April 2020 Pastor’s Corner – The Conundrum of the Cluster

The Conundrum of the Cluster

We are creatures of habit, it’s a part of human nature. Part of that habit is grouping together with like-minded individuals, collections of people with shared beliefs, routines, customs, vision, etc. This is very normal and natural, it’s how communities form — including church communities — and it’s encouraged. We need the mutual support, accountability and encouragement that comes from the Body of Christ. In fact, in adolescent development theory, the “cluster” is an important and necessary part of the social development of the teenager. Where “cliques” are unhealthy and exclusive, “clusters” are not only inclusive and healthy, they are necessary for proper and appropriate development.
 
But this “clustering” also presents a problem, a problem we’ve been talking about in the church for several decades now. We aren’t called to be the church “gathered in” or “clustered together” but rather the church “sent out” (we’ve called this being a “missional” church) But the “sending out” part is hard — well, it’s very easy to talk about theoretically, but gets harder when we actually go to put it into practice. Why is it hard? Because it means leaving our comfort zone, our “cluster,” and going “out there,” wherever that may be. Our natural inertia is toward the cluster, not away from it. Throughout history, it has taken an outside force acting on the cluster that forces it to disperse and be sent out.
 

The Church Scattered

There is an interesting word used several times in the book of Acts, diaspeiro. It appears in Acts 8:1, 4, and 11:19 and it means “to scatter abroad.” After Stephen was stoned to death in Acts 7, there was “a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem” (8:1) that caused the Christians to be “scattered” (diaspeiro). And what happened? “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” (Acts 8:4) From the very beginning, Christians preferred to cluster together (see Acts 2:42). It took a persecution of the Christians in Jerusalem to send them out to Phoenicia, Cyprus, Antioch and further. It was the persecution of Christians by Nero in AD 64 that sent them out to “the ends of the earth,” spreading the Gospel far and wide. But God doesn’t always use persecution to scatter the church.
 

The Church Closed. Or is it?

We are, in many respects, in an unprecedented time. It certainly isn’t the first time humanity faced a pandemic like this, but it is for most of us it’s the first in our lifetime. It’s forcing us to rethink much of how we understand being “church.” How do we “do church” if we can’t meet for worship on Sunday mornings? But the church never was a building or a time. For the sake of the health of each other and our community, we can not gather in groups of 10 or more until this pandemic passes. But that doesn’t mean the church is closed. A colleague of mine posted this on her Facebook wall the other day,
A couple of years ago, God gave my associate pastor a vision of our church having transparent walls. For two years, we have been wondering how on earth God was going to turn stone and stained glass into transparent walls. We got the interpretation today. He’s making them transparent by locking our doors. Suddenly people will be able to see in from the outside! May God make transparent all the walls of our churches, that the world may know the Good News of Jesus Christ… He has been preparing us for this since November. We just didn’t understand what he was saying until now. Our church is being called to love and serve one another. We are the church sent out, not the church closed!
 
Through the wonder of modern technology, we will still “gather together” for worship, but in our own homes. Each Sunday morning, we will still worship in our sanctuary, and you can join us for the worship service at www.facebook.com/npcmh (no, you don’t need a Facebook account to get to it, just a phone or web browser).  The service will be adapted to focus on and facilitate at-home worship as families and individuals.
 

The Church Sent Out

We are still Northminster Evangelical Presbyterian Church, but we are not closed. We are the church dispersed, scattered, sent out, like dandelion seeds. Even in the midst of the social distancing of this pandemic, we have an opportunity to love our neighbor in ways we’ve forgotten or lost. If your neighbors are elderly or in the higher-risk categories for the coronavirus, offer to go to the store for them and leave the groceries on their porch. If your neighbors have kids and jobs that don’t allow them to work from home, offer to watch the kids during the day. There are many other ways to serve our neighbors, and we’ll help you explore some of those in the weeks to come. This is going to be a difficult season, let there be no doubt. But the church has faced pandemics and difficult seasons before, and every time the light of the love of Jesus Christ has shined brightly in the darkness. Hold fast to your hope, stand firm on the foundation of Jesus Christ and don’t be afraid.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Dander, Discipline, and Decisions

Paul faced many of the same challenges we face today and he reminds us in Ephesians 6:12 “We are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil spirits…” In the First Battle of Manassas some of Thomas Jackson’s troops broke ranks and charged. At first they made some gains against the enemy but soon where overtaken and overcome. When asked about it later Jackson’s reply was “It’s good to have your dander up, but it is discipline that wins the day.” The words dander and discipline are very effective in our spiritual warfare against the Devil.

Taking the Bait

Social media is rife with bait. The Devil dangles it and we bite down…hard. As  Christians, we are called to evaluate what we post  and how we respond to the comments of others. Several questions will help us do this?  Do these remarks glorify God? Does this unite of divide? Are we exercising the right of free speech to voice an opinion, win an argument, impress others with clever banter or are we trying to advance the kingdom of God? Proverbs 4:22 tells us that God’s words to us bring life and healing.

Jesus never used the tactics of embarrassment, guilt or shame. To the tax collector, Matthew, Jesus extended the hand of fellowship, dinning with Matthew and his friends. (Matt 9:9-13) To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus extended mercy. “Go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11) To the woman at the well, Jesus offered refreshment – “I will give you living water.”(John 4:7-28)

How Many Times?

How many times will we take the bait? How many times will we allow ourselves to be offended or to offend before we realize that once again we have allowed the Devil to influence our thought and emotions? How many times will we travel down the path of destroyed relationships before wising up to the Devil’s tactics? Thomas Jackson’s advice serves well here. It is good to get your dander up, to become feisty, have little spunk when determining in our hearts that we will no longer be pawns in the Devil’s game of divide and conquer.

Choose Your Hard

Sometimes life gives us choices. It is not easy to exercise. Neither is it easy managing health issues that might have been avoided or delayed by exercising. Choose your hard. It’s not easy implementing a regular time for Bible Study and prayer into our daily routines, but neither is it easy living with anxiety, disappointment, and uncertainty. Choose your hard. Thomas Jackson was right – discipline wins the day. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “If your right hand causes you to offend, cut it off.” Should he be living today, he might have said, “If social media causes you to offend or be offended, cut if off.” It is hard to refrain from social media. It is hard to repair relationships damaged via social media or live with feelings hurt by comments made on-line. Choose your hard.

Discipline requires action. Ephesians 4:31-32 say-, ”Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ forgave you. Colossians 3:12-15 has a similar message. ”Since God chose you to be holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Make allowances for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.” Proverbs 4:23-27 says, “Guard your hearts above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Avoid all perverse talk; stay away from corrupt speech. Look straight ahead and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.” Keep, guard, avoid, look, clothe, fix- action verbs galore. Discipline requires action.

Stay full

A basic principle that applies to many areas of life is simple-to avoid bad things, stay full of good things. Paul put it differently in Philippians 4:8,”Fix ( there’s that action word again) your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely ,and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Does reading social media leave you feeling full of good thoughts? Does it nourish your soul or create anger and anxiety? We have choices to make. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us that God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. Will we choose what is sometimes hard to gain what is ultimately for our good and his glory?
 
Author: Elder Maggie Brockman

 


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Reading the Bible as a Single Book – A February 2020 Table Talk Series

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with how long and diverse the Bible is? Do you struggle with seeing it as “one book” with a single message? Join us at Table Talk as we explore the unity of the Bible. We’ll be meeting at 5:45 p.m. on February 5, 12, and 19. This is a practical, hands-on series that will equip you to read through the Bible with greater understanding. You can expect to gain useful tools and resources that will make reading the Bible from cover to cover a more meaningful experience.
 
Join us Wednesdays, 5:45-6:45, beginning February 5.

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January 2020 Pastor’s Corner – Is Anyone Listening?

Is Anyone Listening?

“What is the word that Jesus has for your church?” I looked at my spiritual director a little befuddled, mostly because I wasn’t expecting the question. “Do you believe that Jesus has a word for your church today?” Well, of course I do. “So are you listening for it?” That’s really the question isn’t it? Am I listening for Jesus’ word to Northminster? To me? Just how does Jesus speak to us today? I fully believe that Jesus can speak to us in any form he chooses — directly, through someone else, a nudge of the conscience, the gift of a beautiful sunset, so on and so forth. The primary way He speaks to us is through His Word, the Bible. When we read the Bible, we’re usually pretty aware that we are reading, in some respects, a conversation between God and other people. We easily forget that God’s Word is just as much a conversation between us and God as well. Is anyone listening?
 

Tuning In

Much like tuning our car radio (does anyone even do that anymore?) to get the best reception of our favorite radio station, we will hear that for which we’re listening. When we step outside on a spring or summer day, at first the world sounds quiet. As we listen, as we “tune in,” we begin to hear the birds chirping and the wind rustling the leaves. When we listen more attentively, we begin to pick out different kinds of birds singing to each other. Eventually we can even locate particular birds in the trees and to whom they’re singing. We might not think Jesus is speaking to us, but He is, and we need to make sure we’re tuning in. Are we listening?
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” (Rev. 1:10–11)
 
During the season of Epiphany (all of January and February this year), we’re going to focus on “tuning in” to hear what Jesus is saying to us by listening in on what He said to the seven churches in Revelation. In the Bible, the number seven denotes fullness, totality and comprehensiveness. The letters to these seven historical churches represent the church universal. The Word that Jesus had for these seven churches is also the word He has for us individually, for Northminster, and the Church (capital “C” means the universal church, all churches in all times and all places) today. We will use these seven letters to help us tune in to what Jesus is saying to us right now. Once we get tuned in, we can start listening.
 

The Word That Speaks

Jesus isn’t just speaking to us through the seven letters of Revelation, though. We believe that every page of the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but most of us have never read through the entire Bible. How can we say we’re listening to Jesus if we don’t know what His Word says? Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we will embark on a journey to listen to the Word of God itself, the entire counsel of Scripture. In the 90 days from Ash Wednesday through Pentecost, we will read the entire Bible together. I know that sounds kind of daunting, but it works out to just 12 pages a day. Look at it like “binge reading” the entire Bible. Now that many shows and TV series are available to stream, you can watch an entire series in a weekend. “LOST” makes a lot more sense when you binge it (although it’s still really confusing). We’re going to do the same thing with the Bible. The sermons on Sundays will follow along with the weekly readings and we’ll provide tools and other things to help us all stay on track together. We’ll share more details about how this is going to work in next month’s newsletter.
 
The Session and I have been talking and praying about this for many months, and we’re really excited about what God will reveal to us — as individuals and as a church — when we tune in and start listening for His word to us. In 2020, let’s make sure we’re tuned in to Him and listening together.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – December 2019

“Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants!” — Psalm 90:13

The Christian calendar begins, not with January 1st, but instead with the first Sunday in Advent.  It’s an interesting decision that the early church fathers made in doing this.  Interesting  because the Christian year begins not with resolutions and activity, but with waiting.  Advent is an intentional season of preparation and pause, a time to reflect and prepare for the celebration of the coming of the Lord’s Messiah, Jesus Christ.  There is great wisdom in this decision, particularly for our current times.  We live in a culture of hurry and rush and activity, the last thing we want or like to do is wait for anything.

By starting the year with a season of waiting, we are invited to settle into a different rhythm of life and living, a rhythm that is ultimately about trust.  Trusting in the God who created Time, trusting in the One who has set His plans in motion and will see them through, trusting that there is One who knows and understands more than we do, trusting that He is good and that He is love.

So the Christian calendar begins with a reminder that there is a holiness and a righteousness in waiting.  But there is a hard-ness and challenge in waiting as well.  The Psalmists cry out, with great regularity, “How long, O Lord?”  Even as they wait on the Lord, they express their frustration, their discontent.  And in that we are shown that there is such a thing as a holy discontent.

But as much as we are waiting to celebrate the birth of our Savior, the season of Advent points to an even more significant event, an event most of us usually forget is yet to and actually is going to happen.  The Hebrews waited over 500 years for the Messiah to come the first time.  We’ve been waiting nearly 2,000 years for him to return.  May our lives be lived with the faith that comes from knowing our Savior’s return is imminent, with the hope that comes from knowing that what is broken will soon be made right, and with the love for those who don’t yet know that their Messiah has already come once and will come again.

“He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” — Revelation 22:20

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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Pastor’s Corner – November 2019

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Col. 2:6–7)
 
“Continue to live in him, rooted and built up, strengthened in the faith as you were taught”
 
Each year, as part of my benefits package, I am given two weeks of study leave.  This isn’t two extra weeks of vacation; it’s an intentional time for pastors to do exactly what Paul says in this verse, to be ‘rooted and built up [in Christ], strengthened in the faith.”  Just as we need exercise to keep our bodies healthy, we also need to be intentional in strengthening our faith. That is what study leave is meant to provide.  I spent the time reading several books about pastoring in our current cultural reality, meeting with a spiritual director for my own spiritual growth and well-being, and sketching out a sermon plan for next year.  Thank you for letting me have the time away, and I look forward to sharing with you what God has been sharing with me!
 
“Overflowing with Thankfulness”
 
Thank you, also, for the wonderful cards and expressions of appreciation you all shared this past weekend.  What an unexpected surprise to receive upon my return from study leave!  One of my greatest joys is being able to tell others about what a blessing you all are to my family and me and how thankful we are to get to serve alongside you.  So many pastors serve places that are hard and challenging, but serving Northminster is a joy and delight.  We truly are “overflowing with thankfulness” for each one of you.

 

For what are you “overflowing with thankfulness”?  In the midst of the craziness of the holiday season, it can be easy to forget to reflect on that question.  I encourage you to be intentional in taking time to reflect on the things for which you are thankful.  Yes, expressing gratitude in the moment when we’ve received a gift is somewhat easy, but to “overflow with thankfulness” requires intentional thought and perhaps even prayer.  How different might our thanksgiving celebrations be if we take as much time to reflect on all that we have to be thankful for as we do cleaning, cooking and preparing for those celebrations?

 

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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Pastor’s Corner – October 2019

Here’s something I’ve been thinking about lately:
 
What difference does Jesus make in your life?
 
Not long ago, I came across an interview with a pastor who said that it wouldn’t affect her faith in the least if there were definitive proof that Jesus Christ never existed or wasn’t resurrected from the dead and certainly wasn’t God. In fact, this pastor argued, such belief takes greater faith than holding to the orthodox beliefs about Jesus (that he is fully God and the second member of the Trinity, born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, died for our sins, was raised from the dead on the third day and is now seated at God’s right hand, to name a few). The Apostle Paul has some pretty strong words for such a view:
But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain… And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Cor. 15:13–14, 17–19)
 
Everything we believe and are as Christians hinges on the resurrection of Christ — in this life and the life to come. For a long time, much of Christian hope and faith was placed in the promise of eternal life with God in Heaven. Over the past century or so, however, that focus has shifted toward the benefits of believing in Christ in this present life. That, in my opinion, has been a necessary correction. However, now it seems even that is fading away. It seems to me that there are a lot of people who claim to believe in Jesus, but for whom Jesus makes no practical difference in their daily lives whatsoever. I wonder if in losing our focus on the former (our hope for eternal life), we started to lose our focus on the latter (the change in our daily lives).
 
But think about what Jesus said about why he came: “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” (John 10:10) Our faith in Christ brings us “real and eternal life.” It’s absolutely about the life to come. The greatest hope of our eternal life is that we will see God face-to-face. Holding to that hope, through Christ we are able to have “more and better life than we’ve ever dreamed of” in this present life. How I live my life today is formed and shaped by the sure knowledge that one day, because of Christ, I will see God face-to-face.
 
There’s an old saying that someone is “so heavenly minded, they’re no early good.” We’ve all known people like that. But that’s not how it actually works. If I’m focusing on eternity rightly, then the present is molded and shaped by it. It is that sure and certain hope that enables me to live sacrificially and fully for Christ today. The saying should more be like, “I’m only earthly good because I’m so heavenly minded.”
 
It is my prayer that, because we know we will one day see Him face-to-face, we would all know Jesus so fully and deeply that we can’t imagine living a day or a moment without Him.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – August 2019

“Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18)

Summer doesn’t officially end for another month and a half, and given that we live in central Virginia, it won’t begin to feel like fall until sometime in October, but with kids going back to school in just a few weeks, it seems like fall is already here.  And with the fall comes the  harvest season.  In our summer sermon series, Do Something, we’ve seen that James uses the image of the harvest a lot throughout his letter.  

I’ve been amazed at the way the flowers and plants in our yard have absolutely blossomed and exploded this year.  As much as we’d like to take credit, this isn’t really because of anything my wife and I have done.  Someone else put these plants in the ground long before we moved in, and last year’s incredible rainfall nourished the soil richly over the winter and into the spring.  We put a lot of effort into weeding and mulching early on, but haven’t done a good job keeping up with it.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:5–9)

Such it is with our spiritual lives.  Often we find that spiritual growth happens, regardless of what we do or don’t do.  But some simple truths are still central.  First, you harvest what you plant.  Second, while the seeds grow naturally, there are things we can do to encourage their growth, such as watering, weeding and fertilizing that create an environment conducive to their flourishing.

Much of what we seek to do here at Northminster is help you with those two aspects of your walk with the Lord – planting seeds of faith and spiritual growth, and cultivating the soil of your heart and soul to nourish those seeds.  As we head into the harvest season, be on the lookout for opportunities to check the health of the soil of your soul as well as opportunities to “do something” with the growth that God has been doing in you.  If there is a particular way you’d like some help in your spiritual growth, be sure to let one of our elders or me know.

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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Pastor’s Corner – July 2019

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” (James 2:14) 

One of the central truths of our faith is that we are saved by grace alone, that there is nothing we can do to earn or merit our salvation.  It is the free gift of God through Jesus Christ.  This is the hallmark of the Reformation and essential to what we believe as Reformed, protestant, Presbyterian Christians.  It is also the doctrine that separates Christianity from all other religions on earth.  Every other religion involves humanity having to earn their salvation.  What they do determines whether they are saved.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22–23)

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to do anything with our faith.  In fact, the things we do become even more important.  We don’t seek to do acts of love, mercy, kindness and justice so that we can be saved; rather, because of the salvation we’ve been given, we serve God and others.  Just as the health of a tree is shown in the fruit it bears, our acts of love and service are the fruit of our salvation.

“But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”   Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:18–19)

Over the first 400 years or so, the Christian faith grew through a radical and counter-cultural love for others and service to “the least of these.”  It wasn’t “radical” in the sense of being offensive, but a kind of loving others that was so profoundly different from what anyone expected.  The early Christians sought out the loveless, the rejected, the despised, the hopeless and offered them love, relationship, presence, identity, hope – in short, they offered them Jesus Christ.  Those acts of love transformed their communities and the world.  Their works, their deeds, proved the real change that salvation by faith through Jesus Christ brought about in their lives.  We might grieve the loss of cultural influence we’re experiencing in our time, but it is also an opportunity to get back to the roots of our faith and do something to love others in Jesus’ name in order to share the hope and life that can only be found through Him.
 
As we head through the ‘dog days of summer,’ look for opportunities to love and serve others.  It doesn’t always have to be something big.  Sometimes the greatest act of love we can do for someone else is to give them a glass of cold water on a hot summer day. 
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – June 2019

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. — James 1:22
 
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” ― Brennan Manning
 
If one thing jumps out at us from the story of the man born blind in John 9, it’s how his life was immediately and powerfully changed after his encounter with Jesus Christ. An inward change (the healing of his eyes) led to an outward witness and confession of Jesus Christ as Messiah and Lord. He might not have known much, but he knew enough: “I once was blind, but now I see.” His life was changed in very real and practical ways forever.
 
That’s the essence of the reality for every Christian as well. To believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior isn’t a mere mental exercise, along the lines of, “I believe in the Easter Bunny.” Ok, that’s great, but that belief doesn’t have an impact on your every day life. However, when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and place our faith and trust in Him as our Savior we are declaring an entirely different way of being and doing. But, as the quote from Brennan Manning above says, many Christians have forgotten that to be a Christian is not just about what we believe but also about how we live. We’re really good at listening to the Word of God, but struggle with doing what it says.
 
Take heart, though! This isn’t a new problem! James wrote his letter barely 10 years after Jesus was crucified. Hardly a decade had passed, and the new Christians were already struggling with living out their faith. It isn’t easy, and it never has been. Fortunately, James’ letter is loaded with practical advice, encouragement and exhortation to live our faith and do what the Word of God says. Join us this summer as we work through this fascinating letter that pushes us to “Do Something” with our faith.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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