Three Crucial Things Single People Need To Know

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Ahh yes, the single years. Those carefree years between high-school and marriage when a young person can do all those crazy, bucket-list things they want to do. Backpack across Europe. Trek the through the Amazon. Go skydiving. Live in a big city. Live in a commune. Go Paleo. Go vegan. All while recording every moment on a GoPro camera and drinking Corona beer.

Our culture tells us that the single years are supposed to be an adventure. A time of fun and craziness and exploration before we settle down for the boring life of marriage, kids, and all that jazz. To sow our wild oats (if you happen to be Amish). To quote the prophet Ricky Martin, the single years are for, “Livin’ la viva [vida?] loca.”

Right?

Well…sort of…not really. After working with a lot of single men and women over the years, there are certain principles and practices (hopefully derived from Scripture!) that I would encourage single folks to develop which will serve them for many years into the future. These practices aren’t particularly exciting or thrilling, but I believe they’re extremely valuable.

So what would I tell single guys and gals? Three things.

USE YOUR TIME STRATEGICALLY

When you’re single, you have more free time than when you’re married with kids. Don’t waste that free time. Don’t assume that your free time is all for you and all about you. God didn’t give you free time in order that you might check off every item on your bucket list.

Your free time is a gift from God, to be used for the glory of God, in order that God might be made famous. When you’re single, use your free time strategically, investing it in kingdom ventures. Your free time is like a Wall Street asset which is only valuable for a limited amount of time. Invest your time with the same thought and strategy a stock trader invests money. Strive for maximum eternal returns!

In 1 Corinthians 7:32-34 Paul says:

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.

When you’re single, you’re free from family anxieties. You don’t have to worry about health insurance for your kids, or getting your kids to school on time, or making time for weekly date nights. Your interests are not divided.

Because your interests are not divided, you can invest your free time in single-minded, strategic ways, which will increase the fame of Jesus. You can spend more time studying theology. You can serve a married couple by babysitting their kids (hint, hint). You can lead two, or even three Bible studies. You can start a prison ministry. You can dive deep into thick theological books.

It’s not wrong to backpack across Europe or spend a summer at Yellowstone National Park. But remember, your single years are an asset you’ll never have again.

USE YOUR MONEY STRATEGICALLY

Singles, please listen to me: the financial choices you make when you’re single can reverberate for years throughout your marriage. Financial institutions and credit card companies make it so easy to accumulate a mountain of debt during the single years. Need a college loan? No problem? Need some spare cash so that you can go out to eat with your buddies? No problem! Want to take a trip to France between semesters? You got it! Just sign on the dotted line.

And guess what? You don’t even have to pay back the money until you’re out of college! It’s like Christmas during your freshman year!

Unfortunately, most single people don’t understand how significant debt really is. I’ve known guys who had to delay their entrance into pastoral ministry due to the staggering debt they were carrying. I’ve had friends who had to delay having kids because they couldn’t afford to have kids and pay down their debt at the same time. I’ve had friends who couldn’t purchase a house because of the amount of debt they carried.

Let me make it loud and clear: the financial choices you make when you are single have a direct effect on your ability to serve the Lord when you are married. 

Your ability to minister, be fruitful, be hospitable, go on church plants, fund missionaries, and serve the poor is directly connected to the wise or unwise choices you make when you’re single.

So please, be wise. If you don’t understand how money works, get a financial mentor. Spend your money wisely. Knock your debts out as quickly as possible. Avoid debt when possible. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

Do you want to be fruitful when you are married? Be frugal when you are single.

USE YOUR GIFTS STRATEGICALLY

The single years are a fantastic time to hone your spiritual gifts in a concentrated way. Do you have the gift of leadership? Ask your pastor to give you as many leadership opportunities as he is willing. Do you have the gift of hospitality? Open up your house every week. Do you have the gift of generosity? Live frugally and give generously. Do you have the gift of mercy? Pour yourself into a local soup kitchen or prison ministry.

Marriage and children are absolutely wonderful, but they place distinct limitations on the amount of time you can devote to honing your spiritual gifts. I need to provide food and clothes and beds for my children, which limits the amount of money I can give to my local church. I’m really grateful that I had the opportunity to hone my leadership and worship leading skills while I was single.

SO NOW WHAT?

The single years are certainly a time for fun and exploration, but the reality is, the single years only last for so long. Don’t waste your single years. Don’t fritter them away. Don’t cripple yourself with brutal debt. Use them strategically in order to position yourself for future fruitfulness.

Who Are You? Our Astonishing New Identities

Who are you
Who who who who
Who are you
Who who who who ? “Who Are You” by The Who

Who are you? Are you fundamentally a sinner? Are you a good person? Someone in need of more self-esteem?

Are you victim? ?Are you a hopeless slave to your passions? ?A product of your environment? ?Do you need to remind yourself daily, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”

Most of us have no problem identifying ourselves as sinners. But that’s not the sum total of our identity. In fact the most important part of our identity is who we are in Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

Is this how you see yourself? Do you see yourself as a new creation in Christ? Or do you continue to see yourself primarily as a sinner? Maybe you would say I’m a sinner saved by grace, but the emphasis would still be on sinner.

In How People Change, Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp tell us that as important as it is that we recognize ourselves as sinners,

“Many believers also fail to see the other side of their gospel identity: their identity in Christ. Christ not only gives me forgiveness and a new future, but a whole new identity as well! I am now a child of God, with all of the rights and privileges that this title bestows.”

Who are we in Christ? It’s jaw-dropping amazing when we look at all the New Testament says about believers in Jesus. ?In addition to being new creations, we are:

  • Heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17)
  • Called according to God’s purpose (Romans 8:28)
  • Predestined to be conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29)
  • Justified ones (Romans 8:30)
  • Those whom God is for (Romans 8:31)
  • God’s elect (Romans 8:33)
  • Unable to be separated from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35)
  • More than conquerors through him who loved us (Romans 8:37)
  • Part of Christ’s bride (Ephesians 5:25)
  • In the Spirit (Romans 8:9)
  • Loved by God (Romans 1:7)
  • Saints (Romans 1:7)
  • Under grace (Romans 6:17)
  • Set free from sin (Romans 6:18)
  • Slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:18)
  • Slaves of God (Romans 6:22)
  • Sons of the living God (Romans 9:26)
  • Temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19)
  • Future judges of the world and angels (1 Corinthians 6:2-3)
  • The body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27)
  • Children of promise (Galatians 4:28)
  • Members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19)
  • Light in the Lord (Ephesians 5:8)
  • Lights in the world (Philippians 2:15)
  • Part of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that we may proclaim his excellencies (1 Peter 2:9)
  • One of God’s people who has received mercy (1 Peter 2:10)
  • Free (1 Peter 2:16)
  • Forgiven (1 John 2:12)

This is who we are in Christ! ?Here’s my suggestion – print these out and stick them on your fridge or in your Bible and regularly thank Jesus for these glorious truths.

 

I Think We Could All Use A Little More Self Esteem

Self-esteem can be a tricky subject for us Christians. For those of us who believe in the doctrine of sin, we bristle and ball our fists at the slightest reference to self-esteem. We start rabidly frothing at the mouth, then jab our quivering finger at Romans 3 and say, “There is no such thing as self esteem, because we’re all worthless sinners whose righteousness is like filthy rags!” I’ve been in that group at times.

But in recent years my thinking on this subject has changed a little bit. As I’ve studied scripture, I’ve come to see that there is such a thing as good, godly self-esteem.

Godly self-esteem comes from understanding that every person is valuable to God, not because of what they’ve done, but because they are created in the image of God. Worldly self-esteem simply says that every person is valuable, but it doesn’t go any further. It leaves the focus squarely on us. We’re told that we need to love ourselves more because we’re worth it.

Godly self-esteem, on the other hand, says that we are valuable because God made us. He has placed his stamp on us and we belong to him. Every person is valuable to God, and even though we are sinners, God still cares about and values each person. Sin has marred the image of God, but it’s still there.

A person with godly self-esteem also realizes that they have been purchased with the blood of Christ. God himself approves of them because of the blood of his son. They can rest secure in that position. They are a part of the precious family of God.

So when it comes to things like losing weight, or cutting, or eating disorders, or body image, or loneliness, or any number of issues, we do need to have godly, appropriate self-esteem. The Bible doesn’t say that we are worthless. The Bible doesn’t say that we’re pieces of dirt. It says that we’re sinners. But it also says we are valuable to God because he made us and he bought us with blood. Our security and value doesn’t come from what we look like, or if we’re skinny, or if we’re popular. Our value comes from God himself.

Are we all desperate sinners who need a savior? Yes, absolutely. But being a desperate sinner doesn’t make me worthless. God has declared that I have worth simply by the fact that he created me. I can rest in that. I can be okay with who I am. Who God made me to be. And I want to help my fellow brothers and sisters and Christ realize that they too, are valuable to God.

What Distinguishes Us From Everyone Else On Earth

The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ ?I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. ?Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” ?When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. ?Exodus 33:1-4

God told Israel to go up to the land he’d promised them. He’d drive their enemies out as he had promised. ?It would be a delightful land ? ?flowing with milk and honey. You’d think they would have celebrated. ?Land, no enemies, peace, milk, honey, what more could they want? Yet something about what God said made it a “disastrous word” which caused them to mourn.

What was this “disastrous word”?

“I will not go up among you.”

God knew if his presence went with Israel, in his Holiness he would have to punish their sins and they would be destroyed. So he says you can have the land, peace, and bounty, but you won’t have me. And they recognized that having all God’s blessings without having God himself would be disastrous.

A little later Moses says to the Lord:

“If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. ?For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (15-16)

It is the presence of the Lord that makes Christians distinct.

Not the fact that we go to church, or believe in God, or help the poor, or educate our children in some particular way, or have particular political views. ?We are not distinct because we don’t use drugs or curse or watch certain kinds of movies. ?We are distinct from all the peoples of the earth because we have the very presence of God with us, and because we have the distinct good news of God’s grace through Jesus.

Let’s praise God for the blessing of his presence with us. Of all the blessings we could have, there is none like this. If we have Jesus we have all the riches of God. ?Let’s ask Jesus to manifest his presence through the Holy Spirit in our churches and lives.

May it be the presence of Jesus that makes us distinct. ?If he doesn’t show up in our meetings, it won’t matter if we have the best worship, the nicest building, the most articulate messages. ?Every time we get together on Sunday or Care Group or in other contexts, may we say “Surely God is in this place.”

Church Is Not A Spectator Sport

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:7)

Sometimes we can turn church into a spectator sport. A consumer sport. A “how will this help me?” sport. A “who will reach out to me today?” sport.

But church was never intended to be that way. Church is a full participation, full contact sport. God has given each one of us gifts of the Spirit. You have a manifestation of the Spirit that I do not have. I need the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given you, and you need the gifts given to me. We can’t be half-hearted when it comes to participating in the life of the church.

You have a gift of encouragement – who will you minister to this Sunday? You have a gift a prophecy – who will you speak to this Sunday? You have a gift of generosity – who will you bless this Sunday? You have a gift of mercy – who will experience it this Sunday?

Please, don’t deprive me of your gifts!

Athletes, Artists, Bikers and Geeks

We must not expect all believers in Christ to be exactly like one another. We must not set down others as having no grace, because their experience does not entirely tally with our own. The sheep in the Lord?s flock have each their own peculiarities. The trees in the Lord?s garden are not all precisely alike…. There will be Martha?s and there will be Mary?s in the Church until the Lord comes again.~ J.C. Ryle via JC Ryle Quotes

I wouldn’t have chosen to hang out with most of the people in my church.

And they probably wouldn’t have wanted to hang out with me.

Before Jesus saved me I only hung out with cool people like me (I was very cool in my own eyes).? People who liked the Beatles and Bachman Turner Overdrive and Yes.? But after Jesus apprehended me I found myself hanging out with old people and ditch diggers and people who could read music and people who laughed at their own jokes that weren’t funny (actually I do that).

Our churches are conglomerations of sinners the Lord has saved and put together for the display of his glory. ?Most of us wouldn?t have chosen to be together if it had been up to us. ?We?re Martha?s and Mary?s. Athletes and artists. ?Teachers and truck drivers. We wouldn?t have hung out together before Jesus saved us. ?Sometimes I think, ?Lord, what were you thinking when you stuck us together??

But Jesus wouldn?t receive as much glory if we were all alike.

He displays his glory when those who wouldn?t naturally choose to be together love and serve one another. ?When they prefer and honor and look to the interests of those who aren?t like themselves. ?When they forgive each other and work through their conflicts.

God receives glory when diverse folks have the affection of Christ for each other. ?When those who have less are happy for those God gives more. ?When those who?d normally avoid difficult people embrace them and receive them.

Jesus said the sign we’re truly disciples is love for one another.
Let?s work and pray and do all we can to allow not a single breach in our relationships. ?Is there anyone in your church you don?t like or don?t want to be around?? Anyone you wouldn?t want to sit with at a picnic or wedding reception?? Anyone you wouldn?t want to have coffee with? ?Pray that God will give you the affection of Christ for them. ?Go to them next Sunday and ask how they?re doing. ?Pray for them.

I want people who come to our church to say, ?See how they love one another – I want in on this.?
As a pastor, there are few things I desire more than that we?d abound and overflow in love. ?I don?t care if we have a cool building or the best worship team or the best coffee bar. ?I care about our relationships. ?(Let?s love one another AT the best coffee bar).

Sometimes, as pastor, I almost feel like the dad of a big family. ?It grieves me when any of the ?kids? aren?t getting along. I really can?t stand it when there are relational breaches. ?And nothing brings me more joy than seeing the family loving and working things out together.

Anyone come to your mind as you read this?

Anyone you need to forgive, go to, work things out with? ?If so, determine to take care of it quickly. ?Go out for coffee with them. Have them over.? Go to them next Sunday and see how they?re doing.
Jesus is saving people from every tribe, tongue, race and culture. ?Computer geeks and bikers. ?Drama majors and football players. ?Opera lovers (yes there is grace to love them – JUST KIDDING) and country music lovers. ?People with accents unlike ours. ?People who don?t look like us. ?Or smell like us. ?Or think the same things are funny we do. ?People with problems and quirks and needs and sins. ?People we wouldn?t choose to be with.

Do you have any stories of diverse folks loving each other? ?Any stories of how God has moved you to love someone unlike you?

Slap Some Mortar on Yourself!

[This is a post by Bob Mundorff, who is an intern at our church. Bob is a tough guy. He hunts rattlesnakes. He could beat me up. But I know more about Star Wars than him.]

I like to build stone walls. It?s not easy though. Stones aren?t like bricks with smooth flat sides, uniform in size and shape. They don?t just fit together. Stones have voids and depressions and bulges and bumps. I love it when I find two that fit together without wobbling? but that?s pretty rare.

Christians are a lot like stones (1 Peter 2:5). The Holy Spirit has waged war on our flesh, chiseling off many of our sharp sinful edges. But unfortunately in this lifetime, some awkward bumps and voids will remain.

So how do you take a bunch of incompatible, disagreeable stones and bond them into one strong, harmonious, unified body?

Mortar. (Mortar is a substance used for bonding blocks or stones together and filling the gaps between them.) A nice thick layer between stones fills up all those deficiencies, unifying them and bonding them together in the process.

Christians need mortar too. Do you have a wobbly or broken relationship with another Christian due to disagreement or sin? There?s nothing like a nice thick layer of love to fill up relational voids and bind broken relationships.

And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:13-14 ESV)

? bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3 ESV)

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

So slap some on today. And if you?re all out? go to God. He has plenty to go around. And he?ll share.

Extending Grace Within Sovereign Grace Ministries

One of my biggest concerns since Brent Detwiler released his Sovereign Grace Ministries documents back in July is that we would become a movement that is filled with suspicion. And in some ways that has happened. We’ve become suspicious of each other, suspicious of leadership, and suspicious that there might be some sort of elaborate cover up taking place that we’re not aware of. I’m concerned about the effect that this is going to have on each of us personally, as well as the effect that it’s going to have on our churches.

Here’s why I’m concerned. Love doesn’t flourish in the midst of suspicion. The affection of Christ Jesus doesn’t bloom in the midst of suspicion. The gospel doesn’t move forward in the midst of suspicion. In some ways, suspicion is like bitterness – it eats us from the inside out. It’s like a parasite. Personally, I don’t want to live a life dominated by suspicion. That sounds like a really unhappy way to live.

Now, I can imagine what you’re thinking. “Stephen, did you take stupid pills this morning? Haven’t you read Brent’s documents and what people are saying about Sovereign Grace Ministries? Are you trying out for the role of Captain Naive?” Yes, I have read most of Brent’s documents. Yes, I’ve read the blogs. And the truth is, I have concerns and questions just like everybody else. I’ve spent many hours talking with various pastors and leaders in SGM, raising questions and voicing concerns.

But I think what’s crucial in the midst of all this is the way that we raise our questions and the way that we speak about one another. In fact, I believe that our attitude toward one another matters to Jesus just as much as the actual questions themselves. Do we extend the grace and love of the Lord Jesus to one another? Do we extend the grace of the Lord Jesus to the leaders within Sovereign Grace Ministries? Do we mock and bite and belittle and criticize, or do we extend the grace and patience that we would like to have extended to us?

Here’s the truth: we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We have been bought by the precious blood of Christ. To angrily criticize and lash out at someone is to lash out at someone who is precious to Christ. Does that mean we shouldn’t disagree? No, of course not. Does that mean we shouldn’t raise concerns? No. Does that mean we shouldn’t voice our disagreement? No, definitely not. Is raising questions and concerns being divisive? Nope.

It does mean that all of our criticisms, critiques, questions, and concerns should be wrapped in the love of Christ.

I find the example of the Apostle Paul to be convicting. The Corinthian church was an absolute nightmare. There was a man sleeping around with his step-mother. There were people getting drunk during communion. The church was like a crazy spiritual gifts circus. Folks were dragging each other off to court. And yet in spite of all this, Paul could say:

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge?even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you?so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The reason that Paul could give thanks for the Corinthians was because he was confident that God is faithful. That’s my ultimate confidence as well. I respect the guys on the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries, and I believe that they are seeking to follow the Lord through this difficult situation. But ultimately my confidence isn’t in them. It’s in Jesus. The King of Kings. The ruler of the church. He cares about my church and your church and Sovereign Grace Ministries more than we do.

That’s what can keep me from being dominated by suspicion.

Did I Ever Tell You You’re My Hero?

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We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work (1 TH 5.12-13).

A couple weeks ago, I attended a “Pastors Appreciation Breakfast” at the local Christian School, Seeds of Faith Academy, a great school where some kids from our church go.? About 20 of us pastors were welcomed by a huge banner that read “You Are Our Heroes.”? After breakfast we attended “chapel” with the kids, then each pastor posed for a photo with children from his church, who gave him handmade cards like this one:

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I’m so grateful for Seeds of Faith, their teachers, these sweet kids and the hard work they put in on the cards.? I truly was honored.? But I did have to chuckle a couple times.? Check these out…

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My fellow pastor, Joe,? is the hero here.? They must have thought he was coming to the breakfast then, uh oh, here comes Mark, not Joe.? Quick, anybody got a pencil?? Scribble in between the lines “and Mark.”? Good.? He’ll never know the difference.

How about this one:

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This child goes to another church but must have gotten confused and joined me for the photo. ?? He or she must have posed for the picture, realized I was not their pastor, ripped the name off, then ran for the coatroom.

I like this one:

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I wonder how he got Pastor Cameron.? There are no pastors I know in the area by that name. ? Looks like his teacher wrote the name.? She must have asked who his pastor was.? Ummmmm, his name is, his name is, ummmmmmm – his eyes dart from side to side.? Then he looks over at his friend Cameron.? My pastor is ummmmm, Pastor….. Cameron.

How about this one:

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He called me Pastor Brad.? Another kid from a different church.? Obviously the kid loves his pastor, but must not know what Pastor Brad looks like, since he posed for a photo with me.? If the guy at the top of the picture is Pastor Brad, no wonder the kid loves him.? It looks like Pastor Brad’s knocking himself silly with a hammer.? I would have liked that as a kid.

Check out this last card:

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Could there be any greater honor for a pastor?? I’m so grateful he considers me a good pastor and friend, and especially that he thinks I’m funny!

Are We Talking About The Same People?

One of the highlights of the year is our church picnic, which was this past Sunday.

It was wonderful to see folks fellowshipping and reaching out to new people, to see guys laboring over a smoky grill cooking burgers and dogs, to see young people painting children’s faces and playing kickball with them.? I was reminded of Psalm 16:8:

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent (or majestic*) ones, in whom is all my delight. (ESV)

It?s amazing that God calls his children the ?excellent? or ?majestic? ones. Often I don?t feel particularly majestic.? I picture Jesus pointing me out to Gabriel saying, ?Look, Gabriel, there?s one of my majestic ones,? then I hear the angel say, ?Who, him?? Look at him nodding off in his devotions.? And wait till he sees the dent his son put in his car.? Then you?ll really see how majestic he is.?

Sometimes our brothers and sisters don?t appear so excellent to us.? Look around any church and you?ll find a motley collection of ?majestic ones? struggling with a whole potpourri of sins and weaknesses. Like the new believer you spend three hours trying to encourage, who leaves you singing the ?Halleluiah Chorus,? only to call you 3 hours later from the pit of despair.? Or the son of Eeyore who whines that there?s no love in the church after 45 people helped him move last week.? God calls them “excellent ones” – yes, we’re talking about the same people.

Not only does God declare believers to be his excellent ones, but the ones ?in whom is all [his] delight.?

God sees us as excellent and delightful because he redeemed us with Christ?s blood, clothed us with Christ?s righteousness and is transforming us by his Spirit into Christ?s likeness.? And since the Father?s delight is in his Son, he now delights in his children who are one with that Son.

If God sees his children in this way, then I need to as well.? If God so delights in the saints, then so should I.? May I never view a brother as a bother.? If the saints are delightful, I should long to fellowship with them, serve them, and give my life for them.

*NASB

Photo by www.markandluke.org.uk