Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Tag: 30 for 30 (page 2 of 5)

Humility

I have written often on this site on the topic of humility (all posts on humility) and that’s for good reason. It’s not because I’m an expert on it, or because I am humble, but because I know it’s what I need to become.

There is no virtue I need to grow in more than humility. There is nothing God hates more than pride. There is nothing that welcomes his favour more than humility. And yet, even after all these years as a Christian and a pastor, there is no sin more pervasive or more powerful in my life than pride.

The more I’ve thought about humility and seen God’s affections for pride and humility throughout Scripture, the more I’ve realized that this is a big deal. In fact, one could very well say the whole story-line of the Bible hangs on the battle of pride vs humility.

In the Beginning, Adam…

The temptation of Adam and Eve is the starting place for this battle. They were put in the Garden happy, naked, successful, knowing and being known. But along comes the crafty old serpent who tempts Eve (in Adam’s presence).

The temptation is multi-pronged, but at least on one level Satan appeals to pride:

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3.4-5)

Satan essentially tells Adam and Eve that equality with God is something to be grasped at and achieved. God is trying to keep them back from what they could be. If they listen to him, they will be like God.

Of course, they gave in to the temptation and all of humanity was cursed both with their guilt and with their nature. Ever since then, every human ever born has believed in their inherent goodness and their right to not be dominated by a ‘god’. Humans have, throughout history, contended with God for his supremacy. Just like Adam and Eve, we were and are proud.

And Being Found in Human Form…

The story of Christ is the story of God taking on human form, becoming a man. He was the only innocent man since Adam. He was the only man who ever lived who could legitimately claim equality with God. And yet, rather than contending for supremacy the way the first Adam did, he humbled himself:

… though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2.6-8)

Christ, who legitimately held glory, who alone has equality with God, didn’t cling to it. He didn’t fight to be equal with God. He humbled himself and obeyed.

The Divine Dare

The Divine Dare throughout Scripture is to take God at his word: to risk everything on him, believing that he will fulfill his promises. This is what we read again and again throughout the OT Scriptures, as God longs to show favour to his people:

… if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chron 7.14)

And Jesus himself knows the dare:

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matt 23.12)

But Jesus alone is the only one to actually faithfully and completely trust God, willingly humbling himself to the point of losing everything: glory, honour, praise of people, riches, adoration, comfort, wealth, even life itself.

The Payoff

Of course God kept his word. His Son, who humbled himself, taking the divine dare, casting all his hope on God, was rewarded:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.(Phil 2.9-11)

The honour he was willing to sacrifice in not clinging to equality with God is returned to him. He is blessed with the highest honour of all honours: he is given the name of God, welcomed to the throne of God, and honoured as God.

The Call to Follow

The call to humility is the call to follow Jesus in going low. Peter puts it this way:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Pet 5.6-7)

As we go low, like Jesus went low, God will exalt us at the proper time, just as he has now exalted Jesus. The call to humility is the same dare now as ever: Do you believe that God will faithfully reward those who take him at his word? Will I ever learn to stop contending for supremacy and simply accept the role of a servant, believing that at the right time God will exalt me in his way at his time?

So far in this life I have not done well. I pray that with the years I have left, God will give me grace to faithfully follow the second Adam, not the first. I pray that he’ll make me a man who is willing to forsake the pursuit of honour in the sight of other humans for the pursuit of honour in the presence of God — as he sees fit.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

Delighting in God in People

People

Two things have helped me begin to overcome my tendency towards being an anti-social introvert. One is circumstantial, the other is scriptural.

The circumstantial factor is the wife I married. I love my wife. Dearly. With all my heart. But when it comes to relating to people, in some respects, our natural tendencies couldn’t be any more different. She is energized by being with people. I am drained. She is never happier than when surrounded by people. My natural tendency is to thrive when completely alone.

When I read church history I have to fight the temptation to be jealous of the monks who’ve lived in complete isolation. Although I do worry about how I would eat — I’m pretty useless when it comes to food preparation. In any case, living with Stacey has changed me. Because she loves people, I’ve had to become accustomed to having people around. But honestly, God has used that to overcome much of the sinful tendencies towards isolation and self-protection in my life. So I’m thankful.

But that’s the circumstantial reason. The scriptural one is more important.

Back to the Beginning

The beginning is a good place to start. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but for much of my life I never considered relationships with other people in light of Gen 1-3. What a foolish mistake! Gen 1.26-27 says,

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Too Easy to Forget

Too often I simply forget these verses. I forget that humans are created in the image of God. They reflect him.  As an introvert, I like to get away from people to experience God — but nothing could be more unhelpful. While ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’, people are actually stamped with his image and likeness. God doesn’t say that about anything else — not mountains or meadows, oceans or starry skies. If you want to see God, look at people.

Now obviously we know the rest of the story: humans sin and the image of God is marred. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In my neighbour who drives me bananas and in my wife whom I love dearly, God’s image is there. The more we’re able to see that, the more we desire to see that, the more natural it will become to love people. Inasmuch as we already love our God, we’ll love people because they show us our God! The trick is getting to know people with this question in mind: ‘What do I see of my God in them?’

Essentially Communal

Notice also that when God (who, as Trinity, is an essentially communal being) wants to create mankind in his image he doesn’t create one person, but multiple people (‘Let us … in our image’ … ‘he created them‘). That’s important. We cannot reflect God as he desires to be reflected if we are alone. Each of us reflects to each other and each of us receives the blessing of seeing God as we live in community as see each other. We simply cannot delight in God if we are not living communal, relational lives, full of other people.

God is in the Differences

Both of our first parents were created in the image of God. And Adam was created to be different than Eve. And just like them, every person since reflects the image of God in a unique and different way.

I never used to think about that. I used to think that it was annoying when people were different than me. But by God’s grace, through this text, I’ve begun to see in recent years that what God was doing with Adam and Eve affects my relationships now. Just like Adam was to reflect something of God to Eve in the ways that he was different from her (and vice versa), so the people God has put in my life are different than me for a reason. They are different than me for this precise reason: God wants to show me something about himself by way of contrast.

The Greatest Commandment

Therefore, love. All the previous thoughts have helped me these past few years make more sense of Jesus’s understanding of the greatest commandment. Haven’t you ever wondered why, when he was asked for one greatest commandment, he gave two?

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Matt 22:36-39)

Of course he gave two. Because if you love God, you’ll love your neighbour. Because as you delight in God you see him everywhere — especially in other people. And as you love other people, you see God in them. And as you see God in them, you love God more, and you love them for showing you God. The two are one. You cannot love God without loving people who are made in his image. And you cannot truly delight in people without seeing God in them.

So I Need Grace

I pray that God will give me grace to continue to see him in people — especially in our differences — so that I would delight in them and love them so that I might delight in him and love him. I pray for this grace in increasing measure for many years to come.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Trinity

It’s a funny twist of providence that I paused my series for a day in between the Son and the Holy Spirit. It was not intentional, but it does illustrate something of the way I’ve tended to (erroneously) view the Spirit in my life. While always loving the doctrine of the Trinity, my practice has sadly been to actually neglect the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

I’m not entirely sure why that’s been. Sometimes the excesses of others (the Benny Hinns of the world) scare me away from pursuing the Holy Spirit. And other times a bad application of a good doctrine (like the perpiscuity of the Scriptures) can lead me to think that I don’t really need the Holy Spirit since the Holy Scriptures are clear enough. Either way, I was dead wrong.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I attended the WorshipGod ’06 conference hosted by Bob Kauflin and co. at Sovereign Grace Ministries that I really had to deal with Christian brothers and sisters who love the Scriptures, love the doctrines of grace, but who are eager and intent on experiencing the Spirit in their lives in all of the ways he was active in the New Testament. (See some of the reflections I had after that conference here.)

I could post lots of things about what I’ve learned about the Holy Spirit over the past few years, and how I’ve observed his role in new and dynamic ways both in the Scriptures and in the life of the church and in my own personal life. Instead what I’m going to do is just try pose two questions I’ve learned to ask myself in order to experience the Spirit more the past few years and then reflect on how that changes my approach to Sundays in particular and fellowship in general.

1. Am I Seeking to Actually Hear?

One of the positive traits I’ve picked up from my time hanging out with my friends from Sovereign Grace churches is that they have a unique expectancy that the Spirit can and will speak to them at any moment. As you arrive at church on Sunday, as you fellowship with your friends through the week, as you spend time in prayer and confession, what is your default posture? Is it one of expectancy?

Mine wasn’t for a long time. Too many times I thought of conversations with other believers as just that: conversations with people. I never paused to consider or to ask, ‘Could the Spirit be speaking through this person and using this conversation to help bring truth to bear on my life?’ Considering the Spirit as the source of genuine fellowship between believers (again, whether at church or not) helps me to expect great things of conversations. It also helps me to listen better to sermons, and helps me to engage in corporate prayer. Where is God leading? What’s he saying to my heart?

Do I expect that the Spirit will use this or not? If I’m not listening it’s no wonder I don’t hear anything. If I live like he’s not there it’s no wonder I don’t experience the wonder of his presence.

2. Am I Seeking to Hear Where He is Seeking to Be Heard?

You don’t have to be a Christian long before you run into someone who recounts how God, through some twist of providence, ‘told them’ to do something irrational (and sometimes even unbiblical!). That’s a danger that we can run into when we’re expecting to hear from God. We can think we are hearing from him when we’re really, truly not.

So how can we know the difference? God has revealed himself. Part of that revelation tells us where and how he will continue to reveal himself to his people. He has spoken ultimately in Jesus and revealed Jesus to us in the Bible, and the Spirit will continue to bring that truth to life as we read it and meditate on it (the Spirit is the reason the word is living and active). The Spirit will continue to unveil the Father in the face of Jesus in the written word.

He speaks through his people, when they speak truth to each other. The Spirit indwells and leads people so that as they experience truth in the Bible and then speak of it with brothers & sisters, the Spirit makes that experience communal.

He speaks through the means of music and worship. As we rejoice in biblically faithful songs, God’s Spirit takes that truth and affects us in new and fresh ways.

And the Spirit speaks through preaching. He always has. It’s foolishness. As a preacher I can tell you that honestly, just like the apostle Paul could. But God uses it. And when the gospel is preached and people receive it as it really is (the word of God!) it take root and brings fruit (1 Thess 2.13).

So it’s Sunday…

As I prepare myself for Sundays now I try to pray and ask God make me receptive to the prompting of his Spirit–both to listen and to speak. I want to fellowship in the truth of the revealed word with God’s people, fully expecting that his Spirit will indwell his temple and that the God who speaks will make his presence known. I pray that my default disposition everyday–and especially Sunday–would be one of actually listening, with expectation of hearing from the Holy Spirit, who is himself God.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

Jesus

Jesus Christ, the Son of God

No one figure in all of human history has captured the minds, hearts, and imaginations of humanity like Jesus of Nazareth. The art, the literature, the science, the worship, the sermons, the churches and the movements that have been inspired by this one man are literally innumerable.

In his own day he was a ‘trending topic’ as everyone asked, ‘Who is this man?’ and everyone had their theory of choice (Mark 6.14-16). Crowds flocked to him. From prostitutes to temple rulers, and children to rich men, from scribes to Syrophoenician women — everyone had to hear him, and had to know about him.

And it’s no wonder. He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1.15). He is the radiance of the glory of God (Heb 1.3). He is all that God wanted to say to the world (John 1.1, 18). He is the greatest revelation of God that this universe has ever known, will ever know, or could ever know (Heb 1.1-2). Whatever a man may behold of the glory of God is seen in the face of this man, Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4.4-6).

After studying Jesus in the Bible, I have to say that, while I know him better now than ever before, I feel as though ‘tip of the iceberg’ and ‘scratching the surface’ don’t even cut it when it comes to describing how well I know him.

I remember one time I got together with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. The conversation quickly turned to Jesus and how we had been growing in our love for him. What was fascinating, however, was that I had been learning of late about the deity of Christ (he is God!) while he had been learning of the humanity of Christ (he is man!). Both topics are mysterious and it will take eternity to uncover the glories of the dynamics of tension present in the person of my Lord, but what stuck out to me is the truth that no matter what aspect of the nature, the beauty, the glory of Jesus you are considering, the more you get to know him, the more you will inevitably come to love him.

As I’ve read the Bible over and over, I can’t help but see more clearly than ever that the New Testament presents Jesus as God (I’ve written about that here and here). But as I’ve read the Gospels lately, I’ve been overwhelmingly impressed again by his humanity: his weakness, tiredness, hunger, and thirst. Both his deity and his humanity magnify the mystery of his faithfulness to become obedient to the Father, even to the point of death, all for the sake of unfaithful rebels like me.

To know him, the one who loved me and gave himself for me, is to love him. I pray that God would increase my love for my Saviour and Lord through the work of the Spirit who opens the eyes of my heart and illuminates Scripture. I pray that I would see more of Christ in the next 30 years than I had ever imagined possible. I know that the more I see, the more I will love, the more love will compel me to reflect him and to walk in humble obedience — just like Jesus.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

The Heavenly Father

There was a time in my Christian life when I thought little of the Trinity. I knew the concept, but contemplated the unity of the three persons and the uniqueness of the three persons very little. In retrospect, I can hardly believe how foolish that was, and how much of the sheer awesomeness of God I was missing out on. Over the next few days I just want to reflect on some things I’ve learned and come to delight in about the three members of the Holy Trinity.

It is only appropriate to begin with the Father.

I remember taking a course not too long ago with Bruce Ware (author of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Through that course the Spirit really opened my eyes to the glory of God the Father. I think too often in Christian circles we can think of the Father as aloof or angry. Or sometimes we take him for granted. The false reasoning goes like this: ‘We’ve always had him. But the Spirit is so New Covenant! And Jesus is just like us… we can identify easier with him.’

How mistaken and how tragic!

It is ironic that in our rush to make much of Jesus, we forget that his mission was to bring us to the Father. He taught us to pray in his name to the Father. At the end, he will hand over all things to the Father. Jesus makes much of the Father — so why would we who want to make much of Jesus make little of what he made much of? If we truly want to honour Jesus, we must honour the Father.

It is too easy to forget that it was a display of the Father’s love that sent Christ into the world for us (John 3:16). It is too easy to overlook the fact that the Father has planned our salvation from eternity past, that all of what he accomplishes in us might be to the praise of his (the Father’s!) glory (Eph 1.3-14; Eph 3.20-21). It is the Father’s wise plan which has been brought to bear for our salvation. It was his love that was set on us. It was his Son who was crushed for us. It is his Spirit who indwells us now, bearing with us, sustaining us until the end.

All that to say, I’ve grown to love the Father as a unique member of the Triune Godhead. He is the Initiator, the Planner, the one who hears our prayers, and the Sovereign One who gives direction to the Son and the Spirit for the accomplishment of my salvation.

Here are a few other thoughts I’ve had on the Father over the last couple years:

I know that I will spend the rest of eternity contemplating, exploring, and delighting in the Triune God — but I pray that however much time God gives me here on earth would be spent on getting a head start now.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

Pastor Paul Martin

There is simply no way I could reflect on the 30 years of life God has given me without reflecting on the role of my uncle-pastor-mentor-brother-friend, Paul Martin. There is also no way I could do justice to the influence he has had on my life in a blog post. But I need to try because (1) I’m reflecting on my life, and, (2) it’s Paul’s birthday today (I won’t tell you how old, but I will tell you he is old).

So I think I will proceed by simply reflecting on the different capacities in which Paul has influenced me. For each heading I’ll try to identify what I’ve seen of God’s grace working through Paul, and then the impact that it has had on me.

As an Uncle

What I’ve Seen: Growing up in Toronto with an uncle in seminary in California made Paul more of a mystery to me than anything. But from the conversations we did have and from the little I saw him in summers, I knew Paul to be a man who loved God and loved his word. Paul loved me even though I gave him every reason to dislike me as a bratty child. His warmness to me as I grew to a teenager opened the necessary relational door for me to hear the gospel from him later. As an uncle he took an interest in my life and that made a difference.

What I’ve Learned: I’ve learned simply that family can be powerfully used of God to shape us in a gospel sense. Family relationships can become powerful spiritual relationships as well. I pray that God gives me grace as an uncle, as a nephew, as a cousin, as a brother, to develop meaningful relationships with my extended family that will open doors for the gospel in the future.

As a Pastor

What I’ve Seen: As I often tell people, more than being influenced by one particular sermon (though I can remember several particular sermons), the effect of Paul’s ministry has been a cumulative one. That is, week by week he has shown me again and again the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus. He has shown me the sufficiency of the Scriptures. He has shown me the grace of God that has changed my life. He preached the gospel faithfully, I heard, repented, believed, was baptized, and have grown to some measure of maturity (as small as that measure may be) because he was faithful to the word. Every week I would come to church fully expecting to be shown something of God from the one place he may be found: his word. And I’ve never been disappointed. Not one single Sunday.

What I’ve Learned: That a pastor is called first and foremost to minister to God’s people according to their real need, not their felt needs. A doctor would be a fool for trying to treat symptoms without first addressing the real issue causing the problems, but many foolish pastors (no matter how well-meaning) abandon the call to ‘preach the word in season and out of season’ because they think there are more pressing issues that need to be dealt with. But in the word, God has dealt with our real needs, our heart needs: the ones that he, as the great physician of souls, has identified. I pray that God would make me faithful to the word, like Paul.

As a Mentor

What I’ve Seen: Paul took an interest in me as a punk teenager (literally… I was in a punk band… scary thought). I had very little to offer and not much to commend myself to him. I failed him early, often, and bitterly. That’s been the consistent pattern. But he was patient, modelling the gospel, absorbing the pain I inflicted, forgiving me as God in Christ has forgiven him. He gave me hope, he gave me chances to succeed or to fail, and he gave me sound teaching, advice, counsel, and did not shy back from rebuke. I am forever thankful. All his counsel was sweet and the wounds were always faithful.

What I’ve Learned: The gospel takes people who are nothing, people who have nothing to offer and no way to repay and invests in them, gives them grace, and gives them life. The gospel redeems people so that their lives can become meaningful and significant for Christ’s sake. That’s what Paul did for me. That’s the pattern I pray I can follow in mentoring others: injecting people with gospel-life and hope and giving them opportunities to succeed or to fail, but always being patient and speaking truth, calling on people to make their lives meaningful for Christ.

As a Friend and Brother in Christ

What I’ve Seen: As a brother in Christ and as a friend, Paul has let me close. He has let me in his home, in his family, in his ministry. I’ve seen him in every context of life I can think of. Here’s what I’ve seen: He’s not perfect. Far from it. He’s a sinner saved by grace… who still sins. But instead of becoming hardened by his sin with his (old) age, I’ve seen an ever-increasing sensitivity to sin and an ever-increasing sense of his need of grace in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Watching Paul these past 14 years especially I can honestly tell you that he cherishes the cross more now than ever. Rather than growing in pride or judgmentalism, he has grown in humility and awareness of his need of grace. As a young man, I cannot possibly express to you how counter-worldly and ultimately hope-giving it is to watch your mentor and your hero in the faith grow in humility. The gospel has progressed in Paul; the gospel is progressing in Paul; the gospel is working in Paul.

What I’ve Learned: I’ve learned that Paul is a man, like his namesake, whose life (because of God’s grace) allows him to say, ‘be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1 Cor 4.16; 1 Cor 11.1; 1 Thess 1.6). I pray that God would make me a man whose life, upon inspection by friends and brothers, does not disqualify me. I’ve learned from knowing Paul, from observing his life, that God takes sinners and uses them to move mountains. Through his work in Paul, God saved me, called me to ministry, and equipped me through the training Paul has given me.

As a Gift

Of all the good gifts my heavenly Father has given me, one of the most dear and precious of them all is my uncle-pastor-mentor-friend-brother Paul. I am forever thankful to my Father for him, and today, on his birthday, as I reflect on my life, I want to publicly give thanks to God for Paul.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

The Sufficiency & Centrality of the Gospel

Looking Back

Looking back over the last few years of my life, there has been really only one significant doctrinal change so far as I can see. And even that doctrinal change hasn’t been a change of mind so much as a change of priority.

The biggest change in my theological worldview has been an increasing awareness of the expansiveness of the gospel and its ultimate sufficiency. But rather than reflecting here on being gospel-centred (there are lots of other places you can read about that), I thought I would simply identify a few of the key events God has used to help me realize the ongoing significance and relevance of the gospel for all of life.

1. The Toronto Pastors Conference 2010

The keynote messages preach by Mike Bullmore were especially used of God to help me see the sufficiency of the gospel for all of life.

2. Preaching through 1 Timothy

Preaching through the book of 1 Timothy taught me to see just how ‘gospel-centred’ the apostle Paul was in his approach to pastoring. Throughout the book he insists that Timothy protect the right doctrine of the gospel of Jesus because it alone is what changes lives. No matter what pastoral problems the Ephesian church was facing, Timothy’s charge was one and the same: protect the gospel, because that’s why the church is there, that’s what saves sinners and teaches them how to live in a way that is pleasing to God.

3. Sitting Under the Faithful Preaching of a Faithful Preacher

One of the incalculable blessings of being in a church where more than one pastor preaches is the blessing of sitting under the ministry of another man as he teaches the word. For the 13 years or so before planting GFC I sat under the ministry of Pastor Paul Martin. While there are many things which mark his ministry, none is more prominent in my view than this: he is a man faithful to preach the word. What the word says, he says. The effect of sitting under that week-by-week, month-by-month, year-by-year can only be known in eternity. But over the last few years in particular, I have been profoundly affected by the bigness and the omnipracticality of the gospel as Paul preaches. I hope, by God’s grace, to be able to replicate that for our people in our church plant.

Looking Forward

I pray that this trajectory of growth in understanding the gospel in new and dynamic ways through all of Scripture will continue. I also pray that my ministry will continue to grow, like the apostle Paul’s, to be one that is rooted and grounded in the gospel. The truth of the good news of what God has done for us in Christ must be the guiding principle for all my decisions, words, and actions as a pastor.

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** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **

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