Discipleship, Godliness, Mission Shaped Church, paradigm shift, perspectives, Spiritual Health

Paradigm Shift.

Its a phrase that I read everywhere, and I used to think it was just one of those pretentious words that get glued onto new things by people wanting to sound intelligent, that was until I looked up what it meant!

Here is a definition: “A fundamental change in approach or underlying assumption”, in Phil Potters excellent ‘Pioneering a new future’ he talks of this ‘Paradigm Shift’ being like a swimmer being given a snorkel and goggles, -the swimmer sees the sea, the shore, the boat and the sky- but the snorkeler sees all that is under the ocean, their location is the same but the view is entirely different.

Vision is fundamental to what we do, “where there is no Vision the people perish”, yet the question actually is whose vision are we following, ours or Christ’s?

Do see where he is leading for the next step, often a step of faith and always a step out of out comfort zone and security.

In the Gospels Jesus heals a blind man who recovers his sight in two stages, the first his vision is unclear, before being restored completely.

It is easy to imagine this guy being pleased at having partial vision restored, yet Jesus plan was to completely open his eyes.

I believe that this miraculous story can also be a parable to the modern day Church, sadly we can become spiritually blind when we take our eyes off Christ, yet Christ wants to restore our vision but we often settle for seeing less than Christ wants us to see.

We need our vision transformed by Jesus, not just partially healed.

Wondering too if sometimes our expectations, experiences, history, disappointments and our egos  blurs our vision.

To see things with Christ’s eyes, see things as Christ sees them, ought to be the ambition of us all who follow Jesus, he saw not things as they were but as they could be.

Seeing God’s plan, his new way rather than simply second hand revelation and conventional wisdom, doing what we have always done. David saw God’s vision for defeating Goliath with a sling shot rather than the bulky over-sized armour of King Saul.

Yet to many of us are trying to fight a Goliath shaped battle in debilitating Armour from a past generation, rather than asking if this is something he is still calling us to do?

Often our vision is smaller and more timid that I believe God wants to give us rather the vision his vision is huge and audacious, as if it a small vision achievable with our own resources where is the need for faith? Faith John Wimber reminded us is “spelled R-I-S-K”.

Yet revelation and vision from Christ is scary, it shakes the status quo, it pushes boundaries, defies expectations and stretches and strengths our faith and often means us laying down and surrendering our preferences and understandings. “If we always do what we have always done, we will get what we always have”…

I believe God is saying “I have seen your vision, now do you want to see my vision?”

God says “Behold I am doing a new thing” and yet too often we are munching on yesterdays stale manna.

I am a fan of the recent Church of England’s Report “Mission Shaped Church” but realise we have tried to turn this around to Church Shaped Mission, lowering the challenge and moving the goal posts closer to a more comfortable and achievable game.

We forget that God’s plan is bigger than simply his Church and our programmes and ideas within that, rather God’s plan is for the whole world. Rowan Williams famously said “It is not the Church who has the mission of God, but rather the Missionary God who has the Church”.

God can’t be placed in a box, the curtain ripped from top to bottom proves that the Spirit of God is uncontainable.

So, let us pray as we begin 2017, to expect the unexpected, to think big and look at the world with God’s eyes, through the eyes of Christ, praying for new and restored vision for us both as individuals and corporately as Church. Looking with bold eyes, not for a small God stuffed into a box of our expectations and understanding, but rather with to see “what God is doing in world and joining” remembering that our God exceeds our wildest imagination and can “do more than we ask or think”.

Let us see things with the fresh eyes of faith.

 

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Carrying burdens, Discipleship, Journey, Spiritual Health

Heavy Laden or Travelling Light.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Discipleship, justification, Spiritual Health, Theology

Justified.

The Bible uses the phrase “justification” a lot, by faith in Christ’s one full sufficient, sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction we are justified thought Faith, justified means that we are put right with God, our relationship with him is restored, in fact some have commented that being justified by Faith in Christ we are before God “JUST-IF-I’D never sinned”.

I began to think of the whole concept of justification, when we mess up we try and justify ourselves, I was tired, it’s everyone else’s fault, I’m misunderstood or whatever… Yet self justification often is our way of not taking responsibility for our actions, not owning up to our share of blame or culpability.

Yet this is why “confession is good for the Soul” as when we confess our sin to God we can’t fob him off with excuses or bend the truth in our favour, he’s not fooled by us, nor can we pull the wool over the eyes of the all knowing God.

The Anglican liturgy say “we confession that we have sinned against you and against our neighbour in thought and word and deed, through negligence, through weakness and our own deliberate fault”… It is owning our sins, taking responsibility for our actions and behaviour and when it falls short of the standard we know the Father wants from us and coming before him with the bravery to say “I sinned, I did wrong”… scripture say “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves (self deluded) and the truth is not in is, but, if we confess our sin God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

Honest confession to God is showing a self awareness of our life and our spiritual walk, it takes bravery to admit to ourselves and to God when we haven’t got it right and done all that we should have done, or done what we ought not to have done.

This isn’t a flippant thing, or at least it shouldn’t be…

Yet we are called not just to be honest with ourselves or with one another, but also requiring that level of honesty and authenticity with one another, we can’t confess and say sorry to God, we can’t just know our own faults in our own heads and not let that effect our relationship with one another. We need to be people brave enough to admit we are wrong, to say we are sorry, to acknowledge our imperfections, fallenness and our humanity, in a world where nothing is ever anyone’s faults this is radically different and counter cultural.

Yet people might be saying I’m not apologising for things that aren’t my fault, there are times when people hurl accusations at me which aren’t justified, sometimes the right and honourable thing is to justify yourself and argue your corner?

I think that is a broken and messed up world, people do sadly tell ties and embellish the truth and try and re-write history and point the blame elsewhere.

Yet when we are faced with criticism what do we do? Are we able from our place of security in God to wade through what might be a tough challenge but one we might need to heed and what is slander, even if someone is 90 per cent wrong there is still 10 per cent we could learn from.

At college when I was training to be a vicar we were urged to be reflective practitioners, stepping back and reviewing situations and often ourselves within the situation, a great question to ask is “what can I learn from this?” Or “what is could God teach me through this?”

We have a rational and logical reaction after we have had an emotional one, yet too often we speak from a place not of prayerful reflection and wise review but from the pain of raw emotion. Criticism too often hurts us deeply as often it is levied at something we have worked hard at or invested a lot in, and sadly all of us to some degree struggle too with the sin of pride which often blinds us to our own faults and failings but conversely helps us to see the flaws and failing of others far more vividly, pride distorts our vision and dulls the voice of Gods still small voice whispering in our ear.

Our justification of ourselves comes from our own identity and self worth, yet as someone once wrote “the person who kneels before God can stand before anyone”, we are justified by God, made righteous in his sight.

Our identity doesn’t rest on the shifting sands of what other people think of us, instead let us be secure in who were are in Christ.

That doesn’t mean we never apologise for getting it wrong, in fact quite the reverse, but it shows strength is showing the “weakness” of apology, but in admitting our faults is liberating, it reflects a beautiful integrity and authenticy to a world desperate to but fearful to experience such a thing. More over it frees us from the slavery of our value being dependent of what other people think of us.

Yet in the cases of slander and vilification, it’s trusting that one day God will justify us, knowing that ultimately what matters most is not what those around uaa think, but living for the audience of one. God is a God of vindication and justice, his spirit is the spirit of all truth, he sees and he knows what is true. He is a faithful God. When I felt hurt about something when I felt unfairly treated on one occasion I was given this “the Lord will fight your battle you only need to be still” -the problem with this was that everything within me wanted to justify my behaviour and fight back, yet this shows my heart that at times our reputation can matter more that Gods opinion of us, God who sees the heart.

So, let’s us come humbly and openly before the God  who justifies, let us know the power of his forgiveness spurring us on to live differently, not seeking our own justification from ever situation but rather letting even our critics teach us lessons.

Knowing we are justified by God gives  us the bravery to let the walls down with others, be vulnerable and willing to say the word “sorry” the hardest word to say to others and the hardest word to say to God, the reason it is so hard is because it means we have looked at ourselves and have had the bravery to see ourselves not as we want to be but actually as we are, removing the rose tinted glasses.

Let us with Gods help take this brave look at ourselves as we come to the God who brings his forgiving, restoring grace, in whose redemptive work upon the cross we are justified.

 

 

 

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Bravery, Discipleship, Godliness, paradigm shift, perspectives, Spiritual Health

Dont Drink the Pump Clip.

“I try to drink the beer rather than just the pump clip” said beardy Mike, my friend who runs the local pub.

Many people will choose a beer not based on what it tastes like but rather on the marketing plan around the pump clip, is it eye catching and memorable? Often an average beer can sell well because of its presentation, and a great beer is over-looked because of its lack of showy presentation, it’s only a real CAMRA (CAMpaign for Real Ale) buff that knowledgable about beers than can look past the label, the pump clip, and choose a great pint.

It made me think of how as human beings we often are a bit like beer pump clips, try and put on a brave face, a good show. Often what people see is far removed from what people get. In some ways we all put on masks to show the world.

Yet The prophet Samuel said that “people look on the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart”. God knows the real beer rather than being fool by a fancy clip.

We live in a superficial world, where the external is often valued above the internal, where breadth often matters more than depth, which is the opposite of how Gods Kingdom world.

The world maybe impressed with our rhetoric, dazzled by the stuff we encircle ourselves with, the the wit and wisdom of our facebook posts yet God sees right through all of this and sees the heart of things.

The problem is sometimes we end up “believing our own press” or as a self protection mechanism become self deluded and choosing to turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to self awareness.

Yet, God sees us above our brave faces and bravado, God sees us beneath our smiles, and knows who we really are, the “the we that we try to hide”, the parts of us we don’t like or even to acknowledge, the areas we try to govern he knows us better than we know ourselves, he knows the dark corners and the deep scars in our hearts, he knows the sin and the brokenness lurking within each one of us.

I think as we get ready to face a new year knowing God knows us through and through, knowing he loves us, knowing he’s for us and not against us, know too he is our healer and specialises in restoration, know too that he can see within us beauty and potential we may have missed –knowing what we and he can do together-.

The problem is not that God knows us, it’s not about being “honest to God” but rather honest with ourselves before him.

Although he knows us fully we need to give him permission to access all areas of our hearts and minds, just as the Holman Hunt picture shows the handle on the inside, God in his grace asks our permission to come through the various doors and areas of our life, knocking as he does on the door, heeding his voice, and opening the door (Rev.3:20).

He will bring his light into any shadowy or dark areas of our lives but only if we invite him too. As Graham Kendrick wrote in Shine Jesus Shine “search me, try me, consume all my darkness” or as the Psalmist writes “search my O God and know my heart and see if there is any offensive way in me” (Ps.139).

Allowing ourselves to see ourselves with Gods eyes is a brave step of faith and also one of surrender, where we have to deal with uncomfortable truths of our sin and fallenness.

Sometimes requiring us to open up those firmly sealed doors behind which lurk pain and hurt that scream out through so many areas of our lives but we often keep their control room locked and bolted and letting our gentle God, the God of all comfort, let his healing and restoring gracious spirit minister to that place of pain by visiting it together with us holding our hand and dealing with it together with us.

To allow God to see us and help us to step up -or step out- into the new things that he has in store for us, the things we don’t thing we can do on our own or by ourselves. Knowing God is for us and not against us, knowing that he chooses to work in partnership with his fallible and broken creation.

Know that God is a healer, who loves us whose plans are to “prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future” and know that he wants the best for us, know that with all that hurts, causes fear and is broken within us can be laid at the foot of Christ’s cross knowing he can be trusted with all that is within us if we are brave enough to let go of it and give it to him.

The phrase that prompted this article was hearing Coldplays song “Fix You”… My prayer is that will be our experience of the healing restorative power of Christ “fixing us”…

And in letting Christ work in us we may show a much better and more beautiful “Pump Clip” to the world.

 

 

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Church, Kingdom, Mission, Unity

United we Stand?

Unity, is an interesting topic.

Unity our first glimpse of unity is within the character of God himself, having both diversity and unity within the Godhead.
One of the earliest statements from God on the human condition was about unity, ‘it is not good for a person to be alone’, which seems at odds with our massively individualistic culture.
John Donne said: “no man is an island”, we were created  for relationship, we created to be united with each other and with God.
God created a diverse universe, and yet before the fall there was unity within that diversity.
So, unity, what’s there to say?

If you forgive me I’m going to go around the houses a bit as I think about unity.

Sometimes we think we are being unified is meaning a vaguely pleasant relationship with the other local Churches, we might even sit through the occasional Churches Together meeting -or Fraternals- where traditionally we spend our time dipping rich tea biscuits into weak coffee in a ‘church hall green’ cup with a saucer avoiding any topic which might be contentious.

This isn’t  unity.

This is a veneer of unity.

Unity is not a bland tolerance of each other, nor it is passive or pointless as so many things that sometimes wear the ‘unity’ badge can be.

In fact  sometimes those of us who are passionate about unity often paradoxically are the people who also people who rock the boat.

I believe unity is pointless unless we are united IN something.  We as Christians are united IN Christ.

We often forget that scripture calls us primarily to ‘seek first the Kingdom of God’ yet too often although we pay lip service to this command of Christ, we don’t live it out, our primary directive.

Our primary aim is to seek the mission statement of Jesus when he taught his disciples to pray “may your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”…

I recently spoke at a men’s event about passion, because I believe apathy is what is crippling much of the Church in this area and across both our nation and western Europe too, we are not seeking God’s Kingdom on earth as in heaven, other things are getting out of perspective and this is why unity breaks down.

It is a call to carry our cross, a call on the narrow way, a call to go out like sheep among wolves, it is a difficult tight rope to walk, one that will at times not make us popular. A call to challenge in love our brothers and sisters in Christ, it is also a challenge to let our  brothers and sisters in Christ challenge us (also hopefully in love).

We are united in the one in whom there are no male or female, black or white, rich or poor, jew or gentile, ordained or lay person, but makes us all one IN him.

Also apathy is indifferent to each other, so overlooks the commands to love, to ‘each others needs to prefer’, true biblical unity is a surrender to God of our own ideas, agendas and baggage… the greatest key for unity is both love, grace and wisdom, we don’t have to agree on everything, there are some issues where our theological differences make partnering difficult in some instances, but we are called to love one another, we are called to serve one another, it’s not up to us to pick our team, but to us to work with those whom God sets alongside us, ultimately God is the team captain not us.

If we are going to be people that seek first the Kingdom of God, then much of our differences fall away, in fact when we engage in mission our pettiness suddenly seems much less  important than it was.

I’ll close with an image from the crucifixion where Jesus was carrying his cross, and I suspect was praying “God help me carry this cross”, he trips and falls and Simon of Cyrene helps him carry his cross, a picture of vertical and horizontal living; God I need to help carry my cross,  I need you -my brothers and sisters in Christ- to help me carry my cross….

…and by the way, I will help you carry yours  too.

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Church, Journey, Leadership, Ministry, vocation

A Decade on…

Today is the 10th anniversary of being ordained. I don’t think any amount of other ministry or theological college can prepare you for this unique role.

In many ways it is a privilege to do this role, to have so many wonderful opportunities to talk to people about Jesus is a fantastic thing.

I remain 10 years on as passionate about people coming to know Jesus, and growing in discipleship, but it has been really tough, and as I think back over the 10 years there have been some wonderful highs and blessing,  but a lot of it has been something of an uphill battle.

I remember I had to write to some emerging leaders with some advice, and my two bits of advice were to “keep the main thing the main thing” -and the main thing is Jesus; my second attribute needed wasn’t any great a glitzy gift like being able to preach like Spurgeon or have the faith of Smith Wigglesworth, but rather the perseverance of Nehemiah… just keeping on building despite the challenging’s, pain, difficulties, opposition and discouragements.

Two things I have come to learn (or at least tried to remember) is that first God is good and faithful even when we don’t understand his ways or his plan, and the second is that ultimately it isn’t about what people think of you and their opinion of you isn’t what defines you, actually it is what God thinks that matters most, live ultimately lived for that audience of one.

I spoke to a colleague of mine this morning, who shared at in one of his toughest and darkest points, he met an elderly clergyman in his 90’s, who said to him “keep on preaching Jesus”… echoing with my college motto, which was “woe to me if I do not preach the gospel”.

It is all about Jesus, and him crucified, the one who was faithful and obedient even to death on a cross.

It is ultimately not about anything else that being faithful to Jesus, who is faithful to us.

One of the theological colleges motto is “the one who calls you is faithful” -which today feels a good message to remember.

A poem I have found challenge, and one I have failed miserably at, but I want to close this blog with is this (it is written by Mother Teresa of Calcutta).

              People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.

            If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.

            If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.

           If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.

            What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.

            If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.

            The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.

         Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.

         In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

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Church, Exodus 17., prayer, Unity

Holding Up the Arms of Moses…

Ex.17.

The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”
10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

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It is a great picture of Moses praying with his arms raised, and whilst he is praying the army is being victorious in battle, but when he tires and lets his arms down everything changes, the Israelites begin to loose the battle and everything begins to deflate and unravel.

I think my first point is that we need to first realize we are actually in a battle, this is a real fight with a real enemy… too often we don’t realize that we are in a battle, we are surprised when we stick our necks out for Jesus and get persecuted (even sometimes sadly from those who we thought were meant to be on our own side).

The other point to realize that prayer is not an optional extra, a bit of a garnish like a sprig of parsley, to our normal every day lives (nor a bit like a hobby), it effects everything, including whether spiritual victories are won or lost (I know before someone says it that the war was won with Christ on the cross) but there are many victories which I believe the church tragically offers Satan and the enemy armies on a plate simply because we aren’t praying!

I know what it is like to be like Moses, praying away with good intentions, but I know that I can tire and the good intentions get harder work and become more costly and sacrificial it is easy to simply stop praying, or praying less, or less passionately, or with less belief that God is going to show up.

The truth is we need each other to keep us sharp, to encourage us, to challenge us, to stand alongside us, to hold us up when we are struggling, this is a challenge in our massively individualistic culture, yet God wants his Church to be a community, living corporately… praying together and standing alongside each other. Proverbs reminds us that just as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another, Hebrews 10 urges us to ‘spur one another on’…

When we do street pastors, we always have a few people, praying for us back at base, and as all the rest of the Street Pastors team will testify, it makes such a difference when we are out on the streets knowing that there are people back at base praying for us.

I’d challenge us to get back up and start to intercede afresh like Moses did, and watch and not be surprised that our prayers change and transform the course of the battle, to keep praying even when it is hard, painful and tough and sacrificial (perhaps even ‘especially when it is hard, painful and tough and sacrificial’), to get other people to stand alongside you in those critical battle moments like Aaron and Hur… Also, I’d challenge us to be like Aaron and Hur to look out for those prayer warriors who are flagging; those brothers and sisters who are struggling to pray for themselves; the discouraged and despairing and stand alongside them holding their arms up for them…

What are we like?

I see things like this blog as like Aaron and Hur, that is coming alongside the Churches in this nation, where many have like Moses flagged a little, and we are challenged to stand alongside our tired family members holding up their sore limbs and support them with both our love, prayers and commitment to them, Christ and his battle.

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