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courage faith Judges trust

The Secret Message 

Tuesday’s Column: Dale Mail

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Dale Pollard

If he was nervous, it was clear that the king’s palace guards couldn’t tell. They checked his left thigh for a weapon, and when they were satisfied they allowed Ehud to enter the throne room chamber. Ehud is just steps away from going down in history as the man who delivered the Israelites from the Moabite oppression. If he can pull this off, he and his people will enjoy eighty years of peace. It was a big job, and if you know this account, it was a big in more than one way. Hanging from his right side, unknown to anyone but him, is an eighteen inch double-sided sword. It was a weapon made for stabbing, and Ehud planned to use it for it’s created purpose. The guards stationed outside the chamber open the door for him. The room is filled with servants and more armed security, but this is probably not the first thing to catch your eye. There, in the middle of the room on the throne sat an extremely obese man. He’s been the ruling power over God’s people for eighteen years now and as king, he clearly took advantage the royal food supply. His name was Eglon. He, along with the sons of Ammon and Amalek, defeated the Israelites and then claimed the city of palm trees, Jericho.

Ironically, the palm tree was considered a symbol of peace and victory. Many years later, people would lay the branches of these trees down before Jesus the Nazareth as He enters Jerusalem. It seems reasonable to assume that Eglon was glad when he saw Ehud walk towards him. After all, Ehud was the man in charge of gathering Israel’s tribute and delivering it to him. With these funds, the king was free to continue living his life of gluttony and leisure. However, this time God was about to give a gift to the Israelites— Eglon’s life.

Ehud begins to look for the perfect opportunity to kill the king. He says to Eglon, “I have a secret message for you.” At this, Eglon clears the room. Now it’s just Ehud and the king. They’re alone in Eglon’s roof chamber. Ehud continues, “It’s from God.” This is out of the ordinary, and the king seems to have some level of respect for Jehovah, because he then stands up. I would imagine, a man of his size didn’t usually make a habit of standing unless it was absolutely necessary. Ehud pulls from his right thigh the hidden sword and quickly thrusts it into Eglon’s belly. The fat closes over the blade, and his insides spill out. Ehud locks the door and makes his escape. The guards assume Eglon is relieving himself in the coolness of his roof chamber. They wait until the point of embarrassment before opening the door, only to find their king dead. Ehud manages to rally the Israelite troops— slaying ten thousand mighty Moabites. Peace fell on the land for the next eighty years until the children of Israel once again fell away from God.

This account is found in Judges 3, and it’s an interesting, perhaps disgusting account, of how God delivered His people. Believe it or not, there are a few takeaways for us today. Sometimes Christianity involves bravery on our part. God was with Ehud, and He’s still with us today. Even so, humans still face very real fears. Whether you’re asked to lead a prayer in worship, or you’re thinking about talking with those in your social circles about Christ, or making an uncomfortable hospital visit, faithful service requires courage. It’s always been that way. Another lesson we can learn from this account is that God strengthens our faith by testing that faith. Just look at how zealously Ehud conquers the strong and valiant Moabites after Eglon’s death. When we can witness how God has worked in our past, it can build our faith in God’s ability to assist us in the future. If God is for us, who can be against us? Absolutely nobody. 

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Categories
Christian living Christianity purpose

The World Is Desperate (Part Two)

Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog

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Carl Pollard

Last week we looked at how the world is desperate for guidance. They look in every direction for someone or something to tell them what to do. Most of the time they look to themselves for guidance and that leaves many things unsolved. Psalm 119 tells us what our guide should be. God’s word is what tells us how to live, how to act, and how to react in every situation. The world is desperate not only for guidance, but also for purpose (2 Pt. 1:3-8).

As Christians we can confidently say that we have purpose. There’s a reason to everything we do; but what about the world? Why do they wake up every day? For most, they wake up to go to work, to make money, serve self, and go to sleep.

To illustrate this, imagine going to the store without a grocery list. Without a list you end up forgetting most of the stuff you needed in the first place. You come back home and realize you forgot the milk. Without a purpose in life humans are lost. We go day to day knowing that there’s something we’re missing, but we don’t know what it is.

In 2 Peter 1, Peter is writing to them to encourage these Christians to confirm their Christianity. To be confident in their calling. Starting in verse 3 he says this,

“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Because of God, we have a purpose in life. We have become partakers in eternal life. Because of this we must live a certain way. We have a goal. Peter gives us a list to build on: virtue, knowledge, self control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. If we are seeking for a purpose to life, work on this list and the end result is a knowledge of Christ that leads to eternal life.

We have escaped the corruption of the world, and now we have purpose. Peter was one who struggled with his purpose at first, he was unsure of Christ’s plan when he was on earth, and he didn’t even want to be associated with Christ after he was lead away to be crucified. He denied Christ, but after this we see his commitment and purpose in the book of Acts. His purpose is exactly like ours, he went around proclaiming Jesus and baptizing in His name. Not sure what your purpose is? Just look at how Peter lived his life, how he was committed to serving God.

My first job I ever had was when I was 13 years old. I built fences for a member at the Bear Valley Church of Christ. And talk about having no idea what you’re doing. For the longest time I’d show up every morning and have to ask how to do everything. I didn’t know how to mix concrete, how deep a fence post hole had to be dug, how to install gate hinges. I was clueless. For the average person, this is how they feel without Christ. They’re unsure, they have no purpose. Our job is to show them what life is about. This life is about getting ready for the next that is to come. Without this, we have nothing.

The world is desperate for purpose, so let’s show them the Truth.

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Categories
involvement Uncategorized work

I Am Not Irreplaceable 

Neal Pollard

It is said to have housed between 400,000 to 700,000 scrolls containing essentially everything that had been written up to its point in time. But the Royal Library of Alexandria, Egypt, was eventually destroyed. The first residential university, home to perhaps 2000 teachers and 10,000 students from the fifth to the 12th century in Nalanda, India, was destroyed by the Turks and never rebuilt.  In the heart of Germany was an opulent room, a thing of beauty so incredible some called it an eighth wonder of the world and said to be worth $142 million in today’s money. But the Nazis destroyed The Amber Room. The same can be said of Herod’s Temple, the first library of Japan, the first Byzantine encyclopedia, and countless other artifacts, buildings, and writings (via historyofinformation.com). 

How many considered these institutions and items that which would endure forever? Of course, Jesus warned that the things of this world cannot last (Mat. 6:19-20; cf. 2 Pet. 3:10ff). 

Most Christians understand that principle. We know material things cannot and will not last, being eventually effaced by the hands of time. But what about us? We rightly preach how the church needs us and that each of us fills a unique, needed position in the body of Christ (Eph. 4:16; 1 Cor. 12:18). As long as we have health and opportunity, we need to leverage our talents for the good of the Lord’s kingdom. Wherever we’re planted, preachers, elders, teachers, deacons, professors, directors, presidents, house parents, custodians, secretaries, counselors, etc., we need to give the Lord the best we can for as long as we can. 

But, no matter how effectively we are doing our work and what results we are seeing, we are not irreplaceable. What a horrible day it must have been for the church when Paul and Peter were martyred. Yet, the church continued its work (cf. Dan. 2:44). The same is true today. This will prevent any of us from feeling too big for our britches. It’s also a good reminder for the church itself, who may place too much importance on a single individual. Truly, some people leave big shoes and large holes to fill. But, it shall stand until Christ comes again. Perhaps one’s leaving a work (however that occurs) will force someone (or several someones) to step up and carry on the work. So much good can come from that!

Let’s do our best for as long as we can and trust that God can continue to work through men and women to continue his work after we no longer can!

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Categories
Labor Day service Uncategorized work works

Labor Day

(Bulletin Preview)

Neal Pollard

Tomorrow, most of us will be able to celebrate the Labor Day Holiday. That means, ironically, that most of us will have a day off from–well–labor. Schools and workplaces across the nation will shut their doors and many will be off for their last “summer vacation.” Friday, an anticipated 3 million passengers took to the friendly skies to enjoy the long weekend. We can either thank Peter McGuire or Matthew Maguire for being the mastermind of this holiday, both secretaries for New York labor unions who made significant efforts to recognize a day for American workers.

The U.S. Department of Labor has published a lot of useful information about this holiday, which it states was started as a “national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” (dol.gov). It was a local observance in the northeast at the height of the Industrial Age, though Oregon was the first state to pass statewide legislation to observe the holiday. That same year, 1887,  Colorado, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York followed suit. In 1894, Congress made it a legal holiday to be celebrated the first Monday of September. 

In the early days, there were picnics, street parades, speeches by prominent men and women, and “Labor Sunday” which was “dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement” (ibid.). The first parade, in New York City in 1882, had up to 20,000 marchers as well as “Windows and roofs and even the lamp posts and awning frames…occupied by persons anxious to get a good view of the first parade in New York of workingmen of all trades united in one organization” (ibid.).

I find it interesting that we honor work with a day of rest and that the holiday itself has seen a shift in emphasis and expression. That’s neither a complaint or criticism. I intend to enjoy Labor Day with Kathy, taking the vacation day given to me in my working agreement. 

But, as we celebrate this national holiday, it’s fitting to recognize the hard work done by so many in this congregation. When you teach Bible classes, lead in worship, decorate bulletin boards, provide transportation to services, stock our pantry, do work on our facilities, engage in soul-winning efforts, practice hospitality, serve officially as church leaders (whether elders, deacons, or someone else tasked with some work), prepare the communion, clean the kitchen, organize the teacher’s work room, go on mission trips, make visits, handle church finances, coordinate worship, serve as ushers and greeters, host youth devotions, or the many, many other things you do, you are doing honored work. Jesus taught that greatness comes through service (Mat. 20:25-28; Jn. 13:12-17). New Testament writers honored those who work among us, Paul urging us not to “be weary in well doing” (Gal. 6:9) and to “always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58, NIV). Often, Scripture speaks of the Godhead working. It instructs us to be “to the work.” Enjoy the holiday tomorrow. Yet, in the general, ongoing sense, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me as long as it is day; night is coming when no one can work” (Jn. 9:4). Labor on, brothers and sister!

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Categories
discouragement helpful Uncategorized

“Just A Broken Guy…”

Neal Pollard

The chilling audio from Richard “Beebo” Russell reveals an internal conflict nobody, not family, friend, or co-workers, knew was going on. The 29 year old ground worker at Seattle-Tacoma International airport took a Horizon Air Dash-8 airplane on an unauthorized joy ride, complete with complicated aerial stunts before crashing into a remote island on Puget Sound. Before crashing, he spoke with air traffic controllers and pilots and confessed to the inner turmoil. The words used by loved ones to describe him range from “warm” and “compassionate” to “happy” and “regular” (Alex Horton, Washington Post, 8/13/18).  Of course, the behavior was irregular and bizarre, and it ended tragically for the young man as he fatally crashed the plane.

As we walk through this world, we meet and interact with people who may be projecting an outward appearance that is masking inward pain and trouble. It may lie behind their broad smile. That’s a disturbing thought, but what can we do? We cannot read their minds. There is no full-proof way to prevent every tragic action, but we may have more power than we think. Consider some things all of us can do with everyone in our lives.

Be kind. Look people in the eyes. Smile at them. Even if it slows you down from some important task, don’t overlook the people God puts in your path. Your helpful word might sink deeper into their spirit than you realize. Let’s be like the inhabitants of Malta, who showed Paul and his companions “extraordinary kindness” as they simply “kindled a fire and received” them all (Acts 28:2). We’re told as Christians to put on a “heart of kindness” (Col. 3:12). How will anyone know the proof of our kind hearts? We will display it.

Be concerned. We fear being nosy or busybodies. Don’t do that. But there is room for active concern. Such is more apt to listen than advise, to help and not gossip, and to do than to judge. People who are surrounded by those they know care for them have a better chance at emotional survival. Look at the example of Paul, pressured by the concern for congregations and intensely concerned for individuals led into sin (2 Cor. 11:28-29). The word Paul uses for his concern for individuals literally means “to cause to be on fire; burn” (BDAG, 899). It’s the word used to describe the heavens being on fire (2 Pet. 3:12). Paul was “inflamed with sympathy, ready to aid” (ibid.). That’s got to be us, too!

Be helpful. Our Christianity should be tangible, not theoretical. We must be attuned to needs and ready to help (cf. Titus 3:14). Let’s avoid empty words that lack the intent of action. Acts of service, doing for others, are powerful and penetrating. God tells us, “On the day of salvation I helped you” (2 Cor. 6:2; Isa. 49:8). A helper sees a need and meets it. Oh, the impression that can make on a weary struggler. 

Listen, for all we know, this young man was surrounded by people who were kind, concerned, and helpful. Ultimately, each of us is individually accountable for our actions (2 Cor. 5:10). But, our neighborhoods, cities, states, and nations will be a better place when Christians are active bearers of such faithful fruits. Treat everyone you see as the eternally-bound souls that they are! Help them. We know the One who mends the broken (cf. Ezek. 34:16). 

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Categories
eldership Uncategorized

The Kindest Elder I’ve Ever Known

Neal Pollard

He was appointed an elder during the Reagan administration. At the very time he was appointed, the congregation was reaching the climax of a very traumatic incident. A man who was a charter attender, but not a member, when Bear Valley began meeting, he has seen every great work this congregation has dared to do, walked through its every valley, and he has done so with as even-keeled and unflustered way as I have ever known. I have heard him preach both here and abroad, watched him do short-term missions, make difficult shepherd visits, hug and encourage more people than I can remember, and seen his kindness and humor generously displayed. He was not usually the first to speak when elders conversed, but his insights have always been profound. He always did what he did with class and compassion.

I was crestfallen when I recently heard Maynard Woolley tell the eldership that he was ready to step aside as an elder after nearly 30 years of service. Only Harry Denewiler served more years in that role for the Bear Valley church of Christ. He stayed on a couple of years after five great men were appointed to this work in 2016, helping them to acclimate, learn, and grow under his, Ernie Barrett’s,  and Dave Chamberlin’s tutelage. A telling tribute to the breadth of his leadership was the collective, deeply respectful, regret that he was going to resign. Maynard is a man who one appreciates more and more the longer one works alongside him.  His faithful wife, Donna, has both encouraged him and endured, as an elder’s wife for so long, what not many women living have.

Some men impress with refined oratory, outspoken and charismatic ways, and larger-than-life personalities. Others live more understated ives, but their value cannot be overstated. Maynard Woolley is such a man. We will miss his formal oversight, but we look forward to his continued faithful service and loving example. Thank you, Maynard, for what you’ve done and for who you are.  Bear Valley bears the imprint of your bearing.

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Categories
self selfishness service Uncategorized

“Killfies”

Neal Pollard

What do high cliff ledges, train tracks, animal game parks, bridges and buildings have in common? They are apparently popular sites for people to take selfies, and places, among others, where over 200 people have died in the last 5 years in pursuit of that “perfect selfie.” The Economic Times of India, a country leading the world in deaths by selfies, reports that 86 people in 2016 and 73 people in 2017 died in this tragic, needless way. Since 2014, 128 have died in the course of taking selfies in this densely populated nation. But other countries are getting involved in trying to stem the tide of such tragedies. Irish doctors reported, “The consequences of poorer spatial awareness and a focus on getting a good or daring photo has lead to multiple traumas” (Indulekha Aravind, 2/18/18).  There are people in Russia that have become celebrities because of their daring self-centered photos (ibid.). Nowhere social media has gone is there an exemption from this trend, including here in our country.

Because I do not have a background in psychology, I freely admit I could be wrong about this. But, could these extraordinary lengths to capture oneself in these kinds of photos be an act of desperation for acceptance, friendship, or even love? Could the yearning for admiration, congratulations, and adulation drive people to disregard all restraint and precaution? I’m not sure I know the answer to that. 

I do know that, as Henry David Thoreau said in 1854, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (Walden, ch. 1, p. 8).  Perhaps these daring selfies are a symptom of that sensible observation. With selfies, we are able to project exactly the image or perception of ourselves that we want others to see of us. We don’t publish the unflattering nor do we want to show the boring. We want to be seen as valuable, relevant, and attractive. Why? Though we might lose our way in the process, human nature is to desire community and relationship (cf. Gen. 2:24). There are a great many destructive ways to do that, and being self-obsessed is certainly harmful.

It’s very interesting that God planned the church from eternity (Eph. 3:9-11) as a place and a way for us to focus on others. Paul wrote, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil. 2:3-4). So much about being Jesus’ disciples gets us outside ourselves and into the lives of others—not just other Christians but people from every walk of life outside of Christ. He wants our energy, effort, and focus to be turned outward. It’s not so much about projection, but about service. Through that, God will be glorified and others can be satisfied. It seems that such is why God has us here!

 

 

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Categories
endurance fellowship perseverance Uncategorized

Working Together To Survive The Hunt

Neal Pollard

1 Peter 5:8 calls the devil a roaring lion prowling around seeking someone to devour. It is obvious that Peter’s readers would have seen or at least heard about these kings of the jungle for the analogy to make sense and be practical.  Lions lurk, longing for lunch.

In the savannas of East Africa, their meal of choice is usually either the wildebeest or zebra. Despite this, these two animals continue to graze and migrate together. In fact, because they are chief prey of the lion (and other big cats), they need to stick together. Various observers and experts give different explanations for why. Zebras have great farsightedness and the wildebeests have excellent peripheral vision, but each are poor at seeing what the other sees well. Others explain that wildebeests have mouths better suited for short grass while zebras’ are made for the long grass that grow intermittently together on the plains. Still others point to the zebras superior memories, recalling the safety routes of the previous year, and the wildebeests uncanny ability to find water even when such is scarce. Probably, it is the combination of these facts that cause the symbiotic relationship between these two large mammals. They do not all survive, but the vast majority do. The reason is because they utilize their own abilities but also because they rely on the abilities of others.

In a letter where Peter is addressing a people who were at times spiritual prey, he does more than use the simba simile. He urges Christians to stick together and look out for one another. He calls for sincere, fervent, from the heart love for one another (1:22; 4:8). He urges complaint-free hospitality toward one another (4:9). He commands serving one another (4:10). He teaches there to be mutual humility displayed toward one another (5:5). He ends the letter exhorting an affectionate, loving greeting of one another (5:14). As much as anything, this is a recognition of mutual dependence.

If we understand that we are not at home in this world (2:11) and are living and longing for the inheritance in heaven (1:4), we should come to understand our mutual need of each other. That does not just mean looking for others’ help, but also giving it. This is by God’s design. Notice, for example, the proactive protection we provide each other by being “harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead…” (3:8-9a). Right before the lion passage, Peter talks about different groups looking out for and helping each other (5:1-6).

Any of us, through suffering, temptation, doubt, or some other factor, could drift away from the safety and security of the fold. Let us be more than mindful of each other. Let us depend on each other to survive the hunt and make it to eternal safety.  I will face the lion many times in this life, and I depend on you to help me survive.

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Categories
motivation service Uncategorized

Why Do You Serve?

Neal Pollard

Has a preacher ever been motivated by finance, popularity, or fame? Has an elder ever been motivated by power, influence, or notoriety? Has a Christian ever served in any way for notice, accolades, or to satisfy pride? In individual cases, it’s so hard to tell (ultimately, it’s impossible). But, knowing human nature, we would have to say motivation can be tainted and corrupted.

Paul says as much of preachers, that they preached Christ from envy, strife, and selfish ambition (Phil. 1:15,17). Greed propels some preachers (1 Th. 2:5; 2 Pet. 2:3,14). Woe to the preacher who falls into traps like those! He may do harm in this life, but it cannot compare to the ultimate harm he does to himself and others. Peter calls out elders who he says serve for sordid gain or on a power trip (1 Pet. 5:2-3). Woe to the elder who serve from such a base motive! He will not joyfully anticipate the appearing of the Chief Shepherd (cf. 1 Pet. 5:4)! Christians have been led by their appetites and an earthly mindset (Phil. 3:19). Woe to the Christian who serves God for selfish reasons. Such will not be able to successfully endure their spiritual race.

Sometimes, our words and actions betray our motives and intentions. So often, what gets in the way is self— self-service, self-will, self-interest, self-indulgence, self-importance, selfish ambition. It leaves a sour taste and sounds ugly when said. It is manifestly unattractive to even read the words. It is detestable when witnessed in others. But “self” is such an impediment to spiritual service.

I don’t know why anyone else is serving Jesus. But I need to be careful to examine myself. How terrible to let my speech and actions be the cause of anyone questioning what moves me to render any act or service. Let our goal be to live so selflessly that no one has legitimate cause to ask why we do what we do in God’s Kingdom. Paul contrasts Timothy with others, saying, “ For they all seek after their own interests, not those of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:21). Let’s be a Timothy, moved by a genuine concern for others (Phil. 2:20). That’s just what this cynical world needs to see!

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Categories
convictions obedience truth Uncategorized

But, They Were Certain!

Neal Pollard

Have you ever been absolutely sure about something, only to find out you were wrong? Maybe, it was the name of the band that sang your favorite song or the name of the third baseman on your favorite team when you were in elementary school. Sometimes, the stakes are higher and being wrong more costly than that.

Erik Larson’s book, Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, is about a man and an entire bureau’s certainty that cost probably 6,000 their lives. And because they were so certain that a hurricane could not strike Galveston, Texas, a lot of people made fatal choices based on their own certainty—they were certain of houses that would stand, trains and tracks that would get them to their destinations, and that the slope of the coast would deter tidal waves and storm surges. Yet, in September, 1900, on Saturday and Sunday, probably the worst hurricane in modern history struck the exposed, helpless booming Texas city.

Some have been so certain about spiritual matters, but were wrong. They have been certain about what to bring God to worship (Gen. 4:2-3), about how to be saved from death (2 Kings 5:11-12), and about how to carry out God’s command (1 Sam. 15:13ff).

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks of some who seemed certain, but were certainly wrong. Depicting the Judgment scene, Jesus preaches, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Mat. 7:21-23). These folks will have done religious acts in Jesus’ name. They will haven been certain they were on the right path, but Jesus says they will have been mistaken. They will not have done the will of the Father.

How many people will this ultimately describe? They have confidence in a preacher, a teaching, a tradition, a feeling, or a belief. Sadly, they have not even questioned whether or not it might not be what the Bible says on the matter. Jesus ends His sermon by talking about storms. This storm is more powerful than the one Larson writes about. It determines destiny (Mat. 7:24-27). We must base our certainty on the Rock!

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Ursuline Academy in Galveston, Texas, before the hurricane.