The blog contains notes from the weekly messages.  We encourage you to review the notes during the sermon or through the week!  From time to time the pastors will share other insights here.

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GATHER (Week 5): We Gather to Love!

Key Verses:  Acts 2:37-47 (NASB)
 

Why do we gather? God gathers His Church for His purposes and His glory! Today we will learn that God gathers us to obey the teachings of Jesus Christ, namely to love. Read Acts 2:37-47 (NASB).

 
 

Homecoming Bonfire

 
I want you to keep an image in your mind as I share with you this morning: think about the gathered in the Church as a big bonfire at Homecoming. People are invited to the bonfire to come together to relish in the tradition and to anticipate the victory that the bonfire represents. There is a past, present, and future dynamic at the bonfire. The bonfire brings people together to celebrate as a gathered community, to remember the past and what brought them together in the first place, and to anticipate the future victory. When it comes to bonfires, the bigger the better!
 
The same is true for when the church gathers for public worship services. There is a past, present, and future dynamic in our services. The church service brings us together to celebrate as a gathered community, to remember the past and Who brings us together in the first place, and to anticipate the future victory we have in Jesus Christ. God keeps His promises and we come to celebrate, remember, and anticipate!
 
There is a difference though between the Homecoming bonfire and the church service: at the homecoming you are a spectator drawn to the bonfire, but in the church service each of us is a participant gathered (like fire wood) as a fuel source for the fire. The problem is that most of us look at our church service engagement with the same level of commitment that we look at the Homecoming bonfire. If I feel up to it. If the weather allows. If there is not a better opportunity. If I am feeling up to seeing those people. If it will be worth my time.
 
When you have a spectator mindset, it may not seem like a big deal to not show up at church, but if each of us is a fuel source for the bonfire (a participant), the effects are cumulative when we don’t gather: Would FBC be missed if our fire went out? Who would notice and why? Would New Castle and Henry County be a better or worse place if another church wasn’t here?
 
This is why the author of Hebrews commanded in Hebrews 10:23-25, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”
 

Neighborhood Time:

Thank one another for coming to church today and that it is important they be here. We are commanded to not forsake gathering as the Church because we are to “hold fast (to hold on to like a possession) the confession of our hope without wavering”—Jesus Christ, the Faithful One who promises us the abundant life! The early church in Acts knew in tangible terms that it was Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who gathered them and in gathering they knew that it was a new community that was different from the world. It was a community gathered to remember Jesus Christ and how He had established a new people—the Church—the called-out ones who are gathered at the cost of the precious blood of Jesus Christ.
 
It is not surprising that the language of Hebrews says, “not forsaking the assembling together” because the Church is the assembly or the gathering of those who are called out of the world and assembled or gathered together. You are the Church and to forsake the assembly is to forsake your very identity as a member of the body of Christ. Without all the coals in the fire, we have no ability to be the very Light of the World that Jesus calls us. It not only affects us, it touches your life when you don’t gather because any coal taken out of the fire goes from being bright to being dull. That is just a reality of being out of God’s will. God’s will for your life is for you to be the best version of you—burning true and bright for the world to see His love through you!
 
What about when people cannot consistently be here due to medical reasons? Remember, we are to give LOVE in practical and tangible ways to build up and support the community of God’s people! This is why the prayer ministries, the practical helps ministry, the prayer shawl ministry, the meals ministry, the shut-in ministries, the visitation ministries into homes, nursing homes, and hospitals are so important. When people are unable to come and gather with us, then each of us is called to BE the Church to them. This is why we do Neighborhood time (look around and see who is missing): call or text them, send a card, bring them a meal, invite them over your place or out, be a good neighbor. Remember, Jesus said, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
 
How does it feel to you when you miss gathering with us and no one reaches out or seems to care? Honestly, you have to choose how you are going to respond to that emotion: like a spectator or like a participant. Spectators sit back and watch the game critiquing the participants and discussing the decisions. Participants are in the game making decisions and seeking to be a part of bringing about the anticipated victory.
 

Gather to stimulate one another to love and good deeds

 
We are gathered “to stimulate one another to love and good deeds.” We are gathered to bring God glory and God’s glory is visibly brighter and bigger when we all prioritize the gathering! Our gathering has a positive ripple effect on the community because we leave hotter and brighter than when we came. Listen again to Acts 2:44-47: “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
 
What are we so supposed to be like when we gather? [sometimes we come to this place with barely a light left in us from the week, but when you are thrown back in the fire, ON FIRE!] What are we supposed to look like when we scatter? [how can you stay hot throughout the week? 7:1 Initiative – we all need 7 friends and 1 place of service as the Church. We can’t make it about us (spectator mentality) so we must get in the BIG GAME!]
 

Gather to encourage one another

 
Finally, we are gathered for the very reason of “encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Acts 2 is a picture of the birth of the Church and anyone who had read through the book of Acts or has read the letters of the New Testament knows that the honeymoon of early church fellowship did not last. Quickly, these gathered believers had to learn how to handle the reality of staying in community, where not everyone was honest about sharing their stuff and people complained when they didn’t feel they were getting enough attention from the leaders. The church community had to organize and figure all this out. 2,000 years later, we are still trying to figure it out by not only reading through Acts and the letters of the New Testament, but we now have hundreds if not thousands if not millions of opinions of how to do it ranging from studying church history or contemporary scholars, from books to blogs to social media posts. The problem is not a lack of information, it is that we have too many spectators and not enough participants!
 
I leave you with this one thing: LOVE! You want to know the role of a pastor, elder, deacon, overseer: LOVE! You want to know how decisions are made in a church: LOVE! You want to know who to love: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF! You want to know to what length we are to go: LOVE LIKE JESUS LOVED US! We are to build a community of love that is built upon Jesus’s new command to love. We are to LOVE in practical and tangible ways to build up and support the community of God’s people!
 
In John 13:34-35, Jesus, the Son of God, with all the authority of the Heavens gave us the new command: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
 
It is by our love for one another that the world knows that we are His disciples. We gather to love! We scatter to love!  Is it scary to think about loving like Jesus? In practical and tangible ways? Not theoretically, but getting into other people’s lives with them? Hurting with them, loving with them, praying with them…
 
It should be scary because it’s real and messy when you do life with people! This command should make everyone one of us sweat! Spectators don’t sweat, but participants do… Being obedient to God’s plan for the Church made Jesus sweat…
 
As Jesus thought about the sacrifice of love His Father was calling Him to Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane because Jesus knew exactly how He was called to LOVE: in practical and tangible ways to build up and support the community of God’s people!
 
If you are just a spectator standing back from the homecoming bonfire, then there is a good chance you are not going to sweat. You might feel the heat coming off the fire, but it won’t get inside of you! But if you are a participant and are a part of God’s holy fire to the community through the Church gathering, then how can you do anything but sweat? You will sweat from the inside out like Jesus did because you’ll have blood in the game.
 
 
If the love you are being called to give in practical and tangible ways to build up and support the community of God’s people is not making you sweat a little bit, then you have to ask yourself if you are following the new commandment Jesus gave: “Love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”
 

Let’s respond… draw near to God and He will draw near to you… Jesus is calling you into a life of full participation, that is abundant life He promises in John 10:10! No one sweats when they stand back and watch from a distance…


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GATHER (Week 4): We Gather to Give!

Key Verses:  Acts 2:37-47 (NASB)
 
Why do we gather? God gathers His Church for His purposes and His glory! Remember the theme verse for this series of teachings called, “Gather!” Read Acts 2:37-47 (NASB).
 
Verses 44-45 describe a very peculiar aspect of the Christian community: “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.”
 
We gather to give because of the One who gave us everything! The early church knew in tangible terms that it was Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit who gathered them and in gathering they knew that it was a new community that was different from the world. It was a community gathered to remember Jesus Christ and how He had established a new people—the Church—the called-out ones who are gathered at the cost of the precious blood of Jesus Christ. They gathered to remember Christ and in remembering Christ to live differently! The Church is gathered for God’s purposes for God’s glory! One of the ways (of the many we have already discussed in the first 3 weeks of this series of messages) is to give. Give God glory, YES! But to also give so that the world would know that we are His disciples—what are we to give? We are to give LOVE in practical and tangible ways to build up and support the community of God’s people!
 
In John 13:34-35, on the night that Jesus instituted the second ordinance of the Church, He gave us the Church’s one final command, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
 
Giving is not an ordinance of the Church because Jesus Christ said giving is the COMMAND of the Church! We learned last week that the 2 ordinances of the church are baptism (which you do once to declare your loyalty to Jesus and His Kingdom) and the Lord’s Supper which we do often to remember our baptism and the cost of our gathering as the Church!
 

Ordinances are public declarations of our identity! Giving is different! Giving is a symbol of something more than the money because every time you give you are declaring a rebellion against this world and the worldly systems that are against God’s Kingdom. Giving is a sign of your loyalty because every time you give you are declaring whom you serve—Jesus Christ and not money or people. Giving is a step of Christian discipleship because every time you give you are taking a step of faith to trust God more than yourself and your plans.

 
Yes, this is a sermon on financial giving just as we saw the early church members selling property and possessions to build up and support the community of God’s people! We are gathered to give because our giving is the way God has designed the church to be built up and supported! We are commanded to give! Not out of duty nor under compulsion; not as a way of getting right with God or staying right with God! We give because our giving not only declares our loyalties, our giving determines our loyalties. Let me explain…
 
Jesus famously said in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
 
What most people miss about this teaching is that what you give to is where your heart goes! Many people think that they will give to those they love, but that is not true! Often people give to what demands their attention or what cries the loudest or what is most pressing (to the urgent, not to the important!). What Jesus is saying is that your heart will follow your giving… your identity will follow your generosity! What you give your time and money does more than describe your loyalties, it determines your loyalties!
 
Jesus calls these things treasures: What are your treasures? What grabs your heart and mind? I invite you to audit your money flow to tell you the truth about your loyalties. 
 
Jesus knows! Your identity is meant to be in Him alone; therefore, He commands your loyalty! Not for His sake, but for your sake. You don’t give because He needs what you have to give, but because you need to give to Him what He commands you to give! Your experience of the abundant life is totally dependent on this…
 
We are gathered to give because it is our identity! Giving is more than an ordinance of the Church; giving is the identity of the Church! If you are not giving, you are not living the abundant life that Jesus promised in John 10:10, when Jesus teaches us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Abundance is not about receiving, it is about giving (Acts 20:35)! Jesus’ promise for His Church is not one of survival (staying in the black in the books or playing it safe by being a good boy or girl and not getting into any messy situations). Jesus’ promise for His Church is a life that lives and gives for eternity today: A life of sacrifice, faithfulness, and generosity!
 
Giving is the abundant life of freedom from all forms of slavery: Are you a steward of God’s resources or are you owned by stuff? Do you use people to get more stuff or do you use stuff to win people? When is the last time you made a financial sacrifice for God to declare where you real hope for the future is found?
 
John the Beloved of Jesus teaches us of the very practical nature of showing your loyalty as a follower of Jesus. In 1 John 3:16-18 the Beloved Disciple of Jesus commands our right response to Jesus’ gathering the Church by the cost of His precious blood, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.”
 
John practically shows us that his heart response to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is a lifestyle that gives in practical ways—with all that we have! At the very end of John’s letter in 1 John 5:21, the Beloved Disciple of Jesus Christ commands something that seems to come out of left field: “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” But it’s not out of left field at all, because his whole letter is about God’s love experienced in Jesus Christ and how we are to love by living generously, sacrificially, and faithfully. We guard ourselves from idols by giving in real and practical ways! Anything you are not willing to give away or anything you put your hope and trust in for abundance, apart from Christ, is the idol you need to guard against. For the sake of your life.
 
Let me share with you some sobering facts from a recent Ted Talk, “Suicide rates among adults ages 40 to 64 have risen nearly 40 percent since 1999. Job loss, bankruptcy and foreclosures were present in nearly 40 percent of the deaths, with white middle-aged men accounting for seven out of 10 suicides. What [the speaker] learned is that our self-destructive and self-defeating financial behaviors are not driven by our rational, logical minds. Instead, they are a product of our subconscious belief systems rooted in our childhoods and so deeply ingrained in us, they shape the way that we deal with money our entire adult lives” (Tammy Lally).
 
Brothers and sisters, I am calling you to obedience to Jesus’ command so that you can experience the abundant life of Jesus Christ! I am not trying to take anything from you, I am guarding you against idols and the devastating results of our culture’s addiction to the pursuit of prosperity that we are experiencing all around us. It is killing our nation and our communities!
 
That is the point of the the Story of the Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-27). A rich man came to Jesus and asked what he had to do to live the abundant life that He promised. Luke records in Mark 17:21-22, “Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.”
 
In this story, Jesus is dealing with idolatry in the heart of this person; Jesus recognized his religious faithfulness and loved him, but He loved the person enough to tell him the truth—you are not free of an idol that has you enslaved—get rid of it and be mine! Jesus’ invitation is to abundance; the pathway to abundance is giving!
 

What you give to will capture your heart! You buy a thing; your heart goes with it and focuses on it. You give to God’s work, you will pray and think about and give more time to God’s work. You give to God’s people, you will pray, think about, and want to spend more time with God’s people.

 
It never is about whether you can afford to give! Never, that is the tactic of the devil that is winning in a gross majority of Christian’s lives and keeping them focused on where their money is going. It is never about whether or not you can afford to give, it is about whether or not you can afford to not give!
 
Can you afford to not give?
 

 I can’t! Kimberly and I learned that giving has to be first and the more we give the more we have… If you want to ask me about how my household gives, I am happy to discuss. I am not inviting you to anything that is not true or right. I am inviting you to join me in living the abundant life.  

At the end of service today, we are going to hand out Letter #2 of the 2020 Vision Initiative where I introduce to you Phase 2 of the Finish Strong Campaign. Please read that letter and you can also watch me read it on a video I shot with Dick Kinnaird last week. An email is being sent out at noon today with both the letter and the video link. Please read. Please watch. Please pray. We will be having a special congregational meeting in 2 weeks on September 23 to discuss Letter #2 and Phase 2 of the Finish Strong Campaign.
 
I am inviting you to find your freedom in your identity in Jesus! Above anything else, I am inviting you to obey your Lord and Savior. Just remember how Jesus dealt with the issue of giving and how the Apostles joined with Jesus. I am doing nothing more and nothing less than striving to live before you and this community with integrity to the messages I preach. I am inviting you to join us in and be an Acts 2 community.

  It is my heart’s desire as your pastor that 1 year from now, as we approach the conclusion of the 2020 Vision Initiative, that we look more Jesus and live more like an Acts 2 Jesus-community than we do today. We are in the most important point in the 2020 Vision Initiative. Over 8 year of work has gotten us here and the best days are ahead of us. But for those days to become a reality, we all must respond in tangible and practical ways to build up and support the community of God’s people!


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GATHER (Week 3): We Gather to Remember!

Key Verses:  Acts 2:37-47 (NASB)
 
Why do we gather? God gathers His Church for His purposes and His glory! Remember the theme verse for this series of teachings called, “Gather!” Read Acts 2:37-47 (NASB).
 
In this primary witness of the early church, we learn what the Church is to do when we gather: 1) baptisms, 2) teaching time, 3) fellowship time, 4) breaking of bread, 5) prayer (worship), 6) witnessing & testifying to God’s work, 7) encouraging one another in the Christian lifestyle which included continued gatherings in their homes doing more of the same. The Church is not a complicated business, it is a lifestyle of friendship with God and people. The Church is not a once a week gathering, it is a gathering of people who do life together.
 
We gather to remember Jesus Christ and what He did for us! Today, we are going to focus on the 2 ordinances of the Church that we see in Acts 2—Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
 
What is an ordinance? An ordinance is something that has been established and set apart by God (ordained) as a sign or activity that demonstrates loyalty to Jesus Christ as King, that declares you are in His Kingdom now. It is a symbol, a sign, and a step toward. The ordinances symbolize (point to) something far greater than what it is in and of itself. The ordinances are outward signs of inward convictions; the ordinances brand us. Ordinances are steps of Christian discipleship that invite us deeper into a personal and growing relationship with Jesus. Ordinances are remembrances and times of celebration of Jesus Christ and what He has once and for all established for us through His life, death, and resurrection. They remember and point to Jesus, not to us!
 
You already witnessed the first of these two ordinances today when we experienced a baptism and we’ll end this message with an invitation for all who are gathered to participate in the Lord’s Supper.
 

Baptism: A Triumphal Entry!

 
In Acts 2:37-41, we read, “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’ Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.’ And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, ‘Be saved from this perverse generation!’ So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”
 
The people who are baptized are not baptized because of the command of Peter alone, but because Peter’s invitation to baptism agrees with the powerful command of Jesus Christ in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20. As people are called by God to be gathered into the Church, they are not invited to religious activity that requires weekly attendance to show faithfulness, they are gathered to once and for all become a disciple/follower of Jesus Christ that requires a new way of faithfully living life. We demonstrate that faith conversion (the crossing of the line) through the ordinance of baptism. We are baptized once, but every time we see someone baptized we are to join with him/her and remember our baptism and what Christ has done for us.
 
Baptism reminds us of our call to faithfully follow Jesus Christ; that we are commissioned to a new life because we are now part of a new community that represents a heavenly kingdom that has come in us and is coming in its fullness. Baptism reminds us of the costliness of our gathering. The cost of the Church gathering is nothing less than the blood of Jesus Christ. No one can be gathered who has not come through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Many will visit church services, but the gathered are those who have been washed by the blood of Jesus. The cost was to the very last drop of blood from Jesus’s nail scared hands that now receive you to Himself.
 
Listen to Paul elevate the importance of what baptism symbolizes in Romans 6:3-7, “Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.”
 
Don’t forget this—our baptism impacts who we are and how we live! As Paul explains of who we are in Ephesians 4:4-6, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.” I invite you today to be baptized as more than a symbol—it is a sign of your loyalty to the King of kings and a step of discipleship! This is who you are gathered to be, and this is what we remember when we gather!
 

The Lord’s Supper: When We Remember at What Cost!

 
Let us now remember the cost of this gathering as Jesus commanded and instituted. How costly is your privilege to be a member of the body of Christ? On the first Sunday of the month we remember at FBC, but in the early church they remembered every time they gathered—daily. Listen to Acts 2:42-47, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
 
How the Church gathered together in the book of Acts directly impacted how the Church lived in the book of Acts. They reaped what they sowed! They gathered to remember, but they remembered for a purpose greater than their own security—they remembered so that they would live faithfully, generously, sacrificially. Are you missing out on the abundant life of Jesus Christ, on being a part of the great harvest of souls in these last days upon the earth? Are you choosing to sow into the Kingdom of God like they did in the Acts 2 Church?
 
We eat of Jesus’ body and we drink of Jesus’ blood. These elements are more than symbols! These are signs of the new covenant for which Jesus gave it all! And this is the call to take Jesus-like steps of discipleship in our own lives. As you remember what Christ has done for you today, as you ask Him once again to forgive you of your sins and to qualify you for this meal by His grace alone, may you also ask Him what steps of Christian lifestyle you must take to look more like the Acts 2 Church.
 
Paul taught us these words of institution. Please listen to these words closely as we prepare to receive the elements of communion and to take them into our bodies as His one body: “For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

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GATHER (Week 2): We Gather to Worship!

We Gather to Worship!

Thoughts from members of FBC’s Worship Planning Team on the purpose and importance of corporate worship.
 

Emily Hurst

You are joining us on the second week of a seven week series called “Why We Gather”. Today, we want to share about how we gather to SING and the importance of the music we include as part of our weekly worship service! If you regularly attend our service, you’ll notice that our service structure is “flipped” today, with several testimonies at the beginning, and our main worship set later in the service, as it’s designed to be an opportunity to respond to the message being shared today.

Those of us sharing today represent most of the members of the Worship Planning Team, which is a new ministry team that started meeting in the spring and officially took over the primary responsibility of planning our Sunday morning worship services on July 1. (We were introduced on that day…but don’t feel bad if you weren’t here. I’m on it and I wasn’t here!) If you have any questions about our purpose or what we are doing, please feel free to talk to any of us! But, our sharing today doesn’t have much to do with what the WPT is, but rather the hearts each of us have for the role that music plays in our services, and what God has to say about making music to His glory. Now, music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and some of my earliest memories of music are from church as a child. Music got me through some of the darkest times of my growing up years, and I hold two degrees in music, one in voice performance, and one in music therapy. The importance of music in our lives has never been in question for me, but I have spent a lot of time thinking about how music may strengthen my relationship with God.
The conclusion I have come to is that: music is a love gift from God. In one of my classes for my music therapy degree called Psychology of Music, we studied a chapter on the adaptive purposes of music. One of the most interesting things I learned was that there is no real biological purpose for the existence of music. Certainly, we have found ways for it to be adaptive ( I would be out of a job if we hadn’t). Music, when used in the proper settings, has medical, spiritual, and emotional ways of changing us on an individual level. But, the bottom line is: if music had never existed, our survival as a species would not have been effected. The beauty of music is something God created for us in the same way that visual arts, colors, landscape, and climate are additions God made to his creation that we may experience beauty and variety. These are the largely unexplained invisible qualities we hear about in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Even in our fallenness, we find beauty. We constantly try to make connections between what we see and experience and the meaning behind it. Music has, time and again in my experience, been a way that God has reminded me “I am here. I never move. Just look for me.”
At the same time, God’s creation is intended to glorify Him! Psalm 100 says:
 

1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.

3 Know that the Lord is God.

  It is he who made us, and we are his[a];

 we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

 and his courts with praise;

 give thanks to him and praise his name.

5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

 his faithfulness continues through all generations.

We sing because we have the opportunity to give God’s gift of music back to him as a way to worship and glorify him! This is why the songs we choose matter. The words in the songs we sing should line up with the Scriptures God has written on our hearts. And (now this one may sting) whether or not we “like” the music should have nothing to do with whether or not we choose to glorify God with it! 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
God has given us the gift of music to demonstrate his love for us. God did not create a utilitarian world for us to live in, but rather one that showed us how desperately he loves us so that we may love him in return! We are commanded by God to worship. I leave you today with this, echoing the apostle Paul in Romans 12:1, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”
 

Brandon Atwood

Hey guys, my name is Brandon Atwood. I’m one of the worship leaders here at First Baptist Church, and today I am I’m not able to be here I’m out of town hiking on the Appalachian Trail so I just wanted to share a little bit this way. There are several reasons why we gather together and some of the other people in the church are going to be sharing some of those different reasons. My focus today is a special connection with God that we can really only get when we gather together and we sing and worship him together. We can and should sing by ourselves, and that’s a really good thing. Some of my best times with the Lord are just me and him, I’m at home and just worshipping Him, and those are really good times and we should all do that.

But, there’s just something that we can only get when we’re together. Psalm 89 talks about this, in verse 1: “I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord forever.” So verse one right there shows that singing together is a way that we can proclaim God’s love, we can proclaim His faithfulness, and we can worship Him together. The songs we sing are about God’s love, about His character, about His holiness, about how worthy He is, and about the things that He’s done in our lives. So songs are a way that we can focus on who God is together. When we gather together, it’s a special time that we can connect with God, and we can be drawn in by other people connecting with God. We can be drawn in and we can remember who he is and what he’s done in our lives, and as that’s happening with other people in the room, it’s helping us connect to God even more.

Verse 5 is another verse from Psalm 89 that I would like to share: “Let the heavens praise Your wonders, O Lord! Your faithfulness in the Assembly of the Holy Ones.” So there’s this special power that comes when we worship as the Assembly of the Holy ones. As the church, that’s us; we are the gathered together Holy people of God. This is something that we can’t get alone because it’s a group of people; we’re a body. We are a family. so when we gather together we’re creating that space to connect with God on this special level that we can really only get when we’re all here together.

The last verse that I would like to read from Psalm 89 is verse 15: “Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O Lord, in the light of your face.” There’s a word in this verse that’s not too familiar, and that’s the word festal. The word festal is describing celebration feast, and the word for people in this verse is not talking about individuals; the original word for people here is talking about a gathering of people. So, this verse is saying, “it’s the joint people of God who know the feast shout.” So what is what is a feast shout? It makes me think of, in the book of Exodus, the Passover; or in the gospels where it teaches about communion, where it’s a feast where we’re gathering together and there’s a joy that comes from this joint feast that we have sitting around the table.

Another way you can think about this is a wedding feast. You’re there with all of your friends and family and it’s all of your people. You gather together to celebrate the special occasion with so much joy, and that’s what a festal shout is. That’s what it’s talking about. And it’s really only something that you can get when you’re focused on who God is and what he’s done for you. It brings this joy, and it’s this song, this shout, that goes up to the Lord. And so, we gather together on Sundays to express our combined joy of experiencing God’s goodness. Together, we can connect with in a way that we can’t by ourselves.
 
You may watch Brandon share in video format by clicking on the video below:
 

Christy Ragle

I’m Christy Ragle, and you might be wondering why I’m up here because I’m not a music person, and if you sit by me you know that it’s like a joyful noise—I take that very very seriously. So I am on the worship planning team, but I’m not a musical person per se, so I’m here to talk to you about not singing. It’s pretty obvious that not all of us sing, and there are sometimes when I don’t sing. I just want to talk us through what that means, and what are some of the battles that I faced in my own life not singing.

So sometimes, when we aren’t singing, it’s because we’re new to this church, and the songs are different. Maybe we don’t know God the way that the people around us know God. That makes sense; you’re still learning. But, there are those of us that were raised in church, that know the songs, and still don’t sing. Why is that? These are the statements that I used myself and I’ve heard other people use. So we’re going to go through those:

  • I don’t like this song
  • I don’t know this song
  • I don’t feel like it
  • I’m not a good singer

So, what do all these statements have in common? They all start with the word “I”. So I’ve got some great news for you: it’s not about you. It’s not about me. It’s not about the “I”. It’s about the Lord. David, in the Book of Psalms, in chapter 69, he shares about the sorry state of his life. He does that a lot: enemies are chasing him, people are mocking him, etc. He’s asking God for help and, in verse 30 of chapter 69, he says “Then I will praise God’s name with singing, and I will honor him with Thanksgiving for this will please the Lord more than sacrificing.” Did you heat that? —with singing. “That pleases the Lord more than sacrifice.” For some of us, singing praises is a sacrifice. You’re singing even though you don’t like the melody of the music. You’re singing even though you don’t know the song, even though you’re tired, even though you don’t feel like it, even though you’re not a good singer. My dad-okay I will say I can think sing better than my dad-he is a terrible singer! He cannot carry a tune in a bucket with a handle; but, that doesn’t stop him from singing praises to God. You know, without knowing it, my dad is an inadvertent worship leader because the people around him are like, “You know, if he’s singing I think I can sing!” Because, really, it’s not about him. It’s not about you.

 

So maybe you don’t know the songs; most of them kind of have a repeating chorus; just hum along. Read the words, concentrate on those words, and really try to make him part of your life. Something that helps me is listening to Christian music through the week. There are so many great resources for that; I’d be glad to share them with you. Honestly, it helps me through my week, because, you know, if I’m having a bad week, the best thing to do is to praise. You know you don’t feel like it. There have been times where they’re singing “I Surrender All” and I can’t say that because I’m carrying bitterness in my heart. So what do I do? I don’t want to just sing just to make the people around me think that everything’s okay. What if I prayed, “Lord help me surrender all”? You know, maybe you can’t mean the words that minute but that doesn’t mean that you can’t pray that God will bring that meaning to you.
 

Winnie Logan

When I took over the leadership role for the first Sunday worship team, I started thinking a lot about the songs that we sing, and the songs that we select. You know, God made us all different, and that’s wonderful. What I like to sing may not be what you like to sing, and vice-versa; so I really thought a lot about that, and I started thinking about what congregational worship should look like. What does it look like when God’s people gather together and sing?

 

The Lord took me to Revelation, and I really love this passage. We get a glimpse into heaven, and we get to see what’s happening in heaven right now and in the future. So I want to share that with you. Chapter 5 of Revelation, starting in verse 1, it says:
 

1Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[a] of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll

    and to open its seals,

because you were slain,

    and with your blood you purchased for God

    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.

10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign[b] on the earth.”

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,

    to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength

    and honor and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb

    be praise and honor and glory and power,

for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

 

That is what worship looks like in heaven, and we should have a little piece of that here. So we see this vast congregation singing to the Lord because of what Jesus did! And what he did is is told to us in verse 9: He died and He rose again and with His blood He purchased men for God. He bought us. Isn’t that enough to make us want to sing?

 

Another picture of what worship looks like in heaven is in Isaiah 12. Isaiah 11, before this, is talking about when Jesus will come to reign. Chapter 12 of Isaiah says:

 

1 In that day you will say:

“I will praise you, Lord.

    Although you were angry with me,

your anger has turned away

    and you have comforted me.

Surely God is my salvation;

    I will trust and not be afraid.

The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense[a];

    he has become my salvation.”

With joy you will draw water

    from the wells of salvation.

In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;

    make known among the nations what he has done,

    and proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;

    let this be known to all the world.

Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,

    for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

 

 So when we come together, we’re here to sing for all the Glorious things that he has done. When we think about all the Lord has done for us, we can’t even imagine and describe everything that he’s done for us. And so, sing, people of the Lord when we come together.

 

Kevin Stonerock (Coordinator)

I believe we can all agree that our worship should focus on God. But are there any other reasons…”side benefits”, as it were, why we should participate wholeheartedly in corporate worship?

 

Let’s look at some scripture. Because I believe it sinks in a little better if you read it for yourselves, I’m going to ask you to turn in your Bibles to Hebrews 3:13 “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “today”, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”.

 

Next, let’s go to Ephesians 5:18-19 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord”.

 

And finally, Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God”.

 

Bearing in mind that Jesus is the object of our worship, what’s in it for us?…for you and me as individuals… when we worship together? I can think of several things. Perhaps you can think of others.
  1. It strengthens our faith. How does it do that, you might ask? I would answer, by way of reminder. 2 Peter 1:12-13 says Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. 13 I think it right, as long as I am in this body,[a] to stir you up by way of reminder…” By our worship, by singing songs together that are based in scripture, we are reminded that it’s not about our works, it’s not about our performance, it’s not about US. It’s about God and his grace and mercy.
  2. It helps us to see God for who He is and to see ourselves for who WE are in His eyes. And may I add here that if you are a believer, God is not mad at you. If you have put your trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus as your only hope of salvation, you are His eternally and nothing can separate you from his love. If you don’t believe me, read Romans 8. This is big, and yes, it does effect our worship. Because of Jesus, you are FREE to worship God. You are no longer a slave to the devil’s lies, or your own flesh. You are a new creation and as unworthy as you feel (and we are, in our own flesh), God DESIRES your worship, and true worship produces a thankful heart.
  3. We’ve looked at a few ways that corporate worship helps us as individuals, but what about that person sitting next to you, or behind you or in front of you? Can your worship, or lack thereof, effect them? If so, how? I have a couple more scriptures for you. You can turn there if you want, or just listen.
 

Hebrews 3:13 “But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “today”, lest any one of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”. The phrase I want to focus on is “encourage one another”. Personally, I am encouraged when I hear my brothers and sisters in Christ raising their voices in praise and worship. How about you? We are not all called to preach. I’m certainly not, but we can “preach the truth” or affirm the truths of scripture to those around us by our wholehearted, passionate lifting of our voices in praise and adoration. The singing we do here is not, or at least shouldn’t be, something we do ritualistically so we can get to the preaching. And It’s not about how well you sing or whether you can even carry a tune. Personally, some of the most encouraging times for me have been when standing within hearing range of a saint who is tone deaf but is lifting his voice in song from his heart. There’s something very touching about someone who is so focused on God that they are oblivious to what others around them might think about their singing ability. I believe God honors that. “For[b] the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1Samuel 16:7 If you really want to get a blessing, sit in front of the Durham family… especially when all the boys are home. Maybe there’s someone in your neighborhood who encourages you. Encourage THEM by telling them so. Or maybe you could be just the person to encourage someone else.

 

Ephesians 5:18-19 “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord”. Wouldn’t the logical time to sing to one another be during our corporate worship time? If you come up to me after the service and start singing in my face like we’re doing a scene from “The Music Man”, I’m probably going to be uncomfortable, and whatever you are trying to convey is going to get lost in my embarassment , so I think we can safely assume, in most cases, Paul was talking about corporate worship.

 

Colossians 3:16 “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God”. Singing with what? Thankfulness.

 

You may say, “Well, I just don’t FEEL it today.” Hey, I’ve been there. But on those times when I have ignored my feelings and offered up a “sacrifice of praise”, as mentioned in the Hebrews 13, I usually leave this place with a whole new attitude because I have stopped focusing on my problems and have been reminded of the holiness, the worthiness and the grace of God. I believe that when we truly allow ourselves to enter God’s presence, we can’t help but be changed. Don’t wait until you FEEL it. Feelings come and go, but God never changes. The eternal truths about God; the promises of God; the faithfulness of God are not effected by our feelings. You may say “I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”. To that I say “Fake it till you make it”.

 

It’s kind of like swimming. You’ll never learn unless you just go ahead and jump right in. My dad taught me how to swim in Duck Creek. It took me a while to get past the fact that I might end up dead at the bottom of the creek with the leeches and crawdads, but eventually it dawned on me that my father wasn’t going to let that happen. I used to walk across the bottom on the shallow end of the swimming hole, flailing my arms, pretending to swim. My dad didn’t mock me or chide me (though I can’t say the same about the local teenagers). He encouraged me to go out a little deeper, until one day it happened. I nearly drowned. No….I started swimming. Not all that well, but I was doing it! You should have seen the look of pride and satisfaction in my father’s eyes.

 

How about our worship leaders? I’ll tell you a little secret. If you want your worship leaders to be better, give them some encouragement by smiling and singing with gusto. Can we get real? You should be up here sometime and see how you all look out there. It can be downright scary! 🙂 Also, if you sing really loud, you’ll help cover up our mistakes.

 

            Why DON’T we worship? What are some possible reasons? Well, I thought of a few. Again, you may be able to think of others.
 
  1. The cares and worries of the world weigh us down. We can all relate to that. Let’s admit, it can be hard to sing when your world is falling apart. But if we look at the Psalms, David didn’t necessarily feel bon vivant all the time. Some of his songs are downright depressing, but by the end, most times he had come back around to the fact that his hope was in the Lord.
  2. Perhaps there is disappointment with God. David was familiar with that, too. “How long will the wicked prosper?” He wasn’t afraid to pour his heart out to God and again, by the end of the Psalm, he ends up praising God.
  3. Or maybe it’s that we don’t feel worthy to worship. Anybody ever been there? I have. That’s why it’s so important to be grounded in biblical truth. The Bible says that God has MADE us worthy through the blood of His Son. The Bible also says that He has removed our sin as far as the East is from the West. We ARE justified, we are adopted. God desires our worship. God deserves our worship. And finally, let’s never forget that we are not here to witness to OUR goodness, but to HIS goodness.

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GATHER (Week 1): We Gather for God’s Glory!

Key Verses:  Acts 2:37-47 (NASB)
 

Here is today’s big idea: “God Gathers His Church for His Glory!”  

Turn to Acts 2:37-47. What we are about to read is the response to Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2:14-36 which came immediately after the infusing of the Holy Spirit on the Church on Pentecost. Read Acts 2:37-47.
 
The Church does not exist for the Church’s sake: Church is God’s idea, for God’s purposes, for God’s glory! The Church is not a country club of the saved for the saved. The Church is simultaneously a place of resurrection and transformation, all for God’s glory! We are the rescued ones who are now rescuing. We are the resurrected ones who are now raising the dead. We are the found ones now seeking the lost. We are the blind who can now see for the purpose of showing others the way. God Gathers us together for His Glory!
 
This Acts 2 story is our inheritance! This is not only our heritage, but this is our legacy. The legacy we are called to leave our communities is the legacy of God’s power and presence being in their midst. We must focus on who we are as an Acts 2 people and what purposes we live for as those people. I am giving you today the 7 BIG WORDS we are going to focus on over the next year: GATHER, FOLLOW, REST, BELONG, LOVE, SERVE, and GO! These words are our heritage and our legacy. This is who we are and what we do!
 
Over the next year, we will focus on learning what it means to be a Jesus-community on mission, an Acts 2 church, built around the teaching of these 7 BIG WORDS: GATHER, FOLLOW, REST, BELONG, LOVE, SERVE, and GO! This year-long teaching emphasis on the 7 BIG WORDS will conclude on August 25, 2019 when I depart on a 3-month sabbatical, but our application of these 7 BIG WORDS will just be beginning. During my sabbatical, Pastor Ken and the elders will continue to lead us in even greater application at a personal level, in our relationships, and as a church family in being a Jesus-community for God’s glory. When I return on November 24, 2019, we will begin FBC’s “Year of Celebration” as we live out what we have learned and on July 11, 2020 when we invite all of our former pastors, friends, and family members to a big celebration—we will not be celebrating FBC, but God’s faithfulness to, in, and through FBC to fulfill His purposes for His Glory! This is a 2-year focus that moves us toward my sabbatical, through it, and beyond it because God has given us both a heritage and a legacy that we cannot squander or miss out on!
 

A quick administrative note: For more information on what you can anticipate at FBC over the next year, you will be receiving a letter from me—the first of ten over the next 2 years. The letter will go out today at noon via email and mailed out in the next couple of days. I also made a video of me reading the letter that will be available online. Please make sure we have your preferred means of communication starting now with letter #1, you won’t want to miss out as we are going on a sacred journey to fulfill the reason the Church and FBC exist in the first place. We have a lot to learn and a lot to do in response to what we learn. Jesus is calling: He is wanting to “pierce our hearts” as He gathers His Church.

 

Let’s look closer at the Acts 2:37-47 story to learn a valuable lesson: Who gathers us together?

  • The pastor, elders, or any other human leader? Who gathers us together?
  • Do we gather ourselves with some self-interest? Who gathers us together?
  • A cause that we believe in, is it a movement that draws us together? Who gathers us together?
 
There are lots of organizations and clubs in our communities that are drawn together by a human leader, by the desires of the people’s self-interests, or by a cause that may be bigger than themselves, like the community itself. We gather ourselves into clubs and cliques, God gathers us into His Church! There is a difference…
 

Are you His Church? Then it is your responsibility to prioritize gathering and being His church, to be where you are called to be. This should exalt your opinion of and prioritization of being here. There is no better place to be on the Lord’s Day than being gathered with the Church as Jesus calls. You are invited by God to be here and join FBC on this sacred journey to all of us together being built up as His Church for His Glory!

  • Jesus Christ very directly stated in John 15:16, “You did not choose Me but I chose you.”
  • Jesus prayed to His Father in John 17:6 & 23, “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me… I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
  • Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 16:15-18, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church [ekklesia], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
 

The Greek word ekklesia that Jesus uses in Matthew 16 has an everyday meaning of “gathering or assembly”, but when specifically used of the Church it has another deeper layer to its meaning: “the called-out ones.”

 

Why does Jesus gather His Church? The Church are those called out of the world by God to gather as His people for His purposes and His glory. God is gathering His Church to build His Kingdom for His Glory! The work of building God’s kingdom is the manifold ministry of the gospel for the purpose of calling out of the world those who are of God’s choosing so that they may join with God in the work of redemption.

 

Remember the situation of Acts 2:37-47: “Now when they heard this [‘this’ = Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2:14-36 immediately after the infusing of the Holy Spirit on the Church on Pentecost as Jesus promises in John 16], they were pierced to the heart, and their response was, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’(37).

 

Here are the results on that first day of Pentecost and these are same results we pray for:

Acts 2:41, “Those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls.”
 
 
Acts 2:42-47 describes what the Church community looks like when the people are gathered for God’s glory by God, And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47).
 

Is this promise for us today? Is God still gathering His people today? Is FBC Jesus’ Church or our club?

Acts 2:39, “For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.”
 
Jesus is calling generations to Himself! But each of us must respond as He gathers us! As in Acts 2, it is the Holy Spirit’s work to empower preaching about Jesus. Just like in Acts 2, it is the Holy Spirit’s work to convict people of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8). “Pierced to the heart” is an idiom that means you feel remorse for your sin and the anxiety over your separation from God’s salvation. When you are cut to the heart, the Holy Spirit shows you the reality of Heaven and Hell, and this breaks you. You must respond to God’s invitation for salvation, you must, or you will die. I have felt in my body what it feels like to be pierced to the heart! I was pierced to the heart in the fall of 1996, the agony of my sin felt like I was on fire and the horror of the consequences of God’s judgement for my sin made me feel isolated and alone in sheer darkness.
 
 

Have you ever felt this way? Have you ever felt the horror of the reality that apart from Christ you will miss out on the most important event of this life and spend an eternity separated from God?   Have you experienced the joy and peace of having your guilt of sin removed from you so that you can experience the abundant life of being secure in God’s acceptance for this life and for eternity in Heaven? Have you put your faith in Jesus Christ, repented of your sins, and been baptized by your own faith decision?


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