THE SAFEST ROAD TO HELL

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In Everything Give Thanks

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REFUGE IN THE ALTAR

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They set the altar upon its bases, for fear was upon them because of the people of those (surrounding) countries; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the (prescribed) morning and evening sacrifices. Ezra 3:3

There is something  pathetic in the picture of the assembled people (the remnant who returned from Babylon) groping amid the ruins on the Temple hill, to find ‘the bases,’ the half-obliterated outlines, of the foundations of the old altar of burnt offerings. What memories of Araunah’s threshing-floor, and of the hovering angel of destruction, and of the glories of Solomon’s dedication, and of the long centuries during which the column of smoke had gone up continually from that spot, and of the tragic day when the fire was quenched, and of the years of extinction (when Judah was carried away captive to Babylon) must have filled their hearts! What a conflict of gladness and sorrow must have troubled their spirits as the flame again shot upwards from the hearth of God, cold for so long!

But the reason for their so quickly rearing the altar is noteworthy. It was because ‘fear was upon them because of the people of the countries.’ The state of the Holy Land at the return must be clearly comprehended. Samaria and the central district were in the hands of bitter enemies. Across Jordan in the east, down on the Philistine plain in the west, and in the south where Edom bore sway, eager enemies watched the small beginnings of a movement which they were keen on thwarting. There was only the territory of Judah and Benjamin left free for the exiles, and they had reason for their fears; for their neighbours knew that if restitution was to be the order of the day, they would have to give up a good deal. What was the defence against such foes which these frightened men thought most impregnable? That altar!

No doubt, much superstition mingled with their religion. Haggai leaves us under no illusions as to their moral and spiritual condition. They were no patterns of devoutness or of morality. But still, what they did carries an eternal truth; and they were reverting to the original terms of Israel’s tenure of their land when they acted on the conviction that their worship of Jehovah according to His commandment was their surest way of finding shelter from all their enemies. There are differences plain enough between their condition and ours; but it is as true for us as ever it was for them, that our safety is in God, and that, if we want to find shelter from impending dangers, we shall be wiser to betake ourselves to the altar and sit suppliant there than to make defences for ourselves. The ruined Jerusalem was better guarded by that altar than if its fallen walls had been rebuilt.

The whole ritual was restored, as the narrative tells with obvious satisfaction in the enumeration. To us this punctilious attention to the minutiae of sacrificial worship sounds trivial. But we equally err if we try to bring such externalities into the worship of the Christian Church, and if we are blind to their worth at an earlier stage.

There cannot be a temple without an altar, but there may be an altar without a temple. God meets men at the place of sacrifice, even though there be no house for His name. The order of events here teaches us what is essential for communion with God. It is the altar. Sacrifice laid there is accepted, whether it stand on a bare hill-top, or have round it the courts of the Lord’s house.

ALEXANDER MACLAREN

Note: Ezra 3:3 is best translated in the KJV, the inspired version of God. Many of the other versions fail to properly translate this vital text. Even today, the KJV stands superior to all other translations. Other translations may be used only to clarify meanings of obscure passages, since the English language has undergone a great change since 1611, over a span of 400 years. ~Ed.

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GOD THE JOY-GIVER – 2

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The consequent obligation and wisdom of taking our God-given joys.

‘They kept the feast with joy, for the Lord had made them joyful.’ Ezra 6:22. It is our obligation to accept and use what our blessed God gives. Be sure you take Him. When He is waiting to pour all His love into your heart, and all His sweetness into your spirit, to calm your anxieties, to deepen your peace, to strengthen everything that is good in you, to be to you a stay in the midst of fragile prosperity, and a Light in the midst of gathering darkness, be sure that you take the joy He gives. Do not let it be said that, when the Lord Christ has come down from heaven, and lived upon earth, and gone back to heaven, and sent His Spirit to dwell in you, you shut the door against the entrance of the joy-bringing Messenger, and are sad and restless and discontented because you have locked out the God who desires to abide in your hearts.

‘They kept the feast with joy, because the Lord had made them joyful.’ Oh! how many Christian men and women there are, who in the midst of the abundant provision for continual cheerfulness of spirit given to them in the promises of the Gospel, in the gifts of Christ, in the indwelling of the Divine Spirit, do yet go through life creeping and sad, burdened and anxious, perplexed and at their wits’ end, just because they will not have the God who yearns to come to them, or at least will not have Him in the fullness in which He desires to bestow Himself. If God gives, surely we are bound to receive. It is an obligation upon Christian men and women, which they do not realise, to be glad; the commandment needs to be reiterated: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always; and again I say, rejoice.’ Philippians 4:4. Would that Christian experience today was more alive to the obligation and the blessedness of perpetual joy arising from perpetual communion with Him.

Further, another obligation is to recognise Him in all common mercies, because He is at the back of them all. Let them always proclaim Him to us. Oh! if we did not go through the world blind to the real Power that underlies all its motions, we should feel so much in our life reflecting the loving-kindness of our Father in heaven. Link Him, dear friend, with everything that makes your heart glad; with everything pleasant that comes to you. There is nothing good or sweet but it flows from Him. There is no common delight of flesh or sense, of sight or taste or smell, no little enjoyment that makes the moment pass more brightly, but it may be elevated into greatness and nobleness if it is linked with Him. God does not desire to be put away high up on a pedestal above our lives, as if He regulated the great things and the trifles regulated themselves; but He seeks to come, as air into the lungs, into every particle of our life, and to fill it all with His own purifying presence.

Recognise Him in common joys. If, when we sit down to partake of them, we would say to ourselves, ‘The Lord has made us joyful,’ all our home delights, all our social pleasures, all our intellectual and all our sensuous ones—rest and food and drink and all other goods for the body—they would all be felt to be great, as they indeed are. Enjoyed in Him, the smallest is great; without Him, the greatest is small. ‘The Lord made them joyful’; and what is large enough for Him to give ought not to be too small for us to receive.

Another piece of wholesome counsel in this matter is—Be sure that you use the joys which God does give. Many good people seem to think that it is devout and becoming to pitch most of their songs in a minor key, and to be habitually talking about trials and disappointments, and ‘a desert land,’ and ‘Brief life is here our portion,’ and so on.  There are two ways in which you can look at the world and at everything that befalls you. There is enough in everybody’s life to make him sad if he sulkily selects these things to dwell upon. There is enough in everybody’s life to make him continually glad if he wisely picks out these to think about. It depends altogether on the perspective through which you look at your life and what you see in it. For instance, you know how children do when they get a bit of a willow wand into their hands. They cut off rings of bark, and get the switch alternately white and black, white and black, and so on right away to the tip. Will you look at the white rings or the black ones? They are both there. But if you rightly look at the black you will find out that there is white below it, and it only needs a very little stripping off of a film to make it into white too. Or, to put it into simpler words, no Christian man has the right to regard anything that God’s Providence brings to him as such unmingled evil that it ought to make him sad. We are bound to ‘rejoice in the Lord always.’

I know how hard it is, but sure am I that it is possible for a man, if he keeps near Jesus Christ, to reproduce Paul’s paradox of being ‘sorrowful yet always rejoicing,’ and even in the midst of darkness and losses and sorrows and blighted hopes and disappointed aims to rejoice in the Lord, and to ‘keep the feast with gladness, because the Lord has made him joyful.’ Nor do we discharge our duty, unless side by side with the sorrow which is legitimate, which is blessed, strengthening, purifying, calming, moderating, there is also ‘joy unspeakable and full of glory.’ 1 Peter 1:8.

Again, be sure that you limit your delights to God-made joys. Too many of us have what parts of our nature recognise as satisfaction, and are glad to have, apart from Him. There is nothing sadder than the joys (i.e. pleasures) that come into a life, and do not come from God. Oh! let us see to it that we do not fill our cisterns with poisonous sewage when God is waiting to fill them with the pure ‘river of the water of life.’ Do not let us draw our satisfaction  from the world and its evils. Does my joy help me to come near to God? Does it interfere with my communion with Him? Does it aid me in the consecration of myself? Does my conscience go with it? Do I recognise God as the Giver of the thing that is so blessed? If we can say Yes! to these questions, we can venture to believe that our blessedness comes from God, and leads to God, however homely, however sensuous and material may be its immediate occasion. But if not, then the less we have to do with such false gladness the better. ‘Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness.’ Proverbs 14:13. The alternative presented for the choice of each of us is whether we will have surface joy and a centre of dark discontent, or surface sorrow and a centre of calm blessedness. The film of stagnant water on a pond full of rottenness simulates the glories of the rainbow, in which pure sunshine falls upon the pure drops, but it is only painted corruption after all, a sign of rotting; and if a man puts his lips to it it will kill him. Such is the joy which is apart from God. It is the ‘crackling of thorns under a pot’—the more fiercely they burn, the sooner they are ashes. And, on the other hand, ‘these things have I spoken unto you that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.’ John 15:11.

It is not ‘for seven days’ that we ‘keep the feast’ if God has ‘made us joyful,’ but for all the rest of the days of time, and for the endless years of the calm gladnesses of the heavens.

ALEXANDER MACLAREN

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GOD THE JOY-GIVER – 1

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‘They kept the feast … seven days with joy; for the Lord had made them joyful.’— EZRA vi. 22 .

Twenty years of hard work and many disappointments and dangers had at last, for the Israelites returning from the captivity, been crowned by the completion of the Temple. It was a poor affair as compared with the magnificent house that had stood upon Zion; and so some of them ‘despised the day of small things.’ They were ringed about by enemies; they were feeble in themselves; there was a great deal to darken their prospects and to sadden their hearts; and yet, when memories of the ancient days came back, and once more they saw the sacrificial smoke rising from the long cold and ruined altar, they rejoiced in God, and they kept the Passover amid the ruins, as my text tells us, for the ‘seven days’ of the statutory period ‘with joy,’ because, in spite of all, ‘the Lord had made them joyful.’

I think if we take this simple saying we get two or three thoughts about the true and the counterfeit gladnesses possible to us all.

I. Look at that great and wonderful thought—God the joy-maker.

We do not often realise how glad God is when we are glad.  The object of much that He does is simply the prosperity and the blessedness of human hearts. The poorest creature  has a right to ask from God the satisfaction of its instincts, and every man has a claim on God—because he is God’s creature—to make him glad. God honours all cheques legitimately drawn on Him, and answers all claims, and regards Himself as occupied in a manner entirely congruous with His magnificence and His infinitude, when He stoops to put vibrating gladness into the wings of a gnat that dances for an hour in the sunshine, and into the heart of a man that lives his time a little longer.

God is the Joy-maker. This thought should silence our grumblings and our distrust, that the gladness of His children is an end contemplated by Him in all that He does. God’s intention is that  all mankind should rejoice in Himself. What a marvellous revelation to break out of the very heart of ancient Judaism. ‘The Lord hath made them joyful.’ Ezra 6:22.

Let me remind you of the great outlines of the divine provision for gladdening men’s hearts. I was going to say that God had only one way of making us glad; and perhaps that is in the deepest sense true. That way is by putting Himself into us. He gives us Himself to make us glad; for nothing else will do it—or, at least, though there may be many subordinate sources of joy, if there be in the innermost shrine of our spirits an empty place, where the Shekinah ought to shine, no other joys will suffice to settle and to rejoice the soul. The secret of all true human well-being is close communion with God; and when He looks at the poorest of us, desiring to make us blessed, He can but say, ‘I will give Myself to that poor man; to that ignorant creature; to that wayward and prodigal child; to that harlot in her corruption; to that worldling in his narrow godlessness; I will give Myself, if they will have Me.’ And thus, and only thus, does He make us truly, perfectly, and for ever glad.

Besides that, there come such other God-given blessings as these to which my text refers. What were the outward reasons for the restored exiles’ gladness? ‘The Lord had made them joyful, and turned the heart of the king … unto them to strengthen their hands in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.’

So, then, He pours into men’s lives by His providences the secondary and lower gifts which men, according to changing circumstances, need; and He also satisfies the permanent physical necessities of all orders of beings to whom He has given life. He gives Himself for the spirit; He gives whatever is contributory to any kind of gladness; and if we are wise we shall trace all to Him. He is the Joy-giver; and that man has not yet understood either the sanctity of life or the full sweetness of its sweetest things unless he sees, written over every one of them, the name of God, their Giver. Your common mercies are His love tokens, and they all come to us, just as the gifts of parents to their children do, with this on the fly-leaf, ‘With a father’s love.’ Whatever comes to God’s child with that inscription, surely it ought to kindle a thrill of gladness. That ‘the king of Assyria’s heart is turned’; shall we thank the king of Assyria? Yes and No! For it was God who ‘turned’ it. Oh! to carry the quiet confidence of that thought into all our daily life, and see His name written upon everything that contributes to make us blessed. God is the true Source and Maker of every joy.

And by the side of that we must put this other thought—there are sources of joy with which He has nothing to do. There are people who are joyful—and there are some of them listening now—not because God made them joyful, but because ‘the world, the devil, and the flesh’ have given them ghastly caricatures of the true gladness. Men call them pleasures; over all of them is the broad word ‘entertainment’. These rival sources of pleasure or happiness are the enemies of all that is good and noble in us and are corruptions of true joy. God made these men joyful, and so their gladness was wholesome.

ALEXANDER MACLAREN

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FASTING IS THE WAY TO GOD

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I wish I could give a better title to this post. But for some time now I have been thinking, ‘When will I write something in my blog on the subject of Fasting?’

I wish to declare emphatically to all those who truly love God that the best way to find God, to get to know Him intimately, to hear His voice, to feel His loving touch (His good hand resting on you), to experience answers to your prayers – the best way is through Fasting.

We go through many problems in life. God allows some of the problems to continue. It seems He is not going to solve them right away. We have to wait for His time. And that may be many months, even years from now. Why does God keep us waiting? Why these unresolved problems? Why the pain and agony? I cannot explain, but one thing I know – it’s because of these unresolved problems that we cling to God. If we had no problems, no challenges, no trials, we would simply drift away from God. The problems are cords that tie us to Him. Man’s nature is to get away from God. Didn’t Adam and his wife hide from God in the garden of Eden? Don’t we find more pleasure in frivolous entertainment than in getting down on our knees to meditate on the Word of God? It’s this ‘flesh’ in us – our perverse Adamic nature; human nature, we know, is utterly selfish.

Even though we are baptized, we struggle to overcome. It’s an ‘up and down’ life – mostly lived in the flesh, rarely in the Spirit. Now, if we have to live in the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, we must learn to Pray. And prayer is not easy! Do you want to pray? Then learn to Fast! When I was in America, and facing terrific battles on the family front, I learnt to fast and pray. Daniel fasted and prayed, Ezra fasted and prayed, Esther fasted and prayed. It was Denny Kenaston (http://charitychristianfellowship.org/sermons/title/the-secret-of-fasting-and-prayer), who said, “Are you looking for answers to your problems? Fasting with prayer is a necessity if we desire to hear God’s direction. It opens the door to a deeper communion with God.”

If we find the problem huge and unbearable, then the best thing to do is to fast and pray. We don’t have to do a 24 hour fast. Begin by skipping a meal. Spend the time with God’s Word, read a spiritual devotion (not Pentecostal or Charismatic stuff!), and open your mouth and cry out to God. Talk to Him, tell Him how you feel. He will speak to you from His Word; He will give you some promise (Psalm 91.10, Psalm 102.28, Isa 43.16, Isa 43.2, John 14.27 are some of the verses that spoke to me and comforted me in the hour of my distress), and you will feel His peace in your heart. He will show you the way; He will strengthen your inwardly. It’s a spiritual matter, which many Christians don’t know about – because they have been living in the flesh, thinking that in the flesh they can please God. Look at these ‘praise and worship teams’ in the choirs in American churches. Many of the singers are not even born again, and they think they are worshipping God. What about the preachers? They adopt psychological methods, using eloquence and emotion to stir up the crowds. This is an utter waste of time.

Friend, the way to God is to “Deny yourself” (Matt 16.24), take up the cross, crucify your flesh and its carnal desires (Gal 5:24); mortify the flesh (Rom 8.13, Col 3.5). You won’t lose anything by skipping a meal or two (say, breakfast and lunch). Your mind will become sharp and better focused to concentrate on God’s Word, on spiritual literature, and your heart will find words to pray. Prayer has to come from the depths. Otherwise it is lip-prayer, shallow, hypocritical.

Daniel got answers to his fasting and prayer (read Daniel chapter 9). Ezra got answers to his fasting and prayer (read Ezra chapter 8). Esther got answers to her fasting and prayer (read Esther 4:16, and then read the whole book of Esther). These are wonderful examples of how fasting and prayer brought amazing answers, speedy responses, great deliverances from the hand of our mighty, Almighty God.

Are you prepared to fast and pray? We eat too much. Starve your stomach and strengthen your spirit. Junk your TV, that idiot box of utter rubbish. Burn the frivolous fiction you are addicted to. Stop circulating trivial stuff on social networking sites. Keep your eyes away from sensuous things, Psalm 101.3. And get down on your knees before God. Keep a note book and start meditating on the Scriptures. Keep a prayer list and start praying for people. Then the Lord Himself will tell you what to do. His Word will become a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path, Psalm 119.105. He will open doors for you. He will even change hostile hearts. And He will give you a calm and restful spirit.

And once you break your fast, and taste your food, you will find it tastes better than ever. And you have given your poor stomach a well-needed rest.

Do you aspire for a deeper Christian life? A life that is truly blessed and a blessing to others? Then please begin the discipline of fasting and prayer immediately. You will see wonders in your life. God will lift you up on to a higher, spiritual plane, Psalm 27:5,6. You will come to know the true and living God. And your life and testimony will be a blessing to all around you! John 7: 38.

JK

Note: When fasting, I take liquids. There are different kinds of fasts – the Daniel fast, for example. Cut out the meat, and dine on vegetables. The main idea is that the belly should not dominate you; Phil 3.19. You don’t have to carry your fasting to extremes; that becomes legalistic. In rare and serious cases, fasting without taking food and water may be done. The Spirit will guide us in these matters.

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THANKSGIVING AND PRAISE

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I’m learning about prayer. Prayer is most difficult for a believer, because it is essentially a spiritual exercise. Believers tend to be more into reading God’s Word or being involved in various kinds of ministry (preaching, helping in church, doing gospel work, etc), rather than spending time alone in prayer. We have lots of books telling us how to pray, how to improve our prayer life, and even (explaining the technique of) how to praise God before praying. This is all fine, but when we get down on our knees what do you think happens? We find it difficult to concentrate, our mind wanders, there are many distractions; we find the whole exercise of praying alone to be very tiresome, and before long we are worrying about things in the domestic sphere (our children, the home, duties to attend to, and so forth). We soon realise that the flesh within us hates prayer. (I haven’t mentioned how Satan diverts our attention by getting the doorbell or phone to ring, just when we have got down on our knees to pray.)

But I must come to the subject of thanksgiving and praise. There are basic steps that we have to follow in the matter of prayer. The first step is learning to thank God for the many practical helps given over the day or over the week, His acts of deliverance, His providential care, His comfort and protection. Yes, we must count our blessings, and get into the mode of thanksgiving. The Bible says, “Enter into His gates with thanksgiving!” Psalm 100.

Thanksgiving is related to the practical life. Praise, on the other hand, is related to the spiritual life. We don’t praise men, we thank them. Praise is reserved for God. (We can use the word ‘worship’ here, because praise and worship go together.) Thanksgiving is related to practical help, practical deliverance, practical acts of providential care. No doubt God is concerned about our physical, material, temporal life. But God is spirit, and we must learn to worship Him in spirit and in truth, John 4.23, 24.

Let us talk about the other, spiritual realm, the realm of praise. In praise we focus on who God is, what His glorious attributes are, and on the great work of salvation that He has effected in our lives. (I am talking to born-again believers; a nominal Christian will not understand what I’m saying.)  When we receive help from men we don’t praise them, we thank them; we reserve our praise for God. Why? Because God is the ‘first cause’, the source of all blessing. God may use men, or nature, or a casual ‘fortuitous’ incident; but He is the Cause. Then again, praise is linked with faith. Even when we don’t receive the divine help asked for, even when we feel that God has not answered our prayers, we continue to praise Him. Why? Because ‘it is written’- and what is written in God’s Word is true, it will come to pass, it will never fail! Praise is based on the Word of God. We believe that the Word of God is infallible, inerrant, true, and God’s promises are steadfast and sure! Even if the promise is not yet fulfilled, we praise God. Why? Because ‘it is written’. God said it! (And when God speaks, it is done! Psalm 33.9) God is merciful, gracious, true, faithful, wise, strong, powerful, caring, comforting, benevolent, good, gentle, patient, loving. (Just a few of the wonderful attributes of God!) God is love, is joy, is peace; and He is in control. His throne, His kingdom rules over all! Psalm 103.19. His thoughts and purposes for us are very great; Jeremiah 29.11; Revelation 1;5,6.

As we keep praising God for who He is, we begin to experience His divine hand in our lives. His promises are fulfilled; His Word proves true. We learn that He is a faithful God, merciful, just, wise, strong, caring, comforting, good, gracious, gentle, patient and loving. We read about His attributes in the Bible, now we experience those attributes in our lives. We are able to say boldly, “I know that my God is gracious and merciful, faithful and true. He is unfailing, unchanging. What He has spoken has been proved in my life.” Now we learn to wholeheartedly praise, worship, bless, exalt and magnify the Lord.

I hope you understand what I am saying. We look into God’s Word, and we read about who God is and what He has done and what He will do – and everything He does and will do is according to His divine benevolence, munificence, generosity, compassion, justice, righteousness, faithfulness, grace and love. Often we may be hurting in the ‘outer man’, but in the ‘inner man’ we praise God by faith – faith that is based on His everlasting Word! So even though we feel disappointed, troubled, sorrowful, nevertheless we open our mouth and give glory to God – because whatever He does in our lives is for our good (Rom 8.28), and He does it in His unsearchable wisdom and His unfathomable love. God hurts, but He heals (Hosea 6:1,2). And what God has begun in our lives, He will complete! (Phil 1.6)

Praise, therefore, is related to God’s revelation, His faithful Word, the Holy Scriptures. When does praise begin? The day we are born again. That day we enter into a new realm, the realm of the Holy Spirit. Now all things have become new, 2 Cor 5.17. Can an unbeliever praise God? It is possible. But to truly praise God in an acceptable way, we must get to know God personally, intimately: in other words, we must be born again! It is only when we are born again that true heart-felt spiritual praise emerges from our hearts. And this is the praise that glorifies Him! Psalm 50.23.

But the life of praise has to grow, to expand and deepen. How? By spending time with God, alone with Him on our knees, in close communion with our Divine Father, by reading God’s Word, by meditating on the Scriptures, by hearing God’s voice, by obeying Him (readily, implicitly), by walking in truth and holiness, by confessing our failures, being washed by the Blood of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour, being led by the Holy Spirit. The Word of God and prayer, Acts 6.4, 1 Tim 4.5. This is our spiritual food, our spiritual exercise. (And this is where the enemy attacks us, deceives us through his wiles. He will not allow us to spend time alone with God and His Word, in meditation, in thanksgiving and praise, in intercession. The ministry in the ‘secret place’ – how many times has Satan robbed us of close communion with our Lord Jesus Christ!)

These are random thoughts. I am still reflecting on the subject of thanksgiving, praise, worship and adoration. These are stages in the spiritual life, the life of prayer and intercession, the inner life, the deeper Christian life – the life that truly wins, but the life that we sadly are neglecting. That is why we are not able to declare boldly, “O taste and see that the Lord is good!” We ‘hear’ Him, sometimes we ‘see’ Him, but rarely have we ‘tasted’ Him! (In our five physical senses, touch and taste relate to a deeper level.)

May God give us grace to obey Him every hour, every minute, of our lives. To Him be all the praise and glory!

JK

P.S. I hope to write about Song and Praise at a later date.

 

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