Devotion of the Day

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Galatians 6.1-10

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

–Devotion–

Paul continues concluding his letter with an extended discussion on the Life Together that these Galatian Christians are called to have.  Remember, they are many congregations in the region of Galatia, and just like today there can be bad blood between Church congregations just as within congregations.  So Paul gives clear rules to follow.

Paul then moves on to giving instruction with regards to compensating the teacher of the Word.  Share all good things with that one.  Thank you.

As far as the next few lines, I am not sure what Paul is commenting on.  Is it on a particular congregations lack of support for the teacher of the word?  Is it a general warning regarding much of what has been taking place in the Galatian congregations?  I am just not sure. 

This section concludes with Paul’s exortaion for these Galatians Christians to continue doing good TO EVERYONE, especially to those within the “household of faith.”  Notice especially the language Paul uses concerning the images of sowing and reaping.  This is the image that is painted for us of the final judgment.  The question then is for us these days, “What am I sowing, what might I reap?”

Pastor Beltz

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Theology as Habit

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I argued in my last article that Christians have no choice in being “theologians” and doing “theology.” These activities are inseparable from the claim of being a Christian. You have learned to speak TO, FOR, and ABOUT God, perhaps I should say your god, in a certain way. This is the same for many practices of human life, which we call habits. It is a jarring moment, though, when those habits are questioned and called out as possibly being bad.
Remember the time you went to the doctor or dentist and learned of heart disease or gum disease. You were told that your normal habit, a habit you learned from your parents or guardians, was insufficient for a healthy body. So too, I am questioning your current habits of theology. It is important to notice that I do not think theology is in the first place a subject or academic topic of study—even though it is also those things. A subject reserved for a few quirky professors who reside in the darkened back hallways of seminaries and universities who only write and talk to/for each other. No, I submit again that theology is a kind of activity, a certain set of practices through time, a way of life, inseparable from the claim of Christianity. In this way “theology” is not something you talk about but something you do—a habit.
Recently the theological habits of many in Oskaloosa were on display. The issue regarding the Nativity scene in the city square seemed to squeeze theologians out of the woodwork. And as theologians were squeezed out of the woodwork so too were their habits.
How do we speak and act toward a civil government placing a Nativity scene in the city square? How do we respond to the criticism of citizens who are opposed to such a display and apparently lawfully so? These are the types of moments that test our theological disciplines and habits. In these situations how are we going to speak and act as theologians of good habit? We know not all habits are “good” nor are we as individuals powerful enough to claim our personal private habits as being good, they are always subject to another.
In the case of our teeth we submit to our dentists, in the case of our “theology” we submit to the spokesman of God, Jesus of Nazareth, and then those he has commissioned to carry his teaching to all nations namely the Apostles and those who follow after them. We can get a second opinion. Rather than listen to your doctor you can listen to your Son-in-law the mechanic concerning your heart disease. In the same way you can reject the path of Jesus and the Apostles for your own sought after theological habits (Oprah, Montel, Joyce Meyer, Max Lucado all offer alternative theological habits to those given by Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Luther), but in both cases it is an unwise decision leading to what will no doubt be a “bad” outcome.
The season of Advent is a season, if you do not know, of reflection, refocus, and increased discernment finally leading to or flowing from repentance on account of the announcement that the Lord of the Church and her Christians is preparing to descend and judge. Since we, regardless of denominational division, rather unanimously agree that we know neither the time or place of the Second Advent of our Lord; a different question hangs over our time. We are not occupied with the question of when and how, as the disciples once were (Matt 24.3) because Jesus clearly and firmly directs them, and by extension us, to the more important question: “What type of practices will you do while you wait for my (Jesus’) return (Matt 24.36-25.46)?” Or, as I will reiterate, “will I (Jesus) find your theological habits good or bad?”

The Office and Evangelism

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“Evangelism is the homiletical announcement and the ecclesial enactment of fact of God’s invasion of our history in Jesus and thereby God’s creation of a new world” –The intrusive Word, 86

Yes.  Thank you William Willimon for good and true words in the midst of what can be confusing.  The bulk of Evangelism is on the preacher.  The one called to announce to those sitting in-front of him of God’s invasion.

What a great way to think of the work of God in the Sacraments.   Willimon does not go here, but I will.  An invasion.  Invasion of our lifes, selves, thoughts, and minds.  Yes, he drags us into him Kingdom.  No free will about it.  We are taken against our evil fleshy Wills, just as we are, and what is brought about is truly Evangelistic.  Conversion!  Actual true and blessed conversion.  Death to life, dark to light, tasteless to salty.

The creation of a new world ex nihilo–out of nothing–is the pinnacle of Mercy and grace.  It is election at its finest.  An untamed God doing to work he wants to do despite our objections.  Create a world.  Create a new world.  Create a people. Create a new people.

So when preachers get into the pulpit and pander to free will I want to vomit.  The problem is not understanding, at least not most of the time.  Things need to be explain, exegetics must happen, words must be explained, and theology–good theology–must be taught and refreshed.  But, in the end if there is no announcement, then the Will is left to decide to believe these things or not and Christianities Truth becomes subject.

This is the horrible nature our world and many preacher have fallen into.  There is a fact/value distinction out there.  What is not fact is then only value.  And, for a long time, convinced of its place, the Scripture and teaching of the church was an unadulterated fact.  But now, not so much.  So now, because there is too much that cannot be proven, we have relegated ourselves to a value.  In our preaching, in our teaching, we go as if validation is the goal.  Preaching information that leaves us all Arminian rather than continuing the work and ministry of the Apostles and Christ before them of electing, working, doing the sacraments.

Evangelism is the Preachers proper place and work.  At least, that is my opinion.

St. Louis Symposium and then there is Preaching

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I thought I might post another little piece that helps flesh out where I am coming from a bit more.  I do not want to seem reactionary or vindictive in any way.  This is something I have been thinking of for a long time.  Since I know little about Ft. Wayne I might just assume the issue is the same there, but do not know so I will not say.

I have just said why I think the upcoming symposium is going to be a bust.  I say that, and news comes to my attention about one bright spot.  I think the art of preaching is not something we need to rediscover.  Many pastors are very good at telling stories and doing that well.  What we do need to rediscover is a good reason to preach in the first place.  Which I think means rediscovering the only story the church has to go on and proclaiming that from our pulpits.  After that is accomplished, the artfulness of preaching is then put in its proper place.  To help us begin I turn to Luther and his writing on the New Testament, which is the Mass. I think he helps illumine the point.

When speaking of the Mass Luther states that if the people do not grasp and comprehend the words of Christ and believe them, what do we need the artfulness of the Mass for?  If the people do not hold tightly and cherish the words of Jesus, “This is my body given for you, this is my blood of a new testament shed for you for the forgiveness of sin” and believe them to be His gift then the priest would do well to get rid of the bells, chausibles, genuflections, elevations, chants, and all the external beauty of the Mass because the internal, or Spiritual, beauty of the Mass is not believed and cherished by the people, and it is an empty thing and does them no good(LW., Vol. 35).  Stripe away all the things that are not necessary to proclaim to the poor souls the Gospel and when they grasp it let all the beauty, internal and external, unfold.  How does this relate to our current topic of rediscovering the artfulness of preaching?

The problem seems all the more compounded in our day.  Most certainly Luther is assuming that the priest in any place knows the depth of the Gospel of the Sacrament of the Mass.  Luther also assumes the same priest will be able to proclaim that Gospel to his people and from there move toward the celebration of the full internal and external beauty of the Sacrament of the Mass in that place.  Why is the problem compounded in regards to preaching in our day?  I am afraid not only do the people perhaps not know why they are listening to a man preach to them, which in turn leads to worse preaching, but that also the preacher might certainly be ignorant of why he himself is preaching in the first place!  The problem is then ignorance and ignorance!  These poor people are hearing little to no Gospel from their preacher and their preacher might have no good reason to preach another way because the people make no peep either for ignorance or fear!  And, there is little discussion on preaching to influence him.  The people fear because they do not know if they can speak to the pastor about such things.  I am afraid this is a most terrible place for any man to be.  Be he a pastor or layman.  This is why I think the artfulness of preaching is better buried and put away for the time being.  There are obvious questions that arise though.  How can a pastor not know the reason for preaching?  For the purposes of this little essay we will not explore such questions because that question occupies an essay all for itself. I will now move to some concluding remarks.

Here is St. Paul doing what I would like us to do.

I have been thinking much lately concerning why a pastor preaches.  After-all, I am now a Called and Ordained Servant of the Word.  I am the one Called to speak on behalf of God in this place.  I stand in line with the Apostles and their designation from the Lord.  I take that seriously. That is not to say other men in the Office do not take preaching seriously.  I notice that many of them DO take preaching seriously.  This is the very reason why I am writing.  But, what I observe from where I stand is that many do not take preaching seriously in the way I am taking it seriously.  In fact, in light of the title of the upcoming symposium in St. Louis, I think

many preachers take preaching seriously for the sake of artfulness rather than for the sake of proclamation.  Because if we were worried about what was being said by the preacher and not the artfulness of the preacher, the classes at the seminaries would look differently than they do today.  Our Sym

posium would have a different title.  Also, visits from district presidents to parishes would look differently than they currently do.  Many want to be great preachers according to their seriousness and because of that they want to rediscover what seems to be a lost art to preaching.  I think a current thought is if we have artfulness the proclamation of the Gospel is stronger or more beneficial and clear.   Again, I disagree that there is a lost art and that this is the point in time for the church to worry about increasing such things.  What I AM worried about, as I hear and see all the things from within the Synod and without, is that God might be the thing that is lost, suffocated, and buried among all things artful in the church.  Maybe HE needs be rediscovered!  For, as Luther pointed out, if we have great beauty and artfulness but no Word from the lips of our Savior to cling upon, believe, and cherish, we have nothing.  If the Word of God is gone God himself is gone!  For as we Lutherans believe, God has bound himself to His Word for us.

Yes, again I will say, I hear a great deal of stories and jokes, I see a great many pictures across screens, movie clips, visual aids, and talk about God which all try to communicate some point that is apparently very important.  I hear a great many voices quiver and crack throughout a sermon.  But for all this art, beauty, help in communication, and rhetorical force we have covered over and seemed to have pushed aside the one Being worthy to occupy the hearts and minds of His People.  And we seem to have been convinced to do this because the people are ignorant and need these things to make the Gospel come alive.  If there is one thing I know and believe with all my heart it is this; the Gospel needs no help from the minds of men.  It is man who is in total despair and destruction without the good news of God for us.

This then brings up what would hopefully be a longer conversation, but one worth having.  How is it that preachers and churches can suffocate and bury God in their preaching?

Fatherhood and Fatherhood

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Tomorrow, unless she decides on making an appearance today, I will be able to hold my baby girl in my hands.  I am a little confused on what to think and how to fell.  I think this is the case because all I have to go on is the advice, counsel, and experiences of others.  Now, that is not unhelpful in any way.  It only leaves me thinking, will I experience the same?  Will I feel the same?  If I am not is there something wrong?

I have woken myself up the last few days in a row thinking of her.  She is, after all, in bed with me and my wife.  I wake up.  I look at her and her mother.  Not that I can stare into my child’s eyes yet but I look in her general direction, down.  I think, “This is the most strange, amazing, and dumbfounding time and experience I can remember going through” and she is not even born.

Yes, it is hard to put words to it.  At least, words that can capture what is going on inside my mind and heart, let alone what is going on inside my wife.  Nervous?  Yes, but that seems inadequate.  Joyful?  Yes, but again inadequate.  I imagine this might be one of the times when the speech and words of men fail when they consider deeply what is taking place.  Life begets life.  Is this a moment when the image of God breaks back into this dark world?  I think so.  I think this might be a moment when and where the Lord of all reminds His humble servants of who He is.  He reminds us of the contingency of all things upon His Being.  He reminds us that He is the Ultimate Shaping Reality for life and thought.  I remember Job 38 when I think of these things.

“1Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

I thought this was a good representation of what a child might think of a whirlwind.

2“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? 3 Dress for action[a] like a man;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.

4“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.
5Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
6On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,
7when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

8“Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,
9when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,
11and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

12“Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
and caused the dawn to know its place,
13that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
and the wicked be shaken out of it?
14It is changed like clay under the seal,
and its features stand out like a garment.
15From the wicked their light is withheld,
and their uplifted arm is broken.”

This reminder to Job carries on for some time in the account.  It continues and Job speaks in 42:

1Then Job answered the LORD and said:
2“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?  Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
5I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6therefore I despise myself,
and repent[a] in dust and ashes.’”

Yes, a whirlwind and things to wonderful for me seem to be a little more in line with what is taking place.  God is in this way demonstrating his Majesty and Might.  He is doing what He wants in humanity but sustaining and continuing to provide for us.  He gives us our children.  He forms them by his hand.  Who is this God that he can even shape the flesh of humanity?  He is the Lord.

A Bust of a Symposium. And it hasn’t hapened yet!

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The St. Louis Symposium is a little over a month away and already it is a bust in my mind.  Here is why.  Having just graduated from St. Louis (that is I think I graduated even though I have not paid my final bill) I have a very clear account of just what kind of homiletical instruction goes on there.  Now, for sure, my account of things will be skewed.  I struggle with the lack of respect I have for the practical department instruction going on in St. Louis.  Sadly, this also makes me, more often than not, transgress the fourth commandment.  I am saying this for myself and anyone like me.  But still, the Symposium will be a bust.  Let us start with the title.

“Rediscovering the Art of Homiletics” This title seems adventuresome, brave, pioneering even.  However, in my mind, I ask “has the artfulness of homiletics gone someplace that it needs to be rediscovered?”  No.  It has not.  If there is one thing that is very apparent to me as I have seen and heard the homiletical noise from pulpits in my short life it is that artfulness is in no need of rediscovery when it comes to homiletics.  In-fact let us bury some of what we currently possess. 

As I see it there is no shortage of performance art, quivering voices, winsome laughter, visual aids, jokes, and/or stories that fill the time when a man speaks from the pulpit.  I have seen M&M’s and the worn out Life Saver used to death. I have seen Biblical Role Play (I can only handle attempts at reincarnating Paul or Moses so many times).  Passionate diatribes about the beauty of marriage where two persons come from the back wearing a Tux and Gown, this extends then to the violence of divorce where the couple has a fight in the middle of the sanctuary and storms out.  In my opinion formed by experience, let us bury some artfulness rather than rediscover any more.  But, what am I saying, and what am I not saying?

What I am not saying is that preaching is to strive for boredom.  I am not saying that at all.  Good presentation, clear speech, clear points, even interaction with the congregation, all these might be beneficial for the preacher and the hearer.  I am not saying preaching is to be boring.  I think what I am saying is that our preaching has become so artful that we no longer need and pointers on finding more ways to make it artful, especially from St. Louis Seminary.  After all, isn’t this a “Theological Symposium”?  Then let us find a new name to call it and let the presentations begin!

How about, “Rediscovering our reason for Preaching”?  This sounds like a good title which leads to what might be a hearty, fruitful discussion.  “Why do we preach anyway?”  I wonder if the practical theologians have had to answer that question?  I wonder if the Systematic Theologians have had to answer that question, because if this is a Theological Symposium, would it not behoove us to have a theological discussion?  Yes, I think it might.  What are the foundations for preaching in the first place?  And then, what is/are good answer to that question, if there is more than one.  To my mind this is a more fitting, more theological, discussion to be had.  Because I am convinced the artfulness of our preaching has increased to cover over the reality that many are lacking any good reasons for preaching in the first place.  I am afraid many are lacking a good reason because they might not have been given a good reason to preach in the first place.  I know most of my homiletical training had to do with Grammar, and properly color coding Law & Gospel within the body of writing.  Again, I am afraid this is inadequate, the instruction and the symposium, for where we are in the Lutheran Church and her preaching pastors.  In any case, we need no more art.  We abound with art.  We have a greater stockpile than New York and Paris combined.  Let us bury some and rediscover why any of us pastors might dare get in a pulpit on Sunday in the first place.

First Sermon at St. John, for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

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I wonder what kind of preacher he will be?

Getting used to a new preacher is difficult.  I had the same one for 18 years at one point.  Many of the ones that came after him I was not very kind to.  So to start, since this is our first time together, I wanted to start by giving you some of my thoughts on what we are here listening to.

Here at St. John we use what is called a Lectionary to give us our readings.  A Lectionary is simply a series of readings from Scripture that the church has agreed are helpful for us to hear read and preached upon.  Why they are helpful to be heard and preached upon most likely has various answers based upon who you ask.  In my mind one helpful answer is this; the Lectionary readings give us different snap-shots of a very big story that is to shape our faith and life and thought.  I have come to this answer by asking several other questions about what we do and hear here like, “Why should we read the Scriptures in church, if at all?  Why come to church?  What reasons are there for still coming?  And, are those reasons ones that arise from the story of Scripture or the society we live in?”  By answering these questions, and struggling with the answers, I think I now have a good handle on how I am to preach.  Because I think that you and I are not too different.  I think that there might be some of you here and perhaps many people out around you, who are looking for good answers to those questions.   I hope then that my thinking might help you as we attempt to be faithful to this story we are brought into as children of God.

Today our lectionary has given us a snapshot of Jesus’ ministry to Israel.  The Evangelist Matthew has just given us a report of John the Baptizers imprisonment and death at the hands of Herod Agrippa.  Herod hears of what Jesus is doing and thinks Jesus is John the Baptist, which is strangely interesting.  What is even more interesting is Jesus’ reaction to all that John’s disciples go and tell Him.  Jesus leaves.  He goes away, by himself it says, to a desolate place.  Why Jesus would leave from that place is still a bit mysterious to me, but I think it is this reason.

Jesus time had not yet come.  He heard what happened to John.  I think I can say that it was not yet the time for Jesus to have his run in with the Rulers of Earthly Kingdoms.  This is snap-shot before our Gospel reading is one to remember though.  It is good to remember it because the death of John reveals to us just how far the Rulers of the earth will go to shut up the kingdom of heaven as it breaks in upon them.  All John said to Herod was that it was unlawful for him to do what he was doing.  What would be the kings reaction when heard Jesus message?  Jesus’ time was coming, but it was not yet, so he departs to a desolate place.  But He is not alone for long.

Thousands of people find Jesus.  The come out from all the villages and towns nearby.  Apparently they bring with them their sick folks.  Seeing this crowd, Jesus comes ashore.  And has compassion upon them.  And, after he is done healing something else happens.

Feeding five thousand people is not that big of a deal. Yes, it was 5,000 men beside women and children.  Yes, the place was desolate.  But, compared to some of the other events in the story of Israel, 5,000 people being fed is a little underwhelming.

Consider this; hundreds of thousands of people walking through a sea bed and into a wilderness.  These people live and survive in the wilderness for 40 years.  How did they live and survive?  The Lord of Israel provided them daily with bread, quail, and water.  Even water from a ROCK!  They were sustained for one generation by God, day in and day out.  As far as food miracles go I find this amazing.  However I highly doubt God the Father or Jesus were too worried with our impressions.  The Miracle is so that we might see the one doing the miracle for who He is.

The Lord God of Israel sustained his people in the wilderness and in Matthew we see this man Jesus Christ doing the same.  Jesus comes up from Egypt to the Promised Land to save his people.  He preaches to and teaches the Israelites with the authority of His Father; something the Israelites declare their Scribes do not do.  He heals the sick.  He restores sight to the blind and makes the lame walk.  And now, as His Father did many years ago for His people, Jesus feeds Israel out of his compassion and love for them.  Here we see that this Jesus Christ and the God and Lord of Israel are doing the same work.  The God of Israel is working in and through Jesus Christ to gather the people of Israel and call them to faithfulness.  This miracle is not about food, it is about the revelation that the Son of the God of Israel has come down to Rule and Reign over Israel in the Kingdom of Heaven.  And what is more than that, his reign and rule extends to a nation that did not know him as Isaiah tells us.

I do not know this congregation very well.  But, scanning through the names, I am fairly certain there is no one here of Israelite descent.  How is it then that we Gentiles now have a share in the Kingdom of Heaven brought to Earth by Jesus for Israel?  None of us has a right to this treasure.  None of us can claim to have Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob as our fathers according to the flesh.  How is it that the Kingdom of Heaven is extended to us then?  I will tell you how.

Our Lord Jesus Christ was betrayed by one of his own disciples.  He was handed over to the chief priests and scribes of Israel.  His own people cried out for his death.   Israel again rejected the invitation of their God to be His people.  Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried.  But, on the third day he was raised by His Father.  His resurrection reveals that He IS the Son of God.  That He IS the one sent from His Father to Reign and Rule over Israel and all creation.  What does He do then?  He shows himself to His disciples and then deputizes them to do and speak as He had been.  They are now to go out into all the world and make disciples.  Jesus opened the Kingdom of Heaven to all who believe, and He can do that because He is the Lord.  So His disciples go and report all they have witnessed.  They go out and retell the story of how the God of Israel sent His Son Jesus Christ to Earth to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.  They are sure that the Kingdom is indeed here because Jesus was raised from the dead and is returning.  They went out calling people to repentance and faith in Him and His Kingdom.

Here you sit.  This same Jesus Christ has gathered you here today.  He has gathered you here by His Holy Spirit to remind you yet again that you are His people. God has chosen You!  You ask why?  I will answer God knows why.  As God said through the prophet Hosea, “Those who were not my people, I will call my people.”  And again as God spoke to Moses, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and have mercy on whom I will have mercy.”   I am here to tell you, you are those of whom God is speaking.  Your Baptism has ushered you in and the Holy Sacrament of the Altar is a continued reminder of your election into the Kingdom out of the entire world.  But, there is so much around us in that world that attacks our confidence in Jesus Christ.

There are so many other stories which surround us daily.  They desire our allegiance.  We are surrounded by what seems to be an endless array of choices by which we might identify ourselves and have an existence.  We are so very prone as weak sinners to rebel against this Kingdom of God.  Look what the Israelites did to Jesus!  What will you do?  Will you rebel against God and cast his story away from you?  Will you claim another truth, which is indeed a lie, as the thing that shapes your thinking and action?

I am here to remind you dear people of God that the Lord has come to earth and has revealed the Truth.  It is a light to lighten even us Gentiles.  He has chosen You.  Not because you are children of Abraham according to the flesh.  But, it was the Lord’s pleasure to choose you and make you his own like he chose so many before you.  I am here to call you to faithfulness to The Lord Jesus Christ who revealed himself to be the Son of God when he fed 5, 000 people in that grassy place.  He has called you, and gathered you here yet again, and He desires your faithfulness in all things.  He has given me to you to tell you again; He is your Lord.  He is your King.  Amen.

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