How, When, Where Will My Life End?

rainbow, cemetery, sky, outside, tombstone, graves, graveyard, HD wallpaperThose are questions about which most folks don’t like to think or talk. The topic of death hits close to home. And it’s probably best that we don’t know the answers. Yet death happens.

It’s in the news, almost every day. We’re hearing a lot about shootings in major cities, claiming the lives of people of all ages, races, colors, and creeds. Sadly and tragically, that beat goes on.

In addition to those violent deaths, people in the U.S. are dying from other causes. Here are the numbers for one recent year (2017):

  • Heart disease: 647,457
  • Cancer: 599,108
  • Accidents: 169,936
  • Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
  • Stroke: 146,383
  • Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404
  • Diabetes: 83,564
  • Influenza and pneumonia: 55,672
  • Kidney disease: 50,633
  • Suicide: 47,173

While some would not include in statistics like these the number of unborn children who die by abortion, that number, 623,471 for 2016, is impossible to ignore. That’s less than half the high of 1,429,247 in 1990 but does not include California, Maryland, New Hampshire, and the District of Columbia, none of which reported in 2016.

The newest reportable cause of death, coronavirus, has taken more than 143,000 lives in the U.S. so far this year. That number will surely rise in the months ahead.

This past week two of my longtime friends passed away. One suffered with cancer for four years. The other died suddenly of a heart attack. Each had lived about eight decades.

Neither method of dying is easy for surviving family members.

Lengthy illness is draining on the patient and also on primary caregivers. It does provide time for putting one’s affairs in order. But even still, some do not get those matters taken care of. Procrastination rules.

Sudden death is more shocking for the family because of its unexpected arrival. In those cases, unless the deceased has made plans for distribution of his/her assets, that important unaccomplished matter can cause huge distress for the survivors.

Often I’ve observed that the people in my genealogical family tree have two things in common. They all were born. They all have died.

So while it’s on your mind and while you have a bit of spare time, it would be a stellar idea to put the tasks of estate planning, asset listing, and other related matters on your “do it now” list.

Legacy Deo can help. For a free electronic copy of our Wills Planning Guide, The Red Book (asset listing tool), and Funeral Planning Guide, contact us at info@legacydeo.org or (512) 646-4909.

You will be relieved. Quickly. Your loved ones will be blessed. Eventually.

And it will take away much of the stress related to the questions of how, when, and where your life will end. Thankfully.

Lent and Coronavirus

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Credit: Grzegorz Krupa from Pixabay 

Lent consists of the 40 days before Easter, not including the Sundays of the season. Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Tuesday was Shrove Tuesday, aka Fat Tuesday, the last day of feasting before the historic practice of fasting for the Lenten season.

Some folks I know observe Lent by depriving themselves of favorite food, beverages, habits, activities, or pleasures. Others proactively do something significant, like reading the Bible more faithfully, praying more fervently, or doing generous acts of kindness and love more freely.

Giving up something of value during Lent hasn’t always been an admirable quality in my life. One year I gave up black and white TV, not only for Lent, but also for good. I was only 26 at the time. Studies show that the male reptilian brain matures at 25. I suppose I was a late bloomer.

The purpose of the Lenten season is to remember with a penitent heart that Jesus gave his life for us in his suffering and death on the cross. Many people do that by attending worship services not only on Ash Wednesday but also each Wednesday during Lent, plus Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

As Lent begins this year, worldwide attention is focused on Coronavirus, a most unwelcomed intruder. It began in Wuhan, China, but quickly spread to other countries, notably Iran and now Italy. As today’s article is being written, this deadly epidemic has infected more than 81,000 people, claiming the lives of 2,700. Lord, have mercy!

What do Lent and Coronavirus have in common? Both are intimately connected with death. Lent emanated with the death of Christ for the life of the world. Coronavirus has brought with it the premature and untimely death of thousands of human beings who were planning to live a lot longer than the age at which they actually died.

The Bible says death is the result of sin. The mortality rate is 100%. It’s just a matter of how, when, and where. For each of us.

Whether our life will end as a result of Coronavirus or cancer or heart failure or stroke or accident or any other cause, it will end. But our life will continue in heaven because of what Jesus did. That’s also what Lent is all about.

Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Live every day as if it were your last. And don’t forget that at the end of Lent is Easter, the Festival of the Resurrection of our Lord!

Don’t Let the Old Man In

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Credit: Wikipedia

Several days ago my second cousin once removed John Kieschnick forwarded to me a link to a song inspired by Clint Eastwood and sung by Toby Keith. The song resulted from a story.

One day Toby Keith, the country-western singer, was playing golf with Clint Eastwood. At one point, Eastwood said to Keith, “I turn 88 on Monday.” Keith asked, “What are you going to do?” Eastwood replied, “I’m going to shoot a movie.” Filming was to begin the following week.

Keith asked him, “What keeps you going?” Eastwood replied, “I get up every day and don’t let the old man in.” Keith went home that day and wrote a song. He sent it to Eastwood, hoping he would approve it. And, he did. Here are the words:

Don’t let the old man in, I wanna leave this alone
Can’t leave it up to him, he’s knocking on my door,
And I knew all of my life that someday it would end
Get up and go outside, don’t let the old man in.

Many moons I have lived, my body’s weathered and worn
Ask yourself how old you’d be if you didn’t know the day you were born.

Try to love on your wife and stay close to your friends
Toast each sundown with wine, don’t let the old man in.

Many moons I have lived, my body’s weathered and worn
Ask yourself how old you’d be if you didn’t know the day you were born.

When he rides up on his horse and you feel that cold bitter wind
Look out your window and smile, don’t let the old man in.
Look out your window and smile, don’t let the old man in.

Whether we like it or not, someday the old man will come in. It’s simply a fact of life that people grow older, every day. It’s important to live each day with the kind of positive attitude reflected in this song. Yet someday, even Clint Eastwood will meet his maker.

This brings to mind the seventh and final estate planning myth I promised months ago to share: “It’s too depressing to make plans for my funeral service. I’ll let my kids make those decisions.” The fact is that making advance plans relieves loved ones of that burden and allows them to celebrate your life and home-going to heaven.

Celebrating Victory in Christ is the name of Legacy Deo’s Funeral Planning Guide. It’s available for the asking in electronic fillable format. Request your free copy at info@legacydeo.org.

In the meantime, between now and the day the Lord calls you home, don’t let the old man in. Keep living your life, every day, to the glory of God and to the joy of the people you love.

+Rev. Robert Charles Greene+ (1938-2019)

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Credit: Alexander Boden on Flickr

By now many of my readers have heard about the passing of a very dear friend, Rev. Robert Charles Greene. Bob had been diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer on May 28 and went to heaven July 10, a short 41 days later.

Bob’s obituary is at https://www.ramseyfuneral.com/obituary/pastor-robert-greene. It’s a comprehensive yet concise review of the highlights of his life. Without writing a book, it’s simply not possible to capture adequately 81 years of faith, family, life, love, and leadership.

Jean Greene, Bob’s wife of nearly 57 years, and their children Steve and Diane shared with me a 16 page document titled “Biographical Record and Remembrances of Robert C. Greene.” On those pages Bob shares highlights of his life, family, and career, including vignettes that provide interesting insights into this man’s life, values, and character. Here are a few examples:

As a student at Concordia High School in St. Paul, Minn., Bob worked in the kitchen: “I had a difference of opinion with the President of the College about which of the two people working in the kitchen should become the head person. About this time the President came into the kitchen and told me to go hang up my apron. I was no longer to work there. I was told to come by his office and pick up my check.” Bob wasn’t reticent about expressing his opinions.

In a congregation he served as a young pastor: “There was a real need for Sunday school classrooms, youth room, kitchen, and office. But when the decision went to the Voters it was defeated, primarily under the influence of one family. So I went to a member of that family who had young children and asked him to chair the building committee for a redo of the building vote. When it came up again for a vote, this time it was easily adopted.” Bob knew how to lead.

During my last term of office as President of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod I appointed Bob as chair of the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Synod Structure and Governance, aka BRTFSSG. One of his duties was to visit each of the 35 districts of the Synod for a meeting of the Board of Directors or District convention. At one of those meetings way above the Mason-Dixon Line, in the winter, he had no overcoat. I lovingly chided him and presidentially “ordered” him to buy a coat and send me the bill. Not long thereafter I saw him. With a coat. But I never received the bill. Bob knew how to listen. Sometimes with only one ear.

Much more could be said about Rev. Robert C. Greene. Much more will be said at his memorial service this Friday. Suffice it to say here that he was an intelligent, bold, strong-willed, visionary pastor and church leader. More importantly, he was a loving husband and devoted father.

One of Bob’s favorite Scripture readings was Philippians 1:21: “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Amen! Rest in peace, dear friend and brother in Christ!

Abortion Abomination

Last week I saw an article on Facebook titled Faith Leaders to Bless Abortion Clinic. In my opinion, it’s an abomination. Here are portions of the article, dated October 24, 2018:

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“Faith leaders” will be gathering next month for an abortion clinic blessing in Columbus, Ohio.

“Anti-abortion advocates do not have the monopoly on faith or God,” the notice from Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio reads. “Many faith leaders and people of faith hold that accessing and providing abortions are good and godly decisions.” The title of the notice? “Holy Ground: Blessing the Sacred Space of Decision.”

“During this clinic blessing, participants will gather with local faith leaders and guests to ask for God’s blessing upon Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio’s East Columbus Surgical facility, the abortion providers and staff, and all those who pass through the center,” the notice adds.

The event also will feature interfaith blessings, prayers, and testimonies about receiving and providing abortion care. The “clinic blessing will create space for progressive voices of faith to speak boldly in support of comprehensive reproductive health care, especially abortion.”

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In addition, a recent decision by the state of New York protects women’s access to abortion, even if the historic case decision Roe v. Wade is overturned.

On Jan. 22, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said: “Today we are taking a giant step forward in the hard-fought battle to ensure a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own personal health, including the ability to access an abortion. With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body.”

Arguing against this measure, NY State Assembly Rep. Nicole Malliotakis said: “We need to be honest with the public and say that this bill does not simply codify Roe v. Wade… what this bill does is expand abortion up to birth and the third trimester.”

New York’s Catholic Bishops, led by Cardinal Timothy Nolan, said: “Our Governor and legislative leaders hail this new abortion law as progress. This is not progress. Progress will be achieved when our laws and our culture once again value and respect each unrepeatable gift of human life, from the first moment of creation to natural death.”

My comment? A newly forming embryonic fetus is a life, not just a part of its mother’s body. Upholding the sanctity of life and helping support those whose personal and financial circumstances make it difficult to carry a child to full term is a Christian responsibility.

A Celebration of Life

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Credit: Wikipedia

Two weeks ago this morning my mother went to heaven. This past Saturday we laid her physical body to rest in the cemetery plot right next to my father. Most of our family watched as her casket was slowly lowered into its final resting place. Those who wanted to do so dropped a bit of sand onto her casket. “Earth to earth … ashes to ashes … dust to dust.”

Saturday’s memorial service was a wonderful mixture of sadness and rejoicing. Sadness because Mom will no longer be present in our lives. Rejoicing because she prayed for nearly three years that Jesus would take her home to heaven. Jesus finally answered her prayer.

During the week between her passing and burial, her children and grandchildren took care of the multifaceted details connected with death. Funeral home. Casket selection. Flower shop. Informing relatives and friends. Notifying pallbearers. Securing travel and lodging. Planning the family gathering. Communicating with pastor. Selecting organist. Editing photos. Finalizing and publishing obituary. Scheduling cemetery arrangements. Ordering headstone engraving.

Lots of important details needed to be taken care of. The result was a service of thanksgiving to God for our mother’s life and love, followed by a wonderful reception with food and drink, hosted by members of Mom’s church.

There were tears that day. There was also rejoicing. Most of our family members and many friends, both current and historic, paid their respects to Mother and shared their love with our family.

Many gave flowers or memorial gifts in her loving memory. Countless cards, letters, emails, text messages, and phone calls were received, all incredible outpourings of love. It would be nearly impossible to respond to each of those acts of care and concern. Many thanks to all of you!

During Mother’s 34 ½ months in assisted living, many friends and family visited her, almost daily. Many but not all of them signed the guest book near the door. After her funeral I counted the names in the book, a total of 2,080 visitors in slightly more than 1,000 days.

My comments near the end of the service included quotes from the Hymn I’m But a Stranger Here, Heav’n is My Home and concluded with the words: Goodbye, Mother Elda. You’re now home. In heaven. With our father Martin. Rest in peace. We’ll see you again. Someday. At home! 

Our final moments with our mother in that house of God, Cross Lutheran Church in New Braunfels, Texas, were a celebration of life for a woman who was blessed by God to be a daughter, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, great great grandmother, aunt, cousin, and friend.

To God alone be the glory!

Finding the Right Words

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This weekend our family will celebrate the life of our dear mother and will lay her mortal remains to rest. We thank God for her legacy and are truly thankful for the many expressions of love, care, and concern that have come from friends around the state and across the country.

What does one say when a friend’s loved one dies? At such times in my life, I think carefully, trying to choose the right words. Sometimes I think I succeed. At other times, not so much.

My thought is that what to say depends on the circumstances of the death of the person in question. What was the cause of death? The age of the deceased? Was it expected, after a lengthy illness? Or was it sudden? Did the deceased leave young dependent family members? Was it an infant who died? Had the person who died lived a lonely existence for many years?

My father died 36 years ago after more than a year of struggling with cancer. He was only 66. My mother and her four adult children weren’t ready for him to leave. Neither was he.

Mother died peacefully in her sleep at 102 years and 9 months, quite alert and fairly active till a few days before her death. She was ready to go. It would have been selfish for us to pray otherwise.

At Daddy’s death our family was grieving. His friends were also grieving. The words they shared with us reflected their sadness and disappointment following the death of a man who had only rarely been sick. Their words also focused on how much they knew we would miss him.

In Mom’s case, most people knew she had been praying that the Lord would take her home. So had her family. She had terminal congestive heart failure and had lived alone 36 years, the last 34 ½ months in assisted living. She wanted to go to heaven. Her death was a blessing.

Notwithstanding those circumstances, at Mom’s passing many friends of our family shared their love and concern in words expressing sorrow, condolence, and sympathy. My first words a week ago when I heard the news that she had passed were “God be praised! She’s now in heaven!”

Some of our neighbors brought a floral arrangement to our home with a card that said “May all your days be filled with the beautiful memories of your mother!” A second floral note said “May the certainty of the resurrection bring you joy even in the midst of your mourning.”

One thoughtful card said “We are among the multitude of saints rejoicing that Elda is now in the presence of the Lamb!” Another note said “We thank God for the mother who gave birth to you, a blessed woman of God indeed!  Now the cloud of witnesses just got stronger!”

Here are three points to consider when finding the right words to say at a time of death. First, put yourself in the shoes of the survivors and try to imagine what you might want to hear if it were your loved one who had died. Then say or write those words from your heart.

Second, try very hard not to let your anxiety and fear about what to say prevent you from saying or writing anything. Just knowing you care enough to express your love is priceless.

Third, don’t forget what Christians believe about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. Those are promises of God that bring hope, comfort, and joy!

Rest in peace, dear Mom. We all love you more than words can say!

+George Herbert Walker Bush+

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On Friday, November 30, the 41st President of the United States died at the age of 94 years, five months, and 18 days. He was born in Milton, Mass., and died at home in Houston, Tex.

At the time of his death he was the third-longest-lived vice president, and the longest-lived president in U.S. history. Since the day he died, U.S. news sources have highlighted his career and family, including wife Barbara, who passed away earlier this year; son George W. Bush, 43rd U.S. President; and son Jeb Bush, former Florida Governor. George H.W.’s personal life was accentuated by boating and parachuting activities that extended into his ninth decade.

President Bush was raised in the Episcopal Church and expressed his faith publicly in numerous ways, including his Thousand Points of Light speech, his support for prayer in public schools, and his pro-life views. His faith was also reflected in the music he chose for the arrival of his body in Washington D.C. to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol. The selections played by a military band were Beautiful Savior and A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

People of all ages and physical conditions waited for hours in the Washington cold to enter the Rotunda. Memorable sights were many, including a Boy Scout standing at attention and saluting for an extended period of time; 95-year old former U.S. Senator Robert Dole, in a wheelchair, with great effort standing and saluting the casket with a crippled left hand; and numerous world famous professional sports and political figures.

Yesterday the casket was moved to Washington National Cathedral for a memorial service clearly reflecting President Bush’s Christian faith. The service featured powerful Christ centered preaching, with numerous inspirational hymns and dynamic choral presentations. It was seasoned with both serious reflections and humorous comments from family members and political personalities.

Another memorial service will be held today at 10:00 a.m. CST at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston. From there his body will be transported to College Station, Tex., where he will be laid to rest at the Bush Library on the campus of Texas A & M University next to his wife Barbara and their three-year-old daughter Pauline Robinson Bush (Robin), who died of leukemia 65 years ago.

Of particular note to me this week have been the broad and non-partisan expressions of respect and even love for this man, particularly at a time of hugely partisan political division in America. It was also quite encouraging to hear again the clear expressions of his Christian faith.

The New York Times reported: His [Bush’s] longtime friend and former Secretary of State, James A. Baker III, arrived at his Houston home on Friday morning to check on him. Mr. Bush suddenly grew alert, his eyes wide open. “Where are we going, Bake?” he asked. “We’re going to heaven,” Mr. Baker answered. “That’s where I want to go,” Mr. Bush said. Barely 13 hours later, Mr. Bush was dead.

Fox News Sunday reported: Baker, who called Bush his best friend, discussed his peaceful final day. “He had a very gentle and peaceful passing,” Baker said.  “They made arrangements for all of his children to call in to in effect tell him goodbye. His son former President George W. Bush called in to say ‘Dad, I love you, I will see you on the other side’ and President Bush said ‘I love you, too’ and those were his last words. He had a very gentle and easy passing, the kind we ought to all hope we have.”

Guy Benson, Political Editor for Townhall.com, concluded: Death is an inevitability, so perhaps this is the best way to go: Saying final, loving goodbyes to everyone who matters in your life before dying at a ripe old age, after living an incredibly full and consequential life. Bush was a war hero, a Congressman from Texas, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Republican National Committee Chairman, Director of the CIA, Vice President of the United States, and President of the United States.

And I add: “George Herbert Walker Bush, rest in peace. Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Important Facts to Remember as You Grow Older

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A Facebook friend posted the following thoughts, probably not original:

  1. Death is the number one killer in the world.
  2. Life is sexually transmitted.
  3. Good health is merely the slowest possible rate at which one can die.
  4. Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won’t bother you for weeks, months, maybe years.
  5. Health nuts are going to feel stupid someday, lying in the hospital, dying of nothing.
  6. All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.
  7. In the 60s, people took acid to make the world weird. Now the world is weird, and people take Prozac to make it normal.
  8. Don’t worry about old age; it doesn’t last that long.

Obviously my friend had his tongue at least partially embedded in his cheek. Some of these are more humorous than others. Yet within the humor lies one basic truth. We are mortal, finite human beings. Our human life had a beginning. It will also have an ending.

King David says it like this: “We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.” 1 Chron. 29:15

For Christians, that’s not the end of the story. At the death of his close friend Lazarus, Jesus said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. And whoever who lives and believes in me will never die.” John 11:25-26

To some, that’s double talk. How can someone die and yet never die? That’s the mystery of death, solved only by the promise of eternal life through faith in Christ. For when a person dies, he/she takes off his/her body and moves to another existence. In that new heaven and new earth (Rev. 21:1) that person’s life never ends.

That’s a truth worth living for … a truth worth dying for … a promise to remember as you grow older.

Life is a Miracle. Death is a Mystery.

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A longtime friend of Terry’s and mine, Doreen Bohrer, passed away last week. She was a pastor’s wife, talented musician, great polka dancer, dedicated educator, and gifted administrator. She loved the Lord, loved life, and loved her family.

Her memorial service was held earlier this week at Christ Lutheran Church in Austin. A good friend of mine, Dr. Bill Knippa, preached and led the service. I was also invited to participate by reading scripture, leading the prayers, and offering these pastoral comments:

It’s never easy to lose a loved one, either after a long illness or unexpectedly and inexplicably. Death is a part of life. Old Testament King David said: “We are here for only a moment, visitors and strangers in the land as our ancestors were before us. Our days on earth are like a passing shadow, gone so soon without a trace.” 1 Chron. 19:14-15

Who can understand the miracle of life and the mystery of death? Life is a miraculous co-mingling of systems: circulatory, digestive, endocrine, exocrine, lymphatic, muscular, nervous, renal, reproductive, respiratory, and skeletal, each working with the others to sustain in the body what we call life.  

Death is a deep, dark mystery. One moment a person is warm, animated, conversant, mobile, alive. The next moment the body of that same person is cold, still, silent, vacant, dead. A beautiful woman or handsome man in a casket deteriorates into a pile of dust and a box of bones or is reduced in a cremation furnace into only a pile of ashes. Death is a reality of life that awaits us all. 

The most helpful insight I’ve ever heard about life and death came from Terry’s and my own daughter. When she was three years old, little Angie asked the thoughtfully perceptive question: “Daddy, when a person dies does he take off his body?”

For a moment I was completely stumped! After reflecting and recovering, I replied: “Yes. That’s exactly what happens when a person dies.” To this day, over 45 years later, I still turn to that insightful understanding when death occurs.

To me, the most easily understandable explanation of life is that everyone has a body in which that person’s soul or spirit, that person’s real being, resides as long as he or she is living on this earth. When death occurs, that person’s soul or spirit leaves the body and moves on. Angie had it right. The person who dies takes off his or her body and leaves it behind.

That’s what’s in the box in this sanctuary – the physical body inherited and inhabited by the soul, the spirit, the real being, the true essence of the woman we knew and loved. That body was baptized in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That body was the home of a soul redeemed by the blood of Christ. That body was the temple of the Holy Spirit. That body contained the woman who lived her life as both saint and sinner.

Where has that real being gone, the soul or spirit that animated her body for over 79 years? Jesus answers that question: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

The real being that resided in this body has gone out of this world to eternal life in heaven. Eternal means everlasting, undying, perpetual, endless, ceaseless, timeless, infinite, immortal, never ending.  

It’s hard to comprehend how someone can go on living or existing forever, in a place where the pain and problems of this earth no longer exist. But that’s the promise of God, through Christ our Lord.

Believing that promise gives me hope. And I pray it gives hope and comfort to each of you as well!

Doreen had taken time in advance of her death to plan her memorial service. It’s tough for family to try to guess what their departed loved one might have wanted. Taking care of those important details is a great relief to an already grieving family.

We at Legacy Deo have a Funeral Planning Guide – Celebrating  Victory in Christ – available to you at no cost. Request your electronic or printed copy by emailing me GBJK@LegacyDeo.org.

God bless your day!