I’m Invited

Your sins do not disqualify you from God’s invitation to experience His love and grace.

 
In fact, God’s love and grace invites you to come to Him to be set free from your sin through His Son, Jesus Christ. God extends grace through his love precisely because of our sin. You could even say that the awareness of your sins is what makes you eligible for God’s grace.
 

The invitation to come to Jesus is universal and unconditional.

 
Read: Luke 19:1-10. This is the only instance in the four Gospels of Jesus inviting Himself to someone’s home. Of all the people in Jericho that Jesus could have spent the day with, why Zacchaeus? Because this is exactly why Jesus came. He came for the sinners.
 
Salvation came to Zacchaeus, not because he did good deeds, but because he truly believed in Jesus and set aside anything that might get in the way of obeying him. This was his appropriate response to choosing to follow Jesus. It was the evidence of a changed life.
 
It was also a wonderful example of Jesus’ mission. In fact, this story of the salvation of Zacchaeus gives us the context for one of Jesus’ declaration of His personal mission statement (Luke 19:10).
 
What is a key qualifier for your salvation? It is being lost and recognizing your lostness, and a desire not to say that way anymore!
 

The invitation to come to Jesus requires a response.

 
Invitations are meant to be acted upon — they generally require a response. In fact, most invitations request an RSVP (répondez s’il vous plaît = please respond). All throughout Jesus ministry he was extending invitations for people to follow him, believe in Him, trust in Him. But the invitation needs a response. See Luke 14:16–24. The invitation doesn’t guarantee your salvation. You must RSVP.
 

The invitation to come to Jesus needs to be shared with others.

 
See Luke 14:23. It has been said that within two years of becoming a Christian, the average person has already lost the significant relationships he once had with people outside the faith. This means that most Christians will tend to have close friends that are also Christian. Which means we need to be more intentional to share this invitation with those who actually need to hear it. See Romans 10:13-15.
 

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I’m In

God’s desire for you is that you would never be alone — that you would never be left out. We’re created for connection, but we drift toward isolation. But isolation is not a good thing (see Genesis 2:18; Ecclesiastes 4:9–12).
 
Amazing things can happen when you choose to say, “I’m In…I’m in the community of faith…the mission of Christ…the body of Christ…the Church.” See 1 Peter 2:4–5. When you decide, “I’m In,” it doesn’t just benefit the community of believers, the church. It also benefits your life. See Hebrews 3:12–13.
 
David, King of Israel, knows all about the dangers of isolation. But David also discovered the blessing of being in community with fellow believers. See Psalm 92:12–13; Psalm 52:8–9.
 
Flourish means to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, especially as the result of a particularly favorable environment.
 
These passages use very specific agricultural examples:
Cedar tree: known for their durability, pleasant to look at and also pleasing to smell.
Palm tree: symbolic of victory, triumph, peace, and eternal life.
Olive tree: a symbol of peace, friendship, longevity and usefulness.
 
Psalm 92:14-15 shows us the blessing, the benefits of those who are planted in the house of the Lord.
 
One of the greatest problems in the Christian movement today is people who don’t stay planted. Instead, they church-hop. Another great problem in the Christian movement is that people are not committed to faithful engagement in the life and ministry of the church. Going to church once or twice a month is not the same as being planted. See Hebrews 10:24-25.
 

Those who are planted are those who flourish.

We need to recognize that our life is like a seed. A seed has the potential to grow, to thrive, to multiply, to produce fruit, to be a blessing to others, but a seed that’s not planted has the potential to lie dormant, unproductive, unfruitful, and dissatisfied. Your life is a seed.
 

A seed can only grow if it’s planted.

Biblical Example: Parable of the Soils in Matthew 13.
 

Going to church isn’t the same as being planted.

Some people “go” to church like they “go” to the movies, the game, a show, the restaurant, gym, dentist, etc. Here’s something that may sound strange at first but…Church was not designed to be a place you go. Jesus never intended you to just “go to” church.
 

Church wasn’t meant to be a place to which you go, it was designed to be a community in which you grow.

 
See Ephesians 4:15–16. We gather together to honor God, to corporately hear the Word of God, to use our individual gifts, to be unified — all of this leads to growth. As we grow, as we flourish, it’s not just for our personal benefit or the benefit of the church. The church does not exist for us, we exist for the world.
 

When you’re planted your roots grow deep.

See Jeremiah 17:8. When the roots grow deep, they’re not bothered by surface problems because they’re connected to a source that is greater than any problem on the surface.
 

When you are planted you produce fruit.

What fruit? Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5). It’s not our own natural fruits, it is a spiritual fruit that comes from God.
 
Now is the time because God wants you to flourish like the evergreen, stable, strong cedar, or the victorious, triumphant palm, or the productive and longstanding olive tree. Only those who are planted in the house of the Lord are those who truly can flourish in all God has for you.
 
How does it all start? It’s starts with making the commitment, by saying “I’m In.”
 

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The Power Behind the Good Work

See Ephesians 2:10; Matthew 16:27; Ephesians 6:7–8; Revelation 22:12. Not only have each one of us been given a good work, we also will stand accountable for that good work before the Lord. Don’t lose heart, though. Because the same Lord that we will stand accountable to for our good work has promised to work in us, with us, and through us.
 
Nehemiah did not do this good work alone. He mobilized people to participate in this good work. But even more importantly, Nehemiah knew the power behind the Good Work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
 

You are not alone in your good work; the Lord works with you.

 
See Nehemiah 1:11; Nehemiah 2:8; Nehemiah 2:17–18; Nehemiah 2:20; Nehemiah 4:14-15; Nehemiah 6:15–16. You would never get the idea from Nehemiah that he did this good work in his own power. He was careful to acknowledge that the Lord was the power at work in this good work.
 

Doing a good work is only possible through the Lord’s power at work within you.

 
See Ephesians 3:20; Colossians 1:29. While God does intend for us to act and do something in order to accomplish a good work, He never intends for us to do this work in our own strength alone. His work is possible with His power. God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s provision and power.
 

Right now you have all that you need to do a good work.

 
See 2 Corinthians 9:8. Too often we think we cannot do a good work for God because we do not have the right tools, the right skills, the proper talents. But we need to remember what Paul told the church at Corinth. Often, the “all we need” isn’t preloaded before the good work. For example, God didn’t have Parr Lumber deliver all the building materials to Nehemiah when the problem was presented to him. All he had was a burden and no supplies. But notice what God did as Nehemiah sought Him, trusted Him, and moved forward in His leading. God provided all that Nehemiah needed to complete the work.
 

The Lord began the good work in you and will be faithful to complete it through you.

 
See Philippians 1:3–6. Wherever you are in the process right now, God is with you. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. He is empowering you. He will complete the good work through you!
 

Others will realize the Good Work was done with the help of the Lord.

 
See Nehemiah 6:15–16. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard the wall has been built they were frightened and humiliated. They realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. Who will be influenced by your Good work? Who needs to see how the Lord had helped you in your good work? Keep doing the good work. Remember, it’s not just about you. It’s about the LORD and it’s about what others see Him do in your good work.
 

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The Danger of Distractions

Good works don’t save you but you are saved in order to do good works!
 
The moment you start creating movement on behalf of the things that matter to God, your spiritual enemy will show up and try to resist the very work that God put in your heart.
 

If your enemy can’t destroy you, he will distract you.

 

1. The Distraction of Opportunities (Nehemiah 6:1–2)

 
What we often see as an opportunity, God sees as a distraction. There’s never been an easier time to be distracted in the history of the world than it is today. Today it’s so easy to become great at doing things that don’t matter. It’s never been easier to be passionate about wasting your time. In order to accomplish great things, you must learn to say no to some good things. See Nehemiah 6:3–4.
 
We must be strategic about our “no”. We don’t say “no” because we don’t care. We say “no” because we really do care about what God has called us to do. Just because you could do something, doesn’t mean you should do something.
(Verse 3) I am doing a good work and cannot come down. What, right now, is a constant distraction from the good work you should be doing — as a Christian, spouse, parent, etc.?
 
See 1 Corinthians 15:58. Evaluate new opportunities in light of God’s higher call upon your life. Remember that staying focused on a good work means sometimes saying “no”.
 

2. The Distraction of Rumors (Nehemiah 6:5–7)

 
Don’t let the whispers of people distract you from the work of God. You will never do big things if you’re distracted by small-minded people. We’re never gonna let the opinions of others or rumors take us away from the calling and good work of God.
 
Don’t worry about what people say about you. Worry about what’s true about you. Just live a life that honors God and don’t let the critics, don’t let the haters knock you out of God’s mission.
 
How did Nehemiah respond to the rumor? See Nehemiah 6:8–9. Instead of letting it discourage or distract him, it steadied him and made him more determined in the good work. Notice Nehemiah’s prayer: “Now strengthen my hands.” His prayer was for him to stay strong and stay focused in the midst of the rumors, distractions, and gossip of his enemies.
 
Do not let someone else’s opinion of you disrupt God’s calling for you! See Psalm 90:17.
 

3. The Distraction of Entitlement (Nehemiah 6:10–13)

 
This might sound like a good and noble idea, right? But it was a trap — an attempt to trick Nehemiah into overstepping his authority and preserving himself by exercising his power for personal gain. It was attempt to give Nehemiah a bad name — to discredit him.
 
Do not allow external success to do internal damage to your heart. Isn’t it true that personal success can often lead to a sense of personal entitlement? One of the biggest dangers of any kind of success is the temptation to start leading with an entitled spirit.
 

The good work God has for you isn’t about you, it’s about Him and His mission.

 

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The Making of a Good Work

 
The challenge you face reveals the calling you’ll embrace.
 
In other words, the thing that tends to upset you will often drive you into a ministry to make a difference in the lives of somebody else.
 
How do you do the work? How do you make a difference? Nehemiah shows us four steps in the making of a good work.
 

1) Seek God faithfully.

See Nehemiah 1:11; 2:1-5. Nehemiah was a man who’s walking intimately with God which allows him to just talk to God at any moment. I hope that you’ll pray both ways, that you’ll pray long and powerful prayers with God so that in the moment, you’re already close to God and you can send short prayers to God.
 
If prayer isn’t necessary for you to accomplish your vision, you aren’t thinking big enough. There’s nothing too big for God’s power and there’s nothing too small for God’s heart.
 

2) Define the vision clearly.

If you have a heart for something, you have a vision for something. For most people when it comes to the vision, the problem is not a lack of caring, it’s a lack of clarity. I want you to watch the crystal clear clarity of an ordinary man with a vision from God. See Nehemiah 2:5. One sentence. Absolute clarity. In a sentence, what is it that God is leading you to do? If you can’t define it, you won’t do it.
 

3) Make plans carefully.

A goal without a plan is just a wish. Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is get organized. See Nehemiah 2:6-8. What does he do? He asks for protection and he asks for provision. He is very, very clear. I need protection to travel and I need provision to build. He created a plan and said this is how I’m going to accomplish it. What’s a good plan? Do the next right thing. If we try to get all eventualities worked out, we would be overwhelmed. Simply do the next right thing that moves you toward the vision. Success is not in achieving some accomplishment out there in the future. Success is being faithful to do the right thing today. So what’s the next right thing for you?

 

4) Inspire people passionately.

See Nehemiah 2:17-18. Inspire the people around you to believe that God is for what we’re doing, that God is with us, He’ll never leave us, He’ll never forsake us, He’s empowering us, He’s going before us, He’s opening doors that we don’t have the power to open. He’s giving us favor with the hearts of people, our God is with us.
 
“Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” — John Wesley
 

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When You Can’t Take It Anymore

Read: Nehemiah 1:1–3.
 
For nearly a century, the Jewish remnant had been back in their own land, and Nehemiah could have joined them; but he chose to remain in the palace. God put Nehemiah in Susa. When God wants to accomplish a work, He always prepares His workers and puts them in the right places at the right time.
 

God has a good work for you to do right now, right where you are!

 
What do you do when you see something that bothers you deeply and you can’t take it anymore? Three phases to begin your good work.
 

1. Sit Down and Cry (Nehemiah 1:4)

 
The first thing we see Nehemiah do is what you may end up doing at some point of your life. You sit down and let whatever it is, the injustice in the world actually break your own heart.
 
When Nehemiah heard the news he didn’t do what’s so often the easy thing to do — brush it off. Instead, he sat down, he broke down and he started to cry.
 
What breaks your heart? What is it that burdens you? What is it that creates a righteous anger? What is it that burdens your soul? Let it in. Let it wash over you. Let it move you.
 
I don’t worry when every now and then something breaks my heart and moves me to the point of tears. Rather, I worry when it’s been a long time since that has happened. I want my heart to be tender, to be broken by the things that break the heart of God.
 

2. Kneel Down to Pray (Nehemiah 1:4)

 
If it’s big enough to cry about, it’s big enough to pray about. If your heart is broken and deeply touched by a need, sit to cry and then kneel to pray. Nehemiah’s prayer confesses his own sin, confesses the sins of his people and brings to remembrance God’s promises and God’s faithfulness in the past (See Nehemiah 1:5-11). We see Nehemiah praying several times throughout this book.
 

What you pray about reflects what you believe about God.


If our only prayers are bless this food and keep me safe and give me a good day, you really don’t believe the real powerful God. But when you ask God to stretch you, to use you, when you pray for the impossible, you believe in the power and the glory of a good God.
 
Through prayer, the burden grows and the vision narrows. Real prayer keeps your heart and your head in balance so your burden doesn’t make you impatient to run ahead of the Lord and ruin everything. As we pray, God tells us what to do, when to do it, and how to do it; and all are important to the accomplishing of the will of God.
 

3. Stand Up and Act (Nehemiah 2:1-5)

 
If God places that burden on your heart, He is wanting you to do something about it! But who am I? I’m not…(fill-in-the-blank). You don’t have to be appointed by man if you are called by God. You don’t have to be chosen by people if God prompts your heart, stirs your spirit, gives you a burden. You just step into it. Trust him and watch him act. Feel the presence of God stirring you.
 

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Who Is Jesus To You?

Read Mark 8:22–26. The story about a blind man immediately after Jesus warns the disciples of spiritual blindness (vs. 17–18) is probably not coincidental — it’s instructional. Why didn’t Jesus heal the man at once? It is possible that the two-stage restoration of the man’s sight is an illustration for the partial blindness and gradual awakening of the disciples concerning the identity of Jesus.
 
Perhaps that is your condition today. You vaguely know about Jesus but you don’t know Him for who He truly is — the Son of God and Savior of the world. Whatever the condition of your vision of Jesus today, understand that it takes a spiritual awakening, an opening of your spiritual eyes (which is a work of the Holy Spirit within you) to truly see Jesus. See John 15:26; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Ephesians 1:17-18.
 

The Holy Spirit helps us to see and know Jesus for who He really is.

 
Read Mark 8:27–28. All three answers reveal the high regard in which the people held Jesus; they identified him as an authentic prophet and spokesperson for God. Yet all the answers also reflect an inadequate view of his true identity.
 

We can’t define Jesus based on our terms, we must discover Him based on His.

 
People tend to define Jesus in a way that accommodates their current lifestyle. Jesus doesn’t make allowance for that. Instead, he calls people to repent and make their lifestyle acknowledge and accommodate Jesus as Lord.
 
Read Mark 8:29–30. Jesus is interested in your personal response to this question! “Who do you say I am?” Peter answers: You are the Messiah. Matthew’s account of this conversation adds a little more to Peter’s answer. See Matthew 16:13-17.
 

Your confession about Jesus Christ is a matter of life or death.

 
The only confession that saves us is “Jesus is Lord!” when that confession comes from a heart that truly believes in Him. See Romans 10:9-10.
 

Popular opinion about Jesus doesn’t save you. Personal confession saves you.

 
There is no such thing as crowd salvation or bulk salvation. Each person is saved upon their belief in Jesus and confession about Him. So ”Who do you say Jesus is?”
 

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See Beyond the Signs

Read Mark 7:31–37. Fingers in man’s ears…spit on the man’s tongue…what is Jesus doing? It was a visible demonstration of what he was going to do. This man’s healing was instant, complete, and advanced. He began to speak plainly.
 
(Verse 37) This statement recalled Isaiah’s prophecy of the Messiah’s day. See Isaiah 35:5-6; Exodus 4:11.
 
This miracle has as much to do with spiritual as it does with physical healing. We can apply this miracle to the spiritual situation of many Christians today.
 
  • We need to be opened up to wholeness of life.
  • We need to be opened up to be able to witness.
  • We need to be opened up so we can act.
  • We need to be opened to living out through our lives a demonstration of the spiritual healing Christ has done in our lives.

May God open my ears to His Truth and loose my tongue to speak His Good News freely.

 
Read Mark 8:1–10. Not the same as the previous feeding of a multitude. Jesus had already found the resources in a previous remote place for an even larger crowd (6:35), yet the disciples were completely perplexed as to how they should be expected to feed them. Like the disciples, we often forget God’s provision for us in the past. When facing a difficult situation, remember how God cared for you and trust him to work faithfully again. Remember what Christ has done, and have faith that he will do it again. With Christ, nothing is impossible.

The little I have to offer Christ becomes more than enough when placed in His hands and used for His purposes.

 
Read Mark 8:11–13. The Pharisees had tried to explain away Jesus’ previous miracles by claiming that they had been done by luck, coincidence, or evil power (see 3:22). Here they demanded a sign from heaven — something beyond a mere miracle. Mark pointed out that this was a test.
 
While Jesus had done and would continue to do miracles in response to people’s faith and to reveal God’s presence and power within him, he would never give a sign in answer to the demands of religious hypocrites who would not believe it anyway. See John 20:29.

You don’t put your faith in a powerful sign, you put your faith in a personal Savior.

 
Jesus did not come to earth to convince people to come to him by performing wonders; he came inviting people to come to him in faith, and as a response to their faith, he performed great miracles.
 
Read Mark 8:14–21. As the disciples were worrying about bread, Jesus used the opportunity to teach of the danger of the yeast of the Pharisees and Herod. In the Old Testament (and New), leaven symbolized corruption and the infectious power of evil.
 
The Pharisees and Herod seem to have little in common. But they do share one poisonous fault that can infect others. Jesus does not explicitly identify what that toxic flaw is, but the context points to their obstinate refusal to believe in spite of the evidence. So Jesus warns the disciples not to fall victim to this same insidious unbelief.

A small amount of evil left unattended in your life can poison your faith.

 

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God’s Table

Read: Mark 7:24-26
 
What was this woman life like?
 
What are the first things that come to your mind when you think about someone begging?
 

Point 1: Our relationship with God starts when we have a humble heart and ask Him for help.

 
Mathew 7:7 – “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”
 
Example: Story of Jacob Wrestling God (Genesis 32)
 
Genesis 32:26 – “Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’”
 
She didn’t just ask; she begged Jesus. How does Jesus respond?
 
Read: Mark 7:27
 
Did Jesus insult this woman by responding this way?
 
One key to understanding it is the very unusual word Jesus uses for “dogs” here. He uses a diminutive form, a word that really means “puppies.” Remember, the woman is a mother. Jesus is saying to her, “You know how families eat: First the children eat at the table, and afterward their pets eat too. It is not right to violate that order. – Tim  Keller, Jesus The King
 
Read: Mark 7:28
 

Point 2: Don’t demand God to do anything for you based on your goodness, but instead humbly ask God to give you what you don’t deserve based on His goodness.

 
Read: Mark 7:29-30
 

Point 3: God’s love is so large there is enough for everyone.

 
John 6:33-35 – For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”
 
What do you need to beg God for this morning? Salvation, a friend, family member ?
 
Let’s humbly ask God to give us what we don’t deserve based on his goodness.
 
Today we can come to the table of the Lord and get our fill even if we are just the dogs under it.
 

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Heart of the Matter

 
(Verse 1-2) Jesus was constantly scrutinized and condemned by the groups of people that Mark identified as “Pharisees and teachers of the law.” A majority of the conflict between Jesus and these leaders had to do with interpretations of the law and the traditions of the elders.
 
(Verse 3) Ceremonial washing has its origin in the Old Testament law but it specifically applied to the priesthood (Exodus 30) The priest would wash his hands and feet before performing sacred duties in the temple.In the centuries following the Jews’ return from Babylonian captivity, Jewish religious leaders had added hundreds of religious traditions to God’s laws. The Pharisees and scribes considered these religious traditions to be as binding and unbreakable as God’s law itself.
 
By their scrupulous observance of traditions and rituals, they had completely lost their perspective on the reason the law of God had been given: to bring God’s kingdom to earth, to provide reconciliation between God and his people, and to bring peace.
 
(Verse 4) This washing was not to clean dirty hands; it was a ceremonial washing to cleanse them from their contact with defiled “sinners” or Gentiles.
 
(Verse 5-7) Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah and calls them hypocrites — play actors, pretenders. The religious leaders might say all the right words and give lip-service to God, but their hearts were far from God.
 

God is always more concerned about the condition of your heart than the content of your lips.

 
We become hypocrites when we:
  1. pay more attention to appearance or reputation than to character
  2. carefully follow certain religious practices while allowing our heart to remain far from God
  3. emphasize our goodness and others’ sins
 
(Verse 8-9) The religious leaders are guilty of the very thing they are trying to avoid. Every time we add to the law of God, we inevitably subtract from it, because instead of putting our attention on the things that God is concerned about, human traditions cause us to lose sight of what concerns Him. They had left the commandment of God behind in order to hold to human tradition.
 
The original commands of God were meant to bring God’s Kingdom near but the traditions of the elders placed God and His peace out of reach of the common people. See Matthew 23:1-5; 13.
 
(Verse 10-12) The scribes and Pharisees knew Moses’ words backward and forward. But they found a way to break them while still looking religious. The practice of Corban (“offering”) meant that a person could dedicate something to God, but in such a way that they didn’t give it to the temple. Instead, they only legally excluded other (like their parents) from using it. They could still use the money any way they chose, but could use his Corban vow as an excuse not to give any money to help his needy parents.
 
(Verse 13-16) In his example, Jesus clarified to these hypocritical religious leaders that God’s law, not oral tradition, was the true authority over people’s lives. Jesus explains that the Pharisees were wrong in thinking they were acceptable to God just because they were “clean” on the outside. He explained that defilement is not an external matter but an internal one. See Matthew 23:25-28. Sin begins in the heart, just as the prophet Jeremiah had said hundreds of years before (Jeremiah 17:9–10).
 
(Verses 17-19) Moral defilement has nothing to do with food. Sin in a person’s heart is what defiles, not the lack of ceremonial cleansing or the type of food eaten. It is disobedience that defiles, and disobedience begins in the heart.
 

When it comes to sin, the heart of the matter is that something is the matter with your heart.

 
(Verses 20-23) With this conclusion, Jesus gets to the Heart of the Matter. Evil intentions begin within, in a person’s heart.
 

The contents of heart become the conduct of your life.

 
When people become Christians, God makes them different on the inside. He will continue the process of change inside them if they only ask. True Christianity lived from the inside-out, not the outside-in.
 
Then Jesus listed a catalog of twelve “evil intentions” that come from the heart. All these evil actions and attitudes begin in a person’s heart. And it is those evil actions and attitudes that cause defilement.
 
The cure? The good news of the Gospel offers the only cure for humanity’s natural defilement. Cleansing can only come by the blood of Jesus Christ offered on our behalf. Only then can we become “pure” before God. See Joel 2:12-13; Hebrews 10:22; James 4:8.
 

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