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Clement of Alexandria: Supplying needs

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10

“It is right to supply needs, but it is not well to support laziness.”

Clement of Alexandria (c. 195) as recounted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. by David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998) 9.

When we think about almsgiving, we should see ourselves as suppliers of those who either can’t work or whose work still leaves them in a place of need. We should not, however, serve as enablers to those who can work but are relying on handouts from others.

In other words, our resources should go to the faithful who have real needs. It’s why in the parable of the minas the Master takes the one mina from the “wicked” (the biblical term for “lazy and unfaithful”) servant and gives it to the one with ten minas (cf. Luke 19:11-27).

This Lent, when you think of giving to someone in need, give to someone who is working diligently and yet has lack. If you know a person who is lazy, don’t give them a handout, but rather a hand up. Encourage them to put their gifts and resources to work.

God blesses us with surplus to supply needs which results in praise to God. We do well not by keeping them for ourselves or by giving them to lazy people, but by resourcing those who can’t work or whose faithful efforts leave them in a place of need. To such as these, give alms richly this Lent (and in life after Lent).

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Shepherd of Hermas: Pray with humility

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

“Every prayer should be accompanied with humility. Fast, therefore, and you will obtain from the Lord what you plead for.”

Shepherd of Hermas (c. AD 100-160) 2.16, as recounted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. by David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998) 274.

To pray with humility is to set aside your desires for God’s heart. The “setting aside” of “your desires” part is fasting. We do this so we can experience God lifting us up and giving us what we really need.

I don’t where today’s post finds you. But I pray, as you fast this Lent and set aside your desires, that you receive what you desire from God and so much more because you fasted and prayed with humility and because He is so generous.

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Cyprian of Carthage: Arguments and Excuses

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46

“How do we reply to the arguments and excuses of the rich who refuse to give alms? How can we defend the wealthy whose minds are barren and confused? Who can we excuse them…What greater things could Christ say to us [than this biblical text]? What better way could He encourage us to works of justice and mercy than to say that such acts are done to Himself and that He is offended when we fail to reach out to the poor and needy? Those in the church who are not moved to help a brother or sister may be encouraged when they see how Christ is involved, and those who do not help the suffering may remember that our Lord is in that person who needs our help.”

Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200-258) in “On Works and Almsgiving” in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity by Helen Rhee (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 46-47.

Cyprian struggled with the lack of sharing on the part of the rich, so he reminded them with today’s Scripture that inactivity is offensive to Christ and that “our Lord is in that person who needs our help.”

This month, I am doing a project for Asbury Seminary linked to generosity. I like to compare my findings with larger research efforts, and the national data is startling. Year after year, the more wealthy a state is, the less generous the people are, collectively speaking.

Times have not changed much from the days of Cyprian. So how do we awaken people to shake off their arguments and excuses? How do we motivate them to share what they have stored up for themselves?

I am convinced the answer is to model generous sharing while proclaiming what is true. Let us be known for works of justice and mercy while unashamedly, like Cyprian, communicating truth. Hopefully it will convict some wealthy people to repent and change directions before it’s too late.

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Gregory of Nyssa: Starve your greed

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:6-8

“Fast from evil-doing, discipline yourselves from covetousness, abstain from unjust profits, starve your greed for mammon, keep in your houses no snatched and stolen treasure. What use is it to keep meat out of your mouth if you wound your brother or sister by evil-doing? What advantage is it to forgo what is your own if you seize unjustly what belongs to the poor? What piety is it to drink water and thirst for blood, weaving treachery in the wickedness of your heart? Judas himself fasted with the eleven, but since he did not curb his love of money, his fasting availed him nothing to salvation.”

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-394), the younger brother of Basil the Great and Bishop of Nyssa in Cappadocia, also known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers, in “On the Love of the Poor” based on the translation by Peter C. Phan in Social Thought (Wilmington: Glazier, 1984), revised and expanded by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 71-72.

As we enter the second week of Lent we are reminded by Gregory of Nyssa not to miss the heart of it. Starving greed aims to change us, to discipline us to move away from covetousness, and to propel us toward sharing with the hungry and needy. From God’s perspective, those who don’t share are stealing for themselves what He intends for them to dispense. Giving alms is not optional, but rather, a demonstration of authentic faith.

What does your fasting and giving reveal to a watching world?

This is a rare week, indeed. Our daughter, Sophie, is home on Spring Break with her fiancé, Peter Gomez, and our son, Sammy, of course lives here and his girl friend, Emily Law, is interning here in Denver at a ministry during her final semester. We are enjoying a gift of special time together with all six of us for the first time ever. I am eager to catch up and to hear what God is teaching each of them on their Lenten journeys.

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John Chrysostom: The little in turn becomes a lot

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2

“When he said, “On the first day of every week,” he added, “each of you.” “I do not say this only to the rich,” he says, “but also to the poor; not only to the free but also to slaves; not only to men but also to women.” Let no one remain unaccomplished in this ministration. Let no one refrain from sharing in the gain; rather, let everyone contribute. Certainly, do not even permit poverty to become a hindrance to this contribution.

And even if you are ten thousand times poor, you are not poorer than that widow who emptied herself of all her property. Even if you are ten thousand times a beggar, you are not more of a beggar than the woman of Sidon who had only a handful of flour, yet was not prevented from extending hospitality to the Prophet Elijah. Although she saw a chorus of children surrounding her, and famine pressing upon her, and nothing else remaining in reserve, she received the prophet with great readiness.

Why did he say, “each of you (by himself) is to put something aside and store it up?” Perhaps because the one laying aside was ashamed and hesitated to offer something little. For this reason he says, “You put to the side and save; and when the little in turn becomes a lot by small contributions, then bring it before all.” He did not say, “gather together,” rather, “store it up,” so you may learn that this expense is a treasure, that this expenditure becomes an advance, a treasure better than any treasure.”

John Chrysostom in “A Sermon on Almsgiving” Homily 10.13 in On Repentance and Almsgiving, The Fathers of the Church, Volume 96, translated by Gus George Christo (Washington D.C.: CUA Press, 1998) 139-140.

It has been conspicuously difficult for me to locate sermons on almsgiving through church history. Thankfully, when we venture back to the early church fathers we locate gems like this one by John Chrysostom. At least three points are noteworthy for us.

Firstly, everyone must participate. Regardless of the level of income, everyone has something to share. As Chrysostom put it, “do not even permit poverty to become a hindrance to this contribution.” Why? In sharing deeper realities come into view. Specifically, we learn that God supplies.

Secondly, small gifts add up to big amounts. Again, as Chrysostom keenly put it, “the little in turn becomes a lot by small contributions.” God sees the sum total of all our small gifts, and He knows that our collective giving can send a big message to a watching world.

Thirdly, the collective giving becomes a “treasure better than any treasure” because it is stored up in the only place where it cannot be touched. So, don’t store up money for yourself on earth and watch it waste away, but store it up in almsgiving and secure it for eternity.

What will you do? Whether or not you are observing Lent, or even if you missed the first week (as today marks the end of the first week), think about what extra you have beyond what you need to live on. Store it up for abundant sharing. Pray about whom to bless and share richly.

I arrived home from a fruitful trip to Guatemala late last night. If you have interest in Global Trust Partners, and my work in helping activate CONFIABLE, reply to this email and I will send you the report of my trip. I am praying for support to aid the ongoing work there for God’s glory.

I am also praying for people to join me global work of multiplying disciples of faithful administration and catalyzing peer accountability groups (like ECFA) to increase gospel participation in every nation. When trusted structures are in place, generous giving flows. Reply to register your interest.

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John Piper: Hypocrisy

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Isaiah 58:3-5

“Hypocrisy is a terrible blight on the worship of God. Let us take to heart thee long-term implications for worship in our lives and in our churches. No worship — no preaching, no singing, no praying, no fasting, however intense or beautiful — that leaves us harsh with our workers on Monday, or contentious with our spouses at home, or self-indulgent in other areas of our lives, or angry enough to hit somebody, is true God-pleasing worship. Don’t make a mistake here: true fasting may be a God blessed means of overcoming harshness at work, and contentiousness at home, and self-indulgence once anger. But if fasting ever becomes a religious cloak for minimizing those things and letting them go on and on, then it becomes hypocrisy and offensive to God.”

John Piper in Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013).

I enjoyed the first feast day of Lent in Antiqua on retreat with Edgar and Gladys Güitz of G2G and Potter’s House Guatemala. While in the market I shot the new header photo.

The country and the people of Guatemala are so colorful. But fasting if not done with the right heart leads to hypocrisy is anything but beautiful and actually offends God. The same is true for our praying and almsgiving.

As Lent has only begun, let’s pause from giving our attention to Lenten disciplines and look inwardly at our hearts. Father, cleanse us from any wrong attitudes or motives so our fasting, praying, and giving pleases you. Amen.

Today’s a travel day for me. After a morning meeting, I fly from Guatemala City to Houston, and then I get back to Denver this evening. Thank you God for a safe and fruitful trip!

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A.W. Tozer: Are you fallow or plowed?

But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. Luke 8:15

“There are two kinds of lives also: the fallow and the plowed. For examples of the fallow life we need not go far. They are all too plentiful among us.

The man of fallow life is contented with himself and the fruit he once bore. He does not want to be disturbed. He smiles in tolerant superiority at revivals, fastings, self-searchings, and all the travail of fruit-bearing and the anguish of advance. The spirit of adventure is dead within him. He is steady, “faithful,” always in his accustomed place (like the old field), conservative, and something of a landmark in the little church. But he is fruitless. The curse of such a life is that it is fixed, both in size and in content. To be has taken the place of to become. The worst that can be said of such a man is that he is what he will be. He has fenced himself in, and by the same act, he has fenced out God and the miracle.

The plowed life is the life that has, in the act of repentance, thrown down the protecting fences and sent the plow of confession into the soul. The urge of the Spirit, the pressure of circumstances and the distress of fruitless living have combined thoroughly to humble the heart. Such a life has put away defense, and has forsaken the safety of death for the peril of life. Discontent, yearning, contrition, courageous obedience to the will of God: these have bruised and broken the soil till it is ready again for the seed. And as always fruit follows the plow. Life and growth begin as God “rains down righteousness.” Such a one can testify, “And the hand of the Lord was upon me there.”

A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) from Paths to Power, excerpt from chapter 51, entitled “Miracles Follow the Plow” in The Very Best of A.W. Tozer, 127-128.

Funny, when I read this, I thought of the “Do Not Disturb” sign on my hotel room door. That’s the person of fallow life. “Don’t bother me. Don’t inconvenience me.”

Tozer rightly noted that this person has chosen comfort over contrition and will never amount to anything more. They might as well cash in their proverbial chips. Often they do. Is that you?

If so, I hope this post shakes and wakes you to the reality that God has bigger dreams for you. Fasting during Lent is about setting aside human desires for heavenly ones. Let God plow you to produce another crop.

After a great full day of conferences in Guatemala yesterday I pause from my own fasting to celebrate the first of seven feast days this Lent culminating with Easter.

As many have asked me what I am fasting from, I will share. I am fasting from bread this Lent while feasting on the Psalms at the divine hours.

God has impressed this verse deeply on my heart. Whenever I am tempted to take control of any situation. Rather than take control, He whispers for me to trust Him.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Matthew 4:4.

When I connect this idea with today’s reading, it reminds me that some people are content with earthly bread when eternal nourishment is available, if people would only look for it.

In pausing to read a Psalm and to pray at the divine hours I am partaking of nourishment that was always available to me but not always eaten. It’s like I have been leaving spiritual food on my proverbial plate.

Don’t settle for what you are. The Lenten journey is about letting God plow you afresh so that the seed of the Word takes root and bears fruit in you, which among other things, produces kindness and generosity.

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Richard Baxter: Reformation and Blessing

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. Matthew 16:25

“How long have we talked of reformation, how much have we said and done for it in general, and how deeply and devoutly have we vowed it for our own parts; and, after all this, how shamefully have we neglected it, and neglect it to this day! We carry ourselves as if we had not known or considered what that reformation was which we vowed.

As carnal men will take on them to be Christians, and profess with confidence that they believe in Christ, and accept of His salvation, and may contend for Christ, and fight for Him, and yet, for all this, will have none of Him, but perish for refusing Him, who little dreamed that ever they had been refusers of Him. And all because they understood not what His salvation is, and how it is carried on, but dream of a salvation without flesh-displeasing, and without self-denial and renouncing the world, and parting with their sins, and without any holiness, or any great pains and labor of their own in subserviency to Christ and the Spirit.

Even so did too many ministers and private men talk and write, and pray, and fight, and long for reformation, and would little have believed that man who should have presumed to tell them, that, notwithstanding all this, their very hearts were against reformation; and that they who were praying for it, and fasting for it, and wading through blood for it, would never accept it, but would themselves be the rejectors and destroyers of it.

And yet so it is, and so it hath too plainly proved: and whence is all this strange deceit of heart, that good men should no better know themselves? Why, the case is plain; they thought of a reformation to be given by God, but not of a reformation to be wrought on and by themselves. They considered the blessing, but never thought of the means of accomplishing it.”

Richard Foster (1615-1691) in The Reformed Pastor (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 109-110.

When we think about practicing disciplines in Lent, we realize that practicing self-denial is hard. Only in the doing do we discover that it is a means for our good.

The irony that Baxter points out is that those who, using the language of Jesus, aim at saving their lives or we might say prioritize their comfort or self-preservation, will actually lose them, and those who lose their lives for Christ will actually find them.

Praying and fasting are the means through which we lose ourselves and find how God transforms us into useful vessels for His purposes. Is your heart against being reformed? Consider the implications for your generosity.

We will never sacrifice until we realize that having Christ exceeds all the treasures of the world. We will never do it with kindness until we discover that God never ceases to direct His love and kindness toward us.

Only when we discover this, through practicing disciplines, do we find ourselves. Don’t be one of those people who prioritize their comfort or self-preservation. Lose your life for Christ and you will find it.

Hat tip on this note to my grown son, Sammy. Today he turns 23 years old. He grasped this early on. Upon learning that we fast from lesser things to feast on greater things, he would leap at any challenge.

Some Lenten seasons he would exchange junk food items, movies, video games, and other earthly things for life-giving foods, learning worship songs on guitar, and other heavenly practices.

As our children are both launching this year, we ar thankful to God that they grasp that reformation, while it is really uncomfortable, is the pathway to abundant blessing. Happy Birthday, Sammy.

And thanks for your prayers. Yesterday, the CONFIABLE event (pictured above) in Guatemala City celebrated standards of responsible stewardship for churches and ministries in Guatemala and made a last call for founding members. Participants responded with enthusiasm and support.

Today, I have another full day. I will speak at a morning conference on governance linked to The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance and at an afternoon conference related to generosity and Good and Faithful: Ten Stewardship Lessons for Everyday Living.

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Jonathan Edwards: Secret Prayer

Will they find delight in the Almighty? Will they call on God at all times? Job 27:10

“It is the manner of hypocrites, after a while, in a great measure to leave off the practice of this duty. We are often taught, that the seeming goodness and piety of hypocrites is not of a lasting and persevering nature. It is so with respect to their practice of the duty of prayer in particular, and especially of secret prayer. They can omit this duty, and their omission of it not be taken notice of by others, who know what profession they have made. So that a regard to their own reputation doth not oblige them still to practice it. If others saw how they neglect it, it would exceedingly shock their charity towards them. But their neglect doth not fall under their observation; at least not under the observation of many. Therefore they may omit this duty, and still have the credit of being converted persons…

They come to this pass by degrees. At first they begin to be careless about it, under some particular temptations. Because they have been out in young company, or have been taken up very much with worldly business, they omit it once: After that they more easily omit it again. Thus it presently becomes a frequent thing with them to omit it and after a while, it comes to that pass, that they seldom attend it. Perhaps they attend it on Sabbath days, and sometimes on other days. But they have ceased to make it a constant practice daily to retire to worship God alone, and to seek his face in secret places. They sometimes do a little to quiet conscience, and just to keep alive their old hope; because it would be shocking to them, even after all their subtle dealing with their consciences to call themselves converts, and yet totally to live without prayer. Yet the practice of secret prayer they have in a great measure left off.”

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) in “Hypocrites Deficient in the Duty of Prayer” II.

The Lenten discipline of prayer helps us regain what Edwards says “by degrees” we lose in the course of life. As converted persons the rigors of worldly business and the life cause us to pray only on Sundays and over time we actually become the hypocrites in the biblical text that we scorn.

Think of secret prayer as visiting a garden of flowers like those pictured above here in Guatemala. Their beauty captivates. It reminds us of God’s tender care. Remember the flowers don’t toil or spin, because the Father cares for them. He cares for us too.

Secret prayer is simply time alone with God in prayer. Block time for it daily during Lent. Do this not to gain favor with God but to re-learn how to live with and for God as His children. In the full sermon, Edwards shakes and wakes us to realize that without secret prayer we lose our hope.

Where is hope today? As we think about being kind and generous followers of Christ, hope is one of the greatest gifts we can dispense with abundance, but Edwards notes that it’s only found in people of secret prayer. Want to dispense it? Become a person of secret prayer. Form a habit during Lent to last you a lifetime.

And when you pray, remember me, speaking at the CONFIABLE Founders Event and having strategic meetings for Global Trust Partners in Guatemala City today. Thank you.

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Charles Haddon Spurgeon: God turns our fasts into feasts

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

“Sometimes the day of affliction becomes as a fast which has been turned into a feast. It is a trying thing to lose one’s health, and to be near to death; to lose one’s wealth, and to wonder how the children will be fed; to have heavy tidings of disaster come to you day after day in doleful succession. But if you can grasp the promise, and know that “All things work together for good to them that love God;” if you can see a covenant God in all, then the fast turns into a feast, and you say, “God is going to favor me again. He is only pruning the vine to make it bring forth better grapes. He is going to deal with me again after his own wise, loving, and fatherly way of discipline.” You then hear the Lord saying to you –

“Then trust me, and fear not: thy life is secure;
My wisdom is perfect, supreme is my power;
In love I correct thee, thy soul to refine,
To make thee at length in my likeness to shine.”

I have met with some saints who have been happier in their sickness and in their poverty than ever they were in health and in wealth. I remember how one, who had been long afflicted, and had got well, but had lost some of the brightness of the Lord’s presence, which he had enjoyed during his sickness, said, “Take me back to my bed again. Let me be ill again, for I was well when I was ill. I am afraid that I am getting ill now that I am well.” It is often worth while being afflicted in order to experience the great lovingkindness of God, which he bestows so abundantly on us in the hour of trouble and perplexity. Yes, God turns our fasts into feasts, and we are glad in the midst of our sorrow; we can praise and bless his name for all that he does.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) in Sermon 2248 intended for Reading on Lord’s-Day on 20 March 1892, delivered at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington, on Lord’s-day Evening, 7 September 1890.

God turns our fasting into feasting because we forgo that which cannot satisfy and tap into that which does. Fasting is about saying “No” to some things so we can say “Yes” to better things.

It also teaches us how to live life after Lent. Let me explain.

Just as the saints Spurgeon recounts learned that God met them in a powerful way in their suffering, when we say “No” to things, we feel like we suffer for a season, but we learn what is necessary and what satisfies.

We don’t end up lacking, but rather, we flourish in a way that only God could arrange. Enjoy your fast, because God turns our fasts into feasts!

I notice that Spurgeon wrote this in the twilight of his life. It’s a lesson that can take us years to learn. Do yourself a kindness. Teach it to yourself this Lent!

I am flying to Guatemala City today to speak at the CONFIABLE Founders event tomorrow. CONFIABLE stands for “Concilio de Organizaciones No-lucrativas, Financieramente Integras, Auditables, Bíblica y Legalmente Establecidas” or “Council of Non-profit Organizations, Financially Integrated, Auditable, Biblically and Legally Established.” CONFIABLE aims to serve Christ-centered churches and ministries in Guatemala like ECFA does in the USA. I also have time blocked for prayer and meetings regarding Global Trust Partners, and to speak twice for G2G on Saturday on governance and generosity.

I’d appreciate your prayers for a safe and fruitful trip.

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