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The Sloth May Be Very Busy

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In 1941, Dorothy Sayers wrote of “Sloth”:

[I]t is one of the favourite tricks of this Sin to dissemble itself under cover of a whiffling activity of body.  We think that if we are busily rushing about and doing things, we cannot be suffering from Sloth.  And besides, violent activity seems to offer an escape from the horrors of Sloth.  So the other sins hasten to provide a cloak for Sloth: Gluttony offers a whirl of dancing, dining, sports, and dashing very fast from place to place to gape at beauty-spots; which when we get to them, we defile with vulgarity and waste.  Covetousness rakes us out of bed at an early hour, in order that we may put pep and hustle into our business: Envy sets us to gossip and scandal, to writing cantankerous letters to the papers, and to the unearthing of secrets and the scavenging of dustbins; Wrath provides (very ingeniously) the argument that the only fitting activity in a world so full of evildoers and evil demons is to curse loudly and incessantly “Whatever brute and blackguard made the world”; while Lust provides that round of dreary promiscuity that passes for bodily vigour.  But these are all disguises for the empty heart and the empty brain and the empty soul of Acedia (i.e., Sloth). 

Some Christian brothers and I have been reading and discussing Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller. When I read this Sayers quote in the book, it went through me like a shot. I had never considered sloth and laziness in this way, particularly my own sloth. Yet I think Sayers is correct. Like other sins, sloth is not always, and likely not typically, identifiable by the observance of outward actions. While there are many who “sit around and do nothing,” there are also many who run around at breakneck speed, doing only that which “disguises the empty heart and empty brain.” I know from my own experience exactly what she means. My inward sloth is masked, or “cloaked” by other sins. To wit, I may not truly want to work and think hard, I may want simply to look better than my co-workers.

Sayers goes on, more pointedly:

Let us take particular notice of the empty brain. Here Sloth is in a conspiracy with Envy to prevent people from thinking.  Sloth persuades us that stupidity is not our sin, but our misfortune: while Envy at the same time persuades us that intelligence is despicable—a dusty, highbrow, and commercially useless thing. 

The “conspiracy . . . to prevent people from thinking” is legion on our college campuses, in our primary public education system, and in our political and cultural discourse (if one may call it that). We Evangelicals suffer from a good bit of it as well. Yet we in the Church may suffer even more painfully from the view that “intelligence is despicable.” Dusty and highbrow, yes, but even more, we consider it unspiritual. arrogant, and perhaps even a “quenching of the Spirit.” If Sayers is right, there is more sloth beneath our failure to think hard and well than we had supposed.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

November 21, 2015 at 8:23 am

What Is It About Digital Addictions that Make Us Think the Occasional Break Will Suffice?

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So asks Cal Newport, the blogger at Study Hacks. I love Newport, and particularly his book: So Good They Can’t Ignore You. In a post entitled, “Digital Sabbaticals Don’t Make Sense,” Newport observes,

“[F]or most any other behavior that lures you in with positive attributes, but then takes over your life and drives you to exhaustion, our standard response is that you need to radically and permanently reduce or eliminate that behavior. The same could and should apply to the world of the digital.”

My experience confirms Newport’s observation. I have gone on a few “internet fasts” in the past, and they are nice while I’m on them, but once I go off them, I’m back to feasting on blogs just as I did before. So I agree with Newport that if one is concerned about his or her internet usage, one needs a radical and permanent change in internet behavior.

I know I spend too much time reading blogs. It’s like a compulsion when I have free moments (and sometimes when I don’t). But how do I change my behavior? Simply decide to? Not without Christ’s help and a good dose of intentionality. I must intend, with God’s help, to repent of my disobedience to God’s command to “redeem the time.” And I must be intentional about creating and following through on a plan or strategy for radically and permanently altering my internet behavior.

I don’t want to rash about some alteration and then simply fail, but I don’t want to make excuses either. As with all things, I want any change to be based on the power of God’s grace and not simply on some “laws” I set up for myself. My affection for blogs must be replaced by a superior affection for other things. So I think instead of telling myself how I will “give up” the internet, I ought to think about what I’d like to pursue in its place, and then focus on that pursuit.

Those are my initial thoughts. I may write more as I implement a plan and find some success with it.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

September 12, 2015 at 8:30 pm

A Brief Response to Rod Dreher on the Kim Davis Case: Updated

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Rod Dreher wrote a blog post entitled, The Complicated Kim Davis Case. It’s worth reading. I typically love whatever Dreher writes, and usually find myself in substantial agreement with him. I agree with much of what he says here, but I’ve reprinted almost all of his post so that I can respond to it point-by-point. His words are in italics below.

I have some questions for both sides in the case of Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses because licensing same-sex couples would violate her religious beliefs. For the record, I agree with the moral and religious stance Davis, a registered Democrat, is taking, but believe that as an officer of the state charged with upholding the law, she ought to resign her position if she cannot fulfill her duties.

As I said in a previous post, I’m not entirely convinced Davis ought to resign. It seems to me there are other options. First, it is my understanding that it’s possible for the state to put someone else’s name on the marriage licenses besides Kim Davis’ name. Christians who work for the government ought not be put in the stark position of having to violate their conscience or quit their jobs when there may be other accommodations possible. But let’s assume that’s not possible, or wouldn’t satisfy Davis. I think it is preferable for Davis to make the state remove her. Make them enforce their own lawless edicts, as Douglas Wilson says.

But the case is more complicated than partisans on both sides seem to think. Here are a few questions it raises.

1. Let’s say it’s 2005. Davis is the county clerk in a liberal northern California enclave, and a devout Unitarian Universalist who believes it is unjust to deny marriage to same-sex couples. She says her office will refuse to issue marriage licenses for anybody until the state recognizes the right of gays to marriage, and she claims religious liberty protections. Is she right?

I don’t believe she’s right, but I think I would take the same view. She should be removed from the situation, either having her name removed so that others can perform the required duty, or removed from her job by the state of California or a judge.

2. Let’s say the US Supreme Court rules in favor of the religious liberty rights of a conservative Christian plaintiff, and orders a local government office to cease its discrimination. The officer refuses, saying to obey the court would violate her religious freedom. Is she right?

Same answer, essentially.

3. Let’s stipulate that just because something is legal does not make it morally right, and let’s further stipulate that for religious believers, God’s law is more important than man’s law. (This is why I think Davis should resign rather than obey what she considers to be a seriously immoral law.) What would happen to law and order if all government officials — not private individuals, but government officials — reserved to themselves the right to obey the law in the discharge of their duties only insofar as the law was consonant with their religious beliefs? For example, many sincere Christians believe that immigration restriction is immoral. What if officials in the Southwest began refusing to enforce federal immigration law, citing religious liberty?

If Dreher’s advice were followed, we’d have more government officials resigning their jobs, and frankly, I don’t see a problem with that. I have to believe there are more than enough Americans who would be quite willing to do the state’s bidding in whatever the state is currently enforcing. Law and order is not destroyed because a small number, and I think it would be a small number, of people refuse to discharge their job duties on religious conscience grounds. Plus, to use Dreher’s example, we have whole cities refusing to enforce federal immigration law, and apparently a good many Americans don’t have a problem with it nor see it as a threat to law and order (although that doesn’t mean they’re right).

4. I understand the temptation to point to Davis’s four marriages and laugh at her apparent hypocrisy. “Look, the big Christian is a hypocrite!” etc. But how many people realize that her religious conversion was fairly recent, about four years ago?

Dreher said more on this point, but I’m not addressing it here. Suffice it to say, I agree that pointing to Davis’ three marriages before she was a Christian is ridiculous, and further, has nothing to do with the issue at hand. It is merely a way for the priests of the religion of secularism to prop up and defend their false god.

5. Do Christians who think every advance of the secular, pro-gay state must be vigorously resisted not worry about how this approach could hurt us in the long term? I’m thinking about Doug Wilson, who writes, in part:

First, whenever we get to that elusive and ever-receding “hill to die on,” we will discover, upon our arrival there, that it only looked like a hill to die on from a distance. Up close, when the possible dying is also up close, it kind of looks like every other hill. All of a sudden it looks like a hill to stay alive on, covered over with topsoil that looks suspiciously like common ground.

So it turns out that surrendering hills is not the best way to train for defending the most important ones. Retreat is habit-forming.

He’s objecting to my statement that Christians are going to have to fight some tough battles ahead, and that Davis has chosen the wrong hill to die on. Here’s why he feels so strongly about supporting Davis:

The point here is not just private conscience. The right to liberty of conscience is at play with florists, bakers, and so on. But Kim Davis is not just keeping herself from sinning, she is preventing Rowan County from sinning. That is part of her job.

Every Christian elected official should be determining, within the scope of their duties, which lines they will not allow the state to cross. When they come to that line, they should refuse to cross it because “this is against the law of God.” They should do this as part of their official responsibilities. This is part of their job. It is one of the things they swear to do when they take office.

It’s very difficult to see what actions today will “hurt us in the long run.” I can see that bowing to the state’s lawlessness and immorality will also hurt us in the long run. I would argue that the advance of the secular, pro-gay state must indeed be resisted at all times. It’s in high rebellion against God. The question is: How must it be resisted? Preaching the gospel is an act of resistance in itself. That is part of the nature of the gospel. Further, the gospel has many applications which will constitute resistance to the secular state. If we don’t die on this hill, as Dreher suggests, what hills should we die on? And what’s Dreher’s criteria for determining which hills are which?

DUENES UPDATE: Dreher has since written:

So, if Kim Davis isn’t a hill to die on, what is? It’s a fair question. Broadly speaking, my answer is this: when they start trying to tell us how to run our own religious institutions — churches, schools, hospitals, and the like — and trying to close them or otherwise destroy them for refusing to accept LGBT ideology. This is a bright red line — and it’s a fight in which we might yet win  meaningful victories, given the strong precedents in constitutional jurisprudence.

I’ll briefly say this in response: (1) It seems to me there are already attempts being made to tell us how to run our own religious institutions because our institutions still have some virility left in them; and (2) Dreher’s argument here, in my view, marginalizes the church to an unacceptable degree. It contributes to the distinction already being made wherein “secularism” and its attendant scientism is viewed as “reality” and “fact based” and so forth, and religion is viewed as “your opinion” or “like a hobby, that is, nice for you, but of no consequence to anything important in life.” I think the secular culture would be happy to let us run our own institutions once they are sufficiently neutered so as not to require them to give us any thought. Once we reach that level of irrelevancy, the battle’s over. There’s no hill any longer, so to speak. No one needs to try and close the local Unitarian Universalist church because it is of no consequence. It’s not worth expending any energy over. The same would become true or our Christian institutions. I think Dreher is drawing the noose around Christianity’s neck too tightly.

So Christians have to protect the democratic state against itself? Besides, if the Christian official is a strictly traditionalist Roman Catholic who believes in Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors, which, if he followed Doug Wilson’s advice, would put Calvinists like Doug Wilson in a very bad position vis-à-vis the state. I suppose Wilson might deny that the traditionalist Catholic is actually a Christian, but that being the case, good luck trying to convince the rest of the country that it ought to be ruled only by the standards of Calvinists.

Wilson’s point is an interesting one. I would hope that the Average Joe Christian government worker would see it as his or her duty to keep the state from sinning, insofar as possible. In other words, if I work for the government and have influence in a particular policy arena where I believe the government is sinning, I would want to advocate for a non-sinful policy. If my daily duties allow me to carry out the government’s program in a way that’s non-sinful, when a sinful way is also possible, I should opt for the former. I doubt Dreher is saying that all Christians in government should just go along with every vice of the democratic state because we have no duty to “protect the democratic state against itself.” But I see the difficulty he raises, particularly with the Catholic/Protestant divide. Which theological position should we be protecting the state from? A thorny matter indeed.

Wilson says that he wants massive disobedience of the law by Christian state officials regarding enforcing same-sex marriage laws, and in turn for the state to have to fire those officials:

Some might ask what the good in that would be. Wouldn’t it just result in no Christians in such positions? Perhaps, but it would be far better to have godless results enforced by the godless than to insist that the godly do it for them. It would be far better to have the “no Christians in power results” when it was actually the case that no Christians were in power. I would rather have non-Christian clerks acting like non-Christian clerks than to have Christian clerks do it for them. I mean, right?

Don’t tell believers to stay engaged so that they can make a difference, and then, when they start making a difference, tell them that this is not a hill to die on.

I might be wrong, but Wilson seems to be of the opinion that obstreperousness is next to godliness. He is advocating here that Christian officials, in the words Robert Bolt gave to Sir Thomas More, “cut a great road through the law to get to the devil”:

What would Christians do when the law protects their liberty, but Social Justice Warriors in local government refuse to obey the law, citing a higher law?

I don’t know that Wilson is advocating “obstreperousness.” He is not saying that one ought to be “noisy” about his resistance, or “difficult to control.” That said, it looks to me like a lot of the Civil Rights resisters in the 1960s fit the definition of “obstreperous,” and we don’t have a problem with that.

But leaving that aside, isn’t Dreher’s hypothetical already a reality? Don’t we now, right this minute, have a Constitution and many lesser statutes which protect Christian liberty and a bunch of social justice warriors in the government who refuse to obey these laws? The only difference is, these leftists shamefully cite their own adherence to the Constitution as though they weren’t mangling and misapplying it.

I’ll say it again: if Davis, a state official, believes that obeying man’s law is contrary to God’s law, she should resign. To live by the principle that Christians in government are not obliged to obey the law in the discharge of their official duties is a very dangerous one to take for Christians. Traditionalist, orthodox Christians are a minority in this country, and are going to become ever more despised. The day is coming when the only protection many of us can rely on is the law, and the willingness of government officers to obey the law, even though they hate us. 

So I have a question for Dreher on this one: Once Christians reach this greater state of contempt and detestableness in our nation – towards which we are currently advancing – which laws does he imagine we will be able to rely on for our protection? Does he imagine the social justice warriors will be enacting and enforcing principled laws that protect Christians? As I said, the laws are already breaking against us. See for example, here.

The Constitution is being interpreted by the likes of our Supreme Court justices in a way that it hostile to biblical Christianity. Who are the secularists who are going to somehow find within their secularism objective principles of justice, righteousness and fairness so that they might consistently uphold these laws in favor of Christians? Government officials have already shown themselves quite unwilling to obey the law. Where were the government officials to uphold Prop 8 in California? What about the government officials who are dying to uphold the RFRA laws? This is my biggest problem with what Dreher is saying here. He assumes that once the secular, pro-gay state has gained sufficient power, it will hold itself under some higher authority by which it must “obey the law” in favor of Christians, “even though they hate us.” I think we’re already seeing that many officials who “hate us” are quite willing to use the law as a cudgel with which to bludgeon us. After all, does any Christian really think that fining a couple of Christian bakers $130,000 for refusing to make a cake for a gay wedding is “protecting” Christians? I don’t see Dreher’s scenario playing out.

And so, my final question:

6. Is the principle that the More of Bolt’s play powerfully elucidates really something we can afford to take lightly?

I haven’t seen Bolt’s play, so I can’t answer, but I’m guessing I’ve addressed it above.

UPDATE: I ought to have said that yes, there are other considerations in play when a Christian is, say, an official of the Nazi state. I believe it would be heroic if the Christian used her position to undermine the state. Wilson brings up the Nazi example, and also cannibalism. I do not think it is helpful to clear, prudent thinking about the proper relationship of Christian government officials to the law to invoke the most extreme possible examples. We are not living under Nazi totalitarianism. Jews are not being shipped to ovens on the orders of the government. To behave as if the stakes were really that high in the case of gay marriage in the USA is to seriously distort things. I believe Obergefell was an unrighteous decision, one that is going to have serious and deleterious long-term consequences. It’s not the Nuremberg Laws.

I find Dreher’s thought here problematic because it puts the Nazi example out of bounds in any kind of argumentation. The same thing happens when people appeal to the Soviet Union. We’re constantly being told that the example of Nazism or the Soviet Union doesn’t apply because, well, these regimes were so bad that they are beyond the pale of making any fair comparisons. But I object to this strongly. There are reasons these regimes came about. There were historical decisions and actions that led up to them. They did not just magically appear on the human scene. Wilson invoked Nazism because these days, the “extreme example” is about the only way for one to get his point across in these matters.

Of course, we are not living under Nazi totalitarianism, but my question is: At what point, short of sending people to ovens again, are we justified in invoking the Nazi example? And how does one assess when we’ve reached the critical points? I understand that Dreher did not mean to address this question in his blog post, but he raises it like it’s self-evident. At what point, under what cultural conditions, will the “stakes be really that high?” Dreher’s post provides no inkling of an answer, and the questions I’m posing here really are important ones.

Further, Wilson was not invoking Nazism to demonstrate that the gay marriage issue is the same as Nazism. That was not his point. He was simply analogizing for clarity’s sake. No fair-minded person thinks Obergefell is tantamount to the Nuremburg Laws, but must we wait until we have Nuremburg Laws, or something just short of them, to decide upon a course of serious resistance?

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

September 6, 2015 at 6:36 am

The Butchers of ISIS and You Face the Exact Same Fate After Death . . . Deal With That!

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I haven’t written anything in more than two months, for various reasons, but I felt compelled to say something while I have a free moment today.

ISIS continues to rape innocent girls and women (and likely men and boys) brutally and mercilessly, while beheading others, making war, committing mass murder, recruiting people to their regime and leaving tens of thousands in squalor and poverty. The “leadership” of North Korea continues to run a prison police state, oppressing and impoverishing millions, denying its citizens even basic human goods, summarily executing people who have committed no crimes, and threatening war against non-aggressor nations. China’s dictators still ruthlessly suppress, beat, maim, and imprison Christians and other religious people. They also continue their “one child policy,” which, in practical terms, means they condemn millions upon millions of mostly unborn girls to death, and deny millions of men future wives, creating a demographic catastrophe. The citizens of the United States, legally mind you, continue to carry out a systematic genocide against black Americans in particular and all Americans in general, having killed over 50 million of their own citizens in the name of “choice” and “sexual freedom.” Our hands are stained with the blood of unborn generations.

And these are but a few, a very few, of the regimes and nations around the world who, at this moment, engage in large-scale and routine execution, oppression, racist discrimination, imprisonment, rape, warfare and impoverishment of human beings, not to mention the well-known historical examples of such actions. Doubtless you could think of many others and their practical actions without too much effort.

Cursory attention to the world around us also brings to mind people who would cut open babies’ faces in order to extract their brains for trade, people who would do all in their power to explain this away, who bully and belittle gay people for fun, who rape and murder others for drugs, turf, car stereos, respect, shoes, out of jealousy or because they simply don’t like the look of them. It includes people who beat their wives and girlfriends and molest their children as a matter of course, who subscribe to websites so they can find others with whom to commit adultery (ruining whole families), who embezzle others’ honestly-earned money, who discriminate against others simply because of how they look, who steal others’ property for political gain, who knowingly slander others to the ruin of their reputations and careers, who utterly neglect their children or spouses for personal gain, who accept bribes and kickbacks, who defraud others (e.g., Enron) to the destruction of their innocent employees’ careers and life savings, who kidnap children to hold for ransom, who vent their anger toward others or simply undermine them in subtle ways . . . and the list could go on at length.

But why mention all this, when we mostly – at least where I live – get to ignore it? Charles Darwin and his progeny tell us that we human beings are simply physical creatures who happen to be here by random chance and mutation, with no purpose or meaning, and with no life after death. We are born by accident, die, and turn into manure. And this is the official teaching of our government and public schools and the culturally dominant narrative and worldview in the western world about reality.

But what does it mean, if it’s true? It means at least what John Lennon says it means: “No hell below us, above us only sky. ” It means there is no justice in front of anyone involved in the parade of horribles listed above, a parade which uncovers only a very small fraction of the grave injustices we do to each others, large and small, each day.

But do any significant number of people live as if this is true, as if the grizzly ghouls of ISIS who intentionally and quite happily rape, dismember and slaughter innocent others with an arrogant and high hand, should pay nothing for their actions, and at their death, should come to merely the same end as everyone else, by virtue of the fact that their raping and killing was merely a matter of what their accidentally mutated genes programmed them to do?

I couldn’t help pondering today, as I tried to think in a somewhat unsentimental way about the real world around me, filled with wickedness, pain and death, that the Darwinian narrative must be false, simply on these grounds alone, whatever else it might have to commend it.

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

August 29, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Dependent Upon Dependency

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Kevin Williamson is a journalist whose writing I have really come to enjoy. He’s a roving reporter for National Review and writes on a variety of topics with insight and wit. He has penned a little tract called The Dependency Agenda where he discusses Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs and their outworking. At one point he writes:

Under the Great Society and its later permutations, [the poor] became dependent upon a professional class whose highly paid members were themselves dependent upon the dependency of their clients. Dependency became a valuable commodity. At the apex of the dependency food chain are the highest ranking members of a political machine ultimately dependent upon dependency and highly invested in its spread.

I do not think there is something sinister in this truth. I work for the government, and I like having a job. I don’t know that I reflect on how I might perpetuate my own job, likely because I don’t see public utilities drying up anytime soon. But most people are probably interested in the spread of things that will give them job security. Certainly the teachers union is a self-interested bunch, highly committed to preserving the administrative bureaucratic jobs within the public school edifice. Yet Williamson is pointing out the crucial conflict of interest that exists for those whose work is ostensibly meant to help the poor become self-sufficient, but who also know that if they were to actually achieve their goal, it would jeopardize the existence of their work. It’s like certain U.S. farmers. They might like to see poor African nations become self-sustaining agriculturally, but if that ever happened, it would jeopardize the existence of the food aid programs that help prosper those  same U.S. farmers. Thus, how committed will those farmers be to achieving the goal of African self-sustenance? The illustration could be multiplied in other areas as well.

Technology comes to us in various mediums (i.e., audio, visual, musical, type, digital, video, etc), and these mediums are not neutral. The medium itself imposes certain intellectual, emotional and physical adaptations upon us. As Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium IS the message.” Thus, it not only matters WHAT we watch on TV, but THAT we watch TV at all. The medium of TV changes the way we think and act and affects our attitudes toward life. Or take your ipod. By its very nature it is designed to be a solo endeavor. You put the buds in your ears and you’re in your own world. The unspoken rule for someone listening to their ipod is: “Don’t bug me.” At my old school they used to not allow ipods on the school bus trips, but now they do. Two guesses as to what has happened to conversation between students on the bus. God has spoken in various mediums, but our highest authority is the Word of God. We must conform ourselves to it.

Christians must be discerning in our use of technology, understanding the ways that it benefits us as well as the ways it encourages us away from God. John tells us to “test the spirits to see if they are from God.” We are to seek wisdom and discernment, according to the Proverbs, and “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Storing up God’s commands and promises in our hearts will help us rightly use and appreciate our technologies. Being in fellowship with God’s people will also help us.

Certain technologies work well with habits and attitudes in us that contradict God’s will. Certain technologies encourage us to believe that speed and efficiency are the keys to the good life, but Scripture contradicts this. God is not “speedy” in changing us and He commands us to learn patience and perseverance. Certain technologies encourage us to believe that we can avoid suffering or inconvenience, but God contradicts this. God calls us into suffering for Christ’s sake: “Take up your cross and follow me.” Certain technologies encourage us to believe it is good to avoid personal interactions with people, but God contradicts this. He commands us to have fellowship together and to cultivate face-to-face relationships where we can practically love and serve others. Certain technologies encourage us in our view that we can “have it all” in life, and sway us toward ingratitude when the technology doesn’t “fix” our lives. God teaches us contentment in Christ and the realization that we are “aliens and strangers on earth.”

Technology should point us to God and should advance his kingdom purposes (e.g., listening to a symphony with all the various instruments working together to play a beautiful piece can point us to the wondrous unity and diversity within the Trinity.). Technology should encourage us to think and feel in ways that honor God (Certain movies can direct our affections toward God and get us thinking about His world.). Technology should help us accomplish the purposes of God (e.g., showing the Jesus Film to unreached peoples, traveling to foreign countries to preach the gospel, bringing medical help to the impoverished of the world, teaching farming techniques to the poor, calling friends to encourage them in God, sending care packages to missionaries, writing songs that honor God in composition, style and lyrics, etc.).

-D

Written by Michael Duenes

March 26, 2015 at 3:27 am