Obedient to God’s Vision

Obedient to God’s Vision

I have a dream.  I have always thought it important to have one as a leader, and I was taught in my classes on church growth that having a God-sized vision was the determining factor on whether a Christian leader was successful or not.

I still agree.  But the key word there is “God,” not “I.”  The key concept is that HIS vision matters, not my or someone else’s interpretation of it.

My dream is to be the pastor of a church that is “mega” in size and influence.  The American Church growth model revolves around that idea—that a large and growing church is a successful church and the local church—and its satellite locations—is the know-all and end-all of this model.

Sometimes, a large and growing local church, cool and attractive and fast-growing—is exactly God’s vision for a certain place and time.  But God has a different vision for us, and it has taken me a looooong time to grasp it.

It is not like He hasn’t told us in prophetic words.  For years, the Lord has talked about “many small fires” when explaining revival in the Upper Cumberland.  For years He has reminded us of being a “Lighthouse” Church.  Lighthouses are critically important for navigating safely, but they are not a place in and of themselves that draw huge numbers of people.  He has told us we are an Eastern Gate Church.  Gates open and close, but they are not meant to be a dwelling place…  He has called us an Antioch Church.  Antioch was famous as a hub that equipped and sent, not as a magnet that drew and grew…

I have come to believe—with all my heart—that God’s vision for us hasn’t changed, but we have been changed by His vision for us.  I know I have!

I have come to believe—with all my heart—that His vision for us is to plant dozens…hundreds…even thousands of churches in the most rural and neglected places in our region of the nation—Appalachia.

Can a church of two-hundred pull it off?  Antioch did, and likely, they had less than 200.  Can we afford it?  If our currency is GRACE rather than CASH, we have all we will ever need in Jesus!

What does it mean when we have helped to plant 10 churches with an average attendance of only 30?  Than suddenly our church of 200 has an impact of 500 souls—souls that are primarily won to Christ rather than borrowed from other congregations.  In addition, there are 10 more pastors, several more worship leaders, and dozens of folks raised up to be elders and teachers.

What does it mean once we have planted 100 churches, even if they only average 30 apiece?  3200 hundred souls, 100 or more new pastors and worship leaders, and hundreds of people raised up to lead.

The American Church model is based around marketplace efficiency—less pastors, less leaders, less worship leaders, and lower cost.  Money is spent on facilities, not in raising up people to Kingdom authority.  God has a different economy.  He is looking for many, many workers because the harvest is plentiful.  He wants to raise up people into places of authority and leadership—not eliminate their jobs!

What about 1000 churches…?  You get the math.  God multiplies, even while the world divides and eliminates.  We may never be a church of more than 200 in a town of 3500.  But if we can help raise up hundreds of pastors who lead thousands of souls to Jesus, then we have become “mega” in Father’s eyes—we have been obedient to His vision.  That excites me.  It humbles me.  And it has changed my whole understanding of success…!


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Rocked by the Gospel

 Rocked by the Gospel

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee; Let the water and the blood, from thy wounded side which flowed, be of sin the double cure, save from wrath and make me pure. 

This is one of my favorite hymns, and the theology in it is profound—important for us to remember in these tumultuous days!

The Good News (Gospel) of Jesus Christ IS Jesus Christ!  He is our Rock, and hidden in Him, as Moses was in the cleft, allows the Glory of God to pass before us and radically change us.

Two other gems from this first verse jump out at me, especially considering the bigness of the Gospel, which we have been discussing of late.

Augustus Toplady, who wrote this Hymn and was a contemporary of John Wesley, recognized the power of the Water and Blood flowing from Jesus’ side.  This wound, inflicted by a Roman Soldier to determine if the Lord was actually dead, is known as the “Bridal Wound.”  It reminds us of price He paid for His Bride, the Church.  It reminds us of the power of being baptized into Him.  It reminds us of the Power of the Blood…  It reminds us that the Good News of Jesus is both from (a separation from what we were and where we were headed) and for (a life that is transformed from Glory to Glory as the Spirit shows us Jesus)!

It is the final sentence in the first verse that really grabs my heart.  Be of sin the double cure, saved from wrath and make me pure. 

Toplady understood the magnificence and broadness of the Gospel – that in Jesus, we are not only saved from the Wrath of God which will be poured out upon all who reject the Gospel—but also for immersions in the Water and Blood that transform us NOW toward holy purity.

The Gospel is a package deal.  The Church cheapens it when we focus only on one aspect or the other, or demand transformation prior to Salvation.

  • We cheapen it with a “cheap grace” that denies the Glory-to-Glory work of the Spirit by focusing solely on “going to heaven.”  Walking in God’s blessing and acceptance is critical—but so is walking in His anger-busting, fear-removing, addiction-crushing, soul and body healing transforming grace…!
  • The Church cheapens it when all we focus on is goosebumps and signs, minimalizing the very real existence of hell and the deserved wrath that is coming.  Going to heaven is sweet; but the rebellion of your life and mine demands Divine retribution—thankfully, a debt fully paid by Jesus!
  • We cheapen it with legalistic burdens when we demand change before God releases His amazing Grace…  People cannot be transformed and healed by the law—and looking down on and rejecting people in their brokenness is profoundly legalistic.
  • Saddest of all, the “progressive” (liberal) church has evidently concluded that we need neither a rescue from punishment nor the power to make us pure, but rather just a license to sin while claiming God’s love covers everything anyhow.  His love DOES cover—but only if we surrender to His true Love poured out on us like water and blood, not our “good works” and a bent to call wrong “right,” and right, “wrong…”

Offer people the Full Gospel, and they receive in Jesus our Rock the DOUBLE CURE!!!


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The Gospel of Grace

The Gospel of Grace

I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.  (Acts 20:24)

I have had a blast preaching on the Gospel—in all of it’s power and glory and diversity—the past few weeks.  Rather than preach on the Gospel of Grace, I thought I would just write about it here.

Paul was addressing the Elders of the Church of Ephesus, preparing them for his departure to Jerusalem, and perhaps preparing himself for the suffering and persecution the Holy Spirit had made clear he was about to endure.  (As one who understood all of facets of the Gospel, Paul realized better than any that the suffering he was expecting was Good News, too…!)

Paul was summarizing all aspects of the God News, the Gospel, with the word “Grace.”

Grace has both a noun and a verb definition.  Grace as a noun is defined as the “unmerited favor of God,” denoting the fact that God showers favor and blessing on us in terms of salvation, power, the Kingdom, and even in suffering—favor we do not earn nor deserve.

Grace is also a verb, as in “the supernatural action of God to accomplish and transform in us what is impossible apart from Him.”  Grace is transformation.  Grace is healing.  Grace is deliverance.  Grace is breakthrough.

The Gospel of Grace, therefore, is the Good News that God showers us with favor we do not deserve, AND that favor looks like miracles, signs, and wonders in and through us.  It is both/and, not just one or the other.

God speaking through Paul defined the full spectrum of the Gospel as the “Gospel of Grace.”  The Gospel of Grace is the Gospel of Power, and it is the Gospel of the Kingdom.  It is also the Gospel of Suffering, and it is the Gospel of Salvation, and the Gospel of Glory.

The Gospel is ALWAYS good news!  It is a noun, and it is a verb.  It is initial, and it is ongoing.  The Gospel defines believers, and at the same time, refines them.  The Good News is truly amazing grace.  The Good News is the best news the universe has ever known, and ALL the Good News is ours by the favor of God, even as He transforms us from Glory to Glory…!

The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus, is worth living for; it is worth dying for.  Nothing else even comes close!


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Offended by Obedience

Offended by Obedience

I received an email this week from the Conference Committee on Resolutions.  It seems that the resolutions we have sent for the consideration of the Annual Conference may have caused some offense….

The committee voted to declare the resolutions unconstitutional and also voted their “non-concurrence,” meaning that they do not think the resolutions meet the requirements of the Annual Conference standing rules or legislative authority.  That means they voted “NO” 16 times concerning the 8 resolutions.

The resolutions will still be seen by the delegates, and there is still a possibility that some discussion will take place at the Annual Conference concerning them.  But it is doubtful that they will ever come up for a vote…  The committee listed its criteria for review.  Frankly, their basis for objection was a stretch, to say the least…

It seems slightly strange that all 8 resolutions, written in complete concurrence with the Word of God in Wesleyan language and in agreement with our current Book of Discipline could be ruled both non-concurrent and unconstitutional…

One can only speculate what may have happened if there were a series of resolutions prepared by the GLBTQ community and sponsored by almost any pastor but me and any church but Livingston…  I honestly doubt the committee would have found anything to object over…

Still, the point of writing and presenting these resolutions is being made.  They are irritating and offending those who desire to throw off the “shackles” of Biblical Orthodoxy.  They are causing people to think.  They are stirring up opposition.  They are clarifying the true division before us:  Apostolic, as in standing in the one true faith, or the diametrical opposite, Apostate, as in the abandonment of the true faith.

As for us and this House, we will choose the Lord and the faith handed down once and for all through the Apostles…!

Remember, Jesus said, Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth?  No, I have come to divide people against each other!  (Luke 13:51)

The reality is that true unity, as in a purified, holy, and unblemished Bride can only come after there is a disunity…  There MUST be a shaking and a separating so that the True Church, the Bride, can arise and be separated from the religious, institutional Imposter.

I am not a bit surprised by what the Committee on Resolutions decided, and I count several of the members of the committee as friends.  Still, the motives of the heart were exposed in the committee and will hopefully be exposed in the 1000 or so souls at Annual Conference.  That is the real purpose for presenting these resolutions in the first place.

We are making a statement and taking a stand, knowing that this act of Obedience on our part WILL bring offense and irritation.  Ultimately, our prayer is that people will be faced with a clear choice—and choose Jesus!  Our heart is to see Obedience to the Word arise from the place of offense—as the division becomes more obvious and people are forced to choose whom they will serve.  May the overwhelming majority—even as they are provoked and offended—ultimately choose the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to His holy people (Jude 3b)!!!


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Resolute Obedience 8

This final resolution might seem a bit ridiculous—that we would have to vote on whether we believe Scripture to be… Scripture, but the truth is, many in the UMC have decided to vote these passages out.  My heart in all of this has been to help people think through what they are buying into.  The truth is, my hope is these resolutions may even bring division—as in the kind Jesus brought—in order that true believes can walk in genuine unity…

RESOLUTION TO RECOGNIZE SCRIPTURES ON MARRIAGE, SEXUAL PROPRIETY, AND HOMOSEXUALITY AS BEING TRULY SCRIPTURAL

Whereas, the United Methodist Church recognizes Scripture as our “sufficient rule;” and

Whereas, the following fifty verses are universally recognized as coming from the Bible and are further recognized as Scripture,

Scriptures on Sexual Immorality

 

Hebrews 13:1-5

1 Cor. 6:17-20

Mark 7:20-23

Matthew 15:10-20

Galatians 5:19

Ephesians 5:3-7

Titus 1:16

2 Cor. 12:21

Ephesians 5:8-9

Matthew 5:28

1 Thess.4:3-5

Colossians 3:5

1 Peter 2:11

1 Cor. 10:8

Acts 15:20

Ephesians 4:19

I Cor. 5:11

Rev. 2:14

Rev. 2:20

Hebrews 12:16

Phil. 3:19

2 Peter 2:17-22

John 8:1-12

 

Scriptures specifically on Homosexuality

 

Romans 1:26-28

Jude 5-8

1 Timothy 1:8-11

1 Cor. 6:9-11

Lev. 18:22

Lev. 20:13

Genesis 19:1-13

Judges 19:22-23

Ezekiel 16:49-50

Revelation 21:27-28

Revelation 22:15

Genesis 9:20-24

Genesis 10:15-19

 

Scriptures on Marriage being Male/Female only

 

Mark 10:6-9

I Cor. 7:2

Genesis 2:24

Matthew 19:4-6

Genesis 1:27

1 Peter 3:7

Proverbs 5:18-19

Proverbs 18:22

Proverbs 30:18-19

Ephesians 5:22-33

Deut. 24:5

Colossians 3:18 -19

1 Cor. 11:11-12

Proverbs 20:6-7

Hebrews 13:4

 

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Tennessee Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church acknowledges and celebrates that the list of Scriptures contained in the table of this resolution are indeed Scripture, and therefore authoritative and “useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Tim. 3:16b NRSV)

Submitted by: Rev. Dr. Craig Green and Livingston First United Methodist Church


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Resolved Obedience 6

Resolved Obedience 6

Desperate to save the institution of the United Methodist Church, our Bishops coined a phrase #BetterTogether.  Evidently, the concern for a supposed unity is more important than Scriptural integrity.  How do I know that?  Because our Bishops have also publicly stated their support for a “solution” to the crisis at hand by allowing every Annual Conference to decide whether they will ordain Homosexual Clergy and allow every pastor and local church to decide whether they will perform gay “marriages.”

Somehow, they think we can stay together by blowing completely apart…  Thus, this resolution…

RESOLUTION CONCERNING #BETTERTOGETHER… (BUT ONLY IN JESUS!)

Whereas, A currently popular catch-phrase within the United Methodist Church (#BetterTogether) captures a hope for unity between diverse peoples and theologies; and

Whereas, the intent of the phrase, while admirable, glosses over theological differences that are neither superficial nor matters of interpretation, but rather deal with the very Foundation of the Christian Faith; and

Whereas, true unity is impossible separated from Truth-unity; that any supposed togetherness that denies or dismisses the Tri-unity of the God Head as presented from Genesis to Revelation by God the Word Himself, Jesus, is ultimately and dangerously false; and

Whereas, “#BetterTogether” is premised on a sandy foundation unless it is built upon the Solid Rock of Jesus who calls us together in Himself and in what He has taught us; and

Whereas, there are at least fifty Scriptures breathed by Jesus addressing issues of sexual immorality, homosexuality, and male/female-only marriage that are unequivocally clear in calling the Church to be together in righteousness, not political correctness;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Tennessee Annual Conference gladly affirms that we are BetterTogether—but only when we are together in, by, and through Jesus; and

Further, be it resolved, thatwe recognize that to deny Jesus as God the Word or to ignore what Jesus defines as sin—or righteousness—is inherently NOT together and NOT better; and

Finally, be it resolved, that the Tennessee Annual Conference affirms the authority of the Word of God to define and boundary what is truth and freedom apart from what brings bondage, so we are together better on the Rock of Jesus!

Submitted by: Rev. Dr. Craig Green and First United Methodist Church, Livingston


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Resolute Obedience

Resolute Obedience

It is amazing what we blame on God…  When a tornado blows up, it is often called “an act of God.”  When people embrace and justify lifestyles that are clearly contradictory to Scripture, the explanatory phrase is usually, “but God made me this way.”

Funny, but you don’t often hear that defense when the crime is murder, or child pornography, or armed robbery.  Even the most liberal church folks seem to realize that God did not make a serial killer “that way.”  But when it comes to sexual expression, crediting God for behaviors He clearly has placed off limits is all the rage.  Hence, this resolution…

RESOLUTION ON “THE FALL MADE ME THIS WAY”

TENNESSEE ANNUAL CONFERENCE

Whereas, a common phrase in the culture, “God made me this way” is Scripturally incorrect and is often used to define and defend behavior and thought patterns that are clearly not from God and do not reflect God’s character and nature; and

Whereas, Scripture makes clear that the Fall, not God, is to blame for the groaning that all of creation makes while awaiting the restoration to perfection coming at the end of the age; and

Whereas, the Fall away from God was not God’s idea or action, but rather the willful rebellion of Adam that differentiates original sin from God’s original righteousness; and

Whereas, Scripture teaches, and United Methodism affirms that all humanity is born in sin (fallen) and therefore stands in need of a Savior, Jesus by Name; and

Whereas, fallen behaviors and thought patterns clearly do not reflect the Glory of God, since God came in the Person of Jesus to rescue humanity from fallenness; and

Whereas, fallen behavior has been defined in Scripture to be anything that does not reflect the Person of Jesus, the second Adam, including but not limited to abuse, hate, theft, dishonesty, sexual behavior outside of monogamous female/male marriage, and alcohol and drug abuse;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Tennessee Annual Conference recognize and celebrate the God who comes to rescue and rebirth the fallen and calls us to a transformed life that reflects in mirror likeness (2 Corinthians 3:16-18) the Glory of the Christ as opposed to the sullied existence fallen humanity inherited from Adam and Eve; and

Further, be it resolved, that the Tennessee Annual Conference encourages United Methodists everywhere to proclaim that “the Fall made me this way, but God is remaking me in God’s Way!”

Submitted by: Rev. Dr. Craig Green and First United Methodist Church, Livingston

 

 


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Resolved Obedience 4

Resolved Obedience

One of the many arguments being used in church circles to defend creative rewriting of Scripture to placate cultural sensibilities is termed contextualization.  Essentially, the argument is made that what is received as truth in Africa, or Asia, or rural America, will not “float” in sophisticated urban America.

Homosexuality, of course, is the presenting issue.  Contextualization advocates argue that it is good and right to present the gospel in ways that people will accept it—even if it is a different gospel than the one presented in Scripture, particularly in terms of human sexual practice.  They (arrogantly) assume that Africa (or poor rural folk) will “catch up with” their (supposed) “wisdom” if we just give them a few more decades….

Here is the resolution we are presenting that addresses contextualization.

RESOLUTION ON CONTEXTUALIZATION

TENNESSEE ANNUAL CONFERENCE

 Whereas, the term Contextualization has become a popular term in our Church cultural, used to explain the concept that varied cultural contexts call for the Gospel to be presented in various ways; and

Whereas, the Scriptural justification for contextualization is seemingly found in 1 Corinthians 9:22b, which reads, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some” (NRSV); and

Whereas, this justification for contextualization seems reasonable until placed in the light of 1 Corinthians 9:21b, which states “I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law,” which makes clear that the cultural context does not and cannot override Biblical truth and morality; and

Whereas, the law and love of Christ does not therefore bend to the context, but rather, the context bends to the loving law of Christ Jesus;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Tennessee Annual Conference values the Christ over the Context; celebrating God’s love which transforms cultural contexts by aligning them with Christ’s love, and not the other way around; and

Be it further resolved, that the Tennessee Annual Conference champions “Christ-textualization” as the way to change a culture and the world, not contextualization—when used as a justification to change the Gospel.

Submitted by: Rev. Dr. Craig Green and Livingston First United Methodist Church


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Resolved Obedience 3

Resolved Obedience 3

The Christian Church has faced many struggles and battles over Her two-thousand-year history.  Attacks from without and within are common—and they almost always have a presenting issue, the thing that is most loudly discussed, as well as a core issue, which has almost always revolved around attacks on the reality of the Trinity, the Divinity of Jesus and/or the Holy Spirit, and the reliability of the Scriptures…

We are in such times again, and it is rending the United Methodist Church apart.  Below is a third resolution that I and we are presenting to our Annual Conference this June…

RESOLUTION FOR BIBLICAL ORTHODOXY

THE TENNESSEE ANNUAL CONFERENCE

Whereas, individuals and groups have arisen repeatedly within Christendom challenging the veracity of the Scriptures, the humanity and/or divinity of Jesus, the Personhood of the Holy Spirit, or the reality of the Trinity; and

Whereas, while the presenting issues over the centuries have varied, the core Christological issue has not: Is Jesus Christ truly the fully-God, fully-human living Word of God as presented in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament… or not?  And,

Whereas, the presenting issue in the late third century championed by Arian and his many followers denied the full divinity of Christ; and

Whereas, the current presenting issue revolving around human sexuality essentially does the same thing, denying the assertion in John 1 that Jesus is the pre-existent, co-eternal, living Word of God by denying the veracity of what Jesus spoke both orally (the “red” letters) and through inspiration (the “black” letters) of Scripture; and

Whereas, the core issue then as now is the same—the denial that Jesus is God the Word and that the Word has authority within the Church—which undercuts the reality of a Triune God and contradicts the central teaching of the Nicene Creed; and

Whereas, the Bishops of the early church repeatedly showed the courage to confront heresies and incorrect or misguided teachings in defense of the authority of the Word as contained in the Scriptures despite pressure from “really nice folks” within and without the Church who were pressuring for change that aligned with the prevailing attitudes in the culture; and

Whereas, the Bishops in the early Church realized that there was no “holy center” or middle ground between Arianism and Homousian belief; and

Whereas, Bishops and leaders of the modern church should likewise realize the incongruity between sexoualikios protimisi opos kai theos (sexual preference as god) and Homousian (One God in three Persons) belief; and

Whereas, the United Methodist Church desperately needs leaders of equal courage in this day to confront both the presenting and the core issues threatening the very life of the Church;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the Tennessee Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church calls for our Bishops to exhibit the same courage as their early Church counterparts to defend the Authority of the Word, the Reality of the Trinity, and the supremacy of orthodox Christianity considering the onslaught of antithetical teaching and thought in our time.

Submitted by Rev. Dr. Craig Green and Livingston First United Methodist Church


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Bloody Obedience

Bloody Obedience

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon…  Mark 15:33 NIV

Three hours of darkness preceded Jesus’s last breath on the cross.  All of Israel lay in darkness…  It must have reminded many of what they had just remembered and recited on the night before as they celebrated the Passover.

The first 8 plagues endured by Egypt before the Passover were specifically directed at various Egyptian deities.  But the ninth plague, while directed toward the Egyptian god Re, the sun god, was different—because Re symbolized the Pharaoh himself… and pharaoh pictures the hardhearted fallen angel named lucifer…

Three days of darkness descended on the Egyptians.  But the Light remained shining on the Israelites.  Darkness represents the enemy—ultimately Satan, while Light represents the One True God, the Light of the World…

On that Friday, as darkness covered all Israel, an alarming reality must have set in those who had spiritual eyes to see.  Three hours of darkness… Three days of darkness…  But this time, the darkness covered Israel!

In the ninth plague, the plague of darkness, Pharaoh defiantly denied Moses’ request that Israel could take their livestock with them— “no” to worship sacrifices, and “no” to wealth transferred…

Darkness himself does not want the Kingdom of God to Worship, nor does he want to let go of his wealth…  But God’s Kingdom of Light and Life is far more powerful than Satan’s kingdom of darkness and death!

In the 10th plague, God required something that had not been required before—an act of faith.  They (Israel, and any foreigners who had ears to hear) were required to take the Blood of the Innocent Substitute, a young unblemished lamb, and apply it to the door frames of their dwelling.

The Blood, applied in faith, did two things.  It forced death to pass by, and for Life Himself to Passover—into their very dwellings—their homes—their lives!  (Exodus 12:12; 23)

The tenth plague was the death of the firstborn not covered by the Blood.  What a powerful picture of the necessity for all of us to have the Blood applied to our lives—by faith!

But there is more to the picture.  In Israel, a time was coming when every Firstborn would be dedicated to God—and that the Priesthood would take the place of the Firstborn in being dedicated to God.

This all becomes important as we remember that Jesus is the Firstborn of all Creation and the Firstborn of the Resurrection, and that the Church is called “the Church of the Firstborn.”

This means that Jesus is the eternal God of Creation, that we are all Priests under the Headship of the Great High Priest, Jesus, and that we will, like Him, be resurrected!

CAN GOD PAINT A PICTURE, OR WHAT?!  As thoughtful Israelites reflected on that dark day, many must have had at least an inkling that the picture of Passover and the Exodus was fulfilled in Jesus, who must be, therefore, the Messiah of Israel, and the Savior of the world!

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  Jesus is the Light of the World!  Jesus is the Firstborn of Creation and the Firstborn from the dead!  The Blood of Jesus causes death to pass over us and allows for His presence to enter into us!  In Jesus, we are called to Worship until darkness shudders in terror, and to understand that the wealth of satan’s kingdom will one day belong entirely to the people of God!


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