John Nolland: Nominalism

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John Nolland: Nominalism

“His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’ Luke 19:22-23

“The master deals with his slave on the slave’s own terms. There is no doubt that the slave felt pressure from his master’s expectations and, though he took custody of the master’s money, he would not accept the responsibility that accompanied it. There is a certain kind of nominalism involved here: readiness in a general way to be identified with Jesus, but unwillingness to be answerable in any committed sense to God’s expectations that are made known to us in connection with Jesus; a preference for doing nothing rather than running the risk of doing too little.

The master will argue that the extreme image that the slave has of him, far from being an excuse for inactivity, should rather have produced action. To put the money on deposit with a bank would have produced a rather more modest return than achieved by the other slaves, but it would have involved the very minimum of effort on the part of this slave and would have exposed him to minimum financial risk. Beyond questioning the logic of the slave’s position, this suggestion hints that though God’s mandates to his servants open up a vast sphere of possibility, he is prepared to accept, when there has been any sort of effort to implement the mandate, what is actually a minimal return on his investment.”

John Nolland in Luke 18:35-24:53, Volume 35C (WBC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993) 918-919.

John Nolland was a professor at Trinity College Bristol where I did my doctoral work and is another fine Aussie biblical scholar. I read from his Luke commentary because I am speaking on a panel today about what ministries should do with investment resources.

So I am learning as CEO of Global Trust Partners, that you don’t bury the resources you have, but you don’t invest them without an investment policy either, so we are working on that now. With institutional resources, we want them put to work in keeping with the Master’s wishes.

The larger issue at play here, however, is the nominalism so prevalent in Christian circles. People align with Christ, but don’t show any corresponding actions, so the inactivity they exhibit represents the testimony against them. They will be dealt with on their own terms.

It leads me as an educator and speaker at this conference to spark action. In my own journey, I did not figure out the blessings of obedience until I acted. I pray that everyone reading this will run from nominalism to grace. Jesus cares not about returns. He just wants us to experience the blessing of living out our faith.

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Constantine R. Campbell: Graced

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. 2 John 3

“While God does surely extend grace to all people in various forms (common grace), it is a special grace that all believers enjoy. It is the grace that accompanies the merciful forgiveness of sins and the peace of reconciliation with God. In this respect, grace, mercy, and peace come in truth because truth is the boundary marker of the people of God.

And as love is the bond that exists between the members of God’s community, so it is the bond that God has for His children. Grace, mercy, and peace come to us because God loves us. So we may say that truth and love are the primary features of our relationship with God. Through truth and love, grace, mercy and peace are mediated to us.

Since we are assured of these gifts, they will continue to define and shape us. We are people who have been graced — we are the recipients of God’s boundless generosity and kindness. He showers gifts upon us, not the least of which is our salvation by grace. This reality ought to shape our hearts and minds so that we always know that what we have, we have by God’s generosity. Remembrance of grace will make us thankful.”

Constantine R. Campbell in 1, 2, and 3 John (Story of God Bible Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017) 190.

Campbell is another Aussie scholar in modern times whose writings I have appreciated. Here, he reminds us that we have been “graced” by “God’s boundless generosity and kindness” to bless others. The channel for blessing may be material and it may be spiritual but notice that it flows “in truth and love.” My prayer this week is to be a conduit of blessing “in truth and love “as I speak at the CMA 2019 conference in Melbourne.

I pray the same for you wherever God sends you. Ask Him to fill you with truth and love so that the grace of “God’s boundless generosity and kindness” does not stop with you but flows through you to others. Even as the discipline of daily study shapes me, or reading this sharpens you, be sure to share it with others as God leads so that they too grow in thankfulness and generosity. Graced ones must grace others. It’s God’s design.

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Brian Rosner: Economic Religiosity, Syncretism, and Idolatry

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5

“In western society in general the economy has achieved what can only be described as a status equal to that of the sacred. Like God, the economy, it is thought, is capable of supplying people’s needs without limit. Also like God, the economy is mysterious, unknowable, and intransigent. It has both great power and, despite the best managerial efforts of its associated clergy, great danger. It is an inexhaustible well of good(s) and is credited with prolonging life, giving health and enriching our lives. Money, in which we put our faith, and advertising, which we adore, are among its rituals. The economy also has its sacred symbols, which evoke undying loyalty, including company logos, product names, and credit cards.

People today conduct their lives primarily in terms of economic religiosity. The economy is the ultimate source of value and, as a religion, confers value on those who participate in it. Not to participate in the economy is to lack any social worth, as many of those without paid employment have come to learn.

As a religion, the economy supplies solutions to the basic puzzles of life and help in negotiating them. The meaning of a person’s life is found in full participation in the economy, as both a producer and a consumer. The purpose of life involves the full development of the individual’s economic potential and the pursuit of material progress for the good of all. Scores of books and courses are available at every level to assist the faithful to realize their potential. Whereas once the most vivid and intense experiences of life were to be found in traditional religion, today they involve money rituals, whether at work, on holidays or shopping. The religion of money even has its creeds and dogmas, such as “Money makes the world go round”…

Some forms of Christianity have followed a time-honoured course in response to this newly ascendant religion: namely, syncretism, an attempt to cash in on the attraction of its beliefs and practices. The gospel of health, wealth, and prosperity is the response of those who consider resistance to be of no avail. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” When such preachers proclaim that it is God’s will for you to be healthy and wealthy, and that not to be so is evidence of your lack of faith, they fail to reveal only one thing: which god they are talking about…

The most disturbing thing about the fact that greed is idolatry is that hardly anybody owns up to being a worshipper. Imagine the response of disbelief in the local church if it were revealed that the vast majority of its members were secretly worshipping other gods. Yet if our analysis of the religion of money is right, the unthinkable may not be so far from the truth.

The most convincing evidence that greed is idolatry concerns the answer to a simple question: what do idolaters do with their idols which believers are meant to do with God? The answer is that they offer their idols love, trust, and obedience. In each case, that is exactly what the greedy do with their money. There are various ways to define greed. Greed is wanting more money and possessions. Greed is the opposite of contentment. Greed is a refusal to share your possessions. And so on. One approach is to consider greed in terms of its driving motivations. What causes people to be insatiable and mean with respect to material things? Greed is driven by inordinate love, misplaced trust and forbidden service; as such greed is rightly condemned as idolatry.”

Brian Rosner in “Unmasking Greed” Ministry Training Strategy Discussion Paper 3.10 (Matthias Media: The Briefing #250) 5-7.

Rosner is one of my favorite Aussie biblical scholars. In this peach of a paper he unmasks the complex layers of greed. He cuts through the Christian responses of economic religiosity, syncretism, and idolatry and shines light on the sin for what it is.

Our only right response to greed is to kill it. We must put it to death as the Apostle Paul instructed us. And, lest it creep up in our lives, we starve it through regular giving. As God supplies, we enjoy and share His blessings so as not to feed it. That’s why generosity is so important. It frees us from greed.

Australia is a place filled with many critters that can kill you. Sometimes they can be avoided; other times they must be addressed. In plain terms, you may need to kill one before it kills you. That’s how we must respond to greed. When we see it, we must kill it, or it will kill us. That’s the word picture I will use in my teaching this week.

Greed seeks to worm its way into our minds, our hearts, our homes, our lives. Before we know it, it’s got us. We don’t have to become victims. We can be victorious. Christ, not money is all we need, and we show the world it’s true through our living, giving, serving, and loving.

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Berni Dymet: Acceptable Giving and Sacrifice

Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take whatever he wishes and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. Your Majesty, Araunah gives all this to the king.” Araunah also said to him, “May the Lord your God accept you.” But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. 2 Samuel 24:22-24

“David knew that a sacrifice to God had to cost him something. A sacrifice is not a sacrifice if it costs you nothing. And that’s the difficult place that we need to come to. That place of being prepared to sacrifice…in order to be set free from the tyrannical rule of mammon. Yet still, many a man and many a woman has a divided heart when it comes to the tension – and it is a tension – between the things in life that really matter and the promises that money and wealth dangle under our noses.”

Berni Dymet in Money Matters: Discover the freedom, power and peace of honouring God with your finances (Bondi Junction: Christianityworks, 2018) 22.

I am in Australia this week, so I decided to shift my attention what Aussie authors say about money and generosity. Dymet directs our attention to David’s proclamation and offers a keen insight: without sacrifice giving is unacceptable. What about you’re giving? Is there sacrifice in it?

This profound truth links to the “why” behind giving. God does not need our money. We need to give it. We need to sacrifice to release it’s power over us. If there’s no sacrifice, there’s no release of power. So, in David’s case, he wanted to pay for the sacrifice to make it acceptable.

In modern application, this alerts us to the reality that acceptable giving is different for each of us and yet requires the same ingredient to release the power of mammon over us: sacrifice. Sit with the Lord today and think about what sacrifice looks like for you.

Today I will worship at City on a Hill in Melbourne with Vanessa Hall, board chair of CMASC and GTP board member. Then I will welcome Michael Blue to Australia and go to the Melbourne Cricket Ground for an AFL game with him and six dear CMA friends: John Peberdy, Steve and Kate Kerr, Paul Arnott, Vanessa Hall, and Gary Williams.

I love these Aussie mates. They inspire me as they give their lives as living sacrifices to God. They sacrifice time and energy to serve others, and specifically, to assist churches and ministries across Australia. For Michael and me, we are giving a week. I celebrate how they give every week in service to God, so it’s a joy to serve them.

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George M. Wieland: Pilgrim perspective

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

“Who are the rich? What are riches? Paul gently teases his readers with four cognate terms (plousios, ploutos, plousiōs, plouteō): those who are “rich” mustn’t trust in “riches” but in God who provides “richly” and if they want to be “rich,” they should be “rich” in good works. The play on words poses a profound challenge: what do they really value, and in what or in whom do they truly trust?

It is in this regard that the “rich” have most need to receive from the “poor.” In the household of faith pictured in 1 Timothy 5, it is the one in the most severe material need, the real widow, left alone, who has set her hope on God and continues in supplications and prayers night and day (5:5). This is precisely what the “rich” must learn to do (6:17b)! For me, as a visitor from relatively rich New Zealand to economically poor parts of our region, one of the most profound enrichments has been to see and experience a deeper and more urgent life of dependence upon God.

One example might serve to illustrate this. I was in Kathmandu with the students of the Nepal Baptist Bible College. One afternoon a terrible scream rang out, and I ran to see what had happened. As I went two students met me and urged me to hurry. One of the young men had trapped his fingers in a heavy door; it had slammed shut, leaving his hand misshapen, and the young man was in extreme pain and great distress. “I have some medicine in my room!” I said, “I’ll fetch it as quickly as I can.” But as I turned to rush back to my room, I was topped by one of the students who had come to call me, an 18 year old girl. “Sir,” she said, “Thank you for the medicine, and we shall be glad to use it, but that’s not why we came for you. First would you please pray?” I was humbled and rebuked.

This crisis, minor though it was, had exposed something about each of us. I, the “rich” Christian, had instinctively responded to the need by reaching for what my wealth could provide: the medicine in my suitcase. She, the “poor” believer, had instinctively responded by reaching out to God. I stopped, and prayed, joining my prayers with the faith of the poor. Then I fetched the medicine, but when I brought it back, the young man was calm and smiling. He assured me that he didn’t need it; the pain was gone. Within the household of faith, each has something to give, and each has his or her needs met when they receive what others are able to give…

The call to the church, as the assembly of pilgrims, is to reorientate their existence towards God, to learn from God to live distinctively in the world. As “those who in the present age are rich” pray for rulers to act in a way that extends God’s loving care to all, they must scrutinize their own use of economic, political, and social power. They must consider whether their choices, actions, and inactions are together a participation in God’s saving rule in the world or serve rather to obstruct the benefits of God’s rule from reaching others. As “rich” pilgrims, they must especially heed the call to value that to which God invites us more than that to which might be acquired along the way. Christians must cultivate the richness of generosity, which is learned from our most generous God and from Christ Jesus who gave himself as a ransom for all.”

George M. Wieland in “As for those who in the present age are rich” (1 Tim 6:17): A reflection on mutual care within God’s household in the light of recent environmental disasters” in the Torch Trinity Journal, Torch Trinity Graduate University, Seoul, South Korea. TTJ 14.1 (2011): 67-69.

Since I’m in the South Pacific enjoying a day of rest before a full week of ministry, I read a great article by Kiwi scholar, George M. Wieland, on the charge to the rich. I was looking for fresh inspiration as I will speak on a radio show later this week and in the room will be about 30 wealthy clients of Prime Value.

They’ve asked me to answer the question: “Why be generous?”

I will call them to adopt a pilgrim perspective with their wealth because what we hold on to reflects where we place our trust. In this piece Wieland admitted his first thought was to trust in medicine to sort a crisis rather than God. What we hold on to actually gets its hold on us. The rich everywhere must learn to set their hope on God alone.

How do we learn this? By enjoying and sharing everything. We don’t figure it out until we live it out.

Father in Heaven, thanks that in You I have I have all I need, have ever needed, and will ever need. Help me show others your all-sufficiency and faithfulness through my humble obedience and generous sharing so they grasp life with me. Reorient my mind to have a pilgrim perspective by your Holy Spirit. Hear my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Austin Gohn: Promised Land Ecology

It is a land the Lord your God cares for; the eyes of the Lord your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end. Deuteronomy 11:12

“Promised Land Ecology” is marked by two things: abundance and dependence. First, abundance: There will be no scarcity there. There will be more than enough grain, wine, and oil (the staples of the Hebrew food pantry). There will be more than enough grass to fatten up your livestock. It’ll be a land flowing with milk and honey. You won’t need coupons. Second, dependence: This abundance, though, will not be because the Israelites learned more effective techniques to farm the land, sowing seeds and irrigating it, making use of new Canaanite technology. No, the land is abundant because it is dependent. We learn that God is the one creating the abundance—that God is the one gardening the land, ‘a land that the Lord your God cares for’ (11:12). If you’re the inhabitants of an ecology marked by abundance and dependence, your responsibility is obedience. Obedience is what it looks like to acknowledge that your abundance is dependent.”

Austin Gohn in his homily “Promised Land Ecology” at Trinity School for Ministry as recounted in their email to constituents dated 29 May 2019.

Notice the components of “Promised Land Ecology” and see how they reflect God’s kindness to His people: abundance, dependence, and obedience. God’s economy is abundant. The posture of His people is dependent. Grasping life in this ecology or economy requires obedience.

As I have arrived in Melbourne, Australia (pictured from my hotel window), on my eighth trip Down Under, I think what I love most about serving Aussie Christians is their hunger and passion for obedience. It comes into view as the narrow path that is the opposite of the latest techniques the world touts as the way to go. Why?

Our world is filled with a scarcity view of provision, an independence perspective linked to the role of people, and when those pieces come together, they form the basis for a mindset that reflects disobedience to God’s design. We have our work cut out for us to help people grasp “Promised Land Ecology” thinking.

I have my work cut out for me on this trip. God has opened doors to speak many times, in large groups, one-on-one meetings, workshops, and radio interviews settings. I pray He empowers me to help people grasp”Promised Land Ecology” so they flourish following God’s design for living, giving, serving and loving.

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Walter Brueggemann: Needful and Dependent

But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. Genesis 40:14

“The man who seems to be quite in control here is needful. The pitiful plea is unexpected after his public performance. It is remarkable that this man nearly identified with God (v. 8) now is reduced to a plea. The powerful man born to rule is also a needful one, one “the least.” It in 39:21, it is affirmed that God shows him “loyalty” (hesed). But in 40:14, he asks for “kindness” (hesed), not from God, but from the imprisoned butler. The liberator of the butler is now himself dependent and in need of liberation. For all his reliance on God, Joseph must depend on the act of a covenantal neighbor.”

Walter Brueggemann in Genesis: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: WJKP, 2010) 324.

When this posts I will be flying somewhere over the Pacific.

Some time ago, I shared a post about the fact that I often experience the feeling of “helpless dependence” on God when I travel. I also realize how needful and dependent I am on others. I pray they attend to my needs.

As we continue to explore kindness in the Scriptures and consider its relationship with generosity, a question comes into view today for each of us: Will I remember others and show them kindness even as God has remembered me and shown kindness to me?

Let us consider how God showed kindness to Joseph in Genesis 39:21. “The Lord was with him; He showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” Sometimes God’s kindness appears as favor from an unsuspecting person.

Father, we acknowledge that we are needful and dependent on you and others. Surprise us with your favor through unsuspecting people, and cause your kindness to flow through us to others by your Holy Spirit. Hear my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

 

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Harold W. Hoehner: God’s handiwork

In order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:7-10

“The work of kindness located in Christ Jesus is the wonderful salvation wrought by Him and not by us. Because we are located in Christ, we were made alive with Him, raised with Him, seated with Him in the heavenlies, hence the kindness of God toward us. Our own efforts would have been rejected by God, but we are accepted because we are in Christ…this salvation is truly by God’s grace and does not originate or result from the efforts of humans…The gift is that which is outside of ourselves and is to be received.

Therefore the gift of salvation has its origin in God, its basis is grace, and it is received by means of faith… It becomes apparent that the reason that this salvation is not from humans or their efforts is because we are God’s workmanship…the goal of being created in Christ Jesus is for good works. God’s workmanship is not achieved by good works, but it should result in good works as God has purposed them…we are created in Christ Jesus for works that are morally and beneficially good for us, for those around us, and for God.”

Harold W. Hoehner in Ephesians: An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002) 339-348.

Today I board a plane for Los Angeles, California and then Melbourne, Australia, to teach at the CMA 2019 Conference, and to serve Christian Super with my friend, Michael Blue. I’m excited about all God has in store for both of us over the next 12 days. But, there are three deep reasons for my joy.

The first reason for my joy is grace. It is by grace that I have been made alive by Jesus Christ. It is by grace that I get to serve Him. It is by grace that I am privileged to tell others about His love and kindness all over the planet. Every day is a gift of grace. Every opportunity to proclaim truth is rooted in grace.

The second reason for my joy is the fact that we are God’s handiwork. He did not create you or me alone as His handiwork, it’s a team effort. He created us to bless others. I am so thankful that I get to travel Down Under with Michael, a dear friend and brother, so that we bless others together.

The third reason for my joy is good works. As God’s handiwork, He created us to do specific good works that He has prepared in advance for each of us. I am going to speak, teach, and serve using the gifts He has given me and to share the words He has put on my heart. See why I am excited to go?

What about you? Have you come to grips with the implications of grace? Your salvation, your life, and all you possess are not things you earned. You got them by grace. Because that’s true, whom will you serve? What are the good works He has created you to do? 

Go and do those things with great joy in community, and pray for us to have safe travel and fruitful ministry.

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F.F. Bruce: A quality of God

By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5:22-23

“Kindness (included in the ninefold “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22) is a quality of God. “Taste and see that the Lord is kind,” says the psalmist (Psalm 34:8). Jesus taught His hearers to be kind, because God is “kind to the ungrateful and ungenerous,” and those who imitate Him in this “will be sons of the Most High” (Luke 6:35). His “kindness and severity” are displayed in His dealings with human beings (Romans 11:22); His kindness is designed to bring them to repentance (Romans 2:4) and His children are urged to “continue in His kindness” (Romans 11:22).”

F.F. Bruce (1910-1990) in The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984) 153.

Kindness is “a quality of God” and, like generosity, only evident through the power of the Spirit at work in us. This quality is to be extended even to the ungrateful and ungenerous, even as God’s kindness was lavished on us when we were ungrateful and ungenerous.

I can think of many instances in my life where a difficult or bitter person was softened by kindness. Perhaps you can think of some examples of this? Kindness leads even hard-hearted people to to change directions, that is, to repent. It’s how God treats us and wants us to treat others.

Father in Heaven, lavish your kindness and generosity on us and cause it to flow through us to others. Jesus, help us follow your example and be kind to even ungrateful and ungenerous people. Holy Spirit, help us continue in kindness so that we extend it to everyone, everywhere we go. Amen.

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Douglas J. Moo: God’s kindness leads us to repentance

Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Romans 2:4

“We, too, can “show contempt” for God’s kindness toward us by using it as an “open sesame” for sin. “God will forgive, that’s His business,” the French skeptic Voltaire once said, and too many believers adopt just this attitude. We grow cavalier toward our sin because we think God will simply overlook it out of His love for us in Christ.

But sin is a serious matter whether we are in Christ or not. To be sure, I think Scripture teaches that the believer is eternally secure in Christ, and this security puts the Christian in a different position than the Jew under the old covenant. But the Scripture also teaches that a lack of concern about sin is incompatible with true faith.”

Douglas J. Moo in Romans: The NIV Application Commentary: From Biblical Text to Contemporary Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000) 80. I am turning my attention to Bible verses linked to kindness, my word for 2019.

Growing in generosity can be likened to growing in any other area of life. But, growth requires a foundation. God’s kindness and patience serves as the bedrock, the foundation, for our growth.

Related to money, He has set forth a design for us. It’s about as different from the world as anyone could imagine. He became flesh and dwelt among us and shared it using pointed teachings mixed with parables.

The teachings of Jesus related to money require us to repent (or change directions). The world says one thing and the Word says another. We must shift from the former to the latter in order to grow.

All the while God is kind and patient. He does not force people to grasp life in His economy but patiently waits for us turn and to figure it out as we live it out. But, the sad reality is that many won’t do that.

I see lots of so-called Christians on the “rich fool” path. Their hoarded wealth testifies against them reveals where they have misplaced their faith and trust.

So what is our role today? We get to be kind and patient with people to encourage growth in generosity. We must communicate and incarnate truth about money lest we serve it instead of God.

But growing in this area and getting others to join us happens not by telling people to do a few acts of giving. It happens best when we show others the way by example and do it with kindness and patience.

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