Neither Here Nor There (#worshipshort)

There is a great deception in the Church today that embraces the mindset that if an assembly of believers merely does the externals of “worship” well, they’re doing worship well.

Across the landscape of Christianity there are vastly different ideas as to what it means to do the externals of “worship” well.  To some it means black-painted walls, house lights down, stage light/fog machine effects up, reclaimed-wood backdrops, and a ripped-kneed worship band belting out the latest pop worship songs.  To others it’s rigid pews, stained glass windows, house lights always up, and a non-emotional three songs and out song list (with no song newer than thirty years old included.)  Still to others, it’s a packed living room, carpet littered with half-filled coffee cups, a couple guitars, participatory singing/song leading, “glory-cloud effects” coming from the kitchen from a pot-luck “burnt offering”, and kids snuggling on laps or coloring on the floor.   Although these settings are very diverse, the groups that participate in them might each believe that their way of doing worship is indeed the most “well done.”

Similarly, in the time of Jesus, there were three main worship environments that various groups of Jews were involved in: the temple in Jerusalem, the temple on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria, and the synagogue system scattered throughout Judea and all the lands of the Diaspora.

When Jesus spoke with a woman at “Jacob’s well” in Samaria (John 4:4-26), she sought His perspective as to where God’s people ought to worship:

“The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.'” (vs. 19-20 NKJV))

Instead of replying in favor of one or the other, He pointed beyond them both to a coming, more glorious temple where all true worshipers would one day worship.  That God-filled place would be internal, within the spirits of those He would redeem, not in an external here or there:

Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the FatherBut the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.'” (John 4:21,23-24 NKJV)

Today, in the Church, we have our own worship “mountains” that we gather unto.  These are most often distinguished by the diverse external environments and expressions that have been created and/or adopted.  I believe Jesus would say to His people, however, “It’s neither here nor there; neither on this ‘mountain’ nor that!  What Father is interested in is what’s going on inside of you, between you and Him.  He is greatly seeking those who will enter into His Presence within their own spirit and worship Him there in sincerity and truth.  It’s not the outward things that He’s concerned with anymore.  He is seeking your heart.”

The reality is, we can have all the externals of “worship” done very well, and yet true worship before God be very poor.  Although externals in worship have a place, true worship is not primarily a matter of, nor reliant on, externals done well…but on internals done well.  As extravagant, impressive, and respectable as the externals of Jewish worship were in the time of Christ, and even as the externals of Christian worship are in our day, the Lord is looking for something much more glorious.  It is “neither here nor there” but in spirit and in truthMay we meet with our Lord there and worship Him with all of our being, from the inside out!


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What Is the Father Seeking? (#worshipshort)

The all-pervasive atmosphere of heaven is, and always will be, one of unrelenting, passionate worship.  The only reason this all-consuming environment of adoration exists is because of the Triune God who sits enthroned at the center of it all.  The question that needs to be asked, then, is what is it that God is supremely seeking in the midst of this everlasting environment of worship that He has created?

It seems to me that there are two possible answers: either He is ultimately seeking worship, or, He is ultimately seeking worshipers.  Although these two possibilities may seem to be all but synonymous and inseparable, they are actually quite distinct and divergent.  We will trace out these two lines of possible Divine intent.

If God is ultimately seeking worship, then, as the supreme object and sole recipient of that worship, He is ultimately seeking something for Himself.  Furthermore, if worship is what He is ultimately seeking, then worshipers simply become the necessary means to that end.  Lastly, if the supreme reason for God bringing into existence His created beings is to receive worship from them, it would be hard not to conclude that at the core of who God is is something akin to a Divine narcissism or egotism that has an eternal need or desire to feed on the adoration of His subservient creatures.  This paints a rather unsettling picture of the Almighty and one that is quite strained to square with the God revealed in Scripture.

If, however, God is ultimately seeking worshipers, then He is ultimately seeking a relationship with His adoring creatures, not only for His own benefit and enjoyment, but also for theirs.  In this scenario, worship becomes an essential means to His end and also a natural by-product of it.  If this is indeed the case, then at the core of who God is is a Divine love that seeks oneness and fellowship with those whom He has created who choose to lovingly esteem and honor Him.  This paints a picture that is quite different from the first scenario and one which readily squares with the God revealed in Scripture.

I believe that Scripture confirms that this second scenario is indeed the true one.  If we look closely at what Jesus said in John 4:23, for instance, we see that what the Father is actually seeking is worshipers, and that the worship He describes is simply a means to making the kind of worshipers that He desires:

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (NIV)

This revelation of the Father’s heart ought to revolutionize our worship of Him.  When we come before Him, in public or private, let us reckon on the revelation that what our Heavenly Father ultimately desires in our worship is US and not merely our external, or even internal, expressions of praise and worship.  These expressions may be vehicles through which we can engage with Him in spirit and express ourselves in truth, but let us never settle and stop short of the Father obtaining His ultimate desire in our worship, which is us, all of us!

We cannot end this meditation without also mentioning one last thing.  The beautiful reality of this worshipful relationship with God is that as we give Him what He ultimately desires, ourselves, all of ourselves, He, in turn, also gives us what we ultimately desire, HIMSELF, all of HIMSELF!

Such a mutually-giving relationship of love is God’s glorious end in creating and ordaining worship as the never-ending, all-consuming, environment and atmosphere of His dwelling place, surrounded by all of His adoring creatures…including you and me!  Amen!


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Related:
The “Love”-“Hate” Relationship – Part 6a: “Loving God With All of Our Heart” (esteeming affection)
The Cross – The Unlevel Playing Field of Satan’s Defeat (updated repost)

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Blog Update: Introducing “Shorts” (plus two new free resources added)

Hi friends,

I’m sending out an update today to share with you about a “course change” I feel to make here on Christ-Centered Christianity.  For the past decade that I’ve been blogging, I’ve felt a burden to write out and publish some of the larger revelations, burdens, and teachings that the Lord has given to me over the years and led me to share on this platform.  To do so, it has necessitated some rather long-form posts, pages, and multi-post series.  My focus has always been on sharing substantive content rather than try to appeal to the “quick snack” mindset of much online content creation and consumption.  I’ve never wanted to publish anything that did not have the potential to spiritually impact those who read it in a substantial and, hopefully, lasting way.

With that as my intent over the years, and by God’s grace, I feel that I’ve been able to build up a substantial storehouse of Christ-centered teachings and resources for others to enjoy and be edified by.  The latest series, “The ‘Love’-‘Hate’ Relationship”, was the largest and longest of the multi-post series on the blog and upon completing it I felt the Lord speak to my heart to shift my emphasis now to a new approach for the next season of blogging.  The word that came to me was: “shorts.”

Beginning next week, then, I plan to publish posts with a target length of between 500 and 750 words.  (Yes, that’s short for me! 😉 )  The longest of these should be able to be read in approximately 3-4 minutes rather than the more common 15-20 minutes as has often been in the past.  I also plan to publish more frequently with a target of at least one “short” per week.

These posts will also be clustered around certain themes so that each one will not only stand on its own, but will also be part of a larger collection of “shorts” around a particular theme.  (Eventually, I hope to have a permanent section on the blog that will list these themes with their related posts all in one place.  That in due time!)

To start things off, then, I feel stirred of the Lord to focus on the theme of “worship.”  After three or four “shorts” have been posted in keeping with that theme, I will add in the next one while still continuing to build on the first theme as the Lord leads.  The same pattern will follow for additional themes and posts.

I also want you to know that my hope in writing these is that they will be more than mere “quick snacks” for those who read them (i.e. quickly read and, possibly, just as quickly forgotten), but that they will be concentrated, rich portions that when meditated on will supply substantial nourishment to those who are spiritually hungry.  I also hope that they may possibly spark additional collective sharing, insights, and conversation in the comments section!  That would be great!

Before closing out this portion of this post, however, I do need to make a simple caveat that there may still be times when I feel led to write some more substantial pieces, or other forms of posts, but these would be more the exception than the rule for the foreseeable future.

I hope that this new direction will be a blessing to you and that combined with the content already on the blog, will make for a full, well-rounded fair of spiritual food for all who are hungry!

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[FYI…this post down to this point right here is “weighing in” at 574 words, and so if you consider what you’ve read thus far, you’ve got a pretty good idea of what the length of a “short” will actually be like.  😉 ]

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I’d just like to wrap up this update with the sharing of two additional free resources I’ve added to this site under the FREE AUDIOBOOKS section.  Both of these are significant to me because they each, in their own way, stirred up fresh HOPE in me as I listened to them.  If there is one thing that we need at this time I believe it is a reset and restoration of our HOPE!

The first audiobook is, The Life of Charles G. Finney  by Aaron Merritt Hills.  The ministry of Charles Finney gives us a powerful glimpse into what is possible through the life of a radically consecrated, Spirit-filled, Word-filled, prayer-filled, man or woman of God who is given wholly to the service of Christ and the preaching of the Gospel.  There may be those who disagreed with some of his unique measures, and others with some of his doctrinal stances, but the evidences of the manifest power and working of God through his life and ministry cannot be denied!  In this hour in which we live, we need to be renewed in the hope of the mighty manifest working of the God of glory in this world through His consecrated servants and overcoming church!  I believe you will be greatly encouraged and stirred by his testimony!

The second audiobook is The Morning of Joy by Horatius Bonar.  He wrote this extraordinary piece as a requested sequel to His classic work, The Night of Weeping, (which I have hosted on this blog as well.)  Horatius Bonar is becoming one of my favorite spiritual authors because of the depth and richness of his communication of biblical truths.  I highly commend both of these works by Horatius Bonar to you as they touch on some of the most important aspects of our walk with Christ: God’s ordained purpose in suffering and His glorious promise of hope!  May you be blessed by these timeless works!

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Well, that’s all for now!  I look forward to kicking off the new direction next week!  Until then…

All blessings in Christ,
David

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The “Love”-“Hate” Relationship – Conclusion: Loving God With All Our Heart (drawing/unifying effect)

We’ve seen in this series that love is a costly, sacrificial matter, but if all that we are left with is that which is costly and sacrificial, not many of us would be drawn to or endure long at loving God and others.  Love, however, is not only “an esteeming affection” and “a beneficial/sacrificial action”, it is also “a drawing/unifying effect.”  It is the attractive nature and unifying power of love that is its sweetest fruit, its greatest treasure, and its richest reward.  When it comes to loving God according to the costly dictates of the “first commandment” (Mark 12:30), then, the glorious outcome is that it leads us ever deeper into a more perfect union with God in the totality of our being: spirit, heart, soul, mind, and strength!  That is our glorious hope and our highest joy!

As we conclude this series on the “love”-“hate” relationship,  I’d like to focus on this final crowning aspect of the drawing/unifying effect of love by exploring it, along some of the other major aspects of this teaching, as they ultimately ground out and are epitomized in “Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2)

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There is no greater place that the dynamics of the “love”-“hate” relationship can be seen than in the cross of Jesus Christ.

On the one hand, the cross is the supreme expression of costly, sacrificial “love.”  It is there that God manifested the immeasurable height, depth, width, and breadth of His esteeming affection toward us and where He “fleshed out” the most magnanimous beneficial/sacrificial action He could conceive of in the death of His Son for our salvation.  It is, likewise, the place where the strongest drawing/unifying effect of His love is most intensely concentrated and effectually encountered.  Furthermore, the cross is the wellspring of our love for Him as it is the place where He first loved us with all of His heart, with all of His soul, with all of His mind, with all of His strength, and first loved us (His “neighbor”) as Himself!  It is through the cross that God demonstrated to all of creation that He is the supreme “Friend of (our) friend” and “Enemy of (our) enemy”, thereby showing Himself to be our consummate “FRIEND”!

On the other hand, the cross is the supreme expression of “hate.”  On the cross God manifested His holy and righteous “hatred” of all that which opposes, threatens, and violates that which He “loves” as He poured out His wrath upon the undeserving Lamb of God, the sinless sacrifice for the sins of the world.  On the cross, Jesus Christ bore all of the separation and rejection (“hate”) due to the enemies of God as sin, Satan, and the fallen world system were righteously judged.  In contrast, it is also the place where the unholy, unrighteous “hatred” of Satan and sinful man towards God was fully manifested as the most heinous and maniacal forms of torture and suffering were perpetrated on the One whose incarnational Light posed the perfect existential and actual threat to those who “loved” the darkness.

As we consider the immensity and the intensity of the cost and sacrifice incurred by the Son of God on the cross, as perfect “love” and perfect “hate” collided in that awful, glorious place, we should consider that Jesus did not embrace and endure the cross without a joyful hope awaiting Him on the other side.  The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews says, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2 KJV)

As staggering as the unspeakable sufferings of Christ were upon the cross, we ought to be even more staggered by the unspeakable “joy” that was set before Him.  That “joy” was sufficient enough, in measure and magnitude, to enable Jesus at the time of His greatest anguish, pain and, weakness, to victoriously overcome the sufferings of the cross and despise its shame.  In order for it to have such an overcoming effect, it had to have been to Him an even greater positive reality in that moment than the combined negative realities of the suffering, shame, and death of the cross that He endured.  Such an excelling “joy” is staggering to contemplate in the light of such a magnitude of unspeakable opposites to overcome.  We are compelled to ask, then, what exactly was it that comprised Christ’s joyous hope as He faced, fought through, and overcame the excruciating terrors, torments, and traumas of the cross?!

Although it was multi-faceted, the highest and most essential aspect of that “joy” was surely the fruit, the treasure, and the reward of love: perfect unity and oneness with that which is loved.  On the other side of that cross for Christ lay not only eternal union and glory with the Father at His sovereign right hand, but also the day of his wedding, The day of the gladness of his heart.” (Song of Songs 3:11 NKJV)   The anticipation of unity and oneness with His Beloved Bride enabled the Son of Man to endure the suffering and shame of the cross knowing that as His Father put Him into the “deep sleep” (Genesis 2:21) of death, from His own flesh, bone, and blood, His eternal Companion, the Church, would be fashioned and brought forth.  In and by this exceedingly joyous hope He triumphed!!

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The cross lies at the very center of God’s love for us, but it also lies at the very center of our love for God.  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23 ESV)  Years ago in Bible School, one of my teachers shared his perspective on what it means to take up our cross daily.  He said in essence, “Our cross represents whatever it costs us to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.”  He went on to say that that is what it meant for Jesus, and that is what it means for us as well.  Although I’ve never heard it expressed quite that way before or since, I’d say he was profoundly touching on the wisdom and truth of God concerning the cross.

The reality is that our daily cross is irrevocably bound up with the same three aspects that the cross of Christ is bound up with: costly, sacrificial “love”, holy and righteous “hate”, and exceedingly joyful hope.

Costly/sacrificial “love” – Although we’ve spent a considerable a amount of time talking about this aspect of loving God in the last two posts (please see here and here), there is one truth that needs to be strongly emphasized at this point.  And that truth is simply this:  the cross and our “cross bearing” should always and only be understood as those which have “love” as their primary motivation, supreme essence, and ultimate objective.  Any concept of the cross that does not, first and foremost, comprehend it as an expression of costly, sacrificial love is a false concept of the cross.  Likewise, any concept of cross bearing that does not, first and foremost, comprehend it as an expression of costly, sacrificial love is a false concept of cross bearing!  We often think of the first aspect in this regard, but do we often think of the second in this way as well?

It seems that usually our first thoughts of cross bearing are that it represents personal sacrifice, suffering, and/or death to self.  Those are certainly important, inherent aspects, but before we ever get to the sacrifice/suffering/death aspects of cross bearing, we have to understand that what undergirds, embodies, and prevails through the cross is all a matter of love.  Divine love does indeed manifest itself as a sacrificial, suffering, death-dealing “cross” but that is because it ends up causing rival loves within the human heart (to the love of God and the love of one’s neighbor) to be sacrificed, suffer, and, ultimately, be put to “death”.  Those rival loves invariably find their root in the love of self, and so God’s love, when it takes ascendancy within the heart, becomes a radical instrument of sacrifice, suffering, and death to the rival love of self.  Undergirding all of this, however, is Divine Love.

In its deepest and truest sense, then, taking up our cross daily means our taking up of love daily…costly, sacrificial love!  We must lay aside all concepts of cross bearing, then, that are not deeply grounded in radical love for God and others!   This is its first and foremost meaning!

Holy and righteous “hate” – We’ve learned in this series that “hate” is actually generated by the protective nature of “love”, for we “hate” that which opposes, threatens, and/or violates what we “love.”  We’ve also seen that the Biblical concept of “hate” (Hebrew = “sane”, prononced “saw-nay”) is primarily one of rejection and separation. (See Part 2 for more on these aspects.)

Since both the cross and cross bearing are fully grounded in love, we can rightly assume that they each generate a rejection/separation response (“hate”) to all that opposes, threatens, and/or violates what is loved.  In other words, both the cross and cross bearing carry with them a secondary aspect of “hate” that is as inherent as the primary aspect of “love.”  (This is why the cross of Christ is as inherently a place of the love of God as it is a place of the wrath of God.)

This intrinsic, yet opposite, relationship between “love” and “hate” can also be seen in a “directional” sense.  Love has a direction of moving toward that which is loved, i.e a drawing/unifying effect, while “hate” has a direction of moving away from that which is hated, i.e. a rejection/separation response. 

In the natural, if an object stands between two others, as soon as it begins to move closer to one, it automatically and proportionally moves further away from the other.  This is true morally and spiritually as well as “love” draws in one direction, but “hate” separates in the opposite direction in relation to its moral and/or spiritual counterpart.

We cannot move closer to God in “love”, then, without also moving further away in “hate” from that which opposes, threatens, and/or violates what is loved by God and what He commands us to love.  This is the essence of repentance, which is not only a radical turning towards God but also a radical turning away from sin and evil.  For this reason Scripture makes statements such as, You who love the Lord, hate evil!” (Psalm 97:10 NKJV), and also, Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.(Romans 12:9 NIV)

If we are to daily take up our cross, then, we must not only daily take up costly, sacrificial “love” for God and our neighbor, but also daily take up holy and righteous “hate” toward that which opposes, threatens, and violates what God loves and commands us to love.  In other words, we are not only to radically “love” God and others, but also radically “hate” sin and evil.  In fact, the degree to which we have the secondary “hate” dynamic at work in our heart is a good barometer of just how much we actually have of the primary “love” dynamic at work in our heart from which it proportionally derives!

This secondary aspect of “hate”, in addition to the primary one of “love”, then, represent the costly, sacrificial aspects of “love” as embodied in the daily taking up of our cross.  But just as Jesus did not endure the costly, sacrificial aspects of His cross without an exceedingly joyful hope set before Him, so we are not called to endure the costly, sacrificial aspects of “our cross” without an exceedingly joyful hope set before us!

Exceedingly joyful hope – The sweetest fruit, the greatest treasure, and the richest reward of love is its attractive nature and unifying power, or as we’ve called it throughout this series, its drawing/unifying effect.  There is an end toward which love is constantly pressing, pushing, pulling, and progressing.  That end is perfect unity and oneness between those who are drawn together and bound by love.  The love of God toward us and within us will not relent until it has fully and finally obtained its glorious end.

Because of Love, you and I have a hope and a joy laid up for us that is incomprehensible to us now.  “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9 NLT )  Of all that our future glory and eternal gladness may include, the highest, deepest, widest, and most sustaining realities of that joy will spring simply from the perfect unity and oneness we will have with the Triune God Himself.  In that endless Day, we will forever intimately know the unspeakable pleasures of perfect union with the One who is the fullness and perfection of all love, joy, peace, wisdom, power, authority, holiness, beauty, riches, pleasure, patience, kindness, grace, and glory.  This, above all else, is our exceedingly joyful hope!

Since this is the end toward which Divine Love is unrelentingly moving, we might ask what means, if any, does God use in conjunction with or as instruments of His Love to bring about that end.  Generally speaking, there are two necessary dynamics required to bring about perfect unity and oneness.  The first is to supply the necessary unifying forces and factors that draw and hold the elements of a whole together as one.  The second is to remove all disintegrating forces and factors that divide and separate elements of a whole until all that remains are unifying forces and factors.  Thus, the first is additive and the second is subtractive.  The primary means that God employs to engage and empower both of these dynamics in relationship with man is “the cross.”  He employs it perfectly on His side of the relationship, and seeks to employ it increasingly unto perfection on our side as well.

The cross is sufficient to enable and to enact both of these dynamics simultaneously because of its “love”-“hate” nature.  When we personally take up our “cross”, we, first and foremost, embrace the radical “love” of God, which supplies “the perfect bond of unity” (Colossians 3:14 NAS) in our relationship with God and others.  Second and subsequently, we, further embrace the radical “hate” of God that causes us to reject and separate out all that opposes, threatens, and violates the perfect unity and oneness that God loves (i.e. all “sin.”)  Thus in the cross, “love” is additive and “hate” is subtractive.  The cross, therefore, supplies the perfect unifying force and factor, (“love”), and removes all disintegrative forces and factors (“sin”) working “double duty” to create perfect unity and oneness in our relationship with God and others.

In conclusion, then, I’d like to bring this back full circle to my teacher’s definition of what it means for us to “take up (our) cross daily.”  To reiterate, he said, “Our cross represents whatever it costs us to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, with all of our mind, and with all of our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.”  So we see that by embracing the costly, sacrificial aspects of love for God and others we are, in effect, taking up our cross which is the very means that God uses to bring us into perfect unity and oneness with Himself and others.  As we take up our cross daily, then, we can do so with an exceedingly joyous hope comparable to that which the Lord Jesus had as He took up His cross, overcame, and sat down at the Father’s right hand where He longingly awaits eternal union with His glorious Bride!

May such a “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8) be that which draws and compels us to become the kind of radical lovers that our Heavenly Bridegroom is and that He has called us, His Beloved Bride, to be as He draws us unrelentingly into perfect union and communion with Himself!

“Draw me after you and let us run together!  The king has brought me into his chambers.”  “We will rejoice in you and be glad; We will extol your love more than wine.”
(Song of Songs 1:4 NAS)

Amen!


This now concludes this series.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the earlier posts, I strongly encourage you to do so.  This has been, dare I say, one of the most important and ground-breaking series on this blog.  I believe it unveils some very fundamental and essential keys that literally unlock most of life, be it personal, interpersonal, or spiritual. (As lengthy as this series has been too, I still feel as if it has only begun to scratch the surface of these profoundly simple/simply profound truths!)  I pray that you are blessed as you read these posts and that the Holy Spirit gives you insight into all of these matters!  All blessings in Christ!  -David

Series posts: Part 1: “Love”, Part 2: “Hate”, Part 3: “Generational Dynamics”, Mid-series Review/Redux, Part 4: “Building Across the Briar Patch”, Part 5: “Speaking the ‘Love’ in Truth”, Part 6a: “Loving God With All of Our Heart” (Esteeming Affection), Part 6b: Loving God With All of Our Heart (beneficial/sacrificial action), Part 6c: Loving God With All Of Our Heart (beneficial/sacrificial action cont.)

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