Monday, January 28, 2013

"Creation and Morality"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic

Lesson 5: "Creation and Morality"

All true morality derives its origin from God's agape. The dictionary defines moral or morality as "relating to, dealing with, or capable of making the distinction between right and wrong in conduct" (New World Dictionary). Sometimes we refer to the "moral law" meaning our obligations to others. Understood this way, it is easy to see how the Ten Commandments embody God's understanding of humans' obligations to each other.
When God came to investigate Abel's murder, He asked Cain where Abel was. Cain said he didn't know and asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9).* God didn't respond directly, but He made it clear that Cain had sinned by violating his brother's right to live. In order to enjoy each other's company, all have certain basic rights. Even animals have instincts which echo some of these rights.
A National Geographic program aired a photojournalist's documentary of an elephant herd. The herd encountered a baby elephant that did not belong to them. He was standing beside his dead mother crying helplessly into the Savannah night because he was too young to fend for himself. The herd was curious so they mingled around him and his mother's body, but after a while the herd moved on, leaving the little fellow doing the only thing he knew to do, cry into the darkness. Elephants have excellent hearing and his cries were apparently too much for the matriarchs of the herd, and not long afterward, the entire group returned to the baby and allowed him to join them permanently.
It is tempting to attribute morality to the elephants' actions, but we know animals were not created with the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, other than to respond to instincts. A mother bear does not defend her cubs because she knows it is the right thing to do, she is carrying out a strong instinct. Humans do have instincts, but we have also been given the ability to reason between right and wrong actions.
There is a vast difference between man and beasts. "God said, 'Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness'" (Gen. 1:26). God made man "to be a companion for God and the angels. Yet he is as dependent upon God for life as are the beasts over which he was given dominion" (E. J. Waggoner, The Present Truth, Aug. 2, 1894, p. 485).
What was God's purpose in creating the animals and man? God made man to rule and in that respect he was to be an associate with God. "For in that He put all in subjection under him" (Heb. 2:8). Man has been given the freedom to choose for himself. "It is the freedom of will that gives to man the possibility of being a companion of God" (ibid.).
Since all morality originates from God, who is agape, we can easily see why the beings "made in His image" were given the ability to reason right from wrong. God wanted humans to interact peacefully with each other, but sin derailed that. Sin focused humans inward. Adam was so in love with Eve that he was willing join her in sin because he knew she had to die and he did not want to live without her. Yet, once God confronted their sin his only excuse was to blame her. Sin changed Adam's nature and it was the only nature he had to pass on to his children. Our natural inclination is to take care of self first.
How can selfish beings determine their moral obligation to others? Only Christ can be our guide. God loved the world so much that He was willing to alter the configuration of the Godhead forever when Jesus took human nature upon Himself. That is the best measure of the value God places on His creation. Our obligations to each other stem from that. So much of humanity has chosen against the gift of life Christ obtained for us at the cross, but He died for us anyway. We cannot say then, that our moral obligation to others is dependent on how worthy another is; our obligation rests solely on the fact that we are brothers, and all belong to the family of God.
"And let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we shall reap if we do not grow weary. So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:9, 10). "Though many whom He [Jesus] relieved never showed the least sign of appreciation, it made no difference with Him. He came to do good and not to be appreciated. ... Doing good to others is to be considered a privilege to be enjoyed and not an irksome duty to be discharged" (The Glad Tidings, pp. 134-136).
The message of 1888 teaches that when Christ was incarnated, He took upon Himself the entire world of humanity when He came as the second Adam, as Paul describes in Romans, chapter 5. Therefore, we are morally obligated to consider all as Christ's, even though many have wandered from God and rebelled against His gift of life. We benefit from the peace on earth that Christ restored by taking us to His cross and paying our penalty for sin. Not one sinner can claim superiority over another since our moral imperative derives from the cross. Even our faith is given to us by Christ. "The faith which He gives to us is His own tried and approved faith, and it will not fail us in any contest. We are not exhorted to try to do as well as He did, or to try to exercise as much faith as He had, but simply to take His faith, and let it work by love, and purify the heart. It will do that!" (ibid., p. 41, emphasis in original).
"Only in and through Him does the life of God flow to all creation. He is then the means, medium, mediator, the way, by which the light of life pervades the universe. He did not first become mediator at the fall of man, but was such from eternity. No one, not simply no man, but no created being, comes to the Father but by Christ. No angel can stand in the divine presence except in Christ. No new power was developed, no new machinery, so to speak, was required to be set in motion by the entering of sin into the world. The power that had created all things only continued in God's infinite mercy to work for the restoration of that which was lost" (ibid., p. 76, emphasis in original).
"The oft-repeated declarations that the Lord is Creator are intended as a source of strength. Notice how creation and redemption are connected in the first chapter of Colossians. ..." "For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth ... For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross ..." (Col 1:16-20). "It is not an accident that the wonderful declaration concerning Christ as Creator is connected with the statement that in Him we have redemption. No. ... It is for our comfort that we are told that the head of the church is the Creator of all things. We are told that He upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3), in order that we may rest in the assurance that 'The Hand which bears all nature up shall guard His children well'" (Christ and His Righteousness, pp. 39-41).
--Arlene Hill
* Bible texts are from the New American Standard Bible.
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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Monday, January 14, 2013

"The Creation Completed"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Lesson 3: "The Creation Completed"
Why did God create the earth to be inhabited by the lower orders of creatures climaxing in His highest achievement Adam and Eve? Is there something missing in our understanding of the Creator which can be set right by the dynamics of the 1888 message?
"God made two great lights": the sun "to rule the day, and the" moon "to rule the night" (Gen. 1:16; Jer. 31:35). The purpose of the celestial bodies is to divide the light from the darkness, continuing and rendering permanent the distinction established on the first day, when the light of day was divided from the darkness of night by the earth rotating on its axis and revolving in its orbit.
The moon has no light of its own but reflects the light of the sun so that we know that it is still shining somewhere even though we cannot see it. The sun has no light of its own because God maintains its energy (Col. 1:17). Although we cannot see the face of God, we know that He lives and that His glory is still shining, because we can see God's glorious creative power manifested in the sunlight by day and the soft beautiful moonlight by night.
Life comes from the immediate actions of God. "Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth" (Gen. 1:20 ESV). There is no suggestion that the waters caused life, but were made to swarm, teem with life by His creative Word.
Fishes swarm in the sea in untold millions, yet the cod, the salmon, the mackerel are as distinct as though they were in different seas. So among birds: the robin does not mate with the sparrow, nor the sparrow with the wren. Likewise, "God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind" (Gen. 1:24). Not only has no animal shown any tendency toward development into a higher species, but none ever changes its kind to the slightest degree. To believe that man has evolved from lower orders of creation, requires a degree of simple credulity that is not found among those who believe the Bible.
When God created man, the union of the body (formed of constituents of the earth), and the gift of the spirit of life (received from God, the Source of life), formed the man himself "a living soul" (Gen. 2:7). The term "living soul" is not, however, distinctive. It is applied to the lower animals as well as to man. The same Hebrew words that in Genesis 2:7 are translated "living soul," are in Genesis 1:24 translated "living creature." It would be as proper to translate Genesis 1:24 thus, "And God said, let the earth bring forth the living soul after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth, after his kind." The lower animals are called living souls. Also, animals and man have the same breath of life (Gen. 7:21, 22).
But this doesn't mean that man is no better than a beast. There is a vast difference. "God said, Let Us make man in our image, after Our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). God "made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor" (Psalm 8:5). God made man "to be a companionfor God and the angels. Yet he is as dependent upon God for life as are the beasts over which he was given dominion. [1]
What was God's purpose in creating the animals and man? God made man to rule and in that respect he was to be an associate with God. "For in that He put all in subjection under him" (Heb. 2:8). Man has been given the freedom to choose for himself. "It is this freedom of will that gives to man the possibility of being a companion of God." [2] God will not force man against his will.
If we follow the Divine love of God in creation, it leads us to the answer as to why God created the earth and its living inhabitants. Adam came forth from the hand of the Creator an innocent adult [3] with the potential of continuous growth and progression in his comprehension of God. [4] "Adam in his sinless state was ever so innocent, but he certainly did not have the mind ofagape." [5] He wasn't willing to die for Eve, but rather chose to die in despair with her.
Thus he failed in the purpose for which God had created him. Adam in his original state of innocence was given the freedom to choose and progress in his comprehension of Divine love and thus be a revelation to the universe of true companionship with God. His learning curve was to commence with this earth as his dominion. Having successfully passed his apprenticeship on earth, there would have been infinite possibilities.
There are things about God's agape so amazing, that the universe did not comprehend. Adam's failure did not frustrate God's purpose to fully reveal Himself.
Christ did not have the sinless mind of Adam before the Fall. It is ever so true that innocent Adam had no self-centeredness or rebellion against God. Consequently, Adam was not "under the law." But Christ was "made of a woman, made under the law" (Gal. 4:4).
In contrast to Adam, Christ had the "mind" of agape because He is God. He "was made of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Rom. 1:3). He was "like every child of Adam" in accepting "the results of the working of the great law of heredity." [6] To say that Christ "had" the sinless nature or the sinless mind of the pre-Fall Adam is a pathetic failure to grasp reality.
Christ took our sinful nature, which included taking a "self" that needed to be denied constantly. It's not a sin to have a "self" if self is denied. It's a sin toyield to self. There is no selfishness until self is indulged. And Jesus perfectly denied self--even to the death on the cross. Since Adam in his sinless state had no self that had to be denied, there is a vast difference between the nature which Christ "took" and Adam's sinless nature. Jesus fought a constant battle that Adam never knew in his sinless state.
It wasn't until the cross of Christ that the universe comprehended the amazing love of God, which Adam should have demonstrated for Eve. If you love, you love forever, for as Abraham Lincoln said, "Love is eternal." Love has its source in God, for the Bible says that "God is love" (1 John 4:8), and He is eternal.
--Paul E. Penno
[1] Ellet J. Waggoner, "The Soul, Resurrection, and Punishment," The Present Truth, August 2, 1894, p. 485.
[2] Ibid.
[3] "Had Adam and Eve never disobeyed their Creator, had they remained in the path of perfect rectitude, they could have known and understood God. But when they listened to the voice of the tempter, and sinned against God, the light of the garments of heavenly innocence departed from them; and in parting with the garments of innocence, they drew about them the dark robes of ignorance of God" (Ellen G. White, Conflict and Courage, chapter 11).
[4] "Man is capable of everlasting progression, providing he submits himself to the power of God's life" (Waggoner, op. cit.).
[5] Robert J. Wieland, The 1888 Message: An Introduction, Revised & Enlarged (1997), p. 67.
[6] Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 48.
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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

"Creation: Forming the World"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Lesson 2: "Creation: Forming the World"

The latter rain of the Holy Spirit has long been anticipated by the church to provide the efficiency necessary to proclaim the Third Angel's Message to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people (Rev. 14:6). This "rain" is absolutely essential in order to ripen the grain so that Jesus can reap the harvest at His return (vss. 15, 16).
Presently the world is as it was in the days of Noah and before the six days of creation. The people of the world are in deep darkness and moral corruption because of a misunderstanding of the character of God. The time is long overdue for the "rays of light" from the Holy Spirit to be released upon a decaying and dying world as in the beginning light shone out of darkness. The 1888 message addresses this last-days' creative act of God.
The originative phase of creation was instantaneous when "God created the heavens and the earth" "for He spake, and it was done" (Gen. 1:1; Psalm 33:9). This mass was "without form, and void" (Gen. 1:2). It was total darkness, liquid, gases, matter, energy, lifeless, and tenantless. "By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made" without any pre-existing matter (Psalm 33:6).
"The Spirit of God" initiated the formative phase of creation as He "moved upon" "the waters" (Gen. 1:2). The Holy Spirit's action is portrayed as the tremulous flutter of a loving mother eagle over its young (Deut. 32:11). As a result of this operation of the Spirit, the whole unformed mass of the earth becomes inherently teeming with energy in the six words of the creation week.
"And God said, Let there be light: and there was light" (Gen. 1:3). There was light created on the first day, but it was cosmic light (vs. 3), not solar light (vs. 14). The first day's work included the creation of the darkness. "I form the light, and create darkness" (Isa. 45:7). Darkness was created before the light, and the light out of the darkness. "God ... commanded the light to shine out of darkness" (2 Cor. 4:6). The darkness of the formative stage of creation was different from the total blackout darkness of the originative stage of creation. "God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day" (Gen. 1:5). Thus the sequence of the 24-hour day from the beginning is first nighttime and then daytime.
"And God saw the light, that it was good" (Gen. 1:4). There is no expression like this in the rest of the chapter. The very first creature of the creation week is light! This is the one creature among all creatures which God chose to be a fit symbol of the Creator who is Himself Light, and in whom is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5), "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (John 1:9).
"And God said, Let there be a firmament [an expanse]" (Gen. 1:6). Of this we read in Job 37:18, "Can you as He does beat out the vault of the skies, hard as a mirror of cast metal?" (REB). The firmament is the expanse which extends outward from the earth some 250 miles or more, including the spherical envelope of our atmosphere and beyond to the astral heavens. God made the firmament to intervene, to divide the waters on the earth from the waters [the clouds and atmosphere] above the earth. This is "His handiwork" "the work of His fingers" (Psalm 19:1). We might freely translate Psalm 19:1b thus: "and the firmament showeth His fancy work," for that is the kind of work we do with the fingers, such as knitting, crocheting, etching. God "crocheted" the firmament, and spread it out in space as an evidence of His power and glory.
"And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together in one place, ... And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called He Seas" (Gen. 1:9-10). The land was brought forth out of the water by Divine command. One may understand the words "gathered together in one place," and the land, not lands, is made to appear; the idea being that originally there was but one continent and one sea on the earth. The formations of the seas and continents as we now know them, were made at the time of the flood.
"For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the Word of God theheavens were of old, and the earth (land) standing out of the water and in the water; ..." (2 Peter 3:5-6). There were mockers willingly ignorant of the fact that by the Word of God there were heavens of old, and an earth existing "out of the water and in the water." Peter is referring back to Genesis 1:9, 10. He is stating that the earth rose out of the water, and existed between the water, i.e., between the water above the firmament and the water below, in the fountains of the deep. The world that then was, was literally surrounded by water, both by the deep, and in and by the expanse (see also Psalm 104:6-9).
The Creator has not abandoned the earth to its own devices as Deism posits. The condition of the world now is in the deepest darkness as it was in the days of Noah before the flood (Matt. 24:37-39). Not only has this been brought about because of the increasing wickedness of man manifested in crimes and unrestrained passions, but also because of a lack of moral leadership on the part of politicians and preachers. "The rapidly increasing darkness" is due to "the multitudinous errors, heresies, and delusions of these last days. Not only is Satan leading the world captive, but his deceptions are leavening the professed churches of our Lord Jesus Christ. The great apostasy will develop into darkness deep as midnight, impenetrable as sackcloth of hair. To God's people it will be a night of trial, a night of weeping, a night of persecution for the truth's sake. But out of that night of darkness God's light will shine." [1]
What is the cause of this world's darkness? "It is the darkness of misapprehension of God that is enshrouding the world. Men are losing their knowledge of His character. It has been misunderstood and misinterpreted. At this time a message from God is to be proclaimed, a message illuminating in its influence and saving in its power." "The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love." [2]
Love as agape is not a namby-pamby, mushy sentimentalism. The same God who is agape is also "a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). That fire is death to selfishness, sensuality, love of the world, pride and arrogance. It is death to lukewarmness as well. Strange as it may sound to legalistic ears, it is impossible for a church to be weak and sickly if that love is understood and appreciated.
When it does impregnate the church as fire permeates the coal, the church will be what Christ would be to that community were He there in the flesh. Cleansed by the fire of sin-consuming agape, the church will become an extension of Christ's power to redeem lost people.
Then the Holy Spirit will at last do His final work in human hearts. This is because members of the body will receive the "mind of Christ." [3]
What could those "rays of light" be except the love of God seen in His people? Imagine the joy that will flow like a river when the Lord's pure Good News goes forth in glory and power! How many human hearts now in darkness will meet Christ and find in Him their soul's longing.
--Paul E. Penno
[1] Ellen G. White, Christ's Object Lessons, pp. 414, 415.
[2] Ibid., p. 415.
[3] "Miracles will be wrought, the sick will be healed, and signs and wonders will follow the believers. ... The rays of light penetrate everywhere, the truth is seen in its clearness, and the honest children of God sever the bands which have held them. ... A large number take their stand upon the Lord's side" (The Great Controversy, p. 612).

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

"Jesus, Creator of Heaven and Earth"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic 
Lesson 1: "Jesus, Creator of Heaven and Earth"

How do we know that Christ is the Creator since no one was there to witness the beginning of the earth? The 1888 message provides the answer as we begin a course of excellent studies on creationism.
The foundational truth about creation is the divinity of Christ. "God created" (Gen. 1:1). Representing the Father, Christ created the heaven and the earth. "In the beginning was the Word ... and theWord was God"--capital "W." "All things were made by Him" (John 1:1, 3). "By Him [Christ] were all things created ... in heaven ... and ... in earth" (Col. 1:16). So when we read "in the beginning God," we know it was Christ (Gen. 1:1).
Creative power is the distinguishing mark of divinity. The "gods" are vain because they "have not made the heavens and the earth" (Jer. 10:11). But God "hath made the earth by His power" and "wisdom, and .. the heavens" (Jer. 10:12). Christ is "the power of God, and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). E. J. Waggoner concludes, "only as we acknowledge and worship Christ as the Creator do we acknowledge His Divinity." [1]
Such a strong declaration of the divinity of Christ by Waggoner may come as a surprise to some who have the impression that the 1888 messengers were Arians like the rest of their Adventist contemporaries. Arianism is the idea that Christ was a created being who had a "beginning" or who was "born" in the distant past. Ellen White writes of the "most precious message to His people through Elders Waggoner and Jones" that "they ["His people"] needed to have their eyes directed to His divine person. ..." [2] Some of the strongest statements regarding the full deity of Christ from any Seventh-day Adventist up to 1890 were made by E. J. Waggoner. [3] It was after 1888 that Ellen G. White wrote her most forceful statements. [4]
There is a twofold reason why an understanding of the full deity of Christ is essential: (1) to be the Creator, Christ must have "life in Himself" [5]; and (2) only the Creator qualifies to be the Redeemer. [6]
How did Christ create? "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth" (Psalm 33:6). "'In Him was life,' (John 1:14) even endless life." [7] What a word is this!
Why could only the Creator be the Redeemer? There is a world of comfort in the first sentence of the Bible. "In the beginning God created" (Gen. 1:1). Some have thought that redemption is a greater act of God than creation, but they are one and the same. It takes just as much creative power to save a soul from addiction to sin as it does to create the world and the universe.
Christ is Redeemer by virtue of His power as Creator. We read that "we have redemption through His blood, even the forgiveness of sins," because that "by Him were all things created" (Col. 1:14, 16). If He were not Creator, He could not be Redeemer.
The Psalmist prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, and renew a right spirit within me" (Psalm 51:10). The apostle says, that "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (2 Cor. 5:17) or a new creation. We read, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: ... For we are His workmanship,created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).
Compared with God, man is "less than nothing, and vanity" (Isa. 40:17). In him "dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18). Now the same power that in the beginning made the earth from nothing, takes man, if he is willing, and makes of him that which is "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. 1:6).
How do we know how the worlds were made? "Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear" (Heb. 11:3). Faith gives special knowledge. This knowledge is not speculation or uncertainty. Faith teaches that God spoke by His all-powerful word and the worlds came into existence in all their matter and energy.
Where does faith come from? The cross of Christ is the source of faith. The fact of the cross reveals the love of God to every individual in the world. Faith is motivated by the love of the cross (John 3:16). Therefore, faith knows that the universe was created by God's word.
Christ does not exist in any other form than the Crucified One. It is by the cross that everything is sustained, for "in Him all things hold together" (Col. 1:17, NIV). But for the cross there would be universal death. There would be no plants, no family, no pets.
"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handiwork" (Psalm 19:1). No pen can describe and no artist's brush can depict the wondrous glory of the heavens; yet that glory is but the glory of the cross of Christ. The power of God is seen in the things that are made, and the cross is the power of God. How can we ever think of glorying in anything else?
Seldom has this glory of the cross been clearly discerned. All too often the usual concept of Calvary's sacrifice is that of a judicial maneuver exacted by divine vengeance, a penalty vicariously paid, an offering made to placate the offended anger of God or to satisfy cold divine justice.
It's no wonder that the doctrine of the atonement, thus presented, leaves many untouched. Gratitude, contrition, and love are unawakened. Only a sense of personal security is achieved, much as one feels when he has signed a business insurance coverage against risk.
Mary Magdalene's great repentance was truly normal, the model for all Christians, the love which led to her repentance was itself that of the model Christian. The awakening of such love in the human heart is the great end Christ longed to achieve by His suffering on Calvary. The cross satisfied all the legal demands of a broken law, but it also works creative miracles on human souls.
The gospel has lost none of its power. Liberated from the confusion of error, it will again accomplish in millions of human hearts the same glorious work accomplished in the heart of Mary.
Jesus' words "I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all [men] unto me" (John 12:32) will come to fruition in the amazing prophecy of Revelation 18:1-4 of an angel coming down from heaven to lighten the earth with glory, and a heavenly voice penetrating to the inner consciousness of every human being, "Come out of [Babylon], My people!"
--Paul E. Penno
[1] Ellet J. Waggoner, The Gospel in Creation (1893), p. 15.
[2] Ellen G. White, Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 91, 92, quoted from a letter to O. A. Olsen May 1, 1895, written from Hobart, Tasmania.
[3] See "Appendix B: Was Waggoner an Arian or Trinitarian?" Robert J. Wieland, The 1888 Message: An Introduction (1997), pp. 174-179.
[4] Eric C. Webster, Crosscurrents in Adventist Christology (1984), pp. 66-74.
[5] Ellet J. Waggoner, Christ and His Righteousness (1890), p. 22.
[6] "The fact that Christ is a part of the Godhead, possessing all the attributes of Divinity, being the equal of the Father in all respects, as Creator ... is the only force there is in the atonement. It is this along which makes redemption a possibility" (ibid, pp. 43, 44). "Our object in this investigation is to set forth Christ's rightful position of equality with the Father, in order that His power to redeem may be the better appreciated" (ibid, p. 19).
[7] E. J. Waggoner, "The Call of Abraham. The Test of Faith," The Present Truth, July 2, 1896.
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SST #1 | "Jesus, Creator of Heaven and Earth" | Pastor Paul Penno