Disproportionate Suffering

“Some Christians are called to endure a disproportionate amount of suffering. Such Christians are a spectacle of grace to the church, like flaming bushes unconsumed, and cause us to ask, like Moses: ‘Why is this bush not burned up?’

(Exodus 3:2-3)

“The strength and stability of these believers can be explained only by the miracle of God’s sustaining grace. The God who sustains Christians in unceasing pain is the same God — with the same grace — who sustains me in my smaller sufferings. We marvel at God’s persevering grace and grow in our confidence in Him as He governs our lives.”

— John Newton, author of “Amazing Grace”

All of us know a brother or sister who seems to be a target of an undue amount of suffering. It seems like they’re always in the furnace. All we can do really is to shake our heads and then give them double honor for their faith in God’s grace and providence.

Ministering to these extreme sufferers can be a real challenge.

What can we say to those who seem to be on “God’s anvil?” How can we bless those who are in unbelievable pain?

Perhaps a very simple word of calm encouragement is the only real way to touch their hearts. They often don’t need another teaching or a link to a website. In the midst of some awful difficulties, I once had a dear brother who gently and carefully quoted Philippians 1:6 to me over and over whenever we met and whenever we parted:

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6

It was a precious thing that he did. I didn’t mind it all, as a matter of fact, I grew to like it. At first, I’ll admit it was strange, but my faith began to ‘mix’ with the Word and I began to believe it. It’s now my favorite verse in the Bible.

He refused to preach or counsel me. The light he carried was more than enough.

He had the maturity to see what God was doing and to make himself available to God on my behalf. Perhaps that patience he showed should become our own method of choice? I look forward to seeing him someday, someway. (If you hear someone quoting Philippians 1:6 in heaven, that will probably be Fred.) 🙂

“We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.”

Romans 5:3

A keyword in this verse is “rejoice.”

It is a good reminder that the pain we feel is not the end. These trials have a limited duration (although it seems far away). There is coming a day when we can navigate through these issues and come out on the other side. “We will shine like the stars” (Daniel 12:3).

Much wisdom is needed in our ministry to disproportionate sufferers. We should have a fear of intruding on the work the Lord is doing. We must be patient and humble in this matter. There is no rushing God, after all, it’s His work. Most importantly we must be very much ‘present’ for our friend.

But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance,

Romans 5:3

A “word” spoken out of place can cause even more ‘heartache’ for the sufferer. Let us be careful. At times it’s better not to say anything, and that’s alright. Job’s friends were best sitting in the ash heap, saying no word.  

The Lord God gives me
the right words
    to encourage the weary.
Each morning he awakens me
    eager to learn his teaching.

Isaiah 50:4, CEB

Ask the Father to guide you. Be gentle. Be there. He will give you, in His time, a good word for them.

 

Her Gorgeous Eyes

4 “You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
    as lovely as Jerusalem,
    as majestic as troops with banners.
5 Turn your eyes from me;
    they overwhelm me.

Your hair is like a flock of goats
    descending from Gilead.
6 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep
    coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin,
    not one of them is missing.

Song of Solomon 6:4-6. NIV

Her beauty stuns him.

He’s completely overwhelmed and totally undone, he’s looking for words to describe her. He chooses metaphors that we really don’t get and descriptions that seem a little odd. But the emotions of the human heart haven’t changed.

Love is still love, and beauty is still beautiful. Even if our words have changed.

He chooses concepts that we understand–words like beautiful, darling, lovely and majestic. But we really don’t understand the nouns–Tirzah, Jerusalem, and troops carrying banners (and that’s just verse 4!) And yet that’s how he communicates his love to her.

But we do get verse 5, at least in the first half.

“Turn your eyes on me; they overwhelm me.” Love still does funny things to each one of us–but “eyes” still convey love. When we’re really in love we obviously see the outward, but true love sees the inward too.

I think that love can pierce the heart like nothing else.

Again, the descriptions are funny, and believe me–they get stranger–goats, smelly sheep, and having a mouthful of teeth!? And yet he carefully weaves these ideas that still have concepts that are vaguely relatable, but still, I have to admit, they are hysterical. If I tell my wife that her hair is like a “flock of goats” she is liable to punch me.

The metaphors may be outdated, but the ideas behind them are not. We still understand real-life concepts like beauty, love, and true sight. These are concrete–they still ring true today. Time has not diminished them. They are bedrock solid.

But notice, it’s the eyes that get him.

He sees her eyes, and that’s all it takes–they overwhelm him. A person’s eyes can often reveal the person that’s really inside, which is something we can’t really hide.

Can Jesus see your loving gaze?

The Song of Solomon lover sees her love, and I really believe that Jesus does see the love that a believer has for him. Often we make love a one-way deal. God loves me (John 3:16). That is true–I know that God loves me, that is indisputable. But, do we really ever return his love?! maybe, he’s overcome by my gaze at him? Is that heretical?

His descriptions are funny, and believe me–they do get stranger–goats, sheep, and a mouthful of teeth!? And yet he carefully weaves these ideas that still have concepts that are vaguely relatable, but still, I have to admit, they are hysterical. (If I tell my wife that her hair is like a “flock of goats” she is liable to punch me).

But notice, it’s the eyes that get him.

He sees her eyes, and that’s all it takes–they overwhelm him. A person’s eyes still reveal love and kindness, they can reveal the person that’s really inside, which is something we can’t really hide.

Can Jesus see your loving gaze?

(I want to change. Help me Lord Jesus!)

He sees her love, and I really believe that Jesus does see the love that a believer has for him. Often preachers make love a one-way deal. God loves me (John 3:16). That is true–I know that God loves me, that is indisputable. But, do we really ever return his love? Just maybe, he’s overcome by my gaze at him? Is that heretical?

A Summons to War

battle

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake or weep tonight, and give your angels and saints charge over those who slumber.

“Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ, Rest your weary ones, Bless your dying ones, Soothe your suffering ones, Pity your afflicted ones, Shield your joyous ones,

And all for your love’s sake.”

Amen.

Augustine

Woven into this ancient ‘evening prayer’ is an idea of God meeting us with overflowing grace and kindness.  There is a strong sense of God watching everyone! And there is also a “tending” sense that He has overall.

As I read this prayer, I seem to focus on the single phrase, “shield your joyous ones.”  To think that these joyful people need protection strikes me as odd.  Why do they even need a “shield?”  Of all people, don’t they have it together?

God sees to our every need, and His flock can be incredibly needy.

As I thought it through, I started to realize that joy is its best standing in the shadow of warfare. The joyful ones are companions– “buddies” who share the same ‘fox hole’ on enemy lines.  But this isn’t a grim thing, Nehemiah told those trying to build the city walls,

“The joy of the Lord is your strength” 

Neh. 8:10

Joy connects with the desperate need of the moment; it is the muscle of all ministry.  And as a result, perhaps more vulnerable.

He didn’t say that the joy of the Lord is our happiness, cheeriness, or merriment. 

But rather, joy would impart strength, and stiffen one’s ability to go to war for our brothers and sisters, our churches, and our communities. There are certain epoxy resins that will only harden when a special light is used on them.  Maybe joy transforms into strength when we step toward our Father.

We need to spiritually protect and cover those who are His “joyous ones.”  They can be found sprinkled throughout our churches and ministries.  And they need us to shield them.  They seem to be quite exceptional, and seemingly invulnerable.  But that isn’t the case.  We need to pray for them. Joyful people inspire me in battle.

“The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.”

     Matthew Henry

Trying to Make Sense of the Incarnation

“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the incarnation. They say that God became man.”

C.S. Lewis

Incarnation, the central Christian doctrine that God became flesh, that God assumed a human nature and became a man in the form of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the second person of the Trinity.

Christ was completely God and fully man at the same time. This teaching is clear and I really can’t wrap my mind around it. Becoming man did not diminish God–if anything it was an addition and not a subtraction.

Now it’s true that Jesus voluntarily set aside all of the prerogatives of being God; He made the choice to lay His deity aside. Please think this verse through–let it sink into your hearts. It should be a mystery to you. It is to me.

“Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

Philippians 2:6-8

God, Himself decided to make the manger His home. The woman who carried the baby in her womb was created by Him (that should rattle your teeth)!

When we see the implications of all of this–we can only worship, just like the shepherds did. We can only gift Him, just like the wise men. The Christmas story itself becomes our example of acknowledging what He’s done. We are now the worshippers and givers.

All of this is a profound miracle, and can only be accepted by a simple faith, a “Christmas faith.” There is so much I need to learn about all of this, but that’s alright.

Have a blessed Christmas dear one. Know deep down that He has come for you, He holds you and cares for you. He will never ever leave you!

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com




Simeon, In His Own Words

Luke 2:25-35

There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him up in his arms, praised God, and said,

29 Now, Master,
you can dismiss your servant in peace,
as you promised.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You have prepared it
in the presence of all peoples—
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to your people Israel.

His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and told his mother Mary, “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— 35 and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”

Yes, there were rumors. The priest Zechariah had declared that his son would become the Messiah’s forerunner. And apparently, angels had visited shepherds in their fields. Each encounter had come exactly how it was foretold.

I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit led me there that day.

I have no doubt that He was guiding me to the Temple. God had promised me that I would see with my own eyes the coming Messiah. This One would be salvation and be a light to the Gentiles which would bring glory and honor to the Jewish nation.

If these were of God, there needed to be collaborating witnesses that would foretell His work. One or two might be a mere coincidence, but three were a definite declaration. Plus I knew that my own eyes would see Him face-to-face.

To be perfectly honest, I really didn’t know what I expected to see. But I knew God’s heart, and I wanted to do His will. Some might say I was a devout believer in Israel’s prophetic purpose. I knew and believed that.

I had God’s promise that I would see Him.

Something or someone was prompting me to the Temple. I guess I had a divine appointment to keep. God had given me His promise, and I knew I was where I was supposed to be. It seemed like I was always on the lookout for that fulfillment.

It was then I saw the Child.

His parents stood out like something fluorescent. It seemed as if they were color in a black-and-white world, and they held the baby who was going to change the world. When I saw them I knew that everything had fallen into place. I saw the promise and He had come to save the world.

I took Jesus and held Him in my arms.

I was holding the Savior! This baby was to save the entire world from their sins. The Law required me to dedicate Him to God. Who can say what that means? I was to devote Him to God’s purpose and plan. Who had this honor, and who can say that this was their privilege? I had been chosen to insert Him into the purposes of God.

Who can say that?

When I laid my hands on Him it was like touching lightning. I spoke the blessing, but I understood that there was something more. I looked at His mother and spoke. It was both a blessing and a warning. I understood what God wanted to say, and it was a word that Israel’s hope would also have a sting that His mother needed to understand.

When I left the three of them in the Temple courts I began to grasp the reality of it all. I spoke God’s heart to His mother Mary. She had to know and understand who this Child really was. For me my task was complete.

I had spoken, and now it was time to leave.

“In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s Temple
    will be the highest of all mountains.
It will be raised higher than the hills.
    There will be a steady stream of people from all nations going there.”

Isaiah 2:2

Art: “Simeon holding Jesus,” by Andrey Shishkin, painted in 2012, Oil on canvas © Andrey Shishkin. Verses used: Christian Standard Bible

20 Quotes for the Believer at Christmas

Some thoughts about the meaning of Christmas:

He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy, He the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.    

–Augustine

There were many who saw the babe, but did not see the salvation.  

–Author Unknown

For the Christ-child who comes is the Master of all; No palace too great, no cottage too small.  

 –Phillips Brooks

Rejoice, that the immortal God is born, so that mortal man may live in eternity.    

–John Hus

His poverty was so great that He was born in another man’s house, and buried in another man’s tomb.    

–John Boys

It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the most profound unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. God became man; Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the incarnation.  

–J.I. Packer

Who can add to Christmas? The perfect motive is that God so loved the world. The perfect gift is that He gave His only Son. The only requirement is to believe in Him. The reward of faith is that you shall have everlasting life.  

–Corrie Ten Boom

The Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as this truth of the Incarnation.  

— J.I. Packer

There were only a few shepherds at the first Bethlehem. The ox and the donkey understood more of the first Christmas than the high priests in Jerusalem. And it is the same today.    

–Thomas Merton

Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.   

 –Vance Havner

The idea that there’s a force of love and logic behind the universe is overwhelming to start with, if you believe it. Actually, maybe even far-fetched to start with, but the idea that that same love and logic would choose to describe itself as a baby born in shit and straw and poverty is genius, and brings me to my knees, literally. To me, as a poet, I am just in awe of that. It makes some sort of poetic sense. It’s the thing that makes me a believer, though it didn’t dawn on me for many years.    

–Bono

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the incarnation. They say that God became man.   

— C.S. Lewis

Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son.   

–Charles Spurgeon

Carols stir us. Holy words inspire us. The golden glow from the manger warms us. A little religion at Christmas is fine. But that glow in the manger comes from the Light of the world. It exposes evil and either redeems it or destroys it. The babe in the manger is far more than an object for sentimental sighs. He is the Son of God who must be accepted as ruler – or confronted as rival.  

–John G. Stackhouse, Jr.

It is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.  

–Charles Dickens

Christmas is for children. But it is for grown-ups too. Even if it is a headache, a chore, and a nightmare, it is a period of necessary defrosting of chilled hidebound hearts.  

–Lenora Mattingly Weber

Hark the herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn king.”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.

–Charles Wesley

This Gospel anticipates a world far different from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, where it is “always winter, and never Christmas.” The promise of the Gospel is that it is “always Christmas.”  To be “in Christ” is to enjoy each morning as a Christmas morning with the family of God, celebrating the gift of God around the tree of life.  

–Kevin VanHoozer

The spirit of Christmas needs to be superseded by the Spirit of Christ. The spirit of Christmas is annual; the Spirit of Christ is eternal. The spirit of Christmas is sentimental; the Spirit of Christ is supernatural. The spirit of Christmas is a human product; the Spirit of Christ is a divine person. That makes all the difference in the world.  

–Stuart Briscoe

Here’s a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told: Those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear. Jesus was born to die.    

–John MacArthur

When Eagles Go Bad

Looking for their dinner

“I am coming soon. Continue strong in your faith so no one will take away your crown.”

Rev. 3:11, NCV

I have lived in Alaska for over 30 years.  It’s beautiful, probably one of the most enchanting places on earth, by far. Admittedly it does have an “edge” as well. It can get very cold, and we can have snow piled up waist-high in just a few hours. I have to admit though, that the winter nights up here can be excruciatingly long and dark.

But my freezer is full of salmon, halibut, caribou, and of course, moose meat. We can pick berries in the summer, with a wary eye for bears, I never carry a gun though.  We kayak, ski, and snow machine for fun. My son was a snowboarder wanna-be. We get chased by moose–I was very close to being trampled once.

I have always had a strong connection with eagles.

You can find them throughout most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico. About half of the world’s 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska.  And that is a lot.  You can see them every day here if you want. (And you never let your small dog out, he can become dinner for the eagle. Seriously.)

I’ve been thinking about eagles. When I went to the dump recently I saw several of them working for the trash heaps.  I don’t know, but it really bothered me.  They had the form of an eagle; the wing span and the aloofness, but they were pathetic.  Their feathers were matted down, and they looked completely disheveled.  They were scrounging for scraps, competing with the crows.

The dump here is like a “crack house” for eagles.

A hard day’s night

Perhaps the saddest thing was they were losing their distinctive white heads. They had given it up for dump food.  This is a big problem in many towns here in Alaska.  The eagle’s heads turn in color to a dark grey.  You have to look a little closer to see that they are still bald eagles. You can’t be too sure.

In the Bible, God is identified as being an eagle. But so are Christians. There is something quite unsettling and tragic to encounter a believer addicted and controlled by their appetites. Soon they will change, as they grow more pathetic and disheveled.  They give up soaring and become wretched souls, without joy or purpose. All they know is a steady misery.

We don’t belong, and it isn’t who we are.

Those of us who struggle can’t live out of a landfill. You see, we were meant to soar, strong and free.  No matter who you are– addictions, compulsions, or mental illness. We can still become eagle Christians.

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you
from the beginning?
Have you not considered
the foundations of the earth?”

Isaiah 40:21

Deep down I want to spiritually soar–I resist living out of the dumps.  It is a heavy struggle at times, but we were re-created to fly. Please, never forget that. Keep flapping your wings. You were meant to glide with Him.

The dump is not your home.

 

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You’re a Steward of Your Pain

Some time ago I came across a story that connected. A visiting speaker stood in front of a congregation and shared a painful incident from his childhood. He wanted to bring healing. After he spoke, an elder came and spoke to him–

“You have learned how to become a proper steward of your pain.”

The visiting speaker was profoundly touched by this. Finally, something came together in his heart and soul. Yes, he did learn how to deal scripturally with those ugly things from his past. He was becoming a proper steward of his pain.

The word for steward in the original Greek is oikonomos. It literally means “a keeper of a home.” It describes a manager, a superintendent to whom the head of the house or proprietor has entrusted the management of his affairs, the diligent care of receipts and expenditures.

The issue seems to be of management, how can God use these awful things for building His Kingdom?

No question about it, we live in a world of darkness. Each of us has been touched by hard things. Scars are part of our lives. When we come to Christ they come with us. All of these grim things are a real piece of us, we have been hurt (or maybe we’ve wounded others?)

Are you a good steward of who you are? Whether you’ve experienced trauma–something physical, sexual, or perhaps a mental illness. It could be any scar you carry from your past, and no one is immune from them it seems. You’ll find freedom if you can use these things for Him and his Kingdom.

We must see and understand that Jesus has taken everything and redeems it all for His glory.

He understands us fully–our past, present, and future. He ‘knows’ us–the real and hidden us. The challenge I suppose is to take these sad events to the throne. He alone can heal and then use that which has devastated us. What was intended to destroy is now meant to build.

Satan has afflicted you in his dark attempt to destroy you.

Jesus intervenes to save. As we grow to accept this, the Holy Spirit comes as our comforter and guide. He starts to teach us true redemption, and the incredible healing that he brings with him. It really is his work, not ours. We finally understand. It’s then we become broken healers that God can use.

The light has truly overcome the dark.

We’re being taught (sometimes very slowly) to carry all of these things and plead the blood of Jesus over our past. He covers us completely. He has redeemed us. Luke 1:68 explains much clearer than I can:

“Blessed is the Lord, the God of Israel because he has visited and provided redemption for his people.”

Becoming a steward of our pain is his doing. We’re able to touch others with these things that would cripple and destroy others. He has made us “managers” of these things, and we are taught to teach others, declaring that God has completely saved us. He works miracles!

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”

2 Corinthians 5:17

We’ll sovereignly meet those who need to hear our story. We’re being transformed into authentic witnesses. Yes, at times these awful things still hurt, and I suppose that’s to be expected. But we’re learning to manage them. We’ve become real-life stewards of our pain.

That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”

Romans 8:28, Message

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Becoming Hidden

servant-king

“But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.”

Mark 10:44

I must admit that I’m processing something right now.

I suppose its implications could turn everything upside down,’ at least for me anyway. Some scientists have postulated that our planet is due for a complete magnetic switchover. This is when the north becomes south and vice versa. My issues at this moment are not quite that cosmic.

There are 7,000,000,000+ people now alive on this planet.

Sometimes I wonder if many of my issues come from not seeing this. It seems that there’s an intoxication of success when we become increasingly confused over ‘who’ we are. We think it’s about our efforts and our giftedness. Pride drives us, even among mature Christian believers. This demands another look.

3 “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”

Philippians 2

Jesus was not driven like we seem to be.

We, on the other hand, think we need to be assertive, (or at least the Christian version of it.) and push our way forward. However, Jesus’ message and teaching were all about emptying Himself into being God and becoming a servant of servants. This is the arresting fact we fail to consider–

Jesus did all of this while wearing a towel, not a crown!

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands and that He had come from God and was going to God, 4 rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. 5 After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet.”  

John 13:3-5

He could have just done a ‘teaching’ on servanthood and I’m reasonably certain it would have been enough. But instead, Jesus put ‘skin on His words’ and actually got down on His knees to wash dirty feet. His disciples freaked out when they saw him do this.

It was something that the disciples would never forget.

6 “Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.

7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

8  he humbled himself in obedience to God
   and died a criminal’s death on a cross.”

How can we not do this? Isn’t this the Father’s will for us?

These are hard questions to ask, but to be perfectly honest, isn’t our discipleship mean that we empty ourselves daily? Can we find peace and fulfillment by becoming unknown? Is this what we’re missing in becoming Christlike?

These are very hard questions.

“Humility is perfect quietness of heart, It is to expect nothing, to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”   

Andrew Murray

 

(All verses are from Philippians 2, NLT, unless noted.)

 

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