Pentecost on Memorial Day Weekend.

Rod White:

Pentecost on Memorial Day weekend! Enjoy but engage.

Originally posted on Rod's Blog:

1) Memorial Day is a hard one. It really means something significant and is sad on so many levels.

  • It is sad that we ignore it as we go to the beach.
  • It is sad that it is “religious” and the dead are made sacred sacrifices to American “freedom.”
  • It is sad that Christians have no more voice in a heavily Christian country. Or that they have used their influence to justify the war machine instead of advocating “love your neighbor as yourself,” much less, “love your enemy.” I wrote a poem.

2) What a wonderful night observing Pentecost last night! It makes me want to talk about it! I think thoughts from last year are still worth considering.

3) My poem about Pentecost and the beach.

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Parenting as a community

Some people saw “parenting” in the title of my post and never got further than the title. They are not a parent at all, or not a parent of young children, so they are skipping this post because it is “not about me.” At some level, that’s OK, since we don’t have to be universally responsible for everything. But children are not just a subject, they are not merely an activity, they are members of the body of Christ.

Children are not of age to make a covenant, so they are those kind of members of the body. But they are members by virtue, generally, of being present with their parents. As a result, they are the special charges we are all given to nurture into faith until they can make an adult decision to walk with Jesus with us. If you ignore them, or you don’t think they are watching you ignore them, you will not only miss your opportunity and shirk your responsibility to care, you may actually prove to be a detriment to their development. (Did you listen to Into the Woods last year?)

parentsWe are parenting as a community. One way or another, we will all be parenting when children are around in the church. This is how it should be. We are the family of God, after all. The church is either a great environment where everyone, children included, can be connected to God and form a secure attachment — or not. We want to be a church who…

  • encourages everyone to care for our weakest people: the children,
  • helps parents with their difficult and crucial ministry to their children,
  • helps parenting households in an individualized society to develop practical ways to share their burdens
  • opens doors for including new parents in the systems we come up with to share the load.

At recent meetings of Circle of Hope, we openly talked about how we are doing with nurturing this environment. For the most part, we thought we were doing pretty well. But we were criticized for letting children be invisible, and for letting parents get stuck in being isolated, as is often the society’s habit — since we are supposed to be self sufficient individuals, and, by extension, self-sufficient families.

Adults tend to go through our meetings looking for connections that please them and opportunities that satisfy a main question they ask of every circumstance: what’s in it for me? Advertisers have been appealing to this self-interest so relentlessly since they were born, that it is hard not to see it as a natural reaction. So they often look  over the heads of the children (which is easy to do, right?) assuming there is nothing down there for them. They miss that children not only have things to offer as people, if you listen to them like they are listening to you. What’s even better, caring for children develops the love of God in us. Caring for the vulnerable and enlightening the lost are the main activities that expand our hearts to receive more of the Holy Spirit and become our true selves. It never makes sense to overlook a child.

A few years ago we began talking about “village parenting.” Mainly we were talking about the parents getting together and living as the community they are in regard to their children. Parenting can be so hard for most of us that we need our extended birth family and our extending family in Christ to come alongside. Many people don’t have a birth family who is available, (or who they want to be involved and making they mess they made the first time), so their family in Christ is very important. Many children do not have a functioning family or a family in Christ, so we are a great place for them to learn to attach to people and to God when we invite them in. “Village parenting” is an important skill for everyone to learn. It takes a village to raise a child in Christ.

Hillary Clinton made the point about villages and children in her famous book. She got her image from an African proverb but we got our point from Acts 4:32-35. We rewrote that passage for parents and have been working on doing it ever since. This wold be ideal: All the parents were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that their personal resources for parenting were the only resources they had, but they shared with each other. With great power the parents continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus in their families, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy parents or children among them. For from time to time those who had resources of time, materials, organizing and imagination shared them. The little they had individually became more in God’s hands, so that all the needs were attended to. Even if you are not a parent, you’d want to get in on that, wouldn’t you?

God is our Father. Jesus is our brother. Last night Peter was telling us at BW that the Spirit is consistently delivering pure spiritual milk to us newborn babies who long for it. Following Jesus is all about family. A lot of people who may be insecurely attached to their own parents and who may not have a secure attachment to God as a result, like to make following Jesus into something they can control or do in their typically avoidant way. But Jesus redirects our outlook from our preoccupations and points back to the children, even the troubled child still unfinished in us or the newborn babe anxiously longing for spiritual milk. We need to be like a child ourselves, a loving, longing child of our loving, longing parent. When we are parenting as a community, all of us, not just the people with children, we are in step with God, who has made us with great instincts for love, which are often unleashed by those needy little people among us.

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5 reasons some people are tired of being a Christian

More and more people are just plain tired out from being a Christian. They feel a change in their world. They are uncomfortable about adapting. I think they are feeling a nostalgia for a time that may have never existed: “Christendom” — a time when the state and the church had some kind of joint rule of the society. (If it ever really worked like that, it was a LONG time ago). The privatization of the church accelerated after WW2 when science took over truth at government expense; now the day of the church being consulted about society is over. I am not sure I feel that nostalgia, since when I became a Christian I changed my allegiance to the Kingdom and didn’t worry about how I fit into the “public.” But a lot of people did not see their conversion like I did, so they are hurting. Here are some reasons they are tired — and why you might be tired of being a Christian, too.

  1. post christian

    Click pic for more

    Leaders are fighting to fill the post-Christian vacuum

Regardless of how it happened, the church as an institution in society is not as important as it used to be. (Of course we have always thought that being a mere institution under the umbrella of “society” was wrong anyway!). I celebrate the end of the unholy alliance — it marginalized Jesus and distorted the Gospel. But the end of it does leave a cultural vacuum – and a lot of Christians spend a lot of time getting sucked into the debates over ideas, theology, and the relationship between faith and a changing culture.  If they are Americans, they tend to think their culture is crucial and their ideas extremely important. So their leaders talk about what to do now all the time (like I am) and get them to fight for the soul of nation (like I hope not to do). Conflict makes people tired. Any time there is some kind of cultural vacuum being flooded with a mixture of new and old ideas, there will be conflict. We hate conflict.  It makes us tired — tired enough to switch on the tube and binge again — or something.

  1. Christian tribes are splintering and dying

Christians have been breaking off into tribes since the early days. Early disciples had debates about whether to follow Jesus or John the Baptist (John 1-3), Paul, Apollos or Peter (1 Cor. 3). 1500 years later the Church experienced the magisterial and radical reformations. Since that time, the Church has splintered off into somewhere around 40,000 denominations. Even broad categories such as “progressive” or “evangelical” even Mennonite are now seeing an emergence of splinter tribes who often shoot their own people for aberrant views. People tend to take their thinking from the present democratic philosophies about identity that is creating tinier subgroups every day which then get hardened by niche marketing. This leaves many people feeling like there’s no place where they can just exist and wrestle in emotional safety – most of the time they expect to get shot so they just become masters at hiding. It is tiring to be on the run.

  1. With another presidential campaign looming, despair is rising.

When the first presidential candidate officially kicked off the 2016 presidential cycle, some people wanted to cry. It seems like the last election just ended a few days ago. Some people care about this circus and some people decidedly don’t. The people in the middle get squeezed from both sides. Christians join right in with the quadrennial feast of lies and judgathons and judge, ostracize, and write-off other believers on the basis of which candidate they prefer. Politics married off to Jesus divides his people – the people called to live in unity and love. It is tiring to feel judged.

  1. ex good christian

    Click pic for more. This really exists!

    The current of Christless culture is getting stronger and most people are not used to swimming upstream.

One of my acquaintances posted this on Facebook yesterday: “Two days ago we were walking down 40th St and walking towards us is a young Dad and his maybe 6-7 year old daughter, and as we pass each other the little girl turns to me and says, “Hey sugar.” Then yesterday at work our customer’s special needs daughter told me I looked like Jesus Christ with tattoos. I don’t know what else to say besides, Yoga?” Hot AND beatific – and all due to Yoga. He was being funny (since he just started Yoga). But it is a new era.

Life in much of the Church was so tied to the old, modern culture that it was never counter to culture. Now that it is essentially excluded from hyper-modern culture, people don’t know what to do. They used to own the culture and bought the false belief that somehow Kingdom priorities were aligned with the priorities of empire. Not so. Passionate Jesus followers who want to live and be the words of Jesus are finding themselves at odds not only with much of the dominant culture, but at odds with the church, which has spent almost 1800 years trying to make the world work as part of the government. Counter cultural faith is beautiful – but it can be tiring. Most Christians don’t have much stamina built up for going against the current, in their brains, hearts or habits.

  1. Authentic, real-world relationships and community are hard to find… Virtuality doesn’t cut it. Consumerism is boring.

Being countercultural and at odds with both post-Christian culture and institutionalized church, leads to  isolation all around. Some Jesus followers are finding churches who are doing wonderful Kingdom things and who are refusing to collude with empire (I hope we are one!). Others are not finding churches like that and have to settle for “online” community because they’re often ostracized from a local body of believers. Unfortunately, for whatever benefits one gets from an online community, they are hardly a replacement for real world, show-up-at-your-door-with-food relationships.  Live this way long enough, and it’s a straight shot to Christian burnout.

Are you feeling like any of this? What are the things that are leading you to how you feel? What suggestions do you have for easing the trouble a radical Jesus follower might face?

[Much of this was suggested by Benjamin Corey]

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What does it take to make a church happen in your 20’s and 30’s?

Our church will be talking a lot about children for the next month or so. Not only do we love them, we know a lot of them. (They seem to be popping out all over like tulips). We want to stategize for raising them together.

Many people who have raised this generation of twentysomethings are second-guessing what they did. We can probably learn from them as we raise the next generation, since many of us are their children! A lot of Gen-Y/millennials (destructive labeling) seem a lot more helpless than expected, more than a few can’t work well enough or get along well enough to keep a job, and they expect a lot to be delivered into this moment they are living for. There may be reasons for this:

  • They may have been told they are special – for no reason. They didn’t display excellent character or skill, but now they demand special treatment. The problem is that kids assumed they didn’t have to do anything special in order to be special.
  • They may have been told to dream big – and now any small act seems insignificant.
  • Their parents may have made their happiness a central goal. Now it’s difficult for them to generate happiness — the by-product of living a meaningful life.
  • They may have been given every comfort – and now they can’t delay gratification. (Mickey Goodman)

Surprisingly enough, at our last Imaginarium, when we asked the question, “What is God saying to us?” we started talking about the same things. We are the “young” people who are learning new traits from God and one another that allow us to serve our cause. And yes, we think we are special and at the same time doubt anyone who says someone or something is more special than someone or anything else. We are often bumping up against the reality that we actually have to do something to live up to our ideals. A lot of what we talked about matches the quotes above. Here’s my summary of our rich dialogue:

Being and building the church is often hard — trust God

In the great scheme of things, we can’t instantly change the world. We have to take small, first steps – which seem like no progress at all to many of us.

One of us planted a tree in their back yard. Someone actually came into their yard, yanked up the tree and stole it! They had to figure out what to do with all their anger. They had bought the house, taken the step to plant something hopeful and now they had this irrational, cruel opposition. It was tempting to move out. Instead they managed to let it go and plant another tree.

stewingThe church has forces yanking on it every day. If it gets planted where anyone can see it, it might be  sitting duck for cruel opponents. We have to deal with that. The fact is, if it were easy to grow the church, that would probably mean we were doing it wrong. But easy is expected, nonetheless. The fact is, frustration might be good for us. We tend to think, “I don’t deserve this frustration. Look at how great we are!”  — sometimes we stew in that rather than acting in trust.

We need to risk being led by Jesus and leading people to Jesus. Even when we are ill, over-scheduled, or in the middle of chaos. We need to note how our distorted vision of our capability gets disrupted and take another step. We need to act on our few best ideas.  We need to admit that change = resistance — even our “second act” meets resistance although we all agree it needs to happen! We need to see that the domination system is likely to step on our sprout.

Encountering resistance to meaning is challenging — stay vulnerable

Happiness is not a commodity we can earn or deserve, really. It is a by product of living a meaningful life, a life for God, a life for others, a life for the common good, a life in line with with what we were given to be.

Nehemiah-wallOne of our leaders told the story of planting a tree in his sidewalk. He and the neighbors took a turn at sledging the sidewalk to bits. He saw it as undoing what true haters, the kind that paved his neighborhood a long time ago, have done. They got a tree in the ground. Two new people came to the cell meeting as a result. We are like Nehemiah and his allies re-building the wall around Jerusalem. The joy of the Lord is our strength. There is even joy in being able to suffer, able to sledge.

Unlike the domination system, we are killable. We are like sheep. We meet resistance with vulnerability.  A hospice worker talked about how vulnerable she feels whenever she enters a home where death is imminent. She has to let people know that if they trust her, she can do something. But it is not easy to trust, especially when the homeostasis is disrupted — as it so often is for us.

We obviously go through the same kind of resistance with God and others. Going through our internal resistance is much harder, even, than facing the outer. We do things in old ways and resist letting go of learned behavior.

The fact that it is bigger than just me is not always comforting — look farther than your reaction

Now it is time to relay the importance of waiting for the things we want, deferring to the wishes of others and surrendering personal desires in the pursuit of something bigger than “me.”

Our clean-up day T-shirts gave us a good example of doing something uncomfortable for the greater good. A surprising number of us are T-shirt resistant, even T-shirt phobic! If you grew up in a T-shirt wearing youth group you may actually want to run from people on the street wearing matching shirts. They look like some kind of overbearing, coercive army.

One person told a story, however, about how he met his neighbor when he was working on his house. The neighbor wanted to know what his shirt was about, after a while of getting to know each other. He was kind of “trapped” into talking about something bigger than himself because he was wearing his earth shirt as a work shirt.

ghosts on grassAnother person said they wanted to be marked. They want to demonstrate solidarity. They want to be in the coalition. They thought our T-shirt redeemed bad T-shirts. We like the idea of adding a colorful part of the big story. We are not the beginning or the end, but we are happening.

Sometimes being part of something big can be really hard — like we might be like a tree that gets ripped out and transplanted. That can be good. But it is not comfortable. Multiplying a cell always feels something like that for someone — getting ripped up. One of us said it was like C.S. Lewis’ image of “spectres” becoming solid as they acclimated to heaven (in The Great Divorce). We might not even know what true comfort is until we obey the voice of God calling us into what is truest about ourselves and our place in the world.

We are God’s children. Perhaps we were ill-raised. But what a great parent we have to usher us into an improved adulthood in faith!

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Practical thinking about drugs

The wisdom or rightness of whatever we are doing depends primarily upon our motivation or purpose for doing it. “Why?” and “what for?” make a difference. Jesus followers know why they are alive and what to live for.

animalsacrificeThe Apostle Paul masterfully helps us with our decision making about activities that could “go either way” in several of his letters — “Is this action wise or right?” For instance, in his day there was a debate about what to do with food that comes from the temple “store” after having been sacrificed to idols. He writes:

The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. (Romans 14:3-9)

We may not have a similar circumstance in our own time (although some people think eating genetically modified foods might be something sacrificed to a corporation). But lately we have had the debate about ingesting drugs of various kinds; there is a parallel. This is the second half [previous post] of some thoughts we explored in our last “Doing Theology” time; Paul is a good guide to questions we have to keep asking.

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What about drugs? Some background for doing theology.

When we are doing theology we are mentalizing with God and his people. We are not working on the social construction of reality; we are listening for the reality behind what we think we know — the voice of God. In that process we honor the Bible as the trusted basis for hearing from God and we respect people who have done the work to understand the Bible. But we are not just parsing words, making laws, or arguing over theories. We are trying to figure out who to be and what to do. Doing theology is thinking and feeling along with God and conforming one’s thinking and feeling to his or her truest self.

drug companiesAbout a month ago we decided to do some theology about drugs. The situation in the United States is so drug-induced that it caused a government report: Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse.  The solutions in the report did not do theology, of course, and they came up with the typical solutions of the the day: education, tracking and monitoring, proper medical disposal, and enforcement. All these solutions will be hard to implement, since drugs, legal and illegal, are a huge business in the United States.

Philadelphia is deeply connected to the drug industry, even historically.  When George Washington lived at 5th and Market he wrote to his gardener at Mt. Vernon, “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed, and sow it everywhere.” He and Thomas Jefferson traded herbal blends for their pipes. A recent Philadelphia Magazine highlighted how pot is coming. Recently the city recently decriminalized pot. There is now a $25 fine for possession of under an ounce and a $100 fine for smoking in public. And police are instructed not to arrest anyone with under an ounce.  People are lined up to help us become Colorado — let marijuana be legal and cash in.

drugs by the numbers

There is a theological framework for why this subject is important.

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12 basics for covenant keeping in conflict

This piece is for everyone who wants to work out a covenant. The covenant relationships most common to us are the ones we keep in our marriages and the one we have with each other as the people of God gathered face to face as the church. [Listen to the pastors’ latest video].

A covenant is not the same as the more-familiar contact. A contract is an agreement the partners maintain as long as expectations are met and justice is done. A covenant like God makes is an expression of character – a character devoted to realizing self-giving love and mutuality — true love is more about the character of the lover than the characteristics of the beloved. A covenant is made by the partners who promise to give love and commitment without an end in mind for themselves – their goal is keeping a reconciling, growing relationship alive and, if they follow Jesus, breeding love.

the covenant

Not exactly what I have in mind — but warlocks have an idea about covenant and Hollywood will exploit anything.

A covenant is refined and comes to fullness when it endures conflict. It needs conflict like certain pine forests need fire to rejuvenate. Just like God’s covenant with us in Jesus goes through death to life, our covenants of love with God and others also endure that kind of suffering to become what they can be. So conflict between covenant partners is part of the love. Having healthy conflict is part of the covenant.

  • Conflict is normal: it is a natural, inevitable reality – especially because the world is subject to sin and death.
  • Conflict is nightmarish: it is scary and often mismanaged in painful, abusive and/or destructive ways.
  • Conflict is necessary: it is what God goes through with us; it is needed for producing growth.

12 basics for covenant keeping when there is conflict (as there will be!)

These basic statements are not for judging whether a covenant partner is living up to their part of the relationship. I list them for self-reflection by people who want to master self-giving love by enduring conflict with the goal of enjoying and providing the blessings of covenant in Christ. They are a list of ideals – some we may be good at expressing already and some may show up our deficiencies. If we can learn them, we will be well on the way to showing up for the benefit of our partners, like God shows up for us in Jesus.

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What do Christians REALLY want?

The title of today’s post hit me while I was walking the streets with Jesus on the way of the cross last Friday. I was pondering our journey in Capitolo Park, in the rain when I heard a nice singing voice on a loudspeaker in Spanish. I looked around south of Pat’s cheesesteak, but it appeared to be coming from even farther south. I started walking to investigate. I heard the Spanish word for sin, I saw the crest of a Roman legionnaire glinting in the distance, so I started running. Before long I was in a procession behind Mexican Jesus carrying his cross and being periodically whipped by soldiers who were taking their roles as seriously as everyone else in the parade. I stood very close to Mary, herself, and hummed along with the rest of the singers in the crowd.jesus on cross Annunciation

The police were trying to make it all work. The neighbors were standing on their stoops looking bemused and indulgent. A reporter made it a human interest story on Saturday in the Inquirer. But I was strangely moved when Jesus fell and the soldiers started yelling at him to get up and finally whipped him again with their cotton-rope whips to keep him moving toward His death. What an important spectacle! — few words, just a big visual aid for what the day in history was all about. I was glad I was with everyone for a while before I continued my own more meditative version of the discipline. As I stood out in the middle of Broad St. and prayed for the city, in the rain, in the median, in the line of sight for all sorts of cars wondering why anyone was doing such a thing, I began to wonder what people really want.

Lots of people do not want Jesus crucified and risen. That is for sure. It hasn’t changed much since Paul insisted that his story about Jesus’ death and resurrection was all he really had to give people. People wanted “spirituality” and the idol worship of the state back then, too, instead of Jesus. But what to the Christians really want? They did not want to get out in the rain and make themselves known as followers along the way of the cross, for the most part, certainly not with the Mexicans who were importing their extravagant passion play. I began to make a list in my head.

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I am not Indiana

It is interesting to be alive as the United States goes “post-Christian.” I still remember sitting around the living room just after graduating from college predicting this day and looking forward to it, so we could get back to telling people the gospel and forming the church without being all clogged up with saluting the flag. We are not quite there yet — and I am not sure if getting what I hoped for (as usual) is going to be what I really want.

indianaThe example of the day for not getting what I want is the uproar over the “religious freedom” law in Indiana. (Here is a description from the NY Times, complete with a link to the bill). Governor Pence told ABC’s This Week that the new Indiana law is just an expansion of a federal law that is over 20 years old. It is about expanding individual rights for those who feel government has impinged upon them. “This is not about discrimination,” he said. “This is about empowering people to confront government overreach.” The supposedly controversial Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act is based on a 1993 Federal Law of the same name, signed by Bill Clinton. It protects individuals (which includes most anyone or anything that can get a federal id number) from risking a lawsuit by exercising their convictions. Not only can the Christian owners of a bakery refuse to write an inscription on the wedding cake of a gay couple, but the black owners of a T-shirt business don’t have to print the KKK’s burning crosses on shirts, and Jewish owners of a gift shop don’t have to put Nazi symbols on coffee cups.

However, Pence did not answer directly when asked six times whether under the law it would be legal for a merchant to refuse to serve gay customers. “The issue here is still: Is tolerance a two-way street or not?” he responded several times. The governor might have better reason to respond that way if “sexual orientation” were a protected class of people on Indiana’s list. But they are not. So the law leaves room for merchants to decide who is gay and whether they want to serve them based on their orientation. Why a state would want to further injure LGBT people now that they are finally enjoying the light of day is beyond me. Quite predictably, the bill has been roundly condemned around the nation. Seattle’s mayor went so far as to issue a travel ban to Indiana for city workers.

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Six good reasons to observe the Holy Week

I have always had a bit of resistance to telling people about Holy Week. It is one of those things that casual people might gum up and consuming people might defile. It really deserves people who voluntarily seek the Lord  — not people who are not pressured into some observance by fear of unholiness nor people afraid of being on the outs with their peers or the people who dominate them. It is a radical thing to do — not really something to be visited but something to be accomplished, just like Jesus will say at the end of it, “It is finished.”

Walking through the Holy Week with Jesus is the ultimate in taking to heart the great theme verse of Lent, Philippians 3:10-11:  I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” The discipline is all about knowing Jesus – knowing his death and moving through it with him to resurrection.” Powerful.

At the same time, I also hate for anyone to miss it! So many Christians de-radicalize themselves and ramp down Christianity to fit into the “side-project” category while their schedule is devoted to who they really are. I cannot resist calling everyone into true faith that invades the schedule with as much discipline bent on knowing Jesus as it can tolerate – a true attempt at praying without ceasing and being the body on a pilgrimage together into eternity. This journey is our true life and no one should miss it. We got the strangest compliment the other day; someone said, “They really expect us to be Christians.” It’s true. I hope that’s not becoming unusual for the church in general. Holy Week expects us to be Christians.

So here are six reasons I think we should do it. You still have a few days to plan to do what you can to become who you might be — as Paul seems to say it, “attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

jesus checker


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