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In a speech made in 1863, Abraham Lincoln said, "We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven;  have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown.  But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.  Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us. 

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In the same way this letter to Thyatira shocks its readers in a few short sentences with the portrayal of the terrifying results of human sinfulness.  The theological principle that underpins this passage is that the created order of God is moral, and the violation of that moral order does not go unpunished.  Interpersonal immorality has always been destructive to human relationships, because such sins, just as the sins of false gods, pride, selfishness, etc., go cross-grain to the grand design built by God into the very fabric of life. (Palmer, E.F., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1982). 1, 2 & 3 John/ Revelation (Vol. 35, p. 136). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.)

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Satan, failing to overthrow the church by persecution in Smyrna days, snares the Pergamum church into idolatry and fornication.  In Pergamum they sought to drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons at the same time.  This provoked the Lord. (Newell, 1935)

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Satan knows man's weakness! Sin is rebellion against God's wishes and ways. It is our decision to disobey God's principles.  While Satan gets credit for bringing us to the point of decision, the choice of doing evil is ultimately ours.  We cannot blame circumstances, other people, or the spiritual world for our choices, we must own them. (Barna, George, Think Like Jesus, Integrity Publishers, Brentwood, TN (2003, P.122)

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Our emotions can cause us serious problems. Emotions can confuse our thinking, disturb our hearts, sap our vitality, and disrupt our walks with God. Anger, guilt, fear, and worry take an incredible tool on our well-being. In fact,doctors tell us 70 percent of all illnesses are emotionally induced. Most of us are stretched beyond our limits. We give of ourselves mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, pouring our hearts and souls into our jobs and families. But we do very little to guard our hearts and replenish our fast-paced lives. (LaHaye, Tim & Hindson, Ed, Seduction of the Heart, W Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, CO (2001, p. 41))

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Commentator William Hendrickson writes, 'the kingdom, then, is not for weaklings, weavers, or compromisers...It is not for Balaam, the rich young ruler, Pilate and Demas.. It is not won by means of deferred prayers, unfilled promises, broken resolutions and hesitant testimonies. It is for the strong and sturdy men like Joseph, Nathan, Elijah, Daniel, Mordecai, and Peter... Stephen.. and Paul.  And let's not forget such valiant women as Ruth, Deborah, Ester, and Lydia' (Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew [Grands Rapids: Baker, 1973, p 490] (MacArthur, John 2009).

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A key to having the joy of the Lord and real maturity in your life is your ability to fix your mind upon the 'things above', and the wonderful future God has prepared for you and me. (Hocking, 1975)

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In Paul's corpus to the Philippians he addresses the church's fears by reminding them "they are not alone".  He also cautioned the Church to establish a single goal and now he informs the Church that she must have "One Purpose". A healthy purpose for the Church would include four key components: Encouragement, Love, Fellowship, and Compassion.

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Today, I choose to take specific steps toward my goal. I won't just dream big; I'll determine the concrete actions that will help me achieve that dream.  I choose to stop making excuses that prevent me from moving forward. (Valorie Burton, 2014)

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How wonderful it is to know that others are standing right with us as we fight the battles of life. There is no substitute for the unity and harmony of the Christian church. Satan is the great divider and destroyer; Christ is the uniter and builder. (Wiersbe, W.W. 1992)

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Jesus knew that people have a tendency to 'justify' themselves. We all want to think we are doing better than average, so we tend to minimize our problems to help us feel better. But minimizing our problems isn't the same thing as facing them.  One attempt to justify themselves can stand in the way of their ability to understand  themselves, and they will not change as long as they continue to do this. (Baker, 2001- emphasis added).

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Scriptural teaching on divorce underscores two convictions which form a pastoral dialectic.  Following Jesus, there must be a readiness to resist divorce as an evil; divorce is opposed to God's reign, even though the believing community may tolerate it.  However, following Paul, there must be a willingness to resist facile solutions which fail to accommodate concrete and difficult cases presented by our own situations. (Wall, R. W. (1992). Divorce. In D. N. Freedman (Ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (Vol. 2, p. 219). New York: Doubleday.)

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If it were only hunger for significance, we might be able to at least hold this craving at bay by a good dose of discipline and a depth of resolve.  But to complicate matters, the significance addiction is aided and abetted by the phenomenally powerful trio surging inner energies  called pleasure, pride, and passion.  This trio moves within each of us, creating partnerships of power that can corrupt and devastate even the best of us.  If left in their pre-redemptive flow, these forces render us incapable of advancing the significance of Christ and His kingdom. 

Stowell, Joseph M. Perilous Pursuits, Moody Press, Chicago, Il. (1994, P. 29.)

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The biggest threat to the church today is fans who call themselves Christians but aren't actually interested in following Christ.  They want to be close enough to Jesus to get all the benefits, but not so close that it requires anything from the.

Idleman, Kyle. Not A Fan, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan (2011, 2016)

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Having told the disciples that the Son of Man will not come as soon as they wish (v.22), in what way He will not come (v. 23), in what way He will come (v. 24), and what will happen first (v. 25), Christ now states in what condition the human race will be when He comes

Rev. Alfred Plummer, M.A, D.D. The International Critical Commentary, T & T Clark, Edinburgh (1896, 1922, 1975, P. 408)

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Trust God entirely, 'with all your heart' (v 5a). God demands an undivided commitment to himself. Too often Israel had a loyalty divided between the LORD and the false gods of the nations We can be tempted to trust the wisdom of the world rather than rely upon divine revelation.

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For whosoever will save his life shall lose it and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.  For what is a man profited, if he gains the whole world, and lose his own Soul or what shall a man give in exchange for his Soul. For the son of man shall come in the glory of His father with his angels and then he shall reward.

SOULS

Salvation. Obedience. Unity. Love. Serve.

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A real sign of spiritual and emotional growth occurs when you stop making decisions based on everyone else's expectations. You end unhealthy relationships, take a leap of faith toward a new career path, or speak up for what is right.  Some decisions in life are tough. Some conversations are uncomfortable. Some choices will not be popular. And yet, there are moments when you are called to go against popular opinion and stand apart from the crowd. When you lay your head down at night, there is no better feeling that that of being peace with God. If you must compromise that peace in order to please others, you've compromised everything.  Don't do it. (Burton, Valorie, https://youtu.be/4VjT3miVazM )

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Jesus knew that people using their intellect alone can never come to a complete understanding of the truth about life. He didn't say "let me teach you about the truth", He said , "I am the truth." He knew the highest form of knowledge comes not from amassing of information, but from trusting relationships. [Baker, Mark, PH.D., Jesus The Greatest Therapist That Ever Lived, Harper One, New York (2007, Pp. 7-8)]

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The great Dottie Peoples writes music with feelings and truth that moves a person into the presence of the Lord. One of her most remarkable songs is: I want to be ready when Jesus comes:

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In a world in which illness was connected with demon-possession and with consequences and the results of sin, it is easy to see how the impact of a calm strong personality could break the beliefs in demons, and how a word of grace and of authority could convince of forgiveness, and how health of the body and of mind could thus be restored. 

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This verse is undoubtedly the greatest compliment Mothers could receive.  When God wanted to use a metaphor to explain the compassion He has for His people, He compared Himself to Mothers.  Mothering and comforting are synonymous. 

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We should never forfeit out joy to sullenness, bitterness, or negativism simply because things aren't they way we would like them to be.  Nevertheless, it is typical for believers to let the changing circumstances of difficulties, confusions, trials, economic troubles, attacks, disagreements, unfulfilled expectations or ambitions, strained relationships, and so forth throw them off balance and steal their joy. (MacArthur, 1939)

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With blind arrogance and pride the Chaldeans are unmindful of the fact that they are but a rod of God's wrath for the chastisement of a sinful nation, and that on account of their own ruthlessness they too are doomed to destruction. -- So, what's our lesson for such a time as this? 

-Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, Moody Press, Chicago, (196, P. 251)

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Have you ever looked out upon this world with its injustice and violence, and asked the question: Why doesn't God do something? It looks like the wicked are prospering and the righteous are suffering. Godly people pray, but it seems as though their prayers do no good This is the problem faced and solved in Habakkuk. (Wiersbe, 1993)

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During the forty days after His Crucifixion he had been visibly present to human eyes nine times and had been touched by human hands. In His last gathering He lifted up His hands and blessed them, and, even as He blessed them, was parted from them, and as He passed from before their yearning eyes 'a cloud received Him out of their sight' (Luke 29:50-51; Acts 1:6-9).

Between us and His visible presence- between us and that glorified Redeemer who now sits at the right hand of God- that cloud still rolls.  But the eye of faith can pierce it; the incense of prayer can rise above it; through it the dew of blessing can descend. Frederic W. Farrar, D.D., F.R.S., The Life of Christ, A. L. Brut Publisher, NY (1895, p. 525)

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Jesus loved to challenge the way people think. To be great, He said, we must be humble.  To be leaders, He said, we must serve others. To be profound thinkers, He believed, we must be able to feel. Jesus taught that the identity of a human being is a matter of the heart.  He didn't use the psychological terms we have today to describe emotions, but it is easy to see that Jesus wanted us to be in touch with the way we feel. (Dr. Mark W. Baker, Jesus  The Greatest Therapist Who Ever Lived, (2007, Pp. 165-166)

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In that moment when Pilate released Barabbas, and gave Jesus to the Cross, the Roman kingdom was doomed in the economy of God. Presently the followers of Christ found their way to Rome. A halting man, feeble in bodily appearance, came into Rome as a prisoner, and receiving into his own hired house all that came to him, he taught them the things concerning Jesus.  Whom their Governor had given to the Cross.  Thus, Rome was shaken at the center; and its pagan power was broken by the coming of the King and Pilate had flung out. (G. Campbell Morgan).

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What were Judas' motives which moved him to the greatest act of treachery in history, and which made his name an epitome of all that makes a traitor?  John writes: (John 13:2) "During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him." Just as God is looking for hands to use to do His work, so the devil is looking for them too, and the devil found his instrument in Judas. But the fact remains that no man can be used without his own consent.  Judas is the man who consented to be used by the devil and by powers of evil, for Judas could have kept the devil out of his life and could have shut his heart against temper. (Barclay, 1960)

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"Human societies train people to "keep a stiff upper lip" and to "be strong" by which they mean the person should endure negative emotions.  This is bad advice.  Several branches of science have been studying human thriving.  The results, when compiled, point to the fact that people thrive when they feel emotionally good and suffer when they do not."-- Jeanine Joy, PhD.

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As Jesus and His disciples leave the Upper Room and move toward the Garden of Gethsemane they pass the temple.  Here one of the chief ornaments is a "golden vine with a cluster as large as a man." This decoration becomes the basis of a visual parable. Jesus' intimate relationship with these men cannot be stated in precise, theological terms. So, as He has done all through His ministry, He uses the motif of a vine and its branches to illustrate spiritual truth.  His union with these men is as alive as the relationship of the vine to its branches. (Fredrikson, R.L., & Ogilvie, L.J. 1985)

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Introduction: Your ability needs responsibility to expose its possibilities. Do what you can with what you have where you are. (President Theodore Roosevelt)

Background: The prayer of Ephesians 1:15-23 and the doxology of Ephesians 3:20-21 clearly establish the power of God as a key theme of the epistle.  The power provides salvation which the author understands as a release from the bondage of death and the dominion of the devil and his "powers". (Dr. Clinton E. Arnold, 1989)

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Don't just reflect on what God has done in the past circumstances, but let your request be made known to God. "Not that God needs to be told either our wants or desires; for he knows them better that we can tell him: but he will know them from us, and have us show our regards and concern, express our value of the mercy and sense of our dependence on him." Henry, M. (1994)

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For a Christian to experience depression is one thing, but the fact remains depression is not the final act in the life story of a Christian. There is a proper use of memory in times when we are depressed, remembering  God's past acts as an encouragement to believe that He will act for us again.  So, a key tool for the depressed is to reflect on what God has done in past circumstances.

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When your heart is right, your sense of well-being, or happiness, will grow.  So, to increase your happiness, take a look at the ways you are not guarding your heart.  Are you allowing someone to "steal our happiness"?  Is there a person or persons who are able to manipulate you or "make you feel bad"?  Is there someone who is actively hurting you in some way?  If so, get back in control by not allowing that person or persons to affect you in hurtful ways. (Dr. H. Cloud, 2011)

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If you’ve never experienced true depression, you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. It is darkness inside of you that you cannot get away from or talk yourself out of (Dr. John Townsend, 2005). He goes on to say, I do believe that God is enough to meet all our needs and solve all our struggles. However, the Bible teaches that God has designed us to not only open up to Him and His love but also to people who will be kind and safe with us.

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True forgiveness-- begins with oneself.  The Bible is silent on the subject of forgiving oneself, but there were implications of forgiveness behavior toward oneself, in the scriptures.

In order to forgive others, we need to first come to terms with how and why we reacted the way we did and what we can to to ensure that we do not repeat the same behavior in the future.  Self-forgiveness is both a beneficial part of the forgiveness process and a necessary skill in learning to overcome being upset with ourselves. (Luskin, 2002)

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One day this present age will have run its course.  When it has, our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, will come again and introduce a whole new order of things. But how are we to live in the meantime, as we wait for this great event? The grace of God is salvation and the self-giving of Christ on Calvary together point us to the answer.  Campbell, D. (2007). Opening up Titus (p. 76). Leominster Day On Publications.

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We are commanded to rejoice at all times and in all things... We should never forfeit our joy to sullenness, bitterness, or negativism simply because things aren't the way we would like them to be. Nevertheless, it is typical for believers to let changing circumstances of difficulties, confusions, trials, economic troubles, attacks, disagreements, unfulfilled expectations or ambitions, strained relationships, and so forth throw them off balance and steal their joy (MacArthur, 1999)

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Know what is coming and remain in what you have learned! (R.C.H. Lenski, 1937)

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Luke's report of the disciples' activities as they waited for the Spirit's promised coming at Pentecost gives a pattern we would do well to emulate if we would prepare for an outpouring of the Spirit in revival.  Though Pentecost was a unique inaugural event in the Church's life, the steps that preceded it are essential for any fresh work of the Spirit.  (Larkin, 1995)

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Paul knew the problems that arise in any Christian society. The best people can slip up.  The word Paul uses (paraptoma) does not mean a deliberate sin; but a slip that might come to someone on an icy road or a dangerous path. Now, the danger of those who are really trying to live the Christian life is that they are apt to judge the sins of others harshly  There is an element of hardness in any good people.  There are any good people to whom you could not go and sob out a story of failure and defeat; they would be bleakly unsympathetic. (Barclay, W. 2002).

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What blows do athletes receive in their face, what blows all over their body. Yet they bear all the torture from thirst to glory. Let us also overcome all things, for your reward is not a crown or a palm branch or the trumpeter proclaiming silence for the announcement of our name, but virtue and strength of mind and peace acquired ever after.

(Lightfoot (St Paul and Seneca) quotes from Seneca (Ep. Mor. IXXVIII.16). [The International Critical Commentary, Robertson and Plummer, p. 195)

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The apostle having commended their obedience for the time past, and mentioned his confidence in their obedience for the time to come, proceeds to give them commands and directions to some who were faulty, correcting some things that were amiss among them. (Henry, M. 1994).

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Jesus did not manipulate people. He did not try to back them into corners where they could do nothing but what he wanted them to do.  He always presented the truth in love and allowed people the latitude to act upon it as they saw fit.  Many responded to His message, others chose not to.  We must be careful to follow this example in our evangelism.  Always remember that just as easily as you can manipulate a person in accepting the gospel and giving their life to Jesus, someone else can manipulate them out of it.  People must choose for themselves based on the truth and love- that is the only way evangelism will be effective and long- lasting. (McClung, 1988).

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The conditions in which you live and worship as Christian believers are not those of Sinai but those of heaven.  (Ellingworth, P. 1993)

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Very few people have a conscious plan for developing their spiritual lives.  Most Christians are not intentional, but rather functional, like cars on cruise-control.  Our crammed schedules, endless to-do lists, demanding jobs and families, constant noise, information bombardment, and anxieties keep us speeding up, not slowing down.  We have routines to manage other parts of our lives.  For example, each morning we may get up, feed the cat, then make coffee, exercise, get dressed for work, and eat breakfast. (Scazzero, 2006)

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Jesus had no time for superficial professions of faith. How important is it for us to understand the warning of Jesus, for often we are so eager to increase our memberships that we do everything in our power to make a commitment to Christianity as painless as possible.  We become peddlers of cheap grace, obscuring and hiding the message of Jesus which was a call to sacrifice, to steadfast devotion, even to the point of martyrdom. (Sproul, 1999)

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Devotion to Christ cannot be less than whole-hearted (Discipleship is not periodic volunteer work on one's own terms and at one's convenience", R. J. Karris, cited in Talbert, p. 203).

Jesus was 'calling not for spectators but for recruits.' When he called men to follow him, he meant them not to tag along behind him out of curiosity, but to throw in their lot with him in commitment. (Wilcock, 1979).

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There are two invitations given in our text, the first by Jesus and the second by Philip.  The "Bridge of Credibility" is seen in the consistency of the message from Jesus to Philip and Philip to Nathanael and Nathanael's confirmation of the truth.

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The news which Jesus now heralded in Galilee was that God's hour had struck, the time which all the Old Testament had looked forward.  God's reign upon earth, a concept familiar from the prophets, was about to begin (is at hand).  All were therefore called to a change of hearth (repent) and to a belief in this good news, for which John had already prepared the way.

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We know our purpose is to serve God through an obedient lifestyle.  We can divide that lifestyle into the kind of people we are to be and the kind of tasks we are to pursue.  In Jesus' discourse, He defined the kind of people we are to be: Those who abide in Him (John 15:7-17).  The task He has set for us is disciple making (Mathew 28:18-20).  The Scriptures erase our doubts about what living an obedient lifestyle means: Be disciples, make disciples. (Pastor Bill Hull, 2010)

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A proper sense of self-worth comes from recognizing and appropriating the biblical fact that we are loved and valued by our heavenly Father.  Our value is based not on our own merit but on the fact that we are His precious children for whom Christ is willing to die. (Anderson, 2003).

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Individuality in any form is not only anti-Christian, but anti-Human, because it instantly says, 'I care for neither God nor man: I live for myself.'

(Oswald Chambers)

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The Lord gives His people perpetual joy when they walk in obedience to Him. (Dwight L. Moody)

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When do we know who we are as children of God, we do not have to rebel; we do not have to dominate and control.  We yield to the lordship of Christ, secure in our position in Him, and we relate with love and forgiveness.  (Dr. Neil T. Anderson, 2003)

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Awareness of yourself and your relationship with God are intricately related.  In fact, the challenge to shed "old false" self, in order to, live authentically in "our new" self, strikes the very core of true spirituality (Scazzero, 2006)

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Concerning the baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch, Larkin says: the act's theological significance is cleansing for sin and incorporation into the fellowship of those who have experienced Christ's salvation blessings.  (Acts 2:38-39) (Larkin, 1995).

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Stephen died with a prayer upon his lips for the very men who were murdering him; and by that they knew that he believed, and lived in the power of that belief, that the glory of God, to which he had referred at the commencement of his argument, was the very grace of God.

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The Apostle Paul turns from his doctrinal treatise to write about the quality and kind of life that is demanded of every disciple, individually and in the fellowship of Christ's church.

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Whatever helps a person become prepared to grow in Christ, learn his or her gifts, and begin to make a difference is discipling.  Leadership ties all activity together and directs disciplining toward a common goal.  Each part of the process is intentionally guided and seen as small part of the larger corporate plan.  (Hull, 1990, 2010).

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Mothers can reproduce more disciples of Jesus Christ than anyone else!

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It is one thing to talk about love and another to manifest it.  Love is manifested by active benevolence and by obedience.  (H.A. Ironside, 1920)

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Technically, from the moment of spiritual birth, every Christian is a disciple.  Disciples are born by the Spirit to be made into mature reproducers.  There are to be made in every nation; therefore, every person in the church is a disciple and as the responsibility and divine ability to be what Christ desires. (Hull, 1990, 2010)

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God ordained the discipling Church as His vehicle for reaching the world.  The Church has the abilities, finances, gifts, and Spirit to get the job done.  The unified, trained body of Christ is the most powerful expression of God on the face of the earth.  (Hull, Bill-1990)

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"We don't need another political uprising, we don't need another calm on the sea.  What we need is a special word that will burn within our hearts and give us direction from above."

-Vickie Winans

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Even though the New Testament does not seem to draw a line between physical and spiritual in defining discipleship and readiness for union with God, the common feeling is that the inner person must be awakened to the reality of God before the activities of the Christian Community become productive. 

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Lloyd Jones a Medical Doctor, who became a preacher, saw through the emptiness of worldly glamour and attractions and valued more highly building the kingdom of God through the proclamation of His Work.  (Mac Arthur, 2004)

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Selfish desires, injustice, discrimination, oppression and the desire for power fuel fights, quarrels and war.  No one is exempt from conflict as long as we live in this broken and sinful world.  It comes to every person, family, organization, business, church, community and nation.  Conflict is as universal as sin.  (Dr. Neil Anderson, 2002)

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The ministry of reconciliation is unique to the Church, and it begins with God.  We must be reconciled to others, because the ministry of reconciliation is a supernatural ministry.  That is what sets the ministry of reconciliation apart from conflict management and other secular attempts to conciliation. (Dr. Neil Anderson, 2002)

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All Christians, disciples of Christ, must realize that we do continue to sin after salvation. We continue to break God’s commandments, and to give in to temptation, even after we are born again.  Most Christians don’t know what to do when they continue to sin after salvation.  Let’s look at what the Bible says about this.

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Bitterness is to soul as cancer is to the body.  If you knew that you had a form of cancer that could be removed by surgery, you would say to the doctor, 'Go for it! Get it all.' Bitterness, like cancer affects every part of our being.  Forgiving from your heart those who have hurt you is God's way of removing the cancer. (Dr. Neil T. Anderson, 2003)

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Sometimes anxiety is rooted in a person's feelings that he is incapable of handling a new challenge.  At other ties, anxiety is rooted in setting standards that are too high, even impossible.  Sometimes anxiety is rooted in a person's feelings torn between opinions or between two people.  At times, anxiety is rooted in unresolved hostility (Dr. Charles Stanley, 1998)

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Emotional pain and weakness cause us to feel dejected, 'bound up' on the inside, blind to the goodness of God, and imprisoned in our own darkness.  Jesus came to set us free and to make us whole; He came to impart to us a deep, abiding, and consistent strength, and then to develop His strength within us.  (Dr. Charles Stanley, 1998)

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It is spiritual empowerment that has enabled black women to endure, to go on in-spite-of prohibitive barriers, to make a way where there seemingly was no way - to survive in the face of insurmountable opposition, and to survive with a grace that is almost incomprehensible  (NCNW, 1996)

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Obviously, Peter always wanted to know more and to understand better.  And that sort of inquisitiveness is a healthy feature of being a follower of Jesus--especially one who can eventually lead other to follow Him as well.  Inquisitive people make good leaders.  They are hungry to find answers.  Knowledge is power.  Whoever has the information has the advantage.  (MacArthur, 2004)

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An old pastor once said he could tell when a Christian was growing because a growing Christian would always talk more about Christ and less about himself. (MacArthur, 2004)

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In order to be a fully committed follower of Christ, one needs to feed on Him. One who is feeding on Christ will become like Him.  Such a person will manifest His purity, goodness, tenderness, compassion, His interest in others.  You take a professing Christian who is hard and bitter and critical of others, and you know he has not been feeding of Christ for a long time.  You take a Christian who is drifting into worldliness, and carelessness, who is becoming vain, and haughty and self-centered- he has not been feeding on the Savior. (Ironside, 1920)

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There is always a group of "iffy" folk round high energy  They want to be known as part of the high energy but they do not want to make the necessary investments to be an integral part.  The is no shortage of claimants to the authorship of 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions'. The expression is often attributed to the Cistercian abbot Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

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Finally, it also belonged to discipleship that customary values be radically broken (cf Mark 10:41-45)  Conditional relations are to be carefully considered, in-light-of the break with the past: It is discipleship which demands and makes possible this break, but the break itself is not to be equated with discipleship.  The call of Jesus demands and makes possible the break with the past, in as much as it gives the disciple a new future. (Weder, H. 1992).

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The focus of the our church is "Discipleship", ACTS' Goal for 2017 is "To change our world, one person at a time, for Jesus Christ".  Pastor Tom Mercer correctly says: "When the truth that God put us here for a reason -- to be a part of the greatest initiative in world history -- burrows deep roots into the soul of a believer, and they understand that no one else can fulfill that purpose in their relational world as well as they can, then something transformational happens. (Mercer, 2009)

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A group of shepherds would become the first people outside of Jesus' family to know of his arrival (Luke 2:8-20).  We often think in our society that to have an impact we must harness the forces of earthly power.  If only Christians controlled TV! If only Christians ruled the nations! Yet God's way is often very different.  The Gospel of Luke teaches us that God can take obscure and poor people and use them to transform the world.

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It is called Bethlehem-Ephratah, both names of the same city, as appears in (Genesis 35:19).  It was little among the thousands of Judah, not considerable either for the number of the inhabitants or the figure they make; it had nothing in it worthy to have this honor put upon it; but God in that, as in other instances, chose to exalt those of low degree, (Luke 1:52). (Henry, M. 1994)

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The Christian gospel is the proclamation of an event, the event of Jesus Christ.  In the Christian view of reality, Jesus is final. He is the revelation of God and the revelation of true humanity.

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The point that John is making here is that no man has seen God at any time, but God today can manifest Himself through believers loving each other.  Since the world in general is not seeing Jesus as He is presented in the World of God, the only way it will know of God's love is through the lives of believers who represent Him.

(Dr. J. Vernon McGee, 1991)

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a permanent attitude.

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"The marvelous truth of divine forgiveness is the foundation for a positive Christian self-image" (Hoekema, 1913).  Sometimes one's difficulty to forgive is directly proportioned to one's thinking too highly of oneself.  If my thinking is that I am too good to forgive you; then I have a poor self-image, in light of the fact that I am a Christian.

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Forgiveness, like love, is a concept as much as a feeling.  If your assumptions about it are extreme or unrealistic, you may never forgive, or you may forgive too quickly.

(Abrahams- Spring, 1997)

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Suffering is the crucible in which faith and confidence in God is developed.  Suffering for the sake of righteousness is intended to make us into the people that God wants us to be.  To remember the dark times when God stood by us finally made a "way of escape" is a source of nourishment to continue in faith (Anderson & Saucy, 1997)

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Isaiah was talking about a believer who obeys God yet walks in darkness.  He was not talking about the darkness of sin, nor even the kingdom of darkness.  Rather, he was talking about the darkness of uncertainty.  (Anderson & Saucy, 1997)

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You must thank God in the midst of your pain.  Tell Him you trust Him.  Praise Him for what He can do, for what He is doing, as you do so pressure will lift.  You will be given a garment of praise to replace a spirit of heaviness. (John White, The Fight, Inter Varsity, 1976).

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The reality of Peter’s view of Christian suffering being inevitable requires that we have a Christian response to suffering.  We may not always be able to identify the source of our suffering, but if we are Christ’s disciples, we can expect to be persecuted.  Jesus said, (John 15:20) …If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. 

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Whether our suffering is physical pain, poverty, or spiritual turmoil, all of these provide opportunities for us to minister to each other and not only give blessings, but also to receive blessing through service.

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Augustine said, God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full- there's nowhere for Him to put it.  Suffering empties our hands so that God can give us Himself, the true treasure of life.

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Despite our natural aversion to suffering, Scripture tells us that we can expect it and, in fact it is a necessity for spiritual growth. In the words of J.I. Packer, 'suffering Christianly is an integral aspect of biblical holiness, and a regular part of business as usual for the believer.' 

Neil T. Anderson & Robert L. Saucy, The Common Made Holy, Harvest House Publishing, Oregon, (1997, p. 368).

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That suffering is necessary for building character is one of the clearest truths of both life and Scripture.  Jesus Himself is the greatest example.  Apart from the suffering He endured to pay the consequences of our sin, He knew suffering that helped produce something in His own life.  (Neil T. Anderson & Robert L. Saucy, The Common Made Holy, Harvest House Publishing, Oregon, (1997, P. 369))

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While each individual is responsible for his or her moral/spiritual choices, the leaders who set the tone of a society are accountable as well.  In this powerful chapter Ezekiel presents God's indictment of his people's "shepherds"--their political and spiritual leadership (34:1-6)

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