Category Archives: Faith

Got Faith?

Willmar TornadoThe picture you see to the right was the tornado that touched down a third of a mile from my house on July 11, 2008. My family and I had just moved to Willmar, Minnesota and I had just returned from a stop at the nearby Best Buy where I overheard there was a confirmed tornado touch down in Kandiyohi County. I didn’t make much of it because the skies were still bright but five minutes later, while retrieving a flashlight from the trunk of our car, I noticed that the branches on the trees looked like a vacuum cleaner was sweeping them up. In what seemed like minutes but really was a couple of seconds, I heard what sounded like a jet approaching and noticed my ears were beginning to pop as I looked up at the sky to see the twister approaching.

As soon as I realized that a tornado was coming, I ran back into house screaming for my wife to get the children and get into the basement immediately. Fortunately for us, the tornado made a slight turn in direction and we, along with the other residents on the south side of Willmar were spared a direct hit. Damage was minimal, with only two injuries and some property damage nearby (including three homes that were leveled).

Fear and Faith On A Stormy Sea

I have a fascination with storms, especially tornadoes but on that particular occasion, I was scared. So when I read Mark 4:35-41 where the disciples are become frightened on a boat as a storm comes along, I can identify with them. In fact, I really want to speak out in their defense. These were seasoned fisherman who were used to the seas but this storm was big enough to scare them. In fact the storm was strong enough to cause the waves to break over the boat. So if the boat should capsize, they all are probably going to drown and they know that. That’s why disciples wake Jesus up and frantically ask him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

Well, if you’ve read this story then you know Jesus rebukes the storm and silences it, saying “Peace, be still” (KJV). But then Jesus turns to his disciples and says to them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

Can we have enough faith so that our natural impulse of fear does not become our master? 

I used to think that Jesus was rebuking his disciples for their lack of faith which is why it seemed like Jesus was being a little unfair. However, the text never says that Jesus is rebuking his disciples per se. So what is Jesus doing? Perhaps his question about fear and faith is not so much a rebuke as it is a teacher challenging his learners (which is what a disciple is). After all, I think Jesus, as a human, can understand why a storm provokes fear and let’s not forget that fear is a normal reaction too. But Jesus has also began to demonstrate the inbreaking of the kingdom of God by healing diseases, driving out demons, and teaching with authority that was unlike any of the other religious authorities. Then, according to the Gospel of Mark, in chapter four Jesus has taught a series of parables about the potency of faith. So it seems that Jesus is taking advantage of the opportunity to point out their fear and remind them that they need to have faith.

Faith, of course, is important and necessary. Jesus knows that his disciples will face more danger, more unnerving encounters, and challenges bigger than this storm. And for that, they will need to have faith. Not just intellectual assent that confesses belief in Jesus, but a living faith that is willing to follow Jesus even to the point of death on the cross. Can the disciples have such faith? But the more important question: Can we have such faith?

Assuming you’re a Christian like I am, can we have enough faith so our natural impulse of fear does not become our master? 

Faith and The Way of Jesus

Right now we live in a volatile society that is rupturing quickly. I’m not one for doom and gloom but there’s hardly a day that goes by without the report of another terrorist attack somewhere and sometimes that somewhere is here in America. Political extremism, racism, and violence are spending like cancer and regardless of who’s to blame, such evil is a danger to everyone. Those without faith think the problem will be solved by more of the same, matching one extremism with another extreme or trying to solve violence with more violence. But as the late Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

The only way of peace is the way of Jesus, the way of the cross. That is, the kingdom of God breaks upon the wold as we, the disciples of Jesus, his church, embody his self-sacrificial life and emulate his character as a witness to the rest of society. Some Christians don’t get this. Even though they proclaim the cross as God’s victory over evil, they’ll reason (utilitarianism) as to why God’s power of the cross must be set aside for the power of the sword in one form or another. But how can we live under the cross as follower of Jesus and set aside the cross. As Leonard Allen writes, “The church that lives under the cross will consist of people possessing cruciform values, that is, the character traits and virtues necessary to follow the way of the cross” (The Cruciform Church, p. 187).

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus calls us to follow him all the way to the cross. With a hindsight faith, we believe that even though Jesus was crucified and buried in a tomb, the tomb is now empty and Jesus is alive. Sin and death have been defeated and the kingdom of God is appearing. It is our calling to live as witnesses and show the world the way of peace, where hatred is replace with love, where the light drives out the darkness of racism, violence and any other malady. But this is not an easy call. It never was and never will be. It takes faith.

Fear is a natural response to any storm, whether it be a literal storm like a tornado or a metaphorical storm in the form of racism and terrorism. But here is Jesus saying to his church, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

The Gospel According To Us

“Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary use words.” This famous quote is often attributed to the twelfth century Catholic Friar, St. Francis of Assisi, though as far as we know he never actually made such a statement. Christians often share this quote as a reminder that the life of Christians should be a proclamation of the gospel itself and that the gospel proclaimed in spoken word is insufficient. Of course, this quote attributed to St. Francis has also come under criticism in an attempt preserve the necessity of preaching the gospel in words. Ed Stetzer goes so far as to say that “the quote is not biblical.”

Is it really unbiblical to suggest that we should preach the gospel and only use words as necessary? Stetzer thinks so and makes his case by appealing to the Apostle Paul, particularly what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8:

The Apostle Paul summarized the gospel as the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ… The gospel is not habit, but history. The gospel is the declaration of something that actually happened. And since the gospel is the saving work of Jesus, it isn’t something we can do, but it is something we must announce. We do live out its implications, but if we are to make the gospel known, we will do so through words.

The problem with this is that while it’s fair to describe what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 about the gospel as a summary, we must remember that it’s just a summary. As with any summary, there is much more detail to what the gospel of Jesus Christ is and that is found in the larger biblical narrative which is why Paul says that the death of Christ is “according to the Scriptures” (v. 4). Beyond the mere facts of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, there is a kingdom with a particular end (telos) that cannot be separated from the gospel. Even more so, behind the historical facts of the gospel is the actually life which Jesus lived and called us to follow him in living too. We read of this life in the four canonical Gospels, the Gospel According to Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. As Scot McKnight points out, these four books are called “Gospels” because they each are witnesses to the storied life that Jesus lived (The King Jesus Gospel, pp. 81-82). That’s important because Jesus himself proclaimed the gospel in both word and deed. Put another way, Jesus both demonstrated and declared the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God.

Unequivocally then, the gospel is preached in both word and deed, and therefore something which is both seen and heard. So rather than making a dichotomy between preaching the gospel in word and deed, turning this into an either/or issue, let’s treat preaching the gospel in word and deed as a both/and issue. If someone thinks the gospel only needs to be lived and never proclaimed in word, then Ed Stetzer has a valid reason for concern and I join with him in voicing such concern. However, I suspect that some Christians regard the gospel demonstrated as less important that the gospel declared. I don’t know of a Christian who would admit such devaluing of the demonstrated gospel but when we look at what is done, there are reasons for such suspicions.

“Jesus both demonstrated and declared the gospel, the good news of the kingdom of God.”

Last week after various evangelical leaders met with Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, James Dobson of Focus on the Family declared that Trump had accepted Jesus Christ and therefore was now a Christian. Regardless of Trump’s political views, there is good reason for raising questions about Trump’s alleged conversion when months ago Trump said that he has never even asked God for forgiveness and did not have any need of repentance. However, as one article recently said, this is not about Trump:

But I think these things are less the failure of Trump’s Christian infancy as much as they are a microcosm of the underlying problem with much of America’s evangelical movement — we actually have no idea what it means to be Christian. We lack a meaningful understanding of faith and belief.

That’s right, the issue is really a problem for Christians.

However, I believe such confusion about what it means to be a Christian flows from a misunderstanding of the gospel itself. If we think that demonstrating the gospel is somehow less important than declaring the gospel with the spoken word then it’s easy to define a Christian based on what they say, such as claiming to have accepted Jesus Christ. Identifying a Christian has less or even little to do with the transformed living that comes from the Spirit at work as we repent and receive our baptism into Christ.

While we all, as Christians, including myself, struggle in someway to live congruently with the faith we profess, our faith in Jesus is intended to become an embodied life as much as it is a confession. Yet one only needs to open up the status feed on social-media to see that what Christians often believe in, value, and advocate for is far removed from Jesus… Like when a woman’s right to choice or a person’s right to bear arms eclipses all consideration of the thousands of unborn children or the numerous civilians who are being slaughtered by gun violence across America… Like when fear of terrorism, Muslim refugees, and undocumented immigrants justifies an expedient exemption from love our neighbors as ourselves and even loving our enemies… Like when the need to either be politically correct or politically offensive allows the demonization of either the police or the #BlackLivesMatter movement, depending on what side one falls on, or despise the LBGTQ community…. Like when sounds more like an echo chamber of Bill Maher or Bill O’Reilly than Jesus and the Bible that bears witness to Jesus. And like I said, one only needs to turn to social-media to see what I’m getting at.

“…our faith in Jesus is intended to become an embodied life as much as it is a confession.”

The only way forward begins with a better understanding of the gospel, which includes understanding the gospel as an embodied way of life rooted in the mission of God. I’ve just finished reading Michael J. Gorman’s book Becoming The Gospel which summarizes this saying:

From Paul’s perspective the gospel itself is a powerful word of transformation, its content being given voice not merely in words but also, and inseparably, in actions. This does not eliminate the need for, or the importance of, words, but it does imply that the words have meaning and power only in action. God did something in Christ; Christ did something in becoming human and giving himself for us; the Spirit does something to and through the people who believe the good news of this divine activity.

     Furthermore, the content of the gospel Paul preaches is so thoroughly rooted both in the peculiar Christological shape of this divine activity — the life and teaching, and especially the death and resurrection, of Jesus — and in the Scriptures of Israel, with their promises of the Spirit and of shalom, that people who believe such good news are ineluctably drawn into its strange Christ-shaped and Scripture-shaped reality. So if the gospel has to do with a faithful God, a Suffering Servant who inaugurates God’s shalom, and a prophetically promised indwelling Spirit, then the individuals and communities who believe in that good news will be shaped in their minds and bodies, their thinking and their living, into Godlike, Christlike, Spirit-enabled people who in some real, if imperfect, way instantiate the message they believe (p. 298).

This connection between the gospel as historical reality and embodied life is what seems lacking, in varying degrees, among many Christians and local churches.

I’ve talked with more than a few churches over my years as a minister. Most are experiencing some decline and seeking renewal, desiring both spiritual and numerical growth. That’s good but we must understand that renewal is the work of God which sprouts from the gospel as it is believed in word and embodied in deed. So I would like to suggest that we must give as much, if not more, attention to demonstrating the gospel in the way we live as we give to declaring the gospel with words — without drawing a sharp distinction between word and deed since what we believe, value, and advocate for with spoken words reflects and impacts how we live.

How we demonstrate the gospel matters more than ever if we are to have any credible gospel witness. In fact, in our post-Christendom society where our Christian voice is increasingly marginalized, how we demonstrate the gospel becomes a currency of sorts for gaining a hearing. Without demonstrating the gospel, we lose the audience of those who may be open to the declared gospel. Stated in the positive, demonstrating the gospel as our embodied way of life gives us the credibility for declaring the gospel and “preaching the word” then becomes an explanation of what is seen rather than just an argumentation for what we profess. After all, the only gospel of Jesus Christ others are going to see and hear is, as the picture above suggest, the gospel according to us… the gospel we embody in word and deed. So to invoke the alleged wisdom of St. Francis of Assisi again, “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary use words.”

Hope Remains!

Aunt PatThis past Wednesday my Aunt Pat, who is pictured on the left, took her last breath in this life. Having battled cancer for the last couple years of her life, her suffering finally came to an end. That is another way of saying that although my aunt will be very missed, her death is a relief in some manner as she is no longer having to endure the pain and suffering that usually comes with the final stage of cancer.

I don’t want to be misunderstood about death. Death is a terrible thing. Whether it comes at the end of a very long and beautiful life or it comes prematurely through tragic circumstances such as violence, disease, etc… death is still something that should grieve us. Death has grieved me and still does, from the day when I was twenty-two years old and watched my dad, who had cancer too, take his last breath, to the day when my first son, Kenny, unexpectedly died and a year after that when my younger brother tragically died. Death stings and hurts because once someone we love is gone, they’re gone.

Death also grieves God who created life to flourish rather than perish. So when we turn on the news and hear of people who were violently killed in an Orlando nightclub, or in some school like Sandy Hook Elementary, or at a movie theatre in Auroa, or even in foreign countries like the Westgate Mall shooting in Nairobi Kenya, God is grieved. It matters not what the victims religious beliefs were or what sort of moral lifestyle they lived, these are people created in the image of God and loved by God.

In this world of death which is also filled with much hatred and violence, it is tempting to become cynical. It’s tempting to throw our hands in the air as though life is hopeless. But I refuse such cynicism because I believe that God has become a human like us in the person of Jesus Christ and that in the coming of Jesus, God is reconciling all things through Jesus who was crucified and raised victoriously from death (Col 2:19-20). I believe there is a day coming when Jesus will come again and make all things new, a day when the new heaven and new earth will be one and death will be no more (Rev 21:1, 4-5).

So even as death seems all around us, hope remains! Until the day when Jesus returns or the day when I take my last breath, which I hope is not any time soon, and I rest in Christ while awaiting his return, I will live with faith(fullness), love, and hope (1 Thess 5:8). Let’s seek peace with each other, loving our neighbors and even our enemies, forgiving others as God forgives us, grieving with those who are grieving, and let the Spirit of God sanctify us that we may live with faith, love, and hope.


Here is a video of the choral group singing the hymn Be Still, My Soul, which I listen too frequently. I first heard this hymn when I was struggling to make sense of life and maintain my faith after the death of my son and younger brother. This hymn speaks gives voice to the grief and pain of suffering as well as the hope that encourages faith.

Cruciformed: Reflections on the 2016 Pepperdine Bible Lectures

A week ago I was on my way to the best Pepperdine Bible Lecture’s to date, at least in my opinion. I’m thankful for the leadership of Mike Cope, Rick Gibson, and the rest of the staff for organizing and hosting such an encouraging time of worship, fellowship, and teaching. This years theme was Cruciformed: Living In Light of the Jesus Story which is always a very timely but perhaps even more so as more and more Christians among North America recognize that we now live in a post-Christendom/post-Christian society.

The main features of the Pepperdine Bible Lecture’s are always the worship, fellowship, and teaching. The bonus is the location of Malibu, California with the view of the Pacific Ocean and the Santa Monica Mountains. I had many people ask if I was having a good time and I’m sure I asked other people the same question. Nevertheless, it seems that one would really have to try hard not to have a good time.

I have always enjoyed gathering for worship at the Firestone Fieldhouse, as the singing is uplifting. Whether singing a song like How Great Is Our God or The Lord Bless You and Keep You as a blessing to Ruby Bridges, my heart is filled with joy. And yes, I just mentioned Ruby Bridges, who delivered a powerful message late Wednesday evening. Her message was one that everyone in living in America, and especially every parent, needed to hear. Hearing N.T. Wright and Greg Boyd speak and teach was a joy because I have learned so much from these two Christian scholars from their books. While I was encouraged and challenged by every keynote address, I especially appreciated the addresses delivered by Randy Harris on The Scandal of Carrying the Cross and Dave Clayton on The Scandal of the Resurrection. I enjoyed all of the classes I went to but really the 2-part class taught by Pat Bills called Once Bitten, Twice Shy which is about the way elders and ministers lead together (available on a free podcast here); if you’re an elder or minister then I highly encourage you to download the two sessions and listen to them.

Hula PieBesides the worship and teaching at the Bible Lectures, fellowship is also a key feature. Like always, I run into old friends and make new friends. Some people I meet in person for the first time after already knowing them through social-media, which is really nice. I’m terrible at remembering names but if I ran into you, it was my delight to speak with you even if it was only for a brief minute or so. Of course, the one disappointment, as there is never enough time to spend with friends. And to the friends who recommended that I order the Hula Pie at Duke’s (pictured to the left), it was great but next year I really hope that my wife can come with me to share some pie as well as some great worship, teaching, and fellowship.

Reclaiming The Way of Jesus

As you know, Christianity began as a very counter-cultural movement of Jesus followers. As communities of believers, these disciples gave total allegiance to Jesus and proclaimed him, who was crucified, as the resurrected Lord and Messiah. The result was marginalization from society and sometimes even persecution. Yet, with all the resistance and animosity towards this movement, it continued growing and spreading. Today Christianity has spread around the globe and continues spreading with its proclamation of Jesus, doing so even in places where followers of Jesus are still oppressed and sometimes persecuted.

A lot of significant events have happened since the first Easter, some for the good and some not. One of these significant events was the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the early fourth century. After his conversion, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan giving legal status to Christianity as a religion and brought an end to persecution. This new status meant also meant a new challenge for Christianity as a movement.

Following the conversion of Constantine, as Christianity found favor with the state, an alliance was formed between church and state. This relationship between the church and state resulted in the eventual formation of a Christendom, a geopolitical reality in which the values and practices of society were mandated by the church. With such power came corruption and a lot of bad, including religious wars that eventually gave rise to secularism and the emergence of modernism. The result in Europe and now in North America has been the slow and steady decline of Christendom.

Even though the U.S. Constitution has maintained a separation between Church and State, America was still very much a Christendom society (was being the key word), Though there are still some local cultures, particularly across the Bible-belt, where Christendom still lingers to some extent, America has become a post-Christendom society.

Our calling is faithfulness to Jesus, living as his followers. Whether or not such faithfulness is attractive or expedient is inconsequential. What matters is our faithfulness!

As you know, as Christians, our way forward is always in following Jesus. But as we renew our call to live as followers of Jesus in a post-Christendom society, I suggest we should give more consideration of the ways that America has often colonized our faith. For far too long Christianity in America has been a faith in which its adherents, Christians, have believed that one could serve both church and state. While that might be possible for some, for far too many, it seems, this has led to serving the aims (telos) of the state rather than the aim of the gospel. Christianity becomes a privatized belief expressed on Sunday while the rest of life is rather coherent with the values of the state… politically, economically, and so forth. Our faith in Jesus must redefine our entire life. The gospel must become the reality that shapes our values and practices, thereby redefining our lives so that Jesus’ way of life becomes our way of life − easy to talk about but much more difficult to do.

So here is where I want to take this post and the reason I wrote it. One question we have to answer is whether the way of Jesus will be our way period or only our way only when it makes sense with whatever circumstances we are facing. In other words, is our belief in Jesus merely utilitarian or is it our gospel? As the authors of the book StormFront write:

The church that lives by the gospel is called by that gospel to a different kind of life. The church is called to model a form of life in which faithfulness, love, and allegiance are not merely utilitarian virtues to be discarded when inconvenient, but rather the bedrock upon which life is built. Participating in resurrection life means living as if love really is stronger than death, as if faithfulness really is more powerful than the naked pursuit of self-interest. In the midst of a society that believes that all bets must be hedged, that all loyalties must be conditioned upon self-interest, the church dares to live differently (pp. 69-70).

Our calling is faithfulness to Jesus, living as his followers. Whether or not such faithfulness is attractive or expedient is inconsequential. What matters is our faithfulness! But I also believe the way of Jesus in which we live as humble servants who love one another, our neighbors, and even our enemies, is a beautiful life that many are looking for and the only life that will endure.

Easter: The Day After and The Days To Come

I stopped in the store yesterday afternoon to pick up a few groceries and walked by what remains of the Easter candy. All the candy was marked down. Easter wasn’t even over and the grocery store was already moving on, hoping to clear out all the remaining chocolate bunnies and jellybeans in order to focus on the next season. That’s the society we live in. Easter is just another holiday observed and a cash-cow for retail stores. When it’s over, it’s over. But for Christians, it’s another matter.

The Crucifixion and Resurrection

On that road to Emmaus a couple of Jesus’ disciples were talking about the “nonsense” spoken by the women who claimed Jesus was alive. There Jesus appeared to these disciples saying, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Lk 24:25-26). And with those words, Jesus was not just chastising his disciples but telling them that the message the prophets have spoke is true! The implications of this truth are profound.

The Christian faith rests upon the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Without Jesus having suffered death and without God having raised Jesus from death, there is not any victory over sin and death. In other words, without the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, evil wins. Those with the biggest swords… the biggest guns, they win because that’s the world we live in. It’s a broken world filled with evil where people have been deceived to believe might makes right. Yet it never does, it’s just become a never-ending fight that ends in death.

But the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the victory of God over sin and death! It is God’s declaration of a new creation dawning upon history, a world made new in which the days of the old world and its evil are numbered. For those who believe in Jesus, it is the promise of hope that he is coming again, bringing this new creation into its fullness where faith becomes sight and the suffering endured among the old world will be no more. That is our hope, our faith, in Christ!

Easter… Here To Stay

It’s easy to take our hope for granted when the present circumstances of our life seems relatively easy. But yesterday’s explosion in Pakistan, which intentionally targeted Christians, killing at least 72 people and injuring another 300 plus, reminds us once again that our faith is lived among evil.

Regardless of how governments respond to terrorism, our response as Christians must be anchored in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Unfortunately, some Christians will nonetheless sound just like the rest of the world, expressing a desire for repaying evil with evil. Whether motivated by anger, fear, or else, repaying evil with evil only shows our own foolishness and slowness to be believe. Those who engage evil, such as terrorists, do so because they don’t know the truth. They don’t know that God has already won the victory in and through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. But we know better, or we should, if we believe that God has raised Jesus from the grave.

At his crucifixion, the disciples of Jesus had all disappeared. The disciples had become deserters. For them, it seemed as though evil had won once again. But when Jesus appeared to them resurrected from death, they eventually believed and a new world was opened for these disciples. They had a new story which we call the Gospel of Jesus Christ… faith, hope, and love, with the greatest being love (1 Cor 13:13). If we truly believe, then our story too becomes one of faith, hope, and love anchored in Christ.

For the world, Easter has come and gone once again. But for us, Easter has come and it is here to stay. Now we must live as witnesses that God has overcome evil in and through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. We lament in the wake of suffering and pray for our fellow Christians among other parts of the world are suffering for being believers, asking God to strengthen their faith in Jesus by the power of his Spirit dwelling among them. But here in America, where the dominant response to the evil of violence is more of the same, we must live as a witness among our neighbors that Easter has come and is here to stay because God has won the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ!

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” – The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:58

Easter Hope For Our Failure

My friend and fellow minister colleague James Nored has been in Israel of late working on his project The Story of Redemption. He has produced this video and granted me permission to share it with you on this blog. Whether you already believe in Jesus or are still seeking but unsure yet of what to believe, I think you’ll enjoy this video and the message it speaks.

Here also is a link to the story from the Gospel of John referred to in the video. May you be blessed this weekend, for the crucified Jesus has been victoriously raised from the grave no more to die!

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For credit purposes, I have copied and pasted the following from James’ Vimeo page:

NEW from StoryofRedemption.com! – Does Easter and the Resurrection have practical meaning for our lives? Watch this powerful video–professionally filmed at the Sea Galilee with some beautiful and incredible footage!–of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance to Peter and the disciples from John 21.

Why did Jesus ask Peter–who had failed him in the Garden of Gethsemane–if he loved him THREE TIMES? And what does this tell us about how to deal with and come to grips with failure? Watch and be inspired by this message of HOPE for our lives!

NOTE: The Story of Redemption is an evangelistic Bible study series designed to lead seekers to Christ and strengthen faith of believers. The video version–recently filmed on location in Israel–is being developed and produced. To find out more and support this ministry, go to StoryofRedemption.com and contact James Nored, Doctor of Ministry, jamesnored@gmail.com!