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2021 General Assembly Report

Posted by rfbiese on July 7, 2021 at 10:55 AM

Follow this link to read the report as a PDF: www.fpfo.org/21garep.pdf 

Here is a report and summary of many of the “acts and deliverances” of this year’s assembly. In some ways this is a followup to the GA Preview letter from June 24.

I. God’s Goodness to the PCA

The Lord was exceedingly kind to our branch of Christ’s church at this year’s assembly.

A. Statistics

In 2020 about $1 Billion dollars was contributed to the PCA churches. Although the denomination realized a small decline in membership (300), more than 2,000 adults and 4,500 children were baptized in 2020. Additionally, there was a net gain of 13 individual congregations within the PCA. This includes newly particularized church plants as well as congregations joining the PCA from independency or such faith communions as the EPC (1) or the RCA (3).

B. The Assembly

This year’s assembly was a unique experience for me because I was on the prevailing side of nearly every debate. It seems the increase in participation was the result of concerned folks throughout the PCA insisting their elders attend the assembly. There were more first time commissioners attending than normal, which again suggests many congregations were prepared to make the financial sacrifice to send elders to contend for the PCA.

God graciously chose to restrain the doctrinal drift within the PCA this year. There were a number of critical votes in which the denomination could move either in a more or less faithful direction. In all of these important votes, the assembly voted to strengthen our commitment to Reformed Faith and Practice.

C. The Composition of the PCA Assembly

As I mentioned in my “GA Preview Letter,” the elders (and congregations) within the PCA break down - broadly speaking - into two groups: Reformed/Presbyterians and Broad Evangelicals.

The Reformed/Presbyterians are committed to our doctrinal heritage and the Westminster Standards as a faithful summary of the Scripture. The Broad Evangelicals have an appreciation for our Reformed Heritage and would express the doctrines of salvation generally in a God-centered (Calvinistic) way.

Understanding the groups within the PCA helps us to make sense of the competing visions for ministry within the PCA.

 

II. Some Acts and Deliverances

Historically the Stated Clerk of the PCA has published a document outlining all the actions (acts) and statements (deliverances) of the General Assembly. My report will not be so comprehensive, but will focus on a few of the major or critical matters taken up by the assembly this year in Saint Louis.

A. Presbytery Examinations

There were a number of presbyteries (e.g. Northwest Georgia, Calvary Presbytery) that the Review of Presbytery Records Committee (RPR) wanted to be referred to the Standing Judicial Commission because they have instructed men who hold views that deviate from the Westminster Standards not to teach those deviant views. This year’s assembly rightly decided a presbytery is free to restrict a man from teaching and preaching a view that is not consistent with Reformed Theology.

RPR alleged this practice violates Christian Liberty by “binding a man’s conscience” not to teach what he believes is biblical. The General Assembly concluded this is not the case, but that the presbytery has the right to require that only faithful, Reformed doctrine be taught within its bounds.

This is an important victory for presbyterian polity; the council of elders (presbytery) has the right to determine the terms of admission to its membership and to require that all the preaching and teaching within its churches be consistent with our Reformed heritage.

B. Ordination and Ministry

For some time Mission to the World (MTW) has been allowing unordained people to serve in leadership positions such as “Team Leader” with authority even over men called by the church to serve as “overseers” and ordained as elders. Several dozen MTW missionaries - both men and women - appealed to various presbyteries and congregations asking for help to rectify this “unpresbyterian” policy.

A number of presbyteries sent overtures to revise the MTW Policy Manual to require those in “line authority” with MTW be ordained elders (either teaching or ruling elders). Ultimately Overture 14 came to the floor and was recommended by the Committee of Commissioners for MTW.

However, the Coordinator of MTW, TE Lloyd Kim spoke against this overture. He argued the assembly should reject this policy change for three reasons. First the change was unnecessary since MTW has recently adopted a policy requiring that ordinarily those in leadership positions must be ordained elders. Second, he argued the language was unclear; he was not certain what “line authority” meant. Third, he argued requiring ordained elders to oversee the church planting and church development works of MTW would “hinder” the work of MTW. He closed by warning the assembly that to adopt Overture 14 would set a dangerous precedent within the PCA with the General Assembly setting policies for MTW.

While the coordinator’s speech was well articulated and clear, it was troubling. The venerable TE David Coffin pointed out it is the prerogative of the General Assembly to set policies for the agencies of the PCA. It seems what TE Lloyd Kim characterized as a hindrance and dangerous precedent is simply presbyterianism functioning in a biblical way.

The assembly voted 54-46% to adopt Overture 14 and force a change within MTW to require those functioning as overseers of church plants and church development works to be elders.

C. Human Sexuality and Sanctification

1. Study Committee Report

The Assembly received the report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality with little objection. TE Greg Johnson of Memorial Presbyterian Church in Saint Louis objected to affirming the report because he did not believe the report adequately conveyed God’s love for same sex attracted people and he called for the Church to apologize for the way she has treated same-sex attracted people. This was the only time TE Johnson spoke on the floor.

The Study Committee report is a brief and faithful (though not exhaustive) summary of the Bible’s teaching on its subject.

2. Changes to the Book of Church Order

The Assembly adopted two overtures that propose changes to the Book of Church Order (BCO). The BCO is - essentially - the policy and operations manual for the PCA. The BCO is difficult to change; it requires a majority vote in the General Assembly, then ratification by 2/3 of the presbyteries, and finally a majority vote in the subsequent General Assembly.

a. Officer Qualifications

The Assembly adopted (78-22%) Overture 23 to add the following paragraph to the BCO:

Officers in the [PCA] must be above reproach…Those who profess an identity (such as but not limited to, “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian…" ) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification….are not qualified for ordained office.

This addition to the BCO would strengthen the denomination’s position against the encroach of “Revoice” Theology and so-called “gay celibate” (“Side-B” ) Christians. This proposed change by the General Assembly must be ratified by the presbyteries and approved by next year’s assembly in Birmingham, Ala.

b. Officer Examination

The Assembly also adopted Overture 37, which would strengthen examination requirements for officer candidates in the PCA. If ratified by the presbyteries and the Birmingham Assembly, the PCA will exclude anyone from church office who is known by a self-profession of his remaining sinfulness. It would bring changes to Chapters 21 and 24 of the BCO.

While Overture 37 as adopted by the Assembly does mention same-sex/homosexual desires, it does not fixate on them. It establishes the biblical principle that anyone who is known by or identifies with his sinful predisposition(s) is not suitable for church office.

This is important because at least one prominent minister in the PCA makes much of his unnatural sexual desire and others associated with Covenant Seminary also seem to make much of their unnatural desires even as they claim not to act on them. Rather than be known by their union with Christ, their remaining, indwelling sin has become a prominent aspect of their reputations. Others have denied the sinfulness of homosexual desires unless acted upon.

You may recall at a previous General Assembly TE Johnson likened unnatural sexual desires to conditions that are in themselves morally neutral and simply products of the fall, e.g. being born with a handicap. This common comparison is deeply flawed; while homosexual desires are a product of the fall, they are not morally neutral.

The proposed changes to the BCO would bar anyone from church office who refuses to acknowledge the sinfulness of unnatural desires as well as anyone who is not seeking to mortify all the desires of the flesh as well as those who make much of their sinful desires.

D. Addressing Anti-Asian Racism

In the wake of the shootings at massage and nail salons in Atlanta this spring, several presbyteries passed overtures entreating the assembly to denounce racism against Asians and express solidarity with Asian American communities.

The Overtures Committee recommended prayer for these matters and reminded the assembly of previous reports and statements already adopted by the PCA denouncing racism. The recommendation of the Overtures committee is consistent with the nature of church power, which is exclusively ministerial and declarative.

III. Continuing to be Concerned Presbyterians

A. Pray

We should thank God for his kindness in preserving the PCA from doctrinal drift and compromise with the culture at this year’s assembly. Ask God to continue to enable His Church to withstand the assaults of worldliness and instead present a winsome, glorious, and united contrast to the world as we call all people to repent and find new life in the Lord Jesus.

B. Presbytery

The gains made at General Assembly must be ratified by the presbyteries, so we need to commit to send two Ruling Elders to every presbytery meeting to represent the congregation and vote on the changes passed by the assembly when our presbytery takes them up.

C. Peace

One of the things that struck me in the debate on the floor of the General Assembly as well as in the social media comments that have followed the assembly is the tone of fear, suspicion, and bitterness that seems to characterize the speech and comments of the progressives related to the Assembly.

Additionally, during the assembly we were repeatedly “warned” about the danger of failing to adopt positions advocated for by more progressive members of the PCA. It seems many on the progressive wing, especially those employed by PCA Agencies, may be operating from a place of fear and suspicion.

However, when we speak about the actions of the General Assembly, we must remember Christ remains as head over His body. Regardless of how the votes go at any given assembly, we know Christ will preserve a faithful remnant of His church; we know there will always be “false sons” within the Church, yet the Church will prevail because Christ has promised never to leave or forsake His Bride.

D. Patience

It is evident (by their social media postings) a number of progressives within the PCA left General Assembly angry, afraid, and embittered because of the actions of this year’s assembly. Let us commit to stay the course and continue to be actively involved in the courts of the Church as a congregation. Our commitment to Christ and his Truth must not waver, because our hope in Christ is both our joy and our comfort.

IV. Conclusion

The PCA remains a sound denomination and if the actions of the 2021 General Assembly are ratified, the result will be a more faithfully Reformed and Presbyterian communion than it was last year.

If we as a congregation - along with those of similar conviction - continue to be involved in all the courts of the church and hold the members of the PCA accountable to her biblical and confessional standards, I believe we will soon see two things.

We will, on the one hand, witness departures by those who were not “of us” as they grow frustrated with our commitment to uphold the standards of the denomination; they will begin to affiliate with more like-minded, progressive faith communions.

On the other hand, I believe we will experience growth as our convictions and commitments attract others by the proclamation of the whole counsel of God and the diligent use of the ordinary means of grace that God has given to us for that purpose.

I look forward to discussing more with you as we serve Christ together here in Fort Oglethorpe.

your pastor,

Ryan Biese


Getting Back to Normal?

Posted by rfbiese on March 27, 2020 at 3:00 PM Comments comments (403)

Greetings to those who are loved by God and called to be saints,

   We are now approaching the third week of the suspension of corporate worship, social distancing, and the seemingly surreal world the response to COVID-19 has brought upon us.

   Numerous theologians and pastors have offered commentary and counsel on this situation. Here are a couple of helpful links to consider:

The Crisis and the Deacons” by Daniel Schrock; Schrock explores ways the church can continue to serve in this time through the deacons and also as members supporting the ministry of the diaconate. We should remember, while God did give deacons to ensure that the poor and vulnerable within the church were looked after, it is not their job to care for them alone. Schrock reminds us it is the deacons who lead us in service, not that they are the only ones doing the work! Http://gospelreformation.net/the-coronavirus-crisis-and-the-deacons-of-the-church/

The Lion Roars” by Joseph Pipa; Pipa looks biblically and theologically at this plague and reminds us not only is this pandemic under God’s sovereign control, but also encourages us to look at what God may be teaching us through this plague. He warns us not simply to look out into the world for causes and rest that God is judging ‘those people’s sins’ (e.g. abortion, deviant sexuality, etc.), but also consider how the American Church in particular has sinned against God. Pipa also offers sweet comforts and suggestions for ways to pray. Http://gpts.edu/the-lion-roars-thoughts-on-covid-19/ ;

   I don’t want to duplicate the good advice that is readily available from a variety of faithful authors such as those listed above, but I do want to offer a few thoughts this week on our national (global!) situation.

   Many of us - myself included - have expressed a desire for things to “get back to normal,” which in a sense is understandable. Many of us have faced cutbacks at work or furloughs entirely and are now wondering how we will meet expenses. Others of us are filled with anxiety and reasonable concern because of conditions that exacerbate our own (or that of loved ones) risk for complications. Some of us may even have (or will!) miss sharing important life milestones with loved ones. Most of us are concerned about how the Government’s attempts to handle the situation may in fact make things far worse in the long run.

   But this situation also provides us an opportunity to take stock of where we were just prior to this global crisis and ask: is that a world, a “normal,” to which we should desire to return?

   Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (Jas. 4:13–16)

   Prior to the onset of the Corona pandemic, we lived in a society that - on the whole - boasted in its ability to shape most every event and handle those it could not shape.

   The stock market was on a stratospheric rise that seemed unstoppable, and our Government implied that - under the right management - it would continue to do so beyond the time grandchildren were ready to retire; and many of us believed them.

   Our healthcare industry offers cures, vaccines, and treatments beyond the wildest dreams of even our great-grandparents; and many of us began to trust the medical community completely.

   Our education system promises to fix our social problems and give the tools for success so that, if we trust the professionals, everyone can follow and achieve his or her dreams; many of us believed them.

   While there is nothing wrong with striving for good government, competent and ethical care for the sick, and promoting the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, many in our society - even within the Christian community - fell into the trap about which the Apostle James warns us.

   Did we, too, trust in the economy, healthcare, government, education, and countless other systems and technologies to secure our future and preserve our peace rather than founding our stability and hope in God alone? Even worse: had we become too comfortable in the society that brought us that stability?

   One of the things with which this virus has confronted us is how fragile we are and how fragile our society is regardless of the progress we have made lately. Even those of us who are young and in ‘low risk’ categories are just as susceptible as anyone else to carry the virus and spread it on to others.

   All of this serves as a reminder of at least two things.

   First, we are reminded to submit all of our plans to God. This is not as simple as praying for God to bless our plans (though it is not less than that!), but also includes seeking the Lord’s will in our plans. The rebuke James gives goes deeper than their boasting, but to the heart problem: they were not living in utter dependence on God to accomplish anything. They believed with enough skills and resources, they could accomplish anything. But James confronts them with the importance of looking to the Source of all things. As we submit our plans to God and as we consider our dependence on Him in all things, that will enable us to better identify ways to glorify Christ in our plans and in all that we do.

   Second, we are reminded the world is under a curse. James morbidly(?), solemnly(?) reminds us we do not even know if we will be alive tomorrow. He’s not attacking the discipline of planning (sorry, procrastinators!), but rather the sin of presuming on God’s grace and patience by confronting us with the certainty of death (and everything that leads up to it). As he confronts us with the effects of the curse - thorns, thistles (cf. Gen. 3:18), and ultimately death - he is also driving us to take refuge in the One who delivers from the curse, the Lord Jesus Christ.

   The virus may have shaken the sense of predictability and certainty that characterized our lives, but as we feel the loss of those things it reminds us they were never really there. Instead we must make our refuge and source of stability God’s love in Christ for those who have turned to Him in faith and repentance.

   When we come to faith, we confess that we have no “hope save in God’s sovereign mercy.” Sometimes we forget that statement is not just true for justification and salvation, but in every aspect of life. As you face financial difficulties, health stress, and/or other anxiety during this plague, remember three things:

   First, remember you are no less dependent on God’s mercy now than you were earlier. God was sufficient for you then and His kindness was not dependent on your gratitude to Him, but His love for you in Christ. So trust in Him to provide for you in this season and show you ways to serve Him now.

   Second, remember Christ is the only true source of stability. No matter how certain, fireproof, or reliable, everything else will wear out and fail. But Christ watches over His people such that as we recognize our own weakness and frailty, we understand more of His goodness and greatness. The Scottish Presbyterian John “Rabbi” Duncan said this, “We are to grow in dependent insufficiency, and in the knowledge of Him who makes sufficient.”

   Third, remember if God’s mercy is sufficient to save you from your sins, His mercy is more than worthy of your trust through worldly afflictions that are not your own fault. Our sins are our own fault, our own choosing. But none of us chooses to become sick. And if God’s mercy extends to us in the depth of our sinful choices, we can be confident His mercy will sustain us through every affliction.

Your friend,

Ryan

Faithful Living Under Corona Quarantine

Posted by rfbiese on March 20, 2020 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (130)

Greetings to the Beloved of God in Christ Jesus,

I sorely missed worshiping with you this past Lord’s Day, and I am grateful to the many of you who were able to “tune in” to the livestream and offer feedback. It is daunting and difficult to conceive of corporate worship suspended for at least two more weeks. Please check the website for updates regularly, and if you haven’t signed up for text message notifications, you can do so by texting FPFO to 84576.

How do we live as Christians in a world that is troubled by pandemic, social distancing, and economic upheaval? In one sense, the same as we always have: our Lord the King has said, “…take heart: I have overcome the world.” The Lord Jesus Christ reminds us He has overcome every affliction, every adversity, and every enemy of His people including sickness and death. Because Christ has overcome every threat and enemy of His people we live with faithful boldness trusting in God’s sovereign care over His people and providential control over the world He made and sustains. What does that look like with particular application to our situation? Let me suggest four areas where faithful living must continue.

I. God’s People Continue to Worship

This week I spent several hours on the phone with many of our church members, and one of the things that most encouraged me was the pervasive desire to return to corporate worship. Even from among those who had recently been feeling less desire to worship corporately…until last week!

To quote one Presbyterian pastor from North Carolina:

Suspending gathering at church is not a victory for the enemies of Christ. At the cross, Satan, sin and death have all been dealt a death-blow, and none of them win because God’s people do not gather for a short time. In fact, we ought to praise the Lord, that he has given us the technological ability and advances which allow us to conduct worship remotely. The Kingdom of Heaven and the church of the Lord Jesus Christ have faced greater rivals than Covid-19 and emerged victorious every time. (Link)

I would add this: although we are not able to gather for public worship, worship can and must continue in your households and by individuals during this season. This is vital for your own continued spiritual nourishment. Even though we are not gathering together as a congregation for worship, we continue to worship where we are.

II. God’s People Continue to Submit to the Government

Many of us are suspicious of Government or share the Former President’s sentiment, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I'm here to help.’”However, Christians must remember from where the civil government derives its power: neither from the Constitution nor from “the consent of the governed,” but from God Himself:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1–2)

God instituted the civil magistrate for the good of mankind and to restrain the effects of the Fall (cf. Gen. 9). As the civil magistrate issues guidelines and/or decrees regarding limits on gatherings, travel, and/or interactions, Christians ought (must!) strive to submit to the civil magistrate here too.

Robert Lewis Dabney, the greatest of all teachers of theology (at least according to Hodge), says about the Christian’s duty to obey the government:

Civil government is an ordinance of God; magistrates rule by His providence and by His command, and are His agents or ministers. Obedience to them, in the Lord, is a religious duty; rebellion against them is not only injustice to our fellowmen, but disobedience to God.

That is - in part - our reason to suspend corporate worship as a congregation. If the government were to ban Christian gatherings, we would of course obey God rather than man. But the government has limited all gatherings of more than ten people because of a public danger. So just as if there were an ice storm and the governor closed the roads, so too in this area we submit to those authorities whom God has placed over us for our good. If we were to disobey government here, we would likewise be disobeying God.

Certainly our government is deeply flawed both in terms of morality and competence, but we must remember what Christ commanded regarding the immoral and incompetent government of Caesar:

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. (1 Pt 2:13–15)

We do not submit to the civil government for its own sake, but for Christ’s sake. What poor witness to the gospel it would be if Christians flagrantly disregarded the government’s commands and guidance in this area especially. Such an act would be a grave provocation of God’s providence and would almost certainly result in the spread of this virus in our own faith communion.

While it grieves all of us to be apart, we do so for the sake of our witness. So let me encourage you - whether you think you are low risk or high risk - practice social distancing, avoid unnecessary trips out, and pay attention to the ongoing guidance issued by the governing authorities.

III. God’s People Continue to Love their Neighbors

Ironically one of the ways we love our neighbors right now is by distancing ourselves from them! This virus, though not highly fatal, is highly contagious and can be very deadly to the aged and those who are already weakened with other conditions. So whether you consider yourself “low risk” or “high risk,” please understand we all have the same risk of infection and infecting others. This is one of the ways we seek to preserve our own life and the lives of others (as the Sixth Commandment teaches us).

I am saddened by the flippant attitude that many in my generation and younger seem to have regarding this virus. Many misunderstand that a low risk for complication does not mean a low risk of infection (and subsequent spreading of the virus to others who are more vulnerable to complications). The facts of the matter remain this new virus is highly infectious, even more so than the common flu. The only way to halt its spread is by limiting its opportunity to do so as was done in South Korea and not done in Italy.

But social distancing does not free us from the obligation to serve our neighbors. If you are healthy and young, are there senior citizens or sick folks in your neighborhood for whom you could pick up groceries, medicine, prepare a meal, provide toilet paper, hand sanitizer, or other supplies? If you have more free time on your hands, can you call someone who may live alone or might otherwise be especially lonely in this time and be in need of Christian encouragement?

Additionally, even though we are kept from public worship by the virus, we “continue to support the church in her worship and work to the best of our ability” just as we vowed when we joined the church. As I talked with our members on the phone this week, the economic toll of this virus became apparent as most of our members said their jobs had cut back on hours or eliminated positions entirely. Giving to the church is an expression of both faith and love: faith that God will provide for our needs and it expresses our love for God and His people. Our diaconal fund may be put to greater use now than in recent memory. If you would like to mail in a contribution you can do so to PO Box 2055 Fort Oglethorpe, GA 30742.

IV. God’s People Continue to Seek the Means of Grace

God ordinarily makes us to know the benefits of Christ through the “outward and ordinary” means of grace: the Word, Sacraments, and Prayer. All of which converge in public worship, don’t they? Yet during this season, we are unable to come to the Lord’s Table or public worship. But simply because we are cut off from public worship and the sacraments, that does not mean we are cut off from God.

Please make use of the livestream. It will be available at the normal worship time through the church Facebook page: facebook.com/FPFOchurch. Remember you do not need a Facebook account to view it. Please supplement the livestream with family and household worship. The Service will be available later on our YouTube channel (you can find it by searching on YouTube).

I urge you to continue (and dive deeper) in the Scripture during this season. Additionally, there are a number of websites that offer excellent teaching resources and spiritual encouragement during this time. 

Please continue to pray! Perhaps you have more free time now? Not surprisingly, shares of Netflix are up 8% as of this writing. I think we know why; many of us have a lot more time on their hands (not all of us, surely, and often not by choice!). But what if those of us with more free time during this time of slowdown spent “just” 15 more minutes each day praying? How might God choose to encourage and bless us through praying more? Here are some suggested things to pray:

Pray through the Psalms: open the psalter and see how many of those verses can you turn into petitions, requests to God? In the psalms we not only find words for prayer, but comfort in the midst of affliction, uncertainty, and even despair.

Pray for the Church Officers: the elders are struggling to know how to shepherd and serve in this time as we try to balance public health and public worship. The deacons will soon have a great many demands made on their own ministries; ask God to enable each of the deacons to strive to be faithful to his ordination vows.

Pray for Health Care Professionals: both those involved in the treatment of the sick and the development of remedies. Thank God there are already existing drugs that show great promise at destroying the virus and additional vaccines are being tested. Ask God to sustain and preserve the overworked as they try to promote healing and provide physical comfort.

Pray for Government Officials: Even though government authority is derived from God, pray the government in this land will not go beyond its Constitutional Authority or seek to usurp the rights of its citizens. Ask God to grant wisdom to those He has placed in authority as they strive to decrease the impact of this virus

Pray for God’s Mercy on the Earth: As folks are confronted with the nearness of sickness and death, ask God to send a spirit of repentance to many. Beg God to grant relief from this plague and provide relief from its effects.

Thanks for taking the time to read this letter. I hope you are encouraged in spite of how the news would have us feel. Even though the church building is closed to all but staff and officers, please feel free to call me or any of the officers if you have a need or just need to talk.

I’ll leave you with these words from John Newton, Though troubles assail us and dangers affright, though friends should all fail us and foes all unite, yet one thing secures us whatever betide, the promise assures us, “The Lord will provide” (Trinity Hymnal No. 95).

Your friend,

Ryan Biese,

Pastor


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