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Loving People Not Like Us

If you’ve ever jumped from the high dive at a public pool, then you probably remember the courage you had to muster, to take that very first plunge. You remember splashing around in the shallow end, laughing with friends and family and relishing the comfort of that pool floor under your feet. You remember eyeing the diving board each time another brave soul leaped from its heights, curious about whether you could be that brave too. You remember making the decision—“Enough already. I’m going to do it.”

You remember climbing the ladder that felt like it stretched to heaven, it was so tall, and taking those six or seven steps all the way to the end of the board, the swimming pool now seeming much smaller than it had when you were down below. And then there was the leap—the brief, uncontrollable sensation of flying; the crashing through the water’s surface; the reemergence to breathable air; the wild awareness that nothing was under your feet, reassuring you, holding you up. You remember the exhilaration of having taken the risk and enjoyed it. Who knew the deep end was so exciting and fun?

Same sunny day. Same pool. Same water. And yet upon choosing that deep-end experience, everything was different now.


The Opportunity that Awaits Us

When it comes to our relational world, a similar dynamic shows up. Sure, we can stay in the shallow end with “our people”—those who know us, love us, support us, forgive us, and extend quick grace toward us whenever we screw up. But there’s a deep-end encounter awaiting us, if we’ll have the guts to just dive in.

If there are two groups of people today who are hopeful that you and I will take that plunge, they are the undocumented members of the Hispanic population who now make their home in the United States, and anyone who has immigrated here from the Middle East. By and large, we are told to fear and/or despise these people—What if they’re terrorists? What if they’re criminals? What if they take all of our jobs?

Having no real answers to these questions and more, we cave to the suggested suspicions and move through daily life casting an uneasy eye toward anyone cleaning a hotel room or wearing a hijab. What a tragic choice this is.

For the vast majority of the Central or South American and Middle Eastern immigrants who have shown up on U.S. soil, the sole reason they have come here is to escape violence and pain. Life in their homeland had deteriorated to the point that the only way to remain a resident there was to sell one’s children into slavery, participate in the trafficking of illicit drugs, and to pledge allegiance to rampant corruption—options they were unwilling to entertain.

And so they showed up here, in the U.S., products of terror and abuse. They didn’t come in order to harm anyone, which would simply be furthering the thing they escaped. They came to rebuild their lives. To find safety and a way to thrive.


Practicing Then, Now

“But what about the law?” you might say. “I get why they want to be here, but shouldn’t they have to follow the rules?”

The political issues surrounding this country’s ability to “welcome the stranger” effectively are myriad, multifaceted, and momentous, insofar as our choices today will affect how truly “melted” our melting-pot land will continue to be, for generations to come. But two realities seem clear: First, immigrants would not be able to hold down jobs in this country if this country weren’t offering them jobs. In other words: perhaps our Chambers of Commerce are just as flawed and broken as our border-protection system has proven to be. Our business leaders have grown accustomed to hiring immigrant labor, and so those laborers are lining up in droves. The jobs that our own citizens in many cases don’t wish to do are an absolute lifeline to the women and men settling here.

Second, if our primary residence is in God’s kingdom, meaning that our citizenship in heaven ultimately will eclipse our citizenship here on earth, then we ought to count it our absolute joy to practice heavenly principles here and now, even before we inhabit that future domain.

In heaven, there will be no borders. In heaven, there will be no segregation. In heaven, there will be no lines of division, no disparity, no left-out ones. Why on earth would we prize such things, when their tenure is so short-lived? Yes, there is wisdom in valuing borders in our present reality, insomuch as a country that allows anyone entrance anytime, under any circumstances, without properly vetting those newcomers opens itself up to senseless security risks that do nobody any good. But for the people who are already here, working hard, learning the language, supporting our Constitution, and obeying the law, our posture ought to be one marked by grace.

The vast majority of Hispanic workers living here illegally are not an issue, a problem, a drain—not spiritually speaking, anyway. They are invaluable souls created in the image of God, and as such deserve our love. Most refugees fleeing Middle East trauma and taking up shelter here are not a headline, a crisis, a threat. They are men, women, and children who’ve been indwelt with the very stuff of God. And as such, they warrant our compassion, our kindness, and our respect. God says, “To them, and to everyone, I’m asking you to show love.”

As followers of Jesus, we are called to invest in the hearts and lives of all people, including our world’s most marginalized. And today, there are no more marginalized groups than undocumented workers and immigrants. But how do we make that investment? What is the most natural way to begin?


A Simple Starting Point

Isaiah 35 offers some help here. “Strengthen the feeble hands,” verse 3 begins, “steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you” (vv. 3-4).

From there, a whole series of cascading benefits unfolds in the hearers of those words: The eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf will hear, those who could not walk will leap like a deer, those who could not speak will shout for joy (see vv. 5-6). Help will come to the helpless. Hope will come to the hopeless. Light will shine in the darkness. A path will make itself known, where there have existed only dead ends. “Gladness and joy will overtake them,” the end of the chapter declares, “and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (v. 10).

But none of these things will occur unless we who say we love Jesus have the courage to first speak up. “Say to those with fearful hearts,” the passage leads off, which seems to indicate that the first act in loving anyone is simply to open our mouth and speak.

Instead of fearing, judging, disparaging, ostracizing, or condemning those who are different from us, we can approach them. Welcome them. Engage them in conversation, if they’re open to that. We can say, “I love to travel, and I love languages, but I can’t place your accent. Can you tell me about where you grew up?”

Eyeing the name on their name badge, if they’re wearing one, we can say, “What an interesting name. Is there a story behind it?”

Noticing a Muslim woman’s hijab, we can ask about the significance the practice of wearing a headscarf carries for her. Noticing an Hispanic man doing his job with diligence, we can ask how he came by a work ethic that’s so strong. We can comment on a cheerful countenance. We can acknowledge a sparkle in someone’s eyes. We can offer up a simple, “Hello,” and then linger in their presence for a few beats. We can start with whatever’s before us, commenting on anything we happen to observe, and then see where God happens to lead us, once we’ve leaped off that high-dive board.

When we as Christ followers set aside stereotypes in favor of collecting as many stories as we can … preferably from those wholly unlike us as well, we begin to realize that we have much in common with those with whom we’re splashing around in this pool called life. We all crave security. We all long for love. We all want to protect our children. We all want to live a life that’s truly life. Each time we focus on the soulish things that unite us instead of on the superficialities that keep us apart, we see with increased clarity that the deep dive we’ve chosen to take wasn’t so risky after all.

If you want to read more about the power of our words, check out my latest book, Speak Life.

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The New Life I Love

New Life Church has been my church family for over nine years and together, we have weathered many storms, climbed many spiritual mountaintops, planted churches, served the poor in our city, sent thousands on mission’s trips, equipped scores of students, written songs sung around the world and baptized hundreds of new believers.

New Life was birthed by God, filled with the Holy Spirit and centered on Jesus in the beginning and we still carry the fire that was stoked in us 32 years ago. Like every congregation, we have changed our methods to reach people in the 21st century, but we still have our core values, the non-negotiables of our sacred Scriptures, and the steadfast belief that if Jesus is with us, that is enough.

This week, as I celebrated my 50th birthday, I began to reflect on why New Life is so special to me and so many others. It’s easy to find fault with any group of people, but instead, I am filled with gratitude for several reasons.

1. I love how we abandon ourselves to worship, with hands lifted high and our voices singing the anthems.

2. I love how we love each other in our section communities, our groups and in the informal conversations in the lobby.

3. I love how we take risks and are not content to just play it safe.

4. I love how generously we give, especially when we see urgent needs in our city and world.

5. I love how we pray in private and how we cry out together in prayer meetings.

6. I love how we go to all our city and not just the comfortable places that are familiar to us.

7. I love how we rally around the hurting and the sick, caring for each other when all seems dark.

8. I love how every generation sees the value of worshipping and serving alongside one another.

9. I love how resilient we are when we make mistakes, choosing to learn, forgive and go on rather than cast blame.

10. I love how our past has shaped our present while not preventing us from dreaming and imagining a hopeful future.

What do you love about your church? What is the clear mission for you and the congregation God has called you to serve and support? Use the hashtag #ILoveMyChurch and share your thoughts on social media this week. Let’s look for the good that is happening all around us, especially in the church that Jesus left us to care for and build.

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Discipleship and the Weekend Gatherings

It’s true that even the most committed believers are attending church less, but it’s also true that people are surrendering their lives to Christ at most churches where the Good News is proclaimed. The 21st century dilemma for the American church is discovering how to make disciples of people who are so easily distracted from attending the very gatherings that can help them grow.

I’m writing this on a Sunday evening after six weekend services that were all full, so this is not a rant from a discouraged pastor, but from one who wants to shepherd the growing flock entrusted to my care. Cultural norms are making us busier than we want to be and busier than we need to be. In my book Addicted to Busy, I explain how the chaos of our culture is making us less connected and of our need to slow down.

What does this mean for spiritual nourishment, biblical soul care, and making disciples? It means the weekend gatherings are more important than ever. The songs, sermons and sacraments that make up our weekly liturgies have to be more intentional toward new and emerging believers. We have to give attention to the basics of our faith and make sure we do not hurry past the simple tenets, under the assumption that everyone is up to speed.

Right now, we are in the playoff season for the NFL and the teams that are still competing for the Lombardi Trophy are the ones who emphasized the basics over and over and over and over. They can all block and tackle well. Their coaches did not assume anything in the preseason. When the players were complaining for something more complex, the coaches ran them through one more set of drills. Blocking and tackling led to more blocking and tackling.

For centuries, most church traditions have recited the Nicene Creed as a way of reminding the faithful of our basic beliefs formed around the Father, Son, Holy Spirit and church. It is not religious rote, it is a recitation rich in prayer and Scripture.

One more thing, I do think we must honor people’s time and there is certainly appropriate attention spans, but people are ok with services that last 80-90 minutes, especially if the service is compelling, thoughtful and full of the Holy Spirit. Looking at the average movie length of the ten highest-grossing movies of each year for the past decade, Hollywood blockbuster’s have gone from just under two hours to more than 130 minutes in length. Going back another decade, movies today are 1.2 times longer than they were in 1992.

The amount of time we spend is not as important as the content of our gatherings. People are coming to church to grow and to connect. Make the services rich with spiritual nourishment. Encourage the saints, compel the cynics and welcome home the prodigals. Awaken people’s spiritual appetites on the weekend and then work hard at providing classes and small groups. Discipleship is a long process and we must not be discouraged. It is a journey worth finishing well.

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Celebrate, Tolerate, Obliterate

Values – Important and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture about what is good or bad and desirable or undesirable.

When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.
Roy E. Disney


Every team has values, shared beliefs and convictions that guide its decisions and ultimately determine success or failure. There may be nothing more important than a team’s values because they help define the wins, develop strategies and steer us from distractions. Values are the non-negotiable creeds of our organizations, the unchanging True North.

Big Idea If our values are unclear or ignored, our teams will be ineffective or toxic. Great teams have shared values that are celebrated.

Most people on our teams celebrate the shared values. They will strive for unity and are not content with mediocre. They cheer for others who hit the mark and there’s a sense of shared responsibility for the group’s well-being. They’re honest with their struggles, true with their friendship and gracious when sincere efforts fail. Values are discussed, debated and agreed upon regularly. They really admire the team and what the team produces. Promote these people.

Some on our team are just tolerating the values. They’re not rebels, but they’re certainly not disciples. They seem like devotees in meetings, but they rarely champion the team in private. They’re generally peaceful, but seldom passionate which means innovation and proactive problem-solving are both rare. To be fair, this may be the fault of leadership. Maybe, the values have never been explained or consistently modeled. Spend more time with these people.

The third group obliterates the values. They do not admire the other teammates and do not love what the team is doing. They’re always the center of some drama and strife and they’re indifferent about budgets and missed deadlines. They’ve been taught, and taught, and taught, but they do not agree with the values and never will. They do not need to be on the team. Help these people transition.

Most teams can agree on values if we will slow down and ask more questions. Give your team room to debate and adopt the values. Make them clear and easy to understand. Allow the introverts to process and the extroverts to argue out loud.  Create a culture of honest debate and allow everyone to participate. Coach those who want to grow, and don’t feel awful when disagreeable people choose to go elsewhere. Great teams get great results because of great values that are celebrated.

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Living At Midnight With No Stars in the Sky – A Christmas Message

On the night Jesus was born, the world was living at midnight with no stars in the sky. It certainly did not seem holy to most of the people in Bethlehem, but hope has a way of springing up in the most unusual places and amongst the most unlikely people.  Some of the prophets of old had spoken of a baby coming that would change the world and of a people who were walking in darkness needing a great light.

Most bible scholars believe Jesus was born at night, possibly in a dark cave or grotto. Darkness certainly was the prevailing theme of the birth story.  There were shepherds guarding their flocks at night when suddenly the glory of the Lord appeared, and they were terrified. It seems they were more comfortable living at night, alone in the shadows, than being surprised by angels and bright lights.

Most of our world is living right now at midnight with no stars in the sky; certainly there is very little reason for many people to have hope. Syrian refugees are fleeing the rubble of their neighborhoods hoping to find safety. Many of the people right here in our community are struggling to get through the holidays despite deafening depression or addictions. Maybe you are walking in darkness, hoping to find your way through life. You are living at midnight, with no stars in the sky. It always seems to be winter, but never Christmas.

Jesus came into the world as a light to all humanity, proclaiming freedom from oppression to anyone who would believe and follow him. His message of peace was and is the most radical proclamation in human history.

Jesus came as a baby, vulnerable, small, placing his life into the hands of two people who were not ready to be parents.  Very few of us seem ready for Jesus when he arrives. He comes to us anyway, asking if we will receive him. Joseph and Mary both had a choice. They could have rejected the angels and lived their lives safely in Nazareth. Instead, they believed!

Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let Earth receive her king. Let every heart, prepare him room.

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A Good Day’s Work

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

Colossians 3:23

Growing up, I heard my parents speak of working hard and putting in a good day’s work. I watched my parents end most days tired, but content at what had been accomplished. It was not necessarily ambition that drove them, but a desire to be productive and useful. Working hard was honorable, more akin to worship than duty. It certainly was not optional.

What does it mean to work hard with all your heart, to put in a good day’s work? How can we tell if we have honored God and really been productive with our time and talents?

We cannot assume those on our teams share the same values for hard work and productivity. Frustrations are often a result of unmet expectations or expectations that were never clearly communicated in the first place. Many times, a team is annoyed when others are not working as hard or some are not seen as carrying the weight assigned to them.

When was the last time your team sat down and agreed on the definition of a good day’s work? Here are some thoughts to consider at the end of each workday:

1. Did we pray for our work?

2. Did we arrive on time, ready to work?

3. Did we know our assignments?

4. Did we ask for help when we needed it?

5. Did we stop and help others when they needed it?

6. Did we solve problems proactively?

7. Did we communicate well with our team?

8. Did we handle our frustrations with a good attitude?

9. Did we prioritize our time for the most valuable things?

10. Did we finish what really needed to be done today?

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from someone who was fairly productive.

“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

Thomas Edison

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Thankful for 2016

As one calendar year comes to a close and a new year is approaching, we pause to reflect on how faithful God has been and to anticipate that same faithfulness moving into the new year. In a recent meeting with our NLC Elders, we spent time thanking God for all that he did in 2016 and praying for clear direction for New Life Church in 2017. Because of God’s goodness and your faithful tithes and generous offerings, we are able to celebrate these extraordinary accomplishments in 2016:

  • We baptized nearly 400 people.
  • We doubled the number of single moms and their children at Mary’s Home.
  • We have served over 4,000 women and nearly doubled our appointment hours at the Women’s Clinic.
  • We launched a New Life congregation in Manitou Springs, led by Pastor Joe Kirkendall.
  • We began the process of merging with Nueva Vida, the largest Spanish speaking church in Colorado Springs, led by Pastor Jeremias Tamarez. We now have five congregations meeting across our city.
  • We partnered in planting Radiant Church in Kansas City, MO, with Pastor David Perkins. We have now partnered in planting five churches across the United States.
  • We were able to give a substantial gift to the Springs Rescue Mission to help them open a state-of-the-art homeless facility in Colorado Springs.
  • We gave financial assistance to numerous New Life families in crisis.
  • We supported and partnered with 28 Missionaries and 56 Missions/Ministry Organizations.
  • We sent nearly 200 volunteers on 17 missions trips to 13 countries.
  • We renovated our 25-year-old bathrooms.
  • Our New Life Friday Night Congregation raised the funds necessary to update our 1500-seat Theater.

While we celebrate these extraordinary accomplishments–and they are extraordinary–we also recognize that God is very aware of the ordinary things that happen day in and day out in our church and in our city because people like you love so well. God sees every time you welcome someone in the parking lot, pray for someone at the altar, disciple one of the children in KIDs Ministry, prepare meals for a grieving family, visit someone in the hospital, share a meal with a neighbor…he sees it all. Jesus said, Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me. (Matthew 25:40)

So much has been accomplished, and so much remains to be done. As this year comes to a close, if you would like to consider a special year-end gift, you may drop it in the offering prior to December 31st or give online here.

There are so many in our city that need to hear the message of hope that we share from Isaiah 9:6, For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Please invite someone, maybe the overlooked or ignored, to come and sit with you during one of our Christmas services. We will have four identical Christmas Services at our North Campus only at 2:00PM, 4:00PM, and 6:00PM on Christmas Eve and at 11:00AM on Christmas Day.

Pam and I and the staff of New Life Church are praying for you and those you love to you to be filled with great joy during this beautiful Christmas season.

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What Is Good Preaching?

Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.  2 Timothy 4:2

What exactly qualifies as good preaching? When we walk away from our churches, do sermons really change the way we live or treat others? Can we even remember the message the next day, especially with all the competitive noises of our culture? What responsibilities do pastors have besides dismissing us in time for kickoff?

For centuries, sermons and homilies have stood apart in the minds of Christ followers from other oratory traditions such as lectures, lessons or speeches. Certainly, lectures and speeches can challenge us, inspire us to change, cause us to feel and send us out to change the world. So what’s different about sermons?

The difference is the source and origin. Speeches are prepared and practiced, like good sermons, but sermons are birthed from a spiritual source. Sermons materialize to pastors through prayer, study, reflection and sometimes travail. Sermons speak to us deeply because they arrived from the deep. It’s the Holy Spirit’s work through the preached Scriptures that changes the hearts of men and strengthens the souls of saints.

Notice, though, the three charges in the passage of Scripture above – correct, rebuke, encourage. It seems Paul was telling a timid Timothy not to shrink back from telling people how they should live. In a culture where popularity is prized, that is risky stuff. It seems the best sermons are birthed in prayer, but fleshed out with a courage to confront behaviors in those listening.

Doesn’t Paul know that cute and funny performances build crowds? It seems gathering a crowd was not the point. Paul knew even Jesus had trouble holding onto the crowds, especially when he talked of sacrifice and suffering. Those sermons even made Paul nervous when he first heard of them.

Prophetic sermons call us to a life that is different, but better. Because pastors love their flock, they tell them of greener pastures, still waters and a Shepherd who cares for their frantic souls. Pastors protect them from wolves who wish to devour and idols which steal their worship. Sermons jolt us into a better reality. In the end, we are encouraged, strengthened and comforted.

Yes, sermons can change us. Pastors will do well to remember the tremendous responsibility that comes with the stage and pulpit. With great patience and careful instruction, disciples can be shaped by the foolishness of good preaching.

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Can We Disagree With Our Pastor On Social Media?

I post a lot of stuff on social media – scriptures, photos of my kids, updates on the church and funny things I see. None of that bothers most people. When I post about theology or complex social issues like immigration, things can change quickly. That’s probably why most people avoid these two topics, right?

Some pastors, including myself, post random theological and ecclesiological viewpoints on social media. Some of these posts are considered complex ideas which can confuse or concern people. Before social media, these ideas were presented in long-form books, magazine articles or in classrooms. Today, we have 140 characters as an option to explain soteriology or the differing viewpoints on eschatology.

First, pastors have the right to post about theology as much as plumbers can post about pipes. We work with theology every day and it’s our trade language. Naturally, these meanderings and musings will spill out to social media, primarily for conversations with other pastors and theologians. Social media reaches everyone, though. That’s where the problems arise because pastors who bring up thorny issues can confuse or aggravate people in their congregations.

So, should pastors stay off social media except to post cat videos? Of course not! We should, though, be careful that our posts are wisely crafted and carefully explained so that our theological contemplations are not tripping hazards for the people who look to us for spiritual formation. At the same time, most pastors are hungry for conversations with other pastors who are learners and thinkers. Social media sometimes feels like overhearing a conversation that was not meant for you.

What about disagreeing online with your pastor? What are the boundaries? Obviously, honest questions and respectful disagreements are the strengths of social media. I have had thousands of conversations on social media that would have never happened in the limited spaces of my daily life. That is a good thing.

My friend asked a good question about the boundaries of such disagreements. We should not accuse our pastors online of wrong motives or even hint about heresy. If that is a concern, call them and make an appointment. Talk to them and express your feelings. Do not attack on social media. Social media is a poor platform for serious dissents. Looking someone in the eye, being present, is always best when discussing hot button issues. There are a lot of brave souls on a keyboard who are as tame as ducklings when present with you. Keyboard cowards, I call them.

Most pastors I know love Jesus and are trying valiantly to make disciples in a world that cares less and less about discipleship. Certainly, we can post unwise thoughts like the rest of the populace, but rarely is it because of a motive to harm or confuse. Let’s assume the best from one another and have the courage for a personal conversation. That will clear up most of our misunderstandings and build unity in the church.

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My Advent Invitation To Silence and Peace

I enjoy reading about church history, and if I were to peg the central characteristics of church gatherings in the first century, it would be non-hyped, non-frantic, unrushed. Worship was their lifestyle, not an overly promoted activity occurring one hour, one morning a week. Things were simple. Prayers were meaningful. People were fully dependent on the Spirit of God.

It’s the polar opposite of how we operate today, in our infamously glitz-and-gratification culture. We favor microwaves over Crock Pots and sex-appeal over substance. We like it fast and easy and now…and preferably at little cost to us. As it relates to the church-going experience, we rush in on a Sunday morning—fifteen minutes late at best—we scurry to find a seat, get antsy after sixty minutes, and rush right back into our day. We sing songs with lines like “wait upon the Lord” and bob our heads in apparent agreement, even as we silently wonder how much longer the song-set will last.

We’re moving far too fast to hear it, of course, but still God whispers, “Be still.”



Drop the hype, please.

Let me show up and do my work.

It would be easy to blame church congregations for the madness that has consumed our gatherings these days, except that from what I see from their pastors, we’re conditioning them to behave this way. We hype and promote and position and tweet and inadvertently create pews full of consumers instead of devoted worshipers of God. I once heard it said that leaders who don’t teach their congregations to worship must entertain them week in and week out. So true. We hype-ers are setting up our people to expect an experience, instead of teaching them to encounter their Lord.

My prayer for us in this season of Advent:

Father in heaven, may we be still and know you are Lord. May we put aside our desire for spiritual hype and find your Holy Spirit in all the quiet spaces of our lives. May we be fervent in our prayers and mature enough to know loud and exciting are not always synonymous with revival. May we repent of our sins and admit we need your grace. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


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