Still Pursuing God’s Ideal of Authentic Christianity

authenticAs we approach the new year it is a time to reflect in order to reach forward to the future God has for us.  As I do this I realize afresh that to “pursue the purpose of God in my generation” (like David Acts 13:36) I must still be in pursuit of God’s ideal, authentic Biblical Christianity.

About 37 years ago my fiancé (who is now my wife of 35 years) and I knew we needed to be a part of a church to effectively serve God.  I had just been radically saved from a secular, hard partying life as a college football player.  My fiancé had recently given her life to Jesus having grown up in a religious environment but drifting away while living the college life.

I had encountered Jesus in a Spirit filled environment so I knew we needed to be a part of a church that was open to Holy Spirit.  We found a small church that was part of a Pentecostal denomination and began to attend.  Because I had a zeal for God and was a college football player I was quickly given responsibility for the teen Sunday School class and later was given other responsibilities including occasional preaching.

I was fairly idealistic having no Christian background to overcome.  I simply believed that if the Word of God says it then that settles it.  We have no option if we are living under Christ’s Lordship but to pursue building His church as He designed it.

While in that church I was joined to another brother who was the pastor of a church in that same denomination.  I would connect with him regularly and sometimes would preach in his church.  As we began freshly looking at God’s design for His church from both the book of Acts and the Epistles the contrast to what we were involved in became very apparent. He eventually resigned from his church, moved to the same town, and we began  meeting together on Tuesday evenings pouring over God’s Word regarding Jesus’ design for His church.  We began to experience other young people getting saved and joining our small group. God’s design for His house infected all of us.  We knew we could not just settle for “church” as we had known it.  We had to pursue His design.

A definition of authentic (Biblical) Christianity got a hold of us during those days, “People coming under the loving Lordship of Jesus and being joined to other imperfect people, under the oversight of a team of God appointed leaders, who together were learning to live His life as a testimony to the world around us.”  Church was clearly more than  attending a meeting or going to a building.  It was a relational/family way of life together as we pursue His will.

During that same time I was asked to teach a class on the Book of Ephesians.  While preparing for the class God met me and I saw more deeply His design for church in light of His eternal purpose.  As we shared it with others we began to be ruined for God’s ideal of authentic Biblical church life.

Not enough to simply know we must pursue 

We were finding it increasingly difficult to pursue some of the important features of His
design in the Pentecostal denomination we were in. Through a mutual friend we met leaders of a church in another city that were not only pursuing these things, but actually had some of them in operation in their church.  The ideal we were seeing now had some earthly reality to it.  There was no turning back now.  It was no longer a Biblical ideal that we could take comfort in simply knowing.  We had to go for it.

As we met with some of the denominational officials about what we were seeing and wanting to pursue they clearly indicated little openness to many of the things.  It became clear that in order to pursue them we would have to leave.  The officials tried to talk us out of it but we could not live our lives without pursing the things God was showing us. We gladly gave the building back to the denomination (most of which we had paid for) and almost the whole congregation left to form a new church.  We even offered to pay the remaining building payments for the six adults who stayed behind.

God began leading us into relationships with others of like mind and spirit who were pursuing the same things.  We have seen several churches planted and others God joined us to transition into pursuing what God was revealing to us. One of our friends left a position of assistant district superintendent and  pastorate with the same denomination we had left. God joined us with many other wonderful people from all over the world in a family of churches called “Salt and Light International.”  While all of us have made many mistakes and have not seen everything in His design walked out we can’t settle for anything less.

idealOver the years it has been a convoluted journey.   We have seen people come alongside, taste and pursue God’s ideals together, then later head towards other paths. We have seen leaders fall away and some friends move to other places where they ended up in back in same Pentecostal denomination we left because it was the best church in the geographical area of their new job.  Other friends left jobs, houses, income, and familiarity to move to a place to be a part of a people pursuing these same ideals.  It was both encouraging and humbling to see people make sacrifices similar to what Jesus continually said  “forsake all and follow Me” (Mt 10:37-39,16:23-29, Mk 8:34-38, 10:23-31, Luk 9:23-24, 5:11-28, 14:26-33, 18:22-30, Jn 12:25-26).

Many times the cost of pursuing God’s ideals took a heavy toll in terms of both emotional and spiritual challenges but what other choice can one make when Jesus is “head of the body the Church so that He would come to have first place in everything” (Col 1:17-19).  We must be in a place where His ideals have a possibility of coming to pass with a people who want to pursue them.  After all a vision is just a “good idea” unless one is willing to sacrifice to see it come to pass.  While we have not obtained all of them or seen them perfectly walked out, we can’t settle for anything less.

no turning backWhat are the essentials of His design we can’t live without?  While not an exhaustive list these things are at the core.

  1. Church is a family-relational way of life among people joined together by God, not a building, meeting, or an organization (Acts 2:38-42, 4:35-42, 57 “one another’s” in the Epistles, 44% of the NT instruction about how to relationally walk together).
  2. The local church is central, not peripheral to the plans and purposes of God (Mt 16:18, Eph 1:23, 3:3-11, 5:25-32, Rev 19:7, 21:2-9, 22:17). Many see local churches like consumers see retail outlets. Churches exist to accommodate and accessorize their lives as they pursue their individual dreams.
  3. The Kingdom of God (Rule of Christ) is to be expressed in and through God’s people as they submit to Christ’s Lordship in all areas of their lives and His headship in the church (Acts 2:36-42, Rom 10:9-10, Col 1:17-19, Rev 1-3).
  4. Local church membership is comprised of disciples who follow Jesus who seek to obey everything He says (Mt 28:18-20, Acts 11:23). In in the gospels Jesus says to “follow Me” 25 times.  Only 4 times He says to believe.  The emphasis is clearly on following.  About 269 times in the NT God’s people are referred to as disciples. Only 3 times as “Christians.”  Church members are not just an audience of people attending meetings who made decisions about Jesus.   Real membership is is a group of disciples pursuing Him.
  5. God’s design is a continual Spirit filled life with Biblical evidences. God’s people are to be led by, filled with, and moving in all the gifts of Holy Spirit both in meetings as well as everyday life (John 7:37-39, Acts 1:8, 2:1-4, 4:8, 31, 6:3, 8:12-24, 9:1-17, 10:43-48, 19:1-6, 1 Cor 12-14, Eph 5:18). They are essential not optional.
  6. All the Ephesians 4 ministries are essential to the building of local churches. Receiving Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Evangelist, and Teachers is not optional but essential. They bring increased vision, spiritual impact, and provide good care, counsel, and accountability for local churches and leaders.
  7. The local church is governed by a team of leaders (elders with deacons alongside) chosen by God, recognized by people, with Ephesians 4 ministries involved in their appointment (Acts 14:23, 15:4-23, 16:4, 20:17-28, Phil 1:1, 1 Thes 5:12, 1 Tim 5:1-21, Tit 1:5-11, Jas 5:14, 1 Pet 5:1). This is in contrast to a one man “pastor” who works with a deacon or elder board appointed by the congregation who form a committee to govern church affairs. Jesus’ design is for leaders to walk together in a family/team relationship similar to the relationship among the Godhead (John 17:11, 21-23).
  8. God desires trans-local Ephesians 4 ministries to walk and work together as a family team (Acts 13-28, Romans 16:1-16, 1 Cor 16:10-24, Col 4:7-18). Their input helps provide good foundations (Eph 2:20, 1 Cor 3:10-12), as well as fatherly and motherly care into local church families (1 Thes 2:7-11).
  9. The call of mission to the world is upon everyone, everywhere, all the time (Gen 1:26-28, Mt 28:18-20, Acts 1:8, Eph 1:22-22 etc.). Local churches are God’s family together on God’s mission. Missions isn’t a program or a special call upon a few people who live in faraway places.  It is the daily call upon all the church whether it be across the street or across the ocean.  In Jesus’ model for missions seen in Matthew 9-11 and Luke 9-10 He sends them out in pairs and the others they are joined to are able to follow them into the work.
  10. God desires praise and worship that is heartfelt, Spirit filled, and according to His truth (Jn 4:23-24) with all the physical expressions prescribed in the Bible. This includes, but is not limited to the Biblical expressions such as shouting 265 times, playing musical instruments 58 times, singing 29 times, lifting our hands 14 times, clapping 12 times, bowing or kneeling 12 times, dancing 9 times, and standing 7 times.
  11. God desires His people to have a multigenerational perspective that reaches back to help those younger while at the same time we reach forward.  We want to leave a spiritual legacy to those coming behind us (Ps 78, Titus 2 etc).
  12. Ministry isn’t relegated to a few people on a platform in corporate meetings. Ministry is about every person being equipped and using their God given abilities to build up the family of God everyday to reach the world with the gospel (1 Cor 12-14, Eph 4:10-32, Rom 12:1-17, 1 Pet 4:10-11, 1 Tim 4:4, 2 Tim 1:6).

Like the apostle Paul said, “not that I have already obtained or already become perfect, but I press on” (Phil 3:12) we are to continue to reach for God’s ideal with those He joins us to.

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Five Minute God Thoughts: Decisions determine our desitiny

“How did I get here!”  Most of us have had seasons and times, especially when facing challenges, in which we wondered how our lives ended up like this.  While we face issues that are often beyond our control the actual place we end up is usually more about the decisions we make (the Bible calls it “paths”) than circumstances or even our intentions.   There is a universal truth that “our decisions determine our destiny” more than any other factor.  Our daily decisions have more of a bearing on our life than the intentions we have in our heart.  If we want to live in the life Jesus desires for us we must let His design, more than our disappointments, determine the steps we take.

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Carrying God’s Dream together: A Miraculous Design

"The deepest part of your heart longs to be bound together in some heroic purpose with others of like mind and spirit"

“The deepest part of your heart longs to be bound together in some heroic purpose with others of like mind and spirit”

Eph 3:8-11 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery…10)  so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church (MSG Through Christians like yourselves built into churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known) (11)  This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,

Ephesians 3:20-21  Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us,  (21)  to Him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. Isa 60:7

Col 1:24-25 rejoices in sufferings…I fill up the things lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh, on behalf of His body, which is the church;  (25)  of which I became a minister

When Christians view the church through the lens of God’s purpose seen in Scripture it changes their whole posture.   If they don’t church becomes an unfortunate drudgery or religious obligation easily avoided or only given a token effort.  Even worse it can lead to it’s own members almost becoming partners in persecution of the very bride Jesus died to perfect, spend eternity with (Rev 19:7, 21:2,9), and through which He fulfills His purpose.     Joy of the whole earth

In spite of all her faults and imperfections the church is the most glorious organization ever produced on earth.  Looking at past 2000 years you have to admit that it’s creation, endurance, and influence is miraculous.  It has survived and continues to survive terrible persecution as well as consistent neglect and criticism by many of it’s own members.  It has also survived many disappointing imperfections from it’s leaders and members causing shame and dishonor in the eyes of the world around her.

In spite of all of the challenges and faults throughout the centuries the church has demonstrated what God’s has designed her to be, His chosen instrument of blessing to the whole earth (Gen 1:26-28, 12:3, 18:18, 22:17-18, 26:4, Gal 3:8-29, Eph 3:1-21).  When you look down through the annals of history the church has been the greatest force for good on the face of the earth.  Almost everywhere you go in the word there are churches seeking to bring benefit and blessing to the world around them.  They are battling and overcoming poverty, ignorance, disease, and the consequences of sin in families and communities. I have been to remote villages in India and Africa that have little else, but they do have a churches demonstrating God’s goodness.

Statistics consistently show that churches outdo other groups during natural disasters like floods, tornadoes, and earthquakes in quick response times as well as longevity of care.  Over and over again in these types of disasters the vast majority of meals, relief, and volunteer workers came from churches.

History has also demonstrated that the lion’s share of motivation and effort to correct societal ills originated with churches.  Problems such as sickness, disease, education, woman’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and the Civil Rights movement all had their origins in the church.  It is really true what the great commentator Matthew Henry declared about the calling on the church from Psalms 48 (the joy of the whole earth) “This is the privilege of the church of Christ  that it is a holy mountain, a peculiar people…This earth is, by sin, covered with deformity, & therefore justly might that spot of ground which was thus beautified with holiness be called the  joy of the whole earth, that is, what the whole earth has reason to rejoice in.”

It takes more than simply “going to church”

These types of impacts didn’t come by God’s people simply “going to church together.”  The early church had no idea of our societies brand of “church going.”  When you look at the early church in the Bible they had a much deeper experience in their relationship together in Christ.  They were “added and devoted” to a way of life together Acts 2:41-47.

It carried with it the idea of being of “one heart and soul.”  Act 4:32  And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul… Barnes commentary on this verse speaks of the early church having “one heart which denotes a tender union.  They felt alike, or were attached to the same things.”  Like the quote above they were “joined by God in a heroic purpose.”

They knew that Jesus building His church to fulfill His purpose was at the heart of what He was doing.  They heard it from His own lips in Matthew 16:18 then He called them to lay their lives down for His cause Mat 16:24-25… “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.  25  “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

As the early apostles preached, they were not simply looking for crowds of new converts but for followers of Jesus who would be built together by Christ to become His active body on earth (1 Cor 12:27, Eph 1:22-23 etc.), and His bride for eternity (Eph 5:25-27, Rev 19:7, 21:2,9) .  They wanted lost people found Luke 15, and built together into Christ body through which He speaks and acts and fills everything with His presence Ephesians 1:23 MSG. They wanted His people to become “members one of another (Ephesians 4:25, Romans 12:4).  

Paul referred those He was joined with in His cause as sons, children, brothers sisters, co worker, fellow worker, and fellow soldier etc.  All these terms carry the idea of being joined in a cause (His dream) that they carried together.  Rom 16:9, 21, 2Co 8:23, Php 2:25, 1Th 3:2, 1Co 3:6-9, Rom 16:3, Php 4:3, Col 1:7, 4:9-11, Phm 1:24, 3Jn 1:8, Php 2:25, Phm 1:2, 23,  2Co 2:12-13, 8:23, Php 4:1-3, 1Ti 1:18, 2Ti 1:2, 2:1, 1Pe 5:13, 2Pe 3:15 

His design entails being together in a purpose.  When Christians understand and embrace this calling it affects everything from the way they treat each other, the way they seek God together, how they carry their responsibilities together, to the way they move together in His mission to the earth around them.

Biblical Example of Carrying God’s Dream Together On Mission

Samson and foxesWhen God joins people together to carry His dream Jesus will continue to destroy the works of the enemy through them 1Jn 3:8…The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. An OT analogy of this is what Samson did when he joined the foxes around a torch (dream) of fire (His Spirit).  He released the foxes together and they moved through and destroyed the enemies crops Jdg 15:4-5.  

When Jesus joins His people together to carry His dream with the fire of the Holy Spirit between them they also move among the enemies works and destroy them. This is what Jesus did when He sent out the 12 and 70 in pairs in Matthew 9-11 and Luke 10.  They brought peace into receptive homes, healed people, cast out devils, and preached the Kingdom.

This is what Peter and John did when they went to the temple and healed the blind man Acts 3:1-11.  It is what Paul, Barnabbas, Silas, Timothy and others did when they preached the gospel and saw churches raised up.  It is what countless Christian’s have done throughout the centuries as Jesus joined them together to carry God’s dream.  When you see this you will no longer be content to simply “go to church together.” You will hunger to carry God’s dream together.

 

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Living for Eternal Purposes Pt 4

ambassadors 2

We have been looking at various aspects of living for God’s Eternal Purposes while on this earth (see “Living for Eternal Purposes Pt 1,2, & 3). Every follower of Jesus should endeavor to live their life on earth like David did, so it can be recorded as it was about him, “David after he served the purpose of God in his generation fell asleep” Acts 13:36.

Serving God’s purposes while on the earth can seem like a mystery to some.  Yet God isn’t playing hide and seek with His pruposes.  It isn’t only for a few select Christians to discover and serve His eternal purposes.  It is for everyone who follows Jesus.

We have enough clarity from God’s word to know essential aspects of His purpose and start serving them now.  While there may be certain aspects of His purposes that become clarified as we go forward, there are three overall areas that are extremely clear and should embraced now.  I call these the egg of God’s purposes.  For an egg to be successfully birthed in the earth all three parts must be together. The same is true for His purposes to be birthed in and through our life.  All three are to be embraced simultaneously .  We have explored the first two and this week we want to look at the third.

 Representing Christ as His ambassadors to a world that needs Him

ambassadors

Scriptures reveal that God had designed His people to be joined together by Him,  and sent on His mission in the earth.  Jesus prayed for those two elements to be in His church as He prayed for them the last time in John 17.   Notice the connection between being joined together as one (which reinforces the reality of Him sending us) and being sent into and the earth

Joh 17:11-23 NASB  “… that they may be one even as We are.18  “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world…20  “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word;  21  that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me….23 I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.

Joh 20:21…as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” The Apostle Paul uses the idea of being sent as an “ambassador” on behalf of Christ to this earth.

2Co 5:18-20…God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation,  19  namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  20  Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.  

In Biblical times, as well as today, an ambassador was an official representative of a king or government to a foreign land.  This is a very accurate spiritual picture of the calling on God’s people.  We not only serve Jesus,(the King of Kings), but we represent Him and His government (the Kingdom of God), to a foreign land (the earth).  This is what Jesus intimated in Matthew 5 when He said we are the salt of the earth (touching and influencing the earth) as well as a city set on a hill (demonstrating an alternative government/society, the church).

Jesus told us to go into all the world and be his ambassadors, but many churches today have inadvertently changed the “go and be” command to a “come and see” appeal.  We have grown attached to buildings, programs, staff and a wide variety of goods and services designed to attract and entertain people.

When it comes to being ambassadors, the measure of success isn’t primarily in bigger buildings, bigger budgets, larger staff, and numbers in meetings.  The bigger yardstick of success is to what extent we go out as ambassadors to influence our culture.  As Paul said in 2 Cor 5 the heart of our representation is so people can “be reconciled to God.”  A church full of ambassadors faithfully proclaims the gospel through word and deed. Words alone are not sufficient; how the gospel is embodied in our community and service is as important as what we say.

When we understand our call as ambassadors it changes our whole approach to everyday life.  We no longer simply go to work, school, or the marketplace, we head to our mission field as ambassadors.   Every Christian spends about 65% of their waking moments in work, school, or the marketplace.  There is a strategic nature of these places in the plan of God.

The early church advanced in the first century not primarily by preachers, teachers, debaters, and evangelist.  It was the nameless thousands of people who brought Jesus into their everyday life and reached out as His ambassadors.  Men and women shared to gospel with their friends, colleagues, customers, and others in their everyday course of life.

Think what would happen if the vast majority of people in churches became serious about their calling as ambassadors everyday.  What if they didn’t wait to go to a third world country for a missions trip, but went on one everyday.   Instead of waiting to cross an ocean to be an ambassador, what about crossing the street or the office?  I have heard estimates that America is probably the fourth largest non-Christian nation in the world.  Some report that there are 235 million non-Christians in America.  Ambassadors understand that every time they head out of their house, or out of the church building, they are entering their mission field as an ambassador for Christ.

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Living for Eternal Purposes Pt 1

Eternal PurposeNo one in their right mind would ever calmly reflect, and then form a statement for their life like, “I want to live a meaningless life that doesn’t count for anything.”  “I want to live in such a way that when I die, no one will know or care that I ever existed.”  “I am striving for a life that doesn’t matter.”

Even though it may get distorted, we were all made with a desire to live for significance and purpose.  It is because we were created in the image of God who is very purposeful.  God, who is eternal, has called us to live for eternal purposes that have significance in this life, and will echo through eternity.  Yet for many Christians,  not only do they fail to live for eternal purpose, but have little idea of what God’s eternal purposes are.

We can live for all types of purposes, self fulfillment, career advancement, financial freedom, as well as a host of other things.  According to scripture however, if we fail to live for the purpose for which He saved us, we will live in what the Bible calls “futility.”   People can be good at making a living but still fail at living a life that has His eternal purpose in it.

Scripture declares that when Jesus purchased our lives it was to get us out of living a purposeless/futile life on this earth, in order to live for His eternal purposes.

1 Peter 1:17-19 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth; knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. 

The word “futile” means useless, or of no purpose. The writer of Ecclesiastes used the phrase “Vanity of Vanities” over and over as he evaluates life lived apart from God’s purpose.

I once read a poll from George Barna who found that 36% of born again Christians are still trying to find the purpose for their lives.  That is a sad statistic, especially when compared to what he found from unbelievers in the same poll.  Only 49% of unbelievers are searching for their purpose.  This doesn’t take into account those in both camps who don’t give much attention to thinking or caring about living for purpose.  Of the 64% of remaining born again Christians who are not trying to find out their purpose, what percentage of them don’t care that much about discovering or living for purpose?

Everyone Is Called to Live for Eternal Purposes

Living for His eternal purposes isn’t some sort of superior state that only a few “Super Spiritual Christians” discover.  He is not telling us to live that way, then hiding it from us so we will be frustrated.   I have seen many Christian paralyzed when it comes to confidence in knowing, and living for His eternal purposes. While specific aspects of His purpose may unfold in our lives, God has made the overall elements of His purpose very clear for us in His word.

I have heard all to familiar expressions from Christians who are doing little to engage in God’s purposes like these, “I don’t’ know what I am suppose to be doing…God hasn’t shown me His purpose….I am just waiting on God to show me what to do.”  In those states there is often a subtle attitude that His purpose is mystically “out there.”  It is always elusive, somewhere else but here, or some other time but now.

Along these lines people can mistakenly think, “I only live in a small town and attend a small church, how could I possible fulfill His eternal purpose?”   It is important to note that Jesus never traveled more than 65-70 miles from his home town but made, and continues to make a great impact in the purpose of God.  He was born in an out of the way place called Nazereth of which people often,said, “can any good thing come out of Nazereth?”

The clear Biblical approach pursuing God’s purposes for our lives goes directly against the “anywhere else but here, any other time but now” attitude.  That attitude ends up causing us to “receive the grace of God in vain (with no purpose).”  The attitude God wants us to embrace is always a  “now.”

2Co 6:1-2 NASB  And working together with Him, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain–  2  for He says, “AT THE ACCEPTABLE TIME I LISTENED TO YOU, AND ON THE DAY OF SALVATION I HELPED YOU.” Behold, now is “THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,” behold, now is “THE DAY OF SALVATION”-

 Three Parts of the Egg of God’s Purpose

EggThere are three clear purposes God reveals in His word that every Christian is to pursue with their life, “right now.”  It is kind  of like an egg.  For an egg to be successfully birthed in the earth, its three parts have to be together.  If only one part is birthed the whole thing doesn’t work.

These thee purposes of God are interconnected.  You can’t attempt to move in one or two  to the exclusion of the others if you are going to move in His purpose “now.”    What are the these three aspects of His purpose?

 

1. Walking with/and following Jesus toward growth/maturity

2. Becoming an active participant in building His church

3. Representing Christ as an ambassador to a world that needs Him 

In the coming weeks we will explore in detail these three purposes.   Remember from the outset that we aren’t waiting for some mystical happening in order to engage in these three purposes.  Nothing, but us, keeps us from moving in these three things right now.

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