“The Prayer” with Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli


Some pretty music to start your day…

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The World Wide (Religious) Web for Friday, November 18, 2011


WITHOUT BLOOD, THEY’RE COLD TO THE TOUCH: “You Can’t Marry a Hot Vampire.”

And therein lies the true mythology of Twilight. It has nothing to do with vampires, werewolves or Dakota Fanning, and everything to do with Hollywood’s distorted view of love. Its “fantasy” is a world where intimacy develops overnight, where men are rugged yet vulnerable, and where romance and adventure color every day. It’s porno for pre-teens and, pornography, whether erotic or emotional, has consequences that continue long after the movie ends.

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THE SPIRIT OUR TEACHER: “The Confidence of the Evangelical.”

Prompted by the relatively recent conversion of prominent evangelicals to Catholicism—he names Frank Beckwith and Christian Smith—Mark Galli offers some thoughts on “Why the Spirit, not the magisterium, will lead us into all truth.”

Today we are wrestling over homosexuality, the nature of the atonement, the prosperity gospel, the place of women in church leadership, the historicity of Adam, and new perspectives on this, that, and the other thing. We live in interesting times, to say the least. But no more or less interesting than many other moments in church history—when so much is on the line, when the future health of the church seems to hang in the balance, when there is so much to be said and so few who seem to be listening to us!

This is the church the Holy Spirit birthed at Pentecost, and this is the church in which the Holy Spirit raises up all manner of people to say one thing or another we all need to hear. One way we adjudicate these issues is by listening to one another today. Just as important is to listen to the church historic, our great tradition of creeds and confessions and great theologians of the past. And yes, more than anything, we continue to mine the Scriptures to discover the truth the Holy Spirit is leading us into, which is always an old truth we’ve not been able to hear until today.

When we’re in the middle of one of these intractable issues, the church will seem like it is going to collapse under the weight of confusion and disagreement. But it hasn’t so far, and we’re assured it never will. The common critique of evangelicalism is that “the center will not hold.” Bah. Humbug. Of course the center will hold, because at the center is not a doctrine, nor some human authority figure, nor a complete and inerrant statement of faith. There is only the Center, Jesus Christ. We don’t need a magisterium. We already have a Lord, who told us that not even the gates of Hades (whose landlord loves to sows confusion in the church!) will prevail against the church.

In short, we don’t need premature closure as much as we need persevering confidence that the Spirit will lead us into all the truth we need, when we need it.

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EVEN THE BUILDINGS ARE BECOMING CATHOLIC! “Crystal Cathedral to be sold to Roman Catholic Church.”

Southern California’s famed but troubled Crystal Cathedral will be sold to the Roman Catholic Church, in a deal a bankruptcy judge approved Thursday.

The Protestant church, which helped spark the megachurch movement in the United States after opening in 1970, declared bankruptcy last year following years of infighting among the family of church founder Rev. Robert H. Schuller and church leaders.

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HOW MANY OF THEM ACTUALLY HAVE BEEN? “How Many Presidents Have Been Accused of Being the Antichrist?”

Suspected White House shooter Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez was obsessed with President Barack Obama, according to investigators, and reportedly thought Obama was the Antichrist. In September, heckler David Serrano called Obama “the Antichrist” at a fundraiser. Have other U.S. presidents been suspected of being the Antichrist?

Yes. Perhaps the first U.S. president suspected of being the Antichrist was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Roosevelt’s extraordinary influence and desire to form a worldwide United Nations raised the suspicions of many conservative Christians. When President Roosevelt began to engage in diplomacy with the Soviet Union, prominent evangelist and politician Gerald Burton Winrod suggested that Roosevelt was at the very least under the influence of the Antichrist, and carrying out his plans. During John F. Kennedy’s candidacy for president, Protestant leaders compared electing Kennedy, a Catholic, to electing the Antichrist. In 1990 a man named Gregory Stuart Gordon invaded the house of former president Ronald Reagan, telling Secret Service agents “Ronald Reagan is the Antichrist. He must be killed and I must kill him.” While Gordon’s attorney claimed that Gordon was only trying to attract attention in hopes of gaining treatment for a drug problem, courts judged that his threat was serious and sentenced him to a two-year prison term.

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BECAUSE THEY’RE NOT WELCOME ANYWHERE ELSE? “A Church Sanctuary for the Occupy Movement.”

It’s time both to embrace and engage this hopeful movement of young people who are articulating the underlying but often unexpressed feelings of a nation which, by a three-quarters majority, believes, with the protesters, that the economic structure of the country has become unfair and skewed to benefit the most wealthy.

These are Gospel issues, and are therefore the business of the churches.

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SHOULD A CANDIDATE’S FAITH MATTER? “A President’s Religion.”

A candidate’s religious faith may ground a sustaining core of values, but it may also conflict with meaningful discussion of policy or conflict with the nation’s best interest.  Only after we have determined that both these conflicts are unlikely should we follow Sullivan’s “decisions, not deity” rule.

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YES, ALTHOUGH A BAD ONE: “Is Jerry Sandusky a Christian?”

At the center of the scandal at Penn State University is the football team’s former defensive coordinator, who is facing 40 criminal charges in connection to the alleged sexual abuse of underage boys. But lesser known is the fact that Sandusky is also a regular churchgoer, and even has a Bible verse posted on his home’s garage door. So, is Jerry Sandusky a Christian, or not?

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DOES “BETTER FUTURE” INVOLVE CHASTITY? “Toward a Better Future for Gays at Evangelical Seminaries.”

Although this story is all too real, my experience suggests that stories like these are growing less common. Because of the courage of those two friends of mine, students from that seminary have come to Chicago to intern with the Marin Foundation. They’re learning what it means to live as evangelicals and engage this topic in new ways, ways that could bring hope for a better future relationship between evangelicals and LGBT students.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Thursday, November 17, 2011


TRUE, FALSE, OR SOMEWHERE IN BETWEEN? “The Persecution of Religion Has Begun.”

Don’t think I’m making the wild-eyed claim that this new persecution either is or ever is likely to become a bloody one resembling the purges of the French and Mexican Revolutions or the Communist war on religion—eruptions of violence in which thousands of clergy, religious, and lay faithful were killed. It won’t be a repetition of the Spanish civil war, just 75 years ago, when death squads of the anticlerical left executed the incredible total of 12 bishops, 283 religious women, 4,184 priests, 2,365 religious men, and an unknown number of laity whose only crime was being faithful Catholics.

No, the persecution of religion in the United States won’t be like that. It will be a tight-lipped campaign of secularist inspiration in which the coercive power of the state is brought to bear on church-related institutions to act against conscience or go out of business.

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1 PETER 3:15 WATCH: “Why Do Christians Leave the Faith? The Surprising Importance of Apologetics.”

Turning to deconstructionism for a moment, I realize that some of the writers might have turned to theological issues as a way of “rationally” explaining their leaving the faith, when in fact, maybe there were more person, idiosyncratic reasons. Even if that’s the case, that people sometimes hide their real issues behind theological questions, addressing these questions would help people to see beyond them and address underlying issues.

For many writers, however, I think that these cognitive issues swayed them from the faith. We live in a highly-educated, rational society, and so these issues are defined as very important.

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BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU SAY ABOUT OTHERS: “Defamation Claims against Churches.”

This ruling deviates from the general rule that the First Amendment guaranty of religious freedom bars the civil courts from resolving employment disputes between churches and clergy. While many courts would reject this court’s reasoning, the case will provide ministers with a precedent, making a defamation claim more viable. Tubra v. Cooke, 225 P.3d 862 (Or. App. 2010).

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FIRST AMENDMENT WATCH: “Separation of Church and State News Round-up.”

Stewart said he would have preferred that the county simply remove the Ten Commandments plaque, but he hopes that this case will deter other counties from adopting a public forum as a way to display Christian religious texts.

“The concept that government should not be promoting a religion is such a really cool idea that we came up with, and they just don’t seem to grasp that,” Stewart said of local political leaders.

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THE BIBLE: “How to Restore Culture in One Easy Step.”

In June I explained how to destroy a culture in five easy steps. On reflection I realize that I was making the issue more complicated than was necessary since the task can be completed in one simple step. As science fiction writer Ray Bradbury once said, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” While this is certainly true, the genre of books that people stop reading matters considerably. In fact, one genre matters most of all…

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FIRST AMENDMENT GONE WILD: “Child Sexual Abuse and the Supreme Court.”

Having thus invited the Free Speech Coalition’s challenge to the Child Pornography Prevention Act, the Court continued down this same path in its 2002 ruling in the resulting case, Free Speech Coalition v. Ashcroft. So long as it is produced without sexually exploiting any actual children, the Court claimed, even child pornography is not necessarily obscenity. That is, even child pornography may have socially redeeming value and is therefore entitled to the protection of the First Amendment.

By this ruling, the Court contributed to a public culture that encourages the sexual exploitation of children. Most obviously, it gave constitutional protection to material that feeds and strengthens the desires of pedophiles and thereby makes it more likely that some of them will act them out. More subtly, by preventing efforts to prohibit such material, the Court helped create a culture that undermines the pedophile’s own sense that his desires are wrong and to be resisted. A pedophile without access to child pornography is simply alone with his perverted thoughts and is therefore unlikely to forget that society condemns his desires in the strongest possible terms. But a pedophile with legitimate access to child pornography, even if it relies on “virtual” images, is taught that there are others—indeed, lawful businesses and even parts of whole industries—that sympathize with his desires and will cater to them, and that in doing so they are even exercising a constitutional right. Human beings are naturally sociable creatures. They tend to think, feel, approve or disapprove, praise or condemn, in groups. Accordingly, the very existence of child pornography, especially if it is lawfully produced, cannot help but encourage pedophiles to believe that their appetites are morally legitimate, because shared and approved by others, and thereby push some of them to violate the law by sexually exploiting actual children.

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THE POWER OF SOCIAL CUES:“Distrust Feeds Anti-Atheist Prejudice.”

So why are atheists “among the least liked people … in most of the world,” in the words of a research team led by University of British Columbia psychologist Will Gervais? In a newly published paper, he and his colleagues provide evidence supporting a plausible explanation.

Atheists, they argue, are widely viewed as people you cannot trust.

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NO: “Should Churches Perform Altar Calls?”

So why wouldn’t I give an altar call? In short, I believe that this particular man-made practice, this 19th-century innovation, has produced more bad than good for Christian churches in the West. The altar call relies on the powers of emotion, rhetorical persuasion, and social pressure to induce people to make a hasty and premature decision. And producing professions is not the same thing as making disciples. Surely a number of factors are responsible for the many nominal Christians that typify Christianity in the West, but I believe that the altar call is one of them.

My opinion? Not all innovations are bad. And altar calls can be useful, as long as they are an initial step in calling people to a life of repentance, not the exclusive step.

Siriously?


In this ad, the National Republican Senatorial Committee asks Siri about the economic crisis and the Democrats’ response to it.

The ad is very clever. And effective. I’m sure Apple will send a cease and desist letter very soon.

Interview with Mike Clarensau about “From Belonging to Becoming”


In this video, I interview Mike Clarensau about his new book, From Belonging to Becoming: The Power of Loving People Like Jesus Did. Mike is senior director of the Healthy Church Network. Prior to that, he was senior pastor of Maranatha Worship Center in Wichita, Kansas. From Belonging to Becoming charts a new pathway of discipleship. Instead of believing-belonging-becoming, Mike argues that Jesus practiced belonging-believing-becoming, putting relationship before the call to faith or the commitment to a new lifestyle. Indeed, the relationship with Jesus made both faith and holiness possible in the lives of Jesus’ followers. This is the model of discipleship we too should follow.

I reviewed Mike’s book here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Here are the questions Mike answered with timecodes:

  • 00:03 Introduction
  • 00:28 The “assimilation process” at most churches looks like this: believing-becoming-belonging. In this book, you argue that belonging comes first: belonging-believing-becoming. How did you come to the realization that most churches’ “assimilation process” has things backward?
  • 05:39 Throughout the book, you use the story in Luke 7 about the sinful woman anointing Jesus’ feet at the home of Simon the Pharisee. There are three main characters in the story. There are also two ways of responding to the sinful woman and two ways of responding to Jesus. What are those ways?
  • 08:45 Why is so hard for pastors and church members to realize that their ways of responding to “sinners” are often more like the Pharisees’ than like Jesus’? What are the rationalizations we offer for our ways of responding, and why are they wrong?
  • 12:28 What do you mean by “belonging”? Does it involve putting nonbelievers in positions of leadership at the church?
  • 15:16 John Maxwell says that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Is that true? What do you mean when you say, “Once that people know that you care, they care what you know”?
  • 18:00 Throughout the book, you share your own personal journey of discovery on this matter. How did your specific context in Wichita, Kansas, help you make this discovery?
  • 22:02 Are you really saying that there aren’t moral absolutes or things that the church should be known for?
  • 25:12 Isn’t it a lot more easy (and fun) to denounce sin than to redeem the individual sinner?
  • 26:50 Is belonging-believing-becoming a methodological approach to helping people experience the wholeness of life Jesus offers?
  • 28:36 All of this sounds like that “seeker sensitive” stuff. Doesn’t the Bible describe the gospel as an offense?
  • 31:10 The book complexifies our thinking by forcing us to realize that much of what we do at church is more Pharisaical than Jesus-like. It forces us to ask, “What kind of Christianity am I actually practicing?” What’s the difference between becoming like Jesus as opposed to becoming like other church people.
  • 33:31 Part 2 of the book describes the shift of thinking church leaders must experience to begin to welcome the “sinful woman” into their community as Jesus did. What does that shift look?
  • 36:46 What can pastors do to begin to forming friendships with people outside of church?
  • 39:19 What about the objection: |”We don’t want ‘those people’ around our kids”?
  • 41:22 What can we do to be more friendly to people who begin to attend our church?
  • 43:45 What should church leaders take into account in their “assimilation process”?
  • 46:31 What is “congregational astigmatism”? How do we overcome it?
  • 49:00 What is the Healthy Church Network? Where can people get more information about it?
  • 50:32 Concluding remarks

Review of “From Belonging to Becoming” by Mike Clarensau


Mike Clarensau, From Belonging to Becoming: The Power of Loving People Like Jesus Did (Springfield, MO: Influence Resources, 2011). $19.99, 262 pages.

Luke 7:36–50 narrates the encounter between Jesus and a sinful woman who anointed his feet at the home of Simon the Pharisee. Mike Clarensau opens From Belonging to Becoming with this story because it illustrates a choice all church leaders and members must make: Do we accept the woman as Jesus did, or do we reject her like Simon the Pharisee did?

Clarensau is senior director of the Assemblies of God’s Healthy Church Network. Before taking this position, he was senior pastor at Maranatha Worship Center in Wichita, Kansas. It was during his tenure as pastor that this passage in the Gospel hit him with the force of a revelation. Raised in church his entire life, working as a vocational ministry his entire adult life, he realized that much of the way he thought about and ministered to unbelievers reflected Simon the Pharisee’s perspective more than Jesus’. And he noticed that this was true at other churches as well.

The “assimilation process” at most churches—that is, the path by which nonbelievers become fully committed followers of Jesus Christ—looks like this: believing, becoming, belonging. In other words, you believe in Jesus, become like Jesus, and then you can belong to our church.

With the sinful woman who anointed Jesus’ feet, the “assimilation process” looked radically different: Jesus’ acceptance of her—i.e., her “belonging” to him—made possible a change in her believing and becoming. John Maxwell likes to say that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care. Clarensau agrees with this and adds: Once people know that you care, they care what you know. In other words, building loving, Christlike relationships with people helps them become fully devoted followers of Christ. Hence the title of his book: From Belonging to Becoming.

Clarensau divides the book into three parts. Part 1 explores how we view the “sinful woman” when she comes to our church. It exposes the Pharisaic rationalizations we offer for excluding her in contrast to Jesus’ practice of welcoming and including her. Part 2 offers insights into how our vision of church would change if we looked at it from the perspective of the sinful woman. And Part 3 offers practical advice for creating an “assimilation process” that puts belonging first, without sacrificing either believing or becoming. In other words, both doctrine and practice must be part of following Jesus Christ, but assimilation begins with loving relationships.

I heartily recommend this book to pastors, church leaders, and lay ministers who want their churches to become Christlike not merely in what they teach and in their manner of life, but also in the way they do church. Whether they agree with everything Clarensau recommends, they will his reading of Scripture and practical sights challenging to status-quo ways of thinking and doing.

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Monday, November 14, 2011


THE IDOLATRY OF SPORTS: “Attack of the Penn State Jock Worshippers.”

The subtext of Erickson’s message is the same as the overt message of Penn State students who rioted when Paterno was fired and who paint messages to the coach on their chests: child rape doesn’t matter. I mean, sure, it’s bad, but we are talking about football here.

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DIGNITY, THE MISSING ELEMENT: “The Last American Sin.”

What exactly is it about child molestation that uniquely unites Americans in outrage?

Thus Americans are united in recognizing that child molestation is wrong—as they ought—but probably couldn’t exactly agree on the various reasons for why it is wrong. This may be, in part, because dignity is a missing element in our discourse around human relationships, including sexual ones. (In his book on human personhood, Christian Smith identifies dignity as “an inherent worth of immeasurable value that is deserving of certain morally appropriate responses.”) We recognize that people who sexually prey on children—as well as those that fail to do everything in their power to stop them, even to their own hurt—ignore their victims’ (as well as their own) dignity.

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EVANGELICALS AND IMMIGRATION: “Latino evangelicals challenge Alabama brethren on immigration.”

When the Alabama legislature approved what is considered the nation’s toughest anti-illegal immigration law, much of the state’s religious community was quick to condemn it.

The Roman Catholic, Episcopal and United Methodist churches went to court to block the law, calling it “the nation’s most merciless anti-immigration legislation.” But Latino evangelical leaders say a key voice in Alabama’s debate is missing – that of their own denominations.

“Because this is at some level a moral issue, and the religious community cannot stand idly by and allow a moral issue like this to go without a comment,” said Carlos Campo, president of Virginia’s Regent University, the college founded by evangelical icon Pat Robertson.

Religious leaders met in Birmingham last week to discuss the their role in the debate, with about 50 people gathering in a theater-turned-church.

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WHEN OUR EXCLUSIVITY CONTRADICTS OUR EVANGEL: “Freaky Deakies Need Love Too.”

The Church regularly prays for the conversion of sinners, so how can one justify praying for their conversions, while insisting on exclusivity? Do we only want certain types of sinners to convert and the rest can literally go to Hell?

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THE POOR YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE WITH YOU: “Wasted Charity: Why the compassion industry is not helping the poor. A review of ‘Toxic Charity.’”

In Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) (HarperOne), the 40-year veteran urban minister “takes the gloves off” and argues that much of Americans’ charitable giving “is either wasted or actually harms the people it is targeted to help.”

The reason is that the “compassion industry” is “almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise,” but its “outcomes are almost entirely unexamined.” Years of charitable giving at home and abroad, Lupton contends, have made barely a dent in reducing poverty and often encourage dependency. Toxic Charity offers some statistics, but more stories, as evidence that both our philosophy and practice of charity are frequently misguided.

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THE VIRTUE OF HOPE: “Optimistic or Pessimistic about America: Gilbert Meilaender.”

Finally, we can grant that there are plenty of political reasons for pessimism: an economy in which many people may be permanently unable to find work, the racial divide that has burdened our entire history and still does, the threat of Islamism around the world but especially in the Middle East, an aging population that is setting us up for a clash of generations. What we need in the face of such difficulties is not optimism but hope, and they are not the same. As G.K. Chesterton noted, external conditions can never—in good times or bad—give sufficient reason for hope. We need the virtue of hope precisely when circumstances seem to offer no grounds for optimism. “For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly when hope ceases to be reasonable, it begins to be useful.” Which means that the question that most needs our reflection is: How does one elicit, nourish, and sustain the virtue of hope?

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ANGER: OK FOR ME, BUT NOT FOR THEE: “Privileged Anger.”

The other day an opinion-maker remarked with apparent surprise that after 9/11 Americans had not started attacking American Muslims. Readers will remember how many earnest warnings against violent reactions were issued in the days and weeks after the attack, and how many patronizing lectures on Islam as a religion of peace were given. You’d think that every group of Americans, other than those who read the New York Times, was a lynch mob just waiting for an excuse to feel righteous in venting their anger on victims who were easy and safe to hurt.

The same people who worry about the mythological angry middle class white Christian do not worry about anger in itself. Anger, in our culture, is “privileged,” as academics put it. It is a sign of authenticity that is rarely “interrogated,” if expressed by approved groups. You will not suffer for declaring that you are outraged, and you will often be applauded.

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ACCEPTABLE/NOT ACCEPTABLE: “The Inequality Map.”

Foreign tourists are coming up to me on the streets and asking, “David, you have so many different kinds of inequality in your country. How can I tell which are socially acceptable and which are not?”

Dear visitor, we are a democratic, egalitarian people who spend our days desperately trying to climb over each other. Have a nice stay.

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THE LEGACY OF THE PURITANS: “Nathaniel Hawthorne and the Government Worker.”

Hawthorne’s work, and its inspiration, highlights the gap between public employment and civic motives, and it adds a standard that is, sadly, lost in the current debate. Think of the custom-house and we won’t be astonished when government workers react to the slightest changes in salaries and benefits with outrage, even when those changes appear to be modest accommodations to revenue dips. They have been conditioned to act this way. It’s a psychology that people who have never entered the government job world can’t understand, and that one of our great writers recognized and recoiled from.

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AMEN! “John Stott’s Daily Prayer.”

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more.

Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you.

Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:

Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control

Holy, blessed and glorious trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.

Almighty God, Creator and sustainer of the universe, I worship you.

Lord Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord of the World, I worship you.

Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the people of God, I worship you.

Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,

As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever, Amen.

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