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First Baptist Church - Palestine, TX

What God Provided

Twenty-six years ago I became a father for the first time. I was young, felt inadequate and unprepared, but yet I felt an incredible love. Sometimes I would hold my daughter and say “can I DO this?”, knowing full well that it was too late to ask that question. It did help my prayer life to grow LOL!

I think in the area of fatherhood, and being the leader of a family, the area where I had to grow most in practice and in understanding was as a provider. Provider has a financial element to it, to be sure, but it is much more than that. Provider refers to security, emotional needs, spiritual needs as well as physical. I realized quickly that if I would grow in my daily walk with the Lord, I could count on Him to help me with the rest.

There are a couple of fathers in the birth of Jesus story that must have had similar concerns. Zechariah had prayed for years for a child, a son, but his wife Elizabeth was barren. When the angel revealed to him that their prayer would come true and this son would be something more than they could have dreamed, Zechariah felt so unworthy that he doubted it. God struck him mute until he believed.

Joseph was put in a precarious position. He was told his soon-to-be wife was pregnant with a child that wasn’t his, that the child was fathered by the Holy Spirit, and oh, by the way, He would be the Messiah. Talk about a large pill to swallow! I’m sure Joseph felt the pressure as a simple carpenter to be all that he needed to be to be father to Jesus.

In both cases, God provided all they needed to fulfill the call He put on their lives. In the same way, God equips each of us to fulfill the call He has put on our lives. He’s called us first to salvation, then to our families and responsibilities and relationships. He will not allow anything in our path that He will not equip us to deal with.

Look at the things God provided in Zechariah’s example – Luke 1:67-69

67 Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied:

68 Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel,
because he has visited
and provided redemption for his people.
69 He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,

  1. God provided the infilling of the Holy Spirit (V67) – the Holy Spirit directs, guides, and comforts
  2. God provided the prophecy or promise (V67) – God told Zechariah what was about to happen. He didn’t give him all of the details, but gave him enough that he would have to trust God for the rest.
  3. God provided His presence (V68) – He “visited” – Zechariah’s doubt came because he put more trust in the works he could see than in the Word he heard. Trust the Word!
  4. God provided redemption (V68) – The Messiah had been promised and prayed for, for ages. Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist, would be key in preparing the people for Christ. God not only provided the path to redemption, He provided the payment.
  5. God provided salvation (v69) – the Scripture calls Him the “horn of salvation”, with the horn referring to strength. Without this horn of salvation, we are lost, desperate, hopeless, aimless, the list goes on… Thank GOD that He has provided salvation!

“God, let me never get over the fact that You called me to salvation”. Our Jehovah-Jireh, our Provider, God provides EVERYTHING we need. Trust His Word.

Blessed,

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church of Palestine, TX

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Blessed Interruptions

By it’s very nature, the word “interruption” is pretty disturbing, isn’t it? Interruption means that the regular flow of things has been disturbed in some way. People come to you and say “I don’t mean to interrupt you…”, meaning that they are apologetic for causing a stoppage in whatever you were already doing in order to hear what they have to say or ask.

Parents with young children will often say they wish they could have one night of uninterrupted sleep or one night out with their spouse, uninterrupted. However, if you think about it, most everything that is really good in your life started with some sort of interruption. Having a child, for example, is an interruption to the regular flow of life, but it’s a good one. A job change is an interruption, but often is a good one. An invitation to lunch or dinner is an interruption but often results in some good fellowship. See what I mean?

The story of the birth of Jesus is full of interruptions. People that were living life, doing their thing, and then BAM, God interrupted their lives with an appointment to be involved with the coming of the Messiah in some way. Let me share a few examples…

Zechariah and Elizabeth – This couple was a great example of righteous living, but there was one issue they were dealing with. Elizabeth was barren – unable to have children. God revealed to Zechariah that they would indeed have a child and this child would be the forerunner of the Messiah, and his name would be John. Zechariah doubted and was struck unable to speak. In time, Zechariah believed, the child was born, and the next words anyone heard Zechariah say were to tell everyone that the child’s name would be John. Pretty important stuff…

Mary – This one is pretty obvious, right? I mean, this was a young virgin girl who was pledged to be married to a carpenter named Joseph and she was prepared to live life as a carpenter’s wife, have children, and be a typical Jewish family. The angel Gabriel came to her and told her she’d been chosen to give birth to the Messiah, but not through natural means – her child would be the child of the Holy Spirit. Her life would never be the same. Though she only had her son 33 years on earth, His work never ends.

Joseph – Ok, you could see this one coming too, I am sure. Joseph was another righteous man, a carpenter. He found a great young woman named Mary who he planned to marry. Their future was set, right? Not so fast… His part is a little more complex in that he was not the physical father of Jesus and he evidently had passed away before Christ went to the cross, but his interruption was divine and blessed.

Wise Men & Magi – The incredible thing about the story of the Wise Men & Magi is that God used a method that would speak uniquely to them to tell them about the Messiah’s birth. He used the stars to speak to those who tried to read the stars. These were not even necessarily God-fearing men, but their course was changed permanently when they felt the tug to follow the star and go and worship the Christ child.

Shepherds & Angels – Shepherds were the lowest on the social scale. God revealed Himself to them and giving them direction to go and visit young Jesus. By this, God showed that it wasn’t just the privileged elite who could know Jesus, it was everyone. Jesus’ birth was humble, the shepherds were humble servants and the angels were used in an incredible way to proclaim this blessed event.

Simeon – Simeon was a righteous Jew who God had revealed something special to. Simeon knew that he would not see death before he had seen the Christ. When Jesus was brought into the Temple at eight days old, Simeon’s revelation became truth, and he held Jesus and said “My eyes have seen your salvation”.

Anna – She was a prophetess who had fasted and worshiped night and day for years and years at the temple. She had been praying for this interruption for decades, and God blessed her faithfulness.

Herod – Even some of the unbelievers got in on the blessed interruptions. He was lying through his teeth when he said he wanted to know where the Christ child was so he could go and worship Him. The fact is, his ego was bruised and he felt his reign was in danger. He was sure this Messiah would bump him off of the throne. He, unlike the others, missed the opportunity for a great blessing in this blessed interruption, and he continued his miserable life apart from Christ.

No manner of intervention or plea by man was able to stop the plan of God. God used every one of these interruptions to glorify Himself and as an opportunity to bring man to Himself.

Every interruption that God allows to happen in your life is an opportunity for God to be glorified. I’m not just talking about the good things either. I’m talking about things like:
Loss of  a loved one
Job turmoil
Financial crisis
Trouble in a relationship

What?? Here I am struggling and asking God “why??” and you are telling me that these are opportunities for God to shine in my life? That’s EXACTLY what I’m saying. God’s Word tells us that it is a privilege to suffer with Christ and for Christ. Does that mean it’s fun? Oh, not always. I realize that.

Take a look at the different interruptions that are going on in your life lately. Rather than panicking and worrying, ask God to show you what He’s trying to accomplish in you and through you. Trust Him for the next step, and the next. Don’t get too far ahead. When you are to the point where you are literally trusting God for your next breath, you are about right. Happy Blessed Interruption season!

Blessed,

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church of Palestine, TX

Membership Has its Privileges

I’m old enough that I remember the decade of the 1980’s very well. Advertising slogans were in abundance. Remember “Where’s the Beef?”

One that has stuck with me for decades (has it really been decades?) is “Membership has its privileges”. Though I don’t really remember anything about the commercials (thanks to DVR I seldom have to watch them now), I do remember that slogan and that it was for American Express. They even had one before that which was pretty memorable too – “Don’t leave home without it”, but I digress…

The idea of “Membership has its privileges” was showing you all of these elaborate vacations, exotic dinners, the ease of changing a flight that was canceled to a first class reservation that still gets you home in time, etc. If you were worthy enough to secure the American Express card, you too could have all of these elaborate things. Of course, they don’t mention the fact that you have to pay for all of those at the end of the month, but I digress again…

I’m sure this was skillfully crafted in some advertising agency and honed and shaped to reach the audience they intended to reach (I mean, I have watched Mad Men. I know how this works…). In any event, it put the idea in one’s mind that this card was on some stratosphere above Visa and MasterCard, and for some, it became some sort of status symbol.

When I think of membership, of course, I think about church membership. Church membership is much more important than American Express, but sometimes we don’t really know why. Different churches handle membership in different ways, and some have more or less done away with official membership. As I look at the New Testament, I see clear illustrations of local church membership, so I don’t think it’s time to do away with valued church membership, nor will it ever be.

The early New Testament Christians in Acts clearly demonstrated a connection to a local body. They met together, they fellowshipped together, they broke bread together, they studied the Word together and they prayed together. Not only that, they helped each other out when there was an issue. To think of the church as simply the church “universal”, as one big church and not to look at it into individual congregations simply is not Biblical.

After all, we see letters written by Paul to the churches at Ephesus, Thessalonica, Colosse, Galatia, etc. We see 7 churches mentioned in the book of Revelation. We see metaphors like the flock, sheep, the body, and the temple. We see phrases like “sheep in the flock”, “member of a family”, and “part of the body”. Instructions were given to elders and pastors to “shepherd the flock among you”. If that is the case, there must be a particular “flock” to lead.

I do think that we probably don’t educate our congregations enough on what membership means or even how it’s dealt with in our individual congregations. I take some blame for that myself. With people being a lot more mobile now than in generations past and with people growing up with different backgrounds, it’s important to educate and inform.

There are only two qualifications for membership, according to Scripture: repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). Once that is secured, generally the rest falls into place. Obviously there are some doctrinal things that must be understood – I don’t want to join something that I don’t share similar beliefs with, for example.

There are a number of reasons why you should join a local church. These include:
1. It indicates we are unashamed to identify with Christ and His people
2. It is impossible to be a fully obedient Christian apart from being a part of a local church.
3. The gifts you were given upon your confession of Christ were given to make the body of Christ stronger – the best understanding of that is within the context of the local church.
4. Membership makes the body of Christ more visible as we have people that identify with a particular body of believers.
5. We are far better together and working together than we are apart.
6. Membership enables my stewardship to be Biblical. How can I bring “the full tithe into the storehouse” if there is no local storehouse that I participate in to bring it to?

There are two basic models for membership. The country club model means I pay may dues and I receive all kinds of perks – people do things for me and I don’t have to do much. I get all of the enjoyment and things are geared toward my desires. The Biblical church membership model says I bring my tithes, I bring my talents, I bring my service and worship to the body and I GET to participate. I GET to serve. People don’t do it for me, I do it for the Lord and other people. That sounds like New Testament to me!

What think you?

Blessed,

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church of Palestine, TX

I Will Be With You

It’s “the day AFTER” . . . some of us are still full from feasting around the table yesterday, and some have a feast or two more to go this weekend. Some are in the midst of “Black Friday” shopping, while others may be waiting for “Cyber Monday”. Some had houses full of relatives or are anticipating gatherings of the same this weekend.

The reality is, those things I just described are the stereotype, but there are many people who were alone yesterday and will be alone all weekend. Others have people around them, but they still feel lonely. Some are grieving because that special loved one is not around for the first time this year. Some have gone through a significant life event and are just looking for a place to breathe… You get the picture…

The holiday season provides great joy for some and great sadness for others. Most would agree that there is some level of stress that is unique to this time of the year. Let me assure you of one thing…

You are not alone

Isaiah 43 has become a favorite passage of mine over the past few years. Well over 2,000 years ago, the prophet Isaiah penned these words that fit perfectly in every generation of God’s people, as a reminder of the grace, mercy and love of Jehovah God.

Isaiah 43:1-3a, But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you.

If you look in the context of a couple of chapters before to a couple of chapters after this passage, you’ll notice the words “Fear not” appear a number of times. Fear is a powerful emotion. It can disable us. The children of Israel were no different. While they were not always faithful, they were always loved and pursued by loving God.

He assured them of their permanent position with Him. He created them, He formed them, He redeemed them, He called them by name…He even said “you are mine”. There is really nothing in this life that can give us more security, now and forevermore, than to know that we belong to God.

God worked “outside the box” to bring glory and honor to His name and to protect His people. He raised up Pharaoh in Egypt to demonstrate His power. He used wicked Herod and cowardly Pontius Pilate to accomplish His plan in the crucifixion of Christ. Nothing escapes the hand of Almighty God. He spoke through a donkey, for crying out loud!

After re-affirming that the children of Israel, the church, if you will, belong to Him, He issued a number of promises, which are just as applicable in 2017 as they were in the day in which they were written:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…Notice it says WHEN and not IF. If you’ve lived life anytime at all, you’ve experienced some rough waters. Water can do some significant damage. We can only swim for so long before our body wears out. If the water rises high enough, it becomes very difficult to stay head above water. Water can erode, it can destroy. If it is left to sit long enough, it can cause mold to develop. God says He will be with us. He doesn’t just sit idly by either. He is continually working and will bring us through those rough waters.

When you pass through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…Again, another WHEN. If you’ve ever been somewhere like New Braunfels and rode on the rapids in a raft, boat or kayak, you know that you have to always be aware of your elements and be prepared, lest you get overwhelmed or overtaken by the running waters. Moving water is very powerful and it can knock us and keep us down. God promises that if we will let Him lead the way, those waters may still come, but they will not overwhelm us. Nothing can take us from God’s hand.

When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you…Still another WHEN. Fire ignites everything it touches, burns whatever it can consume, and it can be devastatingly destructive. However, fire also refines, removes excess, and purifies things. The burning bush was a sign to Moses – it was a bright light that drew him in, but it was not consumed. The fire that you are sure to go through at times can be a bright light that draws others to Him and need not consume or burn us. Again, God pursues us and protects us from greater harm.

Why do the people of God have to go through such things? God also answers that in this passage:

For I am the Lord your God…I am the Holy one of Israel…your Savior…

All of the trials and tribulations, the waters, rivers and fires of life, are given to us for the purpose of washing away all of the unnecessary things and helping us to realize that all we really need is to hold the steady hand of Jehovah God through it all. The glory of God is revealed in these trials. Think of the Gospels . . . when was God’s glory manifested in the most tangible way? When Jesus bowed His head and said “It is finished”, God showed up and showed out.

Whatever you are going through now…whatever you are about to go through…God’s promises are real and sure. Your circumstances may be difficult, but God is not. I heard a pastor say one time that “Ministry is hard, Jesus is not”.

Sometimes life is hard…but Jesus is not…

 

Blessed,

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor
First Baptist Church of Palestine, TX

Noah Had the Right Idea

One of my favorite stories of thankfulness is not one that is typically quoted in sermons or at thanksgiving time. It came to me in one of those “aha” moments in studying a passage of Scripture a number of years ago.

Most of us know the story of Noah – chosen by God to build an ark to help re-start the world. He, his wife, their 3 sons and daughters-in-law boarded the ark and were the sole human survivors in the entire world. They loaded up pairs of various animals that they would have to nurture and care for during this experience. They had no idea how long they would be there or where they would end up, or even what might happen along the way. It was a step of faith, of trust . . . quite a few steps, as a matter of fact.

Have you ever felt sure you were supposed to launch into something, or you were responding to a need by agreeing to take on something, but you didn’t know what you were going to face? Noah was there, in abundance, and had a family and a zoo to provide for with no grocery store or functioning garden to draw from.

People lived a biiiiiiiit longer in those days leading up to the flood. Noah’s father, Lamech, was 182 when Noah was born and lived 595 more years. He died 5 years before the flood. If you are doing the math, yes, you are right . . . Noah was SIX HUNDRED years old when the flood came. He lived another 350 years after the flood. He had plenty of time invested in walking with God. Peter called Noah “a preacher of righteousness” (2 Peter 2:5).

We don’t read of any opposition by Noah’s wife or any of his other family, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t have anxiety about it. They certainly may have. It is clear, however, that they trusted in Jehovah God and trusted that Noah had a Word from God.

By the time the rain came and went and the waters totally subsided enough to inhabit the land again, the total time on the ark was over 365 days. During that time there was times of storm, times of peace, and certainly a lot of waiting, and perhaps asking things like “When, O Lord, is this season going to end?” “Are we going to live the rest of our lives on this ark?” “What will the new world look like?” “Are you taking us to Heaven now?”

Then it happened . . . the day came when God told Noah to “Go out from the ark”. His family, all of the families of animals, they all made their departure from the ark. Much like Nehemiah waited on God’s directive before acting on his burden about the wall around Jerusalem, Noah waited on God to direct before he moved. Now we are to the most important part, as far as I’m concerned….

Noah’s FIRST act upon departing the ark was to build an altar and perform a sacrifice using the best of the very animals he had been caring for on the ark. His first response could have been jubilation, relief, have a party, check out the new-look earth, but instead, his first act was one of worship, one of obedience, one of putting first things first.

Just imagine the covering of grace and peace Noah must have felt. Also, imagine the difficulty of surrendering some animals that you had spent such significant time with together for months. There was nothing that was going to stop Noah from honoring God first!

It was after Noah performed this sacrifice that God smelled the “pleasing aroma” from it, and made the declaration that He would never again curse the ground because of man.

Noah responded to the grace of God by performing an incredible act of worship. God responded to Noah’s incredible act of worship by making a covenant with man.

Maybe it’s time to “build an altar” in your life. I believe Noah was thankful for the grace and mercy of God, for the calling on his life, for relationships, for a port in the storm, for a new beginning, and for the opportunity to worship. Should we be any less thankful than Noah? God has provided all of those things for us. We did not have to experience the storm Noah did, but we have experienced storms. We have been spared eternal death due to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. We have assurance that God will be our port in the storm. Yes, we have reason to give thanks for all of the same things that Noah did.

Maybe your “sacrifice” is to remove some things from your life that are unnecessary or are hindering your spiritual growth. Maybe bowing before God almighty is just the necessary surrender of control that you need to draw you closer in your walk with Him.

As you anticipate Thanskgiving week and all of the potential issues of travel, relationships, cooking, time, loneliness, etc., maybe it’s time to build an altar to adequately prepare. This is done as a response to what God has already done, and in preparation for what He wants to do. May God be glorified and His light shine brightly in and through all of us, through next week, and always.

Blessed,

Tony Watson
Pastor
First Baptist Church – Palestine, TX

It’s All About Relationships

It was a summer night a few years ago. I had played a church softball game earlier in the evening (which proved to be one of the last . . . it came a couple of weeks before the resulting knee surgery, which resulted in Rhonda saying “you’ve played your last game”). I had cleaned up and I picked up a book I had been reading, entitled “Transformational Discipleship”, written by Eric Geiger, Michael Kelley, and Philip Nation.

Originally, I was struck by the word “transformation”, because I realized that was a great word to describe what God could truly do in my life if I would fully yield to Him. I didn’t want to add Jesus to my existing life. I wanted Jesus to transform my life to be in His image.

It was on that night that I got to the chapter which set me on a journey that I’m still on today. In that chapter, the authors issued a challenge to the readers to build Kingdom relationships with intention. They used the phrase “Relationally Intentional”. In other words, our lives should be about looking for opportunities to invest Kingdom love, Kingdom truth, Kingdom compassion, and Kingdom discipleship into the lives of those we encounter.

I was struck . . . and my life has not been the same since. It put into a phrase how I had sought to do ministry for a number of years. There are other “spiritual markers” in my life with other phrases or verses which have altered my course significantly, but this one was different.

Fast forward a bit and the Lord has continued to develop this concept in my heart. In time, the Lord revealed to me that life, if it’s to be lived in obedience to Christ, is all about 5 fundamental relationships. The first two are formative and the last 3 are connective.

  1. God’s relationship to man – Initiation. We are dead men walking until God draws us in by His Holy Spirit. No man comes to the Father on his own. We come as a result of His drawing. John 6:44, No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
  2. Man’s response to God – Transformation. There’s that word again. When I respond to the drawing of God, I begin the process of sanctification, becoming set apart in the image of Christ, which results in a transformation of who I am to who He wants me to be.  2 Corinthians 5:17, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
  3. Man’s relationship to fellow man – Relation. We can only effectively interact with others if we have our relationship with God in proper perspective. Now we can begin to connect with others in a way that brings glory to God.  Every interaction with others is a reflection of our Kingdom view. God will use things that He gives you a love for in order to impact others for the Kingdom. In the past I’ve seen Kingdom relationships develop as I’ve coached my kids in sports, done announcing for ballgames, worked in radio, volunteered in the school or community, or even taking some time to get to know the server at the restaurant or the person who cuts my hair. John 13:34-35, 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
  4. Man’s relationship to church – Connection. People sometimes say “I can be a Christian and not attend church regularly”. My response to that is, you CAN, but you can’t be an obedient one. Our connection to the church is a reflection of the depth of our relationship with Christ and our love for our fellow man. If I’m only attending church to have a worship experience, then I’ve made that involvement too much about me and not enough about worshiping and serving God. Hebrews 10:25, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
  5. Man’s relationship to organizations (community) – Reputation. Every time you walk out of your house, you are a child of God having an opportunity to impact the Kingdom. You may not have a relationship with a school building or a workplace or a grocery store or bank, but you have a relationship with the people that make up that organization, that level of community. I want to have the reputation of one who exalts Christ in all of my relationships, all of my interactions. I’ve had people come to the churches I’ve served and tell me, “I came here in part because I saw you were a ‘regular guy’ outside the church.” Let the life you live on Sunday be the same life you live Monday-Saturday and you can have Kingdom impact in “living life”, while seeking God’s direction for opportunities to take those relationships to the “next level”. We were not created to live life in isolation. Matthew 5:14-15, 14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.

In order for us to effectively impact the world, the community we live in, for Christ, we need to be mindful of opportunities we have to invest Kingdom love and grace in the lives of those we encounter.

Be “relationally intentional” today.

Tony Watson
Senior Pastor – First Baptist Church – Palestine, TX

Can We Make Sense of the Senseless?

For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. – Romans 7:11

The news of the mass shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs has no doubt affected us all. Emotions range from brokenness, to sadness, to anger, to fear, to perhaps even being numb. There is no rational way to make sense of something so senseless, or is there?

Let me clarify…

Is there any circumstance that would make such a horrendous, heartless, and brutal act acceptable in any facet of American society? Certainly not. As Christians, it is compounded by the fact that these are our brothers and sisters in Christ who were attacked, with about half of a congregation lost, and the other half traumatized.

To put this in perspective, understand this . . . every act of harm against mankind is a result of one thing . . . sin. Sin is a result of selfishness, and selfishness is a result of a life lived contrary to God. You have to look no further than Genesis to see the selfishness of Adam and Eve resulting in sin and the consequences of sin being manifested in the hostility between Cain and Abel.

This young man who committed this heinous act yesterday was not being guided by a Savior but by sin. In the above text we see that sin deceives and sin kills. It’s hard for Christians to make sense of it because our sensibilities are guided by the Holy Spirit. For someone not surrendered to the Holy Spirit, selfishness easily becomes sin and sin, once given opportunity to grow, destroys and even kills.

The answer to preventing future tragedies like this has nothing to do with gun laws or even increased security. We have a sin problem, church, plain and simple.

We all battle with sin, but the surrendered child of God will not be mastered by it.

Church, let’s pray for the people of Sutherland Springs, their families, the believers and non-believers alike who follow this story who may be tempted to turn away from God because this situation doesn’t make sense. Let us ask God for the burden for souls, so that we may make Kingdom impact in those we come in contact with.

Tony Watson

11/6/17