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What Are You Looking For in a Church Home?

Everyone has a “features list” when looking for a church home, which typically includes:

  • Music – “traditional”, “contemporary”, or more recently, “blended”;
  • Children’s programs – AWANA, King’s Kids, Sunday and/or Wednesday nights;
  • Teen activities – wholesome environments for teenagers;
  • Seeker Friendly – relaxed ambience with coffee, food, casual dress, etc.;
  • Adult study groups – relaxed small group Bible studies addressing current topics;

There are other factors: – service times, locations, technology – the list can be long.

It’s difficult to be critical of those who seek such things. After all, should we be forced to plug our ears to avoid screeching voices – or guitars? Should our children sit rigidly, subjected to an irrelevant, dull formal liturgy? Is drinking Starbuck’s in church a sin (probably, but Sanka and Maxwell House are OK :))? Should we expect to be inconvenienced when we come to church?

My concern and motivation for starting The Church Where You Live is that in all of the above, learning more about the Word of God is not the primary criteria. One might reply that the presence of sound Biblical doctrine goes without saying. But does it?

There’s no easy way to say this – the Biblical ignorance of many long-time church-goers who claim Christianity is astonishing. Basic Bible doctrines such as:

  • The difference between the Old and New Testaments;
  • The priesthood of the believer;
  • The relevance of the Ten Commandments to a Christian;
  • How to be saved;
  • Etc.

is beyond the ability of many to articulate. They don’t know what the Bible says because they don’t read the Bible, and worse, are not taught the Bible. Consequently, entire congregations seemingly have no idea how to live out the Christian life, and it’s painfully evident to visitors.

One search criteria for a church home is “old-fashioned preaching”. This typically means a mix of theatrical, loud, dogmatic, unflinching, sometimes offensive, pulpit-slamming, phlegm-spewing oratory.

Again, it’s fair to ask: should preaching be delivered Fred Rogers-style (Hey kids, did you know Jesus loves you? Sure he does!)? Is there anything evil about getting excited?

It’s not the preaching style that’s offensive to me. It’s what is – or isn’t – being proclaimed.

Years ago, a man was regaling my daughter of his visit to a “camp meeting” preaching conference. He excitedly described the speaker delivering hellfire & brimstone from the pulpit, with the congregation shouting, waving and rejoicing. Curious, she asked him of the preacher’s topic. Instantly irritated, the man stared blankly at her as if she had just grown another head before dismissively replying, “I have no idea”.

I recently heard a message from a big-name preacher. He was polished, interesting, engaging, utilized humor at key points, and followed a well-constructed outline. The only problem was that his message was totally devoid of any Biblical truth whatsoever.

An evangelist who touts himself as “Preaching the Old Fashioned Gospel the Old Fashioned Way” had the following statement attributed to him: “One reason I stress old-time religion <is> one day I’ll be gone, and I don’t want my grandchildren to have a church that looks like a nightclub, a preacher who behaves like a reject from a boy band, and a faith that has the shallowness of a new marketing slogan”.

Fair enough.

However, what bothers me more is the prospect of my grandchildren sitting in a church with an idle Bible on their lap as a false teacher blasphemes Jesus Christ by labeling himself the “man of God” and heretically claiming to be God’s mouthpiece.

If you recognize the need to learn more about what the Bible actually says, or if you’re frustrated by the lack of Bible-centeredness in your present situation, then visit us at The Church Where You Live. We center on the Bible. The other things – music, atmosphere, programs – don’t feed into Christianity, but flow outward from it.

Recognizing Jesus in the Storm (Part IV)

Matthew 14:28-32:

And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased.

For years, I heard, read and believed the object lessons put forth using this text. It was generally a variation on one of two main themes:

  1. Peter is an inspiration to the Christian. He was the only one who had enough faith to walk on water. But note – he couldn’t do the miraculous until he stepped out of the boat. Christian – step out by faith! Jesus will meet you on the waves. He will protect you. He can calm the storm. Don’t be like the laggards who stayed in the boat. You just have to have faith to take that next step;
  2. When Peter took his eyes off Jesus, then he began to sink. Christian – step out in faith, but make sure you keep your eyes on Jesus. The winds will blow, and the waves will crash all around you, but keep your eyes on Jesus, and you’ll do miraculous things.

After many years of re-reading the Bible, I have come to an entirely different conclusion.

The crux of the lesson in this story is in determining what Jesus was referring to when he said to Peter, “Why did you doubt?”:

  • Did Jesus mean, “Why did you doubt that you could walk on water?” In truth, Peter DID walk on water (for a short time).
  • Did Jesus mean, “Why did you doubt that you could CONTINUE to walk on water?” That actually seems more likely than the first, but;
  • I believe Jesus meant, “Why did you doubt my word?” When Jesus said, “It is I; be not afraid”, that was good enough for eleven disciples – but it wasn’t good enough for Peter.

Peter was the only one for whom the Word of God was insufficient. Peter required more proof than Jesus’ Word.

That doesn’t sound like faith to me.

A reasonable question to ask is, “What was Peter’s purpose”? He was challenging the word of Christ. He was positioning HIMSELF as the arbiter of the truth of Jesus’ word. He made HIMSELF the center of attention.

Another question to ask is: What if Jesus hadn’t called him out of the ship? What if he had replied, “Peter, just believe what I said. You don’t need a sign”. That would have been awkward, would it not?

The disciples had enough faith in Jesus’ word to stay put. Peter’s unbelief landed him in worse shape – sinking like a rock outside the ship. He thought he was getting closer to Jesus in his own way, according to his own terms. In his prideful arrogance, he was now separated from his brethren and in even greater danger.

Peter’s actions are not to be admired and emulated. Jesus indulged him to prove a point about his LACK of faith (in his word). Read about an earlier incident with Jesus and his disciples on the sea: Matthew 8:23-27. Back then, they were afraid even when Jesus was with them. Now they just needed to hear his voice.

Except Peter, that is.

When you obey, and the trials come, Jesus will be there. It’s all part of His plan. Take comfort that He knows better than you do.

Is God’s Word good enough for you? Or do you require more? Do you think you can dictate the terms of your journey? It may take a hard lesson to convince you otherwise. Peter found himself slipping beneath the waves because he shifted the focus from Christ to himself. And that is a scary place to be.

Recognizing Jesus in the Storm (Part III)

Matthew 14:26-27:

And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid.

It was bad enough that Jesus’ disciples were struggling with the waves. It takes a sailor to appreciate the power of the sea. Jesus’ disciples were not playing cards and sharing beef jerky. They were literally fighting for their lives.

A friend of mine served on a naval destroyer that was caught in a hurricane. FIFTY YEARS LATER, when he tells the story, it is just as fresh in his mind as if it happened a week ago.

The disciples didn’t think it could possibly get any worse – and then it did. As sailors tended to be a superstitious lot, they were now facing their worst nightmare – spirits from the dead arising out of the abyss. Hell itself had released its prey, and demons were coming to reach under their rib cage with bony, clawed appendages, rip their hearts out, chew them up and spit them into the sea.

And then Jesus spoke and told them to not be afraid.

In Hebrews 13:5, our God says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee”. It’s one thing to read this and believe it. It’s quite another to actually experience it in your life.

Many take great comfort in Psalm 23: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. It’s one thing to read this and believe it. It’s quite another to actually experience it in your life.

There’s an ocean of difference between “Jesus Saves” and “Jesus Saved”. The greater the storm, the more awesome, glorious and meaningful the demonstration of his power.

This event would likely not have made it in Scripture if Jesus had calmed a warm, gentle breeze at midday. Jesus is all-powerful. Jesus can save. Only Jesus saves. Jesus can bring calm. Only Jesus brings calm. And that’s why Jesus waited until their situation was dire – to manifest HIS power and HIS glory. It’s not about us. It’s all about Jesus.

We’ll wrap up in Part IV by exploring Peter’s time outside the boat. Stay tuned.

Recognizing Jesus in the Storm (Part II)

Matthew 14:24-25

But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary. And in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea.

Take note of when Jesus appeared to his disciples:

  • It wasn’t before the storm
  • It wasn’t when the clouds began to gather
  • It wasn’t when the wind started becoming boisterous.

Jesus came in the fourth watch, (generally agreed to be between 3 AM and 6 AM), when the night was blackest, the storm the angriest, the winds the loudest, the hopelessness the most overwhelming.

Jesus saved me when I was at my end. I was a despairing sinner with no hope, headed for eternity in hell. Jesus came when I had nothing else to believe in, nothing else to trust, nothing else to hold on to.

Has He come for you? See this blog post: https://thechurchwhereyoulive.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/how-to-become-a-christian/ for the simplicity of the Gospel message and how you can become a Christian.

On numerous occasions and many scenarios, the same plays out in a Christian’s life. When we can’t go on, when we can’t take any more, when we don’t have any options, that’s when Jesus makes his presence known.

But why then? Why not before? Stay tuned for Parts III and IV.

Recognizing Jesus in the Storm (Part I)

Where is God in the tough times? What is the purpose of trials? Where is Jesus in the storms of life? Let’s look at a familiar Gospel passage to answer these questions.

Matthew 14:22-24

And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away. And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone. But the ship was now in the midst of the sea, tossed with waves: for the wind was contrary.

It’s a Setup!

Jesus is “true God and true man”. Since he is God, he is omniscient (all-knowing). Jesus knew what was about to happen to his disciples. He compelled his disciples to enter a boat that he knew was headed for trouble!

It’s Easy to Trust When Things are Good

There is no evidence the disciples shoved off in defiance of any sign to the contrary. Many of them were seasoned fishermen, and knew how to discern the sky. What they might have been apprehensive about, as all fishermen of the day feared most were the unexpected storms. But what was there to fear? Their Lord and Master was guiding and directing them. They set off with complete confidence in Jesus’ word.

Doubting in the Dark What You Believed in the Light

Then the storm came. What went wrong? The answer is: NOTHINGThe storm was part of Jesus’ plan. In Mark’s Gospel (6:46-51), he was actually watching them toil from shore.

Christian (young or old): You WILL face storms. Part of it is life. Part of it is our own failings. Part of it is because we have an enemy. But more than anything is Philippians 1:6 – Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: . You ran into a storm as you were obeying. But why the storms? Because that’s part of the maturing process.

Think it Not Strange…

When Christians despair because of storms and trials in their life, they exhibit a classic, textbook characteristic of spiritual immaturity.

It’s not the stepping back & taking stock;

It’s not the soul-searching to determine if something needs to change in your spiritual life;

It’s the bewilderment – the entitlement mentality, the indignity that God would dare to upset your life.

But remember, it’s not about you; it’s about him working in you.

Called of God

  • “God called me to be the pastor of this church”.
  • “God has called me to be a missionary”.
  • “I am a God-called evangelist”.
  • “In order to be a pastor, you must be called of God”.
  • “He preaches, but I don’t believe God ever called him”.

What does it mean to be “called of God”? What is this mystical “call”, steeped in murky, swirling darkness, seemingly unapproachable by all but an elite, select few?

“Called of God” never appears in the Old Testament and only twice (Hebrews 5:4 and 5:10) in the New Testament, where it contrasts the old Levitical priesthood with the new Melchisedec priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Ordained = Called

The word “ordained” is often used in a context that could mirror “called”. “Ordained” has a variety of meanings – to place, to arrange, to choose. In these passages, “called” could be an appropriate synonym:

  • Psalm 81:5 – Joseph was ordained (called) for his time in Egypt
  • Jeremiah 1:5 – Jeremiah was ordained (called) from the womb
  • Mark 3:14, John 15:16 – Jesus ordained (called) his disciples
  • Acts 1:22 – The eleven remaining disciples ordained (called) another to fill Judas’ spot
  • Acts 14:23 – Paul and Barnabas ordained (called) church leaders
  • Galatians 1:15, I Timothy 2:7 – Paul was ordained a preacher and an apostle (by Jesus Christ). Note that Paul was not alone when he was called – there were witnesses.

All Christians are Called

  • I Corinthians 1:9 – All Christians are called by God unto the fellowship of Christ
  • I Peter 5:10 – All Christians are called by God unto his eternal glory by Christ
  • Jude 1 – All Christians are sanctified by God, preserved in Christ and called

So where do we get this idea of God “calling” a pastor, or more importantly, the idea that if a man says he is “called”, that amounts to some sort of heavenly seal that only God can break?

Consider the following, gleaned from recent news headlines:

  • Mark Lewis, a “God-called” pastor was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in firebombing his girlfriend’s home because she wanted to break up with him. Lewis’ first wife had committed suicide, but after this episode, there was talk of reopening an investigation into her death.
  • David Love, a “God-called” pastor carried on a multi-year affair with the wife of a church member. Eventually, he killed her husband then conducted his funeral, which included a passionate eulogy. He pleaded guilty to murder and is currently in prison.
  • Matt Baker, a “God-called” pastor drugged and suffocated his wife so he could continue an affair with a church member. She eventually ratted him out, and he’s serving a life sentence.
  • Jack Schaap, the “God-called” successor to Jack Hyles’ Hammond, IN church is currently serving twelve years in prison for molesting a teenage girl in several states.
  • Nathan Leuthold was a “God-called” missionary to Lithuania; he’s now serving 80 years for the murder of his wife, by which he hoped to continue his affair with a much younger national.
  • A potential pastor presented himself as a candidate for a new church. He calimed God called him to preach twelve years ago, but has yet to pastor. He’s still waiting for God to fulfill his call.

The Fallacy of Idolatry

In all of the above examples, the problem is not the failures. Everyone is fallible. The problem is the unwise elevation of a man to an exalted position based solely on a claim of divine validation.

If one claims they were truly called, but later swerved, a reasonable question is: how would you have known the difference? Perhaps (it may be argued), you can’t. If that is the case, then what establishes the veracity of “the call” in your mind? To some, the mere self-proclamation of a call is enough proof to demonize any objections. In other words, one is called of God merely because he said so. This is extremely dangerous, as it colors or even outright eliminates any objective scrutiny (see Acts 17:10-11).

A Final Word

Lastly, some immature Christians use the LACK of a call to justify not growing in their walk, e.g. “I don’t feel called”. But can you show me in the Bible where teachers, deacons, pastors, groundskeepers, greeters, song leaders or ushers sit around and wait to be “called”? It’s clear from experience that God turns those who are already moving in a direction. So don’t expect God to lift you up off the couch to do His will. If you’re waiting today, you’ll be waiting 30 years from now.

Do you see a need? Are you willing? Are there any more questions?

Church Brochure – Your Input, Please

Here’s the first stab at one side of a tri-fold church brochure. What needs added? What needs modified? What needs removed? What’s confusing? What needs clarification? What should go on the other side?

Think about it from the perspective of someone handing you a church brochure. What would you want to see in it to help you decide if it’s the church you’ve always been looking for or a slimepit of heresy that needs a nuclear missile in order to improve it?

Church Brochure – Side One

Obeying the Ten Commandments – Christian Necessity or Fool’s Errand (Part IV)

This is the last in this series.

Q: Must a Christian obey the OT law in general and the Ten Commandments in particular?

A: It’s the wrong question.

The Old Testament teaches us about who God is, and shows us his character. It is profoundly useful information for a Christian. The examples, illustrations and lessons we learn from the events, prophecies, and writings are extremely valuable in framing our understanding of the relationship God has with mankind.

It is a fool’s errand to measure our righteousness against the Ten Commandments. It was the law that condemned because we fell short of it. It’s foolish to believe that we can now keep that same law in order to obtain righteousness.

What’s the Answer?

We obey God by living according to a higher, better standard than the law of commandments – the law of love.

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:35-40)

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.  (John 13:34-35)

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.  (Romans 13:8-10)

For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Galatians 5:14)

If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well: But if ye have respect to persons, ye commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law. So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.  (James 2:8-12).

Think about the difference in approach between the “law of commandments” and “law of love”:

  • The law is a list of requirements; our natural inclination is perform the absolute minimum required, and find ways to get around the rest. Mardi Gras is a perfect illustration. Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) is the day before Ash Wednesday, which starts the season of Lent. You’re expected to give up something you like for Lent. But until then – and especially just before the onset of Lent – you’re free to revel in the vilest of debaucheries, but only until the clock strikes midnight. Then you must be good, for only then will you be deemed righteous.
  • Love says, “How can I best provide for another in order to fulfil their needs and contribute to their happiness”? It’s not about what I can get. It’s what I can give. And when everyone within an assembly has each other’s best interests at heart, this fulfils the requirements of God’s law. At least, that’s what the Bible says.

A Radical Concept – Read the Bible!

  • Interestingly – or not – delving into what Scripture really says tends to make immature Christians more rebellious. They’re only interested in doing enough to satisfy the bare minimum (can I or can’t I?), and being free to live the rest of their life as they see fit.
  • Others are intent on flaunting their liberty, believing that Christ’s salvation has freed them from any constraints whatsoever.
  • Still others make whole religions out of hiding their heart attitude behind works and appearance. Regardless of their words, their actions prove they seek righteousness through works.

The Ten Commandments is not a guide for Christians or society. It is a monument to the futility of pleasing God through good works. The Ten Commandments are not the Good News.

Obeying the Ten Commandments – Christian Necessity or Fool’s Errand (Part III)

Here we begin to answer the many questions posed in the first two parts of this series.

Salvation Has Always Been by Faith, Apart From the Law

And he brought him (Abraham) forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness. (Genesis 15:5-6)

And this I say, that the covenant (Genesis 15), that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect. For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise. (Galatians 3:17-18)

The law was given after the promise of Genesis 15:6, and therefore cannot invalidate it.

Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made. (Galatians 3:19)

The law was added because of transgressions till Jesus Christ should come. The Ten Commandments served a purpose, but it wasn’t to make us righteous.

Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. (Galatians 3:21-22)

If the law could have given us eternal life, it would have. Otherwise, there would have been no reason for Christ to shed his blood for us. But the law accomplished only one objective – it made everyone a sinner, so everyone could be offered salvation by faith in Christ.

But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. (Galatians 3:23-24)

The Greek word for “schoolmaster” describes a servant whose responsibility it was to rouse a child out of bed, dress him, feed him, take him to school, stay with him during the school day, bring him back home, and make sure his homework was done. This continued until the child reached maturity. The idea is one of forced learning for a later purpose.

Our laws exist not to reward the righteous, but to condemn the guilty. So it is with the law of God. It condemns us by forcing us to see the righteousness of God. The law brings us to the point of despair (Romans 7:24), so that we can be brought to Christ (Galatians 3:24-25).

For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

The Law our Reminder

God’s behavior at times in the Old Testament is unsettling to Christians and non-Christians alike. He is vengeful, orders the slaughter of innocents, and goes on “genocidal rages”. Adulterous men are fined, but adulterous women are killed. The slightest of infractions, such as gathering sticks on the Sabbath, result in execution.

It’s as if the Old Testament purposely portrays God as an iron-fisted, sovereign ruler with unlimited power who demands total worship and dictates all terms of the relationship with his subjects.

That’s correct.

And he hasn’t changed.

But what has changed is the wrath of this omnipotent God has been appeased through the payment of the blood of Jesus Christ. This sacrifice was provided by God himself, the same who had condemned us by his law. All we need do – and what we must do – is deny any other method of reconciliation and embrace the gift offered so freely.

End of Part III

Obeying the Ten Commandments – Christian Necessity or Fool’s Errand? (Part II)

This post has more questions, which will start being answered in Part III. For now, ponder the questions and note your answers.

The Law Still Applies … Except For …

Which of these commands apply to today’s Christian?

  • The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God.
  • When thou buildest a new house, then thou shalt make a battlement for thy roof, that thou bring not blood upon thine house, if any man fall from thence.
  • Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself.
  • If a man be found lying with a woman married to an husband, then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.

 

Some say the first is still a command of God that should be obeyed today. But what about the other three? All four verses are from the same chapter (Deuteronomy 22). How can one of them apply today, but not all? And if not all, how do we determine which ones do and which ones don’t?

Enter Human Reasoning

Some attempt to explain this by dividing the Old Testament law into three groups:

  • Civil – Commandments designed to guide our conduct as principles, not specifics. Examples are restitution for being gored by a neighbor’s ox, or the cities of refuge.
  • Ceremonial – Commandments for temple worship. These are viewed as being no longer applicable due to Christ’s death & resurrection.
  • Moral – Direct commands of God, including but not limited to the Ten Commandments. These are believed to still be applicable to the Christian.

These divisions are human constructs. Some passages could apply to more than one group, creating confusion and difference of opinion.

  • If the moral laws still apply, why don’t we go to church on Saturday?
  • Why must nine of the Commandments be strictly interpreted, but not the tenth?
  • If one of the Ten Commandments was “changed” in the New Testament, who decided, and more importantly, where is it written?

Time Out!

As stated, we have encountered more questions than answers. And here’s some more:

  • If by chance we’re not bound by the Ten Commandments, is it OK to violate them?
  • Does the Old Testament have any relevance to the New Testament Christian?
  • If only some parts of the Old Testament still apply, which parts, and who decides?

And most importantly – does the Bible provide an answer?

Yes, it does. And quite clearly, too.

End of Part II