Calling on God

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By Ross Gilbert

When doing a quick survey through the Scriptures, you can’t help but notice how often prayer happens.

When Peter was arrested in Acts 12, the church didn’t hire a fancy lawyer or begin a protest march. They gathered together in a home, and they fervently prayed for Peter’s release.

When King David’s son tried to steal the throne from him, David didn’t raise up an army, but instead, Psalm 55:16 tells us, he called upon God. The word “called” used in that verse, literally means “to cry out,” or “to reach out to.”

When a decree was made making it illegal to pray to anyone but the king, with death being the punishment for those who disobeyed, Daniel prayed to God and gave thanks.

Even Jesus, on the night He was arrested and about to be crucified, saw the value of prayer and called out to His Father.

I wish I could tell you that when I’m faced with a problem, my first thought is to pray; to call out to God for wisdom and strength, but the reality is I don’t. Instead, I look to myself and the world around me for answers. I think about how “I” can fix the problem. Can you relate?

Have you ever looked to the world for answers,

replacing prayer to God with “Hey Google…”?

Why don’t we pray more? Why are we not first willing to call out to God? I think it’s because we have some misconceptions around this thing called prayer; lies that we hold to that keep us from doing the most important thing we can do.

Before I stepped into ministry, I was afraid to pray out loud in a group. My words would get messed up and combined into gibberish, so I opted to keep my mouth shut to avoid looking foolish. But that’s missing the point of prayer altogether! Prayer is not meant to be a performance for others; it’s simply talking with our God, whom we can talk to like any other person.

Sometimes, we make the mistake of treating prayer as a magic spell, believing that praying the right words, in the right order, will make them “work.” Do we really believe we can manipulate God into action this way? Prayer works because of God, not us. And, although we may not always get what we want, it always works because God always hears and always does what it is that we need.

In Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus says,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

And James tells us in chapter 1:5,

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”

God is not holding out; we are just too afraid to ask.

Another deception I have heard from people is they feel they’re not holy or special enough for their prayers to be answered. They proceed to ask me to pray for them, believing that somehow my prayers will carry more weight than theirs, but this is not so. James 5 tells us that Elijah was not a superhero with a special line to God; he was just like you and I. There was no power in his prayer itself, it wasn't because Elijah himself was doing the praying, the power was in the One that Elijah was praying to.

Prayer is simply calling out to, or crying out to God; it’s talking with Him. There is no formula, no right way to do it, no wrong way to do it - just do it! If you are not sure how or what to pray, then start by asking the Holy Spirit, because Romans 8:26-27 tells us that He knows exactly what to pray. “In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

God simply asks that we turn to Him; we can call out to God to supernaturally intervene in our lives and the lives of those around us, AND also to lead us to be a part of the work He then wants to accomplish.

God's Consuming Love

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By Ross Gilbert

Today, we’re going to walk through the verses of Psalm 139, a beautiful Psalm written by David.

In verses 1-6, David focuses on the fact that God knows everything.

v.1 O Lord, You have searched me and known me.

‘Searched me’ means to have probed or examined; to have dug deep to get below the surface. The word ‘known’ is the Hebrew word ‘yada’. It is intimate knowledge, used to describe the sexual union between Adam and Eve when she conceived. Adam “yada” Eve, and she conceived a child.

v.2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You understand my thought from afar.

v.3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down,

And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.

The word ‘scrutinized’ doesn’t mean that He has judged or criticized you, but rather, He has taken the time to see it from your perspective, to understand why you did what you did. God understands what we’re dealing with; our thoughts, feelings, and struggles. He is intimately acquainted with us.

v.4 Even before there is a word on my tongue,

Behold, O Lord, You know it all.

v.5 You have enclosed me behind and before,

And laid Your hand upon me.

v.6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;

It is too high, I cannot attain to it.

God is never caught off guard. He knew our failures, the shameful things we would do, the times we’d turn our backs on Him, and knowing it all, He choose to love us. And, verse 5 describes how He has wrapped Himself around us like a hug; enclosed, fortified and protected us in His arms.

We now come to the second stanza where David celebrates the truth that God is everywhere we go.

v.7 Where can I go from Your Spirit?

Or where can I flee from Your presence?

v.8 If I ascend to heaven, You are there;

If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

The word here for ‘presence’ means face. David is asking, “where could I go where we would not be face to face?” That speaks to me about the intimacy we have with Father. It evokes the image of lovers lying in bed, staring into each other’s eyes, or a mother nursing her baby, while looking down in love. This is how God feels towards us.

v.9 If I take the wings of the dawn,

If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,

v.10 Even there Your hand will lead me,

And Your right hand will lay hold of me.

v.11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,

And the light around me will be night,”

v.12 Even the darkness is not dark to You,

And the night is as bright as the day.

Darkness and light are alike to You.

The dark and difficult times rob us of hope, leaving us in despair,

but even here, God is with us.

When the darkness of life descends upon us, our eyes begin to adjust and we are drawn to the only light that remains.

This brings us to the third stanza where David sings about God’s intimate knowledge of us.

v.13 For You formed my inward parts;

You wove me in my mother’s womb.

v.14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are Your works,

And my soul knows it very well.

v.15 My frame was not hidden from You,

When I was made in secret,

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

The word ‘wrought’, in verse 15, means embroidery. When something is embroidered it looks incredible on one side, but when you turn it over it’s a giant mess of thread going every which way. Can you relate to trying to appear on the surface to have it all together, while underneath there’s a giant mess of hurts, pain and disappointments? When a master embroiderer creates something, the backside is as neat and clean as the front.

v.16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

And in Your book were all written

The days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them.

Long before I walked this earth, God wrote my story; a story with great and exciting days, and some sad and fearful days. Together, these days have been strung together in order that I might know the surpassing glory, power, grace and love of my Lord and Saviour.

Finally we come to the pinnacle of the Psalm where we discover that Father knows ALL our ways.

v.17 How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!

v.18 If I should count them, they would outnumber the sand.

When I awake, I am still with You.

Father’s thoughts of us outnumber all the particles of sand in all of creation, and all the universe. Simply put,

God is consumed by His love for you,

and it is this love that changes everything.

v.19 O that You would slay the wicked, O God;

Depart from me, therefore, men of bloodshed.

v.20 For they speak against You wickedly,

And Your enemies take Your name in vain.

v.21 Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord?

And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?

v.22 I hate them with the utmost hatred;

They have become my enemies.

David fought many battles against many enemies; he was a warrior. He is saying, “God, I am on your side, I join You, and therefore Your enemies become my enemies, I will hate what You hate and I will fight alongside of You. I belong to You.”

The question that David has been trying to answer throughout this whole Psalm is, “Will I invite God to come and heal my hurts and sorrows?” Everything has been building to these final verses.

v.23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;

Try me and know my anxious thoughts;

v.24 And see if there be any hurtful way in me,

And lead me in the everlasting way.

David is inviting Father to take him on a journey of healing, where he can be made whole. To illustrate, I want you to picture a little child who has fallen and hurt their arm. What do they do? They cry and scream, and run to mommy or daddy. When mommy and daddy see their child is hurt they ask to see the wound. But what does the little child do in response? They refuse - they will not expose the wound for fear that it is worse than they believe, and for fear that mommy or daddy will cause more pain in the process of cleaning it up. We do the same with our Heavenly Father. We all carry within us hurt, pain, disappointment. We come to Father, crying, and He asks us to show Him the wound so He can begin to bring healing. But we are afraid; afraid that the wound is too big, afraid of the pain that will result as He pokes around and cleans it, and afraid that it might never heal fully. It’s only in the context of Father’s perfect, immense love for us that we can risk exposure, to stop withdrawing and hiding from Him and, instead, lean into Him and invite Him to dig deep, expose our wounds, and uncover the pain, sorrow, hurt, and shame that we have been covering up and allow Him to bring healing.

This healing rarely happens alone; Father often uses others like ministers and counsellors to

bring about this deeper healing. You are not alone, and at New Life Fellowship we would love to pray and walk alongside you in your healing. While the journey is hard, and at times it feels scary and overwhelming, it is worth it.

A Community of Grace

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For almost 15 years I have spent most of my days working as a Christ-centered counsellor. I was not yet 30 years old when I began, and to make matters worse I also looked about 5 years younger than I was - and when it comes to looking like you can offer wise counsel, youth is not an asset! I offered what I knew from my experience, but ultimately I offered people God’s word which led them to Jesus. In my years of helping people, I have met many people who were skeptical that there was any value in coming for help and ultimately put off doing something that would actually be good for them. I think this same thing happens to many people when it comes to experiencing community.

We know that community is important, especially Christian community; in Genesis, God declares that it was not good for man to be alone, and the writer of Hebrews urges his readers not to forsake the gathering of the brethren. Not because God was or is keeping attendance, but because we can't survive in this world without community.

Our problem is typically not with the idea of community; our problem is that all too often we have experienced "bad" community instead of a "good" grace-filled community.

If you had to confess all of your struggles, would you choose to confess to strangers that you would never have to see again, or to your church community who you'll see every week? I have asked people this, and the overwhelming answer has been without any hesitation - the group of strangers. Most people explain they’d no longer feel safe in their churches if people there knew their struggles, and that they’d be afraid of what their pastor would say or think if they knew. That answer breaks my heart! How can it be that a place supposedly founded on the love and grace of a Saviour, that loved us so much that while we were sinners He died for us, has become an unsafe place for people with struggles?

In John 13:34 we read,  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” The word Jesus uses for love here is the specific Greek word, "agape." This is not a sentimental love. Instead, it is doing what is in the best interests of another, even at my expense. It means laying down my life.

Hopefully, at this point, you realize how IMPOSSIBLE this is for us to do alone. Only God can do this; God is love; God is agape. Maybe this command to agape cannot be translated with just one word. Perhaps we can begin to understand what it means to love by understanding what a community of grace and love looks like, and few people have defined it as well as John Lynch has; so rather than me trying to reword it, let me just quote John from his book, On My Worst Day. John invites us to imagine a place, a community of believers where we are:

  • Drawing out each other’s new natures instead of comparing behaviours.

  • Moving closer to each other when we fail, gaining permission to protect one another.

  • Creating environments of grace where it is safe not to hide.

  • Enjoying the intimate and unguarded closeness of a God that is already pleased with us.

  • Reaching others with a gospel of hope that is, for today, much more than a pathway to get to heaven.

  • Living with heartfelt obedience instead of religious compliance.

  • Giving our life away as a response of love not as an effort to assuage our shame.

  • Breaking the ought code that is ruining our kids for intimacy with Jesus.

  • Taking off the moralistic filter of God’s word that believes He condemns us.

  • Believing that we are adored on our worst day so that we are freed to take off the mask.

  • Resting in the absolute reality that a shame-free story has already been purchased for us.

And I would add one more:

  • Where the group is defined by their love – protection, support and care for one another, not by their political affiliation or how polite and proper they behave in public.

One of the most humbling statements that you will ever make to another is “I need you.” Not in the sense that you are a source of life, only God is, but since God lives in you, I need to know and experience God through you because there are times when I am overcome and undone by our enemy to the point that I am struggling to hear God directly. Together, we stand a chance of rejecting the lies of our enemy and will once again be able to see the truth of who we are in Christ and who Christ is in us.

We are called to love, and you cannot love

without first being part of a community.

Are you beginning to see, not just the importance, but the necessity of having a community of grace, a community of people who we can be open, transparent, honest with? This is not a suggestion by the way, this is a requirement for life and survival in this world. And to be clear, I'm not talking about a Facebook community! We need real community, and real community will always mean the risk of being hurt because others will fail to love you perfectly all the time.

This community of grace is something that you will have to fight for, you will have to nurture it as it grows, and then you will have to protect it by not letting the busyness of life steal it away. So, seek people out and share life with one another; both the good times and bad times.

“And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Hebrews 10: 24-25

The Wisdom of the Cross - Part 2

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By Ross Gilbert

What you understand and believe about the cross, and what happened there 2,000 years ago, will determine how you live today. If all I believe is that I am a forgiven sinner, if I only know about the forgiveness of my sins, then ‘I’ haven’t really changed. And my life’s goal will become to do all that I can to clean up my life. It starts with us spending much of our time trying to figure out what a life should look like in order that we might please God – through our behaviour.

We create models and lifestyles of what is appropriate and acceptable and what is not. What activities to do, what music to listen to, what clothes to wear, how to talk, which emotions are acceptable, and which are not.

We then look to motivate and inspire people to follow these models with a promise that God will be more pleased with you and reward you with blessings if you follow them well. The subtle implication being that if you don’t, God will be displeased and disappointed with you and will withhold His favour from your life. But is that really what God has in mind for us? Is this really the message of the apostles to the early church? That we would spend the rest of our lives on some self-improvement pursuit?

I think God had something else in mind.

The first half of 1 Corinthians 15:22 says, “For as in Adam all die.”

What does it mean to be ‘IN’ somebody? To help you better understand, think about this: where was your life two months before you were born? Where was your life two years before you were born?

Hebrews 7:9-10 tells us,

“And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him.”

So let’s go back in your family tree, back to Adam. We were all IN Adam, so that means when Adam sinned, we sinned. When Adam died to God, we died to God. When Adam was condemned, we were condemned. When Adam became a sinner, we became sinners. And that means WE NEED A RESCUE PLAN!!!

We find our rescue in Romans 6:3-6 where it says,

“Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.”

So, because we are now IN Christ, when Jesus died, the old me has died. When Jesus was buried, the old me was buried. When Jesus was raised, I was raised as a new creation. It is not saying “die to self” or “crucify self”, and it’s not an allegory.

You were spiritually present in Jesus on that cross,

nearly 2,000 years before you were born.

You don’t need to fix the old you! And my hope for us is that we will receive the fact that our old self has been crucified, that he or she is not coming back, and that you are already a brand new creation - a new creation that God has already made holy and acceptable. The best part is you don’t need to do anything to make this happen.

The Wisdom of the Cross – Part 1

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By Ross Gilbert

It has often been said, “that what you don’t know can’t hurt you.” That may be true about some things; however, ignorance is not always bliss. Through the prophet Hosea, God lamented how His “people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6a

Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 1, beginning in verse 17, and read what the Apostle Paul wrote.

“For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The word, message, wisdom, or teaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are struggling and perishing. This is not just true of those who have outright rejected Jesus Christ as their Saviour, but it includes many Christians who are ignorant to the good news of what the cross has accomplished. One of my favourite authors, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, once said it like this,

“Superficial views of the work of Christ

produce superficial human lives.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to experience a superficial, empty existence where I struggle through life needlessly.

Paul wrote in those verses, “to those of us who are being saved.” That’s present tense. He is talking about being saved, in that very moment. This is very significant to me because we typically refer to salvation in the past tense. I WAS saved at age 5 or I WAS saved while I was in high school. But Paul is not referring to the first moment he trusted Jesus; instead, he is talking about presently being saved from the trials and troubles that he was currently facing. Paul tells us that he is currently being saved by the message of the cross because the message of the cross IS THE VERY POWER OF GOD. He’s saying, that to understand and experience the power of God, we must first understand the cross and what happened there. Otherwise, we will be ignorant and struggle with living in this sin-cursed, fallen world.

The cross is more than just the death of Jesus; it includes His burial and resurrection. And it is the last part, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that is so critical. If Jesus had only died, but never rose again, then He would only be another martyr. But death couldn’t hold Him. God, the Father, raised Jesus back to life three days later and this was the message that Paul and the other apostles consistently preached. Jesus lives!

But the cross is more than just a way for God to demonstrate the love that He has for you and me. The cross also pronounces judgment. Judgment in that it tells me that the price of sin is death. And while that may not sound very good to hear, it is in fact glorious. Because it not only speaks of the judgment that sin requires but because Jesus has already been crucified, buried and rose again, the judgment of sin is now past. Meaning, God has already dealt with our sin because the debt has already been paid for on the cross. The cross is the place where you and I HAVE ALREADY received forgiveness. You and I never have to fear God being angry, disappointed, or frustrated with us, because all of the wrath and judgment has been poured out onto Jesus Christ on that cross. He paid the price, so you and I wouldn’t have to. He took the punishment and judgment so you and I could go free.

So, we know we’re forgiven, but what is forgiveness? It is crucial for us to know that God’s forgiveness is absolute. What I mean by that is, the basis of our forgiveness is the cross. It’s not based on me asking for it or dependent upon me confessing it. It’s not based on my repenting or the stopping of my poor choices. It is based on the cross. And because of the cross, Jesus has forgiven us.

Some people call this the atoning work. But the problem with an atoning or covering sacrifice is the problem doesn’t go away, it’s just covered, and that’s not what Jesus did. He didn’t atone or cover a single sin, but instead, He propitiated our sins. Propitiate literally means a wrath averting sacrifice. Simply put, it means to take away.

Jesus didn’t cover up your sin, He ‘took it away.’

God said, “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:33-34 (paraphrased)

Paul said that the first thing we need to know about the cross is it was there that Jesus died so you and I could be forgiven. But that is not the last thing about the cross. Because, as wonderful as it is for you and me to be forgiven, wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t sin in the first place? Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t succumb to the temptation to control another person through our anger or manipulation so we could feel better about ourselves? Wouldn’t it be better if we could find a way to avoid living after the flesh and instead chose to love others? Thank God there is a way.

Thank God the cross accomplished more than just forgiveness.

The glorious truth is that we are 100%, completely and totally forgiven. You have been made clean and pure. And our response is simple; it is to say thank you. To trust that Jesus on the cross was and is enough. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they will be white as wool.” So the next time our enemy tries to guilt you and shame you by bringing up your past, remember the cross and what Jesus said as He paid for your sin – it is finished!

Why Grace?

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By Ross Gilbert

When each of us arrived on this planet, we arrived with fundamental questions about who we are and what our place was in this story. Ultimately, both men and women wonder the same thing,

“Am I worthy of being loved?”

Perhaps, if we had grown up in a wonderful family and had great friends and the best teachers and nothing bad ever happened to us, we would have had a chance of answering those questions in a way that left us feeling confident and good about ourselves. But that is the reality of very few, if anyone.

Instead, we have been hurt, bullied, taken advantage of, rejected, used and victimized in various ways, often repeatedly. Often those wounds occurred at the hands of the very people we looked to for love and protection.

As a result, we’re left trying to dig ourselves out of an ever deeper hole, believing we are not good enough, constantly creating new evidence that, in our eyes, proves our own unworthiness. It’s an ugly, endless cycle of attempting to answer these fundamental questions.

Fortunately, Jesus came to put an end to shame and death by giving us LIFE. Yes, Jesus came to forgive us of our past failures and sins, but the gospel is so much more. It’s about Jesus coming that we might have life, a life that overcomes the death that the enemy held over us.

Because we’ve made the gospel about behaviour, we focus on our need to work hard at stopping and overcoming sin. We determine that we’re really not worthy of the love we need until we do. This is where grace comes in!

It’s the point in the story when all seems lost and our hero is about to be defeated, except something so unexpected happens. Like in Star Wars when the Emperor is about to kill Luke Skywalker and then suddenly Darth Vader picks up the Emperor and throws him over the railing. Or in Die Hard when Hans Gruber is about to kill John McClane’s wife, but he has the gun taped to his back. They may not be perfect illustrations, but the point is that grace comes to our rescue.

Grace is the love and acceptance that gives worth to a person, independent of their performance, and it is a love and acceptance that can only be found in God.

Listen to how Paul put it in Romans 9:30-32:

“What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness [being loved and accepted], have obtained it, a righteousness [being loved and accepted] that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness [they tried to become loved and accepted through their works], have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.”

The fact that we struggle with having what it takes and wonder if we’re enough, is the evidence that we are struggling to earn and become worthy of being loved and accepted through our performance. We are looking in the wrong place and therefore won’t find what we are looking for. The love and acceptance we crave, that we need, can only come from God and can only come as a free gift. This is the life that Jesus came to give, the life that overcomes death and shame.

Jesus knows you. He knows everything about you. Even the deepest, darkest secrets you are afraid will be found out. And still, in spite of that, He continues to offer His grace, His unconditional love and acceptance to you for right now. All that He asks of you and I is that we believe His love is enough, that we receive and trust that love, and live today as if it were true. Because there is nothing that is more real than His perfect love. Perfect love that has overcome death and shame.

What is the Heart of Church?

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By Ross Gilbert

The writer of Hebrews exhorted his readers not to forsake the gathering of the brethren. He was not making a suggestion, but rather sharing vital, important, lifesaving truth! But we don’t tend to see it this way, do we? I wonder if the reason for this is because we have misunderstood the function and purpose of church.

For me, growing up in a Christian home, going to church was something that I knew I was supposed to do. It’s not something that I have always done, but it is something that I was always taught was important. But notice how I phrased that - “going to church.” I’m guessing you understood that I was referring to visiting a building on a Sunday morning for a couple of hours, but I’m pretty sure the Christians in the first century would be very confused by that statement.

Acts 2 shows us what life in the very first church was like. For those new believers, church was not just about an event they attended, rather, church became the community that they belonged to and lived life with.

Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus turned to His disciples and left them with one final command. To teach others to observe, and hold on to all that Jesus had commanded and taught them. (Matthew 28:20)

The early church didn’t have a New Testament, but they did have the apostles. The early church gathered together to sit under the apostles’ teaching, which was the teaching of Jesus. There, they were taught about the New Covenant and how to live their new life in Jesus, instead of continuing to live from the Old Covenant as they were accustomed to.

When the early converts to Christianity began to follow Jesus it came with great cost. So, they needed the support and care of one another just to survive. This is just as true for us today. At times, that may include financial care for one another as was the case for the early church. But more importantly, it will mean encouraging and standing by one another when we are struggling within our souls.

Christian community is built around the eternal person of Jesus Christ and thus, we can draw power from Him as we connect with one another as a community of grace.

What is a community of grace? I believe it’s a place where you are safe to trust others with your most authentic self, knowing that you will be loved and accepted in return. That love is not a weak kind of love. Instead, it is a strong love that promises to stand beside you when you are struggling, encourage you when you are hurting, accept you when you are doubting and give you permission to be a work in progress.

May we never forsake the gathering of the brethren, but create a church known for how we love Jesus and how we love others. For when this happens, no one will ever feel that they have to go to church, but instead, it will become the place they long to be.