Just Say No

pexels-photo-271897A few years ago, I was at a leadership conference and heard a comment that floored me. “Jesus didn’t help everyone.” “But, but, but…He was JESUS, of course He helped everyone!” I screamed silently to myself. But it was pointed out that Jesus didn’t heal everyone, feed everyone, or fix every injustice He encountered. He walked past many people who could have used His help. He found balance; He helped who He could. The most important thing is, He did the will of His Father in Heaven.

This is a very specific blog, written to those who can’t say “no” when they see a need. Most people don’t have any problem saying no and use the word way more than they should. They are skilled at avoiding those around them who need help. This is written to the people in full-time ministry who cannot find balance, who cannot say “no” to the countless needs they observe. Stop. Stop now. If you’re following Jesus’ example is important, remember, He learned to say “no” when it was needed. By not finding the balance, we are doing damage to ourselves, and to those around us. We cannot help everyone.

We all know people who are working long hours, without taking a day off, and want everything to be perfect. It’s exhausting to be around them. They are working “for the ministry” or “for the Lord,” but their relationships are suffering, their health is suffering, their marriages suffer, and they can suck the joy out of most situations. The joy that comes from serving with a peaceful heart is lost in the battle. I can write about this from first-hand experience. I used to be that guy.

I work alongside someone right now that’s in that place, he does excellent work, but anyone can see him heading directly at a brick wall by not taking time to breathe. We had one volunteer in our orphanage, who was a CRAZY perfectionist. She would work for weeks, 18 hours a day, only to collapse and be useless for a week or two while she recovered. That is not how life should be.

Early on, about six months after my wife and I moved in to help run the orphanage, we had a visitor. Agnes, the lady who ran the home for decades, was coming by. We had never met Agnes, and I was terrified. Everything we did was held up against her work. Every day I heard, “Well, Agnes never did it that way.” She was coming in to check on us and our work. Yikes. My fears turned out to be unfounded. She was the perfect example of grace and support. She did have one piece of very direct advice, “Get out.” she told us in no uncertain terms. She said it was OK to take time away, to recharge, to put our marriage first. That there would never be a perfect day; there would always be emergencies; we needed to practice self-care. We needed to learn to say, “No.”

There are many orphanages in our area of Mexico run by people who cannot say “No.” They take in any child who needs help, which sounds nice, but if they only have resources to help and care for 30 children, they are not doing a good job if they are caring for 80 children. Everyone suffers; no one is helped. Saying “no” is not in them, and people suffer. 

Jesus found balance. He spent time alone. The apostles often found Him alone praying, alone in the desert, asleep in the boat, early in the morning spending time with His Father. Even at the last supper, He was teaching, but it was also time breaking bread and hanging out with those He was closest to. He spent time with friends.

It took me many years of long hours to learn the balance; I’m still figuring it out. I’ve seen too many people in ministry burn out when they can’t find the time to rest, to recharge, to breath. When our crew started taking a dedicated day off each week, I flinched a little. “But that’s not what ministry is about!” I thought to myself. I now see the wisdom in it.

My favorite night of the week is a home fellowship that we host made up of full-time missionaries and ministry leaders in our area. We don’t DO anything other than eat and hangout. No agenda, no pressure, just vast quantities of carbs shared among friends. The official name of this gathering is M.E.A.T. Night. (Missionaries Eating And Talking). Not spiritual by any standard definition, no bible study, no deep prayer, just people hanging out. I feel on many levels it’s some of the best ministry we do.

If you’re in ministry full time, you want to follow the example Jesus sets for ministry. He knew when to say no; He spent time alone. He spent time with friends. He knew how to find balance; He did the will of His Father. You have permission to take a day off. As in all things, follow the example of Jesus.

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People are Messy

messyWe recently had someone write an extended angry rant in a message to our Facebook page. They were pissed. Thankfully it was a private message. Almost no one likes it when people are mad at them, but sometimes it’s going to happen. If you’re in ministry and you don’t get a few people frustrated now and then you’re doing it wrong. Jesus’ actions and comments had many people upset. We are a long way from Jesus, but it’s nice to know we sometimes get the same reactions as He did. You might be asking, “What did you do that got that person so angry that they would lash out?” We turned down his donation.

We get odd offers and requests from people all the time; frequently, they are great donations or other creative ways people would like to help us in our efforts. We would rarely turn down any contribution, but occasionally, it’s just not a “fit.” This, I believe, well-meaning gentleman offered us a large number of professionally framed paintings. These were, apparently, very valuable paintings. He suggested we could auction them off or use them as a fundraising tool to help our large orphanage. OK, seems fine so far, we always appreciate it when people have creative ways to help, and especially help with fundraising.

Once we expressed interest in the paintings, he sent a large file with pictures of the art. This is where it quickly got awkward. The paintings, although tastefully done, were twelve, over-sized, lifelike paintings of nude females. OK, this was a new one. My wife and I thought at first it might be someone pulling a joke. The idea of us displaying this extensive collection at a silent auction or some other event was just too weird to consider. It was simply not a fit for our ministry or almost any ministry that comes to mind. We, as tactfully as we could, explained our reasoning and turned down the donation. It was the right decision, but that didn’t change how offended he was that we would turn away his prized art.

The above story is one of many I could share of awkward moments in ministry. The time a team set up a full bar in our group housing area, the people who skip out on paying for their housing when they stay on site with us, the people who show up in yoga pants at the orphanage here in a conservative culture. (Yoga pants are just awkward anywhere …it’s never a good look.) So what’s the point of sharing this list of examples? People are messy, and until we embrace this fact, we don’t understand the point of grace. We are all messy.

In hosting many short term missions teams and visitors, we see a broad range of attitudes, agendas, and levels of maturity. With many of our visitors, we are in awe of their generosity and willingness to serve the many children in our care. For some of our groups, we occasionally smile, internally roll our eyes, and just move forward. The important thing is, always remember that none of us get it right. God shows us profoundly deeper grace than we could ever deserve, He loves us unconditionally in our messy condition, and that is what we are called to show to all those that we encounter.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have standards, in the example of the paintings, it was right for us to turn them down. Jesus has standards. He flipped the money changer’s tables, He was not afraid to call out sin. Jesus also knows that the vast majority of people are wounded; they need to be shown love; they need to be shown grace. We are called to represent a higher level of grace and love than most of us ever consider. We need to show the grace to others that the Lord has shown to us.

It’s been said that one of the keys to a happy marriage is remembering that we’re no great prize ourselves. I’ve found this to be true. Personally, I don’t know how my wife puts up with me. When we encounter people that we would like to get frustrated with, it’s always good to remember that we can also be a pain sometimes. We get it wrong a lot. We all have an excess of baggage, false ideas, and bad attitudes. Sometimes we don’t know any better.

I was once sitting in my office and looked up. A new boy in our home, about ten years old, had walked over and was peeing into the planter outside my window. Once he finished, I pulled him aside and explained that this was not appropriate, that he should probably use the bathrooms. I could have gotten upset, but I realized that he had been brought to us from an impoverished area, in his world indoor plumbing was rare, he had been peeing outside his whole life. Messy, but that is all he knew.

If you’re in ministry, and if we’re believers we’re all in ministry, we need to embrace the messy people all around us. Remember, we are all messy. Sometimes we don’t want to admit it, but we all come from an impoverished place. We all have our version of peeing in other people’s planters. We need to show the same grace to others that we need ourselves.

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No Government Funding

pexels-photo-1457684Most Americans in the US have never visited an orphanage. People draw what they know about orphanages from movies, second-hand stories, and a mix of random information. Although the US had hundreds of faith-based orphanages just a generation ago, for the most part, they have been replaced by government-funded foster care. (that’s a rant for another blog). Because the information is loose at best, there are a lot of misconceptions about what it takes to run an orphanage. Because the government funds foster care in the US, most people are surprised to learn that we get no funding from the Mexican government to run our home. Nope, not one peso.

The main reason the government of Mexico doesn’t fund orphanages is that there just isn’t any money. In any developing country, social services are the last thing to be funded. There need to be priorities, and police, fire, schools, roads, etc. always come first. If there is any money left, social service programs begin to be funded. This is true around the world. If the economy shrinks, social programs are the first to be cut. It’s just the way it works. No government funding might not be a bad thing; the church needs to do more, and not depend on the government.

More and more, people tend to look to the government to solve the problems of society. “There needs to be a law.” “Why isn’t there a program?” etc. Because there are children in need, it’s just assumed that it’s the government’s responsibility to step in and help. The problem is, as believers, this idea allows us to wash our hands of a great deal of responsibility. The idea of relinquishing our responsibility to the government is also unbiblical.

Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at him.. Mark 12:17

Jesus was very clear; we have a responsibility to “Give back to Caesar.” We never like it, but we need to pay our taxes. It’s part of being a member of society. But if you look at the last part of Mark 12:17, it’s clear that we also have a responsibly to give to the things of God. The two are mentioned as separate acts: Give to the government, give to the things of God.

The idea of our faith being played out through service and giving to others flows through the entire new testament. Our salvation is not tied to this service, but service is tied to living out our faith and representing Christ well. Whether it’s Jesus instructing the rich young ruler to sell what he has and give to the poor, or the story of the good Samaritan, service is a reoccurring theme. Stories of people living out their faith through service and generosity to others are richly woven into many of Christ’s teachings. James takes it a step further by teaching that true religion is serving widows and orphans. There is not a single verse about the government helping widows and orphans.

The call to help others in the Gospel is not just there because needy people are all around us. God does nothing without multiple hidden levels of blessings for those who will walk in His instructions. Yes, people need help, but more importantly, we need to help others for our own good. Service is richly and profoundly fulfilling and healing for us as followers of Christ. It is impossible to take on the image of Christ, without becoming a servant in every area of our lives. It’s true believers, the people who understand how rich the grace of God is, who have a desire to care for others welling up from within. We help not because we are supposed to, but because we can not do otherwise.

By assuming that the government can or should take care of the needs around us, we are giving up on the incredible privilege and opportunity to interact with, and serve those around us. It’s cliché among those who host short-term mission teams, to hear the phrase “I am leaving with so much more than I came with.” The paradox is consistent with all those who serve others, by stepping out and serving those around us, God uses our acts of generosity and service to bless and heal us. Whatever our motivations, we receive blessings by giving out to others.

Jesus was many things; high on that list is a perfect, humble, servant. He was the one who did the foot washing; He did not assume others would do the job. This is our example.

You give so much to the government already, don’t give away the joy of serving others.

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Mother’s Day Sucks

pain2

Anna Jarvis is credited with “inventing” mothers day back in 1908, and it became an official US holiday in 1914. Shortly thereafter, Anna, realizing what the day had become, spent the rest of her life fighting against what she considered her enormous mistake. (footnote) She fought to abolish the holiday not just because of the pain it brings out in so many people, she realized that it had become just another reason to sell flowers and expensive greeting cards. Mother’s day had turned into another pointless commercial endeavor. I’m all for making a buck; the thorny issue is the agonizing emotional pain this day can bring.

Few holidays elicit such an immediate and emotional response as Mother’s Day. Father’s Day? Yawn. Presidents Day? Big deal. Fourth of July? A BBQ, big whoop. Thanksgiving is bigger than most holidays but not exactly an emotional event. Mother’s Day brings along a tangled string of emotional responses in almost anyone. When one hears the word “mother” it’s part of our shared human experience to have memories ripple through our minds, some loving, some not so loving, but the memories are almost never without deep sentiments.

The mother-child relationship is one of the strongest and most important in our lives, for that reason, it is so celebrated. Because it can be so remarkable, it makes sense that is can also be one of the most painful and damaging of relationships when it goes wrong. For a large percentage of the population, the emotions that this day brings forth are a long way from joy. For anyone involved in ministry, it’s important to be acutely aware of the land-mines this holiday places all around us.

Writing here as one who runs a large orphanage, you can imagine the pain Mother’s Day can bring out in the children in our care. We stopped attending church in our town on Mother’s Day years ago because it was just too agonizing. For our children to attend a service dedicated to honoring mothers, it brought up way too much baggage. They would sit there and listen to how wonderful all the mothers in the church were, they would watch as flowers were passed out to the mothers present, and they would sit quietly holding back the tears. Besides church, every year our kids have to participate in the public school’s Mother’s Day program knowing their biological mothers will never see it. They watch other children being hugged by their mothers and wonder what they did wrong to make their own mothers abandon them. Our staff here does a phenomenal job of loving and caring for the children in our home, but it can still be a very complicated and painful few days around here.

It’s not just the orphaned who suffer through this day. For women who have lost children through illness or accidents, Mother’s Day is a vivid, annual reminder of their tragedy and the dull pain that radiates through their lives. While others are celebrating motherhood, they are mourning the graduations, weddings, and all life’s events they will never see their children experience. Along with the many mothers who’ve lost children, are the 20% of women who, for medical and various other reason, will never have children. Society still tells women they are not complete unless they have offspring, for many, this is not within their control.

For many people, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder that the women who gave birth to them failed at motherhood. Not every mother is Mrs. Brady; not every mother is the ideal that we celebrate. Too many mothers abandon their children, too many are mentally or physically abusive. Too many mothers have drug or alcohol problems or just don’t care. For anyone raised by a women who should never have had children, this day is a painful reminder that they never had a normal childhood. They were never held when they were scared; they were never read to at night, the tooth fairy never came. Not a lot to celebrate here, just an aching void where their childhood should be.

So, what are we supposed to do if we have a church, school, or some other organization that needs to acknowledge this upcoming day? Honor all those mothers who get it right, who have sacrificed so much to raise their children in a loving, healthy way. Encourage them, recognize them, shower them with the admiration they deserve. The mother-child relationship can be a profound, wonderful, literally life-changing experience. The mother-child bond is incredible, and it should be celebrated when it’s done right. BUT, please do so in a way that is sensitive to those in the room that dread this Sunday in May every year.

Any donations to support our missions efforts are greatly apprecated. A dollar or two through the “donate” button would mean a lot. Thanks.

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footnote: http://mentalfloss.com/article/30659/founder-mothers-day-later-fought-have-it-abolished

Human Sausage

pexels-photo-1098769A well worn saying claims that if you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made. When you see what goes into making some things, it can really spoil the enjoyment. The same should be said about the complexities of trying to help some children at risk. Most people have no idea how frustratingly difficult kindness can sometimes be. What is a beautiful, loving, and positive thing on the outside, is grinding and painful once you see what goes on in the background.

I’m aware of, or involved with, a few examples of bureaucratic quagmire that are currently taking place in order for good people to help children in need. There obviously needs to be laws in place to guide and protect children at risk, but what happens when those children, through no fault of their own, land just outside of the parameters of the laws created to protect them in the first place?

There are two couples that I’m aware of that have jumped through ridiculous hoops and accomplished something that is very rare. Two different American couples have adopted children in Mexico, including one boy with special needs. There were lengthy, expensive, complicated procedures, interviews, background checks, etc. It’s not unlike adopting in the US, but both these couples accomplished something everyone said was impossible. These children have been legally adopted; in the eyes of the law, they are the children of these two adoptive families. After this complicated and frustrating process is when the bureaucracy kind of caves in on itself.

Although these children have been adopted, they are not US citizens. They can not legally enter the US. Everyone wants to help them, but this situation is so rare there is no system in place on the US side to recognize them as adopted. These families are stuck in a weird place not being able to bring their own children home. There is just no path set up for visas in this situation, no forms to fill out, no appeal process, this falls JUST outside the system. Even professional US immigration attorneys are at a loss. Good people are doing great things who are getting ground up in the system designed to help. Human Sausage.

The next example is even more complicated; Two sweet young sisters, one fourteen, one fifteen, are currently in Tijuana. One of them is pregnant through assault. They escaped abuse in their home country and traveled across Mexico alone with many of the migrants hoping for a better life in the US. They are now living in a crowded migrant center in Tijuana. Many people in our area want to help them but are stuck in a bureaucratic maze. Several local orphanages wish to take them in and help them, but technically they are not in Mexico legally, so helping these girls puts the orphanage licensing at risk. The local child protective service wants to help them but since there is no paperwork the government workers don’t know what to do, and they are not chartered to help foreign children. Politicians and highly placed government workers from both the US and Mexico are aware of the girls’ situation but have been unable to find a way through the dozen agencies involved in “protecting” these girls. The girls have shelter, they are being fed, but none of it is legal. A situation has come up where these girls fall JUST outside the system designed to help the children who fall through the cracks of society. Human Sausage.

Talk to anyone who works in foster-care in the US. You will generally find good people doing their best to help children, often handcuffed and frustrated by a mountain of bureaucratic roadblocks that grow larger every month. Many children are helped; some fall through the cracks. Human sausage being ground up by the system.

The point of this rambling complaint is to encourage you to support those who battle the system every day to help the children who society has left behind. Until you’re in the middle of working to help children, you have no idea how soul-crushing it can be some days.

The second point of this ramble is, strangely enough, meant to encourage those who are in the middle of these types of frustrating circumstance. Please know you are not alone. What you’re doing is worth the headaches, the lost sleep, the skipped vacations used to help others who’ve fallen through every last safety net society has in place. Keep it up; it matters.

If you can get past the idea of what goes into the making of sausage, you know how enjoyable and unrecognizable the end product can be. All of the grinding, at the end of the day, changes lives. Keep it up.

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What is your spiritual temperature

sick-flu-BC9098-002One of the first things a doctor does to diagnose someone is to take their temperature. If it’s within a degree or so of 98, it rules out a lot of things and points the doctor in the right direction. If your temperature is too high, it means something is wrong, and your body is fighting back. Accurate information on your health comes from just checking your temperature. You are breathing so you’re still alive, but you MIGHT be sick. When it comes to your spiritual health, the amount you give, and the amount you serve, is a direct and reliable indication of your spiritual health. Giving is your spiritual temperature.

It needs to be made very clear, giving to others and serving others does nothing to change the status of your salvation. Jesus handled our salvation on the cross, if you’ve accepted Christ and repented you’re saved. So if you’re saved, and you’re secure in that, why is there a need to serve others? Most non-believers think that it’s the works part that gets us into heaven, but grace doesn’t function like that. We give to others and serve others because we are grateful for the incredible gift of grace that God has given us, but there is so much more to it than that.

Once our salvation is secure, it’s secure; it’s a state of being. Being saved is like being married. I’m married, many years ago my wife and I went to the courthouse and then a church and made a legal commitment and a public commitment in front of friends and family. We are married, she’s not always happy about it, but it’s not in question or a gray area. Our marriage is a state of being, and there is a legal document stating we are married.

If I’m a lousy husband, if I ignore my wife, disappear for days, etc. we are still married. We would slowly be growing apart and losing any connection, but we’d still be legally married. If I’m a great husband, if I bring her flowers, show her how much I love her, listen to her, spend time with her, support her in her endeavors, it does not change the legal status of our marriage. What being a great husband does change is the quality of our relationship. It’s still the same legal status, but we are closer, I understand her more, we are walking together. We’re not “more married,” but our marriage is deeper, better, healthier.

Our good works are bringing flowers to God. Our walking as servants, as Christ walked, is drawing us closer to Him. Our giving to those in need around us shows God that we understand it’s all His anyway and we want to serve Him with what we’ve been entrusted. Serving and giving does nothing to change our salvation status; we are saved. But serving and giving to others is a direct indication of our spiritual health.

It’s been said that you can tell a lot about a person’s Christian walk by just looking at their checkbook and their calendar. Where do they spend their money? Where do they spend their time? (Time is money in most people’s eyes) This is not a new principle; Jesus shared this idea in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6: 19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Read that again: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Where you send your treasure is an indication of where your heart is, Where you send your treasure is your spiritual temperature.

God doesn’t need our money, God doesn’t need our time, but God wants both. He wants us to give because He knows it’s good for us and He only wants great things for us. He wants us to walk closer to Him. Does my wife NEED flowers? No, but my bringing flowers brings joy and draws us closer together.

Years ago, we had a very generous donor who I never met. They would send support to our orphanage every month without fail. One time there was an accounting question. When I contacted them and thanked them for the help they said something profound about the donation, “It’s not our money, we’re just God’s mailman.” Remember, I had never met them, I knew almost nothing about them, but that one comment told me everything about their spiritual health. It was not about them; they did not consider their money as theirs; it was God’s money. From one random e-mail comment, I could tell their spiritual temperature.

This little rant on giving is not meant to guilt anyone into giving or serving more; it’s intended to cause self-evaluation. What is your spiritual temperature? Whose life have you touched today? Where is your heart? If you need a correction, you know what to do. Bring flowers home to God.

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YOUR Kingdom? Or THE Kingdom?

pexels-photo-1266005If you’re focusing on building YOUR orphanage, please stop now. If you’re worried about orphan care everywhere, you have the correct attitude to care for orphans, carry on. It’s not about your kingdom; it’s about THE Kingdom. This applies to orphanages, churches, or any ministry you can mention.

When we first moved to Mexico and started receiving short-term teams, we quickly realized we did not have enough projects, or the right projects, for many of the groups coming down. We began coordinating projects in our town and with other local ministries. Then we did something that we didn’t know was fairly radical at the time. (We still don’t know a whole lot, we knew even less back then.) We started sending teams to other orphanages to serve. For a long time, this concept seemed to confuse people. The other orphanages wondered what our ulterior motives were, the groups didn’t know why we were sending them elsewhere, but we just saw it as spreading the wealth and helping people be as effective as possible. Aren’t we all worried about helping orphans?

We continue to send teams to other orphanages, and many now embrace our efforts to help orphan care wherever it happens. When you step back and look at it, it might be a little weird. It’s like a pastor getting up one Sunday and saying, “We’re kind of crowded, how about some of you visit another church from time to time?” Do we occasionally “lose” a team to another orphanage they visit? Sure, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. We are all called to different ministries, and we connect in different ways. If a group meets a new orphanage and decides they would rather work with them, great, everyone is happy, and we have room for more groups.

You can observe how rare it is for ministries to work together in any town in America; it is SO rare for churches to hang-out with each other. How many intersections have two or three churches that never talk to each other? I understand significant theological differences can come into play, but at the end of the day, if we serve the same God, then why is it so hard to work together? I once had the youth leader of a sizable visiting church ask me whether or not we support and work with smaller orphanages, I responded, “Sure, all the time. Does your church support smaller youth groups in your town?” He got the point I was making and became very quiet, it lead to some great discussions.

A few weeks ago, Strong Tower Ministries, an organization I help lead, coordinated an incredible event. (It wasn’t my project, someone brighter than I did the whole thing) Leaders from seven different human trafficking organizations, most of them working in the Tijuana area, were invited to come together for a weekend. Although they are all fighting human trafficking and helping people caught in the sex trades, most of the leaders had never met each other. Our team threw them together for a weekend in a big house, with a loose agenda, and piles of great food (priorities…). This is a group of people battling at the front lines of ministry, and you could feel the intensity of the people present. Over two days they shared, coordinated efforts, learned from each other, worshiped, and made plans to meet again. It was a weekend that will impact people and ministries for years.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Harry S Truman

The idea of ministries serving each other is starting to catch on in our area. Our small town in Mexico has about 4000 people and 12 churches. After several meetings lead by one of the churches, this coming Easter most of the churches are “closing for the day.” The collection of churches from our town are renting out a local rodeo stadium, and a combo Easter service is being planned. Worship will be lead by a new group made up from multiple churches, one pastor is taking the sermon, another making an invitation, each pastor will take a portion of the service. Each church is bringing what that can to make the service incredible. The collective body of Christ is coming together as one to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection in the center of the town for all to see. Wouldn’t it be great if this were to happen in towns everywhere?

Jesus spent a great deal of time talking about humble service. Humility isn’t putting yourself down or thinking you’re worthless. Humility is not thinking about yourself at all. If we put aside our desire to look better to others or to be in charge, if we didn’t care about building our own kingdoms, the church would look very different. Whose glory are you seeking? It’s a question we should ask ourselves daily.

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