Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Sword, Peace and Discipleship

Volume 5 No. 289 June 5, 2015

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Psalm 37:39-40
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.
Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.
The salvation of the righteous is of the Lord: he is their strength in the time of trouble.
And the Lord shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from
the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him.
Psalms 37: 3-4, 39-40
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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1. Foreword

This week's Gospel reading is very confusing to put it mildly. It seems to put our basic concept of Jesus quite upside down. ...

This Sunday in Church

2. Bible Readings for 2nd Sunday After Pentecost (June 7)

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Lectionary/Lec_2nd_sunday-after-pentecost.htm

3. Sermons for 2nd Sunday After Pentecost (June 7)

http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Sermons/Sermon-of-the-week_2nd-sunday-after-Pentecost.htm

4. From Malankara World Journal Archives

Volume 4 No 224: June 20, 2014
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_224.htm
Theme: Discipleship - Challenges and Sacrifice

Volume 3 No 145: May 30 2013
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_145.htm
Theme: Cost of Discipleship

Family Against Family - Cost of Discipleship
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Newsletter/MWJ_220.htm#article5

One of the most jarring things Jesus ever said, at least in my opinion, is when He's speaking in St. Luke's gospel about the effects His ministry will have on families. He tells us, "They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law" (Luke 12:53).

This Week's Features

5. Not Peace, But a Sword

In ancient Jewish societies, families were as much about one's identity as they were a source of comfort and protection. It was common for children to live with their parents all their lives. So what Jesus was proposing here was radical and struck hard at the heart of Jewish culture. Jesus was not asking his disciples to love their friends and family less, but to love him more. ...

6. Understanding Discipleship: A True Apprentice

Apprenticeship is about humility and sacrifice and love. It's about looking within, knowing our own needs, and allowing our souls to be filled with so such love for Christ that it spills over onto everyone we meet. ...

7. Fire & Division: Not peace? - A sermon on Luke 12:49-56

The end goal of God's presence in the world in Jesus in not in the moments of division but in what the angels sang and what Jesus declared after his resurrection: Shalom! Though he says he did not come to bring peace in the moment of his lifetime, the fulfillment of God's promise in him is peace. ...

8. What to Do When It's Just One Trouble after the Next

When trouble comes - and trouble will come - when the river through your life swells and rages; or when the creek bed cracks dry; when the storm marches across the sky, or maybe straight across your heart; you will be scared. And it might feel cold. You might be tempted to grab for a sorry substitute, begging for the false hope of a rope.

But friend, you are strong. Hang on to the tree that is even stronger. Hold tight to the tree that has already redeemed you, the tree that bore every ache you could fathom, the tree onto which every sin was nailed. Hold on to the tree that held your Savior. ...

9. You Are Braver, Smarter and Stronger Than You Think

May these red-letter treasures serve as a reminder to you today that you are not alone or ill equipped for the challenges in your life. Take heart! You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think because the Spirit of God is at work within you to embolden, strengthen, and guide you.

Above all, remember this: he will always be with you. He will always be with you. He will always be with you. ...

10. How Surrendering Can Help You Weather the Storm

When difficult storms blow into our lives, many of us engage in a spiritual tug-of-war with God. We view ourselves on one side of the rope seeking to take charge of our negative circumstances and control the outcome of what has happened. We want to "pull ourselves together" and pull life in the direction we think it should go. We imagine God as the unseen force on the other side of life's rope, pulling us in a direction we don't understand.

But here's the spiritual game changer: There is no tug-of-war with God. He is on the same side of the rope as we are! ...

11. How Do You Respond When Adversity Emerges in Your Life?

Whether insignificant events or massive tragedy, the way we move forward not only impacts our life, but those we touch through it. Let me share a powerful example you can apply as you choose your path forward. ...

12. Healthy New Favorites: Five Food Substitutions You'll Love

Fitness, nutrition, and weight loss expert Warren Honeycutt shares healthy (and still tasty) alternatives to popular foods. ...

13. Family Special: Give Your Children Hope in The Love of Christ

The greatest gift you can give your kids is not the newest and best the world has to offer. It is the love of God through Jesus Christ. That is the gift that enables them to resist the creation's lures and live in the love of the Creator. ...

14. About Malankara World

Foreword
This week's Gospel reading, prescribed by our church, is very confusing to put it mildly. It seems to put our basic concept of Jesus quite upside down.

Think about for a moment the imagery of Jesus we have when we meditate on his name?

The Lord as a comforter, who wipes away our tears, who cries with us.

Jesus promised us a world where we do not have to be anxious of anything as His father knows what we need and will provide it for us.

He promised His disciples and through them to us that:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. (John 14:27)

And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

Isaiah predicted the arrival of Messiah thus:

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

And in announcing the birth of Jesus, the angels said:

On earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:14)

So, Jesus was thought to be the Prince of Peace, the one who grants us eternal peace.

Now read today's passage:

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to 'set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law'; and 'a man's enemies will be those of his own household.' He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it"
-
(Matthew 10:34-39).

The Luke's version is even more explicit on the effect on the families:

Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:

For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.

The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
(Luke 12: 51-53)

Is it any wonder that the disciples were very confused?

I hope that the articles in today's Journal will help you understand this paradox.

Jesus was quite clear in what he promised. He said, his kingdom is not of this world; it is the eternal life. We earn our citizenship in the eternal life and the heaven as children of God, a position Jesus earned for us. But in this world, a world that is short and transitional, we will go through trials and tribulations. Jesus said, we have to be ready to "carry his cross" to become a disciple of His. All the disciples suffered immensely and had violent death (only St. John had a natural death.)

We read about the atrocities committed against the early Christians by people like Nero and others. Now we read about the atrocities committed about Christians all over the world by people like ISIS in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, Pakistan, Egypt, etc. A few weeks ago, we talked about Saifo, the genocide against Armenians, and Assyrian Christians.

What Jesus wanted to do was to put the record straight. He is telling that we will definitely suffer for our faith; but then our reward is inheriting the eternal life with Jesus. That is our faith; that is our hope and that is our expectation.

Gwen Smith's article, 'You Are Braver, Smarter and Stronger Than You Think' is one of my favorites. It quotes several of Jesus' parting advice to His disciples.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God; trust also in me."
(John 14:1)

So, when we face the certain trials, tribulations, and storms in life, we should trust Jesus. We can be confident that Jesus will provide a shoulder to lean on and rest when we are facing these inevitable storms in our lives.

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
(John 16:33)

Yes indeed, we will have peace in Jesus. Keep our eyes focused on Jesus.

During the Anaphora of our Holy Qurbana, the celebrant exhorts:

"Upwards where the Christ sits on the right hand of God the Father, let our thoughts, minds and hearts be at this hour."

And we reply,

"Our minds and our intellect and our hearts are with the Lord God."

This exhortation and the answer are not just for the times when we are in church, we should practice it all the time. It provides anchor to us to face everything with our attention fixed on the God the Father, Jesus our Lord and the Holy Spirit. We can overcome this world just like Jesus has overcome this world.

Dr. Jacob Mathew
Malankara World

This Sunday in Church
Bible Readings for 2nd Sunday After Pentecost (June 7)
Sermons for 2nd Sunday After Pentecost (June 7)

From Malankara World Journal Archives

Volume 4 No 224: June 20, 2014
Theme: Discipleship - Challenges and Sacrifice

Volume 3 No 145: May 30 2013
Theme: Cost of Discipleship

Family Against Family - Cost of Discipleship

One of the most jarring things Jesus ever said, at least in my opinion, is when He's speaking in St. Luke's gospel about the effects His ministry will have on families. He tells us, "They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law" (Luke 12:53).

At first blush this seems to go against everything we know about the Gospel. Doesn't Jesus preach about love and peace and caring for one another? Aren't we taught to give more than we're asked for and to forgive seventy-times-seven? Isn't love and forgiveness what Christ is all about? ...

This Week's Features

Not Peace, But a Sword

Commentary on Matthew 10:34-42

Jesus was determined that his disciples understood that his Gospel would cause division. Jesus did not come to affirm the spiritual status-quo, but to trample it. He did not come with open hands acquiescing to the evil unchecked evil, but to conquer it in Spirit and in Truth. Jesus also did not come to affirm the injustice and hatred in the world. He came to provide a way that would separate his people from it, to separate out those who believed in him from those who would not. Jesus also unveiled greatest of all challenges with his coming: to love him more than anything or anyone, even family.

In ancient Jewish societies, families were as much about one's identity as they were a source of comfort and protection. It was common for children to live with their parents all their lives. So what Jesus was proposing here was radical and struck hard at the heart of Jewish culture.

Jesus was not asking his disciples to love their friends and family less, but to love him more. This is a critical distinction that speaks of the supernatural kind of love that is needed because a true love for Jesus must transcend the love of friends and family. It isn't just enough to obey his commands; one must find their life, their existence, and their whole being in Jesus Christ.

The Gospel strikes at the heart of all other philosophies and belief systems today as well. The Gospel is impossibly high and cannot be achieved through good works, special prayers and positive thinking. Salvation through asceticism also cannot be done. Salvation comes through faith and with this faith comes its authentic stamp of love for Christ above all things.

Any mother or father who loves their children will tell you that to love Jesus more than a little boy who calls you "Daddy" or a little girl who calls you "Mommy" is simply impossible apart from divine intervention. And yet here Jesus says that those who love their children more than him are not worthy of him. Though Jesus closes the chapter by saying that the simplest kindness in his name will be rewarded, no true act of kindness can come without the transformational work of the Holy Spirit in the heart causing that heart to love Jesus above all else. Even the smallest kindness has to come from faith in Jesus Christ, and this faith only comes from the finger of God himself.

Source: Atone Bible Commentary

Understanding Discipleship: A True Apprentice

by Peggy Little, Athens, Georgia

Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42

Years ago a wise teacher, seeking to help my youth group understand discipleship, shared a bit of sage advice which I heard for the first time that night and have never forgotten. "If you want your life to count for something, look at the world around you, then find a need and fill it. Your life will be rich and full if you learn right now how to find a need a fill it." That was one of the best pieces of instruction I've ever been given.

Even though we were kids, we understood our teacher's advice; we were to go out and mend the broken lives of others. We became dedicated fixers, trying in a variety of earnest, naive ways to find the needs around us and to fill then. Sometimes our efforts succeeded; sometimes our efforts failed. We tackled prisoners, the homeless, the hungry, the brokenhearted. We read to those who had no sight, comforted the sick, and befriended the lonely, always looking for ways to bring the light of Jesus Christ into the dark corners of our world. Even though we were kids, that is how we understood our call to discipleship.

That effort led to wonderful experiences within that youth group, produced a lot of good Christian men and women, and eventually led several of us to seminary. He was right, our long ago teacher. There is no better life than a life invested in others.

In today's text from Matthew, we hear Jesus, the teacher, speaking to his disciples, searching for ways to teach them discipleship. Certainly there was no shortage of human need all around them; everywhere they turned they saw lives invested in all the wrong things, lives lost and struggling and suffering. Jesus sought a way to show those first followers - and to show us today - how to be sensitive to human needs, and then do what can be done to make things better. Find a need and fill it, he might have said, and thereby bring humankind a baby step closer to God's kingdom.

These closing verses from the tenth chapter of Matthew follow on the heels of some of the heaviest pronouncements Jesus makes to his green-as-grass disciples. There in the tenth chapter of Matthew he says things like; "I have not come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword. I have come to set son against father, daughter against mother. And whoever loves father or mother, son or daughter, more than me is not worthy of me."

And then there is this commandment, offered without reservation: "Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me, for those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:34-39, RSV).

Listening to these words, those first well-intentioned but theologically unenlightened followers of Jesus must have paused to ask themselves what they had gotten themselves into. Would they, could they dare to live a life that demanded no such of then? Can we? The answer to that question lies in our understanding of our call to be sharers of compassion, people who search out human needs and try to fill them.

We can imagine the quick, instinctive emotional withdrawal of the disciples as they paused to weigh Jesus' heavy words. They had set out in search of a kingdom filled with spiritual riches at the very least, and perhaps earthly riches as well. Now comes all this talk of swords and crosses, of abandoning home and family, of losing their lives to gain their lives. This is hardly what they were expecting. Would they, could they dare to live a life that demanded so such of them? Can we?

We can further imagine the reaction of the ever-compassionate Jesus as he sensed their fearful withdrawal. Gazing with love upon their puzzled faces, he seems in verses 40-42 to bring the heavy talk of discipleship down to something, which is their size, something manageable for their just starting-out abilities and understandings. In these verses, Jesus speaks of acts of welcome, given and received; of righteousness; of reward; and of the beauty of small deeds carried out faithfully.

In 'The Message,' Eugene Peterson presents the ever-compassionate Jesus speaking to his inexperienced disciples in language chosen to encourage their devotion.

"This is a large work I've called you into, but don't be overwhelmed by it. It's best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice." (1)

A true apprentice. That, friends in Christ, is a goal to which we each can aspire. The word "apprentice" suggests long years spent learning. It suggests a life of simplicity and obedience. It suggests a strong mentor, enabling the green young disciple to experience and learn and grow. Most of all, it declares our lives to be about servanthood. It is in giving our lives away to others that we gain our lives. It is in giving our lives away that we grow more like our Master daily.

One of my friends with whom I studied youthful discipleship eventually turned his back on the Christian faith and walked away. I've talked with him on two occasions, hoping to understand why he turned away. The work was too hard, too frustrating, he says. He was usually disappointed in the people that he helped; so few of them ever seemed to change such, he says. They seldom seemed to get the point, he says. If they were selfish or bitter or miserable when he encountered them, they often seemed to stay that way no matter how he tried. He remembers how he poured time and effort and money into so many human needs, and there seemed to be so little to show for it. Or so he says.

The phrase "dipping the ocean with a teacup" arises when my old friend speaks of his years spent on a disciple of Jesus. He walked away, he says, because so such effort had been expended and so little good gained. These days he is an accountant, totaling sums into neat columns. Figures never disappoint, he says, and people always do.

How did his ministry, which began with such promise, eventually go so wrong? It might have been a problem of expectation: he always wanted people's lives to line up in neat, "fixed" columns, and human beings are always works in progress, never complete, never quite "fixed." It might have been a problem of degree: he burned himself out trying to line the world up and make it be orderly and whole. But I suspect his biggest problem was one of focus: for the sake of his own ego, he wanted to work great changes within the people around his, changes, which often did not come.

From our earliest youthful Christian efforts, he was the one among us who most longed to be an expert need-meeter, and he failed to live up to that prideful self-image. He failed to hear Jesus calling him into an apprenticeship, a quieter kind of Christian life where, even if he couldn't transform the world single handedly, his love for the world would have transformed him.

Apprenticeship is about humility and sacrifice and love. It's about looking within, knowing our own needs, and allowing our souls to be filled with so such love for Christ that it spills over onto everyone we meet.

My friend never grasped the concept of apprenticeship, of quiet, steady giving to the world, day after day, year after year, without measuring the successes or failures along the way. He failed to grasp that it's about trying, never about keeping score. He wanted to be recognized as an expert, a major player in the fixing of a broken world, and so he missed the joy and serendipity that comes from living out an apprenticeship to Christ.

Many disciples, faced with the magnitude of needs in the world and burdened with the life or death importance of the work, turn away from Jesus, sometimes publicly but more often privately, in the darkness or a troubled heart.

The ever-compassionate Jesus, who is able to see into our puzzled, overwhelmed souls, offers us a place to dig in, a beginning point, an invitation to apprenticeship. Permission in given to "start small." And, best of all, Jesus admits up front that it's "a large work" we're called to do, but we must not be overwhelmed by its magnitude.

Human needs will keep on coming, sometimes quietly and sometimes in a thunder of suffering. We are called to be apprentices, not experts on human need. We are called to offer tender, personal responses whenever and wherever we can, You may not see great changes in the world around you, but, over time, both you and the world around you will gee great changes within you. It's the reward for living an apprenticed life.

Some people spend their lives carrying spiritual water to a parched and dying world. I look back now and marvel at the importance of that long ago night when a small group of kids were given life-changing advice: "If you want your life to count for something, find a need and fill it."

He was right, my long ago teacher. There is no better life than a life invested in others. Can we, will we dare to live a life of true apprenticeship to Christ? AMEN

References:

(1) Peterson, Eugene, The Message: New Testament, NavPress, Colorado Spring, Colorado, 1993, p. 29.

Source: The Sermon Mall, Theological Web Publishing, LLC

Fire & Division: Not peace? - A sermon on Luke 12:49-56

By Peter Lockhart

Jesus said:

I came to bring fire to the earth... Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

Really, Jesus said he came to bring fire and division. I have to admit that this is one of those passages which are kind of uncomfortable. A few months back I preached about God's peace and this statement of Jesus on face value seems to be in direct conflict with what Is aid back then.

Is this what God's will was in sending Jesus into the world? Is it what we see at the heart of Jesus ministry? If we read back a little further in Luke's gospel these words do come at the end of a series of parables which do speak of judgement and the timing of the coming of God's reign.

Despite this I do not believe that division is the end game for God or for Jesus for that matter. So to make sense of Jesus words we need to take a look at the bigger picture, at least in shorthand.

If we look at the whole of Luke's gospel we can find a few clues. At the beginning of his account of Jesus' life Luke records a story about shepherds and angels. At the time of Jesus' birth the angels sing of "Peace on earth and goodwill on earth".

Flipping through the gospel we find Jesus engaged in healing and restoring people to community.

Then after his resurrection when Jesus appears to his disciples and declares "Peace be with you!"

So from the beginning of Luke there is a declaration of God's peace that was coming with Jesus by the angels whilst at the end of the gospel Jesus himself declares God's peace to the disciples.

This peace is a pretty big concept for the Jewish people of the time and many of you would know the Jewish word for peace which is 'shalom'.

God's shalom, the 'shalom' declared by Jesus, was about an end to the division that lay between God and people and so was also about the end of division between people. When we share the peace, God's shalom, in church it is this reality we are meant to be remembering and encountering.

This brings me back to what Jesus may have been up to when he said:

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

I suspect what Jesus is doing is naming the reality that was occurring around him. His presence in the world, God's presence, was unsettling and the prophecies surrounding the coming of the Messiah emphasized it would be a time of disruption and division. It was to be a time of upheaval.

By Jesus connecting his words about fire and division with the issue of reading the signs of the times Jesus is trying to draw attention to the reality of the unrest that was caused by his presence. He appears to be saying, "Now is the time of the coming of the Messiah and I am he!"

The end goal of God's presence in the world in Jesus in not in the moments of division but in what the angels sang and what Jesus declared after his resurrection: Shalom! Though he says he did not come to bring peace in the moment of his lifetime, the fulfillment of God's promise in him is peace.

The imagery of 'fire' is used here by Jesus to hearken back to the Old Testament and the images of 'fire'. Some of these images point to a time of purification which was to come. In this sense the image of 'fire' is not the hellfire of punishment but the fire of purification; the refiners fire.

If Jesus' presence does bring the time of fire and purification and is the time of division prophesied it is because Jesus takes within himself this process of purification and through his life, through his death and through his resurrection he heals the division precipitated by his presence and the disruption in the relationship with God.

So it is that mingled within these words of Jesus he also speaks of his baptism to come. This is clearly an allusion to his suffering and death. The division that humanity constantly pursues in its relationship with God is ultimately played out as people hang God on a cross. Paradoxically it is in this very act of violence that God pursues in love those who condemn God and provide for all people a reconciled relationship which is the way God establishes peace.

This is a vital story for us to hear in its fullness not just in isolation because it brings us to a place of better understanding of the verse we read today and points us forwards in how we are to behave as Christian people.

Sadly passages like this are easily abused. During the week I heard the story of a Uni student who's Pastor appears to be exerting unhealthy influence over. The student is not fulfilling his study requirements because his Pastor is pressuring him to do more 'Christian' activities for the church and even more disturbingly the student is lying to his family about his involvement in the church.

Read out of context the passage can be manipulated to suggest Jesus affirms family breakdown and the disruption of relationships between children and their parents.

Jesus is not affirming nor encouraging the division but naming the reality that was occurring around him.

We should not use Jesus words here to excuse poor behaviors toward one another in our families, our congregation, or across the universal church. Yes, we may hear in Jesus' words a statement of human fallibility and tendency to reject God but this is not God's aim or will in Jesus presence in the world.

This leads me to make a further comment about the timing of Jesus coming. I have this coffee mug which was given to me as a gift. It has a picture of Jesus on it with the words, "Look busy, Jesus is coming."

When Jesus was speaking about the signs of the time he was connecting what was happening 2000 years ago to his coming as the Messiah but there is constancy to these words as well.

Over the history of the church, we have grown to understand that Jesus is present with us through the power of the Holy Spirit. In Matthew's gospel Jesus says that where two or three are gathered 'I am there'.

The Uniting Church in its Basis of Union expresses the belief that Jesus is present when the Word is proclaimed.

We too can read the signs around us. Jesus is coming into the world, Jesus is always coming! In his coming there may be an experience of fire and division but we remember that God's peace is really the ultimate goal.

This is why Paul writing to the Hebrews encourages them with the words;

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

As God's people in this place we may experience the division borne of our human fallibility but as people renewed by the Holy Spirit we can also seek to run that race as people who seek to build bridges of hope and love in what we say and do.

During the week I read a good reflection by Stu Cameron, the minister at New Life Uniting Church. He reflected on the importance of honoring one another as Christians.

Our honoring one another is one way of running the race and clinging to Christ rather than our sin. It is a simply thing to say but a much more difficult thing to do.

We honor one another as we weigh carefully the words we are about to say, or write in an email. We honour one another as we act generously to each other in our thoughts and prayers and good deeds. We honour one another as we thank the people each week who play our music, say our notices, work in St Lucy's, come to prayer group or Bible Study, prepare morning tea or Sunday School prepare our notices, or work on the door.

In our acts of thanksgiving towards one another, as we honor each person, we help create a community of God's peace which whilst not perfect pursues with ardor a faithful witness to God's love.

I came to bring fire to the earth... Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

The good news is that Jesus is the purifying fire and the division caused by his presence is also healed by his presence. Let us hold fast to this message and live as people of God's shalom, receiving gratefully forgiveness when we fall short and celebrating God's grace when God's love is seen, heard and experiences in our midst.

Source: A Different Heresy, 2013.

What to Do When It's Just One Trouble after the Next

by Jennifer Dukes Lee

The rain wouldn't stop. It fell in thundering sheets, pooling in farm fields and backyards. Water flooded the basements, sneaking in while the world slumbered. This is the way of storms: the sky can stand calm above you one hour and then scream with rage the next. Yes, skies and mortals weep. "Jennifer," my husband called up the basement stairs.

"You'll need to come down here." I could hear the sadness in his voice. At the bottom of the steps, he held out a soggy cardboard box labeled "Jennifer's childhood memories." I had meant for years to put that stuff in plastic bins, but hadn't gotten around to it. I closed my eyes, and let my air out in one long exhale. The storm was indifferent to what I held dear, and the water had soaked straight through the cardboard.

Through tears, I pulled forty years of memories out of the box, laying it all before a whirring fan, praying I could save most of it. My baptism certificate. My high school diploma. The first news story I ever wrote, at age fifteen. My baby book. First tooth. First snip of hair. Every school photograph, kindergarten through senior year.

I cried with the sky, cried over all of my wet stuff. And yes, it was just stuff. It will be stained, is all. Storm-stained but not destroyed.

Above us and around us - and sometimes even inside of us - thunderheads are building. Out of nowhere, it seems, storms spill from the torn fabric of an iron-gray sky. Or maybe from behind the closed doors of the doctor's office, or on the other end of the phone line, or right at your own front door. I spent many years as a news reporter. I covered some of the most horrific events imaginable, proving true the Bible verse that begins like this:

"In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33 NIV).

Will. Not might. Will.

Reading those words, you might be inclined to keep your doors locked, your phone off the hook. You might avoid getting too close to someone who wants to love you, because you never know when the storm will come, sweeping away your joy in a torrent. Except that there's more to that Bible verse. That verse doesn't end in trouble. It ends in power.

Jesus then said this:

"But take heart! I have overcome the world."

The day after the storm seeped into our basement, staining a box full of memories, the creeks bulged and raged. And a few miles away from our front door, a teenage boy fell into Beaver Creek. The boy's friends went for help and found a man named John Lems, a retired firefighter.

Later, John told local TV news reporters that he thought about throwing that boy a rope. But if the boy grabbed for the rope, he would have had to let go of the tree that was keeping him from going under fifteen feet of rushing water.

Today, the old news reporter in me called John to find out the rest of the story. John told me that he knew the boy was scared and the river was awfully cold, but he could see that the boy was strong. And he would need to just hang on. John said this: "I yelled out to the boy, 'Yes, it's cold! But I'm not going to throw you a rope! You're going to be all right if you just hang on to that tree!'" And so that boy hung on to the tree. And he kept hanging on until the rescuers arrived.

When trouble comes - and trouble will come - when the river through your life swells and rages; or when the creek bed cracks dry; when the storm marches across the sky, or maybe straight across your heart; you will be scared. And it might feel cold. You might be tempted to grab for a sorry substitute, begging for the false hope of a rope.

But friend, you are strong. Hang on to the tree that is even stronger. Hold tight to the tree that has already redeemed you, the tree that bore every ache you could fathom, the tree onto which every sin was nailed. Hold on to the tree that held your Savior.

And you and I? We can be each other's Jonathan, like John Lems shouting from the shore, a reminder that "You're going to be all right if you just hang on to that tree." There's nothing on earth that can uproot that tree or snap the Savior's promise for you. Don't let go. You've already been rescued. The world and all its storms have already been overcome. And when the storm passes by, you'll find that the Calvary tree held ?rm. You might be storm-stained and scarred and a bit broken, but look to the sky. For you'll see it above you - the heaving dark will have given way, at last, to the sun.

And you'll know, for sure, that the light has won.

He calms the storm,
So that its waves are still.
Psalm 107:29 NKJV

About The Author:

Jennifer Dukes Lee is a grace dweller and storyteller. She and her husband live on the family farm with their two girls. Jennifer is the author of 'Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval' - and 'Seeing Yourself through God's Eyes'.

Excerpted from 'The Beauty of Grace,' edited by Dawn Camp (Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2014). Used by permission.

You Are Braver, Smarter and Stronger Than You Think

by Gwen Smith

Today's Truth

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. (John 15:7, NIV)

Friend to Friend

One of the most lovable and charming characters in the history of cartoon animation has to be Winnie the Pooh. He simply oozes adorableness and positivity.

In the film, "Pooh's Grand Adventure: The Search for Christopher Robin," Pooh and Christopher Robin, who are the closest of friends, have a moving conversation high in a tree where strength and love flow heart-to-heart as a beautiful words are spoken.

Christopher Robin: "Oh, Pooh. If ever there's a tomorrow when we're not together, there's something you must remember."

Pooh: "And what might that be, Christopher Robin?"

Christopher Robin: "You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."

Pooh: "Oh, that's easy. We're braver than a bee, and, uh, longer than a tree, and taller than a goose... or, uh, was that a moose?"

Christopher Robin: "No, silly, old bear! You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is even if we're apart; I'll always be with you. I'll always be with you. I'll always be with you."

On the night before his death, Jesus had a long conversation with his closest friends, his disciples. Though we can't watch it on a movie, you and I, through the audio recordings of the divinely breathed Word, are able to eves drop on the intimate dialog that was recorded in the New Testament book of John, chapters 13-17.

I imagine the minutes were a blur that evening as Jesus sifted through the emotions of all that was to come. He knew that within hours, one would betray him, another would disown him, and all would make haste to separate themselves from him in his most excruciating earthly moments.

Yet, beyond the burden of his own pain, Jesus humbled himself to serve those he loved by washing filthy, calloused feet. Then Jesus had a moving conversation in an upper room and in a vineyard where strength and love flowed heart-to-heart as beautiful words of life were spoken to his cherished friends.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God; trust also in me."
(John 14:1)

"Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it."
(John 14:12-14)

"If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever - the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you."
(John 14:15-17)

"But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
(John 14:26-27)

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing… If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."
(John 15:5, 7-8)

"My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit - fruit that will last - and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other."
(John 15:12-17)

"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
(John 16:33)

May these red-letter treasures serve as a reminder to you today that you are not alone or ill equipped for the challenges in your life. Take heart! You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think because the Spirit of God is at work within you to embolden, strengthen, and guide you.

Above all, remember this: he will always be with you. He will always be with you. He will always be with you.

Let's Pray

Lord, Thank you for the presence of Your Holy Spirit in my life. Please open my eyes wide to all the courage, strength and wisdom you have for me in Christ. Crush my insecurities and doubts so that I might be an effective witness of Your power.

In Jesus' name,
Amen.

Now It's Your Turn

Fill in these blanks: "Today, I will face ____________ with the courage that the Lord provides for me instead of trembling in fear. In this area of weakness, ___________, I will ask God for strength and will trust that His grace is sufficient to provide what I need. And I will pray for wisdom and direction concerning ___________ so that the Spirit of God can guide me with divine wisdom which is far greater that anything I can come up with on my own."

About The Author:

Gwen Smith is a speaker, author, worship leader, and songwriter who wants to help you think big thoughts about God – and inspire you toward His grace and truth. Her website is filled with videos, posts, songs and resources that will be a deep well of encouragement to you.

Source: Girlfriends in God

How Surrendering Can Help You Weather the Storm

by Jan Harrison

Several years ago, I participated on a missions trip to work with teenagers in the countryside of Mongolia. One of our goals was to build camaraderie, so we scheduled a day of friendly games and competition between the Americans and the Mongolians. The final challenge turned out to be a decisive game of tug-of-war.

As we gathered into teams, I could tell by the look in everyone's eyes that they took the situation seriously. The other team was composed of fierce competitors who had little regard for the fact that my team was older and weaker! Winning was the goal. Period.

Team members strategically positioned themselves on each side of the long rope. The referee blew his whistle and the spectators began to chant, "Pull! Pull! Pull!" The collective strength of each team pulling in opposite directions created incredible tension on the rope. I tried to hang on during the intense battle of back and forth, but my hands started to feel raw and hot. Soon, my strength waned. I felt a throbbing pain in my arms, my knees started to buckle, and my feet began to slide. My teammates and I held out for as long as we could, but after a hard- fought struggle we were overpowered by the other team and yielded to their strength. We had to give up and surrender the tug-of-war.

God Is Pulling for You, Not Against You

When difficult storms blow into our lives, many of us engage in a spiritual tug-of-war with God. We view ourselves on one side of the rope seeking to take charge of our negative circumstances and control the outcome of what has happened. We want to "pull ourselves together" and pull life in the direction we think it should go. We imagine God as the unseen force on the other side of life's rope, pulling us in a direction we don't understand.

But here's the spiritual game changer: There is no tug-of-war with God. He is on the same side of the rope as we are! "If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own son, but delivered him over for us all, how will he not also with him freely give us all things?" (Romans 8:31-32).

God is for us. He is not playing a sinister power game with our lives. He will not yank or drag us over the line, nor rejoice when we feel crushed and defeated. Instead, he waits patiently and quietly for us to release our grip on the rope. He wants to pull for us as we struggle through life's storms. Surrendering to God does not mean giving up. Spiritual surrender is giving over our lifeline to the One who is already the victor.

My friend Lynn and I have spent many hours sharing our struggles and fears. We have walked through deep valleys together and helped each other look at God's Word for our bearings and direction. One day, when my heart was particularly burdened, she kindly reminded me of Colossians 3:15-16, which says,

"Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you."

The key, Lynn reminded me, is in the word let. If I will freely give over my burdens and cares, Christ, who is my peace, will take up the situation for me. Yielding to Christ produces oneness with him and enables me to recognize that he is for me, not against me. This reality is a cause for thankfulness.

When we release our rope to God, he picks it up on our behalf. Our burdens are his and our cares are in his hands. He reveals what we need to know and guides us in the direction we need to go. I can release the outcome to him and trust him to do what is best and right for me. He knows what I need better than I know myself, and he knows what it will take to accomplish his good and perfect will in my life.

The choice to surrender is an intentional one. It's the deliberate act of releasing our lives, hearts, and circumstances to God and asking him to take over all control. It's tempting to want to use surrender as a bargaining chip when asking for God's help. We suggest an outcome and then offer up a temporary version of agreeing to God's purpose. How often have we thought, God, get me out of this situation and I will do (fill in the blank). But this isn't surrender and it certainly isn't a way to experience the freedom of leaning into God's strength and love. It's a halfhearted negotiation. Real surrender is allowing God to be God on his terms, not ours.

I recently read a book by Bob Goff titled Love Does. The author is a lawyer, and he tells a beautiful story of an exercise he asks all his clients to do when they are being interviewed for depositions. He instructs them to sit with their hands open, palms up underneath the table while testifying. He says with your hands open and palms up, it's impossible to withhold or clutch anything that needs to be released.

I love that picture. Try it. I suggest you try it while praying. Take your prayer concerns, and with each one spoken turn your hands open, palms up. Surrender is about living with your hands and heart open and your palms and your eyes looking up!

The most powerful picture of surrender is found in Jesus, hanging on the cross. His nail-pierced hands are open as he says,

"Father, into your hands I commit my spirit" (Luke 23:46).

Jesus did not give up when he died on the cross. He gave himself over to the will of the Father.

I'm discovering that living in surrender is a continual process. I'm learning to give my cares and concerns over to him. Letting go of my rope is not a one-time decision that settles things once and for all. Every single day, I have to consciously decide to give the outcomes, choices, and people in my life over to God.

What difficulties have become fierce competitors on the other end of your rope? What heartache or trial weighs so much that even the strength of your desire for a different outcome is no match for its might? If you allow the pull of temptation to enter that swirl of uncertainty, you will soon lose your footing.

What holds you back from letting God take your end of the rope?

Never Trust a Stranger

As children, we're taught to never trust a stranger. Spiritually speaking, many people never learn to trust God because he is a stranger to them. There are a number of ways to be introduced to him, but these have little to do with actually developing a personal relationship with him.

Take a moment to think about a person in your life you genuinely trust. I'm sure this is someone who knows you well. And it's someone you have invested significant time and care getting to know and building a relationship with.

This is how you and I also learn to trust God - we get to know him intimately.

God already knows you very well because he made you, but you have to take the time to get to know him and his character and his intentions. You have this opportunity through his remarkable Word. It's a declaration of who he is and what he wants you to know about him first and his great love for you.

Do you remember the thrill of receiving a love letter? There is great delight in reading and rereading the words of someone who knows and loves you so much that he is willing to write it down and proclaim it.

The Bible is a love letter God has delivered to you. From start to finish, his words reveal why you can depend on and trust in him. Read it, cherish it, and hide it away in your heart. Learn it, live it, and let him prove himself to you. If you will do that, he will not be a stranger and your personal relationship will grow to be one of deep and abiding trust in him. Surrender will only happen if you trust the One you're surrendering to.

Surrendered Expectations

A close friend once said to me, "I am learning that the way to experience peace during this storm is to surrender my expectations." That was good advice for me. Maybe we all need to take a second look at our expectations and willingly lay them down before the Lord. In fact, it's part of our deliberate act of surrender.

When our storm is forcing us to struggle and strain, we are tempted to hold on to what we are familiar with even when it creates misery or exhausts us. Faith is required to open your fist and let God take your expectations. But once he is included, literally anything can happen!

Today I want to encourage and prod you to start moving your feet towards Jesus. He is on the same side of your rope...and on the other side of the storm.

About The Author:

Jan Harrison is an author, speaker, and Bible study teacher who has inspired thousands of women for over 15 years. She experienced the promise of "life after the storm" when her son, James, died unexpectedly. Jan serves on the board of 'With Open Eyes,' a ministry co-founded by James and his father to help accelerate the gospel in Africa. For more information, visit: JanHarrison.com.

Excerpted from Life After the Storm: God Will Carry You Through by Jan Harrison (Harvest House Publishers, April 1, 2015). Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

How Do You Respond When Adversity Emerges in Your Life?

by John O'Leary, risingabove.com

"All things can be taken from us but the last great human right: to choose one's path." - Vicktor Frankl

How do you respond when adversity emerges in your life?

Whether insignificant events or massive tragedy, the way we move forward not only impacts our life, but those we touch through it. Let me share a powerful example you can apply as you choose your path forward.

Howard Lutnick is the chairman of Cantor Fitzgerald.

Cantor Fitzgerald is the financial firm that lost all 658 employees in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The only reason Lutnick survived that morning is he took his son, Kyle, to his first day of kindergarten. It was a stunning coincidence that saved his life, but left him wondering how to carry forward the weight of so much grief, so much loss.

658.

These were his coworkers, partners, and family members. These were people he had worked with, planned with and grown with and loved over the past two decades.

And none survived.

So how do you take difficult events and transform them into opportunities to positively influence? How do you pivot tragic dates from yesterday into moments of incredible grace that impact tomorrow?

Lutnic resolved to rebuild his business – not to simply stay busy or make money, but to support the families of his employees who died. A business previously focused on making money became laser focused on a higher calling: making a difference.

Although he could not alleviate the loss of his employees' families, he could help shoulder their financial burden. Diligently growing the business over the next five years, he gave almost $200 million dollars in profits to support the families of his fallen coworkers.

Even the anniversary of September 11th became something to not just remember and mourn, but a date to serve and impact. His company takes all employees' pay and revenue collected on the anniversary and contributes it to various charities. In 2014, more than $12 million dollars were donated.

A date intended to strike fear, sadness and anger in the hearts of the people affected has been transformed into one that provides hope, love and generosity.

As Howard Lutnick says, "We've turned the most difficult day into something beautiful."

My friends, we, too, can turn the difficult into the beautiful. It's a choice to refuse living as a victim to circumstances and instead thriving as a victor over them.

As we all know, all things can be taken from us. The business can be destroyed. The wealth can disappear. The relationship can fall apart. The children can disappoint.

But know this: no difficulty, no bad day, no tragedy, no terrorist can remove the last great human right: your amazing ability in each moment to choose your path, choose your direction, and choose to make a difference.

Choose to stay on fire for life and know that the best is yet to come.

Healthy New Favorites: Five Food Substitutions You'll Love

by Dr. Shila Mathew, MD., Food and Living Editor, Malankara World

Fitness, nutrition, and weight loss expert Warren Honeycutt shares
healthy (and still tasty) alternatives to popular foods.

Without a doubt, one of the most difficult parts of making positive lifestyle changes is backing away from unhealthy foods. All too often, our quest for better health results in bland, joyless meals. Sooner or later, our desperate taste buds give in to temptation - and our eating habits end up right back where they started.

So what - if anything - can be done to break this cycle?

"The key to successfully changing your long-term eating habits is to make them sustainable - and that means finding options you like and can stick with," says Warren Honeycutt, author of 'Get Lean for Life: 7 Keys to Lasting Weight Loss.' "As you navigate this process, you'll find that healthy substitutions can be a game changer."

Honeycutt understands if the previous statement elicited an eye-roll. For years, we Americans have been conditioned to believe that the healthier option is the less-tasty option. (And when it comes to processed foods and drinks, that's often true!) But he promises that when you focus on natural options, it is possible to substitute great-tasting good-for-you food for great-tasting bad-for-you food.

A respected expert in weight loss, fitness, and nutrition, Honeycutt is a championship bodybuilder who has been a Southern Classic Physique Champion, two-time Mr. Tennessee, and six-time Mr. America finalist. Now, at age 62, he enjoys perfect health without any prescription medications. Honeycutt offers personalized fitness training through his comprehensive Get Lean program, which features detailed fitness videos for exercising at the gym, at home, at the office, and while traveling; personalized meal plans; motivational material; and more.

Here, Honeycutt shares five substitutions you'll love.

Cauliflower instead of potatoes. Substituting cauliflower for potatoes is a healthy alternative that's gaining more and more popularity - and for good reason. "When prepared correctly, cauliflower mimics the texture and taste of mashed potatoes, with fewer calories and carbs," says Honeycutt. "Here is my favorite cauliflower-instead-of-spuds recipe."

Warren's Twice-"Baked" Cauliflower

Put 24 to 32 ounces of frozen cauliflower in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and boil until tender. Pour off the water and, either in the pan or a mixing bowl, beat the cauliflower with a mixer until smooth and creamy - as in the consistency of creamed potatoes.

Dip the creamed cauliflower into individual bowls. Top with fat-free sour cream, fat-free cheese, Butter Buds, and/or Molly McButter. Reheat each serving in the microwave for two minutes until piping hot. Add chives, bacon bits, salt, and pepper as desired, and serve.

Spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti noodles. Spaghetti squash isn't nearly as carb-heavy as noodles, and it contains nutrients like vitamins A, B-6, and C, as well as omega-3 essential fatty acids. When baked or microwaved, it can be shredded into spaghetti-like strands with a fork.

"Spaghetti squash has a mild flavor and tastes great with just about any pasta sauce, including tomato- and cream-based sauces," Honeycutt shares. "However, I think it's delicious simply tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper, and perhaps a little Parmesan cheese."

Sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. No doubt you've already encountered this popular substitution - but a reminder never hurts! "Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A," Honeycutt notes. "They also contain more vitamin C and fiber than white potatoes - and fewer carbs and calories. That said, it's still healthiest to eat sweet potatoes baked and save sweet potato fries for occasions when you want to treat yourself."

Hi-Lo instead of highly sugared cereal. Cereal is such a popular staple that many of us eat it for breakfast every day (and sometimes for lunch and dinner, too!). Unfortunately, even when we think we're making healthy choices, that isn't always the case. Although many popular cereals are labeled "healthy," "natural," "reduced sugar," etc., they are loaded with sugar and contain little to no protein. Honeycutt recommends getting away from the empty calories by trying Nutritious Living Hi-Lo Cereal.

"Nutritious Living Hi-Lo Cereal contains 12 grams of protein per serving and only 1 gram of sugar," he points out. "I challenge you to compare that to your favorite cereal. You may even find that the numbers are nearly reversed! Get in the habit of reading labels instead of taking products' claims at face value - not just for cereal, but for everything you buy. This can have a huge impact on weight control."

High protein shake instead of fast food shake. Honeycutt doesn't name any names - but he does point out that a medium strawberry cheesecake option from a popular chain contains 920 total calories, 25 grams of fat, 100 grams of carbohydrates, 82 grams of total sugars, and only 15 grams of protein.

"Compare that to 235 total calories, 6 grams of fat, 22 grams of carbs, 2 grams of total sugars, and 25 grams of protein when you prepare your own protein shake," he comments. "Here's how to make this much healthier substitute."

Warren's High Protein Shake

Blend the following ingredients to desired consistency and enjoy!

8 oz. almond milk
1 scoop Optimum Nutrition casein protein powder
5 large fresh strawberries
2 tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
Stevia (sweeten to taste)
1.5 cups of ice

"When you give these substitutions a try, you might just be surprised by how much you don't miss your old favorites," Honeycutt concludes. "And don't discount the satisfaction that comes from knowing you're making choices to boost your health and possibly extend your life."

About Warren Honeycutt:

Warren Honeycutt is the author of 'Get Lean for Life: 7 Keys to Lasting Weight Loss.' Along with his partner, Soraya Bittencourt, Honeycutt is the cofounder of Get Honeycutt, Inc. This company supports Get Lean, a comprehensive weight loss and fitness program featuring personalized fitness routines, menus designed by registered dietitians, instructional videos, and motivational support.

A popular speaker on fitness and nutrition topics, Honeycutt's expertise has been featured by NBC, CBS, ABC, LifeExtension, A Second Look at Sports, LiveStrong, Live Relentless, and more. To learn more, please visit www.getlean.guru.

Family Special: Give Your Children Hope in The Love of Christ

by Chriss and Michelle Groff

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" - Rom 8:38-39

The greatest gift you can give your kids is not the newest and best the world has to offer. It is the love of God through Jesus Christ. That is the gift that enables them to resist the creation's lures and live in the love of the Creator. Your kids are going to be bombarded with messages from the world, and those promises are extraordinarily difficult to resist. In fact, they are impossible to resist without the indwelling Spirit. Introduce your kids to the gift that keeps on giving - grace.

Do you pursue God with the same fervor as you pursue the things of the world? Your kids are watching…

Source: Parenting by Design

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