Everyday is a Day for Thanksgiving

I’ve been in Tennessee this week attending a conference. The conference itself was full of good material, things that, if used, will make a big difference in my ministry (I hope).

One thing I always look forward to taking home from a conference is books.

I love books. I always have a pile of books on my desk that I’m working through, and then another pile at home by MY chair that I pick up in the evenings, and then there are the countless audiobooks that I listen to while going to bed or making long drives.

I spend a lot of time in books.

So at this conference, I picked up a different kind of book. It’s a journal. Rather than having pages and pages and pages of information to absorb, it has pages and pages and pages of…well…just blank pages.

This particularly journal has guided prompts for my to fill in. It’s sort of a journal for those who don’t know what to journal. I can see the value in that. I’ve journaled for years (in paper journals and electronically) and knowing where to start is has always been the biggest struggle.

This mornings journal section in the “new” journal asked a simple question, that I hope is asked every day…”What are you thankful for right now?”

It’s a beautiful morning in Tennessee. The sun is shining. I’m heading home and I can’t see why all the airplanes wouldn’t be running on time (though I might be disappointed with I get to the airport). Nothing happened back at home that Kristi and the kids couldn’t handle without me (I really don’t know whether or not to be too happy about that since it proves my growing lack of relevance). I’m coming home with a ton of information to work through and apply that will be beneficial to me. I’m looking forward to seeing family next week for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving, the holiday, needs to become Thanksgiving, the everyday occurrence.

Even on our worst days, we need to look for how we can give thanks to God.

I realize this is difficult when struggles mount, when pain is present, and when everything around us disappoints us. I don’t say this because it’s easy to do. I say this because it’s necessary to do.

We can be Thankful, everyday, because even in the darkest of days, we are never left without hope. The problems that surround us can only hold us for a moment. The struggles we currently face may be the secret ingredient to learning to trust more fully in the Lord. Disappointments are opportunities to strengthen our prayer life and also recognize that this world is not our home (Thanks Be To God).

As we approach Thanksgiving Day, let’s keep the 100th Psalms on our minds every day…

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm‬ ‭100:4-5‬ ‭NIV‬‬

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The Race that Makes the Run Worth It

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

‭‭Acts‬ ‭20:24‬ ‭NIV‬‬

I’m not a runner, but I enjoy a race (watching one, not competing in one).

A race is beautifully simple. It has a beginning, it has an end, and the one who gets to the end first is the winner. Pretty simple.

A beautiful thing happens for the contestants in a race: focus.

While in the race, whether for the span of 100 meters, 5 kilometers, or a full marathon, inner distractions go away.

The running of a race is an all-consuming activity. It does not let your mind stray to things that have nothing to do with the race. From the starting gun until the finish line, an athlete is completely given over to the task of running well and perhaps beating his competitors.

Paul knew a few things about races. Perhaps he was an athlete in his day. He speaks of training, and boxing and running.

When Jesus got ahold of Paul, he placed him in a race like he had never experienced before. Paul had to relearn how to run, had to go into strict training to become competent, and had to know where the finish line was.

For Paul, the finish line was “testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” His entire life was given over to that pursuit. He crossed many small finish lines as he witnessed to individuals, families and groups, about the overwhelming grace of God in Christ.

And at the end, looking back over his ministry, he was able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

As he came to the finish line of his earthly race, he could confidently say that his days were spent building a life, and a testimony, that others could look to, and see the effects of a changed heart, a redeemed existence, and the fruit of what becomes of a man who is saved by Christ.

The importance of our time, each day, moment by moment, is magnified as we spend our lives running the race marked out for us. I hope that we can all connect today to that specific calling that God has for us. May everything else, anything that would distract us from being the person Christ saved us to be, vanish from our sight as we commit to focus to complete the race the Lord Jesus has given us.

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A Life Built on the Foundation of Jesus Christ

I get weary of going into bookstores. If you go into a secular bookstore, they nestle the “Religious/Spirituality” section near the “Self Help/Personal Improvement” department.

Christianity isn’t about Self Help or Personal Improvement. It’s quite the opposite. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

One of my favorite Christian writers of the last century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, said, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

I doubt Dietrich or Jesus would be comfortable finding themselves in the Self Improvement aisle at Barnes and Noble.

The Apostles knew that following Jesus wasn’t about getting more stuff in this life, or experiencing more happiness for the here-and-now, or becoming famous among their peers.

Following Jesus, and building a life around his teachings, as well as his death, burial and resurrection, involved losing their lives.

Don’t get me wrong, the Apostles weren’t dark and gloomy. Just the opposite. They were able to face persecution and hardships with grace, strength and peace because they had confidence that Christ was with them, and that he had saved them for something better than this world could offer. But make no mistake about it, their message about Christ included losing your life.

Yes, that’s exactly what God wants for you as well…to LOSE YOUR LIFE.

Your life, built on your selfish values, achieving worldly goals, having a self-centered mindset, isn’t going to get you where God wants to take you.

Jesus says:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭16:24-26‬

Jesus, his life, his teachings, and his promises, are the foundation to our Christian existence. They are the substance of our hope! And this is the substance of what the Apostles taught. This is the subject matter that we should be devoted to. We find life when we give up our lives and accept the life Christ died for us to have.

Anything we do, any plan we make, any ambition we set our life’s course to achieve, if not squared with Christ’s calling on our life, is not worth pursuing.

The Apostles knew that the church, in order to grow strong and straight and true to God’s design, had to extend in perfect alignment with the cornerstone.

“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:19-22‬ ‭

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Devoted to Worship

A few years ago, when Kristi and I were out of town on our sabbatical, we made Sunday worship a priority. We did different things and went different places and experienced worship in a variety of settings.

One Sunday was spent reading Scripture and praying on the top of a mountain.

Another Sunday was spent gathered with all of the other Texans at the campground.

One Sunday, though, was frustrating. The evening before, we decided that we were going to go into town, rather than attend worship at the campground. I’ve always assumed that at 11 AM on a Sunday morning, you can find a church, somewhere in a town, that is conducting a worship service. I was even going to be ambitious enough to leave about 30 minutes early in order to get a good back row seat (I never get to sit in the back and that was one of the joys of worshipping while out of town).

Well, we get in the car, and head straight to a little church that we’ve been to before. As we got close to it, we noticed that we were meeting a LOT of traffic. Somehow, at some point, they had changed their worship time. Instead of meeting at 10, or 10:30, or even 11, they held their worship at 9 AM! As we were trying to pull into the parking lot, the last people to leave the church were pulling out!

We were really intent on worshipping with someone, somewhere. So we drove to the next town about 15 miles away. The cell phone reception isn’t great in that part of Colorado so we couldn’t ask Google for help in locating a church. But I figured, since it was still well before 11 AM that we would find a church just starting their worship, or we might enter a few minutes late, but that was acceptable.

We pulled into the next town, Del Norte, CO, and we could NOT find a church that was open. We were at a loss.

So here’s what we did…

Del Norte doesn’t have much going on, but it does have a brick oven pizza restaurant. I mean it’s a good one. And since it was a little after 11 AM Colorado time, they were open for lunch, and we were hungry. So we pulled in, and got our table and started looking at the menu.

But the best thing about this brick oven pizza joint that morning wasn’t the pizza they were cooking…the best thing going on was that they had WiFi!

Kristi and I got on Facebook, and we worshipped with First Baptist Nederland. As we tuned into the worship service posted on Facebook Live, we felt like we were back home. We were 1000 miles away, but we were, in a sense, together.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25

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A Community Devoted to the Apostles’ Teachings

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…”
Acts 2:42

Think about the things that you find yourself devoted to. I find myself glued to the TV on Saturdays, devoted to my favorite college football teams (whether they are winning this year or not).  

I’m devoted to the school activities my kids are in.  Rare is the occasion they have something going on at school that I’m not there rooting them on.

I’m devoted to grilling great meat on my Big Green Egg. If you’ve followed me on Instagram you’ve seen some of my culinary creations.

Luke, who wrote the books of Acts, describes the early church as DEVOTED.  They were devoted to the Apostles’ teachings.

Can you imagine sitting at the feet of the men who personally sat at the feet of Jesus?

I know I would have had a lot of questions for them. And we can all still learn something from them since a number of them wrote down their accounts of the life of Jesus.

What is true for the early followers of Christ should be true for us.  When it comes to our discipleship, and our eagerness to learn about Jesus, we should be DEVOTED.

There is something powerful at work here:  We become like that which we are devoted to.

As the first believers gave themselves over more and more to the teachings of the Apostles, they began to be able to embody those teaching in their lives.  

Isn’t that where revival starts with us? Revival begins when we give up our ways of doing things and embrace God’s ways.  The first believers were abandoning their old devotions and taking of their new devotions that had to do with the teachings about Christ.

Your and I are part of a Doctrinal Community. The church is a gathering of believers held together around a set of Religious Convictions.  

Convictions are those things which we are absolutely convinced of.  

We are absolutely convinced that there is a God.

We are absolutely convinced that God is knowable.

We are absolutely convinced that God had revealed himself to men and women.

We are absolutely convinced that the Bible, God’s word, is true and authoritative.  

Most importantly, we are absolutely convinced that Jesus is God’s son who was born of a virgin, raised in obscurity, ministered powerfully with signs and wondered attesting that he was the Messiah, who died for our sins and rose on the third day, just as he said he would.

These doctrinal convictions bind us together as the family of God.

The more devoted we are to those convictions that hold us together, the more we will experience the blessings of God, just as they did in the early church.  

What could you decide to do, right now, to increase your devotion to the Apostles’ Teachings?  

Maybe read a chapter of the Bible each day for the rest of this month….

Attend a Bible Study or worship service that you’ve not been to regularly (Wednesday evening and Sunday evening worship opportunities are always a good time to go deeper into God’s word)…  

Pick up a book at the Christian bookstore that will help you apply the Apostles’ writings and Jesus’ teaching to a particular area of your life…

May the Lord lead you to be even more devoted, as the first Christians were, to the teachings of the Apostles’ about our savior Jesus Christ.

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My Expression of Thanksgiving to the North Carolina Baptist Convention

I’ve been on a mission of gratitude this week. I left Nederland Monday morning and flew to North Carolina to attend the North Carolina Baptists annual meeting. Monday evening I had the chance to address the full gathering of messengers and guests with a whole hearted expression of thanksgiving and gratitude for their work among us after Hurricane Harvey.

The theme for their annual meeting was “Who Is My Neighbor”, the question posed to Jesus by a teacher of the law who was seeking to justify himself. This question prompted Jesus to give us one of the best known and loved stories in all of Scripture: The Story of the Good Samaritan.

The point Jesus makes about who our neighbor is has very little to do with who lives near us, and has everything to do with who will we be neighborly to.

Our neighbors from North Carolina came to Texas after Hurricane Harvey, not because we were geographically close to them, they came because they cared.

Our disaster relief folks in Texas do the same thing. They go where people are hurting because they care. There were a lot of conversations this week about TBM equipment and personnel coming to North Carolina after Hurricane Florence this year. Our state conventions have a vibrant and fruitful relationship.

It is extremely difficult to put into words the gratitude that I feel for our neighbors from North Carolina for all they did for us. Here is the text of the message I delivered during their Monday evening gathering:

Hurricane Harvey will long be remembered for its record breaking numbers.  Over the course of 5 days in August of 2017, Hurricane Harvey earned Nederland, TX, the national rainfall record, dumping an unprecedented 64.5 inches of rain upon us a single weather event.  To keep that in perspective, consider that the average annual rainfall for New Orleans, LA is 63.5 inches.

God knew that with that kind of rain, we would need some different kinds of numbers to pull us out of the mess.  God had some numbers in mind, numbers that I keep in my mind as I remember the work of the North Carolina Baptist Men and Women on Mission.  

These are the numbers that I remember best when I think about Hurricane Harvey and your partnership with us…

I remember, and I’m thankful for the North Carolina Baptists’ Manna One feeding unit.  Thank you for sending Manna One to Nederland, Texas. Because you sent Manna One, over 320,000 meals were served to displaced, hurting, and desperate families.  

I’m thankful for the commitment and the sacrifice that hundreds of volunteers from North Carolina made to bring relief and encouragement to Southeast Texas.  Every 5 days a new busload of saints would show up in our parking lot at FBC Nederland, and people who had spent the previous 24 hours on a cramped bus would immediately plug into the labor of getting our community back on its feet.  By the time the last busload left to return to North Carolina, your volunteers had put in 5,163 volunteer days worth of labor.

For the rest of my life, I’m going to remember, and thank God for, the almost $1 million given to 330 households that received a gift from North Carolina to replace furniture, appliances and furnishings lost in the flood.  

Thank you for Praying us through the flood.  Thank you for Generously Giving so that lives could be restored and souls won to the Lord.  Thank you for answering the call of God to “Go” to Texas and help us out in our time of need.

Thank You North Carolina Baptists for being our Neighbor!

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The Secret to Lasting Contentment in Life

The last, and most crucial key for experiencing the kind of contentment that God desires for us is found here with Paul’s words: “I have learned the Secret of being content in any and every situation…”  

What’s the secret to that secret?

Paul goes on to say that being content doesn’t have anything to do with being hungry or being well fell.  It doesn’t matter for Paul whether he is living in Plenty or in Poverty. The secret to contentment is found in the one in whom Paul places all of his trust.  

“I can do ALL THINGS,” Paul says, “through HIM who gives me strength.”

ALL THINGS.  

Paul says ALL THINGS because Christ was Paul’s all consuming passion.  His was a life completely consecrated to the cause of Christ and there wasn’t an ounce of Paul, or a moment of his existence, that wasn’t given over to the work of God.

This verse doesn’t imply that Christ will do for us whatever we want.  By no means. There are things that we desire that offend Christ. We get consumed with petty, worldly ambitions.  We get sidetracked with personal projects. Christ isn’t going to empower us for such things.

But when we are focussed on the work Christ has for us, whether great or small, we find that we have an infinite source of strength to accomplish his will.

Let me show you something really cool here…When we are doing Christ’s work, through Christ’s power, it brings Christ ALL the Glory!  

Paul doesn’t say, “I can do some things through him.” He says ALL THINGS!

The key to being able to do ALL things, is to do ALL things for Christ!

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31

For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Romans 11:36

Let me ask you, What parts of your life are you finding the most dissatisfaction?  Where are you struggling with being the least content? Is it at work? Is it in a relationship? Is it with your health, or through the struggle that someone close to you is going through?  

Do you need to give that part or your life, that area of your existence to God? Say, “Lord, even this I’m going to give to you so that it will bring you glory.  I’m going to give you the pain. I’m going to give you the joy. I’m going to give you the credit. I’m going to give you the glory. I’m going to give you my best. I’m even going to give you my weakness so you can prove your strength and faithfulness”

Your Christianity isn’t encapsulated in your church attendance.  It’s not confined to your devotional time. Your faith seeks to direct the entirety of your life.  

Jesus came to save all of you, not just some of you. The MORE of you that you offer fully to Christ, the more Contentment you are going to experience. 

The only way to say as Paul did, “I can do all things THROUGH Christ who gives me strength” is to do ALL things FOR Christ who gives you strength.

You might be thinking, how in the world do I give Jesus all that is going on in my life?  How do I give him those things that I’m involved in that aren’t under my control? How do I give him those things that I’m ashamed of?  How do I hand over those things to him that I’m trying desperately to hold on to?

Your faith in Christ is a lifelong exercise in practicing absolute trust in God, in spite of your circumstances.

Some of our great hymn writers knew what it meant to rejoice in God, thank God through prayer, and live with great contentment while enduring grave situations.  One such hymn writer is Henry Smith.

Smith gave us that well-known chorus, “Give Thanks.”  In 1978, he returned from seminary to work in his home church as a layperson.  He took on odd jobs to support himself because his career choices were limited by a degenerative eye disease.  He eventually lost his sight, but was nonetheless filled with gratitude for God’s unfailing love. One Sunday that year, when his pastor quoted 2 Corinthians 8:9, Henry decided to write a song about it.  He said, “I remember being extremely thankful.” Now, because a man chose to be thankful for his life rather than bitter for his loss, we can lift our voices in worship and sing, “Let the weak say I am strong, let the poor say I am rich, because of what the Lord has done for us!  Give thanks.

When we trust Christ absolutely, there is absolutely nothing that he can’t get us through.

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Borrowing On Our Future Glory

“May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”
‭‭2 Thessalonians‬ ‭2:16-17‬

God’s Promises are Good, both for the here-after as well as the here-and-now!

Reflecting on what is to come gives us hope enough for today.

There is something to be said here about borrowing from the future to make it through today.  

The tough seasons we pass through require a little more of us than we are able to bear.

That’s when we come to a greater appreciation that this world, and what we experience right now, is not all that God has in store for us!  Praise be to God!!!

We are made for Heaven!  We aren’t there yet, but like Paul, we press on toward the goal for which Christ called us heavenward!  

  • What are you pressing through today?  
  • What are you needing from the future to overcome your current trials?
  • How can you access what God has promised in order to benefit in this moment?

Good In, Good Out

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
Philippians‬ ‭4:8‬

The kind of diet that we are going to have on Thanksgiving Day…. If you ate all of those delicacies and desserts every day, it would kill you!  

But we do have a spiritual diet that God offers us that will keep the system running properly, provide health and vitality to all parts of your life, and help you to mature as a Christian and be able to arrive at the CONTENTMENT that God desires for you.

Paul tells us to Think about what is True, Noble, Right, Pure, Lovely, Admirable, Excellent and Praiseworthy.   

Look at the headlines from this morning’s paper or news program. The media knows that it can capture our attention by publishing alarming things.  Bad news sells more papers than good news. It triggers a reaction within us that gets us stirred up.  

Paul is not saying, nor am I, that we ignore bad news.  

We can’t avoid it and we certainly need to deal with what we can.  But the point here is this:

Dwelling on the bad news that you can’t do anything about does not lead to the kind of contentment that God desires for you.  

It does not lead to the kind of life that expresses great gratitude and thanksgiving. If we only focus on the dark and tragic things that are going on, we will become depressed and defeated.  We need to turn our attention to the good things that God is doing, has done, and has promised to do for us.

To a degree, you become a product of your environment.  What do you have on your walls in your house or in your office?

 If you come into my office, you’ll see a lot of pictures and mementos.  You will see portraits of family, reminders of successes and awards, diplomas, some excellent Christian artwork.  I have these in my office to remind me about the most important things in life. I surround myself with them because when I think about each of these, I am reminded about what is substantial in life, what really matters.  

Remember this principle: Good in, Good out.

Paul tells us to really focus on these Excellent and Praiseworthy things.  Our version this morning said, “Think About Such Things.” Another version says, “Let Your Mind Dwell On These Things.”  

Good in, good out.

Do you make time to dwell on the good things of God in your day?  The more anxious you are, the MORE important it is that you spend some time dwelling on things that are Excellent and Praiseworthy.  

The news is going to fill your head with enough Bad News to get you down. You need to make sure that you are consuming enough Good News to pick you up.

This isn’t some kind of mystical positivity lesson.  This is about getting our minds off of the garbage that originates down here, and taking stock of the treasure we have from heaven.  

Another way that this word we’ve translated “To Think On” is used in the New Testament is “To Account For.”  When you stop what you’re doing, when you cease worrying, and account for and take stock of all the Excellent and Praiseworthy things that are present in your life, it will pull you up out of whatever pit you might find yourself in.  

When you fill your mind, your heart and your imagination with the Excellent and Praiseworthy things God has placed in your life, you’ll find greater contentment.  You’ll find the kind of contentment that leads to greater satisfaction and gratitude toward God.

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Worry Wears Us Out

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”
Philippians‬ ‭4:6‬

In order to arrive at the contentment that God desires for us, we have to go through our lives and clean out the garbage.

Worries get to the point to where they start to stink.  We need to go through each part of our lives and see what lingering worries have us down.  We need to see what can be swept out with the trash and what can be given to God in trust and thanksgiving.

It’s important here that Paul says to offer our worries to God with Thanksgiving.  It’s OK to thank God for what he is going to do.

The worry we suffer under is usually about things that are not in our control.  We need to learn to give even that to God. We give him the burdens of our heart in such a way that it increases our trust in him; in such a way that it grows our faith in him; in such a way that we can move on without that weight upon our heart.

Jesus reminds us about how senseless worry is.  He tells us to look around and consider the lilies of the field and the birds in the air.  God makes the lilies beautiful and provides food to the birds. He asks us if any of us by worrying can add even a single hour to our life?  

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Matthew 6:31-33

The secret here, from Jesus’ words, seems to have something to do with the KINGDOM.  

We get overwhelmed with worry as we continue to look at the main project of our lives as one of advancing and building OUR KINGDOM.  

We want things to go OUR WAY.

We want OUR WILL to be done, certainly in our lives, but even in the lives of others. But that’s often not the case.  

We get worked up over how to control things, and people.

Paul had an affliction. He described it as a “Thorn In His Flesh.” We don’t know specifically what it was, but we know it bothered him.  We can imagine that it was something painful for him. We are sympathetic with his struggle because it’s part of the common struggles that we all endure.  

Paul testifies that he prayed over and over again for relief, but God sent no relief. What God did for Paul was even better than taking the Thorn away. God showed Paul that his Grace was Sufficient.  God showed Paul that the struggle he was going through was purposeful.

Paul came to the realization, “It’s not up to me.”  

Paul was weak, and God was strong.

The weaker Paul realized he was, the mightier he realized God was.

Paul came to the point of contentment and satisfaction in his work with God when he realized that the success of the work was not up to him.

Isn’t that a liberating thought?  It’s not up to me.

Practice saying that: It’s Not Up To Me!

God says to us, “Don’t wear yourself out on this. I’ve got this.”

There are so many things that we worry about, worry that wears us out.

Paul teaches us to give our worries to God, and with thanksgiving, learn to place our trust in him so as to express gratitude for how he will continue to work all things out according to his good purposes.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Romans‬ ‭8:28‬ ‭