Category: Pastors (page 1 of 8)

The Essential Church Podcast

We’re really excited to announce the launch of what we’re calling the “Essential Church Podcast.” For years now I’ve been wanting to create a platform to talk regularly and openly about all of the massive, important issues that local church ministry leaders face on a daily basis—things like worship, preaching, creating a discipleship culture, ministry to our communities, and much more.

Well, now we’ve got one: The Essential Church Podcast. Each week we’ll be sitting down with ministry leaders both inside and outside of New Life to talk about what we’re learning about church life and leadership. We’re doing this NOT as “experts”, but as fellow practitioners in the ongoing kingdom effort that is the local church. Our desire is that your own ministries will be helped and strengthened through it.

We hope you’ll listen in each week. You can follow us on Twitter (@essentialchurch) and subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (look up “Essential Church Podcast”). You can also go to our website: www.TheEssential.church where we’ll post episodes, show notes, and all kinds of other cool resources.

If you find any of our conversations helpful, please share them around the web and/or leave a good review for us on iTunes. It will help more leaders just like you find our podcast.

And of course, if you have any suggestions about topics you’d like for us to cover or people you’d like for us to interview, please let us know!

Can’t wait to share this with you.

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Hearing God Despite the Distractions

My new book, Speak Life, releases this September. Here is a brief excerpt about distractions that hinder our ability to hear God.

At last check, you and I are receiving upwards of five thousand marketing messages a day, which promote everything from online gambling to new cars to the mammoth fast-food cheeseburger that somehow relates to the scantily clad blonde bombshell being used to promote it. “It’s a non-stop blitz of advertising messages,” says Jay Walker-Smith, who runs a London-based marketing firm. Marketers now plaster corporate logos and taglines on everything from escalator handrails to jetliner fuselages to the sides of buildings to big-city sidewalks. There was even talk at one point of using Major League Baseball bases to promote upcoming movies! According to Walker-Smith, “It’s all an assault on the senses.”

He’s absolutely right.

I was in New York City a few weeks ago to help celebrate the fourteenth anniversary of the church some friends planted just months after 9/11. I was in town to encourage them and their congregation, but when I discovered I had a four-hour block of unassigned time on Saturday afternoon, I couldn’t resist the chance to take in a few Manhattan sights. I eventually wound up in Central Park, thinking I’d find a quiet corner where I could sit, think, and maybe pray for a few minutes. At least I could simply reflect on the season of life I’m in.

I wandered around the massive tangle of plots and trails for probably thirty minutes before I realized there is no such thing as a “quiet corner” in Central Park. That night when I reconvened with my friends, I told them about my afternoon and then asked, “Where do you guys find silence in this town? The streets are loud, the inside of my hotel room is loud, and even Central Park, for all its beauty, is, I’m convinced, one of the loudest places on Earth.”

They chuckled and said, “Brady, we’ve learned to thrive in the chaos. You would too if you lived here.”

It’s the mantra of an entire society now, this idea that we can actually thrive amid chaos, even as we’re not really thriving at all. Most of us are a restless people, incapable of stilling ourselves—mind, body, or soul. I asked my congregation to sit in perfect silence one Sunday to prove to them how uncomfortable we’ve become when the noise dies down, the lights quit blinding us, and we’re left with the company of our own thoughts. It was only fifteen seconds, but I could sense the jitters by the end.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We’re busier than we’re meant to be. We’re letting our senses get assaulted by what we see and what we hear, the net effect of which is our inability to detect the voice of God. We don’t see him in the world around us. We don’t hear him over the unceasing roar of our lives. Then we come away thinking that he’s the problem, that he’s abandoned us to ourselves. The hard pill to swallow is that our addiction to chaos is what’s keeping us from God—or one of the top things, anyway. If we’re serious about encountering him, we’ll get serious about quieting our souls.

If you grew up in certain circles, you’re familiar with the phrase quiet time. In the Pentecostal church of my youth, everybody was big on having a daily quiet time, which was the twenty or thirty minutes you were to spend reading your Bible, praying, and getting yourself centered for the day ahead. It may sound antiquated, but now more than ever I think we’d benefit from setting aside a daily quiet time, if for no other reason than to actually practice being quiet.

My advice to you if you’re struggling and straining to hear the voice of God: be quiet. Schedule a quiet time and just sit there in a chair, with nothing in your hands and no earbuds in your ears. Just get quiet before God and see what unfolds. Start small. Start microscopically if you have to. Just start.

 

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Motion vs. Momentum

As a pastor, there is no busier weekend than the one we just completed, a weekend filled to the brim with Good Friday and multiple Sunday gatherings to celebrate the resurrection. There was a lot of motion and activity around special songs, added sermons, and preparations for new guests.

For most pastors, this weekend was the high attendance mark for the year. There were more guests than any other Sunday, and for some, this meant more services than normal. If Easter weekend went well, everyone who served is feeling a bit tired today, depleted from all the responsibilities.

There. Was. A. Lot. Of. Motion.

What we need is an appetite for momentum, which can look a lot like motion unless you peer deeper. Motion is busyness. Momentum is miraculous. Momentum feels like cycling downhill with equal forces of mass and velocity working in your favor. Motion is energy spent, but not always with dividends paid.

Holy Week has always been the means to awaken the saints, to encourage the weak, to confound the cynics and to welcome home the prodigal. The darkness of the cross, joined with the ephemeral hours in the shadows of death, followed by the joyous actualities of the empty tomb is a story that awakens hearts and pulls us toward the deep.

Momentum is a gift from God to us, the extra push to get us off our spiritual training wheels. Momentum is Spirit working with the frailties of our will to engineer a better blueprint for living. Momentum is a cold breeze that makes us more alert, a warm sun on our face pointing us toward vigor. Momentum is a force grueling in its genesis but near unstoppable at its apex.

Motion is our attempt at getting systems right, to make the path easier by preparing diligently. There is nothing wrong with these things as long as the goal is clear. Let us not be so busy doing good things in good seasons that we forget to plant and water the spiritual seeds that bring us real life.

On this Monday, post-Easter, my prayer is for the millions who heard the narrative of Jesus last week to find themselves in a bigger story than any they could have written on their own. My prayer is for all the planned motion to point us toward real momentum, following the Way with renewed passion and strength. May the truth of the resurrection story cause us not to live busier lives with more motion, but to live resurrected lives with legitimate momentum.

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Four Ways to Build Trust on Your Team

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

1 Corinthians 13:6-7

For the past few weeks, I’ve undergone two separate heart procedures to correct some issues which are common for congenital heart patients like myself. The procedures have gone well and my prognosis is great, but I’ve been absent for many of my normal responsibilities as pastor at New Life.  When I realized I would be absent from leading and preaching, I had two choices – worry about the church or trust the team God has sent us.

This is not the first time I’ve taken a leave of absence. Two years ago, I took a much needed sabbatical and in 2011, I was gone for several weeks after major heart surgery. Each time, I had the same two choices and each time, the team proved trustworthy. How did that happen? It seems more teams implode than trust and grow. How does a team build this kind of trust? How does a group of independent people coalesce into family?

1. Surround yourself with really good people.

Obviously, no one intentionally builds a team of renegades. However, no one haphazardly builds a stellar team, either. We believe character, chemistry and competency are all equally important at New Life. If you fail to evaluate the first two because there is a pressing need for talent or expertise, you may well end up with a team you do not like or who cannot play nice together when you are away. Really good people have high character, robust emotional health and are constantly improving their skills and craft. Trust is earned in drops which means the calendar is your friend. Over time, character is revealed, chemistry is forged and competency is developed.

2. Allow for some messes

Even when there’s an all-star team, there will be some fumbles. If your team is afraid of failing, they will stop experimenting. When they stop being experimental, they stop innovating. The light bulb was not perfected on the first try. The Wright brothers crashed a lot before they flew and Columbus was probably lost when he discovered America. Create a culture of learning where mistakes are evaluated, lessons are learned and your team is encouraged to continue their discoveries.

3. Let them drive the car

There is only one way to really prove trust – leave it to the team and go away. Trust them in your absence. Right now, both of my teenagers are learning to drive. So far, all the lessons have been with me in the car. My prayer life has never been better. One day soon, I will have to give them the keys and allow them to drive solo. I am terrified at the thought, but I know I must let them grow up. Each time I have left New Life, I tell my team to have fun driving the car, keep the scratches to a minimum and keep it out of the ditch. Then I go away and trust them.

4. Give them the credit when it goes well.

Shared responsibilities should equal shared rewards. The surest way to keep good people around you is to constantly shine the spotlight on them when they succeed. Praise them in public, brag on them to your friends, and celebrate their ingenious ideas, especially when those concepts are better than yours. Take the lid off your team and they will rise. Secure leaders have discovered the greatest reward for leading well is having others soar past you.

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Some Truths about Sermons, Preaching and Preachers

You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. Acts 20:20

Since Christianity started, there have been men and women commissioned with the responsibility to preach the Scriptures to their congregations. Some have rode horseback through dangerous frontiers and others have left the comfort and familiarity of their hometowns to take the good news to distant lands. Many of us studied long years and practiced our craft wherever and whenever the opportunity to preach was presented. No matter how we arrived in the pulpits we now steward, preaching is energizing, frustrating, and exhilarating, sometimes all at once.

What does your pastor want you to know about them? How can we build up those called to speak? What should a congregation know about the sermon that takes up a portion of our weekend?

 

1. Pastors are really invested in the message.

Preaching is a serious matter to most pastors. Hours have been spent studying the texts, praying for the meetings, and thinking about innovative ways to engage people in a story that started thousands of years ago. When the weekend arrives, we are invested emotionally and spiritually in a 30-minute message that has the potential to change the destinies of those listening.

Or, it can be awful. Even then, the Holy Spirit can take the scraps of human effort and make something beautiful. This is a pastor’s work –  to teach truths that will probably offend, to encourage the discouraged saints, to compel the cynic to reconsider and to awaken the spiritual sleepers. Because we have poured ourselves into this moment of speaking and exhorting, we may need some space after the service to just be with people in prayer and conversation. Preachers feel really emptied after a sermon, which leads me to the second truth.

 

2. Preaching is exhausting work.

If you are not tired after preaching, you are not doing it right. When a sermon has ended, our adrenaline glands are depleted and the emotional energy that has been expended is not easily replenished. It’s when we feel the most vulnerable, even if everything went great. For many, we have to regroup and deliver the same message again in less than an hour to another weekend gathering.  Afterwards, we just need a good nap, a long walk and some sunshine to begin feeling human again. That usually happens by Tuesday morning. Seriously.

 

3. Preaching should be more substance than style

In the Western world, our culture is saturated by entertainment and celebrities. Our personal time is entertainment time, therefore the culture shouts to pastors,”If I give my personal time to church, you need to entertain me!” That is a dangerous trap for many pastors. Sermons certainly need to be engaging, which means it is ok to have some fun and to laugh, but our messages are not a spiritual stand-up act. The moment style is prioritized over the weighty substance of Scripture, we and our churches are in trouble.

 

4. Preaching only starts the conversation.

People have huge expectations from pastors and their sermons. Almost everyone has pet ministry projects, social issues, the latest headline outrage or spiritual gift they wish the pastor would spend more time on each week. Neither preachers nor their sermons were  designed to answer all our questions. In fact, the best sermons teach us to ask better questions and then point us along the path for truthful answers. The most powerful sermons jump start our disciple-shaping journey, compelling us to study more, to lean into mature relationships and jar us free from apathy or deception.

 

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Leaders Who are Easy to Follow

I want to be a leader who is easy to follow, so I’ve been paying attention lately to those who seem to model this really well.  We should not have an unhealthy desire to please everyone, but we should make it as easy as possible for others to follow us.  There are some outstanding leaders I’ve recently bumped into who are doing just that.  I’m certain there’s more at play in their lives than the five things on my list, but these traits seem to be consistent and common.

1. They are fun

Honestly, fun people are more fun to be around. Leaders who laugh have better meetings, tend to build camaraderie and vanquish the inevitable relational stresses that come from any organization that involves two or more people. All of us love laughter and it is good medicine.

2. They are predictable

Impulsive, unpredictable leaders may seem edgy and cool at first glance, but they are not easy to follow. I heard the story once of a leader bursting into the office one morning announcing to his team that they were all going to the beach for a day of fun. Of course, that sounds like the hero leader, but the team still had to meet their deadlines and get their work done. The day at the beach actually caused more stress to the team because it happened during a really busy time for them. Leaders who are easy to follow are not prone to whims or fancied by fads. They are not boring (See #1) but they are steady.

3. They are fair

Not everyone can be treated the same, but everyone can be treated fairly. Leaders who are easy to follow have established clear boundaries and are consistent when measuring results and performance. Really good leaders can overlook bias and make unprejudiced decisions based on the merits of their team members. If you do good work for this leader, you will get noticed and rewarded.

4. They are active listeners

Most people have to “weigh in” before they will “buy in”, and most of us feel respected when we’ve been heard. Leaders who are easy to follow know how to ask good questions that get the best answers. They are genuinely interested in you and know how to make eye contact during conversations. They tend to linger with their team in unhurried conversations and seldom make people feel rushed or pushed aside.

5. They are kind

Leaders who are easy to follow manage their emotions and control their words. They are not easily angered and are much quicker with compliments than complaints. They praise in public and correct in private. Leaders who are easy to follow inspire and never embarrass. All of us know the sting of being motivated by shame, guilt or fear, but the leaders who are easy to follow have chosen a better way.

 

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The times, they are a-changin’ …

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan

I just spent the week with some great pastors and leaders in the UK and somehow the trip across the pond helped me see more clearly what is happening here in my own backyard. We live in times of great change in the local church, but every generation has said the same about its places of worship. The church was built on the witness of a resurrected Christ, the trustworthy scriptures and the sacraments we gather around to celebrate in community. This has always been sacred space for Christ followers, but everything else is a-changin’.

Like the UK and most of Europe, our country has also moved toward a more secular view of life, distancing itself from traditional churches and the established religious orders. The trends are troubling and challenging for us leading congregations outside the Bible Belt, where churches still seem to hold some traditional influences. If we pay attention, though, we can see the waves of change coming to all of our shores in several key areas.

1. There is a low trust of church leaders

The local church will always be led by imperfect people who have been given delegated authority from God. This authority is maintained only by humble, servant leaders who put the needs of others first.  When this is absent, the office of pastor becomes abhorrent to a cynical culture that is curious about Jesus, but distrustful of authoritarian church polity that resembles the world’s system of corruption. Now, more than ever, ecclesiastical leaders have to be above reproof, completely transparent and accountable or we risk losing the one thing we cannot easily regain – the trust of others.

2. Personal morality has replaced biblical morality

For generations, people seemed to know they needed help to find their way home. Now, we have a generation who have embraced moral relativism, the idea that no one really knows right and wrong, therefore we should tolerate and validate the individual’s moral choices. Today, the teachings of Jesus are sometimes respected but seldom revered. What Jesus gave us is still powerful and life-changing, but we cannot assume the culture will immediately believe the Way is immediately better than their own. We must show them the beauty of a life surrendered to Jesus and not just argue with them about moral conventions. In the beginning and until the end, we must pray the Holy Spirit get involved because that is how we found the narrow path home.

3. We are becoming the minority

The men and women I met this week were mostly encouraged, despite the trends I just described. They spoke of baptisms, helping the poor in their villages and cities, the hope that new churches were soon to be planted and the pure worship that was emerging from their congregations. Leaders were encouraged that new partnerships are emerging promising new strength through cooperation. They did not despise being the minority working the margins of their culture, spending their time with those who had been tossed aside and forgotten.  They found Jesus there, just as their fathers and mothers had found him in generations past.  He was among them, being a faithful God to his faithful community, the maker of heaven and earth, building his kingdom that has no end in a land that was a-changin’.

 

 

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Working Well

The discussions that have surfaced since the release of my new book, Addicted to Busy, have spanned from encouragement to some confusion. Most people understand after reading the book that I was not calling for a cessation of our labors. In fact, I have emphatically preached the opposite. We are not forsaking our responsibilities when we rest, it is for the sake of our responsibilities that we rest. Nowhere in the book was I advocating for less productivity. What I’m discovering in this journey is that for every person that does not know how to rest, just as many have never been taught a strong work ethic.

How do we work well and rest well simultaneously? The book covers the “rest well” part, so let’s discuss what it means to be industrious, to sweat, to grind and stand out at the place of our employment.

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer, or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.” Proverbs 6

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” Colossians 3:23

 

1. Show up on time

One of the most respectful things we can do is honor people’s time. It is rude to be habitually late. “On time” means arriving, ready to work, five minutes early, by the way.

 

2. Suggest solutions rather than point to problems

Every healthy boss I know wants people around them who are problem solvers. Promotions always chase these people down and favor follows them wherever they go. Leaders lead people toward solutions. Leaders are proactive, anticipating problems and solving them long before they surface and scar the organization.

 

3. Be positive

I call these EBI people. This could be “even better, if …”.  These are people who believe the best, speak the best and end up being the best. We cannot control our circumstances, but we can control our attitudes. People who are full of faith and hope for the future usually get what they expect.

 

4. Play nice 

“His speech is smooth as butter, yet war is in his heart.” Psalm 55:21

People who build bridges go further than those who blow up relationships.  People of peace are blessed but those who are always looking for trouble will find it. The Holy Spirit does his best work in unity among people who choose to forgive and encourage one another. Playing nice means we use our words to heal others, not shame others. Life and death is in the power of our tongue, and people of peace measure what they say, never reckless with language.

 

 5. Promote others 

It has been my goal the past 20 years to work myself out of every job I have been given. I want to raise up my replacement, equip them to run past me and then cheer them on when they do. This is the Jesus way of leading. He spent three years with a group of leaders and saw potential in them that no one else could imagine. He left them with huge responsibilities and all the resources they would need to succeed and they did!

 

What have you learned about work that has served you well as an adult? If you lead people, what qualities do you look for when promotions and raises are being awarded?

 

 

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The Miracle Story of New Life

This past week, Pastor Mark Driscoll resigned from Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Mark was certainly one of the most high profile local church leaders of the past decade and his resignation from the church he founded left another big scar on the American evangelical landscape. I’m writing neither to defend nor decry the actions of Mark Driscoll or Mars Hill Church. I was not involved in any of the decisions that led to his resignation and I do not know any of the leaders who remain at the church. However, I do believe both Mark and Mars Hill can have a very hopeful future.

In August of 2007, I became the Senior Pastor of New Life Church after the founding pastor resigned. The church was devastated and many people felt the best days of NLC were behind them. In the past several years, other local churches have lost their high profile pastors and some of those congregations are still struggling while others have found sure footing and and are moving forward with healing and new vision for ministry.

I am no expert on church transitions, but I am experienced. When New Life was experiencing its trauma and sudden change, a passage of scripture from Psalm 137 was really helpful to me as I led the church.

Psalms 137:1 NIV

“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”

 

From this one verse, I learned three vital lessons.

1.     Admit there is a new reality.

“By the rivers of Babylon”

We are not in Jerusalem anymore and when we return to Jerusalem, it will never be the same. This was the lament of a people that had been captured and led away from their homeland. Everything changed overnight. When people suddenly lose their pastor, it seems everything in the church changes forever and nothing will ever be the same. As a leader, we must admit they are right; it will never be the same and that is ok. Change is difficult enough for some people when all the conditions are favorable, but traumatic, sudden change can be super painful. Do not ignore the pain.

 

2.     Take time to mourn

“we sat and wept”

Staying busy keeps us occupied, but it does not allow for mourning or grieving, therefore, any church going through a painful transition must slow down and permit people to mourn. There has been a loss, so people need permission to cry, to reflect and to receive extensive counseling if necessary. Do not skip this step because pain that’s not allowed to heal will resurface until it does heal. Hurt people hurt people, but healed people can help people.

 

3.     Remember the past

“we remembered Zion”

Talk about the past and recall the great times, the “remember when” moments. When we can honor the pastor who departed, we should.  This is healthy and necessary, even if the former pastor did something terrible that warranted his departure. Obviously, not all the details can be shared publicly because we want those who were hurt to have private space for healing. However, there are wise and honoring ways to have public conversations that give the congregation permission to talk and find healing. Celebrate past wins sincerely and learn honestly from the broken history.

In those dark days at New Life, following a scandal, we felt the sun would never shine again on our congregation. But it did! Today, our church is opening Dream Centers to care for the poorest in our city, planting new congregations, baptizing new believers, training hundreds in our leadership academy, supporting mission’s work in over 30 countries, and writing songs that are sung by churches everywhere. New Life Church is a miracle story.

Tough times are inevitable for all churches and the valley of despair can appear permanent, but our story is proof that dark days are not forever. When David wrote the 23rd Psalm, he realized that God had not abandoned him when all seemed lost and that was reason enough to dream again. Let’s pray for Mars Hill, Mark Driscoll and other churches who are in the valley right now. Let’s pray for grace, healing, unity and redemption. We know this is possible for them because we have seen this miracle firsthand. We have been given much grace and we surely want grace for others.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me …” Psalm 23:4 NIV

 

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The Gift of a Sabbatical

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Luke 5:16

This is one of my favorite Scriptures describing the leadership rhythms of Jesus. In the middle of a busy and hectic season of healing the sick, preaching to the multitudes and mentoring his core leaders, Jesus would simply disappear. His followers would frantically search for him, only to find him alone, praying, and restoring his own soul. He was putting on his own oxygen mask before attempting to help others.

It’s important we pay careful attention to the lifestyle Jesus modeled, and that is why sabbaticals are a part of our ethos here at New Life. Every full-time employee receives this gift every seven years and we encourage them to take advantage. We believe these times are critical for the health of our team and for our congregation.

This Summer, it’s my turn for a much needed sabbatical. I will be gone for several weeks, but the congregation will be led during my time away by the strong team God has given us. I truly believe this will be the most fruitful Summer in our church’s history.

The elders and I have been planning for this extended time away for months now, with three primary goals.

1. Rest

I’m grateful that I am not wrestling with burnout as I enter this sabbatical. In fact, I am more energized and encouraged than ever. My family and I have strived to follow the principles of rest, solitude, and Sabbath for many years now. In fact, I talk about these life-giving principles in my new book, Addicted to Busy, which releases when I return later this Summer. However, I’m sure I have underestimated the physical, emotional and mental toll these past seven years have taken on my family. I know I need to rest, and so I will.

2. Reflect

A lot has happened in the past seven years, both in the church and within my family. I do not want to miss anything God is showing me, so I need to pause, reflect, and journal all my thoughts from these amazing and challenging years. I want to have unhurried conversations with Pam, my wife of almost 25 years, and with my two teenagers, who are racing toward adulthood. I will also spend some much needed time with our church Overseers, mentors and close friends to get their wise perspectives.

3. Recharge

The last goal is to simply recharge my batteries for the days, years and decades ahead. New Life is growing and healthy. Our team is amazing and the best days for our congregation are still in front of us. I want to be re-energized to serve alongside all of you with a renewed spiritual vitality. I want to sharpen my spiritual disciplines, lose some middle-aged weight, eat better and exercise regularly so I can finish this race as strong as I started.

Thank you for giving me this gift of a sabbatical and I promise to steward this time well. You are a great tribe of people and we love you very much. Have a blessed Summer and may God be present in your rest, too.

 

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