Parting Words: Jesus to the Pharisees

Everyone leans in to  listen to a dying man’s voice.  His last words. His reflections and final thoughts.

Christ fully knew when His time had come. He calculated every word and deed to coincide with the exact day that His crucifiction would take place. Consider, close to the Passover, and before His murder, Christ spoke seven woes to the religious men of his day. The 7 Woes are  discussed in detail here.

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you— but not what they do. 

The greatest among you shall be your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

~Matthew 23:2, 11-12

As we approach Easter and consider the woes to the Pharisees and scribes, we should examine ourselves to see if Christ finds the same fault in us which He found in these self-professing God-followers. (For an overview of Pharisees and scribes click here   and here.)

While they would seem to be godly, they were neither sober nor righteous. We are really, what we are inwardly. Outward motives may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy; but if the heart and spirit be made new, there will be newness of life; here we must begin with ourselves. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees was like the ornaments of a grave, or dressing up a dead body, only for show. The deceitfulness of sinners’ hearts appears in that they go down the streams of the sins of their own day, while they fancy that they should have opposed the sins of former days. (Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary at Christnotes.org,emphasis mine)

Pharisees point the finger and put the focus on the external and temporal.

Scribes are tempted to neglect the spirit of the Law while upholding the letter.

Clashing symbols both, don’t you think?

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 

 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

Matthew 23:23,25-26

Jesus’ final words to the Pharisees, the religious people of His day, were stinging. As a lifetime member of a church and a Christian over two decades, I default to the pharisee and scribe status if I am not very intentional. Christ’s parting words to me, not only include His parting words to the disciples, but sadly to the Pharisees as well. Those who are Christian are by default religious, and therefore should heed the seven woes.

This Lenten Season, what does pursuing justice, mercy, and faithfulness look like in your life…in mine? What filth needs to be cleaned out of the inside of the cup before the decay spreads to the outer portion? How should we stoop in service to follow the example of Christ washing His disciples feet? 

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Parting Words: Jesus to Judas Iscariot

Parting Words: Jesus to Judas Iscariot

 

Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me; one who is eating with me. Mark 14:18

Friend, do what you came to do. Matthew 26:50

Judas was proactive in his betrayal of the Son of Man. (See Matthew 27:3-10)

The betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot reminds me that we will only be betrayed by someone in close proximity to us. We don’t call malice from an outsider betrayal; only that from someone close.

Jesus ate, slept, traveled, taught, and ministered beside Judas. Why would we think that couldn’t or wouldn’t happen to us? If it hasn’t happened to you, the probability is high that it will. If it has, then would you like to respond even more like Christ the next time? Me too. Additionally, I would like to see the warning signs earlier so that I don’t open myself up to as much hurt in the future as I have endured before. (See this great post here via iBelieve.com.)

For those of us without omniscience, which is all of us, we may have entertained the Judas unknowingly. That is, until the moment our betrayal was at hand. We may have postured for a Jonathon’s embrace only to be met with a Judas’ kiss. On the other hand, we may have simply been reluctant to see the warning signs and forged ahead with toxic relationships, that upon their end we wished we had never begun.

Christ knew that He would be betrayed by one of those closest to him. For him, it was only a matter of time. Yet, he chose to invest in Judas anyway. Why? What can we learn from that? What were his parting words to Judas?

  • Jesus parted without malice. We see no record or indication that Jesus slandered Judas or cast judgement on him. He warned him, however, that it would have been better for him that he would have never been born. (See Mark 14:21)
  • Jesus spoke the truth over the situation. (Mark 14:17-20)
  • Jesus’ omniscience ensures that he fully expected and anticipated betrayal and accepted that as the path towards the fulfillment of his life’s purpose.
  • Jesus continued to call Judas friend. (See Matthew 26:50)  Judas’ final act did not negate or erase the relationship that Christ had with him up until that point.
  • Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” Jesus, being fully human and fully God, hurt just as we do when someone hurts us. His heart was not protected from pain any more than ours. Yet he did not retaliate against Judas.

When someone with close, intimate proximity to us stings us with their malice, acts of betrayal, or apparent apathy, we can rest assured that Christ empathizes with us, sees our pain, and will one day bring justice to the situations we experience. Further, Christ provides an example of holiness for us to pattern with our parting words.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His will. That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next. ~Reinhold Niebur

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Parting Words: Jesus Before the Cross

The Garden

It probably seemed a hairs breadth time between the calling and the cross for Peter, James, and John.

One day Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John were finishing an all-night fishing trip with no favor, when Jesus tells them, Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. (Luke 5:4, ESV) That was the fishing trip that would change their lives. No longer would they be fishing for fish; they would become fishers of men.

It’s funny how we never know what hello will change our lives. What new acquaintance will be a God-appointed friendship waiting on which to embark. Luke 5, and the other gospel accounts, is epic in our view because we know the outcome. But, did the disciples feel in their souls the gravity of that day’s events as they unfolded? It’s impossible to know.

Spring forward three years, and we once again encounter Jesus and three of his first-called disciples sharing a world-changing moment together. However, this time, the setting is a garden, not the sea, the food is bread and wine, not fish, and the task is to watch and pray, not to cast their nets to the waves.

Sometimes watching and praying can be much more challenging than working and casting. The sleepy disciples bear witness to this. There is a weight in the waiting.

Jesus had finished his final Passover meal with his disciples. He foretold of His betrayal, his death, and his resurrection (See Matthew 26) and commenced to sing a hymn and depart to Gethsemane. In these final parting moments with his friends and disciples, Jesus behaved in certain ways that we can pattern as we draw to transition points in our own lives:

  • Jesus drew close to those closest to Him. Jesus took all the disciples to Gethsemane, minus Judas who was too busy betraying Him; however, He drew even closer to his three friends: Peter, James and John. Jesus took them further into the garden and shared more of Himself with them.
  • Jesus shared the burdens of His soul with trusted friends. Jesus’ future was not veiled to any of the disciples, but the agony with which He faced his destiny was shared with a chosen few. He confides in Peter, James, and John:

My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me. (Matthew 26:38)

  • Jesus drew closest to the Father. While Christ invited His friends and disciples to share in His burden through prayer, He petitioned His Father alone further still into the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus asked for the cup of God’s wrath to pass, yet ultimately he petitioned for the Father’s will to be done. We too can portray only so much truth to our closest friends and family–God is the only one who knows in fullness our joys and our sorrows.
  • Jesus used his fleeting time to continue to instruct His disciples concerning:

Their duty. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:41)

God’s power. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53)

God’s will. …all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled. (Matthew 26:56)

It is comforting to me that even in partings, Jesus provides the way in which we can do so with the greatest impact.

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Parting Words: An Easter Series

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Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. (Ecclesiastes 7:8,ESV)

Good-byes are difficult. The good-byes of life: the dorm room, the parting of child from family at the alter of marriage, the distance of a move, the deathbed…many moments in life involve parting words. As we enter into the Easter Season, I want to focus on the good-byes of Jesus and of Paul. What did the Savior of the world want to leave as parting lessons with his disciples–with us? How did Paul part with Timothy? What were his final instructions to the young man he mentored in the faith?

I believe that our good-byes can be strengthened by looking at the good-byes of Jesus and Paul. In the next five weeks leading up to Easter we will delve into:

  • Paul’s last words to Timothy
  • Jesus’ last words to the Apostles
  • Jesus’ parting words in Revelation

I look forward to learning how to say meaningful and lasting parting words in this life so that the hellos of eternity will be all the sweeter. I certainly need these lessons, and I eagerly anticipate learning them alongside you this Easter Season.

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The True Love of Valentine’s Day

Valentine's

St. Valentinus of Rome, was a priest born 200 years after Christ and whose martyrdom we remember every February 14th. It seems that Valentinus disobeyed the ruling of Emperor Claudius the Cruel to cease all marriages within the Roman Empire and to worship the Roman gods.

Claudius the Cruel needed more men for battle and believed that unmarried men would make better and more willing soldiers. Valentinus knew this was against the law of God and chose to secretly marry couples under the blanket of night so that men could depart for battle having married their loves.

Valentinus’ worship of God and practices of matrimony was quickly found out and resulted in his imprisonment by Claudius the Cruel. He was beheaded on the 14th of February around 278 A.D. for his crimes of love and loyalty. Above the laws of men, Valentinus obeyed the One True God’s commandment for men and women to join together in holy matrimony.

Celebrating the faithfulness of Valentinus is an occasion that I can recognize with deep respect and gratefulness when we celebrate in truth. Like Valentinus, many people are held prisoner around the world for their faithfulness to the gospel and continue to die in the name of Christ Jesus for obedience to His commands.

The true love of Valentinus was love of God and His people. He brought men and women together under the biblical mandate: that for this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and cling to his wife. (Ephesians 5:31)

Valentinus cherished the love and obedience of God above the safety of conforming to the world’s demands. He showed true love in laying down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)  May we, if called upon to obey God above country, do the same.

This is real love–not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 

(1 John 4:10, NLT)

I tell you the truth, everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels.

(Luke 12:8, NLT)

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

(1 John 4:16, ESV)

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Inspiration for the New Year

A little inspiration for our new year’s aspirations, paths to be tread, dreams to be dreamed, and travels that await.

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Dear Lord, please give me…

A few friends who understand me and yet remain my friends.

A work to do which has real value, without which the world would feel the poorer…

A mind unafraid to travel, even though the trail be not blazed.

An understanding heart…

A sense of humor.

Time for quiet, silent mediation.

A feeling of the presence of God.

And the patience to wait for the coming of these things, with the wisdom to know them when they come.

~W.R. Hunt

Taken from Treasured Stories of Christmas  by Guideposts

 

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I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year,

with thee, O Father, as my harbor,

thee, O Son at my helm,

thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

~The Valley of Vision

Inspirations for a New Year

Roads go ever on and on,

Over rock and under tree, 

By caves where sun has never shone, 

By streams that never find the sea;

Over snow by winter sown, 

And through the merry flowers of June, 

Over grass and over stone, 

And under mountains in the moon.

Roads Go Ever On and On ~J. R.R. Tolkien

 

Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. ~Proverbs 19:21

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Homeland: Until We’re There

Homeland Part 3

He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!

~O’Holy Night

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:14, ESV)

We find find ourselves waking to a world akin to the setting Christ entered into over 2,000 years ago. He came to bring peace and redeem lost mankind; even now, especially now, the Prince of Peace is needed on this earth.

The hopeful message of Christmas is that God became man and sympathizes with our weaknesses, our daily needs, and the temptations that are common to man. He is no stranger to the sting of death, separation from loved ones, betrayal, want, and the disappointment of broken relationships and broken people. Christ knows that rejoicing in darkness is impossible apart from the Light of the world; so He came to deliver the Light–Himself–for all mankind. (See John 1:9-13)

He is the Light that gives birth to the sons and the daughters of God. He is the Light that pierces the darkness with the full knowledge of how the darkness bears weight on all mankind. Jesus drew near to us so that we could draw near to the Father. How are we to press on in the meantime? How do we live until we reach our Homeland?

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hebrews 4:15, ESV)

And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. (Hebrews 6:11-12, ESV)

So, until we reach our Homeland, until we cross the threshold of time and space to Heaven and eternity, Christ sets the example for us to follow. He gives us a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12) to imitate their faith and patience so we may inherit the promises of God–eternal life through Christ Jesus.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 13:14-16, ESV)

He knows our needs, and to our weaknesses He is no stranger. Behold our King this Christmas season and before Him lowly bend. God is with us and if He is with us and for us, then none shall stand against us.

Wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year,

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Homeland: Evidence of Things Unseen

Homeland 2

Sometimes we are called to step out in faith into uncharted territory–into places or platforms that are novel and, most likely, nerve-wracking. Often we go with faith in God’s calling, or, occasionally, with great evidence of His will. Still other moments beckon with more subtle assurance in the still, small voice of God guiding us.

The shepherds were overwhelmed with immediate, miraculous indications that they had a short journey to make and an ultimate treasure to find. The wise men followed the star without the certainty of visible angels guiding their steps. How did the wise men know to look for and follow the star? Why would they pack up and leave their home in search of a King? 

The wise men were Magi, or Magio in the Greek. This is where the English word, magic, is derived from. The Magi were men of great knowledge and study, particularly in the field of astronomy. The Magi originated in Media and later Babylonia, Persia, Arabia, and India. They were considered a priestly caste of advisers to the nobles and rulers of those lands.

According to this article from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR, see here), there is an ancient tradition that Balaam, the prophet from Mesopotamia was an early member of the Magi. Perhaps you are most familiar with Balaam as the prophet reprimanded and spared by a talking donkey. (See Numbers 22:22-30) Well, Balaam also prophesied the coming Messiah would be accompanied in this way:

 a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17)

Add to Balaam, the influence of Daniel, Mordecai, and Esther, to name a few, in the provinces of Babylonia and Persia and you have both Jews and Magi who took as their own, the God of the Jews, looking for a coming Messiah as foretold by His star rising in the sky.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, KJV)

The Magi set out to find the Christ-child with as much evidence as the shepherds who heard the angels singing. They studied the patterns of the stars spoken into being. Their study and understanding of astronomy pointed them to the newborn-king when, as foretold, His star arose in the heavens. The evidence of things hoped for was at last present and the Magi were prepared to recognize the evidence and obey.

How are we preparing for our homeland of Heaven this season of our lives?

In what way are we prepared to see the evidence of Jesus and His return and react in obedience as disciple-makers?

How are we prepared to defend the evidence of the Creator God in a world full of agnostic and atheistic teachings heralded as the truth of intellectually inclined individuals?

The Magi who celebrated the Messiah were acting on the evidence of their faith. Indeed, they were acting in faith with the understanding of the stars in the sky. Those same stars which God had promised Abraham that his decedents would be more numerous than. The same starry sky that continues to proclaim evidence of a Creator.

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3, ESV)

The shepherds went in search of the King on the testimony of angels; the wise men on the fulfillment of prophecy. For us there is both. We must press on to live for the Homeland and point others to the King.

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Homeland: A Christmas Series

Homeland Part 1

When I was young in the mountains, I never wanted to go to the ocean, and I never wanted to go to the desert. I never wanted to go anywhere else in the world, for I was in the mountains. And that was always enough. (Cynthia Rylant, When I Was Young in the Mountains)

I have spoken to several men and women whom desire to live in a different place than where they are. Admittedly, several times in a given week or month, I am one of them. I often love the place I live and other moments I desire a grand adventure far, far away. This phenomena has prompted me to contemplate whether this is a perspective shared by historical accounts of men and women documented in the Bible. So far my search has turned up empty.

I believe the desire for novelty and adventure are good, and God-given, but I also wrestle with the reality that it can be a sign of ingratitude, discontent, and a blinding of my eyes to the mission God has given in the present, to the gifts of here and now. This Christmas God has guided my thoughts on the matter to the account of the shepherds and the wise men.

There are two groups of men that were called to worship and witness the Christ-child: the shepherds and the wise men. The shepherds traveled walking distance to witness the new born King of Kings. These men, by vocation, were homebodies often sleeping among the sheep they guarded and never going far from their flock.

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  (Luke 2:17-18, ESV)

Conversely, the wise men traveled up to two years to witness the Messiah. Their journey started when they saw the star rise and set out to worship him.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasure, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11, ESV)

In considering the missions of both these two vastly different groups of men, a few similarities stand out:

  • Their mission was to find the Christ and worship Him.
  • They were given a sign to know that they had found the Messiah.
  • They obeyed their assignment.
  • Their response was worship and joy.

Whether shepherd or wise man, pauper or prince, native or foreigner, those that are in Christ Jesus are each traveling to the same homeland. They are each integral parts to the story of the world, redemption, and the promised restoration of God’s creation. We each work in our areas of influence so that it too can be said of us as the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11:

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:14-16, ESV, emphasis mine)

Shepherds heeded the heralding angels and the wise men followed the star; we are all called to follow the King. Each of us as part of the story should look to our homeland and work toward that same end. Let us find something in our surroundings today to be grateful for and to recognize the hand of God in our adventures near or far.

Have you encountered any men or women in the Bible who desired a grand adventure away from the place they were living? I would love to hear your answers if so. You can leave a comment below or e-mail me at Brooke.Cooney.1@gmail.com.

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Mary Christmas: A Closer Look at the Mother of Christ

Mary Christmas

Mary.  Some exalt her to an equal status of holiness with the Christ-child she carried in her womb, and others nearly ignore her in an effort to compensate for the idolization of her.

What does the Bible say about Mary and how is this important to our celebration of Christ’s birth this year and every year?

The Bible says that Mary found favor with God. (Luke 1:28, 30)

In considering the Biblical accounts of men and women who obtained the favor of the Lord, the following stand out: Noah, David, Job, and Mary.

How does the righteous and holy standing of Mary before God compare with other Hebrew people recorded in the Old Testament?

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God (Genesis 6:9, 7:1).  Yet, Noah’s righteousness did not mean that he did not sin because we see that just shortly after he left the ark he sinned by becoming drunk (Genesis 9:20-21, Ephesians 5:18).  David, was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), and yet we can all point to the fact that David sinned in his adulteress sexual relations with Bathsheba, and then subsequently having her husband killed. Job, in Job 1:1 is characterized as a man blameless and upright, who feared God and shunned evil. Yet, Job, when he had  seen God, said, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:5-6)

Our first encounter with Mary is similar in that the angel Gabriel declares, Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.  Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  (Luke 1: 28, 30) Based on the accounts of Noah, David, and Job, we can conclude that finding favor with God does not equal a sinless state.  (Romans 3:23) Further,we gain hope and encouragement that finding favor with God is possible for us as it was possible for Noah, David, Job, and Mary before us.

Let us rejoice in the fact that though we are wretched sinners God characterizes us as ones who gain His favor because of our faith in the Messiah and obedience to His commands.  For Noah, David, and Job it was God’s promised Messiah to come. For Mary and for us it is in belief in the Messiah that has come.

The Bible says that Mary believed God and was His faithful servant. (Luke 1:38, 45)

 My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me- holy is his name.” – Luke 1:46-49

Mary praised God for the honor of being the chosen vessel to birth the Messiah who would fulfill prophecy and redemption for all mankind.  We can glean an attitude of humility from Mary that God would choose to use us to accomplish His divine purpose and eternal plan.

Following the shepherds’ visit and Jesus’ staying behind in the temple, the Bible says that Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51) Mary, unlike us, wasn’t privy to cameras and recorders to capture all the special moments and firsts of Christ.  She had to record her beloved Savior’s face and firsts on the imprints of her heart and mind.  More than this, Mary pondered the ways and works of God.

In our hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and all of the year, we can neglect meditation on the words and works of God.  Mary sets another example of God-honoring living by thinking on Christ.

The Bible leaves Mary at the foot of the cross. (John 19:25-27) That is where we should leave Mary.  Not as an exalted figure by which we can speak to God, not as a iconic statue to be praised and worshiped, nor as a fashion accessory or good luck charm, but rather as Christ-servant and fellow sinner in need of the Savior. This is where everyone is found in relation to Christ–the foot of the cross.

In looking at Mary this Christmas, I will see her as:

  • A young woman who lived in such a way to please God that she gained His favor to be a chosen vessel for accomplishing God’s divine and eternal will.
  • One who believed God and served him faithfully.
  • One who pondered the ways of God and Christ.
  • One blessed to know Christ in infancy, life, death, and his glorified and resurrected state in heaven.

In response to the life of this godly woman I will:

  1. Like Mary, ponder God’s gift of Jesus and his way in which He accomplished Christ’s birth. See Luke 1 and 2.
  2. Put Mary in proper perspective this Christmas and praise the Creator not the created one.
  3. Walk humbly with God so at the right time God will see fit to use me…not all my life, but today and then the same tomorrow and the same tomorrow.

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