Tag Archives: dicipleship

Poverty, Faith and Music

My local Methodist Church recently had the privilege of hosting a choir from Uganda they were the Abaana New Life Children’s Choir. The charity Abaana works to rehouse and educate impoverished children and families in Uganda and they do an amazing job. Ten families offered to host the choir of 30 and those hosts were inspired and touched by their experience.

It is the second time in recent months that I have been challenged by my experience with Africa, the first was Burundi (see on facebook) and now Uganda.  After a meal where there was an appeal for the Burundian Christian University I found myself sitting late at night and writing this message on Facebook.

Tonight I learnt about the poorest nation in the world and the brave work of the university www.bcu.edu.bi attempting to educate the next generation to build their broken nation. I find myself at 12:30am after a fundraising meal for all they do feeling ashamed of my ignorance and my privilege as a man living in Britain. 

I need to pray:

Forgive me God for my ignorance and guide me in my response to all I have heard tonight. Help me to do all I can for the others using the influence and resources that the Lord has given me. Amen- 

September 2016

Looking after the Abaana choir last month was a privilege and a wonder. Their appreciation of basic education (a right that you have to pay for in their country) was hugely challenging to me, as it’s something I fear we take for granted. IMG_2432

We were told of one of the choir, now in her early 20’s,  the Abaana Charity had given her the opportunity to go from primary education to university and become a social worker so she could give back too her choir and community, reinvesting in the community she came from.

IMG_2384

So what lessons can we learn?  That we don’t need the latest or the best, or most shiny and sumptuous. Hearing from people who hosted the choir children and their chaperones over that night, we hear how the children were delighted over seemingly small things or offers of generosity like being given a ‘onesie’ and jumping up and down with joy shouting over and over again ‘onsie, onesie, onesie’. I suspect to the Ugandan ear that word sounds funny and weird. There were stories of children delighting in loom bands, warm food and warm beds. Being just happy to sleep in a ‘safe place’ was the comment on a card from one of the girls we hosted.

I was again reminded of how difficult it would be for me to live with such bone gnawing poverty. Even more profoundly to live with that and find contentment, and know God in that place and actually, find joy in life.

Their faith in God rests not on some formulaic, ritualistic, routine, but it is living, real, and sustaining. It is part of their identity and existence it is more than, as someone put, a positive attitude.

Instead, it is something that shows and reminds people that God can be found in hunger and opulence, poverty and wealth. But it’s how we live out that faith that matters, how we express outwardly those values that truly makes a difference.

So what next, how is God calling us to use our resources for the benefit of others, how is he calling us to love our neighbour, even if that neighbour lives thousands of miles away? How I wonder is God answering the prayer I cried those 8 months ago:

Forgive me God for my ignorance and guide me in my response to all I have heard tonight. Help me to do all I can for the others using the influence and resources that the Lord has given me. Amen

New posts appear at godlifechurch 2nd and 4th weeks of the month. This Blog also links with the author’s photography website www.lobecphotography.com for more ispiring pictures and purchance prints do take a look.

 

Get Your Faith Lift Here!

Has your faith become sanitised, tame, lukewarm? Is church ‘run of the mill’, no more challenging than what you might pick for breakfast in the morning? The video below that reminds us otherwise; the sheer challenge of the gospel, the agony of the early mission leaders to choose Jesus every single time.

Today in ISIS held land Christians are facing the kind of hate these early missionaries experienced. And just see what God does with that. The story is based a long time ago, but it could be a story and narrative that happens today. Not in our comfortable, westernised lives perhaps, but where people live in fear from those who would have them killed for their faith, this story is real and relevant.

Be warned, the story in this video is not for the faith hearted!

Finally, what does your faith mean to you?  How far would you go?  What would you give up for the sake of the gospel?  As you listen to the words, the story alongside blows you away.

Beautiful To Me

Occasionally if not all the time we need to know that we are special, the lyrics below are a reminder of that, from a song by Don Francisco, called Beautiful To Me. Or if your prefer scroll to the bottom of the post and there is a link to youtube where you can see the song played. May God bless you today and may you come to know how deeply loved you are by the living God. May that love puncture any balloons of negativity or self loathing, and set you free.

The crowds were in the streets that day when Jesus came
to town All the synagogue was there and more from miles around
So I asked him home to dinner just to see what I could
see Of this famous local prophet from here in Galilee

And I don’t know just how that woman got into the room
But you couldn’t miss her gaudy clothes and her strong
and sweet perfume. She went straight to Jesus’ feet and stopped and stood
right there Then cried and wet His feet with tears and dried them
with her hair.

Now of all the women in my town none was more well
known For the flagrant sin she’d lived in and the wickedness
she’d sown. But He didn’t move to stop her — seemed this phophet
couldn’t tell That the woman who was touching Him was the kind they
buy and sell.

And I had no idea just what this Jesus planned to do
When he said “Simon, there’s something I need to say to
you.”So I said “Teacher, if it’s on your mind then tell me
what you will.” But as He began to speak to me the room grew quickly
still

He said “Take a good look at this woman now, in spite
of all her fears She’s kissed me and anointed me and washed my feet with
tears. She’s honoured me and you’ve been only rude to me
instead. You gave no kiss of greeting, no anointing for my
head.”

And her sins were red as scarlet and now they’re washed
away. The love and faith she’s shown is all the price she has
to pay For the depth of God’s forgiveness, it’s more than you
can see And in spite of what you think of her, she’s beautiful
to me

Now my anger flamed to hatred, I wanted nothing more
Than to take this prophet by the throat and throw Him
out the door To act like God, forgiving sins, and then speak so to
me. This itinerant from Nazareth in backwards Galilee.

But instead I sat and trembled, shaken to the core
The woman still was weeping as she knelt there on the
floor Jesus turned to her and said, “Your chains have been
released Your faith has saved you from your sins, rise — walk
in peace.”

Your sins were red as scarlet but now they’re washed
away. The love and faith you’ve shown is all the price you
have to pay For the depth of God’s forgiveness, it’s deeper than
the sea And no matter what the world may think, you’re
beautiful to me.
Lyrics taken from <a href=”http://www.elyrics.net/read/d/don-francisco-lyrics/beautiful-to-me-lyrics.html&#8221; rel=”nofollow”>this page</a>

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There Is A Cure

The Suffering Optimist

God has created us unique, flawed yes by life circumstances, and the corruptibility of our souls, but unique and loved. I have discovered for myself, just how corruptible my soul is. How openness can somehow poison the soul.
Throughout life I have being an optimist, optimism is nurtured in an environment of hope. But when that hope is on the wane, negativity increases. For the optimist that negativity  is like poison for the optimists soul.
In every group there is always the person that’s a bit too negative, sometimes you call them the cynic or the pessimist. In the book Winnie the Pooh, we call him  Eeyore, who would say of the weather “It’s snowing still,” said Eeyore gloomily. “So it is.” “And freezing.” “Is it?” “Yes,” said Eeyore. “However,” he said, brightening up a little, “we haven’t had an earthquake lately.”
The chalk and cheese of most social groups and in our churches is the optimist and the cynic or pessimist, they see the world very differently, their attributes are fed by different things. The optimist finds the cynic exhausting, whereas the cynic finds the optimist, not rooted in any sense of reality as they see it.
However the cynic offers the optimist a measure of levelheadedness that they sometimes need, he or she helps the optimist to see the inherent risks in activities. And the optimist helps to sooth those fears and anxieties that underpin the cynic and the outcome can be a better plan.
We need in our churches both cynics and optimists, we need our church to be balanced by the gifts cynicism and optimism can bring rather than one sided. Sometimes we see one as better and the other as worse. The cynic probably sees the optimist, as airy fairy! Not rooted in reality.  Whereas the optimist can see the cynic as attritional, divisive and difficult.
Worse than that for the optimist, cynicism is there Achilles Heel, it is the poison, that can crush the spirit of the optimist. Cynicism however feeds off negativity, and if you look around there is plenty of that dressed up as modern-day wisdom, fear mongering we read in the newspapers, sometimes it even masquerades as comedy.
Alternatively optimism feeds off hope, but if that hope is lacking in a particular group or church, it becomes very difficult for an optimists voice to be heard. She herself begins to doubt in the possibility of hope.
As I have mentioned for the church to move forward we need both the yin and yang of optimism and cynicism, a faithful circle founded in God’s creation. As an optimist I need the cynic to help me see the big picture sometimes, the perceived negativity can be a good thing, checking the reasoning and honing the plan. Conversely a people dominated by negativity can lose hope in the future and even in themselves.
The Lord has created us cynic and optimist to greater or lesser degrees, so regardless of our character traits let us put Jesus first asking for his strength, wisdom and guidance. And viewing people less as a character trait which we like or not, but instead looking and affirming the gifts they bring, within the body of Christ the church, so that the church of Christ might attain a hope and purpose rooted in reality and a spirituality that authentically connects  people with Jesus.

God They’re Just Not In To You. I tried sorry!

After another service leading people in worship, where I was trying to be relevant, engaging and even inspiring! The thought struck me, thankfully not knocking me off my bicycle as I cycled home.

The thought I pondered, as my wheels turned, was around that old saying concerning discipleship and growing in God, the desire that in the core of our uniqueness there might be “More of God and less of self”.

Sure God uses our abilities, and unique skill sets to serve him. But shouldn’t worship and ministry be less about style and more about experiencing God? Style matters of course and is a gateway, through the door which Jesus stands and knocks at, inviting us to walk deeper with him.

As a preacher and church leader, I am interactive and full of energy, I am the kind of guy that throws himself in, doing whatever it takes to connect with the unchurched generations and encourage the regulars.

I’m not  traditional although my style has become my tradition. I could have easily have just turned out as a more structured formal kind of preacher. I am uncomfortable, with these demarcations as they imply one is better than the other, where in reality I believe God can use both to minister to the faithful and non believer.

The whispered reality in my head for me is that after many years of serving God, being interactive, using video clips in worship, and the like. I find myself wondering what I have added to the kingdom of God in deepened walks and of new disciples. This isn’t a pity party, or self-flagellation, but I’m trying to take an honest look through the lens of time at the impact God has made through me.

My wife and good friends would tell me and rightly remind me, that I cannot possibly know how God has used me. However that reality sometimes is not enough, I look at the fruit of this thing called ministry, specifically in the area of making new disciples, and I find I am lacking. I don’t make the grade, or hit the target, regardless of how many courses I go on, the gold standard of new disciples being made, numbers anymore than a handful in the 13 years of ministry and 24 years as a christian that I know off. Perhaps I am being a little hard on myself! 🙂

Should I therefore give up in trying to make new disciples, or hope that new people might even come to church. Should I just stop reading the Fresh Expressions manual, probably some people wish I would!

The answer is yes I should give up striving to make new disciples, the kind of striving  that says it all down to me, like some kind of superhero trying to save the world and that assumes that God, and social religious environment has no part to play in the making of new disciples.

Instead perhaps I should be striving to become the man of God he wants me to become, using the unique skill set he has given me. I shouldn’t stop striving to be more effective, as one of Gods agents, of change and transformation, regardless of my style or the way I minister.

I shouldn’t beat myself up over the people brought to faith and who didn’t stick at it, but rejoice in those that have and are. Taking an honest look every now and then, asking the question, how affective am I being in the work of Kingdom building? What do I need to read, learn, be mentored in, so that when I stand before Jesus and look into his eyes. He and I will know in a moments glance, I couldn’t have tried any harder, and that the rest is faithfulness to what God has called me and us too regardless of the perceived and present outcome.

One final thought, would we strive the long hours, with and in God, and be content to see no fruit and instead religious obscurity. Thats not an excuse to do nothing. Instead as a result of faithful living, there were know new Christians, I wonder could we be ok with that, laying all our hopes of new christians and over flowing churches, at the feet of the one who says, follow me and I will be with you to the very end of the age.

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Fertility Tips For Churches

Slave (to the schedule)

Retreat Is Not Surrender

Looking Back & Seeing Jesus!

When you go on a journey with someone, there are points along that journey that hold special significance, there will be moments of beginnings and endings and a range of celebrations and commiserations in between.

One such Journey, has been my journey as someone trying to follow Jesus. I can remember listening, to a preacher a number of years ago now, tell me that he had been a christian for 25 years. I can remember, being hugely impressed that someone had followed Jesus for that long!

I wondered inwardly, what that would look like for me. So as I cross the line of my 25th year, I wonder if I have learnt anything? I wonder what truths have held me, shaped me, and lead me? Do I exhibit more of the fruit of the spirit than when I first began, those long years ago in my mid-teens.

25 years is a huge period of time, there has been more change in the last 25 years than probably will be in my next. Over this period of time I’ve have been busy growing up, and maturing to greater or lesser degrees, and finding out who I am. As well as leaving home, I have finished School and three colleges, and got qualifications I needed, also had various jobs, got married had two children and of course adopted a beautiful cocker spaniel called George.

One particular enduring truth, is that God is present. He has been present, in the darker moments, of depression, and self-loathing. He has been present when I truly believed I was unloved and alone in the world. He was present, in good company, laughter, new experiences, on my wedding day, and in so many other moments.

I have found that looking through the lens of time, some truths are moulded, whilst I believe in the fundamentals of my faith the death and resurrection of Jesus to name one. I have become less fervent about being right, and less quick to condemn others without first picking out the spec’s of prejudice and notions of exclusivity and superiority in my own life. I hope this has led me to be more gracious, and loving.

Another truth I have learnt is that through the ebb and flow of time, there are periods of doubt, spiritual isolation, and ultimately and eventually but deeper a walk with Jesus, that has been seasoned, and tested, as the song refiners fire says produces gold.

It is that gold that I seek above all, the spiritual gold that does not decay, but rather is a priceless gift that I keep giving away, that others, might see all that God is doing through us, the church of Jesus Christ.

I spent some time on retreat last week thinking about these things, discovering what truths I might have learned on my journey so far, and what God might be calling me too next. Sadly too often, I have found that the church has not always discipled me in a coherent and consistent way, and perhaps worse, is that if my faith was rooted entirely in the church I would’ve left long ago!

God however has scattered across my timeline so far, moments for spiritual growth, which have included worship events, friendships that have left their mark in profoundly wonderful ways upon my life. All these and other moments, have helped to grow me, into the person, into the man, I am today. And perhaps also define the ministry I feel called to, within the church, though less than perfect, but which I call home.

Finally during my retreat I stood within a cathedral which has of course stood for centuries, I became aware that my tiny grain of sand of faithful existence, was put into a correct and timeless context, of Gods eternity in which christ prepares a room for you and I.

This of course doesn’t mean we should stop working hard at building Gods Kingdom, far from it, but we can also know we can trust and rest in a God, that is bigger than our vision of what His kingdom should be. A God who will outlive all our attempts at trying to build his temple.

If I Could Walk Away From Jesus!

As we near Holy Week, and all that means for the Christian community, I wonder if might share with you one more story about my personal discipleship. As I have journeyed with Jesus these past 25 years. I have often wondered if the grass is greener on the otherside, if this life of faith is truly worth it?

Is the self denial and sacrifice of so called holy living all really necessary? As I strive to live towards a calling of loving your neighbour as myself and loving God with equal measure.  I wondered from time to time what I would look like as a non-Christian. Whether indeed life would be ‘better’ and more easy! Perhaps I would have less hangups, perhaps also I would be less bothered about other people, and more bothered about what I can get out of life, rather than give and invest in other peoples lives.

There is a story I tell, from the pulpit of a stonecutter, there are probably many variations of this story but here is the one I tell. There is a man who cut stone for a living, he is a stonecutter. He delivers some stone one day to a mansion, he looks at the vast house, and wishes to live there, and if by magic a big voice from heaven says “let it be so.” And so the stonecutter wakes up in a luxurious mansion, with people to wait on his every need. One day the stonecutter is driving in his limousine, the sunshine through the window causing him to squint and is not be able to see the way ahead. He realises that the sun is very powerful, and wishes to be the sun. And a voice from heaven declares “let it to be so.” The stonecutter becomes the sun and shines in all his brilliance warming the earth below and casting light throughout the Galaxy. He notices however that no matter how hard he tries he cannot break through cloud, and so the stonecutter wishes to be a cloud! A big voice from heaven declares “let it be so.” And so the stonecutter becomes a cloud, this seemed a good idea first and then he realised he was being pushed around by the wind. He quickly wished to be the wind. And a big voice from heaven declared. “let it be so.”

As the wind the stonecutter had quite a lot of fun, blowing over houses and people, twirling leaves in the street, blowing snow into huge drifts taller than houses, churning up a rough seas of gigantic waves. The stonecutter thought it was brilliant being the wind he’d found something he loved, however whilst he was the wind he was blowing one day against rock, and no matter how hard he blew the rock would never move. It wouldn’t budge an inch. In a very annoyed voice the stonecutter pronounced I wish I could be a rock. And as a rock he proudly looked out across the valley, as people came and went, as climbers climbed up his face, as couples grew old and children grew up. It was a contented experience he felt at peace. Until one day, he heard a Chipping noise and he noticed a man with a small hammer and chisel, digging into his stonework. There’s nothing he could do, except to say, I wish I could be a stonecutter!

No matter how the stonecutter longed to be something else, he ended up being the person he was meant to be. He took a long journey, to real self-discovery. Regardless of how grumpy I get with God, or temporarily want to walk away. I come back to the truthful reality of my self-discovery, and that I am a believer, I am a christian, no matter where are I am, or where I might end up. I belong to Jesus and it’s him I follow.

May your personal discovery of who you are, not cost you too much, or be too painful. But as you journey remember you are made in the image of the living God, who knows you and loves you.

God Bless and God Speed

Fruit Wonderful Fruit

If I did not know anything about christianity or different faiths that offer depths and riches money simply can’t buy, I am not sure I would sign up!

It seems to me sometimes, that to not have any faith is rather freeing, you’re free from dogma, guilt, and of course you are perhaps less likely to become a suicide bomber or take a gun and shoot people in the streets, or brutalised or bully people in the name of God or because you think God has told you too, which of course people of many faiths have done throughout the ages. I do wonder though if in these cases such people are perhaps using God, as a scapegoat, to hide their own issues and prejudices.

Here the bible comes to our aid in Galatians 5:22-23 which speaks about the fruit of the spirit, being love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

These are not uniquely Christian attributes, for anybody can have these gifts to greater or lesser degree. But perhaps through them you the closer to God you are. Even if you don’t recognise it, or indeed recognise God working within you through the power of Holy Spirit.

So perhaps when we think about signing up to a faith we look for its fruit, we question what are the fruit of its disciples? Fruit of course is good for us, I am often struggling to choose fruits over chocolate! Even though I know obviously that fruit is better for me.

But the kind of fruit that St Paul is speaking about to the church in Galatia, is the kind of fruit I would look for above all else, both in myself, and the community I find myself in. Through my faith in Jesus and the work of the Holy Spirit this fruit, can grow and I can see it develop in the life of others.

Where we do not find the fruit of the spirit, where we do not see anything but hatred, prejudice, and a pseudo spirituality, that veils a deeper narrative of political posturing, and so-called religious bias, that actually destroys what God is trying to accomplish in people. In those places, you won’t grow, you might not realise it at first.

However Just like you go to a doctor, and have a health check, and he sits across from you and tells you earnestly you need to eat more fruit! I Encourage you to check your spiritual diet, and just like eating healthy, bares in you the fruit of healthy living, a tighter waistline, and longevity. Becoming spiritually healthy means your bear these fruit not just in abundance, but you’ll see them in others, and be more connected with the living God, who doesn’t call you to hurt others but love them as yourself, and if you struggle with loving yourself of course, try loving them as much as God, for regardless of faith, gender, race, sexuality, or all manner of things, they, you and I have been made in Gods image and deserve to be treated as we would treat God.

Finally for those of us who have used God as a scapegoat for our own prejudices and issues, to pour condemnation on others or worse. There is hope, Jesus was hung on the cross as a scapegoat for all of our sin. Through this single act of sacrifice, we can learn the sentiment behind these nine fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, that through the power of the holy spirit can be born in us, and in turn we can be liberated from the venom that poisons our relationship with Jesus and those that don’t know him.

Why not join me in prayer?

Lord help me to see my prejudices for what they are. Help me not to mistake my words, thoughts and feelings with yours. Set me free, by the power of the Holy spirit, to live and work, as you call me too.

In Jesus name, Amen

The Peace Baby

‘I can’t forgive you.’ Is the kind of statement that separates people, divides communities and causes rifts that last years, perhaps life times. The words signify a break in that relationship, a fissure opens up between you and they.

When I face my tormenter, I can’t forgive from my own wellspring of strength. No matter how much I work out in the gym or look inwards. Instead it is only when God supports me, and reminds me, that he loves the person behind the torment that there is a bigger narrative! Only then can I find the strength to have compassion, the strength to stand and not be his victim anymore.

This christmas the birth of Jesus could be seen as a peace offering, the beginning of a way back to God and a deepening of our walk with him. It is said of a primitive tribe in some far flung place on earth, that part of their culture when one tribe is at war with the other, the offering of a peace baby could be made, in this ritual the chief offers his own baby to his enemy to be raised as one of them. As long as this peace baby survives peace remains intact between the warring sides.

God put his son into the hands of those who didn’t truly understand who the messiah was, to people who were impoverished in so many ways. God entrusted his sons care in a simple act of  trust that is reciprocated. In that simple trust the cosmic rift between us and God begins to be healed, closed and shut for good.

Gods lullaby to us is of a love that transforms, Joseph into the most understanding husband ever, that his betrothed would be pregnant by God, this love transforms a peasant girl into Mary mother of God, Shepherds into the first evangelists, and wise men into the first christalogical scholars.

I wonder how Gods lullaby might transform us with our internal struggles, and how this song might lead us to a new place of healing and understanding. Of a God who will literally go the distance for us. I wonder would we at least, in his strength, go the distance for one another.

My children sometimes come to me affronted by the other who has wronged them in some way, all too often as parents we hear the line, “they started it!!” After which forgetting how young they are I  try to explain, that if no one steps up and becomes the bigger person and breaks that cycle, when does it stop. He looks at me blankly and replies, ‘but she started it!’

We find in the christmas story that God breaks the cycle, which begins with birth and ends in resurrection. God begins a 33 year peacemaking programme with humankind with the people of Mary and Josephs time. As we celebrate Christmas this year we are reminded of his peace initiative, God’s olive branch his peace baby who doesn’t stay dead, that the rift between us and God might be healed and peace maintained forever, by a baby born in a manger in Bethlehem, who is called Jesus.

Merry Christmas.

Fertility Tips For Churches!

In a doctors waiting room John and Mary sit nervously, anxious for the news of their fertility tests, they longed for answers to their questions and fears. In a church nearby, a pastor sits looking across the empty pews in his church, he wonders what he needs to do to fill them. Two separate but emotionally charged scenes, each with hopes and fears about the future one for a baby and another for disciples.

The churches I look after, like so many, currently have a fertility issue when it comes to making disciples, it’s the singular issue that is paralysing our future, and we need help.

A couples fertility Journey begins in denial and ends with acceptance whether that is acceptance of a life with or without children. Whatever the Journey John and Mary take there will be an array of options such as IVF, various drugs, adoption or choosing to remain childless. This sort of journey is one not dissimilar that our churches might take.

I don’t think for many of Gods people we can deny our reality it’s plain to see for many of us, and it’s heart breaking and painful. This kind of reality check, can tear at the fabric of a congregation just as much as it tears at the heart of a couples relationship.

So what are the churches’ options? Recognising that there is a problem is a start, look at what others are doing well, research the local context, resist jumping on the christian idea bandwagon, listen to God, the community and the church. See how fresh expressions work might help you. There are so many options and possibilities but it can be hard to know whats right for your context.

Take your time, did you know that an adoption agency will not even consider your application earlier than one year after an infertility diagnosis. Rightly so in my opinion, social services recognise that there is work to be done, a journey to be had and acceptance and letting go of what was and peace to be held onto as they move ahead.

Just as much as John and Mary need to figure out what is right for them, the individual church needs to figure out and come to terms the right way ahead for themselves. Of course for John and Mary there is an alternate decision just as difficult and brave, that is to decide to call time on there journey and make a life without children.

For some of our churches it’s time, to sit and weep with them, to listen to their hearts breaking and invite them to move on to create a new life for themselves, because collectively they can’t make disciples for some reason. This is such a magnificently brave decision for a congregation to make. It might be that for those individuals they start at another church that is fertile and their hopes are realised in a different way as they are adopted by that church family.

The church is not dead we just have a little bit of infertility, and infertility is not the end of the story it never is, it is perhaps the beginning of a fight or a new life, it is the point of acceptance we move beyond, to the new thing God is calling us too, the bright future, the hopeful one, the one shaped not as we might have imagined, but reshaped in Gods design for us as his people.

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