Power of Another Kind

Do you ever feel overwhelmed by the misuse of power in our world today? Find hope and inspiration this Sunday as we delve into the power paradox and discover how the Spirit of God offers a different kind of power that doesn’t erode our humanity, but empowers us to love, serve, and make a real difference in our lives and communities.

I want to talk in this message about power — the power we all desperately need.

The power to lead our lives.
The power to be a good person.
The power to be a good parent, spouse or friend.
The power to make right choices.
The power to keep going when life feels like it’s beating you down and you’re ready to give up.
The power to stand up for what you believe in.
The power to just go to work or face whatever it is you need to face on a daily basis.

We all need power.

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And we live in an area where people understand a lot about power.

A lot of very powerful people in very powerful organizations live right here in the Bay Area.

That’s partly why a lack of power or powerlessness can be so painful. It just feels like, “If I don’t have power I’m not much of a person.” It strikes at our sense of dignity, or purpose, or worth.

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That’s also why “to empower” someone has become such a huge deal in education, or in the corporate world, or in training, or in advertising.

“We will empower you,” has become a buzzword.

But it’s often a sneaky way to just get someone else to do what I want them to do.

“Hey, dear, let me empower you to make the breakfast I want.”

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Power is a good thing, but it has a way of doing stuff to us that might not be good.

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There’s a professor at Cal Berkeley, Dacher Keltner, who studies the impact of power on human character.

He says power can actually be hazardous to your moral health.

The strangest things happen when people get just a little power.

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In one study, he put subjects in groups of three people and randomly appointed one person to be the leader of that group of three.

Then, he would bring out four cookies for those three people.

Do you want to guess who almost always assumes that they’re entitled to eat the extra cookie?

It’s whoever has been appointed the leader of that group.

Apparently, having power means getting the extra cookie. At least at Berkeley it does.

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At Stanford, the leader would typically send the fourth cookie back and ask for crème Brule.

The misuse of power…

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We all want power, we all get some power, but we all misuse it.

And the misuse of power is, “I will use power to get my own way.” I think power means getting what I want.

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We see the abuse of power in high definition in our day — in government, in businesses, in finance, and in the church.

There are all kinds of articles about this.

At the core of the misuse of power is that I think power is about me getting my will to be done.

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Power has this tendency to actually erode our humanity, and Professor Keltner actually has a phrase for this. He calls it — the power paradox.

The power paradox is it takes certain skills, certain gifts, and certain abilities with people in order to acquire power, but when you get power, that tends to erode the very gifts it took to get the power.

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People who receive power suffer from an empathy deficit.

They become more insensitive.
They become more impulsive.
Other people are constantly being nice to them, so they actually lose their ability to read other people accurately.

Keltner writes:

My own research has found that people with power tend to behave like patients who have damaged their brain’s orbital frontal lobes.

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There was an article in The Atlantic several years ago that stirred up a lot of conversation.

The title was simply “Power Causes Brain Damage.”

If you want, you can pass that along to your boss.

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Power is not just a title or a position; it is a force.

It’s a spiritual force, and if you know much about the Bible, the writers of Scripture will sometimes talk about powers and principalities.

Obtaining power tends to do something to your state of mind. And over time, it will make you treat people differently.

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There are tons of studies about this. I’ll tell you about one.

It’s been replicated a number of times about how owning a powerful and expensive car affects the way we drive.

One of them was done with people driving here in the Bay Area where a lot of people are into cars.

Someone who can afford an expensive car is more likely to have had a good education.

They’re more likely to have a good job and a nice house and lots of money, so they have lots of reasons to be grateful.

So you would think someone who has a more expensive and powerful car would be more likely to express their gratitude by kindness to pedestrians. Right?

Not so much!

It turns out that drivers of less expensive cars consistently give the right of way to pedestrians at a crosswalk.

Drivers of powerful, expensive cars ignore pedestrians and blow off the law almost half of the time.

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There’s a British neurologist named David Owen.

He has actually identified a personality disorder. He’s working to get it accepted in the psychiatric community. He calls it the hubris syndrome.

He says it’s an acquired disorder where people see the world as a place to exercise power and seek the glorification of self.

Owen has actually started an organization (no kidding) for the study and prevention of hubris.

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Now, we live in part of the world where a lot of people have a lot of power. And we feel the pressure to do something similar with our lives, vocationally, financially, with our achievements, and how we look.

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And like the Bay Area, Corinth, this city Paul wrote his letter to, was very much about power.

People went to Corinth because they wanted to make money.

Corinth sat in this little spot geographically where it was the crossroads of trade and commerce which, in the Roman Empire, was exploding, so you could make a lot of money there.

It had been torn down and had been rebuilt not long before Paul’s time, so it had a startup culture, and it became associated with a tremendous pursuit for wealth and status.

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So much so that 2,000 years later a luxury car in the United States promised you could have the interior of that car upholstered luxuriously not just in leather, not just in rich leather, but in rich, Corinthian leather.

What’s Corinthian leather?

What do you have to do to leather to make it Corinthian leather? Does it come from Corinthian cows?

I was reading about this getting ready for this message, and it turns out there is no such thing as Corinthian leather, just smart marketing people who were trying to think of some way to make leather sound really expensive and luxurious so people would want it, so they came up with the phrase “rich, Corinthian leather,” and people bought it.

That’s Corinth — rich Corinthian leather. That’s where you go.

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If you’re going to make it when you go to Corinth, you’d better have power. You’d better have lots and lots of power.

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Then, power kind of does brain damage.

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All of this now is the backdrop to the fascinating way Paul describes his coming to people in the church in Corinth.

He summarizes it like this

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. (1 Corinthians 2:3)

Who in the world does that and why?

Paul emphasizes this —

He came with fear. Not just fear but great fear and not just great fear but weakness and great fear and not just weakness and great fear but weakness and great fear and trembling.

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Who trembles?

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You go to a job interview:

Experts say you have to project strength.
You have to know what your strengths are.
You have to have assurance and confidence and calmness.
You have to watch your body language.
Don’t fidget at a job interview.
Especially, for sure, don’t tremble. Trembling at a job interview is not a good way to get a great position.

No speaker came to Corinth in weakness and great fear and trembling. No one did.

But Paul did.

We talked last week about how Paul said he had this thing called a thorn in the flesh, that he was prone to conceit, so it was given to him, and no one knows exactly what it was.

Some people think maybe it was anxiety. Maybe Paul was one who suffered from panic attacks and he literally physically trembled.

Some people have thought maybe he suffered from a form of malaria that was quite common in the ancient world that would have robbed him of his physical vigor and energy so that physically he would tremble with weakness.

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Whatever else he was, Paul was a brilliant man — one of the most influential minds in the history of the human race.

He was educated, we’re told, at the feet of Gamaliel — one of the great rabbis in Israel, which had this tremendous intellectual tradition.

Paul was a world traveler.

Paul was a Roman citizen.

Why in the world would he go to Corinth in weakness with great fear and trembling?

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Then, when he’s writing to them (these people who were all crazy for power and status and rich Corinthian leather) why would he remind them, “When I came to you, I came in weakness with great fear and trembling”?

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Because he’s bringing another kind of power.

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He’s convinced that he was blindsided with a kind of power that now is available for the lowly and the needy and the least and the lost and the last.

When he comes to Corinth, the church is mostly made up of people like that.

We learned that last week. If you haven’t listened to that message, go online and check it out.

Paul says:

Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. (1 Corinthians 1:26)

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. (1 Corinthians 2:3)

So that lowly people, uneducated people, and slave people would look at Paul and think, “If God could use him maybe God could use me. Maybe I’m not a nobody after all. Maybe my life makes a difference in something after all. Maybe this message of the cross is turning everything up-side-down, like, “Blessed are the meek,” and “Blessed are those who mourn,” and “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Paul made a discovery in the realm of the spirit.

He found a kind of power that is beyond human power and that is compatible with weakness including mine and yours.

He highlights and even revels in his own weakness, and he does this all of the time so other people might see this and understand, “This power is available to me, and it won’t puff me up and make me proud and arrogant.”

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He goes on.

I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but

Remember last week — but God.

with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom

I have to get rich. I have to get secure. I have to get status.

but on God’s power.

This is the source of power.

You were made to be powered by God’s Spirit and not your own adequacy.

Paul is introducing here the Spirit of God or the Holy Spirit for the first time in his letter to the church at Corinth, and this is such an important subject, and it’s why I’m so glad you’re here and we’re diving into this.

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What almost no one knows about human beings, because we do have certain kinds of power, is that none of us were made to run on our own power, our own intelligence, or our own strength.

God said a long time ago through one of the prophets:

Not by might

That is, human might.

nor by power,

That is, human power.

but by my Spirit, says the Lord. (Zechariah 4:6)

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After Jesus had been crucified and resurrected, he said to his followers, “Don’t do anything. Don’t go anywhere, but wait till you receive the Spirit.”

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses… (Acts 1:8)

There’s this connection between power and Spirit.

Spirit is a real important word.

In our day, it gets used quite a lot. You might hear someone say something like, “I’m spiritual but not religious.”

People talk about spirituality quite a lot, but we’re not always real clear on what spirituality means.

If you ask someone, “What exactly is spirit?” my experience is people often get fuzzy and vague.

This is too important a subject not to be clear about.

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If something is important, we want to know what it means, so just to cue this up, I want to ask you to take about 20 seconds, turn to the person next to you, and if someone were to ask you, “What is spirit?” what would you say?

Turn to the person next to you. In 20 seconds, how would you define spirit?

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Alright, I’m going to ask you to end those conversations now.

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It’s fascinating! This is such an important word.

There are lots of words that matter to us that we’re really clear about the definitions of, but often, people have never actually thought, “What does this mean? What’s it about?”

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Spirit at its core is power of a certain kind.

Spirit is power — or energy, or the ability to get things done, which is something we prize enormously.

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I was talking to a friend who has a Phd in physics.

He tells me what we think of as matter at its core is really energy.

When I was growing up, I thought there were molecules, and they had atoms and they had protons and electrons, and way down at the smallest level they were little hard bits of stuff, but my friend tells me you get small enough and you get down to quarks and beyond that, it’s just energy.

In other words, reality is energy.

That’s why one atom has tremendous power. It’s energy.

That’s why we’re so fascinated by energy and why we desire it so.

Spirit is energy or power, but it’s personal power.

Spirit is personal power.

It’s not mechanical. It’s not like electricity. Those are impersonal forms of power.

Spirit is personal power, but it’s real.

That’s partly why if someone has a lot of energy or they have a strong will, we’ll talk about that person as a spirited person.

We want to be around spirited people.

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Now, Jesus says about God, “God is Spirit.”

This means something. This is a claim that God is unlimited personal energy or power, enough to speak the universe into reality. He is the foundation of reality.

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This is why in the Bible the arrival of or the manifestation of the Spirit of God is very often accompanied by images of fire (fire is energy) or wind (wind is energy) or an earthquake, a sense of force.

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The realm of the Spirit is real, and that’s part of why the natural response of human beings when we see the world around us, is to understand that there is a Spirit God who created it.

The writer of Hebrews says:

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command,

God just spoke. God willed it into being.

God is unlimited personal power, so creating the universe is no problem for God. Sustaining the universe is no problem for God. It doesn’t keep him up at night.

so that what is seen

This stage or this music stand or this body.

was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:3)

But was made by God who is Spirit.

By faith, we understand this.

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This is real important, too. Faith is not the opposite of reason.

Faith doesn’t mean you believe something for no good reason or evidence at all.

Faith is reliance on something. To have faith is to trust.

Faith is the primary way we (our minds) contact reality.

I trust that if I flip the switch, the light will go on, and there will be light.
I trust that when I put fuel in my car it will start, and it does.

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We receive power from the Spirit of God by faith, and you are a spiritual being.

There is an unseen, invisible side to you (your thoughts, your intentions, and your desires) and that’s the most important part of you.

You can’t help being spiritual.

Spiritual is not something that some people are and other people are not.

There is this unseen dimension to you, primarily your will, and there is power associated with it.

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The Holy Spirit (the power of God) can interact with human beings in a way that allows us to use our power to serve God and others. This is the right use of power.

The wrong use or the misuse of power is when I just use my power to get my way.

The right use of power is the surrendered service of God and others. — “God, give me power so I can be who you want me to be and do what you want me to do,” and God will do this.

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Paul says:

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:18)

“Pray in the Spirit.”

This is real simply means the unseen side of you — your intentions, with all of your mind.

“On all occasions.”

When do you need power?

Then, just ask God, and God actually will interact with you.

Try it this week and see if God doesn’t do this, sometimes in unexpected ways.

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Let me say this again — the invitation Paul makes to the church in Corinth is not, “Be spiritual.” Every human being is spiritual.

This is often not understood or recognized.

Every human being has an invisible side to them. You have a will. That is at the absolute core of your spirit. You have thoughts. You form intentions, and no one has ever seen one of those.

Now, we have brains that work right alongside with those. That’s part of what it means to be embodied, but you are more than simply your body.

You are a spiritual being, and to neglect your spirit and the well-being of your spirit is the worst tragedy, infinitely worse than having something bad happen to your body.

All of us have some dim awareness of this. This is why we say things like, “I’m spiritual,” or “I want to be spiritual,” but we often don’t even know what we mean by that.

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Well, very smart people have thought it through at real deep levels.

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The invitation Paul made to Corinth where people were sitting with their rich Corinthian leather chariots — and that he makes now to you and me in the Bay Area — is, “You surrender your will. You surrender your spirit and be empowered by the Spirit of God.”

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Then, these prayers that are so rich become real in our lives.

Paul says this in Ephesians 3:16-17. Think about this being prayed for you.

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:16-17)

Quite apart from whatever kind of talk I or anyone else could give or whatever human words anyone could say, this is reality.

Then, you’re not running on your own power.

And the difference is hard to describe.

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I will tell you a story to try to get at it, but I have to warn you about it ahead of time.

I grew up in Chicago. I grew up next to a Polish community in Chicago. So our highest form of humor was jokes about Polish people. I’m going to tell you one. It’s not funny. I know it is not funny. Don’t complain afterward that it was not funny. It simply illustrates precisely the point I want to make.

A Polish guy goes to buy a chainsaw to cut down trees in his backyard, but it doesn’t work very well.

The first day, this guy cuts down five trees with his new chainsaw.

The second day only two trees.

And by the third day he only cuts down one tree even though he works really hard all day.

He took the chainsaw back to the store to return it.

And just to make sure it was working, the shop owner started the chainsaw up, to which the Polish guy said, “What’s that noise?”

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Anyway, here’s the point.

Trying to live the life God commands without receiving the power that God offers is an exercise in frustration.

And some people (even people who spend a lot of time in the church) experience that for years.

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How do I live this life?

You don’t live it on your own. You live it by the power of the Spirit.

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Read the Gospels. For three years, Jesus’ disciples tried to do what Jesus said, and it didn’t go so well. They didn’t do so good.

Then, he’s crucified and resurrected. Even then, he said, “Not yet! Not yet! Don’t leave Jerusalem. Just wait!” and they did.

Then, one day on the Day of Pentecost, something happened.

Here’s how it gets described. Notice the language.

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven. (Acts 2:2)

All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and everyone said, “What’s that noise?”

It was a sound like the blowing of a violent wind.

It wasn’t the blowing of a violent wind exactly, but it was kind of like that. It was power.

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Then, what looked like tongues of fire descended on them. It wasn’t that. It wasn’t fire exactly. It was kind of like fire.

What was it?

It was power, personal power, the power of God, the power of the Spirit of God.

That’s what they received.

The power to pray.
The power to love people they couldn’t love before.
The power to witness.
The power to give.
The power to include.
The power to embrace one another the way Jesus did.
The power to serve.
The power to stop worrying about their ego and their agenda.
The power to care for the poor.
The power to resist temptation.
The power to build the church. The church got started with no money.
The power to live like no one had ever lived.
And the power to die with joy and hope.

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Now, it’s your turn. You shall receive power.

But God… But God… But God…

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Where do you need power?

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I’ll give you a few indicators of the Spirit in your life.

When the Spirit comes into your life, then you will find yourself unleashing the gifts of the Spirit.

Now, the gifts of the Spirit are special abilities the Spirit gives, and the writers of Scripture talk about these spiritual gifts or these abilities.

The plan for the church is that the church be organized according to spiritual gifts.

To be shepherded by people who have the spiritual gift of shepherding.
To be led by people with the spiritual gift of leadership.
To be taught by people with the spiritual gift of teaching.
To be organized by people who have the spiritual gift of administration.

You find the Spirit is at work in you to do stuff you couldn’t do on your own.

That’s part of why there has never been anything like the church.

When you discover and use your spiritual gifts (these special abilities God gives you) to serve Jesus and his body, you’ll find not only does the body get built up but your faith gets built up.

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Then, cultivate the fruit of the Spirit.

The gifts of the Spirit are special abilities; the fruit of the Spirit are character qualities.

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Paul writes about these.

When the Spirit is operating in your life, the manifestation of the Spirit will be — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Pray and ask God to grow that up in you. And watch for it this week.

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Then, you experience the indwelling of the Spirit.

You unleash the gifts of the Spirit, and you cultivate the fruit of the Spirit, but then you experience, you look for, you pay attention to, you invite the indwelling of the Spirit with you any moment and all of the time.

Paul writes to this church at Corinth — think about these words:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? (1 Corinthians 6:19)

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. (Ephesians 3:16)

A friend of mine who used to work at our church was trying to explain that one time to his little daughter.

She said, “I know. I know Jesus lives in my heart because, when I put my hand over it, I can feel him walking around in there.”

That’s not a bad way of saying it. He’s walking around in there.

He is in you, and this is real. It is not physical, but it is real.

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This week, make your life an adventure in life in the Spirit and another kind of power.

Look for it.

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I’ll tell you what will happen.

When you surrender to the Spirit, when you humble yourself to the Spirit, when you pray in the Spirit, you will find a new aliveness being given to you.

You will have a greater sense of God’s presence coming into your life.

You will have more guidance coming from God beginning to replace frustration and confusion. This can grow over time.

When the Spirit comes, if you don’t listen and if you don’t respond to the Spirit, you tend to get more insensitive to it.

But every time you say, “Yes,” and every time you respond to the Spirit, you get a little more sensitive to him.

You will trust God more.
You will worry about yourself less.
You will be given a greater love for other people.
You will wake up in the morning with a little less worry.
You will go to sleep at night with a little more peace.
You will receive power.

Alright, let me pray for you.

Blue Oaks Church
Pleasanton, CA

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