Monthly Archives: September 2013

Sunday sermon 22 September – That they may be one

Sunday 22 September                                   I pray that all of them, Father, may be one (John 17:20-21)

I wonder if you’ve heard someone praying for you.

Sometimes we have this privilege of being prayed for – I had that over the last two days at Warkworth Pressie at New Wine facilitated days of ministry.

Your ears prick up – as someone prays for you – especially as they are led by the Holy Spirit – it’s a powerful experience. It’s always more interesting when they don’t know you – how the Holy Spirit guides them to pray precisely for your needs.

Imagine the disciples – and Jesus is praying his great high priestly prayer – for us – those who will yet believe – even us thousands of years later. I mean someone must have heard the prayer– at least John his closest friend who wrote it down in the 4th gospel.

How much more interesting would it be to hear Jesus pray for us today! Well we can! In John 17. Guess what he prays a couple of times? – that we may be one.

Yes he prays for other things – like verse 15:

Joh 17:15  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

But unity features a few times – earlier in verse 11 and twice in the passage we read.

(v 11 … protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one.)

Imagine Jesus – in his prayer time for our unity – praying Psalm 133. It’s a logical thing really. The Psalms were their book of prayers and hymns.

You can pray a hymn can you not? We sang one last week:  Love divine all loves excelling – fix in us thy humble dwelling!

Well do you want God’s love to live in you? If you do things will be different, don’t you think?

I would like us to imagine Jesus praying with this Psalm in mind. It would have sounded like this:

Hine matov u-ma na-im – shevet achim gam yachad.

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren (brothers) to dwell together (to be one!).

The Psalmist simply puts it out there – HOW GOOD AND HOW PLEASANT IT IS when brothers dwell in unity.

He uses two similes (remember – like or as figures of speech!)

Unity is like this – two liquids.

1. The picture in Psalm 133 is of the anointing oil of the Old Testament (Exodus 33:22-25 will tell you how to make this stuff. Myrrh, Cinnamon, fragrant cane and olive oil! Fascinating mixture). It was poured on the head of Aaron (read Leviticus 8:12 for that story).

I was very keen to demonstrate this today – with some cooking oil. There wasn’t anyone with a long enough beard apparently.

Picture the idea of pouring  a large bowl of oil over someone – to get the picture of the influence of the power of unity – which comes out of love.

It soaks in – and runs everywhere – it runs deep into every corner of our being and life.

Imagine Jesus praying for us with this in mind!

2. The other image – of the dew of Hermon – is a refreshing picture.

Both are pictures of the pervasive influence of a liquid.

You know how it works – you spill a glass of water next to your bed and you know it will land in your slippers.

Or the coffee will seep into your computer keyboard – however quick you are.

The beauty of the Psalm is that it is almost as good as a kiwi Psalm. I don’t know if you’ve been watching this Americas Cup sailing story. This kiwi skipper – is the master of understatement. Like the Canadian who led the retreat we were on – and who taught over the last two days.

Understatement is a very effective tool in communication.

Like its opposite we encountered recently – HYPERBOLE – when we talked about Jesus’ directive to hate our family in order to love Him and His Kingdom with the right amount of passion.

Listen to this again:

Psa 133:3  It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.

(For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.)

But wait a minute Mr Psalmist.

The dew of Hermon – Mount Zion.

These two mountains were some hundred miles apart.

The one was far north and a common or secular mountain that experienced a lot of dew. It was also the catchment area of the Jordan river – a source of life for the whole land.

Zion is the mountain outside Jerusalem – a holy place. Dew would fall on that mountain too.

There is a hint – in the understatement – that unity is such a powerful thing .

The first simile is more direct in its sense of abundance of the oil of anointing being poured out:

It is like oil that keeps flowing from God to man – the Aaronic priesthood was the link between God and people – and the blessing came through them – did it not – in Numbers 6:

Num 6:22  The LORD said to Moses,

Num 6:23  “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

Num 6:24  “‘”The LORD bless you and keep you;

Num 6:25  the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;

Num 6:26  the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.”‘

The dew of Hermon falling on Mount Zion – hints at such a huge and abundant flow of water that it somehow connects these two mountains so far apart – is a huge stretch of the imagination.

Is this even possible?

Well that is what unity is – a powerful miracle – something that comes from God.

And of course the oil reminds us of the Holy Spirit who works in us  – remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 about the unity of the Body – speaking of the church:

1Co 12:12  The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.

1Co 12:13  For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Jesus prays for this unity.

It’s not structural or organisational. It’s organic and relational.

The Gospel reading today weaves the threads through which this unity is found – by which we are knitted together:

20 ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – 23 I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus would have known that this would be good and pleasant – a delight to God – something worth praying for.

I have given them the glory that you gave me (verse 22) – that they may be one as we are one. Something is afoot here – what does that mean?

He gives his disciples the glory that God gave Him? Remember this is John’s gospel – go back to John 1:14:

Joh 1:14  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here’s the answer: John writes  that they had seen his glory – the glory of the One and only, full of grace and truth.

Surely people are to see the glory of Jesus in us too? Full of grace and truth! Stretch you? Not really. Why does Jesus pray for our unity?

V21 – that the world will believe God sent him.

V223 – that the world would know God sent him.

In fact verse 23 of John 17 says this:

… so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

This is all about a revelation of the love of God to the world.

This is about our witness.

This is about sharing good news!

God loves them (the world) as much as He loves Jesus – his beloved Son.

We are sons of God too – showing forth his love.

Dabble a bit in John’s letters and this is abundantly plain. It is in fact all about the love of God. John 3:16 is at the heart of it all.

May we be one and show the world the power of Jesus’ love!

Amen,

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A Sunday sermon for you – 15 September – “Found”

With thanks to Owen Rogers for this. You can see this on his website:

Belmont Presbyterian

I Timothy 1:12-17, Luke 15:1-10, Exodus 32:7-14

The readings above connect with the idea of finding lost things. I have recently come across a Professor Solomon who is a findologist. He has a 12-step plan for finding anything you’ve lost. Follow his principles and you’re pretty sure to find your lost thing. To check him out visit his website:  www.professorsolomon.com and you will have something useful for finding anything you lose.

Lost and found
Today’s readings are about God losing and finding people. In Luke we read of things found that had been lost and what joy that brings to God. In Exodus we read of God’s people getting lost from God and how he apparently came close to giving up on them. In Timothy we heard Paul saying how he had been lost and later found and what joy and blessing that was to him and to many other people as he spread God’s message.

What does it mean to be lost? Or, conversely, found?
To be found is to know God, to enter a living experience of friendship and relationship with God, to experience his leading/guidance, wisdom, love, creativity, character, kindness, and so on. A person who is lost doesn’t connect with God, may know many things about God but has little or no personal experience of the living God. May know, for example, about God’s hatred of sin and be aware of this through the guilt about their own sin, but doesn’t know the relief of forgiveness or the joy of the Lord.

We can answer when God calls us, we can come out of hiding. We can even look for God. But we can’t, ultimately, find ourselves. We need Jesus to connect us with God.

When looking for one thing it is not unusual to find another thing or things which we’d forgotten where they are. I did that this week – found something I’d forgotten even existed. Which brings out a distinction in the meaning of the word ‘lost’. I am lost when I don’t know where I am. Be it in the bush, or in some unfamiliar part of the city. I need a map or visible landmark or some such to get my bearings and then I’m no longer lost. I would also be considered to be lost if I were out in the hills and no one knew where I was and I could not be contacted and especially if I had not returned when I said I would. I may know exactly where I am but to everyone else I’m lost. If I go into hiding I’m still lost to those who don’t know where I am.

In terms of being lost in relation to God we use the word in both meanings. A person in a spiritual wilderness, disconnected from God, is lost. Just as someone who knows exactly where they are, has definite beliefs and can state them categorically, but has no connection with God is lost.

The people Moses led had a connection with God but it wasn’t very close and they walked away from it. Paul thought he had a connection with God through being a Jew but he was lost until Jesus enlightened him. People in Jesus’ audience were various. Some had a close connection with him so were found. Others were more like the younger Paul – thought they had it but didn’t. We can, too, get not totally lost but temporarily misplaced. That’s why we keep confessing – for confession requires repentance – thus restoring our closeness with God.

How does our lostness/foundness show?
It shows in how much our character and behaviour matches God’s.
But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts.

 It has always outraged religious people that God doesn’t share their sense of good taste. He seems to have one set of expectations of behaviour and devotion for them with another for those who either ignore him or have never known him. In Luke 15:1-10 the Pharisees and teachers of the Law look on in disbelief and contempt as Jesus not only tolerates the presence of ‘sinners’ but even accords them the honour of eating with them. For the religious people this was inconceivable. Jesus speaks of a God who loves the sinner passionately – almost to distraction, since he, the shepherd, abandons the best part of his flock to hike across the hills in search of a stupid sheep which has failed to stay close to the shepherd. His emphasis is upon joy (vs 5-7,9,10) – the thrilling, overwhelming, almost hilarious sense of happiness because this one sheep has been saved or, in his second illustration, a coin has been found. This is what God is like. Compare the miserable muttering of the religious people in verse 2.

 Paul points out this joyful mercy and grace of God (I Timothy 1:14) when speaking of his own rescue by God. He considers himself the worst of sinners (v 15) owing to his record of blasphemy, persecution and violence (v 13, see also Acts 8:1-3; Galatians 1:13,14). God has not changed. Paul understands that God has sent Christ precisely to save sinners (v 15), to rescue the lost (Luke 15:6) and to spare no effort to find what belongs to him (Luke 15:9). Good taste and religious scruples are of less interest to God than the exhilarating joy of seeing ‘sinners’ turned round.

All people have great value to God
Can we say that people are replaceable or are of differing values

Professor Solomon has a 13th Principle: If all efforts to find a thing fail give up on let it out of your life. What if God were to apply the professor’s 13th principle, shrug his shoulders and give up the search for one of us?

The Bible tells us that this is exactly what he will not do.

 The message of the lost sheep and coin
There are two keywords in Jesus’ conclusion to the stories of the lost sheep and the lost coin. One is rejoicing. God rejoices, and all heaven with him, when one lost person is found by God. The second keyword is repentance. The reason the lost person has been found is because (s)he is a sinner who repents. Jesus even goes on to say that righteous people who do not repent are actually more lost than one who does.

 None of us, or the people we know, or the people in the Bible whose lives we have looked at today, could have saved themselves or found themselves. Let’s rejoice because God searches for us, keeps us in sight, and never gives up on us when we are lost.

Sunday sermon 8 September – Following Jesus? Seriously?

Readings:

Philippians 2:12-16

Luke 14:25-33

Message

So how do you feel about having to hate your family in order to be a disciple of Jesus?

Listen to verse 26 of today’s reading again:

26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.

There are a couple of ways around this – if you think it’s a bit over the top.

Context is everything! Maybe verse 25 will clear it up:

25 Large crowds were travelling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26 ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.

Maybe he was sifting out the rabble – those extras hanging around.

With the cross looming – maybe that was a good thing!  After all we read in Luke 9:51

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.

He certainly was addressing the large crowds.  If it was a sifting process – well there is evidence that He got it right.

Have a look at Jesus’ church growth chart:

church-growth-550x420

Of course he does not just offend them with the “hating family” story.  He goes on to say to them:

27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Both of these are offensive and challenging. Family was everything in those days – it was your source of education and training, income, and your very identity. Think about the names they had – Simon son of John etc. You were identified by the very father that you were to hate.

And they knew crucifixion. They saw people carrying their own crosses under the Roman tyranny – on their way to hang up in a public place as a warning to others.

IS THERE A WAY AROUND THIS?

Yes and no.

There is a principle in Bible interpretation that seems to evade some people. The wider context and weight of the whole Bible determines how you figure things out.

Clearly Jesus was not against families. He loved and welcomed children. He ate in peoples’ homes. He had some serious things to day about marriage and divorce.

And the bible is clear in other ways. Jesus would have upheld the commandments – especially number 5.

Blank looks. Oh number FIVE!

Exo 20:12  “Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.

But in reality there is no escape – because Jesus modelled this conflict in calling in his own life. It started pretty early in Luke chapter 2:

Luk 2:44  Thinking he was in their company, they travelled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends.

Luk 2:45  When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him.

Luk 2:46  After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Luk 2:47  Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Luk 2:48  When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

Luk 2:49  “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Luk 2:50  But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Luk 2:51  Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

 And early in Mark’s gospel as an adult there are issues with His calling and his family:

Mar 3:20  Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat.

Mar 3:21  When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

And 10 verses later:

Mar 3:31  Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him.

Mar 3:32  A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

Mar 3:33  “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

Mar 3:34  Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!

Mar 3:35  Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

What then is the key?

If family was the essence of a person’s identity then – Jesus clearly redefied identity in terms of obedience.

Following him was costly.

Yes it is an hyperbole – a deliberate exaggeration.

You have to hate them (family) in order to really love and follow Jesus!

You have to hate darkness (and sin) in order to really love the light and walk in it!

It is about contrasts. And don’t forget it’s not just the family. Listen again:

‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.

You have to hate your own life!

It is not really surprising that most of Jesus’ first disciples were single (it seems only Peter has a wife worthy of mention albeit indirectly – the reference is to his mother in law!).

Paul was single too!

To make triply sure that people got the message on that day, at least – Jesus tells two stories – one about building towers. There were a lot of incomplete towers in those days. How do I know? Well I wasn’t there (in case you think I am very old) – historians fill the gaps.

And going to war with someone who has double the numbers in his army is just dumb. That King would make peace. With all the wars on right now one wishes they too would make peace – the cost is so high.

These stories illustrate the need to be VERY SURE before you run off after Jesus! This is not easy!

He ends with:

33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Is this too hard? Yes following the call of Jesus is extremely hard.

What would he say to us today?

Probably something like: “Are you serious? Seriously?”

Or this

“Are you with the programme? Really?” ”Are you on board with this?”

The past two weeks we looked at the Kingdom – and Jesus call to Seek first the Kingdom of God.

This is the King in the Kingdom! Calling us to follow.

Man this is hard.

People are already making sacrifices for their kids – their jobs – their futures – sport – clubs – endless activities.

And we have all kinds of commitments – we owe people favours in return for what they have done for us.

We have all these obligations.

And here comes Jesus saying – this is real sacrifice. This matters.

Well there are two great sayings: “Don’t shoot me I’m only the pianist” and “don’t shoot me, I’m only the messenger!”

Ha ha – both can work for me!

One of my favourite writers – David Lose – talks about how to make this modern. He suggests something like this:

So maybe we should contemporize Jesus’ parable a bit and ask, “What parent wouldn’t count the cost before signing up for the traveling soccer team and what new employee wouldn’t consider whether she is willing to work every weekend her first year?” Do you see what I mean? Our people are already making sacrifices, and in this passage Jesus is saying that Christian discipleship calls for the same.

Look, I get it. Our whole family is happier when our eldest is swimming and has a chance to pour all the extra energy (and hormones!) of adolescence into the pool rather than have it spill out all over the place at home. And so we have at times made that a priority to the exclusion of church activities. But over the long haul I also want him to have a life marked by relationship with God, by confidence in God’s love for him and all the world, and by the knowledge that whatever may happen or wherever he may go, God is with him.

And that takes sacrifice.  That’s a challenge for parents – who commit themselves to all kinds of things for their kids!

Sadly – coming to worship is not high on the list. We need to make it so!

Will you follow this Jesus?  You’d better count the cost. Seriously!

Sunday 1 September – Signs of the Kingdom

Readings: Psalm 112:1-9; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-17; Luke 14: 1, 7-14

So about the Kingdom of God.

The one that we are told to strive for – to seek first?

Any vague memories from last week? There you go – it’s coming back to you! Well done!

It’s a bit like an upside down cake. What matters is not on the surface.

I mean think about a genuine upside-down cake.  (Not the recipes that have all the fruit slices on the top). I’m thinking of a normal iced cake. Flip it over – and the icing is at the bottom. Weird hey.

WHEN JESUS IS KING

When Jesus is King – your values and ethics change.

That does not mean that the Kingdom of God is purely about ethics – about doing good or being different. They are signs of the Kingdom – just as the church at worship is a sign of the Kingdom – so too changed lives are signs of the Kingdom.

When Jesus is King – we become different. Paul puts it like this in 2 Corinthians 3:

2Co 3:17  Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  2Co 3:18  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

It’s not just our inner transformation – it’s a change in lifestyle. And one of the noticeable things is how we invest our time and money. How we treat people – especially the needy.

 

1.       Psalm 112 is an example from the readings set today. The interesting thing is that it is one of the coupled Psalms. You need to read Psalm 111 as part of it. The first part of the coupled Psalm is about the greatness of God and what God has done for us – the second, what we have as Psalm 112 – is about the consequences for people who fear this God. What will it be like for them:  listen to verses 4 and 5:

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
    for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.

Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.

One gets the feeling that these Godly people are nice to have around. That’s a key part of our witness as Christians. We are to conduct our affairs with justice – just like the people of God back in Psalm 112.

Tragically – many Christian businessmen don’t have good reputations. That is all. It’s true.

We on the other hand – because of the amazing grace which comes to us – are gracious to others – compassionate and generous. The kingdom works its way out in our daily lives. Or should do.

 

2.       The second reading is also rather lovely. Have a look at the Hebrews reading.

Are you like this? Let the Holy Spirit work in your life – lining you up with the Kingdom of God and the King who makes us his body and hands – his feet and voice in the world – and people will see this in you and me:

“Keeping on” loving one another. You don’t give up even when your brother is a pain in the brain. And elsewhere!

Hospitality. Man I keep coming back to this – because God is speaking about it and I need to tell you what he says! And here’s the wonderful thing about this word – and why it is such a Kingdom word.

The verse says: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 

That puts us on our guard!  Here’s what it means:  It actually says – Don’t forget φιλοξενιας.  Philoxenia.  Remember xenophobia?  Fear of strangers? It‘s the opposite of this! It means loving strange people!

I love it! (Applause)!

We are to keep on loving each other and loving the strange too! Get it?

The writer to the Hebrews – after writing 12 chapters about what Jesus has done for us (a bit like Paul’s letter to the Romans) ends with these gems about the consequences of the grace of God and the coming of the Kingdom in our lives;

  • Keep on loving each other as brothers
  • Love the strange! (We have a dear friend called Ken Strange! I must send him this sermon!)
  • Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
  • Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure (New Zealand!).
  • Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have (because God is with you people!) IN fact it’s the best bit in the passage. It goes like this (in the rest of verse 5 and verse 6):

“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?”

And then the writer goes on:

  • Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith (challenging for us leaders!). Later he says obey your leaders! (v 17).  “Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.”  Amen to that! I’d like my work to be a joy – and not the cause of burnout and stress!

The Kingdom of God has clear values! And when Jesus is King in your life – things are like this!

3.       The Gospel reading is the cherry on our upside down cake today.

If you want Kingdom values – watch Jesus interact with the people of his day who thought they had it all sorted. Listen to Jesus on these issues!

Man I’ve just been 15 000 kilometres to a wedding. And the issue of where people sit is a big deal!

So in my niece’s wedding they had a seating plan!

In my old job they had seating plans for special events and banquets – and they always put me with the people that no one else wanted around!  I love it! They actually got something right!

I landed up with people who had fallen on hard times and not made their millions like the rest.  The ones who were different and interesting!

In those days honour and disgrace were big issues! You needed to keep in with the right people – in any case you might have to negotiate to marry off one of your kids to that family!

Listen again:

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests.

 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Here’s the meat in the Kingdom of God sandwich.

We don’t have to be the cream cheese in this world!

Wealth, beauty, importance and influence are not key Kingdom values.

Humility now! Honour later! We will judge the world with Jesus later! (1 Corinthians 6:2 – Do you not know that the saints will judge the world?)

Later matters. Listen to the investment we are called to make:  12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbours; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

How are you doing in investing in people who can’t pay you back!

Do it for the sake of what is right! Not for a return invitation!

This is probable what it means to be the salt of the earth!

We bring flavour to a tasteless society. People notice – and are drawn to that kind of generosity as they were drawn to Jesus! There were always people around him! And then he could speak into their lives – as can we – about the Kingdom of God!

Yay God! Amen!