The Oldest Land Grab?

Growing Cucumbers

land grab poster

land grab poster

King Ahab lived in Samaria in a royal palace.

King Ahab liked growing things.

The palace gardens were full of fruits
and vegetables. There were beans and
apples and grapes and dates and figs
and melons and leeks and olives and
lentils and pomegranates and onions
and pistachio nuts. The problem was
that the garden was so full of fruits
and vegetables that there was no
room to plant anything else, and King
Ahab fancied having a go at growing
cucumbers. What could he do? There
was nothing for it. He needed a bigger
garden.
Next door to the palace lived a man
called Naboth. Naboth liked growing
grapes and making wine and Naboth
had a big vineyard. Ahab asked Naboth
if he would sell him his vineyard. Naboth,
whose family had owned the vineyard for
years, said no.
King Ahab went home. He was cross and
then he was sad and then he curled up on
his bed and cried.
That night Queen Jezebel, Ahab’s wife,
waited for Ahab to come down to dinner
and he didn’t come. Jezebel was hungry so
she ate her dinner and then went to find
Ahab.
She found him in his bedroom and asked
him what was going on. Ahab told her all
about wanting a new vegetable garden in
which to plant his cucumbers and about
Naboth telling him he would not sell his
land.
Jezebel was not impressed. “You’re a king,”
she told Ahab, “You can have whatever
you want. Now stop crying and go and eat
your dinner and leave Naboth to me.”
The next day Jezebel found some men
who she paid to tell lies about Naboth.
Then she forged Ahab’s signature on some
royal documents and had Naboth killed
and his lands given to the king.
That night Jezebel told Ahab what she’d
done.
Ahab was shocked. He knew what
Jezebel had done was wrong. But he had
got his new garden and that was what
he really wanted. Did it matter how he’d
got it?
The next morning Ahab went next door
into Naboth’s vineyard. He walked along
the paths between the grapevines and
began to plan where he was going to
plant his cucumbers. He turned a corner
and he met Elijah the prophet.
Elijah was not interested in cucumbers.
He was there to tell Elijah that God said
that hurting people to get what you
want was wrong.
And King Ahab knew that Elijah was
right.

(from Spill the Beans Issue 8)

Who said that the Old Testament is irrelevant today? Well, actually, many people – sometimes myself included. For, with its complex stories of strange customs, religious laws and palace intrigues, it seems at best ‘dated’ – a bit in the mould of Austin, Dickens or Trollope.

Yet the Bible portion above ise bang up to date. For, there is no greater generic global problem than with disputed land ownership. We see it big-style in Zimbabwe and Burma, we cannot forget Israel-Palestine and it is even here in minor ways in Bonnie Scotland.

Yet, the Holy land is a good place to start. Since there is huge irony in this story of the illegal taking of land, as Elijah’s ancestors did exactly that to the original Canaanite population! And whilst I do not think, claiming divinely ordained ownership is at all helpful in resolving the conflicts in the Middle East, we do at least see certain issues of justice being played out in these readings – played out in a way that speaks volumes for our own times.

Because certainly Naboth owned his land – ground that he indeed considered to have been given him by God himself. And although King Ahab’s initial offer was fair even generous, it was well within the vineyard’s owners rights to refuse. It is the next episode that is the problem. For, Ahab reigns over his people through the divine covenant – the rule of law if you like. In modern parlance then, there is a legal framework in place to prevent arbitrary acts of injustice. However, now enters Jezebel who by being foreign was always likely to be cast as a nasty piece of work. She comes from a race where despotic rulers are the norm. And so she would dearly like to do as she likes without legal restraint. She can’t – so she uses the law to her own ends. She stirs up some impression of a national crisis thus the need for a day of fasting. Then she trumps up charges against the unfortunately Naboth which carries the death penalty under the law of Moses. As a result, he is executed and she gets the vineyard. Game, set and match we might say.

Proof then that using, bending or abusing the law to unjustly gain land is a wheeze that is as old as the hills.

But our bibles make also clear that such acts of chicanery are seen by God. Moreover, they are judged by God’s own sense of innate justice. For Elijah pronounces that it is not only land that is gifted by the divine but so is power and wealth, inheritance and even life itself. In fact, he makes all too clear that we forget this to our peril.

Not unpredictably then – in due course Ahab comes literally to a stick end at the battle of Ramoth Gilead. Afterwards his chariot was turned into his hearse with dogs licking up the spare blood! Elijah’s milk curdling foresight indeed had gruesomely come to pass.

Nevertheless, we do say quietly to ourselves I couldn’t possibly stand in Brook Street blaring our fiery damnation! A stiff letter to the Courier in ‘Elijah speak’ would raise too many eyebrows. Worse still, what happens when I denounce the powerful thieves of this world and they remain unscathed!

But with thought, we realise that Elijah’s prophecy is less crystal ball gazing than telling how it tends to be. Bad people don’t always have their come up pence but they often do. And their seeds of their destruction are usually in through their own hands. Their arrogance goes a step beyond the law. Their overturning of the law leaves them as vulnerable as their victims. The sword they live and profit by finds an even more lawless wielder. Or, as Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s ‘Man for all seasons’ counsels an ardent supporter keen to overthrow the law this time for a good purpose:

And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you–where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast–man’s laws, not God’s–and if you cut them down…d’you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.”

Put more directly, we just need to keep any eye out from injustice and then say – in the Lord’s name I warn you – I warn you that he who lights the fire must surely burn.

And this takes us strangely to the Amazonian rain forest. For the Kayapo tribe are an indigent people living in the depths of the jungle. However, their homeland is about to be flooded for a hydro electric dam. They fought the land grab by their government through the courts and in the public media. They cited the law that native peoples cannot be moved. But their rulers have stated that this is trumped by national security and so an area three times as bio-diverse as Europe is to be lost. Also over 40, 000 humans lose their homes and their unique way of life.

Elijah I suspect would have something to say about the misuse of the law. He would have spoken out for God’s justice not least for those unable to resist the powerful and greedy. Yet he probably would not have given the warnings we can. For knowing civilisation’s way of progress, we need to proclaim that any government’s survival is directly proportional to how it treats all its peoples. With history’s witness, we can point out that prosperity based on unjust if technically lawful actions is no lasting wealth at all. And right up to date, we could ask, backed by science, with the loss of so many rare species of plants, how many cures for diseases that you might one day need are you destroying?

A man asked this week in a newspaper – should he leave his well paid but morally bankrupt job behind? Elijah has for him an answer. And so to rulers, who are similarly tempted to be devoid of humanity, honesty and integrity have Elijah’s answer. And it is be warned by Naboth vineyard. It is to fear God’s judgement and always to think of a just harvest.  Indeed it is to plot less for the dregs of greed and cultivate more the finest vintage of a more lawful kingdom.

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Read if you are in a dark place!

Carlyle Marney was one of the great preachers in the Southern states of America during the time after the Second World War. He was a mentor and role model to many ministers. One of the stories attributed to the rich legacy he left behind took place on a seminary campus where he was invited to be the speaker for a distinguished lectureship. One of the students asked, “Dr. Marney let us hear you say a word or two about the meaning of the resurrection.” It was a fair question and an appropriate one from a future preacher to one who was already a great practitioner of the art of preaching. However the young  students were taken aback by Marney’s response. Dr. Marney replied, “I will not discuss that with people like you.” Continue reading

Poem for times of trouble

I found this on my Facebook page today:

 

We who were once far off,9994-sunrise-at-orvieto-umbria-italy-free-landscape-and-scenic-desktop_531x331
who wandered as if
in a wilderness,
searching for water,
desperate for shade,
now rest in your embrace,
feast on your word,
drink from a well
that will never run dry,
and have found the place
we were searching for,
as Christ has brought us home.

What is a ‘suspended’ coffee?

I came across this story on a friend’s Facebook page; it warms like coffee on a cold day!164277_412941355468588_1044823959_n

We enter a little coffeehouse with a friend of mine and give our order. While we’re approaching our table two people come in and they went to the counter:
‘Five coffees, please. Two of them for us and three suspended’ They pay for their order, take the two and leave.

I ask my friend: “What are those ‘suspended’ coffees?”
My friend: “Wait for it and you will see.” Continue reading

A Great ‘Thought for Today’

The BBC Radio 4’s ‘ Thought for the Day’ was both thought provoking and uplifting all people of faith.

This is what   Abdul Hakin Murad said:

Thought for the Day by Abdal Hakim Murad

As railway lovers everywhere will know, this month brings a black anniversary. In March 1963, Dr Beeching published his report on the reshaping of British Railways. The result was the closure of a third of our stations, with the loss of five thousand miles of track. 

Dr Beeching is remembered as a kind of vandal by many in the heritage railway movement. That’s much too harsh: there were plenty of branch lines and village halts which made no social or economic sense. 

Yet fifty years on, Dr Beeching’s conviction that the motor-car was the future, while trains were dinosaur-like survivals of the Victorian age, has run into the buffers. We travellers are using the railways more than we have for decades. Old routes, like the Waverley line into Edinburgh, are being resurrected from the dead, despite the expense. Here in Cambridge, we are about to build a brand new, second railway station, to relieve congestion on the roads. 

The most obvious lesson, made by Beeching’s opponents at the time, was that a purely economic assessment of a major national asset might turn out to be so narrow that it failed even on its own terms. Accountants are not prophets. 
But as we survey the map, it seems that something else, quite unlike the trains, is crying out for major rationalisation. This is Britain’s still vast religious infrastructure. As with the map of the railways, the religious landscape is filled with reminders of an age of competition. In many cities, there are mosques of different denominations built next to each other. Time for rationalisation, certainly; although the Muslim community is not at all ready for that. 

But the Beeching story has another moral. What if our predictions of an increasingly secular, unchurched and unmosqued Britain turn out to be as disastrously wrong as were Dr Beeching’s certainties about the railways? What if that moribund place of worship opposite your house, that might soon be pulled down, or turned into chic offices, is filled with enthusiastic young believers. 

In fact, the revival of religion is more likely than the revival of the rail network ever was. Faith is always unpredictable; but it seems to reach parts of us that nothing else can. We crave meaning, even more than we crave the ability to read emails and look at the scenery as we travel from A to B. 

Don’t then, junk the infrastructure, imagining that the future will be Godless. Whilst the temptation is to rationalise and to update. Nothing in the history of the human spirit is predicable. 

And in particular, let us avoid surrendering to the spirit of the age, blindly conforming to today’s intellectual fashions in the hope of delaying our demise. 

The ancient structures of belief, tried and tested through generations, have a way to go yet.

If you would like to listen to this speaker, please click here

Great story and a reminder that life goes on… literally!

Morning Story and Dilbert

I walked into the grocery store not particularly interested in buying groceries. I wasn’t hungry. The pain of losing my husband of 37 years, Rudy, was still too raw and this grocery store held so many sweet memories.

Rudy often came with me and almost every time he’d pretend to go off and look for something special. I knew what he was up to. I’d always spot him walking down the aisle with the three yellow roses in his hands. Rudy knew I loved yellow roses.

With a heart filled with grief, I only wanted to buy my few items and leave, but even grocery shopping was different since Rudy had passed on. Shopping for one took time, a little more thought than it had for two. Standing by the meat, I searched for the perfect small steak and remembered how Rudy had loved his steak.

Suddenly a woman came…

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Tourism as Direct Trade

 

Yesterday I preached a sermon basically saying that we should do good without thought of reward. Specifically when we give a few coins to a beggar we should also not worry about what she/he will do with the money. And the reason is simple – we have that choice of what we pick in life, why shouldn’t they?

That’s why I think this blog on Fairtrade coffee is very thought provoking….

If you would like to know more about Fairtrade, then here is their link

Fairtrade Foundation

 

 

When Coffee Speaks

Smart locals. These are the ones who spent their childhoods sweating on the family farm, but realized that their land could give them something more. Smart locals are the ones whose families have spent their lives being ripped off by North Americans and Europeans buying their products at prices below the cost of production; they’re the ones who saw tourists on the horizon and realized it was time to make back all that money.

Smart locals see that agriculture is a good way to stay broke. They see that as much as those North Americans and Europeans like to eat bananas and chocolate and buy so many tropical products, they like to come to the tropics. And if they’re coming, they’re coming with money to burn.

Smart locals are the ones who turn their aunt’s vacant house into a bed and breakfast, who don’t try to cut corners but who…

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Martin Luther – Here I stand!

Texts:

Romans 1.11-17

Galatians 3.26-4.7

When they are on the goggle box, we all love court room dramas. And our next turning point in the Reformation has one. It happened during a legal sitting of the Holy Roman Emperor who was the overlord of broadly the Low Countries, Germany and Spain. For, you see, Martin Luther had been called before this diet to make his case in 1521. He had been promised safe passage there but this had been breached in the previous case of Jan Hus and he rightly could fear the flames of a heretic’s death. So in his first appearance at the diet of worms – yes the schoolboy howler of the diet of worms, he was naturally very nervous. And so when he was asked to recant his views, he must have been strongly tempted to do so. Yet he managed to ask for a night to think it over. The emperor granted that and next morning he returned with renewed courage. In fact, he stood his ground of basing his theology on the rational discovery of truth through Scripture. Albeit probably he did not use the words later put into his mouth – here I stand, I can do no other. Nevertheless, it was that stance which was the starting gun for the reformation.

But what were these views that a devout man would risk the funeral pyre for and spark a European conflict of such dimensions that were not paralleled until the 20th Century? Moreover, what is the relevance of Luther’s theology today?

Well, without troubling you with a history lesson, Luther was reacting to both the thinking and practice of the church of his day. In general terms, the church considered that while we needed God’s help to get into a right relationship with him, some seeds of goodness lay within us. It’s a bit like serving a long prison sentence and then being given the generous offer of paying a large fine to be released. You dig out the old credit card and pay up from your own financial resources. Luther however, had a life long struggle find his wallet. In other words, year upon year, he fought to come up to the righteous measure of God; to meet God’s unwavering law as he saw it. But he felt a constant failure and feared God’s wrath at not being able to find any goodness within himself. Then he chanced on our Romans reading from today. He came to the conclusion, that nothing we can do can give us the right relationship with God.

But don’t worry – Luther knew a man who could. And that man was Jesus of Nazareth. For it is Christ –  who is external to us – that supplies all that is needed to get right with God – to be saved in the parlance. Returning to our prison analogy, we would be released not by our own payment but because the fine had been paid by someone else on our behalf. All that we would need is faith – faith in the man who had bailed us out – faith in Christ Jesus.

Well, assuming we too want to be in the right relationship with God, what did Luther mean by faith?

Certainly, he meant more than what many people claim is their faith today. Since, we can all hear the facts of Jesus’ life; listen to his words and even marvel at his needs. Yet unless somehow we actually go beyond an intellectual acceptance of Christ’s life and death and resurrection it is not saving faith. Instead, we must integrate the person beyond the parables into our heart of hearts. And we do that best by coming to complete submission; submitting to the truth that Jesus was born for us personally and submitting to he who alone who puts us right with God on an individual level. Put simply no church or minister can do that for you- only you can give in and find the living and saving Christ for yourself.

However, it goes beyond even that. For faith, to Luther, also meant trust. Now I don’t know about you but I am a nervous flyer in commercial aircraft. Pilot a glider or a light aircraft I can do – but when I enter the door of an airliner I feel the same as Luther at his can of worms. In other words, I have faith that the Boeing 737 before me can take me to London but I still have to have the faith to get into the contraption. So too it is with saving faith. We must not just believe that Jesus can get us right with God, we need also to rely that he has done so. That means taking risks in that faith. It means get out of the boat and walk impossibly on the water in that faith. It means truly living each day in that faith.

But Luther didn’t even stop there. Since for him there was a third and final aspect to being saved through faith. Because he saw faith not just putting us right with God and giving us a new dimension to living. Rather he saw faith uniting us with Christ. In his words faith bring union between Christ and the believer.

And that is pretty powerful stuff. This is the idea too of Paul that we heard of in Galatians. For, through faith, we cast aside slavery to rules and regulations, required practices and things we must do to get in with God. Through faith we forget worrying when we do fail. Indeed, through faith we will fail less often. Because through faith we are not just wiped clean and set free, we are adopted into the family of God.  And it is as his heirs alone we inherit a forgiven life eternal.

C S Lewis once wrote – In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know I am a very nasty man. I look at some of the things I have done with horror or loathing. Well, deep down I suspect most of us feel something like that from time to time. For that is the very nature of our mixed up humanness. Yet Luther, even if we spoke nearly five hundred years ago, shows us the way out of that pit of despondency. For, he said – have faith and invite Christ into that dark inner place. Countless Christians since have trusted rightly in that presence of Christ to get them through of the mess, over the chasm and out of the boat. And even in these Godless days, Christ still says to you and me; come brother, come sister – I will make you right  with God – I will make you free – Indeed, I will make you forever.

Amen

Called to be a wind of change

Matthew 4.1-4

Most of our ideas of what the desert looks like come from Laurence of Arabia. And that means we think of smooth sand dunes rolling across the landscape like the waves of the sea. However, a TV programme this week disabused me of that image. For in it the desert was stone strewn and mountainous and ravine torn. A desert then is not defined by what it looks like but by something else. And that is, of course, a lack of water. Needless to say that fatal shortage, in turn, gives two other characteristics of deserts – a lack of food and a lack of living things. A desert therefore is a place where there is no generous provision.

Now it was each of these scarcities that Christ had to contend with in his tempting stay in the desert. For who can doubt that hunger, thirst and loneliness were the key components in his temptation. But, in overcoming the enticement to feed himself at the expense of God’s will, he insured the return of generous giving. Since, it was his subsequent teaching of God’s word that inspires and motivates self-centred hearts. It was his living the word of God that challenges self-seeking minds. And it was his generous dying for the word of God that became a powerful wind of change in all human barrenness.

Well, this Sunday we celebrate not a dearth of provision but an excess of generosity. For in our harvest festival we show gratitude to God for his bounteous gifts to us. And also at the end of our stewardship campaign we celebrate the generosity we have found in ourselves and in others. Put directly, we give thanks by answering the same call as Christ did and that is to put aside self and to be part of his wind of change.

For just as in the time when Jesus was led out into the wilderness by the Spirit, so to there is an overriding need for the winds of change in our today. The wind of change in a physically starving world that hungers for our Christian giving – a wind of change in a spiritually thirsting community that could flower with our Christian witness and a wind of change in a multitude of individual solitary deserts that would celebrate after even a few moments of our Christian time.

Indeed, there can be few countries in greater need of that wind of change than Afghanistan. Now sadly that benighted nation is daily on our news for all the wrong reasons. And so I thought today we could celebrate with one of its good news stories. Since, it was from western Afghanistan that Mari Mishmast tells of when her husband died she had to sell 5 of their 22 goats to feed her 7 children. Then drought came and the remaining animals died. She says she wouldn’t have known what to do if Christian charity had not gifted her six new goats.  Now she and her family had enough to live at least. But that is not the end of her story. Because her village is located in an arid region which has practically nothing of value except – you’ve guessed it – wind. Indeed that part of the world experiences 120 very windy days a year. It is so strong that you have to wrap a scarf around your face to prevent you breathing in the airborne sand; so strong in fact that often you have to brace yourself to prevent yourself being blown over. Yet that is why Christian Aid then chose to dig a water well deep down and set up a wind powered pump. The outcome is that the local inhabitants now not only feed themselves but gain some wealth from the 2000 animals that they breed.

Moreover, dare I suggest that such a generous wind of change is also likely to change hearts and minds as much as any political initiative to prevent the hatred that evil seeks to fester in that country.

Mari goes on to say – I am very happy and I want to say thank you directly from me to you. So at this harvest and stewardship celebration, let us also say thank you – me to you. Thank you to God for his generous providing. Thank you also to each other for resisting the temptation to keep and for freely giving. Above all, thank you to ourselves for being part of Christ’s wind of change. Because, it is that self-giving wind of change alone that provides the very water of life.  It is that God-serving wind of change alone that can make arid deserts bloom. In truth, it is only that grateful wind of change which fulfils the words of Isaiah: waters shall break forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground – springs of living water.

Amen

Called to Believe

Called to believe

Texts

John 20.24-29

2 Corinthians 4.16-5.10

In a vain attempt to come across some modern unbelievable things, I rather stupidly pumped the words – unbelievable things – into the internet. And so I encountered the cat with four ears, the fact that earth worms taste like fried bacon and art made in latte coffee. I also learned that the average pencil can draw a line of 35 miles or write 55,000 words, that a hedgehog’s heart beats 300 to the minute, and that coca-cola would be green if no colouring was added. All these then are unbelievable but apparently true.

So what about a man who was killed by asphyxiation after being skewered through his wrists and hung up before being stabbed in his stomach to make sure he was dead. Finally, he was buried for nearly 48 hours before he appeared alive. Now, is that believable or unbelievable?

Well what we do not need to believe because is it certain is that this single unbelievable event caused a tiny band of frightened people to found a world religion that has shaped world history for nearly 2000 years and has 2 billion followers today. A number of believers which, I hop,e we count ourselves amongst here and now.

Nevertheless, we are still left wondering – How do we believe something that seems essentially unbelievable?

Well, the answer is to ask a different question and that is – why is it we find this event- unbelievable?

And the answer is, of course, because we do not hear of such a happening in our everyday. We ourselves have never seen such an event. Moreover, we are all sceptical of any claim made in the name of religion today. For, we do live in an age that does not really have faith in that which it cannot touch or see or maybe even buy. As a result, most people will say, when it comes what is their spiritually certainities – I only believe in my own senses.

Yet on the other hand in every other walk of life we must take much on trust. If it were not so, we would not be able to use paper money. We would doubt that men had landed on the moon. We would be left asking – did the First World War actually happen? In fact, can we really be certain that wee Johnny went to school last week just because he told us so. In other words, society cannot function for a second without a degree of trust. You cannot even stand up in your pew without a significant amount of trust in many things and people.

In essence then – believing in the resurrection event comes down to who or what we trust. Thomas, for example, was a very modern man. He did not trust the testimony of his fellow apostles. As he said – he would only trust his senses of touch and sight. And as a result, Christ met that need and Thomas believed – Thomas was blessed – Thomas became a believer.

Paul was different. Paul needed less his physical senses satisfied than for his searching soul to find union with the spirit of Christ. That requirement too was satisfied by the encounter on the road to Damascus. Thus Paul believed – Paul was blessed – Paul became a believer.

The risen lord therefore knew on both occasions what was needed to engender trust even certainty and he provided it. He provided it not through compulsion or to a set of evidential rules or a human agenda. He simply provided because it was asked for – it was in his gift – it was within his loving grace.

Therefore, I ask now – what do you require to believe – what is the barrier to your faith – what is stopping you fully meeting your call to be believers? For, if you confess your requirement in your heart – Christ will bless and gift and grace. He will provide the trust necessary. Is it a bible passage? Is it a happening in your life? It is a sense of love or peace or guarantee that has eluded you for years? Whatever it is then just ask and God will provide. For, trust me, he wants you amongst his followers – he wants you now as an apostle. He wants you to be a blessed foundation of the future church.

Yet the secular world out there is asking why is it so important that you believe that a 34 year old man was murdered, buried and was resurrected? Miraculous it may be – they might claim – but on its own, it is miraculous only for him yet irrelevant to us.

And that just isn’t true. For within that miracle is the grace to trust something else. Indeed within the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the means to meet our overwhelming requirement. And that is to be certain that our lives not just have meaning but that we will have continuation.

Indeed, it is very belief that Paul writes of in his letter to the Corinthians. Since, maybe as a result of the thorn in his own flesh which he makes reference to elsewhere, he feels his frailty, he creaks in his bones and he fears his mortality. And so rather in a reversal of Thomas, he says I will only believe my immortality when I can put my finger on it. And Christ then answers him and says look and see and know and believe. For, just as you trust that I am alive, so will you live.

During our first session of the Emmaus course, I think we came to a startling conclusion. And it was this – belief is better than certainty. For certainty comes from touch and sight, but leaves no room for the greater things beyond our puny faculties. Certainty also leaves no room for opportunity and wonder and discovery. But above all, certainty leaves no room for grace. For it was pure generosity that Christ came to earth, died and rose again. It was pure generosity he met the needs for Thomas and Paul to believe and so founded the Church in which we can trust. And it is pure unadulterated generosity that he provides us the knowledge, faith and hope of eternal life that our senses can never give. Since, unbelievable as it may seem, that trust alone is ever the believable blessing of God. And for that,we ever give him thanks.

Amen