Friday, December 30, 2016

It Was Bound to Happen

Friday, December 30, 2016
The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  1 Samuel 16:7b(NLT)
One of the problems with you reading (or listening to) this devotional is that you’ve got to deal with my personal insecurities or crusade issues.  I write these pages at 5:00 in the morning as a response to what God’s Word speaks to me, after reading the day’s lectionary Scriptures.  Often that response hauls out a memory or leftover unresolved issue from my childhood. 
Sorry…I don’t plan it that way…but, for today:
You know that moment in school when you raised your hand with all the other kids because the teacher asked a question…and you didn’t want to appear stupid…so you stuck your paw up in the air…and in the split second it takes for your life to unravel, she calls on you, even though when your eyes made contact you were in the middle of pulling your hand down, because…you haven’t got a clue what the question meant, much less what the answer might be?
It was bound to happen – especially to me.  Because I was that kid who often didn’t raise my hand at all.  I followed the wise sage advice that it is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt!
But one time I really thought I had the answer.  It was in 5th grade, and we were in morning assembly – pledge allegiance, Lord’s Prayer, moment of silence, then singing the National Anthem…every day…every word. 
But that day was different.  We had a visiting famous person who played the piano and sang.  I can’t recall her name, but her name isn’t my childhood unresolved issue.  She played and sang a song, then asked if anyone knew who wrote the song.  I stuck that paw up in the middle of a sea of 4th-5th and 6th graders – I think I surprised even me by doing that – but I knew the answer was right; it had to be Nat King Cole.  The singer-famous lady nodded in my direction; I blurted out Nat King COLE!!  And the whole assembly burst into laughter and rolled eyes; they had heard what I didn’t; the famous lady had asked if anyone knew what famous FEMALE author had written the song.  Nobody even knew what a gender reorientation surgery was back then, so there was no chance Mr. Cole had become a female singer/songwriter!  I sat down quickly in a pit of despair, wishing it were a bottomless-pit that would swallow me whole!  It was the longest day of my 11 year old life.
I didn’t raise my hand again in a crowd until graduate school 22 years later. 
It seems rather strange that a kid with that kind of introvert issues would eventually wind up talking in front of people, leading meetings and giving advice.  There had to be something less-painful to do with your life for someone who prefers the corner of the room…maybe be a forrest ranger deep in the Amazon.
Actually it only seems strange if you look at people like people look at people.  When you do that you judge what you do not know.  But when God looks at someone, He sees all the way past the introverted insecurity, and the rolled eyes of his classmates; God sees all the way into the heart and soul, and says:  I need that critter to go speak for me over the next 40 years to several congregations in a few Southern states. 
The fact is, even this critter doesn’t understand himself as well as God understands me.  But when He called, even though I wanted to run like Jonah, sulk like Elijah, equivocate like Peter, whine like Samuel, excuse myself like Moses…I listened…and have tried to be obedient. 
And sometimes what God has done with the kid who hated to be noticed by anyone, talk in front of anyone, be singled-out by any means…well it’s more surprising than Nat King Cole singing in a female falsetto voice.

For You Today

Have you got anything that God wants, but causes you to run for the pit?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
NOTES

[i] Title image: By Oregon Department of Transportation (Showing hands  Uploaded by Smallman12q), via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Weep No More

Thursday, December 29, 2016
This is what the Lord says:  “A cry is heard in Ramah—deep anguish and bitter weeping.  Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted—for her children are gone.”  But now this is what the Lord says:  “Do not weep any longer, for I will reward you,” says the Lord.  “Your children will come back to you from the distant land of the enemy.  There is hope for your future,” says the Lord.  “Your children will come again to their own land.  I have heard Israel saying, ‘You disciplined me severely, like a calf that needs training for the yoke.  Turn me again to you and restore me, for you alone are the Lord my God.  I turned away from God, but then I was sorry.  I kicked myself for my stupidity!  I was thoroughly ashamed of all I did in my younger days.’    Jeremiah 31:15-19(NLT)
I’m not at all certain I’ve known of anything more heartbreaking than parents weeping for a lost child.  Shortly before Elizabeth and I packed our belongings and took our three young children off to seminary, a young couple in our Sunday School group lost their only child to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.  Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. SIDS is sometimes known as crib death because the infants often die in their cribs.[ii] 
It was the first time I had ever known someone who lost a child.  They were so devastated, there were no words of comfort to offer, only weeping with those who weep.[iii]  All the phrases that we may have packed away to utter at those times of indescribable loss are useless.  Only quiet presence can be healing in such profound loss.
For the nation of Israel, conquered and destroyed by their Babylonian enemies (modern day Iraq), weeping was the order of the day.  Mothers and fathers mourned the death, or capture of their children 24/7/365 – there was nonstop grief and emptiness of hearts.  To be on the losing side of a war is to marry tragedy, pain and hoplessness. 
How do you get over your loss when every neighbor you know is also weeping?
And then the weeping prophet, Jeremiah says that God was saying:  Weep no more. Easier said than done. 
But God was announcing the end of Israel’s season of discipline; their unruliness as God’s children had turned to repentance and prayer.  Their hearts were crying out to their Heavely Father to draw them close – to forgive their sins and heal their land.  And God was not only hearing, He was gladly ready to receive them, heal their pain, and restore their future.
For anyone who has suffered great loss, new circumstances cannot erase history.  A child lost to death will not come back in this life; a spouse buried will not be forgotten.  In time, for those who embrace their grief and learn life-changing lessons that loss will teach, mourning does give way to gladness.  Memory of pain ultimately is tempered and blessed with the joy of God’s comfort.   Meaning again returns, renewed and purposeful, as healing from loss integrates with opportunity to embrace life’s future.  You find you can go on!

For You Today

The old saying is to be trusted:
When it comes to trouble, you’re either
in it,
just coming out of it,
or about to go through it.
Dreading future trouble won’t head it off, and despising current trouble won’t help you learn a thing.  So praise and trust God in your troubles and when you’ve got no troubles! Weep for your sins, and keep praying; God heard Israel, He will hear your cry as well.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
NOTES

[i] Title image: By Pethrus (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
[iii] Romans 12:15

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Why God Got Some Ink

Wednesday, December 28, 2016
See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.  Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.  Soon your descendants will come back, and all who are trying to destroy you will go away.  Look around you and see, for all your children will come back to you.  As surely as I live,” says the Lord, “they will be like jewels or bridal ornaments for you to display.  “Even the most desolate parts of your abandoned land will soon be crowded with your people.  Your enemies who enslaved you
will be far away.  The generations born in exile will return and say, ‘We need more room!  It’s crowded here!’  Then you will think to yourself, ‘Who has given me all these descendants?  For most of my children were killed, and the rest were carried away into exile.  I was left here all alone.  Where did all these people come from?  Who bore these children?  Who raised them for me?’”  This is what the Sovereign Lord says:  “See, I will give a signal to the godless nations.  They will carry your little sons back to you in their arms; they will bring your daughters on their shoulders.  Kings and queens will serve you and care for all your needs.  They will bow to the earth before you and lick the dust from your feet.  Then you will know that I am the Lord.  Those who trust in me will never be put to shame.”   Isaiah 49:16-23(NLT)
The prophet Isaiah’s voice was mostly intended for a troubled nation caught in a downward spiral.  Their national sin was immense; the nation formed in the heart of a loving and holy God had become a stench in His nostrils.  Judgment was already on the way; their destruction was imminent and their children would soon be carried away by their enemies.  Disaster was their future!
Then God decided in favor of tattoos!  Really! 
Well, I’m not sure that it’s a blanket endorsement to cover your body with ink; it’s more an artistic way to say that God’s thoughts are open and on display for anyone willing to see.
Isaiah records that God wrote the name of His beloved Israel on the palms of His hands as a visually constant promise that not only would the children return, brought by their penitent and now-submissive enemies, the day would come when Israel would flourish again when God once more would place Himself undeniably back in Israel’s focus.
An insurance company has the slogan:  The future belongs to those who prepare for it.[ii]  God’s slogan, tattooed by God Himself on His palms (long before that insurance company): 
The future belongs to those who trust in Me

For You Today

Whatever you’ve got going on in your life that’s making the future so uncertain you can hardly concentrate on the present…well, that may be God getting your attention.
A bit of advice…give Him your attention.
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
NOTES

[i] Title image: By Meena Kadri from Global Roaming (Vibrantly Rabari), via Wikimedia Commons
[ii] ©The Prudential, Newark N.J.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Nearly Abandoned

Tuesday, December 27, 2016
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God.  1 John 5:1(NLT)
Her mother was a migrant farm worker who was living in an old car.  Vicki was only two and her Mom had run out of money, food and options.  She walked into the Food Stamp office in Florida and was turned-down again because “her car” was not an address.  What she then said and did (according to the social worker) was reply, Fine; here, you feed her, and walked away.
That was how Vicki came to live with us as a foster child in 1978.  Within a short time Elizabeth and I both knew we would adopt this sweet, vibrant young lady into our family.  So we began the paperwork, inspections and more, making room in our hearts for yet another child.
God had other ideas; so did the State of Florida.  It seems the law on abandonment in that State don’t kick-in for a year.  So, just a few days short of 365, Vicki’s Mom returned and wanted her child back.  We were heartbroken, but the last we’d heard, Vicki and her Mom were doing well in Texas.
Forty years have not dimmed the imprint of that little one’s smile in our memories.  But she was  not our child.  The law said she belonged to someone else, and, as much as we were willing to open our hearts and home to adopt this little girl with the big smile, we had to give her back.
Nearly abandoned and loved, but not our child.
This is somewhat the essence of John’s sentence about becoming God’s child.  Often (incorrectly) someone – even a preacher – will say something like:  we’re ALL God’s children.  That may be true in one sense, that we are all born in the image of God, and we all experience the providence of God’s care, and there is the loving reach of God that would embrace us, much like (but better than) Elizabeth and I wanted to embrace Vicki as our own. 
But there is something which stands between that desire and reality.  That something is the law.  The law says we are born in sin, and because we all sin, the law condemns us.  John says we become God’s child by belief – faith in God that Jesus Christ is His son. 
Now that is not a very popular viewpoint, and there is pushback whenever you try to point out that some people are genuinely children of God by faith, and some are not.  Many people prefer that, like the Constitution says, we are all equal, we are all equally children of God.  But the Scripture isn’t the Constitution, and national pride has little to do with Scriptural truth.  So, what do you do with truth?  Jesus, Himself pointed out this very fact when the Pharisees argued that they were children of Abraham, making them God’s favored sons.  Here’s the hard truth Jesus declared to them:
Jesus told them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God.  I am not here on my own, but he sent me.  Why can’t you understand what I am saying?  It’s because you can’t even hear me!  For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does.  He was a murderer from the beginning.  He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.  So when I tell the truth, you just naturally don’t believe me!  John 8:42-45(NLT)
The line is drawn in the sand, if you choose to reject the Son, to not-love God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, you don’t have the Father, you’re not a child of God, no matter how much you want it to be otherwise.          

For You Today

Elizabeth and I wanted to welcome Vicki into our home, but she was the child of another.  That was a hard truth. 
A much more important question with a hard truth we must all face is: 
whose child are you?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
NOTES
[i] Title image: By Russell Brownworth

Monday, December 26, 2016

Shooting the Messenger

Monday, December 26, 2016
As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  He fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!”  And with that, he died.  Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.  A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.  (Some devout men came and buried Stephen with great mourning.)  But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church.  He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.  But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.  Philip, for example, went to the city of Samaria and told the people there about the Messiah.  Crowds listened intently to Philip because they were eager to hear his message and see the miraculous signs he did.  Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims.  And many who had been paralyzed or lame were healed.  So there was great joy in that city.  Acts 7:59 – 8:8(NLT)
Stephen was chosen with six other believers in response to the need for more servants in the early church.  He was not only serving within the body as the first selected to be a deacon, Stephen was stoned to death because he was God’s messenger to his city, preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and they responded by shooting the messenger
That was in Jerusalem, and it kicked off a persecution frenzy.  Saul, who would later become the Apostle Paul, was throwing people in jail left and right, most to suffer the same fate as Stephen.  The believers had to scatter in a hurry, running for their lives; that night it was all heels and elbows exiting the city of God. 
But that persecution started a revival up the road in Samaria, place of the hated half-Jews.  As the believers fled religious persecution in Jerusalem, they migrated in every direction; some, including Philip, made it north to Samaria.  The people there heard the Good News of that Jewish rabbi having being born in a stable, raised the son of a carpenter, crucified for our sins, resurrected on the third day, and coming again to reign as Messiah, King of Kings and Lord of Lords…and they not only rejoiced, evil spirits had to retreat, and the lame and paralyzed were healed.
Did you notice the stark differences?  Great unbelief and violence in Jerusalem, the city of God; great faith and rejoicing in Samaria, the city of ungodly pagans.  Hmmmmm.  What do we make of that? 
Particularly, what do we say when asked to measure our day against that?
America by many standards has always been considered “Christian”.  But continuing to characterize North America as a Christian stronghold is becoming more and more impossible to justify with a straight face.  Secular hedonism, practical atheism and trashing of two thousand years of Christian dogma (doctrine) in the name of cultural tolerance shows that, stacked-up against the likes of Stephen’s willingness to do what Jesus did – namely, forgive those who stoned him – we are anything but Christian.
I have great confidence that God is sovereign and will move to accomplish his great will for his creation, and will do so with or without humankind’s cooperation.  But I fear for any nation that rejects God’s ways as culturally, legally and unashamedly as has ours.  We are headed down the broad way of destruction.
Stephen, Peter and all the disciples told that to their generation.
Noah preached it to his generation.
The prophets all preached it to their generations.
The messengers were shot; the message and warning continue. 

For You Today

God still needs more messengers to this generation…are you in?
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day!
NOTES

[i] Title image: By Jastrow (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, December 25, 2016

What Child Is This?

Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets.  And now in these final days, he has spoken to us through his Son.  God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son he created the universe.  The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command.  When he had cleansed us from our sins, he sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.  This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave him is greater than their names.  Hebrews 1:1-4(NLT)
So the Word became human and made his home among us.  He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness.  And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.  John 1:14(NLT)
Several years ago I got a fresh reminder of the fact that, despite the crush of Christmas shopping, crowds, hurry-up of extra meetings and worship services, it was the Word, Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God who became flesh in that manger.  It was not an idea or doctrine, or a program that was born – it was God who became “with us”, incarnate; eternity entering time.  The Messiah was born, and nothing could ever be the same once the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
My reminder came in two segments. 
First, I happened to come across my friend Anne’s description of a worship service at her church; she is the organist/music director.  It’s a fairly large sanctuary, and the organ is located in the balcony.  She described a crisis:
“Crises in a church service happen in a split second, and you never see them coming.  I pick out offertories based on the service, knowing the time it takes the ushers to pass the plates is longer for Service 2 than Service 3.  Also, as a general rule, I play a shorter version for the early service because there are fewer people in attendance.  Timing wouldn’t matter so much if the ushers would wait until I finish a piece and begin the congregational hymn. However, they tend to start up the aisle when they’ve finished their job without waiting for me.  Over the years I learned it was better if I looked over my shoulder and began winding up when the usher on the right side of the church reached the last pew.
At the early service today I had it about right.  The only usher I could see was about to walk behind the last pew to be in position to go forward in the center aisle, and my music would end at just the right time.  John [Anne’s husband] was there in the choir loft, and all of a sudden he jumped up and began to flap his arms.  Sometimes he tells me when the men have finished, but this flapping denoted something much more urgent.  ‘They are not ready,’ he hissed.
I really don’t think people listen to filler music, but if anyone happened to be paying attention today they would have heard the music reaching a conclusion.  Then there was a slight pause, a fumble with a few notes and a resuming of the original piece somewhere in the middle.  Since I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know how much longer to play.  John told me later that someone sitting on the middle aisle was writing a check, and the usher stood there waiting for it. 
I’d like to tell the congregation once a year that I can’t see the middle aisle, so if anyone is going to mess up the timing of the offertory, please do it on the right side.[1]
Anne wasn’t ready for this because didn’t see it coming.  And how could she?  From the balcony, facing the wrong way, her world is lopsided, and she can’t see the middle.  How frustrating – whoever designed organs facing the wrong way, anyway?  
The ushers weren’t ready because of the check-writer who wasn’t ready. 
We’ll come back to this in a moment.
My second reminder came the next evening. 
We went to the middle and high school combined chorus concert at my granddaughter’s school.  I saw and heard Christmas – the part where He came in a lowly place, an unexpected place – a very noisy place.  We got there early to get a good seat; and (wonder of wonders) we succeeded – right down front where we could see the dimples on my beautiful granddaughter as she sang a solo part, 
         
and my grandson in that red bowtie...priceless!

People were in a festive mood, and the kids sang the obligatory numbers that choirs have been singing for centuries. 
They also sang “The Twelve Days AFTER Christmas” (five gold rings that turned your fingers green, along with three French hens that were turned into chicken soup to cure a cold….well, it was a hoot!). 
But that wasn’t Christmas – not the word become flesh
The stage was decorated, the kids wore elf hats and antlers; but that wasn’t Christmas, either!
What made it Christmas for me was the rowdy crowd! 
Through all fifteen songs the parents and friends of these kids kept up chatter, trips to the bathroom complete with swinging, slamming doors.  They talked, laughed and made it impossible to hear the singing.
One group behind us must’ve had bladder problems; I counted eight trips to the facility in the hour and fifteen minute concert.  The young lady behind me was reclining on her seat, one leg draped over the arm of her chair, dangling in the aisle; she was texting, playing video games, bouncing her baby sister on her lap, talking to her boyfriend and singing (rather off key) from before the opening curtain, straight through to Silent Night.  It was like attending a combination football game and tractor-pull.  The crowd distracted everyone who was trying to sing, play, direct or hear.  Whew…talk about a “rowdy-crowdy”!
Back to our valiant organist in the balcony:  Anne was blind-sided by events she couldn’t see in a lop-sided world; she was blinded from the main event – she couldn’t see.  Our “concert rowdy-crowdy” was unknowing of the treasure those 7-9th grade kids had practiced weeks to bring them. 
Two events – one Blind and one unknowing!
So, what’s the connection with the word became flesh?
…God came to the rowdy and blind…and he did it on purpose!
Humanity without God is blind and unknowing.  Most of our manger scenes are quiet, very pastoral and serene.  But has farm life ever really been quiet?  With all due respect to Away in a Manger – when cattle are lowing they are loud.  They bellow because they’re ready for something to happen…very ready!  Goats, sheep and pigs add to the noise too. 
God chose to come to the middle of a rowdy mess, like an interrupted offering, a distracted choir.  That’s grace…we didn’t deserve it, but he came anyway.

God chose to die for us – it tells us the truth – we’re that messy!
He was full of grace and truth…we’re that messy, and he loves us anyway. 
He took our rowdy mess to the cross; that is the glory we celebrate this morning. 
He lived with us, died for us and rose that his grace would carry us all the way to where he is now.
He died for us blind, lopsided and rowdy all…
So what kind of child is this in the manger?  He’s the one who came to us and loved us, blind, lopsided, rowdy, warts and all!

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen

Notes                               

[1] Anne Maclin Mehrling


[i] Title image:  Russell Brownworth

Friday, December 23, 2016

Highly Favored - Part 2

Friday, December 23, 2016
A few days later Mary hurried to the hill country of Judea, to the town where Zechariah lived.  She entered the house and greeted Elizabeth.  At the sound of Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s child leaped within her, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.  Elizabeth gave a glad cry and exclaimed to Mary, “God has blessed you above all women, and your child is blessed.  Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me?  When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy.  You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said.”  Mary responded, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.  How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!  For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed.  For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.  He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.  His mighty arm has done tremendous things!  He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.  He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.  He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away with empty hands.  He has helped his servant Israel and remembered to be merciful.  For he made this promise to our ancestors, to Abraham and his children forever.”  Luke 1:39-55(NLT)
Perhaps both Elizabeth and her niece Mary naively misunderstood everything.  They certainly couldn’t forsee all the pain that was on their horizon.  Elizabeth’s child would be imprisoned and beheaded; Mary’s child….well, you know.
But, their misunderstanding was well-placed.  Elizabeth’s and Mary’s words recorded in this text are words of utmost faith in Jehovah.  It was like a flash mob, extemporaneously gathering and exploding with praise on that Judean hillside.  Elizabeth was filled with God’s Spirit and bubbled over with praise for God’s kindness in bringing about the fulfillment of the long-awaited promise of Messiah. 
Mary, also, is seized by the Spirit’s joy and her Magnificat (song of praise) proclaims that everything in life is about to be turned upside-down:
·       Those with reason to be proud will be humbled
·       Those proud because of their riches will end up at the soup kitchens
·       Those who pridefully occupy thrones will be powerless
This is the future about which Mary and Elizabeth prophesy.  Everything is turned on its ear, and God sets it all straight.  So what have Mary and Elizabeth missed here?  What is misunderstood?
C.S. Lewis called Mary’s song a terrible song, playing on the Latin “terribillis” which means dreadful, frightful, fearsome[ii].  It seems the birth of Jesus will fiercly shake the very foundations of society and change everything. 
Children will do that!  When our first child, Jennifer, came along we were so thrilled, and so very na├»ve about how life was going to be so perfect.  The pain of childbirth, it is said, fades into memory past, leaving the joy of relationship.  But, in truth, childbirth also obscures the pain of the future.  Scraped knees and assorted “boo-boos” aside, this dangerous world (particularly to children) is a labyrinth of trouble.  There are places like the Twin Towers, Columbine, and Sandy Hook!
Mary sang over her firstborn, a perfect child – future king; but she missed entirely the shadow which the cross cast across that manger!  But that is how it is when you serve God.  When, like Mary, you commit to being His slave – your life will never be the same again, predictable and comfortable.  There is no such thing as safe obedience. 
Mary and Elizabeth…powerless, little hope for a secure future…lives of dead ends.  And, suddenly….God!  That’s how it is when you’ve got something new swelling your insides.

For You Today

Sometimes that so-called dead end you face is the beginning of God’s highly-favored blessing!
You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road…have a blessed day, and a most blessed and highly-favored Christmas celebration this weekend!
NOTES

[i] Title image: Andrea del Sarto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons