Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Email That Got Me Fired


Abstain from all appearance of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:22)

Ten years ago I was working for a non-profit “Christian” organization in the area. It was approaching Halloween, and it was decided that the staff would celebrate by dressing up in costumes; “scary” costumes were encouraged. I thought it was odd for a “Christian” organization to “go all out” like that for celebration of what is arguably the most pagan of all pagan holidays. So, I addressed the following email to all staff. I had been working there more than 90 days, and had received countless “junk” emails from other staff members, so I saw no harm in sharing my sentiments with all the staff. The email read as follows …

Hello All,

Remember the movie “Multiplicity” staring Michael Keaton? In the movie, Doug Kinney, played by Michael Keaton, can’t seem to find enough time to do all the things he needs or wants to do, so he finds a solution in duplicating himself by cloning. As the plot develops, the first clone then clones himself, then the second clone clones himself and so on. With each duplication the resultant product greatly degenerated from the previous – a lot like when one makes a copy of a copy of a copy, etc. Finally, the last clone ends up being a slobbering idiot.  Doug Kinney then finds himself in the dilemma of how to deal with his “offspring.”

What does that have to do with Halloween?  Well, I’m getting to that.

The first five books of the Bible tell, among other things, of how God brought the children of Israel (Jacob) out from Egyptian bondage through His servant Moses.  Now Moses was not perfect, and because of one act of disobedience, he was not allowed to enter the “Promised Land.”  But Moses had a protégé, a clone, if you will, that would take over for him and complete the task of taking the children of Israel into the Promised Land.  His name was Joshua.  Now, Joshua was a great leader, but he was no Moses.

The sixth book of the book of the Bible takes its name from him, Joshua. It tells the history of how the children of Israel conquered the Promised Land – the land of Canaan.  God’s instruction to the children of Israel through Joshua was to completely wipe out the inhabitants of the land – every man, woman, child and every beast. (There are good reasons why God commanded the annihilation of an entire race of people from the land, but that is another story, which will really get me off track.) When you come to the end of Joshua, you find that Israel failed in their God-given task. Instead, they started living in and among the people of the land and started adopting their customs and their pagan religions. This act of disobedience plagued Israel throughout their history.

So, what does that have to do with Halloween? Hang on; I’m getting there.

At the end of the book of Joshua we find Joshua calling the children together for one final word. Most of the land had been conquered, but the Canaanites were still in the land. The probability was very great that the children of Israel would turn to worshipping other gods, and so Joshua gave this final admonition:

Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD.  And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. (Joshua 24:14-15)

Great admonition, but not as strongly phrased as I think Moses would have put it. To me, it sounds a lot like our post-modern, relativistic rhetoric that says, “That’s your truth, but it’s not my truth,” or “You’re entitled to your truth, and I’m entitled to mine.”  (Many of you may be thinking that very thing about this discourse.)  In essence, what Joshua was saying was, “If you want to worship other gods, go ahead; I and mine will serve the LORD.”  He started out strong: “Serve the LORD,” but then he took the edge off by giving them an option.

When you read the next book, Judges, you see how the degeneration progressed.  The further the children of Israel got away from the Exodus, the further they got away from God.  That’s what the movie, “Multiplicity” reminds me of.  The further we get away from the original, the fuzzier the lines become.  What used to be sharp lines of contrast become so blurred that one cannot tell where one line ends and another begins.  What used to be considered evil is now a minor indiscretion or just another lifestyle choice or not evil at all. Black and white has blended into an indistinguishable gray.

So, what does that have to do with Halloween?  Well, I’m glad you asked that question.  Halloween has become one of those national pastimes that are given no thought at all.  Haunted houses attract the thrill seeker looking for that rush of adrenaline.  Horror flicks offer the same allure.  Vampires, zombies, demons, ghosts and witches all wait in the darkness ready to pounce on us at the moment we expect them least.  Of course, all of this is intended for fun, and we wholeheartedly participate in the same spirit of frivolity as we don our favorite scary costumes.  What’s the harm in that?  The harm is that the sharp lines of contrast between good and evil have been blurred almost to the point of oblivion.

Halloween, in its origins, was not a harmless pastime.  It originated in the dark ages when, due to ignorance, people genuinely feared the “things that go bump in the night.”  They feared demons and ghosts and witches and vampires.  The church was no help in dispelling those fears, and to a certain extent, was responsible for propagating many of those fears.

My intent here is not to go into a history of Halloween, but rather sharpen the lines of contrast that have been blurred though the passing of time.  Demons are real.  The Devil is real.  I have no fear of them because I know the One in whose hands I’m kept, but that does not negate the reality of their work, which is primarily that of deception.  Jesus identified Satan as the father of all lies.  In His debate with the Jewish leaders, He leveled the following accusation against them:

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He [Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. (John 8:43-44)

So, the lie is that Halloween is a harmless pastime.  It’s a lie because the root and the source of Halloween is evil, not good; however, the lines have been blurred to the point where we can’t tell the difference.  We have accepted it into our culture for so long that we have lost all sensitivity to the danger – like a frog in a kettle.

I then offered an article by Kerby Anderson, of Probe Ministries, entitled “Ten Reasons Christians Should Not Celebrate Halloween.” It is no longer on his site. He must have caught a lot of flack over it and decided to take it down, or else he decided it was no longer relevant. Whatever the reason, I cannot offer a link to it, but I did keep it over these many years. Here are the ten reasons he offered:

  1. October 31st has long been known as “The Festival of the Dead.” The Celtic tribes and their priests the Druids celebrated this day as a marker for the change from life to death.
  2. Halloween today is performed usually by adherents of witchcraft who use the night for their rituals. Witches celebrate Halloween as the “Feast of Samhain,” the first feast of the witchcraft year. Being a festival of the dead, Halloween is a time when witches attempt to communicate with the dead through various forms of divination.
  3. Christians should not be involved with occultic practice or divination. Note God’s command against divination in Deuteronomy 18.
  4. Occultists believe Halloween is a time of transition between life and death. Some occult practitioners practiced divination and believed you could learn the secrets of life and wisdom by lying on a grave and listening to the messages from the long-departed.
  5. Occultists also taught that spirits and ghosts left the grave during this night and would seek out warmth in their previous homes. Villagers, fearful of the possibility of being visited by the ghosts of past occupants, would dress up in costumes to scare the spirits on their way. They would also leave food and other treats at their door to appease the spirits so they would not destroy their homes or crops but instead move on down the road. That is the real reason why kids dress up in costumes today and go door-to-door seeking treats.
  6. Occultists also would try to scare away the spirits by carving a scary face into a pumpkin. This horrible visage would hopefully move the spirit on to another home or village and spare that home from destruction. Sometimes the villagers would light a candle and place it within the pumpkin and use it as a lantern (hence the name, Jack-o-Lantern). This is the origin of carving pumpkins at Halloween.
  7. In some witchcraft covens, the closing ritual includes eating an apple or engaging in fertility rites. In the Bible (Genesis 3), eating a piece of fruit brought sin and death into the world. In witchcraft, eating an apple is symbolic of bringing life. The practice of bobbing for apples brings together two pagan traditions: divination and the fertility ritual.
  8. Schools are removing any religious significance from Christmas (often called winter break) and Easter (spring break). Isn’t it ironic that most public schools still celebrate Halloween even though it has occultic origins?
  9. Participating in Halloween gives sanction to a holiday that promotes witches, divination, haunted houses, and other occultic practices.
  10. Christians should avoid Halloween and develop creative alternatives. Churches can hold a Fall Fun Festival and/or celebrate Reformation Day (also October 31). They should not endorse or promote Halloween.

Allow me to offer an eleventh reason why Christians should not celebrate Halloween.  As Christians, the Bible exhorts us to abstain from any appearance of evil.  Paul, in his first letter to the Thessalonians said, “Abstain from every form of evil.” (1 Thessalonians 5:22)  The Greek word translated “form” is “eidous,” which means the “visible form” or the “outward show” – the appearance of something.  The lines of distinction between the original form of Halloween may have been blurred by hundreds of years of “cloning,” but it still has, if nothing else, the “appearance” of evil – kind of like Doug Kinney’s last clone.  It looked like him, but was really nothing like him except for his appearance.

This coming Halloween, we have been invited to dress up in costumes in celebration of the day.  I, for one, do not plan to participate.  I will stand with Joshua and in paraphrase say, “As for me and my house, we will not do Halloween.”  If you find that odd, I will simply respond in a typical post-modern, relativistic fashion by wagging my head from side to side and exclaiming, “Whatever.”   You do whatever you think is right in your own eyes, but I will abstain, as far as God will strengthen me, from any appearance of evil.

The day after the email went out, I was fired. I missed out on all of the Halloween doings at that office. But I was not left destitute. God in His faithfulness provided and has continued to bless even now. I still do not celebrate Halloween in any form or fashion, although, I will partake of Halloween candy!


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Somewhere in the Middle


For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22:14)

This past week I’ve had an online conversation with a fellow blogger on the topic of “limited atonement” and “total depravity.” Because of the nature of this topic, these discussions are usually fruitless and typically degenerate into “profane and vain babblings” (2 Timothy 2:16), which we should shun. At issue is the tension between the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. Calvinism (falsely attributed to the reformer, John Calvin) defends five points characterized by the acrostic TULIP: (1) Total Depravity, (2) Unconditional Election, (3) Limited Atonement, (4) Irresistible Grace, and (5) Perseverance of the Saints. Calvinism champions the complete sovereignty of God, and hyper-Calvinists go so far as to assert that God literally picks and chooses who will go to heaven and who will go to hell.

On the other side of the argument is Arminianism, attributed to the Dutch theologian Jacob Arminius. Arminianism counters Calvinism with eight points: (1) Universal Prevenient Grace, (2) Conditional Election, (3) Unlimited (or universal) Atonement, (4) Resistible Grace, (5) Uncertainty of Perseverance, (6) Libertarian Free Will, (7) Equal, Impartial, and Undifferentiated Love, (8) The Universal Call of Salvation.[1]

The conflict comes when one takes one position or the other. Both positions have scriptural support, and both have scriptural weaknesses. Contrast Calvinism’s “Total Depravity” with Arminianism’s “Universal Prevenient Grace.” The former considers individuals dead in sin so that they are incapable of choosing God’s free gift of salvation apart from God’s direct intervention on their behalf. This can be supported from Ephesians 2:8 where the Apostle Paul says in effect that the faith required to accept God’s Grace is in itself a gift of God. The latter acknowledges man’s fallen condition, but suggests that Grace “restores man’s free will which was impaired by the effects of original sin and enables him to choose or refuse the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ.”[2] This too has scriptural support in “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Or contrast Calvinism’s “Unconditional Election” with Arminianism’s “Conditional Election.” The former says that God picks who will be saved, the latter basically says that God “elects” or chooses those who choose Him. Both of these concepts find support in Scripture. Jesus said, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16), but, of course, it could be argued that Jesus, in context, was speaking to His disciples, and as such it is not a blanket statement covering all believers. The Arminian challenge to this would be: “Then what do you do with all the ‘whosoever’ passages in the New Testament?” The Calvinist would then argue in a circle and say that all the “whosoevers” are the elect, but that also contradicts a lot of Scripture.

In Calvinism, “Unconditional Election” and “Limited Atonement” go hand in hand.  The former specifies God’s sovereignty in “electing” who will be saved and “Limited Atonement” explains that Christ’s sacrifice, while having universal application, is only efficient for those who are elect. They are really two sides of the same coin. Arminianism challenges that with “Unlimited Atonement.” Since Jesus died for all, then all have equal opportunity to respond to the Gospel by the exercise of their free will. Calvinism responds that those who respond to the Gospel do so because Grace, the “call of God,” is irresistible to the elect; they cannot help but respond to the Gospel message. The Arminian would retort that Grace certainly is resistible, as is frequently proven in evangelistic encounters. Anyone who has shared their faith with an unbeliever has experienced the disappointment of bringing someone to the point of conviction and then having them reject the invitation to accept Christ as Lord and Savior. Some say, “I’m not ready now.” Others will say, “Perhaps when I’m older.” Still others may say, “I don’t want to offend my family or my friends.” The offer of God’s grace certainly can be rejected. Of course the Calvinist would counter with, “That’s because they aren’t elect” – again arguing in a circle.

This discussion could go on and on, and countless reams of paper have been spent in defense of both sides. Both sides have good points, and both sides have weak points. The answer to the debate lies somewhere in the middle. Only God knows the real inner workings of His plan. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). In the end, both Calvinists and Arminians have to come to Christ in the same way: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9).

There is one point where the Calvinists get it right and the Arminians get it wrong, and that is the fifth point of Calvinism: “Perseverance of the Saints” vs. the Arminian “Uncertainty of Perseverance.” “Perseverance of the Saints” is the idea of “once saved always saved.”[3] The Arminians object to this based on observation. They may observe someone who claims to be saved living as a pagan. First of all, I would remind the Arminian that “the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Secondly, if salvation is based on man’s own effort, however that may be defined, that “salvation” is not genuine. Ephesians 2:9 tells us that salvation is “Not of works, lest any man should boast.” But when Jesus does the saving He says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). Yes, Christians can sin and not lose their salvation. The difference is that the one who is truly saved, cannot continue in willful sin. Either the Christian will readily recognize his sin and immediately repent and ask forgiveness, or the Lord will allow the Christian to continue in his sin until the consequences of his sin bring him to the recognition of his sin that brings about repentance. If the sinner never comes to that point, he has probably never been saved because Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.” Either he belongs to Christ or he does not.

So, as I tried to show, the true answer to the Calvinism vs. Arminianism controversy is somewhere in the middle, and only God knows the exact details of His plan. Our task is to present the simple Gospel message, allow the Holy Spirit to do His work, and leave the details of how God accomplishes His plan to God.


[3] See my post “Impossible” of September 2, 2012.


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Limited Atonement, Part 3 – The Bible is Clear, God’s Grace is a Gift Offered to Everyone

Good read. You may also want to read my comments below the post.

keltonburg preacher

Contrary to Calvinism’s doctrine on “Limited Atonement” God’s offer of grace is not just for some – but for everyone who desires to receive it, trust it and obey it. I can’t tell you how many times the Bible says this, but I can tell you it says it more than once! And for something to be true the Bible only has to say it one time (and it must be said in the proper context), but when the Bible says the same thing over and over and over it might just be a clue pointing towards the obvious.

For example, when it comes to the reality of universal atonement the Bible says:

  • For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,’” Titus 2:11
  • And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

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Lordship Salvation

Moses and Before the Ten Commandments

Moses and Before the Ten Commandments

Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Romans 4:8; 10:13)

There is always danger in trying to condense deep theological concepts into catchy phrases. Such is the case with the title of this article. “Lordship salvation” is a nebulous term that means different things to different people. Some may consider that it implies a “works” based salvation where the individual has to make Jesus “Lord” by following some undetermined regimen of “good works” in order to earn one’s salvation. Such an idea is ludicrous when measured against Scripture. The Bible is clear that “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Psalm 14:3; 53:3; Romans 3:10). The fact of the matter is that the lost person is incapable of making such a choice of his own volition. As the Psalms suggest, they are fools (Psalm 14:1; 53:1) because “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Obviously any recognition of Christ’s deity necessarily implies His Creatorship and Sovereignty over His creation, including individuals at the individual level.  Thus, to “confess” that Jesus is LORD” involves a voluntary acceptance of the reality that He is the Master of all creation, including me. (JJSJ[1])

On the other hand, the Bible does teach that Jesus must be Lord of your life otherwise you cannot be saved. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). This does not give a long list of things that must be done to earn salvation, but there seems to be no option other than to “confess” (i.e., profess/proclaim/acknowledge) Jesus Christ as Lord. That word “confess” is the compound Greek word homologeō: homo meaning “same,” and logos, meaning “something said.” So in essence, “confess” means to agree with what is said, i.e., that Jesus is Lord.

[A] saving belief/affirmation/acceptance (recognizing Who the Lord Jesus Christ really is, in relation to me, a sinner) is not the same thing as thinking that a “service commitment” (i.e., a promise to serve/surrender) to Him is being exchanged for “salvation” – any such “deal” would be an attempt to gain (or keep) salvation by human efforts/deeds/works/commitments/discipleship/etc., which is a losing formula soteriologically speaking.  Sinners do not qualify themselves for salvation by promising to serve Christ – that would be exchanging salvation for a (promised) life of service/worship, negating the Biblical doctrine of redemption as a divine gift of pure grace. (JJSJ)

Paul in his letter to the Philippians says, “And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11). Paul expresses lordship salvation this way: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). To the Philippians he writes:

10 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;

11  If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.

12  Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

13  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:10-14)

That is Paul’s picture of “lordship salvation” – to die to self and live for Christ. He does not have to live his life that way in order “to be saved,” but rather because he “is saved,” and Jesus has “apprehended” him. He lives this way because “Jesus is Lord,” and Paul recognized that fact and subjected himself to the Lordship of Christ.

Romans 14:8 sums it up pretty well: “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s” Jesus Christ is Lord, whether we submit to His Lordship or not. But salvation is by grace alone. There is nothing one can do to earn it (Ephesians 2:8-9), but once we are saved we submit to His Lordship “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

[1] Dr. James J. S. Johnson is Chief Academic Officer for the Institute for Creation Research School of Biblical Apologetics and my good friend.

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The Rising Debt

US Debt Clock as of 5:15 PM, EST, October 6, 2013

US Debt Clock as of 5:15 PM, EST, October 6, 2013

… forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. (Matthew 6:12)

Our national debt is currently at $16.9 Trillion, and rising at the rate of approximately $21,412 per second. This is an incomprehensible figure, especially considering that the median household income is about $50,000 per year. That is equal to about 2.5 seconds on the national debt clock. We hear those trillion dollar figures being thrown around as if nothing by the liberal media and left-wing politicians on a daily basis, and most listeners (if they are even listening) have no concept of the implications of such a horrific burden on our people and future generations. Those who are paying attention are screaming, “Stop! You’re going the wrong way! Stop!” But no one seems to be listening. It would be nice if someone with a heavily reinforced check book would come along and say, “Here, let me take care of that for you.”

As great as the national debt is, there is a debt that we owe that is far greater than that. It is the debt of sin that every individual owes for offending Holy God. Indeed, if we could imagine the most righteous person imaginable, if that person had told the smallest “white lie,” that sin alone would far exceed the level of the national debt. In fact, as one 19th Century pastor, William Elbert Munsey, put it, when we offend an infinitely Holy God, we have offended Him infinitely, so that our debt is equally infinite.

Many ignorantly justify their own righteousness by comparing themselves to someone who is more sinful. For instance, a mass murderer might say, “Yes, I killed six people, but I’m not as bad as Hitler; he killed over six million!” That is an extreme example, I know, but it makes the point. Those who judge themselves by those who are greater sinners than themselves hold a false sense of security that when they stand before God, their good will outweigh the bad, and they will qualify for entry into heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. John says of the end of the age, at the great white throne judgment, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their worksAnd whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12-13, 15). Very simply, if your name is not written in the book of life, then you will be judged “according to your works” as recorded in the “books.” One of those “books,” I believe, is the Bible, the Word of God, which is the standard by which we are all measured. According to this passage, those whose names are not written in the book of life have the record of their works measured by the standard of God’s Word, and apparently, no one meets the Standard. “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one … For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:10, 23).

The good news is that someone with unlimited resources has stepped up and said, “Here, let me take care of that for you.” His name is Jesus Christ. “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4-6). This offer comes to us at no cost to us. It is a free gift that cannot be earned, bought or repaid (Ephesians 2:8-9). As with any gift, it must be accepted, and no one is under any obligation to take it. Why would anyone reject such a gift? “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).

If you cannot pay off the national debt, what makes you think you can pay off your personal sin debt to God? He will pay it off for you, if you will let Him. If your name is not written in the book of life, or if you are unsure of where you stand, you need to:

  1. Repent of your sins (Mark 1:15; Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 8:22)
  2. Believe, i.e., put your faith and trust, in Him (John 3:16-18; John 3:36; John 8:24; John 20:30-31; Romans 10:9; Hebrews 11:6; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 5:13)
  3. Ask forgiveness for your sin and receive His salvation (Matthew 7:7; Matthew 21:22; Romans 5:17; Ephesians 2:8; Hebrews 9:15; 1 John 1:9)
  4. Baptism should follow as it is an outward and visible profession of faith in, obedience to, and identification with Christ as Lord (Acts 2:38)
  5. Join the fellowship of a Bible believing church (Hebrews 10:23-25)

The debt is paid in full. All that remains is for you to accept the free gift that is offered by the One to whom the debt is owed and the only One that has the authority to cancel the debt. The choice is yours.

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