5 Fold Ministry -Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers (Eph. 5), Anger, Boldness, Bravery, Courage, Ephesians 6, Leadership, love, Pastor, prayer, Protest, shepherd, Spiritual Warfare

The Angry Pastor Prays.

we often have this idea of being pastoral as being weak, wet and woolly.

Interestingly people often seem to pride themselves on being rude and obnoxious and try to justify their behaviour by saying “I’m not pastoral, I’m prophetic/evangelistic/apostolic”…

Yet I think this show not only a misunderstanding of the role of the prophet, evangelist and apostle, but also an acute misunderstanding of the role of the pastor.

The word Pastor or Shepherd are often inter-changeable.

It is easy to think of the Shepherd as gently nurturing sheep on some idyllic hillside somewhere nice and peaceful. Yet the reality is more of a challenge, sheep are easy prey, the shepherd has to fight of robbers, wolves, lions and bears.

There is nothing wimpy about the shepherds in Biblical times, it was a tough and often bloody role, killing of wolves and scaring away predatory beasts.

It is a costly role. Jesus himself said “the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”. Many of us in Pastoral ministry may not have been killed but we certainly have had to cope with some incredible spitefulness.

Yet sheep are not particularly grateful, in fact sheep need saving from themselves most of the time, often getting themselves lost, stuck on hillsides and sometimes -especially the rams- they can be violent towards the shepherds too.

There is a picture of Jonny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow running from a group of wild people armed with spears and the caption says “Be a Pastor they said, it’ll be fun they said”.

The shepherd has to preserve the sheep, protecting them from the dangers outside and the dangers inside. A thankless task. A task that requires us to be pro-active. A task that calls for courage and bravery.

So, as we re-think this role of Pastor as not being weak and wishy washy, but a person of action, going where angels fear to tread, “someone fighting for you and for your spiritual growth”.

In fact much of the imagery around the Christian life is that of battle and warfare.

Even images such as God shielding us under the shadow of his wing, are actually more violent than we like to think, just think of how protective of her young a swan or wild goose is? Yes, it’s an image of shelter, but it is also an image of protection against all that can wage against us.

I want to think for a second about our emotions, so often we are so British that we think of the only emotions that are healthy in the Christian life is a serene gentleness.

Yet I would suggest that one of the most pastoral acts we see Jesus doing is throwing the tax collectors and the money changers out of the temple, he’s angry.

I5 is right to be angry at injustice, at wrong behaviour within the Christian family. Scripture doesn’t prohibit anger but rather it says “in your anger do not sin”.

It is not fashionable to talk any more about the wrath of God, but I don’t believe that God is impassive and emotionless about the horrors that are carried out in his world, and sometimes in his Church. God’s anger is righteous, but it is still anger none the less.

And lastly let’s think about “angry prayers” -the Psalms is full of them (and many written by a shepherd). It is right and proper to be honest with God about how we are feeling, and if we feel angry at something it is good to tell him.

Often in the west, especially in the Anglican church, our prayers can be a bit placid and bland, but perhaps we can pray with a passion knowing that God loves us and wants to hear our hearts.

In fact if we are angry because of our zeal and fire for the things of God.

Our prayers too can be warfare, can be violent -scripture uses the image of destruction- tearing down strong-holds, standing firm in the full armour of God… Yet the opposition too sounds fierce and scary “your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour”.

Our prayers are powerful and offensive to the “powers and principalities of this world”, as an old adage goes “Satan scoffs at our plans, laughs at our schemes but trembles when we pray”.

Martin Luther talks about grasping our hands in prayer as an act of warfare on all that is evil or destructive. In the book of Zechariah, we hear of the Devil being rebuked “the Lord says NO to you Satan”.

Prayer is a defiant action.

The Angry Pastor prays for brothels to close and people to be set free, for drug dealers to cease trading, for violence to cease, for gossip to stop, for relationships to be healthy and for the Kingdom to advance.

The prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much.

Scripture warms us we have not because we ask not, so let’s take the ground and ask for more and more of the Kingdom to become here on earth as the gospel is proclaimed and lives are transformed.

The angry pastor does battle on her knees, fighting in the heavenly realm, fighting for less of sin, the world and the devil to have influence and control over those whom we love and serve.

So, let’s reclaim biblical pastoring to look like that of Christ the good shepherd, bold and brave, fighting for us, our defender -seeking our welfare, but prepared to even save us from ourselves. The person of courage and boldness, but motivated by love -love for the person and love for the Shepherd King and his Kingdom.

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acceptance, brokenness, community of grace, Compassion, ethics, grace, Holiness, inclusion, LGBT, love, truth

It’s a SIN?

I recently blogged about the Church needing to be loving in its attitudes towards people especially those in the LGBT community.

I deliberately didn’t blog about where I personally stand on the issue, as normally that normally means that only the people who agree with you read your post!

I long for all sides of Christ’s Church to become more loving, to read the Bible together in loving, God-honouring, humbling, respectful exchanges.

People talk about grace and truth being held together, and I think much of our Christian theology is about holding some difficult things intension in a Godly way (which is hard at times).

For some this is primarily a debate about the authority of scripture, what authority does scripture have over how we are followers of Christ live our lives? Does scripture say what we think it does, are we reading things the same way? Let’s talk and seek God together about authority of scripture and then about what it says within it?

For some this debate is about pastoral theology, how do we live out our faith together in community?

For others it is about how people make sense of their story and the story of God that captivates us, and the fundamental question of “who am I in Christ?” And for some, how do I make sense of “who I have discovered I am” with “who I have discovered I am in Christ?” and is there a tension with the two, and if so, how do I authentically deal with this under the Lordship of Christ.

The question people often say is “is it a sin?” as it seems be saying “if it is a sin, then the gloves are off and we can treat them how we like”, pastorally, even if it is a sin we are still called to love people and to “love our neighbour as our-self”.

Some think unquestionably the answer is yes.
Some think unquestionably the answer is no.

Some distinguish between desire and inclination and the practice.

I think the problem is we want a ‘clear cut’ discipleship and yet I have discovered that most pastoral theology is often complicated, messy and often not as clear cut as we’d like it to be.

I know many people in different places on the spectrum.

One Christian I have spoken about this, is an amazing Godly person and this person has chosen to be celibate rather than living out her sexual desire.

I know other Christians, gay and straight, who genuinely have really studied, prayed and sought God and believe the opposite.

Much ink has been spilled in the “nature/nurture” debate, yet irrespective of this Jesus is a God that meets us where we are at, and this is true for all people regardless of gender identity, and yet loves us too much to let us stay that way. we all need transformation, and we are all fallen, broken people. The straight person is not superior to his gay neighbour, as before the foot of the cross it is level ground, we all come from any and all walk of life, empty handed before a loving God who died for us.

I worry we have re-written the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector to the “straight and the gay person”, and I don’t want to be on the wrong side of the parable.

Christ’s grace and love extends to every area of our lives include our sex lives and inclinations, as does his Lordship too.

As I said in my previous blog, the only way we can see these rifts within the wider Church and individual fellowships be healed, is in love journeying together prayerfully, seeking God and seeking him honestly through scripture (which can be immensely challenging for us all whatever perspective we hold, as scripture always shapes and challenges us profoundly to the core of our being).

Even if we don’t agree and may never read the Bible the same way as someone else our challenge remains to love them and to ensure that our conduct towards them reflects the Christ we serve.

It is a difficult call, and groups like synod will make stands some of which we will applauded and others of which leave us perplexed, yet rather than walk away, lets keep engaging, praying and seeking God with those who see things differently by reading his word together.

It is hard being in conversations about things that are deeply personal and important with people that don’t agree with us, and the Bible can feel incredibly sharp on occasion, yet even though it is difficult it is the cost of being a disciple to be a loving community, gathered around Christ and his word, and to seek together to follow Christ, which is often more complex, messy and ambiguous than we would like it to be.

As we seek to share our journey of faith with our brothers and sisters from many different walks of life, we need to let God work in us and shape us, and these things are often costly, “Iron sharpens iron as one person sharpens another”.

The Church in the U.K looks like it might split over this issue, which would be a tragedy for us all. There have been many big and important issues that have threatened to tear the Church apart, but we need to remember the heart of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane that prayed “let them (the Church)be one as you and I are one”, Christ wants his bride to be united. To stop fighting and prayerfully gather around scripture takes bravery from all sides, and even more courage to stay praying and sharing around the Bible when it gets challenging, but worth it, to show the world that Christians can disagree in a Godly and honourable way.

The Church needs to heed the words of murdered MP Jo Cox that said “there is more that unites us that divides us”.

I believe the Church can and should be an outpost of the Kingdom of Heaven, and I believe it is worth fighting for, because you are worth fighting for, because we are the Church of Jesus Christ and we will not let’s not allow Satan to divide us.

Keep loving.
Keep meeting with people who we disagree.
Keep praying.
Keep sharing.
Keep reading scripture.
Keep on seeking God together.

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Ephesians 3, love, Paul's Prayers, Power

LOVE in 4 Dimensions.

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Ever heard the kids song, Jesus love is very wonderful?

It’s chorus goes “So high you can’t get over it, so low you can’t get under it, so wide you can’t get around it, oh wonderful love!”

Yet with my literal understanding as a child made this love sound like some form of impenetrable wall, until I had an epiphany when I heard another children’s story/song ‘I’m going on a bear hunt’ which has the chorus “you can’t get over it, you can’t get under it, you’ll have to go through it”.

It’s based on the end part of Paul’s prayer for the Church in Ephesus which talks of God’s love being a love in four dimensions.

God’s love isn’t a wall, barrier or constraint but rather it needs to be experiences as an ever present reality that surrounds us, the psalmist says “where can I go from your presence, if I go to the heavens you are there, and if I make my bed in depths of the earth you are there too”.

The love of God is an inescapable reality for Christian, God’s love for us is eternal and ever present, it is beyond our understand and comprehension “a love that surpasses knowledge” and although this love exceeds our understand, our experience of it can grow and grow as we walk on further, longer and deeper with God. The image Paul uses here is of the Christian putting the roots of their life down deep down into God and his love for us. Interestingly in times of draught a plants roots dig down deeper in the hope of finding water, this is the image Paul is using become more firmly embedded in the love of God, for finding ourselves in him is where we gain our identity and purpose.

John reminds us that “God IS love” -not just God is loving, or God feels love, but God is the very embodiment and personification of love- God the Father uniquely revealed in Christ the Son “if you have seem me you have seen the Father”, Jesus is “love with skin on.

Yet although Paul’s prayer is that we are transformed by experiencing God’s love but this love is also backed by power and authority as children of God, God who is at work in us, and in his Church “more than we can ask or imagine”. God not only loves us but is able to help us and work through us the book of Romans reminds us that “God’s ear is not deaf to our call or his arm is not too short to save”.

Often our prayers become limited by either our belief that God is not actually good, or not actually powerful enough to make a difference, yet here Paul’s prayer makes it clear both our true. God is All powerful and All Loving ,Omni-powerful and Omni-loving.

There is another kids song I know which asks the question “Have we made our God too small, too small? Have we made our God too small? For he made the heavens above and earth and sky and has the time for you and I, have we made our God too small, too small?”

So, let’s rediscover God’s awesome love and power, that transforms our identity as we pray to him, we discover afresh who we are, we are because he is “for this reason I kneel before the Father from which every family on earth derives its name” -a joke about two similar words in Greek, but making the point that without God we are nothing, as Corinthians (and the marriage service) reminds us “without your love our deeds are worth nothing” or as St. Francis said “without you we cannot please you” but in him “we live and move and have our being”. This is a reminder of our total dependence, fully reliant, on God who made us, sustains us and has through Christ redeemed us.

So, let us echo the words of Paul in our prayers for ourselves that we are transformed by having this fresh and fuller revelation of who God is, that in turn transforms us by the revelation of who we are.

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Adoption, Eternity, identity, Life in the Spirit, love

A.L.I.V.E

I’m a terrible Anglican!

I am rubbish at the three point sermon (as any regular reader of these blogs can testify)!

I was chatting today with a really wise older Pastor and was gently trying to pick his brains about stuff.

He  said if he  could preach his first sermon again he’d talk about and he was talking about peoples inferiority complexes, which is at the heart of most of the pain and problems we have in our Churches.

The insecure ‘victim mentality’ never thinks it is their fault -It is always someone-else’s.

Yet why do people in Churches hold on to roles, power and stuff so tightly? It is because they get their value from it.

Most jealousies stem from an insecurity too.

Sometimes insecure people or people who feel inferior also are the people that put others down to make themselves feel better.

There is an adage of hurt people hurt people, and it is true sadly people struggling with insecurities will lash out.

These things do work -a little bit- with boosting our EGO, yet they don’t actually heal or solve the issue- in fact in the long run they actually make it worse.

Yet the insecurity and inferiority actually I believe stems from a lack of understanding of who we are in Christ, what is our identity.

I was thinking about this. Before Christ our identity is ‘far from God’ and ‘dead in our sins’… which probably isn’t going to help us address our insecurity or inferiority issues.

Yet when we become Christians we gain a new identity.  We who were dead in our sins are now alive in Christ, we who were once far off, are now seated with Christ on high in the heavenly places.

So, although not three points, nor starting with the same letter, we are A-L-I-V-E in him.

A   Adopted.  he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— (Eph.1.5).

As I thought about adoption I thought people can fall pregnant by accident, but you can’t adopt someone by accident.

When we think of adoption we think of God Wanting us, choosing us, called by name.

Also, adoption is giving us a place in God’s family the word adoption talks about our belonging to God and belonging in his family.

“See how the Father has lavished his love on us that we can be called children of God, because that beloved is who we are”. 1 John .

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father.  AND “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father.” -God himself -the creator and ruler of the universe says you can call him dad!

Adoption also talks of our inheritance to come, citizens of an eternal inheritance of heaven, our unearned rights as Gods children.

L Loved… This amazing truth that the God of the universe, loves us, likes us, want a relationship with us.

we are loved with a passionate love that caused  Jesus to be nailed to the cross, and die for us.

Love so extravagant and gracious that we cannot get our head around it.

I   In-dwelt… The amazing truth that God promises by the power of his Holy Spirit that he lives and dwells within us.  God of heaven living in us.

The Bible tells us that we have the same Holy Spirit living in us that raised Jesus from the dead, he that is within us is greater than he that is within the world.

V  Victorious.  In Christ we are not failures, not mistakes, but in him we have victory of hell, sin and death, the cross and the grace from it speaks louder than our mistakes sin and failures.

E  Eternal/Eternity. Our destiny is for eternity. God wants to be with us forever, and ever and ever, and loved with an everlasting love.

So, in Christ remember we are adopted, loved, In-dwelt by God most high, Victorious and Eternal.

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Good Friday, love, Worth

The Indestructible £5

The new £5 is meant to be indestructible? Right? wrong!

I want my money back! I was reading an article about how someone hit a £5 with an axe and it still wouldn’t break.

I thought I’d do a clever talk around £5 being unbreakable, then I’d link to God’s love that didn’t break or tear away from us, even when Jesus was nailed to a cross, or sealed in a tomb.

Love so indestructible that Christ over-came death, hell, sin and everything that separates us from a relationship with God.

It even tied in with the song Meekness and Majesty as it has the line “Love indestructible in frailty appears” (why is it that when Easter comes so do all the old Graham Kendrick songs?).

Yet it took one 6 year old to ruin my talk!

An axe couldn’t split a £5 but a 6 year old could destroy it in seconds.

In fact my fiver got ripped in two (and no this isn’t a clever way into talking about the Temple Curtain ripping in two, from the top to the bottom symbolising that they way is now open to God!)

At the end of my talk the £5 was presented stuck back together with cellotape, and was told that the bank would swap it (not that the kid gave my £5 back!)

But this sort of illustrated my other £5 note talk, where I used to screw up some money, threaten to clean my ears out or blow my nose on it… but yet however broken or disfigured the note got it was still worth £5 for as long as the words “I promise to pay the barer the sum of of five founds” visible upon it. I normally go onto say that this is like us, no matter how battered we get, no matter how much we get screwed up or stuff is done to us, our value does not diminish at all in God’s eyes, he still sees us as precious and valuable, so precious that God sent Jesus to die for us.

God says you and I are worth dying for.

Reminded of a kids song… “I’m special because God has loved me for he gave the best thing that he had to save me, his own son Jesus, crucified to take the blame for all the bad things I have done, thank you Jesus, thank you Lord, for loving me so much I know I don’t deserve anything, help me feel your love right now, to knw deep within my heart that I’m your special friend”.

 

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Community, community of grace, Compassion, love

Where is the Love?

I remember watching the musical Oliver and the child sings this song “where is love?” and it is really heart-wrenching song, the production I saw had written as a sign on the workhouse wall the words “GOD IS LOVE”, as the work houses at that time were very proud of their Christianity, but showed no little love for the people they served.

This is so at odds with the words of Jesus who said “by this all people will know you are my disciples that you love one another” and “Love one another as I have loved you”, “Love your neighbour as yourself”.

John the apostle writes in his first letter “God is love and those who live in love, live in God and God lives in them”.

Paul says “If I do not have love I am a clanging gong or a resounding symbol…” and ends by saying “If I have not love I am nothing”, talking about all the great and worthy things we can do in acts of service but if they are not rooted and grounded in love they are worth nothing at all.

Yet, why do our Churches often feel so unloving?

Philip Yancey’s quoted a young man wrestling with his sexuality in one of his books and he said “Sometimes it is easier to get sex on the streets than a hug in a “Christian Church”.

I know love can be expressed in different ways, but I wonder whether the people in our Church and our fellowships feel loved? Do they feel loved by us?

Perhaps there is something you can do to bless someone who needs to feel that loving touch of God?

Perhaps too, you can be part of re-writing a churches DNA, and living out a different life that loves and is gracious even when it really really tough.

For me, there are people I struggle to love in my Churches, and sometimes I find it almost impossible to give them communion, but when I feel like this I need to be reminded of how much God loves me -and I know I screw up and let him down loads-, which enables me to pass them the bread and the wine, knowing that (to quote George Herbert) “It is love that bade us welcome”…

 

 

 

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Discipleship, Giving/Generousity., justice, love, Matthew 25., Servanthood., welcome

Making Disciples Jesus way… P3.

I almost entitled this blog “A little less conversation” because that is what discipleship sadly so often has become, people talking, and yet discipleship needs to be lived out, the world needs to see what following Jesus actually looks like in real, authentic everyday life.

I remember reading in Philip Yancey’s book “what is so amazing about grace?” of a story of a woman who really messed up big time, and she was asked about going to Church, to which she replied “I feel bad enough already, Church would only make me feel worse”.

Somehow this seems a million miles away from what Jesus said “by this will all people know you are my disciples, that you love one another as I have loved you”.

Discipleship I believe is about being that community that loves one another, and loves and welcomes in the broken, marginalised, ostracised and disenfranchised… A Church that welcomes the last, the least and the lost.

People talk a lot about creating an Acts 2 Church, but I wonder whether we need to create a Matthew 25 Church?

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Mother Teresa describes this as “Jesus in his most distressing disguises”, in serving the hungry, homeless, imprisoned or hurting, we are in fact serving Christ.

This has always been on God’s heart, in the book of Amos, God says he is fed up of all this religious activity and events whilst people were corrupt, unjust and lacking compassion…

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!

In  Isaiah 58.6:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?”

In the book of Micah it says:

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God”

And in the first letter of John it says:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 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? 18 Dear children,let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Discipleship is not about sitting around pontificating.

Too often western discipleship fills the head but does little in the heart, and even less to make the world a better place. I would argue that Discipleship should not only bring about transformation in us and out lives, but we are actually practically partnering with God in (to quote Bishop Stephen Conway) “turning this broken and upside down world the right way up for Jesus Christ”…

Christ reveals the priority of heaven when he encourages his people to pray “may your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”, we know eternity is where peace and love reign and where violence, corruption and hatred have no place, and we are called to see this translated onto the earth.

we read in Luke of his mandate -taken from Isaiah 61-

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken hearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”

I believe that we over spiritualise these passages, thinking Jesus is talking about the Spiritually blind, or the spiritually imprisoned, but I think he actually meant those who were actually blind, broken hearted, imprisoned.

Certainly extravagant love for people was how the early Church took the words of Jesus, now sadly it feels like we are far too selective in our use of scripture, preaching on Paul’s letters and John 3:!6 and omitting all this talk of justice, transformation and the Kingdom of God.

So few of our Churches practice radical hospitality, feed the hungry, help with housing, visit people in prison. John wimber once asked when the Church ‘did the stuff’ meaning signs and wonders (and I’m really, really up for that) but I think the same question could be asked for acts of love, ministries of mercy and the pursuit of justice.

The book of James says that “worship (although some versions mistranslates as religion) that God finds pure and faultless is to look after widows and orphans in their distress…”

One evening instead of doing our normal Bible Study I took my home-group out into the city to feed, bless and talk to the homeless… It was one of the deepest and most spiritual evenings we shared together as a group.

So, lets look at what is on the heart of Christ, lets not just talk a good game on comfy sofa’s, let us get out and partner with God in ushering his Kingdom in, and we start by welcoming Christ in his most distressing disguises.

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