Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Forgotten Sin

Perhaps our forgetfulness can be excused since that sin is addressed in the caboose of the Ten Commandments, no? It’s not as bad as murder or adultery, is it? And surely love is the important thing – first love to God (worshipful adoration of Him and serving Him with all one’s being) and second love to neighbor (charitable elevation of his interests to the level of my own), correct? Coveting is surely minor in comparison, is it not? Then of course there is our pandemic Biblical illiteracy arguing for laxity in this matter, right?

Wrong. Negative. There is no excusing sin, and the sin of coveting is not exempt. In fact, admonishing the Christians in ancient Colossae, Paul the apostle wrote “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). No indeed, there is not the slightest excuse for this “little” sin. It is not minor, it is actually a form of false worship! Paul’s inspired exhortation puts it right up there with the first of the big ten.

So the disciple struggling with sin’s indwelling power, its lusts waging war against his soul, must give sin no quarter, including the sin of coveting. He or she is commanded to put all sin to death summarily…to go all out Samuel on that Agag! (Cf. 1 Samuel 15:33.) Let there be no coddling of this serpent. Such coddling lures one back toward sin’s bondage and misery.

Likewise the soul newly convicted of sin’s guilt and now stricken with an awareness of how sin has corrupted that one’s entire being and course of life must not vainly dream of making satisfaction for the guilt of coveting or the guilt of any other sin. As 18th century hymn writer Augustus Toplady wrote:

“Could my tears forever flow
Could my zeal no respite know
All for sin could not atone
Thou must save and Thou alone!”

That convicted and tormented one, being not far from the kingdom of God, must flee to the only narrow gate, the cross of Christ, to find forgiveness and everlasting rest.

Likewise a society slipping and sliding deeper and deeper into lawlessness must be warned. Its rulers must learn to do their duty to the supreme Sovereign Who appointed them and gave them the power of the sword, as the Bible puts it. That duty is to punish the evildoer and reward those who do good – both of those ethical categories being defined not by the capriciousness of man but by the eternal God Who said…


Because we in the West already have fallen so far, sadly a defintion of covetousness, the act of coveting, is in order. Let the following amplification of Scripture’s already amplified proclamation (Cf. Exodus 20:17 and Deuteronomy 5:21) of that four word prohibition serve this defining purpose:

You shall not enviously desire your neighbor’s spouse, you shall not enviously desire your neighbor’s home or other property, you shall not enviously desire your neighbor’s business or personal assets, in fact you shall not enviously desire anything that is your neighbor’s. Keep your grubby hands and beady eyes and skulking minds off your neighbor’s stuff, period!

To learn who your neighbor is, check how Jesus answered that very question when it was put to Him by a man considered by his tribe to be an expert in the law of God. It is called the parable of the good Samaritan, and can be found in the tenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke. The short answer easily and rightly inferred from the parable is that EVERYONE is the neighbor of everyone else!

With that understanding (O Lord, let it take root and grow in all our hearts!) let’s consider and respond to what bombards us in our own society – directly and bluntly, subtly, and even subliminally – as we are led away by our own propensity to covet.

I DESERVE this, that, or the other thing which my neighbor has!” False! In the sight of God you and I deserve nothing. All that you or your neighbor has comes from His unmerited mercy and grace. And in the sight of your fellow human beings you deserve no more than compensation for your honest labors, honor for your well doing, and punishment for your evil doing, while both you and your neighbor owe perpetual charity to one another and to all.

My neighbor has privileges I don’t have! I am right to identify my neighbor as evil because of them. I must tear down my neighbor and make him feel ashamed of his privileges” (real or imagined)! False, the very meaning of privilege is the possession of some earthly treasure or advantage which all do not have.

Our almighty and all wise Creator gives no explanation as to why, according to His inscrutable and righteous decree, one is born in a palace and another in a shack or why one lives a long life in robust health lacking nothing while another lives a brief life beset with pain and sorrow (Cf. Luke 16:19ff). He only gives the assurance that no one is treated unjustly by His providence. Fairness and justice are not synonymns! And God also assures us that every manager of His diverse gifts will face a final reckoning. Each of us is such a manager, such a steward. To whom much was entrusted, much will be expected. (Cf. Matthew 25:14ff)

Our place is to be resourceful, industrious, thankful, and content. In the midst of pursuing those precious character traits, which do not come naturally, we often discover that we too have great privileges and advantages not possessed by others, and abundant reason to be clothed with humility and overflowing with gratitude. (Cf. Solomon’s meditations in the book of Ecclesiastes)

There must be universal equality of income, no classes in society, and redistribution of wealth in order to level the playing field!” False. This is the very manifesto of covetousness and the sure path to an equality of abject poverty, to the existence of one vast miserable class controlled by a handful of elites, and to a dearth of any wealth to distribute to anyone. Consider the former Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, etc. and the underlying sophistry of their regimes which mock genuine charity and trample the Eight and Ninth Commandments…a discussion for another day.

God has not forgotten that covetousness is a sin. He has not edited His law, ignorance of which is no excuse especially since we who bear His image cannot fully escape the knowledge of right and wrong, however badly we sear our consciences. Our way forward is repentance for coveting and our other national sins. Then we can hope that God will heal our land.

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Farming for God: A Sermon Manuscript

This is the full manuscript of a sermon preached at morning worship at Grace Presbyterian Church (Westfield NJ) on August 20, A.D. 2017. The Scripture text for the message was Psalm 126:5,6.

“Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”

Let’s begin by getting acquainted or re-acquainted with ALLEGORY. Did you say ALLERGY, preacher? No, ALLEGORY.

One well known Christian classic uses it, Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. If you haven’t read it yet, you are missing out on a great blessing which is readily available to those willing to get away from glowing electronic screens large or small, long enough to read a book.

An allegory is a narrative or story in which the characters and events are symbols that stand for truths about human life. One thing stands for another. Writing to the Corinthians under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul the apostle sees allegory in Scripture when he quotes Deuteronomy 25:4.

“For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.’ Is it oxen God is concerned about?” (1 Corinthians 9:9)

Actually, God is concerned about oxen! At the end of the book of Jonah, God seeks to turn that prophet away from his wretched resentment. Jonah had not wanted God to show mercy on the great city of Nineveh. But God did so, and cites the presence of many cattle in the city as one of His motives. Just as Proverbs 12:10 says that a righteous man has regard for the life of his animal, so the righteous God was concerned about the beasts that would have died in the overthrow of an unrepentant Nineveh.

But Paul is getting at something more important than the welfare of cattle in his letter to Corinth, namely the earthly compensation of those who serve in the Christian ministry. All faithful Christians serve and all such will receive an everlasting and unfading compensation of glory. In the new covenant, some serve the covenant people as did the priests and Levites under the old covenant, and are to receive earthly compensation as did those servants of old.

So it is with our text. The Psalmist pictures someone first sowing seed in a field with sorrow, then reaping a crop with joy. You might see the old word sheaves in your version (translation) of the Bible. That word means bundles. The same person who went out planting seeds and crying as he went eventually comes in from the fields with big beautiful bundles of a good harvest.

What the Psalmist says about sowing and reaping can apply to actual, earthly farmers who might shed tears of uncertainty and fear in some sowing seasons, but be pleasantly surprised when they get a good crop and perhaps even a bumper crop at harvest time. But we can apply the Psalmist’s words to something more important…to a kind of farming that involves an everlasting harvest.

Just like literal oxen are not the issue for Paul in his word to the Corinthians, so literal seed is not the issue here. The seed with which we are concerned is the incorruptible seed, the Gospel!

In this message I am seeking to imitate the Lord Jesus Who used allegory to speak about sowing and reaping, for example in the parable of the sower, also called the parable of the soils. In that parable, He pictures four kinds of soil into which seeds are sown.

Some seed falls by the wayside and is eaten by birds, standing for the evil one who yanks the precious seed of the gospel out of hard hearts. Other seed grows in sandy soil but can’t take good root there and only endures for a short time, representing the hypocrite whose faith eventually is proven false. Still other seed takes root and grows but is choked off by weeds. This kind of faith is not genuine either and can’t stand up to the troubles and concerns of this world.

True, saving faith bears fruit, having been sown in the good soil of Holy Spirit prepared hearts. That kind of faith, by the power of the same Spirit, grows to maturity and yields a good crop for the divine Sower.

The apostle Peter also had this more important seed in mind when he wrote “…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,” 1 Peter 1:23.

Peter probably had the Lord’s parable in mind, and perhaps our text as well, when he wrote those words under the Spirit’s inspiration. The Gospel comes into good soil. A wonderful rebirth happens not by the will man or the will of the flesh but by sovereign grace. A soul learns of the One was crucified as the once for all sacrifice for that soul’s sin…the One Who was buried and carried away sin forever, as far as east is from west…the One Who rose from the dead victorious over sin, death, and hell and Who lives and reigns forever. That soul flees to and clings to Him, the One now seen as the perfect and complete satisfaction of its deepest need, the need for forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God the gracious Giver of eternal life and glory to undeserving sinners.

Those who have been born again by that precious seed want to see it bear fruit in the lives of their loved ones and neighbors as well. Not everyone is called to stand at pulpits and sow the seed of the Gospel in regular, studied exposition of God’s word. Not everyone is called to stand on street corners with a megaphone and sow the seed of the Gospel in that more extemporaneous way. Not everyone is called to go to places geographically or culturally distant to sow the precious seed.

But brothers and sisters in Christ, we are ALL called to participate in the work of sowing and reaping, each according to his or her own calling. We are all farmers for God. We all share in the work of sowing the precious seed of the Gospel, though we do so in diverse ways.

But as a farmer might weep in uncertainty and fear about the crop he hopes for, we find occasions for weeping in sowing the precious seed of the Gospel. Let me speak briefly in turn to four “tear jerkers.” Do I mean four books or movies or infomercials that make people cry? No, I mean four things that can make us weep as we sow the precious seed of the Gospel.

The first is the fear of man. The Israelites were afraid of Goliath. Saul was afraid of losing face before man. Waiting in the high priest’s courtyard, Peter was afraid to confess his Lord, Who had prophesied that a crowing rooster would signify his fickleness.

Likewise we might see an unbeliever as a giant when it comes to speaking about the Lord. We also can be afraid of losing face before man. “They’ll think I’m a religious nut. They won’t like me. They’ll avoid me. They might even persecute me.” We are fickle in confessing Jesus in public places.

And guess what, people might do all those things! But David conquered Goliath, and his fear of and love for God triumphed over his fear of what man could do to him. Peter turned and became as bold as a lion. We can’t control what people are going to think of us for sharing the Gospel anymore than we can cause a plant to grow out of seed. Don’t be afraid, just keep sowing.

Another tear jerker, another occasion for weeping is besetting doubt that the Gospel is what the Spirit proclaims it to be at Romans 1:16. It is the power…the dynamite…of God unto salvation! Losing sight of that can make us either give up or fall back on human wisdom to persuade. We’re not thinking Biblically about the work of evangelism when we do either.

If you share the Gospel with someone, you usually won’t see immediate fruit, anymore than you will see a blade of wheat or a stalk of corn spring up instantly when you plant a seed. Don’t lose heart. If the seed has been sown in good soil, it will eventually grow. Just keep sowing. We walk by faith, not sight.

The third tear jerker is fear of failure. Look unto Jesus the Author and Finisher of our faith, says the writer to the Hebrews. How did Christ’s ministry appear when He was crucified? One friend cruelly betrayed him, another publicly denied him, the others deserted him. He had nothing to show at that moment after three and half years of laboring hard and dealing with hardened people. Was He a failure?

In some circles there is talk of leading people to Christ. They talk about successes in doing so as if people were notches on evangelism belts. But if you have been led to Christ by human power alone, you haven’t been led to Him in truth! Only the Spirit of the Father draws sinners to the Son. And God’s measure of success is not the world’s measure, nor the measure of the worldly church that thinks of evangelism as a kind of marketing program.

So yes, look unto Jesus and consider what for a moment looked like His failure. Look again and see His smashing success. Keep sowing.

Our fourth and final tear jerker is a sense of insufficiency. These inspired words of Paul muse on the greatness of the task before him and his own sense of insufficiency for it.

“For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?” (2 Corinthians 2:15,16)

Sharing that apostolic sense of insufficiency is good! Pride goes before a fall; God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Woe to the one who unlike the apostle thinks, “I’ve got this!” Let him who thinks he stands as a mighty soul winner take heed lest he fall. When I’m weak, then I’m strong. Recognize that you ARE insufficient, but that He is more than sufficient. Keep sowing.

Now we come to the end result of sowing with tears, the promise of rejoicing. In another Psalm the inspired writer calls God his exceeding joy. Jesus God incarnate is our exceeding joy. All our joy is in Him. There is a river that makes glad the city of God and that river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb.

Many when sowing the seed of the Gospel with Jewish friends or others who might have respect to the Old Testament have appealed to the great passage known as Isaiah chapter 53, about the suffering servant. Centuries before His first advent, that passage gives us an amazing word picture of Jesus Who is that suffering servant.

There is a statement in that chapter which I want to underscore today. “He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied…” (Isaiah 53:11)

What does that mean? It means that the man Christ Jesus will see that He was after all infinitely successful. He will see billions from every tribe nation and tongue brought to His heavenly father to be His everlasting brethren, the eternal bride of the eternal Son.

By this sowing and reaping, we actually share in fulfilling that Scripture, in bringing joy to Jesus the once suffering servant! We know that faith pleases God, how wonderful that we not only can please Him, but be part of bringing Him joy!

The holy angels rejoice in this Gospel reaping as well. Shall we not go forth to sow even if with weeping? Again, we do so “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Already it has been said that you might not be called to public speaking or sudden culture shock. No one is called to grab strangers by the collar and holler. But there are all sorts of small ways that we can can be prepared to sow and create opportunities to sow.

How about simply using the term Lord’s day instead of Sunday in ordinary conversation? Suppose a friendly neighbor asks you what are doing this weekend. Imagine the response you might get if you say, well on Friday night I’m doing this and on Saturday I’m doing that but on the first day of the week I’ll be at worship.

Such a response might lead to an explanation that Sunday is not the weekend but the Lord’s day, and hence an opportunity to talk about what Lord you mean. And how about not saying you’ll be going to church, but going to worship. Brothers and sisters gathered here, we have not come to church. We are the church, we the church have to come to worship in this building set aside for that purpose. By simply changing your terminology, you might create an opportunity to talk about what worship is and Who you worship.

And there’s always my personal favorite door opener, never attributing anything to luck, but invoking our sovereign God whenever possible. Do these small things and others and you will find ways to sow.

Finally, shed the mindset that sees evangelism as a burdensome, weary task. His yoke is easy and His burden is light! Does not bringing joy to our Savior and being the reason for His joy motivate us to sow so that we may reap? Consider the reward, explained by Jesus at the end of another parable, the parable of the talents:

“His lord said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.’ “ (Matthew 25:21)

Not all the soil your seed goes into will be good soil. And you will not likely ever fully escape all those four tear jerkers while you are in the body. There will be weeping in our Gospel seed sowing, don’t imagine that you can avoid it in this life. There is greater weeping involved as we get more deeply involved with other’s live as we sow the precious Gospel seed. It’s all part of this package we call discipleship.

But there is wonderful, joyful reaping in this life and the everlasting rejoicing with no tears whatsoever in the next. Rejoicing with Jesus is the grand finale!

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Traveling to the Stars, Part Three: Motives and Expectations

In part one we summarized what we actually know, by divine revelation, about the cosmos and its raison d’etre. We underscored the primary purpose of the heavens, so coldly and clinically called “outer space” by many. That purpose is to give glory to God. Our part is to recognize that glory, give Him thanks and praise for it, and to have magnifying His glory as our prime directive.

In part two we considered the logistics (especially the chronological ones) and known obstacles to be overcome in traveling to the stars. The most valiant effort at addressing the potentialities of such an endeavor is inadequate, for who dares claim a foresight that spans millennia?

Now, let’s examine our motives for wanting to visit Trappist-1 or Vega or Arcturus and their neighborhoods, and ask ourselves what benefit we can expect besides a mighty sense of accomplishment, which by no means is to be despised! Our knowledge about the true nature of the universe and the obstacles and logistics we have contemplated must guide our motives and inform our expectations about venturing so far from this Earth…this home God gave to us.

According to the apostle Paul at Romans 15:4, the record of the Old Testament is for our learning. After the Great Flood of Noah’s day (memorialized in ancient legends of peoples all over the globe) eight souls disembarked onto what was essentially a new world. We rightly infer that from that juncture an era of exploration, migration, and re-population of the Earth began.

Let’s compare the motives and expectations of Noah’s more immediate descendants with those of us his latter day descendants, contemplating explorations off this globe.

As He had commanded Adam and Eve, God commanded Noah and his sons to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth. Sin would eventually beget the imperialism and other evils, as the account of the tower of Babel makes clear. But at least in the earliest post-diluvian years, the divine mandate provided a great motive for the exploits of Shem, Ham, Japheth and their offspring. But we “go beyond what is written” if we believe we are called to fill the heavens as well. Can we expect God to bless our efforts to move on to other potential worlds in light of our stewardship of this one?

One eager hope of many regarding traveling to the stars is exemplified by SETI – the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence. Once again God’s word provides information about this. YES! Extra-terrestrial, non-human intelligent beings do exist. They are called angels and demons. Attempts to communicate with the latter are forbidden and dangerous. Communications from the former have always been at God’s instigation and according to His purposes (cf. Hebrews 1:14). Are there other orders of intelligent beings we can expect to meet?

Enter another truth we glean from the whole counsel of God. That is, the entrance of sin into the cosmos, and death by sin (Genesis 3, Romans 5). Because of man’s sin, the Earth was cursed and the creation subjected to a futility which one day will be removed (Romans 8, Revelation 21:5) . How would this apply to hypothetical intelligent or even animal life elsewhere in the creation? Speculation could go in several directions at this point. In this writer’s opinion, there is no scenario in which discovery of the existence of such life is likely. He does not say it is impossible.

In this as in all arenas of human endeavor, examination of motives is in order. Why do we want to travel to the stars, as opposed to continuing to observe them and learn more about them from Earth? Do we want to travel to the stars to glorify God and benefit humanity, or to exalt humanity and marginalize God? Can we travel to to other worlds without exporting the ravages of sin and death to them? Think of the surfaces of the moon or Mars eventually being littered with human garbage…grotesque emblems of the fallen condition of mankind.

Therefore here is the summation of one opinion on the entire matter. Travel to the stars by human beings will probably never happen, although we may achieve great things in our more immediate neighborhood, commonly called the solar system. The search for non-human intelligences other than those we already know about (angels and demons) is probably a vain one. And yet the drive to explore and learn as much as we can to the glory of God is a good thing.

May informed, disciplined, truly scientific and truly ethical inquiry and exploration into all realms of God’s amazing creation continue, for His glory and our good as He defines it!

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Traveling to the Stars, Part Two: Logistics and Obstacles

After reviewing the origin and purposes of the real universe, we concluded Part One of this three part series with this question: “What logistics obtain for traveling to the stars, and what obstacles are star travelers likely to face?” Let’s discuss some of those logistics, and ponder some of those obstacles…

The observable speed of light is 186,000 miles per SECOND. The greatest Earth-escape velocity yet attained by a man made device was that of the probe New Horizons, launched A.D. 2006. It reached 10 miles per second. That is staggering compared to the speeds that planes, trains, and automobiles can reach, but still 18,600 times slower than the unimaginably fast speed of light!

Voyager 1 – still voyaging out of Earth’s immediate neighborhood – attained a velocity somewhat greater than 10 miles per second, thanks to gravity assists from Jupiter and Saturn. Solar Probe Plus, scheduled for launch in A.D. 2018, is expected to achieve a whopping 120 miles per second thanks to the sun’s gravity. But like New Horizons those craft are unmanned, and in the case of Solar Probe Plus, not having the distant stars for a destination but the sun.

Nevertheless, let’s get a bit unhinged with sci-fi speculation. Suppose someday we can build a vessel able both to transport personnel and to reach what Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock would call a sub-light speed of 200 miles per second. That is “only” 930 times slower than the speed of light.

Now let’s sum up the math involved, and illustrate what we are up against. Light traveling at 186,000 miles per second from the nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, takes about 4.3 YEARS to reach Earth.

A rocket with humans on board traveling at the velocity of New Horizons (18,600 times slower than light) would have an E.T.A. to Alpha Centauri of 79,980 YEARS (18,600 X 4.3) from the date of its launch.

Our imaginary rocket cruising at 200 miles per second would arrive at Alpha Centauri in 3,999 years (930 X 4.3). But wait…to our knowledge, the Alpha Centauri star system has no planets!

The recently discovered Trappist-1 system, which some believe includes habitable planets, is about 39 light years from home. So 930 X 39 puts our imaginary rocket’s E.T.A. to Trappist-1 in the year A.D. 38,290 if it could be launched in A.D. 2020. That trip time is the equivalent of all history since the time of Christ, multiplied almost 20 times!

Warp drives, wormholes, and “folding space” as in Frank Herbert’s Dune universe are purely hypothetical. So are long term hibernation or suspended animation technologies…and a sleep of forty thousand years makes Rip Van Winkle’s twenty year cat nap look like the twinkle of an eye! So let’s go back to the drawing board and work with a plan of sending live people, who obviously would have to reproduce along the way. It would be their descendants, not themselves, who would actually reach the Trappist-1 system.

Even if we generously allow a period of one hundred years for each fully conscious star traveling generation, that’s four hundred generations of people – being born and dying, breathing an artificial atmosphere, eating, drinking, and recycling every bit of waste. Offer a sustainable model for achieving that, and don’t forget to consider how they would deal with the remains of their dead! It appears that we must conceive of a vessel that would need to be sized at least on the order of the Empire’s moon-sized “Death Star” from the fictional adventures of Luke Skywalker and friends.

And let’s consider the socializing and government of our star traveling new ethnic group…for is that not what they would become? Would this society with no possibility of immigration or emigration be able to maintain its vision and its will to attain the original goal? Knowing human nature which has not changed in all our history so far, is it not more likely that the mission’s vision and goal would become obscured or twisted? A scenario in which a revolutionary contingent arises in the fifth or tenth or twentieth generation, far removed from the zeal and idealism of the first, seems quite plausible, no? What about crime, disease, and catastrophes so unforeseen that we can’t even foresee what they might be?

Suppose revolutionaries overthrew the establishment and either destroyed the vessel in utter, suicidal despair, or made an effort at returning to an Earth populated by their very distant cousins who only knew of the existence of the star bound portion of humanity as a chapter of history? Even allowing for communication with Earth at the greater speed of light, the further the vessel went, the less relevant data transmitted either way would be at either end…and we’re assuming everything is peaches and cream on Earth, not nuclear winter.

And what about the procreating that would have to be ongoing for all those thousands of years? What size population would be required to prevent devastating inbreeding? How would the artificial environment effect the human body and psyche over many generations? Can the most advanced lamp substitute for a day on a sunny beach or an evening under a romantic moon? And no doubt cabin fever would take on a whole new level of meaning…

Lastly, figuring out how to put the brakes on something traveling that fast would be a huge, final hurdle. But we’re dreaming unhinged, remember?

Will we ever travel to the stars? Whether you tend to say yea or nay, Passengers (A.D. 2016, directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Jon Spaihts) was a great flick! The motives and expectations involved in traveling to the stars will be discussed next week.

to be continued…

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