Acts of Service, Discipleship, Mission, Paradox, prayer, Spirituality

Falling off the tightrope.

Some Churches are very good at being spiritual, they have a wonderful programmes of in-depth Bible studies, great expository preaching and prayer meetings… but less good about actually living it out in their corporate life together.

Where is the mission?

Where is the works of justice?

Where is the community engagement and power of Christian presence in the community in which God has set us?

Yet I have seen the other extreme too, where Churches have programmes total logged jammed with good and worthy (mostly) activities until you look a little closer and say:

 “When do we pray together?”

“Where does our community gather around scripture?”

“Do we share communion together?”

The problem is some Churches are great at going deep but are lousy at putting it into practice, other Churches are really busy putting it into practice but lose sight of why they are there in the first place.

It is easy to fall off the tight-rope on either side of the rope, but much harder to walk the tension in deep corporate shared prayer, scripture and sacraments alongside real and authentic shared lived out faith with those God calls us to love.

Worrying some Churches and Christians have been off the tight-rope from years.

Somehow we need to hold both in tension, it is not an either or option, rather both working together seamlessly (like Ernie Wise’s hair!!).

Who we are and what we do need to be joined us, need to be authentic, and is not something we need to apologise for or be embarrassed about.

In fact I believe that in God’s economy, the more we pray and go into his word we should naturally be propelled by his Spirit into action, into love and service, deep births breadth. Conversely when we encounter the brokenness of the world that should draw us to our knees and as we pray we see God at work it reminds us of out Christian destinctiveness, and breadth draws us deeper.

When can go deeper when we have greater breadth in our outreach.

We can have greater breadth in our outreach as we go deeper with God.

These things are meant to be complimentary and yet too often as Church we have made them separate.

I long for a revolution of a Church which goes deep into the things of Christ and reaches out with great breadth to those who are on Christ’s heart, particularly the marginalised and disenfranchised and all this is seen as normative Christian behaviour.

Go deep to reach out with greater breadth.

Reach out with great breadth to be drawn deep into the things of God.

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Church, Humility, Pride

Inflated Church…

Sometimes the way people sometimes talk about their local Church can sometimes make me feel a little uncomfortable, it sometimes feels as if people love their particular Church almost more than Christ himself.

Don’t get me wrong, I am want to see people committed to their local Church, fellowship and community, and want people to be encouraged and celebrate what God is doing among them.

Yet I think there is a right and a wrong way of being proud of your Church.

When our pride falls on ourselves, our building, history, denomination, leaders and ideas rather than pride in God’s faithfulness and his provision it is a dangerous place to be.

I believe that Christ’s Church, just as Christian Ministry, can in the end become an idol that can, and does, rob Christ of his rightful place.

I worry about a Church who thinks it has got all the answers.

I worry about a Church who thinks that its leaders are the reason for its success.

I worry about a Church that looks at what they do and think they have nothing new to learn and are sorted.

Such pride, sadly, often comes before a fall.

I think this is a problem across the Church spectrum from the established historic parish Churches which have been there for 800 years, or the more recent Church than has only existed for 8 months.

 

I think it is a human problem, because we like to share Christ’s glory, we like feeling successful, we crave recognition and significance.  The problem is leading a Church can be full of hard knocks and friendly fire, and you want to celebrate the successes, but sometimes things can just drift a little bit into pleasing our ego. Ego, could stand for Edging God Out. Sometimes our Churches have been drifting into self praise long before we joined them, and we are fighting against institutionalized pride, and fighting against a prevailing culture.

Yet we need to re-discover the topsy-turvey world of God’s Kingdom whereby God “opposes the proud but lifts the humble”.

Let us not ignore that beautiful verse, which has blessed me so many times when I have had wobbly moments of feeling ill equipped, where God says “my grace is sufficient for you, and my power made perfect in weakness, for when we are weak, he is strong”… If when I’m out of my depth, God is working strongest, then I’m happy (well, happier) to (tentatively) step further into the deep end.

Another prayer which has brought me comfort comes from an Anglican Prayer when we receive the collection “ALL things come from you and of YOUR OWN do we give you”.

Anything I get proud about, actually originates from God anyway, so it’s all about him and his glory, which helps when tempted to fall into the dangerous trap of competitiveness…

I worry about how quickly those who run big Churches drop numbers into conversations, or those who name drop conference speakers etc, or any of the other ideas we have to make ourselves sound better than the rival Church, who are in effect our neighbouring Gospel Partners, our brother and sisters in Christ.

Is Christ glorified by this? No of course not.

Paradoxically, when we it seems like we are seeing a rise in Churchy pride, we are seeing a growing rise in what some commentators are calling “A Churchless faith”, summed up by a friend as “Love Jesus, struggle with his Church”.

Perhaps when we become self-congratulatory about our Churches, we end up glorifying ourselves and not Christ, and it is he who is  the attractive one.

The truth however is, that there are times when we do see local other local Churches and feel uncomfortable about things that are happening there, but this is not a cause to feel smug, actually if any Christian Church in the area is struggling, that is a blow of the Kingdom, and Christ’s local team.

Let us be praying for the other Churches in our area, especially the ones that manage to annoy us, as they might need it the most.

Let us see any advance of the Kingdom of God in any Church as a goal where we all benefit and celebrate.

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Church, consumerism, Discipleship

Consumer Church…

“We are very happy at XXX Church” I heard someone say about the new Church they were going too, and in one sense there is nothing wrong in that, but something within me jarred a little.

I worry that Church is becoming more and more comfortable, and don’t get me wrong I’m all for being seeker sensitive with good coffee, comfy sofas  in the coffee area, and a heating system that actually works.

Yet Church  ought to be a bit like the gym, it is not meant to be comfortable, it is meant to stretch and challenge its members. The faithful preaching of scripture should induce challenge, accountable relationships and the call of Christ to serve him (whether within the ministries from the Church or on the frontline).

My worry is we are becoming so much of an individualistic society that we think Church is there to serve us, rather than to equip us to serve Christ, the danger is that we become consumers where the notion of sacrifice, service and cost seems to be much missing in many modern-mindset.

With the larger ‘more successful’ Churches growing I wonder whether this is because it is easy to creep into a large Church, and easier to be a bit lazy (not saying that great and faithful people aren’t called to successful Churches but sometimes is where those who ought to be serving are “doing a bit of a Jonah” being a bit anonymous in the crowd.

You can enjoy the Sunday  celebration without having any expectations made on you.

It is easier to spectate and sing a song or two whilst sipping a latte, whilst saying phrases like “the worship didn’t do much for me!” -er it wasn’t for you! ‘I enjoyed the talk’ -I’d rather it challenged or changed you than you simply enjoyed it (in fact if you disagree with me at least you engaged with it!!)

A challenge, is are you being challenged?

Does being with other Christians in your context stretch and challenge you?

Do you hear comfortable messages preached from the word or is there some bite to it?

Is there accountability there?

Who calls the shots? Is it you? Do you only do what you like doing?

(Interesting question, which might reveal your heart, how long have you been a Christian at your Church and do you know where the hoovers kept? Have you ever cleaned the toilet? Or done any act service that is ‘glamorous’)

Is there an expectation that you will be serving and using your gifts, skills and talents for the Kingdom or is it easy to come and go ‘under the radar’?

Are you a contributor or a consumer?

I don’t believe consumerism and true authentic discipleship can ever co-exist.

Does meeting with God’s people ‘spur me on towards love and good deeds’? If not, why not?

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The Book of Job.

For me Personally…

At All Souls’ we have wanted to go deeper into scripture and have been looking at books no one preaches on!

One book which is often skipped over is the book of Job, probably because it is quite depressing, a Job goes through awful suffering and is “comforted” by some friends who aren’t always that helpful. (As an aside phrases like “plenty more fish in the sea” when a relationship has ended, or “snap out of it” when you’ve got depression, or “well they had a good innings” when you’ve been bereaved are all unhelpful “Job’s Comforter” phrases, so please, please don’t use them!)
In theological circles people get very worked up about whether or not Job is actual or allegorical, to me that actually misses the point of Job. We live in a fallen world, and Job is true not because it happened (although I think it did) but because it happens, and happens all the time all around us (and sometimes to us).
The point is bad things happen to good people, beliefs in stuff like Karma are held up to be ridiculous -bad things happen to good people, and bad people sometimes seem to prosper-.
The book never gives us a clear answer to why suffering happens, but it does show that in the midst of it all God is present and doesn’t leave us or forsake us, nor is he lacking in power, nor is the devil -the architect of evil- equal to God, God is far, far greater in power, might and majesty.
Anyway, Job was the first book of the Bible to be written, and so more theological ideas had yet to be worked out, or at least written down.
Job asks a really profound question, which although buried in the midst of the text is I believe the heart of the book “If a person should die, shall they live again?” -Job 14:14.
It is a great question, probably this question (or a variant of it) is the most asked existential question of humanity.
Often people try to answer this philosophically “more people in the world believe in an afterlife than don’t, and most of the greatest minds have believed there was more to life than we can see, hear, smell and touch”…
We can answer if hypothetically “probably is/probably isn’t” (as marked by a rather bizarre campaign by Richard Dawkins and slightly better response by Alpha from HTB a few years ago).
We can answer it historically, has anyone ever claimed to have risen from the dead? Which I believe will take us to the empty tomb of Jesus Christ. The one who drew deaths sting. The one  who died so for us death is no longer a full stop but rather a comma. Because of Jesus after death comes life for all who trust in him.
Yet how every answer this question, we need to answer it personally, “If I should die, what is going to happen to me, will I live again?”
You see questions of existence aren’t just academic questions, they effect the very core of who we are, it is about what and why we live, and who we are living for… How we answer this question effects everything, whether we have hope of not? Where will we personally spend eternity?
There was a course written a while ago, called E.E. which stood for Evangelism Explosion,  which asked a very simple question “if you died tonight, and God asked you ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ Many would answer about being a good person, or flag up their religiosity, but, the only right answer is not to do with what we have done, but in what Christ has done, the unearned gift we could never have paid.
Jobs question, “If someone should die will they live again?” is answered in the resurrected Christ.
Job prophetically spoke of Christ’s defeat of death and sin, when he said “I know my redeemer lives” -19:25 later on in this message, (the shadow of the cross falls outside of time, bringing the great heroes of the Old Testament into the arms of their Heavenly Father).
Amid all the suffering of the world, the message of Job we live in, we know that this isn’t the end of the story, but rather is part of a bigger, more beautiful story, which is fulfilled in Jesus.
I’ll close with some graffiti I once saw… it said “Jesus is the answer” to which someone had written underneath “yeah, but what is the question?” 

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Easter, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Resurrection

The Third Day…

“It’s FRIDAY but SUNDAY is coming” -Said Tony Campolo, but some you might be asking, what about Saturday, isn’t there anything to say about Saturday?

The THIRD Day appears often in scripture, obviously and most famously Jesus’ resurrection, but it was on the third day that Lazarus was raised from the dead and it was on the third day that the wine ran out at the wedding at Canna.

The first day is the event happens, the change is made, something is done, and the third day is the day when we see intervention, but the Saturday is a day of waiting, of watching, of faith (and of doubt),  it is a time of powerlessness, and a time of reflection.

We live in a world of cuppa soups and instant coffee, a rushing society, a society that wants everything yesterday, twitching impatiently whilst waiting for an instant broadband connection.

Waiting, complexity and the reality of the ebb of faith and the flow of doubt (and vice versa) are in many ways a gift, in the pressure and darkness of a rose-bud is what produces its colour and scent, the pressure, the waiting, the wrestle, the space to explore, the journey and not just the destination often teach us so much, and yet it is human nature to try and short-circuit waiting, watching, uncertainty and doubt, the time when (like the rose-bud) God wants to shape, fashion and work within us.

Sometimes, in the time of waiting, we encounter ourselves, not as we would like to be, but as we really are. I wonder whether the book of Acts would have ever been written had Simon-Peter not had time and space over the hours between the Crucifixion and beach encounter that ends the Gospel of John.

Growth is rarely instantaneous.

Shaping is rarely painless.

Pressure can turn a lump of coal into either a pile of dust of a beautiful diamond.

I was wondering whether the Third Day was a picture, not just of the time between the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, but actually a picture of the reality of the life we live in. We are people who live post-resurrection but we are also people who live pre-Christ’s final return.

In the resurrection we have salvation assured and the reign of the King begins but is yet to be fully realized until his return in glory to judge the world. Some have likened this to the time in between D Day (when the 2nd World War was won, and before the peace was declared in V.E Day (Victory in Europe Day). In many ways our whole lives are lived on something of a Holy Week Saturday, waiting patiently for the coming of the King. Living in the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ tension of life where we see the Kingdom breaking into ordinary lives but not in its fullness and entirety, where things aren’t always as we expect, want or hope, where we have questions of faith and doubt ebbing and flowing in our minds and lives.

Yet in this crucible time, are we letting God shape us, grow us, develop us and fashion us; he wants us to become diamonds not piles of coal dust, he wants the work he has done within us to be like the rose bud beautiful and fragrant.

So let us not rush to Sunday just yet, let’s be open to what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us and through us on the Saturday which will add the the beauty and richness of the arrival of the Sunday.

Lets not waste our Saturday, but say to God;

“What do you want to teach me?”

“What can I learn in this time?”

“How are you going to shape me?”

So let’s make the most of the Saturdays God gives us.

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Good Friday, hope, Matthew 6:8

To Be Continued…

Today we had a whole load of prayer stations for our Elevenses Service and some letters hidden around the place to spell

TO – BE – Continued.

The idea that although we are talking about Jesus dying and being placed in the tomb, we don’t want the kids (or their parents) going away thinking that Jesus is dead.

It made me think that how often in our Churchy circles we so often talk about Jesus dying for us, or the centrality of the cross, but we don’t talk as much about the resurrection as probably we should.

In many ways the fact that Jesus died is very sad, but quite normal, many, many  people died in horrific ways.

Many people died sacrificially.

Many people died horrifically who were innocent.

Yet none of these, apart from Jesus, rose again from the dead. This turned a tragic event, into a “this changes everything” history making moment.

Unique in history.

Ultimately Christianity stands or falls not on Christ’s death, but on his resurrection.

Without the resurrection today would be a tragedy, if the resurrection didn’t happen the apostle Paul says “we are to be pitied more than all people”, as our hope is not based on the fact that Jesus died but on him rising again.

We call it Good Friday because it is a day when death was defeated.

We call it Good Friday, because death didn’t and doesn’t get the final word.

Today we were worried people might leave our service not knowing Christ rose again, but what of the other 365 days of the year? I worry as Christians we talk a lot about Jesus’death and the cross, we must never, ever, forget to keep on tell the world not just that Christ was Crucified, but Christ is alive today.

Let us be people that tell the world the story doesn’t end at the cross….

Keep going to the end of the book!

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Paradox, Salvation, Theology

You wouldn’t take a cockroach to the vets.

I was reading a Blog today which called this week, traditionally known as Holy Week as UNholy week.

After-all the first Holy Week, was far from Holy, with its central event was a massive miscarriage of justice, politician maneuvering, dodging responsibilities, a really unhealthy alliance between State and religious extremism… We see state sponsored torture and barbarism, voyeurism, officials dodging responsibility, a friend betraying a friend for money, cowardice in the face of adversity, lies and denial for self preservation…

And we see the mob, this fickle group of people who turned from shouting ‘hosanna’ to ‘crucify’, showing blood-lust and hunger for violence and death.

Yet n the midst of all this truly ugly, horrible behavior we see the most beautiful self giving love.
Here Jesus saw humanity at its very worst.
Jesus must have looked around at this degenerate people, in a depraved society and a dysfunctional religious/political system… and it is amazing that he did walk away and say “they are not worth saving”.
God knows each of us better than we know ourselves, all our mixed motives and sinful behaviors, he sees us at our worst, and yet amazingly he still loves us.

This is at the heart of what I find most amazing about the gospel, it was when we far from God, his enemies, that Christ died for us.

Just take a moment to think of “dying for your enemy”.
I heard someone say on the radio once that ‘you wouldn’t take a cockroach to the vets’… why would you show love to something that has done nothing to earn it, in fact has only caused pain by its rebellion from God.
The amazing thing is that we are all worst sinners than we all realize… and yet at our worst and least lovable, Christ still died for us…
There is a famous song which talks about the cross and it says “it was my sin that held him there until it was accomplished” but that’s not quite true, Jesus wasn’t compelled to die by my sin, he chose to die for me.
It was HIS LOVE that held him there.
He loved me, and he took my sin, upon his shoulders.
He died in my place.
We forget sometimes that we did nothing to earn this.
When we take communion we kneel before God, empty handed, because we bring no bargaining chips to the table.
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Easter, Resurrection

Some thoughts on Death and Resurrection.

A massive Easter theme as the whole story is about death and resurrection, but I was thinking about this as phase and pattern of life too.

We need death, sometimes things that were once full of life become redundant and need to die, so something new and beautiful can take its place, the classic example of this is of course the caterpillar which goes into its Chrysalis and comes out a butterfly (although some of us might argue that is only pseudo death).

I think sometimes we as Christians do play with pseudo death, we’ve not really died, we’ve just laid down for 30 seconds and held our breath, but the problem is when we do this we rob ourselves of very real resurrection.

Resurrection is so much more than re-branding and re-energizing a corpse.

Resurrection should never be mistaken for Resuscitation.

Resurrection can only follow death, real death.

Death has a sting, perhaps to admit something that has worked no longer works feels like failure?

Perhaps we have become so familiar with the status quo that we cannot imagine life without it?

Perhaps our very identity has become tied up with what has died/is dying.

Death feels final.

It is a laying down of visions and dreams, requiring us to trust in a resurrection that as yet cannot be seen.

We try to avoid death where possible, it is the last taboo in our society.

To be the one that administers death feels a massive responsibility, and yet somethings need to die, as it in kinder and more loving to elevate suffering that prolonging the agony.

Often everyone knows something has died, yet no one wants to admit that death has occurred, or is occurring, being the one who acknowledges the elephant in the room is a brave thing to do (often a bit like the child in the story of the Emperors’ new clothes, who noticed “the Emperor is in the nude!”) -Could God be calling you to be the Elephant spotter or the Child?

And yet without death we cannot have the glory of resurrection.

We have to pass through the sharpness of a Good Friday pain, the nothingness of Easter Saturday in order to witness resurrection on Sunday Morning.

We live in the moment, and we avoid the pain of Good Friday and the emptiness of Easter Saturday but leave us robbed of the glory of Easter day, resurrection day.

Jesus said that “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground AND DIES it remains a single grain of wheat, but when it dies it yields a harvest of 10, 20 or 100fold!”

Too often as Church and as individuals we want to stay as one grain of wheat, rather than experience death and come out the other-side with a hundred fold harvest.

It is about laying down what’s in your hand to be ready to pick up something new.

Leaving behind something in order to move forward into something else.

In the scariness of the uncertainty, sacrifice, loss and emptiness we discover the miracle of new life, greater life and a new harvest.

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love

The “L” Word…

God is love, and those who live in God live in love and God lives in them…

These words from 1 John open the wedding service, and later on most couples choose the same reading from Corinthians that asks “What is love?” -it describes love as “patient and kind, not rude, proud or boastful, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs, always trusts, always hopes, always keeps going… Faith, Hope and Love and the greatest of these is love”.
So why is love the greatest? Well, I believe love is who God is and therefore is eternal, when all of creation is redeemed, restored and made new faith and hope will have been realised and be needed no more whereas love will continue on forever.
We love because we are made in Gods image, we love because “God first loved us and gave his  Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins”… We often preach John 3:16 about the salvation message but we over look one key word “For God SO loved the world”, he is passionate and loves all he has made.
Sociologists tell us that although we need food, warmth and water to survive, we also need love without love babies don’t put on weight nor their brains develop properly. We were made for love.
Shane Claiborne was asked about celibacy once and said this amazingly profound thing, he said “human beings can live without sex, but no human being can live without love”.
I believe we were created by God to be loved, to be loved by him, and (to love and) be loved by one another. I believe God literally intended love to make the world go around… And it does.
This unexplained force, love, unexplainable by scientists can’t explain (in fact is a contradiction to the theories of a selfish gene) and universally acknowledged and believed in.
Yet for me as a Christian, I see love through the lense of Christ, who calls me to love one another as Christ has loved me, he calls me too to love my wife as Christ loved the Church (ouch!).
A U2 song talks about one man coming in the name of Love and is talking about Jesus.
Jesus, love with skin on.
Jesus, the very embodiment of love.
Jesus, the very personification of Love.
So how does Christ love us, and show his love for us? I believe it is primarily seen through his death upon the cross. Jesus said (again in defiance of the theory of the survival of the fittest) “no greater love has anyone than they lay down their life for their friends”… amazing that he calls us his friends… “You are my friends if you keep my commandments… I no longer call you servants because a servant does not know the masters buisness, instead I call you friends”.
So, let us think of the greatest love seen through Jesus laying down his life for those he loves. What do we learn from this? I think we see love defined and characterised by two things, 100% commitment that didn’t quit even when it cost him his life. 100% sacrifice that gave up everything dying naked on a cross his worldly goods being gambled for by his executioners.
What of us? Is our love defined by commitment?
What of us? Is our love defined by sacrifice?
When we love are we patient and kind, not boastful or proud, not easily angered, keeps no record of wrongs?
Do we love like Christ?
By this do all the world know we are his disciples by loving one another?
You know I can’t do this, I can’t love like this, I need Gods supernatual power to help and enable me to love like this, I can’t without Christs help, strength and power love my enemies (let alone my friends).
So today, we are reminded that we are love, and are called to love, we know that on our own and in ourselves we have not the resources to do this, but these awesome resources come from Christ who longs to pour out his love into us, so that we can pour it out into his world.
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Humility, Palm Sunday

The Donkey, The Small and The Starfish…

After Palm Sunday the donkey went back home and was saying to his Donkey mates about how everyone was cheering him when he came into the city, how people laid their coats on the floor for him to walk on, and were waving palm branches… The Donkey was strutting about, until his mum, a wise old donkey, gently spoke to him, and said “my son, they weren’t cheering you, they were cheering the one you carried”.

This was a little story told on Saturday night by Shane Claiborne in Woodlands.

We are often a little like the Donkey, we think it is all about us rather than about Jesus, yet when we think it is about us and we forget it’s about Jesus, and that’s normally a recipe for disaster, as actually our pride gets in the way of humbly walking in step with the spirit.

It is not the “us” in “us” the Hope of Glory, but rather it is “Christ in us, the hope of Glory”.

Let us be people who carries Christ where-ever they go, into every situation, into every place, and especially into areas where he is needed the most, and normally and tragically, his Church is least visible.

I believe that we as Christians need to take seriously the promise that “He that is in us (Christ) in us is greater than he (Satan) that is in the world”.

We alter the Spiritual DNA of a place just by being Spirit-filled people there.

I spoke on Sunday about not being Canoeists (doing it in our own strength) or Lilo loungers (waiting for God to do it all) but instead being people who are wind surfers (or ordinary surfers) who catch the wave/wind of Gods spirit and ride it to the shore, living to catch the breeze of the spirit and watching for the wave.

The big challenge of the Bible has never been can God use his people, but rather will we let God use us?

One of the big themes from the Shane Claiborne Evening was ‘normal life’ but still lived radically. Mother Teresa said about lifting people out of poverty, well I started with one, and I started with the one nearest me.

I remember her being somewhat confused about people travelling across Oceans to visit place to receive a blessing (Toronto or Pensecola) rather than cross the street to be a blessing.

Mother Teresa wasn’t into sensational headlines, glitz and bling and said “we can’t do great things, but we can do small things with great love” which I think transforms the mundane into greatness.

On Sunday we read in Zechariah about “not despising the day of small things”, I love the quote that sits nicely with this passage which says “if you think you are too small to make a difference try spending a night with a mosquito”.

Little things matter.

Kind or unkind words and actions may stay with us our whole lives.

There is power in the small.

Jesus says “to those who are faithful with little more will be given”.

Let us do the ordinary but let us do it with great love.

Let us carry Christ and let us never miss an opportunity to bless those God has put in our path, let us look for the ordinary moments which can be redeemed and transformed into the extra-ordinary.

I’ll close with one of my favorite stories…. It is called StarFish…

 

 

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