Archive for April, 2011

April 29, 2011

Complaining: Unattractive and Dangerous

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Numbers 13-14

Faith and Facts

On the brink of entering Canaan, Moses sent spies to do some reconnaissance about its land and people [1]. After forty days, even though the spies returned with a unified report – that the land was abundant and its inhabitants were formidable – their action plan was divided: Joshua and Caleb wanted to enter Canaan because they trusted God’s promise to give it to them [2], but the rest wanted to stay put because they feared its inhabitants [3]. Unfortunately, the fearful spies won the people’s hearts: That night all the members of the community … wept aloud … [and] grumbled … ‘If only we had died in Egypt! … Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword?” [4]

Patience and Punishment

God had enough: “How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them?” [5] Yet, just as He was about to strike them, Moses begged Him to uphold His reputation and “great love” by forgiving their rebellion again [6]. Although God relented and pardoned them, He did not let them off the hook. He forced them to wander in the wilderness for forty years and prohibited that generation – except Joshua and Caleb, who believed God “wholeheartedly[7] – from ever entering Canaan. Immediately, the faithless spies died and the people mourned. Upon seeing and hearing the consequences of their actions, they tried to reassert their faith, but their regret was too late and too shallow. Presumptuously, they tried to fight the inhabitants without their leader or God’s presence and, as Moses warned, they were driven out.

Prayer and Petition

Lord, Thank You for the recording the account of Your people in the wilderness. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, what happened to them “occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things” [8]. You long for us to trust in Your promises more than we trust in what we see. Yet, although we – as Christians – who should have the most beautiful and faithful hearts in the world – often have unattractive and faithless hearts when we complain and grumble about our lives. Help us to remember Your past provisions so that we are propelled to faith in our present and future circumstances – for just as You were faithful yesterday, You will be faithful tomorrow. Amen.

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[1] Numbers 13:17-20  |  [2] Numbers 14:7-9. See also Numbers 13:30 NIV 2011 (Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.”)  |  [3] Numbers 13:31  |  [4] Numbers 14:1-3 NIV 2011  |  [5] Numbers 14:11 NIV 2011  |  [6] Numbers 14:13-19  |  [7] Numbers 14:24 NIV 2011  |  [8] See 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 NIV 2011

April 28, 2011

A 200-Mile Detour

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Numbers 10:11-12:16

review

In Genesis, we learned that God planned to use one family to redeem a special people for His glory. He promised to make Abraham and his descendants into a great nation by being their God and giving them a particular land. Thus, God blessed Abraham’s son Isaac, his grandson Jacob (“Israel”) and his great-grandsons (“the twelve tribes of Israel”). Although they settled in Canaan, they eventually moved to Egypt when famine struck their land.

In Egypt, as we saw in Exodus, although the Israelites were initially treated well, they were later enslaved. Therefore, God used Moses to display His power to Pharaoh and free His people from slavery in Egypt. Although the events of Exodus 1 span several centuries and Exodus 2 covers eighty years, Exodus 3-40 – as well as all of Leviticus and Numbers 1-10 – cover only a little more than a year (three months from the Red Sea to Mount Sinai and then about a year at Mount Sinai as God gave Moses the law and tabernacle instructions).

detour

Finally, when the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle, “the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai” [1] and embarked on their journey to the Promised Land (Palestine). Yet, there were shorter ways to get from Egypt to Palestine than through the wilderness of Sinai. In fact, Sinai was about 200 miles out of the way – a painful detour for these foot-travelers! Thus, they “complained about their hardships” [2], and griped, “If only we had meat to eat!” [3]

Had they learned nothing in the past year, when God revealed Himself as the source of their freedom? Did they no longer wonder at His power and grace? Thus, His discipline fit their sin: “Now the LORD will give you meat … You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, but for a whole month — until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it — because you have rejected the LORD, who is among you … “ [4]

prayer

Lord, We confess that we are oftentimes shortsighted and obstinate, as we long for ease more than godliness. Although it is foolish to think that our lives would be better without You, we confess that we have wondered that. Forgive us and give us expansive memories to recall You as the sole source of life. Let us never forget Jesus. Amen.

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[1] Numbers 10:12 NIV 2011  |  [2] Numbers 11:1 NIV 2011  |  [3] Numbers 11:4 NIV 2011  |  [4] Numbers 11:18-20. See also Deuteronomy 8 (noting that the Israelites were to know God as Provider in the wilderness so that they would not be tempted to see themselves as Provider in the Promised Land).

April 27, 2011

Clouds and Trumpets

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Exodus 40:34-48 + Numbers 9:15 – 10:10

Tabernacle

In the final steps of preparing His people to enter the Promised Land, God placed a cloud over the tabernacle to remind them that He was near and present, guiding and guarding them: So the cloud of the LORD was over the tabernacle … [and] in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels” [1]. He also told Moses to make two silver trumpets that would call “the community together” [2] – either the leaders to meeting or the entire nation to action.

Jesus

Thousands of years later, the high priest tore his clothes when Jesus identified Himself with the cloud because he knew that Jesus was claiming to be God among His people: The high priest said to him, ‘ … Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ ‘You have said so,’ Jesus replied. ‘ … From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has spoken blasphemy!’” [3]. Additionally, Jesus spoke as a trumpet in John’s vision of heaven: “I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet” [4] and, when he looked to see who spoke, he saw Jesus, who said, “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” [5]

Today

Today, we are not done with clouds and trumpets. Indeed, Paul wrote that we should “encourage one another” with the reminder that we will be called home by trumpets and gathered in clouds: For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command … and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words” [6].

Prayer

Lord, Thank You for visible reminders of Your presence among us – whether by clouds and trumpets or, most ultimately, Your Son. As we journey through the wilderness of this life, prepare us for the Promised Land by increasing our hope in You so that we can obey You and endure to the end. Amen.

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[1] Exodus 40:38 NIV 2011  |  [2] Numbers 2:2 NIV 2011  |  [3] Matthew 26:63-65a NIV 2011  |  [4] Revelation 1:10 NIV 2011  |  [5] Revelation 1:17b-18 NIV 2011  |  [6] 1 Corinthians 10:16-18 NIV 2011

April 26, 2011

Why We Sin

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Numbers 5-6

Unbelief

All sins come from unbelief in the promises of God. Our sinful impulses are rooted in our lack of belief that God is willing and able to work for us in every situation of life so that all things turn out for our good. If we truly believed that God would keep and guard us, we would be free of anxiety, shame, apathy, regret, envy, lust, anger, impatience, hopelessness and pride.

Promises

As we have already seen, God assembled the Israelites together to prepare them to enter the Promised Land. Not only did He give them laws and priests, He also blessed them. He knew that they were about to embark on a dangerous journey across the desert, where many would die, be assaulted by enemies, face thirst and starvation, and meet division. Yet, before they set out, He went before them with a blessing. He told Moses:

Tell Aaron and his sons, “This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: ‘The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.’ So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” [1]

Doubt

Since He knew the troubles that were before them, He wanted to impress upon them that He was the sole source of the only blessing that mattered. As He moved toward them, He wanted them to know that He would provide every good thing for them. Yet, as we will see, they would not believe His blessing. They would doubt Him and complain to Him and question Him. The entire book of Numbers would have been different if they had only believed in their hearts that He would bless them and keep them and be gracious to them and give them peace.

Prayer

Lord, Although we do not want to be like the Israelites, we confess that we oftentimes are. Our lives would be utterly different if we truly believed You. Yet, we constantly scramble to find happiness in sex or money or power. Father, forgive us and help our unbelief so that we can trust that You are the giver and source and author of the only blessing worth having – namely, our eternal salvation in Christ alone. Amen.

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[1] Numbers 6:24-26 NIV 2011

April 25, 2011

Towards a High View of God

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Numbers 3-4

His Majesty

How we think about God is the most important thing about us. In 1961, A.W. Tozer [1] lamented that “the low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians” had led to the “loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine Presence.” He continued,

All the problems of heaven and earth … [are] nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him … [The mighty burden of our obligation to Him] includes an instant and lifelong duty to love God with every power of mind and soul, to obey Him perfectly, and to worship Him acceptably. And when the man’s laboring conscience tells him that he has done none of these things, but has from childhood been guilty of foul revolt against the Majesty in the heavens, the inner pressure of self-accusation may become too heavy to bear. The gospel can lift this destroying burden from the mind, give beauty for ashes, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But unless the weight of the burden is felt, the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden. Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.

His People

In preparing His people to enter the Promised Land, God called the Levites to be His priests: “I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites” [2]. Although they were given tabernacle tasks, their primary role was to prepare the people to know God as exalted yet present. Thus, He placed the Levites in the middle of the camp around the tabernacle, which represented His presence.

God still prepares His people to know Him. He gives us the ability to discern truth about Him and ourselves. He gives us consciences that, although they are flawed in our fallen state, prepare us to know Him and hear and receive the good news of Christ. Today, He is present with us – not by tabernacle – but by His Spirit.

Prayer

Lord, We are oftentimes “self-confident, bustling” worshippers. Thank You for preparing us to know You – exalted in heaven yet present in us. Establish our hearts to have a high view of You so that we cling to the gospel of Christ. Amen.

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[1] A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy. (All Tozer quotations taken from this work.)  |  [2] Numbers 3:11, 13 NIV 2011

April 22, 2011

Love Wins?

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Numbers 1-2

Actions

What must we do in order to prepare to meet God? Does how we live matter – is there no difference between living like Mother Theresa versus living like Adolf Hitler? According to Rob Bell, the author of Love Wins, the answer is a rhetorical question: “Does God punish people for thousands of years with infinite, eternal torment for things they did in their few finite years of life?” Ultimately, “[H]istory is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God” [1].

Assumptions

Yet, as Tim Keller highlighted at a Gospel Coalition panel discussion last week, Bell’s argument suffers from cultural and theological assumptions. First, piggy-backing on Stephen Um’s comment that his Korean grandfather would have had a harder time accepting God’s love than His judgment, Keller said, “The assumption is that all thoughtful people think it’s awful that God would judge a whole lot of folks and send them to hell – when the answer is, ‘No, some modern Western people do.’” Then, he challenged Bell’s assumption that God’s holiness and love are mutually exclusive: “It is pitting the different attributes of God against each other; it’s like the love of God wins, but the holiness of God does not win. Well, ‘No, on the cross, all the attributes win.’”

Preparations

As the Israelites encamped at the bottom of Mount Sinai, when God was preparing them to enter the Promised Land [2], He gave them His law as testimony of how they should relate to Him and one another. He never separated His holiness from His love. In fact, His law included guidelines about what they needed to do to enter and, then, remain in the land.

Today, similarly, God is preparing us to enter the Promised Land and He has told us, “without holiness no one will see the Lord” [3]. It is His love that has given us such guidance – a love that we have not earned but received freely in Christ. Yet, how we live today matters. Our desire for holy living is evidence that we know and love Him.

Prayer

Lord, We confess that oftentimes we do not live holy lives. Work in our hearts to show us how this life connects to the life that is coming, as we long to enter into Your holy presence. Thank You for the cross, where Your love and Your holiness meet. Amen.

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[1] Jon Meacham. No Hell? Rob Bell Angers Evangelicals. TIME. Note: It is the cover story of TIME’s Easter Week.  |  [2] Not only is Leviticus the preparation for the people through the giving of the law, Numbers 1-10 is also God’s preparation for the people through the giving of the tribes and their identities.  |  [3] Hebrews 12:14b NIV 2011

April 21, 2011

Motivation Is a Complex Matter

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Leviticus 26-27

Motivations

Motivation is a complex matter, especially in our culture. A few years ago, the WSJ published an article about the “millennials” – young adults born between 1980 and 2001 that were coddled and are driven by entitlement: “Millennials are truly ‘trophy kids’ … [They] were lavishly praised and often received trophies when they excelled and sometimes when they didn’t, to avoid damaging their self-esteem … This generation was treated so delicately that many schoolteachers stopped grading papers and tests in harsh-looking red ink. Some managers have seen millennials break down in tears after a negative performance review … [O]ne young man missed an important deadline and, when his manager asked him to explain, he said, ‘Oh, you forgot to remind me’” [1].

Love and Hope and Fear

Although God loved Israel, He did not coddle them. When He was concluding the giving of His law to Moses, He listed blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. First, He motivated them with hope and love. By giving them vivid – not vague – promises of future blessings, He motivated them to obedience in hope of His certain promises. Additionally, by reminding them of His love, He motivated them to obedience in love for Him. Thus, with the holiness laws fresh in their minds, they would have marveled, “How could a holy God love us?” Yet, He did. The entire Bible is filled with accounts of His patience, love and forgiveness, for people who rejected and spurned Him.

Then, He motivated them with fear. The heart of their rebellion was “the breaking of the covenant” [2] that resulted from their deliberate, knowing and unrepentant rejection of Him. Although He wanted them not to fear paper tigers, He wanted them to fear Him [3]. Thus, He listed curses for continued, unrepentant rebellion. Yet, as Matthew Henry observed, even this fear was loving: “If lesser judgments do not do their work [namely, to draw His people into His arms], God will send greater” [4].

Prayer

Lord, We fear You because of Your holiness, love and promises. As Robert Frost wrote, “There is fear that we shan’t prove worthy in the eyes of someone who knows us at least as well as we know ourselves. That is the fear of God.” Although we know that we are unworthy of Your love, we are amazed that You freely love us in Christ. Make us motivated in love, hope and fear, as we seek to obey You. Amen.

 _______________________________________


[1] The “Trophy Kids” Go to Work, The Wall Street Journal (21 October 2008).  |  [2] Leviticus 26:25 NIV 2011  |  [3] Just as parents want their children not to fear paper tigers (e.g., ghosts) but to fear real threats (e.g., streets), the Lord wants us not to fear things that we should not fear (e.g., man’s opinion) but to fear Him.  |  [4] Matthew Henry, J.B. Williams, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, Volume 1.

April 20, 2011

Living as a Pilgrim not a Settler

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Leviticus 24-25

Stuff

It is hard to live as a pilgrim when you have a lot of stuff. Not only is it difficult to carry everything, it is also hard to avoid the temptation to settle down and get comfortable. Yet, most of us spend our time buying clothes, furniture, electronics and cocktails, without a thought about our calling to live as “foreigners and strangers” [1] on this earth.

Rest

To fulfill His promise, God gave land to His people. Although they could farm it and use its produce however they wanted, they were to observe a Sabbath Year every seventh year and a Year of Jubilee every fiftieth year. During those years, they were not permitted to sow or reap the land. Nevertheless, He would care for them: “You may ask, ‘What will we eat in the seventh year if we do not plant or harvest our crops?’ I will send you such a blessing in the sixth year that the land will yield enough for three years” [2]. As they observed these years of rest, they were to set their sights on a permanent rest that remained [3]. No matter how many earthly blessings He had given them, He wanted them to know that this was not their home and they were not to trust in its temporary provisions.

Mindset

Regarding pilgrim mentality, Jonathan Edwards wrote, “This world is not our abiding place … It was never designed by God that this world should be our home … If we spend our lives in the pursuit of a temporal happiness; as riches or sensual pleasures; credit and esteem from men; delight in our children … All these things will be of little significancy to us. Death will blow up all our hopes, and will put an end to these enjoyments” [4]. Rather, he argued, “The future was designed to be our settled and everlasting abode … Our state in the future world, therefore, being eternal, is of so much greater importance than our state here, that all our concerns in this world should be wholly subordinated to it” [5].

Prayer

Lord, We confess that, although we long to be in Your presence, our lives and pocketbooks rarely are changed by that longing. Show us how to accumulate heavenly treasures, as we joyfully give to others and lightly hold our tenancies [6]. Give us firm understandings of our heavenly citizenships so that we have courage to live as pilgrims. Amen.

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[1] Leviticus 24:23 NIV 2011. See also 1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13-14; Matthew 6:19; Mark 10:21; Luke 6:20; Luke 14:33; Luke 18:25; Luke 12:15 (“life does not consist in an abundance of possessions”); Matthew 6:33 (“seek first his kingdom and righteousness”); Luke 12:33 (“a treasure in heaven that will not wear out”); Luke 19:8-9; Matthew 13:44; Luke 21:1; Luke 12:20-21; Luke 9:58 (“the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”); Romans 12:1-2 (“do not conform to the pattern of this world”); John 17:15-16. See also Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, Multnomah Press, 2001, p. 8 (noting that fifteen percent of everything Christ said related to money and possessions).  |  [2] It had to be three years because, if they did not sow or reap, they had to have three years for the cycle.  |  [3] See Hebrews 11:10 NIV 2011 (“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”)  |  [4] Jonathan Edwards, The Christian Pilgrim.  |  [5] Id.  |  [6] Since God is owner over everything, we are tenants, not owners. We are only owners in relation to one another. In relation to Him, we are tenants. See The Parable of the Tenants, Matthew 21:33-41.

April 19, 2011

To Rest or Not to Rest

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Leviticus 23

Work as Life

Ebenezer Scrooge was a miserly and misanthropic old fellow: “The cold within him froze his old features … He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.” Thus, when his clerk asked for vacation on Christmas Day, Scrooge scowled, “It’s not convenient and it’s not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used … And yet, you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work … A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!” Scrooge hated Christmas because it interrupted his commerce – stores were closed, workers remained home and money was unearned. For Scrooge, work was life.

Annual and Weekly Reminders

When the Lord appointed festivals for sacred assemblies, He commanded His people not to work at those times. Annually, they were not “to do any regular work” on Passover [1], the Feast of Unleavened Bread [2], the Festival of Weeks [3], the Festival of Trumpets [4] or the Day of Atonement [5]. Weekly, they were “not to do any work” on the Sabbath [6].

Provision and Source

When the Lord linked their work and their festivals, He wanted to impress upon them that He was the Lord of their time, that all of their time rightfully belonged to Him, that they were set apart a portion of that time to recognize Him as Lord and to praise Him for the manifold gifts that He had given to them when He made them, created them, redeemed them, provided for them, forgave them and gave them a hope and a future. Although they were once slaves, they were now required to rest for more than one-seventh of the year. These appointed feasts reminded them that He would provide for them [7] since everything came from Him [8].

Prayer

Lord, You have called us to delight in You as we delight in Your appointed festivals. Yet, we confess that we have sought our own pleasures and have gone our own ways on these days. Rather than putting down our work as we trust in You to provide and care for us, we have ignored these days and anxiously worked for ourselves. Show us how seriously You take our observance of these days, as You remind us weekly (through the Sabbath) that You redeemed and rescued us. Amen.

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[1] Leviticus 23:7-8 NIV 2011 (they were not to do regular work on the first and seventh days)  |  [2] Id.  |  [3] Leviticus 23:21 NIV 2011  |  [4] Leviticus 23:25 NIV 2011  |  [5] Leviticus 23:30-32 NIV 2011  |  [6] Leviticus 23:3 NIV 2011  |  [7] The Sabbath was a weekly reminder that their freedom from slavery in Egypt came from the Lord, not a social contract or mutual agreement or constitutional document. Likewise, today, the Sabbath is our weekly reminder that our freedom from slavery to sin comes from the Lord. Thus, when we observe the Sabbath, we declare that we are free, not slaves.  |  [8] On the Feast of First Fruits, although the harvest had come after a year of working, they could not immediately touch it. Rather, the first fruits were given to God as a reminder that everything came from the Lord. Today, our first fruits of our work – our income – goes to the Lord as a reminder that all of our income belongs to Him.

April 18, 2011

The Requirement of Perfection

by Bethany

Today’s Readings: Leviticus 21-22

Be Holy

As we have seen, the theme of Leviticus is, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” [1]. If we want to be in His presence, where there are “eternal pleasures” [2], then we must be holy as He is holy. Since we are called to display His character and since His law typifies His character, then we are called to obey His law. Yet, we do not and, as a result, we cannot enjoy His presence. Nevertheless, since the Lord longed for us to enjoy His presence, He established a sacrificial system to make atonement for our inevitable failures to obey His law.

Sufficient Sacrifice

Yet, not any kind of sacrifice would do. If it was going to be a sufficient substitute for the sins of the people, it had to be a perfect and faultless and unblemished sacrifice. It had to be an adequate replacement. Thus, the Lord said to the Israelites: Do not bring anything with a defect, because it will not be accepted on your behalf … Do not offer to the LORD the blind, the injured or the maimed, or anything with warts or festering or running sores … I am the LORD, who made you holy and who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD [3].

Atoning Work

When Jesus offered Himself as an atoning sacrifice, He was perfect and faultless and unblemished. In Him, there was absolutely no imperfection – ceremonially clean and morally perfect. Not only was He completely obedient in His calling to die for His people, He also lived every moment of His life in perfect obedience to the law [4]. Thus, after Pilate examined Jesus, he concluded: “Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him” [5].

Prayer

Lord, How we love Jesus, who lived the perfect life that we could not! We confess that we do not live holy or obediently. Thank You for accepting Him as an atoning sacrifice on our behalf. Work in our hearts to long to reflect Your character through our obedience and, when we do not, to rejoice for the gift of Your Son. Amen.

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[1] Leviticus 19:2 NIV 2011. See also Leviticus 10:10; 11:44-45; 19:6; 20:7, 26; 21:8.  |  [2] Psalm 16:11 NIV 2011 (“You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.”)  |  [3] Leviticus 22:20, 22, 32 NIV 2011  |  [4] See Philippians 2:5-11  |  [5] Luke 23:14-15 KJV

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