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Emanuel, God with Us

As we get into the holiday season, we naturally reflect on the birth of Christ. The next two weeks will focus on Emanuel, God with us.

emanuel

Photo credit: Mike_tn (cc)

From my own “Harmony of the Gospels,” here is a narrative of the coming of Christ from John, Luke, and Matthew.

“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” John 1:1-5

The Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.'”

Joseph traveled to Bethlehem from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

Within a couple of years, some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the newborn king? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.” King Herod interviewed the wise men and they went on their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Why did Jesus come in such a humble manner? Why was it necessary for the divine to come to earth?

Next week I will unfold some answers to these compelling questions…

Blessed are the Peacemakers

Rockets from Gaza

In the fall of 2012, Israel and the Gaza strip exchanged rockets. Having a rocket fired toward Jerusalem forced me to think about those facing a great number of rocket attacks. Sitting in the dimly lit bedroom of my children one evening, waiting for them to drift off to sleep, I wondered what it was like for families going to bed in Gaza City and Ashkelon. They regularly face threats of rockets and bombs.

peacemaker

The Gulf War – Operation Desert Storm

While attending middle-school I watched televised footage of American troops working to expel Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait, easily disconnecting the bombing and loss of life taking place an ocean away.

Bomb shelters in Ashkelon

We live within 50 miles of Gaza and, yet, it is hard to imagine the daily threat and stress of rockets fired 8 to10 miles away. Ashkelon deals with missiles fired from Gaza and the Iron Dome missile defense system shooting them down. Most of the rockets are destroyed but some pass through the defenses.

Funds were raised for bomb shelters in Ashkelon because of the continual threat. They were trying to find peace of mind in a challenging location.

Tragedy in Gaza

Israel responded to attacks by bombing sites within Gaza. Innocent people now live among the wreckage. A BBC correspondent stated,

“A mother in her wrecked home is scurrying around collecting her daughter’s dolls, dusting them off.”

By the time the firing stopped, 133 Palestinians and 6 Israeli’s were dead. Where will they spend eternity?

Praying for the peace of Jerusalem

Matthew 5:9 records Jesus saying,

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.”

Psalm 122:6 gives instruction to, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!” Many churches tell me they regularly pray for peace. What kind of peace are they praying for?

Palestinians keeping Jesus from returning

I was invited to a dinner in Jerusalem and met a Palestinian Christian whose family has always lived in Israel. He visited a church in the United States and was warmly welcomed as “a guest from Israel.” When people greeted him at the end of the service, a man shook his hand and said, “I’ve longed to shake the hand of a Jew from Israel.” The guest informed him he loves the Jewish people but was a Palestinian Christian. The church member pulled his hand away, turned and walked away.

These kinds of experiences cause Palestinian believers to ask, “What’s wrong with me; what’s wrong with my Christianity; am I keeping Jesus from coming again?”

The church keeping Jesus from coming

The only thing keeping Jesus from coming is the church fulfilling her mission, seeing people from every tribe and nation recognize Jesus as Lord. Matthew 24:14,

And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.”

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem

If praying for the peace of Jerusalem, pray for the Prince of Peace to infiltrate the hearts of all Jerusalem’s inhabitants. Pray for the secular Israeli, the orthodox Jew, the religious Armenian, and the hard-line Muslim to experience hope and love in Jesus.

May they experience His peace, even when sirens warn of incoming missiles! Hope is in the King of Kings and in His eternal confidence, not on being spared from tragedy.

The challenge

Embrace the commands of Jesus to love God and love people – all people.

Be willing to go and tell others about Him, teaching them about God and the eternal destiny found in Christ. Pray for peace and proclaim His message around the world.

What are some practical ways you can love, go, teach? Share your comments below.

Faith, Hope, and Love Abide

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor. 13:13)

Jerusalem

Jerusalem is a city of many faiths: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Orthodoxy. This creates an interesting environment to live and work. As part of a Jesus-centered community, people who believe differently frequently wonder about us. Some have remarked,

You are from different parts of the United States, yet there is a spirit that unites your group. You seem to really love each other.”

An authentic display of God’s love is attractive to the world.

Love the greatest

The virtues of faith, hope, and love embrace life in the Spirit and the return of Christ. In some ways faith and hope give more attention to the individual while love addresses the wider community. People are saved by faith and hope but the kingdom of God depends on love. Love unites.

Faith

Believers have faith in God and trust Him to forgive and accept them through Christ. They cannot visibly see Him yet trust in His goodness and grace.

In eternity the trust in God that began in this life continues. Faith becomes sight.

Hope

Believers also have hope for a future guaranteed through Jesus. By His resurrection they are future-oriented people. They know the present is on its way out. They are on a journey to a place in the presence of God, seeing Him face to face.

In eternity hope becomes realized.

Love

Love is the greatest because love unites believers with God.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins…We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:10,19)

Through God’s love followers of Jesus are able to love one another. By loving one another they display God’s love to the world.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

In eternity love becomes fully actualized.

The challenge

Have great faith in God, profound hope in the future, and a deep love for Jesus and the church. May the love you show others reflect Christ to the world!

In what ways can you grow your faith, hope, and love? Share your comments below.

Loving People While Hating Tolerance

Our culture strongly endorses tolerance. Is it healthy for the church to embrace this trait? Is tolerance equal to love?
tolerance

“Kind people go to heaven!”

The note pictured above was on a cafe counter in Jerusalem. The pervading thought of “kind people go to heaven” is deeply ingrained in many cultures. Not offending others has become top priority today. Tolerance seems to reflect kindness. This has led many to think tolerance is love.

Love God, Love people

Jesus said the greatest commandments are to,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind (and) love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt 22:37, 39)

We align with God and ask the Spirit’s fruit to increase in our life – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

We experience more of His transforming power and naturally start wanting to tell others about Jesus. We love neighbors and even enemies. We want them to experience life to the fullest.

An eternal concern

To not express concern for a person’s eternal welfare is not love but passivity.

Love does not include blind tolerance for unwholesome lifestyles that separate people from God.

Bringing a sword

The message of salvation can bring division. Jesus states,

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matt. 10:34)

Social norms support people with unbiased tolerance for any lifestyle. Expect conflict when upholding biblical values.

Love and division

When lovingly talking with others about God, the message may not be appreciated. This should not change your God-given burden to see them rescued from eternal separation with the Creator. Oswald Chambers encourages,

Never be diplomatic and careful with the treasure God gives you.”

Defining love

Tolerance is easy, love is hard. As someone who follows the One bringing meaning to life and hope for the future, choose love. Real love leads people to a relationship with God. We have a treasure to give and tolerance will not save people from hell.

Please excuse my intolerance

If you do not follow Jesus, please excuse me for refusing to passively walk through life, ignoring a lifestyle not exhibiting a meaningful relationship with God.

I cannot idly stand by and watch you live a life displeasing to God, keeping you separate from Him.

Excuse my intolerance but accept my love and concern for your eternal destiny. John 3:16,

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

The challenge

Genuinely love! Be bold! Share your faith! Do not let tolerance stand in the way of telling others what God will do for them, about the forgiveness and freedom experienced when following Jesus.

What are some ways you can express love to your neighbor? Share your comments below.

Hungry for God

Desiring more

There has been stirring within me a desire to experience more of God. The book of Acts continually states the early believers were “full of faith” and “full of the Spirit.” I deeply want these qualities and, when the need arises, to be used in supernatural ways.

God

En Gedi

The pursuit of God

God has laid out the way to a deeper relationship with Him: Be filled with the Holy Spirit, read and meditate on Scripture, pray and fast, and be part of a faith community (the church).

Feasting on the Lord

When fasting, take extra time to feast on the Lord. Scripture reading, prayer, and singing are acts of feasting while abstaining from food.

A Prayer walk

Wanting to dedicate a day to prayer, I hiked a trail at En Gedi near the Dead Sea. It is an oasis in the desert with streams, palm trees, and caves, located about 18 miles south of where Jesus is thought to have spent 40 days in the wilderness. The place was one of the locations where David hid from Saul.

Experiencing God

Before leaving for En Gedi, Shellie and I prayed. I sensed more of God while hiking because I came prepared for more of Him. Scripture promises,

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8)

The God not defined by boundary or location, resides in those calling Him Lord.

Increasing and decreasing

The hike became a prayer journey, asking for me and my family to be full of faith and full of His Spirit. I sang songs that express hunger for His presence.

One of the comments of John the Baptist, who ministered just north of En Gedi, became a Scripture prayer, “He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less” (John 3:30).

Expecting to encounter God

Pastors often request people come to church prepared. Just showing up for a gathering is not enough. Believers should walk with God all weeklong and come ready for an encounter with Him.

To love God means having a vibrant on-going relationship with Him, a relationship not confined to church gatherings but lived-out throughout the week.

The challenge

Passionately pursue the living God. Expect Him to fill you with the Holy Spirit. Regularly read the Bible, pray, and fast. A.W. Tozer writes in The Pursuit of God,

We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit…The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him”

God is pursuing you, are you pursuing Him?

How have you pursued a deeper relationship with God? Share your comments below.

Praying the Disciples Prayer

Praying

The Prayer

“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Matt. 6:9-13

Complementing Sides

Various people have written of ways to apply the Lord’s Prayer. One way is to divide the content in two, a God side and human side.

Realigning with God

The God side includes four parts:

  • “Our Father” – praying unselfishly for Him to lovingly rule your request.
  • “Your Name” – praying for His character to be contained within your prayer.
  • “Your Kingdom” – praying for His kingdom to be the focus of every desire.
  • “Your Will” – praying for His will to be manifested in every appeal.

Realizing results

The human side also contains four parts:

  • “Give us” – praying for personal needs, without the needs of others being jeopardized.
  • “Forgive us” – praying for forgiveness, with a determination to forgive others.
  • “Lead us” – praying for His leading, knowing the pathway will be free of temptation.
  • “Deliver us” – should there be failure to follow His lead, ask for an escape from evil.

The Heartbeat of prayer

Prayer involves realignment with results following. The process of realignment and results is ongoing.

To the measure you realign to God, you experience an equal measure of results.

The more you adjust to Him, more effects follow.

Unselfish prayers

Praying unselfishly is also an integral part of prayer. Our Father, give us, forgive us, and deliver us are rooted in community. The more you attach yourself to Jesus and those who follow Him, the more relevant is your prayer. Pray with others in mind.

The challenge

Pray to realign with God and for His kingdom to advance by the fulfillment of His will. If the eternal side is right, temporal needs are also met.

Pursue Him and forgive the transgressions of others! God will supply every need.

How is God leading you? Share your comments below.

Praying Scripture

Praying in the New Year

My dad throughout his ministry has encouraged believers to devote the first week of the New Year to prayer. The next two blogs contain ways of praying.

Become more God-possessed

Jesus was asked to heal a demon-possessed boy. The father had already asked the disciples to deliver him but they were unable. After Jesus cast out the demon the disciples asked Him why they failed.

Jesus replied, ‘This kind can be cast out only by prayer.’” Mark 9:29

The boy was more demon-possessed than the disciples were God-possessed. Becoming God-possessed is through prayer.

Praying scripture

One form of praying involves Scripture. As you read the Bible personalize verses with prayer.

Praying

The armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18)

Scripture states you are to “put on” God’s spiritual armor. By prayer clothe yourself and get dressed in His armor.

  • The helmet of salvation – “Guard my mind by the atonement of Calvary – my attitudes, ambitions, and motives. Cover my thoughts with salvation.”
  • The breastplate of righteousness – “Guard my heart with Your righteousness. May my passions and desires be clothed in decency and help me to do what is right”
  • The belt of truth – “Surround my life with truth. Keep me from faltering or stumbling in times of struggle and conflict.”
  • The feet shod with the gospel of peace – “May the Good News determine my path, having each step saturated with peace.”
  • The shield of faith (a movable protection) – “May faith shield me from every slanderous accusation, wherever they might come. May these cunning flaming missiles fall harmlessly to the ground.”
  • The sword of the Spirit – “May the Word of God be effectively applied in every situation I encounter.”

Developing Fruit (Galatians 5:22-25)

At conversion the fruit of the Spirit is implanted in the heart:

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

At first the fruit appears as a small seed and needs growth. You should regularly ask for the Spirit’s fruit to ripen and be more fully seen in your life.

The fruit (singular) of the Spirit (Gal 5:22) is contrasted with the desires (plural) of the sinful nature (Gal 5:19). Sinful desires leave a life fragmented and broken but the fruit of the Spirit can unify and restore wholeness.

Supernatural gifts (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

The fruit of the Spirit reflects Jesus natural attributes. Paul also writes about His supernatural attributes. Supernatural gifts are available and should be manifested, as needs arise:

  • Three manifest supernatural insight – word of wisdom, word of knowledge, and the discernment of spirits.
  • Three manifest supernatural intervention – faith, healing, and miracles.
  • Three manifest supernatural inspiration – tongues, interpretation of tongues, and prophecy.

Pray for God to use you to manifest His supernatural nature. Stay sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

The challenge

There are many Bible verses waiting for you to personalize. Scripture praying enhances spiritual advancement. Pray God’s word over your family, as well.
Regularly pray:

  1. To be clothed with His armor.
  2. For the fruit of the Spirit to ripen.
  3. For His gifts to be manifested through you.

An unbelieving generation needs to see Jesus in your everyday conduct, both naturally and supernaturally. Be willing to enter into spiritual conflict for their destiny. Pray!

What scriptures have you prayed over your life? Share your comments below.

Storming the Gates of Hell

Bringing love, justice, and peace to the world

What is our role as the church? To discover this we need to look at Jesus and His work on earth. 1 John 3:8 states: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

The cross is victory over the powers holding people in bondage; sin, death, and the devil. As God’s emissaries, believers are called and empowered to continue the work Jesus began with his life, death and resurrection.

Jesus desires to use you to build His church and advance His kingdom. Matthew 16 helps you to better understand your role.

Matthew 16:15-18

He (Jesus) said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied,

You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Gates of hell

Caesarea Philippi – Temple of Pan and Cave known as the Gates of Hell

City of false gods

Jesus travels with His disciples 20 miles north of Galilee to the district of Caesarea Philippi. In this area is a rocky hillside where shrines dedicated to the god of Pan, Echo, and Hermes existed. Next to these shrines is a large cave where a powerful stream once flowed, called the “Gates of Hell”.

The worshippers of Pan would perform human sacrifices in the cave and cast the remains into a natural abyss at the back of the cave.

The living God

In this area where other god’s required human sacrifice, Peter confesses Jesus to be “the Son of the living God.” God brings life, not death. Jesus promised in John 10:10, “I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.”

An advancing kingdom

In this passage Jesus is saying,

The church will overcome these lesser gods – the god of Pan, Echo, and Hermes. Other gods focus on self, materialism, pride, fame, sex, power and bring death. I will build my church over these things and the gates of hell shall not prevail against my advancing kingdom.”

Storming the gates of hell

We advance the kingdom by charging the gates of hell, as inaugurated by God’s reign of love, justice, and peace. Where there is despair, bring hope. Where there is unbelief, bring faith. Where there is hatred, bring love. Where there is sickness, offer healing.

We are to be walking, talking, representatives of Jesus to the world.

Committed to the Church

Connect to a community of faith. You cannot effectively advance the kingdom of God on your own. Believers working together with a common goal make it happen.

We need one another. Paul refers to the church as the Body of Christ, with everyone having an important function. You need the church and the church needs you.

Promised victory

When we work together what does Jesus say will happen? “They shall not prevail against us!” The keys of the kingdom have been given to us.

Victory has been promised. We simply need to be willing to advance on the gates of hell.

The challenge

Commit yourself to the task of storming the gates of hell until His imminent return. Be intentional to turn people to Jesus at home and work by displaying His love, justice, and peace to the world.

Listen to my podcast “Build the Church, Advance the Kingdom” The podcast gives a more in-depth discussion of this passage of scripture.

What are some ways that you can storm the gates of hell? Share your comments below.

Abiding in the Vine

Bearing Fruit for Jesus

Genesis 1 gives the assignment to be productive. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (v. 28). Adam and Eve were to be fruitful, have fruitful children, and extend fruitfulness throughout creation. The Old Testament continues the metaphor of fruit to describe people who love, serve and live for God.

grape vine

Bearing fruit

New Testament believers are also told to bear fruit, which requires abiding in Jesus.

John 15:1-5

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

The true vine

Jesus’ departure was coming closer and His disciples would no longer be with Him physically. In one of His farewell discourses they are told about a new way to be with Him, a fruit-bearing kind of connection.

Jesus states, “I am the true vine.” The quality of fruit depends on the vine that produces it. When a person is attached to Jesus, their fruit will be of superior quality.

The vinedresser

The relationship between the believer and God is similar to the vine and the vinedresser. He cultivates and tends to the vine, seeking to produce a maximum yield.

God desires for to you experience an abundant yield of fruit; to develop fully the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. (Galatians 5: 22-23)

The Vinedresser, God, is seeking to clear obstacles that hinder the life-giving flow of His Spirit through the vine, rendering it useless; things such as pride, selfishness, materialism, and unwholesome thoughts. If something makes you inactive or unproductive, the Lord addresses it out of love.

Abiding in Jesus

Abiding is the necessary prerequisite of fruitfulness. Continued production depends on constant union with the Source of good fruit.

“Apart from me you can do nothing.” Apart from Jesus the meaning of life cannot be found. Apart from Jesus there is no hope for the future. Apart from Jesus nothing of significance is accomplished.

I can do all things

Counter this with the words of Paul,

I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13).

For your life to be significant and filled with purpose you must abide in Him.

The challenge

Daily be with Jesus! Abide means “to remain.” Remain in His presence, meditate on His Word, linger in prayer and worship, and ponder on the thoughts of Christ.

Listen to my podcast message “Abiding.” The podcast gives practical ways to abide in Jesus.

How do you take time to abide in Jesus? Share your comments below.

Prison Guard or Walmart Greeter

How are we to handle the message of Jesus?

Photo credit: groovehouse (Creative Commons)

Photo credit: groovehouse (Creative Commons)

My kids are suckers for stickers. Our 2-year old daughter can get high fevers. After being poked and proded during a visit to the doctor she loudly exclaimed, “Where’s my sticker?” The doctor laughed and happily gave her a sheet of them.

Whenever we visit a Walmart, we are warmly greeted and my two kids usually are offered yellow, smiley-face stickers. The greeters seem to have an endless supply of them and are happy to give them away.

Which one are you?

On the flip side are prison guards. Their job is very different from a Walmart greeter. They hold the keys to security doors and keep people in and others out.

Recently Bob Goff (@bobgoff) tweeted,

Some of Jesus’ guards turned into followers; His followers don’t need to turn into guards. Everyone’s invited.”

Compassionate or Angry

His tweet reminded me of a message I heard on the Prodigal Son. The speaker gave a vivid example of two different gatekeepers. When the prodigal son turned down the road to come back to his father’s house the gospel of Luke records, “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

The prodigal’s brother is also part of the story.  He was angry about his brother’s celebrated return. Had he not been in the field when his brother returned, would he have guarded the doorway to the house? Would he have held the keys to the door, keeping those he wanted inside and keeping others out?

What kind of a believer are you? Are you a Walmart greeter, happily portraying love to everyone you meet? Do you show love and compassion to those considered undeserving? Or would you rather be a guard, holding keys to a life-changing message and choosing who gets to hear?

The challenge

Jesus invites everyone. The Good News is for “whosoever will.” Let the love of Jesus permeate every fiber of your being so that others want what you have, membership in God’s family.

In what ways have you been attracted to Jesus by the way you witnessed other people living? How have you been handling the message of Jesus?