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October 2006

October 26, 2006

It’s no secret around here that I love the book of Proverbs and consider it my “home page” in the Bible. I work through it at least once every year and always benefit from doing so. And while I love Proverbs and envy the wisdom of Solomon, the man who wrote the bulk of the book, I find something almost terrifying about his life. Whenever I consider Solomon, I am faced with the question of how a man of such great wisdom and discernment could end his life so far from the Lord.

The Bible tells us that the Queen of Sheba once came to Solomon, having heard of his great wisdom, and “told him all that was on her mind.” There was nothing she asked that he could not answer, for “Solomon answered all her questions; there was nothing hidden from the king that he could not explain to her.” We know that “God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all other men…” In the history of mankind, there was no one like Solomon.

“Thus King Solomon excelled all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. And the whole earth sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” He was richly blessed, with wealth and power beyond measure. “He had 1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, whom he stationed in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem. And the king made silver as common in Jerusalem as stone, and he made cedar as plentiful as the sycamore of the Shephelah. And Solomon’s import of horses was from Egypt and Kue, and the king’s traders received them from Kue at a price. A chariot could be imported from Egypt for 600 shekels of silver and a horse for 150, and so through the king’s traders they were exported to all the kings of the Hittites and the kings of Syria.”

When the Queen of Sheba witnessed Solomon’s wisdom and gazed at all his wealth, the Bible tells us that there was no more breath in her. She was completely overwhelmed. I have often felt the same as I have read about his life and have read his proverbs. The man’s wisdom and discernment is clearly unsurpassed. And yet there is more to the story.

It is always a shock to turn to the tenth chapter of 1 Kings and to read about Solomon’s downfall. It is awful to hear how a man with such wisdom strayed so far from God. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart.” I find the next verse instructive. “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father.” His wives turned away his heart so that it was not wholly true to the Lord his God. Solomon’s heart was at first divided between women and God, but it soon turned away altogether.

This is terrifying, is it not? A man with the wisdom of Solomon, a man who had had the Lord appear to him twice and who had heard the Lord command him not to turn after other Gods, still turned away. Though a wise man, the Lord told him “you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you.” How could this happen?

It seems to me that the key to Solomon’s downfall is found in one of his own proverbs. In Proverbs 19:27 we read “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.” There are some proverbs that are multilayered and which require great thought. This is not that type of proverb for the meaning is in plain view. Those who cease to listen to wise instruction, instruction based on the fear of the Lord, will quickly stray. While we cannot know for certain, I am increasingly convinced that this is what happened to Solomon. While he was young, he was visited by God and was endowed with great wisdom and discernment. When he was only a boy, but still a king, he called out to God in what seems to be a healthy apprehension of the difficulties he would face as king:

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?”

God was pleased with Solomon’s request, replying “I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days. And if you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days.” Solomon knew his weakness and, in humility, cried out to God and asked for His strength. As a little child cries to his father for help, so Solomon cried out in dependence on God. God was pleased to hear, pleased to answer, and pleased to give to Solomon far more than he asked. Solomon asked for discernment, but was also given great wisdom, great wealth, and great power. God lavished gifts upon him.

But as Solomon grew older, I believe he began to depend less on God. I believe he began to depend on his own wisdom and to stray ever-further from God’s instruction. Where there was once humble dependence on God, there was now dependence on himself. In so doing, he strayed from words of knowledge, and strayed from God Himself. John Anderson once preached a sermon in which he said, “Erring from the words of knowledge is direct rebellion against the authority of God, whose law binds us to believe whatever he reveals. The language of obstinate error is, I prefer my own wisdom and my own will in such a particular to the wisdom and will of God himself.” Solomon preferred his wisdom to God’s wisdom, his ways to God’s ways. The whole earth once “sought the presence of Solomon to hear his wisdom, which God had put into his mind.” But I believe Solomon soon allowed his own earthly wisdom to overtake his mind. He ceased hearing instruction and strayed from words of knowledge. He strayed from wisdom. He strayed from God.

If Solomon could stray so far from the Lord, I know that I could too. This is a sobering thought. This is even a terrifying thought. Thankfully, the solution to avoiding the folly of Solomon is clear. I need to ensure that I never cease to hear instruction. I must live constantly focused on God’s Word, never believing that I have learned enough. I must know that from this day to the day I die, I need to maintain a humble dependence on God. I must trust that His words of instruction will continue to edify and strengthen me, protecting me from straying from the words of knowledge, those words that I trust to keep me on the straight and the narrow path.

October 26, 2006

Thursday October 26, 2006

Technology: Following on the heels of Internet Explorer 7.0, comes Firefox 2.0. I am waiting to download it until I can see if my browser extensions will work with it. For those interested, you can get it here.

Books: Matt Perry is requesting help in supplying books to Trinidadian pastors. “You can help in this endeavor. I have set up an Amazon.com wishlist where you can log on and buy a book that will be shipped here, and then we shall take it on to Trinidad to give as a gift.”

Technology: Bob Kauflin has some wise and interesting words about the iPod. “The iPod is like any five year old. It can bring great joy to your life, but it’s a good idea to keep a close watch on it.”

Entertainment: How is this for seedy entertainment? A new show is seeking America’s sexiest moms. “When you see a woman in her early 40s at the supermarket with a little kid and some super-low-rise jeans, she might be better looking than your 22-year-old girlfriend,” executive producer Jeff Greenfield said. “Your girlfriend looks good because she’s young. The 40-year-old looks good because she works at it. And that’s hot.” FoxNews has more.

October 25, 2006

In the last few days, a good number of bloggers have chosen to discuss the always-difficult topic of the Christian response to Halloween. Because I jumped the gun a little and posted about this topic earlier this week, I thought I would, in my best imitation of Phil Johnson, and using Google’s Blog Search feature, do a Halloween Blogspotting, linking back to those who linked my article on the subject. I’m sure others have discussed Halloween as well, but I wouldn’t know how to find them. This may just provide a slice of the Christian blogosphere’s attitude on the topic.

Dale at Silent Matters says, “As Halloween quickly approaches and stores begin to stock up on costumes, candy, and decorations, I begin to feeling very much ‘alienated’ from society because my family and I do not celebrate this holiday. Television and movie theatres quickly turn to blood and gore to entertain the masses. Everywhere I go, I can see signs of celebration of death and dying. That has been a part of this society for as long as I can remember…” He celebrates an alternative to Halloween: “There is nothing wrong with playing dress-up, but Tonja and I prefer the dressing-up to be educational and edifying to our children and other children. We heard of a homeschool group celebrate Reformation Day (which happens to fall on Oct 31 as well) in which the children dress as 16th century Christians, give skits, do Reformation artwork, and such. This is what I talked with the SFC staff about and we are considering that for next year but this year proved too soon to organize.”

David, a.k.a. Thirsty Theologian gives out candy to the neighbors but does not allow his kids to trick-or-treat (which, admittedly, is better than some our neighbors, who send their kids out but do not give out candy). “Our kids do not trick-or-treat, and we do not have Halloween parties, for the reasons stated in the second paragraph of this article. The axiom ‘no harm, no foul’ does not apply in our home. It is a matter of principle. However, while we can choose not to actively participate, we do not have the option of ignoring Halloween. Let’s consider a few of our options…” He goes on to do just that.

Duzins at Question Everything says something that interests me, as I’ve often wondered if there is a link between homeschooling and a lack of participation in Halloween. I know few homeschoolers who trick-or-treat and few kids going to public school that do not trick-or-treat. “This year, for the first time, we are considering ‘doing’ Halloween. My oldest daughter (9) went from homeschool to ‘real’ school last year, and this is our first Halloween spent in a school. Subsequently we are actually coming into contact again with a great deal of unbelievers. It’s very sad to me that we’ve been so out of the world for so long.” I loved to read this: “I know I’m not going to lead anyone to Jesus on October 31. However, the people 2 doors down that we’ve never met, though we’ve lived here for 5 years, will get to see those ‘believers across the street with four kids’ on that night in a relaxed and cordial atmosphere. Will we touch their lives on Halloween? possibly, but probably not; However, we will open a door that has been closed for 5 years and maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to plant a seed in the near future.”

Richard Campeau at Boarsheadtavern seems to agree with me. Then again, I never can tell when those tavern guys are being sarcastic. Matt Redmond at Discerning the Times seems to agree as well. Jeremy Floyd who blogs at Theology is Practical just wants to talk about the issue rather than study Hebrew. No one talked about it, so I guess he went back to Hebrew. It’s probably better that way. Vince, who is a Pot Calling the Kettle, also just excerpts the article without much comment. Funny how that happens.

David Miers at Eternal Weight of Glory complains about Starbucks’ Halloween coffee. “In Australia, Halloween is a non-event. Each year we would get maybe one or two visits from some punk kids who already have missing teeth from their sugar habit! So Christians in Australia don’t have to think through the same issues as North American Christians.” Danielle at Dance by the Light agrees that Halloween is a matter of conscience. Bob Hyatt says my article shows some “good missional thinking… from a self-proclaimed fundamentalist!” I choose to take that as a compliment.

Justin Taylor of Between Two Worlds fame, links to my article as he did last year, thus establishing a tradition. Alex Chediak just linked. So did Heather at Prone to Wander.

October 25, 2006

As I read books, I tend to jot down interesting or important quotes. I realized that I had collected a few of these recently and thought it would be interesting to share them with you. So here are four quotes from four books that caught my attention.

The first quote is from God’s Bestseller, a biography of William Tyndale written by Brian Moynahan. The author, comments about Thomas More’s bloodlust when considering heretics. More thought that, for too long, heretics (i.e. Protestants) had been “mollycoddled, allowed to escape through recantation and faggot-carrying, and in this the bishops and the church officers were ‘almost more than lawful, in that they admitted him to such an abjuration as they did, and that they did not rather leave him to the secular arm.’” He goes to explain this curious phrase.

The little phrase, ‘leave him to the secular arm’ is very much less innocent than it seems. In legal terms, a prisoner was ‘relaxed’ after the Church had found him guilty of heresy. This did not involve a period of rest and relaxation for the unfortunate, of course, far from it. It meant that the Church authorities ‘relaxed’ their hold on him by transferring him to the secular authorities for execution. The ritual handing over was designed to preserve the principle that Ecclesia non novit sanguinem, the Church does not shed blood. It provided an ecclesiastical fig leaf, since laymen carried out the actual burning, but it was a singularly transparent one. No churchman exonerated the Pharisees for the death of Christ on the grounds that they had merely handed Jesus to Pilate for sentencing, and that Roman soldiers had performed the crucifixion.

The second quote is taken from Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, a book that is intended to be “a measured refutation of the beliefs that form the core of fundamentalist Christianity.”

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 12 percent of Americans believe that life on earth has evolved through a natural process, without the interference of a deity. Thirty-one percent believe that evolution has been “guided by God.” If our worldview were put to a vote, notions of “intelligent” design would defeat the science of biology by nearly three to one. This is troubling, as nature offers no compelling evidence for an intelligent designer and countless examples of unintelligent design. But the current controversy over “intelligent design” should not blind us to the true scope of our religious bewilderment at the dawn of the twenty-first century. The same Gallup poll revealed that 53 percent of Americans are actually creationists. This means that despite a full century of scientific insights attesting to the antiquity of life and the greater antiquity of the earth, more than half of our neighbors believe that the entire cosmos was created six thousand years ago. This is, incidentally, about a thousand years after the Sumerians invented glue. Those with the power to elect our presidents and congressmen—and many who themselves get elected—believe that dinosaurs lived two by two upon Noah’s ark, that light from distant galaxies was created en route to the earth, and that the first members of our species were fashioned out of dirt and divine breath, in a garden with a talking snake, but the hand of an invisible God.

Among developed nations, America stands alone in these convictions. Our country now appears, as at no other time in her history, like a lumbering, bellicose, dim-witted giant. Anyone who cares about the fate of civilization would do well to recognize that the combination of great power and great stupidity is simply terrifying, even to one’s friends.

Forty-four percent of the American population is convinced that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead sometime in the next fifty years. According to the most common interpretation of biblical prophecy, Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry here on earth. It is, therefore, not an exaggeration to say that if the city of New York were suddenly replaced by a ball of fire, some significant percentage of the American population would see a silver lining in the subsequent mushroom cloud, as it would suggest to them that the best thing that is ever going to happen was about to happen—the return of Christ. It should be blindingly obvious that beliefs of this sort will do little to help us create a durable future for ourselves—socially, economically, environmentally, or geopolitically. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government actually believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this, purely on the basis of religious dogma, should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency. The book you are about to read is my response to this emergency…

The third quote is only brief, but profound. It is drawn from David Wells’ Above All Earthly Pow’rs.

This moment of tragedy and evil [the events of September 11] shone its own light on the Church and what we came to see was not a happy sight. For what has become conspicuous by its scarcity, and not least in the evangelical corner of it, is a spiritual gravitas, one which could match the depth of horrendous evil and address issues of such seriousness. Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore.

And finally, a quote from John Blanchard and Dan Lucarini’s new book Can We Rock the Gospel, which attempts to expose rock music’s impact on worship and evangelism. The book is premised on the view that rock music is dividing the church, destroying local congregations and turning Christian against Christian in arguments about musical styles. They ask, given rock music’s well-earned “worldly reputation…”

Why do worship leaders, evangelists or church musicians work so hard to perfect the use of it? To accommodate this inconsistency, Christian rock apologists have had to construct a new faith system to offer religious cover to those who do so. This system requires adherence to one or more of the following credos:
  • God created all music—therefore rock music was inspired by him.
  • Although rock may have been corrupted by bad people, we have the power to redeem it for God.
  • Music itself is neutral and amoral, and only the lyrics matter. Therefore, there is no such thing as “evil” or “good” music.
  • The end justifies the means—if it brings someone to Christ, God can use it. If it brings me into God’s presence during worship, it must be from God.

The lyrics of Christian rock songs may in and of themselves be respectful of God and Christian principles, but can anyone honestly say that these Christians have created a “new” song, or that their music compositions are inspired by God rather than by men? The evidence suggests otherwise and leads us to believe that Christian rockers are simply copying and imitating a music style that was created and inspired by men who in their lust for freedom—for sex, freedom to get high on drugs anytime they please, freedom to seek a god of some sort through altered states of consciousness, and freedom from any kind of authority—have rejected the God of the Bible.

October 25, 2006

Wednesday October 25, 2006

Humor: Phil Johnson shares a humorous story about getting in trouble after a Starbucks craving.

Law: In a rather disgusting abuse of the law, an American judge has chosen to punish a pervert by banishing him to Canada. The “Toronto Sun” reports.

Halloween: Lots of people are discussing Halloween, including Darrin Booker, whom I met for the first time a few weeks ago.

Technology: Al Mohler discusses the fifth anniversary of the iPod. “So, happy fifth birthday to the iPod. I celebrated the iPod’s birthday by loading several dozen new selections into my music library. Now, my iPod is armed with a whole new arsenal of music. It was the least I could do in recognition of such an auspicious occasion.”

October 24, 2006

0312314868.jpgGod’s Bestseller is the second biography of Tyndale I have read this year and one of only a few produced in recent decades. Written by Brian Moynahan, the subtitle provides a glimpse of the author’s emphases: “William Tyndale, Thomas More, and the Writing of the English Bible—A Story of Martyrdom and Betrayal.” Less-scholarly than David Daniell’s William Tyndale: A Biography, God’s Bestseller is also more readable, as evidenced by the Mail on Sunday’s endorsement which suggests it is “almost worthy of LeCarre.”

October 24, 2006

Tuesday October 24, 2006

Islam: FoxNews has a spooky article dealing with a huge increase of crimes committed against police officers and firemen in France. There is “increasingly violent conflict between police and gangs in tough, largely immigrant French neighborhoods that were the scene of a three-week paroxysm of rioting last year.”

Music: “Christianity Today” reports that Derek Webb’s album “Mockingbird,” which is now available for free download, has been downloaded over 50,000 times since September 1. The promotion has, ironically, increased sales of the CD as well.

Film: Carolyn McCulley has an excellent (and hilarious) review of “One Night With the King.” “When [Xerxes] extends the golden scepter, predictably, she faints. And Fabio, er, I mean King Xerxes, rushes off his throne to cradle her head and strike a pose for the cover of their next romance novel. By this point, everyone was guffawing in the theater. All ten of us.”

Art: “Christianity Today” also has an interesting article about that portrait of Jesus that hangs in far too many homes and churches.

October 23, 2006

Halloween is fast approaching, and I am beginning to see articles on this always-popular topic in the blogosphere. I wrote about this for the first time last year and thought I would follow that article with a similar one, but one that is hopefully a little more developed as I’ve had another year to think about this issue. This topic was been discussed last year on an email discussion list in which I participate. One member of the list posted a couple of responses to Halloween provided by John MacArthur in an informal question and answer setting. MacArthur was asked, “Is there anything wrong with children going out ‘Trick or Treating’, like Halloween, and if so, what specifically is bad in it, and what do the MacArthur kids do? And, should Grace get involved in any alternatives?” His response was as follows:

“I think, it’s not a wise thing to have children go out trick or treating. I mean, I think it’s kind of dumb for Christian kids to dress up like ghosts and witches and weird things, and devil suits, and trouble-makers, and all that. I think, for example, you know, the whole thing of All Saints Day or All Hallows Eve has connotations, first of all of Roman Catholic tradition. It has connotations of demons and spirits. Plus the fact that little kids are exposed to screwballs as well as to cars, and all kinds of other things…What we do in our family is we have an alternative. Like you said, we do an alternative thing. We do something fun for the whole family. It varies from year to year, and our church has always done that, too, for the kids. Have parties and socials and things.”

Of course I’m sure it has been a few years since the MacArthur children asked to dress up for Halloween. I post MacArthur’s response because I feel it is quite typical of the Christian attitude towards Halloween. He feels the day holds too many negative connotations and that Christians should find a more sacred alternative.

I acknowledge this as a difficult issue and that it is, in many ways, an issue of conscience. I do not believe there is absolute right and wrong here. Each person much examine his conscience and decide what he believes. The Bible says nothing about Halloween, though certainly there are principles we can find that will help guide us. But ultimately I believe we have to trust our consciences and our sanctified reasoning to guide us. Let me share where this has led me.

My conviction is that it is a very poor witness to have the house of believers blacked out on Halloween. Halloween presents a unique opportunity to interact with neighbors, to meet their children and to prove that Christians are part of the community and not merely people who want only to interact with Christian friends or to only interact in our own way and on our own terms. At the same time I despise how evil Halloween is. Already our neighborhood has ghosts hanging from trees and evil plastic figurines stuck into lawns. One section of houses nearby always feels the need to go the extra step, playing recordings of scary music, dressing in occult costumes and generally glorying in evil. To this time we have allowed our children to go out trick-or-treating, provided they do not wear evil or occult costumes. It is a compromise, and admittedly not one I am entirely comfortable with. Over the past several years churches in our neighborhood have offered an alternative to Halloween with “harvest parties” or similar events. These tend to be parties in a nearby community center that allows children to dress up and get their fill of candy in a less-pagan environment. But there are other churches that encourage families to be present in their homes, to greet their neighbours and to look for opportunities to interact with them. A couple of the pastors in a nearby church are going so far as to hold neighbourhood barbecues before dark and inviting people to come and share a meal with them. I think this is a great idea.

Perhaps the greatest fallacy Christians believe about Halloween is that by refusing to participate in the day we are somehow taking a stand against Satan. And second to that, is that participation in the day is an endorsement of Satan and his evil holidays. The truth is that Halloween is not much different from any other day in this world where, at least for the time being, every day is Satan’s day and a celebration of him and his power. A member of the discussion discussion list wrote the following last year around this time: “Yeah… I’ve heard all of the ‘pagan’ reasons Christians should avoid Halloween. The question is whether we are actually participating in Samhain when we participate in Halloween? Who or what makes the ‘Witch’s League of Public Awareness’ the definers of what Halloween is, either now or historically? Such a connection between Samhain and my daughter as a ladybug or my son as a Bengals Boy is highly dubious.” And it is highly dubious at best.

I am guessing my neighbourhood is all-too-typical in that people typically arrive home from work and immediately drive their cars into the garage. More often than not they do not emerge again until the next morning when they leave for work once more. We are private, reclusive people who delight in our privacy. We rarely see our neighbors and rarely communicate with them. It would be a terrible breach of Canadian social etiquette for me to knock on a person’s door and ask them for a small gift or even just to say “hello” to them. In the six years we have been living in this area, we have never once had a neighbor come to the door to ask for anything (except for this time). Yet on Halloween these barriers all come down. I have the opportunity to greet every person in the neighbourhood. I have the opportunity to introduce myself to the family who moved in just down the row a few weeks ago and to greet some other people I have not seen for weeks or months. At the same time, those people’s children will come knocking on my door. We have two possible responses. We can turn the lights out and sit inside, seeking to shelter ourselves from the pagan influence of the little Harry Potters, Batmans and ballerinas, or we can greet them, gush over them, and make them feel welcome. We can prove ourselves to be the family who genuinely cares about our neighbours, or we can be the family who shows that we want to interact with them only on our terms. Most of our neighbors know of our faith and of our supposed concern for them. This is a chance to prove our love for them.

The same contributor to the email list concluded his defense of participating in Halloween with these words: “One night does not a neighbor make (and one night does not a pagan make), but Halloween is the one night of the year where the good neighborliness that flows from being in Christ is communicated and reinforced. We are citizens of another Kingdom where The Light is always on.”

The truth is that I have several convictions regarding Halloween. I despise the pagan aspects of it. I am convicted that my children should not dress as little devils or ghosts or monsters. But I am also convicted that there could be no worse witness to the neighbours than having a dark house, especially in a neighbourhood like ours which is small and where every person and every home is highly-visible. We know that, if we choose not to participate, the neighbors will notice and will smile knowingly, supposing that we feel too good to participate. We have nothing to fear from our neighbours or from their children. So my children will dress up (my son as a police officer and my daughter as a princess) and we will visit each of our neighbours, knocking on their doors and accepting their fistfuls of candy. Either my wife or I will remain at home, greeting people at our door with a smile and a handful of something tasty. If the kids are deemed too old to trick-or-treat, they’ll be forced to sing a song to merit any handouts. Our door will be open and the light will be on. And we trust that the Light will shine brightly.

My encouragement to you today is to think and pray about this issue. I do not see Halloween as a great evangelistic occasion. I do not foresee it as a time when the people coming to your door are likely to be saved. But I do think it is a time that you can prove to your neighbors that you care about them, that you care about their children, and that you are glad to be in this world and this culture, even if you are not of this world or this culture. Halloween may serve as a bridge to the hearts of those who live around you who so desperately need a Savior.