From the Pastor's Desk

40 Days to the Cross: A Devotional for Lent


Confession: Psalm 38:10–15


  My heart throbs violently, my strength leaves me;

  and the light of my eyes, that also is not with me.

  My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction,

  and my relatives stand afar off.

  Those who seek my life lay snares as well,

  and those intent on my harm speak threats.

  They also plot deceit all day.

  But as for me, like the deaf I cannot hear,

  and I am like the mute who cannot open his mouth.

  And so I am like a man who hears not,

  and in whose mouth there are no retorts.

  Rather for you I wait, O Yahweh.

  You will answer, O Lord my God.



Reading: Mark 12:13–17


And they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to him so that they could catch him unawares in a statement. And when they came, they said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are truthful and you do not care what anyone thinks, because you do not regard the opinion of people but teach the way of God in truth. Is it permitted to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?” But because he knew their hypocrisy, he said to them, “Why are you testing me? Bring me a denarius so that I can look at it!” So they brought one. And he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” And they said to him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus said to them, “Give to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God!” And they were utterly amazed at him.



Reflection


See their craftiness. They do not say, “Tell us what is good, what is expedient, what is lawful?” but, “What do you think?” They looked to this one object: to betray Him and to set Him at enmity with the rulers. And Mark declaring this—and more plainly discovering their self-will and their murderous disposition—affirms them to have said, “Should we pay [Caesar], or should we not?” (Mark 12:15 NRSV) They were breathing anger and travailing with a plot against Him, yet they feigned respect.

What did He say? “Why are you putting me to the test?” (Matt 22:18 NRSV). He talks with them with more than usual severity. Because their wickedness was now complete and manifest, He cuts deeper. He confounds and silences them by publishing their secret thoughts and making their intent clear to all.

He did these things to repulse their wickedness so that they might not suffer hurt in attempting the same things again. And yet their words were full of respect, for they both called Him Master, and bore witness to His truth and said He was no respecter of persons. Jesus, being God, was not deceived by these things. They also ought to have realized that the rebuke was not the result of conjecture, but a sign of His knowing their secret thoughts.


—JOHN CHRYSOSTOM


HOMILIES OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM



Response


God knows all of your secret thoughts. What areas of your life do you need to give over to Him? How can you turn your worship back to Him in these areas?

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40 Days to the Cross: A Devotional for Lent

Confession: Psalm 38:6–9


  I am bowed down; I am bent over greatly.

  All the day I go about mourning.

  For my loins are full of burning,

  and there is no soundness in my flesh.

  I am faint and crushed greatly;

  I groan because of the roaring of my heart.

  O Lord, all my longing is before you,

  and my sighing is not hidden from you.



Reading: Mark 12:1–12


And he began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard, and put a fence around it, and dug a trough for the winepress, and built a watchtower, and leased it to tenant farmers, and went on a journey. And he sent a slave to the tenant farmers at the proper time, so that he could collect some of the fruit of the vineyard from the tenant farmers. And they seized him and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent to them another slave, and that one they struck on the head and dishonored. And he sent another, and that one they killed. And he sent many others, some of whom they beat and some of whom they killed. He had one more, a beloved son. Last of all he sent him to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But those tenant farmers said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and the inheritance will be ours!’ And they seized and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the tenant farmers and give the vineyard to others. Have you not read this scripture:


  ‘The stone which the builders rejected,

   this has become the cornerstone.

  This came about from the Lord,

   and it is marvelous in our eyes’?”


And they were seeking to arrest him, and they were afraid of the crowd, because they knew that he had told the parable with reference to them. And they left him and went away.



Reflection


The very medicine that we don’t like is the medicine that we ought to have, and the very truths that men object to, and that make them angry, are the truths that bring them to the cross of Christ. What we want is to preach Christ in season and out of season—


  “Tell the old, old story

   Of unseen things above,

  Of Jesus and His glory,

   Of Jesus and His love.”


Why, the stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. The very stone that they would not have was the very stone that God chose, and upon this stone He is building His Church now—upon the Rock of Ages. It is Christ, yes, Christ that men want, and then they will get sure food for eternity.


—DWIGHT L. MOODY


MEDICINE FOR THE SOUL



Response


Is there a time in your life when you found it convenient to reject Jesus? Perhaps you thought you could repent later. What brought you back to the gospel?

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40 Days to the Cross: A Devotional for Lent

Confession: Psalm 38:1–5


  O Yahweh, do not rebuke me in your anger

  or chastise me in your wrath.

  For your arrows have sunk into me,

  and your hand has pressed down on me.

  There is no soundness in my flesh because of your indignation.

  There is no health in my bones because of my sin.

  For my iniquities have passed over my head;

  like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.

  My wounds start to stink; they rot

  because of my foolishness.



Reading: Mark 11:27–33


And they came again to Jerusalem. And as he was walking in the temple courts, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came up to him and said to him, “By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority that you do these things?” So Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question. Answer me and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men? Answer me!” And they began to discuss this with one another, saying, “What should we say? If we say ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men’ ”—they were afraid of the crowd, because they all looked upon John as truly a prophet. And they replied to Jesus saying, “We do not know.” And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”



Reflection


Jesus, for the sake of men, desired to have Himself revealed by a lamp to the faith of those who believed, that by means of the same lamp His enemies might be confounded.… And the Lord, because they shut the door against themselves by professing ignorance of what they know, did not open to them because they did not knock. For it is said, “Knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Matt 7:7 NRSV). Not only did these not knock that it might be opened to them, but, by denying that they knew, they barred that door against themselves. And the Lord says to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things” (Matt 21:27 NRSV). And they were confounded by means of John; and in them were the words fulfilled, “I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed. His enemies will I clothe with shame.”


—AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO


LECTURES OR TRACTATES ON THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. JOHN



Response


The exchange between the Pharisees and Jesus in Mark 11:26–33 shows both the Pharisees’ unwillingness to believe in Jesus and their unwillingness to state their beliefs publicly (because of their fear of the crowds). Is there a time in your life when you responded to the gospel in the same way?

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40 Days to the Cross: A Devotional for Lent

Confession: Psalm 32:8–11


  I will instruct you and teach you

  in the way that you should go.

  I will advise you with my eye upon you.

  Do not be like a horse or like a mule, without understanding;

  that needs his tackle—bridle and rein—for restraint

  or he would not come near you.

  Many are the pains of the wicked,

  but for the one who trusts Yahweh

  loyal love surrounds him.

  Be glad in Yahweh and rejoice, you righteous,

  and shout for joy, all you upright of heart.



Reading: Mark 11:20–25


And as they passed by early in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered!” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God! Truly I say to you that whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea!’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. For this reason I say to you, whatever you pray and ask for, believe that you have received it, and it will be done for you. And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your sins.”



Reflection


He showed His power to take vengeance. Wherefore not in any other, but in the moistest of all planted things did He work the miracle, so that hence also the miracle appeared greater.


And that you might learn, that for the disciples’ sakes this was done, that He might train them to feel confidence, hear what He said afterwards. “You also shall do greater things, if you are willing to believe and to be confident in prayer” (John 1:50; Matt 21:22 [paraphrases]). All is done for their sake, so that they might not be afraid and tremble at plots against them? For this reason He said this a second time also, to make them cleave to prayer and faith. “For not this only shall you do, but also shall remove mountains; and many more things shall you do, being confident in faith and prayer” (Matt 21:21–22 [paraphrase]).


—JOHN CHRYSOSTOM


HOMILIES OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM



Response


Do you feel confident in prayer and faith? Do you trust that God is at work in your life? He hears your requests. Today, pray in this confidence.

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40 Days to the Cross: A Devotional for Lent

Confession: Psalm 32:6–7


  Therefore let all the faithful pray to you

  at the time for finding you.

  Surely at the flood of many waters they will not reach him.

  You are my hiding place;

  from trouble you preserve me.

  With cries of deliverance you surround me. Selah



Reading: Mark 11:12–19


And on the next day as they were departing from Bethany, he was hungry. And when he saw from a distance a fig tree that had leaves, he went to see if perhaps he would find anything on it. And when he came up to it he found nothing except leaves, because it was not the season for figs. And he responded and said to it, “Let no one eat fruit from you any more forever!” And his disciples heard it.

And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered into the temple courts and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple courts, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those who were selling doves. And he did not permit anyone to carry objects through the temple courts. And he began to teach and was saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all the nations,’ but you have made it a cave of robbers!” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it, and began considering how they could destroy him. For they were afraid of him because the whole crowd was astounded by his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.



Reflection


WE see in the beginning of this passage one of the many proofs that our Lord Jesus Christ was really man. We read that “he was hungry” (Mark 11:12). He had a nature and bodily constitution, like our own in all things, sin only excepted. He could weep and rejoice and suffer pain. He could be weary and need rest. He could be thirsty and need drink. He could be hungry and need food.

Expressions like this should teach us the condescension of Christ. How wonderful they are when we reflect upon them! He who is the eternal God—He who made the world and all that it contains—He from whose hand the fruits of the earth, the fish of the sea, the fowls of the air, the beasts of the field, all had their beginning—He, even He was pleased to suffer hunger when He came into the world to save sinners.


—J.C. RYLE


EXPOSITORY THOUGHTS ON MARK



Response


The book of Hebrews tells us that we do not have a great high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses. How is it an encouragement to know that Jesus experienced weakness and temptation just as we do?

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40 Days to the Cross: A Devotional for Lent

Confession: Psalm 32:1–5


  Happy is he whose transgression is taken away,

  whose sin is covered.

  Happy is a person to whom Yahweh does not impute iniquity

  and in whose spirit there is not deceit.

  When I kept silent, my bones were worn out

  due to my groaning all the day.

  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me.

  My vigor was changed into the dry heat of summer. Selah

  I made known my sin to you, and my iniquity I did not cover.

  I said, “I will confess concerning my transgressions to Yahweh,”

  and you took away the guilt of my sin. Selah


Reading: Mark 11:1–11


And when they came near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village before you, and right away as you enter into it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say ‘The Lord has need of it, and will send it here again at once.’ ” And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. And some of those who were standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” So they told them, just as Jesus had said, and they allowed them to take it. And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, and he sat on it. And many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches they had cut from the fields. And those who went ahead and those who were following were shouting,

“Hosanna!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

And he went into Jerusalem to the temple, and after looking around at everything, because the hour was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.


Reflection


Consider the great virtues Christ showed us by His human nature in this procession: While He was supreme and rich and powerful above all—as the true Son of God according to the divinity—He did not display the excellence of His majesty before the people by worldly pomp. But with much humility and meekness [He] approached the city, rebellious against Him. This is our king, whom John Baptist proclaimed as the lamb, that was to come into the world: Who for the salvation of the human race drew near to the place of suffering to accomplish the work of our redemption, as it had been revealed to the holy patriarchs and prophets.

He did not turn aside from the face of His enemies, nor dread the holy place because of the malice of the people. Yet, with the greatest charity and compassion, [He] approached the envious and enraged to calm their passions. Moreover, for their coming excesses and evil deeds, He mourned and wept.


—THOMAS À KEMPIS


A MEDITATION ON THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST


Response


The people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus into the city with shouts and praise because they believed He was going to be a political savior. Do you turn to God only in times of personal crisis or when you need something from Him?

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40 Days to the Cross: A Devotional for Lent

Confession: Psalm 6:5–7


  For there is no remembrance of you in death.

  In Sheol, who will give thanks to you?

  I am weary with my groaning;

  I flood my bed every night.

  With my tears I drench my couch.

  My eye wastes away because of vexation;

  it grows old because of all my oppressors.



Reading: Mark 10:46–52


And they came to Jericho. And as he was setting out from Jericho along with his disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar, Bartimaeus the son of Timaeus, was sitting beside the road. And when he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And many people warned him that he should be quiet. But he was crying out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up! He is calling you.” And he threw off his cloak, jumped up, and came to Jesus. And Jesus answered him and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabboni, that I may regain my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has healed you.” And immediately he regained his sight and began to follow him on the road.



Reflection

A prayer of Thomas Kempis


O most kind, most loving Lord, whom I now desire to receive with devotion. You know the weakness and the necessity which I suffer, in what great evils and vices I am involved, how often I am depressed, tempted, defiled, and troubled.

To you I come for help; to you I pray for comfort and relief. I speak to Him who knows all things, to whom my whole inner life is manifest, and who alone can perfectly comfort and help me.

You know what good things I am most in need of and how poor I am in virtue. Behold, I stand before you, poor and naked, asking your grace and imploring your mercy.

Feed your hungry beggar. Inflame my coldness with the fire of your love. Enlighten my blindness with the brightness of your presence. Turn all earthly things to bitterness for me, all grievance and adversity to patience, all lowly creation to contempt and oblivion. Raise my heart to you in heaven, and suffer me not to wander on earth. From this moment to all eternity do you alone grow sweet to me, for you alone are my food and drink, my love and my joy, my sweetness and my total good.

Let your presence wholly inflame me. Consume and transform me into yourself, that I may become one spirit with you by the grace of inward union and by the melting power of your ardent love.

Suffer me not to go from you fasting and thirsty, but deal with me mercifully as you have so often and so wonderfully dealt with your saints.

What wonder if I were completely inflamed by you to die to myself, since you are the fire ever burning and never dying, a love purifying the heart and enlightening the understanding.


—THOMAS KEMPIS


THE IMITATION OF CHRIST


Response


Instead of “going on his way,” Bartimaeus followed after Jesus. What is your response to Christ’s intervention in your life? After reflecting on this, spend time in prayer.

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40 Days to the Cross: A Devotional for Lent

32 Days to the Cross


Confession: Psalm 6:1–4


  O Yahweh, do not rebuke me in your anger,

  and do not discipline me in your wrath.

  Be gracious to me, O Yahweh, because I am feeble.

  Heal me, O Yahweh, for my bones are terrified.

  My soul is also very terrified.

  But you, O Yahweh, how long?

  Turn, O Yahweh; deliver my life.

  Save me for the sake of your steadfast love.



Reading: Mark 10:32–45


Now they were on the road going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going on ahead of them. And they were astounded, but those who were following him were afraid. And taking aside the twelve again, he began to tell them the things that were about to happen to him: “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him, and after three days he will rise.”

And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask you.” And he said to them, “What do you want that I do for you?” So they said to him, “Grant to us that we may sit one at your right hand and one at your left in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking! Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” And they said to him, “We are able.” So Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup that I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

And when they heard this, the ten began to be indignant about James and John. And Jesus called them to himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their people in high positions exercise authority over them. But it is not like this among you! But whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be most prominent among you must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”



Reflection


Elevation is pleasing to all, but humility is the step to it. Why do you put out your foot beyond you? You have a mind to fall, not to ascend. Begin by the step, and so you have ascended. This step of humility those two disciples were loth to have an eye to, who said [to the Lord], “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:37 NRSV). They sought for exaltation; they did not see the step. But the Lord showed them the step. For what did He answer them? “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38 NRSV) He does not simply say, “Let him deny himself, and follow me.” But He says, “[Let him] take up [his] cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 NRSV)

What is, “Let him take up his cross”? Let him bear whatever trouble he has; so let him follow me. When he begins to follow me in conformity to my life and precepts, many will contradict him, many will hinder him, many will try to dissuade him—even those who are, as it were, Christ’s companions. They who hindered the blind men from crying out were walking with Christ. Whether there be threats or caresses—or whatever hindrances there be—if you wish to follow, turn them into your cross. Bear it, carry it, and do not give way beneath it. There seems to be an exhortation to martyrdom in these words of the Lord. If there be persecution, ought not all things to be despised in consideration of Christ? The world is loved; but let Him be preferred by whom the world was made.


—AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO


SERMONS ON SELECTED LESSONS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT



Response


The call to take up your cross is a radical one. Is your life marked by transformation? Are you willing to bear troubles, conflicts, or even persecution on His behalf? Are you willing to share the good news of Jesus with others?

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40 Days to the Cross: A Devotional for Lent

Day 10


Confession: Psalm 130:5–8


  I await Yahweh; my soul awaits,

  and I wait for his word.

  My soul waits for the Lord

  more than watchmen for the morning.

  Yes, more than watchmen for the morning.

  O Israel, wait for Yahweh.

  For with Yahweh there is loyal love,

  and with him there is abundant redemption.

  And he will redeem Israel

  from all its iniquities.



Reading: Mark 10:17–31


And as he was setting out on his way, one individual ran up and knelt down before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do so that I will inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’ ” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: Go, sell all that you have, and give the proceeds to the poor—and you will have treasure in heaven—and come, follow me.” But he looked gloomy at the statement and went away sorrowful, because he had many possessions.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it is for those who possess wealth to enter into the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astounded at his words. But Jesus answered and said to them again, “Children, how difficult it is to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God.” And they were very astounded, saying to one another, “And who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With human beings it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” Peter began to say to him, “Behold, we have left everything and followed you.” Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields on account of me and on account of the gospel who will not receive a hundred times as much now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields, together with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”



Reflection


The law says, You shall not commit adultery; but you may not even desire—kindling passion by curious and earnest looks. You shall not kill, says the law; but you are not even to return a blow. On the contrary, you are to offer yourself to the smiter. How much more ascetic is the gospel than the law! You shall not swear is the law; but you are not to swear at all, either a greater or a lesser oath, for an oath is the parent of perjury. You shall not join house to house, nor field to field, oppressing the poor; but you are to set aside willingly even your just possessions, and to be stripped for the poor, that without hindrance you may take up the cross and be enriched with the unseen riches.


—GREGORY NAZIANZEN



SELECT ORATIONS OF SAINT GREGORY NAZIANZEN



Response


What cares of this world have you elevated above following Jesus? Sometimes we prioritize even good things above our call to discipleship. Pray that your desire to follow Jesus would trump all of the good things in your life.

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40 Days to the Cross: A Devotional for Lent


Day 9


Confession: Psalm 130:1–4


  Out of the depths I call to you, O Yahweh.

  “O Lord, hear my voice.

  Let your ears be attentive

  to the voice of my supplications.

  If you, O Yah, should keep track of iniquities,

  O Lord, who could stand?

  But with you is forgiveness,

  so that you may be feared.”



Reading: Mark 10:13–16


And they were bringing young children to him so that he could touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the young children come to me. Do not forbid them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly I say to you, whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a young child will never enter into it.” And after taking them into his arms, he blessed them, placing his hands on them.



Reflection


When our Lord blessed the little children, He was making His last journey to Jerusalem. It was thus a farewell blessing which He gave to the little ones. It reminds us that among His parting words to His disciples, before He was taken up, we find the tender charge, “Feed my lambs” (John 21:15). The ruling passion was strong upon the great Shepherd of Israel, who “will gather the lambs in his arm[s], and he will carry them in his bosom” (Isa 40:11); and it was fitting that while He was making His farewell journey, He should bestow His gracious benediction upon the children.


Beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ is not here among us in person; but we know where He is, and we know that He is clothed with all power in heaven and in earth to bless His people. Let us then draw near to Him this day. Let us seek His touch in the form of fellowship and ask the aid of His intercession.


—CHARLES H. SPURGEON


AS A LITTLE CHILD



Response


Jesus says we must welcome in the kingdom of God like a child. What areas of your life are marked by self-sufficiency? Is your posture like that of a child—totally reliant on God and receptive to Him?

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