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Category Archives: Reflections

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Dear Lord Jesus, we abandon ourselves to you tonight—we come running with our tears and our fears, our anger and our anguish, our lament and our longings. We collapse in your presence, with the assurance of your welcome, needing the mercies of your heart.

Some stories are just too much for us to absorb; some evil just too great to conceive; some losses  beyond all measurability. We need your tears and your strength tonight. That you wept outside the tomb of a beloved friend frees us to groan and mourn; that you conquered his death with yours, frees us to hope and wait.

But we turn our thoughts from ourselves to the families who have suffered an unconscionable violation of heart and all sensibilities. Bring your presence to bear, Lord Jesus, by your Spirit and through your people. May your servants weep with those who weep and wail with those who wail. Extend your tear wiping hand—reach into this great tragedy with an even greater grace.

We cry out on behalf of the children of Newtown, those most directly affected by this evil, and for children throughout our country and the world, whose little hearts are reeling with fear and terror. Give parents wisdom and kindness, as they seek to love their children well, this night and in the coming days. Raise up gifted counselors and care givers to serve those most traumatized.

Lastly, Lord Jesus, we cry out with a loud voice, How long, O, Lord? How long before you return to eradicate all evil, redeem all tragedies, and make all things new? How long, O, Lord, how long? Your Bride weeps and waits for you. In your merciful and mighty name we pray.

Scotty Smith

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Today is a day for hatred.

As I write this article, the death count stands at 20 children. Twenty. Twenty babies who got on a bus or walked out a door or stepped out of a car at the drop-off curb and are never coming home.

Father in heaven, their lunchboxes still hold uneaten sandwiches, unread love notes scrawled on napkins.

For 20 families, the worst fear a parent can know was waiting at the other end of a phone line today. Eleven days before Christmas, no less. Those children and teachers who survived will carry in their heads sights and sounds that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

And what comfort is there to offer them? What words are there to speak? A parent takes every measure possible to protect a child, though we know full well the world is not safe. But this?

There is no spin to put on a story like this. Yes, we will hear stories of heroism begin to emerge over the next hours, and they are stories we will need to hear. But there is no way to soften the blow.

Nor should we want to.

As a mother watching someone else’s horror play out on a screen, I want to feel this to the core of my being. I want it to inform my thoughts and actions in a way that leaves me changed. Because on days like today we learn just how broken sin has left us, just how bleak is our landscape without a Savior.

Days like today give us no choice but to hate. They leave us only with a choice of where that hatred will land: Will we hate God, or will we hate sin?

I choose to hate sin. On days like today I will reflect again on the ravaging effects of rebellion against God, multiplied across millennia, manifested in a freshly printed headline. The more shocking the headline, the more I must come to grips with my minimized reckoning of the severity of sin. With Nehemiah I will cry out, “I and my fathers have sinned,” freshly grieved over the sins of others—yes—but freshly grieved over my own sin as well. I have not pulled a trigger, but I have harmed my share of victims. The killer lies dead, but I live on to harm again. On days like today I will renew my resolve not to participate in tearing down what God pronounced good at the dawn of human existence. I cannot stop a murderer, but by the grace of God I can stop sinning against those he has given into my care.

I cannot offer a snippet of Scripture or a platitude to comfort those families, or to comfort you, my fellow believers. The day of our comfort is a future one. All I can offer is to hate my sin more deeply than I did yesterday and to cry out to God for a time when the groaning of this creation gives birth to that which is once again good. If hope ever transects hatred, it is here. In a few hours my own children will walk through my front door, God willing. I can be a mother who loves deeply and unselfishly in a world that is not safe. Surely that is the least I can do for these precious lives.

Today is a day for hatred. Today is a day for the weight of our sin to be felt in full force. May our hearts break under the blow. May they be shattered to dust.

Jen Wilkins

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Well, my country and much of the rest of the world are electric with the election of Barack Obama as the new President of the United States of America. To say that it is historic, is a gross understatement.

Justin Taylor and Al Mohler, have both inspired some reflection on the question of how we as Christians –Bible-believing, Reformed, Christians– ought to pray for him, and I have freely borrowed many of their words and thoughts on this. But here are some ideas for leading our people to pray for our President-Elect. Barack Obama.

We ought to commit ourselves to pray for our new President, for his wife and family, for his administration, and for the nation. We will do this, not only because of the biblical command to pray for our rulers, but because of the second greatest commandment “Love your neighbor” and what better way to love your neighbor, than to pray for his well-being. Those with the greatest moral and political differences with the President-Elect ought to ask God to engender in them, by His Spirit, genuine neighbor-love for Mr. Obama.

We will also pray for our new President because he (and we) face challenges that are not only daunting but potentially disastrous. We will pray that God will grant him wisdom. He and his family will face new challenges and the pressures of this office. May God protect them, give them joy in their family life, and hold them close together.

We will pray that God will protect this nation even as our new President settles into his role as Commander in Chief, and that God will grant peace as he leads the nation through times of trial and international conflict and tension.

We will pray that God would change President-Elect Obama’s mind and heart on issues of crucial moral concern. May God change his heart and open his eyes to see abortion as the murder of the innocent unborn, to see marriage as an institution to be defended, and to see a host of issues in a new light. We must pray this from this day until the day he leaves office. God is sovereign, after all.

For those Christians who are more dismayed than overjoyed about the prospects of an Obama presidency, there should be a remembrance that as our President, Barack Obama will have God-given authority to govern us, and that we should view him as a servant of God (Rom. 13:14) to whom we should be subject (Rom. 13:151 Pet. 2:13-14). Thus, again, we are to pray for Barack Obama (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We are tothank God for Barack Obama (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We are to respect Barack Obama (Rom. 13:7). We are to honor Barack Obama (Rom. 13:71 Pet. 2:17).

For those Christians who are more overjoyed than concerned about the prospects of an Obama presidency, there should be a remembrance of our ultimate allegiance: Jesus is Lord (and thus, He, not we, decides what is right and wrong), we serve God not man, and the Lord himself has promised to establish “the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him” (Malachi 3:18). Thus, where our new president opposes or undermines biblical moral standards in our society, fails to uphold justice for the unborn, undermines religious liberties or condones an ethos that is hostile to the Gospel, we will pray for God’s purposes to triumph over our President’s plans and policies.

Without doubt and whatever our particular views may be, we face hard days ahead. Realistically, we must all expect to be frustrated and disappointed. Some now may feel defeated and discouraged. While others may all-too-soon find their audacious hopes unfounded and unrealized. We must all keep ever in mind that it is God who raises up leaders and nations, and it is God who pulls them down, and who judges both nations and rulers. We must not act or think like unbelievers, or as those who do not trust God. LIgon Duncan

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Consider Henry David Thoreau. He could not find a publisher for his first book, so he financed the printing of 1000 copies with his own money and only sold 300. He spent the last few years of his life before he died of tuberculosis editing his works and urging publishers to republish them. Now his writings are required reading in many school curriculums.

Consider Anne Frank. “Will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?” She penned these words just months before she was captured by Nazis and taken to a prison camp where she suffered greatly and died, not realizing that the very words she penned in her diary would go on to become immortalized as a message of resistance against tyrannical persecution.

Consider Emily Dickinson. Of the 1800 poems she wrote, fewer than a dozen were published in her lifetime and those that were published were highly altered to fit the strict poetic conventions of her day. In fact, you might not even recognize the name Emily Dickinson if her sister had not broken a promise she made to burn all of Emily’s writings after her death.

There are many others. People who wrote with conviction without an audience. People with transformative ideas that the world discovered too late. People with little hope in this life that their message would gain traction or their ideas would being lauded for their merit. People with no Facebook Like button, no inflated comment count, no Mount Everest page view graph—just something important to say and the conviction, the discipline, and the wherewithal to say it.

Technology has afforded us, however, all these means of feedback, so it’s tempting to monitor them and shape our message around what people respond well to. Content creation by comment count, as it were. But anyone who has ever said anything worth saying knows that the important truths are sometimes the least obvious and least popular.

So the next time you contribute something to the annals of Internet history and you’re tempted to look upon yourself and curse your fate, wishing yourself like to one more rich in fans, friends, likes and comments, stop for a moment and consider instead the merit of your ideas.

“Be not astonished at new ideas; for it is well known to you that a thing does not therefore cease to be true because it is not accepted by many.” —Spinoza

Plastic Mind Blog

I once heard Tom Elliff describe how he and his wife, Jeannie, get away for a private retreat every year. Once, while sharing a meal in an intimate restaurant, Tom asked Jeannie these questions – he wanted to listen to his wife’s words and hear from her heart.

He said, “you must promise to answer them honestly. I want to know your heart.”

I’ve asked Ruthe these questions several times over the years. The answers can be surprising, even painful, but ultimately, they make me a better friend and lover.

1. What could I do to cause you to feel more loved?

2. What could I do to cause you to feel more respected?

3. What could I do to cause you to feel more understood?

4. What could I do to cause you to feel more secure?

5. What could I do to cause you to feel more confident in our future direction?

6. What attribute would you most like me to develop?

7. What attribute would you like me to help you develop in yourself?

8. What achievement in my life would bring you greatest joy?

9. What would indicate to you that I really desire to be more Christ-like?

10. What mutual goal would you like us to accomplish?

Hudson Taylor was one of the pioneer missionaries to China.  Everything was hard for him–he got sick, had conflicts with other missionaries, and he became more and more depressed.  One day he received a letter from his friend John McCarthy, who told him to try “abiding, not striving or struggling.”  Christ himself is “the only power for service; the only ground for unchanging joy,” McCarthy wrote.

Taylor said, “As I read, I saw it all.  I looked to Jesus, and when I saw, oh, how the joy flowed.  As to work, mine was never so plentiful or so difficult; but the weight and strain are gone.”  By the time Hudson Taylor died, his organization had 800 missionaries in China.

What is it about returning to Jesus that free, encourages, strengthens, and renews? Beholding Him leads to becoming like Him (2 Cor 3:18)

 

When arrogant people who know they deserve eternal misery tremble before a holy God of passionate wrath, they discover grace.  They encounter the depths of God’s kindness and love, a kindness and love they find nowhere else.  They fall to their knees and worship Christ as their Lord and Savior and as their truest friend – really their only true friend.  They know they don’t deserve a hug, no matter how badly they’re hurting; but they get an eternal one anyway.  That’s the grace that takes their breath away.
Larry Crabb, Shattered Dreams

 

1. Ministry is a marathon, not a 50-yard dash. It’s not how you start that matters. It’s how you finish the race. Sustainability counts more than speed. Don’t give up! Paul tells us to run the race for a “heavenly reward that never disappears” (1 Cor. 9:25). Live with your eyes on eternity.

2. Every church is large is God’s eyes. In God’s eyes, there is no such thing as a small or insignificant church. Jesus died for your church. That’s how much your ministry matters to God. It is the Body and Bride of Christ. The church is the only thing on earth that will last forever.

3. There is no correlation between the size and strength of a church. A church can big and flabby just as a church can be small and wimpy. Neither big nor small is better. Healthy is betterStrong is better. Focus on developing people and God will build his church.

4. Never compare your ministry to anyone else’s. God says it is foolish to compare (2 Corinthians 10:12). Why? First, you can always find someone doing a better job than you and you’ll get discouraged. Second, you can always find someone you’re doing a better job than, and you’ll become prideful. Either one can sabotage your ministry. When you get to heaven, God won’t say, “Why weren’t you more like (some other pastor)? He made you to be you and if he didn’t want you to be you, he wouldn’t have created you!

5. Live for an audience of One. The moment you start worrying about what other people think, your ministry is handicapped. If criticism is true, listen and learn from it. If it is false, ignore it and forget it. Remember that God is the ultimate judge of your life and ministry. Maintain a tough skin and tender heart.

6. Never criticize nor envy another ministry. I’ve seen more pastors defeated by these two traps than anything else. A critical or an envious spirit quenches God’s anointing. God loves to bless people you disagree with! “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). God is watching your reaction to the failures and successes of your brothers. We are to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

7. Be humble or you’ll stumble. He who gets too big for his britches will inevitably be exposed in the end! Whenever I am prideful I become the enemy of God because “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble people are teachable and don’t rush to judge others Humility is being honest about your weaknesses. Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less! It’s not about you!

8. Learn from everyone. The danger of looking at lists such as, “The 100 fastest growing churches”, or “The 50 largest churches” is that you’ll compare and compete. Bad idea! Instead, learn from the models represented by the churches on those lists. The Bible tells us that skill, not merely dedication, is what brings success (Ecclesiastes 10:10). Work smarter, not harder. Every time I hear about anyone making an impact, I say, “Amen! Now teach me how to do it too!” All leaders are learners. The moment you stop learning, you stop leading. You can learn from anyone if you ask the right questions.

9. Remember all growth is seasonal. Every living thing goes through seasons of growth (spring and summer) and dormancy (fall and winter). Churches go through these seasons. Healthy growth takes TIME. When God wants to make a mushroom, he takes 6 hours. When he wants to make an oak tree, he takes 60 years. Do you want to be a mushroom or an oak tree?

Churches that explode overnight are not necessarily growing; they may simply be swelling by attracting believers who transfer from other churches. That is not legitimate growth. Conversion growth is real growth, so focus on how many new believers you are winning and baptizing, not your attendance.

Nothing bears fruit year round. Your church may be in a Fall-like season right now (no leaves, no fruit) or winter (everything seems dead.) Keep on believing, learning, loving, and putting down roots. Spring and summer are coming! Hang on! The tide goes out, but it always comes back in.

10. Never confuse prominence with significance. My nose is prominent but I could lose it and still live a happy life. On the other hand, my lungs and liver will never been seen but they are far more significant. I’d die without them. You may be serving a small town or in circumstances with limited growth potential. So what? God put you there, and you’d better stay where God put you until God chooses to move you! God has every hair on your head numbered; your ministry matters to the Kingdom!

 

So where did this wisdom come from?

 

The beginning of a new year marks the annual “resolution” game. It is, possible, to set a goal and complete it. I found Jeremy Statton‘s article very helpful. Here tis…

Setting goals is an important step toward living a better story. Through goal setting we are trying to become better people and to accomplish greater things.

New Year’s is the perfect time to make a fresh start.

Goals are critical to success for several reasons.

  • They provide clarity about where we are going.
  • They give us a way to measure our progress.
  • They help us stay motivated.

Without a clear understanding of what we want to do or who we want to be, decisions become more difficult, perhaps even conflicting.

If you have the goal of getting rid of your credit card debt, then the choices you make about spending money will be affected. If you have a goal of starting a new business, then the training you pursue and the ways you spend your free time will change.

Without goals, you may wander aimlessly.

photo by tibor5 (iStockphoto.com)

Unfortunately, most of us will break the New Year’s resolutions that we make. Good intentions hide behind bad habits. Old routines will give way difficult changes.

One of the reasons resolutions fail is that we do a poor job making them. We set goals that will never work.

Here are 7 ways to help you make goals that result in real change.

1. Dream Big

Most of us only accomplish small things because we don’t dream big. We settle for less. We are content with the status quo. Don’t just imagine yourself a little better than you are now, imagine the way you should be. Who do you want to become? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? Answer these questions and then go make it happen. Do the impossible.

1. Be specific.

Dreams give us a vision for the future, but they won’t happen without a plan for today.  In addition in knowing where we want to head, we need to be specific about what to do next. Setting the goal of losing weight won’t work. We have to change our lifestyles. Instead of saying, “I need to exercise more,” your goal could be, “I will go to the YMCA at 6:00am on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays before work and run.” Being specific makes it harder to let yourself off the hook.

2. Be incremental.

In addition to having a bigger goal, determine steps that you can take to get there. If your goal is to run a marathon, but you haven’t run in years, the distance of 26.2 miles seems to great. Gradually build up to the distance by first getting in shape for a 3 mile race. Then build up to 5 miles followed by a half marathon. Then getting ready for a marathon is an easier task. Setting your goals in stages will give you confidence through early success and prepare you to take on the bigger distances.

4. Use a timeframe.

Goals without  a deadline are a set up for failure. Deadlines keep us on track. They help us to make sure we are making progress. They give us an extra motivator, a sense of urgency. Would you ever have finished a term paper if your teacher hadn’t given you a deadline? Instead of saying that you want to write a book, be sure to develop a timeframe fore each step. Set a goal of writing an outline by the end of the week. Write the first chapter by the end of January. The second chapter in February and so on. Eventually you will have written a book.

5. Constantly revise.

Our resolutions often fail because we are not flexible. We set a goal and then when we do not achieve it, we feel like a failure. Instead of viewing our goals from a  black and white perspective, see it as a process that constantly needs to be refined. The end goal may need to change. The means we use may be different. The timeframe may be off. It is not a failure to change our goals, but it is a failure to not make them.

6. Be accountable.

If you have a close friend you can trust, it is also helpful to tell them about your vision and resolutions so that they can help keep you on track. Accountability only works, though if you make yourself vulnerable. Be honest. Be humble. Be open. Knowing that you will have coffee with a friend next week will help you make better decisions today.

7. Develop a review process.

Establish a system to constantly evaluate your progress. Go over each specific goal and the steps you are taking to get there. Are you keeping up? What can you do to help yourself get there? What needs to change? Do this weekly, quarterly, and of course yearly.

Goals are valuable. They give us clarity and help us to know what direction we want to head. These 7 steps can help us not only make better goals, but factually keep them.

 

We’re a very blessed group of people, runners.  Running is a microcosm of life.  It’s a journey that we’re on, a journey that redefines us, deepens our identity, strengthens us.  We run alone.  It’s not a team effort.  No one else is going to get us out of the warm bed, away from the computer or playing with the dog and out into the world.  If we have a running coach, he’s not going to bench us for the game and Geoff Calkins will write us up in the CA if we didn’t make it to practice.  If we run with a group, they aren’t going to unsubscribe us for not showing up.  Running is commitment, it’s a promise made and kept by us alone.

 

Running is hot, and cold, it’s rainy and snowy and humidity thick as soup, it’s pain in every step, orthotics, braces, a bathroom fragranced by Icy Hot, having your podiatrist as a contact in your IPhone.  Running is the look of asphalt under your feet, the wrinkled peeling bark of trees along the trail, deer spotted in the cold misty morning at the Farms.  It’s old towels, gloves, Hot Hands, empty Gatorade bottles, stray socks, an extra hat and crushed race bibs in the trunk, shoes strewn about the garage, smelly shirts hanging on doorknobs.

 

Running is being so completely slap happy at mile 18 that all you can do is point at your running partner and sob laughing because neither of you can subtract 18 from 20 to determine how much further you need to run.  Running is blowing a snot rocket in the Kroger parking lot without even thinking.  It’s seeing someone you’ve run with for 6 months at the movies and not recognizing them because “they’re wearing clothes”.  It’s realizing that everything you have on except your jeans is running apparel, up to and including all foundation garments.

 

Running is also sitting next to your loved one in a hospital, or getting laid off, or having to move away from loved ones, knowing that you can do this.  You can get up, you can get out of the house, youcan make it through this horrid day because you know that it’s just a part of the journey, not the whole.  It’s just this day, it’s just these steps, and while you’re plodding through, looking down at the dark road beneath your feet, you can at the same time look up and see the sky.  Because you are a Runner.

(Email from the Memphis Running and Track Club)

 

 

“What is the instructive lesson to be learned from this first syllable of the angels’ song?

 

  • He is glorified in every dew drop that twinkles in the morning sun.
  • He is magnified in every wood flower that blossoms in the copse, although it live to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness in the forest air.
  • God is glorified in every bird that warbles on the spray; in every lamb that skips the mead.
  • Do not the fishes in the sea praise him? From the tiny minnow to the huge Leviathan, do not all creatures that swim the water bless and praise his name?
  • Do not all created things extol him? Is there aught beneath the sky, save man, that doth not glorify God?
  • Do not the stars exalt him, when they write his name upon the azure of heaven in their golden letters?
  • Do not the lightnings adore him when they flash his brightness in arrows of light piercing the midnight darkness? Do not thunders extol him when they roll like drums in the march of the God of armies?
  • Do not all things exalt him, from the least even to the greatest?

But sing, sing, oh universe, till thou hast exhausted thyself, thou canst not afford a song so sweet as the song of Incarnation.

Though creation may be a majestic organ of praise, it cannot reach the compass of the golden canticle—Incarnation! There is more in that than in creation, more melody in Jesus in the manger, than there is in worlds on worlds rolling their grandeur round the throne of the Most High.

Pause Christian, and consider this a minute. See how every attribute is here magnified.

  • Lo! what wisdom is here. God becomes man that God may be just, and the justifier of the ungodly.
  • Lo! what power, for where is power so great as when it concealeth power? What power, that Godhead should unrobe itself and become man!
  • Behold, what love is thus revealed to us when Jesus becomes a man.
  • Behold ye, what faithfulness! How many promises are this day kept? How many solemn obligations are this hour discharged?

Tell me one attribute of God that is not manifest in Jesus; and your ignorance shall be the reason why you have not seen it so. The whole of God is glorified in Christ; and though some part of the name of God is written in the universe, it is here best read—in Him who was the Son of Man, and, yet, the Son of God.

 Charles Spurgeon, Christmas morning worship, 1857

Jim Dennison’s blog this morning is worth repeating:

 

America’s military presence in Iraq has officially ended.  U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has told the troops, “Your sacrifice has helped the Iraqi people to cast tyranny aside and to offer hope for prosperity and peace to this country’s future generations.”

While we’re scaling down operations in Iraq, we are apparently escalating them in IranMilitary officials are now saying that the RQ-170 Sentinel drone that crashed in Iran was ours, and that it was surveying suspected nuclear sites in the country.  We have good reason for such an investigation.  Dennis Ross, who just retired as President Obama‘s top Iran policy official, warned on Tuesday: “If Iran has nuclear weapons, the potential for nuclear war in the Middle East goes up dramatically.”

These are just the latest headlines from this volatile region of the world.  What makes these issues relevant nine days before Christmas?

Jesus was “the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).  That means he was a direct descendant of an Iraqi.  Abraham was from Ur of the Chaldees (Genesis 11:31), the site of modern Tel el-Muqayyar in southern Iraq’s Dhi Qar Governate.  God called him to “leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1), and the rest is history.

The Magi who brought gifts to the infant Christ were from ancient Persia.  Second-century Christian art in Roman catacombs depicts them in Persian garments, as did a golden mosaic over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  In other words, Jesus’ first Gentile worshipers were Iranians.

Two principles follow.  One: God loves Iraqis and Iranians, and is at work in their ancient lands.  More Muslims are coming to Christ than ever before, many after seeing visions and dreams of Jesus.  By some reports, there are as many as two million secret Christians in Iran.

Two: we should join him.  I pray every day for 100 million Muslims to come to Christ over the next year, and ask God to lead Iranian President Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Khamenei to salvation.  If he could bring Saul of Tarsus to himself, can’t he win anyone to his Kingdom?  What impact would such conversions make around the world?

The Child who chose an Iraqi for his ancestor and Iranians for his worshipers now chooses you and me to advance his Kingdom.  The Magi brought him their best gifts.  What will you give him today?

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During its hardest moments, the storms of life often seem out of control. Our fate may sometimes seem to lie in the hands of hostile people, or in the outworking of impersonal forces of one kind or another. Yet the reality is that our every experience in this world, from the apparently coincidental to the determined acts of wicked men and women, lies under the control of our sovereign God…No sinful act ever catches God by surprise or thwarts his sovereign will…For believers in Christ, each circumstance is the Lord’s means of furthering His sanctifying goals. He has not abandoned or forgotten us. On the contrary, He will walk through these trials and preserve us through them by His grace.  lain Duguid

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“China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women … The stamp of men and women we need is such as will put Jesus, China, [and] souls first and foremost in everything and at every time—even life itself must be secondary.” Hudson Taylor