Amid Covid – Serenity Prayer

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The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

In the 1930’s, American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr penned one of the most popular prayers ever written, the Serenity Prayer. It is likely that you are familiar with the portion most commonly quoted: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. You may not be as familiar with Niebuhr’s original prayer and the phrases that are less often quoted. Let’s take a look.

God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.

Serenity from a biblical perspective is living in a state of submission and surrender to God. It is trusting God’s heart even when we cannot trace His hand. It is being calm in crisis, settled in storms, and at peace—even during painful pandemics like the one we are experiencing today.

Here is something that I believe will prove profitable as we make our way forward through this pandemic. Take this prayer and pray all the way through it. Don’t just stop at the beginning. Meditate on and marinate in each line that follows the opening line.

COVID-19 has reminded us all that life is fragile, and we are not in control of any portion of it. Every moment is a gift from God, including each painful providence, which Niebuhr said offers a pathway to peace—perhaps because he knew that the pain in this life is conforming us to the likeness of our Savior, who was “a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:3). And we can be absolutely certain that our God will indeed make all things right when Jesus returns to consummate His Kingdom. We have His Word on that! So until that glorious day, let us surrender to His will, knowing that happiness is not God’s greatest goal for us in this life; His goal for us is holiness, and we will have more happiness than we know what to do with when we cross the Jordan and enter into His presence. Amen.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy 

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Amid Covid – Staying Connected

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It is not good for man to be alone. (Genesis 2:18)

Recent studies have shown that more than one in five adults in the United States report feelings of significant loneliness or isolation, and that was before COVID-19 became a part of our lives. Can you imagine what that isolation index must be today? So what is the best way forward while we are isolated from each other . . . and even when we are not? Let’s take a look.

All the way back in the Garden of Eden, when God said that it was not good for man to be alone, we must remember that the man was not alone. Adam had God. But God, who had formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed life into him, knew that Adam would not only need his vertical relationship with God, but a horizontal relationship as well. We all have been made for community, and we need to stay connected to the community that God has given us, especially during such a time as this.

Here are two ways we all can stay connected:

Pray . . . for others. Yes, we are isolated from each other right now, but we do not have to be insulated from each other. Do you have a list of people whom you are praying for by name each day? Praying for others is a powerful community connector, even when we are disconnected from one another physically.

Here is something that has worked quite well for me over the years: Pick up the phone, call someone you know, and ask that person, “How can I pray for you today?” And then do it! Pray right there on the phone with the other person, and then continue to pray in the days ahead. This “other-orientation” opens doors of connection that will help you rise above any feelings of loneliness and isolation that you may be experiencing in your current shut-in condition.

Participate . . . in their lives. Serving others is a surefire way to snuff out smoldering embers of loneliness and isolation. You may be wondering, “How can I serve others with these social distancing orders in place?” Actually, there are more ways than you could imagine! Community charities, churches, and food banks are busier than ever in the middle of this pandemic. Some people have joined food delivery services at local restaurants. Others have volunteered to go to the grocery store and shop for those who cannot or should not go. You can look for opportunities you are comfortable with, keeping in mind sound social distancing and sanitizing policies. There are also online opportunities to serve others.

At Cross Community Church, our quilting ministry shifted from making quilts to making face masks. Under the leadership of Carolyn Miller, the team has made more than one thousand masks for people on the front lines and members of our church. Where there is a will to serve, there is always a way.

Find a need and fill it, and you will be filled up yourself!

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Luke 6:38)

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Note to Self

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Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith . . .(Hebrews 12:2)

We have come to expect fighting between the political parties in this country, with acrimony being generated by both the Republican right and the Democratic left. But it can be extremely disheartening to see our so-called “leaders” politicizing of this global pandemic, which has impacted the lives of virtually everyone on the planet to varying degrees.

Let’s take a brief look at Moses to find our best way forward. Moses was in the court of Pharaoh, but his heart was in the corner with God’s people. Moses had witnessed the Israelites’ harsh bondage and daily beatings. Finally, he decided to take matters into his own hands:

One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Looking this way and that way and seeing no one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. (Exodus 2:10-12)

When we read that Moses was “looking this way and that way,” we are to understand that he certainly was not looking the right way. Instead of looking at man, Moses should have been looking to God. The same is true for you and me today. If we become preoccupied with looking to the right or to the left for deliverance, we will miss the most important look in our lives. You see, it was only when Moses was ready to look one way—which was to look directly at God—that he was he finally ready to be used by God. If we are like the young Moses, looking to the right or to the left, we will be unable listen to our God and love our neighbors.

As we experience the unprecedented events of COVID-19, we must remember what Job knew by way of his own painful, personal pandemic: “He [God] makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them” (Job 12:23). The Kingdom of God is the only unshakable, unwavering, and undivided Kingdom in the world. Only when we stop looking to the right and to the left and start looking to God will we be ready for Him to use us to advance the cause of His Kingdom in this world—and we must advance in His strength, not our own.

Note-to-Self: Looking one way—the right way—is the only way forward this day and every day, as we advance through this global pandemic until we finally cross the Jordan. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus!

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – The Witness of Waiting

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Be strong and take heart, all you who wait on the Lord. (Psalm 31:24)

More than 3,000 years ago, after waiting 400 years to be delivered from slavery in Egypt, the people of Israel found themselves camped at the base of the mountain of God. Moses went up on the mountain to meet with the Lord and receive His instructions. But after only forty days, God’s people—who had seen the Lord bring the mighty nation of Egypt to its knees and had passed through the Red Sea on dry groundgrew impatient with God and bowed down to worship a golden calf. Waiting can do that to you if you are not careful!

We have passed the forty-day mark in this global pandemic, and for many, the total shut-down, which so many complied with out of fear, is beginning to lead to outright frustration. “When will things open up again?” people are asking with increasing urgency. “When can I get back to my work? When can I go to the movies or out to dinner or enjoy a sporting event?” If you are feeling some of that frustration stirring in your own heart, it may help to look at two things that speak to the witness of waiting.

Waiting Witnesses to what You Worship

The Israelites grew weary in their waiting, so they exchanged their God for a golden calf. Instead of the One True Living God, they bowed down before an inanimate idol made by human hands. The question we must ask ourselves is this: With all this waiting around for things to get back to whatever “normal” may be when we emerge from the COVID crisis, what have we turned to? Are there any golden calves that we have created for ourselves? What has been the witness of our waiting?

Never forget that God knows exactly what He is doing with this pandemic. He ordained the exact number of days for this worldwide shutdown to accomplish His perfect purpose in history and in our own lives. And what is God’s purpose for us? It never wavers; it is to conform us to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ. Christian, don’t waste a moment of this pandemic, regardless of how painful it is! God is with you in your pain, which means your pain has profound purpose. God did not bring you this far to leave you here alone.

Waiting Helps Us Witness God’s Faithfulness in Our Lives

Our loving Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He provided for us in the past and He will continue providing in the present. If you find yourself growing weary from all this waiting, here are two things to do: Look back at God’s past faithfulness in your life and look up to God’s present faithfulness in your life. If God did not withhold His only Son, but gave Him up for us so that we might have eternal life in Him, what good will He withhold from us today? And if you have even the slightest doubt as to the answer to that question, let sacred Scripture answer it for you:

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32)

May that truth set us all free to wait on the Lord. You can be completely certain that He will lead us through this global pandemic . . . just as he led His people through the Red Sea.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – The Resilience of the Redeemed – Part 3

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We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned . . . (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

As we continue to move through this inspired, encouraging passage from the apostle Paul, we go from being hard pressed to perplexed and now to persecuted during this pandemic. What I mean by the word “persecuted” in this context is rooted in the Greek word dioko that Paul used, which means “to be pursued or followed,” rather than the common understanding of “persecuted” that you and I have, which is that of being mistreated.

Here is the question that is continually thrown at the people of God when anything bad happens in the world: “Where is your God?!” For our purposes today, I must be brief in explaining what the world is really asking with this question, which is this:

If God truly is all powerful and all good, He would have the power to stop this global pandemic . . . and His goodness would demand that He do so!

The unbeliever reasons that we see this virus continuing to spread, so either God is powerless to actually stop it, or He is not all good, since He has the power to remove COVID-19, but not the desire to do so. This faulty logic was succinctly expressed in the otherwise entirely forgettable Batman v Superman movie by the “Lex Luthor” character, who looked on the evil in the world and concluded, “If God is all-powerful He cannot be good; if God is good He cannot be all-powerful!”

The key to understanding this statement is to recognize that it comes from a limited human perspective. God is infinite and we are finite. Just because we cannot discern a valid reason for the continued existence of pain and suffering in this world, that does not mean that such a reason does not exist from God’s perspective.

A little more than 2000 years ago, on Good Friday, the most atrocious, vile, evil act ever committed caused the only perfectly innocent Man who ever walked this earth to die in one of the cruelest ways ever invented. Sinful man nailed the sinless Son of God to the cross, yet this unspeakable evil became the most marvelously merciful moment in the history of humanity, because it was through the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ that the door of salvation would be graciously opened to all those who believe. The death of Christ was the fulfillment of God’s unfolding plan of redemption that culminated in His bodily resurrection on that first Easter morning. Our all-powerful, all-good God sent His Son to die on a cross to save us from our sins.

Regardless of how many times the world sneers “Where is this God of yours?” in an effort to malign the Christian faith and convince us that our glorious God is a figment of our imagination, we have His promise that we will never be abandoned. The Bible makes it clear that because Jesus was forsaken on the cross for us, we will never be forsaken, no matter what. The next time you hear the world ask, “Where is your God?!” remember that He is not only in the middle of this pandemic, He ordained it and sent it for our ultimate good and His greatest glory.

As Charles Spurgeon said so beautifully, “God is too good to be unkind, too wise to be mistaken; and when you cannot trace His hand, you can trust His heart.” Trust His hand and His heart, Christian; He is working all things for the good of those who love Him, even during those times that don’t appear to be “good” in our eyes. You have His Word on that!

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – The Resilience of the Redeemed – Part 2

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Perplexed, but not in despair . . . (2 Corinthians 4:8)

On Monday we began moving through this marvelous passage from the inspired pen of the apostle Paul; today we see that we go from being hard pressed to perplexed as we endure this time of global pandemic.

Just two short months ago, if someone had suggested that the entire nation would be shut down and we would be confined to our homes, we would have believed that person had lost their mind! Yet this is exactly where we find ourselves, and it is as difficult to receive as it is to respond to. In a word, our circumstances are perplexing.

The Greek word which is rendered “perplexed” in most English translations of Scripture can be literally translated as “to be at a loss.” To be sure, we are at a loss in many ways at this time. Through no fault of our own, we are all at a loss in both our professional lives and our personal lives. Our routines have been turned upside down and inside out. “Social distancing” has strained our relationships; people edge nervously past each other in the supermarket, and close friends studiously avoid hugs and handshakes. People who would warmly embrace just weeks ago now raise a cautionary hand and say, “Don’t get too close!” Yet in spite of all this, we are not in despair because of the living hope we have in our Lord.

In the 1985 “Anne of Green Gables” television mini-series, a perplexed young Anne cries out to her adoptive mother Marilla, “Can’t you even imagine you’re in the depths of despair?” To which Marilla replies, “No I cannot. To despair is to turn your back on God.” Christian, to despair is to depart from the holy hope we have in Christ Jesus. Paul went through some pretty perplexing times, yet he would not give in to despair, because he knew in whom he had trusted. He understood the glorious truth that if God the Father would not spare even His own Son to bring about Paul’s salvation, God can be trusted . . . even in the most perplexing times.

Can the same be said of you and me? Do we really believe that God can be totally trusted, even in the perplexing time of this pandemic? Inasmuch as it seems like COVID-19 has the upper hand, we must recognize that we would not be in this perplexing time if it had not first passed through the nail-scarred hands of our loving Savior. Nothing happens to us apart from the will of God. Yes, God’s will can seem quite perplexing at times, but that is because He is God and we are not. If we had a God we could fully understand, He would not be God! We would be, and I am quite sure that you will utter a hearty “Amen” when I say “Thank God that you and I are not God!”

To be perplexed is simply part of our pilgrimage through this world as we make our way toward our promised paradise. But because we have a hope that no circumstance can crush, we shall not despair.

Please come back on Friday to look at another portion of this powerful passage of Scripture.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – The Resilience of the Redeemed – Part 1

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We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed . . . (2 Corinthians 4:8)

I want to devote the next four articles to unpacking this powerful passage from the inspired pen of the apostle Paul; I feel sure that these words from Paul’s letter to the Christians at Corinth will be a source of great encouragement to you as we continue to walk through this global pandemic with the resilience of the redeemed.

I define the word resilience very simply: Resilience lives according to the truth of Proverbs 24:16 and says, Fall down seven times, get up eight! To be sure, this pandemic has pressed us all on every possible side of the life we once knew. It has pressed us relationally. It has pressed us emotionally. It has pressed us mentally. It has pressed us financially. It has pressed some of us physically. And it has pressed all of us spiritually. To use an old phrase, we are at the end of our rope . . . but Paul tells us we are not at the end of our hope. No matter how hard pressed Paul was, he was not crushed by the trials life threw at him. Why? Because of the living hope he clung to each time he reached the end of his rope.

Paul wrote that “We are hard pressed.” Please note that pressure is a common experience for all the saints of God. Pressure has been promised! It is a false Christianity which teaches that faith in Christ leads to freedom from pressure. The truth is just the opposite! Speaking from the personal experience of my wife Kim and myself, it was not until Jesus saved us back in 1995 that we truly began to understand the phrase “hard pressed on every side.” When you take a stand for the Savior, you begin to experience the truth of what Jesus said: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20).

So how can we find encouragement in being hard pressed? It lies in the fact that we are not crushed by it. No doubt, pressure can be quite painful. But as Nobel Prize winner Henry Kissinger, who served as National Security Advisor and Secretary of State under Presidents Nixon and Ford, once said, “A diamond is a chunk of coal that did well under pressure.” In short, pressure creates diamonds!

So . . . how well are you doing under the pressure of this pandemic? Are you becoming more “diamond-like?” Scripture commands us to “shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16). Christian, keep looking to your Living Hope, and you will find that, while your rope may seem awfully short, you will never, ever reach the end of your hope. Know that God is using COVID-19—just as He uses all the pressure you face in this life—to conform you to the image and likeness of His beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

I’ll be back with you Wednesday, and we’ll dive back into this passage.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Science and Scripture

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In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)

Every day we hear the latest developments and updates from the scientific community, which is fighting the spread of COVID-19 with the ultimate goal of finding a vaccine. While we play our part in slowing the trajectory of this pandemic by conforming to the social distancing recommendations and stay-at-home orders, I want to share something with you from the world of science that I promise will be a source of eternal encouragement to you right now, right where this message finds you.

Science tells us that there are four basic elements every human being needs in order for life to be sustained:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Food
  • Light

The Scriptures tell us that these four basic elements that we all need for life are all found in none other than Jesus Christ Himself. He has told us:

  • I AM the breath of life. (John 20:22)
  • I AM the living water. (John 4:14)
  • I AM the bread of life. (John 6:35)
  • I AM the light of the world. (John 8:12)

Without air we would last only a few minutes; without water we would last only a few days; without food we would last only a few weeks. Without light every living thing would eventually cease to exist. But without Jesus, the entire universe would instantly be transformed into a putrefying place of chaos, darkness, and death, for “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Jesus Christ is “sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). Our Lord gives life to everything (Nehemiah 9:6); He truly is the breath of life!

Some of the greatest scientists the world has ever known were Christians: Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, and Pascal. Their faith in God informed their thinking and their conclusions. The more they observed in nature and in the laboratory, the more certain they became that God is the author and the sustainer of all life.

Make no mistake, the unbelieving philosopher Aldous Huxley, whose best-known work was the 1932 novel Brave New World, was terribly, tragically wrong when he opined that “Modern science makes it impossible to believe in a personal God.” To the mind that is informed by the Spirit of God, modern science compellingly shows us again and again that “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). And as we’ve seen today, science compellingly convinces us that Jesus gives us everything we need in order for life to be sustainable; He most certainly is the way, the truth, and the life.

Do you know this Jesus? If you do not, you need do nothing more than Peter did, who cried out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:30). And for those who have already placed their trust in Him alone during these stormy days, know that He is all you need; He is everything you need; and science proves it!

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Sheepish

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We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way. (Isaiah 53:6)

If you’ve spent any time in the Scriptures, you know that the Bible compares the saints of God with sheep. There are many reasons our Lord does this; none of them are particularly flattering. Sheep are defenseless and need constant protection; they are directionless and need constant correction; they are skittish and easily spooked, even when there is no reason for it, and need a constant, calming presence. To be compared to sheep at this present time seems particularly pertinent; we are all facing this spooky global pandemic, which has made us all quite skittish!

But there is one reason above all others why the Bible refers to the people of God as sheep so often, and it should provide us cosmic comfort during this unprecedentedly uncomfortable time. Sheep simply cannot survive without a shepherd, and the same is true for the sheep of God. And our God has given us just what we need; we have the only true Good Shepherd . . . and His name is Jesus Christ.

Our Good Shepherd not only loves us and cares for us, but He laid down His life for His sheep. He has protected us from the penalty of our sins; how much more will He protect us from this pandemic, whether we become ill or not? Because our Good Shepherd died and rose from the grave, we have the absolute assurance that the last enemy of man—death—has also been conquered. As Paul said so beautifully, death has lost its sting for the sheep of God.

A good shepherd always stays close to his sheep, who sense his presence and know his voice. At the voice of a stranger, the sheep will run off; but when they hear their shepherd’s voice, they advance in his direction, knowing that they will be safe and secure in his presence. This is where their foolishness finds its end: What sheep lack in direction, they more than make up for in distinction. They know the voice of their shepherd and draw near to him.

We are sheepish when we faithfully follow the voice of our Good Shepherd, regardless of where Hs is leading us . . . which today has been into the path of this pandemic. We are foolish when we do not follow Him. Perhaps we are listening to so many other voices that we fail to hear His still, small voice whispering to us. Perhaps it will take a bit of pain, as C. S. Lewis said, to cause us to hear His voice calling to us. Jesus wants us to look to Him, listen to Him, and advance toward him as we make our way through this time of social distancing and family separation.

Christian, know that social distancing does not apply to our relationship with our Good Shepherd, who leads us into green pastures and restores our souls and who loves us unconditionally, in spite of our foolishness, every step of the way. Please remember this: His perfect love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8). So be sheepish this day!

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Uncertainty

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If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him (James 1:5)

The COVID-19 pandemic has created global uncertainty that is rising around us like massive mountains of mystery. We hear the prognoses of the medical authorities and instructions from political leaders; both groups often say one thing one day and something quite different the next. So where are we to turn to find truth in these uncertain times? We turn to the only thing in this world that is sure and certain: The Word of God.

James, the brother of our Lord Jesus Christ, instructed us to turn to God for the wisdom we need. When we do, the biblical text assures us, we can be sure we will receive all that is necessary in order to wisely navigate today’s turbulent waterways. We must always remember that the wisdom of this world can only take us so far. Now, when the medical professionals tell us to stay at home to help slow the spread of this virus, that is exactly what we should do. The Word of God tells us that this is one way we can show love to our neighbors, especially those heroes in the health care industry who are on the front lines in the fight against the corona virus. Reflecting the love of God in Christ Jesus to our neighbors is a tangible way we can demonstrate the wisdom we have received from Him.

The wisdom spoken of in James 1:5 is far more than mere knowledge. Wisdom is the ability to take that knowledge and make wise decisions that bring glory to God and good to others. True biblical wisdom is a practical discernment that is rooted in the fear of God and that finds its expression through our faith in God. The more time we spend meditating on and marinating in the Word of God, the more wisdom we will receive from our heavenly Father, who gives generously to all who ask, seek, and knock.

Even during these times of the most pressing uncertainty, we can be certain about the truth of God’s Word. It is a light for those who would otherwise grope around in the dark. It is a compass for those who would otherwise wander aimlessly. It is a refuge for those who would otherwise be battered by the storm winds that are blowing in all our lives at present.

Let me ask you directly: Has this time of uncertainty brought you more regularly into the presence of God through His Word? From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible makes it clear that God is with you, for you, and in you. Armed with these powerful and certain truths, you can deal with any amount of uncertainty the world sends your way, because our Lord assures us that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that you and I may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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