The Fourth Quarter Of My Life

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us… ” Hebrews 12:1 NIV

Today is a significant day in my life, I turned 60 years old. Recently, while I was praying I felt compelled to raise up 4 fingers and declare that, “it’s the beginning of the 4th quarter.”  That thought is sobering to me. And, I’ve been asking myself some hard questions, like:  Am I still experiencing spiritual growth? Or, will I ever grow up to become a spiritually mature man? I like to be brutally honest with God and with myself, so, I realize that I’m not the man that I desire to be, yet.

My favorite football team, The Alabama Crimson Tide, emphasizes finishing each game and each season, strong. It doesn’t matter according to their philosophy whether or not they are ahead or behind, just – FINNISH STRONG! The Apostle Paul used sports analogies in his teachings to the Church. And, while Bama’s understanding of finishing strong may be somewhat different than Paul’s – I believe this is a biblical concept.

As I was writing this article, I realized that this will be my 200th post on my Word Press Blog, which I started about 3 years ago.  I first began blogging on a Blogger account in 2005. Strangely enough many years earlier while someone was praying over me, he ask me if I was a writer. He said (spiritually speaking) that he saw me writing.  As I thought about his spiritual perception about me,  I said to myself, “He’s wrong about that!”  Frankly, I wouldn’t identify myself as a  skilled writer, but I came to use writing as part of  my ministry to encourage others, about a decade later.

During the month of December in 2005 a spiritual mentor of mine said, ” just go home and start a blog.”  And I did! He had  encouraged  me often to write the things  down that I was learning, and my spiritual experiences.  So, over an 11 year period I enjoyed interacting with bloggers all over the world, and surprisingly it did well.  This was not mainly a result of my own insights or writing ability,  but, the fact that I posted so many articles by prominent Bible teachers.

In the early days and in my first attempts to encourage people as a personal ministry, I gathered  lots of  resources. I used tracks from Keith Greens’ “Last Days Ministries,” and David Wilkerson. From there I went on to become a distributor of Fullness Magazine and their materials. This was a group of Baptist ministers that had re-discovered spiritual gift’s (Healing, spiritual warfare, prophecy etc.) and embraced the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Around this time is when I started a tape sharing ministry. Over time I began to gather and distribute tapes and literature from  various other ministries, also.

As a result of different ministry opportunities over the years I have attempted to help others make disciples. It’s important that each one of us know our role and ministry as part of the body of Christ. In the 80’s, my friends began to call me “a Barnabas” – which means “son of encouragement.” And during the mid 90’s I had a very detailed dream, and in one part of the dream I was handing out water and encouraging  runners during a race. And that was my confirmation to continue what I was already doing. In fact that sealed the deal so to speak for me.

The Apostle Paul was clear – we each have spiritual gifts, so there is nothing to boast in except “the cross of Christ.” Each member of Christs’ body (his Church) should operate in our various  gifts that God has so graciously given to us, to build up others. We operate in our gifts  and callings according to the level of faith we have. Even thought I’ve had major setbacks in my life – mostly as a result of my own sin – by the grace of God – I’m still standing.  May God help me and you to run our races and finish well.

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Musings From The Book Of Ephesians: Paul’s Prayer In Chapter One

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” For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints,  I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers,  that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might  that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,  far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.  And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church,  which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” – (Ephesians 1:15-17 ESV)

 

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. The Spirits’ ministry is supernatural. And He gives us understanding that we cannot obtain by our own study and  natural effort, alone. Our spirits are enlightened by God’s Spirit in our heart’s – which is our innermost being. That’s where all spiritual transformation takes place. Which ultimately results in a change of our outward behavior.

As believers we must ask God to reveal himself to us, so that as the NIV translates it: “you may know him better.” We first come to know him through our initial salvation experience, but that’s only the beginning of our spiritual journey. The knowledge of God is a never ending process for those who pursue him. And, God desires to make the debts of his love, wisdom and power known in ever increasing ways. He’s a holy but very personal God.

We have been set apart by God as his holy people, so that our behavior will be in harmony with his will for our lives.  We are His inheritance. And his will is that we will become  more like Jesus (over time) through the transformation of our character. The theological word for this is sanctification.

As Disciples of Jesus  we are God’s inheritance and we have his resurrection power living inside of us. We must ask (pray) for understanding of the “immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might,” which is what God has given us in Christ.  For the most part the full extent of this power is untapped in our lives. We overcome the evil impulses of the world, the flesh, and the Devil by allowing the resurrection power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to dominate our thinking. As we discover God’s power in us, we are more effective in supernatural ministry.

The Ephesians understood that the spiritual atmosphere was evil and they were up against dark powers – that controlled unbelievers. Those same dark forces still operate in our world today. The Churches during biblical times understood what they were up against spiritual darkness. But, sadly many in the modern Church don’t have even a basic understanding of spiritual warfare. Paul was reassuring Christians that all these evil entities are under Christ’ feet. We desperately need more understanding of the resurrection power that God has given  us access to today. And this comes to us, in response to our prayers. So let’s keep asking.

Note: The point of the knowledge of him has nothing to do with what God knows, but with what believers are to know (hence, “your…knowledge”). Further, the author’s prayer is that this knowledge of God would increase, not simply be initiated, since he is writing to believers who already know God (hence, “your growing knowledge of him”). NET Bible, bible.org

Musings From The Book Of Ephesians: Blessed In Christ

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Spiritual Blessings in Christ

” Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,  even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love  he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,  which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight  making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” – (Ephesians 1:3-10 ESV)

Over the last several months I have found myself returning again and again to the book of Ephesians. The book has always fascinated me. It tells us who we are in Christ and who he is in us, and that we are blessed in Him.  It clearly teaches us that our redemption comes through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.  It also reveals God’s plan of grace to conform us into his image. We see that God chose us and set us apart for himself before the creation of the world. And, that God reveals his master plan to unite all things in his Son. Everything and everyone which was made by Jesus (which is literally everything and everyone) will be summed up and have it’s meaning in Him.

I’m not really into the whole predestination debate anymore. I’m satisfied that God is both sovereign and that humans can make free choices. The ultimate goal of the Apostle Paul’s instruction here; is that we be conformed into the image of Jesus – not to argue how God chooses his elect.

We have been chosen to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be spiritually seated with him in the heavenly realms. We know that only those who are “in Christ” will experience eternal life with Jesus now,  and in his coming Kingdom. God has marked us out and called us as sons and daughters. We are Christ’ inheritance and he has a lot invested in us.

Jesus is the source of our blessing and he delights in his children. The fact that we are seated in “heavenly places” with him should lead us to pursue his heart for all people. Some say we can be “so heavenly minded, that we’re no earthly good.” But, I don’t see that as my problem, or,  an issue with the western Church as a whole. If we would access the “mind of Christ” we would have his perspective on life in this present evil age.  We live in between what theologians call, ‘the now and the not yet of the age to come.’ Our quest should be to discover all that God has for us in this age  “in Christ” as we experience his great grace and the power of the age to come, to some degree now. And, how we can impact people with the love of Christ that we ourselves have experienced.

As I delve more and more into the book of Ephesians, I find a hunger in my heart for a deeper intimacy with God.

Don’t Compromise With The Spirit Of Antichrist

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“Bloved do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.” – (I John 4:1-3 ESV)

God has called his children to be salt and light in the earth. We are to love those who disagree with us and who do not follow Jesus. But we are also called, as followers of Jesus Christ, to defend the teaching of the New Testament as taught by Jesus and his Apostles. Jesus is our King and we are subjects of his kingdom. As loyal subjects we cannot compromise with the spirit of the antichrist that would cast doubt on the person and teaching of Christ.

An alarming number of individual Christians and movements have aliened themselves with this antichrist spirit. They teach universalism (that you can be saved without trusting in Jesus). Many religions acknowledge Jesus as a great prophet, but unless they confess him as the Christ, the anointed and only begotten Son of God, they cannot enter into his eternal kingdom. This teaching is basic Christianity.

Jesus is God. And trusting Him is the only way to Heaven. For me to teach anything else would be to give into the spirit of the antichrist, which is the prevailing spirit of the age we live in. As Christians we must see this as spiritual warfare. This warfare will be waged by those who proclaim the truth of the Gospel, without fear of  those who oppose the Gospel message.

If you are a Christian, don’t allow yourself to fall under the spell of  religious pluralism (all sincere people of other religions will go to Heaven)  that is growing stronger in our culture. Spending time in prayer and deep meditation on the Scripture is the way to strengthen our relationship with God. We must seek to live in the presence of the Holy Spirit, or we will begin to comprise the truth and be lead astray. We must remain spiritually diligent and stay alert.

The Resurrection Of Jesus: Reflections From The Church Fathers

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“He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.” – (Matthew 28:6 ESV)

A  Prayer
O God, who by your only-begotten Son has overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life, grant us, we ask you, that we who celebrate the solemnities of our Lord’s resurrection may by the renewing of your Spirit arise from the death of the soul; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. [Amen.] –  The Gelasian Sacramentary 

 

Why The Stone Rolled Back?
An angel descended and rolled back the stone. He did not roll back the stone to provide a way of escape for the Lord but to show the world that the Lord had already risen. He rolled back the stone to help his fellow servants believe, not to help the Lord rise from the dead. He rolled back the stone for the sake of faith, because it had been rolled over the tomb for the sake of  unbelief. He rolled back the stone so that he who took death captive might hold the title of Life. Pray, brothers, that the angel would descend now and roll away all the hardness of our hearts and open up our closed senses and declare to our minds that Christ has risen, for just as the heart in which Christ lives and reigns in heaven, so also the heart in which Christ remains dead and buried is a grave. May it be believed that just as he died, so was he  transformed. Christ the man suffered, died and was buried; as God, he lives, reigns, is and will be forever. – Peter Chrysologus, Sermons 75.

A Prayer
“O God, who for redemption have your only – begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection has delivered us from the power of the enemy, Grant us to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him, in the joy of the resurrection, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”  – Gregory the Great

The Death Of Jesus: Reflections From The Church Fathers

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“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. ” – (Hebrews 2:9 ESV)

Jesus tasted death so that all who trust in him will never have to taste death. The older I get the more I appreciate His work on the cross. Let us reflect on His death today with those who have gone before us, as we prepare to celebrate his resurrection tomorrow.

Wine Mingled With Gall 
​”When they had come to Golgotha”, the Gospel says, “They gave him vinegar mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he refused to drink.” This event was foretold by David when he wrote, They gave me gall for food, and they gave me vinegar to slake my thirst. ” Take note the mystery revealed here. Long ago, Adam tasted the sweetness of the apple and obtained the bitterness of death for the whole human race. In contrast to this, the Lord tasted the bitterness of gall and obtained our restoration from death’s sting to the sweetness of life. He took on himself the bitterness of gall in order to extinguish in us the bitterness of death.” – Chromatius of Aquileia, Tractate on Matthew 19.7.

He Put Death To Death
“The Word tasted death once on our behalf, the death of the cross.  He went to his death so that by death he might put death to death. The Word, becoming human flesh, did not suffer in his divinity but suffered with humanity.” – Epiphanius The Latin, Ancoratus 92.

He Laid Down His Life 
“When Jesus had cried out with a loud voice, he yielded up the spirit. “This refers to what he had earlier said: “I have power to lay down my life and I have power to take it again,” and ” I lay it down of myself. ” So for this cause he cried with the voice, that it might be shown that the act is done by his own power. ” – Chrysostom,  The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 88.1.

The Wilderness: A Quote From Jack Deere

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“God declared his love for and pleasure in his Son, and then immediately sent him into the wilderness, seemingly withdrawing all divine support, and letting the devil test his Son. Sometimes God shows his love by caring and sometimes by preparing. In the wilderness God was preparing his Son for his greatest test, the test that would come at the very end of his ministry.

Jesus resisted the devil, not the wilderness.

The Lord leads us into the wilderness, and he will lead us out. So the fundamental question is not about escaping our wilderness, but how to make the most of it.

One of my favorite movies is Out of Africa with Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. It is based on the book by Isak Dinesan. In 1957, a reporter asked her about how she was able to endure all that she suffered in Africa, the unfaithfulness of her husband who gave her an STD, the loss of her plantation, and the loss of her lover in a plane crash. She answered, “All suffering is bearable if it is seen in a story.”

I think that is the clue to our wilderness chapters. They are an essential part of our stories so that when the cross comes, whatever that may be, we will say yes to the cross, and heaven will erupt in praise for our God, and at last, we will have pleased our God.” – Jack Deere

Standing At The Crossroads

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Let me sing for my beloved
    my love song concerning his vineyard:
My beloved had a vineyard
    on a very fertile hill.
 He dug it and cleared it of stones,
    and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
    and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
    but it yielded wild grapes.

 And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem
    and men of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
 What more was there to do for my vineyard,
    that I have not done in it?
When I looked for it to yield grapes,
    why did it yield wild grapes?

And now I will tell you
    what I will do to my vineyard.
I will remove its hedge,
    and it shall be devoured;[a]
I will break down its wall,
    and it shall be trampled down. – (Isaiah 5:1 – 5 ESV)

I would suggest to anyone who is interested in this post to read Isaiah 5 in its’ entirety. The point that Isaiah is making is; that God had invested heavily in his people Israel. Yahweh had sown good seed in seemly good soil and the fruit of his labors was evident. But, sadly God’s vineyard was being neglected by his people. The Old Testament is still valuable to New Testament believers today. In fact it was written for our instruction so that we would not follow the same rebellious patterns as God’s covenant people, Israel did. (1 Corinthians 10:11)

In the New Testament book of Hebrews chapter 6 verses 7 – 8 we read these alarming words:

For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.  But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6: 7 – 8 ESV)

God as our gracious benefactor, and faithful covenant keeping LORD, is giving New Testament believers a warning much like the people of ancient Israel. This is a warning not to take his grace toward us for granted. We are warned not to neglect such a great salvation. In these clear warnings he is not telling us to try harder to be good – but to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and dependency on Him.

“…how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard,”- (Hebrews 2:3 ESV)

Our heavenly Father has given to all believers his Son Jesus to make intercession on our behalf. Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead – we now have an advocate with the Father. He has also given us the Holy Spirit to assist us in this life to enable us to overcome sin. Even though we will only obtain sinless perfection in heaven, we can experience great freedom in this life.

Concerning the church in America: we are standing at a crossroads. We must decide if we are going to surrender to our surrounding culture or the Kingdom of God. Homosexual and heterosexual sin and abortion is abounding in our land. Un-biblical divorce and same-sex marriage are being ignored by many and embraced by some in the Church. Many of us (not all) have not actively sought out justice for the poor. And, to our shame, many of us lack compassion and have neglected our call to share the gospel with a hurting world. All of the sins mentioned above can be forgiven if we are willing to recognize them as sins, turn from them, and ask for forgiveness. God’s mercy and grace is more powerful than our sin.

Has the hedge of protection been removed from our nation as a result of moral compromise in the Church? It seems so. Judgement for rejecting the grace of God starts with the people of God (1 Peter 4:17.) God has done everything to cultivate his vineyard (the Church.)  God’s wrath against sin came upon Jesus on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to experience it. But, we as New Testament believers can fall under God’s judgement or discipline for refusing his grace, and continuing in sin. I believe God is presently disciplining his Church so that we won’t have to be judge with the world. It’s time that we (starting with me) show our gratitude for the mercy and grace we’ve been given.

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
I set watchmen over you, saying,
    ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’
But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’
Therefore hear, O nations,
    and know, O congregation, what will happen to them.
 Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people,
    the fruit of their devices,
because they have not paid attention to my words;
    and as for my law, they have rejected it. –  (Jeremiah 6:16-19 ESV)

Church Splits And Spiritual Rebellion

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“But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human? 

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. – (1 Corinthians 3:1-9 ESV)

My observation over the last 35 years in the Church is that many believers are held captive to what some call “a cult of personality.” We all have our favorite teachers, movements, and Christian personalities that we identify with and align our theology accordingly. However, the question must be asked: are we (the Church as a whole) guilty of the very destructive issue the Apostle Paul warned us against?

When we follow those who are eloquent of speech, or even charismatic in practice, but have very little biblical understanding, we tend to stray off into doctrinal error. But, on the other hand, we sometimes follow those who have an accurate doctrinal view of Jesus and the Scripture without an ongoing experiential knowledge of God himself. This leads to a cerebral understanding lacking valid religious experiences.

“For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the LORD he hath also rejected thee from being king.” – (1 Samuel 15:23 KJV)

Those that would split a church over disagreements that are not based on unrepentant moral behavior or serious doctrinal error of its leadership are in spiritual rebellion.  I  once heard a preacher say concerning those that cause Church splits and leave to start another Church, “go ahead and and start your own Church and you get to be the head witch.”  There may well be some truth to this statement in light of the Scripture referenced above concerning Saul’s disregard of God’s ways. “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft.” Those that start “new works” because of a lack of patience and long suffering with those in leadership are usually motivated by a need for power, even if they have convinced themselves they’re doing it in the name of sound doctrine.

“…when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world–right up to this moment.” – (1 Corinthians 4:13 NIV)

True leadership, as one respected Christian voice communicates, is spelled “Doormat.” True leaders wash the feet, ‘spiritually speaking’,of their congregations. True leaders never seek their own power or position, they only seek to serve. True Apostles (and they had great spiritual authority) are  referred to as, “the scum of the earth.” Division in the Church exposes the carnal hearts of those who are leading the rebellion against godly authority, thus hurting the cause of Christ in our communities.  This type of rebellion brings shame to the body of Christ as a whole.

Do you “not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” – (1 Corinthians 6:3 ESV)

How will we ever judge angels in the age to come if we can’t even get along  with one another and learn to patiently live together in our congregations now?  If we really believe in the power of prayer we will patiently wait for the leaders and the Pastor to grow and make appropriate decisions and overcome blind spots …why can’t we prayerfully and patiently wait for the head of the Church (Jesus) to bring correction to them?

It’s right and good to humbly confront the Elders in our Churches when we have legitimate issues and disagreements.  While we might disagree on how a New Testament Church is to be lead, why not practice long-suffering, patience, and brotherly love, and give Jesus time to change us all in the process.  This is what the Bible calls, the fruit of the Spirit. But, this can only happen if Jesus is allowed to be the head of his Church which he purchased with his blood. May we all seek and pray for unity in our Churches.

It’s Time: A Prophetic Proclamation

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God is raising up watchmen. Find your place on His wall and proclaim his truth.

 

Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. – ( Luke 10:19 ESV)

It’s time to lay down our fears at the foot of the cross. Fear is a stronghold that rules the lives of many in the western Church. Fear is empowered by “serpents and scorpions.” While we may be ridiculed – most of us in the west are not facing martyrdom for our beliefs, at least not at this time. The days of fearing man and what might happen to us for proclaiming the gospel are over. It’s the Fathers will to give his children the Kingdom. We have been given great power and authority. And, we have been strategically placed in American (or whatever country you are in) to proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom without fear or hesitation.

Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. We have been indwelt with the same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus’ dead body from the grave. He died for our justification, so we have no excuses, we stand justified before God. He gave us power and authority – but  we have been feeding our souls on carnal things and have lost the reality of resurrection living.

It’s time my believing friends – to take back that part of our lives that we have surrendered to the enemy of our souls.

It’s time to rediscover Kingdom living.

It’s time to give ourselves to prayer and total dependency on God.

It’s time to embrace the abundant life that Jesus offers us and to lead others to this life of freedom also.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” – (Luke 12:32 ESV)