As enigmatic and contradictory as it may seem for me to raise this Biblical exhortation at this historical moment, I will anyway. Given the cloud of distressing news, the prejudices, the greed, the political cowardice, “man’s inhumanity to man,” the obscene exploitation of the environment, the indifference to the poor and helpless, … and-on-and-on, I want to remind myself, and my readers, that the scriptures instruct us to rejoice always …”

Say what? Well, yes! This world scene has always been one in which there was social and political chaos, and suffering. And it is into this very context that Jesus was born, and at which event the angels announced: “Behold we bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all peoples, for unto you is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord. “This announcement, mind you, was to minimum wage workers (shepherds) in an occupied nation with all kinds of questionable political and religious shenanigans were the norm.

So, an announcement of joy. To the early church came the teaching that they were to rejoice always, even in suffering/tribulation. This means that in the midst of cultural pessimism, of frequent despair, of humanly hopeless realities of vast global injustices and tens of millions of homeless refugees, of sickness in so many forms, we are called to be a people of joy!

Isn’t that wild?

Add another perspective to that: the church is the community of Go’s new creation people, and as such those who are the church are the “dwelling-place of God by the Holy Spirit,” … or as elsewhere it is said that they are the sweet aroma of Christ unto God. This incarnation that is ours as God’s new humanity is the living, breathing, flesh-and-blood presence of Jesus Christ in this broken world. And rejoicing always is only one of the expressions of Christ dwelling in our here-and-now scene. In Galatians 5, the apostle lists the fruits of the Spirit that are to be lived out by us in our 24/7 real-life setting.

Check this out: we become the missionary arm of the Holy Spirit as we are continually exhibiting Christ’s love, joy, peace-making, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It is such new creation behavior that makes us God’s light in this present scene of darkness, springs in the desert. Those Spirit fruits, for me, are a daily ‘punch-list’ of reminder. I commend this to you.

So, my gentle reminder: rejoice.

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A generation ago, a friend, Al Krass, wrote a telling book: Evangelizing Neo-pagan North America. Given the chaos of our current political, cultural, and social scene, and the numerous persons who are prominent in it who profess themselves to be identified with the Christian church, … I find myself asking the question: Can neo-pagan North America dis-evangelize the church? I wonder what is the center of the lives of these persons? What is their ultimate authority? What is their creative source? What is their guiding line? What is their final goal?

That is a huge question, and defies simplistic answers. After all, in this democratic system of government, to be involved, one has to declare oneself as a Democrat, Republican, or Independent (basically) to vote, or to run for office. The question still lurks out there: where is my ultimate loyalty. Is it to the political party? To some economic source, or political action committee? Or, … is it to the values of God’s new creation in Jesus Christ? i.e., the teachings of Jesus and the apostles?

This is not at all a new tension. Go all the way back to the prophet Daniel in the Old Testament scriptures. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon had taken Juda captive, and as was the practice of conquerors, the instructed his armies to bring back some of the people, who could be useful to his court in Babylon: some of the royal family and of nobility, “youth without blemish, and of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace.”

The whole of the book of Daniel is a lesson in political survival. Daniel and his three friends were so skillful in their tasks that they became very useful to Nebuchadnezzar, and he wanted to reward them with all the ‘perks’ of palace life in fancy food, and other indulgences common to the sensate life of royalty. But, … these who now had proven themselves fit to stand before the king chose to be faithful to who they were, i.e., Israelites formed by the law of Moses. They insisted on a very simple diet, and a commendable lifestyle and in doing their work with excellence.

Two things resulted: 1) they rose in the esteem of Nebuchadnezzar, and 2) that esteem created intense (political) jealousy among the Babylonians in the court, and their conspiracies against Daniel, and the three other Hebrews. All the while, even when such practice was outlawed, Daniel knelt and prayed three times a day toward Jerusalem. This tension, then, is the context of the well-known stories of the three young Hebrews in the fiery furnace, and of Daniel in the lions’ den—political conspiracies to make them look seditious in the eyes of Nebuchadnezzar.

Ah! But God vindicated them and gave the emperor a sense of awe at YHWH’s (Israel’s God’s) power. Three lessons about not being dis-evangelized in the politics of neo-pagan North America, from these four political captives: 1) they knew who they were, and that this present scene is not my ultimate home, though it is the place of my incarnation; 2) that they did their ministry in that court so that it was only explainable by God and God’s power; and, 3) to discern the idols of the culture.

Only with such a lesson can we be salt and light in what is often a destructive culture of darkness. Each of those of us who are followers of Christ, and each Christian community need to reclaim this calling day by day so that we don’t become part of the neo-pagan context in which we live. As the old gospel song puts it: “Dare to be a Daniel.”

[If these Blogs are helpful to you, pass the word along. Thank you.]

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On the one hand, there is so much that points us to the potential of a better tomorrow, given artificial intelligence, robotics, space exploration, medical breakthroughs, and so much more. At the same time the daily news so focused on the almost nightmarish political chaos in which we find ourselves, and which dominates the news, raises intimidating questions about a hopeful future. Add to that, the reality that ‘future thinkers’ are a distinct minority of the population. The large majority choose to think in past terms, to the “good old days” (that probably never were that good!).

That reality challenges me, being both a life-long teacher of the scriptures contained in the Bible, as well as an advocate in my writings of the mission given to his church by Jesus Christ, that is both global and which looks to the continued invasion of God’s new creation into the rebellion and brokenness of this present scene—until that day when the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. Meanwhile? Meanwhile we live with the reality of the encounter that is very real between darkness and Light.

We are taught in scriptures that the kingdom of God comes not with dramatic observation, but quietly and irresistibly like leaven quietly permeating a lump of dough. We pray to our Father in heaven: “Cause your kingdom to becoming and your will to being done on earth as it is in heaven.”  We are stewards of his in-breaking new creation We, area global community that is a servant culture, instruments of is peace, of his justice and righteousness, of his heart of love. But, … we live in that calling in conflict with all the negative forces of the darkness, in our localities, in our national scene, and globally. (Fasten your seat-belts) We are taught that unto us as stewards of his in-breaking new creation “it is given not only to believe in his name but also to suffer for his sake” (Philippians 1:29). As Christ’s servant people, we are in continual engagement with the darkness in all its subtle forms.

We can give our support to those agencies which seek righteousness, who seek justice for those held in human slavery, or held unjustly in prisons without hope—and we should. We should support candidates who most reflect the ethics of God’s new creation, while realizing that neither Republicans or Democrats will rescind the subtle and pervasive darkness.

The followers of Christ, his church, need to wake up to this reality and this cosmic conflict between the culture of darkness, and the Light of God’s new creation—this global conflict in which we are engaged until the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our God and of his Christ. It begins with you and me and our local Christian community having integrity as transformational agents here and now. We are to be the radiant display of God’s glory 24/7.

Run with that. And may the Lord be with you.

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For these coming months, our news is going to be consumed with politics, its battles, its controversial personalities, and the coming election. This is nothing new. The Christian community was conceived in an intensely political culture. Its world was dominated by the Roman Empire, and its god was Caesar. The Christian community/church had no status, no prestige, and it was counter-cultural through and through. Ah! but it had a very clear message and mission, both given to it by its one true Lord: Jesus Christ, which made it the more controversial: Jesus was Lord, not Caesar.

But, one more thing to note: it was inaugurated at the margins of society, outside of the established religious and political structures of its day, and was frequently outlawed. It was conceived, we can accurately say: on the margins of society. It is in that context that one of the early formative voices, wrote his Letter to the Romans (or to the church in Rome). After laying a good foundation in the teachings of Christ to them, he comes to the un-mistakable challenge, namely that they were not to be conformed to the thinking and power-structures of this world, but rather to transformed by the renewal of their minds so as to discern what was the will of God, what was good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)

They were not primarily citizens of Rome and its power structures, but they were primarily and self-consciously the citizens of the kingdom of God and his Christ. They were to be formed by the teachings and mission of Jesus. And here’s the ‘bite’ in that mandate: Jesus’ mission was to the helpless on the margins of society, to the homeless, to the hungry, to the poor, to the sick, and without hope—those on the margins, those outside the gates of power. And, note now, it was among those on the margins, those of the underclass that the Christian church became a major force that dominated the Roman world within a few centuries. Jesus commendation to those who followed his mission to the underclass was: “In that you have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.”

Shift gears and leap over two millennia, and now observe politics quite different, i.e. a democracy in which we choose those who will govern. Jesus’ priority on ministry to those on the margins remains the same, … but all too many of those within contemporary church institutions have forgotten the message, and court wealth and power. There are the voices that are raised on behalf of those on the margins, and some of them are up for election—but all too many those running for office are dominated by the priorities of those who are indifferent to the poor and helpless. And, more tragically, there are too many who (falsely?) claim the name of Christ, who support politicians whose platforms are 180 degrees away from the teachings and mission of Jesus.

Our role and responsibility in this political scene as Christ’s followers? Look for candidates whose life and convictions and platforms see the role of government as seeking the welfare of all of its citizens (even though that candidate may not be a professing Christian). We are stewards of the passion of Jesus for the marginalized, and any government (or church institution) who does not become a sharer in that passion is part of the darkness.

The good news is that there are some good candidates out there who do share that passion. Stay tuned …

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Religious/Spiritual Talk



Religious talk, and talk about ‘spirituality’ can be a real ‘turn-off’ to those who are listening. We tend to engage in jargon that is not only foreign to outsiders, but often rather vacuous to many inside the household of faith. There is so much religious gobbledygook sown into public discourse in our present social and political conversation that it is no wonder that it breeds so much cynicism among those who are the recipients. I remember in a session in which somebody was making a big ‘to-do’ about being ‘born again’. When the session was concluded, the Indian lady in front of me turned and asked: “OK, so she’s born again. So, what’s she good for?” Bingo!

The apostle taught us that: “The kingdom of God does not consist in talk, but in power.” (I Corinthians 4:20). I have always profited by the teaching I received from a friend, namely, that Jesus didn’t come to make us more religious but rather to make us more human. He never taught us that our ‘talk’ would persuade those with whom we came into daily contact, but that our good works and our love, and our flesh-and-blood lives as God’s new humanity people would make them curious about the source of our behavior and our ethics—our sermon on the mount incarnations would cause them to see the divine source.

I have the conviction that no matter how hostile one seems toward the Christian message, that they still have a need for a center, an authority, a creative source, a guiding line, and a final goal (even though they may vigorously deny it). So, I have in my daily discipline a couple of ‘punch-lists’ that I work through every morning. One is simply the list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that re to be incarnated in God’s new creation people from Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (to which I have added long-suffering).

The other list includes my gleanings that spell out the whole radical new way of: living, thinking, behaving, hoping, conceiving, rejoicing, and being content that is the dynamic working out of God’s new humanity in us. Such people are the true missionary arm of the Holy Trinity in and through us. … And then, as Peter taught us, if men see these good works and ask the reason for such, we should be ready to give them a thoughtful and gentle answer.

Jesus didn’t come to make us more religious/spiritual, but to make us more truly human, as he has designed us to be.

Run with it!

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BLOG 9/24/19


We take an awfully lot for granted in the Christian community/church, not the least is our presumption that when one takes baptism / confirmation vow … that one has any kind of a clear vision of how those vows of faith and obedience are to be practiced, or what exactly does any kind of Christian maturity look like. The long-term result of that blank spot is a huge number of sincere communicants engaging in liturgical rites, but remaining infants in the faith and passive in their own calling to be part of the church’s ministry where it counts the most: in the daily (24/7) context, or marketplace of one’s life—or, in other words, dependent infants in the Christian faith and discipleship with no sense that this is not what Jesus intends when he calls us to be his disciples. Rather, we are called by Jesus Christ to grow into his likeness, in his love, in knowledge, and in intimate communion with the Triune God.

Sound overwhelming? Look at it. When a couple of curious guys followed him early in his earthly ministry, he turned and asked them: “What are you looking for?” they responded lamely: “Master, where are you staying?” His response was: “Come and see?” That was the beginning of them watching him I action, and listening to him teach with a small company of intimates for three years.

Take note: Jesus became, not only their mentor, but also their model for three years. They walked with him, they saw him in action, he sent them out on apprentice missions, they questioned him, and they expressed doubts and fears. The result? They became reproductions, practitioners, of what he came teach and to accomplish as the incarnate son of God. He was not some disembodied religious figure, awesome as he was. He was the first-fruits of God’s new creation, his new humanity. After his crucifixion and resurrection, and the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, it all became clear, and they were commissioned to do with others, exactly what he had done with them, i.e., to go make disciples everywhere, to teach them—yes! Ah, but also to model those teachings—to be mentors and models.

Inquirers need, not only what Jesus taught and requires, but also to have models of how it becomes incarnate in flesh and blood to. The apostle Paul would teach the Corinthian Christians to be imitators of him as he also was of Christ. He would tell the Philippian Christians: “What you have learned and received and heard (been mentored by) and seen (seen modelled) in me—practice these things and the God of peace will be with you.”

Those who are to become the leaders and teachers in the Christian community are not only to skillfully communicate the gospel of God’s new creation in Christ, … they are also to model it. They need to demonstrate to God’s people what it looks like in flesh and blood. This is done, not primarily in huge congregations, but in one-on-one mentoring, or in small groups of Christians growing together and seeking to grow into the image of Christ. (the concept of ‘clergy’ or church professionals) has the potential of confusing this purposeful discipline when it is not conceived as a servant role of mentoring and modelling what is being taught in scriptures.

Ah! but every Christian, Bible in hand, can make a punch-list of the commands of Christ, of life in the Spirit, and begin to be a communicator/mentor and a model in the wonderful harvest field that is his/her 24/7 harvest field.

To be continued … I love your comments.

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In my last Blog, I raised the unpleasant, but inescapable reality that churches and church institutions can (and do) die. That immediately raises the question of what communal expression of the church we should look for that expresses Christ’s design for his church? To be honest, it can take vast array in the plethora of social and cultural contexts in which it finds itself. Let’s keep it simple and Biblical, keeping always in mind that the church is that communal expression of God’s new creation (above), it is the community of his new humanity in Christ. We see it emerging in several different but harmonious forms, but each assumes that it be small enough so that Christ’s followers can know and minister to one another.

Let me give you four, for starts:

  1. Though Jesus preached to multitudes, he chose twelve to be with him so that he could reproduce himself in them. He then commissioned to reproduce that pattern as they made disciples which disciples would become his body in the world. In human dynamics that is something of the optimum number for any kind of dynamic human community;
  2. In the aftermath of the Pentecostal visitation we find the vast infant church meeting in public to hear the apostle’s teachings, but then from house to house where the processed those teaching and where they share possessions with the more needy, ate together, and experienced a new and intimate community. So: two forms: in public and from house to house.
  3. Most of the data in the apostolic speaks of the church meeting in homes, which means they were small enough to minister to one another, and could be versatile and accountable to one another.
  4. And, finally, there are all of those one another passages in the apostolic writings that speak to our mutual ministry to and accountability to other believers in some kind of smaller configurations in diverse settings. Love one another. Bear one another burdens. Forgive one another. Reprove and rebuke one another. Be tenderhearted with one another. Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you as you teach and admonish one another … and so much more

The need for human community is built into our DNA. Followers of Christ have a way of finding one another in public and from house to house, in coffee shops and the corner pub, in larger church assemblies and in smaller communities. The calling is the same wherever. The fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5 are all interpersonal ministries, and make a beautiful check-list for us.

I participate in a most encouraging fellowship of about 1000 members with a stong teaching ministry – but the church leadership, wisely, encourages all its members to be part of community groups which fulfills this one another ministry, and has a staff member to oversee and resource these groups. It is a very healthy scene.

I hope this helps you. I would love your comments.


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One of the sad legacies of the ‘Christendom era’ is that large number of Christian churches that were once alive and fruitful, … but then lost their dynamic grasp of the mission and message of Christ, and so became “fruitless vines good for nothing but to be thrown in the fire and burned” (cf. John 15), or in another descriptive metaphor: “stagnant pools of ‘religious Christianity’ green grown and stagnant.” Or more sobering are the words to the seven churches in Asia Minor (Revelation 2-3), and especially the church at Sardis that had a name that it was living, but was dead.

Only two of the churches that had suffered and been purified by persecution escape the warning that their lamp could be removed from the lampstand, i.e., cease to be the true churches of Jesus. Even the ‘lukewarm’ church is offensive to the Risen Lord. The command is always to repent, to remember who they are, to deal with false doctrines, with passivity, with troublesome teachers, … and to reclaim their true mission and message.

Here, these two millennia later, what with the church being a global phenomenon, and with many ever-present challenges and corrupting cultural influences, these villages of this global tribe of God’s people are still confronted with the compromises, the drift into forgetfulness, the passivity with some institutional form, … and indifferent to the fact that they have become fruitless vines, and no longer a vital part of God’s design in his New Creation in and through Christ.

Living churches are those whose participants are all indwelt by Jesus Christ through his Spirit. They are “the dwelling-place of God by the Spirit” and so are the demonstration of Jesus’ passion to seek and save the lost, to be the “sweet aroma of Christ unto God” as they live out their daily roles as visible New Creation people. There is no place for passive church membership in this calling. It is the role and responsibility of church leadership to see that every participant in the community is equipped to be part of this ministry.

So, when a church becomes a community where one can be a spectator and not a part of the mission, that church is essentially dead. It’s time to sign the death certificate, mourn, sell the assets and give the money to those who are faithfully incarnating Jesus Christ: his mission and his message.

And, be assured there are those communities that are contagious in their passion for Christ and his mission. One has only to look carefully at the church’s history to see this taking place again and again. Can churches die? You bet they can. But vital new churches are also being born in unique settings, inhabited by vital believers in Christ, and where the word of Christ dwells richly among them as they teach and admonish one another. (Colossians 3:15-16).

Stay tuned. Plus, I love your responses. May the peace of Christ be with you.

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In my last blog, I appropriated some findings of cultural anthropologists and defined the church a vast global tribe. These same anthropologists explain that what makes tribes cohere is that they come together around: a common narrative and a common set of rituals. The church from its inception out of the life, death, resurrection of Jesus, his teachings as recorded by his apostles (holy scriptures) has always had a common narrative, and with baptism and the Lord’s supper/Eucharist always had common rituals. This is prominently affirmed in the early Apostle’ Creed: “I believe in the holy catholic church … and the communion of the saints,” i.e. in one global tribe that is the fruit of our mutual belief in one God our Father and his Son, Jesus Christ, and the energizing work of the Holy Spirit.

All that said, looking at the church in the world today can be confusing, what with its multiple expressions, squabbles, theological, liturgical traditions, forms of incarnation—and yet somehow it is all based on a common narrative and with the common rituals (baptism and the Eucharist). It is an incredible story of that first century church launching out into a hostile Roman Empire in which it was hated and persecuted, and yet engaging in its common mission to make “this gospel of the kingdom proclaimed to every ethnic group in the world.

Two millennia have transpired since that beginning. Against all odds the church moved out into the world, east and west, with power creating colonies/villages of those who embraced Jesus Christ by faith. With minimal communication, it adapted itself to the language and cultural norms of those different cultures and created villages/communities around the reality that it was the community of God’s New Creation in Christ—and it often looked different in its expressions from one era, or one culture, to another. So today we are sometimes bewildered, say, by the Eastern and Russian Orthodox traditions in the east, by the Coptic Church in North Africa, and by Roman Catholicism in the west, … and by the whole plethora if Protestant tribes founded by the teachings of gifted leaders (Martin Luther, John Calvin, Menno Simmons, etc.). Add into the mix the influence of those within the Roman Catholic Church who engaged in the mission as missionary orders (Benedict, Francis, the Jesuits, etc.).

Stir into this history that the colonial empires of the West, took their own expression of this global tribe with them as part of their goal of imposing their patterns on the colonies they established, q.e.d., the conquistadores took Roman Catholicism to Latin America as part of their colonizing project.

Now, to shift gears a bit. The church is not tame. It, in obedience to its Lord and his teachings, is a radical new force for justice and righteousness, for dealing with poverty, against all forms of social injustice and torture. For this it has suffered. The church, as the tribe of God’s global design, will not be caged or discouraged by other forces. Case in point, when the church in China (established largely by British missionaries) became the target of Communist domination after the cultural revolution, it went ‘underground’ in secretive meetings and meeting places, … and in that hostile context (even in concentration camps) has, ostensibly, become the largest Christian church in the world.

There endless illustrations of how this global tribe (which began in Jerusalem, meeting in public and from house) has coped with persecution, change and challenges, and continues to do so. Public assemblies, or small community groups meeting to hold one another accountable to the word of Christ. A global tribe manifest innumerable forms, around a common narrative and common rituals. “The gates of hell” will never prevail against it. Be encouraged.

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BLOG 9.11.19.


Everything is changing, and changing fast. The digital culture has been a culture transforming force, so that the nature of work and the workplace, the way we do education, … everything is changing irresistibly … except, maybe much of the church. Here in the city of Atlanta, where I live is a good metaphor for that change. It is the former southeastern distribution center for Sears-Roebuck when Sears was the merchandising giant in North American, what with its mail order service so vital for a society with so many small towns and rural communities. When Sears built its southeastern distribution center here, it was the largest building in the southeastern United States. You could but anything, even do-it-yourself houses, at Sears.

But after World War II, all that began to change radically. Shopping malls began to develop and Sears joined the parade to build retail stores in the malls. The mail-order dimension of the firm began to fade from the scene. Then, more recently, malls also proved not to be a key to successful businesses. Finally, Sears has virtually ceased to exist. But more than that, Amazon emerged into the retail scene. It is so convenient to be able to go on-line and buy almost anything. That was the death-knell to many businesses.

Still, there stands the humongous old Sears building. There were several tries about what to do with it. More recently it has become the focus of activity for the community of urban professionals in the neighborhood and city, with a couple of floors of boutiques, eateries, then offices and residences, and a rooftop exercise center. It is quite a lively scene, but most of the young adult generation don’t even remember Sears-Roebuck.

Feed in the emergence of a digital culture, then the post-Christian culture in which Sundays are no longer a day reserved for church activities, and in which the institutional church is a diminishing influence. Churches that adamantly cling to their glory days in the past and try to retrieve them, are battling a cultural ‘white-water’ for which there are no patterns and no way to succeed. Still, too many assume that to upgrade their traditional sanctuaries, or call a new pastor, or have some new activity or musical style will solve the problem. They want the church of the Sears-Roebuck era, but that is a vain hope.

Allow me to take a step back, and retrieve a dimension familiar to cultural anthropologists. People have always come together in some tribal formation, some ethnic, cultural, common interest, or survival. A tribe is a community of people with a common narrative and common rituals. The church was birthed out of the tribe of Israel. It was called out by Jesus Christ, and built upon his life and teachings as recorded by his apostles. That was its common narrative. He gave it two common rituals: baptism and the eucharist (some expressions of the tribe added more), and it was energized and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Its earlies creed, the Apostles’ Creed, states the reality of the tribe, which within a few centuries became global: “I believe in the holy catholic church, and the communion of the saints.”

This is to say that the church in all of its various expressions is a global tribe, and has integrity and life, not by its sanctuaries, or its professionals, but by its faithfulness to its common narrative and its common rituals—its common message and its common mission. The tribe is formed as the communal expression of God’s new creation. And, strange as it may sound, it might be its most faithful expression when it has no sanctuaries and no professional clergy, but a tribal community formed into the image of Christ as they minister to one another.

Sound strange? The tribe needs to become incarnate in the present changing world, not in the ‘Sears-Roebuck culture’ of the past. Stay tuned.


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