Sunday, July 24, 2011

His grace leads to our transformation . . .

     How great is God's grace? How amazing is it? I suppose we might make the argument that God could have inspired only the Gospels, and you and I would have known of His love of us. Fortunately though, since some of us are a bit hard-headed or a bit slow, He tells of His grace in many different ways.

     This week's story about Jacob might seem a bit strange to our ears. A man serving as a slave for his uncle, two daughters being given away with no account of their thoughts on the matter, a man being duped to sleep with the wrong girl—there is much for us to shake our heads at in consternation. Heck, hasn't all that been a repeated theme on some Soap Operas? But the story, read in isolation, might seem a bit disconnected to the rest of Jacob's story. Recall why we are where we are. Jacob conspired with his mother and tricked his father out of his older brother's blessing. He and his mother have, once again, conspired to deal with his brother and father's anger. Rebekah sent her younger son on a mission to find a bride. Her hope was he would, no doubt, but she also hoped Esau's anger would abate. Esau seems to have been impetuous at times. I mean, really, who gives up their inheritance for a bowl of lentil stew? Maybe a great steak, but lentil stew? And lest we forget, Rebekah was also the mother of Esau. Who knows a child better than a mom? Maybe some time away will help speed the cooling off period.
So, Jacob arrives at Laban's place. He spends some time there about which we hear next to nothing. Was Rachel so beautiful and graceful that he was thunderstruck? Did they strike up some great conversations over the goat's milk? We just don't know. Scripture seems to think that part of the story was unimportant. We do know that whatever happens causes Jacob to be willing to serve 14 years for Rachel. What Scripture emphasizes in this pericope, however, are some valuable lessons and some amazing insights. Clearly, sibling rivalry is nothing new. Last week, we read about the tussles between Jacob and Esau. This week, we hear that Rachel is beautiful and graceful but that Leah has unique eyes. Yes, I know our translation says “lovely eyes,” but the word translated as lovely is unique to Scripture. We're not sure as to its meaning. Her eyes could have been crossed, for all we know. It could also have been the idiomatic way of saying in ancient times “she has a great personality.” Anybody here not know what is meant by the “she has a great personality” line? Those of us asked to wingman on blind dates knew it was the code for “she looks like a water buffalo, but she is really funny. Thanks for doing this.” And ladies, ever describe another lady with a “great personality”? Ever mean it truly as a compliment? So, we are being set up for sibling rivalry among the ladies in this story.

     So, Laban comes to Jacob and asks what he wants. Jacob wants Rachel, you know, the lovely one. A bargain is struck. Seven years labor for the hand of Rachel. For those of us concerned about whether there is true affection at play here, ask yourself this difficult question: “Would you have served seven years for your spouse?” Maybe if we reverted to that system, our divorce rate would decline dramatically, but that is a sermon for another time!

     Seven years pass. Jacob's reward is finally at hand. The party must have been huge. How else could Jacob have been fooled? Gentlemen, ever thought of explaining to your wife using the words “Hey, I thought I was sleeping with you” with the expectation that she would buy it? Ladies, ever buy it as a good excuse? So now the tables are turned. The trickster has been tricked. Some in other churches will no doubt preach this lesson on the divine justice or humor of God. Is there a more appropriate thing to happen to Jacob? If nothing else, he should have some empathy for what he has done to his brother and father his whole life. But, while issues of justice and humor are certainly present, I wonder whether they very important in our lesson.

     So Jacob is furious. Laban shrugs off his anger with a “in our way of doing things, a first born daughter always gets married first.” Should Laban have mentioned that in the beginning of the seven years? Sure. And he knows it. But he tells Jacob to finish the honeymoon with Leah, and he can have Rachel too, as long as Laban gets another seven years labor to boot. By the way, for those of us who have read the torah, this marrying of sisters to the same man will be prohibited. But Jacob agrees to the terms. Though he presumably does not want to, he fulfills his responsibilities to Leah. Then, he claims his prize and his next set of tasks.

     I asked about God's grace at the very beginning. You may wonder where His grace is. This family is messed up! Sister rivalry, dishonest father-in-law, dishonest hero, an unloved bride. But this is the royal family. They should be better than this, right? I mean, Abraham never lied to anyone, right? Sarah never took matters into her own hands to fulfill God's covenant in her time, right? Isaac never failed his sons, right? Rebekah never favored one son over another, right? By the way, speaking of the covenant, you know the one where God promised to make Abraham's descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky or the sands on the beach. The same one He made with Jacob last week where he promised that his descendants would be like dust on the earth. How's that working out so far? Jacob has just served seven years and has the wrong wife to show for it. Isaac and Rebekah only had two sons, and they may kill each other before it's over with. And nobody seems willing not to try and serve their own interests. All are like me in the sense that they know what God wants, how to do what He wants, and that He needs my help. Each seems concerned with acting on their impulses or emotions rather than trusting the Lord to keep His covenant. Given their “help” it is amazing that His story ever gets a chance to unfold. Yet despite all these connivings and deceits, despite all the selfishness and self-aggrandizement, God still manages to see thing through.

     So complete is His power that all their selfishness cannot thwart Him. So amazingly is His control that their deceits will know confuse or confound Him. And such is His love and grace to them and to us that He will work through their messes, even when the ultimate cost for their sinfulness will be His own punishment to bear. They may give up on Him after a time, but He never gives up on them. Though the royal family seems small when this passage ends, it is just a few passages away from twelve sons and one daughter (though that path is rocky and full of its own rivalry, rape, and selfish brats). Though Jacob does not deserve the honor of being in covenant with God, let alone a great-great-great-great grandfather of Jesus, his story is preserved for edification and for our wonder.

     All of us sitting here probably recognize ourselves in these stories. Perhaps we are the schemers, perhaps we are the victims of schemers, maybe our mothers and fathers played favorites, maybe we are the parents or grandparents who favored our children or grandchildren, maybe we have been described as “having a great personality,” maybe we have spoken of others in those terms knowing and relishing in the hurt it would cause. Chances are, we see ourselves or our circumstances in these stories of the Old Testament. And that is a good thing, an amazing thing! No matter how far down the path of selfishness and sinfulness we find ourselves, we can always be reminded by these stories of His power and His grace to redeem incredibly bad circumstances or choices.

     As we have watched the past few weeks, Jacob has undergone an amazing transformation. The selfish, greedy, conniving sob who thinks nothing of fooling his father or stealing from his brother has become a patriarch of our faith. The same man who stole birthrights, who played favorites with his mother, and who eventually took even an inheritance destined for another will become a man who serves for 14 years to get a wife, who will lose his hothead ways and amazingly offer peace to those who rape his daughter, who will wrestle with God for His blessing, and who will return to his brother (though not without some of the old Jacob showing through) to try and reconcile with Esau. God offers us that same transformative grace to become His beloved son or His beloved daughter, children birthed by the Holy Spirit in His image through the amazing work of His beloved Son.

     You and I can even read these stories and remind ourselves of the need for patience when dealing with God. If He can close and open the wombs of women whether they are young or very old to keep His promises, if He can overcome the schemes of evil choices or people, if He can raise His Son from the dead after three days, there is nothing, no single thing that He cannot do for us. Best of all, that covenant that He made with Abraham and Sarah, with Isaac and Rebekah, with Jacob and Rachel and Rebekah and Zilpah and Bilhah, He offers to each one of us, to our offspring, and to all those whom we meet in our daily lives and work. Amazing grace, indeed!


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The difference between men who buy sex and those who do not . . .

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How sweet the sound . . .

     Amazing Grace is, perhaps, one of the best known songs in Christian music. In fact, it is so well known that when Nicole chooses a more contemporary version of it, I still hear how “they should have left well enough alone” from a number of well-meaning parishioners.  As each of you knows, I am very fond of some of the traditions of the church. While I recognize that King James’ language is perceived like a foreign language by contemporary society and I understand that the evolution of language almost dictates that most churches use Rite 2 as the primary worship service, I would feel something amiss were it not for the early service each Sunday. There is a continuity that stretches back nearly to the formation of our church in that language. Similarly, while I great enjoy some of the modern “re-do’s” of Amazing Grace, I find myself needing to hear what I think of as the original every so often to remind me of where I have been and Who it is that leads me now.

     That similar theme of hearkening back and remembering the familiar, as well as the idea of Amazing Grace, are prevalent in our story from Genesis today. Those of us unfamiliar with the story might wonder “why the big deal?” What makes this story significant? To remind you of God’s narrative, Jacob is on the road. Once again, unsurprising to those of us who have followed his journey thus far, Jacob has schemed, plotted, and tricked his way to get what he wants. What’s worse is that he did all these bad things to his twin brother! Perhaps you have heard the stories of how close twins usually are, often to the point of making people think ESP is real. I know there is a tennis doubles pair of twins, and I am certain that some of their advantage is their opponents’ belief that they are communicating in ways unavailable to most of us. That close twin, Esau, is the one whom Jacob has wronged. Of course, Jacob’s plotting has not been in isolation. Sweet Rebekah, you know—the lady who watered the camels a couple weeks ago, the mother of Jacob and Esau has conspired to elevate her favorite son to the detriment of her other son--talk about playing favorites! As her husband Isaac was dying, she helped trick him into believing that Jacob was Esau. So, when the time came and Isaac was to give his dying double-share blessing, he gave it to the second son rather than the firstborn. Esau, predictably, was furious! In 27:41-42, Esau vows to kill Jacob. Of course, this is the same Esau who gave up his birthright for some lentil stew.  Nevertheless, Rebekah has to plot and scheme some more. She sends Jacob away ostensibly to look for a wife, providing, she hopes, some time for Esau to forget his anger. Of course, what should be a journey of a few months ends up being a quest of some dozen years!

     But now, Jacob is simply on the road. He knows what he has done. Worse, he knows that what he has done was wrong! Terribly wrong. He tricked his father. The real victim was his twin brother. And now he cannot stay home because his brother is, rightfully so, enraged. How did he feel? What must have been going through his head? Maybe you are fortunate to live in a family that has no plotting or no scheming, but I rather doubt it. How have you felt when you tricked or ripped off a close brother or sister? What shame have you felt when scheming to take advantage of a parent? Perhaps, just perhaps, you have used the confusion and fear at the end of life to steal your own inheritance? A piece of furniture was promised to someone else but you weaseled your way into it? Perhaps you have been the victim of a family member’s machinations. Maybe, being the victim, you acted like Esau and started doing things which enraged your dying loved one simply because you felt them careless enough to allow themselves to be tricked! This is a well known story. Yet even when things are darkest, even when we are least deserving (can you imagine anything worse than screwing over a family member?) we are not cut off.

     God appears in a dream to Jacob and reminds him that the covenant which He swore with his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac is available to him, even when he least deserves it. Such is God’s grace that He is willing to extend His mercy to Jacob, if Jacob will choose to follow God. There is still time, if Jacob will choose wisely.  Amazing Grace, indeed!

     Jacob awakes and realizes that he has slept on holy ground. Even there, on the road of dejection and deception, God is with him. Better still, the Lord offers Jacob a choice: follow Me and your family will be present everywhere like the dust on the ground, ignore Me at your peril. Jacob awakes and creates an altar. He names the place on the road bethel, which means “House of God.” And Jacob, in that moment, chooses to follow God wherever He leads. And notice what he asks of God – if You, O Lord, will lead me to my father’s tent in peace, then You shall indeed be my God! He does not ask for wealth, he does not ask for land, he does not even ask for a suitable wife, he does not ask for anything but to return home in peace. He recognizes the harm he has caused. He recognizes the evil he has done. And He realizes that the only one with the power to bring peace to what he has done is the Lord.

     Brothers and sisters, perhaps you have found your family history in our story today. Maybe you are Jacob, maybe you are Esau, maybe you have been a co-conspirator like Rebekah, maybe you have been careless like Isaac. Maybe you are fleeing that evil. It does not matter who or where you are, however. The same covenant which He offered to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob, He offers to you! That you may know that He knows the evil of your actions and heart at times, He offered His Son! And that you may know that He has the power to redeem all our evil, He raised that Son from the dead! There is no place in your journey too far away. There is nothing you have done which He cannot redeem. And such is His grace, His amazing grace if you will, that He gladly accept you into that amazing covenant of love, and promises to see you blessed, just as He has each of His sons and daughters who came before, if you will simply accept His proffered grace and commit yourself to go where He leads, serve whom He places in front of you, and share your story of His amazing grace in your life with all who would ask it of you.

Christ's Peace,

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Claiming her inheritance . . . and blessing me!

I assume that as I grow older this day will take on some significance. At this point in my life, it simply reminds me of what theologians call the tension between the “already and the not yet.” In a way, this day marks a day in which my daughter, Amanda, has really grown up. Of course, this growing up was begun and completed some time ago in her life of faith, but today marks one of those milestones upon which I will look fondly in the years to come.

To take a step back, Amanda came to me some months ago. She had returned from an academic reward that cost us (and her Grandpa George and Grandma Elaine) some significant funds. She had received an e-mail about an unplanned mission trip to Tanzania. Naturally, she came and asked dad if she could try and go. Being a priest with seven kids paid the minimum for the diocese of Iowa, I responded in typical fashion. Bills and tuition needed to be paid, other kids needed shoes and clothes—there simply was not enough money. If she had been a few weeks earlier, I could have given her the choice of the conference or the Mission Trip, but the money was all spent. I did not notice her dejection as she walked away.

The next day, Amanda returned with a question: could she try and act like a “real” missionary and raise the funds herself? She wanted to write a letter, do some fundraisers, the “works.” Now, I serve an amazing congregation. By and large we are a very healthy parish. We might seem a bit intrusive for those that are new, but it is only because most care a lot about those to whom God has called them to minister. This is probably best expressed in their giving. Few in the parish do not give sacrificially. Of the few that do not give sacrificially, some of them “just tithe.” Knowing this, I had to be honest with Amanda. There was no way that would happen. There simply were not enough resources available in the parish. Not to be deterred, Amanda asked if she could send the letter out to the parents of her friends from school? I responded in the typical, making economic sense manner. “Have you not heard about this recession? Besides, why would non-Christians ever give you money to help evangelize?” She had no answer, but she was not going to give up.

A couple days later, she brought me the letter. She had crafted a missionary letter asking for financial support. The letter described how the previous trip to Tanzania had made her feel, what she wanted to do, and, most importantly, how she felt that God was calling her to this ministry. It is not very often as a parent that I like having my own words thrown back into my face, but, thankfully, I am also a priest. When people preach my own sermons at me, I am often doubly-blessed. Not only does the mini-sermon often get me out of my particular funk, but it reminds me that people sometimes do listen to my sermons on Sundays. Amanda, of course, hears and sees a sermon all the time. Talk about inwardly digesting it.

Naturally, I apologized to Amanda for failing her both as her priest and as her father. Clearly, something important had happened to her in her prior trip to Tanzania. Because I was not there, I had missed the subtle signs. But, when she needed to break out the metaphorical hammer and knock some sense in me, she did! One of the two people in the world that should have been supportive of her no matter what, her father, had failed her terribly. Worse, her priest had failed her. Clearly, she was experiencing some sort of call. As we talked further, I was not sure that this was it. I actually pondered whether she had glimpsed a vision of her future life’s work and was simply confused as to the time. I spelled out the obvious challenges, but I told her to put out the letter and share her story. Amanda replied that she knew it was going to happen. This was something God was calling her to do, and He makes all things possible.

As I reflected on the events of those few days with my wife later, I learned that I had not only been unsupportive but gruff in my dealings with my daughter. Thankfully, Karen had been a far better parent than I. She had encouraged Amanda to keep nagging and to write the letter. Karen had been nearly ready to kill me for crushing a spark in our daughter, but her support had served to fan the flames in Amanda’s call. But rather than step in, she had let Amanda fight her own battle and assert her own thoughts about the trip.

Some $2500 later, some countless prayers later, we received the call that she was in Dulles waiting for her trip to Dar. She wanted to say goodbye to everyone before she left. Unspoken, of course, were the fears. Before this all started, Osama bin Laden was alive. Now, threat levels around the world have changed. And Americans in Dar Es Salaam have been targeted before. Not a few parishioners have journeyed into my office since his death wondering if we had thought this all through. The parishioners whom I serve often amaze me. Imagine the difficulty some had in coming to ask me if I had considered that she might be the victim of a terrorist attack while abroad. What if had not? What if I had? And though some fumbled, all spoke from the heart. Their concern for Amanda and for me and for Karen was amazing. What if . . . ?

Truthfully, I cannot say that I am too worried by the what if’s. Though Karen and I gave, for us, some significant funds to make this happen, we can rest in that peace that passes all understanding that His sovereign hand was at work in all of this. Had He not lit the spark, had He not fanned the flame, had He not given her the words – this would not have happened for Amanda. So if she journeys there and meets her death as a martyr, I will trust in His grace to carry us through. This is not the end He has in mind, but He will overcome all efforts to thwart His will. No one and no thing will separate her from His love nor, in the end, separate us in His love. The same God who provided for this will provide for our eternal needs as well, of that I am certain. I can only hope, as I have reflected on that possibility with some of the more determined of my flock, that I can testify to that kind of provision and that kind of promise in the anthem of a burial in a way that honors Scott & Sarah, Bryan & Lisa, and so many of our friends and colleagues who have been asked to walk that terrible path before. . .

But that, of course, is to dwell on the negative possibility. My expectations are far more joyous. I keep asking myself “what were the odds this would happen?” How many $20, $25, and $50 checks did it take? How many hearts were moved to make this trip possible? How many non-Christians, like the Egyptians during the Exodus, gave for some reason even they do not understand to help further God’s plan? And so I look to her trip with expectant eyes. What in the world does He have planned that would require her presence half a world away?! What divine appointment, what word has she been called to speak that glorifies Him or brings the dead back to life? Will she be causing rejoicing in heaven? The possibilities are as endless as His love and His provision.

During each Celebration of New Ministry, the newly appointed minister kneels in front of the new congregation and says aloud the words “I am not worthy to have You come under my roof; yet You have called Your servant to stand in Your house, and to serve at Your altar. To You and to Your service I devote myself, body, soul, and spirit. . . Make me an instrument of Your salvation for the people entrusted to my care . . .” Every now and then He grants us the opportunity to see how we are being used. Whoever first wrote that prayer certainly understood their need for His grace in their life. As we laid hands on Amanda and prepared to send her off last week, those words appeared blazoned before my eyes. Though I am often moved by such sending services (I know the worries and fears of the loved ones left behind whether the one sent is going to war, going to college, or simply transferring with a job), I was reminded of how truly blessed I am. Truth was, I could barely say a prayer. He has kept His covenant with my next generation and has begun already to use them for His glory. Would that all of us who are mothers and fathers, grandparents and great grandparents live to see such hope and such promise! Would that we would all remember that our chief responsibility when children are placed by Him in our care is to teach them to love and follow Him wherever He leads—even when He leads them to do things we think are impossible!


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

He makes the ordinary holy . . .

One of the distinct honors of serving as a priest in this community is that I get to set at the hub of a wheel of activity. Far more often than you know, your “no big deal” actions, words, or example radically impacts the life of those around you. I thought of several good examples of ordinary stuff which God used to bless someone in our midst. Better still, as I was asking permission to talk about these ordinary things, I earned more about the ripples. Person B was all about letting me share how Person A had truly blessed them, but then they, in turn, did not want me talking about how Person C had been moved by their response. I suppose modesty and humility are good qualities, in moderation. We are going to have to work on our willingness to share some of these stories, however. One of the reasons we gather each week is to remind ourselves how God is active in our lives, in the lives of those around us, and in the world. To not be able to preach on some of those actions and blessings not only hamstrings the preacher, but, I believe, starves each of us of a bit of the bread which He shared. That all being said, amazingly enough, our readings give us a great example of what I am talking about.

Place yourself in our story in Genesis. Which character do relate to today? Are you, perhaps, Abraham—wandering how on earth God is going to keep His promise to you now that your beloved wife, Sarah, is dead? How can he and Sarah have countless offspring if she has passed? Perhaps you are Isaac. All your life you have heard how special you were. Talk about a change-of-life baby! And yet, there was this time that dad seemed willing to do something horrible to you. Maybe you relate best to the servant. The master/boss has given you another impossible task. To make matters worse, the master/boss has placed certain conditions on how the task must be completed. Rather than trusting you to do it quickly and correctly, the master/boss has just turned a hard job into a damn near impossible one. Maybe you relate best to Rebekah? You have a kind heart, but it has done you no favors so far. You are of a marriageable age, yet you are not even betrothed. Maybe, you relate best to the camel?

Each of our characters today had a particular need and concern. Abraham likely wondered how on earth God would keep His promises in light of Sarah’s death. Isaac, we are told, missed his mother terribly. The servant had to struggle with the responsibility placed upon him by Abraham. Each had a reason to wonder whether God still cared about them and whether He was able to keep His promises to them. So what happens?

Abraham sends his servant to find a suitable wife for his son. He wants Isaac to marry a girl from home, not one of these Canaanite women (later, we learn that Canaanite women will lead Israel’s sons from the worship of Yahweh into Exile, so Abraham’s desire is good). Isaac must marry a woman who can bear the testing of God and not turn aside. This “following God” stuff is hard. It is not for the weak or for the idolaters. Naturally, Abraham tells the servant to go back to where he was from and where he found Sarai. Of course, knowing the temptations, Abraham does not allow Isaac to go and the servant must go in a round-about way. In this way, Isaac won’t be tempted to go “home” if he does not know where "home" is.

Having completed the (from the servant’s perspective, pointless) journey, now the servant must get to work. How does one invade such a close-knit culture to find a wife suitable for his master’s son? It can’t be done. Why, if only finding such a wife were as easy as watering ten camels?

Into our story appears Rebekah. She offers the servant water and then, in a radical show of hospitality, offers to water the camels. Immediately, though, the servant recognizes the hand of God at work! Rebekah has offered an incredible gift, a gift worthy of Abraham and Sarah in the eyes of the servant. And so he asks her to consent to marry his master’s son. You and I might not think it particularly romantic, particularly if we have ever been on a blind date. He asks her to consider how much wealth God has given Abraham. He asks her to consider his journey to this point. And throughout this “sales” pitch, the servant gives all credit to God. Rebekah might wonder what Isaac looks like, but she knows that he is blessed and directed by God. And she accepts the offer.

The return journey is not mentioned. The faithful obedience and responses of our characters has already occurred. But notice how the story ends. Rebekah and Isaac share that “love at first sight” experience. They know, by the words of the servant, that God’s hand is upon their marriage. And so Isaac takes Rebekah, gives her the matriarch’s tent, and becomes her husband. Everybody wins. Certainly Isaac and Rebekah get a great deal out of all this – a spouse. But Isaac is even comforted over the loss of his mother by the new presence of his wife. Abraham now has an apparently beautiful daughter-in-law. Can grandchildren be far behind the marriage? After all, Isaac and Rebekah are much younger than when he and Sarah had their first. The servant has learned that God’s sovereign hand is upon this family. How well do you think he will serve in the future, knowing his master's unique relationship with God? And Abraham learns that his servant will do seemingly stupid and crazy things to fulfill his wishes. A common occurrence in those days—finding a suitable wife--is used by God to reassert His covenant with a faithful family. The ordinary is blessed. The common is made holy.

Brothers and sisters, such is his promise to you. If I talked to you this past week or two about some particular “ordinary things” in your life, then you know God is active in your life. God has taken your words at work, your visits during free time, your willingness to carry a sack or fix something broken to bless another. That particular blessing, in turn, has been seen and heard by others. And for a few moments, many of us have found ourselves in the activities not unlike what we read about today. But, I think, most importantly, we have been reminded of something truly amazing. In His kingdom, there are no ordinary people. In His family, there are no ordinary children. In His kingdom, there are no second tier shrines or temples. In His kingdom there are only Princes and Princesses. In His kingdom there are only first-born children in His eyes. In His kingdom, all become a worthy dwelling place for His Spirit. There is no ordinary. There is only exceptional!

Sitting there today you may be a scoffer. Have you seen my temple, Brian? It’s crumbling and teetering and it isn’t exactly up to code, if you get my drift. How can I reach others for His name’s sake with everything going on in my life? My family put the shun in dysfunction—how can I ever hope to be drawn into His? The truth is you cannot, unless He draws you in. Just as you cannot be that truly exceptional son or daughter, that prince or princess, unless He calls you. But the glorious news is that He calls and He makes new! He takes that which we are at war with in our bodies and uses it to glorify Himself. When we were each unlovable He went willingly to the cross. When we each felt inadequate to the task set before us He promised us a Counselor. And just to remind us that none of us were “ordinary” but special, He ascended back to be with the Father and took part of our “fully human” with Him. To be sure, we and other Christians still make mistakes, we still screw up, we still sometimes find ourselves losing our faith. But to remind us of our heritage and His love, He still excels at taking the ordinary in our lives and using it to advance His kingdom, one precious son or daughter at a time, a son or daughter worth dying for—just as He died to save each one of us!