Spoken Word Monday: “Ready for Love” by Paris the Poet

Aug 11, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

Here’s a piece meditating on love. I enjoyed the contrast between the ways people typically think of waiting for romantic love and the need to receive the love of God offered in the gospel. Nice rhyme play throughout. I pray it encourages you!

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The Elder’s Vows: Personal Faith

Aug 07, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

What would you say is the first and most essential thing for pastoral ministry?

I think often times I’m guilty of assuming this thing. I jump right to other important issues: teaching ability, meeting the character qualifications, and so on.

But the first and in some sense most essential thing is that an elder be a Christian. I know. That goes without saying. But it needs to be said. How can a man preach the gospel to others without first having laid hold to Jesus Christ himself? Richard Baxter put it so well in The Reformed Pastor:

“Take heed to yourselves lest you should be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim the necessity of a Saviour to the world, your hearts should neglect him, and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits. Take heed to yoruselves, lest you perish while you call upon others to take heed of perishing, and lest you famish yourselves while you prepare their food. Though there be a promise of shining as stars to those that turn many to righteousness (Dan. 12:3), this is but on supposition that they be first turned to it themselves: such promises are made caeteris paribus, et suppositis supponendis. Their own sincerity in the fiath is the condition of their glory simply considered, though thier great ministerial labours may be a condition of the promise of their greater glory. Many men have warned others that they comen not to the place of torment, which yet they hasted to themselves; many a preacher is now in hell, that hath an hundred times called upon his hearers to use the utmost care and diligence to escape it.

“Can any reasonable man imagine that God should save men for offering salvation to others, while they refused it themselves, and for telling others those truths which they themselves neglected and abused? Many a tailor goes in rags that maketh costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarce licks his fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most costly dishes. Believe it, brethren, God never saved an my for being a preacher, not because he was an able preacher; but because he was a justified, sanctified man, and consequently faithful in his Master’s work.

“Take heed, therefore, to yourselves first, that you be that which you persuade others to be, and believe that which you persuade them daily to believe, and have heartily entertained that Christ and Spirit which you offer unto others. He that bade you love your neighbors as yourselves, did imply that you should love yourselves and not hate and destroy both yourselves and them.”


The Question

Perhaps this is why our recent ordination vows began with the question: “Do you reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ as your own personal Lord and Savior?” What an important question!

First, the question assumes the elder “reaffirms” their faith. It’s not a first profession. As Paul tells us in 1 Timothy, the elder must not be a novice, a  beginner, someone new to the faith. Instead, he must be a man that already possesses a solid understanding of the things of God and now stands to affirm once again that he has tasted the goodness of God in salvation.

Second, the question roots that faith in Jesus Christ. The elder’s faith must not be general and misty. His hope of eternal life must not rest on shoulders other than the Lord’s. He’s not just a positive thinker or a vaguely spiritual person. His trust is in Jesus, the only Christ, the promised Messiah, the Son of God, God the Son, the only Mediator between God and man, the Savior of the world, the crucified and resurrected Lord, the coming King, the reigning Sovereign, the One who lives to make intercession for us, the Alpha and the Omega. The elder reaffirms that he has faith in this Jesus–not the Jesus of Tom Brokaw specials, not the Jesus of seminar groups, not the Jesus of Islam or Christian cults. He must believe on Jesus as He offers Himself in the gospel.

Third, this profession must be personal. Jesus must be the elder’s very “own personal Lord and Savior.” The pastor must have a saving interest in Christ. He must possess the Lord. He cannot preach “the Jesus that Paul preaches” lest he gets beaten by every demon that knows Jesus and knows Paul but has never heard of the preacher! He cannot profess the faith by proxy. Mom and dad’s faith won’t do. Another pastor’s relationship with the Lord won’t suffice. He must reaffirm that indeed he has fellowship with the living Christ–not merely as a subject of the King but as someone in communion with the King. It’s not merely that the elder belongs to Christ; that’s accomplished by the mere fact that the Lord is the God who already owns all things. But Christ Jesus must belong to the elder as well. That requires the elder have been born of God, receiving the gifts of repentance and faith, and living in holy communion with the Lord.

The Answer

The question calls for a simple affirmative answer: “I do.” Stop now to consider what a wonder it is to be able to answer the question that way. “I do” know Jesus. “I do” have a personal relationship with Him. “I do” claim Him as my Lord and Savior. “I do” reaffirm it, before all on in the assembly and all in heaven. Not everyone on earth can say “I do” to that answer. The elder can say it only because God in Christ has redeemed Him, set His love on him before the foundation of the world, and made him His own through the cross work and resurrection of Christ Jesus. So much is confessed about both the elder and the Savior in those two words.

“I do.” With those two words on this first question the entire ceremony is transformed from ordination to marriage. We witness the renewal of vows far deeper than those of office holders. We see and hear the bride of Christ pledge herself again to the Groom of heaven. And with that “I do,” the elder pledges to make ready the entire bride for that glorious day when she shall descend the aisle of the heavens from God to meet the Bridegroom for eternal consummation in holiness, love and joy. We read this first question and answer and we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!”


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The Elder’s Vows

Aug 05, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

This past Sunday I stood with four other men to be ordained as elders at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. I’ve had the honor of being ordained an elder on four occasions now, twice at Capitol Hill. Each time it’s been a sobering and joyful experience. Each time I’ve been reminded of the seriousness of shepherding the Lord’s people, sheep purchased with His own blood. For me, the most solemn part of the day is the taking of vows before the Lord, my fellow elders and the congregation.

I’m reminded of Ecclesiastes 5:4-7

When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.

I think also of Hebrews 13:17

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Yeah, that “have to give an account” part should make anyone think carefully before making a vow and perhaps letting their mouth lead them into sin. Ordination is a time for fearing the Lord, trembling in His holy presence even as we expect His lavish grace. The making of these simple promises remind us of a far more profound reality: God cares about how His sheep are tended and will ensure they are tended well. The difference between the hireling and shepherd comes down to whether they take and mean these vows.

Here are the questions of promise we were asked and the commitments we made this past Sunday:

1. Do you reaffirm your faith in Jesus Christ as your own personal Lord and Savior? I do.

2. Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, totally trustworthy, fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, the supreme, final, and the only infallible rule of faith and practice? I do.

3. Do you sincerely believe the Statement of Faith and Covenant of this church contain the truth taught in the Holy Scriptures? I do.

4. Do you promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the statements in the Statement of Faith and Covenant you will on your own initiative make known to the pastor and other elders the change which has taken place in your views since your assumption of this vow? I do.

5. Do you subscribe to the government and discipline of Capitol Hill Baptist Church? I do.

6. Do you promise to submit to your fellow elders in the Lord? I do, with God’s help.

7. Have you been induced, as far as you know your own heart, to accept the office of elder from love of God and sincere desire to promote His glory in the Gospel of His Son? I have.

8. Do you promise to be zealous and faithful in promoting the truths of the Gospel and the purity and peace of the Church, whatever persecution or opposition may arise to you on that account? I do, with God’s help.

9. Will you be faithful and diligent in the exercise of all your duties as elder, whether personal or relative, private or public, and will you endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the Gospel in your manner of life, and to walk with exemplary piety before this congregation? I will, by the grace of God.

10. Are you now willing to take personal responsibility in the life of this congregation as an elder to oversee the ministry and resources of the church, and to devote yourself to prayer, the ministry of the Word and the shepherding  of God’s flock, relying upon the grace of God, in such a way that Capitol Hill Baptist Church, and the entire Church of Jesus Christ will be blessed? I am, with the help of God.

What do you think of such responsibilities and promises? If you’re an elder or an aspiring elder, what have you vowed or are preparing to vow before the Lord?

Lord willing, over the coming days I hope to expound these particular vows as a way of burrowing further into my own heart with them. I welcome you to join me and I hope it might be an encouragement.

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Spoken Word Monday: “The Hardened Heart” by Nick Vitellaro

Aug 04, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

This young man has remarkable insight into the deceptiveness and callousness of the human heart. Let it search you today!

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Refer People to This Promising New Resource:

Aug 04, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

My brother and friend, Dave Harvey, has thought a lot about pastoral calling and pastoral ministry. He’s served faithfully for a number of years and now he’s looking to encourage the church world with a new web ministry called “Am I Called?” ( You’re going to want to take advantage of the wisdom and resources at this site.

From the site:

What if there was a credible website curated by an experienced pastor dedicated to helping men, their pastors and their church in this exciting journey?  What if there was a resource that would help some resolve the question of eldership and free them to serve contentedly as deacons in their local church? What if there was a site available to bible schools, training schools, mission agencies and seminaries that would serve potential applicants, so that the right men enter the right programs, and then graduate to start ministries that last?  What if there was a domain which could speed men along in their journey to settle the question, “Am I called to ministry?”

Here’s Dave explaining his vision for the site:

Dave has also published a helpful little book by the same title, Am I Called? For a limited time, Crossway Books is offering a special deal on the book Am I Called? From 8/3 – 8/17, you can get 50% of the paperback version of the book and get the e-book for 99 cents! To get the deal, you must go through this specific link. 

Check out the site and let others know about it!

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Coming (Back) to America: Accents

Jul 30, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

My wife and I were taking the long way to an errand the other day. The long way to an errand is, in the language of frustrated wives, a husband who is lost. In the language of navigator husbands it simply means “I missed my turn” or “Your directions weren’t clear.” Or it could mean, “DC streets make no sense at all. You can see where you want to go but there’s literally no road that gets you there.” You see, husbands are never lost.

At any rate, on the way back from the errand we talked a little bit about how the kids were adjusting to the move. We’re both overwhelmed at God’s rich grace to us in the move back to the States. Aside from a lost passport and a shipping container that seems to be powered by men with oars, we’ve seen nothing but blessing from God and His people. And we’re having a great time seeing the country through the eyes of our children.

The girls commented the other day that “everybody sounds alike.” We hadn’t noticed, so Kristie asked what they meant. They meant everybody sounds alike. To them, everyone has the same accent.

The last eight years in Cayman has meant interacting with people from all over the world. The Cayman Islands is easily the most diverse, multi-ethnic community we’ve ever lived in. At 22 x 7 miles and 55,000 residents, this island nation is home to over 110 nationalities! And because it’s a small island, it refuses to allow its residents to balkanize into ethnic conclaves. People freely interact and intermarry all the time everywhere. The result is a delicious blend of melodious speech. Grand Caymanians report different accents from each of its districts, not to mention the different sounds between “Brackers” and Grand Cayman. It’s the kind of place where you can develop an ear for accents.

Honestly, I didn’t develop as fine an ear as I wanted. Irish accents still sounded British to me. Neither my Irish or British friends really appreciated the confusion, though they politely corrected me. And then there were those folks who “looked” European but were South American, or who looked to be of Spanish descent but were Eastern European, given away only by the cadence and lilt of their speech. The diversity was dizzying and the accents delightful.


Apparently my girls think everyone in America sounds alike. I wonder if they all sound like their mother, who was recently told she had a “rich southern accent.” We just call it “country.” Or does everyone sound like they’re from New Joisey or Baaston? Or perhaps everyone sounds plain, non-descript, as if they all had the same monotone diction coach.

But perhaps the issue isn’t accents as much as it is access. Compared to the Cayman Islands, my girls have come back to a largely segregated community. Of course DC is about as diverse an American city as you’ll find. There are people here from everywhere. But, comparatively speaking, there seems to be less interaction across ethnic lines. There are entire ethnic areas or communities here instead of the swirling mix of peoples in Cayman. There’s a consciousness of space and place here that simply wasn’t the case in Cayman. So I wonder if everyone sounds alike because, well, everyone is largely alike, because the diverse peoples in the States still by-and-large “stick to their kind” in social settings.

Or maybe everybody sounds alike because there’s significant cultural pressure to acquire English and to lose accents? Perhaps people have internalized the hegemonic notion that “This is America; speak English!” And speak it without an accent.

What a loss. Linguistic diversity doesn’t necessarily lead to the babbling of Babel. It can, as Revelation reminds us, issue forth in a great chorus of praise to God.

Which brings me to the church. By God’s grace, one place the girls can hear a few different accents is at our local church. I don’t know how many nationalities are currently represented here. In Cayman there were about 30. I’d guess there’s at least that many here nowadays. In Cayman many of those 30 nationalities were first generation immigrants to the country. In the U.S., many–though not all–tend to be second or third generation. I suspect some of these persons have lost their accents as a matter of generational integration. Nevertheless, the church is a place where people should sound differently. The local church ought to be an assembly where sounding different is prized. It’s a community of people that should, in fact, develop ears for hearing every tongue–not just in praise to God but in conversation afterwards. The church should be the most multi-ethnic place on earth because the God of all nations is putting together for himself a people of all nations–in the local church.

It’s interesting to come back to some of the multi-ethnic church conversation in the States. To get right to the point, it doesn’t sound very multi-ethnic to me. Accents are missing. Definitions are weak. Someone has decided that to be a multi-ethnic church is to have at least 20 percent of the membership be ethnically different from the majority. Now, that’s a whole heck of a lot better than 90/10 or 100 percent one ethnicity in a community that hosts many people groups. But why 20 percent? Why not 30 percent or 50 percent?

And can we legitimately be called “multi-ethnic” if there are only two groups to speak of–White and Black, or White and Hispanic, or Black and Hispanic? Isn’t that more accurately “bi-ethnic”? Are we “multi-ethnic” if the majority still sees the church as “their church” and see themselves as “welcoming others to their church”? Shouldn’t the goal of “multi-ethnic churches” be to be so diverse that no super-majority exists, that there’s a kind of  parity in the numbers of groups and persons in the groups such that “predominantly” no longer adjectivizes (I made that word up) the noun “church”?

And what are the politics and problems of dividing the entire congregation into “the majority” (up to 80%) and “the rest of them”? Isn’t the “20 percent” sometimes a way of simply saying “other” rather than actually seeing, knowing, and embracing the ethnic?

By the way, who decides such things? Who gets the right to choose the percentage or set the bar? I suppose some really thoughtful people had to arrive at some criteria because, well, they thought we needed a criteria. But who rethinks what the thinkers think when they tell us how we should count or include people? Seems a bit too important to simply imbibe without reflection and debate.

Which brings me back to accents (not really, but I need to close this post). I want my children to continue to hear different lilts and melodies when others speak. I want them to know the sounds of the world, to pick up on and enjoy the variegated patterns of speech God has gifted to humanity (for even the curse of Babel gets turned into a gift through Christ’s redemption and the church). I want them to enjoy the click languages of southern Africa, the patois of the Caribbean, the nasally consonants of New England, the song of Welsh speakers, and the romance of Latin accents and everything else. For that to happen, there’s got to be the genuine mixing of people in loving community–both the community outside the church, but especially inside the body of Christ. I’ll be listening for accents come Sunday.

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Spoken Word Monday: “Woman at the Well”

Jul 28, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

Today’s piece interprets the Lord Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. The poetry is from Student Life Creative (I couldn’t find the young woman’s name) and the cinematography is by Reidland Tucker. It’s a thoughtful and moving rendition and both the well and living water themes get modernized beautifully. Enjoy!

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Really? You’re Going to Die on THAT Hill?

Jul 25, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

I wish it wasn’t so, but Christians are some cantankerous, fighting people. At least I am. I’ve stopped pretending I’m not. I don’t mind a good fight, though I’m learning to not start them–unless they need to be started.

It’s taken two years for it to dawn on me that I’m a fighter. You must have two questions reading that sentence: how did it dawn on you and why did it take so long?!

Well, it took so long because I’m thick.

But this blog deserves credit or blame for helping me to see this strife-happy streak in me. For a couple years running, the most popular posts on this blog were the most controversial posts. When I received those reports I was sometimes genuinely surprised. I would say, “I’m not a controversialist.” It was my polite version of “Don’t start none won’t be none.” Which, of course, makes it permissible for me to join the fray if others started it. I know. Sounds like grade school, doesn’t it? “But he started it!”

After saying “I’m not a controversialist” for a second year running, I thought I’d better step back and test myself. So, I decided that 2014 would be a “controversy free year.” I committed to not entering any controversy started by others and I would not start any myself. “My name is Bennett and I ain’t in it” would be the motto for the year.

Thus far, much to my wife’s delight, it’s been a very quiet, controversy-free year. But you might have noticed it’s also been a quiet year of blogging. Turns out I’m a lot like some other people whose blogging juices flow best when there’s a little heat added. When I subtract the things to fight about, I don’t have as much to write about. And the things I could write about don’t move me to write nearly as quickly. Thus the long silences at Pure Church.

But I must say, the sabbatical from strife has been a great joy. I see my own heart and motives more clearly than I did two years ago. Life is far more peaceful and I’m less distracted by all the pixelated opinions floating through the blogosphere. I’m present where I’m present, and that’s a good thing. I’m exercising more self-control over both my keystrokes and those little strokes of anger that sometimes prompted a post. In short, a hiatus from turmoil has been sanctifying.

And it turns out that there are fewer hills to siege and die on than I thought. I thought there were few to begin with, but now I’m convinced there are fewer than the few I initially thought. And some of the hills worth dying on already have much better soldiers attacking them. So I’ve had the privilege of focusing on a couple hills that have my name on them: hills like family time, prayer, Bible reading, hospitality, diet and exercise, good deeds and so on. I haven’t climbed over all those hills yet, but I’ve circled a couple and marked a path. I hope you’ll begin to see that reflected in posts here at Pure Church.

In a time when many evangelicals feel as if the sky is falling and the culture is lost, it might be good for us all to step back, swear off controversy for a while, and determine what really matters most. I can see now that a lot of what I thought was dire was really the angst of someone else who loved controversy and felt like they were on “the losing side.” It wasn’t really my hill, but I borrowed it unawares. And when you step back from some hills you discover that they’re not really that big or they’re not really that significant. You ask yourself, “Really? You’re going to die on that hill?”

Before I die on a hill, I’m now committed to making sure it’s my hill, too. I don’t want to be the equivalent to those anonymous U.N. peacekeeping forces that get sent everywhere to fight every battle. While there’s real value in their role, there’s also real tragedy in fighting the battle of others who could or perhaps should fight those battles themselves. Give me a few well-chosen hills on which to die–or win. If I’m going down, I’d rather be the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts charging Fort Wagner in a war that means everything for me and His Kingdom.

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Coming (Back) to America: Coming Back to Commercials

Jul 24, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

I can’t believe it’s been over 25 years since Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall teamed up in the movie Coming to America. Murphy plays an African prince who divests himself of his royal prerogatives and moves to Queens to find a bride that would accept him for who he is and who he can respect for her strength, intelligence and independence. It’s Murphy and Hall in their prime and it’s worth watching again just for the barber shop scene.

With the  move back to the States after eight years of living in Grand Cayman, I’ve toyed around with the idea of starting a blog called “Coming (Back) to America.” I daydreamed about writing lots of posts full of Bill Bryson-style insight and humor about what America is like (or I’m like) after eight years in another culture. Alas… I’m not that creative or observant. So rather than a blog, I’ll try my hand at a couple of posts sprinkled here and there.

Here’s the first thing I notice about living in the States again: commercials. Well, truthfully, I didn’t notice them. My seven year old son Titus noticed them. All of them!

Here’s the thing: In Cayman we never had cable or watched network television. We relied on DVDs, Netflix, or something on Apple TV. This meant commercials never interrupted our programming–not even during the annual commercial feast called the Super Bowl. Since Titus was born in Cayman, his entire seven years of life have been lived in our commercial-free Siberia.

But coming back to America means he has a Saturday full of commercials! He’s exposed constantly to product pitches and appeals.

I wondered why all of a sudden he kept insisting that we “had to have” a new mop with “hurricane spin.” Or, why he began asking me for just $14.95 plus shipping and handling. Today. Right now. Or else we might miss out!

Of all the shots he’d taken during his rounds of immunization and well-baby screenings, he’d never been inoculated against American-styled commercialism. Most of us get that shot as we grow up. So we learn to tune out commercials–mostly. We develop radar for various kinds of sales pitches–soft sale, hard sale, bait and switch. Samples lose their appeal–unless it’s the bourbon chicken samples in mall food courts. We swim in a sea of advertisements never feeling wet by all the enticements. We feel accustomed to it and so hardly notice, until a 30-second ad interrupts our favorite shows at the wrong time. But Titus sat wide-eyed at the wonder of toys and gadgets he’d never heard of and now suddenly couldn’t live without.

After a couple of weeks, Titus doesn’t fall for all the commercials. He’s learned that “they’re just trying to get our money.” But I wonder if that only strengthens his resolve to have those few products that do pass his defenses. Funny how saying “no” to ourselves in many areas make us prone to shout “yes!” in areas of keen interest (read, advertising vulnerability).

Truthfully, now that I think about it, even if we’ve lived in America all our lives, we’re not too unlike Titus. We may be older, slightly wiser fish, but we still get hooked from time to time. Why do you think companies continue to pour billions into advertising? Advertising works. Corporations and ad firms have mastered the art of appealing to our flesh and our worldly instincts. They’ve studied us and they stalk us. They create desires where once none existed, then they satisfy those desires with their products.

I notice that I’m more conscious now about how I dress. Not that my dress has gotten any better; I’m just more aware. Why? It seems I’m in an advertising culture that places far more stress on the right look, the right clothes, and the perfect accessories. When you’re on an island and most people around you are wearing flip flops,beach shorts and a Cuban shirt (or want to be wearing those things), you tend to think “dressing up” is unnecessary. When you’re now on Capitol Hill, which is also the capitol of seersucker suits and Jimmy Choos, then swag gets more of your attention.

Or take the car I’m now shopping for. Yes, the family needs a car. But driving my sister-in-law’s BMW X5 kinda makes me snooty toward “domestic” vehicles. We peep the sleek new styles–far more styles, colors and choices than we’d ever see on the island–and some consumeristic grows in my heart. Basically, my commercials differ from Titus’, but I’m still susceptible to them. I still have a flesh that desires and live in a world that tempts and teases. We all do. And what coming back to America teaches me is that I’d better raise the guard on my heart and teach Titus the same. Self-control will be the watch word–for all of us.

Here’s one other thing I see again for the first time: American Christians are pretty consumeristic with their churches and spiritual habits. We’re not just consumeristic; we also want it custom made to suit us. That’s no new revelation. I’m simply seeing it again. And I’m wondering if we ever see how deep a root it has in us if we never get outside our context. And if we never see how strongly our desires–often unspoken or unconscious–affect us, might this be a “silent killer”? Might worldliness, expressing itself in quiet unchecked consumption,be the besetting sin of the church?

I don’t know. But I suspect my vulnerability to Madison Avenue affects my walk with the Lord far more than I’m aware. And, worse, if left unchecked, I suspect swimming again in the familiar advertising waters in which I was raised will slowly dull my senses and draw me away with the school of other consumer fish swept in the currents. How about you? Swimming with or against the commercial currents of your setting?

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Spoken Word Monday: “Predestined” by Fixed Eyes

Jul 07, 2014 | Thabiti Anyabwile

Today’s piece celebrates a great and precious truth: the predestination of God’s elect. Fixed Eyes (@_WilliamsWay_) takes us from Genesis to John 6 in celebration of God’s sovereign love and redemption. Enjoy!

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