Archive for the ‘God’s Presence’ Category

On the last day of our stay in the Dominican Republic, we spent some time on this beach.  And it offered a chance to do some reflection on ministry and calling.

On the last day of our stay in the Dominican Republic, we spent some time on this beach. And it offered a chance to do some reflection on ministry and calling.

Sometimes events in life don’t come with a warning light.  Many times they don’t announce themselves at all — either on their arrival and on their leaving.

Life happens.

Sometime around September 2013, life happened for me.  I don’t know the day that it started, but I know what would come after that.  Sometime in that month, I started a string of health events that would follow me well into this year.  It started with a sinus infection that never really responded to medication.

And things kept building from there.  It would become a series of health events that included continued sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, exposure to the flu, internal infections, an immune system crash and eventually sinus surgery to address an underlying issue.

After spending more than nine months on a combination of steroids and antibiotics, I reached a place of feeling absolutely depleted physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.  This ordeal affected my life, my personality, my relationships and my faith.

Every journey brings with it opportunities and costs and this journey was costly.  It cost me days and events and time with those I love the most.  I was sick during key dates with my family: pneumonia and flu during our anniversary and the Christmas holidays, infections during Grace’s birthday and Valentine’s Day, sinus issues and infections during Easter, recovery from surgery on my own birthday and Denise’s birthday.

It also left me limping through some of the biggest seasons in the church: I was ill through Advent, I could barely stand up with pneumonia on Christmas Eve, I was fighting a terrible infection during one of the church’s biggest weekends of outreach, I limped through Lent and Easter and into Annual Conference.  Many Sundays became a time for me to put the energy I did have into sermons and then I would return home and collapse on the couch for the rest of the day.

God and I would have many conversations during that time.  Some of them bore out my anger and my questions.  I kept returning to the Psalms, particularly those of David.  Honestly, there were many days when I was asking God the one-word question of “Why?”

I know that those questions and those struggles that boil underneath will eventually come to the surface.  They came out in my relationships with those I love the most.  They started to make their way into my conversations with others.  Those issues started to work their way into sermons.  There were times I absolutely lost the energy to smile.  Maybe I simply became a little darker and more sullen.

Now, this is where I pause for a moment to make a theological statement.  Sometimes people will say that we shouldn’t express questions, fears, doubts and frustrations (especially when you’re a pastor).  I would challenge those who say that to read the Psalms written by David who is described as a man after God’s own heart.  David has a tendency to ask the questions that others won’t ask and to cry out to God in pain, despair and frustration.

But those things don’t last forever.

Surgery in mid-May improved the sinus issue even if the recovery took longer than expected.  The remnants of the sinus infection appeared again and I would knock it out in late June.  

By the time of the mission trip to the Dominican Republic in early July, I was healing physically.  It was was also starting to impact my healing emotionally and mentally.  

Maybe sometimes there’s a sense that the spiritual aspect of healing is impacted by the other ways that we heal.  In some ways, I was still feeling the affects of a broken and hurting heart.

Then, we finally arrived (after a couple of days of trying) in the Dominican Republic.  Somewhere in that time and that journey together, my healing took a significant step forward.  I had the chance to remember why God called me in the first place and to see it play out before me.

I reconnected with the heart of God by seeing others connect to God’s heart.  I watched young people get excited about being missionaries and I witnessed some of them do things I’d never thought they would do.

There were people there who truly loved God, who loved others and who were doing some amazing things in the name of Jesus.

I talked to other pastors who were there in the Dominican Republic.  I listened to their stories, their journeys of faith and I was reminded so much of my own.

There was a day when I sat on the beach at Puerto Plata and listened to Pastor Fausto share the journey that the had taken to find his place in ministry.  He talked about the church that we had been working with that week.  He shared where he saw God working and the challenges that come with ministry.  And there are those times when the challenges you face lead those in ministry to ask, “Is this really worth it?”

Maybe it was that day, as we sat there on the beach, talking about life and faith and church, that I really started to realize that God was working to heal me and my broken heart.

I remember that verse where Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “I now call you friends…”  I had that thought when we left the Dominican Republic to come home.  I now had friends, those who shared in the same journey, in places like the Dominican Republic and in New York and in Prosperity and Columbia and Greenwood and all across the state.

As I end this series of blogs related to that trip to the Dominican Republic, I realize some things that happened in my life and my heart and the impact they have on the minister that I’m becoming.

Those thoughts:

  • God clearly called me into ministry. 
  • God didn’t call me into ministry because of what I could do.  God called me into ministry because of what God can do through me.
  • My worth in ministry is not determined by a weekly counting of noses (attendance) and nickels (money).  My worth is ministry comes from the calling that God gave to me, is giving to me and will continue to give to me.
  • The Gospel is the bottom line.  It changes everything. It changes me. 
Participants in our mission trip and children from the community work together to scrape and paint bleachers in Santiago.

Participants in our mission trip and children from the community work together to scrape and paint bleachers in Santiago.

Sometimes I think God speaks to us softly.  It’s a gentle whisper, a nudge deep within us to do something.  Sometimes, God speaks to us in such a clear way that it as if light is shining to show us the path.

And then sometimes, and maybe it’s just with me, God borrows a move from Gibbs on the TV show, NCIS, and God smacks me on the back of the head.  Trust me, it gets my attention.

Somewhere in the middle of that missions trip to the Dominican moment, I had one of those head slap from God kind of moments.

Maybe it’s because this trip put some distance between me and what I’d been experiencing since September 2013.  Somewhere in that month, I started a battle with a nasty virus that would lead me through sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, an immune system crash, etc.  It would lead to round after round of antibiotics and steroids.  Ultimately, I had sinus surgery.  To say the least, it was a very trying period of my life.

Maybe it was just that I was now in a situation where I had experienced some serious God moments (God-incidences — not coincidences!).  Something in me was already opening up for this.

But it happened one day in quiet time.

I kept coming back to a variation of a quote.  “The church doesn’t need a mission.  The church is the mission.”  It’s been said so many times and attributed to so many people that I have no clue who to credit it too.  Another way of saying it is, “The church doesn’t need a mission.  God’s mission has a church.”

But, there it was, in my head, and it started an inner conversation. In the situation that I found myself, how could we find a way to reach others for Christ?

We had been doing that through personal evangelism and meetings with those in the community in Santiago.  We did that through Vacation Bible School.  We were spending time together in worship and we were having some very profound moments of spending time with God.

But, something was tugging me in a different way.

It’s when I kept going back and saying that quote over and over again.  Then, it stuck, “The church is the mission.”

During the time that we had been in Santiago, the church (translated Eternal King Congregation) had hosted us, they had worshipped with us.  They were the site of the Vacation Bible School.  Maybe there was a way, in our role as missionaries, to come alongside this church and give them an opportunity to reach those in their community.

So, we heard about a need for the church.  The church was looking for some help with repainting its facilities.  And we decided to respond.

It was an interesting experiencing to go into one of the Dominican Republic’s versions of the home improvement stores that we are used to (Lowe’s, Home Depot). But we left armed with paint, rollers, brushes, scrapers, tape and other items.  We were ready to make the church the mission.

Now, I’m glad that I’m serving a church that does a lot of work on homes in the area around the church.  The youth and leaders who were with us know what is involved in those kinds of projects.  And they jumped in.

We scraped the paint on the bleachers and on the basketball goals. We worked to repaint the backboards and repair one of the rims.  But something bigger was happening here, something bigger than all of us.

Within about 30 minutes of us starting this project, others joined in.  It was children and teens from the neighborhood around the church.  They were armed with scrapers, or flat rocks that we were using as scrapers.  They took up paint brushes and rollers.

In a moment, I looked across the projects and it seemed like in that moment, it was an image for me of the kingdom of God.  What we were doing transcended who we were.  I had conversations with kids with only a limited knowledge of Spanish.  We did a lot of sign language and hand motions.  They followed my lead and we laughed and smiled at the moments wayward paint ended up on someone’s clothes (sometimes mine!)

I looked out at Steven Douglas, Wightman’s youth minister, and he also had a group following him from project to project.  The youth who were serving as missionaries were doing the same thing.

Then other things started to happen.  Others from the neighborhood began to arrive at the church.  They brought coconuts and fresh mangos.  Someone nearby shared with us some fried yucca.  Members of the church arrived and they joined in.

One of those church members looked at me and said, in nearly perfect English, “This is a good thing.  The community is excited about what is happening here today.”

In the afternoon, we would take a break from our painting to help with VBS, but we would return the next day and our helpers would return too.

Sometimes, most definitely, the church is the mission.

And maybe in that moment, I had some insight into how I view the church.

– The church’s mission is to “go” and by going, it means the church steps out from behind the walls and goes into the world.  Going into the world isn’t easy and sometimes it’s messy, but it is there that are able to show what it means to love Jesus.

The church is open to all.  The church encourages people of all backgrounds to work together for a common purpose, sharing the love of Christ with the world.  In those moments, we are most like the Kingdom of God.  It doesn’t matter where we are in the journey of faith, there should be a place for us in the church.

The church opens doors.  By doing things that help others, by showing hospitality to the world, we open the door to sharing Christ with others.

The church helps us to take steps to move toward Jesus.  The church is a place for people to bring all that they have experienced, all of their burdens, and it is the place where we can lay them down before Christ.  By sharing together in the community of faith, we have the strength to takes steps toward Jesus.

– The church doesn’t need a mission.  The church is the mission.

A view as we were walking at the end of one of the streets in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

A view as we were walking at the end of one of the streets in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

I love church.  It has been a part of my life since before I can even remember.  I remember standing in front the church as I was baptized, along with my sister,  at Friendship Presbyterian Church in Hickory Tavern, S.C.

I’ve been a part of the United Methodist Church for more than 20 years.  Over the past eight years, I’ve been a youth volunteer, youth minister, pastor, associate pastor and then pastor again.

But sometimes, I think about a quote from Francis Chan’s book, “Crazy Love.”  He talks about how the church likes to plan and sometimes we plan to the point of what we will do if the Holy Spirit shows up.  Sometimes, we just don’t know how to handle it when the Holy Spirit shows up and wrecks us.  Maybe the same thing can be true in our lives too.

That’s probably what hit me the hardest during my time in the Dominican Republic. There was no “cellular data,” no internet to fall back on.  I wasn’t receiving e-mails all the time.  There was no Facebook or any other kind of data.  In fact, in the time there, I made just a couple of calls to talk to my wife and daughter.

For the most part, I was there in the moment.  No schedules, nothing else going on.  It was just a chance to experience God in the moment.

One of those moments came on the second day of our walk through the community in Santiago.  A small group of our “missionaries” went out that morning with Awilda Rosario, wife of the pastor of the church we were working with.  Awilda knew that area and she knew people there.

We simply started to walk from home to home.  We invited children to the Vacation Bible School and then we found ourselves in a home.

In the first home, the husband and wife pulled chairs from all over the house so that we could sit and talk with the husband in their garage.  The wife offered us water and I had a glass and thanked them for their hospitality.  The husband talked to us about the Bible about what it meant to him.  It was a great visit and we thanked them before we moved on.

As we walked down the street, Awilda stopped to talk to a man that we encountered there.  She had a long conversation with him in Spanish.  As he walked away, she apologized to us for not translating.  She said, though, that she saw that man walking on the street many times but had felt in that moment that she just needed to talk to him and encourage him.  Maybe that was the beginning of the Holy Spirit’s message for that day.

We made several other stops, but we ended up in a home with a mother, a son and the man’s nieces and nephews.  Through Awilda, the son told us of how he had spent so much of his life on the street, battling addiction issues.  However, he had found the strength in God to battle through those addictions.  He was still alive today because of God’s love.  His mother told us that she should have been dead a few years before that.  But she had miraculously pulled through.  She also gave the credit for what had happened to God. It was an incredible and inspiring conversation.  Awilda asked for someone to pray and that ended up being me.

I remember thanking God for the chance to be in this home, for the blessing of this time and this conversation.  I prayed for them, for all of their family.  It was a moving moment for me and one in which I knew I was not alone in the prayer.  God’s presence was with us.

That feeling would continue at the next home we visited.

I decided that this would be my time to talk to the family.  My conversation was with a young man named Brian.  Awilda was serving as our interpreter and I talked to Brian about the VBS and how the children were invited to come and to be a part.

But as I was talking to Brian, I felt very distracted by the older woman to the left.  Her name was Matilda and she seemed to be very unhappy as she washed out the plastic milk jugs in the sink.

There’s a part of me that was simply ready to end this conversation and move on.  There’s a part of me that was saying, “She doesn’t want you here.  It’s time to go somewhere else.”

Matilda said something to Awilda in Spanish and they began a conversation.  All I can feel at that moment was this sense that I needed to pray for Matilda, that I had to pray for Matilda.

I told Awilda that I wanted to pray for Matilda and Awilda said she wants you to pray for her.

As I begin to pray, the word “hope” kept coming to my mind.  I prayed for Brian, Matilda and their family, and I prayed for hope as Alwida translated each line of my prayer into Spanish for the family to hear.

At the end of the prayer, Matlida had tears in her eyes.  Our group began to walk away and Matlida hugged Awilda and then grabbed my hand and said to me, “Gracias.”

I remember after that seeing the tears in Awilda’s eyes as she told me what Matilda had told her.  Matilda said that she had no hope and that she was just waiting for Jesus to take her out of this life.  When I prayed for hope, the one word that kept coming to my mind, I was praying for the one thing she was looking for in her life.

That day became a day in which I was wrecked by the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit opened a door that I might never have seen or known otherwise.

I knew that as I walked away that day that something bigger was at work in me.  After spending months dealing with illness and then surgery, I knew that I had felt battered mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.  I was already mending physically and getting there mentally.  But that day was the opening of a door to the healing of my heart, my emotional and spiritual center.

And that will be the theme of the next two parts of this journey.

Church Service.001This is the second part of a series of blogs related to our mission trip to the Dominican Republic.  As I write these, I’m trying to process the amazing things I experienced as a part of this adventure for God.

One of the things that I’ve found, for me, in worship:  There’s a big difference between leading worship and worshipping.

Here’s what that means for me:  In a worship service, I’m often doing such things as facilitating what happens, keeping an eye on the clock and making sure that the moving pieces are moving.  That makes it difficult, sometimes, to simply let go of everything and connect to God through worship.

Maybe that’s why what happened at 10:30 in the morning at the Congregacion Cristiana Rey Eterno (translates to Eternal King Congregation) was an important moment for me.  I was there simply to worship.

There are all kinds of excuses I hear (and I can give) about why I can’t worship.  Excuses can range from things about preference (music, sermon style, type of worship) to environmental issues (too dark, too loud, too bright, too cold).

So, here we were, our group of 30 “missionaries” and we find ourselves sitting in a church in Santiago.  It’s not like the church that most of us come from.  The church building has a roof and open walls.  It sits next to a volleyball and basketball court and two sets of bleachers.

We sit in plastic chairs lined up to point to the front of the space.  There is a podium, a drum, a keyboard and a couple of speakers so we can hear the music.

There’s no air conditioning to turn up and down.  There are no lights to set and turn toward the stage.  In fact, there’s no raised stage at all.  As we sit there before the service begins we hear the sound of the barking dog walking across the athletic court and the sounds of the rosters crowing at the house beyond that. I don’t have a hymnbook in my hands and there are no words on the screen.

Yet, something amazing would happen in that worship time.

The service opened with a translator helping us to understand the Spanish.  But as the music begins, the interpreter’s job ends.

Awilda Rosario, the wife of the pastor and one the leaders in the church, joins with the others who are leading us in song.  The music is powerful, moving and Spirit-filled.  I am only able to pick out a few words that I understand in Spanish, but I know that they, and the others there, are singing their hearts out to God.

It stirs something in me in a connection to God.

I was sitting (and at this point) standing next to Steven Douglas, Wightman’s Youth Minister.  At some point, I said something to him along the lines of, “This must be a God thing because I’m starting to understand more and more of what we’re singing about.”

There’s a quote from Donald Miller that I love and it comes from his book, “Blue Like Jazz.”  He says, “Sometimes you have to see somebody else love something before you can love it yourself.”

In that day, I saw a group of people who passionately loved Jesus.  And that love of Jesus was able to powerfully break through all of the barriers that might have been in the room that day.  Seeing their love and their passion for Christ was like a dose of spiritual vitamins into my own love of Christ.

The love of Jesus transcends the limits of language.  The love of Jesus cuts through the fatigue that we might have experienced in getting to the Dominican Republic.  The love of Jesus reminded me that my family was much bigger than I could have ever imagined it would be.

There were powerful moments in the service.

One of those moments that brought tears to my eyes came when the musicians began to sing a Spanish-language version of “Revelation Song.”  From the opening notes of that song, many of us connected.  It became a mix of “Santo, Santo, Santo” and “Holy, holy, holy.”

Then, we had the chance to connect through the Table.  A speaker, in Spanish, related to us the events of what happened at the Last Supper.  Then, we were invited to come to the front to receive the communion elements.

We sat back down and held them in our hands as we were invited to share in the breaking of the bread and drinking from the cup.  Once again, my eyes were opened to the power of God to reach across all of the barriers that we might otherwise construct.

One of the leaders from our group of missionaries shared the message that day.  At the end of the service, Steven and I, along with the other adult leaders, were invited to stand in front of the church.  They prayed for us and for what we would be doing.  They asked for God’s blessing to be upon us. They welcomed us with open arms.

When we left the church that day, I felt a few things:

  • I felt overwhelmed.  Maybe that’s what comes when we feel as if we are truly pouring ourselves out in worship. I felt it physically, mentally and spiritually.
  • I felt lifted up.  There’s something about a strong spiritual moment with Jesus.  It recharges you and it pierces us to the heart.  I felt that way on that Sunday.
  • I knew in that moment that my mission for the week would be this church we were attending.  I know that I’ve been blessed in many ways and it gives me the opportunity to be a blessing to others.  Somehow, I just knew that this church was going to play a key role in my mission work for the next week.

On that Sunday in Santiago, I was reminded of a few things about worship:

  • Worship is bigger than any barrier we can create.
  • Worship is more powerful than the words that are being spoken or the lyrics that we are singing in the songs.
  • Worship connects people across the globe.
  • Worship is rooted in the powerful reminder of grace and mercy that come through Holy Communion.

And most of all, God reminded me of just how much I need and long for the chance to connect to the Holy Spirit through worship.  It was nothing short of a life-changing moment.

Book of James.00118 Someone might claim, “You have faith and I have action.” But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action. 19 It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. 20 Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that faith without actions has no value at all? 21 What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions. 23 So the scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and God regarded him as righteous. What is more, Abraham was called God’s friend. 24 So you see that a person is shown to be righteous through faithful actions and not through faith alone. 25 In the same way, wasn’t Rahab the prostitute shown to be righteous when she received the messengers as her guests and then sent them on by another road? 26 As the lifeless body is dead, so faith without actions is dead. — James 2:18-26 (CEB)

It’s safe to say that we live in a polarized world.  We take sides and there’s very little middle ground.

People are generally labeled as Conservatives or Liberals; Democrats or Republicans; Coke drinkers or Pepsi drinkers; Star Wars or Star Trek fans.  We often don’t find much common ground in the middle area.

The writer of James seems to be addressing one of those polarizing debates of his day and time.  What is really at the heart of salvation?  Some of those in this newly forming church would have been converts from a system that was all about following the rules and the law.  By following the rules and the laws, one could remain closer to God.

Others in this new church would have come from a life outside of the law.  Maybe for them it was all about simply believing.

And then James goes to a place that is in the middle of those polar opposites.   He links believe and action in a BOTH AND statement.

Faith and actions are inseparable.  To believe in God is to act as if one believes in God.  To have the heart of God leads one to live as if one is connected to God’s heart. Faith and action become linked.

Faith is more than just talking about faith.  It’s about putting faith into action.  And belief is more than just an exercise in doing good things.  Anyone can do go things.  Faith and action, then, are linked as a means of living more like Christ in the present world.

And maybe that presents the toughest challenge of all — Believing in God and living for God somewhere in the middle.

Almighty God, thank you again for the reminder that we are called to live faithful lives that lead us to faithful action.  God let our belief in you be more than just something we strive for in our mind and heart.  And God let our belief in you be more than something that just prompts us to do good things.  God, so infuse our lives that in living and breathing, we show the world what it means to be loved by you.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Book of James.00114 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity. – James 2:14-17 (CEB)

How can you take these words from James and sum them up?  Maybe it would sound something like this: You can’t just “talk the talk,” you have to “walk the walk.”

Simply put, faith requires action.

There’s a great temptation sometimes in church world for faith to become a “passive” activity.  We can come to church. We can sit for an hour or so in a worship service.  Maybe we can sit for another hour in a Sunday School class or a small group.  We can listen to the choir, musicians, band, etc., during a worship concert.  We can listen to a pastor or other speaker share with us some inspiring and uplifting words from the Bible.  Then we can smile, shake some hands, get in the car and head home until the next time we gather in church.  It’s the world of low-impact faith.

But what if we could make faith active?  Maybe that same scenario would sound a lot more like this:  We ARE the church.  We gather with other believers fully expecting that something is going to happen because God is there.  We participate, maybe even lead, in small groups or Sunday School classes.  We open ourselves up during music in the church and make a joyful noise as those words connect with our hearts.  We become participants in a holy conversation between ourselves and God (it’s not just a sermon — it’s a challenge).  Then, we join with other believers to take the faith we share into a world that desperately craves the chance to connect with the God who loves us all.

I have a feeling that the writer of James would tell us that the second option is THE option.  In fact, the writer really doesn’t hold back on describing a faith that’s just about talking about faith.  It’s described as “dead.”

Maybe the great challenge of what we read here in James is to know that we follow a God who is in the resurrection and the redemption business.  And just as God can resurrect the dead, actively following that God can resurrect a dead life of faith.

Want to grow in your faith? Then do something.  Action is required.

Gracious and loving God. When we read Scripture, we see how you are constantly taking action.  You create, love, forgive, redeem, save and the list goes on and on.  Help us God, in our life of faith, to follow your example. Help us to take action and put into practice the things that you have taught us.  And be with us each and every step of the way.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

8 You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself. 9 But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. 10 Anyone who tries to keep all of the Law but fails at one point is guilty of failing to keep all of it. 11 The one who said, Don’t commit adultery, also said, Don’t commit murder. So if you don’t commit adultery but do commit murder, you are a lawbreaker. 12 In every way, then, speak and act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. 13 There will be no mercy in judgment for anyone who hasn’t shown mercy. Mercy overrules judgment. — James 2:8-13 (CEB)

In Scripture, Jesus is asked, “Teacher, what is the greatest commandment?”  Jesus’ response is that, first, you love God with everything that you are and, second, you love your neighbor as yourself.  He goes on to say that the entirety of the law hangs on those two commandments.

Here, in James, that command of loving your neighbor as yourself becomes known as the “royal law.”  Basically, it becomes the lens through which we can see every other law and rule regarding human relationships.

It is this “royal law” that the writer of James now points to his continuing arguments against showing favoritism.  To basically sum up this argument, James says showing favoritism is a violation of the law that says to “love your neighbor” as yourself.

It all ends with the challenge for us to follow this law and to show mercy to others.

What does mercy mean?  Grace is getting a gift we don’t deserve.  Mercy is not getting the punishment that we do deserve.  When we show mercy to another, we are acknowledging that the other person has done something, has hurt us, etc., but we are making the choice to forgive and to, in a sense, let them off the hook.

And it all comes back to Jesus’ statement on the greatest commandments:  Love God with everything that you are and love your neighbor as yourself.

Gracious and loving God, open our hearts to the needs of the world around us.  Be with us in our efforts to live out the great commandments in which we love you with everything that we are and we love our neighbors as you have loved us.  Help us to show grace and mercy in our relationships with one another.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.