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The Gates of Hell Will Not Prevail

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
February 12, 2024 1:00 am

The Gates of Hell Will Not Prevail

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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February 12, 2024 1:00 am

Join us as we worship our Triune God- For more information about Grace Church, please visit www.graceharrisburg.org.

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Now, when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, Who do people say that the Son of Man is? And they said, Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. He said to them, 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 Barjona, 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, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Let's pray. Our God, this is your good and powerful Word, and we pray that it will work something in us tonight. Pray for my words. Let me follow your Spirit's leading and convey the heart of what you have here, not mine, not only what I've planned to say, but what you have planned to say. I pray for this room where there's spiritual warfare taking place. We pray that you'll block out the evil one who would steal away your Word, that you would guard our minds and our hearts that we may hear it, and that you will build us up in your church who you have fought for and redeemed.

In Jesus' name, amen. A quarter of a century ago, John Piper preached his famous Don't Waste Your Life sermon to a group of people about my age. I was going to read a quote, and I can't, so I'm going to wing it. But what he said to that group was he urged them. He said, you don't have to know a lot of things to make a difference in this world. You just have to know the few very important things that are worth living for and dying for and give your life to them.

You pled with us. Don't waste your life chasing the American dream, the nice house, the nice car, the nice friends, the people, the quiet life, ending your days walking on the beach collecting seashells before you meet the Creator of the universe. I think a way to sum up that American dream idea is comfortableness. And that same desire for comfortableness can take hold in the church. When we were a new, young family just after finishing law school almost 20 years ago now and moved to Dallas, Texas, the first church we went to was a church that had been founded by the greats of Dallas Seminary, big names people would have heard of that wrote Bibles, things like that. They had been around at that point for about 100 years. They had a great, big, nice facility. And their heyday about eight or nine years before we got there, so we got there in 2007, in the late 90s they'd had thousands of people there on a Sunday morning to the point that they had to build big, large facilities to make room for them all. And by the time we got there in 2007 on a Sunday morning they had 250 people. Now, one thing that happened was their pastor resigned.

I don't think that was the deepest issue, though. When you would talk to people there, they would speak with longing about the good days. Their eyes would glaze over. I remember when things were great. And there would be periodic movements to make the church great again. And they just never got any traction. And I think that that idea, that way that they were longing for something that they'd lost, shows the way they lived while they had it, that it was for them.

It was comfortable. And there are ways that this is what the American church dream looks like. And it's the world, it's in the air we breathe, in the water we drink. We don't even know what we're seeking. We want people to like us. We want to be at a church where people respect us and think well of us, that give us a place. We want to have relationships that are relatively easy.

So how do you have that? Well, you have people who you have a lot in common with. You share geography or interests or socioeconomics. You don't want to be a church that has too much money. You'd be uncomfortable or too little money. You'd be uncomfortable.

It's enough in common that you can talk for hours without running out of things to chitchat about without ever getting into something painful or hard. We want a church without controversy. We want to, we know theologically that everyone has sins, but the problem is when those sins actually affect our lives. And then that's not a church we want. We certainly don't want to have to confront somebody about their sin, and we don't want anybody confronting us about our sin. We want to be in a church that's successful, that we're proud of, that feels like it's where it's happening, growing enough but not too much that it messes up with our system.

We want to have reasonable respectability of our church, good people, not too embarrassing. These are all things that this text tonight threatens, but Jesus points us to something way greater and glorious. If you look at what Peter confessed, he declares that Jesus, thank you, is the Christ, the Son of God. This is a answer, this is saying that Jesus fulfills a particular kind of prophecy. In the Old Testament days, the anointed, I need to take a step back, the Christ is the Greek way of saying anointed one. And in the Old Testament days, the anointed refer to the kings of Israel. Now the background for that is to show they were God's people, they would have oil poured on their heads. They were literally anointed with oil. But that became a shorthand for the Davidic line of kings and his sons. And they also spoke of an anointed, the one that came, as you guys all know, in which Jesus says that He is, the anointed. The thing about the anointed was He's a warrior. The main job of a king was to fight and deliver the people from their enemies.

That's what God did when He rescued people from Egypt. The first thing He did was deliver them from their enemies and then He beat them all the way through until they had the Promised Land. When they asked for a human king, Saul, we want a king to deliver us from our enemies.

You recall that? And God did not say that wanting a king to deliver them from their enemies was the problem. It was that they wanted a king that was just a man. And so that's what they got, but God promised that one day there would be one that was more than a man. And Psalm 2, which we read tonight, is one of the most prominent prophecies, one of the few that, in the same breath, talks about the anointed and being God's son. It's quoted several times in the New Testament. One of Peter's very first sermons in Acts quotes Psalm 2. It seems very likely to me that when he's declaring this, he has Psalm 2 in mind. Psalm 2 begins, which you can see on your screen and which we read tonight, talking about rulers of this world wanting to be independent from God's anointed.

And God laughs at them. I'm skipping ahead, but he identifies the anointed as his son, the begotten son. And this son is going to break them with a rod of iron and dash them into pieces like a potter's vessel, not your squishy, cuddly little Jesus.

This is a warrior and a conqueror. But there's a refuge for those who submit in forgiveness, which is nice, but those who do not will perish. This is what Peter had in mind when he was talking to Jesus. And Jesus says, you're right.

This is right. That's me. And then there's this passage, this part towards the end of it where he talks about the gates of hell. Who's ever been confused by what this means, the gates of hell?

Okay, nobody but me. I will say that this confused me for a long time. I thought we had some Baptist vibes in here where there'd be some participation. But I think that this thing, the image, it was often, I've often heard it quoted in the context of something bad has happened to me, but it's not going to get the best of me, right? That's like a word, it's used as like a word of comfort. Like some invisible hand has these gigantic gates and they're like hammering at you and it's just not going to ultimately win. That's how I thought of it. And probably not the rest of you smart Presbyterians, but that's how I thought of it. But you know, when people heard this, they would have thought of this. This is an engraving from the 8th century BC.

They wouldn't have thought of this particular piece of art. But this is the Assyrians besieging and conquering a city, okay? One of Israel's great old enemies. And in the front of that picture you see a battering ram. And the gates are the things on defense. And if the gates don't prevail, that means the people behind those gates have been conquered. So what Jesus is saying is that the church is the conquering ones. We are the invaders.

We are on offense and the gates of hell won't hold up against us. It's a reversal of everything Israel had experienced because they knew what it was like to be on defense. For most of their life, they were on defense. They had a couple of high times when they were actually expanding their territory. But for the most part, they were cowering from people like the Assyrians, just hoping to live another day, making alliances with other kings who may come and fight for them and deliver them who never really could. It was one thing after another.

It was like they're trying to climb this slippery, muddy slope and never quite making it. All they wanted to do was be left alone and mind their own business and they could not. Because the thing that is for God's people is that there's no neutrality in being left alone.

Either you're on offense or you're on defense. There's no sticking around and minding your own business. But can't you relate to what it's like to be in survival mode, like one thing after another just coming at you and hammering you?

It's not one thing, the next maybe you, a little breather, and then here comes another one, right? What Christ says is, that's not your calling. And when we are following our calling and looking at Christ our captain and going where He's led, we're the ones dishing it out. We're not the ones just taking it.

So how is this, what does this dishing it out look like? And in these days, the people who heard Jesus speak, they were tired of being on defense, quite tired of it. They were tired of the Romans. They hated the Romans. The Romans were on their back and they wanted them off. They wanted somebody to go slug them. They wanted to win. They were tired of the sin in their land, the thieving, the idolatry, the sexual immorality.

You feel frustrated with the transgenderism and other type movements of our world. They had that and more, okay? They had the Romans and they had their own people doing it too, all right? It was an outrage to them. And they wanted someone to stop it. One of the reasons they wanted someone to stop it was that they felt that as long as their land was polluted with this kind of behavior, it would be cursed.

God would curse them. So if we could just have a land where people behave right, then God will bless us. That was the mindset. Does that sound familiar? Long beforeā€¦this is the part of the sermon you're going to remember. If there's one thing you're going to remember, it's going to be this.

I hope there's other things you remember too. But long before Maga, there was Miga, make Israel great again. This was what they wanted from a Messiah. They wanted a strong leader to come in, kick the Romans out, to purge the evildoers from the land, and put them on top. And Jesus came and disappointed them. Not only did He not put the Romans out, but He preached submission to them. And instead of kicking out those sinners who were ruining things for everybody, He became friends with them.

And then He turned on the conservative and said, you guys are worse than them. So it was just not at all the kind of winning they were looking for. But if you look at this passage, you can see Jesus takes pains to choose His words carefully to show the kind of winning that we are to expect. Peter did not arrive at his conclusion about who Jesus was using human reasoning. It was a revelation from heaven that God gave him from heaven.

That's our first clue that the kind of winning is not the kind of winning people of this world are going to expect. It's a heavenly, it's an otherworldly way of thinking. He uses the word church instead of kingdom. In the book of Matthew, Jesus talks about the kingdom of God a lot. But what's interesting is when He gets to this passage and He talks about winning, He switches words.

I mean, this is not the first time He ever uses the word, but He uses this one. And church in Greek is ekklesia. Literally it means called out ones. And it actually had been used in this day of people that were Jews living in exile and other lands. When they would gather in little congregations, they would be referred to as ekklesia, called out ones. So these were not the ones winning that way.

They were underneath other political powers. And so this is our next clue. And then the last one is kind of obvious because gates of hell can't be found on a map. It's not in Rome. It's not in Greece.

You're not going to go find it in communist China or the White House. This is a place of stronghold of spiritual forces. And Jesus is saying that we are going to topple spiritual forces.

Now, the temptation that the Jews had in that day, if you didn't already expect this is where I'm going, is the same temptation we face in our day. Us religious conservatives, I include myself in that, we tend to think of ourselves as ... I mean, we know we're sinners, but we're pretty good compared to others. And the other sinners in our land are ruining it for us. They're going to make our country go downhill or spend all the money or whatever. It's making things bad. If only they weren't here, things would be better.

We also like to be independent. We don't want some ruler, especially an idiot, ruling over us, but an unrighteous one, someone who hates God, we don't want those rulers. So we have the same... we face the same temptation that the Jews of that day faced. The ultimate thing that the temptation that we have is to want to be rid of the consequences of other people's sins. We feel more agitated by other people's sins instead of our own than we have a lot in common with the people Jesus was talking about in that day. And the fear of the consequences of other people's sins is what causes us to flee from that for the sake of comfort. And as we know, in Jesus' case, He died because of other people's sins. We don't want to suffer because of other people's sins by nature, but if we're in Christ, which you are, you have a new nature. And so your calling is to suffer because of other people's sins. And when you suffer, the great gate of hell was smashed open on the cross and resurrection. But then there's this working out, this metaphorical working out where we're smashing down little gates of hell as the kingdom expands and takes over the whole earth. And just as Jesus, so go we.

We take up our cross and follow Him by bringing the gospel message with love and suffering at the hands of other people as we do it, both outside and inside the church. This is not to say that it's an easy thing to do. War is costly. And Jesus knows that. So He gives us these words of assurance that when we go to war, we'll win.

And we need to know that. We need to remember that because when we are in the spiritual battle, we're going up against fierce warriors. Hell's forces are, they don't do polite warfare. They really come after you. And they will take from you.

They will. They will take from you. But what they will take from you and what you will lose in the battle costs you nothing. You will lose things. You will have to give up things that actually you have to give up in order to gain life. The things that cost hurt, but they're actually part of God glorifying you. So I'm going to take this list of costs from J.C. Ryle's book on holiness.

He identifies four. The first thing you'll lose is your self-righteousness. If you try to do anything meaningful, your weaknesses will be quickly exposed. And Satan will make sure you know they're exposed and that other people are laughing at you. Okay? And so right away, you will lose your sense of your pride of place, your sense of I've got this or I'm charging off the battle.

Right away, you'll be like, uh-oh, this is embarrassing. This is not going well. But when you lose your self-righteousness, you gain Christ's righteousness and a greater awareness of it and you walk in it and it's sweet. It's a great loss.

It's a great loss. It hurts and then it's good. You have to give up your sin. It's hard to rush into battle like carrying this stuff. And so the circumstances force you to start dropping things.

You're going to be having to pick up a sword and fight. And you will have things that you weren't planning to give up and you're just out of necessity going to have to drop them. And then once they're gone and you're feeling pain and they're not giving you comfort anymore because you've had to drop them, that's going to freak you out and it's going to hurt. And you give up.

So you give up. You give up the things you've loved and even know you've loved. But now necessity because you've stepped out of the boat proverbially like Peter and you're walking on water and now you've got to focus on there and you can't cling anymore and you start losing things you didn't know you cared about so much. But as your hands are emptied of the stuff that we carry in this life, your hands start to be filled with weapons of righteousness or bunches of fruit. And you start to walk in triumph and you start to know what it's like to walk in joy and to be optimistic and to face adversity and laugh at it. So giving up your sin is a victory.

It's a cost that comes with a great reward. You have to give up your love of ease. And the thing about spiritual warfare is you can't get away with taking it easy. Ways of being comfortable, watching a little extra Netflix, overindulging on eating, whatever the temptation may be for you, you will find you can't do it anymore because you need to be spending time praying. And so you're going to replace ease with work. But it's spiritual work. It's work in prayer and in the Word.

And as you do that, you get closer to the Lord and there's a deeper comfort that comes from that. You give up the favor of the world. This is because when you are living this way, people are either going to be puzzled by it and think you're strange or they're going to think you're wicked because your values are not the values that they think are moral, okay? Or you will be impugned. People will twist your motives and use it to attack you to say you've got bad intent, all right?

So these are all things that happen when you go off to battle. And then the great thing is, though, when you lose the favor of the world, you stop caring about the favor of the world. And you really, it becomes sweet when you start to enjoy the favor of God. It forces you to run to God, to Christ for favor and remember what He says.

So you're trading something that is keeping your eyes too low for something much more high and exalted. That is the other thing you'll probably remember from this sermon. If there's two points, you'll, you know, Liam Neeson. This is from the movie Taken.

In the movie Taken, the plot, has anyone seen this movie? All right. Okay.

All right. The man, the father, for those who haven't, the father's daughter, every father's worst nightmare, goes off to Europe without him and then some international human traffickers, bagger and kidnapper. Now, he happened to have a history of some kind of special operations going against these bad guys. And somehow he finds, I think her phone got left behind, I don't know, he finds a way to track, to call the bad guy and says, just give my daughter back and I'll leave you alone.

But if you don't, I have a very particular set of skills built over the course of several decades. And if you don't give my daughter back, I'm going to come after you. I'm going to take down your organization. I'm going to take you down.

I'm going to take your life. And as the movie, and the guy after a long pause says, good luck. And he hangs up. The character goes on. He does it. He infiltrates the organization. He takes them all down and rescues his daughter just in the nick of time. And this is a bit of a fantasy for normal dads like me who would be totally powerless if something like that happened, right? Like, we're like, yes, this is what I dream of being able to do, to save my daughter from that kind of thing and not be afraid anymore because I can get her.

I can save her. And just as he faced a daunting situation, the prospect of going up against the forces of hell can be pretty daunting. But what Jesus is saying here is you have what it takes.

You have that particular set. You have Jesus. And you also have daughters and sons and brothers and sisters who are in chains behind those gates that you haven't even met yet. Now, what father, having that set of skills, would stay back and say, I don't want to do it because it's going to be too uncomfortable. I'm going to let my daughter remain in slavery.

What kind of person would that be, right? You have loved ones that are waiting for you both outside the church and inside the church. And you've been given what it takes. I need to say a word about Peter. Probably the most famous line of this passage is this one because the Bishop of Rome used it to justify his making up things. So Jesus tells Peter, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church. And there is a play on words there. Peter, Petrus, Greek for rock. Rock he uses a slightly different petra, another word for rock.

It's a play on words. And so the implication is Peter is foundational to the church. And so Rome says, well, therefore, the popes can make up things. So what Jesus says of Peter here is similar to what he says of all the apostles. In Ephesians 2, 19 and 20, he says the church is built on the foundation of the apostles. In Revelation 21, 14, again, the people of God are built on the foundations which are the apostles. So we can call the apostles the foundations of the church because the Bible calls the apostles the foundations of the church. And that means a couple of things. Number one, they're literally the beginning of the church.

They're like the first 12. They are the first church and so everything goes out from there. Another thing is that through them we get this. And that's what Peter says in 2 Peter 2, I'm about to die but I'm taking pains to make sure you know what I taught you.

And so he's writing letters. So that is, so we have their words. They are foundational, God's inspired words through them which are foundational. And so we can recognize Peter as in some sense foundational. And even, you know, he singles Peter out. Maybe he was foundational even among the apostles. He was a spokesman. You know, he's recognized as a leader. Not more important if you read Galatians, Paul talking about Galatians.

He wasn't higher. You can recognize all that but it doesn't get you to what Rome concludes which is, well, then there's a perpetual Peter who goes on through all these other people and then they can make stuff up. So this is Peter, the apostles are foundational which is why when we get to talking about the kingdom in action, I'm looking at Acts 2, 42 through 46, this is I guess a picture of like an ideal, an idyllic church, the first church. And you guys are familiar with this passage.

I know. But the first thing that it lists that they do is they're devoted to the apostles' teaching. And this church does that really well. And that's again, it's showing the foundational role.

So there's some other things in here though that are worth dwelling on. They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship. Christian fellowship is distinct from the way the world does fellowship, or at least it should be. People bond over things they have in common and especially over the things that they love in common. You go watch the Super Bowl and you see the Chiefs fans there, you're going to have rich people, poor people, black, white, all hugging and loving and high-fiving when their team scores a touchdown. And when they're together, that's what they will talk about.

They'll talk about the Chiefs or whatever their common love is. And the church doesn't always function that way when it comes to talking about Jesus. Sometimes we end up talking about other things we have in common. But I remember a time that we went to a church. I was already in seminary, it was a Baptist church, so we ended up not staying because it was Baptist. But it was a blessed time. And one thing that we experienced there is we were unlike everyone else there.

Like it was socioeconomically, racially, it was different from us. But we felt very encouraged because the conversations, they were all about Jesus. They love to talk about theology, they love to talk about evangelism, they love to talk about how God's working in their life.

They would openly talk about sin that they're struggling against. These are things we have in common. And that's what it was distinctively Christian about our fellowship. And it built us up.

It was good. And that is what I would suggest more of our conversations should tend towards. Like if you are talking about something that wouldn't be worth praying about, you know, it's probably, I mean, you'd have to stop being human to give up all conversation like that. I'm not, but I would say generally conversations should be around things you would also pray about. And that is encouraging Christian fellowship.

But one thing is also is it's costly. It's embarrassing, right? Like pushing things to the spiritual doesn't always feel safe. I feel pretty safe doing it among y'all, but maybe not everyone feels safe with that with everybody in every context.

Like there's a risk. And why is that awkward? Why is it embarrassing? Because that's where heaven meets hell. And so Satan is making sure that feels awkward and embarrassing. It's also you have to talk about sin. And that's humbling. So you have to give up your self-righteousness.

And so we avoid talking about things like that. And that gets me to prayers. So when we pray, this is the other thing they devoted, also the breaking of bread, which could be fellowship meals or it could be communion.

I'm skipping over that. When we pray, what do your prayers as a congregation tend to focus on? The typical American dream church, it's a lot of focused on circumstantial things, you know?

It could be medical issues, economic issues. If it's a spiritual thing, it's like somebody's nephew, right? Like you need to pray for them. And that's wasting your time if that's all you pray about. I mean, they're good things to pray.

I mean, you pray for each other on those things. But when you look at Job's experience, he lost all those things. And the spiritual struggle, the battle where heaven met hell wasn't about whether Job was going to get his comfort back.

The battle where heaven met hell was over how Job was going to respond to that circumstance. So that should be the first thing you should be praying about when you're in difficult circumstances is, yeah, I pray that in the Lord's will maybe He'd remove this thorn from me, but really pray that I'll hold on to hope. I'm just trying to survive right now. I'm not walking triumphantly. You know, I want to believe that God is good.

Help me. How can I pray for you that way? Where's your heart right now? Do you believe in Him?

Do you believe we're winning? Okay, let's pray about that. And you will find great victory when you pray that way. It all comes upon every soul. You know, the Greek word here is fear.

But the ESV, I like the translation because it's conveying the positive side of fear. You're not afraid of God, but there's this like trembling, like I'm in the power, in the presence of something very powerful and very good. And, you know, all of us once, you know, we look for this kind of transcendence and other kinds of ways, and there's an ultimate transcendence that can be had in the presence of God. The fear, the awe comes on us when we're in God's presence. And that, my professor of worship at RTS, Dr. Van Dixorn, he defines worship as being in the presence of God. And Ignatius, first century church father, defines worship as warfare. So it ties into our passage today. You ever wonder why when you get in church and you're reading, you're singing the words on the screen, but you're thinking about something else? Like that is because there's a battle and there's warfare. And the place where Satan's powers are destroyed is when he is dethroned. When Jesus Christ becomes the ultimate thing that fills our vision and whom we live for, Satan is destroyed.

So when you are trying to magnify him, he's working every angle he can to keep you from doing that, to put other things more important. Did I leave the gas burner on? What's my child doing this coming week?

My boss yelled at me. Those things he wants on the throne. Anything but Jesus Christ on the throne. So worship is spiritual warfare. And it's at any time, and it doesn't have to be just the formal thing we're doing tonight or doing in the morning. Any time that you, what Ignatius says, is any time that Christians come together and praise and thanks and approach God, Satan's powers are destroyed. So one way you can work worship into your everyday life and live triumphantly is to do it at the drop of a hat. If you're talking about something with someone here in church and there's this thing going, pray about it right then. Start praying. Go to God in prayer. Something good is happening, celebrate it right then. Give praise.

Go to God in prayer. A life of worship that approaches God's throne reverently is a life of victory. It's a life of smashing the gates of hell.

It's a life of winning. All right, last point. In that church, the Lord added to their number day by day those who are being saved. Being saved there is a present participle. It's an ongoing thing.

Okay? So we often think of being saved as getting saved at the beginning, justification, but being saved also includes the whole course of the Christian life from justification to sanctification to glorification. Another way of describing it is transformation. Being saved is you've been, you've got a new life and you're being transformed. Now that what they experience with the numbers being added, we don't want to get too caught up on like that. I do think in the long run when there's a transformational church, numbers grow, but it could be decades.

It may not be days. So you can't be two books, but what you would expect is transformation. And isn't that what we all want? A heart that has shed the fear, the anxiety, the fretting, and walks in victory.

A heart that has found love and pursues it. And those things Jesus has given you in Himself as the tools of getting there. And when there's transformation, people will come. That draws in. It may be a little bit of a lag, but eventually there's a natural infectiousness that draws people in.

And you will also intentionally draw people in. You will become, have a heart for evangelism because you will see there's my son and daughter behind the gates of hell and I'm going for them. So let's consider how great our Savior is that we've been put in a position to even talk about this. Think about how the world was before He entered it. Think about the life of Israel and the never-ending cycle of devastation, of loss, depression, and there was no way of, there seemed to be no way of getting out of it.

And this great question, sin is bad, how is sin going to be solved? This great question that hung over everyone's life like a sword dangling, how can I even stand before God? Think about how it was before you were saved, if you remember that. Think about how in darkness you were.

Think about what you valued and what you, how you regarded other people. Think about how alone you were ultimately. And then the loving kindness of Jesus Christ appeared. He came for you.

He came for you at great cost to Himself. If anyone had a right to stay comfortable, it was Jesus Christ. And He had every riches, everybody worshiping Him all the time.

He had everybody liking Him. He had things easy, and He gave up all of that so that you could be brought into light and so that this world could be brought into light. He is a captain and an amazing Savior. He is a wonderful gift that we get to be called into that and to be made like Him, to become like Him as we do His work.

Let's pray. Lord Jesus, know how we praise You and adore You. Thank You for saving us, for going through what You did, giving up Your life, everything else that You gave up, us undeserving that turned the light on for us, gave us new eyes and a new heart and a mission. Lord, we thank You that we have a victory in Jesus Christ. Lord, I pray for our church as we go through situations that tempt us to think otherwise than as we are, that we will stand tall and firm as You have declared us to be and as we actually are. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-11 20:28:04 / 2024-02-11 20:42:13 / 14

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