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Thursday, 22 June 2017

'Christ's ultimate boot camp!' A study of Mark 6




The world and the Church we live and serve in today is shaped by the heroes and champions of the past, and those who have inspired, influenced, guided and trained them...

12 such heroes answered Christ's call to serve, to follow, to leave all that they had and loved behind, and enrol in a lifelong and life changing Leadership training course...Christ's ultimate boot camp!

Throughout their service and collective ministry and mission they would be tested, tempted, threatened and in the case of most of them...Executed!

Ultimately because of their commitment and training; and the guidance, strength and example of Christ they would become an unstoppable force that built the Church and shaped our lives and worship today...with one notable exception they would become a team of true heroes.

"The Avengers. It's what we call ourselves. Sorta like a team. Earth's Mightiest Heroes type thing." - Tony Stark/Iron Man (Avengers Assemble)

- Building the team

Mark 6 is a great example of Jesus' Leadership and team building style...this was not the distant and unapproachable 'boss' barking orders, or the micro managing, over the shoulder nit picker, or even the kind but ineffectual 'friend to all' telling the Apostles what they wanted to hear.

Here was a true leader, with real authority, who saw value and potential in those He led. He was of course not afraid of getting His hands dirty... Of being a powerful and active force, serving, healing and teaching and doing all the wonderful, amazing and miraculous things He did. But Christ knew the benefits and necessity of building His team, training, guiding and preparing them to continue the work He began, to remain faithful, strong and effective after His earthly ministry was completed.

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other" John F Kennedy

- On the job training

The beginning of Mark 6, we see Jesus gathering His Apostles around Him and putting them to work...clear instructions and guidance, but it was clear that this was their mission, their chance to fly the nest and show what they were made of.

"Calling the Twelve to Him, He began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were His instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff - no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them." - Mark 6:7-13

After returning from this mission, feeling pumped up, excited about what they've achieved, filling Jesus in  on all their success (verse 30). Jesus has a new challenge:

"Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognised them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So He began teaching them many things. By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to Him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so that they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But He answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to Him, “That would take more than half a year’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?” “How many loaves do you have?” He asked. “Go and see.” When they found out, they said, “Five - and two fish.” Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to his disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand." - Mark 6:31-44

They may not have succeeded in the challenge Jesus set them to feed the 5000 but they did get to learn some great lessons about compassion, teaching and service...so maybe not a great victory for them but still solid training and teaching... They were still far from complete and very much works in progress. And there is certainly value for the Apostles and us in this kind of training and teaching.

"It's all to do with the training: you can do a lot if you're properly trained." - Queen Elizabeth II

- Ultimate team building exercise

Verse 45 onwards is an account of Jesus walking on the water:

"Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of Him to Bethsaida, while He dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, He went up on a mountainside to pray. Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and He was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified. Immediately He spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then He climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed,"

The thing that jumped out at me while reading this passage recently during a leadership training course was Jesus' insistence on the Disciples getting into the boat alone, while He watched on...perhaps the Apostles needed a crisis like the storm, to learn to work together, to become the team that they would need to be, to succeed in the days, weeks, months and years ahead...Jesus knew the benefits of experience and of trial by fire.

"You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt

If you've seen the first Avengers movie you'll remember that all the heroes needed a reason and focus to put aside squabbles and arguments to work together... In that film it was the death of a mutual friend that inspired them to be what the world needed them to be...exactly what was on the horizon for the Apostles.

But of course they were never really alone...Jesus stood watching, waiting to see how they worked together, what they'd learnt about teamwork and faith...when He was needed He was there...they didn't have to go to where He was, He met them right where they were and right where they needed them.

Developing ourselves and developing future leaders is vital for the future and success of the Church. Discipleship, learning and development must be a priority. I recently posted about growing future leaders, based on my experience on a training weekend.

http://inspiredbyfaith88.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/how-to-grow-leader.html?m=1

This used the tagline which I used in that post and really is an appropriate end and final challenge in this post:

"To be led more by Jesus, to lead more like Jesus, to lead more to Jesus."







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Monday, 19 June 2017

'I'm a Christian... Get me out of here': Part 4: Shoulder to Shoulder



I've finally gotten around to finishing off this 4 part series 'I'm a Christian...Get me out of here' or 'Surviving the Church'

Here's 'Shoulder to Shoulder'

The previous posts in this series have all focused on our differences; our different backgrounds, opinions etc

Part 1- 'Thrown together': http://inspiredbyfaith88.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/im-christianget-me-out-of-here-part-1.html?m=1

Part 2- 'Bigger than Jesus': http://inspiredbyfaith88.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/im-christian-get-me-out-of-here-part-2.html?m=1

Part 3- 'The one and only you': http://inspiredbyfaith88.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/im-christianget-me-out-of-here-part-3.html?m=1

The most important thing about our relationships with each other as Christians, is not what divides us, but the things that bind us together, our mission, purpose & the God that call's and loves us all.

There's nothing new in any of this I suppose...but that begs the question: why do Christians spend so much time and effort fighting and arguing with each other?

The obvious example for me to look at, is the lives and ministry's of the 12 disciples....12 guys, 12 opinions & 12 hard heads.

In  Luke's Gospel there are 2 separate arguments about the same thing...who will be the greatest; (Luke 9:46 & Luke 22:24).
The second argument during the last supper itself... Twice Jesus has to play referee between these guys, arguing about petty stuff.

Well, at least we're in good company when we act petty, if the Church fathers, chosen and called personally by Christ couldn't resist arguing then I suppose we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves.

The challengevi believe, l is to do better, to evolve beyond silly arguments. To be more than we are, to grow and become more Christ-like.

I don't know if anybody has seen this post online about 25 bizarre and supposedly true reasons why people have left the Church/had huge arguments, but I thought it might be worth sharing... Funny, yes but a little sad as well:

1. Argument over the appropriate length of the worship pastor's beard.

2. Fight over whether or not to build a children's playground or to use the land for a cemetery.

3. A deacon accusing another deacon of sending an anonymous letter, and deciding to settle the matter in the parking lot.

4. A church dispute of whether or not to install restroom stall dividers in the women's restroom.

5. A church argument and vote to decide if a clock in the worship center should be removed.

6. A 45-minute heated argument over the type of filing cabinet to purchase: black or brown; 2, 3, or 4 drawers.

7. A fight over which picture of Jesus to put in the foyer.

8. A petition to have all church staff clean shaven.

9. A dispute over whether the worship leader should have his shoes on during the service.

10. A big church argument over the discovery that the church budget was off $0.10. Someone finally gave a dime to settle the issue.

11. A dispute in the church because the Lord's Supper had cran/grape juice instead of grape juice.

12. Business meeting arguments about whether the church should purchase a weed eater or not. It took two business meetings to resolve.

13. Arguments over what type of green beans the church should serve.

14. Two different churches reported fights over the type of coffee. In one of the churches, they moved from Folgers to a stronger Starbucks brand. In the other church, they simply moved to a stronger blend. Members left the church in the latter example.

15. Major conflict when the youth borrowed a crockpot that had not been used for years.

16. An argument on whether the church should allow deviled eggs at the church meal.

17. An argument over who has the authority to buy postage stamps for the church.

18. A disagreement over using the term "potluck" instead of "pot blessing"

19. A church member was chastised because she brought vanilla syrup to the coffee server. It looked too much like liquor.

20. An argument in church over who has access to the copy machine.

21. Some church members left the church because one church member hid the vacuum cleaner from them. It resulted in a major fight and split.

22. An argument over whether to have gluten-free communion bread or not.

23. A dispute over whether the church should allow people to wear black t-shirts, since black is the color of the devil.

24. A fight over whether or not to sing "Happy Birthday" each week.

25. An argument over whether the fake, dusty plants should be removed from the podium.

Here's the link to the original article: https://www.google.co.uk/amp/www.christianpost.com/amp/25-silly-things-church-members-fight-over-149956/

I don't want to be too negative but I think it's important that we are aware of where we fall short so we can learn from our mistakes and move forward.

Sometimes however, we do work together, we do put our differences aside and work together... The result can change lives.

In my hometown of Coventry, I have been involved with a winter night shelter programme. This only works because a group of churches of which mine is one, have got together to host a group of homeless people on one night of the week during the winter months, this means, a bed, a meal a friendly ear etc.
It is not perfect, perhaps it could do more. But it is changing lives and serving the needs of our community in a practical way...there is a mixture of denominations, attitudes, outlooks and ideas but together we have achieved what each individual Church would struggle to accomplish.
Standing Shoulder to Shoulder we are stronger than any of us would be by ourselves.

7 Churches and religious groups, plus extras that provided cover, volunteers, food etc have made a real difference to their local communities.
12 angry, confused, argumentative human and imperfect men built the Church.

Imagine what you, your Church, and the wider, worldwide Church could do if we truly put aside our arguments, weaknesses, backgrounds and pettiness aside and stood 'Shoulder to Shoulder'.








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Saturday, 17 June 2017

Reflections of a 'Part time Pete'



Salvation Army Songsters are a unique breed...talented, Spiritual, faithful and above all committed... And then there's 'Part time Pete'.

I have had the undeserved honour of being a member of my local Songster brigade (Choir) for a little over a year. This seemed a natural time to reflect and take stock of the journey so far.

I have probably earned the nickname and reputation that has been given to me (by a certain songster who will remain nameless) as 'part time Pete'. not through choice I should probably add...work commitments limit how often I can make practice, and if I'm honest some lack of organisation on my part...and there was that one 'gig' I missed because I fell asleep... But the less said about that the better!

As I look back over the last year or so, I think about the lessons I have learnt about the group and about myself, I am struck by the realisation of how much each individual brings to the group, and how without each one the group would be that much poorer and weaker. I think also about how much I have gained and learnt and the inspiration and encouragement that comes from being with such an amazing group of people.

If I'm honest, I do sometimes question my place and value as part of this group...I suppose I should remember to take my own advice from my last blog post...'The one and only you!':

http://inspiredbyfaith88.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/im-christianget-me-out-of-here-part-3.html?m=1

The obvious highlight for me came right at the beginning of this first year as a songster...our visit as a brigade to Bolton Salvation Army Corps. Great weekend, great people and great fellowship... But a great deal of work!

Things brings me to something that Salvationists will recognise and probably look on with at least some degree of fondness...Billeting!
I don't really know how this started, but it has become a tradition that members of visiting musical sections are hosted overnight by members of the Corps (Church) they are visiting.
I must say I was very blessed with lovely, caring and generous hosts...although I have heard 'interesting' stories about what can happen... If you have any stories to share, feel free to use the comments section.

What have I learnt in my first year?
Well, I've learnt that Spirituality and practice go hand in hand, I've learnt just how hard Songsters have to work, I've learnt that the strength and potential of the group is in the individuals that make up the group, that love, support and encourage each other and bring their own individuality, eccentricities and gifts to it.

So...a year on, still undeserving, still a little out of place and still a 'Part time Pete'. But still Inspired, encouraged and lifted up by this amazing group that I am honoured to be part of.

"He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." - 1 Thessalonians 5:10-11









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Friday, 16 June 2017

'I'm a Christian...Get me out of here!' Part 3: The One and only You



Part 3/4 of 'I'm a Christian... Get me out of here' or Surviving the Church.

'The one and only you!'

Wherever you Church community meets to worship, however big or small it is I can guarantee one thing...it is made of the same building blocks...weak, imperfect and flawed human beings....but your Church, wherever it is, whatever form it takes; is unique. It has one thing that no other Church in the world has...it has you!

You are a living stone, and an amazing and unique part of the fabric and building blocks of your Church.

"As you come to Him, the living Stone - rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him. you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." 1 Peter 2:4-5

So far in this series I've focused on the different backgrounds and reasons that bring us  together in a Church community, as well the mission and focus of the Church.

Part 1: http://inspiredbyfaith88.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/im-christianget-me-out-of-here-part-1.html?m=1

Part 2: http://inspiredbyfaith88.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/im-christian-get-me-out-of-here-part-2.html?m=1

Today's post is a chance to look inwards at our individual places in the Church, the things that make us unique and vital to the Church's Mission.

I know that some reading this may feel that their place in the Church doesn't matter or that they are unimportant, that they don't bring anything to the table...if that's how you feel; I understand, I really do...but it's simply not true. These are lies others tell us, or worse that we tell ourselves; this way of thinking is dangerous and keeps us from being the very best that we can be and from reaching our God given potential.

I don't know if you're familiar with the great Dr Seuss of 'Cat in the Hat' and 'Green Eggs & Ham' Fame...but here's a well known quote about being unique:

"Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You."

Or from a slightly more contemporary source; the Song 'I am the one and only.'

"No one can be myself like I can
For this job, I'm the best man
And while this may be true
You are the one and only you

I am the one and only
Nobody I'd rather be
I am the one and only
You can't take that away from me"


No one is the same as you, and no call is the same, you occupy a truly unique place in your Church and community, one that no one else can take or fulfill...that's a comforting thought... But a challenge too; to be the best you can possibly be at whatever your called to be and do. To not let others sell you short or put you down, because God himself places you where He wants you...and surely His opinion is what matters. That's not to say don't take Notice of guidance and advice but remember where it is you've come from and who calls you.

Now you may say you've not been called, won't be called and can't be used by God...of course this isn't true, I hope you'll forgive me using another quote, one that answers this question, and is something I often find myself returning to. This is from the founder of the Salvation Army; William Booth:

"Not called!' did you say?

'Not heard the call,' I think you should say.

Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father's house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face — whose mercy you have professed to obey — and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world."

Well, will you?

Or will you let fears, anxieties and others lies get in the way and stop you being all you can be, and doing all you can do? As ever the choice belongs to you. And the decision could affect the entire future of the Church and it's Mission...so no pressure then!

Always remain focused on who you are, where you come from, where you're going but above all remember your legacy as a child of God, beloved, guided, valued and called.





Look out for the final part: 'Shoulder to 'Shoulder' coming soon







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Thursday, 15 June 2017

'I'm a Christian... Get me out of here!' Part 2: Bigger than Jesus!



This is Part 2 of a planned 4 part series 'I'm a Christian, Get me out of here.' Or Surviving the Church.

It's been a few weeks since part 1: 'Thrown together' http://inspiredbyfaith88.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/im-christianget-me-out-of-here-part-1.html?m=1

Just a quick recap...basically it was about how we all attend Church for a variety of reasons and from a variety of backgrounds, and must some how learn to put our differences and squabbles aside to work together for the common mission and purpose of the Church.

So...Bigger than Jesus.
I've been thinking about how the Church (and us as individuals) can sometimes be...shall we say less than Christ-like...

How does this affect the mission and purpose of the Church? What do people think of when they hear the word 'Church'? Does Jesus immediately spring to mind? Or do they think of squabbles, abuse, ineffectiveness, cucumber sandwiches, judgement? Has the Church itself and it's shortcomings become so prevalent that they have obscured Jesus...have we in essence become bigger (or at least more prominent) than Jesus.

As I've been writing this post a tragic event has happened in London...a catastrophic fire has destroyed a large block of flats in West London...the cause is currently unknown but many people have lost their homes, still more have been evacuated from the surrounding areas and tragically several people have lost their lives with many more critically injured...their have of course been. many reactions... Sorrow, anger, heartbreak but also compassion, love and self-sacrifice. People have opened their homes and their hearts to those affected; the emergency services have of course risen to the challenge and performed above and beyond the call of duty...many Churches and faith groups have mobilised as well; providing shelter, clothes, food, money, emergency contact centres etc, they have prominently displayed their love and compassion for those in need in their communities. All denominations, religions have stood together to do what they can to ease the suffering around them. They are making a real tangible difference to the situation...They are taking Christ in word and deed, and proclaiming that Jesus is bigger than them, bigger than their individual squabbles and politics (and even not knowing the churches I can pretty much guarantee that they have these issues) and of course that Jesus is bigger than this terrible and tragic event.

Some Churches, have a clear and strong history, and of course traditions (beyond our shared history) that define and focus where they have come from and where they are going. The challenge is to remember the past, where we've come from, the lessons we have leant along the way and of course look to the future, to new challenges and victories but while also remembering that Jesus is first and infinitely more important than anything else... Bigger than service, bigger than politics, bigger than squabbles, bigger than who's sitting in who's seat, bigger than traditions, bigger than music styles, bigger than the flower rota, bigger than the leader, bigger than all distractions.

So remember that Jesus comes first; always and forever. Remember His place and our place, and of course remember that what we focus on and prioritise is the essence of who we are.

Will we be a Church and community that reflects and follows the mission of Christ... A mission of love and service? Or will we obscure Him, cloak ourselves in politics and squabbles, hide Him away from those that need Him?

As always the choice is yours!

"Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." - Philippians 2:9-11



Look out for Part 3: 'Uniquely Called / The one and only you' coming soon.








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Tuesday, 13 June 2017

How to Grow a Leader...



Are Leaders discovered, born, designed.... Or are they grown?

At the weekend my wife and I joined an amazing group of people from around the Salvation Army's West Midlands Division (UK Territory) on a leadership training course, which as you can see from the picture was called 'Growing Leaders'

Now some of you out there might be natural Leaders, you may have all the skills, talents and gifts handed directly to you from God. For lots of us though, it can be a long and difficult struggle to grow and develop, it can take time, energy, prayer, study and great encouragers who believe in us and are prepared to take the time to guide and walk beside us. I consider myself truly blessed and honoured to have been supported and guided by the incredible, Spirit filled prayer warriors that have walked beside me this far.

How are Leaders grown? Some would probably say: 'Trial by fire' or 'Sink or swim' others might say prayer and study. The truth is probably something of each. Trials refine and strengthen us, but to find the strength to face and overcome them we have to do the groundwork of study, prayer and discipline to help us always remain in God's presence and strength.

So, back to the weekend; set apart from the busyness of life and work each delegate arrived with different thoughts, hopes and expectations and each of us I think, signed up for this course for different reasons. Myself it was to help me grow, develop and prepare for future ministry and service. The weekend was filled with study, prayer and reflection. The weekend left me reflecting on my journey so far, how I've got here, those that have walked beside me, carried me, those that have inspired me and of course how far I still have to travel.

Many people have taught me and inspired me, lots of them just by being themselves and being an example. I guess most of them probably don't know how much they teach and inspire me. But each of them have helped build and grow me as a person and as a Christian.

Now, growth is sometimes time consuming and painful but it is necessary, I think the key to growth is a decision to grow, to build and to continually learn.

I often look back and am surprised how far I have come, and I wonder what the biggest factor to my growth has been. I always seem to come back to a Bible verse that has become a real focus point of my Christian life and walk:

"Praise be to the Lord my Rock, who trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle. He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield, in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me." - Psalm 144: 1-2

That is the biggest thing I think that this course has taught me...That God is at the heart of all my growth, development and inspiration. Among the many things I have learned this is what will remain with me the most, that it is God who makes all things grow...including reluctant and unprepared Leaders like myself who need God's encouragement, presence and occasional kick up the backside to be the very best I can be.

"So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." 1Corinthians 3:7

And finally here's the tagline, focus point and motto of the weekend's course which has inspired me and will I hope stay with me in all I do:

"To be led more by Jesus, to lead more like Jesus, to lead more to Jesus."







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Monday, 15 May 2017

'I'm a Christian...Get me out of here' Part 1: Thrown together



Sometimes being a Christian and belonging to a fellowship can feel like we've been thrown together, it can be trying and frustrating and can make us want to turn on our heels and run away screaming out: 'I'm a Christian...get me out of here!!!'

Most of us will either have watched or at least be aware the reality TV show 'I'm a celebrity get me out of here' if not, the basic premise is that a group of celebrities are placed together in the middle of a jungle away from civilisation with basic food, facilities and no contact with the outside world. They have no previous contact with each other and are forced to work together to cook, empty the very basic and unpleasant toilet and complete tasks to earn food and rewards. Obviously they don't always get on...arguments, stress, aggravation, pettiness, can take over and bring cooperation and compromise to a standstill... Sound familiar?

Everyone who attends a church does so, for a variety of reasons...geographical considerations, a family who attends, a deep rooted belief in what that particular Church, perhaps a fallout or argument from another church. In my particular circumstance it was a girlfriend (now a wife) who first invited me to my Church.

We also want and need different things from our church; some seek teaching, a challenge, safety, comfort friendships, to be part of a community or something bigger than ourselves, some seek inspiration, an outlet for creativity, or perhaps just a place to belong.

However we arrive and for whatever reason we remain...we're stuck with each other! We have to balance our personalities, desires, agendas, hopes, dreams etc while also trying to work together to keep the Church working, moving forward and completing our mission to bring people to Christ. Like the TV show 'I'm a celebrity' we do tend to struggle from time to time.

This is the first in a planned four part series: 'I'm a Christian, get me out of here!' Or 'surviving the Church'

I want to give encouragement that if you find Church membership difficult or stressful, if you've ever thought about just walking away, that you are not alone. And I want to try and help give you strength and confidence as we all try and navigate, survive and thrive in a minefield of politics, unspoken rules and expectations surrounded by people who are self-serving, lost, and a little broken... And that means all of us.

But regardless... Here we are, all thrown together, from different backgrounds, ideals, experiences, personalities etc. One purpose, one mission, but a ridiculous amount of different ideas of how to get there. We are not always going to get on, we will fall out; sometimes spectacularly, we will act childish and immature and occasionally play games and point score... But we are all far from perfect, when thrown together we have to learn to deal with all this and each other, sometimes this will mean being the bigger person, looking past each other's faults, and making allowances for each other's weaknesses, and of course asking each other for forgiveness when we mess up.




Look out for part 2: 'Bigger than Jesus'.



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