Selected highlights from this sermon.
Have you ever wondered why the evangelical church is anemic and undernourished? It’s because very few of us actually read the Bible every day.
When the Word of God is studied and meditated upon, the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and guides us towards new life. Simply put, we need the Bible to grow and thrive.
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Let me begin today with a question. If I were to ask you, as I am, for you to guess the percentage of evangelical Christians, Christians who claim to be born again, people like you and me, what percentage would you think read the Bible every day? You don’t have to shout your answer out loud, but would you say, “Well, I think 50% would?” Somebody said, “No.” I don’t know why because you may think it’s 75%, but the news gets more discouraging. Would it be 20%? No! It’s 11%. Is it any wonder that the Church of Jesus Christ is so anemic today, because we are not being nourished by the Word of God? And all of that is going to change as a result of a special challenge we’re going to lay before you today.
Now there are reasons why people don’t do it. First of all, it’s because the Bible seems to be a complicated book. Sixty-six books in one and you don’t know where to begin, and you are indecisive. I used to think that I was indecisive, but now I’m not sure whether I am. (laughter) And that’s the way people are. Where do I begin?
There’s another reason and that is they may read the Word but they are not nourished by it, and we want to teach you how to be nourished by it. And so they read the Word but it’s in their mind and it’s gone and they don’t think about it at all for the rest of the day. So they say, “It’s just a waste of time.”
Some people are indifferent. They don’t see even the relevance of the Word to life, and therefore they set it aside. And of course, in this day we are bombarded with stimuli – all kinds of electronic gadgets. Somebody told me this past week that someone in front of them in church – at Moody Church – was actually playing a game on their phone during the service last week. I don’t know who they are. God does and that’s sufficient for me. But we can’t even concentrate anymore unless our phone is going off. “Oh, there’s a ding. Now who wants to talk with me?”
And then at the bottom line there is Satan who wants to do everything that he possibly can to distract you and discourage you from being in the Word. And beginning today we as a church are going to overcome all of that for the glory of God. (applause)
And so what you have are Christians today who think that they are going to grow by osmosis some way when they go to sleep at night. While they are sleeping God is going to inject in them spirituality so that when they wake up they have a heart hot for God. And they’ve not been in His Word at all. Maybe they opened their Bible on a Sunday, or watched the verses of Scripture on a screen, and that’s it.
The 40-Day Challenge that we’re going to lay out before you is transforming. Who is it for? And we’ll give you, of course, some of these details, some of which those of you who are in the Moody Church here have them in your bulletin. If you are watching online you can download the same instructions there.
Who is this for anyway? First of all, it’s for struggling Christians. Is anybody a struggling Christian? Can I see your hands please? Alright, quite a few hands went up. You’ll notice that mine went up too. Struggling Christians! You know, if you are perfect, you don’t need this. But before you guess whether or not you are perfect, I am reminded of a man who said, “You know, if I just had a little bit more humility I’d be perfect.” So if you fit into that category you don’t need it, but if you are a struggling Christian like I am and like you probably are, you need this.
Who else is this for? Well, it’s for the lapsed Christian, the Christian who, first of all, is so defeated by sin that they give up on the battle and just say, “I’ll have nothing to do with it.” Or they are very angry. They are angry with other people. They are angry with God. And so they want to step away from the faith.
Just this morning I heard about a pastor who stepped away from the faith for a year. He was at a beach and as he looked out over his beautiful surroundings he said, “You know, I’m just going to see what it’s like to live without God for a year – no prayer and no Bible reading.” And he’s kind of now an atheist of sorts. And guess what! He has discovered that he can find happiness and help other people find happiness without religion. Of course he still has a moral sense because he is created in the image of God.
You know, I had to just kind of laugh out loud when I thought of this. Here’s a man who said, “I’m going to do away with God. I’m not going to have anything to do with God for a year.” What if God were to say, “I’m doing away with you for a year.” I mean he’d be a grease spot on a rock by the beach. The very breath that he breathes is God-given, and think if he is a believer (and I don’t know that he is) of what he is missing in terms of fellowship with God. I wouldn’t want to go a whole day without fellowship with God. Imagine what he’s missing, but he doesn’t know that.
So that’s for you. It’s for people with other religions. You may be here as a Muslim, or as a Hindu, or some other religion, and you’re kind of exploring Christianity. This is for you. This would be a wonderful way for you to have some direct access to the text of Scripture, and therefore we want you to participate as well.
Now everybody open your Bible to 1 Peter 1. When you look at the text what you discover is that Peter is talking about the family of God. I hope that your Bible is open. You’ll notice in 1 Peter 1 it talks about children in verses 14 and 15. “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.” So we are children in the family of God. You’ll notice that there is a Father, of course, in the family of God. Verse 17 says “And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially.” So you’ll notice that. Notice that we are brothers, and of course, when you have the term brothers in the New Testament it refers to sisters as well.
Verse 22 says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love.” Well, we’re brothers and sisters, so we love each other. And guess what! There are infants among us. Chapter 2, verses 1 and 2 say, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk.”
So we are the family of God, but the question is, how do we join the family of God? How do we get into the family of God? That’s the first question now that we want to answer today. And you’ll notice the words of Peter. I’m now in verses 22 through 25 of chapter 1: “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart (That’s the way a family is supposed to exist – with love. Now your family wasn’t perfect, and this church isn’t perfect, but we are a family, and we are part of the family of God. But how did we get there?) since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.’ And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
Alright, how do we get into the family of God? What Peter is doing here is he is contrasting natural birth with spiritual birth. He says that we were not born again with perishable seed. That’s what happened when we were born the first time physically. Our father and our mother got together and as a result of that relationship what we have today is our own life, but it will die. You can look at the animals. You can look at the plants. They come and they go, and it is perishable seed even like the flower of the field, he says, because sometimes flowers stand above the grass and they look very, very beautiful, but at the end of the day, those flowers fade and they die. That is perishable seed. But he says when you are born into the family of God you are not born with perishable seed. You are born with imperishable seed, with the living and the abiding Word of God that abides forever. “And this is the Word,” he says, “that was preached to you.” That’s what happens when we are born again.
Now just like you have the seed of the father, and the ovum (or the egg), and they come together and you and I were conceived, in the very same way God takes the Holy Spirit. Do you remember in John 3 Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Unless you are born again you’ll not see the Kingdom of God. You have to be born from above by the Spirit of God.” So what God does is He takes the Word of God, and He takes the Spirit of God and He brings them together to create within us the life of God so that, “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Behold all things have become new.”
If you are a believer today I need to emphasize the fact that God did a miracle in your heart from above. It wasn’t something that you generated. It wasn’t something that you participated in. It was a direct miracle of creation within you so that after you received Jesus Christ as Savior there was something within you that was not there previously. It’s a miracle of God.
You know George Beverly Shea was the singer for evangelist Billy Graham. Now there arises a new generation that knows not Billy, but he was one of the most famous men in the world. He could draw crowds much larger than anyone else. He was in Harringay Arena in London, England, for three months every night filling Harringay back in 1954. But his soloist, George Beverly Shea, sang a song that some of you will be acquainted with. It said, “It took a miracle to put the stars in place. It took a miracle to hang the world in space. But when He saved my soul, cleansed and made me whole, it took a miracle of love and grace.” That is a miracle just as great as the miracle of creation.
And by the way, an English woman misunderstood what Bev Shea was singing. And she went up to him later and said, “Mr. Shea, what do you mean by saying it took America to put the stars in space?” (laughter) Now America has done some wonderful things. America has put a man on the moon, but one thing America has never done is to create so much as one single molecule. Creation is God’s work and the Bible says that if any man be in Christ he is a new creation. You didn’t participate in the creation part, but the moment you believed, the miracle of the new birth happened simultaneously. And that’s why the Bible is so very clear that it does not happen by baptism. It does not happen by confirmation. People say, “Yeah, I’m a Christian. I was in confirmation.” It’s good to be in confirmation to learn something, but it doesn’t produce within you the new birth apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ, and the transforming experience of the Gospel.
All right, what does the Word do? The Word combines the word preached, he says. This is now, of course, in verse 25. The good news is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners, and that He’s the only Savior of the world. And if we believe on Him we shall be saved. That’s the Word that was preached to you that is combined by the Holy Spirit to produce the new birth.
So, first of all, we are converted by the Word. But secondly, we are nourished by the Word. The chapter break here in 1 Peter 2 is unfortunate. You know, of course, that chapter breaks are not inspired. They were put there to help us find our way through the Bible, and sometimes they are in places that really break the thought.
So he’s saying in chapter 2, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation (That is to say so that you enter into the full experience of salvation) if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
So what Peter is doing here as he is talking about the family of God is he is emphasizing the fact that we begin as infants. Now he’s talked about the new birth, being born from above, and when you are born from above you are likened to an infant in the spiritual family of God. What do we know about infants? First of all, they are born complete, aren’t they? In other words, when you bring them home from the hospital (and by the way, they let you know that they are home from the hospital if I remember correctly) you don’t say, “Okay, next week what we need to do is to go back and get the toes of the child, because you know we have part of his body and then what we need to do is to get his hands or his feet, or whatever.” No, they are born complete.
By the way, when a little baby is born and is a couple days old, have you ever looked at the nail of his or her little finger? It’s just as small as the head of a pin, but it’s there, and it’s going to grow. It’s complete. All that it needs to do is grow.
Spiritually speaking, the Bible says in Colossians 2:9 that all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus, and then it says you are complete in Him. You are filled up in Him. When you receive Christ as Savior you receive the imprint of God in your life, and you have everything in you that you need for growth except, of course, you need to be fed. Infants always are born complete. You have within you the DNA of Jesus, and what you need to do is to grow.
And of course, what we know is that infants should have an appetite. If a child is born and has no appetite that’s very, very serious, and indeed they let you know that they are hungry. And in the very same way, when we are born spiritually, what we need to do is to recognize that we have a new appetite. Created within us is a love for God. It’s miraculous.
You know, before you are converted, God is just there to kind of be used. “Oh, I need prayer. Yeah, I want God to help me.” And then after you are converted there is birthed within you a love of God and a love of Christ that needs to be nurtured, and what you need is food.
Now, have you ever seen, and I know you have, on television children that have had no food? Most of them are starving because of some reason. It’s hard for me to look at that to see children who are four years old who look as if they are 18 months old. And yet I force myself to look at it because I say that even though it is so hard for me to accept, I have to remember that those infants are actually going through the experience. But you know, that’s the case, I believe, of many believers in the Body of Jesus Christ. They are basically infants, and they are starved spiritually. And as a result of that starving, they don’t know how to receive the pure spiritual milk of the Word that Peter talks about.
Now imagine a baby who gets fed once a week. Every Sunday morning he goes for some food. And then he is starved during the week, and then he comes on Sunday, and he sings songs, and he hears the Word of God preached, and he opens his or her Bible. And so they are inspired. And they say, “Wow, you know that was really interesting and helpful,” and “I’m motivated.” And then nothing Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday! Starved! And they don’t grow.
And why is it that we don’t have an appetite for the Word? Well, I think what we need to do is just look at the context of what Peter is talking about here. You’ll notice it says in chapter 2, verse 2, “Put away all malice.” Boy that’ll stifle your appetite for the Word of God if you have malice in your heart, if you are overcome by hatred. And “all deceit!” What are you doing that’s deceitful? You begin to live a deceitful life and I’ll tell you, it’ll be hard for you to put up with church, much less reading the Word and being encouraged by it, and being fed by it. What about hypocrisy and envy and all slander? You see, as sin develops in our life, it zaps our appetite for the Word. And the world does. My mother, I remember, used to say, “No, you can’t have sweets before dinner,” and so forth. Why? It’s because it takes away your appetite.
So we have all of these other things going on, including the technology around us that is constantly distracting us, and so there’s no way for us to grow spiritually. And it would be very interesting to see what Moody Church would look like if we took all the spiritual babies and put them in a nursery. I wonder how many we’d have. And so, you see, appetite needs to be developed. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to do it together as a church. We are going to restart – jumpstart an appetite for the Word.
Now, what does the Word do for us? Well, it is food. Spiritually speaking, it is food. If you need food to grow physically, you need food to grow spiritually. You’ll notice it says “the pure spiritual milk of the Word that you thereby may grow.” You need milk. But it’s not just that you need milk. You also need bread. And that’s what Jesus was using when He was combating Satan. You know milk is just the basics of the Christian life – how to read the Bible, reading the stories about Jesus in the New Testament. All that is milk. But Jesus is withstanding Satan, and He quotes from Deuteronomy that says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” And in the Scripture what bread is to the body, in the same way the Scripture is to the soul. So if you want to graduate from being a baby in the Lord that needs milk, you begin to memorize Scripture so that you can use it the way Jesus used it against Satan. Satan comes to Him with one temptation, and Jesus says, “It is written.” And Jesus is able to quote it.
I wonder how many verses of Scripture anyone here who has been saved here for two, three or five years could quote in a moment of fierce unrelenting temptation. How many would you be able to quote? The more you are able to quote the Word and apply it, now you’re getting to the level of bread.
But the Bible is also meat. You’ll notice what the author of Hebrews (and you can just write this down and read it later) says in chapter 5, verse 11 about this. In context he’s talking about Melchizedek and Jesus and the parallels. “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. (You’re saying, “I just don’t understand this. Let’s go on to something else. Let’s answer the cell phone.”) For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food.” Solid food is translated in some translations as meat, which is what it is. “For everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness because he’s a child, but solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good and evil.
You say, “Well, what’s an example of solid food – of meat?” Well, certainly the doctrine of Melchizedek. How long has it been since you have read the book of Hebrews to try to understand the relationship of Melchizedek to Jesus and how it affirms the priesthood of Jesus Christ? Do you know something about that? Well that would be an example. Paul’s writings no doubt! The books of Romans and Ephesians and Philippians and Colossians! Now we’re beginning to get into the meat. And he says, “You should be able to teach others.
Fathers, you should be able to teach your families and if you say, “I don’t even know where to begin,” I’ll give you a suggestion. Take the book of Proverbs and read it with your children. And read a chapter a day of the book of Proverbs, for example, and learn along with them, but the point of spiritual growth is that eventually we become disciplers of other people rather than simply saying, “Okay, we have all this truth and we are not sharing it with anyone else.” You begin to get to the meat of the Word so that you can instruct others. And it doesn’t mean in a formal classroom, though it includes that. It means just in relationship that you are able to sit down with someone else and say, “Let’s read the Bible together, and let’s figure out what it says together, and let me be able to guide you because I have come to the point where I am able to do that.” And of course I’m being very careful in what I say here because none of us comes to the point where we understand everything, but we’re further along in growth.
And then of course you say, “Oh, but you know there’s milk. There is bread. There is meat. That’s pretty heavy, but I need some dessert.” Don’t you think that would be wonderful? That’s just like me yesterday after I had a sandwich for lunch, I had a chocolate attack. (laughter) I don’t know whether or not you’ve ever had a chocolate attack, but you really need a chocolate at that moment. That was my dessert. You say, “Oh, I need dessert.” Well, the Bible has that too. In Psalm 19 the Bible says, “The precepts of the Lord are more important and more precious than gold, yea than much find gold, sweeter also than honey, and the dripping of a honeycomb.” You need dessert? Go into the Psalms and it’s full of honeycombs.
So the Word of God has within it a whole meal, and meditation is to the soul what digestion is to the body. And it’s the transforming power of the Word of God. Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Growing, vibrant Christians! You say, “Oh I’ve been defeated by sin all this time.” Well yeah! Have you been reading the Word and listening to the Word? That’s where the power is.
What I want to do is to nail this down. I was going to mention being confronted by the Word, but we’ll leave that for some other time. First of all, God wills that we grow into a predetermined image, namely the image of Jesus. I emphasized that we have the DNA of Jesus. One of the most remarkable things to me about the miracle of birth (and I don’t know how in the world somebody can see a newborn baby and not believe in God, but that’s a separate issue) is this: The miracle of birth is where you can look at a child who is a couple of weeks old, and you can see in that child actually the features of his father or his mother, and you just say to yourself, “This is incredibly amazing.” The color of eyes is determined already when the child is conceived. Height, hair color, all kinds of features all wrapped up in that embryo, in that birth process, all there already!
God says, “When I convert you I give you the stamp of the Lord Jesus Christ.” The Bible says in Ephesians 4 that we are to exercise our gifts within the church, and communicate with one another within the church so that we might grow up into Him in all things into the image of Christ.
Scripture says in Romans 8 that God puts us through various experiences that we might be conformed to the image of His Son. When you were converted God had His Son, Jesus, in mind, and said, “If this person grows and gets out of this spiritual nursery, and begins to allow the Word of God to feed him or her, when that begins, then Jesus is going to break through – some of the characteristics of Jesus.” We’re all different, just like members of the family are different. I mean I can’t believe that we have three daughters that are so radically different, all with the same parents. And within us very much difference! Racial differences, economic differences, abilities different, but all of them having within themselves implanted. All that they need is to have Christlikeness apart from the fact that they must be in the Word of God and learn to feed themselves. And one of the things I am going to be doing in a future message is to speak specifically about meditation and how the feeding process works.
Second, growth can only take place with the intake of the Word of God. Now the idea of listening to seven chapters a day, or whatever it turns out to be, so that you listen to the whole New Testament in 40 days, for many people seems formidable. They just say, “I don’t know where I would have the time.” I want to be very sensitive here, but I don’t believe you. Is that clear? (laughter) I’ll tell you why I don’t believe you. I was on the phone this week with a pastor friend of mine in California who had leukemia. And he went through a treatment that involved five hours a day for several weeks. Well, where in the world does a busy pastor get five hours a day? Please tell me! Ah! But his life was at stake. When your life is at stake you find five hours a day, thank you very, very much! And when your spiritual life and your eternity is at stake and whether or not you really live a life to the glory of God, when that’s at stake, somewhere, someplace you find 28 minutes a day. Somewhere, someplace!
And when you think of listening to it nowadays you can do that with your family over a meal. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a meal without any arguments because everybody is just listening to the Scripture being read? You can even listen to it in the car, though I remind you that angels that guard you when you drive officially retire at 75. (laughter) So be vigilant, but you know you can listen in that context. If you are creative you will find that half hour somewhere, someplace.
And of course, if we all do it together, if we all say, “Today is our beginning date.” and we write it down, you can imagine the impact that it’s going to have.
This is what the Bible says in 1 Timothy 4. It says, “Exercise yourself toward godliness.” Now there are other ways to do it. You know what you can do? You can read a chapter a day, and so forth. This is jump-starting. This is immersion. And when you read and when you hear the Word of God, before you do, you have to pray this and say, “Lord, open Thou mine eyes that I might behold wondrous things out of Thy Law.” Pray that prayer from Psalm 119.
Then what you do is you ask God for the ability to concentrate, and that means turning off everything – all the stimuli that normally interrupt you, and say, “God, I’m giving you this time.” And do you know what’s going to happen? Oh, the first times it’s going to be so hard, you’re going to say, “I did it yesterday, and I don’t even remember anything.” So what do you do? You do it the next day. That’s what you do. And you keep doing it day after day until suddenly there’s an appetite that develops within you, and you say to yourself, “You know, I don’t think I can go a whole day without the Word of God,” because you’ve tasted and you’ve seen that the Lord is good. And the appetite, as you deal with issues through the Word, will happen.
Now I have to tell you I had a “heads up” here, and so yesterday I listened to today’s section, so I’m ahead of you. All day yesterday, because I did it in the morning, various passages came to mind. You know this passage, and then I’d be thinking about this and this passage. When you’re going through a large section like that you don’t have to stop and smell the flowers, so to speak. You know you can go back later and you can study. What you are interested in is the whole sweep of it. And remember we’re only challenging you for 40 days, though we believe it’s going to go much longer than that.
Israel was in the desert for 40 years. Goliath challenged David for 40 days - 40 days, and then David took care of him! Maybe it will take 40 days for you to slay Goliath, but be faithful. Jesus was tempted of the devil for 40 days. We can do this together for 40 days. Do I have a witness that we can do this together? (applause)
And now I have to ask you a question. Have you been born again by the water? Jesus mentioned water as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Have you been born of the Spirit and the Word? That’s a very good question. As I mentioned, it’s not something that you grow into. It’s not church attendance.
Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, that religious leader, who came by night because this leader had a hunger within his soul, and he knew that there’s got to be more to religion than these boring rituals. He knew that it isn’t just a matter of rules and regulations, and promises that we make to ourselves that we break anyway. There’s got to be more to it. And Jesus said to him immediately, “You must be born from above.” It’s a miracle that you can’t do. It’s not a matter of determination. The Scripture says that we are born from above, not by the will of man (by our own will), but by the will of God. Have you been born from above? Has God created within you that new nature, because now you are hearing the Word of God that Jesus died for us as sinners. He shed His blood so that we could be reconciled to God. And he rose again in triumph to show that what He did was legitimate and right. And do you say, “I believe on Him as my Savior?” And it’ll happen in a moment of time when you, with a kind of desperate faith, know your sinfulness - the moment you believe.
How does that song go? It’s just coming to mind as I’m preaching. “The moment we believe, that pardon from God we receive.” Something like that! But it’s right and God transforms you.
For some people it’s a great experience because the environment is such. For others it’s a quiet experience. You could believe on Christ right now. Those of you who are listening by radio or by Internet, or by any other way that you are listening right now, you can say, “Jesus, today I accept you as my substitute, as my Savior, and I believe and trust you alone for my eternity.”
You know in Acts 16, there are two remarkable conversions. One is the conversion of the Philippian jailer. There was an earthquake and he was so terrified he began to get his life in order really, really fast, and he said to Peter and the others, “What must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you’ll be saved.” And evidently he was saved right there because they went into his home and all those who believed were baptized. We don’t know that there were any children in the home. There’s no infant baptism in the Bible. But they were baptized, and that was a rather spectacular conversion I would say.
But in the very same chapter there’s the story of Lydia. And the Bible says that Lydia was going along by the river and there was going to be a Bible study there. And it says that she was a woman whose heart God opened. And later on she helped the Apostles.
Are you listening today and your heart is being opened to God? And you say, “Okay, I reach out to Jesus as my Savior to receive the miracle that He alone is able to give.”
Bottom line: A man was explaining how he got saved to someone, and he said it very, very simply. He said, “I did my part and God did His part.” The man he was speaking to said, “Oh that’s interesting. Explain!” He said, “My part was to do the sinning. Jesus Christ’s part was to do the saving.” At the end of the day that’s what the Gospel is. Our part is the sinning. His part is the saving.
And then, as a newborn infant, you’ll notice that the text says that you’ll begin to desire the pure unadulterated milk of the Word because you are going to be reading the Bible that you may grow thereby.
And with that I invite you to pray with me.
Father, we ask today that You might grant us as a church the great opportunity to be involved in Your Word. And Lord, if we are discouraged and we miss a day, we pray that You might help us to continue on the next day because You understand our weakness. But at the same time may we be determined to listen to Your Word, to read Your Word, and above all with open hearts to be transformed by it. For those who have never trusted Christ, may they do that right now I pray as Your Holy Spirit works in their life and brings them to saving faith. We thank You.
If you need to pray right now you pray because God is listening and He knows your thoughts.
We ask this in Jesus’ blessed name, Amen.
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