Takeaway 

What a fun word (I personally thought it should be hyphenated, but SpellCheck said otherwise). I like takeaways. I like it when you can go out to eat and they give you that extra takeaway drink to go. I like it when my wife doesn’t eat all of her meal and I get to take away the rest for lunch the next day. I’d say, most of the time, the idea of takeaways are typically positive.

And so it was this past Sunday. First of all, what a beautiful day! Our Life-Stage group had a good class talking about John chapter 2. The auditorium seemed to be filled up with praise and worship on Sunday morning, and Leon had a very encouraging message. I left our gathering on Sunday with a number of takeaways.

1. Be in the Word. Our class has talked about this recently as we’ve begun our series on John. If you’ve been a part of a church for a length of time, it might be easy to look past certain studies and consider them a “review”. In so doing, we treat the Bible as any other book, or head knowledge that need only be learned once instead of an overflowing well of wisdom, truth, and life. Our study of John is centered on, not just knowing “about” Jesus, but getting to know JESUS…who He is, and becoming more intimately aware of the things he said, the things he did, so that we can be better followers. Each week, as we look ahead at the next chapter in John we will be covering, I’m making a personal commitment to read the chapter multiple times in that week, to become connected, not just with what it says, but with what Jesus says. Are the words of Jesus a part of your week? Should they be?

2. Pray. Leon encouraged us all to consider our prayer lives. I took this to mean not just at the dinner table or in our gatherings together. Personally, I have needed more time in solitude and silence with my Father. Our lives are so loud, so busy, and my life reflects the world in that way. My life needs quiet, it longs for rest. Why is it that so often we make prayer something that God needs from us, when it is much more likely that prayer is something that God knows we need. In the coming weeks, I plan to carve out chunks of time when silence is valued. Could your life use some quiet-time? Will you get it without planning for it?

3. Fellowship with others. Whether this is synonymous with POTLUCKS or not, I appreciated what Leon had to say about our fellowship with one another. Fellowship isn’t always easy. Sometimes it can be really hard. But it’s so important. We are called to be in fellowship with one another. We are called to be connected, to encourage one another. When I think back on our “Surprise the World” study, I think about the first two letters of the B.E.L.L.S system and how much joy comes when I am seeking someone to “Bless”, and someone to “Eat” with. Even though our lives have become too busy, they have also become often too separate. In the coming weeks, as we join with our loved ones over Thanksgiving, and as we enter into the holiday season of Christmas, we will once again be reminded that it is better to give than to receive. We will encounter people who are in need of a blessing and may be able to share tables together of fellowship—both with people we now know, and perhaps people that we meet. As a takeaway, who will you bless? Who will you share a table with?

We have lessons to learn all around us, not just from sermons, not just from classes. What will you take away? How will you grow? What is making you become more like Jesus?

Chad Tappe

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Everything in Common

This part of Acts 2 is my favorite picture of the church, of the fellowship of the people of God. It is something that we try to emulate in our lives and our ministry here at UALR. This fellowship has a wide variety of people from different places and backgrounds who love to break bread together, but there is an aspect of Leon’s sermon that I feel challenged to work on regarding this fellowship.

Leon talked about this fellowship as a partnership, even with people who are different from us. That is where it gets hard. Occasionally I avoid going too deep in conversation with some people because eventually we will find something we disagree on and things will get difficult. Leon challenged me to lean into this kind of a conversation rather than avoid it.

We are working to partner with other ministries here at Genesis, and many of our students come from different backgrounds, different denominations, and even different religions altogether. I have been challenged to study Scripture with these people, as well as leaders of other ministries on campus, to get together with them to pour over Scripture as partners in the Gospel. As we seek God together, the goal is not to change their minds so that they will think like me, but that the Holy Spirit would speak to us and enrich our view of Him as we study together, as we hear perspectives that are not our own.

I want to study with other ministers on campus, but with my students as well. We have Bible studies where I do most of the talking, of course, but I want to be more intentional about having small group studies where we fellowship and praise God together by studying his Word together. I want to hear their voices and their perspectives on the Word of God.

He also talked about the importance of time praying with one another. This is something we already do every week, but there are so many more opportunities for us to come together and pray for things. I want to encourage this as a part of our everyday lives together, not just a weekly event. And personally, I want to see more of this in my own home, that my wife and I would study together and pray together as partners in the Gospel as well as partners in raising our little boy together. I pray that God will help us all to see the many opportunities to participate with one another in the fullness and reality of the family of God through the Gospel.

Morgan Hines

DEVOTED ONESELF

ACTS 2:42-47

One of the greatest days in history was the day the kingdom of Christ was launched and the church began. Jesus had been crucified fifty days earlier on Passover. Three days later he was raised from the dead, triumphant over death and all of Satan’s powers. He remained on earth with the disciples for over a month before ascending back to the Father and starting his reign as king of kings and lord of lords at the right hand of the Father. As part of his plan and fulfillment of a major promise to the disciples he had commanded them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit in an overwhelming way. When the day of Pentecost arrived, God sent the Holy Spirit with a huge noise like a tornado had hit Jerusalem. The Spirit came upon the disciples and there were tongues of fire sitting upon each of then. The apostles began to speak in languages they had never learned so that people from all over the known world who were in Jerusalem for the feast could understand them speaking in their own languages. No wonder a huge crowd came together. Peter stood up with the other eleven apostles and pointed out that this was what Joel the prophet had foretold that God would pour out his Spirit on all flesh. Sons and daughters would prophesy. Old men would dream dreams and young men see visions. God would pour out his Spirit on servants, both male and female. And whoever called on the name of the Lord would be saved.

Peter explained to them that Jesus who had performed all kinds of signs and wonders among them was the Messiah that had been prophesied. He was delivered to be crucified by the very plan and purpose of God and they had taken and by wicked hands had executed him. Yet death couldn’t hold. God raised him up and had now seated him on David’s throne just as he had promised. When the people realized what they had done they were cut to the heart and cried out,

“What shall we do?”

Peter told them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise of the Spirit was for them, their children and all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call. 3,000 people believed what he preached, repented of their sins and were baptized that day.

But notice what happened then.

“They devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”

Being forgiven and receiving the Spirit was vital. But it wasn’t the end for them. It was the beginning of a new life. Too many see being a Christian as an event. They were baptized and became part of the church. But did you devote yourself to the four big things that should be part of every Christian life?

Did you devote yourself to the apostles teaching? We all begin the Christian life as new babies in him. We are still feeding on milk and not meat. But if we are to grow and become strong as Christians we must become devoted students of the apostles teachings or the word of God especially the New Testament. We need a daily habit of reading and studying his word. But we need also to be part of study groups or classes so we can learn from others who have had more time to learn and know His will.

Have you devoted yourself to the fellowship or partnership of other followers of Jesus? Living for Christ isn’t an individual effort, but a team activity. He built the church as a body, a family and congregation so we can help each other grow in our faith and service to God. We need the encouragement of other Christians and the correction of mistakes and failures that hinder our growth for him. Build your fellowship. That was much of the reason the writer of Hebrews told them not to forsake the assembling of themselves together like some were doing.

Have you devoted yourself to the breaking of bread? This phrase is used both for sharing meals together and for taking of the Lord’s Supper together. Most likely here it is about the Lord’s Supper. In the early church the communion and the meal together were often done together so that the communion actually came about during the serving of a regular meal. It didn’t mean that every meal together was communion but that communion fit well as part of the table fellowship that was part of their normal life together.

Have you devoted yourself to the prayers? Certainly personal and private prayers are extremely important and ought to be a regular part of our life. But that isn’t what is being talked about in this text. He is instead referring to the people getting together to pray to God about matters of great importance to the whole group. Prayer services were once common in church and in small groups but seem to have become less and less a part of the normal life of the Christians and that is a shame. We need to get together to pray about matters that are important for our families, our friends and for the church as a whole. I believe there would be far less confusion and fussing in church if there were more times when we gathered to pray.

Will you today, make up your mind to become devoted to these four major aspects of godly living? It will set your whole life for God on a good course.

 

Leon Barnes

Tension in Worship

I would have been unsatisfied with Jesus’ answer to the question.

“The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father … true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”

What does “in spirit and truth” mean? Obviously change is coming. But what stays and what goes?

On the one hand, Jesus dismantled one of the Jews’ most important traditions – the centralization of the temple. Modern journalists would have called him an iconoclast. Jesus said the location of our worship is not important, because God is Spirit. This was a major blow to the Jewish institution.

On the other hand, Jesus emphasized the essentiality of truth. Our methods and traditions are still important to God. As Leon said, “We worship as God says to worship.” So the temple complex is out of the picture, but that doesn’t mean we throw out the whole playbook.

I think God intended us to feel some tension between “spirit” and “truth.” We need both, yet we tend to draw more heavily on one or the other.

I get caught up in the details. I rarely listen to a sermon without imagining the preacher’s outline and privately critiquing his style. I evaluate the song selection – were there too many fast songs, slow songs, old songs, new songs? As a teenager, I would count how many times one of our beloved elders said the word, “um” during his closing prayer. There is a great danger in this kind of thinking. Methods are important, but if we preoccupy ourselves with a formula, then the spirit suffers.

More recently, I feel as if I am fighting a frustrating battle against the spiritual heirs of the Jewish Temple Institution. We’ve launched a new church congregation in Huambo that meets in homes. We often hear this critique from outsiders: “How can you be a church, if you have no building? You’ll never grow.”

I want to prove them wrong. In fact, I usually respond by quoting Jesus, “Neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem!” I want our Angolan friends to question their cherished traditions, so I challenge their beliefs. One friend recently told me, “You like to stir up the dust too much.” He’s right. Tradition serves an important function and we ought to be careful curators of the traditions God gave us.

I struggle to balance spirit and truth. I feel as if I am always fighting one side or the other. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Perhaps God intended us to struggle so that we might grow and mature.

After hearing anew this message from John 4, I am resolved to take a deeper look inside my own thoughts and practices. With each worship experience I want to be sure that “spirit” and “truth” both receive equal importance. I want to be the kind of “true worshipper” that God seeks.

Robert Meyer

What is Worship

The sermon this past Sunday was entitled “What God Searches For” the preaching passage came from John 4:18-24 where among other things, the gospel writer records Jesus as saying, “The hour is coming and now is when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”

I’m sure we’ve probably all heard sermons that focus in on verse 24 – “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” It’s a great and important verse that I probably would have honed in on if I had been preaching but instead the sermon centered on verse 23 where Jesus said that the Father is seeking people to worship Him! We can and often do make the case that we must be careful to seek out the TRUTH and worship according to those things that God has authorized in his word. By the way, all of that is correct, important and true… but while we are looking for the right church and the right way to worship God, He is looking for the right heart and spirit to worship Him!
The question becomes what is God searching for in those who worship Him? The story of the woman at the well teaches us that God is not so much interested in the externals of worship, (ie., the right place, the right clothes, the right songs, the right people) instead, He is looking at the spirit and heart of those who come to worship. Are we coming before God in submission to His will and sacrificing our preferences to what His revealed word teaches about acceptable worship or are we imposing our likes, whims and preferences about what we think is good to us?

It’s a pretty deep question that we should all ask of ourselves because as human beings we all tend to want to have things our way, don’t we? We can even become pretty good at convincing ourselves that the way we like things after all, is the way God wants it to be. Yet, in the quiet solitude of the scriptures there it is staring us in the face; unmistakably verse 23 says – “…the Father is seeking such to worship Him.”

Our worship to God should not just be about singing the right songs, doing the prescribed things in the prescribed manner and checking off a list of items to be able to say we did it all right! True worship is that which comes from a heart and spirit, (attitude), that humbly comes before God yielded and broken, thankful for the grace and forgiveness that we find before the awesome throne of our heavenly Father.

Let’s never forget the importance of worshiping God in spirit and in TRUTH, but also remember that God is seeking the right spirit in us as we come before Him in worship. This Sunday, let me challenge you to lay aside everything else that can distract us from our true worship to God and be impacted by the fact that God is seeking us to truly worship Him! Now there’s something to think about for the rest of this week!

John Phillips

The most natural thing we do…

Leon’s message this past Sunday reminded me of a conversation I had with one of my kids recently.  They asked about what the “right” way to pray was – to bow your head, to lay face down on the ground, to hold or fold your hands face upward, or something else?

It led to a discussion about traditions that we receive from those who went before us and that those who went before us received traditions from those who went before them and so on.  Many of our ways of praying and worshipping, including our physical postures, songs we sing, ideas we share, are things we are repeating that others did or said long ago.

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For example, somewhere, long ago, someone had an encounter with God, a moment in which they felt the presence of the Lord in their life in some real way – maybe a healing, or a deliverance from a problem, or some deep insight – and they responded in a way that was natural to them – maybe they bowed their head and got on their knees to pray, or maybe they lifted their hands up toward heaven and spoke, wrote a song to sing to God or about God, etc…

For example, many of us are familiar with the song, “It is well with my soul” and how the writer, Horatio Spafford, had experienced great loss in his family (a son and four daughters all died).  On a ship headed to Europe, when they were close to the spot where his four daughters (seen below) had drowned in a shipwreck, he wrote the song as a cry, as a response to God in the midst of great pain and tragedy.  Though his heart was broken, he still trusted God and he expressed his worship in a song.

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That great song has served as a way for others to express their heart to God over the years.  Because Horatio Spafford worshipped the Lord and shared his experience with others, countless others have been able to worship the Lord and understand him at a greater depth.  People have been able to grieve and lament their pain and share their faith and their hope in the midst of pain because Spafford worshipped and shared his story.

It reminded me that we need always need fresh stories of experiences with God and to see how others responded to the Lord in worship, in faith, in frustration, in lament and sorrow, in victory, in boredom and excitement, and so on.

We need more Horatio Spaffords who will write songs we can relate to.  We need people to write songs and prayers and stories and to find other ways of expressing their experiences with God and life so that we can see God at work today, not just a few hundred years ago.

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It’s certainly not to say we should throw out the Psalms or songs written 100-300 years ago, but that we need to add our voices to their voices and see the continuation of faith over the centuries that will extend beyond us.

I need to worship God afresh today and not always depend on other’s worship response as the way that I worship the Lord.  In worshipping God today, I can reflect the work of the Lord and the leadership of the Spirit today and not simply on what God did in someone else’s life at some point in the past.

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he talks about them coming together to “do church” and that each of them brought something – a song, a prophecy, a word, a prayer – all things to share what God had been doing or teaching them in their life.

In this context, Paul said that the outsider “visiting church” would be convicted that God was real – why?  Because they’d see evidence of God at work today, not only people singing songs or repeating words that someone else that none of them knew wrote decades or hundreds of years earlier – evidence of God and people interacting today.

We need to remember that worship wasn’t and isn’t simply a form or format to follow, but also a function – an expression of our connection with the Lord today.

May we allow God’s Spirit to spill over and outside out normal boundaries of worship and let him lead us to respond to the Lord personally and not only and always through other people’s words.

May we see a new generation of songs that express a range of emotions and experiences.

May we see people inspired to share stories of Jesus and experiences with God in ways that connect with people we might not yet connect with.

May we rediscover the old songs, the Psalms, the scriptures and other expressions of experiences with God and help re-articulate them to new generations who are thirsty for God, but who might not connect with cultural expressions that they aren’t familiar with. 

May we worship the Lord.

Wade

True Worship

The New Testament says a lot that makes me paranoid about my own worship habits. The Scriptures demand of me music from the heart, when I can’t even make music with my mouth. There are warnings of taking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner, a topic I’ve heard a great many sermons try to explain. For my worship to count, I’ve been told that I must already be saved, I must have real desire, I must be edifying. And above all this, Jesus gives the mother of all worship-commandments in John 4: worship in spirit and in truth.

This is the one I spend most of my mental energies on. I try to stay focused for the full hour and a half. No zoning out. I must analyze each lyric. “…With grief and shame weighed down…” I can already feel myself fading. Quick—have Lauren pinch me before I hit my head on the pew. When I’ve thought about worshiping in spirit and truth, I’ve always sought this sort of worship.

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But, as Leon taught, that sort of worship—being genuine and being focused—is only the beginning. It is the much-needed first step toward the event of true worship Jesus ushered in.

In John 4, Christ spoke of a worship unlike that of the Samaritans and the Jews, and until Sunday, it was hard for me to understand what that might look like. But I see now that a worship of spirit and of truth is one that is uninhibited by the law or priests—one that escapes the confines of ritual.

And this is exactly how Leon encouraged me. The goal of the faith has for the last two millennia been to let our worship move beyond a set time and singular rituals (while those are surely godly) and instead to  emanate through our entire lives. If I am to worship in spirit and truth, I must carry my worship with me, holding it in my heart and mind. It will, naturally, make my life into a peculiar sort of life. It will affect my ethics, how I drive, how I speak, how I chat at work, how I send emails, how I eat dinner. It’s an all-pervasive worship, a worship of spirit and truth.

Daniel Crouch

The Seeking Father

Imagine a young father who has carried his 2-year-old son to a football game with him for the first time. They are holding hands as they enter the stadium. The dad is both proud of his son being with him and nervous at the thought of having his young son at such a place with so many people for the first time. The nervousness soon dies down as they get to their seats and the game is under way. With their hot dog and Dr. Pepper’s they are ready to roll. After the game has been going for some time and everything was going fine, the home team scored and everyone was on their feet screaming to the top of their voices, when the dad looks down to an empty seat beside him. Where is he? Suddenly it didn’t matter about the game. All that matters is finding his son. How could I have taken my eyes off of him? He quickly started yelling his name and involved everyone around him in trying to find his son. Then, over the loud speaker the dad heard his name called. Come to the speaker box. Your son is looking for you.

 

Now change the scene and realize the father is God and you are the son that he is searching for. One of the most amazing pictures of God in the gospel accounts is of him searching for us as his children. Luke pictured God as like the shepherd with 100 sheep and one became lost so that he left the 99 and searched for the one that was lost until he found it and with great joy brought it back to the herd. He is like a woman with ten silver coins and one was lost. She lite a lamp and swept the floor until she found the coin then called her friends to rejoice with her that her coin was found. John gives us a different picture of God as the one who searches for us. In John 4 Jesus was talking to the woman at the well. When he really begins to get close to her, even pointing out that she had been married to five different men but the man she now lived with was not her husband, she asked him about worship. Where is the right place to worship? Is it in Jerusalem as you Jews say or at Mt. Gerizim as the Samaritans say? It’s not clear if this was a burning question on her mind or if it was a diversion attempt to get the focus off of her life.

 

Either way, Jesus used the question to give her and us one of the greatest statements of the Bible about worship.

“Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24).

Notice the picture of God, our Father, seeking or searching for people who worship him in spirit and truth. It isn’t the picture of God as some recluse hiding from humans to see if they will seek him out and worship him. God isn’t reluctant to have people worship him.

 

Mankind, by their very nature, is worshipers. The question isn’t whether or not we will worship. The question is who or what we will worship and how will we do so? God is searching for true, genuine, or real worshipers. It is important to notice that it never said that God searched for true worship. He seeks for true worshipers. Notice there are three fundamental aspects of being a true worshiper. First, they worship the Father. The word used here for worship is active. It isn’t about a feeling that one has. It is to bow toward or to kiss toward. It is an action of devotion and worship to the Father. Second, they worship the Father in spirit. This has to do with the heart of the person worshiping. They pour their whole selves into the worship. Such worship requires a tremendous amount of effort on the part of the worshiper. Third, they worship in truth or as God directs them to worship. Since it is God that is worshiped, it makes sense that we would worship as He directs us to worship. It may feel good to us and not be at all what He wants. So, the question that must be raised is, no matter how I feel after the worship, how does God feel about it?

 

God searches for true worshipers. Will he find one in you?

 

Leon Barnes

So Crazy It Might Just Work

If God is a God of mission, then I need to have one too. 

Like Jeremy said this Sunday, God IS a God of mission, a mission of blessing to be shared through one nation to all the nations of the earth. And God, in His divine foreknowledge, has extended that very mission of blessing to ALL of His people. Shocking, isn’t it? To me it sometimes seems like a monumental error in cosmic judgment, that God would leave a crucial piece of his master plan in the head, heart, and hands of men.
But God does not make mistakes! He entrusted the salvation of mankind to his fully human son Jesus who successfully and overwhelmingly conquered sin and death. The way I understand it, as Jeremy reminded me this Sunday, it is my task to embody and reflect this new reality and the glory of what God has done through Christ to the world.
So what will I do? Well to be honest, I’ll probably keep doing a lot of the same things I already do, but I have to be more intentional, and definitely more vocal, about the new reality that Christ has ushered into my life and this world. He is making all things new, and He has infiltrated every aspect of my life, but I tend to hide that truth rather than purposefully reflect it to the people around me.
Jeremy also said that people are seeking a connection, a connection to LIFE to MEANING and to NEWNESS. My goal is to join in the mission of God by sharing my life and my meaning and my newness through Jesus to the people I am already making connections with. 
I am about to go disc golfing with a friend and student; so how can I share life, meaning, and newness with him in the ordinary rhythms of life? Maybe with a simple question about hope in this world, maybe with a statement about something God has made new in my life. I have to start somewhere.
Because God is a God of mission, I have to have one too.
Morgan Hines

Bad drivers and reconciliation

Morning traffic. Trying to get to the school to drop off one of my kids and then trying to get to the office to cram in as much work as is possible before making the return trip to pick up.
It starts with a neighbor from down the street zooming up behind me and tailgating me all the way through our 25 mph streets and then transitions to a stoplight intersection where a guy pulls out of a McDonalds right in front of me and I have to slam on my brakes to avoid hitting him.

I’m in a hurry and so are they – all those bad drivers out there. In my mind, I’m frustrated and angry with them and occasionally a sentence will slip out.

“No. Way. Did you just pull out. In front of me. Like that!”
And from the back seat comes an eight year old voice saying, “Did they do something they shouldn’t have done?”
And in that moment I realize my demeanor and my word choices are saying many things to the innocent questioner in the back seat.
I realize that I am subtly saying to him:

· “It’s me against them.”

· “Other people are a problem.”

· “Their bad choices inconvenience me.”

· “The most important thing is my convenience, my goals, etc.”

I’m not saying a person can’t have an opinion about the quality of other people’s driving skills, but I realize that, for me, my reaction to other people and situations that I find myself in, shows me the direction of my heart.

The inclinations that I have in day-to-day situations show me how quickly I can drift from being a person who sees all people through the eyes of God and toward being a person who sees people from a very different point of view.

If I want to be a person whose life is aimed at helping others be reconciled to God, I’ve got to think through traffic and bad drivers, and all other people who I can easily categorize and write off as “people don’t count when it comes to all this Jesus stuff” because the situation in which we meet puts me at odds with them.

And it’s not limited just to traffic and bad drivers.
Lord, help me realize that everything about my life can be an extension of the reconciling message of Jesus and not just the “church parts”. Help me see that it can be the opposite of that.

I give you my alone time. I give you my church time. I give you my work. I give you my shopping time. I give you my family time. I give you my neighbor-and-complete-stranger interaction times. I give you my driving time.

Let your Spirit speak a little louder to me when I’m tempted to think “this moment, this person doesn’t matter”.

Remind me that your heart is for them, just as it is for me. Lead me to act and speak accordingly.

Thank you for times when your Spirit surfaces what’s in my heart through the question of my own child and other people or events that unfold around me.

Thank you that you are still reconciling parts of us to you that we don’t realize are not yet in your control.

May we see more clearly the reconciling you are doing in us so it will motivate us to live so others can be reconciled too.
Wade Poe