Amid Covid – New You

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

As I am ministering to people during this pandemic, it is not uncommon to hear them say, “This is getting old!” They are not speaking in the sense of chronological age or the freshness of fruit; they mean that this pandemic is “getting old” because the last three months have gone from being unexpected, to boring, to mundane, to tiring, to frustrating, to far worse for some. From continued social distancing and extended shutdowns, to wearing masks everywhere we go, we are all getting sick of this virus in one way or another. It is “getting old,” and we long for change—for something new and better. In today’s passage, we have a cure for the discouragement this virus has created—discouragement which keeps us from being all God is calling us to be.

In Christ, we are new creations. One of the most important things this means is that as we live for Christ, we live for others. We live according to the royal law of love (James 2:8) that refuses to be self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13). As new creations in Christ, we are other-oriented; we love our neighbor as we love ourselves and put the interests of others before the self. In Christ we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to shift our focus away from ourselves and keep it on Jesus vertically and others horizontally.

This is what Paul was reminding us of by starting today’s verse with the word “Therefore.” You’ve probably heard it said that whenever you see the word “Therefore” in Scripture, you should stop to see what it’s there for. In this case, Paul’s “therefore” is there to refer us back to what he had just stated in 2 Corinthians 5:14-16, where we are told that we have died with Christ and are no longer living for ourselves. This is the cure for keeping this pandemic from “getting old,” no matter how long it lasts and how old it gets.

Reminding yourself each day that you are a new creation in Christ will renew your mind, recalibrate your heart, and realign your will. It will help you shift your focus away from your circumstances and reset it to where it should be: on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Focusing on the One who lived and died and rose again for you makes everything in life new . . . even the stuff that is getting old, like this pandemic.

Regardless of the road ahead, with its unforeseen twists and turns and obstacles, we can choose to walk in the newness of life God has given us in Christ. When we do, the new creation in us will overcome the effects of this pandemic, and we will show the love and peace of Christ to a lost, broken, and hurting world that desperately needs to know Him.

Christian, He has promised you –

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Cling-On

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Be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to keep his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. (Joshua 22:5)

If you are a fan of the iconic science fiction franchise Star Trek, which spanned 35 seasons of television totaling 774 episodes, going boldly where no man had gone before, you are familiar with the “Klingons.” They were initially antagonists to the crew of the USS Enterprise, but eventually became a close ally of the crew and of all humanity. Well, as you may have guessed, I am going to engage in some wordplay that I believe will provide a word of great encouragement for you as we walk through this pandemic.

The Lord called Moses to lead His people out of bondage in Egypt. Over the years, Moses demonstrated a walk with God that was second to none. In fact, he is the only person ever called “man of God” in the Torah—the first five books of the Old Testament. One of the men who benefited greatly from watching how Moses walked with the Lord was Joshua, who would eventually succeed Moses in leading Israel to the Promised Land.

In today’s passage, Joshua, the battle-hardened hero and sold-out leader of God’s people, had come to the point in his life where it was now his turn to turn over the reins of leadership, just as Moses had done with him years before. And so our Scripture for today provides inspired insight for walking faithfully with God, no matter what obstacles we may face: We are to hold fast—we are to “cling-on”—to God.

The unbelieving world would have us cling on to countless counterfeit gods, such as our appearance, our intellect, our status, our family name, and even our personal power and determination in order to win the day. But Joshua knew better than this. He knew what had equipped Moses to rise above the waves of challenge he faced, and he also knew what compelled him to do the same: clinging onto God with all his might and serving Him with all his heart and soul. It is only when we deliberately cling-on to God that we can overcome the obstacles we face in this life, such as distraction, disconnection, disillusionment, and discouragement.

The best way to walk through this COVID pandemic is to follow the advice of Joshua: We are to become real-life Cling-ons! We are to walk in obedience to God and cling on to Him every step of the way.

Oh, and by the way: When you feel like you might be losing your grip, fear not! He is holding you securely in His hand, and He has promised never to let you go.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Resilient in Change

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Consider it pure joy, whenever you face trials of many kinds. (James 1:2)

One of the inescapable truths I have learned about change over the years is this: Nobody really likes change except a wet baby! Yet change is an unceasing, constant part of life on this earth. You can try as hard as you like to avoid it, but change will inevitably confront you and give your world a shake.

But here is a word of encouragement to keep close to you while you are living in this world of incessant change: The hard moments—moments like this season of global pandemic—will eventually pass away. One of my mom’s favorite sayings was, “This too shall pass,” and we all know that this, too, is an undeniable truth.

Whether we are facing transitions in our work environments or upheavals in our homes, we must learn to deal with change effectively. In a word, we must become resilient, which is the ability to recover quickly from change and adversity and adapt to them. If you and I are to be resilient in the face of difficulty, we must continue to rely on God. Remember that when Jesus told us to “Take heart”—even in the face of trials, troubles, and tribulations—He gave us the reason why we can take heart: because “I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Another truth that will help us face the onslaught of challenging change is the knowledge that God’s greatest goal for us is Christlikeness. God is using every bit of this life—everything that happens to us and around us—to that end. Let me ask you this question: Looking back on your life, did you grow closer to God when the sky was blue and the sun shining brightly . . . or when storm winds blew your way? I have always grown closer to God during seasons of storms. Why? Because resilience is the right response of the redeemed. The Bible continually tells us to press on and persevere, regardless of the circumstances we are facing, and Scripture has provided us with a powerful exhortation: Fall seven times, get up eight (Proverbs 24:16).

Joseph was resilient. Moses was resilient. Esther was resilient. Peter and Paul were resilient. And who doesn’t marvel at the resilience and right response of Job? But remember, Christian, what the enemy of resilience is: an incorrect understanding of what God is doing. Often, we do not know what God is doing in a certain set of circumstances. Yes, we know the ultimate end, but in the moment things can seem capricious or even chaotic. During such times we must remember to “lean not on our own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). God can see the beginning from the end, and He has everything in complete control. We must simply trust our God with all our heart, even when we cannot trace him.

Job, faced with an unimaginably crushing weight of grief and despair after losing all of his children, his wealth, and his health in one devastating series of disasters, cried out to God in his sorrow and confusion. But he also held fast to this truth:

I know that my Redeemer lives,

and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.

And after my skin has been destroyed,

yet in my flesh I will see God;

I myself will see him

with my own eyes — I, and not another.

How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

This is the right response of the resilient.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid- Almighty Antidepressant

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Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:5)

David wrote this psalm when he was on the run from his enemies and his circumstances looked bleak. His enemies despised God and oppressed God’s people—including David, who could not participate in corporate worship at the time.

Can I get a witness? We are all experiencing this gloomy feeling of oppression and isolation to a certain extent at present. But let us follow David’s example: Instead of being crushed under the weight of his circumstances, David rose above them by shifting his focus back to God.

David could have been in a state of deep despair and depression if he had let the circumstances he was facing get the best of him. But he did not. He started talking to himself about his God. It seems to me that in his self-talk, David’s faith was confronting David’s fears. This attitude of worship is the Almighty Antidepressant, and when we apply this kind of self-talk ourselves, our faith will always win out over fear.

Notice that David’s words were directed to himself, not toward his circumstances. David’s hope was the antidote for his hurts. Charles Spurgeon is widely known as “the prince of preachers” for his beautifully articulate and inspiring expositions of the Word of God. What is less known about him is that this great man of God struggled with deep, almost debilitating depression for much of his life. Spurgeon wrote, “Every man is two men; we are duplicates; and it is well sometimes to hold a dialogue with one’s own self. ‘Why are you downcast, O my soul?’ I always notice that as long as I can argue with myself about my depression, I can get out of them. But when both the men within me go down at once, it is a downfall indeed.”

David clearly understood the need to “hold a dialogue with one’s own self” during times of difficulty and discouragement. And when David reminded himself to “Put your hope in God,” he was not using the word hope as the world does. David’s hope was not some nebulous wishful thinking, as in “I hope it doesn’t rain on the Fourth of July.” Biblical hope is the confident assurance of a promised future.

I have said here before that we can go weeks without food, days without water, and minutes without air, but we cannot go one moment without hope. David knew that God is faithful, and that to hope in God is to rest in the expectation that God will always cause everything—even the bad and difficult things in life—to work together for the good of those who love God. That is the truth we all must cling to, especially during distressing seasons like this global pandemic. If you find yourself feeling a bit downcast or disturbed during this time of social distancing, remember to look up and put your hope in God. He will never let you down, and you will yet praise your Savior and your God. That is the Almighty Antidepressant, and this hope is, as the author of Hebrews wrote, “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid-This Pandemic Will Not Prevail

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I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18 ESV)

No matter how long this global pandemic lasts and no matter how many lives it ultimately claims, we can be sure of one thing: COVID-19 cannot and shall not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ. Read on and be encouraged today!

When Jesus said, “The gates of hell shall not prevail” (Matthew 16:18), He was making it perfectly clear that nothing can stand in the way of the advancement of His church. In the ancient world, the first point of attack for an invading army was at the city gates. If the gates could be breached, it would not be long before the city would fall into the hands of the enemy. Thus the city would rise or fall based on the strength and security of its gates.

After telling Peter and the disciples that “The gates of hell shall not prevail,” Jesus began to speak of His death and resurrection. And when Jesus rose from the dead, He became the death of death, and He smashed through the gates of hell that tried to hold Him in their deadly grip.

The greatest enemy of mankind since Adam’s fall in the Garden is death. But when Jesus walked out of the tomb, death died. Death is not master over Jesus (Romans 6:9), and it is no longer master over His people. Even if we were to contract the coronavirus and die, the gates of hell cannot prevail against us. They are not strong enough to hold anyone who is in Christ.

Of course, no one wants to die during this pandemic, and every loss of life is a bitter tragedy. Yet we Christians need not fear, because greater is the power that is in us than any power that can come against us. No matter what happens during this pandemic, and any other pandemic that follows, nothing can stand in the way of the church of God advancing the cause of the Kingdom of Christ. In fact, as I have said here before, this global pandemic is merely an instrument of salvation and sanctification in the hands of the Almighty.

May these words of our Lord, recorded in John 14:19, be forever etched upon your heart: “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Relaxed Restrictions

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“The most important [commandment],” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

As the restrictions designed to slow the spread of the coronavirus are beginning to be relaxed, what is one good thing can you think of that has come out of the quarantine? I’m sure you can think of a few good things . . . and many bad things as well. The good thing that tops my list is the number of “new” neighbors we have been able to meet.

For the past five years, we have walked our golden Labrador, Cali, twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. As we walked the streets of our Fort Lauderdale neighborhood, we would cross paths with the same set of neighbors who were also out walking, jogging, or cycling. However, during the past two months, the sidewalks and the streets in our neighborhood have been filled with many more people than usual, many of whom we had never seen before, giving us new opportunities to connect with a great many more people. Our neighborhood now genuinely feels “neighborly,” and it has provided wonderful opportunities to invite our new friends to join us for online church.

In addition to those who are out exercising, we have also seen more people tending to their yards, planting gardens, and rearranging flower beds. This too has thrown open doors of opportunity to connect with people we had never seen outside their homes, and we have found an unusual willingness in many to shift from casual conversation into a frank discussion of spiritual things. As a pastor, I always welcome these opportunities, and I believe this new openness to the spiritual is God’s way of providing a silver lining to the dark COVID cloud we have all been living under for the past two months.

This global pandemic has captured the attention of the entire world, and I have no doubt that God has been steadily working to expand the cause of His kingdom. As Jesus said, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). And one way He may enlist you and me into that work is simply by setting out for a walk in the neighborhood and being friendly to our neighbors . . . always remembering to keep a respectful distance out of respect for those who are still badly frightened by the coronavirus.

I use this quote from C. S. Lewis often, and it provides a fitting close to today’s word of encouragement:

God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience,

but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

This global pandemic has been a painful time for all of us, and the relaxing of the restrictions on our daily activities probably feels long overdue for many, but let us not lose sight that the Spirit of God has never been restricted—not in these recent weeks or at any time throughout eternity. I believe the Sovereign Lord is using what appears to be a terrible thing—a deadly virus—to accomplish a wondrously good thing: the saving of souls. As for me and my house, we will continue walking our neighborhood and talking with our neighbors, looking for opportunities to share the truth of Jesus Christ, and trusting that God will supply the increase.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Memorial Day Thank You

Memorial Day

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13)

Today is Memorial Day, a federal holiday in the United States, a day set apart for honoring and mourning the military personnel who died while serving in our Armed Forces. To be sure, as we are in the midst of this global pandemic and under gradually easing stay-at-home orders, Memorial Day 2020 will not look like any in our past. There will be no grand parades with throngs of people lining the streets or packed 5K runs to honor of the fallen. The traditional picnics and barbeques at parks and beaches will be confined to individual families at home. Even the public ceremonies of placing of flags at military gravesites will be done in a restrictive manner in order to comply with social distancing restrictions. This is indeed an unprecedented time for our generation!

Memorial Day weekend is also the official start to the summer. However, most beaches are still closed, as are many travel destinations. So with limited travel and few events to engage in, perhaps you and I can use this a time for deeper reflection on and thanksgiving for all the freedoms we do have in America, freedoms which have been secured by the sacrificial service of the brave men and women who protect our great nation.

Social distancing orders have not been easy on any of us, simply because we are social creatures. Remember, in all that God declared to be “good” in the creation narrative, the one thing He said was not good is for us to be alone. We were made for community, plain and simple. To be sure, we are saved individually, but we are saved to community, and only in community will we fully grow and mature in our faith.

This Memorial Day being so unusual because of this unprecedented time of social distancing should bring home to us a powerful reminder of the sacrifice our military personnel actually enlisted for. You and I are frustrated because we cannot be with our friends and family for fear of the virus; for the men and women of our Armed Services, being separated from friends and family is a daily fact of life.

First, our brave men and women gave up their comfortable lives at home, often travelling to the far side of the world to serve for months at a time. Second, they signed up to live in environments of dangerous isolation to defend our country. And finally, on this day, we remember that many of those men and women made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free by laying down their lives for us. As Jesus said, there is no greater love.

So when it comes to remembering our brave men and women who fought and died protecting our freedoms, know this: all paid some . . . some paid all . . . and they were all willing to endure extended, repeated absences from loved one to do so.

I’d like to conclude by borrowing from something former President Ronald Reagan said about the United States Marine Corps. In no way do I wish to minimize the exemplary history and service of the Marines, but I do believe that President Reagan’s words can be expanded to include all those who served in every branch:

Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in this world. Those who served to protect our freedoms don’t have that problem.

May God bless our military personnel. You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Quarantine Question

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“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)

During this unprecedented and unpredictable time of quarantine, where do we turn to find the comfort we so desperately need? Some turn to TV binge-watching. Others indulge in favorite foods. Still others engage in activities and hobbies. As I have been driving our South Florida streets in recent weeks, I would surmise that many people have turned to physical fitness. It’s certainly true that these and many other activities can provide some measure of comfort, but if we stop there, we will find ourselves devoid of the true comfort that we so desperately need.

Where have you been turning in search of comfort? If we turn to some form of activity in search of comfort, we will find that even the really positive ones serve as little more than a distraction from the stress and loneliness and uncertainty we are all experiencing to some degree during this pandemic. But when we turn to the Almighty, we discover rich deliverance from that stress, loneliness, and uncertainty. In our passage for today, we read that Jesus turned to His disciples after a number of people who had been following Him had turned away and asked them directly, “You do not want to leave too, do you?”

Why did so many desert Jesus? Because He was not leading them in the direction they wanted to go. The people wanted a military leader. They wanted a political personality. They wanted an earthly king who would reestablish the throne of David in Jerusalem. But this was not why Jesus came into this world. He came not to remove the power of Rome over Israel, but to remove the power of sin, Satan, and death over the whole world by dying on a cross. When the people realized that Jesus was not going to give them what they wanted, they turned away and no longer followed him (John 6:66).

To be sure, no one wants a global pandemic. No one wants to have their lives put on hold. At times like this, we are all confronted with two choices: we can walk away from Jesus or we can press even closer to Him, no matter where He is leading. Remember, Jesus promised that we will experience painful providences in this life (John 16:33), but He also promised to be with us in them and through them . . . and that includes this global pandemic.

There is nothing wrong with turning to some healthy activities that will distract us for a time and provide us a measure of comfort. But to experience the kind of comfort we need to actually flourish during these uncertain days, we must turn to the Almighty, who will provide us lasting comfort in this life and eternal joy in the next.

Peter really said it all: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Perhaps he was recalling the words of the psalmist –

I lift up my eyes to the hills —

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2)

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid – Pandemic Pressure

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Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

Scripture tells us and personal experience confirms that there are some blessings that will only be found on the other side of pressure . . . because pressure in the hands of God results in our ultimate good and His eternal glory. Read on and be encouraged today!

It is the squeezed fruit that produces the juice . . . the crushed flower that produces the perfume . . . and the highly sought-after diamond is formed under a combination of high temperatures and extreme pressure in the earth’s mantle. So here is the question we all must ask ourselves:

What is produced when we are squeezed, crushed, and put under a combination of high temperatures and extreme pressure?

To be sure, the coronavirus pandemic has created profound pressure on us all, from social distancing to living under virtual house arrest to disruptions in both our work and our play. The question is not whether we are all feeling this pandemic pressure; the question is what we are choosing to do with it. Charles Swindoll, whose Insight for Living radio program is heard all over the world, once aptly said that “Life is ten percent what happens to me and ninety percent what I make of it.” Remember, it’s not what happens to you that makes the greatest difference in your life; it’s what you do with what happens that does.

Here are three things to remember about this pandemic pressure:

  • Pandemic pressure is experienced by everyone.
  • Pandemic pressure is only temporary.
  • Pandemic pressure is being used by God for our good and His glory.

Being hammered on the anvil of the Almighty is indeed painful, but God has a purpose for our pain, and He will not expose us to more than we need or we can handle. God is at work maturing us, making us complete, and conforming us to the image and likeness of Jesus. This pandemic pressure has not been delivered to destroy us, but rather to demonstrate God’s ability to work through us to achieve His highest good in our lives: Christlikeness.

So . . . what has this pandemic pressure been producing in you lately?

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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Amid Covid-Treasure Hunters

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Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:19-21)

In just two short months, the coronavirus pandemic has helped many to uncover what their true treasures are in this life. In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made it crystal clear that everyone is a treasure hunter. The question is, What treasures are we hunting for?

Jesus is telling us that we have only two choices with it comes to treasure hunting: we can seek earth-bound treasures or heaven-bound treasures. For many, this COVID-19 pandemic, which caught us all by complete surprise, has exposed those earthbound treasures we have been hunting for. Think about it this way; most people do not set out to allow the goal of their profession to dominate their lives and become their most important treasure. But sadly, this happens for many. Others never intentionally set a course for finding happiness through the acquisition of material things. But again, sadly, this happens for many.

What treasures have you been hunting lately? Saul of Tarsus discovered his true treasure on the road to Damascus. In a single, defining pandemic moment in his life, Saul went from persecuting Jesus as the Pharisee of Pharisees to praising His mighty name as the apostle Paul. Later he was moved by the Spirit of God to write —

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. (Philippians 3:8-9)

This coronavirus has caused many to reevaluate the treasures they had been pursuing. Storing up treasures on earth shrinks the size of our lives down to the size of our lives. And living for the self is suffocating. For many, this time of sequestered living has caused them to see what true treasure is—faith, family, and friends—and to make these relationships the object of their treasure hunting. They have begun storing up for themselves treasures in heaven. How is it with you? Has this pandemic impacted your treasure hunting in any way? To be sure, this could be one of God’s purposes in sending it.

You are in my prayers and in my heart.

Purpose and Passion,

Pastor Tommy

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