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STUCK! Chapter Six: Where Do I Start?

Let’s imagine that you’ve read this far in this book and come to realize, “Yes, I’m a bit stuck in my Christian life! Boy, am I glad I bought this book!” (or words to that effect). “But where do I start?”, you might ask. That’s where the so-called “spiritual disciplines” become very important.

Much has been written about the spiritual disciplines. Richard Foster’s work Celebration of Discipline is a classic in the field. We are really talking about developing holy habits which grow us in godliness. Some put the disciplines into categories like the following:

The Inward Disciplines:
MEDITATION
FASTING
STUDY
SIMPLICITY
SOLITUDE
SERVICE

The Corporate Disciplines:
CONFESSION
WORSHIP
GUIDANCE
CELEBRATION

Let’s think about each of these for a few moments. Concerning the “inward disciplines,” MEDITATION involves memorizing a passage of Scripture and thinking about it as much as you can. For example, one might memorize Nehemiah 8:10 where he says to the people of Israel, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Now, you might memorize only the “do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength,” although some might focus on the first part of this verse! The point is that during the day (or during the hard night hours) you can say to yourself, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” You might consider reading up on the context of that challenge by Nehemiah to get some background, but the point is to meditate, ruminate, marinate in that verse!

A few words about FASTING. I don’t believe Scripture commands us to fast (that is to go without food for a particular period of time in order to focus upon the Lord). On the other hand, one might quote the Lord Jesus who said in Matthew 9, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.” (v. 15). The bridegroom has been taken from us. So voluntary fasting makes sense. Missing a meal to concentrate on God’s Word or to prostrate oneself before the Lord in prayer for a serious situation is quite counter-cultural in our frenetic, food-obsessed world, but spiritually healthy. Practicing this discipline is to be private. Jesus criticized the Jewish religious leaders who didn’t keep their fasting private. Jesus said, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.” (Mt. 6:16).

How about fasting from technology? We’ve become more and more dependent on our smart watches, iPhones, and video streaming services. Unplugging from those can do us a world of good in bringing us some quietness, solitude, and focus.

The spiritual discipline of STUDY is very close to my heart as a teacher. I was a lousy student in high school. And even worse when I went through my first year in Bible college. Then I met my wife to be — and all laziness and joy was gone. She looked at me and said, “You have a theology exam on Friday, right?” I knew it would be a mistake to lie, so I said, “Yes, Dear.” Then she said, “Listen, Buster.” (My name has never been ‘Buster.’ So I realized she was serious). “If you do not ace your theology exam on Friday, I will not date you on Saturday.” I aced the exam on Friday, got on the Dean’s list thereafter, and completed a Master’s and a Doctorate over the next few years. All because of religious blackmail.

Believers in Jesus — whether they recognize it or not — are life-long, even eternity-long students! We will forever be studying the character of our God. So let’s get started now. The unstuck believer is pursuing biblical subjects and learning what God wants them to learn.

Life can get quite complicating, can’t it? The spiritual discipline of SIMPLICITY involves the elements of creating margins in our lives, learning to say no when appropriate, and focusing our attention on the Lord instead of the things of this world. Creating some space for ourselves can be a challenge, but a healthy life needs alone time as well as interaction time with others. A great teacher of preachers once said, “Men, learning to say ‘no’ will do you more good than learning Latin!” Active, involved believers are often the first ones to be asked to get involved in a ministry or take on some additional church duties, etc. Sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is say, “No. I’m quite involved right now.”

Focusing on the Lord is the third element of SIMPLICITY. We speak with Him in prayer and He speaks to us through His Word. We realize that we are responsible for our thought lives and we ask for help in applying the challenge of Philippians 4 where the Apostle Paul writes, “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.” (v. 8).

The simple practice of SOLITUDE is a piece of cake for an introvert like me. Introverts like to be alone. But biblical solitude is much more than aloneness. It is a concerted time with the Lord, an intentional distancing from others and the distractions of this world to simply spend time with the God who wants to spend time with us.

The great theologian Bob Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody!” SERVICE is the practice of thinking of others before ourselves, asking how we might encourage another in their Christian life. Ephesians 2 says we’ve been “appointed to good works.” And those works are to be done for the sake of others.

The so-called corporate disciplines have to do with the Body of Christ, the church. We are to engage in CONFESSION as James says: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.” (James 5:16, KJV)

Of course we are to give ourselves to WORSHIP and that should regularly happen with God’s people. GUIDANCE is often given by the Holy Spirit through God’s people. And we should all engage in CELEBRATION as we together praise the Lord and seek to serve Him.

HOMEWORK:
1. Read a book like Foster’s Celebration of Discipline or Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney and J.I. Packer. Discuss your book with another believer.

2. Find an accountability partner with whom you can work on a couple of the inward disciplines. Check up on each other’s progress and consistently pray for one another.

3. Discuss one of the corporate disciplines with some of the leaders in your local church. Ask how you can help them improve those disciplines among the people of God.

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2022 in STUCK!

 

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STUCK! Chapter Five: Who Do I Need?

I’m an introvert. I’ve gone through the personality tests (Enneagram, Myers/Briggs, Briggs & Stratton, etc.) and I test out as an introvert. An “expressive” introvert. But an introvert nonetheless.

What that means is that people pretty much exhaust me. I force myself to go to parties and social gatherings, but only because my dear wife is an extrovert. She loves people. Me, not so much. I’m quite happy being by myself with occasional meetings with my wife and maybe a few grandkids.

I’m overstating this a bit, but introverts like me like quiet, peace, solitude. We spend a lot of time reflecting, listening to soft music (except for early Chicago), and avoiding crowds. My daughter, who is also an introvert, says she’s going to get us t-shirts that read, “INTROVERTS UNITE! BY YOURSELVES! IN YOUR OWN HOMES!”

I would be perfectly happy living in a cave (with good internet service, of course). But that’s not God’s best for me.

Just Jesus and Me!
One of the popular songs when I was a young believer was entitled “Just Jesus and Me.” It came at the height of the “Me” generation and fit in quite nicely with young adults who wanted to “do their own thing.” And we certainly didn’t need the stuffy environs of the church to pursue “our own thing.”

It seemed that the overemphasis on individuality and self-awareness quickly led to a kind of self-idolatry. And an ignorance of the Scriptures. Afterall, don’t we  read in Genesis 2 that Adam, before the fall and before the creation of Eve, was declared by God as “lonely?” What?! Wait a minute! He was in the Garden, which had not yet been affected by sin, and was in perfect fellowship with His Creator. And he was lonely?! Yes. And God saw that it was not good.

We need human relationships. And, therefore, we need the church. Now by “the church” I don’t mean the universal Body of Christ. Every believer belongs to that by conversion. I mean a local church, a group of believers to which one belongs and to which one contributes.

The Church — Why Bother?
Philip Yancey, who’s written more books than C.S. Lewis and Joel Osteen combined , wrote a small book years ago with the title The Church — Why Bother? It seems to me that there are four reasons to bother with a local church.

The first reason is that I want to join Jesus in His building project. He said that on the rock of Peter’s confession of faith in Him, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt. 16:18). Now, one may argue that He was referring to the “universal” church, but how is the universal church seen in this world? Through imperfect, yet authentic, local churches.

The second reason I want to bother with the local church is that the overall tenor of the New Testament focuses on the community of God’s people as gathered in local places. They are certainly not without their problems, but we have the Corinthian church, the church in Ephesus, the church in Philadelphia, etc. Geographically planted local churches are encouraged, admonished, rebuked even by the New Testament writers. Much of the New Testament is useless if one remains outside Christ’s work in the local church.

I’ve heard Twenty-First Century Christians say, “Oh, that we were like the First Century Church!” But wait a minute! Do you mean like the Corinthian church (which was failing miserably in both discipleship and evangelism, see I Cor. 5)? Or the Galatian church (which had abandoned its freedom in Christ and was returning to an unbiblical Judaism)? Or the Ephesian church that had left its first love (Rev. 2:4)? Of course we should seek to emulate the very best of the early church and also recognize where it often went wrong. But we should be involved, connected, committed to what the Lord Jesus is doing in the local church.

The third reason I want to bother with the local church is that there is much work to be done in both growing believers in and winning unbelievers to the gospel. I’m not sure the local church should be a place of evangelism, although I’m convinced the gospel ought to be made clear whenever the Word is preached to God’s people. Evangelism is to happen outside the walls of the local church. And not just by paid staff! Every believer, the Apostle Peter tells us, is to “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (I Pe. 3). The believer in Jesus who doesn’t give a whit about the lostness of others is in dire need of repentance!

And it is in the local church where we are to practice the ordinances (some churches call them “sacraments”) ordained by God’s Word: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Baptizing one’s self or taking communion at home in one’s pajamas isn’t the biblical pattern.

Discipleship must happen in the local church. We need intentional, risky relationships which we develop in order to build up God’s people and help one another grow in Christlikeness. Of course that is not confined to the four walls of a physical building we call the church. True discipleship happens through connections that believers pursue with the family of God.

The fourth reason I want to bother with the local church is that God has ordained spiritual leaders (elders and deacons) who are tasked with caring for my soul! If I’m disconnected from a local church, I’m removing myself from their encouragement, influence, and correction. Formal membership may not be outlined in the New Testament, but it is quite clear that every believer is to use his or her gifts to build up others, to pray for and submit to godly leaders, and to practice the priorities modeled for us by the early church. Those priorities are set forth in Acts 2:42 where we read, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”

In short, we need truth, friendships, worship, and prayer to thrive in the Christian life. And that’s to be found in the local church.

HOMEWORK:
1. Read Yancey’s little book Church — Why Bother? Write out a one-page defense of the church after you’ve read his book.

2. Find a friend in your local church with whom you can discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your church. Many today are staying away from the church because of what is called “church hurt.” Reach out to someone who is making that choice and seek to win them back to the local church. Pray with your friend for your church’s leaders and your church’s mission.

3. Adopt an elder or deacon in your church and covenant before the Lord to pray for him every day. Meet with that person and find out what some of their needs are.

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2022 in STUCK!

 

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Bless-ed! 52 Blessings You Have As a Believer! (Blessing #7)

BLESSING #7: The Blessing of a Training Community

Seen on a church sign: “This church is not full of hypocrites. There’s always room for more.”

I believe it is critical for the Christian to have unsaved friends. And one of the many benefits (other than being a friend of sinners like Jesus was!) is that they remind us what we have in Christ that they don’t yet have. My friend Mike got me thinking about what I have as a believer and what those who are lost don’t have.
Asked about his status before God, Mike thinks he is just fine. But God’s Word says we are lost and under God’s judgment without Christ.

Let’s think about a seventh benefit of the believer and it is that —

7. WE HAVE A COMMUNITY (BEING BUILT BY JESUS) WHERE WE CAN BE TRAINED TO DO GOD’S WORK!

THE BLESSING: Here, of course, we are talking about the local church. But it’s important to remember that the believer in Jesus is part of the universal Body of Christ (another meaning of the term “church”). And the local church is an expression of that universal Body.
The local church is not to be simply a gathering place of like-minded people. It is to be a training ground for serious disciples of the Savior.

Unfortunately, it seems that for many Jesus followers today the local church has become optional. Some serve only when convenient, attend only when the weather is too bad to go to the lake, and contribute only when there’s a bit of extra money or time. But that’s not how it’s supposed to be!

THE BIBLE The local church — imperfect as it often is — is what Christ is building! Jesus declared to Peter in Matthew 16 —
18 “. . . I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Peter had just professed his faith in Christ. And now he is invited to join Jesus in building something that even hell itself can’t overthrow! But please don’t miss the point that those who join Peter in this building project are given the authority to declare peoples’ sins forgiven or unforgiven based on their response to the gospel!

I want to be part of His building project. I want to give my best — my best abilities, resources, time — to what Christ is building. Don’t you?

ACTION STEPS: 1. Thank the Lord that you as a believer get to do your part in building this hell-conquering project called the church! Text or email someone in leadership in your church this week and express your appreciation for their work.
2. Read Phillip Yancey’s short book Church — Why Bother? and discuss what you learn from it with another believer.
3. Ask yourself the hard question — How can I more fully support what Jesus is doing in my local church? And am I being trained to do what He wants me to do? Pray every day this week for wisdom in serving in your local church.
PRAYER: 4. Pray for your unsaved friend that he will see that the church is for those in the family of God. The family needs to worship together, serve together, and be together. It may be valuable to have some “seeker” events in your church to which you can invite your lost friend. Pray that he will see his need of Christ and join the family!

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2022 in blessings

 

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Some Thoughts on the Book “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” (Post #19): Chapter 18- “Jesus’ Legacy”

We move now to Chapter 18 of Martin Thielen’s book What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian? Entitled “Jesus’ Legacy” this chapter’s subtitle is “Is the Church Still Relevant?”

This is a strong chapter on the importance of the church. Jesus promised He would build His church — and we get to be part of that building project!

Thielen tells several stories of churches he has served. As a place of joy and tears, enthusiasm and disappointment, growth and service, the local church offers many opportunities to get involved in each other’s lives.

MY RESPONSE: I have no real criticism of this chapter on the church. I do wish that Thielen would speak more clearly of conversion as he gives the stories of those who grew up in the church.

After listing the many events of one weekend, the celebrations and even a funeral, Thielen asks the question, “How do people live without a community of faith?”  Great question.

May the Lord encourage each of us to be fully-committed members of a local church, to pray for and support its leaders, and to use our God-given gifts to build up that body for His glory!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2019 in church

 

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The Church as a Dilapidated Old House — A Metaphor?


We saw this house on a trip from Augusta, Georgia. IF we think of the church, what aspects of this house remind us of the great amount of work we need to do (with the Lord’s help) in building local churches that glorify Him? Of course, He is building His universal church. But our local churches often suffer from a variety of challenges.

Suggestion:  Print copies of this picture and ask your Bible study or small group to draw arrows to places or problem areas that remind them of some of the needs of the local church.  I’m make some of my suggestions in a later post.

Last chance, friends: I just did a 40 minute webinar with my son Brian on “Seven Mistakes Writers Make.” You can see it below!

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2018 in church

 

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20 Quotes from Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop’s New Book on Community

“It turns out something everyone is talking about—authentic community—is bound up in something people rarely ever talk about: church membership.” (The Compelling Community, 54)

“Pity the poor church leaders—in churches both large and small—who will someday give account for flocks that are so amorphous that no one really knows who’s inside the church. Pity the poor church attenders who never commit to obey a particular set of church leaders and instead attempt responsibility as their own shepherds—a responsibility they were never intended to fulfill.” (59–60)

“Christ gave the church ministers of the Word not to effect change, but to equip others to effect change. The Sunday morning sermon isn’t the finish line for Word ministry, it’s the starting line.” (90–91)

“Good books are little time-release capsules of culture-transforming teaching that you can spread around your church. Give them away often (extracting in exchange a promise to read them), and bit by bit you will change how your people think about church.” (123)

“How you run your schedule on Sundays says much about what you expect of your people. What if they’re ushered from the parking lot to the nursery and right into your theater-like seating area—then gently rushed out afterward to make space for the next service? It says that church is primarily about the experience of what happens during the service rather than the relationships that form around the service. . . . Consumers rush in and out of the service, viewing church as a spiritual ‘drive-thru.’ But providers show up early and, as able, stay around afterward. They see church more as family and less as an event.” (144, 145)

“I am quite certain that your church is not the best place for everyone. Some may find it too big; some too small. Some may find your leadership too autocratic; some too passive. Some may find your spiritual environment exhausting; some may find it bland. Use every departure as an opportunity to reexamine your ministry, but never assume that every departure is a mark of failure. Your church’s job is to shepherd every member to the greenest pastures, even when it means shepherding them into another faithful church.” (167)

“If your church culture lauds those who singlehandedly “win” non-Christians to faith, set a better example. Pray that when God brings a friend of yours to Christ, your church community will have so embraced him that he wouldn’t actually know who “won” him to faith.” (192)

“Absent supernatural community, the church can’t compete with the world to attract non-Christians. For people bent on pleasure and ambition, the world will always be a more attractive place than your church to spend a Sunday morning. You can’t out-world the world.” (193)

Please click on the link below for some additional challenging thoughts about what our church ought to be!

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/20-quotes-from-the-compelling-community/

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2018 in church

 

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Some of My Favorite Quotes: George Bernard Shaw on Life!

George Bernard Shaw was an Irish playwright, critic and polemicist whose influence on Western theatre, culture and politics extended from the 1880s to his death and beyond. He wrote more than sixty plays, including major works such as Man and Superman (1902), Pygmalion (1912) and Saint Joan (1923). With a range incorporating both contemporary satire and historical allegory, Shaw became the leading dramatist of his generation, and in 1925 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. (Wikipedia).

He once wrote, “This is the true joy of life: the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself to be a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clot of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

Having in his youth proclaimed himself an atheist, in middle age he explained this as a reaction against the Old Testament image of a vengeful Jehovah. By the early twentieth century, he termed himself a “mystic” . . .  In 1913 Shaw declared that he was not religious “in the sectarian sense”, aligning himself with Jesus as “a person of no religion”. In the preface (1915) to Androcles and the Lion, Shaw asks “Why not give Christianity a chance?” contending that Britain’s social order resulted from the continuing choice of Barabbas over Christ. In a broadcast just before the Second World War, Shaw invoked the Sermon on the Mount, “a very moving exhortation, and it gives you one first-rate tip, which is to do good to those who despitefully use you and persecute you”. In his will, Shaw stated that his “religious convictions and scientific views cannot at present be more specifically defined than as those of a believer in creative revolution”. He requested that no one should imply that he accepted the beliefs of any specific religious organisation, and that no memorial to him should “take the form of a cross or any other instrument of torture or symbol of blood sacrifice”. (Wikipedia).

That’s a great quote!  I would make one change to it, however.  I would change the word world to the word church.  Here’s my version:  “This is the true joy of life: the being used up for a purpose recognized by yourself to be a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clot of ailments and grievances, complaining that the CHURCH will not devote itself to making you happy.” (your comments?)

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2018 in life

 

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Time for a Great Joke (sleeping in)

On a Sunday morning, a mom went to her son’s room to wake himScreen Shot 2015-07-03 at 6.47.57 AM for church.

“I’m not going,” he announced.

“Why not?” Mom asked.

“I’ll give you three good reasons. First of all, I was up really late last night. Second, I don’t like those people and, third, they don’t like me,” he said.

“Well, I’ll give you three good reasons you WILL go to church,” said Mom. “First, you need to go to church. Second, you’re 48 years old. And third, you are their pastor.”

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2016 in ministry

 

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Time for a Great Cartoon! (learning)

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 8.26.20 AM

Can we talk? For some of us, studying/learning does not come naturally. We look for any excuse we can find to let others do our thinking for us. We might resent anything that seems like homework — and to take notes in church?! (It wouldn’t even occur to us).

But what if we looked at the local church, not as a social club for saints, but as an Screenshot 2015-12-06 05.28.24educational environment for redeemed sinners who have a lot to learn? Here are five suggestions I have to encourage and produce learning-committed believers:
1. Encourage discussion of sermons and Sunday school lessons.
2. Take notes during your pastor’s messages — and even ask him questions (polite ones!) after the service.
3. Have your spiritual leaders (= “elders”) read and report on important books for the congregation to also read (or stay away from!).
4. Occasionally, have a debate on a controversial topic on which Christians are divided. We once had a debate in our Bible college on Calvinism versus Arminianism. I would recommend that the strongest Calvinist in your church ought to defend the Arminian side and the most ardent Arminian defend the Calvinist side! That way it is not a debate of personalities, but of issues. Other matters that could be debated would be: divorce, spiritual gifts, just war vs. pacifism, immigration, gay marriage, etc.
5. Grow in your own ability to think through the implications of the Christian faith. I have my students read what I call “books that boil your blood before you get past the preface.” This is not for new believers, but for those who have been saved for a while.  Have them read books that raise questions for which we Christians must have answers!

Your thoughts?

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2015 in learning

 

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Psalms of My Life (Psalm 122)

Psalm 122

A song of ascents. Of David.Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 5.31.56 AM

I rejoiced with those who said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
    in your gates, Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is built like a city
    that is closely compacted together.
That is where the tribes go up—
    the tribes of the Lord
to praise the name of the Lord
    according to the statute given to Israel.
There stand the thrones for judgment,
    the thrones of the house of David.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
    “May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
    and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
    I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
    I will seek your prosperity.Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 5.33.25 AM

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in the book of Psalms

 

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