Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Reason I Write (and The Reason You Read)

Near the exact middle of his classic war novel, "Im Westen nichts Neues (All Quiet On The Western Front)," Erich Maria Remarque makes a startling statement through his main character: "Bombardment, barrage, curtain-fire, mines, gas, tanks, machine guns, hand-grenades--words, words, words, but they hold the horror of the world." Remarque understood the power of words, using them to display the fulness of life and the horrors of "The Great War" (World War I) before our eyes. George Orwell was about eleven years old when "The Great War" broke out and he, too, understood the power of words (is it any wonder both writers have been banned).

Orwell's 1946 essay, "Why I Write," proposes how words in their right arrangement "share an experience which one feels is valuable and ought not to be missed." This is one reason of four Orwell suggests that one would write, for "aesthic enthusiasm;" that is, for the joy of words in their arrangement. Three other reasons include what he calls "sheer egoism." Writing can be a selfish act, for writing arises out of "the desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death . . . . Serious writers, I should say, are on the whole more vain and self-centered than journalists, though less interested in money."

Another of Orwell's reasons to write is out of historical impulse, the "desire to see things as they are, to find true facts and store them up for the use of prosperity." Orwell finally suggests that one writes for political purpose. This last is perhaps the most intriguing, as he uses the word "political" in a different sense. Orwell means the "desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people's idea of the kind of society that they should strive after." While Orwell admits his writing is for democratic socialism, he is not far from the divine reasons to write.

The fact that we use language should not be taken for granted, for the use of language is part of what it means to be made in God's image. God spoke all things into being yet left one task for man to complete: the naming of the animals. Simply put: as God created with words, man (made is God's image) is to be creative with words. One might argue that communication occurs in the animal realm, so there is no distinction between man and animals. The actual difference is that man uses words and this is what separates man from animals.

Consider further how God commanded mankind to spread out over the earth, to fill the earth. This is not a harsh command and unreasonable command, but one that benefits man and allows him to fulfill his purpose as God's vice-regent. What does man do but disobey by coming together in one place to build a monument to himself! The result is that God caused man to fill the earth by "confusing" the language; that is, He took the one common language of the earth and made more through which people spread out according to their manner of speaking! This did no harm to that which was made in His image, but gave the bearer of imageo dei opportunity to be yet more creative!

A brief survey of writing in scripture reveals interesting reasons for writing, such as communication when no other means are available (Luke 1:63) or to record history as opposed to informing the future, as Orwell suggests (Luke 1:3). Writing is used for more legal matters (Deuteronomy 24:1-4) such as dictations (Jeremiah 36:2, 27-28), to issue orders (Esther 8:5, 8, 10), or insure a covenant or contract (Nehemiah 9:38). In one case, particular writing was destroyed then restored (Jeremiah 36:21-32). Interestingly, this has been part of the history of the preservation of God's Word (Exodus 24:4, 12) and survival of God's Word over time. The Bible is the most read and most quoted book in human history--it is impossible to destroy God's Word.

God wrote with His finger on stone (Exodus 31:18), on a wall (Daniel 5:5-29), on the ground (John 8:6, 8) and in the hearts of men (Romans 2:15). The divine reason to write is, to borrow Orwell's terminology, "political." Words are the means through which the problem of truthfulness arises. Were my motive "sheer egoism," I would not write, for my literary contributions are few or not well-received for various reasons (conveyance of gospel truth, being one). Were my motive "aesthetics," well, I am sure there are others with better word-smithing talents. The reason I write is not to stock shelves for posterity, electronic or otherwise.

Though I pre-post my blogs at least two weeks in advance, Reformation Theology posted this blog on March 19, 2010, which begins: "Generation after generation has read the insights of its writers. This is why fresh statements of old truth are always needed. Without them people will read error." This is why I write: to communicate the truth of God and His Kingdom to the widest audience possible. The reason I write is to see people changed for the glory of God in Christ Jesus that I could reach in no other way.

The dedication, "Turning Topsy Turvey," to the Shepherd Library in Columbus, Ohio by writer Mary Ann Williams includes the following lines that stresses the vitality of writing and reading:

“'Teach your children to read and write.
You must live for the answer to ignorance.
You must twist each darkened hollow stare into a glimmer of knowing.
Each little face must feel the joy of unlocking the ageless secrets of the written word.'”


These impressionable bits of human clay can travel without leaving your doorstep.
They can unravel the countless mysteries of their sorrow- filled past and cloudy future.
They can rush into the arms of God by understanding the many voices of the past who leave their marks in the Holy Book.
Teach these young Black children to laugh at themselves through our tales of long ago.
Teach them to love letters, words, pages, books so that when they look at you, they will know that you care."

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Refresing Biblical Studies for Preaching and Teaching"

Studying the Bible week in and week out for preaching and teaching, the pastor can find himself falling into dry routine. How to refresh?

Here are three suggestions from Dr. William Larkin, professor of Bible, Greek and New Testament at the CIU's Seminary and School of Missions. A more comprehensive list of Dr. Larkin's publications and lectures can be found on his faculty webpage.

Dr. Larkin teaches the following Online courses:

  • BIB 5133 - Acts to Revelation (Online). Coursework begins May 31, 2010 and ends August 6, 2010. Register by April 30, 2010.
  • GRE 6210 - Greek 3: From Exegesis to Exposition (Online). [GRE 5110 and GRE 5111 pre-requisite] Coursework begins August 24, 2010 and ends December 12, 2010. Register by August 2, 1010.
  • ICS 6024 - Understanding Cultures & Worldviews (Online) with Dr. David Cashin. Coursework begins August 24, 2010 and ends December 12, 2010. Register by August 2, 1010.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Skateboard!

Here's a video of my son and a friend skating at Owens Field Skatepark in Columbia. Enjoy!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Why Visit the Land of the Bible?

Dr. Bryan Beyer, professor of Bible, Hebrew and Old Testament at Columbia International University's Seminary and School of Missions shares some compelling reasons through 1 Samuel 17 in his article,"A Fresh Look at the David and Goliath Story: Why Pastors Need to Visit the Land of the Bible."

Dr. Beyer teaches the following Summer 2010 courses in Atlanta, Georgia:

BIB 5112 - Genesis - Song of Solomon: God's Plan of Creation & Redemption (June 14 - 18)
BIB 5113 - Prophets: God's Message of Redemption & Judgment (June 21 - 25)

Friday, March 19, 2010

On: Dumpster Diving

Lars Eighner's 1993 book Travels with Lizbeth includes the chapter, "On Dumpster Diving" wherein he recounts some very specific lessons learned from three years of living as a homeless person. Eighner was not always a homeless person as his life experiences include working as an attendant in a mental institution and college instructor. He was one of those whose sitation left him in the precarious position from which he wrote. Through this work specifically, Eighner demonstrates expertise in areas that we may find instructive, and perhaps be challenge to a level of personal reflection.

Eighner would like us to understand a few basics starting with the discovery: what is a dumpster? The word "dumpster" is actually the name of the company that makes the product we know as the dumpster, the Dempsey Dumpster Company. Interestingly, the company has no generic name for the product. Eighner would like us to understand there is a vast range of meaning as well as thought behind what we simply refer to as "dumpster diving."

Dumpster diving has also been called "scavenging" or "scrounging," while others may say they "forage" or perhaps even "glean." "Scrounging" assumes an indirect relationship with consumers (one man's trash is another man's treasure) while "foraging" describes the reaping of more natural resources (such as collecting decorative kale from city flower beds for a kind of salad comes to mind). "Gleaning," on the other hand, may not a good word choice for the activity in question. While "diving" may actually be an actual physical impossiblity for many to perform (and perhaps lend to another reason for the reconsideration of nomenclature), for all intents and purposes, we will heretofore refer to the subject simply as "dumpster diving," or, "diving."

Reading Eighner's essay, one almost gets the impression that the writer does not merely desire to educate on the subject of dumpster diving; rather, the author would (dare I say it?) have the reader actually try. When food is the object of acquisition, the starting point would be to know what is actually safe to eat. Making this discover involves three principles, the first being the use of senses to evaluate a find (both the common, or "horse sense" and the five physical senses); next, knowing the area supplying the dumpster; and finally, answering the question, "why was this discarded?" There are reasons why things find their way to the trash, but are they good reason?

How are dumpster divers to be regarded; that is, is dumpster diving acceptable? Answering that question may require an answer to yet another question: have you ever wondered what a good dumpster diver thinks himself? First, there is a sense of disgust and loathing as the diver battles feelings of shame or remorse for what she feels she must do. Ever look the other way when you see someone approach a dumpster to dig? They feel it too because everything seems to stink in there, until one finds something useful.

For the most part, Eignher seems to have been very successful during his three years of homelessness. He found all his clothes (except for his jeans) in the dumpster. The students at a local private school are great contributers to the dumpster-diving community as the school is littered with cast-away clothing that finds its' way to the dump: brand new Abercrombie and Fitch clothes, high priced shoes, and various other items. Many dumpster divers know to stay near college dorms, for there they find food (half-eaten jars of peanut butter for example) tossed before Spring, Summer or Winter breaks. Of course, partially consumed bottles of liquor and drug paraphernalia can be acquired as well. Eignher's list of finds also include working portable stereo systems, candles, linens, rolls of toilet paper, medicine, books and magazines, a typewriter, and several dollars worth of change.

When one is able to produce treasures like these, feelings begin to change and it is the diver who "has the last laugh. He is finding all manner of good things which are his for the taking. Those who disparage his profession are the fools, not he." One learns it is just as easy to draw conclusions about those who dumpster dive as it is to draw conclusions about those who throw things away.

Dumpster divers themselves have a range. On one end of the spectrum we may find those who may be considered to be "professional divers," people who have learned to make the most of the waste of high consumerism. These people cannot be distinguished from others, as they live in homes and drive cars, only they wear and use our perfectly good throw away stuff. Eighner does not discuss this end of the spectrum directly, but the implication is very clear. On the other end of the spectrum we find those who Eighner calls "can scroungers." Can scroungers "are people who must have small amounts of cash. These are drug addicts and winos, mostly the latter because the amounts of cash are so small." Eighner describes their dumpster behavior as very destructive, as "they tend to tear up the Dumpster, mixing the contents and littering the area. They become so specialized that they can see only cans."

Eighner closes his chapter with a brief discussion on vermin, a humourous look at cats and birds in the dumpster and even offers some suggestions on how to get started. Most importantly, he shares two lessons he feels are important. First, "take what I can use and let the rest go by." In other words, some things are not worth the effort or the collecting--"white elephants" in the truest sense. The second lesson is that "mental things are longer-lived than other material things." This is about as close as he comes to spirituality, but he is right--life is a vapour, and you can't take "it" with you (whatever "it" is).

Perhaps there is a third and final lesson: there is an attitude that comes with being wealthy, and we have confused the things most important with mere objects.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"Eternal Destinies: What Happens When I Die?"

"'Is there life after death?' That question has fascinated people in every generation, hasn’t it? If you wonder whether contemporary culture is any exception, all you need to do is remember the television show “Highway to Heaven” and the movie “Ghost.” Personally, I never watched the television show, and I never saw the movie. Why not? Because I know the answer to the question, “Is there life after death?” The Bible says, without hesitation, 'Yes.'”

Read the full article on Eternal Destinies by Dr. John D. Harvey, professor of New Testament and Greek, Columbia International University, Seminary and School of Missions.

Dr. Harvey teaches the following Online courses:

  • BIB 5410 - Hermeneutics: Interpreting and Applying the Bible (Online). Coursework begins May 31, 2010 and ends August 6, 2010 Register by April 30, 2010.
  • GRE 5110 - Greek 1: Beginning Grammar (Online). Coursework begins August 24, 2010 and ends December 12, 2010. Register by August 2, 2010.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why Is Vocational Evangelism on the Decline?

Why Is Vocational Evangelism on the Decline?

Five suggestions as to why Vocational Evangelism ("the traveling evangelist") is on the decline, primarily in Southern Baptist Churches.

And here are some suggestions for what it may look like in the future.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Confession

To whom may I recount my sins,
with all their pains and woe?
And where shall my detail begin;
And who can stand to know?

My wicked tales in someone's ear--
how can I stain their head?
So how to tell and cast my fear
of sinful guilt and dread?

My own life cannot bear the load
of all that I have done!
How can I take you down my road?
There is none, save but One.

Confession gives the soul all good,
so who should stoop to hear?
'Tis Jesus Christ (thank God alone),
He all my life can bear.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

St. Pat's in Five Points, 2010

We had an incredible day during the St. Pat's in Five Points Festival. The parade started at 10:00 and a few hundred gospel tracts were distributed. The pre-parade crowd heard some open air preaching on God's love, then we went to the park for some one-on-one conversation. After more open air preaching at another gate, we headed back to the main gate where over 600 gospel tracts were distributed in less than half an hour. Here are some videos of the day:









Friday, March 12, 2010

U-mabonga-kutuk-izizwe-zonke and The Warning to the Nations in Psalm 2

Solomon was right: there is nothing new under the sun. I am amazed at the ongoing objections concerning the relevance of the Bible today, yet within those very objections is proof enough that the Bible is indeed very relevant. Objectors do not realize how they confirm scripture by their very act of rebellion. We find ourselves in the unique position to view an incredible display of God's omniscience as He reveals what is on the hearts, minds and in the actions of His enemies. This, too, demonstrates the relevance of God's Word today as what God reveals continues without abatement today. They bring nothing new to the forum, but a tired excuse to disbelieve God. When David was inspired to ask, "why are the nations in an uproar," he was reflecting on old news and from our perspective, nothing has changed in that regard: the nations are still in an uproar as they try to cast off the rule of God.

What should the nations be doing? The book of Psalms alone contains a small catalogue of how the nations should be responding to God. The nations should be: in awe of Him (33:8); joyfully worshipping Him (66:1-2) and giving Him praise (117); in glad praise of God's salvation and justice (67:3-5); in peaceful prosperity (72:3); receptive witnesses to His salvation (98:2). Psalm 145 in its entirety describes the goodness of God in His Kingdom.

The nations should be enjoying God. Because of His Soveriegnty (Psalm 2:2) God has made His saving work known to the nations. God demonstrated this saving work known to Israel (Exodus 6:2-8) as well as to the Egyptians (Exodus 7:5; 9:14; 9:29; 10:2; 12:2). Notice the repeated phrase to all peoples: "that you may know that I am the LORD." Israel alone receives specific instruction regarding holiness, being separated from among the peoples in Leviticus 19 where the LORD says, "You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy" then gives a list of commands each followed by "I am the LORD your God," a phrase repeated 15 more times, and three more times in the next two chapters!

Psalm 2:2 is most informative: "the kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed." The Messiah reigns, and the nations refuse Him and His rule. The word "messiah" literally means "anointed one" (the Greek word is "christos" from which we get the word "Christ."). This refers to an individual who is set apart for a divinely ordained office or task and it is this "set-apartness" that leads to exaltation. The Messiah is further identified with three other distinguing features. The Messiah is to be: the Son of David; that is, the LORD's anointed rules from the Davidic throne that lasts forever (1 Samuel 7:12-17). He will never give up his seat. Second, the Messiah is to be the Son of God; that is, the highest king of the earth (Ps 89:27, 19). Finally, the Messiah is to be the Son of Man, as described in passages as Daniel 7:13-14.

The kings and rulers of the earth don't like the idea of being "below" anyone. Also, the Messiah threatens their own throne--consider all the "world powers" as recorded in history and note where they are at present: Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. The nations respond to God in manners unworshipful, unjoyful, and make themselves to be enemies of God. The bottom line reason is this: they have have witnessed His salvation (Ps. 2:3)! This does not escape God's notice (Isaiah 37:28). In what ways to nations attempt to cast off His rule?

They try to forget God (9:17). This may be a simple, "if I ignore Him, He will go away." God has a place for those who are disinclined to give the honor due Him. God does not receive first place by the nations in the hearts, minds, the souls and strength of the nations as they make their plans apart from all He is setting out to do. This may be seen through so-called athiesm in its various forms. I dropped this question into three Atheist online groups in various sites: "How would you classify yourself: a practical atheist ('I just don't care for God or religion, that's all'); a dogmatic atheist (religion is the 'opiate of the people'; or, 'religion is man-made'); or, a virtual atheist ('I have my own ideas about God')?" Here is a sampling of responses (misspellings included), followed by comments of my own:

  • "I'm kind of a combo of all three if I'm to be honest lol. I don't care for higher beings or religion, but I don't care for religion because I think it's a disease and limits people or just makes them do really dumb things all in the name of their creator. Can I be the friendly Atheist? That would be more accurate." [note: "I don't care for higher beings/religion" Personal viewpoint for convenience]
  • "Militant Athiest, Religion is a disease :) Surely 'virtual athiest' as you call it is really agnosticism, It's perfectly reasonable to believe that there is no god if you know the science. Everybody with an idea is dogmatic, science is dogmatic, facts are dogmatic, it's only a bad thing is dogma in the absense of evidence." [question: if science is dogmatic, then how can there be reasonable contrary evidence?]
  • "Definately [sic] a dogmatic atheist. People who are believers seem very childish and silly to me." [note: "to me." Personal viewpoint for convenience]

  • "Virtual Atheist. I believe that their hasd [sic] to be some sort of God per say or higher being that created us. It's just unpractical to find out who or what did it." [unpracticality is an excuse for disobedience]
  • "Dogmatic. Richard Dawkins style." [observation: Dawkins believes in intelligent design . . .]
  • "Maybe its a what, my simple question is how did everything come from nothing. I don not believe in any god, nor do i follow any religion. But believe that something supernatural has to have started this cycle, and what started the supernatural being that started this all. It seems that no matter if it is religion or science, their is no explanation as to how all came from nothing." [note: admission that "something supernatural" exists. Personal viewpoint for convenience].
  • "My personal atheistic view is that no supernatural beings of any kind exist and that science has already or will further prove anything left to question--such as life in other galaxies. If it's not tangible or provable, then for me it simply does not exist." [personal viewpoint for convenience]
  • "virtual and friendly athiest" ["I have my own ideas about God"]
  • "Practical atheist. Even if someone would prouve [sic] god's existence, I'd just say "So what?" [personal viewpoint for convenience]
  • "Well i completly dismiss any idea's about a supreme or supernatural being/s. Even when it comes to the meaning to life, if a supreme [being] thought of putting aload of creatures on earth to test them, what would be the whole point anyway. We are born, we live and we die just like the billions of other creatures that have been on the planet, a continuous system." ["I have my own ideas about God"]

Still other ways the nations attempt to cast off God's rule is prayerlessness, which God says is wickedness. "Do all the workers of wickedness not know, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord" (Psalm 14:4. cf. 34:15). Together with prayerlessness is the lack of "brotherly love" between nations. In the verse above, notice how the wicked are also identified to be those who consume other people. This is not in a literal sense of course, but includes the idea of involuntary servitude as found in slavery and human trafficking. Treatment of the poor (or lack of treatment) even through religious systems such as Hinduism is another form of casting off the rule of God, for man is made in God's image and is held responsible to take care of those in poverty, as well as the sick and infirm. If man is an no more than an animal, why the desperation to tamper with evolution and survival of the fittest?

Injustice is rampant by disallowing lawbreakers their penalty. Governments have the God-given responsibilty to enforce law, yet lawbreaking seems to be a prerequisite to achieving and maintaining an office. The crime rate grows in equal proportion to tolerance. When the news reports a breach of law, and the lawbreaker goes unpunished, we again affirm the relevance of scripture by speaking out, "how can this man or woman go free?" "He who says to the wicked, 'You are righteous,' peoples will curse him, nations will abhor him; but to those who rebuke the wicked will be a delight, and a good blessing will come upon him." (Proverbs 24:24-25). A judge who lets a lawbreaker go without justice is worse than the criminal.

War is another place we see the nations attempt to cast off the rule of God. James 4 gives us the "theology of war:" fighting occurs because of the percieved right to selfish pleasure. "You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures." (4:2-3) What is war good for? Absolutely nothing.

One final area the nations try to demonstrate autonomy is evidenced by immorality. How one responds to God is evidenced by their sexuality--when men choose the creature over creation, God finally turns them over to their desires and they do the things which God says are improper (Romans 1:18-32). I stood on a street corner a while back talking with a person who wanted to know what God thought of homosexuals. I told her that God thinks the same thing of homosexuals that He thinks of people who have ever lied, stolen, looked with lust or even hated another person--God desires their repentance. God wants them to put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, that they be delivered from the penalty and power of sin, looking forward to the day of deliverance from the presence of sin. Someone in the group voiced their disbelief and I told them that this explains why their conscience was seeking for an answer--they had the wrong ideas of God and God turned them over to their own desires. An hour later, one of those girls heard of God's love and the call to repent.

God is not surprised by any of this. "But I know your sitting down and your going out and your coming in and your raging against Me." (Isaiah 37:28). Someone may say, "if I give in to God, I'll just become a puppet." Imagine for a moment what happens when you first wake up. Your room is dark, or is just being lit by the rising sun. You swing your legs over the edge of the bed--perhaps your feet slide into your slippers. You reach over and turn on the lamp and the room is flooded with light. One moment, it was dark (relatively) and the next, light fills the room. How is that possible? The darkened bulb surrenders to the electricity and light fills the room. The "personality" of the bulb is not destroyed. When it surrenders to do what it was made to do, it becomes useful, still maintaining it's identity--a bulb is a bulb. Acts 13:47, "I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'"

After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral: when you're full of bull, keep your mouth shut. How does God respond to all this? Psalm 2 records that God laughs a scoffing laughter (2:4), responds with anger (2:5) and points to His Messiah (2:6). This is the response of a father who has had enough. God has already decided how everything will end: with the glory of Christ, so the raging of the nations against His Christ is nothing. "I will even laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your dread comes." (Prov. 1:26). The Zulu tribe have a very specific name for God (U-mabonga-kutuk-izizwe-zonke, "He who roars so that all the nations be struck with terror.") Thomas Watson (1620-1686) wrote, "God laughs to see men's folly--to see poor, weak clay strive with the Almighty Potter. But let the wicked remember that God is never more angry with them--than when He laughs! After His laughing, then He shall speak to them in His wrath. "I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you!'" (Proverbs 1:26)

"The One enthroned in heaven laughs". They scoff at us--but God laughs at them! Laugh? This seems like a harsh word at first view. But are the derision, the persecution and the injuries of his saints; and the cruelties of their enemies--a matter of laughter? God laughs--but it is in scorn; He scorns--but it is with vengeance. Short is the joy of the wicked! Oh, what are God's frowns--if His smiles are so terrible! (Thomas Adams)

One might say that while there is tumult on earth, there is tranquillity in heaven. God laughs because the Kingdom is secure; the King has been established. Jesus is God's King. Though the nations rebel, we don't need to worry, for the King is already enthroned in heaven. Listen to the voice of God. He is laughing at the world's rebellion, and you can laugh with Him if Jesus is your King. The world often tries to drown out the truth. Its voice of defiance is clear. The world's corruption is a result of its defiance. Take inventory of the voices you listen to. Are you part of the voice of defiance, or can you laugh with God at the world's rebellion?

Dr. Guy Duffield taught Bible doctrine, helping college students come to a feeble understanding of who God is. He would begin his lectures each year saying, “We’re going to endeavor to find out everything that we possibly can. We’re going to ask every question that we possibly can, and we’re going to learn all that we can. And when we get to the end and we can go no further then we are going to lift our hands in worship.” Then Dr. Duffield would explain: “You never worship what you understand. You only worship when you get to the end of your understanding.” He’s right. It’s then that you fall on your knees and exclaim with Jack Hayford, “Majesty! Majesty! Worship His majesty.”

Did you notice the speaking voices? The nations speak in verses 1-3. God speaks in verses 4-6. In verses 7-9, "I" am speaking. Christ identifies Himself in verses 7-9 very plainly. He is the Son, the begotten of God (7). He is also the ruler of nations, the earth-possessor (v.8). He will "break them with a rod of iron." Another way to read that is He will rule them with a staff. The meaning is simple: any and all other systems of idolatry will be gone. That's the end of the story. Man says that there are many ways to God, and when man reaches God, then God will be worshipped as he understands God: a Muslim will worship Allah, a Christian will worship Jesus and Jews will worship God and etc. This passage destroys that idea, as a baseball bat destroys grandma's vase.

The nations are left with a warning in the remaining verses. One might say that the Spirit is speaking here because this is a call to the nations for repentance. The Spirit wants the nations to learn, to be wise, to be instructed. Many depend on philosophy, psychology and history. These disciplines are helpful, but Christians must rely first and foremost on the Spirit of God to reveal truth. The Holy Spirit wants us to be willing to serve. We serve the Lord, not sin. There is joy with our fear because God is our Father. In searching for liberty, the rebellious crowd practices anarchy, for freedom without authority is anarchy. We are made in the image of God. To rebel against Him is to rebel against our own nature. The Holy Spirit also wants us to be reconciled through forgiveness and cleansing offered only through His Messiah. Today He is the Lamb, but someday He will come as the Lion to judge. God is holy and will not allow sin and rebellion to go on forever.

"The only safe place from the wrath of God is in God. Everywhere outside of his care is dangerous. He is the only hiding place from his own wrath. If you see him as frightening and try to run away and hide, you will not find a place to hide. There is none. Outside of God’s care there is only wrath. But there is a refuge from the wrath of God, namely, God. The safest place from the wrath of God—the only safe place—is God. Come to God. Take refuge in God. Hide in the shadow of his wings. This is where we live and serve with joyful trembling. It is terrible and it is wonderful. It is like the eye of a hurricane—terror all around, and totally beautiful and calm. Here there is sweet fellowship. Here is quiet, loving communion. Here we speak to him as to a friend. Here he ministers to our deepest needs. I invite you to come." (John Piper)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Made Her Great

2 Kings 4:8ff records an incident that goes nearly unnoticed. Elisha and his servant, Gehazi, cross over into Shunem and meet a woman described as "great," or, "prominent." When Elisha comes near, she actually persuades him to eat some food she has apparently prepared for him. Her home became as base of operations (of sorts) for him, for each time he came through the neighborhood, he stopped off at her house to eat.

Why was this woman was considered "great" or "prominent?" She fed the prophet, sure; but, there must have been something else that caused the Holy Spirit to inspire the writer to make certain she recieved this designation. We get an idea of that "something" through what she says to her husband. "Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God passing by us continually. Please, let us make a little walled upper chamber and let us set a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; and it shall be, when he comes to us, that he can turn in there." (4:9-10) First, she had a favorable response to God which is seen through her constant recieving of His prophet into their house. Second, she offered the life and property of her family to care for the man of God and his servant. The Shunnamite woman had her husband build an apartment, which she fully furnished and continued to provide food for both master and servant (4:13).

This woman was great, prominent, not because of the wealth they seem to have (in contrast to the poor, debt-burdened widow described in the verses before). She was a great woman because of her thoughtfulness. Elisha said to her, "Behold, you have been careful ["thoughtful" in MJKV] for us with all this care; what can I do for you? Would you be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the army?" (4:13). Elisha commends her care and offers to do something for her in return. What he actually does in return is a subject for another study; regardless, her consideration does not go unnoticed.

Thoughtfulness, consideration of others, is one way to make the most of your time. Commenting on Psalm 90:12, J.R. Miller wrote in 1912, "Life's lessons cannot all be learned from books. The lessons may be set down in books--but it is only in actual living--that we can really learn them . . . . Take thoughtfulness. You can learn in a short lesson what it is and how beautiful it is. But you will not be thoughtful, the moment you have learned the definition. It will probably take you several years--to get the beautiful lesson learned." Make your day by making somone else's. Thoughtfulness requires interest in othersand is a visible evidences of salvation! "I will show thee my faith by my works" (James 2:18). We have been "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10). Obedience to Christ's commands include the way we respond to others!

One feature of her thoughtfulness that stands out is how she shared personal resources: from their garden or cupboard; the apartment was in their own house; the furnishings were from her own house. This may not seem like much, but consider how we show thoughtfulness toward others: we go to the store and buy a token of our thoughtfulness. Culturally, we have this barrier that allows us to keep our stuff as we extend a portion toward someone else. "It's the thought that counts" is really a cheap way of saying, "this, and no more. You can only come this close." We find ease in keeping people at arm's length.

The act of thoughtfulness is very personal, beginning with the act of thought in and of itself. Again, J.R. Miller gives us a wonderful illustration of the compatibility between thoughtfulness and love:

"One morning, as the child stood holding his mother's hand, the bird began to sing, and the notes came into the chamber very faintly; and yet as he watched the sufferer's face, he saw an expression of pain sweep over it. She said nothing—but the boy needed no words to tell him that the bird's singing was distressing her. 'It is no music to me,' he said, 'if it pains my mother!' So he took the cage, and, carrying it away, gave the bird to a friend. "But you loved the bird," his mother said, when she learned what he had done. 'Yes,' he replied; 'but I love you more.'

That was a beautiful thing to do. It told of true thoughtfulness in the child. His personal pleasure must be sacrificed because gratifying it gave pain to one who was dear to him. This is the spirit which should characterize every Christian. We should repress in ourselves, the tastes which are not agreeable to our friends. We should cut off the habits which hurt the sensitive hearts whose happiness is dear to us. We should put away the things in us, whatever the cost may be, which give pain to our loved ones." (The Grace of Thoughtfulness, 1896)

We may think we are being helpful when we consider others, but the depth of our thoughtfulness can be easily exposed. Buying a hungry homeless guy a hamburger combo meal may actually be a thoughtLESS act: how many other burgers has he already eaten the last few days? Would he enjoy something else, just like you do--perhaps a salad? Is he diabetic? Does he have teeth? To find answers to these questions, you may have to get to know the guy a little. Maybe he's already eaten and would enjoy something to read, or a clean pair of socks . . .

Some things can be discovered by simple observation. Elisha's hostess paid attention enough to discover that food and shelter were necessary.

Let the ethical points of Hebrews 13:1-7 become springboards of thoughtful action:

  1. Let love of the brethren continue.
  2. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.
  3. Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.
  4. Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.
  5. Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU," so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?"
  6. Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

FOXNews.com - Scientists: Latest Deadly Quakes Are Just a Coincidence

FOXNews.com - Scientists: Latest Deadly Quakes Are Just a Coincidence

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Actually, these are one of many signs of the end-times. Review this checklist found in Matthew 24:4-8:

  • [ ] And Jesus answered and said to them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many will come in My name, saying, I am Christ, and will deceive many.
  • [ ] And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled, for all these things must occur; but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
  • [ ] And there will be famines and pestilences and earthquakes in different places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Simon of Cyrene: “Crucial Man”

A student was drifting off to sleep in class again when the teacher finally had enough and pounded the desk. “You know, if you would quit goofing off at night and get a good rest, you will be able to stay awake and in the ‘land of the living.’” The student sleepily replied, “but I’m a superhero at night.”

Ok, perhaps this is not the best example of the one who comes swooping down into a desperate situation to bring a victim to victory. Nevertheless, we nowadays are in awe of that masked man (though we know him as an outside observer). Who was he? Where does he come from? (**whoosh**) There he goes.

There is a man in the Bible who very closely fits this approximation. His name is Simon, and he comes in a very unusual circumstance at a very unusual time. Unusual, because it is the hero of mankind (as it were), our Savior who is in distress. We don’t know much about the man—he suddenly disappears as fast as he appears; and, something incredible happens to him.

After they had mocked Him, they took the scarlet robe off Him and put His own garments back on Him, and led Him away to crucify Him. As they were coming out, they found a man of Cyrene named Simon, whom they pressed into service to bear His cross.” (Matthew 27:31-32)

After they had mocked Him, they took the purple robe off Him and put His own garments on Him. And they led Him out to crucify Him. They pressed into service a passer-by coming from the country, Simon of Cyrene (the father of Alexander and Rufus), to bear His cross.” (Mark 15:20-21) We are told he has two boys, Alexander and Rufus, but we don’t know if these are the same Alexander of Acts 19 and Rufus of Romans 16.

When they led Him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, coming in from the country, and placed on him the cross to carry behind Jesus.” (Luke 23:36)

The Gospel of John contains no mention of this man and perhaps the most striking of all these descriptions is Luke’s: the cross of Jesus was placed on Simon, who carried the cross behind Jesus. Behind Jesus.

Before the crucifixion, Jesus had some very specific words to His disciples and the crowds. “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’” (Matthew 16:24). “And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’” (Mark 8:34) “And He was saying to them all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.’” (Luke 9:23)

Nothing is ever explained about Simon until he is required to carry the cross of Christ. We’ve never heard of him before. He just appears out of nowhere. Once they reach Golgotha, he disappears and we never hear from him again. Nevertheless, here he is at the most crucial time, in the most crucial place, fulfilling the most crucial role. The term “crucial” is not used lightly, as the root of the word is “crux,” or “cross.”

The inference is too great to miss: to follow Jesus, one does so from the cross-roads of his life. Simon was able to do what he did in the way that Jesus told everyone: to follow Me, you must stop being you, take up a cross and follow. Luke could not have made that more clear. Simon of Cyrene was doing what Simon Peter said he would do and was nowhere to be found.

Spurgeon gives these words: “but let us comfort ourselves with this thought, that in our case, as in Simon’s, it is not our cross but Christ’s cross which we carry . . . you carry the cross after Him. You have blessed company; your path is marked with the footprints of your Lord.” How interesting that John’s Revelation does include the description of a very particular group of people who “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (14:4).

I wonder how much Simon knew of Jesus, whose blood was smearing his clothes? Did he just happenstance show up in Jerusalem for Passover?

With how much heart, mind, soul and strength did He follow the Lamb of God?

What was he thinking as he bore the weight?

As he left Golgotha?

There is a definite picture of the New Testament truth to the Old Testament reality. Hebrews 13:13, “So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” Spurgeon observed, “Jesus, bearing His cross, went forth to suffer without the gate. The Christian’s reason for leaving the camp of the world’s sin and religion is not because he loves to be singular but because Jesus did so; and the disciple must follow his Master . . . In like manner Christ’s people must “go forth unto him.” They must take their position “without the camp,” as witness-bearers for the truth. They must be prepared to tread the straight and narrow path . . . Jesus would have his people “go forth without the camp” for their own sanctification. You cannot grow in grace to any high degree while you are conformed to the world.”

There's just no way he stepped down off that hill the same man as he went up.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Kindness, part 2

John 5:1-18 is the record of Jesus showing a particular kindness to a lame man. Why not say Jesus performed a miracle? There certainly was a miracle performed, but there is much more, which will become clear. The man received not one, but three acts of kindness in the miracle.

First, we notice that Jesus gave this man freedom from his physical condition. Immediately I recall and contrast the request (and failed attempt) of Houdini to restore the amputated leg of a French actress (see previous post on “Kindness”). The man had not been able to walk for many years, until Jesus confronted him, “Do you wish to get well?” Obviously the man not only answered in the affirmative, but also provided a history of what had been attempted for him previously. There is nothing anyone could have done to help the man and he remained immobilized in his condition. Jesus heals the man, who is immediately “up and running,” so to speak.

The second kindness we notices is that Jesus gave this man freedom from his sin. Moreover, Jesus gave him explicit instructions on how to keep something worse from happening to him. One may conjecture that the man’s illness was brought about by sin—perhaps he had so long duped the public with a false debilitation . . .

Regardless, Jesus catches the man in a private moment and frees him from sin, supplying him with a powerful strategy to keep from sinning more: “do not sin any more.” How profound!

The third kindness is that Jesus showed the man mercy. Mercy and kindness go together. Jesus showed mercy by telling him to walk—he can no longer remain immobile. He showed mercy by telling him not to sin anymore. Now Jesus met the man where he was and showed mercy despite all he had done. Contrast this with the Jews and how they responded to the man—they could have cared less about him. They just wanted to know why he was breaking the law on the Sabbath by carrying the pallet. Didn’t the man know he could not do that? No mercy.

What do you suppose the man was thinking? Someone comes along and says, “do this.” Would you do what a stranger asks? Why did this man not just speak up and say, “Uh, Jesus, don’t you know this is the Sabbath? I can’t be healed today. Sorry.” Those who are happy and healthy pass thirty-eight years in a much different way.

The Jewish religious leaders showed no kindness to Jesus. They don’t even know they are crippled in law, practice, attitude, etc. But they did not want to be made well, either, did they?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

What did they really want?

Matthew 27:18 reads, “For he knew that because of envy they had handed Him over.”

Jesus was standing before Pilate, hearing all the abuses the chief priests and elders were raising against Him. The governor was amazed that Jesus said nothing in return. What did they want from Jesus that they did not have that they should envy Him?

The Merriam-Webster definition of envy is, “the painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another with a desire to possess the same advantage.” An obsolete definition is simply, “malice.” Middle English and old French (envie) and the Latin (invidia), have been understood to mean, “grudge, jealousy, ill-will.” This includes the idea of coveting, craving or desiring. The Greek word used in the passage is pronounced “fthontos” and means, “spite, jealousy.”

So what were the people jealous of? What did they covet of Jesus? What was driving their desire that they should turn Him over to be killed? This can cause us to press toward another question: why do people hate Jesus?

One place to begin would be to consider what one thinks of God, for how one responds to Him leads to a certain and particular response. “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice . . .” (Romans 1:18-19). The chief priests and elders reached this point of hatred due to the decentrality of God. They had broken God’s civil law, God’s ceremonial law and are continuing to break God’s moral law. God is no longer a point of interest to them.

The sentence does not simply say they delivered Him up because they were envious of Jesus; rather, it says they delivered Him up because of envy. This is why the two concepts are different: the root of the Greek word here means, “waste, shrivel, whither, to spoil, ruin, corrupt, defile, destroy.” This explains how envy works as opposed to where it comes from. Perhaps an illustration would suffice here:

Two meteorologists were heard discussing tornadoes and how science affirms they exist (like the eyes and ears do not?), where they come from and how they work. The head-scratcher for them is, “why that shape? How does that happen?” They understand what forms the tornadoes; how wind, temperature and moisture cause the event; but, they do not know how or why a column of wind punches a hole in the clouds and forms a vacuum hose on the earth’s surface. They have the “why” but not the “how.”

This is like our little word her. We see it happen, we can certainly witness the aftermath; but, how does envy form? I believe the Apostle Paul helps us understand through two different letters:

First, “Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment.” (Philippians 1:15-17) Selfishness is the motivation for envy, and this is idolatry. The ambition to Jesus’ accusers was to see Him dead, just as Paul’s enemies wanted him dead (at this point he was just in prison)—but why?

Second, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:3-5) It’s all there: denial, rejection, replacement.

One may ask, “if envy finds its source in rejecting God and it’s motivation is self-exaltation, then what exactly does this mean as it regards the demeanor with which Jesus was handed over?” The answer is that the persecutors and accusers of Jesus are demonstrating their rejection of God, God’s plan and God’s Messiah. They were looking (as many still are) for their own Savior who will be able to deliver their own agenda! This is envy!

Now we can ask, “What could they possibly want, and be jealous of?” Certainly it was one thing for Jesus as God to claim to be God, to act like God and speak like God. These well-trained religious leaders were no match for Him in word or work—so of course they would be jealous of a carpenter’s son! But is that it? Is this reason enough to deliver on over to die—because of jealousy? Of certainty one cannot ignore God’s instruction to not covet and to not kill, but one certainly does not exist without the other! If God and His word are denied and replaced, then what else could they be replaced with, but the one who does the denial and his way of doing things! No wonder Pilate could recognize envy when he saw it.

Imagine your neighbor has something you want. Your options are to go get something like what your neighbor (get the same kind of item); or, go take the very item from your neighbor. The second option disrupts peace, security, friendship, trust—everything is destroyed through violation. Jesus’ persecutors desired to destroy Jesus to get what He had. They wanted to exalt themselves as God because of their love for sin—that’s the bottom line. They wanted to strip Jesus of His divinity but He’d already beat them to it. He did not regard his deity as a thing they (or anyone) could understand, so He laid aside His glory and took up the form of a bondservant, that He might become obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross!

What we read in Romans 1:28-29 should come as no surprise. The one who does not acknowledge God does what is not proper and is full on envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice! Those who preach the gospel in order to elevate themselves also do it to discredit, ruin, hurt, and defile those who do it out of obedient love for their Lord. Those who are good at controversy are a controversy to themselves!

Pilate saw the crowd, listened to their words and saw them coming with envy. Pilate, in his own way, tried to divert the effort by offering an alternative—sort of.

Now, here’s a point of application:

1) In what ways have you participated in handing Jesus over with envy? You may say, “I wasn’t there, so I did no handing over of anybody.” True, but scripture is plain: there is none righteous, not even one. We are all sinners and, like the crowd, have broken God’s moral law by lying, stealing, committing adultery, blasphemy, and the list goes on. How are you acknowledging God in every aspect of your life? Have you done this your entire life?

2) Are you doing the things which are proper? Have you asked for the Holy Spirit to fill your life so that you may be more like Him, and by faith, put away the sins of the flesh because of His death, burial and resurrection?

God wants to build up.
Satan wants to tear down.
God wants encouragement.
Satan wants envy.
What do you want?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Texas College Campus Divided Over Bible for Porn Campaign - Local News | News Articles | National News | US News - FOXNews.com

Alright, evangelists and defenders of the faith: how would you respond if someone says the Bible contains pornographic material?

Texas College Campus Divided Over Bible for Porn Campaign - Local News News Articles National News US News - FOXNews.com

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Kindness, part 1

The great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy, was passing along a street one day when a beggar stopped him. Tolstoy felt through his pockets for a coin, and finding none said with regret, “Please don’t be angry with me, my brother, but I have nothing with me. If I did I would gladly give it to you.” The beggar’s face flamed up in a smile and he said, “You have given me more than I asked for. You have called me brother!”

"Kindness" carries with it the idea of family or lineage; fundamentality in nature or quality; unification through similarity or a relationship by some commonality. Kindness is relational and warm, living. Kindness is useful, and beneficial for more than one share it. Simply put, kindness is a beauty. Kindness that is cold, detached and dead is bribery and cruelty. It is impossible to be kind and think of yourself. Kindness and thinking of self is not kindness at all. There is no kindness in selfishness.

French actress Sarah Bernhardt, touring the States in 1915, “was to be honoured by the American acting profession. They gave her a grand reception at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, and presented her with a bronze statuette which they had had especially designed and made for the occasion. Unfortunately nobody had thought to pay for the statuette; and its maker, having failed elsewhere, sent the bill—for $350—to Bernhardt. She, understandably, returned the object forthwith.” When the magician Harry Houdini, read about this, he immediately stepped in, paid the bill and saved the day for Bernhardt. “Within a fortnight he had received 3,756 newspaper clippings, all praising his action and linking his name with Bernhardt’s. A newspaper columnist, estimating the advertising at the reading-matter rate of a dollar a line, worked out the sums. Houdini had received publicity worth $56,340 for an outlay of $350.” (Brandon, Ruth. The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini. Random House: New York, 1994)

Houdini’s kindness was self-serving as this was only one instance among many where he sought to exploit a person or situation to his performance advantage (interestingly, that’s how magic works—Houdini liked to use the word “secret”). This particular incident does not end here and the tragedy only deepens, for Sarah Bernhardt had an accident that required one leg to be amputated. She returned to Houdini and asked him to perform another kindness—a miracle to restore her leg. She actually believed his performance could help her, and since he could do the impossible (his many death-defying escapes) and making things disappear, well, he could makes things reappear, couldn’t he? (Brandon)

Kindness performs a strange work to the one who gives it. One must give up himself or herself in the act of kindness for the benefit is for another. There is no control or power, but a sharing out of mutual weakness and dependence. One might suggest that kindness even involves a level of risk or vulnerability, for the beauty of kindness is that when given away, it is usually returned—the operative word is “usually.” When kindness is not returned, the giver often receives instead misunderstanding, criticism, and perhaps even danger; nevertheless, the giver has given. Remember what happened when Paul and Silas performed an act of kindness and delivered the young girl of her demon? They went to jail (Acts 16)!

We often read of the Samaritan who picked up the man met by thieves on the way to Jericho. Though our Lord Jesus Christ does not use the word, the Samaritan (which in that time was a term used with hatred) has been called “good” because of his treatment of his neighbor. He could just as easily be called “The Kind Samaritan” or even “The Merciful Samaritan.” Let us not miss that the parable is given in the context of the question, “what must I do to inherit eternal life” asked by a man who wished to justify himself. Kindness does not win eternal life—that would be bribing God; rather, kindness and loving God wholly are linked.

God created man in His image, so every being of the human race bears the image of God. When we love God with all heart, soul, strength and mind, we demonstrate that love to the image-bearer. This demonstration of love is not worship of the image-bearer, but worship of the Creator by obeying His commands. This is why murder is wrong, for it is lifting the hand (or tongue or heart) against another who is God’s representative on this earth.

Kindness performs a strange work to the one who receives it. William B. McKinley, President of the United States from 1897 to 1901, was a man who understood that principle. During one of his campaigns, a reporter from a newspaper who opposed McKinley followed him constantly and just as persistently misrepresented McKinley’s views. The weather became extremely cold, and even though the reporter didn’t have sufficiently warm clothing, he still followed McKinley. One bitter evening, the president—to—be was riding in his closed carriage, and the young reporter sat shivering on the driver’s seat, outside. McKinley stopped the carriage and invited the reporter to put on his coat and ride with him inside the warm carriage. The young man, astonished, protested that McKinley knew that he was opposition and that he wasn’t going to stop opposing McKinley during the campaign. McKinley knew that, but he wasn’t out to seek revenge. The reporter continued to oppose McKinley in the remaining days of the campaign, but never again did he write anything unfair or unbiased about the future president.

The receiver has a choice as kindness disallows the receiver to continue as he or she once did. As mentioned before, the giver may take a risk and receive variant responses; nevertheless, the kindness is not for the giver.

Monday, March 01, 2010

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