sydney

Dear Justin Bieber,

First off, welcome to Sydney, Australia! Hope you are enjoying your time here so far and that you've gotten to see some of the great things our city has to offer. If you ever have the chance, head over to Newtown Brewtown, they have some of the best cronuts that you just gotta try. But anyway, obviously it is no secret that you are here for Hillsong's annual conference - it's all over the news and A Current Affair even did a piece on it. While I was at the gym today I was able to get a glimpse of what they were saying - don't even bother with it because it's totally exaggerated. Even if one part of it turns out to be true don't pay attention to any of it. While I have never been famous or in your shoes I encourage you to keep on doing you and block the rest of it out. Not just what A Current Affair had to say but what every other person has to say too. There will always be people who frown upon your actions, doubt your beliefs, or find it hard to trust what you say but that's okay because Jesus knows your heart. He has seen your struggle, your journey and yet He still continues to walk the path with you by choice! Be comforted in that truth. Yes you have had some run-ins with the law, your personal life isn't so personal and everyone knows how many times you've snuck into clubs while still being underage but we all have pasts. I don't say that to make you look worse off but so you can realise, there hasn't been a preacher or a pastor nor a person in the pews that is exempt from sin. We all make mistakes and no matter what, we will probably continue to make them - that's what we get for being human. More importantly, because we are human we also get Christ and because of Him we all get futures worth living  and worth looking forward to regardless of our pasts.

Some may call me naive, ignorant, or blindsighted by your fame for saying this but, "Go you!" E.E. Cummings once said, "It takes great courage to grow up and be who you really are." I believe it takes an even greater amount of courage to do that in the public eye. Everything you do will be scrutinised so don't feel like you need to be anything else but who you want to be and who God is calling you to be. Surround yourself with people and pastors -as you have- who will help support you (Eccl 4:9-12 & 1 Thess 5:11).

Like I said, people will come along and comment and maybe their comments will seem real, don't let it get to you. You've been given the life you have for a reason, enjoy it and go to Him daily to help you walk it - only He knows how to do it right.

Love you brother and always rooting & praying for you, Teni

 

 

Sidenote: While this letter is mainly addressed to Justin Beiber, it's also for those who find themselves in similar situations. Just because those around you see you as something different doesn't mean anything. There is grace in Jesus, there is love and forgiveness in Him too. Turning to him (or back to Him after a long period of time away) won't make you look like a fake or fraud in His eyes. It shows that you are a human in need of what only the Heavenly Father can provide (Luke 15:10). So it's with that that I end by saying, let go and let God. :)

Never lose your wonder.

 No matter where life leads you I hope you are never so consumed by the enormity of it all that you overlook the small wonders presented to you daily.

A few weekends back my family and a few friends took a drive few hours south to visit the small town of Kiama. Although Australia has many other cities worth exploring, we decided to take a day trip and stay a little local. So without further adieu, here are a few photos from that glorious Saturday.

Kiama, you are as gorgeous and breath-taking as ever. Your small town charm reminds me to be grateful for everything I have the chance to see.  I could not have put these words from Bethel Music any better myself when they said:

"May we never lose our wonder. May we never lose our wonder. Wide-eyed and mystafied, may we be just like child staring at the wonder of our king."

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West Coast (will secretly always be the) Best Coast

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q04mXgwE8fQ[/embed]

 

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve flown back to Sydney but I must say Oregon, you’ve done it yet again. You’ve managed to leave me with nothing but sweet memories and a heart that longs for more. There were still people I wanted to meet and places I wanted to go but at some point I had to stop trying to squeeze everything in.  My dear friend and cousin had to remind me to just go with the flow. If I preoccupy myself with trying to plan life I will definitely miss living it.

So, with that said, thank you so much Oregon for one of the best (and shortest) weeks I’ve had in a while. Miss you heaps. Here’s to another (and hopefully soon) merge in our paths.

Stay golden.

Beyond My Borders: Joe George

My name is Joe Varghese George and I have been living in Sydney for close to 6 years now. I have to take a deep breath when people here ask me where I’m from as I prepare to elaborate. I know my skin colour gives away my Indian decent but I also know that  peoples lack of knowledge of the part of the world I’m from can throw them off with what I’m about to say next. So I don’t wait around to risk misjudgment and begin my longer-than-needed explanation that starts with the fact that I was born and raised in a place called Qatar. For the ones that have a confused look at this point or the Oh-yeah-I’ve-heard-Calcutta look, I have to clarify that it’s not Calcutta but rather a separate country, an Arab one, close to Dubai. And usually after the utterance of the name Dubai, everyone starts feeling at ease and that we’re making progress. From there I move on to clarify that I’m not Arab but I am originally from India. In fact, I come from a state called Kerala in the south of India. It is sooo beautiful that you have to look it up soon after reading this.

I chose to come study at the University of New South Wales after my high school. To me it was an exciting prospect. Living life on my own terms, growing into a real man, going to this fascinating new place and meeting new people, were all the fun things I was looking forward to as an 18 year old. The first year went by so quickly. I enjoyed the thrill of being challenged with many things that I never had to do before like finding my own place to live, managing my own expenses and COOKING! Not everything was rosy all the time. In fact, I got ganged up on and beat up by a bunch of teens one day while trying to mug me in my first visit to the city. It was all so new to me, you know this attacking-you-in-public thing. I came from Qatar, I’d believed the number of educated people in Australia was more than that in Qatar, yet I had never experienced such behaviour over there. I was left traumatized for a while after that incident.  But soon after I got a job in the city, a night shift at that. It helped me slowly overcome my fears and to be bolder and better prepared to act if it ever happened again. And I guess it brings me to the best part of living in a new country all by yourself….it is the realization that life moves on and you can chose to curl up in fear or overcome it and keep up and move on to better days. Since I knew I couldn’t afford to do the former, I had to start moving again. Yeah trust me that took many moments of being stuck, being scared and being alone, feeling far from home, to be this bold. I’m grateful for all of it.

Anyway, after my first year in Sydney I went back to visit my family and other important people and I must admit it was difficult to go back to living on my own, at least on the flight back it felt terrible. But I knew that I had things to get done so I kept at it. So, through many dangers, toils and snares, I finally got over with Uni… the reason I’d come to Sydney, and I had a choice to make of what was next for me. But I soon realized that I had found a home, away from home. In fact, I’m still confused of where “home” is. I realized that over these 6 years I’ve made some great friends that I can see myself doing life with. I’ve realized that when you let yourself to be vulnerable, you find friends. You find family. Over the course of events I had to really define my beliefs and something that was important to me…I had to ask myself who God was to me and how I really saw him. I had to taste God for myself and I can say honestly, how good he has been! I’ve become my own person in Sydney, albeit my foundations were shaken and re-cast. As cliché as it sounds, I found myself. I know more about me today, than I would have ever known in the comfort of my home.

Soooooooooooo…. The big finish! Get out there while you are still young! If anything, we grow! Why not grow with some great experiences, good and bad. Experiences that make you think about the way you see others; Experiences that make you think who about you want to be; Experiences that make you appreciate life and the people in it. So I say to anyone contemplating moving out beyond your borders, whatever that may be to you, be excited about new things, excited about discovering new places, discovering new people and more interestingly discovering yourself in the process. These experiences open up your mind to see things differently. So I say to you, in the words of princess Elsa, let it go….let it go…don’t hold back any more.

Post Post-Grad

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    Some posts ago I said I was finishing up grad school in less than one week, however things have changed! Now, a few blog posts later and grad school has been over for the last 3 weeks (No matter how many times I say that out loud or in my head, realizations like that make me squeel like a little girl who was just hugged by Harry Styles). 

      Given that, I’m sure everybody wants to know what my future plans are (and by everybody I mean probably just my parents, siblings, and a few relatives who have invested a lot of time, words of wisdom, prayers, money, extra bedrooms for me to crash in, and effort into any part of my educational career). Well let me tell you, my plans post post-grad go as follows:

1. Live life. 
2. Repeat step one while doing so in Sydney, Australia. 

      Yep, 12 years of grade school, 4 years of secondary eduction and a one-and-half-year post-graduate degree later the best answer I can come up with is to live life. I’m aware of the fact that my answer doesn’t sound too thorough or stable but still… Isn’t that the best answer any of us can come up with?
      The year before I graduated college I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Truth be told, that was a grand part of the reason why I decided to go to get my master’s degree. Everyone around me at the time had some sense of what they wanted, what they were good at (Maybe I missed the memo about that meeting). So I did what I usually do in situations like that, I prayed. Afterwards I sent in my application for grad school and that was that. 
      While my  time spent in school  did help me figure out more of  what I was interested in it didn’t help me figure out what exactly I could and would do. That part was all God. He helped me realize that the years I spent stuck having a one-track mind were actually limiting me. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to make a general goal of where you’d like to be in x-amount of years but we can never successfully devise the actual  steps to get there (Proverbs 16:9 || Jeremiah 29:11). That part, again is all God.
      “Be open to new, to the unknown and the unexperienced”, He said. “That’s where unexpected opportunities and trust in who I Am have the best chance of thriving.” He constantly had to remind me that He knows the desires of my heart - of all of ours - the depths of my mind, and the ability of my hands. He would not have given such things to all of us us if were supposed to stay glued to one thing  for the rest of our lives. 
      So here goes nothing everything. Here is to taking time to design more stuff, starting a  business of my own, volunteering, blogging more, growing roots, listening to people’s stories, taking pride in how far we all have come, late nights followed by late mornings or early mornings preceded by early nights, helping others, sharing my love of Christ with the world, strengthening relationships, travelling, more photos, getting blown away by God’s unconditional and unending grace, new connections, roads less traveled, new customs, old traditions, family, friends, strangers, peers, co-workers, love, never stopping my education long after school has ended, unplanned moments, meticulously planned schedules,
living, imagination, faith, and excitement. 

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My City Saturday pt. 1

Here is to the trip that almost didn’t happen because I was so focused on work. Psalm 23:2 says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul." Sometimes instead of planning and planning and planning just stop. Breath. Take a break and enjoy your surroundings. It’s all too easy to give the excuse and say we are working for a better life when we don’t realize that that better is here around us already.

Thank you to my cousin, Ang who helped me to realize that weekend, breaks are okay.

Movin' to the country, gon' eat me lotta peaches

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If you’re like me and you have ventured out to the great unknown or are planning to, here is a compilation of a few things - some practical and some more personal - I have learned about moving to another city/country/continent (Pick one that suits you best).

Leave your baggage behind. Your future self will thank you for it. When you forgo all the things that you only think you need and hold on to items of actual importance and quality your view of everything changes for the better. And I am not simply talking about physical items either, I mean things like moments and emotions too. Travel light and go further. Not to mention, it gives you a great excuse to fully immerse yourself in that new culture and get accustomed to something else.

"If you use the same bricks from your old house to build a new home, you’re gonna get the same results." While it’s cool to say that you were given a fresh start it’s not cool have spent all your time wasting it. Use this opportune time to exceed your past expectations. Put in more work. Change your style. Be adventurous. Be an introvert. Start going on daily walks. Go ahead and put your first dollar into that savings account you’ve been planning to create for the last 5 years. Read a book. Join a plant club. Now is the best time to do anything.

Take public transportation for the first 3 months. Your future self will also thank  you for this because when you finally get that yellow Lambo you will have  a better sense of your surroundings and  actually know where you’re going.

Know that it is MORE than okay to not make friends within the first few months of your arrival. There are a lot of blogs out there that advise you to make all the besties you can but I want you to know, it’s okay if you don’t follow that path. I’m not saying you will go through the same thing, but because I expected to have great friends off the bat actually made it harder and a lot more disappointing when it didn’t happen. However, I used that time to connect with God and with myself (see 2 paragraphs below). Eventually, I did find (actually, more like they found me) a really solid group of people that I have come to call family.

Work. You may have come here to start anew, climb up the (add your preferred field of work here) ladder but things will take time. Be prepared to use your brain, hands and heart to (l)earn all that you can.

Hang out with yourself. And no  I’m not just talking about spending alone time at home and watching T.V. I mean go out, have coffee, attend an exhibition at your local - or the next town over - museum. Be open to new. Get to know yourself again. Chances are, with a change in location, you also have a few changes in personality. Find out what you don’t like anymore, or get invested in something you have now come to love. Additionally, with that said, don’t forget old “habits”. These are the things that ground you. For me, it’s spending time with God by reading the Bible, praying, and listing to praise and worship music. It helps me to remember that although I took this trip by myself I am not alone. For you, it could be talking to your sister at least once a week, finding time to cook dinner during the weekend, running in the mornings, etc.

Start a savings account like ASAP. Don’t say that you just spent all your money on food, gas, rent, internet, etc. Blah, blah, blah. All that was heard was a  long list of excuses. You can start with putting at least one dollar a day away and build on it from there.

Ask questions. Don’t be a nervous Nicholas and think asking will make you look dumb. You know what will, walking around the same intersection for more than 10 minutes because you thought you could figure it out yourself. Same goes with everything else, ask what’s in the food before you spend 20 dollars on the plate, raise your hand in class when the word “ute” gets brought up like 20 times and you have no clue what a ute is, stop someone so you can find out what time it is, etc. Just ask questions.

Call home at least once a week and keep in contact with your friends. I would say no explanation needed here but I really want to drive this point home. Don’t forget where you came from and the support system that helped you to get to where you are. It’s all too easy to go a while without reaching out but even if it’s just a little  text or email to say “I miss you”.  Also, never  ever underestimate the power of leaving a message. Just because they didn’t pick up on the first try, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t love to hear you when they get the chance to check their voice mail (Call me cray but I still have a few messages saved from my siblings and parents from over a year ago just because it warms my heart to hear them when I know they can’t talk).

 I’ve said it before (#6) but I’ll repeat myself for good measure. Tread cautiously when it comes to social network pages. Don’t spend so much time on those sites and end up wishing you had a different life. Pictures and posts from other people only tell you 1/4 of the story and none of the true struggle. I can assure you that they are going through the same thing you are.

Oh yes, and lastly, stay thankful. There will be moments where you will question your reasoning and/or sanity for being here  but remember how blessed you are to be in a position that thousands of others would fight tooth and nail for. You might think you have gotten nowhere but I bet if your 6-year-old self could, he or she would PROUDLY bring you in to show you off on career day.

From Portland, Oregon to Sydney, Australia

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This time last year I was a 21-year-old girl with two suitcases to her name and a head full of dreams. Today I’m still that same girl, only I’m 22, those suitcases are now unpacked with the belongings settled in my closet, and that head of mine now has bigger dreams.

These last 12 months have been such a whirlwind of emotions, thoughts, and actions. I’m finding it quite difficult to actually sum up everything I’ve been through to present to you guys in a cute little package. However, as I write this, the song Oceans by Hillsong comes to mind.

For all the countless times this song has been played and the  of hundreds of  others that it has been quoted on one blog or another, I am sure that with each one this song has held a different meaning.

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"Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I will call upon Your Name
Keep my eyes above the waves
My soul will rest in Your embrace
I am Yours and You are mine”

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My year has been nothing like I planned or hoped but with that said, it has actually been far better and greater than I imagined. Never would I have imagined myself leading a small campus youth group while en route to becoming a campus minister (Don’t let the title scare you There are no tight white collars and lack of colors around here). I surely would not have seen myself befriending the people I have today - not because of who they are but because of who I was. Lastly, amongst many other unmentioned things, everyday I seem to fall in love with God and His grace a bit more than I think to be possible.

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As easy as it was to list all those things that I have been blessed with, getting them was not. I’ve had my fair share of troubles and doubts, times where all I wanted to do was run back home, travel back in time and pretend that my problems were not my own. However, I couldn’t and the the realization that I couldn’t was painful and surprisingly tiring.

Australia is not some place where you go and the sun shines ever yday, life is  easy and full. It is not the place where your dreams come true… unless you will it to be. For a good portion of this last year, I relied solely on the fact that I had moved to AUSTRALIA! , and that living here would all of a sudden make my life cool and complete. But like any unstable foundation, that excuse started to crumble. God showed me that even the greenest of grasses can turn brown without Him. The most beautiful places on earth are mere smudges without His guiding hand to help you see.

That is one of the biggest lessons I have learned this year. I think God brought me to this exact place to help me realize that. It took a lot of hard work on my part and unreasonable amounts of patience, grace, love, and understanding on His to get me to this permanent mindset.

So whether this next year brings me back Oregon rain or keeps me under Sydney sun, I know I am going to be okay and even more grateful for any position I am put in.

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Lastly, to all who were with me from the beginning or even yesterday; if you read a blog post or all of them; encouraged me; missed sleep because of the crazy Australia-America time difference just to give me an ear to talk to; dished out advice or a mouthful of prayer; if you are family, friends, or just an acquittance; whatever hand you put in or fingerprint you left upon my life I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart. This journey and my life would not be the same without you. The blessings you all have been to me, I pray the same for you 100 fold. I love you guys.

While we're at it...

This specific post is 3 months and one day late so please forgive me for my tardiness. For my 22nd birthday a group of friends and I decided to throw a low key celebration and have a picnic. It literally turned into a dog day afternoon. So, while I’m on a roll of posting photographs, I thought might as well post a wee bit more. Here are a portion of the pictures taken that day.

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I think that this was sincerely one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. I got to share it with my friend, who I now call twin, it was extremely relaxing, and obviously, I was in the company of some amazing people. But beyond that, it was the first birthday where I woke up with nothing but thanks to God for getting me through another year. I mean, not only did He get me through it, He carried me through. I know I have the tendency to rant on about how good God is to me but I do it because it never ceases to leave me in awe. I honestly do not deserve even half as much as the next but every single day God shows up and puts His love on blast. And the best part is, He has that same level love for every single person. I think waking up with that in mind has got to be the best birthday gift ever.

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Bye Bye Ms. American Pie

I had my first American visitor fly over in December. My friend Adaora came all 7,703 miles from Portland, Oregon to see me - well that and I guess the Sydney sites but who’s keeping track? Ok, so I guess while I’m being honest I did use her as an excuse to behave like a tourist myself. Here are a few snapshots from our time together.

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Just because it’s not mounted on glass frame in a fancy building  doesn’t mean it’s not art. We saw quite a lot of graffiti around town and some of the murals were so good it was like getting a free walking art tour.

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While we did see a lot of the famous sites like the Sydney Bridge and the Sydney Harbour we saw a lot of local places too. I suggest that if you do ever travel - or if you happen to stay at home - get to know the city. I mean the real city and not just the main attractions.

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These two weeks (and three days) went by all too fast but I’m so thankful that she was able to take some time to come visit. Love you Adaora!

Reblog: Creative Team Night 101

    There are many teams that act as the gears to my church but I think the one I feel the strongest towards is the creative department. That probably has something to do with the fact that work in that department but whatevs.
    Recently I came across Hillsong's blog called Hillsong Collected. Being a creative myself, when I read this post I found it inspiring and down right awesome! So awesome I thought I would share it with you guys.

Happy Readings,    
Teniola

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There’s something pretty unique about Thursday nights at Hillsong Church. It’s the night that our creative community gathers, first in Australia and then slowly as the clock moves, right across the globe. It’s one of my favourite nights of the week, and I look forward to it with great anticipation and excitement.

Our creative team has an incredible responsibility within our church to help create a picture of who God is through using the gifts and talents that we have been given. Within our church, the creative department encompasses many areas, not only worship music and singers, but spans production, TV, filmmakers, artists, writers, costumer designers, youth and kids worship teams, stage managers, designers, and regular people who choose to belong to this beautiful melding pot of people.

Often I get emails about why our team gather weekly from people outside of our context, and so I thought that I would share just a few of these reasons with you.

1. We gather to rehearse and prepare for the weekends.

It is our firm belief that God deserves our very best. We have a responsibility to lead the church in worship as best as we are able. As a result, there is a need to practice, to hone our crafts, to steward our gifts and to learn how to better work together in a team. Rehearsals allow us that opportunity. We make mistakes, modifications and then continue to rehearse until we know that what we will bring on Sunday, as people gather to seek God, is the best we are able to. Our aim is that we want to play a small part in helping people to encounter God, and by getting better hopefully people are helped by what we bring, not hindered by it. That’s what excellence is, a commitment to bringing your personal best to the table, and a commitment to ongoing improvement.

2. We gather because we love hanging out.

The truth is that our creative community actually likes each other. We find a sense of commonality in our quest to worship God with our gifts and talents. We find a commonality in our love for The Church, in our love for Jesus and in our love for the people of God. On Thursdays we are seeking to build a community that makes a big church seem smaller. That places value on each person who calls Hillsong Church their home, and that allows everyone to find a place to belong.

3. We gather to inspire each other and instil courage.

On Thursday nights we “have a go”. Sometimes we bring new songs, we try new ways of worshipping, watch our dancers let loose, or hear from artists endeavouring to capture beauty on canvas. We are inspired by pieces our writers craft, or moved by photos or music that our team is creating. Thursdays create a place where we can try things and fail, or try things and succeed, whatever way, we watch each other take steps toward becoming more and more creative. We find each other looking for words and ways to describe God differently to inspire worship and adoration from others. We want to find ways to help people see God is working amongst us and on the earth.

4. Gathering together shapes our culture.

On Thursdays we come together to worship. We are not performers on a platform, but people transformed by the love of God and living in response to this love. We listen to people within our team encourage us from the Bible and their own lives, which is causing leaders to rise up from within the ranks of our own team. We give to see the Kingdom of God advance, which is creating generous people. We serve so that others may encounter Jesus, which is allowing people to realise that life is bigger than themselves, and one of the greatest blessings in life is to give our lives away for the sake of others.

We attend master classes, coaching groups to refine our talents, unearth new gifts, and practice in preparation for what may be required of us. We laugh, we cry (some more than others), we share life and hopefully little by little become more Christ like. When we gather together we find ourselves united around a common goal, we are able to articulate why we do what we do and who we do it for.

If you ever find yourself at Hillsong Church, our creative community is open to you. Join us in Australia at our Hills, City, Southwest, Brisbane and Melbourne campuses at 7pm Thursdays. You’d be welcome!

Cass

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Got That Mad Luv.

  I have so much love for my church. I love the fact that you can come in and put a name to every face you see. I love the fact that church members have such a strong relationship with the pastors that asking them for a ride home is never considered out of the question. I love that while there are distinct areas and ministries in the church no one is ever too proud to help out or unwilling to lend a hand in an area they’ve never dealt with before. With all that said, what I love the most about my church is the commitment every single person puts into making the church what it is – it’s a commitment that is unfailing and unwavering.
    While we may not have a large building or even up to 200 people, one would think otherwise with all the love, time, and consideration put into our services. Every Sunday and even on the days between I see a work ethic that is nothing short of inspiring. You yourself cannot help but be impacted by it. Members, pastors, and volunteers make an effort to put on something that will personally touch the lives of the people who make it out each weekend.
    What I have learned over the last seven months of being here is that fame does not matter, and neither does size. I have been a part of bigger churches - churches that have their own CDs, stations, and PR team. Don’t get me wrong, I sincerely root for those churches too because I believe in spreading the gospel in any and all ways possible. However, the church I go to does not have that, they are of a modest size but one with the heart of ten giants. They believe that even if only four people show up those four people are everything.  Those four people ought to be cared for and shown that no matter who they are,  no matter where they come from or what denomination they are a part of that they matter to the church and to God. I believe that that right there is the epitome of attention to detail. It is no gimmick, rouse, facade or embellishment on who they are -what you see is honestly what you get.
    Which reminds me, I was at a business seminar a few weeks back and the keynote speaker brought up church. He said, whatever church you go to surely you must consider it to be the best one out there otherwise you wouldn’t go to it. How true is that? If I didn’t think my church was the best I would have looked for another one already. I must say, because of the work and care put into this church so much light shines out  and that light is what draws me close.  I am so blessed by the people that make up this body of Christ-followers and so grateful that God has continued to bless me with their company and presence in my life.

I love you God for that and love you church for you are and what you do.

*I’m not here to advertise to or persuade anyone on religion, that’s a choice you have to make yourself.  Nonetheless, if you ever do find yourself questioning or considering, in need of a prayer, or just wanna talk, come to Every Nation. Our doors are always open.