Saturday, June 29, 2013

Temptations

TITLE: TEMPTATIONS
SCRIPTURE: Mark 14:32-38
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 29th, 2013
32They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. 34“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” 35Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” 37Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? 38Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”(Mark 14:32-38)

Yesterday, I caught an hour of the reality show, "What Would You Do?" It is about various scenario situations on whether people tend to do the right thing in the midst of temptations and self-gain. A typical episode will comprise a cast of actors and actresses where, one group will play a protagonist and another a victim of his taunting, complete with hidden cameras. Yesterday's scene was about how strangers react when someone finds a wallet, complete with cold hard cash. "Should I return it?" comes the protagonist's question to anyone sitting around him. While in general, there is a sense of people wanting to do the right thing, ie to return it to the Lost and Found, others are tempted by the money as well as the ease of not being found out. After all, what is wrong with just taking the money and quietly returning the rest of the wallet? While some strangers play along the moment they are offered a treat, like having the finder paying for his full meals, or giving the stranger a cut of the find, just to keep quiet, others are adamant that it is not a finder's keepers situation. For them, the owner may very well be worried. The wallet is not theirs in the first place. What about karma?

Temptations come in all shapes and sizes. We are all easily tempted, but that does not make us a sinner. It is when we give in to temptations knowingly that is the problem. Worse, we hook others along as our actions become fused with the temptation, making us a party to the evil scheming. One particular stranger was initially happy and supportive of the finder of the wallet, keeping the find. When confronted with lights and cameras, he changes tack, switching from black to white the moment the camera appears. Indeed, what would you do if you find a wallet that is full of cash? What if the cash runs in thousands of dollars? Will that affect your decision to return it? Or will you decide to return only part of it, and pocket the rest?

Temptations are much closer than we think. In fact, this week, I like to remind readers that temptations are always on a lookout for us. They are coming straight at us, coming to a vulnerability near us. 

1) Doing the Right Thing

We are all born in the image of God. Sin has tarnished this image and turn us away from God. As a result, we are getting from bad to worse. We are sinners needing grace and forgiveness. The trouble with many is not that they are sinners. The trouble is that in spite of their knowledge of their sinful selves, they continue to dabble in wrong doing without a care in the world. They proceed according to what they judge is best, even when it is clearly wrong. They try to rationalize away any action that leads to the ultimate self-gain, even when it means it is wrong. Take for example the one who seems to be sitting on the fence when asked whether one ought to return the lost wallet. The pure and righteous will stand firm that the wallet needs to be returned to the rightful owner. The selfish person will insist that it is a "finder's keepers" world. You find it, you keep it. I find it, I keep it. All is well as long as we all keep quiet about it.

The problem I find is the middle group that waffles and waits for something juicier to happen. This middle group has all the characteristics of a schemer at work. Maybe, this group is waiting until all security is clear before making a move. He is waiting until the timing is right so that he can pounce upon anything for self-gain. Maybe, the finder will offer him a cut of the find for the price of silence. He waits. He observes. He stays interested but keeps his cards hidden from the rest. He is physically uninvolved but mentally and spiritually, fully engaged in a world of temptation and personal gain.
All the great temptations appear first in the region of the mind and can be fought and conquered there. We have been given the power to close the door of the mind. We can lose this power through disuse or increase it by use, by the daily discipline of the inner man in things which seem small and by reliance upon the word of the Spirit of truth. It is God that worketh in you, both to will and to do of His good pleasure. It is as though He said, 'Learn to live in your will, not in your feelings.' (Amy Carmichael)
Lust is a temptation. Lust is that second look.

2) The Tempter and the World of Temptations

Whether it is Internet pornography or blatant theft in the streets, people who do wrong are always hiding or trying to hide. They put up a righteous front. They want to appear holy and pure. Yet, at the back of their minds, they sin terribly. Authors Arnie Cole and Michael Ross, in their book, "Tempted, Tested, True," share the following data about temptations in our society.

  • Four or five people will face at least one temptation in a given day.
  • Men encounter twice as many occurrences of temptation as women.
  • A typical experience of being tempted lasts seven to ten minutes.
  • Most people give in to at least one temptation each day.
  • The average Christian feels spiritually stalled four months out of the year.

Sometimes we feel that we can do a better job than Adam and Eve. Some people, with a self-confident "holier-than-thou" attitude tend to believe that when faced with the forbidden fruit before them, they will never eat it. The truth is, we have often given in more than what we think.

Temptations. It's closer than we think.

3) Fighting Temptations Start Now

When Jesus instructs his disciples to watch and pray, it is simply because he understands the full extent of temptation and sin. Every second we are not preparing to fight, we are readying ourselves to lose. Every time we fail to pray, we are relying on our own strength. Every minute we believe we are at peacetime, we forget that spiritual warfare is happening right at our doorsteps. Perhaps, the battle has already started, and we are already very late in the game. Cole and Ross tell of their experience with a lady called Marco from Houston who shares honestly about her constant yearning for the forbidden stuff.

"I usually regret it, because I then feel like I'm not understood or am then more vulnerable. I've been betrayed too many times in the past. That's why prayer is so predominant in my life." (Arnie Cole, Tempted, Tested, True, Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2013, p91)

Prayer is a predominant weapon of the spiritual life. The words of Jesus continue to point to this as a core weapon of choice. "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak." Fighting temptations start on our knees. The phrase "watch and pray" bring along two simultaneous actions: Watching and praying. It shows us that prayer is not a passive act of spirituality. It is very much dynamic and active. It is a way of keeping our eyes fixed on heaven, and at the same time maintaining a watchful eye on happenings on earth. For temptations do not switch off when we go into our prayer closets. Temptations remain lit up regardless of our praying times or positions. Like a predator constantly on a lookout for food, temptations are swimming all the time seeking out victims oblivious to its presence. The element of surprise is often the tempter's greatest weapon.

Temptations. It is a form of child's play with serious adult consequences.

4) Praying and Watching: Eyes on heaven and on earth

Watching and praying is Jesus' teaching for us to remain heavenly minded and earthly aware. When teaching his disciples to pray, Jesus teaches us to pray that God's will be done in heaven as well as on earth. In watching and praying, we are watching for God's will to be done everywhere we go. Unfortunately, the disciples near Gethsemane fail to do just that. They fall asleep at the most critical of times. When told to sit and wait for Jesus, they slept and became totally disconnected from the impending doom Jesus has to face. Such a behaviour is very prominent for the modern man too. Even in Churches, look at prayer meetings. Under the most ordinary circumstances, when there is not much major events happening, people shy away from prayer meetings. The moment a tragedy happens, people pack churches, like the aftermath of 9/11, or after some horrible events. The point of Jesus is this. We must always be watching and praying, not because of an immediate need or concern, but lest we fall into temptations. For temptations do not rear their ugly heads only at certain times. They flaunt their wares all the time. The 17th Century English Puritan John Owen gives this advice:

"I am a poor, weak creature; unstable as water, I cannot excel. This corruption if too hard for me, and is at the very door of ruining my soul; and what to do I know not. My soul is become as parched ground, and an habitation of dragons. I have made promises and broken them; vows and engagements have been as a thing of nought. Many persuasions have I had that I had got the victory and should be delivered, but I am deceived; so that I plainly see, that without some eminent succour and assistance, I am lost, and shall be prevailed on to an utter relinquishment of God. But yet, though this be my state and condition, let the hands that hang down be lifted up, and the feeble knees be strengthened. Behold, the Lord Christ, that hath all fullness of grace in his heart, all fullness of power in his hand, he is able to slay all these his enemies. There is sufficient provision in him for my relief and assistance. He can take my drooping, drying soul and make me more than a conqueror." (John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006, 132)
Temptations: Fight it like a man.

5) Practical Steps to Fight Temptations

Four Ways to Fight Temptations
My readers. Temptations lurk around us all the time. We need to be on our guard. Watchfulness must be supplemented with much prayer. Prayer must be accompanied by watchfulness. Both need to be maintained at the same time. The Christian life, if lived correctly is not about sitting back and relaxing away from the world. In fact, the best way to live in the world now, is constant prayer and watchfulness. For temptations are always on a lookout for weak and unprepared souls. The devil is not interested in our definitions of  varying degrees of sin. All he needs is to gain an entry into our souls, and he will work from there. Let me close with Cole and Ross' four keys to spiritual transformation in fighting the temptations of this world.

First, we need to engage the Bible daily. For if we are not reading or meditating on the pure Word of God, we are immediately vulnerable to the impure thoughts and exposure of this world. Second, we need to be aware of our own weaknesses, and to let God touch us in these areas. When battling evil thoughts, think of Philippians 4:8 which says:

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8)

Third, pray a lot, for prayer is essentially a relationship with God. Don't delegate God away to just a few minutes in our box we call, "Quiet Time." God is more than just our measly minutes we allocate within 24 hours. God is present with us at all time. In prayer, we remind ourselves of God's presence.

Four, be a part of a community to be accountable to. Jesus wants community, but the disciples are more interested in sleeping. As a result, Jesus has to go through it alone. We have the Church to be a part of. We can play a part by going as regularly as possible to pray for others. We can watch and pray together, that God's will be done everywhere we go.

My friends. Watch and pray a lot. In doing so, we are fitter spiritual soldiers. Not only that, in the power of Christ, temptations will flee.

THOUGHT: One of the most serious threats to the human spirit is boredom. Boredom is the breeding ground for wickedness. Bored people are easy targets of the flesh and the Devil. It is like putting a bull's-eye on your chest with a sign: "Tempt me. I'm easy!" Why? Because boredom is contrary to the natural, God-given impulse for fascination, excitement, pleasure, and exhilaration. (Sam Storms)


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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Is Superman a "Type" of Jesus?

TITLE: IS SUPERMAN A "TYPE" OF JESUS?
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 20 June 2013

It's officially Summer Holidays for my kids. As a mini-celebration, our whole family went to watch the latest blockbuster movie, "Man of Steel," (aka, Superman). It was a full house. My daughter met a friend who did not manage to get any tickets over the counter. Thankfully, we purchased our tickets online a couple of hours ago. Even then, despite being almost half an hour early, we had to split up our seating inside the packed cinema. Many people had reserved seats for their friends. Reluctantly, I sat at the third row from the front. We all enjoyed the movie despite the different seating arrangements. At least I got to see Clark Kent and Lois Lane up close and personal.

The special effects are stunning. The acting is professional. The storyline incorporates some of the best from the previous Superman films and is re-written to give viewers a bigger picture of how Superman was born, sent to earth, saved the world, and lived among human beings. It is somewhat like the first two Superman hits (starring the late Christopher Reeve) being reconstituted into one long almost two and a half hour movie. Of course, "Man of Steel" benefits from the latest in computer and digital media technologies. With highly advanced computer animation, computer graphics are rendered on-screen, so polished that viewers can hardly tell the difference between virtual reality and the real world. I admit. There are moments when I compare compare the comic strip superhero with the real Jesus of Nazareth. It seems like there is an intent right from the start to insert some kind of a Jesus-like Saviour image in this movie.

I was right. Almost.

The people in Hollywood know that since the recent successes of faith-based movies such as Fireproof, Courageous, Soul Surfer, and several others, there is a sizeable Christian audience that cannot be easily ignored. At the same time, they cannot do it too overtly lest it offends atheists and people of other faiths. The easiest way then is to incorporate it quietly in as secularized fashion as possible the themes. At the same time, they go loud when it comes to publicizing the movie to pastors and clergymen, so that they in turn can encourage their congregations to go see the movie and discuss the parallels between Superman and Jesus. A ministry resource has also been set up here for that purpose. It is a brilliant move. In fact, the producers of the superhero movie has reported box-office success, thanks in part to the megachurches in the US.

I am a little ambivalent with regards to comparing the role of Superman with Jesus. What I will try to do is to highlight in what way Superman is like Jesus, and in what way the movie is not.

Beware. There are spoilers from this point on.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Learning Patience In A Hyper-Culture World

TITLE: LEARNING PATIENCE IN A HYPER-CULTURE WORLD
SCRIPTURE: Colossians 3:12
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 13th, 2013

"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

Have you noticed how your teen has become more easily bored? Even with the latest apps or technological gadget, not only are they less easily satisfied, they are also more ready to jump from one latest-and-greatest thing to the next even greater and even later thing. Welcome to the new world. A world in which people are increasingly overstimulated on their visual senses, that they are demanding things faster, more sensational, and more dramatic. One example is the movie. In the 60s, acts of violence are pretty much a slap on the backhand compared to what we are seeing nowadays. Previously, violence is about cowboys in a gunfight with Indians, or people engaged in fist fighting, etc. Nowadays, the violence on TV and the movies show gruesome images of heads blown off, bodies smashed up, and whole groups blown up with a horrific terrorist attack. I find sci-fi movies like "Starship Troopers" particularly difficult to watch. In the film, the director is quite liberal in the showing of human soldiers being literally ripped apart by alien insects. Video games are also increasingly more violent and visually bloody. "Common Sense Media" has listed the Top 10 most violent video games here. One does not simply fire a round of bullets. The player has in his possession, digital arsenal from bombs to splattering cannons, missiles and ferocious knives, anything to enhance the pleasure of killing the enemy. It seems like winning is not the only objective. Annihilation is. 

This week, I will reflect on the plight of an over-stimulated, hyper-saturated, and quick-gratification culture.

A) The Narcotic of Sensationalism

You see them everywhere. At the supermarket tills, at the convenience store, or at newstands all over the city. Sensational news reporting is here to stay simply because people are quickly and easily attracted by them. Sensational headings sell. Many of the biggest culprits are tabloids that substitute the ordinary with the sensational, making something bigger than what they actually are, just like plastic and cosmetic surgery on the face.  The purpose of the sensational headlines is to sell more papers. The problem is, it works. On the internet front, modern news websites entice people to click with engaging titles that deal with sexual scandals, death defying acts, violence and gore, out of this world headings, etc.  I have fallen victim to some of these attractive ads as well, some knowingly while others unknowingly.  For example, on AOL Mail, each time one logs out of his account, he will be automatically sent to a AOL front page containing multiple news sources from A to Z, from business news to sports, from celebrity gossip to weird happenings around the world.

Snapshot of aol.com (June 13th, 2013) (Credit: AOL)

Just take a look at the snapshot in the picture above. Sex sells. Beautiful women and large busts too. Even adding in some juicy stuff to an ordinary thing and you get additional clicks to please your advertising friends. With social media like YouTube and Facebook, sharing "Fear Factor" or "You Must Watch This" videos is so easy and convenient.

There is a friend I know who likes to post sensational videos on social media. He posts it so much that I begin to wonder whether he is addicted to such stuff. I call this the narcotic of sensationalism. Such a drug basically numbs us from feeling anything much about the ordinary. No longer is one satisfied with plain words. One needs pictures. One looks for multimedia offerings. One prefers stuff that goes straight into the bloodstream of hyper expectations. One expectation then leads to a higher expectation. One bullet is not enough. One expects a stream of bullets. In the movies, one missile is too gentle. One needs a ballistic missile that splits into multiple intelligent heat seeking devices that not just blow up, but wipe out entire cities. Hit TV series like 24 is another example of how violence becomes more and more pronounced with each season. I shudder when I watch how the hero Jack Bauer is able to take more hits to his physical body, and how the enemy is able to come up with more and more out-of-this-world feats.

With viral videos increasingly being linked to profits, Youtube currently hosts many videos that makes sensation the staple diet of many, relegating the ordinary pretty much to the sidelines, to be the exception rather than the norm. My concern is this. Are we becoming so hyper-saturated that our learning has become dependent on such narcotic of sensationalism?

B) The Death of Patience

The problem with sensationalism is this. It window dresses the ordinary with artificial stuff. The second problem is, it leads to the demise of patience. One popular quip marketed by certain medical professionals is this: "Be patient, not a patient." Having dealt with many cases of people speeding or driving recklessly, causing accidents along the way, they advise motorists to exercise a bit more patience on the roads. This is simply because many of these road accidents could have been easily avoided if people are a little more patient. That way, it reduces the number of patients that hospital staff have to deal with each day. My medical friends tell me that weekends are notorious for drunk driving incidents and road accidents.

I remember driving along the highway, observing the speed limit as best as I can. Along comes a speeding car quite a distance away behind from me. The driver swerves from lane to lane and finally tailgates me with flashing lights. It seems like he cannot wait for me to change lanes, and so he moves dangerously in and out the other lanes in spite of the lack of safety distance among the various vehicles. His action causes many other drivers to tap their brakes. You can tell that one act of recklessness leads to many drivers getting worked up and irritated. One bad thing leads to another.

Another case was that of an impatient driver waiting for a parking lot. For some reason, something made the driver very angry and he decided to do a speed reverse without much thought. As a result, he smashed at another vehicle that had just entered the car park. Society has a big problem with impatience.

C) Patience and Wisdom

The Great theologian Augustine of Hippo once said, "Patience is the companion of wisdom." Not only that, Jesus says in Luke 21 about the trials and tribulations that will come in the last days. Being able to wait upon the Lord's perfect timing is not only a virtue, it is survival too.

"In your patience possess ye your souls." (Luke 21:19, KJV)

What has patience got to do with wisdom? I believe there is something to do with time as well as the way that we are created. Life is not simply about listening. It is about intentional listening for things that truly matter. Recently, I watched a closing scene of the hit series "Castle." The current series had the two stars, Kate and Castle having a dating relationship. At the end of one episode, after cracking a difficult case, Kate asked Castle the question: "Castle, where are we going?"

Thinking that Kate was asking about what activity to do next, Castle proudly introduced his willingness to do a full body massage for his beloved Kate. If only Castle had listened more carefully at what Kate was asking. Like many women, Kate wanted to know what the future of their relationship is going to be. Will it be a just-friends relationship? Will it be leading to marriage? Where actually is their relationship going?

Unfortunately, Castle amid his cheeky smile missed everything by a huge mile. He had rushed too quickly to see things from his own perspective, that he had missed seeing things from Kate's perspective. We have a lot to learn when it comes to living as a responsible member of the community. Part of the problem in our culture is that we have replaced the important things with the less important stuff. Rabbi Harold Kushner writes with great insight about the purpose of life:

"The purpose of life is not to win. The purpose of life is to grow and to share. When you come to look back on all that you have done in life, you will get more satisfaction from the pleasure you have brought into other people's lives than you will from the times that you outdid and defeated them."

If in doubt, choose Community
We fail to practise patience enough because we have misunderstood life altogether, caring for ourselves instead of looking out for one another. Life is not about accumulating more and more possessions. It is about caring and sharing. It is about living for the sake of others. It is about looking out for one another. Instead of climbing up the ladder of independence, we need to be spending time building bridges of interdependence. For us in a hypersaturated world of sensationalism and quick-fixes, we need to pace ourselves by spending more time with one another. We need to learn inter-dependence and to cultivate the virtue of relying on community to help one another. Move away from the deceitfulness of self-reliance and independence. For if we fail to live as community, we are planting the seeds of loneliness. Patience can be cultivated when we live together, fight together, and learn together. Sensationalism paints over an artificial veil over human beings. Community living through patience and goodwill removes the artificiality and encourages authenticity.

Patience is a virtue. With patience, we are not easily enticed by the worldly and the sensational tabloid style reporting. We do not need to catch up frantically with the latest and the greatest. If we have patience, we will see less honking on the roads or reckless speeding. We see less heated tempers at carparks, and more livable lifestyle even in busy places. With patient listening, we see less misunderstanding in relationships and more communications and connections among loved ones. With patience, we cultivate a virtue that not only helps build bridges in communities, it pleases God.

If the future kingdom of God is likened to a garden, we will know that like gardening, relationships need time to build up. Patience is a virtue to help us do just that. So my friends, in a hypersaturated with of information and over-information, pause regularly. Take a step back. Smell the flowers. Turn off your internet. Notice your neighbourhood. Say "Hi" and pause to listen for conversation starters and bridge builders. That is how we grow to love a culture of neighbourliness.

THOUGHT: " Faith, and hope, and patience and all the strong, beautiful, vital forces of piety are withered and dead in a prayerless life. The life of the individual believer, his personal salvation, and personal Christian graces have their being, bloom, and fruitage in prayer." (E.M. Bounds)



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Copyright by SabbathWalk. This devotional is sent to you free of charge. If you feel blessed or ministered to by SabbathWalk weekly devotionals, feel free to forward to friends, or to invite them to subscribe online at http://blog.sabbathwalk.org . You can also send me an email at cyap@sabbathwalk.org for comments or enquiries. Note that views expressed are personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of any organization.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Thinking Of Worship

TITLE: THINKING OF WORSHIP
SCRIPTURE: Ps 29:1-2
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: June 7th, 2013

Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness. (Ps 29:1-2)

A pastor that I used to work with once told me to distinguish "singspiration" from "worship" for a Sunday worship service. The initial songs and choruses were deemed to be "singspiration" stuff which are light and lively. The later hymns and music are then considered suitable enough for "worship." At that time, I just took his words for it, that there is a difference between the different types of songs. I did not question his experience or choice of words. What I did is to keep it in my memory bank, to be reflected later on. Today, I think about the dichotomy of modern worship services and I shudder.

Why is there a need to call some songs "singspiration" and others "worship?" Are all choruses under the former category and hymns in the latter? Is there such a thing as "singspiration" in the first place? Is "singspiration" the kind of activity that is more about positive musical programming or a self-help activity to beef up our tired senses? In some Churches, they use children's songs. One example is the song "Happy All the Time."
HAPPY ALL THE TIME
I'm inright [point in], outright [point out],
upright [point up], downright [point down]
Happy all the time [clap with each word]
I'm inright [point in], outright [point out],
upright [point up], downright [point down]
Happy all the time [clap with each word]

Since Jesus Christ came in
And took away my sin I'm…
I'm inright [point in], outright [point out],
upright [point up], downright [point down]
Happy all the time [clap with each word]
We have a load of fun in doing this action song. When I look at it from a human standpoint, is it really true that one can be "happy all the time?" Maybe we are indoctrinating a fairy-tale like Christianity into our kids, for the world is certainly NOT filled with happiness all of the time.

As I think about it, the very separation of "singspiration" and "worship" is already wrong from the start. For when we call the entire Sunday service as "worship service," we need to let it BE the worship in every element of the service. In fact, the moment we get out of our beds, into the car, getting ushered, through giving, listening to sermons, and to the end of the entire service, we are already participating in various acts of worship. Romans 12:1-2 reminds us that our bodies are to be living sacrifices, to do what is holy and acceptable to God, letting them be our "spiritual act of worship." Call it light singing or heavy singing, what we do in the name of the Lord is to be labeled "worship." No more, no less.

This week, I like to reflect on some of the songs that we commonly use, that worship leaders need to be theologically aware and be focused less on style but more on substance; less on fluffy words but more on theological truths; less on selves but more on God. I will subsequently provide additional tips for worship.

A) Meekness and Majesty

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