Mark 14: Maundy Thursday (4)

Foot washing

“Three times a year all your males shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread (הַמַּצּ֛וֹת), at the Feast of Weeks (הַשָּׁבֻע֖וֹת), and at the Feast of Booths (הַסֻּכּ֑וֹת; Deuteronomy 16:16 ESV).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Holy Week as we know it is often celebrated at the same time as the Jewish Feast of Unleavened Bread (Festival of Matzos) often called Passover.  Dates differ because of differences in the calendar rules.  In Jesus’ time, Passover was one of three festivals that required the faithful to travel to Jerusalem.  The other festival familiar to Christians is the Feast of Weeks commonly known as Pentecost.  The Feast of Booths is a harvest festival in the fall.

Passover Backstory

Passover commemorates the release of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.  God instructed Moses to tell the Israelite to sacrifice a lamb and place the blood of the lamb over their door-posts so that the angel of death would pass them by.  On the night of the Passover, the angel of death struck down the first born of Egypt and passed over the Israelite households.  Pharaoh reacted immediately by expelling the Israelite slaves.  They left so quickly that there was not time to bake bread for the journey.  Instead, they prepared bread without letting the dough rise—unleavened bread (Exodus 12).  Mark 14:12-26 describes how Jesus and his disciples celebrated the Passover meal in Jerusalem now remembered as the Last Super.

Covered by the Blood

The Last Super is important to Christians because it introduces the new covenant in Christ.  The word, covenant, found in v. 24 appears nowhere else in Mark’s Gospel and alludes to the covenant meal that Moses and the Elders of Israel shared with God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:9-11).  The grim symbolism of the wine as the blood of Christ is an allusion to the blood of the Passover lamb (Exodus 12:7) which alerted the angel of death to pass over households displaying the blood.  In this sense, as Christians we are (like the door posts) covered by the blood of Christ.  By Jesus’ blood our sins are forgiven and we are passed over (Hebrews 9:11-28).

Where Does Maundy Thursday Come From?

Where does the name, Maundy Thursday, come from?  One theory is that it is Middle English for the Latin word, Mandatum, which means command.  According to some traditions, Maundy Thursday focuses on Jesus’ lesson on servant leadership:  “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14 ESV).

Mark 14: Maundy Thursday

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Lester: Threats to Self and Values Evoke Anger

Lester_review_20200128 Andrew D. Lester. 2007. Anger: Discovering Your Spiritual Ally. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

During my chaplaincy training in a psych ward, I had an elderly patient who had an anger management problem. He frequently got into altercations with other patients and would get violently angry when staff members served him the wrong foods. In talking with him, he claims to have murdered a man and have served 7 years in jail for this crime. He also ruminated about assaulting annoying patients but, being partially paralyzed with a stroke, was physically incapable of acting on his ruminations. Efforts to work with him on his anger problem proved ineffective.


Being curious on how to work more effectively with such patients led me to Andrew Lester’s book, Anger: Discovering Your Spiritual Ally.  This book is a popular version of a more detailed and technical book: The Angry Christian: A Theology of Care and Counseling also by Westminster John Knox Press (2003).

Defining Anger

Lester observes that we get angry when we feel threatened.  While we could be angry because of a physical threat, most often we get angry because of psychological threats:  threats to our values, our beliefs about right and wrong, our expectations about the way good people should act… (14). When threatened: The intensity of our response depends on the amount of personal investment we have in the values, beliefs, and means that are being threatened (28).  Following this “threat model” of anger, our first responsibility when we get angry is to recognize that we feel threatened and to identify the nature of the threat (29).  Anger always has an object.

Anger Model

In copying with anger, Lester presents a 6 step model:

  1. Recognize anger;
  2. Acknowledge anger;
  3. Calming our bodies;
  4. Understanding why we are threatened;
  5. Evaluating the validity of the threat; and
  6. Communicating anger appropriately (62).

This list sounds suspiciously like how other authors suggest speakers cope with hostile questions—anger is often suppressed and expressed in a devious manner [1].  Lester notes that anger is often camouflaged as procrastination; actions that frustrate, embarrass or causes others pain; nasty humor; nagging; silence; sexual deviance; and passive-aggressive behavior (88-89).  My chronically angry patient, for example, was probably abused at some point—probably in prison—and this abuse returned as uncontrolled anger (84).

Does God Express Anger?

Does God get angry?  Did Jesus get angry? [2]  Lester notes that Jesus was fully human and is portrayed in the New Testament as a person with the full range of human emotion, including anger (46)  For example, Jesus asks:

Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill? But they were silent.  And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, Stretch out your hand. He stretched it out, and his hand was restored (Mark 3:4-5 ESV).

Lester observes that God is not normally thought to be vulnerable, but following the threat model of anger God’s values—justice and love [3]—are sometimes threatened in ways that could evoke anger.  Lester believes that God’s wrath is particularly associated with defense of his compassion and love—neither arbitrary nor capricious like other gods of antiquity (56).

A biblical scholar would note that God wrath (in the form of curses) is required by the Mosaic covenant:   

But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you (Deuteronomy 28:15 ESV). 

If covenantal obligations require God’s response to transgressions by the Nation of Israel [4] in the form of curses, then how much more would God’s wrath be poured out on those Gentiles, such as the Canaanites, that ignore him and trample on his law and gospel?  Lester’s threat model is helpful in biblical interpretation, for example, in the conquest of Canaan and, later, the Jewish exile to Babylon—even if postmodern sentiments are offended.  In effect, values (laws and treaties) undefended are not really values.

Outline of Book

Lester’s Anger is a short book written in 7 chapters, including:

  1. Reconsidering Anger;
  2. Why Do We Get Angry;
  3. What Does the Bible Say?
  4. Did Jesus Get Angry?  (And What about God?);
  5. Dealing with Anger Creatively;
  6. Anger Can Be Destructive; and
  7. Anger as a Spiritual Friend.

These chapters are preceded by a preface and followed by conclusions.


A lot more could be said about Lester’s work.  I was impressed by Lester’s comment about the role of anger.  Anger always has an object.  Some objects of anger are righteous; many are not [5].  Like Jesus himself, a good Christian should express appropriate anger at injustice, idolatry, and innocent suffering (58,109).  Looking around today at the blatant immorality and abuses of human dignity, where is the indignation?  Where is the outrage?  Anger is sometimes appropriate.


[1] See, for example, review (

[2] Also see post (

[3] Lester (55) cites:  O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 ESV)

[4] Consider the commissioning of the Prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 3:18-21 ESV).  Even God’s prophet must honor the boundaries that God lays out for him or his salvation will be at risk. [5] The Apostle Paul reminds us:  Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV).

Lester: Threats to Self and Values Evoke Anger

Also see:

Elliott: God’s Emotions Inform Our Emotions

Crucial Conversations Target Productive Dialog

Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture

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Chapter 1 of Revelation: Alpha and Omega


I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord God,
who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty (Rev 1:8).

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Revelation is a mysterious book. The metaphorical language in Revelations makes it a difficult book to understand. The question arises whenever an artist paints a picture: what colors does he favor?


The Apostle John is unique when he says that he is speaking prophetically (Rev 1:3). We should not be surprised about this because the New Testament word for prophet is really apostle—the sent one. The confusion arises because we normally define a prophet in the narrow Greek sense of the word as someone who forecasts the future. Hebrew prophets also do this but a Hebrew prophet’s job description is defined covenantally. A prophet is someone who either introduces a covenant (like Moses) or reminds people of their obligations under a divine covenant and the consequences of covenantal disobedience (like Elijah).

The Covenants

Biblical covenants are modeled after ancient treaties. The full description of a covenant contains these parts: A title or preamble, historical prologue, stipulations, deposition and regular reading, witnesses, blessings and curses. If the stipulations (laws articulated in the covenant) are kept, then the covenant provides for blessings. If not (sin under the covenant), then the covenantal curses are evoked. The five major Old Testament covenants are: Adamic/creation covenant (Genesis 1-2), the Noahic/recreation covenant, (Gen 9:1-17), the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 15), the Mosaic covenant (Exod 20-24), and the Davidic covenant (2 Sam 7:1-17).

The Apostle John paints his picture of the future focusing on allusions to two covenants: the Adamic/creation covenant and the Davidic covenant. For example, John writes: To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God (Rev 2:7). This is an obvious reference to Eden in Genesis 2:9. The Davidic covenant is likewise brought to mind every time John mentions words like reign or kingdom or takes images from the Prophet Daniel who likewise evokes many images of kingly power. Revelation evokes an image of an uncreation event as the end-times draw near and we find ourselves in a new relationship with animals and exotic creatures, like angels, and a new kingdom (Isaiah 65:25).

The New Covenant

What about the New Covenant that we have in Christ? Covenantal language is all over the New Testament, but is especially obvious in the book of Matthew. One outline is: preamble (Matt 1:1,21), prologue (Matt 1-3), stipulations (Matt 5:18-20,14:28-29, 17:9, 19:16-21, 22:36-40, and 28:18-20), reminder (Matt 26:26-28), witnesses (Matt 1:1-17, 1:18-2, 3, 3:17,17:5), blessings (Matt 5:3-11), curses (Matt 23:13-30, 26:24).

Can you identify the covenantal language in Revelations that Apostle John uses to outline his version of the new covenant in Christ?

Interesting Resource

Bauckham Writes Theology of Revelation 


1. Do you have questions from last week? Did any important events happen in your life this week? Do you have any thoughts that you would like to share?
2. What is the purpose of the Book of Revelation? What is the basic theme of chapter 1? (vv. 1, 19)
3. Who is it addressed to and by whom has it been delivered? (vv. 1, 4, 9)
4. How does John describe himself? (vv. 1, 9-11)
5. What is a prophet? What is the point of prophecy? (vv.2-3, 9-11, 19)
6. Who is Jesus Christ? (vv. 5-7, 12-16)
6. What genre(s) does John write in? (vv. 1, 4, 10)
7. Seven churches are named? Who are they? Where are they? (vv. 4, 11)
8. What is the significance of the number seven? (vv. 4, 12, 16, 20)
9. How do you interpret verses 4-6?
10. Read Daniel 7:13. Where else have we seen this verse cited? What is the significance of this reference? (Matt 26:64) (vv. 13-15)
11. Read Zechariah. 12:10. How do you interpret this verse?
12. What is significant about verse 8?
13. Who is writing this epistle? From where is he writing? When? (vv. 9-10)
14. What are the lampstands? What is their purpose? (vv. 12-13, 20)
15. What are the keys? (v. 18)


Niehaus, Jeffery. “Covenant and Narrative, God and Time” pages 535-59 of Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society. 53:3, 2010.

Chapter 1: Alpha and Omega

Also see:

Chapters 2-3 of Revelation: Tools in Interpretation

Christian Spirituality 

 Looking Back 

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Importance of Meta-Narrative

simplefaith_web_01172017A meta-narrative is a grand story which contains and explains the other stories that we observe. The meta-narrative of scripture, for example, is often described as a three-act play: creation, fall, and redemption.[1] Continuing the analogy to the theatrical model, Vanhoozer (2016, 98) argues for five acts:

Act 1: Creation, the setting for everything that follows (Gen 1-11)
Act 2: Election of Abraham/Israel (Gen 12-Mal)
Act 3: Sending of the Son/Jesus (the Gospels)
Act 4: Sending of the Spirit/Church (Acts—Jude)
Act 5: Return of the King/day of the Lord/consummation/new creation (Rev).

Other authors describe the meta-narrative of scripture in terms of covenants, such as the covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus, which provide insight into our relationship with God.[2] Each of these frameworks have a slightly different focus, but all serve to offer meaning within the narrative of scripture to the relationship between God and his creation.

The Book of Genesis begins with a picture of a creator God whose sovereignty rests on the act of creation and who creates us in his image as heirs to this created kingdom. Describing God as creator implies that he transcends creation where transcendence implies standing apart from (different than) and above (sovereign over) creation. This act of creation implies love because God allows creation to continue existing after the fall and even promises redemption (Gen 3:15).

This picture of a sovereign God is key to understanding both God’s role in our lives and who we are, especially in the postmodern age because God’s sovereignty depends on God transcending our own little personal worlds. When faith is viewed as a private, personal preference rather than as acknowledgment of our own place in the meta-narrative of scripture, then all meaning is lost. If God is not longer transcendent, God is also no longer sovereign. As the Apostle Paul writes: “And if Christ has not been raised [from the dead by a transcendent God], then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” (1 Cor 15:14 ESV) Jesus’ resurrection validates God’s transcendence; if you do not believe in miracle of resurrection, then the rest of scripture is only of historical interest.

But you say—“that’s not true; we still worship God and still believe in his sovereignty.” Yes, but the words are hollow if Sunday morning worship serves only to jazz us up, but our Monday morning lives differ little from the atheist in the next cubical. If God is not transcendent, then he is also not immanent—not in our thinking, not in our daily lives. A Sunday morning god is no god at all.

This is not a new idea, as we saw above in the reference to the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 15:14). More recently, Phillips (1997, 7) wrote:

“The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs. While their experience of life has grown in a score of directions, and their mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and by scientific discoveries, their ideas of God have remained largely static. It is obviously impossible for an adult to worship the conception of God that exists in the mind of a child of Sunday-school age, unless he is prepared to deny his own experience of life.”

While in modern age weaknesses in our spirituality were exposed to public ridicule, as when Dorothy pulled back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz (1939)[3] to find a white-haired, old man, during the postmodern age our modern institutions have begun to crumble as their Christian presuppositions have been removed and secular substitutions are found lacking. Modern institutions, such as the mega church, public schools, democracy, corporations, and professions, presume objective truth, personal discipline and integrity, and human rights—products of the Christian meta-narrative—and function poorly, if at all, in the absence of that narrative.[4]

In this sense, the postmodern age is in the middle of a transition when our culture no longer looks to our past to find meaning and a new age has yet to emerge on the horizon, giving our time an end-time feel. To use an Old Testament analogy, we find ourselves wandering in the desert having left Egypt, but not yet having entered the Promised Land.[5] The Good News is, however, that it is in the desert where the people of Israel truly came to know, experience, and rely on God.[6]


Bridges, William. 2003. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.

Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Hahn, Scott W. 2009. Kinship by Covenant: A Canonical Approach to the Fulfillment of God’s Saving Promises. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Phillips, John Bertram. 1997. Your God is Too Small (Orig Pub 1953). New York: Simon & Schuster; A Touchstone Book.

Vanhoozer, Kevin J. 2014. Faith Speaking Understanding: Performing the Drama of Doctrine. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Wolters, Albert M. 2005. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformation Worldview. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

[1] For example, see: (Wolters 2005).

[2] For example, see (Hahn 2009).


[4] Secular values are a poor substitute for a Christian character, in part, because they are lightly held, not deeply ingrained. It is like comparing a foundation of sand with one of stone when building a house on a floodplain (Matt 7:24-29). Jesus’ insight into housebuilding may sound cheeky, but secular society deifies the individual, which makes sense only in dealing with adversities that an individual can deal with. Once adversity grows to overwhelm the entire society, individual rights and problem-solving are ignored and irrelevant—only a society unified under God can withstand such a challenge. The image of an ant shaking a fist at a shoe comes to mind; united as an army of ants, however, the wise foot will forebear to crush the ant.

[5] Bridges (2003, 43) makes the point that it took Moses maybe 40 days to get the people of Israel out of Egypt, but it took about 40 years to get the Egypt out of the people (Num 11:5). The point is that transitions begin with people looking backwards; proceed through a long period of uncertainty; and end as people began to adapt to the new environment (Bridges 2003, 100). After 40 years in the wilderness, it took new leadership, Joshua, to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land.

[6] As God tells Moses: “And you shall say to him [Pharaoh], The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness.” (Exod 7:16) In other words, God was inviting the Israelite people to rediscover the God of their fathers through adversity—this paradox of blessing through adversity must have blown Pharaoh’s mind! (Card 2005, 16) After all, the entire sacramental system of the ancient world implicitly associated blessing with bigger sacrifices that only the wealthy could offer. And, of course, the wealthy were not inclined towards experiencing adversity!

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2 Corinthians 3: Lifting the Veil

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Did you know that you are Christ’s letter of recommendation?

As I worked to publish my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, this year, one of the hardest things for me to do is ask for friends and colleagues to review my book and for well-known authors to read the book and write blurbs. I am too proud; I want to believe that I am independent and self-sufficient.  Asking for recommendations requires that I swallow my pride and admit that I need someone else’s help.  This is usually something painful for me to do.

The Apostle Paul walks this path in chapter 2 of his second letter to the church at Corinth.  Paul poses a rhetorical question, writing:  Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? (v 1)  His response is surprising: You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. (v 2)  In giving the law to Moses, God wrote on tablets of stone; in presenting the Gospel through Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit, God writes on our hearts (v 3).  We are Christ’s letter of recommendation to the world.

Paul then uses a word that sounds strange to us:  glory.  Glory is a translation from the Greek word, doxa (δόξῃ, BDAG 2077), which means: the condition of being bright or shining, brightness, splendor, radiance. Paul is making reference to experience of Moses when he brought the Ten Commandments down from my Sinai to the people of Israel—

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God…And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil over his face. (Exodus 34:29 and 33 ESV)

The glory of God was so profound that Moses himself began to glow!

Paul then begins a comparison between the Law of Moses and the grace of Jesus Christ.  He writes:  For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. (v 9)  The law kills (the ministry of condemnation) while grace gives life (the ministry of righteousness; v 6).  In other words, Paul is saying that if you think that Moses glowed, you will glow even more in the grace of Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.  However, Moses’ veil not only covered his face, it veiled the hearts of the people hearing the law (v 15) and prevented them from experiencing God’s grace.  In Jesus Christ, this veil was lifted (v 16).

This is the process of becoming a letter of recommendation.

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Galatians 4: Slave and Free

Pencils by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

And because you are sons and daughters, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a child, and if a child, then an heir through God (Galatians 4:6-7).

Aren’t you glad that our relationship with God is not transactional?

What if God were like a Facebook friend who after one “bad hair day” simply unfriended you?  Who would ever be comfortable in their relationship with such a god?  Could you ever really love God knowing that you were constantly being evaluated?  Or, turning the question around, could you ever really love God knowing that your love was purchased with wealth or fame?

Aren’t you glad that our relationship with God is a real relationship?

In Galatians 4, the Apostle Paul describes what it means to be a child of an (unconditional) promise.  When we are promised a gift (like friendship), we need only believe in the promise.  The promise is unconditional.  We do not have to do anything to earn the gift.  That is what the word, gift, implies.  The good news is that God’s grace is a gift.

Law works differently.  Law is a conditional promise.  If you obey the law, then you earn the reward promised under the law.  For example, if you apply to become a U.S. citizen, the law covering citizenship applies.  If you meet the conditions of this law, then you are eligible to become a citizen.  If you do not meet the law’s conditions and you desire the reward of the law, then you are a slave of the law (and your desire) until you meet those conditions.

With this argument concerning conditional (law) and unconditional (grace) promises, Paul is making two points:

  1. Being under law is like kids waiting to be old enough to inherit from their parents (vv 1-3).  Being under law implies immaturity.  Mature adults are under no such restrictions.  What adult would prefer to be a kid again?
  2. Being under gospel implies freedom from law, but it does not imply freedom from relationship.  We are God’s adopted children—children of the promise (vv 5-7, 23-28).  Free people do not behave like slaves because they are in relationship with their parents which includes having an inheritance (v 30).

Paul’s discussion of our freedom in Christ continues into chapter 5.

Paul’s discussion of the relationship between Abraham and his two wives, Hagar and Sarah, has generated a lot of discussion over the years.  Paul argues that being under the Mosaic covenant (the Law of Moses) is like being a slave to law.  Because Hagar was a slave woman, he equates the two (law and Hagar) in his allegory.  This causes heartburn for Jewish interpreters because the Jews were biological descendants of Sarah, not Hagar.

Paul’s argument revolves around God’s covenant with Abraham.  The Jews have not taken to heart the second half of the covenant to Abraham:  And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing (Genesis 12:2-3 ESV).  The covenant with Abraham required that Abraham become a blessing (וֶהְיֵ֖ה בְּרָכָֽה) [to the nations]—which essentially means that the Gospel needs to be told.  The Galatians were like Sarah (and the Jews were not) because they more completely fulfilled Abraham’s covenant obligations.  At a minimum, sharing the love of God has to start with sharing who God is!  Niceness is not enough; obeying the law is not enough (Galatians 5:14).

Our question is:  Are we children of Hagar or of Sarah?


  1. How was your week? Did anything special happen?
  2. Who attended the Worship Workshop and would like to give a report?
  3. Do you have questions from chapter 3?
  4. According to Paul, how is a child like a slave? (vv 1-3)
  5. What does this analogy have to do with law? (v 3)
  6. What is the role of Christ? (vv 4-7)
  7. What is the “fullness of time” mean? What about “born of a woman”? (v 4)
  8. What is the argument—that was then; this is now—that Paul is making? What transition is he referring to? (vv 8-10)
  9. What is a transition? (beginning, middle, and end)
  10. What is Paul’s fear, as expressed in this rant? (vv 11-20)
  11. What is Paul’s argument here in verse 11?
  12. What is Paul’s analogy to Hagar and Sarah? (vv 22-31)
  13. How is the law like Hagar; how is it not? Why would Jewish interpreters be upset?

Galatians 4: Slave and Free

Also see:

Galatians 5: Healthy Boundaries 

Galatians 3: Law and Gospel 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

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