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October 12, 2014 - Three Sanctuaries (King David Series) - I Samuel 22:1-2

posted Oct 14, 2014, 6:07 AM by Grant Garber

  • Waiting is never wasted time. It is as we wait for the faithfulness of God to unfold in our lives that we become the kind of people who can handle receiving our dreams.
David finds three different sanctuaries that change his life.
  1. The sanctuary of holiness.
    • We sometimes approach the sanctuary of holiness desperate and demanding for something to take away our perceived hunger. But our souls are actually hungry for God, and it is God’s dream for us to realize that.
    • We tend to evaluate the church based on whether it gives us what we want.
    • The church of Jesus Christ can never worry about protecting its holiness from the world. No one has the power to pollute the holiness of the church. The holiness of the church is found in the Lord Jesus Christ and not in its members.
  2. The sanctuary of community.
    • God’s idea of community always includes people who are distressed, needy, and discontented.
    • The source of life in the church is in Christ Jesus. As a community of people gathered here who are all discontented about something, Jesus joins us. And Christ is the One who changes us.
    • We are not what we appear to be. We are what we were called to be. And in community, we reach our potential.
  3. The sanctuary of doing the right thing.
    • Different people can look at the same situation and come to totally different conclusions about the role God had in it and what should be done.
    • As you wait for the faithfulness of God to unfold in your life, there are right things to do in the meantime.
      • Caring
      • Giving
      • Forgiving
      • Receiving Holiness
      • Loving

October 5, 2014 - Having or Being a Friend? (King David Series) - I Samuel 17:55-18:3

posted Oct 7, 2014, 11:40 AM by Grant Garber

A friend is one “...who isn't looking for someone to use, is leisurely enough to find out what’s really going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or to attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what is deepest within us. A friend.” ~Eugene Peterson describing a friend like Jonathan

The problems with understanding the friendship between Jonathan and David:
  1. It is not a relationship in which they have anything in common.
    • Your soul belongs to God. Only He can give you friends who have access to it.
  2. It is not a safe place for either of them.
    • The friendships God creates for us aren’t safe. There is nothing safe about letting someone look into your soul.
  3. The friendship is not mutual.
    • The Bible doesn't really focus on mutuality in friendship. Rather its concern is with the giving of grace, and grace always costs the giver.
  4. It is not a friendship in which they spend a lot of time together.
    • If God created this friendship, then Saul couldn't destroy it and neither could separation.
Lessons:
  • Our struggle with friendships we do have is that we see them for what they are not.
  • A friend is as much a spiritual discipline as prayer, Bible study, worship, and giving. And like all disciplines, friendship isn't always fun. It is a discipline.
  • God has chosen to make your ordinary, flawed relationships a means of grace. But it is up to us to choose to receive this grace.
  • The reason we have such a hard time with a friend who is knit to our soul isn't that we don’t want a close friend, but we idealize the notion of friendship. This idealized notion of friendship is of what we want or think we need in a friend. But that makes friendship all about us, and that isn't friendship.
  • We assume we are David in need of a friend like Jonathan, who was so giving. What we should be praying is to be a friend like Jonathan.

September 28, 2014 - Finding Your Center (King David Series) - I Samuel 17:32-37

posted Oct 7, 2014, 11:14 AM by Grant Garber

  • Soon or later, all of us face a personal giant.
  • All of us face giant problems in our world.
  • What will we do about these giants? Will we be afraid or will we enter the fray and make a difference?
  • Don’t keep looking for someone else to fix your life or to take on the battle that is before you. You are the one!
  • It is bad enough that “Goliath” scoffs at our attempts to make changes. We are also belittled by those who are supposed to be on our side.
  • Once you have decided to take on the giant in front of you, you’ll soon discover that you are receiving a lot of bad advice.
  • What you have to do is....
    • Renew your faith in God who brought you to this giant.
    • Be sure you are called to take on this giant.
    • Be you!
  • If you are going to take a stand you have to know where center is. Daily prayer is the means by which you are centered in God. You have to kneel first if you want to take a stand.
  • If you are going after a giant, you don’t have to use his weapons to defeat him.
Main Thought
God was at the center of the Valley of Elah, just as He is at the center of every corner of the world - including your corner.
  • God loves to use the foolish things of the world to bring about redemption.
  • David picked up five stones because it’s good to have a back-up plan.

September 21, 2014 - I Choose You! (King David Series) - I Samuel 16:6-13

posted Sep 23, 2014, 8:39 AM by Grant Garber

Reasons for this sermon series on King David:
  1. David is an important figure in the Bible.
  2. Christians claim that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David. So we need to understand the hopes both Israel and God had for David’s kingdom in order to grasp how they are fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
  3. Through his flawed humanity, not in spite of it, David discovered a heart for God.
Lessons:
  • With Saul everything started out right, but his life ended in disaster. With David everything started wrong, but he ended his life as the greatest king Israel has ever known. The thing that made the difference was that David had a heart that God found irresistible.
  • If we really want to make changes in our lives, the place to start is with our hearts. Start from the inside out. The most important decision you will ever make is to what and to whom you will give your heart. Everything else follows.
What was it about David’s heart that distinguished him from his brothers and certainly from Saul? How was his heart molded, changed, and developed into a heart for God and for the service of leadership?
  1. His heart was shaped through solitude. Solitude redeems being alone as an opportunity to draw near to God.
  2. David’s heart was made healthy through waiting. God has also promised to be about a good work in your life, but you may wait a very long time to see that goodness unfold. Nothing is wasted however --- certainly not time.
  3. It is remarkable that David would believe God chose him. No matter how young or old you may be, and no matter how sure or confused you are about your life’s direction --- God is not done with your life!

September 14, 2014 - The Grateful Keep Moving - Luke 17:11-19

posted Sep 23, 2014, 5:32 AM by Grant Garber

Due to technical difficulties, this sermon was not recorded.  This is a transcript of the message.



Our text today begins by telling us that Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is where important things happen, where wonderful and holy things happen, and where people went in search of their drams. All of us start out life on the way to Jerusalem in pursuit of the life of our dreams. But along the way, things occur that interrupt the dream. Sometimes the interruption is about the loss of a job, or the loss of your health, or the loss of a loved one. And sometimes it is through the interruption that we meet Jesus Christ.

While Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, He encountered ten people with leprosy. It was the most dreaded disease of the first century. One of the functions of the village priest in that day was to watch for an outbreak of leprosy. Typically, it would begin by eating away a person’s toes and fingertips and would continue its destructive path until it reached the vital organs. The disease was deadly and so highly contagious that it could wipe out an entire village. So if the priest saw someone suddenly wearing gloves, he would insist on inspecting the person’s fingers. If he found any sign of leprosy, the priest would expel the person from the village. I’m so glad that we have now found other things for the clergy to do.

We don’t know a thing about those ten lepers who encountered Jesus along the way. We don’t know if they had academic degrees. We don’t know who among them used to be wealthy or who came from a wonderful family. We don’t even know their names. It is as if the disease has completely taken over their identities. They are forever known simply as the ten lepers.

We do know they were men and at least one of them was Samaritan. That is striking since the Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with each other and had long nurtured old arguments about their ethnic differences. But here they are mixed together. That’s because when you have been interrupted on your way to your dreams and you are in crisis, you don’t care much about the old arguments that once distinguished your group from the others. Now you belong to a new group, and that group is called the outsiders. 

We have members of our congregation who go to work every morning and have for years, and we have members who come to the pastor’s office looking for help with the rent. We have people in our church who are part of large extended families in Richmond, and we have people who are pretty much alone in the city. Some of us are very involved in the center rings of the church’s leadership, and there are others who just sit in a piece of the pew on Sunday and anonymously worship. But as your pastor, I discovered a long time ago that sooner or later, we all feel like an outsider. Ironically, it is what we all have in common. Even if we have an esteemed or visible place in the community, we all keep the gloves on to avoid careful inspection of our life.

Maybe there has been something eating at you for a while. It could be a private hurt, a disappointment, or a fear that you cannot shake. It could be a daily battle with depression. The others here don’t even know how hard it is for you to get to church on Sundays. Of, maybe you struggle with a current form of leprosy called cancer, and you have found that if you talk about it, people get awkward and keep their distance --- as if you were contagious. Maybe you struggle with your doubts about Christianity. When you look around on Sunday morning, everyone else appears to be doing just fine. They stand to sing the hymns and listen to the sermons so easily, but you struggle to believe. If you feel like an outsider for any of these or any other reason, you may be tempted to drift away from church.

Graham Greene’s novel, A Burnt-Out Case, tells the story of a very successful architect named Querry who built cathedrals even though he didn't believe in God. That seemed absurd to him so he built a city hall, but found that he believed in politics even less than religion. In spite of all his success, Querry felt like he didn't belong in a world of believers. Inside, he believed nothing. So he went to what he considered the last place on earth --- a leper colony in the Congo. Upon his arrival, he announced his leprosy of the soul. After Querry had been there a while, one night he went in search of a leper who was lost in the jungle. By the time he finds him, it is too dark in the cold night to make their way back to the colony. To stay warm, Querry embraces the leper who holds him with fingerless hands. And in that embrace, the embrace of a community of outsiders, Querry finds the answer to his search. He then builds the colony a simple four-walled chapel, and he considers it his life’s masterpiece because it was the first time he built something he believed in.

The ten lepers in our text are a small community who believe only that they should cry to Jesus for pity or mercy. They don’t even ask for healing. They’re too far gone for that. Like them, we have so much fear that we don’t even know what salvation looks like anymore. So we just ask for mercy. It is the last lament of those who know that only God can save us and it is the only way anyone in the church community ever knows how to approach Jesus Christ. This is why we confess our sins. It’s the confession that makes you an insider in the community of faith.

The Gospel writer Luke makes a point of telling us that Jesus saw the lepers. Everyone else had learned to divert their eyes at such an obvious display of failure and brokenness. That is not just because they couldn't stand the sight of the lepers, but also because they didn't want to be reminded that it could happen to them or that in some way the disease of their own soul had already begun. That’s why people kept the lepers at a distance. But not Jesus. Jesus sees the truth about you --- not to judge you, but to heal you. Jesus sees you, and He is the only One who needs to see you.

Seeing the lepers, Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priests. The only reason a leper would do that is to be declared healed by the priests and restored to the community. But Jesus hasn't healed them yet. Instead, He tells them to start walking toward the declaration that they are restored. It is as if He is saying, “Don’t keep acting like a victim. Don’t allow this problem to define your life. Don’t settle into this. Start walking like a man or a woman who has encountered a Savior.” And then the text says, “And as they went, they were cleansed.” 

You have a role in the healing of whatever is broken in your life, whether it is a broken heart, broken health, or a broken spirit. That role is to get up and get moving again. Return to work and go back to the community. Return to life, believing that Jesus’ healing will come along the way. Go back to the grocery store, go back to paying your bills, and go back to wiping runny little noses. Go back to the library and study for one more exam. Pick up the phone at the office, and try to make one more deal. Go back to see one more doctor.

Sometimes the salvation of Christ in our lives occurs in a blinding moment of glory. Sometimes. But most of the time, God’s intervening grace comes along the way, quietly, as we just keep moving and wondering how this is going to work out. This is what faith looks like. In the end, faith is not a matter of how much theology you know. It has little to do with your feelings or mystical experiences. In the end, faith is a choice to get moving again.

When one of the lepers, a Samaritan, saw that he was healed he, “...came back, praising God in a loud voice.” Then he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him. This isn't a bad definition of worship --- turning back to throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus with gratitude.

It is significant that all ten of the lepers were healed, but only the Samaritan, the outsider, throws himself at Jesus’ feet. Gratitude is the only way to be a true insider in the community of faith. Ingratitude doesn’t prevent us from receiving Jesus’ mercy. Ingratitude prevents us from receiving Jesus. The point of this story is not to get healed. The point is to get back to the Savior who is with us along the way. All of those lepers eventually got sick again and died, possibly even from leprosy. Eventually we all lose our jobs, our health, and life itself. We lose everything except the love of God and that alone carries us all the way home. So the grateful among us are not necessarily those who have had their dreams restored. The grateful ones are those who have turned around to see that a Savior is on the journey with them. Seeing that, they can handle anything that comes along the road of life.

Then Jesus said to the man, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Notice that Jesus didn't say, “Get up, and go to seminary”, “Get up, and follow me to Jerusalem”, or “Get up, and do something heroic while life lasts.” He just said, “Get up, and go on your way.” He was telling you to return to whatever way of life you have been given. Return to the ordinary. But anyone who lives in the ordinary with gratitude, lives an extraordinary life.

G.K. Chesterton has written that, “Wonders will never be lacking in this world. What is lacking is wonderment.” We worship to train our souls to behold the extraordinary work of Christ with wonderment. In the life of faith, wonderment is a synonym for gratitude.

The grateful find small miracles that are embedded in every day. They have little interest in complaints, and no time for regret. The grateful have hearts so full of wonderment of God’s love that there is no room left for fear. They give easily to others with great delight because when you’re grateful, you are no longer fretting over whether or not you’re going to have enough. They ask only for more glimpses of the Savior who is with us along the way. And the grateful keep moving.

Now, may it be so. Amen.

September 7, 2014 - American Baptist Women's Sunday

posted Sep 8, 2014, 7:22 AM by Grant Garber

(Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of Indiana and Kentucky)

Audio Download Link

August 31, 2014 - Going Over To the Other Side - Matthew 8:18-22

posted Sep 3, 2014, 9:56 AM by Grant Garber   [ updated Sep 3, 2014, 9:56 AM ]

Main Thought
If you are serious about the Christian life, eventually  You get to a point where you just want to be a giver.
  • Jesus first appears as our Savior. Perhaps that is because He wants to heal us from whatever it is that has paralyzed us: hurt, guilt, or fear. But eventually a time comes when Jesus makes it clear to us that our paralysis was healed so we can get up and get back to serving.
  • Our first conversion is about realizing how much we need a Savior in our life. The second one is about being converted away from our own life. It is about going with Jesus to the other side of discipleship where we are givers. And we are never really disciples unless we follow Him there.
  • The consumerism of our culture is so pervasive today that even when we approach Jesus and His church, we wonder what we are getting for our dollar. We assume that money is ours, and we will support the work of the church if we get good service. Or we assume that we should at least feel better about ourselves after giving.
  • But sometimes giving isn't fulfilling. And to expect to receive a feeling of fulfillment when you give to the church isn’t actually giving; it’s buying.
  • The reason to give is because Jesus is trying to turn you into a giver. It is who you were created to be, and to follow Jesus is to be led back to be who you really are.
  • It isn’t the consumerist agenda that most impedes our ability to be givers. The real impediments are the emotional ones. Nothing impedes more than past hurts. You can spend the rest of your life burying the dead or the pain of the past. This turns your face to the past and makes it impossible to continue following Jesus to the place where you are transformed into a giver.
  • There is only one good reason to give. You have crossed over. You are now a giver.

August 24, 2014 - Setting Our Priorities - Haggai 1:3-6

posted Aug 25, 2014, 11:12 AM by Grant Garber

  • Whenever we have lived without a sense of the holy in our midst, we try to become our own saviors. But since that is a tough job, we are too anxious to do anything wonderful for those around us. So we need to see God graciously in our midst to offer grace to others.
  • As we follow Christ it is a way of rebuilding sacred community, helping people find the sacred center of their lives, and by tying heaven and earth back together around a God who dwells with us.
  • When you prioritize life around meeting your needs, you allow those needs to define you. If you let your needs define you, you will never be more than a consumer. And consumers just keep consuming because they never have enough.
  • The further you progress in life, the more needs you accumulate.
  • The church has a different definition of your life. We choose not to call you consumers. We call you stewards. From the beginning, the Bible has defined us not by our needs but by our calling.
  • The point of life is to be a good steward of the grace and the blessings that God has entrusted to you.
  • Stewards realize they don’t own a thing. The steward’s job is to manage everything that he or she holds for the sake of the Lord’s work.
  • The needs of the church aren't our real priority. Our real concern is for our spiritual health as a church. We give not because the church has needs, but because we need to be givers.

August 17, 2014 - Do You Still Want God If There Are No Blessings Attached? - Genesis 22:1-13

posted Aug 18, 2014, 6:18 AM by Grant Garber

Due to technical difficulties, this sermon was not recorded.  This is a transcript of the message.



We all want to know the point to our lives. That’s why in our bravest moments, we ask questions like:
  • Why am I here?
  • What is my mission in life?
  • How will I know if I have done well in life?’
For the last six weeks we have followed the journeys of Abraham, who would tell us that the point to our lives is: You were blessed to be a blessing!

Abraham assumed that he and his childless wife Sarah were blessed when God told him that they would have a son. He was 75 years old when God made that promise. He was 100 years old when the child named Isaac was finally born. Now that the boy had begun to grow up, God told Abraham to go to the mountain of Moriah and offer Isaac as a living sacrifice. Without even an argument, Abraham sets out with his only blessing to do just what God told him.

When I am preaching, it is my passion to proclaim how the Biblical text is God’s Word to our congregation. I want to help you find yourself in the text. I want you to see that this isn't an ancient story, but it is God’s story of our lives as well. So today’s text has created a difficult challenge for me. What exactly is God trying to tell us with this text?

I've had an interesting and challenging time preparing for this sermon. I was overwhelmed by how different our world is from the ancient one. I dared to wonder, “How can we be worshipping the same God as Abraham?” Abraham is held out as a model of faith in both the Old and New Testament, but we would throw a father in jail for attempting to do what Abraham did. Child sacrifice may have been a part of the ancient world, but today we incarcerate religious parents who even refuse to give medical attention to a child. I started thinking, “Uh, oh, maybe I can find a new text for this Sunday.”

Next, I decided I would spiritually sanitize away the scandal of the story. I reasoned, “God isn't going to let Abraham kill his son. This is only a test.” But I found little comfort in that. This text is too great. We would all fail it. We all should. When the unsuspecting Isaac asks his father, “Where is the sacrifice?” Abraham simply says, “The Lord will provide.” Is this God’s Word to us from the text? Maybe. It’s certainly true that the Lord provides, and it sure sounds spiritual. But what do we do with this advice? The next time you fill out a credit card application and you get to the income box, try squeezing in the words: “The Lord will provide.” They will love that down at the bank. Besides, Abraham wasn't taking Isaac up the mountain to give him a spiritual devotional. He was really going to kill that kid. So I abandoned trying to sanitize the text.

Next, I tried to take the focus off Abraham and place it on God. But then I was forced to ask, “What kind of God would ask a father to sacrifice his only son?” The answer, of course, is the same God the Father who would sacrifice His only Son. I read of a preacher who said, “I have five sons and I would not offer up any one of them for any one of you! But God had only one Son and He offered Him freely for the sins of a world that did not even heed His action nor desire His grace.” I have always found that statement memorable. This is why I look at Abraham’s action and see it as a truly high point of faith! But that leaves me with an overwhelming embarrassment because it is easier for me to feel the despair of old Abraham than it has ever been to realize the heartbreak of God the Father at the cross, where His Son was sacrificed for my sins. “That’s it,” I thought. “That’s the angle I’ll go with on Sunday. That at least will make sense.” But this text wasn't done with me. In my bones I knew I hadn’t yet found God’s Word for our congregation. God wants us to do more than feel His pain.

I was “sweating it” now. Most preachers organize their week remembering that “Sunday’s coming”. But I have to have a detailed outline ready to go by Monday morning when a group of us meet to plan for the worship service. So, I knew I needed to “get going”. I sat down again before this passage and asked, “How do I rescue this text for a contemporary congregation?” That’s when it hit me. I realized the silliness of all my previous thinking. I can’t rescue or make sense of God’s Word, nor have I ever been called to try. God’s Word is God’s. So I just surrendered to the text. After that, I could almost hear Abraham tell me: “As my story reveals, I've made a lot of mistakes along my journey. And the worst of them were because I was trying to make sense of God and what He was doing or not doing. Now, I just trust Him.” There it is. That, I believe, is God’s Word for us today. “Now, I just trust Him.”

We all trust and hope in something. If you are a student, you trust in your hard work and hope it will eventually get you a degree. If you in in business, you trust in your skills and hope they will produce a profit or a promotion in the marketplace. If you are a parent or grandparent, you trust in your love and hope it will take root in your children or grandchildren. If you are a preacher, you trust and hope that you can make sense of ancient Biblical texts.

Whatever it is that you are counting on, that is your Isaac. It is your blessing from God, given to make you a blessing to others. When the chips are down, we cling to this blessing whatever it is: education, health, skills, family, love, or a capacity for hard work. We all have something, some Isaac, and when the going gets tough, that is our blessed hope for how we will make a difference in life. But what will you do on the day God asks for that blessing back? If you can’t let go of it, then God is not your god. Then the blessing is your god.

Let’s take it a step further. What if the blessing to which you cling is a promise made by God’s Word? Perhaps you are drawn to the promise of a future filled with hope, the promise of a good work in your life, or the promise of a coming Kingdom where justice and peace replace poverty and violence. If we can’t cling to our abilities, our skills, and our loved ones, can we at least cling to God’s promises? Sometimes, no. Not even God’s promises can become our god.

Throughout this sermon series, I have consistently mentioned how good Abraham was at building altars. It was his constant means of sacrificing his failures and his understanding of God. But when he strapped his son Isaac on the altar, Abraham was giving God’s own promise back to God. Abraham had already sacrificed his past when he and Sarah left home to begin the journey with God, and now he as told to sacrifice his future. After that, there would be only God.

The issue isn't the reliability of God’s promises, which are always fulfilled in God’s strange timing. The issue is the sufficiency of God alone. Do you see the harshness of this text? I’m not trying to sanitize a thing about it. These are probably the hardest words I will ever have to speak to you as your pastor.

Sooner or later we all stand right beside Abraham with our most cherished blessing on the altar. It is then that we have to respond to the hardest question the soul will ever face: Do you still want God, if there are no blessings attached? Do you still want God if it is now God plus nothing? It is only then that you truly know if you have been worshipping God or worshipping the blessings.

When the Apostle Paul was writing about Abraham in his Epistle to the Romans, he claimed that Abraham had learned to hope against hope. That’s a wonderful phrase: hoping against hope. It means we have one great hope that stands against all other hopes. We have one God and so many blessings. You can count on your blessings most of the time, but you better not make them the one great hope.

When one spouse lays another in the grave, when you drive home on the day you have lost your job, when the marriage has failed in spite of all of your best efforts, when the thing you were praying not to happen has happened, it is then that you have to hope against hope. You hope against all your blessings that are now lost. You hope against your ability to understand. You hope against even your understanding of God and His promises. Then, all that is left is to hope in God alone. Sometimes that is all there is. And the proclamation of Abraham to us is that is all there needs to be.

Well, as you know, God didn't let Abraham actually kill Isaac. But it was close. As the knife was about to come down, an angel called from heaven to tell him not to touch the boy. Now, God knows you trust. Then the old man saw a ram and sacrificed it instead. So the Lord did indeed provide but not until Abraham gave up Isaac.

Abraham lived to be 175 years old. I believe that every day he enjoyed his son more than he did before this dramatic day on Mount Moriah. He could enjoy him because he wasn't afraid of losing him. And that’s because he had already given Isaac back to God. You can only enjoy a blessing if you don’t have to keep it.

Amen.

August 10, 2014 - Preposterous or Realistic? - Genesis 17:1-5, 15-22

posted Aug 12, 2014, 10:13 AM by Grant Garber

  • We all know about dreams that haven’t worked out as we had hoped on our journey through life.
  • When that happens, we feel the right thing to do is “settle”. After all, we reason, “Life is what it is.”
  • Eventually in life we feel the need to deal with reality. But God is never impressed with our visions of reality.
  • God prefers to deliver blessings through the preposterous.
  • God is not done with your life. God is not done with the church. God is not done with the world.
  • We are a people who have to live with hope.
  • It is God who creates reality, and with God all things are possible.
  • God is powerful enough to do all that He will to do and adequate enough to accomplish all that He intends to accomplish.
  • Our calling isn’t to worry if we will receive the dream --- that’s up to God. Our calling is to work for the dream, to pray for it daily, and to allow it to mold and shape our lives.
  • Our identity is shaped more by God’s promises than it is by the fulfillment of the promises.
  • We are blessed to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. And the blessing that the world needs from the church is for us to believe in what we claim to believe.
  • We must pray, work and dream of peace in the Middle East. Is that preposterous? Absolutely! But the last thing you ever want to tell God is to be realistic.

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