Brothers, Something’s Wrong

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Theologically speaking, I am closer to Wesley than I am to Luther or Calvin, the same way ‘3’ is closer to ‘1’ than, say, ’10’ is. I’m sure this will surprise or even disappoint some of my fellow theologues out there but there it is. Once upon a time I was a strict dispensationalist. A cessationist. A fundamentalist (note the emphasis is on the last syllable). I still adhere to the fundamentals which include the virgin birth, the vicarious death of Christ, His victorious resurrection and visible return to earth and the veracity of the holy scriptures . If you notice from that list I have conveniently alliterated it, showing my homiletic roots from which I can never stray very far. Tragically, there are more than three points, however, and no poem.

Well, you can’t please everybody.

Some time ago, the Lord had me all in knots over Paul’s first missive to Timothy when he wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the startling prediction that “in the last days some will depart from THE faith…” This taxed me to no end especially when I laid it alongside Christ’s sobering conclusion to His famous Sermon (“MANY will say to Me on that day…”), my neatly packed world began to writhe and sway. This tumultuous “sword drill” further rocked my world when God added more beef to the stew through this interchange between Jesus and a seeker:

“Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?”
“Strive to enter through the narrow door,”
He replied, “for MANY, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able…”

I see little ‘striving’ these days. I garner that such a message has been deemed non sequitur by moderns and we evangelicals have retooled it so we can help God turn the “few” into “many.” Sorry, Lord, but we think we can get You bigger numbers with some favorable repackaging. Whaddaya say we tone down the Gospel a smidge, hide some of its dicier demands, and make it easier to get in? Hey, I know, let’s get people to pray a quick prayer, shake their hand and tell ’em they’re saved? Forget the aisle or public confession, just have ’em pray it silently in their seats with no one looking around! Wouldn’t want ’em to feel self-conscious…even if they don’t connect with a faith family, no matter. They’re in. It’s all done.

If Barna’s right, then there’s not a whole lot more to do in America because 8 or 9 out of ten polled people consider themselves heaven-bound. Hooray! Our way has worked!

Oh, sorry, Jesus…uh, You’re still Lord and everything…

When it comes to evangelism, the church in our era is more like the proverbial hare, like a rocket out of the gate and hurry-scurry across the countryside, and Jesus’ style is more like the tortoise, plodding, purposeful and particular. And terribly effective.

When I was a teenager in the 70s, our youth group at church would go door-to-door witnessing on Thursday nights in area neighborhoods. I, however, would board a church van with three or four other guys and we would be taken into the seedier side of town, amid drug deals and shootings, to share the gospel on street corners. We were the ‘preacher boys.’ Our goal was to get as many saved as we could, so our presentation went something like this:

“How many of you want to go to heaven when you die?”

There was always a group of ten, fifteen, or thirty curious listeners, mainly children, and mostly puzzled by upper middle class white guys converging on their turf. When the question was raised, so were the hands. Even some adults lifted an arm to the air. Immediately, we knew we had them.

“If I could tell you that you could have a mansion one day, walk on streets of pure gold and live forever, would you be interested?”

They were hooked. Mostly by the mansion thing, but hooked, nonetheless. By now, some more children were filtering our way and they, too, were betaken by visions of fairies, angels and huge marble palaces. And gum. Not hard to see, really, when the streets we proclaimed this gospel from were not golden and lined by rows and rows of shanties. Well, anyway, I would hurry through the death, burial and resurrection part of the gospel because you couldn’t stay on these matters too long or you’d lose them. They were in it for bigger game. How do I get a mansion, mister? So, I would wrap up the “sermon” part and reel them in.

“So, if you want to live forever and have your very own mansion, repeat this prayer after me…”

Many did. We’d count the noses then report back to the van our great success. Never did know what became of those noses, however. The difference between our method and the first century understanding of the gospel was that we’d count noses and jump for joy! Those early disciples would make disciples and change the world.

Though the above scenario is absolutely true, I realize that I’ve caricatured to an extent and culled something from a different time, but over all I see very little in the western church that reflects the last sentence of my previous paragraph. Going back to those earlier texts, I am greatly burdened by a man-centered gospel that is powerless to save and weak against the kingdom of darkness. I fear for a people who are basing their salvation on “greasy” grace (slide in on a wing and a prayer), a little prayer and handshake, a raised hand during an invitation long, long ago, a gospel about heaven and not Him and who are unwitting targets for the great falling away.

Brothers, something’s wrong. And we’d better address it.

22 thoughts on “Brothers, Something’s Wrong

  1. marie says:

    Wow

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  2. Alan Powell says:

    It is always encouraging to know a pastor that is not afraid to speak the truth. Thank you for your boldness.
    Alan

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  3. Jerald says:

    I totally agree, Scott. But I really didn’t see this the way you picture it until just relatively recently. It’s just been in the past several years that I have seen what’s really happening in the Church.
    There’s another passage of scripture in Matthew just after Jesus tells the seeker to enter in through the narrow gate. It says,
    “Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter into the kingdom of heaven.
    I thought that if Jesus was Lord, that’s all it took. Then Jesus goes on to say:
    “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’
    Sounds like they are doing church to me, doesn’t it to you? Then Jesus says the clincher:
    “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
    Wow! What does it really take to enter in and be able to stay in until the end? Actually Jesus tells us in the very next passage:
    “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them….”

    I thought it was interesting that this blog got only 2 or 3 comments when your blog about the toilet seat got 9 comments and your blog on writing mistakes got 14 comments.

    Are we afraid of this issue or do we just not understand it? If we are afraid of it, that doesn’t bode well for the Church in America. If we just do not understand it, that doesn’t bode well for the pastors and teachers in the Church in America.
    I realize that this is a dicey issue. I personally would, like I’m sure you would, like to hear from a lot of people about what they think about this. What gospel is being preached in the pulpits of America? Is the Gospel of the Kingdom being preached or some other ‘method of salvation’ that is not able to save.

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  4. J.Thomas says:

    Scott,Jerald, Saints,

    I think our interpretation of scripture largely depends upon what theology/eschatology we hold to.

    Scott, I believe that is why you laid out your core beliefs at the start of this post.

    Some of you kind of know me by now and even if you don’t agree with my perception of things, I still feel obligated to the “community” (local and large) to offer my 2 cents.

    I don’t want to go on and on with my first reply here, but I would like to offer a couple of things. Maybe you’ll be able to percieve my heart here..

    Do we really know what “The Last Days” are?

    The words MANY and THE are not in the original text (I TIM REFERENCE).

    It should actually be read, “In the last days, some will withdraw from faith…”

    Furthermore, the Matthew 7:22 reference follows a brief discourse on hypacrtical behavior and “the golden rule”.

    WHAT IF your perception of what the end times are… is off?
    What would that mean for those who gather weekly under your direction?

    Brothers, I’m not picking on anyone here, but these concerns of mine are just as valid as yours.

    May we all be able to submit to one another in love if we continue this dialogue.

    Peace.

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  5. pasturescott says:

    JT, it is VITAL to have you in the discussion. We all learn and grow so much from each other. I agree about the submission thought you added. Well played on the “some” as opposed to “many” part–you are exactly right–I inadvertently crossed it with the Matt 7 “many”–and will edit it posthaste! As to the “the” in the original, it is there (‘tns pisteuo’)which suggests to me that they are not departing from Christian ideas but from THE christian faith…

    Bless you, brother, for your love for Truth! There is a ‘back door’ promise to all who do so (context of 2 Th 2:10)…may you receive His joy in it!

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  6. J.Thomas says:

    So, when you say that “It is there”, are you saying that the word “the” IS THERE in the greek or that “It is there, at that point…”.

    Strong’s doesn’t have it there.

    Now what is the christian faith?
    Is it the adherence to a set of ideas/ philosohpy/ dogma, or is it faith in a PERSON.

    I understand that the “Person” includes the words that come from His mouth, but the way I understand His words, is that they all point back to HIM, as does EVERYTHING.

    Praise the Lord for back doors. Sometimes the line at the front is just too long.
    (Helps to know the janitor.)
    😉

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  7. Mic says:

    Yet another perspective:
    We are all in our own “last days” as our time here is finite and we all have an appointment where we will stand before Jesus. The core message as alliterated by Jerald is that all disciples of Christ need to begin to culivate an intimacy with Jesus and with a sense of urgency. Our time is short whether or not our perceived “position” on God’s timeline is accurate. Many are “falling away” in these days or are proliferating a perverted gospel, believing they can have salvation without paying the price. Living in the world and still believing they are bound for heaven, while heaven is not even our ultimate destination. (That’s another discussion)🙂 We can argue whether we are in the end-times or not but you cannot argue with your mortality.

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  8. "J" Millirons says:

    On the other side of street… I know someone who totally agrees with all you’re saying, but has given up on his walk because he believes there is no hope to enter into the kingdom. “It’s just too hard and it wouldn’t matter anyway. If I’m not counted in there is nothing I can do about it” There are those who teach that only a very few people will be counted among the remnant. Speaking the Truth in this case has backfired causing hopelessness.

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  9. J.Thomas says:

    Sure, our time here in this particular realm is ticking away, and the older we get the faster that time seems to disappear.
    I agree with that, but who among the people of God is mortal?

    A wise brother once said, “He who lives beyond death, cannot die.”

    Before anyone breaks out the Book, I want to say that I know what he means.
    Yes, there is physical termination…our bodies go back to the earth (once the fomaldehyde breaks down), but our spirits shall never retire.

    Urgency?
    I dunno how I feel about that one. I think urgency is something that is called out of us when it’s needed.

    Our Lord said not to toil and to give NO THOUGHT for tomorrow.
    I just don’t see any urgency in that. (granted, I am laying aside context for the sake of making a point, but hey…who doesn’t 😉 )

    Urgency for urgencies sake is never a good idea.
    Enjoy the Lord.
    Love Him with everything you are, and your neighbor as yourself (which, to me, means that we had better even love ourselves while we are at it.)

    Better yet, beholding Love Himself has a way of transforming us to the point or re-radiating that Love before ALL creation.

    Watchman Nee once told the account of a young brother who struggled with his walk.

    The young man repeatedly came to mr. Nee with his issues and despair.

    Finally the young man said weeping, “That’s it! I cannot do this. There is no hope fro me, brother!”

    At which point brother Nees face lit up with encouragement and said (something like), “Now you are almost there, brother. Now you see that there is no hope in yourself!”

    We can’t live the “christian life”, saints.

    Only Christ is capable of this, and HE DOES THIS IN US (which is why and how we CAN love ourselves, for it is no longer I who lives but Christ)

    Praise God that IT IS FINISHED!

    If we could see that Gods work is finished, I believe we would find ourselves walking “organically” in that Reality.

    Too many preachers offer grace seasoned with law, and some of them don’t realize that’s what they are doing. They are doing what they were taught to do, and don’t understand the why inside they feel so much torment.

    The reason is, whenever we put forth law, that same law begins to weigh heavily on our own hearts….IMPOSSIBLY HEAVY.

    The longer I live the less I dip into the well of death and the more I fall dead into the river of Life.

    J, I pray for your friend, I know exactly where he’s at.

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  10. J.Thomas says:

    Mic,
    Just wanted to mention one more thing.
    Your comment, “…believing they can have salvation without paying the price.”, concerns me.

    Is it us or Him?
    Is “salvation” accomplished by our merits or His?

    This, again touches on the question, “What is the Christian faith?”

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  11. Mic says:

    J,
    Good to hear from you again brother!
    The price I am referring to is laying ourselves on the alter, turning our foot from our own way, living our lives in submission to Him and, as Jesus said and did, do nothing on our own initiative but “take our orders” so to speak, from Him. No, we cannot even come to Him unless drawn by the Father, so salvation is all grace. The saving relationship, however, is a bit of a, albeit very reverant, partnership. See 1 COR 3:9. We can’t just lay back and “soak in grace” and use select Scripture as excuses. Faith can be defined as: We hear His word, we believe His word, we obey (i.e. DO) His word. 2 of of 3 = no faith.
    I am guilty of much poor communication in some of my comments on this blog so please forgive me. The urgency I am speaking of is not a “hurry up and get all the ‘right’ stuff done before we die” urgency. And I agree with the “no thought for tomorrow” comment you made. The urgency is “today is the day of salvation so let’s surrender to God, seek His face and obey Him right now because you may not have tomorrow” kind of urgency. Am I communicating? When can we have coffee? Mic

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  12. J.Thomas says:

    Hi Mic,
    I reciprocate your greetings!

    Yes, you are communicating just fine and I hear what you are saying.

    This life is one of divine union, therefore there is something of a co-operation between us and God.

    I guess my perspective on things are still somewhat different from yours on these things (unless I am still misunderstanding what you are saying).

    Co-operation yes, but that co-operation takes place when we “lay back and soak in grace”.

    That’s what the crucified life is all about.
    We recognize that we HAVE died and therefore we LAY BACK, and that it is His Life which fulfills His “requirements” (SOAK IN GRACE).

    I don’t really know how to communicate what I am trying to say here either, without sounding like a big self-contradiction.
    Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that we are all in different “places” in our journey (?).

    As Paul would say here (and I’m not at all trying to equate myself with an “apostle”), “I speak as a man….”

    There was a time when I was preoccupied with sin and salvation, when I would continue in this never ending cycle of “sinning” and confession…over and over…many times not “feeling” like I was forgiven. “How could I be when I continue to repeat the same sins over and over?”

    It was so much about me and my faults.

    I wore myself out and gave it up.
    I’m either forgiven or not, and I discovered the faith within which said “I AM”.

    Then when I began to experience some “victory” it was more about the faults of everyone else.
    Although I can honestly say that this frame of mind is slowly dissipating, it continues to haunt me from time to time.

    The longer I go on, the more it is more about HIM.
    When I am in prayer, it is about HIM.

    When I am reading scripture, it is HIM.

    When I am watching BORAT, it is HIM.

    It doesn’t matter if you believe that or not, HE knows.

    HE is in ALL things.

    Young believers may not “get” that.
    Old believers may not get it either.
    HE gets it, and therefore I get it.

    Regardless, although I make no claim to “attainment” I know that I have a deep loving relationship with the Lord, and there is none of this “OBEY!”, “SUBMIT!”, “TAKE ORDERS” stuff.

    If someone is into that, I dunno, try Islam on for size.

    Paul said HUSBANDS LOVE YOUR WIVES, AND WIVES SUBMIT TO YOUR OWN HUSBANDS.

    I know you see the principle. He was talking about Christ and the church (as Paul goes on to explain).

    We are to submit to LOVE.

    NO LOVE=NO SUBMISSION.

    Brothers, we have no right to judge who is being “self-serving” among us. We have no idea where other people are at in their walk.

    Going to the cross is not what so many think it is.
    Yes it is laying down your life, but it is the laying down of the old man.

    The old man is a self righteous, religious, “I’m going to get right with God”, murdering, lying, “son” of the devil.

    Who is the devil?

    The accuser of the brethren.

    “You’re not living right”, he says.
    “God cannot love you because of this thing that you keep in the way”
    “It’s all about YOU”.

    The holy Spirit is the COMFORTER.

    He COMFORTS.
    He is the COMPANION, and comes along side through all of lifes trials and tribulations (even the “self-created”).

    I’m going to ramble for just a bit more before I run off wondering if I should’ve kept my mouth shut or not….

    One of the biggest problems with institutional christianity is that it sets one, two, or a handful of brothers and sisters and gives them the responsibility of the spiritual condition of an entire “community”.

    Yes the word “pastor” is in the bible (only once, by the way), and certainly elders, or bishops and “deacons” are in there too, but It’s my personal conviction that most people have NO IDEA what they are.

    The Epistles were written TO THE CHURCHES…. NOT TO THE “LEADERS” of congregations.
    THEY WERE WRITTEN TO THE BROTHERS AND SISTERS.

    “TRICKLE DOWN SPIRITUALITY” IS A MYTH and it doesn’t work.

    So what did I.C. come up with in order to “compromise” with reality?

    CELL GROUPS.

    Where leaders are appointed who simply carry out the desires of the privileged one(s).

    There is sooooo much more to all of this…but for now I digress.

    By the way, I’m not sure if you meant hearing the scriptures being read is the same as hearing the Word or not, but that’s a whole ‘nother issue all together.

    I notice Pauls letters all begin and end with a similar theme:
    Grace and Peace..

    So for now, after spewing out my heart upon you and any innocent bystanders….

    Grace and Peace, brothers and sisters…
    grace and peace through our Lord Jesus Christ.

    (Mic, I’ll have some time between 6/18 – 6/25. I’m sure we can get together during that time. feel free to email me anytime).

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  13. J.Thomas says:

    (This isn’t another comment. Just wanted to change my link. Thanks.)

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  14. Mic says:

    J,
    I really think that in many things, most even, I am 6 and you are a half dozen. Different terminology for the same things. Although the comment you made “Regardless, although I make no claim to “attainment” I know that I have a deep loving relationship with the Lord, and there is none of this “OBEY!”, “SUBMIT!”, “TAKE ORDERS” stuff.” is troubling to me. If you thought I was referring to taking orders from man, I didn’t make myself clear. Obedience is God’s love language and is an intricle (sp?) part of a loving relationship with God the Father. Yes, I cannot take another breath without the grace of God and even the lost receive the blessing of another heartbeat. But Christ said if we love Him we would keep His commands and they are a burden if attempted in our own strength. So we must allow Him to call the shots and obey out of love for Him.

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  15. J.Thomas says:

    Mic,
    whew!

    Glad to “see” patience in your words brother.

    No, I wasn’t referring to the commands of men…
    I guess it is just a language thing.

    What I am addressing is, I suppose,…Gods IMAGE.

    It’s the whole COMMAND/OBEY thing.

    That’s why I gave Pauls metaphor of husbands and wives.

    It is extremely important FOR ME (and I believe FOR THE LORD), that our relationship with Him is not one of OVERBEARING HUSBAND and BEAT DOWN WIFE.

    “Husbands, LOVE your wives…, Wives, submit (to that LOVE)”

    There is a flow, a “polarity”, if you will.

    Our love for Him is only relative to the proportion of Love which we first experience from HIM.

    HE, HIMSELF implies this in the gospels.

    His commands are simple.
    “Love me back”.

    How?
    “I’m the least of those around you…(meet their needs)”

    And that’s just one example.

    The “shots” being called, to me, are simply “reminders”.
    “Hey, I’m over here….”
    “And here….”
    “And here….”, and so on…

    “Obedience is God’s love language”.
    I like that.
    Unfortunately, I have too many hang-ups with words like obedience, submit, obey, command…

    Not because I’m a rebel (and, yes at times, I am that…but so was HE….),

    But because they have been so vehemently abused by men for SOOOO LONG.
    So the ACT of TRUE obedience is Love, and it need not be shrouded in such misleading words.

    Mic….

    I love you, my brother.
    Thank you for engaging me here.

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  16. pasturescott says:

    JT and Mic,
    I am blessed to call you both brothers! JT, you said it right. “IT is HIM.” Mic, you are right. On many of these issues it is 6 of 1, etc. On the issues there is no agreement on (for now), it still excites me to hear such humility and teachability from you guys. Count me in the “don’t have it all figured out” dept. and the “haven’t attained” camp. You might think from some of my writings that I am a crotchety old man with a ’sour grapes face’ but I tell you, I am in awe of such grace that beckons me to live—and enables me to live—this other LIFE! And I’m pretty fun to be around, so they say!

    Grace and peace to you, my friends, cohorts in crime and brothers…

    JT, love the ‘janitor’ allegory. I, too, know the Maintenance Man!

    Aside: yes, the definite article “the” (1 Tim 4:1) is in the Westcott-Hort Greek NT. I only add this as an FYI…

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  17. Mic says:

    J,
    Yes, yes, yes!
    I was just thinking and praying about the Bridegroom/ bride relationship. I agree with the “love the least of my brothers and you love Me” school but I think it goes much deeper than that. It is all that and more. We are to have the intimacy of the husband/ wife relationship, not just a relationship in name alone. This is where we fast our own time/ life/ way (I know what you mean about word abuse) and spend it in prayer, seeking the face of our beloved Bridegroom in order to develop this intimacy. You know when Jesus says to the foolish virgins, “I never knew you”? That word for knew in the Greek conotates a Jewish euphemism for the physical act of the consumation of the marriage. (say that fast 3 times) We gotta really “know” Him and to do that takes something on our part. Love you guys!! Thanks for your comments Scott my bru’!

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  18. pasturescott says:

    Jerald, you are a brother indeed to me. Thank you for emphasizing some of the most important and overlooked words in the Sermon discourse: “Not everyone who says ‘Lord, Lord…but he who does the will of My Father…” (Matt 7:21)

    Janine, welcome to the comments section! You were brave to wade into these waters but the water’s fine for all of us! Like Jerald, I hope more put on their floaties in time…

    Alan, I am glad you still consider me a friend and haven’t written me off!

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  19. pasturescott says:

    All: I have to make this point. Lest anyone think I can do ANYTHING of my own flesh to please the Father, I must here use an appropriate Pauline expression, “God forbid! May it never be!”

    To clarify the phrase “I see little striving these days” it behooves me to set forth I refer only to the striving of laying down my will, my flesh, my old thinking; to submit to Him, to surrender to His Lordship. As JT beautifully stated, “It is Him.” Who am I to imagine I can save myself or live this Christian life? It HAS to be Christ in me or I am lost and undone.

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  20. J.Thomas says:

    Scott,
    You would know better than I, the ins and outs of bible translation .
    I jumped the gun going off of what words were offered in the Strongs Concordance alone (there goes my translation of the Psalms!!).
    I apologize for that, kind sir.

    Even still, for me, and probably for all here, THE “christian faith” is simply faith in God through Christ.

    As far as I’m concerned, “side items” and quantity thereof are all optional.

    I think most folks easily understand what you are saying here on your blog, I guess it’s just the “language” problem that Mic and I were working through…but I think you can probably relate to where I’m coming from as well (based on your last comment, and so many other things I’ve read from you, you know EXACTLY where I’m coming from).

    In my most recent adventure in “intentional church community” we would have what are just called “brothers meetings”.

    Man!
    If you think it gets warm in here….!

    I’ve heard stories of how, in the recent pat even, the meetings would morph into wrestling matches (no kidding).

    But isn’t that what brothers do? 🙂

    Thank God that Christ is the pleasure of the Father!!!

    Amen, brother..
    Amen!

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  21. J.Thomas says:

    (By the way,…no, I don’t think you’re crotchity at all, my brother….but then I glance down at that little avatar and…well…)

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  22. Jerald says:

    My, my, my, my, my! Scott you really know how to stir things up. These are issues that all should be aware of.
    I praise God for you, JT, Mic, J and all the rest that took the time to instruct.
    Boy, is this good!

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