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Posts from October 2013

Mr. Tarkington Goes to Washington

I have been to Washington, DC a few times with mission teams. We have worked in cities in Virginia in the past and taken time to tour the nation's capital. It's always encouraging to me to walk the streets of DC and see the diversity of people also there. There are many Americans who work in the city and no doubt now view the monuments and memorials like many who live in Orlando view Disney World. You know, "Oh, yeah, that's cool. . .I guess." It becomes commonplace.

There are groups from other nations posing by every American icon to get photographs to post online or send back home.

Government workers move quickly between buildings. 

Capital police stand guard everywhere. 

Photo Oct 29, 2 56 59 PMI have been in Washington DC for the past two days. This time, I was not with a group of students or a mission team. I was joining over 600 other pastors, business leaders, conservative thinkers, educators, law enforcement and others in an effort to encourage House Republicans to move forward with immigration reform.


Why would a pastor in Orange Park, a suburb of Jacksonville, care about immigration reform? It's one thing for leaders in south Florida, or in border states like Texas, Arizona, New Mexico or California, to care, but why me?

The phrase "immigration reform" has been hijacked by many in the political arena. As I met with Congressmen and congressional aides today, we  affirmed the hijacking of these terms and realize that many hear the phrase, but think it means "amnesty for illegals" and "insecure borders." When others write the talking points, that does come to mind.

Thankfully, as we met with Florida Republican members and/or aides of Congress today. . .

. . .the clarity of thought moved beyond sound bytes.

Each agreed that we have a broken immigration process. Each agreed that border security and homeland security is a priority. Each agreed that amnesty is not the answer and would be unfair to taxpayers and those who went through the legal process of naturalization. Each also agreed that there are many holes in our system. Holes that leave us with many problems, such as law enforcement issues, economic issues, familial issues and various other problems.

Partnering with the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT), (By the way, there are reports that the EIT is a front organization funded by liberal billionaire George Soros. Those assertions of funding and control are false. Please read here.) we were able to discuss the real issues based on the EIT's principle statment:

As evangelical Christian leaders, we call for a bipartisan solution on immigration that:

  • Respects the God-given dignity of every person
  • Protects the unity of the immediate family
  • Respects the rule of law
  • Guarantees secure national borders
  • Ensures fairness to taxpayers
  • Establishes a path toward legal status and/or citizenship for those who qualify and who wish to become permanent residents

The Bible is clear about how immigrants should be treated. The Hebrew word for immigrant, ger, is used in the Bible 92 times and we are continuously called to care for the stranger in our midst.

Compassion and justice for the sojourner and alien among us is affirmed in numerous places (Exodus 22:21; Deuteronomy 10:18-19, Psalm 94:6) and Jesus spoke of ministering to the "least of these" in the Gospels. 

And as Romans affirms, we are to live as Christ-followers while abiding by the rule of law. 

Our meetings today were fruitful and discussion and prayer was good. Each member we had the privilege to speak with today desires to address and fix the immigration process. The "how to" is still being debated. Some say the Senate bill is a good start. Others fear that there are too many holes in that bill to enforce it well and therefore, a new bill should be written. Forsaking border security and fairness to taxpayers is not an option. Providing amnesty is not an option.

Yet, something must be done. That has been agreed upon.

We met today to affirm our lawmakers and to ensure them we respect them, and pray for them. Please join me in praying for these members of Congress and those they represent and may well represent in the future as they move forward to reform our nation's immigration process.

Ordination of Pastor Patrick Hayle

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Yesterday at our 10:45am service, we had the honor of charging and ordaining Patrick Hayle as our Pastor of Mercy Ministries. 

Patrick has been an active member of our church for almost twenty years and has served in numerous areas of leadership (ministry leader, deacon, committee leader, small group leader, etc.) in our church as well as in local rescue missions and mercy ministries in our area. He currently serves as the CEO and Director of Mercy Support Services.

We are proud to have him on our Leadership Teams.

Patrick Hayle

You Are What You Read

Some people don't like to read. I love to read. In fact, I have a stack of books that I've purchased and have been given to me over the years still in the "to read" pile. Time becomes an issue.

Nevertheless, you will know a person by what they read, right?

So, here are some pictures of bookshelves in my office and in our Associate Pastors' offices. A little insight into what we're thinking on, perhaps?

My office:

And. . .another shelf in my office:


Stanley Puckett's office:


Dave Paxton's office:


Shelvin Lamb's office:


Skipper Rodgers' office:


Going Through the Motions: A Message to Pastors & Leaders

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In Malachi 2:1, God zeroes in on one of thre reasons His children are living lives outside His will. Their leaders, priests, are corrupt. While the New Testament makes it clear that the role and title of priest was fufilled in Christ (Hebrews 7) and therefore not used or needed today.

Shepherd-sheep-10However, there is a role of the priest that is carried on throughout the New Testament and churches today. This is the role of teaching and leading.

For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. Malachi 2:7 (ESV)

Here are some bullet points from yesterday's sermon (click the link above to hear the entire message):

  • The New Testament never uses the term "priest" to describe or label a pastor or leader in the church.
  • There's no "official" priesthood in the New Testament church.
  • Jesus Christ is our ultimate High Priest (Hebrews 7).
  • Jesus Christ is our connector to the Father. He is Son of God, God the Son, Way, Truth & Life.
  • Doctrine matters.
  • The teaching ministry of the Old Testament priesthood, however, is carried out in the New Testament church as God has called men to be pastors and teachers for the sake of equipping the saints for the work of ministry.
  • God calls His men to serve His church as His pastors as He sees fit.
  • The pastor must be grounded in the Word of God.
  • The pastor must be able to lead God's church with integrity, purity of heart, clarity of mind, and a vision to continually lead God's people into missional living and Kingdom growth.
  • Pastors should be prayed for daily.
  • You cannot effectively pray for your pastor unless you are versed in the temptations and purposes of pastoral ministry. These are revealed in the Word of God.
  • Pastors should be held accountable to the Word of God regarding pastoral ministry.
  • Accountability works hand-in-hand with the submissiveness required biblically.
  • You cannot hold pastoral leadership accountable to the fullness of the Word of God if your only baseline is what you believe a pastor ought to be doing.
  • The Word of God is the benchmark. Nothing else.
  • All Christ-followers must seek to not fail as the leaders in Malachi did.
  • The priests in Malachi 2 failed to listen to the voice of God.
  • The priests in Malachi 2 turned aside from the way.

May we heed the warnings. Children know their Father's voice. Listen closely to the voice of God. Hear and obey. Walk the narrow way.

Have a great week!

Incredibly Poor Gifts In July Leave Us In a Hole

Tithes and offerings titleAt this time of year, I normally write a blog post about the overrage of gifts received by our church (First Baptist Church of Orange Park) and how we are going to model good stewardship with the gifts. Our strategy has been to pay off debt, save for future maintenance and to give generously to areas of our "Big 3: Orphan Care, Church Planting and Global Mission."

For the first time in over two years, I am unable to share news of distribution.

While there are many who argue that the concept of tithing, though mentioned in the Bible, is something reserved for the Old Testament and is not intended to be taught or practiced under the New Covenant, I believe that God affirmed the concept of tithe (or giving a tenth part) of all He blesses us with as a way of worship. The debates regarding this will be waged for years to come, just as they have been in decades past, and while I can and will fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with me, I still hold to what I see as a biblical model of generosity and faithfulness.

I also know there are some who teach the tithe in such a way that it is little more than legalism, and the love and worship aspects of giving are removed, unintentionally mind you, but removed nonetheless.

Then, I guess I should mention, there are some who use the teaching of tithing and giving only to pad their own pockets and buy more toys (cars, planes, helicopters, gold-leaf chairs for the stage, etc.) Those are the exception, not the rule, and God will take care of those "ministries" and "ministers" as He sees fit. In other words - stop giving to these types of ministries, please.

So, why isn't there a distribution to be made now?

To put it simply, our giving in July (and even in September) was terrible.

What happened in July?

We don't know.


We don't know.

Pastors and ministry leaders have talked to those in our fellowship to see if there was some common factor leading to such low worship through giving. While there are some in the fellowship who are unhappy with the church and leadership (i.e. me) it does not appear to be a significant movement at all. In fact, the unhappy people have always been around. Every church has this group. These people are unhappy at church. In most cases, they're unhappy at home, at work, at Walmart and Publix, too. They're just unhappy. 

Overall, there is a sense of great joy about what God is doing at First. People are still buzzing about the stories of redemption that have been shared over the past three months. Marriages have been healed. Lost have been found. Children rescued. Baptisms are common. Worship is rich. God is doing a BIG thing here at First, and we're enjoying the fact He's invited us to join Him.

I asked another pastor in the city about this and he shared "We've had a good year, but July's giving was terrible." Hmmm. A trend. Well, not just from two churches, but perhaps what is happening is not unique to us.

Some have theorized a great fear due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare, if you will) has caused many to stop giving to churches and charities. Others reference the government shut down. That hurt some families as well. I get it. If income is zero, then ten percent of zero is zero. 

It just seems that regardless of the reason, giving being an act of worship and an expectation of God's children that a random summer month's tanking as it relates to giving is odd.

Spending is under budget. Summer programming bills come in at the end of the summer with anticipation that summer giving will be steady. It wasn't.

So. . .we now find ourselves not in the black, but over $60,000 in the red.

While this concerns me, I'm not worried. We have money in the bank, but more months like July and September cannot occur without some pretty severe reworking of the small areas of our budget that are not fixed costs.

The greatest concern is that I fear I have led people to believe living as consumer Christians is a good option. 

Oh, I'm preaching through Malachi and many will say "He's preaching tithing messages." I don't apologize for that, but rest assured, I did not pull out this series in Malachi for just a few verses in chapter 3. There is a fullness of God's warnings against consumerism in this book. It's a fair warning to the people of God thousands of years ago as well as to the church today. We would be wise to heed the warnings.

Our God is the model of grace, giving and generosity for all of us. We are to follow His lead here. I was reading in Relevant Magazine about the state of the church and tithing in America. Check out these bullet points:

  • The church of today is not great at giving.
  • Tithers make up only 10-25 percent of an average church congregation.
  • Only five percent of the US tithes, with 80 percent of American churchgoers only giving two percent of their income through their churches.
  • Christians are only giving at 2.5 percent per capita, while during the Great Depression they gave at a 3.3 percent rate.

If the church (the people, not the organization) tithed, churches (local fellowships) would have an additional $165 billion to distribute. This means. . .

  • $25 billion could relieve global hunger, starvatoin and deaths from preventable diseases in five years.
  • $12 billion could eliminate illiteracy in five years.
  • $15 billion could solve the world's water and sanitation issues, specifically at places in the world where 1 billion people live on less than $1 per day.
  • $1 billion could fully fund all overseas mission work.
  • $100-$110 billion would still be left over in the churches for expanded Kingdom work.

This presumes the local church would be good stewards of additional funds. I believe we are tested more in increase than we are with lack. 

Am I worried about our church's giving? Worried? No. Concerned? Yes. I am concerned, not because I fear we will not do ministry we're called to do or that God is surprised by lack of resources. I am concerned because we continually fall back to a place of consumerism and a lifestyle of faith, worship, generosity and belief in God is suffering. 

Am I saying that if a person isn't tithing, it means they're spiritually tepid? No. In fact, a person can give ten percent of every check and be spiritually inept. Tithing is not the litmus test for spiritual maturity. 

However, worshipping God is something that I fear we equate to a song and a study and not so much a lifestyle. The tithe says much, in my eyes. When offered in a sense of worship (whether by placing in an offering plate, or privately giving online) God is honored and we experience Him in a way only reserved for this moment. We are giving. We are cheerful. We are generous. We are acting like Him.

It is honoring to give.

Will we end the year in the red?

No. We will not. How do I know this? I know God is faithful. He is not worried and He is guiding us to learn things about Him in ways we couldn't otherwise. We (the church) are being drawn closer to Him. 

Worship Him with your life. 

To God be the glory!

P.S. Some say that I shouldn't blog about things like this. Perhaps it's because they believe pastors talking about money is a bad thing. Perhaps it's because they believe these are "in house" issues and shouldn't be blogged about publicly. I say. . ."nope." It's not a secret. It's a teachable moment. God talks about money and generosity much. Therefore, we should talk about it as well.

To Be a Sending Church, We Must Send Our Best: Neil & Kaytee Are Moving to Canada

It's been said that life is a journey, and the older I get the more I understand that truth. Over the past few years, God has been leading me and our church to be more intentional and strategic when it comes to expanding the Kingdom of God through church planting. This is interesting because. . . well, I'm not a church planter. I've never had that designation.

I answered God's call into ministry over twenty-three years ago. My calling, at the time, was clearly to work with students in the venue of the local church. Being a typical, Baptist church kid, missions was something we gave money to. . .not something we did. I went to seminary and served as the part-time youth minister at my home church of about 120. It was a learning experience, and I'm not too sure I really did the church much good. I was literally two years older than my seniors. Not much "wisdom of the ages" to offer.

I completed seminary and was called here to First Baptist Church of Orange Park - an established church with a history of strong student ministry. I was content. I believed I would be serving as the Student Pastor here for decades. Well, it's been decades (two in December) but God had other plans for me. Eight years ago I was called to be the Lead Pastor here at First. It felt just like those first few months as youth minister back in Texas. I was in over my head. I think most everyone knew it, too.

Still, God had a plan.

He solidly confirmed some strategic moves for us as a church. This resulted in a clarity of mission. We were drawn to engage in orphan care, church planting and global missions. These became our "Big 3."

Why church planting?

I had no experience in planting. I had never been a part of a plant. I had no idea why I was being led this way. I wasn't being led to plant a church. Rather, God was confirming my calling and our church's role as advocates for planters and eventually, to be a "planting, or multiplying, church."

This strategy didn't fit well into the "church as usual" mode where many established fellowships land. Still, I was never very good at status quo anyway.

In the Fall of 2010, I received a phone call from a church planter in Tucson, Arizona. This call was literally "out of the blue." This planter, Chase Delperdang, was told by an Arizona Baptist leader that Florida Baptist churches were strong missionally and would be good partners in planting. So, apparently, he randomly picked our church and number and called me. We talked and it became evident that we were to partner to reach the people of a city far away from Orange Park, in a state I had never been, where our church had absolutely NO connection.

Our partnership began with a monthly donation and communication with Chase.

So, now I'm involved in church planting, even if just barely.

The following summer our Southern Baptist Convention was being held in Phoenix. God was clearly telling me to go to the convention and take some time to drive to Tucson to see Chase and the Legacy Church plant. One of our church members, a member of our worship band heard me talking about it and said, "Hey, I'll go with you."

"What? Why?"

"I've never been to Arizona. I'd like to go."

So, at the next business meeting, the church voted Neil Jimenez and I to be messengers to the SBC and we planned our trip to Phoenix.

It was at that convention the North American Mission Board, under the new leadership of Kevin Ezell, revealed the "SEND>>NORTH AMERICA" strategy to reach the cities of our nation and Canada.

There are many reasons why city-reaching is vital and it became clear that day that we would be actively involved in this.

The years went by and Neil became my traveling partner on vision trips and mission engagement visits. We traveled to Portland twice and to Toronto. 

Rather than go through the details of each trip and how God was working in me and especially Neil and his wife Kaytee, click here to read Kaytee's blog about this journey. 

Seriously. Go read her blog before you continue mine. Otherwise, it won't make sense.

So, as you have read. . .

Neil and Kaytee Jimenez are going to be moving to Toronto.

We saw this coming for months, but God's timing is perfect and we continue to praise Him for how He is working this out.

Neil and KayteeHere's something that God did last summer in regards to this move. I was asked by the SEND>>Toronto team to travel to Dallas for the SEND>>NORTH AMERICA Conference. There were breakout sessions scheduled and they wanted me to give a brief statement to pastors of established churches regarding the need and reasoning for partnering with Toronto church planters.

As I stood before the group, I spoke of the great need in the city and said some things that only a pastor can say to other pastors. I was clear, concise and challenging. Then, I said this, "We as Baptists are all about missions. We'll come to conferences and 'Amen' the messages. We'll collect offerings and send them to the mission boards. We'll even get together teams of church members for short-term trips. However, until we come to the place where we're willing to send our best leaders into the field as church planters, for life, we are not really fully engaged in the mission."

WHAT? Where did that come from?

I left thinking maybe I had been too harsh. What about those small churches who cannot send people out? (Which, by the way, is a lie. Any size church can do this. That's the joy of cooperative missions. Still, that came to mind.) What about us? What about First Orange Park? We're engaged. I've been asked to serve as the JAX-TORONTO liaison for our network. We were sending money. We had partnered with a planter there, just like we did with Chase from Arizona. We were fully engaged. Right?

Not yet.

Neil and Kaytee Jimenez are incredible leaders here at First. Neil is a deacon, small group leader, committee chairman, worship team member and an incredible behind the scenes servant. Not to mention, he's my mission trip traveling partner. 

Kaytee grew up here in this church. She was in my youth group. I've known her for twenty years. I've seen her grow up, get married. I even recorded their wedding (though I forgot to turn on the microphone - sorry about that.) I have seen God bless her and Neil with two wonderful boys. She serves on our staff. She's our Missional Expressions and Orphan Care Coordinator. She's a small group leader. She's a children's choir and drama director.

These are two of our best (I know that embarrasses them, but it's true.)

So, in God's divine wisdom, it is becoming clear how He has been at work in this part of our story. Coming to First all those years ago so I could serve as Student Pastor. Having the privilege of discipling and watching the spiriritual growth of students into godly leaders (Kaytee and a host of others who are serving full-time in ministry as well as in the local church as leaders, deacons, etc. is overwhelming. God alone gets the glory.) The phone call from Chase. The trip to Phoenix. The connection with church planters throughout the nation. Our partnership in Portland, Oregon. Our partnership in Toronto. 

God is up to something BIG.

And. . .He's invited us into it.

That shakes me to my core. 

Pray for Neil, Kaytee, Eli and Owen as they continue along this journey. Most likely, they'll be in Toronto next summer. 

What does this mean for our church? Well, we are now a "Multiplying Church" as far as NAMB is concerned. As far as I'm concerned, following God's lead, the Jimenez's are just the first to step into this area of church planting. I believe we will be sending more families into the field. We will support them through our regular Cooperative Program gifts as well as other gifts along the way.

Remember that "3 Day Weekend Missionary" concept I blogged about previously? Hmmm. Seems things are falling into place for that as well.

Yes, it's a journey. Not easy. Not always drawn out like a map, but always planned by the Father. May we continue to be obedient to hear and obey. May we continue to "send" and "go." 


Going Through the Motions: Malachi 1:6-14

101313_1045_Going Through the Motions 2

Going through the motions app square copySome key points from Sunday's sermon:

  • Contextual clarity is vital.
  • The children of God should honor Him as Father.
  • The honor of fatherhood has been devalued over time.
  • God reveals himself as Father throughout the Bible.
  • It's not a male-centric message, but a Father-centric one.
  • The typical response of what the fatherhood of God means sounds more like "He loves me. He will care for me. Guide me. Forgive me. Bring me to heaven when I die." While true, it's a shallow understanding.
  • Somewhere over the past few centuries the awe and fear and honor of our Heavenly Father has been diminished as we recreate Him to fit our likes and dislikes. And while he is love, a guide, our hope, our forgiver and all that we’ve said, we often ignore “revered” as a descriptor.
  • We often default to self-worship. 
  • God is a jealous God. He alone is worthy of worship.
  • Some parents have even devolved to child-worship as they live, under the justification to provide for their children, as adults who truly worship their children. 
  • Why aren't many evangelical children coming to know Christ as Savior? Why would they, they're the ones used to being worshipped?
  • We despise the name of God and pollute His altar by providing weak and vicarious worship.
  • Vicarious worship is not worship.
  • The spirit of Malachi’s people is alive and well in today’s churches. God’s love is pure and holy. His grace is evident through the sacrifice of his son. His power holds back many attacks we never even know were coming. He is a loving, powerful, Father to be revered.

"A Christian Response to Homosexuality" - Christopher Yuan

How should Christians respond to homosexuality and the LGBT community? 

3Christopher Yuan, along with his parents Leon and Angela, shared their story at First Baptist Church on September 29, 2013. Their story redemption is powerful. Christopher left home and lived a promiscuous gay lifestyle for years. He soon entered into the high end drug culture of his community and was making tons of money. He was selling drugs, hosting parties and distributing drugs nationwide. 

All the while, his mother was praying that he would come to Christ.

He did, after being arrested and convicted. While in prison, he discovered he was HIV+. Christopher's is a "Romans 8:28 story" as God truly worked all things together for good. Christopher surrendered his life to Christ, served the time alotted to him and now, after amazingly being accepted and graduating from Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, and currently pursuing his doctorate from Bethel Seminary, he teaches (professor at Moody) and speaks nationwide of his story as a prodigal.

Christopher shared a teaching session on Sunday evening for us focused on the question "How should Chrstians respond to those in the LGBT community?" Christopher's message is clear, biblical and shines as a message from one who has lived as a gay man in the past. 

Christians are to respond with. . .

  • Conviction
  • Consistence
  • Compassion
  • Completion

While there are a number of things to avoid saying and doing (and the reminder that bullying is far from Christ-like) ultimately, the Christ-follower must remember that God alone can change a heart, and that sin, all sin, is offensive to God. 

Watch Christopher's full conference on this subject here and on YouTube.


And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:11 (ESV)

Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture? - Christopher Yuan

On September 29, 2013, Christopher Yuan, along with his parents Leon and Angela, visited our church here in Orange Park. Their story redemption is powerful. Christopher left home and lived a promiscuous gay lifestyle for years. He soon entered into the high end drug culture of his community and was making tons of money. He was selling drugs, hosting parties and distributing drugs nationwide. 

All the while, his mother was praying that he would come to Christ.

5He did, after being arrested and convicted. While in prison, he discovered he was HIV+. Christopher's is a "Romans 8:28 story" as God truly worked all things together for good. Christopher surrendered his life to Christ, served the time alotted to him and now, after amazingly being accepted and graduating from Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College, and currently pursuing his doctorate from Bethel Seminary, he teaches (professor at Moody) and speaks nationwide of his story as a prodigal.

He also shares regarding much of what culture affirms to be true regarding homosexuality and living as LGBT. The question most often asked is "Are people born gay?"

While the culture and many in the mainstream would say "Yes, that's been proven," Christopher and others affirm the biblical assertion of holy living while also presenting information that shows the holes in the theory of "born gay." While there are potentially biological factors leading some to live as LGBT, to affirm these exist is not the same as saying people are born gay. There are numerous factors that most likely lead to a person living as LGBT such as environmental, familial, biological, etc. 

Nevertheless, as Christopher states on his website in the FAQ section:

Some claim that people are born gay in order to justify moral permissiveness. "If I was born this way, it can't be wrong." However, there are many inherant impulses I've had as long as I can remember, that I never chose, nor did I ever ask for (selfishness, jealousy, pride, etc.) But this doesn't justify their moral permissiveness.

On Sunday evening (9/29/2013), Christopher led a teaching session titled "Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture?" This session addresses the issue clearly and is available for viewing below on YouTube.


For a PDF copy of the PowerPoint notes Christopher used this evening, click here.

Quit Smoking or Give Me $100

One of our church members came by the office today with a check from his doctor. The check was made out to the church in the amount of $100.

SmokingIt seems that earlier this year the church member went to his doctor with a challenge. His doctor smokes regularly (seems odd to me, but hey, that nicotine is addictive.) His doctor had told him previously that he was trying to stop. So. . . the challenge was laid down. The gentleman from our church said, "You have one month to stop. If you haven't stopped by the time I come back for my next appointment, you owe me $100 to the charity of my choice." The doctor agreed.

Apparently, today was the the date for the "next appointment." Our man went to the office, met with his doctor and asked the question, "So. . .have you quit?"

The doctor said, "Not yet."

The response was quick and clear, "Then get your checkbook out. You owe me $100."

The doctor obliged and said, "To whom do I make it out?"

"First Baptist Church."

So. . .thank you doctor for your gift. However, we think you should put away the cigarettes, too. Cigarettes are expensive, but the extra $100 a month makes them outrageous. Oh, and according to most doctors. . . smoking isn't healthy. Try gum.

(The $100 was placed in our Global Missions Fund.)