Category Archives: Christian Commentary / Bible Study

Prayer School Conclusion


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Chapter Nine: Conclusion

Make my life a prayer to you
I wanna do what you want me to
No empty words and no white lies
No token prayers no compromise [Keith Green]

I grew up in a religious home.  It seems funny to me to say that because I never felt like church was an obligation.  It was just what we did.

My parents weren’t overtly religious. We lived our lives simply.  My sisters and I were taught to live with integrity, give when appropriate, be generous with our time and to go out of our way to be considerate of others and welcoming to strangers.  It was obvious to anyone that we were “church going folks” but we didn’t wear our faith on our sleeve, pound the Bible at every turn or try to convert anyone to our way of life.  When it came to evangelism especially we believed that God touches the hearts of mankind in his own time.  It is our job to make friends with people from all walks of life to be ready to disciple new seekers only when they were ready to hear what we had to say.

We called it Friendship Evangelism.

I remember my mother once confronting my father about his apparent lack of a structured prayer life.  She had always followed structured prayer and devotional time herself, working through various devotional books and guides but my father did not.  It was during a time when our community was going through some difficulty and we where being encouraged to make specific prayer request on behalf of the church.  So, my mother asked him one day why it never seemed like he prayed to God for anything.

His response was to quote 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing”.

At the end of his first letter to the church in Thessalonica, Paul lays out a list of final instructions to the church meant to keep them faithful to the teaching they have received.  To pray without ceasing in this list is not to be considered a continual conversation with God, that your whole life is to be about prayer but that your life should reflect your relationship with our father in heaven.

To pray without ceasing is to make your whole life a kind of prayer.  The list Paul gives here also includes things like teaching and warning others of the consequences for poor behavior, a version of the golden rule, rejoicing, testing prophesies and rejecting evil.  Prayer is just one piece of a much bigger discipleship puzzle.

My goal in writing this guidebook has been two-fold.  First off, I wanted to help my readers to begin to pray like Jesus.  Jesus gave his followers this prayer in part as a lesson in communal discipleship.  I have tried to show throughout this work aspects of both personal and intercessory prayer, praise, thanksgiving, submission, personal requests, confession, forgiveness and temptation.  Second, I wanted to lay the foundation for a life of teaching and discipleship.  The role of a Christ-follower in the broader community of believers and seekers is to be both teacher and student.

Though I rarely saw my father stop what he was doing and pray on his own he would often lead others in prayer.  His prayers were always careful to point out that he was doing so because Jesus tells us to and would almost always began in a similar fashion, “Father God, we come to you today as your son Jesus instructed us, to humbly acknowledge your presence in our midst and ask that you…”

I hope that I have been able to show even just a little of that spirit in the proceeding pages.  Jesus taught us to pray directly to the father with equal parts praise, submission, boldness, humility, conviction, and intercession.  As part of my on-going commitment to discipleship my prayer is that each of my readers will take from these pages a sense of God’s presence in their lives, a new understanding of prayer and the way in which God communicates with his creation and a commitment to “pray without ceasing” through the way they live out their lives.

The Lord’s Prayer serves as a framework for how we are to pray.  I have given you a structure to follow that if you use it will enrich your prayer life.  I personally have prayed this way for 15 minutes every morning for the better part of two years and I can say that it has changed me in ways I can’t even begin to explain.  Some mornings have been easier than others.  Some days I have a hard time thinking of anything to add and I’m done in less than 5 minutes, other days I keep praying well beyond the 15 minutes mark without getting past the first few phrases.  It’s not the time that counts, nor it is always necessary to get all the way through.  Most importantly, it’s about opening your heart to God to both listen and petition his spirit.

I hope I’ve inspired you to try it.  Jesus taught his followers to pray this way because it covers everything we should be praying for, both in our personal lives and through interceding on behalf of our fellow believers.

Happy praying – Amen!

 

 

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Empty Your Backpack


Anxiety weighs down the heart,
but a kind word cheers it up. [Proverbs 12:25]

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30]

You can see it in their eyes.  Sometimes you can see it the way they walk.  They are the burdened.

The statistics are staggering.  In 2013, the most recent data available, 3 million Canadians, 11.6% of the total population over the age over 18 reported that they had a mood or anxiety disorder.  Mood disorders are characterized by a general lowering of a person’s happiness while anxiety is characterized by excessive and persistent feelings of nervousness and fear.  93% of people with one of these disorders have taken prescription medication with anti-depressant drugs the most prescribed type of drugs for patients between the ages of 25 and 44.

What causes anxiety and depression?

I’m no Doctor but based on my experience I can say with certainty that there are two main causes of depression and anxiety.

First off, depression is mainly an inability to forgive your past mistakes.  I’ve heard it said that depression is the imaginary demon we all carry reminding us of past injustices and set backs we have experienced.  The demon wants us to feel bad about ourselves, its desire is to hold us down and keep us from moving beyond feelings of disappointment and frustration.

Depression has also been described as anger turned inward.  That’s why when people try and get is to really examine our feelings we often lash out.  We don’t want to think about it because it hurts too much so we settle on a generalized, low level depression to numb the pain.  When that stops working we reach for a prescription or other type of bottle to further suppress our true feelings.

The cure of depression therefore is to examine the past.  Stop, take it out of the backpack of experience we all carry, look at it and let it go.  The past belongs in the past.  Like Rafiki says in The Lion King,

“Ah yes, the past can hurt.  But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.”

Anxiety on the other hand is an attempt to live in the future.  Anxious people are constantly worried about what might happen and end up worrying themselves out of experiencing life as it happens.

This isn’t the same as being cautious.  Caution is warranted planning.  It accounts for the possibility of something going wrong and takes steps to either prevent disaster or mitigate the damage that could occur.  Putting on your seatbelt or wearing a helmet to play baseball is cautious, thinking about having a wreck every time you get in the car is anxiety.

The cure for anxiety is similar as the cure for depression.  Stop, take it out of the backpack of experience, look at it, take reasonable cautionary steps and let it go.  The future belongs in the future.  Or as Jesus said:

do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. [Matthew 6:34]

So, leave the past in the past and the future in the future and live each day, no each moment as it comes.  In that way we will carry a much lighter backpack and enjoy life more. Tell me what you’re going to let go of today in the comments below…

Here’s a little more wisdom for the great shaman Rafiki for good measure…

 

Temptation


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Chapter 7:  Temptation

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. [Matthew 6:13]

By this point in our prayer we are just about ready to wrap it up.  We have already prayed for blessing, praised God’s sovereignty, asked for guidance and offered our assistance in bringing about God’s will and purpose in the world, made requests for our personal needs, asked for and offered forgiveness of our sins.  But before we sign off there is one more thing we need to address; that is the spiritual warfare that is going on all around us trying to get us to backslide, causing harm to both ourselves and others and negatively damaging God’s reputation in the world.

Now is the time for us to pray for God’s help in battling temptation and protecting us from everything that can harm us moving forward.

In December 2017 Pope Francis gave an interview to TV2000, an Italian Catholic TV channel in which he stated that the phrase “lead us not into temptation” was a poor translation of the 4th century Latin that most modern day biblical translations are based on.  Noting that the Latin is itself a translation of ancient Greek, which is also a translation from the Aramaic that Jesus and his original followers would have spoken, Francis suggested that God as our loving father does not test his children by throwing us into temptation as the traditional translation would lead us to believe.  Rather, according to the Pope, a better translation would be to say, “let us not fall into temptation”, which suggests that God can and will protect us from it.

Although I agree with Pope Francis on this point I was taught the prayer in the traditional way and just as I personally preferred to say trespasses instead of debts or sin in Chapter 6, I prefer to say “lead us not” here.  It is nothing more than a personal preference of phraseology, the intended meaning is the same.  I firmly believe, along with Pope Francis that God is not the one leading us to be tempted, rather he is protecting us from our temptations.

It has also been my experience that many people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the presence of evil in the world.  Or rather, if they do it is something that is to be bemoaned and lamented about but not much resisted.  “It is what it is”, or “what can you do?” are the phrases most often heard in the face of unexplained hurt, pain and destruction.  We are quick to praise God for our good fortune but no one, it seems is willing to blame the demonic forces of evil for what is clearly their doing.  It is as if we all live in the fictional world of Harry Potter where Satan is the cosmic Lord Voldemort, he who must not be named, because to acknowledge his name is to give him legitimacy and power.   Or more to the point to acknowledge evil is to admit it exists and to somehow reduce the sovereignty of God to the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  We live in a fallen world.  The presence of evil in the world is our doing, we invited it in and let it have dominion over us [Genesis 3].  Jesus refers to Satan as “the prince of this world” [John 12:31] and says that he has come to “seek and save the lost” [Luke 19:10].  Jesus’ main purpose in coming into the world was to save us from Satan.  And that is what we are requesting when we pray for him to “deliver us from evil.”  The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is in one sense a motivational speech given to soldiers as they ready themselves for battle.  But the battle they are preparing for is not a traditional assault on a physical enemy but one against spiritual forces of doubt, sin and psychological destruction.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. [Ephesians 6:12]

So, as we get ready to wrap up our prayer now is the time to pause yet again and pray specifically for God’s help in avoiding the many pitfalls that Satan will place in our path.  Pray that God will help us steer clear of the things we know we are weak to defend against as well as anything new he can cook up.  If we are prone to watching pornography when we are lonely, pray that God will bring people into our lives at just the right moment to distract us from our loneliness.  If we are prone to making bad decisions with money pray that God will give us wisdom to discern between our spending options. And finally pray that God will protect us from the effects of evil in the world over which we have little or no control.  Protect us from the Gang Bangers who frequent the crack den down the street or the tyrannical boss who wields his power like a megalomaniac.

God the father wants nothing more than to be our protector, our ever-present help in times of trouble [Psalm 46].  But like the prodigal father he will never impose his protection on us, we need to remember to ask for it.  Take a minute now and ask for his protection.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. [Matthew 6:13]

Confession and Forgiveness


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Chapter 6 – Confession and Forgiveness

And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors. [Matthew 6:12]

Depending on your translation this verse could read either, debts, sins or trespasses.  I originally learned it as trespasses and still say it that way today, but the sentiment is the same no matter how you say it.

The apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Sin separates us from God’s glory. It’s been that way since the very beginning.  Ever since the original sin God and mankind have been separated.  At times God has broken down the barriers and come to his people but mankind has had to create elaborate rituals designed to cleanse sinfulness from himself before he can approach God.  The entire sacrificial system of the Old Testament was designed to provide this cleansing and remind mankind of his sin and unworthiness to approach God.

Jesus, as the final sacrifice blows that whole system up but not before giving us a hint of how we can maintain our intimacy with God long after he is gone here in his prayer.  Forgiveness of our sins is available to all of us, all we have to do is be willing to give forgiveness as freely as we have receive it.

But you can’t receive forgiveness if you don’t first confess.  And you can’t offer forgiveness if you don’t first examine the motives behind the wrong act.

This is very hard.

As we go through the list of wrongs that we have both committed and endured we must think about the people we have hurt and those who have hurt us.  While we don’t have to forgive their actions, we must be willing to look beyond the act itself and see the person behind it.  In the case of our own forgiveness we must examine our motives and resolve to find better ways to express our needs and desires without causing harm to anyone else.  And in the case of the wrongs committed against us we need to look deeper at the motivations of the perpetrator before we can forgive the person.

We can still hold people accountable for their choices, as we will likely be held accountable for our own.  We can expect to be asked to pay some form of restitution before we can fully restore a relationship so asking for restitution in return is generally acceptable but that cannot prevent us from freely forgiving the person who committed the act.

Forgiveness is not tied to restitution.  Even between us and God, when we ask for forgiveness God may still require us to do something before we are fully welcomed back into community and that’s okay.  We are still freely forgiven simply by confessing our sin and offering the same kind of forgiveness to those who have wronged us.

At this point in the prayer we break it down into it’s two component phrases and pause while we list off both our sins for which we need forgiveness and the wrongs which have been perpetrated against us.  If you find it too difficult to forgive the act that was done to you, focus instead on the person who committed it.  We may never be able to excuse some of the wrongs we have endured but we also can’t carry a grudge against a fellow image bearer of the divine.  God’s loving nature demands that we see the humanity in everyone, even those who commit unspeakable crimes.

It’s been said “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”  When we start by examining the person forgiveness gets a little easier.  It’s also been said “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  When we start by examining the person, we sometimes start to see ourselves in a different light.

This is perhaps the hardest part of the entire prayer.  Confession and forgiveness requires a level of self-examination beyond anything we’ve done so far.  Don’t skimp on this aspect of prayer.  We are all sinners in need of a relationship with the savior.  The more honest we are with ourselves at this stage, the deeper that relationship will be.

 

 

 

Creating a Spiritual Rule of Life


I’m a creature of habit.  I love my routine.  If I had been born in a different time and place I would have been a monk, or a farmer, or maybe a passenger train conductor – “All Aboard!”

So, when I learned about the spiritual practice of a “Rule of Life” I was immediately intrigued.

According to the CS Lewis Institute

“A Rule of Life is an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness. A Rule establishes a rhythm for life in which is helpful for being formed by the Spirit, a rhythm that reflects a love for God and respect for how he has made us. The disciplines which we build into our rhythm of life help us to shed the “old self” and allow our “new self” in Christ to be formed. Spiritual disciplines are means of grace by which God can nourish us. Ultimately a Rule should help you to love God more, so if it becomes a legalistic way of earning points with God or impressing others, it should be scrapped.”

The ancient monks understood the value of creating a Rule of Life.  They lived their lives to a rigid schedule of prayer, worship and work.  It was these monks who erected the first clock towers throughout Europe, many of which are still standing today, as a way to stick to their Rule of Life.

A Rule of Life is not just about prayer.  It is a whole life spiritual experience.  Buddhist and other forms of mysticism refer to “mindfulness” as a form of whole life meditation that encourages the practitioner to focus completely on the things they are doing while they are doing them and to block out extraneous thoughts and “noise”.  In this way it is said that a master of mindfulness is able to be fully present and free of distractions at all times.

While not quite as demanding as mindfulness, a spiritual rule of life helps to focus the mind at certain times of the day and creates space for a fuller experience of all aspects of life.

Over the last few months I have concentrated my personal devotional time on developing a rule of life for myself.  This rule has helped me to live a bit like a monk in my daily routine and deepened my relationship with God.

At the present time my rule consists of four specific activities that I do on a daily basis.  Like the old adage about placing large rocks, small stones and sand in a jar, these four activities are my largest rocks, if I do them consistently my life is in balance and I am able to be more focused and productive in everything else that I do.

Here is my personal Rule of Life

1 – Practice Sabbath

Every Friday night by 7:30, sometimes earlier, my computer, phone, email and social media are turned completely off.  They remain off for at least 24 hours.

During that 24 hour period I do nothing that is tied to my work.  I do not communicate with clients, I do not write articles or parts of my books, I do not develop financial plans and I do not study for any of the continuing educations courses that I need to complete for my licenses and certifications.  Instead I read for pleasure, garden, watch movies and spend time with my family and friends.  God created the sabbath after he had completed all of his work as the first “rock” in Adam’s rule of life and if it was good enough for Adam, it’s good enough for me.

2 – Read a Psalm

I begin each day at 7:00 am in quite contemplation by reading a Psalm.

The book of Psalms is 150 chapters long.  Each one except Psalm 119, can be read in less than 5 minutes.  Reading a Psalm a day you can get through the entire book twice in one year, even if you break 119 up over a few days.  Many of the Psalms follow a similar pattern, they begin with lament, move through a period of acknowledging God’s sovereignty and end in praise.  This pattern helps me to see that God is in control and reminds me that doubt and despair are natural emotions that God understands.

3 – Pray the Lord’s Prayer

After I have read a Psalm I immediately move into a structured walk through of the Lord’s Prayer.  My daily prayer is not a rote recitation of Matthew 6:9-13 or any other memorized version of a prayer.  Rather, I use the Lord’s Prayer as a framework for the things I say to God and for the way I listen for his response.

The way I see it there are eight phases to praying this way.  They are; Preparation, Community, Praise, Partnership, Personal Needs, Confession, Temptation and Worship.  A full explanation of this framework and how it forms my rule of life is beyond the scope of this post.  It is the subject of my current book project, tentatively titled “Prayer School” excerpts of which I have been publishing in this space off and on for the last few months, if you’re interested scroll back through the feed and look for titles related to Prayer School.

4 – Meditate on the Examen at points through the day and especially at the end of each day 

The Examen is a rule of life in and of itself that was first practiced by Saint Ignatius of Loyola in the early 16th century.  Saint Ignatius is most famous as the founder of the Jesuit Order and the Examen is still practiced by Jesuits to this day.  The Jesuits are encouraged to pause at regular intervals throughout the day and contemplate one or more questions related to their relationship with God.

Once again, this meditation is not meant to be a recitation of the specific questions but rather a framework for the thoughts I try to conjure up as I take a moment or drift off to sleep at night.

Traditionally the Examen consists of three questions.

“Where am I experiencing feelings of joy and peace?”

“Where am I connected with God?”

“Where am I experiencing sadness, apathy and a sense of disconnection from God?”

I am convinced that God speaks to me in my dreams.  Although I reserve the right to think on these things when ever the spirit moves, by making a conscious effort to contemplate the Examen as I drift off to sleep God has answered me in some powerful ways through my dreams.  I wake up each morning refreshed and ready to start again.

 

So that’s my rule of life.  What’s yours?  Do you have a “rule” that you follow that helps you get closer to God?  I’d love to hear about it, tell me your rule of life in the comments below…

Praise – Part 1


The following is an excerpt from the upcoming book and training series "Prayer School" For more information or to book a Prayer School training seminar write to the Matthew 5:5 Society here and subscribe to the blog for regular updates and release dates as they become available.
Prayer School – Part Three

hallowed be your name. [Matthew 6:9b]

Prayer is an act of worship.

The Lord’s Prayer is a praise sandwich.  It begins and ends in worship.

Here in the very first verse of the prayer, after acknowledging God’s position as head of the family we begin with praise.

When we pray we are in conversation with “Ultimate Reality”.  The personal deity that took on flesh and walked among us.  It would be disrespectful for us to begin a conversation with the creator of the universe, the most all powerful, God, Love incarnate without at least acknowledging that fact.

Praise, therefore is an essential part of prayer.

Jesus taught that when we pray we are to begin by addressing God as nothing less than our holy father.  God’s very name is holy and worthy of praise.

Dictionary.com defines holy, among other things as being “entitled to worship or veneration.”

Therefore, when we pray we must remember to praise God. After having worked through the rest of our prayer we will return to praise in chapter 8.  By that point our praise will have taken on deeper meaning and carry additional weight in the context of what we have just prayed but for now our praise is focused on the personal essence of God.

As I have already stated God is Love incarnate.  But this is a concept that I have found a lot of people have trouble articulating at first.  Therefore, to praise God we must work through what this means and how to address him.

Addressing the Person of Love

When you love someone, you want to be with them, you want to spend time with them and you want to converse with them.  Being in the presence of love should never feel awkward or forced.  Conversation among intimate partners is different.  It’s usually slower, quieter and less pointed than conversations with people who are not your partner.

While it may take time to develop this kind of a relationship with God, your prayer language should reflect this loving relationship.  Take your time with it, approach God like you would a loving life partner because in many ways that’s what He is.

Acceptance

God loves you just the way you are.  There is nothing we need to do to gain His approval.  Safe in the knowledge of our eternal acceptance we can approach God in complete security and submission.

Whenever I think of God’s acceptance of me I remember the parable of the Lost Son, [Luke 15;11-32].  God, the loving father, is so overjoyed at the presence of his lost son that he doesn’t even let him speak before showering him with full acceptance and love.

That’s what it means to be accepted by God.  All we have to do is receive it, we can’t add anything to what God has already done for us.  [Luke 12:29-34]

Thanksgiving

It’s human nature though to want to give something back.  In this case, the only thing God wants is your love and thanks in return.  The story of the bible is in many ways a story of mankind’s attempts to set up rules and rituals designed to curry favor from and give back to God.  But God wants none of it, he simply wants your love and your thanks. [Micah 6:8]

When we say, “hallowed by thy name”, we are coming to God in reverence, accepting his love and thanking him for every blessing that He is continually pouring out over us and the entire world.  The only appropriate response to all this blessing is praise and then to get down on our hands and knees and drink it up like a deer at an ever-flowing stream.  [Psalm 42:1]

If God is For Us…


Pacifist Lamentations Volume 4

It’s been a while since I wrote a Pacifist Lament.  This one has been on my mind for a few weeks.  I stems from some bad preaching I heard recently on Romans 8:31.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?

Taken out of context, as this verse often is, it could seem that Paul is saying that with God on our side we are invincible.  And while that may be true, it leads to a violent interpretation of what we are capable of when God is “for” us.  Sadly, Romans 8:31 has been mis-quoted in this way from the barricades of revolution and war for hundreds of years.

“God is on our side!  Therefore; let us go and slay our enemies!”

But taken in context of the entirety of Romans 8, we begin to form a very different picture of what it means to have God “for” us.

In the first half of Romans 8, Paul lays out a detailed analysis of what happens to us when we believe that Jesus dwells in us and is transforming us from the inside out. Put simply, we have become so deeply like Jesus that we have become children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus himself and co-heirs to the kingdom.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. [Romans 8:16-17]

Provided we suffer with him, not provided we go out and fight for him!  Paul goes on to talk about how all believers will be treated and “glorified” with Christ.  We will suffer in this world, but we can count it all as nothing in comparison to what awaits us.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [Romans 8:18-19]

And then we get to the big question that is so often taken out of context – If God is for us, who can be against us?

God for us is an expression of love.  Deepest, most profound and all-encompassing LOVE.

If God is for us.  If God, who in his very nature is love, expresses that love toward us.  If God has made us part of his family.  Who can do or say anything that will negate or make any negative impact on that?

No one can stand against that!

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39]

More than a conqueror!  This is not a violent image.  This is not about dominance.  This is about transcendence.

We can remain above and outside of violence!  Nothing that is done too us can have any impact on our salvation.  We therefore transcend violence and remain passive, continuing to love our enemies and work toward reconciliation even in the face of our own death.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  God is for us!

L C Sheil writes regularly about, spirituality, life and business coaching.  He is the founder and director of The Matthew 5:5 Society (formerly The Meekonomics Project) where he coaches ministry and business leaders to Live Life to the Fullest in Complete Submission to the Will of God. 

Mr. Sheil has authored two books and is available for public speaking and one on one coaching in the areas of work life balance,  finding and living your core values  and financial literacy.  Write to The Matthew 5:5 Society here for more information or follow L C Sheil on twitter and instagram.