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The real meaning of discipleship

Mon, 11/30/2015 - 03:00

What did Jesus mean when he talked about discipleship?  That was a question the “discipleship movement” of the 1970s sought to answer. In general, the body of Christ, at least on the North American continent, moved on without listening much. But in the New Testament, the word “disciple” is used about 250 times, and mostly in connection with following Jesus, so it’s obviously a very important concept. My suggestion is we can’t really understand what it means to follow Jesus without understanding more about discipleship than we often do.

 

It was a common practice for educated and well-connected Jewish men to become disciples of leading Rabbis, which in turn would lead to them assuming the same role toward others. They would take in his teaching and pass it on to others. Such a position would be financially and socially rewarding. So when Jesus appeared on the scene, the most natural way people had of understanding him was as a Rabbi, and those following him would become his disciples.

 

But from the beginning, Jesus changed the entire meaning of discipleship. A fundamental characteristic of New Testament discipleship is that Jesus called the disciples to himself, whereas in Judaism a disciple decided which teacher he was going to follow. Neither were there any particular qualifications (social or educational) needed, other than the willingness to follow Jesus. That is why Jesus called tax gatherers and sinners to be his disciples, and scandalized the religious establishment in the process. And as to earthly benefits, there were certainly few of them involved in following Jesus! The commitment of his followers was to the person of Jesus, whereas in Judaism it was to the teaching of the Rabbi. With Jesus, a person follows his teaching only because he has encountered his person.

 

People tried to understand Jesus’ teaching, but without understanding  who he was or being willing to follow him. That’s why even learned teachers could not get what Jesus was saying — look at the Pharisees or even Nicodemus. In Christian discipleship, the Word of God becomes powerful in someone’s life only to the extent that they are willing to follow Jesus in personal commitment. If you try to follow Jesus’ teaching without knowing him personally, you will wind up either in utter failure or in legalistic hypocrisy. In Judaism, the relationship of disciple to teacher was determined by the teaching, so that someone would follow a particular Rabbi in order to get his teaching or interpretation of the Bible more than a heart knowledge of God. But without a heart knowledge of God, even the most learned theologian will never understand the Bible or the God who inspired it. And this led directly to the Pharisaical legalism that nailed Jesus to the cross. But the people who followed Jesus did so simply because they were committed to him as a person and to whom they understood him to be.

 

Discipleship is not about knowledge of doctrine, but about faith in a person. Doctrine (a right understanding of the Bible) is important, but it is birthed in an encounter with Jesus and a revelation from God as to who Jesus is. In Judaism, a disciple’s obedience was limited to agreement with the Rabbi’s teaching. By contrast, Jesus’ disciples are called to obey him in every part of their lives. There is nothing in the life of a disciple independent of Jesus. Everything we have and are is drawn into fellowship with him. But the way of Jesus leads to the cross, and so we also are drawn into the path of sacrifice and suffering with him. Maybe that’s why the discipleship movement didn’t gain many converts!

 

The bottom line is this: the reason we often fail to reproduce New Testament Christianity in our culture has something to do with the fact we equally fail to understand the meaning of New Testament discipleship. It’s a thought to ponder.

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Wed, 05/27/2015 - 17:18

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Thu, 05/14/2015 - 18:21

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The power of praise (Luke 1:46-55).

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 11:19

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour” (verse 46). So opens one of the greatest expressions of thanksgiving recorded in the Bible. Yet it was spoken by a woman whose circumstances were far from ideal. Mary was living in an enormous tension. She was an unwed woman who was pregnant. Joseph contemplated canceling the wedding, and was only stopped by a dream. The comments of the legalistic religious community they lived in must have been intolerable to bear. She was a woman who had done nothing wrong, a woman with a story no one would believe, a woman in disgrace.

Elizabeth identifies what has kept her: she had believed what God had spoken to her (verse 45). No matter what the circumstance or crisis, the way to victory is to believe what God has spoken.

And God helps us by sending those who stand with us, who also believe what God has said. Mary had Elizabeth even if she had no one else. Elizabeth and Mary were both women who had experienced the supernatural power of God. We need to find people on the same wavelength, people who believe God as we do, people who are on the same page.

So Mary’s response to God was amazing. No complaint, no “why have you done this to me?” We forget her position. We have the advantage of hindsight. We know how privileged Mary was and how the story turns out. But at that point she was in a place of great pressure and enormous need of faith. And by faith, she found the ability to see the present from the perspective of the future — from God’s perspective. Faith enables us to see beyond the difficulties of the present to the promises of the future.

And so her response was to exalt the Lord — and it was, as the Greek word aggaliaso indicates, a wild, unrestrained rejoicing! Her response to trial and difficulty was praise. “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16). There is power in praise. Praise is not an emotional response; it is an act of our spirit in which we reach deep down into our innermost being to ask God for the resources to release in us an attitude of thanksgiving. The decision to give praise releases in us the energy of the Holy Spirit, and He gives us an appreciation that somehow the invisible purposes of God are at work even in our present suffering.

- David Campbell

Disciple? What’s that?

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 11:17

What is a disciple? In the New Testament, the word “disciple” is used about 250 times, so it’s obviously a very important term. We cannot understand what it means to follow Jesus without understanding the meaning of this word. It was a common practice for educated and well-connected Jewish men to become disciples of leading Rabbis, which in turn would lead to them assuming the same role toward others. Such a position wold be financially and socially rewarding. So when Jesus appeared on the scene, the only way people had of understanding Him was as a Rabbi, and those following Him would become His disciples. But from the beginning, Jesus changed the entire meaning of discipleship. A fundamental characteristic of New Testament discipleship is that Jesus called the disciples to Himself, whereas in Judaism a disciple decided which teacher he was going to follow. Neither were there any particular qualifications needed, other than the willingness to follow Jesus. That is why Jesus called tax gatherers and sinners, and scandalized the religious people in the process. And there were certainly few earthly benefits to following Jesus! The commitment of His followers was to the person of Jesus, whereas in Judaism it was to the teaching of the Rabbi. With Jesus, a person follows His teaching only because he has encountered HIs person. It turned out to be an impossible task for those people who tried to understand His teaching without realizing who He was or being willing to follow Him as a person — look at the Pharisees or even Nicodemus. With Jesus, the Word of God becomes powerful in someone’s life only to the extent that they are willing to follow Him in personal commitment. If you try to follow Jesus’ teaching without knowing Him personally, you will wind up in either utter failure or legalistic hypocrisy. In Judaism, the relationship of disciple to teacher was determined by the teaching, so that someone would follow a particular Rabbi in order to get his teaching or interpretation of the Bible, more than a heart knowledge of God. And this led to the Pharisaical legalism that nailed Jesus to the cross. But people followed Jesus simply because they were committed to who He was. Discipleship was not about knowledge of doctrine, but about faith in a person. The doctrine came later and is important, but it was the person of Christ which was and is the point of greatest significance. In Judaism, a disciple’s obedience was limited to agreement with the Rabbi’s teaching, but Jesus called His disciples to obey Him in every part of their lives. There is nothing in the life of a disciple independent of Jesus. Everything we have and are is drawn into fellowship with Him. But the way of Jesus leads to the cross, and so we are also drawn into the path of sacrifice and suffering with Him. Perhaps the reason why we often have a nagging feeling we are failing to reproduce New Testament Christianity has something to do with the fact we are failing to understand the meaning of New Testament discipleship.

- David Campbell

Leaving the dead to bury the dead.

Tue, 03/11/2014 - 11:14

A man approached Jesus, expressing the desire to follow Him. But first, he asked, could I “bury my father?” (Matthew 8:21). This statement is sometimes taken to mean that he was in the middle of funeral arrangements, in which case Jesus’s response (“Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead”) seems extremely harsh. But such an interpretation is unlikely. According to Jewish custom, it was the responsibility of the eldest son to preside over all the funeral arrangements. Burial took place within twenty-four hours of death. If the father had really just died, the son would be keeping vigil and making funeral preparations. He would not be out on the town seeking an audience with Jesus. To “bury one’s father” was in fact a Jewish expression for fulfilling a son’s duty to look after his father for the remainder of his life. In other words, the request was to be a disciple, but later. This man wanted to be a disciple, but wanted to follow his own priorities first. Jesus confronted this with the statement that discipleship must take precedence over everything else. Sometimes we think that, once we have looked after our own affairs, provided for our family, raised our children, finished our career, obtained a good pension, then we will serve the Lord. But no, Jesus said, discipleship is for now. Either you follow Him or you don’t. All other priorities in life must be rearranged around the demands of God’s kingdom. That does not mean we abandon our family or do something stupid ? it just means that all the other legitimate responsibilities God calls us to must be understood in light of a total commitment to Jesus. We are to care for our children ? but that care cannot be an excuse for failing to do what God requires. We are to provide for our family ? but that provision is not to be an end in itself. We are to work hard ? but work is not to be god. The time to serve Jesus and follow Him is now. Let me give you the wisdom of experience ? people who say they will follow later will never follow! The second recruit is an example of the kind of people who hover around the edges of the kingdom but refuse to become true disciples. To this man Jesus said something so harsh it would be unbelievable had Jesus himself not clearly said it: “Leave the dead to bury their dead” (verse 22). Those who are not true disciples, in Jesus’s opinion at least, are the dead ? literally dead people or corpses. Could this happen today? Remember what Jesus said to an entire church: “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1).

- David Campbell

What is a disciple? In the New

Sun, 02/09/2014 - 21:35

What is a disciple? In the New Testament, the word disciple is used about 250 times, so it

Leaving the dead to bury the dead &

Fri, 12/13/2013 - 09:37

Leaving the dead to bury the dead

 

A man approached Jesus, expressing the desire to follow Him. But first, he asked, could I “bury my father?” (Matthew 8:21). This statement is sometimes taken to mean that he was in the middle of funeral arrangements, in which case Jesus

Church: Disciples or Crowd?

Sat, 02/16/2013 - 17:32

The Gospels lay out a clear distinction between two groups: the large crowds of people who appeared wherever Jesus was, and the much smaller band of disciples who travelled with Him.  Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John to leave everything behind and follow Him (Matthew 4:18-22), but wherever He went He attracted great crowds (4:23-25).  Jesus reserved most of His teaching for the disciples.  In 5:1, He saw the crowds, but then went up into the hills where the disciples came to Him and He taught them what we call the Sermon on the Mount.  He healed the crowds, but He taught the disciples.  Nowhere is it suggested that Jesus made the same demands of the crowds that He made of the disciples.  Nowhere is it suggested that the crowds left everything behind and followed Jesus all over Galilee. His strategy was never to focus on large numbers, but always to work with a small group whom He discipled to reach the large numbers.  Why is it that in the church today we so often seek the opposite?  We love to create big churches where many are entertained but few are equipped.  Instead we should be working with small groups of disciples, teaching and training them to create a network of leaders who will go out, plant churches and create more disciples.  Jesus never built His church on the crowds.  He built it on the small group of disciples: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:19).  We can reach out to the crowds if we move in miracles and gifts of healing as Jesus did, but the crowds will never form the foundation of the church.  They are, at best, a fishing pond from which we can draw disciples.  Jesus reached out to the crowds in compassion, but always chose to build His church on the much smaller foundation of those willing to give up everything to follow Him.  We should do the same today if we want to be successful in building the church Jesus wants.

- David Campbell

Dealing with trials.

Sat, 01/26/2013 - 10:32

James tells us that we are to count it all joy when we encounter trials (James 1:2). Trials are things which put us to the test. By testing us, they bring out what is in us, for better or for worse. We could put it this way: Pressure reveals the person. Trials may be difficulties which come from outside, such as the persecution James’ own readers were probably facing, or they may come from our own inner struggles. The trials he goes on to refer to in verses 2-4 (where the testing of our faith produces endurance) are the first kind, whereas the trials (or “temptations”) of verses 13-15 are the second. Both kinds of trials occur when negative occurrences encounter our weak and imperfect human nature. Where do trials come from? According to James, they are not directly from God, who is the author only of good and perfect gifts (verses 13-17). Trials are unfortunate and painful circumstances born out of a fallen world populated by fallen people and inhabited by a power of darkness using that fallenness to kill and destroy. Yet God has always has a plan to bring good out of evil and to use everything in a positive, redemptive manner. His ways are always constructive and never destructive, even if we need to have the false supports of this world painfully removed in order to have the true support of Christ replace them. But to see this happen, we must cooperate with Him and submit to Him in His plan, and this is what this teaching of James is all about.

- David Campbell

Facing the horror.

Sat, 12/15/2012 - 21:05

Today we sit stunned by the horror of a man who would shoot and kill innocent children. We are right to be shocked — yet wrong to be surprised. The image above this blog is Rubens’ depiction of a very similar event two thousand years ago: Herod’s massacre of the innocents (the children of Bethlehem). The reason we are surprised is simple: for most of the last hundred and fifty years, philosophers and scientists have indoctrinated us in the ways of evolution. I am not talking about Darwinism, for Darwinism was only a product of the philosophical thought of the German thinker Hegel. Hegel taught that mankind advances through a process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. Darwin took the thought up and translated it into biological evoiution. Marx took the same thought and developed the concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat (communism) as the highest form of human existence. Liberal theology used it to develop the idea of the social gospel — people were basically good and the church’s role is simply to improve them even more. What they all had in common was the deluded idea that mankind is in an ever-evolving upward spiral.

The history of the twentieth century, featuring monsters like Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Idi Amin, all of whom, modern-day Herods, regularly and methodically massacred innocent children along with anyone else who got in their way, should have taught us otherwise. The Bible presents us with an unpleasant but truthful understanding of people lost in sin and depravity, a horrible prison to which the only answer is Jesus Christ, the sinless Son of God, who gave His life on our behalf.

As we sit and mourn the incalculable loss of the families in mourning, we need to realize anew the delusion of our self-inflated evolutionary thinking, in which we see ourselves as so far superior to those who have gone before us, and contemplate instead how awful is our situation and how great is our need of a sinless Saviour.

- David Campbell

Take hold.

Sat, 12/08/2012 - 14:44

Paul taught the Ephesians that Christ has been raised far above every power of darkness (Ephesians 1:19-22). So now have believers, for He has raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 2:6). We are no longer, as we once were, under the rulership of the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:1). What a tragedy when Christians pass from death to life and don’t even begin to comprehend the breadth and depth and height of this life they have been given! That’s why Paul prays fervently that they will be able to grasp this truth and build their lives upon it (Ephesians 3:18). So to take hold of this life God has given us and all that goes with it is the first part of the battle won. But there is more to it than this. We need to understand that the reason we have been released from bondage to the power of darkness is not just to sit around and enjoy ourselves, but for a specific purpose: to do warfare against it. That is the whole point of what Paul is building to in chapter 6, when he says, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). This warfare is played out on the battlefield of life — on the very places Paul has talked about in chapters 4-6: our marriages, our family life, our places of employment, our neighbourhood. So there are two questions for us today: have we taken hold of the life He has given us, and what are we doing with it? When we take hold of these things, even in all our human imperfections, we will begin to see great ground taken for the kingdom.

- David Campbell

Our title deed.

Thu, 11/29/2012 - 14:39

Hebrews 11:1 also teaches that faith is the “conviction (or proof) of things not seen”.  The word “conviction” was also used literally to refer title deeds.  Faith is the title deed to our inheritance.  Just like the title deed to a piece of property, faith guarantees our possession not of pieces of property but of what God has promised us in the unseen, eternal realm — of provision, of healing, of taking nations for Christ.  We need to wave the title deed of our faith in the face of the devil and start taking back ground for God and His kingdom.  We have authority, through prayer and obedient action, in absolute submission to the will of God, not only to make the declaration, but also to bring about the result of the declaration, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matt. 6:10)

- David Campbell

Seizing the impossible.

Thu, 11/22/2012 - 10:09

Hebrews 11:1 teaches us that faith is the “substance” (the Greek word is hupostasis) of things hoped for. In Heb. 1:3, Christ is pictured as the exact representation of the “substance” or hupostasis of God. Christ brought the untouchable substance of the eternal God into this flesh and blood world. The eternal reality of who and what God is in the eternal, unseen realm is made physical, earthly reality in Christ. In the same way, the things that exist in the eternal realm – the “things hoped for”, the things we do not yet possess, are made into flesh and blood reality in the lives of individual believers in Christ through the exercise of faith. As Christ brings the invisible substance of God into this physical world, so faith brings the things we do not yet possess into our possession. Our faith in Christ reaches out for and secures what is real in the invisible world and brings it into the physical reality of this present world, whereas the outward realities of that world are in fact only passing shadows. What is real in the eternal world but has no substance in the material world gains substance through the exercise of our faith. It is this substance which enabled the heroes of faith, whose lives are recorded as chapter 11 unfolds, to conquer everything the world threw against them, and still emerge victorious, whether in life or in death. It’s time for us to be men and women of substance, who dare to seize the impossible by faith and change the world.

- David Campbell

Take up your rule!

Sat, 10/27/2012 - 11:52

Paul tells us that in Ephesians 2:6 that God has seated us with Christ in the heavenly places.  This speaks of the believer’s incredible authority.  Here is where Paul comes to the realization of the same truth God revealed to Adam at creation and tried to show the Israelites in the desert.  We are called to take up our place of rest, to rule and reign with Christ.  What Adam lost and the Israelites never understood has been restored in Christ.  When Christ finished His work of new creation, He entered the Most Holy Place in the heavenly tabernacle even as God, by His presence, entered the Most Holy Place first in the tabernacle and then in the temple: “For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things,but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf” (Hebrews 9:24).   At the moment of His ascension, having subdued all His foes, as God the Father had done beforehand, He entered His rest, as surely as God the Father had done.  And when He ascended and sat down at the right hand of God, He began His rule, just as God the Father had done in the Garden, at the tabernacle and at the temple.  That is why it was as He was about to ascend to the Father and take His seat at God’s right hand that He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… and I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18)  Jesus gained all authority when He entered His rest, and now He has passed this authority on to us.  It’s time to enter our rest and take up our rule!

- David Campbell

Two of the most amazing words in the Bible.

Wed, 10/10/2012 - 00:33

In Ephesians 2:5-6, Paul makes three amazing statements. We may have read them so many times they no longer seem amazing to us, but they are. He uses three compound verbs, all beginning with the Greek preposition sun, meaning “together with”, to describe what God has done for us. And these two words “together with” are two of the most amazing words in the Bible, because they show us that Christ’s destiny is our destiny. He made us alive together with Christ, He raised us up together with Christ, and He seated us in heavenly places together with Christ. These three verbs express an astonishing truth which, if we comprehend it not just in our mind but in our spirit, will change the way we look at everything. The truth leads us to this realization: what God accomplished in Christ He accomplished also for us. God made Christ alive. He has done the same for us. He raised Him from the dead. He has done the same for us. And He seated Christ in heavenly places (1:20), and He has done the same for us. You and I, who just an instant ago were lost sinners enslaved to the world, the flesh and the devil, now share in the destiny of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We are taken up out of our despair, our darkness and our depression into His life, His glory, His power and authority. We are indeed taken into His very throne room. What God gave to Him, He has given to us. What God purposes for Him, He purposes for us. What God empowers Him with, He empowers us with.

- David Campbell

A war headquarters with a difference.

Mon, 10/01/2012 - 15:10

God entered his tabernacle to take up a place of rest. But what does that mean? A significant truth is revealed about this by understanding something you may not have known about the tabernacle of Moses. God deliberately designed the whole camp, centering upon the tabernacle, to mimic the pattern of Egyptian military encampments of that same period of time. Egyptians camps had the same three-part structure, the same measurements, were oriented toward the east, and in the innermost chamber had an image of Pharaoh, which rested with two winged creatures on either side. The Egyptians believed that the soul or spirit of Pharaoh resided in the idol, so that Pharaoh was with them, whether he was physically present or not. Their camps were surrounded by troops divided into four units. What was the point God was making? He was sending a message to the Egyptians as well as trying to give a revelation to His people of who He was and what he was going to do for them. Even as the idolatrous Pharaoh led his troops from his innermost chamber, so the God of Israel led His troops from the Most Holy place, where it was no idol but His majestic presence which rested. Israel’s tabernacle was a travelling war headquarters from which God, in His place of rest, directed His troops until they achieved total victory. The shows us two things: God’s people are meant to exercise God’s authority on earth, and God’s authority is greater than any other.

So God’s rest reveals His sovereign power. God’s rest is not His retirement — it is His reign! It is the place of rulership where all His enemies have been defeated. Why does Scripture say repeatedly of God that he is “enthroned above the cherubim” (2 Samuel 6:2, 2 Kings 19:15, 1 Chronicles 13:6, Psalm 80:1, 99:1)? God did not go into the tabernacle or the temple to sit down and retire. He went in to sit down on His throne and reign! The New Testament tells us God has come to rest in each of us by the power of His Spirit. That means we are all one man, one woman travelling war headquarters for the advancement of God’s kingdom. You may not think of yourself that way when we look in the mirror in the morning, but that is how God looks at you. Why don’t you let God expand your vision of what He can do through you by transforming your understanding of who He is in you!

- David Campbell

God’s rest — not what you think it is! (cont’d)

Tue, 09/18/2012 - 22:55

But how do we fit into this picture? To rest means to reign and rule. A significant truth is revealed about this by understanding something you may not have known about the tabernacle of Moses. God deliberately designed the whole camp, centering upon the tabernacle, to mimic the pattern of Egyptian military encampments of that same period of time. Egyptians camps had the same three-part structure, the same measurements, were oriented toward the east, and in the innermost chamber had an image of Pharaoh, which rested with two winged creatures on either side. The Egyptians believed that the soul or spirit of Pharaoh resided in the idol, so that Pharaoh was with them, whether he was physically present or not. Their camps were surrounded by troops divided into four units. What was the point God was making? He was sending a message to the Egyptians as well as trying to give a revelation to His people of who He was and what he was going to do for them. Even as the idolatrous Pharaoh led his troops from his innermost chamber, so the God of Israel led His troops from the Most Holy place, where it was no idol but His majestic presence which rested. Israel’s tabernacle was a travelling war headquarters from which God, in His place of rest, directed His troops until they achieved total victory. The shows us two things: God’s people are meant to exercise God’s authority on earth, and God’s authority is greater than any other.

So God’s rest reveals His sovereign power. God’s rest is not His retirement — it is His reign! It is the place of rulership where all His enemies have been defeated. Why does Scripture say repeatedly of God that he is “enthroned above the cherubim” (2 Samuel 6:2, 2 Kings 19:15, 1 Chronicles 13:6, Psalm 80:1, 99:1)? God did not go into the tabernacle or the temple to sit down and retire. He went in to sit down on His throne and reign!

But does the Bible apply this to the church? The answer is yes! In Ephesians 2:5-6, Paul makes three amazing statements. We may have read them so many times they no longer seem amazing to us, but they are. He uses three compound verbs, all beginning with the Greek preposition sun, meaning “together with”, to describe what God has done for us: He made us alive together with Christ, He raised us up together with Christ, and He seated us in heavenly places together with Christ. These three verbs express an astonishing truth which, if we comprehend it not just in our mind but in our spirit, will change the way we look at everything. The truth leads us to this realization: what God accomplished in Christ He accomplished also for us. God made Christ alive. He has done the same for us. He raised Him from the dead. He has done the same for us. And He seated Christ in heavenly places (1:20), and He has done the same for us. You and I, who just an instant ago were lost sinners enslaved to the world, the flesh and the devil, now share in the destiny of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We are taken up out of our despair, our darkness and our depression into His life, His glory, His power and authority. We are indeed taken into His very throne room. What God gave to Him, He has given to us. What God purposes for Him, He purposes for us. What God empowers Him with, He empowers us with.

- David Campbell

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