Church, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, Salvation

Fertile Church?

Okay a very late message for Mothering Sunday as it is almost a week late!

Yet I was think about the whole image of motherhood, birth, nurture, dependants and independence. Yet, in the west we see birth as a one off event happening infrequently, yet in other cultures or in the world of nature, birthing is a regular occurrence with large tribes being established.

I was thinking that when Church is refereed to as Mother or Bride, there is something of the fertility image here, the idea of birth and the giving of new life is perhaps why female imagery is used her.

Church is meant to reproduce, in a ‘be fruitful and multiply kind of a way’ Church is not meant to just birth enough to survive as an institution, but rather the thrive, new life and new birth.

Can a Church which produces no fruit, no new birth, really be called a Church?

I was also thinking, if people want to have kids, they often need to be intentional about it, stopping habits that reduce the chance of pregnancy, being in tune with the rhythms and timing of the woman’s body, and also doing the infamous “IT”.

I remember seeing a comedy and one of the characters asked the potential mother, whether she was eating healthily, stopped smoking and drinking, (she was and she had) and then asked if she was having sex regularly, she replied “I can’t do everything”!

-I wondered about how many things in our Churches reduce the likelihood of new-life and new birth?

I wonder whether we are in or out of tune with what is going on in the fertile ground of our community?

I wonder too whether we actually do the infamous “IT” (actually talking about Jesus).

I wonder if wanting to see people become Christians without mentioning Jesus is a bit like wanting a baby without having sex!

Often Churches feel like their ‘birthing days are behind them’ but scripture is full of mothers giving birth in their older age, Sara, Hannah and Elizabeth for example. Even old and seeming with pruning can yeld a new crop.

Sometimes too, we as Church have unexpected births, somehow our often massively inadequate schemes and plans, somehow sees people come to faith, often leaving us some what surprised.  Remember the potency of what we have in Christ Jesus.

So, the call to Mother Church is to be a fertile group of people, to see new life and new birth happen…

Interestingly too, as we think of the images of birth and pregnancy, we often see the gestation period, conception, where the seed takes root,  and the long slow journey before birth. Makes me ask, to we protect and nurture  those who are in the journey of re–birth?

Also, thinking too of birth and pregnancy, both are messy and at times uncomfortable, but is part of the normal process of bringing in new life, yet too often we do not fully understand that mission and discipleship is messy and costly.

So, let’s embrace the idea of Mother Church, with a commitment to seeing the birth of many healthy new babies, as the Kingdom of God is birthed across our community, across this nation and the world.

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2 Samuel 6., Obed-Edom, presence

Obed-Edom.

I used to have an intern called Sam.

He loved biblical bit parts, those characters that only appear a few times but whose appearance is significant.

He also had a quirky sense of humour and loved it if they had a name that sounded funny Phinehas (pronounced according to Sam as ‘Fine-arse’) made worse (or better depending on your perspective) by the fact that this fella came from Shittim!

Another of Sam’s favourite stories was the story of David dancing before the Lord in his Pants (see Undignified worship blog previous). Yet there is a character both he and I missed, his name is Obed Edam, and he was a Gittite. Sam how could you miss this?

Perhaps we were distracted by the reigning monarch dancing before the Lord in his pants that we didn’t spot this fantastic unsung hero.

Obed Edam, at the start of the story is just a normal guy with a family and a house near a main road, nothing special really.

Yet the Ark of the Covenant is being carried back to Jerusalem on a cart, it was never meant to be carried by cart, God gave the people clear instructions about how to transport it, but they were so excited about the Arks return they ignored them.

Uzzah, a servant, places his hand on the Ark, when the Ox stumbles, and he is struck dead.

I wonder when I read passages like this, perhaps we forget how awesome and powerful God is, my friend Mark Rich sometimes talks of the ‘fear of the Lord’ and this would be a good passage to read to remind us not to play fast and loose with God and his word.

King David, who is heading up this procession suddenly gets a bit nervous, and wants to get rid of the Ark as soon as possible.

Sometimes when we are reminded of the reality and the power of God we sometimes flee from him because we know of our sinfulness.

The Israelites wanted Moses to be an intermediation between them and God, they didn’t want to face him.

The Priests were attached to a rope so they could be pulled from the Holy of holies if they were struck dead.

Simon Peter at the great catch of fish said to Jesus “Lord get away from me for I am a sinful man”.

David flees from Gods presence and asks Obed Edom to take care of the Ark of the Covenant in his house.

Imagine the feelings Obed Edom must have had.

will I be struck dead? will my family die? Yet as Pete Greig says in his great book “Dirty Glory”:

“Caught somewhere between wonder and fear, he must have thanked God for this unspeakable honour of his presence with one breath and begged God to spare his life with the other.More than a thousand years before the cross of Christ, Obed-Edom was forced to gamble his life on grace”.

Yet we see Gods presence and blessing resting on Obed-Edom, and then eventually David plucked up the courage to take the Ark back to Jerusalem.

Yet this isn’t the last we hear of Obed-Edom, he pops up as a temple porter, a temple singer and finally as a treasurer in the Temple. I believe that once he had experienced something of the presence of God he couldn’t live his life without it (1 Chr. 15:18, 21; 2 Chr. 25.24).

It made me wonder how desperate I am for Gods presence?

Do I crave to be in the presence of God?

Am I hungry for more of God than I have previously experienced?

Or am I like David and want an ‘arms length God?’ that is a bit distant, aloof and impersonal?

A Psalm-writer talks of “better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere”, is this how we live?

Moses had been in the presence of God that his face shone and he had to wear a veil, when we have been in God’s presence it shines out of us, people notice the difference.

God’s presence transforms us.

Yet as I began to think about this story, Obed-Edom didn’t just have a visitation of God, a theophany, but rather he had habitation, Gods presence dwelling with him.

what of us and our Churches, are we happy with the Holy Spirit visiting us every now and again, or are we seeking and longing for habitation, God is in this place, God is dwelling with his people.

One of the names for Jesus is “Immanuel” which means “God with us”, Pentecost means that the Holy Spirit is in us and with us for all time, never to leave us or forsake us, we approach the throne of God with boldness, not just for an encounter but to transform our lives as he lives in us and through us.

Let us be like Obed-Edom, with an insatiable thirst and hunger for more of the powerful presence of God.

 

 

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Discipleship, Extravagance, Fear, Worship

Undignified Worship.

So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. 13 When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. 14 Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancingbefore the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.

16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought the ark of the Lord and set it in its place inside the tent that David had pitched for it,and David sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings before the Lord. 18 After he had finished sacrificing the burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord Almighty….

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!”

21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me rather than your father or anyone from his house when he appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel—I will celebrate before the Lord.22 I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes. But by these slave girls you spoke of, I will be held in honour.”

Just to put this passage into a bit of context, the Ark of the Covenant had departed from Jerusalem, which symbolised the absence of God’s Presence with his people. It was a bad sign. So, imagine the joy of the Ark’s return to Jerusalem, more than just “we’ve got our treasurer back” but rather a symbol of God’s returning presence, blessing and splendour to the capital city at the heart of the nation.

David is over-joyed, he is uncontainable, he orders sacrifice of bullocks every few feet, it was messy, it would have been costly to the countries economics, but David wasn’t skimping on the pennies when he was showing God his adoration, love and loyalty.

David, get’s carried away with his worship too, he is dancing before the Lord with all of his might, so much so that he looses his Kingly robes and is dancing in his Ephod (Hebrew for boxer shorts). He is worshipping unrestrained and uninhibited in his worship of God, and then his wife tells him off, she is scornful and shames him, she tells him his being a disgrace and being unkingly, setting a bad example.

How often are we passionate about something, and then someone pours a bucket of cold water over it, the bubble is burst, we are deflated? Yet, not David, he wont be dissuaded from the worship of God.

It made me wonder whether we let “what people think of us?” influence our worship, praise, discipleship and generally our walk following Jesus?

Mike Pilivachi wrote an amazing book on worship which was called “for the audience of one” the idea that we live primarily not for human approval but (to quote a book title by Andy Hawthorn) living our life for the “smile of Jesus”, living primarily to bless and please him.

I wonder too, am I sometimes like Michel, David’s Queen, do I ‘cut people off from worship’ by my attitude and the baggage -her view of ‘propriety’.

David is not being dissuaded from his worship with his line “I’ll become even more undignified than this”.

David is holding nothing back, he’s not playing at worship, not just going through the motions. David is for real.

He is being authentic in his response, just as David is equally authentic in his response when he is struggling and writing psalms of lament, he is sharing his heart openly and publicly with God, and in doing this he is actually leading his people in worship, he is showing true surrender to the greater King, the Lord Almighty.

This is a shocking image, rulers don’t humble themselves in public, but here David is humbling himself before his God, saying to his people “I might be you King, but I am bowing my knee before God”.

I remember Sam, who used to work with me, saying “just imagine Queen Elizabeth II in her pants”. It is a shocking image. It says to the people, “I’m the King, and I know I am not greater than God, however great you think you are, you are not greater than him either!”

Too often in Britain we have become too influenced by the Victorian period where we struggle to express any emotion -either happy or sad- and a more extreme emotion makes us feel uncomfortable.

Yet here David is showing extravagance in worship, too often we try and tone everything down so as not to cause offence, yet here David was unashamed, perhaps we need to discover afresh something of this unashamedly passionate about the presence of Father God for the Church to thrive in the 21st Century.

There  is a phrase in the Bible about being a “Fool for Christ” -although perhaps from the view of eternity a good question might be to ask “who is fooling who?”

The Bible talks of our whole lives being a Spiritual Act of worship (Romans 12) and I wonder  “Am I prepared to be a fool for Christ?” -Am I prepared to risk it all -my pride, my reputation (or whatever it is for you)- for the sake of Christ?

The Band Delirious sand “I’m not ashamed of the Gospel, I am not ashamed of the one I love” -but perhaps maybe sometimes we do get a little ashamed?

Maybe when we hit these moments, perhaps we need something of the cry of David within us, spurring us on and leaving comfort and mediocrity far behind, as we  say “I’ll be even more undignified than this”, or in other words “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

Perhaps that is the phrase for this generation, if you think we are too bold, to out there, to radical, too noisy, too non conformist, too revolutionary, to Jesus-like then let’s echo the Spirit of David and say “we’ll become even more undignified than this! In you are looking at my discipleship following Christ, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

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Discipleship, Fruit and fruitfulness

Turning Discipleship on its head!

Jesus kept turning the Disciples expectations upside down.

I wonder if we need to turn discipleship on its head.

In Luke 9, just before the Parable of the Good Samariton, the disciples have something of an unfruitful mission in Samaria, so they ask Jesus is they can send fire down on them, and, unsurprisingly, Jesus says “No!”.

It reminded me of Jonah (referenced a chapter or so later by Luke) who was keen for other people to be punished, but less keen for the same measure to be applied to him. Perhaps when Jesus said “judge not unless you yourself want to be judged” and “the measure you use will be used against you” he knew the double standards, the fickleness, of our fallen human nature.

Then as the passage continues, we see the disciples talking a great game, but Jesus saying to them that this is not a game, not a hobby, or an optional extra following Jesus is a all consuming, full life commitment “let the dead bury their own dead” -“Anyone who puts their hand to the plough and keeps looking back is not worthy to be my disciple”.

Jesus isn’t interested in empty words, and hollow promises.

Just then Jesus is asked “what must I DO to inherit eternal life?”

Now, eternal life is a free gift, we don’t have to do anything but rather excepting what Christ has done on the cross, which means acknowledging our need of him, knowing we need a Saviour. Jesus says the criteria, which none of us has met (apart from Christ himself) “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, Soul and Strength and love your neighbour as myself”.  You can hear the cogs turning in this teacher of the laws mind, he knows he’s not made the grade and is trying to find a loop hole in this contract, “so who is my neighbour?” he asks. Jesus makes his disciples put themselves in the place of a Samaritan -people they wanted to destroy by fire!- who they were in the story was actually the question they needed to answer.

The Jewish mindset was very much about being “In” or being “out”, Jesus is about destroying that in our mindset, instead welcoming in all who will come.

As we see compassion and love, we see signs of the Kingdom breaking in, but breaking in from an unlikely person and in an unlikely place. Yet do we still have a bit of a “Jewish” mindset, thinking in terms of “in” or “out”, and expecting the Kingdom to only be revealed in line with our expectations.

For me the story of the Good Samariton speaks of fruit, we live in a world and often in our Churches that are so good at saying the right thing, looking the part, but actually what Christ is after is so much deeper than words. Just like the hyperbole Jesus is receiving at the end of chapter 9, talking the talk is just a waste of air, if it is not accompanied by walking the walk.

The Kingdom of God is more than rhetoric.

The Kingdom of God is not defined by looking religious or spiritual.

The Kingdom of God is not defined by liking on group and disliking another group (how many identities are forged by unhelpful tribalism).

The Kingdom of God is know by its fruit.

At the end of chapter 10 (Luke has written this section like a club sandwhich each bit commentating on the bit before and afterwards) we see Martha running around cooking a meal for Jesus and the disciples whilst Mary sits at Jesus’ feet and listens to him.

When scolded by Martha, Jesus said “she has chosen the better thing”, Luke is making sure that we realise that the Kingdom isn’t just a matter of running around and doing good, although we are called to make a positive ‘light and salty’ impact to the world around us, but rather to be people transformed by encountering the presence of Christ.

It’s not about rhetoric, out outward garb, our works may reveal our heart, but ultimately discipleship stands or falls by our attitude towards Jesus Christ.

Mary, like the Good Samaritan, was there when it mattered the most, standing by Christ’s cross, and the first to witness the resurrection.

Her love for Christ was birthed and grown by sitting at his feet in his presence.

The problem is we view discipleship like used car dealers. We look at the outside and the paint work, we listen to see if it sounds okay, we major on the externals, the outward, the visible, but Christian discipleship is about the invisible, the internals, the heart.

Christian discipleship

If our hearts are right then everything else follows.

Christian discipleship is God working on the inside working its way out.

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love

Legacy.

Yesterday I had the privilege of taking a funeral for a wonderful lady who died at 96, yet as I wrote her eulogy, and listened to her grandsons memories it struck me afresh about what is important.

“Nan always had time for me”.

“She never forgot a birthday”.

“She was a wonderful encourager”.

“She listened to me”.

A real reminder of what actually matters in life, in the eulogy no one said how much money she’d earned, or what car they drove or the size of the house they lived in, what mattered most was love.

Paul wrote “three things will last, faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love”.

I wonder how we will be remembered?

Perhaps too how we will be remembered will depend on what we do now? Our choices, those things which maybe little to us, but maybe massive for those around us.

Two films came to mind as I thought about this blog:

One is A Christmas Carol, where Scrooge sees how worthless his life is, collecting Gold that he can’t take with him beyond the grave.

The other is A wonderful life, when the hero sees the world without him and realises the positive difference his life has made.

Scripture talks of building with Gold, silver and costly stones, not wood, hay or straw with get burned up… building for eternity, building with what is unperishable, investing our lives in what will last forever.

In the Bible God says three things to different people when they die.

Jesus tells of a man who spent all his money on building bigger barns, and yet died suddenly. “What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world but loose their soul?”

To this man God calls him a fool.

He may have invested his money profitably on earth but is bankrupt in the things of eternal worth and value.

Jesus tells the story of the faithful (and the unfaithful) servant who invest what God has given them wisely and well, to which we hear God say “well done good and faithful servant”.

And yet we also hear Jesus say another story, and this one is a little more challenging… to some who had done miracles, been on stage, maybe worn clerical robes and dog collars, preached sermons and written books Jesus says these scary words “I never knew you!”

We love, because God first loved us and gave his Son as an atoning Sacrifice for our sins. We love because being human meant we were made to love and be loved, we were made for relationship with God and for relationship with his world.

Sadly many go through life missing out on that relationship that transforms everything, miss out on the one thing above all else that has infinite value the God of all creations love made manifest revealed through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

If you died today, what would they say about you?

Do you know and have that relationship with God through Christ that you were created for?

Love was created to be unending. Are you in relationship with the one who revealed God’s  love for the world by dying on the cross? Christ’s death and resurrection means that this love is not tempory but rather it is eternal, never ending, invites you in, and draws others in too.

A love too good to keep to ourselves.

A love that changes our behaviour.

A love that adjusts our priorities.

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Humility, Listening, sin

Speaking for Me, Myself and I…

James the brother of Jesus urges us in his epistle: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak“, yet my experience is that sadly we are all to quick to speak and too slow to listen.

In Parliaments Politicians are so keen to talk but not so keen to listen that they have created a word “filibuster” where they “speak without pausing” to hijack a potential law they don’t want to see reach the statute book.

I was at a Churchy meeting recently and the phrases “I”, “me”, “we” and “us” were used a lot.

At New Wine one of the speakers said “when I hear these words spoken in Churches it cuts God out of the conversation entirely”.

Now I’m not saying it isn’t good to know what people think and feel, but primarily what we want actually doesn’t matter that much.

What actually matters is what Christ is saying to us and whether are being obedient to command?

Yet often we are so keen on sharing our opinion, rather than seeking God’s will on a situation.

We are so keen to have good ideas, but less keen sometimes to know if the idea is Gods idea. Although God’s ideas normally sound crazy, they also work better than ours!

A set of ladders would be a good idea for taking the city of Jericho, but Gods idea was marching around worshipping.

We often debate ideas in a way that assumes we have a silent God, yet scripture has never given us any reason to suppose that God does not speak, but human experiences shows us that we sadly are often less inclined to listen.

The Book of Hebrews says: “today if you hear his voice do not harden your hearts”, and John the book of Revelation says “let him who has ears listen to what the spirit says to the Church”.

Yet I believe too often too much of our Church hears the opinions of the most opinionated, rather than necessarily hearing the ‘still small voice’ of God’s direction, often missed and over-looked in hubbub that is so many of our Churches meetings, meeting where people want to be heard, but not always want to listen.

Interestingly are the people who have the jobs within the Church people who are known for their worldly wisdom, or their deep prayerfulness.

Stephen Cottrell talks about “hitting the ground kneeling”, if we want God to speak deeply through us, then we need to walk deeply with him, learn to hear his voice -not to show off and look all prophetic- but to be attuned to God’s heart-beat and his ways.

Often the heart of hearing from God is humility, is that often we have to turn down our own internal, personal volume -our own need to be heard, our own egos, our view on the person speaking, our experiences (both good and bad) and seek God himself, listen for his voice.

Yet rather than “having all the answers” and coming before God with empty hands is both a worshipful display of sacrifice and in vulnerability is a statement of faith and expectation in the generosity of God.

We don’t like not knowing stuff, and would rather tell God what to do, than get on our knees and seek him.

“You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do” Anne Lamott.

-I’d suggest that if your faith causes you to hate anyone, then you’re not following the Christ who said “father forgive them” whilst hanging and dying on a cross- but the idea of God is thinking what we think on every issue is a dangerous one.

“If your god never disagrees with you, you might just be worshiping an idealized version of yourself” Timothy Keller.

One of my college lecturers John Kelly used to talk about the danger of sharing our opinions with a deep booming “thus sayeth the Lord” type voice.

Yet someone is bound to say about the Bible about this point, and God’s written word is a wonderful gift to us. Yet sadly scripture is too often used a little too selectively, to try and back up our point of view rather than seeking God’s heart. I remember David White, Vicar of St. Michael Le Belfrey in York, once said “Think of the Bible as a lamp post, do you use it for illumination, or like a drunk for support?” Recently I read Harper Lee’s New(ish) book “To Set A Watchman” and was scary how many “sound protestant Christians” were playing fast and loose with scripture to justify their horrific racist views so prevalent in the deep south in the 1950’s. We need people not just cherry picking scripture, but prayerfully seeking God, wisely with our hearts and minds open to what his Spirit wants to say to us, tested, weighed and shared honourably with integrity.

Hearing God’s voice is at the heart of discipleship.

The little boy Samuel heard God’s voice call him in the temple, which started a life of fruitful obedience (the beginning of the chain reaction which brought about the birth of Christ many centuries later)…

May we be a Samuel generation, that hears the voice of God, and echoes his famous prayer “speak Lord for your servant(s) are listening”.

 

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Guilt, presence

Jesus is welcome but Guilt isn’t!

It has been tough at our Church(es) of late.

There have been times when I have really felt a bit of a failure as a Vicar, if I’m honest.

We split our services a while back and new people have started coming (but very slowly) but also some have left, in fact more have left than have joined, which is tough.

Also, have been keen to encourage other people to run with what God has put on their hearts, which I think is what leadership is all about, but we currently have a small Church with lots of opportunities to join in with.

Again, I feel guilt, and I feel guilty that am I unintentionally making people feel the unspoken weight of expectations.

-That said, I do think God is challenging some parts of his Church about Apathy, but I guess if I have a rant about Apathy the people who are least apathetic and most faithful will probably end up feeling guilty, and those who probably need the kick up the bum wont, ironic isn’t it!

A book I’ve been meaning to read for a while (because it has such a great title!) is “driven beyond the call” and that certainly not what I want for people.

It is easy to feel guilty. -Or at least I find it easy to feel guilty, other people have a different mindset and might be reading this blog with a frown thinking this isn’t me at all, if that is you, praise God, we are all unique and you may struggle with something I don’t, and that’s okay, different things effect different people differently, but we are all loved and precious to God.

In fact I feel guilt when someone treads on my foot in the supermarket!

As I prayed God reminded me that success isn’t the goal, but rather faithfulness is, are we in step with God?

It is important to remember that God doesn’t judge me on my productivity, but rather his love for me is constant and unchanging, he cannot love me anymore, nor will his love for me diminish.

The Bible says that there is “No Condemnation in Christ Jesus”.

There is conviction, and sometimes people get a bit confused, conviction is from the Holy Spirit, and comes from his awesome love for us.

The Holy Spirit and the weight of other peoples expectations, or pressures are different things, but many of us can blur them in our minds, pray the “Holy Spirit of truth leads us into all truth” and away from false guilt and condemnation.

Guilt has no place in the Christian DNA, but is a trait amongst those who want to do the right thing, sometimes good attributes can have something of a shadow-side.

This made me think of some of our early meetings of the Church plant, the first “meeting” was held in a car park, on a wall paper paste table, doing communion outside as a prophetic act remembering that Jesus shed his blood and died for this area, that Jesus is good news for this area, and we wanted people to encounter Christ crucified and Christ resurrected.

Early days we didn’t know if anyone other than Sam and I would turn up, although we have had some low numbers we have always been more than 2! We said then as we were lugging a great big sound system around, that we will set it up -in faith- for anyone who wanted to hear about Jesus, even if it was just one person, then it was worth it.

This reminded me of my prayer yesterday morning, when I felt God say, what matters is not the stuff, not the numbers, but “Am I here?” is Jesus in the midst of us?

Last night we sung a song with the line “A Church that is known for your presence again”, which is what it is all about, the presence of Christ with his people, I’d rather have 2 people and Jesus with us, than a crowd of thousands and no presence of Christ.

So, as I prayed yesterday, a reminder that whatever happens, however small we become or large to grow into, what ultimately matters is are we welcoming and hosting the presence of Christ?

And if I feel guilty, I need to prayerfully challenge my mindset.

So, as we continue on this bumpy and rocky journey, the constant call is “Jesus you are welcome here, but guilt you are not!”

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