Writing As a Ministry

Published on June 1, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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My friend Ed Cyzewski recently wrote a blog series on Writing As a Ministry, and he asked me if I would share a few thoughts on this well, which I’m more than happy to oblige.  As a reader, you may also be a writer, or you may be a mom, or a pastor, or in business, or a carpenter, or a student, or any number of occupations.  But I invite you to consider why you do what you do and whether you consider what you do as a ministry or not.

I would love to say that I write books and this blog purely as a ministry.  I would love to say that because I desire for this to be my heart’s deepest desire.  What I can honestly say is that I write in order to:

  • Be affirmed
  • Express a gift
  • Force myself to think more deeply about daily life
  • Prove I have something worth saying, or prove I am valuable because of what I do
  • Attempt to know more of God
  • Share ways in which the gospel touches our daily lives
  • Satisfy my ego
  • Proclaim Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings
  • Feel important or impactful

You will notice a mix of pride-filled motives and grace-filled motives in this list.  My confession to God is that I am not ready to fully submit my writing to Him and His purposes alone, and my prayer is that He will help me remove my own selfish motives and replace them with His motives instead.

With that being said, writing (or _____) as a ministry is a worthy pursuit.  We probably shouldn’t go much further in this before understanding what the Scriptures have to say about ministry in general.  What follow are a few examples from God’s word:

  • The apostles viewed their primary ministry as ministers of the word (Acts 6:4)
  • Paul considers us as ambassadors for Christ, or ministers with a message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18, 20)
  • God gave gifts to His people in order to equip them for the work of ministry, for building up His church (Ephesians 4:11-12)
  • Paul assumed Timothy had a ministry which needed to be “fulfilled” (2 Timothy 4:5)
  • Jesus obtained a ministry of His own which he appeared once for all at the end of the ages as a sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 8:6, 9:26)

So what can we say about ministry, and how does this impact our own ministries in turn?

  1. Ministry is others-oriented.  The apostles ministered the word to others, the saints are equipped for ministry to others, and Christ’s ministry saves sinners.  Our ministry must continually be self-denying and others-focused.
  2. Ministry comes with a gift.  God is the giver of gifts to His people in order that they may use them to build up His church.  Finding our ministry means discovering and using these gifts in order to build up the body in love and grow in maturity in Christ.
  3. Ministry is a call.  Timothy had a ministry which he needed to fulfill.  God had prepared good works for Timothy to walk in, and He has done the same for us as well.  Being an effective minister means asking God to lead us into these good works.
  4. Ministry requires prioritization. We may be able to minister in many ways, but we should follow the example of the apostles and consider before God where our gifts may bear the most fruit.
  5. Ministry is sacrificial.  Ministry means giving, and giving means sacrificing.  Jesus gave of Himself to obtain His ministry of mediation, and we must give of ourselves in order to obtain the fruit of our own ministries.  We don’t minister to gain; we minister to give.
  6. Ministry exists to glorify God. Jesus’ ministry on the earth, on the cross, and in the Father’s presence exists in order to bring glory to Himself and to the Father (John 17:1-5).  As all things exist for Him (Colossians 1:16), and since we are to do all things to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), let us embrace the sacrificial, others-oriented ministries of our gifts in order to magnify the glory of our God.

Question:  How do you think about your own ministry?

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To Will or Not to Will

Published on May 28, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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I love books.  Books allow us to enter the hearts and minds of others with different experiences in different times and think our own thoughts through theirs.  Sometimes we find words that we’ve felt but could not describe; other times we’re faced with thoughts we’ve never thought before.

I’ve been reading The Sovereignty of God by A.W. Pink (1886-1952), and the book is giving me a lot to think about.  Pink speaks with the royal, editorial “we,” which is always a good time.  But he is also diving deep into the nature of God as revealed within the Bible and painting a portrait of the way man respond to this sort of revelation.

Here’s one section I’ve been wrestling with:

“What is the human Will?  Is it a self-determining agent, or is it, in turn, determined by something else?  Is it sovereign or servant?  Is the will superior to every other faculty of our being so that it governs them, or is it moved by their impulses and subject to their pleasure?  Does the will rule the mind, or the mind control the will?  Is the will free to do as it pleases, or is it under the necessity of rending obedience to something outside of itself.”

He goes on to say:

“The will is the faculty of choice, the immediate cause of all action…In every act of will, there is preference—the desiring of one thing rather than another…To will is to choose, and to choose is to decide between alternatives.  But there is something which influences the choice; something which determines the decision.”

Ultimately, Pink says it is the heart which is at the core of humans and that the heart is inclined towards good or evil.  This inclination, or tendency, drives the impulse which guides the will in choosing what it chooses.  He builds on the notion that the will is bound, either by sin, or by righteousness.

So what do you think about all this?  And should we care?

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As Prejudice Gives Way

Published on May 24, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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I recently watched this video from a generation past about prejudice.  Teacher Jane Elliot used a simple experiment with the students in her classroom to teach them about the nature and consequence of bias, and the results of her experiment were shocking in one sense and not surprising in another.  You will watch this video and be stunned by the speed with which the prejudice of the human heart is revealed.

This is a video worth watching for a number of reasons:

  1. It makes its point in parable, and powerfully so, which delivers the message straight to the heart.
  2. It awakens hearts that are numb to bias in all its perilous forms.
  3. It begs for a resolution (racial reconciliation) which points us to a greater reality (spiritual reconciliation)

I find it helpful to remember this video was shot during a different time in a different culture.  But I also know the prejudice we see released within these kids is the kind of prejudice that persists even to today.

Being part of the majority culture must certainly obscure my view of the continuing racial divide that exists in our country and around the world.  And racial prejudice is not the only kind of prejudice that plagues our people today.  We are a people of bias, and we seem to seek out any opportunity to create division where unity should exist.  We categorize others in our minds based on gender, denomination, theology, religion, race, intelligence, economic status, or national affinity.  Put simply, we are a divided people.

Our hearts may cry for unity across all of humanity—to see divides between color and creed and class to fall by the wayside and be replaced by a highway of harmony that cross all nations and all barriers.  And in one sense, we should seek for unity and pray for peace when we see them fall victim to the evils of prejudice.  But in another sense, we strive in vain when we try to build bridges that don’t acknowledge the very work of division God is bringing about in our world.

When Jesus says, “Do you think I have come to give peace on earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division,” we find Him revealing a part of His core mission:  to redeem a people for Himself from out of every family, community, and nation.  God’s redemptive purposes are not confined to a nation, or a color, or anything we as humans can touch or see.  God’s redemptive purposes are predicated by His own counsel and the “secrets of men” (Romans 2:16)—namely, the condition of their hearts.

God means for unity to exist within His church at the cost of discord within the world.  But God’s kind of discord is not our kind of discord.  God does not judge men based on the color of their skin, but rather on the condition of their heart.

Since God does not judge men based on the color of their skin, neither should we.  Since God shows “no partiality” (Romans 2:11), neither should we.  When Paul says God shows no partiality, he reinforces what Moses wrote in Genesis 1:27 and what Luke wrote in Acts 17:26:  That all men, irrespective of ethnicity, are made in the image of God.  This should immediately put to rest any notion that the value of a human can be determined by something other than their humanity.

This is not to say distinctives are not necessary, or even good, particularly as we strive to preserve the purity of the gospel in a world that would cloud it with all kinds of debris.  We do not serve God well when we act as if truth should be comprised as a result of our own inclination towards sin.  But where we allow our distinctives to influence our view of the inherent worth of others, we go too far.

In all this, I’m reminded of a few important truths:

  1. It is not ours to judge others, even as we judge righteously (see John 7:24).
  2. Reconciliation begins with humility, and humility begins with submission to God.
  3. God’s ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.
  4. All things, including racial discord, racial harmony, spiritual division, and spiritual unity exist for Jesus to make manifest His glory.

So we should strive for racial reconciliation and denominational reconciliation and ethnic reconciliation where we see the division created by men and not God.  But these goals are penultimate, not ultimate.  What is ultimate is the glory God receives when we demonstrate the ultimate value and worth of Christ in how we love others irrespective of color or class or creed and when we carry forward His great gospel to every color, class, and creed.

Question:  What impact have you seen bias have in your own life?

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7 Reasons To Love Tax Week

Published on April 12, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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This is a week which has loomed large each year since 1955, when Congress moved the filing deadline for tax returns to its current date.  April 15 holds a prominent place on our calendars, but this day is not always the highlight of our year.  The conscientious among us filed their taxes months ago and think nothing of this week.  But for the procrastinators in our midst, this week promises late nights, scores of Google searches, and more than a few “can you believe…” questions to our husbands and wives.

But “all things were created for [Jesus]…that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:16, 18).  This “everything” includes our money, and the IRS, and Tax Week, which means that even this week exists to make Jesus look glorious.

So here are seven reasons to love Tax Week, for His glory and our great joy:

  1. We’re reminded to render to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar and to God what belongs to God.  Proverbs 3:9 tells us to “honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce,” so paying our taxes reminds us we should be giving to God first.  But Jesus would have us consider a more important question—what belongs to God that we should render unto Him?  When we realize the answer is “everything,” we can then see that submitting a portion of our income to our government reminds us to submit all we have, and all we are, to our King.
  2. We’re reminded that God places rules and authorities over us for our good.  Paul instructs us in this way:  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God…therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.  For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God” (Romans 13:1, 5-6).  So when we pay taxes, we acknowledge God’s ultimate authority over all things.
  3. We’re reminded that the government blesses generosity—but God blesses it more.  “Give, and it will be given to you.  Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap.  For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).  The government doesn’t tax the money we give away, so we end up getting a return on our charity.  But God’s return, whether material or spiritual in nature, is far greater—packed tightly, running over, with liberal abundance, echoing His dispensation of grace to His beloved children.
  4. We’re reminded that integrity pays dividends. God tells us that “wealth gained by fraud will dwindle” (Proverbs 13:11), and “whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household” (Proverbs 15:27).  Most of us have the opportunity to cheat on our taxes.  We may not be involved in a large, devious scheme; we may just find the chance to not report some income or overstate some deduction.  But what price will we place on our integrity?  The way that is right before God is the way that will bear the most fruit.
  5. We’re reminded that money is the smallest of things.  Jesus tells us:  “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much…if then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Luke 16:10-11).  As disciples of Jesus, our desire is for the true riches of heaven, and we recognize two things about our money:  our money itself is temporal in nature, but our use of it has eternal consequences.
  6. We’re reminded of where our treasure is.  We know Jesus’ words:  “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).  But we may find ourselves forgetting this truth at tax time, when owing additional money can be cause for anxiousness and getting a refund can be cause for unhealthy celebration.  We do well to imitate Paul’s heart of contentment when he says:  “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound…I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).  Whether facing the temptation to not trust God to provide in a time of need or to not depend on God in a time of abundance, Christ alone is our strength.
  7. We’re reminded that Jesus loves tax collectors.  “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5).  Let’s be honest—we’ve all thought at some point that the IRS is a group of heartless mercenaries bent on sapping the country dry of its money.  But Jesus called Matthew from his tax booth, and He went into the home of a notorious tax collector, Zacchaeus, bringing salvation with Him.  If Jesus loves tax collectors, we should as well.

So Tax Week is fruitful for remembering.  Instead of spending our week as reluctant tax-paying malcontents, let us embrace this time as an opportunity to demonstrate the sufficient worth and all-satisfying treasure that Jesus is to us, and in doing so, we will reflect back the glory of His preeminence over all things.

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Now What?

Published on April 5, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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Good Friday and Easter combine to create an emotional roller coaster of faith packed into a single weekend. Reflection upon Good Friday can bring darkness, conviction, grief, introspection, gratitude, and worship. And reflection upon Easter can bring wonder, fear, faith, hope, exhilaration, trembling, and deep joy. These days are two sides of a single coin of faith, one rooted in belief in a God who holds power over sin and death, for our sake and His glory.

But the depths and heights of these emotions cannot be sustained over life’s journey; there are plains among the valleys and peaks. This is why we remember these things regularly in communion, preaching, and days of remembrance. So we may find ourselves wondering how we should continue in Christian living following a weekend of such magnitude.

But we don’t need to wonder for long when we have God’s word to guide us. As disciples of Jesus today, we can always look back to His first disciples as examples of what to do, and what not to do, in the weeks following Holy Week. Although we have the benefit of hindsight to know how the story ends, we can still find ourselves in their sandals in many ways. As we consider their example, we may find ourselves:

1. Worshipping Jesus“And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him” (Matthew 28:9).

Truly understanding and believing that Jesus rose from dead will lead to worship, for there is no one in heaven or on earth like Him.

2. Dealing with slander“[The elders] said, ‘Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep’’” (Matthew 28:13).

Easter may arouse worship among followers of Jesus, but it may also arouse ridicule from scoffers and skeptics. We are a strange people, orienting ourselves around a God-man who is said to have risen from the dead, and the folly of the cross creates disbelief in the power of the resurrection. Sometimes, even those closest to us may grieve our hearts as they mock the roots and object of our faith.

3. Doubting “So the other disciples told [Thomas], ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails…and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).

Faith doesn’t erase all doubts; it erases our penalty for sin. We are not a perfect people when we first believe, and God will grow us into Christ-likeness in a thousand different ways. Those among us who are skeptics at heart may find ourselves reflecting on Holy Week and asking ourselves, “Do I really, actually, truly believe this story?” When we encounter these kinds of questions, it’s good to ask Jesus to meet us in our moments of doubt. After all, He did not scold Thomas; he came wounded, inviting him to believe.

4. Finding wonder in the word“They said to each other, ‘Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?’” (Luke 24:32).

The Scriptures are a limitless mine for amazement at the majesty of God in weaving a narrative across geography, people, time, and genre into a tapestry that reveals a detailed portrait of Jesus. Studying this word, meditating on it, memorizing it, hiding it in our hearts are gateways to wonder.

5. Receiving a commission from Jesus “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).

“[Jesus] said to [Peter], “Feed my lambs…tend my sheep…feed my sheep…follow me” (John 21:15-17, 19).

The Great Commission is for the Church, and as members of that Church, it is for us. But we’re also part of one body, and each of us has a specific role to play, so our means for fulfilling the Great Commission may look different from one another. Being close to Jesus will bring us our own small commissions to do this or that and follow Him.

6. Going back to work “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing…’ When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord…he threw himself into the sea [and swam to shore]” (John 21:3, 7).

There’s a kind of joy that comes from the brokenness of Good Friday and a kind of joy that comes from the hope-filled wonder of Easter. But then there is Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and the next week, and the week after that. The routine of life soon reemerges to confront our time of reflection. But Jesus will show up in the midst of our daily routines, and we do well to throw ourselves into His presence as He reveals Himself to us.

So what do we do after Holy Week? We continue our mission of being and making disciples of Jesus, living in community with one another, confronting our fears and doubts with the power of the word, being firmly rooted in faith that is made possible by God’s work on the cross, in hope made possible by God’s work in the tomb, and in love that is expressed by daily obedience to the word of Christ. We honor the glory of Christ in celebrating His death on Friday and His resurrection on Sunday, but we also honor Him in our daily steps of obedience on Monday.

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Can We Overemphasize The Gospel?

Published on March 11, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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I love The Gospel Coalition, and here’s why:

“The Gospel Coalition is a group of (mostly) pastors who are deeply committed to the gospel…and want to think out of the framework of the good news of Christ—crucified, risen on our behalf, reconciling us to God, preparing us for eternity.” DA Carson

“We’ve got our eyes fixed on the fact that the gospel of Jesus Christ needs to be central—it needs to drive everything that we do in ministry and in life.” Joshua Harris

“The gospel is not proclaimed if Christ is not proclaimed.” TGC Confessional Statement

“The gospel is not just a body of doctrinal content.  It’s a power—it is the power of God unto salvation to all who believe.  It’s not just about God’s power—it is God’s power.” Tim Keller

“I am gripped by any gathering of people who will give themselves to the preservation and the exaltation of the fullness of the gospel, because in the end, my soul gets satisfied with the greatness of God, and God gets all the glory that He should get by being the end for which [all things] exist.” John Piper

There is beauty and grace and strength and depth in these words.  I find deepening affections for God as I consider the human brokenness and Spirit-filled power in this global community which has oriented itself around the greatest news in human history:  the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In light of these affections, I was troubled by the question that recently came to mind:  Is it possible to overemphasize the gospel?

Here’s why I ask.  The way we think and talk are products of the people we read and talk with and listen to.  I didn’t grow up saying “authentic community,” “missional,” “there’s a tension here,” “the sufficiency of Christ,” “the glory of God,” or any of these phrases I find myself saying and writing now.  I have picked these up from pastors and writers and friends, who I assume picked them up from other pastors and writers and friends, and on and on until we find we are all beginning to share a new common language to express old ideas.

These kinds of phrases are useful in that they represent ideas we believe, and these ideas ultimately inform the ways in which we live.  That’s why the language we use is so crucial—if we hear and say something enough, we will often find our lives changed by the power of words.

One of the most common phrases I’ve been hearing recently from pastors all across the country is a variation on the term gospel.  Usage has taken on many forms:  “gospel-centered living,” “living out of the gospel,” “the centrality of the gospel,” “gospel-centered ministry,” and the like.  These phrases are a testament to the stirring of God in our churches and the impact of communities like The Gospel Coalition in which ideas that matter are shaped and shared.

There is clearly a movement underway—a movement towards gospel-centered ministry and gospel-centered living (see).  And this is a movement worth joining.  As John Piper says, “When the [gospel] is lost, the glory of Christ is lost.”  So the stakes of this movement have eternal consequences.

With movements comes movement—a shift from one perspective to another.  And because we are fallen, we have the tendency to shift too far at times.  This is the classic pendulum swing we see in religious movements and social movements alike.  We often find it easier to react against what we don’t believe rather than beginning with what we do, and the outcome is often intellectual and emotional polarization.  So I wonder if we’ve done the same thing with our usage of the term gospel.

This brings me back to my question:  Is it possible to overemphasize the gospel?  Or to ask it another way:  what dangers might exist in overusing the term?

To answer this question, it may be useful to look at God’s word, where we find that the gospel is…

…A promise of God (Romans 1:2)

… A command to be obeyed (1 Peter 4:17)

… Good news to be believed in (Mark 1:15)

…A message to be preached out of the power of the cross of Christ, not out of human wisdom (1 Cor 1:17)

…The revelation of God’s righteousness (Romans 1:17)

…The power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16)

…A seed that bears fruit (Colossians 1:6)

…A worthy cause for which to lose our life (Mark 8:35)

… A source of great blessing (1 Corinthians 9:23)

God has much to say about the gospel, His gospel, and it’s clear that this good news is filled with glory.  But we should note that what God has to say about His gospel is largely spoken of in terms of means.  The gospel is a promise of God in order to set His people apart.  It is a command of God in order to face judgment and be saved.  It is good news to believed in order to join God’s kingdom.

I recently heard a pastor speaking to the power of the gospel to touch all parts of our lives, not just the moment of our conversion, but he spoke of it in terms of an end and not a means.  He said things like, “We need to live out of the gospel,” “we need to trust in the gospel,” “we need to keep the gospel in front of us all the time,” and “the gospel heals us.”

I don’t mean to object over trivialities, because I know the intentions behind the words were meant to honor God, but this is where our language is vital.  The gospel is a means—not an end.  So the way we talk about the gospel and think about the gospel is paramount.  It amounts to whether we orient our lives towards the journey or the destination.

The destination is why The Gospel Coalition exists:  to generate a unified effort among all peoples—an effort that is zealous to honor Christ and multiply his disciples, joining in a true coalition for Jesus” (The Gospel for All of Life: Preamble).  And this must be many have joined this movement, to partner with people who are orienting their lives around a Person who is the destination we all seek.

So I conclude that we cannot overemphasize the gospel so long as we keep the Source, Substance, and End to the gospel in full view.  Pastors, we as your flocks need to hear you remind us continually that the gospel touches every part of our lives—that it is the firm foundation on which we walk in our journey of faith.  But more importantly, we need you to point us to the end of this road, to Jesus, for whom, and about whom, the gospel exists.

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An Ascent From Tragedy

Published on March 1, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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Six weeks ago, the earth broke under Haiti.  This past weekend, it broke again under Chile.  The Western Church had an awakening of sorts during the intervening time—perhaps not a deep, spiritual awakening, but surely one of compassion.  People who had just celebrated a Christmas and New Year in a time of relative comfort and prosperity were suddenly moved to give, go, pray, weep, and yearn  for understanding during a time without many answers.

Some of us may find ourselves with more questions after this second quake.  We may consider the first event to have simply been something that happens from time to time.  But we may look at the second and wonder what is really going on.  Is God truly sovereign?  Is He punishing nations?  Is He permitting tragedies for an ultimate good?

These questions should not cause us to withdraw—we should now give, go, pray, and weep for Chile as we continue to do for Haiti—but it should give us a broader sense of perspective.  There was a period of great mobilization after Haiti’s quake where hearts were torn and pockets opened and planes boarded and prayers lifted up.  And there was a sense of great urgency, that the needs were real and present.

But Haiti’s needs have not gone away, and Chile’s needs are now real and present.  So as we mobilize once more, we may find more of a sense of calm than before.  We may feel these new needs are urgent, but they are perhaps a different kind of urgent.  There may no longer be the great burst of excitement that comes when first setting foot on a new mission field; this may feel more like the toil of ministry.

The excitement is good, but the toil can be better.  The reason I say this is that new excitement in a life of faith is never static.  The enthusiasm or agitation that we feel deep within our spirits always moves somewhere else after a time.  And these soul-deep feelings tend to move within a framework of worldview.

We often start with a local worldview; our focus is primarily on ourselves and the world immediately around us.  We care most about our families, and our jobs, and our to-do lists; we rarely think of others on a broader scale, or even at all in many cases.

But then tragedy strikes, and our hearts are awakened from a state of slumber to a global worldview.  Those involved in the tragedy at hand are first and foremost on our minds, but we slowly begin to consider the billions in the world today, many of who are in great need.  Our hearts go out to them, as do our prayers and our money.  But over time, the initial burst of compassion tends to fall away and is replaced by one of two things:  either descent toward a local worldview once more, or an ascent to a universal one.

We descend to a local worldview because our burst of compassion often comes as a superficial reaction.  I say superficial not because the feelings are not genuine, but simply because they don’t last.  There’s no root.  We begin to feel as if there’s too much need, that we’re helpless to make any significant impact, and this leads us to a sense of despair.  When our roots go only to the shallow depth of our own hearts, our compassion will wither because we are ultimately trusting in ourselves.  But when these roots go into a heart that has been cultivated by the Spirit, the despair we feel is replaced by a dependence on God because we recognize we truly are helpless.  This is the path of ascent that comes from a universal worldview.

There’s nothing specific about a universal worldview that is inherently better in terms of the material world.  The universe is not geocentric, but God’s redemptive story is.  The stage of Earth has hosted the Star of this story, and the vastness of the heavens serve as the grand auditorium to make this stage all the more magnificent.  But a universal worldview accomplishes its objective, not because it is simply larger, but because it raises our thoughts beyond ourselves, and all of global humanity, to God Himself.  And when the eyes of our hearts and minds and spirits are open to God rather than focused on man, we are empowered to persist in compassion for the hurting and the lost.

In fact, this is the only way to sustain this kind of God-empowered compassion.  A universal worldview doesn’t leave us with our heads in the heavens, after all.  It brings us to the most local level of all—our own hearts—as we see our need to abide in Jesus, and that abiding is what empowers us to love both locally and globally.  This is why we pray more and trust more when we feel helpless, because we recognize our ongoing need for God.

So when we feel the sway of despair, or the toil of ministry, may God strengthen us to continue in love for the Church, the needy, and the lost.  May the sense of our own weakness not draw us back to focus on ourselves, but may it push us onward and upwards to the heart of God, where He will work in and through us in the most intimate way, empowering us to live and love, both locally and globally, for His glory and our joy.

Question:  What do you do when you begin feeling you are helpless to help the world’s tragedies?

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6 Steps to Changing Others

Published on February 25, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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One of my favorite pastimes is thinking of all the things I would like to change in other people.  I find it far less interesting, and far more intrusive, to think about changing myself.  Digging to find the rough spots in my soul is difficult; throwing stones at others is far easier.

I’ve developed quite a talent for this.  I can point out the flaws of people I’ve known for years.  I can pinpoint the failings of people I’ve just recently met.  And I can even sometimes imagine the imperfections in people I don’t even know.

It’s important to know I’m an equal-opportunity fault-identifier.  I can find fault in my boss, or my wife, or my pastor, or my friends, or my parents, or my brother, or my in-laws, or co-workers, or my neighbors, or even strangers who pass by with an odd look or a certain outfit.  And I’m not talking about superficial changes, like “I wish she would not wear that hat,” or “I wish he didn’t leave his water glass half-full every time.”  I’m talking about meaningful, truth-related, character issues.

Noticing the flaws in others is ultimately a fruitless activity, however, unless you also have the courage to say it to their face, or even better, the fortitude to say it behind their backs.  Fault-finding is like a good story—it’s far more powerful and enjoyable when shared with others.

Sarcasm aside, there’s deep, dark sin to be had in this kind of thinking.  We bury ourselves in miry pits of self-righteousness, all the while thinking we are sparkling clean.  Finding fault in others is a sure recipe for a judgmental spirit, blindness to our own sin, increased isolation from others, and callousness towards God.

The irony is that we do this sort of thing with the best of intentions.  The Pharisees meant well when they saw the specks in others’ eyes.  It’s simply that they missed the logs in their own—and not on purpose.  After all, if you actually knew you had a log in your own eye, you would certainly remove it.  So a judgmental spirit, spiritual blindness, isolation, and callousness are never the goals of people of our sort—they are just the results.

I’ve seen a logical progression for how we get into and out of this kind of thinking:

  1. You don’t care.  People that don’t care deeply about truth, particularly God’s truth, aren’t going to be as concerned when they see truth-kinds of failings in others.  So before we commit our lives to Jesus, we aren’t always as concerned about seeing truth being upheld in the world
  2. You do care, and you focus on individual others. This stage is where we begin caring about truth, and we naturally focus on others as a consequence of being human, so we begin to pick up on the moral failings of others.  As our self-centered view of the world plays out, we want others to change so they are oriented towards us in a manner that is more convenient for us.
  3. You do care, and you focus on general others.  This is the stage where many of us spend most of our time.  We’ve learned through experience that individuals don’t like being told about what we’d like to change about them.  And we’ve found it’s safer to point out the failings in a general group of people than particular individuals.  Speaking in generalities also helps us feel as if we’re concerned about truth on a larger scale, which makes us feel that we have a more Godly, global perspective.
  4. You do care, and you focus on yourself as you see yourself.  This is the beginning of the hard stages, which is why few of us spend much time here.  In this stage, we have given up on focusing on others, trusting that God is working in their hearts as well.  We give up in this way because we are slowly becoming overwhelmed by our sin.  It’s not that truth doesn’t matter to us anymore; it’s simply that we recognize that we’re not of much use to encouraging others when we’re so broken ourselves.
  5. You do care, and you focus on yourself as God sees you.  This is perhaps the hardest stage of all.  In the prior stage, we found that we are disgusted with who we are, and we’re beginning to embrace the righteousness we have in Jesus.  We do go through the process of comparing ourselves, not against others, but against Jesus, and we find that although we fall woefully short, we’re still loved and accepted by Him, because of Him.  This is the hardest stage of all, because it is so unnatural at first, but it is the birth of true humility.
  6. You do care, and you focus on God.  This is the stage of great wisdom because it’s the stage of greatest humility.  We embrace the realization that coming into the presence of God means forgetting about ourselves, not primarily because we’re wretched sinners, but because He is so much more glorious to behold.  Seeing God in this way leads to abiding in Jesus, and abiding in Jesus produces great fruit in our lives.  And producing great fruit in our lives often leads to change in others as well as they begin to behold the glories of God on their own.

Ultimately, changing other people is part of our Great Commission. We are to baptize people into the faith as a sign of their new creation.  We are to disciple them and teach them so they will grow into Christ-likeness.  But we do so not out of own effort, but as a byproduct of a life spent treasuring Jesus above all other things and inviting, encouraging, and exhorting others to treasure Him as well.  May God grant us passage through these stages of life so that we might collectively behold His glory, and may He change us all through the process.

Question:  How often do you want to change others, and how do you typically go about it?

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To Pastors, Today

Published on February 7, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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Let me start by saying I have no ecclesiastical authority to be giving pastors advice at all.  And God’s servants who minister to their local flocks should be esteemed for their service in a holy calling.  So I begin this post with the humility of a member of the universal body, under the authority of the elders of a local body, encouraging pastors in the global body in the care of their flocks.

I know some churches will have their normal Sunday evening services tonight, and that’s great.  And others will cancel their normal Sunday evening services tonight to provide space for their congregations to engage in their communities, and that’s great.  And some churches don’t have Sunday evening services at all, and that’s great.

Mark Driscoll will be preaching this evening and TIVOing the gameCJ Mahaney will be watching the event and bringing an eternal perspective to a temporal game.  Thousands of other pastors whose names are known only to God and their congregations will be preaching tonight to smaller-than-normal gatherings because they love the word of God and know preaching to be one of its most powerful expressions.

But there will be some pastors who tell their congregations today that they need to choose between the Super Bowl and church, and I suppose a minority may do it with the right heart.  But there will be others who pose the choice as a false choice of faith—do you love Jesus more than football?

I call it a false choice because today is not the day to be asking this kind of question.  Every day is the day to be asking this kind of question.  Every sermon you preach is an opportunity to ask your flock this question—do you love Jesus, or do you love the world?

We as the church need this kind of question, this kind of preaching, every time we sit to hear you speak.  We need to be constantly reminded that “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake…will save it.  For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul” (Mark 8:35-36).  We face this choice—Jesus or the world—every day as we rise, and work, and eat, and drink, and talk, and we need you to constantly point us to the superior value of Christ over anything the world can offer.

If you only ask this question on Super Bowl Sunday, you are likely going to be teaching your people to feel one of two things—either moral superiority, which will lead them straight down the path towards pride, or guilt, which will lead them straight down the path towards shame.  And pride and shame won’t encourage your people to value Jesus as their greatest treasure.

So maybe the best thing to do is to preach if you are scheduled to preach, and don’t preach if you’re not scheduled to preach.  And encourage your people to love God more than a game, even if they choose to watch the game.

And as the breathless victors lift up the Lombardi Trophy this evening, may we all be reminded of the victory gained on our behalf when the Son of God was lifted up and drew his final breath that beautiful evening centuries ago.

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The State of My Union

Published on January 28, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The state of my union is not that good. I don’t think you’re supposed to say that sort of thing, but it’s true, so I guess it’s worth saying.

I’m not talking about our country, which remains strong despite its many issues.  And I’m not talking about my marriage, which is still my greatest earthly delight.  The union I’m talking about is the union that matters most:  my union with Christ.

The struggle I face today is the cavern that exists between what I know and what I live.  I say that Jesus is the greatest satisfaction to our soul’s deepest cravings, and I believe this deeply.  But I’m not living in the embrace of this reality today.  There are just far too many concerns on my heart.  I tell myself this is simply a busy season of life, and this will all soon pass, and I’ll be able to reconnect with God once more before long.

But tomorrow is never the best day to commit to the Lord.  James wrote that we “do not know what tomorrow will bring,” and he’s right.  Today is always the best day to abide in Christ.

The state of my union is not Jesus’ fault—His faithfulness has never wavered.  I suppose I could get down on myself, working to summon the motivation to go and make our relationship right again.  But this kind of striving never produces lasting results.  I know that we’re supposed to work out our salvation, but it’s telling that Jesus’ teachings on the vine and the branch are that we should remain in Him.

Remaining means we were there in the first place.  “You did not choose me, but I chose you [to] go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (John 15:16).  Just as it is the vine which first produces the union with the branch, so too it is Christ who brings us to Himself as we first become new creations.  His command is to then remain in Him.  This is what I have been failing to do, and it’s something I’ve now confessed to God.

Whenever our nation’s leaders talk about the State of our Union, they generally express great resolve and optimism, no matter what the state of our country is in.  And despite the state of my union today, I also have great hope.  I don’t have this hope because of my own resolve.  I have this hope because of the greatness of my God.

God bless me, in spite of my wandering heart, for His glory.  And God bless you as well as you strengthen your union with Christ by remaining in Him today.

Question:  What is the state of your union?

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I’m Feeling Sentimental

Published on January 21, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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The goal of this blog is to proclaim Jesus as the greatest satisfaction to every human need by pointing to His superior worth over anything else life can offer.  I try to write every post with this in mind, and it tends to lead to posts that are sometimes serious, sometimes reflective, sometimes uplifting–but typically Christ-centered.

This post is for fun.  Because I think Jesus likes fun too.  I’m feeling sentimental as I look at the Smilebox my wife, Anna, created for our 2009 Christmas card.  Maybe it’s the music, maybe it’s my wife’s beauty, maybe it’s the fact that I’ve settled back in the grind of work and life after Christmas break with family and feel a sense of longing as these memories come flooding back.

I don’t know if you’re the sentimental type too, but there’s just something powerful about pausing to meditate on the best parts of life.  So much of our lives goes by quickly–pages turn one after another, full of pressing calls or TV shows or spreadsheets or deadlines.  This is why we take pictures–to remember the sentences or paragraphs in our lives that truly mean something to us.  After all, no one takes pictures of their spreadsheets.

I’ve always associated sentimentality with the past, but I see no reason we cannot feel these deep kinds of emotions about the future.  There’s one scene in particular that creates this same sense of longing within me, but it goes a bit deeper.  It makes me think all the parts of my life that are meaningful, the paragraphs that bring a hint of tears to my eyes, are meant to echo this final scene.

Pause with me for a moment, and grow sentimental:

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more.  They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev 22:1-5).

I guess this post was about Jesus after all.  But also fun.

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Live With Haiti In Your Heart

Published on January 14, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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Haiti saddens me.  It saddens me in part because so many have lost so much.  It also saddens me because I care so little.

I don’t say this flippantly.  I say this because it’s the reaction I have right now.  It’s not something I’m proud of; it’s simply what’s going on at this moment in my head and in my heart.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a personal connection with anyone in Haiti.  Perhaps it’s because I don’t have the kind of compassion I know I should have.

But this news does do something deep inside me.  It affirms a gnawing feeling that there’s so much more to life and faith than what I know today.  Today, I care about getting to bed late because I went to a UConn game with co-workers.  Today, I care about wondering how many people are buying my new book.  Today, I care about myself when there are others who need me to care about them.

Seeing suffering awakens me from the slumber of my ignorance, reminds me of my own self-centeredness, and plunges my theology into the deep water of reality.  Is God sovereign, even as the earth heaves and fires are kindled?  Is He good, even as the last cries of the dead drift quietly into the silence?

We know the rain falls on the just and the unjust.  We know the Lord brings disaster on cities.  We know He brings healing to the nations.  We know He permits Satan to wreak havoc on His people.  We know He restrains the devil.  We know Jesus weeps over the lost.  We know that some are born into suffering so that God might be glorified.  There’s deep theology here, an ocean of questions and answers that flow in and through one another and leave us in one of two places:  wondering where God is in the midst of suffering, or wondering at the mystery of this God who works all things, including suffering, for good according to His purposes.

I spent my lunch hour in a cemetery today.  I don’t mean to be morbid, but it’s good to go to the place of the dead to be reminded that emails and deadlines and Twitter and phone calls aren’t quite as important as they seem throughout the day.  It’s a good place to be when wondering at the mystery of this God who works all things, including earthquakes in Haiti, for good according to His purposes.  And it’s a good place to go when thinking about what we’re supposed to do next.  So:

Give if God moves you to do so.

Pray with zeal that the glory of God would shine brightly in the midst of this tragedy.

Weep for those whose tears are dried by despair.

Go if God sends you.

But perhaps most of all, live with Haiti in your heart.  In a week, when the blogs and news cycles die down a bit, or in a month, when our lives consume us once more with other things, or in a year, when most of us will have long forgotten the day the earth broke under Haiti, another disaster will strike, and we will be awakened once more to the realization that we care far too much about the trivial and far too little about the eternal.  We’ll be reminded that the bones of dead men testify that our lives are but a vapor.  In that day, we will remember that living with Haiti in our hearts means living with a longing for the One who will bring renewal and restoration to a planet and a people who desperately need both.

My desire is that we give, and pray, and weep, and go, but that most of all we go to the Vine for comfort and hope and joy, even in the midst of great loss.  When buildings fall and lives are ended, we need the earth-shattering, wound-healing, voice of the Son of God who says, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Lord Jesus, make Haiti new, a land where Gospel seeds are planted and Godly fruit grows into an abundant harvest.  And make us new, each and every day of our lives, so that we will abide in You, for Your glory and our joy.

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7 Reasons To Not Care About Blog Traffic

Published on January 8, 2010 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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Bloggers care about traffic.  I think that’s just the way it is.  If you’re an artist, you care about people seeing your art.  If you’re a photographer, you care about people seeing your photos.  If you’re a writer, you care about people reading what you write.

I suppose I shouldn’t speak for every person who blogs; I can only open the human experience for one person—me—examine what I find, observe others around me, and make inferences about what they may be experiencing as well.  And what I find when I open my human experience is that I care about traffic.

As I consider why this is so, I find there are a few reasons, but the core need I seem to be trying to fill is the one for validation—I want to know that what I’m writing, and who I am, is deemed worthy by others.  The more others there are, the more validated I feel.  When my site traffic goes up, I feel as if what I am doing is more consequential than when it’s down.

There are plenty of strategies to increase your blog traffic, and I assume many of them work.  I remember reading a post about 250,000 people showing up at this one blog over a 24-hour period.  The post was crafted as a case study in response to a reader request, and it was very well written.  But when I finished reading, I noticed two competing thoughts.  The first was this:  That’s amazing; how can I get this kind of traffic one day? The second was this:  Who cares?  What’s the lasting value of getting a quarter of a million people on your site?  Money, fame, more readers—at the end of the day, none of these will satisfy.

I don’t mean to pretend to be a purist here, saying “produce great content, and they will come,” while casting the medium for the message as unimportant.  I suspect this kind of thought comes more from a place of jealousy than purity.  I even think promoting your blog or whatever you may do with your time is worthwhile; after all, if you have a message worth sharing, you might as well share it with all your might.

What I’m really getting at is the heart behind these desires.  I find that if I look to numbers to validate who I am and what I do, I will never be satisfied.  It’s the drug that leaves me hanging, and I need more of a buzz the next time around.  But if I write out of a place of obedience, from a position of faith that longs to see the fruit of hearts, both my own and those of others, transformed into Christ-likeness, I have the opportunity to find great satisfaction in who I am and what I do—not because of who I am and what I do, but because of the faithfulness of the One who produces the fruit in the first place.

I think this is the crux of the matter:  we shouldn’t be in the business of trying to quantify spiritual fruit.  We’re tempted to do so—how many people attend our church, how many books we’ve sold, how many people we’ve led to Christ, how many people read our blogs, how many Facebook friends we have—but we fall into the trap of trying to call these things “fruit.”  We can, and should, seek to bear “much fruit and so prove to be [Jesus’] disciples…[so the] Father [will be] glorified” (John 15:8).  But bearing much fruit and quantifying what we believe to be “fruit” are two different things entirely.

All of this is meant to be written as a confession.  I am not discussing anything here that I am not guilty of myself, and you may find these do not apply to you.  So enough soapboxing—here are 7 reasons to not care about blog traffic:

  1. It reinforces fruit-by-numbers theology.  I tend to measure my fruit in writing by the size of my readership.  Jesus taught another way—to abide in Him, because apart from Him, we can do nothing.  He taught us that abiding in Him would lead us to bear much fruit to the glory of His Father.  He didn’t teach us to measure how much “much” is.
  2. It feeds an impulse to focus on self.  The times I focus most on this kind of “fruit” are the times I am thinking a lot about myself—how I can best position myself, how I can become a more well-known voice.  Thoughts like these cause strivings not meant for us, and they lead to a dependence on self rather than a dependence on God for effective ministry.
  3. It strengthens the temptation to compare ourselves to others.  No matter how high my traffic may go, it pales in comparison to other bloggers I know.  The temptation to compare is overwhelming, and traffic stats can be the kindling to this destructive fire.
  4. It tends to define fruit as something other than how God defines fruit.  This is like fruit-by-numbers, but it goes a little deeper.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—not rising blog stats.  I confuse this kind of fruit with the metrics-based kind far too often.
  5. It focuses on the fruit rather than the obedience.  I think there’s a delicate balance here.  I’m not sure we are to ignore fruit altogether; I think Jesus would have us seek to bear “much fruit” for God’s glory.  But the core focus of the obedience of abiding should be in the abiding.  The abiding comes first—then the fruit.
  6. It’s neither sowing nor reaping—it’s counting the harvest.  Jesus told us to pray for God to send more workers into the harvest.  Workers at harvest don’t simply count the harvest; they actually harvest.  When I go through my blog stats, I’m not harvesting anything—I’m just counting.
  7. It can be used to emphasize the glory of man rather than the glory of God.  When my stats are going through the roof, I’m not often making much of God in my spirit.  I’m typically feeling pretty good about myself.  God-glorifying blogging honors God in the writing, in the praying for readers, and in the conversations that follow.

Question:  What has your experience been like—the same as mine, or something different?

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How To Not Waste Time Blogging

Published on December 15, 2009 by CT in Blog, Thoughts

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How To Not Waste Time Blogging

Do you ever wonder if blogging is a waste of time? Despair Inc. has the following encouragement for you:  “Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few.”

If you blog, here’s the number one reason you have wondered if it’s worth it:  the numbers.  You may tell people, “I blog for myself,” or “I don’t care how many people read my blog; if I encourage one person, it’s worth it.”  And that may be true for you.  But it wouldn’t be for me; I’m not that magnanimous.  I want the traffic.

Actually, do you ever wonder if any creative outlets—journaling, painting, drawing, writing, singing, playing—are a waste of time?  Blogging is easy to pick on, but Despair Inc. could speak into just about any part of our lives with daggers of truth.

We all have the same currency in life:  our time.

And we all have the same goal:  to make a statement to the world about what we value most.

Some of us have more currency and more passion than others.  You may get 20 years to say what you want to say about what you see as most valuable, whether it’s God, or family, or money, or power, or popularity, or ingenuity, or discovery, or despair, or meaninglessness.  And you may say it and live it with more vigor than someone who has 100 years.  But no matter how much time each of us has, we all have the same opportunity to relentlessly proclaim to the world what we believe matters most.

When I blog, or write, or tweet, or do anything to express myself, I try to keep in mind the lesson I learned from John Piper.  When his son Abraham asked his community what he should tell to a roomful of Christian bloggers, his dad wrote the following:

Tell them that it takes relentless intentionality to keep a Christ-exalting blog from become a clever blog. The temptation to entertain is almost irresistible.

I know this temptation well.  I am a man full of sin you don’t know about, a heart darkened by prideful desires you would curse if you could see them.  But in spite of this sin, I’ve decided to spend my time proclaiming that Jesus is the most valuable treasure any of us could have in this life.

This is how I have decided to not waste time blogging.

I aim to do this in the spirit of Paul, who writes, “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).  Or that of Peter:  “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another…by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 4:10-11).  Or Jesus Himself:  “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).

As for you, I wonder why you blog, or paint, or write, or draw, or play.  We both know that not every post needs to cite Jesus in order to glorify Him, nor does every painting need to reflect His visage for His Father to be glorified.  There are a thousand ways we can point the world to Christ, and not all of them are obvious on the surface.  And we both probably realize the heart behind what we do does so much to determine the value of what we do.  Which is what Jesus and Paul and Peter were talking about in the first place.

So if all things exist for Christ (Col 1:16), then should not our hearts, and our time, and our posts?

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