Book Review – Married for God

51nwKRzG+wL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I know what you are thinking – it’s just like what my friend said when he saw my copy of the book “We need another book on marriage?”  I honestly thought the same thing, but it was Tim Challies who included Married for God on his “Favorites of 2016” list that caught my eye.  Because after all, if Challies thought this book was needed…that’s probably saying something.  Right from the beginning, this book didn’t move in the “customary” marriage book topic flow.  Sex is literally the first word, and carries an important undercurrent throughout the rest of the book.  The books focus is on the centrality of wanting what God wants, in our sexuality, but more to the related point – in our marriages.  We need to want what God wants, Ash writes, because he is not a god in our service, we are in His and we need to ask God what he wants and then line up our goals behind his, rather than expecting him to line up his goals behind ours. God has given us all we have and what God wants is actually in line with how things actually are, because he is the Creator and we are the creature. When we ask what God wants, we really are asking what is best for us. [16-17]

Pursuant to having a book that is based on what God wants, particularly in our sexuality, Ash starts with grace, because unless we start with grace we will end up either with despair or self-righteousness.  With that in mind, Ash boldly enters into gospel-fused discussions of the brokenness of sexual sin and how that profoundly affects marriage  – because the Bible speaks to men and women who are all spoiled in the area of sex. Even for those of us who think that we are pretty much in the clear, the gospel teaches us that we are not, when we are talking about the areas of sexual desires and things of the heart. [22-23]. Ash quickly brings in the powerful hope of the gospel, that there is forgiveness, but realistically even though there may not be sexual fulfillment in this life.  This then points to his empowering grace, which allows us to live lives of purity, based soundly on the hope of the gospel.

The author biblically traces the topics of gender, marriage, loneliness, and companionship – noting how we have reoriented these things to be self-serving and not God-serving. It is a serious mistake to think that marriage is made to meet my needs – for two reasons.  First, Genesis 2:18 needs to be rightly interpreted.  It’s not sex in the service of me, it’s sex in the service of God.  Second, simply – the rest of the Bible doesn’t support such a view.  God has bigger purposes in all things than just meeting our perceived needs.  AMEN!  A marriage is made to meet my needs mentality is wrong, self-focused, and destroys marriages.

Ash aptly pushes on the Western undercurrents of children being either curses or something to be idolized.  “We idolize education, caring more about their getting good grades and getting to into a good school than their faith and godliness.” [53]  He boldly (but sensitively) takes a minority position on having children in marriage which I found bold – that deliberately choosing to not have children is wrong.  This goes with this thesis of our lives being not for our own needs but for others, as any parent will attest to – this is inescapable in having children.

He then spends more time developing a convicting and biblical position on sexuality in marriage.  While Christians tend to focus on the epidemic of sexual activity within marriage, he calls us to focus on the epidemic of sexual inactivity within marriage. [67]  As a Pastor this rings true, I’m still saddened to see so many marriages that have a sexual relationship that has all but died, and it’s poison has spread to many other areas in the marriage.  All the while neglecting what is to be the supreme act of intimacy reserved for husband and wife, as other much lesser pursuits have taken priority.  He cautions from having too high a view of sex, nor too low a view.  A husband and wife’s delight in each other, should overflow into areas of service, usefulness and blessing to others.

This is also exemplified in the roles of husband in wife in the “shape” of marriage, in which Ash appropriately balances both the wife submitting to the husband, but also the husband loving his wife, as Christ loves the church.  He notes that Paul writes forty words to the wife about submission, but 115 words to the husbands about sacrificial love. [85] This again has everything to do with sex and making sure that all sexual energies are reserved exclusively for one’s spouse, as a primary way of honoring marriage in a culture that dishonors it.  I appreciated again his boldness and clarity on biblical sexuality and the multitude of implications within sexual sin.  Marriage after all is a covenant promise, and a promise is to be kept, whatever the cost – see Psalm 15:4. [111]

The author has a helpful chapter on singleness. Stressing again that the whole duty of every person on Earth is to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength – married or single. The question then becomes how we are going to love and serve God. [120] Ash pushes on the ‘gift of singleness” stressing that whatever circumstances God has allowed are his gracious gift to me, and I am to learn to accept them from his hand as such. Just because we have been gifted with singleness or marriage, doesn’t mean he can’t change that status either. [126] One point that I found challenging was that neither status is an easy option.  There are unique challenges to each, and we need God’s grace and strength to fulfill God’s calling on us, particularly as sexual purity intersects life and the pursuit of holiness.

Ash closes with a chapter on the heart of marriage, as faithfulness, emphasizing that faithfulness in marriage comes from the faithfulness of God. This understanding is even cloudy in “Christian” marriage materials who instead can focus on feelings, instead of faithfulness. As God promises eternal faithfulness to us in Jesus, we are to life lives of faithful obedience to Him, whether we are married or single.

This is a highly recommended resource for all aspects of marriage!

Sons in the Son – Book Review

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Sons in the Son (P&R Publishing, 2016) by David B. Garner goes deep into the doctrine of our adoption in Christ.

Adoption is one of those doctrines that warms and encourages the soul and needs to be dwelt upon.  It is also deeply foundational to who we are as united to Christ.  J.I. Packer famously wrote (and Garner is quick to quote) that if he could summarize the New Testament in three words it would be “adoption through propitiation.”

This book is a challenging and academic read, one that is good for enhancing,  deepening and poking at our gospel perspectives, while keeping Christ central.

In Garner’s first section of the book, he lays the adoption foundation -“Securing a family of adopted children occupied the mind of God since before the world’s origins…God purposed adoption, God accomplished adoption, and God applies adoption.” [19] After a brief survey of the concept of adoption in early church history and culture, Garner focuses on the Pauline references to huiothesia – the Greek term  (literally “son-placing”) for adoption which the Apostle uniquely uses for spiritual (not social) adoption.

In the second section, the author dives into the specific texts exegetically and theologically.  Ephesians 1:3-6 [“…God the Father…predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons thru Jesus Christ…”]  As Garner wisely puts it “the opening words of Ephesians affirm, without the all-wise counsel and eternal purpose in the mind of God, redemption would have never happened.”  Amen!  Praise be to God for his sovereign mercy and grace.  Garners stresses, as Paul does in his letters that adoption is in Christ (en Christo) and that union with Christ is paramount to keep in central focus.   Many things stem from this, but one I appreciated particularly was the connection between adoption and Christlikeness.  Eph 1:4 says that he “chose us…to be holy and blameless.”  We have a calling and a purpose therefore as his adopted sons and daughters – bring him glory by looking more like Jesus, through his abundant transforming grace.

The author brings in a redemptive-historical view of adoption when looking more closely at Galatians 4:4-7. [“…so you are no longer a slave, but a son…”]  We see that adoption was not only sovereignly planned, but accomplished in Christ.  As he powerfully writes “the stranglehold of the law and the power of it’s curse meet their defeat under the power of Christ and the cross…” [93] As a result, thru faith, we are no longer slaves to the law/sin – but we are adopted as sons in freedom! Romans 8:15-17 furthers the emphasis of accomplishment. [“…you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons…”]  This is indeed a powerful and central point, once again tied to Christlikeness in practicality – “The Spirit of adoption empowers the believer for spiritual renovation by mortification of sin, and he accomplishes  this empowerment in the mystical union with the Son by the Spirit, or as Paul puts it succinctly, by adoption.” [115]  Through this mortification of sin we grow into the reality of our adopted sonship.  [129]

Garner makes some big statements in this book, one of which he brings out in the context of Ephesians 1:4 to 1:11.  [“…works all things according to the counsel of his will…”]  “Or put in Pauline shorthand, adoption is the singular goal of redemptive history, an adoption that changes the state of the sons, the hearts of the sons, and even the bodies of the sons.” [143]  I can’t say that I disagree with this statement, but the author is laying the groundwork for some bigger statements to follow.

Section 3 contains the significant disconnect I have with the book.  While remaining faithful to the orthodox doctrine of the eternality of Jesus as the Son of God, Garner maintains that Jesus himself was adopted as the Son of God at His resurrection.   This point he carries then for the rest of the book, but devotes a whole chapter to it in chapter 7.  Again, Garners sets the theological foundation with boundaries – “That Christ is eternal Son does not mean, however, that there is therefore no progressive, functional dimension to his sonship.” [179]  Quoting Dunn, he claims this was the adoptionist perspective of primitive Christian teaching “…to have regarded Jesus’ resurrection as the day of his appointment to divine sonship, as the event by which he became God’s son.” [179]  This can be a dangerous perspective and I couldn’t help but take it as a thesis driven push point.  It colored the rest of my interpretation of the book.

The author mainly relies on Romans 1:3-4 for textual support  – ““concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Romans 1:3–4 ESV). The centrality of the argument is the ESV (and KJV, NKJV, and NASB) translation of horisthentos as “declared” which Garner (along with NIV and the new CSV BTW) claims is actually better ” appointed” – thus surmising that Christ was appointed the (adopted) Son at his resurrection.  To be blunt, I can’t buy this, I don’t think it’s helpful, and again it can be dangerous.  Citing support from Gaffin [“…the resurrection of Jesus is his adoption.”] he claims this nuanced interpretation warrants serious attention. [187]

Where it troubles me further is the connection made to biblical Christology and biblical soteriology.  “To put it simply, without the human biography of Christ Jesus, capped by his own adoption as the Son of God, there is no salvation.” [195] – I would wholeheartedly agree with this statement, were it not for the singling out of Christ’s “adoption.”Hence, I cannot.  We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, I know the author agrees with that of course, but the addition of the adoption of Christ himself seems to obfuscate the overwhelming orthodox centrality of it.   Highlighting my concern are statements such as “…there is no adoption of believers in Christ Jesus without the adoption of Christ Jesus.”  As he continues to make the point, I find myself less and less convinced and more and more concerned.  Don’t get too excited – I realize that Garner isn’t denying the eternal divine sonship of Christ, he is stating that “…at his resurrection, Jesus enters a new phase and new dynamic of sonship.” [214], but I’m at a loss as to why this nuance is emphasized for half of the book.

I appreciated Garner’s discussion of the ordo salutis and rescuing it from a forensic, stale, sequential view. He returns to highlight the importance of sanctification resulting from our adoption, and brings a balanced perspective to a sometimes over-emphasized justification.  “Actual holiness is as important as declared holiness.”  [292] AMEN!  He expands the readers view of ordo salutis and it is appreciated and helpful.  “The golden chain of salvation then comes to the redeemed not as consecutive links, but at once as a gloriously completed crown of divine filial grace.”  Once again, AMEN!  Having sat thru many extended dialogs on “which came first” this is very refreshing and helpful.

All in all, I found this book equally helpful and challenging, but one that should be read with a Berean mindset as the priority given to Christ’s own adoption should not be read without significant personal prayer, study, and thought.

 

 

 

Adoption, the Gospel, and Fairness

Nearly 2 years ago I received a call from my wife that I had received many times before. She told me that DYFS called and they want to place a foster child in our home.  We’ve said ‘yes’ to 7 children previously, but this one seemed different.  4 month old baby boy.  Undernourished.  Almost definite we could adopt if we wanted to – truth be told, we had been hoping we’d find a child we could adopt someday. We said yes immediately.

As I drove home from work that day, I was anticipating a cute, cuddly baby boy.  When I walked in the door and saw him, I was shocked.  Sticks for legs and arms, oversized head, sunken eyeballs.  I was angry…I was trying to not be self-righteously angry.  “How could anyone starve a child in this day and age?”

Baby S quickly started to thrive, mostly because of my wife’s status as a SuperMom.  We started our journey with him – as he started to grow and change.  His smiles, his laughs, his first crawling (more like Army crawling/sliding/dragging), first standing up, first walking, first foods…first words. His obsession with balloons and YouTube Kids. The “not-so-fun” stuff like poop filled diapers, a seemingly constant need for schedule modifications and baby sitters, the countless nights of interrupted sleep, screaming, dinners with friends cut short by projectile vomiting, an awesome case of coxsackie virus on vacation…and the introduction of the full blown 2-year old fit when you do not draw the letter “S” to his exact requirements, or “dit” (sit) when and where he’d like you to. In all that he became our son.  A part of our family.  He had a brother and a sister, grandparents, pets…and an extended family at church that adored him.

img_0028Now, 2 years later we held each other as the DYFS van came back, this time to take him away and reunite him with his birth parents. I snapped this picture standing with the van door open in the awkward, and seeming 45 minutes (in reality probably 2 minutes) it took the driver to strap S into his carseat, while Mel and I cried our eyes out. I didn’t know what else to do, I felt stupid for just standing there. The “impossible” had happened, and it seemed to happen fast.  The trajectory turned quickly from adoption, to him being removed from us and reunited with the situation that put him with us in the first place. Shock.  Pain.  Loss of words. Anger. Disbelief. Fear of the future. Then today…just numbness and grief.  I haven’t cried that hard in a long time.

The thing that comes to mind most often is “this isn’t fair.”  And that would be correct – but it points to a greater truth.  This world isn’t fair.  It’s broken.  It’s chock full of unfairness.  It’s that way because of sin.  We were all created to be in perfect relationship with our good and perfect Heavenly Father, but we chose to reject him – and in so doing fractured the perfection of this world and opened the door for sin, pain, hurt, sickness, unfairness to charge in and take over.

But there is a greater reality that sin hasn’t taken over completely – because it can’t.  Our loving Heavenly Father knew that we would reject him, and despite the stupidity of our choice, he had a plan that he enacted at the perfect time to reconcile us, forgive us, heal us, and conquer sin and unfairness, forever.

Today, we receive this thru repentance and faith.  We turn (repent) from our choice to reject God, and believe (faith) in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, to he sent to absorb his full wrath for our sinful choice on the cross.  He then was resurrected from the dead to prove that the sacrifice was accepted and also to allow us to be united with him in new life.  We live this new life here on earth by his power, and one day he will return to permanently banish sin, sickness, unfairness, and death.

While human relationships will always be flawed and full of sin, and occasional unfairness – thru Jesus our relationship with God can be one of perfect grace, healing, hope, and fairness.

While we won’t always know why things happen, we do know that God is always good and always fair, most profoundly because of what he demonstrated to us in the cross of Jesus.  Fairness in treating sin the way it needs to be treated, and overwhelming grace to give us something far above we could ever earn.

So in that, we press forward.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

(Romans 8:32 ESV)

 

 

Walking in Thankfulness

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“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

(Colossians 2:6–7 ESV)

Paul is writing to the church, Christians, reminding them of the gospel and encouraging them.  As you are Christians – then WALK in Him.  Biblically speaking, to “walk” is to “live.”  So then, as Schaeffer said – How then shall we live?

First way is “rooted and built up in Him.” This means to be a Christian, our hope, our lives, our purpose, our mission is centered around Jesus.  We are to be “rooted” in Jesus, like a tree’s roots go deep into the soil, so the roots of our lives should go deep into Jesus getting our nourishment from him.

This world tempts us to sink our roots into other soil – We must be careful to see what sold our roots are actually in.

That brings us to the second way – we are to walk “established in the faith”.  We are to live as those who are confirmed, sustained, strong in the faith.  Note we also see that this is “just as we were taught.”  It’s the faith that we were taught. We learn this in His word, the Bible.

These two things, living rooted and built up in him; walking established in the faith as you were taught – should then result in something. 

So what’s the result?  Thankfulness.  Not mere thankfulness – overflowing, abundant thankfulness.  This is something that is ours to do, ours to recognize.

We can live in abundant thankfulness because of what Christ has done in our lives.

We were dead in sin, unable to save ourselves, alienated from God, objects of His wrath, broken and needing healing and we can’t fix ourselves. God in his mercy and grace, gave us Jesus.   We then live transformed lives and we then abound in thanksgiving.

This gospel-based thanksgiving can transcend circumstances because it’s based on what Christ has done.  This Thanksgiving, let’s abound in thankfulness for what Jesus has done.

Dark Valleys

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It’s been one of those times where we see lots of suffering around us.  People passing away, marriages stuck in cycles of pain and disfunction, hopes and dreams not coming to fruition, chronic illness and pain not getting better, people reaping the consequences of very bad decisions, innocent children caught in the crossfire…the list goes on.

I found on my desk a copy of Be Still My Soul, Embracing God’s Purpose and Provision in Suffering and have read through a few pages.  One in particular struck me it was Sinclair Ferguson’s chapter titled “Dark Valleys.”

We will all indeed go through dark valleys, but in those times we need to remember the truth is that if we are trusting in our Savior Jesus, he will lead us and he is there with us – 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)

What is the greatest evidence of this?  The gospel of course.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31–32 ESV)

Ferguson writes – “I cannot imagine living the Christin life on any other basis that this. If the Father loves me so much that he did not spare his own Son but delivered him up to be crucified for me, no further guarantee is needed of his wholehearted and permanent commitment to me and to my blessing. 

Whatever happens to me must be seen in that light. Yes, my deepest fears may become realities. I may not be able to understand what God is doing in or to my life; he may seem to be hiding his face from me; my heart may be broken. But can I not trust the One who demonstrated his love for me? What I was helpless in my sin he sent Christ to die for me (Rom 5:8). If he has done that, will he not work all things together for my good? Will he withhold anything that is ultimately for the good of those who trust him?

Adoption and the Gospel

My family has been a licensed NJ Foster Home for a while now, in that time we have seen many kids come through our door.  Some only needing to stay a short time, others several months, and maybe one day (perhaps in the near future) we will be faced with the very real question of adoption. Will we consider making this child a permanent part of our family, we officially become “Mom” and “Dad,” our kids become “Brother” and “Sister,” and we get to call them our “Son” or “Daughter” – with all the rights and privileges therein.  Let’s be straight up – that is a big deal.  Huge.  Perhaps in this life there is no bigger commitment or responsibility than becoming a parent.

The concept of adoption is that a child who has been rejected or orphaned from their birth family can be fully accepted as a member of another family.  In that is actually a beautiful picture of the gospel. Let me explain.

Spiritually, we are all orphans – alienated from our Heavenly Father by sin.  Sin that is in us from the Fall and sin that we have willingly committed in rebellion against God’s authority in our lives.   Just like there is nothing a child can do to make themselves be adopted by another family, there is nothing that we can do spiritually to make us adopted by God.  It is an act of his jaw-dropping grace that he adopts us.  He pursues rebellious sinners and chooses to lavish his love on us in Jesus thru the cross.  Let’s look at a few elements of our spiritual adoption:

  1. God pays the full adoption price in Jesus.  Adoption is costly financially.  Those of you who have adopted internationally are well aware of this.  Then there is the normal expenses of providing for a child.  Adoption is also costly in other ways as well – we give a part everything we have with another child – our time, our emotional energy, our comfort…our sleep! Likewise, the price of our spiritual adoption is extremely high – it is the life of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins.  This is an infinitely high price, one that no one can pay except God alone.  He pays it, and we receive adoption. Galatians 4 helps us understand this more deeply – “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4–5 ESV)  Theologian and author J.I. Packer wrote if he had to summarize the message of the New Testament in three words it would be “adoption through propitiation.”  God adopting us by providing a wrath-bearing sacrifice (“propitiation”) in Jesus.
  2. We are adopted with all the rights and privileges of God’s child.  When a child is adopted into a family, they assume the family name and everything that goes along with it. This is an astounding fact.  We become children of God.  I heard a Pastor say the other day “We are all God’s creation, but not all His children.” We become His children by faith in Jesus Christ.  John 1:12 tells us clearly – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,” (John 1:12 ESV)  Becoming a part of our family is cool and all, but has limited rights and privileges (we aren’t all that famous or wealthy…)  BUT, when we place our faith in Jesus, God adopts us into His family!  Check out Ephesians 1:1-14 for a more detailed list of our blessings of being adopted.
  3. Through adoption, we have direct and intimate access to God as our Father.  Children have (or should have) unrestricted and continuous access to their parents. Kids should have that feeling that they are special and dearly loved by their moms and dads.  They do not need to go thru anyone else to be with mom or dad.  We do not need to go thru a priest, a prophet, or any kind of middle man.  We do not need to be at a certain spiritual level in order to be accepted by God. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”” (Galatians 4:6 ESV)  The great Dr. Ryan Boys said that there is no evidence of any ancient Jewish prayers where they called God “Father”  – now thru adoption by faith in Jesus we can!
  4. By adopting us, God makes us heirs to Himself and His kingdom.  Let’s pretend for a moment that my family had amassed a fortune worth billions of dollars, and I had no children.  By adopting a child, they would become heirs to everything I had as my “official” child.  Here’s the crazy thing – is there anything of more supreme worth than God himself?  This is mind blowing even more.  We will inherit God himself.  The joy of being with God is God himself.  Again, Paul’s letter to the Galatians is helpful in understanding this concept more:  “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:7 ESV)  Pastor and Author CJ Mahaney spent over an hour plunging the depths of this mystery at the 2015 Sovereign Grace WorshipGod conference, I would say that will be an hour worth your time.  (To see that message click here).

All of this is grace and all of it should amaze and astound us with the blessings that God provides in us.  When others notice that we are caring for the widows and orphans and praise us, it is an immediate opening to briefly share that this is the picture of our spiritual adoption in Jesus.  As we show grace to others, let us remember the grace of God in adopting us in Christ Jesus.  Dustin Kensrue sums things up well in his song “Grace Alone”  –

I was an orphan lost at the fall
Running away when I’d hear your call
But Father, you worked your will

I had no righteousness of my own
I had no right to draw near your throne
But Father, you loved me still

And in love before you laid the world’s foundation
You predestined to adopt me as your own
You have raised me up so high above my station
I’m a child of God by grace and grace alone

You left your home to seek out the lost
You knew the great and terrible cost
But Jesus, your face was set

I worked my fingers down to the bone
Nothing I did could ever atone
But Jesus, you paid my debt

By your blood I have redemption and salvation
Lord, you died that I might reap what you have sown
And you rose that I might be a new creation
I am born again by grace and grace alone

Jamaica 2014… T-Minus 2 days!

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Last year, it was Haiti…this year we’ll be a mere 119 miles away in Jamaica.

This Sunday, we are taking 19 people (13 high school students, 5 leaders, 1 local expert) to Annotto Bay, Jamaica to support the Annotto Bay Gospel Chapel with some building projects and hopefully help with evangelism in the local area.

The team is very excited to go, some of us are traveling outside the country for the first time so this is an exciting event – one that we hope will open the eyes of many and also provide invaluable faith-boosting experience.   We have much to be thankful for already – God has provided all of our financial support, all of our supplies are purchased, we have been meeting together regularly for prayer and preparation. We have a great group going this year.

One of the things we did to prepare was go through the book, Let the Nations Be Glad, by John Piper.  In it, Piper writes, “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church, worship is.  Missions exist because worship doesn’t.”  The gospel message is literally “good news” – but, not only the good news of salvation from sin in Jesus, but the good news that we have a King.  A loving and sovereign creator God and our purpose is a life of passionate, joyful, obedient worship of Him.   This is a life that transcends circumstances and brings fulfillment, peace, and hope.

We would love for you to pray for us.   Please pray for….

  • Safety in travel and no hiccups thru customs
  • Protection as we work
  • Group unity, patience, humility, servant hearts
  • Opportunities to share Jesus
  • For the local church to be built up
  • That according to God’s riches of glory, he will grant us to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith…
  • Pray also for Pastor Ryan and another Green Pond Bible Chapel group traveling to Israel at the same time.

I cannot guarantee daily summaries as wifi may not be available, but I will try my best.  Stay tuned!