The Stillman Valley cheerleaders gave our community the gift of smiles last Friday night.One of the best gifts young people can give their communities is to smile, laugh, and have fun. It warms our hearts.

Let me say this at the onset to get it over with. It was an abysmal football game; it felt like some sort of dystopic nightmare. Because of lightning, the game didn’t  start until 9:45 and it was mostly downhill from there. Thankfully, we don’t endure those sorts of games often. We are also thankful that ESPN has already done their story on our opponent, Wendell Phillips high school, so at least we aren’t featured in the footage. The ESPN piece on Phillips is worth watching.

But there was a bright spot during the lengthy lightning delay.

For the first several days of the delay some of us hunkered down in the shed. Picture Noah on the ark. We went into the shed two by two. The winds howled. The rain blew in. Less brave people (like my wife) hid in the high school. But once the rain let up, we met up at the stands.

Sensitive to our boredom, the boys in the press box scrolled through their I-pods and played some  favorites. Maybe, I am living in the 70’s, but I’d like to think their playing of CCR’s, Who’ll Stop the Rain got things going right. Before someone brings it up, I deny yelling anything about Freebird when Sweet Home, Alabama was played.

In any case, the party really picked up when Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline blasted over the speakers. Our cheerleaders decided that if they weren’t going to lead the crowd in cheers (we still didn’t know at that point if we would even play) they could bring cheer with a “Sweet Caroline chorus line.” It wasn’t necessarily well choreographed – – but the moment I will remember for quite some time is what an encouragement it was to my heart to see young people laughing and having fun. Their smiles were warm and carefree.

Here is a serious point. At the end of the long week, seeing teens sing Sweet Caroline, or watching them surf on the football bench to Wipeout, or seeing adults champion the cause of the YMCA – – those are the sorts of smiles we need. We really do.

Young people can’t know what a gift they give when they smile and laugh. I am thankful for them.

 

 

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A Most Dangerous Game

Chris —  September 2, 2014 — 5 Comments

OreosPretending that God must give an account to people, rather than the other way around, deadens the heart to the need for a Savior.

Anyone who has ever tracked down the thief who ate the last row of Oreos knows that it is a common tactic for the accused to go on offense. The guy with black crumbs in the corner of his mouth accuses others of being greedy. (I speak from experience here).

After all, the best defense is a good offense.

Or is it?

Where cookie theft is concerned, it may work to put your accuser on defense. But with God it is an eternally danger game to presume that God is on trial. Could anything more ludicrous than the idea that God must give an answer to us? And, I say this soberly, it’s a hell of a thing to be wrong about.

Yet people accuse God all the time. Here’s why. All of us, even young children, have the law written on our hearts (Romans 2:14-15). Unbelievers know deep down, whether they admit it or not, that they must answer to God. They know that conduct matters without even being told this is the case.

But many, rather than face up to the fact that they must answer to God, choose to go on offense. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, modern man has a tendency to presume that God is on trial. So those who should be on defense believe that where God is concerned, the best defense is a good offense. They start to point their fingers at God with “hard” questions and passionate excuses:

  • Why does God allow suffering?
  • Everyone disagrees about what the Bible teaches. It just says what you want it to say. Or it’s too hard to understand the Bible.
  • My parents messed up my life. I can’t be responsible.
  • Does God really expect that I should go to church when there are so many hypocrites there?
  • My circumstances are too difficult for God to really expect me to obey him?
  • God’s plan is just too hard for me?
  • I’m doing my best so God will be okay with that.
  • God won’t be upset if I don’t go to church.

There is an aspect of this game of accusing God which “works.” In the short run, it deadens the conscience to the person who is rejecting God. It helps people sleep at night. They feel okay about rebelling against God in an ongoing way because they feel they have their reasons.

And that is why going on the offense with God is such a dangerous game. Fooling ourselves into believing that God is on trial deadens the conscience to the need for a savior.

But rest assured. God isn’t on trial. He’s not in the dock. Hear the warning of Romans 9:20: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?'”

We must all answer to God. Whoever believes in the Son has life, but for the one who does not, the wrath of God abides on him (John 3:36).

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Zac and Logan at Erie GameHere is what I am “yelling” at every sporting event – – if not verbally – – I am yelling with my heart.

Kick-off is a few hours away in Stillman Valley. My batteries are charged: literally and figuratively. I updated the firmware on my camera last night. And I reviewed football history with a coach (M.A.) over lunch at the Cardinal Cafe.

Which is to say – – I’m getting ready to click. And getting ready to cheer. I do yell occasionally. But I have never been penalized or booted from a game.

Having said that – – there are some things I don’t yell. But I am thinking them on the inside. Here’s part of the list:

  1. I love young people. I don’t yell about my love during football games. It would be awkward. But be assured that I care. That’s what motivates me. It’s why I post so many pictures. It’s what makes it fun.
  2. I love the young people on both teams. It goes without saying, but it needs to be said. While my biases are obvious, I enjoy being around all young people. I can’t tell you how many times I have scrambled to get a good picture to a player from another team, even when they score against us. It’s my small way of telling young people that our love is real. I have watched a lot of sporting events for area athletes. I’ve shot games when Stillman wasn’t playing. I check to see how Byron wrestlers do. I pull for Winnebago kids. I get excited about Oregon athletics. I love young people, not colors and uniforms.
  3. I am available. Not just me. Other pastors as well. You need to talk – – let’s talk. You know how to get in contact with me. You can be a football player or a cheerleader or a chess team member or someone who is involved in no extra-curricular activities. Pastors are gifts that local churches make available to people. We are busy gifts. We can’t do everything. But if you are facing something, then let’s get together and chat. Soon. You – – or your folks – – or your friends – – local churches are available to you.
  4. I take confidentiality very seriously. While it is true that I have a son and daughter who are still in the system, I don’t tell them personal details of ministry. I never give unqualified promises that I will never tell a soul what you say. After all, if you tell me you are going to bomb the school, then I should mention it to your folks. But it is always my goal to treat confidential matters very seriously. If you meet with me, then we can do it in a way that is private. (Though I don’t meet alone with women/ girls!) If you message me, it’s between us.
  5. Even if I am not the right person for a problem, I can help you get in touch with the right person. Many areas are outside of my expertise. But often one of the first steps is to find the right person to talk to. I can help with that.
  6. You are not alone. High school can be lonely. Life can be lonely. Lots of people feel lonely. If you feel that way, then you are not the only one. But you don’t need to be alone.
  7. You will never graduate from being loved or cared about by God’s people. High school is a short season. It’s soon over. But some things are eternal and love is one of them. So don’t go it alone. Find a good church home – – love and be loved – – we’re available to you.

Like I said – – it would be awkward to yell all that stuff aloud. It’s kind of wordy. So I’ll stick with, “One-two-three-four – – you know what those cleats are for – – stomp ‘em.” But the points are above are what I am really thinking.

 

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Marilynne Robinson Robinson wonders if the reason people prefer Rush Limbaugh and “Jay Leno” (no longer a current example) is because they instruct viewers as to what it is “cool to think.”

The present dominance of aspersion and ridicule in American public life is a reflex of the fact that we are assumed to want, and in many cases perhaps do want, attitude much more than information. If an unhealthy percentage of the population gets its news from Jay Leno or Rush Limbaugh, it is because they are arbiters of attitude. They instruct viewers as to what, within their affinity groups, it is safe to say and cool to think. That is, they short-circuit the function of individual judgment and obviate the exercise of individual conscience. So it is to a greater or lesser degree with the media in general. It is painful to watch decent and distinguished people struggle to function politically in this non-rational and valueless environment.

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Job: Preaching Propositions

Chris —  July 31, 2014 — 5 Comments

photoDuring our upcoming series on Job in the Fall, we will see that Christ alone is sufficient to sustain us through whatever suffering we may face. He is the only one who can truly see us through the inevitable pain of a fallen world. The more we soak in the book of Job, the more we will see the sufficiency of Christ in the face of suffering, and the more we will realize that all other ground but Christ is sinking sand.

I continue my preparation for Job – – and that has meant thousands of pages of prayerful reading and pages of notes. For several weeks, I have labored to distill from my notes propositions and truths that will form the skeleton of the series. These are a work in progress, but they show much of where I will go in the series.

As I state above, the central thesis of the series on Job will be that Christ alone is sufficient to sustain us through the suffering of life. This overall thought in mind, the below propositions flow out of my study of Job. Of course, these are very abbreviated! I don’t want to give all of the series in advance!

  1. When studying Job we should be reminded that suffering is inevitable and that we must be prepared for it individually, as families, and corporately.
  2. The central concern of the book of Job is the question of whether or not God’s people legitimately glorify Him. Do God’s people serve only for what they get from God? Or do God’s people serve God because He is God?
  3. This side of the cross, we live at a remarkably different time in salvation history than Job. We should be cross-eyed when we read Job. While nothing can allow us to exhaustively understand the problem of evil – – we simply do not have the capacity to comprehend the answer – – we can be overjoyed that on this side of the cross we can look to Christ knowing that He is sufficient.
  4. The truth that the patient of endurance of Christians glorifies God should motivate us individually and as Christian communities to suffer well. The fact that God calls Job’s conduct into evidence shows us how eternally important it is that Christians endure suffering in ways that are glorifying to God. Not only is one’s conduct in suffering a testimony to family, friends, and church – – what image bearers do is significant to God. God, and the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms are watching, and what Christians do reflects on the name of Christ. Our battles with pain are not private, isolated affairs. No child of the king is obscure or unknown.
  5. We must be intellectually prepared for suffering. While explaining the problem of evil is not the central concern of the book of Job, a study of the book inevitably puts this question on the table.
  6. All worldviews, other than the Christian one, are opaque lenses that ultimately give no insight into the meaning of life or how we can find truly find comfort. Indeed, most other worldviews must “borrow capital” (See Van Til) from the Christian to even pose the question. The atheist’s question regarding evil disintegrates – – – it is self-destructive.
  7. Suffering in this life is not always proportional to righteousness. Some suffer greatly though they have sinned less than others who suffer less. The retribution principle (the idea that you reap what you sow) is not a calculation that allows us to consistently predict how life will go.
  8. Along with being prepared in our understanding of theology, we must also know how to endure the experience of suffering.
  9. We must have a vision for comforting the hurting and be equipped as a church family to minister with great wisdom to those who are suffering.

 

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Job And His Friends - Ilya Yefimovich-RepinWhich “Job” questions are most important for pastors when preaching Job? Are there any “Job questions” in the below list that aren’t important?

Immersed in Job as I am, one notices a number of questions that come up in “evangelical” literature. The discussion of these questions is lengthy! Some of these questions may make us mad – – and some should make us mad- – but be assured: these questions are repeatedly and increasingly discussed in evangelical circles. And, to one degree or another, they are important! How we come down on some of them will shape how we face the inevitable suffering of life.

These are not all of the questions – – these are just the ones that I can come up off the “top of my head” after studying Job in recent months. Remember – – this is a blog – – a working document where I jot down some of my thoughts when studying. I welcome your comments, though I may wait until the series begins in October to address them!

  1. Is Job historical? Did the events really take place or is the book a “thought experiment”? Is it important for those with a high view of Scripture to believe that the book is historical?
  2. Is “the Satan” Satan? Or is he a different adversary?
  3. Did God know how Job would respond in advance or was God also waiting to see what would happen?
  4. Is it important to identify the leviathan and behemoth as biological creatures? Or is it legitimate to allow that they resembled actual creatures with characteristics of ancient mythic creatures?
  5. Is the book of Job making the point that there are reasons for suffering though they may be beyond our comprehension? Or is the book making the point that sometimes there just aren’t reasons for suffering?
  6. Did the character Job say chapter 28? Or is this an interlude – – a comment by the author?
  7. How appropriate is it to immediately point to Christ from the text of Job? Is it responsible exposition of Scripture to proclaim Christ as the solution to Job’s longings (as in 9:32 ff, 19:25 ff) or was this merely Job’s unrighteous longing for someone to defend him?
  8. When preaching Job, how much time should be spent in presenting a theodicy?
  9. What is the place of Elihu? Should he be lumped together with the other “friends” or is it possible that he is a prophetic voice?
  10. How important is the dating of the book of Job?
  11. Did Job influence Isaiah’s prophecy of the Suffering Servant?
  12. Did Job believe at all in an after-life? Is he longing for “resurrection” at points? Or did he have absolutely no conception of the after-life?

Below is my current bibliography for Job. An * indicates those sources I have consulted the most in recent days, or am at least alluding to with the above questions.

*Anderson, Francis I. Job. Edited by D. J. Wiseman. Vol. 13. The Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1976.
*Ash, Christopher. Job: The Wisdom of the Cross. Preaching the Word. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014.
*Clines, David J.A. Job 1-20. Edited by David A. Hubbard, Glenn W. Barker, and John D.W. Watts. Vol. 17a. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, 1989.
———. Job 21-37. Edited by David A. Hubbard, Glenn W. Barker, and John D.W. Watts. Vol. 18a. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, 2006.
———. Job 38-42. Edited by David A. Hubbard, Glenn W. Barker, and John D.W. Watts. Vol. 18b. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas: Word, 2011.
“Credo Magazine » Reflections on the Loss of Our Daughter (Fred Zaspel).” Accessed May 1, 2014. http://www.credomag.com/2013/11/13/reflections-on-the-loss-of-our-daughter-fred-zaspel/.
Estes, Daniel J. Job. Teach the Text Commentary Series. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013.
Guinness, Os. Unspeakable: Facing Up to Evil in an Age of Genocide and Terror. San Francisco: Harper, 2005.
*Hartley, John E. The Book of Job. Edited by R.K. Harrison. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988.
*Keller, Timothy. “My Faith: The Danger of Asking God ‘Why Me?’” CNN Belief Blog. Accessed June 15, 2014. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/08/04/my-faith-the-danger-of-asking-god-why-me/.
*———. Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering. New York: Dutton, 2013.
*Kidner, Derek. The Wisdom of Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes: An Introduction to Wisdom Literature. Downers Grove: IVP, 1985.
*Longman, Tremper III. Job. Edited by Tremper III Longman. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2012.
Peterson, Eugene H. Job: Led By Suffering to the Heart of God. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1996.
*Piper, John. The Misery of Job and the Mercy of God. Wheaton: Crossway, 2002.
*Trueman, Carl. “Any Place for the God of Job?” Reformation 21, February 6, 2013. http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2013/02/any-place-for-the-god-of-job.php.
Tsevat, M. “The Meaning of the Book of Job.” Hebrew Union College Annual 37 (1966): 73–106.
Viberg, A. “Job.” In New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by T. Desmond Alexander, Brian S. Rosner, D.A. Carson, Graeme Goldsworthy, and Steve Carter, 200–203. Downers Grove: IVP, 2000.
*Walton, John H. Job. The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012.
*Wilson, Gerald H. Job. Edited by Robert L. Jr. Hubbard and Robert K. Johnston. New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2007.
*Yancey, Philip. “A Fresh Look at the Book of Job.” In Sitting with Job: Selected Studies on the Book of Job, edited by Roy B. Zuck, 141–49. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.
Zuck, Roy. Job. Chicago: Moody Press, 1978.
Zuck, Roy B. Sitting with Job: Selected Studies on the Book of Job. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.
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I continue to prayerfully reflect on the book of Job. Our Fall series on Job will begin at the Red Brick Church, D.V., on October 5. In preparation, I am interacting a great deal with Christopher Ash’s recent commentary published by Crossway, Job: The Wisdom of the Cross (Preaching the Word). The following quote is critical in understanding the central thrust of Job.

In some deep way it is necessary for it to be publicly seen by the whole universe that God is worthy of the worship of a man and that God’s worth is in no way dependent on God’s gifts. Christopher Ash, page 44.

The only edit I would make to this quote is to say – – our worship of God is in no way dependent on God’s immediate gifts. Ultimately, there is no tension between God’s glory and our joy. But in the long it may feel for a season that there is a tension.

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The below selection of Proverbs will encourage and challenge you regarding how you communicate to your social networks  – – whether it is through the new media or sitting around at the grain elevator on a rainy day talking to other farmers.

Pastor Bruce McKanna serves the Evangelical Free Church of Mt. Morris. It’s one of my family’s favorite churches and one we often attend when we have a Sunday off. Pastor McKanna is currently preaching through a survey of the entire Bible. He writes the following about last Sunday’s sermon:

As we are going through the whole Bible together as a congregation, we are in Proverbs this Sunday.  Since I’ve preached a few different mini-series from Proverbs over the past six years, I’m not trying to do an overview or even focus on the fundamental issue of the fear of the Lord.  Rather, I’ll be trying to show how practical the Proverbs are in relation to a particular issue:  how we engage in a world of social media.  I will be making very clear that this applies to the old school “social media” of the old men having coffee in our local diner as much as it does the moms and millennials hanging out on Facebook.

Below is Bruce’s sermon insert for this sermon in which he selects different verses from Proverbs to encourage us about social media. It’s a great resource for all of us. In a social media age, this ancient biblical wisdom is as relevant as ever.

Be careful in what you’re consuming and what you’re contributing.

15:14 The heart of him who has understanding seeks knowledge,
but the mouths of fools feed on folly.

15:2 The tongue of the wise commends knowledge,
but the mouths of fools pour out folly.

Don’t say everything that pops into your head.

10:19 When words are many, transgression is not lacking,
but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

15:28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.

17:28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.

21:23 Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue
keeps himself out of trouble.

This is especially important in an argument or heated debate.

15:1 A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.

17:27 Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.

Listen, and you just might learn something.

12:15 The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
but a wise man listens to advice.

18:2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding,
but only in expressing his opinion.

18:13 If one gives an answer before he hears,
it is his folly and shame.

Just make sure you are listening to those who are speaking truth.

13:20 Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise,
but the companion of fools will suffer harm.

14:7 Leave the presence of a fool,
for there you do not meet words of knowledge.

Don’t get sucked into debates with fools.

9:7-8 7 Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.

29:9 If a wise man has an argument with a fool,
the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.

Don’t use your platform to belittle others or boost yourself.

11:12-13 12 Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense,
but a man of understanding remains silent.
13 Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets,
but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.

27:1-2 1 Do not boast about tomorrow,
for you do not know what a day may bring.
2 Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.

Use your powerful words positively to build up others.

15:4 A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.

15:23 To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
and a word in season, how good it is!

15:26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD,
but gracious words are pure.

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Chris and Jamie Brauns Children Late 2002I wouldn’t expect everyone from our church to read a new book by Barnabas Piper. There are so many books to read. But it would be great if many in our church would listen to this podcast of Barnabas being interviewed by Thom Rainer. It’s only 23 minutes long!

It has been over 11 years since the picture to the right was taken. In that amount of time, we’ve watched our children growing up as “PKs”. We are thankful for how it has gone – – but in some ways, we are just starting to learn about how challenging it is to be a pastor’s kid.

I am thankful that Barnabas Piper has written The Pastor’s Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity. I am looking forward to learning from it.

As I mentioned above, Thom Rainer recently interviewed Barnabas regarding his book. You can listen here.

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The Brauns Family on a Happy OccasionThis post is published with the modest expectation that readers have the capacity to recognize foolish behavior and determine not to follow the examples described. As I do qualify in the body of the narrative, I preemptively point out that, as a future pastor, I was blameless.

The primary way that the New Testament describes the relationship between Christians is that we are brothers and sisters.

I’m the second of six children (Shelley, Chris, Mary Dawn, Danny, Rusty, and Erin) so I can work with  brother/sister imagery. In the picture to the right I am in the back row next to my sister Mary Dawn. From left to right in the front are Danny (the protagonist in many Brauns stories), Shelley, Rusty (the guy who made the shot), and Erin.

I remember launching water balloons off the roof of our farmhouse at my sister’s first date. We also stole the same guy’s hubcaps. He was a champion sprinter but I had a motorcycle.

My brother, Rusty, once shot my brother Danny in the eyebrow with a BB gun. Danny was looking out of a knothole in the barn when Rusty shot him. Fortunately, Rusty was a little off center and Rusty plunked him in the eyebrow. Ideally, little boys with bbs lodged in their face seek medical attention, but my brothers feared our mother more than infection. The BB stayed put. Years later, a surgeon removed it when Danny was getting medical attention for reasons which involve another story.

In Rusty’s defense, he only shot Danny after Danny violated an agreed upon rule of BB gun fights. We had our own version of the Geneva Convention and war crimes were discouraged.

As a future pastor, I stayed away from the violent part of things. I was most often the voice of reason. And I don’t remember my sister Mary Dawn getting stung with a BB in the same way she does. Though, I do remember her really accelerating after she got hit.

Danny has the leading role in many of the Brauns sibling-stories. Depending on how you look at, he was behind the wheel when two of my sister’s cars went to the happy hunting ground. Danny was driving Shelley’s Chrysler Cordoba when it caught fire and burned in Bonaparte, IA. He had previously taken her Mercury into a tree in the state park. Strictly speaking, Danny wasn’t totally responsible for this car because Mary Dawn had previously wounded it when she plowed through a mailbox. Danny was with her at the time and to this day no one knows quite what happened. The mailbox, for the record, was on the opposite side of the road.

One year Mary Dawn was cutting down sweet corn when Danny tried to show her how he could disarm her of the knife. You know where this story is going. His hand was cut bad enough that he had to go to the hospital. Mary Dawn was too traumatized to drive, so Danny had to drive which might have been okay if (a) he was not losing blood at the time and (b) he was old enough to have a driver’s license.

Danny didn’t always drive himself to the emergency room. Mom drove when they pumped his stomach.

Danny was also present when I became violently ill with appendicitis while we were sledding. We were in the pasture at the time, a good walk from home, and there was nothing to do but for my brothers to pull me home on one of the sleds. They made it about 20 yards before they decided it wasn’t worth it and left me in the snow, at which time I figured out that I had the strength to walk home. My sickness meant a delay in Shelley getting her braces off so she accused me of faking, but I was gloriously vindicated when they did surgery.

The Brauns siblings get together fairly often. Brothers and sisters stick together, BB gun fights and wrecked cars notwithstanding.

See also:

A Tribute to Bull Fighting

Remembering the 1972 County Fair in Keosauqua, IA

The 197

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