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This an excerpt from my book “Captivated by Christ: Focusing on Him.” It can be found on virtually any on-line bookstore in both hardcopy and digital formats.

First Peter 1:3 exclaims, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” In other words, Christ’s all-powerful and glorious resurrection gives us more than a future hope; it gives us a living hope. The Lord’s death and resurrection created for us a transforming power that goes beyond His ability to raise us from the physical grave. It provided a power that can energize and give purpose to daily life.

Paul said, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him” (Philippians 3:10). In saying this Paul affirmed the predictive words of Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25). What Paul is saying is that the resurrection empowers us to experience supernatural living now as well as eternal life in the future. In other words, the reality of physical death being overcome by eternal life through that all-important resurrection victory has real spiritual connotations for living.

Paul explains further: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-8). What did he primarily lose? Himself! What did he gain? Christ and the power of His resurrection! That’s why he tells the Roman Christians, “If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:5). This is a more important part of the Gospel than many give it credit for.

You see, in order to experience the power of the resurrection we must die physically and spiritually, literally and figuratively, now and in the future. You can’t be physically resurrected unless you physically die and you can’t live in spiritual resurrection power unless you die spiritually to self. This involves transitioning from our old self-oriented person to one whose focus is now on Christ. Then, through faith, we experience His resurrection power and presence. Paul elaborates: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

You see, when Paul talks about many of his travails, he considers the resurrection the root of his endurance and hope. The resurrection does give Paul hope that he’ll live with Christ in Heaven, but additionally it gives meaning to his life. In First Corinthians 15:30-32, as he connects his dying to self with the power of the resurrection, Paul says, “And as for us, why do we endanger ourselves every hour? I die every day—I mean that, brothers—just as surely as I glory over you in Christ Jesus our Lord. If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus for merely human reasons, what have I gained? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” In short, he has gained everything in Christ because of the fact of the resurrection. Without it, life is worthless.

Understand that without the power of the resurrection, our living (and dying) is in vain. First Corinthians 15:14, 17 clarify: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Our lives in Christ become meaningful and powerful only when we see the glorious ramifications of the resurrection. That happens only when we “die to self” and all things become secondary to His will and glory. This means that we forsake self-determination and self-absorption. Instead we live in the power of His presence and are guided by His purposes instead of our own (Philippians 3:7-8).

My prayer is that God will give me the desire to daily die so that I might live in Him and the power of His resurrection. After all, “What you sow does not come to life unless it dies” (1 Corinthians 15: 36).

This is the 3rd of a 3-part series for Thanksgiving, 2011.  

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!” (1 Chronicles 16:8). 

From the background of the 2 previous posts we now tackle the psalm of praise that occupies 1 Chronicles 16:8-36. The Ark of the Covenant, and all that it symbolizes, has been brought into Jerusalem and a worshipful frenzy ensues. David has created a song for his musicians to play; a psalm of thanksgiving to communicate the goodness, greatness, and ultimately, the presence of God that should necessarily spark uninhibited gratitude. There is much we can learn from the outpouring of David’s heart, a heart after God’s own heart. 

This thanksgiving hymn (I urge you to read it for yourself) is a cry of remembrance, praise, and victory. It speaks of the adoration of God’s people but it’s also a prompt to the whole world and creation that God is to be (and will be) worshipped. David beckons all people and things to recall God’s wonderful acts. The term used in this song is “judgments.” But judgment here indicates more than displays of wrath or condemnation. The term implies the act of God doing as He pleases. He is acting to fulfill his own purposes and to set things right as He sees them.  “His judgements” refers to God making things the way He wants them to be.  

This psalm is a command to all the world to recognize what God has done – to celebrate that their God is the living God, the creator of all things, and sovereign over all. The earth, and all that is in it, is called ascribe glory to the Lord that He alone is worthy of. The Ark’s coming to Jerusalem is a picture of the Lord enthroned above all peoples, His dominion unhindered. As such it is a foreshadowing of far greater things that God is yet to accomplish. One day He will come again; this time to visibly rule and make all things right. On that day the entire creation will rejoice just as David and the Israelites celebrated on this day as the Ark was brought into Jerusalem. On that day the Lord God will manifest His reign over every known people and thing.  

But today we don’t see things this way. The world in which we live appears to be out of control and in utter chaos. And, in a sense, it is! Often we wonder, “What is God doing?” Even the writer of Hebrews recognizes that Jesus is Lord of all but simultaneously he acknowledges that this is not evident in the current state things. He concludes, “At present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus … crowned with glory and honor.” (Hebrews 2:8-9).  In other words,  Jesus is Lord, by virtue of his death and resurrection. He is enthroned over all the earth. And one day this will be revealed to all when He comes again in glory and power to set all things right. On that day the entirety of His creation will dance and rejoice at his coming. 

So all of this points us back to Jesus…and the Ark. This thanksgiving psalm express the longing that God would gather His scattered people from all the nations and establish His everlasting kingdom, just like the unification of the nation of Israel culminated with the Ark’s return. Ultimately this cry finds its answer only in David’s greater son, Jesus Christ. It is only by Him that this prayer is fulfilled: “Say also: “Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather and deliver us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise” (v. 35). 

All of this reaches a climax on another day in Jerusalem hundreds of years later. Instead of a wooden chest being carried into that city with psalms of celebration, this is the day when Jesus carried a wooden cross on His back.  On “that day,” instead of joyous songs, there were shouts of murder and mockery, and the sounds of great suffering. Let’s contemplate that day when Jesus was nailed to that cross and then was raised up from the earth. For here, like the Ark’s storied return, is also a day of triumph and of enthronement. Here is the event marking the defeat of all the powers opposed to God’s kingdom. God was putting things right in Jesus. Our Lord, reigns from that tree, for it is by Christ that God is pleased to gather to himself a people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. As Jesus prophesied, “But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (John 12:32). 

So what do we learn from this? First, what God has done for us in Christ calls us to jubilant thanksgiving. It beckons us to celebration that is marked by marvel, amazement, and praise! The Creator, the God of the entire universe, has remembered His people and has come to save us through his Son, Jesus. We are invited, even commanded, to join the rejoicing as we recognize that Christ is King, the Lord of all creation. And that, above all, He is our God! 

Second, what God has done for us calls for an announcement. We must let all the world know that He working all things according to His own good pleasure. We are prompted to share with all the earth that God is King over all and has demonstrated this most fully in what He has done in Jesus Christ. We must trumpet to all peoples the invitation to be joined with Christ and join in the celebration.

May our hearts be full of anticipation and thanksgiving as we await the day when God will finally comes to set all things right. When His children, along with all of creation, will sing and worship in His presence. And may the celebration and rejoicing begin today.

Author’s note: I have drawn upon many sources for this 3-part study. As this study has developed over time and my research and writing for this piece has been intermittant, unfortunately, I can’t find the original sources in order to properly cite them. If I have overly borrowed for someone’s work (and I may have), I apologize. I pray, however, that God still uses this series and He alone gets the glory no matter where these thoughts originated. 

This is the 1st of a 3-part series for Thanksgiving, 2011.  

“And they brought in the ark of God and set it inside the tent that David had pitched for it, and they offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before God. And when David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the peace offerings, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD and distributed to all Israel, both men and women, to each a loaf of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then he appointed some of the Levites as ministers before the ark of the LORD, to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel. Asaph was the chief, and second to him were Zechariah, Jeiel, Shemiramoth, Jehiel, Mattithiah, Eliab, Benaiah, Obed-edom, and Jeiel, who were to play harps and lyres; Asaph was to sound the cymbals, and Benaiah and Jahaziel the priests were to blow trumpets regularly before the ark of the covenant of God. Then on that day David first appointed that thanksgiving be sung to the LORD by Asaph and his brothers” (1 Chronicles 16:1-7). 

What a sight of uninhibited thanksgiving! The Ark was Covenant was now in Jerusalem and this sparks a scene of dancing, offerings, blessings, physical provision (a meal) praise, music, banging cymbals, and trumpet blasts. All of this was in an exuberant spirit of gratitude over this momentous event – the returning of the Ark to its rightful place. But why all the hysteria and joy over this religious artifact, something almost like a piece of sacred furniture? 

Basic research tells us that the origin of the Ark is to be found in Exodus 25:10-22. God ordered Moses to construct it to hold the tablets on which He had written the Ten Commandments. The Ark was a box that was approximately 4 feet long, 2 1/2 feet wide and 2 1/2 feet high. It was made of acacia wood and was overlaid with gold inside and out. The lid that covered the box was called the “mercy seat” and it was also made of pure gold. Two angel-like creatures called cherubim were mounted on the top, one on each end. These worshipful figurines faced each other and their wings were spread out toward each other, thus overlooking the mercy seat. 

This wooden chest pictured God’s presence with his people. Symbolically it represented the throne of God (see 1 Chronicles 13:6). This Ark had been carried ahead of them during their time in the wilderness and as they crossed the Jordon to entered the Promised Land. We are told the Israelites had been able to possess the land Yahweh had promised them because God was with them, “enthroned between the cherubim.” 

Later the Ark was housed in the Holy of Holies, the innermost chamber of the Temple. Once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat. This ritual was to atone for his sins and the sins of the Hebrew nation (Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 9). Because God had promised Moses that He would fellowship with Israel “from above the mercy seat” (Exodus 25:22) the concept developed that God Himself was present above the cherubim of the Ark (see 1 Samuel 4:4 and Isaiah 37:16). 

So what does all of this mean? Well, the Ark symbolizes many things that would illicit thankfulness and gratitude. It symbolized the presence, greatness, and works of God but, for us, is most fully understood in light of how it points to Jesus. Much has rightfully been made of the symbolism of the Ark. In other words, most scholars believe nearly every aspect of the Ark prefigures Jesus in some fashion. 

Biblical interpreters would tell us that the acacia wood symbolizes our Lord’s humanity. The gold overlay denotes His deity. The Ten Commandments and the Pentateuch (at one point) inside the Ark pictured Jesus as the of law of God in the flesh, living in perfect obedience to it. The pot of manna that once was laid in this chest spoke of Jesus as the Bread of Life and our sustainer. At one point Aaron’s rod that budded was encased there – which conceivably prophesied Christ’s resurrection.  

The mercy seat is seen as a symbol that points to the prophesied Messiah. It was representative of the work of Jesus on the cross that would atone for the sins of His people, making it possible for those who put their faith in Jesus to be reconciled to God. The mercy seat is also possibly an illustration of how God’s throne was transformed from a judgment seat into a place of grace by the cleansing blood of Christ that was figuratively sprinkled on it. Christ was the ultimate fulfillment of the Day of Atonement, which foreshadowed the permanent cleansing of sin that would come through Jesus’ shed blood and the sacrifice of His death. 

Can we now see how this picture should spontaneously spark our thankfulness? For this Ark was no ordinary artifact or piece of religious furniture – it speaks of God’s mighty work of salvation that was eventually fulfilled in the crucifixion of Christ and His sacrifice for sin. It speaks to God’s permanent presence with His sin-covered children. This is why Jesus is called Immanuel, which means God with us. Can anything touch us more than this? Could anything cause our hearts more celebration and gratitude? For His redeemed, I would think not.

“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25). 

Isn’t the Easter season wonderful?! We are moved and inspired as we marvel in our Lord’s crucifixion and glory in His resurrection. Hopefully, we all capture what these events mean, and especially mean to us, in all of their depth and richness. Although one could never exhaust an exposition of these topics, it is always, and I mean always, best for us to keep them top of mind and pondered in our hearts. For Jesus’ work at Calvary and His being raised from the dead frame the essence of our faith and hope. 

Since today is exactly one week since the Christian community celebrated Easter, I’m reminded that it is so very easy for the inspiration of that celebration to fade. We too quickly forget the way we were touched and changed during this most important holiday season. The impact of Easter, however, shouldn’t and doesn’t end on a date or after a designated time. Just as Rebekah and I were discussing during our “Celebration Wednesday” time, Jesus’ work did not cease after His Passion and ascension. Instead He has moved into a high priestly role and is now active in sustaining us and guaranteeing the efficacy of His earthly work that we celebrate during the Easter holiday. 

The writer of Hebrews tells us that one of the reasons for Jesus’ resurrection is that He now lives to intercede on His follower’s behalf. In other words, Christ’s redeeming and sanctifying work continues so that we are completely and utterly saved. And don’t we ever need this?! When we receive Christ our sin nature does not disappear. Sure, our desires change but our attitudes and actions continually fail to meet His holy standard. Though we grow more and more like Him, which is called progressive sanctification (see Romans 8:29 and 2 Corinthians 3:18), we will never in this life reach a state of perfection. We are counted as totally righteous because of our faith in the finished work of Christ, but in practical reality we don’t live in total righteousness. This is why Christ’s high priestly function is so critical for His people, a people still in desperate need of a Savior who continues His work from the right hand of the Father. 

Paul affirms this: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” (Romans 8:33-35). And so does John: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). 

And what a comfort this is! But that comfort comes only from understanding that these three of Christ’s activities – the crucifixion, the resurrection, and His intercession – are inextricably linked. He died for our sins, He rose to give us victory over the grave and eternal life, and He is our righteous defense attorney (advocate) that sustains us by pleading His case (not ours) when we fall. Because He died for us and was raised again, Jesus is now appearing before God and stating His indisputable argument, saying, in essence, ‘look at my righteousness and not their filthy rags’. 

Some questions come quickly to mind when we contemplate Hebrews 7:25. The writer says Christ is interceding for, “those who draw near to God through Him.” He is only interceding for those who have surrendered, by grace through faith, to Himself. So, are you one of His disciples, someone who has Jesus pleading His righteousness on your behalf before a holy God? That’s one important reason we celebrate Easter – because our capitulation to a crucified and risen Savior grants us His eternal intercession. God’s Word says that we must believe with all that we are and fully receive Him in order to be given these amazing gifts and blessings (John 1:12). So, if you’ve never surrendered to Christ as your Master and Savior, I pray that God will draw you to Himself and that you will seek out someone who can fully explain the good news of Jesus. And I pray the Holy Spirit compels you to say an eternal “Yes!” to Him knowing that means He has already said an eternal “Yes!” to and for you. 

Or have you surrender to Jesus but aren’t fully experiencing the forgiveness found only in Christ, the righteousness He has purchased for you? Are you still looking at Jesus, as wonderful as this is, as only crucified, raised, and ascended?  If not, focus this day on Christ’s ongoing intercessory work for you that saves you to the uttermost! For in truth, He is now our perfect defense attorney that guarantees that we stand forgiven and counted as righteous before a holy God. So draw near to God in Christ and rest in this truth. And give Him the glory not just for what He did for you during the Passion Week but also what He continues to do in sealing the incomparable reality of His forever presence with those who believe on Him.

“Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.”  Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”  Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:24-29). 

After Jesus’ resurrection He was not easily recognized. We see this first on Sunday morning. That morning even Mary fails to recognize Jesus. (John 20:11-18). Although she was no casual acquaintance (a few days earlier she washed His feet with her tears), she mistakes Him for the gardener. Later that same day Jesus joined two disciples on the Emmaus Road and, during a seven mile walk, gives them a Bible study in prophecy. Yet they did recognize Him until He broke the bread at dinner. Later that evening these same two disciples join the gathering in the upper room and confirm Christ’s appearance. But when Jesus ultimately emerged as they huddled in disappointment and fear of the authorities, we find them all terrified of His entrance (Luke 24:36-40). For some reason they don’t recognize Him until they look at His wounds! 

Did they not read Psalm 22, which reads as if it were dictated by their Master as He was being crucified? The writer describes Christ’s pain and the piercing of His hands and feet (v.16). David quotes the taunts of the crowd (vs. 7-8) and observes the dividing of the Messiah’s clothes (v.18). The Psalm even opens and closes with Jesus’ first and last words from the cross (vs.1 and 31). And obviously they didn’t remember Isaiah’s prophecies, like Isaiah 53, which describe His death as eloquently as any passage in God’s Word. In Isaiah 52:14 alone we see the extent of the physical abuse left Jesus hardly recognizable in His human form. 

This brings us to Thomas who, like the rest of the disciples, needed verification of the resurrection by visualizing Jesus’ scars. We call him “Doubting Thomas” but we can scarcely blame Him for being dubious. We live in a world of skeptics and Jesus acknowledged that it was a serious act of faith for those who, unlike Thomas and the other disciples, would not be able to physically see the marks of His brutal death (John 20:29). Today we must see His scars with spiritual eyes, with eyes of pure faith. Eyes that were blind but now, by His grace, can see the wounds of our Lord’s sacrifice for us. It is imperative that we see His scars, that we adoringly, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), and we say with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!” We must know the pain our sin inflicted on the Suffering Servant, our Savior. We must grasp that these wounds, and their blood, are our only hope and God’s plan for redeeming otherwise hopeless sinners.

And here is an amazing fact of Scripture – we all will see Jesus’ scars one day. Literally! But our reaction will vary depending on our relationship to Him. Those who reject Him and the wounds that offer healing and restoration will be reminded of their part in His death when He comes in His ultimate glory. Jesus will say, “…look upon [me] whom [you] have pierced” (Zechariah 12:10). Although God willed His death and Christ died willingly, it is our sin that essentially caused His suffering. But in God’s grand design the marks of His humiliation are also the marks of His glory. And at His return this revelation will bring both sorrow and fear to those who denied Him: “for every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:10).

But what a sweet sight those scars will be for His children. Like the disciples, we also will one day lovingly adore those precious marks. And we will do so for all eternity. In Revelation 5:1-6 John is given a vision of the throne of God in Heaven. At the center we find Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, apparently still bearing the scars of the cross. And so we will worship Him, scars and all. Actually we will worship Him because of those wounds, the marks that someone has called, “the only man-made things in Heaven.”

As we ponder what Easter means and we revel in the amazing thought of our risen Lord, let us know that we must see Him with hearts that are captivated by the marks of His suffering for us. He has been raised and we have been raised with him. Raised so that we might glory in those treasured wounds that we will worship, as a part of Him, for all eternity. For His resurrection was the culmination of His earthly mission to purchase us for Himself, one marked by the scars of His suffering for us. Wounds that will forever prove His indescribable love and worth.

“Yet there are some of you who do not believe. For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him” (John 6:64, NIV). 

Recently we were praying in our community group. The focus of our prayers was specifically on each other. One family in particular has and is experiencing tremendous trial and tribulation. It seems as if they are being attacked on every front, from within and without. Bypassing all the details (and you would be astounded if I could list them all), I can’t even begin to imagine how they have struggled physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet it was the dear husband who uttered these words concerning those unbelievers God has placed in their circumstances: “God is sovereign and we know that even those who don’t believe are channels of His grace.”  Now how does that strike you? For me it was a resonating reminder! 

Yes, I believe in God’s sovereignty (although I don’t pretend to completely understand it, nor can fully explain it) but here was someone who, in the midst of great personal suffering, is truly believing God is in control. He understands that God uses whomever He wishes, in whatever way He desires, in order that His will (purposes) be accomplished. God will use even ‘unregenerate’ men to achieve His ends. Nothing can stop His will from being accomplished in the lives of His elect (see Isaiah 55. especially vs. 7-13). From history we can see that despite wickedness – and often outright heresy – God has designed all things so that His elect be set apart for His own glory. And this is true no matter what our perception of our circumstances may be. 

So, for the encouragement of my own faith and humility, I did a quick search on various verses that speak to God’s divine orchestration over the affairs of men. I recommend you do the same for yourself so that we all may more clearly see God for who He truly is – and who we aren’t – God! Of the many passages that speak to God’s absolute sovereignty, here are but a few to contemplate: 

  • Psalm 115:3: “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.”  
  • Psalm 135:6: “The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths.”  
  • Isaiah 46:10: “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.”  
  • Lamentations 3:37-38: “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it?Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?”

Scripture has many examples of God using unbelievers as channels of His grace. Just look at the life and, most importantly, death of Jesus. We see the Pharisees, Roman rulers and soldiers, those who supported the release of Barabbas, and even one of His own disciples facilitating His mission, “to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Each of these unbelievers played a role in the necessary crucifixion of Christ – which is the greatest of all demonstrations of grace. Judas’ wickedness, as we see in John 6:64, was noted over and over in Scripture. He is called a “betrayer” (Matthew 10:4), a “traitor” (Luke 6:16), a “devil” (John 6:70), and a “thief” (John 12:6). Judas is shown as one who was motivated and possessed by Satan (John 13:2, 27), and as “the son of destruction” (John 17:12). One biblical scholar commented, “It is as though the evangelists could not paint this man black enough in retrospect.” Herbert Lockyer writes, “There are 40 verses in the New Testament in which there is a reference to the betrayal of our Lord, and in each of them the dastardly sin of Judas is recorded.”

Yet God used Judas Iscariot. He used Him as a channel of grace. Jesus said that he was “lost” so that Scripture might be fulfilled (see John 17:12). I’m not debating here whether Judas chose his role or was chosen for it. I’m just saying God used this wicked man and his terrible deed to accomplish His purpose in Christ dying on that cross. So, in a unique sense, by this most heinous crime of betraying the son of God, Judas played a role in the salvation of God’s children. 

So what does this mean to me? If God used Judas in my own salvation (and He did), then I should feel an extraordinary sense of security and peace. For if God is so sovereign (and He is) as to use the likes of Judas as a channel of grace to all who surrender to Christ, then whom or what should I fear? For He is in total control – “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

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