Monday, September 28

STOP LIVING among the Thorns

Jesus repeatedly warned His disciples about the pitfall of getting caught up in the things of this world, and I can personally testify to how important it is that we put His Word into practice.
      
  "Jet set", “Rush hour”, “Rat race”, “Fast lane”, “Fast Food”... There are countless phrases we know and use to represent the familiar word pictures that only begin to describe this rapid pace of life we live in the Modern World. How about that familiar saying we use often as good advice, “Stop and smell the roses.” This one came about in reaction to the hurry and haste of modern living. It is meant to be a warning that we must not let the hustle and bustle of our lives cause us to miss that which is truly of value in this life. For instance, in the parable of the sower (sometimes called the Parable of the Soils), Jesus said, “And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, And the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful.” (Mark 4:18-19) In this excerpt from the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us that if we get caught up with deceitful riches, and fleshly desires, they will cause the Word of God to be unfruitful in our hearts. Observe carefully, however, that Jesus said this will only happen if we allow it. Sadly, all too many of us do.

           So in what ways are we causing God's Word to be unfruitful? According to that same Parable, the seed of God’s Word was sown among those hearts which were “among thorns.” Jesus also listed the symptoms of being among thorns in saying, “the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things.” Observe also that these three things operate like true thorns; They enter in. In other words, like a thorn that pierces the skin – bringing pain, perhaps drawing blood, and sometimes even injecting poison – worldly cares, deceitful riches, and fleshly desires pierce the heart. While not all thorns are poisonous, be assured that the thorns of which Jesus spoke carry deadly payloads!

            There is only one way to make certain we do not get caught in this trap of thorns, and that is to not be among the thorns at all. By spending time in God's Word, and maintaining our personal relationship with Jesus, the very things that have poisoned secular society will not have their way in our hearts and lives. Otherwise, investing our lives in the gain of temporary riches of this world will end up costing us the true riches. The Apostle Paul wrote about the struggle against the temptation of material wealth, "But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10) He continues with this instruction, "But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” (1 Timothy 6:11)

            Note that the Apostle Paul did not write “money" is the root of all evil as many wrongfully suppose. Rather, it is "the love of money" that is the root of all evil. The attitude of the heart towards material gain is the source of evil, not the material wealth itself. According to Paul, the victory against the allure of riches begins quite simply: Flee! Of course, there is more to it than that. We are also told to “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” Thus, when we are following the Holy Spirit of Truth into all Truth, we are also to “follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness.” Herein is the great and true wealth to be found, for it is the character of the Lord Jesus Christ! “For godliness with contentment is great gain.” (1 Timothy 6:6) Thus, in order to live a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, we must continually live in the sweet presence of Jesus Christ, with His Word growing ever more fruitful in our hearts. For it is only in that way that we can be transformed to be like Him.

            So how does this apply Today? What are the specific ways in which the Word of God is rendered unfruitful in our own hearts? In truth, it would fill more volumes than a large encyclopedia to completely answer these questions. Nevertheless, as overwhelming as the situation may appear, it is definitely not hopeless! Remember, Jesus said that without Him, we can do nothing; but through Him, we can do all things! He does not intend for us to face this on our own. Rather, as we faithfully follow after the Holy Spirit of Truth, He will teach us to recognize the thorns for what they are: Death! It then becomes our responsibility to make the choice to not be among them. Therefore, let us proceed with the help of the Holy Spirit into a closer examination of the thorns.

            Life Among The Thorns

            “Now it came to pass, as they went, that He entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received Him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard His Word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to Him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:38-42) This oft-quoted passage of Scripture records an exchange between Martha and the Lord Jesus Christ. While Martha was rushing about the house trying to serve the guests, her sister Mary “sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard His Word.” When Martha demanded that Jesus rebuke her sister and order her to help with the serving, Jesus gently admonished Martha instead. He told her that she was “careful and troubled about many things,” unlike Mary who had “chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Thus we see an example from Scripture of worldly cares choking out the Word and making it unfruitful.

            To summarize, Martha felt that serving the guests was just as important as having the Lord Himself present. She did not recognize what the "true riches" was! Consequently, she was impoverishing herself. Moreover, she was actively seeking to deprive her own sister of the riches of God, as well - not that Martha was aware of this! She was careful and troubled about many things, and this is the reason she was blind to the Truth. Such is the way of the thorns.

           Turning now to more modern examples, we find people rushing here and there like Martha. Their lives are filled with jobs, schooling, ball games, activity practices, grocery shopping, laundry, TV shows, movies, church activities, ... and the list goes on and on. There is nothing inherently evil with those activities, but what matters is the attitude of the heart towards them. Do these activities flow out of our relationship with the Lord, or are they choking it? Are those activities filling our minds and hearts with stress, cares, troubles, anxieties, and worries that are choking out peace, joy, and fellowship with God? For, whatever we do, however small it may seem, we ought to be walking in His presence!

            We must be honest with ourselves in this matter. Where is the time spent at the feet of Jesus, listening to His Word? We must not fall into the trap of confusing most of today's church activities with the one thing that is needful! For today's church activities tend to cater to the "focus on works" like Martha rather than the "focus on the character" of God. For His purpose is to build the family of God, so that His Son “might be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29) Our close relationships with Jesus Christ and with one another are so essential to things operating in the way God designed them that Jesus made this special request of the Heavenly Father on the night before the Crucifixion. He prayed, “Holy Father, keep through Thine own Name those whom Thou hast given me, that they may be one, as We are.”(John 17:11) Jesus asked that believers be one in the same manner that the Trinity is One. That is the strongest possible relationship! Consequently, it should be plain that our relationships with others have vast eternal significance.

            So where is the time spent in building godly relationships? This is an area of grave deficiency within Modern America, but it was not always this way. The United States was founded by a generation that had experienced a Great Awakening, a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit, with attendant blessings in abundance. This was renewed by a Second Great Awakening a generation later. Since that time, the nation has gradually drifted away from God at a steadily-increasing pace, however confirmed at times by lesser awakenings. This deterioration can be described in terms of the thorns mentioned in the Parable of the Sower as the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things.

            During this decline, the nation has experienced the Industrial Revolution, the Technological Revolution, and the Information Revolution. While promising a better life and great plenty, these things that should have been blessings have all been used as insidious implements of destruction, aka the poison of the thorns.

            A simple, though prominent, example of this, is how the usage of the telephone has developed in our society. Before the advent of the telephone, families and friends frequently spent quality time together, especially during meals. They talked through their problems and rejoiced in each other's achievements. If someone in town was sick or had a need, the word would spread quickly until nearly everyone around knew about it. Neighbors truly behaved like neighbors, and did what they could to help out in any way that they could. All of this involved direct personal interaction and contact. Once the telephone became inexpensive and widely available, however, people began to use it increasingly, making it a substitute for face-to-face relationships, contrary to God’s design. “But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored the more abundantly to see your face with great desire.” (1 Thessalonians 2:17) “Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full.” (II John 1:12)

            Thus came the dawning of a new era of separation. Ironically, the world began to get smaller, while people began to drift away from one another. Other forms of communication, such as the internet, have followed the telephone, and accelerated the lack of personalization in our culture. Social networking online has become very popular, with billions of participants. Consequently, for many people, superficial relationships are replacing the tighter bonds forged by face-to-face fellowship.

            By no means are these the only examples of the choking power of the thorns. The misuse of radio and television, apart from the messages they might carry, are significant contributors to the decline of the bonds between family and friends. Televisions and music are almost inescapable in our communities. Many restaurants have multiple TVs so that at least one is visible no matter where a person looks. If that is not distracting enough, the constant flow of drivel from the Boob Tubes, plus loud music, makes personal interaction and conversation difficult, if not nigh unto impossible. As bad as all of that truly is, the situation deteriorates further when cell phones, I-phones, beepers, portable entertainment devices, and other such things are added to the mix. The hurried pace and continual distraction prevents reflection and close fellowship.

            More than that, the content of television, movies, and radio has steadily grown more and more poisonous since their inception. Sure, programming in the early years of these technologies might appear to us today to be extremely innocent but, rest assured that the men and women of God back then recognized clearly what was being done to the family unit and were appalled at this new war that was being waged against American households. Indeed, movies deteriorated so rapidly in the early twentieth century that Hollywood was forced to clean them up for a while. Yet that could not resolve the general decline of American society. For such problems are not resolved through mandated codes of conduct, but, rather, the hearts of the people must be changed. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” (Matthew 23:25-26)

            As technology advanced, the new riches of radios and televisions became more readily accessible to the public at large, and thus made their way into homes across the country. Product manufacturers lined up to utilize this grand new means of advertising, to fashion their commercials to offer the allure of the lusts of other things. Indeed, in order to draw as many viewers and customers as possible, many shows and advertisers began pushing the envelope, pandering to the fleshly desires of this vast new audience. Hence, riding new technology, an age-old strategy and stronghold asserted itself in our culture; Sex sells! The attack of mass manipulation had begun.

            There are far more examples than this of what has happened to our nation since it began its decline. "Many indeed have run to and fro, and knowledge has increased." (Daniel 12:4) Highways, rockets, cities, malls, airports, computers, microwaves, and many other such things are testaments to that prophecy. While these riches of technology are not evil unto themselves, modern society has seized upon them, immersed itself in them, and become enslaved to them. Simply consider most people's reaction to the notification of a telephone call, text, social media post, etc! They have to immediately interrupt whatever they are doing, even a conversation with someone else, to take a look at it. Modern technology has become an amplifier for the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things!

            This, then, is life among the thorns, and the poison thereof renders the Word of God unfruitful in the lives of all that are afflicted by them. The results are wedges being driven between people, and increasing division where unity once came naturally as is essential. The worst effect is especially between people and their Maker.

            Many people wonder why so many miracles occur in third-world countries today, and no longer in America. In the past, this country has seen the visitation of the power of the Almighty, such as through Oral Roberts Ministries in the forties and the Miracle of Azusa Street at the beginning of the twentieth century. To find the answer, we need look no further than the thorns. They choke the Word; and the church in America has become ensnared by them. One symptom of the rampant growth of the thorns in the church is the multitude of new “easier-to-read translations" of the Holy Scriptures. In harmony with the modern “I want it now, drive-through window, microwave dinner” mentality, the church is seeking instant understanding in the Word of God. Yet, only Jesus can open our understanding of the Scriptures. “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.”(Luke 24:45)

            Thus, in attempting to do in human strength what only God can do, the accuracy and power in the teaching from God's Word is affected. The new, “easier-to-read” translations add to its destruction of the accuracy and power of the teaching of God’s word, both in print and from the pulpit.

            For instance, if you look up John 8:31-32 in some of these fancy new translations, you will find a verse that is terribly confusing. The trouble is the substitution of one word with another. In the case of the New International Version (NIV), the writers replaced the original word “make” with the word “set”. Here is how the scripture reads in the King James Version of the Bible, “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

            What difference does this make? Well, consider what you would think if I had asked the question like this, "What difference does this set?" You see, these two simple, little words mean two completely different things. And the fact is that the original manuscripts of the Holy Scriptures uses the Greek word from "eleutheros" with the definition "to make free". In other words, from the beginning God has intended for that verse to be understood as, “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

            Talk about the power in a seed! More often than not I hear people – thinking that they are quoting Scripture accurately – say, “the truth will set you free”, when that is just not true. To set someone free means that they are released immediately. To make someone free means that their heart is remanufactured over a period of time, if they are obedient to maintain their personal relationship with Jesus Christ and walk in His word. That is God’s way.

            The difference is that simple. “Set” means to release immediately and “make” means to remanufacture over time. In other words, to set a person free is to change their circumstances; internally they are still the same. To make that person free is to change their heart little by little, day by day into the image of Jesus Christ; their circumstances are incidental. To be made completely free is to be completely transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God. That is both the conclusion of the remanufacturing process and the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

            Can you see how a believer might become disillusioned with God because of this one error? When a Christian living in this high-speed society, where patience has all but become a curse word, goes to church and hears from the pulpit that the truth will set him free from his bondage, and it does not happen, what is he to think? If you went to the altar expecting to be immediately released from your troubles, only to leave unchanged, what would your reaction be? Would you fall prey to the lie that God does not love you enough to answer your prayers?

            Many Christians live their lives today in a constant state of confusion and rejection, because they do not know the Truth! In other words, since the knowledge of the Truth is necessary for true liberty, then a lack of knowledge of the Truth is bondage. It is ironic that, in the Age of Information, billions of people are in bondage because they have been deceived. They do not know the Truth. Is it any wonder that God is not that real to them? Do not let that happen to you! Just because there seems to be a majority of people who are doing, or partaking of, something, it does not mean it is the right thing!

            “Seek ye the LORD while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: it shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the fir tree, and instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the LORD for a name, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55:6-13)

            This is a call to come out from among the thorns! This same message is found in the following passage of Scripture. “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4)

            I encourage you to not be distracted by the people rushing around you, nor to chase after material gain which can never satisfy. Rest in God. Enjoy your relationship with our Heavenly Father and with each other. Take pleasure in His wonderful creation all along the way.

            Finally... while "Stop and smell the roses" is good advice, it is far more important that we stop living among the thorns!

            Keep PRESSIN' IN!

      

Keith's "Comments from the Author":

"If you have a need or a particular situation in your life that you would like for us to pray about, please click to write us an e-mail. If you prefer writing to us by letter, mail it to: Toward the Mark. Inc., P.O. Box 1152, Yorktown, VA 23692-1152."


"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ... . (Galatians 6:2)


________________________________



We thank you for joining together with us for this message from our book of twelve teachings that will help you emerge triumphant over the giants in your life! We hope it fans the flame in your heart for Christ Jesus, His wonder-full ways, and His plan and purpose for you in this life. To ask questions about our work and organization, to make a special tax-deductible donation to help in this work, to place an order for our special book offer for "XII SMOOTH STONES" or another Keith Shealy and Toward The Mark resource, or to share a testimony or prayer request with us, please click here to e-mail us, or write a letter and mail it to the address on our website, which is also provided below.
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Your friends & servants in Christ,



To Show GOD BIG in a World that Sees Him small… 
sums up the reason Keith stepped out in faith to focus on reaching the lost and strengthening believers everywhere, through Toward The Mark, Inc.  Keith and Brenda's prayer is that you will be encouraged and edified by the Secrets from God's Word that Keith recounts in our written and recorded products.  The complete collection of original podcasts, music, blogs, books, CDs, and other resources of Toward The Mark, Inc. are made possible by the prayer and financial contributions of the TTM Support Family. Would you consider coming on-board, as well, TODAY!

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Thursday, September 10

Get TWO STEPS You'll Need so You Can Be "Made Free" from a Terrible "RUT" Where You're STUCK

Are you stuck in a "RUT"? Get the TWO STEPS you need to BECOME FREED.
    I once heard it said that, "A 'rut' is a coffin with both ends kicked out." Because the person is stuck but still "kickin'", the coffin is left "open-ended". While the person's life, goals and dreams are trapped and contained, there is life that awaits them when they are able to become free, and begin making their way forward again.

            Whenever we are confronted with issues that could potentially pin us down to the ground, we must know the right choices to make by following the Biblical point of view on the issue. Any choice we make apart from the Biblical mandate will have consequences that abound to the choice. In the circumstances we deal with to become "free" or unstuck from the rut, we can rest assured that it'll be worth it to pursue all that gives our life real meaning!

            You probably well-know what it is that got you stuck in the rut, but now you need to know what it will take for you to get out. What doesn't really matter is whether the consequences abound from your own poor choices, or from the poor choices of others. Either way, there are two liberating steps we are about to share with you that are absolutely guaranteed to help get you on your way to becoming "free". However, before you go any further, it is crucial that you first meet one foundational requirement. Without possessing this one most important and pressing need, there's simply no way you'll be able to succeed. You n-e-e-d to have "the want-to"! Have you got the all-important "want-to" you need for the pursuit of the way to being freed? If not, you need to get it, or this is as far as you are effectively able to go.

            I'm glad to see that you have decided to continue on this journey with us. Having "the want-to" for being free makes the pursuit worth paying almost any price that comes with it! As much as we would rather find ourselves "set" free from our issues and struggles, that is not the way God works. We must respect time, and remember that it is "time" that plays the biggest part in God's law of process. God chooses to gradually work things out from within us, 99.9% of the time. Instead of our being "set" free, it is His Word that "makes" us free. Jesus teaches us,
 "If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.(John 8:31-32) In other words, if we truly want to be free to "live" the life of fulfillment that God intends for us, we must be prepared to be "made" free over time. Ready to get started? Okay! Here we go...

            1st) STOP TALKING ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS... the more we talk about a problem, the more we breathe life into it, and the bigger it grows! On the other hand, STOP discussing things that keep it alive (how bad it is, what might happen to make it worse, the ifs, ands, and buts about what caused it, etc.) and watch it become smaller and smaller, and soon come to "die"! It's really that simple! So, the next time you're about to pick up the phone and talk to a friend, go, instead, to the ONE Who is waiting with your problem's solution; go directly to Jesus Christ. When you look to the Scriptures, there you will find, the Lord Jesus resides "between the lines".

            2nd) GO INTO YOUR PRAYER CLOSET... ask the Person of the Holy Spirit to help you clear out any un-forgiveness in your life. There are three parts to this, each of which IS A MUST! First, pray for Holy Spirit to bring to mind anyone in your life that may have been offended by you in any way. Secondly, pray to forgive anyone in your life who has done you wrong or offended you in any way. Thirdly, and vitally important to getting unstuck from a rut, pray to be able to forgive yourself! When we talk about forgiveness, we so often overlook the importance of forgiving ourselves. And it's quite often that, what put us in the rut we find ourselves in is, a decision we made by our own poor choosing. We MUST learn how to forgive ourselves, just as well as we learn to forgive others. NOTE: Be prepared for this part to be difficult, or challenging to say the least, because we will be forced to confront our pride and subdue our ego. Dropping your pride is crucial to going back to those you have offended, and also to those who have offended you. We can't emphasize enough how crucial this is! Un-forgiveness is like a wall that separates us from God and others. Un-forgiveness keeps us isolated, unproductive, and incapable of moving forward to fulfill what God is waiting for us to fulfill with Him. Un-forgiveness will serve to keep you down, and in a pit of lifeless existence. We must realize, and always remember, that the "rope" God throw to us, to deliver us from out of our ruts, is the Person of Jesus Christ. Trust me, once you have cleared out all of the un-forgiveness in all three parts of your life, you will experience a newness in your ability to move about "freely"! The air will smell fresher! Colors will seem brighter! Even your steak will taste better! By the way, if you look to the Scriptures, then you will find, the Lord Jesus resides there "between the lines".

            We pray that this blog message helps fan, into flames, your passion for loving, trusting, believing, and following God wholeheartedly. We especially pray that you will become "unstuck" from any rut you may be in now, and that you will also learn what you need to remain "freed" from "ruts" to begin with. If you will constantly seek direction from the Person of the Holy Spirit, your life will be ever better; I guarantee it!


Keep PRESSIN' IN!.


            "If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." (John 8:31-32)


            "Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety." (Proverbs 11:14)


________________________________



           We thank you for joining together with us for this message! We hope this, and each of our blog posts, helps fan the flame in your heart for Christ Jesus, His wonder-full ways, plan, and purpose for you in this life. To ask questions about our work and organization, to make a special tax-deductible donation to help in this work, to place an order for our special "Keep the FAITH, Keep Your VISION" book offer, get another Keith Shealy & Toward The Mark book or CD, or to share a testimony or prayer request with us, please click here to 
e-mail us. If you prefer to write a letter, mail it to the address found below & on our website.
We pray God bless you greatly in carrying this message in your heart. Thank you for taking part in this blog, and in each of our blog posts, made possible by the faithful support of our loving Toward The Mark, Inc. Family of sponsors!

Your friends & servants in Christ,


To Show GOD BIG in a World that Sees Him small… 
sums up the reason Keith stepped out in faith to focus on reaching the lost and strengthening believers everywhere, through Toward The Mark, Inc.  Our constant prayer is that you will be encouraged and edified by the Secrets from God's Word that we recounts in our written and recorded products.  The complete collection of original podcasts, music, blogs, books, CDs, and other resources of Toward The Mark, Inc. has been made possible by the prayer and financial contributions of the faithful family of Toward The Mark, Inc. We'd like to welcome you on-board, as a family member also!  Join TODAY!

We INVITE You ... to follow and share these tools and resources as well:
      
      

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This blog message, along with the rest of our inventory of Bible-based resources, is made possible by the support of our faithful monthly partners. Would you consider helping us expand our outreach capabilities by becoming a monthly financial partner? Your support will go toward fulfilling our God-given calling to help provide effective, contemporary outreach tools, available to everyone, the churched and un-churched alike, for getting to know the love, truth, and salvation of Jesus Christ. We invite you to partner with us as we "press Toward The Mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14)

CLICK HERE to make a tax-deductible contribution securely by PayPal.
Every gift is tax-deductible and helps, and we thank you for it!

Mail tax-deductible contributions by check to the order of:
Toward The Mark, Inc., P.O. Box 1152, Yorktown, VA 23692-1152. 

Thank you in advance for sowing your financial seed into the fertile soil of TTM, Inc.! We pray God bless you with a 100-fold return for your generosity!