call, cost, Evangelism, Journey, Kingdom, Monasticism, Pilgrimage, Pioneer, Post-modern-culture, ready, rejection, Risk and Change, Salvation, Simplicity, St. Francis, vocation

A Cunning Plan…

People are asking me all the time what am I going to do once I leave (especially about money).

It is hard because the honest answer is “I don’t know, God hasn’t shown me yet” which as someone who normally knows where they want to go, has a strategy and is forging ahead, this is pretty uncomfortable place.

I have said I will spend October until Christmas seeking God and praying (although I’ll also try and find some way of earning some cash too, unless Allana can keep me as a kept man!)

I do want to learn to be a better husband and dad, heart-breaking phrase from Hope was about being glad I’m not going to be a Vicar anymore as she will see more of me as I wont always be working. As you can imagine how much that phrase was like a knife in my heart.

Somehow in making personal sacrifices for ministry, we end up causing our loved ones to suffer in a way that I don’t believe God intended.

One thing I remain passionate about is telling people, who want to know about Jesus, about Jesus.

And some thinking is beginning to emerge in my head and heart.

Recently I have become aware that two phrases I hear all the time, is “I don’t like ‘hit and run’ evangelism” and I want to be a Church like the book of Acts.

which is ironic as Acts is full of hit and run evangelism, as are the gospels, Jesus only did ministry for three years (that’s shorter than a curacy in the Church of England), he sent the 12 and the 72 out to go into the cities, towns and villages and then to come back. The book of Acts is entirely “hit and run” S/Paul the great missionary only stayed in Ephesus for a year -ironic as the average clergy stay is 7 years. More-over it seems to have taken about half an hour for the Church in Ethiopia to be planted (as it appears as though he went back home with his faith, told others and by God’s grace the Church took root and grew).

As I thought more about this, the greatest missionary movement outside the Acts of the Apostles -St. Francis of Assisi- again saw people travelling from place to place, just as Wesley too was captivated by his assurance of Christ and went from place to place telling other people about Jesus.

Yet why has that stopped? why have we become so settled in our communities? why have we lost this urgency of the gospel which we want to tell everyone and go to the ends of the earth if necessary?

why do the only people that seem to go from place to place talking about Jesus nowadays are the big name speakers, staying in plush hotels, and speaking to large audiences (most of whom -est. 70% are already Christians) in luxury venues with massive sound-desks and lighting rigs and a ton of equipment.

Yet Jesus sent the 12 and the 72 out without even a second jacket, knowing that the gospel was enough. -How come todays Christianity looks so clunky? why is it so like Saul’s armour, slow and immoveable?

Recently we planted a Church, its been tough, recently I sat in a meeting and they were talking about all this Churchy procedure and just felt like something in me was dying (I’d already resigned by that point, but it certainly confirmed by decision). why is establishing a new Christian community so full of human beaucracy, it was jobs-worthy we need to remember that Jesus matters more than red tape!

A year ago I blogged about “Simple Church” we make it so complicated when really it is simply gathering together, worshiping and learning together about how we follow Christ and sharing together bread and wine. Today I was chatting to a minister who talked about “Pop Up Church”, the idea of Churches shooting up all over the place, travelling light, trying stuff out, mobile and seeking where works the best and through it all people discovering and growing in Christ.

This model of Jesus, Francis and Wesley relied not on “paid professionals” coming in and teaching us how to do Church, but rather empowering people from day one, it was collaborative, it was free from really unhelpful “provider client” baggage, or of preacher/pastors needing to be needed. The preacher was off to the next town, so “all hands on deck”.

Perhaps this next season might involve simple mission, just telling people who are interested about Jesus (so often in all the fuss, noise, events, buildings, fundraising, activity we forget that we are meant primarily to be telling people about Jesus). Simple Church, that makes simple disciples that live for Christ and transform the world.

Church that keeps on moving, place to place, keeps on planting again and again, and keeps on going until this nation is changed and transformed.

Perhaps this is the new monasticism I’ve longed for looks like, people simply talking about Jesus going from place to place, and setting up Churches as we go. Not every Church will grow and flourish, but -God willing- some will.

So, come January, maybe somehow can work out a way of simply doing this, which looks to me like mission as Jesus intended, very simple yet very challenging. Simply talking Jesus -and showing him by how we live our lives- seeing Churches literally popping up, some will live and some might not make it, and as we step into all that God has for us, seeing the great commission fulfilled and “disciples being made”…

I don’t know yet how this will look, and maybe it’s just an unrealistic dream, a bonkers thought, or maybe, just maybe, there might be a gleam -a momentary glimpse- of a possible future that maybe starting to be born…

And maybe it is a challenge for us, maybe this vision might reasonate with you, or maybe God has a new vision for you about to be born, maybe he’s calling you to lay something down, in order in his time to pick something else up.

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Encouarge, Endurance, faithfulness, Intentional, inter-dependance, Journey, Life Together, Ministry, Mission, Partnership, presence, Self Care, Spiritual Health, Strength

Running Mates…

Yesterday I met up with my old prayer triplet from college, most weeks we would meet up, and chat and pray for each other and all that’s going on in our lives, and since college we have kept on meeting up (so I guess we’re on our 13th year!).

It is good to share with other people who are running a similar race to you, to remind you that the gospel and the Kingdom is best served lived out and proclaimed faithfully day in and day out alongside real people who don’t yet know Jesus.

we need friends that will encourage and inspire us.

we need people that help us stay focused on Jesus, we need people to help lift us up when we fall, and support us when our confidence gets knocked (and sometimes our confidence gets knocked in him too). we need others to keep us on track.

I have been working in various Churches and Christian organisations now for 20 years, and as I look back God has placed some truly wonderful people around me at various stages of my journey. we need one another. The Christian life can be a lonely one and we need those people to spur us on, to encourage us to keep going, to run the extra mile, to reach for the prize, to not quit but go on for the gold.

we need friends to pick us up too when we fall down, to support us when it is tough.

we also need friends to be honest with us, sometimes (and this needs to be the right people in the right context) be brutally honest.

we need to at times “confess your sins to one another so you maybe healed”, and I know from experience that I find being vulnerable difficult and the acute shame when I’ve messed up is wonderfully relieved when shared with a brother in Christ.

It takes courage to be vulnerable, I remember in Poole I was in a lads prayer group and we’d been meeting for a while, and then one of the guys admitted that he’d been struggling with lustful thoughts, and all of us admitted we did too. Yet none of us had been brave enough to say this, and we were in an accountability group.

Later when I was at college I discovered one of my theological heroes, Dietrich Bonhoffer, who talked about two fellowships “the fellowship of the righteous” and the “fellowship of sinners”, the first the fellowship of the righteous where we all pretend to be fine, sorted and stiff upper lip. whereas the fellowship of the sinners, is being honest about the struggles and the strains of our walk with Jesus.

It is so easy to let one another off the hook and keep everything nice and superficially pleasant, but then we don’t grow in our faith, we get stuck and stagnate, and don’t become all that Christ wants us to be.

It feels scary and risky admitting the things we struggle with, and I can’t guarantee that every Christian grouping will respond well or appropriately when we share, because when we share it challenges them too, and as people we know that going deeper is good for us, but being shallow is less costly and painful.

Yet God rejoices when Christian communities go deeper.

If Churches are not changing lives than why are we opening our doors?

we need to be people that have one another’s backs, and hold one another in prayer “because your enemy, the devil, wanders around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour”.

It is a tragedy that in our individualistic, consumerist and complacent culture that sadly has crept into the Church that we want people to have our backs and pray for us, but are we doing that for someone else.

A great question is “have you got a mentor?” but it should be followed by the question “and who are you mentoring”.

If I ever get to be on an interview panel for a Christian job one of the questions I’d ask is who are you accountable too, how regularly do you see them, and how ruthlessly honest are you?

we are called to bring the best out in one another, but that does mean challenge and sometimes conflict. I love the verse “iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another” but I am reminded that when iron sharpens iron there are often sparks that fly off and it can be perilous.

If someone asks you to pray for them as they go into a tricky situation for them, not only pray for them, but check up and see how they got on, and if they have asked to be accountable then be full of love and grace but seek to bring light and truth into situations.

The problem is all this sounds good in theory, but to put it in place isn’t easy, and then to set the level that actually gets a real and authentic honesty is hard, and also trust takes time to be built up too.

Yet this is what I feel Church ought to look like.

I remember talking about my time working in rehab and seeing how people were so honest with each other, how they were ruthlessly blunt too with their questions and also wonderfully loving and gracious -and saw peoples lives changed and transformed.

Too often I think we think of discipleship as being able to regurgitate Bible verses (and it is good to know scripture) but actually what we want and long to see in our own lives and the lives of our Church family is real, lasting, deep change at the core of our being, that we become healed, restored and shaped into all that God wants us to be. Sounded more spiritual has some benefit but it cannot be at the cost of the true business of the Church which is Kingdom transformation.

we need one another, and they need us. The Africans have a proverb “it takes a village to raise a child”, and I think that is true spiritually too, it takes a village to raise a follower of Christ, we need one another to be all that Christ wants us to be.

So the question we need to ask ourselves is how can we be real, honest and vulnerable?

Are we brave and courageous to seek the help and support of others?

People say “I don’t need to go to Church to be a Christian” firstly we don’t go too Church we are the Church, but the truth is that people need us, and we need them, and God has placed other people around us as a gift, a wonderful resource to bless us, and us them.

So, lets gather our running mates, and keep on running together, discovering that running in a team helps make us faster and travel further and more quickly than we could do on our own.

“let us not forsake meeting together, but let us spur one another on towards love and good deeds, ever more as we see that day approaching”.

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Carrying burdens, Discipleship, Journey, Spiritual Health

Heavy Laden or Travelling Light.

 

On Sunday I had an over-loaded car with some stuff for the homeless from Hanham, a whole load of stuff form Soul Café and some other stuff I probably should have taken out the car after our holiday.

It made me think about what we travel with, some of us travel pretty heavily laden.

It reminded me of what I was younger and single how I could travel pretty light with just a couple of things thrown over my shoulder in a ruc-sac, but when I was married with a child the bags just accumulated.

I began to think about perhaps we carry stuff we don’t need, not just physically we become so dependent on stuff, but emotionally and spiritually.

When Jesus said “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will refresh you” he’s actually understanding something profound about human nature.

Some of us find it harder to travel light, used to travel light but as time has gone on we have lost that gift and now the world weighs heavily on our shoulders, but do we really need to carry all that we carry?

Are our burdens our own or should we be sharing them with one another?

Often I think our burdens that weigh heaviest on us, probably should be share with others, I wonder sometimes whether we are shouldering too much responsibility because others aren’t shouldering theirs?

Perhaps, we need to learn a new of doing life together, which prays, loves, encourages, supports and empowers each other, this is what I believe Church should be like, each being who they were created to be, but doing so in community that compliments each other.

Scripture calls us to “carry one another’s burdens” but the problem is too often we don’t because we feel “we have enough burdens of our own”, or perhaps we take on everyone else’s burdens, but don’t allow anyone to help us with ours. Sometimes it takes great courage to allow someone else to bless us and to carry our burdens with us, sometimes it takes more strength to be “be served” than to serve.

Sometimes we are carrying things which Christ is calling us to lay down, particularly those ‘roots of bitterness’, resentments, unresolved conflicts and grievances we have. I know for me personally, I have laid these down in prayer only to pick them back up again moments later. The prophet Micah talks of hurling these iniquities into the depth of the Ocean, and I think a wise addition would write ‘no fishing’. The problem with these burdens they are like scabs, they bleed easily, it doesn’t take much for them hurt again, and so we find ourselves laid low under the burden of them.

Satan, wants us burdened, laid-low without the energy or capacity to take on what God is calling us to do, he will keep an old burden weighing upon us until we take that active and on-going choice to not just let Christ set us free, but to walk onwards with him in freedom.

“Those whom the Son sets free are free indeed” is a truth, but freedom is something on going, let to our own devices we will soon become entangled again, or possibly re-tangled again. Walking free is a choice, we need God’s help to be free and stay free, but also need the help of our community to stay free.

Yet too often our burdens are often kept hidden like dirty secrets, the power of shame often makes our burdens heavier, especially as Christians we feel we should think or struggle with some of our burdens

Yet inviting Christ into our shame brings liberation, and inviting trusted brothers and sisters into strengthens community but grounding it in authenticity.

Bringing things into the light literally lightens the burdens upon our shoulders.

Sometimes our baggage can come expectations that other people place on us, sometimes these are completely unreasonable, my friend Kevin Lewis wrote a poem called “I am the Vicar I am” which joked about all the expectations people place on clergies shoulders, although more obvious with the clergy, we all live with other peoples unreasonable expectations on us, perhaps also we place these on ourselves, perhaps too people have long gone their expectations still weigh heavily -perhaps parents, perhaps teachers, perhaps someone we once looked up to… Yet are these expectations from God? The one whose “burden is light and his Yoke is easy” -not saying they are of no weight but a crippling or crushing  weight. Is what we are carrying life giving -life in all its fullness/abundance- or life draining?

So, as we start 2017, perhaps there are things that need to be left at the foot of the cross, and left in 2016, expectations, shame, pains and bitterness, leave them there and not to return to them.

Invite God to take the baggage and burdens from your shoulders that he never meant for you to carry.

Invite others to share your journey, trust others to help you carry your burdens as you help carry theirs.

As we start 2017, allow God to free us, refresh and renew us, taking off those burdens that are not of him, so our hands are able to take on all that he has for us in 2017, ready and able to serve, match fit and ready to go.

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Discipleship, Journey, Leadership, mentoring, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, paradigm shift, Spiritual Health, vocation

James Bond and Redundancy…

God’s been speaking to me a lot recently about redundancy, something I have never experienced but sadly a reality for many people who I live and serve amongst.

We often live as though its all about us, as if we are irreplaceable, and we will live/serve for ever… Yet even my Biblegateway verse for today challenges that…

“For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” And this is the word that was preached to you.” 1 Peter 1:24.

I re-watched the Bond film Skyfall over Christmas,  and made me realize they wouldn’t have been able to do a film like this if it wasn’t for those who have gone before, and rumours are circulating about a Bond actor taking over from Daniel Craig…

Jonathan Ross called Daniel Craig, the custodian of the role of Bond, a phase I liked, he doesn’t “own” Bond, but a dual responsibility both to safeguard the role and a responsibility to carry the franchise to the next generation, and yet someone else will take the series on after him maybe even to places as yet undiscovered, and unrealised.

The series was financially lucrative under Pierce Brosnan, and could have carried on in the same vein, many were sorry he left the role and for some he will always be ‘their’ bond, and yet if he hadn’t have left the series wouldn’t have had its reboot and wouldn’t have had its two biggest and most successful movies.

Okay, we may never be offered the role of playing Bond, James Bond…

Yet we are God’s people here as his Church for this generation, and like Bond there is a call to safeguard that which has been entrusted to us the good and unchanging news of Christ, yet we have to do more than just safeguard the role, we need to bring the good news of the Kingdom to a new generation. We might have to ditch things we like but become barriers to a new culture, or do things in ways we may find uncomfortable or alien to us… We may have to let go of the okay and the good, risking it all, for the best and the greater…

We need to see ourselves not as indispensable parts of the picture but simply custodians, links in a bigger chain of the picture of God’s call in this place… yet the question is will we leave the place better than when we found it?

I believe the call to pass on the baton is a continual call, we should always be looking for people to encourage, to hold things loosely knowing that they belong not to us but to Christ and not to cling on in an unhelpful way, in fact this clinging often leaves cracks and bruises where hands that should no longer have been holding it have hung on longer than they should.

I believe God is calling me, and us all, to look for redundancy, to lift other leaders up to take our place, to constantly be trying to do ourselves out of a job, so that we can pick up the next thing that God has for us, and then to do the same again.

I often wonder whether God has had amazing things for all of us, which we never get near picking up as we have never put down the first thing he gave us?

A journey where all things become new, cycles of fresh and new, where people are constantly being led on to new and deeper, the body of Christ is being strengthened and built up, as people (in Christ) end up doing (through him) more than they could ever believe possible.

Redundancy sounds scary, and it is, but in passing on batons our hands are free for the next thing God gives us

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Discipleship, Godliness, Journey, Leadership, mentoring, Mission, New Year, Spiritual Health, vocation

I get knocked down…

Last night we went out to a friend’s house who played something of a nostalgic playlist. One song that came on was Chuwumba’s “Tubthumping” with the refrain of “I get knocked down, but I get up again ‘cos nothing’s going to keep me down”.

As I chewed this over, whilst busting some stylish moves on the dance-floor, I was stuck by the profundity of this lyric as a new year anthem (although the original song is about getting wasted!).

Sadly 2017 probably will knock us down at some-point, there will be disappointments, pain, challenges and difficulties; the Bible puts it well “just as sparks fly upwards are people born to trouble” -yet often it is not what is thrown at us that is the issue but rather our response to it, how we deal with it, that will define 2017.

Do we let disappointments floor us?

Do we let pain take us out of the game?

Do we let challenges cause us to give up or give in?

Do we let difficulties cause us to descend into sin?

The Youth Worker, Mike Pilivachi, described “perseverance as a missing gift for today’s Church”, as too often we get knocked down but the problem is getting back up again isn’t something any of us find easy.

The Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Galatian Church “Do not grow weary in doing good for at the right time you will reap a (great) reward if you do not give up”.

There is a great verse in the minor prophets that says “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.” Micah 7:8.

The question is simple “Where is God calling us in 2017” are we going to be faithful to that call, are we going to keep pursuing that call, despite the obstacles, challenges and difficulties?

I often feel like the New Year can feel like being the wrong end of the pitch with a rugby ball, and the whistle blows and we must run the length of the pitch with some hefty players trying to take you out of the game… Certainly this I think is the idea that the author of the book of Hebrews had when   talked in Chapter 12…

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart”.

Not a bad message to start the new year with.

My favourite story about being down but not out comes at the end of John’s Gospel when Simon-Peter thinks he is completely out of the game, he had run away, he had denied Jesus three times, and had returned to his life before meeting Jesus back at the fishing boat. Yet it was here in when Simon-Peter was down and at his lowest, this place of ‘back to square one’, that Jesus met him, and asked him the most important question of all time “Jesus: ‘Do you love me?’” reinstated him and gave him a new commission.

Simon-Peter had fallen big time, but he was raised back up by Christ is spectacular style.

The place of failure became the place of commission (or re-commission).

Whatever 2017 held for you, consider this to be a new start, a fresh page, a new beginning; perhaps you need to hear Christ asking you afresh the most important question “Do you love me?” -and lifting you from the ashes to your feet, brushing you off and saying “we’ve got work to do, want to join me?”

So, let 2017 be a year of getting ups, even if it is a year of knocks, a year of restorations even if it is a year of failing, a year of returns even if it is a year of disappointments.

Being knocked down is not fatal, but giving up makes it so.

Getting knocked down may be a tragedy, but getting back up is a victory.

Everytime we get back on our feet it is a victory for the Kingdom of God, as we say to Satan, I may get knocked down but I will rise back up again and I will continue what God has started within me.

Let 2017 be a year of victory, of keeping going, of perseverance against the odds, a year of the advancement of the Kingdom of God for the glory of Christ.

 

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Church, community of grace, Journey, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, Servanthood., welcome

Host, Servant and Pilgrim…

I had an interesting meeting with a lovely guy called Ben, he’s exploring New Monasticism and fresh expressions of Church, and was telling me about this expression of Church in Wales who talk about these three modes of being Church.

Host, welcoming, hospitality, putting yourself out for the sake of someone else, think of other cultures of hospitality whereby they give to their guests sacrificially and beyond what they can afford (if you have ever done any oversees mission you’ll know what I mean!)
Servant, how can I help? How can be bless and serve you as a community, thinking of Church as a servant of the world, not wagging their finger and bossing it  around, but looking for opportunities to serve and bless, to bend down and wash its feet.
Pilgrim, that idea about being on a journey, following Christ, seeking where he is at work and walking together the journey of faith.
I love this idea of the modes of Church, as I am becoming more and more discontent with Church being an event we attend rather than learning to BE Church.
Church is not an event, or a series of events, but a radically community moving together to see God’s Kingdom breaking in.
Yet Church is not something disconnected from us, but is us ourselves?
What does it mean for me to learn to be Church?
How does this work in my normal day to day life?
Do I act as a Host? When am I acting as a host?
And when I host am I a Christ like host?
When do I act like a servant?
And when I serve am I like Christ?
And am I a pilgrim?
Am I seeking God?
Am I actually moving in my faith at all?
Am I moving on with him, or am I still in the place I was, or have become used to it and become too settled?
Who am I travelling with?
Where am I looking for God?
How diligently am I seeking him, and am I looking for him in the right places, am I seeking his voice?
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Bible, Depression, Discipleship, Godliness, Journey, prayer, Spirituality, Worship

When You Are Just Not Feeling It.

Writers block… Normally I have 101 ideas I’m dying to share with the world about following Jesus, but today I can’t think of anything!

Sometimes we go through seasons when really feel Gods presence wonderfully close, other days God doesn’t feel so close.

Sometimes, when we read the Bible it really speaks to us and there is a wonderful connection, other times it can feel like a habit and your read some verses that aren’t bad but don’t really move you.

I’ve had times when I can’t put the Bible down, and I’ve had other times when I’ve struggled to pick it up.

Have you ever been in a church service of an event when everyone else seems to be connecting with God in a wonderful and deep way and we feel a bit jealous because we are just not feeling it?

Sometimes you sing some songs and you feel Gods presence and other times it just feels like you are singing songs, sometimes the words catch you, especially songs that are joy filled “…and I feel like dancing” which doesn’t always resonate with where we are at.

Sometimes it’s a choice, and in singing words it’s a faith filled thing, saying that the truth of God is greater than our current feelings, and I will worship despite my circumstance, mood, or whatever… Other times it’s a question of integrity, I can’t sing “I’m overflowing with joy” when God knows that I’m not, he knows I want to be, but for whatever reason today doesn’t feel like it.
I think there are times in our life when sometimes it isn’t easy being a follow of Christ.

I think that there is a false Americanisation of some worship styles that are often overly joyous and ‘sugary’ as though life is perpetually good and the only human expression the

Christian is allowed is a cheesy grin.

Yet in the psalms there are plenty of laments and even “where have you gone God?” Psalms, Jesus even quoted one of these (Ps. 22) on the cross, I long to see greater authenticity within our sung worship, that embraces rather than runs from pain, confusion and frustration.

I love (and am deeply challenged by) Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name, when the suns shining down on me and the world is all that it should be… Blessed Be Your Name when found in the Desert place, on the road marked with suffering, though there is pain in the offering, blessed be your name… You give and take away, but my heart will choose to say, blessed be your name”.

I don’t think God ever intended human beings to live perpetually on the mountain, he knows that in real life we go into real valleys, and maybe even real deserts too.

In fact it’s the deserts where the most beautiful and powerful growth occurs.

Just as a rose bud develops its best scent when it is tightly compressed.

Yet it is in the mundane we discover something deep in our faith, just as in our human relationships it is easy to serve your spouse when you are totally loved up, but harder when maybe its not all rose petals and romance.

Yet what an amazing act of truly beautiful Worship when we Worship even through the tears.

I think we need a spiritual life that  is robust enough that know,and can cope with highs and lows, and when things are tough we learn discipline and gain strength.
Yet it is easy to serve when your heart is full of gladness, but harder when your heart is full of sadness, but in a way more beautiful and authentic, for we are saying to God that despite our internal and external feelings and circumstances, even so, we are going to rely not on our feelings knowing they are fallible, but instead place our trust on God and his faithfulness, which -despite our feelings- remains steadfast.

Sometimes when you feel you have nothing to say, sometimes that’s the most profound message of all.

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