Community Prayer

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It was a good day of worship.  Our current sermon series led us to an important subject – prayer.  We all understand the importance of this personal relationship with the Father, but the Scriptures also teach us the importance of the communal prayers.  The Psalms continue to teach and inspire us as we grow in our activity together that goes well beyond ourselves.

For those who lead us in prayer each week, I would encourage you to prepare for this sacred moment.  Put some thought into what you would like to say on behalf of the people.  It’s ok to write it out, use a prayer (or aspects of it) you have read that would lead and bless the believing community.  The main thing is to free your heart and mind as you approach the throne of grace.

Along those lines, a couple of you mentioned the prayer I read in response to the school shooting last week.  I am no psalm poet and doubt it is even close to being grammatically correct.  Either way, here is the prayer:

Abba, Father, we cry out for the children of the earth.  The slain cry out from the grave and asked “How long?”  How long will the shootings continue in our schools?  How long are you going to allow evil to shed the blood of innocent children?  We have heard the pain, anguish, and anger of parents who have lost the very gift you have given them.  We plead with you as a father, our Father, to stop the madness and comfort the grieving.  You are our only hope.

Because You have not stopped this evil, people are looking for other means.  They call out for the government to save their children.  They call on medal detectors and armed guards to protect them.  They say, “We no longer want to hear your ‘thoughts and prayers’ for these tragedies.  We are mocked by those who deny Your existence.  They say, “A lot of good prayer did the last time you prayed after a violent shooting.”

But we have not gone after their way of unbelief.  We have not put our trust in the governments of mankind.  We have not stopped trusting in You.  We pray for justice!  Do not let the cries of the innocent and grieving go unheard.  May your justice prevail so Your name will be praised.

We long for the day when perfect peace returns to the earth.  The Day when darkness is removed and Your light/glory shines upon the renewed earth.  The Day when the wolf and the lamb live in harmony (Isa. 65:25).  A Day when weapons will be replaced with tools for life.  Come, Lord Jesus!

Until then, make us agents of peace and hope.  Help us, in Your name, to comfort the grieving and fearful.  May we continue to share Your news of love, grace, redemption and hope.  In Jesus Name, Amen.

Continue to study the Psalms to grow deeper in your personal and communal prayers.  Allow them to help you understand our God and this unique relationship with have with Him.  Be transformed by praying its prayers and meditating on its rich language.

This morning the church received a prayer request for India.  I don’t believe this comes to us through Louis, in fact, it doesn’t say what part of India this news is coming from.  This group has a preaching school and a Christian academy.  They are asking for prayers after some of their students (and family) were attacked while sleeping.  Pregnant women, children and elderly were beaten by “radicals.”  Some of them suffered fractures and head injuries. The email asks that we pray for strength and courage during adversity, as well as for those who are persecuting them.

Speaking of prayers, the leadership asks that you to pray for a special retreat we are having today.  We are not sure what will come out of these meetings, but we believe in the power of prayer.  We are moving in a positive direction and give God all the credit and praise.  Keep praying!

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“I am stuck on Band-Aid…”

band-aid-by-rsspiecesdotcomA big thanks to everyone who participated during the sermon.  Saturday night I started thinking, “what if most people don’t remember these jingles?”  After that, I knew the rest of the songs would go over.  It just demonstrated the importance of song as a community of Christ.  It was a good day.  Of course, anytime I get to mention the Psalms is good day for me.  Next week we will look into another community activity of the Ekklesia – prayer.

Speaking of singing, next Sunday morning (more than likely), we will be singing our “new” song, Salvation Has Been Brought Down.  It is actually an older song we are reviving.  We will be practicing it again this Wednesday night before class.  Continue to listen to the YouTube version.  Go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgbHrybmOX8 to view.  It is a joyful song about the mission of Jesus to save the world, and how we, the redeemed, “go and shout” to the lost world of this Good News.  A song of jubilation and praise.

Our Sunday morning discussion groups continue to do well.  I loved yesterday’s focus of our conversation and fellowship after our corporate worship.  A communication that goes beyond the ballgame or work, and embraces the spiritual.  I had more of that type of discussion, after services, than any time I can remember.  We are not doing this to have a “good Bible class” but to change our church culture.  We should always evolve as a people of God.  Continue to keep all of these lessons in mind, pray about it, and help bring others along.  If you missed this week you can join the make-up group Wednesday night in the Lynn Center – room #103.

Thursday our young people will be headed to Winterfest in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  We ask each of you to pray for a safe trip and a true spiritual charge from the weekend.  Thanks again to everyone who helped financially to make it possible.

THE WRAP UP: Allow the songs of the redeemed to fill your life.  One thing I enjoy doing is listening (and watching) songs on YouTube.  If you type in “Praise and Harmony” you will find many of the songs we sing and more.  There are a couple I am listen to over and over again because I really enjoy them – “In Need”, “Jesus, Only Jesus”, and “Behold, Our God.”  Believe me, they get stuck in your head, which is not a bad thing.  Other people do other things, which is great.  Just find ways for music to help you remember the powerful truths of our salvation history.  And, of course, I always recommend studying and memorizing the Psalms.

Praying each of you have a great week.

I Survived Mexico!

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Last night I gave a short report of my cruise with Acappella.  To be honest, I was a little concerned before getting on the ship – would there be a flu or virus outbreak?; would I get seasick?; would my back make it through the journey?; would the Mexican cartel kill me?  You know, all the normal things you think about before you leave for a cruise.  I’m happy to report it was a positive experience I will not soon forget.  First of all, I really enjoyed getting to know Jerry Cutshall’s parents (Dee and Jerry), as well as spending time with Jerry III.  We all experienced times of refreshing, both physically and spiritually.  I won’t go back over my report, only to say I’m hoping Missy and I can go on the cruise next year (Alaska!).  I appreciate the elders giving me this time away and for all you being so supportive.  Even so, I’m thankful for David Paladin for preaching for me; Joe Wild teaching my Wednesday class; and Tim Dean leading my discussion group.  We are blessed in so many areas.

Speaking of blessings, the singing Sunday morning was SO good!  I just got off a singing cruise with some of the best singers in the country, but there was no let down yesterday.  It was truly inspiring.  A big thanks to David Brooker for the job he does, as well as, leading us in our new song Let God Arise.

Speaking of new songs, this month our “new” song isn’t really all that new.  Some of you will know it and others won’t.  Either way, you can listen and view the notes on this YouTube video.  Just click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgbHrybmOX8.  We will sing it Wednesday night.  More than likely we will sing it in worship in a couple of weeks because it is more familiar.  If you are a bass singer, you will love this song.

Last night we had a SUPER singing night.  It was a great time of praise and worship.  We sang several consecutive songs about Jesus.  Hopefully it was as uplifting to those who came as much as it was for me.  We listened to a couple of other new songs coming up and one I learned on the cruise, that will be introduced as soon as the next Praise & Harmony CD is released.  Keith Lancaster introduced us to some of the songs on this next recording and it may be the most powerful one released.  We also celebrated birthdays and a very special 98th for Ola Ellis!

Saturday was a special night for the teens.  The cowboy themed supper was a big hit.  After a great meal, we piled into the auditorium for the entertainment portion.  The videos and skits the young people did were really good.  In fact, if you missed it, or would like to watch it again, you can see it on YouTube by clicking on  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k7gvEEtxznM.  A special thanks to everyone who helped in anyway.  Several adults, as well as teens, put in many hours to make this happen.  Also, as a parent of one of those young people going to Winterfest, I (all of us) appreciate your donations to help make this trip possible.  Now we ask you to begin praying about their trip.  We want them to have a safe trip, but especially to have a spiritual experience that will continue their transformation to be like Jesus.

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Now for the BIG news.  Blair Soop was baptized into Christ.  Her sins were washed away and God’s Spirit made His temple/presence within her.  Blair’s faith and trust in God has been developing for years, thanks to the godly influences in her life.  No doubt the power of God’s Word has pricked her heart.  Reading and responding to the Good News.  It is such a beautiful ritual God has given to us.  I love watching a father baptize his child.  It is a moment they will never forget. Now the fun begins.  Let us pray for Blair this week and her new life in the Spirit.

Yesterday we began a new series of lessons called Created for Community.  God’s Word has so much to say to us about His people.  We have been adopted into the family of God, not only to bask in the Father, but also to share with all His children.  The first community event we talked about was the public reading of God’s Word.  It has been given to us, not only to read, but to respond.  When we neglect this book, we fail to hear God’s voice, we miss out on its blessings, and lose our identity.  As we go through this series we will continue to learn ways for us to improve our community.  We are not a perfect group of people, which is why we must continue to open our hearts and minds each week.  Please continue to petition the Father to bless us in this study.  This Sunday we will look into a second community event – singing.

Praying each of you have a great week.

A Really Good Day

Yesterday we focused completely on the congregation of believers who meet here.  It was a focus that goes vertical and horizontal.  The diagram below (though not complete/or very good) gives an idea of what was discussed and taught.

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In class, we watched two short videos and discussed our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  The series is about taking the focus off ourselves and focusing on our spiritual siblings.  For example, instead of walking in each week thinking about what makes us comfortable (my seat, preferences, likes, etc.), we seek out ways to love and minister to others.  It really isn’t about where you sit, but your focus.  Our exercise Sunday morning wasn’t about looking for a new place to sit every week.  It’s fine to sit in your normal place.  But what if you meet a visitor in the parking lot, and instead of a few passing pleasantries, you have them sit with you?  Or you walk in and see someone sitting by themselves and you join them.  Or instead of focusing on getting to your place, you see something in the face of your brother or sister in Christ you haven’t noticed before – pain, fatigue, worry.  It really isn’t about a seat, but getting out of our comfort zone and praying about something we might not have thought about before.

Here was my experience.  I prayed about where I would sit.  I looked for my wife and discovered she was in the middle of a pew near the back.  Not a good place for the preacher.  I saw Helen Rathel on the back row and went to sit with her.  She didn’t look stressed or in need, but I just felt this was the place.  During Communion she turns to me and says, “I love you.”  It wasn’t prompted, nor would it have happened if I had sat in my regular seat.  I’m not so sure my presence was a blessing to Helen at all, but when this occurred, during Communion, it was like a breath of fresh air.  Horizontal!  I can only imagine the other stories that could be told, and should be as a witness to others.

The sermon was a subject WAY to deep for this preacher to do it justice.  We serve an amazing, wonderful God of grace.  When we begin to grasp the concept of God dwelling in us, even a little bit, it humbles us.  How do I wrap my head around a Creator who loved me, and all humanity, even after the Fall in the Garden of Eden?  A God who could create, destroy and recreate a human race not tainted with sin.  But instead of recreation the Creator chose to restore.  It was a much harder road to travel, filled with disappointment, pain and even the death of His Unique Son.  So many opportunities to destroy (just read your “Old Testament”) but the Father continued to pursue us with a love we cannot fully understand.  Jesus brings us into the presence and glory of God by sacrificing Himself for our sin.  All who are thirsty are called to drink of His living waters!  We are His sanctuary!  My heart is softened and stretched vertically in praise!

Now let’s backtrack to another experience I had before most of you got dressed for worship.  I made contact with the elders and one of our ladies to pray for me that morning.  My back was really bad, and I needed some of my siblings, in Christ, making petition for me.  I was reaching out horizontally so they could join me vertically to the Great Healer.  See how that works?

But here is the thing that brings it all together – the Spirit of God.  The same Holy Spirit that swept across the Valley of Dry Bones and breathed life back into God’s people and new life into the nations of the world.  That Spirit, in all of God’s glory, indwells us.  When someone turns to me during Communion and says they love me, the Spirit gives it meaning.  When I focus on the love, grace or hesed of God, the Spirit gives me a heart of worship.  When I walk in to our assemblies, praying, asking God to help me to (truly) see His children, I expect something to happen.  The flip side: if I walk in each week focused on self, the big game, all the things I need to get done after “church”, or punching my “good deed” card, I will have a Spiritless worship.  I will leave disappointed they didn’t sing more songs I like, or we didn’t get out “on time”, or the preacher dropped a dud of a lesson.  The Spirit filled life is empowering.  I know God’s Spirit goes with me beyond Sunday worship.  I know the Holy Spirit continues to point me horizontally to a world that is hurting and needing Jesus.  I know God’s Spirit continues to point me vertically to a Father and an Older Brother who just wants to spend time with me and join me in my grief over my sins and failures.  God’s Spirit inspired Word still speaks and we respond to its love and instruction.  A community of God.  It is ok, in fact encouraged, to speak to each other in words of the Spirit.  To have meaningful conversations about God’s goodness; to share your hurts; to pray together; basically your walk with the Divine.  Horizontal and vertical.

Let There Be Love

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When Jesus was asked the greatest command, He said it was love – love of the Eternal God and love for others (Matt. 22:36-40).  The church/Ekklesia is a community that is to demonstrate what that looks like.  Israel is called, not because they were a wealthy and powerful nation, but because Yahweh loved them and made them His most treasured possession.  God would bless them, and in turn, they would be a blessing to every nation on earth (Gen. 12).  The Scriptures are numerous in both testaments.  As Gentiles, non-Jews, we enjoy those blessings today through the Messiah who has brought us into the Olive tree of God’s family.

zz mlk-jr-day_rotator-new-sizeThat brings us to a national holiday – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  He fought for the promise given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  He dreamed about the vision Jesus had as He prepared to go to the cross – that we may be one.

“We must face the sad fact that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning when we stand to sing ‘In Christ there is no East and West,’ we stand in the most segregated hour in America.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr. (Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution, March 31, 1968)

I enjoy looking around our auditorium each week to see a diversity of people – different colors and ancestry.  We are joined, not by social issues of the day, but by a Savior who adopted us into His linage and took us as His Bride.  As God’s family, we do not push our national origins, but His!  That is what makes us one.  There is no competition as to who is the greatest or which ones have worth.  That isn’t to say you cannot appreciate your heredity, but the one that truly matters is the one to whom we all belong.

i-love-my-churchThat leads us into a special discussion class that begins next Sunday morning in the auditorium called Six Steps to Loving Your Church.  Our theme for this year is to be a Community to one other.  Each week we will begin with a video (about 3 or 4 minutes long) and break out into our Care Groups for discussions.  PLEASE make plans to join us.  Also, if you miss a Sunday morning, Joe Wild will do a repeat on Wednesday nights in the Lynn Center.

Along those lines, Bob Brackett did a great job sharing the history of this congregation in Bible Class.  It is encouraging to understand the love and commitment those early families had in bringing us to this place.  So much background lies between then and now, and like all history there were ups and downs, but love has prevailed through it all.

That said, we said goodbye to Louise Belfonte Saturday morning.  Her parents were part of the original founding couples of this congregation.  Add to that, her service to this church as secretary for several years.  Once again, so many of you rallied around our sister in Christ and prepared food and demonstrated other acts of kindness.  Some of you have asked about giving money in her memory, as the wishes of the family, in lue of flowers.  On the memo line on your check write “Belfonte Memorial.”

UPCOMING EVENTS:

Thursday is the Rockin’ Seniors get together in the Fellowship Hall at 5 pm.  This is for anyone who would like to come and play some board and card games.

We are having a special luncheon for our snow birds on January 28th following morning worship.  Someone came up with this idea to give our northern brothers and sisters an opportunity to get to know each other.  If you know any who do not receive the Monday Morning Report, please let them know.  You should bring a main dish and a side dish to share.

Yesterday the youth began selling tickets for the Old West BBQ and Moving Picture Show, also known as the OWBBQMPS.  All proceeds will go toward helping the teens go to Winterfest next month in Gatlinburg.  Limited seating, so get your tickets ASAP.

February 4th is the first Care Group Luncheon of 2018.  Two groups (A-B & K-O) will be meeting together and given opportunity to get to know each other better.  Bring enough food for your family and a guest.

THE WRAP UP:

We, the Ekklesia, are the Bride of Christ, joining the covenant people of God.  Our “Old Testaments” shed light on the amazing love, compassion and faithfulness of God.  Even in the times when we break our marriage covenant, the Husband pursues us and longs to renew our relationship with Him.  We have been washed, like a Jewish bride before her wedding, and purified to live in a new way of life.  We now live, not out of fear of hell, but in response to God’s grace or hesed.  Regardless of how the world views us, we are the treasured possession of the Creator and Redeemer!  By the gift of Jesus to His Bride, the Holy Spirit, we are empowered to bear His image and live out a life of holiness.  Not to perfection, but we are promised Jesus is coming again to complete His work in us.  Praise God!  Let that idea permeate your thoughts this week.

First Sunday

Yesterday was the first Sunday of 2018.  The first Sunday we, as an assembly of God, joined in worship together to praise our Creator, Savior and High Priest.  If the rest of the year is anything like this day, it is going to be an amazing year.  And yet, this is only the tip of the iceberg of what our King has in store for us.

I cannot thank you enough for the encouraging words from so many about the topics discussed yesterday.  The Ekklesia of God is a powerful subject when it is understood through the voice of the Hebrew Scriptures.  In fact, at times it will bring you to your knees and cause tears to flow.  What an amazing Father we have to adopt us into His chosen people Israel.  This week we looked at the idea of the Ekklesia (the called out/assembly/what we call “church”) as a family.  Yahweh, our Father, sent His Son to die so we could be called “sons and daughters” of God.  By taking on humanity, Jesus became our Older Brother, and sealed us with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Now we, descendants of Abraham, are joined with Israel into a large multiethnic family from the nations of the earth!  This week we will look at the metaphor of the Ekklesia being the bride.  Just wait to find out what the Hebrew Bible has to say about this idea.  Bring your tissues.

Last night was the annual elders meeting with the congregation.  Personally, especially after the study on God’s family, I love the focus for this year – “Community.”  Beginning January 21st, the elders want everyone to join us in the auditorium for a 6-week study called “Loving Your Church.”  There will be a short video to begin each section and the majority of the time we will break out in our Care Groups for discussion.  This really has the potential to do great things.  Please make plans to join together.  If you are wondering what Care Group you are in, it is based on last names.

  • A-B – Mark Andersson
  • C-E – Tracy Moore
  • F-J – Joe Wild
  • K-O – Mike McGee
  • P-R – David Paladin
  • S-Z – Ladell Young

We will also start up our Care Group Luncheons beginning February 18th with the Andersson and Paladin groups.

In the meeting last night someone wanted to know if there was a place to buy CD’s to listen to of the new songs we learn each month.  The answer is “yes.”  We have a couple that we are working toward from the Keith Lancaster Praise & Harmony CD called Exalted God.  You can buy them directly off their site https://acappella.org/store/praise-and-harmony/exalted-god/ or if you want to listen to them for free at home go to https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=praise+and+harmony+acappella+exalted+God.  I appreciate the interests in this congregation to learn some great songs while we continue to appreciate the golden oldies.  Remember, this month we are learning Let God Arise, which can be heard here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3zfropyq9uI&index=2&list=PL6oc87l4VkdycJ-SjXXsdE3f07CSX565Y.  We are checking in to see if we can put these up on our website.

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Speaking of website, Mike talked about ours last night.  It is a great way to “stay in the loop” and also a place for resources.  Click on “Events” and you can see the calendar or you can find a listing of classes or current sermon series.  You can also select “News and Updates” on the “Events” and get details about the things found on our calendars.  If you miss a lesson in a sermon series, or you want to hear it again, go to the “Media” to find the recordings.  There are other things on here as well, but this gives you an idea.  Just go to vbcofc.com.  Don’t be afraid to click on various things to discover everything it has to offer.

The teenagers have BBQ fund raiser for Winterfest coming up on February 3rd at 5 pm.  They were unable to do their annual banquet this year, which was their big fundraiser, because we are without a youth minister right now.  So things like this help make the trip more affordable for our young people.  It is THE highlight of our teen program every year, so we want to help them get there.  Tickets for the fundraiser will go on sale Sunday.  They are $15 and will be held in our Fellowship Hall.  There will be limited seated, so make sure you get yours early.

IN THE NEWS:  Caleb Cope is playing the lead part in the Riverside Kids Theatre play “The Pirates of Penzance.”  Seriously, is anyone surprised?  Congratulations Caleb.  Also, he promises to still acknowledge us even though he is famous. 🙂

THE WRAP UP:  Being adopted into the family of God, Israel, means we were chosen by God.  Not like some raffle, but as the descendants of Abraham, as an unwanted baby abandoned at birth and left for dead, but willed us to LIVE!.  We were sinful, lost, and even rebellious toward the One who saved us, but He saved us by His grace and hesed.  We didn’t love God first, He loved us. And now, as His children, the Father promises to never give up on us.  We should desire to hear the instructions of the Father, not so we can earn our salvation, but because we love Him so much.  We trust that God has our best interests and instructs us on how to have a blessed life as we await the new Eden.  One day we will be reunited with the the Father and Older Brother along with our brothers and sisters from the past, present, and future.  Praise God!

Happy New Year!

Last night I enjoyed a night of board games with friends to leave 2017 behind and watch 2018 roll in.  Many of you posted pictures on social media of friends and family you chose to ring in the new year.  I was up by 6 am wide awake, which means I will enjoy another New Year’s tradition later – a big nap!  Oh well, my prayer is for each of us to trust the Father with whatever comes our way this year.

That said, Joe Wild and I talked about resolutions and things that can help us grow stronger in the Lord this year.  If you were unable to get the handout with websites and Bible reading ideas let me know and I can send those to you.  I ran out of time before telling you about the Bible reading plans on biblegateway.com.  They have the standard, read Genesis-Revelation in a year, and even choose if you want to go in order or set up an OT and NT passage each day.  You can also choose to read the Bible in chronological order (yep, the Scriptures are not in exact order).  For those who are really intense with their reading, you can get a plan to read the through Bible in 90 days, or the Gospels in 40 days.  There are several others to choose from.  It looks like you “subscribe” to a plan and they either send it to you each day or keeps up with it for you on the site.  Technology!

Back to Sunday.  Caleb Cope lead Communion for the first time.  This kid is great.  I am so excited for the future for this young man.  The way he is going he will either replace me in the pulpit one day, become a great worship leader, or be an elder or deacon doing amazing things for Christ.  We just need to find him a Vero girl to keep him in town.  Seriously, I love seeing our young people stepping up in these roles.

Along those lines, I appreciate Mike McGee, Neal Roe and Steven Wilson helping me with our worship yesterday.  I gave them things to read or a specified focus to help with what we were doing.  These guys, along with so many others, are always willing to help out in various ways.  Of course, I would be amiss if I didn’t thank the psalmist for leading our minds and thoughts through worship.

The youth group had their big bonfire Friday night.  I believe there were at least 40 dried out Christmas that provided much of the fuel.  I’m not sure, but I think I saw a wooden dresser in their somewhere, so if you are missing a piece of furniture at your house…  Seriously, the short time I was there the young people were having a good time together.  Thanks to everyone who helped make this happen.

The New Year brings new events and opportunities here:

  • Sunday morning will begin a new Bible class study.  The elders would like for all adults to join to make plans to attend for 6 weeks beginning January 21st.  We will study and engage in discussion on “Six Steps to Loving Your Church.”
  • Sunday morning we will begin a new sermon series called Ekklesia.  It is a word that is used often in the Greek NT as well as the Greek translation of the OT (LXX).  We often hear it translated “church,” but what does that mean?  We find powerful metaphors throughout Scripture that give us its true meaning.
  • Sunday night is the annual elders meeting with the congregation in the Fellowship Hall.  It is always a great way to start off the year as the leadership communicates with the congregation and visa versa.  We will begin at 5 pm.

THE WRAP UP:

Our God is good no matter what the year may bring.  Psalm 90 is a great place to go when dealing with death, tragedy, failures, fears, etc.  Our Sovereign (Lord) Yahweh (LORD) invites us to take refuge in Him.  The Son of God came and dwelt among us so we could have a dwelling place that surpasses the created world.  We WILL sin and fail and be faced with many obstacles in this life.  We can pray about 2018 all day and ask the Father to keep us from heartache, but the fact is someone(s) will deal with some things this year they were not anticipating.  It is life.  It will seem unfair.  It may even seem just.  But it is not about WHAT will come in 2018 but WHO will be there through it all.  Call on the hesed (the faithful love, grace, goodness and kindness) of Yahweh.  As people of God, who joined in covenant with Him, He promises to be there through our moments of disorientation and lead us to a reorientation that we cannot understand at the time.  When you come through the other side, you will know and discover a blessing you never anticipated.