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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Leadership, vocation

Abhorrence of the vacuum…

The is a phrase “Nature abhors a vacuum” is one we probably have all heard, it means that when something moves something else will fill its place.

Another phrase that I often quote is “for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing” and I think this is very true in this context, if goodness, grace and righteousness don’t step up to the plate the evil, sin and darkness will willingly jump into the gap.

A friend talked of youth work provision in his village, the Church felt it was “too much effort” to get around all the rural villages with their youth bus so had one central youth club, yet the drug dealers thought driving around the rougher bits of rural communities was worth-while, so the Christian community diminished but the drug problems escalated.

Last night I went to Woodlands Church and heard the new Mayor of Bristol -Marvin Reese- talking about his faith and his work in politics.

Marvin spoke of his life, and it is a picture I have seen a lot in my time, people who stand on the edge of Church/politics/community work and pass lots of comments “I wouldn’t do this or that” from the side-lines. He spoke how this was him, a back seat driver, a grumbling spectator, a moaner from the side-lines until one day he was convicted by the Holy Spirit, and realised that anyone can moan from the edge, but God was calling him to build something, to get involved, to roll his sleeves up and make a difference -not just a noise!

He talked about how toothless love can be if we don’t harness it with appropriate power, I can empathize and sympathise and say how we “feel their pain” but unless we have the power to help then all the warm feelings in the world wont fill a belly, warm a body, or change a situation.

Power -in terms of influence, opportunity, involvement or governance- is neutral not good or bad (just like money and sex, but  -like money and sex- when it is misused it has the potential to cause pain and hurt, but when used properly and righteously they can be wonderful and beautiful things).

So, power is not to be avoided, but rather to be used prayerfully in a wisely and in a Godly way.

In fact so often the Christian voice is lost in politics, journalism, the arts, music, education, community development, social science or justice because Christians haven’t stepped up to the plate and got involved with where they have opportunities to speak.

They haven’t seen these critical areas of human life and interaction as the true God-given vocations, ripe with possibility, filled with potential and potentially ministries of  transformation and fruitfulness.

Sometimes people think that somehow a Churchy calling is superior calling, as though God can only use Vicars, but I have come to realise our only influence is limited to what one person can do, and often means being surrounded by Christians, where-as those who aren’t involved in Church leadership often have a much more diverse mission-field.

In fact the best thing I can do as a minister is not to encourage you to be faithful in doing the things I do, but rather encourage you to be faithful and fruitful where God has placed you on your front-line.

Too long the Church has stood back from active involvement, yet I think God is calling us to jump in and seek to be a blessing in the midst of the complexity of life, being salty people where things might be decaying, being light where it may be bleak and people that love, hope, care, fight to see the world become more like heaven and less like hell.

So, a challenge, get off the side-lines and serve.

No more back-seat driving, instead get on the navigation team.

The Kingdom calls for us to get up of the couch and roll up our sleeves.

If you can see what is wrong, then I would suggest you are probably called to help make it right.

As the West Wing famously once said “It is harder to build a house than to throw stones at one”.

 

 

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Kingdom, Mission, Mission Shaped Church, paradigm shift, perspectives, vocation

Unique people working our a unique call in a unique context.

We started our short Mission Shaped Intro Course yesterday, and we ended up speaking about our own uniqueness.

We all are made differently, I have often looked at other Church leaders and other evangelists and thought “I wish I was more like them!”, often too we have looked at different areas and opportunities and thought “I wish God had placed me somewhere different”.

Yet the “one who calls us is faithful, and he will do it”.

We are called to live by faith and not by sight.

The question in the Christian life has never been “what is everyone else doing?” but rather “what is God calling me to do?”

Taking a step of faith is very different from jumping on the bandwagon.

As human beings we are great ‘cherry pickers’, we see an idea that works somewhere else, or a methodology we like the sound of, and try and ‘shoe-horn’ it into our context. As though what works else-where can simply be transposed somewhere else and have the same results. Yet, I believe, God isn’t into formulas like this =otherwise I think Paul’s letters would read very differently- the question is not “how has this worked elsewhere” but rather “what is God calling us to do here” and are we being faithful to that call.

What is the Spirit saying to us as a collection of Church Congregations seeking the advancement of the Kingdom of God here locally must be the biggest and most important question we can ask.

“If the Lord does not build the house then the Labourers labour in vain”, we see that Jesus (who “only did what he saw his Father doing?”) doing ministry differently from how he was in Samaria to how he was in Jerusalem to what he did in Nazareth. Jesus didn’t think ‘one size fits all’ -so why do we? -Interestingly, contrast the missional technique between Peter and Paul when they spoke evangelistically (Peter in Acts 2, Paul in Acts 15).

Just imagine if Paul -a former Pharisee- tried to mimic Peter -a former fisherman- it wouldn’t work because God was calling them as them to minister into the context to which God had called them.

I think as human beings we are often scared and fearful, we dislike uncertainty and want the promise of “sure-fire” results, God’s ways might sound more risky and more of a step of faith than down-loading the latest resource from a mega0church, but yet it is only through obedience to God that we will see the full fruitfulness of that which we long too see.

The problem is we often think that “so and so” would probably do a much better job if they were here than I have.  The problem (says James Lawrence) “is that we compare our blooper reel with someone else’s highlight reel”, our comparisons are often negative towards ourselves, often when we feel weak and ill-equipped often that means we aren’t relying on our own giftedness rather relying on Gods empowering faithfulness.

Comparisons, can be debilitating.

It takes faith to come to realise that actually God has called me to be me, and my unique blend of skills, passions and principals is called, God doesn’t need another clone of anyone, he needs us to be us, and we flourish best when we are being truly and authentically us.

I remember seeing someone engaging in interactive debate, and this really worked for their more ‘in your face’ personality. I have seen others listen carefully and prayerfully and this has really worked for their personality. If we were all a debaters or all listeners we would be a less effective body of Christ, yet perhaps the reason he is sending you in to the situation you find yourself in, in that you are the right person, God’s person, for that particular situation, everyone is different, and everyone responds differently, even if we don’t see it at first!.

Also, as the wonderful “Meet Anne” video shows, we have networks and relationships which are unique to us, no-one else has quite the same set of relationships that we do, being us -and fully us- fully and authentically where God has placed us can enable us to be used by God in a way that’s unique to us.

Also, God uses all sorts of creative ways to advance his Kingdom, my friend Rich Rycroft used his love of football to advance the Kingdom in Hillfield, my friend Charles Sugdan from Frenchay uses his awesome gifts at classical music to enable people to encounter Christ, yet neither of which I would be able to do, but it takes faith to believe that my gifts and skills, passions and pleasures can be used by Christ too (just check out the vlog bellow)…

So, let’s celebrate God’s call on our lives to be free to be us.

So, let’s celebrate God’s call to discover his call to us where he has placed us.

So, let’s celebrate that we don’t have to do what everyone else does, instead even our most random quirks of character can become Kingdom advancing facets.

I discovered the word ‘bespoke’ -you are a ‘bespoke’ ambassador of Christ, made unique for the glory of Christ.

You have a totally unique context, to a unique mix of people and network of relationships, and you have been ‘head hunted’ by the God of all creation to reveal him to his people.

The Spirit of God has a bespoke plan for our areas and context, its not just another course, or another project, but a unique plan that will work for us, taylor-made evangelism made to measure for individuals in a unique context.

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Carrying burdens, community of grace, Discipleship, Godliness, Partnership, Paul's Prayers, Phillipians, vocation

“Don’t just ‘SUPPORT’ me, ‘PARTNER’ with me” (Updated).

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Can you say a little prayer for us Vicar?

Would you mind if I said a little prayer for you?

I don’t want to pray a LITTLE prayer!

A “Little Prayer” sounds as though we lack confidence in Gods power to transform lives and circumstances.

I want to be like Paul praying big, hairy and audacious prayers rendering heaven.

I’ve been thinking too often we have dumbed down our language and expectations of prayer, mission and discipleship.

Recently, I came across (via Jackie Davies) a William Booth quote: “I’m not waiting for a move of God, I am the move of God”.

This is God’s plan for the transformation of his world, you and I living for him, stepping out in faith, and partnering with him.

This was reinforced for me recently with two things that happened this week…

The first when I prayed for someone to be healed, and they were, and I was more shocked than they were, which led me to have an interesting discussion with myself afterwards!

The second when I was sharing at a Church meeting the work I am doing in the community, and quite frankly it was pretty obvious they couldn’t care less…

My experience of this healing miracle made me think about living out my calling to partner with Christ (if you are a Christian, that is all of our callings!) and wondered am I really pulling my weight here, am I working with him, alongside him, or doing my own thing.

My experience of the DCC made me feel unsupported, certainly not feeling like we were in any real sense ‘partnering together’.

I was talking to another minister type mate who and said about supporting him, he said “I don’t want people to support me, I want people to partner with me”.

The same is true the other-way around, I don’t want to just support my congregations in mission, I want to partner with them.

The word SUPPORT conjures up images of sitting there with a sympathetic and slightly constipated look, offering milky coffee and making polite noises for a few minutes until the conversation returns to something less uncomfortable and more superficial.

Whereas the word PARTNERSHIP conjures up both people investing heavily in something, standing shoulder to shoulder, battling together amid blood, tears and sweat.

Partnership is a word about mutual investment, were the outcome really matters to those involved.

Support, sounds more like offering a hand, lending a fiver, giving someone a lift, making a cuppa (all good things, but has the image of superficial investment and involvement).

Paul wasn’t after support from his fellow Christians, he didn’t want “Oh Bless him” platitudes, he wants the disciples partnering with him to carry on fighting for the Kingdom cause as fearlessly as he did when he was on his missionary endeavours -especially as now he is in prison, in chains, for talking about Christ.

Paul’s prayer shows his aspiration for his team.

This left me wondering, is this the kind if thing we pray for ourselves? Our Churches? Our home-groups? Our friends involved in Christian Unions at work? Our Kingdom allies locally doing things like work based Alpha, Street Pastors, outreach work or whatever it is God is calling them too?

Or do we pray that God would just “help” them or “bless” them…

Over the next few days I’d urge us to grow our intersessions vocabulary, and realise that as we pray we are doing something bigger more amazing, more powerful and beautifully supernatural..

So let’s rediscover afresh the awesome power of prayer, connecting us with the awesome power that comes from almighty God.

Let’s up our support of one another so that it feels more like partnership.

Let us review how response to God’s partnership offer, are we partnering with him, pulling our weight and keeping in step.

To the original readers of the scriptures the word partnership would lead people to think of Oxon partnered together under a yoke, journeying together, in step, both taking equal share of the weight…

Yet for us the Yoke is a three person yoke, shouldering our partnership with God, and with one another, a call to carry one another’s yokes or burdens -and let them carry yours- as we all partner together to fulfil the heartbeat of creation to see God’s Kingdom come on earth as in heaven.

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