I just love me some attention…

JKB —  September 11, 2014 — 2 Comments

We love to criticize the Scribes and Pharisees. Until we see ourselves in them.

In Luke 20:45-47 Jesus is in Jerusalem, calling out the Scribes [Bible-scholar partners of the Pharisees] NOT because they weren’t trying hard to follow Torah and keep Israel focused on living for the true God – but because in their flesh and humanness, they had simply lost their way.

In verse 46, Jesus tells His closest followers to “watch out” for the Scribes – and then rips off a passionate list of what they were to “watch out” for. The line that caught my eyes and heart: “…they love greetings in the marketplace…” or as the Message paraphrases, “…they love to preen in the radiance of public flattery.”

imageThe truth is, at times, so do I. Of course, I’m not going to be very obvious about how much I’m preening – in fact, I’m going to work hard at convincing you that I want to deflect all such praise and attention from myself because it wouldn’t be Godly to love it too much and it really isn’t about me and blah, blah, blah. But the fact is, often, I’m just like the Scribes. Especially on the days when I’m not really hearing the voice of my Abba calling me His beloved son – on those days I don’t just like the flattery…“I needs it, I wants it, I must have it because it’s my precious”.

And that’s really the point, isn’t it? The Scribes LOVED the greetings in the marketplace because they had lost touch with THE LOVE of God, their Father…the One who they knew in their minds had “inscribed their names on the very palm of His hands.” But as the old saying goes, the twelve inches between our brains and our hearts is a long road indeed.

So today, I’m not going to shame or beat myself up about the truth that sometimes “I just love me some attention.” I’m going to let that fact remind me that what I really want, what I really love, what is really precious to me and what I truly cannot live without…is hearing my Abba’s voice saying, “I love you, son. I’ve got you. You’re Mine. Stay close to Me and let Me fill you with My love, affirmation and attention this day. I promise you, son… it will be enough.”

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WANTED

JKB —  August 29, 2014 — 6 Comments

The other morning, this phrase in Luke 14 captivated me:  “…and still there is room.”  Jesus is speaking a parable about the “great banquet” that represents the Kingdom of God.  In the story, the master of the house tells his servant to “go out into the streets and lanes of the city and bring in the poor, the maimed, the lame and the blind” and to invite them to come into his house to the banquet.  The servant reports back:  “Master, it is done…and still there is room.”  To which the master immediately replies, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel MORE to come, that my house may be filled.”

Why are believers in Jesus so often preoccupied with judging who will be at the great banquet – in the Kingdom of God – and who will not?  Because what Jesus seems to focus on is the fact that we have a God who longs for anyone and everyone to come to His banquet – and no matter how many are already seated…still there is room.  Ironically, in Luke 15, Jesus speaks three more parables, reminding us that God will not be content in His spirit if He loses even one of us.  If even one sheep or one coin or one son is lost – He will do anything and everything to go and find and compel that one to come in.

imageWe sit around contemplating who is “out”.  Our God sits around contemplating how He can get everyone “in”.

I’m not a Universalist.  With C.S. Lewis, I believe there must be a place for those who eventually choose “not God” – who finally refuse to come to His banquet.  But I love it – I just love it – that I have a God whose house and banquet hall but especially His heart are so huge that He wants all of us, each of us without exception, to be with Him forever.  And that with Him, no matter how many have already been seated at His great banquet…still there is room.

 

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Ferguson

JKB —  August 21, 2014 — Leave a comment

When is our racial pain and tragedy going to stop?  Not until our racism gets healed.

Racism despises, marginalizes, belittles, judges, feels superior to and eventually hurts other human beings simply because of skin tone, ethnicity or culture.  How does that kind of heart mess get healed?  Several thousand years of history proves that education and training programs and break-out sessions don’t really work.  Neither do laws or fines, sanctions or prison terms.

So, what to do?  If I say that Jesus Christ is the only One who can “heal the broken hearted and set the captive free” which includes the brokenness and prison walls of racism – you might say, “Yeah, I agree.  But still, what to do?  What needs to happen to bring His healing to the table?”

I can tell you what was supposed to happen.  The community of Jesus followers – the church – was commanded and called to lead the way to healing.  When Jesus left the planet, He said that until He returned, we would “be Him”, stepping into the brokenness and healing in His name.

So, since we are called to “be Him” – what about Jesus’ lavish, indiscriminate love for anyone and everyone do we not understand?  And what do we not understand about his last words in John 17, “Father, I pray that they all may be one…that the world may believe that You sent Me.”

And what do we not understand about Jesus follower Paul’s words in Ephesians – “Christ reconciled us all to God in one body through the cross, putting to death all that divided us…”

Or his words in Galatians – “For you are ALL sons and daughters of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ….”

This isn’t rocket science.  The main reason Ferguson type tragedies are still happening is because the church hasn’t done its job of “being Jesus” to the world – of living out the relational healing He called us to and for which He died.  The REAL Jesus called us to show the world that the hatred and division CAN stop…by displaying in the church that it HAS stopped.  By staying “segregated” in church – we’ve said to Jesus, “Screw you.  We’ll do what we want.”  By staying “separated” in church along racial, economic and even denominational lines – we’ve said to the world, “There’s no hope.”

And so, Ferguson keeps happening.  Because instead of a supernatural community where relationships, differences and wounds can be healed in Jesus, all the church has given our broken world is a plethora of segregated religious clubs hiding behind a false Jesus dressed up in their particular robes and rituals.

In other words, until the church gets off its spiritual behind and obeys Christ and shows the way to deep heart healing in Him, racism will continue and the tragedy of Ferguson will repeat itself.  You can count on it.

 

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Compassion and Mercy

JKB —  August 14, 2014 — Leave a comment

Sometimes we make our faith so complicated.  In Luke 10 Jesus is going from village to village preaching the good news of the Kingdom.  In response to a teacher of Torah who asks about what is really, really important to God, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan.  A man gets mugged and left for dead, the religious people walk around him and right by him and a Samaritan – rejected and marginalized himself simply because his forefathers intermarried with the Assyrians – has compassion on the wounded man and shows him mercy.

image

The Good Samaritan, Vincent Van Gogh

Jesus tells his audience:  “Go and do likewise.”

So, I’m not sure what theological or philosophical or personal problems you might be wrestling with today.  The enemy is a bastard and never sleeps and wants to kill us so I’ll bet you’ve got something tearing at your body and spirit.  I know I do.  But if you want to follow Jesus even in the midst of your questions and problems, circumstances and issues – go find someone who is wounded and show them some kind of compassion and mercy – a word, a touch, a phone call, a listening ear, a gift card, a prayer, a tear.  If you keep your eyes open, you probably won’t have to go very far.

That’s about it.

And if you find yourself making up all kinds of excuses as to why you can’t do that and why you are exempt and how you’ve got more important things to tend to or to think about – well, at least be honest enough to admit that you aren’t really interested in following the real Jesus.  Because the man said, “See that Samaritan?  See the compassion and mercy he gave to that wounded, suffering brother?  Go and do likewise.”

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“…they had nothing…”

JKB —  August 6, 2014 — 2 Comments

I was reading Luke 7 today about the hooker who blew past Simon the Pharisee – in his own house – to get to Jesus.  I’m not sure how she knew Jesus but I suspect she had heard him teach on some hillside and simply by listening to his words and the tone of his voice, she knew this man loved her and wouldn’t hurther like so many men had hurt her before.

So when she heard he was in town, she ran like a mad woman to get close to him – to be near him, to touch him, to hear more from his heart.  And when she got to him she sobbed and wept and washed his feet with her tears and wiped them over and over with the perfume she would have previously used to get herself ready for the abusive johns who constantly appeared at her door.

Of course, in contrast, Simon the Pharisee stood smugly and proudly in the corner judging the woman because she didn’t know enough Torah, keep enough Torah, attend enough synagogue and for sure he was judging her because of her “profession”.

So Jesus speaks a parable to Simon about two debtors who owed a certain creditor some money – one owed a lot and one not so much – and here’s the line that got me:  “…they had nothing with which to repay so he freely forgave them both.”  That’s when the tears came, not from Simon, but from me.

That’s the moment when the Holy Spirit reminded me, “Son, don’t ever forget.  You’ve got nothing.  And I know you’ve got nothing.  The problem is when YOU forget you’ve got nothing and start to believe you’ve got something.  Then it isn’t about my grace freely forgiving you anymore but it’s about your performance and measuring up and the never-ending spiritual treadmill of laws, works, spiritual practices and accomplishments.  And then son, the shame comes and you start to compare yourself with others.  Your gut clenches and you can’t see me anymore and you can’t hear me whispering your name telling you how much I love you.  So, right now, son…let go.  Embrace your reality – you’ve got nothing.  And open your heart to my everything that I freely give you by my grace.”

And so I do.  And then like the woman in Luke 7, I go in peace.

 

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Yesterday was the day in America when we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and what he taught us through his life, what he preached and lived and fought and died for.  He taught us about justice for all, about the equality of every human being with every other human being, about showing mercy to the oppressed and abused.  He lived out the ideal of loving those who hate us.  He showed us how to forgive those who persecute us and to respond non-violently to those who try to hurt us.  He modeled how beautiful and enriching it can be when we get to know, appreciate, bond with and love someone who is different from us – at least on the outside – but has the same human, tender, “love-needing” heart on the inside.  And he demonstrated how powerful it can be when we come together across all lines previously dividing us to live in solidarity and true community against the forces of darkness and evil.

MLK day is a good day.  A day to contemplate and remember and pray for enough healing and strength in our own hearts to live this path of peace taught to us by Dr. King…and of course, taught to us first by Jesus of Nazareth Himself.

All of that, I love.  But let me tell you what I hate and what drives me nuts and in fact, the older I get what makes me sick to my stomach.  Going on Facebook and seeing everyone and his brother post a picture of Dr. King and a quote from Dr. King and then some pious drivel about how they think this wonderful thought about Dr. King and that wonderful thought about what he taught us and blah, blah, blah, blah.  I want to puke.  I’m getting too old for the talk.  I want to see some action.

And you’re absolutely right.  I don’t really know what’s going on inside the hearts and lives of those who are posting.  God is their judge just as He is mine.  But this is my suspicion.  If half of us who are posting were living out what we say we believe about what Dr. King taught – we would see a different world.  We would see more folks intentionally working hard to heal from the inner prejudices we all carry around in our hearts.  We would see more folks intentionally working to reach out in true relationship to those not like them.  We would see more folks intentionally working to forgive those who have hurt them.  And we would especially see the church of Jesus Christ intentionally working to be less homogenized, less insular, less judgmental…passionately doing whatever the heck it takes to make the body of Jesus a place for all people.  Because Jesus, Dr. King’s Jesus, loved and died for all…the…people.

Seriously, how can we claim to be all about our brother Martin Luther King – let alone our Savior Jesus – and go week after week to our all white, all black, all Hispanic, all Asian, all rich, all poor, all middle-class, all anything churches without ever once thinking – “it’s not supposed to be this way and it’s got to stop”.  Jesus was crucified to break down the walls and end the madness so that the way we live in peace with one another shouts to the world “you don’t have to be afraid and hate anymore – you can come home to one another because our God has healed our wounds and your wounds through His Christ.”

Facebook posts, pious words and wishful thinking won’t heal the relational bleeding the enemy has foisted upon the human race for thousands and thousands of years.  It takes intentionality.  It takes work.  It will take a whole lot of folks who are willing to go to their own Birmingham jail or to be sprayed with our generation’s version of a wounding fire hose.  I believe it is going to take a whole lot more of us who are willing to die.

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Doing Nothing.

JKB —  January 9, 2014 — 3 Comments

In the mid-1980’s, Henri Nouwen left Harvard and went to live at L’Arche in Toronto, a community for the profoundly disabled.  His first assignment was to provide primary care for a young man named Adam who could literally do…nothing.  He couldn’t talk, he couldn’t read, he couldn’t toilet himself, he couldn’t reach out, he couldn’t debate or counsel or instruct, he couldn’t do much with his hands except wave them aimlessly when he was agitated or excited and feed himself just a little at dinner time.  He spent most of his time in his wheelchair because he couldn’t walk more than a few steps without being supported and even at the day activity center of L’Arche, he spent most of his time doing what he could do…which was nothing.  Adam just was.  Wherever he was all he could do was be.

And yet Nouwen describes Adam as being the person who more than anyone else in his entire life drew him closer to his true self…and to the unconditional love of Jesus.  In his book, “Adam”, Nouwen writes:

“While I, the so-called ‘normal’ person, kept wondering how much Adam was like me, he had no ability or need to make any comparisons.  He simply lived and by his life invited me to receive his unique gift, wrapped in weakness, but given for my transformation.  While I tended to worry about what I did and how much I could produce, Adam was announcing to me that ‘being is more important than doing.’  While I was preoccupied with the way I was talked about or written about, Adam was quietly telling me that ‘God’s love is more important than the praise of people.’  While I was concerned about my individual accomplishments, Adam was reminding me that ‘doing things together is more important than doing things alone.’  Adam couldn’t produce anything, had no fame to be proud of, couldn’t brag of any award or trophy.  But by his very life, he was the most radical witness to the truth of our lives that I have ever encountered.”

And then Nouwen notes that in many ways, Adam’s life mirrors the life of Jesus in that Jesus’ impact, like Adam’s, was far more about his “being” than his “doing”.  That felt ridiculous to me until I read these words from Nouwen:

“The great mystery of Jesus’ life is that he fulfilled his mission not in action…not by what he did but by what was done to him, not by his own decision but by other people’s decisions concerning him.  It was when he was dying on the cross that he cried out, ‘It is fulfilled.’”

Wow.

My days tend to be filled with so many lists, so many demands and expectations, so much competition [in my mind, at least] with myself and others, so many feelings of inadequacy and failure if I don’t produce, if I don’t “get ‘er done”, if I don’t “just do it”.  It’s exhausting.  It’s depressing.  It’s never ending.  And if Nouwen is right, it might also be ineffective.  And it just might be…sin.

What if by his life, Jesus is really trying to say to us, “Follow Me – by first doing nothing.  Be with Me.  Then be with those around you.  Be your true self.  Be fully present.  Yeah, there’s much to do.  But first, do nothing.  Just be.  Because in My Kingdom, that’s the most important thing you do.”

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I couldn’t stop crying.  A few Mondays ago, driving from Chicago to be with some pastor brothers in Muskegon, Michigan for a few days away, the tears kept running down my face as I thought of the students and staff I had just left after teaching at a Chicago-land Cru retreat in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

I could see each of their faces…the sadness…the tears…the longing to really know the love of a God who called Himself their “Abba”.  My heart literally ached with their unhealed pain and wounds that had been locking them down and emptying their hearts of any real joy.  I ran story after story over and over in my head – I could see faces in my mind of those who had hurt them and how they had hurt them and I found myself wanting to turn around and go back to the camp and be together with my student brothers and sisters for another month or two or however long it took to see wounds heal…and the love of the Father – and the power of Christ – break through to deeper and deeper places in their hearts.

And then I got with my pastor friends and yeah, I cried some more.  I simply couldn’t let go.  I felt like I didn’t know how to let go.  Could I have done more to give the Father’s love to them?  Did I give them enough encouragement as they left to return to Chicago and their lives?  Was I present enough to the incredibly gifted but very human and sometimes weary staff to encourage them as they pour into the students?  Look, this wasn’t my first trip to the rodeo – I’d done a boatload of retreats for all kinds of groups in the past 30 years.  So why was it so hard this time?

Maybe the cumulative effect of all the wounds of another retreat the weekend before combined with the pain poured out by the staff of another ministry I spent time with in between?  But I think it was really something deeper than that.  I think I forgot that as much as I love the students – each young man and woman I embraced and counseled and shared stories with and laughed and wept with and prayed over – I think I forgot that they are NOT my possessionAs much as I would like them to be – they aren’t even my real sons and daughters.  They are sons and daughters of God.  They belong to Him.

When I shared with my pastor brothers – they covered me up with their words of love and affirmation, their touch and embrace, their prayer and intercession.  And one of the brothers [Jeff] reminded me that when Paul left Ephesus [Acts 20] he wept because he loved the people so much.  He reminded me that Paul was also probably afraid – afraid of the wolves who he knew would sweep in and try to make a bloody mess of the precious lives of his friends.  And then my brother Jeff reminded me of how Paul handled his sadness and fear.  He told his beloved Ephesian brothers and sisters, who he was leaving that very day on the shores of Asia Minor…“I commend you to God.”  [Acts 20:32]

Word.  So, that’s what I began to do.  I began to “commend” each and every student to their Abba Father who loves them so much more than I do.  I began to turn them over to the King of Glory who has the power to “build each of them up and give them an inheritance among the sanctified.”  I began to beg my God to take care of each young sister and young brother – to protect them, to continue the healing of their broken hearts, to whisper in their ears multiple times a day, “I love you son.  I love you daughter.  I’ve got you.  I have written your name on the palm of My powerful hands.  I see you even in all your wound and pain and sin and I love you ever more deeply still.  Don’t be afraid.  Walk with Me.  Let Me be your Abba – and I will hold you and heal you and unleash you and empower you – and give you everything you need…all the way home.”

Even today, a few weeks later, as I continue to turn each young brother and sister over to the Father, I’m still crying.  But they are a different kind of tears – no longer tears for the welfare of the students because I really believe God the Father has each of them in His strong arms.  Don’t know why I ever doubted it.  Guess I just needed to be reminded.  Thanks Ed and Don and Jeff and Carlton and Nathan.  Thanks for loving me and accepting me in my weakness and fear and reminding me of the truth about our magnificent Abba.  So now my tears, like Paul’s in Acts 20, are simply tears of love and longing.  I just miss the students and the staff of Chicagoland Cru – each son and daughter of God – and can’t wait to see all of them again someday.  Maybe I’ll have the privilege of seeing them “this side” – but if not, I am promised to see them again, with the Father and His Son Jesus…in glory.  Then at last I’ll be able to stop crying because together with all my brothers and sisters in Christ, I’ll finally be home.

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Ever doubt your salvation?

JKB —  June 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

question markMost believers have.  It is one of the main ways our enemy locks us down and depresses us and makes us ineffective for the Kingdom…because if I’m not even sure I am God’s daughter or son – then what kind of “good news” do I have to share with anyone else?  And most of the time, our doubts spring from a natural focus on “hey, what have I done lately to prove that I really did receive Christ by faith?”  Or, “what makes me think I am a real child of God when I do the thing I just did or think the thought I just thought?”  In other words, most of our doubts come from our focus on…our works.

Well, here’s a paragraph from Martin Luther’s “Commentary on Galatians”, first published in German in 1535 that I think will bring comfort to all of us who doubt.  Remember, Luther was an Augustinian monk who had literally beaten his body into submission to prove that he was worthy of God’s salvation.  Yet he still saw – and rightly so – his own sin and unrighteousness.  So, it was in despair, through the letters of Paul, that Luther found his security – and the security of his salvation – NOT by focusing on his good works – as either the cause OR the fruit of his salvation – but only by focusing on Jesus Christ and HIS work on the cross in Luther’s behalf.

Luther’s words are his comment on some specific text in Galatians – it might have been 1:4 or 3:13 or 4:4-5 or any number of Paul’s words in Galatians because the whole letter is about grace! – but even after combing the commentary again, I can’t for the life of me find the exact verse that elicits Luther’s paragraph below.  Nevertheless, listen to our brother Martin on finding security in our salvation:

“Let us therefore arm ourselves with these and like verses of the Holy Scripture, that we may be able to answer the devil [accusing us, and saying:  ‘You are a sinner, and therefore you are damned’] – ‘Christ has given Himself for my sins; therefore, Satan, you shall not prevail against me when you go about to terrify me in setting forth the greatness of my sins, and so to bring me into heaviness, despair, distrust, hatred, contempt and blaspheming of God.  As often as you object that I am a sinner, you call me to remembrance of the benefit of Christ my Redeemer, upon whose shoulders, and not upon mine, lie all my sins…’”

Enough said.

 

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I had lost touch with Him.  I was praying and meditating on Scripture and nurturing the relationship the best I knew how…but His image and voice were faint.  I couldn’t see Him.  I couldn’t hear Him.  I couldn’t find Him.

Reason?  Carla’s sister’s cancer.  Her name is Paula and we love her very much and she has been battling this satanic disease for 3 long years.  Last week we found out the most recent chemo treatments haven’t been working and the end is probably near.  And I was angry.  And frustrated.  And nothing made sense.  I’ve seen lots of tragic death in 3 decades of pastoring but this time I couldn’t find my way.  And I couldn’t find the Jesus who promised to never leave me and to always be with me even when the path was black as pitch.

And then I found Him.  I found Him in His body.  I walked into church last Sunday morning, unaware of how lost I was feeling…until Rita put her arm around me and I started to weep and laid my head down on the table as Phyllis and Elaine and Pam prayed for me and our family with tears and passion and then told me “Hey, let’s not do normal church today, Pastor…lay your sermon down, just be a brother and a human being and let’s just call the people to pray.”

A few moments later, I found myself in the embrace of Ben and Chris and Joe and Dan and Tony and Joel all whispering in my ear, “Love you, bro…we got you, we got Paula” – and then Carla walked in and the brothers and many other sisters pulled her into their arms and whispered the same care into her ear.  After the singing – I truthfully didn’t sing much – I stood in front of the community and took a risk:  “Carla and I are a mess today.  Our sister Paula seems to be dying from the cancer we have begged God to take away.  I am angry.  I know I am your pastor and I’m not trying to put too much on you, but the truth is, today my faith is faltering.  But I am here.  We are here.  We always ask you to show up in your brokenness…so we are here with you in our brokenness.  I have no sermon in me to preach.  We’re going to read some of the Book and then we are going to pray and then take the Eucharist before we go home.”

And that’s what we did.  Without commentary – I read Psalm 23 and Isaiah 61 and Luke 1 and John 11 and Romans 8 and Revelation 21 and then back to John 14…and it was more powerful than I could have imagined.  In fact, I think I began to find Jesus that morning in the simple reading of Scripture – as I simply read the text, even with a heart full of doubt and sadness and anger – I think His face began to take shape, His voice began to grow stronger.  The Logos of God coming alive in and through the Logos of God.

But mostly, it was in His body – the body of Christ – where I found Christ last Sunday morning.  After I closed the Bible I sat down next to Carla…and prayer began.  All around, folks began to pray…for themselves, for one another, for their loved ones, for unspoken needs too deep and too painful to even utter aloud.  Some came to the front of the church to be prayed for by fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who for sure had their own needs but that morning chose to stand in the gap for others, washing their feet with tearful cries of intercession to a God and His Son who at times, in the pain, seem difficult to find.

And some of the brothers and sisters came to me…and to my best friend Carla.  Some just sat with us and wept, arms draped around our shoulders, hands squeezing our flesh as if to say, “I’m just here.  I have no words.  But I’m here.”  Others prayed beautiful prayers of compassion and intercession, begging our God to show up for Paula, her husband Gene and their family – for Carla and for me – to make His presence known because we desperately needed Him and the way was so dark and we were struggling to find Him.

Marc and Cindy and DJ and Keith and Audrey and Catherine and Stacey and Jim and Shauna and Sue and Stephanie and Hope and Mack and Kevin and Ron and Albert and the brothers and sisters I mentioned earlier and so many others I’m not mentioning because our eyes were closed some of the time and some folks just couldn’t get to us because they were praying for others or because there was just so much love…so much presence…I want you all to know that I couldn’t find Jesus for a moment but last Sunday morning, I found Him again…in you.  Each of you.  All of you.  The body of Christ.

And then Carla and I walked to the front and ate the body of Christ and drank the blood of Christ – and mysteriously…even miraculously, we walked out of the building full of Christ.  Nothing had changed in Paula’s circumstance.  God still hadn’t answered our prayer the way we wanted Him to.  But even with the darkness still all around…in and through His body – God’s people, our brothers and sisters – we found Jesus, once again.

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