Monday, May 23, 2016

My Many Marriages

Paul Zahl, in Grace in Practice, says that our marriages are begun with a spark of grace.

"Wow, that beautiful girl loves me."--Ellis

"He bought me a white linen Ralph Lauren dress.  He really cares about me."--Debbie

Then, Zahl points out that the law comes creeping in.  We all know that "law is death"--it almost killed our marriage.

For the first ten to twelve years of our marriage, I tried to establish marital and familial relations which were consistent with my upbringing and my personality.  Debbie did the same.  (Of course, we can also reject what our parents had, but then we still bring the law into our marriage trying to do the opposite of what our parents did.)  In other words, our view of what a marriage and family should be like became instruments of judgment over against our spouse.  This almost resulted in a divorce.

Then, as I've written before, I began attending PZ's Bible Study and began learning that God, rather than judging us, was graciously loving us.  This knowledge of God's demeanor towards me allowed me to begin displaying (in some part) this same demeanor towards Debbie.

Thankfully, Debbie found a wonderful Bible Study at Covenant Presbyterian.  Debbie wanted to fix our marriage and family.  Like me, instead of finding a Bible Study that focused on how to fix yourself and/or your family, she found one in which the grace of God towards His beloved children was taught.

Debbie and I learned to forgive each other.  We began to see each other, albeit only dimly, as God saw us.  This brought about a metamorphosis in our marriage.  Our first marriage died, and a second one was born.

During our second marriage, we had learned to forgive each other for our weaknesses.  Debbie forgave me for my temper, and I forgave her what I perceived to be stubbornness--but which was actually Debbie protecting her heart.

As the years have rolled by, God has brought further changes in our marriage.

First, we began to appreciate one another for our strengths--appreciation which we had when we married but which had been subjugated by recrimination over the years for all the things we do wrong.  Debbie's empathetic nature gave her the ability to minister to my mother--who can be off-putting.  Debbie's tireless care towards my mother changed my mother and dramatically improved my relationship with my mother.

Second, we began to understand that you don't get certain strengths without the concomitant weakness.  Since Debbie was so empathetic, she was disorganized.  Her focus was on people, so she was not good at setting and accomplishing tasks.  On the other hand, I am task-oriented, which means that tasks come before people.  We realized that her strengths offset my weaknesses and vice-a-versa. We realized that the marriage is to be a partnership--a symbiotic relationship--that, as written in Genesis, we were to be One.

Third, when reading Zahl again recently, I realized that the "leave and cleave" language in Genesis refers not just to putting our new family first (in some sense) but that it also means that one's marriage should be, and has to be, different from the one that my parents had and from the one that Debbie's parents had.  Our marriage is to be a new entity--formed by the meshing of my strengths and weaknesses with Debbie's strengths and weaknesses.  In other words, we are not to "do" our marriage like our parents "did" theirs--no matter how good our parents' marriages were.

Where will our marriage be in another five years--if God lets me live that long, I can't wait to see.




Saturday, March 12, 2016

Fifty-five (55) and Counting...Grace in Death

I was checking out at the doctor's last week, and they give you a printout with your prescriptions and it has your name, address, and there it was:  55 (my age).  How did it get to be 55?

What's it like being 55?  Well, I've been thinking about death a lot.  The last time that I spent this much time thinking about death, I was 36 and in a state of deep depression.  I was considering taking my life.  Then, I heard about a Jesus that I had never heard about...the Savior of sinners--deep-down irrepressible sinners...sinners who would be sinners until they died.  A god who would love His children even if they never changed!!!  It saved my life.

Now, at 55, my thoughts of death aren't depressing, but they do make me ponder about the God that I began learning about in January, 1998.

I've heard a couple of sermons lately that deal with death.  The first was by Bishop Sloan at the Advent on Ash Wednesday.  This man is full of grace.  From what I can tell, he is more liberal than the Advent.  Yet, he appreciates and supports the proclamation of the Gospel at the Advent.  The Bishop is a true Christian--he is not put off by others with different views.  Instead, he supports those that proclaim Christ's grace to mankind.  He doesn't group people.

At the end of his sermon, when he was talking about man returning to dust, he proclaimed:  "We are returning to that from whence we came--love."

The second sermon was given at the funeral of a friend dating back to 5th grade.  The pastor said that, when he was talking with David about the state of his cancer, David said:  "When I was first diagnosed, I thought I was on a path to recovery."  Three weeks before his death, David learned that his "path wasn't headed where he thought."  His cancer had taken a turn for the worse.  "I won't recover, but I wouldn't change anything--I have Jesus."

As the pastor continued, he read verses from the Scripture dealing with our afterlives.  He kept reading verses which said that "all" would be saved.  After the funeral, I asked him if he believed in "universal redemption."  What?  "The salvation of all by virtue of Christ's death on the Cross." I replied.  No, he doesn't believe in that, but he had not considered it before.  I told him that I had only come across this idea about 3 years ago.

So, at age 55, I take heart that, when a friend is facing death, he says that he wouldn't change anything.  He, like Bishop Sloan, understood that he was going back to pure love.

At age 55, I take heart that Jesus came to redeem everyone and, if that's Jesus purpose, then it denigrates Christ when we claim that only those with faith will be saved.

At age 55, it hurts me when I hear a person thanking Christ for saving him and others with faith.  It's that group thing--our group is okay, our group is preferred, and yours is not.

Thank goodness that God knows nothing of groups---Jesus came for both the Jews and the Gentiles.  In other words, Jesus came for the believers and unbelievers.  God wouldn't have it any other way--after all, He is love, and we are day by day getting closer to our reunion with that love.

Thank goodness that my thoughts of death are no longer about suicide but about reunion with our one, true Father.

Thank goodness for those who, wittingly or unwittingly, proclaim these truths, truths which allow us to enjoy each day of our lives--whether in health or illness, whether in riches or poverty--and which give us the basis for proclaiming God's love to all.




Sunday, February 21, 2016

A "Hamilton" Weekend--Anger at God turns to Hope

A dear friend turned me on to Hamilton a couple of months ago.  "Ellis, my entire family is listening to and loving this play--it's so beautiful."

After I finally succumbed to paying monthly for iTunes Music, I began listening.  Each time I listen, I learn more about the Founding Fathers (not just Hamilton), how our country was established, am amazed by the genius of the author, and finally I became mad at God.

I became mad at God, because Hamilton cheats on his wife, loses his eldest son (who seems to be a "spitting image of him") to a duel, and finally loses his own life in a duel.  If you believe in "free will," you can be mad at Hamilton.  As one who believes like Luther (as confirmed by social scientist Jonathan Haidt) that we all have deep down libidinal urges that frame our actions, I lay all of this at the feet of God.

God made us the way that we are.  You can't get around this fact.  Sure, some folks try to lay the blame with we humans--the "fall in the Garden"--but it's difficult to be an observer of humanity and not question whether we actually have "free will."

How many times have you vowed to make changes in your life?  to lose weight, to love your wife better, to spend more time with your children, to spend more time with your elderly parents, to love the sibling that you has hurt you, to banish anger from your life, to do more for your neighbors.  Well, how's it going?

And for men, how's it coming with porn?  Enough said.

So, then God is responsible for the sad state of affairs of this world.  For what it's worth, if God is not in control, then that means we are (and the Devil) and that's even more scary.

As I was brushing my teeth yesterday, and contemplating my being mad at God, two things hit me:

1.  If God allows (or causes) the world to be in such a mess (and it always has been), and if God is just, then God must be eternally loving to everyone that ever lived.  Given how difficult life is on earth, the only way for God to make it right is to save everyone for all of eternity.  That is--if God is just.  If God isn't just, well, we're all screwed.

2.  God raised Jesus from the dead.  This seems to actually have happened.  First, there were over 500 witnesses, many of whom were still alive when the Gospels were written.  Second, this miracle is the only way to explain the tremendous growth of Christianity.  Third, the Apostles all died martyr's deaths.  Sure, we might give our lives for a good person, for a good reason--but for all of these men to give their lives based upon a lie (that is, if the resurrection didn't happen)--so, I take it that the resurrection happened.

If God actually raised Jesus from the dead, and if God is a just god (a god whose love trumps our sin and the Devil), then God will also raise us.  God will bring us to be with Him eternally!!!

This is the hope that I have in the God who created a fallen world inhabited by fallen humans.  This is the God who had an answer all along for death, sin, and the Devil.

This is a message that I can share with a friend who is dying.  This is a message that allows me to persevere in this world.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Christ--the Stumbling Block--Unequivocal Love to the Immeasurably Unlovely

2 2 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom2 3 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 

"The man stands in front of [Pilate] with his hands tied behind his back.  You can see that He has been roughed up a little.  His upper lip is absurdly puffed out and one eye is swollen shut.  He looks unwashed and smells unwashed.  His feet are bare--big, flat peasant feet although the man himself is not big."--Frederick Buechner, "Telling the Truth, the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale."

"He uttered nary a mumblin' word."  Negro Spiritual



We Christians are a strange bunch.   We worship a man who, when arrested and beaten and standing before Pilate with his "big, flat peasant feet" "uttered nary a mumblin' word." We are unlike the Jews (the religious people), who "demand signs," (miracles for the benefit of the religious people) or the Greeks (the intelligentsia), who "seek wisdom" (a better way to live.)  No, instead, we follow a man who suffered the most ignominious death ever devised by we cruel humans.  We follow a man who, rather than calling down the wrath of angels upon his oppressors, went silently to His death on a cross. 

Why? 

Because it is true.  Because what was foretold in the Garden--that the serpent would nick the heel of Eve's offspring (hang Jesus on the Cross), but that Eve's offspring would crush the head of the serpent (through His death and resurrection)--came true.

We don't follow Jesus because he will perform miracles on our behalf (give us better lives, happy families, job promotions, victory for our country in war).  We don't follow Jesus because he will give us wisdom so that we can live better lives.

We follow Jesus, because the Cross (not signs or wisdom) speaks the ultimate truth about man and about God.

The Cross first is a mirror for each of us--we stare at it and into it--and realize that, like the Jews and Romans, we would have crucified Jesus.  Our innate sinfulness leads us to hate love, and Jesus was that--the embodiment of perfect love.  We don't like the fact that He chose the thieving tax collector over the upright, successful businessman.  We don't like the fact that He saved the adulteress.  We don't like the fact that He loved the non-religious people of his day and upbraided the religious.  We don't like the fact that, instead of throwing out the Romans occupiers (the enemies of His people), He allowed himself to be killed under their governmental authority.  

The Cross second is a reflection of God's response to our innate sinfulness.  God didn't prevent the death of Jesus.  God didn't seek retribution after His death.  Instead, God forgave those who crucified Jesus.  For, from the Cross, Jesus exclaimed:
"Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."  If Jesus asked His father to forgive those who murdered Him, would His father not heed his Son's wishes?  If God forgives them, will He not also forgive us?

The Cross is the victory of God over man.  It says to us that we are immeasurably unlovely, but nonetheless unequivocally loved.  Praise God for giving us the Cross, rather than signs or wisdom.  Praise God for not giving us what we desired or deserved, but rather for once and for all expressing His infinite love to us while we were yet His ultimate enemies--the murderers of His son.


Saturday, January 9, 2016

God works "sub contrario"



2 2 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 2 3 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.   1 Cor. 1:22-25



18So the Jews said to him, "What sign do you show us for doing these things?" 19Jesus answered them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  John 2:18-19


"And he said not a mumblin' word..."--Spiritual

"God works 'sub contrario' ('under his opposite')."--Martin Luther

In order to determine whether God was at work, the Jews demanded "signs"--they wanted to see miracles to prove that the person claiming to be acting for God was telling the truth.  Moreover, they wanted the miracles to be positive actions--actions for the seeming good.  We modern day Christians are no different.  We want to see "signs" that God is at work--healing someone from cancer; having our country prevail in war; providing us with a loving spouse, healthy children, and job promotions.  Indeed, Jesus had already performed numerous "positive" miracles.  

Yet, when the Jews asked Him for a sign, He didn't refer to any of them.  He didn't refer to restoring sight, or curing leprosy, or even raising the dead.  Each of these was more than sufficient to demonstrate that Jesus was "acting for God."  Instead, Jesus answered: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up."  The "sign" that Jesus pointed to was His crucifixion and resurrection.

Death at the hands of the Jews--death at our hands--death from those who want God to work in strength.  Instead, God works "under his opposite"--through death, rather than life; through weakness rather than strength; through loss rather than success.  This is why Jesus was a stumbling block to the Jews and why, so often, He is a stumbling block to us.

This is our God--one who is acquainted with the suffering of His people; one who went to His death while saying "nary a mumblin' word;" one who could have called down angels to kill those who would kill Him but instead withheld His power; one who we can always turn to in our times of sorrow, suffering, and grief.  

He is a god unlike any other.  God's "sign"--"Christ crucified"--was unequivocal love to the immeasurably unlovely.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Debbie--My "Dancing Queen" (Abba)--Our Marriage after "Waterloo"

I had dated two women that I had seriously considered marrying.  I realized that the first was not the "one for me."  Unfortunately, I didn't break off the first relationship as definitively as I should have.  When it reared it's head again, the second relationship didn't survive.  I was despondent.  Both of these women--particularly the second--had met my definition of a woman to be married--they were both attractive and they came from a certain background--they had successful fathers.  Then, I met Debbie.

The first time that I saw Debbie I was out with friends at the old Upside Down Plaza--the one which is now occupied by Hot n' Hot Fish Club.  I was instantly mesmerized.  Debbie was the most beautiful woman that I'd ever met.  As we talked, I realized what an amazing, kind disposition she had.  To me, she was "young, sweet, only seventeen"--a "Dancing Queen."  I recall trying to get her phone number, but she wouldn't give it to me.  She had some excuse (true I'm sure) of having recently given it to someone else, and he wouldn't stop calling her.  She told me that we would see each other again--out on the town.  Well, one of my friends got the phone number from Debbie's roommate (this was before cell phones--all they had was a house phone).  The next day I called and invited Debbie to lunch.  Debbie: "I'm sorry, I'm running out the door to have lunch with a friend."

So, rebuffed TWICE by Debbie or, at least, that was my perception.  I was crushed and mad.

That Sunday, Debbie and her roommates were having a housewarming party.  I went to see Debbie even though I didn't see much chance with her.  When I got to the party, I found out that Debbie's sister was there, and I immediately began talking her up--"hitting on her" in the vernacular of the day in hopes of generating a reaction in Debbie.  After 10-15 minutes, Debbie came over.  She swears that it wasn't because she was jealous.  Maybe so, but I was intent on getting Debbie, which was the only reason that I was "hitting on" her sister.

We went to dinner Monday nite, and then had a second date Tuesday nite.  I had to work fast, because she was the "one for me," and I was leaving Birmingham to work the rest of the summer in D.C. and then back to law school.

So, I PROPOSED, on our second date.  Debbie thought that I was crazy.  She was right.  I couldn't imagine life without her.   Over the next three weeks, she met my family, and I met hers.  My father approved, and Debbie's grandmother approved.  From what I recall, the other family members didn't say anything--I'm sure they thought we were crazy as well.

Marriage is rough.  Your wife goes from being your "Dancing Queen" to being your chief enemy.  I had a picture in my head of what I wanted our family to be like--a good Southern Baptist family--with a successful husband, dutiful wife, and respectful kids.  I did everything I could to achieve this goal.  In doing so, I killed my "Dancing Queen."  We had a picture of Debbie as a 3 or 4 year old in which she had a mischievous grin--a really mischievous grin.  I lost this person over the first 12-13 years of our marriage.

Even though my friends would have told you that I was a passionate person who cared about others, I was screwing my marriage up terribly.  Rather than letting Debbie be who she was, I was trying to turn her into a Southern Baptist "Stepford wife."  Sometimes, I did this with express admonitions, and sometimes with only implicit ones.  This was death.

Over time, I learned that Debbie didn't have a very high opinion of herself and I was making it worse.  I was squelching the life out of her--so much so that in 2000 or so--she told me that she was "plotting her escape" for when the kids graduated from high school.

I was floored.  I had no idea that I was her "prison guard."  Thankfully, we had both been going to life-giving Bible studies for a couple of years.  This allowed us to pray together, and from that day forward, things began to change.

I had come to my "Waterloo."  In addition to learning that I had screwed up my marriage and family, along about the same time, I received a diagnosis of a rare auto-immune liver disease, and I learned that my efforts for one of my best clients had all been for naught.  I had lost.  My efforts to create a good Southern Baptist family had failed.  In retrospect, I'm so thankful that I failed.  I finally learned that I had no control over anything and that my efforts at control were damning, not helpful.

Over the last 12 to 15 years, Debbie and I (through nothing but the grace of God) have begun accepting each other as we are.  I'm so thankful for her strengths that her weaknesses pale in comparison.  What's more, you don't get certain strengths without the concomitant weaknesses.

Over and over, we lose--we give up expectations--we accept failure--and we forgive.  To the world, failure and forgiveness are an anathema.  They feel that way to us at the time.  But over time, they are the work of the Holy Spirit.  It's only when we give up trying to achieve our aspirations, that we receive those as pure gifts from God.

Debbie is my "Dancing Queen" once again and even more so.  She has the mischievous grin from her picture as a 4 year old.  She has the best sense of humor of anyone that I know.  She's like Tina Fey, but her humor is simply natural.  She and I have a marriage that we never thought possible.  We're "having the time of our lives." I see Debbie as "young and sweet, only seventeen, (my) Dancing Queen, feel(ing) the beat from the tambourine--oh yeah."

At the same time, we're still deep-down sinners, which is not cause for despair.  Because we're both sinners, we get the opportunity to forgive one another daily (on minor and major things).  We daily meet our "Waterloo."  This opportunity to forgive allows us to exhibit (albeit in a small way) the forgiving love of Christ to one another.  It gives us a present taste of the Kingdom which, according to Christ, has broken through partially, and is breaking through, but isn't yet present in all of its fullness.

Praise be to God who makes all things new, and gives us the desires of our hearts, but only after He has killed us.  So, God, bring quickly death--death to control;  death to our aspirations;  death to our self-birthed identities, and then give us life--life sensitive to the control of the Holy Spirit;  life that gives birth to our aspirations; and life that breathes new identities into our dead selves.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Shymalan's "Wide Awake" and where we really find Christmas

In "Wide Awake" (one of Shymalan's first movies), the protagonist, a fifth grader named Joshua, loses his grandfather.  Losing his beloved grandfather sends him on a "mission" to find God.  (This movie is corny, but I get choked up every time that I see it.  Last nite, I had to fight back the tears since Debbie and Mathis were watching with me.)  (BTW, "Wide Awake" is also, and importantly, full of humor with Rosie O'Donnel as a nun, and Denis Leary as Josh's father.)

Like us, Joshua seeks advice from religious figures.  In his case, since he attends a Catholic school, he seeks guidance from a nun, a priest, and a Cardinal--all to no avail.  He also seeks God through Judaism and Islam.  Again, no luck.

His best friend, Daredevil Dave, sees that Josh is despondent in his failure to find God.  Daredevil Dave:  "This whole mission business is getting out of hand.  You're wigging man. People are talking.  In all this time, in all that you've done, have you one sign, any sign, that there's a god?"  "No."  To Daredevil Dave that means: "either there ain't no God, or He doesn't care that you're looking for him.  Either way, I'd stop."

Joshua thinks about discontinuing his mission--it's been a failure.  Then, he reminisces about his life with his grandfather and his unqualified love for him.  Josh asks God for a sign.  One day in class "crazy Robert Brickman" takes the picture of the Pope off the wall and begins showing it to the kids in the class.  One student says in a hushed tone: "Robert's touching the Pope."  Robert not only touches the Pope but takes him out into the rain and sits on the top of the jungle gym, holding the Pope as high as he can.  Everyone else thinks it's just another crazy antic by Robert, but Joshua thinks it's a sign.

The movie then moves forward to Josh sitting on a bench outside the nun's office.  He's thinking: "something strange is about to happen."  Indeed it does, but like the Gospel, what happened next isn't what Josh was looking for.  As he sits on the bench, he hears a commotion in the nun's office.  Freddie: "I'm not going to go.  I can't leave."   Josh learns that Freddie, the bully who put him in a school locker and put cherry jello in his shoes, is going to have to leave the school given his parents' financial straits.  Josh thinks:  "This should be the happiest day of my life, but it isn't."  Josh is able to empathize with Freddie's pain and offers his hand in friendship to Freddie when he leaves school with his parents, for the last time.

Then there's Frank, the class "fat kid" who no one likes.  Obviously, Frank desperately wants to be liked, which makes him all the more unlikeable.  Throughout the movie, to put Frank off, Joshua promises Frank that he will play with him "tomorrow," but tomorrow never comes because, well, "today" is always "today."  When they go on a museum field trip, Frank tries to go through the turnstile with Josh, and they get stuck for 20 minutes--20 minutes of embarrassment in front of "300 people who stopped by to watch."  Josh: "I hate field trips."  After they are extricated, Josh sees Frank sitting alone on a bench and overhears a classmate: "that fat turd, he's going to weigh 5000 pounds when he grows up." Instead of joining in with his classmate's ridicule of Frank, Joshua thinks:  "I better complete my mission soon.  I think I'm really losing it."  Josh then goes and sits down next to Frank who has been crying and is still sniffling.  "Frank, you know what?" "What?" "Yesterday is yesterday and today is tomorrow.  Do you want to go and make fun of those ugly statues?"  Frank's face brightens, he breaks a grin, and they go off together in camaraderie to endure the field trip to the museum.

Finally, Josh discovers his best friend, Daredevil Dave, passed out in the aftermath of a seizure.  (Earlier in the movie, Josh tells us that Dave is the bravest kid he knows.  "If Dave says it can't be done, it can't be done."  So, to see weakness in Dave is particularly troubling.)  Thanks to Josh, Dave is taken to the hospital where he is found to have a broken arm from thrashing his arm against the confines of the closet where they play Galactic Battlecruiser.  Visiting him, Josh says that his mission to find God is over--that it was a failure--how can there be a God when his courageous friend has epilepsy?  Surprising, Dave (who before has told Josh that his mission is a waste of time) says:  "Josh, you need to stick to your mission.  It was a miracle that you found me when you did."

In one of the last scenes, each fifth grader reads their essay about what fifth grade meant to them.  Here's Josh's:

"Before this year, bullies were just bullies, for no reason.
weirdos were just weird; and
daredevils weren't afraid of anything.

Before this year, people I loved lived forever.
I spent this year looking for something,
and wound up seeing everything around me.
It's like I was asleep before and finally woke up.
You know what, I'm wide awake now."

This corny, but profound, movie beautifully illustrates a sermon that Bill Boyd preached at Covenant Presbyterian on the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth, after John leaps in Elizabeth's womb over Mary's pregnancy.  God came in lowliness to a poor unwed girl who wasn't expecting to be pregnant.  Indeed, it was shameful for her to be pregnant, even a stoning offense.  He came to a barren older woman who also wasn't expecting to be pregnant, yet for Elizabeth it was a cause for anything but shame.  Elizabeth was the wife of a priest, and she had experienced shame for decades due to her barrenness.  Given her decades of shame, Elizabeth was able to empathize with Mary--to encourage her in her time of difficulty and shame.  Bill explains that:  1)we find God in lowliness, in shame; and 2)when we find God there, we then have empathy for others and can exhibit God's love towards them.

So, it was with Josh.  His loss of his beloved grandfather sent him on a mission to find God--to settle and quiet the pain.  And Josh found God.  He found God in Freddie, the bully;  in Frank, the pesky, uncool, needy "fat kid;" and in Daredevil Dave who had epilepsy.  Joshua found a God who is acquainted with our sorrows and is most powerfully found there.  He is a God unlike any other.  A God who is not first present in our triumphs, but in our defeats;  not first present in our joys; but in our sorrows;  not first present in our good works; but in our sin.  He is a God unlike any other.  He has a heart for the unlovely, the rejected, and even the victimizers, which then gives us a heart for them.

When we find God in an animal feed trough, follow him through an arduous life where He had no place to lay His head, and then lose Him to crucifixion, then and only then can we love our family, ourselves, and sometimes even our enemies.

Thanks be to our God!