Reclaiming Biblical Love

Reclaiming Biblical Love

A primary reason the Lord called us as a congregation to declare 2017 as the “Year of Love” has to do with the fact that in our culture “Love” has been reduced to meaning virtually nothing…

If we are to believe many voices in the culture—including many in the church, “Love” can only be expressed by granting license to any behavior or identity or action.  While the Bible terms this “licentiousness,” the culture counters that to love each other we must pretend that nothing is abnormal, nothing is excluded, nothing is sinful…

…And nothing could be further away from the fierce, transforming, correcting, healing, restoring, removing Love of God present in and presented through Messiah Jesus!

When loving my own children, “Love” often looked like a kiss and a hug, a word of encouragement, or a pat on the back; but equally, “Love” sometimes looked like a spanking, or time-out, or a grounding.  To “Love” my kids only in affirmation would have made them intolerable self-centered brats incapable of living well or loving others; to “Love” my kids only in correction would have made them fearful and battered control-freaks or perpetual victims…

…To “Love” them with correction AND affirmation allowed them to grow to be functioning adults who know how to attach to God and to other humans—to be able to both offer and receive real love…! 

So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask Him (Matthew 7:11).

Our Father offers us the GOOD, GOOD gifts of REAL LOVE!

  • He loves sinners, but hates sinful behavior (See Jude 23).
  • Father disciplines those He loves (Hebrews 12:6).
  • Father’s discipline leads to repentance (see Rev. 3:19).
  • He calls us to both affirm and correct our children in balanced, real love (Eph. 6:4).
  • Papa’s correcting love produces the fruit of righteousness (see Heb. 12:11)
  • His Love “covers a multitude of sins,” but it does not encourage them!  (see 1 Peter 4)

I believe the Father is calling us as a congregation to maneuver a “road less traveled.”  He is calling us to awaken the souls of the lost around us not with a cheap love diluted with licentiousness, but rather a Costly Love that:

Confronts as well as comforts; disciplines as well as disciples; sanctifies as well as saves; renews and restores—but also rebukes.

In other words, a Love that is both Hot with the fires of healing and conviction and Cold with the refreshments of invitation and acceptance, but NEVER a LUKEWARM “love” that neither heals the broken nor invites the outcast…!  (See Revelation 3:14-22)

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The Opposite of Love

The Opposite of Love

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

When dealing with a married couple who are angry and arguing—at wit’s end with each other—I see hope…

When dealing with a couple who just don’t care any longer, who have moved to the place of not feeling anymore… of not giving a darn, I grieve…

You see, the opposite of LOVE is not ANGER; rather, it is APATHY!

Real love gives.  Real love cares.  Real love is expressed in joy AND in anger.  Real love is passionate and feels passionately about other—even to the place of loud exchanges and uncomfortable confrontations.

The one thing Real Love does not do is… Give up.  Walk away.  Check out.

In this, The Year of Love, we should joyfully consider the fact that God loves so much as to give Himself…

Jesus’ Love was expressed in tears, in teaching, in correcting, in challenging, in anger, in exasperation, in healing, in deliverance, in loud voices, in quiet prayers, in gentle nudges and in powerful pushes…  But NEVER in Apathy!!!

God cares.  God cares enough to Judge.  To turn over tables.  To call religious folks to task and apathetic folks back to real love…

Our American Church culture is sick with a cheap apathetic “love” that calls people to nothing and cares about their eternity even less.  Confronting sin is now considered the worst of sins.  Preaching on sin or the coming judgement or Godly wrath has been replaced by a syrupy “love” that drips with apathy rather than the righteous, passionate, sometimes-angry-but-always-caring Love that drove Father to send His Son…!

When I think about the Methodist Church… Once so passionately in love with Jesus and His people as to call them to holiness… Once mocked for loving God with all-consuming passion… Once driven to anger over the abuse of women and children… Once courageous enough to war against slavery and alcoholism…

Now, much of Methodism—and much of the American Church—has been reduced to preaching “love” that costs nothing and changes even less… Afraid to get angry over anything—except the preaching of the truth.

The opposite of love is apathy, not anger. 

Love, sometimes, is best expressed in anger—a righteous anger than can no longer tolerate the devastation of a sinful behavior… a gentle anger that clears the air and calls for deeper relationship… a fiery anger that confronts religiosity and hypocrisy with the truth of the Word.

Love encompasses anger and can even make it righteous, but apathy leads only to death.

Jesus LOVES me, this I know…!

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Love, Call, and Character

Love, Call, and Character

Father God seems intent on taking risks.  He certainly “bet the Farm” when risking everything in sending Jesus to rescue the world.  The necessity for a human being to rescue humans—and for blood to be the ransom currency—meant that Jesus had to be fully human—and therefore as capable of deciding wrongly as Adam was.  There were no guarantees, and Jesus had it much rougher than Adam, considering that He entered a sin-soaked mess, rather than the garden of perfection Adam walked in.  Jesus, the “Second Adam” chose rightly, and since “life is in the Blood,” paid for it supremely…!   What a risk!  What a Gamble Triune God made in allowing God the Son to walk in full vulnerability!  LOVE is risky, and LOVE HIMSELF risked it all to rescue, redeem, and live relationally with you and me!

Likewise, Father takes quite a risk in calling people to be leaders in His Kingdom.  He will not, mind you, override Free Will.  If He did, there would have been no Fall and no need for Jesus to come… but there would also be nothing like true love.  Love is risky…!  Love requires a decision!  Love cannot be forced!  But LOVE HIMSELF will risk everything to find those who will freely love Him—and love His other children!

God called Saul to be the first King of Israel.  Unfortunately for Saul, his character did not develop quickly enough to walk in the call.  LOVE took a risk on the tall, handsome son of Kish, but the gamble seemingly failed.

God called David to be the second King of Israel.  Fortunately for David and Israel, years of lack and struggle and insanity and pain and confusion—those years we call the wilderness years—shaped David’s character to the place where he could walk in the call…   LOVE took a risk on the short, handsome, ruddy son of Jesse.  This time, the risk paid off…

God called Peter to be an Apostle—and a leading one at that.  But his character was so lacking… Satan sifted and Peter waivered, but his character shifted—until he truly behaved like a Rock rather than a blockhead.  But it was risky, and there were no guarantees…!

There were others who were called to be Jesus’ disciples.  Some walked away.  Some gave up.  One even betrayed

True Leaders (Elders) in God’s Kingdom are marked by two pillar requirements.  A CALL from God, and the Godly CHARACTER to walk in that call.

Some Elders are called first—and (hopefully) grow into a place of mature Kingdom character.  These tend to be the travelling, apostolic/prophet/evangelist/pastor/teacher Elders who are called to Shepherd the greater Church.  Paul is an outstanding example of a man who was called to a great ministry—but had to spend years in character-preparation before that ministry could blossom.

Other Elders are first known by the fruit of their Godly character—and then called into service.  These tend to be the stationary Elders who help lead local congregations.   Philemon is a good example of a man whose character allowed him to be called to leadership.  (His character can be seen in the way Paul could trust him to deal rightly with Onesimus.)  Paul gambled on Philemon being a man of Godly Character—and everyone won!

At the end of the day, both a CALL from God and Godly CHARACTER must be present to remain a faithful leader in the Kingdom.

It amazes me that Father CALLED me BEFORE I had the character to walk in it.  I am often painfully aware that my character still falls far short of Father’s call.  But I am profoundly grateful for the journey, and humbled by a Love that could take such a risk on a wretch like me!

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Our Identity is LOVE

Our Identity is LOVE

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Love Himself—Jesus—rebirths us as New Creations.  All the stuff that once seemed important becomes nothing more than rubbish when compared to the glory of who Jesus is.  Christianity is all consuming when rightly understood.  Jesus is either the preeminent reality in our lives—the center, the focus, the beginning and end, the light–the purpose, truth and glory of who we are—the passion that drives us, the power that transforms us—the Person we live for and the One who died for us—or we have not really grasped Christianity yet…!

How do you see yourself?  So often our identity is shaped by many things other than our relationship with Jesus.  Perhaps we view ourselves through the lens of our early years.  Perhaps our identity has been more shaped by the wounds of life than the healing we have in Jesus’ wounds.  Often, we see ourselves through the words of others, rather than the Word of God…

As Pastor John Cahill said so well in a Facebook post this week, sexual sin is more crippling than other sin, because people identify themselves through their broken sexuality, rather than through Jesus.  The Bible confirms that sexual sin is different than other sins precisely for this reason (See 1 Cor. 6:15-20).

Thus, to identify yourself as “straight” or “gay” is to be sold cheap by nothing more than sexual preferences and brokenness, rather than to be owned by Jesus—who bought you, Christian, at highest price.

Our identity can never be reduced to or defined by what our flesh wants, or by the work we do, or by the emotions we feel, or by the voices of others or those in our own mind.  Our identity, if we are Blood Bought, is simply this: CHRISTIAN.


Christians have one and only one identity:  JESUS!  We are IN Jesus.  To “add” to Him is the ultimate subtraction.  To identify ourselves through something broken, rebellious, sinful, or fallen is the ultimate rejection of His grace.

So, as individual Christians, our identity has been set.  We are a New Creation in Jesus.  We identify with Him.  We see ourselves through His eyes.  Jesus defines who we are, what we are, how we are, where we are and why we are.  Jesus is the Alpha and Omega (beginning and end) of our Identity…!

What about congregations?  Church people, like sheep, often flock to places because of identity—Identity other than what is ours in Jesus.  “Cool” Church, “Rich” Church, “Hipster” Church, “Traditional” Church “Contemporary” Church “Mega” Church… all have one too many words in their name.  Jesus plus anything is…nothing.  The Bride is identified in and by Her Groom, period.  Jesus alone forms the Church’s real identity.

We should know.  Our congregation, in the recent past, has been identified most proudly as Livingston’s “richest” church, “coolest” church, and “largest” church.  None of those things are inherently evil, but when “cool”, or “wealthy” or “biggest” becomes more important to our identity than “Christ-follower,” we have missed the point of being a New Creation.

The Lord has called us as a congregation and as individuals to settle this thing in our heart.  We are NEW CREATIONS not through a building or a job or a reputation or by sexual brokenness; we are New Creations only in and by Messiah Jesus.  He is our identity.  He is the only point of Church.  He is God… and we are not!

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For the Love of Elders

For the Love of Elders

In this, the year of love, it appears the Lord is calling us to raise up an Elder’s Body in our Congregation to help shoulder the spiritual load.  The Lord’s love for His Body and Bride is at the root of all this!

As Dr. Scott Kelso pointed out to us, the idea of Elders in leadership goes all the way back to Moses.  First, Moses’ Father-in-law Jethro noticed that the burden of leading Israel especially in terms of legal disputes was killing Moses.  He suggested raising up leaders to delegate the responsibility to (Exodus 18).

In Exodus 24, Seventy Elders of Israel accompanied Moses part way up Mount Sinai to glimpse God’s Glory.

About 20 months later as recorded in Numbers 11, the Lord put His Spirit upon 70 Elders to help Moses carry the burden of leading Israel—especially as they complained about the wilderness journey—and in this instance, about their desire for meat.

Scott Kelso related to us that Numbers 11 was the passage the Lord led him to preach as he shared about the idea of Elders with Trinity UMC back in the 1980’s.  Scott was stressed, tired, and on the verge of burnout from pastoring a growing church into the things of the Holy Spirit.


But that is not all.  As we will see over the next few weeks, GOD ALSO:


So, as always, God’s love flows in every direction.  His purposes in raising up an Eldership to help shepherd congregations is beneficial to absolutely everyone in the Church.

But to be honest, I do not feel the Lord leading me to preach from Numbers 11 now, because burnout is not my or our most urgent need (although it is an ever-present concern). 

I believe the Lord’s heart for OUR CONGREGATION in terms of ELDERS has more to do with:

  • recognizing those whom He has gifted and equipped in Biblical Eldership;
  • being more sensitive to the things of the Spirit;
  • handling difficult situations, teaching, intercession, and doing deliverance/healing ministry.
  • being better prepared for the spiritual battles around us;
  • creating the place for men to accept their God-given place of headship;
  • always being an incubator for people to rise up, grow up, and lead FROM the Father’s Heart;
  • Enlarging our territory and moving out our tent-pegs;
  • Preparing us to help Shepherd the final Awakening.

So LOVE HIMSELF is calling us to establish a Body of Elders within our congregation.  He is doing so because He loves those whom He has called to be Elders…  He is doing so because He is Loving this congregation with Elders…  He is doing so because He loves this region and He loves this fallen world…  He is doing so because He loves me, your pastor.  He is doing so because He loves YOU.  He is doing so because HE IS LOVE!!!

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Elder Love

Elder Love

We had an amazing time last weekend as a church family!  I have had many tell me that this past weekend was a breakthrough for our church—the dawning of a new season full of promise and potential that is truly exciting.  There is a palpable sense of unity and joy in our congregation that is refreshing and glorious.  Truly, our “mourning has been turned to dancing!”

The Pop-up Church experience at the Lake on Saturday was a great time of fellowship, testimony, and outreach.  Sunday morning Worship was incredible.  The Sunday evening “Oaks of Righteousness” Fellowship and Worship time was powerful—both the time we shared eating delicious food around the tables and the times of delicious prayer and repentance and worship around the cross.  Many did not leave that service till close to 10:00!

I have received word of at least one salvation and one medically documented healing miracle since last weekend!!  Many more of us were deeply touched and transformed…

But for me, it was the training on Biblical Eldership that was as powerful in the Lord as anything else we did together as a family last weekend.  Listening together to the Spirit of God as we heard great teaching on what Elders in our Church could mean to us spiritually was just astounding.

Collectively, over 30 leaders in this congregation heard the Lord leading us to raise up Elders in our church to be spiritual leaders who help carry the load, pray as intercessors, augment altar prayer, and help in healing, deliverance, and disciplinary ministries.  For a pastor with a passion to equip the saints for ministry, this is an exciting season for me indeed!

I will be sharing more about Biblical Eldership from the pulpit in the coming weeks, but, like everything else we are about, this is simply a move to be more like the FIRST Church in the book of Acts in terms of local leadership, vision, and accountability.  All of us should be excited!!

As we are reading together in both Timothy and Titus, there are clear and concise character qualities we look for in Elders.  As we read in many other places in Scripture, God raises up leaders to advance the Kingdom.  May it be so here!

This is the most exciting season I have seen in the 16 years I have been here.  It is a wonderful time for us a church family and for the Kingdom of God.  I praise the Lord for it—and I praise the Lord for the honor of serving here with you!!

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A Weekend of Love

A Weekend of Love

Today, tomorrow, and Sunday are important days in the life of our Church-and could eternally impact your life, and the life of your family!

Biblical Eldership Gathering

Friday evening from 6-8 and Saturday morning from 9-12, Rev. Dr. Scott Kelso from Columbus Ohio will be here to teach us about Biblical Eldership—and how that might look in our setting.

  • ALL IN LEADERSHIP, and all who would like to come, should come!

Dr. Kelso is a recognized expert in Eldership as outlined in Scripture and practiced in the early Church.  As he shares with us, I am hoping the Lord will clarify in our collective minds how we might better operate as a “First Church” in the things they did at… First!

Elders in the New Testament Church were men of highest character chosen to lead not because they had money or cultural status, but rather because they were mature believers who had Christ-like characters.

Here is my question:  Since God is refining and clarifying our Identity as a congregation, is Biblical Eldership supposed to be part of our Identity?  I think Scott’s visit will help us discern!

Oaks of Righteousness Family Worship Night

Sunday Night at 5:30, I am hoping and praying that ALL of us—plus as many guests as we can bring—will be part of the MEAL and WORSHIP GATHERING we are having in the Family Life Center beginning at 5:30 and continuing until…

This fellowship and worship gathering is important to the future of our Church and to the destiny of more than a few of us.  I suggest you come hungry—not simply for the good food which will be provided—but most importantly, for the Spiritual Food the Lord desires to feed us!

  • ALL Sunday evening Life Groups will be attending, and everyone else affiliated with this church, or just interested in knowing Jesus more, should COME!!  It will be a great night and is an important night for us—an important night for YOU—and your family!!

I love you deeply, and am looking forward to seeing you Friday evening, Saturday morning, and especially Sunday evening!  - Pastor Craig

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Wilderness Love

Wilderness Love

I two-way journaled a couple weeks ago, thanking the Lord for the amazing Church Council meeting we had on May 23 and asking Him to speak to me about the Wilderness series I am currently preaching on Sunday mornings.

Two-way journaling is very simple—you write down your greeting and questions to the Lord, and then you begin to write as you hear or see some sort of response from the Lord.  The more you exercise in this, the clearer you will hear/see the Lord.  For accountability and accuracy’ sake, you submit what you see and hear to mature believers, and you always compare what you see/hear with the Word of God, the Bible.  God NEVER contradicts Himself!

The Wilderness series is based on the 5 to 10 years David spent in the wilderness, in caves and hideouts, running for his life—and growing up to be a Man after God’s own heart!  As individuals, we go through wilderness seasons that God will use (if we submit ourselves to Him) to heal us, prepare us, and employ us.

Some congregations, too, go through wilderness seasons just like David did—not as punishment nor as a proof that something is wrong, but rather, as a preparation to grow into the character and nature of a king in service to the King Himself.  Apostasy (the abandonment of genuine Christianity for the sake of expediency and human popularity) is on the rise; Apostolic (genuine Biblical) Christianity is under attack much as David was.  We should be honored to be in the wilderness as a church and dare not miss the lessons the Lord is trying to teach us!

Here is my Journal entry from 5/24…

Lord, good morning!  Thank you for the power of your grace—your love—thank you for hope!  And thank you for a great Council meeting last night!!  I believe you want me to preach on the wilderness and how it formed David’s identity, character, and his heart.  What do you want me to see?   To become?  To share?

            “My son, I want you to grow—as My son and father David did!  I want the struggles to lead you to dependence on Me like you have never known before.  I want you to embrace holiness of heart and life more deeply than ever!  Look at how it formed his prayer life; Look and see how it changed him (David) as a worshiper; Look and see how I form a congregation; and look and see how David treated and led that congregation. 

            You can’t really be a king without the wilderness; You really can’t shape a nation, a congregation, without the wilderness.  My ministry did not begin until after my time in the wilderness—and the greatest years of ministry for you and this congregation are just beginning!”

I am excited by what the Lord is teaching us, and honored to be part of a congregation that is being prepared to lead in Apostolic fashion in a world ever-more given to apostasy.  While many walked away from David for comfort’ sake, those “outcasts and losers” who stayed or came to David became the leaders of Israel, the “Mighty Men of God” referred to in Scripture!

May we become EVERYTHING God is shaping us to be in this time of wilderness training!

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Love in Action

Love in Action

It is exciting to be part of this great church family!  Last Sunday was the most powerful experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence in a worship service that most of us have ever experienced.  In all truth, we experienced Pentecost, and on Pentecost Sunday of all things!!

What is almost as exciting is the transformation taking place on Sunday mornings and Wednesday Evenings.  I want all of us to be excited about what is happening in our family!

  • We are adding adult short-term classes on both Wednesday nights as well as Sunday mornings.  These classes, like the Men’s class on Wednesdays, or Darren Ford’s new class on Spiritual Gifts on Sunday mornings, are a great way to grow as disciples and to get to know new folks.  They also give the significant number of gifted teachers in our congregation an opportunity to operate in their Spiritual gifting.  Our goal is to have at least two adult classes running at any given time on both Wednesday evenings and on Sunday Mornings.
  • Wednesday evenings at 5:00 a new Life Group/Prayer Meeting is meeting in the Sanctuary under Catherine Cate’s leadership.  The presence of the Lord in this gathering is overwhelming!
  • A new Pre-School Children’s class has formed on Wednesday nights from 6:00 to 7:30 under the leadership of Carissa Houser, in addition to Connie and Donna’s K-5 class, Tina’s 6-8middle school class, and John Cahill’s senior high life group and class.  There is also a Nursery provided.
  • Our Children’s Sunday School Classes are now using new curriculum coming from Bethel Church in Redding California.  The Curriculum focuses on Children experiencing the Lord and learning how to truly hear Him.   Reports from our Sunday Schools and Son Seekers are exciting as Children focus on hearing and journaling as they see and hear the Lord.

PARENTS – this means your children are part of a Sunday School experience that is fluff-free and Jesus-full!

ADULTS – this means that coming Weds. evenings and Sunday mornings at 9:00 is well worth your time.

FOR ALL OF US – this is what Love in Action looks like in the life of a church.  Our Children are learning the deep things of Jesus in fresh new ways.  Spirit-gifted teachers have new opportunities to use the gifts God has placed in them.  Spirit-led people of all ages have new and ongoing opportunities to grow as disciples.

THE HOLY SPIRIT – is moving in new ways in our Family as we move in renewed ways by His leading.  AVAIL yourself to HIM!  Join a new class.  Invite friends and families to church.  Receive a fresh Baptism!

SERVE in the Children’s Sunday School Ministry!  See Tina Green for info and opportunities!

SAVOR the awakenings happening in our Family as the Awakening of all awakenings unfolds before us!




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Healing School/Real Love Heals

School of Healing/Real Love Heals

As we begin June, I want you to be aware of a life-changing week that will be here before we know it.  I’m talking about October 16th through October 22 – when we will host two amazing events as one…

Starting Monday evening, October 16 and continuing through Friday evening, October 20th, Rev. Dr. Bobby Cabot will be here as we host her Healing School, Encounter the God Who Heals.  Many of you remember Bobby as the leader from our second Real Love Heals Conference four years ago.  She is a fantastically gifted teacher and prayer warrior!

Tina and I were part of the School in January in Nashville.  It was a tremendous week of learning about how to operate in Healing gifts of the Spirit, experiencing those gifts firsthand, and witnessing those gifts set others free, and we cannot recommend too strongly for you to plan on attending—and on bringing others with you.  This is the most in-depth and hands-on School of Healing I know of anywhere…!

Friday Night, October 20th we will close out the School by having a Healing Service open to the community, in which all those who attended will be the prayer teams for those who come to the service.  THIS IS CERTAINLY THE NIGHT TO BRING THOSE YOU KNOW WHO ARE SICK—PHYSICALLY, SPIRITUALLY, OR EMOTIONALLY—TO COME AND RECEIVE HEALING FROM THE LORD!

But the Healing Service has a double function and blessing, as it kicks off our 2017 REAL LOVE HEALS CONFERENCE!  Continuing Saturday October 21st, Real Love Heals will feature Garry Ingraham, the national director of Transforming Congregations, an organization which helps congregations and individuals present the full Gospel of Jesus’ healing to those struggling with sexual brokenness and other life-controlling issues.

Garry—as well as his wife—both came out of homosexual identities, “and know hundreds of others who have chosen the narrow path of surrender to Jesus, rather than the wide path of what the world tells us is good, healthy, and unchangeable.”

“This is what our ministry is all about—helping Christian leaders develop environments that allow people to be known in their brokenness and be restored to sexual and relational wholeness according to God’s design.  We want to help stop all the lying and pretending that we (the Church) are engaged in, and return with repentant hearts to the One who wants to forgive, heal, and restore through the transparency of His community.”

So mark your calendars—and get the word out—because October is going t be an amazing month of healings, deliverances, breakthroughs, and joys as LOVE HIMSELF teaches us, through Bobby, what New Testament healing looks and feels like; and, through Garry, what the REAL LOVE of GOD does in the hearts and minds of broken people!

  • Healing School:  Monday October 16-20
  • Healing Service: Night of Healing/Real Love Heals Start:  Friday, October 20th 7pm
  • Real Love Heals Conference: Friday evening & Saturday (9-5), Oct. 20-21
  • Special Guests Sharing in the Sunday Services Oct. 22

Together, this promises to be a week of true Awakening; a time to operate more fully as an Eastern Gate; a time to be a Lighthouse Church.  October may well mark the end of our “Wilderness Wanderings,” and the beginning of a mighty Kingdom season…!

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