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Pastor's Message

January 2018

posted Dec 26, 2017, 1:56 PM by Christine Rice

Dear People of God,

             Throughout most of January we are in the Epiphany season.  Epiphany means a revelation, a manifestation, an unveiling: something is brought to light and understood more clearly.  As in, “Oh! Now I get it.”  In the midst of winter darkness, Epiphany is the season of light.

             Epiphany begins with the magi’s visit to the child Jesus on January 6th, after the 12 days of Christmas.  Epiphany concludes with the Transfiguration of Jesus, this year on February 11th, just before Lent starts.  As we go through the season of Epiphany, important things are brought to light about Jesus.  On January 7th we celebrate the baptism of Jesus.  As Jesus is baptized, God’s voice proclaims, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mark 1:11.  God will speak similar words from the cloud as Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop in the presence of his disciples.  “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

            Let me back up here to an epiphany moment on New Year’s Day: the Name of Jesus.  Like all Jewish baby boys in that day, Jesus was circumcised and named on his eighth day of life.  What’s in a name?  The name Jesus or Yeshua or Joshua, means “God saves/He saves”.  The angel said to Joseph, “She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21.  We begin a new calendar year in the name of Jesus who saves us from our sins.

            The season of Epiphany begins with the Visitation of the Magi on January 6th.  We often call them the three kings, but we don’t know that they were kings or even that there were 3 of them.  Three gifts are mentioned, but the Gospel of Matthew simply says, “magi”: the plural form of the word.  The wisemen or magi from the East, may have been astrologers.  They did follow a star to find the baby Jesus.  We often have the magi arrive on Christmas Eve with the shepherds, which is fine for Christmas pageants.  But it may have actually been some time before the magi found Jesus.  Matthew 2:11 says, “On entering the house (not the stable), they saw the child with Mary his mother: and they knelt down and paid him homage”.  In other words, they worshiped the baby Jesus.

            I’m remembering a felt banner of the wise men that my grandma hung in her house at Christmas time.  One magi had light skin, one had medium brown skin and one had dark brown skin.  The banner made the point that Jesus is the Savior for all peoples, all races and countries of people.

            The Bible does not tell us much about the magi, because the point is not who they were, but what they reveal, what they bring to light about Jesus.  The magi reveal that Jesus is for all ethnicities of people.  They also reveal that Jesus is worthy of our finest gifts.  The magi offered Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh.  These were precious gifts at that time and their value must have helped the holy family, when they fled to Egypt to escape the murder attempt of cruel Herod.  How do we offer our gifts to Jesus today to help needy children and people in our community and world? 

            The magi knelt down and worshiped the baby Jesus.  Although he was just a peasant baby, they were overjoyed when they found him.  They worshiped Jesus, because they somehow knew that he was the Savior.  We worship Jesus, because we know he is the Savior.  As the familiar saying goes, “Wise men and women still seek him.”   



Happy New Year and Epiphany,  Pastor Dennis

 

December 2017

posted Nov 30, 2017, 9:21 AM by Christine Rice

Dear People of God,

             “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  Mark 1:1.  On Sunday, December 3rd we begin a new church year and the season of Advent.  It is the Year of Mark.  That is, most of our Sunday gospel readings will come from the Gospel of Mark, rounded out with generous helpings from the Gospel of John.  Many scholars think Mark is the earliest of the four biblical gospels, put into written form around 70 AD.   Mark is also the shortest of the gospels.  Some have described Mark as a passion narrative with a long introduction.  Fully a third of the book (chapters 11-16) are dedicated to the last week of Jesus’ earthly life.  Some have called Mark “The Go Gospel”, since Jesus is always on the go. “Immediately” is a favorite word in Mark.  Mark’s style is fast-paced, lacking smooth transitions between episodes and spare in details.  I would encourage you to read the whole Gospel of Mark in one sitting (or in a couple sittings) sometime this Advent season to get the full story line and flavor of it.  It’s not long: only 16 chapters.

            “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”. The gospel hits the ground running with the prophet John in the wilderness, baptizing people for repentance and crying out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  Mark gives us no birth narrative, but he tells us clearly that Jesus is the true Son of God and that Jesus, the Messiah, is good news.   And Jesus is good news (gospel), because he dies to forgive the sins of all people, and rises from death to give true and lasting life.

            Advent. During most of December we are in the season of Advent.  As you may well know, “advent” means the coming: the arrival.  Advent is a season of waiting and preparation.  But it’s not really the commercial, consumer preparation bombarding us everywhere.  It is the preparation of minds and hearts to meet our Savior Jesus.  Prayer, worship, Bible study, holy communion: these are good ways to prepare ourselves. We prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, his first advent among us as a tiny human baby: the miracle of Immanuel, God-with-us, in human flesh.  We prepare for Jesus’ second coming among us at the end of time as Lord and Judge of all.  And since we have absolutely no idea when this will be, we keep on living lives of faith and hope and commitment.  And we prepare for what some have called Jesus’ third Advent: his third coming among us.  This is simply Jesus’ constant presence with us now, (“I am with you always” Matt 28:20), through the Holy Spirit, on the faces of our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in the faces of our neighbors, especially our neighbors in need.  The best way to prepare for Jesus’ advents among us is to follow his great commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

May the Lord bless and keep you this Advent and Christmas season,  

Pastor Dennis

 

November 2017

posted Oct 31, 2017, 9:52 AM by Christine Rice

Dear People of God,

            

             I took the hummingbird feeder down yesterday for the winter.  We have had some frosty nights already, so I have plugged in the dog’s outside water dish and the heated dog-bed inside Buddy’s dog house.  These are always sure signs for me that late fall and winter are approaching. I really enjoy all the gold and red leaves on the trees this time of year.  At the same time, it’s sad to see the flowers die and the garden come to an end.  I always think that November is a good month to remember our own mortality and to trust all the more in the new and everlasting life freely given to us through Christ Jesus.

            During the month of November we are finishing up the current church year and preparing for the next.  We are wrapping up the year of “mostly Matthew” and preparing for the year of “mainly Mark.”

            November 5th is All Saints Sunday in the church calendar.  All Saints Sunday celebrates the whole baptized people of God, both living and dead, who are the body of Christ.  Just as November brings the dying of the landscape in many northern climates, like our own, the readings and liturgy call us to remember all who have died in Christ and whose baptism is now complete.  At the Lord’s table we gather with the faithful of every time and place (“the communion of saints” as it says in the Apostles Creed).  We trust that the promises of God will be fulfilled and that all tears will be wiped away in the New Jerusalem.

            We hear “saints” and we naturally think of famous saints like St. Peter, St. Paul or Mother Theresa.  But as the reformer Martin Luther would remind us, we are all at the same saints and sinners.  We are all sinners for sure, but at the same time saints, because of the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ.  During the prayers on Sunday November 5, I will read the names of FLC members who have died in the faith in the past year or so: Esther Everett, Lovelia Case, Gladys Wahle, Ron Koester, Roberta Saville, Shirley Crowley, Joanne Pugh, Karen McLean and Terry Widner.  During the prayers that Sunday, there will be time for you to name aloud your loved ones who have died in the faith recently.

            Christ the King Sunday concludes the church year on Nov 26th.  On the final Sunday of the church year, we celebrate Jesus Christ as the goal and redemption of humanity and all creation.  Our National Day of Thanksgiving falls on November 23rd.  It is wonderful to gather with family and friends and give thanks to God for all his goodness to us. Of course, for Christians, every day is a Thanksgiving Day to God our Maker, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Every day we thank and praise God for daily bread and for forgiveness, life and salvation.

 

Serving God and Neighbor with you,  Pastor Dennis

 

October 2017

posted Sep 28, 2017, 11:14 AM by Christine Rice

             As I write on the last official day of summer, I am missing the warm sunshine, but giving thanks for the cooler, wetter weather which is helping to put out the fires.  We really need the rain after a dry, hot summer.  At the same time we continue to pray for everyone who is getting way too much rain and wind from the hurricanes in the Caribbean and our south eastern states.

             This October Lutheran Christians around the world are celebrating Reformation 500.  On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses (debate topics), on the Wittenberg Chapel door.  How God forgives sins and the sale of indulgences for forgiveness were high on Luther’s debate topics.  Luther knew, from reading the Bible, that Almighty God grants us the forgiveness of our sins through the gracious gift of his Son Jesus Christ.  No money changed hands with the the church when sins are forgiven.  Because of the death and resurrection of our Savior Jesus, we are freely given forgiveness, life and salvation.  We are set free from trying to earn, or pay, our way with God.  Instead we are free to care for our neighbors in need.  As Luther said, “God does not need my good works, but my neighbor does,” and “Good works do not make a Christian, but a Christian does good works.

            ” This leads into Luther’s understanding of vocations.  I that day it was  thought that Priests monks and nuns had the highest and most God pleasing vocations.  Luther rightly thought that anything which serves the neighbor in need is a good vocation (whether or not you get paid for doing it.)  Luther said that when a mother changes her baby’s diapers, or a farmer shovels manure to grow food for people, that is as pleasing to God as when a monk utters his prayers.  Whatever you are doing in your job, school, church or community, do it to the glory of God and the benefit of the neighbor in need.

            As you know, a major contribution of Martin Luther was translating the Bible from Latin to German.  Soon, other reformers translated the Bible into English, French and other languages so that people could read the truth of God’s word for themselves.

            Another saying of the Reformation is, “The church reformed and always reforming.” We are not stuck in the 16th century.  Luther was greatly aided in his day by the recent invention of the printing press.  Today we can use radio, email, text messages, the internet and websites.

            Martin Luther was far from perfect.  He said some horrible things about our Jewish friends.  The Lutheran Church has publicly apologized for Luther’s anti-semitic writings.  But God did use Luther and other reformers of the faith for great good. God continues to work through you and all his servants today.  In what ways is God working through you to show and tell the good news and saving love of Jesus Christ?  Our whole lives are a “Thank you!” to God for freely loving and saving us through Jesus.

 

Serving God and neighbor together with you,

Pastor Dennis

 

September 2017

posted Aug 28, 2017, 11:16 AM by Christine Rice

 

              Whew! It was a hot and at times, smoky August.  I greatly enjoyed my vacation and the garden is really producing now, but I’m sure we are all looking forward to cooler weather.  September is usually one of our nicer months here in the Kittitas Valley.  The sun is still shining, but no longer at 90 or 100 degree strength.

            We did have some deaths in the congregation this summer: Shirley Crowley, Carol Thovson,  Roberta Saville and Joanne Pugh.  We miss these wonderful people, but we trust in the cross and resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ and the everlasting, resurrection life he gives.  August 18, 19 and 20 was the first time I have had 3 funerals in 3 days in my 28 years of ministry.  My thanks again to everyone who helped make those services happen: Betty & Ralph Kramlich—music, Jim Stolte—sound and projection, Christine Rice—bulletins, and Estelle & Sheila Johnson and crew-- all the food and beverage afterwards.

             September always brings changes with it.  For students and teachers it is, of course, back to school time.  Here at First Lutheran, the relaxed calendar of summer, gives way to more opportunities for learning and service.  Youth and Adult Sunday School resume on Sept. 17.  Confirmation ministry begins again with a pizza feed on Wed Sept 13.  The quilters and the Thursday Bible study group have been meeting all summer, but more folks usually join in come September.  At the E.WA-ID synod level, our new bishop Kristen Kuempel has been at work for a while, but will be installed on Sept 16 by our national bishop of the ELCA, Elizabeth Eaton.

            Changes happen in the church, just like they do in life.  But God is always with us and our Savior Jesus walks with us every step of the way.  We are still in the year of Matthew for our Sunday Gospel readings.  The name Matthew actually means “disciple”.  As we begin a new school year together, perhaps it is a good time to stop and ask ourselves, how am I being a disciple of Jesus?  What else might I do to share the love of Jesus with others?  What would I like to do through my church and community to share the good news of Jesus with others?

            May you all have a great time at the fair and rodeo and I look forward to seeing you in church,

                                                                                                           

Pastor Dennis

 

July~August 2017

posted Jun 28, 2017, 8:44 AM by Christine Rice

 

              “Don’t plant anything until Mother’s Day. Don’t give up on anything until Father’s Day.”  That was wise advice to me recently from one of our members here at First Lutheran.

              There is a sage plant in our back yard, right up against the house and deck. It has been there since we moved here in 2003.  It has become quite large, except that this year most of it died during our long, cold winter.  I clipped off a lot of dead stuff.  I was just going to dig it out, except then some green branches started appearing at the front of the bush.  Right now there are beautiful little purple flowers on the green branches, so I decided to let it be.  Plus we have a dog that likes to dig craters in any new bare patch of dirt.

            We also have quite a few roses in the yard that looked really dead after winter.  Eventually I had to prune off the dead wood almost back to ground level.  Finally in the first or even second week of June, little reddish-green sprouts started up from the roots.  It seemed like a little resurrection.  New life emerged from what looked quite dead.

            Throughout July, August, September and October we are in the long green, Sundays after Pentecost season of the church year.  The altar paraments and banners are green to remind us that this is the growing season in our faith and church year, just like it is the growing season for nature and farmers and gardeners alike.  On Sundays we focus in on the teachings of Jesus from the Gospels of Matthew and John and we chew on the Book of Romans as our second reading for most of the summer.  Romans: now there is a real “meat and potatoes” book of the Bible.  Paul’s letter to the Romans was certainly a pivotal book for understanding God’s saving grace for us and justification by faith for Martin Luther and other reformers of the church throughout the ages.  We recently had Romans 5:6 on Father’s Day.  “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly….But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us”  This is great and saving good news for sinners like me and you!

            I pray that you will keep green and growing in the Spirit this summer.  Remember that growth in the Spirit also requires rest.  So I pray that you will also have some time for rest and relaxation this summer.

 

Serving God and neighbor together with you,

Pastor Dennis

 

June 2017

posted Jun 1, 2017, 12:28 PM by Christine Rice   [ updated Jun 1, 2017, 12:28 PM ]

              

              Fire is often a sign of God’s presence in the Old Testament.  We think of God calling to Moses out of the burning bush and God leading his people through the wilderness with a pillar of fire.  Wind is often associated with the Spirit. So Ellensburg must be a very spiritual place!  “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:2  In Hebrew and in Greek the same word is used for spirit, wind and breath.  In John 20, the risen Jesus breathes on his disciples and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

         I read recently that in Eastern Orthodox art, saints are depicted with flames of fire above their heads, rather than halos, as is the tradition in Western Christian art.

            That makes sense in light of the Pentecost miracle in Acts 2. “And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.”  Devout Jews from all over the known world at that time were in Jerusalem for the day of Pentecost, which was an early grain harvest festival and a celebration of the gift of God’s Law.  The disciples of Jesus were all Galileans, but suddenly they could tell of the mighty acts of God in other known languages and those folks could understand them.  It was a miraculous gift of speaking and hearing.

                But even miracles need interpretation.  “But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” Acts 2:13  That’s when Peter stands up and gives his Pentecost sermon which includes the good news, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.” Acts 2:32  And “God has made him both Lord and Messiah…” Acts 2:36.  We have been getting pieces of Peter’s Pentecost sermon as our second readings during Sundays in the Easter season.  What is the result of Pentecost and Peter’s sermon? “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about 3000 persons were added.” Acts 2:41.

                Pentecost is Jesus delivering on his promise of the Holy Spirit to his followers.  At Pentecost, God is opening up the New Covenant, Jesus Christ, to people of every nation and every language.  Pentecost is often thought of as the birth of the Christian Church.  The church begins when the risen Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to his followers so that they can proclaim the good news of life in Jesus. The risen Jesus is still giving the Holy Spirit to us, his followers today so that we can proclaim the good news of life in Jesus.  It’s not so much that we have the Holy Spirit, as the Holy Spirit has us.  Ever since our baptisms the Holy Spirit has us and has been shaping our lives and calling us into God’s service. 

                Pentecost calls all Christians to use our gifts and talents to share the love and the good news of Jesus Christ and to serve our neighbors in need.   Pentecost Sunday falls on June 4th this year.  The color for the day is always red, so I invite you to wear something red if you want. 

                                                                                               

Serving God and neighbor together with you,

                                                                                                                   

Pastor Dennis

 

May 2017

posted Apr 27, 2017, 12:01 PM by Christine Rice

                Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!  That is the good news we celebrate throughout the Easter season which goes on clear through May this year.  The following illustration is going to fall way short of the risen Jesus, but the days immediately after Resurrection Sunday are sometimes called, “Holy laughter days”, since God gets the last laugh on death and the devil.  So here goes.

                Our cat Cally is a 3 legged Calico. Years ago, a neighbor gave her to us when they moved away.  As a young cat Cally ran out into the road and had an MVA (motor vehicle accident).  Her back leg was so badly broken, that the vet recommended removing it, so that is what we did.  She has been doing fine for over 10 years on 3 legs.  Granted, she does not move very fast and sleeps about 23 hours a day, but she is a cat.

                Ever since her MVA, Cally has stayed out of the road (mostly), but sometimes she still thinks she has a back leg.  Especially when she tries to scratch behind her ear with her back leg as cats like to do.  She will lean her little head in and her little hip socket is going and she thinks she is scratching herself, but of course, really not.  If we see her doing this, we will sometimes scratch behind her ear for her.  She starts purring and still thinks she is doing the scratching, but it’s really us helping her do it.  It’s a funny sight.  Kyle and I often say that God gives us pets mostly for comic relief.

                In Jesus’ appearances after Easter, he is helping his disciples to understand the resurrection.  He is helping them to understand that though he really died, now he is truly alive.  The disciples are having a hard time understanding how the dead can live again. In Matthew 28, the women leave the empty tomb with fear and great joy.  Then the risen Jesus appears to the women and they take hold of his feet and worship him.  In John 20 the risen Jesus goes right through a locked door (twice) to appear to his disciples. He invites them to see and touch the wounds in his hands and side.  The risen Jesus is helping them to understand the resurrection.

              In Luke 24, the risen Jesus walks all the way to Emmaus with 2 disciples explaining the scriptures to them.  But they do not recognize him until he takes bread, blesses and breaks it and gives it to them at supper time.  By doing something familiar with them, they finally recognize him as their teacher and master.  Jesus is helping them to understand the resurrection. Later that night back in Jerusalem with the eleven, the risen Jesus appears again and stands among them, but they are terrified and think they see a ghost.  Jesus invites them to touch him and he shows them the scars on his hands and feet.  The disciples are still wondering and disbelieving so he eats a piece of broiled fish in front of them to prove he is no ghost.  Jesus is helping his followers to understand the resurrection.  Jesus is helping them to understand that the crucified one is the risen one and he is the way God forgives sin and gives new and everlasting life to his people.

                In this Easter season, the risen Jesus helps us to understand and trust the resurrection with renewed minds.  Our risen Savior Jesus helps us to understand that he has conquered sin, death and evil for us.  Therefore, we are truly free to live unafraid lives.  And the risen Jesus, who is with us always, is constantly prompting us to ask ourselves, “How can I share the good news and love of Jesus with my family, my community, my world and my neighbors in need?”

                                                                                                               

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 

Pastor Dennis

 

April 2017

posted Mar 30, 2017, 11:28 AM by Christine Rice

Spring and Resurrection

 

            I went running along the Iron Horse trail today, March 14th, at noon….in my shorts!  It was the first time since November that I wore shorts rather than sweat pants while running.  And it was the first time since snow fell in December that I ran along the Iron Horse trail.  My 54 year old knees and back really like the softer surface of the trail, but it had been covered with ice and snow until this week.  So I had been pounding the pavement for 3 months during our extended winter.  To run along the quiet Iron Horse trail with no cars to contend with felt like spring time and a mini resurrection.  And then I caught a brief glimpse of a muskrat in the water beside the trail and I saw my first rabbit of the year.  Spring is in the air!  Of course the robins and red-winged black birds were out.  They thought it was spring a month ago when there was still a foot and a half of snow on the ground.  In front of the church a few crocuses and primroses are already blooming.  Spring is in the air…and resurrection!

            Truth is, resurrection would be in the air even if spring time wasn’t.  In the southern hemisphere, Christians celebrate Easter, the Resurrection of Jesus, even in their autumn time while the landscape is dying.  In the northern hemisphere, spring and Easter coincide with each other, which is nice.  But of course the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus is not dependent on warmer temperatures and flowers blooming.

            During the first half of April this year, we are still in the season of Lent: that season of prayer, fasting, repentance and loving good works which draws us closer to God and our neighbors.  On April 9th we celebrate Palm/Passion Sunday as we begin holy week together and come to the main things in our Christian faith.

            On Maundy Thursday, April 13th, we celebrate, through a drama this year, the last supper of our Savior Jesus with his disciples.  Our Methodist friends will join us here for worship at 7 pm.

            On Good Friday, April 14th, we join our Methodist friends at their church building to remember with deep, solemn gratitude the price Jesus paid to redeem us and the whole world from sin, death and evil.  “Behold the life giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the whole world!”

            And finally on Sunday April 16th, we celebrate that day of days: the day that changed the world forever: the day God opened the door to new and eternal life for all believers through the resurrection of God’s Son, our Savior Jesus.

            And we keep on celebrating Easter, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus.  In the church year we celebrate for 7 weeks, a week of weeks, 49 days, all the way up to Pentecost Sunday on the 50th day.  The earth-shattering news of the Resurrection of our Savior Jesus is too good of news to be confined to one Sunday.  Truth is, every Sunday is a “little Easter”, a little celebration of Jesus’ victory over the grave for us.  Truth is, we are always called to live as Easter people: unafraid, secure in the baptism-resurrection promise of our Loving God.

            Spring is in the air, but Resurrection even more so!

                                                                                               

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 

Pastor Dennis

 

March 2017

posted Feb 27, 2017, 10:43 AM by Christine Rice

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

 

              Whew! It’s been quite a winter!  This has been the most winter I have seen in my 13 and a half years here.  I know winter does not officially end until March 20th, but I hope the white stuff will be mostly gone by the time you read this.

            Lent.  Throughout the month of March we are in the season of Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday on March 1st.  Lent comes from an old word meaning “lengthen.”  The days are lengthening now.  We are all really looking forward to spring time and longer warmer days this year!

            Spiritually, Lent is the 40 days before Easter, not including Sundays, in which we walk with our Savior Jesus to his cross and grave.  The 40 days of Lent correspond to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by the devil.  Lent is a time to intentionally deepen our relationship with God through prayer, worship, fasting, Bible study, and helping our neighbors in need.

            Many people do spring cleaning in their homes and yards in March.  Lent is spiritual house cleaning time for Christians.  We think on and give great thanks for Jesus and his willingness to die a painful and humiliating death on the cross to forgive our sins and the sins of the whole world.  On Good Friday we exclaim, “Behold, the life giving cross on which was hung the salvation of the whole world!”  God chooses to save the whole world through the apparently weak and foolish cross of his Son Jesus.

            And then having walked with Jesus to the foolish wisdom of his cross, we shall be able to truly celebrate and give thanks to God for Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday.  By his death Jesus has destroyed death and by his rising Jesus has opened the door to new and everlasting life for all believers.

            This is the costly grace of God, which we embrace during the season of Lent.

                                                           

 

Serving God and neighbor together with you,

 

Pastor Dennis

 

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