The Fig Tree

One day Jesus told a parable (Luke 13:1-9)…there was a fig tree and the master came out to inspect it.

“This tree has been here 3 years and never produced fruit, cut it down”

“Tell you what, I’ll dig out a new home for the tree and give it fresh fertilizer (and water), why don’t you wait a year and see if it produces fruit then” the gardener persuaded

“Fine but if it doesn’t grow, chop it down”

And that is the end of the story…no resolution, no happily ever after, why?

Because the point of the story is the need for nourishment, as the kids in church said today, chopping down a tree isn’t going to help it to produce fruit, but encouragement does…

But digging even deeper into the story, we have to wonder, what is the point of the fig tree producing fruit anyway? Here it goes to all the trouble of growing fruit for what…

to nourish itself?

to have it sit there forever?

to help itself to grow bigger and stronger?

No, it does it so that some other creature can eat its fruit! The usefulness of the tree is not in the tree structure itself; the tree was growing just fine without any fruit, but in how it nourishes others…

And that, my friend is the church, we exist not to nourish or help ourselves, but to share our fruits with others.

If we have no fruit, if we go on upholding our structure, then we are not, in fact, successful.

There is a theory (probably most famously put forth in the book “Bowling Alone”) that society embraced and loved institutions in the 1950s. There were many groups that flourished in this time: scouts, elks, bowling clubs, churches. Churches adapted the institutional structure and did as well as the rest.

Today the structure is to make your own kind of community. You do yoga alone, you make connections online and through relay rides and couchsurfers (for my thoughts on millennials read here). But, that doesn’t mean the hunger/the thirst for God isn’t still there (Psalm 63 was paired with the fig tree gospel reading for a reason). People long for a spirituality that feeds them, has  integrity (***please note, I do not mean they want a vending machine or religion that caters to their every whim, but something that is both relevant and still full of integrity), and one that practices what it preaches–supporting social justice & those in need. Millennials have just internalized the independent nature of our culture (I’ll do it alone, in fact I’ll make a community all on my own) hence: Spiritual but not religious. Church’s need to figure out how to nourish that independent nature so it too can produce fruit.

Its like a Farmer’s Market where people want to take responsibility for their food by connecting to the people who grow it…How can church be less like a supermarket and more like a Farmer’s Market?

After all, Jesus came and gave his ENTIRE LIFE as nourishment for all of us, that is why we (Presbyterians) practice open communion, because everyone gets to share in the spiritual fruits of Christ!

I’m not saying bowling is better than yoga or vice versa, I’m saying that when the church is able to make spiritual fruit to nourish others, that is called ministry! (again we are back to the Farmer’s Market at my church, how can we make it MORE nourishing)

 

How can we, as a church, make the fruit to nourish others.

 

PS do you know olive trees live thousands of years? In the Garden of Gethsemane I was able to see some fig trees which, in all likelihood, stood while Jesus prayed right before his crucifixion. So really, giving a church/person/tree of a couple of years when we can grow and be shaped by thousands is looking at things from a human perspective…How much more can God see, from where she sits? Here is a picture of some of those ACTUAL trees!

A True Story

A teacher and a nurse are left with a faltering church. The teacher is practical and into appearances and the nurse is into rule following and order. Both women help to run the church for 40+ years. In all probability should either of them not have been there the church probably no longer exists.

Neither woman likes the other (in fact there are rumors of the women’s mother’s hating each other), but they are there the two pillars of the church. In walks a policeman. The policeman is new, and yet he gets to irritate both the teacher and the nurse. The teacher hates how he wants to lay out everything in rules, the nurse hates that the policeman likes to always be right.

A new pastor walks in and insists that God wants all these people to be a church.

The people all wrangle, manipulate, yell and complain.

But the pastor says that God put everyone in this church for a reason.

Much more goggosomen,grumblings murmuring and mutterings occured (See John 6:35-51 about goggosomen)

Then the pastor insisted that the church continue to be a church

Then an argument broke out, it might have been between the policeman and the teacher, or the teacher and the nurse or any combination of said participants.

Words were said, aggression became passive for some and active for others.

And in the end the pastor looked at her scripture, threw out her sermon and preached on the Golden Rule in light of the fight that had taken place not ten min before service.

Jesus commands us to love God, anyone who has loved a person with depression, addiction or bad days knows that love is hard work. Happily Ever After is just the beginning of the commitment.

That is what we are doing here as a church–we are vowing to be together forever, to love no matter what and to work on our relationships.

Who here doesn’t have relationships they need to work on? Church is a place to work on those through the empowering and life-changing love that is personified in Jesus Christ.

And every Sunday, every time we gather, whenever two or three gather in Christ’s name–the tone should be that of a wedding, for we are renewing and living out our vow…

The story doesn’t end happily ever after–because the church is too busy, too busy renewing their vows, working together and attempting to love one another no matter what.

Because whether or not the church needs us, or whether or not the God needs us…

The church wants us, and God wants us….God wants to love us, God wants us to reflect that love unto the world so that our entire being is changing…..

And that is something the pastor will avow to till the end of her time!

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(funny thing, all these professions are public sector jobs, note the above comic portrays a teacher, a policeman and a nurse)

Deuteronomy 6:4-94Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. 7Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. 8Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, 9and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

 

 

Mark 12:28-34

28One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question

Money=Symbol

I still remember when the stock market was falling. I had just decided (luckily) to stay another year in school, and the market was doing horribly, and everyone was running around like chickens with their heads cut off saying “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” no wait…that’s chicken little. ImageThey were actually saying “The market is falling, the market is falling” which of course just made the panic and therefore the downturn of the market worse…

2 things get me about this

1. If someone with authority had just said, Stop, calm down, let’s take the time to think about this–instead of throwing money at the situation as quickly as possible things might have gone better (and I am totally bipartisan in my blame here)

2. Money is not what we think it is…

Anyone remember when gas was under a dollar a gallon? When I was 10 (that would be 19yrs ago–yes you may do the math of how old I am 🙂 ) I remember gas sometimes being as cheap as $.89

And when I asked my congregation if they can remember one cent candy, most of them could (alas that was before my time) ImageThe point being that a dollar is not really a dollar, and that money is just a symbol.

To us it means status (yes)Image but its more than that, we trust the value of the dollar, to us it means security something we can depend on. But you know what? Money is not security. People like to think about money in the bank, or land ownership as guarentees. People like to talk about job security (is there such a thing). Heck, we even have a system of money that is named Social Security.

Do you know that our dollars aren’t backed by silver anymore? It used to be money was the symbol of the silver that backed it up in the treasury–now its backed up by nothing.

So what I have a question, what makes money an effective symbol? Probably its quantifiable and tangible nature. We have put a piece of paper out to symbolize commerce, and so we are able to better conceptualize it.

This is why tithing is so important, it isn’t just about giving money to the church–its about your relationship with God. If you give money to God regularly, then you are going think about God whenever you deal with money, hence changing the very way we deal with money in the day to day–it changes the symbol. (Maybe this is why research shows the only way money makes you happy is if you give it away see amazing TED Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/michael_norton_how_to_buy_happiness.html for more)

Now…what if God was our security? What if we depended not on pieces of paper but on God to bring us through. What if we, in essence bank of God.Image

How much God do you have on you?

Do you have enough to get you through the week?

Can you share some God with me today?

Need more God, better go back to the bank (Church) where theres enough God to go around..

As the church, are we “generating interest” in God? Are we growing our funds? Are we accruing more God through our actions?

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Because after all, God doesn’t grow on trees…

PS Scripture Matthew 19, note 2 things 1. When the man is foolish, Jesus loves him first before he responds in ANY other way, Jesus loves him & 2. Jesus promises to increase everything a hundredfold–which is great because it clues us in to the fact that this love isn’t really quantifiable…hundredfold is a better interpretation than a hundred, because it isn’t exact, it is more a SYMBOL of what is going happen (besides who can handle a hundred spouses, speaking as a married woman who finds polygamy BIblical yet crazy, I couldn’t even handle two 😉

Anyway, the point being, Possessions are just symbols

17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Me: “Who does Westley (m…

Me: “Who does Westley (my 2yr old) say hi to?”
Congregation: “Everybody”
Me: In fact he’s quite militant about it. If you say hi once, you are doomed to continue to say hi to him all day!

Best synopsis of my sermon about welcome today. Text: Mark 9:30-37

30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

 

Vampires, Harry Potter and the Wonderfulness of Fantasy!!

Someday, when I am rich and famous

Or when my children are grown

Or when I plain old have the time, I’m going to write a great thesis about the evolution of Fantasy from mythology to Fairy Tale to Fantasy to Modern Day. (for a little on this read my post about Beauty and the Beast)

And when I do I will write many many important and amazing things about life.
But if you love fantasy, and are curious about Church, can I just say that nothing corresponds in describing the human condition (in my opinion) and the importance and significance of hope in the Bible …nothing except the fantasy

Nowhere else does good battle evil, amazing things happen, people live in completely different conditions with different abilities, and yet they still are stuck with struggling with the human condition. Those things that make life essential!

My professor Kenda Dean says that being a teenager is the human condition (the highs, the lose, the hopes, the inherent brokenness of it all) on crack; and that’s why she likes it.

Maybe that’s why most teens read fantasy, and many adults “outgrow” it.

While I have your attention two brief points about Fantasy that I hope to explore via ministry (with all ages, not just children or teens) at some point.

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1. What is with Vampires today?

There seems to be a fascination with

a. Everlasting Love

b. Living Forever

c. Drinking the Essence of a Living being to do so….

Any thoughts about Religion and this fascination??Image

2. Harry Potter: Because it is awesome

At one point Harry Potter discusses that the right way to pursue eternal life is through Hallows, Not Horcruxes….

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Ponder that

What are the Hallowed things (Hallow means Holy by-the-bye)

What are the Crutches, the Horrible Crucibles in your life. How do they seem like they provide eternal life, but they are not….

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Ponder these, get back to me, and then tell me that this generation of Fantasy readers isn’t ripe for the Gospel!!!

PS recently there was a great post about telling the Gospel in 7 words or less in Christian Century

www.christiancentury.org/search/apachesolr_search/seven%20words and for a good blog read http://theblueroomblog.org/2012/08/30/the-gospel-in-seven-words/I

I’ve decided mine would be

Trying to be as gracious as God

or Hallows, not Horcruxes….Just saying 😉

Peace All!

Let’s Talk about Debt…

Debt is a big problem for us. Even if you don’t personally have debt (hooray) the United States as a country walks around with billions of dollars in debt every day.

What does this mean to be in debt? I’ve decided it means that you are empty–you have are literally worth less than nothing when you are in debt. And here we are in debt.

If you’ve ever studied the book of Ruth there is a weird legalistic part at the end. Instead of an immediate happily-ever-after between Ruth and Boaz (I love that fact that she proposes to him, talk about being ahead of the times!) It basically has to do with the fact that if you take on Elimelech’s indebted land, then you can make it fruitful again. However, if you have a son by Ruth you are then beholden to that inheritence instead of you own. I think thats it. Honestly, scholars disagree. They aren’t really sure what all was meant, and when Ruth was written down it was already ancient history because the whole sandal thing had to be explained.

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Anyway, what everyone agrees on is

A. Elimelech’s land had laid empty/fallow for many years and the debt on it had to be redeemed in order for it be planted again

B. Ruth was part of the deal, and Ruth was so obviously (at least as far as they knew in Biblical times) barren, because she didn’t have any previous children.

So here you go, empty land, empty family.

In many ways we the mainline church have the same problem with empty land–have you seen our crumbling-on-the-sale-block-only-six-people-attend-here churches? (the irony being that non-religious people are always sad to see churches close, what is that about anyway???)

Ok but without getting too tangential, we as a church are empty.

Then there’s me, well us, well my entire generation. I grew up during the boom years, I was told that as long as I work hard and do right things will work out for me. Yet here we are (and I speak from my personal experiences and those of my friends) struggling with debt, purpose and fulfillment.

Opportunities are so scarce for my generation, and many people have had to put off marriage, children, settling down or even being able to start their career due to the economy. Every single person I know has had to live off of their parents in some way, shape or form post college.

Married, single, graduate, post-graduate, post-baccelerate, even those with children have had to get help, move in with their parents or follow their spouse across the country only to work a menial job hopefully sort of in their field.

So what is it people want when they come to church?

They want somewhere, where they are no longer empty. They want somewhere where they can be fulfilled. And (more importantly) they don’t want to feel judged. Us Milleniumers, Boomerangers (because we return home), us zero-ers or whatever you want to call us feel the weight of our own emptiness.

All our hard work seems to be for naught, much of what we are characterized by is our selfishness our need to be special our consumerism etc.

I can say (in total biased opinion) that this is not true. We don’t all think we are special or well-deserved, we just hope we might be a little bit, and our experience of adulthood (do you know my second week of undergrad was 9/11/2001–my entire adulthood has been shaped by our post 9/11 world, whereas my entire childhood was pre-9/11).

Do you know what Young People think of when they think of church? Antigay (i.e. judgemental and bigotted). I cannot tell you how much this hurts me. No wonder people think church has nothing to offer, no wonder it seems nonsensical and out of date. People don’t associate church with love and service, but rather selfishness and closemindedness. Plus the church is trying to figure out how to bring people to the church, when instead we should be figuring out how to bring church to people.

So here we are, empty. What does it mean when we forgive our debts? What does it mean when God Fulfills God’s promises?

What does God offer us that is different from the regular activity?

Here is a need, plain and simple, for many “young people” and most people in general. A need to find fulfillment and worth outside of money, a way to struggle with debt and yet not to feel empty, and definition that exists outside the bounds of the day-to-day slog. So what is fulfillment, what is forgiveness. How does debt figure into all of this, and should the church heed this desperate call of the empty young professionals today, or do we continue to figure out how to survive without worrying about these problems!!!

I feel a VERY strong call here to do something about this, what if the church stood in the way of debt, what if we showed how God fulfills us, what would happen then?

A Post about being Post…well Post-Everything

I am a graduate of Oberlin (yay Oberlin), and I loved (almost) every minute of it. But one of the things Obies love to do is take things apart. (Any other Obies feel free to chime in about this). In fact, sometimes we would move to “deconstructing” things so fast that I would feel like I didn’t even know how the thing was constructed in the first place (as an English Major my high school was highly lacking in Shakespeare, and I wanted to round my education out with him, however the only classes offered were about deconstructing what we supposedly had learned in high school).

Now as I get into ministry I hear a lot of talk about what this post-culture is going to do? Author Ross Douthat wrote an article about Can Liberal Christianity be saved? (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/opinion/sunday/douthat-can-liberal-christianity-be-saved.html) His conclusion was that” Today, by contrast, the leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that perhaps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.Absent such a reconsideration, their fate is nearly certain: they will change, and change, and die. (PS for a good response to this read http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2012/07/can-liberal-christianity-be-saved-a-response-to-ross-douthat/)

However as I look at this world, I see that we are trying to construct a Post-Religious world (i.e. Spiritual not religious viewpoint that is so oft referenced). So the question comes, what does a post-church, post-christian, post-denominational (I am told by a good friend this is a move that the Bible belt is especially making) world. How do we post about our Post-world? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postchristianity)

Going forward I have to say that to me a post-religious world would look like the following

1) Where individuals ultimately choose to uphold each other as people, even when beliefs differ (perhaps what our Moderator and Vice Moderator were trying to model at GA before our Vice had to step down). Allowing Spiritual Practices to bring people together–>at least I think this is what some of the Spiritual people are trying to get at…

2) Where church isn’t made up of the “shoulds” of religion: church should have pews, church should include hymns, church should have Sunday School, but is instead moved by Holy Spirit to BE a faith community whenever and however that comes together….

3) Where the Faith of a group of people is ultimately used to empower those individuals who are powerless. What happens when powerless people come together? that’s right they become empowered If the church functions as a community builder grounded in the love of God, then we cannot help but support and empower each other to do new and wonderful things….

Places where this is overlooked today=basically everyone who is assigned an associate pastor (that is a rant yet to come)

The Young

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Recently, these interactive boards have moved from the back of the broken pews to the corner of the sanctuary that we designated as a toddler area. (from a fellow pastor http://theresaecho.com/2011/04/18/interactive-toddler-boards/)

The Elderly

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The College Age

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The Young Adult (i.e. those in there 20s and 30s)

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(you know those with young families who need babysitting or those who are still single and constantly on the move to find a job in the tough economy)

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The Minorities: Racial, Ethnic and of course the poor

Thats right if your not a white middle class, middle aged American in many denominations your power is significantly less not only in society but in the church itself. Plus if you are not well-educated and don’t love words (say you learn by practice or are a visual learner) you probably won’t fit in well to the traditional Presbyterian service. (Does anyone else see something wrong with this?)

What would a service look like if it was regularly handed to these groups? What would faith look like if we went to where these people were?

You know what I think? I think that Ministry, True Ministry is to make FAITH ACCESSIBLE (that’s right, I put it in caps, that’s how serious I am). ImageHow do we make, not only our building, our worship and our activities accessible, How do we make our Faith Accessible. What does it mean that people identify Spirituality over religion or faith? I think its because Spirituality feels accessible. You can use what is comfortable to you, you can learn about it at your own pace, and your can connect with different people over different aspects of it even if you don’t agree completely with them (for the record I have both liberal and conservative friends).

So how can we do that for Faith?

I don’t know,

But let me remind you friends, that there is no resurrection without death!
Whether you consider this time the denominational pregnancy http://vimeo.com/25360983

or even if you think we are dying….http://treymorgan.net/17-signs-your-church-might-be-dying/

Either way, there is a rebirth a coming, the question is how will we access it?

(P.S. Giving Access is not the same as watering down faith, just so I’m clear on that!)

When to go to church (or) the Christian Struggle with Perfection

“Marilla, isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” Image

“I’ll warrant you’ll make plenty in it,” said Marilla. “I never saw your beat for making mistakes, Anne.”

“Yes, and well I know it,” admitted Anne mournfully. “But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice.”

“I don’t know as that’s much benefit when you’re always making new ones.”

“Oh, don’t you see, Marilla? There must be a limit to the mistakes one person can make, and when I get to the end of them, then I’ll be through with them. That’s a very comforting thought.”

 

I can still remember having a very “adult” conversation with my parents. It was one in which I must have been about 10, and my parents were telling me that I wasn’t perfect, and that I was going to have to live with myself. My response to this (because I knew no one could be perfect) was “I don’t want to be perfect, I just don’t want to make any mistakes!”

As Christians we have this ongoing struggle with perfection. On the one hand we want to be perfect, on the other part of being Christian (at least for me ) is admitting that we aren’t perfect. It is contending with our brokenness, and giving it up to God to be healed.

However, even though we know this about ourselves, I think that Christians often feel the mistaken need to pro-ject perfection. We want to look or at least seem perfect to everyone else. It’s as if our perfection reflects upon the perfection of God. If we aren’t perfect, then God isn’t perfect. If we don’t have all the answers, then God doesn’t have all the answers.

Instead of pointing towards God’s for answers, we rely upon ourselves or the “church” (i.e. that human conglomeration that we too often see as being the church) to be perfect/have the answers.

 

That’s where pastors mess up too right? Pastors feel that they have to be perfect, and instead of being open about their faith and their brokenness and talking about where they meet, Pastors try to be perfect, hide their mistakes/failings (which often leads to a whole nasty secret double life). Too often pastors skip their own confessions–of both faith and doubt, and then the quagmire’s come

So we are back to the perfection and mistakes. It is important to strive towards perfection, but to also rely on God on the source of all perfection. And even when I think that I know my way to God, it is important not to project that as the only way to God.

Too often, I think that Church is shown as a place for “perfect” people or (worse) people who think they are perfect. Too often Church is seen as the place where all of our answers are provided. After all, church is not the place to give standardized tests–God answers each of us personally and individually….Image

When, in actuality. God is a mystery, the church doesn’t know how everything works (Trinity, anyone? Or how about that Virgin Birth thing?) The church should be the A number 1 place to go when you AREN’T Perfect, it should be THE place to go when you have questions, and it should be the surrenduring of your mistakes and imperfections to God so that God is the one we are relying on to “project the right image” not humanity or the church in itself…..

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