Go Tell It

Isaiah 2:1-2 “In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established 

as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.”

As a kid I never understood the Christmas Song “Go Tell it On the Mountain.” It was fun song, but the connection between mountains and Christmas was lost on me. The message of Jesus should be shouted from the mountain tops. Everyone, everywhere needs to hear about Jesus. This is the same idea contained in Isaiah 2. The nations who once hated God and harassed God’s people will flow to worship him. 

This prophetic image is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The Great Commission of Christ in sending his people to the ends of the earth with the gospel message results in the discipled nations (ethne in Greek) flowing like a river to God in worship. God’s mission is contained in the Advent hope. We want to be a church that participates in God’s mission, sends workers into God’s mission, and gives to God’s mission. As you consider ways to maximize your year-end giving, consider contributing to some of these ministries and projects that are connected to our church. 

Lottie Moon Christmas Offering—The International Mission Board and the Women’s Missionary Union partner together to facilitate a Christmas Offering that goes 100% to send and support missionaries. It gets its name from missionary Lottie Moon who was sent as a Baptist missionary to China from 1873 to 1912. “She saw firsthand the world’s greatest problem — LOSTNESS. Meeting so many people who had never heard the gospel compelled her to write letters to American churches describing the need for a greater missionary presence.

She pleaded for increased prayer and financial support to send and sustain more missionaries. This challenge became known as the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®.” (www.imb.org

Afghan Refugee House—Many you have been involved in our partnership with the Afghan American Church to bless and serve Afghans in the area. We are making great strides on renovating the house in Union City for this ministry. We are still in need of over $50,000 to make the homes livable. 

Jonathan’s House Orphanage (Donna Bixby)—Donna Bixby has been leading a very difficult and critical ministry providing orphan care and education in one of the world’s poorest countries. She has ongoing person support needs and is in desperate need for a 4×4 SUV that would allow her and the orphanage staff to navigate the muddy trails into town for emergency supplies and medical care. 

City Serve/Compassion Network—Our church partners with over 50 other churches in the Tri-Cities to provide resources and assistance to the unhoused and needy families around us. They have been incredibly helpful in providing and pointing to resources for the Afghan families we are partnering with. Would you pray about how you can “go tell it on the mountain” through a Christmas gift this year? You can either place a gift in the Sunday offering with a designation or you can give online and select a ministry from the dropdown menu. These are just a few of the ways you can help spread the hope of Advent this season

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The Fog of War

11 These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. 12 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13 No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:11-13

“How’s it going?” 

“Can’t complain.” 

The reality is that we could complain, but we know we shouldn’t. We all have so much more to be thankful for than we have things to complain about, but we all know people who seem to complain about everything. Even the most upbeat among us find ourselves grumbling at times. It is hard to trust God when things in our lives seem to be falling apart. We come into situations with expectations and when those expectations are not met how will we respond? Will be trust God and respond with faith or will we let bitterness take root in our lives and become grumblers and complainers? 

1 Corinthians 10 is instructive for us. God’s Word reminds us that what is happening in our lives is not all about us. God is doing something in and through the individual situations of our lives that we can’t fully understand in the moment. The occasions when the Israelites faced disappointments in the wilderness were tests for them, but they also had a second purpose—they were recorded as examples for us. But examples of what? 

They were examples of the folly of failing to trust the goodness and the sovereignty of God. We have the luxury of reading the story of the Exodus far removed the physical difficulty of the actual historical trial. Our perspective allows us to marvel at the utter foolishness of doubting God so soon after he had proven himself faithful. In Exodus 14 God parted the waters and delivered the people. In Exodus 15 the people celebrate in joyous song, and by Exodus 16 they are complaining against Moses and doubting God’s plan for them.

We are meant to see the utter foolishness of the situation. We are meant to see the unquestioned goodness of God. We are meant to see the devastating consequences of bitterness and complaining. These things were recorded for us to see and take warning. We are not at the center of the human story—God is. But that doesn’t mean that God has forgotten about us. God is working in ways that achieve purposes far beyond the scope of our lives, but that doesn’t mean that his works do not take us into account. That is part of the mystery of God’s sovereignty. God’s desire to glorify himself to humanity is also his desire to glorify himself in our lives and the lives of others.

War veterans refer to the “fog of war.” In the middle of the fight it is hard to really see all that is happening on the battlefield. The faithful soldier must keep his head and stay on mission. So too we must not lose our heads in the middle of this spiritual battle. Only by keeping our eyes on Christ, remembering his faithful example, and trusting in his proven love can we keep our head when trials come. 

What challenges are you facing this week? Where are you tempted to lose hope and give in to complaining? What are the ways that you have experienced the faithfulness of God that will sustain you through the “fog” of this season of your life?  

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Song of the Free

“Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the Lord: ‘I will sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.

The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The Lord is a warrior; the Lord is his name.’” Exodus 15:1-3

Freedom and song are sisters. When a people have been redeemed from bondage, when their chains of oppression are broken, their hearts break open with song. The Song of Moses and Miriam is latent with the passionate celebration of a people who have just been miraculously freed. 

In their song there is triumph: “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army he has hurled into the sea. The best of Pharaoh’s officers are drowned in the Red Sea” (vs 4). The objects of oppression are now irrelevant and harmless. The people who once terrified are now the objects of scorn. The enemy has been defeated and our faith in God has been vindicated. 

In their song there is worship: “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders” (vs 11), and ““The Lord reigns for ever and ever” (vs 18). There is a humble recognition that it is God who delivered. There is only one object of our faith that can deliver. God delivered in a way that drew attention to his might and not Israel’s. They marched out in military formation, but the only weapon that mattered was God’s might.

In their singing there is celebration: Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. 21 Miriam sang to them: “Sing to the Lord, for he is highly exalted. Both horse and driver he has hurled into the sea.” There is a release of joy when one realizes that the source of tension and fear had been removed. Notice how Miriam’s joy is contagious. When we celebrate others want to join in. I remember living in PA a when the Eagles made their Super Bowl run. I’m not an Eagles fan but being around people that I loved who were in full-on celebration mode was intoxicating. When we give ourselves to celebrating what God has done, others want to join. 

Singing effects our emotions, but it also aids in our memory. I’m still thinking about the sermon’s reference to Les Misérables’ “Do You Hear the People Sing” days later. The children of Israel needed the memory aid of this song because they would easily forget the misery of their slavery, the deadliness of their enemy, and the awesome might of their God. When they would later face opposition, they were prone to romanticize the luxuries of Egypt. 

We too can be enticed to think longingly to the days of our slavery. The Apostle Paul compared our bondage to sin as a type of slavery. “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14).” For Christians, our worship reminds us of our redemption from the slavery of sin, it causes us to celebrate our Lord who is a warrior for us, and it stirs our heart to keep going forward in the freedom for which Christ has made us free. 

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The Red Sea Rules

Exodus 14 is a good reminder that even when the situation seems bleakest, God is still in control. God is the one who brought the Israelites out of bondage, and he is the one who brought them to that dangerous spot with a mountain behind them, the Red Sea in front of them, and Pharoah’s army blocking the logical path of escape. But God had greater things in store for them. He was going to provide a way that would change the course of history and be talked about for eternity. Robert J. Morgan’s The Red Sea Rules were an encouragement to me at a very difficult time, when I didn’t see a way out. I shared them on Sunday and I’m sharing them again here in the hope that you’ll be encouraged in whatever “hopeless” situation you may find yourself. 

Rule #1: Realize that God means for you to be where you are. (Exodus 14:1-2)

Rule #2: Be more concerned for God’s glory than your relief. (14:3-4)

Rule #3: Acknowledge the enemy, but keep your eyes on the Lord. (14:5-9)

Red Sea Rule #4: Pray! (14:10)

Red Sea Rule #5: Stay calm and confident—give God time to work. (14:13-14)

Red Sea Rule #6: When unsure, just take the next logical step by faith. (14:15)

Red Sea Rule #7: Envision God’s enveloping presence. (14:19-20)

Red Sea Rule #8: Trust God to deliver in His own unique way. (14:21-22)

Red Sea Rule #9: View your current crisis as a faith builder for the future. (14:30-31)

Red Sea Rule #10: Don’t forget to praise him. (15:1-2)

Which of the 10 rules do you need most in your life right now? Would you take a moment to share that with me? How can I pray for you right now? 

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Christ the Firstborn

Exodus 13:14-16 14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’ 16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

The Lord gave his people commemorations to help them remember what God had done, hope in God’s future faithfulness, instruct the next generation, and to focus their hearts and minds on following God. The consecration of the firstborn pointed back to God’s deliverance at the first Pentecost, but it also looked forward to a future firstborn who would be both offered and spared. 

The New Testament refers to Jesus as the firstborn, but what does the Bible mean by that? Jesus had two natures—divine and human. His divine nature took on humanity. As God, the Son of man had no beginning, but in his incarnation (coming to earth) he took on humanity. The Jesus that was born to Mary was both human and God. As a human Jewish child, Mary and his stepfather Joseph consecrated him as firstborn just as Exodus 13 commanded. 

Jesus in his humanity also stands as a representative for all of humanity. When the Epistle to the Romans refers to Jesus as the second Adam it is referring to both Adam and Jesus as representatives for all of humanity. Just as the Passover sacrifice and consecration sacrifice pointed to the need of a substitute for the whole family, the sparing of the firstborn due to sacrifice was symbolic of the consecration of all who were in the family. Jesus then by nature of his perfect sinless life and his status as Son of God and Son of Man, is able to be both the firstborn who takes the penalty for humanity’s sin, and the firstborn who is delivered from the penalty sin. 

As believers, Jesus is both our God and our older brother.  Colossians 1:15 says of Jesus, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” Our salvation then is tied to the death and the resurrection of Jesus. See verse 18 “And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” For those who put their faith in Jesus Christ, his death takes the place of our death. Likewise, his resurrection is the guarantee of our future resurrection. 

As Mary’s son, Jesus was the firstborn Son of Man, as the uncreated and eternal Son of God, Jesus was God’s appointed firstborn representative. That is why Hebrews 1:6 can say, “And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” It is why we who are in Christ can be called what Hebrews 12:23 calls us, “the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.”

Exodus points us back to what God did, but it also points us forward to what God was going to do. Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus is also the firstborn slain for the sin of his fathers. Jesus is finally, the firstborn delivered from death through his resurrection.  As you meditate on the Exodus this week, give thanks for what Christ has done for you.

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Time to Remember

Exodus 12:14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.”

My all-time favorite movie is Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.” I’ve seen it dozens of times and I still get choked up watching it. As much as I adore the devotion and dedication of George and Mary Bailey, I get equally frustrated with the forgetfulness of Uncle Billy. Uncle Billy is infamous in the movie for forgetting. He’s so forgetful he ties strings to his fingers as reminders of the tasks he’s supposed to complete. Throughout most of the movie his forgetfulness serves as comic relief, but at a crucial point even his memory tricks fail him, and his forgetfulness has devastating consequences for the people he loves. 

Perhaps the reason, I get so frustrated with Uncle Billy, is because of my own propensity to forget. It is amazing what trivial things I can remember in specific detail, and what crucial things I tend to forget. The hard truth is that we remember what we plan to remember. If someone gave me Super Bowl tickets, I wouldn’t forget about the game—I would definitely remember to go. Why is it then that I forget other important things? Why do I forget to pay an important bill, or remember a promise I made to my children, or remember that I promised my wife I’d do the dishes? 

What I work hard to remember shows what I value. When I forget a promise, or an important appointment there is a loss of trust. If I forget to pay a bill it may cost me money in late fees. But if I forget what God has done for me, the spiritual consequences for me and my family could be devastating. That is why God gave the Jewish nation and the Christian church the task of remembering. 

Eighteenth century English author, Dr. Samuel Johnson said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.” God instructed the people about the Passover sacrifice, but he established a perpetual ceremony of remembrance so that that they would not forget what God done in delivering them from slavery and from death. But remembering also served a future oriented purpose. Remembering God’s work in the past, prepared them for the work he was preparing for them in the future. The lamb which was sacrificed on Passover would prepare the way for the Lamb of God who would come to take away the sin of the world. The firstborn spared would later remind them of the firstborn offered. A faithful remembering of God’s past grace prepares God’s people to look for his future grace. 

So what truths do you need to remember this week? What past blessings do you need to recount? What stories of God’s faithfulness do you need to recount to your children and grandchildren? What has God done in your life that might serve as a monument to future generations that they too can put their trust in God to sustain them through even the darkest of nights.

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Your Diplomatic Mission

Exodus 9:16-21 “16 But I [Yahweh] have raised you [Pharoah] up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. 17 You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. 18 Therefore, at this time tomorrow I will send the worst hailstorm that has ever fallen on Egypt, from the day it was founded till now… 20 Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. 21 But those who ignored the word of the Lord left their slaves and livestock in the field.”

Evangelism is a beautiful word. It comes from the Latin word evangelium which is a transliteration of the Greek word euangelion which translates to “gospel” or “good news.” Evangelism is simply declaring the good news of Jesus Christ. It can be discouraging to share the good news and have it rejected. Often for Christians, the fear of the message being rejected keeps us from sharing at all. By allowing fear instead of faith to direct us, we are depriving ourselves of one of the greatest privileges God gives his people. We get to be ambassadors for the King. 2 Corinthians 5:20 says, “20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” As ambassadors we get the privilege of helping people end their war against God and enter his peace through Jesus Christ. 

Being named an ambassador for your nation is a very high honor. As an ambassador you are sent on a diplomatic mission to represent your country at the highest levels of a foreign power. Your actions can change the course of history. But an ambassadorship can also be a very challenging mission. In 1979 the U.S. embassy in Iran was attacked and 52 diplomats and citizens were taken as hostage. They were attacked because of what they represented and the message they had to deliver. Ambassadors bear the image of what they represent, and they bear the message they are given to deliver. Their message is not their own. If you are the ambassador to a wealthy and friendly, paradise nation then the job is a dream, but if you are the ambassador in a hostile nation then the work is decidedly less delightful. Either way, the job is the same. 

Sometimes bearing the ambassadorship of Christ is delightful—the message we give from the King is received with joy and celebration, but often our good news is received with hostility. Does the mission change based on whether the message is received or rejected? No. The message is not ours—it’s the King’s. We fulfill our mission and allow the Holy Spirit to fulfill his. Evangelism in the face of rejection sometimes brings us face to face with our own idols. I know that sometimes I can make idols of acceptance and likeability. Facing rejection is hard for anyone. Moses was sent with a message that he knew would be rejected, but he stood and delivered. Yahweh was doing something even in the rejection. He was raising up Pharoah for a fall that would show the world exactly who Yahweh was. But there is more. Even in that hostile situation God was working in the hearts of people. There were Egyptians who were starting to fear the Lord and obey. Don’t despair when your message is not immediately received. It is not your message. It is a message entrusted to you. Be faithful. Be bold. Fulfill your diplomatic mission and leave the results to the King. 

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Twin Lies

Exodus 6:28-29 “Now when the Lord spoke to Moses in Egypt, 29 he said to him, “I am the Lord…”

The famous preacher A. W. Tozer once wrote, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Our understanding of who God shapes our understanding of the world and our place in it. Modern individualism places the self at the center of existence. Phrases like, “my body, my choice” and “find your authentic self” reveal a philosophy that places all authority within the individual. This seems great when we are trying to justify our personal decisions, but it eventually fails us. It turns out we make for lousy gods. Our own desires run contrary to each other. We feel this when we are forced to deal today with consequences of decisions we made yesterday. 

Instead, the Bible reveals a God who is the maker of the world and the definer of reality. We either submit to reality or we kick against it. I have a short brick wall surrounding a tree on the parsonage patio. I can deny its existence all I want, but if I kick it I can expect one thing—a broken foot. If the Word of God is true and God is who he says he is, we should expect that when we rebel against him that there will be negative consequences. While we as Christians do not rejoice in the brokenness of this world, it does bear witness to the truth of the Bible’s claims. A humanity in rebellion against God bears the fruit of misery. This pain and misery is a cry from nature itself, calling us to repentance. This too is God’s mercy. 

Moses had to learn that what God said about him was far more important than what Moses thought about himself. While Moses was dominated by his own failures and weakness, the reality was that God had called him and redeemed him. Pharoah thought he was a god but was soon to learn that he was just as powerless as the meanest enslaved Israelite in his kingdom. God’s mercy is shown in that he does not let us persist in our sin. When we run into the force of reality, our pain should cause us to stop and adjust course. 

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians reminds us as Christians that although we were once “dead in our trespasses and sins” we have been saved by the grace of God and are now made alive. Our lives are living testimonies of the riches of God’s grace. It is God’s purpose to exalt us and to show off his awesome power and love through us. We should embrace the blessed reality of our redeemed situation: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Like Moses we have a task. We have good works to do. As we submit to God and do his will, we show of the creative goodness of God through our lives. Believe who God says he is and live in the reality of your new status in Christ. Reject the twin lies of self-determination and self-condemnation and strive to live boldly in the grace of Christ. 

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Ministry Effectiveness

Exodus 6:26-27

26 It was this Aaron and Moses to whom the Lord said, “Bring the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.” 27 They were the ones who spoke to Pharaoh king of Egypt about bringing the Israelites out of Egypt—this same Moses and Aaron.

I was fourteen years old when I gave my first devotional from the Bible and it was horrible. I still don’t know why I did it. My family was involved in a nursing home ministry every Wednesday night, and usually my dad gave a short gospel message to the residents. For some reason, one evening he asked me to do it and I said yes. I think my “sermon” was from Hebrews 11 on the faith of Abraham. I had studied to the best of my ability, and thought I knew what I was going to say. When the time came, I went through my entire page of notes and was out of things to say after five minutes of speaking. Some of you might be reading this and wish I’d go back to my five-minute messages. My dad got up after me and salvaged the situation. I don’t remember much about that time, but I do remember how humiliated I felt at not being up to the task.

Thankfully I didn’t give up and I think my teaching has gotten, better over the years. It certainly has gotten longer. But that wasn’t the last time I felt inadequate for the ministry God had put before me. Have you ever felt unqualified or unprepared for what God has put in front of you? If so, you probably identify with Moses. Moses did not feel equipped for the task ahead of him, but he had heard the clear command of the Lord. 

There were many reasons why Moses was qualified for the task, but Moses couldn’t help but focus on his inadequacies. Moses had failure in his past, the people didn’t believe in him, the task was humanly impossible, and Moses was uncomfortable speaking. When God called him, he responded by objecting, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” And yet Scripture records, “It was this Aaron and Moses…this same Moses and Aaron,” who brought the Israelites out of Egypt. 

Ministry effectiveness is not about your ability, but about your obedience to God’s command. God is faithful. The genealogies speak to God’s faithfulness to keep his covenant promises. Moses learned humility, and he learned just how powerful God is to accomplish his purposes. This is a lesson that each of us needs to learn. Do you have failures in your past? Are you inadequate for the jobs God has placed before you? You are in good company. The good news is that God is powerful enough to use you even with your deficiencies. Step out in obedience and leave the results to God. You may fail, but God will never fail you. 

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Counterfeit gods

“Moses replied, “It will be as you say, so that you may know there is no one like the Lord our God.” Exodus 8:10

One of the most loving things that God can do in our lives, is destroy the idols that keep us from undivided worship of him. There are religious people that pray to physical idols and there are irreligious people who worship figurative idols without even knowing it. The key word there is worship. Humans worship because it is in our nature to worship. We are made to be worship. Nature abhors a vacuum and always seeks to fill it. Blaise Pascal compared this to the human heart and its need for worship, “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every [person] which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” Idolatry is any attempt to fill that vacuum with something other than God. 

Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth was filled with reminders to Christians to beware of the pull of idolatry. This idolatry can take many forms, in 1 Cor 10:6-10, Paul explicitly connects idolatry to sexual immorality. In Colossians 3:5-6 Paul connects it to the sin of greed, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.”

We don’t often think of things like lust and greed as worshiping a false god, but the Bible is making the connection that lust and greed, “[represent] a strong movement of desire toward something out of God’s will at the time.”[1] Breaking the tenth commandment (Do not covet) comes from the same heart as breaking the first commandment (Do not worship other gods). Whatever it is that we desire more than we desire God is an idol for us. Sins like greed and lust reflect our old selves outside of Christ and a failure to trust God that his way and his timing are best. We become devoted to the object of our greed and lust in a way that is very much like worship. 

Pharoah clung to his idols despite all the displays of Yahweh’s transcendent power and mercy. He clung to his idols because at the end of the day, Pharoah wanted control—he wanted to be the god of his own life. The best thing that God can give us is himself. His destruction of our idols is good, because they are keeping us from what is best. What are the idols you need to give over the Lord? What discipline is the Lord bringing into your life to call you repentance? What is it that you fear losing more than you fear (are in awe of) God? Don’t harden your heart like Pharoah. Hear God’s Word, respond in faith, and go after Jesus Christ with a whole heart. 

[1] Richard R. Melick, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991), 290.

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