Fasting for Lent

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Jesus instructed his followers to pray and fast in secret. Chances are you are among the massive majority of Christians who rarely or never fast. It’s not because we haven’t read our Bibles or sat under faithful preaching or heard about the power of fasting, or even that we don’t genuinely want to do it. We just never actually get around to it. Part of it may be that we live in a society in which consumerism is all encompassing. That’s what we do as Americans. We consume. Even the poorest of Americans consume far more stuff in far greater volume than anyone in the world. The poor of the world look with envy at what American’s call “poor”. By the world’s standards, America’s poor are rich. Fasting is voluntarily going without something, any regularly enjoyed good gift from God — for the sake of some spiritual purpose. It is markedly counter-cultural in our consumerist society, like abstaining from sex until marriage. If we are to learn the lost art of fasting, and enjoy its fruit, it will not come with watching & listening to our society. It only comes when you are growing close to God by diving deep within His Word (Jesus, or the Bible if you prefer). Then the concern will not be whether we fast, but what & when. Jesus doesn’t say “if,” but “when you fast” (Matthew 6:16).
And he doesn’t say his followers might fast, but “they will” (Matthew 9:15).
It is our own cravings and ache for comfort that keep us from the discomfort of fasting. But there are good reasons for fasting. We fast in this life because we believe in the life to come. Fasting is for this world, for stretching our hearts to get fresh air beyond the pain and trouble around us. And it is for the battle against the flesh and weakness inside us.
We are longing for more of Christ & less of the joys of this life. It can be used for spiritual insight, discerning God will, gaining victory over some bad habit, refining your communication with God, etc.
The Middle Age practice of observing “Lent” was present in many Christian groups. Lent is traditionally described as lasting for forty days in commemoration of the forty days which Jesus spent, before beginning his public ministry. He was fasting in the desert, enduring temptations by Devil, the fallen angel Lucifer. Normally it begins on “Ash Wednesday” - 46 days (40 fasting days, if the six Sundays, which are not days of fast, are excluded) before Easter. The ashes are taken from the ashes of the burned palm branches that were used in the previous year to commemorate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. As folks begin their Lenten fast, those ashes are used to mark a cross on their forehead. It is a sign and seal that the coming fast is in memory of Jesus, His life & ministry, but especially, His suffering, death and subsequent resurrection. So in a sense, we are dying to ourselves by fasting during this period of time. Many Christians have abstained from fasting at any time thinking that it is a work and not of faith. And it surely can become a “work” just like attending church. You just do it out of habit, not with any sense of stepping into the presence of Jesus and glorifying Him with your fellow believers. But it doesn’t have to be that way. You can choose to make it something glorious, something powerful, something life changing. And so it is with fasting. Let me challenge you on today, Ash Wednesday, to begin a fast for the period of Lent that might possibly alter the course of your life. At the very least it will draw you much deeper into to the presence of God. So decide, today, what will you be fasting from as you anticipate the celebration of the life, death and resurrection of our Lord & Savior Jesus? It needs to be something that would truly be a sacrifice to you. Food is always a good one. Think what a difference it would make in your life if you were to lose 10 or 20 lbs. Maybe if you just gave up sweets. What about television? Think how much time that would save you. What about some nasty habit that you have longed to be rid of? You can do it. It is just 40 days. Maybe your language needs sprucing up. How about your attitude towards some certain folks or individual that you can’t stand? Could you show love to them for a month or so? With God’s help, I know you can.
What if you were to give up one 30 minute TV show & use that time for praying for the World’s unreached peoples? Or maybe just reading God’s Word deeply for 30 minutes.
Whatever you give up, it must qualify as a sacrifice to you. For some people giving up ice cream would be piece of cake for others of us it would be monumental. The goal is to use it in order to focus on Jesus. So when you tummy aches, when your just dying to know what happened on your show, you turn your thoughts towards Jesus & thank Him for His goodness, graciousness and sacrifice for you, realizing that your sacrifice during these 40 days, as hard as it may be, is only a fraction of what He sacrificed for you. Laus Deo – Pastor Mike


A Harvest is ready in Iraq

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I really didn’t know what to expect in Iraq. Over the last 16 years Iraq has been associated with tyrants, terrorism, Al Qaeda, and now ISIS.  It has been synonymous with war and even holocaust.  No wonder folks were rightly concerned when I told them I was coming to northern Iraq, know here as Kurdistan.  I arrived in Arbil just 50 miles from Mosul, now controlled by ISIS.  It is the capital of Kurdistan & with Mosul and Baghdad one of the 3 largest cities in the country of Iraq.

 

Let me say first of all that in my 6 days here, I never felt afraid or even had a reason for being afraid, with the exception of driving in Iraq.  For centuries the Iraqi people road donkeys on these roads.  There was no left or right, no stop signs, no turning lanes.  They all just road their donkeys the shortest, easiest way possible.  Today they drive their cars as if they were on their donkeys!  Sidewalks?  Fair game!  One thing for sure, it will increase your prayer time and strengthen your faith.

 

I have spent most of my time with Kurdish refugees from Syria, Iran and some Yazidi folks from Syria.  I have been warmly welcomed into their homes with love and kindness.  Whether it was in a tent, an abandoned portion of a half destroyed building, or a make shift shelter made of pieces of scrap wood and plastic.  It was always spotlessly clean inside, and I ate their food and drank tea with them. It was wonderfully generous of them.

And I never had a bad meal!

A bond of affection was so easily formed.  They are a warm and loving people, always ready to share what they have.  I don’t think I have been so readily welcomed anywhere else in the world.  We laughed, shared stories, and always prayed before I left.  I prayed in the name of Isa – Jesus. They are a people who have been victimized and hated by other factions of Islam.

There is not much love loss.  They are open to the Gospel.  They don’t hesitate in wanting to hear stories from scripture and what they mean.

As I ate and fellowshipped with one particular Yazidi man & his two sons, he told the story of how his wife and his own mother, along with his brothers and many other family members were murdered by ISIS in very cruel ways.  They escaped with only the clothes on their backs.  He has a Master’s degree in engineering and had a comfortable living with a small ranch home.

But now he is a refugee with no job and no options for the future.

Life has dealt these people a very cruel hand, and yet they are rising above, refusing to let themselves sink into self-pity and despair.  They do their very best at whatever opportunity comes their way.  They don’t feel like society owes them anything.  They are not just sitting waiting for help.  They have taken a nightmare scenario, and are trying to make a living for their children and grandchildren.  Sometimes that means begging on the streets or selling various household items for someone else, for a small share of the profit.

They are not looking for a hand out, they want a hand up.

 

Here is a “field white unto harvest”.  God is sending as many believers as will go to this land of darkness and hardship, in order to reach these who have had to leave everything they knew behind them in order to start life over in a new country. They respect the New Testament & have a high view of Jesus.  It does not take much to lead them down the road to salvation.

 

May all the Glory go to God.  His Spirit is moving mightily in this land where Abraham began his journey, 2000 years before Jesus.  Where Jonah came to preach repentance, the Holy Spirit is inspiring a new generation of believers to come and share the Good News of a loving God, contrasted to the cruel god of the Islamists.  The one true Living God who wants to forgive, heal and restore. Who will God send?  Who will go on His behalf?

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Maranatha Lord Jesus,
 
Pastor Mike


The Rebirth of the Church in Uzbekistan

rebirthI shared a bit of history with you last week.  It is important if you are going to understand the church & the culture of Uzbekistan.  Back in the middle ages the church in Europe had become corrupt, immoral and heretical, much like many churches in the mainline denominations today in America.  True Believers in God’s Word sought to reform the church bringing about the protestant reformation.  But while European Christianity struggled, the Nestorian Church in central Asia was blossoming.  Indeed, this place of Uzbekistan and surrounding countries were the flower of Christianity in those years.  It was a vibrant church, deep in faith & bringing enlightenment in the areas of medicine, education, astronomy, and business.  The math they learned from India, was adopted by the Muslims and later became known as the Arabic numerals.  It was India and the Nestorian Christians who advanced this.   Islamic leaders like Timur “the Great” (mentioned in my last blog) took all of this knowledge and wisdom from the Nestorians & then laid siege to them.  Timur was one of the chief despots who was responsible for the complete destruction of Christianity in Central Asia (from India to Moscow & eastward into China). He was the “ISIS” of his day. Christianity was literally wiped from the annuls of history until 20th century archeology discovered the evidence of this great Christian movement.            Now fast forward to the late 1990’s when Korean missionaries came to this land and planted the seeds of Christianity after the collapse of the USSR.  A new generation of Christians has emerged in Uzbekistan, discipled in the faith, nurtured by the spirit of God.  Then the Atheistic government discovered what the Korean’s were doing & had all the missionaries deported.  But it was too late.  You can still see & experience the impact of Korea in the culture, (I ate in a Korean restaurant last night).  But more importantly you see the fruits of their labors in a fledgling church.           Imagine the heavy hearts of these new believers as their leaders, their fathers & mothers in the faith, were taken from them, exported (not back to Korea) but to other countries in Central Asia were they continued their evangelism and church planting.  This is one of the greatest missionary efforts of our age.           One might think that the church in Uzbekistan struggled after that, but it did not.  They rose to the challenge.  They took the leadership reigns and organized themselves into a tremendous underground movement connected with other underground churches in the world.  They meet in houses throughout the country, intentionally keeping each “church” small in order to avoid detection from the government.  It is better to have hundreds of small house churches than to have larger churches that could easily be found and disbanded by the government.           The believers that I have met have all had skirmishes with the police, being arrested, imprisoned, beaten, or humiliated and released after some time.  But God’s spirit has given them courage and they are not afraid.  The authorities realize they are not afraid and can’t figure out why.  As a result, arrests are fewer and the beatings have pretty much stopped. Indeed, many of the police are curious as to what makes these followers of Jesus so committed to their faith.  But there is always that threat of arrest & the followers of quite aware of it.  They are very cautious and take great measures to keep their schools of faith & training hidden.  They continue to share their faith energetically, knowing that each time they might be compromised.  They smile about it.  “God is in charge”.           Therefore, it is not surprising to me that they never let me meet with one of the house churches.  They kept me away, and I met with the leaders in their homes for training and encouragement.  To be with them is an experience like I have never had before.  We reclined at a low table with pillows and cushions. There is always great food, and hot tea or coffee.  It is so relaxing, not like a formal teaching setting with chairs and a lectern. I would share, someone would translate and we would dialogue back and forth.           Their faith is genuine and their love for each other is so evident in all that they say and do.  It is like a big loving family has gathered together for fellowship in the midst of learning.  It was like the early church of Acts, reclining at a table.  We were breaking bread in a small room with the joy of Christ in their faces & the love of Christ in their voices.  I was touched and ministered to in a profound way. I came to share, but they gave me far more than I could ever impart to them.            They have the heart of Christ in their church.  They have the passion for the great commission in their minds.  They are reaching out to surrounding countries. They are strategizing and in a very organized way, they are bringing the Faith back to Uzbekistan after 500 years of silence. It is power-filled.  It is humbling to be with them and yet I felt like I was a part of their family.          Now it is on to Iraq.  – Love and Blessings, Pastor Mike


Greetings from Uzbekistan

1/22/2016 Tashkent, Uzbekistan
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Greetings to you from their great capitol city. This place is taken right out of the history books of Central Asia going back 1000’s of years before Christ.
The known history began in the Bronze Age when metallurgy developed the bronze bit, enabling horse riding. Mounted tribes developed contacts between the farming south and the livestock breeding north.
An Aryan Indo-European race from the north first migrated to this land.

From 800 BC their successors, the Scythians (to the Greeks) or Saka (to the Persians) swept before them into a loose dynasty from the Ferghana Valley to the Khorezm oasis. These tent dwellers evolved during the iron age into skilled craftsmen. But the chief legacy for them would be the horseback archery. This gave them a great military advantage that set the standard for terrorism of the barbaric waves that swept through the centuries. Victories were celebrated by drinking the blood of their enemies from their skulls.
(I know, creepy!) Cyrus the Great of Persia sought to end their raids and rule over this land.

Zoroastrianism was begun here, the worship through fire offerings for their all-powerful god. The mysterious prophet Zoraster was the fabled leader of this movement that began on these desert steppes. Some believe that the three wise men who came to see Jesus were from this movement of astrologists.

In 329 BC their capitol Samarkand, fell to Alexander the Great. Then came the Parthinians, and then the Huns from Mongolia, the scourge of the Han dynasty. Slowly the fledgling Silk Road, from China to Rome, wound its way in the mountains and deserts, through the heartland of Uzbekistan. It was an incredible sunset as I walked on the Old Silk Road one week ago today.
I could imagine those camel caravans moving across the horizon.

In the early centuries after Jesus, Nestorian Christianity blossomed in this land and 100s of 1000s came to faith. While Europe struggled with a corrupt and heretical church that had succumbed to materialism, true Christianity was alive and well in Central Asia, all the way into China and India. They held sway unit the Islamic invaders came. At first they tolerated Christianity, as long as they paid the tax. But as soon as the Crusades from Europe began, the Islam horde turned on the Christians and literally wiped out all evidence of their presence here. Only lately has archeology opened our eyes to the great influence of Christianity on this land, it’s people and culture.

The Uzbek people were dominated by Islam until the 1200s AD when Genghis Khan swept down in a fury with his Mongol horde. From day after day & into the nights they would ride, sleeping in their saddles, nourished by the blood of their powerful mounts. From Germany to Japan, the greatest land dynasty in the history of the world, led a century of peace which allowed for the safe travel on the Old Silk Road for historical figures like Marco Polo. Tamerlane (Timur) was the last of the great Mongol leaders to rule the land. From Samarkand, his capital, he left his great mark on Uzbekistan and the world. He was a legendary hero of the land and still is today amongst the faithful Uzbeks. He is like George Washington to us, but combined with the minds of Benjamin Franklin & Thomas Jefferson.

The Czar of Russia came during the 19th century at the report of great gold in the land. Soon the communism of Lenin ruled in this country. It held sway until the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the USSR. As a result, Islam here is more cultural & not practiced religiously as in other Islamic cultures. I have yet to see one Mosque.

But Mother Russia has left her imprint on the land. Everywhere, you see the old cold look of the Russian sterilizm. Everything is the same, dark, grey, gloomy, box like. But now capitalism is blooming in the land & new buildings, bright and beautiful are springing up. I can see a lot of western influence (some good and some bad). Now people can own their business and land. More and more, the people are prospering. You can see the generational differences. The old timers wear the traditional Russian clothes. But the new generation is fighting against the old culture and trying to join the style of the west. Limited freedom is igniting new life and hope.

In the fall of 1991 a revolution left Uzbekistan to be its own country for the first time in history. It has a communist style government, opposed to religion. It tolerates a registered church, but controls them. The true church is underground. They are first generation Christians planted by Korean Missionaries who were deported by the turn of the century.
(These are the Koreans who founded InterCP) The Christians left behind have taken up the torch for Christ and are burning for His Glory and Kingdom.

If you don’t like history, you are probably not reading down this far. But just in case you are, I want you to know that next week I am to tell you about these incredible followers of Christ.

Love and Blessings, Pastor Mike


It’s About Time…

 
timingI believe that by the time we are adults we learn that timing is everything, and also that no matter how much we pray, beg, wish and plead for things, it is out of our control.  Everything is done in God’s time, and in God’s way.    For He is the Way and His Time is always the best time.  The Bible assures us that God always acts in the right way and at the right time.

Romans 5:6

6  For while we were still helpless, at the right time  Christ died for the ungodly.

 

Mark 1:14-15

14b   Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God,

15     and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

Later in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus heals a man who had leprosy. Jesus sent him on his way but with a warning.

Mark 1:42-45

42     Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

43     And He sternly warned him and immediately sent him away,

44     and He said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

45     But he went out and began to proclaim it freely and to spread the news around, to such an extent that Jesus could no longer publicly enter a city, but stayed out in unpopulated areas; and they were coming to Him from everywhere.

It is hard not to be sympathetic with the man who was healed.  He had been an outcast for who knows how long.  He couldn’t be with his family and friends, those that he loved. He was unclean, a pariah. No one would come near him, let alone touch him.  Do you know what it feels like not to be able to hold and touch the one you love?  You couldn’t be together, eat together laugh together. It was a living death for the ones trapped in clutches of that horrible disease.  Your heart aches and yet you are powerless.

Who could blame him for rushing to those for whom his heart longed.

But as painful as it would be for him, it wasn’t the right time.  As a result of his disobedience the kingdom of God was set back.  The plans that Jesus had to be in those towns in order to preach and teach were thwarted. Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places where throngs of people would come to Him. But they would come to be touched and not to hear.  O how humanity longs for the loving touch of the One who could heal their lives.

Sadly, it is still true today.  People long for Jesus’ touch, for His miracles and for His power.  But they do not want to hear His Word.  “Help me Jesus, but don’t interfere with my life.  Don’t tell me what I can and cannot do.”

I am convinced that because of God’s love for us, He has great plans.

But He also is the Lord of time and knows what is best and when it is best.

Sometimes the waiting can be painful.  I find myself being so impatient with God.  I am truly like that leper.  I have my wants, my desires, my dreams for my life.  There are things for which my heart longs & at times and I get in God’s way and mess with His plans and His timing.  I can’t help but think back on how much I have frustrated the best plans of God for my life, and settled for something much less.

How often has Jesus not been able to move in your situation because you have failed to honor God’s plans and God’s timing. Perhaps you have moved ahead when you were not supposed to move.  I think sometimes we do the right thing, just at the wrong time.

I have often preached at funerals, how that when Jesus had heard that Lazarus was sick He did not rush to his side to heal him. (John 11:6) He delayed his return allowing Lazarus to be buried.

Delays in our life are not always easy to handle or to reconcile in our minds. Often, when God does not answer our prayers in the time that we feel He should, we are often disappointed with Him.  Such was the case with Lazarus' sisters.  When Jesus arrived two days later, Martha shamed Him by saying, "If You had come he would not have died." She implied that He didn't care enough to come when sent for. It was a matter of priorities for Jesus, not lack of love.

God often has to delay His work in us in order to accomplish something for His purposes that can be achieved only in the delay. Jesus had to let Lazarus die in order for the miracle that was about to take place to have its full effect. If Jesus had simply healed a sick man, the impact of the miracle would not have been as newsworthy as resurrecting a man who had been dead for four days. This is Jesus' greatest "public relations act" of His whole ministry. What many do not realize is that the key to the whole story is in the next chapter.

In John 12 we see that many people, because they had heard that He had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet Him. So the Pharisees said to one another, "See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after Him!"  If Jesus had not raised Lazarus from the dead, there would have been no crowds to cheer the Lord when He came into Jerusalem riding on a donkey.  There would have been no urgency for the Pharisees to carry through on their plans to kill Him. If there had been no cross there would be no forgiveness of sins.  If there was no cross there would be no Resurrection.   And if there were no resurrection, we would be as Paul said, “most to be pitied”.  God had a plan and a time through it all.

God often sets the stage so that His glory is revealed through the events that He orchestrates. He did this with Moses and Pharaoh, allowing delay after delay for release of the Israelites from Egypt. He did this with Abraham and Sarah for the promised child, Isaac. God granted Sarah a baby past the age of childbearing in order to demonstrate His power.

I am so very glad that God is so very patient with me.  He even takes my mistakes & my poor timing and uses them to bring honor to Himself and do good for me.  What an awesome God we serve.

My fervent prayer for this year is “Help me Lord in this new year to be sensitive to Your will and understanding of your 
time.  I want to follow you more faithfully.”

Isaiah 30:18

18     Therefore the LORD longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you.

Isaiah 40:31

31     Yet those who wait for the LORD  Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run             and not get tired,  They will walk and not become weary.

If you have been asking God why things aren’t the way YOU want them to be, right now, please read these passages and instead pray for patience.  Remember, He wants you to be happy and He knows what is best for you.

 

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Maranatha Lord, come quickly,
 
- Pastor Mike

 

 

 



THE Name Above All Names

the_name_above_all_names_christ_jesus_by_fadlydante-d4rcfjlIsaiah is a towering book of prophecy & one of the most beautiful and significant of Old Testament books. Its messages of judgment are balanced by matchless words of comfort and hope. And its vision of the Savior is the most moving as well as the clearest of all Old Testament portraits.

Its 66 chapters make it the third longest literary work in the Bible.

One of the book’s greatest values is found in its unforgettable images of God. Isaiah’s distinctive title for God, “the Holy One of Israel,” is used 25 times and captures something of the majestic glory with which He is displayed. He is Creator, King, and Savior for His people, the “Mighty God” who sends His Servant, the Messiah, to rescue them at a terrible personal cost. Isaiah 53’s graphic study of the Servant’s suffering is an unmistakably distinct portrait of Calvary, penned some 700 years before Jesus’ birth.

We would know nothing of God except that He revealed Himself to us in His word. Some of the greatest revelations of our Infinite God comes through His Names.  The name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. There around 420 names of our God in three persons.

In the Old Testament there are 223 & in the New Testament there are 195.

To the Old Testament saints the name Jehovah was an ointment poured forth shedding its fragrance over all.  When God spoke with Moses, Moses asked Him what is the name that should be used for Him.  God responded

“I Am Who I Am”.  In the scriptures all we have is the 4 letters of that name,  “YHWH” – it is known as the tetragrammaton.  They only wrote the consonants because they did not want to break God’s Command by using His name in vain, so they simply omitted the vowels.  Then no one would really be saying His name.  Thus the original pronunciation was lost.  The name of God is represented in the Masoretic Text as being the 4 consonants & adding the vowels from the word Lord (aḏōnāy).  From this the sixteenth century translators give us the word “Jehovah” or “Yahweh”.  It is found in one of the words that is the exact same in every language of the world, “Hallelujah!”

New Testament saints think of Him as Jesus.  In the Old Testament Hebrew this is the same name as Joshua, who led the children out of the wildnerness into the promised land.  He as a type of salvation for the people.

The ultimate Savior is our Lord Jesus the Christ.  If ever there was a name that, as ointment poured forth," shed a fragrance over all of human life it is the name of Jesus!

The Name of Jesus is the saving name: "Thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:21).

The Name of Jesus is the sanctifying name. We are to do all things, in word and deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus (c.f. Colossians 3:17).

The Name of Jesus is the sovereign name. "At the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Philippians 2:10). It is the name that charms our fears and bids our sorrows cease." It is the name that, as "music in the sinner's ears, brings life and health and peace."

This is a name that has no bounds. It cannot be mortally defined.

It is above all names.

Ephesians 1:18-21 NASB

18      I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,

so that you will know what is the hope of His calling,

what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

19      and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us

who believe. These are in accordance with the working of

the strength of His might

20      which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead

and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,

21      far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every

name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.

No where do we find more names of our promised God the Son coming to save His lost creatures, than in Isaiah.   For a world sitting in the darkness of terrorism & death, lost & hopeless, to our world that name came.

It was a dark hour in Israel about 730 years before Bethlehem's babe.

But what about His name?  What will this coming one be called?

Four pairs of distilled divinity are given to us in Isaiah 9:6.

Let's savor them as we herald our Savior who came and has come to our lives and is coming.... Who is He?

Isaiah 9:6 NLT

6      For a Child is born to us,

a Son is given to us.

The government will rest on His shoulders.

And He will be called:

    • Wonderful Counselor,
    • Mighty God,
    • Everlasting Father,
    • Prince of Peace.

    This Sunday I will be expounding on the meaning of this verse.

    Corem
    Deo,  Pastor Mike