-Rev Jamie Brame-
Don’t you know that all the runners in the stadium run, but only one gets the prize? So run to win. Everyone who competes practices self-discipline in everything. The runners do this to get a crown of leaves that shrivel up and die, but we do it to receive a crown that never dies. So now this is how I run—not without a clear goal in sight. I fight like a boxer in the ring, not like someone who is shadowboxing. Rather, I’m landing punches on my own body and subduing it like a slave. I do this to be sure that I myself won’t be disqualified after preaching to others.
1 Corinthians 9:24-27 CEB
I spent my college years visiting a small monastery and soaking up the wisdom of the monks. These monks looked like anyone else: flannel or work shirts, jeans, sneakers; some had hair to their shoulders, others wore short hair. The only time they wore robes was when we went to church for the prayer times. Not stereotypical monks!
Because of their influence, I would go to the church I served as a student minister and talk to the youth about prayer and what the monks were teaching me. “Can we go to the monastery?” I asked the monks, they said yes, so 20 of us went there one afternoon.
After a tour, Brother Jim walked us to the big field, and sat cross-legged on the ground. My group saw him getting into a meditation position and did likewise, closing their eyes and sitting quietly for 15 minutes. Then Jim opened his eyes and said, “Any questions?”
“Brother Jim, how long should I pray each day?” I was so proud of the questioner (my similar question to Jim earlier drew the answer about 20 minutes a day three times a day). Jim answered, “Three minutes a day.” I could see the relief as it registered to my youth that a disciplined prayer life was in reach! But I was shocked.
Talking to Jim later, I asked him why the difference between his answer to me and to them. “Well, you’re planning on being a professional, aren’t you? Takes more work!”
Disciplined spirituality takes practice. We don’t run five miles the first time we run, and we don’t pray for hours on end at the beginning. We don’t become Christian and do all things correctly. Like an athlete, we practice, we set our goals, and we move towards them. Some will do more, some less, but all of us have the goal of being close to God and living a meaningful life.
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God, give us strength to keep going, to keep trying, in Jesus’ name, amen.
Rev Jamie Brame is the Program Director at Christmount Conference and Retreat Center, located in Black Mountain, NC. He has served there for over 27 years, working with both youth and adults. His interests include the study of spirituality and prayer, with an emphasis on eastern spirituality and its application in a Christian context. In addition to his ministerial vocation, he is also a musician who performs with his wife, Renae. He holds an M. Div. from Duke Divinity School and B.A. from Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College.)
-Rev Sarah Renfro-
Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I'm gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light."
Matthew 11:29-30 CEB
"Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest,” Jesus tells those who have been bearing the burdens of living under an oppressive regime, a nation at war, and religious leaders who impose a strict interpretation of scripture. Their lives were hard, and Jesus offers them another way to live.
So many around the world suffer under such cruelty, poverty, and unrest, that they are willing to sacrifice everything they have in order to escape the abuse. They have been treated like captives for too long, and they wish for a better life.
These are the people Jesus is speaking to in our time. He exchanges the yoke of oppression for one of education and calling. He promises to lead with a gentle hand, not an iron fist. Those who have been unable to get a good night’s sleep for years due to insecurity will be allowed to close their eyes in the presence of the Lord.
Following Jesus’ teachings does not lead to an easy life, but it is easier to bear, because we share each other’s burdens. The weak are lifted up by the strong. When life’s experiences way us down, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, Jesus will help us lighten our load.
The way of discipleship is not burdensome, but life-giving. Our hearts may be heavy, but only because we are yoked to the heart of God, full of justice, mercy, and compassion. When our souls ache, we may find comfort that we rest in the grace of God, who took on flesh in the form of Jesus, who frees us from conformity and sin.
Jesus is firm, yet gentle, in his humble way. He doesn’t pretend that the world is all rainbows and unicorns. It isn’t. But for those whose mountain is too steep to climb with such heavy packs on their backs, Jesus allows others to shoulder the suffering, for respite and relief.
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Gentle God, some of us are suffering under the weight of the world. Others of us feel like we can move mountains. Invite us to share one another’s burdens, lessen each other’s loads, and rest in the One who guides us. Amen.
Rev Sarah Renfro is the Pastor of Family Ministries at Geist Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fishers, Indiana. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, Sarah formerly modeled internationally, was ordained into ministry in 2010, is married to Rev. Kyle Brown, mother to Miriam, March Madness fanatic (Go Big Blue!), and writer at m-bodied.com. Her ministry includes leading body image workshops and preaching on embodiment and faith.
-Rev Evan Dolive-
Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.
Hebrews 11:1 CEB
Faith is a tenet of Christianity that can take on many different forms. If you were raised in the church or even if you became a follower of Christ later in life, the notion of your faith or having faith was more than likely a topic of conversation. In a world filled with facts, figures and needing proof before we believe a YouTube video has the notion of faith been lost?
This notion of faith is showed when Christ teaches the disciples that faith of a child is needed to enter the realm of God. This one simple teaching of Christ has turned into just taking things at face value but by subscribing to this mentality I believe we are selling ourselves short.
Children’s faiths are alive and strong, and the church needs to recognize this instead of repeating corny “children’s sermons” that are usually well intentioned but often developmentally inappropriate. The church’s story is being heard and lived out in front of our eyes through the hands and feet of some of the smallest members of the church. Why are we amazed that more children are asking to give money or toys to others instead of receiving for themselves? This is something that should be an extension of our own faith; sometimes it takes the innocence of a child to reorient our thinking about what truly matters.
We don’t give children enough credit. They are infinitely smarter than we think. Children figure out things that most adults have trouble comprehending. I truly believe that my daughter came out of the womb knowing how to operate an iPad. She gets that finger swiping and she can navigate the world of apps and photos with more precision and understanding that people 20 times her age.
Having faith like a child does not mean that we take everything at face value, but it does mean that we have the ‘go-get-em’ attitude. Children’s faiths are constantly being shaped and formed by the people around them and by the answers they get to important questions. If we cannot articulate our faith in a way that a child can understand, then we have a failure in communication.
I want to have a child’s faith; I want the stories of the Bible to be more than just words on a page or the same old story. I want to be emboldened in my faith to step out and be the hands and feet of Christ in the world around me. And if I can do that, I know that I will have a partner in ministry with me. This Lent let us hold to our faith and examine it; may this time of contemplate and prayer allow us to experience God anew as well as deepen and strengthen our faith in God and Christ.
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Help me O God to have faith like a child, innocent and wondering. May your spirit dwell within me in Lenten Season. Through Christ I pray, Amen.
Rev Evan M. Dolive is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He currently serves as the Associate Minister for Family Life at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Longview, Texas. He is the author of "Seeking Imperfection: Body Image, Marketing and God," a theological examination of marketing and body images propagated in the world today and the Christian response. He also writes for various online publications and at evandolive.com
He is currently working on his Doctorate at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, TX. He is married to his high school sweetheart and has three children ages 6,4 and 2.
Instead, love your enemies, do good, and lend expecting nothing in return. If you do, you will have a great reward. You will be acting the way children of the Most High act, for he is kind to ungrateful and wicked people. Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. “Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good portion—packed down, firmly shaken, and overflowing—will fall into your lap. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive in return.”
Luke 6:35-38 (CEB)
When I think about kindness, I think about Doris. Doris is an elderly woman at my church where I previously ministered in Iowa. She has a smile about her that brightens any day. For me, she is the embodiment of kindness because of how much she does for others without ever asking for anything in return. She has been retired for decades now, but continually keeps busy serving the people of her community. Though health problems have limited her recently, she still devotes countless hours visiting people in the hospital, holding Bible studies in various nursing homes, and working with children through the local 4-H program.
Here’s what strikes me about Doris: she often serves people who can offer nothing back. Some literally have nothing. Others don’t realize what she’s doing because she does them in secret. Some aren’t grateful even if they do know. Doris gets nothing out of all of the time, energy, and work she puts into the week…and yet, she continues on relentless. Why? Because Doris is kind. Doris is a child of God.
In the passage above, Jesus talks to his disciples about what it means to be children of the Most High: love your enemies; do good; lend expecting nothing in return; be compassionate. These are all things that God does for all people unconditionally, regardless of who they are. “God is kind to ungrateful and wicked people.” What a thought! As bearers of the divine image who have been made in His likeness, this is how we too should be. As people who are followers of Christ, we are called to imitate the life of Christ, including his kindness. The standard for our behavior is in the character of God himself. Not only do we experience God’s kindness, but we demonstrate it to the world.
Kindness is found in the heart and attitude of Christ. As Paul writes in Philippians 2:3, “Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves.” The “others” he speaks us are not only those whom we get along with and whom we call friends. Consider even your enemies as better than yourself. When we look to the interests of others instead of our own, we find the power within us to be kind even to those who do not deserve it. In these kind acts, it is not about what we are to receive or “get back” from doing them. It is about the act itself and the good that it does in this world.
In a world that is so often focused on the “bottom line” and investments and returns, practice the kindness that expects nothing back. To paraphrase Jesus elsewhere, let the kindness of God be reflected in your life, so that when others see your good deeds, they will glorify your Father in heaven.
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Father, we praise you for your kindness. You have demonstrated to us your goodness, even when we were still sinners. May your Spirit be at work in us to demonstrate kindness to others in a godly, unconditional way. Amen.
Mike Miles is the student and family minister at the Livonia Church of Christ in the western suburbs of Detroit, Michigan. He attended Abilene Christian University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in Christian Ministry in 2009. Mike is currently working on his Master of Religious Education in Missional Leadership at Rochester College in Rochester, Michigan.
Mike has a love for community and for bringing people together, especially across society's dividing lines. Born in the Philippines, he has since lived in over twenty different places but happily calls Michigan "home." He is unashamedly nerdy. He has tried to maintain a blog for years, but has decided that he is just too lazy. He is married to Blythe and has a son, with a baby girl on her way in early 2017!
-Rev Rebecca Yowler-
Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up.
Galatians 6:9 CEB
One of my favorite things to say is, “Patience is a virtue, but it isn’t one of mine!” This is probably the truest statement I ever make. I am NOT a patient person. I try so hard! I try to wait—to do what is right and know that things will eventually work out. I try to trust that I will eventually “reap a good harvest.” But, darn it, I want that harvest NOW.
This section of Galatians also contains the phrase “you reap what you sow.” This, to me, is the biblical equivalent of Karma—the idea that what you put into the world comes back to you eventually. If you do bad things, eventually the bad will return. If you do good, then eventually good things will come to you. This is all well and good, except it’s the WAITING that gets me every time! I want karma to do its thing and I want it done, now. Actually, I’d prefer yesterday.
Nowhere in my life has this been more apparent than my recent job search. I had spent two AMAZING years at a fantastic job and had been heartbroken to leave it. I had done all good things there and had the support of so many people as I moved to another state and started my search. And the job just wouldn’t come. The “perfect job” fell through, a Skype interview went less than perfectly, another “slam dunk” never materialized, and yet another “I would give anything to work here” type position completely vaporized. Everything from God kept saying “be patient,” and “wait.” Every hymn, every poem, every homily, every bible verse—EVERYTHING told me to wait. But I didn’t want to wait. Finally, months later, a pretty darn close to perfect job came along, and I knew what I had been waiting for.
Did I learn my lesson this time? Did I learn to trust God and wait for the harvest? I wish I could say, “yes.” I wish I could. But, I know myself better than that. I know that patience isn’t one of my virtues and that I am not good at waiting. So, instead of getting angry at myself or trying to figure out how to be more patient, I just pray more. I simply ask god to help me be as patient as I am capable of being and to continue to remind me that waiting is necessary. Even if patience can’t be my virtue, I can work on it…little by little…and keep on praying for more help. It’s the best I can do.
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Dear God, please help me be patient. And if I can’t be patient, help me wait with as much grace as I can muster. And if I can’t do that, help me to not make any poor decisions in the meantime. Amen
Rev Rebecca Ann Yowler is an ordained Disciples minister and an academic librarian. She is currently adjunct faculty at Valparaiso University. She is passionate about pugs, knitting, and figure skating. You can read her occasional sermons and devotions at www.beccassermons.livejournal.com
In the same way, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who changes both heart and life than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need to change their hearts and lives.
Luke 15:7 CEB
Joy is a slippery word. People often use it in place of happiness, but joy is so much more than feeling happy in the moment. Joy is something you feel with your whole heart. It fills us up.
The verse above doesn’t say there will be people in Heaven who say, “Another sinner has changed his heart and life. Well, that’s nice.” There will be joy. Heart-thumping, fist-pumping, shout-out-your-excitement joy.
If a changed sinner receives that sort of recognition in Heaven, what sort of recognition should they receive on Earth? Shouldn’t we welcome them with the same joyfulness?
It’s easy to pat a new convert on the head, hand them a cheap Bible, and say, “Well, that’s nice. Make sure you read Romans.” But where’s the joy in that? Where’s the influence of the Holy Spirit in that?
Instead, we should be willing to open ourselves up to joy. If a person has changed both their heart and their life, they’ve done something amazing. How many people manage to pull off something like that? Let’s recognize these transformations for the miracles that they are and rejoice alongside our new brothers and sisters.
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Please open me up so that I can experience joy. Help me to reflect your divine joy as I interact with others.
Kristy Burmeister writes about stalkers, church-related trauma, feminism, and pie (pretty much in that order) at kristyburmeister.com. She's currently working on a memoir about a church that almost got her murdered when she was a teenager. (Spoiler: She's still alive.)
-Rev Myra Torance-
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.
John 3:16 CEB
For me the word “love” is a verb; an action word. Far too many are the people who believe and take for granted the word “love.” True, real love takes patience, and faithfulness. It is not easy but when you finally believe; it is the easiest of action verbs to live.
Example: I wrote to a young man in the army stationed in Vietnam. For over a year I wrote him a letter every day. Well to be honest, for two of those days my mother sent him cards because I was sick with the flu. We did it because this way when they had mail call he always had mail! Every week I sent him a box (5 lbs) filled with chocolate chip cookies.
Now, there is a lot more to this story in the background, but that is for another time.
Anyway, this man, in a letter, asked me to marry him and I accepted; without ever having seen a picture of him. When he was discharged he flew to a nearby airport for me to pick him up.
I had heard his voice over a telephone once. I was twenty years old, never had a date, but our love grew from letters and chocolate chip cookies. I asked him how I would know who he was and he stated, “I’ll be the one in uniform.” Imagine my surprise when five gentlemen in uniform came forth from the plane?
We had a hard but beautiful marriage for 44 years and then his fight with cancer won and he went to God. I miss him every day of my life, but the love we shared gave me 4 children and 9 grandchildren.
God sent Jesus to teach us what love is and he lived it every day of his short life. What he gave is a gift we should always cherish. From a stable to a cross he lived love. This season of Lent I pray you do also.
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Jesus, lover of my soul, sing in my heart, so that I may shine your love into the world.
Rev Myra Torrance is the pastor of Chelan Christian Church, where she has led the congregation for four years. She has been a pastor in the Disciples of Christ Christian Church for over 35 years. Prior to being called to the pulpit, she was the Executive Director for Hospice in Vincennes, Indiana. Myra is originally from Vincennes, Indiana, where she raised her four children with her husband, Bud, before his passing in 2011. Myra loves to write and enjoys time with her two Chihuahuas.
-Rev. Barbara Taylor Minton-
Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 CEB
God’s presence already lived in Jesus’ body, but it was only after the resurrection that his disciples began to understand the importance of his words. God was on the move and God’s moves had implications!
Now, several decades later, the Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church in Corinth, extends the thought Jesus initiated! Paul says to each person in the community of faith, ‘…your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit!’ Earlier, in the same letter Paul referred to the entire congregation, collectively, as God’s temple.
It behooves us to notice God’s movement through the Holy Spirit—from residence in the Jerusalem temple, to the person of Jesus, poured out on all believers on Pentecost, promised to all who believe, and now, personalized by the Apostle Paul. Not only does the Spirit reside in the congregation (the body of Christ in the world today), but the Spirit also lives in the heart of each disciple.
What are the implications for those of us in whom the Spirit resides? God’s presence in us connects us to God and to one another. We no longer belong to ourselves! Giving the Spirit room to work in us begins to sensitize us to our own selfishness, our own inadequacies and creates in us a desire for God’s purposes.
The good news, simply put: the Spirit at work in us produces the character of Christ in our lives. Love is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. This godly love is revealed in joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. With God’s help we can control ourselves!
Also read: 1 Corinthians 3:16; Romans 5:1-5; Galatians 5.
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Come, Holy Spirit, fill us with your love.
Excite us with your joy. Calm us with your peace.
Produce in us your patience. Keep us in your kindness.
Goad us with your goodness. Invigorate our faithfulness.
Guide us in your gentleness… and, above all, strengthen our self-control.
Rev Barbara Minton, ordained April 1, 2001, now semi-retired, gladly serves a small rural congregation in Henry County KY, Berea Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). She also volunteers in local interdenominational outreach ministries. Barbara describes herself as wife of one, mother of three, and Mamaw to eight. She enjoys journaling, which she began while living in Switzerland and Germany for 16 years. Now she will occasionally write on her blog, which she fondly entitled Muesli. http://bjm-muesli.blogspot.com/ Her hobbies include bird-watching and word-botching. She claims to get her exercise by jumping to conclusions, running at the mouth, and climbing the walls. Her partner in these adventures is Thomas, her husband of 53 years, and presently pastor of Eminence Christian Church in Eminence, KY. (When she grows up she wants to become a retreat speaker!)
-Brandon William Peach-
Comfort, comfort my people!
says your God.
Speak compassionately to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended,
that her penalty has been paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins!
Isaiah 40:1-2 CEB
When I was young, I watched Mr. Rogers every Sunday morning before church with my twin brother, countless episodes and songs and life lessons that stick with me today. I was profoundly saddened by his death. I would look for old videos of his Neighborhood on the internet when I was in college (more challenging in the days before YouTube). As an adult, I’ve come to appreciate him more and more. His fundamental personality trait—his gentleness—was, and is, something that I admire greatly.
In 2012, when we heard the news of the horrible shooting in Newtown, CT, a Facebook image of him went viral along with a quote of his from years earlier:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers -- so many caring people in this world."
Gentleness, of course, was the input. Comfort was the result. Soothing a crying baby, petting a cat, treating a wound--all things meant to comfort--only work if gentleness is applied. The gentleness of Christ, of course, is on display when he offers a light burden and an easy yoke.
God displayed His gentleness toward the children of Israel, who suffered tremendously during years of Babylonian captivity, through His prophet Isaiah. In the same chapter, God promises to give rest to the exhausted, to empower the weary, and promises His people would fly with wings like eagles [Isaiah 40:31]. Comforting words after such a long wait for some gentleness, indeed.
We live a violent world still—one that seems to value being tough over being tender. Meek attitudes and gentle actions are seen as a weakness. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The most powerful being in the universe could have used any method at all to crush darkness and Satan and sin—yet He chose to save His people by literally condescending and becoming a human child. There is then, in the fruit of gentleness, an amazing strength.
Gentleness in a world such as ours goes a long way, as Mr. Rogers demonstrated. Our decision to be gentle even in times of fear and uncertainty allows us to share the heart of Christ, “the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.” [2 Corinthians 1:3]
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Lord, thank you for Your gentleness toward me. Please give me the strength to be gentle today, no matter the circumstance.
Brandon William Peach is, first and foremost, the husband of Kathleen O'Neill and the father of William Sean O'Neill. He is a writer with a degree in literature from Penn State University, and a frequent contributor to various blogs, magazines, and podcasts.
While his career is in marketing, Brandon's primary interests include historical Christianity, literature, art, and pacifism in practice. He lives in the heart of Amish Country in Central Pennsylvania, where "getting stuck in traffic" often means being stuck behind a horse and buggy on a windy backroad. His hobbies include reading, writing, watching good movies, cooking, and most importantly, spending time with his wife and son.
He is owned by his cat Tiger and his dog Millie.
-Rev Paul Appleby-
Now the one who had received one valuable coin came and said, ‘Master, I knew that you are a hard man. You harvest grain where you haven’t sown. You gather crops where you haven’t spread seed.
Matthew 25:24 CEB
The Scripture quoted above is from a teaching of Jesus commonly called "The Parable of the Talents." Now, as those history buffs among us are aware, a talent is a fairly large sum of money (the "valuable coin" in The Common English Bible- it would have weighed around 70 lbs and depending upon its composition could be worth upwards of $30,000). In this story, a master leaves town and gives three of his servants some of his riches to manage in his absence. The first two invest their talents and pay back their master with interest upon his return. The third… well, he (either out of fear or laziness) buried his talent then dug it up and returned it to his master upon his return.
The English word "talent" comes from the name of this old coin, in fact it comes to us right out of this parable. A talent is a treasure that our master has entrusted to each of us. Just as is the case in the parable, some of us are given a lot of talents, some of us are given a few. The number and value of the talents is really beside the point. In fact, in the Scripture mentioned the use of the talents, the rewards doled out upon his fellow servants who used and developed their master's gifts, and the master's disapproval of this lazy, selfish, fearful servant aren't exactly in view. The issue in view is the servant's understanding of his master as the one who "harvest(s)… where (he has not) sown… gathers(s) where (he hasn't) spread seed." Quite an unconventional picture of God, no?
Unconventional, perhaps, but is it true? The God of this parable is one who looks to us, God's servants, to see what creative and innovative ways we have found to use those talents with which we have been entrusted. This is a God who has given us not success, but simply the building blocks for it. This God is looking to make a name and a treasure for God's self from our creativity, our sweat, our struggle. This is a God looking for us to do the hard work of developing talents, and all to his credit. I don't know about you, but this certainly seems to ring true to my experience of God. It also holds true to the idea of God as a heavenly parent. I have been told by my parents, more than once, to live up to my family name. My parents provided me, not with success, but with the tools needed to build it- it is my hope that I am providing my children with the same.
Because, as the servant in this story intuitively grasps, that is what the Christian is called to do. To develop his/her God given talents. To grow where they find themselves planted, and to offer up to God the increase. We are God's agents of growth, of prosperity, of beauty on this earth. We are called to be salt (an agent for growth to the ancient botanist) and light (an agent of illumination) - and one day, like the servants in this parable, we will be called to give an account of the talents we have been entrusted with. On that day, may we be found faithful.
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Dear Lord, may the talents you have put in my care be carefully seeded to grow a plentiful harvest.
Rev Paul Appleby: Raised in the Church, the teachings of Jesus came alive to Paul in a new and exciting way after studying the Sermon on the Mount, and rediscovering the brilliant, simple, and profound way Jesus encourages his followers to live and love. Along with his amazing wife Sage, he serves a loving Christ-centered congregation in Killeen, Texas.