Two “Top Ten” Lists for 2019 – Part 2

Two “Top Ten” Lists for 2019

Part 2 – Top Ten Blogs of 2019

Yesterday, I published my Top Ten” (actually Top Five) sermons from last year.  What follows is the list of my most “popular” blog posts.

#10) “Fear” (February 21)

Writing before the Special General Conference on issues of sexuality in the United Methodist Church I shared a few words for those who were worried about the outcome and the future of our church.  Although that conference is over and the future is slightly more in focus, my opinion hasn’t changed.

#9) “So, What Do We Do on a Mission Trip?” (September 25)

After our team returned from our latest trip to The Joy Center and Red Bird Mission in Kentucky, I explained a little about what happens there.

#8) “One Year In” (June 20)

A few words on my first anniversary at Christ Church

#7) “Pastor’s Report 2019” (October 28)

My summary of our year written for our official Charge Conference report.

#6) Confession and Pardon for Scout Worship (July 28)

Here I share my contribution to a Protestant worship service at the World Scout Jamboree in the event that that others might it useful for future scouting events.

#5) “What Happens When We Die?” (November 1)

One of my friends asked this question online and I shared it here because I know others have asked the same question.

#4) “Cutting the Baby in Half” (October 24)

Regardless of its apparent necessity, I don’t think that dividing the United Methodist Church will end well for anyone any more than Solomon’s proposal to cut a baby in half.

#3) “I’m Not Going” (March 25)

I explained to my congregation, and to anyone who cares, that regardless of how our denomination may, or may not, divide, I have no plans to leave this local church.

#2) “Do We Need a Catholic Order of Methodists?” (October 30)

While I doubt that anyone cares what I think, this is my proposal for how our denomination might stay together.

#1) “A Jamboree Honeymoon” (July 31)

While I was at the World Scout Jamboree, I met a young couple who were so passionate about scouting that they were spending their honeymoon sleeping in separate tents and working as staff so that scouts from all over the world could have the experience of a lifetime.  This post was read almost eight times more than #2 and ten times more frequently than #3 because it got picked up by both our Annual Conference and our denominational web pages.

Honorable mention

“Changing the World with Muddy Boots” (July 23)

While this is officially my least read blog of 2019 (and probably the shortest), it’s still has an important message and is one of my favorites.

 

 

 

 


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Two “Top Ten” Lists for 2019 – Part 1

Two “Top Ten” Lists for 2019

Hi everyone. I’m never sure that doing these “top ten” lists are worth doing, but when I have done them, as I found this year, I usually find something that I hadn’t noticed the first time.  Occasionally, we learn things from looking backward if only to see how far we’ve come.  With that in mind, what follows are two such “top ten” lists.  The first is the ten most read, or at least the most “clicked” sermons that I posted last year, and the second is a similar listing of my most “popular” blog posts. And, before I even get started, I’m backing up again.  As I look at my list of how many “reads” there were for last year’s sermons, the numbers are really so close together that listing ten seems to be a bridge too far.  After the first five, each message was read less than 20 times, and there is six-way tie for sixth so it would have been a “top eleven” list anyway.

Part 1 – Top Ten Five Sermons

#5) March 31 “How often in our lives have we heard phrases like, “You aren’t good enough,” “You aren’t rich enough,” “You aren’t smart enough,” “You aren’t pretty (or handsome) enough,” “You aren’t one of us,” “We don’t want you here,” “Why don’t you and your friends sit… over there.” Almost all of us, at one time or another, were one of the outsiders.  We didn’t “fit” in the popular group.  We weren’t wanted.  We didn’t measure up to whatever standards that group thought were important.” The good news, for all of us, is that God has an entirely different opinion.  Find out what that is in Return of the Rejects.   #4) April 18 “Most of the time, the commands of Jesus don’t rise to the level of a “commandment” because it isn’t something that applies to everyone.” “ But at the conclusion of the Passover feast, Jesus says something that he intends to be a lasting instruction, an enduring command, a “commandment” if you will, that applied not only to the disciples, but everyone who would ever claim the name of Jesus for all time.” There is something for all of us to remember from this Holy Thursday message, A New Commandment.   #3) August 25 “How many times can someone need to wash their hair when you ask them out on a date?  Or be out of town every single time you ask them to help with something?  Look, if you don’t want to go on that next mission trip, just tell me that you don’t want to go, and I’ll quit bothering you about it.  But, can you imagine how many excuses God has heard when he asks his people to do stuff?  And, don’t you think that God knows that we’re just making excuses?  Of course, he does.” Take a hard look at all the excuses we make for not doing what God has called us to do in No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses.   #2) November 17 “As much as we dislike trouble, and as painful as it can be, pain and trouble seem to be an integral part of life itself.  Where there is life, trouble seems to be present.” “But even though trouble and pain and suffering are always there, it seems fair to wonder what God thinks about it, why God allows it, or what God is doing about it.  So, together, let’s explore that idea for a little while…” in Trouble Times Three.   #1) August 18 “What do you do when everything seems to be going badly? You know what I mean.  When your plans are falling apart, and nothing is going the way that you expected it to go.  Worse than that, what do you do when the tide, and life itself, seems to have turned against you?” “When things are going well, enjoy it, and give thanks to God.”  But sometimes you just have to Embrace the Suck.   That’s long enough for today, but tune in tomorrow for Part 2 – Top Ten Blogs of 2019        
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2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)

2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)

Social Media Year in Review

 

Last week I wrote what is essentially the “first half” of an overview of last year.  I may still write a “top ten” list of the most read posts from last year, but while last week’s post was mostly about the church, this week’s is more personal.  While I did include some blog statistics in last week’s post, it was only those that related to the weekly posts of the Sunday sermon and, although that is probably the bright spot of this report as well, this post will cover more ground than that.

First, and most strangely, my old blog on Blogger, which I no longer maintain, and which I have clearly labelled as having moved to my new address on WordPress, still gets regular traffic.  It seems that, at some point, I might be forced to either edit every single post with a note about moving or delete that account entirely.  In any case, even though no new content has been posted there in almost four years, it still had considerably more traffic (5814 views) than my new one (3994 views).  This is both humbling, and an illustration of how well Google can push traffic toward its own properties.

Obviously, the traffic on my blog is pitifully small, especially when you read that you can begin to “monetize” your webpage or blog once you reach a benchmark of something like 10,000 visitors per month.  Even so, while the number of visitors to my old page is about half of what it was the year before, the number visitors to the new page nearly doubled.  Specifically, there was an 85 percent increase in visitors from 2018 to 2019 which was only slightly better than the 84 percent increase that we saw from 2017 to 2018.  So, while traffic to this blog is still small, its growth has almost doubled in each of the last two years.  And that, is both encouraging and humbling.

Some of that growth is reflected in the increase in subscribers.  At the beginning of 2019, 70 people subscribed to my blog on WordPress, and at the end of 2019 that number increased to 120.  Separate from that group, there are also two lists of folks who subscribe to blog notifications.  The first receives each week’s Sunday sermon, in its entirety, by email.  That list grew from 141 to 213.  The second list receives email notifications every time that I post a blog (like this one) that is not a Sunday sermon.  That email is usually just a notification that there is a new post and includes a link to that post.  Less impressively, his second subscription list increased from 18 to 24.  I’m not sure which of these is “cause” and which is “effect.”  Did increasing blog traffic drive increased subscriptions, or vice-versa, or did they feed one another?

On Facebook, I have, so far, resisted the call to create a new profile and separate my “public” and my “private” or “personal” life, but I do try to be careful not to accept too many friend requests from total strangers.  As of now, I have 812 Facebook “friends”, but I have no idea how much that might have grown since last year.  Neither do I track the growth of my network on LinkedIn, but again I do try, somewhat, to limit that platform to people that I’ve met in person.  Theoretically, Twitter should be the place where I gather “fans” that I haven’t met, but I probably don’t expend enough effort or focus there, so over the course of the year my follower count dropped from 389 to 371.   The number of people who subscribe to paper copies via snail mail decreased from 7 to 5, and although we haven’t been able to get into a routine of getting videos posted, a few things did and the number of people subscribing to my YouTube channel somehow managed to increase from 3 to 7.

Again, even though what I do online is not anything close to my “main” ministry, we are reaching people through this medium and the results are encouraging.  I hope that your New Year is a bright one.

For all of you you’ve been here all year, and for those of you who are new this year, thank you.  Feel free to comment below and let me know how these messages might have helped you this year, or what topics you might like to see addressed in 2020.  As usual, I’m sure there will be more ideas than time, but even if I don’t get to yours, your suggestions and comments are always welcome.


To read the first installment of this year-end review, click here: 2019 By the Numbers (Part 1).


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2019 – By the Numbers

So now that we’ve turned the calendar to another year, and we are already preparing our “End of Year” reports for the Annual Conference, what do the numbers say about where we’ve been?  And, as is often the case, it depends.  There is always more than one way to look at things and our church is no exception but, at the same time, I think that there are some useful numbers worth examining.

Let’s begin with the number that everyone probably asks about first, attendance.  In 2018 we reported an average worship attendance of 71 in our Charge Conference report.  This year, in June, we reported that number as 78, and by the end of 2019 our average was almost 80 (technically 79.82).  Obviously, that’s a significant improvement but we all know that a church “our size” should, and could, have far more than that on an average week.  Still, we should all be pleased that we’re moving in the right direction.  What’s more, I hope that I’m not the only one who has noticed that we’re beginning to see more visitors, more repeat visitors, and a few more children and all those things are good signs.

But so far, none of those increases that we’ve seen in worship have found their way to Sunday School.  Attendance in our Sunday morning classes was 37 in 2017, 39 in 2018, and almost 39 (actually, 38.94) in 2019.  Even so, that isn’t bad news.  Considering the number of members that we’ve lost in the last three years, holding steady is a solid accomplishment.  Moreover, thirty-nine people in Sunday school and eighty in worship, means that 48 percent of our regular attenders are coming to Sunday school every week.  And whether you know it or not, that is a huge percentage that any church would be proud of.

Our social media presence is also, however slowly, increasing as well.  In January of 2019 our church Facebook page had 199 followers and by January of this year that number had risen to 219.  And, although even while 219 “likes” in the social media world is still tiny, a ten percent increase is still good news.  And during that same time period, the number of people who subscribe to our Sunday sermons increased from 206 to 333.  Of course, just because people subscribe doesn’t mean that they read those messages, and although it’s harder to put specific numbers to online readership, the number of readers has increased substantially as well.  Even more difficult, is trying to understand how any of that contributes to attendance or ministry at our physical location in the real world, but in a era when most people visit your webpage before they visit your church, having a healthy online presence is good news.

And, of course, we have many more programs, mission, and volunteer opportunities going on year-round that are even more difficult to count or number.  Our Thanksgiving dinner partnership delivered more than 1100 turkey dinners on Thanksgiving morning, we had a very successful burger event during Carnation Days in the Park, our church donated far in excess of our pledge to Habitat for Humanity for last  year’s Apostle Build and in the process our volunteers had a highly visible presence at last summer’s weekly concerts by the caboose downtown.  Our scouting program is healthy, growing, and continues to produce Eagle scouts and train the leaders of tomorrow.  But more than that, we now have two scout troops because this year Troop 50 has become Troops 50 as they formed a new all-female Troop 50, for girls and young women, alongside of the existing all-male Troop 50.

There are many more stories that could be told, but it seemed as if this was a year in which we were constantly hearing good news.  While we may not yet be where we would like to be, or perhaps moving as quickly as we might like, we are moving in the right direction.  The numbers affirm what many of us have suspected.  Christ Church is moving in the right direction and I want to thank all of you for all the hard work, in a hundred different places, and in dozens of events, and in countless hours of effort on the part of… well, practically everyone.  I want you to know that you are making a difference.

I’m looking forward to what this new year will bring, and I hope you are too.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 


To see “2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)” a review of my social media presence in 2019, click here.

 

 

 


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The High Cost of Shortcuts

Years ago, I saw a poster with a phrase that has stuck with me.  It said, “If you don’t have the time to do something right the first time, how will you ever find the time to do it over again?”  It’s sort of funny, but it turns out that this cuts to the heart of a lot of the shortcuts we take in life.

We’re tempted to buy cheap shoes, or cheap toys, or cheap lawnmowers because, well, because they’re cheap.  But then they break or wear out much sooner than we expected them to and we end up replacing them… over and over again.  But after we’ve paid for the cheap thing three times, we realize that we would have been better off paying more for the better one.  In the everyday rush to get from one thing to another, we often do the same thing when we choose between options that will get the job done quickly versus a better solution that takes a little longer.  And almost as often, we regret that we didn’t choose the better solution while we’re doing it all over again.

But how we make these choices with televisions and lawnmowers should be different than how we make choices that have long lasting consequences.  If we want to raise children that have a strong moral compass and positive values, it simply doesn’t pay to take shortcuts.  And we see this play out in our spiritual lives as well.  We thank God for the gift that our parents gave us by raising us in the church, teaching us scripture, and modeling biblical values, but that gift came at a price in time and commitment that many seem unwilling to pay.

But closer to home, we find this to be true of our own feelings of well-being and mental health.  We wish that we could slow down and find a few moments of rest, but we say ‘yes’ to too many things, schedule our calendars from morning until dark seven days a week and find ourselves constantly tired and irritable.  We wish that we could be closer to God and live a more spiritual life, but our hectic schedules only allow us to find our way to church once or twice a month, or maybe just a few times each year.  As much as we might wish otherwise, some of the most important things can’t be rushed.

The cost of taking shortcuts is too high.

As addicting as social media might be, it just doesn’t work to build real friendship.  Close friendships require that we spend time getting to know one another.  There’s no way that you can finish one another’s sentences, know what someone else is thinking, or order their favorite food before they arrive at the restaurant if we haven’t spent lots of quality time in one another’s company.

We rob ourselves of that kind of intimacy with our friends when we try to take short-cuts.  Likewise, we rob ourselves of the power, mystery, and majesty of Christmas by skipping the time that was set aside for repentance and reflection during Advent.  If we truly want to find rest, draw closer to God, and to become more like Jesus, we need to make the time to invest in that relationship.

During this Christmas season, I hope that all of us will remember that God gave humanity a day of rest as a gift and not as a burden.  God didn’t need to rest for one day each week, but the lesson was so important that he modeled it for us even at the creation of the world.

It is only when we make the time, when we are willing to pay the price of time and commitment, to our personal well-being, to our friends, and to our faith, that we finally discover…

…Peace on Earth.

 

 

 

 


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A Don Rickles Christmas Story

A Don Rickles Christmas Story

December 05, 2019

(Meditation for Communion at Copeland Oaks)

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 3:7-18

I probably couldn’t use this illustration in a younger audience, but I’m confident that everyone here will understand.  Do you remember when Don Rickles was invited to speak at Ronald Reagan’s inauguration?  There was some concern about what he would say because, well, because he was Don Rickles, the master of the put-down.  But second, because it was no secret that Don Rickles was a Democrat and had actively campaigned for Ronald Reagan’s opponent.  Maybe because that was back when people had some sense, when you could count on an entertainer to do the right thing, and when politicians had a sense of humor, but he was, ultimately invited, he accepted the invitation, and his roast of the president was absolutely hilarious.

But, imagine if you went to hear an evangelist and were attacked in the way that Don Rickles roasted people.  And then, imagine that the roasts weren’t funny, but instead were deadly serious.  It seems difficult to believe that such a thing would be a good formula to reach people and draw them to any kind of faith in God.  But as weird as that sounds, that is almost exactly how John the Baptist preached to the people who came to see him… at least at first.  In Luke 3:7-18, as John the Baptist proclaims the coming of the Messiah and the coming judgment, but also offers helpful instruction… and hope.

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

I cannot remember a single time when I have taken classes on preaching or public speaking, when anyone thought it was a good idea to begin a message by openly insulting and taunting our listeners.  In fact, I am virtually certain that, unless you were Don Rickles, this is a bad idea most of the time.  But this is exactly what John does.  John begins by calling everyone snakes and talks about judgment and the wrath of God.

According to John, no one can be saved because they were born in the church, born to people who went to church, or because they themselves go to church.  For John, the only real measure of godliness is the fruit that grows out of repentance.

Today, some of us would wonder what the fruit of repentance would look like, and the people in the crowd felt exactly the same way.  John’s answer is to share what you have, with people who don’t have any.  Feed the hungry, clothe the naked.  But even that isn’t enough because some people want to know specifics.  Tax collectors, who were widely considered to be cheats, scoundrels, and enemy collaborators, are told to just do their jobs as honestly as they could.  Soldiers, who were, in fact, the enemy, were told to do their job, not to take money they weren’t entitled to take, and not to accuse innocent people.  It is interesting to note, that although both groups were widely hated because of what they did, John did not advise them to quit or to change jobs, but simply to do them honestly.

John then tells the people of the coming Messiah who will bring judgment as he separates the wheat (which is fruit) from the chaff (which is basically useless).  And he appealed to the people that they should hear the good news of the coming Messiah.

And, although an important part of the Advent message is a message of repentance and the need to get our hearts right before God, but John tells us that repentance is just the first step.  What comes next, producing fruit, is just as critical.  Fruit trees without fruit will be cut down and burned in the fire.  The wheat and the chaff will be separated, and the useless chaff burned in the fire.  John warns everyone, including us, that our purpose is to live a life of fruitfulness, to do our jobs well, but honestly, and to willingly share what we have with those who do not have.

But despite the Don Rickles style delivery, and despite all the talk about repentance, judgement, and burning chaff, John’s message ultimately is a message of hope.  Although John openly condemned the leaders of the church who put on a good show but used their position for their own benefit while abusing the elderly and the poor, John also made it plain that even those who were widely thought to be the enemies of Israel and the enemies of God, could seek repentance, receive forgiveness, and be restored and welcomed into to God’s family.

Don Rickles’ attacks could be absolutely scathing, but they included just enough truth to be funny.  John the Baptist’s delivery was just as, if not more abusive but as angry as offensive as it might have sounded to the rich, it was a beautiful song of welcome, forgiveness, and hope to the poor, the helpless, hopeless, and the outcasts.

As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to that same mission today.  To challenge the establishment, to confront power, to share what we have with those who are in need, and to sing God’s message of hope to the poor, the hungry, the helpless, the hopeless, the outsiders, and the outcasts.

No matter where we are, no matter who we are, that is Good News worth sharing.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Copeland Oaks in Sebring, Ohio on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Incredible Power of Small

It seems impossible, but there is incredible power in small things.

As we go about our business, as we watch the news, and as we experience life, most of us have accepted the reality that those things that are big will be the winners.  Billionaires will win out over millionaires, a 300-pound football linebacker is a good bet in a barfight, the state will win over a township in a legal dispute, and so on.  Face it, when David faces Goliath, Goliath usually wins.

But increasingly, I am being reminded of the enormous power of the small.

We know this almost unconsciously, but we are prone to ignore it in our conscious decision making.  Here’s what I mean:  Elephants and whales are huge, but there aren’t huge piles of dead elephants or whales anywhere.  Why? Because as soon as the large animals die, the small animals get to work.  Lions, sharks and other predators take their turn, then buzzards, fish, and smaller creatures, and then, beetles and tiny fishes, and finally bacteria and other microscopic creatures set to work.  And in this system, the web of life, each time the creatures get smaller, they grow greater in numbers.  And while a handful of lions may feast on the carcass of a dead elephant, the number of bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic creatures number in the millions and tens of millions.  We take them all for granted, but without them our planet would be overrun with dead things.

Change is like that too.

Sometimes change seems impossible.  The task is simply too hard, or too big, or too expensive, and so change is left untried.

But small is powerful.

When great ships set sail from one continent to another, the most important person on the ship is the navigator.  Over and over, history demonstrates that a tiny error in navigation, an error of one degree, or even a fraction of a degree, multiplied by a voyage of a hundred or a thousand miles, and the ship arrives far from its intended destination.  In our era, as scientists consider how to protect our planet from potentially devastating, city-sized asteroids that may come our way in the future, the answer isn’t enormous rockets with powerful nuclear weapons, but early detection.  If we can discover the danger early enough, small rockets, with tiny nudges, can redirect planet killing asteroids by a fraction, even hundredths, or thousandths of a degree and, over the course of millions of miles, the asteroid never even comes close to us.

As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of another, we often think of what we can do to make the next year better than the last.  But change is intimidating.  Our problems seem to be too big, too powerful, too expensive, or too difficult.

But remember the incredible power of the small.

Losing weight can seem impossible, but what about a pound a week?  Even a half a pound per week means a loss of twenty-five pounds by this time next year.  Drastic changes aren’t needed.  A half a pound per week can be done, gradually, by eating just a little bit less and walking a little more each day and even then, you might have to work up to it a little at a time.  Making big changes is hard, but don’t be afraid to make a little change today, and then a little more next month.

Saving for retirement sounds impossible.  But don’t let the size of the goal scare you from starting small.  Maybe you can’t afford to save hundreds of dollars a month.  But can you, occasionally, give up your morning coffee?  Or pack a lunch instead of going out to eat?  Giving up a stop for a ($2.00) coffee, twenty days each month and banking that, produces almost $50,000 over thirty years at 7 percent interest.  Packing your lunch two days each week and saving another $20 pushes that number to almost $150,000.  That still won’t get you to a comfortable retirement, but one small change can motivate you to make another, and then another, and so on.

Growing our church and adding a hundred new members sounds impossible.  But, like we saw in the previous examples, it’s our focus on the big things that often prevents us from seeing the power of the small things.  No, we can’t plan a single event, or offer any kind of training that will allow us to instantly add a hundred people on Sunday morning.  But, could you find the time to invite one person to have coffee with you this month?  Could you join a new club, or commit to making one new friend in the next year?  How hard would it be to do something nice for a neighbor or someone you know?  Could you make some hot soup for a neighbor when they’re sick?  There are thousands of ways that we can invest ourselves in the lives of the people around us.

But those small acts, done consistently, are incredibly powerful.

If each member of our church reaches just one person this year, we will touch the lives of more than a hundred people in deep and meaningful ways.  And if only ten percent of those people choose to join our church, we will add ten new families.

Most likely, none of us will run for a national political office, or write a best-seller, or have millions of followers on social media.  But just the same, we have the power to transform our church… even change the world.

We have at our disposal the incredible power of the small.

Join me.

Make this year, a year of slow and steady progress.

We can change the world.

One cup of coffee at a time.

 

_____________

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 


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