Monthly Archives: February 2008

Welcome Aboard Randel!

The ol’ BGCT ship has a new captain at the helm. Dr. Randel Everett was elected by the Executive Board to serve as the Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Dr. Everett will assume his post in April, and has big job on his hands.

During the course of the day, Dr. Everett fielded a number of questions. A number of his answers were posted on the Baptist Standard website. I was particularly impressed with his answer to the question about where he stood on the issue of denominational loyalty. His response was priceless:

“Some want to know if I’m an SBC guy or a CBF guy or a BWA guy. I hope you’ll come to the conclusion I’m a Jesus guy,”

You have to admit that is a great answer. It does not necessary answer the question, but it would be a good place for all of us to start. At the heart, I believe all of us are “Jesus’ people.” I hope and pray Dr. Everett is trying to send a message to us that “politics as usual” will out of place in the next chapter in our history.

As Dr. Everett steps aboard our ship he will soon realize the ol’ ship is taking on water. Rearranging chairs on the deck will be a grand waste of time if we don’t adjust our course, and seal up the seeping leaks in the hull.

Jesus knows a bit about boats taking on water at sea. Jesus knows what it is like to find himself among a crew in full panic mode but rarely did it cause him to lose sleep. As “Jesus’ people” let’s look to our Lord to calm the storms on the horizon and to guide us to be the people we were created to be in the days ahead.

Welcome aboard Randel, the ol’ ship is not what it once was, but let’s catch the winds of the Spirit and see where the Lord can take us in the years ahead.

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A Stacked Committee?

In the latest issue of the Baptist Standard, Pastor Joe Worley of Groves, Texas raised a rather interesting and insightful observation about the Executive Director Search Committee of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He wrote:

I discovered that the majority of the members of the committee are affiliated by church or personal association with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Understandably a person or church can affiliate with whomever they wish. I do not know the search committee personally but do find it puzzling that the majority of the members who are looking for a BGCT executive director are connected to the CBF. It is apparent that their CBF affiliation was important in order for them to be on the committee. This is very disheartening to the majority of us in Texas who still understand the need to be in partnership with the fallible Southern Baptist Convention.

Did we forget that the overwhelming majority of BGCT churches are affiliated with the SBC? Have we become so out of touch with our churches in Texas to think that this does not matter anymore? Maybe I am the one who is out of touch with the “new” BGCT?

Like Joe Worley I too had done a bit of CIA (church intelligence agency!) work on my own. I wanted to know more about those who had been entrusted with the task of recommending our next Executive Director. I was not personally surprised to uncover the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) connection associated with the majority of the committee. Men and women with strong CBF ties have been leading our convention for years. So why would we expect anything different today. From the outside looking in, at times, it appears having CBF ties is the ticket into the inner sanctums of power in BGCT life.

In my book, this model for the selection of leadership will soon be a thing of the past. If we do not wake up to the reality Worley noted about the vast majority of our churches having SBC ties, we will chart a course for financial disaster in the decade to come. As our old guard dies out and young pastoral leaders take the helm of our churches denominational loyalty will not be a given, and we will see a money drain that will make recent financial troubles look like the good ol’ days. We need a vision and mission that captures the hearts and imaginations of young and old. We need a Kingdom vision that is big and bold enough for all of us to rally around.

However, let’s get to the crux of the matter. Can we trust the work of a search committee that is dominated by CBF leaders? I personally believe the simple answer is yes! As most of my readers know I have been strongly identified with the Southern Baptist “churches” of the BGCT (note “churches” not “convention”). So why would I choose to trust the recommendation of this committee in light of the fact some would suggest this committee was selected for control and political reasons. My simple answer is this: if we are going to claim our future together we are going to have to learn to trust each other. I don’t know all the members of this committee, but the ones I do know are good, honorable and trust-worthy men and women. They took what would appear to be an impossible task to the Lord in prayer, and asked for His help in finding our future leader.

I personally do not believe that this committee was selected with a malicious controlling intent. I believe these men and women were selected following the kind of thinking Paul instructed Timothy to use when he wrote:

2 And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. 2 Tim 2:2 (NIV)

The key phase in this text related to our current situation is “entrust to reliable men” (and women). Those charged with the task of naming this committee called on men and women that they could trust and who were deemed to be “reliable.” Let’s face it, we trust people we know. If we are going to broaden our leadership tent and get more BGCT/SBC leaders at the table we are going to have to start making new friends and broadening our circles of relationships. For those of us who consider ourselves to be “constructive conservatives” it is time for us to step up and to respectfully ask for a seat at the table by building relationships with those who have lead our convention in recent years.

The harsh reality we face today is that the future of the BGCT does not rest with what the SBC or CBF or even the NBC does. National convention politics are only a distraction. Our true mission must be what God is calling us to do together as Texas Baptists. I long for the day that most of us could care less about whether a brother or sister is SBC or CBF. I dream of a day when our greater concern is who is standing shoulder to shoulder with us on the front lines of being the presence of Christ in Texas.

 

 

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Broadway Delimma

This year the historic Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth celebrates its 125th anniversary of ministry in the heart of Fort Worth. This historic moderate Baptist church has a long history of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, loving people, and being a “hands on” witness to its neighborhood and city.

 Recently this historic fellowship of believers has found itself plunged into a crisis that has shaken the congregation to its core, and caused some of its leaders to take drastic actions to air their concerns about the direction of the church. Who would have ever thought that something as innocent as an Olan Mills church pictorial directory would have created this kind of controversy? This simple act of taking “family” pictures uncovered a situation within the church that had been there for years, but had not fully been embraced by the membership. The “fly in the ointment” arose when homosexual partners chose to have their pictures taken together as couples so their “families” could be pictured along with all the other families in the church.

 Under the leadership of Dr. Bret Younger, Broadway Baptist Church took the position of “welcoming” homosexuals into their fellowship, and I would assume, but do not have personal knowledge of this, that they also accepted them into membership. Two keys words in church life for dealing with accepting people who struggle with various lifestyle issues would be the words “welcoming” and “affirming”. Aaron Weaver, a student at Baylor and the author of the blog “the big daddy weave” did a good job of explaining the significance of these two positions in his recent blogs on this issue.

The nickname of Jesus that gets most of us in trouble these days when we try to immolate it is the nickname: “the friend of sinners and tax-collectors.” When this nickname was hung on Jesus by his critics it was not a complement but rather an accusation against him for being “too soft” on sinners. Jesus was ruining his reputation with the religious establishment by hanging out with the wrong seedy characters. Jesus turned this accusation into a badge of honor, and a benchmark for his followers.

 Here is the rub Jesus came preaching about the Kingdom of God. He was seeking to create another religious establishment but rather a movement of God’s people that would revolutionize the world order. He was not about rules and rituals, but rather relationships. He came to help his fallen creation re-establish its relationship with God through his death and resurrection, and re-establish its relationship with each other through love, understanding, and compassion. Church membership rolls, and church directory controversies were not even on the radar as he walked the dusty streets of Galilee followed by his ragtag group of misfits he called apostles.

 So how does a band of followers of Jesus called a church embody this value of being a “friend of sinners” and yet hold true to the moral and ethical codes of the New Testament found in the writings of the apostles and in the words of Jesus?

Tony Campolo in his book Speaking My Mind does an excellent job in wrestling with this issue in the chapter entitled “Are Evangelicals Handling the Gay Issue All Wrong?” Campolo confronts strongly the “homophobia” and the “gay bashing” that happen in many of the churches of our land. Homosexuals who represent a very small minority in our land have become an easy target for too many conservative preachers. I totally agree with Campolo on this point. Our mission finds its heart and passion in “saving” people not “condemning” them.

 Campolo also aptly points out the distinction between “behavior” and “orientation”. Most conservative Biblical interpreters would note that homosexual “behavior” is considered sinful and unhealthy. However, this behavior is not alone. The Bible confronts a wide variety of sinful behaviors from dishonesty, greed; gossiping, lust, adultery, and gluttony (please say it’s not true!).

 Campolo notes that the Bible confronts the sinful behavior of homosexuals, but not their orientation. He argues this position from the perspective that it is unclear and quite mysterious to try to pinpoint the origin of this homosexual orientation. Some researchers argue that it is genetic while others point to it as a byproduct of abuse or dysfunction in a child’s family of origin. Many homosexuals believe God created them this way. On this side of eternity we look through the “glass darkly” so we only know in part, which means our positions on either extreme will be “faith” or “conviction” positions. Campolo takes the historic high ground of “loving the sinner, but hating the sin.” He calls for believers who have a homosexual orientation to live celibate lives of sexual chastity

 In my twenty-five years of pastoral ministry I too have had to walk this spiritual mine field. One of my spiritual gifts is mercy so through out my ministry I have been drawn toward people who struggle and hurting people have been drawn to me. I have a number of what I would consider close friends who have a homosexual orientation. In fact a number of years ago when I was a pastor in the DFW area the small community church I served witnessed over ten homosexuals accept Christ as their Lord and Savior over a period of weeks.

 Before publicly confessing their faith, each of these individuals asked for a private meeting with me, and they “secretly” confessed their struggles expecting me and the church to reject them, but instead of running from the room in horror, or pointing an angry finger of accusation in their faces I sought to love and accept them in their struggle for freedom and wholeness. Those who darkened the doors of our church were seeking hope and help, and their lifestyle had left them broken. I realize this is a very small sampling of the homosexual community but these are the ones I know and love. As they shared their stories my heart broke for them as they recounted histories of sexual abuse, physical abuse, abandonment issues, and the shame that was like a “black rod” in the core of their souls.

 In our efforts to be the family of God for these young men and women, we too chose to “welcome” them into our community and gatherings. We “affirmed” them as people God loved and who held a valued place in our lives, but we decide to not “condone” their sin or unhealthy lifestyle. Like Campolo we took the position that homosexual behavior was sinful and unhealthy and if you were serious about following Jesus you had to lay this behavior behind.

In an effort to help them in this struggle we offered a discipleship support group that met weekly that offered accountability and encouragement but most importantly a community in which they would be loved and accepted for “who” they were in Christ.  In my mind, I chose to see them as “David”, “Susan”, “Harry” and “Julie” not as “homosexuals.” These were my friends and family members. Their homosexual orientation did not define who they were to me. The more I came to know them and their story they became my “wounded” brothers and sisters in Christ.

 We chose to draw the line in the sand in our corporate environment around the issue of membership. If someone chose to be a member and to be baptized into our fellowship they were choosing to follow Jesus in every area of their lives. For our homosexual friends this meant choosing to leave “the lifestyle” or “behavior.” Therefore if a believer chose to be a part of our fellowship then we had the moral obligation to help them to live holy lives. If it became apparent that one of our members had fallen into sin then in love the leaders of our church sought to restore them. We took this position not only on homosexual issues, but also heterosexual issues. We did not knowingly accept into membership young heterosexual couples who were living together either. We did not believe we were helping others if we “condoned” behaviors the Bible warned against in love. There is no doubt that at some points we were hypocritical in our positions and actions, but we were seeking to do the best we could with the light we had.

 As I have read of the struggles of the Broadway Baptist Church and their pastor my heart has gone out to them. I commend them for their efforts to be a “friend of sinners” like their Lord and Savior. Living on this cutting edge is not for the faint of heart. As a community of faith, I would encourage us to rally around this church in prayer, by praying that the Lord will guide them through this storm. Pray they will find reconciliation in their ranks, and that they will cease the public war in the media and on the “world wide web.” It is not a time for us to pick out stones to hurl in condemnation, but rather a time for us to pray for this part of our family that is under siege. I pray the Broadway Baptist Church will continue in its heritage of being the people of God in the heart of Fort Worth for many more years.

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60 Seconds

Valentine’s Day—the day of love and romance for couples all across the land was the rule of the day. Robyn and I were right in the middle of an annual date. We made a brief visit to one of our favorite places Barnes and Noble to look for a book before making our way to the theatre to see a movie at 7:30 p.m. Before leaving we stopped to get my wife a mocha drink, but there was a long line at the deli, so we decided to stop by Starbucks. We were running late, but there did not appear to be a line at the drive through so we pulled in only to turn the corner and find a car ahead of us to our frustration. I placed the order and checked my watch, I thought to myself, “I think we can make if they will hurry.” Finally the car pulled out and her drink was ready as we pulled up, I paid the barrister as he quipped about the joys of Valentine’s Day and asked if we were on a date. I smiled and nodded as we pulled out into traffic.

It was a dark clear February night as we took the loop around the city heading toward the theatre. Then suddenly out of the darkness everything changed in an instant of time. Unexpectedly through my windshield I witnessed the smoke, and confusion of a serious traffic accident. I saw a man running across the road. A truck was disabled to my left with its front end smashed. Directly in front of me was a small blue car smoking, as I quickly pulled onto the shoulder I passed the car slowly to the sound of glass and plastic breaking under my tires to witness a red Honda Civic smashed head on into the little blue car. Then my attention was drawn to a white sedan turned upside down in the median. In a matter of seconds, I realized we were at ground zero of a major life threatening accident. I pulled over and my wife and I jumped out to assist, but not really knowing what to do. Suddenly a man with a cell phone to his ear called for assistance. He was peering inside the red Honda at a body that was not moving. He cried out that he could not see and that he needed light, so I returned to my car and turned it around so my light revealed the horror of the condition of the young woman unconscious in the car and bleeding. A young nurse joined the man and confirmed she was alive.

Apparently the man on the cell phone was in contact with medical personnel and declared we needed to get her out of the car, and lay her down beside the road. Meanwhile, I could hear the screaming of a young girl trapped in the white sedan upside down in the median. As I turned toward the screams I witnessed a team of volunteers struggling to assist the young mother and father trapped in their car with the cries of their child from the rear. My attention then return to my own personal crisis as I joined a team of three strangers who slowing and carefully removed the young woman from her car paying special attention to her head and neck. We laid her on the grass and I removed my coat to provide a pillow for her bleeding head. The young nurse cared for her as we waited for emergency personnel to arrive. As I looked down the road I could hear the sirens and I could see the red and blue lights were weaving through traffic to the scene of ordered chaos.

As we waited the young man in the blue car holding his injured arm to his side began to recount the story of how in an instant of time chaos had erupted on a dark lonely stretch of highway. Apparently the young woman in the Honda was driving the wrong way on a four way highway. She struck the white sedan and bounced off the car as it flipped to hit the white pick-up. The chain reaction continued unto her car plunged head on into the front end of the blue car. Thanks to the miracle of airbags they were alive, and he stood there holding his arm telling his scary account of his life flashing before his eyes.

Soon the medical personnel arrived and now we were bystanders in the way, so without a word of thanks or notoriety my wife and I climbed back into our car. We turned the car around and joined the slow procession in the grass as we left the scene of the accident heading to the movie we would not see that night, because by the time we arrived at the theatre our minds were too clouded to think of mindless entertainment on the big silver screen. Life was too real.

Sixty seconds…one simple delay in a line at Starbucks kept us from being on a dark highway with a red Honda barreling head on into our path. Just sixty seconds made all the difference in the world in our lives. Who knows how many times in a lifetime one simple choice makes the difference between life and death. Praise the Lord no one died that night on a dark highway in Texas.

Hundreds of years ago as the Israelites ascended the hill going up to the Temple of the LORD they would sing from Psalm 121. The hills around Jerusalem would ring with the sounds of their voices as they declared with joy and great confidence:

7 The LORD will keep you from all harm–
he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore. Psalms 121:7-8 (NIV)

On Valentine’s Day Robyn and I were vividly reminded how the Lord watches and cares over His children even when they are impatiently waiting in line at Starbucks. I should have known, but rarely do I think about how God is in the details—and every second counts!

P.S. This afternoon I had to repair a flat on my car. I picked up a nail as I drove around the accident scene. You probably would not be surprised how thankful I was to pay the $15.00 for the repair and move on down the highway.

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Promising Numbers

The Baptist General Convention of Texas reported this week their financial numbers for January 2008. The cooperating churches of the convention gave $5,039,361. These gifts represent a 2% increase in giving as compared to last year at this time. Unfortunately the gifts represented only 94.8% of the approved ministry budget. This shortfall of $279,045 compromises our ability to do all we hoped and plan to do this year.

Financial stewardship remains the life blood of our mission together. The slogan “We Can Do More Together” rings hollow if we keep our money securely in our back pockets or locked away in our purses.

Even though the news out of Dallas is promising we must be willing to look at the big picture. Typically the January receipts reflect the giving of our churches in December of the previous year. I know our church gave more in December than anytime in the history of the church and this blessing was passed on to the BGCT. For many churches across the state December is a catch up month for the givers, as year end gift come in. So in some ways this January report may reflect a benchmark of our giving at its best. If this is the case, we will begin to face a real financial challenge in the next six months unless our churches choose to increase their giving percentages, or our church show signs of greater financial strength.

Another critical road marker will be the giving report in February. This report will reflect any changes in the giving patterns of our churches for 2008. Many of our churches have annual budgets that kick off in January. If our churches increased their giving percentages or decreased their commitments in the 2008 budgets it will be reflected in the February financial report. I am hoping and praying our churches chose across the board to stay the course and to continue their strong commitment to the mission of our convention. The increase in giving in January is a promising sign, but we would be wise to pay close attention.

For large organizations like the BGCT financial reports are much like stepping on the scales at the doctor’s office. The numbers tell a story we need to learn from. These financial numbers do not tell the whole story, but one lesson I take from this report is simple. We have work to do and there are still a vast number of our churches pulling in the same direction. Let’s keep up the good work and do even better in the days to come. There is too much at stake to be distracted now!

The words of Paul fit our situation so well when he wrote to his comrades in Galatia:

9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Gal 6:8-9 (NIV)

Likewise Jesus fittingly pointed out:

“No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62 (NIV)

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“Pinsonized”

Late in January, Rick Davis made an intriguing comment on his “aintsobad” blog.  He wrote:

When I first got involved with baptist politics in Texas, after years of being a pastor/evangelist and staying at home to help a church grow, I began to hear of being “Pinsonized.” The reference was to the fellow then Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Dr. William (Bill) Pinson. To be “Pinsonized” meant to try to hold on to all the churches, Fundamentalist, Moderate, Liberal, Accepting and Affirming, to give this whole Battle for the Bible time to run its course—Rick Davis, Aintsobad.blog

 I have run in Baptist circles (and on a side note at times run in circles) for over twenty-five years and have never heard this term. I did on one occasion hear Rick Scarbourgh attack Dr. Pinson and promise to turn out the lights in the Baptist building if Pinson continued to be at the helm. I have always held Dr. Pinson in the highest esteem especially for his commitment to the whole Texas Baptist family. Like a pastor who is charged to love and shepherd all the sheep, Dr. Pinson believed it was his calling to lead the BGCT through some very troubled waters with integrity and commitment.

I hope if Dr. Randel Everett is called to be our new Executive Director that he and his leadership team will choose to use some plays out of Dr. Pinson’s playbook. From my position as a young pastor in Texas these were the qualities I saw and admired in Dr. Pinson, his “fundamentals” or “values” if you prefer.

 I viewed Dr. Pinson as a spiritual leader, not a political operative. His heart for God was evident in how he approached his work. I had the sense his marching orders came from above and not out of a caucus meeting. He surrounded himself with strong, capable leaders who knew Texas Baptist work and knew how to work together. He had backbone enough to say “no” and to stand on historic Baptist principles yet he was not willing to drive churches or people away because he disagreed with some of what they believe. He had a heart big enough for all Texas Baptists, and he tried to wrap his arms around the two warring factions within our convention to give us a chance to calm down and make up. In other words, he was rather idealistic, and I personally appreciate him for that quality.

 His approach reminds me of the words of Paul out of his prison cell when he wrote:

 1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.—Apostle Paul  (Eph 4:1-6 NIV)

I believe we would all be wise to heed these words as we enter the next chapter of our journey together. Being “one” is not for the faint of heart. It demands that each of us give our very best. For the record I wish we were all “Pinsonized” or better yet “Jesus-ized”.

 Remember Jesus boldly taught:

 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)

 I guess a good place to start this journey is by learning to “love one another.”

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A Vision Big and Bold Enough for Everyone: Everett’s Vision for the BGCT

In just a matter of days the future of the Baptist General Convention of Texas will take a dramatic turn. If the Executive Board elects to call Randel Everett to be our next Executive Director they will entrust to his hands and his heart the future of our beloved convention. He will face a “God-sized” task to say the least.

In a recent Baptist Standard article, Everett was interviewed about his initial impressions and his vision for tomorrow in Texas Baptist life. In the course of the interview he is quoted saying:

“I would like to help the BGCT discern, ‘Where is our unique Kingdom assignment?”

To confirm this passion on his heart from personal experience, I had an opportunity to have a brief telephone conversation with him a few days ago. In the course of the conversation, he asked me the same question.

To his credit, I believe Everett is starting at the right point. His concern is about “The Kingdom” not the little kingdoms and fiefdoms vying for power, and he assumes our marching orders come from above, not from the Baptist building.

So how would you answer this question? Of the top of my head and out of twenty-five years of ministry experience I said “church planting.” In light of the huge population shifts and growth in Texas, and in light of the Great Commission, I believe starting new vibrant healthy churches across our state is of paramount importance. These new churches could accomplish many significant contributions for the Kingdom. New churches reach more people for the gospel. New churches get more people involved in “hands on” ministry. Starting new churches get mature mother churches looking outside their stain glassed windows to touch the needs of the community around them.. The mother church is changed by having a “baby”. New churches also produce more financial resources to accomplish our mission as they give to the Cooperative program to fund our mutual endeavors. We need to move from a survival mode of trying to hold on to what we have left to a big bold vision of tomorrow. If we are going to claim tomorrow we need to aggressively embrace the future with a big, bold vision of reaching our state and our world.

I realize church planting is just one facet of the work God has for us in Texas. However, I believe it is a unique assignment we are prepared to embrace. Our history, theology, values, and mindset tells we are uniquely prepared to “church” this state with new churches of all different perspectives. We need ethnic churches that speak in the heart languages of the people who are coming to Texas from all around the world. We need cultural churches like the Cowboy church movement that has brought Christ into the Western Heritage world. We need suburban churches to reach the booming communities springing up all around Texas. We need inner city churches to go back in where others have abandoned the work and bring light and hope to people who are extremely open to the gospel. Granted, church planting is the work of the local church, but when we work together it is a great deal like an ol’ fashion barn raising–it is hard work, but a whole lot of fun and at the end of the day you can stand back and be proud of what we did together.

A number of years ago, George Barna released a book entitled: The Power of Vision. In this book he noted::

Vision for ministry is a reflection of what God wants to accomplish through you to build His Kingdom.

One of the vital roles of a spiritual leader whether in the local church or in a large diverse convention like the BGCT is “vision casting.” We need a leader who asks the right questions, but more importantly casts the right vision for tomorrow.

In addition, Barna made two probing observations about vision that bear light on our current situation. He wrote:

Vision is not the result of consensus; it should result in consensus.

Later in the book, he added:

Vision has no force, power, or impact unless it spreads from the visionary to the visionless.

God’s vision for our future does not rest in the heart of any one man or woman, nor in one board or select committee but rather can be seen in the powerful, private and public expressions of the work of the Holy Spirit. Henry Blackaby referred to the Holy Spirit in his book Experiencing God as the “convincer.” We need a fresh wind of the Spirit to blow away the lines we have drawn in the sand between us, and to move us forward into the next chapter in our history with a big, bold vision of tomorrow born in the heart of God.

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