoothly.

Since last Thursday, I have continued working through the genealogical narrative of the Old Testament faithful.  I have read about Abraham and Sarah.  I have tried to understand the traditions and the drive that lead Sarah to have Abraham have her handmaiden Hagar so he would have an heir. Therefore Ishmael was a born.

And then there is the surprising change of heart when Sarah does indeed become pregnant with Isaac.  She drives away Hagar and Ishmael.  She wanted to make sure her son was the heir of Abraham.

The narrative continues and so do the strange customs of marriage and birth that complicate my understanding of the Old Testament.  How in the world could a father offer his own son as a blood sacrifice?  But his faith and his ability to hear the Lord talk to him, ends with Isaac safe and suddenly there is a substitute ram for the sacrifice.

These books include so many stories.  So many examples of how God talks to the people. Over and over, faithful followers manage some terrible life experiences because they maintain a close relationship with God.

What am I learning?  Remain faithful.  And that means spending time knowing the examples of these ancestors and how their faith was rewarded.  The stories teach us the expectations God has for us to live in community with one another.

In fact, this particular reading plan couples a New Testament reading with the Old Testament reading.  I was puzzled, as I began, why Genesis would be paired with Paul’s letter to the Romans.

The reading plan does not provide any specifics other than the list of daily readings.

And then you read the New Testament reading and you discover the connection.  Paul tells the Romans how to live as a faithful Christian in the midst of the secular world.  Now that is a real life manual we need yet today—2,000 years after Paul wrote the letter.

We need to hear Paul’s advice right now! There is so much information and images that flies at us through the internet, the television, the print media, not to mention all the casual conversations that go on all around us.

The fourteen chapters of Romans contain practical and sensible advice.  I probably should be outlining each one separately, but what speaks to me may be the most important lesson for this reading, and then turn around and read it again in a few days, weeks, months or years and something else seems more important.

For instance, today in Romans 14, the subtitle was “Do Not Judge Another.”  How easy it is to judge someone.  Maybe the judgment comes along political poles, or maybe by the first appearance of a way someone dresses, or maybe it is an action that goes against our personal standards.  

In reading Romans 14, I found myself focusing on verse 9:  “For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.”  

Then I read on, and came to versus 13-14:  “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.  I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.”

Maybe I am not being concrete in what I am sharing or maybe it is not as coherent as an essay should be.  For those possibilities, I apologize.  I need sunshine to clear the fog in my brain a bit more.

But, if by sharing some of these thoughts I can trigger someone into reading scripture, then thank goodness.  If someone reads scripture and discovers God talking to them, they will discover the joy of living within God’s family.

Dear Heavenly Father,

May these words lead others to discover the grace that you provide. May your words help others to manage life challenges today just as the faithful in ancient times managed.  Thank you for those before me who heard your call to write, to preserve, to translate, to publish all these words of the Old Testament and the New Testament so we can hear you talk to us today. –Amen

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The Family of Jacob

Sermon given for the 4th Sunday of Lent–a mini-series.

Scripture connections: (using the New Living Translation)

Genesis 25:19-26

     This is the account of the family of Isaac, the son of Abraham. 20 When Isaac was forty years old, he married Rebekah, the daughter of Bethuel the Aramean from Paddan-aram and the sister of Laban the Aramean.

     21 Isaac pleaded with the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was unable to have children. The Lord answered Isaac’s prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins. 22 But the two children struggled with each other in her womb. So she went to ask the Lord about it. “Why is this happening to me?” she asked.

     23 And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.”

     24 And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins!25 The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau.[a] 26 Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob.[b] Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born.

Genesis 28:10-17

     10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

     13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

Genesis 28:20-22

“. . . If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. 22 And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”

Genesis 32:24-29

     24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

     27 “What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

     28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel,[a] because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

     29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

 

Reflection: The Family of Jacob

Working through the stories of the Old Testament Bible is showing some interesting life patterns. Obviously the stories of Adam’s and Noah’s family are related because they offer new beginnings—the first a creation story and the second a re-creation story.

Abraham’s story has an interesting comparison to Jacob’s story, too. Obviously, giving birth to sons was an ancient cultural expectation (and really some cultures today still have similar values). The first-born son carried on the family lineage. Therefore, if a woman was barren, the lineage was jeopardized.

Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren and so was Jacob’s wife Rachel. The pressure to have sons lead both wives to encourage their husbands to have a child through their hand-maiden, through a surrogate in today’s terms.

This similarity is interesting, but really is not a major focus of the lessons Jacob’s family can teach us today. The lesson Jacob’s family has for us is not wrapped up in the genealogical similarities and differences, but rather a lesson on forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a common theme in all the stories of the Old Testament families. As humans, we make mistakes. As faithful followers of God, we must learn to accept our human mistakes and ask for forgiveness.

Jacob was a twin, but he was the second one born. His twin was Esau and, by the ancient culture’s standards, would take over as head of the family upon his father’s death. But, Esua focused on hunting and on immediate needs rather than using farsighted planning; so when he was hungry, Jacob easily traded his birthright with him for a hearty stew.

The family dynamics changed at that moment. God’s story does not follow the human culture; it follows human decisions.   Humans make mistakes, use poor judgment, manipulate situations, and cheat each other. Jacob was human and he made mistakes; so why is his story preserved?

A profile of Jacob includes this analysis:

  1. Strengths & accomplishments—father of the 12 tribes of Israel; 3rd in the Abrahamic line of God’s plan; determined & willing to work long and hard for what he wanted; and a good businessman.
  2. Weaknesses and mistakes—when faced with conflict relied on his own resources rather than going to God for help; and tended to accumulate wealth for its own sake.

This analysis compares to many humans, male and female. All of us have strengths and weaknesses. We all are susceptible to temptation; we all make the wrong decisions; yet we also are given certain gifts that we can choose to use or to ignore. Jacob used his gifts to get what he wanted.

Not only did he trick his own twin to get his birthright, but he also tricked Esua later to get his father’s final blessing.   Jacob’s role as the father of the 12 tribes of Israel was the result of trickery. How easy to miss the lesson of God’s forgiveness when the story appears to be based on human weakness.

God knows we are weak. He knows we are gong to make mistakes, but he also accepts us for our weaknesses. And amazingly, when we maintain a faithful life, we have the potential to take a negative and make it into a positive—with God’s help.

Jacob tricked Esua, and then his mother Rebecca urged him to go and stay with her brother Laban. The story is complicated as Rebecca wanted Jacob to marry one of her people; and even when he finds Rachel, his uncle continues the trickery and he ends up with Leah.

One trick seems to lead to another. Yet, one of Jacob’s strengths—hardworking—drives him to reach his ultimate goal of marrying Rachel as well as Leah. At the same time, Jacob was a successful businessman and became wealthy.

And beneath Jacob’s human story lies faithfulness in God woven into the story through Jacob’s dream:

     10 Meanwhile, Jacob left Beersheba and traveled toward Haran. 11 At sundown he arrived at a good place to set up camp and stopped there for the night. Jacob found a stone to rest his head against and lay down to sleep. 12 As he slept, he dreamed of a stairway that reached from the earth up to heaven. And he saw the angels of God going up and down the stairway.

     13 At the top of the stairway stood the Lord, and he said, “I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 14 Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”

 

The dream moved Jacob into action, building a memorial pillar where he had the dream and names it Bethel. And he made a vow:

“. . . If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing, 21 and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the Lord will certainly be my God. 22 And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”

 

The dream establishes the faithful relationship Jacob has with God. The complicated story of Jacob’s life as he goes on to his uncle’s land and earning his wives, Leah and Rachel, teaches that God is with us always.

Not one of you can look back at your lives and say it was simple because you believed in God. Each one of you can look at your life and recognize that you made mistakes, but God never left your side. Jacob was not a model of perfection, but God used his weaknesses and his strengths to carry the story forward.

The Story: God loves us. God forgives us.

Jacob’s story is complicated and begins with his birth in Genesis 25 and ends with his death in Genesis 49. The twists and turns in Jacob’s life are really no different than those you and I experience in our own lives.

When Jacob decided to seek out Esua and make amends, he was so worried that Esua would be angry that he sent gifts and even sent others before him with messages before he risked crossing into Esua’s land.

And that night, while alone, Jacob wrestled with God:

     24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”

But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

     27 “What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

     28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

     29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

Jacob’s story shows us how God used him to continue developing the nation of faithful followers. The story is filled with human faults as human stories continue to be filled with faults. Yet, the Old Testament story continues through the Jacob’s lineage as we learn of his youngest son Joseph.

The families of Adam, Noah, Abraham and Jacob share common themes: God’s unconditional love, the value of faithfulness, and the forgiveness of sins. The stories are preserved by the generations so you can learn the truth of living a God-centered life. You may wrestle with God, but remaining faithful will maintain the relationship throughout eternity.

Closing prayer:

Dear Father of all the generations,

You are with us always,

Waiting on us to accept your love.

You are with us when we do wrong,

Waiting for us to admit our mistakes.

You offer us forgiveness

When we turn back to you.

 

Thank you for the work of the faithful

Shared in the stories of your servants.

Thank you for sending us Jesus Christ

Who showed us how to live faithfully.

Thank you for speaking to us personally

Through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

 

May we be your disciples

Working to transform others

Through unconditional love, too. –Amen

 

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The Family of Noah

Sermon given for the 2nd Sunday of Lent; a mini-series on the Old Testament families.

Scripture connections (using the New Living Translation):

Genesis 5:32

After Noah was 500 years old, he became the father of Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Genesis 6: 5-10

     The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them.” But Noah found favor with the Lord.

     This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, the only blameless person living on earth at the time, and he walked in close fellowship with God. 10 Noah was the father of three sons: Shem, Ham, and Japheth.

Genesis 6:14-22

     14 “Build a large boat[c] from cypress wood[d] and waterproof it with tar, inside and out. Then construct decks and stalls throughout its interior. 15 Make the boat 450 feet long, 75 feet wide, and 45 feet high.[e] 16 Leave an 18-inch opening[f] below the roof all the way around the boat. Put the door on the side, and build three decks inside the boat—lower, middle, and upper.

     17 “Look! I am about to cover the earth with a flood that will destroy every living thing that breathes. Everything on earth will die. 18 But I will confirm my covenant with you. So enter the boat—you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 19 Bring a pair of every kind of animal—a male and a female—into the boat with you to keep them alive during the flood. 20 Pairs of every kind of bird, and every kind of animal, and every kind of small animal that scurries along the ground, will come to you to be kept alive. 21 And be sure to take on board enough food for your family and for all the animals.”

     22 So Noah did everything exactly as God had commanded him.

Genesis 10: 2 & 5, 6 & 20, 21 & 31-32

     The descendants of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. . . . Their descendants became the seafaring peoples that spread out to various lands, each identified by its own language, clan, and national identity. . . .

     The descendants of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. . . . 20 These were the descendants of Ham, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity. . . .

     21 Sons were also born to Shem, the older brother of Japheth.[g] Shem was the ancestor of all the descendants of Eber. . . . 31 These were the descendants of Shem, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity.

     32 These are the clans that descended from Noah’s sons, arranged by nation according to their lines of descent. All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood.

Genesis 11:10 & 26

10 This is the account of Shem’s family. . . . 26 After Terah was 70 years old, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

 

Reflection: And Noah had three sons: Shem, Ham & Japheth

Yes, we have certainly seen Mother Nature’s rain and ice this week, but I know it cannot compare to the flood that Noah and his family experienced. In fact, the closest experience I can personally remember is the flood of 1993. That was to be the 500-year flood, and since then there have been more floods and natural disasters that might tempt one to say God was trying to destroy the world again.

But then there is the rainbow that inevitably appears and we are reminded of God’s covenant with Noah. God promised never to completely destroy the world and all that lives.

Why, then do we still read Noah’s story and look for the lessons that apply to our 21st world? The Bible is our textbook, our inspiration to manage the world that swirls around us. The timeless lessons of Noah still apply to our lives today even with all the technological advances, the instant communication, and the global community.

First, consider the Bible’s description of the world through God’s eyes as described in Genesis 6:5-6:

     The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart.

I can understand the heartache God experiences as he looks at how evil seems to overwhelm his creation because I see the evil that surrounds us each and every day. John Wesley explained:

“The stream of sin was full and strong, and constant; and God saw it.” What did God see? God saw that every imaginative and cognitive impulse of the human heart is persistently evil.” (200911-12)

Wesley’s explanation of the sin God saw in Noah’s time still describes the evil that continues to persist in our world today.

The ancient scripture is just as applicable today as it was then. Noah’s life example is a lesson for us today. We must not ignore it as we live our own lives. One of Wesley’s core terms as annotated in the Wesley Study Bible develops the affect of sin: “Sin distorts our whole being, our relationships with God and other people, our ideas of success, and even our relation to wealth.” (200911)

Noah, though, was an exception. He was an example of faithfulness to God. And in Genesis 6:8, this is recorded: But Noah found favor with the Lord.” Noah is the only model of faithfulness that caused God to save humanity . . .

“[Noah’s faithfulness became] . . . the relief for humanity. This description focuses on his moral innocence (“righteousness”), his acceptance before God (“blameless’), and the consistent intimacy of his relationship with God (“walked with God).” (200912)

Today this forces us to stop and reflect on our own relationship with God. Can we honestly say we live a life faithful to God? Or do we fail?

The Biblical story of Noah is a reminder of how God does know the honesty of our faithfulness. We are responsible to model our Christian beliefs in order to defend ourselves from evil as well as make a difference in the world when we demonstrate the unconditional love God has for us by loving one another unconditionally, too.

Fortunately, Noah’s story does not simply conclude with the waters of the flood receding. No. Noah’s story continues through his family. Sadly, Noah’s wife is not listed, but the three sons are: Japheth, Ham and Shem. The story continues as God assigns Noah the responsibility to save all the animals and to repopulate the earth.

Once the floodwaters receded, Noah continued to follow God’s instructions. Today, we continue to follow some of those changes:

  1. Humans began eating meat
  2. Humans were not to eat blood, only flesh drained of blood
  3. Noah began farming as he cultivated grapes for wine production (an entire sermon can be developed around what happened when Noah got drunk, but the key to Noah and his family is their faithfulness and how the world was repopulated as a result)

These are changes we might not consider particularly newsworthy, but these changes shifted human culture. The sons and their wives repopulated the world and that leads to so many discussions, but remember the stories in the Old Testament are carefully selected to maintain the history and the genealogical connection to Jesus Christ.

For this reason, the sons are named in scripture. The verses in Genesis 10 carefully list the sons and their descendants.   This record identifies the way the world was repopulated and even outlines their purpose, so to speak:

     The descendants of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. . . . Their descendants became the seafaring peoples that spread out to various lands, each identified by its own language, clan, and national identity. . . .

     The descendants of Ham were Cush, Mizraim, Put, and Canaan. . . . 20 These were the descendants of Ham, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity. . . .

     21 Sons were also born to Shem, the older brother of Japheth. Shem was the ancestor of all the descendants of Eber. . . . 31 These were the descendants of Shem, identified by clan, language, territory, and national identity.

     32 These are the clans that descended from Noah’s sons, arranged by nation according to their lines of descent. All the nations of the earth descended from these clans after the great flood.

As noted in the Wesley Study Bible:

The names in the list are sometimes individuals, sometimes locations, and at other times people groups, illustrating the use of genealogies to create a kind of ethnic map of the world. (200916)

This understanding may help us understand why the Bible includes Noah’s story, but the lesson on faithfulness is no less important for us today. We must remain faithful to God and to live a life that demonstrates our understanding of God’s unconditional love. Are we living as an image—or reflection—of God?

The image of God is also a core term for Wesleyan theology:

As love is the very image of God for Wesley, love should be the sole principle of every feeling, thought, word, and deed: human character should reflect what God is—Love. (200914)

Today we must live our lives as the image of God, as LOVE. We are human and we will make mistakes. But we must do the very best that we can to live faithful lives as Noah did.

God promised Noah that he would never destroy all the earth again and set a rainbow as evidence of that promise. We may take confidence in that promise, but it does not mean we can ignore our responsibility to live a righteous, God-center, love-filled life.

Neither do we have to worry that we are called to repopulate the earth, Noah’s family did that. And through that lineage, we continue the story of the faithful. Noah was ten generations removed from Adam, and Noah’s son Shem is the direct connection to Abraham as identified in Genesis 11:

10 This is the account of Shem’s family [Shem was a multiple great grandfather of Terah]. . . . 26 After Terah was 70 years old, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

The span between Noah and Abraham was also ten generations. (Family Tree of the Bible 2018)

Noah and his family show us that despite all the evil that exists around us, we can be and are to be faithful. We are to carry God’s love forward into the world. We are the hope God has for this world we have been given. Do not take that responsibility lightly. Love one another.

Closing prayer

Dear patient and loving Father,

We see the evil in this world, and cry out.

We see the pain caused by anger, and hurt, too.

Talk to us through the ancient words of scripture.

Show us the way through the example of Noah.

Grant us courage as we struggle each day

To remain faithful followers

Striving to love unconditionally. –Amen.

Works Cited

Family Tree of the Bible. February 21, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_tree_of_the_Bible.

The Wesley Study Bible (NRSV). Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2009.

 

 

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The Word Reflected in Stained Glass

Sermon given on Sunday, January 14, 2018:  This sermon serves as an introduction to sermons based on the images included in the stained glass window.images

Special note: The Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS, has a stained glass window that captures God’s story and during a conference the images mesmerized me. The next few weeks, God’s story will be shared based on the artistic images of the window. Thank you to COR for investing in such an artistic interpretation so The Story can live in all who view it or who learn The Story shared by others.  See attached link.

 

Scripture connections:

Genesis 1:1-2, NLT

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

John 1:1-5, NLT

1In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

Revelation 1:7-8, NLT

7Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.
And everyone will see him—
even those who pierced him.
And all the nations of the world
will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Reflection through art: The Word Reflected in Stained Glass

Sitting in our sanctuary in rural Missouri, we are wrapped by stained glass windows that share God’s story in brilliant images and vivid colors. The symbolism of the stained glass windows reflects the literature of the Bible; and we are privileged to be surrounded by these windows.

Stained glass windows have spoken to me since a child sitting in my hometown sanctuary where the windows allowed smoky light to filter in during the Sunday morning service as the sun rose behind them. The pew in which I sat each Sunday, I watched the window of Jesus holding the lost lamb. I suspect many recognize that story because they too have seen that picture either in their Bible or in a frame hanging on a wall or in a stained glass window like I did.

My awareness of God’s story and fascination for the stained glass windows probably led to the overwhelming sense of awe as I stepped into the newest sanctuary (hardly an accurate word for the enormous room or auditorium) at Leawood’s (Kansas) Church of the Resurrection. The window is huge and measures 35 feet by 92 feet. [The completed jigsaw puzzle is preserved and on display so others may inspect it as we work through the stories and the meaning of the work.]

Briefly, the window has three primary panels that merge together, bordering along a river path that wraps around the central panel. The first section reflects the Old Testament, the middle section is Christ’s story as found in the New Testament, and the final section is The Church after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The window is packed with images—some very familiar, some less so. But every element of the window carries God’s story forward. There is no time better than today to begin a journey through God’s story as shared in the window.

Let’s begin with Genesis 1:1-2, NLT

 

1In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.

 

These words share the beginning of our understanding of Creation. The world God created is represented as coming out of the cosmos in the puzzle, a dark purple circle of heavenly-like bodies—an image I recognize from sitting out gazing at the night sky.

What better time than these first weeks after Christmas to review the opening of Genesis and consider the relationship of God to this world. How one perceives Creation, or explains how the world came to be, is not an issue for me. What matters is that there is an omniscient being I know as God, and no matter what, I am convinced that God’s story includes the stories of the Old Testament and led to the necessity of God joining us in the human form of Jesus Christ.

Reading the gospel of John, the Story is summarized in those first five verses:

1In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it.

 

The words we use each and every day are the very tools to carry God’s story forward. The Bible’s words record the relationship of humans to God, provides examples of life challenges and how faith in God makes the human experience bearable. The words shared through the Bible warn, teach, and love us.

John identifies God as The Word. From the cosmos, the Word became the world we know. The Word carries the story forward so all humanity can understand. The Word gives us the ability to tell the story in so many ways—from the visual images as we see in our own stained glass, in the art hanging on our walls, in the sounds of the music we hear, in the words of the literature we read, and in the words we share with one another.

John is one of four different views of Jesus’ story. The middle panel of the COR stained glass window takes The Word and records it visually for us. The Word shared in the gospels tell the stories of Jesus’ life, but maybe more importantly the words provide us the lessons for living in this world with others from around this world.

Interestingly, John’s gospel ends with these last two verses:

24 This disciple is the one who testifies to these events and has recorded them here. And we know that his account of these things is accurate.

25 Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.

The reality of the Bible is that there is no way that The Word is complete. The Word continues as The Church fueled by the Holy Spirit and this is illustrated in the third phase of COR’s stained glass window.

The panel is filled with the images of disciples who have carried The Word forward around this globe in almost every different setting one might think up. As Jesus the man died on the cross, he commissioned his disciples to become The Church. He did not say build a structure to keep the faithful inside, he said to be The Church. The Word continues in the words, the actions, and the story of the disciples that continue following Jesus’ teachings.

The gospel John shares Jesus’ vision for The Church in the book of Revelation. Again the words confirm and continue the timeless story:

7Look! He comes with the clouds of heaven.
And everyone will see him—
even those who pierced him.
And all the nations of the world
will mourn for him.
Yes! Amen!

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,” says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

As we continue to review the story of God as shared in the words of our Bible and the stories of the people who illustrate living a life faithful to God and serving as The Church, we will see that the gift of Jesus Christ provides all the gifts that won’t break: hope, love, joy and peace.

By following The Word, the Teacher and the Holy Spirit as all those before us and those reflected in the COR’s stained glass, we will met Jesus Christ personally. We will see that God is “the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end . . . the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Closing prayer:

Dear God,

Thank you for all your disciples

Who share the Word in the Bible,

In the visual arts of stained glass,

And in the auditory arts of music.

 

We ask for your presence in our lives

As we find you speaking to us

In so many different ways:

Through written words

Through visual arts

And through music.

 

Guide us, too, as we continue your work

Sharing The Word in new and surprising ways.

May we be the Church

Sharing the gifts of hope, love, joy and peace. –Amen

 

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Hearing Joel’s prophecy for today

given on Sunday, October 23, 2016

Scripture connection: Joel 1:6-7, 2”: 2-13, 32 [NLT] Joel provides hope to all faithful people, but also calls them/us to repentance.:

Opening scripture: Joel 1:6-7, NLT

1: 6A vast army of locusts[a] has invaded my land,
a terrible army too numerous to count.
Its teeth are like lions’ teeth,
its fangs like those of a lioness.
It has destroyed my grapevines
and ruined my fig trees,
stripping their bark and destroying it,
leaving the branches white and bare.

2:12 That is why the Lord says,
“Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish.

2:32But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved,
for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape,
just as the Lord has said.
These will be among the survivors
whom the Lord has called.

 

Reflection: Hearing Joel’s prophecy today

 

The week certainly has been filled with news that can fill one’s psyche with fear. American troops are again fighting in the Mid East, road rage became deadly, shootings continue, strange cases of assault are reported, weird weather continues to cause flooding and record breaking, and on top of all that the oak mites are irritating all of us as we struggle to understand the political campaigns.

Pestilence: An Old Testament word used repeatedly to share all the life irritations that challenged the faithful. Seems that the word applies just as much today as it did during ancient times. The prophet Joel understood the challenge to the faithful that the plagues caused; yet his prophecy still applies to our lives in the 21st century.

Consider the size of Judah where the tribes of Judah and Benjamin lived and to whom Joel is prophesying: ancient Judah was approximately 2,270 square miles. Missouri is 69,704 square miles, and Johnson County is 823 square miles (Wikipedia). Joel’s prophecy is just as important to us almost 3,000 years later (believed to be written between 835 and 796 B.C., as it was to the ancient Jewish tribes of Judah. Why do we tend to ignore this prophecy? Or maybe we just have not heard it before.

The book of Joel opens with a description of the day of the locusts. The description is filled with images that create visual pictures in our own minds:

A vast army of locusts[a] has invaded my land,
a terrible army too numerous to count.
Its teeth are like lions’ teeth,
its fangs like those of a lioness.
It has destroyed my grapevines
and ruined my fig trees,
stripping their bark and destroying it,
leaving the branches white and bare.

After completing the plague’s description of the locusts’ destruction, Joel adds in the reactions of the people to such devastation. There results of the plague of locusts is described in verses 16-18:

16 Our food disappears before our very eyes.
No joyful celebrations are held in the house of our God.
17 The seeds die in the parched ground,
and the grain crops fail.
The barns stand empty,
and granaries are abandoned.
18 How the animals moan with hunger!
The herds of cattle wander about confused,
because they have no pasture.
The flocks of sheep and goats bleat in misery.

The graphic images Joel shares continues to tell the reader the faithful what happens as a result of the plague of locusts, but then he shifts to share what happens when God’s warnings are heard. He calls the people to repent in those verses from chapter 2:12-13:

12 That is why the Lord says,
“Turn to me now, while there is time.
Give me your hearts.
Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
13 Don’t tear your clothing in your grief,
but tear your hearts instead.”
Return to the Lord your God,
for he is merciful and compassionate,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He is eager to relent and not punish.

Do we hear the same warning in these words? We should.

Today’s plague may not be actual locusts, but we all have plagues that cause us damage. Remember the definition of pestilence can be “something that is considered harmful, destructive, or evil.” There is always something that can be harmful, destructive or evil that detracts us from God. Joel’s ancient prophecy can provide his readers, including us today, encouragement and hope in the saving grace God promises:

 

This is what we read in the 32nd verse:

32But everyone who calls on the name of the Lord
will be saved,
for some on Mount Zion in Jerusalem will escape,
just as the Lord has said.
These will be among the survivors
whom the Lord has called.

 

This promise is incredible: “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord”. That is a promise that has crossed through the millenniums and provides us hope right now, right here—October 23, 2016!

Yes, we are living in difficult times. The pestilence we are experiencing is a plague of words. We are inundated with negative news, tainted political ads, and violent actions in places of war but also in our own homes. We are under attack in ways that Joel would never have predicted. Yet, with God, we are able to defend ourselves from the pestilence.

As our children learn the basic foundations of faith from the Ten Commandments, to the Greatest Commandment, to verses like John 3:16, to the Apostles Creed, we are arming them with the tools to avoid pestilence in their lives. As we join together in Bible study and in worship, we review and continue to develop the skills needed to preserve our relationship with God. As we walk out the church doors, we walk directly into the path of possible attacks on our relationship with God.

Joel warned the ancient faithful, but his words can be read again and again reminding us that we, too, must protect ourselves from the plagues that attack us. In that second chapter, Joel describes how the locust invades the rural environment and destroys not only the crops and the cattle, but even march directly into our own homes. Yet, there is hope.

Joel calls all people to repent. The call is in that verse 12:  “Turn to me now, while there is time. Give me your hearts. Come with fasting, weeping, and mourning.

We, too, are called to repent. God wants us to depend on him, to trust in him, and to do all that we can to serve one another in love.   Joel’s prophecy is for us, right now, right here, and for always.

The prophecy ends with one more promise (Joel 3:21):

 

I will pardon my people’s crimes,
which I have not yet pardoned;
and I, the Lord, will make my home
in Jerusalem[a] with my people.”

 

Joel’s words are guiding words for us today. If we do not invest time in reading the scriptures, we will not find such words of promise to assure us in the most challenging times of our lives. We are not protected from pestilence; we must learn how to live God-centered lives despite all the challenges. We must join in Christian fellowship to strengthen our defenses. And worshiping together, we encourage each other and reach out to others to share in the grace of God provided through belief in Jesus Christ who died for our sins.

 

Closing prayer:

 

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

You are God to Joel and you are God to us.

May we hear your words of promise

over the din of today’s plagues.

 

Let us find ways to defend ourselves

from the attacks on our faith

so we may continue as your disciples.

 

Let us share in study and in worship

so we may strengthen our faith

and to teach others to live God-centered lives.

 

Let us step out to serve others

in ways to strengthen our community

to become part of your kingdom.

 

Thank you for the gift of Joel’s prophecy

and from others throughout history

who share the good news of your grace.

 

May we be the tools of love

guided by the Holy Spirit

to provide others hope of eternal life

by belief in the life, the death

and the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

your son.

 

–In God’s name, through the Holy Spirit, amen.

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What a Difference Faith makes!

given on Sunday, August 7, 2016

Scripture connection: Hebrews 11:1-16, NLT

11 Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. Through their faith, the people in days of old earned a good reputation.

By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen.

It was by faith that Abel brought a more acceptable offering to God than Cain did. Abel’s offering gave evidence that he was a righteous man, and God showed his approval of his gifts. Although Abel is long dead, he still speaks to us by his example of faith.

It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying—“he disappeared, because God took him.”[a] For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God. And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.

It was by faith that Noah built a large boat to save his family from the flood. He obeyed God, who warned him about things that had never happened before. By his faith Noah condemned the rest of the world, and he received the righteousness that comes by faith.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed when God called him to leave home and go to another land that God would give him as his inheritance. He went without knowing where he was going. And even when he reached the land God promised him, he lived there by faith—for he was like a foreigner, living in tents. And so did Isaac and Jacob, who inherited the same promise. 10 Abraham was confidently looking forward to a city with eternal foundations, a city designed and built by God.

11 It was by faith that even Sarah was able to have a child, though she was barren and was too old. She believed[b] that God would keep his promise. 12 And so a whole nation came from this one man who was as good as dead—a nation with so many people that, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore, there is no way to count them.

13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth. 14 Obviously people who say such things are looking forward to a country they can call their own. 15 If they had longed for the country they came from, they could have gone back. 16 But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Key questions: Why difference does faith in God make in my life?

  • What does faith look like?
  • How do I develop faith?
  • How does faith change my life?

 

Reflection: What a difference faith makes!

             Surely you have noticed that it is August and there is something decidedly different about this August—it is as green and colorful as though it were still May, right after the April showers when everything looks bright green with an array of rainbow colors glowing in the sunlight.

August in the Midwest typically looks quite different—brown, brittle grass. Tired, worn out gardens usually struggle with little color left from the annuals planted around the walks or in flowerpots. The only thing that seems to do well is the spindly okra soaking up the sun and thriving on very little water. But not this year. This year our late summer world is green and colorful.

What a difference God’s rain and sunshine make in our world today. Farmers and gardeners know that planting seeds is an exercise in faith. The conditions that surround the seed and seedling are critical to the entire growing process. During the growing season, conditions vary dramatically, but somehow the majority of seeds does germinate, grow, and mature. The yield varies depending on the quality of the growing conditions that nurtured those crops to fruition.

Faith is much like the seed we place in the ground. Faith begins as a tiny little idea that dropped into our lives at any time. Sometimes the seed is planted by accident and sometimes it is carefully, lovingly placed by parents who know the difference faith makes in one’s life.

Yes, faith makes a difference in our lives; what type of difference depends so much on the circumstances, the challenges, the failures and the successes. Faith becomes a powerful force yielding the greatest reward imaginable—salvation and the life eternal alongside Jesus Christ and a host of faithful souls including those who have made a difference in our earthly journey.

In Hebrews, the definition of faith is given: Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see. The verse is used so repeatedly that it has become a cliché and possibly has lost its value as a life-changing principle. Still, faith makes such a difference in the quality of one’s life.

Unfortunately, many cannot identify faith in their own lives and struggle to figure out what makes life journey fruitful. The Old Testament stories that are included in Hebrews 11 provide evidence of how faith supports even the most faithful during the most difficult trials. The stories begin with Cain and Able and continue through even the books of the prophets.

Still understanding faith today is difficult. Because faith is not a product that one goes to a store or gets on line to purchase, faith sometimes fails to be planted in our lives. Maybe our parents did not plant faith’s seed because they were not equipped to plant and nurture that seedling. Perhaps the parents did plant the seed, but then the environment or circumstances interfered and the seed of faith sat fallow, not germinating but remaining as a faint promise.

Today faith is evident around us even though many argue that is not. Evidence of faith may not sound like the Old Testament or even the New Testament stories, but they are listed there, too. Consider the stories of the woman who had such strong faith in Jesus’ healing power that all she wanted was to touch his robe in order to heal. And her faith did heal her. Lazarus’s family believed and Jesus raised him from the dead.

Even the circumstances of the Last Supper paint a picture of how the brutal ending of Jesus’ life fueled the earliest Christians to band together and carry God’s message forward. Those disciples who shared the bread and the cup with Jesus certainly had their faith challenged, but despite the negative growing conditions, the church did grow.

Faith is essential to the quality of our lives. Faith is a seed sitting there just waiting to grow. We need to know that we are equipped to nurture that faith and encourage it to grow to fruition so God can harvest it when the growing season ends.

How does faith grow? The directions are sprinkled throughout the Bible. We must read and study the Bible in order to fertilize our faith. John Wesley was educated and still he struggled to understand how faith operated. His own brother served as an agent of change for Wesley. John and Charles were both raised in the church, and it took Charles’s recommendation to continue in reading the Bible and praying. And John did. He placed himself into a disciplined environment and continued his ministry right up until his personal moment of enlightenment referred to as his Aldersgate Moment when he felt his heart ‘strangely warmed.’

Life is going to challenge each and every one of us in ways that we cannot predict. Watching the Olympics opening ceremonies, I was reminded how unifying the games can be. The inclusion of a team of refugees is a testimony in faith. The discipline of Olympian athletes is often a quality reflected in their lives whether on or off the competition. The discipline carries them to the finish line and the refugees maintained that discipline even when they had no country, no alliance.

We have the tools to grow faith, we just must be disciplined enough to do it. Wesley explained that we are to practices the acts of piety and the acts of mercy to develop the fruitfulness of faith. We are to join in fellowship with other Christians to worship, to pray, and to serve together.

Faith is knowing that God is with us throughout the challenges in our lives and trusting that we will receive the ultimate reward. Faith is knowing that we can manage the ups and downs in life because God is with us always.   Faith takes work but it is easier to do when working together with others who believe.

Today we join together at the table to renew our connection to God through the bread and the cup. We are practicing the very same methods God taught the first disciples to strengthen our faith. May the ancient words from scripture, from the liturgy, from the hymns, and from those around us so we may find the peace, the joy, and the contentment that enriches our faith-filled lives.

Closing prayer:

Dear loving Father,

Thank you for the words of encouragement shared in the Bible.

Thank you for the guidance of the faithful surrounding us.

Thank you for your patience as we struggle to understand faith.

Fill us with the Holy Spirit as we share in the bread and the cup.

Fill us with the joy of knowing your grace and your love.

Fill us with the courage to battle the challenges to our faith.

May we take our faith and use it to share your grace with others.

May we demonstrate our faith so others may see it in action.

May we lead others to identify the power of faith in their lives, too.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen

 

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