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FEAR, FRIGHT, AND FELLOWSHIP

Week Three, 2021

We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, character and hope. Romans 5:3

Fear can be debilitating. It can tear us down and steal our confidence. It can bring great anxiety that has us feeling as if we are boxed in and the walls are moving closer.

Fear can cause us to freeze up, to not move or do. It can cause us to just freeze, being unable to help, unstable to think clearly. Fear can cause us to run, to flee, to take flight. Fear can cause us to fight, to become angry, to defend. Fear keeps men from rising up to greatness. Fear keeps men cowering in a boat, while the Savior beckons us to step out and walk on water, to trust and believe. Fear causes us to thrash about in the water, even after we’ve taken a few steps on that water.

Fear can also be healthy as it causes us to prepare, to strengthen, to fortify. Fear can cause us to plan and strategize. It can be the catalyst to help us think outside the box, help us become creative, help see things we may never have seen otherwise.

And then… there is the fear of the Lord. The great respect. The awe. The knowing of His great strength, His great knowledge, even His great wrath. The knowing of His history, His dependability, His promises, His character, His love. The knowing of the Greatest gift of all, His Son who He sent to live and die and live again so that we might have life.

As we face the fears of life, whether large or small or somewhere in between, let us not be afraid. For we know that He will never leave us nor forsake us. We know that we are never alone. Though I may fear… I will not be afraid, for I know from where my help comes.

We glory in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall, I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to eat up my flesh, my adversaries and foes, it is they who stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. Though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. Psalm 27:1-3

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SOMETIMES TRUE STORIES

Sometimes we just need a little straight talk. No fancy story. No Fluff. No paint. Just truth. And here it is:

And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” – 1 John 5:11-12 NIV

Straight up. Grace, forgiveness and eternal life can be only found one way and that’s through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. There is no other way to the Father. No other way to Heaven.

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 NIV Marty Stubblefield

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Crisis is a call to faith:

Max Lucado points to the time Jesus walked to the disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee (John 6:16–20) and then quotes verse 21, “They were glad to take [Jesus] into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going.” Then Lucado adds: “Follow the example of the disciples. Welcome Jesus into the midst of this turbulent time. Don’t let the storm turn you inward. Let it turn you upward.”

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QUOTES YOU CAN USE

Here’s the bad news: humans cannot change human nature. Here’s the good news: Jesus can. Jim Denison

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power. Abraham Lincoln

Don’t pull the clouds of tomorrow onto the sunshine of today. Ken Whitten

Our culture cuts the flowers off at the roots and then wonders why they die. Jim Denison

If your religion has not changed your life, then you need to change your religion. Adrian Rogers

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” Helen Keller

You can’t say that marriage is the union between one man and one woman. Until very recently, that’s what the vast majority of Americans thought. Now it’s considered bigotry. Jim Denison

Too frightened to follow?

Frank Becker

I lived through World War II and a dozen that followed, always under the shadow of nuclear war. But in my 80 years, I have never witnessed so many challenges to the human race in so short a period of time.

Consider the saber-rattling from China, Russia, and a score of lesser nations. Factor in the Chinese Virus pandemic, the world’s faltering economies, America’s own vicious political infighting, the encouragement by the left of violent crime, and the corruption of our media.

While some properly recognize these as the methods Hitler and Stalin used to subvert their nations, these all have foundation in Jesus’ prophecies concerning the end times. Before his return, there will be wars, earthquakes, pestilence, and distress of nations (Luke 21:8-11). These are signs of the times.

But these are not times for Christians to bury their heads in the sand and attempt to avoid reality. Jesus warned us! “And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day comes upon you unawares. For as a snare it shall come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth” Luke 21:34-35).

Through my eight decades, I have seen good times and bad, but most Americans have chosen to try to perpetuate the “good times” and ignore the bad. And too often we have ignored the plights of others around the world who have suffered, and we have instead wallowed in our prosperity. It seemed a small thing to abort 60-million unborn, living beings, the very children who would be called upon to run our industries, fight our wars, and pay our Social Security, while donating countless millions to safe predators, both four legged and two. We have forgotten that we were a nation made great by the values and personal sacrifices of those who preceded us.

Americans allowed the mention of God to be removed from our classrooms. Our educational system was perverted, and entire generations of Americans grew up ignorant of their heritage and the issues that separated our free nation from the flawed systems of those gone before. Through all this, the practices of many was to remain willingly and blithely ignorant and to discount any threats to our nation—to eat, drink, and be merry.

Their education came from the media, and the media was, in large measure, corrupt. No, the United States of America weren’t perfect, but we were the best in history, and we continually working to improve. Our Constitution and the Bill of Rights provided for positive change. But we have been dismantling our Constitution, and as a result, our freedoms are nearly gone.

And with the vast immigration into the USA—legal and illegal—there has been a massive introduction of competitive systems of religion and politics, followed by the erosion of our system of beliefs. Others came here to benefit from the fruits of our freedom, but rather than embarce prove values, they insisted on bringing the evils of their own.

As a result of these things, our nation has begun a rapid decline.

A cloud is spreading over the earth, and it’s not ozone. It’s sin, and terror, and repression. Who do we punish? Those who want to examine events and make certain that things are properly done, rather than those who shut off all debate and crush their enemies.

Christian, you are not to be of that crowd!

For those followers of Jesus Christ who may feel overwhelmed by the speed and intensity of change, I point you to God’s Word. Those who have an ear to hear, listen again to the words of Jesus in Luke, Chapter 21.

And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares. For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.”

This is my point: As things around us grow more and more evil, we should be increasingly aware that He will return soon. Even joyful and triumphant. For just as we know that the budding of leaves on the trees indicate that summer is coming, so we know that these signs point to our Lord’s return. Don’t be caught up in despair. Instead, rejoice, and stand firm in your faith.

Do you remember these words from the 23rd Psalm?

“He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Those paths don’t always seem pleasant, do they?

But if He is leading, we will only find contentment in following him.

Is this your prayer? Is this your life?

As Paul remarked, we are nearer the “end” than we were at the beginning.

“Even so, come Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:21).

TODAY’S FINAL (!) LESSON: Psalm 134

Semi Retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford

A STUDY IN THE ASCENT PSALMS

This is Study #15 of our insights into the “Ascent Psalms” – Psalms 120-134! Each one of these studies has drawn us to a vivid realization that we are on a sojourn, a journey, a walk with the Lord with the end of the journey being, well, HIM! In ancient days, the Jews were either heading back to Jerusalem from captivity OR they were headed to Jerusalem for specific feast days. In either case, the end result was the presence of God in Jerusalem.

Our theme verse has been Psalm 84:5, “Blessed is the man whose strength is in You, whose heart is set on pilgrimage.” (Psalm 84:5 NKJV). Have you learned our theme verse yet?

TODAY WE ARE IN PSALM 134

Psalm 134 New King James Version (NKJV)

A Song of Ascents.

1 Behold, bless the Lord,

All you servants of the Lord,

Who by night stand in the house of the Lord!

2  Lift up your hands in the sanctuary,

And bless the Lord.

3  The Lord who made heaven and earth

Bless you from Zion!

Our valuable scholar, Dr. Graham Scroggie, entitles this psalm “Blessing and Blessed”.

I have created a most simple outline:

1. In the House of the Lord, v. 1

2. In the Sanctuary of the Lord, v. 2

3. In the City of the Lord, v. 3

There are SOME INTERESTING INSIGHTS we all can glean from this wonderful psalm!

FIRST, did you notice how many times the word “bless” is used in these 3 verses: Yes, 3 times! First, in verse 1 we are instructed that the servants of the LORD should be blessing the LORD! Isn’t that a good reminder? Have you ever gone into a project and thought, “I wonder what PEOPLE will think of me if I do this? Or present this? Or say this? Or NOT do this? What will PEOPLE think of ME? ME? ME?

The psalmist lovingly reminds us that the ONE to be blessed is not ME (although, as a by-product, we should be “blessed” for doing a project with the right motive, shouldn’t we?). Rather, the One Who should be “blessed” is the One Who should be the One for Whom anything is done! Isn’t that what Paul says to the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 10:31b, “…whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”. Wow!

Second, in verse 2, we are directed to bless the Lord in the sanctuary. The psalmist is instructing the reader to remember a most important truth: that every moment is to be a moment of worship! EVERY moment! And then in verse 3, the third use of “bless” is seeking the blessing of the One Who is the Creator of all things! That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it? Kinda puts us in our place!

I like what Paul says in his doctrinal treatise to the brethren in Rome, particularly in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse…”. God’s creation – and His wonderful design on display in it – purposely draws every man, woman, boy and girl of all eternity to His Lordship.

IF that Lordship is NOT recognized, that individual is “without excuse” when he or she appears before the Lord “in that day”. But IF that Lordship IS recognized, the Lord in His grace lovingly points the seeker to the One Who is the Creator Himself – even the Lord Jesus – and gives further revelation in the WRITTEN Word that Jesus died for the sinner, and His death, burial, and resurrection is on the sinner’s behalf – the only substitute for sin that God will eternally honor. “BLESS THE LORD!”

SECOND, it would be easy to overlook that little phrase in verse 1: “you servants of the Lord WHO BY NIGHT stand in the house of the Lord”. Why does the psalmist share that insight? Wouldn’t it have been sufficient simply to say, “bless the Lord all you servants of the Lord” and add nothing to it? Perhaps the answer to that question is found in the phrase “WHO BY NIGHT”.

Listen to the first part of Exodus 27:21, where Moses is giving instructions concerning the service of the temple: “In the tabernacle of meeting, outside the veil which is before the Testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it FROM EVENING UNTIL MORNING before the Lord…”.

Answer me this: who is going to see them? Not me – I’ll be in bed! How about you? You, too, sleep at night? Hmmm. So the only One Who will see them is…THE LORD HIMSELF! Why is this important to the psalmist? Because the psalmist is reminding us that there are MANY servants of the Lord who serve Him in various functions – most of them unnoticed by man – but they ARE noticed by the Lord Himself! That just thrills my soul, because I really AM a blessing to Him! Wow! “BLESS THE LORD IN MY OBSCURITY!”

THIRD, Who is “the Lord” in this psalm? He is none other than “Jehovah” [“YHVH”). Why is THAT of particular interest? Because that Name for God refers to the One Who is both merciful and condescending to His creation. This Name tells the reader that God should be blessed because, well, He FIRST blessed us!

Again, what does the New Testament say so well, “We love Him because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). How about “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…” (Romans 5:8). The Lord of this psalm is the One Who sees us as we are, and yet comes down to where we are. We in turn should, got it?, BLESS HIM WHO IS MERCIFUL!

FINALLY, did you notice the different ways God is referred to? In verse 1, He has a house where His children – His redeemed family – can bless Him! Oh my! Did Hebrews 10:25 come quickly to your minds too? “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

His redeemed family should be blessing Him together, encouraging one another, lifting each other up in prayer and support. In verse 2, we are instructed to “lift your hands” while blessing the Lord in the sanctuary. Is that an instruction on HOW to worship? Is it telling me that I MUST lift my hands in order to properly worship our great God? OR is it more than just a physical teaching?

Perhaps God is telling us that the “lifting of the hands” is an outward sign of an inward humbling before the One Who only is to be praised! And then notice verse 3, Who is the Lord here? Why, He is the Maker of “heaven and earth”. HE should be blessed. But here it is HE WHO does the blessing! Wow!

AS WE CONCLUDE OUR STUDY in the Ascent Psalms, I have been most challenged – haven’t you? I am on a journey, a pilgrimage! The Lord Himself is directing me, following me, and is the “End Result” of my lifelong walk!

And if I’m REALLY alert, I will notice that there are MANY OTHERS on this journey. The Bible says that God has placed an hunger for Him in the hearts of every one who has every had breath. That hunger can only be met in Him. So the journey begins at the very moment we took our first breath! And, yes, “from dust to dust” we will breathe to walk with Him through faith in His cross!

ARE YOU STILL BREATHING? You’re reading Dr. Becker’s website, aren’t you? Then you are still on the journey! You are still on your pilgrimage!

MAY THE LORD BE BLESSED in your journey with Him today!

Have You Lost Heart?

Frank Becker, about 2018

We tend to focus on the things that trouble us. We lose our perspective. We can no longer see the forest for the trees. Our problems loom in our minds and capture our every thought. We get tunnel vision. We lose the transcendent in our concentration on the immediate.

In other words, we get caught up in what Zig Ziglar called, “Stinkin’ thinkin.’

We often find ourselves snapping at friends and loved ones, as though they are responsible. We ignore important tasks because we are neutralized and weakened by a sense of fear and helplessness.

This becomes a serious problem when it impacts our relations with others and our effectiveness as Christians.

It is the case with many today who are coming to believe that America is doomed and that Christians are in the devil’s crosshairs. But haven’t we always been harassed by that demonic predator who, like a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he might devour?

Many feel overwhelmed and helpless to alter events and perhaps even survive.

In the parable of “the unjust judge,” Jesus taught us how to deal with such challenges.

He pictures a widow — the most helpless of all people in ancient Israel — seeking fair adjudication from an unjust judge. Read Luke’s account:

Then He (Jesus Christ) spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man.Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man,yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’ ”

Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said.And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8; New King James Version)

I have been the victim of judges who actually opposed me, or those I represented, before any case was brought before them. Sometimes it was because of my political leanings, my belief in God, my opposition to certain life styles, etc. One judge rendered a fair judgment because he was an honest man. Others, because of their leanings and because they were aligned with and beholden to others, did everything they could to destroy me and the churches I was privileged to pastor.

And, unlike the lonely widow that Jesus speaks of, I had some influence. I had a few friends with money, or influence, but rarely enough.

Imagine this poor woman struggling to get a fair hearing.

Yet, what did the judge ultimately decide? He finally gave her justice from her adversary. Why? Because she was right? No! Because he was a good judge? No! He gave her justice because she annoyed him. She persisted in crying out for justice, and finally — in order to get rid of her — he found against her opponent and in her favor.

Jesus uses this parable to tell us that we ought always to pray, and not to faint in the face of adversity. This widow’s persistence was evidence of her stubborn faith.

Then the Lord goes on to tell his listeners that God is infinitely more understanding, loving, and fair than the unjust judge (or any earthly being), and that, unlike the unjust judge, God will answer speedily.

As Jesus continues his discourse, he seems to go off on a tangent, asking a very important question: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

As we draw deeper into the end times, the love of many waxes cold. At the same time, those who identify themselves as Christians seem to grow less persistent in prayer.

And when things seem to turn upside down around them, they look to their own devices to find a solution, or to the corporate body — the Church — rather than to God their Creator for resolution of their problems.

Consider this possibility: If we, the people of God, were to begin confessing and repenting our own sins (for it is necessary that judgment first begin in the Church), and if we begin together praying to our God and Savior for the answer to our nation’s needs, and if we persist in prayer, aren’t we more likely to receive a meaningful answer, rather than relying on our own devices?

Listen to Jesus’ words: “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them?”

The Bible tells us to “Pray without ceasing,” to “Trust also in God, and lean not unto your own understanding, … and he shall bring it to pass.”

BUT THERE IS MORE

Week Two, 2021

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10).

He was known as “The Pitch Man,” appearing regularly on television making a “pitch” for all various kinds of products. He would describe the positive attributes of whatever kind of products he was selling, but Billy Mays always ended each infomercial stating, “But there is more”….. and then went on to describe more attributes or additional goodies that came with the product.

Paul talked about “how much more,” we gain. He said, “it was wonderful being reconciled with Jesus through his death, but there is more when we are saved through His life.”

Romans 5:10 deals with our personal relationship with God. Those who trust in Christ are reconciled to God by Jesus’ death, even though we were His enemies because of our sin. In other words, His death in our place for our sin made it possible for us to enter real and personal relationship, something not possible without Jesus.

Having laid the indestructible foundation that sinful man is irrefutably lost. At enmity with God through rebellion and sin and having proved that all humanity have fallen far short of the glorious perfection that God expects from His creation. Paul jubilantly proclaims the triumphant victory of Christ’s finished work on the cross… over Adam’s sin and our inherent sin nature.

Although sin caused us to be weak and powerless to help ourselves, we discover that Christ died on behalf of the ungodly – justifying and acquitting all who believe in Him for salvation and bringing us into a right relationship with the Father … through time into eternity.

It was Christ’s blood shed on the cross of Calvary that freed us from the indignation and wrath of God – which was poured out on Him in our stead. It was not because of our goodness that we were delivered from our just punishment for sin… for it was while we were still enemies of God and dead in our trespasses and sins… that Christ died for us.

Having been made righteous through the blood of Jesus Christ, while we were still enemies of God and wallowing in sinful rebellion… and having received the free gift of eternal life, by grace through faith in Him… how much more certain is it during this life, we shall be delivered daily through Christ’s resurrection life, from the dominion of sin in our lives.

The Christian life on this earth is a joyous one, but as you contemplate your ultimate life transition remember… there is more!

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SOMETIMES TRUE STORIES

Cal Thomas’ new book, America’s Expiration Date, is subtitled The Fall of Empires and Superpowers . . . and the Future of the United States. Thomas builds his narrative on an argument advanced by Sir John Glubb (1897–1986), an English officer who served in the newly independent countries of Iraq and Jordan. As Thomas reports, Glubb “found patterns, or stages, in the rise and fall of great nations. He called them the age of pioneers, the age of conquests, the age of commerce, the age of affluence, the age of intellect, and finally the age of decadence.”

Thomas explains: “In general, each great nation or empire begins with some type of pioneer activity, gains territory through battle, and then settles into remarkable commercial activity, which in turn brings great wealth, and with it increased literacy and learning. All begin their final slide when a sense of shared morality and common virtue is abandoned.”

Has America’s “final slide” begun? In light of this pattern, Thomas warns: “If America doesn’t learn from history—our own and the world’s—we are likely to suffer the fate of other great nations, rotting from within before either being conquered from without by an invading army or collapsing under the weight of self-indulgence, decadence, debt, a sense of entitlement, greed, and envy.”

If we think this cannot be our future, our complacency makes it more likely.

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It is estimated that as many as 250 million Christians around the world live in nations where they face severe persecution for their faith. Hundreds of Nigerian Christians have been slaughtered by militant Islamists this year. China is waging war against all faiths, including Christianity. Chinese Christians are being forced to take down pictures of Jesus and worship the communist dictator instead. Facial recognition technology is being used to monitor who attends religious services. The Chinese Communist Party is even rewriting the Bible! Gary Bauer

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QUOTES YOU CAN USE

I no longer listen to what people say, I just watch what they do. Behavior never lies. Winston Churchill

No matter their politics, people nearly always listen to those who say what they want to hear. John M. Barry

If you and someone with whom you disagree politically are willing to discuss your disputes over a cup of coffee, you’re blessed.

Sometimes we all need to be reminded of how blessed we are. No matter what we may be going through. No matter our stage in life or economic position, we are blessed if we belong to Jesus. If we are seeking Him first in our lives then no matter what we might face or might be dealing with, we are blessed. Marty Stubblefield

Frederick Buechner describes salvation as “an experience first and a doctrine second.”

This is the way the abortion war will ultimately be won: through Jesus Christ changing hearts, one by one. No amount of political force, no government, no laws, no army of Planned Parenthood workers… can ever stop a changed life. It is the one thing… absolutely invincible. Chuck Colson

The greater our challenges, the more necessary our courage. Jim Denison

Fear faces on the giants in your life. Faith focuses on the God in your life. Ken Whitten

Leaving a Legacy

Week One, 2021

Your legacy begins in your heart, in your relationship with God.

How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments. His descendants will be mighty on earth; The generation of the upright will be blessed.” Psalm 112:1-2

As an estate planning attorney, I deal with people who want to get their affairs in order and make sure that what they have goes where they want it to go. However, on average, an inheritance is gone in about five years because of careless debts and bad investment behaviors. I have seen many inheritances hurt more than help the recipients.

The real questions for Christians is not what they leave behind that can be measured in dollars, but rather what can they leave that has a more lasting effect. I was doing some ancestry research and came across Peter Grant and I found his will. He had little of this earth to leave, but he recited his belief in Jesus and bequeathed his faith to his future generations. I realized his faith he left was for me.

It made me think. What am I going to leave behind when I leave this world? I hope it will be more than tangible and monetary things and will last longer. I hope I leave behind positive influence on others. Our legacy is what we leave in others and not just in our family.

What Kind of Legacy Do You Want To Leave?

A husband and wife who walked by faith and, consequently, left a legacy far beyond anything they could have imagined, lived in the early 1700s in colonial America. Their names were Jonathan and Sarah Edwards.

Jonathan Edwards felt God’s call to become a minister. He and his young bride began a pastorate in a small congregation. During the years that followed, he wrote many sermons, prayers, and books, and was influential in beginning the Great Awakening. Together they produced eleven children who grew into adulthood. Sarah was a partner in her husband’s ministry, and he sought her advice regarding sermons and church matters. They spent time talking about these things together, and, when their children were old enough, the parents included them in the discussions.

The effects of the Edwards’s lives have been far-reaching, but the most measurable results of their faithfulness to God’s call is found through their descendants.

Researchers found 1,400 Edwards descendants.

* 100 lawyers and a dean of a law school

* 80 holders of public office

* 66 physicians and a dean of a medical school

* 65 professors of colleges and universities

* 30 judges

* 13 college presidents

* 3 mayors of large cities

* 3 governors of states

* 3 United States senators

* 1 controller of the United States Treasury

* 1 Vice President of the United States

What kind of legacy will you and your mate leave? Will it be lasting? Will it be imperishable and eternal? Or will you leave behind only tangible items—buildings, money, and/or possessions?

The apostle Paul instructed Timothy to invest his life in faithful men who would be able to pass God’s truth on to the next generation. Where does God want you and your mate to invest the time you have been given?

What kind of legacy will you leave?

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SOMETIMES TRUE STORIES

Praying the IOU’s of Psalms: John Piper

I: Incline my heart to Your Understanding

O: Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in Your Word

U: Unite my heart to fear You More

S: Satisfy me this morning with Your Unfailing Love

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The owners of Pax & Beneficia Coffee in Irving, Texas, are concerned that in our politically divisive days, “we are quick to demonize and dehumanize the other side.” So, they have a solution: anyone who buys a cup of coffee with someone of an opposing view will get a free cup.

One of the owner’s notes, “Regardless of the outcome of the election and which side of the aisle you’re on, the nation still needs to heal, now more than ever.” Jim Denison

— o —

Mental health is improved by thinking the right kind of thoughts. The Bible instructs us to think on things that are True. Honorable. Right. Pure. Lovely. Admirable. Excellent. And Praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). In doing so, we can fulfill the command “to gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Pet. 1:13). This simply means to discipline your thinking.

Healthy thinking is looking at life in a balanced way. Developing a proper perspective. Focusing on the good. Being thankful. And employing discernment.

Indeed, our thinking and our feelings impact us physically. As Jerry Augustine succinctly expressed it, “The body manifests what the mind harbors.”

But what about your spiritual health?

Too often the health of the soul is overlooked and forgotten. Mankind is a composite of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. To ignore the spiritual element is to do so at your own peril. Research has shown that there are physical, mental and emotional benefits connected to one’s spiritual well-being.

A stronger immune system, a lower risk of depression, reduced stress, lower blood pressure and more restful sleep have all been connected to a healthy spiritual life.

John’s prayer for Gaius was that his physical health and material prosperity be equal to that of his soul. What would your life look like if your physical health was based on your spiritual health?

Spiritual health is only achieved when we come to the great Physician for healing. Faith, Hope and Love are the vitamins for the soul. When they are supplemented by prayer, worship, fellowship, and Bible study and then exercised in our ministry, we will be spiritually healthy. Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

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QUOTES YOU CAN USE

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. Aristotle

God doesn’t call us to be different from the world. He calls us to be better than the world. Ken Whitten

Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there.

Have you noticed when we want to pick examples of our enemies, we can always find their worst possible examples as proof of their inferiority? Dwight Short

Let’s not allow an election, our earthly citizenship, or our patriotism to diminish, denigrate, or dishonor our heavenly citizenship. Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

You must never forget that you’re a citizen of heaven’s kingdom and that your behavior should correspond to your citizenship. Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

The Greatest Blessings in Life Are Often the Most Forgotten. The Minimalist

Whatever you are, be a good one. Abraham Lincoln

Faith is more than believing that there is one God. Marty Stubbblefield

We can disagree without hating each other. Spencer Cox

We forget what we should remember, and we remember what we should forget. Ken Whitten

THIS YEAR’S VERSE!

Thoughts on Philippians 1:21

by semi-retired pastor, Jeremy Stopford

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

(First preached January 5, 2014—First Baptist, Earlville, NY)

As you may know, in all the years I have pastored, I have begun each year with a new “memory verse” or, better, “this year’s verse”. While the Bible encourages us to memorize Scripture [Psalm 119:11 – (Do you know it?) “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.”], we are calling this “this year’s verse”. I am hoping you will do more than just memorize or learn this verse. I am hoping you will LIVE this verse! Prayer

Our memory verse for 2014 divides nicely into two parts. I want to take the second part – “and to die is gain” – first. This is the HOPE of the passage. Our Savior and Scripture invite us to trust the Lord Jesus as our Lord and Savior. IF we have that trust, then the Bible says we also have a HOPE. The hope says I belong to Him, and that I will also spend eternity with Him! “To die is gain” isn’t a morbid thought; rather it is a HOPE of eternity – knowing that I can LIVE for God today because I have HOPE for tomorrow!

The first part gives us the HEART of the passage – “for to me to live is Christ.” What is it that you are living for? Earthly goals? Family? Or Christ? Earthly goals and family ARE important, but they are no match for having an eternal purpose – living for Christ!

The Apostle Paul was in a Roman prison, daily chained to four Roman guards (one to each foot, one to each hand). What do you think he thought when they had their “changing of the guard” – perhaps as much as once every 4 hours? That means that 6 times a day of twenty four hours he would have four new guards – twenty four guards per day. Do you think he thought, “Oh no, here we go again!”? Or do you think he prayed, “Lord Jesus, prepare hearts for the gospel!”?

What do you think he talked about with them? “Hey, how about them Dolphins!” Or, “How about the weather, huh? Sure is COLD!” Or do you think he talked about the Lord Jesus and His salvation at the cross? The book of Philippians lets us in on that, for throughout the book Paul mentions about the number of guards and “members of Caesar’s household” who had come to know Jesus as Savior – WHILE Paul was a prisoner. Because for Paul, “for to me, to live is Christ”!

This verse is, in essence, Paul’s legacy. It is what he LIVED in that dash between his new birth as a Christian and his date of death. What – or better WHO – he lived was CHRIST!

I read a wonderful devotional this morning, written by Oswald Chambers. He made the observation that when we first come to Christ, when we first follow Him, this is the “external”. It is nothing mysterious. We are simply trusting that what God’s word says is true – that “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

Mr. Chambers then went on to say that God then calls us to a second “follow” – and he calls this the “internal”. This is a regular sacrifice. This is a regular yielding, a surrender to the Lord Jesus’ Lordship in our lives. Mr. Chambers would agree with Paul, wouldn’t he, that “for to me to live is Christ” – a sacrifice, an internal surrender to the eternal!

I encourage you to memorize this verse this year. It is an EASY verse to memorize. It is an HARD verse to live. You cannot tell me the verse today – not until next Sunday. And only then, you can tell me the verse IF you agree: “Pastor, this is my surrender. This is my sacrifice.”

Our 2014 memory verse, Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Close in prayer

“BUT AS FOR ME”

December 20, 2020 10:30 AM — Rev. Jeremy B. Stopford

Smyrna (NY) Baptist Church

TODAY’S SPECIAL: A RUDOLPH FUNNY

Santa: What do you want for Christmas this year?

Little Johnny: Rudolph

Santa: You can’t have my favorite reindeer. Why would you want Rudolph anyway?

Little Johnny: Cause I love venison!

INTRODUCTION What do you believe?” I believe what the church believes, and the church believes what I believe, and we get along just fine.

About 7 times in Scripture [our KJV], we are invited to see turning points in several people’s theologies.

Such turning points are introduced with a simple phrase, “but as for me”. And all should help us answer the question, “what do I believe?

PRAYER

I. A LIFETIME OF LOYALTY Joshua 24:15

“And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

  • V. 29. Joshua is 110 years old. Since he was 30, he was leaning from Moses how to live.
  • Vs. 1-14 He rehearses God’s handiwork on Israel’s life in the wilderness. CAN YOU REHEARSE GOD’S GRACES IN YOUR LIFE
  • Vs. 16-18 The people declare their allegiance to the Lord CAN YOU REMEMBER WHEN YOU LEARNED SUCH ALLEGIANCE?
  • Vs. 19-20 Joshua reminds them of their true heart, true allegiance DO YOU REMEMBER THE TRUE BATTLES WITH SIN? (Jer. 17:9)
  • Vs. 21 The people declare again (Jer. 17:10) The Lord knows! The heart’s desire is to God’s allegiance!
  • Vs. 22-27 A covenant (v. 25) and the written Word (v. 26)

Point: For 80 years, Joshua demonstrated for him AND his house that living in allegiance to the true God is worth it all!

HOW ABOUT YOU? HAVE YOU MADE THAT ALLEGIANCE?

II. A LIFETIME OF LOVE Psalm 5:7

But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple.”

* Every verse is God-centered

* V. 9 is quoted in Romans 3:13 showing the unsaved’s non-worship

Point: The worship of Jesus is not just for Sunday alone

HOW ABOUT YOU? IS GOD’S FEAR YOUR LIFETIME FEAR?

III. A LIFETIME OF WALKING Psalm 26:11

But as for me, I will walk in mine integrity: redeem me, and be merciful unto me.”

* Note that David sees the Christian life – even in the OT – as a walk. iLLUSTRATION: that means discipline, because it is easier to sit in one’s recliner than to take a stroll around the block!

But it also means vision: seeing the goal of Christlikeness!

* Note the “I have”s of this psalm!

Point: The walk of the Christian is an accumulation of lessons!

HOW ABOUT YOU? WHAT LESSONS IS GOD TEACHING YOU NOW?

IV. A LIFETIME OF SUPERNATURAL WARMTH Psalm 35:13

But as for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth: I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer returned into mine own bosom.”

* Note the context: vs. 1ff shows a court scene; vs. 7-8 show a battle; vs. 9-10 show God’s uniqueness.

* Note vs. 11-12. This is a Christ-sighting, where an OT reference has NT implications. In all His trials, the Savior had false witnesses – initially inconsistent – who rose up against Him. He ultimately was accused of blasphemy (Jews) and treason (Rome)

  • V. 13 is a contrast, the enemy’s hatred vs. David’s supernatural mercy. Each of us should be able to remember those times when special kindness was shown toward those who don’t have the same foundation as we do. HOW ABOUT YOU? DO YOU LOVE THE UNLOVELY?

JESUS LOVED YOU!!! SHOULDN’T WE LOVE OTHERS?

CONCLUSION

There are 3 more. Let me read 2 of them:

Psalm 69:13

But as for me, my prayer is unto thee, O Lord, in an acceptable time: O God, in the multitude of thy mercy hear me, in the truth of thy salvation.”

Daniel 2:30

But as for me, this secret is not revealed to me for any wisdom that I have more than any living, but for their sakes that shall make known the interpretation to the king, and that thou mightest know the thoughts of thy heart.”

But it is Psalm 73:2 that should get our attention as we close. I call this “a lifetime of supernatural wrestling”. What? Listen to what it says:

But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped.”

Have your feet almost gone? Have your steps well night slipped? Huh?

Look at verse 3: “ For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked”.

This psalm is written by Asaph, one of the singers of the temple. He would compose songs for the use of those leading worship in the temple.

But in this psalm he talks about a supernatural wrestling match that he is in. AND YOU HAVE BEEN IN IT IT, TOO! Asaph LOOKED at people. He saw their wealth, their prosperity, their success – all with NO USE for the Lord!

A supernatural wrestling match…v. 17 “until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end.”

When the Lord reminded Asaph of the eternal lostness of the unbeliever, he understood that this world is full of people going in one of 2 directions: toward the Lord and heaven, or toward Satan and hell.

In NT terms, what should we do? How does this affect us entering into 2021? How does this affect Smyrna Baptist Church?

GREATLY! Because God is inviting us to see people as God sees them: with or without hope. With faith in Jesus, or without them.

Remember when YOU first came to trust Jesus? Don’t you wish everyone did? Let’s pray that in 2021 the Lord turns Smyrna upside down for Him, turns Smyrna upside down for Him, turns you and me upside down for Him! Close in prayer.

SEEDS FOR THE NEW YEAR

Week Fifty-Two, 2020

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God” (Luke 8:11)

Everything living begins with planting of a seed, including animal and human reproduction. What happens after that varies along with other choices and events. Some, like the mustard tree begins with the smallest of seeds, but develops into a large tree. Others are stunted in their growth for a variety of reasons.

As we begin the new year, like this year, we will plant seeds, not necessarily the garden variety, but seeds that are more lasting and of greater importance. Jesus gives us an example, as He spoke of the scattering of seed in a parable.

A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted.

The disciples failed to understand the parable, so Jesus explained. The seed that fell on the footpath represents those who hear the message about the Kingdom and don’t understand it. He said then the evil one comes and snatches away the seed that was planted in their hearts. The seed on the rocky soil represents those who hear the message and immediately receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they don’t last long. They fall away as soon as they have problems or are persecuted for believing God’s word.

The seed that fell among the thorns represents those who hear God’s word, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the worries of this life and the lure of wealth, so no fruit is produced. The seed that fell on good soil represents those who truly hear and understand God’s word and produce a harvest of thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times as much as had been planted.

As we go through the coming year, we will plant seeds of influence, relationships, witnessing our faith and many others. The important seeds are not those that lead to materialism, but those that change the course of the future. We plant them with our family, friends, co-workers and everyone we will meet in the coming year. We may never know the results of the seeds we plant. There is a saying: One sows and another reaps is true.

We will plant seeds by the lifestyle we lead, the words we speak and the effort we make to keep focused on our Creator. We must keep our minds and actions on whatever is true, pure, right, holy, friendly, and proper. Don’t ever stop thinking and doing what is truly worthwhile and worthy of praise.

What seeds will you plant in 2021?

***

SOMETIMES TRUE STORIES

In 1992, Dennis Lee Curtis was arrested for armed robbery in Rapid City, South Dakota. In his wallet, police found a list of rules Curtis had written for himself – guidelines for his robberies. For example, he wrote:

▪ I will not kill anyone unless I have to.

▪ I will take cash and food stamps — no checks.

▪ I will not rob mini-marts.

▪ If I get chased by cops on foot, I will get away. If chased by vehicle, I will not put the lives of innocent civilians on the line.

▪ I will rob only seven months out of the year.

▪ I will enjoy robbing from the rich to give to the poor.”

However, the judge before whom Dennis Lee Curtis stood didn’t consult his list of rules. He didn’t say, “Well, at least you live by some values.” No, Curtis was judged by the laws of South Dakota. And convicted as a thief.

While Curtis’ behavior may seem odd, it’s no more different than folks who think they can live by their own standard and God will be pleased. People often compare themselves to others to judge themselves in a more favorable light. We may look at the things that we don’t do, to feel good about ourselves. I don’t commit murder. I don’t steal. I don’t commit adultery. I don’t get drunk.

Some folks excuse their bad behavior, their sinful habits, or their lack of self-control, by saying, “At least I’m nice to people. I help people. And I care about other people.” Yet, God isn’t going to judge us on the basis of what we don’t do. Or on a curve system based on the lives of those worse than we are. Or on our own value system.

While none of us will live perfectly sinless lives, we can clothe ourselves with God’s garments of righteousness. Excel to a higher level of living. And exemplify His holy standard in our lives. Ken Weliever, The Preacherman

— o —

One person said to another, “I’m too busy and have too many important things going on these days to spend time with the Lord praying and reading the Word.”

The other’s response, “I’m too busy not too.”

— o —

• All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (KJV)

• 14% – Percentage of alcohol consumption over 30 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

• It is the intentional promotion of the things we most value by removing anything that distracts us from it. He Minimalist

***

QUOTES YOU CAN USE

Western society was built on three piers: democracy, free-market capitalism, and consensual morality. The first two cannot sustain us without the third. Rabbi Johnathan Sacks

Jesus didn’t die for us. He died instead of us. Ken Whitten

You have to have a fixed reference point beyond this world. Victor Frankel

You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending. C. S. Lewis

Sometimes we all have to be reminded of God’s great love for us through Jesus, His Son. Marty Stubblefield

The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new. Socrates

Whatever you fix your eyes on is what you will encourage; fix your eyes on Jesus.” Mark Parker

A WORD FROM CHRISTMAS PAST

Semi-Retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford

This message was delivered the first year that Pastor Stopford served as pastor of First Baptist Church Earlville, NY , December 13, 2009.

Immanuel? I thought His Name is Jesus!”

Matthew 1:18-25:

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son,

and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”

24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son.

And he called His name Jesus.

INTRODUCTION

This is my official first Christmas here at First Baptist. And, historically, this would be the Baby Jesus’ first Christmas – for this is the season that we commemorate His birth.

By the way, do you know the difference between the Christmas Alphabet and the English Alphabet? You bet – the Christmas Alphabet has no L.

We are not looking to Clement More for his approval, though he wrote, “’Twas the night before Christmas”. We are not looking to Bob May – a 1926 classmate of my Dad’s at Dartmouth – for his insight, although he wrote “Rudolph the red nosed reindeer.”

No, no! We are looking to the Gospel of Matthew, the first gospel of The Book. Familiar words. Sometimes TOO familiar.

Today, may the Lord Jesus give us fresh insights into the purposes of that first birth.

PRAYER

  1. THE STORY OF THE BIRTH (1:18)

“Mary was betrothed to Joseph”. This was a big deal in Jewish circles. Joseph’s and Mary’s parents got together and at one point said, “my son Joseph and your daughter Mary would be perfect for each other. There, that settles it.” Do you wish it were that way today?

So it was the betrothal – a period of time similar to an engagement, but with all the rights of marriage EXCEPT consummation. Joseph and Mary got to know each other better, their likes and dislikes. In the meantime, it was the PARENTS who figured out all the arrangements for the wedding. THEY made the plans. Don’t you wish – sometimes – that parents were more involved in today’s weddings?

And in the midst of all this betrothal stuff are these words of inspiration: “she [Mary] was found with child of the Holy Spirit.” We know from Luke 1:26-38 that by this time the angel Gabriel had visited her and explained to her what was to be. It was near that time that Mary said these words of her true heart which ring down through the centuries: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.” And later, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. for He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant…”. (Luke 1:38; 46-48a). Mary’s heart, her WORSHIP, was forever – and is still in glory – to her own Son.

II. THE JUST HUSBAND (1:19)

So Mary and Joseph were planning their wedding! Can you imagine each of their thoughts as they were wondering how married life would be different from their individual lives as single people? And then came the news: Mary is pregnant. Joseph knew, he just KNEW, that the baby was not HIS. She had violated her vows of betrothal to Joseph! By law, he had a number of choices. Being the espoused husband, he could have Mary stoned to death – PUBLICLY!

Please note that verse 19 comes before verse 20. [“DUH!” You say!]. BEFORE the visit from the angel of the Lord, BEFORE there is any public ridicule upon Mary – much less upon Joseph – the Scriptures in verse 19 say, “being a just man”. The scriptures identify the CHARACTER of this man of God! He was a just husband! He was a private man, with a private personal walk with the Lord, which in turn governed his public life.

We have MANY public figures today with PUBLIC problems – from the President on down. Joseph heart should make us question OUR own hearts – what is OUR character? Who are we when NO ONE (but the Lord!) is looking?

III. THE AMAZING “BEHOLD” #1 (1:20-21)

So Joseph is thinking about “doing the right thing”. Like you and me, he was thinking about all the options available to him. But most of all, he was thinking about…MARY! His heart broke for how her character would be attacked. So while he was thinking about all this, there was an interruption: “BEHOLD!!!!!!!!!”

When I read through the Christmas story, I just want to circle the word “behold”. In fact, I often can wonder how it first must have been said. Can you see the Eternal Bose Mic picking up the word? “BEHOLD!!!!!!!!!”

It was now Joseph’s turn to have a visit from the beloved angel Gabriel. Joseph’s world comes to a stop: When I read through the Christmas story, I just want to circle the word “BEHOLD!!!!!!!!!”. In fact, I often can wonder how it must have been first said. Can you see the Eternal Bose Mic picking up the word? “BEHOLD!!!!!!!!!” The area is inundated with the Glory of God.

God loves to intervene in our history when we are making OTHER plans! He does that in our lives. He does that in eternity and with His eternal purposes. Joseph is now given the BIG picture!

The angel Gabriel takes Joseph from what Joseph thinks is the temporal (the pregnancy of an unwed mother) into the eternal (God becoming Man through the work of the Holy Spirit within Mary’s womb!). Not only is Joseph given the BIG picture; he is also told the Baby’s Name: “Jesus”. “Jesus” is the Greek “Iesous” transliterated. The name means “Jeshua is Savior”. Did you catch that? JEHOVAH IS SAVIOR is Jesus’ name!

This tells Jesus’ MISSION!

IV. THE AMAZING “BEHOLD” #2 (1:22-23)

In essence, Matthew tells us ““BEHOLD!!!!!!!!!” I thought His Name is Jesus”:

He takes us to a quote of Isaiah 7:14, where the Messiah is introduced as having the Name “Immanuel”, that is, “God with us.” This refers to Jesus’ CHARACTER.

I would encourage you to read Isaiah Chapters 7-9. These chapters answer way ahead of time how the Messiah Jesus-Immanuel will be received:

* He will be given the Name “Immanuel” (7:14)

* “Immanuel” will still be waiting for Israel to acknowledge Him as “God with us” (8:8-10)

* “Immanuel” will be exalted (9:6-7)

CONCLUSION: Let’s get practical!

In 1:20-21, Joseph was told what to do (take Mary as wife; she will give birth to a Child Who is the Son of the Holy Spirit) and in 1:24-25, Joseph did what he was told to do!

He OBEYED WHAT HE HEARD!

He understood Jesus’ MISSION: to save the lost!

He understood Jesus’ CHARACTER: God with us.

But he also understood that God’s Son Immanuel would be rejected, that He would patiently wait for our trust, and one day would be exalted to the position which He already holds by character.

How about you? Are you OBEYING WHAT YOU HAVE HEARD?

OR does your trust need to be RENEWED?

At this Christmas time, God is looking for sinners to trust what HE has done for the whole world in sending His Son. God is looking for sinners to trust Jesus as Savior, God with us. God is looking for sinners to trust that Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection was for each of us personally!

Is that your trust today? Did you need to be reminded afresh WHO your trust should be?

IMMANUEL! GOD WITH US! MERRY CHRISTMAS! Close in prayer