Bible Reading: John 11

Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."“

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John 11 is a wonderful chapter to describe the power of our Lord. He is able to turn tears of mourning into warmth and comfort. In John 11, Jesus receives news that a friend whom He loves, Lazarus, has fallen ill. Jesus waits two days before going to visit Mary and Martha, who were the sisters of Lazarus. Jesus knows that the illness has killed Lazarus already, but He goes in order to bring comfort as only God can.

When He arrives, Jesus is met by Martha in the streets outside her home. She knows that Jesus could have saved her brother from sickness and death, but she still has faith that Jesus will raise Lazarus to life, if only at the resurrection on the last days. Her faith in the salvation and resurrection God has promised gives her some comfort, but Jesus offers her full comfort in His response. John 11:25-26 reads, “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Martha believes Jesus, and follows Him as He leads hr and Mary, her sister, to the tomb of Lazarus. It is here that Jesus brings Lazarus back to life, even though he had been dead four days already.

Martha, Mary and Lazarus are reunited, and their outlook on life and eternity is forever changed. Their hope for the resurrection has gone to a depth that they had never known before, and now they had hope and comfort in the face of inevitable death on earth. Jesus had turned their mourning into dancing, and their sad tears were now tears of joy. Those sisters who were mourning were now blessed and comforted. Jesus Christ is able to give perfect comfort to all people who seek Him during their mourning.

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Application: All of us reading this knows what it is like to lose someone you love. Maybe you have lost a parent, a grandparent, a child, or a close friend. We have heard of death’s that made us sad, and some have almost crippled us with mourning and shock. Death is something we all fear, and when we are confronted by it, we are not sure what we need to move on. I believe we learn from John 11 that we all need comfort, and that perfect comfort can only be found in Jesus. He is life, resurrection and eternal life. He has defeated death and conquered sin. If you are mourning anything in this life, and there is much to mourn other than death, then I urge you to look to Jesus. He is able to give perfect, complete comfort to all who seek Him. I pray He gives comfort to you at every hour of need.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you know what it is to feel mourning and sadness. We read in John 11 that even Jesus wept over the death of His friend. In our mourning, we seek you and ask for your comfort. May your perfect comfort carry us through every season of mourning we face, and may your peace always be with us. We love you, Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: 1 Kings 17

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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When reading through the Beatitudes, some of the teachings of Jesus tend to jump out. Write at the start, the very first Beatitude seems unusual and, to be honest, undesirable. Who wants to be poor in any sense of the word? Especially when it relates to your own spirit, being poor is something that does not seem enjoyable. Yet Jesus says that those who are poor in spirit will be blessed to dwell in the kingdom of heaven.

Many of us are familiar with the story of the prophet Elijah. He appears to the wicked King Ahab and foretells of a three and a half year drought, and then he flees to live in the wilderness. 1 Kings 17 details all of these beginning stories of Elijah’s adventure, but Elijah is not the focus of this blog post. Instead, I want us to look at the Widow of Zarephath. This woman is left to care for her son, and life has not been easy. She is a single mother, which at this time in history made life very difficult, if not impossible without help. She has nobody and nothing when we meet her, expect for just enough oil and flour to make a small cake. After this meal, the widow plans for her and her son to starve to death.

It is in the midst of this anxious and horrifying time that Elijah wanders into her life, and asks her for all she has left, the small cake. This widow, who is poor in body and in spirit, does as Elijah asks, and shares the small cake with him. Her generosity is startling, to me anyways. Even though she was poor in spirit, evidenced by accepting her fate to death, she still was willing to show kindness to a stranger and foreigner. God blesses this widow and her son greatly as a result of her kindness. We do not know how the widow’s life goes once Elijah leaves her home, but for this time, we see one who is poor in spirit be greatly blessed by God.

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Application: Elijah is undoubtedly the main character of this story, but this widow has much to teach us as well. None of us desires to be in such a desperate and dark place in life as she was, but most circumstances are out of our control. However hard life may become or how dark a situation may be, we can control how we respond during it. This widow, though poor in spirit, chose love and kindness. May we too choose love when hate is easier. As we spend more time as children of God, we should be growing and developing the mind of Christ. The mind of Christ chooses love and kindness when the spirit is feeling low and poor. May God’s Spirit work in us and through us to walk in God’s blessings, even when we are feeling poor in our own spirits.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us all to have the mind of Christ. Teach us to be lights for your glory whether our spirits are poor or wealthy. Lead us in your ways. We love you, Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 12; Galatians 6:1

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“You are the man!” These are the chilling words Nathan proclaims to King David. David had done what we all would have said was unthinkable. He had committed adultery with another man’s wife, and when he discovered the woman was pregnant, David had the man killed in battle. Uriah was the man’s name, and he was a devoted soldier in Israel’s army. David’s sins take us by surprise, but 2 Samuel 12 confronts us with a tension we didn’t expect.

It is hard to imagine someone holding an authority figure accountable, but that is what Nathan the prophet does with David. Nathan tells a story to hear David’s reaction to a crime that was committed, and then Nathan reveals the true story: David is the criminal. Upon hearing the charges, David humbles himself before the Lord and Nathan and repents. The actions are not erased, but they are also not ignored. King David had fallen short of the righteous standard of God, and the results of his crimes are many. But Nathan had the courage to go before David to confront him with his sins, and David responded with humility.

Application: It is scary to consider holding others accountable. What if they respond with anger or attempt to accuse us of our own failures? Who am I to hold them accountable since I have made mistakes too? We must not have this attitude when it comes to accountability. At the heart of accountability is love for others. In Galatians 6:1, Paul instructs us to restore others who have fallen into sin. Paul also tells us to restore them using a spirit of gentleness. Accountability is not about anger and shouting, but about love and commitment to God. Nathan loved David enough to hold him accountable, and Nathan revered God enough to uphold His righteous instructions.

Do you love others enough to restore them from their failures? Are you able to be gentle, yet bold, in confronting someone who has done wrong? These questions make us feel uneasy, but is important that you think on the answer now and not when your response is needed. Keep a high view of God’s call to holiness and righteous living, and remain gentle and humble when holding others accountable. We all fall short and make mistakes, so we should be understanding with one another. But God has called us to stand apart from sinfulness and live holy lives, so be bold to not excuse sin either. With the help of God’s Spirit, we will be able to bear the burdens of others with a spirit of gentleness and a zeal for righteousness.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for saving me from my sins and giving me a desire to live a life worthy of your great salvation. Help me to be humble and understanding with the mistakes of my fellow Christians, and also be strong and loving enough to hold them accountable. May we work together to be a righteous people that is pleasing and honoring to you, God. I love you, Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Genesis 35:1-15

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I love the Old Testament. I love Genesis. I love the stories of the men and women whom God used to begin His work in this world. In Genesis 35, we see the return of Jacob to Bethel, and this is a huge moment in Jacob’s story. Back in Genesis 28, Jacob has a vision of a ladder reaching up into heaven, and God stands at the top of the ladder and speaks to Jacob. It is a passing of the torch, if you will, to Jacob from Isaac and Abraham. Jacob receives the covenant promises from God, but Jacob responds rather arrogantly. If God goes with Jacob, blesses him greatly, and then brings Jacob back to his homeland, then Jacob will call the Lord his God. In Genesis 35, Jacob returns to the place of that vision, Bethel, and God has done all that Jacob challenged Him to do.

That is what makes Genesis 35 so powerful. Did you notice the strangeness of God’s words in verse 1? “Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there. Make an altar there to the God who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” It is fitting because Jacob allowed his wives to bring the idols of their father, Laban, with them on the return to Jacob’s home country. Who is the God that blessed Jacob and brought him back? Who will the altar be dedicated to?

Jacob instructs his wives to gather all of their idols and anything that was devoted to them, such as jewelry, and Jacob buries all of it beneath a terebinth tree in Shechem. We learn two things from this. First, Jacob would know and remember where the idols were buried. It was not a random spot because someone may come along one day to dig and accidentally discover them. He buried them under a marker, the terebinth tree, so that throughout history his family would know where the idols were so they could avoid stumbling upon them. Secondly, after the burial, Jacob leads his family away to follow God.

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Application: This story is a powerful lesson to all Christians. When we first come to God as His children, we brought our former ways of life with us. We had to unlearn some sinful ways, or to parallel the story, we had to decide to bury our idols. This should not be done flippantly, but we should know where they are buried so that we are sure not to return to them. Once they are buried, we must turn our backs to them and travel along the narrow path of following Christ. Who is the God who rescued you from sin and death? Who is the God who has shown you love, mercy and grace, and filled your life with hope and peace? Honor the one, true God, Jesus Christ, with your life, and bury your sins and idols deep beneath the terebinth tree. Leave them all behind, and follow Jesus.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we praise you and thank you for saving us from our sins. If we were not careful to know where we buried our sins, help us to bury them in the place where they are marked and easily avoided, and help us to live for you alone. May we never return to the burial place, but go into all the places you alone lead us. We love you, Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Psalm 27

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We are approaching a new year in the coming days, and we all need to be asking, “Will it be a better year?” 2018 has ups and downs for us all, and we all enter a new year hoping that life will get better in every way possible. Every year, I like to take time to reflect on my relationship with God and reflect on our year together. Have you ever done this? Have you taken time to remember all of the blessings of God? Do you remember the prayers He answered? Have you grown closer to God? We are blessed to know God every day on this earth, and each one should be used to the fullest.

As I was reflecting and thinking about my resolutions for 2019, I was led to psalm 27. As I read through it, I found that my mind was comforted and my heart was filled. The psalm begins saying, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” None of us knows what all we will experience in 2019. We will face challenges and trials, and we will have times of victory and celebration. And through every day of 2019, God will be with us. His light and His presence will go with us into all the places we go, and He will never leave us. Knowing that, will 2019 be a new, better year for you? Will you take on this year with more confidence and strength? Will you have peace in God’s constant presence? I hope and pray that we all would.

We all would love to find our daily strength and peace in God, and so we seek Him and pray for His help. God is faithful to mature us and teach us His ways, and He does not ask much of us. God does not demand perfection, nor does He ask for money or gifts. Psalm 27:8 says, “You have said, ‘Seek my face.’ My heart says to you, ‘Your face, Lord, do I seek.’” God is asking you to seek His face. How will you respond? If you will seek His face, you will find our Heavenly Father smiling on you and leading you in His ways. Praise God for His amazing love and constant grace!

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Application: With 2019 quickly approaching, I want to challenge you to make it a year where you seek God’s face like never before. If you are a young believer, that may look like committing to read 3-5 chapters of Scripture a week and praying more than last year. For a more mature believer, it may look like reading 3-5 chapters of the Bible each day and praying throughout the day. Wherever you find yourself on your spiritual journey, I want to challenge you to seek God’s face more than you ever have before. Do not become consumed with reading the Bible and prayer, but become consumed with Christ! Let your love for Him grow and urge you to seek Him more and more. With God’s Spirit at work within us, 2019 will be the year we learn to seek His face like never before!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you have asked us to seek your face, and we desire to do just that this year. Please teach us and lead us in your ways, and make us into a church that shines like a bright light into our community. May we each glorify you, and cause your face to smile on us. We love you, Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: John 1:9-13, 3:16-21

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One of the most popular Christian songs of 2018 has been “Reckless Love.” We sing and worship our God who came to save us because of the amazing love He had for us. It is an amazing song to focus us on how great God’s love is for His creation. However, one critique of the song has been that God’s love is many things, but it is not reckless. I do not say this to ruin the song! I truly enjoy it and the way it makes me reflect on God’s love. I also think we can all be encouraged this Christmas season that God’s love is faithful and certain.

We read in the opening chapters of John’s gospel that the true light, Jesus Christ, was coming into the world. Why is the Light coming? Because God so loved the world that He sent the Light, His only Son, to give eternal life to all who would believe in Him. Some people will not believe, and their sin and unbelief will condemn them. But to those who do believe by faith in Jesus, they have been given the right to become the children of God. God’s love is deep and lasting; it does not falter or fail. It is strong enough to save souls from the grips of sin and death. God’s love is healing for broken hearts, warmth for the lonely, and assurance for the fearful. This love is read throughout Scripture, but nowhere is it on better display then in life and words of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

Application: With Christmas drawing near, there is no better time to reflect on the amazing love of God. Jesus Christ left His heavenly home to come down to the world that He made. This world needed a Savior, and God’s love delivered His only Son to bring it. This is Christmas. I hope that we all take time to remember the God’s love being put on display. It did not come in the form of a conquering king, but in the form of an infant, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. May God’s love ring loud and true in our hearts and in the world this Christmas season.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your amazing love. It is hard for us to comprehend the fullness of it, but we are eternally grateful. Help us to reflect, know and feel more of your great love every day, and may we be faithful to share your love with the world. We love you, Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Luke 1:5-25

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It is so easy to rejoice with Elizabeth when you read Luke 1. Her story begins with a cloud hovering over her. We read in Luke 1:6-7, “And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.  But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.” Although she is doing everything she should be doing by living a life that is righteous and blameless, she is still burdened with barrenness. At that time, all she was expected to do was have a child, but her body could not do it. This must have hung over her and made her feel so ashamed and like a disappointment.

As we continue to read, God parts the dark cloud and shines His light through it. He has heard the cries of Elizabeth’s heart and numerous prayers, and He has answered in the most miraculous way. Even though Elizabeth has been barren her entire life, and she is also beyond the age that women are able to conceive a child, God blesses Elizabeth’s body and she becomes pregnant. The circumstances surrounding this entire pregnancy fill Elizabeth with joy and hope. Her son leaps within her womb in the presence of Mary, who is also pregnant with the Savior of the world. Elizabeth experiences great joy where there had once been darkness. The light of the world was coming into the world through Jesus Christ, but His light had already begun to shine on Elizabeth. Praise God for His miraculous blessings and immeasurable joy!

Application: Remember that Elizabeth was righteous and blameless, but still she was burdened by sadness and disappointment. Sometimes, doing what is right does not remove the sadness we may be feeling. Being righteous and blameless before God does not necessarily mean all our wrongs will be made right in this life. However, we can learn from this story that we can still find peace and joy in the blessings of God. Christ was born to redeem us and save us from sin and death. May His light shine through any darkness you may be feeling or experiencing. Let the story of His coming fill you with joy.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus. His birth and salvation offers us joy in the midst of troubles and sadness. Teach us to rest in your blessings and live lives of abundant joy. We love you, Heavenly Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Genesis 17:15-21; 18:9-15

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There is a reason why so many Christians love the story of Abraham, and that is because it calls of us back to hope. Abraham was an old man, well passed the time of bearing children. The love of his life, Sarah, was also very late in years and no longer able to bear children, although she was barren and had never been able to. Without Genesis 12 occurring, and God stepping in closer to call Abraham into an amazing journey filled with miracles and great promises, Abraham and Sarah would have likely died together at an old age. But as we read and remember their story, we see God offer an amazing promise to Abraham: God will give Abraham a son!

What follows, in Genesis 17 and 18, is the stunned disbelief of both Abraham and Sarah, and how God will prove to them that there is nothing impossible for Him. First, God promises Abraham a son through Sarah, but Abraham is far too old to believe that. He pleads with God to bless his son with Hagar, Sarah’s maid-servant, rather than filling him with false hope. God’s response makes my heart warm with hope! In Genesis 17:19, God says, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac.  I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.”

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In Genesis 18, we read of Sarah’s response to the news. She overhears the Lord and His messengers talking with Abraham, and upon hearing that she will bear a son, Sarah can only laugh. She is far too old, and also, she has never been able to become pregnant. God confronts Sarah about her laughter, and in fear she denies it. God knows of her laughter and unbelief, but He will teach Sarah about His goodness and faithfulness. God is good and always keeps His promises! Within the next year, Sarah becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son. They named the child Isaac, which means Son of Laughter.

Application: Most of us are too ashamed to confess our hopes because they may seem silly and unrealistic, like finally having a son at age 90. Isaac’s name has meant more to me since I was blessed to become a father to my daughter. Jessica and I prayed for a child, and at the right time, God sent her to us. Sometimes, I can get frustrated with my daughter, but God gives me little reminders that she is an answer to prayer. I can imagine Abraham and Sarah getting upset with their son and calling out his name, and then smiling as they remember how laughable it was Isaac, their son of laughter, was there with them. The hope we have as Christians is also laughable. We were dead in our trespasses and sins, but God made a way. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to live a righteous life on our behalf, and died on the cross to take away our sins. We can now call God our Father. Thanks to Jesus we can have hope and we can laugh with joy. We are now the children of God.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for saving me and making me your very own. Life can get tiring and frustrating sometimes, and I lose sight of the hope and joy I have in you. Help me to always remember that I am yours, and may it always call me back to joy and laughter. I love you, my Heavenly Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

I have said time and time again that I love the Bible. Reading and studying the Bible has grown my faith and love for God, and God continues to bless me through the amazing book He has given us. In light of this, I wanted to do a four-part blog series for Advent 2018 and look at four different stories of the Bible to help prepare our hearts and minds for celebrating the birth of Christ this year.

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Bible Reading: Genesis 1-3; Psalm 8

The Bible opens with God creating the earth and all things in it. God does not have to lift a finger, but speaks. By the Word of God, all that we see around us was made, including ourselves. When God made the first man, Adam, God made man unique. Of all the amazing things God created, only humanity was made in the image of God. There have been many explanations for what the image of God means, but many agree that it has to do with the free will God blessed mankind with, as well as the spirit/soul within each person.

We see quickly that the perfect world God had made takes a turn for the worst when Adam and Eve choose to disobey God. As a result of their disobedience, they are cursed with death, and this curse and sin pollute the entirety of humanity. All of us are doomed to die in this world, and without God’s help, there is no chance of escaping death. What can God do, if anything, to save us from being captured by death?

God, having such a great love for us as His image-bearers, sends Jesus, God’s Son, to become a man. Our Christmas celebrations center on the birth of Jesus in this world. Jesus left heaven to become fully human. He got cold, tired, hungry and dirty in this world in order to be like us. Jesus did this in order to save us. Through His perfectly sinless life, His sacrificial death, and His complete resurrection, all who believe in Jesus will be saved from sin and death!

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Application: We celebrate Advent to remember the first time Jesus came to earth and rescue and redeem humanity. We also celebrate Advent as we look forward to Christ’s Second Coming when He will take all the sons and daughters of God into His kingdom. We needed Jesus because without Him we would be forever trapped by sin and death. If Jesus is not born in order to save us, then we would die in our guilt and condemnation. Praise be to God for the great love He has for us! He loved us enough to send His Son to die upon the cross so that we can be redeemed and hope in life that will last for all eternity with Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for your amazing love. As we prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Jesus, teach and guide our hearts into a deeper sense of worship and awe. Without Jesus we would be doomed, but thanks to your love and mercy, we have hope of life. We praise you, O God, and we love you, our Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Genesis 19:1-29; Romans 3:26

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The story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is one that many of us know, but many do not like to spend much time with. It is a sad story filled with wickedness, loss, and wrath. But when we spend time with this story, and if we consider what it has to teach us about God, then it can lead us to be more thankful for the salvation we have been given through Jesus.

In Genesis 18, God told Abraham about His plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham asks God to spare the city if God can find just ten righteous people. God agrees to spare the cities for the sake of ten people, but there are no righteous people found. We would be mistaken to say God spares Lot because Lot is righteous, because as we see in Genesis 19, he does not appear to be. Lot offers up his daughters to the angry mob outside his home in order to protect God’s servants. Since having a daughter and with another daughter on the way, this point in the story has come to bother me even more. How could a father offer up his daughters to a mob? We cannot stand against wickedness by promoting a different wicked act! But God’s servants still deliver Lot, his wife and his daughters from the coming destruction. We even read that Lot and his family linger too long in the city and the angels take hold of them and force them to leave! Lot seems to be pushing his luck, but God spares him. Why does God do this? Genesis 19:29 says, “So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow”.

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Application: This story teaches us that God is just when He pours out His wrath. These cities were clearly wicked, and God found no righteous people when He surveyed them. It is difficult to question a Judge who declares a guilty person guilty, and that is what God did when He judged and destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. But we also see God’s mercy on display when He spares Lot for the sake of Abraham. God did not want to harm Abraham, so God spares Abraham the heartbreak of mourning for his nephew. Lot’s life is saved because of Abraham. More often than we care to admit, we look more like Lot than Abraham. But thanks be to God that He remembers the life and death of Jesus! He never will forget the work of the Son when He looks on us, and we are saved from destruction because of God’s great mercy. Genesis 19 is a hard chapter to read, but we must learn from it. God is just to judge sin and declare guilty those who are guilty. But we also see that God is merciful to those who love Him. Praise God for His mercy and love He shows us every day because of His Son, Jesus Christ.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank you for your great mercy. Our sin makes us worthy of your judgment, but you have shown us mercy by sending your Son to die for our sins on the cross. Thank you for this great mercy and love you have shown us. Help us to grow in our thoughtfulness and understanding of your mercy. We love you, Father. Amen.

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AuthorLarkin Sumerlin