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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

For years, I was baffled about why we have two political parties (in addition to a few smaller ones) that can’t seem to agree on anything. It seems like in congressional vote after congressional vote, the majority of people in the Republican Party vote one way and the majority of people in the Democratic Party vote the other. In Presidential elections, the majority of people who claim to be Republican vote Republican and the majority of people who claim to be Democrat vote Democrat.

I often wondered what would happen if we were somehow able to split this country in two by separating out the Democrats into one country and the Republicans into the other. Would our disagreements be extinguished? Would the people in each country actually be able to live at peace with one another?

Then I began to recognize that the divisiveness of this country isn’t merely drawn on political party lines; our divisiveness runs a whole lot deeper than that. We are divided over race, gender, social class, and athletic teams, just to name a few of the prominent ones. Could we apply my plan to separate people out further and further until we reach a point at which every little subgrouping could live at peace with one another? For example, let say we took all the Caucasian, male, upper class, Buckeye, Republicans and put them in a country together. Would they be able to live at peace with one another? They’d have so much in common; how could they possibly be divided?

You and me and everyone else I know would love to live in a world where we could cut the divisiveness and live at peace with one another. But is peace attainable? And if it is, how do we get there?

What Would a Peaceful World Look Like?

Here’s my vision of what a peaceful world would look like. It’s a world where there aren’t any wars; a world where there’s no crime; a world where there’s no threat of terrorism. We could go about our days without fear that someone is trying to hurt or even kill us.

It’s a world where diverse people get along with one another. The diversity of people on this planet is a great asset to humanity. It would be a place where no one person or group of people are valued more than others based upon one of their characteristics or merits, but a place where everyone’s characteristics and merits are valued equally.

It’s a world where the thought of competing against one another to see who’s the best doesn’t even cross our minds; it’s a world where decisions are reached by consensus; it’s a world where the love we all have for one another outshines both our differences and our insistence on getting our own way.

What’s your vision of a peaceful world? Would you add or subtract anything from mine?

On the whole, we probably all have pretty similar visions of what a peaceful world would look like. So why haven’t we attained it? Why haven’t we reached a point where we are all living at peace with one another?

Can We Attain Peace?

As many of you reading this article know, my go-to authority for dealing with life is the Bible. I have yet to find a life struggle I’m facing that isn’t addressed in the Bible in some way. If you’d like a challenge, I encourage you to come up with a life topic that’s not somehow addressed in the Bible and then send it my way. I’m more than willing to take you up on the challenge.

Let’s take a look at the Bible to see what we can find in there relating to peace and division.

According to Paul, the writer of Galatians, one of the fruits of the Spirit is peace and one of the fruits of the flesh is division.[1] What does he mean by fruit? A common metaphor used throughout the Bible when referring to people is that they are plants. All healthy plants bear fruit. An apple tree bears apples while a pear tree bears pears. You wouldn’t expect an apple tree to bear pears or a pear tree to bear apples. In the same way, the biblical writers claim that people who are truly disciples of Jesus will bear a certain kind of fruit, the fruit of the Spirit, while people who aren’t disciples of Jesus will bear a different kind of fruit, the fruit of the flesh.

According to the Bible, when God first created human beings, they were made as trees which bore fruit of the Spirit. But when they sinned against God, their trees were transformed into trees which only bore fruit of the flesh. The bad seeds were passed along to their children and their children’s children and so on.

After “the fall,” it didn’t take humans long to begin creating divisions amongst themselves. In the second generation of humans, when there were only a small handful of people on the earth, one of them was a farmer and another was a shepherd. The farmer got angry because his brother, the shepherd, seemed to have more favor with God than him. So he rose up against his brother and killed him.

Humanity has a long history dating all the way back to the first humans to walk on the face of the earth of divisiveness amongst one another rather than peace. Certainly there have been times throughout history when peace was attained to some degree or another amongst large groups of people, but it only lasted as long as these groups had a common enemy, an enemy with whom they were not at peace. At no time in history has the entire world been able to experience peace, even for a second.

Is world-wide peace attainable? Only if the fruit of the flesh and its passions are completely destroyed and replaced with the fruit of the Spirit. As long as there is sin and sinners on the earth, we’re going to experience divisions.

How about amongst the small groupings of people I once proposed putting together that had so much in common? Would they be able to experience peace, even amongst themselves? I don’t think so. I think they’d find something over which to divide themselves.

To be super blunt, I have absolutely no hope in humans to attain peace amongst ourselves. We’d have to rid ourselves of all pride and egotism to make it happen. Good luck with that one!

But I still hold out hope for both seeing and experiencing the type of peace I envision.

Where Can Peace Be Found?

How could I possibly have hope for seeing and experiencing peace if I’ve concluded that world-wide peace is unattainable? Great question! I’m glad you asked.

If peace is a fruit of the Spirit, then a place full of the Spirit and devoid of the flesh would be a place where peace is attainable. Is there such a place? Yes, there is: heaven, the place where God dwells. I hold out hope for finding peace with God.

But that’s not the end of the story. I also believe that since the Holy Spirit is in the process of transforming our hearts, I can find peace with some people while I’m here on the earth. This peace will not be found in community with people who share a common enemy, but will be found in community with people who share a common hope: a hope in Jesus. It’s here that our love for one another, a love which comes from God, will be so powerful that it outshines all the little things over which we could be divided. It’s here where we will get a chance to catch a glimpse of the everlasting peace we will one day experience when we are finally able to be with God for the rest of eternity.

[1] For Paul’s lists of the fruit of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit, see Galatians 5:19-23.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Who Are the Poor, Needy, and Oppressed?

Whether you’re a Bible-reading person or not, most of us have heard reference to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Jesus told this parable because someone asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” Although an initial glance at this question may lead us to believe it was a stupid question, I think it was actually a very intelligent question. When someone uses a word in vague terms, such as in this case when we were commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, it can be extremely helpful to clarify the intended definition of the word. In response, Jesus told a story to provide the man with his definition of a neighbor.

In the Gospels, Jesus spoke quite a bit about poor, needy, and oppressed people and the role he’s called us to play in serving them. At the onset of Jesus’s ministry, he stated:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.[1]

Jesus obviously believed he was commissioned to serve poor, needy, and oppressed people. And he called his disciples to do the same. In Matthew 25, Jesus said:

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we [do all these things]?” And the King will answer them, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”[2]

It’s intriguing, though, that no one asked Jesus to define these terms for us. No one followed up by asking the question, “Who are the poor, needy, and oppressed?”

Who Is My Neighbor?

If you’re familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan, do you remember the definition Jesus gave for the word “neighbor?” Was it the same definition you had of a neighbor? If you’re unfamiliar with this story, I’ll briefly share it using modern-day terms.

Let’s say you’re an avid Ohio State Buckeye fan and you’re traveling north on SR23 through Ann Arbor. As you’re going through Ann Arbor, your car breaks down along the side of the road. You pick up your cell phone to call a tow-truck, but as you try to turn it on, you realize the battery is dead. So you have no choice but to try to flag down someone to help you.

About fifteen minutes later, as you’re looking off into the distance, you see an Ohio State bus coming down the road. What are the chances of that, especially in Ann Arbor? As fellow Buckeyes, surely they’d stop to help you. But the bus driver doesn’t skip a beat and continues driving the bus right on by you. About a half hour later, you see a tow-truck with Ohio license plates coming your way. Wow! Could this really be happening? So you wave your arms in the air trying to get the tow-truck driver’s attention. But just like the bus driver, he doesn’t skip a beat and continues driving right on by.

Now you’re getting pretty discouraged. The drivers of two most-promising vehicles didn’t even pause for a moment to try to help you. Overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness and paralysis, you open your car door, sit down in the seat, and put your head in your hands. A couple minutes later, you hear someone call out, “Hey, you need some help?” As you turn around, you see a rough-looking guy wearing a navy blue hoodie with a big yellow M on it standing behind your vehicle. Behind him is a beat up, rusty vehicle from the 90s which you can only assume belongs to him. Having no other choices at this point, you agree to let him help you. He calls for a tow-truck and has your vehicle towed to the nearest mechanic shop. But he’s not finished yet; he then proceeds to pay the entire repair bill for you, even after you insist that you can cover it.

In this story, which of the three people acted most like your neighbor? The Ohio State Buckeye bus driver, the Ohio license-plated-tow-truck driver, or the avid Michigan fan? I know, it hurts to say it doesn’t it? The Michigander proved to be your neighbor, even though you live in different states and cheer for archrival sports teams.

Was this the definition you were expecting? When I picture my neighbors, the first people that pop in my head are the ones who live next door and across the street from me. But that’s not the way Jesus defined neighbors. He opened up the definition to be inclusive of anyone, even of Samaritans and Michigan Wolverine fans.

If someone would’ve asked Jesus to define “poor, needy, and oppressed,” how do you think he would’ve defined it? Do you think he would’ve defined it the way we define it, or do you think he would’ve defined it differently? Although no one actually asked Jesus this question, I will take a look at a passage of the Bible which points to the definition I believe Jesus used when he discussed serving the poor, needy, and oppressed.

Who Are the Poor, Needy, and Oppressed?

When we think of poor, needy, or oppressed people, we typically think of homeless people, people in Africa with no food or water, or people who are being trafficked as slaves. Certainly these people are poor, needy, and/or oppressed. There’s no doubt about that. But if Jesus was to answer this question, I think he’d approach the question from a different angle than we approach it.

A couple years ago, a group of my friends formed a team for a day-long service project in Findlay called Backyard Mission Trip. Throughout the day, we worked on projects for two different local homeowners. The first homeowner was an elderly widow who lived by herself and struggled to get around. The second homeowner was also an elderly widow, but she was much more mobile and had two of her grandkids living with her. While recapping the day, one of my friends said he really liked helping the first homeowner because it seemed like she really needed the help. But he didn’t like helping the second homeowner because it seemed like she really didn’t need the help, not to mention that her two grandkids sat there all day watching TV while we did all the work.

A few months later, I was chatting with a friend about volunteering at Habitat for Humanity and he proceeded to tell me about an experience he had with Habitat during college. He said he was volunteering his time one Saturday to help build a Habitat home in his college town when the homeowner drove up in a really nice vehicle, much nicer than the vehicle my friend owned. You can imagine how my friend felt; he had volunteered because he wanted to help people less fortunate than him, not people who had it better than him.

I share these stories to demonstrate a common mentality we, as Americans, have towards helping poor, needy, and oppressed people. None of us want to be thought of as poor, needy, or oppressed since that’s not the American sign of success, but we’re willing to help poor, needy, and oppressed people by giving a little of our money, time, and energy to help them. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to serve people, but doesn’t our attitude convey quite a bit of arrogance? We’re basically saying, “I want to help you but I won’t allow you to help me.” We’ll give our money or volunteer our time if we think it’s being used to feed homeless people, but we won’t offer to help our neighbors across the street, our friends, or our families. This isn’t the way Jesus approached people at all.

Jesus approached everyone with loving compassion, regardless of their apparent needs. He approached the rich young ruler the same way he approached people in desperate situations: he had compassion on them. He recognized that they were “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.”[3]

His final message to the church came in the book of Revelation. At the beginning of the book, Jesus delivered individualized messages to the church in seven different cities. One such message was delivered to the church in Laodicia which is located in modern-day Turkey. At the time of this writing, the city of Laodicea was the wealthiest in the region and was known for its banking, wool, and medicine industries. In an outward sense, the people appeared to be very well off. As he said, “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing...”[4] Does that statement sound familiar? It sounds like something Americans would say. We thrive on the ideal of achieving wealth and autonomy, reaching a point where we are completely self-sufficient and don’t need anything from anyone.

Meanwhile, here’s how Jesus finished his sentence: “not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”[5] How could Jesus say that about them? They weren’t poor; all of their basic needs were met. They weren’t blind; they could all see clearly with their eyes. They weren’t naked; they were all well-clothed. They weren’t terrible people; they were probably all pretty good citizens. Jesus wasn’t claiming that they were physically wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked; he was claiming that they were spiritually wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Physically they had it all together, but spiritually, they were bankrupt.

Based on this knowledge, how do you think Jesus would respond if someone was to pose our question to him today, “Who are the poor, needy, and oppressed?” Do you think he would define these people as the physically poor, needy, and oppressed? I don’t think so. I think he’d define these people as those who are spiritually poor, needy, and oppressed.

How Does This Definition Impact Us?

Understanding what the biblical writers meant when they talked about poor, needy, and oppressed people has completely changed the way I approach life. First, as an average American who sought to achieve great success in life, I spent many years striving to become completely self-sufficient. I never believed I was poor, needy, or oppressed. Yet, God has shown me that I fit all of those categories. I was (and still am to some degree) spiritually poor, spiritually needy, and spiritually oppressed. I was spiritually dead, but God has raised me to life in Jesus. I was spiritually oppressed by the devil, but God has set me free from it and continues to set me more and more free every day. And I am still spiritually needy in that I need God’s love, grace, and strength to make it through every day of my life. I hoped I would never have to say this and now here I am saying it: I’m a needy person.

Second, to one degree or another, everyone is spiritually poor, needy, and oppressed. Recognizing my own condition allows me to feel love and compassion for all the people around me. I no longer discriminate against serving certain people based upon whether I think they fit into my man-made categories, but choose to serve people every single day regardless of their physical condition.

Before reading this article, what was the definition you thought Jesus had of poor, needy, and oppressed people? Now that you’ve read this article, have your thoughts on it changed? Or do you think my claim is way off base? How does this definition of poor, needy, and oppressed people impact you and the way you live?

[1] Luke 4:18-19.
[2] Matthew 25:34-40.
[3] Matthew 9:36.
[4] Revelation 3:17a.
[5] Revelation 3:17b.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Most Satisfying New Year’s Resolution

A few months ago, I connected my blog to the Blog Lovin’ App. Of course, they asked for my email address, so being dumb, I gave it to them. You know how the drill goes…now my inbox gets filled with emails from Blog Lovin’. I guess some people may like getting emails, newsletters, and sales ads from every website they’ve ever visited, but personally, I do not. All those emails do nothing but clutter my inbox. Most of the time I simply hit the delete button, but when I saw the Blog Lovin’ Digest this morning, I decided to quickly browse the article titles to see what other people were writing about this week. Here’s a list of the nine trending articles from the weekly Digest:

  • Your To-Do List to Make 2018 Your Healthiest Year Ever
  • 5 Great New Years Resolutions to Make in 2018
  • Be More Proactive about Your Health in 7 Easy Steps
  • Choosing a Word to Define and Guide Your Year
  • Do This for 30 Minutes a Day for Better Sleep
  • How to Plan the Perfect Week
  • 7 Fitness Resolutions that are Better than Losing Weight
  • This Is How the World’s Most Successful People Get It All Done
  • The 8 Best Podcasts to Motivate Your Work Week

Do any of these articles sound like they’d be worth your time to read? Apparently other people thought so because they are the ones featured in the email blast that went out to thousands of people around the world.

What Can We Learn from the Titles of These Articles?

When I step back from the trees and look at the forest, I notice a pattern to these articles. If these are the articles lots of people are reading, then lots of people have some level of desire to make changes to their lives, whether it be eating healthier, working out more, or being more successful at work.

Why would people want to make changes to their lives? If something isn’t broken, then there’s no reason to fix it. This is generally how people live. But since so many people are reading these articles, which are focused on fixing something, I have to conclude that they must think something in their life is broken. To say it another way, they must feel dissatisfied, unfulfilled, or unhappy with something. Maybe they’re dissatisfied with their weight. Maybe they’re dissatisfied with their jobs. Maybe they’re dissatisfied with their marriages. Whatever it may be, it seems like lots of people who subscribe to Blog Lovin’ are at least investigating what types of changes they might be able to make in their lives that would allow them to experience a greater level of satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness.

If we were able to apply all the things in these articles, then we’d all be a bunch of healthy, good looking, corporately successful people with flawless marriages and perfect children. But none of us are there, even after following the 3 easy steps for this, 5 easy steps for that, and 7 easy steps for the other year after year.

I think some of you reading this article have spent years reading every article you can find on a specific self-help topic and have tried to implement everything the writers suggest, yet you feel like failures because you can’t seem to generate the results they’ve promised.

For clarification, I don’t think there’s any ill-intent on the part of the writers nor do I believe the writers are clueless about these topics. Most of them truly believe that the seven steps they recommend are the keys that gave them their success, so they’re doing nothing more than trying to help others achieve the same results.

But when we try to implement the same seven steps, we either struggle to stay motivated or after implementing them for a while, we can’t seem to generate the same results. What’s wrong with us? Why do other people seem to have the power to change their lives while ours still seems to be chaotic messes?

Why did Suzie, who’s before and after picture you saw on a dieting commercial, lose 50 pounds on a certain diet, but you couldn’t even lose 5 pounds on the same diet? Why did Bob, who’s before and after picture you saw on a body-building commercial, gain a six-pack and monster pecs, but you only saw slight personal muscle growth when you followed the same steps? Why does the CEO of your company have a hot wife, straight-A kids, and live in a mansion, but you and your wife seem to fight all the time, your kids struggle to make the honor roll, and you live in an antiquated house that requires a lot of work? Why don’t you experience the same success as everyone else?

Creating change in your life is much more complex than you may realize; there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. Most of it is much more outside of your control than you realize. Not to mention that when you watch commercials or read the stuff other people are writing about, you’re being shown the best success stories. How many other people tried the same stuff and turned out just like you? Lots more than you probably realize.

Creating the changes we want to see in our lives is hard work. It takes a lot of money, time, and energy. Actually, it takes more of these three resources than any of us have available. In the end, we can’t make all the changes we want to make, which naturally means we need to prioritize these changes. Which one is most important? And how are you measuring your success? Why not throw the bulk of your resources towards that one thing until you reach your desired level of success?

Can Anything Satisfy Us?

This is certainly a way to help yourself achieve your goals. You may read something similar in other articles about learning how to successfully achieve your New Year’s Resolution. But I don’t want to merely provide you with something you can get somewhere else. I want to challenge you to dive deeper into this topic to find something you may not find somewhere else.

Why do so many people want their lives to change? I claimed earlier in this article that I believe it’s because they are dissatisfied, unfulfilled, or unhappy in some area of their lives. And they think that if they make these changes, they will be more satisfied, fulfilled, and happier. Will they really find it?

Have you ever achieved your New Year’s Resolution? Did it make you happier? Personally, I have had the experience of achieving a few New Year’s Resolutions. When I achieved them, I felt happier for a little while, but then that happiness wore off. Has that happened to you? It doesn’t necessarily have to be with a New Year’s Resolution; maybe it was with another goal you achieved. Maybe you had a goal of graduating from college, saving a certain amount of money, or getting married. Maybe making a change brought you some additional happiness for a little while, but that happiness eventually wore off.

Based on my life experiences, it seems natural that anything which brings us some level of satisfaction, fulfillment, or happiness eventually wears off. For example, when we eat a meal, we are satisfied for a little while, but a few hours later, we’re hungry again.

Most people just accept that this is the way life works and jump from one fleeting pleasure to another. But I’ve never been one to accept the status quo. I have a dream where I and everyone else can be filled up once and for all; it’s a state where we never have to go back again for more because we will be completely satisfied, fulfilled, and happy.

I certainly haven’t experienced everything there is to experience in life. So it’s a very good thing that multitudes of other people who have had more experiences than me have taken the time to write down some of their thoughts on their experiences. Wouldn’t you know it…none of us, not me and not anyone else who I read, have been able to find anything on this earth that is able to fulfill my dream. Not a single one. I’ll give you an example of one of these writers.

King Solomon, a king over the nation of ancient Israel, who is revered as one of the wealthiest and happiest kings of all time, wasn’t even able to find the silver bullet. He had 700 wives, 300 concubines, more kids than I can count, so much gold that silver was basically worthless, and exceptional wisdom, yet he recognized that he was still not completely satisfied. See an excerpt of what he once wrote:

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.[1]

Solomon spent his life chasing after all sorts of stuff in an attempt to find the ever-elusive complete satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness he desired. After having achieved everything he wanted, he stepped back to do some reflecting. And in the end, he concluded that it was all worthless. Even though he had everything he wanted, he still wasn’t completely satisfied, fulfilled, or happy. Of course he was probably satisfied to some degree, fulfilled to some degree, and happy to some degree, but not like he had hoped. Not like the dream he had been holding onto all his life.

Do you have this same dream? If you don’t, did you have it at one point in time? Did you dream of reaching a state in which you would be completely satisfied, fulfilled, and happy? Based on my research, it seems all of us have had this dream at one point in time, but more many people, their experiences told them that it was impossible to achieve this goal. So many people abandoned their dream and began to settle for fleeting pleasure after fleeting pleasure, hoping to find some level of happiness in the midst of them.

Why haven’t I given up my dream? Is it because I’m a glutton for punishment? No. It’s because I still believe it’s achievable; I believe I will one day reach a state, whether it’s in this life or the next, where I will be completely satisfied, fulfilled, and happy. Am I going to find it in eating healthier, exercising more, or succeeding in my career? No. Am I going to find it in having a better marriage, living in a bigger house, or having more accolades than anyone in history? No. Am I going to find it in stockpiling more money, driving a nice car, or having better sex? No. I’m not going to find it in any of the fleeting pleasures of life. Trust me. Generations of people who have come before us have already told us that it can’t be found in those places. Why do I need to experience the same disappointments all over again?

So where can it be found? What is it that gives me hope for reaching a state where I am completely satisfied, fulfilled, and happy? Check out these claims from two different people:
In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever more.[2]

Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.[3]

The first quote is a claim made by a guy named David who lived about 3,000 years ago. The “your” he was speaking of was God. He claimed that complete satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness could be found in God’s presence. It’s ironic that his son was the same Solomon I quoted earlier who tried to find pleasures in all sorts of other places. Maybe he wasn’t so wise after all.

The second quote was made by Jesus, a man who is believed to be God (and there is substantial evidence to support his claim). Therefore, God claimed to be able to satisfy us with “living water” so that we would never be dissatisfied, unfulfilled, and unhappy again. If God exists and if he is telling the truth (both of which seem very probable based on the research that has gone into these two subjects), then I have every reason to have hope that my dream will come to fruition. And if you still have that dream, you can have that hope too.

So there’s my addition to the list of trending articles on the Blog Lovin’ digest related to making changes in your life. If you’re tired of trying to find satisfaction by following the 3 steps to eating healthier, 5 steps to making your body sexier, and 7 steps to having a more successful career, consider taking the 1 most difficult step you’ll ever take to pursue God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. I can’t guarantee much of anything in life, but if everything God says about himself is true, then I can guarantee you this: If you pursue God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you will not be disappointed with the results.[4]

I hope you’re having a great New Year and I look forward to sharing with you again next week! Feel free to reply to this article in the social media feed. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

[1] Ecclesiastes 2:9-11.
[2] Psalms 16:11.
[3] John 4:13-14.
[4] “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:13.