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It’s Not Too Late to Help a Child This Christmas

Last week, my husband and I did something new together and had a blast! We volunteered our time at a shoebox processing center for Operation Christmas Child.

When our children were growing up, our family packed three Christmas shoeboxes every year. Each of our kids got to pick boy or girl, the age category, and the items for one of the boxes. Since they are all grown, it’s been a few years since we packed one. So this year, we helped our 5-year-old grandson pack a shoebox.

Christmas Shoebox

When I went online to print a trackable label, I was drawn to the opportunity to volunteer. Since we moved last summer, we now live close to one of the processing centers. So I signed us up. We spent the better part of a day working and felt as if our time truly made a difference in the effort.

Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, delivers more than 9 million shoeboxes each year around the world. These boxes are checked and sorted in one of 8 processing centers across the United States. Volunteers are responsible for removing financial contributions, checking boxes for inappropriate items, adding additional items if needed, and sorting and packing the donations into shipping boxes.

Operation Christmas Child

4 Ways to Help a Needy Child this Christmas

It’s too late to volunteer at a Shoebox processing center this year, but it’s not too late to give to a child in need this Christmas. (FYI, in case your interested in volunteering next year, here’s the link to the Operation Christmas Child volunteer page.) Here are 4 opportunities to give now:

  1. Build a Shoebox online at Operation Christmas Child
  2. Help the child of someone in prison through Prison Fellowship’s ministry, Angel Tree
  3. Share the love of Jesus with a child in poverty through Compassion International
  4. Give a gift that helps a family in need through World Vision

Because of the most precious gift ever given to us – Jesus Christ our Savior! – let’s give back. I’d love to hear about ways you’re giving back this year!

Some other Christmas posts you may be interested in:

 

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Less Than Perfect Christmas

Christmas often comes with high expectations. We think everything has to be just so. Perfect decorations. Perfect family. Perfect gifts. Perfect meal. Perfect Christmas.

Our culture perpetuates this fantasy. In the dozens of made-for-TV Christmas movies, the girl always finds her soul mate, the estranged father is always reunited with his family, the boy always gets the puppy, and the table is always laden with beautiful food (which must have been made by Christmas elves because you don’t see anyone slaving away for hours in the kitchen).

Christmas

But here’s the problem with high expectations: many of us will be disappointed. Life will never be perfect – not even at Christmas. Maybe especially at Christmas. The arrival of December 25th does not magically heal broken relationships or ease the pain of loss or pay the bills.

In fact, Christmas tends to magnify any grief, anxiety, and sadness we feel because we compare our imperfect, messy lives to that unrealistic perfect image. When our lives don’t measure up, we lose hope. Without hope, Christmas becomes a time we have to get through instead of a joyful celebration.

Here’s the good news: Real hope for Christmas is not in a golden turkey or a new iPad or a happy family gathered around a gorgeous tree. Real hope is in a babe in a manger. God come to earth to be with us. Immanuel.

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us… In Him was life and that life was the light of men… We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth… To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become the children of God.  John 1:4, 12, 14

This life is messy and will be messy until Jesus comes back for His children. While we wait, we will encounter trials, pain, death, sickness, divorce, heartache and more. However, in the middle of all our mess we can find strength, joy, and peace in the Savior. The birth of that one tiny baby long ago provides hope – for this life and eternity.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5

Are you facing a less than perfect Christmas this year? Does your life feel especially messy? Lay it all at the manger. Find your Christmas joy and peace in the Child of Christmas. In your Savior.

Are you struggling with a messy life this Christmas season? Share a thought about the hope, joy, and peace you can find in Christ!

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4 Christmas Gifts from Jesus

One of our family’s Christmas traditions has been to read the biblical Christmas story together on Christmas Eve. We read those chapters from Matthew and Luke about the angels, the shepherds, the star, the magi, and the infant Christ born in a stable in Bethlehem. These beloved passages are so dear and familiar I can recite huge chunks of them from memory.

But did you know there is also a Christmas account in John’s Gospel?

Christmas gifts

John gives us a different perspective. He didn’t write about the earthly circumstances surrounding the birth of Jesus. Instead, John’s account is more of a heavenly perspective. He wrote about the eternal, divine nature of Jesus the Word and His purpose in coming to earth.

4 Christmas Gifts from Jesus to You

If you have time, read John 1:1-14 now. Or read it tonight with your family. As you read, look for the 4 things Jesus brought to the earth with His first coming. They are His Christmas gifts to us.

  1. Life – In his Gospel, John uses the Greek word zoe, translated as “life,” 36 times! True life – eternal, spiritual life – is in Jesus. He embodies life (John 1:4). He alone can give life (John 5:24-26; John 11:25-26). And He came to earth to bring it to us (John 3:16).
  2. Light – This world and everyone in it is dead and dying without Jesus. We stumble around in the darkness and can’t find our way to God. Jesus came to light the way to God (John 1:4-5). Many claim to know the way, but Jesus is the “true light” that gives light to everyone (John 1:9).
  3. Grace – Jesus came from the Father to bring us grace (John 1:14). Jesus’s death on the cross is the ultimate act of grace. Our sin separates us from God and we cannot save ourselves. But Jesus’ death paid the penalty our sins deserve. When we put our faith and trust in Jesus and His death and resurrection we receive God’s gracious gift of salvation (John 3:16-17).
  4. Truth – Jesus came to bring us God’s truth (John 1:14). During His time on earth He testified to the truth of God (John 18:37). Many reject it. Many cling to the world’s “truth.” But only Jesus gives us God’s truth (John 3:31-36).

You may receive gifts this Christmas that cost a lot of money. But none compare to the 4 gifts Jesus longs to give. Open them up. Embrace them. Share them.

May God abundantly bless you with His life, light, grace, and truth this Christmas.

 

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6 Ways to Impact Your Children with the Real Meaning of Christmas

A couple of years ago, while speaking at a ladies’ Christmas event, something significant happened. I had planned to read portions of the Christmas story from Matthew 2 and Luke 2. But as I began to read from my open Bible, I discovered I did not need it.

The words flowed from memory – KJV style. “Being great with child… They were sore afraid.”

Christmas truthHere’s the truly amazing part: I’ve never worked to memorize those sections of Scripture. The passages were embedded in my heart simply because my father read them to our family every Christmas Eve. My dad desired to keep our hearts and minds on the real meaning of Christmas. And God honored his commitment to impress God’s truth on his children (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).

We can all have the same kind of positive spiritual influence on the children in our lives. Whether a parent, grandparent, aunt, babysitter, or Sunday School teacher, we can point them to Christ in Christmas with purposeful intent. Even in the midst of the commercialization of the season, we can help them understand the real meaning of Christmas.

People over things. Spiritual over physical. Lasting over temporary.

6 Ways to Help Your Kids Focus on the True Meaning of Christmas

Although you can probably come up with a longer list, here are 6 ways you can help impact the children in your life with the truth of Christmas. We used them all with our own children!

  1. Tell the story of the 1st Christmas – And not just once! Let’s use various ways to share it with them again and again. For instance, do daily Advent devotionals with your family. (These are offered free from BillyGraham.org.) For younger children, use a childproof nativity to tell the story and then leave it out for them to play with. And don’t forget the most basic way – read the biblical account to your family.
  2. Give to someone in need – It is so easy to get caught up in the “getting” of Christmas. But the season is the perfect opportunity to teach our children the joy of helping others. When our children were young we involved them in filling shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Since they’ve been grown, my husband and I have given in multiple ways including World Vision gifts, Angel Tree, and more.
  3. Sing the faith songs of Christmas – Most of our kids know Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman, but do they know Silent Night and Away in a Manger? The “religious” Christmas songs tell the real story! Play these great songs of faith while baking cookies, driving to school, or making the trip to Grandma’s house. Carol on your street or in a local nursing home.
  4. Tell someone about baby Jesus – I used to have one of those “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” pins. And I wore it too. But I don’t remember anyone ever asking me about it. We must look for opportunities to tell others about the reason for the season!
  5. Christmas Eve Service – Taking the time to attend church on Christmas Eve sends an important message to our children. “Jesus takes priority.” “Christmas is about Him.” Plus, the time in worship and fellowship helps put our focus where it belongs.
  6. Birthday Cake for Jesus – We began this tradition when our children were little. They always looked forward to helping make the cake, singing “Happy Birthday” to Jesus, and of course, eating it!

I would love to hear how you help your children focus on the real meaning of Christmas. Please share your ideas and traditions with us in the comments!

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6 Christmas Bible Reading Plans

The Christmas season has officially begun. More than likely, activities like shopping, baking, and gift wrapping fill your December to-do list. If we aren’t purposeful, all the holiday activity can easily overshadow the reason we celebrate.

Christmas Bible Reading

I have a challenge for us – for you and for me. Let’s commit to putting Jesus at the top of our list every day between now and Christmas. Let’s make time with Him each morning a priority. (Check out these practical tips for having a Quiet Time.)

What would that look like? For me, it means sitting with a mug of hot coffee, my Bible, and my journal before I start my daily activities. I read and meditate on God’s Word to renew my mind with His truth. I talk with God in prayer, sharing my heart and listening for His direction.

Over the years, I have discovered that I need the discipline of a Bible reading plan. This great discipleship tool helps me be intentional and regular with my Bible reading. For a brief few moments I contemplated developing a plan to use and to share with you. But then I realized there is no need to reinvent the wheel and decided to find out what Christmas Bible Reading Plans are already available.

6 Christmas Bible Reading Plans for the Season

I’ve done a little internet searching and found 5 great Bible reading plans for the Christmas season.

  1. “Christmas Bible Reading Plan” on BibleStudyTools.com – “Designed for personal or family reading times, these 25 New Testament readings highlight the birth of Jesus and the purpose for His coming. Related Old Testament passages are also featured daily.”
  2. Spend Christmas Together– This 25-day advent plan is designed to help you slow down and prepare your heart for the coming of the Savior.
  3. “Rediscovering the Christmas Season” – Another YouVersion.com reading plan, this 25-day plan combines Old Testament and New Testament readings.
  4. “All the Colors of Christmas” – This family advent devotional by Focus on the Family has a small price tag but would be a great activity for you and your family to do together!
  5. “Family Christmas Bible Reading Plan” – I found this 25-day plan on the website for a church in Ontario, Canada. It focuses on the purpose of Jesus’ coming.
  6. “Bite of Bread: Bible Reading Plan for Christmas Week” – This 7-day plan by Christians author and blogger Andy Lee at Daily Grace focuses on the significance of the name “Jesus.”

What are some things you plan to do to keep Jesus at the top of your Christmas to-do list? Let’s talk!

Other helpful resources:

 

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Pumpkin Bread, Peanut Brittle, and Lies

Thanksgiving seemed to come early this year. I bought fresh cranberries to make my traditional cranberry pumpkin bread, but I didn’t get to it before Thanksgiving. So, I made it yesterday. The Libby’s recipe is below!

Pumpkin Cranberry Bread

I guess I call it “my” bread because I’ve been making it for years. But in all honesty, I took it off the back of a can of Libby’s pumpkin more than two decades ago. It’s probably safe to call it “mine.” But, I really try not to claim recipes unless I created them. Particularly since the peanut brittle incident.

I make peanut brittle every Christmas. I got the recipe about twenty years ago from a dear friend, Kelly, when our family lived in Wyoming. Then we moved to Canada and Kelly moved to Houston. Over time and among new friends the recipe became “mine.” Everyone loved it and I often gave it as gifts to friends at Christmas.

Years later, when we moved from Canada to Houston, Kelly and I picked up our friendship. Well, when two Canadian friends came to visit me in my new home Kelly joined us for an evening out. Over dinner we began to talk about food. One of my Canadian friends, Glennie, asked Kelly if she had ever had “Kathy’s famous peanut brittle.” Before I could even speak Kelly quietly said, “I believe that would be my peanut brittle.”

I never claimed that the recipe was mine. I just never gave the credit to Kelly. I liked the praises I received when I made the candy. So even though I didn’t blatantly and intentionally lie, I never corrected the assumption. Then came that fateful day when my omission caught up with me.

I know this particular situation is silly and pretty harmless. But it did remind me that we always reap what we sow. All sin has consequences. Sometimes it just may take a little while to catch up with us.

Here’s Libby’s recipe for the Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread. Enjoy it!

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread

  • 2 slightly beaten eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup oil
  • 1 cup Libby’s Solid Pack Pumpkin
  • 2 ¼ cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cranberries

Combine eggs, sugar, oil, and pumpkin; mix well. Combine flour, pie spice, soda, and salt in another large bowl; make well in the center of the dry mixture. Pour pumpkin mixture into well; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in cranberries. Spoon batter into two greased and floured 8 x 3 ¾ x 2 ½ inch aluminum loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

What’s your favorite fall or Christmas recipe?

 

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3 Reasons to Thank God When You Don’t Feel Blessed

ThanksgivingIn 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be a national day of “Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” For over 150 years, Americans – and people around the world – thank God for His many blessings on Thanksgiving.

What if you don’t feel blessed? What if you’re in the midst of some trial or difficulty or heartache right now? Can you still join in the Thanksgiving celebration with joy or will you just be going through the motions?

The writer of Psalm 118 knew trouble. His life had not been easy. He had been betrayed and attacked. And he had felt caught in a hopeless and dangerous situation with no way out.

But in the middle of those trials, he also experienced God’s personal intervention on his behalf. In Psalm 118:8-14, the psalmist testifies to God’s deliverance and expresses his gratitude. In this passage, we find 3 reasons to thank God when we face times of trouble:

  1. God is our refuge – When storms are raging all around us, we can always find safety in God’s presence. He is our shelter from the storm. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Other people may not be fully trustworthy, but God can always be trusted. Other people may not always be dependable, but we can depend on God in any and every situation. Like the psalmist, when we’re in the midst of trouble, let’s thank God that He is our refuge. When we hide ourselves in Him, He will be our shelter!
  2. God is our protector – When people and circumstances fight against us, we do not have to wonder or worry about victory. God Himself goes with His people and fights for them (Deuteronomy 30:3-4). When the psalmist was surrounded and swarmed by his enemies, victory came through the name of the LORD. Do you ever feel “swarmed by enemies?” Call on the name of the LORD. Thank Him that He is your protector!
  3. God is our strength – “The LORD is my strength, and my song; He has become my salvation” (Psalm 118:14). God saves! He will deliver us through trouble with the strength of His might. He is our reason to sing, so let us lift a song of praise and thanksgiving to the God who is our strength!

God is our refuge, our protector, and our strength! If you can name no other blessings in your life today, you can thank God for these. Let’s thank Him today, especially in the midst of trouble.

How else can you thank God today? Express your gratitude in the comment section.

 

 

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God’s Design for Spiritual Heritage

Want your children to love God and follow Him? God does too. His plan for our children’s faith begins with us. God’s plan includes a design for spiritual heritage, where each generation passes our faith to the next.

God’s Spiritual Heritage Design in Scripture

We see God’s design scattered all throughout Scripture. The most familiar passage is probably Deuteronomy 6:4-9. (For more on this passage see this post.) God tells His people to teach His Words diligently to our children. To talk about them when we sit at home, when we go out, when we rise, and when we lie down. His Word should be woven into the fabric of our family.

Timothy’s spiritual heritage is my favorite New Testament example. In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, he highlighted the younger man’s “sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice” (2 Timothy 1:5). Timothy’s mother and grandmother faithfully taught him God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:14-15) and modeled godly lives.

Even in the Psalms we find God’s design for His people to pass faith to the next generation. Not long ago, I “discovered” a prescription for spiritual heritage in Psalm 78:1-8:

My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lordhis power, and the wonders he has done.
He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach their children,
so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.
They would not be like their ancestors— a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.

“Do this… So that…”

I noticed a “do this… so that…” format in the psalm. If we as parents follow God’s design for passing down our faith, then our children will be impacted in these ways. Here’s what I found in the passage:

“Do this…”

  • Teach our children God’s law
  • Tell our children about the hope we have in the Lord
  • Tell our children about God’s mighty works
  • Encourage our children to obey God

“So that…”

  • Our children will know God’s commands
  • Our children will obey God’s commands
  • Our children will be steadfast and faithful to God
  • Our children will have hope in God

We don’t have to merely hope that our children will claim God as their own. We can take purposeful action to encourage them to find their eternal hope in Him.

What are some ways you’ve seen in Scripture that we can instill a spiritual heritage in our children?

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Prayer Requests from Sutherland Springs

One week ago today a gunman walked into First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas and opened fire during the Sunday morning worship service. Twenty-six worshippers were killed. The other 20 in attendance were injured. In this community of just 400 people, everyone lost someone – a mother, father, sister, brother, daughter, son, or friend.

Is Prayer Enough?

Some have gone to Sutherland Springs in the wake of this tragedy to help. To feed, to counsel, to hug. Most of us have watched from a distance. Wondering what, if anything we can do. We can pray. But is it enough?

An MSNBC journalist asked Pastor Paul Buford the same question. Buford is the pastor of River Oaks Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, just down the road from the First Baptist Church. Buford’s church immediately became the ministry center for the families and law enforcement after the shooting. Buford’s answer was unequivocal. “Absolutely. We know prayer works. It brings comfort to the one praying and the ones being prayed for.”

The Apostle Paul also knew prayer works. In his second letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul asked them to continue to help him by their prayers (2 Corinthians 1:10-11). We can help Sutherland Springs with our prayers. Let us boldly approach God’s throne of grace on their behalf in the days and weeks ahead.

Specific Prayer Requests from Sutherland Springs

Sometimes we want to pray but aren’t sure how or what to pray. We can always pray “generically,” but I wanted to pray specifically. So, I contacted Martha Buford, the wife of the pastor at River Oaks Church in Sutherland Springs. I’ve known Paul and Martha for years and have ministered with them a couple of times in the past. Martha graciously shared some specific needs that are immediate and pressing. The following requests come straight from Martha:

Pray for today’s worship service at River Oaks Baptist Church – The sister church of First Baptist Sutherland Springs is holding services this morning, Sunday, November 12th, at 9:30 am. Please pray for each soul in attendance. There may be many there who don’t know Jesus. Pray for their hearts to be inclined towards Him. Pray for God’s name to be glorified. Pray for peace and comfort but also joy to be experienced as the community worships together. Pray for Paul Buford, the pastor of River Oaks, as he leads the service. Pray that God will give him boldness and wisdom as he proclaims God’s Word, and strength as he ministers. Paul is also grieving the loss of friends.

Pray for God to strike down the spirit of fear that threatens the community – Martha shared that the children of River Oaks are afraid to come to church today. Last Sunday morning, during the gunfire, River Oaks church went into lockdown mode. Just imagine how that event alone impacted the children in the nursery. The photo below is from the grounds of River Oaks Church earlier this week. They have been purposefully working with the children to ease their fear.

Volunteers playing with Sutherland Springs children. Used with permission.

Pray for the mourners as they attend funerals – Funeral services will be held every day this week. Remember, everyone in the community was either related to or knew everyone. They will all be attending service after service. Every day. Please pray for their emotional and physical strength and stamina. Pray for God’s unique comfort to hold them up. Pray for the privacy they need to mourn. Pray for all the details of each service to fall into place.

Pray for the family that lost 8 members – Everyone is devastated, but this family has also been decimated. One man lost his wife, five children, and his parents. Please pray for his emotional and spiritual healing.

God is Working in Sutherland Springs

One specific thing I have been praying is that God will be gloried and the Gospel proclaimed. As I wrote in an earlier post, God did not cause this tragedy, but His is working in it and through it. He is glorifying His name through His people in Sutherland Springs. If you’d like to know more, watch this video interview with Paul and Martha Buford.

Let’s keep praying. Our prayers do help. They do make a difference. Let us be faithful.

Let me know in the comments how you are praying for the community of Sutherland Springs. 

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Processing the Tragedy in Sutherland Springs

The tragedy in Sutherland Springs, Texas has been heavy on my heart and mind since I first heard about it during lunch on Sunday. I have been praying for everyone in that small community – the church members, their families, those ministering to them, law enforcement officials. And the family of the shooter.

Those of us watching from a distance feel the shock waves. Every time it comes to mind, let us pray. Let us ask God to comfort them with His presence. And may He protect them from anger and bitterness. May their grief cause them to draw near to God and not turn away.

Sutherland Springs, Texas

Many – those directly affected and those of us watching – may be struggling with those age-old questions. Questions like:

Where was God? Why did God allow this horrible act of violence?

We must grab hold of the truth we know from God’s Word and remind others of that truth. God did not cause this devastation. Yet neither was He unaware or powerless. So again, why?

Why did God allow this?

I don’t have all the answers. But I know, I know, that God is loving, kind, and faithful. And He is good all the time. People make choices. They even make horrific choices that lead to horrific acts. But those acts do not negate who God is. And I also know that God was there. He is still there. And in the wake of this evil, He will do what only He can do.

This morning, I read Psalm 91:3-4 with the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs on my mind. As I read, “He will deliver you… He will cover you… you will not fear,” I asked God what that looked like for His children in that church on Sunday morning.

God pointed me back to the truth of His Word. the Bible says that we will indeed have trouble in this world. But God also promises to be with us in the waters, to walk with us through the fire (Isaiah 43:1-2). He promises to protect and deliver. I believe all this is true.

Was God in Sutherland Springs?

God was in Sutherland Springs on Sunday morning. And He was still God. Evil men might choose to kill, but they can never take what only God can give – spiritual life, eternal life with Jesus. Sometimes God delivers His people from trouble. Sometimes He delivers us in the midst of trouble. And sometimes He delivers us through trouble. But He always, always delivers us.

On Sunday morning, God delivered 26 people through trouble, all the way to His side in glory. The world is full of trouble. There are days when evil seems to prevail. But under God’s protective arm is always the safest place for us to be.

Yes, let us pray. But let us also watch for God’s power and activity in the midst of this heartbreak. And let us glorify His name even as we don’t fully understand. We can trust that He does. Our all-powerful, sovereign God will not allow His purposes to be derailed. Praise His name.

A few helpful links:

 

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