Be A Window, Not A Wall

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/27/2019

Be a window,

Not a wall.

Some stand tall,

Yet all eventually fall.

Some loom large,

While others seem small.

We’ve all heard the call,

But a few of us are still afraid to fall.

We’ve all failed,

But Christ has prevailed.

Windows let the Son shine through,

Yet walls shield people from seeing the real you.

Windows are open and transparent,

But walls are closed off and hide what sin has bent.

Windows crack and shatter,

While walls pretend to have everything together.

Be more like a beautiful flower,

Than this structurally unsound tower.

Let the light into every area of your life,

Before darkness hurts like an ill-intentioned knife.

If you want to grow,

Then the walls need to go.

There is no guilt or shame,

In the power of Christ’s name.

Be honest above all,

No one expects you to be Saint Paul.

Be a window,

Not a wall.

With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Free stock photos · Pexels
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The Thorns of Life | March 17th, 2018

Photo Cred: Unsplash| Updated: 5/27/2019

So in the first segment in this series on sermons, I’d like to go back and revisit sermons that I have preached in the past, in order to learn from them through self-reflection. The preparation, the prayer, the delivery, and so on for each sermon that I have given to better not only myself but possibly you as well. By learning from the past we can do better in the future and that includes improving our ability to preach.

I’d like to share a sermon that I preached in mid-March of 2018 and breakdown the process of creating that sermon. It was called The Thorns of Life and dealt with the parable of the sower as told in the Gospel of Luke. My sermon was based on Luke 8:7 and 8:14, which was about the thorn-filled soil.

Getting Started

This sermon was given to about 80 students at StudentLife‘s winter camp (i.e. The Growdown) and it was roughly 25 minutes long. I began to prepare for this sermon on February 26th, which was just over a month out from the Growdown retreat and I was pretty rusty since the last sermon that I taught was 3 years ago. Typically, I can start prepping and praying through a sermon within a week’s time, but because it had been so long I started extremely early. There was also the added pressure of this being our first winter camp as a youth group, so I didn’t want to let the other leaders or the students with a sermon that sucked.

Before I even began to work on my sermon, the four teachers (David Margosian, John Lewis, Andrew Morrison, and myself) for that retreat met up a few times to discuss the theme and pray about what we should teach through for that winter camp. Eventually, we all felt led to teach on the parable of the sower in the Gospel of Luke for various reasons. John had just taught it to his youth group, while Andrew and David did this theme years ago as the original Growdown winter camp. We figured that this year we should go with this theme to keep things simple.

After the theme was decided upon, we went our separate ways to prepare. Since I was rusty, Andrew reviewed my outline over gmail twice to help me stay on track for the retreat. He aided in keeping my sermon the right length for a 20 to 30 minute teaching.

When I actually started, I read the text and prayed a lot about the theme for my teaching. What was going to be the main idea to explore and share with the students? What did they need to hear that afternoon on March 17th, 2018?

The Text, the Title, and the Elevator Pitch

 

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Anytime I prepare to teach, I always look for three things first: a basic understanding of the text, a title, and an elevator pitch. To determine the basic understanding of the text you need to comprehend the context. To accomplish this, read past the given text.

For this teaching, I wanted to pinpoint the big picture. When it was reported to Jesus that his Mother and Brothers were trying to get to him through the crowd listening to Him teach, He replies that “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it (1).” Elsewhere, we get more clarity from Jesus when He says to His disciples, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments (2).” The basic understanding of this text was identifying the true believer.

If we are true believers in Christ, then we will naturally obey him. David and Paul Watson put it perfectly when they wrote that “it appears that God spells love o-b-e-y (3).” The seed that falls on the good soil is the true believer because they obey God.

From there, I asked the opposite question: who does not obey God and why? The text I was given focused on the thorn-filled soil. What happens when we are pricked by a thorn? We are distracted by the pain. This was the basic crux for my sermon.

For my title, I took that basic understanding and distilled it. Making it brief and to the point. For me, the title has to be the main theme of the teaching. It must be the anchor that I can refer back to over and over in the sermon. So I called it “The Thorns of Life.”

Lastly, an elevator pitch is a one sentence description of a story. My elevator pitch was my basic understanding of the text summarized. That being that the thorns of life are the distractions of life. Next, I got into the bulk of sermon prep. Analogies, cross references, exegesis, research, and all that other good stuff. That’s usually my favorite part of the process.

Once my outline was complete, I moved onto revisions and verbal practice. This was roughly two weeks out from the retreat and I was really afraid it was going to flop. During this time I mostly prayed and would practice maybe a dozen times before finally delivering my sermon. I found that prayer would calm me, so I prayed before I practiced verbally delivering it.

The Day of and the Delivery

When we all left for the Growdown, I barely ate. During that Friday and Saturday I only had two meals. When I get nervous, I can’t eat because I get really sick to my stomach.

Had a long day of winter camp stuff and trying to run everything as a leader, so when it finally came to preaching I had about an hour and a half to get prepped one last time. As worship was closing, my anxiety and nervousness just kept increasing. Prayed a lot of little prayers inwardly. Too afraid I was going to forget something, I poured over my outline making last-minute changes and rehearsed a few more times.

Andrew came down and prayed over me. It helped reassure me that this teaching was put on my heart by God, so I didn’t have to rely on my own ability or talent because the Holy Spirit would guide me. Worship ended and I waited a minute intentionally before heading up. I told Jason Best, the worship pastor, that I wanted there to be an awkward moment of silence before I enter the room to set the tone.

This little stunt played into my theme of being distracted. Also, I wore a pink morph suit and did some goofy stuff to distract the students before telling the story of my best friend Zach’s car accident. This was all in the hopes of using body language, humor, and other visual cues to reinforce the effect that a good distraction can have on someone not paying attention.

The silly sermon illustrations went okay. Some landed, some hit an abrupt thud. As a public speaker, you’ll know when what you did worked or didn’t.

I think of the 25 minutes I spent, 5 to 10 minutes should have been used better. I started strong, but felt I wasted the opportunity for a strong ending. I ended up cutting out the Value of Time segment completely because I knew from practice it probably wouldn’t make the cut. I liked it, but it wasn’t necessary for this audience.

Had some obvious slip-ups and an over reliance on my outline, yet I felt positive about the delivery afterward. The students got a kick out of my ridiculous introduction and the call to action seemed to stick that night during the altar call, which resulted in praying with a student named Abe for almost an hour as we cried our eyes out before God. That was the highlight of the teaching for me: seeing a young man run back to God that night.

Overall, loved the time I spent on this teaching and it gave me confidence to return to preaching. Next time, I’ll share my sermon on Exodus from May 3rd, 2018. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. Luke 8:21b
  2. John 14:15
  3. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery, P. 45

 

 

My Political Worldview: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of God

Photo Cred (1) | Updated: 5/27/2019

So I’ve been asked several times by others my opinion on politics and I usually never give them an in-depth answer to those questions. From police brutality to immigration, I’ve been asked what my views are on many political topics. What I usually do is provide possible solutions, but never really say what I believe on a given subject matter. Not that I don’t care about politics, but I’d rather have an opinion after personal research before going public with my view on any given topic.

What I mean by that is I would rather look into an issue on my own before giving my opinion on anything political due to the vitriol reaction that seems to be the only response that anyone can give online. When it comes to subjects that I am not sure where I stand, I’d rather talk it out in-person. When I do have a firm idea of where I stand on an issue, then I’ll usually go about talking on that issue online with no hesitation.

With all that said, I do not side with one of the two binary American political parties (Democrats and Republicans) or any political party for that matter. I believe in voting for individual people, not for a political party. I have no allegiance to any political party and I do not think I ever will.

Honestly anyone who is running for political office that is associated with a particular political party means very little to me. This is because during the campaign trail, a candidate will promise lots of great stuff and then when they get into office they only get about a third of it done. Even then, what is actually accomplished is corroded by donors, PACs, Super PACs, and any other special interest group hoping to get their hands on a new bill or law. There are just too many cooks in the kitchen and that affects every branch of American politics.

If I had to summarize my political worldview in one sentence, then I would say that I am for life, liberty, and the pursuit of God. Now let me explain each part of my political worldview in more detail. Let me start with why I am for life.

Life

I am for life in many regards. I am for the protection of endangered species, marine conservation, protecting national parks, and environmentalism in general. The more we do as a species to protect the environment, the better our lives will be for future generations to come.

I am also pro-life, which means that I am against both abortion and euthanasia. The only case where I would be for abortion is when the life of the mother is at stake, then I would say abortion is okay. This sort of situation can occur due to any number of problems like an ectopic pregnancy where internal, life-threatening bleeding could kill the mother.

I am for abortion in these rare situations because the chances of the mother surviving from said problems during the course of a pregnancy are much higher than the chances of the baby. If I had to theoretically choose between an abortion to save the mother’s life or going on endangering the life of the mother and the baby, then I would advocate the abortion option. Saving one life is better than risking the death of two lives.

I am for life in the justice system. For the equal treatment of all types of people whether in arrests, investigations, prosecutions, or any other aspect of the judicial process. All people were created equal and hence all people should be treated equal with the utmost respect for their human dignity.

I want to see prison reform in the sense that the punishment should equal the crime, but that life should be respected at all costs. Measures should be taken for those that are truly done with their life of crime and want to live in society again in a proactive way. Measures such as more community service and less time in prison for crimes that do not deserve a prison sentence. If people are willing to change their ways, then they should be given opportunity on a case-by-case basis to get their life on the right path.

The death penalty, also known as capital punishment, I believe should only be implemented for certain criminals like child molesters, mass shooters, serial killers, and serial rapists. Because they have lost all respect for other life, I believe that these types of people should not live. By taking their life through capital punishment, we can potentially save the lives of countless others.

When it comes to healthcare and UBI (Universal Basic Income), I believe that we as a nation have the capacity to provide the most basic needs free of charge to legal citizens. Not every expense, but the bare necessities. I’m still working through in my own mind how that could work, but I think there is a way that would benefit almost everyone. I do believe in some form of UBI and universal healthcare being implemented in American society. Yet these two beliefs are not as refined as my other beliefs, so grant me grace in that regard.

Liberty

I am for liberty in a lot of ways. Liberty for all to live however they see fit as long as it does not infringe on the liberties of others. For the sake of time I’ll just share two examples: free speech and marriage. Let me start with marriage.

I believe that anyone can marry whoever they want as they are both consenting and adults. I may disagree biblically with who marries who, but that does not mean that said people cannot get married in America. For instance, an LGBT+ couple should have the freedom to get married whenever and however they want, but that does not mean that I agree with their decision to get married.

Likewise, the same can be said of unequally yoked couples. An unequally yoked couple is two people who want to get married, but do not adhere to the same worldview (i.e. a Buddhist and a Muslim getting married). I would disagree with this decision as well on the same logic applied to the LGBT+ couple, in that God doesn’t promote either lifestyle. In the Bible, God promotes either chastity in singleness or commitment to a life-long covenant in marriage. I affirm everyone’s freedom to choose, but not their choices within said freedom. Nevertheless, two consenting adults in America can marry whoever they love.

Then again, I believe that certain social traditions should not be operated by the government like marriage. I do not believe that marriage should be done through the government in any capacity. It’s a decision between two people and the witnesses chosen to uphold that couple’s vows. The government doesn’t need to be involved in marriage.

I am for liberty in the sense of free speech. I believe everyone should have the freedom to express themselves in any verbal way that they wish. Free speech should only be limited when a minor is involved because certain speech can affect their growth as individuals like verbal abuse or mature subject matter that is simply not appropriate for them to hear at their current age. This stance of mine on free speech applies to both in-person and online communication.

Also, the obvious things like yelling “bomb” at an airport or shouting “fire” at a movie theater shouldn’t be said either. Outside of that, let discourse and discussion thrive through the civil expression of ideas. With proper social cues and standard politeness, anything can and should be said.

Without free speech, I wouldn’t even be able to write this blog-post without punishment from the government. Let that sink in the next time you wish certain speech was removed from society. One of the signs of a healthy community is the disagreement between two people on a belief or idea, yet the respect they have for each other as human beings. Freedom must always be greater than fear. If not, we lose everything.

The Pursuit of God

Now of the three pillars of my political worldview, this final pillar does require some explaining. There was a man named John Locke who argued that everyone is entitled to life, liberty, and property (2). In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote that we are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Although I do believe that property should be an unalienable right as it is a basic human instinct to have shelter and that happiness can be a good thing, I believe that the pursuit of God matters more. That’s why I have altered this saying to include the pursuit of God instead of either property or happiness into my political worldview.

For it is in the pursuit of God that one can find the greatest joy imaginable: ultimate meaning, purpose, and value. With property, a basic human need is met, but that cannot replace the inner void within those who have not known God. What is the point of having shelter to stay alive, if you do not know why you are alive in the first place? For me, the pursuit of God supersedes the right to property.

Happiness cannot be the answer either because it is completely subjective. It’s a neat idea, but in practice no one and that includes the government can sustain your desire to be happy. For happiness like all other emotions doesn’t last long. I would rather have lifelong joy pursuing God than situational satisfaction rooted in nothing but my current mood. When it comes to politics, I stand firmly for life, liberty, and the pursuit of God.

In conclusion, these are not all of my views within politics. I haven’t even gotten to the economy, gun control, the minimum wage and maximum wage debate, recreational and medical drug use, transgender military participation, or everything else for that matter. But I think this should give some of you a good idea of where I stand on certain issues.

It’s a work in progress and these views are in a constant flux as I learn more each and everyday, so don’t be surprised if they change eventually. In time, all things will work together for those that trust in God for their life and liberty. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. http://oll.libertyfund.org/quotes/497

The Coin Argument

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

I have heard many ask “If God exists, then why is there so much evil in the world?” and there are many responses to this question all throughout history. There are even great Christian thinkers like Alvin Plantinga and Ravi Zacharias who have delivered great responses to this problem of evil. If I was asked this question, here is one way that I would respond and that is with the coin argument.

If God exists, then why is there so much good in the world? The question in its very nature is problematic because it relies on a partial-variable. It depends on the assumption that God and evil cannot both exist.

If this assumption is true, then God and good cannot both exist. Thus, leaving the universe amoral, which we all know is a flawed and true conclusion. It is true based off of basic deductive reasoning from our previous premises, yet flawed because evil and good are both quite evident in our universe.

For examples of evil look no further than the horrors of war, famine, pestilence, natural disasters, and the like. For instances of good look no further than the sacrificial love of a mother for her child, giving to those that are in need, treating others the way you want to be treated, and so on. The existence of evil and good is too evident in the world to ignore.

Let me use an analogy to further my point: let’s say I have a coin. You say that if I flip this coin 100 times with it landing on heads every single time in a row, then there must be no coin maker. Now I say if I flip this coin 100 times with it landing on tails every single time in a row, then there must be a coin maker. Let’s surmise that such a scenario occurs where you’re right: the coin lands on heads 100 times in row. Does your conclusion logically make sense that there is no coin maker? No and neither would mine any more so than yours because it is focused on the coin’s mathematical probability of landing on heads or tails. When the focus should shift to “where did we get the coin in the first place?”

That’s the root issue here. Where do objective moral values come from in the first place? For the sake of time, objective moral values will be abbreviated to OMV. In my analogy, the coin represents OMV and likewise each side of the coin represents one side of those OMV (heads = objectively negative moral values -> “evil” and tails = objectively positive moral values -> “good”).

Therefore, as is the case with all things there must be an objective standard to determine what are objectively negative moral values (evil) and what are objectively positive moral values (good). This objective standard can only be 4 things: from something less than myself [nature](1), from something equal to myself [individual](2), from others equal to myself [society](3), or from something greater than myself [God](4).

Now, how am I obligated by something less than me [nature](1) to obey these OMV? There’s no need to be obligated by nature since nature is beneath mankind. Why should I lower my standards to comply with values of nature? When something within nature kills it is survival of the fittest, yet when we kill it is murder. So, should I obligate myself [individual](2) to these OMV? Do I have that absolute authority? If so, I myself can remove that absolute authority if I want to, which throws out the second conclusion all together making it obsolete.

Then can others [society](3) obligate me to OMV? Why does the majority have that absolute authority over the minority (myself)? How does a single variable like majority vs. minority suddenly change who can enforce OMV? If there is a society that can, then which one? And if there is one, what happens when that society eventually crumbles like every society before it has in the past? Thus, this objective standard must be greater than myself [God](4) because it (He) is superior to me and can rightfully demand obedience to these OMV as He is greater than I.

Hence, evil and good can only exist if there is a set of OMV determined by an objective standard [God](4) that can enforce these OMV onto us. This is the most logical and reasonable conclusion. God as the objective standard gives us the ability to discern what is evil and good. Without Him, nothing is sin while everything is live and let live. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless.

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/

The Value of Time

Photo Cred: (1) | Updated: 5/21/2019

Time. It is the most valuable resource in the universe and in life. As Charles Darwin put it, “A man who dare waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.” Time is a mysterious thing.

What Is Time?

It is not quite like other resources, such as water or oxygen because it is not limited by the boundaries of space. In fact, it does not actually inhabit any space or  physical matter like water or oxygen. Time is simply here, but is hard to comprehend sometimes why it is here. Some argue that time is its own dimension or reality.

Why is the universe limited by an ever increasing range of numbers that eventually will stop when God decides that it is time for a new earth and a new heaven (2)? Why even place this limit upon the universe? Why didn’t God just create an eternal universe, instead of a transient universe? Why is time so valuable you might add?

Unlike water or oxygen, time can never be stored or saved for later. Time is ever ending. It’s like a bowl of sand being poured out slowly, but surely until the bowl is completely empty. Once the bowl is empty, that’s it. Time has run out. As scary as that sounds, that is the reality of time.

Another way of understanding time is that it is like throwing a stone or firing a gun at a specific target. Both the bullet and the stone will travel for awhile at various rates of speed before colliding with the target, thus ending their course. Time is like the distance the bullet and the stone travel. The “trigger-man” so to speak is God and He caused everything into being, which includes the starting point of time and the endpoint.

Then again, is time even linear to begin with in the first place? Some say time is linear, while others propose it is cyclic like a cone (i.e. the Big Bang Model), along with a few that say it may even be an ever expanding sphere of sorts (i.e. a balloon being blown up). Now I’m no scientist, so I cannot determine which view is correct. What I can do is present each theory briefly to help us better understand time.

For the traditional view of time, that camp argues that there was a first cause. Since that first cause, there has been a sequential series of events moving on a horizontal plane to an unknown end. Think like a ruler or a simple line with two end points.

In the cyclic (cone) group of thinkers, they presume that time is a lot like the way people understand the universe in that both are expanding in the shape of a cone. There was a starting point where the first cause occurred, but since then it has been expanding. These thinkers use the phenomena of red-shift stretching across space as proof of this theory.

The third camp does likewise in that they use red-shift as evidence for their view, but to a different extent. They argue that time is a lot like a big ball that is slowly growing in size until it finally pops. An easy example would be to refer to the way oxygen fills up a balloon until it explodes. In a way, they believe time is a swirling twirl of cause and effect colliding in an incomprehensible pattern that is interwoven like a ball of yarn. A chaotic masterpiece.

Why do I bring up these various ideas of time? Because I want you to know how much we do not understand about time. How much we barely know. How much we as human beings under-appreciate time and undervalue it. Life’s most valuable resource.

What Does The Bible Say About Time?

The Bible, God’s inspired Word, has a lot to say concerning the concept of time. The actual word “time” appears in the NASB translation of the Bible 626 times. To say that time is important to God is an extreme understatement. Some passages of Scripture that come to mind would be Ecclesiastes chapter 3 where King Solomon reflects on the concept of time and seasons. In the chapter, he asserts that “there is an appointed time for everything.” Essentially, every single moment in time matters. There are no coincidences, but only opportunities. With this in mind, nothing can be random because something caused those “random” moments.

Time is a lot like the wind. We cannot actually see it, but we can observe its effects on our environment. Time is an effect-full, yet invisible force of nature that guides everything within the universe, including the universe itself.

Time is also like a loan from God. When God first created the universe, a countdown was started. From that point onward, time has been counting down to the moment when the universe ends. With this in mind, everything within the universe also has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We are born, live our lives hopefully to the fullest, and then die. It is the cycle of everything in the universe.

Because we are limited by time, we are also on a countdown to our own inevitable end. Eventually, our time here in the material realm will be done as we transition into the spiritual realms of either Heaven or Hell. If you adhere to the Naturalist worldview, then this is it and you have nothing to look forward to after death. Those who hold to a theistic worldview can look forward to a better or worse eternity. For the Naturalist, nothing. Even in this life there is nothing. From the Naturalist’s worldview, you have no meaning, purpose, or value.

Now let’s observe the other position. That there is meaning, purpose, and value because there is something beyond the material as the theistic worldview asserts. Where does this meaning, purpose, and value come from? Just as the meaning, purpose, and value of a work of art comes from the artist giving their artwork these qualities, we too find these same things in God.

Since we derive our meaning, purpose, and value from God it would only make sense that those must be fulfilled in this life. I mean why would God instill these desires in our hearts, if not to see us follow His plans for our lives and satisfy these desires within our lifetimes? C.S. Lewis once spoke of this predicament when he said “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists” (3).

The question remains: how do we fulfill these desires and how does this tie back into the value of time? Well, let’s go back to what the Bible has to say on the topic of time in a bit more detail. This will clue us in on how to appropriately answer this question in a way that is both emotionally and logically reasonable. If time is a variable in which we are contingent on, then how do we use it to our benefit to satisfy our ultimate desires? In the book of Exodus, reflection and remembrance is a key theme that carries throughout this book in the Old Testament of the Bible.

Specifically, Exodus 13:10-14 where the LORD instructs the Hebrews on how they are to reflect and remember how God delivered them from the land of Egypt by taking them to the Promised Land. This aspect of reflecting and remembering time is also of note in Exodus chapter 34 where an entire chapter is dedicated to this idea of remembrance, particularly Exodus 34:21 where the Hebrews are commanded by God to rest. The key lesson here is that there is a time and a place for everything. God formulated this philosophy when He created the universe by spending six days working and one day resting. Thus, fulfilling what we would call the work week.

Next, we jump to Nehemiah 2:6 where we can use time as a measurement to map out our lives or God can for that matter (4). Yet at the same instant, be men and women of our word. Nehemiah did this when he gave King Artaxerxes, accompanied by the Queen, a definite time of when he would return. A promise was proclaimed.

There are “God-Moments” when God enters time and accomplishes His will for His glory by allowing us free agents to bring about these so-called “God Moments” (5). Time can peel away inner heartache that can unveil who we are or what we have become (6). Time is a witness of the past (7) and is always brimming with opportunity (8) for us to fulfill our God-given desires.

Final Thoughts

How do I spend my time? Good question. How should I spend my time? Better question. If time is a loan from God, then how much time has God given me? No one knows. I don’t know and you don’t know. That is what makes this life so interesting and so risky. Our time is set, yet we are not informed of how much time is set.

That is why we must use our time wisely, in order to make the most of the time we are given from God. We must redeem the time (9) as we wait expectantly for the appointed time to be fulfilled and remain alert for that to pass (10). We use our time wisely when we set out to fulfill the God-given desires of our hearts by abiding in Christ, which will in turn satisfy our craving for ultimate meaning, purpose, and value.

Love your loved ones. Fellowship with friends. Work hard and do not become sluggish in what may end up being your final moments. The past grows as the future shrinks, so this is the time to seek God. This life that you and I live is an ever ending marathon. A journey one might say that is not over until we enter eternity.

This is just a brief summary of why I uphold the value of time and treasure it far above anything that this life can offer. How will we use this gift? What will we do with our time? Well, that’s up to you. With that, Godspeed and Jesus bless!

Footnotes

  1. https://www.pexels.com/
  2. 2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 21:1-5
  3. Mere Christianity (bk. 3, chap. 10)
  4. Exodus 9:5; Psalm 75:2; Daniel 2:16
  5. Judges 16:28
  6. Job 36:10, 15
  7. Isaiah 30:8
  8. John 7:6
  9. Ephesians 5:16
  10. Mark 1:15; 13:33