Reflections on my own legacy in light of a friend’s recent passing.

A friend’s recent passing got me thinking about my legacy today. What is it that I have to leave behind? I know that we are supposed to live our lives for the Lord and not for the glories of humans but by legacy I am talking about the things that I have done to make other’s lives easier, the connections with God that I have left, and the example of how to be a good man I have been.

Way back in 1995 DC Talk asked,

“What if I stumble?
What if I fall?
What if I lose my step and make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when the walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble?
What if I fall?”

℗ 1995 ForeFront Records

It’s a question we all face, isn’t it? DC Talk, coming from their position as the top Christian Music act of their time, was thinking of what consequences would result if the realities of life were discovered by their fans. Not many of us have the fame or fans of DC Talk but all of us have those we want to impact. It may be family members. It may be friends. It may be those we minister to. Even though we are not building up treasures on earth, we do want to make an impact for God’s Kingdom while we can. After all, Jesus’ final command to us before returning to heaven was “Make disciples of all nations.”

That’s why I thought the verse that I discussed in today’s TikTok was appropriate.

‘But if we live in the light in the same way that God is in the light, we have a relationship with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from every sin. If we say, “We aren’t sinful” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. God is faithful and reliable. If we confess our sins, he forgives them and cleanses us from everything we’ve done wrong. If we say, “We have never sinned,” we turn God into a liar and his Word is not in us.’ 1 John 1:7-10

These verses makes it clear that none of us are perfect. All of us engage in sin. All of us struggle with making things right. The solution offered is confession and forgiveness. Both of these together make up what we commonly refer to as an apology. What does that look like and is it possible in situations like this? Keep in mind that I am no expert in these things but maybe we can fumble through it together.

Confession is when I admit to someone else some things that I have done are wrong. Here is where problems often arise. I am not very good at this part. Sometimes I find myself saying, “I am sorry that you felt that way.” This is not really confession because it doesn’t acknowledge that I have done something wrong only that the other person felt a certain way around it. Sometimes I confess only a portion of what I have done wrong — the portion that is perhaps the most palatable for me to accept, maybe? Or perhaps the portion that I can speak about without a deep feeling of shame. For me, confession is a process as I move through these stages towards the actual issue that needs addressing in my own life.

The next stage in an apology is forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard because it means giving up my rights to retribution. Regardless of how well-crafted or thought out the confession portion is, the offended party needs to actively forgive. The Jesus-follower has a different basis for offering forgiveness. Rather than waiting for the offender to admit they were wrong and ask for help, Jesus asks us to forgive first. Why is this? Because that’s exactly what Jesus did. The Bible tells us that Jesus died for us while we were still sinners. He didn’t wait and so he asks us to imitate him.

What is interesting is that someone can confess even without forgiveness. Someone can also forgive even without confession. That means my forgiveness isn’t dependent upon the quality of the apology, if any, given by my offender. Nor is my confession dependent upon eventually being forgiven. But when both of those things happen reconciliation happens, too.

We reap what we sow and that is true in this case as well. It would be easy for me to say, “Well, Jesus asks you to forgive me before I ask for it so I don’t need to do anything.” This is actually a rather embarrassing situation to put oneself in because in one sentence I both accept Jesus’ forgiveness for me but reject any offense I may have caused you.

It actually is worse than this. The Bible also tells us that God will avenge us. But we know how that turned out don’t we? God’s idea of vengeance is sending Jesus to die on the cross for the sins of the world. So, rather than assuming (hoping??) that our enemies will face God’s wrath, what happens instead is that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, forgives them, just as he forgives us.

Back to me and my friend. I know that he loved the bible. He read it. He studied it. He memorised it. He argued using it. But he had problems living it. Apart from his relationship problems, he also had several vices. And at this point it is now only between him and God.

But what about me? I, too, love the bible. I, too, read it. I, too, study it. I, too, have memorised small portions of it. I even go further and teach it. And I, too, have problems living it. 

Being at the wake made me wish that when it’s time for my own funeral that my kids will want to be there. Not because I am now dead but because I have left something good behind. It leads me to ask some questions:

Has my love for the bible caused me to love others too or merely love my own knowledge? Has my reading of the bible led me to be a better father and husband or merely to fit into a mold? Has my teaching others the bible meant that I also have taught myself or do I think that I already know it all? In my authority have I remained humble or have I lorded it over others? These are tough questions.

But it’s not all bad. There are moments of hope in the midst of darkness. A desire to see justice reign is hopeful. A desire to go to God’s word when facing problems is hopeful. A desire to be a part of a faith community is hopeful. And sometimes we see things when it’s too late. Words of friends who knew a different side of him. Remembered fragments of a life lived. Hope in the midst of hopeless. A challenge to live my life better in light of the shortcomings of others.

What legacies are you trying to live up to? Or perhaps live down? Why not leave a comment below?

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My wife, Eva, is now blogging.

I am pretty excited today because my wife’s new blog, Beneath My Shell, went live just a few moments ago. Eva blogs her thoughts about her life as a missionary midwife living in the Philippines. Here is what she has to say about what you can expect:

My name is Eva Fast.

I am a Canadian missionary with the Baptist General Conference of Canada. I have lived with my family in Metro Manila, Philippines since 1999. My background is nursing and I fell in love with midwifery in 2007. Throughout the years I’ve been involved with over 700 natural births. Although I’m not practicing midwifery at this time, my passion for women and their stories remains. I believe women are stronger together with God as their foundation.

Please head on over a take a look at what Eva has to say. You will love her first story!

When you get there, don’t forget to subscribe so that you can get timely updates!

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I went looking for masculinity in the Bible & this is what I found.

There has been a lot of discussion of late among the circles that I am involved in about what “Biblical Masculinity” is. We like things to be clearly defined, particularly areas that define how we are supposed to live. The assumption is often along the lines of “God has a plan for the way we are to live so if we can just figure out that plan then it will be easy for us to live it.” To that end, I went to the Bible to try and find out what it means to live as a man. Note that in this case I am not using the universal “man” to denote all humans but rather males specifically. Remember also that Masculinity is in its most basic sense the “possession of the qualities traditionally associated with men” (OED) or “the approved way of being an adult male in any given society” (Gilmore, 1990).

In my search, I found myself in 2 Samuel 3, which is chock full of masculinity. Let’s see if we can extract a masculinity for us to emulate as faithful men of God. We also need to be reminded that the bible sometimes prescribes actions (stuff we are required to do) but more often describes actions (stuff other people did).

The man who fathers six children with six different women. Wait. What? Not the first example of biblical masculinity that I thought I would encounter. It actually flies in the face of contemporary Christian masculinity that champions fatherhood in the context of the nuclear family. What is interesting is that Absalom and Amnon have issues, that David is unwilling to work on, and as a result Absalom will eventually seek David’s throne and his life. Even though he fathered many children (and there are more besides these ones here), he clearly wasn’t always a very good father. Is a biblical man one who imitates David in this way?

The “Godless Fool who was so self-centred that his disrespect for others led to his own death (and whose wife was more honourable than he). We read about Nabal, whose name means Godless Fool, in 1 Samuel 25, where he is described as “harsh and mean,” and such “a worthless man that it’s useless to talk to him.” The reason he appears here is because David eventually married Nabal’s wife, Abigail, and it’s her son, Chileab, who is one of the six kids mentioned above. Is a biblical man a godless fool?

The man who faithfully serves his master’s family even in the face of open warfare. Abner was a good guy. Even though he appears on the wrong side of history, given that he supported Saul over David for the kingship, the Bible is very clear that he is honourable. And this honour was in the face of hand to hand combat. It’s quite the thing to face your enemy, grab him by the head, and stick your sword into his side — all while he is doing the same thing to you. If it was me I would probably run. What’s also interesting is that Abner remains loyal to Saul’s family even though he knows God has replaced him with David! That’s pretty strong resolve, isn’t it? Is a biblical man one who is a faithful servant?

The man who acts to defend his honour. Abner’s loyalty and faithfulness is then besmirched by Ishbosheth who falsely accuses him of raping one of Saul’s wives. We really have no context for this claim, other than what we read in this text, but Abner’s response is not unsurprising in someone falsely accused in this way. Is a biblical man one who defends his honour?

The man who wins his wife with 100 Philistine foreskins. If you are interested in this story, take a quick look at 1 Samuel 18, where we read that David doubled the required amount to 200, but that he also had help. What is involved in taking 200 Philistine foreskins? Killing 200 Philistines first because I can’t conceive of a situation where these would be willing turned over. Would you agree to those terms? How would that conversation go?

David: “Hey, bro, can you do me a solid and give me your foreskin so I can use it to get a wife?”

Random Philistine: “Over my dead body.”

David: “Okidoki.”

So, 100 Philistine foreskins = 100 dead Philistines. Obviously, winning a wife in this way requires a man capable to acquiring 100 foreskins. Is a biblical man someone capable of taking 100 foreskins? Is a biblical man someone who demands his wife back after she is already married to another?

The man who follows his wife down the road weeping because she is being taken back to her first husband. Paltiel, son of Laish wasn’t having a good day. He was squeezed between to fighting families and lost out in the end because he had to give up his wife. Michal, his wife, had originally been David’s wife — the one he paid 100 Philistine foreskins for. In 1 Samuel 25:44 we read that Saul had given Michal to Paltiel. He obviously loved her a lot to become so vulnerable in this way. Is a biblical man one who cries when his wife is taken from him?

The man who kills an honourable man as revenge for his slain brother. Joab and Abner were enemies from the day that Abner killed Joel’s brother Asahel. He had been awaiting this moment for quite some time. During those years in Israel, families were allowed to avenge deaths. If you accidentally killed someone you could flee to a city of refuge, where you would be safe until the death of the high priest. That ended anyone’s claim over your life. What is odd is that in this case, Joab killed Abner in Hebron, which was a city of refuge. Is a biblical man one who takes revenge on his enemies?

The man cursed to only be able to operate a spindle or to fall by the sword. David was upset over Joab’s revenge killing of Abner so he curses Joab’s family in an interesting way. Joab’s family would always have a man who would operate a spindle. A spindle was used for spinning and wasn’t apparently something commonly used by men in that in the only other usage in the Old Testament it is used by a woman. Death on the battlefield is a necessary part of warfare, but people’s preference is to live on the battlefield because that means that you have won. If your families always die, then they aren’t very successful. Is a biblical man one cursed like Joab’s?

The man who shows, through ritualistic mourning that he is innocent of another man’s blood. David expressed a lot of emotion during the funeral for Abner, including loud crying, singing, and not eating. He did not protect himself from shame or appearing weak, but rather put honouring Abner above his own interests. It was this vulnerability that caused the people to believe his innocence. Is a biblical man one who shows this kind of vulnerability?

Even though we can technically answer “Yes” to the question “Is a biblical man one who ______?” it is also obvious that not all of these men are to be emulated. It is also obvious that It seems as if there is not one universal masculinity expressed in this chapter. Men can also, apparently, express different masculinities in different situations. It leads us to ask, “Why are there so many examples of men in this chapter?” The answer is because rather than just one, universal masculinity, the world actually has a variety of masculinities. I have written about that here, here, and here.

What does this mean for Christian men today? There isn’t one, single, biblically defined version of manhood for us to emulate. We can express our manhood in a variety of ways, none of which are biblically prescribed. It also means that things are as clear as some are saying about what it means to be a Christian man. It takes the ability to interpret and understand the text of the Bible it a way that acknowledges its complexities.

What are your thought on masculinity? Why not leave a comment below?

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We all want to journey to the sea, but we just might be better off if we travel in the opposite direction.

When I was a kid I always enjoyed watching the Bill Mason’s film adaptation of Holling C. Holling’s Paddle to the Sea. It’s the story of a small, carved First Nations man sitting in a canoe. The artist creates the wooden piece and paints it in bright colours before setting it carefully in the snow. A few days later the snow begins to melt and the figurine slides down the slope, into the creek, and on its way to the sea. It’s a nice story.

A couple of things this past week got me thinking about that story and how it relates to life and the church. We often think we want to leave the small streams and creeks behind as we journey down the river to the sea, which is full of excitement. If we are in a small church, we dream of when the church will be big. We want it to grow because often we believe that a big church is healthy while a small church isn’t. If we live in a small town, we want to upgrade to the city because we feel that’s where a better life can be lived.

And I think we see the problems with this. That is why we work hard at developing smaller groups within the church. But even when small groups are working well, unless they are a part of something bigger, we feel like something is missing.

Yesterday I read a great Twitter thread by Ari Lamm on the tower of Babel. I would consider this a must read. It is a rich analysis of the biblical account that comes to new conclusions not because of the influx of any new modern ideas but by simply looking at the text itself. I highly recommend that you take a look at the thread if you haven’t already done so. 

One of the key things that Lamm points out is that the tower of Babel was a means to keep humanity from spreading around the earth. God had encouraged — actually commanded — them to fill the whole earth but that didn’t seem to be something that humans wanted to do. Maybe because we like to be a part of something big? 

In reality, life truly happens on the creeks and streams, because that’s where authenticity dwells. That’s where one-on-one interactions happen. That is everyday life. Often in church we are trying to create something new, for example a new community better than the one that already exists. To do this we try to go big. But that is the wrong direction. A new direction is to turn around.

I have noticed this while watching Chef’s Table. One common part of everyone’s story is that they loved food, grew up to study French cooking, started hating food, returned home to their own place, started cooking and loving food again. Food didn’t have meaning unless it was connected to their place.

My childhood friend, Dwayne Harms, pastored a small church in a small part of rural Saskatchewan. I have written about him here. Even though some may see that as being a stepping-stone to something bigger in the future, Dwayne saw it as an opportunity. He said, “Mike, if I was a pastor in a big city church, I would be one voice among a multitude of others. Here my voice is clear because I am the pastor of the Baptist church and everyone knows it.” Dwayne wasn’t looking for fame but for a voice. The Baptist church in his community was one of the originals. It was a known entity. It was an accepted part of things. That meant that as the official representative of that entity, Dwayne was entitled to voice that entity’s concerns. He was already a participant.

That’s authenticity and that’s the direction the church needs to take. 

What is your experience with the streams and rivers of life? Have you tried journeying to the sea? How did that work out for you? Please leave a comment below to let us know.

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Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts

If you are like me certain things are important when making decisions. I like new ideas, especially new theological ideas. But one deal breaker for me is when new theological ideas have no basis in the bible. I want to see how the new idea interacts with the text before making my final decision on it.

I remember watching a documentary on cable one day just a month or two before the pandemic about the gospel of Judas or some other such text and what it really means. The documentary I was watching was very well put together and it led me through the process of how people first interpreted this document and how they were saying that our understanding of Bible times needs to change because of it. Just when I was starting to feel uncomfortable about the implications of this they introduced the next step of the story. All of a sudden a different expert in the languages comes in and looks at the documents, and to her surprise, and my relief, she realizes that the language had been misinterpreted and the new claims have no basis in the document. I realised at that moment that sometimes it takes someone to arise and say, “Wait a minute. I’m not sure that’s the way things should be.”

I grew up in evangelical churches. I not only grew up in them, but I even served on the pastoral staff one for a while. In fact, I am an ordained Baptist minister. So my evangelical roots and orthodoxy are strong. One thing I learned early on is that the bible teaches that there are differences between men and women, and primarily differences in the roles that men and women play in the family and the church. I suspect that you may have the same experience. For many years I didn’t think too deeply about it but from time to time the issue has raised it’s head. I tended to reject any new interpretations because they seemed to be non-biblical. One Old Testament class in seminary clearly taught us that the creation order outlined in Genesis 2 & 3 proved these gender differences. I remember even writing in on a survey distributed to our church that I would leave the church if they changed their mind on this issue 🙂 O for the certainty of youth!

Then my sister gave me the book last year. We have always been a family of readers so a new book was a good choice. I recently had a chance to finally finish the book and I must say I found it to be pretty impressive.The book is Lucy Peppiatt’s Rediscovering Scripture’s Vision for Women: Fresh Perspectives on Disputed Texts and it serves as someone saying, “Wait a minute. I am not sure that’s the way things should be.” 

This book makes sense biblically. Lucy Peppiatt’s book both points out things in the bible that I had overlooked as well as introduces alternative interpretations of the key passages addressing the issue.

I remember a conversation I had years ago in seminary with my professor and friend Stanley E. Porter. He was talking about a paper he had written on some aspect of New Testament studies that relied on a rather small Greek word. His lesson for me that day was that he needed to find another scholar who also had the same idea — it wasn’t enough for him to merely come up with something new all by himself. I have taken that lesson to heart when I approach the bible. That’s why Peppiatt’s alternative interpretations ring true because she is very careful to point out that she isn’t just coming up with something new on her own but that these interpretations have a long history. I should also point out that Peppiatt is very clear in indicating when multiple possible interpretations exist for a text and is very sure to not force her own views on her reader. Rather she is opening up other legitimate interpretations for the reader to consider.

There is so much I could say about this book but here are just a few things that jumped out at me. You will need to read it for yourself in order to benefit from everything she says.

Regular readers of this blog know that masculinities is one of my favourite subject. Peppiatt doesn’t disappoint in this area. Here’re a couple of great quotes that are useful in helping us move towards a better understanding of gender as a whole and masculinity in particular:

“There are few examples of the Bible narratives telling us that women are or should be like this and that men are or should be like that.”

“What I, and many others, find fascinating is that this male Saviour offers us a unique picture of manhood. This is what God looks like when he becomes a man — at once powerful, authoritative, secure, holy, angry at injustice, and also broken, vulnerable, isolated, and weeping He is both acquiescent and resistant in the face of violence, but never retaliates like for like. This is a challenge to what is traditionally viewed as masculine and feminine traits.”

“And so we end where we began, with gendered language for God and for the church that turns out to be symbolic, figurative, and resistant to stereotyped views.”

If Peppiatt is right about these things, then current conversations that define Christian or biblical masculinity as THIS or THAT need to be reexamined. Apparently the bible is not as clear cut as we might like. But then again, nuance is a key part of contextual theology and appropriating faith, isnt’ it?

Peppiatt also spends a good amount of time addressing key bible passages surrounding the debate. One of them hits rather close to home for me. Earlier I mentioned how a close study of Genesis 2 & 3 in seminary convinced me about the reality of the creation order that places men in authority over women. What Peppiatt so ably points out, and what I so clearly missed, is that Genesis doesn’t start in Chapter 2. Rather, we need to go back to what Chapter 1 says when theologising. Realising that male and female are described together in that Chapter puts a whole new spin on things.

I also appreciated the focus on understanding that describing Eve as a “fit helpmate” means that she has “a power equal to man.” This means that she is not subordinate at the time of creation but is in fact equal.

The centrality of Genesis 3:16 is also key for me. I have touched on this here. It seems to me, and perhaps I figured this out before reading Peppiatt but it is certainly ably reinforced by her, that we need to read this verse realising that its position post-fall requires us to understand it as describing the way things will be from now on. Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, their relationship will be marred and as such will be characterised by “desire” and “rule” rather than the mutuality that existed pre-fall. That means that anything that reinforces either “desire” or “rule” between men and women is sinful and needs to be redeemed. Peppiatt says it much better than I:

“Genesis 3:16 is a sign of both female and male disorder and tragedy. A woman, in her brokenness and vulnerability, turns to a man rather than to God to meet her needs, and instead of kindness and compassion she encounters his broken and disordered need to dominate her, a tragedy played out with sickening regularity throughout history.”

Peppiatt also enters into a very in depth and thorough discussion of what headship means. These verses are notoriously hard to understand with more questions being raised than answered. I wrote a little bit about this here. Here I will just quote Peppiatt:

“My conviction is that these verses reflect Paul’s opponents’ ideas and this this very Greco-Roman view of creation has infected the church at Corinth while functioning as the men’s rationale to put the women int he congregation in head coverings for worship.”

This conviction is based upon the idea that in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is addressing a series of questions raised by the church(which he directly quotes) and giving his answers. It is no means an interpretation unique to Peppiatt. What is clear from the text, however, in spite of the vast variety of interpretations offered, is that “Paul, the apostle, releases women to pray and prophesy in public along with the men, as he has just explained. They are not to sit in silence but participate equally with their husbands.”

Peppiatt addressed male and female participation in marriage by entering into a fascinating discussion of household codes and how important they were in the early Near East. I would encourage you to read this but let me just say that according to Peppiatt, Paul’s use of these codes is actually an adaptation that begins to undermine traditional understandings of family roles and allows change to be incorporated into the family for the better. She says, “In a culture where wives were often regarded as both chattel and easily expendable, Paul redefines a husband’s responsibilities toward his wife in terms of enduring covenant faithfulness, monogamy, and self-sacrifice.”

Another area addressed in the book is how the doctrine of the trinity has been undermined of late by those who want to insert hierarchy into it. One can’t simply redefine trinity to include a hierarchy between Father and Son so that a hierarchy can be created between men and women. Peppiatt says, “I hope it has become clear that the idea that the male represent the Father in his authority and the female represents the Son in his submission as a way of trying to lock in male-female relationships.”

Peppiatt has so much more to say but you will have to read that for yourself. I will end this by pointing out that if you want to see great example of contextualization in action take a look at the final chapter, which is a fabulous look at 1 Timothy 2. Peppiatt, relying heavily on Hoag and Glahn, gives a detailed account of how Paul did contextualisation based on the early novel Ephesiaca. Wow! Stuff like that is so cool!

Suffice it to say I highly recommend this book. However, I suspect that some reading this book feel I may have fallen off the deep end. Let me tell you that I get where you are coming from. I was there myself. I was happy to live in my beliefs without considering any new arguments or evidence. Why not take a leap and read Peppiatt’s book? It may provide some answers that you have been looking for.

If you feel like sharing your journey with this topic why not leave a comment below?

Remember sharing is what friends do.

Image is copyright IVP.

On anniversaries, weather, and what’s really important in life.

You probably don’t remember when your church’s anniversary is, do you? Unless of course you are from the Philippines. Filipinos know how to do celebrations — birthdays, going away parties, anniversaries. No one does it better than they do. Which is why I suppose church anniversaries are such a big deal. Tonight we will be celebrating the sixth anniversary of Pingkian Family Worship, the small community of faith that shares a name with our community in Quezon City.

Preparations have been going on for quite a while. Yesterday the decorating began. Because we are anticipating some guests we decided to rearrange the layout so the front will be at the side. A local politician loaned us a stage that she has in her storage room. The size of two sheets of plywood it stands along one side of the space. We have several benches the we placed in two rows right in front of the space. That leaves about 1.5 metres for the dancers! The theme is Simbalay, which is loosely translated as Worshipping at Home, so the decorations are based on a native house called a bahay kubo. The backdrop is a series of curtains and bamboo decorated with colourful native fans.

Each sub-group within the church will play a role: The women’s group will dance, the men’s group will sing, the youth will dance, we will have a couple of testimonies of thanksgiving to God, and a couple of families will sing. All of this, of course, will happen after the usual church service is finished. Our usual services follow a simple liturgy: Greeting, three or four praise & worship songs in either English or Tagalog, a time of corporate prayer, Pastor Renz will preach, and we’ll have a response song. Then the celebration will begin.

Right now I am hoping that the rains will stop. It’s really coming down. That’s the disadvantage of having a July anniversary in Manila — it’s rainy season. Earlier this afternoon, I was carrying our portable sound system down to where the service will be held. I had assumed the rain was finished but when I was halfway there the rains started again. Fortunately a local eatery has an overhang in front of it that I was able to use for cover. I only had to wait about 5 minutes before heading on my way again. The sun came out. The water started to dry up. And we were ready for the rest of the day. Then the rains began again. The thing about rain in Manila is that it comes hard for a short period of time and then is done. That’s what we are hoping for today too 🙂

Rain has messed with our plans in the past. A number of years ago, before we had our current facility, we had a rather elaborate setup using a tent. However, the rains meant we needed to move at the last minute. We ended up using our garage and the garage across the lane. We had chairs all the way across the street that needed to be moved in the middle of the service when one of the neighbours came home. It was reminiscent of the Christmas program we held one year where the neighbour carried a squealing pig past our setup because someone had bought it. It pays to not be too invested in make sure everything goes right 🙂

In the end it’s not the smoothness of the program that counts but rather the joy that we all shared in together as we prepared. God after all isn’t an event-based God but one that wants to meet us where we live everyday!

Remember sharing is what friends do!

Image is mine.