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Monday, October 25, 2010

That We Might Believe In Jesus - John 2-3:21

John (Chapters 2-3:1-21)

(That We Might Believe In Jesus)

John tells us that his gospel was written so that “…you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) Since John traveled everywhere with Jesus as one of His disciple, much of what he writes has to do with the miracles and healings that Jesus performed and the teachings Jesus gave during His ministry.

Chapter two begins with the first miracle that Jesus performed, the one where He turned water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Mary, his mother had asked Jesus to help out, since the family hosting the wedding party had run out of wine. The act of Jesus creating the fine wine for the ongoing celebration demonstrates His power and glory. When we have Jesus with us today He continues to turn our water into fine wine and our ordinary into the extraordinary.

Next John describes how Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple in Jerusalem. Most of the religious Jews traveled to the temple in Jerusalem during the Passover each year. This was a solemn celebration where worshippers brought sacrifices to God. A noisy marketplace had sprung up in the house of the Lord with animals and birds for sale. As the worshipers arrived at the temple they could buy the animals to use as sacrifices for sin. Tables had conveniently been set up with sellers and money changers loudly haggling over prices and overcharging the faithful coming to worship.

Jesus turned the tables over and scattered the money. He got a whip and drove the sellers with their birds and animals out of the temple. “Take these things away! Do not make My Father’s house a house of merchandise!” (John 2:16) Jesus was angry. Is this story teaching us that we are not to sell goods or services in our churches, or take advantage of worshippers in order to profit financially? Should we not use Gods’ name for political profit? Are we sure He is on the side of big business? Would Jesus be angry today? Does this mean that a pastor should not “fleece the flock”? Scripture tells us: “…You cannot serve God and money.” (Matthew 6:24b)

John 3:23-34 says: “Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men.” These verses in John tell us that many people were attracted to Jesus because of his miracles. But Jesus did not commit Himself to them. Why not? What does this mean?

Perhaps believing in Jesus mean more than just running after Him for his miracles or for what we can get out of Him? We need to want Him for Himself. Some will follow Christ when times are good but will turn away when they are persecuted for their faith. And Scripture says that we will have persecutions if we follow Him. Following Jesus means that we need to be there through thick and thin --through the persecutions as well as the blessings.

Jesus said,” If you love Me you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) We all fall short of keeping the commandments! But God looks at our hearts. If we want to obey the Lord and if we really try to follow His commandments, I believe that that is what He wants. His Spirit will help us and lead us. Believing in Jesus is more than saying the right words. It’s walking the walk. Jesus will commit Himself to us if we commit ourselves to Him.

We read on in the book of John and come to the story of Nicodemus, a Pharisee, who came to Jesus at night. Some think Nicodemus came under cover of darkness so that none of his friends would see him with Jesus. Because of the healings and miracles that Jesus had performed, Nicodemus knew that Jesus was from God and he wanted to know more. Jesus told him: “…unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3b) Nicodemus was troubled by this. “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mothers’ womb and be born?” (John 3:4)

Jesus answered: “…unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. …The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5b6,8)

Jesus is telling Nicodemus that it isn’t enough to be born once. We need to be born of the Spirit as well as of the flesh. The law of reproduction is “after its’ kind.” Flesh reproduces flesh and the Spirit reproduces spirit. Flesh is inadequate. We aren’t good enough on our own. We need to be born again by the Spirit of God. Jesus will give us His Spirit if we believe in Him. The Holy Spirit will guide us and teach us and will breathe new spiritual life into us like the wind Jesus spoke of. Scripture often uses wind as a description of the Spirit.

Jesus sat and talked with Nicodemus for awhile. Jesus told him that He was the way to eternal life and that it is important to believe in Him. Jesus said: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)

John 3:16 is the most famous verse in the Bible and it was spoken by Jesus. It tells us that Gods’ motivation in giving His Son to save us is love. His love was turned into an act of giving. He gave His very best! He gave His only begotten Son. (So we must also give our best.) God’s deepest desire is to have us restored to Himself. Our salvation wasn’t cheap. It cost Jesus His life. It shouldn’t be cheap for us either. Our salvation costs us repentance from our sins and the giving our selves and our lives to God. Believing in Jesus means more than just an intellectual belief. Believing in Jesus means a personal commitment to try to follow Him. When we believe in Jesus we are baptized with the Spirit and we are born again.

Jesus continued teaching Nicodemus with these words. “For God did not send His Son into the World to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned: but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:17-19G

Jesus makes it clear in these passages that He did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it. And He didn’t come to condemn you but to save you too. But we have to accept Him and His gift of salvation. He will not force us to take it by following Him. Every lover knows that it is impossible to force the loved one to return that love. Love and commitment must be freely given. And so it is with our love for our Lord. Jesus won’t force us to love Him. We have free will and we must decide to love Him on our own. The importance of believing in Jesus cannot be missed here. Our salvation is so simple. If we believe in (follow and love) Jesus we are not condemned and if we do not believe we are condemned already. Scripture makes it pretty straight forward.

But why do some not believe? These passages in John tell us why. Jesus is light and righteousness and people stay away from that light and righteousness (from Jesus) because they enjoy darkness and sin and prefer to live their own way. They don’t want Him to change them. They have free will and they use it to decide against the Light. But they miss out on so much! Let’s make sure that we don’t love our sinful habits and let them keep us from choosing Jesus. Let’s not let anything keep us from being born again and following Jesus and having eternal life`.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Journeying Through John (Written that we may know Jesus)

Journeying Through John

(Written that we may know Jesus) - John 1

John belonged to the “inner circle” of Jesus’ followers. He had such a close relationship with the Lord that he was known as “the beloved disciple” (John 13:23,20:2) And John tells us why he wrote: “But these words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) The book of John is inspired by God and by reading and believing it, we can know Christ. By knowing Christ we have eternal life.

The book of John starts out by introducing Jesus to us as the “Word”. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” ( John 1:1) “And the Word became flesh and lived among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) In these passages the Word is Jesus Christ. The Word (Jesus) is with God and the Word (Jesus) is God. Jesus is the second Person of the Trinity. The Word (Jesus) became flesh and lived among us. And Verse 14 tells us that those who walked and talked with Jesus could see His glory as the Son of God. They could discern grace and truth and righteousness in His Person.

John continues introducing Jesus to us as the One through whom we came into the world. He is our Creator, and also as the Creator of every living thing. “He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:2-4) “That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” (John 1:9) This means that our lives were not an accident! Each of us was given that light of life through Jesus Christ before we were born.

John introduces Jesus as part of the Godhead, as Life and Light and the Word. The Bible never speaks of Jesus Christ as being just a great man! If Jesus was a sinful man like the rest of us He could never have been our Savior and taken away our sins. If we believe this heresy it can keep us from eternal life. The Incarnation (Jesus being the Son of God and the Son of man) is a holy mystery that we cannot understand. But the God who created our world and proclaims that He loves the world, can also find a way to redeem that world. Scripture tells us that we are not only created through Jesus but we are redeemed (bought back) through Jesus, to whom all authority has been given. (Matthew 28:18)

Then John introduces Jesus as the rejected One. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (John 1:10-12) And Jesus warns us that if we follow Him we will be rejected and persecuted too. “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember, ‘a servant is not greater than his master,’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you,…” (John 15:18-20) Remember if you really follow Jesus that there is a price to pay!

Here in the first chapter of John, Jesus is introduced as the life giver. Scripture says that Jesus changes those who believe in Him into children of God. Jesus is the One who brings us into the kingdom, the One who gives us our second birth. He gives His Holy Spirit to those who believe in Him. When we believe in Jesus we are truly “born again”. “But as many as receive Him, to them He gives the power to become children of God, to those who believe in His Name. Who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12-13) A miracle indeed!

Further on in this first chapter Jesus is introduced to us as “the Lamb”. John is describing how John the Baptist sees Jesus and points Him out to his followers with this introduction: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) For several thousand years the Jewish people had brought lambs to the temple as sacrifices to cover sin. God had instructed the people in Exodus 12:3 that each household should bring a lamb. The sacrifice of a lamb to cover sin in the Old Testament was a type of Christ, and was pointing to Jesus, the Perfect Lamb, that would take away the sin of the world. John the Baptists’ followers, as good religious Jews,` knew exactly what he meant when he referred to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Reading on we find Jesus introduced as the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. He not only creates us and redeems us, but He baptizes us with His Holy Spirit. John 1:33 describes Jesus’ baptism. John the Baptist baptized Jesus. God had impressed on his heart that the person who the Holy Spirit descended upon would be the Messiah, the one who would baptize with the Spirit. So when John the Baptist saw the Spirit come down on Jesus in the form of a dove he said: “this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” (John 1:33b)

Before the first chapter of John comes to a close, five men have become disciples of Jesus. John the Baptist sent several of his followers to Jesus. Andrew and John, Simon Peter, Phillip and Nathaniel were all looking for the promised Messiah. They followed Jesus because they hoped that He was the One they were looking for. As the chapter closes Nathaniel addresses Jesus: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” ((John 1:49b) and Jesus answers him: “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)

Jesus introduces Himself here as a link between earth and heaven. Angels are ascending and descending upon Him. In the Old Testament Jacob had been given a vision of a ladder stretching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. (Genesis 28:10-22) Here it would seem, Jesus is describing Himself as Jacobs’ Ladder.

In this first chapter of John, Jesus is introduced to us with many names. He has been called the Word, the Son of God, God, Creator, Redeemer, Light, Life, Rejected One, Lamb, Baptizer with the Spirit, and the Son of Man with angels ascending and descending upon Him. The reason the gospel of John was written was that we might “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing we may have life in His name.” (John 20:31) God will give us the faith to believe if we want it. Believing in Jesus is the most important thing that we can do. Let’s believe and have life in His name.


Monday, October 11, 2010

All About Faith - Hebrews 11

All About Faith ---Hebrews 11

Having faith in God makes all the difference in our lives between life and death. Scripture tells us: “Without faith it is impossible to please God,…” (Hebrews 11:6a) And “we are made righteous by God because of our faith.” Not because of our works! (Hab.2:4, Rom.1:17,Gal.3:11) Since it is all important to God that we have faith in Him, let’s learn all that we can about what this faith is and how we can obtain it. Hebrews chapter 11 gives a definition of faith and then gives examples of many believers down through the ages who lived lives of faith. This eleventh chapter of Hebrews has sometimes been referred to as the “faith chapter”.

The “faith chapter” starts right off with a definition of faith. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith as described here is to believe what we hope for (what has been promised in Scripture) and to have an expectation of future rewards. Faith relies on Gods’ promises and “anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He will reward those who earnestly seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6b)

Scholars write that the Greek word “substance” means “a standing under”. The word was used to mean a “title deed”. We are to have assurance in Gods’ promises, (stand under them). And our faith is the “title deed” of things hoped for. Faith is counting on God to take care of us. We need to have faith in God, not faith in faith. Jesus said that all we need is the faith of a grain of mustard seed, (Luke 17:6) and a mustard seed is the smallest of seeds. So we don’t put our faith in how large our faith is but in how large our God is.

One of the “champions of faith” mentioned in Hebrews 11 is Noah. Noah’s obedience in building the ark far inland was physical evidence of his trust in God’s Word. Other believers mentioned for their faith were Abel, Enoch, Abraham and Sarah. We read in verses 13-16 that although these champions of faith received only a partial fulfillment of what God had promised, they maintained their faith that God would do what He said. Also these faithful could not feel at home in earthly surroundings. They looked for something better, and because of their longings, God gladly acknowledged them as His own people.

Hebrews 11:13a states: “”These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them…” It would seem that the key to their faith was that they were persuaded that Gods’ promises were true. They “embraced” them and greeted them, even though they could see them only by faith and not by sight. Only a real faith can see the invisible. Faith’s walk does not depend on answered or unanswered prayers on this earth. A believer looks beyond earthly surroundings to heaven when all of their prayers will be answered.

Hebrews 11 goes on to tell about many believers who have overcome tremendous obstacles by their faith. “By faith they (Israelites) passed through the Red Sea…” “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down…” “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish…” (Verses 29, 30, 31) Many more champions of faith are mentioned who “through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” (Verses 33-34)

After reading the first half of Hebrews 11 we might begin to believe that miracles occur for everyone who has faith and problems disappear for all that trust God. Certainly many are mentioned here who overcame tremendous obstacles by their faith. But then we continue reading and come to a description of other champions of faith who had a different experience. “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourging, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented.” (Verses 35b-37 This “faith chapter” ends with “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” Hebrews 11:39-40)

It would appear that faith does not provide an automatic exemption from hardships and tragedy. And people who suffer trials and illnesses do not have less faith than those who don’t. Faith is believing God and whether mountains are moved by our faith or whether with that same faith we must bear personal tragedy, we will still receive Gods’ promises even if we have to wait for them. So some of our champions of faith received marvelous miracles because of their faith, and others did not receive what God had for them during their lifetime. It was all with the same faith, and one group was not better than the other. Our part is to have faith in God and His part is to lead us to Glory by whatever way He sees best.

How do we get this miraculous believing faith? Romans 12:3 tells us that God gives each of us a measure of faith. And Romans 10:17 reads: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” The Bible, Gods’ Word isn’t just another book. The Bible is inspired by God and it has life giving power. That is why we are told to go out and spread Gods’ Word to others. The good news of Jesus our Savior brings new life when it is received with faith.

The parable in Scripture of the sower of seeds tells us that Gods’ Word is like seed and our hearts are like soil. When Gods’ Word is planted into our hearts, the seed germinates and produces a harvest, but only if the soil is good. If the seeds fall on hard or thorny or rocky ground, often they can not take hold and grow into fruitful plants. (Matthew 13:3-9)

In order to receive this saving faith, we need to keep our hearts open to the seed of Gods’ Word. Our hearts, the soil, can become hardened by disobedience. Thorns can grow up and crowd out the seed of the Word when we put other things before God. We need to always watch and pray that we don’t fall into temptation.. The Holy Spirit whispers God’s Word into our ears. We will need to take time to listen if a harvest is to be produced in us. Since Scripture says that faith comes by hearing Gods’ Word, we need to read it every day and receive it into our lives. We need to allow the seed of the Word to take root in our hearts and build up our faith. Our faith in God is alive and powerful. If we could see it with our eyes we would be amazed! Let’s do everything we can to take care of it.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Hosea -(Prophecies that the ten lost tribes of Israel will be restored)

Hosea – (Prophecies that the ten lost tribes of Israel will be restored)

The book of Hosea begins with God telling Hosea to go out and marry a prostitute. “Go take yourself a wife of harlotry and children of harlotry, for the land has committed great harlotry by departing from the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2b) The date was approximately 750B.C. and even though the northern kingdom of Israel enjoyed prosperity and lived in peace, they had a big problem. They had been living in open rebellion against God for a very long time.

Hosea was Gods’ prophet and messenger to the ten northern tribes of Israel. His name, “Hosea” meant “salvation”. He was to live out Gods’ message by marrying an unfaithful woman, to portray God’s relationship to an unfaithful Israel. Hosea obeyed God and went out and married Gomer, a prostitute.

Gomer and Hosea had three children and God named each child. God continued speaking to Israel through Hosea’s children’s names. The first child was a boy and God named him, “Jezreel” which meant that God will “bring an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel” (Hosea 1:4b) The second child, a girl, was named “Lo-Ruhamah” which meant “I will no longer have mercy on the house of Israel”. (Hosea 1:6b) And the third child, another boy, was named “Lo Ammi” which meant, “”You are not My people and I am not your God.” (Hosea 1:9a)

God’s charges against Israel are many. “By swearing and lying, killing and stealing, and committing adultery, they break all restraint, with bloodshed upon bloodshed. (Hosea 4:2) “ ‘She decked herself with her earrings and jewelry, and went after her lovers: But me she forgot,’ says the Lord.” (Hosea 2:13b) “Though I redeemed them, yet they have spoken lies against Me.” (Hosea 7:13b) And, “None among them calls upon Me.” “Though I disciplined and strengthened their arms, yet they devise evil against Me: they return but not to the Most High: they are like a treacherous bow,…” (Hosea 7:7b and 7:15 -16a) “…For you have played the harlot against your God. You have made love for hire on every threshing floor….”(Hosea 9:1a)

God calls the ten tribes of Israel back to Himself through Hosea and warns them that He will put them away if they continue being unfaithful to Him. Hosea proclaims God’s warnings: “Israel is swallowed up. Now they are among the Gentiles, like a vessel in which is no pleasure.” (Hosea 8:7b) “My God will cast them away, because they did not obey Him: and they shall be wanderers among the nations.” (Hosea 9:17) “but the Assyrian shall be his king, because they refused to repent.” (Hosea 11:5B)

Even though God continued calling out to His wayward children, history records that the peoples of the northern kingdom of Israel refused to listen. A day of reckoning finally arrived. The Assyrians attacked the ten tribes of Israel and carried many away into exile in 733B.C. And then they made a final raid in 720B.C. and took the rest off into slavery. Their punishment had finally come. Their national identity was no more. The twelve tribes of Israel no longer lived together in their Promised Land. Only the two tribes of the southern kingdom of Judah remained. God’s dire warnings had finally come upon the northern kingdom. His patience had come to an end. “I will hedge up her way with thorns. And wall her in. So that she cannot find her paths. She will chase her lovers. But not overtake them: Yes she will seek them but not find them.” (Hosea 2:6)

After Hosea had been married to Gomer for awhile, Scripture seems to imply that she went back to her old lifestyle of sexual sin. God came to Hosea and spoke once more. “Go again, love a woman who is loved by a lover and is committing adultery, just like the love of the Lord for the children of Israel, who look to other gods and love the raisin cakes of the pagans.” (Hosea 3:1)

Hosea writes about how he dealt with his unfaithful wife: “So I bought her for myself for fifteen shekels of silver, and one and one-half homers of barley. And I said to her, ‘You shall stay with me many days; you shall not play the harlot, nor shall you have a man-so too will I be toward you.’ For the children of Israel shall abide many days without king or prince, without sacrifice of sacred pillar, without ephod or teraphim.” (Hosea 3:3-4) .

Just as Hosea was to love his unfaithful wife and take her back after she had a cooling off time spent alone without any lovers, so God was giving a picture lesson of His relationship with the northern tribes of Israel. He still loved His unfaithful wife, Israel and He will buy her back, like Hosea did his unfaithful wife. But first Israel will spend time among the nations, alone without her temple and unable to make her religious sacrifices.

It has been more than 2,700 years since the ten northern tribes of Israel were taken away by the Assyrians as Hosea had warned. They have been scattered and have wandered with no homeland for millenniums. God must have forgotten them. I once asked a Jewish rabbi what had happened to the ten tribes, and he assured me that they were no more. Naturally these tribes from antiquity must have intermarried and assimilated into the countries of their captors. Surely after 2,700 years, ancient Israel has been lost forever.

But Gods’ message throughout Scripture is that He will bring the northern tribes of Israel back. Like Hosea did, God will re-claim His wife after a waiting period. “”And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people.’ There is shall be said to them, ‘You are sons of the living God.’ Then the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together,…” (Hosea 1:10b) and “They shall walk after the Lord. He will roar like a lion. When He roars, then His sons shall come trembling from the west: They shall come trembling like a bird from Egypt. Like a dove from the land of Assyria. And I will let them dwell in their houses, says the Lord.” (Hosea 11:10-11)

“I will heal their backsliding. I will love them freely …I will be like the dew to Israel, He shall grow like the lily, Ephraim (Israel) shall say, What have I to do anymore with idols? I have heard and observed him, I am like a green cypress tree: Your fruit is found in Me.” Who is wise? Let him understand these things. …For the ways of the Lord are right: The righteous walk in them, but transgressors stumble in them.” (Hosea 14:4a,5,8,9)

God also spoke to the prophet Ezekiel regarding the ten tribes of Israel and the two of Judah and how they would all be reunited. They have been apart for over 2,700 years now, but God promises that that will change. “As for you son of man take a stick for yourself and write on it: ‘For Judah and for the children of Israel his companions:’ Then take another stick and write on it, ‘For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim (Israel), and for the house of Israel, his companions. Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand.” (Ezekiel 37:16-17)

There it is. Scripture clearly says it. God has not given up on the ten dispersed tribes of ancient Israel. He will yet bring them back to join the remaining two tribes of Judah. But if that is true, why has it taken so long? Isn’t there a time to finally give up? How can we believe what seems so impossible?

We can believe God’s promises because things that appear impossible to us are not impossible with God. And we can trust God to hear our prayers even if we don’t live to see them answered, because God’s timing is not our timing. Do we have big problems that we’ve prayed about for years but nothing ever seems to change? Do we have a lost dream out there, or a lost child? Have we waited so long that we are about to give up hope?

God will keep His promise. He will restore the lost tribes, even after 2,700 years or longer. He will answer our prayers too through Jesus Christ our Lord, even if it takes longer than we think it should.

When God finished giving Hosea the promise concerning the ten tribes being restored, He followed up with these words: “For the ways of the Lord are right. The righteous walk in them.” (Hosea 14:9b) God seems to be telling Hosea here to trust Him even though it may not make sense. And these words are for us too. God is telling us to walk in His promises and to believe them even when we can’t understand how they will work out. And God is reminding us that He is in control, even when our problems seem impossible and our prayers don’t seem to be answered. God’s mysterious ways are right. Let’s learn to walk in them. Let’s trust Him no matter what!