The Harvest

Let yesterday’s pain fall to the ground and die and ask the Lord of the Harvest, Jesus Christ, to grow it into something beautiful.

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I used to love watching the harvest happening on upper  Blue Creek in Montana where we ranched. Our wheat farming neighbors, whose land bordered ours, would have the custom cutters come and harvest their wheat. They would get eight or ten combines lined up in a field, kind of staggered so they weren’t running into each other, and just start knocking down the grain. They could make short work of very large fields.

It was really cool at night when they were all lit up surrounded by a back-lit halo of grain dust as they ate up a field of golden grain and shot it into the trucks coming alongside to carry the grain directly to market or to the grain bins for later sale.

When they were all done there would be a big party and everyone in the area was invited to the Blue Creek Harvest Party. All up and down the creek—the wheat was harvested, the straw was baled, the hay was put up. The cows were bred and the calves were fat. Weaning and shipping will soon start— but first we celebrate. Life is hard but life is good—if you make it so and recognize it.

Invading another neighbor’s yard, we would all wait in eager anticipation as we visited and watched the kids play games while the smells of the roasting pig in the giant homemade BBQ was turning on the spit and making us all voraciously hungry. Usually about the time the one tending the pig was just about three sheets to the wind— tending a pig roaster on a hot late summer evening is thirsty work—the pig would be ready for the carving table.

Oh man, that was good stuff. A fitting celebration for a good harvest. A good harvest is literally the difference between life and death, if there is no harvest there is famine. Walmart and Albertsons do not manufacture food, a farmer has to plow and sow, the rain has to fall and the sun has to shine and then the reaper has to reap and the trucker has to truck. All that assuming the grasshoppers, hail storms, weeds, worms or winds, did not get your crop first.

But right off the bat, the first thing that has to happen and what we don’t really think about is, a seed has to die. There is sacrifice. A seed, literally the grain that could feed us is put into the ground, buried and left to rot, that seed becomes something else, it turns into a plant that yields many more seeds—fruit that produces many times more than the single grain or seed that was sacrificed.

“The hour has come that the Son of Man should be glorified. 24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.  John 12

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Let go

Sometimes for new life to start, for a new start or a bigger dream to come to reality, we have to let go of something else. Jesus had to let go of his glory in heaven, to become a man, trading his incorruptible eternal nature for the corruptible fragile flesh of a man. And then he had to lay down the life he had as that man, risking it all with no guarantees that his mission would succeed, that he would be able to resist the temptations of the flesh and the enemy, and wind up in the same boat we were in, sinful and spiritually dead.

And in the end, when he did succeed in resisting the seductions of this world, he had to resist the temptation to flee the cross—the agony and heartache to come.

But he was willing to be that seed that would perish in the lonesomeness and shame of bearing the mockery, slanders and death that would befall him. But he would spring forth with new life, a life so much grander and imperishable, a life that was so powerful that it could be shared with us, those who recognize that the branch of David is now bearing fruit—and we are it.

To be that fruit, and to bear fruit in our own lives, we too have to be willing to lay down our lives. To give something up, to give up the crown of our own little kingdoms of me, to trust the King of Glory with our lives, with our hearts, with our past, present and future.

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Can you do that? Give up your past? The things that taunt you. threaten you from back there, give you nightmares and wrinkles? The things that give you excuses to behave in ways today that you know are wrong? The things that make you afraid to move into your future? “I might get hurt again. I am not worthy, I am not strong enough, I am too angry and confused, frustrated and bitter, and it’s not my fault!”

No, maybe not, but it’s not your burden to bear either, not if you are listening to the one calling you, the one who knows what it’s like to be betrayed and hurt, forgotten and scorned—who even knows the pain of death. He bore that pain so that he could take yours, give him your yesterdays and trust him for your tomorrows—starting with your today. If we let go of yesterday’s pain, we can let go of the excuses and be freed from those things we try to excuse.

Forgiveness, give it, receive it, live it. Put those seeds of hurt into the ground to die and let the rain and sun deal with them and see what the Lord of the harvest grows up in their place.

35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body. 1 Cor 15

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Let yesterdays pain fall to the ground and die and ask the Lord of the Harvest, Jesus Christ, to grow it into something beautiful.

—As you are beautiful.

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Life from Death

Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain. 25 He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 

John 12

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Bear with me as I get a little Dr. Sues’ish here

The Seed Poem

The solitary seed is a lonely seed, a lonely seed indeed. But when it falls and dies alone a better life we’ll see. That dying seed there in the ground, now moistened by the dew, will bring forth life, will grow a plant, to nourish me and you.

So take that seed down off the shelf, don’t ferret it away, throw it out in to the wind, and let it have its day. A little sun a little rain, a little time will tell, if the seed will produce a fruit, or just lies there where it fell.

Your heart has heard, your heart has seen, the worst there is to be, but trust the one who brings forth life, and a harvest you will glean. Just like the seed, you’ll feel alone but trust the falling rain, to bring forth life, to bring forth hope, to grow you from the pain.

What seemed like death, what felt like done, was victory being won. And now the seed is not alone, but growing in the sun.

Whatever you are facing today, trust the one who brings life from death and lay it down. Tomorrow the sun will rise on a new beginning.

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Jesus saw his own mission as being that of a seed, a single lonely life given up to produce many, many more–the dead seed by the dead sea bringing life to the world, at least to those who, like him, were willing to lay down the temporal for the eternal.

A single acorn has the potential to produce a forest of unsurpassed beauty, if it is allowed to fall to the ground and be no more. What do you need to lay down today?

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Happy Thanksgiving my friends!

Find your freedom in Christ

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The Offensive Blog

Casting no shadow

 

I have known and worked with a lot of Christians over the years, you’ve known them, they wear the shirts with the Christian messages, make sure everyone knows that they have to leave early because they have to get to bible study, show you pictures of their last mission trip with the big church, hand out tracts to people they deem sinners and just generally have an air of superiority and . . . everyone avoids them like the plague.

None of these things are inherently bad, unless they are accompanied by attitude of religiosity not backed by their character. Often they are known for their lack of integrity for various reasons that everyone who has been annoyed by them does not hesitate to list off.th.jpg

It took me some time in my early days of walking with the Lord to learn not to let my mouth overwhelm my discernment because I wanted to get all my coworkers saved today. I had to learn not to be a plague carrier, and to be a light. It’s a lot simpler then you might think.

I don’t preach to, or make snide comments to people whose behavior I don’t agree with and I don’t act like I’m better than anyone else. I just do my job as best I can and try to be respectful and pleasant to everyone I work with. And I pray for opportunities to share my faith—and they come. They come because people are drawn to the light.

“No one, when he has lit a lamp, puts it in a secret place or under a basket, but on a lampstand, that those who come in may see the light. Luke 11:33

Care

A few weeks ago one of the many people who work for the construction company I do showed up in my job trailer just as I was finishing lunch. He asked if I had a few minutes to talk, I said ‘a few.’ He said he was having a bad day, he’d been in an argument with the boss, he was nursing a sore knee, and was just generally feeling frustrated and unappreciated.

He said, “I was just sitting up on the Rims (the cliffs overlooking Billings) eating lunch in my truck wondering why I shouldn’t just quit, and I looked down towards this area and thought; ‘Dan is right down there, I need to go talk to him.’”  I said, “Well I don’t know if I’ll have any answers for you but I’ll certainly give you my honest opinion.” He said “I know you will, you always do. You are about the only one in this company that I feel like I can talk to—why is that?”

I said the first thing that popped into my head; “Because I’m the only one who takes the take the time to care?” He said “that’s exactly it. You care.”

We then had a conversation that took more than a few minutes, and I had plenty other things to do but this was important, he was important, and his position in the company is important so I didn’t feel like I was wasting company time—something I am always mindful of, they aren’t paying me to preach, my church does that.

I got to give him some good godly advice, to encourage him, hear him out and even give him some scripture—he knows I’m a believer and that if he comes to me he’s going to get scripture—because I know he’s receptive to it. He didn’t quit and the Lord continues to work on his heart.

Far from avoiding me, ‘that Jesus freak’, he sought me out. Why? Simply because I care about him and he knows it. That’s what it takes to make a difference in this world, in a life. That’s what Jesus did. He came to be a light to the world. My distraught coworker looked down from the rims and saw a light and was drawn from it.

I don’t shine it in peoples’ eyes so that they have to turn away, but I don’t cover it either, it’s just always there, at least I do my best to keep it there, and visible.

That’s what Jesus is asking us to do, that’s what he’s talking about here to this pharisee, ‘you’re worried about ritual hand washing when you are full of greed and wickedness inside? You’re a fool!’

Jesus warns us; don’t get dark. We all have a choice, to be darkness, or light. Otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have warned us against the darkness within:

34 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are healthy, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are unhealthy, your body also is full of darkness. 35 See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness. Luke 11

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Our responses to life happening around us makes that determination. Respond to life with joy, respond to people with patience, respond to challenges with praise, respond to stress with faith—and the darkness will have to flee.

It’s who we choose to obey, the flesh or the Holy Spirit. It is the fruits of the Spirit we bear, that determines whether we will be dark or light.  The Pharisees didn’t care about people. They only cared about how they looked, and they made themselves look better by knocking other people down. Jesus came to lift us up, to help us up, and he asks us to do the same.

That is the difference between light and darkness, the difference between being in the world but not of it and in the world and of it— darkness doesn’t care, the world doesn’t care, the world’s notion of caring is twisted beyond reason. I could think of a hundred examples, every one of which with the potential to get me in trouble in a world that is nothing like the one I grew up in, a world where we’re not allowed to have different viewpoints anymore, and everyone is offended, so I am just going to quote a line from a song I heard in the 80’s.

You save the whale you save the seal, you save whatever’s cute and squeals, but you kill that thing that’s in the womb, would not want no baby boom. Good, bad, laugh and scorn blame yourself for kiddy porn, expedience is the law you keep and your compassion’s ankle deep.” —Steve Taylor, circa 1980’s

Things haven’t changed a bit, except to get darker.

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To the present prevailing darkness, people are just in the way. And there is a growing school of thought that the world would be better off without us.

Yet those who are adamant about it are still here. . . taking up space where a wolf could be stalking a buffalo calf and stressing over carbon footprints whilst drinking expensive coffee grown on a tree where a rain forest was cleared. ‘You people are all in the way and I am virtuous because I have realized it, I am important, I matter because I don’t use a straw in my latte.’

We matter

Okay, so much for not getting in trouble.  But I’m making the point that all those who we may disagree with, who may have very different priorities then you, are just wanting to make a difference also—desperately.  Even those who want to rid the world of others, want to matter.

They just, like all of us, struggle to see that we all matter, that what is important is not controlling others to make ourselves feel important, it’s controlling ourselves to make others feel important. Step out of your self-righteous darkness, and listen to people. Then they will feel important, and then you will be important.

In the world’s economy people don’t matter, in God’s economy people matter and yes God trusts us to care for this planet, but we also need to remember that he created it as our home, that we are the ones he died for, and we have a responsibility to care for our home but most importantly, to care for each other, the operative word there being care. To care being to love.

We are commanded to love people, even those we disagree with—the tree hugging bunny fluffers, the white shirted flyer pushing bicycle riders, the manicured and immaculately quaffed business people, the wild eyed Pentecostal zealot, the sourpuss dogmatic fundamentalist—the dirty rotten sinner and the squeaky clean Pharisee.

We have to stop being too busy to care for people. When we are rushing through this life paying little heed to the people around us because we are in  hurry—even if we are in a hurry to get to our church sanctioned functions— we are hiding our light under that proverbial bushel basket. You have the light of the world, take it to the world.

And don’t worry so much about offending people, if people know you love them, love covers a lot of offenses—just be Jesus to people—love them.

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No Turning Back

“…we all need something to keep us from kicking the cat once in a while— don’t we?”

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In my early days of following the Lord, when I finally decided to get serious about it—to trust the Lord with my life and my heart and not just for my salvation—I thought about this saying of Jesus a lot:  “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

I believe the Lord had put it on my heart to encourage me to stay the course, to keep my eyes focused on him because at that time in the early days of my recovery, I was tempted often to reminisce about the days of no holds barred, party hardy and cure tomorrows hangover with the next nights party, guilt free ‘aren’t I the popular one’ lifestyle of altered consciousness.

It was indeed a miracle that set me free in a moment’s time from a years long life of substance abuse—pretty much any substance would do me for a while there, but weed and whisky were my fall back favorites—but even after the Lord set my heart on fire for him and surrounded me with his sustaining love, I still was not convinced I could stay free for the long term. It was a process of changing my way of thinking and letting my heart convince my head that I would never allow myself to be lured back into the embraces of Mary Jane, Jose, Jack or Johnny. If you don’t know who any of those are, God Bless you!

So I initially set one month as my goal—drug and alcohol free for one month—and that was blown after only one week I when I gave in to a buddy who came over and convinced me to smoke a bowl or two with him. I was sitting in my living room minding my own business, my newly rediscovered bible sitting on the coffee table where my bong used to sit, when a friend came over, asked me about the Bible and wondered where my bong was—“I’ve got some good stuff here.”

“I don’t do that anymore, I’ve found something better—the Holy Spirit has filled me with everything I need.” “Well, that’s great. But what happens when you have a really bad day? You still need something to mellow you out once in a while don’t you? I mean, we all need something to keep us from kicking the cat once in a while— don’t we?”

That is literally what he said, and yes that was all it took to convince me to get stoned. I mean, I really didn’t like cats and I was tasked at the time with taking care of my roommates cat while he worked out of town.

The devil is a crafty one and the flesh is ridiculously weak.

So, since I didn’t produce the bong he was hoping to use, he pulled a pipe from his pocket, filled it up, lit it and handed it to me and I, probably from force of habit more than anything, took it and smoked that smoke. I got good and stoned, laughed with him for a while, then he left and I found myself alone—I mean really alone. I had never felt so alone. The presence of God that had been on me like a warm pair of flannel pajamas on a cold winter night for the past week—was gone.

I was stoned and the Spirit was quenched. So I vowed right then and there that I was not going to get stoned for a month if the Lord would only come back—I did not want to be alone.

You might be saying “A month? big deal.” But I took a vow to the Lord very seriously and I did not want to take a chance of being damned because of a broken vow to the Lord if my foolish and weak flesh could not resist more than a month—I mean I had already blown it after just one week. And, after having been stoned literally every day for five years—5 out of only 23—a month seemed like a very long time.

And I suspected that if I could go that long, I would be able to keep going on, weed free and Spirit filled, without the fear of a broken vow tempting the enemy to keep poking me with stupid cat analogies. It’s no wonder I don’t like cats. By the way, the Lord’s presence did embrace me once again and gave me the strength to keep, my vow, and then some. And the cat died just to spite me, and no I did not kick it.

I have been free from substance addictions for 30 years now.

No Looking Back

And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”

No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:61—62

The enemy is always looking for an opportune time to drag us back, even if it’s only in our minds. Just don’t go there.

Jesus is making with his response here I believe. telling those listening—’there is nothing back there worth going back for, pining for, or clinging to, if it means not answering my call to follow. . . now.’

Jesus calls us when he wants us to follow. It is not a preemptive call; ‘Get ready, I’ll be back in a year to lead you on.’ Or, ‘Go out and party hardy, make a bucket of money, eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow the work starts. Jesus knew that this particular gentleman’s final farewell was an excuse to postpone his call, a longing to cling to, or go back to, what he had, and it would probably have delayed him longer and longer until it was too late. His own heart disqualified him before he even started. Sad.

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Keep your eyes on the prize, no turning back. You have not missed anything that is worth more than the prize at the end of the road—not by a long shot. St. Paul would come to the same conclusion and said as much often.

…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Phil 3:13, 14

Forget those things back there, those technicolor remakes of black and white memories that our brains keep replaying in our heads.

Only the lies of the enemy make the parties we missed look attractive—“Oh the fun I could have had if I wasn’t a follower of Christ trying to live righteously” 

Ever thought that? ‘If I only knew now what I didn’t know then, the fun I could have had.’ Or more like; ‘If only I didn’t know then what I knew, I could have had a lot of guilt free fun and memories to cherish in my righteous doldrums today.’

Only a dog returns to it’s vomit—I know that’s gross but that’s the way the scriptures describe a fool returning to his sin after being delivered.  ‘Hmmm. It was good the first time, I sure miss it, hey there it is, let’s. . .’—I’ll stop there.

22 But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

You were made for so much better.

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Check out my latest release; Barbarians in the Kingdom

The Work of my Hands

Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers. 3 John 1:2

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Midnight Sparky

Do you believe that the Lord cares about your life and will intervene on your behalf to prosper the work of your hands and give you success in your endeavors? I believe he will—so long as we acknowledge his help and recognize that we must praise him regardless of whether we feel we had a good day or not.

It was 2005. I was in my fourth year of serving as the children’s pastor at Hope Center and in my third decade of working construction. I was doing some remodel work at the United Methodist church in downtown Billings. Because the church had a day care center that was open all day and the work we were doing was noisy and messy we were working nights—never fun, but whatever it takes to get the job done and done right.

Part of the job involved putting in an elevator for handicap access to the lower level. To do this we had to cut a hole in the concrete floor of the basement to create a pit for the Hydraulics that would run the elevator. I had a concrete cutting contractor come in a saw the floor, and in the midst of the cutting there was a loud pop, a puff of smoke and sudden darkness.

We immediately knew what happened, we had cut through a conduit under the floor cutting the power to many of the basement lights. Luckily it threw the breaker right away and no one got hurt—no one but the power feed anyway. We plugged in some temporary lights and finished the job, pulled the concrete from the hole and sent the cutting contractor on his way.

So then, I’ll never forget this, it’s about one o’clock in the morning and I’m standing there looking at the severed conduit in the bottom of my hole thinking, ‘now what am I going to do?’ Even if I could fix this myself I cannot get the stuff to do it, it’s the middle of the night and everything is closed and all the electricians I know are no doubt home in bed.’

It wouldn’t matter so much except that the basement was where all the rooms were that they used for the day care and the dozens of kids would start arriving bright and early—to a dark basement. So while I’m standing there pondering this, and halfway praying at the same time, more an expression of exasperation: “Lord, now what do I do? I need a sparky!” Suddenly someone walks into the room and says, “Hey Dan, how ya doing?” It’s Jamie, a sparky!—an electrician I know from previous jobs whom I know is also a believer. I looked at him shocked and said, “What are you doing here?”

He said, “I’m doing some night work in the bank across the alley and I recognized your truck so I snuck in the back door to say hi.”  I said, “Boy am I glad to see you! I have a little problem here.” I pointed down to the severed conduit and said, “Do you have time to fix this for me?” “Sure, it’ll just take a few minutes, let me run out to my truck and grab some stuff.”

Problem solved. There was no doubt in my mind that God sent Jamie there at just the right time to take care of my problem, not just that, but to remind me that he is always looking out for me, and that he indeed hears my prayer every day before I go to work that he “bless the work of my hands.”

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I could tell you many stories just like that, and I could also tell you stories about the times things have gone south because I got cocky and started thinking my efforts prospered because I was awesome, I’m not awesome but I have a God who is and that is much better in the long run, and the short for that matter.

Fast forward to this week.

I had my mind blown this week, what started as a seriously stressful week with all that’s going on in my job and ministry, God showed up.

Wednesday I got a call from the owner of the company I work for—Jim. He asked if I could come to the office after work, he needed to talk to me about something.

I said ‘okay, I’ll swing by on my way home.’ It sounded way too serious so I was suddenly real nervous racking my brain, “What did I do wrong? Or, maybe he wants me to do a funeral or something for someone in his family, uugh, no fun.”

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So a couple hours later I jump in my old work truck and head to the office. I pull in the yard and walk into the shop, just as I’m about to pull open the door to the office area the door opens and there’s Jim, the big boss. He says, “I saw you coming. Come with me and he motions me to the back door.” My heart starts racing and I’m thinking, “Oh no, it’s so serious he wants to make sure no one else hears.”

We walk out the back door to where his big fancy truck is parked and he abruptly says, “get in.” So we’re going for a ride. Now I’m thinking, okay, he has some nasty welding job he wants me to look at, just what I need on top of the big job I’m trying to ride herd on now. We start heading west on East Laurel road and just before we get to King Avenue he says, “I suppose you’re wondering where we’re going?” —Uh, yeah.

He says, “I don’t know if we tell you often enough how much we appreciate you and all the hard work you do for this company. We consider you one of the big dogs. You always get your jobs done and done well and everyone wants to work with Dan.

I said, “Wow, thanks but to tell you the truth that kind of adds to my stress, that’s a lot to live up to. But I also have to tell you that I cannot take the credit, the Lord just blesses the work of my hands, I pray that every day, and I just show up and do the best I can.”

He says, That’s what we love about you.” He then reaches into the cup holder in his console and hands me a fancy electronic key fob and says’ “Here’s the key to your new truck.” My jaw dropped and I stammered something or other, we then pull into the local Ford dealer and he says “There it is. If you push that button right there is will start remotely.”

I push the buttons and all the lights flash and it starts. We walk to the truck and he tells me to get in and starts to run through all the bells and whistles, it pretty much has them all. It’s a 2019 F250 with an extended cab, four wheel drive of course, back up camera, an activated Sirius radio with Bluetooth hook ups, and myriad other things I am still trying to wrap my brain around–I mean, my old work truck didn’t even have power windows and locks, let alone rear window defrosters and power side mirrors–It’s just big and bad and beautiful.  He says ‘Drive it home and show Donna and tomorrow we’ll take it in and get it outfitted with a grill guard, tool box, floor mats and, the company logo.’

I don’t own it but as long as I work for them, I can drive it like I do.

I tell him, “I don’t even know what to say. I have never had a new vehicle in my life.” As I’m driving home in shock I think to look at the odometer and it has 12 miles on it and I am overwhelmed. “Thank you Jesus!” You have indeed blessed the work of my hands and caused me to prosper.

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And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Gen 39

I continued to pray: “Let me never forget that the primary reason I am here, that my work is being blessed, is because I am yours and you are mine and my primary mission is to be a light for you in all I do and say. Thank you that my diligence is a reflection of you and your character.”

Barbarians in the Kingdom by Dan Swaningson