MY WALK: A PERSONAL ACCOUNT

Sometimes, it’s good to be bold, to try something new, so writing about myself is my Christmas challenge to myself. This is not what I “do,” but it’s okay this time. We’ll see. Merry Christmas to everyone! God bless.

2 PETER 3:9 (NASB): “The LORD is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.”

JEREMIAH 29:13 (NKJV): “And you will seek Me and find Me, when  you search for Me with all your heart.”

JOHN 17:20 (ESV): “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”

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A CHRISTMAS TALE

“WHY DON’T YOU tell your readers something about your personal life?” my wife asked me recently. The question seemed innocent enough, but I scowled anyway.

“That’s not what I do,” I replied, sounding a bit more smug than I needed to be.

I thought quickly of some of the blogs I’ve read that I really found enjoyable, and many of them — gasp! — were personal columns.

“Mine have been more ‘teacherly,’” I continued. “You  know, the kind that give a message of encouragement for anyone. I don’t really want to share what I had for breakfast.”

Well, as I thought about it, another blogger, PK Adams, encouraged me further, so I’ll make the stab. Bear in mind, I’m of mixed opinion about this, but this is Christmas, and maybe this time, I could share just a slice of who I am.

HERE COMES THE DOG

AFTER A LIFETIME of “dog avoidance,” I’ve recently become the co-parent of a puppy Shih Tzu, possibly the cutest individual animal God ever created.

Here’s me with our dog, named Gracie. I call her “Puppy,” and I’m totally in love with her.

She has taken over our home in quick order: watches TV with us, sleeps in our bed (oh, yes, that didn’t take her long), enjoys outdoor walks, chases leaves, barks at herons, loves to play “toss and retrieve,” and goes bonkers when another dog is around. 

My wife’s daughter has Gracie’s sister. The two dogs wrestle and bark and run rings around the room, like two crazed animals. They are adorable (but ours is cuter :-))

CAROLINA IN THE MORNING

NOTHING COULD BE FINER, as the song goes, than Carolina in the morning, and I can agree. Here’s the  view out our patio window as the Sun rises over the lagoon. 

I guess those are pine trees of some sort, but I don’t really know and in our five years of living here, haven’t bothered to ask anyone. They look strange to me, unlike the trees we saw up North that shed their leaves every autumn.

We moved to South Carolina from the Washington, DC, area to enjoy a warmer climate, lower taxes, and fewer traffic jams. Now that I see what it’s like, I kind of wish we had made the move earlier. Of course, there was that thing about our jobs, but … 

Although I’ve lived most of my life along the southern rim of the Great Lakes, Southeast New England, and DC, I love the “New South.” 

THEN THERE’S FLORIDA!

ONE YEAR AGO, we bought a condominium in South Florida, oceanside, partly as an investment,  partly to be near family, and partly because it’s a great place to be!

Here’s the view through our screened-in balcony overlooking a tributary of the Intercostal Waterway. I love to sit on the balcony early morning with my Bible downloaded onto my iPad, sip my fresh brewed coffee, and enjoy God’s Nature while I study God’s Word. 

Life is good! 

But there’s more, and I’m running out of space, so maybe there’s hope for another personal column. I didn’t get to talk about this blog … or blogs in general. That could be interesting.

We’ll see. 

ABOUT THOSE VERSES

I LOVE BASING my blog posts on Scripture. Usually, I select three verses that “work together,” at least as I believe the Holy Spirit guides me.  

I also love grabbing verses from different translations. Maybe it’s the academic in me, or the journalist, which is how I earned my living before journalism became corrupt and one-sided (oops, I digress). 

The three I chose for this piece are as close to “life verses” as I can get. Each tells of the Savior’s love for me (and all of us who know Him). They comfort me in knowing that my salvation is secure because He wants me to be with Him. (John 14:3)

Praise God! I am so blessed.

PRAYER

O LORD, OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, how grateful  we are that You’re a God who loves us, who cherishes us, and who literally would do anything — even sacrifice Your only Son — to reclaim us. We are blessed, indeed. Forgive us when we are disobedient, and guide us into Your loving arms, then empower us to share the message of redemption with those You put in our paths. In Jesus’ Name we pray. AMEN

GOD’S GOOD GIFTS TO US

God’s goodness overflows in our lives. Sometimes these gifts manifest themselves in saving us from the effect of our poor decisions; sometimes they are long in coming, almost as a “life achievement” award. Yet, also, we are taught by His Word that for many of us, our rewards will not be apparent in this world but, as Romans 8:28 assures us, they will be showered on us in glory. What we all assured of in this world is the Lord’s promise in John 10:10b that He came to give us life in abundance.

James 1:17a (NCV): “Every good action and every perfect gift is from God.”

John 3:27 (KJ2000): “John [the Baptist] answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.'”

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THE LORD’S BENEVOLENT HAND

THE OTHER DAY I nearly lost my left eye.

OIP.WTKqPq5kyy4FCViBQ1c-9QAAAAI bent over to pick up a dead leaf from one of our indoor plants and failed to see a stabilizer stick jutting up that struck my forehead.

Barely an inch from my eye.

Surely, God’s angels were watching over me.

That incident is not even the most dramatic one in the last few days affecting me or members of my family, but just one example in my life.

God is good to us, and we see reminders of that every day.

NOT PROSPERITY GOSPEL

LET’S NOT MISTAKE God’s good gifts for the so-called “Prosperity Gospel.” God’s Word promises He’ll go through our trials with us, not that we will skate through life without them.

However, each one of us can cite numerous examples where we experienced a “near miss,” something that easily could have turned into one of those tragedies we all read about and say, “Hope that doesn’t happen to me.”TRAFFIC_DRIVING

There are many times we’ve been saved from a car running a red light, a flying object that misses our face,  or a heavy object that falls harmlessly beside our foot.

Often for me, it has manifested itself in driving situations, where I’m about to turn into the passing lane and am alerted by my car’s alarm of an oncoming vehicle that I failed to see in the mirror. I immediately thank God for watching over me.

When turning left in front of oncoming traffic, I pray for patience so that I don’t end up scooting in front of a car, a car that I swear has just sped up, but allow myself to wait for a clearer path.

“Love, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” I recite the Fruit of the Spirit (Gals. 5:22-23 ESV) as a prayer, each time emphasizing the fourth word to restrain my impulses.

Not only in my own life, but how often has a loved one experienced God’s protective grace, and I don’t even know about it? If they don’t relate the story, I’ll never hear of it, but I still “know” that God’s protection abounds.

I did hear of one story. In July 2019, my daughter in Texas was struck by two cars — one from behind her and one from in front. While the car was a total wreck, she escaped with a concussion, and the children were unharmed.

I still thank the Lord for sparing their lives.

JESUS’ GREATEST SERMON

JESUS IN THE SERMON on the Mount tells us about God’s goodness … by contrasting His goodness with  man’s goodness.SERMON_ON_MOUNT

He tells a story of how mankind, being inherently evil, still has the capacity to do good things. He says a father, for example, will not give his son a stone if the child asks for bread, nor will he give the child a snake instead of a fish (Matt. 7:9-10).

The Master uses the example to assure His listeners that, if earthly fathers can give good gifts to their children, surely a good and loving Heavenly Father would “give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:11 ESV).

I’m often amazed at stories of Good Samaritans who quickly doff shoes and clothing to dive into a pool or lake or ocean to retrieve another person they may not even know, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. (Just Google, “Good Samaritan dies saving another person” to see numerous examples.)

GOD’S GOOD GIFTS

A SPIRIT-FILLED PASTOR in the DC area a few years ago related a story of how, when their  children were young, they would stop by the roadside on the way to the Washington Zoo to pray for a good parking spot.

When the congregation registered surprise, he said, “Oh, yeah! God loves to give His children good gifts, … and we managed to find some pretty good parking spots, too!”Meditation.Raised Hands

All good gifts come from the Father, but how often do most people think to ask God for help in their everyday lives, even when the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:17) exhorts us to stay in prayer throughout the day?

There are many times we can thank Him for His provision, like asking Him to bless the food we’re about to eat or help us find our car keys or pray that He’ll keep our dropped mobile phone from a cracked face.

While God is not a genie who grants our every wish, He is a personal God who created us to be in fellowship with Him and wants to provide for us.

Jesus said He came to the earth that we would “have life,  and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b NASB).

How sad for so many who cannot accept the existence of our Heavenly Father nor enjoy His loving goodness toward them.

When we stay in prayer all day, asking Him for favors, seeking forgiveness for something we’ve said, or asking Him to help us decide how to handle a thorny situation, we open the communication channels so God can speak to us … and that’s really the point of it all, isn’t it?

REJOICE IN THE LORD

THE APOSTLE PAUL exhorts us to “always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again — rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4 NLT).

Nearly 1,000 years earlier, the psalmist gave us the same message: “Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! … For the LORD is good.” (Psalm 100:1, 5a NKJV)

The Doxology, sung each week in many churches, says this: 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

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PRAYER

image-13

OUR GOOD AND GRACIOUS HEAVENLY FATHER,  we thank you for Your loving kindness, Your mercy, and Your provision. Please forgive us when we take Your gifts for granted. Give us hearts that appreciate Your goodness. Praise the Lord! In Jesus name, AMEN

CAN WE KNOW WE’LL GO TO HEAVEN?

Are you going to Heaven when you die? Polls show most people believe there is a Heaven and they’re on their way. Why? Because, they say, basically they are “good” people. But what does the Bible say about that? Pastor and author Author Randy Alcorn in a new tract explains that Heaven isn’t our “default destination” and that important changes must be made in our lives if we are to spend eternity with the Lord in His rest.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV): “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

2 Peter 2:9 (CEV): “This shows that the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their sufferings and to punish evil people while they wait for the day of judgment.”

Revelation 22:17 (ESV): “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

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MISSING THE TRAIN TO HEAVEN

RECENTLY, I WAS DRIVING one of our church elders to Sunday morning services. He turned to me, his thumb and index finger nearly touching, and said words that still ring in my ears: “Ward, I came this close to spending eternity in Hell.”

HELL. HELL

What a terrifying thought. An eternity of darkness, aloneness. Fire. Worms. Without hope. Without love. Without end. It’ll be hellish. Really.

Yet, a recent poll showed that for every American who believes he or she is going to Hell, 120 believe they are going to Heaven. 

The Bible tells an entirely different story. It says a person must believe in Jesus Christ to enter Heaven. (A different standard applies to those who have not heard of Him.)

Unfortunately, that means that most of the self-described Heaven-bound are wrong.

In fact, the optimism expressed by most Americans, even those who do not profess to be Christian, stands in stark contrast to Jesus Christ’s own words: 

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”Matthew 7:13–14 (ESV).

According to the Bible, most people are not going to Heaven.

They’re going to Hell.

THREE SCENES

IMAGINE THIS:

  • IT’S WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON — You’re at the grave site of a good friend who has BURIAL_SCENEsuccumbed to cancer. You cast your gaze to his survivors and notice his widow and daughter clutching each other through tears. You share their grief. You don’t know where your friend will end up, but you suspect from the way he lived and talked that God, salvation, and repentance were far from his mind. You’re terrified for him.
  • IT’S FRIDAY EVENING — You’re at a high school football game, and the home team is marching down the field toward the end zone. You look around at the stands. You know by sight most of the onlookers. They’re your neighbors and friends. On this Friday night, there’s not a single thought among them about  their eternal destiny. You don’t know where they’ll end up, but you suspect that, come Sunday morning, eternity will not be on their minds, either. You’re terrified for them.
  • IT’S SUNDAY MORNING — You’re at church, and the pastor is wrapping up his weekly altar call, and you look around the congregation. Nobody moves. They must all be saved! Well, maybe so. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! You don’t know their status, but you suspect that most of them think they’re saved or at least don’t need what the pastor is preaching. You’re terrified for them.

How do you handle the horrible thought that most of the people you meet and talk with each week — most of the people you know and most of the people you don’t know — are not on God’s saved list? Their names are not found in His Book of Life. HS_FOOTBALL

What do you do when you consider they have no clue what they’re missing?

DEFAULT DESTINATION

THE TRUTH IS, according to the Bible, we don’t automatically go to Heaven. 

In fact, our default destination is not Heaven — but Hell. Unless our sin problem is solved, we can’t enter Heaven. 

That’s the bad news.

Aahh, but there’s good news, too. In fact, it’s so good, it’s called “Good News”! 

Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, came to our rescue. At the Cross, He took on the Hell we deserve … so that, believing in Him, we can experience for eternity the Heaven we don’t deserve.

TWO DESTINATIONS

THERE ARE ONLY TWO possible destinations when we die: Heaven or Hell.

Can we really know in advance which one we’ll go to? Yes, we can.

The apostle John, one of the writers of the Bible, said this: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13 ESV). image-17

How do we know? 

  • The Bible tells us that all of us, like our first parents, Adam and Eve, are sinners. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).
  • Because of our sin, the Bible says, our default destination is Hell. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NASB).
  • Our sinful hearts make it difficult for us to chart a correct course on our own power. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12 ESV).

GOD’S PLAN

BUT GOD PROVIDED an escape clause. A way out. A get-out-of-jail-free card. 

Simply believe that Jesus Christ is God, that He came to die for sinful man, and that those who believe this … and call on His name … will be saved  from God’s wrath (Rom. 10:9-10, 13). image-2

When Christ died on the Cross for us, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). 

In those days “It is finished” was commonly written across certificates of debt when they were canceled. It meant “Paid in full.” Christ died so that the certificate of debt consisting of all our sins could once and for all be marked “Paid in full.”

What about those who don’t believe?

Jesus said that unless we believe He is the One who redeems mankind, we will die in our sins (John 8:24). 

REPENT OF SIN

ONLY WHEN OUR SINS are dealt with in Christ can we enter Heaven.

We cannot pay our own way, and contrary to popular opinion, there is only one way to get there.

  • Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 NKJV). Because of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross on our behalf, God freely offers us forgiveness: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 CSB). 
  • To be forgiven, we must recognize and repent of our sins. Forgiveness is not automatic. It’s conditioned upon confession: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NKJV). 
  • Christ offers to everyone the gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Jesus died on the Cross as the only One worthy to pay the penalty for our sins demanded by the holiness of God: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).
  • There’s no righteous deed we can do that will earn us a place in Heaven (Titus 3:5). We come to Christ empty-handed. We can take no credit for salvation. It is a gift from God: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9 NET). 

This gift cannot be worked for, earned, or achieved. It’s dependent solely on Christ’s generous sacrifice on our behalf.

CRITICAL DECISION

THIS IS THE MOST important decision of your life.

Far more important than who you’ll marry, or what career you’ll follow, or how many children you’ll have; more important than your next car or the house you buy or your dream vacation plans.

More important than anything else you can think of. 

It’s the decision of where you’ll spend eternity.image-26

Eternity is forever. Once it starts, there’s no turning back. No do-over. No second chance. No course correction. 

Now is the time to make things right with God:

  • Confess your sinfulness;
  • Accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on your behalf.

If you haven’t come to terms with your relationship with God, please pay special attention to the words that follow. Author and Pastor Randy Alcorn sums it this way:

“You are made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person, and heaven is the place. They are a package — they come together. You cannot get heaven without Jesus or Jesus without heaven. Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near’ (Isaiah 55:6 ESV). For all eternity, you’ll be glad you did.”

[For more information on how Heaven isn’t our “default destination,” please see pastor and author Randy Alcorn‘s tract, “How Can We Know We’ll Go to Heaven?”]

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SAVING PRAYER

Here’s a prayer you can use if you want to confess your sins to God and receive His gift of eternal life … or substitute your own words, spoken from the heart.
May God bless you richly as you do.

O GOD, YOU KNOW ME, but I haven’t known You. I’ve come to realize I am a sinful man (woman), and I need a Savior. O God, thank You for the gift that Jesus Christ gave me when He took my sins to the Cross. I am sorry for my sin, and I repent of my sinful ways. O God, please send Your Holy Spirit into my heart to change me and redeem me and make me Yours for all eternity. I want to live for You and with You. In Jesus’ name I lift this prayer, knowing You will hear my plea. Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness and Your gift of life. AMEN

GOODBYE MARTINIS — HELLO HOLY SPIRIT

God’s Word (Eccl. 3:11) tells us that our Creator has placed an emptiness in our lives that only He can fill satisfactorily, yet so many people choose instead to fill that hole with substitutes: alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, risk-taking, or other addictions such as excess work, service, exercise, or pleasure. He invites us to exchange our demons for His refreshing peace (Matt. 11:28). Here’s one man’s tale of redemption from blessed Martinis to blessed Holy Spirit.

Prov. 23:35 (NKJV): “They have struck me, but I was not hurt; They have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?”

Rom. 8:6 (NLT): “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

Phil. 4:7 (CSB): “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

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MARTINIS ARE OUT; HOLY SPIRIT IS IN

FOR MOST OF MY LIFE, I lived without the Holy Spirit in my heart. I did not know the Lord in a personal way. 

IF I WORSHIPPED anything besides myself, it was an extra dry Bombay gin Martini, with properly chilled glass and garnished with a queen-sized olive.CHILLED_MARTINI

When I went to church, which was rare, it was more out of a sense of duty than of worship … and it certainly was not to offer thanksgiving or repent of sin!

Mostly, I slobbered over young attractive women, especially the ones who sat in church without a boyfriend groping at them throughout the service. I was a strong proponent of immodest clothing and loved watching the women play with their hair. 

For 20 years, comprising the time of my first marriage through the wilderness of divorce, I was a “devout Unitarian Universalist,” if there was such a thing. Once I became convinced the UU church was a dead end, I left … and I struggled some more.

DROWNING MY DEMONS

WHEN MY DEMONS became too numerous to handle, I turned to alcohol to deaden the pain. Frankly, that happened every day.

That was an “easy fix,” and, over the decades, I became very adapt at maintaining an adequate supply of gin and vermouth and olives, chilling my glasses to keep them at the ready, then chilling the gin in easy-to-pour bottles so I would not have to waste time mixing the liquid with ice cubes. Even the vermouth was stored in  the refrigerator. I never ran out of olives. 54. Broken-Heart-Hand

Within minutes of arriving home after work, I could fix a strong drink even during winter months when that drink would be made before I took off my coat and scarf.

As time went out, year after year, my life turned downhill, and my future turned bleaker. 

In lucid moments, before the sweet relief of alcohol dulled my senses, I looked into the crystal ball of looming retirement and could only see blackness — a broken man, solitary, with minimal funds, and no hope.

TURNING A CORNER

IN NOVEMBER 2006, my life’s journey turned a corner. I met a single woman for lunch, and she asked me, “Ward, do you have a church home?” I said I did not. She then gave me a testimony regarding the importance of church.

As she talked, I determined to try church provided it could be with her. She allowed me at first before ditching me because I was not a Christian. I left her church for another one and two years later met a woman who led me to yet a third church.

There, I met the Holy Spirit.47.Changed Hearts

Everything from the friendliness of the worshippers to the welcome coffee in the atrium to the upbeat praise and worship music to the doctrinally sound pastor’s message showed me a vision of God that I had never seen before.

Yet, through my stubbornness, it still took me another two years — four years from the time I was asked about having a church home — before I turned my life over to Jesus Christ and received the Holy Spirit into my heart.  That was November 2010 — 10 years ago this month. Happy Anniversary to me!

I begged Him to do what He long wanted to do — captain my life, steer me in the right direction, and restore love and peace to my troubled soul.

That day merely began the course correction. 

COMPLETE OVERHAUL UNDERWAY

THE LORD IMMEDIATELY went to work, healing my brokenness and giving me hope for a future, not just in this world but, more importantly, in the world of eternity.

Yes, wouldn’t you know, His first order of business was to convict me of alcohol abuse and encourage me, and then demand of me, that I stop drinking altogether. 

67.Jesus_Welcomes_AllThat involved another three-year struggle, but He won that battle, and now I’m free of the devil’s solution to my emptiness. At the same time, He introduced me to a Christian woman, who became my wife.

As each day, week, month, and year passes, I learn more and  more about God’s promises and how He wants to lead me (and all of His children) into an abundant life (John 10:10b).

Today’s text source speaks volumes into my heart. My sinful nature was leading me into death, and God’s Holy Spirit was the rescue mission to redeem me.

The Lord’s love for His children gives meaning to my life in a way that I never could have imagined before surrendering my will for my life to His will for my life. 

His Spirit fills my heart with joy even when I’m hurting. Even though I am not always happy or content, I am always joyful.

HEALING EVERYONE’S HEART

BUT WHAT ABOUT YOUR HEART?

Do you fill the empty spaces with something other than God’s Holy Spirit? 

It could be alcohol … or it could be something else … illegal drugs, promiscuous sex, uncontrolled gambling, pursuit of pleasure, excessive devotion to work or service projects or exercise or children’s activities … anything that takes the place of our loving God.

image-14If so, remember that God said anything that takes His place in our hearts is wrong and sinful: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3 NET) 

Yes, filling that place God intended for Himself to fill with anything other than His Holy Spirit is worshipping a false god. Satan would love to help you find a substitute to deaden the pain, when only God can provide a solution to heal the pain (Matt. 11:28).

If so, I invite you to claim the promises of our loving and gracious God, who loves each of us so much “that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV) to die for our sin that we might be reconciled to God and live … really and truly live.

~All the praise, honor, and glory
 go to the King of kings
 and Lord of lords.~

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PRAYER

OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, we thank You for loving us with a rich love that surpasses our understanding, even our imagination! We thank You for your rich mercy that floods us with grace. We thank You for your rich compassion that forgives our sins. We thank You for your rich generosity that gave us Your Son, who died for our sins and lives again so we, too, can live forever in Your presence. In His name we pray. AMEN