You Are Blessed Because You Believed

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

You Are Blessed Because You Believed

Luke 1:26-45

 

For many, the Christmas season is a truly blessed time, it’s my favorite time of the year. We get to be with family, see our children or grandchildren and watch them open their presents. But sadly, the Christmas season is not a blessed time for everyone. This time of year has the highest incidence of suicide. I believe that everyone, in their core, want’s to be blessed. We all know people, and maybe we are that person, who will say to someone as they are leaving, “have a blessed day.” The Bible tells us that Mary was blessed, but why was she blessed.

In the first couple of chapters of Luke we read the story of the birth of Jesus. This time of year, we often focus on chapter 2, but for this let’s look at chapter 1 for a minute. The first 4 verses are Luke introducing himself and telling why and how he wrote this book, then he gets right into the story. But he doesn’t start with Mary, instead he starts with Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin.

Now, Zachariah and Elizabeth were quite old. They had been praying for a son for years, but Liz was said to be barren. Zach was a priest of the order of Abijah and we read in verse 6 that they were both righteous in God’s eyes. Zach was chosen by casting lots to burn incense in the sanctuary. You see, there is no coincidence with God, He even controls where the dice will fall. While in the sanctuary, an angel appears to Zach. The angel tells him that God has heard his prayers and that his wife was pregnant. The angel even tells him that it is a boy, they didn’t even have an ultrasound first, and that he was to name the boy John. Now, look at what the angel tells Zach about his son in verses 14-17, 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth. 16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God.17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”

So, this angel tells him that his wife is pregnant in her old age, that it will be a boy and then all these other details about his life, and what is Zach’s response? “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.” Luke 1:18. So, what does the angel say next? “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.” Luke 1:19.

Let’s take a look at what just happened. The angel Gabriel came to Zach and let him know that he was about to receive what he had been praying about for years, and Zach didn’t believe him. So, this means that, although Zach had been praying for a son for years, he didn’t really believed that God would do it. Don’t we all do that sometimes? We ask God to provide something, all the while in the back of our minds, not believing He will do it.

We’ve all probably heard this story many times. Gabe made Zach a mute until John was born because of his disbelief.  So, now let’s look at how Mary handled the same event in her own life.

Six months later that same angel, Gabriel, appears to Mary and says, “Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!” Luke 1:27. This confused and disturbed Mary, but Gabe said to her the same thing he said to Zach, “Don’t be afraid, Mary,” and once he calms her down a little bit he says, “for you have found favor with God!31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!” Luke 1:30-33.

Notice what happens next. Mary questions this but doesn’t doubt its possibilities. So, Zach doesn’t believe that his wife can get pregnant when she is old, even though he would have undoubtedly known the story of Abraham and Sarah, While Mary believes that she can conceive, even though she is a virgin. She says, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.” So, because she asks an intelligent question, without doubting, he answers her by saying, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she has conceived a son and is now in her sixth month. 37 For the word of God will never fail.” Luke 1:35-37. And, this is how Mary responds, “Mary responded, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.’ And then the angel left her.” Luke 1:38.

Next, Mary immediately goes to visit Liz. It says that she went to Judea a few days later and this is where we see the unborn John the Baptizer leaping in his mother’s womb when they come together. Think about this, Mary had just conceived Jesus a few days earlier and John recognizes Him.

But I love what Liz says in verses 44-45, 44 When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.” She said that Mary was blessed because she believed the Lord would do what He said he would do. Here’s the thing, God wants to bless us, but He won’t do it if we don’t have faith. He wants to see that we believe first, then He will bless us to overflowing. Have a blessed week.

More Churches – Smyrna

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

More Churches – Smyrna

I realize I said we were only going to look at two of these churches, but there is so much here, I believe we need to look at more of them.

In Revelation 2:8-11, Jesus is talking to the Church at Smyrna. We know that it is Christ who is talking, because He starts out in verse 8 by saying, “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:” Notice that all of these warnings are written to the angel of the church. The word angel means messenger, envoy, one who is sent, a messenger from God. So, what He is saying is that He is giving this letter to the messenger for that church at Smyrna. Then He goes on with His credentials. He says, “The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:” So, who is writing this? The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last…I have had some say that this must be talking about Jehovah, God the Father, because He is the first and the last, but you must finish the verse. He goes on to say, “who was dead, and has come to life.” That can only be talking about Jesus! The fact that He begins by saying that He is the first and the last only confirms the Trinity, they are one and the same.

The next thing He says, in verse 9 is, “I know about your suffering and your poverty—but you are rich!” Think back to the church at Laodicea in chapter 3, verse 17 where He told them, “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” Do you see the contrast? The church at Laodicea thought they were rich, monetarily, but they were spiritually destitute. On the other hand, the church at Smyrna is poor monetarily, but He says they are truly rich spiritually. We get so caught up in the things of this world that we often forget what we are here for. Don’t let anyone tell you that you will be wealthy if you are in God’s will, that is simply unscriptural. I’ve had people give me reasons why they think Christ was wealthy, but if He was wealthy, why did He not have a home? Jesus said Himself in Luke 9:58, “But Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.” Also, if Christ and His disciples were wealthy, then why did He have to perform a miracle, in order to pay their taxes? We see this in Matthew 17:27, “However, we don’t want to offend them, so go down to the lake and throw in a line. Open the mouth of the first fish you catch, and you will find a large silver coin. Take it and pay the tax for both of us.” So, Christ and His disciples weren’t wealthy as this world sees wealth because that stuff didn’t matter to them.

Jesus goes on at the end of verse 9 saying, “I know the blasphemy of those opposing you. They say they are Jews, but they are not, because their synagogue belongs to Satan.” You see, there are a lot of people and churches and pastors out there that don’t preach the truth. Christ said that He knows who they are and that they are really serving Satan. This is why it is so important to study the Bible literally and in context, and never try to put our own interpretation on it. These people who were opposing the church at Smyrna thought they were serving God, because of the way they had interpreted the scripture, but Christ said that they were serving Satan.

He starts out verse 10 by saying, “Don’t be afraid of what you are about to suffer.” I love that He had to tell them that. So often we look at people who have suffered or even been martyred for Christ as somewhat superhuman. But, they are just like you and me. They are afraid of the unknown just like we are. So, Christ needed to tell them not to be afraid. He goes on in verse 10 to say, “The devil will throw some of you into prison to test you. You will suffer for ten days.” Okay, He tells us not to be afraid, but it’s going to be bad, and He even says that some of them will be thrown into prison, but then He limits it. He says that He will let Satan persecute them, but only for a little while as a test. I love that when Christ allows us to be tested, He gives us the answers to the test first. In fact, He even tells us the reward for passing the test up front. At the end of verse 10 He says, “But if you remain faithful even when facing death, I will give you the crown of life.” So, we will be persecuted, we may even face death, but if we remain faithful, He will give us a crown of life. In the Greek language, there are two words for crown. One of those words means a crown, like a king would wear, but the other word, stephanos, which is the one used here, means a victor’s crown. Winners of athletic events and even the original Olympics would be presented with a crown, a stephanos. Christ is saying that if we endure, we will be given a trophy, a reward, for our perseverance, and that reward is life…eternal life. But, here’s the thing, we can all endure, we can all be the victor because we have the secret weapon…Jesus. Christ told us in John 16:33, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” You see, we truly have nothing to fear! Yes, we will face trials, and we will face sorrows, but we will never face them alone! We can take heart…because Christ has already overcome the world! It doesn’t get any better than that!

Two Bad Examples – The Second

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Two Bad Examples – The Second

Last time we looked at the first example from Revelation chapter 2. This time I would like to take a look at another, the church at Laodicea which is talked about in chapter 3, verses 14-22. He starts out in verse 14 by saying, “This is the message from the one who is the Amen—the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s new creation.” Notice it says that the message is “from the one who is the Amen”. The word “Amen”, has several meanings, but they are all related. For instance, when your pastor is preaching, and someone says “Amen”, they are saying “Surely, truly, of a truth”. When you end your prayer by saying, “in Jesus name, amen”, you are saying, “so it is, so be it, may it be fulfilled”. But, in this case, where it is referring to a person, it is a metaphor for faithful. So, what this is saying is, “This is the message from the one who is the faithful one.” And, we all know there is only one truly faithful one…Jesus.

Now, once He is finished identifying Himself, He get’s right into it. He doesn’t sugar coat anything, He doesn’t even make a compliment sandwich this time. He simply says in verse 15, “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!” If you remember, when He spoke to the church at Ephesus, he started out by talking about all the good things they were doing, but not with this one. From the looks of it, they weren’t doing anything right. Notice what He says here. The problem He had with them is that they were not hot nor cold. So, in our human thinking, not being cold should be a good thing, right? But what does verse 16 say? “But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” Okay, so because they were lukewarm, or tepid, it says He wants to spit them out of His mouth. Some translations say spew them out, but the Greek word used here is emeo, which means “to vomit, vomit forth, throw up”. So, what God is telling the church at Laodicea is, “you make me want to puke!”

He goes on to say in verse 17, “You say, ‘I am rich. I have everything I want. I don’t need a thing!’ And you don’t realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked.” I think we all know this person. They are wealthy, so they are very condescending and think that people without a lot of money are not as wise as them. They think that because they have all this money and have traveled the world, that they have a handle on life. But, the truth is, that these people are often lonely. Don’t get me wrong, they probably have a lot of “friends”, but no one who is loyal and trustworthy. They are empty inside. These people are miserable, they are wretched, they are poor, blind and naked, and they don’t even realize it.

Jesus tells us in verse 18 how to remedy those problems, He says, “So I advise you to buy gold from me—gold that has been purified by fire. Then you will be rich. Also buy white garments from me so you will not be shamed by your nakedness, and ointment for your eyes so you will be able to see.” You see, we could have all the money of Bill Gates, but we would still be empty spiritually. The Bible tells us in Mark 8:36-37, 36 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? 37 Is anything worth more than your soul?” The answer is, nothing!  Watch this video by Francis Chan that describes our life here on earth as compared to eternity (insert video). Mark 8:38 goes on to say, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my message in these adulterous and sinful days, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” So many people today want to believe that any religion is good when the truth is that NO religion is good. Jesus and His disciples fought against religion constantly, and the New Testament has nothing good to say about religion except in James 1:27 where James tells us what God sees as true religion. This type of person is ashamed of the gospel of Christ, and in the end, Christ will be ashamed of them. But, God always gives the answer to the problem. Verse 18 is telling us that we must come to Him for our gold, gold purified by the fire. This reminds me of when, in John 4, Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, that if she drank from His well she would never thirst again. In this verse, Jesus wasn’t talking about a literal well or physical thirst, He was talking about spiritual thirst. And, when He is talking about gold in Revelation 3, He isn’t talking about the precious metal, He is talking about spiritual riches. You see, if we trust in God, we may never be rich, but He will take care of all our needs…He promises, Philippians 4:19. God loves us and wants to take care of us, the problem is that we want to be self-sufficient when we need to rest in Him. God not only tells us to seek His gold, He also tells us to go to him for clothing, He wants us to be clothed in righteousness, Job 29:14, “Everything I did was honest. Righteousness covered me like a robe, and I wore justice like a turban.” He also tells us that He will give us ointment for our eyes so we can see. In Ephesians 1:18 Paul said, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints.”

But, He doesn’t end there. In verse 19 Jesus lets us know that He corrects us because He loves us. Then, verse 20 is that well-known verse, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” He pleads with us to fix the problem, so we can have the friendship that He wants. In verse 21 He lets us know that if we have victory over our sin, we will sit with Him on His throne. And, of course, He ends it by saying, verse 22, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.”

We need to have an ear to hear. We need to take heed of what He is saying to these churches and get victory over our sin. We have all become very complacent to sin and need to turn back to our first love.

Two bad Examples

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Two Bad Examples

In the book of the Revelation, in chapters 2 and 3, God talks about seven different churches. For each one He either gives praises or warnings or both. After each one of them, He says, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” Does this sound familiar? It should, because Christ used those same words when He was talking to the crowd about who John the Baptist was, and He used them again at the end of the Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed. In the case of the parable, Christ told the parable and ended it by saying, Matthew 13:9 “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” We learn in Mark’s account of this, that after He said that, He walked away, kind of a drop the mic moment. When His disciples came to Him later and asked Him the meaning of the parable, He explained it to them. You see? The disciples were the ones with an ear to hear. They wanted to understand what he was saying. They wanted a deeper relationship with Christ. All those other people just wanted to hear Him speak. They were either just curious or were following the crowd. Either way, they didn’t want to be changed, they just wanted to be entertained. Our churches today are full of people like that. These people are just filling some religious checklist, but have no desire to be transformed.

So, going back to the churches mentioned in the book of the Revelation, He gives these warnings, as well as what they were doing right, and wants us who have an ear, those of us who want a deeper relationship with Him, to seek out what He was saying. I’m not going to have time to focus on all seven churches, this is a blog after all, not a book. So, I would like to focus on just two of them. Then I encourage you to go back and study the other five if you have an ear to hear.

The first one I would like to take a look at is the first one mentioned in this passage, the church at Ephesus. You can find this one in Revelation 2:1-7. He starts out by praising this church for all the things they are doing right. In verses 2 and 3 He lists those things, 2I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.” So, they were hard working patient people, they didn’t put up with evil people, they study out everything they hear, and they Patiently suffered without quitting. This all sounds pretty good. If we were to look at the church at Ephesus from the outside, we would think they were a pretty good church group.

But, then in verse 4, He tells them that He has something against them. He says, “that you have left your first love.” This is interesting, because judging by those first things, it appears that they truly love God, but the problem He has with them is that they have left their first love. This wasn’t just their love for God, it was their love in general…their love for God, for each other, and for the world. They were complacent. Notice it doesn’t say that they lost their first love, it says they left it. It was a conscious decision. They had walked away from their first love. Charles Spurgeon said this, “A church has no reason for being a church when she has no love within her heart, or when that love grows cold. Lose love, lose all.” God is much more emphatic about love, He says in 1 John 4:7-8, “But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” So, if you don’t love others, you don’t truly know God, because God IS Love!

He goes on in verse 5 to say, “Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.” So, He starts out by saying, “Look how far you have fallen.” He wants them to see where they went wrong because until they see that, they will not be able to fix the problem. This is good advice for any church. We need to step back and see if and where we have fallen. I used to manage restaurants. I would regularly remind my employees to stop and look around as they were walking into the store, and look as if it were their first time there. This helps us see what we are missing. When you do something over and over for years, you stop noticing things that would have bugged you in the beginning.

Once we see where we are going wrong, He says to turn back to Him and the things we did in the beginning. Stop and think about what it was like when you first came to Christ. Sadly, this is a normal process with us humans. We grow calloused over time. It happens to us in everything, our marriage, our job, even that new boat or car we had to have. So, we need to regularly step back and think about what it was like in the beginning. We need to return to our first love.

Well, is it that important that we do this? He tells us at the end of verse 5, “or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place—unless you repent.” I’ve heard pastors say for years now that there is no mention of a country that even resembles America in the book of Revelation. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean we will be wiped out…removed from the lampstand…it means we need to repent. Repenting means that we need to do a one-hundred and eighty-degree turn. We need to do the opposite of what we are doing now. We need to stop chasing religion and focus on a relationship with God.

Okay, so that’s a lot to think about for now, so we’ll talk about the second church next time. Until then, let’s all determine to step back and see what our church looks like. Are we making disciples or just congregations? Are we fostering strong relationships with Christ, or are we playing church? Is glorifying God our main goal, or have we become a religious institution? Just a little food for thought.

Simeon & Anna

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Simeon & Anna

When Jesus was eight days old, His parents did what the law told them to do. They took him to the temple to be circumcised. After that, they went to give their purification sacrifice. While they were doing this, a prophet named Simeon came up to them, took their child from them, and began praising God. Put yourself in their shoes. Yes, they knew that He was the Messiah, but for a total stranger to come up to them and take their child and say, Luke 2:29-32 29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30 I have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared for all people. 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” It’s no wonder that verse 33 says, “Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him.” Of course, they knew it, but Simeon realized who He was without being told, even though He was just eight days old. But, Simeon didn’t stop there. He went on to bless Mary and Joseph, and then say, in verses 34 and 35, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Okay, so let’s look at what just happened. First, he picks up Jesus and starts praying that God can take him now because he has seen God’s salvation. And, he adds that this salvation is for ALL PEOPLE! This is huge! The Hebrew religion taught that salvation was only for the Jewish people…you had to be born into salvation. This was never God’s plan, He saved Rahab and others who were not Hebrews all through history. But that’s what religion does, it divides. So, Simeon, speaking through the Holy Spirit, said that salvation has come for all people. He then expounds on it when he says, “He is a light to reveal God to the nations”. Some translations say a light to the Gentiles, but the Greek word used here is ethnos, which is where we get our word ethnic. Christ is a light to reveal God to everyone. He then says that Jesus will be the glory of Israel.

So, this is where it says that His parents were amazed at what was being said. Then Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph and it’s great, it’s all good stuff up until now. Then Simeon goes on to say that their child is destined to make many in Israel fall, and many others rise. You see, that was Jesus’ destiny, to make many fall and many rise, and we see this over and over throughout Jesus’ ministry. We see Peter rise from denying Christ, to leading the Church after His resurrection. And, we see Judas fall, even after spending day and night with Christ for three years. We also see most of the Pharisees fall because they are unwilling to let go of their religion and traditions, while we see Nicodemus tell Jesus that he knows He was sent from God. Actually, he doesn’t say he knows, he said we know. Nicodemus was saying that all of the Pharisees knew that Jesus was sent from God, but for most of them, their religion and their place of authority was too important.

Simeon goes on to say that even though Jesus was sent from God, many will oppose Him. He knew the hearts of mankind, and how we seek signs and wonders, but even when we see them, we still don’t believe. I talk a lot about taking scripture literally. Had the Hebrew people taken the Old Testament literally, and not tried to add their own interpretation, they would have seen Jesus as the Christ. All of the scriptures pointed to Him, but they wouldn’t believe.

Simeon says that because so many will oppose Him, the deepest thoughts of their hearts will be revealed. And, then he says directly to Mary, “a sword will pierce your very soul.” You see, Mary had to realize that, yes, giving birth to the Messiah was a huge honor, but it would also be a huge burden. Think about it. Thirty-three years later, Mary had to watch her son be brutally beaten and crucified for crimes he didn’t commit. But, even before that, He was homeless for three years, He was hated by all the religious leaders, He was even hated by her other children. The Holy Spirit used Simeon to remind her of this.

Next up, Anna. Let’s look at her backstory. First, it says she was the daughter of Phanouel. This is the only time that Phanouel is mentioned in the Bible. He isn’t a prominent figure in the Bible, or in history. His name is given here because of its meaning. Her father’s name literally meant, “the face of God”, so Anna was the daughter of the face of God. And, on top of that, she was from the tribe of Aser, which means “blessed”. So, she was the blessed daughter of the face of God…wow. It goes on to say that she was eighty-four years old. It doesn’t say how old she was when she got married, but we know that Jewish tradition was that a girl was usually twelve to fourteen when they got married. So, this tells us that she was probably nineteen to twenty-one when her husband died seven years later. Then it says she lived as a widow, to this point about forty-four years, and never left the temple, but worshiped God day and night. So, it’s safe to say that Anna was pretty dedicated to God.

When Anna heard Simeon, she began praising God, then it says, “She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.” Luke 2:38. After living in the temple for forty years, she knew who these people were. She knew exactly who was diligently looking for the Messiah.

Here’s the thing. The Christmas season is a good time to remind ourselves that we need to be more like Simeon and Anna. First, we need to be like Simeon, we need to listen to the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 tells us, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” So, the Holy Spirit is teaching us EVERYTHING…we must listen. Second, we need to be like Anna. Once we hear from the Holy Spirit, we must tell

EVERYONE. The world needs God, but they don’t know it. Jesus is as dividing today as He was when He was on earth. So, some people will hate us for what we believe, but that’s okay, we’re not here to please people.

As we go through this last week of 2017 and into 2018, we need to ask ourselves, how can I be more like Simeon and Anna? What is the Holy Spirit trying to say to me? Remember that prayer is a dialog, not a monolog, so when you talk to God, listen to what He is trying to tell you. Then, when you hear from God, go tell everyone. James 1:22 tells us, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” So, when you hear a word from God, act on it! We have all missed so many blessings because we didn’t act on what the Holy Spirit is telling us. Stop missing out on blessings!

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