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Approaching Christmas

December 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Approaching Christmas

Our culture has this odd approach to Christmas nowadays.  There’s political correctness being argued in every corner.  Mass consumerism is rampant.  As the numbers of separated families continue to rise, arguments over who gets who for the big morning abound.  I just had a young teenage lady in my office in tears wondering how she can make everyone in her ‘two homes’ happy.  There are even expectations for families who consider themselves healthy.  There are traditions to uphold.  There are certain cookies to bake.  Budgets are stretched while kids hand catalogs with circled wishes to their parents.  It seems to me that Christmas is full of pressure.  Do you ever feel like that?  Do you now feel like that?

A couple years ago I jumped into an argument of ‘posts’ with person who doesn’t believe in God.  Christmas was just a day off to him.  He was and I assume still is a thought writer…a blogger.  His approach then was to criticize all Christians for using Christmas trees and outside lights.  We were not living up to our true traditional worship.  He saw Christians caught up as much as anyone else in the consumerism of the day.  He also believed that Christmas should not be a national holiday nor should schools, hospitals, government buildings, or city parks show anything that would help someone celebrate the season…because the base holiday of the season is Christmas.

I asked him if, because I put up a tree or outside lights, that I love Jesus less.  He answered that he didn’t mean people like me.  That was funny.  I also asked him if my show of joy for the season should be private or public.  He said that I should be respectful of other beliefs and carefully trod what I say so not to offend.  His joy for not believing was very public, but he was very against Christmas being public.  His contention was that because it is religious, it should be private, personal and quietly held.  Wow.  More pressure on us believers.  I’m sure you’ve heard and seen similar things in the news or your workplace.  He did get me thinking though about how people really see my celebration.

Is this an article to argue (voice raised here), “Our Rights as American Citizens!”?  No, not at all.  I’m simply writing for my own reasons.  I’m finding that it feels like I’m in the middle of a tornado watching all the expectations, political correctness, busyness, things to do and buy fly around me in whirlwind fashion.  Something inside me wonders … as Christians, do we really celebrate the new born king?

Luke 1:46-55 records a song.  It’s Mary’s song she sang while talking with her cousin Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist.  The NIV translates the Mary’s Merry Christmas greeting as, “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”  Luke 2:14 records the shepherds crying out their holiday greeting as, “Glory to God in the highest…”  It’s later recorded in the same chapter that the shepherds went and told everyone they saw about what they were blessed to witness….and all were amazed (2:17).  I’m wondering if we’re so far removed from the history of what really happened that we’ve lost the real joy.  By ‘real joy’ I mean that we now have a way to Heaven.  Are we allowing the frustrations and pressures and consumerism and expectations and political correctness to steal away the joy that Mary and the shepherds once had?  Can we still have that same joy?  Can we have the same joy that caused Simeon to say, “…you can now dismiss your servant in peace…” after seeing the baby Jesus?  Can we still have the joy that caused the shepherds to tell…key word is tell…many people about their joy?

Are lights and trees ok?  Is Santa ok?  Are children’s Christmas lists ok?  Are big ham dinners with homemade cookies and hot chocolate ok?  Let’s say that I’ve had a change of heart.  I love that stuff.  Lots of people do.  Many celebrate the season not really knowing why the season is celebrated.  However, do I, in the midst of hanging outdoor wreaths and wrapping presents, proclaim glory to the promised king?  I guess it comes down to this.  If people see me celebrate, but all they see are the tree lights or the shirt tie that plays “Little Drummer Boy” or the antlers that fit on my dog’s head, then I’m off base.  As a believer, I’m a priest carrying the promise of salvation to the world (1 Peter 2:9).  What better time do we have to celebrate publicly with smiles and joy?  This is the time we can celebrate as a church family, worldwide, that our savior was born.  We have forgiveness!

So, I don’t write this for those who don’t believe.  I write this for me, a believer, who sometimes gets stuck in the rut of the “holidays” and forgets that I’ve been both privileged and entrusted with a message that truly is the best news anyone has ever received.  It’s not mine to keep.  It’s His story…for me to give away.

 

Oh come let us adore Him,

ed

 

PS – Just thinking out loud here.  On Easter Sunday many Christians greet each other with “He is risen!” to which the response, “He is risen indeed!” is given.  Let’s start something new just for the sake of newness and as a reminder.  How about, “He has been born!”  “He has been born indeed!”  : 0 )

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2 B Foolish or Wise … That is THE Question

October 21, 2011 Leave a comment

2 B

Foolish or Wise …

That is THE Question

 

 

 

You will probably want to read the short passage, Matthew 7:24-27, before reading the rest of this article.  Most all of us have heard the story Jesus pulls out of his hat.  However, many don’t hear the fact that Jesus separates everyone who hears this story into two camps.  Fools & Wise.  There are times when I read the Bible and can picture Jesus saying something sternly.  Sometimes I picture Him having a little grin.  Sometimes I imagine tears and sometimes I picture Him belly laughing.  I’m not sure here.  The story is simple, yet given what He just said in 7:21, very serious.  My guess is that the crowd is nearly in silence, thinking through what Jesus just said about judgement.  I can see Jesus saying this little parable with a slight smile, but there’s still silence in the crowd.  They now just have another great image of what life without the man standing front of them will be like.  They just have to accept His words as truth or walk away from it.

Have you noticed that in the previous couple paragraphs of Matthew 7, Jesus lays out a black and white plan?  There’s not much grey area in what He’s saying.  You either enter into one gate or the other (13-14).  You’re either producing good fruit or bad fruit (v. 16).  Many will call “Lord, Lord…” yet many who think they know God will not be known by Him.  Now we have one of only two foundations.  Rock or sand.  And if you notice how Jesus says this, He says, “…the rock.”  It’s not just any rock.

Foundations are essential.  In the Sr. High group, we recently watched a video detailing the life of three teens.  The first teen was a girl who had a boyfriend.  She loved this boy.  She compromised values for him.  She talked late at night to him.  She waited patiently in the hall between classes for him.  He was her life.  One day she found him in by his locker talking with another girl…not just any conversation.  Soon thereafter he broke up with her.  Her foundation was weak…in fact her foundation was him.  When he left, life fell apart.  The second student was an incredible athlete being chased by colleges for his basketball skills.  He knew he was good and dreamt of fame and success with his ability.  And he was good.  During one game, he stepped wrong towards the basket and blew out his knee.  When the scouts heard about his injury the phone calls and college letters stopped.  The rest of the season was gone.  His life fell apart.  Athletics and his God given abilities were his foundation.  There now was no foundation and life fell apart.

The third boy was a teen who had a relationship with Christ.  He wasn’t perfect, but in everything he did, he tried to imagine that he was doing it for God.  His studies were to please God.  How he handled his friendships were to please God.  How he stayed active in his local church family was meant to please God.  One day this young boy came home and was called into the living room by his parents.  They were sitting on opposite sides of the couch with scared looks on their faces.  The words “…it’s not you, it’s us…” came out of their mouths.  His parents were telling him that they were separating.  His family was falling apart in front of his eyes.  Life changing?  Yes.  Foundation crumbling?  Not at all.  His family was important, but it was not his foundation.  Christ was his foundation.  When family fell apart, his foundation stood strong.  Christ didn’t leave.  Christ became his strength where he had none.

Is your house built on The Rock or on sand?  It’s a rather simple question.  Jesus said there will be rain, wind and flooding waters.  Will you choose to be wise or foolish?  Remember, according to this story, there are only two foundations.  They are already there waiting for you to build on…connect to…tie your life to.  Which will you choose?

Questions for Growth:

  • What takes up most of your time?
  • What takes up most of your money?
  • What takes up most of your energy?
  • What do you dwell on?
  • Are you focused on Heaven or on Earth?
  • Do these things that you spend time, money and energy on create a stronger link to The Rock or to something else?
  • …connecting with last week’s article… What fruit is evident in your life that shows what foundation you’re building your life on?

Love, Serve, Spread the Word,

Ed

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment

A pirate captain was on the look out for buried treasure.

After months of hard sailing, his ship caught sight of land, the land to which his treasure map had been leading.

He and his first mate disembarked on the island to search out the buried treasure, which was supposed to lie hidden deep within a swamp at the center of the island.

Sure enough, at the center of the island was a swamp, and the Captain and his first mate bravely entered the swamp.

Soon the swamp began to get deeper, and the pirate’s feet, then ankles, and finally entire leg below the knees was covered in swamp.

It was at that time that the Captain banged his shin against something hard. He reached down, searched around, and pulled up a treasure chest.

Prying the lock open, the chest revealed gold and jewels beyond imagination!

The Captain turned to his first mate and said, “Arrrr, matey, that just goes to show ye, that booty is only shin deep!”

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the book of Ecclesiastes.  In 9:1 of Ecclesiastes it says this, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”  This was written by the one who asked for God’s wisdom and received it…Solomon.  Solomon realized something very true.  There’s nothing new in relation to human nature.  Today’s verse focuses on something that is as true today as it was when Jesus spoke the words of Matthew 6:19-21.  In fact, they were also as true for Jesus’ followers as they were for the people in Solomon’s time as well.

We like to have things.  We like stuff.  We like gadgets.  We not only like having stuff…but we like having the best stuff.  We like our cars and dresses and tv’s and radios and music and IPods and tablets and game systems and awards and certificates.  We like good smelling things and things that make our house look nice.  We like nice things to sit in and nice things to walk on.  We like cash in our wallets and we like to go buy something when we want it.

Jesus talks straight about this to the people who are listening.  He’s just covered how to give to the needy, how to pray and how to fast.  Those things all seem well intentioned because they look like things done for and with God.  This one’s personal though.  He talks about our personal treasure.

When I was a kid, mom would take my sister and me to the library on a regular basis.  One subject I loved to read about was “treasure hunters.”  I would day dream about being a “hunter” one day and finding a sunken treasure ship that no one had found before.  I remember when we would go on vacation to Florida.  We’d go out to eat somewhere and sometimes the placemat would be a “map” of sunken ships that no one had ever found.  I kept those placemats, thinking one day I just might go and use that map to find treasure.

Well, you don’t see me on TV scuba diving in the Caribbean searching for lost treasure in the sea.  But that doesn’t mean I still don’t search for treasure.  I like my stuff…my treasure…and as Jesus hinted to, it gets in the way of the True Treasure God has for us each and every day.

John Maxwell, speaker and author, says that he can basically tell most things about a person by doing a few things…and in about 5 minutes.  He said let me see your calendar, the books you are reading, and your check book.  From those three things he can get a good picture of what you go after…what your main focuses are in life.  Think about that for a minute.  If he can do that, and I’m confident that he can, what would he see if you opened up your books to him?  What would your checkbook show is important to you?  What would your calendar show is important to you?  What do you focus on in down time and what’s it say is important to you?

Jesus said that the stuff we collect here on earth is not meaningful.  This stuff is not going to last and it can be taken from you.  He said that there is treasure that will not rot away and no one can steal.  The last line of this short passage of scripture is the kicker.  Wherever your treasure is…your heart’s there too, and if it’s not with God it’s somewhere else.

Solomon got to this wisdom late and after many mistakes.  He had used most of his wealth to buy treasure on earth.  Later in life he realized what was really important.  Here’s what he said after talking about his abundance of stuff, “…when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”  He realized that not one of these things got him closer to God.  Luckily, we have his story and testimony and the books of Ecclesiastes and Proverbs to help us see a little clearer what’s really important in life.

So where’s your treasure?

Love, Serve, Spread the Word,

Ed

Questions for Growth:

  • How are you a treasure hunter?
  • How does your treasure interfere with your relationship with God?
  • How does your treasure, or treasure hunting, interfere with your ministry as a Christian…a priest of God?
  • What steps will you take today or tomorrow to change your patterns of behavior?

Heaven on Earth…Now


What is your church preference?

  • While filling out an application for employment, the applicant came to a query
    which asked, “What is your Church Preference?”
    The man, not being a person of extraordinary intelligence thought the question
    for some time because he really needed the job. He wanted to impress the
    employer and answered very confidently, “I prefer a red brick church.”

As silly as the joke above might be, it very well might be nearer a truth in our American church society today.  If you listen close to the way we talk about our churches, we mention things associated with places, addresses, programs, target groups, worship music and, of course, buildings.  Having just arrived home from a week in Haiti, I can say that I have new eyes when it comes to “church” things.

Let’s speak frankly for a moment.  The Bible talks specifically that we, who claim Christ as Lord, are members of His body (Ephesians 5:30).  The Bible only separates church families by place names, or more specifically the city where they meet (Writings of Paul and Revelation).  The Church has two focuses…Love God and Love people (Matthew 22:37-39).  The church has one purpose.  It is to help people cross over from their life of sin into a life in relationship with the Forgiver of Sins (Matthew 28:19-20).  The Bible does not separate church families by philosophy, style of music, size of building, number in attendance, or length of Sunday morning services.  We are to be one body acting together in purpose throughout the world.

Ok, I’m sure I got some of your buttons pushed above.  But we really can’t argue with Jesus’ model prayer here.  Jesus has us praying for God’s will to be done through us, His church, here on this planet.  This reminds me of His prayer in John 17:19-23…

  • I pray also for those who will believe in me through [the Disciples’] message,21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

We are here, on earth, to be a real and tangible presence of Heaven.  So how are we doing in this area?  How are we doing in our local communities?  How are we doing through the week in our workplaces and schools?  Are we a fresh vision of Heaven to all who see us?  You see this model prayer is both for the individual as well as for the church.  When we pray this one line…it is for us.  It is a prayer, a request that God’s will will be done through each of us…as though we are a constant 24/7 representative of Heaven.

Some questions for evaluation for yourself or your church family:

  • When people see me do they see God?
  • When people hear me do they hear God?
  • When I make decisions, do people see the decisions that God would make?
  • Do people see God’s forgiveness when I forgive?  Do I forgive?
  • Do people see God’s care when I care for them?
  • Do people see God’s unconditional love when I am around?

….or

  • Do they see me instead of God?
  • Do they hear my attitudes and selfishness instead of God?
  • Do they see decisions that are for ‘my good’ rather than ‘my neighbor’s?’
  • Do they see me holding a list of their sins?
  • Do they see me caring more for my personal stuff than theirs?
  • Do they see love when they deserve it, and love withheld when they don’t?

Heaven on earth.  As Steve Kimbrel has aptly said, we are ‘outposts of Heaven’ in the place we live…in the place we work…in the places we spend our time…for the people we are around.

  • “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

love-serve-spread the Word, ed

So what about life?….

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

I was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital after my wife had gone into labor and the nurse walked out and said to the man sitting next to me, “Congratulations sir, you’re the new father of twins!”

The man replied, “How about that, I work for the Doublemint Chewing Gum Company.” The man then followed the woman to his wife’s room.

About an hour later, the same nurse entered the waiting room and announced that Mr. Smith’s wife has just had triplets.

Mr. Smith stood up and said, “Well, how do ya like that, I work for the 3M Company.”

The gentleman that was sitting next to me then got up and started to leave. When I asked him why he was leaving, he remarked, “I think I need a breath of fresh air.” The man continued, “I work for 7-UP.”

Life.  Life is precious.  Many who will read this no doubt have been on both sides of the word “precious.”  Because life is precious, it can bring both extreme happiness and extreme sadness.  Life is a gift of God.

 

Life began in the Garden of Eden.  Specifically, human life became the crown jewel of creation when on the 6th day God formed man and woman and breathed into their lungs.  They were alive.  Hearts were beating.  Blood was flowing through their veins.  Their eyes could see.  Their hands could feel the touch of God’s hand in them.  You know how it feels to walk out on a cool morning and take a deep breath.  Adam and Eve took the very first refreshing deep breaths ever.

 

God created them.  That’s where we start with the subject of life.  We cannot start anywhere else. All of our ideas about human kind have to start here.  All of our considerations towards the value of life have to start here.  God created.

 

We do, however, have an adversary that wants to alter where we start when we think about ‘human life.’  Satan would rather us start thinking and feeling with our own thoughts of humanity…based on our emotions, experiences, selfishness, and the worldly values that often seep into our hearts.  Satan would want us to forget Who it was that began life itself.

 

David, the ancient King and Psalmist, said that God knew Him before he was formed (Psalm 139).  David wrote that God formed him and watched him as he grew in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139).  Incredible insight.

 

We also see how important life is through the life of Jesus.  Christ died for humanity.  If humanity was something that could be defined by science or evolution theories, I’m not sure we’d need a buried and risen savior.  Jesus died for our very existence.  God created…Jesus saved.

 

Next…again, based on what we know and believe…there is a place in Heaven being prepared for us (John 14:2).  God Created.  Jesus Saved.  God is planning on us being with Him again.  I’m not sure about you, but through the eyes of God…human life is precious.

 

The 10 Commandments speak also of God’s feelings towards His creation.  We are not to kill one another.  We are not to lie to one another.  We are not to steal from one another.  We are to respect each other possessions and family as well as our own.  God Created…and created a life plan.  Jesus Saved.  God is planning for us to be with Him again for eternity.

 

If we base all of what we believe about human life on just these things, we see why Jesus said the greatest commandment is in two parts…Love God, and Love the others that He created as well.

 

I’m so glad there’s forgiveness when it comes to how I/we treat each other. From abortion, to lying, to hate, to selfishness, to jealousy, to adultery, to murder, to stealing…we have all fallen short of God’s plan for life.  Adam and Eve had a taste…they lost it.  We now have a chance to taste the forgiveness that will lead to a life with God again…hand in hand.  The greatest thing is that we have the privilege of being asked to participate in passing this blessing around (Genesis 12:2-3).

 

Love, Serve, Spread the Word,

ed

No Plan B

January 21, 2011 Leave a comment

“Relevance is a consequence of kingdom living, not a cause.” Rick McKinley

 

How did Jesus get things done?  He was the master organizer and the ultimate project analyst.  He had a plan…The Plan…and 2000 years later that Plan is still going strong.  If we would take a few minutes to peak into His Plan and how He is accomplishing it, we might see that we all have a part to play in this Master Plan.

 

First we need to know what the plan is for.

 

Goal:  Everyone has the opportunity for full forgiveness so they can be in Heaven forever with their Creator.

 

Adam and Eve had no clue what pain or time or frustration or sin was until they were hip deep in it.  They were in a place where they were wholly with God, face to face and hand in hand.  Jesus is the final piece of a huge strategy to get us back in a position so this can happen for each one of us.  Sin must be done away with…evil defeated.

 

Jesus begins his ministry around the age of 30 after His baptism and a short time of temptation in the wilderness.  In the passage, we read of Jesus beginning by preaching about repentance in Galilee.  My guess is that most people in Galilee had heard the news about Jesus preaching, healing, and forgiving many.  Obviously, lots of people were accepting Him as the one the prophets had talked about.  He had instant fame by human standards.  His message was not just popular though…it made sense if He was who He said He was.  It made perfect sense to the first men that Jesus approached, because when He said, “Follow me,” they did just that.  His message had been clear.  He was who they were looking for.

 

Given that, Andrew, Simon, James and John’s friends probably thought this a huge deal…rather than a weird thing they were doing.  It made sense.  Their decision to follow made sense with the message they had heard from their forefathers and Jesus’ own lips.  Jesus’ message was understood.  It lined straight up with what they had been told since they were little boys.  Thus, if this was really God’s own Son…why NOT follow him?!

 

Jesus’ plan wasn’t really His.  It was His Father’s (John 5:19)…and He said that He can only do what God the Father was doing.  This movement started long before He was born in human skin on planet Earth.  The plan for salvation began when God’s first children walked away from Him.  Therefore, God is not only clear about this plan through His Son, Jesus, He is very un-changing all the way through the Bible.  He’s been committed to this plan for a very long time.  Jesus is committed to this plan as well.  He calls us to join Him and commit ourselves to the plan too.

 

This is a plan that has been clear since the beginning.  Now…not all of it has been revealed since the start…but each step was clear.  Examples:  “Abraham, you’re going to have a kid,” “Joseph, you’re going to be OK…you’re one of mine,” “Moses, just go back to Egypt and help me free my kids,” “David, one from your family is going to be The One,” “Micah, tell everyone that He’s coming …specifically to Bethlehem,” “Mary, you’re going to be a mommy,” “Zachariah, your soon to be son will be like the one called Elijah,”  “Hey shepherds, He’s here…go check it out,” “Yes, Herod, be very afraid,” ….and on and on and on.

 

Each one of these people had a point of either committing to truth or walking away from it.  Truth stands…it was their decision to mark their part of the story with the rest or not.  And here we are today.  We’ve heard Truth.  It is consistent with what the Bible says from beginning to end.  It is also consistent with much of human written history…go figure.  So what do we do?

 

We have a choice to make.  Do we join this earth age movement, which hell can’t stop, or do we … well you fill in the blank.  From my perspective, this makes sense.  Life is short.  We are privileged to be invited to have a part to play in this plan.  Like those first disciples said, “Let’s go!”

 

Sometimes we ask ourselves if we’re being relevant as a church family or even individually as a disciple.  I love the first quote by Rick McKinley from his book The Beautiful Mess, “Relevance is a consequence of kingdom living, not a cause.”  We can have a part … just live like we’re really part of this Kingdom plan.

 

I like the way Manafest puts it in the band’s new song No Plan B, “I know that this road is my destiny, I’ve got to stick to the plan, cause there’s no plan B.”  Jesus has only a plan A because it is working and it is perfect and it is from His Father.  We don’t need a plan B.  Only plan A will work.  Are you in?

 

ed

 

Grow Questions:

  • What holds us back from simply saying “Yes” like Peter, Andrew, James and John?
  • Is our/your message “flock worthy”?  (See Matthew 4:23-25)
  • How do you live this message daily in your schedule wherever you are?
  • Does your daily message sound/look like you follow someone who came back from the dead?

 

Nailed to the Cross

March 26, 2010 Leave a comment

What if what happened then changes everything now?

3/28/10

I Have the Promise of Eternal Life – Palm Sunday

Luke 23:35-43

The lesson this week is just one of those that are bitter sweet. The reason is that it both reminds us of what we are and what we have. We often need to hold close the fact that we need a savior/sacrifice. In the same sense, we also need to grip to the promise that our imperfection is being perfected.

Probably the most simple illustration of how one person can choose to deny Jesus and another can embrace him is in our story today. Luke records in his Gospel that while on the cross, Jesus hung between two thieves…on their respective crosses. One thief makes Jesus out to be a bum. The other asks Jesus to remember him. Jesus ignores the first, but to the one that humbled himself, Christ says, “Soon, you’ll be with me in Heaven.”

Wow, can you image what that thief then felt. Sure he was on a cross. His arms were probably tied to the cross beam. He had probably been beaten. He probably couldn’t breathe. He probably felt guilt for what he had done. However, Jesus just said, “See you on the other side…you’ll be with me.” I can imagine that a small grin came over that thief’s face. His next breath might have been one of peace…like inhaling deep when you walk outside on a crisp spring morning. A peace was there that wasn’t there before. Dying was now not an end…it was a beginning.

Rembrandt painted a crucifixion scene with himself at the base of the cross. Wow, to have that immortalized in art history forever. It seemed he wanted to visualize himself at the point in eternity where Jesus died for specifically him and his sins. Mel Gibson tells the story that when it came to point of recording the scene where the guard nails Jesus’ hands to the cross, he wanted his hands doing the nailing in the scene. It is considered the highest honor to be chosen as the male who is picked to represent Jesus in many Latin American celebrations of the death and resurrection of Jesus. The person picked is beaten and actually nailed to a cross.

Why would someone want to get that close to the scene of death? Why would someone want to remember Jesus in these ways? Well, I would pose that they are not remembering Jesus’ death. They are remembering that they were partly the reason Jesus had to die. It’s personal! It’s all about them…and believe me, that’s not a pride thing. Jesus wants us to know that it’s all about us. We are why he died. He wanted to give us a gift. He wants us to grin a little…to take in a deep breath of peace like the fresh spring air…and to know that we will be with Him forever.

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