Aug 082017
 

State of the missional movement…

Of creeds, cults, and Google…

Kendrick Lamar’s real God…

Why Christians should avoid watching rape scenes…

Is your Christianity a box or a path?

What happens when an artist is invited into a church…

Greg Boyd’s problem with God…

Have smartphones destroyed a generation?

The #1 reason churches end up in court is no longer child abuse…

What is “liberal” Christianity?

The drug dealer of choice for anxious pastors…

Perry Noble returning…

The blessing of Jesus…

Malls, small stores, and churches closing…

Being people of truth in a world of fake news…

Joel Hunter stepping down…

I suck at not believing in God…

5 challenges to staying Christian…

8 thoughts on staying Christian anyway…

Not an arbitrary or capricious God…

Huge thanks as always to EricL for the link help…support him at top right.

 

Aug 072017
 

1. I’ve been in the grip of a gall bladder attack since 1:30 this morning, so most of my real thoughts are unprintable. I’m going to be out of the loop on and off today…

2. If you follow college basketball at all you’ll know that the name of Dave Bliss is a curse word among those who care about ethics and decency in athletics.

 

He’s also the new basketball coach at a Calvary Chapel high school. Here’s an article from a secular reporter who is also a Christian, (he has actually worshipped at this church) who was trespassed off the property for asking questions about the hire. The only thing greater than the ethical hypocrisy in this matter should be the outrage over letting this guy influence young people again. Well, at least he’s not gay…

3. Speaking of gay…I taught Genesis 2 last night. The argument that homosexual practice is compatible with the Christian faith completely fails when measured against Scripture, tradition, and reason. There remains grace for the sinner, but we can’t compromise the truth. Unless the sinner has a very good record in sports, of course…

4. Back to sports for a moment…Adrian Beltre of the Rangers collected his 3000th hit last week. This is quite a milestone. The next day, he was accused of cheating to gain that milestone on a national radio show. Now, there is not a shred of evidence that Beltre used drugs to help him…even the accuser acknowledged that fact. However, the accusation made for a “hot take” that would inflame emotions and drive ratings, so the man was accused anyway. There is no greater sign of the degradation of our culture than the fact that this is now our standard means of public discourse. This…will bury us.

5. When we worship the god of pragmatism  to the point where the means are irrelevant to the end (hiring a scoundrel because he’s a good coach, covering a scoundrel because he’s “such a good teacher”), we worship a false god and teach others to do likewise…

6. Poetry seems to be a dying art…perhaps because reading is as well.

7. There is no greater joy than that which accompanies the alleviation of pain…

8. I’m so grateful that I live in these horrible “end times” when medical and scientific advances against pain and disease are greater than at any time in human history…

9. I’m having a tough time getting around, but I’m still going to go take T to work…because my pride in him swells up and swallows any discomfort I might be in…

10. I’m persuaded that one of the worst of sins is ignoring all the beautiful in life and creation…

 

Aug 052017
 

There is a book who runs may read,

Which heavenly truth imparts;

And all the lore its scholars need,

Pure eyes and Christian hearts.

  The works of God, above, below,

Within us and around,

Are pages in that book, to show

How God Himself is found.

 The glorious sky, embracing all,

Is like the Maker’s love,

Wherewith encompassed, great and small

In peace and order move.

 The moon above, the Church below,

A wondrous race they run;

But all their radiance, all their glow,

Each borrows from its sun.

 The raging fire, the roaring wind,

Thy boundless power display;

But in the gentler breeze we find

Thy Spirit’s viewless way.

  Two worlds are ours; ’tis only sin

Forbids us to descry

The mystic heaven and earth within,

Plain as the sea and sky.

 Thou, who has given me eyes to see

And love this sight so fair,

Give me a heart to find out Thee,

And read Thee everywhere.

John Keble

Aug 052017
 

Matthew 24:36-51

No One Knows That Day and Hour

36 “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

  • How many times has someone predicted the day & time of the end?
  • How many have tried to predict the timing of the rapture? Annual Revelation seminars with charts, graphs and much more.
  • Who? William Miller 1847
  • The Jehovah Witness leaders … several times.
  • Harold Camping – up to just a couple of years ago.
  • Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel 1981
  • Hal Lindsey of ‘The Late Great Planet Earth fame
  • Several had 1988 as the year (40 yrs = 1 generation from the establishment of the nation Israel) with the Rapture in 1981 (7 yrs before the 1988 end).
  • Why is it in the face of Jesus’ very words people still want to crack the code?

37 For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

  • Jesus had previously taken us back to the days of Daniel – and now we travel with Jesus back to the days of Noah.
  • They lived as if nothing ever was going to change or happen. There will be no judgment.
  • People may not be aware of Daniel – but everyone knows the story of Noah.

38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark,

  • Just going along in their day to day life. This is the same crowd that we witness to today.
  • People will be going about their lives as if the end will not come – as if what Jesus says is not true. Then they will be caught unaware.

39 and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

  • The building of the ark was their object lesson – Noah preached and built for 120 years – and the people scoffed, just as they do today.
  • “so what are you doing Noah?” or “Noah, what a waste of time and wood.”
  • How about the false christs in Noah’s day? “Don’t listen to him folks, he is coming to you with a false word – listen to me.”

40 Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left.

41 Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left.

  • 37-41 are being told in support of no one knows the day or the hour. That you cannot calculate – look what happened – the flood came and swept them away in judgment before they knew what was happening.
  • Here is another place where our rapture friends get it wrong – who is taken and who is left. The unbelievers are taken away in judgment and the believers are Left Behind.
  • We see this throughout- the weeds were taken and burned and the wheat was left in the silos and barns.

42 Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

  • You do not know and I will add this – you will not know.

43 But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.

  • You won’t know that, but I want you to know this.
  • Stay awake

44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

  • Jesus’ number one theme in Matt 24 – be ready!
  • He is coming when you when you don’t expect it.
  • This is the reason for telling of Noah, the 2 men in the field, the 2 women grinding – and here the master of the house.
  • No excuse at judgment day – “Lord, how was I to know you were coming back??”

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time?

  • What kind of person should you be? 2 Peter 3:11; “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness…”
  • Faithful – Holy – Ready
  • We live this life not because we have a harsh master, but because Jesus came, dies, provided me with baptism, his body and blood and has promised to come again.
  • It is simple – it is this 2 fold shape of the Christian life and this is where our liturgy helps us. – when we pray the collect.
  • Then, having received the Lord’s Supper, we might live in faith towards God and in fervent love towards one another.
  • This is the life of the Christian – this is the daily life of the baptized. A daily repentance, when God repents us daily – we then live our life in Christ for the sake of the neighbor.

46 Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.

  • Who is that faithful and wise servant? The one who is ready.

47 Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.

48 But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’

  • Now the contrast back to the wicked servant – the one who is not and will not be ready.

49 and begins to beat his fellow servantsand eats and drinks with drunkards,

50 the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know

  • There are consequences to not being faithful and not being ready.

51 and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

  • What about the theology that everyone goes to heaven?
  • What about those who do not believe? And those who are not expecting Jesus – what becomes of them? We are talking eternal separation from God.
  • Faith in God / Love towards neighbor – fully expecting Christ to return at any time and not worrying “is it today?” Is this the hour?
  • Rather, the true and faithful servant just lives this way — Ready.
  • I am in Christ therefore I will just be about my task – Christ has it handled and I will commend all things into his hands.
  • The Christian lives this way because they have heard the last day judgment verdict rendered at Calvary – “it is finished.”
  • They have had that verdict revealed to them – “it is finished” in holy absolution – we hear it personalized and we hear it in the preaching of the gospel and in the Lord’s Supper.
  • A Christian knows that they are good in Christ – forgiven – a certainty.

 

Aug 042017
 

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been exposed to many of the miracles of modern medicine.

The most impressive by far is the CT scan.

A few seconds in this machine gives the doctors a detailed view of what is inside you, what’s working, and what’s not.

It’s quite a machine…and I hate it.

You see, it doesn’t just show them what they were looking for to begin with, it shows them everything.

You go in thinking you had one problem and you come out ready to buy burial insurance.

This problem is enhanced by the fact that they send you a report that is the same one the doctor got…and you interpret it without the aid of a physician who could tell you that all the findings aren’t fatal.

It’s hard to keep in mind that the test is meant to help you get well.

After reading the report, you may think you’ll never be well again.

This, of course, brings me to God.

Before the CT scan, there was the Holy Spirit.

Without the help of a machine (or a massive bill), the Holy Spirit scans the soul looking for what ails you…and Him.

Like the machine, He sees everything.

You think you had one (small) problem and it turns out that you’re in far worse shape than you thought.

To make matters worse, God often uses the delivery of a physical CT scan to get your attention for his soul scan.

This…is a very effective technique.

In both cases, the results cannot be ignored if there is to be life.

While both the earthly and spiritual tests results may call for surgery, as with most medical procedures, the difference is in the doctor.

My earthly doctors will remove what ails me and hope for the best.

The Great Physician will not only remove what is sick, but guarantee the prognosis.

Life, and that eternal.

There may be pain involved, but the promise stands.

Submit to the surgeries…you’ll be back on your feet in no time.

Make your own application…

 

 

 

 

Aug 032017
 

The Baptized Life

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” (Rom 6:1)

Although Paul’s question is unlikely today, you may hear a similar question: “Does it really matter if we continue in sin, since we are saved by grace?” This might even be the argument someone uses to justify continuing a habit or lifestyle that the Bible defines as sin.

Most Christians know that the answer to Paul’s question is “no”, but the reasons given often vary from one Christian or tradition to another. The most common reasons given today typically turn the Christian inward. Examples include: “A person who accepts Christ must bear the fruit of sanctification; are you bearing fruit?” or “A person who has sincerely committed his life to Christ will amend his lifestyle; have your done that?;” or “A person who truly understands the enormous sacrifice which Christ made for him will obey Him out of thankfulness and gratitude; are you thankful?” These reasons all err because they imply that grace depends on us doing our part.

Paul never takes sin lightly (and neither should we), but he does take a completely different tact from the above examples. Paul knows that if, as he writes, Christians “are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14), then the answer to the question must rely, not upon us – how we feel or what we perceive – but upon grace alone, and in particular upon the Word of grace that comes to us from the outside, which is concrete and trustworthy.

This Word says:

“By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 6:2-11)

Paul writes that in baptism, God has pronounced us dead. Baptism unites us with Christ in a death like His; it buries us with Him into death. Therefore, the reason why Christians do not live in sin is quite simple really: Dead people do not live in sin! But how can this be? It is so because that is what God’s Word says. This is the same Word through whom God spoke heaven and earth into being. This Word does not simply record, declare, promise, or describe something; this Word accomplishes what it says: “it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isa 55:11)

So, then, what does it mean to be baptized “into Christ Jesus”?

  • It means that we have been redeemed or ransomed by Christ, who took away our sins and paid for them by His death. Baptism delivers us from the realm of sin, death and Satan, and transfers us into Christ’s kingdom, in which we have the forgiveness of sins.
  • It means that “our old self”, who is enslaved to sin, was crucified with Christ, in order that the body of sin may be brought to nothing, to free us from slavery. Our solidarity with the first Adam is over, broken and finished. The sin that came into the world through him no longer has power over us.
  • It means that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” In baptism, God gives us new life in Christ. Elsewhere Paul writes: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has ” (2 Cor 5:17) Having been set free from the power of sin, God’s grace enables us to walk in the newness of life. This new life is not always perceptible to the human eye: “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3). Therefore, no matter what we may experience or how we might feel, we must trust Christ and His Word alone – “for we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)
  • Finally, it means that “if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” In baptism God promises us the resurrection of our bodies and everlasting life.

Paul deals with the issue of sin in the life of a Christian through the lens of baptism, as in: “remember your baptism;” “remember what it signifies;” and “remember what Christ gives you in your baptism.” Baptism is not only an historical event in which we are initiated and reborn into God’s family. It actually describes, empowers and orients the whole of Christian life. Because we have been baptized into Christ, by no means, says Paul, should we continue to live in sin.

Because the power of baptism derives its efficacy from the death of Christ, we receive the benefits of baptism as a free gift of the Father for the sake of His Son through faith, which baptism engenders or strengthens. These gifts are worked in us by the Holy Spirit, who kills the old self and makes us new creations in Christ. Thus, in Baptism we have the whole Triune God working on our behalf for our salvation. What are we to do? Remember our baptisms: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

God is faithful and His Word is trustworthy. If we trust in His gifts and promises given to us in the Gospel through preaching, in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and in our baptism, God will enable us by the Spirit to walk in the newness of life now, while awaiting the resurrection, which Christ has prepared for us to walk in, both now and forever. Amen.

 

Aug 022017
 

What is Truth?

“In those days, when again a great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat, he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And if I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way. And some of them have come from far away.’ And his disciples answered him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?’ And he asked them, ‘How many loaves do you have?’ They said, ‘Seven.’ ”(Mark 8:1-5)

The story of Jesus feeding 4,000 people with seven loaves and three fish reminds me of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. That trial ends with Pilate asking a question which is left for the reader of John’s gospel to answer: “What is truth?” (John 18:38a) Before Jesus and Pilate had their encounter, Jesus had an encounter with His disciples (our text for this week), in which “truth” is also on trial.

Regrettably, it is easy for disciples to conflate “truth” with the Law. When that happens, the familiar slogan, “Speak truth in love,” becomes, “Speak Law in love.” The Law becomes the sum and substance of truth, which distorts the Christian message. It can sound something like: “Christianity is a religion of morality; if you will learn and subscribe to our morals, then God (and we) will welcome you.”

Truth and the Law are not synonyms. The Evangelist John makes that clear: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

Christians are called to testify to the “truth,” but not a truncated version which views truth primarily within the context of a debate about “fact” vs. “fiction,” “right” vs. “wrong,” or “objective” vs “subjective.” A scientist working in a laboratory can learn some truths about the natural world through rational or empirical research. But such methodologies cannot prove theological truth. Therefore, Christians have the unique vocation to testify to truth that is Christological in nature.

I have compassion on the crowd…

In this encounter, Jesus expresses his concern for the crowd, and the disciples are faced with a question: What is truth? They have two, possibly three, alternative responses:

(1) The disciples understand that the crowd has an urgent need for bodily nourishment. However, an analytical, objective thinking disciple will quickly deduce that seven loaves of bread and a few small fish cannot possibly feed 4,000 people;

(2) The disciples, wanting to protect Jesus’ reputation from their deductive reasoning, reinterpret Jesus’ statement into a wholly “spiritual” compassion, as in “I have compassion for the salvation of this crowd.” With this move, the disciples can go to work on a plan to baptize the entire crowd before releasing them to their fate; or

(3) The disciples understand that the crowd has an urgent need for bodily nourishment and, in faith, remember the advice of Jesus’ mother: “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5)

“And his disciples answered him, ‘How can one feed these people with bread here in this desolate place?’ ” (Mark 8:4)

The disciples chose response (1), and failed the test by giving an incorrect answer to the question: What is truth? Whether their answer came from an objective application of the “law” of numbers, or from a subjective application of personal experience, the “truth” of the matter when viewed through human reason was the same: “send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way.” The disciples were still thinking purely from human reason and not Christologically. Therefore, the disciples’ testimony was not of the truth.

“And he directed the crowd to sit down on the ground. And he took the seven loaves, and having given thanks, he broke them and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and they set them before the crowd. And they had a few small fish. And having blessed them, he said that these also should be set before them. And they ate and were satisfied. And they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. And there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away.” (Mark 8:6-9)

Jesus not only fed the crowd, but He satisfied them. He fed everyone without partiality, believers and unbelievers, the repentant and the unrepentant. Why? Jesus had compassion on them.

What Jesus demonstrates in this story is that “truth” is connected to His Word. This connection has many facets, such as: the Word of truth is faithful and sincere; it is factual and reality; it is personified in Christ and His kingdom; and it is creative. Therefore,

  • If Jesus says He has compassion on the crowd, then the “truth” is He will satisfy their need.
  • If Jesus blesses seven loves and a few fish with His Word, then the “truth” is that meal will be of more benefit to the people than 10,000 loaves which do not have His blessing.
  • If Jesus gives the disciples a task, then the “truth” is they can accomplish their task, regardless of what they may perceive with human reason.

Christological truth is above human reason, so it is learned by faith, and it is creative. Jesus’ mother, Mary, understood this in Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.” This truth corresponds to the Word. Therefore:

  • The Word of truth called three-days-dead Lazarus out of his tomb.
  • Truth says the Word added to simple water has the power to put to death our old nature inherited from Adam and raise up a new creation in Christ by the power of the Spirit.
  • The Word of truth offers Christ’s body and blood in a communion meal for the forgiveness of sins.
  • The Word of truth says that faith in Christ comes from hearing the Gospel.

Apart from the Law, the Word of truth testifies that: God shows his love for [you and me] in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) Therefore, when Christians speak “truth in love,” let us speak Christologially. Let us speak “Jesus in love.” Let us testify to the truth (and compassion) of what God in Christ does for, and offers to, the whole world, out of sheer grace.

The “truth” is that Jesus gave His life to save sinners (i.e., all people). He came to forgive our sins and give us life in His name. By the power of His creative Word of truth, Jesus unites us through faith in His death, which conquered sin, to gives us a new life free from bondage to sin, death and Satan, so that we might have life to the fullest, now and forever.

Through faith, Jesus, by means of His Word and Sacraments, frees us to begin living as truly human beings for the first time, in the way God originally made male and female before Adam’s fall, so that we might bear His image in creation as people of His kingdom.

What is truth? Jesus Christ for you. Amen.

Aug 012017
 

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It all helps and it’s all very appreciated.

 

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Aug 012017
 

I’ve just returned from a brief business trip overseas that took me to Paris. It is a city that I have grown to love over the past 30 years and that I have visited, often for long periods of time, almost every year during those three decades.  While there, I often have the opportunity to write and reflect.  This year, those reflections  were more focused as an old friend at the Sorbonne asked me to meet with his post-graduate seminar group to talk about the state of the American church and its politics in light of the recent election, a subject that has been extensively reported upon by European news outlets.  Thankfully, I had some materials near at hand, so a great deal of preparation was not involved.  As usually happens, however, sometimes the lecturer learns more than the student in the process of teaching.

France, while culturally Roman Catholic, is a secular state.  Churches and, indeed, church institutions, receive few special privileges apart from a certain measure of tax exemption.  France is considered to be one of the most irreligious of all countries. According to a survey undertaken in 2010, a full 40% of the French population answered that “they do not believe there is any sort of spirit, God, or life force”, with only 27% stating that they believe there is a God.  The other 27% believe that there is “some sort of life force or spirit”.  The remaining 6% “do not know”. On any given weekend less than 5% of the country’s Roman Catholics will attend church. Protestants (mainly Reformed evangelicals) make up less than 2% of the population, just behind the 3% who are adherents of Islam. As an example of the secular nature of French society, getting married in France is a wholly civil function which takes place at a municipal office, while a subsequent religious service (or none) is wholly the decision of the couple and the tenants of their faith community.  Since 2013, the same rules apply to same-sex marriage.

It is clearly a different landscape than that of the United States, which most French reporting portrays as “obsessed with religion”. 

All this was on my mind as I prepared to meet with the seminar group.  Although my French is less fluent than I could desire, the small group of twenty-somethings around the table were patient and understanding.  I presented the latest figures from Pew Research on the state of the Church in the US, referencing the decline of mainline denominations, the apparent support of evangelicals for the current administration and a range of other topics.  Afterwards a lively discussion ensued. There were, as always, a number of questions about the availability of teaching positions in the US, as there are fewer and fewer posts available in France. I then, sadly, had to inform them of the difficulties being encountered by American universities and seminaries. 

As we were preparing to end the session, I took the opportunity to pose my own question to the seminar group. I asked, “What is the greatest challenge you are facing?” Now, after the previous discussion, I was expecting the participants to talk about tuition, teaching posts, etc. After a bit of silence, however, a young man in the group spoke up and said this, 

“Dr. Arnold, we are facing the death of historic Christianity in Western Europe. It is clear that this decline has spread to the United States and the Western Hemisphere at large. Like a pandemic, the decline morphs and changes as it spreads and then returns to its place of origin. The evangelicals in the United States are “ahistorical”, dependent not on a reasoned or historic faith but on marketing models largely derived from totalitarian propaganda systems which value only experience. You cannot answer their claims, because the claims have no basis in either history or reason. This kind of evangelicalism is also in Latin America and has spread, returning to Europe in a virulent form. They will only allow the “history” that bolsters not a reasoned or compelling argument, but only a marketing statement. It is the religious equivalent of “Make America Great Again”. The worst part of this, is that like all marketing and propaganda, it only lasts for a generation. At the end, we will be left with nothing that speaks of an historic, reasonable Christian faith. We are afraid, Dr. Arnold, that we might be the last generation to know this faith, talking only to each other.”

I carried that young man’s reflection with me through the remainder of my time in Paris and the flight home.

Earlier in the week, a thought had struck me, which I shared with a friend. Through the kindness of a colleague, this year I was staying in a condo carved out of a portion of the seventeenth century Musketeer barracks in the midst of three churches and a religious based hospital with a chapel and a carillon.  In that condo, I constantly heard the bells ringing out from the churches and the hospital chapel.  It struck me that for hundreds of years, people, ordinary people, would have known what the various bells meant – the call to Church, the Angelus, the Words of Institution, the end of church, etc.  Today, however, although the bells still ring, now no one knows what they signify (except for a few antiquarians like me and a limited number of the faithful).  It is sort of like us – we say words to the world around us, but society no longer knows what the words signify.  We know the words (and argue about them) but the world at large has no idea. 

We’ve become the bells – sounding lovely and sacred, but devoid of meaning to a society at large which has abandoned faith… as we keep speaking only to each other.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

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