Authenticity at the price of Holiness

I’ve been writing on and off for the past 10 years. Maybe longer. It started out as a way to just document my life and my feelings. I never expected to write in any other capacity. I never thought my personal blog would ever be read by people who were not blood relatives reading out of duty.  I definitely did not expect that I would be writing for a church blog one day (shameless plug: Christ Community is looking for other writers...the bench is not deep, people - in fact, the bench is me).

 

I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed sharing. It’s life giving for me. And I’ve often gotten really great feedback, confirmation, edification - whatever you may call it - concerning my writing. And that’s really nice too. Because who doesn’t love praise?

 

You want to know what I hear most?

 

Thank you for being so honest.

 

Thank you for just being so open.

 

I just really like hearing something that is sooo “real.”

 

I just love your authenticity.

 

And there’s that word…”Authenticity” (I’ve even written about that word).

 

This past week, I’ve come across two different writings that talk about the Church in the postmodern era and specifically how the postmodern view (or even experience) of church has led to a mass exodus of sorts (Bible pun intended).

 

“Ranier Research found that nearly three-quarters of American youths leave church between ages eighteen and twenty-two, while the Barna Group estimates that by age twenty-nine, 80 percent of the churches population will become ‘disengaged’ with church culture. (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love)

 

So what is missing for the postmodern world?

 

“An incredibly reduced explanation of modern thought (which most of us have at least one foot in) would be : I have all the answers and so can you. This drove society for three hundred years. The shift to postmodernism began in our childhoods and absolutely defines the next generation. Their mantra is; I don’t have all the answers and neither do you.” (Jen Hatmaker, For the Love)

 

They desire authenticity.

 

The church I grew up in did have all the answers - or at least said it did. It was very black and white, and I don’t remember much confession of sin among leaders...until they were caught by someone else and forced to step down.

 

Millennials aren’t buying it - they can spot a sham. And while the Church has never been a sham, churches and church leadership don’t tend to be transparent in their struggles.

 

During testimony time when I was a kid the common phrase used to shy away from struggles past or present was, “I don’t want to glorify the sin.”  And we’ve all experienced and employed the  “unspoken” prayer request. It always seemed like the grit of life was swept under the rug. I admit that sometimes this was probably an honest attempt to have congregations focus on Jesus during a sermon instead of speculating on how the speaker or other congregants were handling their respective issues.

 

There was a disconnect.

 

Car fights on the way to church were abandoned in the parking lot for forced smiles and cheerful greetings. The opportunity for true repentance and reconciliation gave way to “keeping up appearances.” Even as a kid, I felt that I could not live up to this perfect, holy calling - even with God’s help. I thought I was too inherently flawed to be capable of pulling off this whole holiness thing. But everyone else seemed to be doing it just fine.

 

As I entered college, there was a switch in Church culture. Younger leaders who mentored me were very open and authentic. They let me know they weren’t perfect and this gave me freedom to be honest with them about my own struggles and imperfections.

 

I still didn’t see a shift in authenticity of pastors until I was well out of college. And I’ve only really seen apparent humility and authenticity in a couple of my own pastors...ever. And to see such vulnerability in church in front of people was humbling. I trusted them. I knew they weren’t perfect and that God was still working in their lives, just like he was in mine.

 

And that’s the beauty of the shared Christian journey. The beauty of authenticity.

 

The authenticity of the churches they led was apparent and people who had been burned by the “perfect churches” were drawn to this strange place where brokenness was admitted - a gathering of broken people wanting to be healed (whether that be spiritually, emotionally, mentally, or physically). We all came as we were - wanting more of Jesus.

 

I think it’s what the early church may have been like...a bunch of sinners that Jesus spoke to...just wanting Jesus to speak over them again and again.

 

This authenticity is good for us.

 

But over the past several years, this talk of authenticity (in my own circles and in the larger Christian culture) has become more common. Spend a week on social media (just looking at the statuses of your peers, friends, and Church folks you follow) and you’ll see a theme.

 

I’m just being honest.

 

Hey, I gotta be me.

 

I’m just keeping it real.

 

Just sayin’.

 

But  these conversation starters are rarely “real.”  They are not authenticators of authenticity, but disclaimers to try to make the unacceptable socially acceptable: hurtful words, grumbling, mumbling, gossip, rebellion, justification of sin...all in the name of being authentic. Instead of true humility, brokenness, and authenticity, it is more of a “letting myself off the hook for not doing the right thing” - for not seeking holiness.

 

And here’s where the authenticity train derails:

 

Authenticity is not holiness.

 

In his article Has Authenticity Trumped Holiness, Brett McCracken explores the Church’s jump onto the Authenticity bandwagon:

 

“...In an attempt to “purge itself of the polished veneer that smacked of hypocrisy. But by focusing on brokenness as proof of our ‘realness’ and ‘authenticity,’ have evangelicals turned “being screwed up” into a badge of honor, its own sort of works righteousness? Has authenticity become a higher calling than, say, holiness?”

 

This goes back to our postmoderns fleeing the church and becoming disengaged as a result of desiring depth and something more honest.

 

We are not allowed to be both a broken people and a holy people. We’ve revoked that right as a way to avoid the air of hypocrisy that has plagued the church for a good many years. But in trying to leave holiness behind, we’re getting it all wrong.

 

Whether it is out of complacency, laziness, outright rebellion, or maybe a true desire to be completely “real” and approachable to those who don’t know Jesus,  somehow we’ve turned authenticity into our identity. As if God calls his people to say, “We are an authentic people!”

 

Does Jesus ask us to be an authentic priesthood or a holy one?

 

I’m not suggesting that we conceal our sins or our struggles. I think we should be real. I think we have to admit our brokenness. It is a way for us to have confession and repentance and accountability - which are all a part of following Jesus and pursuing holiness. But I agree with McCracken when he writes, “We’ve become too comfortable with our sin, to the point that it’s how we identify ourselves and relate to others. But shouldn’t we find connection over Christ, rather than over our depravity?”

 

We can’t hop off the train at “Broken Station” and pitch a tent. We need to move on. There is sweeter ground ahead.

 

If we stay in the brokenness and the sin and focus only on how God’s grace covers, we miss out on something:

 

“Grace covers. And it covers again and again. Thanks be to God” But if we stop there, We are only telling half of the story...Receiving grace for my failures also includes Christ’s help to turn from sin and embrace new obedience.” (Megan Hill, The Very Worst Trend Ever)

 

Sin is a necessary precursor of Redemption. And we are a redeemed people. “We shouldn’t ignore or make light of it (sin). But we also shouldn’t wallow in it or take it lightly, for the sake of earning authenticity points.” (McCracken)

 

We need to move past authenticity and onto holiness. Otherwise where is the hope? The postmodern world (just like in every other era) needs hope. There are authentic psychopaths, folks - authenticity is not what makes Jesus impossible to ignore. Broken people turned into holy people doing holy things for other broken people out of love to give them a glimpse of holiness - that’s how Jesus becomes impossible to ignore.

 

That’s the goal.  Or at least it’s my goal.  Hopefully, it can be our goal.

 

Written by Lydia Wells

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No Courage Without Fear

Courage.

 

Matt’s been bringing it home (for a few weeks now) that we need to be courageous and that we can show courage even in the most simplistic and mundane of situations.

 

As a church, we’ve investigated courage as authenticity - becoming vulnerable with your whole heart for the sake of someone else. Simply being who you are for other people - risking exposure - where people can take advantage of you, hurt you. Not trying to play the self-preservation game, all for the sake of other people.

 

We tend to think of courage as the BIG moment stuff: Christians remaining in Syria or the university students in Oregon who still professed their faith in Christ after seeing others gunned down for their own professions.

 

So as we sit in the gathering, does it seem trite that Matt keeps talking about how we can be courageous in the fairly bland tasks of our everyday lives? or just by being “who we were created to be”?

 

My first reaction...Yes.

 

I was listening to the sermon this week and thinking, “But is me doing X really equivalent to someone else’s Y?”

 

And the only answer I could come up with was No...it’s not. The daily boring, faithful, and “brave” acts in raising my girls or writing this blog post are not in any way equivalent to the aforementioned tremendous moments of courage.  Me making dinner is nothing like when Orthodox brothers and sisters in Syria stand up in the face of extreme oppression...real oppression.

 

In the gathering, I was convicted a bit that I live such a comfortable life and that I am not doing something more visible for the Kingdom of God whilst raising my children. I stay at home and hug little people all day. That’s my job. It’s cushy.

 

I had no idea how I was going to once again write about courage and not feel like a fraud.

 

It wasn’t until hearing from a friend concerning a really awful event that something hit me:

 

In the big moments, we do what we know.

 

We go to a default setting of sorts.

 

Matt hasn’t harped on courage for the last several weeks because he thinks that we’re daft or slow to learn….or because he thinks that we are living lives equivalently brave to the persecuted and martyred.

 

No, Matt talks about being brave and courageous in our fairly easy, day-to-day tasks because if we’re courageous in the places we have the opportunity to be, we create a habit of courage. We build up a spiritual muscle memory of being brave, taking heart, making the hard choice, doing the right thing.

 

Ask any musician or athlete. When the adrenaline hits and it’s time to perform - in the do or die moments, if one has put in the practice, the time, and created good habits, the body goes on autopilot and defaults to what it knows best.

 

That’s why footballers still do basic dribbling drills while training. It’s why orchestras tirelessly rehearse before a performance.

 

If our basic default is courage, our spirit will default to it in the really hard moments….like rush hour traffic, game day in Athens, or even when we are facing certain death.

 

And while I could end it by simply saying, “In the hard moments, look to Jesus,” I’m not going to. Because, you’ve heard that before. You’ve heard it since day one. Matt taught about looking to Jesus as the perfecter and founder of our faith. He told us to look to Jesus who was brave for us. The idea itself is not foreign to us.

 

And while I can’t say this with 100% certainty concerning the whole of the readership, my guess would be that we’re not all living courageous lives and that the reason for that is that we think that looking to Jesus is a passive act.

 

But looking to Jesus is NOT a passive act.

 

And that’s why many of us find ourselves riddled with fear, anxiety, control issues, or feeling not like a hero. We have tried to make courage and faith passive, but it requires action.

 

Our bravery has to be honed. It must be sharpened. It must be maintained. That means discipline. It means: I sit with the Word and take strength from it. I have strategies for doing the brave thing in the little moments. I count to ten. I leave a room. I take a thought captive. I push myself out of my comfort zone when I feel led. I have people who keep me accountable and ask the hard questions.

 

I think we read Hebrews and we are so thankful and relieved that salvation IS by grace and faith and not by works.

 

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to work. Faith and Joy: these things require a re-training and a rewiring of our fallen and broken bodies and souls. Yes, salvation brings forth a restoration for our souls; but our minds and bodies default to a broken setting.

 

So, yes. We must be intentional in our faith. In our courage. We must practice it in basic and simple places. I think this is why we continue to explore what courage is.

 

It’s a bit more complicated than we may have originally thought.

 

Courage and bravery and faith and joy are not just a passive washing over of power (or at least it is not that on a daily basis). It is a balance. A tension - of the active and the passive.

 

There is no courage without fear.

 

There is no faith without doubt.

 

There is no joy without sorrow.

 

These things exist in the same space.

 

Which will you default to when you find yourself in a hard moment - when your spirit defaults to what it knows best?

 

Author: Lydia Wells

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Repentance

This past Sunday I served our kids in the Grove. I was with the Sprouts class teaching about how Jesus fed the 5,000: the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. This means that I didn’t have the pleasure of hearing Matt preach firsthand. Normally, I would listen to the sermon on Monday and let it marinate in my heart for a few days and then write something for the blog on Wednesday - now you all know my process.

 

But that didn’t happen this week.

 

This past Saturday my husband’s grandfather died. He walked this earth for 99 years, 10 months, and 3 days. So Sunday after the gathering, my family and I headed back home to spend time, reflect, remember, honor, and celebrate a man that words often come short of describing. Possibly, because Grandpa was a man of few words - but also a man of a most sincere faith and faithful service.

 

I listened to the sermon Thursday morning in a bit of a “Hail Mary” to get something on the blog Thursday afternoon. Matt’s teaching centered on several passages in Acts (2:12-41) that describe the early church and how it came to be and function. Matt ended up zeroing in on ONE point: Repentance.

 

If you listened to the sermon, Matt explains a lot about repentance. What it is. What it means. What it looks like.

 

I find it incredibly difficult at times to write or even talk about repentance in such a way that actually captures the hearts of new believers, old believers, or folks who haven’t met Jesus. We’ve heard the word “repentance” thrown around in church for years (or at least I have) and in many ways we can’t help but file it away in the “hell fire and brimstone” category of church or just ignore it and isolate it from our everyday-walked-out faith.

 

Repentance and the humility that must accompany it goes against the grain of our culture. Our culture tells us:  “Don’t apologize for your opinions. Don’t back down. Don’t show weakness or uncertainty. Don’t own your faults or failings.  Exude an air of perfection.”

 

I don’t know how it entered our culture. But it’s there: an egotistical pride and entitlement which makes repentance unpalatable. The belief that  if we admit one wrong or weakness, the the whole of our being will be marked as flawed - which would, of course, make us undeserving.

 

Well. As Christians, we should come to the table knowing and embracing the fact that we are indeed undeserving. Repentance shouldn’t be something that’s foreign to the Church, but it is something that so many churches and so many of us find foreign. And it is because we were raised in a culture that’s doesn’t like to admit it’s wrong.

 

The first time that I met my husband’s grandpa was Sunday lunch at his house; I was terrified. Matt (my husband, not the pastor) talked about his grandpa with such reverence and respect. I knew one word from Grandpa and I would be out the door - my future in the family hinged on his approval.

 

When we arrived for lunch, I walked into an old Southern home on a country road and was smacked with the smell of country fried venison. There may have been a fire in the fireplace, as Grandpa was known to have a fire on even a slightly chilly day. My memory on that is a bit unclear. I do remember that he gave me a surprisingly strong hug for an 88-year-old. He told me about some of his favorite trophies and hunts - like that time he traveled to British Columbia and had to pack out the moose whose head was now mounted above his television. The moose head takes up an entire wall in his house.

 

In his family and community, this man was a living legend. He enlisted in the Army Air Force shortly after Pearl Harbor and served in the South Pacific for the duration of the war. He returned home to his wife and they built a house across from the family home which had been standing since the Civil War. He started a business and was well-known in the community. He was a patriot, an outdoorsman, a good man, and a faithful attendee of the same church his ENTIRE life - all 99 years (excepting those during the war).

 

Lunch was always served promptly at Noon. Grandpa made his way into the kitchen at twelve o’clock on the dot without fail. The family would circle around and grace was said. Grandpa said grace….and it was in all honesty a grace that was by no means out of the ordinary. But his closing of the prayer was unforgettable to me.

 

“And Lord, forgive us our many sins.”

 

I had never heard anyone end a prayer in such a way. I was awed at the fact that the patriarch of a family would admit that HE had sin and that he would ask forgiveness on behalf of all those gathered around his table.

 

I would come to find that  this phrase of repentance was how Grandpa chose to close all of his prayers.

 

I don’t consider my childhood or my being raised in the church as anything but normal. I think my parents and those around me did a good job of showing me Jesus. But I confess that repentance was not an emphasis or even a focus in my everyday life. My little mind thought, “Of course, Jesus died for me. My parents love me to pieces, why wouldn’t Jesus give His life for me?”

 

For real y’all. This was the thought in my head for YEARS.

 

So when Grandpa prayed, it was a defining moment. It was a moment when I realized that every prayer this man prayed ended with a true repentance of sin. He felt the weight of his sin personally. And it cut him to the heart.

 

This is a man that unquestionably in our culture would be seen as a shining example. And in our current culture he would have nothing to apologize for or repent of.

 

And yet, repentance was his daily posture.

 

Repentance should be our daily posture. Honesty should be our daily posture.

 

it keeps us authentic and approachable. Have you every walked into a room filled with people who have their stuff together? It’s unnerving being the only train wreck in the room. Beyond that, repentance keeps us accountable.


 

Last night, I read an article about a pastor and seminary professor who committed suicide as a result of the Ashley Madison hack. The weight of his sin crushed him and in his darkest moment, he doubted the love and forgiveness of his family, his church, his community, and maybe even his God. How tragic.

 

Matt summed it up in his sermon - “The dysfunction - in every relationship, in your family, in your personal life, in our collective life as a church - you can trace a line back (one-to-one correlation) with a failure to be honest, with a failure to be vulnerable about what I have done or how I feel about what you have done.”

 

Confession and repentance introduces LIGHT into the darkness.

 

Repentance is the beginning of healing.

 

Repentance is a safe place. It shouldn’t be a scary place. It should not be lonely. Namely, because we are all broken people - each and every one of us has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and should find ourselves in a place of repentance everyday.

 

We are all sinners. From the greatest to the least.

 

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the lost don’t need perfect people, they need honest people who will walk with them in the brokenness of life.

 

So, let's admit that we aren’t perfect. Let's talk about our struggles. Let' admit our brokenness.  Let's REPENT of our sins against God and against others. And together let's ask God to forgive us our many sins….with every prayer.

 

Author: Lydia Wells

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Swallowed Up By Life! An Epitaph From Ed Hague.

4/12/1957 – 8/18/2015

Last Tuesday, the founding pastor of Christ Community, Ed Hague, died following a long and courageous battle with cancer. It was a heartbreaking journey to watch from a distance. And yet anyone who came into contact with Ed found themselves believing they could actually be themselves and believed that God loved them.
The day after his death, one final blog was posted. An epitaph of sorts. A final statement from Ed about his life, and more importantly, about his God.
So I asked to have this post put up on our blog because we want to use this platform to tell both the story of our church and the story of our God. Whether you have been part of our church for years or for days - or maybe you aren’t even part of our church - I hope you will be encouraged through Ed’s words.

 

Ed Hague was born April 12, 1957 in an ice storm in Indianapolis, Indiana. He spent the rest of his life thawing out. As a young boy, he learned to hide his heart in a family that was abusive, unsafe and, frankly, pretty crazy (his sisters are absolutely amazing, however). His grandfather, Jack, helped him through some of the roughest years, though, gently pushing him on towards manhood.

In seeking to assist in this project, Jack tried to take Ed out one night to see (God forbid) “Bikini Beach” starring Annette Funicello. Sensing trouble, Ed’s grandmother, Helen, stopped the two of them at the door, forbade the outing, and gave Ed a Bible to read instead.

The Bible reading must have stuck as Ed ended up spending over 30 years in the ministry, but he never truly got over Annette, and he never forgave his grandmother for the emasculation. As for the missed movie, he soon figured things out, though, going on to have four beautiful and intelligent daughters.

These daughters came through his marriage to Betsy Snapp when he was 17 years old. Ok, he was 22 when they married, but for those preceding 5 years he really wished he was married to her. To the countless men who wished they could have been married to her, Ed says, “You lost. I won. Deal with it.”

The church and Ed had a troubled, love-hate relationship. He put in many years of service in different congregations, but like an ill-fitting suit, it never seemed a good match for him. He met a lot of great people, though, who helped him heal and thaw out some. He is incredibly grateful to all of them.

At the end of his life, Ed fulfilled a lifelong goal. He left the pastorate and started his own business. His son-in-law, Drew, who is doing a much better job of it than Ed ever did, now runs it. It’s called FloridaPro Computing and is located at Midtown in Tallahassee, FL. They service and support all brands of computers and love caring for their clients. They are also the only Apple Authorized Service Providers in Tallahassee.

Here’s the most important thing to know about Ed, though. God loved him and made sure that Ed knew it. Hiding from love all of his life, after his cancer diagnosis, God turned the love firehoses on him.

It was as if He wasn’t going to let him die until every dried up and hardened part of Ed’s heart was showered and soaked in His love. He used an army of people to do this. Ed is certain they are all angels in disguise.

Ed being loved by God? He has no explanation for it other than grace. It was grace that put God’s Son on the cross for Ed’s sins (of which there were many – see the attached list) and then forgave him of those sins – the greatest being his damned self-righteousness.

God then, through Christ, gave Ed another undeserved gift. He took off Ed’s tattered cloak of self-righteousness and gave him the perfect robe of Christ’s righteousness. If you were wondering, that’s how Ed entered the presence of God without being stopped at the door.

Ed, amazingly, is now who he was meant to be when God created him. He’s not hiding, he’s not afraid, and he’s even gotten things worked out with his grandmother. He is now fully and completely Ed. If this scares you, he wants you to know he understands, but that you should get over it.

Joyfully exploring heaven, where all is as it should be, Ed is fiercely happy these days. But more importantly, Ed himself has been restored to his original glory. Jesus proved Himself faithful to be both the Author and Finisher of his faith. The good work He began in Ed has now been made perfect and complete.

Death has lost and, thanks to all of you, love has won in Ed’s heart – forever.

Surviving him are Betsy Hague (stunning spouse), Mary Catherine Register, Andrea Dawson Hague, Karen Margaret Shackelford, and Martha Brower Hague (daughters). Ed also has two sons-in-law, Drew Buol Register and Zachary Allen Shackelford. His grandchildren are Lina Nowlyn Register, Cora Benton Register, and Aria Mae Register.

In lieu of flowers, Ed would like for you to give lots of money to:

Ransom Fellowship
5245 132nd Ct
Savage, MN 55378

 If you would like to give online, you may do so here:

https://npo.justgive.org/nonprofits/donate.jsp?ein=85-0305473

Your gifts are tax-deductible. NOTE: do NOT get confused and send flowers to Ransom Fellowship. Send money. Ed believes a gift to Ransom is a gift that will advance God’s kingdom in this world and turn back a corner of the darkness. In memory of him, please support them generously.

More information about Ransom Fellowship can be found here

http://www.ransomfellowship.org

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, September 12, 2015, at 1:00pm at:

Bradfordville Baptist Church,
6494 Thomasville Road
Tallahassee, FL  32312

During the service, “Ed stories” will be told. If you embellish them, though, Ed wants you to know he will ask God to erase your name from the Book of Life.

The gravesite service will be private – please, no paparazzi or drones.

To each of you who have followed Ed’s journey through this blog, he would like to remind you a final time of the message of his life.

In Christ:

“Our bad things turn out for good.
Our good things can never be lost.
And the best things are yet to come”
– Jonathan Edwards

As some of you know, Ed loved the following benediction from Jude 1:24-25. It is a fitting way to conclude this blog and his life:

Now to Him who was able to keep Ed from stumbling,
and to make him stand in the presence of God’s glory blameless with great joy,
to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord,
be glory, majesty, dominion and authority,
before all time and now and forever.
And all the people said:
Amen.

 

You can find more from Ed's blog here

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Courage

I’m gonna confess something.

 

I did not want to write the blog post this week.

 

It has been a hard week. Aside from my general struggle with depression and anxiety, this week I have struggled not to lose. my. mind. navigating the very confusing and (at times) baffling murky waters of emotionally-charged children. I’m a bit of a perfectionist and when my children are struggling, I feel (and firmly believe with every fiber of my being) that I have permanently and irrevocably broken them. That their emotionalism is a direct result of me.

 

This wouldn’t be a big deal for a lot of people who are more rational, but being the way I am - expecting perfection in a life I can’t control - I tend to ‘fail’ (in my mind) on a regular basis. These ‘failures’ lead to more anxiety which spirals downward into dark thoughts and feelings.

 

So, I didn’t want to write. Because I feel like a failure.  I feel like a failure because I’m not perfect.  I’m not perfect because I’m broken.  Broken and in need of Jesus.

 

Jesus and maybe some therapy.

 

As I was processing all of this externally to my husband (God, bless that man), he listened quietly (again, bless). When I was finished, he waited half a second before recounting to me a conversation he had with one of our friends over lunch this past week:

 

“...the lost don’t need perfection, what the lost need is a person to walk through life with them and be honest in their own brokenness.”

 

Preach.

 

This brought me back to Matt’s teaching this past Sunday {Acts 4:23-37}.

 

I won’t recount the whole of the sermon; you can listen to it here. But the take-away for me is that God calls us to live courageous lives that take risks. Matt defined courage as, “facing your heart’s deepest nightmare’s and doing the right thing anyway.”

 

Most of us fall into the trap of hearing “courage” and immediately having visions of serving the peoples of an impoverished foreign land or founding an international organization that fights for justice or entering into a country’s violent story in order to protect the innocent….and then we all immediately feel defeated. Because you are a student at UGA or because you are a stay at home mom or because you work a 9-5 and it pays the bills and student loans - but those things don’t allow you to do the BIG THINGS. We simply can’t commit to that level of ‘’bold and courageous.’’

 

But big things aren’t the only ‘’courageous and BOLD’’ acts God calls us to.

 

Matt brought it back to what might be every man and every woman’s deepest fear.

 

Being honest. Being vulnerable. Admitting “I’m not enough.” “I need to be better.” “I need to be more.” “I need to do more.”  (If you are a woman and have a Pinterest account, you know this feeling well).

 

We are reminded that one very real form of courage is taking the risk of showing up and BEING OURSELVES. No mask. Nothing to hide behind.

 

As Matt put it, “Masks are not courage. Show up. Be yourself. Love the world. Make it better. Even in the hard. The difficult. And the scary.”

 

No “homemade bread from grain you hand-milled on the farmhouse table you built from oak harvested off your great grandfather’s barn” type of courage here...this is a “frozen pizza eaten picnic style on top of a sheet because your carpet is so disgusting you can’t bring yourself to put the pizza box on it” type courage.

 

This is letting others know that you struggle ...with depression ...with anxiety... with an eating disorder ...pornography ...relationships ...loneliness ...anger ... chronic pain ...doubt ...fear.  Letting them know that sometimes you aren’t sure if God is out there, that sometimes you have questions about your faith you feel like you can’t answer.

 

Allowing yourself to be a place of safety for others who are struggling.

 

This is struggling with and being honest about the fact that sometimes in the midst of this life you’d rather not talk to God, but you can’t help but see Him in it.

 

This is taking the Instagram filter off of your life and letting others see that life can be UGLY. Circumstances can be UGLY. We are UGLY. And that in the midst of that ugliness God has sought us out. He loves us in spite of it. And he slowly changes us. He heals the broken. He makes us whole.

 

As we begin this new season. Let’s be a courageous people. Let’s take the masks off. Show up. Be ourselves...no, the real us. Let’s love the world. Let’s make it better...even in the hard, the difficult, and the scary.

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In the Beauty & the Broken

Despite the fact that it is still as hot as the sun outside, Fall is actually coming. Our summer here in Athens is coming to a close. Students will begin trickling (okay, flooding) back onto campus and the relative quiet of the summer months will be shattered by game days and Dawg fans and more than one drunken reveler.

 

For some, this transition into Fall is already in full swing. Children have returned to school, work may have picked up, vacations are over, and we all find ourselves revving up once more for a busier season of life. The respite of summer has ended and the grind of Fall looms overhead.

 

Fall doesn’t take any of us by surprise. It comes around each and every year. It’s a rhythm that we have grown accustomed to, yet some seasons are harder than others - because they are filled with transition. This summer has been a season of transition for many at Christ Community. Many of our members have left Athens, as they embark on new journeys after graduation. We’ve watched as these same members navigate post-college adulthood: finding their first jobs, getting married, moving far away from friends and family. Others in our church are struggling with the illness of a family member or friend. We have had the pleasure of seeing babies born and children starting school. Many of us (like a good half of my community group) have moved from one home to another - losing familiar spaces or roommates - or even leaving the state of Georgia all together.

 

Transitions are good, but transitions are hard.

 

I Peter 2:9-10 speaks of transition.

 

“Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

 

Arguably, this is the biggest transition in most believers lives: being brought into the fold of God. No longer being lost, but being found. There are a thousand cliche ways to describe it, all of them falling utterly short of fully illustrating how in one moment, all believers have found themselves walking forever into the loving arms of an all powerful and limitless God to be accepted as a son or daughter.

 

It puts all other transitions into perspective. Or it should.

 

Leaving your family and friends? {Mark 10:29}

 

Getting Married? {Isaiah 54:5}

 

Facing illness and death? {Col. 3:3}

 

This is not to say that these transitions here on earth are not significant, but to encourage us all that we have already faced many of them when we accepted Christ.  

 

I Peter 2:9-10 also speaks to HOW we are to live in these transitions.

 

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

 

Last Sunday Matt rephrased this idea to us when he said, “You were created to tell the story of God through both your life and your words. Every single person in this room was created to tell the story of God through the beauty and the brokenness of their work.”

 

So, how do WE tell the story of God in our lives? In the beauty and the brokenness? In the transitions? In our work?

 

As we begin this new sermon series focused on God’s desire for our work and our everyday life, let’s first set the stage by recounting how God has been faithful to us during this past season FULL of transition.

 

So, share with us.

 

We want to know. We need to know. This is one little way that we can declare His goodness. Use the comment section below and tell us how God has met you this summer - in both the beauty and the broken.  

 

 

~~If you are not comfortable with internet comments, still share:  in community groups, at church, or among friends.~~

Author: Lydia Wells
 

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He Is Able

This is a story from Mary Elizabeth and Klint Ware, who will be joining our family as part of our staff in the fall. Listen and be encouraged.

The title of this post is very much what the cry of my heart has been for the years I’ve been a believer in Christ.  To summarize that, my heart fights at times to believe that the Lord is able to hear our prayers and to heal what’s broken. Personally, I remember reading/hearing stories in the Bible of Jesus physically  healing people, and I would immediately feel doubt that He is still able to bring healing in this day.  Maybe this is a truth that, more often than not, many of us believers struggle with.  A lack of belief.  In the 9th chapter of Mark in the Bible, a man brings his son, who is physically suffering from an unclean spirit, to Jesus and says, “…But if youcan do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus replies, “If you can‘!  All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately, the father cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” People even had doubts then.  Oh, how we always have and will need Jesus.

And to be honest, this doubt began to grow stronger in December 2011 when Klint and I heard the news that there was a possibility we may never conceive, and that we would definitely need medical help if we wanted to.  I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), which apparently is very common, though my diagnosis was the so called “rare kind”, as I didn’t show any symptoms, except for overactive ovaries.  This was never shared with me in the past, so you can imagine how much of an impact this news had on me, personally.  The enemy immediately gripped me with taunting thoughts…”You’ll never be able to give Klint a child”, “If you only had not done ‘that thing’ in the past…”, “It’s all your fault”…and on and on.

I began to read through the Psalms, underlining words/phrases here and there like “You are holy” & “Your steadfast love and Your faithfulness will preserve me”.  I wanted to fight the enemy’s lies and cling tightly to the truth that infertility was not the banner over my life.  I’m not saying that I didn’t have to fight believing that, because I have…often.

I could write an extremely long post about all of the details in between then and now, but I may lose you. So, let me continue with the “shorter” version…

The past 3 1/2 years have been filled with every emotion, facing the reality of Satan and his divisiveness, struggling to be faithful and continue moving forward, and often just wanting to not face the day ahead while my heart was completely shattered in a bajillion tiny pieces.  I was so hurt every time I saw/heard a pregnancy announcement and hearing people say things like, “Your children are going to be SO tall”. Not to mention the irregular menstrual cycles that were a constant reminder that my body is not “normal”. This may sound like crazy talk, but I was learning the process of grieving what, for many years, my heart longed for.  And it was ugly, beautifully ugly. The Lord continued to press on my heart in overwhelming ways, even in the days I questioned His love for me.

I would keep returning to Isaiah 43.  Specifically v. 1-2 which says, “…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name,you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”  He didn’t say IF you walk through fire, He saidWHEN.  That fact hit me hard, and I’m thankful.  It was a reminder that we WILL struggle on this side of heaven, but we have hope that can only be found in Christ.  And what’s even more beautiful is the truth that Christ isn’t only there with us when we die or only when He comes back, but through the Holy Spirit, He dwells within us always.  We must keep persevering.

With much prayer and counsel, Klint and I decided to pursue further treatment with a Reproductive Endocrinologist after a few months of failed treatment with my OBGYN.  We continued with a couple of months of “test” treatments before they presented the idea of performing an IUI (intrauterine insemination).  Minus a couple of months of “breaks” to step back and check our hearts, we ended up having 5 total IUI procedures done.  Our last IUI was done in August 2014.  After we received another “no” and were encouraged by our doctors to consider IVF (in-vitro fertilization), we both felt strongly that the medical route door had closed.  We were both exhausted and wanted more than anything for our hearts to firmly believe in the power of God and His ability to open my womb and allow us to conceive, even miraculously.  Because He can. He did.

On June 9th, 2015, I had a scheduled appointment with a new OB.  I was at a point where I really just wanted some guidance on how to better manage my crazy hormones and not just cover it all up with a pill.  I had my last menstrual cycle in February of this year, which didn’t make me think twice about being pregnant, because it isn’t abnormal for me to go months without having a cycle.

So, I’m sitting in the exam room yapping away to the sweetest nurse about my hormonal roller coaster, and I’m sure she was getting motion sickness just hearing me explain it all.  Then, she proceeds to tell me that I am pregnant in a really subtle way.  I, of course, was immediately in shock.  Then cue the tears and the laughter.  Feeling it all.

Klint and I went in the next day for the sonogram to distinguish how far along I was…6 1/2 weeks.  We heard the heartbeat.  Again, the Lord’s sweet provision in His timing.  Things quickly turned scary when I ended up in the ER that following weekend with what we thought was a miscarriage.  Then there was that little, but strong, heart flickering on the sonogram screen.  I found out a few days later at my OB that I had a sub-chorionic hemorrhage, which is internal bleeding between the placenta and my uterus.  All of this news in less than a week was overwhelming to say the least.  Although, through the fear, we wanted to remain steadfast in trusting Him who is the giver and sustainer of life.

Two weeks passed, and we went back in to the OB to check everything out. The baby had grown significantly and even was wiggling on the sonogram at just an inch long!  We continue to be amazed and overwhelmed by the Lord’s grace and mercy.  The bleeding has significantly decreased, and we are hopeful it will completely disappear.

Today, I am 11 1/2 weeks pregnant, and we want to rejoice with you all in His goodness and thank you for praying for us over the years.  He IS able.  And He DOES hear our prayers.  His timing is truly perfect, and we never want to forget that through days, months, years, of suffering, He is working for our good.  He loves us.  He loves you.  To be honest, I am hesitant to share this news publicly because I will always remember (and want to) the sting I felt when others would announce their soon to be parenthood. I don’t know if you are suffering today and longing for something with an aching heart.  If so, I just want to say that I am so sorry.  And I understand.  I pray that our story would be a sweet and gentle reminder that the Lord cares for you.  He is always present and He is always working.  “‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed’, says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” [Isaiah 54:10]

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Eat

"Eat."

It’s a three letter word FILLED to the brim with meaning. From the dawn of time, eating for man has been key to our survival. It is what our life revolves around. Eating and Drinking. Those are two out of the three things that human beings have to do to survive.

Just about every culture that I know of has rituals and traditions concerning the act of eating in community. Meals with people, whether it be around a fire or at a table, are a daily occurrence.

 

The eating place is a place to come and join together. To be nourished. To find sustenance. And to be filled.

 

Buddhist monks practice mindful eating together. Muslims practice fasting and feasting during Ramadan. Jews celebrate the Sabbath around the table with a meal and prayers and songs. And we too as Christians practice communion. A simple meal, but a meal, nonetheless, that takes place around a table.

And yet, eating has become so complicated in our society and culture. The act of eating is, at its core, so simple and pure and...sacred. But we have made it twisted and complicated. Almost every single one of us has a distinct belief or practice or viewpoint or struggle with food and how we eat.  A simple blessing meant to gather all around the table has become a place of worry, division, and judgement.

How did it all happen?  

In his most recent sermon, Pastor Matt reflected on the story of Adam and Eve and the fall of man. He pointed out that sin entered into our story through food. The forbidden fruit...often depicted as an apple. A meal between a wife and her husband. Food eaten in faith, but faith based on a lie.

Just sit with that.

Evil and Sin entered into our world through food. A meal.

So it makes sense that today food is still a place of struggle. Adam’s curse was that he would have to toil in order for the land to bring forth fruit. And man has toiled to feed himself ever since.

We live in a world of feast and famine.  Some living with one food-related problem, obesity, while others fail to subsist because of another, starvation. There are others that fear food and the table; and still others who lift food high above its place. Instagram feeds of artisanal sausages and cheeses juxtaposed with inspirational images & quotes to help those struggling with food issues.

More and more beliefs concerning eating are polarizing us and leaving even the most informed and conscientious folks completely baffled by the word EAT - something that is, fundamentally, a simple human ritual.

 

We eat at a broken table.

 

We broke the table.

 

But our story, as God’s people, as Christ followers, doesn’t end there.

If we think back to Jesus and think on His story, how often do we see talk of food, drink, the table, meals, the procurement of food & drink, the act of feeding others?

The answer is: A whole lot {I’m not very good with numbers}.

Jesus’ first miracle involves a wedding feast and wine! Jesus let food and drink play a role in the revelation of his godhood.

During His ministry He is consistently found having meals with people. He uses the table to gather both sinner and saints to Him. In doing so, He seeks to tear down the divisions of status, politics, and wealth.

He feeds thousands with a few loaves and fishes. The God of the universe sees the daily physical needs, as well as the deep spiritual ones, and He seeks to meet them both.

He meets a woman at a well and asks her for a drink. He seeks relationships with us. He seeks conversation. He seeks time with us. Sometimes that happens over the simplest of things shared - a glass of water.

He tells fishermen where to cast their nets and they haul in a dinner catch larger than they could have imagined. He is able to not only provide, but to provide abundantly.

He spends His last evening before the crucifixion sharing a meal with those closest to him. He uses bread and wine to show us what’s to come.  

One of His first moments after rising from the dead is eating fish on the beach with a few of the same guys. He EATS to prove His humanity to those who might doubt His complete resurrection.  

 

Jesus redeems our table.

 

Jesus’ ministry was, slowly but surely, chipping away at the broken table that we created and replacing it with His perfect one - where He invites us as sons and daughters of God to share a meal with the Son of God.  As equals.

 

He invites us to share in a sacred space. To take, to eat, to drink, to share, to exist and be known fully - at the table. At His table.

 

I know it’s not all that easy. Eating disorders. Hunger. Obesity. Am I supposed to eat gluten? Will Cheetos give me cancer? Are eggs good or bad? What does GMO even mean? I know that I can’t fully scratch the surface. But I can say - Jesus has redeemed the table. For me. For you. For us.

How do you view eating? How do you view the table? Are they your enemy? Your vice? A place of promise or of pain? A place of sin or redemption?

 

 Written by Lydia Wells

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Grace, Sovereignty & Community

Almost every Sunday evening after the hubbub of the worship gathering and well-deserved (read: mandatory) naps in our household, my little family and I (and a whole lot of others) can be found squatting in someone else’s home for the evening. Sometimes we are eating dinner. Sometimes we are eating ice cream en lieu of dinner. Sometimes we are just sitting around watching other people eat. Obviously, we live a non-stop life of excitement and thrills.

 

After all the eating, those gathered sit around and talk. It never fails that we begin this time of conversation with a lot of laughing. We crack jokes, tease one another, recount the craziness of our respective weeks. And it would be fine if the conversation stayed at this level. I think we would all still walk away feeling loved and seen. We’d feel closer to one another for having shared time. We’d still be community.

 

But we never get to stay at the laughter level.

 

Without fail, the person leading the group will find a break in the laughter and (at just the right moment) pose a deeper question. It’s always a question of faith and it always begins with the whole of our group getting very quiet.

 

Last week’s question was a good one. It was two part.

 

  1. Do we fear God as much as we should?

  2. Why do we (humans) struggle with the idea of God’s sovereignty when we display sovereignty in our own lives every day?

 

If you’re anything like me, these questions cause your mind to ache and heart to race. Answers come crashing into your head at such a fast pace that you can’t even attempt to register all of them. Your mouth and brain don’t connect properly, so your mouth stays closed and your eyes glaze over - not because you have no opinion, to the contrary, you have way too many opinions.  The questions connect so deeply with your heart and your experience as a Christ follower that your system is in a bit of shock. You are not removed from these questions. These questions are you. Someone has called your number and it’s time to face the music.

 

And this all happens in a room filled with other people. Your insecurity laid bare in front of a group of people you were just making jokes with.

 

It may be very similar to many of your recurrent nightmares - you know the one where you get to school and don’t have any clothes on?  Yeah, this is pretty much that.

 

But the beauty of this group of people, unlike the classmates from school, is that you have laughed and broken bread with them and they are struggling through the question as well. Even the person who posed the question is not asking it with a “gotcha!” motive, but from a posture of humility - seeking to answer the question as well...this moment is not a pop quiz or an expose, but an invitation to seek and struggle and question together. In fellowship. In community.

 

After a thoughtful pause, our group jumped right into the question of God’s sovereignty and the human condition that is so often at odds with a sovereign God. It’s a hard question and with it came several other hard questions that revolved around the ideas of goodness and justice and our limited human understanding of those concepts. We confessed desires to control our own lives and how while we believe in a good God, there are times when we question whether or not He is in control or just an omnipotent observer.

 

We posed more questions and looked at scripture.

 

We sat in some uncomfortable silence.

 

We laughed.

 

We openly admitted that we would not be revolutionizing anything that evening. We would not leave our hosts’ house having solved the problem or settling the issue. We are, after all, only human. We sat in our imperfection - pondering the sovereignty of a perfect God and His role in our lives...and our inability to wrap our mind around the WHOLE of God.

 

Heavy.

 

For me, the most poignant moment came when one of us stated (and I am paraphrasing)

 

“But at least we are asking the questions and talking about them. I’ve known of so many people who have asked these questions and struggled with these ideas, but never TALKED about them with others. After years of struggle, they eventually say, ‘I’m done with this God.’ ”

 

And there it is.

 

That’s the reason behind our every Sunday night.

 

As great as it would be to use that time to prep a week’s worth of meals or to just sit and read a novel, I take part  in this community every Sunday because my soul needs it. This group of people, this fellowship, they help me to go beyond being seen and loved. They help me to be known. They help me struggle through the hard questions, MY hard questions. They help me to see that I am not alone in my wandering and confusion. Together we wander, seeking God, and finding Him.

 

We might not be making a dent in the whole of theology with our questions and answers, but we are making a huge impact in one another’s lives. Living life in all the beauty and the funny and the struggle - together.

 

Last night, as we do at the close of every Sunday evening, we shared struggles and asked for prayer. As the prayer came to a close and thanks was being given, I heard the most beautiful description of our little group.

 

“Thank you for THIS family.”

 

Amen.

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Community groups are such a huge part of how we function at Christ Community. It is a point of connection. It is a point of service. It is a way to be known. It is an amazing way to love your neighbor. If you are not a part of a community group and would like to learn more click here.    

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Who Is My Neighbor?

“You should love your neighbor as yourself.”

This phrase touches the very heart of following Christ.

We find this call in the middle of the book of Luke. Jesus is having a bit of a back and forth with a lawyer of the day (‘lawyer’  at that time being a man who had intimate knowledge concerning the Law). The young lawyer asks Jesus how he can inherit eternal life.

Well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but… Jesus wins the exchange. He is the Son of God and all, but he does it in an interesting way - by getting the lawyer to boil the Law down into two very simple commandments.

“ ‘Love the Lord, your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind;’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

Jesus tells the lawyer, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

On the one hand we have a man living under Levitical Law…..literally hundreds if not thousands of laws for him to abide by.  And then, on the other side - there is this man, a Godly man, a man that many are calling the Messiah, telling this lawyer, “Hey, all those thousands of laws, it’s important, but the essence is THIS.”

The lawyer’s not being given a “get out of jail free card” - that is not the case at all.  But in that moment, all the confusing and hard law is made incredibly graspable. I feel like the Lawyer should respond with praise or a sigh of relief.

But he doesn’t. He asks ANOTHER question, “Who is my neighbor?” (emphasis mine)

Isn’t it just like a lawyer to try and find a loophole?

Isn’t it just like a human to try and find a loophole?

Isn’t it just like ME to find a loophole?

We all do it when given a hard task. Especially when it’s a hard task that we would rather not do. And loving people is HARD.  Especially people we don’t want to love.  But even for those we do want to love - it’s hard and it’s ugly and it’s confusing and it’s messy and it hurts.

Even at it’s very best here on Earth, love is hard...because we are broken people trying to love other broken people in a broken place.

As Matt stated in one of his recent sermons, “Love is a relationship that always takes place in the ruins of life.”

Ouch.

This is not exactly the love that Hallmark or Hollywood are trying to sell. But there it is, staring us in the face - it’s the love that we have been called to.

Back to our lawyer friend.

He’s trying desperately to find a loophole. WHO is his neighbor? If the lawyer is anything like me, he is hoping that he can refer to his family, friends, the old lady next door, his work colleagues, people who vote like him or look like him, the fellas at the club or people in the same tax bracket, his church buddies. He’s really crossing his fingers and hoping that those are his only neighbors. Those are the people in his every day. They are the easiest to love. And they’re just so darn convenient.

Oh, but that’s not the story.  That’s not how Jesus’ love functions. Our God is not a god of loopholes and His Son sure did like to call people out on their stuff.

Enter the story of the good Samaritan.

We all know it. A young Jewish man is walking along a road when he is stripped, robbed, beaten, and left for dead. A priest walks down the same road and, not wanting to muss his pretty robes, he keeps walking right past our poor broken fella. A Levite (a member of the Israelite tribe set aside as a priesthood) happens upon him as well...and keeps on walking. This broken fellow was beaten and bruised and an Israelite, yet his own people ignored his pitiful existence. Ah, but then comes a Samaritan. Keep in mind that Samaritans are viewed pretty poorly by the Israelite community of the day - as vermin. However, this Samaritan stops in the middle of his journey, gets this wounded fellow some much needed help, AND foots the bill.  

I can almost guarantee you that the young Israelite and the good Samaritan were not physical neighbors or work colleagues or drinking buddies. They probably wanted nothing to do with one another. And yet, this is how Jesus chooses to portray what it is to be a neighbor. Notice that we never see the Good Samaritan lecture the Israelite or expect a change in the Israelite’s behavior or belief system. In fact, it seems very clear that the Samaritan expects NOTHING in return for his acts of loving kindness.

Isn’t it just like Jesus to shut down every single possible argument we could have concerning neighbor criteria?

There are no loopholes.

Love is hard, but it is simple.

I’ve seen a few images recently that exemplify loving our neighbor in what could be considered some of the most difficult personal and physical circumstances.

The first is an image of a young woman. She is in the middle of an angry crowd of protesters. It’s clear that an exchange is becoming increasingly violent. She’s thrown her body on top of a man to protect him from those surrounding them. She’s a black woman. The man who she is trying to protect is a white supremacist. Neighbors.

The second image is one that circulated the internet during the Arab Spring. It is a photo taken in Egypt. It depicts a group of men forming a human chain around another group of men. It’s clear that the men are trying to hold out danger or menacing behavior - violence. They all look hard pressed and a bit stoic, determined. All the men are Egyptian. They are countrymen. However, the first group of men is Christian and they are encircling a group of Muslim men who are kneeled in prayer. Neighbors.

Love your neighbor. Simple.

Don’t look for the loophole. Don’t look for the RIGHT neighbor to love. Just love.

It will be a struggle. You will have to die to yourself over and over - because all your neighbors will never be exactly like you. They are not going to look the same, act the same, vote the same, speak the same, prioritize the same. They will be different.

But we are called to love. We are called to love how the good Samaritan loved.

We are called to love how Jesus loved.

And we CAN love because He first loved us.

Who is your neighbor? Do you love him?

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