50 Shades

50 shades

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

From the very beginning of time in the garden Satan has tempted man and women with the 50 shades of grey between good and evil, between life and death.   He whispers in our ears and hearts and paints shades of grey in our life; “Does God really love you?   “Did he really say not to partake?” “Don’t you want to know what it’s like?” “Don’t you want to be like God?” “If looks good, why not eat?” “Your choices won’t hurt you.”

The reality is that your choices do have the potential to hurt you (and others). If you choose to sin, to ignore God in any area of your life, you are choosing one of the shades of grey between life and death.   The world speaks about the enticements of pleasure, of sin (though it won’t call it sin), and continually places before you 50 shades of grey between life and death.   It will echo the voice of the serpent in the garden and you will be encouraged to do what feels good in the moment with no thought for the long-term consequences for your life, your family, or your soul.   This can be clearly seen when a book that promotes sexual sin, abuse of women and self-gratification becomes so widely popular that it is turned into a movie. This book, and this movie are of no benefit to those who call Christ Lord.   Yet, the book isn’t the root of problem it’s just a symptom. The problem is in your own heart – it’s your own desire for sin and sins desire for you. “..sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you.” (Genesis 4:7)

If the world speaks about the enticement of sin so freely then the church must talk more passionately about the beauty of holiness, of the detriment of sin, and must continually place before the world the need for repentance and the righteous grace of Christ. There is no grey area in faith – it is Christ or not. You do not have the liberty to choose sinful behavior when you have been purchased at the cost of the life of Jesus. “For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20) God has said to us, “I set before you life and death…therefore choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:15, 20)

Christ follower, you must recognize the voice the tempter in you own life and flee from it. His desire is to cause you to choose one of the shades of grey and by doing so to step away from God. “He (Satan) was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) What is it that tempts you? What is it that causes you to choose sin? Is it pride? Is it lust? Is it selfishness, greed, money? Is it a need for relationships? Do you find yourself drawn to sin when you are tired? When you are angry? When you are overwhelmed? “Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:7-9)

Christ follower, you must not just recognize the voice of the tempter and flee from it; you must also recognize the voice of the Lord and run to it! Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden after they sinned – they suddenly knew that the grey area was not where they should be and were scared of what that might mean for them. However God demonstrated a great grace to those first sinners. He sought them out, called them by name, and put in place a plan to redeem them (and all of us) from our sin.   Christ has died for your sins – every lustful thought, every lie, every moment of pride. Small and large, public and private, words, thoughts and deeds – Christ has paid the high price on the cross.   He willingly offered His life to redeem you from the 50 shades of grey you so willingly choose. Those shades of grey only lead to spiritual death – and Christ knowing that, and loving you even in your sins, gave Himself so that you can move from death to life. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13)

Christ follower, you must repent of your sin regularly. Let Christ move in your heart forgive you and free you! “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36) Having been freed, then don’t let sin entangle you any longer. “Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2) In Christ we have the hope and knowledge that there is nothing that can separate us from Him. He is a good Lord and Friend to sinners.   “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” (Romans 8:38-39)  

Christ has not called you to life lived in shades of grey He has made you, called you, redeemed you to live in holiness. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-16) He doesn’t just command you to be holy and leave you hopeless: He will enable you live a holy life. He will enable you choose life over death! “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” (1 Philippians 1:6)

Take action and choose life! Which of these steps are you wiling to take today?

  • Pray to God and ask Him to forgive you of your sins and fill you a desire for holiness.
  • Ask Him to encourage your soul.
  • Ask Him to provide solid friendship with other Christians who can keep you accountable.
  • Purposefully seek someone out who is walking with Christ and ask them to keep you accountable.
  • Be honest and transparent with your accountability friend/group. (Men with men, women with women.)
  • Ask God for a teachable spirit.
  • Let your pastor know you are struggling.
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50 Shades

5 Things Not To Pack Up After Christmas

packing up christmas

Taking down Christmas decorations is not as fun as putting them up, right? Putting them up is something we do with excitement. Taking them down…it’s more like, “Oh no! It’s almost Valentines Day! Quick, shove the tree in the basement!”  We have tossed out the ripped wrapping paper and saved the bows for next year. The leftover food is eaten and long gone, and the lights have been turned off, wound up and, stored in the attic.

We forget about them.   We don’t spend time with them, anymore.   We move on with life.

And that’s the problem with packing up Christmas; we really do pack it up and move on.   We pull out all the stops for a few weeks and then we go back to life as usual.

This year needs to be different, for me and for you. I’m not saying we should keep the tree up all year. I advise against it, actually; it’s weird.   Yet, when you find yourself packing away the tinsel and stockings, don’t forget about…

 1.  Jesus 

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, ESV)

Paul had to remind the church of the Gospel that they claimed because it can be so easy to be ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Don’t forget about Jesus for 11 months. Pack the decorations–and for goodness’ sake, throw out the tree!–but don’t move Jesus from His place in your home and heart.

 2.  Scripture 

Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (Acts 17:11-12, ESV)

We spend so much of the Christmas season embracing the beauty of prophecy in the Old Testament – the voices of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and Moses, just to name a few. We revel in the majesty of the miracles in the New Testament – Elizabeth conceives, the Star in the sky, throngs of angels singing and a virgin birth. We sing carols that tell the stories, emphasize the fulfilled prophecies and praise God saying “Glory to God in the highest!”

Don’t cease immersing yourself in Scripture now that Christmas is over. Don’t cease singing songs of praise, full of Scripture, now that Christmas is over. Don’t cease time spent reading and marveling at God’s Word!

Don’t pack Scripture away until next Christmas. Make a defined and concerted effort to examine the Scriptures every day; you will increase in faith and maturity when you steep in God’s word. There are hundreds of ways to encourage, and develop your passion for God’s Word.

Here are a few to get you started!

  • This FREE APP will email you a devotional reading, and you can share notes with your friends, post to social media and save private journaling notes. I use this, and recommend this.
  • This FREE APP is a no frills and simple, beautiful devotional app. It provides an Old Testament, New Testament and Psalms reading (with devotion) each day.
  • Got kids? Great, check out this FREE APP will keep you and your kids engaged with interactive bible stories and Scripture.

3.  Giving 

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  (Acts 2:44-45, ESV)

Christmastime is marked by over-the-top generosity – to friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, missions, pastors, causes and church. Christ-followers and non Christ-followers alike dig deep so that needs are met. Don’t let that kind of generosity be a once a year kind of thing – let that kind of generosity be a defining quality about your life every single day. Intentionally choose someone else’s needs over your own desires.   Sacrifice your own comfort for someone else. Sacrifice your time to minister in the name of Jesus and, when asked ‘why?’, tell them about Jesus!

Do it all without being asked – see the need, meet the need.

4.  Fellowship

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:46-47, ESV)

At Christmastime we spend a great deal of time and effort cleaning the house so friends and family can come over. We have potlucks and gatherings and spend extra time hanging out with each other. There are parties in the office and at friends’ houses… and we simply carve out more time for just being with others.  Yet, Christmas ends and we retreat back to our busy lives, hoarding time and the sanctity of our homes and schedules.  Don’t restrict the joy of fellowship to a season: let the joy of fellowship, of a an open home and open arms, be the kind of thing you intentionally seek.

The early church spent time daily together – meeting needs, praying, telling jokes and sharing food. They were building community together because they saw fellowship as vital to the life of a Christ follower. If you forget about fellowship, you forget about what Christ has called us to be: the fellowship of believers, the Body of Christ.

5.  Proclaiming

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touchedthis we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:1-4, ESV)

Christmas and Easter are the two times of the year that you can easily leverage an invite or gospel share to your unchurched friends. It’s expected that Christians are to be vocal at these times of the year because we are proclaiming the birth (or resurrection) of Jesus! John tells us that every believer who has experienced eternal life through Jesus, is to be a proclaimer!

The Christmas season may be over, but don’t forget that you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Glory of God and the joy of salvation all year long!  Proclaim eternal life through Jesus. Pray with those who are hurting. Listen and sympathize, and share how God has helped you.   Proclaim Christ boldly, authentically, and tenderly every chance you get.

Which one of these five did the Holy Spirit nudge you on?  Find some accountability through  a friend or small group to start and continue in that area this year!

5 Things Not To Pack Up After Christmas

The Gospel According To…

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It’s always been a joy for me to read through Scripture and find Jesus’ heart for mine on the page in front of me.   A good many of those places I’ve stumbled across His heart were not in the New Testament; they were in the Old Testament.   How often do we casually assume that Jesus ‘appeared’ in the New Testament for the first time?   It’s not true, though!   Jesus is in every part of the Scripture, from the Genesis to Revelation, revealing His heart for the world, His love for sinners, and His plan for the redemption of those who would follow Him!

This year the Lord has refreshed my eyes to this great theme through Scripture. I’ve stumbled across so many places, between Genesis and Revelation, that share the Gospel and I’ve started marking them (in my Bible App) with #gospelaccording to so I can find them later! I want to share a selection of my favorites with you, in the hope you will be encouraged by the Gospel of Jesus this Christmas Season.   God’s plan to rescue you through Jesus was one that had been prepared since the beginning, and is one you can partake in today!


The #Gospelaccording to Genesis 3:15   “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

This is called the protoevangelion (or the first Gospel).  It is the first time in Scripture we see the promise that Jesus will overcome Satan. He will crush Satan’s head on the cross, while Satan only inflicts a temporary wound on Jesus. Death does not hold Jesus.


The #Gospelaccording to Jeremiah 32:37-41 “ Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety.  And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.  I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them.  I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.  I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.”

God will redeem people from across the globe, all nations and tongues, and together we will worship together ONE God. He will make with us an everlasting convent through the blood of Jesus and will enable us to live a life of holiness.  God’s redemption promise is for ALL PEOPLE!


The #Gospelaccording to Zechariah 12:10 ““And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”

The #Gospelaccording to Zechariah 13:1 “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness.”

God planned for Jesus to be crushed by the weight of our sins, and, while on the cross, Jesus would be pierced by the sword. When he was pierced blood and water flowed out – and He washed us clean.  His death was in our place, for our sins; so that we might receive grace in the place of wrath and be cleansed form our sin.


The #Gospelaccording to Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 – “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”

The #Gospelaccording to John 1:1-5 – “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

God knew that sin caused darkness in the hearts of people, but He tells us in Isaiah that God will not allow darkness to reign forever – for Jesus is the light, and no darkness can overtake His light! Jesus wins the victory. Death’s darkness cannot hold him, and He rose in Light and Glory to redeem mankind.


The #Gospelaccording to Isaiah 1:18   “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”

God wants us to think critically about our sin situation, not ignore it. We need a savior to take the stains away and redeem us unto holiness.


The #Gospelaccording to 2 Samuel 14:14 “We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.”

We know from Romans 6:23 that the ‘wages of sin is death’. Yet physical death and spiritual death are two different deaths. Though we may die physically, we need not die spiritually to spend eternity apart from God. God provided a way for those who are in sin, will not need to remain an outcast away from God, but rather welcomed in as part of God’s family! We are not outcasts in Christ; we belong with Him and to Him!

The Gospel According To…

A Christmas Rescue

rescue from heaven

There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the Christmas season: good food, family visits, hot cider, the smell of a fresh cut tree, gift giving and lots of cookies. I enjoy all of those every year. They are not however the primary reason I am excited about the Christmas season. I am excited about Christmas each year because of the time I was rescued.

Long before Jesus was born – way back in the Garden of Eden – Adam and Eve were having lunch. Lunch from a tree they weren’t supposed to eat from. They sinned – they disobeyed their Heavenly Father’s will. Because of that sin the world began to change and decay; before they sinned there was no illness, no sadness, no stubbed toes or broken hearts. After they sinned the good and perfect world began to unravel and all the pain and suffering and death we know so well came about.   Yet God, even while Adam and Eve sinned, was working out a rescue plan for the restoration of the world.

The rescue plan would make all the sad things, the broken hearts, the sickness, sin and death come undone – and would replace those things with a deep joy, an everlasting hope and a love that bubbles up from the source.   How would God rescue the world? Through a baby boy, born in a manger, to a unwed teen girl and her future husband.   The prophet Isaiah says in chapter 9: “The people who walked in darkness (meaning in sin and sadness, apart from God’s will) have seen a great light – (meaning Jesus the rescuer, the light of the world). He continues saying that this Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor – the one who gives us wisdom and guidance for a life lived to it’s fullness. Jesus is the Mighty God, and Everlasting Father – the one who created the world, saw our sins and still loved us just as a father loves a child who errs. He enacted a Mighty rescue plan that would cost Him greatly. Jesus is the Prince of Peace – the one who brings peace to our souls when we know that it is He alone that rescues us from our sin and sadness and gives us peace, forgiveness and a love that is never ending.

I am a pastor, but I’m a person who sins too. I need Jesus in my life to help keep me from sin, and also to forgive me when I struggle and fail.   I am excited every year about Christmas because it is the time of year I celebrate that God was born as a baby and the great rescue began. He didn’t stay a baby, but He grew up and willingly died on the cross for my sins – Jesus rescued me – paying the penalty for my sins. How could I not celebrate that?! This Christmas season – if you need rescue from sin and sadness and death – will you turn to Jesus, your Great Rescuer? Will you let Him fill you up with His forever happiness? If you do the Christmas season will not be limited to gifts and cookies – but will be made full in your heart and soul. Rejoice in rescue this Christmas – and celebrate Jesus yearlong!

A Christmas Rescue

Endurance

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This is a tough word.  When we are hearing the word spoken to us it means that the circumstances of our life require it.  When we speak it out loud ourselves we are attempting to build it up within ourselves for the battle that might lie ahead of us.   It may be a simple athletic activity that requires endurance:  a longer than usual work out, heavier than usual weights, or even just getting out of bed early day after day to squeeze in that activity.

It could be endurance for a job that you don’t like.  Getting out of the house and into that workplace with a boss you must endure, or a coworker you must endure for a paycheck, which just barely breaks you even.  Some of you may not want to admit it, but you may even use this word when thinking of your kids or your spouse.  You have endured time with them when you are worn out from the other areas of life that require endurance.   And we haven’t even mentioned the larger than life things: terminal illness, job loss, financial crisis, relationship decline etc.  One can only take so much enduring before something gives, right?

Hebrews says we are to, “run the race with endurance.”  So what keeps us going in the midst of self imposed standards, daily grinds and extraordinary pressures and situations?   Is coffee?  Friendships?  That inner ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ attitude?   Or perhaps is there a greater motivator for our souls, bodies and minds when we must endure and what are we enduring for? Is it something greater than just the end of the day or the end of the trial?

Suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope.  (Romans 5:3-4)    The things we endure in life can either crush us or refine us and make us stronger.   Jesus suffered and endured the greatest evil and pain that is imaginable.  He was crushed for us, so that we do not have to be and He did it for the joy that was set before Him. He calls us to have that same hope and endurance.  He shows us there is something greater than this world and it’s woes.

“God is the God of endurance and encouragement.”  (Romans 15:4)   God has more endurance than any of us, and so He alone knows best how to encourage your soul as you patiently endure.  He has endured the worst of the worst and can sympathize with you – no matter what the circumstance.  He is generous with His compassion and mercy and love.  In the face of enduring something- God’s presence and friendship changes our hearts, though perhaps not our circumstances.

What keeps us going when we are running out of endurance?  Love.  Not love we give but love that we receive. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things…endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7)  Jesus’ love for you enables you to have hope, to have faith, and endure all things!

When you feel weak and want to give in – call out to the God of endurance and encouragement!  His very character is that of Love and He will meet you right where you are and encourage you to finish the race!  Don’t give up…God is with you!

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is marked for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of our faith.  For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorned it’s shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and loose heart.” (Heb. 12:1-3)

Endurance

The Little Stuff

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Elisha is a great prophet of God, and he was overseeing the sons of the prophets – the priests/pastors of the day.  They were running out room to stay and asked if they could build larger facilities.  (A good problem to have, right?)

Elisha gave them permission and so they each took an ax and cut down logs to begin construction.  One of the men took a swing and the ax head separated from the handle and fell into deep waters.  The man was struck to the heart and cried out – “Oh no, it wasn’t even mine…I borrowed it!!!” Elisha heard the cry and came over and asked what happened and the man explained the tragedy.  Elisha took a stick, tossed it in the water above where the ax fell in and the ax head floated to the top so the man could retrieve it.  (My version of 2 Kings 6:1-7)  

I have read this story many times over the years – it’s short – just 7 verses and then nothing more on it.  I’ve always wondered what the point of this story was.  Then I re-read it again this past week and as I was settling in to bed I began to pray about my day, my worries, my hopes and the things that we all pray for the Lord revealed something to me.  This passage is an answer to a question we ask all the time:  does God really care about the small things in my life?   The answer is YES.  God deeply cares for the things that cause our hearts to seize up.

As a father, I see my little girl feel the highest highs and lowest lows over ‘the little stuff.’  Her crayon broke, it was her favorite color, and so she cries.  Her favorite pajamas were clean and she is overjoyed and breaks into a dance.  This is the little stuff, and as her father, I enter into those moments with her.  I console her over the crayon because it is very real and significant to her in that moment.  I join her in the dance over the PJ’s, because, why not?!

God is the same way with us.  He is a good Dad who desires that we ‘cast all our cares on Him.’   Jesus wants nothing more than to enter into our lives – in the big stuff, and the little stuff and provide care for our hearts and souls.    He wants to console you over what makes your heart sad, and he wants to dance with you when you rejoice.   What is your sunken ax?  Will you let God lift it for you?

The Little Stuff

Prayer

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We can’t seem to avoid the topic in the public arena.  Should Christians be allowed to pray in schools?  At work?  In council meetings?  The topic has made national headlines in many cities and states over the past few months. I recognize the good intent behind all the commotion – but I think the question being asked is incomplete at best.  It should not be “Should Christians be allowed to pray at …..?”  but rather, “Are Christians in the habit of praying?”

Does location matter when we pray?  Does it matter if we sit or stand or kneel or lay face down?  Eyes open or eyes closed?  Talk to Jesus out loud or in our hearts?   No.  What matters is that we are praying – not necessarily that we are seen praying.  There are times in Scripture where individuals made a stand and prayed publicly – or at least visibly.  There are other times in Scripture where individuals did not.

If public prayer is allowed at (insert location/situation) we should publicly pray.  If it isn’t allowed at (insert location/situation) we should not lose hope – because I hope that isn’t the only time we are praying.  We should not consider prayer to just be a thing of organized times and places – such as meetings, beginning of class, or even during worship services – though those are wonderful times to pray if permitted.  Prayer should be a constant in the life a believer; daily, hourly, regular conversation with the one who Created the World.   Prayer is what connects us with the Father, helps us see where we are straying, comforts us, gives us direction, and intercedes for others.

Scripture tells us that we are to ‘pray without ceasing’ – so I ask you this question (and it’s the same question I have asked myself) – “Is prayer a regular part of my walk with Christ?”    If the answer is no – then start with your own prayer before heading to a public arena.  If the answer is yes, then be in prayer for the leaders who make the hard choices in this town – no matter where you are praying from.

Prayer