The Pruning

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Rejoice Always!

In James Lee on May 22, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I gave a sermon a couple weeks ago on 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always” and thought about if the Bible gave specific reasons to rejoice.  I mean, if we are to rejoice always, I figure we better have a lot of real, biblical reasons to rejoice!  so then I did a quick search of the word “rejoice” (and all its forms) in the NT to see all the examples and reasons to rejoice.  I noticed that there were at least 30 different reasons/examples for us to rejoice, and I thought it’d be helpful to list them all out in order to encourage everyone to truly REJOICE ALWAYS!  (Some of them are essentially the same reason but just worded differently as expressed in the text)

(1) Jesus was born (Matt 2:10, Luke 1:14)

(2) Reward in Heaven for persecution (Matt 5:12, Luke 6:23)

(3) Names are record in Heaven (Luke 10:20)

(4) When someone is lost but found (Luke 15:32)

(5) When Jesus calls your name (Luke 19:6)

(6) Jesus’ miracles ( Luke 19:37)

(7) Hearing Jesus’ voice (John 3:29)

(8) People’s salvation (John 4:36, Acts 11:23)

(9) The first coming of the Messiah (John 8:56)

(10) If you love Jesus (John 14:28)

(11) Jesus’ Return (John 16:20

(12) Worthy to suffer shame for his name (Acts 5:41)

(13) Personal converstion (Acts 8:39, 13:48)

(14) Hearing encouraging words (Acts 15:31)

(15) In hope (Rom 12:12)

(16) When others rejoice (Rom. 12:15)

(17) Believers are obedient (Rom 16:19, Col 2:5)

(18) With the truth (1 Cor. 13:6)

(19) Helpful brothers (1 Cor. 16:17)

(20) Care of other believers (2 Cor. 7:7, Phil 4:10)

(21) Sorrowful to the point of repentance (2 Cor. 7:9)

(22) When have joy (2 Cor. 7:13)

(23) In our weakness, other Christians are strong (2 Cor. 13:9)

(24) Christ is proclaimed (Phil 1:18)

(25) When expecting suffering (Phil 2:17)

(26) Suffering for the benefit of believers (Col 1:24)

(27) Proportional to degree of suffering (1 Peter 4:13)

(28) Walking in truth (2 John 4, 3 John 3)

(29) Satan is conquered by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony (Rev 12:11-12)

(30) God’s judgment of behalf of believers over the “Great city” (Rev 18:20)

(31) Marriage of the Lamb to the Bride at the end (Rev 19:7)

And if this wasn’t enough, this is only from the New Testament.  To list out all the reasons to rejoice from the OT would be a very long list, but here are a few common reasons:

(1) Rejoice when giving offerings to the Lord

(2) Rejoice because of the goodness of the Lord

(3) Rejoice because of the vengeance of the Lord

(4) Rejoice because of battle victories.

When God calls us to rejoice always, he really means it.  The Bible is filled with specific reasons and examples of rejoicing giving us no excuse to rejoice always!

Holiness Is What I Long For

In James Lee on May 14, 2013 at 5:37 pm

by James Lee

There’s a praise song, “Take My Life (Holiness)” by Scott Underwood from Vineyard written back in the 90s. I remember first hearing this song when I was in high school and thought it was such a good song.  It has always been a meaningful song for its musical simplicity (just three chords over and over again), it’s lyrical simplicity (see below) and it’s pretty melody.

Recently, I’ve just been re-singing this song over and over again by myself in my home with different chords, and I even recorded a cover of it for fun!

I say all this because as much as I’ve liked this song, I don’t think I really thought about what the lyrics suggest…until now.  Just focusing on the first line: “Holiness, holiness is what I long for”……Do I really want holiness? I mean, do I really want to separate myself completely from sin and evil and be conformed to God’s will?  The reason why I ask this is because when I look at a book like Leviticus, which reflects the awesome holiness requirement of the Lord, it sounds very daunting and scary to truly be set apart.  The Israelites were called to be so set apart from defilement and evil that people had to be kicked out of the camp for a time being while they were “unclean” and some people could never get back into the community because of a permanent defilement.  And then there were others who had to die for committing certain sins.  They were constantly washing their bodies down and abstaining from certain foods and making sure they were squeaky clean.  It almost seemed like God was the biggest germaphobe because of all the cleansing laws put in place in order to remain in the community.  Even more, they had to constantly give up offerings of many kinds to stay in favor with God and to atone for their sins, which made for lots of animal blood splattered around and on the ground. And all this in order to stay holy before the Lord.  So I ask again, “Do I really long for holiness?  Do I really want to be so distinct from the world that I look kind of like a spiritual germaphobe?”

The second line of the song says “Holiness, holiness is what I need.”  I think this clarifies a little bit more what’s going on with holiness.  Holiness is not only something we’re supposed to long for, but it’s something that we truly need.  We need holiness. Why?  The third line of the song expresses the real truth, “Holiness, holiness, is what you want from me.”  We need holiness because God wants holiness from us.  Leviticus 11:45 summarizes the whole reason for the book of Leviticus, “You shall therefore be holy for I am holy.” Peter then restates this calling in 1 Peter and basically says that it still stands today for every Christian.

To be holy is a pretty scary thing when you think about it.  It means separation from the world, from evil, from sin, from those things that seem so “natural” and common to us. To be holy is to put away earthly things or even to put to death sins.  To sing, then, “holiness is what I long for” is scary that I would actually long and delight to be separated from everything that I’ve been so used to and let God take all of my life and form it, transform it, conform it to his will.

I pray that this song would become a joy for every Christian’s life as it reflects God’s holy heart for us as expressed in Lev. 11:45 to “be holy for I am holy.”  I pray that there would actually be a longing and a DELIGHT in all of our hearts to be holy because we need it and it’s what God wants from us.  It’s not to make us miserable but for us to experience the abundant life in Jesus Christ, a life that has nothing to do with sin or evil but everything to do with goodness and holiness.

Take My Life

by Scott Underwood

Holiness, holiness is what I long for 
Holiness is what I need 
Holiness, holiness is what You want from me 

Faithfulness, faithfulness is what I long for
Faithfulness is what I need 
Faithfulness, faithfulness is what You want from me 

(So) Take my heart and form it
Take my mind, transform it 
Take my will, conform it 
To Yours, to Yours, Oh Lord 

Righteousness, righteousness is what I long for
Righteousness is what I need 
Righteousness, righteousness is what you want from me

The Great Contrast of Heaven and Hell

In James Lee on May 1, 2013 at 11:46 pm
by James Lee
Comparing and Contrasting is not necessarily a bad thing, it really depends on what or whom you’re contrasting against.  The Bible is in fact full of comparisons and contrast in order to highlight someone or something.  The frequent contrast is God against humans.  God’s attributes, character, tendencies are all contrasted against us humans, and when the contrast is made, it is a powerful reflection of who God really is and who man really is.  Compared to ourselves we may not look so bad, but contrasted against God’s holiness, we are super horrible.
One specific contrast that has hit my heart lately is the one between Heaven and Hell.  These are not places that are slightly different, but completely and utterly different from each other according to their descriptions in the Bible.  Just to point out a few, Matthew 25:46 makes a sharp contrast between the general characteristic of each place. Hell is seen as the place of “eternal punishment” while Heaven the place of “eternal life.”  Both are real, eternal places but one is about punishment/destruction while the other is about life.  In Luke 16, a rich man describes Hades as a “place of torment,” while Jesus further describes Hell as that place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  In contrast, Heaven is described as a place of “endings” in Rev 21:4: no more tears, no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain.  Furthermore, throughout the book of Revelation, heaven is a place of rejoicing and worship and peace.
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But the biggest contrast between Heaven and Hell is the presence of Jesus Christ.  2 Thess 1:9 describes Hell as being “away from the presence of the Lord…” whereas in Luke 23, Jesus says to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Jesus also says in John 14  “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.”  When we put these two places against each other, the contrast is highlighted even more.  Hell looks even more frightening when compared to Heaven.  Heaven looks so much more wonderful when compared to Hell.
And this has been on my heart lately.  The power of contrast has highlighted so much more the severity of hell especially.  Imagining someone that I know personally being in hell makes me very uncomfortable and distraught.  That’s when my emotions flare up and try to deceive me that it can’t be a real place.  How could such a place exist? Even more, how could such a degree of torment and emptiness be experienced for eternity?  But then I must remember that Hell is not the “reward” for doing bad things. Heaven is the reward for believing in Christ.  Hell is the default place because of the sinfulness of our sins, and we must be rescued from eternal destruction by Jesus Christ.  That is why it’s called Salvation.
I once read of an illustration where a person was dying of cancer but was refusing to take the medicine that would cure him of his cancer.  The question was then posed, “What killed this man?  The cancer or not taking the medicine?”  The answer is: the cancer.  It was the fact that he was already dying and chose not to do anything about it.  Our default destination is hell not heaven.  If we die without ever knowing Christ, we face a destruction that we were already headed towards.  But if God pours his grace upon us to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ, then our destination miraculously changes and we are rewarded life with Christ forever in a place called Heaven.
But if we don’t accept the one who can heal our hearts, then we remain on the road to eternal destruction where there is torment and weeping and gnashing of teeth and, most importantly, absence of the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Hell is supposed to sober us and warn us.  Heaven is supposed warm us and satisfy us because that is where Jesus Christ dwells.
Consider the great contrast between Heaven and Hell and decide in your heart to choose Jesus Christ who is in Heaven.

A Better Reporter

In James Lee on April 23, 2013 at 11:29 am
by James Lee
 
 
“And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  -Acts 5:32

 
Peter and the apostles were saying this to the high priest council because they were arrested for preaching the name of Jesus Christ.  It makes sense that Peter would say that he was a witness because he was physically there to see Jesus die and resurrected and lifted up to heaven. This fueled Peter and the other apostles to boldly proclaim the name of Jesus Christ even if they had to suffer for it.  In fact, they even rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer for the name of Jesus.  I wonder, then, what if I had physically seen the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ with my own eyes.  And not just with my eyes but to also feel and experience those events and moments.  What if I were there to let my emotions hit me while I saw Jesus die, when I saw him alive afterwards, and while I saw him rise up in the clouds!  How impactful must that have been for Peter and the apostles as true witnesses of those real events.  
 
The amazing thing is that, according to this verse, the Holy Spirit is also a witness of all those things.  The Holy Spirit witnessed all these great events, and he also witnessed so much more than the life of Christ on earth.  The Holy Spirit witnessed the creation of earth; the Holy Spirit witnessed the community of Israel as God loved them and rebuked them. The Holy Spirit witnessed the birth of Jesus Christ; the Holy Spirit witnessed the birth of the church; and the really amazing thing is that the Holy Spirit has been given to us. Those who have called upon the name of the Lord have received the greatest witness to Jesus Christ.
Peter’s personal witness of Jesus Christ impacted his life tremendously. How much more impactful will our lives be as we have received a better witness, an everlasting witness who is the Holy Spirit.  
 
We don’t need to have been there as a physical witness to be assured in our faith.  We have the Holy Spirit in us who affirms what is true and what really happened because he was actually there as a witness of Jesus, and he powerfully “reports” to our hearts the truth of Jesus Christ.
 
We can be sure of our faith, and we can be sure of Jesus Christ, and we can even be sure of the whole truth of the Bible because the Holy Spirit is the ultimate witness of everything recorded. He is the ultimate reporter of truth, and this Holy Spirit has been given to those who obey God.

Passion Week (Sunday) | Resurrection!

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2013 at 8:28 pm

Throughout Passion Week, a post will be published each day to help us reflect on Jesus and the greatest historical event that has ever taken place – the Resurrection. All excerpts are taken from “Love to the Uttermost”, a devotional on Passion Week from Pastor John Piper (Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org).

“For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge i have received from my Father.” (John 10:17-18ESV)

“Why does Jesus say this? Why does he stress his willingness to die? Because if it weren’t true – if his death were forced on him, if it weren’t free, if his heart weren’t really in it – then a big question mark would be put over his love for us.

The depth of his love is in its freedom. If he didn’t die for us willingly – if he didn’t choose the suffering and embrace it – then how deep is his love, really? So he stresses it. He makes it explicit. ‘It comes out of me, not out of circumstances, not out of pressure, but out of what I really long to do.’

Of all the great things Easter means, it also means this: it is a mighty ‘I meant it!'”

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Happy Easter! He is risen. Yes, He is risen indeed.

Passion Week (Saturday) | Volcano

In Josh Lim on March 30, 2013 at 4:59 pm

Throughout Passion Week, a post will be published each day to help us reflect on Jesus and the greatest historical event that has ever taken place – the Resurrection. All excerpts are taken from “Love to the Uttermost”, a devotional on Passion Week from Pastor John Piper (Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org).

“Now the men who were holding Jesus in custody were mocking him as they beat him. They also blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’ And they said many other things against him, blaspheming him.” (Luke 22:63-65, ESV)

“As I read these terrible words, I found myself saying to Jesus, ‘I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Jesus. Forgive me!’ I felt myself to be an actor here, not just a spectator. I was so much a part of that ugly gang that I knew I was as guilty as they were. I felt that if the rage of God should spill over onto those soldiers and sweep me away, too, justice would have been done. I wasn’t there, but their sin was my sin. It would not have been unjust for me to fall under their sentence.

Has it ever bothered you that sometimes in the Old Testament when one man sins, many get swept away in the punishment God brings?

An analogy came to my mind. The hearts of humanity are like a molten mantle beneath the surface of the whole earth. The molten lava beneath the earth is the universal wickedness of the human heart – the rebellion against God and the selfishness toward people. Here and there a volcano of rebellion bursts forth which God sees fit to judge immediately. He may do so by causing the scorching, destructive lava to flow not only down the mountain which erupted, but also across the valleys which did not erupt, but which have the same molten lava of sin beneath the surface. The reason I confess the sin of beating Jesus, even though I wasn’t there, is that the same lava of rebellion is in my own heart.”

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Growing up as a kid in church, whenever my Sunday school teacher or pastor would bring up Adam and Eve and how they brought the entire human race into sin (1 Cor. 15:22a), I would remember all the students (including me) saying in unison, “Oh, Adam and Eve, they’re so dumb! It’s all their fault!” And we would all look at each other with confidence, saying, “If I was in their shoes, I would never have disobeyed!” It’s funny to look back on that. And it’s funny that church kids today say the exact same thing. (Admit it, you thought it or said it as well! HAHA)

But what a sobering reminder, that I am not guilty simply by association (to Adam), but that I myself am guilty because of my own sin. Indeed, it is humbling to think that the same wickedness that was in Adam’s heart in his blatant disobedience against God is in my heart. The same wickedness in Judas Iscariot’s heart in his betrayal of Jesus is in my heart. The same wickedness in the Roman soldiers and Pharisees’ hearts as they spit at, laughed at, and mocked Jesus is in my heart. I am just as guilty. And I am just as deserving of condemnation.

But what beautiful words can be found in the Gospel: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) What sweet mercy we have received!

As we continue to reflect upon the death and resurrection of Jesus, and as we prepare our hearts to rejoice in Him, with His people, tomorrow, may we remember a few things:

(1) Our hearts were equally wicked. We were equally guilty. And it was for our sins that Jesus went to the cross.

(2) Jesus’ sacrifice was a perfect one. He has once and for all, bought forgiveness for those who put their faith and trust in Him.

(3) May we be more gracious to others who are in sin. May we be slow to judge, and quick to restore. May we be people who recognize our own massive sinfulness and His massive grace.

Happy Saturday! Sunday is ‘a coming!

Passion Week (Friday) | Draw Near

In Josh Lim on March 29, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Throughout Passion Week, a post will be published each day to help us reflect on Jesus and the greatest historical event that has ever taken place – the Resurrection. All excerpts are taken from “Love to the Uttermost”, a devotional on Passion Week from Pastor John Piper (Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org).

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

“This is the center of the gospel – this is what the Garden of Gethsemane and Good Friday are all about – that God has done astonishing and costly things to draw us near. He has sent His Son to suffer and to die so that through Him we might draw near. It’s all so that we might draw near. And all of this is for our joy and for his glory.

He does not need us. If we stay away, he is not impoverished. He does not need us in order to be happy in the fellowship of the Trinity. But He magnifies His mercy by giving us free access through His Son, in spite of our sin, to the one Reality that can satisfy us completely and forever, namely, Himself. ‘You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.’ (Psalm 16:11)”

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A father and a son were walking through a prairie. It was a dry and hot summer day. The grass had grown tall and it was a sea of golden yellow, as far as the eye could see. The wind was just blowing into the waves of grain. But somewhere far off, a fire had been set. And to the terror of this father and son, hot and dry winds had been whipping up the flames, and the fire was fast approaching, burning everything in sight. They started to run for their lives. But the fire was spreading too quickly. The boy cried out, “Dad, what are we going to do?” The father stopped running, and his son was confused. The father put his son on his shoulders, he opened his backpack, and pulled out a lighter. And to the son’s horror, he flicked it on, and threw the lighter on the ground. And the flames rose instantly – burned everything in sight. The father said to the son, “Son, do not move. The fire will not come where the ground has already been burned.”

The fire will not come where the ground has already been burned. We stand where the ground has already been burned. We stand at the foot of the cross. We stand upon our Rock and our Redeemer – Jesus Christ, who took on the full wrath of God, who was burned on our behalf. There is now, no more condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We stand where the ground has already been burned.

Passion Week (Thursday) | A New Command

In Josh Lim on March 28, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Throughout Passion Week, a post will be published each day to help us reflect on Jesus and the greatest historical event that has ever taken place – the Resurrection. All excerpts are taken from “Love to the Uttermost”, a devotional on Passion Week from Pastor John Piper (Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org).

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” (John 13:34, ESV)

“This is the commandment: ‘love one another: just as I have loved you.’ But what about Galatians 5:14? ‘For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If the whole law is fulfilled in ‘Love your neighbor as yourself‘, what more can ‘Love one another as Christ loved you‘ add to the fulfillment of the whole law?

I would say that Jesus did not replace or change the commandment, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ He filled it out and gave it clear illustration. He is saying,

Here is what I mean by “as yourself”. Watch me. I mean: Just as you would want someone to set you free from certain death, so you should set them free from certain death. That is how I am now loving you. My suffering and death is what I mean by ‘as yourself’. You want life. Live to give others life. At any cost.

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May we give generously because we have received generously. Here is a beautiful picture of loving our neighbors as Jesus has loved us, with everything:

Passion Week (Wednesday) | Trustworthy

In Josh Lim on March 27, 2013 at 9:18 pm

Throughout Passion Week, a post will be published each day to help us reflect on Jesus and the greatest historical event that has ever taken place – the Resurrection. All excerpts are taken from “Love to the Uttermost”, a devotional on Passion Week from Pastor John Piper (Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org).

“I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am He.” (John 13:19, ESV)

“Jesus himself taught that all the prophecies about him would be fulfilled. In other words, we have a testimony, not only that the writers themselves saw Jesus’ life as fulfillment of prophecy, but that Jesus did, too…Jesus saw that the predictions of the Messiah and his sufferings would be fulfilled in himself…He makes all these predictions, according to John 13:19, so that we would believe He is God, that what He says about Himself is true.

In other words, Jesus is saying, ‘If you are struggling to believe that I am the promised Messiah, that I am the one who was in the beginning with God, and was God, that I am the divine Son of God, who can forgive all your sins and give you eternal life and guide you on the path to Heaven, then I want to help you believe. And one of the ways I am going to help you have well-grounded faith is by telling you what is going to happen to me before it happens, so that when it happens, you will have good reason to believe in me.”

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In Back to the Future, Marty McFly travels back in time using Doc Brown’s time machine (a modified 1981 DeLorean DMC-12). Not knowing how to use the time machine, Marty finds Doc Brown (in the past) and tries to convince him that he’s from the future. He tries showing Doc his driver’s license. He shows Doc a picture of his family. He tries telling Doc who the future President of the United States will be. But none of it works! It’s not until Marty tells Doc he knows how Doc got the bruise on his head, that Doc believes Marty is who he says he is. Marty’s words were proved true by history. And Marty himself was proved true by his words.

When we struggle to believe, may we hear the words of Christ and see history fall into place and understand that Jesus is who He says He is. Would His words give comfort to our hearts to know that He is indeed God. Would we see that history affirms that Jesus is the eternal God who stepped into human history to make a way for sinners to be forgiven of their sins. And then would we respond to Him in the only way that is appropriate – in worship.

Passion Week (Tuesday) | Depth

In Josh Lim on March 26, 2013 at 4:44 pm

Throughout Passion Week, a post will be published each day to help us reflect on Jesus and the greatest historical event that has ever taken place – the Resurrection. All excerpts are taken from “Love to the Uttermost”, a devotional on Passion Week from Pastor John Piper (Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org).

“While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person, one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8, ESV)

“As I have pondered the love of Christ for us, and the different ways that the Bible presents it to us, I have seen four ways that the depth of Christ’s love is revealed.

First, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by what it costs him. If he sacrifices his life for us, it assures us of deeper love than if he only sacrifices a few bruises. So we will see the depth of Christ’s love by the greatness of what it cost him.

Second, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by how little we deserve it. If we have treated him well all our life, and have done all that he expects of us, then when he loves us, it will not prove as much love as it would if he loved us when we had offended him, and shunned him, and disdained him. The more undeserving we are, the more amazing and deep is his love for us. So we will see the depth of Christ’s love in relation to how undeserving are the objects of his love.

Third, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by the greatness of the benefits we receive in being loved. If we are helped to pass an exam, we will feel loved in one way. If we are helped to get a job, we will feel loved another way. If we are helped to escape from an oppressive captivity and given freedom for the rest of our life, we will feel loved another way. And if we are rescued from eternal torment and given a place in the presence of God with fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore, we will know a depth of love that surpasses all others. So we will see the depth of Christ’s love by the greatness of the benefits we receive in being loved by him.

Fourth, we know the depth of someone’s love for us by the freedom with which they love us. If a person does good things for us because someone is making him, when he doesn’t really want to, then we don’t think the love is very deep…So if an insurance company pays you $40,000 because you lose your spouse, you don’t usually marvel at how much this company loves you…But if your Sunday School class makes all your meals for a month after you spouse dies, and someone calls you every day, and visits you very week, then you call it love, because  they don’t have to do this. It is free and willing. So we will see the depth of Christ’s love for us in his freedom.”

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‘How deep the Father’s love for us,

How vast beyond all measure

That He would give His only Son

To make a wretch His treasure’

(Stuart Townend, ‘How Deep the Father’s Love for Us’)

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