The Worst Minister Who Ever Lived

Someone once approached me and was going on and on about this older minister and spent several minutes pointing out to me all the ways he’s better at this than I am.   I’m certain they weren’t trying to insult me.  I didn’t take any offense at least.

With a smile, I simply replied, “I agree!   You’re absolutely right.   I’m not on that kind of level just yet.   And I may never be.   The only thing I do know is to be me and to aspire to have a heart that resembles Jesus.”

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Among the very few things I’ve figured out so far:

1.  This isn’t the Olympics.

It’s about pleasing and glorifying God.   How silly the thought – spending my lifetime debating and jockeying to determine which pile of dust is prettier than the other.   It seems far more fulfilling to keep my eyes on the Author and Perfector of the Faith.

2.  I’m a Work in Progress.

Everyone is.   It’s okay if I’m not as polished or as skilled in my 9th year as someone whose been at this since the Kennedy Administration.   He was once a young minister just like me and look how much he’s learned and how far he’s come! Never penalize or write yourself off because you aren’t as far along in your 7th chapter as someone else is whose in their 63rd.   As long as we live, we will always be that charred and broken vessel that the Potter molds and refines into something increasingly more beautiful.

3. No matter how much I learn, I will never be the greatest minister whose ever lived.

The fellow who preached The Sermon on the Mount and The Parable of The Prodigal Son is.

I could very well go down as the absolute worst minister who ever lived.  But as long as it was His beauty I was showcasing and even SOME of that beauty made its way into my soul, that will be just fine with me.

I’d wear it as a badge of honor: “I was the worst there ever was at it.  But I got to proclaim His greatness.”

The 3rd World Mindset

SURVIVED MY FIRST REAL HURRICANE THIS WEEK.  Power and water are out all over Florida in the wake of Irma.  Our power has been out all week as well.  Rumor has it, it could be up to two weeks before it’s restored in the area.

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Have spent the week throwing out bag after bag of spoiled food from the fridge, using flash lights and candles to get to the bathroom, waking up every 45 minutes in pools of my own sweat…

But you know?

I’ve enjoyed the power outage.   I’ve loved it.

No way to charge my phone at the house so I shut myself off from it for the entire night.  No television to slavishly spend hour after hour in front of.  No music or radios to drown out the medicinal silence that awaits me after overdosing on noise and more noise all day long.

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All the time in the world to do nothing but sit in the absolute silence and darkness, unshackled from distractions, to meditate, pray and dream about the things above.  Late quiet nights doing nothing but sitting outside and staring into the dark as I think and breathe and reminisce on good times from days long past.

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When I see my culture rabidly cheering and hurrying armies of lineman trucks, I get the excitement.  Those are the hardest working people on the planet and they’re doing a service to us.

But more than a part of me is disgusted by it – the thought of impatiently demanding (and often cursing) that these people jump to our personal time table expectations (all 2 million of us at once no less) – people who are risking their life’s not for national freedoms in a foreign war but for our luxuries and American comforts.  Rushing and demanding people who are risking their life’s fighting through long days and even longer nights (without any bodily power after so long) in part, so that pampered Americans can no longer feel uncomfortable.

I get we’re paying customers who need to get what we’re paying for.  But the anger, the expectation there’s been towards them (not always)…there’s just something about that picture that makes my stomach turn.

There’s disgust because I know I’m a part of it. I was raised in a country where I grew up thinking we’re entitled to the best and that I’m too important to be uncomfortable for even a minute.

I never realized how well off I was until I moved away from America and started spending time with people in countries across the world.

Had an old truck that kept breaking down.   Was glad to be rid of it.   Gave it to a guy from Belize and you’d have thought he was given a brand new Jag.   Drove that thing sputtering 35 MPH all the way from east Texas, through Mexico and into Belize.   He thought he had died and gone to heaven to have that truck.

When you spend 6 months, a year, ten years, some people, 40 years outside America, your sensibilities are no longer exclusively American, but now third-world.

As a result of those frigid Chinese winters and sweltering summers, often without heat and A/C…   Spending an entire year brushing your teeth with bottled water and bathing in front of the sink with a washcloth…knowing in the back of your mind at every single church gathering that at any moment, those doors could fly open and officers with machine guns could raid us and we could all be arrested or deported in the blink of an eye…

It conditions the mind to embrace the discomfort.   At times, to even hope for it.   When the power goes out now, you just shrug, open a window, drag the couch next to it and go to sleep with a bag of broccoli on your chest.   But it took me a lifetime to find contentment.

We all don’t have to leave America though.   That’s why I love things like power outages so much.

They bring us just a sample-sized taste of the third-world norm for a few days.   They enlighten us to just how much more less really can be.

As I got home just minutes ago, I braced myself for another warm, uncomfortable night of waking up in a pool of sweat at 3 A.M.

As soon as the door opened, the air kicked back on.

It’s just 77 degrees and I’m freezing my butt off.   And that, my friends, is the 3rd World mindset.

What do I have planned for tonight?

I’m gonna shut off the lights, pull out the porch chair and stare into the dark again.

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How My Grandfather Spent His Last Hours on Earth

Most people’s grandfathers were merely grandfathers.   Ones that snuck you extra cookies when mom wasn’t watching and randomly gave you wads of cash when you were older, just because “I love you” was the never-ending occasion and they considered spoiling you to be in their job description.

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My grandfather was that, alright.   But he was so much more.   He was my friend.   He was someone I truly considered as being an actual member in my closest circle of friends.  Like, in the same company as the peers who were my age.

A lifelong speech disorder knit our hearts closely together and made these two hearts of ours abnormally tender and sensitive to the hurt in others.

Can’t tell you how many times I saw the man gather the unexpected burst of courage to say something beautiful and soul-warming to a broken person, only to find himself inevitably trapped midsentence, his mouth convulsing and nothing but stammering gibberish sounding from his tangled tongue.  He’d hang his head in shame, slowly back away and return to his prison cell of silence with that portrait of piercing despondency burning in his eyes.

For nearly 90 years, that brilliant mind overflowing with thoughts and ideas was rendered silent in Bible classes.  He never once raised his hand to speak or to impart his insights.  He very rarely, if ever, voiced a public prayer.  At work, his job demanded him to speak on a radio and daily, he experienced that naked and lonely feeling of an opened mouth making no sound with all eyes on him.

Can’t tell you how many times something moved him at church – the poignant words of a song, a scripture passage, a statement made in a prayer or sermon, and each time that gentle heart was moved, he’d take the glasses off his face and cry his heart out.  The fact that a grown man seen blubbering that aggressively in public is constantly judged as a mark of weakness mattered never at all to him.  He was too busy experiencing the beauty of the cross of Christ or being lost in the outpouring of one human being loving another to even care.  To his grandson, he made it look like the most incredible strength on earth.

One of the very last memories I have of him was when I spoke at my hometown church.  I’m preaching my heart out when suddenly looking down, I see my grandfathers glasses come off from the front row for what would be the last time and I begin to hear his tears.  That’s how proud he was, how utterly astounded to see God doing something so dynamic with one of “us…”.

To this day, I’ll be speaking and I’ll look down and almost see him and my eyes are stung with tears.

On Monday night, I was talking to my grandmother on the phone and I heard the clock tolling eleven o’clock in the distance.  Instantly, a lifetime of memories and innumerable happy times spent in that house inundated my mind, yanking on every string of my heart.

It was then when she told me something about my grandfather I had never known before.

How even as he laid in his hospital gown, reduced to nothing, wispy little strands on his head, every crevice of his body exploding in hellish pain, vanquished by the ravages of cancer, he was still continuing their tradition of giving her a card at Christmas time, a tradition that began in 1947 and continued to that moment, and asking with noticeable urgency amid faded voice if she had remembered to make a thoughtful birthday card for my uncle so he could be appreciated on his day.

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That was how he spent his last hours on this earth.  Loving and caring about making others feel as special as they are.  And the shame in my heart at the remembrance of forgetting to call her on her birthday this year was never greater.

He passed away before that birthday celebration or Christmas could come.   He flew home nearly two years ago.   To this day, just the sight of his face or hearing his voice on old recordings makes my eyes instantly drown in tears.

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What I would have given for him to have been there when the news broke at my grandmother’s house that her grandson’s lifelong speech disability had suddenly come to a shocking end.  How much more would I give if he could have had such a privilege in his lifetime.  Or that he could have experienced it instead of me.  But for him, it never came.

The greatest gift he ever gave me was his heart.  One that was instant and fearless to cry and to wail and to weep.  One that helped me recognize the wonders God is accomplishing through me when before, I felt so small and insignificant.

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This is why every day, the very last thing I do before I start my day is to put his ring on my finger and to remember that even though he has flown far, far away, his tender, gentle heart beats in my chest.

3 Reasons Why Every Christian Should Meditate

IT began two years ago in the passenger seat of Rob Peter’s Mitsubishi Diamante.   Two ministers shooting the breeze with preliminary small talk, en route to chips and chimichangas on a balmy Ocala day.   We come to a stop at a red light.   There was a momentary silence.   And then it happened.

“…But, how are you really doing, David?” he asked with a solemn cadence.

Before the response could formulate in my mind, I felt the plastic smiling mask slither down my face, exposing the man who had spent the past month weeping in the shower every morning.   My masquerade of Mr. Happy Go Lucky could be feigned no more.

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“I’m depressed out of my mind,” I heard myself say out loud.   “And the only thing I want is to disappear.   And to never be seen again.”

We discussed the why and the how.   I gave him the rundown of the people and the circumstances that had driven me there.   He mentions Philippians 4 and I start quoting a famous statement from that excerpt.   And I, a gospel preacher, the son of a gospel preacher, blanked five words in.

“Whatever is true…whatever is…….  Whatever is……..  Righteous?   Whatever’s…………?  Whatever is…good…?”

He turns, looks deep into my eyes and rebukes me with gentleness in his voice.   “That’s your problem right there, David.   You don’t know what it says.   Your mind is so important and you’re fighting this with your own power.   We’ve got to know what it says and do it with all of our heart.”

He was so right I could feel it in my bones.   I was doing the opposite of what it says.   For me, I was living as if it said, “And finally David, whatever is false, whatever is horrible, whatever is wrong, whatever is negative, whatever is of bad repute, whatever makes you feel like a worthless, incompetent piece of crap, meditate on these things” – when there was a brand new world proliferating with what is true and honorable and right and pure to revel in.

And it was there when I began to grasp just how enormously important the mind really is.

That the mind is to our body as the cockpit is to a plane – and Satan and his forces want to hijack it and fly it into a high rise.

That when he seizes control of our minds, it’s like a malicious virus that infiltrates a computer and overwhelms it with a litany of disturbing pop-ups of Fear and Anxiety and Despair.

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It’s like a hoarder’s house with thirty years of garbage and junk stacked to the ceiling with Chinese takeout from November rotting in the refrigerator; green fuzz protruding from the lid.   If my mind were a house, it was that kind of a home.   And unless I threw all that garbage out, one rancid gag-inducing bag at a time, and swept the house clean, there was no getting better.

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That the Christian life really isn’t about cathedrals and church attendance or suits and dresses but our minds being renewed to be more like His.

The chapter of scripture Rob mentored me from is all about releasing our inner chaos through prayer and meditating on what is from the Spirit.   When we do, it promises the disciple that the peace of God will guard our hearts – and our minds in Christ Jesus.

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Prayer, I already practiced.   But meditation, I had never even considered.   Even at that time.

The word “meditation” conjured images in my mind of hippies burning incense and smoking peyote.   But meditation is biblically defined “to groan and growl; to be deeply absorbed in thought; to silently say something in your heart.”

I was shocked to discover how prominent it actually is in Scripture (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2, 19:14, 63:6, 77:12, Colossians 3:2, etc).

Three weeks ago, I finally meditated for the first time.   And it is now my favorite thing to do in the world.

As it is with prayer, it doesn’t matter how long you spend doing it.   All that matters is you go to a private place where you cannot be distracted – no smart phone, no television, no social media, if there’s a landline, it’s unplugged; just you and God alone (or just you and few others alone), and as I prefer, in the dark.

Here are three simple reasons why every Christian should meditate:

1.  It Unshackles The Mind
When I begin, my mind is often racing with negativity and anxiety.   Within minutes of intense meditation, I can feel the poison of all that anxiety draining from my heart as peace comes in.

There’s just something about muting all of the noise and escaping the frantic “Hurry!  Hurry!  Hurry!” of the world that I would rather have than food.   When replaced with nothing but silence and Scripture, all of the hellish things rampaging through our minds lose their power in governing our thoughts.

Paul attests, “The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.”

2.  It Opens Our Eyes
A friend of mine was recently struggling with a person he was having conflict with.   But while meditating on the peace of the Spirit, he envisioned that person beaten and bleeding out with no one to help them.   From that moment, he no longer saw them as an enemy but as someone who is worthy of his compassion.   And it forever changed the way he felt about them.

This is where meditation often is difficult and even painful.   But it results in having new eyes in addition to a new mind.

3.  It Renovates The Soul
Wherever I’m lacking, I find a verse that addresses it and for 10-20 minutes all I do is whisper it out loud, over and over, until it’s the only thing in my mind.   Two weeks ago, it was the fruit of the Spirit and all I did was think “Love.  Love.  Love.  Love…”

Then everything I know that Scripture says about it.   Then I thought of the people I love most.   And then, the people I need to learn how to love.

When I came out of that time of meditating on nothing but the love of God, I felt like I had been to heaven.   I did not want to come back.   When I stepped outside, the world looked differently.   Life felt like a dream as it happened in real time.   Even people looked different.   I felt a burning love for everyone I saw that was not there before.

You’ll be in your car and someone will cut you off.   You slam on the breaks.   But you’re not leaning on your horn like you used to.   Your eyes aren’t bulging.   Four letter words aren’t coming out of your mouth – when heaven is all you care about and the love of God is all you are concentrating on, it transforms the way you respond.

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The impact that Rob forever left on my life was the discovery that my mind is a battleground.   Satan desires to occupy and to influence it just as much as God does.

Someone is sitting in the cockpit.   It might be your worst nightmare.   It might be those people from your past who made you feel like you were a waste of life.  It might be God, it might be the devil himself.   But whoever it is is flying the whole plane, either to Paradise unimaginable or to nosedive it into the ocean.

So how are you doing?

…But, how are you really doing?

The Easiest – And Hardest Song to Sing

THERE’S a song we sometimes sing that has a powerful chorus line –

That’s why we praise Him, that’s why we sing
That’s why we offer Him our everything
That’s why we bow down and worship this King
Because He gave His everything
Because He gave His everything…

That’s an easy song to sing.  At least it is at first…

He gave His everything?”   That is documented and verified twelve thousand times over.   Leaving the idyllic ecstasies of heaven to be birthed in a slobbery animal feeding trough.   Spending 33 years in this cesspool of corruption and malevolence, taking the absolute worst and ugliest it had to offer.   Living in a perilous culture of religious vampires hellbent on trapping Him, incriminating Him, demonizing Him and assassinating Him from the minute He was born.   Providing us the example of how to resist any temptation that comes our way.   Showing us how to honor the will of the Father in any and every circumstance, even when those circumstances called for washing the grimy feet of a bunch of guys who were about to betray Him, abandon Him and swear having never known Him; being dragged into illegal courtrooms, having a crown of thorns condescendingly gouged into His skull, being stretched out for Roman flogging posts and being brutally executed on a bastard criminal’s cross as an innocent man as His most vicious enemies jeered Him from down below.   Love and forgiveness overflowing from that heart, so beautiful and sacred and pure, until it beat no more.   Living and laboring at this very moment in time with every fiber of His power to intercede for us and fiercely silencing the accusations Satan hisses against us day and night.

He did it all to set us free from our sins, from our past, from the Accuser, from hell.   From ourselves…

Think about being one of those condemned deplorables just about to walk The Green Mile to the electric chair – and in steps the Man joyously strapping Himself in and riding the lightning so you won’t have to.

It’s the easiest song on earth to sing.   That’s why we praise Him.  That’s why we sing.   Yes!  He hastened to our rescue, giving literally every last drop of His blood, sweat and tears for us (see Hebrews 5:7).

Because He gave His everything
Because He gave His everything…

But it’s also a difficult song to sing.

If you’re on Sunday morning autopilot, if you’re thinking about Cowboys-Packers or concentrating on hitting all the right notes, there’s nothing to it at all.   But when the weight of those words is grasped and realization sets in that you’re using them to instruct others, that’s a whole other story.

That’s why we offer Him our everything?”   On what planet is this taking place?

We won’t even bow down and worship this King.   That requires too much reverence and humility and discomfort from us.   We’ll worship standing tall and proud because that’s convenient and we look good doing it.   But forget about bowing our knee before His throne.   That’s what Catholics do at mass.  That’s what the Muslims do when they pray to Allah.   We can’t look anything like them…

Oh, God forgive us.   We don’t know what we’re doing.   Sometimes we don’t even know what we’re singing

That’s why we offer Him our everything
That’s why we bow down and worship this King
Because He gave His everything

Whenever I hear those words, I hang my head and begin to weep.   Because He gives His absolute maximum for me while so many times, I have given Him the bare minimum.

That’s a hard song to sing for a culture that thinks worship is a weekly, monthly or in many cases, an annual thing you have to put on expensive clothes to do.   That acts like God lives in the cathedral they get all dolled up for, thinking that to leave the cathedral is to leave the presence of God for the remainder of the week.

That’s a painful concept to stomach for a culture that designates Sunday and Sunday alone as “The Lord’s Day” and anoints the sanctuary as “The Lord’s House;” more than implying that all the others are “My Day,” once our hour-long vacation from self-indulgence hurriedly reaches its eager end at the closing prayer.

Troy Niedfelt writes, “An hour on Sunday morning, an hour on Sunday night and an hour on Wednesday and we say, ‘I’ve done my duty and now I’m free to go until next Sunday.’  168 hours in a week and we so often say ‘Here are 3, gracious God that I will devote to You,’ and the remaining 165 we gluttonously devour for ourselves.”

We’re a culture that use phrases like “You can’t swear in church, you can’t do that in church;” more than implying that once we step out of those doors, we’re free to conduct ourselves in any manner we wish, entirely unaware that the cathedral we occupy is no more sacred than the men’s room at Texaco and that everything we say and do happens at church, in the Holy of Holies of the temple of the Living God.

Oh, God forgive us…

God forgive me of giving Him the bare minimum – when before the world was created, He chose a dead dog like me to set it ablaze with the brilliance of His luminosity; designing me in my mother’s womb, desiring that I would come to love Him and to know Him with all of my heart, with all of my soul, with all of my mind and with all of my strength.

In the meantime, I rejoice in His patience as I mature with all the rest.  That’s what makes the song all the more endearing.

If we are to love our fellow man enough to go the second mile for them, then how much more are we to love the Man who walked the second, the third, the fourth and the fifth mile down The Green Mile for us?

Because He gave His everything
Now, let us together give our everything

Shalom.

Stuttering Is An Interesting Thing

WAS having lunch with Dan Mann today, my predecessor at Belleview Church, and we were laughing about the waitress writing “Sign Language” on my receipt after mistaking me for a deaf person when I went mute in the busy line and motioned for a pen to write the order down, as happens to me all the time.

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We talked about how cool it is when I come back to these places a week or two later when I’m not as nervous perhaps and they hear my voice or I hand them a CD of a message I preached or I give them my card that says, “David Creek, The Stammering Prophet, Preaching Minister, Belleview Church of Christ.”

They’re absolutely astounded at that discovery.   They can’t believe it!   And God is praised.

We were talking about the areas where I experience perfect fluency – singing of course, as most stutterers enjoy, speaking with a drastically different accent (though people object to it), speaking in unison with others and speaking while a certain type of music is playing.

It gave me the idea to shoot a video doing one of the hardest and most dreaded things for most stutterers to do – introducing myself.

Meeting someone.  Noticing there’s no one around who can introduce you to them.  Knowing you’re going to have to say your name.  Anticipating the awkwardness, the stammering, the twitching, the way they’ll gawk at you when you just stand there with your mouth wide open but no words coming out.  Knowing that if you hit a speech block, it’s going to look like you don’t know your own name and that you’ll appear like an imbecile.  Feeling rushed.  Excruciating flashbacks flooding your mind.  Remembering the laughter, the pointing, the staring.  The words jamming in your mind and refusing to come out…

And then, it happens.

Well, that does happen.   But there are fascinating tricks and techniques that I am experimenting with that are helping slowly but surely to where even my most dreaded thing to say effortlessly comes out.

Stuttering is an interesting thing.

 

Winning

WAS just running through tomorrow’s message and penciling in last minute ideas when the most enormous happiness I’ve ever felt began welling up inside.

I mean, I’ve been happy before.  I heard that final dismissal bell ring on the last day of more than a dozen school years.  I nearly peed my pants in pure unadulterated glee when my grades were up to par and my dad said he was taking me to see Ghostbusters II.

There was ethereal elation when I was baptized and when I married Amanda.  But then in between, life happens and it happens for every one of us.  We experience it in all the various ways we do.  We tap dance on the foggy mountain top and then we find ourselves flat on our back in the mud ten thousand feet below, unable to move a bone in our body, wondering if we’ll even make it halfway there again.

I’ve known superhuman happiness before.  But the joy that’s raging in me – that’s been raging in me, is a deeper, more refined joy than I’ve ever known, a fire that seems to refuse to go out.

I’m winning.

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It didn’t happen instantly.  It’s been an excruciating and overwhelming pathway.  But tonight, I am winning.

As formidable as they are, anxiety and depression are losing and I am winning.  It’s been nearly a year since my last panic attack.  I can’t even remember when my last episode was.  The techniques I’ve learned have shut down multiple attacks and episodes within seconds when they tried so hard to begin.  The night terrors that used to torment me and wake me up screaming have been a thing of the past.  Situations and things said that would have destroyed me as recently as a year ago now bounce right off and I walk away smiling, not even fazed.  I’m even starting to be assertive and vocal in ways I haven’t been in years.

I’m winning and it feels so good.  After being handcuffed and straitjacketed by this for so long, I’m finally getting to experience how good it really feels to exist day after day.

I’m doing what I love to do more than anything else.  It’s actually happening.  I get to study and teach God’s Word and witness broken people like me discover victory in Christ every single day.  There’s a church on this planet that actually wants me to be their preacher, that actually believes in what God can do through me, that’s actually is crazy enough to give me half a chance.  That loves us, that values us.  That actually allows us to be, well…us.

Life is just as difficult as it ever was.  The daily cross of discipleship is just as heavy and splintery as it’s always been.  But there is a joy within me that hasn’t been there in so long and it keeps intensifying.

As I’m learning by the day, that’s what happens when you finally dare to cast all of your anxiety on Him and let Him transform your mind.  Though growth and recovery is a perpetual journey, there is already evidence that I have a new mind.

Life ain’t easy.  Nor will it ever be painless.

But the joy and fearlessness of God in you is the fuel that keeps the Christian machine running.

Will this present happiness wane?  Of course it will.  Most fires are snuffed out sooner or later.  Are new overwhelming difficulties and tragedies on their way?  Inescapably so.

That’s what I love about joy.  Happiness goes away.  But joy in the power of Christ is there regardless.  That is what I will cling to.

Man, it feels good to learn and to grow and to soar again when your wings were broken for so long.

O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” – Paul