Category Archives: Church Life

7 Ways to Be Diligent in Daily Bible Reading

So often, we hear about the need to be regular and diligent in our Bible reading. From sermons to books to other outlets, we are often told that we should spend time daily in the reading and study of God’s Word. And, no matter how good our intentions might be, most of us will fall off the track sometime.

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It may seem like an odd time of year to write this post, since daily Bible reading articles usually come out around the turn of a new year. But why do we have to rely on the turning of a calendar to get into the Scriptures? Today’s post is not meant to be a “read through the Bible in a year” type of reminder, although that certainly is a good goal. Instead, we want to share seven ways that you can insure that, each and every day, you get into the Bible, even if only for a few minutes.

1. Read a Paper Copy. This is the most obvious way, and the one most of us use, but sometimes it is the easiest to overlook. In our constant search for “new” or “more innovative” ways to read and study the Bible, sometimes our tried and true copy of the Bible just lays dormant on a table or shelf. Open it and read it!

2. Get a Free eBible. With the explosion of ereaders (like the Amazon Kindle), Bibles have gone digital. Many people carry their Kindle (or other device) with them more often than a book, due to its small size and weight. Did you know the English Standard Version is absolutely free on these devices? It is, and you can download yours at these sites:

Amazon Kindle

Barns and Noble Nook

3. Listen to Scripture Daily. I try to both read my Bible, and listen to a daily portion as well. Being a lover of podcasts, this should come as no surprise. I get a daily dose from the Old Testament, Psalms, and the New Testament from the English Standard Version Daily Reading Bible podcast [iTunes / Rss]. While the reader is a bit dry, it’s still a wonderful way to hear Scripture. Other apps and podcasts do the same thing, as well. Many add commentary, though, which is not what I’m looking for. These podcasts from the ESV are just the text being read.

4. Rss (or email) the Bible. I used to do this and it was a good way to get a small part of the Scriptures automatically put in front of my eyes each day. Just like you get blogs and websites sent your way through an rss reader (like Feedly or Flipboard), you can get the Bible that way, too. Check out this page at Bible Gateway to see how to have Scripture (from either the King James Version or the New International Version) sent to you each day. You can choose to have it sent to your rss reader, or emailed to you, just like you can subscribe to nearly any blog or site.

5. Get the ESV App. I preach from the English Standard Version, which is one reason it appears on this list so often. It also appears here often because so much of what they offer online is free. You can download the ESV app to your smartphone or tablet and use it whether you are online or offline. So, no matter where you are, you can call up your screen and read for a few moments. [Apple App Store / Google Play]

6. Use the Bible App from Lifechurch.tv. I have this app, but I will admit that I am not using it to its fullest. However, this simple app has quite a large number of daily reading plans that come to you through the app, and you can get push notifications to let you know that the day’s reading is ready to view. Another great use of technology that can be accessed anywhere. Oh, and it’s free, too. [Apple App Store / Google Play]

7. Have a Reading Accountability Partner. So, this is not a book, website, or app, but it certainly helps. Why not read with someone? Of course, you don’t have to be face-to-face (although that’s great, too, especially for families), but how about checking in with each other daily or weekly, and making sure you are both in the Word on a regular basis? This is especially helpful if you are new to daily reading, or are working through a particularly difficult section of Scripture.

COMMENTS: So, what other tips do you have? What are some sites, books, apps, or suggestions you use to help you stay in the Word of God on a daily basis? Share your tips in the comments!

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Photo credit: Jimmie home-school-mom on Creative Commons

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The Power of Real Conversation

A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study.

–Chinese Proverb

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Our family is making a strong effort to have more people in our home this year. Often, we have people over for a meal, but it is the conversation that is what really “makes” the evening.

Just as one example, we had two ladies over last week for a meal of soup and salad. It wasn’t anything fancy, and we just used our regular plates and bowls. After the meal, though, these two sweet ladies sat and talked with Leah and I for over an hour. We talked about issues related to the Church, our families, and our nation. The conversation seemed to go everywhere, but it remained lively and enjoyable.

This isn’t another post about eating together as a family. We wrote about that last week.

This also isn’t just a post for a family. This is a post about life in general.

We need to regain the power of real, true, deep, face-to-face conversation in our lives.

One of the things that made the evening with these two Christian ladies so special was that the conversation went along uninterrupted. Oh, the kids might ask a question or need some, ahem, “attention,” but for about 60 minutes or so, we just sat and talked.

Why? We didn’t have technology in the room. Ironically, we talked about technology for a few minutes, but we talked about how it is simply a tool that can be used for either good or bad purposes. On this evening, we didn’t have a cell phone, tablet, TV, or laptop anywhere in the room. Not a single one. I heard my phone buzz in the other room a time or two, but resisted the urge to check every little notification.

The reason was simple: we wanted to show the people who were with us that they were our priority that evening. I know that checking texts or emails may not be a sign of disrespect to a lot of folks, but it is distracting. Even if you don’t mean to be disrespectful, you are distracting, and that’s rarely a positive thing in relationships.

When there are fewer distractions, you might just be amazed at how the conversation moves along and brings you closer together. It is in these moments that you will gain perspective and wisdom.

So, whether you are on a date with your spouse or simply having someone over for a meal, let’s all make the effort to rediscover the power of real, face-to-face conversation.

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Photo credit: University of Michigan on Creative Commons

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Why Is Everyone So Angry?

Have you noticed that we live in an angry world? Many people feed themselves on TV news programs that are basically one so-called “expert” shouting at another so-called “expert,” with neither one giving an inch. Violence is out of control in many places in the country. Bullying and cyberbullying are at nearly epidemic levels in our schools.

And no one seems to know why.

Maybe it’s because they haven’t read their Bible lately.

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Now, we must say that anger is not a sin. So long as anger is directed at sinful actions and is handled in a proper manner, anger is a God-given emotion and has its place.

That said, we constantly see anger that is out of control and completely misplaced. Anger leads to violent acts and cruelty on a seemingly endless basis. Yet, for all the “experts” who try to tell us various reasons for this growth in anger and violence, you won’t see someone point to the Scriptures.

Surely the Bible doesn’t have the answer for this problem, right?

Oh yes it does.

In Ephesians 2, Paul is writing about the grace of God and how it saves us. But, before he writes about that salvation, he spoke of what we were saved from. Some of the descriptions include “dead in trespasses and sins” and “following the course of this world.” As he draws that part of his discussion to a close, though, Paul writes,

Among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:3)

Did you catch that? Everyone has anger within him/her. But until we are saved by Jesus, we are going to express that anger (here called “wrath”), “like the rest of mankind.” Why? Because that’s the desire of my flesh.

Ever hear someone say, “I’m hot-headed; that’s just who I am”? We all have heard that, and maybe have said it. Paul is saying that those words are, at least to a point, correct.

On the flip side, have you ever heard someone say, “I’m just hot-headed, and I can’t help it”? Yep, we’ve heard that one, too.

And it’s here where the line is drawn between our culture and Christianity. Christians would actually agree with that statement, in part. However, the Bible teaches that, while I of my own doing cannot “help myself,” Jesus can. It takes trusting that He is able to bring peace and control into my life. And, while I may still fail at times to control my anger, Christians who are living faithfully should be the most peaceful and controlled people on earth.

Why? Because we are no longer fulfilling the angry desires of the flesh. Instead, by the grace of God, we have been saved through faith. And in that great act, “We are [God's] workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works” (v.10).

If people would just look at their Bibles, a lot of “experts” would be out of a job. God has told us why everyone is so angry, but He has also told us how to solve the problem.

As always, the problem is us, and the solution is Jesus.

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Photo credit: Matt Erasmus on Creative Commons

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11 Things I Regret and 1 Thing I Never Will

Maybe the hardest part of forgiveness is self-forgiveness. There is no doubt that God forgives, and I’m grateful for so many in my life who have shown me forgiveness throughout the years. However, I know my weaknesses, and my brain–like yours, I’m sure–refuses to let me forget things that I know I’ve been forgiven of.

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Some of that isn’t good, but it’s not all bad, either. A feeling of regret is helpful when confronted with the same temptations or struggles later in life. Wisdom demands that we remember and use that regret as motivation to do better.

This post is not meant to be a “tell-all” (sorry if you were expecting that), but I do want to share 11 things I regret.

I regret…

…times when I have not been “there” for my kids the way I should have, and put them far further down the priority list than they should be.

…days when I don’t listen to Leah closely, showing her that her thoughts are truly important to me.

…missed opportunities to invite others to worship or speak a word for the Lord.

…losing my patience with the kids, and not showing them how to properly handle anger or frustration.

…many entertainment choices in years gone by (which is one reason I blog about it quite often).

…tons of sermons where I know I preached the truth, but didn’t do so with passion.

…not bridling my tongue when “going for the laugh,” often at someone else’s expense.

…times when I didn’t visit the sick or shut in like I should (something I’m improving at, but still struggle with).

…struggling to be committed to prayer, especially when things are going well.

…dealing with laziness, especially at home.

…too often, being reactive instead of proactive.

…not honoring my parents and sister as often as I should. (They so much deserve honor!)

Now, before you get ready to comment and say, “Oh, it’s okay. We all struggle with stuff,” let me get to the point of this post.

That list could be quite a bit longer. I have lots of regrets, some general and some specific. My mind can go back to many events, moments, and conversations when I was not what I should have been. If we’re honest, we can all do that.

But there is one thing I will never regret.

As many things as I may do (or fail to do) that bring regret, I will never regret that when I fail, it’s because I’m striving to reach the standard of Jesus Christ.

Though I’ll never get there, I can live without regret because He’s helping me be more like Him, and His hand will help me rise up and over my regrets each day.

And that’s something I’ll never regret!

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Photo credit: Richard Summers on Creative Commons

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It’s Not about the Normalization of Homosexuality. It Never Has Been

The trend continues, both in the public square and in the political world. The growth for the support of homosexuality in our society is unquestioned. Through the media, courts, and other outlets, the agenda is clear.

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But there is one part of the agenda that has been a lie from the beginning. It is the term “normalization.” You will hear people saying that they are simply trying to press for the “normalization of homosexual rights” or the “full normalization of homosexual unions [or marriages].”

I understand their point, but they are simply not telling the truth, and the American public got another clear signal of that on Sunday night.

Before we get there, however, let’s be reminded of some other markers on this road to “normalization” and ask the question, “How is this normal?”

How is it “normal” for a state (California) to vote clearly for a ban on homosexual marriage, only to have a court system rule that their own vote is a violation?

How is it “normal” for an NBA player (Jason Collins) to state he is gay and be celebrated, but an opinion writer for the sport–who is friends with Collins, mind you–cannot speak against it?

How is it “normal” for a couple to be married on live TV in the Tournament of Roses Parade? (I’m just wondering if any heterosexual couple has ever gotten that same air-time.)

How is it “normal” for a President to be openly advocating for something he was for, then against, then unsure of…all in the last 15 years?

How is it “normal” that something that has been clearly disproved by science (the so-called “gay gene”) is still shouted from the rooftops as scientific fact?

And then…Sunday night. At the annual Grammy awards the audience of celebrities from all genres of music–rock, country, pop, dance, hip hop–stood and applauded as a mass wedding took place on stage, featuring both gay and straight couples. Some of the stars, including Keith Urban, teared up as the ceremony was performed by Queen Latifah.

Let me ask again: how is this “normal?” How many times before gay marriage was legal in the state of California were there on-stage weddings at the Grammy awards? When else could you tune into an award ceremony and watch 38 couples get star treatment and have a bona fide celebrity perform their vows?

It’s not normal, because the push for homosexuality in our society has never been about things being “normal” for that one lifestyle.

It has been about the normalization of worshiping self.

If that takes the court system, that’s what will be used. If it takes pushing the agenda through music videos, movies, radio, or TV shows, that’s what will be used. If it takes intimidating talking heads so they must agree with you or you’ll shut down their program, that’s what will be used. If it takes posting on Facebook about hatred or bigotry simply because someone disagrees, that’s what will be used (never mind how hatefully it is said).

But whatever method is used, or might be used in the future, it is not about normalization of one lifestyle…

…and it never has been.

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The Ultimate “Evergreen Content”

Those who put out content for a living, especially online, speak of “evergreen content.” The idea is that there is so much material being produced that countless blog posts, YouTube videos, or other offerings just get pushed out of view, and it happens so quickly that what might be a great piece of information or motivation is just forgotten.3305791422_27b88aca27_b

So, what bloggers and other people want is “evergreen content;” that is, content that remains in the public eye for a long as possible. There are all sorts of recipes and formulas for creating evergreen content. The number one thing is that the content is relevant for a long time. Does the post have out-dated statistics or illustrations? Is it written about an issue that is “here today, gone tomorrow?” If so, it might get looked at today, but not tomorrow!

Writers, podcasters, and other content providers, then, try to think more big-picture. At the very least, they try to update posts that have a core message, but where some of the numbers or stories might be dated. This is hard work, but we who consume this content are thankful for their effort in making what we read, see, or hear as relevant for as long as possible.

What you may not realize, though, is that you are already experiencing the ultimate “evergreen content” right now. Read that sentence again…slowly.

Notice it doesn’t say that you are “reading” it or “hearing” it. (Not that we don’t try to make evergreen content on our blog!) It says that you are “experiencing” it.

What could possibly be greater than web teams who work on researching posts and keeping things always fresh and new? What could possibly stay relevant day after day and not only touch you in words, but also in how you live?

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

You know God’s steadfast love and mercy, and you live and walk in it every day. It never wavers and it never wanes.

Friend, that is the ultimate “evergreen content.”

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Photo credit: J and R Photography on Creative Commons

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“The Wolf of Wall Street” and a Vanishing Conscience

506.

According to Variety magazine, that is how many times a movie-goer who sees the film “The Wolf of Wall Street” will hear one particular curse word.

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You read that correctly. In the three-hour (exactly) movie, just one curse word is used over five-hundred times. It averages out to 2.8 occurrences per minute over the course of the 180 minute film.

I have seem some Christians on social media mentioning this “extreme” use of language. Thankfully, they are not people who have seen the movie, but those who are just reporting–as I am in this post–this awful use of language.

Listening to the radio the other day, we heard a dj mention this as well, and say that several of his friends had walked out of the theater, due to the language.

But it got me thinking. Why does it shock us that a movie would have this much language in it?

And that led me to another question: where is “the line?”

Why are we shocked and appalled by 506 curse words in a movie, but we will justify a movie that “only” has a hundred or so?

We are quick to point out a movie’s “clean” nature, but think of how we talk.

  • “It was great, and it only used a few bad words.”
  • “There were a few cuss words, but it’s still worth seeing.”
  • “I guess there were a few bad words, but the acting is great.”

I am not going to be Pharisaical about this, but I really think Christians should take stock in what they are supporting when they pay money to go to the theater. Further, we need to be very careful about how we talk about our entertainment choices. If we aren’t careful, we can end up justifying seeing nearly anything, simply because it’s “not as bad as” some other film.

…that could lead down a very dangerous road!

And that is just what Hollywood wants. It won’t be long, I’m sure, before a movie sets a new record for curse words. With the moral sewage that regularly emanates from the movie industry, 506 curse words may be old news in just a few years.

But, if (when) that happens, will some of us talk about “The Wolf of Wall Street” as “not as bad as” this new record-setter? That should be an eye-opening question.

So, what will you be watching over the next few days? Will you allow whatever is in the news or the latest blockbuster to be your determining factor, justifying it as “it’s just entertainment?” Or, will you think in Biblical terms about holiness and the need to guard your heart and mind as holy instruments to be used in the service of the Lord?

“O be careful little ears what you hear…”

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Photo credit: Goksan Ozman on Creative Commons

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Tears of Faith

Recently, I had a wonderful visit with an aging saint. He has been through quite a number of health issues, and is a widower of a little more than 10 years. He is fairly quiet, but we enjoy each other’s company.

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On this day, he had great news from his doctors and was wanting to talk. It was a joy to hear his good news and then just to “shoot the breeze” for a few minutes. To say the least, we had a great visit.

However, during the course of our time, this man shed tears.

Twice.

But he taught me so much in those moments that I pray I do not forget anytime soon.

This could be a post about keeping a tender heart or about how it’s okay for real men to cry, but that’s not what he taught me through his tears.

He taught me about what is really important.

His first tears fell from his face as we were just sharing memories. He had told me that his heart doctor had given him good news, and that he took that news very seriously. This wise man said something like, “That heart will get you if you aren’t careful. And often without warning.”

Then, he sobbed. Why? Because, through the tears, he said, “Just like it did my wife.”

She died from a sudden heart attack over 10 years ago, but that memory still floods this good man with emotion. He showed me pictures (she was beautiful) and talked about some of their family traditions.

Our conversation continued for a little while on various subjects, when he turned the talk to Lebanon Road and what a good place it is. Part of the pain this man has been through for many months is that he has not been able to drive. And, even if someone could bring him to worship, there have been very few days when he could come. The pain was just too much for him to bear.

As he talked about that, tears began to flow again.

As they did, he said, “I sure miss church. I’ve wanted to go to church.”

Here was a man who has been through so much for quite a long time. His pain is unthinkable to me, and he has been able to do very little for himself. He has faced frustration and pain that I would not wish upon anyone, and has done so with a great attitude.

But what brought him to tears?

He missed his wife and worship.

Talk about a wake up call for all of us.

When you are thinking of returning “that” phone call to “that” girl, or chatting with that “old flame” on Facebook, think of my friend, who built a marriage that shows what love and dedication is all about.

Or,when the beach or “the big game” seems more important than worshiping God, picture my friend sitting at home where he can watch whatever he wants on TV, but would do anything to gather before God in worship.

If his tears didn’t remind me of where my priorities should be, then I’m not sure my emotions can be touched. What will touch yours?

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Photo credit: Alisha Vargas on Creative Commons

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Playoffs vs. Piety: Where Is Your Mind During Worship?

I love sports. If you know me at all, you know that college basketball is my favorite, and I follow it quite closely. Time (or maybe maturity) has a way of causing me to not follow it as closely as I used to, but I still enjoy it. Over the past couple of years or so, I have enjoyed the NFL more and more, and other sports are fun to follow, too.

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It is just a couple of weeks until the annual time for the jokes and questions about Sunday night services on Super Bowl Sunday. Probably every preacher gets asked about shortening the sermon on that night. Thankfully, I have been asked by people who I knew were kidding, but for some, the question is serious.

Then I came across this video. Please watch it before continuing to read. It’s scarcely over a minute long.

(Trouble viewing? Click here to watch on YouTube.)

Without getting into all the denominational stuff of the video, I want to say this: as a religious person, I am ashamed of this video.

Does this man really think that this was good for religion? In whatever faith he belongs to, the pastor wears robes that set him apart as a type of religious leader. Of course, I do not agree with that practice, but what does it say when “the man of the cloth” is ready to watch a football game instead of helping the worshipers…oh, I don’t know…worship?

But I want to make this personal. As I said in the opening paragraph of today’s post, I love sports. It is playoff time in the NFL, and we are just a few weeks away from March Madness. Maybe you don’t care about these sports, but it’s your own child’s softball team or your local college football playoff.

Maybe you don’t like sports at all, but you love sales at the local mall, or there’s a TV show on Sunday nights that you just “can’t miss.”

Where is your mind when you are assembled for worship? Is it asking the question, “How long until we get out of here?”

I heard a parody of the hymn “Trust and Obey” one time that would be funnier if it weren’t really the mindset of a lot of people gathered in worship.

Rush and hurry,

For there’s no other way

To get out of church early,

Than to rush and hurry.

Think of the discussions that often happen at lunch on Sunday. They are about “how long” the prayers went, or how the song leader led all the verses of every song. “The preacher seemed to go a little long today.”

Now, there is a sense in which we need to be efficient in worship. I’m not advocating a longer worship service just to prove a point.

But I am asking us all to think about where our mind is at during the time we are worshiping God. Is it on the playoffs, or is it on piety?

Quit watching the clock and focus on the Creator.

Stop thinking about lunch, and consider the Lord.

Don’t dwell on sports, meditate on the Savior.

And get your mind off that power nap, and put it on the Powerful God of the universe.

Your team may win, or your team may lose, but what really matters is if your mind is focused on the Army of God, in which you are a soldier. Where is your mind during worship?

QUESTION: How do you focus your mind during worship? Share suggestions or stories in the comments!

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A Prayer for Single Christians

Father,

Thank You for blessing the Church with committed Christians. It is a joy to get to work beside such wonderful people, and You have made it so by placing us all together in a wonderful family. Thank You, and we praise You for this blessing.

I confess, though, that I often focus more on those who are married, though not intentionally so. I fear that, too often, I fail to remember my brothers or sisters who are not married, but who are single Christians. But they are so special, and the work done by Your people would not be what it could be without their effort.

Today, Lord, I’m praying to You for them.

I pray for those who would like to find a spouse, but who struggle to do so. Give them strength to press on in patience, even when they feel lonely or even like they are not desirable. Help us to show them they are truly important, and that we could not do all we do in Your Name without them.

I pray for those who have no desire to marry. They are strong, but have to sit through service after service where families are emphasized, knowing all the while they do not have that desire for their own lives. They are dedicated to Your cause, and use their singleness as a real asset. Forgive us when we fail to utilize that asset in our planning and work.

I pray for those who are “single again,” and I ask them to forgive me if that phrase is not one they find proper. Some are hurting, because the person they thought was that “special someone” is still alive, but has walked out, leaving feelings of loneliness, hurt, and abandonment, and adding more pressures in this life than they should have to bear. Help us shoulder those burdens with them, and show Christ in our attitude of compassion.

My prayer is also for those who hurt when certain dates come around, because the man or woman they spent years–or even decades–with has passed from this life. They have so much wisdom from experiences, both good and difficult. May we use their wisdom, while giving them the care and compassion they so much deserve. Father, thank You for these amazing men and women, who show faithfulness through grief.

Lord, help the Church to be a place where those who are single always feel important, and where they can use their talents, wisdom, time, and money to help Your Kingdom grow. Whatever they may need individually, give all of us wisdom and care to see and meet their needs. Whatever they may have to offer in Your Name, let them know that You see their good works, but You also see when they have pain. Help them to know You as their King, but also as their caring Father.

Teach us, Lord, what to say–and what not to say–so that our precious brothers and sisters feel close and comforted by our words as we all seek to serve You together.

Again, Lord, thank You for the family that is the Church, and for every member, no matter their stage in life. And thank You for sending Jesus to make that possible.

In Him,

Amen.

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