Contentment

3fc40ce7-9e2e-421d-826d-0e419e24a390_PersonalizationBy Lori Beard

Phil. 4:12 I have learned the secret of being content in everything.
Come on Paul.  Tell me the secret.  Yell that secret to working mommas who yearn to be home.  Tell it to stay at home moms who yearn to get away from their kid.  What is the secret?  What did you learn?  How about wives who are married to Christian fellas and are loved but not loved quite like the lady married to so and so.  Their man does not do date night, he does not say sweet things.  Can you teach contentment, Paul, to the ones who are living life so fast that there is no time to breathe?  Bible time?  Ha!  Prayer time?  Ha!  Fellowship?  Ha!  Always gotta go and be doing. More sports, more shows, more stuff.  More this and that, but no contentment.  Paul, were you really content in money and stuff?  Did you really learn to be okay with little and with less?  Can you teach that to me?  Because I often think I have to have more.  I am like the more monster.  Some is never enough.  Cliff works overtime and we miss him BUT the overtime is good because regular pay is never enough.  Well, what is the secret?  I clearly need to know.  We clearly need to know, because we are drowning in discontentment.  So how do we “learn” contentment?  Well, I go to the same source I have gone to for years – my Bible.  The sweetest source of truth ever.  So, what does the Bible say?

Phil. 4:10-13..
10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. 14 Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

“I have learned to be content in all circumstances.”  Thankful to get support and help but okay if God was all he had. How could that be?  Verse 13 says through Christ.  Contentment is only possible through Christ.  We are not able in our own broken, sinful states to be content.  We must seek our peace and contentment in Christ alone and through his strength.  Have you asked him for contentment?  Do you even know where you lack contentment?  Clearly Paul was content even in his need.  He had not had every need met, but, he did have contentment.  Paul was content even though he was not being served and loved well by his friends/family.  Paul was content because Jesus was enough.  Wow. Big deal.

1Tim. 6: 6-10

and imagining that godliness is a means of gain. 6But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of  all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

We brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out.  What would happen if we really believed that? What if the attitude we had about our homes, our cars, our toys, our clothes and our food was that it did not belong to us?  What if we really believed that?  How would that change our contentment level?  Would we ever need more or better if we understood that all we have already is a gift from God?  What would happen to our ability to give if we knew it was not ours to begin with?  Would we pay our taxes with more joy?  Would we readily support homeless shelters and take care of widows and orphans?  Is part of our contentment problem a selfish problem?  We’re desperately trying to hold onto what is not ours.  And what about verse 10?  The love of money causes us to wander from the faith and pierce ourselves with pangs.  That is exactly what discontentment feels like – pangs of pain, shards of glass constantly eating away at your insides robbing your joy.  Never, ever satisfied.  Always in need of more.  So maybe part of learning to be content is learning to hold the things of this world loosely.  Temporal things have no real value in light of eternity.

 And that I believe is the key to contentment.  Finding out what has real value and then vesting your time and energy into that.  What do you value?  Do you value things that will last into eternity or do you value things that will only matter for this short lifetime?

Contentment has to be learned.  Paul learned it through hardship and suffering.  He learned it through loss of material things and his own personal freedom.  He learned to be content with God.  God was enough in every single circumstance.  He valued God and the things that would bring glory to God. I pray that I will find my contentment in Christ alone.  I want to stop wasting my life on things without real value.

So, what does that look like?  Well, for sure it will look like investing in my family.  Discipling my kids and grand kids.  It will for sure look like being mentored and mentoring other women to love Jesus (Titus 2).  It will for sure look like loving my husband respectfully and honorably (Eph 5).  It will for sure look radical to a culture who values everything but Jesus.  Oh God, help me value You so much that contentment and joy is who I am in Christ.

Learn to be content women of God.  You will never regret it.

 

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Constructive Criticism (Part III)

images-3In the previous two posts, we’ve been trying to wrap our heads around the concept of genuinely constructive criticism.  We looked to Old Man Webster to provide some basic definitions.  But most importantly, we have looked to Jesus to teach us how to help our brothers and sisters struggle hard against sin for the glory of God.

Like everything in the Christian life, constructive criticism is only possible in submission to the presence and power of God’s Holy Spirit applying the Word to our hearts, minds and lives.  But possible it is, praise the Lord!  And I strongly suspect the reason why I, and so many of you, have dorked this thing up for so many years is precisely because we go about our day-to-day lives walking not in the Spirit but in the flesh.  Living by our own power.  Using our own wit, will and wisdom.  And that produces fruit of the flesh.  In the case of offering constructive criticism, the particular fruits of the flesh that blossom are “Enmities, strife, jealousy, angry outbursts, disputes, dissensions and factions” (Galatians 5:20).  Haven’t we all seen these things result from our efforts at criticism, or our own reception of criticism?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I have noticed some trends in my 43 years on earth.  Trends that have dragged my initially well-meant criticism into the trash bin of “grumbling and disputing” (Phil 2:14).  Here’s a bullet list of thoughts and questions that I pray may assist us in discerning how to both give and receive criticism biblically.

  • Is the issue at stake a sin?  If not, I remind you once again to state up front to the person you are offering an opinion or a preference.  If a sin is the issue, follow Matthew 18:15-18 and Luke 17:1-4.
  • If you are noticing something that you think needs some improvement in a brother or sister or church ministry, spend some time praying about it before talking to ANYONE else about it.  God has a way of giving good and right perspective.  I can’t number how many times this one simple practice has kept me from saying a word to anyone as I come to realize the issue isn’t really worth it.
  • Are you talking about the issue to someone other than the person who should be receiving the critique?  The Bible calls this “gossip, backbiting” or “stirring discord.”  Repent!  Confess your sin to God, and then go directly to the appropriate person and seek his or her forgiveness for talking about your judgment / critique behind his or her back.  You may not think you’re stirring discord by discussing with other church friends the improvements you’d like to see in a church minister or ministry, and indeed, your motives may be pure.  But I know from personal experience, sadly, that where two or three are gathered to discuss their critiques of ministers and ministry, there a faction arises among them.
  • God hates one who stirs discord (Prov. 6:19).  God says, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:10-11).  Friends, this is more serious than we have let on in the church.  One of the sins I most regret is a time in my life when I was dissatisfied with the direction of a ministry and I sometimes offered a criticism to others who had some stake in the ministry, instead of going directly to the right person to hear my critique.  I was building a coalition, even if ignorantly.  And I now hate myself for it.  By God’s grace I have repented and strongly desire to not slip into that trap again.  Oh, how I need Jesus!  Oh, how I need the Spirit’s wisdom every day.
  • DO NOT SHARE A CRITICISM with anyone other than the proper recipient.  This is the only way I know of practically to “Do all things without grumbling or disputing” (Phil 2:14).  Believe me, if you go offer an humble criticism to a brother, sister or ministry leader, he or she has probably been thinking of it or hearing a bit about it from others too.  Let God do the work in that person.  If God wants to get a message to His people, I have found He often hammers it home repeatedly via various people and means.  Trust Him.  No need for you to check and see how many in the church agree with you.  Just pray, keep the matter between you and God, and then if you sense Divine permission, go offer the criticism.  Then trust God.
  • Criticize rarely.  Praise frequently.  Remember, criticism does not always need to be negative!  If you’re going to be hyper-critical, then make it the encouraging kind of criticism!
  • When you are criticized, analyze very carefully how you responded.  This often takes me weeks of prayerful reflection to assess how I reacted and responded to criticism.  It always reveals much about my heart.  Where was I too defensive?  And why?  Where did I disagree?  And why?  Did I listen more than I talked?  If not, why not?  Wow.  Honestly analyzing how I received a critique seriously exposes pride, jealousy, envy and idols in my life.  Oh for grace to receive criticism more humbly.
  • If you think the critique is of such a serious nature that it may well explode, you might ask a neutral third party to sit in on it.  God typically uses that to calm and humble everyone in the room.
  • Nail down what really matters in a church, and use your Bibles to do it!  This may well be the best advice I can give when it comes to criticizing something or someone in the church.  Knowing what hills are worth dying on, or even worth debating, is so important.  I have seen people that were precious to me leave the church over issues that I considered small preference-type things.  Or over misunderstandings.  Or over a few things in a ministry not being done precisely to suit them.  It saddens me.  Church is not a place for us to exalt our egos, our preferences, or our opinions.  Church exists to exalt its Living Head – the Lord Jesus Christ.  And how shall we do that if we are “grumbling and disputing?”  Especially over personal preferences.

No doubt you could add many more tips and godly techniques.  But I hope these at least get us headed down the right road as a church.  May God unite us around our commitment to seeing His Gospel penetrate our community and world.  For His glory in Christ alone.  And may He be exalted even in the way we give and receive criticism.

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Stephen Cox - In the wisdom of God our King, He has united us to Himself in the Spirit in such a way that no progress in the Christian life is possible until we work through these sinful tendencies in our hearts individually and corporately, as the Church. The need for devotion to the Head, and likewise to the Body, is a MUST in order for us as sinners to partake of His Holiness and Righteousness in daeling with OUR remaining sin. James speaks of the tongue being a WORLD of Iniquity,that which like a wild fire consumes all it touches. We as the Church sin more with our tongues I would wagger than in any other way against each other. May LOVE Gods LOVE that never fails be worked into us all, in order that we may corporately build up the Church, not tear it down. Thank you for these post Pastor, thank you for doing with Gods word what He has called you to do, to reprove, rebuke, correct and instruct us in the right ways of the Lord. Equip us to serve the Lord, and each other. 🙂

Constructive Criticism (Part II)

Good+Choice+Bad+Choice

Do all things without grumbling and disputing (Phil 2:14).

In the last post, I made the case that genuine “constructive criticism” is possible for believers in Jesus who are filled and empowered by Holy Spirit God to love and obey the Word.  As many theologians from the past have said, “What God commands His people to do, God enables His people to do.”  And to remind us of the immensely deep gospel context of Philippians 2:14, consider this quote from the Puritan Powerhouse Pastor John Owen:

“To presume that what God commands, we have power in and of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Christ of none effect.”  

Amen Brother Owen.  Preach on!  The command to the Church to “do all things without grumbling and disputing” flows out of the humble condescension of our Lord Jesus who sacrificed Himself on the cross in our place, and is now raised and exalted to the highest position.  His perfect work for us and in us is the ground and hope and power of any good work we do or ever attempt.

So why then do so many of us believers flub this constructive criticism up?  Why can’t we seem to walk the line between an edifying critique and grumbling / disputing?  Per Webster’s definition, to criticize someone or something constructively is to make judgments about the merits of a performance and express them in such a way that the recipient can infer conclusions, feel encouraged and see the way towards improvement.  Easy for him to say!

Let’s get practical.  To begin, we should notice that to criticize is to judge.  We cannot criticize or offer a critique apart from making judgments and using discernment.  What was good about the performance?  What could have been better?  What good do you see in a fellow believer?  What areas for improvement do you think exist?  What changes might be needed?  And how can I be a part of the solution towards improvement?  This is criticism 101.

Jesus told His followers how to judge one another.  Though pundits often quote Matthew 7:1 to try and rebuke all judgments by all people, in its context Jesus was actually instructing His people in how to offer constructive criticism!  There’s much for us to learn from the Master here.

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged.  For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite!  First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:1-5).

Several principles emerge:

  • Jesus is manifestly not forbidding His people to ever criticize or make any judgments about one another.  See also Luke 17:1-4 to reinforce this truth.
  • Jesus insists His people use the right standard to assess one another.  We know that standard is the infallible Word of God given to us in the Bible.  If you are expressing an opinion but do not have any biblical texts to support it, then make it clear you are merely giving your opinion.  If you are expressing a personal preference not supported by explicit Scripture references, or not backed up by a Biblical principle, then say so.  This kind of honesty really helps ground a critique and guides the discussion in more productive and brotherly ways.  There’s freedom for disagreement in matters of opinion and preferences!  And room to learn from each other!
  •  Never criticize anyone or any ministry unless and until you are scrutinizing your own heart, mind, and life in the exact same way.  My Dad often told me when I first started in ministry, that in his experience people in the church often accuse others of doing what they themselves are doing.  The critique is a cloak.  A mask.  Jesus confronts this very tendency!  A hypocrite is an actor. Hiding behind a mask.  So before we level any criticism at all, we must be searching out our own hearts for similar sins or mistakes or needs for improvement.  Ask yourself, “Do I have anyone looking for this same sin or tendency or pattern in my life who is holding me accountable?  Am I confessing and repenting of any known sin?  Am I willing to admit those sins to the one I am criticizing?  Do I have any real authority, experience or expertise to offer this critique?”
  • We all have specks and logs in our eyes.  Notice Jesus assumes every single one of His followers either have logs or specks!  Those symbolize specific sins or sinful habits / patterns.  But how do we know which one has a massive 2×4 protruding and which one has just a bit of sawdust?  Easy.  If it’s in my life, it’s a log.  If it’s in my brother’s life, it’s a speck.  Do you see how gospel-centered this all is?  If I’m not viewing myself as the chief sinner in the relationships I have in the church, I really should be keeping my criticisms to myself.  Or, better yet, aiming my criticisms at myself!
  • We as a church family should be seeking grace from God to deal with sin in our own lives and help our brothers and sisters deal with it in their lives too.  The goal, according to Jesus, is to “see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  And so we must give criticism very carefully, and very rarely.  And we must receive it humbly.  That’s surely what Jesus has in mind when He continues the instruction with these words:

“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.”  

Wow.  I do not want to be the dog or pig in a church!  God help me receive criticism humbly.  Thankfully.  Knowing I, like all Christians, have blind spots.  God help me not turn and tear a precious brother or sister by my aggressive defensiveness.  God forgive when I have in the past.  God give grace to enable me to seek forgiveness from the torn family member.  God help me receive holy, constructive criticism well, so that I might also give it well.  God fill our church with this very spirit.

Is it any wonder Jesus then concludes this block of instruction on constructive criticism with an exhortation to persistent prayer?!  See verses 7-11.  We have no prayer of offering a godly critique apart from prayer.  And the concluding principle of Christ is . . .

“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (v. 12).

Next post will help us with some practical ways to avoid grumbling in the Church.  A criticism meant for only a certain person or ministry far too often grows into grumbling, doesn’t it?  Join me next week for more.

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Stephen Cox - Thank you Pastor for reminding us of these critical truths which will either tear down of build up if not engaged in in the Spirit of Truth and attitude of needful humilty. The story of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven his dept, but then refused to forgive his fellow servant his dept reminds me that God really does expect us to treat each other as He has treated us, graciously. When we judge unjustly we are not acting toward another as God has us, and it stirs His displeasure greatly. Luke 18:21 to 35. 🙂

Constructive Criticism? (Part 1)

images-1Constructive criticism.

Sounds like an oxi-moron, huh?  We think of construction as positive.  Criticism as negative.  We normally think of construction as building or putting together.  But Webster’s 1828 Dictionary also includes this definition:

To interpret or understand.

And “constructive” is defined as “not directly expressed but inferred.”

OK.  Still with me?  Good.  “Criticism” is defined as “the art of of judging with propriety of the beauties and faults of a performance” or “the act of judging on the merit of a performance.”  A “critique” is the “science of criticism; standard or rules of judging of the merit of performances.”  Pretty clear so far.

Putting the two together, then, we can surmise that constructive criticism is a judgment made about the merits, beauties or faults, of a performance that is expressed in such a way that the criticized can infer the conclusion.  In other words, the person being critiqued will not feel personally attacked or directly assaulted when encountering a skilled critic.  Rather, he or she would hear a series of feedback statements of the best things, and things for potential improvement, and be able to easily discern the best way to continue pursuing excellence in the craft.

But get real.  Is this even possible?  Is it possible in the Church?

Well, I need to be the first to confess my sinful blunders when it comes to offering genuine constructive criticism.  I have made people feel beat down and discouraged when I know in my heart I actually meant to do just the opposite!  And a few times, I have even sat around and just flat out belly-ached and threw little fits about something in the Church I didn’t like, didn’t prefer, didn’t want, or wanted to see changed.  Sadly, I have even done this in the presence of other church members.  I’m a horrible sinner in this area, but God is showing Himself to be a perfectly patient Redeemer and Teacher.  I speak on this not from a position of “arrived” but rather “just pulling out of the station.”  All aboard!

Do all things without grumbling or disputing (Phil 2:14).

Well, given that Christians are told to admonish and rebuke and encourage one another (Rom 15:14; 1 Thess 5:14; 2 Tim 4:2), and also commanded to “do all things without grumbling or disputing,” we must conclude that constructive criticism is indeed possible.  Like everything in the Christian life, it’s possible only by the power, presence and grace of the Spirit of the Living Christ in us.  But, nevertheless, possible.

It’s very significant that the verse above in Philippians 2 flows directly out of one of the most beloved passages on the condescension of Jesus who laid aside His Divine prerogatives to become an obedient man, even to the point of death on the cross.  It is because of our Great Savior’s atoning sacrifice for our sins that we are then told to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you to work for His good pleasure.”  There’s both the motive (His loving humiliation and sacrifice) and the engine (God at work in us making us like Christ) of the command: “Do all things without grumbling.”

I find it compelling and convicting that the very first way the Holy Spirit through Paul fleshes out what it means to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” is to exhort us never to grumble.  Never.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing.

All things?  Yes.  All.  Without grumbling?  Murmuring?  Complaining?  Arguing?  Disputing?  Belly-aching?  Yes.  Without all these attitudes and behaviors.

Theologically and/or doctrinally, I get how constructive criticism is possible.  Why then have I managed to do so poorly at it?  Surely I’m not the only one still wondering how this all works out in practice?!  If we are trying to judge how certain ministries in the Church might be improved, how can we possibly express it without falling into the trap of grumbling?  How do we practically avoid this sin against God?  

The next blog post will seek to answer that very critical question.

Pun intended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stephen Cox - Bring it on Man of God, speak the truth to us in Love! 🙂

D-Day for the Greatest

U.S. boxing great Muhammad Ali poses during the Crystal Award ceremony at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland January 28, 2006. REUTERS/Andreas Meier/File Photo

U.S. boxing great Muhammad Ali poses during the Crystal Award ceremony at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland January 28, 2006. REUTERS/Andreas Meier/File Photo

The man who called himself “the Greatest” is dead.

The Louisville Lip who used to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee was reduced to frailty and near inability to even speak in his final decades.  Like every man before him.  Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.

I never admired Muhammad Ali.  While his athletic prowess was world-class, I never bragged on him or admired him or thought much of him at all.  Maybe it’s because my childhood memories are mostly 1980s, when Larry Holmes was the undisputed champ.  But mostly it’s because my Dad, my earthly hero, told me Muhammad Ali was a coward not worth admiring.

My Dad, you see, was drafted in 1966.  Keep in mind Dad was a junior in college, was married, and was already intending to pursue pastoral ministry.  He could have easily pulled one of those “cards” to avoid military service.  He knew plenty of men who did pull those cards!

But not my Dad.  Not only did he do his duty, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps because he figured if he was going to go to Vietnam (a given in those days), he might as well go with the best!  And go he did.  Two tours in Vietnam.  Four years of active duty service total.  Battlefield promoted to Sergeant.  Winner of the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry (the second highest medal for that government, if memory serves me).  My sister was not yet 1 year old when Dad left for ‘Nam.  Call me crazy, but in my book, this is what heroes are made of.

“Somebody died in his place.  Somebody’s son died in the place of that coward.”  

That was Dad’s assessment of “The Greatest.”  It has been amazing to me how in the media aftermath of Ali’s death, no one has mentioned the almost comical irony of Cassius Clay conveniently changing his name and his religion to avoid going into a real war.  With real bullets.  With real heroes who bled and died by the tens of thousands.  Sacrificed themselves for others, for a cause greater than themselves.  I mean, come on, does anyone out there not see the laughable irony of an “Islamic conscientious objector”?  Could you imagine someone trying to pull that card today?

I served for over five years in the Marine Corps alongside American Muslims.  In no way do I mean to belittle them or their religion.  The Marines I served with who were practicing Muslims trained hard and deployed, leaving family behind, and were ready to sacrifice for America just like me.  And just like my Dad did 45 years ago.  But that’s precisely my point – they would not have even considered it an option to “opt out due to religion.”  And frankly, I am not sure any man should be permitted to do so.  It has always gotten under my skin that Muhammad Ali got filthy rich from a country he was not even willing to serve in the trenches.  All the benefits with no sacrifice.

Almost sounds like the new motto of America, huh?!

Well, perhaps you’ll excuse this rant.  Perhaps not.  But one thing I can assure you of, I do not think Muhammad Ali was the greatest.  Not even close.  I am sad for his family.  But even sadder for him.  He spent his adult life in arrogance and defiance of the one true God.  He died, as far as anyone knows, believing that the Man who was truly The Greatest – Jesus the Christ – would one bow His knee to Muhammad the prophet of Islam.

Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason God has highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him a name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:8-11).

Turns out Dad was right.  Somebody’s son no doubt did die in the jungles of Vietnam in the place of the Louisville Lip.  But even more critically for all of us to grasp is that God’s Holy Son, the Divine-Man Jesus, died in place of all His sinful people who would cry out to Him for forgiveness.  D-day is coming for us all.  Bow to Jesus today and you will know the joy and soul deep peace that no religion of human merits / works can ever truly give!  Islam is a religion of self-salvation, and a very uncertain one at that.  But no man, not even one we called “the greatest,” can save himself from his sins.  That’s why we call Jesus . . . Savior.  

One can’t help but wonder what might have been had Ali submitted his life and his prideful lips to the Lord Christ. Surely nobody would have been able to get him to shut up about the love and grace of King Jesus!  But it was not to be.  His death is sad.  And thousands more are dying all around us on their way to the same Christ-less hell.

O Lord Jesus. help us start boasting more of You and Your cross!  And help us guard carefully who we extol as a hero.  Amen.  

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Stephen Cox - Bottom line is this, he like all called great by the world died in his sin, and as you pointed out was full of pride and self promotion, and was no hero in many peoples eyes for not answering the call of duty as a citizen. Hind sight shows Vietnam to be a huge blunder for the Politicians. But our soldiers for the greater part did their duty honorablly at at great cost like always. Christ alone deserves such great praise for He unlike this man is the Greatest man ever to walk in our midst.

Ellen McWhorter Stone - I’m glad to see my brother speaking out on this issue because I certainly have been. Amen!!

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