When Suffering and Worship Collide

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The last few years have felt in many ways like being caught up in a tornado.  Spinning round and round, with no way to get out, yet debris keeps slamming into you and things and people you are emotionally tied to get ripped away…all at the same time.  Some of the things that are slamming against you are hard truths that you have conditioned yourself to ignore, like character flaws, poor boundaries, unhealthy habits, and poor discipline.  Some of things that you are clutching on to and end up being ripped away, taking a little flesh along with it, are those difficult to identify codependent relationships, a facade that you have allowed people to believe is really you.  But in the end, this is the journey of faith!

I have come to realize that my Father is less interested in my immediate feelings and more interested in refining me to be effective in His Kingdom. As Oswald Chambers says in his famous work My Utmost for His Highest, “If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all, they are meant to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what transpires in other souls so you will never be surprised at what you come across.” And this truth is exactly where I have begun to discover that suffering and worship blur a little bit. “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13)  When we are allowed to suffer a little bit (never fully understanding the sufferings of our Savior), when we experience that refiner’s fire, we begin to realize that worship is more of a lifestyle than an experience.

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” – Archbishop William Temple

These past few years, I (along with my entire family) have experienced a lot of transition.  I have had relationships that I believed were healthy and beneficial be exposed for what they were; manipulative and selfish in many ways…leaving me wondering what in the hell just happened. I have struggled with self discipline; losing my love for running and spending quiet time with my Heavenly Father out on the roads.  This loss of discipline has caused an erosion of physical, mental, and spiritual health…

BUT, as I said before…through the challenges a new definition of worship has arose in my spirit.  I am learning to worship in everything I do, regardless of what it feels like.  Only when we begin to realize our Father is sovereign, can we embrace the difficult situations for what they are, and rest our forehead on His chest in humble thankfulness for the breaths we take.

In this journey of loss, change, and self-discovery, I have met friends who love me for who I am and have no agenda.  I have had friendships restored that I thought were lost forever.  I have discovered my love for running again.  I am gaining the discipline I lost.  I am surrounded by people who push me because they see the potential in me.  And, I am learning to worship Him in everything I do, with everything I am, with everything I have, every hour of the day.  I am convinced that only through pain, suffering, and discomfort can we even get the slightest glimpse of the love our Father has for us…the same love that drove Jesus in obedience and joy to the cross.  Only when we begin to understand that kind of love does worship become a way of life, not an experience.

Blessings…

Scott

 

Life Without Rules…

thumb_6291_default_1600_FotorI am constantly amazed at God’s faithfulness in our family’s journey.  Every time we step off the proverbial cliff on the path the Lord has called our family to, it is tough, but He is so faithful.  This path to Texas has been a difficult one for our family, but if you know me well enough, you know I have this side of me that anticipates and looks forward to life’s challenges. The challenging seasons are where we grow in character and bond as families.

The last month has been no different.  The Lord has challenged me in the area of mixing the old covenant (covenant between God and the Jewish people) and the new covenant (Jesus) in my faith.  This is an area that I believe many of us who grew up in the church struggle with.  This is also a massive topic and one that has many facets that need to be discussed, but I want to share one piece that has affected me deeply this past week.  It is pretty basic and in theory many of us know it, but do we live it?

We shared communion together with our family this past Sunday.  As I was contemplating the meaning of communion, I went through the same exercise I do every time, I mentally walked through my list of sins and asked my Father to forgive me.  I was struck by the impression the Lord put on my heart at that moment… “Scott, it is not about the one sin that caused you to miss the mark, your entire life misses the mark…you fall short of My glory.”  This is a principle that I know, I have read, and I am keenly aware of the fact that I fall short in every way! Yet, in my desire to develop a personal list of rules and guidelines (my own personal old covenant) to follow in order to stay in God’s good graces I have allowed pride into my life.  Pride you ask?  Yes, by me going through my “list of sins,” I inadvertently communicate the rest of my life is just fine and worthy of God’s glory. NOTHING IS FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.  I am messed up, I am broken, I am as Paul would say the worst of all sinners in my eyes, and only by His grace am I worthy of a relationship with my Heavenly Father.

When we walk through life trying to live up to a list of rules and regulations, we miss the ability to fully surrender ourselves to the Grace of God.  Why? Because we are constantly measuring ourselves against the list of rules and regulations and we simply cannot measure up…this was proven over and over throughout history!  There is no inbetween if you want to be successful; you either surrender your mind to complete depravity and live like hell or you surrender yourself to the grace of a loving and forgiving God…the inbetween will be a constant battle of trying to live up to something that is unreachable.  The only way to fully surrender ourself to the Grace of God is to recognize that we completely fall short, there is not one area of your life that is worthy of Him.  But, like the loving and perfect Father He is, He is waiting for you with a coat of love in His hands to wrap around our broken bodies and a ring of heirship to put on our finger.

Living life while trying to follow a list of rules is so restrictive and will never allow us to experience the freedom Christ brought to us. Jesus brought the ability to be united with the Father without barrier through faith in Him.  Only when we realize our complete inability to live up to any standard will we be able to live fully alive and fully free in Christ Jesus.  This is where the reality sets in that you are no longer a slave to this world and the rules you try to live up to, but you are God’s son and daughter, and you are an heir to everything that is HIS….PERIOD!

Join with me this year by pursuing God’s highest ideal, not a list of rules and regulations we have created.  Let’s see where it takes us.

Your brother,

Scott

The Storms of Life

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We hear (and say) a statement often that goes something like this…”God never gives us more than we can handle.” How many of us have said this in an attempt to be encouraging to those around us?  Often it is out of a compassionate spirit we say this, but quite honestly it is a bunch of bunk, completely unscriptural.  The Bible does tell us that He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Cor 10:13), but that applies to temptations that man is susceptible to, not everyday struggles and hardships.  I believe we consistently encounter situations that are far beyond our capabilities.  In fact, the Bible tells us that God chooses the ones who are not mighty, wise, or noble as to allow His grace to work in a way that is completely counter cultural to what the world knows (1 Cor 1:26,27).  God uses the meek because He desires teamwork…He knows those who understand their limitations will look to Him for strength, wisdom, and companionship.  He knows there is far greater joy in overcoming obstacles together, rather than alone.

This blog post has been stiring in me over the past two weeks.  The company (family) I am blessed to be a part of embarked on a journey of making some significant technological changes.  We knew this would not be easy and would require every employee to rally in order to pull it off, but we also understood it was a necessity.  The last year was about preparation for a single weekend where significant change would be made…that was last weekend.  Without going into great detail, we accomplished the goal and will continue to refine the new system, but like any significant change, it came with significant challenges.  This post is not about the details of what occured, but rather it is meant to focus on our human nature during times of significant stress and change; specifically what I learned from the experience.

There were three major stages I went through over twelve straight days of long hours…

  1. The calm before the storm
  2. The storm
  3. Peace in the midst of the storm

I am not sure when, but over my 41 years the Lord has instilled in me that I am nothing by myself, but with Him and those He surrounds me with, we are able to tackle any challenge we are faced with.  My hope is found in Him alone; I am keenly aware that the storm gets really bad at times, but His light always shines in order to guide us through the roughest of seas.

The Calm Before the Storm…

The days leading up to the weekend were filled with lots of planning and even more prayers.  I know that myself and others were commited to praying for this event.  Leading up to the weekend, I would walk through the warehouse simply praying for our company and our people.  There were times when I could physically feel His presence in the building…yes, God’s presence rests wherever His people are and cry out for Him, not simply within the church building.  His grace is always abundant before the storms of life; it is preparation and a reminder of His faithfulness.  Psalm 91:4 (TPT) reminds us that “His massive arms are wrapped around you, protecting you.  You can run under his covering of majesty and hide. His arms of faithfulness are a shield keeping you from harm.”

The Storm…

Remember, He never promises to save us from the storms of life, yet He always is there guiding us through the storms.  The weekend was long, we accomplished a lot, just not all we had hoped to accomplish.  So coming into Monday morning we were behind schedule and quickly being presented with the pressures of taking care of our customers.  On a side note, there are so many things I love about our team, but one of the greatest attributes I respect above all is their desire to serve our customers.  When you are behind and confronted with additional pressures at every phone call and conversation you can quickly become overwhelmed with the task ahead of you.  The key is taking one hurdle, one challenge at a time.  I am so thankful for God’s grace because I knew we would see the light soon, but as with any difficult situation it can take a toll on human emotions.  I recall one tangeble example of His amazing grace…I was sitting in a co-workers office feeling overwhelmed.  Not knowing how to pray, I sent a quick text to some close friends and simply asked them to pray.  Within minutes, the pressure released and God’s peace overwhelmed me to the point of tears.  Our Father LOVES us and is awaiting your call for help…He will wrap His arms around you and bring you comfort in the storm…all you need to do is ask.

Peace in the Midst of the Storm…

Much of life is a storm.  There are constant pressures from the world around us…bills, kids, spouse, health, jobs, etc.  I have come to the conclusion that I am extremely thankful for the struggles in life.  Through the struggles I have gleaned more strength and wisdom than anything else.  There is no book, no school, which can teach us what good old fashion struggles teach us.  On Wednesday morning I walked into work and even though the pressure had not released and we were still behind, something changed inside of me.  The turmoil and stress on the inside had left and all that was in front of me was a series of hurdles we needed to strategically take, one at a time.  With every problem solved we were coming closer to our new normal and though we are not there yet, we are well on our way to the strongest our company and our team has ever been.

The deal is, if all we ever do is seek the easy way out and never learn to walk straight through a storm, we will never grow.  When storms hit, we will not be prepared and resentment and fear will take over.  We will NEVER reach the mountain tops that God has planned for us to climb.  Life is full of storms, God never promised that we would be able to face them alone…He does however invite us to walk through the storms of life along side of Him.  And when we do, we come out on the other side with a strength and confidence that only comes with being in communion with a loving, compassionate, and grace-filled God…my Father.

“Lord, even when your path takes me through
the valley of deepest darkness,
fear will never conquer me, for you already have!
You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.
Your authority is my strength and my peace.
The comfort of your love takes away my fear.
I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.” (Psalm 23:4 TPT)

 

Idols In Disguise…

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As usual, this 21 day fast has rendered some amazing self-reflection and correction in me.  Throughout this period, I read a book by John Bevere, Killing Kryptonite.  God has used John’s message to flat out correct some of my personal theology.  Primarily, as John intended in the book, killing the idols in my life. An idol is truly anything that we give our attention to or allow to steal our attention from God…ALL of God and ALL of His characteristics.  Like so many of us, I like to focus on the characteristics of God that suit me and make me feel the best about myself.  That my friends, is a false Gospel, an incomplete Gospel, and quit honestly not the Gospel at all…that is heresy on my part.

John brings up a story which caused me to see something in my own life.  Exodus 32 is a story we all know pretty well…it is the story of the golden calf.  The Israelites had just been miraculously rescued by God from the Egyptians.  God had taken care of His people by providing divine direction through the wilderness, feeding them with heavenly manna and miraculously providing quail, because the people wanted meat. As Moses was on Mt Sinai encountering God and being given the Ten Commandments, the people were down below trying to fit God into their personal-sized box; one they could comprehend with their own limited minds.  Aaron and the people took all their gold jewelry and formed the golden calf.  In Exodus 32:4 Aaron says, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”.  The word “god” is actually Yahweh. They were not necessarily creating an image to wholly replace God with a golden calf, they were simply fashioning an image of God…the golden calf…something they could see with their own eyes.  They were trying to focus on a single characteristic of God, His image.  They lost their faith and created an idol.

And did you know that God’s grace could become an idol?  I have allowed over the years, mostly because of mainstream teaching and my own desire to not “offend” anyone, to accept God’s grace in favor of true repentance.  It is much easier to talk of God’s grace, rather than about the fact we should turn from our wicked ways and live a holy life.  Paul says,

“So that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Certainly not!  How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 5:21 – 6:2)

 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived.  Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

I will be honest, as I was reading God’s word, a holy fear struck my heart.  I had allowed God’s message of grace to overshadow all his other characteristics.  I have allowed my thought process to be that I would simply allow the Holy Spirit to speak to that person and deal with their sin.  While there is not anything inherently wrong with that, I was making the assumption that only the Holy Spirit can speak truth, when in fact God gave us His Word to speak.  The Holy Spirit speaks to people through the WHOLE WORD of GOD, not just the message of grace.  When all I do is speak of God’s grace and not repentance of sin, I risk seeing someone who I thought was my brother or sister turned away at the seat of judgement.  That hurts me even typing those words…

Here is my problem…my brain likes to focus on one thing at a time, it gets stuck in the this OR that mode.  But when we are talking about the character of God, you cannot focus on only this or that.  It is not either grace or repentance, it is both.  It is both turning from our sin and accepting the grace of God.  It is speaking the TRUTH of the Word of God, as Paul was doing to the Corinthian church, in a compassionate way.  Do you think Paul was speaking those words in a demeaning way, talking down to them, speaking in a hateful manner, telling them they were going to burn?  Absolutely not, Philippians 3:18 says, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ”.  Paul called people to repent, but he wept for them at the same time.  He loved them so much that his conscience would not allow him to only speak of God’s grace; it mandated him to talk about repentance of sin.

God is changing me in some pretty crazy ways, challenging a lot of what I believe, but leveraging the compassion and love for His people that he built into my DNA.  My challenge to you is do not run from that which makes you uncomfortable.  Back to what I said in the last blog post, do not allow a short-sighted perspective to cause you to forget that we are dealing with eternity.  When we choose to not talk about the whole Gospel message, we are risking someone’s eternity.  Love dictates that we push through discomfort to deliver truth with a compassionate heart just as Jesus did.

Blessings while you seek out the whole character of God!

Scott

Valleys are Just Spiritual Mountains

mountain-reflection_FotorI am going to stray from Nehemiah on this blog and talk about a subject the Lord put on my heart this morning.  My hope is, although a tough subject for some, I can help us change our perspective a little and give someone hope who is walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

We all go through tough times, but our experience is often dictated by our perception What do I mean?  You can walk through the experience feeling like it is hell. Your emotions and your ability to learn will follow; your brain will record the experience from that vantage point, risking a hardening of the heart.  Conversely, you can seek the depths of God through the valley experiences and allow them to shape and form who you are, essentially strengthening your character and ability to endure all the while maintaining a soft and pliable heart.

Many of us are overwhelmed by the challenges we encounter and our natural proclivity can be to enter survivalist patterns.  Have you ever met a “doomsdayer” or a “prepper” who had a positive outlook on life?  Why is that? In many cases they are preparing for the worst, not stopping along the way to reflect on the beauty of creation, and far more importantly not looking out further than death.  When I say further than death, I mean into the eternal home we have in Christ.  I heard it said by someone (I think John Bevere) that one characteristic of Americans is that our hope ends at death, even in the church.  We do not look forward to the hope of eternity with our Father.  We focus on a 70-80 year temporal perspective.  In summary, we are short sighted and it effects our attitude negatively.

I want to give you a practical example of what I am talking about.  About 12 years ago, Danielle and I found ourselves seeking the “American” dream.  We had two vehicles and just moved into our nice country house with 3.5 acres and a large pole barn.  It was a beautiful country setting and from a visual perspective was the epitome of relaxing.  Pictures of sitting in the back yard, sipping lemonade and watching the sunset over the corn fields is exactly what I imagined.  It was the exact opposite.  We were laden in debt, drove a combined 150 miles per day, and Danielle was pregnant with Sidney (our second).  This was the valley of the shadow of death for me; I was a giant ball of anxiety.  In the end, we let the house go (stressing relationships), sold a car, Danielle quit her job, and we moved into an apartment about 13 miles from my work.  We lived on $29k a year.  Danielle would take me to work when I didn’t ride my bike, and we ate at home for every meal.  Danielle and I learned how to be good stewards of what God had provided for us.  We met amazing friends, became members at a Daybreak Church, whose leadership truly changed my life, and I went back to college to finish my degree.  Out of the valley of the shadow of death came life and hope.  I would not trade any of this for any worldly blessing we could imagine.  Nothing was more valuable than walking through the valley with a positive perspective.  Was it always easy?  No!  But my brain has recorded that event as significant personal growth…a blessing in disguise.  Out of the ashes came life.

Jesus fully understood this.  He was fully God, but fully human in His earthly home.  He understood that through suffering, perfection came.  Yes, he was already perfect, but perfection in this case is a kind of completion.  Suffering completed Him and us.

“For it became him, for whom are all things, and through who are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:10)

Jesus Christ is the Author of our Salvation!  If he could walk through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side bearing the scars of trial, yet healed and whole, how much more can we?  He did it for us.  He provided the path for life.  He single-handedly offered us the path to walk through the valley of the shadow of death triumphantly.  Now, do not give the enemy one single ounce of credit for the valley, because the valley was offered to bring you to full completion, not to give the enemy glory for stealing something that never belonged to you in the first place.  Christ arose from the dead, so that we could be renewed.  Hear Paul’s words…

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable.  This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Change your view to one that is eternal, not temporal…focus on the lessons of completion through all seasons of life, NOT on the loss of worldly things.

Blessings in the name of Jesus Christ, the Author of our Salvation…

Scott

 

 

Rebuilding Foundations…

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Today’s post is by another great friend to our family, Dawn Wagner.  Dawn’s honesty, humor, and love for those around her is refreshing and authentic.  She is an amazing friend and confidant to my wife; which brings me great joy.  I am incredibly thankful to have a family, like Matt and Dawn’s, to walk with through life and ministry.  This is just a small piece of the wisdom that God has blessed Dawn with…

Isaiah 58 has been an intriguing chapter that God has used in many different seasons of life to stretch me and challenge me in the way I view myself, others, and even the Lord. It amazes me that I can’t read it without having fresh, challenging thoughts emerge – thoughts that convict, challenge, humble, and inspire me – all at the same time. I love that about the Holy Spirit.

As I read through Isaiah 58 today, my eyes were drawn to verse 12:

“Those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins;

You will raise up the age-old foundations;

And you will be called the repairer of the breach,

The restorer of the streets in which to dwell.”

At the heart, fasting is the tool God has given us to reach into heaven to “see” Kingdom realities and be empowered to establish his Kingdom on earth.  When we fast and pray, following the model shown in Isaiah 58, we have the ability to see God supernaturally restore our community. Somehow, in the denial of food and “favorites,” we are given perspective and power to do His bidding.

  1. Ask the Lord to develop you to become all he has dreamed for you. Invite him to shape and mold you to be used in supernatural ways to impact our community.
  2. Pray that the Lord continues to give us his eyes and perspective for our community. Ask him to reveal the broken foundations he wants to repair.
  3. Ask the Lord to give us favor as we pursue making a difference in our community. Ask him to reveal the areas, connections, and keys to make a difference.
  4. Ask the Lord to empower us to be the Church he dreams of us to become. Give us, as a corporate body, sensitivity to see what is in the Father’s heart. Ask him to give us a game plan to bring it to pass.
  5. Pray that the anointing of God would be evident in our corporate gatherings. May the lost become found; the interested become committed; the committed equipped to advance God’s Kingdom.

– Dawn Wagner

 

Staying the Course Despite Resistance

20171201_gettyimages-462881839_FotorGod never promises that we will experience easy times, never encountering resistance; after all we are in the midst of the most significant war in history.  In this war, the soul of every man and woman hang in the balance.  I’m not sure I even understand the scale of this war.  It is a war that’s ending is already known, but every single man and woman on this earth has a choice…to follow the ways of Christ and submit to His Lordship or follow the ways of the world and submit to its lordship. To either experience freedom…or bondage.  I believe Nehemiah understood this war. His choice to take the resistance he encountered to the Lord, seek His wisdom, then take action, is a clear identifier that he understood.  (For a better understanding of the personal battle we face, especially as believers in the western world, please read Killing Kryptonite, by John Bevere).

Nehemiah had a few people who were relentless in their pursuit of making his and the builders of the wall lives completely miserable…Sanballat and Tobiah.  I am not sure these two knew it, but the enemy’s goal through them was to prevent the protection of Israel and its people and to ensure they continue to be blended into the world so as to remove their identity in God. Ultimately, his goal was to ensure their soul, in this great war, fell on the side of hell. They harassed Nehemiah and the people rebuilding the wall.  And this was Nehemiah’s response:

Hear, O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads, and give them as plunder to a land of captivity! Do not cover their iniquity, and do not let their sin be blotted out from before You; for they have provoked You to anger before the builders. So we built the wall, and the entire wall was joined together up to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. (Nehemiah 4:4-6)

A couple points I want to make about this passage and what follows in chapter 4 of Nehemiah.

  1. Nehemiah and the rest of the Jews who were rebuilding the wall were being criticized and threatened. The threat was real and it was physical in nature.  At the beginning of the chapter it was noted the Samaritan army was involved and later, Nehemiah and the people took up arms.  BUT, in the face of a real and significant threat, Nehemiah’s gut reaction was to pray and seek the Lord FIRST.  Nehemiah’s prayer displays the fact he refused to take matters in to his own hands, but instead asked the Lord to deal with the threat.  What is your reaction to a threat?  Fight or Flight?  What about prayer, even in the midst of a threat?  All God needs to hear is an open heart and a cry for help…He will respond.
  2. Nehemiah took action after he sought God’s wisdom, “Nevertheless we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night” (Neh 4:9). He charged his men to take up arms and every man had a sword on his side…they built with one arm and defended with the other arm.  Nehemiah himself kept a man with a trumpet next to his side, so in the case there was a battle, all parties could gather at the sound.  Throughout this ordeal Nehemiah kept encouraging the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, great and awesome” and “Our God will fight for us.”  Nehemiah prayed, took action, encouraged his people, and trusted the Lord.  The results? “When our enemies heard that it was known to us, and that God had brought their plot to nothing, that all of us returned to the wall, everyone to his work” (Neh 4:15).

James says that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20b); I would suggest that prayer without action is powerless and weak prayer.  What kind of faith does it take to sit down and pray for the Lord to build the wall in the middle of all my enemies?  None what-so-ever!  On the other hand, what kind of faith does it take to seek the Lord, hear His voice, and begin rebuilding the wall under a pagan king, surrounded by people that hate you? SIGNIFICANT FAITH.  Now, I want to caution you that action without seeking the Lord is just as foolish…action for the sake of action, success for the sake of success, trying to prove your worth…is simply an idol in the way of the Lordship of Christ and God’s will for your life.

Stop now!!! And ask the Lord where he needs you to take action today.  If you are willing to pray that prayer and truly mean it with no exceptions, He will use you in a significant way.  Just get ready for the adventure!!!

Blessings!!!

Scott