I Surrender All?

I have been revisiting old hymns lately as I write about my pursuit of prayer. This is partly because I believe that prayer is a form of worship, and is closely tied to other forms of worship– meditation, singing, etc.. Sometimes, it can be helpful to pray songs or to sing prayers– look at the entire book of Psalms!

Our church has recently been involved in revival services– two weeks of time set aside to evaluate our daily walk with Christ. We need periods of revival and refreshment, conviction and confession, repentance and reflection. Without them, we will wander; without them we will wither and grow cold, and lose sight of our first love.

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One of the first nights, we explored the idea of surrender. We say that we trust God; that Jesus is Lord, that we are followers of Christ…but do we really demonstrate those truths by the way we live? Have we really surrendered our will, our lives, our futures to God? We claim that He is sovereign over big things– all of creation, world affairs, and such–but is He Lord over the little things? Do I trust Him with my reputation when someone misrepresents me to others? Do I trust Him with my diet when I am tempted to overeat? Do I trust Him with my time when someone asks me to help them on my day off?

One of the keys to this hymn (and to prayer) is in the first verse– “..in His presence daily live.” There are times when I feel the need to surrender; times when I feel wholly surrendered and devoted. But there will be other days when the feeling just isn’t there. My surrender needs to happen daily– in the “good” times and in the “difficult” times. Sometimes, I just need to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and empower me to recognize and surrender those areas that I have tried to “take back” from Him.

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And then, I need to be intentional about letting go–one piece at a time, if necessary–each day saying, “Yes” to God instead of “Yes” to those things that pull me away. It’s not always easy to say, “I surrender all.” It’s even harder to actually follow through. We want to hang on to things that are comfortable, familiar, even “good.” We want to hang on to things that seem to promise safety, success, or fulfillment– even when God offers more.

I’m not writing this because I have mastered the discipline of surrender– I need to learn to let go, to trust God more, to risk what I cannot keep to gain what I cannot lose (paraphrasing from Jim Elliot–https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/jim_elliot_189244.
That is my prayer today, for myself, and for others.

The Company We Keep

Do your friends pray? Do you pray for your friends and neighbors? Do you pray with your friends? Prayer is often seen as a private and very isolated activity– just you talking to God. But prayer is much more. Prayer can bind people together in a common purpose. It can encourage and embolden others as we pray together, share burdens and blessings, and seek God’s wisdom on their behalf.

Conversely, when our friends don’t pray, or discourage us from spending time in prayer, we can become weak and lose the fullness of joy that comes from a rich prayer life. When Jesus walked among us, He spent time with people– sinners, self-righteous religious leaders, friends, and strangers alike. And He often went away and alone to spend time in prayer. But He also made a habit of taking a few key friends with Him; friends who would “watch and pray” when others might have distracted Him with their questions or doubts. Throughout the Bible, there are numerous examples of others who sought out friends and companions to join them in prayer.

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There is a lot more I could write about this concept today, but I think it is more important to act on it. I have a journal full of names, places, and situations that require prayerful attention– people battling cancer or depression; cities facing riots and economic upheaval; families in the midst of divorce or other crises. And I have friends who share my concerns and who can join me in praying (even remotely) for them.

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If you have friends who pray– connect with them and pray for and/or with them today. If you don’t– pray that you will find companions who will come alongside you as you make this journey to pursue a life of prayer. Look for opportunities to join a group– in person, or on-line–that shares prayer requests (and answers to prayer!) Best of all, pray to and with Our Father, who will never leave us or forsake us, who always listens, and who has given us the constant companion of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and encourage each of us.

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For on-line prayer groups, check here ( https://www.google.com/search?q=online+prayer+groups+free&rlz=1C1GYPO_enUS768US769&oq=online+prayer+groups&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l5.7234j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 ) and elsewhere.

To Boldly Come…

Opening monologue from Star Trek

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For anyone familiar with the Star Trek series, the phrase, “To boldly go…” conjures up pictures of galactic travel at warp speed, with haunting soprano voices, uniforms in mustard yellow, red, and black, and the voices of actors William Shatner or Leonard Nimoy (or Patrick Stewart, et al.)  It probably does not make anyone think of The Lord’s Prayer, or the teaching ministry of Jesus Christ.  I hope to change that today!

There is a running theme throughout scripture of God asking people– from Abraham to Moses to Mary and Joseph to the Disciples and Apostles and on to all of us– to COME, and to GO.  BOLDLY!  Abraham left all that he knew to follow God’s prompting to the promised land.  Moses was told to Go and confront Pharaoh, Mary and Joseph were to Go– to Bethlehem, to Egypt, and then to Galilee.  The Disciples were to Go into all the world!  We are to continue this Great Commission.

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But Jesus, in His teaching on Prayer, also told His Disciples to Come to the Father with boldness:

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place.  When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”  He said to them, “When you pray, say:
“Father,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.
May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us each day our daily bread,
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.”
Then he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.’  Then the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me.  The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed.  I can’t get up and give you anything.’  I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man’s boldness, he will get up and give him as much as he needs.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead?  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

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As Christians, we often quote the Beatitudes, where Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek..”  We should not be pushy, arrogant, or selfish in our actions or our prayers; but we should be bold, confidant, and eager.  God doesn’t want us to be timid, coy, or “fake” in asking for wisdom, power, and basic needs– He wants to give us good gifts.  He also wants us to trust Him enough to ask forthrightly and boldly.

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So let us pursue the “Enterprise” of prayer by “boldly” going before God’s throne, and then “boldly” going forth in the power of His Holy Spirit.

 

Time to Renew

It’s that time of year again…my birthday is coming up and I will need to visit the Secretary of State’s office to renew my license plate tag; this year, my driver’s license also expires, so I have to renew that as well.

This is not a pleasant process– I will wait in line, answer questions, and have a photo taken.  I will write out a check or have money debited from my bank account (ouch).  I may have to wait another week or two for the new driver’s license to be sent out, and then I will have to live with the horrible photo for a few years. What a drag!  I often hear people complaining about the process–it’s a time-consuming, costly, bureaucratic nightmare, or it’s just an annoyance.

Except I don’t really “have to” do any of those things.  Being a licensed driver is not a life or death matter.  The law says that I must possess a valid license in order to drive, but thousands of people drive every day with no license, or a suspended or expired license, and “get away with it.”  Others choose not to drive, and do not carry a license or state-issued photo ID.

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But I choose to go through the annoying process because of the benefits.  Driving is a privilege– one denied to many who can’t afford, or can’t operate a vehicle.  Renewing my license brings much-needed revenue to the state, so they can (attempt to) maintain the roads, bridges, and traffic-related signs and lights that we use every day.  Renewing shows my commitment to obey the laws and authorities that govern (the roads in and around) my city, county, state, and nation. Renewing my license gives me an opportunity to register (or confirm my status) as a voter.  It even gives me the opportunity to learn patience and people skills!

All this to talk about another kind of renewal…

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  (Romans 12:1-2  NIV)

The Apostle Paul speaks about the “renewing of your mind.”  In renewing my license, I am conforming to the laws of the land.  This passage is not telling me to break the law; it is calling me to transform the way I view the world, the way I process the world, and the way I allow my thoughts to shape my behavior.  Instead of thinking about the license process as an inconvenience– I need to weigh the inconvenience against the benefits I receive from having a valid license.  Instead of focusing on the negatives around me– fear, hatred, selfishness, complaining, greed, lying, etc., I need to focus on how I can respond in hope, love, compassion, encouragement, generosity, and truth.  And I need to depend on the work of the Holy Spirit to transform the way I think about the world, about myself, and about God.

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There is a lot of ugliness in the world, lately; but there is also a lot of beauty.  There are urgent needs, but there are also abundant resources in Christ Jesus.  There are hardships, but there are also moments of peace, healing, and hope.

It’s time for renewal!

Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think on these things.  (Philippians 4:8 MEV)

I-Bug

It started out small– a glItch, really.
Every tIme I began to type, the same thIng would happen.
At fIrst, I barely notIced.

After all, It wasn’t lIke I couldn’t read my own wrItIng.
It wasn’t In every lIne or word;
It was a sIngle letter.

But then It began to spread.
As tIME passed, It becaME more dIffIcult.
I notIced a theME.  I could stIll read the words,
But theIr MEaning was gettIng lost In
SoME way I couldn’t quIte deterMINE.

It was begInnIng to spIll Into MY speech;
IMpossIble to MEnd; MEldIng Into MY mInd’s
NIches, MErgIng wIth MEdIocre comMEnts
And MYsterIous MEltdowns.

I I I I I,

ME ME ME ME ME.

As I and ME took over, yo_ went mIssIng.
ThIngs were s_ddenly less peacef_l…
Even Jes_s seemed sIlent In the dIn of ME and MINE.
SIn and prIde– I co_ld always be fo_nd there.

It was a fast-spreadIng vIr_s– s_rely leadIng to MY r_In:
_ntIl I lIstened to a stIll, small whIsper…
A Holy breath of fresh, clean, wholesome change.

AAAHHH!

Exhaling the I’s and ME’s, and breathing in YOU–
Brought hope and healing; renewal,
Perspective and life.

Victims and Victors

My husband and I own a small retail business.  Last winter, we were victimized by shoplifters.  They stole several items, worth over $1,000.  The same couple stole items from other businesses in the area.  The police investigated, compared descriptions of the suspects, traced their movements, and got an arrest warrant.  The couple fled, and it took months to find them and bring them into custody.  They have been arrested, and we have been to court for a preliminary hearing, with another potential court date in about a month.

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The court sent us a long series of papers to fill out, including a victim impact statement, where we were to describe how the suspect’s alleged actions impacted us personally, as well as how our business was damaged.  Even though this was not a personal crime (we weren’t physically threatened or harmed, or specifically targeted with an intent to ruin our business), there are still scars–distrust, fear, frustration, and loss, to name a few.  Just because a crime isn’t personal, doesn’t mean that no one suffers.  It has been an awkward process to write out the victim statement, and to appear in court and recount all that happened that day, but it has also been a good process.

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Being a victim is not a pleasant experience.  It is frightening, humiliating, maddening, and bewildering.  “How could this have happened?”  “Why did it happen to me/us?”  “What did I/we do wrong?”  These are honest questions that go unanswered.  But the biggest question may be “Where was God when this happened?”  Didn’t he know?  Didn’t he care?  Why didn’t he act to stop this crime?  Why did he allow it to touch us?

In the months since this happened, I’ve learned to ask some other questions of God–

  • What other “bad” things have you kept from us without our knowledge?  What good things have you showered on us that we took for granted?
  • Who else has suffered the same or worse things– how can I reach out with empathy or understanding?
  • Where are people suffering without justice?  Even though we have had a long wait, we know that the police and court system have been working for us.  Where are people living who suffer without hope, in silence, and in fear of seeking help?
  • What can we learn from this experience?  How can we make our store and our community “safer”?  How can we heal, and bring justice instead of wallowing in hurt or seeking revenge?

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God has a plan, even in times of trial and questioning.  We all will be victims at some point in our life–of injustice, of crime, of disease, of poverty, of losses, of disaster, and of sin’s consequences– our own sins and the sins of others.  We can also be victors, through the power of the Holy Spirit.  We can overcome bitterness and addiction; we can triumph through cancer, depression, or heartbreak; we can rise above setbacks and circumstances; we can choose forgiveness and healing over hatred and self-sabotage.  We can move from being perpetual victims to eternal victors, through Jesus Christ our Lord!

I Was There!

Disneyland!  Niagara Falls!  Tokyo!  Paris!  Dallas!  Machu Piccu! Sydney! Kilmanjaro! Stonehenge! NYC!  Souvenirs remind us, and declare to others, where we’ve been.  T-shirts, knickknacks, photos, post cards, and more call us to remember places we’ve visited, or even lived.  There are apps that allow you to tag, city by city, all the places you’ve ever been (if you can remember them all).  Metropolises to tiny hamlets, all can be recorded and seen by anyone else with the app.

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Most of the time, when we think of souvenirs, we think of pleasant memories and planned visits.  But there is another kind of souvenir–scars, traumas, sickness, crime– that can taint our memory of a place.  It’s one thing for my husband and I to visit battlefields from the American Revolution or the American Civil War– it is quite another for a veteran to visit a battlefield where he took a shell to the stomach and had to be carried out still under enemy fire, or for someone to return to a war-torn village they once called home.

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As humans, we can only be in one geographic location at any one time.  We can watch live footage of events around the world, but we cannot participate in  or experience them in the same way.  But there is one way we can “be there” from miles away, any time.  We can pray.  I can pray for people I’ve never met; I can pray for many people at once.  And I can feel the power of others’ prayers even when I am otherwise alone.

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More importantly, we can be reassured that God is ALWAYS there–He has promised never to leave us or forsake us. He needs no jet or GPS, no visa or key, to reach us wherever we are.  And he needs no souvenirs to remind Him of His visits with us, or of the beauty (or disaster) in which we live.

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I love looking at souvenirs, but far more, I love the memories that can’t be captured by a keyring, or a T-shirt, or a small statuette.  I love the memories of smiles, and warm hugs, meals shared, and tears spilled.  And I love the stories that remind me that even if I’ve never set foot in a particular village or city, through prayer, I was There!

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Where will you go today?

 

The Prayers of the Righteous

James 5:16 Modern English Version (MEV)

16 Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much.

 

Romans 3:10-11 Modern English Version (MEV)

10 As it is written:“There is none righteous, no, not one;
11 there is no one who understands;there is no one who seeks after God.

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Anyone can pray.  God hears our prayers.  God answers prayer.  But He doesn’t answer all prayers equally.  That doesn’t mean that God is unfair or unjust.  It means that God listens beyond our words and prayers– He knows our thoughts, He perceives our motives and inmost desires.  He also knows the consequences of all that we ask.

James 5:16 (above) is sometimes misused by Christians to boast in their “effectiveness”: in essence, saying “If God answers my prayers for a comfortable lifestyle or good health, it proves that I am righteous.”  But this is putting the cart before the horse.  The last phrase is contingent upon the first– “Confess your faults to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”  It is the effective (prayers designed to effect others), fervent (heart-felt, committed) prayer of a righteous (cleansed, renewed in spirit and mind and heart) man (or woman) that accomplishes much (for the kingdom, for healing, for grace, unity, or renewal).  The effectiveness comes after the confession; after the renewal, and through the Holy Spirit.  If we are boasting about our effectiveness, we’re missing the point.

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It is the humble seeker who prays for and with others, pours herself/himself out for “one another” who accomplishes much.  Such men and women spark movements and revivals, not in their own power or wisdom, but in allowing the Holy Spirit to work in their lives, and in their prayers for others.  Which is more “effective”– getting what I want for myself, or bringing lost souls to new life?

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If your prayers seem to lack power, consider the following:

Who am I praying for today?  What am I praying for myself?  For others?  For the Glory of God?  Am I praying fervently?  Diligently?  Righteously?  In confession and gratitude, as well as supplication?

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Next, consider what it means to be “effective.”  Are you praying for a healing that doesn’t happen immediately or completely?  God may be using your prayers to great effect in ways you do not expect.  God can bring spiritual and emotional healing even in physical suffering.  He can also bring healing to others as they see our faith and hope at work in difficult circumstances.

 

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Finally, ask if there is something else you should be doing in addition to praying about the situation.  Are you ignoring a clear call from God to do something (or stop doing something) in obedience to His Word?  Are you harboring a grudge against someone?  Do you need to make things right with someone?  With God?

The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous person WILL accomplish much more than we can imagine.  What would our neighborhood look like if we spent more time on our knees than pointing fingers or shaking fists?

prayermotherdaughter 

In God We Trust

It appears on our money in the United States.  It is our official national motto, “In God We Trust.”  See article here  But is it true?

In recent years, many people and groups have tried to challenge this simple four-word phrase.   Some claim that it violates the “separation of church and state”.  However, the phrase is not specific to any one religion– most of the major world religions (and most of those practiced in America) agree that there is (at least) one God, who can and should be trusted.

I actually worry a little less about those who are challenging the phrase than about those who simply ignore it or give it lip service.  And I pray that I don’t fall into the latter group, but in certain moments, I can’t honestly say that I am trusting fully in God.  Instead, I tend to trust in various “God-like” things:

  • I trust my own intuition or my own reason
  • I trust “experts”
  • I trust “the science”
  • I trust “the numbers”
  • I trust in the money that bears the motto
  • I trust in my own strengths and abilities
  • I trust in my husband
  • I trust my church
  • I trust my family
  • I trust what I read on Wikipedia or what I look up on Google
  • I trust what my friends send me on Facebook or Twitter
  • I trust what “they” say on TV
  • I trust what I read on a cereal box or food label
  • I trust headlines
  • I trust photos and videos I see on the news
  • I trust what I hear on the radio
  • I trust celebrity endorsements
  • I trust public opinion
  • I trust my feelings…

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Of course, some of the things listed above are obviously suspect; others seem reliable and true.  It’s hard to argue against some of the things on the list– it’s hard to doubt what I see, what can be measured, or what has proved true in the past.  And yet, I have been hurt and betrayed by many of these things– my feelings are unreliable; my friends or family give me advice with good intentions, but bad results; images and even eyewitness accounts don’t always tell the whole story, and, increasingly, honesty and integrity are being crushed out by compromise and expediency.  “If it bleeds, it leads…”  “The truth is evolving..”  “We all have our own ‘truth’..”

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God’s truths are eternal and righteous; that doesn’t make them easy or comfortable.  Sometimes it seems as though God takes a stand on both sides of an important issue– or that He takes no side at all– leaving us confused and wanting quick and well-defined answers.  I have friends who agonize about being on the “wrong side of history” with many current issues.  Let’s face it– no one wants to be on the “wrong side” of anything. We draw lines and pick sides– both sides can’t be “right”, can they?  So how can we know if we’re trusting God if God is silent or ambiguous?

In the end, there are a few guidelines that have helped me be more confident and have acted as anchors for my faith:

  • Reading the Bible:  not a verse here, or a chapter there to support a particular action or position–consistent reading THROUGH the Bible– from beginning to end, or at least through an entire book at a time.
  • Asking tough questions:  I would love to assume that I already know the answers or have the “right” opinions, but if I can’t handle being challenged; if I never have any questions or can’t ask the ones I keep pushing down, that should be a sign.  Sometimes the more questions I ask, the more I have!  But, as uncomfortable as it is in the beginning,  it is better to ask, and chase after an uncomfortable answer than to ignore the question or pretend to have all the answers.
  • LISTENING— really listening, whether to friends who seem to know all the answers (see above) ,  or those with really good questions.  It also means listening to those with whom I am tempted to disagree, and to those with whom I passionately disagree.  Listening is not the same as accepting or agreeing, but it is important for at least two reasons:
    • Every person is made in the image of God– how I treat them is a reflection of my love for God.  I will fall short; I will still hurt people’s feelings, whether or not that is my intention, but if I’m doing it through pride, hatred, or disdain, I am dishonoring God.
    • Second, I cannot say I understand a person if I’m cutting them off, talking over them, and finishing their sentences for them.  Often, while we may disagree on semantics or details, it turns out we agree on more than we assume we know about “the other side.”
  • Praying for wisdom and discernment.  It sounds odd to those who trust in their own understanding, but God WILL open your eyes, ears, and mind to truth, even if it’s being twisted, covered up, hidden, or falsified.  God promises, again and again, to give wisdom freely to those who ask.  He doesn’t want us to be confused and frustrated– but He does want us to seek out His truth instead of wallowing in the bog of “little white lies” and obfuscation around us.
  • Waiting and listening for the Holy Spirit to prompt my conscience.  This is much like asking for wisdom, but more subtle, and in some ways more dramatic.  The Holy Spirit is our guide and counselor (think Jiminy Cricket, but much more spiritual and always right).  Even if I’m not aware enough to know what to ask or what to question, the Holy Spirit will often prompt me.  Have you ever been reading along, or listening to someone’s story, and suddenly you just get the sense that something is “wrong”– you’re not getting the whole truth; or there is a detail that stands out and doesn’t make sense, and it keeps niggling at your conscience?  Yeah– that.  Pay attention to that– even amidst the graphic images and angry voices surrounding you.
  • Keeping track of God’s faithfulness– I don’t maintain this blog because I “wish” that God was faithful, or because someone managed to convince me that this is what I “should” believe.  God has proven faithful through all my questions.  I know I can trust Him because I have trusted Him through good times and difficult times; times when it didn’t make sense, when it wasn’t popular, and when circumstances pointed in other directions.  I have seen God’s hand at work in history and prophecy and personal testimony in ways that defy expectation and explanation.

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And whether of not it’s printed on my money; whether or not it’s popular or “patriotic” or punishable by law, I will continue to trust in God.  He is trustworthy and true; faithful in mercy and love; sovereign and altogether righteous.  In God I have trusted; In God I trust; and In God I will continue to trust.

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