Grateful For Dad’s Living Room

This morning seems rather unique, even in a “born again” kind of way! I was awakened early as usual, but with a tremendous sense of gratefulness; far more than that, an abiding “new-start-like” refreshing; a gift of grace perhaps? I don’t know how it happens, but grace comes in moments like this, and thus the name.

I am hurriedly trying to capture the moment in this digital journal of mine, while not losing the joy that seems present with this early morning aha!

This amazing sense of abiding grace and childlike joy, present since my first thoughts, seems similar as I recall, to being awakened on Christmas morning. I had rested well, after a long weekend in the mountains with two wonderfully successful couples, now lifelong friends, all gathered in a setting of some four hundred exquisite acres of Virginia fall artwork, with colors straight from heaven; almost iridescent as the sun rose each day.

As my Sunday morning ritual began, with coffee brewing while I made the walk down our driveway to retrieve the local newspaper, my first glance upward toward a clear starry sky seemed only to further accent this wonderful awareness that had now possessed me. Where did this overwhelmingly joyous attitude come from, and why me?

Why was this now 66 year old kid born into a family with a Dad who understood the pleasure of being alive, the love of family and the reward of hard earned pay? Why was I given a Mother who was faithful to that husband, changed the diapers of her four kids, and did the laundry for her college freshman when he dropped it on the floor after a week of school that he could not afford, made possible only by a loan of money from a local foundation, through people who could not possibly know him?

Why when he had almost ruined his young life with alcohol, did he have a serendipitous moment of redemption in his Dad’s living room at age 25; with a God he did not know, through the prayers of that same Dad, who had learned to trust that God as a young teen, while he and thousands of others fought for the freedom that I now enjoy; in fact, a lifetime in a land far more privileged than any other on the globe?

Why did I end up in a classroom teaching Science of all things, where I would providentially meet others, just after my experience with God; folk who had come to know this same Christ by way of their own life experience? How could it be possible that I would then be invited to attend a Prayer Breakfast, which I had no clue was occurring, even allowed at some point to lead that endeavor? That leadership opportunity would introduce me to a pastor who happened into the community where I taught. That man would become a mentor in my life, and later would invite me to serve as an assistant pastor at a small church I had never heard of to that point, answering a long forgotten calling spoken into my life at age nine. Through him, I would meet a denominational Superintendent, who would further invest in me as a leader.

Given a few statewide and even national recognitions by my denomination, that seemingly sovereign denominational placement would be sufficient to attract the attention of a national leader who would be called to take a church in my hometown, and would then invite me back home to serve on the pastoral staff of a growing congregation, almost as if my somewhat shady past had never occurred.

Why would I have just earlier than that appointment, felt led to return to college, directed toward a degree I had never heard of (Resource Development), having no awareness of opportunities that would follow? I would complete that degree and later another, which uniquely prepared me for future municipal positions I knew nothing about. Why was that Public School leadership position as a community advocate, even to the personalities and superintendents served, so custom by design, preparing me to impact a city for Christ through a large church that would I would never have known existed were it not for that early prayer breakfast assignment. That positon with the Public Schools by the way, was disbanded by the state of North Carolina shortly after I left the school system, almost as if its temporary nature was solely for my learning?

Now that same church has grown in its awareness of the needs of its city, even changing its name to WS First, somewhat fulfilling the answer to a promise made by that same “living room” God to whom my Dad earlier introduced me. That promise was that if I would follow “Him”, I would impact cities.

Parenthetically, should my reader perhaps misinterpret this morning’s sense of awe and celebration as some arrogant boasting, I can assure you that I am as amazed at God’s involvement in my life anyone! Remember, I am the prodigal, not the priest.

I now hold three earned degrees, have a phenomenally gifted wife, who manages to seasonally adorn a beautiful property tucked in the woods of Clemmons and all debt free; though my professional life has been quite different than any career minded person might have planned! Our property has become a place of encouragement and celebration, from the new kitchen just completed as means for furthering my wife’s gift of hospitality, not to mention our almost ten year old cabin, tucked just inside the Village that even granted me three terms as their mayor!

Now we share this property with a daughter, son-in-law and new grandson, John Luther, who have settled just walking distance across the creek. John Luther perhaps will watch and learn of this God, as we spend these next few years together, the Lord by grace, further unfolding the life of his Grandpa and a special dog named Coach, on the very outskirts of that hometown to which I was called in 1990.

Yes, a hometown for which I have now spent over twenty-five years praying; four of those years, from a lofty perch in an office overlooking the city, made possible as a gift from another brother now deceased, who believed in my calling. I have known the privilege of serving on the planning board, networking with scores of others who share that love for this city; even chairing Leadership WS, a privilege usually reserved for those far more successful them myself. This awareness also reinforced this a.m., almost as if a set-up for this amazing morning of gratefulness, as the local paper celebrated new facilities recently afforded Leadership Winston-Salem. To review the list of names involved, and know that these fine folk are my now my friends, is an amazing thing also.

As my first superintendent, Dr. Thompson used to remind me: “When you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you know it didn’t get there by itself.” How did this humble but grateful “turtle” find his way atop this fence post? Grace and the help of hundreds whom God has introduced him to since the night this prodigal visited his Dad’s “living room” in 1973!

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Consideration

“Consideration is the concept of legal value in connection with contracts. It is anything of value promised to another when making a contract. It can take the form of money, physical objects, services, promised actions, abstinence from a future action, and much more. Consideration to create a legally enforceable contract entails a bargained for, legal detriment incurred by the promisee OR a legal benefit to the promisor.” 1

Yesterday morning, as I prepared for my day, knowing it could be a difficult one, this word “consideration” seemed to lodge in my heart. Still there this morning, I will take that as a need to elaborate by way of my electronic “journal.”

As a Realtor, I know that no contract is complete without two signatures and some exchange of consideration. Most already know where I am going with this, yet my purpose for this blog is that it serve as a means of processing “out loud” the thoughts that occur to me in my early morning rituals with God.

Even that statement gives me pause! I, John Bost, a human (humus…soil) have a morning ritual with God? What a glorious thought, that the King of Heaven would know me by name, or as Jesus put it, know even the very hairs on my head and would await, literally lean over the portals of heaven each morning, with renewed grace, hoping I will give Him audience! I am a friend of God!

Got carried away there for a moment!

What gives me the right to believe that I hold the affection of the Being who constructed a Universe with galaxies untold, adorning the heavens, and for no other reason, than for me to gaze upward each morning, as I pick up my morning paper? Really? Is there that much love, power and creativity within One being, and that Being focused on me, as if I were the only occupant of His entire creation? Yes!!

Just as young John Luther will arrive today for the second time in our house, all my Universe will turn to focus on him! So the Father loves me.

But what gives me that right, secures that hope? Yes, even when I act out in a lesser way than one would think that a party in that position would behave? When I, the promisee, fall short of the glory of God?

There is a binding contract, a testament, a last will offered on behalf of a promisor and this one secured by virtue of Divine blood, the highest consideration. For God, so loved the world that He gave His only Son! Even beyond that, He has provided a deep assurance to carry me in His personal absence; that I might be encouraged when life becomes difficult, perhaps too difficult for my own understanding to suffice:

“Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” II Cor 1:22 NIV.

Christ’s blood is now forever held in escrow, guaranteeing my legal right (righteousness) to eternal and abundant life; His Spirit now forever stamped on my heart as a seal,“guaranteeing what is to come.”

Selah (“pause, and think of that“)!

1http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consideration

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Person, Position and Power

This morning began like so many others with the reading of the local news, followed by my usual reading of scripture, which always sets the stage for my daily prayers. Yet by the third cup of coffee, I was ready to revisit a nagging pain of compassion that remained from my earlier reading of a Letter to the Editor by a local Christian turned atheist. This was a deeply felt testimonial that I must admit resonated with me, regarding the relief he experienced once he released himself from his Christian belief system. I did that as well at 16 years of age; a belief system, “reinforced by a cosmic system of fear, rewards and punishment.”

That my friend is the age old story of religion and unfortunately the consequence of a life trapped by such a system, regardless whether its source be Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or any other of the plethora that now exist around the world. My readers are now in shock, as my lifelong journey has truly been about pursuit of a relationship with God!

Don’t get me wrong, I daily spend time with God and for the most part, am in constant communication with him as I make my decisions about life. Just yesterday, in a business meeting, I requested a link to a certain body of knowledge contained in the “cloud.” I listened to the particular sound my friend’s computer made, as this virtual data bank was whisked my way. I could not help but wonder why we have so easily bought into the virtual reality of our day and yet see the Kingdom of God as fantasy!

For those who can recite my litany of failures, I did say for the most part! That works well, as long as I attend to that occasional “physical,” taking my spiritual temperature as a means of avoiding the infection of religion, now so probable in an environment where the virus is rampant. Freedom of religion is a beautiful concept, yet if America is the laboratory, it may no longer be all that our forefathers intended; not because of the beauty of God and the liberty each should have to pursue a relationship with God, but for the fact that so many variants have developed, each of the many perpetuating their own cultural expectations, articulating a static system of belief (or nonbelief) that is more “group think” than personal experience. If your religion is PC, you might even identify with the word “faitheist”! In America, at least, we are living in a religious heyday.

My objective is not to oppose freedom of religion but to challenge those who have accepted a belief system, externally imposed from birth perhaps, but untested personally.

Again, I am so often accused of being religious, and in fact am even a Deacon in a local church, which is not a bad thing in itself. I feel called to engage with people whom I believe are seeking something more than religion, a relationship with a higher being. God is awesome enough that when pursed, He/She, if that masculine pronoun causes you pause, will find a way to fellowship with you intimately. There is a place in everyone’s heart for fellowship and love, yet there is a danger when one allows conformity and acceptance with their particular huddle of folk to supersede the need for their own personal relationship and pursuit of God.

I am labeled as a Christian and when that means that I am a devout follower of Christ, I take no offence. Do I wrestle with the system that Christianity professes? Daily! Do I understand such theological constructs as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the decent into Hell by Christ, followed by His bodily resurrection and ascension? Hardly enough, but it is upon that intellectual scaffolding that I pursue God daily and with that pursuit, I am coming to understand just where such ideas originated.

Does it come with much study, daily devotionals, Bible memory and the sorts? Not necessarily though I do use these tools daily. Does it come with much prayer? Yes, if one considers a constant dialogue with the Spirit prayer. I will even share that each morning my day begins with a time alone and mostly on my knees; a posture befitting for this human (humus) who is awed by this Being called God, who reigns in a Kingdom with which I have been privileged to engage, though unseen beyond the occasional vision or visitation.

Perhaps I am getting a little edgy for my reader’s comfort as I attempt to articulate this treasure that I have found during my 40 year journey with Christ. How do I know with such certainly that my faith is real and not just some religion imposed upon me by my relationships with other gullible and needy human beings, “robbed of happiness” as stated by letter writer described above?

Perhaps my life is somewhat privileged, as my faith came not from church attendance but in fact the very opposite. I came to know Christ by way of a most unexpected confrontation in my Dad’s living room during a time of severe wounding in my life and in fact, quite the opposite of the brother recently turned atheist, that is when I found happiness and a future. I was at best agnostic, engaged in ever illicit activity imaginable and I seemed happy with seldom a bad night. It was the compounding effect of those “happy” nights that caused me pause when I reflected upon where my life was headed morally.

My response that night when I walked in on my Dad, a devout Christ follower, who was in fact on his knees praying for his “lost” son: I somewhat arrogantly challenged God with these words, ”God if you are out there and you exist and you will change my life, I will give it to you.” I don’t know why, but my life changed radically and my question as to his existence was forever resolved.

Fortunately, I did not immediately engage with other Christians but for about a year, simply shared my life change with others who were struggling, some within churches and others still held captive by the lifestyle I had just abandoned. I began to follow after the only model I knew that had made significant difference upon this earth, Jesus Christ. His model was simply love, not judgment, fear or condemnation, though I must say, it has been quite rewarding. The more I pursued that model, the more Christians began to encourage me; both because of my evident life change and perhaps their sense of need to disciple me (Uuhmm).

The benefit of this distance from church was, that it gave me a time to learn on my own; perhaps, how to access Christ out of pure struggle, not only from what was revealed in the scriptures but revelation that came each time I spent time contemplating this great “Person.” The difference between that and becoming “churched” was that I learned to accept nothing that did not add value to my new walk with Christ or that I could not experience for myself in communion with Christ.

That does not mean that I did not eventually learn the benefit of serving alongside sincere believers for the greater good of my community. I just was cautious as to buy-in to a belief system other than what my simple journey with Christ afforded. Somewhere along the way, I was privileged to be convinced of my own uniqueness and the fact that the God of the universe (and there can be only one, by virtue of definition) truly values that uniqueness, enough to cultivate it daily, as we journey together.

I believe in a Personality that is far above human and yet sets over or possible within this “matterial”(sic) creation. I believe that the Kingdom to which I have been called is equally as real, but somehow exists within a dimension that the physical cannot define.

Beyond that Personality which I call God, I have been positioned by grace to live a life of love demonstrated by Himself when He became flesh and dwelt among us in the man called Jesus Christ. Yes, God became human that I might participate in His divinity! That is not sacrilege but privilege.

Yet, there is so much brokenness in my person that living into some religious system in order to measure up never seems to work, the Old Testament affirms that. I must lean fully upon the empowerment of that same God. Amazingly, that provision is made possible by the righteousness of Christ imparted to me and lived through me by The Spirit that lives within me. The life I live, even what good I might occasionally participate in, is not my own, but is the Person of God, in Christ, manifest by His Spirit. Maybe I do get the concept of the Three in One!

I know this sounds like Christianity but believe me it is far beyond what is being proffered in most of our “Houses of Worship” today; and though we mean well, religion’s product at best is too often only a few good deeds made possible by the combined efforts of a team of congregants; at worst broken, disillusioned young men like the one who testified in the local newspaper this a.m.

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A New Understanding

My inner life these last four years has been quite the struggle. The challenge of leadership, tainted by the political strife that has gripped our nation and divided our communities is perhaps more than even the best of men can bear, let alone the novice.

Little did I know when I prayed in 1978 for God to use me in reaching, loving cities, that I would one day be a mayor; let alone, seriously consider becoming a politician? Perhaps this posting is evidence of my recovery process.

On March 25, 2012 my post was entitled, “Embrace the Cross,” a term still at work in my soul, but now perhaps with a more mature understanding of what the Lord was after. This morning as I dug that post out of my archives, I read of simply bearing the cross; there perhaps was the root of my misunderstanding?

Taught most of my life that “taking up the cross” was the role of all Christ followers; in essence, bearing the weight of servant leadership, and the occasional blow of counter-cultural testimony, so real of late in this pluralistic America. I now trust that I have “embraced” a much more comprehensive understanding.

Embracing the cross has its personal burden, but the benefit is perhaps more to the bearer, and though some crown in heaven is purported, the crucible effect of surfacing our own flaws is the true pearl. Whether error in our beliefs, blind spots in our behaviors or just exhausting our human endurance, the “cross” is the best revealer of who we really are.

The Good News is who Jesus really is! He bore our cross, nailing our sins, our weaknesses to the tree. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, perhaps the hidden message still waiting to be revealed in 2012. I am not good enough! I would fall short of the vision I held for my personal leadership, perhaps victim to my ego, setting standards far above my preparation and wisdom, awaiting the harsh revelation of just how short of the mark my best attempts might be.

It was only at that point, perhaps now, that I might really embrace, truly grasp the meaning of the Spirit’s words. That being, to get my “head around” what He had done for me and what that would mean to me in my “dark night of the soul,” when my own flesh would demand a guilty verdict for the failures against my Lord and His calling. How could I bear the punishment that my failures demand, missed Kingdom moments where my comfort, my greed, my selfish soul ruled the day?

The cross, the place where my substitute, my intercessor fully bore the pain and guilt of the failures He knew would be mine, even before I was called and perhaps well before I was even born. Fully embracing that reality, a new revelation of the Cross for me is Good News, and an assurance that all things, all my blunders, He will still work for the good; a sure promise to those who love the Lord and are the called according to His purpose.

This should bring great respite to we who are aging and afford great hope to those newly called to exhaust themselves in future days. For all of us there will come a time when our efforts are not good enough. It is then they that we better understand The Cross and The Christ.

“But where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.” Romans 5:20b.

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Neurological Preferences and Discernment

Just a few thoughts this morning as I continue my journey toward my 66th birthday. As I have now shared with several, I am feeling a little more comfortable with my opinions given the large amount of data storage that has occurred during these years. Humble, working on it; scholar hardly; biblically literate yes, if reading the texts hundreds of times during my last forty years counts.

I have now served some of the best senior pastors in the nation, in both small and large churches and among a myriad of denominations. I have experienced the ongoing attempts at resolution of congregational conflicts, worship challenges within multiple generations, certain cultural and ethnic bents that tend to segregate the Body of Christ, thus on and on go the heart rendering grievances within and between denominations as spiritual preferences vary, though we all agree that there is only One Spirit.

Of course having been raised Pentecostal, there has always been an explanation for our folk when they feel less of the Presence in other churches, those that do not practice a second definite work of the Baptism of the Holy Ghost. However, we seem to have the same challenges, both intergenerational, racial and even among the many Pentecostal denominations; many clergy and laity work within the same regional geography but hardly associate and seem always in competition for church goers.

As I get older, possible braver, my intent is to leak out the internal dialogue that often accompanies my meditation of the scriptures and personal reading. Perhaps this is one of those that needs to be discussed.

Of late, I have read a book entitled “How God Changes Your Brain” by Andrew Newberg, a neurologist. The title may be somewhat misleading and at this mid-point in the book, seems purposed to attract a certain market of reader to explain the amazing power of the brain to generate neurons (dendrites and ganglia, obviously above my pay grade), “God-cells” that impact the way one does or does not sense spiritual matters. It almost seems there is a natural accommodation for a Higher Being, though of different proportions, among all humans; even atheist must work hard to deny it. Job implied the same about all creation (“But now ask the beasts, and let them teach you; And the birds of the heavens, and let them tell you. 8″Or speak to the earth, and let it teach you; And let the fish of the sea declare to you. 9″Who among all these does not know That the hand of the LORD has done this,..”Job 12:7-9).

I have to wonder, if some of the challenge within the Body of Christ and in fact all who profess some modicum of spirituality, is not the lack of discernment between our own brains attempt to define God and an authentic relationship with the Being we call God. Perhaps without that spiritual discipline we become locked into a preference so idiosyncratic that our tendency is to huddle with others of similar bent, and not do the hard work or at least setting aside time to contemplate and nurture that relationship.

This may explain how people of such similar beliefs as those professing some variant of Protestantism, even the more convincing evangelical, not to speak of other monotheistic religions, can literally go to war in the name of God, as we are now experiencing.

Neither does it help when professional clergy develop and nurture institutions that disagree. Those institutions then authorize positional leadership that when in agreement with others of their own God understanding prescribe worship and systematically provide events that sometimes serve only to release individuals from any personal accountability for a lasting and unique relationship with God, beyond what is experienced in those one time or weekly events. Not saying church going is bad, but perhaps we need to re-think why so much of America’s revenue stream goes into brick and mortar, such growing numbers are abandoning our places of worship, while our nation becomes more needy and it appears at times, morally bereft.

Just a few thoughts from an old churchman.

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Three Crosses

This morning as I was praying, a prayer unrelated to the crucifixion, I saw an image most remarkably clear in my mind’s eye. As you may have guessed by the title, it was three crosses. Jesus was center of the three, likely it would seem, as thus goes the story of his being crucified between two thieves.

Accompanying this vision was a gnawing awareness, perhaps cultivated by recent international events, of the growing divide between those seeking God in today’s world. Complicating factors are masses of people well connected through technology, yet with an imparity of resources, stirred up by a polarized media bias with only the façade of conscientious journalism; not to mention a globe too small by virtue of today’s powerful weaponry and its growing religious fanaticism.

We do not seem to be headed (no sick pun intended) in a good direction, at least not for all mankind.

Being raised as an evangelical, these days are referred to almost affectionately as the “last days”; and, for those with a pre-tribulation bent (I’ll let the readers do their own research),are seen as a necessary thing with little long term consequence for the Christian. Yet, most of those Christians live in isolated silos within American Christendom. For those Christians within more underdeveloped countries or countries in crisis, their world experience may lead them to believe quite differently.

Lest I go too far down this road, the images this morning and the understanding that seemed to flow from them was about neither of the positions discussed above. More it seemed the intent of the Spirit was to provide a sense of urgency as to what we were doing with Jesus. Hung between two thieves, one more open than the other but none the less both thieves.

Was God trying to speak to me further about my now over two year old and growing awareness of what He is doing to fulfill the commitment and promise to Hagar, the blessing of Ishmael? You see for some time, I have felt compelled to keep my heart open to the thoughts of those now wrestling with the plurality of America. Even to the extent of agreeing to my first visit to the middle-East, Lebanon in fact, just one day after what I knew would be a brutal political defeat. I was exhausted but following my heart. What I experienced changed my perspective forever about two religions, one being my own.

American Christianity has lost it footings, not only generationally but doctrinally. This post may be the dividing line between myself and many whom I love, but even that only makes more clear an earlier message to my heart, “embrace the cross,” now also over two years old. This caution and calling was voiced deep within me, each time I found myself struggling with political observations among those who often boast, yes at times arrogantly, as possessing the most capacity to love and the more Biblically sound within the Body of Christ. We have become comfortable with the labels “far-right” and “far-left” as battle lines within the Church, an institution founded on sacrificial love.

Might this God of Abraham, who shocked the off-spring of Judaism by becoming flesh, now be challenging both Judaism and Christianity as He moves outside of the “sheep pen” to reveal himself to the offspring of this child of Sarah’s handmaiden, now orphaned to both sects of the Judeo-Christian religion, though this covenant with Ishmael was captured plainly in the Book both love and honor, The Pentateuch? Is the God who became flesh, challenging both religions developed around His Name, to the point of His own death? Is Aslan now stirring once more, yet rejected in part by all, each overwhelmed by this pure and awesome love for all mankind?

Once more Jesus is hung in the middle of our philosophical and religious differences but none the less at work in a powerful way that could fulfill the numerous and insurmountable prophecies scattered throughout both the Old and the New Testaments.

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Power of Attorney

Much has been going on of late, not the least of which is the birth of our first grandchild, John Luther Jackson. In between sharing in the joy and responsibility of this gift from God, our regular life continues.

One of the privileges of ministry at this time is to act on a request from two friends in 1996. With no children, the friends asked that should we survive either spouse, we act as Power of Attorney (POA). That day occurred some years back when the husband was killed in an automobile accident and now, a few weeks back, the surviving spouse fell and was seriously injured.

POA is an interesting role, especially when someone is not even blood kin, with few relatives surviving. Making rational decisions while assuring the quality of life one’s friend has always enjoyed is quite a learning curve, especially when their resources are being threatened. Physical impairment late in life can produce safety challenges that have to be considered, but quite often not appreciated by those imposed upon. Factor in a lifelong friendship and the emotional loyalties friendship brings, and the POA can be brought to tears.

If you have read this blog previously, you know that I always factor life experience into my daily devotionals, even to the books I might be reading. This morning I found myself in an “aHa” moment, between scripture readings in both the Psalms and Hebrews and the three books I am now reading in tandem. All seem to point to the reality that I in Christ am,…you guessed it, His POA!

In moments where I feel awkward making decisions for my human friend and at times rightfully asked, especially among medical personnel, by what right, I simply show them the papers signed by my deceased friend and his spouse, and then act in their names, based on a covenant made between us decades ago.

Do you get where I am going? Jesus, The Name that is above every name has given me the right to act as attorney-in-fact in His absence. I am now empowered to speak in His Name, and am acting in good faith based on the documents provided (The Word). I no longer have to feel awkward, even if it is not received; providing, it is for the obvious good of the parties involved. I have been assigned POA.

Perhaps the greatest gift ever provided by my now deceased friend is the learning experience of being pressed into those sometimes taxing moments that require a discerning act of love and my best wisdom. I then execute that decision in the full confidence of the legal authority previously assigned. I trust the parallels are obvious, for you see, I now also humbly act out of love on behalf of my friend, Jesus Christ. That POA is based on the letters that assign a similar role in this present world, though those letters are now centuries old.

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