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A Return On Investment
Have you ever put your hard-earned money in an investment that resulted in a partial loss or total failure?
Early in our marriage, Judy and I invested a large sum of money in a venture that we were sure to make a great return. Many of our friends were also convinced this was a money-maker, so literally hundreds of thousands of dollars were invested from people in the Grand Rapids area. All of us were excited about how this new opportunity could make life economically easier.
Then the bombshell exploded and the company went bankrupt, leaving each investor with nothing but a piece of paper with an empty promise.
I am a very forgiving person and can overlook people’s mistakes and shortcomings. However, I find it more difficult to trust people when they refuse to take responsibility for their actions.
I grew up in a family of five children. Mistakes and bad decisions were always forgiven, but excuses were not tolerated.
When Dad told us to complete a work project, he expected us to do it. If it was not completed, he wanted to know why. If our reasons made sense he gave extra time to complete the project, but if we gave him excuses it resulted in extra work. More excuses equaled more work!
I made the decision to reside in Michigan many years ago; I enjoy living in this part of the country. I was born and raised here, then married and raised my children here.
One of the reasons I love it so much is that I'm comfortable here. I know the highways and surrounding cities pretty well. Even when I get lost and feel a little confused, I know if I don't give up and I keep going, I will eventually find my way to a familiar street and then get back on track again.
Though I traveled a lot more in ministry after my kids were grown, and was occasionally offered good paying pastoral positions in other states, I knew this is where I belong. It was a choice I made based on prayer, my family, close relationships, the church I attended and the calling of God on my life. (A side note here, the Lord made it clear to me early in life, to never let money be the determining factor in any of life's important decisions.)
As I think about what's happening in the world today, it seems like there is even greater confusion encircling people's minds than when I was young.
People are confused about their identity, gender, where they came from, where they belong and where they are going.
Some people are paying out huge sums of money for professional counselors and advisors, to tell them who they truly are, if they're in relationship with the right person, if they should divorce, and on and on.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's wise to seek godly counsel. I've experienced my own share of confusion in my lifetime, but I've come to the realization there is One place I can go that brings clarity to my mind, peace to my soul and never steers me wrong.
You guessed it; it's the Word of God. You have the God-given power within you to choose which state you want to live in. You can set down roots in the State of Confusion, where your enemy the devil can keep you going in circles and never experience the fulfillment of the call of God on your life, OR you can choose to live in the State of Peace, where the Spirit of God rules and reigns. The choice is yours.
I Corinthians 14:33
For God is not a God of confusion, but of peace…
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…
E – Eternal
These past few weeks have been busy with extra activities. We have celebrated two of our grandchildren’s high school graduations, attended my nephew’s wedding and had the privilege of having my mother and oldest brother at our home for three days. We also celebrated Mom’s 89th birthday.
Five years ago, Dad went home to be with the Lord; he died a few months shy of their 65th wedding anniversary. They had a good marriage and mom was used to hearing, “Shirley, you are a beautiful woman,” and, “I love you,” at least four or five times a day from my dad.
Mom was also used to Dad’s touch by holding her hand, putting his arm around her and giving gentle massages on her back and shoulders. Touch and words are part of Mom’s love language.
Knowing this, Judy and I do things for her that involve loving touch. Judy massaged her scalp and washed and styled her hair. She melted into the chair because it brought such comfort to her.
I babied her by giving her a foot massage with lotion. While I rubbed her feet, both Judy and I prayed blessing and health over her. This activity brought back many happy memories to Mom from the days of marriage with Dad.
Love is eternal!
Anything important has lasting value - antiques, paintings, musical instruments, old race cars, baseball cards and historical documents increase in value over time.
II Timothy 2:8
Remember, Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David.
Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to interced for them.
These verses describe the eternal nature of Christ.
Paul (the writer) tells Timothy to remember Jesus Christ because he was raised from the dead. Death has been conquered by Christ and eternal life is offered to all who put their trust in Him.
Hebrews 7:25 reminds us Christ saves us completely, not partially, because He rose from the grave and lives to plead our case of not guilty before God the Father.
Our sins have been buried with Christ in the tomb, but His resurrection reminds us as followers of Jesus, that we too, will live eternally with Him.
Relationships are the only thing we can bring to heaven with us. The rest is temporal.
In the Old Testament, the patriarchs built memorials (usually a mound of rocks) whenever they had a major encounter with God. Then as they passed by the memorials in the following days, they were reminded of God’s touch and intervention in their lives. It kept them focused on the eternal instead of the temporal aspects of life.
As I brought Mom to the airport I was overwhelmed with thankfulness for this precious woman in my life, who has served her family and friends her entire life. Another memorial was built in my memory to remind myself of the value of family and relationships. This is eternal and must be the focus, second to our personal relationship to God.
Mom’s character and values are now being lived out in the lives of her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Love lives on throughout generations.
Focus on eternal things today and remember to connect with your spouse, family and friends to spend quality time celebrating one another.
V – VOWS
Unrealistic expectations of marriage can lead to disappointment and ultimately the death of a marriage.
Remember Jesus’ approach in Luke 14:25-34: If you want to follow Me, let’s get something straight – it could cost you everything you have. Be prepared for the worst.
There will be some “worst” in marriage. Traditional marriage vows include “worse”, “poorer”, and “sickness”. Reality is part of the marriage vows.
Jimmy Evans shares his reality-vows in his DVD series, Our Secret Paradise:
I do solemnly swear to take you as my lifelong patient. To bandage and to medicate you as long as we both shall live. I will love you for richer or for poorer, for better or for worse, and in sickness and more sickness, because you are one sick puppy! I don’t see you getting well anytime soon, but I am hoping for some modest improvement today.
I realize that the pretty clothes you are wearing right now on our wedding day are rented and will have to be returned. You will probably never look this good again; this is why we are taking so many pictures to preserve this rare moment.
I also understand that reality is waiting for me at our hotel room, where tomorrow your powerful morning breath will announce the dawn of our lifelong journey together, and the harsh morning light will reveal the real you.
In spite of all this, I love you with all my heart and wholly commit myself to this marriage, until death do us part, so help me God – because I’ll need all the help I can get.
Commitment (vows) is not a popular word today. It reveals us for who we really are. Commitment is essential to be a professional athlete or musician.
Fritz Chrysler, the great violinist, was told by one of his fans, “I would give my whole life to play the violin like you.”
His response was, “I did.”
Ephesians 5:21 says a husband and wife are to submit to one another as an act of partnership. The man is to love his wife as he loves his own body, and the wife is to honor her husband with submission to him. There is a mutual commitment by both parties.
There are five words for love in the New Testament. They are like a chain, but only one word out of the five connects all the love-words together.
We get the word erotic from this Greek word. Its components are romance, passion and sentimentality. It’s usually a starting point for marriage. It also has limitations.
This type of love needs help because it is changeable and cannot last a lifetime all by itself. Eros wants to promise the relationship will last forever, but eros cannot keep the promise alone. It is only temporary infatuation. It’s necessary, but wholly based on emotion.
This means an on-fire love. This word is synonymous with eros. Both words refer to the physical side of love that Hollywood promotes. However, this type of love has to have deeper roots.
This word deals with family affection. It’s described as the comfortable, old-shoe relationship, comprised of natural affection and a sense of belonging to each other. It meets the needs of being part of a close-knit circle. There is loyalty to one another, as well as a pattern and predictability in the relationship.
Phileo is warm affection between two friends. It cherishes and has tender affection for the beloved, but always expects a response. While eros and epithumia make lovers, phileo makes friends who enjoy closeness and companionship. They share each other’s thoughts, attitudes and dreams.
This is a totally unselfish love that has the capacity to give and keep on giving without expecting a return. Agape’ values and serves, in contrast to phileo, which cherishes and enjoys. Agape’ is a love of action, not emotion. It focuses on what you do and say, not how you feel. It is the word that connects the love-chain.
Commitment builds security and the atmosphere for marriage to grow. Commitment overlooks hurts and words. It’s essential for marriage to prosper.
What is your commitment to your marriage?
Next Week: E – Eternal
Photo: Lukasz Jakubowski
O – Others First
We are born selfish. A baby’s first words are me and mine. Their whole world revolves around their needs. All babies do are sit and be cute. At twelve months, the baby is still adorable. We love our little toddlers wobbling around in their huge diapers, emotions on their sleeves and drool running down their chin. They just teeter and totter, explore, make demands and bless the house simply by being there.
Now picture a 12-year-old at the same state. Or at eighteen, twenty, thirty – still in diapers, still helpless and dependent, still in infancy. Of course we’d all immediately know something was severely, seriously, terribly wrong. But suppose you were to find out there was nothing wrong with the person’s brain. They were perfectly healthy with no injuries, no diseases, nothing physically wrong whatsoever. This person just decided not to grow up.
What would horrify us in the marketplace of life apparently doesn’t cause the slightest stir in marriage. Yet many enter marriage with an infant’s mentality and emotions. It’s all about them, not their spouse.
I Corinthians 13:4-6 describes love as an action. Paul says love is patient, kind, does not envy, does not boast, is not proud, does not dishonor others, it’s not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, does not delight in evil, rejoices in the truth, always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.
Love’s summary definition is others first.
Jimmy Evans defines two attitudes in marriage: a consumer’s mentality versus a gardening attitude.
The consumer mentality says, “I bought it, it’s broken, and I want another.” They are not willing to deal with three realities of marriage:
1. We all have hurts from our past.
2. We all have quirks in our personalities.
3. We all have ignorance of the opposite sex that only marriage will cure, and it will take many years for this ignorance to be erased.
When the marriage needs them the most they bail and look for another fictitious perfect mate.
Couples with a gardening attitude see a problem in their marriage and do something about it. They view their marriage as a plant, or a tree. If it is not growing properly they fertilize it, prune it and cultivate it. The result is a great harvest, or fruitful marriage.
In his DVD series, Our Secret Paradise, Jimmy Evans teaches that marriage heals us if we do it the right way.
Men are to love their wives like Christ loved the church.
Christ means the anointed one. Men have Christ’s anointing to be the agent of healing for their wives. Every woman wants to hear these words from her husband: You are worth fighting for.
This gives her the security to face, and overcome, her own self-centeredness.
Women are made by God to be helpers. The Holy Spirit is called a helper. She is like the Holy Spirit to assist the healing process in her husband by honoring him. Every woman can bring encouragement and strength to a man by these words: You have what it takes.
She then partners with God to be his healer.
Some practical tips to putting your spouse first are:
1. Regular date nights.
2. Daily time for talking and listening to each other.
3. Sharing your dreams and planning for them to come to pass.
4. Bible reading and prayer together.
5. Ministry together.
6. Occasional marriage retreats and seminars.
7. Spending time with other Christian couples.
8. Sharing your lives with couples who need Christ so you always have a sense of mission in your marriage.
John 12:24 biblically defines how to put your spouse first in your marriage:
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
The fruit of putting your spouse first will produce an abundant harvest of happiness.
Next Week: V - Vows
Photo: Caio Resende
My kids grew up loving the card games Rook and 500 Rummy; we all enjoyed dueling it out until the wee hours of the morning. Our grandchildren love to play 500 Rummy with their great-grandmother, who wins about 90% of the time.
Games are fun because they bring people together and there are no distractions to prevent them from enjoying one another. The more we played these games, the better we became and the more we enjoyed playing.
People who have not played these games give two responses – they hate it and give up quickly, or they get into it with enthusiasm and they take the time to learn how to play.
Marriage is a lot like these two card games – the longer you play it, the more skill you acquire, the more fun you have.
I want to share how you can play The Love Game to get good at it, and have fun. I will use the acrostic L-O-V-E to show you how to play.
L – Letting Go
This is difficult for all of us, especially when we’re entering unfamiliar surroundings and experiences. In order for growth to occur we have to venture out of our comfort zone, into new environments. This forces us to listen to others, learn new things and develop new strengths and lasting confidence.
When a man and a woman get married, God is calling them to let go of their single life and dependence on their parents to become an independent family unit.
It’s not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
If we were to make these verses contemporary, we could use the words of Jerry McGuire to his girlfriend, “You complete me.”
In his DVD series, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, Mark Gungor made an interesting statement, “A single man’s life expectancy is equivalent to the life expectancy of a man who smokes 2½ packs of cigarettes per day.”
A man will live longer and better by being married.
Genesis 2:25 says the man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame. This verse strongly says openness is also a part of letting go.
Many couples enter marriage with a renters’ mentality. When the house needs foundational repair, the couple will not give the energy, money or time to repair it.
The same is true of marriage. They have no commitment to live in this marriage house. Their concern is about convenience because of their self-centeredness. They listen to the radio channel WIIFM – What’s In It For Me.
This attitude is the underlying cause for the high divorce rate in our country.
How do you build this new foundation in marriage? Five components are essential.
1. The Bible must be your authority in your behavior and decisions. (Psalm 119:11)
2. Prayer creates the atmosphere for marriage to thrive. It involves talking and listening to God. (Mark 11:23-24; Luke 11:9-10)
3. Worship is essential because it keeps our focus on the eternal issues rather than the temporary things. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
4. Sharing our faith with others helps us share our faith with clarity, and allows others the opportunity to receive eternal life through Christ Jesus.
5. Fellowship is important. The church is often described in the Bible as a family. It’s relational vertically to God, and horizontally toward one another. We need community for safety and growth. (Proverbs 27:17)
All five components keep a couple’s hearts soft so they are able to respond to each other in a Christ-like fashion.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Next week: O – Others First
Photo: Michael Fertig
Whenever I notice more dust than usual starting to settle in the house, I try to think back to the last time I changed the furnace filter. I could ignore that thought of course and just keep my dust rag handy and work harder at trying to keep up with the accumulation of this annoying substance, or I could just go check the filter to see if it is time for a change. I keep the dates on the furnace, but don't always pay attention to them.
When my kids were toddlers and needed their diaper changed I could have ignore that at first too, but it wasn't long before the aroma was filling the room and distracting me and everyone else within a 10 foot radius.
Why do we often put off or ignore what we know needs to be changed? Is it that we just don't want to deal with the situation because it's inconvenient? I mean after all - we are extremely busy people!
However, I think our minds and hearts also need a regular filter change. We can often detect the annoying residue that accumulates from our clogged filter through our conversations, and though we keep trying to clean it up before anyone else notices, the smell of stinkin’ thinkin’ can give us away, like a dirty diaper exposing its contents.
The need to replace the filter on our thoughts is usually very apparent and it obviously will not go away until we make a decision to change it.
Jesus spoke to the Pharisees in Matthew 12:34 and told them that out of the abundance of their hearts, their mouths speak. In other words, whatever their heart was full of would come pouring out of their mouths for all to hear.
Then in Romans 12:2 Paul admonishes believers to stop conforming to the ways and thoughts of unbelievers, but to allow God’s Word to transform their minds. He was suggesting they replace the filters on their minds, so every thought would be strained through God’s truth, catching all the impurities.
Second Corinthians 10:5 says we must take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
The Word of God is the filter that keeps our hearts and minds clean and prevents the spreading of annoying, sinful residue.
Have you checked your filter lately?
Excuse me; I think I need to go check mine.
Photo: Liane Metzler
This morning turned into a time of reflection for me after Keith came upstairs from reading through some of his journals. He shared a few thoughts with me and went back downstairs. My thoughts drifted to a time spent with our youngest grandchildren. They came for a visit during their Thanksgiving break and our home was filled with lots of cuddles, story times with Grandpa and silly laughter.
They seemed kind of bored one afternoon, so I grabbed the softball and bat made out of fabric and shouted, "Batter Up!" The three of them looked at me, puzzled. None of them had ever seen this crazy side of Grandma, but it only took a minute and they were all in!
I was the pitcher, I designated a catcher, an umpire and of course, the batter. I laid out the rules and where the bases were, which took over the hearth room and part of the kitchen. Their eyes just sparkled as the first batter stood really to strike.
I wanted it to be memorable so every ball I threw had a name. The first was 'Hair Ball'; that one was rubbed on my head before I threw it, making them laugh, because my hair stuck straight up. Then, I threw a 'Pit Ball', naturally rubbed under my arm. Then, 'Spit Ball', and on and on.
The giggles filled the house whenever their bat connected with the ball and they took off running! What a sight as Granny ran after Ezekiel and then tried to get the ball to the catcher, Adelle, only 6.
The umpire (Isak) was animated as he shouted out, "Youuuuu’rrreee out!" or as he jumped in the air crossing his arms back and forth shouting, "And heeeeee's safe!"
We noticed Ezekiel (the oldest) seemed to really enjoy his time here, especially his walks and talks with Grandpa.
When it came time to pack up for the trip home, Ezekiel was told by his dad to get a move on. So, in his haste he banged too hard into the door of his sleeping quarters and the door stopper drove a large hole in the top of the door. He was devastated and terrified to tell us. I found him huddled on a chair crying his eyes out. Keith and I held him as he tearfully tried to tell us what happened and how sorry he was. We told him $1000 would cover the damage and his dad could pay for it. His eyes widened and then we all laughed.
After a long conversation we finally convinced him that an accident would never wipe away our wonderful time together and that he meant more to us than any material thing. We felt so bad for him. It was like the joy of his entire visit vanished in one moment.
Our grandson's greatest concern was that he had destroyed his close relationship with us, because of one incident. He was afraid we wouldn't love him the same anymore.
The devil tries to convince all of us that when we make a mistake or become careless in life, our heavenly Father will not love us anymore.
As I held our grandson, my heart just ached. He couldn't even hear our words of reassurance at first, because his guilt, shame and fear were clambering so loud in his mind.
We have all made mistakes and been careless in this life, but instead of huddling in fear, shame and guilt ... tell Daddy God what you've done with sincerity of heart and then let Him comfort you with His words.
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear [honor, love and reverence] Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.
For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.
Have you ever been faced with a decision or situation that required more courage than you believed you had? Perhaps, you were told about a physical issue that caught you unaware or a situation with your family or job you never thought you'd have to face.
Sometimes, even when you know it's a right decision, it can often take all your strength and faith, to gather up enough courage to actually follow through with your decision and to trust God will be with you through it all.
Timing is important and while it's good to weigh the outcome or consequences of our decision with wisdom - there still comes a point when we stop dwelling on our own well-being and place God’s purposes above our own security.
Queen Esther is a perfect example of strength and courage, mixed with wisdom and trust in God. Her position as queen did not change her family history or the fact she was a God-fearing Jew. Perhaps, with her busy duties as queen, she had lost sight of what was about to happen to her people, until Mordecai reminded her.
Esther was no stranger to disappointment and loss. However, she had a godly mentor who helped guide her through those times and would continue to prepare her for new challenges that would eventually affect an entire nation.
A few weeks ago I began to teach a study called You Make Me Brave, in light of all that our nation and those around us have encountered. The Word of God is filled with scripture about standing up for truth and being brave in the face of any enemy.
Whether that enemy is within us, such as fear, sickness, or depression, or a visible human intruder who seeks to do us harm - God has promised He will be with us and never leave us.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of a good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
The 2016 theme for Crossfire Church is Wake-Up And Respond, or W.A.R.
We are living in critical times; our Christian foundation has been eroding away. It started with prayer being taken out of schools in 1962. In 1973, abortion was legalized, and ever since our culture has been on a slippery slope.
We’ve witnessed runaway government spending to fund the increasing entitlement culture in America. Pornography has now become the new drug for our culture. Marijuana and drugs are becoming an increasing problem, creating a generation disconnected from reality and unable to cope with the basic pressures of life.
Baltimore, Maryland, is a prime example of an entitlement city, where nearly half of her population is on some kind of government assistance, 40% of all Baltimore’s revenue in 2015 came from government spending, and 10% of its population is addicted to hardcore drugs.
Families are under attack; for the first time in America’s history, same-sex marriage has been legalized.
America is in an identity crisis! Our culture is at war with the foundational Christian values that made our country great.
John Adams, second president of the United States, said, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The alarm is ringing for America to wake up and respond to the current crisis. We are in a war whether we like it or acknowledge it. We can choose to fight, act as though it doesn’t exist, or run. The choice is ours.
Ancient Chinese philosopher, Menicus, said, “I dislike death indeed, but there is that which I dislike more than death, and therefore there are occasions when I will not avoid danger.”
Ezekiel 22 echoes some sobering words to America. Ezekiel writes from Babylonian captivity to the people of Judah, particularly those in Jerusalem. He confronts their rebellious and sinful ways that have brought God’s judgment upon them through the Babylonian empire.
He states in verses 30 and 31, “I looked for someone among them who would build up the walland stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one. So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger,bringing downon their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign Lord.”
If only someone would have interceded in prayer for Judah, and spoke boldly like Ezekiel to the people, judgment could have been averted.
God is again echoing Ezekiel’s plea for godly men and women to stand in the gap for our spiritual foundation to be re-established. I encourage you to be available to God, inside and outside the church. Take the gospel message to the streets and be available to God on a daily basis. Pray for divine appointments so you can influence people to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Get involved in the political process to elect godly men and women to positions of leadership in our local, state and federal government.
We are in a real war, so make 2016 a year to Wake-Up And Respond.
Monday mornings are special for me because this is the time when I focus my prayers on my immediate and extended family. I have learned over the years prayer is like the thermostat in our home, it creates the climate for enjoyable and peaceful living.
Prayer not only sorts out the good from the bad, but also the good from the best. I’m amazed at God’s faithfulness in accordance to consistent, focused prayer.
Last week was our annual prayer and fasting week. Our church takes this week seriously because it sets the tone for our year. This year we added a nightly corporate prayer focus. Each night we watched Pastor Jim Cymbala on DVD for the first 30 minutes, and then we prayed together for the next 45 minutes.
Pastor Cymbala’s DVD focus was, When God’s People Pray. He pastors Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York.
In his weekly Tuesday night prayer meeting there are over 3000 in attendance. How can this be? The answer is quite simple – in Pastor Cymbala’s early years as a pastor, he became worn out by the weekly responsibilities and cares of his church. While on a vacation cruise ship in the Caribbean he cried out to God for help in his ministry. He was desperate and realized ministry would destroy him if God did not intervene.
God heard his son’s prayer and gave him a simple plan that has become the foundation for his success and for the ministry of his church – prayer!
God spoke directly to him in his hour of need with these words, “Jim, if you will make prayer a priority in your life and the life of your church, I will promise you three things. I will always give you a sermon for your people. I will always give you the finances to pay your bills. You will never have one building that will be able to house the people I send to you.”
Pastor Cymbala followed God’s command for his life and today thousands have been encouraged and touched through his ministry and his church.
Prayer is a focus for Brooklyn Tabernacle because the spiritual darkness of New York City reveals itself in the lifestyles of the people who live in the neighborhoods adjacent to their church. Drug addiction, alcoholism, prostitution, human trafficking, cults and satanic worship, etc. saturate the environment. Spiritual darkness threatens them every day. Cute sermons and nicely packaged ministries will not change the people or their circumstances. Tapping into the power of heaven is the only force able to break the stronghold of darkness in people’s lives.
Prayer is the vehicle that breaks Satan’s grip on people and liberates them to receive God’s love in Jesus Christ.
We don’t live in New York and do not have these visible signs of darkness; however, Satan is still roaming around like a lion seeking victims. He uses busyness, toxic relationships, bitterness, anger, criticalness, spiritual isolation and even religion to blind our eyes. Prayer keeps our focus on God as the source of our strength and power.
Genesis 4:26 says after Cain killed Able, people began to call on the name of the Lord. Sin had entered the world through Adam and now its multiplied effects had polluted mankind. Mankind’s only answer to their sin problem was to call upon the Lord.
Whatever your situation, make that call of prayer to God today.