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Semper Fi

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John 15:1-20; October 7 2018 

    Aaron Feuerstein is a loyal guy.  In a culture where work environments breed insecurity and layoffs are the norm, Aaron Feuerstein is a hero in the dog-eat-dog world of work.
    Decades ago, when textile mill after textile mill moved to other locations, Feuerstein kept his Malden Mills factory open in the blue collar town of Lawrence, Massachusetts.  
    When the mill burned down just a few weeks before Christmas–Feuerstein the owner of this company that manufactures Polar Fleece–announced that his workers would continue to be paid.  He also told them they would continue to receive health care benefits during the reconstruction of the factory.  Yes, he would rebuild.
    Even when a handful of workers sued him, in spite of his unparalleled generosity to them, he empathized with their plight.  “They are poor people,” Feuerstein explained, and with their lawyers tempting them with astronomical settlement figures, they could not resist.  He loyally forgave them even for their own lack of loyalty.
    Susan Stamberg  interviewed  Aaron Feuerstein for NPR’s “Morning Edition in a series on loyalty.  Aaron Feuerstein explained why he did what he did. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said about his decision to keep his employees on the payroll after the fire.  His actions reflected one way “to save” his community and his people.  They needed him and he did not abandon them.  Without his grace, their futures would have been bleak. 
    The loyalty series led Stamberg to talk to teenagers, sports fans, and military leaders–as well as Mr. Feuerstein–on the subject of loyalty.  Some interviews were inspiring.  Most however revealed the sorriness of the human condition.  Most demonstrated that while hope springs eternal, loyalty springs ephemeral.
    We learned, for instance, that teenagers dole out loyalty on a case by case base.  Say you have a movie date scheduled, but then out of the blue your extremely cool fantasy crush who didn’t even seem to know your name calls you up and wants to get together on the night you had your date scheduled.  What do you do?  Simple.  You ditch date number one. 
    Best Friend tells you her deep dark secret and begs you never to tell.  Cross your heart and swear by the power of Britney Spears halter-top.  But what if the secret is drug use?  What if the secret is bulimia.
    Susan Stamberg found that whether the issue is boyfriends, drugs, or health, everything depends on the circumstances.  Loyalty ebbs and flows. 
    In the field of business, the loyalty that once bonded individual workers with a company for a life time went out with the Royal Typewriter.  Loyalty fluctuates with the economy.  When profits go up, loyalty rises. When profits go into the tank, loyalty dissolves.  
    Aaron Feuerstein stands out as the except to the rule of profits first.  Business, for Feuerstein, is also about fidelity, trust, the way people are treated.

    In the 15th chapter of John, Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  This section of John’s Gospel is called “the farewell discourse.” Jesus is speaking to his disciples on the last night of his life.  Later, when his disciples recall these words, they link them  with the cross.      
    In a world where loyalty is an endangered species, Jesus stand as an exception to the standard operating procedure.  He remains loyal to his friends and to his mission to the end. 
    “I will never leave you, nor forsake you,” God tells the Hebrew children.  God hangs tough with us.  And God never changes.
    We admire loyalty because we know when we see it, it is a reflection of the nature and character of God.  We admire loyalty, because we know when we see it, we have witnessed a bit of Christ-likeness.
    If the factory burns down, no one really expects the boss to continue to pay benefits.  If profits are down, nobody expects to Board of Directors not to lay off workers.  If things nose dive, nobody expects loyalty to count for much.  
        I mean, who can you really trust?  Corporations?  Look at Jimmy Johns, Fed Ex and Wal Mart, all of whom cheated their employees of rightful wages.  Look at all the retirees who lost their shirts in the Arizona Baptist Foundation.
    But here and there you see a few glimpses of what loyalty means.  According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Stanford School of Business, companies get what they deserve in the way they treat their employees.  Companies that treat their people right get enormous dividends: high rates of productivity and low rates of turnover.   Companies that treat their employees badly experience the exact opposite–and then end up complaining about the lack of loyalty and lousy performance.  These are “toxic” workplaces, Pfeffer said.  Pfeffer disputes much of the conventional wisdom in the current conversation about work and business.  Loyalty isn’t dead, he insists, but toxic companies are driving people away.  There are plenty of people out there who long for good companies, but the increasing number of toxic companies are giving all companies a bad name.
    When Susan Stamberg interviewed people in the military on this subject,  she discovered that loyalty is one of the virtues most honored.  When Marines declare “SEMPER FI” (“always faithful”) they are referring to more than a motto.
    Best-selling author William Manchester fought on Sugar Loaf Hill in Okinawa during World War II.  Thirty-four years later, he visited that bloody mountain side where he had fought as a Marine.  This is what he recalls:
    “I understand, at last, why I jumped hospital that long-ago Sunday and, in violation of orders, returned to the front and almost certain death.
    “It was an act of love.  Those men on the line were my family, my home.  They were closer to me than I can say, closer than any friends had been or ever would be.  They were comrades; three of them had saved my life.  They had never lt me down, and I couldn’t do it to them.  I had to be with them, rather than let them die and me live with the knowledge that I might have saved them.  Men, I now knew, do not fight for flag or country, for the Marine Corps or glory or any other abstraction.  They fight for their friends.”
    Greater love hath no man than this….Today we remember the One who  pledged his loyalty to us, and then gave his life as an undying and eternal symbol of  that loyalty.  His sacrificial death is the single-most important act in human history.  In that death, we know that he will never leave, he will never forsake us. 

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Session News

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Session News:

There was not much action but it seems there was mostly talking at the meeting. The best news is Session renewed Pastor Terry’s contract for another year with the same agreement as in the past except giving him a few (maybe two) Sundays off. Pastor is pleased to be our leader and we are glad to have him. We are leased to have him and his wife, Barbara, in our church family. Usually behind every good man there is a woman to keep him on the up and up. This is the case with the Swicegoods. Pastor Terry want to stay at P.P.C. as long as he is able.

Our church treasurer reported income for January and February 2018.

Approval was given to take part in the ONE GREAT HOUR OF SHARING program. This will be in April to help those in need in the world.

Elder Linda Maxwell was approved to be our second Elder Commissioner to Presbytery meetings. THANK YOU LINDA.

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Welcome Kira!

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As the new Secretary in the church office, I would like to take the opportunity to introduce myself. My name is Kira Gibson. I was born and raised in California but Arizona has been my home for the last 15 years (10 years in the Surprise area). I am mommy to my wonderful 10 year old son, Royce (I know all parents say that about their children but it really is true).

The majority of my career was spent in commercial lending but, after taking a hiatus to be a stay at home mom, I am happy to be at the First Presbyterian Church. I would like to thank Lana for all of her helpful training and guidance. I would also like to thank you all for making me feel so welcome.

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Pastoral News

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MORE NEWS: Pastor Terry will have been our Interim Pastor for 2 years this May. When he asked me to do coffee with him back in November or December, I was sure he was going to tell me that he was done and it was time to find our permanent Pastor! But, we talked and Pastor Terry told me he felt a “calling” to continue with us. He was going to go to talk with folks at Presbytery and I asked if I could go with him. At that meeting, I learned that it is possible to extend contracts for an Interim if the church is not ready to pursue a permanent replacement. Mary Lynn Walters from the Committee on Ministry with the Presbytery joined us for our Session meeting in March. Pastor Terry read us his statement requesting that we extend his contract for another year which would include a 60 day notice if either of us (Session or Pastor) wants to terminate the contract. Discussion from Elders included the fact that Pastor Terry has been excellent for our church. He has a gift for preaching that God gave him and we are the lucky recipients. While financially, we have made some progress, we still are not in a place to hire a permanent Pastor which will dramatically increase our Pension dues. We all feel blessed to have Pastor Terry and still need a year or more before we begin the process to hire a permanent Pastor.

So, GOOD NEWS! Pastor Terry’s contract will be renewed until May 2019 when we can re-visit for another extension. He will receive the same salary with the addition of 2 more days off for the year. In May of 2019, we will evaluate our position again.

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Personnel News

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When Lana was hired as our church secretary in June of 2017, we knew that she would not be with us long, but her skill level outweighed the fact that she would be there temporarily. Our office needed a lot of help. We tasked Lana specifically with cleaning up computer files and cleaning up data in Servant Keeper, our database that has our membership information. She stuck with us through non-working AC units, non-working heat, printer/copier issues, etc. and managed to do all that we asked.

So over the last few weeks, Faye Owens, Pastor, Lana and I have been interviewing replacement candidates for Lana. We probably received about 100 resumes through Craig’s list and Indeed. We attempted to interview probably 10 candidates altogether but at least 3 did not show up. Two candidates were well-qualified and we finally chose Kira Gibson who will start on March 20th. Lana will be training her.

We are very grateful to Lana for her assistance during this process. It was long and tedious but Kira is committed to being with us for the long haul.

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In memory


Hazel Heinz passed away on March 6, 2018. She, her husband Al and three children came to PPC about 60 years ago when the Methodist Church closed. Her family had these words to share:

“She lived a life of purpose and service. She could always be depended on to step into the breach and do what needed to be done. She was a woman of sharp intellect and strong opinions, and lived her life with integrity, according to her beliefs and principles.”

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Locked In a Room With Open Doors

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The Scripture Reading    John 20:19-31 April 8 2018
They are gathered together on a Sunday evening in a room with locked doors.  Doors that are not only locked, but bolted, fortified, and guarded.  Their leader, Jesus, has just been executed, and they fear they are being hunted down by the Jews.  If it happened to Jesus, it could happen to them.
They are leader-less and direction-less.  They have given up everything to follow Him–leaving jobs and family behind–and it led them nowhere.  Now here they are living in a maelstrom of anxiety and uncertainty.
At that very moment the Risen Jesus appears to them and says, “Peace be with you.”  He appears to them, somehow passing through the locked doors while they remain locked.   And lest there be any doubt about who He is  he points to his riven hands and pierced side. They are filled with joy at seeing their Lord.    When Jesus stands among them, fear is banished, and joy replaces it.
Then Jesus gives them work to do: “As the Father sent me, so send I you.”  As the Father gave me a mission, I pass that mission on to you.  What was my work is now your work.
A week later they are gathered together again.  Same thing.  Locked doors.  Same feeling.  Fear of being found by the Jews.  One of the disciples, Thomas, had not been with them a week before.  The disciples tell him that they had seen the Lord.  “That’s o.k. for you, Thomas says, but unless I see him before me; in fact, I don’t believe in any of this spirit and ghost stuff.  Unless I can actually place my fingers where the nails pierced his hands and thrust my hand into his side where the spear was, I will not believe.”
Immediately the risen Jesus appears among them, with the same salutation, “Peace be with you.”  Peace…..He knew they were afraid.  So he says, “Whenever I come to you, I will bring you peace.”  Then he singles out Thomas and says, “Come, and put your finger where the nails were, and thrust out your hand and put it in my side.  Stop doubting and believe.”
And Thomas gasps, “My Lord and my God.”
Locked doors.  Locked hearts.
Thomas and the other disciples have barricaded themselves in that room.  What they are feeling is understandable and forgivable.   Fear–that primal instinct for survival, that instinct  that saves us from danger–fear was dominating them.
Locked in a room with open doors.    They had tried to close themselves off from the Jews, and in so doing they had locked out God’s miraculous possibilities.  They had locked out the promise of  transformation.  They had locked out the resurrection.
And from this story Thomas becomes the patron saint of doubt.  Thomas is lifted up as the prime example of a closed heart.  I know he gets a hard time from a lot of preachers, who tell their congregations, “Don’t doubt; just believe.  Just do it.”  But it isn’t that easy.  I like Thomas a lot.  I like him, I guess, because I’m a lot like him.
For I have in mind exactly what God can do and God cannot do. I have defined God.  I have limited God to my own understanding and experience.   I know that God can do this, but I doubt that God cannot do that.    There have been many times in my life when I doubted that God could crack open my closed heart.  There have been so many times in my life when I doubted  that God could transform my old habits and attitudes.  There have been many seasons when I doubted that God could bring new life to a soul as stubborn as mine.
So I love Thomas, and I think that if I were a Roman Catholic, and could find one of those little plastic saints that one keeps on one’s dashboard, that instead of St. Jude, the patron saint of travelers, I would place one of Thomas on my dashboard, so that I could travel onward with one to whom Jesus shattered doubts with his presence.”
I will tell you a story.  A woman I know  had cancer.  She knew it.  Her doctors told her they were   fairly certain of it.  All the pre-op tests indicated it.  Surgery was scheduled.   She tried to prepare her children and husband for it.  She tried to prepare herself emotionally for the long battle ahead.  Her church prayed for her. She goes into surgery, and afterward the doctor comes out and tells her husband,  “No cancer.”
A friend of hers comments, “I prayed for a miracle.  But honestly I was  surprised when my prayers were answered.”
God continuously the God of the unexpected, the surprising, the miraculous.  God continuously the God who brings life out of death, joy out of sorrow, good out of evil.
When you read stories about the resurrection, there are a lot of conflicting information.    In some cases, the risen Lord passes through doors, which suggests a kind of spiritual resurrection.  In other cases, he eats a meal with his disciples, and invites Thomas to put his hands in His side, suggesting a physical resurrection. I’m not sure how to interpret this, for it is essentially mysterious and unfathomable.  Nevertheless, the most important proof of the resurrection to me is that the disciples were transformed.
They were transformed.  Imprisoned by fear, they leave the room emboldened in courage.  Peter, the cowardly disciple who denied his Lord three times, becomes the inspiring preacher at Pentecost, standing up in public to declare his allegiance to Jesus.  The disciples become ten times the persons they were before the resurrection, and they take the world by storm.  In the year 50, there were 1,400 of them.  In the year 100, 7,500.  In the year 150–40,000, in the year 200–220,00. And in the year 300–6,300,000.  Incredible.
Beginning that day in the locked room, the disciples learn that with the Risen Lord at their side, they can take on everything that life throws at them.  They learn that with the Risen Lord at their side, the powers of death and hell cannot beat them down.  They learn that by giving themselves over to the Lord each day, they find a strength even in their weakness, and that the Lord will always do more for them they can do for themselves.
The author Frederick Buechner sums this up in a lovely passage:
“So much has happened to us all over the years.  So much has happened within us and through us.  We are to take time to remember what we can about it…..we have survived, you and I.  Maybe that is at the heart of our remembering.  After twenty years, forty years, sixty years, or eighty, we have made it to this year, this day.  We needn’t have made it.  Thee were times we never thought we would and nearly didn’t.  There were times we almost hoped we wouldn’t, were ready to give the whole thing up. Each must speak for himself, for herself, but I can say for myself that I have seen enough sorrow and pain to turn the heart to stone.  Who hasn’t?  Many times I have chosen the wrong road, or the right road for the wrong reason.  Many times I have loved the people I love too much for either their good or mine, and others I might have loved, I have missed loving and lost…
“To remember my life is to remember countless times when I might have given up, gone under, when humanly speaking I might have gotten lost beyond the power of any to find me.  But I didn’t.  I have not given up.  And each of you, with all the memories you have and the tales you could tell, you also have not given up.  You also are survivors and are here.  And what does that tell us, our surviving ?  It tells us that weak as we are, a strength beyond our strength has pulled us through at least this far, at least to this day.  Foolish as we are, a wisdom beyond our wisdom has flickered up just often enough to light us if not to the right path through the forest, at least to a path that leads forward, that is bearable.  Faint of heart as we are, a love beyond our power to live has kept our hearts alive.  So it is possible to find peace–a peace that comes from looking back and remembering to remember that though most of the time we failed to see it, we were never really alone.”
The words Frederick Buechner.
The disciples thought they were alone.  Some days I think I’m alone.  Some days you think you are alone.  But in those moments, Christ comes through locked doors and locked hearts, and says, “Peace be with you.”   And we know then that all is well.
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Christ’s Imperishable Legacy

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Christ’s Imperishable Legacy
Easter Sunday, 2018
Matthew 28:16-20

When I was a young minister, I always felt I had to preach my best sermons on Easter Sunday. You know–big crowds expect a great message.
But a wise old preacher by the name of Ernie Campbell told a group of us young preachers in a preaching class, “Boys (there were no women in the class). Boys, you don’t have to be good on Easter Sunday. It’s the Sunday after Easter when you have to be good.”
I now understand what he meant. There is nothing that any preacher can say on Easter which will enhance the day. It is like a poet trying to find the right words to describe a sunrise in the mountains. No matter how gifted the poet, no matter how suitable the words, nothing can be written to adequately describe how the sunrises kindles our hope and taps into our awe at the sheer gift of a brand new day.
So today I would like to be as simple as possible and describe what Easter means to me. Actually, what I want to do is to describe what Jesus Christ means to me, for Easter is supremely about Jesus Christ–and his resurrection from the dead, which has never been better described than in the words of rock group U2:
“The resurrection was when the universe exploded in one man’s life.”
So let’s think today about what Jesus Christ means. Let’s think about the imperishable legacy which Jesus Christ has bequeathed to us and to all of humankind.


When we consider the legacy of Jesus Christ, we have to remember that Jesus Christ left behind four things. He left us HIS TEACHINGS, HIS LIFE, HIS CHURCH, AND HIS PRESENCE.
First, Jesus gave us his teachings. His teachings become more and more important with the passing of the years.
“Those who live by the sword will perish by the sword,” Jesus said, and we can see that prophecy coming to pass in Syria and Afghanistan this morning. .
Jesus teachings aren’t just a compilation of wise aphorisms which are meant to be pondered. No, his teachings are always like dynamite, thrown at us, exploding in our lives.
I look at our country, in moral free-fall, and see how the teachings of Jesus serve as a moral compass for our land.
Just look at some facts with me. In the last 50 years there has been a 560% increase in violent crime in our country; a 419% increase in illegitimate births; a quadrupling in divorce rates; a tripling of the percentage of children living in single-parent homes; more than a 200% increase in the teenage suicide rate.
Some of our best writers have spoken eloquently on these problems. When the late Walker Percy was asked what concerned him most about America’s future, he replied: “Probably the fear of seeing America, with all it’s great strength and beauty and freedom…gradually subside into decay through default and be defeated, not by the communist movement, demonstrably a bankrupt system, but from within by weariness, boredom, cynicism, greed and in the end helplessness before its great problems.”
And John Updike has written: “The fact that, compared to the inhabitants of Africa and Russia, we still live well cannot ease the pain of feeling we no longer live nobly.”
The legacy of Jesus’ teachings clash with our culture. It’s not that his teachings have been tried and found wanting. It’s just that they have never been tried. And if we in the church are going to make any dent in this secular, demonic culture of ours, we will have to study Jesus’ teachings with a hunger and live them out with a fierceness we have never dreamed of.


Second, Jesus left us the legacy of his life. There was a congruence to Jesus. His words and deeds were one. It’s not only what he taught, but that he lived out what he taught that continues to draw us to his side.
For a moment think with me how influential the life of Jesus Christ has been upon human history.
Consider the lives that he has mastered, the deeds he has inspired. Consider the institutions that owe their founding impetus to him.
Consider the power of his name as it has been sounded in hospitals, at cemetery grave sites, in prison cells, in services of marriage and baptism.
Consider the affects of his presence–on the weak to make them strong, on the proud to make them humble, on the greedy to make them generous, on the evil to make them good, on the upright to make them loving.
Give him the test of absence. Imagine the poverty of a world without Him; without carols to herald His Nativity, without the impact of his life and the impress of his words, a world bereft of His cross and unsupported by the hope that issues from his resurrection.
We see in the life of Jesus Christ the highest and best which anyone can achieve. And in seeing him, we aspire to rise a bit higher.


The third part of the legacy of Jesus is his gift of the church. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church, and by that, he meant that all the powers of evil would conspire to undo the church, and undo those of us who are part of the church.
Let’s face it, for all its weaknesses, the church is all we have. It’s all we have to grow in grace and love for each other. And it is the only hope our society has from its moral free fall. The church on every street corner in America should be the point of incandescence, where regardless of denominationalism or theology, the Christian life of the community bursts into flames.
If Jesus is God’s love personified, so the church is God’s love organized. So the church, at its best, represents not dogma in search of obedience, but love in search of form. Everything we do in church, from the meeting of our committees, from the pastoral prayer in worship, from teaching children, from visiting homebound people, w e do for one reason and one reason alone, to manifest the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It is so good to see some of you here today I haven’t seen for awhile, which reminds me of the man who told his pastor, “I don’t like to come to church because when I come the church always sings the same old hymns, Silent Night,” and Christ the Lord is Risen Today.”
I want to be serious and speak personally now to those of you who are here this morning without a church home. Maybe you attended pre-school here many years ago…maybe your parents or grand parents attend here but you do not come regularly. I want to say without fear of contradiction that God wants you in church….regularly…every Sunday. God has so much to say to you, so much to teach you, so much to bless you but you will not find that by staying home on Sunday morning. I pray that what I am saying this morning will touch your heart, and you will be back next week, and the week after that.


The fourth part of the legacy of Jesus is the gift of his ongoing presence in the world. He told his disciples, “I am with you always, even to the close of the age.”
The reason I believe in the resurrection is that I have experienced the presence of Christ in my own life and have seen Christ working in many lives. Malcolm Muggeridge once made a statement that I believe all of the early disciples would have subscribed to: “I am sure there was a resurrection but I don’t in the least care whether the stone was moved or not moved, or what anybody saw, or anything like that. I am absolutely indifferent to that. But there must have been a resurrection because Christ is alive now 2,000 years later. There is no question at all about that.”
There are quiet evidences of the presence of Christ in people’s lives. Let me tell you a story where you find it in a place you might least expect it.
A few years ago an Orthodox Priest by the name of Anthony Ugolnik wrote a letter to the New York Times about David Koresh and the Branch Davidian stand-off in Waco, Texas. You recall that there was a battle between law enforcement officers and the followers of David Koresh. Eighty of Koresh’s followers and four A.T.F. agents were killed in a battle during a standoff in April, 1993.
Father Ugolnik criticized the Times and other media for associating Koresh and the Branch Davidians with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, because, in so doing, the public is quick to think that all Seventh Day Adventists are crazy cultists.
Father Ugolnik then went on to testify to his own personal experience. He writes, “As a priest of the Orthodox Church, I am hardly a missionary for the Seventh Day Adventists. In the Vietnam War, however, I served as an Army medic with many S.D.A.’s, as they were called. As conscientious objectors, these young men refused to bear arms but agreed to serve as medical personnel. Most of those I trained and served with were black Southerners.
“Vegetarian, cheerful, stolidly faithful to their tradition, they were harassed mercilessly by drill instructors, who routinely insulted their beliefs. Some were chosen to participate in a “white coat” program, where they served as human subjects for what they thought was humanitarian research. Later, the program was identified as a facet of our germ warfare program. (Cynics point out that Seventh Day Adventist were chosen as guinea pigs because their beliefs forbid them to bring suit in civil court.)
“Most often, Seventh Day Adventists were sent to combat units, where without even a sidearm they crawled directly into enemy fire to patch the wounded and retrieve the dead. Their casualty rates were among the highest of the war. There are names of Seventh Day Adventists etched in the wall of the Vietnam Memorial. Their memory is seared into those hapless cynics who served with them. They were the bravest, most committed, most heroic Americans I have ever known.
“Given that, they openly confessed Jesus as Lord, a habit the mass media find annoying. I guarantee that Hollywood or the secular press ill never tell their story as a counterweight to people like David Koresh. But to honor the memory of those whose faith led them to die, rather than take up arms, we can spare the Seventh Day Adventists in condemnation of cults.”
Whatever theological disagreements we may have with our Seventh Day Adventist friends, here are people for whom the presence of Christ is real. May God raise up a few Christians here in Arizona for whom faith in Christ is as much a reality as it was for this poor black southern boys who died in South East Asia.
The legacy of Jesus–HIS TEACHINGS, HIS LIFE, HIS CHURCH, HIS PRESENCE–that’s what we are commemorating today. That’s what we are celebrating today. Christ our Lord is risen. He is risen, indeed.

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