Friday, May 29th

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Friday, May 29

Acts 26:1-32
So Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: "I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

"My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

"I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

"In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'

"Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles." And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind." But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe." 


And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am--except for these chains." Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them. And when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, "This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment." And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar."


Several years ago I heard a pastor tell a story about a business executive in his church. The executive had recently made a very generous financial gift to some aspect of the church’s ministry and then had called the pastor for a lunch appointment.

When they sat down for lunch the pastor wanted to find out the purpose of the lunch invitation so he said, “Well, what’s up? Why the appointment for lunch?”

His friend said, “I think I just need you to tell me I’m not crazy!”

What he meant, of course, is that to many in our world today the gospel sounds crazy and it seems even crazier to invest one’s life and resources in gospel oriented endeavors.

Luke tells us that as Paul is explaining the death and resurrection of Jesus, Festus accuses Paul of being crazy.

And as he was saying these things in his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.”

In other words, Festus is saying, “You’re crazy to believe a man rose from the dead; you’re crazy to believe that faith in that man can provide eternal life; you’re crazy to think there is one spiritual truth for both Jews and Romans!”

Have you ever felt like your faith in Jesus makes you look crazy to your friends or family? They might not say it out loud, but you can see it in their eyes and you can hear it in their tone. They think you’re taking this whole “Jesus thing” a little too seriously. They think you’ve been brainwashed by smooth talking preacher. They think it’s a little weird that you give so much time and money to the ministries of your church.

Here’s how Paul responded to being called crazy:

But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking true and rational words. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe." And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am--except for these chains."

In other words Paul says,

“What I’m saying and what I believe is not crazy but makes perfect sense. Who Jesus is and what Jesus did is anchored in history and is there for anyone who cares to check it out. In fact, the gospel is so real, so true and so powerful that I believe you are crazy not to believe as I do!”

Paul is both gracious and bold. He doesn’t accuse, he doesn’t belittle, he cares about the eternal destiny of those who have imprisoned him. But neither does he apologize for what he believes to be true.

The gospel will always sound crazy to some; but Paul reminds us that to believe the gospel, to live in the resurrection power of Christ, is the most sane thing anyone could ever do.


Pastor Brian Coffey

Thursday, May 28th

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Thursday, May 28

Acts 26:1-21
So Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: "I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

"My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

"I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

"In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles--to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'

"Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.


I recently had a conversation with a friend who had some questions about a particular religious group. He said the group appeared to be a Christian denomination but that he was unfamiliar with the group’s theological position. He was wondering if I knew anything about that particular group.

I didn’t know all that much about the organization or their theological positions, but I knew enough to ask one question: What do they teach about Jesus?

Christian churches and denominations can differ on many issues; styles of worship, church polity; mode of baptism or manner of observing communion, but they must believe certain things about Jesus.

Jesus must be understood as the Son of God; that is, Jesus is both fully God and fully man; one with God the Father.

Jesus must be understood as being eternally existent and not a created being.

Jesus must be understood as the final and perfect sacrifice for sin.

Jesus must be understood as having been crucified, buried and risen again.

In other words, eventually all Christian theology and experience comes down to Jesus.

That’s what Paul is saying as he addresses King Agrippa:

At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.

For Paul it all came down to Jesus.

He didn’t just suddenly have a change of heart about throwing followers of Jesus in jail. He didn’t experience a mid-life crisis and decide to change professions. He had a personal encounter with Jesus himself.

The same is true for us.

Whatever your faith background might have been; whatever denomination or church tradition shaped your spiritual understanding; wherever the journey of your life has taken you; it all comes down to Jesus.

He meets you where you are; he confronts who you have been and who you are; he leads you from spiritual death to spiritual life through his grace and forgiveness; and he calls you to follow him into a new life.

Paul never forgot, and never stopped proclaiming, that it all comes down to Jesus.


Pastor Brian Coffey

Wednesday, May 27th

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Wednesday, May 27

Acts 26:1-11
So Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: "I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

"My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

"I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.


The doctor who helped my wife deliver three of our four sons is a friend of ours through our church. I will never forget that when our last son was born he looked up at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Every one is a miracle!” I remember being so touched and encouraged that a man who had seen thousands of babies come into the world still saw my son’s birth as a miracle!

Sometimes I think those of us who have been around the gospel or have been preaching the gospel for most of our lives can forget that the gospel really is a life and death issue. We can forget that every single person who comes to faith in Jesus is, indeed, a miracle.

In reading and studying the Book of Acts, I don’t think Paul ever forgot or took for granted the miracle of the gospel. Notice how he begins his defense before King Agrippa:

Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? "I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

Paul begins with a confession. He reminds his audience of the atrocities that he had gladly committed against the followers of Jesus. He does so for two reasons. First, Paul never forgot that he was a man of “raging fury” before he met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus. Although he had come to know the grace and forgiveness of Jesus in his own soul, he never forgot the depth of pride and hatred he had descended to in his misguided ambition.

But second, I think he begins with this confession because of the question he poses at the beginning of his statement.

Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?


He is obviously referring to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead here; the very cornerstone of the Christian gospel. Paul knew that King Agrippa knew the claims of resurrection made by Jesus’ followers but, like many today, simply dismissed those claims as being “impossible.” But I also think that Paul is referring to the change in his own life as a kind of resurrection from the dead. I think he is saying there is a direct correlation between the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and the transformation in his own life.

Paul would later say it this way in his letter to the Ephesian church:

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:1-5 (selected)

Paul never forgot that the gospel was not about making him “a better person;” or about “getting a little religion into his life.” Paul knew the gospel is about making the spiritually dead live again. The gospel is about death and resurrection. The gospel is about spiritual rebirth.


And that’s why every single person who can say, “Jesus saved me” is a miracle!


Pastor Brian Coffey

Tuesday, May 26th

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Tuesday, May 26

Acts 26:1-7
So Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: "I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

"My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king!

I have often heard people describe the difficulty of sharing the message of the gospel with the people they grew up with; and especially with family. While this is certainly not always the case, many find their old friends and/or family members to be very resistant to conversations about faith.

Sometimes the response is skepticism: “Hey, you can’t fool me; I remember the things we used to do!”

Sometimes it’s resentment: “So now you think you’re better than me because you got a little religion?”

Paul is speaking before at least one man, King Agrippa, who was himself a Jew and knew all the traditions in which Paul had been raised. So that’s where Paul chooses to start:

"My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers... And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king!

Paul wants to be clear about two things. First, he wants to make it clear that he was, and is, a Jew who loves and respects his nation as well as the teachings of the scriptures. Secondly, he wants to make it clear that he stands accused of nothing more than his hope in the promises of God; namely, the promise of the Messiah who would come to save his people from their sins.

Paul believed that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah of God; the very son of God who allowed himself to be put to death as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He believed the law and the prophets all pointed to Jesus, and that salvation was to be found in Jesus alone. For this hope and for this hope alone, he says, he has been beaten and is now on trial.

I think Paul takes this stance because he knows that both Festus (the Roman Procurator) and King Agrippa are political creatures. He knows they value two things; their own position and to keep the peace so that the Emperor is satisfied. Paul wants them to know that he has committed no crime; rather, he is accused of believing Jesus is the Messiah. He knew that neither Festus or Agrippa cared much for religious debate, so he shrewdly paints them into a corner where they have either send him to Rome as a “religious revolutionary,” which would not please the Emperor, or, they have to admit that he is not a criminal.

Paul was not afraid to die, but neither was he shy about using the great intellect God had given him to challenge to powers of this world for the purposes of the gospel.

As Paul would write to his young protege, Timothy:

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

2 Timothy 1:7

Where and how may you have been timid in your faith? Ask the Holy Spirit to embolden you with his power, love and self-discipline!


Pastor Brian Coffey

Monday, May 25th

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Monday, May 25

Acts 26:1-3
So Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: "I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.

The year was 1974; I was a freshman in college and my roommate had a lava lamp. The university I attended was not a Christian institution so I was exposed very quickly to a world that challenged much of what I had been taught growing up.

I had grown up in a Christian home and I had committed my life to Christ at a very young age. But as an 18 year old freshman away from home for the first time I was not terribly vocal or outward about my faith.

Late one night about two weeks into that first semester a bunch of guys on my floor were hanging out in the dorm when, out of nowhere, one guy turned to me as said, “So what makes you tick, Coffey?”

I said, “Uh, whaddaya mean?”

He said, “I mean - you don’t drink like the rest of us; you don’t swear like the rest of us; so, what makes you tick?”

I broke out in a cold sweat! No one had ever asked me something like that before. For most of my life I just assumed people knew what made me tick, because most of the people I knew were part of our church, or at least knew my Dad was a pastor. I had never been asked to explain myself before.

I remember mumbling something like, “Well, I’m a Christian and just don’t do those things.” It wasn’t exactly a moving or persuasive statement of faith in Christ!

As we begin chapter 26, Paul has been under a kind of house arrest for close to two years. He had been arrested in Jerusalem when his attempt to preach the gospel was met with a mob that tried to kill him. Paul then claimed his Roman citizenship which forced the authorities to guarantee a hearing before the Emperor. But the sitting Procurator, a man named Felix, had held Paul for two years hoping to receive a bribe from Paul’s friends. Now Festus has replaced Felix, and together with the Jewish King named Agrippa, offers Paul a hearing so he can justify to the Emperor why this man has been sent to him for examination.

Put yourself in Paul’s shoes for a moment. You have been beaten, stoned and imprisoned for preaching the gospel. You are now being held without bond and awaiting a possible court date before the Emperor of Rome. You are given permission to speak before men who have enormous power over what happens to you next. What will you say? What tone will you take?

Luke says,

Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense...


We can miss this because we are unfamiliar with ancient culture, but Paul assumes a posture here that was common among lawyers making their case or orators speaking before large crowds. To stretch out one’s hand meant to assume a posture of confidence and authority.

Even though Paul was, politically and economically speaking, the least powerful man in the room, when he stood to speak he took the posture of one speaking with both authority and truth.

That makes sense because Paul is the one who wrote to the believers in Rome:
 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Romans 1:16

I wish I had “stretched out my hand” in that dorm room so long ago. Where might you stretch out your hand and share the gospel boldly today?


Pastor Brian Coffey

Tuesday, May 19

Tuesday


But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 
-  1 Peter 3:14-17

In Acts 22, Paul had taken the opportunity to preach to the Jewish mob that had tried to kill him. They listened until he told them how the Lord told him to leave Jerusalem, which would not accept his witness, and go to the Gentiles. At the mention of the word “Gentiles,” the crowd went wild, like a pack of wolves trying to get to their prey.

Since Paul had been preaching in Aramaic, which the Roman commander probably did not understand very well, he didn’t know what had set the mob off again, but he was determined to find out. He brought Paul into the barracks and was going to examine him by torture to get it out of him. Scourging was a brutal punishment of beating a man on his bare back with a leather-thonged whip that had pieces of metal or bone attached to it. It would leave a man severely crippled and could result in death. This was the treatment that Pilate inflicted on Jesus just prior to the crucifixion. As the soldiers stretched Paul out to tie him for the beating, he asked the centurion, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?” (22:25). Paul was exercising his legal right to protect himself from persecution, and there is nothing wrong with doing that.

The centurion quickly informed the commander of the situation. Alarmed, the commander came to Paul and discovered that he was indeed a Roman citizen. In fact, Paul was born a citizen, whereas the commander had obtained his citizenship by paying a large sum of money. Since it could have cost him his position to scourge a Roman citizen without a trial, the commander quickly had Paul untied.

But since he was responsible to maintain peace in Jerusalem, the commander still wanted to find out what was going on between Paul and the Jews. So he called together the Jewish Sanhedrin and brought Paul in before them to get to the bottom of this conflict (so he thought). But it wasn’t long until the Council itself erupted in such an uproar among themselves in response to something that Paul had said, that the commander again had to rescue this troublesome man! 

If we can say anything about the Apostle Paul, we can certainly say that he was a man who was willing to seize any and every opportunity that God gave him to share the gospel.  Even after the Jews in Jerusalem had rioted and tried to kill him twice, he was still ready and willing to talk about Jesus!  

While it is certainly true that there has only ever been one Apostle Paul, it is equally true that if you have trusted in Christ as Savior, then you are His witness. You may not always be a good witness, but His name is identified with you, so that by your actions, attitudes, and words, you are a witness for Him. As He gives you opportunities, you should bear verbal witness. As 1 Peter 3:15-16 challenges us, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”  


Jeff Frazier

Monday, May 18

Monday

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”   - Acts 23:11

Literally, what the Lord Jesus says as he appears to Paul here is, “Be of good cheer. Cheer up, Paul.”  That is certainly a revelation of the state of Paul's heart at this time. He is anything but of good cheer. He is defeated and discouraged, but he is not abandoned. Isn't it wonderful that the Lord comes now to restore him to his ministry?

I am sure that Luke does not give us the full account of what transpired between Paul and his Lord on that night. But there is enough here that we can see what Jesus is after. He encourages Paul with His presence and He restores Paul to usefulness. He promises Paul success in the desire of his heart, which was second only to his desire to win his kinsmen, i.e., that he might bear witness for Christ at the heart of the empire, the capital of the Gentile world itself.  You remember that Paul had announced that, after he went to Jerusalem, he must go to Rome.  And his prayer as he wrote to the Roman Christians was that he might be allowed to come to them.  The Lord Jesus now gives that back to him!

And yet the very form of the Lord’s encouragement contains a hint of what is to come, of how he will serve the Lord in Rome.  Jesus puts it this way:  “As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome.” In other words, the emphasis here is upon the manner in which this witness will take place. “In the way that you bore witness to me in Jerusalem, in that same way you must bear witness in Rome.” And how had he testified in Jerusalem? It was as a prisoner — chained, bound, limited.

This encounter with the Lord Jesus must have been a wonderful moment in Paul's experience. The Lord restored him to spiritual health, just as he often does with us. Have you ever been in this circumstance? Have you ever felt like the circumstances of your life were not working out the way you imagined?  Have you ever wondered where God was in the midst of your frustration and disappointment?  How amazing to have the Jesus come to restore us.

After this Paul seems to be his usual self again. From here on the things he says and does have that same wonderful infusion of the Spirit's power which makes unusual things happen. And from Rome he is to write some of his greatest letters — letters filled with power, which are still changing the history of the world.


Father, thank you for your restoring love, for the fact that you have never abandoned me, that you are near to me, especially when I am discouraged, and that you keep me and bring me back to you - Amen.

Jeff Frazier