Discipleship, expectations, Fruit and fruitfulness, Growth, Health, Life styles, Life Together, Spirituality, vocation

A Big Church of Little People.

I have been dipping in and out of this years New wine Conference, and this year the theme in everything seems to becoming back to the need to re-think discipleship.

The Church as a body employs lots of people, there are bookshops full of wonderful discipleship courses, many Churches run home groups, Bible Studies, prayer groups, preach biblically week by week -and yet often we just don’t see people actually changing, and if we are honest we probably aren’t changed much either by what happens in Churches.

Shane Claiborne jokes that we sing “just as I am” in worship, but yet we leave just as we were and we behave as we always have.

I was talking to a friend who is reading a book by a guy (whose name I can’t remember) but he said he realised he had “A big Church of little people” -consumers that turned up week by week, but not disciples, not the mighty men and women that change nations for Christ that he longed to see.

Anther expression I heard was someone talking of people who hide in big Churches, so they can “splash around in the shallow end” rather than be in the “deep end of discipleship”.

To be a disciple is a choice we have to make, discipleship is not something done to us against our will, but rather is an act of our own will, to seek to become more like Jesus.

I had a friend that said of discipleship “I am not here to spoon feed people” the understanding that if you joined the fellowship he led that you took responsibility for your own discipleship.

The silly lines like “I’ve not been fed” were met with comments like “why did you loose your bible?” “Can you not down load a sermon or ring up a Christian friend?” -Yet he had a Church full of disciples, who came bringing something to the table that God had been saying and showing them.

It is a Kingdom value that when you give you receive back more (although that’s not why we do it) let’s be generous in what we share with others, coming with full not empty hands and unread bibles, so that in coming fed we can feed others…

when we loose the egotistical nature of our consumerist mind-set we discover something of what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote to the Church in Rome about “being transformed by the renewing of your mind”.

No one else can live your Christian life for you.

The word for disciple can be translated as an apprentice, an apprentice of Christ, fashioned and shaped for his glory, to live our whole lives for him.

The problem is we commentate on discipleship, rather than participate in it.

Yesterday John Mark Comer said that he told his congregation, some of you don’t need to hear another sermon, you need to put it into practice in your lives.

The problem with western discipleship is not a shortage of material, we have more highly trained leaders than most of the developing world, we can access scripture and discipleship material at a swipe of our mobile phone… The issue is with you and I and our response to that call of Jesus to come and follow him.

what is stopping you being all that Christ is calling you to be? what are you/we going to do about it with him?

I remember when I made a re-commitment to Christ aged 19, I prayed an interesting prayer, I’d been half in and half our of Church for a while, and I remember praying “I don’t just want to play at being a Christian, I want to do it for real”.

Sometimes it can feel like we are just playing a game of being Church, but it isn’t a game, it is serious, deadly serious with eternal consequences.

Let’s take personal responsibility for our walk with Christ, and as we come fed and healthy, we are in a position to help others.

The army drink water first before helping those in famine relief, because if they pass-out no-one receives help, we need to grasp something of this ourselves.

Lets not be big Churches of small people.

Let’s be small Churches of big people, spiritually healthy as we seek to be the people that God is calling us to be, to win this world for him.

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Age, cost, Depression, Disappointment, Discouragement, doubt, Dreams, expectations, Experience, faithfulness, Grit, hope, Hopes and Dreams, Humanity, Risk and Change, self awareness, Spiritual Warfare, Step of faith, Suffering., Testimony, vocation

Looking back over my 30’s!

I remember 10 years ago about to turn 30!

30 -I couldn’t believe I was going to be 30!

30?!

I remember sat in a pub on the Quay -and called the Quay- in Poole.

I was all full of hope and excitement about life…

I was about to get married.

I was a year(ish) into my curacy and was about to be ordained Priest/Presbyter.

I was full of audacious dreams of the adventure God had planned for us in somewhere we did not yet know.

Today I’m feeling much more melancholy.

Looking back over the past 10 years have had some wonderful moments, particularly marrying Allana and our fantastic daughter.

But, I am asking myself 40? -How did that happen?

40,that can’t be right?

40!?

There have been some wonderful moments, seeing people pray prayers of commitment to Christ and meaning them, baptising adults, planting a Church -and a few new congregations-, seeing friends step into what God has for them especially those ordained (especially Sam)and seeing some wonderful Kingdom signs and wonders along the way too.

Yet there have been some tough moments too.

To be honest it feels a little like half way through a boxing match where you are dabbing your eye with a wet sponge and spitting blood into the bucket.

Sometimes when we stop we sometimes realise what a fight a season has been, how far you’ve come -and even if it doesn’t feel far, it is worth remembering that sometimes the shortest distances sometimes can be the toughest of drags. One clergy friend that had a tough time talked about “I ran with the ball and I made the 9 yards”. It might not feel a long way, but they were significant steps hard won and costly.

As I slipped into sulky mood, I began to have a bit of a self pity party with the people that let me down, the mean stuff people have said, the times plans didn’t go right and all sorts of bumps and bruises along the way.

Yet in it all I am sure I have learned stuff.

And despite sometimes feeling very confused, and even sometimes asking “God where are you?”, why is this happening” and “why did this door close?” I can still say (even though this has probably been the toughest decade of my life) that God has been, and is, faithful.

As I thought of that young thirty year old dreamer, I’m now a bit more gnarled and wrinkled, but we are standing on another new season.

The dream for God to take us, now the three of us (four if you include the dog) into new adventures into the unknown, with expectancy, again not knowing what the future holds, but knowing who it is that holds the future.

As I sit here, a bit battered, but still want that same dream to stay alive.

I think there is nothing spiritually mature about becoming jaded and downsizing our expectations of God. There is nothing Godly about playing it safe and going through the motions. There is nothing wise about allowing dreams to die and reducing and minimising your vision.

I love the C.S. Lewis quote that says “You are never too old to set another goal or dream a new dream”.

why should the future look boring and safe? An adventure with Jesus might be tougher and harder than most of us thought when we surrendered our lives to him, but it is still the greatest calling we have.

It would have been so easy to keep on doing what we have been doing and just slowly die under the moany pessimistic emails, the endless cycle of harvest festivals and other annual events and preaching to people who have heard it all a million times but longing to preach to someone who has not heard it at all.

It is so easy to be safe keep your head down grit your teeth and think about your pension, yet I believe that God has so much more for all of us than our 9-5 prisons.

As we get older, sometimes the risks feels bigger (especially those of us with families) and the jumps feel further, and the costs seem greater and yet the truth of God’s faithfulness remains the same, constant.

So, looking back and looking forward, however it looks I want to pledge one thing, it will be about Jesus, the one who is the same today, yesterday and forever.

It will be uncertain although it is in the service of the only truly certain thing in this universe -Jesus is this life’s only true certainty.

So, although I feel like I’m sat on a stall, it’s time to return the gum-shield, step into a different ring and listen to the bell and see what God ahs in store for the next decade.

It’s not about how much it cost -although sometimes that does feel quite in your face at times- but rather it is about how great is the prize, the Kingdom, the pearl of great price, the one worth it all.

“were the whole realm of nature mine that were an offering far too small, love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all”.

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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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call, Democracy, Politica, trust, values, vision, vocation, Vote

Voting is a lifestyle…

Today people will be voting in the general election, for who they want to represent and govern them. It is really important to vote, so if you’ve not done it already go and do it!

Yet democracy ought to be more than marking a bit of paper every four years? As I began to think about it, we actually vote all the time, often a vote for the status quo, but a vote none the less.

It has been said that every pound you spend is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in, scary when we think that if we have the internet in our homes we are in the top 4% of the worlds richest people. How we spend our money shouts loudly to this capitalist world.

Interestingly if we look back to the 80’s when many banks wanted to invest heavily in South Africa at the height of the apartheid they stopped doing so when people -mainly students and the now infamous picture of Jeremy Corbyn getting arrested- boycotted their banks.

As consumers what we think really matters, if in any doubt look at the millions that are spent devising algorithms to match our viewing habits to commercial sales.

So, although it might be only a baby step even a facebook share or twitter comment at least does make something of an impact.

The lie we are fed is that we are too small or insignificant to make a difference.

Yet as Confucius once said “Too small to make a difference? Try spending the night with a mosquito”. -He also said, that “A mosquito on your testicles teaches man that not every problem is best solved with violence”-.

The problem is that we are often don’t make a stand about anything much at all. A great question that has always challenged me is “would my bank manager know I was a Christian by the way I lived and spent my money?”

What are my choices when I buy, do I seek to be an ethical consumer? Do I value fair-trade? Do I enquire about sourcing? Or animal welfare? Do I ever do any on-line research about company ethics? Is there anything I boycott due to ethical grounds? -How does our (honest) answers on this chime with our response to a position of God entrusting us with the responsible stewardship of creation?

Yet, I think that we can do more than spend wisely, read labels and write strongly worded tweets on social media.

I passionately oppose the sale of weapons especially to states with awful records on human-rights, but yet I have never been on a protest, or picketed and arms faire, if I care about this issue I need to step up to the plate and make my protest felt.

Although Christians statistically are good citizens when it comes to doing their civic duty and vote, we perhaps need to be better at protesting against injustice, do we sign petitions? Do we write to our MP’s? Do we go on marches? Do we campaign for a better world?

The truth is that if the people of God don’t step up for the things that are upon the heart of God then who will step into that void?

So a call not just to vote, but live a life that seeks to usher in and advance the Kingdom of God, voting as a lifestyle each day, choosing to be a campaigner for the Kingdom of heaven and the cause of the heart-cry of Christ.

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call, challenge, Church, cost, Discipleship, Kingdom, Ministry, Mission, obidience, perspectives, priorities, vision, vocation

we don’t need more Churches, rather we need Churches doing what they are supposed too!

Recently I had a sad experience, we had started a small congregation meeting next door to the main Church in the Community centre, mainly to allow the children’s work to flourish but unfortunately it didn’t work as we had hoped. I remember doing the last service there, which was a damp squib, as I tided up and walked out the door, something of lump appeared in my throat, although only a very short era, it was still and end of an era.

I did in my spirit wonder if maybe we (as in the Christian Community) will be back here reaching out to the people of Kingswood.

Then as I thought more about this I began to ask myself the question “does Kingswood need more Churches” actually Kingswood is choc-a-bloc with Churches yet few that are reaching out beyond their four walls, few seeking to reach out with the good news of Christ Jesus, few trying to raise up discipleships that are ‘nation transformers’ and praying in the Kingdom of God.

We also have new Churches planted into Kingswood, and yet sadly, they come into Kingswood, people drive in and drive out, some don’t even get around to investing in a “welcome sign” by their front door. Yet all that happens stays within the walls, and they never even send the other Churches in the area a email saying “hey”.

Yet we know that God is wanted his deeply divided Church to be unified in him, and in seeing his Kingdom advance and grow, impacting local communities and transforming lives, as we think of the Pentecost season, we know the need of the Spirit of God taking his Church back, breathing fresh and new life into it and blowing open its door to reach the community for Christ.

We don’t need more congregations and Churches, but actually for the Churches to do -or at least try to do- that which we are called to do.

The challenge is that the Church, is not some faceless institution, but rather you and me, we need to be people filled with his spirit, living his way, and seeing as individuals to shape and transform the corporate body of believers to keep us following Christ in courageous obedience.

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call, Life styles, vocation

Am I called? Is my heart beating? Then YES!

Am I called?

Am I qualified?

Are these questions you have heard in your Churchy context?

I think these questions show how we have a very bizarre idea about the whole idea of vocation (living out Gods call on our life) which I think displays itself in what we think of as normal and ordinary.

Let me digress for a moment, most people wouldn’t think of sticking the firms monthly takings in their purse, why, because we know it is wrong and not how Christians should behave. we don’t need to have a prayer meeting and seek wise and Godly counsel to know that being honourable and honest is a right way to behave. So, if we know as a follower of Jesus that there is some behaviours we ought to avoid, why do we count ourselves out from the positive behaviours of things we should be doing?

Every Christian is called to worship, not just singing songs but “being a living sacrifice” -living our lives Christ’s way, the idea of a living sacrifice is it chooses to remain on the altar, so we choose to live our lives as “A Spiritual Act of worship”.

Every Christian is called to be “salt and light” where-ever they are and whatever they do.

Every Christian is called to “Do Justice, Love Mercy and walk humbly”…

The Good Samaritan is a picture for us all, we shouldn’t need to have a soul searching Bible study when we see someone struggling and needing some compassion.

Matthew 25 is clearly speaking to all Christians everywhere, of how normal life should be, “what you did for the least of these you did for me”.

If you see someone hungry, I would suggest that you don’t need to ring up your pastor before you buy them a coffee and a pastie.

If you see someone crying you probably don’t need to make an appointment with your home group leader before you pull up a chair and ask what’s wrong?

If your Church has a donation box for tins, or does a soup run, or some other work of compassion and you are able to do it why do you feel like we need a specific theophany? -The problem is we count ourselves out and think it is someone elses’ job, when the truth is we are all called to care and to show love in practical way.

I know not everything Church does we can always make due to work or commitments, but it is interesting that too often we rule ourselves out, rather than counting ourselves in. I would suggest that if it is within our power to help someone then of course we do it!

I think too we often have a either arrogance or insecurities around works of compassion and we need to ask ourselves “why wouldn’t God want me to do this?” If it being obedient to the commands of scripture and the words of Christ, then why do we often want some form of dramatic encouragement to do the right thing?

Every Christian is called to pray, and seek the advancement and break-out of the Kingdom of God, I am amazed (without wanting to sound pious) when I ask people (Christians) if they have prayed about something and they say they haven’t. Praying is something we all ought to be doing, in praying we are “seeking first the Kingdom of God” and seeking to see “(God’s) Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”. I wonder if some of our greatest prayer (are in hospital beds, or nursing homes? whatever our life is like, we can all pray. Since the curtain has been torn in two after Jesus’ death, we can approach the throne of God directly and with boldness. The truth is the prayers of a Nun, Vicar or the person serving the tea are of equal value to God, because we are all his beloved Children.

Sometimes we are called to pray with one another and ask someone to pray with us and stand alongside us, but that is what we all should be doing anyway, it is what being art of the body of Christ, the family of God is all about.

You don’t need to have done three years in Bible college to care about your friends and pray with them and alongside them. Caring and praying is something we are all meant to do anyway, building up the body (by which I mean those Christians around us).

Every Christian is called “to be a witness” to share their story, or testimony, to “always be prepared to give an account for the hope that we have, but do so with gentleness and respect”, to “hold out the word that gives life” -we are all called to “do the work of an evangelist”, talking about the Kingdom and being “Christ’s Ambassador” is something we are all meant to be doing as our normal every-life.

So, sharing our faith on a mission, might be a bit scary, but the truth is “if you have a pulse and love Jesus” then you are more than qualified, it’s what “the priest-hood of all believers” is about Christ enabling people to meet with him through us. If you are able to come along and talk to people about Jesus then it is not a case of “is God calling me? -The Answer is clearly YES from the scriptures” -we are all called to make Jesus known, okay we might not be able to do everything that happens in our Churches, but I think more often than not we let the devil talk us out of being obedient.

The phrase “I don’t feel called to that” I think is often nothing to do with Gods call but rather who has Lordship over our lives, I think deep down we know when an excuse is an excuse and when is a genuine conviction that God is calling us else where.

So, the challenge is to live out our faith, in word and deed, in how we act and behave, where we know we are called, qualified and commissioned serving God in all he called us to do right in front of us, right here right now, you don’t need a thunderbolt to be obedient.

Just do it.
It’s what normal everyday Christianity should look like.

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call, Depression, Discipleship, Fear, Guidance, Kingdom, Life in the Spirit, Life styles, obidience, Pioneer, vocation

Don’t stop Pioneering!

I remember walking (or rather floating) to work having just made a re-commitment to God, I was excited, I knew God had changed my life, I longed to see more of him at work, I was hungry.

Later I went off to work for a Church in wakefield, I saw their leader step out in faith and God doing wonderful things.

For the last 20 years I have worked for various Churches and I worry sometimes that I’ve lost my fire, or at least that fire has cool, the lion has lost something of its roar!

I am at a Church where although I’m one of the clergy nearly everyone there is older than me, and when I talk about stepping out in faith I get hit regularly with this bucket of cold pessimism and defeatism, one guy in particular seems to champion the “God will never do it here” corner, which is really tough.

The last 7 years have been unbelievably  tough -people who call themselves Christians can be just so mean and inch by inch you feel more and more deflated by this critical spirit tapping away all the time.

I have been crying out to God for break through, more recently if I’m honest I have been crying out to God for rescue.

Often people (probably well meaningly) talk about how they did great exploits for God when they were young too, I think this is meant to encourage me, and I praise God that they were on fire and did do “mission England” or the “decade of evangelism” but I look at them and think I don’t want to believe my faith in believing in God’s ability to transform is simply “naive youthful exuberance” and “jaded cynicism” is somehow spiritual and actually maturity. At my interview someone said “no one expects miracles in Kingwood”. I believe this is a lie, a demonic lie, maturity in Christ is not youthful naivety.  I don’t see “settling down and being comfortable” as part of the call of God on our lives, we are called to follow him ALL the days of our life, not just those reckless early years or at the start of our walk with him.

This is meant to be our daily reality, not just a nostalgic dream.

At this time of struggle, it is a time to pick up and ‘pioneer again’, to not settle for simply what we already have, but to push onto God for more of him, more of his Kingdom.

He may have given us stories we can dine out on and sound spiritual in the past, and I’m sure they will continue to be used for blessing, but like the manna the Israelites ate yesterdays manna does stale and there is plenty for each day.

As we get older our energy can decrease, and we value comfort more.

Do we have the energy to start again? To keep on following Jesus where he calls us? To the new challenge? To the new role? To the new mantle? CS Lewis reminds us “You are never too old to set a new goal or dream another new dream” -especially when that dream is put inside you by the spirit of the living God.

“But gradually the worries of life and the decifulness of wealth constrain the bloodrush of youth, we tame the wild and call is wise”-Pete Greig.

It is the nature of the human condition to pioneer and then too settle, yet God is calling us not to be settled, this earth is not our home, instead we are citizens of heaven.

we have responsibilities too, what of my wife? what of my children? These are valid questions, but God is able to take care of them, he is able to be faithful with them.

“But is he?” I ask myself, we are struggling here, it seems like the water is rising up and up, and hanging on to the promise that he wont let us drown. I remembered the story of Joseph, and God was faithful to Joseph, but before Joseph got to the Palace he first had to go through the Pit and the Prison.

The problem when we are in a pessimistic environment it can become so corrosive to our faith, to believe differently from the people around us is tough, sometimes being a Christian really does feel like swimming against the tide, and somehow it feels harder to swim against the tide within Churches because it feels like they ought to get it, but sadly they don’t, or they choose not too, and that can be a really tough place to be, it’s the place of Moses with the people of Israel, it was a really tough 40 year desert journey, and he only got to glimpse the promised land, but when he did I know that he would have thought that none of this was done in vain.

God is faithful and is with us even when it doesn’t feel like it, and maybe this side of eternity we will never understand why God led us on the path that he did, why he closed some doors and allowed other doors to open. Yet despite it all, and sometimes through gritted teeth, I still choose to believe that God is good..

Sometimes the place of pain traps us and paralysis us, leaving us unable to move on, Abra(h)ams Father Terah was on his way to the land of Canaan, yet he settled in Haran, the place he names after his son -also called Haran which is clearly not a co-incidence- Haran  died, and Terah settled here in his grief.  I believe God is saying to us all today not to let pain stop you in your tracks.

Pete Greig says this “It is easy to pioneer when you’re too young to know what it will cost you, when you feel immortal and invincible and the whole of life is an adventure waiting to begin. but Pioneering a second time is hard”.

Yet let’s be Spiritual Abraham’s, never settling for what we have, but pushing on despite the challenges and not getting entangled in the comfort, for the more of God and his Kingdoms. we are not called to be settlers but pioneers.

Don’t stop pioneering, keep going, let’s persevere, let’s see the new thing, the new dream that God has for each one of us.

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