Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 26 May 2022. Today’s topic: Choose Wisely

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  Galatians 5:4 (NIV).

Sometimes Paul makes intellectual, even obtuse, arguments to try to convince his friends (and readers) of a particular point.   Other times he speaks directly.  Today’s verse is direct.

We can be divided from our faith.   Whether we believe in Jesus or not, He did everything to save us.   We are saved because of Him, and all we need to do to claim that salvation is have faith that He did it.  We choose to believe faith He has brought us to, yet we can be divided from that faith, from believing what He said and did was all true.  

That’s the devil’s only mission:  to divide us from God.   He does it because he wants to be God, even as he knows that’s impossible.  Since he can’t have that, then the devil works constantly to pull us away from believing in Christ so as to hurt the Lord.   When we willfully give in to Satan, we repudiate our faith in Christ.   In that, damnation becomes our choice.

Paul is saying that people who put their faith in things other than Jesus – things like rituals, traditions, processes, and such – have fallen prey to the devil’s divisions.   They believe or think or work to be justified by these things they accept, perhaps not realizing that this is little more than petty idolatry, exchanging worship of God for adoration of something else.  People who do that pull themselves away from Christ.   It isn’t Christ who pulls away:  it’s His followers who can.  When they do, they fall away from Jesus’ grace, which justifies us by faith in Him.   And Satan laughs.

We are talking about fundamentally believing, not rhetorical banter or discussion or intellectual pursuit.   We’re talking about things we believe inside, things we accept as true.   If we accept the belief that something other than Jesus can justify, sanctify, or save us, we’re fundamentally believing that.   When we turn away from that belief, we repudiate it.   We forsake it.   We deny and reject it.   When we turn away from faith in Jesus, we embrace damnation.  Satan laughs again.

In Romans 3, Paul points out that “we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”  That’s the simplest explanation of how faith works, of how it benefits us.   Jesus and Jesus alone sanctifies us, justifying us before God, and imparting saving life into our sinful ones.  The only thing we do in that process is believe; follow, have faith, accept, call it what you want.   Jesus does all the work.   We simply benefit from it, and Satan cringes in fear.

Let’s choose wisely.

For further reading: Romans 3:28, Hebrews 12:15, 2 Peter 3:17, Galatians 5:5

Lord, I believe only in You to save me.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 25 May 2022. Today’s topic: Faith in Something Else

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.  Galatians 5:2-3 (NIV).

What Paul is talking about here is being led astray.   Paul, as a Pharisee who now followed Christ, saw that the commanded rite of circumcision had no value to Christians.  Anyone who would willingly submit to it was submitting themselves to Judaism as a whole.   In 2000 years, nothing has changed.  Indeed, if you decide to observe Islamic rules and laws just to be culturally sensitive, whether you intend to or not, you’re making yourself subject to all Islamic rules and laws.   Ditto Jewish law, or Buddhism, Shinto, etc.

Remember years ago when there was a young American who broke the law (vandalism and petty theft) in Singapore and he was sentenced to be caned/whipped for it?   The American government lobbied for weeks until, finally, one morning, the police in Singapore stripped and whipped him.  His punishment administered, the man left Singapore and returned home.

If you volunteer to go to a foreign country, you’re subject to its laws.   Nothing requires you to go; you volunteered.   While you’re there, you are subject to the laws there.   You’re willingly putting yourself under their control, and what they say is what goes.  When the people celebrate, you celebrate with them.   When they benefit, you do, too.   But if they require something, you’re subject to the requirement.   And if you transgress, you get the punishment their law requires. 

That’s what Paul was saying.   If you submit to Jewish law – and ritual circumcision – then you are subject to ALL that law.  It’s as if you’re no longer Christian, no longer under faith in Christ.  Why?   Because you exchanged faith in Christ for faith in something else.   “But I still believe,” you might say.   Fair enough, but then you exchanged that belief for belief in something else.   You demonstrated chosen unbelief.

Now, extrapolate that into other areas of life and it’s easy to see why Paul was upset about it.   We put faith in many things.   Our income, our 401K, our families, our jobs, our whatever.   If they become what we worship, then Christ has no value for us.   We’ve exchanged belief in Him for belief in that something else.

So isn’t it comforting to know the opposite of this?   If we put our faith in Christ, then those other things have no meaning, no control over us.   Sure, they can influence us here on the Third Rock, but our salvation is sure and our path forward straight.   Paul would probably agree.

For further reading: Acts 15:1, Romans 2:25, Hebrews 12:15, 2 Peter 3:17, Galatians 5:4

Lord Jesus, I put all my faith in only You alone.   Other things have no meaning.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 24 May 2022. Today’s topic: Freedom Worth Standing For

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1 (NIV).

Another word about how Jesus gives us freedom.  When I was in fifth grade, our music class sang a patriotic song.   Some of the words were, “freedom isn’t free…each generation has to win it anew cause it’s not something handed down to you.”

Right on.

I mentioned yesterday that our idea of freedom comes from faith in Christ.  Our idea of liberty comes from the unique Christian concept that we are valued by the Almighty.  Not only, but it was Irish Christian monks who preserved knowledge of ancient Greece and Rome, of philosophy, of religion, democracy, and liberty when the rest of Europe fell into the Dark Ages.   Those monks preserved this knowledge for over half a millennium before anyone else began to take it up again.  We owe them a debt.

Yet most people don’t know this.   Indeed, most people in history – and most people on this planet now – aren’t free and are denied their natural, God-given rights.   This has always been the case. Man was a brutal, savage race until God chose to reveal Himself through one devout people.  He created us to choose, and we chose base carnality and tyranny.  It was faith in God that gave the world concepts of nuclear family, of service above self, of natural law and natural rights, of dignity and love, of the family being the most important unit, and of the idea that all men are created equal. 

BUT

Freedom isn’t free.   God gives us natural rights but it isn’t something that mankind hands down from one generation to the next.   Mankind puts limits on freedom; most governments limit freedom so as to preserve themselves.   Freedom is only free when people stand firm for it and insist on their God-given natural rights.  Sometimes that’s at the point of a sword.  It’s always done in faith.

And it’s in standing against the deception of sin.   Sin, like tyranny, constantly works to rob us of our natural freedom in Christ.  We must stand up beside Jesus because He stands up for us.   Only through the liberty-saving faith in Christ are we truly free because what Jesus did at Calvary cost Him everything so He could give us the liberty to live freely; free from sin and its tyranny.  Sin lies to us, constantly telling us we need to do more, be more, make ourselves righteous to earn that freedom.   That we can be God.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  

Years later, I still hear the refrain of that song in my head.   Freedom was purchased in blood at Calvary.   We have liberty, not libertine rights.  It’s something worth standing for

For further reading: Galatians 5:2

Jesus, freedom is found only in You and through You.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 23 May 2022. Today’s topic: Jesus, Founding Father

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.  Galatians 5:1 (NIV).

The basis of all human liberty is God.   ALL of our other founders, even the deists, believed this.   They enshrined that belief in our Declaration of Independence which espoused community belief in rights given by ‘nature and nature’s God.’  Freedom is a natural condition of humanity, the natural yearning of the human spirit because freedom is given by God, not government or other men.  Mankind restricts liberty.

You could say that America’s real founding father is Jesus of Nazareth, God Immanuel, the Son of the triune God.  Yes, the United States is a nation based in Judeo-Christian morals and ethics, with the predominant faith being Christianity.   Yes, every faith is allowed here; we are free to worship as we please and, no, nobody is forced or required to be Christian (as is the case with Islam in many places and even some political ideologies here). Someone would have to be willfully blind to not see the influence that faith in Jesus has on this country.

No, I’m not going to preach further than that.   This isn’t going to be one of those diatribes about how the US of A is going to hell in a handbasket.   Or how we would all be better off if we followed God or lived more like His Son (I agree with that).  Instead, just consider your freedom and thank God for it.  Without God, it just wouldn’t exist.

Indeed, historically, the concept of liberty arose out of the wreckage of ancient Greece and Rome, especially after the fall of the Roman Empire.   It was the church the preserved knowledge of democracy, and how God repeatedly set His people free in ancient times.   It was the church that preserved both the Bible and the documents of antiquity on philosophy, mathematics, the role of mankind in the world, and languages.   Without the church of Jesus Christ, there would have been no Middle Ages that gave way to the Renaissance, and the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Puritan Migration.   To deny these historical facts is to be willfully misinformed.

Everything we know about human liberty, about respecting others because they are naturally free human beings, came out of God’s Word.   Most importantly, everything we value about freedom came from one man, Jesus, freely giving up His life so that you can I could have peaceful ones here and eternal lives with Him.  Human history was largely an account of governmental tyranny, misery, and slavery, until there came a man who upended everything we knew so that we might better know nature’s God through Him.

For further reading: Matthew 23:4, John 8:32, Romans 7:4, 1 Corinthians 16:13, Galatians 5:2

Lord, You are the source of all our freedoms.   You and You alone.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 19 May 2022. Today’s topic: Sin is Slavery

But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.  Galatians 4:30-31 (NIV).

In concluding his comparison of the new Christian church to the story of Hagar and Sarah, Paul reminds us of a really important fact.

Sin is slavery.

Hagar was Sarah’s slave.   Abraham unwisely listened to the tempting words of his legitimate wife, Sarah, that he sleep with Hagar to produce an heir (which is what happened).  In doing so, Sarah, Abraham, and Hagar sinned.   They worked the thwart the promise that God made to Abram that He would prosper him and produce an heir who would bless the world.

God NEVER tells us “do this one last sin and then go sin no more.”   Instead, He says, “follow Me and sin no more.”   Stop now.  Trust Me.  Follow Me.   God never leads us to His righteousness by telling us “just one more.”   God understands, Jesus understands, that sin is slavery.   That our choices to sin lead us to spiritual slavery, continued unrepentance, because our hearts can harden.  Paraphrasing a recent post from Chad Bird, God provided salvation for us even before we repented, even though we need to keep repenting from our constant sins.   Yet we can never repent enough, or often enough, to equal the salvation that Jesus gave from the cross.  What He did is so much more than even the biggest accumulation of all our repentances. 

That’s because our sins make us slaves.  What we’re turning away from made us slaves.   Our sins are filth and make us filthy.  Whether it is murdering a market full of strangers, lying to get whatever you want, or even simply believing we are enough and don’t need God, our sins enslave us to the nature that breeds them.   That sinful nature is in each of us, eating away at us and always tempting us to do more.   It’s egged on by a jealous slave-master devil who wants to use us to hurt God, to drive a wedge between Him and us…

…As if that were even possible.   Jesus guaranteed our salvation.  He defeated this slavery and that devil forever.   There is no sin too unforgiveable or too late that Jesus won’t forgive if only we put our faith in Him.   Even in our last breath, if our heart is for Him, all sins are forgiven.   The debt is paid.   The slave is set free.  Just like Hagar and Ishmael.  At the end of their stories, they were set free, living under God’s provision in new places.

For further reading: Genesis 21:10, Romans 7:4, Galatians 5:1

Lord, I put all my faith in You alone.   Forgive me of my sins today.   Let me follow only You.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 18 May 2022. Today’s topic: Unnatural Choices

At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.  Galatians 4:29 (NIV).

Paul is saying that the persecution of the early church (by the Jewish establishment) is no different than the way Ishmael treated Isaac.   At the time Isaac was born, Ishmael would have been thirteen or fourteen years old.   Until Isaac, Ishmael had been Abraham’s heir, the one who would inherit all the riches and possessions of a very wealthy man (for God had generously prospered Abraham).  All that changed with this promised, legitimate heir.   At the time Isaac was born, Ishmael began to scorn and mock him.   In doing so, he scorned and mocked Abraham.   In doing so, Ishmael mocked God’s promise.

Let’s be sympathetic:   it wasn’t Ishmael’s fault that he was born to a slave with whom Abraham had sex.  He was an innocent child, and a child to whom God made a different promise to prosper and provide.   Yet, when he grew older, Ishmael chose to act on the natural feelings of jealousy that would seem to have naturally occurred.   God had predicted to Hagar, Ishmael’s mother, that “he will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”  

That hostility began when Ishmael saw how his father treated his infant half-brother.  Perhaps it had been growing before:  surely Ishmael would have grown up hearing the stories God’s promise, from which he was excluded.   And of how Sarah had abused Hagar for years, physically and emotionally.   No matter when it began, the boy Ishmael would have had a choice:   act in repentant humility or act out in sinful anger.   Ishmael chose the latter.  Sin is a choice.   It isn’t natural.

Years later, Paul uses the story to illustrate the irony of how the people of Judaism had become like Ishmael, mocking God’s promise that was kept by Jesus.  The Jews of Paul’s time strove to viciously crush the new church.  It was their choice.

Tell me:   could the story of this dysfunctional family be told in our own families today?  Rewrite the names and you could find the story in a Netflix movie.   Or maybe one by Marvel.   The covenant God made with Abraham (to bless the world through him) was fulfilled only through Isaac, yet we are (and should be) sympathetic to Ishmael.  We are descended from Abraham as bastard children outside the promise (and God’s covenant).   Like Ishmael, we choose sins.  Yet God covenants with us as well, promising us eternal life through Abraham’s truest descendant, Jesus, who the Jews of then and now reject.  Who will we choose?   He already chose us.

For further reading: Genesis 16:12, Genesis 21:9-10, Galatians 4:30

Lord, all praise to You for the story of Ishmael and Isaac.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 17 May 2022. Today’s topic: An Ancient, Beautiful Thing

Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise.  Galatians 4:28 (NIV).

I love the plainspoken mystery of this verse.   If you take it out of context, or you don’t know the history of Isaac and Ishmael, you would either reject or accept it at face value.   Now, dig deeper.  Do that, then you see how the promise of eternal redemption ties my very contemporary faith in Jesus directly to God’s covenant with Abraham over four thousand years ago.  The same God who guided Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob guides me every day.   He called them to follow, repent, and believe.   He calls me to do the same things.  It’s a deeply beautiful, moving knowledge of an ancient promise being kept in my modern life.

Going all the way back to Eden, before God even expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden, He promised to deliver them from their sins.   He told the serpent that He would put enmity between him and mankind, identifying to us who our enemy was.   And God then immediately told the devil that He (God) would crush him even if the devil hurt Him back.   So let it be written, so let it be done.   And it was done, at Calvary.

Centuries later, after Cain and Abel, after the flood, after Babel, after people were falling away from Him, God called Abram, who would later be re-named Abraham, and told him that He, God, would build a nation through Abram and would bless the world through him.   It took decades for Abram to see how God did that, yet, on the day that old Abraham held his infant son, Isaac, in his arms, he held the fulfillment of that promise and knew every word God spoke was true. 

Fast forward.   See Jesus.   Promise fully kept.

Once again, remember this:   the same God who clothed Adam and Eve, who spoke with Noah, who guided Abraham, who kept His promise through Isaac, who was and is and is to come in His Son Jesus is the same God who calls you and me, individually and together, to follow Him, to turn away from our sins and begin again, to put all our faith and belief in Him because He always keeps His promises and always provides a way forward for us.  He is with the barren woman who has no child of her own.   He is with the lottery winner who finds himself immensely wealthy.   He is along the front-lines of war, under the overpasses with the homeless, and in church every Sunday or wherever two or more gather in His name.   He hears our prayers; He feels our feels; He is God, the only God.   It’s an ancient but beautiful thing.

For further reading: Genesis 3:15, Genesis 12:2-3, Genesis 21:9, Galatians 4:29

Lord, only You are God.   You are the Lord, my Savior, my Father, my Spirit guiding my life.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 16 May 2022. Today’s topic: From Barrenness

For it is written: “Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child; shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”  Galatians 4:27 (NIV).

Per my Concordia: “Paul applies Isaiah’s joyful promise to exiled Jerusalem (in her exile “barren” of children) to the ingathering of believers through the gospel, by which “Jerusalem’s” children have become many.”   There.   Easy to understand.  Whatever.  

In Paul’s time (and still in many places during ours), inability to conceive a child is a social stigma.   Pop culture says that having kids is a choice.   But the inability to have them is a terrible, extremely painful burden for people anywhere.   Just before this verse, Paul recounts Hagar and Sarah, the mothers of two nations, one of which would carry God’s promise of a deliverer.  Sarah had been barren for eight decades, and she wore the cultural disgrace of it during the days of her long life until God blessed her with a new, promise-kept life.

Strangely, all this came to mind yesterday, after my church confirmed four young women into membership.   Our class of confirmands was all female, perhaps for the first time since the year one of my daughters was confirmed in our pastor’s first class at the church.  Afterwards, when writing this post, it seemed fitting that Galatians 4:27 would appear as the verse for today.   After all, these four young women are embarking on active membership in our church, having completed years of study in God’s word.   They’re leaving barrenness behind, even if they aren’t fully aware of it. 

Right now, only God knows if, in the years to come, any of them will have kids of their own to raise in faith.   For now, they’re just great kids.  Yesterday was a point where they confessed they believed in Jesus, in having His promise of eternal life; in joining something bigger than themselves while becoming young adults with individual thoughts, dreams, and beliefs.   Their hearts are already not barren, already full of life.  It’s a courageous thing for a teenager to stand and profess encouragement fellowship, and belief.   Not everyone can bring themselves to do that.  God already is using their words to give spiritual life to others, to grow faith in ways none of us can yet predict or know.   But it’s happening all the same.

So, in this springtime, welcome to new believers everywhere, and congratulations to those taking the step into confessing faith in this Jesus, who gives life and keeps promises.  It’s a big step in the journey from immaturity and barren unbelief into the life of adventure and fulfillment that He has in store for each of us.

For further reading: Isaiah 54:1, Galatians 4:28

Father, bless the new confirmands, and bless each person who will stand with You in faith.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 12 May 2022. Today’s topic: Have-Not’s

These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.  Galatians 4:24-26 (NIV).

Ok, is Paul going cuckoo bananas?   The women who bore Abraham’s children, Hagar and Sarah, are cities?   What does this mean?

Think of it as “have” and “have not.”   Hagar, who became pregnant after Abraham listened to Sarah’s unsound advice, represents the have not.   Her offspring represent not having God’s promise to deliver humanity through them.  Hagar was a slave, not Abraham’s wife.   Her pregnancy with Ishmael represents humanity short-circuiting God’s earlier promise to make Abraham into many nations.   Paul’s comment that ‘she stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem’ compares Hagar, mother of the illegitimate son, to the old laws, given by God at Sinai and under which the Jewish people were (and are) still bound.  Hagar is the old way of doing things:  old meaning “before Jesus.”

Sarah, on the other hand, represents “having” God’s promise.   She is the world after Christ, after His life, death, and resurrection.  Even though Sarah laughed at the idea, God caused her to conceive Abraham’s legitimate heir, Isaac.   God kept His promise to make Isaac’s family into His chosen people.  God not only created the Semitic, Jewish nation through Isaac, but He delivered it, and the rest of us, by aligning Isaac’s descendants along a path from which would born Jesus the Christ.

Yet notice something else.   Most of us here on the Third Rock:   we’re have-not’s.   There is nobody alive today who could honestly, legitimately trace their family tree all the way back to Abraham through Isaac (or Ishmael, for what it’s worth).  Not even in modern Israel. The Jews of today claim Isaac as their forebearer just as Muslims and other people claim to descend from Ishmael.   Yet it is still a claim based on faith instead of DNA or provable genealogy.

We’re all have-not’s.   On our own, even by living “good” lives, we don’t carry God’s promise.   But He freely offers it to us – any of us – if we simply accept Jesus as our Savior.   He did all the work to purchase us and redeem us from our sins.   By believing in Jesus, we HAVE the promise of being adopted into His family, being part of His people forever.   Our race, our heritage, our background:   none of that matters.   What matters is faith in Jesus.   That trumps genealogy.  Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar might even agree.

For further reading: Hebrews 12:22, Revelation 3:12, Revelation 21:2-10+, Galatians 4:27

I believe in You, Lord, and am thankful to be in Your family!

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 11 May 2022. Today’s topic: Miracles Around Us

For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise. Galatians 4:22-23 (NIV).

In the next few verses, Paul extrapolates the history of Abraham’s children into the history of Israel.  Ishmael, Abraham’s first son, by his servant Hagar, was the child of his (Abraham’s) design.   Isaac, however, Abraham’s son through his wife, Sarah, was the child that God promised to Abraham.   Isaac’s descendants became the Israelites, the Jews, God’s chosen people through whom He would send the eternal deliverer, Jesus.

If you aren’t familiar with the story, Abraham and Sarah are in their eighties and childless.   Knowing he wanted an heir, Sarah convinced a too-willing Abraham to sleep with Hagar, her slave, and impregnate her.   Abraham did this, and Hagar gave him a son, Ishmael.   After this, three visitors – one of who was likely a pre-incarnate Jesus – visited Abraham and Sarah, and said Sarah would have a son, even in her old age.  A year later, when the visitors returned, that’s what happened, and she gave birth to Isaac, who would father Jacob, and from whom would descend the nation of Israel and, eventually, the Savior.

Quite a story, don’t you think?  Divine promises and miracles led to the Jews becoming God’s chosen people, and the thousands more miracles that happened in their midst.  Tell me:   do you believe it all happened, or was it simply some tale from the Bible?

Me, I believe it.   I accept it.  I accept what the Bible says; it isn’t for me to pick and choose what I will accept and what I won’t.   Because I accept what it says about Jesus, I also accept what it says about Ishmael and Isaac, Hagar and Sarah, and Abraham.  It was all divine, supernatural promise, made by God to a man who simply believed and followed Him.

If you woke up today, then God made a promise to you, too.   And to me.   To abide with us, even until the end of the age.   In the very last minutes of His time here, Jesus made that promise to His disciples.   He keeps it still today.   Whether it’s air in our lungs, protection from spiritual battles unseen, examples for life through one chosen nation, or providing needed money out of thin air, Jesus abides with us still.   He performs miracles all around us, maybe even through us, every day of our lives.

For further reading: Genesis 16:15, Genesis 17:16-21, Genesis 18:10-14, Genesis 21:2, Matthew 28:20, Romans 9:7-8, Hebrews 11:11, Galatians 4:24

Lord, You perform Your miracles all around me.   All praise to You for this, and for Your holy provision.  And for all You do.

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