Posts tagged ‘Numbers’

May 24, 2013

843 Acres: Do We Remember How to Use Our Memory?

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 33 (text | audio, 5:48 min)
& Ps 78:1-39 (text | audio, 3:45 min)
Highlighted: Ps 78:5-7

Memories: “Once upon a time,” says science writer Joshua Foer, “this idea of having a trained, disciplined, cultivated memory was not nearly as alien as it would seem to us to be today.” Foer laments, “Over the last few millennia, we have invented a series of technologies – the alphabet, the scroll, the codex, the printing press, photography, the computer, the smart phone – that have made it easier and easier for us to externalize our memories, for us to essentially outsource this fundamental human capacity … Having little need to remember anymore, it sometimes seems that we’ve forgotten how” [1].

Futures: Remembering, however, is essential to our faith. In Psalm 78, for example, Asaph says that our memory is the key to our future ability to hope in God: “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments” [2].

Spatiality: How can we increase our memory today so that we may hope in God tomorrow? Foer says that the difference between memory experts and the rest of us is that they exercise their spatial memory and navigation more than we do. In other words, they take “information that is lacking in context, significance or meaning, and transform it so that it becomes meaningful in light of all the other things they have in their minds.” In our relationship with God, therefore, we need to internalize his word and promises so that they are meaningful to us. How can we place them in our spatial memories? How can we “attach” them to things in our lives that we already know?

Prayer: Lord, “Our lives are the sum of our memories. How much are we willing to lose from our already short lives by losing ourselves in our Blackberries or our iPhones, by not paying attention to the human being across from us, by being so lazy that we are not willing to process deeply?” [3] How much are we willing to lose by not meditating on your word? We long to live hopeful lives. Therefore, make us people who remember to remember so that we may be people who hope in you. Amen.

M’Cheyne Weekend Texts (our reading plan)

Sat, May 25: Num 34 (text | audio, 3:19 min) and Ps 78:40-72 (text | audio, 3:42 min)
Sun, May 26: Num 35 (text | audio, 4:43 min) and Ps 79 (text | audio, 1:44 min)
Mon, May 27: Num 36 (text | audio, 2:16 min) and Ps 80 (text | audio, 1:49 min)

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Footnotes

[1] Joshua Foer. “Feats of Memory Anyone Can Do.” TED Talks. February 2012. | [2] Psalm 78:5-7 ESV | [3] Id. at [1].

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May 23, 2013

843 Acres: Who Do We Think We Are?

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 32 (text | audio, 5:36 min)
& Ps 77 (text | audio, 2:08 min)
Highlighted: Ps 77:7-15

Crisis: In A Free People’s Suicide, Os Guinness says that crises take us back to the basics: “All crises are judgments of history that call into question an existing state of affairs. They sift and sort the character and condition of a nation and its capacity to respond. The deeper the crisis, the more serious the sifting and the deeper the questions it raises. At the very least, a crisis raises the question, ‘What should we do?’ … Deeper crises raise the deeper question, ‘Where are we, and how did we get here?’ … But the deepest crises of all are those that raise the question, ‘Who do we think we are?’ when doubt and uncertainty have entered our own thinking” [1].

Questions: Crises not only sift and sort the character and condition of nations; they sift and sort our own characters and conditions, too. When things do not go as expected or hoped, we question the existing state of affairs. We question what we thought was true about ourselves – sometimes even whether we are still the beneficiaries of God’s promises. As Asaph asks, “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” [2]

Remembrances: With current circumstances in crisis, Asaph recalls the past wonders of God in history: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders … You with your arm redeemed your people” [3].

Prayer: Lord, Our struggle to feel your favor is typical in our lives. We go through seasons when we wonder whether your promises are reliable and whether we are still your people. In this world, we will never rise above this struggle. Yet we cling to your Word as our hope to come through doubt and into faith. We make a conscious effort to set our minds to remember – not only what you have done in our time, but also what you have done in days of old. For we want to fight for faith and joy, knowing that we are your children. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Os Guinness. A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. InterVarsity Press, 2012. | [2] Psalm 77:7-9 ESV | [3] Psalm 77:11-15

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May 22, 2013

843 Acres: The Fear of God in Modern Context

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 31 (text | audio, 6:22 min)
Ps 75 (text | audio, 0:59 min)
& Ps 76 (text | audio, 1:08 min)
Highlighted: Ps 76:8-9 

Predispositions: In Modem Man and His Categories of Thought, C.S. Lewis contrasts the type of people to whom the Apostles were called to preach and the type of people to whom we are called to preach. Those of the first century – the Jews, the Judaizing Gentiles and the Pagans – had certain predispositions: a belief in the supernatural, a consciousness of sin and a fear of divine judgment. “The world which we must try to convert,” he writes, “shares none of those predispositions. In the last hundred years the public mind has been radically altered” [1].

Proletarianism: He continues, “The Proletariat in all countries (even those with ‘Right’ governments) has been consistently flattered for a great many years. The natural result has now followed. They are self-satisfied to a degree perhaps beyond the self-satisfaction of any recorded aristocracy. They are convinced that, whatever may be wrong with the world, it cannot be themselves. Someone else must be to blame for every evil. Hence, when the existence of God is discussed, they by no means think of him as their Judge. On the contrary, they are his judges. If he puts up a reasonable defense, they will consider it and, perhaps, acquit him. They have no feelings of fear, guilt or awe. They think, from the very outset, of God’s duties to them, not their duties to him. And God’s duties to them are conceived not in terms of salvation, but in purely secular terms – social security, prevention of war, a higher standard of life” [2].

Protection: What does the fear of God look like? Asaph sings, “From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still, when God arose to establish judgment, to save all the humble of the earth” [3]. Here, we see two things that inspire the fear of God – his judgment and his kindness. We see the storm of his wrath that rages outside, but we sit silent in awe as he draws us into the cleft of his rock of salvation.

Prayer: Lord, You alone are Judge. In your presence, feelings of fear, guilt and awe, are fitting. In kindness, however, you use your judgment to save the humble. Therefore, we rejoice in our salvation, knowing that we find refuge from the storm of your wrath in Christ alone. Open our eyes to your judgment and your kindness that we may fear you. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] C.S. Lewis. “Modem Man and his Categories of Thought.” Present Concerns. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Ed. Walter Hooper. 1986. | [2] Id. | [3] Psalm 76:8-9 ESV

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May 21, 2013

843 Acres: The Riddle of Epicurus

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 30 (text | audio, 2:33 min)
& Ps 74 (text | audio, 2:29 min)
Highlighted: Ps 74:9-11

Riddle: Epicureanism (circa 207 BC) denied the existence of an omnipotent and sovereign God based on the existence of evil in the world. The Riddle of Epicurus was this: “God either wants to eliminate bad things and cannot, or can but does not want to, or neither wishes to nor can, or both wants to and can. If he wants to and cannot, then he is weak – and this does not apply to god. If he can but does not want to, then he is spiteful – which is equally foreign to god’s nature. If he neither wants to nor can, he is both weak and spiteful, and so not a god. If he wants to and can, which is the only thing fitting for a god, where then do bad things come from? Or why does he not eliminate them?” [1]

Confusion: When Asaph looked upon the ruins of Jerusalem, he had similar questions. He knew the character of God and his covenant promises, but he could not understand how God could abandon his people and allow Jerusalem and its temple to be destroyed: “We do not see our signs; there is no longer any prophet, and there is none among us who knows how long. How long, O God, is the foe to scoff? Is the enemy to revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!” [2].

Person: It is not necessarily sinful to ask such questions. The heart can trust God and still be confused when it looks at the world. Yet we understand what Asaph could not – that the center of worship is not in a place, but a person. Ultimately, his prayer was not answered by philosophical reasoning. His prayer was answered in Jesus, who told the Samaritan woman, “The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father … God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” [3].

Prayer: Lord, When we look at the world around us, we often question how your promises can be true. Yet we stake our lives on them for you are more constant than our circumstances. We confess that, like Asaph, we have incomplete information. Let us not judge you with our feeble sense, but instead trust you with our eyes of faith. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Lactantius, De Ira Deorum, 13.19 (Frag. 374, Usener). | [2] Psalm 74:9-11 ESV | [3] John 4:21, 24 ESV

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May 20, 2013

843 Acres: Hope for Troubled Souls

by Bethany

843 Acres: Hope for Troubled Souls
M’CheyneNum 29 (text | audio, 5:08 min)
& Ps 73 (text | audio, 2:27 min)

Worship: “Everybody worships,” said David Foster Wallace in 2005. “The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing … is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough … Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths … Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you in your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is … they’re unconscious” [1].

Troubled: In 2008, Wallace committed suicide. He was 46 and best known for Infinite Jest (1996), a novel that “perceives American society as self-obsessed, pleasure-obsessed and entertainment-obsessed” [2]. The next year, he received a MacArthur grant, “the so-called genius award” [3]. The NYT chief book critic once said, “[He] can do practically anything if he puts his mind to it. He can do sad, funny, silly, heartbreaking and absurd with equal ease; he can even do them all at once” [4]. His obituary, however, read, “In contrast to the lively spirit of his writing, [he] was … consumed with his work and its worth, perpetually at odds with himself … a titanically gifted writer with an equally troubled soul” [5].

Injustice: In Psalms, we find several troubled souls. In Psalm 73, for example, Asaph is troubled because he wonders whether God cares about injustice. Yet he takes his confusion and emotions into the sanctuary, where he finds what Wallace intimated—that God alone will not eat him alive: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” [6].

Prayer: Lord, We confess that, when we look upon our imperfect and broken world, our souls are troubled. Yet we know that our redemption is found in you alone. Therefore, let our hearts rejoice that you are our strength and portion forever. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] David Foster Wallace. “Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commencement Address.” May 21, 2005. | [2] Bruce Weber. “David Foster Wallace, Influential Writer, Dies at 46.” New York Times. Obituary. September 15, 2008. | [3] Id. | [4] Id. | [5] Id. | [6] Psalm 73:25-26 ESV

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May 17, 2013

843 Acres: How Great Our Dilemma

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 26 (text | audio, 7:40 min)
& Ps 69 (text | audio, 3:46 min)
Highlighted: Ps 69:5

Lord,

How great is our dilemma! For silence best becomes us in your presence, but love inflames our hearts and causes us to speak. Were we to stay quiet, the stones would cry out; yet if we speak, what shall we say? For the nearer we approach the throne, the less sure our words become. Teach us to know what we cannot know, for no one – apart from the Spirit – knows the things of God. Yet we yearn to know the unknowable, to comprehend the incomprehensible, to touch and taste the unapproachable. Deep calls to deep, and we long to return to you. Let faith support us where reason fails. [1]

There is an infinitely high wall that separates us from you. Our sin is a great obstacle to knowing and enjoying you. Therefore, have mercy on us this morning. For our iniquity is vast. You are a great God and we are great sinners. We confess the words of David, “O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you”  [2]. We cannot hide from you. Our sins are laid bare before your eyes.

In our unworthiness, however, there is opportunity. For there is a fitness in us for the display of your grace. The greatness of our sin makes us the perfect platforms for the greatness of your mercy to be displayed. Let the greatness of your love be seen in us. The power with which you restrain yourself is great indeed. So we creep down at the foot of your throne, crouching low and crying, “O God, do not break us. We are bruised reeds. Oh! Do not tread on our little lives. They are but as the withering grass. Will you hunt us? Will you come out? Will you watch us? Because we are so little and because the greatness of your mercy can be shown in us even though we are so insignificant, we plead that you would have mercy on us.” [3]

In Jesus, in whose name we plead, we have the final answer to our dilemma. We come to you through his blood and mediation. In him, your steadfast love is good. Turn to us, according to your abundant mercy. Save us and build up your people so that your name will dwell among us.

Amen.

 M’Cheyne Weekend Texts (our reading plan)

Saturday, May 18: Num 27 (text, audio, 3:11 min) & Ps 70 (text | audio, 0:39 min) & Ps 71 (text | audio, 2:47 min)
Sunday, May 19: Num 28 (text | audio, 3:54 min) & Ps 72 (text | audio, 2:14 min)

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Footnotes

[1] This paragraph is filled with paraphrased references to A.W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy. | [2] Psalm 69:5 ESV | [3] See Charles Spurgeon. “Effective Prayer.” From Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, Vol. 12, No. 700. (for more examples of prayer like this).

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May 16, 2013

843 Acres: Caring for Orphans Beyond Adoption

by Bethany

 

M’Cheyne: Num 25 (text | audio, 2:40 min)
& Ps 68 (text | audio, 4:06 min)
Highlighted: Ps 68:5 

Personal Story: This year, on the Fourth of July, my family will celebrate two birthdays: (1) the 237th birthday of our nation, and (2) the 5th birthday of my nephew Khai. Almost four years ago, my brother and sister-in-law traveled to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to embrace Khai as their first son and second child. When Khai first joined our family, he carried around crackers (or cookies) in both hands, fearful that he would be unable to find more food. Although he was adopted, he did not feel adopted. Not yet.

Father to the Fatherless: David sings, “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation” [1]. Through my brother and sister-in-law, God has shown himself to be “father to the fatherless” to Khai. Today, Khai has no concept of not being a member of our family. He is a son, a brother, a nephew and a grandson. He gets crackers (and, perhaps, too many cookies!) out of the pantry whenever he wants. Thankfully, Khai is not alone. In the United States, nearly two million children have been adopted domestically and internationally. [2] God has shown himself to be “father to the fatherless” through these families who have welcomed orphans into their homes.

Beyond Adoption: What about those of us who do not (or cannot) adopt orphans? Is there anything we can do to show that our God is “father to the fatherless”? To supplement his new book, Orphan Justice, adoptive father Johnny Carr is blogging, “30 ways to care for orphans in 30 days”. His posts are written specifically for those of us who are not adoptive parents. Here are some of his ideas: become a prayer champion, start an adoption fund, host a foster care prayer vigil, do something about child trafficking, etc. Some of us may never adopt, but that does not mean we cannot pursue a “pure and undefiled” faith, which James says is (in part) “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction” [3].

Prayer: Lord, Forgive our neglecting the call to show our cities and the nations that you are “father to the fatherless”. Give us a vision and an imagination for what that means in our lives—whether it is through adoption or otherwise. Let us love orphans with a sincere love. For we were once orphans apart from Christ. Amen.

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Footnotes

[1] Psalm 68:5 ESV | [2] In 2007, the Department of Health and Human Services ran the first-ever comprehensive survey that looked at adoption, the National Survey of Adoptive Parents. See, e.g., “Adoption USA: A Chartbook Based on the 2007 National Survey of Adoptive Parents.” “Adoption Statistics.” | [3] James 1:27a ESV

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May 15, 2013

843 Acres: Praying for Grace, Blessings and Favor

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 24 (text | audio, 4:26 min)
Ps 66 (text | audio, 1:52 min)
Ps 67 (text | audio, 0:34 min)
Highlighted: Ps 67:2, 4-7

Lord,

How mighty is your great name! Maker of heaven and earth and the universe. That you should hear our whispers when we are half awake. That you should spend time with us while millions pray. That you should call our weak flesh the temple of the Holy Spirit. That you should speak to us personally through the Word and Spirit. O Lord, what unutterable mercy to attend to us! Help us believe and feel this truth: that we are your people and you are our God.

We are tired this morning. Help us. Open our eyes to see wonders in your Word. This morning, we raise our voices as one, quoting the words of the Psalmist: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among the nations.” [1] Yes, we pray that you would give us grace, blessings and favor. For we are a people who need you. Define us as your people and be our God.

We do not ask for grace, blessings and favor for our sake only; we ask these things for the sake of your great name. When you tied your name to us, your people, you tied your glory and reputation to us. When the nations see how you bless us, they will see how great you are. When they see how much we hope in you, they will see how worthy of hope you are. You are the end; we are the means. [2] Therefore, we pray that you give us grace, blessings and favor, for your glory. That your way may be known on earth. That your saving power may be proclaimed among the nations. Fill us with joy in you. Give us delight in our salvation.

We pray for the nations and our cities—for if they prosper, we prosper. As the Psalmist sings, “Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!” [3]

Amen

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Footnotes

[1] Psalm 67:2 ESV | [2] See generally the covenants. | [3] Psalm 67:4-7 E

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May 14, 2013

843 Acres: Still Learning to Forgive

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 23 (text | audio, 4:52)
Ps 64 (text | audio, 1:04 min)
Ps 65 (text | audio, 1:32 min)

When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. [1]

Arrested by the Nazis for hiding Jews during the Holocaust, Corrie ten Boom was sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp along with her sister Betsie, who died there just before Corrie’s release on December 31, 1944 [2].  In 1947, she met her former guard.

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him … I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.  It was the truth that they needed … “When we confess our sins … God casts them into the deepest ocean …”

The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe … People stood up … [and] in silence left … [T]hat’s when I saw him, working his way forward … It came back with a rush: the huge room … the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes … the shame of walking naked past this man …

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: “A fine message, Fraulein!  How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!” …

I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled …  He would not remember me … But I remembered him … I was face-to-face with one of my captors …

“You mentioned Ravensbruck … I was a guard there … I have become a Christian.  I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things that I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well … [W]ill you forgive me?” …

I stood there – I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven – and could not forgive.  Betsie had died in that place – could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

[I]t seemed hours as I wrestled … I had to do it … “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses” …

“Help!”  I prayed silently.  “I can lift my hand … You supply the feeling” … I thrust my hand into [his].  And as I did, … this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.  “I forgive you, brother! … With all my heart!” …

I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.

Lord, When we are overwhelmed by sins, you forgive our transgressions. What an awesome and righteous deed! Open our hearts to see your constant forgiveness so that we, in turn, forgive each other. Amen.

___________________

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Footnotes

[1] Psalm 65:3 TNIV | [2] Corrie ten Boom, The Hiding Place (an autobiographic account of Corrie ten Boom’s experience hiding Jews and being imprisoned – I highly recommend this easy read). ** This account is an abbreviated version of Corrie ten Boom’s account, I’m Still Learning to Forgive. To find the fuller account, see here.

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May 13, 2013

843 Acres: The News We Do Not Want to Hear

by Bethany

M’Cheyne: Num 22 (text | audio, 6:18 min)
Ps 62 (text | audio, 1:21 min)
Ps 63 (text | audio, 1:08 min)
Highlighted: Num 22:17 

News: A few weeks ago, when Suspect #2 was fleeing the Boston police, every major news network was covering substantially the same programming and, as a result, most of us had a shared experience. Do you remember when this was the norm—when everyone watched the 5 o’clock news and read the local paper? In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam writes, “News and entertainment have become increasingly individualized. No longer must we coordinate our tastes and timing with others in order to enjoy the rarest culture or the most esoteric information” [1]. Individualized newsfeeds have not merely resulted in social isolation, however; they have also resulted in our ability to avoid news we do not want to hear.

Payment: As the Israelites approached the end of their forty years of wandering, they came to Moab. Fearful of an attack, King Balak of Moab tried to hire a well-known pagan sorcerer, Balaam, to curse them. Balaam initially refused, but accepted when the king made a better offer: “I will reward you handsomely” [2]. Balaam changed his mind because he “loved the wages of wickedness” [3]. When he went to Balak, however, the Lord would not permit him to curse the Israelites. He opened his mouth and blessed them three times. Balak was livid: “I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times. Now leave at once and go home!” [4].

Desires: Balak tried to craft his own news. He was not willing to hear what the Lord wanted to say, so he hired someone to tell him what he wanted to hear. Yet God showed him that his blessing was not for sale. How different are we from Balak? Paul warns, “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” [5].

Prayer: Lord, Today, it is easy to craft our own newsfeed. We love to hear the news we want to hear. As a result, however, not only do we avoid hearing the bad news of the world around us, we also avoid hearing the bad news about what is in our own hearts. Give us a love for your truth—whether it seems bad or good—so that our ears are open, not itching. Amen.

___________________

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Footnotes

[1] Robert Putnam. Bowling Alone. | [2] Numbers 22:17 NIV (ESV reads, “I will surely do you great honor.”) | [3] 2 Peter 2:14-15 NIV | [4] Numbers 24:10-11 NIV | [5] 2 Timothy 4:3 NIV

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