I Exalt You, O God: Encountering His Greatness in Your Private Worshipby Jerry Bridges
As the world becomes ever more impersonal, hectic, and stressful, our hunger grows for the reality of God’s greatness in our lives. We seek moments of personal worship and praise to God...we desire His awesome presence. Now Jerry Bridges, one of this generation’s most influential and personal/b>
Hungering and thirsting for God’s majesty
As the world becomes ever more impersonal, hectic, and stressful, our hunger grows for the reality of God’s greatness in our lives. We seek moments of personal worship and praise to God...we desire His awesome presence. Now Jerry Bridges, one of this generation’s most influential and personal Christian writers, guides you into God’s throne room for an intensely personal time of worship. You’ll exalt God for...
• His Greatness...beyond measure, beyond compare
• His Holiness...transcendent majesty
• His Wisdom...skill and splendor on display
• His Love...the infinite love of an amazing Father for His child
Along with clear, compelling, biblical teaching on these four aspects of God’s nature, I Exalt You, O God includes a generous scattering of prayers that will guide your heart into reverent praise and thanksgiving. As a result, you’ll come away with a fresh and deeper desire to fall before God’s presence with heartfelt praise for the vastness and the wonder of His greatness, His holiness, His wisdom, and His love.
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HE IS WORTHY
What is worship?
In Scripture the word worship is used to denote both an overall way of life and a specific activity. When the prophet Jonah said, "I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land" (Jonah 1:9), he was speaking of his whole manner of life.
In contrast to Jonah's words, Psalm 100:2 says, "Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs." The psalmist there speaks of a specific activity of praising God. This is the sense in which we normally use the word worship today.
These two concept, of worshipa broad one and a more narrow, specific onecorrespond to the two ways by which we glorify God. We glorify God by ascribing to Him the honor and adoration due Him because of His excellencethe narrow concept of worship. We also glorify God by reflecting His glory to othersthe broader, way-of-life manner of worship.
WORSHIP AS A WAY OF LIFE
Look at how this broader concept is taught in a familiar verse from Paul: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Godthis is your spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1). To offer our bodies as living sacrifices is to worship God. That Paul intended not just the physical body, but one's entire being, is implied from Romans 6:13, where he speaks of offering ourselves to God and the parts of our bodies to Him as instruments ofrighteousness.
To offer your body to God necessarily involves offering your mind, emotions, and will to Him also. It is the wholehearted dedication to God of heart, mind, will, words, and deedsin fact all that you are, have, and do. It is a total way of life. Paul called that our spiritual act of worship. John Calvin had this comprehensive sense of worship in mind when he described the worship of God as "the beginning and foundation of righteousness."
To attempt to worship God in only the narrow sense of praising Him without also seeking to worship Him in our whole way of life is hypocrisy. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because they were going through outward motions of worship, but their hearts were not committed to God. "You hypocrites!" He said. "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: `These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men'" (Matthew 15:7-9).
This book is intended to encourage your worship in the more limited definition of that word, but it's important to understand that a lifestyle of worship is the necessary foundation for all our praise and adoration, both privately and corporately.
THE GLORY DUE GOD'S NAME
What really is this worship, in the sense of praise and adoration?
The Puritan Stephen Charnock called it "nothing else but a rendering to God the honor that is due him."
John MacArthur defined it as "honor and adoration directed to God."
A. W. Tozer gave a more expanded meaning. He said that God "wants to cultivate within us the adoration and admiration of which He is worthy. He wants us to be astonished at the inconceivable elevation and magnitude and splendor of Almighty God!"
One of the best biblical descriptions of worship is Psalm 29:1-2.
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.
This is the essence of worship: Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name. Before we can do that, we must understand something of the glory that is due Him. We have to begin grasping His greatness, holiness, wisdom, and love, which is what the thirty-one daily readings in this book are designed to help you do. We must meditate on and pray over the kind of passages mentioned in this book, such as Isaiah 6:1-8, Isaiah 40, Daniel 4:34-35, Psalm 104, and 1 John 4:8-10. (Each of this book's daily sections concludes with a prayer to serve as an example and springboard for your own praying of Scripture in private worship. You may want to read these aloud as a personal expression of worship to God.)
In order to render heartfelt worship to God, we must be gripped in the depth of our being by His majesty, holiness, and love; otherwise our praise and adoration may be no more than empty words. Isn't this one reason why much of our worship today is so anemic and heartless?
But we can encounter God in His Word as we meditate on it and pray over it, asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to our hearts the glory of God as seen in His infinite attributes. We must do this if we're to worship God in a manner of which He is worthy.
It has been said that we praise God for who He is and thank Him for what He does for us. Such a precise distinction between praise and thanksgiving probably isn't wise, but the statement does call our attention to the fact that thanksgiving is an important aspect of worship.
Luke's account of ten lepers who cried out to Jesus to heal them is an insightful story that helps us see how important thanksgiving is to our worship. Jesus told them, "Go show yourselves to the priests." As they went on their way, they were healed.
One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back,
praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus'
feet and thanked himand he was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, "Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the
other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to
God except this foreigner?" (Luke 17:15-18)
Ten were cleansed; only one returned to give thanks. Jesus emphasized the uncalled-for disparity between the many and the one: Where were the other nine? The lesson is obvious. God does note when we take time to thank Him and when we don't.
I believe God also takes note of the sincerity and depth of meaning we put into giving thanks to Him. Being healed of leprosyor of cancer in our timeis vastly less significant than having eternal life. If we had to choose between being healed of cancer and receiving eternal life, the decision for any Christian would be easy. Yet how often do we express our thanksgiving to God for the gift of eternal life with as much depth of feeling as the one leper who "came back, praising God in a loud voice" and who "threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him"?
It's difficult to separate thanksgiving from praise in our worship of God. A better practice is to join them, as we see in Psalm 100:
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.
RECOGNIZING GOD'S OWENERSHIP
Praise and thanksgiving are also combined in David's beautiful prayer of worship as recorded in 1 Chronicles 29:10-14, on the occasion of the people's generous and wholehearted giving toward the building of the temple.
David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly, saying,
"Praise be to you, O Lord,
God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power
and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honor come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.
"But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand."
David began by praising God for His surpassing glory. Note how he heaps up words of praise and adulation: greatness, power, glory, majesty, and splendor. David was not simply being eloquent. He was pouring forth heartfelt praise in recognition of God's sovereignty: "You are exalted as head over all."
He was also acknowledging something that lies at the heart of the fear of God, and thus provides the basis for our appropriate worship of Him: The recognition that God is the ultimate owner of everything, and that we are only stewards of that which He has given to us. It is a recognition of our dependence upon Him and our responsibility to Him.
David said in Psalm 24:1, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." In reality, all of useven the wealthiest people in the worldare like the poorest peasants in the world's most disadvantaged nation. God owns everything; we own nothing.
In fact, according to David, we don't even own ourselves. Not only does everything in the world belong to God, but also all who live in it. This is doubly true for the Christian, for as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, "You are not your own; you were bought at a price." God owns us first by creation and again by redemption.
Job was a man who, according to the testimony of God Himself, feared God (Job 1:8). He was also a very wealthy man, "the greatest man among all the people of the East" (Job 1:3). We know how God allowed Satan to attack Job so that he lost all of his children and all of his possessions in a single day. How did Job respond?
Job got up and tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said:
"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
and naked I will depart.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away;
may the name of the Lord be praised."
In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with
wrongdoing. (Job 1:20-22)
Job's response was to worship God by acknowledging that God was really the owner of all that he possessed and that God had a right both to give and to take away. Consequently, Job did not become angry at God and charge Him with wrongdoing. Instead he worshiped God because he feared Him.
YOUR PRIVATE WORSHIP
Both private and corporate worshipthat which we do individually and that which we do with other believersare taught in Scripture. For example, David says in Psalm 69:30, "I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving." Here David refers to his own personal worship. Again in Psalm 86:12, he says, "I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever." This particular example of David's private worship follows immediately after his prayer that God would give him an undivided heart to fear His name (verse 11).
The vitality and genuineness of corporate worship is to a large degree dependent upon the vitality of our individual private worship. If we aren't spending time daily worshiping God, we're not apt to contribute to the corporate experience of worship. If we aren't worshiping God during the week, how can we expect to genuinely participate in it on Sunday morning? We may indeed go through the motions and think we have worshiped, but how can we honor and adore One on Sunday whom we have not taken time to praise and give thanks to during the week?
I agree with John MacArthur, who wrote:
Music and liturgy can assist or express a worshiping heart, but they cannot make a non-worshiping heart into a worshiping one. The danger is that they can give a non-worshiping heart the sense of having worshiped
So the crucial factor in worship in the church is not the form of worship, but the state of the hearts of the saints. If our corporate worship isn't the expression of our individual worshiping lives, it is unacceptable. If you think you can live any way you want and then go to church on Sunday morning and turn on worship with the saints, you're wrong.
In contrast to the once-a-week worshiper (and that term itself is an oxymoron), David worshiped God continually. "I will extol the Lord at all times," he said; "his praise will always be on my lips" (Psalm 34:1).
Again in Psalm 145:1-2 he told God:
I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
He goes on to say; "Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom" (verse 3). In these words we sense the depth of his feeling, an emotion that could not be "pumped up" with a once-a-week visit to the house of God.
WORSHIP IN SPIRIT
Jesus spelled out the first essential of worship when He said to the Samaritan woman, "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).
The "spirit" in which Jesus says we must worship God is the human spirit. It is what Paul often refers to as the heart. Worship is not just an external act. True worship must come from the heart and reflect a sincere attitude and desire.
"Without the heart," Stephen Charnock wrote,
it is no worship; it is a stage play, an acting a part without being that person really which is acted by us: a hypocrite, in the notion of the word, is a stage player.... We may be truly said to worship God, though we [lack] perfection; but we cannot be said to worship him if we [lack] sincerity.
Jesus said we must also worship "in truth." Our worship must be in harmony with what God has revealed about Himself in His Word. It is possible to have zeal without knowledge (Romans 10:2). For example, if we stress only one side of God's attributessay, His mercy and lovewithout also stressing His sovereignty and holiness, we're not worshiping in truth.
ENTER BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS
A second essential in worship is that we must always come to God through Christ. Paul is explicit about this: "In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence" (Ephesians 3:12); "For through him we both [Jews and Gentiles alike] have access to the Father by one Spirit" (2:18). And having come through Christ, we can approach God with confidence: "We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus" (Hebrews 10:19).
In the Old Testament era there were three restrictions on entering God's Most Holy Place in the temple: Only the high priest could enter, and only once a year, and only with the blood of atonement (Hebrews 9:7). But now, says the writer to the Hebrews, all believers may enter. In fact we have confidence to enter, which implies free and continuous access.
So two restrictions have been removed, while one remains: We still must come by the blood. Only now it is not the blood of a goat, but the blood of Jesus. Though we have been born again, and though our sinspast, present, and futurehave been forgiven, we must still approach God through the merit of Jesus Christ. We are never of ourselves worthy to come before a holy God.
Nineteenth-century theologian Archibald Alexander composed a devotional exercise, apparently for his own private use, that included these words:
I am deeply convinced that my best duties have fallen far short of the perfection of Thy law, and have been so mingled with sin in the performance, that I might justly be condemned for the most fervent prayer I ever made.
Dr. Alexander's observation about himself is true of every one of us. Because of the continued presence of indwelling sin in our hearts and because of our consequent lack of perfect obedience, we are never, of ourselves, worthy to come into the presence of God and worship. We must always come through Christ. Our "spiritual sacrifices," as Peter said, are "acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:5).
The writer of Hebrews taught this same truth: "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praisethe fruit of lips that confess his name" (Hebrews 13:15). It is always through Jesus that we offer to God a sacrifice of praise. Our most fervent expressions of worship, either in prayer or song, are unacceptable to God if they are not offered through His Son.
CHERISH NO SIN
A third essential to worship is a heart free from cherished sin. David said, "If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" (Psalm 66:18). To cherish a sin is to hold on to some sinful disposition or course of action we know is wrong. Perhaps you have been wronged by someone, and you know you should forgive as the Lord forgave you. Yet you are unwilling to let go of that unforgiving spirit. Instead you cherish it and nourish it. You cannot truly worship God when you are in that state.
Perhaps you are involved in some unethical business practice that may be barely legal but does not meet the test of love, of treating others as you would like to be treated. In your innermost heart you know the practice is wrong but you're unwilling to give it up because of the financial cost. Or perhaps you love to gossip. The Holy Spirit has convicted you of it many times, but you enjoy it. You get a perverse delight out of running down other people because it makes you feel good about yourself. If you're resisting the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, you are cherishing sin in your heart, and you cannot truly worship God.
Let me emphasize that there's a difference between struggling with sin and cherishing it. You may genuinely desire to forgive another person. In your mind you have said many times, "I forgive her," yet your own corrupt heart keeps bringing it up. You cry out to God to change you, but for some reason He allows you to keep struggling. That is not cherishing sin; that is warring against it. What you need to do in that case is to appropriate the blood of Christ to cleanse your conscience so you may worship freely (see Hebrews 9:14).
HELP IN OUR WORSHIP
Perhaps the idea of private worship is new to you. You have always thought of worship as something to do on Sunday morning at church with other believers. Now you see the importance of private, daily worship, but you don't know how to begin.
Of course the first thing you have to do is select a time. I have my personal worship in conjunction with my daily Bible reading and prayer, which I do each day before breakfast. I begin my prayer with words designed to capture both the awe and the intimacy with which we should relate to God. I consciously and deliberately enter into His presence through the merit of Christ, acknowledging my sinfulness, pleading His cleansing blood, and confessing that only through Christ can I call God my Father.
The joy of realizing my sins are forgiven and that I am accepted by the Father through Christ lifts my soul to praise and thanksgiving. I often use a biblical prayer of praise such as David's in 1 Chronicles 29:10-14. I take time to thank God for my salvation and for the way He has led in my Christian life throughout the years. I consider where I could have been had God not intervened in my life at various points.
I reflect on my humble beginnings as a child growing up during the depression years in a working-class family and consider where God has brought me. I think of Jacob's words that describe so accurately my own life's story: "I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant. I had only my staff when I crossed this Jordan, but now I have become two groups" (Genesis 32:10). I acknowledge my absolute dependence on God for life and daily provision. I thank Him for a godly wife and for children who follow Him.
As I read the Bible, I often come across passages of Scripture that remind me of some truth about God, or perhaps even reveal to me something new. When that happens I pause once again and worship.
Sometimes I use a book titled The Valley of Vision, a collection of Puritan prayers and devotions, to stimulate my own sense of praise. Here's an example:
In public and private, in sanctuary and home,
may my life be steeped in prayer,
filled with the spirit of grace and supplication,
each prayer perfumed with the incense of atoning
Help me, defend me, until from praying ground
I pass to the realm of unceasing praise.
Urged by my need,
Invited by thy promises,
Called by thy Spirit,
I enter thy presence, worshiping thee with godly fear,
awed by thy majesty, greatness, glory,
but encouraged by thy love.
I am all poverty as well as all guilt,
having nothing of my own with which to repay thee,
But I bring Jesus to thee in the arms of faith,
pleading His righteousness to offset my iniquities,
rejoicing that he will weigh down the scales for me,
and satisfy thy justice.
I bless thee that great sin draws out great grace,
that although the least sin deserves infinite
became done against an infinite God,
yet there is mercy for me,
for where guilt is most terrible,
there thy mercy in Christ is most free and deep.
Bless me by revealing to me more of his saving merits,
by causing thy goodness to pass before me,
by speaking peace to my contrite heart;
Strengthen me to give thee no rest
until Christ shall reign supreme within me,
in every thought, word, and deed,
in a faith that purifies the heart,
overcomes the world, works by love,
fastens me to thee, and ever clings to the cross.
Some people use hymns as a part of their daily worship. A. W. Tozer kept a stack of hymn books in his study for that purpose. Other people use one of many devotional books available. Whatever helps you and is biblical, you should use. The important thing is that you worship God in spirit and truth.
"LORD, I AM WILLING"
Our submission to God is also an important part of worship. We've already seen this demonstrated in the life of Job when he submitted to God's providential dealings. (Although Satan was the agent of Job's trials, their ultimate cause is attributed to God Himself [see Job 1:21 and 42:11]).
After the death of my first wife, a friend passed on to me a little saying by an unknown author that helps me express my submission to God:
Lord, I am willing
To receive what You give;
To lack what You withhold;
To relinquish what You take;
To suffer what You inflict;
To be what You require.
I keep a copy of this in my prayer notebook and pray over it several times a week. I've also added another sentence: "And to do what You send me to do."
Our posture in worship is also important. Old Testament passages that speak of worship often speak of bowing down. For example, Psalm 95:6 says, "Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker" (see also Deuteronomy 8:19; 2 Chronicles 20:18 and 29:28; Job 1:20; Ephesians 3:14; Revelation 22:8).
Kneeling or bowing down is a physical expression of reverence and submission. I don't want to imply that you must always bow down to worship effectively, though I think we should do it frequently. The important thing is your attitude of heart. I often do my Bible reading and part of my worship sitting at our dining table. Because of a peculiar deformity in my lower backbone, I'm more comfortable if I slouch down in my chair. When I pause to worship, however, I like to sit up straight with both feet on the floor. Even though this is uncomfortable, I want to do it as a sign of reverence to God.
GROWING IN WORSHIP
I've offered here a number of suggestions and principles for your private worship. If we're to benefit from them we must ask ourselves some hard questions:
1. Have I presented myself and all that I have to God as a living sacrifice, so that my way of life is a life of worship?
2. Do I take time daily to worship God privately and to thank Him for all His blessings to me?
3. Is there some "cherished" sin, some practice I'm unwilling to give up, that hinders my worship?
4. Do I seek to enter wholeheartedly and "in spirit and truth" into worship? Or do I simply go through the motions without really worshiping?
None of us will score perfectly on these questions. That is not their intent. Rather they're designed to help us honestly assess ourselves and pinpoint areas of our lives that need improvement. Only then, and as we take steps to improve, will this book be of benefit to us.
GOD PLAYS FOR KEEPS
The narrative parts of the Old Testament often read like an adventure novel. Many of the stories really are high drama. What could be more suspenseful than Daniel in the lions' den or his three friends in the blazing furnace? What could be more romantic than the aggrieved Gentile woman Ruth meeting her future husband, Boaz, while gleaning in his grainfield, and ultimately becoming an ancestor of both Israel's King David and Jesus the Messiah?
These and numerous other classic stories can lull us into the attitude that what we're reading is hardly more than good fiction.
Reinforcing that tendency is the abundance in these stories of miraculous events that seem so unreal today. We don't read in our newspapers of someone killing a thousand men with a donkey's jawbone, as Samson did. We don't hear about floating axheads, or a family living for months on only a handful of flour and a little jug of oil.
Though entertaining, these events can seem so far back and foreign that we unconsciously view them as having no practical value today. Yet if the Bible is indeed God's Word, we know these amazing stories are authentic accounts of real events happening to real people like you and me.
Of all the astonishing miracles recorded in the Old Testament, the most momentous for the Jews was their crossing of the Red Sea. To display His glory and destroy Pharaoh's army, God directed the Israelites to a location where they were penned in between the sea and the Egyptians. The Scriptures tell us that when the Israelites looked up and saw Pharaoh's elite forces marching after them, they were terrified and complained bitterly against Moses for bringing them out into the desert to die (Exodus 14).
To appreciate their predicament, imagine being finally delivered from slavery, only to see your former masters in hot pursuit and no way of escape. What emotions would surge through you as you faced this extreme dangerand later as you experienced miraculous deliverance?
Imagine seeing the Red Sea waters divided, opening a way for you and two million others to walk through on dry ground. You step down into the sea bottom with those walls of water towering above. Could they at any moment come crashing down?
At last you reach the far side, only to look back and see that the Egyptians have followed. Suddenly you watch those walls of water collapse; you witness an entire army drowning in the sea. In only a few hours you've experienced the highest degrees of fear, apprehension, dismay, excitement, and overwhelming relief.
However, the Israelites experienced something more than relief and elation following the climax of that day's events: "And when the Israelites saw the great power the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant" (Exodus 14:31).
The people feared the Lord. Obviously this wasn't the same fear or dread they felt upon seeing the fast-approaching Egyptian army. Rather it was the reverential awe produced by the awesome display of God's might. While they rejoiced that this power had been exercised in their behalf, they could not escape the sober realization that this God was not only an almighty deliverer, but also a righteous judge of those who opposed Him. As a friend of mine put it, they realized that God plays for keeps.
The text says that the Israelites both feared the Lord and put their trust in Him. Fearing God and trusting Him are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the Israelites were able to trust God because they experienced firsthand His awesome power to deliver them. It was not just the display of raw powerthe Egyptians also saw thatbut the exercise of it in their behalf that caused the Hebrews to trust God. Power without love is terrifying. Love without power is pitiable. In God the Jews saw both working together.
* * *
O mighty God, my loving Father, I praise and thank You for acting so strongly on my behalf both to save me and to transform me.
This I know: "that God is for me"; and since You are for me, who can be against me? Therefore, "in God I trust; I will not be afraid." Romans 8:31; Psalm 56:9-11
You have commanded me to trust You with all my heart and to lean not on my own understanding. You have promised that "in quietness and trust" is my strength, and that You will keep me in perfect peace as I steadfastly trust in You. Proverbs 3:5; Isaiah 30:15; 26:3
So I bring to You my faith: "In you I trust, O my God." "I trust in you, O Lord; I say, `You are my God.'" "I will say of the Lord, `He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.'" Psalms 25:2; 31:14; 91:2
"O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you." I praise and thank You for those words of promise, for by Your grace I believe that this very blessing shall also be mine. Psalm 84:12
Meet the Author
Jerry Bridges is one of the best known and most trusted Christian writers today. The former vice-president for corporate affairs of the Navigators, he continues to serve as a Navigators staff member, ministering to college students, churches, and other groups around the world. His first book, The Pursuit of Holiness, has sold over one million copies. He is also the author of The Practice of Godliness, Trusting God, Transforming Grace, The Discipline of Grace (winner of the ECPA Gold Medallion award), and The Joy of Fearing God, from which this book is adapted. Jerry lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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