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The Christmas Paradox: A Labor of Love

This Christmas post is going to be a little different.  There is going to be a lot about Jesus, of course, but there will also be what I am going to call Theological Physics.  A little science mixed in with knowlege about God…hey, it’s Christmas!  Don’t worry, it won’t be too bad.  I hope.  This is part one.  I will save the physics and theology for part two.

For the last couple of years, a friend of mine has been telling me about Andrew Peterson’s Christmas Concert.  Andrew Peterson is a Contemporary Christian Music Artist and he has been doing a Christmas tour since 1999 where he goes through the story of Christmas but starts in the Old Testament and works his way through to the birth of Christ and its significance.  My friend said that there is an amazing song in this called, “A Labor of Love,” that talks about the birth of Christ in a very real way.  It was, afterall, an actual birth with everything that comes with that.

The tour and CD is called Behold the Lamb of God.  I knew we were going to be doing a lot of driving this year to our various Christmas gatherings and I wanted some new Christmas music to listen to besides the same songs they always play on the radio.  I remembered my friend talking about Andrew Peterson and that song, so we got the whole CD…I am a big fan of how the Christmas story fits into the “whole story” of the Bible, so I figured it would probably be pretty good.  It is.

We gave it a listen on one of our long drives to a family Christmas party.  I was completely enthralled with how they were able to weave the story of the Bible in such a cool way.  The songs about the Old Testament were amazing.  He wrapped the gest of Israel’s Biblical history into just a few songs, but it was done beautifully.  He built it up to the birth of Christ.  Then the song “Labor of Love” came on.  It was everything my friend said it was.  Graphic yet beautiful.  Then suddenly a line was sung that I was not prepared for…I didn’t see it coming and I don’t know that I will ever be theologically or philosophically the same.  A very simple string of words that left me in tears at the wonder of the gospel and amazing love of God.

I would encourage you to get the CD, listen to all the songs up to this one, and then hear these lyrics in context, but I am going to share the lines that rocked my little world.  It is a simple thought, but such a huge effect on me.  The context within the song is that Mary is giving birth on the ground of a dirty stable with no family except her new husband.  Joseph is there with her being as brave as he can given the earthy and heavenly circumstances.

So he held her and he prayed, shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb, he was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the Faith that could make the mountains move

This thought…I almost don’t have words to convey how God sent shockwaves through me with it.  You have a poor family in a stable.  A birth happening in the worst of situations.  We would call this horrible in our time.  Think about it.  A baby being born in a dirty, fifthy stable.  A place were dusty animals eat and use the bathroom.  No professionals around.  Just a man with rough hands from carpentry who probably did not know much about childbirth.  And there is Joseph trying to have enough faith to believe that an angel really did come to him and tell him that his wife is going to have a baby that is not his but was the work of the Holy Spirit.  Mary is going through the real pain of child birth.  No family.  No help.  Just Joseph.  She was probably trying her hardest to believe that he truly believed that all of this was really the work of God.

And then there is the baby.  The real son of God.  God in flesh.  The very Word of God that created the created everything was now a part of creation.  Get ready, because here is the thought that blew me away…Joseph had moonlight/starlight on his face as he mustered up the faith needed to guide this baby into the world as Mary gave birth…and this baby was the one who made the moon, and the stars, and gives us the ability to have faith in him.  He came up with the birthing process and was now experiencing it.  His hands molded the first man, Adam, and now one of Adam’s decendents was using his hands to guide the creator into creation.

Wow.  Do you get the contradictiction here?

I am going to let this one sink in.  Take some time to meditate on the thought of the maker of the moon being brought into the world to have the moonlight on his face.

Father, Jesus, Spirit, please fill us with the starking contrast of the reality that Jesus made the world and then was born into it.  You gave up the glory of the role of Creator to become part of creation.  More than that is why you did it.  You did it because we needed you to.  Only you could unravel the curse of sin by taking on a body that has the curse.  Then you lived a life that went against the curse…then you died to kill the curse.  Halellujah, what a savior.  Jesus, make yourself real to us today.  We pray this in your name.  I love you.  your son, joe

 
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Posted by on December 25, 2012 in Christmas, Gospel and Faith

 

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Christmas Thoughts: Jesus’ Stepdad

Before I start, if you have not read the post Christmas Thoughts: The Silence Has Broken and then come back to this one.  I am going to make a few references to what I wrote there.

I remember the first time that I heard the term “stepdad” in reference to Joseph.  It was in a Christmas song called What We Call Christmas by the band Bleach.  I was kind of offended.  Why refer to Joseph this way.  Eventually, I realized that it was an apt term. Joseph really was Jesus’ step-father. Jesus was/is God’s son…Joseph was, for lack of a better word, his custodial guardian.

There are two things about this that stand out to me. The first is that We can never be ready, truly ready, for how God is going to work things out. Jesus was/is the promised Messiah. No one expected him to be born into the family of a common construction worker and his wife, who got pregnant before she was married.

On top of that, imagine how Joseph was feeling. He is about to be married, following all of the Jewish laws of purity, and his fiance comes to him with, “I’m pregnant, but it’s not what you think…it is God’s son.”

I can just imagine what Joseph was thinking…not only was this girl cheating on him, she might be a bit crazy. Until recently, I have always forgotten the humanity of the people in this story. I guess I have always “holy-fied” them. I didn’t think about the human-ness of Joseph in how he must have felt when Mary gave him the news. But why would he believe what she said. I mean, come on, it is a little far-fetched. Remember, there had been a 400 year silence between God and the Jews, and on top of that, why would the Messiah come through an unwed mother? That is kind of far outside if Jewish law.

No wonder God had to send supernatural intervention to stop old Joe from ending the betroval quietly. Talk about a rude awakening. Joseph probably had trouble getting to sleep that night, and in the middle of his restless sleep, Gabriel, one of the head angels, pays him a visit. “Joseph, this is for real. You are going to name the boy Jesus, and you are going to raise him. You are going to raise the Messiah as your son.”

I don’t know about you, but I think I would have had to change my jammies…and not because of the heavenly visitor. He was just told that he is going to be the adoptive father to the Son of God and Savior of Israel. Gulp. Talk about a big pill to swallow.

What do you say to that? How do you deal with that? How do you prepare for that? How do you get ready to teach, discipline, and parent God’s son? Additionally, how do you explain this to your family and friends? I bet he could already hear them all, ” Suuuuuure, it’s not your baby. I am sure it is the ‘Son of God.’. Sure, Joe, we believe you.”

The story of Jesus’ coming as a baby is real, and it is a real story. The people are real. Joseph really was asked to raise a child that was not his. He was given the job of raising the Messiah. He really was to marry a pregnant Mary, no matter what anyone said. It is much easier to believe a real story, and this one is real and as full of the aspects of reality that we all know.

This brings me to the second thing that Joseph-the-Stepdad makes me realize. Jesus understands us. As Christians, we are adopted children of God. Jesus knows what this is like. He was the son of God adopted by a man…as we are the son of men adopted by God. He knows the learning curve. He understands. He is like us and we are like him.

And lastly, this brings me to one last point. Adoption is near and dear to God’s heart. Jesus was adopted, we are adopted, and he wants us to care for orphans. I will post more about this another day, but please think about doing something for children who don’t have parents to love and care for them. Adoption, fostering, or just reaching out to children in need is something God has called us to. Remembering Jesus’ adoption by Joseph should remind us about this.

I will end on that note. I think we have a lot to chew on.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Christmas Thoughts: Happy Holidays and the Kingdom of God

A few months ago, my friend and fellow blogger (the one who inspired me to start, actually), Bill Moore, got me thinking about the culture war.  In his post, Conscientiously Objecting to the Culture War, he talked about the American Christian war for the American Culture (which somehow adopted Bill O’Reilly as it’s mascot…or he adopted himself as the mascot…who knows?).  I used to be all about this.  Our need to claim moral authority on our society.  Bill (Moore) challenged me to rethink my focus.

What do we prove to the world at large with our letter writing campaigns to reality shows about questionable “stars”?  What do we gain by refusing to shop in stores that somehow, through the process of being guilty by association, may promote something we disagree with (not talking major things here)?  What do we gain by fighting against gay marriage (I know I may get some backlash on this one)?  What do we gain by only being willing to vote for a Christian into elected office?  What do we gain by waging war against “Happy Holidays” replacing “Merry Christmas?”  I know all of these have room for debate, but I am asking what do we gain by these?

Do we gain sinners realizing that their only hope for life and acceptance by God is through Jesus Christ on the cross and his resurrection?  Do we gain people battling their way out of poverty?  Do we gain a decrease in children without families?  Do we gain people taking care of other people?  Do we gain the Kingdom of God?  Do we?  These are what we have been called to find important as Christians.  These are the hills we should be choosing to “die on.”

Of these things, I am going to focus on the whole “Happy Holidays” thing…it is, afterall, Christmas.

Is it really that important that everyone says, “Merry Christmas?”  Is it really?  Is there a need for all people, Christian and nonChristian alike to wish everyone a happy Christ’s Mass?  I am not so sure.  Besides, it is being placed with a word that means “Holy Days,” isn’t that enough for us?

The Spirit has really led me to some new thoughts on this recently.  I have been thinking a lot about Christmas, the traditions, and the commericialization of it (thus the Christmas thoughts posts), and something occurred to me.  There really is a Christmas spirit…or Holiday spirit.  Now, I am not saying we should be caught up in the warm-fuzzy Christmas and forget the true meaning of it…another post for another day…but there really is a “spirit” about this time of year that most people get caught up in, no matter how religious or non-religious.

This “spirit” has a way of changing people…there is a reason why “A Christmas Carol” has been so popular for so very long.  It is a true change that people feel.  People become nicer.  They think of others first.  They help the needy.  They feed the poor.  They care for the orphans.  They look out for the widows.  They help the down and out.  Hey, this sounds a lot like the list of stuff that Christians are supposed to be doing!

Christians are supposed to be about the Kingdom of God.  Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology book, says that the Kingdom of God is when the reign and rule of God in the hearts and lives of people.  A part of this is how we care for others.  Jesus himself said that there are two commandments: Love God and love one another.  How we care for others is half of the job.

So, this Christmas/Holiday “spirit” has people all around us thinking and loving their “neighbors” as themselves.  In a way, we are seeing what God’s Kingdom here on Earth will look like, at least a little.  People are caring for each other.  This is important to God.  Look in either the Old or New Testaments.  God wants us to care for others like we are compelled to at Christmas.

I say whether you say “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas,” it doesn’t really matter.  The question is, “Are we taking care of each other, especially the down-and-out?”  Are we?  Where is our focus?  Ourselves?  Or is it on using this “Christmas spirit” as a way to reach out to others and help them see the true meaning of Christmas?  Are we living a life that shows Jesus, even at Christmas?  Or are we busy fighting a battle that should not be fought, while those saying “Happy Holidays” are living out what we are called to?

Happy holidays, everyone!!  Joe

Father, Jesus, Spirit, please help me to pick the right battles this year.  Help me to see that it is about loving you and loving others.  Thank you for allowing the “Christmas spirit” to show us your Kingdom.  Please help me to use this to reach out and tell other people about the source of this “spirit.”  I love you.  Your son and dependent, Joe

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Christmas Thoughts: Silence Has Broken

As you could probably tell from my last two posts, I am looking at Christmas completely different this year.  One of the themes that the Spirit keeps bringing to mind is the miracle of the moment that Christmas represents: Jesus stepping into his creation to set the ball in motion for his taking on the sin of the world and making us right with God.  This theme has two parts for me: the obvious Gospel connection, but the other side of it is God’s relationship with Israel and how Jesus birth turned that relationship on its head.

Jesus birth heralded the breaking of the silence between God and his chosen people.  The story of the Bible is the story of God’s relationship with humankind.  This relationship is personified in his relationship with the Israelites.  He chose a people to be his own.  A people to allow him to give a real picture of who he is, a loving and merciful God who, though he is holy, he is also compassionate and forgiving.  He would allow this people to trust him and prove that he can be trusted.  A people that will make him angry, but that he will always accept with open arms if they would just turn back to him in trust.  It is this picture that will eventually apply to all people that trust in his son, Jesus.

A part of any relationship is communication and a give and take.  The history of the Hebrew people and their relationship to God is more of a take relationship.  They take while God gives.  God is patient, but broken trust led to hardships for Israel.  I was working on a brief and abridged history of the Old Testament, but it got too long to put in this post.  I will probably make it a seperate post to refer to in other posts, but the theme that stood out to me as I was writing it was this:

  • God blesses Abraham and his family.
  • Abraham and his family accept the blessing.
  • God tells them how to trust him and prove their trust.
  • Abraham and family move outside of this.
  • God gets angry, but moves out of compassion to their aid.
  • There is a broken relationship and a silence.
  • Abraham and his family deals with consequences because of their lack of trust.
  • They cry out to God.
  • God hears them and moves.
  • Relationship is restored.
  • The cycle repeats.

Now, the thing that happens over time is that the more people there are among the Israelite people, the bigger the broken trust becomes.  The bigger the broken trust, the bigger the broken relationship.  The bigger the consequences, the bigger the cry to God.  The bigger the cry, the more God moves miraculously to their aid.  The bigger the move to their aid, the deeper the relationship becomes.

There are two times in Old Testament history that the broken relationship and silence is the biggest, and the first one is early on.  It is the gap of time between Joseph and Moses.  The best that I can see, after God rescues Jacob’s family from the edge of extinction during the famine there is a time in which there is very little movement between God and the Israelites…at least none that we are privy to.  As far as the cause of this, all I can figure out is that Jacob constantly tried to live the relationship with God and God’s promises to him on his own terms.  His sons seem to be the same way.  Even Joseph is pretty prideful before he is sold as a slave (it is only thing to have a dream in which your family bows down to you, it is something else to brag to them about it).  This pride in the family was probably a pretty major breach of trust that needed to be broken to deepen the relationship.

So, there is nearly a 400 year silence.  This is broken when Moses, the one who was exiled from both Pharoh’s family and the Israelites and was now living in the wilderness with “unchosen” members of Abraham’s family as a shepherd, was tending flocks and God spoke to him through a burning bush.  No wonder he was afraid to be God’s spokesperson!  Not only was he really not an invited member of Abraham’s family, he was sent to claim that God was now ready to repair the relationship with people who felt abandoned by him!  This a major break in silence!

And through the story of the Exodus, God moved in a major way to repair a major rift in the relationship with his people.  Though this cycle of broken relationship happened over and over again in the wilderness, the relationship really was a lot deeper afterwards.   However, with this came bigger and bigger movements of lack of trust on the part of the Hebrews.  This moved them and God further and further apart.

The story of God’s people once they settled in the “promised land” is a constant recycling of the broken trust circle of life.  God’s warnings became more and more severe, but his moves of compassion became bigger and bigger, as well.  Eventually, the broken trust led God to allow his warnings to become reality and his people were taken from the land he gave them.  It was during this time that God kept sending people to warn that there would be a major break in relationship if they did not turn back in complete trust to him…but he also kept promising a future in which the relationship would be completely restored by a coming King…his chosen servant who would make everything right forever between God and his people.

After God heard the cried of the exiled Israelites, he brought them back to Israel.  He saved them, but they had to deal with the consequences.  After over 1000 years of deepened relationship between God and his people, God went silent again.  Their pride and arrogance caused a lack of trust that broke the relationship.  Remember, the deeper the relationship, the deeper and darker the silence becomes.  During this time, Israel was never truly free.  Captive to several nations.  It was another 400 year silence, but this one was worse.  Israel lost their place as God’s blessed nation.  The people sought God, but God did not send any more messengers.  I can not even imagine this, as the citizen of a country less than 300 years old and as someone who has God’s Spirit with me constantly.  I don’t have words to describe what this silence must have been like (no pun intended).

Religion became ritual.  People used it for power.  Commoners believed in God but did not understand him.  The scriptures were read, but not comprehended.  God was a part of their culture, but not an intregal part of their lives.

This was the silence that was broken by the cry of a baby.  Shouts from angels to sleepy shepherds ended God’s broken communication.  Visions and dreams were given again.  A supernatural star broke the monotony of the same nightime scenery seen for 400 years.

A baby broke the silence.  The chosen one had come.  God’s annointed one would repair the relationship between God and man forever.  And he laid in a cattle feeding trough being watched by a carpenter and his wife along with dirty shepherd and animals probably marked for sacrafice.

It came upon a midnight clear…and the silence was broken once and for all.

Father, Jesus, and Spirit, thank you for breaking the silence.  Thank you for repairing the relationship.  Thank you for allowing me to be accepted by you.  Please help my trust to be real and my love to be true.  Your son and dependent, Joe.

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Christmas Thoughts: Dear Lord Baby Jesus

I have had so many thoughts and lessons from God this Christmas season, but so little time and/or energy to share them here.  Because I am now out for winter break (I am a teacher, if you didn’t know), I have some time.  I have decided to do a series of posts that I will put up when ever time allows for some writing.  So there may be a string of them in one day, or days between them.  We’ll see how it goes.  Anyway, without further ado, here is the first of what I hope will be many before the 25th of December.

I am going to start with a soap box issue for me.  Possibly not the best jumping off point to inspire you to read future posts in this series, but I have to start where my thoughts started this year.  It is probably an overplayed issure, but it is my turn to pipe in on it.  Over commercialization of Christmas, however this is not just about Walmart (and other stores) starting the Christmas rush earlier and earlier every year…it is more about Christians buying into the over commercializing of the birth of Jesus and trivializing what his birth truly means.

Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  Jesus was born into the human existence as a real human baby, which let him live a normal human life sinlessly (as prescribed to the Israelites by God through Moses), which allowed him to die a death he did not deserve and take the wrath of God that we deserve. and then he was raised from the dead to show that his payment for our sin was accepted as paid in full and the grave no longer had any rights to him.  Jesus being born is a big deal.  However, I think that the over commericialization of Christmas has led most Christians into missing the point of Jesus’ birth.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating the Christ-child.  There are what I like to call the three “ions” that are key to the Christian faith.  The Incarnation (Jesus stepping out of heaven to live the human experience…just without sinning), the Crucifiction (Jesus dying a greusome death on the cross and being separated completely from God, and doing so to pay the price for our sin), and the Resurrection (Jesus being raised from the dead because the price was paid and death could not hold him).  Jesus’ birthday is the Incarnation side of things, and it is very important.  I just think as celebration of Christmas becomes bigger and bigger (and earlier and earlier), we lose sight of why it is important, and Christians start becoming more and more like the main character in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.

The movie stars Will Farrell as a Nascar driver.  I do not know a whole lot about the movie, because I have never actually watched it.  But there are scenes that I remember from the ads for it and that I have heard quoted and eventually watched online.  The parts of the movie that I am referring to are parodies of how some Christians can act, and they are extremely over-the-top and sacreligious.  For that reason, I won’t share a link to YouTube or quote the movie.  I will just summarize what my reference is about.

The main character, Ricky Bobby, is a “christian.”  He prays often in the movie, but he prays to “Lord Baby Jesus.”  There are a few scenes with prayers in which he makes several allusions to Jesus as a baby.  He even gets into arguments with his family about it and how Jesus was not just a baby.  He response was always that he likes Baby Jesus the best and that is who he prays to and worships.  Like I said, it is over-the-top and a satire of how some people seem to be.  My fear is that we all take on shades of this sometimes at Christmas.

We get caught up with the magic and wonder of Jesus as a baby, which in of itself is not bad.  It was the miracle of God leaving Heaven to come to Earth as our Savior.  It is something to celebrate.  I think we just forget to focus on the why part of why Jesus had to become a baby to save us.  I know I do.  It is so easy to get caught up in Christmas and the Christmas traditions.

This year, I have really been convicted about this.  After reading through the Bible, the Holy Spirit has been able to show me over and over why Jesus had to come.  It is because he had to be human and live that life so that he could sacrafice it for my sin.

The “reason for the season” is that I am a sinner who is separated from God.  Only God himself can save me.  Jesus is God in flesh.  He came to Earth and lived the live I couldn’t.  Because he lived a sinless life, he could give that life up.  He did not have to die.  He never sinned, so he did not deserve death.  Not only did he not have to die, he did not deserve to be tortured and then separated from God the Father and the Holy Spirit.  He was separated from them on the cross and then again as he was in the grave for three days (and what ever the sinners after life is).  The one who had lived in eternity past with the Father and Spirit was separated from them for days.  That may not seem like long to us, but I am sure it was like forever to him.  He then came back from the dead because the price was paid.  Prisoners do not have to stay in prison once the sentence is up.  Jesus walked away from the jail (while it blew up behind him…see Action Hero Jesus for more).  He came, lived, died, and rose again.  It it was all because I was a sinner who needed to be saved.

Baby Jesus is important, but it is not everything.  It is not even why Christmas is important.  God heard our cries, and he came and saved us.  Jesus being born is about him accepting our death.  This is what Christmas is about.

Father, Jesus, and Spirit, please do not let me miss the point and the reason for Christmas this year.  Thank you for saving me.  Thank you for your sacrafice.  Thank you for your love.  Your son and dependent, Joe.

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Posted by on December 18, 2011 in Christmas, Gospel and Faith

 

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A Christmas Prayer

Father, Jesus, and Spirit,

I feel it starting inside of me.  The temptation to look to myself and the world as the universe around me looks more and more “christmasy.”  You know my heart.  You know my struggles with Christmas.  You know I spent my childhood looking to the feelings of Christmas.  I wanted it to be perfect.  I wanted it to be like TV and movies.  I remember the year that I was in 7th grade and I really wanted it to snow.  I was in a sour mood for days because it didn’t.  It wasn’t Christmas to me.  I wanted the feelings I was told I was supposed to have.

You know the years I spent struggling with this.  You remember the year after college that I gave up on all of the traditions of Christmas because they were not You.  I decided to forsake all that was “christmas” to me in the past because of the commericalism and selfishness that was tied up in it all.  You brought me out of this.  You showed me  how you can redeem anything.  You can bring your meaning to all things.  Just because the Christmas Tree, lights, and even gift giving were all adapted from pagan and worldly sources, that doesn’t mean you can’t have your part and meaning in them.  The Tree is a sign of the everlasting life offered in you.  The lights are the symbol of you and your coming.  The gifts are a picture of the gift of your life that you gave us.

You gave me a plan for Christmas with my own family.  How to take control of the traditions and make them yours.  How I can use the usual customs of the holiday to teach my children about You and the true meaning of Christmas.  You helped my family be okay with this.  You helped me have a son that so far is not caught up in the selfish side of Christmas.  You know all of these things.

And you know that right now my heart wants to go back.  It wants the “warm and fuzzy christmas” that basks in gifts and feelings that are about me.  I don’t want that.  I don’t want that kind of Christmas spirit.  I know it is not a bad thing to be caught up in Christmas, but I know there is something better.   I want to be caught up in You.  I want to be caught up in the reason that you came, Jesus.  I want to be caught up in the story of redemption.  I want to be caught up in the mercy and love that drove you to leave heave, come and live a real life here on Earth, to die a greusomely real death, and then to rise again to prove that your sacrafice was accepted and I am truely free.

Spirit, I want your presence to be what gives me the peace and joy of Christmas.  I don’t want the manufactured feelings that come from lights, happy songs, and hot cocoa.  I want the real thing.  I want You.  Even if it means dealing with myself and my selfish nature and sin.  I want the real Spirit.  The real Comfort and Joy.

Father, I want you to be the reality of Christmas that Santa can not hold a candle to.  I want to look to you.  The real Father Christmas.  The giver of gifts that did not hold back his own perfect Son.  You did not passover your own Son.  You allowed him to come and die.  To come and die for me.  You accept me because you were willing to reject Him.  I want this gift to be the only one that consumes me this year.

Father, Jesus, and Spirit, please be my Christmas.  Please be my focus.  Please make this year real.  Please help me not to hold back your message.  Please let it be the song on my lips.  Help me to teach my son.  Help me to share this constantly with my wife.  Please help me to share it with the world.

Thank you, Father.  Thank you, Jesus.  Thank you, Spirit.

Yours, by your grace alone,  Joe.

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Posted by on December 11, 2011 in Faith and Life, Prayer

 

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