Hope In The Waiting

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:24-25

The thing that all of our souls are aching for as we press deeper into this Covid-19 crisis has a name. It’s called hope. It’s the thing that enables us to believe this won’t last forever, that life will return to normal, that we are going to be okay, and that God really is going to provide. Hope is the thing that gives our souls the courage to believe in the possibility of a better tomorrow.

The tricky thing about hope is that it is lives in the world of things that we can’t quite see, at least not yet. Paul is trying to get us comfortable with that reality here in Romans 8. Hope isn’t about our ability to find answers to all of our questions. It’s about our approach to the inevitable unknowns of life.

And right now, we are all confronted with so many unknowns. We know life will get back to normal but we don’t know when. We trust that God will provide but we don’t know how. We want to believe it’s all going to be okay but what if that turns out to be a little too simplistic? It’s the unknowns that make all of this so difficult. It’s the uncertainty that drains us. But we need to remember that uncertainty is not the enemy of hope. It’s the prerequisite.

Uncertainty is not the enemy of hope. It’s the prerequisite.

It’s one thing to scour the internet in search of good information that will enable us to make responsible decisions. But we’re never going to find the hope we’re looking for through the news, social media, or best the data models available. Hope, at least the real, gritty kind that will carry us through a pandemic, comes from a totally different source.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your heart before him;
God is a refuge for us.

Psalm 62:5-8

We find hope in the certainty that the same God who holds tomorrow in His hands is also holding us in His arms. Information can and should help us navigate life but only faith can fill us with hope. And, make no mistake about it, the Christian story is always one of hope. It’s the story of a God who loves the world so much that He sent His Son to die in our place so that we can live forever. It’s a story of suffering endured, death defeated, and eternity purchased. It’s a story that boldly announces that even when death comes, we still win. In Christ, there is always the hope of a better tomorrow.

For now, we wait. I’ll admit, my waiting isn’t always characterized by the kind of patience Paul is talking about in this passage. But, the more I lean into real hope, the more I sense little glimmers of patience working their way into my soul. We really are going to get through this and we really can trust God to lead us every step of the way.

My prayer for all of us is that we would learn to lean into the things that connect us with the God of hope and to pull back from the things that fuel a culture of anxiety and fear.

Subway Inspiration

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Last weekend, a hero of mine announced he would be retiring in a year.  I can still remember the first time I heard Bill Hybels speak at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.  He stood before a room of leaders and in a voice trembling with emotion, said very simply, “The local church is the hope of the world.”  His words pierced my heart, I knew he was right and I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  From the beginning, my love for the local church has been paired with a desire to bring hope to our world.

Today I’m more convinced than ever that Bill Hybels was right.  Of course, a lot of my confidence comes from the realization that he was paraphrasing Jesus who was the first to tell an ordinary group of people that they were “the light of the world” in His Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5:14)  And the rest comes from fifteen years of pastoral ministry and an increasing awareness of how desperate our world is for hope.

This past weekend, I had the privilege of preaching for my friend Will McGee at Crossroads Christian Church in Brooklyn.  On Saturday evening, I took the subway from Bay Ridge to Midtown Manhattan to grab dinner with Will.  And the whole way there, I kept hearing Hybels’ voice in my head, “the local church is the hope of the world.”  I kept thinking about the incredible opportunity for the gospel that exists in the great global cities of our world.  I was thanking God that I get to pastor a church in one of those cities.  I was reminded that all the challenges of urban life are worth it.  And I was reminded of why I do all of this.  The local church really is the hope of the world.

I hope that’s how you see yourself today.  Not because you’re awesome or better than anyone but because God’s Spirit lives in you.  You carry the hope the world is looking for inside of you.  God makes His appeal through you.  He shines His light through you.  You are an ambassador of the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords.  He sits on the throne of glory and His Kingdom will have no end.  Great global cities may come and go but Jesus will never change, never leave you, never fail you, never forsake you.

You’re the hope of the world.  Of your office.  Of your neighborhood.  Of your family.  Be the church.  Show grace.  Embrace mercy.  Be quick to forgive.  Be generous with your time, your wisdom and your resources.  Sacrifice for the good of others.

You’re the hope of the world.  In Brooklyn.  In DC.  In your city.

Shine.

Overcoming Trauma Fatigue

Trauma Fatigue.jpg

I went to bed feeling pretty good about life on Sunday evening.  It had been a good morning at church, a productive afternoon at the office and a relaxing evening at home with Laura and the kids.  Mondays are my day off and I was looking forward to taking the kids to the zoo the next day.  Little did I know that we were about to set yet another record for the worst mass shooting in US history.  But on Monday, I turned my phone on only to learn that 59 people had been killed and more than 527 had been injured at a Las Vegas music festival.

And I felt numb.  Maybe even indifferent.

Sad, appalled, and horrified, yes.  But also somehow unable to summon those emotions with the intensity this kind of carnage deserves.  It felt like I was suffering from some kind of trauma fatigue.  There’s just been too many bad things happening too quickly to keep up with it at all.  Charlottesville, Houston, The Florida Keys, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas.  North Korean nukes, fake Russian Facebook ads and ongoing debate over kneeling during the national anthem.    It’s just too much to process.

And then Romans 12 helped me understand exactly was was happening in my soul – I was being overcome by evil.  The full verse reads, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rm. 12:2)  I was allowing my spirit to succumb to wave after wave of evil.  I was allowing those waves to lap away at my joy, my hope, my compassion and even my calling as a Christian.  Yes, Jesus is “our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.” (Ps. 46:1)  But He is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the One who fights for His people and the One who calls us to overcome evil with good.  He calls us to push back against the tide of hate, division, and fear that is ravaging our country.  He calls us to fight with the weapons of truth, of love, and of grace.

I don’t want to be overcome.  I want to be an overcomer.  Specifically, I’m praying my life and our church would be characterized by the following:

Resist The Temptation Of Self-Righteousness

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of telling the story of the world in terms of good people and bad people, the right and the wrong.  It’s how the world operates; we just can’t agree on who belongs in which category most of the time.  It’s also part of why we rally together during times of national crisis – at least we can all agree that mass murderers are bad.  And they are.  Unthinkably so.  But so are you.  And so am I.

The thing that makes you want to fight back against that conclusion is called self-righteousness.  It’s why we all define good people and bad people in terms that put us squarely in the middle of good.  Bad is always someone else.

But all of us are deeply broken, tragically flawed  and capable of more evil than we are comfortable admitting.  A century ago, a British newspaper asked the question, “What is wrong with the world?”  The writer G.K. Chesterson wrote a famous reply to the editors:

Dear Sirs:

I am.

Sincerely Yours,

G.K. Chesterson

If only we could learn to replace our finger pointing with humble self-awareness.  If such spiritual poverty seems off putting to you, remember Jesus’ teaching, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)  Those words were spoken by the One who would go to a cross so that we would inherit a Kingdom.  It’s His love poured out for us that makes it safe to admit that we don’t have it all together.  It’s His goodness that enables us to confront our brokenness.

There are no good people.  And there are no bad people.  Only people simultaneously made in the image of God and in need of the grace of God.

Cling To The Hope Of Eternity

There is a day coming when God Himself will make all things new.  He will dwell among us and “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)  In that day, all the promises of the Kingdom of God will be fulfilled and, as Tim Keller says, every sad thing will become untrue.

That doesn’t mean the pain of this world doesn’t matter.  But it does mean we don’t lose hope in the midst of our pain.  The Apostle Paul explained it this way:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.  For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

The brokenness of this world only intensifies our hunger and thirst for the one to come.

Talk About Jesus

Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  I’m 39 years old and I can’t remember a time when the world needed the church more than it does right now.  But not a cowering, fearful, disengaged church.  Not a church that runs from the world.  Not a church that’s afraid people will laugh at us because of our faith.  Not a church afraid of upsetting people with the truth of the gospel.  Not a church marked by indifference.  And, most of all, not a church that perpetuates the self-righteous lie of good people versus bad people.

No, our world needs a church that is confident, hopeful and willing to engage the deep questions of our time with the eternal hope of Jesus.  The world is dying for the hope we’re afraid to share.  It’s time to get the lamp out from under the basket. (Matthew 5:15)   Time for the people of God to rise.  Time for the people of God to love, to serve and to believe that He who is in us really is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)

The more I ponder the gospel, the more I find my trauma fatigue morphing into determination.  Determination to mourn with those who mourn.  Determination not to turn a blind eye.  Determination to fight back.  Determination to overcome evil.  Determination that only be sustained by the grace and power of God.

Three Commitments For Election Day

pray-election

Finally!  America heads to the polls today.  One way or another, this will be all be over by tomorrow morning.  And maybe, just maybe, the wounds of division and fear in our nation will start to heal.  I certainly hope so.

It’s in that spirit that I want to ask you to join me in making three commitments for election day:

VOTE

Apathy isn’t cool.  You may not like the candidates, the parties or the platforms but nothing is going to get better because you stayed at home.  It’s a beautiful thing to live in a country where we get to pick our leaders.  Please, don’t take for granted what others can only imagine.

POST LIKE YOU’RE GOING TO PRAY

If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you already know what you need to do tomorrow morning.  “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.“(1 Tim. 2:1-2)  And not some snarky, “God, have mercy on us and our idiot President” kind of prayer.  A genuine prayer for the leader of the free world, for our well being as a nation and for the flourishing of the church.  If you won’t pray that way tomorrow, it’s not because of disappointment.  It’s because of disobedience.

So, why not post on social media today like you’re going to be praying tomorrow?  We don’t need any more divisive rhetoric.  It’s time to move on, to repair what’s been broken and recover civility both online and in person.

PUT YOUR CONFIDENCE IN CHRIST, NOT A CANDIDATE

Whatever’s going to happen today has been planned long ago by One who is wiser and greater than all of us.  “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.“(Romans 13:1)  He already knows who will win and He knows exactly how it all fits together in a plan more glorious and marvelous than anything we could comprehend.  He’s our hope.  He’s our confidence.  Don’t make Him look small by putting more hope in a candidate than in your Creator.

This election matters.  But what really matters is knowing that Jesus is in control no matter what happens.  He’s “upholding the universe by the word of His power.” (Hebrews 1:3)  I’m going to sleep just fine tonight.  And then I’m going to wake up and pray tomorrow morning.

ServeDC: Hope Is Real

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I hear a lot of people talking about the scarcity of hope in our world today.  I get it.  We’re all watching the upcoming election with a sense of horrified fatalism.  We’re all worried about our schools and communities.  We’re all wondering if we’re leaving our kids a better country than our parents left us.  There are days when our hopelessness seems well founded.

But I’m not worried about hope.  I know it’s real and I know where the find it – in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We carry a message that is the rawest announcement of hope the world has ever known.  And that gospel shapes our lives so that we live as beacons of hope.  There should be no more hopeful place on earth than the local church.

And this past weekend, I was reminded that the hope we celebrate in the church lifts the communities around the church.  If you’re wondering where hope comes from in this world, consider the following stats about this past weekend’s ServeDC experience:

  • 120 people participated.
  • Those 120 people did over a combined 684 hours of work in our community.
  • We worked with 10 different partners.
  • Trunk or Treat provided a safe Trick or Treating option for over 150 kids.
  • Our work at Gunston improved the school for 839 students & 120 staff members.
  • CASA Family Dinner Night team served families dinner & had fellowship alongside 100 CASA family members.
  • At CHPC Parenting Class Dinner we served dinner & spent time with 40 family members.

I don’t worry about hope. I know where to find it.

My prayer is that God would deepen our passion to love and serve our city.  I pray we will continue to be a beacon of hope as we live out Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

In the Hands of Majesty

psalm8.jpgWhen I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Psalm 8:3-4

Certain passages of Scripture come alive in certain places or with certain views in mind.  It’s hard to get the majesty of Psalm 8 into our souls if we’re reading the Scriptures in a study carrel in the basement of a college library.  And it’s impossible if we’ve never been floored by the grandeur of nature.

Our planet is designed to provoke wonder and awe in our souls.  The simply beauty of a sunrise, the mesmerizing effect of gentle waves, the soaring heights of mountain ranges and the beauty of a cloudless starry night in the country.  It’s designed to shout a message – be amazed!  And then be dazzled that all of it is the work of God’s fingers – He didn’t even break a sweat in putting all of this together.  He’s just that big.  Really, unthinkably big.  We can’t get our minds around the vastness of the universe yet alone the One who created it.

All of which makes me feel unimaginably small and fragile in the world.  So often I think the world revolves around me when in reality, I’m a minute part of what’s playing out in the world around me.  My life is small, delicate and so finite.

But so significant.

Because God is mindful of us.  Because God cares about us.

The One who carved the canyons cares that you’re tired.  The One who forged rivers knows that you’re scared and longs to breathe courage into your soul.  The Alpha and Omega knows about your haunting fear of being alone and promises that He’ll always be there for you.

Don’t be afraid of feeling small and overwhelmed.  Those are the places where we are most likely to meet the One who is massive and all powerful.  He comes not to mock our pain but to heal our wounds.  He comes not to gloat but to love.  He comes not to condemn but to free.

God knows.  God cares.

That’s more than enough grace to make it through today.

2016 Elections: Hope or Despair?

Sunlight Through Trees

On Monday, The New York Times released a brilliant piece showing that only 9% of Americans voted for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in this year’s primaries.  No wonder the other 91% of us are a little upset.  Although, I do have to say that if you didn’t even bother to vote, Mark Zuckerberg should find a way to prevent you from posting about politics on Facebook until the election is over!  Nonetheless, voter apathy isn’t really my point for today.  Except that it kind of is because I want to write about despair.

It’s not hard to come by in this election.  Bad candidates.  Bad coverage.  Bad policies. Bad voters. Bad, bad, bad…  It’s left many of us wondering if there’s any hope to be found.  I know because I’ve been there.  I’ve been dismayed by how things are going in our country and in this election.  I’ve feared for the world my kids will inherit.  I’ve wanted to throw my hands up in futility.  Cynicism is so convenient at times like this.

But I’ve gotten to the point where I really do believe there is hope in the mess.  Light is breaking through.  But we’ll never see it until we’re able to correctly diagnose the problem and the solution.

The Problem

Let’s get one thing clear.  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are not the problem.  They are a symptom of America’s problem.  We need to stop being surprised that a country with a weak moral compass has nominated two leaders with seemingly weak moral compasses.  When we look in the national mirror, we see Hillary and Donald.  Being appalled at them is useless.  Dealing honestly with the fact that they reflect our broader culture will actually get us somewhere.  It’s a hard pill to swallow.  It’s far easier to mock, grumble and whine.

The Solution

If I’m right, the solution isn’t getting better candidates – there were plenty of other qualified men and women who ran this year and plenty of qualified men and women who made the decision not to run.  The solution is a cultural resurgence in America – the restoration of a shared morality, a shared civility and commitment to the common good.

This is where we need to have a hard conversation as the church.  In recent decades, Christians have looked for the government to do what God looks for the church to do.  This is why so many followers of Jesus are feeling so much despair in this election – it’s the despair that comes when an idol is exposed in our heart.  And for far too long, far too many evangelical leaders have turned right wing politics into a functional idol as if the well being of the church rests on the Supreme Court or the hope of the world is in the halls of Congress.  Don’t get me wrong, government is a good and noble calling.  We need more Christ honoring, gospel shaped public servants.  But we also need to repent of our political idolatry. 

There is hope in our country.  It’s the same hope that’s been transforming lives for thousands of years.  It’s the hope that echoes from an empty tomb outside of Jerusalem.  It’s the hope that reverberates in every church that loves Jesus and preaches His gospel.  It’s the hope that changes us at the heart level.  It’s a hope unhindered by laws, politicians or even persecution.  It’s a hope so real and so eternal that can hold it back.

So, I’m tired of grumbling that the government isn’t doing a better job with what the church should have been doing all along.  We’re the ones called to shine light in dark places.  We’re the ones who offer hope to refugees, immigrants, the poor, the homeless, the addicted, the lonely.  You want to do something truly worthwhile with your life?  Devote yourself to knowing Jesus and making Him known.  Find a local church that loves its city and then roll up your sleeves and get involved.  Don’t settle for the life of an armchair political pundit – make your life count.  Do it for the glory of Christ and the good of our country.

I Know Who Will Lead Us

Church In America

Over the weekend, CNN ran an article under the headline, “Who Will Lead Us?”  In it, Stephen Collinson was bemoaning the current leadership vacuum in American life.  He was essentially throwing his hands in the air and wondering out loud how we’re ever going to get out of the mess we’re in as a people.  It’s a good question.  And one that has few promising answers when you survey the landscape of political, cultural and moral leadership in modern America.

But if you bring the church into the conversation, you start to find hope.  When you bring Jesus into the mix, everything becomes possible.  Our country shouldn’t have to be looking around for hope.  We should see it flowing out of every church and out of every Christian.

This is the church’s moment.

 

America needs the church far more than the church needs America.

Yes, I enjoy the freedoms of religious liberty.  Yes, I like gathering with my church without any fear of arrest or persecution.  But most of us can’t imagine the church without America and that’s just wrong.  When you drop the church into the persecution of China, she thrives.  When you drop the church into the hardships of Africa, she explodes.  We don’t need to worry about the church – she’ll be just fine.  In fact, not even the gates of hell will prevail over her. (Mt. 16:18)

The question is whether she’ll thrive and explode in this American moment.

I believe she can and I believe she will.  The country is looking for hope – for people not afraid to talk about the deep wounds of racism, for people willing to confront the brokenness of humanity, for people who will point the way towards justice and peace, for people who have been deeply impacted by the message of grace.

The grace of Jesus will inspire people to do what no law can command.  It’s in response to an infinitely rich God who became poor for our sake (2 Corinthians 8:9) that we start living generous lives.  It’s in response to a God who died for us while we were enemies that we find the courage to love our own enemies. (Romans 5:8 and Mt. 5:44)  It’s in response to the cross that we find the strength to fight for justice.

This isn’t a time for the church to be quiet.  This is a time for us to hold out the hope of the gospel.  The hope of a God who forgives all.  The hope of a God who changes hearts.  The hope of a God who will one day make all things new.

This boldness can’t just come from the pulpit.  It must flow from our lives.  We, like Paul, must not be ashamed of the gospel.  Why?  It’s the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16).  We must take up our calling to be ambassadors of Christ.(2 Cor. 5:20).  Be salt and light to our world.(Mt. 5:13-16)

Don’t feel bad or embarrassed that you follow Jesus.  Be thrilled that you know the One who is hope.  Delight in the privilege of being His child.  Be bold, be wise, be loving, be gentle.

Just don’t run from the world.  Run to it with hope, grace and the name of Jesus.

 

Overcoming Evil

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I’ve never understood or needed Romans 12:21 more than I have in the last 72 hours.  The Scripture simply says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  I’ve walked with people through tragedy, injustice and death.  I’ve seen evil.  But I’ve never felt like it was overcoming me.

And then Alton Sterling was killed.  And then Philando Castile was killed, this time with the aftermath being live streamed for all of us to watch.  And then five Dallas police officers were killed, and at least six others were shot.  There’s a sense of dread in me every time I check the news.  I find myself wondering just how bad things will get.

At the same time, I feel an increased determination to embrace the calling of the second half of the verse.  Overcome evil with good.  My heart needs that.  My home needs that.  My family needs that.  My neighborhood needs that.  My church needs that.  My city needs that.  My country needs that. Overcome evil with good.  It’s the heart of the gospel.  The horror of the cross is answered by the majesty of an empty tomb.

We planted Restoration City with the belief that the church was never meant to be an escape from the world but rather hope for the world.  Much of the trajectory of my life was established in my early 20’s when I heard Bill Hybels, the legendary pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, say, “The local church is the hope of the world.”  That wrecked me and I knew I wanted to give the rest of my life to that advancing that kind of hope.  I still do.  And I believe more than ever that our world is desperate for the hope of the gospel.

That’s why we’re taking this Sunday at Restoration City to pray, to worship and to reflect on everything our society is walking through right now.  I had planned to start a new series this week but it just doesn’t seem right.  The world is talking about Dallas, Minneapolis and Baton Rouge.  We should be as well.  I’ll be speaking from Romans 12:9-21 and I’m asking the Lord to use our time mightily for the sake of His Name and our city.

I want to ask you to do two things before Sunday:

  1. Pray for me.  This talk has been brewing in me for a while but I’m asking the Lord to bring it all together in the next 48 hours.  I really would appreciate your prayers.
  2. Invite a friend or co-worker to come with you.  Everybody is trying to figure out how to make sense of everything rocking our country.  I think they’ll find this Sunday really helpful.  Everyone you know is hurting, confused, grieving or uncertain.  Ask them to join us as we process all of this as a church.

These are hard days for our country.  Let’s not turn a blind eye.  Let’s lean in, think, mourn, pray, love.  And, yes, let’s dare to hope.

Hope For A Weary Land

Sparlers

A 37-year-old black man was shot to death on Tuesday while he lay on the ground in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  On the same day, one presidential nominee narrowly escaped indictment and settled for a blistering attack on her judgement and trustworthiness.  Meanwhile, the other presidential nominee was busy sharing reflections on what he admires most about Saddam Hussein.

And those are just the headlines.

As a country, we oscillate between outrage and apathy.  Fear, indifference, anger and division increasingly dominate the national conversation.  For some reason, we still seem convinced that yelling at each other on social media is going to accomplish something. The ability to disagree and treat one another civilly has almost evaporated.

It’s all just hard to watch.

Our country is crying out for hope.  And we as Christians are largely silent.  That’s the part that’s hardest for me to watch.

I’m not talking about our social media activism or political engagement.  I’m talking about our willingness to talk with others about Jesus.  Somewhere along the way, we became afraid to talk about Him.  Somewhere along the way, we learned to apologize for Him, hide Him or leave Him out of the conversation.  Maybe we didn’t want to offend.  Maybe we were afraid.  Maybe we didn’t know exactly what to say.  But we learned to be quiet.  We learned to raise our hands in worship on Sunday and go undercover on Monday.

Our country is desperate for the hope we’re afraid to share. 

The wounds of racism, injustice, corruption, greed and self-interest can be healed.  No one needs to live in the grip of bitterness, fear and alienation.  The gospel not only saves souls.  It transforms communities.  It gives hope for eternity and power for the challenges of today.

Christian, you don’t have anything to be ashamed of.  The hope our world needs is alive in you.  You’re an ambassador of Christ.  You’re a herald of grace, of love, of hope.  The world needs you.  The world needs Jesus.  The world needs you to carry the name of Jesus.