A Definition of Worship

Planning and leading worship services for the church week in and week out can sometimes drain the essence out of worship itself.  Worship becomes something I do, an act of professionalism rather than encounter with my heavenly Father.  As Presbyterians are known for doing things “decently and in order,” our worship often takes on a rehearsed tone, and “passionate worship” is not how visitors would typically describe the service.

So it is that I came upon the following by A.W. Tozer in his book, The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship.  May this serve as a corrective understanding for all of us as we prepare to enter into worship again.

A Definition of Worship

First, worship is to feel in the heart. I use that word “feel” boldly and without apology. I do not believe that we are to be a feeling-less people. I came into the kingdom of God the old-fashioned way. I believe that I know something of the emotional life that goes with being converted; so I believe in feeling. I do not think we should follow feeling, but I believe that if there is no feeling in our heart, then we are dead. If you woke up in the morning and suddenly had no feeling in your right arm, you would call a doctor.  You would dial with your left hand because your right hand was dead. Anything that has no feeling in it, you can be quite sure is dead. Real worship, among other things, is a feeling in the heart.

Worship is to feel in the heart and express in some appropriate manner a humbling but delightful sense of admiring awe.  Worship will humble a person as nothing else can. The egotistical, self-important man cannot worship God any more than the arrogant devil can worship God. There must be humility in the heart before there can be worship.

When the Holy Spirit comes and opens heaven until people stand astonished at what they see, and in astonished wonderment confess His uncreated loveliness in the presence of that ancient mystery, then you have worship. If it is not mysterious, there can be no worship; if I can understand God, then I cannot worship God.

I will never get on my knees and say, “Holy, holy, holy” to that which I can figure out. That which I can explain will never overawe me, never fill me with astonishment, wonder or admiration. But in the presence of that most ancient mystery, that unspeakable majesty, which the philosophers have called a mysterium tremendum, which we who are God’s children call “our Father which art in heaven,” I will bow in humble worship. This attitude ought to be present in our church today.

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was one of the greatest minds that ever lived. When he was only in his teens, he wrote advanced books on mathematics, astonishing people. He became a great philosopher, mathematician and thinker.

One night, he met God, and his whole world was changed. He wrote down his experience on a piece of paper while it was still fresh on his mind. According to his testimony, from 10:30 pm to about 12:30 am, he was overwhelmed by the presence of God. To express what he was experiencing, he wrote one word, “fire.”

Pascal was neither a fanatic nor an ignorant farmer with hayseeds back of his ears. He was a great intellectual. God broke through all that and for two solid hours, he experienced something he could holy characterize as fire.

Following his experience, he prayed; and to keep as a reminder of that experience, he wrote it out: “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned.” This was not a prayer for somebody who reads his prayers; this was not formal religious ritual. This was the ecstatic utterance of a man who had two wonderful, awesome hours in the presence of God. “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob not of the philosophers and of the learned. God of Jesus Christ… Thy God shall be my God… He is only found by thy ways taught in the Gospel… Righteous Father, the world has not known Thee, but I have known Thee. Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy…” And he put an “Amen” after it, folded it up, put it in his shirt pocket and kept it there.

That man could explain many mysteries in the world, but he was awestruck before the wonder of wonders, even Jesus Christ. His worship flowed out of his encounter with that “fire” and not out of his understanding of who and what God is.

Tozer, A. W. The Purpose of Man: Designed to Worship. (Grand Rapids, MI; Baker House Books) pg. 108-110.
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More Thoughts From the Hospital Bed

I’m home from the hospital now,  off of bed-rest, and gradually getting back to work.  Praise the Lord!

Following up from my last blog entry, I was in the hospital for 8 days, having experienced what the Doctors are calling a Spontaneous Cerebrospinal Fluid Leak.  Essentially, for some unknown reason, I developed a lead in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds and cushions the brain and spinal cord, resulting in excruciating headaches whenever I was in an upright position.  The fix for the leak was a Blood Patch, which is a lot like putting goop in your tires to fix a leak.  It has been over a week now since I’ve had a headache, and I’m slowly returning to a semblance of normalcy.

In the moments of clarity while resting in the hospital (when the narcotics had worn off), I had some insights from the hospital bed I thought worth sharing regarding hospital visits.

1. I cannot overstate the Importance of a Hospital Visit.

If you’ve ever been in the hospital for any amount of time, you know how wonderful it is to have someone stop in for a visit.  Seeing a familiar face at the door, a friend stopping by to brighten the day, a brother visiting with a word of encouragement – that visit is crucial.  I’ve made it a habit to visit my church members when I know they’re in the hospital, now I understand just how important that visit really is.  You don’t have to stay long, there’s no need to linger.  Just a quick visit can make the world of difference.

Elders and Deacons have a special duty to visit those in need, to pray  for healing and encouragement, but this does not absolve all Christians from their responsibility for demonstrate compassion and care to those in need. You don’t have to be ordained or commissioned by the church to be an ambassador of the hope we share in Jesus Christ.  If you know of someone in the hospital, or someone who is home and alone, and you are able, call upon them and bring the joy and peace of the fellowship of the body of Christ.

2. Don’t worry about what you will say…

Jesus told his disciples not to worry about what they will say when they are under trial by the authorities, for the Spirit will give them the words to speak.  I think this also applies to our visits in the hospital.  Don’t worry about what you will say or do, God will give you the words.  You don’t have to have a speech prepared.  You especially don’t have to have any answers about what’s happening or why.  Come with words of care, and with a word of promise.

One of the best visits I had was with a friend who came to sit beside my hospital bed and just read scripture.  Because of the nature of my headaches, reading was rather painful, so I was unable to even take up Scripture to read for myself.  So my friend sat by the bed and read the Bible, a verse here or there, a whole chapter from the Psalm and Romans.  There was no sermon, no instruction, but there was tremendous blessing in hearing the Word of God.

Before you visit, bookmark a few psalms, or some of your favorite passages, and pick a few to read and share.  You may never know how God may work through His Word, but you know that His word is full of promise and hope.

3. Pray

James tells us that the “prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).  This doesn’t mean that you need to come with a rehearsed or well-polished prayer, or that your prayer will always be followed by a great working of power.  But when you offer a prayer from the heart, a prayer that comes from a praying heart, great things are already at work. You are entreating before God on behalf of someone else.  You are sharing your faith in God’s strong and sovereign care. You are trusting God for provision, for health, for hope, for peace.  These are mighty things, and can do more than you will ever know.

Visit, share the word of God, and pray.  One of the greatest acts of compassion is just that simple.  I cannot begin to express what it meant to have friends come by to visit and to pray with and for me while I was in the hospital, and I cannot thank you enough.  Let us endeavor to show one another our care and concern through these simple acts, that we might encourage one another in times of need.

SDG

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First Thoughts from a Hospital Bed

It’s 2:45 in the a.m., and I cannot sleep. I’m lying here in a hospital bed, where I’ve been for the last 5 days. This is the firs time in over a week that I haven’t had “mush-mind”, a mind so preoccupied with pain that it can think of nothing else. Now my mind won’t shut down. So I thought I’d write. As these are the first thoughts to emerge from the hospital bed, please do not expect them to be entirely coherent, organized, or rational – in other words – same as usual. 

Background 

A week ago I began to develop a severe headache, which my doctor classified as a migraine, but he was concerned that I would be starting migraines at 42, I had never had one before. We eventually went to the ER,  (twice, because I panicked the first time and thought I could do without the possibility of a spinal tap) where I was admitted and have been treated for a Low Pressure headache. Technically they’re calling it an Inter Cranial Hypo Tension Headache. I was perfectly fine as long as I was laying flat on my back, but the moment I sat or stood, I would experience sharp shooting pain throughout the head, pressure behind the ears, and nausea. After 5 days of bed rest, MRI’s, 2 spinal taps, a blood patch, and some lovely drugs, I think I can say I’m on the mend. 

God is Good

Through the worst of this, I began to wonder, “Will I ever be able to read my bible agin? To preach again? To share the gospel again?” Yeah, the pain was that severe and debilitating. Wonderfully, I had family and friends praying for me when I couldn’t even pray for myself. They read scripture when simply looking at the pages hurt. They reminded me that all of Gods promises are “Yes and Amen” in Christ, and the God is faithful and steadfast in His love. I’ve told others that so often, it was good to be reassured in my time of need. 

Some things that got me though

Survival mode consisted of the basic pleasures of life, Popsicles, jello, broth, and coffee which I learned is actually good for headaches (and for writing at 2:45 am). I also learned how to use the audio version of the Bible on my Logos App for the iPhone. 

And music.  TV hurt.  The shades were drawn because the light outside hurt, and the phone screen hurt, so I played music the help calm me. The Sons of Korah sing new arrangements of the Psalms, I’ve listened to them a lot.  Indelible Grace music, especially the song God Moves in a Mysterious Way.  Find it, listen to it, love it.  There is a song too from Bifrost Arts called Break Us By Your Grace.  For the first couple of days, the chorus was the only thing I could think through all the pain. Interestingly, it was the old classic hymns that I sang to myself during the MRI’s. 

Thank Yous

I better bring this to a close. It’s taking longer to correct my typos than is is to write them. Personal thank Yous will be made later, but to all who have been praying, to all who have helped or offered to help my wife and kids: Thank You.  I’m not sure when I’ll be sent home, so keep praying, and if your in the area, stop by to visit.

To the doctors, nurses, and staff of the hospital, thank you for your wisdom, compassion, patience, encouragement, and care!

To God, for his grace, his mercy, his love, his faithfulness, which are all so perfectly evidenced in Christ Jesus, but have become even more real in this time of affliction and healing: may my life sing your praise and thanksgiving, now and forever.   

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General Assembly Follow Up #2 -A Study Committee

One of the biggest news items coming from the 44th General Assembly of the PCA was the formation of a Study Committee on the Role of Women in the PCA in local Church, Presbytery, and Assembly levels. This item of business caught me off guard, as I hadn’t read anything about it in the preliminary material, and it generated quite a bit of political drama on the floor of the Assembly. Allow me to give a little background to the story here, as best as I can, describe the nature of the debate, then explain the decision. Bear with me.

The recommendation for a study committee on women in ministry began with a group called the Cooperative Ministries Committee (CMC). The CMC is made up of the chairmen of the ten standing Assembly committees as well as the six most recent moderators of the General Assembly. The CMC’s responsibilities primarily deal with long-range planning for the overall mission and ministry of the PCA, giving recommendations, not to the General Assembly, but to the appropriate committees in dealing with particular issues facing the church.

The Administrative Committee received the suggestion of the CMC, and recommended to the General Assembly to form a committee to investigate: 1) the biblical basis, theology, history, nature, and authority of ordination; 2) the biblical nature and function of the office of deacon; 3) clarification on the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses; and 4) should the findings of the study committee warrant changes to the Book of Church Order – propose such changes to the General Assembly.

When the General Assembly meets, each committee gathers to prepare their report to the Assembly. These committees are made up of Teaching and Ruling Elders who have been nominated and elected by the Assembly. Each committee also has a Committee of Commissioners, Teaching and Ruling Elders who have been nominated by their presbyteries to review the work of the Committees and make necessary recommendations for correction or improvement of the work of the committee. (How many times can I write “committee” in a paragraph?) The Administrative Committee’s Committee of Commissioners reviewed their proposal to form a Study Committee and recommended the General Assembly vote down the action.

This is where the debate got rather passionate. There were those who advocated for the Study who argued that this is something that every church is dealing with, that we must find a way to articulate in a positive manner the role and responsibilities of women in the church. Several spoke to the point that highly educated and able women were relegated to menial tasks simply because they were women and could not serve in ordained ministry as Elders or Deacons.

Those who spoke against the Study made it clear that they wanted to affirm the role of women in ministry, but had fundamental disagreements with the way the action originated and with the parameters of the study. If this were something that every church were dealing with, why did the recommendation for the study have to come from the Cooperative Ministries Committee rather than from a Presbytery? We are a denomination that is governed by the elders and Presbyteries, not from the top down – so it is interesting that this recommendation came from a small group of committee leaders and moderators rather than from churches and presbyteries.

Likewise, the parameters of the study encompass quite a bit of territory; investigating the biblical basis and authority of ordination; the office of deacon; and the ordination or commissioning of deacons/deaconesses. That’s quite a bit of area to cover as a Study Committee, and the fear expressed on the floor of the Assembly is that this committee would lead to the recommendation of ordaining women to the office of Deacon and Elder in the PCA.

In the end, the recommendation was passed by a vote of 767-375 and the Study Committee was formed. I don’t know how often the committee will meet, or if they will give their final report at the next General Assembly, but I would presume that would be the case.

My personal take…
First, I am not afraid of a Study Committee. I welcome the opportunity for the Church to faithfully study the Word of God as it leads us to understand the offices of Elder and Deacon in the Church, and as we understand the particular calling of men and women to serve the church together. I think it would be helpful to have a positive statement in the Church on the role of women in ministry. Simply saying “you can’t be an Elder or Deacon” is not encouraging women to serve, nor does it begin to exhaust the expanse of possible ways in which women are called and gifted for service in the church. A positive, biblically faithful report on women in ministry can only help, not hurt, the ministry of the Church.

Second, I have spent the first year here in Lennox getting to know my congregation, visiting with the women and men of the Church. I have listened well, and I have not heard the women of the church complaining that they cannot serve because they cannot be ordained as a Deacon or Elder. In fact, I have heard just the opposite. The women of the church a glad to see men take up the mantle of their God-ordained responsibility, as they lead in prayer, in the proclamation of the word, as they lead the church in compassion and enthusiasm. I have come from churches where this is not the case, where men refuse to serve, requiring the women to pick up where the men have abdicated their responsibilities. I would hate to see the church waver from the Word of God, giving the men of the church license to reject their calling, and causing more confusion and trouble in an already confused and troubled generation.

Finally, while I want to uphold the high calling in scripture to the office of the Elder as a spiritual overseer in the Church, and that of Deacon as one called to the ministry of compassion and care, I think it is problematic when we tell people, especially the women of the church, that unless they have the title of Elder or Deacon their ministry is somehow less important or invalidated. Why must we have a title to serve? Do you have to be ordained to care and show compassion? Perhaps the problem stems from the way that we have exercised leadership in the past, lording it over others rather than using the office to become a servant to all. In this way, a study on ordination is warranted, and the correction, as always, is to come back to the Word of God.

Just to wrap things up, here are a few key passages to consider on the issue of Elders, Deacons, and ministry in the church.

Titus 1:5–9
“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”

1 Timothy 3:1–7
“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

1 Timothy 3:8–13
“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”

Mark 10:42–45
“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

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Follow Up from General Assembly

It’s been a couple of weeks now since the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America wrapped up its business, and I think I’ve finally recovered from the experience.  I don’t mean to say that the General Assembly was an ordeal one had to suffer through. In fact, it was a great time of fellowship, study, worship and prayer as the presbyters assembled to conduct the business of the church.  Still, the drive to and from Alabama was exhausting, and I followed General Assembly with a week of Church Camp as a Counselor and Teacher, then came back home just in time for our Community’s 4th of July Celebration.  I need to make sure that this perfect storm doesn’t hit my calendar like this again.

I thought I’d take the next couple of weeks on my blog to share some follow up thoughts from the Assembly.  One of the downsides to going to a conference like this alone is that I’m the only one who had the experience, and much of what I heard or picked up is beneficial to the entire church.  So I’ll try to share some insights (hopefully they’ll be helpful).

Today – some personal observations from the floor of General Assembly.

  1. I don’t have, nor will I ever have, enough seersucker to be a fully vested PCA Teaching Elder.  Ok, this might not be the earth-shattering, revolution causing insight you might be looking for, but I found it interesting that there were so many Southern, “hipster-ish” among the Elders of the PCA.  I know we are a predominately Southern church, having come from the PCUS, but the dominance of the Southern influence is overwhelming at an even like General Assembly.
  2. I scored points by being from South Dakota.  Having stated that the PCA is a predominately Southern church, it was remarkable the reaction from our brothers and sisters in the church when I told them I was from South Dakota.  You might have thought I told them that I had planted a church on Mars.  They acted as though living this far north qualified me for hardship duty.  For many, the prospect of pastoral ministry in the “outer rim territories” was simply inconceivable.
  3. I never want to speak on the floor of General Assembly.  During the business of the Assembly, microphones are placed throughout the assembly room for people to come and speak for or against a motion, to present new business, or to question the order of business on the floor.  It’s all very “politic-y”, and I hope never to get caught in the middle of it.  There were people who stood in line to speak on every item of business before the Assembly – they always had something to say or a point to make. I pray that I may go my entire life without having to rise to speak on the floor of the Assembly.
  4. There are some brilliant people in this Church.  The real blessing of attending GA was to see how God has richly blessed this church with those who will intelligently and passionately engage this world with the truth of God’s Word.  The preaching in worship, the instructional seminars, and the conversations in the halls were uplifting, informative, and encouraging.
  5. We are a church that is searching to find its voice.  We are in our 44th year as a church.  We broke away from another denomination in an effort to remain faithful to the inspired, authoritative, and inerrant Word of God, and have grown through the years as we have faithfully proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Unlike the majority of mainline and other evangelical denominations, the PCA continues to grow in numbers, and is financially strong.  Yet it is obvious that the pressure to look like the other denominations and to concede in certain areas to social and political influences  is high.  How will the church move forward in a culture that is more and more clearly post-Christian and even antagonistic to the faith?  How do we proclaim the gospel to a generation that is technologically proficient, but is meanwhile spiritually illiterate, lacking even the most basic understanding of who God is or what the Bible teaches?  How we answer these questions will shape the next 40 years, and more, of our church. I pray that our answer will be the same as that which led to the establishment of the PCA, a faithfulness to the Word of God and the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I do have audio recordings of several seminars that were offered at General Assembly if anyone is interested.  Here are the topics:

  • Advancing The Gospel In A Changing North America
  • Recovering The Biblical Office Of Elder
  • The Pulpit And Public Theology In The Public Square Presbyterian Style
  • Making Session Meetings The Best Night Of The Month, Or How The Session Is Supposed To Work (2016)
  • Transformational Discipleship
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PCA Assembly Updates

It has been a full and busy week here in Mobile.  We’re heading into the last day of General Assembly and a lot of the heavy work still lies ahead.  Tuesday was primarily preliminary committee work (some committees began working on the Friday before assembly started) in order to refine the overtures and organize the business to be addressed on the floor of the Assembly.  It sounds like a lot of busy work, and at times it is, but serving on these committees and getting involved like this is a great way to learn about and get connected in the ongoing ministry and work of the Church.

While today’s business before the Assembly includes some serious work on Racial Reconciliation, Nominations to standing committees of the Assembly, and working out the business that the committees bring to the floor – I think the most notable achievement so far at GA has been the selection of a logo for the PCA.

While this may seem like no big deal, apparently in the PCA, it is.  The question of a logo for the Church started at the first General Assembly, 44 years ago.  A final push in development over the last 10 years presented the Assembly with two options, and the following was selected:

logo

One of the things I learned yesterday as we discussed the logo and design is that surveyed reveal that Presbyterians like blue.  I don’t know why the logo of the church took so long to produce, nor why it was something that had to be considered by the Assembly – but there it is.

On the upside, having a logo does gives us another way of branding or presenting the information of our church in a consistent and recognizable way.

Personally – I think it looks a little like a Star Wars Stormtrooper’s helmet – which kind of makes me like it, and kind of doesn’t.

The best part of GA, of course, has been the fellowship. I have met so many Fathers and Brothers in the church who are committed to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the building up of His Church.  There are exhibits from so many good and faithful ministry partners in the church, where you can learn about ways to get involved in ministry in and out of the local church.  There are friends, old and new, who are genuinely interested in learning about and praying for your church.  The worship has been incredible and the preaching uplifting.

God is good, and the state of our denomination is healthy as we continue to grow in and proclaim the supremacy of His grace in Jesus Christ.

Keep praying!

Grace and peace,

Pastor Ethan

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Pickin’ Up the Accent

floss

Mornin!  Hows all y’all doin’?

That’s my attempt to fit in here in the deep south.  My spell check really didn’t like it, though, so I’ve got to start putting my “g’s” at the ends of the words, even though I have’t heard one since Sunday.

It’s beautiful here in Mobile, AL, where the Presbyterian Church in America has come together for the 44th General Assembly.  As we are a predominately Southern Church, the G.A. meetings are predominately in the South, and predominately attended by Southerners, there is a lot of Southern speaking going on.

As I have found in my experience, I have a sort of “chameleon” style accent – I tend to pick up, or perhaps slide into, the accent of those around me.  I was talking with a representative from Edinburgh, Scotland yesterday, and had to consciously keep myself from picking up the brogue.  It’s easy, when talking to my Church Fathers and Brothers from the South, to want to start talking with a Southern accent, but I don’t want to appear to be imitating them, so I have to make an effort to drop any accent whatsoever.  My hope is that when I return from GA, I won’t sound any different than when I left.  Everybody was worried about catching the Zika virus, my prayer is that I don’t come home with a Southern drawl.

Yet, there is an unmistakable accent spoken here in the Church that I hope to learn and speak the rest of my life.  It is the accent of grace.  We are a people saved, not predominately but entirely, by grace.  It is God’s grace that creates us out of chaos.  It is God’s grace in Jesus Christ that calls us out of death and sin.  It is God’s grace that re-creates us to be a people set apart for Him.  It is God’s grace that compels us in His Spirit to proclaim boldly the doctrines of Grace for the salvation of all men.  As the sweet southern charm soothes the frantic bustle of this northerners day, so the ever flowing grace of God brings comfort and refreshment to the weary soul.

The accent of grace is spoken fluently here, and I hope I sound like that every day.

G.A. Update – The first day of GA was excellent.  Most of the day was spent in seminars to help build up and equip the church. I did serve as the recording secretary of the Mission to North America Committee  of Commissioners, a job that ended as soon as the committee meeting ended – Amen!  The opening worship service was excellent, and we elected the new Moderator, Pastor George Robertson, from Augusta, GA.  The Assembly business begins today, as well as more seminars, so it will be a full and busy day. I’ll hopefully have more updates at the end of the day.

Grace and peace!

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