Monday, December 22, 2008

Quote; Unquote . . .

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Intercession is not a recognized occupation.

Prayer is usually unnoticed by the crowds. It’s hidden - nobody knows about our hours in the prayer room - it feels lowly – When you pray, you are trusting in God rather than yourself - it’s humbling because right in the middle of the prayer room you are confronted with the humility of Jesus. You begin to taste something very important about Jesus - and you see your own lack - your pride and sin. Self rises up when unnoticed. We all want to be important, but ... Jesus became nothing ... so that we could be set free.

We must do the same and learn to embrace the cross. He was obedient and God lifted Him high and honored Him. The Message Bible says in Philippians 2:8-11:

“Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth - even those long ago dead and buried - will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father.”


Debbie Przybylski, Intercessors Arise


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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Why You Must Cotempalte Contemplative Praying?

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When the Soul Listens

Finding Rest and Direction in Contemplative Prayer

Jan Johnson

NavPress, 1999, 184 pp., ISBN 1-57683-113-2

To purchase this book click here.

Jan Johnson is the author of several books on spiritual disciplines and building a relationship with God, including Enjoying the Presence of God. This book is divided into four sections: Beyond Asking, How Contemplation Works, Wisdom in Contemplation, and What You're Likely to Hear God Say. Jan's purpose is to help us learn "to meet with God in life-transforming encounters in which your heart comes to rest in His presence." (26) You will find this a good addition to your normal Bible reading and prayer disciplines.

"To trust Him is to understand that total immersion in what He is doing with our life is the best thing that could ever happen to us." (7, Introduction by Dallas Willard)

"Contemplative prayer, in its simplest form, is prayer in which you still your thoughts and emotions and focus on God Himself. This puts you in a better state to be aware of God's presence, and it makes you better able to hear God's voice correcting, guiding, and directing you." (160

"For many years as a Christian, I never sought God just for God Himself." (18) "One of Jesus' greatest promises was this: 'I am with you always.' (Matthew 28:20), but we may not experience this." Contemplation reconnects us with God in the midst of life's distractions. (19)

"Contemplation is…a way to face the needs of the hungry soul through simply being with God." (20)

"At the root of these problems of disconnectedness is the fact that my spiritual life is about me and what I want. It is not centered upon God and what God wants. We understand prayer to be mostly about asking God for things, and when God doesn't seem to answer, we are wounded, disappointed, and eventually hardened toward God. Why didn't God play fair?" (22)

"It comes down to this: Either we are struggling to control our own lives--or we are learning to rest in God and take our cues from Him." (24)

"First and foremost, however, prayer is about aligning ourselves with the will of a powerful, loving God…." (24) "The spirit of Christian prayer is the attitude of surrendering ourselves to be vessels of His good purposes." (25) "As we understand prayer correctly, we move from devotion to the tools to devotion to the Master." (25)

"More and more, the issue is knowing God Himself, and learning to perceive and follow God in all His ways. My spiritual life is more about God and what God does, less about me and my strivings." (31)

"The life that God asks from us is simple. It consists of loving God and paying attention to God, and in so doing, we sense His mind and heart." (31)

Contemplative prayer helps us change our inner person, the attitudes of our heart that drive us, rather than focusing on changing our outer behavior. (34) The Pharisees focused on the behaviors themselves, but did not let God reshape their hearts. (33)

The disciplines of abstinence--solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, and sacrifice--help train the soul to listen to the small voice of God. (35) Over and over Scripture commands us to listen. (42)

"Waiting on God is an honorable pastime in Scripture, even though it's not popular in our typical life in the fast lane." Waiting for the Lord can be full of expectancy and peacefulness. (46) "But the point of resting, waiting, and listening is to build relationship." (47)

"Before contemplative prayer can become something we want to do, we must understand God as someone we want to be with." (50)

Contemplation is rooted in the study and meditation of Scripture. This keeps it from becoming a way to put words in God's mouth. (54) One first reads and then meditates. "Meditation invites you to settle in a verse or passage, finding words and images in which you can nest and rest. You insert yourself into the text, thereby letting it insert itself into your heart." (55)

"When we meditate, we focus on a Scripture and ask, 'What if I had been the person Jesus healed? What would that experience have been like?' Entering the text this way retrains the soul by helping us encounter God in a personal way and live in the sense that we have been spoken to personally by God." "So meditation is different from Bible study. In Bible study, we dissect the text [ask it questions]; with meditation, we enter into the text [let it question us]." (56)

"Meditation investigates, contemplation wonders." (57, quoting Avery Brooke) "The task for us, then, is to fix the eye of our soul upon the greatness of God." (57) "The more we meditate and contemplate, the more God permeates the ordinary moments of life." (58)

"Some Christians object to meditation because it uses the imagination. It is wiser, however, to give our imagination to God to be retrained by Him than to withhold it. The process of spiritual formation allows every part of our being to be embraced and schooled by God, and the imagination needs retraining as much as anything else. If we ignore our imagination, it finds entertainment of its own. When activated by the images and truths of Scripture, the imagination enables the penetrating Word of God to become active in our lives." (59)

"Contemplation comes down to this: paying attention to God." (69) "The chief end of contemplation…is acquaintance and fellowship with God." (69, quoting Richard Baxter)

"As we linger on a character quality--say, God's generosity--we long for that quality in ourselves." (69)

"Listen with the heart and mind opened wide. This invites us to be changed." (71, quoting Wendy Wright) "The world becomes less centered in us and more centered in God." (71)

Some questions:

  • "How open to God are you? How open would you like to be?
  • "You may believe God listens, but do you believe God speaks?
  • "What are the greatest distractions that keep you from believing God is always present?
  • "What would make prayer more attractive to you?" (76)

"The two primary tools of the contemplative way are the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude." (79) These are undervalued in our culture. "Solitude is not being alone--it is being alone with God." (80) "Solitude is not turning one's back on the world; it is turning our face toward God." (81) "Silence and solitude are outward, physical manifestations of the inward surrender of the heart. We relinquish talking, analyzing, and enjoying the company of others in order to attend only to God." (83)

"Your first priority is no longer to get what you want, but to listen to the heart of God and see what God wants. You still make requests--which are part of our relationship with God and honored by God--but surrendering to God is now the bigger issue." (85) "Listening from the heart puts…our spirit on tiptoe--alert and listening." (85)

Q. "What changes have to occur in your lifestyle to make solitude a priority in your life?" (86) "It is better to have a daily practice of ten minutes [of] solitude than to have a whole hour once in awhile." (86, quoting Henri Nouwen)

Try a retreat center or park. Or try an hour in your backyard or balcony as soon as you can. See what happens. (87)

It takes time to learn to center yourself, to bring your thoughts and attention into your heart to listen to what is happening in your soul. (90) Centering is moving to God's wavelength, thinking the kind of thoughts He thinks. Centering calms us and makes us alert in God. (90)

You can't fight distractions. Better to jot yourself a note and let them go. "Turn within, again and again, no matter how often you are drawn away." (96, quoting Madame Guyon)

"Posing questions to God helps us stay alert in the silence, and it provides structure for anyone made uneasy by the open-ended nature of contemplative prayer. We offer questions in silent contemplation, and then wait. Sometimes a thought will come, but more often the answer will surprise us, coming at an odd moment later that day…or week or year." (99)

First surrender yourself to be filled with His presence. Then ask in the right context. (99)

"The whole point of asking, seeking, and knocking in order to inquire of God (see Matthew 7:7) is to interrupt our constant pull toward independence from Him. Without the discipline of inquiring after God, we often follow the normal method of doing things, which is to size things up from our own perspective and make decisions on our own, with little thought of asking God's direction. Asking invites God into our situations, great and small." (100)

"God's pattern is to go before us, and if we inquire of the Lord, we will know how to follow." (101)

Some foundational questions:

  • "What are You telling me about my relationship with You?
  • "What are You telling me about how my character needs to change?
  • "What are You telling me about how You want me involved in advancing Your Kingdom?" (101)

"As we wait for answers, a kind of 'simmering process' seems to go on, and it must be allowed to do its work." (104)

"Asking God questions requires an extended time of waiting for an answer." "Waiting on God is a problem only if you're in a relationship with God for utilitarian purposes--to get the prize from the vending machine. But if you're in the relationship for God Himself, waiting means you still have what you want--God--even while you wait." "Those who practice contemplative prayer get used to waiting on God in expectant alertness." (106)

"What we can expect most of all is to be loved. Love--which is the core of the good news--is the key feature of contemplative prayer." (111)

"Much of what comes to me in contemplation are clues about how to specifically obey what I already know is right." (112) "Expect your heart to change and to find the grace to obey." (113)

"More than anything else, contemplation is about creating a space in which a change of heart can occur, and then a change in our behavior." (113)

Expect to be examined and to see your flaws, your real self. (113) Let down your guard and be open to what God says. (115) Expect to see the defects in your desires, your soul's neediness, your core beliefs about yourself and God.

"You may not realize until later that day or the next the wordless communication you received." While you may hear nothing now, you may have prepared yourself to hear later. (119)

An agenda to try just for a starter: (120)

  • Let go of thoughts, relax, and maintain silence.
  • Be aware of God's presence.
  • Surrender in the Spirit.
  • Accept others. (let go of anger and resentment)
  • Repent and seek forgiveness. Be willing to change
  • Contemplate God. Listen and look for him to show you some aspect of himself.
  • Receive (such as a sense of being God's 'beloved.'
  • Praise (using praise psalms)
  • Intercede (prayer for others)

If what you hear is patient or kind, it's probably God. If it's boastful, proud, rude, angry, resentful, or self-seeking, it's probably not God. (129)

"Confirmation often involves repeating what we think we heard from God to people we trust. They often confirm for us and possibly add to it, becoming vehicles for God speaking in our lives." Ask, "Does this sound like something God might say to me? Something I need to hear?" (137)

"Contemplation carries over into life. It "turns us into patient, others-centered workers that others want to have around." (139) "Listening to God makes us more likely to carry out His values in our culture." (140)

"The best way to stay on track spiritually is to understand that God is likely to say to us what He has said before to people in Scripture. God's messages as expressed in broad themes of Scripture have not changed; He is anxious for us to absorb these truths." (155)

"God confronts us." "'Have you ever heard the Master say something very difficult to you? If you haven't, I question whether you have ever heard Him say anything at all,' says Oswald Chambers." (165) "In an authentic relationship with God, we trust God enough to let Him probe us." (165)

* * * * *
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Your comments and book recommendations are welcome.


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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Course on Prayer for Pastoral Leaders

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An interesting note from Professor Dan Crawford - - -

The first semester of the new course on prayer (which I taught online) has been completed at the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary – using Giving Ourselves to Prayer. I thought you might be interested in the final comments of the nine students enrolled:


===>Click headline or book cover to oder or find out more information . . . Click here to review the table of contents . . .

· “My prayer is that this class would become a required course at the Seminary and that it would be required to be taken the first year.” C.S.

· “I agree the course ought to be required. I don't think we can properly prepare people for any kind of ministry without a solid and deep understanding and practice of prayer. Prayer has become a major focus in my life, as God calls me to be a prayer warrior, and to lead others out of spiritual dryness into the glorious riches known through prayer. ” M.F.

· “Definitely in agreement here that this course ought to be required. The significant impact of this course for all ministers is too great to pass up. Thank-you so much for those final words on the video. They help 'finalize' my new definition of prayer.” C.A.

· “I'm completely grateful for this course (and agree--it should be required!) and thank God that hears our prayers and answers. This semester has been filled with answers to prayer and so I lift up praise to our Father.” B.Y.

· “I did not know how much I needed this course- to refocus my heart and mind to prayer and the importance. It was an answer to prayer which I did not know I had asked.” K.M.

· “My eyes have definitely been opened to the responsibility I have to partner with God on an individual level, a community level, a church level, a country level and a world level.” J.F.

· “Through this course my definition of prayer has become more ‘omnipresent’. I feel like I have a better global perspective on how my prayers can make an impact and the change that it brings.” C.B.

· “Thank you for all your efforts for the course of prayer.” S.O.

· “WOW! Our prayers have so much power! May we remember that!. J.P.

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Monday, December 08, 2008

Pray the Kingom Prayer for the next 21 Days ...

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In October Dale Schlafer preached a three week series of messages on The Kingdom of God. To end the series he asked folks, if they felt led, to place their name on a 3x5 card indicating that they would pray the prayer each day until Thanksgiving."The responses, from the people who have prayed the prayer, have been amazing and very encouraging," said Schlafer in a recent report. "We encourage you to join in making this a part of your devotions."

KINGDOM PRAYER

My God,
You have placed me in you Kingdom and today I gladly acknowledge you as my King. Take every area of my life and use it in Your Kingdom to bring glory to Your name. Lord, I believe your Word instructs me that I am to operate with Your authority & power as I live out my life in the Kingdom.

Your Word is clear. I am to walk in supernatural authority and power as did Jesus. However Lord, I ask you to increase my faith as my head knowledge far surpasses my life style, and my fear of man limits my involvement in Kingdom activity. I really want to live in Kingdom power- but I have problems believing that I can do so. Increase my faith until doubt is extinguished! Holy Spirit fill me! Holy Spirit empower me! Holy Spirit anoint me to live a Kingdom lifestyle.

As best as I know myself, I tell You today that there isn't any gift that You have for me that I don't want. If You want to use me in a way that I'm not used to, I yield myself to that. There is no place I will not go by your direction. It is my heart's desire to want to choose to follow the Holy Spirit's promptings. I declare today, on the basis of Your Word, that I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God sent to be involved in the message, the signs and the deeds of Christ's Kingdom in this region.

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!

Authored by Dale Schlafer


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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Prayer. The antidote to "unmeditated" sermons

Phil Miglioratti interviewed Zach Eswine for Praying Pastor



Praying Pastor ~ Zach, your book, Preaching to a Post-Everything World: Crafting Biblical Sermons that Connect with our Culture, seems to have been prompted by a gnawing concern in your gut - Am I right?



Zach Eswine ~ Yes. I suppose that concern has three roots. First, I'm concerned that we have a tendency as preachers to forget where we've been. There was once a time when we did not know where the book of Exodus was. We had never heard of Arminianism or Calvinism. We did not have the answers or the position that we now have. Yet, our Lord met us with His grace and grew us. We need God to remind us where we have been so that we can give others the same amount of time, grace, and room to make mistakes that we have needed to get where we now are. Second, I'm concerned that as preachers, we not only learn to say what the Bible says; we also need to take into account how people hear what the Bible says. A person who has not been raised in Sunday School will have a very different frame of reference for the words we use. We need to learn to account for this when we preach. Third, once we learn to say what the text says with a sensitivity to how people hear these things from their cultural backgrounds, we still have no lasting spiritual power in our preaching unless God intensifies the presence of His Spirit's work in our preaching. To sum up my concern? (1) Remember where we've been (2) Preach like a missionary who translates the text for people (3) Believe that the intensified presence of the Holy Spirit is the greatest need a preacher of any generation or culture has. Testimony and contextualization without the immediate working of God's Spirit is like taking a toy-shovel to a blizzard. God knows this and has wisely prepared us with what we need--which is, Himself.


Praying Pastor ~ "Post-Everything" ... How has the "post-everything world" infiltrated every congregation (regardless of size, style, or systematic theology) and what does that mean to the pastor slugging it out 6 or 7 days a week in relative obscurity?

Zach Eswine ~ By "post-everything" I mean that there is essentially nothing new under the sun. No matter what cultural climate a preacher serves, the human heart has not changed. Some preachers will do their work in postmodern climates. Others will serve in climates that more fit the descriptions of pre-modern environments. But no matter which climate a preacher serves, whether churched, unchurched or in-between, God is the supreme expert the preacher needs. To put it somewhat crassly, God knows how to use an Ipod. He has seen the Matrix and the Lord of the Rings. He has read the greatest philosophers and understands the nuances of their out-workings in societies. God speaks Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, Japanese, English, etc . . .In other words, we must be careful of acting as if God is an elderly frail man who does not know what to do with these young people, the internet, and the global realities of our current generation. As if we have to teach God about what's happening. When we lose sight of God's wisdom, we rush to strategies other than His for the power we need to navigate those daily challenges that confound us. In other words, no matter where we preach, the fundamental issue remains: will we actively wait upon God and seek His power for the substantial healing our congregation or community requires? If we will, then not only will our sense of control frighteningly diminish, but our preaching discussions will subsequently change. We will still talk about power-point, drama, inductive versus deductive forms, pulpits or no pulpits, and the debate between propositional or more narrative forms of sermon styles. But these discussions will move from the front seat of homiletics to the back as preachers begin to bring the work of the Holy Spirit through Christ by and with God's Word to the forefront of our concern again. No matter what "ism" we face, we must not only take our responsibility to understand and navigate that "ism" wisely, we must also recognize that understanding and wisdom apart from the illumination and empowerment of the Holy Spirit will leave us planting and watering with no sunshine or rain to birth the roots and the fruit of our labors. Only such attention can keep our roots from withering and burst our labors into fruitfulness (Psalm 1).


Praying Pastor ~ What is the role of prayer in crafting biblical sermons that connect with culture?

Zach Eswine ~Prayer acknowledges that we are limited, that something more than our resources, abilities, skills and planning is necessary for us to accomplish our goal in preaching. We believe that Christian sermon-making is of a different order than secular speech-making. Both can powerfully move people and change their lives. But only one can make an eternal difference. If we learn that speech-making involves attention to the speaker, the message and the audience, then sermon-making must pay attention to the speaker, the message, the audience and the living God. Along with saying what the biblical text says, prayer is what leads us to this "fourth" category of communication. By it, we look to God's present persuasion in the preaching moment. But not only do we acknowledge by prayer that we need God's active presence and power, we also demonstrate our belief that God possesses exhaustive knowledge of our culture in general and the individuals we minister to in particular. In the task of faithfully expounding the Scriptures in context and pastorally understanding people in their environments, we ask God to illumine His word and the human heart of these people so that we know what to say. Our active prayer-lives as preachers declares our belief that God is not only present and powerful, but He is also wise, knowledgeable and intimately familiar with what the people we serve need. It is as if we have a family member or intimate friend that we can converse with in order to better understand and communicate with this person and that one. But better than a human confidant, we have access through Christ to the One who created our listeners, providentially governs their lives, cares for them and knows them through and through. Prayer describes this conversation with God for the well-being of our sermon listeners. Prayer is a gift of God's grace. It is like Gideon's smashed glass or Joshua's shouts or the staff of Moses. The thing in itself has no power to change anything. Furthermore, it is inadequate for the task. And yet, the inadequate thing when it is given to us by God, instructs us that the power we need does not come from us but from Him. Prayer is the primary means that we have to expose ourselves as clay jars who need a power greater than ourselves to ignite. Jesus paid for our prayerlessness. His active life of prayer is accounted to us by faith. Forgiven, flawed and limited we lift our voice to the One who has no limits, no flaws, and true might for the moment.


Praying Pastor ~ In your section on "slowing down" you direct the reader/learner to focus on God ... What do you mean by:
  • Talk about God
  • Talk to God
  • Listen to God
  • Talk for God
Zach Eswine ~I'm building upon an idea from Eugene Peterson. A preacher's calling makes him noisy if he or she is not careful. We talk so much about God and for God that we may feel as if we have actually talked to God and taken silent time to listen. When this illusion happens, we start to only offer people our first-drafts. Our conversations and sermons give unmeditated words, thoughts and ideas to people. A habit of giving people our unmeditated messages slowly decays our interior lives. Like a tree that dies, we do not see the damage until it is too late because the decaying tree continues to bear fruit. Fruit-bearing hides interior disease but only for a while. Eventually the disease engulfs the tree. So it is with us. In the Wisdom Literature of the Bible it is the fool and not the wise who constantly chatters. As preachers we become foolish when we constantly vent our own opinions, assume that problems must be solved immediately, assume that we know the answers before we've heard the nuance of the question, and when we become impatient with taking time to consider, wait, meditate and pray over a matter. Talking and listening to God are necessary to make sure that we are speaking from a posture of active waiting rather than impatient wrangling. Otherwise, we eventually become hollowed-out preachers building our ministries on yesterday's sermon series' and second-hand testimonies from what we used to experience. We also begin to lose our ability to readily discern Jesus' voice from the competing voices in our hearts, our congregations and our community. We need to ask and listen in order to know which voice most resembles our Master's voice on a given matter. He knows this about us. In His kindness He calls us to slow down, to wait, to listen. Such commands are grace-giving. They fit our frame and intend our good. No wonder our Lord often withdrew to quiet places early in the morning or late at night. Our speaking about and for God is meant to flow from a hear that has first spoken to God and hear from Him. We need each other's help as preachers to receive the strength His grace gives us to enjoy and inhabit a live of active converse with God.


Praying Pastor ~ Agree or disagree? Prayer is vital to connect with the text (God's words about his Word) and with the context (culture).

Zach Eswine ~We do not mean to imply it, but when we do the work of understanding God's text for the sermon without prayer, we actively imply that (1) the bible is the same as any other book, (2) our human brainpower all we need to understand the Word of God, (3) we actively contradict the regular teaching of the Bible itself that only by prayer and God's giving of wisdom can we understand His word. "Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from your law." Likewise, when we approach our neighbors or cultural artifacts such as films, poems or songs without prayer, we unwittingly imply that (1) we can adequately navigate the human heart on our own (2) that our ideas about people or things are without need of further instruction from God, (3) that reaching people with the gospel is a matter of applied formula, i.e., "if I do this, they will do this." The problem is this: Often, people will not reject the gospel because they do not understand what you are saying. Sometimes people reject our sermons precisely because they do understand what we are saying. The issue for them is not the absence of information. The issue is something in their heart. Only God can break the idols of the human heart. Only He can disrupt how such idols blind our own interpretations of the Bible and of each other. Prayer is the means Christ has purchased for us by which we listen to and learn from God about the text He wrote and the people He created. Prayer puts us in our place and preserves the truth that we are not God.

Praying Pastor ~ Zach, please write a prayer for the pastor who wants to prayer-saturate the sermon preparation and sermon presentation processes . . .

Oh Father, slow us down, wake us up, open our ears, humble our hearts, rouse yourself, thunder your speech, see us undone, see the blood shed from your Son, see our limits, our sins, our inabilities and draw so very near that we can hear you breathe, if that were possible, and from there, reach into us O God and prove yourself the lifter of our heads. And then, gracious, masterful, Lord, our Creator, redeemer and friend, fill our lungs and give us voice. For the glory of Jesus in this our generation, fill our lungs and give us voice in such a way that when this generation hears our feeble words with their ears, their broken and sin-sick hearts will know along with ours that it is your voice truly, calling to us. Tell us O Lord that it is time to come home to you. We are hollowed out. You are in tact. We are diseased and decaying. You are vibrant and flourishing. Proclaim yourself to us in Christ O Lord that out of our own personal need and comfort and repentance and forgiveness and faith, that out of our own human experience of such things we will testify in our generation of Jesus until you come or until we breathe our last here, whichever comes first. Return our preaching to testimony. Return us preachers to human beings. Forgive us for preaching as if we are orators rather than martyrs, gods rather than creatures. Exalt yourself O Lord. You are our greatest desire and need. Not to us but to your name be glory and honor. Restore your voice. Restore you voice in this generation we ask. Remember your servants who cry out to you through Christ. Amen.

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