Friday, February 28, 2014

Being Rich, part II

  Wednesday, I was thinking about what it means to be rich toward God.  What does this mean?  How do we get it?

  First of all, I think we receive rather than obtain it.  The second we start to think that we can obtain it we do two things:  we become like the folks at Babel, certain that our own achievements or brilliance can work out our relationship with God, and we turn a relationship with God into a commodity, something to possess or obtain, as though we can put it in a safety deposit box and keep it there.

  So when we view wealth toward God as something to be received as a gift, we can change the way we think.  Rather than think about finding something to clutch, we can think about how we can open our hands to receive the gift.  What shape of life best enables you to receive the gift of wealth in God?  What patterns, habits and rituals will open your hands, your heart, your eyes and your ears, to receive blessing from God?

  Spiritual disciplines certainly come in handy here.  Prayer, solitude, quiet, meditation, fasting and other disciplines are all good for quieting the busy-ness of the human soul to the point where God can break through.  Spiritual disciplines are certainly old-fashioned, but there is nothing new under the sun, as we read in Scripture.  It's easy to wait for some new technique or pill that will revolutionize spirituality, but the fact of the matter is that we just have to buckle down and do the work.  We have to make time (We'll never find time if we just leave it to chance).  We have to set aside pockets of our day intentionally.  We need to decide ahead of time and stick with our plan.  God certainly is at work in all the things we do, in all the places we go, and we need to cultivate a mindset of awareness to pay attention to God throughout the day, but it's wishful thinking, I believe, if we think we can do that without also having intentional time to tune ourselves in, without distractions, to God's frequency.

  When we daily walk with God, we build the relationship and better learn the character of God.  In so doing, we recognize the wealth God is pouring upon us, and we stand in awe of the grace of God.  All of life is changed by this one relationship, and wealth, true wealth in God, makes other types of wealth pale in comparison.

  Also, wealth toward God changes the way we view these other kinds of wealth.  We no longer see them as the most important thing--they become tools that can enrich our lives and enrich the world around us, but each of them as a gift from God rather than the most important thing.

  So may we strive for wealth from God by opening our hands and hearts to receive the blessings of God.

Psalm 16

Psalm 16
English Standard Version (ESV)

  16 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 3 As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. 4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. 5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
  7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.


  How do you feel when someone precious to you tells you that you are beloved?
  We get a confidence boost when someone beloved reminds us of their love for us.  With the right people behind us, we feel like we can tackle the world.
  Friends, God loves you, and he is at your right hand.  Nothing in the world can remove you from his hand.
  Therefore, the Psalmist says, be glad.  When you go out into the world, as you go about your daily tasks, may your whole being rejoice!  May you be glad!  Be confidant--God is with you!

May you find your joy in the Lord today!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Feb 27 New Hope E-News


Read Across America-- Monday, March 3 is Read Across America Day. East Brainerd Elementary is looking for people who will come to the school for ~30 minutes and read to the kids. If you are able, please call Janet Cox (855-6161). Thanks!

Ash Wednesday-- Our Ash Wednesday service will be next Wednesday @ 6:30 in the sanctuary.

Job Opening-- If you're interested in being a breakfast host at Homewood Suites, they're hiring for a few positions.

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them on the bookshelf.
Plastic Forks, Knives, Spoons
Dinner Napkins
Heavy Duty Sectional Dinner Plates
Dessert Plates

New Hope News

Sunday SchoolDon Kaller is going to be teaching the adult Sunday School class in March & April.

Fruit of the Spirit-- Sunday evenings @ 6:15

Pray For:
Norma Capone, Christine Dyer

For the kids in confirmation class: Ashley, R.J., Chase, Jade & Jackson


Keith's Random Thoughts

It takes a looooong time to get out the door at our house. Caleb loves to walk down the stairs by himself. It's one of my favorite parts of my day, but you can't be in a hurry. He takes his time. Then he wants to get into the carseat by himself. This, too, takes time. I want to encourage him to do things on his own, but I also like to get places on time. These two factors seldom can both be true, and so I try and rush him.
I cringe when I hear myself saying these things. I don't want him to feel constantly rushed. I love when he slows down and checks out everything. (This kid not only stops to smell the roses—he waits for them to grow.)
The world is a beautiful place, and I want to encourage him to revel in its beauty. It's me that needs to slow down. I'm the one that needs to move at his pace, rather than rushing by to hurry the world along, hoping to arrive on time.
God made a wondrous world around us. It's my hope that we'll all slow down enough to appreciate it, to wonder in it, to recapture the spirit of a child and give thanks for the glory that surrounds us.

Text for this Sunday, March 2
Acts 8:26-40 (ESV)

English Standard Version (ESV)

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Being Rich

  What if you won the lottery tomorrow.  You'd be rich, right?  (I know, I know... you'd have to pay all those taxes.  No one feels sorry for people who, after they pay a lot of taxes, are still rich.)  Well, you'd be rich in money, anyway.  Your money could buy you all sorts of things.  You could buy big, shiny things, like a car or boat or house.  You could buy small, shiny things, like a new phone or computer.  You'd be rich.

  Well, imagine you weren't monetarily rich.  But let's say that you have a wealth of great relationships.  Let's say you have family that loves and supports you, celebrating with you when life was going well and walking closely alongside you when it wasn't.  Let's imagine that people touched base and really listened to you when you spoke.  Let's say you are surrounded by people whom you love and who love you in return.  You'd be rich in another way, right?

  Maybe you're an idea person.  Perhaps you can't stop coming up with new ideas about how things might be done differently, about how one thing might be improved and another might be overhauled.  Maybe your life is filled with notebooks overflowing with sketches and reminders of a new idea, and you may even struggle to concentrate on one idea because there are simply too many to manage.  You'd be rich in ideas, right?

  In Luke 12, we're told that we should strive to be rich toward God.  What does that mean?

  We know that this is the only wealth that will stand the test of time.  Every other form of wealth will fade away, but wealth toward God will last forever.  It's certainly the most important wealth we can ever hope to possess, and it guides how we use all other forms of wealth.

  But what is it?  How do we get it?

  More on that Friday...

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Still More Excellent

  "Strive for the greater gifts.  And I will show you a still more excellent way."  (1 Cor. 12:31)

  Can you imagine telling Billy Graham that there is still more for him?

  Can you look the pope in the eye and say that he needs to grow spiritually?

  Christianity is indeed a bottomless ocean into which we dive.  In this lifetime, it is impossible to ever achieve a complete knowledge of the things of God.  It is somewhat humorous to me that my degree is called a 'Master of Divinity'.  As if such a thing was possible.  I suppose 'This Person knows a little more about religious things' doesn't sound quite as prestigious.  Who's going to pay for that degree?

  From the days we first look to the heavens with a curious glance to the very last breath our mortal bodies draw, there is more to learn about God.  We never know enough, we have never mastered the material.  The wise choice, I believe, is to accept this and invest our lives as students, humbling admitting how little we know and seeking out knowledge of God, that it may lead us deeper into a relationship with God.  We shall never have all the answers, but Paul still encourages us to learn, to strive, and trust that the truth is always even more excellent than we can ever grasp.

  The truth of God is always just beyond our reach, no matter how high we have climbed.  No matter how wondrous and loving we comprehend God to be, he is always more than we can dare to dream.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Thoughts on Sex

  I don't think it's too bold to say that the sexual ethics in this country are pretty loose.  I think a lot of people are having a lot of sex with a lot of other people in relationships outside of marriage.  I'm not going to go looking for research to corroborate this, but I've seen and read enough studies to know that celibacy outside of marriage is probably not the prevailing ethos among a lot of folks.

  While many branches of the Christian church have been really good about condemning folks for doing so, I don't know if they've been as excellent at explaining why we believe that sex should take place within the bounds of marriage.  I think Paul captures some of this well in 1 Corinthians 6:16:  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”   
  I think Paul is telling us that something more is happening during sex than just a physical interaction.  There is a level of intimacy that demands a committed relationship where, as Tim Keller put it in an excellent sermon, we can be emotionally naked as well as physically naked.  To believe that we can have one type of intimacy without the other is, I believe, preventing sex from being fully what it was designed to be.  

  Looked at in this way, the church should be able to say that we want sex to be within marriage because we want people to experience the fullness of what God intended sex to be within a covenanted relationship, rather than settling for a cheapened version that fools us into thinking that physical intimacy alone is all that sex is about.  The church can hold up the covenantal relationship of marriage and say that the reason to confine sex within marriage is because it gives us the emotional commitment to allow us to experience the full delight and glory of sex.  We can approach this positively, rather than negatively.  I think it might make a big difference.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sermon on Stephen's Stoning (2/23/2014)

Click here for a link to Acts 6:8-8:1



How many of you had a bad day this week?  This month?  Today?  How about a good day?  Is today a good day?  Or perhaps you’re waiting to find out…
We have good days and bad, but the thing that makes the days good or bad usually revolves completely around us, right?  We can admit that, can’t we?  If you had a good day this week, was it because the US Ice Dancing team won a gold medal, or was it because something good happened to you?  Did anyone here have a bad day because they were so upset by the violence in the Ukraine capital, or did you have a bad day because someone said something that upset you?  Our emotions usually revolve around what happens to us—we notice other things in the world, and often we’ll react to them, but the primary determinant about how we really feel usually revolves solely around us.
The world encourages this viewpoint.  Advertising certainly does—it sells us a world of which we are the center.  Companies are eager to cater to what you want, eager to encourage you to pursue your own wants and desires regardless of the effects on others.  It’s all about creating a customer-centered experience, in which one’s own happiness is the center of attention.  The world reinforces that it needs to be all about us. 
And I’m not here to say that we are bad, or that it’s bad to think about ourselves or to seek our own happiness.  What is bad is when we lose perspective and forget about everything that is bigger than us.  What’s bad is when we forget about the larger world and the larger church.
What I want to focus upon today is the central idea that each and every one of us is a critical part of the church, the Body of Christ.  Christ has redeemed you, called you by name and wants to use your life as a part of the tapestry he is weaving that will comprise the Kingdom of God.
And not everyone is thrilled about this.
To better understand this, we need to turn to Revelation 12.  In it, there is a woman who has given birth and a dragon.  This is a very important image.  What happens is the child, which symbolizes Christ, is caught up to heaven, and the woman flees into the wilderness.  The dragon, which symbolizes Satan, tries to attack the heavens but is rebuked, so since he cannot defeat Christ, he goes after the woman, which is a symbol of the church.  Verse 15 tells us that the dragon tries to flood the church, but that doesn’t work.  Then Satan gets mad, and decides that since the whole church seems impregnable, he’ll go after her offspring, those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.  That’s you and me.
See, what’s happening is that the Devil wants to destroy the church.  But Christ is too strong, and Satan recognizes that the church will stand forever.  But he knows that he can pick off individual people.
It’s like a horror movie.  How many of you have ever watched a scary movie?  They are all the same, right?  There is a person lurking, waiting to kill people, but he knows that if he attacks 12 of them at once he will be defeated.  So he waits until people are alone.  We all know what’s going to happen when the group of 12 are together and one person announces they need to go get something from the dilapidated old shed out back, and that they’ll go alone.  We know that is the moment when they will be attacked.  Even the ominous music starts.
The Devil is doing the same.  He isolates us from the community and then attacks us, knowing how much weaker we are on our own.  He assumes that if he can eliminate us one by one, then the overall church will be much weaker.  Even if he can’t defeat the whole church, this is a strategy to do as much damage as possible.
And that’s where we turn to the story of Stephen, the church’s first martyr.  Let me just say this:  it’s not so much a story about Stephen as it is a story about the Devil’s hatred of the church.
How do we know this?  Acts 6:8 tells us that Stephen is doing great wonders and signs among the people, and we know that he has just been assigned to feeding the widows in the verses prior to this, so it doesn’t sound objectionable, right?  Those who oppose him are enraged by, we read in verse 10, the wisdom and Spirit with which he was speaking.  These were the things God had given him.  In other words, Stephen’s opponents hated the news of God that Stephen was delivering.  They despised the message, but Stephen was just the messenger.
 What happens is that they bring him before the council and set up false witnesses to accuse him.  The entire thing is rigged from the start, because the opponents of the church need someone upon whom they can take out their aggression, their anger.  Stephen is just in the wrong place in the wrong time.  He just happens to be the person available when their anger boils over.  They’re not angry and Stephen in specific—they are furious at what God is doing in the church.
When Stephen begins to speak, which he does for all of chapter 7, what he is doing is telling his opponents that the truth of his message, of his proclamation, is rooted in the texts that the chief priests hold dear.  God hasn’t done something to break away from tradition—it is anchored in tradition!  The chief priests just need to open up their deliberately closed eyes to see this. 
But they don’t want to see it.  They have made the world their own, and they have found their place in the church, and they don’t care what God has in store for them.  Furious at all of this, they interrupt Stephen’s message at the end of Chapter 7, stopped their ears and rushed at him, stoning him to death.  They plugged their ears, unwilling to hear what God might have to say to them through Stephen.  They didn’t want to hear, so they killed the messenger.  Stephen was just playing his role in the bigger picture of the church’s work in the world.
Friends, you and I are part of something much bigger than ourselves.  The church is a huge organization, spanning millennia and including billions of people.  As I mentioned a few weeks ago, it is an organization that is eternal, lasting forever.  It is the bride of Christ.
We often feel so small within it, but let me assure you that each and every person that bows the knee to Christ and his Lordship are vital players within the church. 
That fact enrages Satan.  He hates you, and he will work to destroy you.
So when you have a bad day, when things seem to turn against you, when it feels like life itself is fighting against you, recognize that it’s not because you’re a bad person.  There is a force of evil that is opposing us, trying desperately to strip away all that is good.  Our physical struggles with health, our relationship struggles with each other, our personal battles within ourselves—all of that is because of sin, the war that Satan is waging against God.  But this is a war Satan cannot win, and God cannot be defeated, so he comes after us.  When we choose despair and hopelessness, we’re falling prey to the lie that the Devil is telling us that we cannot win, that evil will triumph, that chaos will win out.  When we lash out against each other or choose to ignore the needs of our neighbors because we want to accumulate more for ourselves, believing it is all about us, we’re buying into the lie that our lives are only about us, that we aren’t part of a bigger community where we depend on each other, that this life is all that matters.  The Devil is the Father of lies, and the lies are easy to believe because of the despair all around us.
On a similar note, we need to recognize that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, and that this will win.  It’s not us against the world.  We’re not on our own.  We’re not isolated.  We don’t have to face the world all by ourselves.  God is with us.  God will give us victory, in this world and the next.  God will never abandon or forsake us, and life wins out.  The team on which we are a part will reign victorious forever, and that needs to remind us to be a people of hope, joy, light and life.  God wants to remind us of this constantly so that we don’t despair when things turn against us.  Our opponents are momentary—our victory is forever! 
Notice, here, how this story ends.  Stephen is about to be stoned to death because his opponents despise the Good News of God with such energy.  Even here, though, God is reminding Stephen that he is part of something bigger, that this isn’t the end, that there is Good News even in death.  God gives Stephen a picture of heaven as consolation, as hope in the midst of despair, pain and death.  Stephen sees Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
This is meant as a reminder to Stephen that the fight is worth it, that our lives are worth it, that the choices we make are worth enduring any persecution.  Don’t give up.  Don’t give in.  Don’t buy into the lie that we are small and insignificant, that we cannot possibly triumph over evil.
Christ already has, and he will share that victory with you.  He will walk with you through every day of your life, through every valley.  Do not despair.  He wants to give you hope, strength and endurance, and whenever you face hardship, Christ wants to reach out and remind you that you are not alone, that God is with you, and that he will never abandon or forsake you.  Christ conquers, and because he does others will hate you, but they cannot defeat you or him, so take hope, find joy, and life a life courageously dedicated to the selfless love of God, and we will finally recognize that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves, in which we have a unique role to play.  Let us play our part with faithfulness and integrity, trusting in Christ in all things.

Let us pray

Thursday, February 20, 2014

2/20 E-News


Job Opening-- If you're interested in being a breakfast host at Homewood Suites, they're hiring for a few positions.

Potluck!-- This Sunday

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them on the bookshelf.
Plastic Forks, Knives, Spoons
Dinner Napkins
Heavy Duty Sectional Dinner Plates
Dessert Plates

New Hope News

Sunday SchoolWe start Matthew 12 this coming Sunday.

Fruit of the Spirit-- Sunday evenings @ 6:15

Wednesday SuppersBring your supper and join us at 6, or come to study 1 Samuel (we'll be in chapter 27 next week) at 6:30.

Pray For:
Norma Capone, Christine Dyer

Our Presbytery meeting on Saturday

For all those in the path of the storms tonight. Pray for safety, and in the midst of frightened chaos, may we reach for the hand of God only to recognize that we are already there.


Keith's Random Thoughts

I've been watching the Olympics lately, and there are so many moments when I stop and think, “I could never do that and walk away.”
Women's figure skating was on last night, and I'm watching a woman jump around on a blade 1/8” thick, and then when she's done doing that, she reaches up behind her, where her leg is, and grabs the skate's blade while spinning in circles. If I tried to do that, I'd fall flat on my face, tear every muscle in my groin and slice my hand open on the skate. The Russian judge would not score that well.
Giant Slalom? I'd make the first two gates, hit the third one with my face, then tumble forward down the rest of the hill, forcing spectators to flee for their lives while a giant snowball with skis sticking out destroyed everything in its path.
Luge? Ha!

I could go on. Curling is about the only sport I could do well in. Bobsled brakeman is probably within my reach. Rachel and I were joking about what we might look like doing pairs figure skating... Sure, I'll just throw you six feet in the air while you're spinning in circles, catch you gracefully and set you on your feet, all the while gliding around on ice.

The problem is that it's all too easy to do this with my spiritual life as well. I look at others who have it all sorted together and see their dedication and discipline to the devotional life and I am alternatively jealous and harsh toward myself. I think it comes to easily to them, and I don't believe that I could ever achieve such a disciplined life.

Of course, I skip the part where they have spent years crafting their lives, and it wasn't easy for them. They had to fight against resistance at every turn, constantly refocusing their efforts, until eventually their work paid off. Not that they can just relax now, but their work has turned devotions into a life-giving thing, and they return to it time and time again because it is such a foundational part of their life now.

The Olympic athletes have done the same. Luge doesn't come naturally the first time. No one did a triple axle (I have NO idea what the difference is between the different figure skating jumps. They all look similarly hard to my untrained eye) the first time they put on skates. No one skies the giant slalom after graduating from the bunny hill. It takes hard work and countless hours. They make it look effortless by all the effort they have invested.

So may we be patient with ourselves, and may we take the long-term view with our feeble beginner efforts, trusting in the Holy Spirit to lead us deeper.

Text for this Tuesday, December 24
Acts 6:8-7:60 (ESV)

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Further Reflections on Judging

  I know I wrote on judgment last week, but I couldn't help but be put on alert by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5.  It's the chapter that focuses on sexual immorality within the church (A big favorite to preach, I know!).  In it, Paul is encouraging the church to be extremely harsh with those guilty of sexual immorality.  It's worth nothing, however, that the point of it is not in the hopes of condemnation--Paul encourages them to deliver the guilty to Satan, in hopes that their soul might be saved.  I think Paul is hoping that kicking folks out of the church might encourage them to change their ways.

  What caught my attention, however, was the final few verses.  Here, Paul tells the Corinthians that they are to judge only the people in the church.  Their job is not to judge the people outside the church--Paul says in verse 13 that God will take care of them.  When they judge, they are to judge within, and those who are outside are to be entrusted to God's judgment (which, I might add, tends to be far more gracious and merciful than ours would be).

  This chapter could easily be read in such a way that it could lead a church community out into the world to condemn them for their actions.  A closer reading, in my opinion, ought to encourage the church not to do that.  Rather, it should lead the church to examine closely its own sins, and to live rightly as the church is called to live.  The judging of the greater community will come from God, and in the meantime, we ought to engage with the outside world (Paul says in verse 10 that we would have to leave the planet in order to engage with someone who is not sinful.) in a way that encourages them to come in to the church community and join with us.  In this way, perhaps, we better live into the model of Romans 2:4 that tells us that God's kindness leads to repentance.  Exposure to the love and grace of God should naturally cause us to turn from anything that is sinful.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Lynn Meyer Witness to the Resurrection

Ephesians 1:15-23
15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Each of us is here today because we had a connection with Lynn. In some way, shape or form she touched our lives, and so we gather today to remember her, to celebrate her, and to honor her. I knew her as her pastor, for she had been a member of New Hope Presbyterian for almost forty years, and I had the honor of being her pastor for 6 of those years. When I first arrived at New Hope, she was recovering from her initial treatment of breast cancer, and she graciously welcomed me into her home, a place filled with love and beauty.
This passage from Ephesians brings Lynn’s life to mind because of the way that it ends. It’s a prayer Paul has written for the church in Ephesus, and in it he is praying for unmitigated blessing for the church. To bless someone is to wish for the very best for them. Paul concludes this section by reminding the church that it is the fullness of Christ that fills each and every one of us.
And I cannot help but think of the way that Lynn filled our lives.
She filled her home with treasures, like the rocks that she had been collecting ever since she was a little girl, rocks that found their way home from all around the world, rocks that served as reminders of the places she had been and rocks that reminded her of the beauty of the world outside. One only needed to take a step into that backyard to see the way Lynn appreciated beauty. Flowers bloomed throughout the summer and animals curiously came to see the beauty that filled the place.
But Lynn wasn’t just about filling a house and a yard with beauty. She also filled spaces with joy, she filled relationships with laughter and love, and she filled the needs of those around her.
Lynn was the one whose classroom was affectionately referred to as Las Vegas, because it filled the hallways with noise and the clutter of happy students and teachers who were always getting in trouble.
Lynn was the one who invested in relationships, in people, who took the time to listen and to share her genuine heart with the people around her. She was always thinking of the needs of others, be it the nurse who cared for her in the ICU or the students whom she took shopping for clothes, groceries or Christmas presents. She filled the space between herself and others by pouring herself out, giving her genuine concern and love to those around her, be it the children at the church Trunk or Treat or the ones at the preschool she started at New Hope so many years ago. She loved puns, describing brushes as ‘hair’looms and always believed she could make a short story a long one. She filled the space, and we loved her for it.
As her days came to a close, she filled her time with prayer, witnessing of her faith to the nurses around her, ever concerned for Roger, for her children and grandchildren, always the teacher and always the caregiver. Roger’s cute little red-headed girl was one always looking to fill others.
In return, Christ filled her. He filled her with love and grace and beauty and wonder, and she poured it out into the world, and Christ gave her more. That’s how God works—he’s always more generous than we can be, ever more gracious and free than we imagine. He enlightens the eyes of our hearts and pours out the riches of his glorious inheritance on those who believe. All of this, he does because he loves us.
It was God who gave Lynn the strength and courage and dignity with which she lived, with which she died. I do not believe that cancer was a battle that she lost. It was a beast that claimed her life, but cancer underestimates the strength and power of God, for God filled Lynn with grace and strength, with which she faced cancer every day, and when she came to the end it was Lynn who triumphed over cancer, over death, because in Christ, Lynn shares in his victory over death. In Christ, there is no final death, for life and light and love and grace have the final word. Lynn spent her whole life practicing for the life eternal, and I expect that she, as we all will be, is caught up in unapproachable light and beauty, the throne room of God.
Lynn, in the completion of her baptism, trod upon death on her way into eternal life. She passed through the veil and now sees clearly the light and life of God. There is no death, no pain, no cancer, no mourning and no tears. We will hold onto those tears, because she needs them not. She has reached the fullness of God’s joy, and shall dwell there forever.
This is the promise of God to all who believe, to all who accept Christ the Lord as King & Savior. When we give him our life, when we hand him our broken selves, he fixes us. He restores us and redeems us, promising us abundant life, eternal life. He takes our eyes away from fear and fixes them on hope. He turns us from our sinful past and encourages us to look toward our expectant future, a future where there is no place for death. In Christ, there is no death, because his death was a final victory over death. In dying, he gives us life, and Lynn accepted that promise, the same promise that is offered to each and every one of us.
Lynn walks with Christ, in joyous eternity, singing the praises of God forever. May we, those left behind to mourn, celebrate the beauty that God placed within Lynn, for she was made in the image of God. May we give thanks for the dignity and joy with which she lived, and may we also remember to be grateful that there are no more tears and no more tumors for her, for she has been bound up, made well, and restored to true life in Christ forever.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Sermon On Acts 6:1-7 For Feb 16-2014

Acts 6:1-7
 English Standard Version (ESV)
Seven Chosen to Serve

 6 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.



What’s the most important thing?
Anybody remember the movie City Slickers?  It had Billy Crystal in it and came out several decades ago, so the answer may be no, but in it Jack Palance taught Billy Crystal that there was a most important thing.  He never told Crystal what it was, but eventually Crystal figured out that we each had to figure out what was our own most important thing.
It changes, too, depending on what’s going on around us. 
For example, let’s imagine you work at a bobsled track.  What’s the most important thing?
Not standing in the track when bobsleds are coming down it.  On Thursday, a man forgot this important thing and was found standing in the track when a sled came down it, breaking both his legs and giving him a concussion.  He’s lucky to be alive.  For unknown reasons, he had ignored the warning given to clear the track and remained there on the track, just before the finish line, when he was struck.  He forgot this important thing.
Each activity has its own most important thing.  If you’re the type of person who likes to throw yourself out of airplanes recreationally, the most important thing is to have a working parachute.  Nothing else really matters if that doesn’t work.  If you’re a parent, my first rule is to never wake a sleeping baby.  If you’re in a relationship, remembering a card on Valentine’s Day may well be the most important thing.  It depends.
What about the church?  What’s the most important thing for a church?
We can say, without debate or equivocation, that keeping the Gospel at the center of our life together is the most important thing.  We simply cannot afford to let Jesus Christ slip away from the center of our congregation, be it in worship, fellowship or service.  It is vital, because it is Christ who defines us, it is Christ that redeems us, it is Christ that promises to lead us forward into a future with hope.  If we allow Christ to slip from our view, then we are no different than any other social gathering.  If our gatherings are not defined by the presence and worship of Christ, we may as well stay home and watch the Olympics, right?  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important thing for us.  It was Paul that said that if the resurrection is not true, then Christians are to the be the most pitied of all peoples, for we would have set our hopes on a false thing. 
The early church recognized this.  Here in Acts 6, the Greek Jews have started to complain because their widows were being neglected when the other widows were being cared for daily.  They brought a complaint to the Jews, and this is a critical junction.  What could have happened is that the church could have chosen to focus all of its energies to alleviate the complaints of the Greek Jews, which were perfectly valid complaints.  They could have directed a whole church effort to care for these widows, and certainly the widows and the Greek Jews would have been alleviated.
But then another concern would have cropped up, and the church would have shifted its vision once more.  And then again.  And undoubtedly again, until the church was being constantly jerked around by whatever the conflict of the day was.  They would have become firefighters, consistently going from conflict to conflict in the hopes of alleviating everyone’s concerns.  It would certainly have been a nice group of people doing good works, but they would have lost sight of the most important thing.
The disciples, however, did not choose this approach.  Instead, they recognized that the church was growing, and that it was doing so because of their proclamation.  They were preaching the Word and living the Word, and because of the fact that the Gospel was the center of their fellowship, the disciples were increasing in number.  So when they heard of this conflict, the first thing they did was acknowledge that the preaching of the Gospel had to continue.  They would not stop this activity, for it was the lifeblood of the church, and it was the way others were coming in to the church.  They kept the Gospel at the center and allowed the most important thing to continue.
But, while doing that, they also acknowledged the importance of feeding all the widows.  They knew that the preaching of the Gospel and the existence of the church led them out into the world, and so they set apart separate resources to serve the community.  Notice, too, that they didn’t just take the leftovers—they picked men who were full of the Spirit and wisdom, men with good reputations to do the task well.  They weren’t going to do anything halfway, so they fully committed themselves to the task of feeding the widows.  They intentionally set aside resources, some of their best resources, for service to others.
And having done so, they continued to preach the Word, to keep the Gospel at the center, and the number of disciples continued to grow.  It was an ongoing miracle that God was doing, and you and I are legacies of this tradition.  Because the early church committed to keeping Christ at the center, the church continued to grow, and its legacy spans millennia.
So what does this mean for us today?
I think it means that we, too, need to be aware of the fact that the Gospel needs to be in the center of our lives.  There are so many distractions vying for our time and attention, and we often chase them, from one minute to the next, and we drift through our everyday lives like that, constantly chasing things and feeling like we’re behind.  We are called to be a people with intentionality, keeping Christ at the center and going throughout our day with an ever growing awareness of his great love with which he loves us.  We are called to be a people with our minds, hearts and bodies focused on glorifying God.  We don’t want to chase distractions, but rather we want to go with purpose and focus. 
So how do you keep the Gospel at the center?  Does your day begin with a reminder to let this day be God’s?  Do you let Scripture start your day?  Do you focus yourself first thing?  How do you remind yourself throughout the day that the Gospel needs to be at the center?  And how do you let the Gospel guide your big decisions?  Do you pray through things, trusting the Spirit’s wisdom to lead you?
And when you’ve done this, do you let the Gospel lead you into service?  Do you set aside some of your best resources to serve others, to meet the needs of those around you?  Do you serve others with intention?  Or just hope that a good opportunity arises?
Friends, we need to let the Gospel be the most important thing.  We need to keep the Gospel at the center, and to serve those who are around us.  If we do so, we are doing our job and we’re letting God do his job.  How did disciples join the church?  God brought them in.  God opened their ears and their hearts.  God was doing a mighty work here, and the disciples allowed their lives to be centered on that.  We don’t have to have all the answers.  We just have to let the most important thing be just that.
Let us pray

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Art of Neighboring

  I have a GIANT stack of books on the floor in my bedroom.  Last year, I made a New Year's Resolution (for the first time in a long, long time) that I was going to read that stack.
  It's now bigger than it was.  I didn't bother with the same promise this year.

  I have been making a decent dent in it lately, and one of the books that was a part of it was The Art of Neighboring, by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon.  It's a well-assembled book, but it only took me an hour or so to read.  The reason is not that I'm a very fast reader, but rather that it's a book centered around a very, very simple idea:  be a good neighbor.

  They start out with the premise that Jesus tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Jesus teaches us that everyone, no matter how separated (distance, ethnically, socially, financially) is our neighbor, highlighting this through the parable of the Good Samaritan.  We have taken such a global view to this teaching that we have also missed the point that Jesus wants us to love our actual neighbors, too, meaning the people who physically live next to us.  Pathak & Runyon spend most of the book detailing the importance of reaching out to those who live near us.

  The majority of the book details how we live together with our neighbors.  They give details on how to be a part of their lives, about how to deal with conflict and how to build close relationships with some, recognizing that not every neighbor is going to be your best friend.  It's a remarkably practical book.

  It makes great sense, but something inside me pushes it aside because it seems so easy.  Church work should be hard, right?  Throwing a block party for your neighbors and recognizing that God can use that to build the Kingdom seems simple, doesn't it?  Too simple, even, and yet I agree with the authors because they have seen the evidence of how lives and communities can be transformed by being good neighbors.  Be neighborly, they teach, and the relationships you form can change your life, your neighbors' lives, and the life of the entire neighborhood.

  God works through relationships, so why not reach out to those relationships nearest to you.  Who knows what might come of it?

  Learn more at

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Questions on Judgment

  I struggle with judgment.

  I never know when to judge people.  I know that it is popular to say that we're never supposed to judge anyone, but there are clearly times when it is appropriate to judge someone.  If someone has physically assaulted someone for no reason, then we would judge that as wrong.  If someone abuses a child, that is wrong.  When the poor are taken advantage of, that is clearly wrong.  So there are some things that are definitely wrong.

  It's important to judge in church, too.  If someone tries to join our church and yet claims that Jesus is not the Son of God, I would judge them as lacking the proper faith to be a member.  Throughout church history, we have judged some beliefs to be beyond the pale of what is acceptable to believe and still be a Christian.  In this way, we try to preserve the truth behind Christian faith.

  And yet, I'm not supposed to stand as judge over people.  Romans 14 tells me not to judge, assuring me that God will serve as judge.  Paul is talking about how those who do not abstain from certain foods are not to judge those who do abstain--each party has a valid opinion and a view anchored in a theological viewpoint, and such a matter was not to divide us.  We are called not to judge, and to be sure we don't put any stumbling block in the path of a believer.  Our own faith, Paul says in verse 22, is to be kept between ourselves and God.

  So I struggle with knowing how to decide properly which issues are first order issues, and which ones are to be deemed as those not worth judging over.  I try always to be graceful and err on the side of caution, but I recognize that some of the issues that divide us are critically important.  How do I treat those properly, yet still be gracious and imitate the love and mercy of God?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Sermon on Acts 5:1-11 for 2/9/14


Think for a moment about how you would define a team.  You may think of it in different terms—be it your child’s soccer team, a team of employees focused around a project at work, a medical team or even the US Olympic team, but all teams have the same purpose.  They are gathered around a common activity and striving together to achieve a common goal, one which is supposed to be made easier by the fact that there are multiple people working together.  A team should function better at an activity than an individual. 
Speaking of the US Olympic team, they are a group focused around the common goal of winning medals.  They are striving to win more medals than any other country, and they could not win nearly as many medals if there was only one person competing in all the separate events.  Within the Olympic team, there are many separate teams with their own goal.  The bobsled team has a goal of winning gold in the bobsled, and they cannot win unless each member is fully committed to their cause and functions well together.  If one member of the team performs poorly, the entire team will suffer.  This was evident in a recent book I read about the 1936 men’s Olympic rowing team, when 9 men had to work in perfect unison in order to win the gold.  Each one had to bring their separate best effort and contribute to the team, working in synchrony, to achieve a higher purpose than they could have on their own.  They could only excel when they worked together.
Now, I think we’d all agree that the task of winning a gold medal in the bobsled, while perhaps important in the moment and important to those competing, isn’t that notable in the grand scheme of things.  Even the team that wins the overall medal count isn’t that important.  The team that wins your child’s soccer game is not necessarily destined for success for the rest of their life on account of the victory, despite the way that some parents may act, and if the team at work does not succeed to the highest degree possible, things will probably be ok.  In most cases, it’s ok if the team struggles.  The world isn’t going to end because of it.
However, when we talk about the church, we’re talking about the most important organization in the world.  If you believe this is an overstatement, let me say this: In a few million years, after the sun expands and devours the earth, how many organizations on earth will not only still be functioning, but also they will be functioning better than they are now?  That’s right—the church is the only team that will still be around, and the message of salvation that has been entrusted to the church is the one that is absolutely vital for people to hear if they, too, still want to be around after the earth passes away.  The Gospel message of the church is the Good News to all the people, and it is vital that this message be heard.
If the team of the church doesn’t function well, the message of the Gospel doesn’t spread, and lives are forever affected by this.
 With that in mind, let us turn to the 5th chapter of Acts and read Acts 5:1-11.
But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you[a] sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
It’s a curious story; one that still, today, leaves us wondering exactly what to make of it.  Our first reaction is that it must have been a great encouragement to give more in the early church.  It’s not too hard to motivate people when you can end your pitch with, ‘otherwise, God might kill you.’  Imagine how much shorter the NPR pledge drives might be if they wrapped up each segment with those words.
Our second thought is to wonder why.  Why did they have to die?  Why did God kill them?  Why is this offense taken so seriously when so many other sins in the Gospel are met with much less severe immediate reactions?
The answer gets back to the idea of being on a team.  For a team to work together well, each person must be willing to commit fully to the team.  They must bring their best efforts and support one another so that the whole team can strive towards its goal.  If any one person is in it selfishly, the whole team suffers.
To understand better what is going on here, it helps to flip back a chapter and read the end of chapter 4.  There, Barnabas has just sold a field and given the money to the apostles to use for the good of the church.  All of those who are in the church are fully committed to the organization, and they’re willing to sell their goods so that the church has resources to look forward into the future, and also to meet the needs of their fellow church members.  The members recognize that each person is worthy of care.  Each person needs to be at their best so that the entire organization can thrive.  If any one person among them is suffering, they will do whatever they can to alleviate those sufferings.  A church that fully lived out this teaching would surely have a sparkling reputation as a place people wanted to join even today.
Ananias and Sapphira saw Barnabas give this gift, and they probably saw the gratitude that was poured out to him in response.  They wanted people to think they, too, were fully committed.  They wanted the honor of being seen as generous people.  They wanted others to be proud they were in the community.
But it was all about them.  It was selfish, and they were willing to use the church to have their need for adoration met.  To that end, they sold this field, but they planned to keep some of the money back.  The church didn’t need to know that, though, so they lied to the church.  They intentionally deceived the community so that they would still receive the honor of having given everything to the church while still selfishly holding on to their own portion of the proceeds that would serve as a backup in case the church fell through.  They weren’t going to commit fully to the community because they didn’t trust the community to meet their needs, either.
You can see how severe the offense is.  They don’t trust the community, and they’re not honest with the community, and they’re not fully committed.  A community, a team like this will fracture when storms come.  A team made up of people who put themselves first will never thrive.  They wouldn’t have what it takes to spread the Gospel message to the known world.
And so when Ananias and Sapphira lie to the church, the body of Christ, they immediately suffer the punishment.  They die.  Not just because they told a lie, but because they refused to trust Christ’s church and they refused to commit fully to the body of Christ.  They wanted to use the church to be given honor, and I don’t think God likes it when people use the church.
So what does this mean for us today? 
I believe we need to examine our own commitment to the church, the body of Christ.  Are we, as it says in 4:32, of one heart and soul?  Are we fully invested in the team?  Or do we come because it’s a nice place to be, but we’re really looking out for ourselves?  Do we depend on the church, and are we fully invested in the lives of our fellow members?
I’ve been reading Stephen Ambrose’s book on Easy Company, a team of paratroopers from WWII.  Now, this company is completely dedicated to each other, because they know that their lives depend on one another.  It absolutely matters that each and every one of them trusts each other.  The bond they form in combat is tighter than almost any band possible.  They are so close that one of them said, much later, “There is not a day that has passed since that I do not thank Adolf Hitler for allowing me to be associated with the most talented and inspiring group of men that I have ever known.”  This individual was drawn so close and was so committed to his team that he was grateful for the war that made it possible.
When we think about Christ’s church, how committed are we to the lives of those around us?  Do we trust one another fully, and are we willing to do whatever it takes for those with whom we are joined to thrive, so that the church as a whole can thrive, so that the Gospel message of God’s amazing grace can go forward and transform lives?  Are we fully committed?
What does it mean to be of one heart and soul in today’s culture?  I think it means this—that we celebrate with one another, we mourn and weep with one another, and that when folks go missing, we reach out to them.  Look around you—who isn’t here that usually is here?  Who haven’t you seen in a while that you’re curious about?  Who do you miss?
I’d invite you to go home and reach out to them.  Make a phone call.  Send a card.  Show them you care.
In the meantime, reach out to others that are here, too.  Have lunch or dinner with someone.  Invite them into your house, into your life.  Share your heart, your joys and concerns, and through it all the Holy Spirit will bind us together so that we care deeply for one another, never forgetting that we are the body of Christ, and our team goal is so much more important than anything else can ever do in our lives.  When we are of one heart and soul, when we care deeply for one another, we witness to the world that the body of Christ is a place of welcoming, a place of grace, and others are drawn toward this type of selfless community.
Let us pray

Thursday, February 6, 2014

February 6 E-News


Lynn Meyer Memorial Service-- Will be Sunday, February 16 @ 2pm at Ridgedale Baptist Church on Hickory Valley Road.

Fruit of the Spirit-- Sunday evenings @ 6:15

Community Kitchen Spot
There are a lot of hungry and homeless children of God and the community needs some help feeding them. If you would like to help out, please bring the following items to church this Sunday & put them on the bookshelf.
Plastic Forks, Knives, Spoons
Dinner Napkins
Heavy Duty Sectional Dinner Plates
Dessert Plates

New Hope News

Sunday SchoolWe start Matthew 11 this coming Sunday.

Wednesday SuppersHave begun! Bring your supper and join us at 6, or come to study 1 Samuel (we'll be in chapter 25 next week) at 6:30.

Pray For:
Norma Capone

Christine Dyer

The folks at Trinity Presbyterian Church

Give thanks! For today. For life. For a community. For food to eat and water to drink. For hope. For Jesus Christ, our Savior.


Keith's Random Thoughts

Have you ever watched a two year old brush his teeth?
It's awkward. I've seen more grace (but less enthusiasm) at the zoo watching a hippopotamus lumber out of a pond. I find myself saying things like, “Don't bite the brush,” all the while laughing as my son wildly pushes a tiny brush around his entire face. I love it, but I am also very aware that the plaque does not tremble in fear at the sound of the toothbrush, because I'm not sure the brush ever comes into contact with his teeth.
The doctor, however, told us that it doesn't matter too much. His baby teeth only have to make it a few years. What is important is setting habits and routines so that Caleb will brush his adult teeth, the ones he has to keep for many decades. Brushing his teeth now sets a pattern that will keep him healthy later on. So as ungraceful as his brushing may be, it's important.
Our early spiritual growth attempts fits into the same pattern. Often, we struggle to do it well. We stumble at our attempts to pray. We read the Bible and our attention drifts, or we can't make sense of it. We try, but we don't feel like we're doing much good.
The important thing, though, is that we're setting a pattern in place. We're putting habits in place that will bear fruit later. At first, we may not see the fruit, but over weeks, months, years and decades, our practices will build up, cumulatively, and make a huge difference in our overall quality of discipleship.

Text for this Tuesday, December 24
Acts 4:32-5:11 (ESV)

32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet.

Ananias and Sapphira

5 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

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