Brick #94 – 1 Peter 3

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The first word in chapter 3 is very key to understanding what has been a controversial passage. The chapter begins this way…

“Likewise…”

Two questions:

1) Likewise what? Likewise as in the same way that Jesus submitted to the Father and loved the church sacrificially by way of the cross.

2) In what way is chapter 3 controversial?  Verses 1-7 uses some language that when not understood in context has been used to make women come across as inferior to men…

  • “Wives, be subject to your husbands.” (v.1)
  • “women, submitting to their own husbands… calling him lord.” (vs 5-6)
  • “women as the weaker vessel” (v.7)

When you understand verses 1-7 in the context of the cross and especially when you use Scripture to interpret Scripture then these verses begin to make sense. Ephesians 5:21-33 and Genesis 2:18-25 are especially helpful.

I will say a few things that I believe are helpful to understand when talking about the roles of men and women in marriage:

First, it is the husband’s job to sacrificially love his wife as Christ demonstrated His love for His bride, the church. Husbands are to lead their into a sanctifying relationship with the Lord and to gladly do whatever it takes to make sure they are cared for, provided for, and honored.

Second, wives are indeed to submit to their husbands love and leadership. The best definition I have ever heard for the word submit goes like this: Submission is a wife’s willing and glad response to her husband’s sacrificial love. In other words, when the husband is doing his job then the wife’s job is a no-brainer. What wife would not want to gladly respond and follow the leading of a husband who is first and foremost looking out for her interests, her needs, her hopes, her desires, her dreams.

1 Peter 1:1-7 has to be understood in terms of the “likewise”. And it is kind of like everything else about the Christian life – when we rightly understand what Jesus did on the cross then the Christian life not only makes perfect sense but becomes a joyous and thrilling pursuit.

May this brick help you to again remember the cross!

 

Brick #93 – 1 Peter 2

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As I pondered this past week, my mind’s attention was captured by some of the little words in the first 12 verses. So, If, As, and But. Today’s Brick by Brick is just going to focus on that first one as there is much to ponder in that one word.

The chapter kicks off with this admonition…

So put away all malice and deceit and hypocrisy and envy and slander.”

The word “so” refers to what came right before it – “And this word is the good news that was preached to you.” (1:25) Peter is saying that our behavior is connected to our beliefs. How we behave is a reflection of what we really believe. Do we believe that the word of God is indeed good news? Do we believe that Scripture is indeed the “living and abiding word of God”? (1:23) Do we believe that “the word of the Lord remains forever”?( 1:25) We can always tell what we really believe by looking at our behavior.

Do you really believe that the Bible is God’s Word and that He speaks to us and uses His Word to nourish our soul? If so, does the amount of time that you spend reading and pondering Scripture each day reflect that this is true?

Do you really believe that God listens to and answers prayer? Does your prayer life reflect this? Do you spend more than a perfunctory minute or two with our Father before His throne of grace?

Do you really believe that people who have not put their faith and trust in the Lord Jesus and in His redeeming work on the cross are desperately lost and eternally damned? If so, is there any sense of urgency to make sure that the people around you have heard the gospel and know about the hope that the Lord offers us in Christ?

Do you really believe that everything we have belongs to God and that we are merely stewarding the resources that we have been entrusted with? If so, does the way that you spend and give and invest reflect that your money is actually His money?

Do you really believe that God has chosen you for His holy purposes and that you have a God-given mission to pursue? If so, do you live each day with a sense of purpose and calling and are vigilantly on the lookout for God-ordained opportunities throughout the day for the Lord to use you as His ambassador to a despairing world?

Do you really believe that God calls us to be a holy people and that sin not only short circuits our relationship with Him but also declares to a watching world that faith in God doesn’t matter? If so, in what ways do you need to repent and turn from your wicked ways and seek the Lord’s forgiveness and a fresh anointing?

May the Lord use this brick to help you evaluate to what extent you really believe what you say you believe.

 

Brick #92 – 1 Peter 1

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There is so much that is ponderable in this chapter. So much! The one sentence in the ESV version that kicks off chapter one could keep you pondering for a week by itself…

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,  to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,  who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1:3-5)

And that’s just one sentence.

But there is another phrase that I want to focus on in this Brick. It is found in verse 13: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action…” I actually like the way that the KJV translates the verse because I think it gives a better sense of what Peter is saying. “Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind…”

Peter is using military language here. When you went into battle you would take the lengthy robe that was part of the dress code of the day and tuck it (gird it up) into your belt so that you had freedom of movement as to better do battle. So what does it mean to “gird up the loins of your mind,” or to “prepare your minds for action”? Here are 4 thoughts…

1) We must be fiercely determined – Make no doubt that we are involved in a war. And the war begins in your mind. The enemy has done a great job of leading people to forget that we are at war – and therefore our determination to overcome the evil one is for all practical purposes tenuous at best and nonexistent at worst. Where is the fierce determination to stand firm against and boldly battle the enemy of our souls?

2) We must be vigilantly aware – A good soldier is constantly alert and continuously on the lookout for an attack. They live by the motto “When you least expect it, expect it.” It is often when things seem to be going well in our lives that we are spiritually blindsided because we have let our guard down just enough to give the enemy an opening that he can take advantage of. We must maintain a state of vigilant awareness if our minds are going to be prepared for action.

3) We must be adequately armed – John 10:10 tells us that our enemy wants to “steal, kill, and destroy” us. 1 Peter 5:8 reminds us that he is a roaring lion “seeking someone to devour.” It would be silly to try to defend ourselves against such an enemy weaponless. And yet, more often than not, that is what we do. We do not utilize the weapons we have been given We neglect the Word. We forsake prayer. We do not cling to the gospel. We respond in fear rather than in faith. The Lord has given us all that we need to fight the good fight but many believers have chosen to lay down their weapons in obsequious surrender.

4) We must be appropriately trained – Having the right weapons to fight the enemy is good. But being trained to use those weapons with excellence is much much better. So here are a few questions for you to think about as you discern whether you are appropriately trained to fight the evil one… or not.

  • Do you find that reading your Bible is a duty or a delight?
  • Do you regularly hear God speak to you as you read His Word?
  • Are you daily putting God’s Word into practice in your day to day life?
  • Do you experience prayer as sweet and sacred or as monotonous and mundane?
  • Do you regularly “preach the gospel to yourself” and remind yourself that “according to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
  • In what ways are living “by faith and not by sight?” Would anything be different about your the way your life is practically lived out if God was stripped away?
  • Do you find that joyfully engage in worship or dutifully endure worship with other believers?

If you find that you need training in one of these areas I would be delighted to help. Just let me know.

May this brick better help you to prepare your minds for action as you anticipate going into battle today.

 

 

 

Brick #91 – James 5

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It is not uncommon to read a passage of Scripture that I have read many times, like James 5, and see something that I have never seen before. Verse 8 grabbed my attention this week – and especially one phrase in verse 8: “You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” 

Two questions come to my mind: 1) why is the phrase “establish your hearts” linked to the coming of the Lord, and 2) how do you “establish your heart.”

James certainly believed that the Lord could return imminently. Even though it has now been 2000 years we should live with that same anticipation. We should live as if we will meet the Lord today. Why? Because we might. Maybe He won’t come  to us (or maybe He will) but we never know when we might go to Him. Many many people every day find themselves un-expectantly in the presence of the Lord. 1 Peter 3:15 says this: “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…”

James had some genuine concerns about the health of his reader’s hearts. Even a cursory reading of his letter to them will reveal this. He also knew that because of the persecution directed toward Christians that any day any one of them could find themselves in the presence of the Lord. No doubt James would have the same concern for the hearts of believers in 2021. So how do we make sure that our hearts are established – or strengthened (as the Christian Standard Bible says) – and ready for “the day of Christ’s appearing?

Heart health features several components:

1) Things you need to STOP doing because they are bad for your heart. You know what these are. You know the things that you are doing that are creating an unholy heart. The only real question is are you willing to STOP doing these things so that your heart can heal.

2) Things that you need to START doing because they are good for your heart. You know what these are as well: reading and pondering the Word, focused time in prayer, resolute obedience, fellowship with believers, worship with the saints of God.

3) Regular Check-ups. Twice a year I go to the doctor and let him listen to my heart and ask me questions about my healthy (or unhealthy) heart habits. Once a year I have comprehensive lab work done to try to spot anything that might need attention. Shouldn’t we be as diligent spiritually as we are physically? Who in your life has permission to ask you about the health of your heart? When was the last time that you reviewed your heart diagnostics? What would a spiritual check-up reveal about the health of your heart?

May this brick help you to establish and strengthen your heart so that not only are you able to run the race with endurance but also are prepared to to meet the Lord whenever that may be.

 

 

Brick #90 – James 4

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I am an adulterer! There, I said it. Unfortunately most of you reading this are also adulterers. James is writing to Jewish believers and in 4:4 he calls them out (and us) when he says, “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world makes you an enemy with God.” 

I think he is trying to shock his readers by using such graphic language – and he no doubt does a good job. He wants them to see themselves as he sees them – a people who are on the one hand trying to love God but on the other hand are having an affair with the world. This pretty much describes most believers today. But James does not just lambast them with the truth – he also tells them how to correct the situation. In effect, he gives them 6 tips on how to “affair proof” their relationship with God.

Tip #1: “Submit yourselves therefore to God” – First of all there has to be an acknowledgement that God is God and we aren’t. And because He is God He gets to set the rules of the game and we must play by His rules. The cool thing is that when we do play by His rules, when we obey what He says, we find ourselves experiencing and enjoying the blessings of God.

Tip #2: “Resist the devil” – The devil will work hard to get us to ignore the rules of God and play by his rules. He does a good job of conning us and making us think that his short term benefits are better than God’s eternal blessings. The word “NO” must become a regular part of our vocabulary when the devil tries to seduce us – and most of us are not very good at saying NO.

Tip #3: “Draw near to God” – It’s hard to have an affair with the world when your focus and priority is on staying close to God. It is when you separate yourself from God – stop going to church, stop reading His Word, stop spending time in prayer, stop fellowshipping with other believers – that an affair with the world becomes not only possible but probable. 

Tip #4: “Cleanse your hands” – We all mess up. We all need forgiveness. We all need to come to God and confess our sin and say “I’m sorry!” When we have no desire to make things right with God, that is when we are susceptible to the allures of the world. When we become numb to our sinfulness we make dumb decisions that often lead us down the road of no return – and adultery becomes an easy option.

Tip #5: Be wretched and mourn and weep”– Confession (Tip #4) is vitally important. But if it is not coupled with sorrowful repentance then it is meaningless. Repentance acknowledges that we have turned away from God but then deliberately and intentionally turns back to God with a desire to please Him and restore the broken relationship that our sin caused. True repentance grieves that we have grieved the heart of God who loves us so much and hates what sin does to His beloved children.

Tip #6: “Humble yourselves” – “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” (CJ Mahaney). Humility demonstrates a posture of dependence upon God. We love to exercise our independence. Humility requires a day by day fight against the pride and self-assertion that is hard-wired into us from birth. Adultery (both spiritual and physical) is just one short step away when we declare our independence from God and decide to do what we want to do regardless of the cost to our relationship with God or others.

May this brick help you to guard your heart and keep you from entering into an adulterous relationship with the world – and/or help you to find your way back into the loving arms of your heavenly Father.

 

 

 

Brick #89 – James 3

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The first half of James 3 talks much about the battle to tame the tongue. James pours on word picture after word picture to try to get his point across. His point is summed up by what Proverbs 18:21 says, Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Scripture uses lots more word pictures to try to make this point:

  • Matthew 12:34 – You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
  • Ephesians 4:29 – Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
  • Colossians 4:6 – Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
  • Proverbs 26:20 – For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
  • Proverbs 10:11 – The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
  • Proverbs 12:18 – There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

1 Kings 12:6-14  gives a great example of the consequences of using our words foolishly, as well as the consequences of listening to foolish counsel. King Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, lost 5/6 of his kingdom just because he spoke rashly and his legacy of ungodliness was cemented  – all because he could not tame his tongue.

Most of us don’t have a huge problem with destructive speech. Believers do a pretty good job of not saying the wrong things but a lousy job of intentionally saying words that bless others. We really need to work on doing what Ephesians 4:29 talks about above – building others UP and speaking words of grace.

I came across this prayer in Psalm 141:3 which is a great prayer to pray often and repeatedly: 

May this brick help you to to think before you speak and to be intentional about using your words to bless and build others up.

 

Brick #88 – James 2

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There are two major sections to this chapter. I will make a few comments about each.

 

James 2:1-13 The Sin of Partiality

In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India.

So one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. “If Christians have caste differences also,” he said, “I might as well remain a Hindu.” That usher’s prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.

In my church experience we don’t tend to favor the rich over the poor, the white over the black, the “Christian” over the Hindu – but we do play favorites. We don’t do a very good job of being on the lookout for first time guests and new people to our fellowship. We favor our friends and those we enjoy talking to and just hope that someone else – like the pastoral staff – is doing a good job with newbies. It is not uncommon for us to have visitors come to our church and never have someone initiate a conversation or introduce themselves to them. Who knows how many “Mahatma Gandhi’s” have come through our doors only never to return because they were not intentionally welcomed.

I realize that it can be awkward to introduce yourself to someone that you don’t know. But take the risk anyway as an act of faith, knowing that perhaps the Lord will use you to make an eternal difference in someone’s life.

James 2:14-26  Faith Without Works Is Dead

How do you reconcile what James says in these verses with what Paul says in Ephesians 2?

James:

  • What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (v. 14)
  • So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (v. 17)
  • You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. (v. 24)
  • For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (v. 26)

Paul:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The simplest way for me to explain it is this: Ephesians answers the question how are we saved? James answers the question how do you know that you are genuinely saved? They are not saying different things they are just looking at salvation from two different timelines. We are saved not by our own work but by the work of Christ on the cross. But genuine faith will produce good works in the life of a believer. In other words, his faith will be backed up by his actions.

A young man at our college Bible study put it like this… I can say that I work at Chick-fil-A. I can even really like the food at CFA. I can wear a CFA hat and even be able to tell you how great the food is at CFA – but if I never actually work at CFA and I’m not on the payroll – then I really don’t work for CFA no matter what I say.

May this brick encourage you to be on the lookout for people new to your church as well as to help you understand the role of good works in a believer’s life.

 

Brick #87 – James 1

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Before we jump into our pondering of James 1, here are a few things to know about James the man and James the book in general…

 

About James:

  • Brother of Jesus – Comedian Michael Jr. does a bit that is hilarious about what it might have been like to have Jesus as your older brother. You can check it out HERE.
  • His Story – He did not believe prior to the resurrection – the resurrection changed everything for him!
  • Became the leader of the Jerusalem church
  • Keynote speaker of the Jerusalem Council – AD 49
  • Nicknames – 1) James the Just – he was known for his righteous life;  2) Old Camel Knees – he was known as a man who spent a lot of time on his knees praying
  • Probably Married – 1 Corinthians 9:5
  • Martyred ~ AD 62

About the Book of James

  • Probably first NT book written  ~ AD 45
  • Written to a Jewish audience (James 1:1)
  • Controversy surrounding the book: Salvation by grace through faith (Apostle Paul) vs salvation by faith plus works. James is NOT saying this. He IS saying that genuine faith is a faith THAT works not a faith by works – Focus is on the application of the gospel not the gospel itself. 
  • Written to combat “easy believism” which was an issue then as it is now. 

There is much to be pondered in this chapter. I will focus on these few verses for the sake of brevity:

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:5-6)

Verse 5 – It should not be surprising that Old Camel Knees recommends prayer as the first order of business when facing a situation that calls for wisdom. Too often we try to figure things out on our own and leave the Lord out of our decision making. It’s no wonder that people make so many bad decisions. Two additional questions that I would ask that would demonstrate a willingness to hear from God would be these:

1) What does God’s Word say – does it give any insight into the situation?

2) What do the godly people that love me and care about me say – do they have any insights that can help me as I try to make wise decisions?

Verse 6 – Doubt is one the strategies that the enemy of our souls will use to try to defeat us. If fact, it was the very first tactic he used to bring down Adam and Eve way back in Genesis 3:1. So how do we combat doubt when it assails our mind? Three things:

1) Satan asked Adam and Eve the question, “Did God actually say ‘you shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And it planted a seed of doubt in their minds. Always go back to the Word of God and remind yourself of what God actually did say. If you allow the seed to grow to fruition you are well on your way to a fall of your own.

2) Develop an apologetic faith – what I mean by that is to know the why behind the what that you believe. And specifically know why you believe that Jesus is the resurrected Christ.  James was a doubter – until the resurrection. But after the resurrection he was absolutely convinced that his older brother was the Lord of life. Thomas was a doubter – until he was absolutely convinced  that Jesus rose from the grave. HERE is a really good testimony from Lee Strobel – an avowed atheist – until he became convinced that the resurrection was indeed fact not fable. You might also check out this book by him: The Case for Christ

3) Remind yourself all the times that you have seen God demonstrate his faithfulness to you. You might even create a book documenting God’s faithfulness over the years. We tend to have short memories. When doubt begins to creep in we need to remember how He has faithfully provided for us in the past so that we can confidently rebut any doubts that the evil one assaults us with.

May this brick help you be wise in your decision making and to know how to fight the enemy when he uses the strategy of doubt to try to defeat you.

 

Brick #86 – Psalm 1

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The question that this Psalm prompts in my mind is this: I know that I should delight in God’s Word. I know that I would be blessed if I delighted in God’s Word. But I don’t delight in God’s Word. It feels more like drudgery than delight. How do I get to the point where pondering the Word of God is a delight and not a duty?

Great question. I want to give you an illustration and then some thoughts  by godly men who have wrestled with this very question.

The illustration:

Most people know that they should exercise. They know how much better they would feel if they exercised. They know that exercise would benefit them physically, emotionally, and mentally. But the idea of exercising defeats them before they get started. They don’t like the idea of all that sweat; those sore muscles; those dirty clothes; the cost of a gym membership or running shoes. They don’t like the time it will take and what they will have to give up if they are going to exercise consistently. But they do like the idea of feeling better; looking better; sleeping better. So they decide to start and find it to be drudgery just like they thought it would be. But they keep at it even when they don’t feel like it; even when it just feels like they are going through the motions. And after six weeks they begin to notice the benefits starting to kick in.  The have lost weight. They can run a mile without feeling like dying. They have gone from an ab to a two-pack. And before too long they realize they are looking forward to their scheduled exercise time rather than dreading it.

What once was drudgery and duty has now become delight!

Thoughts from John Piper:

So someone may ask: How can I come to delight in the word of God? My answer is twofold:

1) pray for new tastebuds on the tongue of your heart;
2) meditate on the staggering promises of God to his people.

The same psalmist who said, “How sweet are your words to my taste” (Psalm 119:103), said earlier, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). He prayed this, because to have spiritual eyes to see glory, or to have holy tastebuds on the tongue of the heart, is a gift of God. No one naturally hungers for, and delights in, God and his wisdom.

But when you have prayed, indeed while you pray, meditate on the benefits God promises to his people and on the joy of having Almighty God as your helper now and forever. Psalm 1:3–4 says that the person who meditates on God’s word “is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.”

Thoughts from David Platt:

I just want to encourage you to pray for this kind of delight in the law of the Lord. Ask the Lord for this. And pray this, and then think through, “Okay. How can I meditate on this word day and night? How can I make sure at the beginning of my day to fill my mind with God’s word? At the end of the day, to fill my mind with God’s word in a way that saturates the whole course of my day with God’s word?”

I guarantee you that if you are intentional about meditating, fixing your mind, your heart on God’s word in the beginning of your day, at the end of your day, and thinking through how can that saturate your life during the day, I guarantee you, you will see, discover, experience this word as delightful. Full of delight.

Thoughts from George Mueller:

I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord…. I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God, and to meditation on it…. What is the food of the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and… not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.

May this brick help you to experience delight as you come to the Word of God each day – anticipating how the Lord is going to use His Word to strengthen you with everything that you will need to deal with whatever comes your way that day.

Brick #85 – Hebrews 13

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Chapter 13 is very different from all the previous chapters. The author is finishing up his letter and in a stream of consciousness sequence starts mentioning one thing after another that he wants his readers to remember. These include quick comments about love, hospitality, entertaining angels, prison ministry, marriage, sex, money, contentment, mentoring, false teaching, worship, sharing with others, obedience, leadership, and prayer.

There are two things that stand out to me besides all these one-liners. One is what I consider a funny comment and I wonder if the author said it tongue in cheek. Verse 22 says, “I appeal to you brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly.” Briefly? Really? This is one of the longest epistles in the New Testament.

And secondly, I love the benediction in verses 20-21:

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

If you are looking for a way to spice up the way that you pray for others just pay attention to the benedictions in the epistles. Here are some that I really enjoy: Romans 15:13, Ephesians 3:20-21, 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17, Jude 24-25.

And now as we conclude our pondering of Hebrews I will pray a benedictory blessing over you:

May the God of all joy, who has torn away the veil that kept us from drawing near to Him, fuel you each day with a delight for His life-giving Word and give you a persevering hope as we endure the troubles of this world and eagerly await a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

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