Question: How long do you have to ‘hang out’ in the church community, being taught, … before you are responsible to teach others? How does one become mature and become a disciple-maker ? …  or when do we become aware that we are dull of hearing. Hebrews 5:12 indicates that this problem goes back to very early in the church’s history? With my many decades of being a teacher in the church, I could regale you with lots of illustrations of this, i.e., when the church becomes a social activity, and “inspiring” buy not at all equipping.

My favorite story comes from an episode in my own career as a teaching pastor in a church full of career church-attenders, and persons who were regularly in the pews. In my naivety, I thought I would try to get them involved in communicating the message, beginning with one another. So (whatever my text was) I proposed that we take a few minutes, turn to the person next to them, and share something of how and why we came to know Christ. Response? Stunned shock. But some did it joyfully, and for the first time shared their faith in Christ with someone else.

But not all … After the service, one of the matriarchs of the church came to me with hostility in her eyes, and said: “Bob, don’t you ever do that to us again.” She was living testimony that what was true in the early decades of the church, continues to this day.

I was the teacher of one of the prestigious adult Sunday School classes in a prominent church institution once, and before me were the leaders of the community, week by week. They had been doing this for years. It was part of their weekly social agenda, … but I was a new kid in their history of teachers, and didn’t know any better than to ask them questions. Their ignorance of scripture was palpable. They didn’t even know where the books of the Bible were. There was no way they were going to be teachers of others. … But they enjoyed being together, drinking coffee, and singing gospel songs. The last thing on their minds, evidently, was being equipped to teach others, or becoming mature in Christ, or “teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and the word of Christ. (They even chose and paid their Sunday school teacher.)

What is the solution to this? Maybe a discipline of ordaining every person who joins the community to a ministry of disciple-making, and to jointly equip each other in this ministry, so that teaching one another becomes the rich flavor of the fellowship?

I’d love your feedback. Peace!

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Pastor-scholar Gregory Boyd defines the glory of God as: “the radiant display of the divine nature.” So, if that is the case, then where would one expect to encounter that ‘radiant display’? A text from Ephesians 3:21 gives us a fascinating answer: it says that God is glorified “in the church and in Christ Jesus.” Those two sources, mind you, are inextricably connected. You see, the very word church is a word that the New Testament employs to speak of those individuals who are called-out (ek-klesia) to be God’s new creation, to be inhabited and recreated by his Spirit, …so that even as Jesus Christ is the glory of God in all the dimensions of his life and work, even so, that glory is to inhabit all of those who compose the community of his new humanity, which is the church.

Next question: Where do we observe that glory? Where are we to encounter it? Again, the apostle tells us (II Corinthians 2:15) that the church is to be the “sweet aroma of Christ unto God.” That tells those of us who profess our faith in Jesus, and have received him into our lives, … that we are to be where the society is to be able to witness the glory of God in flesh and blood. This is to be true, not only when the church is gathered together for worship with others who embrace him, …but perhaps even more so when the church is scattered into the “Monday morning world” where there are all of those who are still outside of Christ who need to have flesh and blood examples of the glory of God, of the strength and sweetness of Christ.

I am blessed with a very vital Christian community formed by very rich Biblical teaching. It is also a church community that meets in a store-front gathering place, and is, for the most part, very casual in dress, … which brings me back to the title of this blog. That guy in front of me in cargo shorts is called to be the glory of God, and “the radiant display of the divine nature”. So is the woman in the fashionable dress (or Levi’s), and all of the other “called-out” persons who make-up the church.

This is to reiterate that the church is not a place but is composed of the persons who make up God’s new humanity—who do come together in smaller community groups for worship and mutual encouragement, but who live primarily in homes and neighborhood and classrooms, and in offices, and in many unexpected places, such as mass transit, airline seats, and jogging routes.

We are those who need to pray daily that the fruits of the Holy Spirit (listed in Galatians 5) are incarnated in our lives so that those who live with us intimately (families), or those who meet us on the daily course of things may see the radiant display of the divine nature. This is especially important when we find ourselves in complex and conflicted situations. The greater the expressions of darkness, and the more entrenched the persons we encounter may be to the cultural darkness, … the greater the need for us to be the glory of God in all the richness of our new humanity. Like: the glory of God in cargo shorts, or in a three-piece suit, in Bermuda shorts or in a stylish dress.

This makes our weekly sojourn into the mission of God such an adventure into the empowering of the Spirit so that we become that sweet savor of Christ, not only to God, but to all whom we meet. Light in the darkness. Peace!


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Remembering the church “in the good old days” or fantasizing about the church as we would like it to be in our ideal, … is not at all realistic, mainly because the cultural-social context of the church is always changing, always in flux. Add to that the reality that even if it were to happen, the contextual challenges are usually complex and ambiguous—and when church leadership is indifferent to these realties the consequences are inevitable, and frequently distressing.

One semi-humorous evidence of this is the time-honored liturgical practice of ‘taking up the offering’ as a part of worship, when most of the congregation now gives on line (has their commitment deducted from their credit card). I muse about this every Sunday as one formed to believe that I need to put something in the plate as an act of worship, … but then notice that sitting on the sixth row, my bill is the lonely inhabitant of the offering plate, and yet in a very generous congregation.

No, nothing is like it used to be, and nothing at present is like it is going to be. There are always new dimensions, new influences, new interruptions, and new irrationalities to take into account. For its whole history, as the church expanded into new ethnic scenes and geographical-cultural realities, it has either engaged them realistically, or lost its missional fruitfulness.

What this means is that for a church to maintain its missional momentum and fruitfulness it must be engaging with, and renegotiating with the present culture in a continual regeneration of its communal life. This has as an inescapable consequence of very often resisting (what has been called) the “dominant ecclesiastical order,” or “religious Christianity.” In our present and vastly influential culture of the information economy, of the digital age, the church cannot afford to act as though this were not real, not to see the effects of this on the lives of its constituents.

I just wanted to raise a flag of awareness of this enormously influential factor of our culture to my readers. Stay posted.

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The role of the clergy is rather malleable, depending whom you talk to. Early in the church’s history, the church sacralized its leadership into a priesthood, which somewhat contradicted the apostolic teachings about church leadership in which all were part of Christ’s royal priesthood. The Protestant reformers insisted on the “priesthood of all believers” but that class of clergy endured as being those with something of a different aura that the ordinary laity. I have inhabited this role over the past 60+ years, and have interpreted it in terms of my ministry of equipping God’s people for their 24/7 ministry in the midst of the realistic vicissitudes of each week.

At the same time, I have found that there has emerged a sense that clergy exist on a different plane than laity, and so form a sub-culture of their own, especially if they have graduated from seminary. I discovered in my early days as a pastor that there was a clergy-seminary subculture existing with little sense of equipping the laity for their ministry, and therefore not in any special need of vital communication with them. Given my own focus on the ministry of the laity in the workplace, I found this clergy subculture counter-productive in my quest to communicate as a disciple-maker to the lay-folk for whom I was responsible.

Let’s look at the big picture. Our New Testament message is that God’s new age has invaded this age, … that God’s tomorrow has invaded our today, … that God’s new humanity is being formed in the midst of this humanity that is lost, … that God’s kingdom has come into our present in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It stands to reason, then, that this new humanity needs to be continually equipped in two dimensions: 1) to fully understand the awesome scope of what Christ intends for his kingdom/age-to-come people; and 2) to be continually equipped with a profound understanding of the realistic context of that design.

Allow me to cut-to-the-chase here. This means that those of us who are given the ministry of equipping God’s people have the need to be continually tuned-in to the contexts in which those for whom we are responsible live. We cannot be lost in a clergy world. Rather, we need to be continually in vital, and transforming communication with our community of faith—we need to be continually laicized by those for whom we are given stewardship. This means entering their world, hearing their stories, spending time with them, identifying with the realities with which they live.

This, then, becomes the ministry of the laity to their pastor-teachers. For myself, I sought out time with these friends. I intentionally did not want to be unaware of all of the social, domestic, economic, sexual, ethical, communal stuff with which they lived. So rather than hang-out with the clergy-seminary syndrome, I sought and spent time with the real persons who my flock. I jogged with bank officials and football players. I walked rounds with doctors. My family picnicked with other families. I drank innumerable cups of coffee, and sat over many bottles of beer with those where laicizing me. They became my ministers and gave me the realistic context for my pastor-teacher role. I was off the clergy-pedestal, and so able to equip them for the realities in which they lived. They had become ministers to me so that I could be a better minister to them.

I became truly human to them so that they could become more truly human in their 24/7 world. I encourage my Blog subscribers to enter this ministry with their pastor. Become a minister to your pastor. Invite him/her over for beer, or for lunch. It is so important for the accomplish of our mission as the authentic people of God’s new humanity.

[If you find these Blogs positively provocative, pass the word along.]

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I have just been reading the Southern Poverty Law Center’s sobering account of the incidents of racism and prejudice against immigrants in its report Combating Nativism: Protecting the Rights of Immigrants. The SPLC was founded some years ago by Morris Dees to deal with all of the horrendous incidents of racial injustice in Alabama and Mississippi (and still does), but has expanded more recently to cope with all of the ‘nativism’ and unbelievable injustices perpetrated against immigrants, even by the government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, in addition to all of the hate groups.

What was even more sobering being the fact that my own home state of Georgia, along with

Alabama are two of the primary offenders. I live comfortably in my modest home, and with a modest retirement income, and in a wonderful neighborhood (that includes many nationalities). I read the local paper and the news it chooses to print, … and was totally unaware of the suffering of immigrants in this state due to economic exploitation, legal harassment, sexual assaults on the women by bosses, separation of families, … and so much more. I am ashamed.

And yet … we are a state where such a large part of the population would claim to me professing Christians (or at least church-going folks). And yet, right at the heart of Jesus’ teachings are the inescapable references to the fact that his calling is to a new creation, to a new humanity, that marches to a different drummer. His teaching makes no secret of his passion for righteousness, his blessing upon the poor, … even that his people are to be willing to suffer for what is right. His ultimate criteria for our acceptance is our response to his reconciling love is our ministry to the homeless, to the stranger, to the imprisoned, and the poverty-stricken.

It is by incarnating these new creation teachings that we are constituted to be the “salt of the earth” and yet with the caveat that if we fail in this calling, … we are good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled under the foot of man.

The roots of this passion run deep in our Biblical tradition. “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). Or, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

The blight of hate groups and racial prejudice runs deep and wide, even up to high places in government, and it will not go away by our ignoring it. If nothing else you might want to join me in supporting the Southern Poverty Law Center and staying informed (400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, Ala.

At the very least, don’t become indifferent and so “salt-less salt, good for nothing














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I’m engaging this Blog with a bit of trepidation, but with positive purpose—maybe I’m simply exercising my gadfly proclivity on a sacred tradition of so much of the church. I am, after all, an alumnus of two seminaries, have taught and lectured in several of them, and spend a decade, at the request of an organization within my own (Presbyterian) domination implementing a ministry encouraging and mentoring students and faculty in about fifteen of them. So, it’s not unfamiliar territory to me.

From apostolic days, it was important for the church to have well-informed leadership, which leadership oversaw the life of the community, formed the believers into the image of Christ, modelled the faith, and were accountable to God and to each other for their stewardship of their leadership. They were to be mature in their knowledge and in their character as Christ’s disciples. They were disciple-makers. They were designated as elders (presbyters) and as overseers (bishops). They were the model practitioners of God’s new humanity. They emerged from within the community. They were at the forefront of the church’s missionary obedience. They were part of the community who incarnated the new life in Christ, and equipped others for that same new life.

But, then … along the way this role of leadership came to be looked upon as some kind of sacralized human beings, and to become what we know as clergy and to be given the title of reverend. They were those literate in scriptures and in the church’s mission. As centuries passed, and the cultural enlightenment took root, it became more and more common for these to become trained and given an academic degree, which, ostensibly, equipped them for leadership—trained in universities or theological schools. Ah! but in so doing there was lost their primary role of overseers, disciple-makers, those mature in scriptures and models of true discipleship, … and not necessarily coming to maturity in significant participation with a Christian community. One could decide to become a priest, or a minister, or a clergy-person on his/her own, and so choose to attend a theological school or Bible institute, get a degree, … and assume they were equipped.

A couple of generations ago, James F. Hopewell, director of the Theological Education Fund, humorously described seminaries as “ecclesiastical puberty rites” to which one went before experiencing any significant engagement in Christian communities, given a dose of theological curriculum, and assumed to be well-equipped for leadership.

Here is where the enigma kicks in. In my fairly-significant engagement with numerous seminaries, the faculty are all well-trained academicians, … but few of them emerged out of any significant leadership role in Christian communities, few of them were disciple-makers, and few seminaries even had curricula in disciple-making, how to teach and model life in Christ to church folk.

This being so, on one of my engagements at a major Ivy League seminary, at supper with a dozen bright seniors, there one question to me with my half-century of pastoral engagement was: “Bob: What’s it like in the pastorate? What are we to expect”? My lights went on, and I realized that almost none of their faculty had any significant experience in pastoral leadership before becoming faculty, so unable to translate their academic offerings into pastoral reality. This is the enigma of too many (not all) theological seminaries, and needs serious thought. A poll taken in my own proud Presbyterian denomination discerned that we were “a denomination of Biblical and theologically illiterate laymen” … that with all of our focus and pride of theological institutions.

Those who teach others in church leadership and disciple-making should be superb practitioners. To be continued …

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I’ve been reading, with fascination, Pete Buttigeig’s best seller: Shortest Way Home, and reflecting on the lessons it has to teach the church about the role of human institutions undergoing cultural shifts, and how difficult yet essential that we not try to reclaim the past glories when a whole new set of inescapable cultural realities are upon us. In his case, it was the traumatic milestone in 1960 when the giant Studebaker industry, which had dominated South Bend, Indiana, went bankrupt and closed, leaving the city devastated. How to deal with such?

His story relates his leadership in restoring the city by looking for whole new patterns created by a totally different economy that was upon us that would make the city a desirable setting for a future that was emerging in places such as Silicon Valley. He had to remind the citizens that the heyday of its past as the home of an automobile production plant would never return, but that the city had assets that could make it a model for a tomorrow—and it worked (and it launched him into national prominence). As mayor, his genius was looking not at restoring South Bend’s past, but conceiving what changes it would take to make it a city for desirable investment for the future.

The church needs to learn and relearn that lesson. The dominant form of the church for so long (or for the Christendom era) was the creation of impressive institutions what with sanctuaries, church hierarchies, denominations, and presuming a privileged status in communities (including tax exemption in many cases). But we no longer live in the Christendom era. After World War II, and with the Baby Boomer generation, the churches engaged in an orgy of church buildings as it tried to reclaim all that had been put ‘hold’ during the war years. But as generations came and went, so did the patterns of Christendom. Every generation brought its own forms, i.e., ‘mega-churches’, etc. Also, church attendance patterns changed, as did Sunday ‘blue laws’.

But so much of church leadership only had eyes for the past, for what had been true in a different day. They kept building and refurbishing old sanctuaries, those institutional bastions of Christendom, … while the emerging generation generally were indifferent to such (so that church membership in such institutions grew older and began to die off.

Healthy new church plants looked at the present, and the emerging culture that looked to a much more relational, and informal culture. They could meet in more casual settings. The dominance of clergy was replaced by the need for a leadership that equipped them for their role as God’s new humanity. Sacred buildings, and clergy, were replaced by utilitarian buildings and leadership that equipped them for their mission. They were into planting new colonies of such in areas in need of such communities of God’s new creation.

Meanwhile, older, expensive-to-maintain church institutions, who clung to their past began to die and elaborate sanctuaries were being demolished on a regular basis. The ‘golden era’ of their past, or their assumption of permanence disintegrated before their eyes. Church history is replete with examples of such change, and of the more pragmatic forms of missional faithfulness. The basic form of the church is given by Jesus: “Wherever two or three of you are together in my name, there am I in the midst of you.” We do need each other. We do need to meet together. We do need to teach and exhort one another. … But the form of such meetings needs to be faithful to the mission of God’s new creation in Christ.

Yesterday will never return. But “tomorrow is as bright as the promises of God.”


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Confession of sins is one of the more difficult of Christian disciplines, and at the same time one of the more necessary disciplines. It is more than a tip of the hat to humility or modesty. It is rather the continual coming clean with God and with our brothers and sisters in the community of God’s new humanity. We need to begin with, at least, three Biblical teachings:

  • “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:8-9). … you are a sinner.
  • “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide a way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13). … so is everybody else.
  • “ … confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)

Confession of sin is spiritually therapeutic. It is cleansing, and it is our coming out of hiding and becoming authentic to our brothers and sisters in the community. It is also fraught with dangers when there is lack of integrity in the community, so that our confession becomes the subject of gossip. Lives can be destroyed if there is not a mutual covenant of confidentiality among those to whom we confess.

Henri Nouwen, the Roman Catholic monastic, scholar, and author, encourages Christ’s followers to: “seek transparency”. His is a call for authenticity in the lives of God’s new creation people. Earl Palmer, who is a preacher and scholar in the Reformed tradition, humorously notes that the Reformed doctrine of total depravity is “the great equalizer,” the democratizing principle by which all of us come into the Christian community on the same level—we’ re all sinners.

Sin takes so many forms, and can be so subtle. In our daily lives, it can be discontent, hormonal overdrive, anger, loveless-ness, insensitivity, envy, greed, inflated ego, jealousy, or any kind of failure to live out the mandates of Jesus in lives of joyous obedience. And we’re all in that together. At the same time, we need to be able to be forthright about this within the Christian community. It is one thing to be willing to do Bible study, or a book study in our community fellowship group, but it is equally necessary to be transparent about who we are, i.e. to confess our struggles, our sins, our need of prayer with our fellow sinners as we engage the daily vicissitudes of our lives, including our struggles with our short-fall in seeking to live-out God’s glory. Confession is liberating. It is becoming real and transparent in real life. Which is why the classical Anglican prayer of confession in the liturgy is so refreshing, and yet realistic:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those who are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind In Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen

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The New Testament is unequivocal and repetitive: that this whole creation exists by and for Jesus Christ. Everything before Jesus’ reconciling work on the cross points toward him, … and everything since then points back to him, and to his cross. Paul says that Jesus is the one in whom the “mystery hidden for the ages is now revealed to his saints” (Colossians 1:26). He is called: “the alpha and omega of all things.” … and yet how easily, or how inadvertently that role as the One who is the center of time and eternity is marginalized inside the church community in its priorities and in its self-understanding.

In the eighteenth century, in the middle-Atlantic states this marginalization was surfaced by a couple of “new-light” Presbyterians, William and Gilbert Tennent, who preached and published a famous sermon: “The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry.” They saw in the “old light” (or traditional) Presbyterians an indifference by the clergy of the need of new life in Christ, and so saw in the ministry only a role as ‘church professionals’, and so lived very non-exemplary lives and muted their role as models and mentors to the church.

When the Tennent’s sermon began to take effect, the public began to respond and an awakening took place among the clergy, and as their lives of joyous faith and obedience emerged they began to preach the need of a joyous assurance of salvation. This became a wave of life and was part of the ‘great awakening’ in those middle colonies.

It behooves every church community, and every participant to do regular inventory on how faithfully we are incarnating all that Jesus came to be and to do … beginning with the church leadership. We are not called to a sterile sort of institutional faith, but to joyous new life and assurance of our place in God’s mission that is visible and tangible and contagious. This includes, especially, church leaders. A divinity degree or a diploma from a theological school does not guarantee anything other than an academic accomplishment. Seminaries are often the breeding grounds of a kind of ‘Christian agnosticism.’

You might do your pastor a favor by inviting him/her for coffee or drinks, … and then asking him/her about their faith-relationship with Jesus—become pastor to your pastor. After all, all things exist by and for Jesus Christ. He/she should gladly share with you his/her joy in their new life in Christ. My late-wife and I were visiting a seminary some years ago, and were having dinner with a couple of friendly professors. When there came a lull in the conversation, my Betty asked the tenured professor of New Testament: “Marty, how did you come to know Jesus Christ as your savior?” His mouth dropped open, and then he laughed and replied: “Betty, I have been a professor here for several years, and that is the first time anyone ever asked me about my relationship to Jesus Christ.”

The New Testament teaching about the centrality of Jesus and the One by whom and for whom all things exist is like the sunshine that brings life and blessing, that creates us and the community as “the sweet aroma of Christ unto God.” Jesus Christ should be the passion of every participant in the church by the working of the Spirit of Jesus in their lives. Our faith is one of the heart as well as the head. Yellow lights should begin to blink and signal to us when Jesus is marginalized or taken for granted, and should instigate a self-correcting course.

He is, after all, the center of time and eternity. We need to be in-synch with him individually and communally. That is what conversion creates: joyous new life and obedience to Jesus. There are a lot of church communities that have long-ago ceased to have integrity, ceased to be salt and light, because they haven’t kept the glory of Christ as their basic motivation. Meanwhile, new joyous Christ-centered communities sprout up and flourish. Christ is irresistibly building his church, and he is its chief cornerstone. Amen.

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I’ll admit to being a ‘news junkie,’… that I probably spend too much time surfing news sources, all of which easily leads me into moods of pessimism and despair, what with so much dysfunctional government, and seeming lack of moral principle among so many in high places. But then, I also end each day reflecting on scriptures, these days reflecting on Paul’s prison epistles written to several new Christian communities in Asia Minor (present day Turkey) in the days when the unquestioned government was the Roman Empire, in which Caesar was also considered divine, … and I realize that our encounter with the power structures, the ‘principalities and powers’ is nothing new, that our ancient Christian brothers and sisters confronted political, philosophical, and religious influences in which they didn’t even have the democratic right of a vote.

Still, that doesn’t make it any easier for me to come to grips with a text such as: “Rejoice and give thanks at all times and in all circumstances,” (I Thessalonians 5:18). Or, again, a text such as: “Worship the Lord with mirth and gladness” (Psalms 108:2). Mirth and gladness in the midst of so much that is unjust, distressing to a fault, insensitivity to human need, greed and  exploiting of workers, ethnic and racial prejudice, … and so much more. How do I deal with that? In an un-coming presidential and congressional elections, how do I evaluate the candidates? And on and on …

What it does is bring us back to our calling by Jesus, the King, to be the children of the Light in the midst of the darkness. We are the incarnation of his new creation, his new humanity, and we function as leaven in a lump of dough, permeating it with life and hope and newness by little and little. It may not be all that dramatic at the time, but it is transformative. We are the people who can laugh, rejoice and give thanks because we have hope, we know that no matter how humanly hopeless it all seems, and no matter how dark the darkness, … that: “Jesus shall reign until he has put all of his enemies under his feet.” We are brothers and sisters with the missionary Paul in the jail cell, confident in the triumph of God’s tomorrow.

We are those little people being made into the image of God in our thinking, our behavior, and in our oneness with Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (i.e., holiness).

By faith and in our obedience, we can sing with hope: Jesus shall reign, where ‘ere the son, doth it’s successive journeys run.” That hope gives us our peace when humanly it looks so unlikely. But that doesn’t absolve us from examining carefully all we can know about what forms the candidates, and what determines their policies for the future of our communities and nation!

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