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Monthly Archives: December 2018

Peter & John — 1 Peter 1:1-2

1 Peter 1:1-2 [NLT]
1 This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.
I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. 2 God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
May God give you more and more grace and peace.

Dear God, in my little quest to learn more about Peter and John, now that I’ve gone through all of the references to them in the rest of the New Testament, I am going to look at the letters that each of them wrote. I’ll start with 1 Peter.

The first question I have in mind is, to whom was he writing this letter? While he specifies some regions, I am taking it that he is writing this to all of the Christian church because he says in verse two that he is talking to people who “have obeyed [Jesus] and have been cleansed by [his blood]. With that as my starting point, I think I can say that he is, in essence, talking to me as well.

His first words to me are that he hopes that you will “give [me] more and more grace and peace.” I personally feel like that is what life is all about.

I saw a social media post by a friend today who said that he recently had some realizations that life goes by fast so he wants have a renewed vision for 2019 of living life to the fullest. To him that means spending time with friends and family and treating himself to travel and the occasional extravagance. I’ve known this friend for a while and it seems like he is always in search of everlasting joy and happiness. He had a life-threatening illness a few years ago and I had hoped you would use it to teach him about charity and giving of himself. Instead, he told me that when it was over he was going to focus on having some fun.

I say all of this because what Peter is wishing upon us here is grace and peace. I will not find either if I am indulging my own wants and building a life that is about my experiences. The “pursuit of happiness” as mentioned in the constitution’s preamble is a fallacy. Grace is found by first repenting and receiving grace, and then taking that experience and turning around to extend that grace to others. Peace if found through uniting my soul with you and allowing you to use me however you see fit. If I do that, then I will have no regrets, regardless of how much or little travel I did or toys I bought during my life.

Father, I don’t want to sit here in judgment of this friend, but I want to figure out how to reach out to him without coming across as sanctimonious or holier than thou. At the same time, I want to focus on my own journey in you. I want to use my life to worship you and knock over the dominoes that you need my life to knock over so that my presence in this world will have the impact you need it to have, regardless of whether or not my name or identity is ever tied to it. I want to decrease as you increase through me. I want to do it for you, my God and my King.

I pray all of this through the power of Jesus’ blood and through his name,

Amen

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Posted by on December 31, 2018 in 1 Peter, Peter and John

 

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Peter & John — Galatians 2:11-13

Galatians 2:11-13
11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. 13 As a result, other Jewish believers followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

Dear God, it’s interesting to see Peter give into peer pressure and Paul chastise him for it. It must have been tricky for Peter to lead in this environment. I wonder if there was a part of him that just had a hard time being certain that it was okay to eat what Gentiles ate. Did he believe, but Paul had to help his unbelief?

It makes me think about some of the issues that Christians currently differ about. Abortion is one issue where there are a lot of people who love you, but think it’s okay, while others who love you believe it is murder and it is the political issue that makes up 90% of their decision for whom to vote during an election. Homosexuality is another one. Is it okay or isn’t it?

I have a friend who is an associate pastor at a large church in a small town in another state. I asked him over lunch while he was in town recently how his church (it could be considered an evangelical Bible church) deals with this issue. He said that while they don’t condone it, they don’t call it out. He said that they are free to worship there, but cannot have any leadership roles. He also said that they would not be able to join as members. In retrospect, this feels to me a little like Peter in this story. Are you going to draw the line or aren’t you? At the same time, I can appreciate their dilemma because I am not 100% sure about this issue myself. I have homosexual people in my life whom I love and adore. I feel no compulsion to make them change to be in relationship with me. At the same time, I am not completely comfortable with their lifestyles, but I cannot tell if that is your conviction or the teaching I learned growing up.

Father, I don’t want to be a hypocrite, which is what Paul accuse Peter of in this passage. I don’t want to accept someone to their face and reject them to others. I suppose that is the most important thing I can do in situations such as what I described above. At the end of the day, I love these people and I am not in a position to judge or convict them. That is the Holy Spirit’s job. My job is to encourage them in their relationships with you and then count on the Holy Spirit to work with them in the various aspects of their lives the same as how the Holy Spirit works on me. I confess that I have grieved you as much sexually at different times in my life as much as any homosexual might have, and it has nothing to do with preferring the same or opposite sex. It goes back to the sexual immorality that Peter mentioned to the church back in Acts 15:28-29. It takes all forms, and it is important that I not use judgment of others to make me feel better about my own failings in this area.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2018 in Galatians, Peter and John

 

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Peter & John — Acts 15:1-35

Acts 15:1-33,35 NIV
[1] Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” [2] This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. [3] The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. [4] When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. [5] Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” [6] The apostles and elders met to consider this question. [7] After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. [8] God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. [9] He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. [10] Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? [11] No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” [12] The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. [13] When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. [14] Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. [15] The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: [16] “ ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, [17] that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’— [18] things known from long ago. [19] “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. [20] Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. [21] For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.” [22] Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. [23] With them they sent the following letter: The apostles and elders, your brothers, To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia: Greetings. [24] We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. [25] So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— [26] men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. [27] Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. [28] It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: [29] You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. [30] So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. [31] The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. [32] Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. [33] After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. [35] But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

Dear God, I’m kind of surprised that this is where we see the last of Peter and John in Acts. Peter gets to be the authority that settles this dispute about circumcision and then the book becomes about Paul’s travels.

Before starting to attend Catholic Church with my wife nearly eight years ago, I never realized that They consider Peter to be the first Pope. That makes sense, I suppose. I would imagine that his life and the evolution of his beliefs and what you taught him ended up surprising him. I’m sure he didn’t expect to be the head of a church and entire movement, and I’m certain he didn’t expect that one day he would be advocating for the acceptance of Gentiles into The Way.

I guess we all evolve over time as the Holy Spirit works on us. I’ve certainly evolved. I wonder, though, how much my evolution has been tainted by the teaching of men (and I’m not just referring to males), whether they be influencers from the church or from the world. Do I have the wisdom of Peter, Paul, Judas, and Silas? Am I hearing the Holy Spirit when I make decisions based on whom I should accept and whom I should reproach?

Father, my confession is that, until I get a good, clear word from you otherwise, I will default to love and encouraging people to pursue and embrace you. We are not even close to understanding your ways. I admit that. You are too great for me to comprehend. But you have proven your love to me so I will start there and then see if I can hear your voice and let your Holy Spirit guide me from there.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2018 in Acts, Peter and John

 

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Peter & John — Acts 12:11-19

Acts 12:11-19
11 Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent his angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!”
12 When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. 13 He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!”
15 “You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.”
16 Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. 17 He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers what happened,” he said. And then he went to another place.
18 At dawn there was a great commotion among the soldiers about what had happened to Peter. 19 Herod Agrippa ordered a thorough search for him. When he couldn’t be found, Herod interrogated the guards and sentenced them to death. Afterward Herod left Judea to stay in Caesarea for a while.

Dear God, I love the image of people sitting in a room praying together for Peter’s release, a woman comes in and tells them that Peter is at the door, and they tell her she’s crazy and then turn around and try to start praying again. I guess when verse 15 says they decided, “It must be his angel,” that tells us that they thought he might already be dead. They’ve just lost James and then Peter was arrested. I’m sure they had been rocked to their core.

I guess what can really be said for them is that they were praying and although they were limited in their knowledge of your power they were praying as big as they knew how. And I suppose you were able to take that prayer and then insert your own power to make it as big as you needed it to be. It’s a little like what I talked to you about a couple of days ago regarding the difference between how we would have planned salvation through the Messiah and how you planned it. Our human paradigms and minds are limited. You are unlimited.

The Bible is full of examples like this. David knew he would one day be king, but I’m sure he never imagined how complicated his path to the throne would be. And I’m sure that he wondered if he had missed it when he was forced to live in exile with Israel’s enemies. But your plan was bigger.

There are, of course, tons of other examples. Jonah and Nineveh. Daniel probably never imagined he would survive the lion’s den. Moses probably didn’t expect to have to go through the Red Sea.

I’ve seen it happen in my life too. I’ve seen you answer prayers that I had no idea I was praying. I’ve seen you move when I had lost hope that anything could be done. I’ve seen you orchestrate things together for your glory and my good.

Father, I suppose my job is to just keep praying, even in my limited ignorance. I heard about a tragedy that happened here on Sunday when a four-year-old was accidentally run over by his uncle at a family Christmas celebration. I cannot imagine the trauma for everyone involved. I just can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine how you can redeem that situation and heal the hearts involved, but I come to you now to pray for them. I pray for the parents. I pray for the uncle. I pray for the aunt who unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate the child. I pray for the EMTs who arrived on the scene. Please be with all of these people. I literally don’t know how to pray for them. I just know that they need you as their comforter right now. Please help them.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2018 in Acts, Peter and John

 

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Peter & John — Acts 12:5-11

Acts 12:5-11 NIV
[5] So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. [6] The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. [7] Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. [8] Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. [9] Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. [10] They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him. [11] Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”

Dear God, we all need affirmations in the midst of a struggle. Mary and Joseph needed them with Jesus’ birth and you gave them to them with the shepherds, the prophecies at his temple dedication, and the wise men. Jesus needed it with his road to crucifixion in Jerusalem so you have him the transfiguration. Now Peter needed it with the death of Jameson’s his own imprisonment and you gave him this rescue by an angel. Sometimes we just need to see you tangibly move to feel that affirmation.

I remember back at the end of 2005, my wife and I had been through a lot over the previous three years and you did some wondrous things for us that year. At one point I asked if she would write them down and record them so we wouldn’t forget.

This year, you have done several things to show us that you are hearing and answering our prayers after years of struggle and we have tried to acknowledge your signs of affirmation. I think I said this to you recently, but it has reminded me of the Keith Green song “The Prodigal.” In the song, after the son returns, the prodigal’s father says, “I prayed and prayed, never heard a sound. My son was lost, oh thank you, God, he’s found.”

Father, there have been times that I’ve felt like I was praying into silence, but I knew I wasn’t. And I’ve seen you answer prayers, both professionally and personally, in ways I never imagined you would or even could. Thank you. Thank you for even caring. Thank you for hearing me. Thank you for saying yes to some things and no to Thera, according to your wisdom. Thank you for your love. Thank you for encouraging and affirming my wife and me am giving us a sense of your favor and blessing.

In Jesus name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 26, 2018 in Acts, Peter and John

 

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Peter & John — Acts 12:1-5

Acts 12:1-5 [NLT]
About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. 2 He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. 3 When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) 4 Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. 5 But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.

Dear God, this had to have been a terrifying time for the original 11 disciples who witnessed Jesus’ resurrection. As far as I can tell, James was the first one of them to be martyred, and he was one of the “big three.” It’s sad that the new church had to experience so much fear, but I think you used that to refine them, make them stronger, and spread them out into the world.

My wife and I have had up and down years since 2010. Well, 2009 really. Okay, there were years of unemployment scattered in before that. Then there was the miscarriage in the 90s. Yes, we’ve had some hard times. But we were talking yesterday morning about how many positive things happened to us in 2018. I had some hard things to deal with at work, but in the end things worked out very well and we enter 2019 in a stronger position than we did in 2018. Things with our family are as good as they have been in almost 10 years. But even as we sat and talked together this morning, we were able to see some of the lessons we learned during some really hard years and even some things that happened to us this year.

I was at a family Christmas event last night with mostly people I don’t know or only tangentially know because they are very distant relatives. One of the families experienced a terrible tragedy this year with the loss of an adult son in his 20s (maybe 30s). I was talking with the wife and I had forgotten about their loss and we talked about how things were going with my wife and me. I was able to tell her that we have had a remarkably good year and she said, “I’m so glad this year could be good for someone. I’m just ready to get to 2019.” I immediately felt terrible for being so thoughtless and insensitive to what she has been through this year. I don’t know that there is any redemption in this process for her as she and her husband move forward into 2019, but I pray that you will use this tragedy and redeem it to make it something that counts.

Father, I don’t know what today holds, much less tomorrow. But I know that challenges will come. Please use each one to grow me and to bring you glory through me. Help me to not be distracted by my own “wisdom,” but to hear your still, small voice and follow your leading. Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles had some decisions to make after James’ death. They now knew that their earthly lives were not untouchable. Help me to face my path with the same faith that Peter, John, and the others had.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2018 in Acts, Peter and John, Uncategorized

 

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What if God had done Christmas our way?

Dear God, several years ago, I had a thought. It started with the Christmas story and the shepherds. I wondered what would have happened if, instead of going to the shepherds in the fields with the angel chorus, you had gone to the church leaders or governmental leaders. What if you had gone to the private businessmen who were prominent in the church and announced to them that a savior was born that night? Had I overlooked how strategically important it was that you had chosen shepherds?

Then I started to think about Mary and Joseph, probably living outside of town in a tent or something while they were in Bethlehem for the census. All of a sudden, she goes into labor and has to go to a stable because they can’t find a room to rent for the night in which she can deliver the baby. But did the shepherds know of the pregnant couple visiting Bethlehem? Had they seen Mary and Joseph?

So now my mind was really clicking as I thought about these things. What if? What if? What if?

I suppose it starts with what our human wisdom would have done to bring about the Messiah. What if you had brought the idea to the temple’s leadership and asked them to submit plans for bringing your son into the world. I can see a few options they probably would have put on the table.

  • He should be born to a righteous priest and his wife. They would probably first ask, “Do we have any priests who are descendants of David?” Then the boy should be raised in the church and taught all of the doctrine that had been handed down over the years. He will ultimately become the leader of the church and will evolve into the leader of a great army that will topple Rome and bring about the revival of Israel. Yes, that is how it should happen.
  • He should be born to a prominent family where the father is a descendant of David. Like Samuel, his family will ensure that he is brought to the temple be raised. He will be taught all of the doctrine that had been handed down over the years. He will ultimately become the leader of the church and will evolve into the leader of a great army that will topple Rome and bring about the revival of Israel. Yes, that is how it should happen.
  • Another group would probably questions why he should be born at all. Let him appear among us. God’s Messiah will come to us straight from Heaven. He will ultimately become the leader of the church and will evolve into the leader of a great army that will topple Rome and bring about the revival of Israel. Yes, that is how it should happen.

The ideas would flow for a while and then you would say, “No, no. You don’t understand…

  • If he has an earthly father, he will not have my DNA. You don’t realize this can happen, but his mother will need to be impregnated by the Holy Spirit. He is my son, not yours. Yes, we will be playing a little loosely with the line of David part, but we can get a woman who is married to someone from David’s lineage. That will be close enough. Of course, in order to prove it’s my child, the mother will need to be a virgin until after he is born, but I can do that. No problem.
  • If he is born into a priestly family, he is going to be raised in the box of the religion that you’ve created over the past three thousand years. No, no priests. Maybe we can give him a cousin from a priestly family. That will be close enough.
  • If he is born into a family of wealth, he won’t understand suffering. He will expect privilege. Additionally, a prominent earthly father will feel the pressure to leave him in the church and then I’m right back where I started with him growing up in the box of religion. Also, you don’t realize it, but this kid will spend the first few years of his life on the run. I need a family that is willing to be flexible.”

“No,” you’ll continue, “here’s what I have in mind…

  • First, I’ve known all along what I’m going to do. I just wanted to see what y’all would come up with. When they look back on his time on Earth, some people will look back and think that things were orchestrated intentionally to fulfill the prophecies about him, but the truth is that I’ve been planning this all along and I gave prophets of the past insights into the future so that after it happened, all of you would know that I know exactly what’s going on and what I’m doing.
  • To that end, the first priority is that I need him to be raised by good people. I mean REALLY good people. I need people who love me and will do anything for me. I need people who are willing to do the right thing at any given moment, whether it makes sense or not. I’ve got a guy picked out that you won’t believe. And the woman–well, she’s exactly who I need.
  • On the night he is born, I need a way to affirm his parents and to let people know that this was real. There’s going to have to be an announcement, but I need to pick my audience carefully. What I’m going to do is announce it to the shepherds out in the fields. I can’t have the angels show up singing over the stable and if I send them to the people in town then they might try to take the baby from the parents. If that happens, the plan is dead. But the shepherds will go and find the parents. They will tell them what they saw and it will encourage this sweet young couple that I’m with them.
  • You don’t realize this, but it will be important that he is raised poor. He will see suffering. He will see sickness. He will see prostitution. He will be an immigrant, living in a foreign land for his formative years. He will know what it’s like to be an outsider and have his feelings hurt. He will know what it’s like to know Egyptians and people from other nations and love them. He will know that I’ve sent him to be the Messiah for everyone, not just the Jews.
  • I also need to keep him poor and obscure while he is younger because I’ve got to keep the kings of the time from killing him out of jealousy and fear. I have no intention of taking away the thrones I’ve given them, but they don’t know that. I’m actually sending him to save them too.

“So here’s my plan. I’ve got this couple picked out. You wouldn’t know it to look at them, but they are perfect. I can’t tell you who they are yet because if I do you won’t be able to keep yourselves from messing everything up with your wisdom. They will end up having to move around a lot his first few years because his life will be in danger. In fact, a lot of innocent children are going to die at the hand of a jealous king. I’ve already seen it. But they will be in my arms.

“He is going to grow up and keep a low profile until he is about 30. Then he will take everything he’s learned through the experiences he’s had and the DNA he has as my child and preach truth. It’s going to surprise you. He’s going to tear down some of the things that religion has built over the last 3,000 years. He’s going to reveal my heart for all of mankind to you.

“Now this part is going to surprise you, but he is ultimately going to die. There will be no wars. No armies. No overthrowing of Rome. See, you don’t need a man to lead you to victory. You need a lamb that will be your salvation. In fact, it will be the very church that you wanted to raise him that will kill him. In the end, the Romans won’t want to do it, but the church will insist that they do. It will be the church’s jealousy and insecurity, not Rome’s, that will take his life. But that’s what you need. You just don’t realize it.

“Finally, because he is my son, and because I am God and I am capable of doing so much more than you could ever have imagined for this plan, I am going to raise him from the dead. After this happens, history will completely shift. You’ll be amazed.”

Father, I’m a Gentile, sitting here on this Christmas Eve roughly 2,000 years after you put your plan into action. It worked. I have chills as I type this. You are my God. Thank you.

In Jesus’ name I pray,

Amen

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2018 in Musings and Stories, Uncategorized

 

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