Archive for March, 2009

In the spirit of the “Desanitizing Christmas” and “Misused Scripture” series, we’re looking to start a new series of articles here at CRN.Info, dealing with Jesus’ parables – particularly in light of the out-of-context beating they seem to have taken by some commenters of late…

To kick us off, I’d first like to take a look at the parable of The Good Samaritan.  Normally, this parable is used in conjunction with teaching that we should have compassion upon the weak, sick and wounded – an excellent teaching supported by Scripture, but not the point of this particular parable.

So, to get at the context of this parable, let us first examine what question Jesus was trying to answer with it:

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

So – the question at hand is “Who is my neighbor?”  Contextually, it should also be noted that the man was ‘testing’ Jesus – which does not automatically confer that this was an adversarial relationship.  Rather, the man was honestly seeking an answer – and his ‘testing’ was to find the Scriptural basis of Jesus’ answer.

One other piece of information that is quite useful in examining this parable is in the relationship between religious Jews and the Samaritans.

Blood Enemies

From Josephus and other first-century contemporaries, we know that the Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies.  Traditionally, Samaritans were seen as the peoples who lived in Judea during the Babylonian exile, who built a Temple for God upon Mount Gerezim, worshiping him there, and not at the Temple on Mount Zion.  Both the Jews and Samaritans viewed the Torah as their holy Scriptures, and both worshiped the same God – but each viewed the others as apostate.

Josephus records a number of transgressions made by the Samaritans against the Jews, including spreading human bones in the courts of the Temple, defiling it.  While he doesn’t mention similar offenses against the Samaritans, there is enough other evidence to suggest that the antagonism was not a one-way street.

Rabbinic Debate

Against this backdrop of religious/racial hatred, there was a good deal of rabbinic debate, primarily between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai.  All schools of thought agreed that God calls them to love their neighbors, but there was intense debate as to who your neighbor was.

The followers of Shammai believed that one’s neighbor was only a religious Jew.  Thus, one need only love other religious Jews.  The Hillel-followers believe that all people – except Samaritans, who were apostates – were legitimately your neighbor, and must be loved.  The other rabbinic schools fell somewhere between these two vastly-different interpretations.

Thus, the real question being asked of Jesus was not “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”, but rather “who is my neighbor?”  Jesus was being asked a politically-charged question on the order of (in modern parlance) “Which is correct – free will or predestination?”

The Parable

Jesus responded to “Who is my neighbor?” with the most famous of parables – The Good Samaritan:

“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Now, for a little bit of context -

First off, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho (having read first-century descriptions and seen it first-hand) is about three-to-five feet wide in most places, sometimes narrower.  On one side of the ‘road’ is a drop-off of a hundred or more feet.  On the other side is a steep wall.  So, for someone to be left in the road meant that the road would be blocked by the body.  “Passing by on the other side” is a bit of humor used by Jesus, since it would actually require being contfronted with stepping over the body.

Next, it is important to note that the man was left ‘half-dead’.  According to cleanliness law, it was forbidden for priests to touch dead bodies (even of close relatives), and this was extended to include the bodies of people ‘half-dead’, who were about to die.  If the ‘half-dead’ person were to die soon, after being touched by a priest, the priest would be considered “unclean”.

However, according to the Oral Torah, this could be excused if one were trying to save the life of the dying person.  Per the Oral Torah, the sanctity of life was more important than all Torah regulations with the exception of blasphemy, sexual sin and murder.  There was also intense debate on this topic, as the Sadducee party (which contained a number of Shammai’s followers) believed that only the Torah (first five books of the OT) was required for Jews, and the Oral Torah was useless.  The Pharisee party (which was more in line with Hillel) followed the full TaNaKh and the Oral Torah.  So, Jesus was also making a pronouncement in this debate, as well, by telling this story.

The Three Passers-By

So, first a priest came by.  His holy book was the Torah, and if he touched the body, he would become unclean and be unable to serve in the Temple when he arrived in Jerusalem.  So, he chose to obey the ceremonial law of cleanliness, rather than the Oral Torah of caring for a dying man.  According to Brad Young and other scholarly experts on Jesus’ parables, it is likely that Jesus’ listeners would not have seen the priest’s “passing by” as a callous act, but rather one that would have torn him up inside to be unable to help.  He believed he was doing God’s will, unallowed to help the dying man.

The Levite would have been in the same position as the priest, except that his service in the Temple was more integral to worship there, and was scheduled years in advance.  So, to become unclean might result in losing one of his only chances of ever serving in the inner courts of the Temple.  He, too, chose to follow the ceremonial law, rather than helping the half-dead man.

Finally, the Samaritan came by.  His holy Scripture was also the Torah, so touching the half-dead body might make him unclean, just like the previous two travelers.  Additionally, Samaritans did not consider the Oral Torah to be binding, so he was going out on a limb, because if the man died, he would become unclean.  However, he stopped and helped the man – reversing the actions taken against the wounded traveler.

By bringing the Samaritan into the picture, Jesus probably shocked his audience.  The normal structure of such a story would have had a Pharisee as the third traveler, the one showing ‘correct’ behavior (see this article for some background on Jesus and the Pharisees).  By bringing in the Samaritan, Jesus was prepared to make a ruling on “neighbors” beyond what any of his contemporary rabbinic schools taught.

The Answer

So, having told the parable, Jesus answered the man’s question “who is my neighbor?” in the fashion of his contemporary rabbis – with a question of his own:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

Remembering that the answer to the rabbi’s question would also be the answer to his own question, the man’s answer should have been “the Samaritan” – but he couldn’t even bring himself to say the word.  Instead, he answered:

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

So, the answer to “Who is my neighbor?” is “the Samaritan”.  Scandalous!  And Jesus’ response?

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

So while, yes, it is important for us to have compassion on the hurt, bleeding and broken, the key teaching here is to show true love to our greatest of enemies.

Application

So, in parlance of modern Christianity, if Jesus were to tell a similar story today, the three main characters would likely be a Lutheran, a Presbyterian and a Catholic, and we would call this story “The Good Catholic”.  The parallels, in a number of ways are stark – The bolus of Catholicism and Protestantism see the other ’side’ as apostate.  Both have the same holy book.  Both are often antagonistic toward one another.  Both often tend to be nicer to unbelievers than one another.

Granted, I’m sure we could call it “The Good Emergent”, or “The Good Calvinist” (for Rick Frueh), or “The Good Armchair Discernmentalist”, as well…  Each would be scandalous in its own right.

So – choose that group which most personifies your intra-church prejudice and insert them into the story as the “Samaritan”, and then ask “who is my neighbor?” and follow the advice of Rabbi Yeshua -

“Go and do likewise…”

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Reflections on the Fifth Sunday of Lent

March 29, 2009

The Love of God in Christ

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

“But Paul’s vision of God’s love, rising here like the sun on a clear summer’s morning, shines through all the detail that has gone before…God’s love has done everything we could need, everything we shall need. As Paul continued to explore the meaning of the reconciliation that has taken place between God and human beings, he delves down deep into the depths of what God had to do to bring it about….When we look at Jesus, the Messiah, we are looking at the one who embodies God’s own love, God’s love-in-action.” (NT Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans, pt 1 chapters 1-8, 86)

Paul has spent a great deal of space telling the world, telling the church at Rome, telling anyone who would listen exactly how terrible is the predicament of man. It is bad. One might say that if it was bad in Paul’s day, it might be worse now. I doubt it. All bad such as Paul is speaking of is relative to the age. That’s not to say bad is relative, it is to say that the nature of the depravity is relative to the age. I agree with many who think that there is something terribly amiss in this world, in our culture, and in the church in general. I am not so pessimistic to think it is beyond redemption-in fact, I think that might have something to do with Jesus and why he came in the first place.

That’s what I love about Romans 5:6-11. If one were to read Romans and suddenly stop at the end of Romans 4, one might be left despairing and hopeless although, to be sure, Paul has dropped hints and given us glimpses of the beauty of what God has been planning for humanity such as chapter 3:23-24: “…for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” And perhaps also this in chapter 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into the grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.” But these hints in these places are hints. Here in Romans 5:6-11, Paul blows the lid off the whole thing: Here’s what God did despite all that I have written about in the previous paragraphs! And we are stunned. We are stupefied. We are knocked down; thrown for a loop. Our entire world is shattered by these few sentences concerning God and his actions.

How can we not be bowled over by such statements?  How can any single one of us, any of us, read such passages of Scripture as this and think that it means anything but what it says at face value? In the midst of all the wrath, in the midst of all the sin, in the midst of all the hate we have for God, in the midst of all the pride and boasting, in the midst of all the immorality, lying tongues, open grave throats, in the midst of all the convoluted ways we have chosen to live precisely because of our free-will-there is God. There is God! Standing at the dawn with his arms opened wide welcoming home all those who lived in the manner Paul described in chapter 1 is the God who loves. There is God! I don’t know about you, but when I read how God demonstrates his love (which leads me to understand how he really, truly feels about me) I am stunned into silence, humbled, humiliated; wrecked.

At just the right time God did the most inconceivable thing: No eye had seen, no ear had heard, no one could even imagine what God had planned for us; many still find it impossible to believe. Yet God was not even willing just to say ‘I love you.’ For God it was not enough to give lip-service to his great love for us: He demonstrated it. He made it visible. He made it concrete. He put his love on display for all to see. He so loved the world that he didn’t bother to ask anything of us. He so loved the world that he sent, essentially, himself. Paul will later express this love as such: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (8:31-32)

Have any of us plumbed the depths of love this God has for his rebellious children?

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians)

Is it possible to read Romans 5:6-11 and be anything but overwhelmed? Is it possible to read these verses and be anything but destroyed, thrown down, overwhelmed, and undone? Is it possible to consider that God loves us quite in spite of ourselves and be anything but humiliated and humbled? And so Paul can rightly ask in these verses: If God loved us this much while we were yet sinners, then ‘how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life?’ Or if God demonstrated his love for us while we were yet rebellious, then how much more ‘having been justified by his blood, shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!’

I’ve been thinking about these verses because it seems to me that this God is rather amazing. Paul hasn’t written, in these particular verses, about the pride of men. He has written about how utterly confounding is this God who loves and forgives and heals and justifies and resurrects despite the worst man has to offer. “You see at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

So there it is again: Hope! Forgiveness! Healing! The love of God towards a people who are decidedly against him. He continues, time and time again, to astound us and reverse all our conceptions of himself. We hate, and he loves us. We run away, he chases after us. We curse, he blesses us. We sin, he forgives us. We deny he exists, he shows Himself in Jesus. We kill him, he Resurrects! We can’t really make out this God can we? We cannot really, truly comprehend a God who goes out of his way to make himself real to us, who so desires that we be his people and that he be our God that he will be crucified to make the point and to make it possible, who is so wildly in love with us that he himself will deal with our sins instead of asking us to. He makes a way where no way exists. He creates a people where none is. He extends mercy where there is none.

I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us quite in spite of ourselves. I’ve been thinking about this God who loves us. I’ve been thinking about this God who thought it necessary to demonstrate his love to us, and did so in the flesh; in Jesus. If there is anything that dispels pride in humans, it is this amazing God who loves; the God of grace. This is the God we need to preach and share and adore. This is the God who saved us in Christ.

The best irony there is is that God loves us. In spite of all the worst that Paul wrote we are, in spite of all the devastation we manage to conjure up because of sin, in spite of our creative habit of inventing new ways to die and kill and run away from God-in spite of it all: He still loves us. The Hound of Heaven dogs our every step and won’t relent; pressing in on every side.

Dare we imagine a God, dare we submit to a God-this God of the Bible, fully come in Jesus Christ? Dare we love such a God who dared to love us?

Soli Deo Gloria!

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I had the joyous, blessed and terrifying opportunity to preach God’s Word yesterday. I preached from 1 Corinthians 3. There’s a lot there. Here’s what killed me, broke my heart, crushed me:

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).

God have mercy on me, a sinner. I have used your Scripture at times to destroy people and humiliate them instead of to build them up in their faith. I have preached your Scripture in an attempt, at times, to justify myself instead of you. I have taken it upon myself at times to tear down what you have built up in Christ. I have hurled your Word around like it were a spear attached to my hand–aimed at any heart that offends or disagrees with me. I am ashamed of myself because I have treated your people, your temple, as if it were mine and not as it is: Your holy place; your Holy People. Have mercy on me, heavenly Father. Forgive me when I have used your Word to destroy your temple instead of building it up in your Spirit.

___________________________

Maybe, at some point in the not too distant future, we can find a way to actually treat the temple of God, which we are together, in a way that is befitting of the Holy God who dwells among us. It starts with me.

Be blessed, all of you. We were created for oneness and unity and wholeness. I can’t imagine that our delight in division and disunity and insults in any way brings joy and delight to the Father who made us one. I repent.

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Of cheap grace I haven’t heard of before I sarted blogging. Since then I have seen this cheap grace term thrown around in a number of posts and comments and I still don’t understand what it means so I thought I would rather ask than stay stupid forever.

Here is what confuses me:

Now grace is given freely and if grace is not free it is not grace to begin with, right? So how can grace be cheap… or expensive if it is free? If however it refers to the cost to the One who gives the grace it is a different story, for the cost of this grace is higher than can be measured by any earthly standard, so it cannot be that either. Now it seems to me that those who use this term use it whenever someone suggests that grace is offered universally. In such a case should grace not be worth more? I am confused. Please help me understand.

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How often do we think that we are more worthy of God’s grace than the next person? While I was reading Jerry’s last post this song came to mind…

from the album “Scenic Routes” (Music and lyrics by Terry Taylor)

Politicians, morticians, Philistines, homophobes Skinheads, Dead heads, tax evaders, street kids Alcoholics, workaholics, wise guys, dim wits Blue collars, white collars, war mongers, peace nicks

Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God

Suicidals, rock idols, shut-ins, drop outs Friendless, homeless, penniless and depressed Presidents, residents, foreigners and aliens Dissidents, feminists, xenophobes and chauvinists

Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God

Evolutionists, creationists, perverts, slum lords Dead-beats, athletes, Protestants and Catholics Housewives, neophytes, pro-choice, pro-life Misogynists, monogamists, philanthropists, blacks and whites

Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God

Police, obese, lawyers, and government Sex offenders, tax collectors, war vets, rejects Atheists, Scientists, racists, sadists Biographers, photographers, artists, pornographers

Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God

Gays and lesbians, demagogues and thesbians The disabled, preachers, doctors and teachers Meat eaters, wife beaters, judges and jurys Long hair, no hair, everybody everywhere!

Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God
Breathe deep Breathe deep the Breath of God

The Lost Dogs – ‘the society for the musically humane’ Copyright… 1992 Brainstorm Artists, Intl. Records Produced By Terry Taylor, Gene Eugene, Derri Daugherty and Mike Roe

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“For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God…” Paul to the Romans, chapter 3, verse 23

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life…” John the Apostle, chapter the third, 16th verse.

Today, my attention was drawn to this post at a certain ‘that which is not to be named’ blog. It is a serious blog post. It is seriously depressing. And it is seriously stupid.

There I said it: It is stupid. I’m sorry. I feel badly about writing it, but there is simply no other way to express my outrage and heart-brokenness.

I know that is harsh and mean and if anyone from ‘that side’ bothers to comment on this post they will most certainly point out that I ‘missed the point’ or that I am ‘ignorant of the facts’ or that I am ‘a stupid non-Christian who is so unconcerned about abortion and the plight of the unborn that I ought to be defrocked (even though I was never frocked to begin with) and run out of the church to the tune of tar, feathers, pitchforks, torches and labeled anathema.’ To be sure, ‘they’ will probably point out that Jesus does not approve of what I am about to write in this post because Jesus hates abortion.

There I said it: The post is stupid.

I am willing to run the risk that I might be labeled by others in order to point out the sheer stupidity of the post mentioned above.

Did I mention the post is stupid? It has been a long, long time since I read something so incredibly insensitive at a blog claiming to be a voice for the Kingdom of God. I’m sorry. I’m desperately trying to be objective and compassionate. Can’t. Can’t. Can’t. I have read the post four or five times now trying, searching, scanning for hope and I just cannot find it. The most hope we can expect out of this post is that we might enjoy some ‘hauntingly beautiful hymn-like‘ music. If an expectant single-mother or a suddenly pregnant husband and wife swimming in debt is debating her/their pregnancy right now read that post, she/they would be left despairing and hopeless; feeling nothing but condemnation.

There is nothing about the Gospel. Nothing about the hope of Christ. Nothing about the penal substitutionary atonement death of Jesus. Nothing about forgiveness of sins. Nothing about grace. Nothing about repentance. Nothing about the new heavens and new earth. Nothing about resurrection. For someone who writes so passionately, so wonderfully about the damnable offense that is abortion, I just cannot believe that there is no mention of hope for forgiveness. No mention of reconciliation. No mention of peace in Christ. No reconciliation. No ransom. No redemption. No substitution. Just condemnation. *Shakes head.*

For someone who so frequently castigates preachers and churches and bloggers for not including a (the) message of the Gospel, I cannot believe the best there is to offer in that particular post is that we might get some good music out of it at the end of the day. No mention whatsoever of how people who have had abortions can be forgiven and changed by the work of Christ Jesus. (As if a purely moralized America is equivalent to the Kingdom of God.)

______________________________

I’d like to begin by noting a few things for the careful reader of CRN.info and Analysis. You may not agree entirely, but I’ll bet we are close. What I’d like to do, is offer the invitation here, at CRN.info and Analysis, that was not offered at SOL. I begin, however, elsewhere:

  • It is wrong to steal.
  • It is wrong to have gay sex.
  • It is wrong to lie.
  • It is wrong to cheat.
  • It is wrong to fornicate.
  • It is wrong to commit adultery.
  • It is wrong to be racist.
  • It is wrong to get drunk.
  • It is wrong to be gluttonous.
  • It is wrong to murder.
  • It is wrong to get an abortion.
  • It is wrong to lust.
  • It is wrong to lie about the preacher.
  • It is wrong to abuse your spouse or children.
  • It is wrong to worship idols.
  • It is wrong kidnap.
  • It is wrong to disobey your parents.
  • It is wrong to swindle.
  • It is wrong to be greedy.
  • It is wrong to rape.

Yes. Yes. I could go on and on and on. I agree with the post at SOL: Abortion is a heinous, despicable, vile, disgusting offense. I don’t know anyone here who disagrees with that assessment. Those things mentioned above are wrong; they are sin, abortion included.

But it is not the unforgivable sin. Never has been. Never will be. In the crazy economy of the kingdom of God, a person could have 490 abortions in one day and repent and God, in his mercy and grace, would forgive that person because of Jesus Christ. I mean, why wouldn’t he since he expects us to do nothing less? I don’t think God expects people to do things that he himself isn’t willing to do. Thus, forgiveness.

Abortion is not an unforgivable sin.

None of the things I mentioned is the or an unforgivable sin.

_______________________________

Friends, we have ample evidence in our world of all the things that are wrong with us and all the things we do badly and all the sin we have committed and all the idols we have worshiped and all the judgment we have invited into our lives and all the times we have crucified Christ all over again and again and again…

We have sufficient testimony to all the grievous destruction that our sin has wrought upon this earth.

We have enough people pointing out the sin that plagues the United States of America and Russia and England and Brazil and Antarctica and, well, you get the point.

Jesus did not tell us to go around moralizing did he? (This is not rhetorical.)

I’m not even sure he told us to go around pointing out sin, although, when the Gospel is properly preached I think that sin will necessarily be a part of the discussion. After all, it is terribly difficult to call folks to repentance if some mention of sin has not happened.

Jesus did tell us to go and preach the good news, the Gospel. “…He gave them power and authority to drive out demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal the sick…So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the Good News and healing people everywhere” (Luke 9:12, 6).

We have good news! We are told to preach good news! Where’s the Good News in the SOL post? A musical legacy? For one who spends a lot of time criticizing the lack of Gospel in churches and pulpits, the post is decidedly barren of any hope and Gospel. Shall we merely criticize and condemn those who have had abortions or shall we offer them the hope of Christ Crucified and Resurrected?

___________________________

Is there any hope for those who were the subject of the SOL post?

I hate to write this post, but the bottom line is that I have decided that I will make it my life’s ambition to teach the grace of God every chance I get. I want to find 100,000 ways to say: God forgives you in and because of Jesus Christ. I hate writing this post because some might conclude that I am not opposed to abortion, but that would be to miss my point. I am very opposed to abortion, but I also realize that people sin and that it was the sick, weak, broken, hurting, desperate sinners, like me, whom Christ came to save, redeem, ransom, and atone for.

Jesus didn’t come to condemn; why do we think he has assigned us that role?

The author of the SOL post did a great job pointing out a great sin, but the problem with the post is simple: She gave us a great picture of a moralized America where everyone plays in an orchestra or knits flags and worships at the throne of conservative politicians. It’s a powerful picture, but it is not necessarily one Christ has drawn. It is a terrible problem, but there was no solution offered. What’s the point of ranting about the problem when there is no solution offered at all?

She didn’t give us a picture of the Kingdom of God. She gave us a picture of her moralized America where there is condemnation for every perpetrator and no hope whatsoever.

The author would have us condemn all who have had abortions and reject them as mere weak Americans who lack courage and are interested only in their bank balance and credit card statements. Christ would welcome them into his kingdom as the very ones he came to save precisely because they are greedy, murderous, and lack the intestinal fortitude to be self-controlled–because they are sinners! Well, of course they are. That’s normally what happens when people do not know or have rejected Christ.

So here I offer what the author of Slice did not offer: Hope. If you have ever had an abortion or over-spent on your credit cards, if you have filed bankruptcy because you have no self-control, if you are a coward, if you are hopeless and think you are running on empty, if you have no where to go and you think you are out of options–there’s hope. There’s grace. There’s forgiveness of your sins. Christ has payed the price for your sins. There’s Good News! Christ has not rejected you. There’s still hope! There’s still a message of peace and forgiveness to you because of Jesus. Christ will take away your guilt. Christ will heal your wounds. Christ will save you from the hopeless, endless cycle of condemnation and death.

You can join us, all us sinners here, all us imperfect, unkempt, undone, depressed, forgiven-by-God sinners here. We welcome you to join in the story that Christ is writing and has written. We welcome you to taste and see that His Grace is Good. We welcome you to be forgiven in the Name of Jesus.

“…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ.” The same Paul, to the same Romans, chapter 3, verse 24.

“…For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” the same John the Apostle, the same third chapter, the 17th verse.

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NOTE: This is a post I published last night on my personal blog.  I had decided to only publish it there (where my readers tend to be almost exclusively the friendly type), but since then I’ve had a few responses and some additional life events which have led me to change my mind.

One event, in particular, tipped my change of mind – I found out that a friend of mine from college took his life a few weeks ago.  I don’t know if depression was a factor, but from what details I could find, it appeared to be that way (which it is in a high % of adult suicides).  As such, I decided to post this here on .Info, as the readership is much wider, and the chance of someone going through something similar is greater – and one of the most important things to learn is that you’re not alone, and that you need to talk to others when you’re going through something like this…

Blessings,

Chris

sad doggieI know I’ve mentioned this in the past, but I don’t think I’ve ever centered an article on it. For (at least) the past ten years or so, I’ve struggled with seasonal depression that (almost like clockwork) hits like a wave during February/March, sometimes lingering on into April. Over the years, I’ve found different ways of dealing with it, though I just really wish it would go away.

The Feeling of Depression

In trying to describe how it feels when it comes on, it is like I am no longer able to process any strong emotions. I know how to act like I’m feeling them (ex-theatre major), but it’s just not there. I’m also fairly sure that if you’re close enough to look me in the eye, you might pick up that I’m faking it, but I try to prevent that from happening.

Imagine that you’ve got wool gloves taped to your hands, steamed eyeglasses, ear muffs, a mostly-functional nose-clip, and cotton-mouth. Now, imagine walking around like that 24/7 for about a month or two. Now, apply that to your emotions, and you might be getting the idea.

You wish you could feel, and you try to feel, but no matter how much you act like you feel, the feeling just doesn’t come. Time slows down to a crawl, which just leads to impatience and frustration, which slows it down all the more. You wonder if it is unresolved (or non-convicted) sin in your life, usually convinced that it is. If anyone’s to blame, it’s got to be you, you think…

Some Additional Down-Sides

This looks how I sometimes feelOne of the downsides of this feeling is that guilt tends to pile up pretty quickly – no matter what you do. You really don’t want to tell anyone how you feel, because you know it will bring them down – and you don’t want to be a downer to everyone else. (FYI: This is probably the fourth draft of this article, and I’m still not sure I’ll hit “Publish”.)

You’re also not really looking for an outpouring of sympathy, especially if you realize (as I do) how good you’ve got life – a wife, four kids, two dogs, a good job, a great church family, some talent at what you enjoy doing. And as you realize how good you have it, your guilt at feeling depressed just compounds the feeling. In your head, you are greatly troubled by the plight of those less fortunate, your heart bleeds for them, but the feeling of powerlessness frustrates you all the more.

You feel lonely, even if you’re surrounded by people, and all the more guilty if someone figures you out. Because you’re feeling so impatient with the passing of time, you tend to feel distant and you likely are somewhat irritable or aloof when people talk to you, even though you might feel on the verge of tears (since it would be such a relief if they actually would flow w/o any help from you).

One thing I’ve learned from those much wiser than me, who I’ve let in on this secret, is that probably the most important thing to your healing is just naming it and telling someone else about it. Before I did this, I found myself doing and saying things that I knew were wrong/insensitive/risky just to see if I could somehow force myself to feel.

If I could only get someone to yell at me, I might respond in kind and actually feel angry! But that doesn’t work. It only makes others mad and you, and drives you deeper down.

If I could only get someone to love me more, I might feel it break through. But that only lead to frustration, strained relationships and a loss of love.

If I could only escape into my own world, I might love it there. But that only leads to more loneliness and isolation.

If I could only increase the risk & excitement in my life, I might actually feel deeply excited. But it only hurts the ones I love and risks things that ought not be risked.

If I could only end it all… but that’s not a good solution, either. It would just be selfishness and an expansion of the callousness I come to feel. (For the record, kind reader, I was only there once, before I began to heal).

“If I could only” … only leads to more pain, more lonliness, and more loss of feeling.

So what has worked?

For me, admitting it to those close to me has brought a sense of relief. By talking to them about it, we become closer. They don’t always say the right things, or helpful things, but in the process, you start to learn that you’re not unloved.

Rich's feetFinding others who struggle with depression has been a boon to me, because you start to learn that you’re not alone – even if you might feel like it. (If I do publish this, it will likely be so that if someone out there also feels like this, they’ll know they’re not alone.) That feeling of having a kindred spirit doesn’t necessarily make the feeling (or lack of feeling) go away, but it makes bearing it a little lighter.

Admitting it to God (sometimes harder than admitting it to friends) is hard, and giving it to Him (when I’ve been able to do it, which I don’t think has happened yet here in 2009) allows you to become close, but it’s oh, so scary. So scary. At least for me. That loss of control? I want to own it, and I don’t want to give it up. It’s just not always in me to let it go. It’s the gap between knowing what’s good for you and being able to do what’s good for you. Kind of like following the doc’s advice to exercise more and eat less.

In some ways, I am reminded of Rich Mullins’ paraphrase of Psalm 139 -

Where could I go, where could I run
Even if I found the strength to fly
And if I rose on the wings of the dawn
And crashed through the corner of the sky
If I sailed past the edge of the sea
Even if I made my bed in Hell
Still there You would find me

‘Cause nothing is beyond You
You stand beyond the reach
Of our vain imaginations
Our misguided piety
The heavens stretch to hold You
And deep cries out to deep
Singing that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

Time cannot contain You
You fill eternity
Sin can never stain You
Death has lost its sting

And I cannot explain the way You came to love me
Except to say that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

If I should shrink back from the light
So I can sink into the dark
If I take cover and I close my eyes
Even then You would see my heart

And You’d cut through all my pain and rage
The darkness is not dark to You
And night’s as bright as day

Nothing is beyond You
You stand beyond the reach
Of our vain imaginations
Our misguided piety
The heavens stretch to hold You
And deep cries out to deep
Singing that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

And time cannot contain You
You fill eternity
Sin can never stain You
And death has lost its sting

And I cannot explain the way You came to love me
Except to say that nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You
Nothing is beyond You

It’s a Process

Some of you who’ve known me for years know that I used to do a bit of composing, and that I’d play the piano for hours a day. I still keep up well enough to play for my church community’s worship each week, but it’s been years since I’ve been able to write music. It’s like a switch flipped some time ago, and even in the good times, that well of feeling from which I pulled tunes, tears and tomes of lyrics was boarded over.

I don’t know if it will ever be un-boarded, but I have learned to be thankful with what I have, to love those who love me, and to care about those who don’t.

But I still, so often, truly feel powerless.

The one area that has ignited that spark I once felt comes from the sense of injustice I feel when I see Christian brothers and sisters attacked unjustly, particularly by those within the church (who ought to know better). It is that spark that led me to approach some other writers with similar feelings about this injustice and to start doing something about it.

In some ways, this experience has reminded me of Galatians 6:

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.

It is a balance – being gentle with those struggling with pain and sin, and helping them to carry their burden. Not thinking too much of yourself. Avoiding comparisons with how someone does it so much better than you do (or the opposite). And, over time, learning to carry your load, so that you can help others carry theirs.

Today

This year, in some ways, is better than other years – I recognize the feeling, and I’ve been able to be open about it. I’ve actually felt like writing about it, and I’m contemplating (for real) hitting “publish” (and if you’re reading this, I must have done so).

The numbness came, right on schedule, in February, but it was not as bad as before after speaking a little bit about it at the Great Banquet at my church. It’s funny, but a crisis at work happened about the same time, and I received a lot of positive feedback for maintaining a level head in the crisis. So, I can actually count this struggle as something beneficial when the time is right, I guess.

The full wave hit last week, right when my wife was leaving to help care for her mother (who broke her knee – please pray for her!) out in Colorado. But I talked to her about it, and she’s been calling me to encourage me.

I’ve written about it – and at least imagined publishing it – hoping I might be able to help someone else, and that, in doing so, I might feel healing in return.

I’m still working on giving it up to God. And to be completely frank, it is not going really well. I know I need to, but I don’t really know what it looks like, and I’ve forgotten (I think) how it feels to do so.

When my daughter, Aria, had open heart surgery 9 years ago, God granted me a sense of peace that it was all in His hands. I knew there was not a thing I could do, so it was all going to be up to Him to take care of. And I felt at peace.

But when I’m the ‘patient’, I can’t/won’t give it up to the Great Physician with any ease. I’ve got bottomless pools of “blame” and “the need for control” that are so hard to swim across without drowning. Can He take care of it? I’m sure He can.

Do I have enough humility – will I be able to deal with the loss of pride – to not take care of this on my own?

I hope so.

But I’m just not there yet…

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We’ve recently had a comment from a Armchair Discernment Ministry to the effect of:

If you OUTRIGHT Deny Penal Substitution then you are twisting God’s Word and are changing and twisting the content of the Atonement and the Gospel itself. [...]

A person who claims to be a Christian AND openly denies and reinterprets the clear words of scripture regarding Christ’s atoning work on the cross is doing the same thing that the Mormon is doing but they are doing in regard to the Gospel itself. That person is redefining the gospel and what Christ accomplished on the cross and has set up a false idol and a false gospel.

Now, besides the obvious fallacy in such thinking (since PSA, as a theory, didn’t exist for the first 1000-1500 years of Christianity), such rigid, dogmatic certainty about matters like this (particularly when used in an attempt to excise entire groups of Christians from the body of Christ) become another Gospel, entirely.  So, with that in mind, I think it is probably incumbant to repost the group project from last year, where we outlined the various orthodox positions on Jesus’ atonement, and link to a key follow-up regarding exclusionary practice in adherence to PSA.

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There has been a great deal of discussion lately on the subject of “atonement”, sin, and the nature of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. In many cases, adherents of specific views of atonement (particularly the theory of Penal Substitutionary Atonement) have taken a dim view of groups of Christians who do not hold to identical views – in some cases, suggesting that the “correct” view (theirs, of course) is required both for evangelizing and for salvation.

Fortunately for Christians throughout the centuries without such ‘enlightenment’, systematic theology does not save, but rather the Grace of God and the mysterious work of salvation made possible through the cross and the empty tomb. In reality, many theories and ‘word pictures’ have been used throughout the history of the church to describe this work, and there is room for liberty in differences of view. Despite this liberty, though, there is need for some boundaries…

Guardrails

In Charleston, S.C., there was a bridge that was rather narrow, and was somewhat frightening for many motorists to cross. Once, during a period of repairs, the outside rails of the bridge had to be removed. Immediately, this bridge went from 2 functional lanes to a single lane, causing all sorts of traffic snarls, because people were afraid of falling off the edge. The rails, when in place, were not very capable of stopping a determined car from going into the water, but they gave some sense of security to motorists.

One of the lessons we can learn from this is that boundaries, contrary to popular opinion, are not always restrictive. Rather, boundaries clearly delineate how far you can be without going over the edge, leaving much more functional room within their borders. Unlike those who acted as if there was only room for one lane on the narrow bridge, once guardrails were in place, there was room for multiple lanes for cars to cross. The bridge, itself, did not change – it did not become wider or narrower. In fact, it became safer AND more efficient.

In the case of atonement theory, it is important that we establish the ‘rails’ – the primary one being that Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was required in order to bring salvation to mankind. The second rail would be that man could not find salvation by his own means. These rails rule out “all paths lead to heaven” and “if you’re good enough, God will accept you”, and other universalist/semi-universalist views of atonement.

Atonement Views

The Views of Atonement

1) Ransom View of Atonement
This view of atonement, held as the dominant theory in the church for its first 1000 or so years, was first described by Origen. It teaches that Jesus’ death paid a ransom to Satan (whose accusation held humanity to his claim after the fall of Adam and Eve to sin).

Because Satan’s claim against humanity was just, it required God, who is a God of justice, to pay a ransom price in return for man’s release. God paid this in the form of Jesus, on the cross. However, since Jesus had not sinned, he had not earned death, so it could not keep him. Thus, man was redeemed by God and his ransom of Jesus to Satan, and Satan could no longer make a claim upon man. (If you’ve read (or seen) C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you’ve seen an allegorical story which was written to follow ransom theory.) Christus Victor (see #6 below) is often seen as similar/identical to the Ransom View, though it (CV) takes a more holistic view.

2) Satisfaction View (Anselm’s View) of Atonement
St. Anselm, however, did not like the ransom view, because it placed God in a position of debtor to Satan. Instead, he put forth a theory of atonement called the “Satisfaction View”. In his view, man has defrauded God of the honor and glory due to Him through sin – trying take God’s place, ourselves. Jesus, though, brought full honor and glory to God in his life, and then through his death ’satisfied’ the difference due between man and God.

In this case, Jesus’ substitution is that he suffered for us. In his view, men and angels owe a debt of honor to God. This debt cannot be paid if sin has been committed in their life. Jesus, because lived and did not sin, was able to pay this debt of honor that none other could pay. By dying, though, he suffered in our place to pay that debt of honor.

This theory of atonement was further refined by Thomas Aquinas and codified as the dominant theory in the Catholic church. Even so, like Ransom Theory, it was not considered to be a required belief for salvation, but a secondary matter.

3) Penal Substitution
In Penal Substitutionary Atonement, sin is a crime against God, for which the punishment is death and separation from God. Jesus, because he did not sin, could take this punishment upon himself and absolve those whom he chose from this punishment. In this view of atonement, God punishes Jesus in our place (which is different than substitution where Jesus suffers for us rather than being punished in our place) – if we are one of the elect.

Interestingly, this is the first view of atonement in which the emphasis on Jesus’ atonement was made specific to each individual’s sin, rather than as a general atonement for the sin of mankind. Since Jesus’ crucifixion happened at a specific point in time, it could only cover the sins of people God had chosen at that time for it to cover. Thus, Calvin also had to borrow from Augestine’s theories of double-predestination. Additionally, to distinguish itself from the Satisfaction View, the Penal Substitution View teaches that Jesus was not satisfying a deficiency in mankind, but rather that he was satisfying God’s wrath.

This is the first view of atonement that was codified as a core doctrine in many churches, rather than being of secondary concern. (Thus, the full emphases on sin, punishment and hell become prerequisites to understanding what to believe before one can become a believer.) This is the primary view in Calvinist/Reformed churches, and is a driving force behind much of the criticism of the Emerging Church Movement, which tends relegate the individual’s view of atonement back to its historic place as a secondary doctrine.

4) Governmental View of Atonement
This view of most closely associated with Arminianism and found a home in Methodism. It is similar to the penal substitution view to some extent, but the biggest difference is that the cross is not seen as the exact punishment for sin, but rather it is God’s way of publicly demonstrating His displeasure with sin. So Jesus is still a substitute in this view, but what he is substituting for is different than the penal substitution view. It wasn’t a substitute for punishment, but rather a substitute for the necessity of punishment. This way the moral nature of the universe is maintained.

This may seem like a game of semantics, but it gets down to the scope of the atonement. In this view, forgiveness is available to all who turn from sin. It is as if the president would offer a blanket pardon for all criminals with the only condition being they ask to be released. A prisoner who refuses to ask to be released will not be released. Additionally, the atonement is viewed in a more communal sense im this view. The church has been pardoned, but one may freely choose to enter into or walk away from this pardon.

Not surprisingly, this view has its share of detractors, mostly from Calvinist/Reformed circles. Some common objections are that this view leads to perfectionism, moralism, or other works-based thinking. Others say that it denies total depravity because it assumes mankind is able to see Christ’s sacrifice and turn from its sin.

5) Moral Influence View of Atonement
This moral influence view is an offspring of the governmental view, to a degree. This view is often referred to as subjective, opposed to objective, because it doesn’t really attempt to answer the question of what of actually happened at the cross, as much as it tries to explain why it happened. In the view, the cross demonstrates Jesus’ self-giving, His complete abandonent to God’s will, and His complete devotion to God for the sake of the world. His death is seen as the completion of the message He spoke during His life on earth. It shows us the self-giving nature of God’s love.

When we are touched by this love, it inspires us to follow in Christ’s steps. By looking at Christ, we will naturally start to act like Him. We will be devoted to God’s plan, and we will serve other self-sacrificially. This view, along with the Christus Victor view, seems to be gaining a bit more prominence. It is not surprising, given the way these perspectives lend themselves to being told in a more narrative style.

6) Christus Victor

Borrowed from the title of Gustaf Aulen’s 1931 book meaning Christ the Victor. In his book Aulen builds a historical case for the “classical” view of Atonement, more commonly know as Ransom Theory. He argues that most of the church misunderstands what the early church fathers believed about Ransom Theory. In Aulens view and definition of Ransom Theory it differs from the common view of Ransom in that Christ was not paying a ransom to the devil but rather rescuing humanity from the bondage of sin and death.

When viewed with this perspective God is no longer indebted to the Devil but rather God is sovereign over everything, including the Devil, and chooses to rescue humanity. As Aulen states it “The work of Christ is first and foremost a victory over the powers which hold mankind in bondage: sin, death, and the devil”

SUMMING UP THE VIEWS

Each of these views fits within the biblical guardrails for explaining the meaning of Jesus death, burial and resurrection, with each explaining a different aspect or ‘word picture’ for the atonement. In reality, none of these is likely to be 100% true in trying to explain the inner workings of God.

To some, the prospect of such acceptance of multiple biblical views may be troubling, and the tendency is to want to stake out a single ‘lane’ (accepted atonement theory) and place the guardrails around it – effectively attempting to add human limits to further narrow an already narrow ‘bridge’. Fortunately, it is as the Apostle Paul tells us:

if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

In Conclusion

One of the greatest persecutors of Christians, Nero Caesar, insisted that people burn incense to him as lord, and take his mark upon them in order to be accepted into Roman society. Too often, Christians – whether of the ODM persuasion or not – tend to grasp onto one specific, systematic explanation of an aspect of God – be it atonement, grace, free will/predestination, etc. – and create their own idol of that theological explanation, insisting that it be accepted as the only way that a “true Christian” can believe.

The means to prevent this behavior, though, is not to suggest an “anything goes” mindset with no boundaries. Rather, we should establish the few clear boundaries that exist within Scripture and be gracious and accepting of those who may not agree with our most closely held theories, but whose own theories still remain within those boundaries. In many cases, like with Atonement theories, it may be that all of the theories explain a different aspect of the whole, even if individually they are holistically deficient.

[NOTE: This article was a group effort, written by Phil Miller, Chris and Chris L]

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“There is nothing more disgusting than to see Pharisaical legalists splitting theological hairs, rigidly maintaining opinions at the expense of peace and harmony in the Body of Christ.”–Fred W Smith, The Plea, October 1951, volume 7, no. 8

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Hope is a funny thing. When I was a kid, I remember a guy telling me that he never set his goals to high so he couldn’t be all that disappointed. His theory was simple; “don’t get your hopes too high and you can’t fall too far down.”  I remember thinking that was terrible. Recently, my wife pointed out to me that I’ve fallen into the very trap.

Life can do that to you can’t it? Fail a couple of times, get your ass kicked a few times and suddenly my friends view doesn’t seem all that far fetched does it?  But the word hope is mentioned over 160 in 4 major English translations of the Bible (NIV=174, TNIV=180, NASB=164, HSB=171). Now, there are those who would have you believe that our only hope should be in Jesus for heaven.  I agree our hope is in Christ, but is it only for heaven? Is that the extent of our hope? I think God wants us to hope for more.

Think about it. When Peter tells us to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies in us (see I Peter 3:15) is he really just telling us that we are to be hopeful for heaven and not really hope for all that much here on earth? Surely, he’s offering us more than the right to be a jerk with little credentials and a lot of self-links using a blog to attack other people! Does God want us to dream? Does God care if we dream?
Now, today I heard someone say in regards to relationships that expectations are just premeditated resentments. I asked her if she hoped. Her brutally honest and painful answer was an emphatic, “Nope. Not if I can help it.”

I think we have surgically removed hope from our lexicon.  Perhaps, we’ve done this because of a faulty theology that has relegated salvation to being merely something of where we are going. In some sense it would be easy to just blame our faulty theology (and there is plenty to go around) but I think it’s deeper than that.

Think about the promise found in John 10. Jesus came that we might have life while having life. Think about the scandalous passage where Jesus compares God’s relationship with us to that of a father wanting to give us good gifts! There is nothing more scandalous than someone saying that God wants to give us good gifts. Tasteless post cards are produced. “Will it preach?” is plastered over pictures of people living around the world in abject poverty.  All of which misses the point. God told us He loves us.

I wonder if hoping is Holy. I wonder if hoping doesn’t connect us to God in a way that can’t be denied by doubters. Is our hope “level” equal to the level of trust we have in God’s goodness? Is our willingness to hope directly proportional to our willingness to trust God? I know two men, both are in the same condition financially, but the one has stopped hoping while the other continues. One seems to have much more faith in God than the other.

But hoping is messy. Hoping is potentially painful. Hoping is a road lined with risks and potentially crushing pitfalls.  When we hope, we inherently take a risk that we’ll be disappointed.

Maybe when we fail to hope, we do something even more dangerous. Maybe by failing to hope we do something that is actually insidious that eats away at our soul.  Maybe by refusing to hope we actually call God a liar. When we refuse to hope we might actually be saying by our actions that we’re writing God off.

I’m not talking about hoping for a new truck or a new car, but what about hoping for a new job, or a baby, or a marriage? Or what about healing? Can we hope for a vacation? Can we hope for affluence? Can we hope for that dream_____________? I think that not only can we, but we must.

Hoping may be the greatest way we can say that we believe there is a God and that He is good.  In a world, of snarky religious wannabe leaders and crushed dreams that are infected by the stain of sin that bleeds into life like a tea bag bleeds into hot water we have to draw a line in the sand and say,
I

will

hope!

Be hopeful today. When people ask why, be prepared to tell them it’s because you know a Jewish carpenter.

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