community of grace, grace, love

Community of Grace…

If you’ve come back from the United Service, you’ve probably just heard Simon Holland speaking about his vision for the Church he serves (note the language) in Bath, “to be a community of grace at the heart of the city”.

We are Christ’s ambassadors, entrusted with Christ’s ministry of reconciling the world to God. Imploring people on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.

A broken world, and broken individuals need to experience the radical grace-filled love of God expressed in the love of God demonstrated most clearly and beautifully upon the cross of Calvary. Steve Brittan has said that the cross shows us the greater truth, that God himself is good news.

At  the heart of the universe is a God who is not angry or vindictive, but loving us and desiring to welcome us home into relationship with him, with that same furious love as shown in Luke 15, with the parable of the running father (a better and more apt name that the prodigal son).

This is a message of radical and transforming hope, that however broken we are, however steeped in sin we have become, what ever we have done or whatever has been done to us, the grace of God and his love is greater still.

Reminded of the line from that great hymn; “the vilest offender, who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”.

The truth of us as Church, is we have forgotten what God, in Christ, has done for us.

We have forgotten we ourselves are forgiven sinners. We ourselves are not whole and respectable, without fault, blemish and with a cupboard or two full of skeletons.

Grace has saved us, we need to show grace to a world that won’t necessarily understand it, and probably can’t articulate it, but is none the less desperate for it.

Grace changes lives.

Grace transforms brokenness.

It’s gotta work this time tomorrow…

The truth is it is easy being a Christian on Sunday night, surrounded by other Christians, in nice family comfortable surrounding…

but the  truth is that isn’t where most of us spend most of our lives, we have jobs, we have families, we have friends, Christianity if it means anything has got to work as well as it does on Sunday evening on Monday morning, otherwise, what is the point?

When we think of our lives as a pie chart our ‘church’ but can seem like a slim slither of the pie, and then ‘the rest of life takes over’, but I believe our faith was never meant to be compartmentalised into small separate sections, our Christian walk isn’t done when we can ‘tick a box’ and say we have ‘done’ our Sunday… instead, our faith is meant to be something that permeates every area and facet of our lives.

Jesus said “I stand at the door and knock if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him” and yet too often the invitation is only into the hall, or standing or the door step, or maybe just into the ‘best and most presentable room of the house, the sunday slither of our life, but Jesus wants to be invited in and it be ‘access all areas’, and actually the darkest and grottiest corners of our lives are actually the bits we need him in the most…

After all as Jesus himself said: “those who are well don’t need a doctor but only those who are sick… not come to call respectable people but sinners” -yet the western Church spends half its life trying to look respectable.

Simon, spoke of our Churches flinging open the doors every day of the week, welcoming people in (and they have done, they have an awesome coffee shop and lots of great things going on) but I am saying one step further.

The Church is called out to the streets,
The Church  is called out to the marginalised and disenfranchised.
The Church is called to minister amongst the hurting and the broken, the least, the last and the lost.
The Church is not some faceless institution or an over-worked vicar, the Church is you and me, ordinary people who love Jesus, ordinary people for whom Christ died, one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread, all of us, all the time, living out a radical life going against the tide of conventional norms and expectations, doing life God’s way, holding our grace to a world that needs not just to theologically understand it, but understand it through experiencing it.
I believe grace, like love, needs to be experienced before it can be understood.
And so, as I was talking about that Church is not a slim slither, a small percentage of our existence, but actually our everything, all the time, every day, ‘living sacrifices, choosing to offer ourselves as surrendered sacrifices before Christ, 24-7, 465, for the rest our of lives (or until Christ returns).
The challenge is about taking this grace out with us into our world, everyday, in the vast medley of situations, opportunities, people, places that we encounter each day, a deployed army, and undercover agent living for a different Kingdom shining out like stars in a crooked and depraved world, salty people, light people, people of hope for it is Christ IN US the hope of glory; the same spirit within us  who believe who raised Jesus from the dead.
And we’re not just called to potter around in these places, but actually to transform them, I believe all of us should be looking for those small and significant opportunities to bless and live out grace, but also look for the great opportunities, the transforming moments, dream dreams that scare you, pray God gives you visions, believe in bigger as too often we have lost sight of the furious love of God who desires relationship with his creation and think that all we can do is the small, lowly and sparse, where actually dear brethren, the Father longs to give us the Kingdom.
A friend of mine described one of his vision statements for his Church, it was “faith that made you gulp rather than yawn”, I think the same should be said for our lives; let us seek the coming of the Kingdom living out radical love and compassion that the grace of God flowing from us by our obedience makes a world ‘gulp rather than yawn’.
You see when you and I live this out, they see people and communities that look like Jesus.
Jesus had the most attractive life ever lived on this planet.
The word Christian simply means ‘little Christ’.
So when you put you computer off, remember that you are now in your mission field, you are now on the front line.
Now is the day of salvation.
Let’s live out lives of radical grace, not just within out Churches, but within a world that broken and needs to know God and to see what he is like.
You might be thinking, this is too much Andy, I can’t do it in my strength, then I will close by saying, ‘yep, you are dead right…  but the good news is you don’t have too, pray that God will help all of us see this message not just be an email rant, but a daily reality, impossible humanly speaking, but as the gospel reminds us, “nothing is impossible with God”.
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Father God, grace, Holiness, Humanity

Approach Boldly.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

I was at the Living Acts Bible Study/Men’s Breakfast this morning and we were thinking about prayer.

Thinking about Coming to the Father, through Jesus the Son, in the Power of the Holy Spirit. My thoughts wandered to that amazing picture of the temple curtain ripping in two, from the top to the bottom, as Jesus cried out eith his gi so breath whilst dying on the cross the words “It is Finished”. The way to God is open. We can approach God with confidence because of the death and resurrection of Christ that cleanses us from our sin.

I was reminded of a story I read of JFk jr walking into the Oval Office, and climbing in the presidents lap at the heart of the Cuban Missile Crisis, this child was able to enter the heart of the most powerful office in the land, approaching the most powerful man on the planet not because of what he had done, but rather who is was, the child of the president, which meant he had access at all times to his Father. No one is allowed to just walk into the Oval Office, no one is allowed to call the President anything else than Mr. President (or Sir) yet JFK jr was allowed to call the President “daddy”.

We can approach our heavenly Father, because of his great love for us, that whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us, the righteous for the unrighteousness to bring us to God. His throne room is a billion times more powerful than America’s Oval Office. What is more we can call he Lord Almighty creator of heaven and earth Daddy, our Father, Abba. “See how the Father lavishes his love upon us that we may be sallee children of God”.

The problem is we don’t approach God with the boldness of beloved children. Often for whatever reason, we shrink back fom approaching our Heavenly Father. Often our prayers our two small when we know the awesome power and great life he has for us, perhaps we don’t realise Gods extravagance and deep desire to bless, not confident to pray with boldness and ask for what is really on our hearts. Often we feel too self concious of our sin to approach God, knowing we are sinful people but not remember than we are sanctified by the precious blood of Jesus, as the opening hymn reminds us that “there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus”.

So let’s approach Our Heavenly Father with boldness shouting out “Abba Father”.

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faithfulness, Fruit and fruitfulness, Giving/Generousity., grace, hope, justice, Kingdom, Politica

Jesus for President.

Jesus for President, was the title of a book by one of my heroes Shane Claiborne, the title made me think, firstly I thought Jesus never wanted to be president, he was offered all the Kingdoms of the world when he was tempted by the devil, and yet he turned it down.

Instead Jesus was a nomadic preacher, with nowhere to lay his head, former child refugee who advocated loving enemies, rather than clicking his fingers in the board-room he took a towel and washed his disciples feet, including the one, Judas, who betrayed him.

Yet Jesus is the one I want to follow, his Kingdom may appear upside down to most of the world but to me I think it is the right way up, and his Kingdom is what I want to devote my life to building. The Lord’s Prayer seeks for Gods Kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven” so clearly something of the rule and reign of God can be seen today in real lives and communities, not as some weird theocratic rule, but in hearts and minds transformed by God and living out their faith in radical Kingdom ‘salt and light’ living.

As I was thinking was does a Christian world view look like, I am often confronted by the phrase ‘Christian Values’  which is often condensed to anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage and whose rhetoric often sounds pretty un-Christ-like –God hates fags? No, of course he doesn’t, he loves each and every person he has made. and longs for all peoples to come into relationship with him.
More over much of the American Christian Right seems very pro guns, anti health care for the poor and pro death penalty and I struggle how we can link these heinous ideas with the Jesus I find in scripture.

Yet surely If we are called to have Christian values, if we really believe Jesus meant it when he called us to “love our neighbours as ourselves” then we are called to care about the welfare of the planet, foreign aid, education, justice, health care, civil liberties, community cohesion and ethical investment in economic policy.

A Biblical world view is about bringing people together rather than building walls between each other… The Old Testament repeatedly tells Gods people not to I’ll treat the alien who resides in their country because they themselves were slaves in Egypt.

A Biblical world view talks about sharing our wealth with the poorest and most marginalised, the parable of the Good Samaritan works for nations too, and we need to heed the words of scripture that says “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?”

A Biblical world view is one that is outward looking and not inward looking, “I am my brothers keeper”, inward looking ideals end in implosion.

A Biblical world view realises that “the love of money is the root of all evil” and realises that financial prosperity and true happiness are not bedfellows.

A Biblical world view sees us from every nation as Gods children and extreme nationalism seems to me like a idol or fake God than needs to bow the knee to Christ, an illusion that hoodwinks many people.

A Biblical world view sees enemies being loved, the other cheek turned and the myth of redemptive violence seen for the lie that it is… As Ghandi said “if we take an eye for an eye then the world we be blind”. When we think of Christ entering into the city he came on a donkey like the ones we see at Weston, not on a war horse or sitting on an amounted vehicle or tank, this Prince is called the Prince of Peace, and at fulfilment of his Kingdom will see swords turned in ploughs and people practicing war no more.

A Biblical world view effects how we see one another who made in the image of God, can we imagine Jesus calling a woman –or anyone for that matter-  a “fat pig”? In fact, as Christians we are called to fight for human dignity “to bless not curse”, we need to see the rest of the world as precious to God, whether they be a Mexican refugee, a community leader in Iraq or someone who has a different opinion to you.

When I think of Jesus for President, I think the reason why I follow him is I can trust him, “let your yes be yes and your no be no”, when Jesus speaks we know it is the word of truth.

Sadly in the American election the major parties seemed less interested in their candidates character talking more of the competence or rely on their charisma, however “competence and charisma without character often results in Catastrophe”.

In a “Dog Eat Dog” world with people scrambling to be top dog we see Christ saying the last will be first.

My prayer for whoever is president is that they may “Do Justice, Love Mercy and Walk Humbly before their God”… Knowing that with great power also comes great responsibility, the call to steward what you have been entrusted with well, knowing that are all answerable and must now the knee before Christ.

Leadership is costly and sacrificial… Jesus said that he had  not come “to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

This leader isn’t hidden away in a bunker with other soldiers fighting on his behalf, this King, this servant King, gave his life that we may live.

This Servant King I will follow, and his upside-down Kingdom I will devote my life to seek and advance.

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Community, community of grace, grace

Community of Grace…

I had an amazing Mentor for a while, called Simon Holland, he’s now the Warden at Lee Abbey, but before that he was Rector of a Church in Bath. His Churches Vision was :”to be a community of grace at the heart of the city”.

A broken world, and broken individuals need to experience the radical grace-filled love of God expressed in the love of God demonstrated most clearly and beautifully upon the cross of Calvary. Yet the cross actually shows something more wonderful, as Steve Britten -the Prayer Pastor Co-ordinator often says, “the cross shows us the greater truth, that God himself is good news”.

At  the heart of the universe is a God who is not angry or vindictive, but loving us and desiring to welcome us home into relationship with him, with that same furious love as shown in Luke 15, with the parable of the running father (a better and more apt name that the prodigal son).

This is a message of radical and transforming hope, that however broken we are, however steeped in sin we have become, what ever we have done or whatever has been done to us, the grace of God and his love is greater still.

Reminded of the line from that great hymn; “the vilest offender, who truly believes, that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”.

The truth of us as Church, is we have often forgotten what God, in Christ, has done for us.

We have forgotten we ourselves are forgiven sinners. We ourselves are not whole and respectable, without fault, blemish and with a cupboard or two full of skeletons.

Grace has saved us, we need to show grace to a world that won’t necessarily understand it, and probably can’t articulate it, but is none the less desperate for it.

Grace changes lives.

Grace transforms brokenness.

Grace is needed in the meeting place (Church) as well as the market place (world).

After all as Jesus himself said: “those who are well don’t need a doctor but only those who are sick… not come to call respectable people but sinners” -yet the western Church spends half its life trying to look respectable.Simon, would speak  of our Churches flinging open the doors every day of the week welcoming people in  but I am saying one step further.

The Church is called out to the streets,
The Church  is called out to the marginalised and disenfranchised.
The Church is called to minister amongst the hurting and the broken, the least, the last and the lost.
The Church is not some faceless institution or an over-worked vicar.
The Church is you and me, ordinary people who love Jesus, ordinary people for whom Christ died. One beggar showing another beggar where to find bread, all of us, all the time, living out a radical life going against the tide of conventional norms and expectations, doing life God’s way, holding our grace to a world that needs not just to theologically understand it, but understand it through experiencing it.
I believe grace, like love, needs to be experienced before it can be understood.
The challenge is about taking this grace out with us into our world, everyday, in the vast medley of situations, opportunities, people, places that we encounter each day, a deployed army, and undercover agent living for a different Kingdom shining out like stars in a crooked and depraved world, salty people, light people, people of hope for it is Christ IN US the hope of glory; the same spirit within us  who believe who raised Jesus from the dead.
And we’re not just called to potter around in these places, but actually to transform them.
I believe all of us should be looking for those small and significant opportunities to bless and live out grace, but also look for the great opportunities, the transforming moments, dream dreams that scare you, pray God gives you visions, believe in bigger as too often we have lost sight of the furious love of God who desires relationship with his creation and think that all we can do is the small, lowly and sparse, where actually dear brethren, the Father longs to give us the Kingdom.
A friend of mine described one of his vision statements for his Church, it was “faith that made you gulp rather than yawn”, I think the same should be said for Grace.
Grace that makes us  ‘gulp rather than yawn’.
You see when you and I live this out, they see people and communities that look like Jesus.
Jesus had the most attractive life ever lived on this planet.
The word Christian simply means ‘little Christ’.
So when you put you computer off, remember that you are now in your mission field, you are now on the front line.
Now is the day of salvation.
Let’s live out lives of radical grace, not just within out Churches, but within a world that broken and needs to know God and to see what he is like.
You might be thinking, this is too much Andy, I can’t do it in my strength, then I will close by saying, ‘yep, you are dead right…’  but the good news is you don’t have too!
Pray that God will help all of us see this message not just be an email rant, but a daily reality, impossible humanly speaking, but as the gospel reminds us, “nothing is impossible with God”.
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5 Fold Ministry -Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (Eph. 5), call, Carrying burdens, Discipleship, grace, Guidance, identity, incarnation, inclusion, Life in the Spirit, vocation

“Everyone Gets to Play”

“The term “laity” is one of the worst in the vocabulary of religion and ought to be banished from Christian conversation”. -Karl Barth.

I think Barth is right. The Clergy laity distinction does create an unhelpful them and us image of division.

It is translated into some peoples minds as “the called and the uncalled” -which is rubbish we are all called people, we just are called to different things and different roles within the body of Christ.

Or the qualified and the unqualified, but actually although it is an amazing privilege to study theology at degree level the under-pinning idea that ordinary everyday Christians aren’t “qualified” to do the works of the Kingdom is simply ludicrous -most of the original disciples were unskilled men!

Or perhaps you feel like the ‘elite’ and the ‘plebs’ which again isn’t helpful, because I think there is no such thing as a  super Christian, as we all stand on level ground before  the cross of Christ in our need of salvation, and ultimately all good works come “not by might, nor by power but by my spirit says the Lord of Hosts”.

In fact I’d go further and point to two pictures within scripture which I think are more helpful:

i) The first is that of the body of Christ, where every bit is interdependent on each other, each bit is needed, no bit can claim a greater importance in the body as each is doing a role or function that only they can do.

ii) The second is the ‘priest-hood of all believers’, not the few elected holy people as under the old covenant, but everyone able to approach the throne of grace with boldness.

That is not to say that there isn’t an important role in leadership within Christ’s Church, although I fear that to often Christian leadership looks more like Lord Sugar than the Lord Jesus’ Christ, the board-board rather than the upper room where Christ washed, dust, sweat and camel crap of his disciples feet.

Jesus said “The Son of Man (a term he used to describe himself) has come not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many”.

I think Jesus showed us leadership that looked very different, it looks like sacrificial and costly servant-hood because that is what it is.

A friend who is a vicar, once asked a Church about a Biblical character they thought of when they thought of leadership, their response was of Moses coming down the mountain clutching the tablets of stone under his arm and saying “thus sayth the Lord” -an image I find very uncomfortable, and no wonder if this is your starting point is leadership abused. Instead this friend talked about the leadership picture he prefers which is that of John the Baptist “I must decrease so he must increase” -the path to fruitfulness is humility, prayerfulness, finding strength in weakness and these are entirely the virtues of the upside-down Kingdom of God.

I think we need to go back to scripture and see afresh what leadership is meant to achieve, from my reading of scripture it is meant to “equip the body of Christ for works of service”.

We often think this is about the 5 fold ministries in Ephesians, “Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Teacher and Pastor”, where someone comes and does Evangelism, or moves in the Prophetic, but surely the role of the Apostle is to teach other people to think apostolicially -looking for those kingdom opportunities, the prophet to hear other people to hear from God for themselves, the teacher to enable people to learn and grow for themselves, the evangelist to help other people in evangelism, and the pastor to help us love and care for one another”.

It’s not about building ourselves up, but rather it is about building up the body of Christ.

We often forget that leadership is actually about bringing out the gifts of God in others, it’s not a calling (to use a football analogy) to be a star striker scoring all the goals, but rather it is the role of the team coach who is called to invest, encourage, bless, challenge, inspire God’s people so they can turn this broken upside down world the right way up for Christ Jesus.

It’s not about building a big empire, with lots of people downloading your sermons and turning up to your services and putting on a great show on a Sunday, but rather sending people out to transform the world on Monday morning living out their faith in everyday life on their front-lines.

Too often leadership has been “you help me do what I think we should be doing” than asking “what is God calling you to do, and how can we help, bless and enable you to fulfil God’s call on your life”.

Too often we think of leadership about ‘press ganging volunteers’ to do our things -What can I get from them? Rather than thinking “how can be bless them” in what and where God is calling them.

I’ll close with a controversial Youtube Clip:-

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uikd5uoMdpk

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Church, community of grace, comparisons, grace, Humanity, Luke 18, Pride

A Community of Grace.

Last couple of weeks at All Souls the word humility and grace have come up a fair bit in the talks, and that’s cool, as they are great words….

Which brings me to this passage… one I love, but I find so so challenging every time I read it.

9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Grace might be amazing, but it is hard at times.

Hard to receive forgiveness for things we feel bad about.
Hard to forgive others when we feel aggrieved (I struggle with this one myself if I’m honest at times).
Hard to build a community of grace that is also holy, one of those weird gospel paradox we have to wrestle with.

I think that the heart of understand grace is realizing we ourselves are sinners, we did nothing to earn our salvation it is a free gift, totally unearned.

It is human nature to do comparisons, -actually both ways, both are equally destructive.
“I’m not as good as XXX”
or
“At least I’m better than YYY”

Yet someone-elses ‘success’ doesn’t make you any less loved.
Nor does someone else’s failure doesn’t earn you brownie points and more divine love.

There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more.
There is nothing you can do that will diminish God’s love for you.

The problem with the pharisee is his pride has blinded him of his need of God, it is easy to maximise someone elses sin, whilst minimising our own, yet as some theologian once said, before the cross the ground is flat, we all come needing grace.

Sometimes we need to experience Grace to share grace.

Just as in the parable of the workers in the field, we all get the same reward of eternity with Christ whether we have been Christians for 5 minutes or 50 years.

It is only when we ‘get’ Grace does this not feel unfair.

The tragedy is (as we heard on friday) the number of “Lost Sons” who are actually like the older brother in Luke 15, who is keen to point out to the Father the failings of his brother, because he didn’t realise the extent of how much his father loved him… “You are always with me and all I have is yours” is how the father replies to him.

Grace felt unfair to the older brother as he didn’t know how loved he was by his father.

Grace is tough because people get what they don’t deserve and sometimes we don’t feel that is fair… well until we slip up and then we are so glad of grace!

I used to have an accountable relationship with my friend Jon in Bournemouth, and I was going through a tough time and did some silly things, and told Jon expecting him to kick my sorry butt (which I fully deserved) but he lent over and put his arm around me listened, (he even) bought me another pint of fosters; which has remained one of the most beautiful moments of my life. His grace and loved actually was the spur I needed to sort myself out. Grace, it’s beautiful. I want to see more of it.

As Paddy reminded us yesterday we let pride blind us to our own faults but point out the faults in others; echoing Jesus words about specks and planks.

I love the line about the woman who washes Jesus feet, those who have been forgiven much, love much…
She knew her need of Jesus’ forgiveness.

Grace and holiness can walk hand in hand, but only in the shadow of the cross of Christ.

Andy

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grace, James, works

Straw, Faith and Works…

Martin Luther called the book of James ‘the epistle of straw’ as he couldn’t reconcile James’ “Faith without works is dead” with Paul’s “it is by grace you have been saved through faith and not by works so no one can boast”.

How do these two verses hang together?

Simply a mental assent or a belief in sound doctrine is not the same as jumping into the arms of Christ, putting our trust in him.

I think this is such a key verse which we need to wrestle with today, as we often are so into people “praying the prayer” but seem less keen on the whole living the life stuff.

My daughters’ Godfather, Adam, tells of thinking he was a Christian because he had a vague belief in God/Jesus, but hearing someone say “even the devil believes in God and has sound theology, but that doesn’t make him a Christian”… For Adam this was something life transforming (ended up becoming a Vicar).

Becoming a Christian is an all consuming thing, it effects everything, our choices, relationships, matters big and small, public and private life… “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live but Christ lives in me, the life I now live I live by faith in the son of God who died for me”.

This changes everything.

 

I don’t believe people can repent of their sins, be filled with Gods Spirit and put their trust/faith in Christ and remain unchanged, their lives must produce fruit….

Real faith has to be more than a vague theology test, some christian rhetoric, all the gear no idea Christianity.

Shane Claiborne talks of the difference between “believers” and “followers”.

We are not saved BY our good works but rather FOR good works, prepared for us in advance.

Christ has done it all upon the cross we can’t earn our salvation but we should be changed by that encounter and that should reflect in our lives.

There is a dangerous myth that thinks we can accept Christ and out our use in him and not be changed… Yet being transformed to being more like Christ is not an optional extra for the swots, but the ultimate plan of God the longing of our true selves.

Let’s live out our faith.

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