The Circle Of Love And Hate

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Oh, how I love Your law! … Therefore I hate every wrong path (Psalm 119:97, 104). 

These bookend verses of the section called Mem form the conclusion of a logical argument, and in between are each step of the progression. Notice the word “for” (in vv. 98, 99, 100, and 102) and the words “so that” in v. 101. 

This progression forms a circle from love to hate, and back to love again. Check this out—

I love Your law so I meditate on it all day. 

Meditating on Your law makes me wiser than my enemies and my teachers. 

This wisdom helps me obey Your laws. 

Obedience keeps me on the right path. 

I stay on the right path because You Yourself teach me while I’m on that path. 

Because You are my Teacher, Your laws are sweet to me. 

Because Your laws are sweet, I hate anything contrary to Your laws. 

Hating everything that is not found in Your law helps me love Your law even more. 

[Back to the top] Since I love Your law, I keep on meditating on it all day. 

Far too often I believe Christians are known more for what they’re against than what they’re for. The author of Psalm 119 urges us over and over and over again to not only fall in love with God’s Word but to fall more deeply in love with the God revealed in His Word. When we are brimming full of love for God, we cannot help but show the world what we are for, and that is for everyone to have a personal relationship with this loving God for themselves. 

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Our Glorious King

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I had just finished playing three games of full-court basketball and it was time to leave for work. A young kid challenged me to stay for another game by making some comment about my old(er) age, which give me a fresh motivation to play another game. I told him I would play one more game on one condition: he had to guard me. I scored all 15 of our team’s points. One of my teammates said to that kid after the game, “You shouldn’t have made Craig angry.”  

Last week Asaph told us about the boastful who say, “Hallelujah!” to themselves, and he continues with that theme in Psalm 76 by saying, in essence, “You shouldn’t have made God angry!” 

Sennacherib, king of Assyria, had defeated Babylon and Egypt and had now turned his eye toward Jerusalem. He sent Lachish, his general, to deliver some stinging insults against the people of Judah and even against God Himself.  

I know the Israelites had strayed from God, but the Assyrians made no pretense whatsoever to honor Yahweh, so why was God allowing them to get away with this? Doesn’t it seem sometimes like God is waiting too long to deal with these wicked insulters? 

Many scholars feel that Psalm 76 was written after Sennacherib’s defeat. And make no mistake about this: it was a decisive defeat—God struck down 185,000 Assyrian soldiers while they slept! Asaph’s song of victory contains two Selah pauses, both of them intended for us to consider the greatness of Yahweh: 

  • one Selah is after verse 3—pause and remember that God is Sovereign and Resplendent in glorious victory 
  • the second Selah is after verse 9—pause and reflect that God’s wrath defeats His enemies and brings forth praise from His people 

The Old Testament gives us actual historical events, but these physical events point to an ultimate spiritual fulfillment. Sennacherib’s physical threats against God’s people are still seen in the devil’s boastful threats against God’s people today.

Look at two attacks against Jesus— 

  • Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. (Luke 16:13-14) 
  • Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up His clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at Him. They said, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.” (Luke 23:34-35) 

These are the only two times in the New Testament that this Greek word for “sneer” is used. It means to deride, scoff, or mock. But in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) the same word that Luke used for sneer is used when God Himself says to Sennacherib, “The Virgin Daughter Zion despises you and mocks you” (see 2 Kings 19:20-28). 

Sennacherib thought he was insulting God’s people, but God said, “You are really insulting Me!” Yikes—you shouldn’t make God angry! 

Psalm 76 gives us the same reminder that we read in Revelation 12:10-11—“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Messiah. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” 

We defeat the enemy of our soul not by facing him but by facing our King! 

When we are confronted by the ungodly insults from snarling, scoffing, wicked people, we must Selah to remind ourselves that Yahweh is—

Alpha
Known and Renown
Invincible
Majestic
Awesome
Holy
The Final Judge
Irrefutable
Glorious
Omniscient
Omnipotent
Unrivaled
Undefeated
King of kings
Lord of lords
Sovereign Ruler
Omega
THE Decisive Word

Let me say it again: We defeat the enemy of our soul not by facing him but by facing THIS King of kings!

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find the full list of those messages by clicking here.

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Eternal

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on AppleSpotify, or Audible. 

Psalm 119 is divided into twenty-two 8-verse segments, with each verse of the segments beginning with its own Hebrew letter. Lamedh is found in verses 89-96, and lamedh is the tallest of all the Hebrew letters, so that means it stands out. 

Lamedh shows us big proportions. Words like eternal, boundless, established, enduring, and forever are prominent in these eight verses. The psalmist is inviting us to climb up into God’s Word and get a bigger view, a higher vantage point of who God is. 

Consider the opening verse of this section: Your Word, O LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Eternal—think of the implications! If what God says—His Word—is eternal, then…

  • it continues through all generations (v. 90) 
  • it endures even when everything else fades away (vv. 90-91) 
  • it has no limits or frontiers (v. 96) 

At every single moment in my life, my eternal, enduring, limitless God knows the outcome or consequence of each option I could choose. His Word can so transform my mind that I can always choose the most Christ-glorifying option. The Spirit of Truth—my eternal Counselor—can guide me with God’s Word. 

I never have to be at a loss. I am never stumped. I always have access to eternal Truth. 

The psalmist got this: If Your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction (v. 92). 

Through God’s firmly-established Word I have—

  • Eternal Counsel 
  • Enduring Help 
  • Limitless Strength

And you have all of this, too, through God’s Word! 

Psalm 119 is a great place to start to make Bible reading a daily habit. Scientists tell us that you only need 21 days to make a new habit, and in Psalm 119 you have 22 days of daily reading that will transform your heart and mind. 

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Watch Your Horn

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During my freshman year of college, I was once the butt of a good-natured joke. I didn’t mind it so much except for the fact that there were several people in the room that didn’t know me, so they would have walked away thinking I was a jerk. As I vented to my roommate about this, his counsel was simply, “Just forgive ‘em, man!” 

Yeah, right … easier said than done! I didn’t want forgiveness—I wanted payback! Ever been there? 

The Hebrew word Selah is a call for us to pause and calmly think about what’s going on in our heart and mind. For instance, in those moments where we may want someone to get justice for the way they hurt us. 

In Psalm 75, God is literally the One who speaks the Selah. In fact, God speaks twice in this short psalm: once in verses 2-5 and again in verse 10 to close this psalm. Putting together His two speeches, God says, “I choose the right time, I judge perfectly, I hold everything firm. Selah. I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.” 

What is meant by “the horn of the wicked” or “the horn of the righteous”? Literally, it means a show of strength, but it can be used in both a negative or a positive sense. 

In the negative sense it means:

  • boasting of your own power 
  • standing in defiant opposition to all other powers 
  • proudly trumpeting your own strength
  • the English words “arrogant” and “boast” in verse 5 are both the same word Hebrew word halal. This means to shine a light on yourself, literally to say “Hallelujah!” to or about yourself! 

This pride is so dangerous! As C.S. Lewis said, “Pride is ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self.”

In the positive sense, a horn means the righteous person who shines a light on God, who concentrates on Him, who knows that anything good they have comes from Him. 

The wicked lift up their own horn (literally lift up themselves), while the righteous bow their horn (literally lift up God). What does God do? God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). 

This psalm essentially has God giving two warnings:

  1. To the wicked He says, “Do not lift up your horn against Me.” 
  2. To the righteous He says, “Submit to Me and do not try to rush My timing.” 

Notice that Asaph says “a cup of foaming wine” is coming to the wicked (v. 8). This symbolizes God’s judgment (Revelation 19:11-16). This was to be our just punishment too, but Jesus took the cup of God’s wrath Himself, and in its place gave us the cup of God’s blessing (Isaiah 51:22; Matthew 26:39-42; 1 Corinthians 10:16). This switching of the cups is what we celebrate every time we drink the cup of Communion. 

God was patient with us and He is still being patient with the boastful wicked, which is why He warns them—and us—to Selah. We were rescued from judgment and now God calls upon us to tell others about Him, so that they may also be reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ (Proverbs 24:11-12; 2 Peter 3:9). 

Here’s the call to Christians: Watch your horn! Don’t shine a light on yourself, but shine a light on Jesus Christ and remain on-mission to rescue those who persist in blowing their own horn. 

If you’ve missed any of the other messages in our Selah series, you can find the full list by clicking here. 

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Still Being Fashioned

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Psalm 119 is a fascinating chapter of Scripture. Not only is it the longest chapter in the Bible (at 176 verses) but it is divided into twenty-two 8-verse sections, corresponding with the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each of the verses in the different sections all begin with the same Hebrew letter of that section. 

In the section called yodh, the psalmist wrote, “Your hands formed me and made me; give me understanding to learn Your commands” (v. 73). There is just one Hebrew word for “Your hands” and it also happens to be the name of this section of Psalm 119: Yodh. The psalmist sees God’s hands all over his life, and he welcomes God’s continued involvement in every aspect of his life. 

This yodh section is presented to us in alternating verses: the odd-numbered verses are a declaration, and the even-numbered verses are a corresponding prayer. It looks something like this…

Declaration: You made me

Prayer: May I be a hope-filled testimony to others by my reverence of You

Declaration: You continually discipline and fashion me

Prayer: May I continually find my comfort in Your unfailing love

Declaration: Your compassion is my life and my delight

Prayer: May You deal with those who afflict me while I remain focused on You

Declaration: You bring people into my life on purpose

Prayer: May I be a blameless witness of Your love

In light of this section I declare in prayer: “God, You created me on purpose and for a purpose. What You create, You complete; and what You complete, You complete perfectly. May I remain sensitive to Your Holy Spirit and malleable to Your touch, so that You are glorified through my obedient life.” 

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Nature Walk

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How many are Your works, O Lord! In wisdom You made them all; the earth is full of Your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small. (Psalm 104:24-25) 

This psalm makes me want to go on a nature walk! 

The psalmist is in awe of the Creator’s handiwork—from the majestic sun and moon, to the smallest of creatures, God created them and sustains them all. 

God set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.  … He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from His upper chambers; the earth is satisfied by the fruit of His work. He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for man to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth. … The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. … The lions roar for their prey and seek their food from God. … These all look to You to give them their food at the proper time. When You give it to them, they gather it up; when You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good things. 

Take a walk. See God’s beauty.

Listen to the wind, the birds, the lions.

Taste the food from the soil and the trees.

Feel the coolness of the water, the warmth of the sun, the invigoration of the breeze. 

Smell the flowers, the soil, the sea air.

And then as you take all of these in, remind yourself: “If God cares for the fields, if He sees the smallest sparrow, how much more does He care for me!” 

Jesus told us much the same thing—

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? … See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will He not much more clothe you? … Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. … Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:8, 26, 28-30; 10:29-31)  

My friend, the next time you need reassurance of God’s love for you, I invite you to take a nature walk and let the beauty of the Creator fill you with confidence of His love for you and His power to care for your every need! 

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Heart Rate Recovery

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A few years ago Mark Schultz wrote a song about someone living a go-go-go, overly-busy life and he entitled the song “Running just to catch myself.” Ever been there? 

There’s a Hebrew word that shows up 70 times in the Bible (mostly in the Psalms) that, sadly, many English translations of the Bible have relegated to a footnote. That’s too bad because Selah is such a powerful word. Unless we want to live our lives “running just to catch myself,” we all need a take time to Selah. Look how some have translated this word:

  • “Stop there and consider a little” (Matthew Henry) 
  • “the sacred pause” (Charles Spurgeon) 
  • “pause and calmly think of that” (AMP) 

Whether it’s a planned exercise time or just something that frightens or excites us, our heart rate is designed by God to increase—this is how we prepare for fight-or-flight. Doctors say that one of the most vital statistics they now look at to gauge overall cardio health is heart rate recovery (HRR). Doctors want to see a significant increase in HRR after exercise, fright, or excitement. 

A few of the factors that boost HRR:

  • Regular, planned exercise 
  • Getting the proper amount of quality sleep 
  • Reducing stress 

Respond-and-recover is part of a health-building cycle. But if we’re “running just to catch myself” all the time, this time of recovery isn’t happening. Not only are we not recovering well, but we are not properly prepared for the next time our heart needs to start beating faster.   

This HRR is just as vital for us emotionally and spiritually as it is physically: We cannot always be stressed or always be “on.” We need a Selah—a time to stop and consider, a time to take a sacred pause to calmly think. 

This is what David teaches us in Psalm 68. Check out the “bookend verses” where he reminds us that when God arises His enemies are scattered, and that God is awesome and He gives power and strength to His people (vv. 1, 35). And look a the middle verse where David says that when God ascends in victory He gives gifts (v. 18). 

This tells me two things: (1) God is sovereignly in charge (not me or anyone else), and (2) In His love, God delights to use His sovereign power to bless His children. 

The question is not IF I’m going to be confronted by difficult things or difficult people, but HOW will I recover from these confrontations? 

May I suggest a 3-step process to increase your spiritual HRR? 

  1. Acknowledge your situation—don’t try to cover it up or justify it 
  2. Selah—pause to take a deep breath  
  3. During that breath, redirect your thoughts from the difficulty to your awesome God (see 2 Corinthians 10:5; Philippians 4:4-8)

Look at David’s example in this psalm:

Reflect Worship
God defeats enemies (vv. 1-2) Be glad, rejoice, sing (vv. 3-4)
God is a Father and Deliverer (vv. 5-7) Selah (v. 7)
God is sovereignly in control (vv. 8-18) Praise and Selah (v. 19)
God defeated Death (vv. 20-23) Join the procession of worshippers (vv. 24-27) 
God uses His strength to care for His people (vv. 28-31) Sing praises and Selah (vv. 32-35)

As you breathe deeply in this worship of recovery, think on this: “Your sigh can move the heart of Jehovah; your whisper can incline His ear to you; your prayer can stay His hand; your faith can move His arm.” —Charles Spurgeon 

Our Selah pause leads to proper perspective, which allows us to recover more quickly. That, in turn, helps us to be better prepared for the next time we’re confronted by difficulties. 

To check out the other lessons we’ve learned in our ongoing series called Selah, please check out the list I’ve compiled here.

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Security Beyond Comprehension

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Psalm 93 opens with these powerful words: The LORD reigns. 

Consider this: When we see the word LORD in all capital letters in our English translations of the Bible, we are reading God’s covenant name—Yahweh or Jehovah. This Limitless Power allows us to call Him by His personal name! 

How can our finite minds even begin to fathom this? Listen to the psalmist’s words—

The LORD reigns, He is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. Your throne was established long ago; You are from all eternity. The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea—the LORD on high is mighty. Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns Your house for endless days, O LORD. 

You can almost hear this psalmist struggling to help us comprehend the majesty of God. But how does a molecule comprehend the vastness of a planet? Creation sometimes roars and sometimes thunders, but even that only shows us a small glimpse of the Creator. 

Do you see how established, orderly, firm, and secure this universe is? Even it had a starting point. Its Creator, however, has existed for all of eternity! 

Have you ever been to the ocean and felt the pounding of the waves and heard the deafening roar of the breakers? That’s barely a toe-tapping of the might of Yahweh.

In the closing verse of this psalm, we read these words: “Your statutes stand firm.” Jehovah has given us a way to begin to comprehend Him. He has given us His statutes. This God who is unlimited in power has given us words we can live by. We can rely on them because they are backed by this limitless God! His promises stand firm forever. Nothing can shake God or His Word, so that means nothing can shake me when I stand on Him.

Standing on God’s Word means we are standing on Limitless Love and Limitless Strength.

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Ruth + Boaz—The Father’s Day Version

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On Mother’s Day that we saw how Ruth’s obedience allowed her to realize God’s favor, part of that favor is being included in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Of course, Ruth can’t give birth to her son Obed without there being a father, which makes Boaz’s part in this story just as important. 

[This whole story of Ruth + Boaz is just four short chapters, so I’d encourage you to take a couple of minutes to read it.] 

When we first meet Boaz, he is described as “a man of standing.” Some Bible translations say “a man of wealth,” which is an acceptable definition. In fact, the word can mean strength, wealth, valor, or prominence, but the root word means something brought forth out of travail and pain. That tells us that Boaz wasn’t born a man of standing, he became a man of standing by going through difficult times, not giving in to the downward slide of culture, and remaining true to God. 

Boaz had a steel-forged integrity! 

Believe me, it would have been easy for Boaz to compromise! This was a dark time of selfishness in Israel’s history. A time where just doing the bare minimum was acceptable because most of the Israelites were selfishly doing whatever would benefit them (Judges 21:25). 

The other description we read about Boaz is that he is a “kinsman-redeemer.” This same word is used in this verse: “Plead my cause and redeem me; revive me and give me life according to Your word” (Psalm 119:154). A redeemer is one who is close by to help, has the strength or resources to help, and is willing to help. Of course, the perfect example of a Kinsman-Redeemer is Jesus, who became our human kinsman so that He could rescue us (see Hebrews 2:14; Philippians 2:7-8). 

Boaz was given the opportunity to do this for Naomi and Ruth, and he seized the opportunity with gusto. Far from being a “bare minimum” man, Boaz always went the second mile to bless Ruth and Naomi:

  • he practiced the “hospitality clause” plus he protected Ruth and gave her more than was required 
  • he provided food for his workers plus he provided food for Ruth and Naomi 
  • he blessed his workers plus he blessed Ruth in the name of the Lord 

Ultimately, Boaz did indeed become the kinsman-redeemer for Naomi (by paying off all the debts of her deceased husband) and for Ruth (by marrying this non-Israelite woman and bringing her into the family line of Jesus). 

Boaz was King Solomon’s great-great-grandfather. When Solomon was completing the temple in Jerusalem, he erected two pillars at the entrance: one was named Boaz, and the other was Jakim (with means “God will establish”). Taken together these pillars proclaim the message: By His integrity and faithfulness, God establishes and makes firm. 

Boaz exhibited integrity at every opportunity, which is what forged his character and made him “a man of standing.” Boaz demonstrated that integrity is really faith in God plus faith-filled, second-mile, others-focused actions.

“Faith without works is just wishful dreaming.
Works without faith is just religious posturing.
Works with faith is God-glorifying!” —Craig T. Owens

Men of God, please remember this: 

  • Every Word of God that you read or hear is a test—will you obey Him or will you compromise? 
  • Every setback you go through is a test—will you learn and grow or will you sulk and shrink back? 
  • Every success you experience is a test—will you bless others or will you hoard your blessings? 
  • Every decision you make in a dark culture is a test—will you just have faith, just have bare-minimum works, or will you exhibit the steel-forged integrity that comes from putting your faith to work? 

God’s blessing on your life of integrity will show others a picture of Jesus. God’s blessing on your life of going the second mile will show others that it is God who establishes and makes firm. 

Don’t rob your family, don’t rob us, don’t rob future generations of the outpouring of God’s blessing because you are selfish or compromising. Stand strong, trust God, go the second mile, be the kinsman-redeemer for those in need, and then watch for God’s blessings! 

If you missed Ruth’s vital part in this story, please check that out by clicking here.

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The “Ologies”

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…God has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have wrought salvation for Him (Psalm 98:1 AMP). 

I like The Message paraphrase of this verse too: “Sing to God a brand-new song. He’s made a world of wonders! He rolled up His sleeves, He set things right! 

This psalmist happily extols all of the ways God the Creator has revealed Himself to mankind:

  • He has done marvelous things
  • the Lord has made His salvation known
  • He has revealed His righteousness to the nations
  • the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God
  • let the sea resound, and everything in it
  • let the world praise, and all who live in it
  • let the rivers clap their hands
  • let the mountains sing together for joy

This tells me how fitting it is for us to use all of the sciences—every “ology” to declare God’s greatness: biology, astronomy, cosmology, chemistry, psychology, anthropology, and even theology. All observations point to the glory of God. 

C.S. Lewis wrote, 

“If I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole (that excludes a rational, personal God), then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science. If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. And this is to me the final test. … Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” 

The apostle Paul agreed with this psalmist, telling us that creation itself is enough proof that there is a God. But God went further: He gave us His word, He gave us prophets to remind us of His word, and ultimately, He sent His Son Jesus to earth. Paul concluded that “men are without excuse—altogether without any defense or justification” for refusing to believe in God. 

Don’t ever buy into the lie that science and Christianity are incompatible. All of the discoveries of science point to a Creator. We use all of these “ologies” because we never know which one may eventually get someone’s attention. 

Famed scientist Sir Isaac Newton noted, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” 

Let’s join our minds, our hearts, and our voices in declaring the greatness of our Creator at every opportunity we have! 

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