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Rational?

Rational arguments don't usually work on religious people. Otherwise, there wouldn't be religious people.
- Doris Egan

This was a quote on my iGoogle page today. I thought it was ironic that Doris uses an informal fallacy to comment on the irrationality of religious people.

Love and Choice

"If God did not give us free will, how can it really be love that God requires. Love can only take place in an environment of free choice. Since God does demand love, he must have given each person free will so that he can exercise his will and choose to love God."

Any Calvinist has heard this argument. Hopefully, he has been somewhat frustrated as to how to respond because essentially it is an emotional argument that largely ignores scripture. Predictably a Calvinist would happily lose the argument. He would rather stand his ground on scripture rather than descend to engage in such emotional blather.

However, as we as brothers and sisters are to care for the faithful in error, we should consider how to respond to such a claim on its own terms. These brothers and sisters are eager to maintain the integrity and authenticity of our relationship to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. While they may be appealing to emotion, which is fallen like every faculty of man (including reason) our experience of emotions is part of our being in the image of God.

Recently as I was pondering the nature of love, I hit on what I believe to be a large flaw in the above stated argument. Frankly, that it does not reflect the true nature of love. From my own experience, romantic love, which God patterned after his relationship to his people, is not a relationship that is most ideally characterized by choice. I would venture to say that if one interviewed most young couples in love or old couples about their best experiences of love with a spouse is more about being internally compelled toward another rather than a pure exercise of will.

A Holy Law

I taught Sunday School this past week. It turned about to be an excellent lesson. The past year or so, I have been slowly working my way through the Old Testament in order. I particularly enjoyed reading the Pentateuch. I found so many verses that really shocked me. I just wasn't prepared for the far-reaching holiness of God.

I decided to fuse this with a little covenant theology and the Gospel. Whenever I teach, I have a really hard time not wanting to just read passages of scripture the whole time. God has so much good to say, and I lack eleqence. However, I do have to say something, so the main body of the lesson was me reading passages from Leviticus and Deuteronomy and adding a sentence or two to explain or apply the principle. No doubt several lessons could cover the same material more in depth, but this was just an overview.

My main goal was to show how God's law is so much more all-encompassing than the typical fundamentalist conceives. God governs all of live from how you prepare your food to how you conduct war to how you treat strangers to how you participate in the environment to how you have sex. After reading Leviticus and Deuteronomy together in one sitting, I took one more step in understanding what it means for God to be holy. No one, not the powerful, not the weak, not the smart, not the stupid, not the conservative, not the liberal gets off the hook. All men are deflated before the holy triune God.

Here is the scripture and my comments (forgive the formatting please):
• You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD." (Lev 19:14.)
Did you know that your God is against taking advantage of people for your own pleasure and entertainment. God is against practical jokes that make people feel small.
Lev. 5:1 “If anyone sins in that he hears a public eadjuration to testify, and though he is a witness, whether he has seen or come to know the matter, yet does not speak, he shall fbear his iniquity
Did you know that your God requires you to be concerned about justice in the world, even when it does not directly involve you?
Lev. 11:20 “All winged insects that go on all fours are detestable to you. 21 Yet among the winged insects that go on all fours you may eat those that have jointed legs above their feet, with which to hop on the ground. 22 Of them you may eat: jthe locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind. 23 But all other winged insects that have four feet are detestable to you.
Did you know that God thinks it is OK to eat grasshoppers? Boy, this was written to people in a different world.
Lev. 19:17 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but qyou shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you rincur sin because of him. 18 sYou shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but tyou shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Did you know that loving your neighbor as yourself is not a New Testament concept? A good summary of this is being as interested in your brothers happiness as your own.
Lev 19:28 You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the LORD.
What you do to your body matters. It reflects your values, your idols.
Lev. 19:29 Do not profane your daughter by making her a prostitute, lest the land fall into prostitution and the land become full of depravity. 30 You shall keep my Sabbaths and ereverence my sanctuary: I am the LORD.
These are strange bedfellows. BTW, did you know that there are thousands being sold into prostitution in an international sex-slave trade?
Lev. 19:32 g“You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
Honor your elders and fear God in the same command. Interesting.
Lev. 19:33 i“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 jYou shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and kyou shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
You thought loving your neighbor as yourself was hard. Now love the stranger that way. And why? So you can share the Gospel with them? No, because you're no different.
Lev. 25:23 “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for sthe land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me.
God is showing hospitality to us by allowing us to live in his land. See, we are to treat the strangers like we are being treated by God. in fact, that is what enables us. We are just sojourners with them.
Lev. 25:35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 aTake no interest from him or profit, but bfear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 aYou shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 cI am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.
What do we do with the poor in our society? We take advantage of them with rent-to-own programs. We coax them into spending more than they can with easy credit. We deceive them with sub-prime loans, home equity loans, tote-your-note loans and then take their houses and cars.

We despise them and give them empty advice. We send their children to low quality schools. We give them pitiful handouts and that encourage them not to work and then criticize them when they don't. All the while we don't even take the time to get to know them and their real plight.
Lev. 26:34 Then the land shall enjoy* its Sabbaths as long as it lies desolate, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its Sabbaths. 35 As long as it lies desolate it shall have rest, the rest that it did not have on your Sabbaths when you were dwelling in it.
There is a certain order to things that God will maintain even at the cost of his people. God cares about the earth.
Deut. 25:4 “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.
• zYou shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.
God even cares about justice for the animals. We are not free to treat them any way we want. Do you know what goes on on feed lots and in chicken farms?
Deut. 22:1 “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep going astray and ignore them. You shall take them back to your brother. 2 And if he does not live near you and you do not know who he is, you shall bring it home to your house, and it shall stay with you until your brother seeks it. Then you shall restore it to him. 3 And you shall do the same with his donkey or with his garment, or with any lost thing of your brother’s, which he loses and you find; you may not ignore it. 4 You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again.
You must love your brother enough to sacrifice when no one is looking. This is obedience from the heart.
• 15 For seven days you shall keep the feast to the LORD your God at the place that the LORD will choose, because the LORD your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.
Deut. 16:11 And thou shalt rejoice before the LORD thy God, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, and thy manservant, and thy maidservant, and the Levite that is within thy gates, and the stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow, that are among you, in the place which the LORD thy God hath chosen to place his name there.
• God likes parties.
• New Moon - first of every month
• Pentacost - 50th day after barley harvest
• Passover - seven days
• Feast of Tabernacles or Booths - seven days
• Feast of Trumpets - first day of 7th month
• Sabbaths - rest every week
▼ Sabbatical Year - rest for a year every seven years
• no field work
• debts canceled
▼ Jubilee
• no field work
• debts canceled
• land goes back to ancestral owner
Deut. 17:14 “When you come to the land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you awhom the LORD your God will choose. One bfrom among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many chorses for himself or cause the people dto return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, e‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.
King is equal. Another human called by God.
Deut. 17:18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by* the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he lmay not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, mso that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.
King to be holy. David, Christ.
• Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Is there any man who has built a new house and has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man dedicate it. 6 And is there any man who has planted a vineyard and has not menjoyed its fruit? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man enjoy its fruit. 7 nAnd is there any man who has betrothed a wife and has not taken her? Let him go back to his house, lest he die in the battle and another man take her.’ 8 And the officers shall speak further to the people, and say, o‘Is there any man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go back to his house, lest he make the heart of his fellows melt like his own.’ 9 And when the officers have finished speaking to the people, then commanders shall be appointed at the head of the people.
God does not like tragedy, so he avoids it. He is in control anyway.
Deut. 20:19 “When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, yyou shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? 20 Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siegeworks against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.
Environmental waste does not please God. The resources of the earth are his and are to be used in accordance with his law.
Deut. 21:18 “If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, 19 then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, 20 and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ 21 Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. nSo you shall purge the evil from your midst, oand all Israel shall hear, and fear.
If that doesn't get your attention, I don't know what will. God is serious about this. He is holy. Discipline your children if you love them.
Deut. 22:8 “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it.
Graciously, God commands us to be responsible for our own consciences. Negligence is a crime.
Deut. 23:15 “You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. 16 He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.
God doesn't really like slavery. He watches out for even slaves. He seeks their freedom and restoration.
Deut. 24:6 No one shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge.
Taking advantage of people who need money is oppression.
Deut. 25:13 “You nshall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. 14 You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. 15 A full and fair* weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, othat your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you. 16 For pall who do such things, all who act dishonestly, qare an abomination to the LORD your God.
Can anyone remember the word Leviticus uses to describe homosexual acts? That's right. It is the same. Sexuality and oppression and dishonesty in business are not that far apart in God's eyes.
Deut. 26:16 “This day the LORD your God commands you to do these statutes and rules. You shall therefore be careful to do them with all your heart and with all your soul.
God wants deep obedience.
• Any observations about any of the commandments?
• Finally, someone read Matt 11:28-30 !!!BY 10:30!!!
How can this be? Do you feel like it is light? Aha! You bunch of religious idolaters! Do you think that by your ability to keep the law you can gain the upper hand on God and earn one smidgen of his favor? It is by Grace we are saved and it is by grace we live and grow from grace to grace.

Christ's life and death for us buys us life in spite of our constant failures to live up to this incredible, but impossible standard. Now, don't you want to know such a God. Don't you want to know what he is like. Don't you want to know what showing your love for him looks like. Then get to know his law and fulfill it out of love and not out of religious idolatry.

Penguins in the Desert

Imagine that you heard of a plan, a secret plan, by various governments in league with Muslim terrorists to establish a beach-head in your region for the military overthrow of the United States. Imagine that when you heard this plan, you believed it, but you didn't think about the consequences. Perhaps you were too young or naive to really get it. You just thought of it as your current life with some different leaders. However, the more you learned about the plan the more you began to understand that this would really change your life.

In the mean time, you have gotten married, had children, and begun to live what most considered a normal life. You bought a house, cars, and other things. You went to church, you went to parties, you worked, you watched TV. You did everything you needed to succeed. You began to teach your children not just by your action and pattern of life how to succeed. However, you began to realize that the world your children would live in, would not be your own.

You gradually began to see that possibly within your own lifetime the contours of a successful life might radically change. The next world was not going to be a world of peace and prosperity for people like you. As you looked around, you began to see, because of your own anxiety, people whom this world treads under foot. Did you want your children to be these people? What was it that caused these people to be so unable to achieve success in this world? You understood that among other things, their parents did not adequately prepare them for "the way the world works."

They were not taught to work hard. They were not disciplined when it came to deferring gratification. It was also true that they did not receive an adequate education and that their parents allowed them to engage in foolish and self-destructive behavior from an age when no one would have known better on their own. Finally, these people seemed to not understand the protocols of proper social interactions. They were rude, they were poorly dressed, they said the wrong thing at the wrong time. It was as if you could see children at the time that they are born as starting at various depths in an ocean and their parents either pushing them toward the surface where life and breath were or dropping their children to slowly sink under the weight of their poor preparation. Finally, you saw others where parents were actually chaining great weights around their necks.

You began to realize not only are you very similar to these disenfranchised masses, but that your children are not unlike them. You, in fact, are now in the position as the parent and not the baby. You are the one who prepares for life or death. Not only this, but, you are preparing your child for a life in water, and your children may very well live on land.

You began to realize that you might be unwittingly contributing to your children's demise by preparing them for a world in which they would not live. You began to imagine your children as penguins on land running from lions. And, in a moment of clarity you begin to see not only your children but you, your neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow parishioners swimming in the desert. In order to prepare your children and possibly yourself for the coming change you would have to abandon your current values. To survive in a totalitarian regime, one would need to develop a cut-throat ethic. The world would no-doubt be a violent world with much suffering. How could you teach your children about this world while going to weekly birthday parties and frequent trips to Inflatable Fun Land?

How do you make the choices necessary to live in two largely incompatible worlds at once?

What happened to community?

I have been in pretty much two kinds of churches. I grew up in many small town churches, but since I was about 17 I have been in what you might call niche churches. Either the whole church was a niche, such as upper-middle class educated white people, or a church that was structured around smaller market niches such as college and career or single parents.

Looking back, I can see that the small-town churches, though theologically less sophisticated or correct, more accurately manifested biblical community. It was organized according to one principle, geography. Though there were ministries specific to the women or children, they were integrated with the rest of church life. It was a lively church life in which most participated. Some of my favorite memories of that time in my life are at church during services, Royal Rangers, church suppers, weddings, or just playing with the other children young and old while parents talked.

Unlike the church of my youth, both types of niche churches isolate me so that it is very easy to remain only around people like me. In my position at least, as a father of young children, leaves me seeing the world such that I have relatively little to offer and gain by community. The people with which I associate are have many of the same problems and capabilities that I have. This impedes the feeling of interdependence that fosters real community. When I depend on you and you depend on me, there is a real bond.

The mere fact that I would think in terms of what I have to gain and offer shows how much I have been influenced by the world. People in another time might have thought about their relationship with the church in terms of obligation and responsibility. Here to the church has given way to the world. Many churches tout their programs as ways to obtain fulfillment either through socializing, learning, or serving. Instead, scripture considers these things a spiritual act of worship. It is a worship that on one had God demands, and on the other hand, his subjects offer freely. It is not for us to decided what is best for us, it is only for us to repent and obey.

One way the multi-market niche church philosophy fails is that most of us are not purely one niche. I am a man (men's ministry), a father (children's ministry), a husband (young married class), and a learner-type (deep bible studies). It seems that many times people get involved with too many groups. One can only maintain a certain number of relationships so community is shallow. Conflicting schedules also contribute to inconsistency in attendance which also deteriorates community. Still some, overwhelmed or confused by the choices never get involved at all. People are so busy with all their existing relationships that they forget that one of the purposes of our being here is to gather more worshipers into God's growing kingdom.

The final impediment to real community has nothing to do with church structure. It is the lack of strong preaching of the Gospel. Without any structural help at all, the message of our redemption through the alien righteousness of Christ breaks down our selfishness, our pretensions, our shame, and our pride. It is then easy for us to love those around us in such a provocative way that we realize not only our interdependence but our mutual dependence on Christ. We are equal brothers and sisters. Our identity is no long in what differentiates us from others so that we can judge them, but our identity comes from our union with Christ and with each other.

Primary Locus of Identity

For a long, long time, I have been moved by the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10. Jesus tells Martha that Mary has found the one thing that is necessary and it is the one thing that will last. I have ruminated over what it means to live for one thing.

There are examples of people that live such lives. Soldiers and athletes come immediately to mind. Since I have been watching 24, I also think of Jack Bauer. These people do not only do one thing. In fact, they do many things, but everything they do relates very clearly even if indirectly to their goal. Some athletes even cross train in other sports in order to improve their performance at their main sport. Soldiers must study, exercise, practice, prepare to fight the enemy.

I wonder how my life looks from above. I wonder if it just looks like a hodgepodge of activities with no real unifying theme. Or, is it unified by some idolatrous principle or just my own pleasure. Unfortunately, I am quite sure that it does not look like a deliberate efficient seeking first of the Kingdom of God.

One reason I believe that I am off track is because I have, along with the church, been sucked into a cultural trend. It is the trend of moving one's primary locus of identity to the individual and away from the community. Much of my angst regarding living for the kingdom alone is due to my own fear and idolatry, but some of my angst over living for one thing is due to the modern American church missing the idea that Christ meant for the Church to be the primary locus of identity for the Christian and moving with the world in addressing man as an individual instead of a member of a community.

My next few posts will explore this idea.

Big Deal

I remember the first high school football game I attened after going to college. I kept thinking, "I really used to think this was all a big deal." It is strange how in one context a person, object, or activity can seem so important, and yet in another context seem so worthless.

Lately I have been challenged by the words of Jesus and James:

Mark 9:37 - Whoever receives one such child in my name, receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me.

Matt 25:34-36 - ...When did we see you sick or in prison...Depart from me you cursed...

James 1:22 - Be doers of the word, and not only hearers, deceiving yourselves

James 1:27 - Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

These passages and more make me question what I put value on now. God has given us this instruction for a reason. He cares about us, and he cares about his kingdom. I suppose the questions we have to ask ourselves are, "Do we trust him? " and "Do we care about his kingdom?"

I hate to admit it, but largely my answer has to be "no". There are so many other things that I put my time and energy into before I put it into kingdom work. From entertainment to education to work to family, my mind and time schedule is often too full to look out for widows or orphans. I don#039t even have to to look for them. I know where prisoners are, who Christ specifically told us to visit, and yet I have never set foot in a jail. Instead I go shopping or out to eat or to a movie.

We might think that pouring ourselves into these activities is merely wasting time. Instead, we are setting ourselves up for a great fall. We will do more than just say, "I used to think this was a big deal." We will say, "Lamb of God have mercy on us."

Cross Cultural Experience In the Bathroom

Sometimes cross-cultural experiences can make for some of the funniest exchanges. Sometimes what is appropriate in one culture is just completely inappropriate in another. Beware, as many of these exchanges, this one is rated PG.

I was in the bathroom at work the other day out of the vision of those walking in the door. I thought I heard two men walk in. After a couple of seconds I heard each say a polite, "Hello" to the other. One voice I recognized as a relatively new coworker. The other was the voice of a small, old black man.

The next thing the old voice said was, "So, how big did it get?" After a couple of seconds, my large, tall coworker replied, "How big did what get?" "Your peter," the old man replied. Yes, you did read that correctly. There was a long, long silence. I was dying trying to hold in my laughter.

After a couple of seconds, the embarrassed old man apologized saying, "I didn't mean anything by that. I was only joking" Clearly, the old man had received the appropriate social punishment for such a statement.

This made me think about how I would react. In general, I don't really like to talk at the urinal, although, some would hold a perfectly normal conversation there with their pants unzipped. This is a good time for me to try to practice some spiritual discipline and love the guy anyway and just carry on as he does. Men should be forgiven if they violate a man-law.

It helps to be forgiving to imagine my grandfather standing at a urinal while some young guy comes up and says, "How's it hangin'" You can imagine the rest of the conversation...

Christian Anxiety

In Luke 12:33, Jesus says, "Sell your posessions and give to the needy." This seems like strange counsel in the wake of an exhortation not to worry. However, looking backward from the typical reading of verses 12:22-31 gives a clue why it is that Christ takes this approach.

The passage starts out in response to a question in the audience. It is actually a request that Jesus arbitrate in a dispute over an inheritance. In yet another strange turn, Christ tells a parable of a man who is successful, and is beginning to "kick back" because of his success. Ironically, this is just when God takes his life. All his planning and saving is for naught.

It does not matter whether or not people have plenty or little, putting one's confidence in money instead of the Father's care is at best foolish and at worst idolatrous. Both to worry and to rest because of one's own provision is equally disturbing to God. In the parallel passage in Matthew 6:19-34, Jesus even says that one cannot serve both God and money. When money determines anxiety or rest, money is being served. When man is living confidently in the Father's provision, God is being served.

Now the primary reference here is to money and to worry over material well-being. This in itself should be enough to chew on for a few days. However, their is a deeper principle at work. We might generalize the example of money and material well-being to any form of self-reliance and spiritual well-being. The elevation of any standard of performance to the level that it produces anxiety and rest is idolatry. And, this idolatry is ultimately pride and self-reliance. We abandon Christ and his finished work for some rule that we or our culture has chosen as the standard by which all men are judged.

The fact is that all men are judged by a much more stringent set of moral principles or pragmatic powers. This is the rule of the Holy Triune God. We all fail and are all doomed to hopelessness if we must rely on our own ability to keep this rule. Just like Jesus ask the readers to give up on money as a way to rest. He asks us to give up on living up to God's holy standard. Instead, we repent and believe that Christ's sacrifice was sufficient to pay for our punishment and that his life was sufficient to pass the test of judgement for us. Our anxiety is proof positive that we fear God and we do not trust in Christ. It is proof that we believe that no one will take care of us, so we must control our environment. It is always the result of idolatry. The opposite, in a sense, is to flaunt our sin as a sign that we are no longer relying on ourselves just as selling all our goods would prove our dependence on God's prevision.

So, go and repent openly of your sins. Feel no shame. Associate with those that violate your "rules" for living and believe that they are the same as you. By these kinds of disciplines we can come to truly believe in Christ.

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Kindness in Leviticus

"You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the LORD." (Lev 19:14.) God took precious space on papyrus to write to be kind to disabled people. This is not the kind of thing that you would expect from the king of the universe.

Ironically, it might seem, he later in chapter 21 prohibits any man born into the priestly line with any birth defect from becoming a priest. Moses lists explicitly some defects, but specifically says that the person must have no physical defects. He is to be as spotless as the sacrifice.

The first passage is part of the broader concept of loving one's neighbor only a few verses later. But, why the injunction against birth defects?

The priests and the sacrifice pointed forward to Christ in his sacrificial priesthood. Consequently, they needed to be as perfect of a representative as possible.

This shows that man is a worthy thing because even the disabled are cared for. However, man is not ultimate, so his own glory can be sacrificed for the glory of Christ.

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