Archives For SmallGroups

Ahh…small group life. You’re in…by the duping of your pastor. Or by the guilting of your wife. Or because you thought you were signing up for a free vacation.

But that was 6 weeks ago. And you’re finding out that what you expected isn’t what’s being delivered. And what you were sold isn’t being given. Group isn’t exactly what you thought it would be.

I don’t know what the hook was that got you “in,” but that won’t be the hook that gets you to stay. Allow me to tell you what nobody else told you when you signed up. And let me show you why each truth will serve you greatly.

9 truths nobody told you about small group

1. You won’t want to go.

As much as you like it, most weeks you won’t want to go to small group. You’ll start making up excuses about your excuses. Then your excuses will start making up excuses.

But isn’t the same thing true about almost anything in life that’s good for us?

2. You won’t make best friends with everyone in the group.

You’ll encounter people that rub you the wrong way. Speak out of turn. Don’t speak at all. And ones that can’t cook a pot of chili to save themselves. These aren’t necessarily people you’d want to hang out with on Friday nights.

But it’s not about making best friends. It’s about growing spiritually.

3. God will change you. And it’ll be painful.

How often in life do we choose what we know will cause us pain, and what we simultaneously know will cause us growth? Very rarely. This is your chance to grow in a safe, loving environment that wants God’s best for you.

Strap on your big boy shoes. 

4. God will use you. And it’ll be difficult.

You thought small group was about you, didn’t you? You thought you were the one that was stretching in this process. You thought the group, and its growth, its challenges, and its joy was about you. Boy, were you narrow-minded. And even though your story isn’t done, and you’re not where you know you want to be spiritually, God’s going to use you. He’s going to use your journey, and the wisdom He’s given. He’s going to use your insights into Scripture. He’s going to use your prayers.

You’ll find yourself surrounded by a group of broken work-in-progresses. And by the grace of God, you’ll be contributing to that work.

5. There are “better” ways to spend your time.

At least that’s what you’ll tell yourself. You need some “me” time. Your kids need you at home. You’re behind in emails. You’re hungry. You’re tired. You’re crabby. You…need to play golf.

There ARE better ways to spend your time. But carving out a couple of hours every week is time your soul needs. Choosing what we need over what we want helps us to mature.

6. You’ll be offended.

There will be times when you’re offended to your core. Sometimes the offenses will be off-base, out-of-line. Sometimes you’ll be offended on behalf of someone else. But the ones that sting the most are the offenses that are rooted in truth. The ones where you know they’re right as their words slice you like a surgeon.

You’re going to be hurt. In the best way possible.

7. You’ll be the offender.

You’ve offended people before. People at work. Family members. The guy that you cut off in traffic. But the difference in offending someone in your small group is that you will have grown to really love them. And you’ll feel just as pained as they are.

You’ll grow to love the people in your small group. And at some point, in some way, whether it’s implicit or explicit, you’ll offend someone you love. In truth and love.

8. It won’t feel natural. For a long time.

Small group will feel awkward and forced. You’ll wonder why in the world you signed up. These people don’t feel like “your people,” and they’re likely not going to be people you’d naturally hang out with.

These are exactly the kind of people God wants to use to grow you.

9. The information you gain isn’t all that important.

A lot of people sign up for a small group because of the content of the study. But that’s just the backdrop. The content you gain will only serve as long as you SEE it lived out in the lives of your group members.

Content is only a part of the value of a group. It’s a small piece of the pie.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – the apostle Paul, Hebrews 10:24-25

 

 

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We’re better together

Ben Reed —  June 4, 2014 — 4 Comments

This is a guest post from my friend Jonathan Pearson, Orangeburg Campus Pastor at Cornerstone Community Church and Assistant Director of The Sticks Network. He’s also the co-creator of MillennialLeader.com, an online community for young leaders. Jonathan’s written a new book, Next Up: 8 Shifts Great Young Leaders Make. Trust me…it’s a book you want to read.

 

_________________________

We’re better together.

That sounds like a line from a romantic comedy, but it’s so much more than that. The idea that we’re better when we work together and when we’re doing life together is one that is true in every relationship sense and in every area of our lives.

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

We’ve been to the place where someone disappoints us or we don’t get something from someone or something when we expect and we retreat to ourselves. We get so upset at the faults of others or even ourselves that we pull back and retreat to solitude. The result, when left alone for too long, is the life begins to fall out of us… little by little.

We need others. We’re better together.

We see the example of Jesus. He would retreat for short times to be with the Father, but other than that, he always had people around him. He had 12 that he did life with. Why? It was definitely because of the mission that he was calling them to, but it was also because he knew that he was made for relationship with other people. That even the Son of God needed people around him to live life with.

No matter what you do, how old you are, what your career is, or your family situation, you need people around you. For those of us that find ourselves in a place of leadership, we need people around us to hold us up, to hold up, and to walk through life with. We need people to bounce ideas off of, to glean from, and to encourage us.

We can’t live in retreat.

We can’t live in life alone.

We need each other.

Find good people to put yourself around.

They don’t have to be just like you… Jesus’ weren’t like him.

They don’t have to be perfect… they won’t be.

They just need to be there.

You just need them there.

You just need to be there for them.

Read more about topics like this in Jonathan’s book Next Up: 8 Shifts Great Young Leaders Make. To find out more about the book, go to nextupbook.com. To find out more about Jonathan go to JonP.me.

 

 

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If you haven’t had to deal with people dealing with sexual orientation issues in your church yet, you will. The coming years will bring more and more people who identify as a transgender, transvestite, transsexuals, and others that have, or have not, gone through sexual reassignment surgery. Same-sex attraction is nothing new. We even see the Bible addressing the issue. Culture in America has “normalized” it, though, and if your local church isn’t already wrestling through how they’d handle some of the more precarious and sticky situations, you’re already behind the curve.

I recently received this email from a fellow small groups pastor.

I have a transgender individual who is interested in joining a group. At our church we do not have co-ed groups, so I’m not really sure what’s the best way to proceed.

Let me start off by saying that I don’t have “the answer.” I’m not in the business of creating policies to handle things like this. Instead, I lead relationally, and on a case-by-case basis. That said, there are a few different questions at play here:

  • Is this a sin issue? What is the local church’s stance on this?
  • Is this a place (the local church AND the small group) where a transgender person feels comfortable pursuing Christ? (side note: the local church can believe that this is a sin issue, but still be welcoming)
  • Are they welcome as a small group member?
  • Would they be welcomed as a small group leader?
  • How will the small group respond? With shock and awe? Or grace and love?
  • How will the leader navigate difficult conversations?
  • Can the group accept that someone is “in process” and not make the group revolve around one particular sin?
  • Can the group balance grace AND truth?

Here was my response.

_______

Wow. That’s a tricky one for sure.

I tend to lean towards grace in these kinds of situations, and allow the Holy Spirit to do what the Holy Spirit’s going to do. If they claim to be a man, I’d allow them to join a men’s group, but I’d let them know where the church stands on the issue. I don’t want them to feel like we’ve “tricked” them into joining so that we can subversively influence them. There should be no doubt as to the church’s views, but also no doubt as to the church’s grace, and stance towards anyone: grace and truth.

At the end of the day, if they choose to honor Christ with their sexuality, they’re going to likely have to choose celibacy. But they’re not at that point right now. So minister to people where they are, and allow the Holy Spirit to change lives. The BEST place for someone to pursue Jesus is in the context of healthy, safe, truth-and-grace-driven community.

This all goes out the window if they’re disruptive. Group isn’t a chance for them to get on a pedestal and talk about their sexual choices. If it comes up, it comes up. But every week will not revolve around it. This needs to be made clear.

And group isn’t a chance for everyone else to “fix” them, either. It’s a chance to pursue Christ together. Everyone in the group has issues to work on, and I’d encourage that person to be open to the way God might call them to obedience. Radical obedience that could completely disrupt what they find their identity in.

Finally, I’d talk with the group leader whose group they may join know, and have a conversation with them to make sure they are comfortable (as comfortable as one might be in this situation) with this person joining their group. It’s a sensitive, difficult issue that not all group leaders could handle. It needs to be handled with much grace, care, and truth, giving space to pursue Jesus, and truth to wrestle with, that doesn’t revolve around one particular sin.

Let’s take another sin as an example. If someone openly struggles with gluttony, I’m not going to bar them from the group. Even if they don’t think that their gluttony is a sin. I’m also not going to structure group so that we talk about food and dieting every week. We’re just going to pursue Jesus together, and I’ll trust that God can change them through the power of the truth in the context of love.

At the end of the day, the Holy Spirit changes hearts. We can pray towards that end.

_______________

I’d love to know how you’d handle a situation like this. (this conversation heated up on Facebook. Feel free to click on over and see what people have said HERE.)

Can they join your group? Could they even lead a small group?

How would you structure your group so that this person has a place to pursue Jesus?

 

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Is your church really safe?

Ben Reed —  April 15, 2014 — 1 Comment

Is your church safe? I don’t mean “we have police officers” and “we have hidden cameras” and “I’m packing heat on my pew.”

Is your church safe for you to be you? Can you be the you that doesn’t have it all figured out? That has more questions than answers, some days? Can you be the you that you are on the inside that nobody else sees? The you that wonders how in the world a God that loves justice could also love you? The you that you’re ashamed of?

Is it safe to for you to bring your doubts?

Fears?

Questions?

Struggles?

Victories?

Insecurities?

Quirks?

Gifts?

Doubts?

Is it safe for you to bring the full force of these and not be shunned?

Not be cast out?

Not be shamed?

Not be laughed at?

Not be marginalized?

Not be made to feel “less than”?

Maybe a bigger question than, “Can you?” is “Do you?”

Do you lead the way in vulnerability? Because if you don’t, they won’t. If your current church environment doesn’t afford you this luxury necessity, create it. If you’re waiting for someone else to give you the permission, you now have it. I’m granting it to you right now. Be you. And when someone else brings their junk, don’t take a step back. Take a step forward towards them and with them. Give grace, mercy, and patience. Give truth in love. Give space for continued exploration.

If we have a Savior that died for us, and was the ultimate example of welcoming sinners, we as the Church should be the most welcoming environment on earth. The safest place to still be “in process.” The place where when you join our community you instantly feel at home. You may not be able to put your finger on it, but our people should feel like your people. Our group, your group. Our home, your home. Our grace, your grace. Your story, our story.

By our posturing, may we, the Church, be certain we’re not telling the world, “Fix your junk before you come in here. Otherwise we will boycott, marginalize, slander, and shun you.”

The safest place you’ll ever find yourself is in a small group community that simultaneously knows and loves you. (Tweet that)

Jesus was a “friend of sinners.” (Matthew 11:18) Are we?

 

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photo credit: iStockPhoto user Digital Skillet

photo credit: iStockPhoto user Digital Skillet

Getting your small group to like you isn’t something you may have explicitly set out to do. If you did, you’re pretty self-centered. And there’s a great chance that nobody really likes you.

There. I said it.

While you may not have set that out as a written goal though, it’s on the back of your mind whether you’re a leader or a group member. Don’t lie. You want to be liked. And that’s not a terrible thing. If you didn’t care what others thought of you, you’d probably be a jerk. Caring what others think (while not being dominated by that) shapes our responses, and helps us become more loving and generous. If you didn’t care what others thought of you, you’d dress like a slob and never shower. So please, please keep caring.

If people genuinely don’t like you, and you’re a representation of Christ for them, then there’s a great chance you’re acting as a barrier for them to enjoying Jesus. It would be wise for us to not be a barrier.

How to you get your small group to like you? Well you can start by taking a shower before group. Then, let’s get to the more important things.

How to get your group to like you

Listen intently.

Listen way more than you talk. When you think you’ve listened too much, you’ve just started the process.

Share your story.

You’ve got a story of loss. Victory. Defeat. One that makes much of God, and His power to change your heart and shape your journey. Share that. It’s a gift.

Be authentic.

Nobody likes a fake leader. We all want to know that the person we’re following is the person we think we’re following. Be real and open and honest with your struggles and victories.

Be consistent.

Show up and engage. Week after week after week. On the weeks that you feel like going, show up. On the weeks that you don’t feel like going, show up. On the weeks when you’re too busy, show up. Consistency builds trust.

Go over and above.

Have coffee with a group member outside of your group’s meeting time. Invite a couple over to your house for dinner. Text them when you know they’re going to have a difficult day. Reach beyond the “normal” and “expected.”

Love unexpectedly.

Call on their birthday. Offer to watch their kids so they can go on a date night. Buy them a book that’s made a difference in your life.

Give grace when it’s not deserved.

I know, I know…grace “deserved” isn’t really grace. But there are times when you give grace and it’s expected. But when it’s not deserved in the least. When it hasn’t been earned. When everybody in the room expects you to go 100% truth in the moment…go 100% grace.

Learn their kids’ names.

Do this one today.

Remember their birthdays and anniversaries.

Go ahead and plug them into your calendar now, and set yourself a reminder. Trust me…they’ll notice this.

Share a well-timed truth.

Don’t just sit in your big comfy chair and drop theological bombs on your group. Listen well, and share a well-timed, well-pointed, well-applied truth. One that’s informed in the moment, and that walks the nuances of a deep relationship.

Give your resources.

You can’t give everything to everybody. But you can give significant, needed resources, to your group members. In a way that’s much faster, more efficient, than applying for aid from government, or even parachurch, organizations.

Be yourself.

If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re contemplative, be contemplative. If you’re patient, be patient. If you’re the life of a party, be the life of the party. If you’re an intellectual, be an intellectual. Be the you God created you to be.

Anything else that you do that engages your group to enjoy being around you?

 

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We all have an opinion on small group life. Some of us lean towards “small groups are amazing.” Some of lean towards “small groups are just plain difficult. And awkward.” Rarely is someone neutral when it comes to intentionally building spiritually-formative relationships with others.

I’ve been a part of life-giving small groups that I long to gather with week in and week out. Ones where I leave with more of Jesus than when I came. I’ve also been a part of groups that seem to suck the life right out of me. Ones where I give, but get nothing in return. (I think that has to do most prominently with small group dominators, but that’s another post for another day)

iStockPhoto, user: Noriko Cooper

iStockPhoto, user: Noriko Cooper

Healthy small groups teach us more than they often set out to teach. We are molded and changed in so many ways, because God uses others in mighty ways to make us more like Jesus. In fact, you can’t be like Jesus without others. It’s impossible. You can’t serve others, love others, be generous with one another, or accomplish any of the “one another” commands in Scripture by yourself.

9 unintended benefits of small group life

1. Not everybody thinks like you do, and that’s ok. (Tweet that)

Sometimes, our pride needs a swift body check. We need to run after a fly ball in center field and crash into the wall. We think we’re the only ones with a corner on the “right” answers, and we need subtle, and not-so-subtle, reminders that there are other ways to think.

2. Not everybody thinks like you do, and you can still love them them. 

Loving those who can, and will, love us back is barely love. Loving those who think and act differently than we do is more challenging, and takes more faith. It’s more risky and more difficult. Just because someone thinks differently doesn’t mean you can’t go out of your way to love them. Hanging around people that think like you do is more dangerous than living life with different people that stretch you.

3. Jesus followers can have fun. (Tweet that)

Maybe this post was written just so you’d read this benefit. If you’re a Jesus follower, please don’t check your humor and love of laughter, fun, and general frivolity at the door. After all, a cheerful heart is good medicine. (Proverbs 17:22)

4. People desperately need you.

You have gifts. You have a story. You have experiences. You have a living, breathing, active relationship with Jesus. And other people need you. God has created us to work interdependently, and though you may not have been valued for your contribution to the Church in the past, small group highlights the value you bring to the table. (1 Corinthians 4:12-31)

5. You desperately need people.

You may have gifts, but you don’t have them all. It becomes quickly and readily apparent in group life that others are wired and strengthened differently than you. Which is beautiful! No longer do you have to be all things to all people. You can be the you God created you to be, and lean in on others as they’re being who God created them to be.

6. Prayer works

Don’t believe me? Try it. Try asking for prayer. Try praying for someone else. God uses the prayers of the righteous to accomplish His work. (James 5:16)

7. The bible is living and active.

As you’re discussing the Scriptures week in and week out, you’ll find God speaking right into your story, as if the Bible were written just for you, where you’re at in life. He’ll speak through others in your group, using the Scriptures as the Truth you need to think, and live, differently. (Hebrews 4:12)

8. Confession brings healing. (Tweet that)

The more comfortable you grow with your group, the more you’ll be willing to be open and honest with your faults. As you confess, you’ll find healing. (James 5:16)

9. Dirty hands clean your heart. (Tweet that)

The more you love people, the dirtier your hands get. The more deeply you love others, the more likely it is you’ll get burned. Serving people well necessitates getting messy. Because people are messy. And the more you love, serve, and give generously of yourself, the more you begin to look like Jesus.

Are you in a group? Any other unintended benefits you’ve found?

 

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I never wear my shoes in the house. Shoes bring in dirt.

On top of that, I’m more comfortable without them on. My at-home routine when I finish the day is to take my shoes off and put them in the basket beside the front door. After that, I feel like I can relax.

I don’t choose to take my shoes off because I feel like I have to. Or because my wife expects it. Or because it’s something I’ve done since I was a child. I do it simply so I can relax.

Small group time

Just a few weeks ago, we started a small group in our home. When I came in that Tuesday evening before people started arriving, I continued my normal routine. I took my shoes off, placed them in the basket, and started getting our house ready.

30 minutes before we started, I got my shoes back out of the basket. I put them back on my feet, tied them, and wore them until everyone in our small group had gone home for the night.

Then I went back through my routine. I took my shoes off, placed them in the basket, and sat down on the couch.

I didn’t accidentally wear my shoes during small group. I didn’t forget to take them off. And I’m not self-conscious about the smell of my feet. (though you may be conscious about the smell of my feet, I’m not. :-) )

I wore my shoes to help people feel welcomed.

Many people don’t like to take off their shoes in others’ houses because

  • they’re self-conscious about the smell of their feet
  • they have dirty socks
  • they didn’t cut their toenails
  • they’re worried about the dirt in someone else’s house
  • they don’t take their shoes off in their own house
  • they feel more relaxed with their shoes on
  • their feet are cold

And if they feel like they have to take their shoes off, they’ll either:

a. Not. And feel guilty.

b. Take them off. And resent you for it.

So I chose to wear my shoes, and help people feel comfortable coming just as they are. Not having to bend to the rules of our family, or change their routine to fit our culture. I wanted them to feel like their wasn’t a hurdle they had to jump over, that they don’t have to at their own house, to engage in our group.

If keeping my shoes on helps someone feel more comfortable, welcomed, and loved, I’ll wear my shoes every week.(Tweet that) Small group is a blend of cultures, values, and traditions. Some people value keeping their shoes on.

If you want to love people well, go out of your way to serve them. (Tweet that) Surprise and delight. Make the best coffee in town. Let them sit on the couch nobody else gets to sit on. Let them eat off of the forks you reserve for special guests. Kindle the fire if it’s cold. Crank up the A/C if it’s hot. Open your home, open your life, and open your heart-shaping, will-bending, costly generosity (Re: Luke 14:12-14).

And if you want to create a culture that values people right where they are in life, let it start with your shoes. (Tweet that)

How do you creatively welcome people into your life?

The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. – Acts 28:2

 

 

 

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My take on writing

Ben Reed —  November 18, 2013 — 4 Comments

StartingSmall_Cover

I love writing. I do.

I love crafting words to give structure to thought.

I love painting a beautiful picture out of a seemingly mundane moment.

I love capturing the essence of a season with a phrase.

But writing a book is more than “the love of writing.”

It’s hard work. And finishing the book is only the beginning of the process.

For over a month, every day I’d get up  at 5:00 a.m. and write. And write. And write. My goal was 1000 words, every day. Most days, I came up with 1000 words of pure garbage. Throw it in the trash. Control-A, Control-X. And move on.

Because tomorrow was coming. And so were 1000 more words. And I didn’t have time for terrible words.

Most days, some of those words would stick.

Every once in a while, all 1000 would.

Then comes the marketing. The “how in the world do I get this message to the world” thoughts flood your head. And just when you think the heavy lifting is done, you realize that nobody will have a clue that you’ve written a book unless you tell them.

Simultaneously you realize that when you tell them, there’s the real chance you’ll come across as a jerky self-promoting sleaze bag who is only in it for himself. Which has never, ever, ever been my heart.

My friend John Morgan has been a great source of encouragement to me in this process. He’s helped me navigate the sleazy waters of self-marketing in a way that, I believe remains true to me. And maintains some sense of dignity.

So here goes nothing. Book #1 is in the books.

You can check out the full “press” release HERE. Or buy it below.

buy4._V192207739_

 

*all links affiliate links

 

 

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The coffee ship

Ben Reed —  October 10, 2013 — 6 Comments

While I was in seminary, I worked on a ship at the convergence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. It was a different kind of ship than you might be thinking, though. You probably have in mind that I was on a tug boat. Or a transport/cargo ship. Or maybe even a swashbuckling pirate ship.

But it was something different entirely.

It was a coffee ship.

We’d serve lattes to the most hardened, time-weathered ship captains around. As they boarded our ship after a long trip down the mighty Mississippi, we afforded them luxuries most ships didn’t.

A warm toffee nut latte on a cold February morning.

A shot of our strongest espresso on a lonely, nap-inducing, rainy Sunday afternoon.

An iced caramel mocha on one of those oppressingly hot summer evenings.

A steaming hot cup of the blackest, foulest, most bitter cup of black coffee money could buy.

Midshipmen would gather around the bar and sing the songs of the sea, sloshing their caffeinated beverages to the rhythm of their off-key voices.

Others would wearily wander to the front of the ship, taking in the city scape as the caffeine coursed through their tired veins, giving them energy they hadn’t felt in days. Warming them deep inside their souls. Preparing their hearts and their legs to continue their trek onwards to the next port more than 400 miles further downstream.

It was the stories that made the job interesting. Hearing men tell tales of late-night storms that nearly wrecked their ship. Of having to make up time before their next destination. Of having to force men to walk the plank after stealing from the captain himself.

Or it was just a mis-type that was overlooked by the publishers in my “final” manuscript (here’s a little info on the bonus section). A mis-type that was in the first paragraph of chapter 1.

Screen Shot 2013-10-08 at 3.33.59 PM

Good thing we read over it one more time.

 

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A little bonus

Ben Reed —  October 3, 2013 — 21 Comments

StartingSmall_Cover

I’m working on writing a book that I hope will help a lot of people. (in fact, it will release on November 18!) It’s grown into the culmination of the last 6 years of my life as a small groups pastor. I weave my story through strategies you can use to help get small groups started

  • for the first time ever
  • alongside Sunday School
  • in conjunction with other off-campus groups
  • in a big way
  • in a tiny way

I’ll also walk through how to keep groups going, maintaining growth over time through coaching, curriculum, and continued spiritual growth.

Starting Small also includes a bonus download section. It was originally going to be a part of the book, but the more I put in to it, the more I realized it was a separate resource that could stand on its own.

This is stuff that didn’t fit into overall flow of the book, but that I thought would be helpful. I thought it would be helpful because it’s the info I get asked about when I talk with other groups pastors. It’s

  • sign-up forms
  • leadership agreement/covenants
  • a curriculum track
  • a sermon-based small group discussion template
  • childcare ideas
  • leadership application/interview
My goal with this is to provide a helpful additional resource that answers a lot of the questions that folks normally ask about small groups, getting them started, and the processes and procedures to implement.
And I’d love your help!

Just answer one of the following questions in the comments section below. I’ll choose one person to send an advance reader copy of the book to.

What questions about small group life would you want answered in a resource like this?
What issue holds your small group back from achieving all you know it could be?
This resource could make my life easier by including ________.
What’s the most frustrating thing about your small group?
I’ll choose one of these, and include the question and answer in the bonus section of the book. I’ll also email that person an advanced copy of the book.
 

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