Here’s Hoping for a Solid Debate on the Text Issue

On February 18, James White will debate Thomas Ross on the text issue.  You can learn more about the details of the debate here.  I look forward to the debate for several reasons.  Let me tell you how:

First, my appreciation for James White

I understand if some of my KJVO friends don’t share my enthusiasm for James White.  He has handled some of us pretty roughly over the years.  But I do have an appreciation for Dr. White.  I have had the privilege of meeting him; I have had the opportunity to get to know a fine young man planting a church in Salt Lake out of Apologia Church, and we share several mutual friends.  Despite several significant differences, I believe Dr. White to be a brother in Christ.  That said, here are a couple of things I appreciate about Dr. White.

First, I live and serve the Lord in Utah.  I cannot express the value of Dr. White’s ministry in this state.  For many years, he has traveled to Utah to preach the gospel to the LDS and engage them in debates or discussions.  I have to say that he has set a tremendous example for the way we ought to engage these neighbors.  My good friend, Pastor Jason Wallace, hosts Dr. White almost annually and has held a variety of debates at the University of Utah – including one infamous debate with a nut-wing professor who attempted to get Dr. White to drink antifreeze on stage.  Dr. White has shown a willingness to engage unbelievers from nearly every form of unbelief, but I believe his best work has come from his engagement with the LDS.  I had the privilege of sitting in on a discussion he had with Alma Allred, which I consider to be one of the most important public discussions with a Mormon in the past decade. 

Second, I appreciate Dr. White’s willingness to continue to engage on the text issue.  Yes, I recognize that he wants to defeat the position I hold dear.  But I am grateful that he believes we are still worthy of debate.   

Third, Dr. White believes in presuppositional apologetics, as do I.  I consider this key in the debate with Thomas.  We should take a presuppositional approach to preservation. 

Second, the opportunity to hear a Biblical case for textual criticism

I am excited to hear Dr. White present a presuppositional case for textual criticism.  I have searched the Internet, hoping to find someone who would make the case from Scripture for textual criticism, and so far have come up empty.  Perhaps one of my readers can point me to a book, YouTube video, or website that lays out the case from Scripture for textual criticism, but I have yet to hear one.

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The Isaac Watts Hoax

It took a few minutes, but I finally tracked down the source to a pesky, oft-repeated Isaac Watts quote. Forgive me for taking a long time to trace it, but it has been used so much, it was hard to get to the source. Patient readers will be interested to learn its history.

Whenever someone starts a story with “recently on Twitter,” you can be almost certain that the story will end with “someone threw gasoline on me and lit a match.” Even so, recently on Twitter, I commented on worship style and Contemporary Christian Music, and almost immediately, some old, gray-headed guy provided me with a link to an article on “The Controversial Organ.”

The article includes two editorials – one from 1863 and one from 1890, in which objections were raised to the “new” worship songs and musical selections of that day – “Just As I Am” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” 

I shyly pointed out that no source was offered for either of these letters – something that shouldn’t be hard to do if one is copying letters from that long ago.  Surely someone has a source for that, right?  And my Twitter companion immediately roasted me: “It wouldn’t matter to you if they did, you legalist.” 

Well, humphhhh. 

A few months before this exchange, I was told by a straight-faced young man in our church lobby that “Christians have always been resistant to change in worship styles.  Pastors objected to Isaac Watts in his day.  They thought it was too new and too worldly.” 

I’ve heard that before, but I always wondered about it.  How do we know this?  Where do I find this information in the history?  What was controversial about Isaac Watts?

Maybe you’ve heard this same argument.  If so, perhaps you also had the panicked thought, am I standing in the way of progress?  “Am I on the wrong side of history?   Who knows if Zach Williams or Kari Jobe might be the next Isaac Watts?  And here I am, like a stone wall in the middle of the prairie, making everyone ride around me.” Let me get out of the way so the people can get to Michael W. Smith.  Mercy Me.  Let’s get back to Casting Crowns and have some Elevation Worship in this place!

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Why the KJV Debate Won’t End Soon

I’ve lived long enough to see a variety of phases of the King James Only controversy.  You might think of it like the phases of the moon.  The debate waxes and wanes.  Fifteen or twenty years ago, the debate really grew legs as online forums and blogs took off.  The debate had raged prior to this through books and papers published by respectable institutions of higher learning.  But the rise of the Internet and the popularity of blogs and forums in the early 2000s brought the debate into the living room.  As a result, there began to be some significant movement in one direction or the other.  Believers who had only seen one side of the issue found themselves woefully unprepared for some of the arguments coming from the other side.  There were casualties on both sides of the issue, though the trend certainly favored the anti-King James Only position. 

But the ultimate result of these online interactions was that both sides became more entrenched against each other.  Like most controversies, the debate ebbs and flows.  The rise of Facebook, Twitter, and (even more so) YouTube expanded the debate, challenging a fresh generation to again examine their assumptions and (in more than a few cases) switch their allegiances.  I have not looked to see if there has been any kind of scientific study to see where the majority have landed.  Anecdotally, I would guess that more have left the KJVO position than have come to it.  Advocates for an eclectic text show a great deal of talent for video production, and people prefer a 15-minute video to a longer, in-depth book or blog post.  But once again, as the debate picks up, parties become more entrenched in their position and more unwilling to listen to the other side.

Nobody should think that the migration has been a one-way street.  I have become good friends with a pastor who recently came to embrace the King James Version, who had before used every other version but the KJV.  The rise of the “Standard Sacred Text” position and Jeff Riddle certainly indicates that the anti-KJV faction isn’t running up the score on the KJVOs (note: I’m not saying that Riddle is KJVO – he isn’t).  I have friends in the ministry who embrace the Critical Text (and many versions as a result), who have also admitted to me that there is a significant shift away from the Critical Text towards the TR and the idea of a settled text. 

So, those who think that we are on the cusp of putting the debate to rest forever should probably rein in their horses.  It can be deceptive to spend hours a day on Twitter, where the debate is pretty one-sided.  Many believers stay off Twitter altogether.  I would say that you really don’t get fair representation of both sides of the issue there.  And the proponents of the Critical Text will have a tough time conveying their message to their targeted audience if they are relying on Twitter to do it. 

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Every Word Preservation

Recently, an acquaintance asked me why I believe God preserved the words.  He believes God has preserved the message of the Bible but doesn’t see any place in Scripture where God promised to keep the words.  I was grateful for the opportunity to explain why I believe God has kept every word, and I am happy to share it with you as well with some edits, modifications, and additions.

Hey brother, I am glad you asked me why I believe every word of the Bible is preserved rather than just dismissing me as an ignoramus.  I always appreciate the opportunity to set forth my reasons for a position I hold dear, and I am always grateful to those who will give me a hearing.  I recognize that the most vocal (at least online) Christians deny that the words are kept.  I try to take the positions I hold on grounds that I can defend from Scripture.  Hopefully, this will help you to understand my thinking on this crucial issue.

Here goes!

I am arguing that God has preserved every word of Scripture perfectly.  Variations of this argument have been made by Kent Brandenburg (15+ years), the Van Kleecks, and Jeff Riddle.  The Van Kleecks use the term “Standard Sacred Text,” Jeff Riddle refers to it as the confessional text, and others call it “confessional Bibliology.”  I am in basic agreement with this position.  I was also greatly helped by Douglas Wilson on this issue, particularly when it comes to methodology.  I draw heavily from the London Baptist Confession and (to a lesser degree) the Westminster Confessions as representative of the historic belief of the Christian church through the ages.  The LBC statement on the Holy Scriptures is available here:

I do not believe that preservation rests in the English.  God has preserved the words He gave, so (in general) the Hebrew of the OT and the Greek of the NT (Matthew 5:18).

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Touch Not Mine Anointed

And when they went from nation to nation, and from one kingdom to another people; He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes, Saying, Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm.  (I Chronicles 16:20-22)

Growing up in the Hyles’ wing of fundamentalism, I heard the “touch not mine anointed” sermon preached more times than I care to say.  Always it was used to warn anyone who dared oppose the preacher. 

When God providentially removed me from that world, I stopped hearing that preached.  I didn’t catch on right away – though if I remember correctly, my first post-Hyles pastor corrected that view, pointing out that the Bible had Israel in mind, not the preacher.  Over the past twenty-five-plus years, I have spent little time thinking about this specific notion.  But currently, I am preaching through I Samuel, where David refused to raise a hand against Saul, so it has come to mind once again.

Serious students of God’s Word know that the Bible never describes the pastor as the “anointed” of the Lord, nor does “touch not mine anointed” refer to a pastor.  I don’t find a single reference where the Bible hints that the pastor is the Lord’s anointed.  In 2 Corinthians 1:21, Paul reminds the Corinthians,

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Jesus Wins!

At Christmastime, we often hear the reminder that Jesus was “born to die.”  And that is mostly true. Of course, he came to die (John 3:14-16).  But He died so that He might live.

Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. (John 10:17)

Jesus died so that He could rise from the dead.  And though we could point to several purposes for His resurrection, the one that fits with our theme is His triumph.  Jesus rose from the dead so He could trounce Satan, who for thousands of years wielded the power of death against humanity. 

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Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

In the resurrection, God brought an abrupt end to Satan’s winning record.  Having defeated every man in death, Satan thought He could triumph over the Son of God as well.  And that was his fatal mistake.  Because when Jesus broke the power of death, Satan not only lost that battle, but he also lost the war.  In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death lost its power over mankind. 

We can delight in Christ if we consider the nature of His triumph.  Notice how Jesus trounced the devil:

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There Went Out a Decree from Caesar Augustus

Luke connects the story of Christ’s birth to the decree of Caesar Augustus.

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (Luke 2:1)

Luke mentions Caesar’s decree for several reasons.  He wants us to know that Mary and Joseph did not travel to Bethlehem on a whim.  Nor did they aim to fulfill the prophecies concerning the birth of the Messiah. Instead, they went to Bethlehem at Caesar’s bidding.

Luke’s reference to Caesar provides historical context.  Historians tell us that Herod the Great somehow offended the Roman emperor Octavian, who ordered the taxing as a reprisal against Herod.  Intending to number the people and later tax them, Octavian required all the people to return to their hometowns.

Because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David, he found himself traveling the entire length of the country with his very pregnant wife, from his hometown of Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem in the south.  A family would not normally undertake such a journey on the final days of pregnancy. Joseph and Mary weren’t choreographing a prophetic fulfillment.  But I don’t believe Luke mentions this primarily for history’s sake.  I think Luke means to remind us of God’s sovereign hand in this entire story.

Octavian was probably the greatest of the Caesars. He brought the Roman Empire to its zenith and was the most powerful man on the earth at the time of Christ’s birth.  And he knew it.

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Jesus Beats Santa

When I was a boy, my dad preached a message he called “Satan’s Claws.”  My dad was an avid doodler, and he loved to preach with a whiteboard marker in his hand.  So, while he preached his message, he drew up a Santa on the whiteboard, and then as he spoke, he kept adding details.  I remember particularly the claw he drew up on the board in that message. 

Immediately after the message, a great purging took place in our home, and for the next few years, Santa Claus was canceled in the Mallinak home.  No Santa hats, no Rudolph, no “Here Comes Santa Claus,” no Bing Crosby.  I think my dad found it tough to eradicate all the Santa references since they tend to be everywhere and in everything at this time of year.  But, he made a valiant effort.  Eventually, as things go, he didn’t feel the need to expunge Santa from the holiday.  But I have never forgotten those “Santa-free” years.

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Every culture develops traditions that reflect and reinforce the values of that culture.  Like it or not, Santa Claus is a cultural symbol.  Our modern-day, Coke-drinking Santa has been loosely connected to the legendary St. Nicholas from the fourth century, but the connections are hard to decipher.  I think of Santa as a modern-day American version of Robin Hood.  The legend of Robin Hood is loosely connected to an actual historical figure and shows up in a variety of ancient English Literature.  But somewhere along the line, Robin Hood became a cultural icon, representative of some of the virtues that English culture came to value.  Even so, Santa Claus.

The American version of Santa Claus, which has become the default version worldwide (due to our status in the world), started with a loose attachment to the ancient St. Nicholas. Once popularized, it quickly detached from the historical figure.  According to Stephen Nissenbaum in his book The Battle for Christmas, the very wealthy John Pintard spent an unhappy New Year’s Eve in 1820 as a band of ruffians stood outside his house making a very loud and peculiar form of music that involved banging pots and pans and singing off-key for several hours.  His daughter was frightened by the sound of a back door to their house opening, and in the morning, it appeared that several of the hooligans had broken into their home.  Such was the tradition of that time.  The rich and powerful enjoyed much ease and leisure during the holidays, while the poor and destitute struggled to provide food for their families.  To “even the score,” the poor would infiltrate wealthy neighborhoods late at night to harass the rich.  If the poor couldn’t enjoy their luxury, they could at least rob the rich of their peace of mind. 

To comfort his children, the next year Pintard commissioned a broadside of St. Nicholas, who he pictured as an Episcopal bishop.  The broadside included a very large picture of the bishop, complete with halo and scepter, then in the next frame a picture of a happy, giggling girl with her apron full of presents and a sobbing, crying boy who looks as if he has just been chastised.  Beneath the picture, a poem promises Saint Nicholas, “If you will now me something give, I’ll serve you ever while I live.”

Pintard belonged to a group of New Yorkers called the Knickerbockers, which included such imminent men as Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore, the author of “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”  Pintard is credited with inventing Santa Claus, and Washington Irving with popularizing him.  Initially, Pintard pictured St. Nicholas as a judge, come to reward the good and punish the evil.  Nissenbaum describes Pintard’s Santa as a teaching tool for children.

To be sure, this kind of Christmas ritual was designed largely for children, while Judgment Day was for adults.  Christmas took place once a year, Judgment Day once an eternity.  The “judge” at Christmas was St. Nicholas; on Judgment Day it was God himself.  And both the rewards and the punishments meted out on Christmas – a cookie on the one hand, or a birch rod on the other – were far less weighty than those of eternal joy or eternal damnation.  But the parallel was always there, and always meant to be there.  Christmas was a child’s version of Judgment Day, and its ambiguous prospects of reward or punishment (like those of Judgment Day itself) were a means of regulating children’s behavior – and preparing them for the greater judgment that was to come.[1]

Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: a Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday, p. 74
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To be sure, this kind of Christmas ritual was designed largely for children, while Judgment Day was for adults.  Christmas took place once a year, Judgment Day once an eternity.  The “judge” at Christmas was St. Nicholas; on Judgment Day it was God himself.  And both the rewards and the punishments meted out on Christmas – a cookie on the one hand, or a birch rod on the other – were far less weighty than those of eternal joy or eternal damnation.  But the parallel was always there, and always meant to be there.  Christmas was a child’s version of Judgment Day, and its ambiguous prospects of reward or punishment (like those of Judgment Day itself) were a means of regulating children’s behavior – and preparing them for the greater judgment that was to come.[1]

Stephen Nissenbaum, The Battle for Christmas: a Cultural History of America’s Most Cherished Holiday, p. 74
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The Gospel Preached to the Serpent

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.  

Genesis 3:15

Theologians call it the “protoevangelium”– the first gospel sermon ever preached.  After Adam and Eve sinned, when God heard the facts in the case, this was His immediate response.  God made a glorious promise, and our Christmas celebrations mark the opening act in fulfilling that promise.  As we rejoice in Christ over this Christmas celebration, we might find some bonus delights in this earliest gospel promise.  Here are a handful of points to consider.

The gospel was first announced as a curse.

When God asked Adam what he had done, Adam pointed at his wife and his wife pointed at the serpent.  Then, the Lord pronounced judgment on the serpent.

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And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.  

Genesis 3:14-15

The serpent’s curse brought Adam and Eve hope.

Imagine them standing before God, trembling and ashamed for their sin, waiting for God to announce His judgment against them.  They knew God’s law:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.  

Genesis 2:16-17

The criminals stood in dread, waiting for God to pronounce the death sentence.  God sentenced the serpent first, and the curse on the serpent brought hope to the other criminals.  Because the judgment on the serpent gave the first hint of a Savior for mankind.[1]  How could there be enmity between the serpent and the woman if the death sentence was immediately executed?  And how could there be a “seed” of the woman if the woman was put to death?  And how could the woman’s seed bruise the serpent’s head if the law was carried out against her?  This curse on the snake must have given Adam and Eve their first hint that God had prepared grace for them.

Here was the dawning of the gospel day.  No sooner was the wound given than the remedy was provided and revealed.[2]

God cursed Satan with the promise of a Savior.

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A Gospel Message

To the readers of this blog: this is a draft of a letter we intend to mail to homes in our area if they are not home after two visits during our door-to-door canvassing efforts or if they have a “no soliciting” sign on their door. As a matter of policy, we do not knock on doors when they post “no soliciting” as we desire to respect the private property of those we would engage in gospel witness. The following letter will be mailed to their home instead.

I am asking you the reader to give me some feedback on this letter. Do you believe the gospel is presented clearly in the letter? Do you believe the letter to be engaging enough that people will read it? Do you think that a reader could understand the gospel enough from this letter to come to faith in Jesus Christ? What could be improved in the letter? What do you like, and what would you do differently? This is an invitation to engage with what I am doing. I would enjoy any feedback and appreciate your help. Just remember that I have tissue-paper-thin skin, so don’t poke too hard or I might wilt into a corner curled in the fetal position sucking my thumb.

Just kidding about the thin skin (in case you don’t have an ear for sarcasm. Thank you for any help you can offer.

Dear Neighbor,

Greetings!  Since we didn’t get the chance to meet you while visiting your neighborhood, we thought we would drop you a friendly line to say “hello” and introduce our church to you.  Berean Baptist Church was founded close to 65 years ago.  Our church is located across from Grandview Park on Jackson Avenue in Ogden.  We would be honored if you would visit one of our services.  Our church exists to praise and worship our great God and to show His glory to our neighbors.

We try to keep things simple in our services.  We sing Psalms and hymns, emphasize worship, and open the Bible together, desiring to receive His Word and know Him.  We visit neighborhoods throughout our area, hoping to share the gospel’s good news with our neighbors.  Maybe you have heard the gospel before now, but if you haven’t, will you please consider this message of hope?

The gospel is good news for bad people.  In fact, it is our badness that makes the gospel so good.  You may not like this way of introducing the gospel, but it makes no sense to call it “good news” if it doesn’t address something terrible.  When the Bible speaks of humanity, it doesn’t speak of us as if we were “basically good” people who are just down on our luck.  The Psalmist said that God looked down from heaven to see if there were any “good” people who understood and sought after God.  God concluded that “every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 53:3).  This is not the only place where the Bible draws this conclusion about the human race.  Consider what Paul says in Romans 1:8, for example.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

“Wrath” might seem like a harsh word.  Many believe that wrath is inappropriate for a loving God.  Yet, the Bible uses the word “wrath” several times to describe God’s response to sinful people (Matthew 3:7; Mark 3:5; Luke 3:7; John 3:36; Romans 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; Ephesians 5:6; Colossians 3:6; I Thessalonians 1:10; Hebrews 3:11; Revelation 6:16-17). 

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God concluded that there was “not a just man upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20).   He stresses the fact that He responds to our sin with wrath.  Rather than dispute this, we would be wise to ask why God responds to our sins this way and to see what can be done about His wrath.

God’s wrath against sin tells us that sin is not a small thing, a little mistake.  The fact that we look at it this way is part of the problem.  The wrath of God tells us that sin is horrible.  And no wonder when God has filled the earth with good things.  By our sin, we have said that what God has provided is not good or not good enough, that we can’t be satisfied with what He has given – we want what God has forbidden.  This is why all sin is an insult to God. 

We “sin” whenever we disregard God’s moral law – either by doing what it forbids or refusing to do what it requires.  Unfortunately, people often live without regard for God’s moral law.  God does not take this lightly.

Because we tend to be more concerned with pleasing self than pleasing God, and because we aren’t all that concerned about what God thinks of what we do, the Bible tells us that we are “alienated” from God – that is, we are separated from Him.  Sin causes a rift between God and us.  We desperately need to be reconciled to God.  But how can we be reconciled? 

This is where the “good news” of the gospel comes in.  Yes, God responds to our sin with wrath, but God has also provided a way for Him to appease His own wrath without pouring out that wrath on sinners.  And this is how: God sent His Son Jesus to take our sins on Himself, and the wrath of God against our sins, so that God might be just in punishing sin and at the same time justify (pardon and acquit) sinners.

This is the glory of the cross.  Because at the cross, God met sin with wrath and met men with pardon.  God poured out His wrath on Jesus instead of on us when Jesus died on the cross.  That is why Jesus died such a bloody death, why the cross included such brutality and torture.  And yet, the Bible teaches that God didn’t require Jesus to suffer in our place like some cruel sadist who can only be satisfied with a gory death.  Instead, the Bible says, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.” 

God sent Jesus to the cross so He could provide a way for sin to be punished and sinners to be pardoned.  God satisfied His own wrath because Jesus, who is very God of very God, died in our place. 

God makes this very simple for us.  Suppose we don’t believe in Jesus Christ: in that case, the Bible tells us that “the wrath of God abideth” on us (John 3:36).  But if we turn from our sinful life and embrace Jesus Christ as our Savior, the Bible teaches that Christ’s death on the cross can then be applied to us, that we can be forgiven and pardoned and reconciled to God.  This is good news indeed!

If you recognize the justice in God’s wrath against your sin, you should also see how good God is to provide a way for your sins to be forgiven. 

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: (I Peter 3:18)

This is the good news of the gospel.  God provided a way for sins to be forgiven through the death of Jesus Christ in your place, suffering for your sins and dying your death.

If you have read this and desire to know more about the gospel, we would love to do a Bible study with you.  Please use the contact form at our church website, www.berean-baptist-utah.com, and we will be happy to schedule a time for Bible study with you.

May you be blessed to know God through Jesus Christ!