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Yesterday afternoon, the stunning horror of the massacre in Las Vegas reached my ears. I, along with the rest of the nation, was shocked by the unveiling of evil in another senseless tragedy. My prayers and the prayers of my family and church go up for those whose lives have been terribly changed by this unexpected intrusion of wickedness.

Many questions arise as the country strives to comprehend why a deeply disturbed man would do such calculated evil. And, as usual, folks from all sorts of political positions are jockeying for an interpretation of what has happened, why it happened, and what must be done to prevent it from happening again. The gun control debate, for example, is finding plenty of explosive fuel for renewed battles in our government and media arenas everywhere.

GrievFolks are looking for easy answers, and, by extension, easy solutions, but are dangerously prone to overlooking the subtle nature of the problem. It isn’t a gun control problem. A person who intends to do a terrible thing will certainly find a way to do it (as the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9-11 terrorists demonstrated for us). It isn’t even a violent game or a violent movie problem, although horrible violence acted out in the name of entertainment doesn’t help in the least and should alarm us at the level of cruelty that can be imagined.

The problem is more basic than these things. The problem is within the human heart. What happened in Las Vegas is nothing less than evil, whatever the motive of the attacker. What was the purpose of his assault? While Stephen Paddock sadly may have been a tormented person (no one seems to know clearly what his story was), the actions of this 64 year-old retiree can in no way be construed as trying to defend himself. It is clear that he was simply driven by a cruel desire to inflict pain and suffering.

However, if we are really concerned about getting right what is wrong with a country in which something so terrible can occur, we need to call this what it is: evil. Somehow evil was given such leeway in his mind and heart that it grew and eventually exploded in this unthinkable storm of hate and rage.

And now families across America are shattered with gaping holes left where loved ones once lived. People like you and me are wounded, not just physically, but in their very souls with images seared into their minds which no one should be forced to see. People like you and me everywhere find themselves confronted by the utterly sobering truth that nothing can be taken for granted and that very bad things are ready to leap in and take what is most precious to them.

In one brief moment, the entire world somersaulted for the those impacted by the Las Vegas attack. Bodies were broken, dreams were shattered, and lives were snuffed out. The tragedy grew and grew, bringing with it a firestorm of anguish that will never completely heal while this world lasts.

As people discuss the terrible events that have taken place, the question arise (quite naturally I might add), “Isn’t there ANY place that one can be safe?” On the one hand, the answer is, of course, “No.” There is no corner into which human presence has entered that there is absolutely no potential for violence and pain. Our social stability hangs upon a mere thread, as we depend on complicated systems of checks and balances to regulate the affairs of each day, recognizing that basic human nature cannot by itself govern and sustain our nation benevolently. In fact, it is a somber reality that any venue in any city, small town, suburban neighborhood or country road can become an arena for the darkest manifestations of evil just as readily as any late night subway or dark alley. Concert halls, shopping malls, athletic stadiums, college campuses, childcare centers, school playgrounds, church sanctuaries, Amish school houses and even living rooms cannot guarantee safety, let alone peace of mind.

But on the other hand, there is hope. The hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ cannot be derailed by sorrow and loss, even when it is of this incredible magnitude, because the hope that we have in Jesus Christ recognizes both the capacity that humanity has for rendering great evil to itself as well as the nearly bottomless depth of sorrow that we bear when faced suddenly with unthinkable loss. As surely as we suffer and mourn the events of today, we can know that God also suffers with us and mourns with us in our hurt, His heart aching from the pain that we bear.

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in His spirit and greatly troubled…. Jesus wept” (from John 11:33, 35).

The fact that our basic nature is not in harmony with His is deeply troubling to God. And when the awful fruits of our “independence” from Him ripen, yielding us a feast of trouble and grief that we cannot swallow, the compassion of God is stirred up and His Spirit reaches out to ours with an invitation to repent and turn to Him. And if in spite of our spiritual blindness and deafness, we can finally discern the truth that we truly DO need God to help us, sustain us, lead us, and purify us, we’ll finally actually begin living in the freedom with which God desires to wrap us.

“Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!… ‘You are My witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and My servant whom I have chosen, that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after Me. I, I am the LORD, and besides Me there is no savior. I declared and saved and proclaimed, when there was no strange god among you; and you are My witnesses,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I am God. Also henceforth I am He; there is none who can deliver from My hand; I work, and who can turn it back?” (Isaiah 43:8, 10-13 ESV).

When He acts to redeem us from our sin and the hopelessness that characterizes a life that is bound to it, no one can reverse it. As we turn to Him, we come to the one place that truly is safe no matter the howling gales of trouble and cruelty. As we walk with Him through faith in Jesus Christ, abiding in the center of His will, we find that we are also in the center of His mercy and are the recipients of wellsprings of His grace.

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in Whom I trust…. If only I will pay attention to His commands, my peace will be like a river, my righteousness like the waves of the sea’” (from Psalm 91:1-2 & Isaiah 48:18).

One whose eyes are clouded with hurt and despair might ask why God doesn’t just do something. But he or she should take heart… God is doing something: He’s reaching out with mercy and grace, calling us to trust Him and to step out of the poisonous vapors of bitterness and despair. And He’s calling us to lift our hearts and voices to Him in prayer, seeking His help in an age where the only help we can truly have can only be found in Him.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Perhaps the most pernicious calamity assaulting people anywhere and everywhere in our area today is the epidemic levels of addiction. The most obvious expression of this plague is, of course, the deluge of opiates flooding our homes and families as “regular people” find themselves reeling from its merciless grip.

Billions of dollars of research both in private and in public sectors underscore the complexity of the problem indicating physiological causes and effects, psychological ones, and even sociological factors that contribute to and result from addiction.

This naturally leads us to various treatment options that approach the problem of addiction from these different vantage points. It often creates confusion for us when we see it from only one of these perspectives while others approach it from still another.

The truth is that there is legitimacy in these different philosophical approaches and we are wiser when we treat the “whole person”, aiming to get at the roots of each individual’s struggle with addiction.

The most essential quality for a person’s recovery is a “heart” that is ready for it.

However, there is one aspect I cannot underscore enough as fundamental to one’s ongoing victory over addiction and I truly believe it to be essential. In the many people that I encounter who have struggled or are struggling with addiction, it has become clear to me that the most central quality for their recovery is a “heart” that is ready for it.  In other words, it is necessary for a person to hunger within the essence of himself for real and lasting change and to recognize the spirituality of life and the purpose for which he has been created.  When that hunger is acknowledged as a real need for something that drugs cannot satisfy or fulfill, then the eyes of the heart can turn to the one thing that can.  It is what turns one from the downward spiral of selfishness towards an attitude that can look outward and upward.

Addiction is often viewed as a kind of terrible bondage, a heavy and burdensome chain that shackles a person, enslaving her with a feeling (the “high”) that relentlessly eludes its pursuer. It’s a good comparison.  It IS a chain.  And it mocks and torments its victims even while it boasts of its empty promises of pleasure and happiness… or at the very least, pretends that it can provide us escape from pain whether emotional or physical.

I have been asked, “How do we fight addiction? How can we overcome it?”  The answer, while some may think it overly simplistic, is that we lead the victims of addiction to the one pleasure that makes all other so-called pleasures pale in comparison.  We must unveil the “pleasures” of drugs for the anemic counterfeits that they are by holding them up to the “real thing”.  And what is the pleasure that transcends all others?  It is the joy of the Lord.  It is what can deliver the life that wants change.

But a person’s heart must be ready for real change and not just a temporary release from the intensity of addiction. If that were all, it is only a matter of time before the person slips back into the folds of whatever drugs they depend upon or, just as bad from an eternal point of view, would settle into another phony sense of purpose for his life, content perhaps for a time, but still ensnared with something less than God’s purpose for him.

Time and time again, I have found that when a person has come to the end of herself and finds that drugs cannot now nor ever will fill, only then is she really ready to look towards the one thing that can complete her.

When a person receives the gift of God’s cleansing forgiveness, there comes upon him a newness that begins to reframe his outlook and expectation for himself. Indeed, there is now an awakening that arises within him, as he shrugs off the shame and condemnation for which Jesus died on the cross:  “You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him (Jesus), having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-15 ESV). Because Jesus gave His life for us by dying in our place on the cross, God counted the sins of all who turn to Him for salvation as being paid for through Jesus’ sacrifice.

Then, for each person who turns to Jesus and learns that he has been made a new creation, God tells us that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).  This knowledge is so powerful in a recovering addict’s life that comprehending it and then accepting it as true is the equivalent of dynamite when he comes up against the walls of resistance that addiction’s proud owner, Satan, throws in his way.

And finally there is the priceless gem of hope that Jesus grants us through His resurrection life, bequeathing to us (through faith in Him) the same power that brought Him back to life in His glorified form! “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:3-5 ESV).  When a recovering addict sees himself as something new and no longer bound by an old nature that was enslaved to a temporary, fleshly passion, he can then give himself over to love, forsaking all the illusions that addiction threw up previously and pursuing the higher, heavenly reality of an eternal God Who created him for His own glory.

Nothing conquers the short-sightedness of addiction like an overwhelming sense of the pricelessness of an eternity with a holy God Who loves us in spite of ourselves and holds open for us an open door to a forever kind of victory.

My heart’s desire then is to share with anyone whose heart is open to it, the message that God loves and God saves.   Jesus is proof of that reality.  In fact, Jesus is the way to that reality.  For the addict.  And for everyone else, too.

Whether addiction has been part of your story or not, Jesus is the Way.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (Jesus in John 14:6 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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I found myself this week reflecting on the tsunami disaster that struck twelve years ago this week. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands… dead. Within mere hours, in a cataclysm of monstrous proportions, a tsunami literally wiped countless numbers of people off the face of the earth.

Unsuspecting tourists, among the extremely vulnerable, perhaps intended to relax and enjoy the beauty of the Indian Ocean shoreline. Yet death came.

All along the 3000 miles of the coastal rim surrounding the Indian Ocean, children were walking along the beach, sitting on the floor of their village homes or playing in the streets… then death came. Even those wrapped in the arms of mothers or fathers were savagely ripped away and lost.

There were no easy explanations or cliché speeches one could share that would take away the hurt or mend the brokenness of all these lives even in the years that have followed.

Nor are there easy explanations or trite sentiments that I can express that erase the pain of tragedy today when it hits on a colossal scale as it did in 2004 or when we are alone, privately reeling from a personal loss whether the passing of a beloved child, the unexpected advent of cancer, or financial ruin so severe that there seems no recovery.

There is nothing that can be written here that would cause us to wake, when crisis and trauma afflict us, from what we wish was only a bad dream. Death and pain are permanent residents of planet Earth and at times gallop madly through our lives, trampling everything and everyone in their path.

roaring-wave

While God has never promised us that we would not face death, pain, loss or sorrow, He joins us in this path that we walk.

But in spite of all the horror hurled at humanity by our broken and ravaged world, however and whenever it happens, God does not look on passively. While He has never promised us that we would not face death, pain, loss or sorrow, He joins us in this path that we walk. He grieves with us over our sorrows; He is pained by our hurts; and He laments our losses as if they were His own. He knows pain and loss intimately even as He Himself looked death boldly in the eye and willingly embraced it for our sakes.

Yet… on the other side of loss, there is hope. On the other side of grief, there is joy. On the other side of death, there is life.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah” (Psalm 46:1-3 ESV).

Where do you turn when the world turns upside down? Where do you turn when you lose everything you ever wanted or ever needed? Where do you turn for hope?

And what do you say when it is someone else who has suffered so? Do you tell them to “just get over it” and walk away? Do you turn your eyes away, so afraid of facing pain yourself that you try to keep your distance?

May it not be so. If God had done that, we would never have had a Savior. “By this we know love, that (Jesus) laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18 ESV).

If you are a child of God, your purpose is to be an extension of His heart, a receptacle through which His love may pass and enter a beaten and battered world.

Be a vessel of comfort for someone who grieves. While it’s likely that there isn’t much you can say to make everything okay again, your loving presence in the life of someone who hurts can touch a broken life with comfort.

Be a source of help to someone who is struggling to survive. In your church or in an outreach center near you there may be found avenues for helping others who do not have enough.

God, speaking through His prophet five centuries before the Lord Jesus was laid in a straw-filled manger, said of Christ, “Behold My servant, whom I uphold, My Chosen, in Whom My soul delights; I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations… a bruised reed He will not break, and a faintly burning wick He will not quench; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not grow faint or be discouraged till He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for His law” (Isaiah 42:1, 3-4 ESV).

Still in the business of lifting up bruised reeds and rekindling smoldering wicks, the tender heart of God even now seeks to bring hope to the islands: the islands spread all over the Indian Ocean as well as the private little islands of the struggling souls of those with whom we work and play every day. Let us then be His hands and feet in this New Year.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A thousand things may come to mind Reaching Hand

When one’s calling he seeks to find.

Riches, pleasure, fame and power

May bloom like a fading flower.

Yet their promise fades in the end

Or turns away like a false friend.

So sense of purpose has been lost

And to dark despair hopes are tossed.

But piercing clouds of doubt and fear,

The light of Jesus’ love shines clear.

We cry aloud to Him Who gave

His life for us so He could save

Us for His purposes and plans.

Our Blessed Savior understands

The strife and pain we suffer through

And helps us know what we must do.

He is the Goal for which we reach;

To our souls He’s the Song we teach;

The Living Water our hearts crave;

The Reason that this life we brave.

The rest of life falls into place,

When we believe we’re led by grace.

 

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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The one tremendous catalyst for joy in the life of a follower of Jesus is the realization that the very things in our lives that seem to hold only bitterness and defeat for us happen to be the very things that ignite incredible victory and joy.  From disease to financial ruin, from divorce to death itself, we find that in the very moment that despair would close its gaping jaws upon us to swallow us whole, the long arm of God reaches in with hope, love and power.

That is not to say that we won’t suffer grief in the short term as loss or rejection assail us, but rather that we discover in Christ a shining light that loss and hurt can only cloud over for a season.  There will be a time in which our trust in God is thoroughly vindicated one way or another.

Take, for example, those whose lives have been drastically impacted by the recent flooding in West Virginia.   Loss of home, loss of income, and loss of life came unexpectedly as flood waters that rose in terrifying proportions roared through unsuspecting communities.  The devastation wrought by them is far from being calculable.  And while prospects for rebuilding are high in the long-term, our neighbors there are struggling right now to just get by.

Still, such tragedy and loss, while grievous indeed, are also windows to living acts of grace that show what Christ-like love looks like in real-life ways.  People there who have lost much still find time to give much.  Communities untouched personally are reaching out with love, making such sacrifices as they can in resources and volunteering time and hard work.

Such is love.  It is not an emotion so much as it is a determination to help others whose needs are real and whose pain is great.  We have friends who in live in these afflicted areas who report that Believers from all over have mobilized to assist these in need.  They tell of people whose loving efforts vividly portray a God Who is Himself on mission and Who exemplifies love through His Son, Jesus Christ, Who came to help us in our great need:  deliverance from the power and penalty of sin!

These who today are working to help others without regard to the cost involved are “mini pictures” of God’s grace towards us and remind us that some of the most beautiful and amazing things in life are things we could never know had there been no pain, sorrow or loss.

This is why God’s promise for Christians (people who have repented and turned in faith to Jesus Christ) is such a tremendously powerful word for us in whatever trial we may face or season in which we struggle to survive.  “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28 ESV).

So if you have found yourself in trouble, a place of sadness or hurt, acknowledge that trouble, sadness or hurt, but then look beyond it to the God Who delivers and heals, lifts up and restores.  Disease can only affect us for as long as we are housed in these earthly bodies, but cannot touch the heavenly and eternal one being prepared for us (1 Thessalonians 4:14-18).  Financial ruin and the subsequent struggle to survive materially teach us to depend on the God Who looks after the grasses of the field and the birds of the air (Matthew 6:25-34).  Divorce may split our hearts in two, but God Himself binds up the brokenhearted (Psalm 147:3).  Death may rob us of those we love, but death for the Christian is only a momentary parting which is nullified in the sweet reunion of God’s saints in a heavenly home that awaits us in His perfect presence (John 14:1-3).

Catalyst for joy

We have a God Who is not only working in our lives, but will continue to work in us, through us, and for us a divine plan of blessing that we can scarcely comprehend or imagine!

All of this is strategically vital for us to recall as we press onward in our journey of faith through this world which is hostile towards God and resentful of the hope that we have in Jesus.  We must both recall the hope we have in Christ and also encourage each other with the assurances of God’s sovereign love and His divine commitment to uphold us and keep us safe for eternity.  If it were not so, we could hardly call Him our “Heavenly Father”.

As it is, we have a God Who is not only working in our lives, but will continue to work in us, through us, and for us a divine plan of blessing that we can scarcely comprehend or imagine.  He is the God Who brings life out of death, healing from hurt, and hope over despair.  So be encouraged and see to it that you in turn encourage others with the hope that sustains you.

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing Your praise and not be silent.  O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever!” (Psalm 30:11-12 ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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A friend of mine, on reflecting upon the breathless rate things are moving along, said over lunch with me that we are in times of “white water change.” I doubt that anyone can really disagree with that observation, although people may disagree on how to respond to it.

Whether we like it or not, the world is changing so fast that we may feel hard-pressed to keep pace. And as the world around us changes, our churches are changing, too. As new church families (a.k.a. congregations) are being birthed, and as new generations emerge within the ranks of established churches, it is to be hoped that we see this as an era of a renewed sense of calling along with a renewed resolve to see God glorified and made known while we seek to experience Him working in our lives, our homes and our communities.

As Christians strive to keep up with all this change, it is very easy to feel as if we are being overwhelmed and that we are in danger of being swept away by circumstances that are beyond our control. The collapse of morality, the blitzkrieg of political cutthroats, and the disintegration of the family have become the characteristics of this new day and there is little hope that conventional ideals, logic and methodologies can be effective in restoring a semblance of sanity to our world.

White water

As we strive to keep up with change in our world, it is very easy to feel as if we are in danger of being swept away by circumstances that are beyond our control.

 

At times like these, Christians can be baited into taking sides against one another, battle lines can be drawn, and lives can be wounded.

Why does this sometimes happen? How is it possible that we, who are brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, can react in such different ways to the same dynamics and then hurt each other as we begin to assume the worst in others’ motives?

Well, for one thing, change often brings loss (or at least a perception of it). We tend to find it difficult to “let go” of the cultural aspects of our Christianity that have brought us comfort and, more than that, it is natural to be reluctant to release those things for which we have spent our lives – even when we finally admit to ourselves and God that maybe we’ve spent ourselves on the wrong things.

On the other hand, there really is a need for change in the church today. The kind of change that is necessary is the kind that readily impacts the lives of those to whom God connects it.

Oh, by “change”, I do not mean a departure from the Scriptures as being the standard for living life and discerning truth. On the contrary, there must in fact be a renewed sense of the Scripture’s relevance to life, to its applicability to the soul’s search for meaning, and to the moral quagmire that has so ensnared our culture.

Because the Gospel is “Good News” for all people in all places for all time, it cannot be changed in its essence (and any attempt on our part to change its essence negates the validity of all the rest of the message we proclaim). Indeed, as this “Gospel” was in the mind of God before time began and will be perfectly unveiled and vindicated in every way when time has ended, it is an invincible column of rock that continually defeats the torrents of the river of time.

Still, each generation has its own voice in proclaiming His praises and in serving Him. And as God’s Spirit is always breathing new life, new inspiration, and new vision for how we may praise and serve our living God, each voice is continually being transformed even as we confront the evils of our day and defy the lies of our spiritual enemy, Satan.

Please understand that change has come, is coming, and will continue to come. If you welcome it, consider the perspective of those who do not welcome it and let your attitude and actions be seasoned with the same grace that God has shown you in Jesus Christ. Not only that, allow God to enlarge your understanding through the thoughts of others as He sheds the light of His wisdom on your race to embrace change. Think well on how God may have sent these persons to play a part in shaping you and your walk with Him. Even those things that can be difficult and painful can be used by God to change you as you seek to change the world.

And if you are of the “don’t like change; don’t want it” camp, take to heart God’s desire to accomplish new things in you, your family, your church and your community. An unimaginably powerful and infinitely loving God always has more to do and say to a people who will obediently walk with Him.

Change will come however you feel about it. Your part is to help it be the right kind of change: not the change of recklessness but also not the change that comes from the deterioration and decay of stagnation.

If you do not have a church family (local church congregation), seek out one that genuinely points to the Bible as having the answers to all of life’s questions and then allow God to bless them through you as He allows change to freshen and revive you and your home.

“Now to Him Who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV).

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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Path through the woods

One often likes to think that when

            He or she becomes born again,

Life’s road turns smooth and runs straight through

            Flow’ring glens alive with dazzling hue,

Glorious vistas, soft sod to trod

            That lead us in our walk with God

Ever closer to see His face,

            Feel His love and His warm embrace.

 

Yet, though such glens of joyful peace

            Indeed occur, they so quickly cease

In order to work deeper still

            The workings of God’s perfect will.

Not all storms come as pounding rain

            That beat upon the window pane

Or mighty winds that whirling by

            Bring grim destruction from the sky.

 

God knows in hearts there lurk such things

            That flow from selfish ponderings:

Poisonings of our fallen state

            Like pride and envy, lust and hate.

Such seeds of death must be undone

            So deeper bliss for us is won.

For with such things we’ll never be

            Made wholly new, set truly free.

 

Trials and troubles are therefore sent

            So trust in self be entirely spent

And faith and love be taught to grow

            And from our hearts be loosed to flow.

Hearts that yield within the storm

            Are hearts that God Himself will warm.

So in the dark, though unclear the way,

            Allow Christ’s cross o’er you to sway.

 

Curse not the advent of the pain

            That is the path to greater gain.

Trust the Father Who guides you through

            And brings new joy and hope to you.

He is faithful, the God Who gives

            You His Spirit that in you lives

To grant you greater life in Him,

            A lasting joy that will not dim.

Copyright © Thom Mollohan

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