Tag Archives: Lent

Reflections on Lent, Day 35

Just because a person becomes a Christian does not mean that they will now be blessed with every good thing and will walk smiling through a life without troubles, wondering why everybody else doesn’t simply adopt their easy plan for love, money, and a life for the most part free from pain.  I know that this caricature of life as a Christian is pure bull caca, and it continues to amaze me that it is preached by some and accepted by great crowds of the gullible to this day.  Jesus and ten of the first eleven disciples (Judas excluded), seemed to miss out on the health and wealth aspect of this strange description of Christ’s mission on earth, so why on earth would anyone think that such a vision would work for a true Christ follower today?

This topic of pain and trouble has been dealt with already by writers and thinkers far sharper than Yours Truly.  Harold Kushner wrote “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” in 1978, and Rabbi Kushner did a wonderful job of explaining this topic.  I will not summarize that book here, but I encourage anyone wrestling with this issue to give it a read.   This is only a Lent reflection however, and not a book review.

During this Lent period I have been trying to focus more sharply on God and my walk with Him/Her (at ease now;  I’m not trying to be unnecessarily incendiary here.  I just believe that trying to apply gender roles and limitations to God is a fool’s errand).  At the outset of the Lent season I naively expected a significant spike in the quality of my prayer life, a quiet confidence that God was in control of the wildness and confusing randomness of my health, work and family life, and that maybe I would hit on the lottery.  As it has turned out, this has been one of the most trying months-and-change that I have had in a while, and if you consider that my last year included a heart attack and bypass surgery, that’s saying quite a lot.

I won’t go into all of the details of the trials which I have endured during this Lent season, and I also won’t try to say that I have not also experienced great spiritual successes and blessings too.  The point of this reflection is that we all, Christian and non-Christian alike, live in a bent and broken world, and that becoming a follower of Christ does not remove a person from that world.  All of the pain and wrongness which afflict the atheist or the Hindu or the Muslim or the Capitalist or the Vegan afflict the Christian too.  I don’t know why that is so, but I do know for a fact that it IS so, and nobody will gain anything by denying that fact, except perhaps silver-tongued preachers who prey upon the fear and greed and weakness of those who listen to them.  I am not judging anybody here (that would be way above my pay grade!), but I am not overly confident of those “preachers'” odds for a good outcome when the judgement day arrives.  I hope for the best, but I’ve got some doubts there.

With all of this in mind, it is probably reasonable to ask why it is a good idea to become a Christian in the first place.  I miss out on the sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll, I don’t get to make fun of people who are different than me, and I don’t get to cheat on my taxes with a clear conscience if I buy into this Christian thing, and in return I get  –  What?  Maybe I’ll go to heaven if I get the luck of the draw (if Calvin’s caricature is right), or maybe I get a crutch to prop my weak ass through the life that everybody else seems to be living just fine (NB: they aren’t!) .  Maybe I’ll just get the prestige of being the adherent to a barely tolerated subgroup in American society and earn the right to get a shellacking in the next election if I decide to run for president.

No, any benefit received by following the crucified Christ is not likely to be monetary, political or positional in society.  So what is it”  I have learned this Lent season that God is, as David Benner writes in “Surrender to Love”, madly in love with us.  Jesus does not stand between us and the shit that the world, the flesh and the devil throw at us.  Instead, He stands beside us, getting covered up in that shit the same as we are.  I count it a privilege to be covered in the same shit that the broken world threw on my God, and when He/She cleans me off some day I hope that He/she will clean off the world that was throwing it as well, and that all of us who will accept God’s grace will dine – no, dine isn’t the right word – will PARTY together, while those who chose to reject Christ to the end will nurse their grudges and drink their bitter cup in an outer darkness of their own choosing, in a prison or tomb locked from the inside.

So yeah, life can be a bitch.  So what?  That’s not news.  Put your tough pants on.  Life is also a gift, and while you can’t always dial up the life you want, you can always draw on His/Her power to make it reflect a little bit of Christ back into the world.  For me, that is enough.

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Reflections On Lent, Day 26

Today I enjoyed what was probably the best church service that I have ever had the excessively good fortune to attend, and I have attended many very good ones.  Of course, there were other very good services conducted nearby and elsewhere but I simply did not attend them.  No matter.  I have been a committed Christian for over thirty years now and have been blessed by truly wonderful services at a number of churches.  This is not about any sort of competition, and there is no material prize.  I am only saying that I was blessed by today’s service at House of Providence in ways that I have never been blessed before.

What particularly was so special about today’s service?  Particularly, there was nothing special about it.  The music/worship was wonderful, but then it usually is.  The sermon went straight to the point and spoke to where I am right now, but then then it usually does.  The people, the prayer, the Prayers of the People; all of it was as good as usual.  But for me, today, all of these strands were blended together into a whole that salved my wounds and nourished my soul in ways that don’t happen just every day.

I was greatly moved by the focus on Jesus’ last moments of life.  While hanging on a Roman cross, His life draining out of Him, Jesus looked down at John and Mary, His mother.  In paraphrase Jesus said “Mom, John is your son now,” and then He said “John, take care of Mom for me.”  Now that’s not what ancient gods usually said and did.  The Sumerian goddess Ishtar sends a bull from heaven to trash the Earth because the heroic Gilgamesh, king of Ur, doesn’t want to go to bed with her.  The king seems to prefer the company of Enkidu, a wild man also created by the gods to harass Gilgamesh but with whom he becomes best buddies.  It’s weird, but I ain’t judging.

In Greek mythology/theology Zeus and his cohorts are busy having sex with mortals and pouting when things don’t go exactly their way, causing shipwrecks and losses in battle and turning sex partners into cows to avoid the ire of jealous god or goddess spouses.  Other theologies were less comical.  Aztec priests, when dedicating a pyramid at the imperial capital of Tenochtitlan, conducted between 10,000 and 80,000 human sacrifices in only four days.  Work out the math on that one.  And I will not disturb you with the details of Aztec human sacrifice, but it wasn’t pretty.

Jesus’ thoughts at this moment were not on bulls, or sex, or sex with bulls, or bloody sacrifice, apart from His own that is.  He was thinking about His mother.  Jesus knew that John was the only disciple who would live a long life and die a natural death.  He could have entrusted his mom to Peter, Mark, Matthew or, worst case scenario, to Stephen.  He didn’t.  “Mom, stay close to John (he’s going to be around for a while).  John, treat her like your own mother.”  Other religious views show superhuman gods with very human failings, which are amplified as only a god could amplify them.  Jesus on the cross shows the victorious God who defeats hell and death but also shows human tenderness and love for his mother, even over his own immediate problem.  That is a God that I can put my faith in.

Jesus also said that He was thirsty and that it is finished.  No doubt He was thirsty!  Blood had poured from his shredded back and He would have had no fluids since the night before.  But His thirst is nothing like our own.  Jesus was given sour wine to drink, but we need the water which flows from Him, and He gives it.  It is awful that Jesus had to hang thirstily from that cross so that My dry soul could be spiritually rehydrated, but I give Him thanks that He did it for me, and for everyone else who will drink.

And finally He said “It is finished”.  What is finished”  Death and hell appear to be all around us still.  ISIS tortures, rapes and kills in Syria and Iraq with impunity.  Disease rampages through Africa and poverty dogs much of the world.  If Jesus came here to make things right it certainly doesn’t look on the face of it like it’s working.  What exactly did Jesus finish?

In a word, eternal, spiritual death.  Sin and hell are no longer in the driver’s seat.  As bad as it looks, it’s getting better.  Heaven and Earth are being reconciled and there’s nothing that the devil and all of his forces can do about it.  God’s kingdom on Earth is inevitable; it is coming and will be established, and sin will be cast outside the walls of the Kingdom of God to grind it’s teeth like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, certain of his self earned righteousness and unwilling to allow Gods grace to heal him of his self inflicted wound.

Yeah, it was a service that I needed today.  I will go to bed tonight still thinking about it, and hopefully it will remain with me as I pick up my busy workaday life tomorrow and get into the mix once again.

Reflections On Lent, Day 17

There was not much reflecting on Lent going on in my mind on day 17, just like there wasn’t much on day 16.  “Not surprising” I thought to myself.  “I’m really busy today, with a full schedule at work that is going to take some creative jiggering of employees to get everything done with the least possible inconvenience to everyone involved”.  The day did work out well, but required nearly all of my thought, allowing little time to ponder spiritual things.

And when I did remember that we are in the midst of Lent and try to put things into a spiritual perspective, my mind was quickly filled with thoughts of the health issues of my granddaughter and the pain and fear that my daughter and her husband are experiencing.  When I get those thoughts put to rest I remember the tangled process of getting my car fixed.  I was rear-ended several weeks ago and the process of getting my car repaired is frustrating to say the least.  And then there are the handful of other issues which divert my mind or simply weigh it down, so that there is very little time devoted to thinking about God.

Then it hit me as I was forming beds around some shrubs in my front yard: there might be somebody who doesn’t want me to be thinking about spiritual things.  There just might be a personality which is very steadily working to keep my mind focused on things other than God and my relationship to Him.

Who would want to do a thing like that?  Uh, the devil maybe?  But what does the devil care about me?  He is only a created being, far from omni-anything.  I’m certain that the hideous depredations of Boko Haram, ISIS, the awfulness that is North Korea, the war in eastern Ukraine and the culture of rape in India, Congo, and elsewhere are much more likely to whet the palate of Old Scratch than my puny self.  It doesn’t make sense that he would waste his infernal time trying to turn my attention away from God.

Perhaps that’s what “junior tempters” such as were described in C. S. Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters” are up to.  I can easily see some junior tempter, ‘Drizzleschmertz’ we’ll call her, employing all of the skills that she learned at the Boarspittle Demonic Academy in an effort to win favor from her overseer, Schnodsmutl, who will eat her soul if she does not deliver my own to whet his appetite.  I am nobody in particular except for being a beloved child of the Living God, so they would not invest much into capturing me.  Bigger guns for bigger prey.

And then there are the two books by Frank Peretti, “This Present Darkness” and “Piercing The Darkness”.  Those two books are not very much in favor now because we’ve all become too cool to believe that our liberal social institutions might be demonically directed.  If Peretti were to write a similar book in which conservative individuals and institutions were the ones influenced and even directed by demons, and in many instances he could probably make a coherent case for such a theme, his books would probably once again be on the best seller list.  The politics of the thing mean nothing to me.  Peretti painted a vivid picture of spiritual warfare that in my opinion still has something valid to say to the world about the unseen component to many of the awful things that we see today.  I have no problem with the idea of a scaly, beaked demon with sharp claws tugging at tufts of wiry bristles growing out of its jowled, slobbering face whispering distractions into my ear as I try to focus on God.

Do I believe anything like this is happening to me?  Yes, no, I don’t know, maybe.  I can’t see the supernatural, so how can I speculate on what it looks like and what it’s doing?  Do I believe that such a picture is impossible?  No, I do not believe such a thing.  Do I believe that such a thing is happening to me today?  Again, maybe.  I can’t rule it in and I an’t rule it out.

So maybe I’ll just assume that I am a prize in some supernatural struggle and force myself to choose a side.  Of course, I choose God’s side.  And how will I do that?  Bend my mind toward good things and try to be aware of what’s happening around me.  Love God and Love my neighbor. No, not just formula; really do it.  Even if the turd neighbor who annoys the snot out of me is impossible to love.  Love him/her anyway and keep my eyes, ears and mind open.  No telling what I might learn.

Reflections On Lent, Day 15

Today’s reflections on Lent is that I did not reflect very much on Lent.  Today was very much like all of the other days this year that I have gotten up, gone to work, come home and pittled away the rest of the evening without thinking too much about God.  It could have been lingering effects of the stress that I have been under with a sick granddaughter, or a day of juggling my time trying to keep the patients moving and not having to wait too long for their tests while trying to cover multiple sites with a bare minimum of employees.  With any luck some anticipated new employees will soon alleviate this burden, but for now I must carry it daily.

At any rate, when I arrived home from work an hour and a half after I normally do I had almost no energy left.  A nap, I reasoned, would be sufficient to rejuvenate me and enable me to attend our church’s weekly Home Community meeting at some friends’ house, and it probably would have been except that I didn’t wake up until well after the group would have come together and begun their meeting.  I regret missing Home Community.  I really do enjoy getting together with those good people, eating wonderful dinners and talking about God.  It’s one of the highlights of my week.  It just didn’t happen this week and contributed to the general flatness that I feel tonight.

I wonder if Jesus ever felt this kind of flatness.  Probably not.  He was God after all, and probably had enough irons in the fire to keep his spiritual edge keen and ready for work.  But Jesus was also human too.  One hundred percent human.  Isn’t it at least conceivable that Jesus was subject to the same impulses, or lack of impulses, and frailties that have plagued the rest of us mortals as we walked our sometimes dreary paths on this earth?  I don’t really know the answer to that, but I think that it’s at least worth pondering.

About the other saints I have no doubt.  Paul, with his thorn in the flesh, most certainly had times when he was simply thinking “I wish I could get that damned thorn out”, and the Ephesians or Romans or whoever just had to wait another day to get their church founded or receive that letter that they were waiting for.  And Martin Luther, when he was not wrestling with a Pope who could easily have him burned at the stake, spent hours squatting on the can and wrestling with painful and persistent constipation.  I wonder which situation Mr. Luther thought was the worse?  I have little doubt however that, between working out his 95 Theses and writing his Three Treatises Mr. Luther spent at least a little of his time wishing that he could just drop that log and get off of the pot, where his legs had long since gone numb while sitting there and waiting for something good to happen.

And on it goes, I assume, for the rest of struggling humanity.  Some days you are founding churches and writing theses and some days you just want relief from a nagging pain or to be able to take a dump.  Today has been one of those latter days for me.  It seemed sufficient to slog through a day’s work and wake up from a nap in time to eat dinner, write a thoroughly non-spiritual reflection on the fifteenth day of Lent and then get ready to go to bed.

So there it is.  I hope that you, reader, had a more Spirit-attuned day today than I did, and I hope that the Spirit floods me with thoughts and observations tomorrow.  For today, I can report that I made it through to the end with no particular spiritual insights given me over the course of the day.  I suppose it is possible that I’m in good company,

Reflections On Lent, Day 14

Thirteen is indeed a nasty number.  As I wrote yesterday, many people consider that number to be very unlucky.  I am now one who can be counted among their numbers.  I can write this for two reasons:  First, because this is my blog and I can write anything that I want, and secondly because today was a very great improvement over yesterday.  Yesterday I had a sick granddaughter with frightening symptoms and no diagnosis, a challenging day at work where I was exhausted from lack of sleep and distracted by worry, and was facing an eye test to evaluate some weird visual disturbances that I was having.  This does not make for a party sort of emotional state.

Today we apparently have a diagnosis, which can lead to a treatment.  I got a decent night’s sleep last night (utter exhaustion!) which helps everything, and the eye exam showed no evidence of detached retina, which was the result that I feared most.  So it would be very much in my nature to mutter a desultory prayer of thanks and relief, pour another glass of wine, and return to schlepping my way through life in my traditional pollyanna style.  OK, I’m not that shallow.  Not quite.  But you get the picture.  I live for the groove.  I like the Ansel Adams photo of “Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico” hanging on my wall over the worn rocking chair that i bought upon the birth of my daughter 36 years ago and want both to stay exactly where they are for another 36 years.  That doesn’t mean that I’m a stick in the mud.  My friends will tell you that I am quite the opposite.  Still, I have a lifestyle, a pattern of behavior that is my comfort zone.  That comfort zone softens the blows of life for me and, so to speak, sedates me against the pain of life.  It is this rhythm of life that I gravitate back to after the storm subsides, and this rhythm does not include pondering the power and efficacy of prayer.  I only do that when waves are smashing in my windows and washing the soil out from under my foundation.

This is Lent however, the fourteenth day of Lent as a matter of fact, and I have tasked myself, and also feel that I have been tasked by God, to ponder the power and efficacy of prayer when the waves subside, the windows are replaced and the foundation shored up.  So I ask myself now: Was my prayer answered?  I prayed for the life and health of a beloved granddaughter yesterday and today we have great hope that a treatment can be drafted and put into effect, and that a beautiful young life will continue to bless her family until long after I am gone.  Is that an answered prayer?

I don’t know the answer to that question.  Nobody could possibly know the answer to that question.  Could this be purely physical?  Medical science applied to perplexing symptoms with the difficult but ultimately predictable outcome that I have described above?  Yeah, I suppose that could be true.  I suppose it is possible that I believe that some God answered my prayer only because I want to believe that, rather than believe that we are ultimately adrift in a random universe where the only gods are time and chance.  To be honest, if I did believe that I lived in such a universe I probably really would create a god to believe in and wouldn’t blame anybody else if they did so as well.

But I do not have to resort to that.  I worship a God who exists, who walked the earth, who preached, healed, performed miracles, was murdered but rose up out of the grave and appeared to multiple hundreds of people after the Romans had done their worst.  And Romans were very good at building roads and aqueducts, creating a legal system, and killing people.  I’m pretty sure that they killed Jesus good and dead.  This God said that I should pray when I am distressed (among other times) and He will answer me.  I prayed, and He answered.  I am sure that’s how the deal went down.

Of course, there’s still Boko Haram, North Korea, ISIS, repression of Muslims in Myanmar, the raping and killing of women in India and a host of other things that I pray about that have not been answered.  What about that?  The answer if I am hearing God clearly, is that the people of God were in Babylon for 70 years, the Hebrews were in Egypt 400 years, and Jesus has not returned in two thousand years.  Things take time, and God’s timetable is very different from my own.  That’s cool.  I’m OK with that.  God may take a little bit longer to clean up those other messes, but over the last 24 hours He seems to have taken one load off of my shoulders.  Tonight I will pray just as fervently a prayer of thanks as I prayed in supplication last night.  Why?  Because I have faith.

Reflections On Lent, Day 13

Thirteen.  An unlucky number, some people say.  I wonder where they got that from.  Why is thirteen supposed to be a worse number than twelve or fourteen?  And it’s not just the ignorant and superstitious who fall prey to the dread of that number.  Have you ever stayed in a hotel room or hospital room numbered thirteen?  Or even been on a thirteenth floor of a high rise building?  I’d be willing to wager that you have not.  It’s a very curious matter and I would be inclined to dismiss the whole thing as fairy tale hocus-pocus, and I am still open to that possibility that such is the case, except that this thirteenth day of Lent finds me very much on a downer.

My granddaughter is sick, and nobody quite knows what is going on.  The helplessness that I feel watching this process play out is infinitely worse than the helplessness that I felt while awaiting an operation for three clogged arteries on the back of my heart.  In that case I knew what the problem was, even if I had no idea why I had the problem in the first place, and what would be required to fix it.  In the present situation I can only wait to hear about test results and pray that God will intervene and secure a complete healing, and pray is exactly what I have been doing along with a whole lot of other people.

But why is it that this still leaves me nervous, unable to sleep well at night and distracted at work?  Prayer changes things, right?  Well, maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t.  The two hundred Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by the nutbag group Boko Haram have not been released, and I have prayed for that.  And what about North Korea?  I’ve prayed that the suffering people of that country would be given relief from rule by a family of madmen, and millions of Korean Christians have prayed the same prayer as well, and for many years.  Nothing yet!  Let’s face it:  praying for something does not mean that what you or I want to see happen will happen.  God, it seems, has His reasons why one prayer appears to be answered in the positive and another prayer does not.

This situation then inevitably leads to the pain of doubt, in my case at least.  Why don’t the suffering minorities under the bloody thumb of ISIS get relief when I and millions of other Christians pray for it?  Is God not listening, or doesn’t God care?  I do not and can not believe that this is the case.  There is too much evidence to the contrary for me to believe for a minute that God is on an extended coffee break and cannot be bothered with insignificant affairs down here.  Any God who takes a vacation would not be much of a God at all.

I believe that God cares.  God hears my prayers and the prayers of everyone in this particular situation, and if I could only see the problem from God’s eternal perspective it would all make sense.  I believe that God will answer our prayers too.  I cannot see the answer now but I will, just as I will someday see the answer to all of those prayers about the Nigerian girls, North Korea and ISIS.  When I finally see those issues in their entirety it will all make sense, and so will the globally small but personally huge issue of one sick little girl in a corner of the United States of America.

In the meantime I must lean on faith.  I believe with all of my heart that God hears our cries and is working in His own perfect way to bring things to a conclusion that we – I – will see, from that eternal perspective to be, in fact, perfect.  It gnaws at my heart that I do not see God acting as I would have Him act, but maybe that is for my own good.  A god who acts as I direct when I whistle him up with a nicely constructed incantation wouldn’t be much of a god either.

God is good.  God hears.  God cares.  God will act and in fact is acting.  This I know because God told me so and I believe it to be true.  I have faith that it it true.  That must, for the moment, be enough.

Reflection On Lent, Day 12

Day number 12 of my Lent reflections.  You’d think that I would run out of things to reflect on.  I certainly would think so!  I mean, how complicated are our lives that we can come up with something new of a spiritual nature every day?  Of course pastors and theologians can do such things at the drop of a hat, but that comes as no surprise; that’s their job and they trained for it and get paid to do it (sometimes too much but usually not enough).  I’m not a pastor and I am definitely not a theologian, so it is most unlikely that these reflections come entirely from me.

That leaves us with the conclusion that they come at least in part from somewhere else.  Now, my wife is not feeding me these topics and themes and neither are my son, my daughter, my brother, nor any other living material being on this planet.  That narrows it down even more to a supernatural source for these many thoughts, and there are only two choices which can be made as to which side of the cosmic supernatural war might be feeding me the ideas that I write about which are wrapped up in my own real personal experiences and written out of my own perceptions of reality.  I will let you, reader, decide from whence my inspiration arises.

Today I write about a mixed bag sort of day.  Have you ever had one of those?  Part of the day causes you to walk on air while the other part has you grinding down the street wearing iron boots.  You feel divided; guilty if you are reveling in the joy that one part of your day is giving you and guilty if you are wallowing in your downer when you have so much to feel good about.  I’m not at all certain how to proceed, so I will just let the Holy Spirit guide me if S/He will, and share my struggle a little bit with you all today.

On the downer side, I have an illness in my extended family.  I will be vague about this because that is my nature and training.  I work in the health care business and we live and die by a code of discretion and caution concerning other people’s medical issues, and even though the family members most closely connected to the party in difficulty are not at all reticent to talk about it, I am.  So you’ll have to take my word for it that I’m worried.  This has been a cloud over my head since I woke up this morning, and it’s been hard to not think about it.

And then there is the day that God has given us today!  The sun is out and I am sitting in a chair with my feet propped up on the hood of my truck in the sunshine.  I pulled a gob of weeds today and I love little more than getting my fingers into the dirt.  I’m even wearing shorts, although that’s causing a strain on the relationship with my neighbors.  They’re all wearing shades to prevent blindness from the sunlight reflecting off of my white, knobby legs!  On days like this I can hardly let anything get me down, and all of this is what feeds my problem.  Am I dissing God by allowing myself to be down on such a day?  Am I dissing my family to be sitting comfortable and warm in flood of sunshine that really shouldn’t be here for one, two, or even three more months?

Trying to work my way through this I am reminded of a story that I once read, I remember not where.  A very saintly woman – we’ll call her “Agnes” because that name sounds so very spiritual – who was known for her spirituality and relationship with God, and especially for her prowess as a prayer warrior for the cause of God, was traveling through the countryside one day and stopped at a monastery along the way where she hoped to find a bed and a meal.  The Grand Poobah of the monastery invited her in with a flourish of hospitality, and threw a great feast to welcome her.  The meal consisted of bread, cheeses, beer and partridges, and Sister Agnes wasted no time tearing into the food and drink with unreserved gusto.  As she began to slam down her fourth bird the Grand Poobah became concerned and gently chided her on her appetite.  “Sister Agnes,” he said, “don’t you think that you should slow down for appearances’ sake?  This could tarnish your fine reputation as a moderate woman of God”.  The Sister lowered the bird for a moment and replied:  “Brother Poobah.  When it’s time to pray, pray.  But when it’s time to partridge, partridge.”

Well, I think God’s telling me something like that today.  When it’s time to engage my family and support them in their difficulty, pray and support.  But when it’s time to sit in the sun or run my fingers through the moist, warm dirt, sit and run my fingers and be thankful for the opportunity.

So that’s what I’ll do.  Pray a prayer of petition and also one of thanks.  God can multitask.  He can chew gum and walk.  He can handle it all just fine.  So I’ll quit cluttering up my life trying to find the ‘right’ response to every situation and just enjoy God’s blessing when everything’s fine and lean into Him when the storms hit.  Thanks God.