Posts tagged ‘Moses’

God’s Open-Door Policy

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In Exodus 19, as God is preparing to give Israel the Ten Commandments on the summit of Mount Sinai, He issues a stern warning to the people through Moses:

Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. (Exodus 19:21)

And again to the priests and the people of Israel:

The priests and the people must not force their way through to come up to the Lord, or He will break out against them. (Exodus 19:24)

Everyone, it seems, would love to have some time with God. But as the Law is being introduced, the Israelites, instead of getting time with God, are being separated from God. The people are to remain at the foot of the mountain while Moses receives God’s Law at the top of the mountain. And to try to get close to God while He is giving His Law – to try to force their way into His presence in the midst of His law – will only result in their death.

Jesus makes a fascinating, perplexing, and seemingly passing statement in Luke’s Gospel:

The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it. (Luke 16:16)

“The Law” to which Jesus refers is the Law Moses received up on Mount Sinai, and “the Prophets” are those who proclaimed the Law, up to and including John the Baptist. But now, instead of a mountain, there is a kingdom. And now, instead of being sternly warned not to force their way up the mountain, people are openly and fearlessly forcing their way into the kingdom. Why? Because while the Law separated us from God because of our sin, Jesus came to undo that separation by forgiving our sin. We can force our way right in to see God. In Christ, God has an open-door policy.

So, what do you need to see God about? A worry? A sickness? A sin? A need? Feel free to barge right in. He’ll be happy to see you – and to help you. Because He loves you.

August 8, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Water and New Life

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When God is first ordering creation, He begins with a formless, watery blob:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2)

But the watery blob does not last long. He separates the waters up above from the waters down below, and He separates the waters below into land and water:

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” … And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:6-8)

The separation of these waters eventually sets the stage for God to give life to human beings:

God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

When God rescues the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt, they quickly find themselves backed up against the banks of the Red Sea, being pursued by the full force of the Egyptian army, and being terrified at the prospect of their impending slaughter:

“Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!” (Exodus 14:11-12)

But then God steps in and redoes what He did at creation – He separates the waters of the Red Sea and forms dry land:

The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. (Exodus 14:21-22)

The separation of these waters sets the stage for God to rescue His people and give them a new life.

Over the past few months at the church where I serve, I have been privileged to witness and be a part of many baptisms. In baptism, God does once again what He did at creation and at the Red Sea. Waters are separated by pouring or dipping, and the separation of these waters is the stage on which God promises to give people life – new life as His children:

We were therefore buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. (Romans 6:4)

With water, God not only creates, He recreates. And He does so intimately – personally – for you. If you have not been baptized, now is your time! If you have been, give thanks to God for His creative work in you. It’s a beautiful gift of His love for you.

May 23, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

No Longer Shut Out

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At the end of the book of Exodus, Moses and Israel have just set up the tabernacle – the place where God dwells. But when Moses tries to enter it to be with God, something unsettling happens:

The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. Moses could not enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35)

Moses cannot enter to meet with God.

The Psalmist asks:

Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god. (Psalm 24:3-4)

The Israelites do not have clean hands or pure hearts. They are recalcitrant and rebellious. As Exodus 32 recounts for us, they have sworn by idols. They cannot stand in the Lord’s holy place because of their sin.

The book of Exodus, then, leaves its reader wondering if God’s people will ever be able to meet with God. Or, has God cut them off because of their sin?

John’s Gospel opens with this description of Jesus:

The Word became flesh and made His tabernacle among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Israelites were barred from standing in God’s holy place by His glory. Jesus comes to us as God’s holy place and freely shows us His glory. How? By grace and with truth. John 1 is the answer to Exodus 40. Despite our sin, we are not blocked from being with God, because God has chosen to be with us in Christ.

May 9, 2022 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Daily Bread

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As inflation continues to wreak havoc and interest rates rise, the future can feel uncertain and even ominous. Before I wrote this blog, I checked my stocks. They were all red. My stocks weren’t the only things that sank. My heart did, too.

And yet, in the midst of uncertain times, we are called to trust God with our resources. In fact, we are called to trust that God will give us all the resources we need. We are called to believe that God will answer our prayer: “Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

Jesus’ words from this famous in line in the Lord’s Prayer echo a story from ancient Israel. In Exodus 16, God feeds the Israelites with bread from heaven as they wander through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land:

The LORD said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow My instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” (Exodus 16:4-5)

God provides the Israelites with all the resources they need. But His provision comes with a provisio – they are only to gather what they need for each day. It is daily bread. And on the sixth day, when they are to gather what they need for two days, this is so they might rest on the seventh day.

Unsurprisingly, the Israelites struggle to follow God’s instructions. Some try to gather more than what they need for each day:

Some of them kept part of the bread until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell. (Exodus 16:20)

Others, instead of saving bread so they can rest on the seventh day, try to work every day:

Some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they found none. (Exodus 16:27)

The Israelites’ struggles mirror our own struggles. On the one hand, like the Israelites who tried to hoard bread, we can fail to trust God for what we need each day. On the other hand, like the Israelites who failed to sufficiently save bread and tried to work on the seventh day, we can also fail to save for tomorrow so we can enjoy rest one day. Gathering and saving. Working and resting. And, above all, trusting. These are the pillars of stewarding what God has given us.

The Israelites lived in a world where resources could feel scarce. We do, too. But just because resources feel scarce doesn’t mean they are scarce. God still provides. We are called to trust that. We are called to trust Him – even in a time that can feel uncertain.

May 2, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Don’t Destroy Yourself!

Credit: Bartolomeo Biscaino (1629-1657) / Wikimedia

In the book of Exodus, the Pharaoh of Egypt seeks the destruction of the Israelites because they “have become far too numerous for us” (Exodus 1:9), and he is worried that “they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country” (Exodus 1:10). In response, Pharaoh issues an edict: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live” (Exodus 1:22).

It is at this time a Levite woman gives birth to a son and, at first, attempts to hide him so he might not drown in the Nile:

But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. (Exodus 2:3)

This brave mother follows the letter of Pharaoh’s edict to throw her son into the Nile, but with a twist. She places her son into a basket, and then places the basket with her son into the Nile. Famously, this basket boy survives and grows up to become Moses – the one who rescues the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt.

In a showdown with another Pharaoh of Egypt that takes place some 80 years after Moses was first placed into a basket as a baby in the reeds of the Nile, Moses and the Israelites find themselves backed up against a sea called the Sea of Reeds, which we know today as the Red Sea (Exodus 13:18), with Pharaoh and his army coming to destroy them. But just like God protects Moses from the waters of the Nile when he is placed among the reeds, God protects Israel from the waters of the Sea of Reeds by splitting them into two, so the Israelites can pass “through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left” (Exodus 14:23). But when Pharaoh and his army try to pursue them, “the water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen – the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived” (Exodus 14:28).

Pharaoh sought the destruction of the Israelites by declaring that they must be drowned among the reeds of the Nile. But instead, he himself is destroyed by being drowned in the Sea of Reeds. Pharaoh’s berserk desire for destruction only destroyed him.

When we are slighted or hurt by someone, it can be easy for us to wish for – and, perhaps, even work for – their destruction – the destruction of their job, their reputation, or our friendship with them. But our desire for destruction – our desire for vengeance – more often than not, only destroys us. The bitterness and anger we harbor toward someone drowns our souls. This is why Jesus says, “If you hold anything against anyone, forgive them” (Mark 11:25). Jesus does not just say call for forgiveness in an effort to let someone who has upset us or hurt us off the hook. He calls for forgiveness to let us off the hooks of our own dangerous desires for destruction that will, if left unchecked, only destroy us. God doesn’t want our souls to get trapped in a vengeful Sea of Reeds.

So, who is God calling you to forgive today? Remember, forgiveness not only helps someone else; it rescues you.

And you’re worth rescuing.

April 25, 2022 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Help Needed

Moses had gotten himself in too deep. As he and the children of Israel were traveling through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, he had not only taken on the role of leader, but of judge:

Moses took his seat to serve as judge for the people, and they stood around him from morning till evening. (Exodus 18:13)

The Israelites were going a bit stir crazy in the wilderness, and they were getting into so many disagreements and disputes with each other that Moses was spending all day trying to arbitrate their altercations. He had time for nothing else.

When Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, comes to visit his son-in-law, he is impressed by what God has done for Israel, but is concerned over what Moses is doing with Israel. He says to Moses:

What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. (Exodus 18:17-18)

Jethro knows that Moses needs help. He cannot judge alone.

Jethro’s words hearken back to God’s words when He saw that the first man He created, Adam, had no one to help him through and with life:

It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. (Genesis 2:18)

So, God created Eve.

In a world where it is noble to be a self-made person and self-sufficiency rules, Jethro reminds us that our limits are blessings. We cannot do it all. We need help. Contrary to our cultural myths of independence and autonomy, it is not good for us to be alone and to try to carry every burden alone.

We don’t always like to hear this, because our limits humble us. Sometimes, we’d prefer to live under a delusion that we are, if not theoretically and theologically, at least functionally omnipotent. But our limits are ultimately meant to bless us. Because they create opportunities for us to form relationships with others who we need – and who need us.

Who do you need to ask for help? The help you ask for may just be the start of a beautiful friendship that you need. And that is good.

April 11, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Bridegroom of Blood

Credit: “The Circumcision of the Son of Moses” by Jan Baptist Weenix (c. 1640) / Wikimedia

Recently, I received a question about a strange story in Exodus 4. God has just called Moses to be the new leader of the children of Israel and has commissioned him to confront the Pharaoh of Egypt, who is enslaving the Israelites, and demand that he let the people go. While Moses is heading to Egypt to carry out his task:

At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.) (Exodus 4:24-26)

This is indeed an odd story. God, at the very time Moses is traveling to Egypt to do the thing God had just told him to do, tries to murder Moses.

But why?

Moses was on his way to becoming the spiritual leader of Israel. The first spiritual leader of Israel was also the progenitor of Israel – a man named Abraham. How did God mark Abraham as the father of this nation?

This is My covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised. (Genesis 17:10-12)

Moses, as the incoming spiritual leader of Israel, had not even marked his own son with the most basic sign of God’s covenant. He has disobeyed God’s command. And God is not happy. So, God seeks to punish Moses.

In many ways, this story in Exodus 4 and another story in Numbers 20 serve as bookends to Moses’ ministry. In Numbers 20, the community of Israel is in the desert on their way to the Promised Land after their rescue from Israel, but they do not have any water. So, Moses approaches God to discuss the problem, and God offers these instructions:

“Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.” So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as He commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in Me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:8-12)

In Numbers 20, Moses disobeys God by striking a rock to get water from it rather than speaking to it. And his punishment is death. In Exodus 4, Moses disobeys God by failing to circumcise his son, and his punishment should have been death. But someone intercedes. Zipporah circumcises their son and touches Moses’ feet with the blood and foreskin to remind him that the same feet that just one chapter earlier stood before God on “holy ground” (Exodus 3:5) as God appeared to Moses famously in the form of a burning bush have now wandered into sin. His feet – and his very self – need covering and cleansing. And this is what they get.

After Zipporah performs the circumcision, she calls Moses “a bridegroom of blood” (Exodus 4:25). We, too, have a bridegroom of blood. But unlike Moses, His feet have never wandered into sin. Instead, they have only staggered to a cross where He shed His blood so that we could have “a bridegroom of blood” who saves us from sin.

Israel needed a greater and better leader than Moses. And so do we. And we have One in Jesus.

February 7, 2022 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Grace. Period.

In Exodus 32, while Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, one of which is a prohibition against idolatry, the Israelites are committing idolatry at the base of the mountain by worshiping a golden calf that mimics the gods they once saw while they were slaves in Egypt. When God sees what is happening with the Israelites while He is meeting with Moses, He is furious. He says to Moses:

I have seen these people and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation. (Exodus 32:9-10)

God had chosen the people of Israel to be His ambassadors to a world broken by sin. Now He wants to start over with a new ambassador in Moses. But Moses argues for a different plan:

LORD, why should Your anger burn against Your people, whom You brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, “It was with evil intent that He brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth”? Turn from Your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on Your people. Remember Your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom You swore by Your own self: “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.” (Exodus 32:11-13)

Moses intercedes for Israel, and God responds and relents:

The LORD relented and did not bring on His people the disaster He had threatened. (Exodus 32:14)

What is especially interesting is what Moses says to get God to relent. Moses argues two things: it will be bad for God’s international reputation to destroy Israel, and God will undo His prior promise to their forefathers about giving them many descendants. Moses does not, however, call on the grace of God, even though grace is what God ultimately shows. But what God shows in Exodus 32, He explicitly declares, two chapters later, in Exodus 34:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7)

There’s more to God than commands against sin. There is grace for sinners. And although commands are what we need for our own good, grace is how we can actually relate to God. Grace is when God says to us not, “I love you if…” “I love you if you keep My commandments.” “I love you if you keep yourselves from sin.” “I love you if you prove yourselves worthy of love.” Grace says none of these things. Instead, grace simply says, “I love you. Period.”

For those who have never heard that from anyone in your lives, this is the declaration of your Father in heaven. God may give commandments. But He lavishes grace. Strive to keep His commandments. But when you don’t, find your rest, remedy, and rescue in His grace.

September 20, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A “Giant” Exaggeration

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Yesterday, at the church where I serve, we kicked off a summer-long series on Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is situated at the end of the Israelites’ forty-year wandering in the wilderness and records Moses’ final instructions to them before his death.

As the book opens, Moses begins by reminding the Israelites that they have not always done so well honoring God. Indeed, the reason it has taken them forty years to arrive at the Promised Land from Egypt is because, when they first came to the Promised Land, they refused to go in. After sending a reconnaissance team of Israelite spies to check out their new home, the team issued a frightening report about the people living there, which Moses recounts:

The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there. (Deuteronomy 1:28)

The fact that the reconnaissance team saw Anakites there is interesting, to say the least. In their first-hand account, which we read in Numbers, the spies give us some more information about the lineage of the Anakites:

We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them. (Numbers 13:33)

Hold on a second. They saw descendants of the Nephilim? That seems curious.

We first meet the Nephilim in Genesis 6:

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days. (Genesis 6:4)

They are described as a wicked people and as part of the reason God sends a catastrophic flood to destroy humanity:

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created – and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground – for I regret that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7)

This begs a question: if God sends a catastrophic flood to, in part, wipe out the Nephilim in their wickedness, what are they doing in the Promised Land during the time of Moses long after the flood?

It seems as though this reconnaissance team is engaging in a little exaggeration. This becomes apparent when the spies describe the size of the people they see in the Promised Land: “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33). The average grasshopper is an inch tall. I’m five feet ten inches tall. This means, using my modest height as a standard sample, these men would have been 69 times my size, or nearly 397 feet tall.

Uh-huh.

So often, when there is something we don’t want to do – or, for that matter, when there is something we do want to do – we’ll exaggerate in an attempt to get our way. We’ll exaggerate and put the worst construction on what someone has said instead of a more plausible construction. We’ll exaggerate and only emphasize the positives of a purchase instead of taking a realistic look at the cost of what we want to purchase and soberly analyzing whether it is a smart financial move. We’ll exaggerate on social media and make our life or our vacation look better than it really is.

Let us learn from the Israelite spies and their very implausible description of the giants who were drowned in a flood. Exaggeration hurts us and those around us. We are called to be people of the truth. We do, after all, follow a Man who called Himself “the truth” (John 14:6). No exaggeration is needed with Him.

June 14, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Slow in Anger and Full of Grace

When God appears in a burning bush to Moses and charges him to lead the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, Moses is fiercely skeptical of God’s rescue mission. He begins by expressing skepticism that the Israelites he is called to rescue won’t express some sort of skepticism:

What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, “The LORD did not appear to you”? (Exodus 4:1)

God responds by giving Moses the power to perform some miracles to back up his divinely mandated mantle – he can turn his staff into a snake, make his hand leprous and then heal it again, and turn water from the Nile into blood.

But Moses is still not so sure. He is not only skeptical that the Israelites won’t be skeptical; he is also skeptical that he will be able to deliver God’s message:

Pardon Your servant, LORD. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since You have spoken to Your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue. (Exodus 4:10)

God insists that Moses will do just fine. After all, He created Moses’ mouth, and He will speak through Moses’ mouth.

But Moses’ problem, it turns out, is not one of Israelite skepticism or a fear of public speaking. Instead, it is simply an old-fashioned stubborn will:

Pardon Your servant, LORD. Please send someone else. (Exodus 4:13)

Moses simply does not want to be bothered with God’s mission. And God is not happy:

Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses. (Exodus 4:14)

Usually, when the Lord’s anger burns, He acts accordingly. When the Israelites build a false god in the form of a golden calf, God says to Moses, “Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them” (Exodus 32:10). By the end of the chapter, we read: “The LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35). When the Israelites grumble against God immediately after He provides them with a superabundance of quail, we see that “while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and He struck them with a severe plague” (Numbers 11:33).

With the Lord’s anger burning against Moses in Exodus 14, we would expect God to take decisive discipline measures against Moses. What will God do? Strike Moses with a plague? Swallow him up into the earth? Turn the burning bush into a flaming inferno that consumes him?

God does none of these things. Instead:

He said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.” (Exodus 4:14-16)

God, instead of destroying Moses because of his lack of confidence in Him, gives Moses a companion in his brother. God’s anger may burn, but so does His grace.

When Moses is up on Mount Sinai meeting with God, God proclaims His character to Moses:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7)

It turns out that not only is God slow to anger, He is also slow in anger. Yes, sometimes His anger results in disciplinary action. But in Moses’ case in Exodus 4, God’s anger was subsumed by God’s grace. In place of judgment, God gave Moses his brother.

When we sin, God can – and, indeed, does – get angry. But as with Moses, God’s anger is ultimately subsumed by God’s grace. And in place of judgment, God gives us a brother:

Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for You.” “Who are My mother and My brothers?” He asked. Then He looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” (Mark 3:31-34)

God is slow in anger – even with us.

May 17, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

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