Newness and New Year’s Day

us nydI like the beginning of  the new year for a lot of reasons, but one of my favorite things to do is my taxes.  Doing taxes is for me a little like what writing a Christmas letter is for most people– Christmas letters help us reflect on the past year, and so does doing our taxes for me– its a chance to go over the last year and realize what all we’ve done on our properties.  Carl, one of our beloved tenants, retired and moved to Las Vegas so we finally remodelled his apartment at 118 N 34th.  At 3145 Chicago we put on new cabinet fronts and a lot of cool light fixtures and found Jessee Ray and Kevin as tenants.  3304 Davenport was a total redo, with new furnace and AC, all the wood floors in 10 rooms were redone, the kitchen had a makeover, and it went from a graffitiized crazyland to a very elegant grand old house again.   Many new relationships have come, and a few have gone.

Tonight I got to spend some great time with some dear friends Tony and Heather Lombardo who are leaving for Maryland to be pastor at a church there.  Its a whole new experience for them, filled with some uncertainty and of course unknowing.  But thats what every year is.  Its what every month, week and day is.  We live on this constant path towards the unknown horizon– we do all the time.  But at the new year we mark this transition, and reset things.  We go on diets, determine to change our ways with resolutions, and make other dramatic changes sometimes.

But soon, like the Christmas lights we take down, new years day falls into the past and we leave it behind as a memory.  We walk again into the day to day regularness of our typical habits and forget about the newness of the new year.  A year from now it will be the old year, and it will all start over anew– again.

This is life.  So as with anything that renews, sometimes ideas fade and then come back as being good again.  We’ve decided to start meeting again regularly and openly for liturgy and study of the readings from the church calendar, probably on a weekly basis on a weekday– probably Tuesday, or perhaps Thursday, although Sunday pm is possible.  If you are interested in trying it out, we would be happy to have you join us.  Its a good supplemental for your Church commitments on Sunday, and its also a good alternative if you are in transition moving from one church but not yet finding the next (since we don’t meet Sundays, you can church-shop while you stay in some regular connectedness.  Feel free to contact Andy (andrewgustafson@creighton.edu) or Celeste (celestedawn@gmail) if you are interested or just have questions about joining us.

U2 NEW YEARS DAY video (1982)

Lasting Driscoll Effects in the Church Today: Bullying, Machismo, and Manly-Man-liness

2012124517masculinity by Andy Gustafson

Mark Driscoll has been the center of controversy for quite some time.  But now that he has left Mars Hill and is no longer associated with Acts 29, it is likely that his more damaging impact on the church at large will continue to resonate and have their effect through the young men he has inspired.  Most people know that Acts 29 network disassociated Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill church from its network earlier this year.  And most people know that Mark Driscoll has been asked to step down from leadership at his Mars Hill Church, for a variety of reasons.  And now Mars Hill attendance has dropped 30-40% and its likely they will have to lay off up to 40% of staff, and finally, Mark Driscoll has resigned as pastor.   Driscoll has possibly seen his heyday, but the problem is that the effects of Driscoll’s attitude, style, and behavior has infected a whole generation of young pastors and laypeople, and those damaging effects will likely live on long after the Mars Hill drama is over– not just in Acts 29 churches, but in the thinking, leadership and even pastoring of a whole generation of young 20-to-40-something pastors.

There are plenty of articles out there about characteristics of Driscoll, and even some about Driscoll followers.  I attended an Acts 29 church for a stint and got to know about Driscoll and some of his followers, and fortunately for our church, our leadership did not reflect many of these characteristics– and they were not all fans of Driscoll.   So these characteristics are not directly related to being associated with Acts 29.  Neither are these characteristics of complimentarians (as opposed to egalitarians)– I know of many complimentarians who don’t share any of these characteristics.  And as my reformed friends point out to me, the blame here isn’t Calvin or Reformed thought either (and I agree!)– mOST reformed Calvinists I know do not have these characteristics– so it seems that the common denominator of these characteristics may have more to do with being a fan of Driscoll than being reformed, complimentarian, or acts 29, or a young calvinist (although these can all get blurred–particularly for an outsider– these days).

Sometimes the apparent self-perception of Driscoll fans is that Driscoll and his fans are courageously proclaiming the unpopular truth in a world of political correctness.  They feel they are taking Christianity back as a manly-man religion from the pansy buddy-Jesus culture they despise as effeminate.  They are giving structure and order to a world without it, and helping take the asylum back from the patients who were running it.

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Obviously there was a reason why Driscoll and his style resonated with people in the church– and many outside the church.  There is a need to call men to be accountable to take responsibility for themselves, and to not simply be passive, and some other key insights.  But these insights are distinct from some of the more troublesome habitual attributes that have at times been displayed by Driscoll and pastors who emulate him.  From experiences I have had and heard about, these are a few of the more disturbing key characteristics which seem to be common to many Mark Driscoll devotees:

1. Cursing as a sign of relevance: Its amazing to me that grown men who are pastors of church use coarse language like they are a 13 year old trying to impress their friends.  This is certainly immature and childish, as well as stupid.  It is not manly– real men know how to speak intelligently without using profanity. Even non-Christians like Aristotle knew long ago that what a man likes and how he speaks tells us about his heart and character, and that is true for these cursing pastors as well.

2. Being Flippant and Brash: There seems to be an underlying arrogance which leads to a flippant attitude of some Driscoll fans– and this leads to them being brash (which again, is connected to the cursing).  A rhetoric of repentance and being a sinner overlays a basic arrogance underlying this facade.  Love is patient and kind and earnest– but the spirit one often sees is the opposite.  Such behavior brings discredit to ministry.

3. Fight-Club Mentality.  Call it Ultimate-Fighting-Fan Christianity, Machismo, or simply a love of crudeness and brutality under the guise of manliness, but a lot of Driscoll fans seem to be on the prowl for a fight– like when he said he wanted to ‘go all Old-Testament’ on dissenters.  I’ve heard stories of veins bulging in hot tempered yelling matches by pastors who supposedly are shepherds of their church.  Everyone has moments of failure, but unrepentant habitual aggressive-machismo-as-godly-manliness is a sign of immaturity and inappropriate for ministry service.

4. Bullying in the name of righteousness: Strange as it may seem, some pastors are bullies, and do their bullying in the name of love.  Of course Driscoll is known for tweeting about effeminate worship leaders in a bullying and unchristian manner.  But bullying goes way beyond that– talking over people, bullies push their agenda over others, and they simply don’t listen to others points of view (because they know they are right, and others are stupid).  Not listening is the flip side of being a bully, and many Driscoll devotees seem to have a blind spot there.

5. Anti-Egalitarian: This isn’t mere complimentarianism though– Driscoll has said women’s thinking skills are inferior to men, women need to stay attractive or its partially their fault their husbands cheat, and that women just aren’t capable of leadership in the church.  There is an extreme higherarchical system in the minds of many Driscoll followers– and women are to submit to men as the followers in the pew are to submit to the elders.

6. Dismissive attitude towards most laypeople: In the words of Mark Driscoll, congregational governance of a church is like letting the patients run the asylum.  Driscoll fans tend to have an exceedingly high view of power structure in the church, and the capacities of the leaders to do all and know all. The distrust of laypeople is parallel to the distrust of women in this worldview.

7.  No Questioning/No Accountability: Driscoll fans tend to see questioning of authority as inherently sinful– a failure to submit to divine authority (which the leadership represents) which leaves pastors who are Driscoll fans for the most part unaccountable to anyone.

Alan Molineux points out in a recent article that it is shallow and short sighted to put all the blame on one individual like Driscoll– the blame must go around to all the enablers in the church.  A problem leader needs followers– call them yesmen, uh-huh thugs, starstruck disciples, or whatever you want– and the followers have responsibility for the promotion of these bad practices and styles of leadership as well.   Molineux points out, “It only takes a few good men to do nothing for a problematic leader to create an unhealthy culture.”

He says you need enabling leaders who co-lead with the bully, who look the other way when the lead bully acts wrongly.  Also enabling staff, whose livelihoods, friendships and spiritual life are all so intertwined with the continued success of the leader that it is difficult to speak out about problems you see.  Third, the enabling enthusiast, who want to believe the vision, and trust the leader, and are often willing to look past even obvious failings of their leader.  Fourth, the enabling constituency– other leaders will often remain silent if there is popular support for the problem leader (‘how can one speak out against such a widely popular gifted preacher?’, they might ask) Fifth, the enabling peace proclaimers, who always call for unity, not division.  These people sound high minded, as they simply defend the status quo to not rock the boat.

In business, we say whistleblowing is difficult because it requires dissent, the appearance of disloyalty, and accusation.  This is no less true in a church culture.  Speaking out against a leader will require you to disrupt the status quo, it may make you appear disloyal, and it usually will require some sort of accusation, no matter how kindly you put it.  And it is scary to do that when it is your own church family.

Almost a year ago now (October 24, 2013) Tim Suttle wrote these (hopefully) prescient words forcasting the future of Driscoll’s influence:

Driscoll can only work within the very early immature stages of Christian discipleship, where rules, dualistic black and white thinking rule the day. Defiant about his immature behavior, Driscoll will continue to shun accountability and control people through fear and intimidation. Without the capacity for self-criticism, his glaring issues become will only become more pronounced over time. Those who follow him will see that his only mode of building community is to force community by erecting rigid boundary markers enforced through intimidation and fear. It’s simply not enough for us as we grow older and begin to crave wisdom and sacrifice. Any Driscoll devotees who grow beyond that narrative of dominance, dualism, and control will see that conformity is not the same thing as transformation. When that happens Driscoll’s influence will immediately melt.

Driscoll could at times be a powerful effective preacher, and for that we can be grateful.  And many people positively impacted by some of Driscoll’s ministry shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.  But as for the Driscoll-macho-style which sometimes accompanied it, we can hope and pray that Driscoll-influenced pastors and laymen will eventually see the limits of this style of Christian behavior and the stunted worldview which goes along with it.  In the meantime, damage will continue to be done to churches, communities, families, and individuals who live under the teaching and authority of  their cursing, flippant and brash, machismo bullying women-suppressing unaccountable pastors and the yes-men (and women) who support them.

To stand by and let these things continue is wrong.  In not speaking out against sin, you are complicit in it.  If you see this in yourself or your leaders, something must be said.  These attitudes and practices are like a cancer which spreads throughout the body.  And its not as though its just a matter of opinion or a matter of theological difference.  Cursing, arrogance, bullying, belittling, and brashness are not a matter of theological difference or style– they are a matter of sin.​

Driscoll, and Immorality

daddydriscoll by Andy Gustafson

“if once a man indulges himself in murder, very soon he comes to think little of robbing; and from robbing he comes next to drinking and Sabbath-breaking, and from that to procrastination and incivility…this downward path”  -Thomas De Quincey

It is always interesting to reflect on what people consider immoral, and what acts are sin, and which are not, or at least which are serious, and which are not.  The recent resignation of Mark Driscoll and the letter from his elder board is a case in point.

First, the situation at Mars Hill Church is sad, and when a pastor has to leave a church it is difficult for the congregation and pastor and staff, and we should all pray that the process goes as well as possible, and that peace will come for the congregation, as well as Mark Driscoll.  But the letter about the resignation gives us insight into conceptions of morality in this conservative Protestant mindset.

For context, the accusations against Driscoll were that he had had a consistent record of bullying, arrogance, a hot temper, an unhealthy ego, speaking from the pulpit and in his books in a derogatory way about women, homosexuals and laypeople,   plagarism, use of church funds to manipulate his books sales ratings, and admited he attacked critics, feminists, and others using a pseudonym “William Wallace II”  in online social media sites.among other things.

That seems like quite a list of unhealthy characteristics for a leader of a church to have.  And yet, the elders say in their letter announcing the resignation of Driscoll that:

  1. We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.
  2. Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.

Driscoll may have said hurtful things repeatedly against half of the human population (women) and acted in an arrogant and bullying mean spirited way towards those under him including his own staff, people in his congregation, his critics, and other too numerous to mention.  But– and this is the really imporant part– what he did was not illegal, heretical, or immoral— and– none of it disqualified him from pastoral ministry.

I realize that for some people, when they use the word immoral, all they think about is sex.  And as far as we know, Driscoll has not been accused of any sexual impropriety per se (although many many people would consider his views about sex and sexuality as being improper).  But immorality is so much more than sex.

For Aristotle and most of the western world, morality has to do with virtuous living.  The virtues involve all the temperate habits, and the avoidance of vices.  A virtue normally has a vice of excess and a vice of deficiency.  For example, courage is the virtue– its in between the vices of cowardliness and foolhardiness.  Being witty is the virtue found between the vices of being a dullard and being a buffoon.  Being generous is the virtue found between the vices of giving too much foolishly and being  a miser.  So being unvirtuous is falling to a vice, and missing a virtue.  It applies to all areas of life.  Virtue is proper functioning, and vice is improper functioning.

It is pretty clear that Driscoll was acting unvirtuously– improperly– habitually over the course of his ministry. Most of these behavior traits weren’t one-off events, they were consistent behavior traits exemplified regularly and repeatedly.  They reflected traits an attitudes which are not Christ like, not proper leadership traits (in the church or in the corporate world either, for that matter) and which lead to strife, dischord, and divisiveness.  And yet the Mars Hill Church elders want us all to know that Mark is not a heretic and he didn’t do anything illegal, and he also did not have an affair.

As though we cared.

I have not been a fan of Mark Driscoll for quite a long time because of his views on women, and his arrogant machismo attitude which has unfortunately penetrated the Christian world and influenced a whole generation of bullying divisive manly-man pastors (more on that later).  I have never been concerned about Mark being a heretic, or participating in illegal activity, or his having an affair.  So being assured that he hasn’t just seems like a red herring (irrelevant).

What is disturbing to me, and what I think is indicative of the Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll’s effect on the Acts 29 movement and this whole generation of church planters and revivalists is that they don’t see Driscoll’s attitudes and behaviors to in any way disqualify him from church ministry.  In fact, they were quite surprised that he resigned.  To me this indicates a real blind spot to a whole host of immoral behaviors– vices which in their opinion are somehow seen as consistent with pastoral ministry simply because they are not illegal, sexual in nature, or heretical.   That is a low bar to set.

I hope that Mars Hill Church recovers and strengthens and grows in their post-Driscoll days.  I hope Mark Driscoll also heals and finds a place to serve God somehow with his talents, perhaps outside of ministry.  But I will continue to believe that the bullying and belittling behaviors I’ve seen in Driscoll for so many years through his preached and written statements have been a great detriment to the church, and have infected the church today with a lot of arrogant bullying manly-man machismo which is immoral, not virtuous, and not what Christ would want from us.

May God have mercy on us all…

The Loss of Meaning at Church– shorts, flipflops, and the rejection of formality

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I am in Aurora, my hometown of 4250 in Nebraska this weekend.  My shoelace in my shoe broke, so I went to the store to get one before church in my suit and flipflops.  I saw one of the workers there I know, and I told her that my shoelace had broken, so I had to wear my suit with my flip flops to come get a shoelace.  She said “Oh, today it wouldn’t matter I don’t think– you could just about wear whatever you want.”  I said, “yeah, I could probably show up in my underwear” and she said, “yep, they’d just be happy you were at church on a Sunday morning”.

In Omaha, I’m the only one under 50 who wears a suit to church.  I happen to like suits because then I’ve got a jacket with pockets to put stuff in.  But I also like to wear them because most of my friends over 70 at Church still like to wear them, so I do as sort of a badge of honor, but also because of respect and a sort of meaning that I think the suit can represent– a meaningfulness of the occassion.

Now don’t get me wrong, most of the churches I end up attending look and feel more like chatty political conventions before the ‘show gets on the road’ but still there was once a time where even in the low-church churches that I grew up with (without much ritual or formality) people used to take dressing up for church seriously.  But then it too was seen as being too ritualistic– “God accepts you as you are– you don’t need to change to receive God’s favor” and then the little bit of formality left was thrown out with the bathwater.

Wearing suits is not kneeling, receiving communion at the front of the church, reciting creeds together, or smells and bells, but it is a formality that most evangelical churches have dispensed with along with most other tradition along the way.   Much like choir robes and formal dress for pastors up front, its all gone.

In a world where people wear their pajamas to target (much less walmart) and its not unusual to find people wearing shorts at a fancy steak place, its no wonder that our churches have casualized as well– its just the way we live in America today.  But it is an interesting aspect of how our culture has infiltrated our churches as well.

Of course some will say that God doesn’t care if you wear a suit– and of course he doesn’t, at one level.  But what this total an entire eschewing of formality and tradition does is it pretends that humans are not habitual creatures, and it also pretends that what we do with our bodies, dress, or postures has no bearing on who we are, or what we think or feel.  But coming from a Business school, I can assure you that is false.  When a student wears a suit and tie, they act differently– more professionally and awarely– than they do when they have their knee-shorts and baseball hat on backwards.  The dress affects the individuals attitude.  And we know this.  A person who dresses well commands attention, whether we like it or not.   If you go to walmart in your pajamas, you are basically ignoring all social protocol and acting as if you are not in community when you are at Walmart.  Our actions indicate a lot out about our inner state, and our inner state is affected by our actions.  Anyone who exercises knows this.  If you kneel prostrate on the ground when you pray, it affects your attitude.   As Jamie Smith and others have been trying to point out recently, we are physical beings and we need to stop ignoring the connection between our physical habits and our spiritual state.

So all this came to mind from a brief stop at the Aurora Mall this morning.  People can wear whatever they want to church, and God loves everyone, but to pretend that how we behave doesn’t affect our spiritual state, or that habits and tradition are not important to us as human beings, is a superficial and false view of reality.

Evangelical Church ‘Culture’

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A typical evangelical service is 4-5 upbeat encouraging choruses and a sermon. Generally there is not confession of sin, communion happens once a quarter, and generally all communal readings are avoided, liturgy is considered spiritually deadening, and if old hymns are sung, an apology or explanation is often provided as to how, although they are old, they still have some worth. Surprisingly, what is avoided almost more at contemporary evangelical churches is traditional exposition of scriptures. That is considered very old fashioned and certainly too boring for most people. What is provided are bullet points, life application lessons, and perhaps a brief connection to a verse at the beginning or end of what the pastor wants to share. In short, tradition– particularly church tradition– is not valued much.

Of course there are exceptions to this anti-traditionalism and anti-exigesis.  But generally, tradition is more often than not thought to be the stumbling block for the young– either let go of your tradition (it is said) or prepare to lose the next generation. Guitar driven worship with practical and motivating life-application lessons are where its at.

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I was talking to a younger friend recently who has been looking at various churches, trying to figure out where to go. He’s visited a more traditional liturgical service recently, and what attracted him was not the 45 minute sermon– it was only a 20 minute homily– and not the upbeat praise songs– they sang old hymns. The fact that the congregation together said two of the creeds (the apostle’s creed and the nicene creed) and the Lords prayer together, and the time of personal confession and then going up front for communion were what were real draws for him. He is not old, he is young– but yet upbeat guitar driven worship and life application bullet points were not where he was at.

One young parent friend recently said to me that really what makes or breaks churches for most young families is if there is a strong childrens ministry– because parents want a safe place for their kids to go during service so the parents can concentrate without distraction.

But another young parent said just the opposite– that he would like his kids to be expected to simply sit through the service and have the discipline to be quiet.

It is certainly hard to make everyone happy with the way one does things at church, and no matter what you do, someone will probably be unhappy. But still, many churches are driven by the pursuit of ‘relevant’ services which speak to the contemporary culture.

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It is likely that evangelical churches are the best at incorporating contemporary popular culture into their services. That is because they try so fastidiously to avoid all tradition and anything that hints of ‘church culture’. But culture is simply impossible to avoid. Every business, every church, every school, every community and even every family has a ‘culture’– whether they try to or not. So when you do what you can to avoid connections to the past, all you have is the present– contemporary culture. So evangelical churches are especially adept at adopting contemporary culture– because more often than not, they have no other culture, or at least because they try to not have one, in the pursuit of contemporary relevance. Without any strong sense of the holy, and the me-centered focus of the (my)life-application sermons, and nothing but contemporary culture, one often ends up with an amalgamation which is often Oprah/Dr Phil meets a country-living aesthetic.

That, I believe, is unfortunate.

It is also why low-church evangelical churches are not the choice for many under-50 people who grew up in that type of church. In an age of uncertainty and rapid change, many of us are attracted to the stability of tradition, church spiritual habits, physical practices (going up for communion) and stained glass windows. And its not because we are looking for something more immanent– we are simply tired of the immediate-contemporary-immanent focus. We want something transcendent, and the meanings and symbols of more traditional practices and forms bring a sense of transcendent which is wholly lacking in contemporary culture.

From my perspective, this is why it is a dead end for the church to imitate and mimic contemporary culture– contemporary culture is devoid of the holy and transcendent.

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R.I.P. Mike Lawless

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Mike Lawless, one of the guys who have worked for me regularly for the last 7 years here in the midtown area, died on Friday afternoon, when he had an epileptic seizure and collapsed onto the cement, falling directly onto the cement headfirst. He was 47. We will all miss him a lot.

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Mike was known for his funny stories, and he always seemed to have a knack for having ridiculous things happen to him (which made for more funny stories). I met Mike when I first bought a condemned house on 33rd street. I gave Mike an apartment in a basement of one of the other buildings we had down the street. He worked at Burger King for a while, and at the grocery store nearby for a while, but most of the last 7 years he did work for me. He was especially good at Sanding floors, painting, cleaning up apartments, and cleaning yards. This week he’d been raking leaves a lot.

Mike was a thoughtful and funny guy, and was enjoyed by most people who met him. He tended to be the life of the party/conversation, and had a memory for details that was amazing.  Sometimes he drove me crazy, sometimes I drove him crazy, but we both cared about each other a lot, and I am sad he went so young.

Mike had many struggles along the way, and there were periods of stability, periods of thriving, and then periods where things did not go well.  I’m sure I could have done a lot more for him, and I know he could have been a lot better to himself.  At times he seemed to live a charmed life (like when he got hit by a car on Dodge, thrown into the air, landing behind the car– but lived to tell about it) while at other times he seemed to be prone to bad luck (like the epileptic episodes, the degenerative hip disease he’d suffered at 35, requiring titanium hip replacements, or his proneness to accidents due to hurrying)  He had so much promise and talent in some ways, yet he never gave himself much chance to fully experience the benefits of those gifts.  For those who knew him well, his presence and wit and storytelling were all part of the gifts we received while we knew him.  We will miss him a lot.

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Advent 1

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Adventus in Latin means “coming”. Advent is the season leading up to Christmas in which Christians remember the coming of Christ to earth– the coming of the Savior Jesus Christ. The four Sundays before Christmas are indicated by the four candles on an advent wreath, with the fifth candle being for Christmas eve.

One of the most common and powerful songs of advent is “O Come O Come Emanuel” which is a song of the expectation of the coming of the messiah:

 O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel

Adventus is also the Latin translation of the Greek word Parousia, which is the word meant to refer to the second coming of Jesus Christ.  The second coming of Christ is to come at any moment,  and no one will know the day or the hour (Matthew 24:36)  Martin Heidegger said that the parousia leaves Christians with a perpetual constant anticipation of the coming– never knowing if this moment may not be the last moment of all time.  That perspective gives us an existential awareness of the moment, a view which leaves us always on knifes edge, wondering if the next moment will be the last before Christ comes.  He draws on Thessalonians, in which Paul discusses at length the importance of the second coming of Christ.

So in this advent season we anticipate in memoriam the arrival of the Christchild to bring salvation, but also the second coming of Christ.  Normally during this time leading toward Christmas we celebrate a lot of office parties and community get-togethers.  But as Christians we should especially be taking time to live in accordance with our non-worldly values– being especially concerned for the needy and the weak, those without voice and those who lack food, shelter, and friendship.

Coming of the fullness of Thanksgiving, it is important to remember all that we have, and so look for ways now to give to others, and to create ways to give to others.

May God have mercy on us all. andy

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