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Pray as you are

by Tris Xavier | 15 May 2018, 12:35 PM

I find that there’s a lot of confusion and unintentional obfuscation about how we should talk to God.

But what is the issue with how we talk to the Lord anyway? Why should this topic bother you, and why is it important? My personal experience is that many times, Christians don’t pray because they feel hamstrung about how they should pray.

Sometimes the concern is external. Christians worry about the form of the prayer: The words, the place, the physical posture – whether their prayer is tonally appropriate or reverential. And sometimes it’s internal: Whether they have their heart right, whether they have enough faith, whether they are still enough before the Lord.

Prayer becomes such a complicated affair that Christians end up not praying. Yet the way God operates in this world is through the prayer of His people. James 5:16 states clearly that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

And 1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (TLB) also tells us this:

But the spiritual man has insight into everything, and that bothers and baffles the man of the world, who can’t understand him at all. How could he? For certainly he has never been one to know the Lord’s thoughts, or to discuss them with him, or to move the hands of God by prayer. But, strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ. 

Christians can move the hands of God by prayer! So when Christians stop praying – things stop happening. We need to lay down the wrong notions of how we should pray so we do pray.

Let’s take a step back and go to the story of Abraham. Abraham is the father of the Jewish nation, and he also represents the relationship we as believers have with God today (Romans 4). So this sharing isn’t just something applicable for a time long past, but represents how we should walk and commune with our Lord today.

Abraham is introduced to us in Genesis 12, but the first time we have a recorded dialogue between him and God is in Genesis 15. Up to this point, we only see the Lord speaking to Abraham. These are words of goodness and grace, as the Lord promises Abraham greatness, land, posterity and blessing (Genesis 12:1-3; 12:7, 13:14-17; 14:18-20).

For many of us, this is how we start our Christian walk. As we get familiar with the Lord, we are often the ones being spoken to. We are told of God’s promises, and God blesses us as we become familiar and intimate with him.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s like the beginning of a relationship where the couple begins to know each other better – what they stand for and what they see in their future. A Christian should not feel obliged to be the “mature partner” in the relationship, but instead be comfortable with being wooed over and over again by God.

So let’s see what Abraham told God, right after God promised to be a “shield” and “great reward” (Genesis 15:1) for him.

“Abram said, “God, Master, what use are your gifts as long as I’m childless and Eliezer of Damascus is going to inherit everything?” Abram continued, “See, you’ve given me no children, and now a mere house servant is going to get it all.”” (Genesis 15:2-3, MSG)

God doesn’t want us to come to Him with false reverence and complex prayers. He wants the honesty of our hearts and the candour of how we really feel – even about Him.

The first thing that comes out of Abraham’s mouth was abject disappointment. It’s not a response full of faith and thanksgiving – it didn’t sound like a “Christian” response at all.

It’s a man baring his brokenness – his heart’s desire. His brutal honesty might shock some religious types. On a human level, we might be offended by Abraham’s response. But look how God responded:

“Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” (Genesis 15:4-5)

God didn’t chastise Abraham or call him ungrateful. Instead He reminded Abraham of His promise for him, and to take things one step further, He gave Abraham a visual reminder of the promise which was to come. Based on this, Abraham believed the Lord.

The Lord didn’t penalise Abraham for having a crisis of faith, but credited righteousness (Genesis 15:6) to him when Abraham believed again.

This wasn’t a one-off. Later on, Abraham wavered again in trusting God’s promises, and took things into his own hands by having a son Ishmael with Hagar – even though God made clear that Isaac would be born to him in a year.

Abraham even mocked God’s promises to him (Genesis 17:17-18). In spite of that, the Lord reminded Abraham of the promise and that He would bring it to pass (Genesis 17:19)

Now let’s take a look at Genesis 18 – one of the first times someone intercedes for another party in the Bible. 

“Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:23-25, NKJV)

See how bold Abraham is with the Lord? He doesn’t disguise his speech, he doesn’t restrain his passion. In essence, he’s simply telling God: “Hey, this can’t be right! That’s not fair! You’re not like that!”

And this is how God responds: The Lord lets Abraham entreat him – even though His holiness demands that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah must be dealt with. He lets Abraham negotiate, right down to finding 10 righteous people in the city, and promises that “for the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:32)

It’s important to understand that Abraham didn’t restrain himself before the Lord, but said what was in his heart. God doesn’t want us to come to Him with false reverence and complex prayers.

He wants the honesty of our hearts and the candour of how we really feel – even about Him.

To close, let’s look at two verses. The first comes from James (Jesus’ brother) in his letter to the Jews living outside of Israel. James’ letter is primarily concerned with what a Christian life looks like. And as he closes the letter, he writes this to the believers:

“Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months.” (James 5:17, King James 2000)

What I want to focus on is the fact that Elijah was a man “subject to like passions.” There was nothing unique or special about Elijah that made him super holy or special before God. He was a man like you and me. And when he spoke the Word, it was considered a prayer good enough for the Lord to act on his behalf.

If this was true for a man under the Old Covenant – how much more you and I? Having been cleansed by Jesus’ blood, we have direct access to Father God in the New Covenant!

We need to lay down the wrong notions of how we should pray so we do pray.

The second verse comes from the Old Testament, where the Lord is giving instructions on the priestly garments. I’ve heard a pastor speak before about how each element of the garments reflect an aspect of our High Priest Jesus today – visual representations of what Jesus is doing for us right now in heaven.

But I want to zoom in on one element in particular: The plate of gold on the front of the priest’s turban – on the forehead of the priest. Let’s see what the Bible tells us:

“You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.” (Exodus 28:36-38)

The engraved declaration of “Holy to the Lord” is on Aaron’s head as he faces God. So though our thoughts may not be pure and holy, they are “cleaned up” when represented through the High Priest.

Now because Jesus is our High Priest and we are in Him, despite the selfishness and inherent flaws of our prayers and thoughts, Jesus “cleans” our prayers up and they are submitted as holy unto the Lord.

So pray as you are. Jesus our High Priest has made our thoughts perfect and clean before the Father today. Pray as you feel: Pray when the words don’t flow and the tears won’t stop.

God wants you to talk to Him as a friend. He wants you to come to Him just as you are. He loves you perfectly and has provided the way through Christ for you to do just that.

Keep on praying on. Miracles are waiting to happen in your life.


This article was first published on Tris’ blog, and is republished with permission.

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There is a prescribed way to love

by Pastor Lim Lip Yong, Cornerstone Community Church | 25 May 2018, 3:03 PM

Something concerning in the Church today is the attitude where one does whatever is right in his own eyes.

Taking for granted God’s love, grace and long-suffering nature – believers pursue whatever they please, expecting a loving God to condone and celebrate His children notwithstanding.

But this is far from the truth. The fact that God left us 66 books for our study indicates that He’s very meticulous about what He approves of and what He doesn’t. A key misconception that we must deal with is that we can love God however we want or choose to express that love for Him in whichever manner we desire.

Because God is very particular about how we’re to express our love for Him.

In the Old Testament, the Law would show a clear contrast between the prescribed manner of worship acceptable to the Lord and the way pagan worship was conducted. Integral to the pagan worship of those times were the offering of child sacrifices, tattooing, temple harlotry, divination and other reprehensible practices.

The Lord made it clear in Leviticus 19 that He would not accept such practices as a legitimate expression of worship and love towards Him.

We must never emphasise an aspect of God to the detriment of other equally valid virtues of the Lord.

Instead, He instituted five sacrifices in the Old Testament. One of them is the Burnt Offering.

The Burnt Offering was a voluntary offering – an expression of love from the giver of the sacrifice to the Lord. Interestingly, the way in which the Burnt Offering was to be offered was given in great detail. In other words, God is very particular about how we express our love for Him.

And we’re told in Leviticus 1, that the Burnt Offering is to be given in four parts: The head, fats, entrails and legs. My interpretation is that these represent our mind, strength, affections and our walk respectively. So the expression of our love for God has to be done through these four aspects of our lives.

Part of loving God comes from knowing Him. The more we come to know the Lord, the more we are drawn to love Him. He’s both merciful and severe. He’s full of grace and also full of truth. We must never emphasise an aspect of God to the detriment of other equally valid virtues of the Lord.

As we give our intellect to know Him and also to know that He cannot be fully understood, we direct our minds and thoughts towards Him more and more. Loving someone also requires for us to give our strength to express that love to them. So loving the Lord requires us to give ourselves to serve Him and to serve others.

One of the fundamental principles in God’s Word is that we cannot say that we love God (whom we cannot see), when we do not love the people around us (whom we can see). How much we love God can be seen by how much we love people – that’s why giving our strength to serve others is such a big part of our faith.

The third aspect has to do with our affections. This relates to our emotions and where our attention is focused on. Affections are often seen through the amount of time we spend with someone. We long to be with the person we’re in love with. Is God someone we desire to spend time with?

Finally, there’s our walk. Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Obedience is the by-product of a loving walk with God. When we love the Lord, we won’t want to displease Him. We’d instead want to find out what pleases Him and walk in the same manner that He walked.

I pray that we’ll not have some fuzzy idea about what it means to love God, but understand that He has expressly shown us a prescribed way to love Him.


This article was first published on Cornerstone’s website, and is republished with permission.

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Learning to let go

by | 25 May 2018, 1:43 PM

I’m a control freak.

I’ve always wanted things to go according to plan, and to make sure it does, I’m usually one the one who makes a conscious effort to plan meet-ups with friends. From reservations for the café to getting ideal seats – middle seats of the middle row – in the movie theatre, I made sure things were well-planned.

But in the occasion things didn’t go according to plan … I’d get really anxious and frustrated.

I’ve always believed in the importance of organisation and structure. The world would surely collapse into chaos without meticulous planning! Whatever I did, wherever I went, I made it a point to ensure there was a plan for everything.

According to the Myers Briggs personality test, about 44% of the world’s population are planners by nature. We are especially fearful of the unknown. We want to safely know what is going to happen in the future.

But I had to draw a line. Yes, it’s a good thing to have structure and plans. And it’s a good thing to have one eye on the future, but not when it causes anxiety.

When things don’t go as planned, we can take it as a timely reminder that we’re not in control of everything. But God is!

There was an occasion when I was assigned to cover a media event with my friend. She overslept and failed to answer my calls. I, on the other hand, was early and already waiting at the location. After 12 missed calls, she finally picked up and told me she would be cabbing to the location.

When I found out she was going to be changing the plan, I could feel the frustration and anger simmering within me.

We’re going to be late! This isn’t fair, I could have spent more time in bed. 

Although I was frustrated and stressed because of the uncertainty she introduced into our assignment, I decided instead to make use of the waiting time.

So instead of grumbling and lamenting like I usually do, I pulled out my unfinished assignments and worked on them. Because I realised had two choices to make.

  • Spend time fretting over the problems that might happen
  • Make use of the time to complete other tasks

Ultimately, though she was late, things actually turned out not so bad. So I was reminded of God’s sovereignty over everything that happens. When things don’t go as planned, we can take it as a timely reminder that we’re not in control of everything. But God is!

Ever done a “trust fall”? It takes faith to be able to trust that He is in control: That all that happens – happens for a reason. It takes faith and humility to believe that our finite human mind is unable to comprehend God’s greater plans. We simply have to trust in His timing and ways.

We can always choose how we will respond. When things don’t go the way we want them to, we can choose to trust in God or try to change the situation by our own ability.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

God has His plans for each and every day. If you’re a planner like me, don’t be anxious about tomorrow. Learn to trust in His plans for our future.

/ helene@thir.st

After surviving the chaos of Poly life fighting the evils of sleep deprivation and academic stress, Helene now spends most of her free time repaying her three years accumulated debt of not doing household chores.

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The most important thing in the Church: Unity

by | 24 May 2018, 4:35 PM

“What is the one yardstick we can use to gauge if a mission trip is successful?”

This question was posed to us by the pastor who led a recent mission trip I was on. We offered various answers in response, mostly centred on salvations.

Instead, his answer was unity. His reasoning: “The ministry of love must first exist among us before it flows out into the nations.”

I believe it. If there’s no unity, there’s no blessing. Work not done in the bond of love and peace is mere work, not worship.

And here’s the thing: The devil is using thorns like miscommunication, misunderstanding or misconceptions to steal, kill and destroy our unity. But God can also use these thorns to shape us at the same time.

He wants to posture us. To make us unoffendable. To make us more and more like who we’re destined to be.

I believe unity must be the highest value in any church, and it should be the highest value in the Church.

As believers, we are connected to one another; we are part of the larger family of God.

“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)

We are the body of Christ (Romans 12:4). We can have unity without uniformity. I’ve spoken to many fellow millennial Christians who are tired of the divisions. One tells me, “We are so deep in our holy huddle, we fail to see we’re not just one church.”

What would Singapore look like if we stopped focusing on being merely right, and instead became entirely devoted to being right with God?

It’s easy to refuse to accept that many other churches can co-exist within the larger Church. And it’s easy to feel the divide because there are so many barriers to unity, like pride. It makes resolving theological differences such a challenge, especially when they are addressed in antagonistic ways.

Yes, we have many differences – but we have much common ground as well! What would Singapore look like if we stopped focusing on being merely right, and instead became entirely devoted to being right with God?

“We are often divided, because we’re not desperate enough. We’re not desperate enough because we fail to see God’s agenda for deep change and wide horizons.”

This was Pastor Edmund Chan’s encouragement to local church leaders at the LoveSingapore Prayer Summit this year. One thing he said really stuck with me:

“The Church is unstoppable when it’s under God’s hand. We have to receive the commission from God and arise as the Church of God.”

He was talking about the need for the larger Church to arise in its outreach initiatives in the years to come, and how disunity was one recurrent “challenge” faced by the Singaporean church. In my view, “challenge” is putting it mildly; we have the grave problem of disunity.

And again it makes me wonder what would the Church – or Singapore – look like if we dropped our personal agendas and picked up God’s agenda? What if we swapped boasting about our knowledge and traditions – for boasting in God alone? What if we traded pride for humility?

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)

Unity is not mere tolerance. Adopting a mindset of “you do your own thing, I do mine” is the surest path to a chasm. Instead we are to make every effort to do the will of God within the bond of love.

I know the God we serve is a God of peace. If we as believers are not first reconciled among each other, how can we expect to reconcile the nation to God? How great is our need to strive for unity between mainline and border Christianity, across denominations and ethnicity!

God help us strive tenaciously for peace!

Do you want to see Singapore saved? 

If so, I’d like you to mull over this one fact about the 1978 Billy Graham Crusade: Did you know that approximately 230 out of the 260 churches in Singapore at the time took part in the Crusade?

That’s an overwhelming majority – 9 in every 10 Christians – serving a single cause. They were of the same mind (Philippians 2:2), whether they sang in the choir, directed traffic as car-park marshals, or prayed over their brothers and sisters who responded to the call for salvation.

That’s the picture of unity we need to see and surpass in our generation.

May unity be our first recourse — never the last resort.

Do you want revival? Then you need to know happens when a people come together in unity for God’s agenda. It’s found in Psalm 133:3: “There the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Life forevermore. If we are right with God as a Church, we can expect to see the greatest blessing – salvation – run rampant through our nation.

Let’s close ranks in the coming battle. May unity be our first recourse — never the last resort.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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The double life of a mission tripper

by | 23 May 2018, 8:05 PM

One thing about missions trips that I find beautiful is the simplicity of being.

What I mean is, life becomes simple in a holy way: All that matters each day is that we accomplish a work for God — something of eternal kingdom value. Working intentionally for God’s glory in any mission context is incredibly satisfying.

For example, on my mission trip to Thailand, even in the local culture of sabai-sabai (everything is “chill”), I still felt incredibly purposed driven. And with that God-given purpose came joy, not grumbling or questioning.

But life back home doesn’t always feel that way. I’m fortunate enough that I have a job I know I’m called to, so I don’t drag my feet to work. But there are still days where it’s a grind, and I’m tempted to lose sight of that original purpose and passion. I lose the joy and clarity that comes from a life of God-centred single-mindedness.

And in this stale context, the clock resets. You start counting down the days to the next mission trip, or the next holiday or whatever it is that will numb this second, “lesser” state of being.

Why is that?

Why the pendulum between the mission and the mundane? My conclusion is some of us might be leading two lives: The “mission” and the “grind”. Let me break it down further:

  • In my mission field, I live an intentional life centred on doing God’s “one thing”.
  • In Singapore I do a hundred things in one day, and only a few of those things are for God.

See, in the mission context, even the mundane things magically fall under the hierarchy of being done for God. For example, in the simple act of taking out the trash, it’s done intentionally so that God’s workers can keep going in a clean environment.

But in Singapore our eyes aren’t quite opened that way. If I have to take out the trash it’s a lot easier to ask, “Why do I have to do this? Why can’t someone else do it?”

And the reason for that spirit is because many of us work with a wrong hierarchy when it comes to God. We like to rank priorities. We say that God is number one, and then we rank other things below Him like family, work and relationships. It sounds good – but it falls short.

The correct mindset to have is God as number one in all things: God enthroned in my family, God enthroned in work, God enthroned over my relationships.

That’s what Jesus at the centre of it all means —”mission life” is that glimpse of a life ordered by a holy hierarchy.

What would Jesus find us doing in Singapore?

Would we still be standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side for the Gospel? What is the spirit of our life? And what are we truly striving for?

What would life look like if enjoying God, desiring God, furthering the kingdom or doing God’s work was also the overarching priority of our lives – just as it so tangibly is in the mission field?

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel.” (Philippians 1:27)

This is Paul is writing to the church in Philippi with much thanksgiving and joy. In the same chapter this portion comes a little after the famous part of Philippians where Paul says “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.

I know a life with Jesus at the centre will be a glorious one – and it’s there for the taking. If you’re a regular mission tripper, let’s pray that the Lord will help us to take that intentionality from missions back into “normal” daily life.

God, help us discover what a life for Christ looks like.


With an expected one billion people in Asia moving from rural to urban areas by the year 2030, the number of world city dwellers is expected to rise to 70% by 2050. There is an urgent call to the Church, especially as the majority of new urban dwellers will be young (under 25 years old) and live below the poverty line ($2 a day).

The GoForth National Missions Conference, happening June 21-23, 2018, will look at an array of diverse strategies to empower individuals and churches to reach and transform cities with the love of Christ. Visit their website to find out out more.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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In sickness and in health

by | 23 May 2018, 7:38 PM

I fell pretty sick on Labour Day.

I still remember it was a Tuesday morning, and I was furiously taking notes at Momentum 2018. I had already been feeling a little unwell – dry throat – the night before at BSF, but I figured I could just sleep it off.

But not until I could physically feel the ulcers beginning to grow in the back of my throat as I sat listening to Dr. Suzette Hattingh preach. When I got home after leaving early, the spots had already come out on my hands and feet. I was pretty sure I knew what it was — HFMD (Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease).

I suffered for the next 11 days. At one point there were close to 20 ulcers in my mouth. Though this wasn’t as bad as the time I got herpangina — a record 27 ulcers in my mouth — it still made for two very difficult weeks.

I couldn’t really talk, and eating was no fun at all. And the ulcers hurt so much they gave me headaches. I remained whiny and full of complaints for days until I took my frustration to God.

And thereafter I learnt a few things.

3 SENTIMENTS ON SICKNESS

1. Let your sickness teach you gratitude

The first few days were actually reasonably tolerable. It was Day 4 when the ulcers began to appear under my tongue. Then I really couldn’t talk properly at all. Because of how infectious HFMD is, it meant I couldn’t be around people.

After a few days of frustration, as I asked God why this had happened, I was reminded of just how much I missed my girlfriend. And longing has a way of growing affection — it made me treasure time together more.

Beyond that, being cared for by my mother, I was reminded how blessed I am by her. Though I felt horrible, it was a silver lining to know God had put a wonderful mother in my life to help get me through a difficult time. By the end of it, I appreciated her a lot more.

When Mother’s Day came around, I made sure to honour as best as I could.

2. Let your sickness remind you of stewardship

While I was resting at home, a good friend of mine messaged me to see how I was doing. And during our conversation, it dawned on me just how much I take health for granted.

I often sleep late, don’t eat well … I push my body to its limits in a negative way. But it’s only when you’re lying in bed, completely helpless apart from gobbling painkillers, that you realise you could be doing better.

I don’t want to live with a body that is kept together (just barely) by God’s grace, as far as I can be responsible for its welfare, I want it to be the temple it should be (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

It needs to be strong to lift my children. It needs to have stamina for long days. Strong knees for where ministry takes me. It needs to look and run like it’s managed by a man who honours God. My falling sick reminded me I’ve got a lot to do on that front.

3. Let your sickness inculcate compassion

For a few days, my prayers devolved into complaints and whiny lamentations about my condition. It was always: God, why? God, can you faster heal me?

Until I submitted my frustration to God, it never struck me that I throughout these prayers I did in fact have the certainty that I would make it out of my sickness. I knew I would be well — it was just a matter of time.

But other people don’t have that. Some are lying in bed and facing death. Some go through rounds and rounds of chemotherapy with hope — but no certainty they will be healed. I was ashamed to see how self-absorbed I had behaved in my suffering.

It made me consider how life must feel like for those facing giants in wards or hospices. And for people like my father, who faced down cancer and never wavered in their trust of God’s character as Healer, right up to their passing … It makes me marvel at their faith.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

So don’t waste your sickness. Whether it’s for a day, a week or an indefinite period, let your infirmity push you closer to God.

As I’ve learnt, we can count ourselves blessed that we can utterly rely on a Saviour who has already won the worst battle for us. Count ourselves loved that we have a constant fire in dark days; stand firm in the knowledge of God’s character.

Rest, knowing that no matter how our earthly, fragile bodies may let us down, He holds you and me in the palm of His hands.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Article list

Pray as you are

There is a prescribed way to love

Learning to let go

The most important thing in the Church: Unity

The double life of a mission tripper

In sickness and in health