Mysteries Of The Bible: How Come No One Remembers Admah And Zeobiim?

I would like to state at the outset that the idea for this post came from one of my more frequent blog readers, Laura, who left the following question in my suggestion box [1]:

“Can you explain why we have heard of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah but have never heard of the cities of Admah and Zeboim.”

For those who are not familiar with Admah and Zeboiim, they were two of the four cities that were destroyed by God for their wickedness, along with their vastly more famous neighboring cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. These two cities are not very familiar at all to readers of the Bible (in stark contrast to the immense familiarity people have with Sodom and Gomorrah through the way in which these two cities have entered our lexicon through such words as sodomy and sodomite, which describes the male homosexual behavior that was a major part of the cities’ destruction, as well as recent works like William Bennett [2]‘s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah” which decry similarly destructive cultural trends towards sexual immorality in our own culture. While, in fairness, the sins of these cities included also a great deal of economic exploitation and injustice, sins that are also present to a large degree in our society, and not only sexual sins, however one looks at it, our society is guilty of the same sins that led to the destruction of those cities, and yet two of the four cities that were destroyed are basically unknown to many readers of the Bible and not greatly talked about.

Let us divide our discussion, therefore, into three sections. First, let us discuss what the Bible itself says about the cities of Admah and Zeboiim. After all, we cannot know whether the general silence in our contemporary culture about these cities is due to the silence the Bible has about them or comes from other reasons. Second, let us briefly discuss, given what the Bible says about these cities, why we do not speak of them at all. Third, let us look at the lessons we can learn from what the Bible does say about these cities, so that this particular blog entry may serve as an attempt to rectify the imbalance in discussion that these cities have received as opposed to their much better-known neighbors. With that said, let us begin.

What The Bible Says About Admah And Zeboiim

Five passages in the Bible, two of them in the same chapter, discuss the cities of Admah and Zeboiim directly, and a sixth passage discusses them by implication. Let us look at these passages now:

***

Genesis 10:19-20:

“And the border of the Canaanites was from Sidon as you go toward Gerar, as far as Gaza; then as you go toward Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, as far as Lasha. These were the sons of Ham, according to their families, according to their languages, in their lands and in their nations.”

Genesis 14:1-2:

“And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Chedorlaomer king of Elam, and Tidal king of nations, that they made war with Bera king of Sodom, Birsha king of Gomorrah, Shinab king of Admah, Shemeber king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar). All these joined together in the Valley of Siddim (that is, the Salt Sea). Twelve years they served Chedorlaomer, and in the thirteenth year they rebelled.

In the fourteenth year Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him came and attacked the Rephaim in Ashteroth Karnaim, the Zuzim in Ham, the Emim in Shaveh Kiriathaim, and the Horites in their mountain of Seir, as far as El Paran, which is by the wilderness. Then they turned back and came to En Mishpat (that is, Kadesh), and attacked all the country of the Amalekites, and also the Amorites who dwelt in Hazezon Tamar.

And the king of Sodom, the king of Gomorrah, the king of Admah, the king of Zeboiim, and the king of Bela (that is, Zoar) went out and joined together in battle in the Valley of Siddim against Chedorlaomer king of Elam, Tidal king of nations, Amraphel king of Shinar, and Arioch king of Ellasar—four kings against five. Now the Valley of Siddim was full of asphalt pits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled; some fell there, and the remainder fled to the mountains. Then they took all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah, and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, Abram’s brother’s son who dwelt in Sodom, and his goods, and departed.”

Genesis 19:17-25:

“So it came to pass, when they [the angels] had brought them outside, that he said, “Escape for your life! Do not look behind you nor stay anywhere in the plain. Escape to the mountains, lest you be destroyed.”

Then Lot said to them, “Please, no, my lords! Indeed now, your servant has found favor in your sight, and you have increased your mercy which you have shown me by saving my life; but I cannot escape to the mountains, lest some evil overtake me and I die. See now, this city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one; please let me escape there (is it not a little one?) and my soul shall live.”

And he said to him, “See, I have favored you concerning this thing also, in that I will not overthrow this city for which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there. For I cannot do anything until you arrive there.”

Therefore the name of the city was called Zoar.

The sun had risen upon the earth when Lot entered Zoar. Then the Lord rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah, from the Lord out of the heavens. So He overthrew those cities, all the plain, all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground.”

Deuteronomy 29:23:

“The whole land is brimstone, salt, and burning; it is not sown, nor does it bear, nor does any grass grow there, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the Lord overthrew in His anger and His wrath.”

Hosea 11:7-9:

“My people are bent on backsliding from Me.
Though they call to the Most High,
None at all exalt Him.

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I set you like Zeboiim?
My heart churns within Me;
My sympathy is stirred.
I will not execute the fierceness of My anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man,
The Holy One in your midst;
And I will not come with terror.”

***

Although we will save the lessons we can learn from what the Bible says about Admah and Zeboiim for a later discussion, let us note that the amount of material that is given about these two small and long-destroyed cities suggests their importance is greater than is commonly recognized. They are mentioned in a passage that discusses the geographic distribution of the various descendents of Noah after the flood, rooting their place at the boundaries of Canaanite culture as it approaches the wilderness beyond where various nomadic tribes lived. The two cities are mentioned explicitly in Genesis 14 and implicitly in Genesis 19 as sharing in the fate of their larger and more famous neighbors of Sodom and Gomorrah in military defeat for their rebellion against their Elamite overlord and in destruction because of their sexual immorality and social injustice. Additionally, and significantly, both cities remained as a judgment to later Israel in Deuteronomy 29 as well as contemporary Israel in Hosea 11 because the same judgment against sin that fell on those cities is threatened against Israel for its backsliding and moral corruption.

Why Do We Forget Admah And Zeboiim?

Given the fact that these two cities are mentioned several times in familiar parts of scripture, why then do we forget about these two cities? To be sure, they are not the only obscure cities of the Bible from which important lessons are given [3]. When the Bible mentions a place multiple times to provide explicit object lessons from it, it behooves us to pay attention to it, even if those messages are somewhat scattered and rare. After all, we should be sensitive enough that even a single mention ought to trigger our attention, and anything more than that simply serves to emphasize something and make it even more important to remember. Yet, a great deal of the fame of Admah and Zeboiim, or the lack thereof, comes from the fact that they are often accompanied in mention by their vastly more famous sister cities of the plain, namely Sodom and Gomorrah. We might say that the worth of Admah and Zeboiim to be recognized has been hampered by being overshadowed by a more famous relative. As this can happen with families, where a particularly stunning and talented and attention-grabbing child can overshadow a more modest but still noteworthy sibling, the same thing can happen in geography, where Sodom and Gomorrah grab so much attention that there is little to give to Admah and Zeboiim, which is a shame, as they have much to teach us.

What Can We Learn From Admah And Zeboiim?

So, now that we’re paying attention to these two cities, what can we learn from them? First, let us note that even though these two cities were not particularly noteworthy that they shared in the fate of their neighbors. We are not isolated, but insofar as we draw strength and support from our neighbors, we too must share in common judgment. Twice Admah and Zeboiim share in the common fate of their larger neighbors. First, their kings (who are named in Genesis 14) share in the common rebellion of their neighbors against their overlord, the King of Elam, and his allies [4]. It is only the intervention of Abraham on the behalf of his righteous but unwise nephew Lot that allows them to escape being despoiled. Then shortly later, without any sort of repentance as a result of the preliminary judgment of military defeat, the two cities share in the more permanent judgment of God upon them that led their formerly rich cities to become smouldering ruins and eternal shame. They did not even have the small size that allowed their neighbor Zoar to be delivered from that destruction.

It is therefore noteworthy that these two cities, when they are mentioned later on, are mentioned in two related contexts to their final judgment. When they are mentioned in Deuteronomy 28, God has just given Israel the litany of intense blessings and cursings in the previous chapter, and there they can see, at the north end of the Dead Sea, the wilderness and deserted ruins of these cities and their neighbors, a reminder of the sort of destruction that can come upon a city when it rejects God’s ways and seeks after immorality and injustice, characteristic sins of the Canaanites whose land they were about to occupy for those same sins. Israel did not heed the lesson, though, and it is therefore of little surprise that when they are mentioned again in Hosea it is in the passionate longing of God seeking to deliver His backsliding people of Israel from the judgment that they deserved in the 8th century BC and that contemporary Israel deserves today for their lack of faith in and obedience to God. Israel did not heed the lesson of the destruction of Admah and Zeboiim during the time of Hosea either, and we are not any different, as our society has hardened its own heart against a reminder of the judgment that we deserve for our own sins against God and fellow man.

Conclusion

How then, should we take the biblical mention of the cities of Admah and Zeboiim? Let us note that we may not think we are as evil or as wicked or as noteworthy as our neighbors, but we will share in their judgment nonetheless even if we ourselves are overshadowed by them. God clearly believes in the principle of collective and societal judgment, in addition to individual judgment, and even if a righteous remnant survives the judgment of God (for which we can praise Him for His mercy), the judgment of God is not an enjoyable thing to endure, even if it is to our benefit. Let us therefore recognize that these two somewhat obscure cities are mentioned in the Bible as being neighbors and sisters along with Sodom and Gomorrah, sharing in their military defeat as well as their fiery destruction as a result of God’s judgment. The sins that these cities were punished for are sins that were rampant in the time when Israel was judged with captivity during the days of Jeroboam II, where these cities were mentioned, were sins that were promised collective judgment in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, where these cities are mentioned in the same context, and are sins that are rampant in our society today. Shall we test God to see if these cities and their fate is relevant to our own day and time, or will we look at His consistent example and take heed and repent?

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/suggestion-box/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/book-review-america-the-last-best-hope/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/04/27/book-review-is-college-worth-it/

[3] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/watchman-what-of-the-night-the-prophet-as-town-watchman-in-isaiah-2111-12/

[4] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/book-review-early-israel-and-the-surrounding-nations/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/mysteries-of-the-bible-unknown-kings-and-regimes/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/genesis-14and-ancient-coalition-warfare-2/

Posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Musings | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review: Colliding With Destiny

Colliding With Destiny: Finding Hope In The Legacy Of Ruth

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.]

Occasionally I read a book that is so encouraging and appreciative that I keep around not merely out of a sense of obligation but also to re-read it later on. This book is such a book, and it is worth discussing briefly why that is the case for me. Part of the immense enjoyment of this book comes from the book’s content, which deals with the book of Ruth, a book that I have often mused on myself [1]. I have come to realize that the book of Ruth represents a sort of personal wish fulfillment for both me and for the author of this book, in our shared experiences with each other and with Ruth of being a stranger and an outsider, of being burdened by a difficult personal past, of facing with openness and grim determination the difficulties of rumor and gossip and reputation, and of having loyalty to others and also a quest for love and family. The fact that I can relate to both the author and to Ruth in these matters gives the book a high degree of personal relevance, and makes the author’s encouragement all the more appreciated.

Sarah Jakes herself is the daughter of T.D. Jakes and Serita Jakes [2], leaders in the black church in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. Another aspect of this book that makes it particularly encouraging and immensely worthwhile is the author’s transparency and honesty about her life and her struggles and what she has found encouragement in. Starting as a blogger lacking in self-confidence, the author was encouraged to write by another single mom she had befriended, J.K. Rowling. This book contains a great deal of personal struggles, including a teenage pregnancy, a marriage to an unfaithful football player that ended in divorce, her struggles with being gossiped about because her parents were high-profile ministers, and her own struggles to wrestle with her weight and to avoid depression and keep spending under control. These are all burdens many of us can identify with well, the concern that our broken lives and unpleasant personal histories will prevent us from being of use to God, or unworthy of God’s grace or the love and relationships that we seek. In her open honesty, the author encourages us all to openly detail our own struggles in journaling exercises at the end of every chapter.

Another aspect that makes this book particularly appealing is the fact that the book examines in detail the book of Ruth. The Book of Ruth is a novelistic story of three people: Ruth, her widowed mother-in-law Naomi, and the upright and noble bachelor Boaz, and it is a touching and gentle love story set in the time of the Judges with loving feminine touches, including the loyalty of Ruth and Noami to each other and the wisdom and savvy of Naomi in knowing how Ruth would be able to make her appeal to the rather shy and courtly Boaz. This particular book is organized in very short chapters that have a consistent and easy-to-understand pattern of organization. Each chapter begins with a quote, then shows a verse or longer passage of Ruth that relates to a theme, in order to where they are found in the book of Ruth, followed by a personal commentary on Ruth that looks at the author’s personal life as well the historical and cultural context of the Book of Ruth itself. Then there is a journaling exercise and a prayer at the end that seeks largely to encourage the reader of the book to trust in God’s providential care and gracious love. Consider that a mission succeeded, and a book that is targeted mostly to women, but with a far larger potential audience than that. Truly, there are many with broken relationships and deep wounds, and this book (and the Book of Ruth) serves as a great encouragement for those who have to deal with such personal brokenness and the unfriendly gossip of others about it. That is a wide potential audience that ought to greatly appreciate this deeply honest and heartfelt book.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/26/divine-providence-in-the-book-of-ruth-part-one/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/why-do-jews-and-christians-read-ruth-for-shavuot-pentecost-the-feast-of-weeks/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/book-review-wounded-women-of-the-bible/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/it-is-not-good-that-man-should-be-alone-an-antidote-to-pre-celibacy-counseling/

[2] Serita is an author I have read and reviewed before:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/book-review-the-princess-within-for-teens/

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An Expanding Universe

One of the truths of our universe that can be somewhat difficult to imagine fully is the reality of the expanding universe. One of the implications of the “red shift” found in the early 1900’s by astronomers was that the universe is expanding away from a common origin, an act that is pregnant with implications of the teleological kind. Yet it is not the physical universe that I would like to talk about. What I would like to talk about instead is the mental universe, which is also at least theoretically an expanding universe as well, and one that I tend to find more relevant to my personal life and that of others around me on a regular basis. After all, most of us live on this planet, and only a few people have ever escaped its near environs, and so the implications of interstellar travel are not as relevant to our daily lives as the universe within us [1].

The expanding mental universe of our lives can most obviously be seen in developmental matters. Most of us can look at children and recognize the difference between our understanding as adults and our understanding as babies or small children. Yet children are capable of startling powers of observation, which is evidence that as we advance in age, our gain in sophistication often results in a loss of ability to see what is clearly evident because we have trained ourselves not to notice things (or people) and not to be troubled by their problems or sensitive to their needs and concerns. On the other hand, children often lack the ability to articulate and understand in depth the world around them, even if their powers of observation and judgment and their openness to the world around them are often very highly developed.

This suggests that the expansion of our mental universes is not necessarily a straightforward or a deterministic process. At times our mental universe may expand in some areas but not in others. At other times, we may think our universe is expanding from knowledge, but if that knowledge is incorrect, it may lead us to jettison the truth and replace it with error, thereby shrinking one’s actual understanding while giving the illusion of an expanding mental universe. Additionally, one can be satisfied with one’s state of education and cease to look out for new knowledge or understanding in the belief that one knows everything one needs to know already. These sorts of problems can arrest the expanding mental universe that that we can obtain if we continue to be open to knowledge and learning even after we are no longer formal students. I tend to be a voracious and critical reader of books, so perhaps I am a little biased in my beliefs of the worth of increasing knowledge and how that curiosity and openness tends to keep you feeling younger than you are.

So, how do we keep our mental universe expanding, if we want to, at least? Being open to the world around us is one way to expand our universe, as it presents us with people with different perspectives that causes us to expand our understanding and be more understanding of where others are coming from. Likewise, reading books often provokes us to read more books, and be interested in many areas of life and knowledge, and such learning and education, and an awareness of the fact that we do not know everything we want to know, or may even need to know, helps keep us humble and child-like, which allows our universe to expand and not become rigid and closed. Such a life may be a bit exhausting, and we may want to stay within our comfort zones, but knowing that there is a lot of ground we can expand into makes our lives more rich and more fun. Who wants to be stuck in the same place of life forever, without ever having expanded one’s knowledge and insight or one’s ability to understand and relate to others? Certainly not I.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/reading-berlinksi-in-cambridge/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/26/on-causality-and-responsibility/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/07/29/terrain-studies/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/the-pseudoscience-of-naturalism-a-popperean-analysis-of-biologys-most-dangerous-assumption/

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Book Review: Early Israel And The Surrounding Nations

Early Israel And The Surrounding Nations, by A.H. Sayce

One’s appreciation of this book is increased if you know a little bit about the author ahead of time. A.H. Sayce was an early Assyriologist of the late 19th century who became legendary for his brilliant insights into the Hittite Empire and its early texts, as well as his skilled work in translating cuneiform tablets from Babylon and other areas [1]. His diverse work appears to have been born out of a combination of physical delicacy and immense intellectual skill, and many of his hunches (like the site of the Hittite capital and the existence of a massive Hittite capital and the syllabary nature of the Hittite language) appear to have been spot on. Given his sagacity when it comes to his guesses, it would stand to reason that his comments about the relationship between Israel and its neighbors is pretty strong as well.

That would be an accurate judgment, based on the contents of this book. The author seems to have an approach similar to authors like K.A. Kitchen [2] in not being an obvious religious believer but having a high degree of confidence in the historical worth of the Bible because of his firm knowledge of the history and literature of the ancient Near East. As a strong opponent of higher criticism based on firm empirical knowledge, this author draws his case for the legitimacy of the biblical worldview from a strong knowledge of the source material that was available at the time he wrote, which included the Tel Amarna letters, some Hittite treaties, the Moabite stone, some of the early Assyrian texts, the Babylonian creation and flood myths, and the like (many of which are included as an appendix to the text). This writing demonstrated to the author the clear historicity of key events, including the mysterious battle of Genesis 14 [3], in which the author identifies Abraham as a contemporary of Hammurabi, and further guesses that it was Abraham’s victory against that army that allowed Hammurabi to break free from Elamite domination. Likewise, the author offers some sound judgments on the influence of Egypt and Babylon on the biblical worldview in ways that are sensible, if somewhat unusual.

This is not to say that this book is without its quirks. The author clearly belongs to that 19th century tradition of making provocative racial claims that would be considered highly offensive for academics in the present age. Two sets of comments, made often, would not tend to pass muster with contemporary racial mores. The first is a tendency to ascribe certain characteristics to ethnicities (including Egyptians and Arabs). This was an entirely acceptable manner of speaking when Sayce was alive, and he was not even particularly hostile in doing so–he seems to have an attitude of respect towards other people, but as a historian of ancient times he is clearly interested in looking at the endurance of cultural traits among people, some of which are not particularly flattering. The other trait is his insistence on the superiority of mixed races to “pure” races in their success. This would seem to be an argument against the racism that was endemic in his society, under the rubric of eugenics and social Darwinsim, but his argument, even if it is sensible, is not something that would pass muster with today’s concern about national and ethnic politics that seek to privilege supposedly pure minority peoples. For those who are not bothered by this sort of commentary, this book offers some intriguing commentary about Israel in the context of its neighbors and provides a general historical context for evaluating and highly regarding the historical claims of scripture.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archibald_Sayce

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/book-review-on-the-reliability-of-the-old-testament/

[3] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/01/18/genesis-14and-ancient-coalition-warfare-2/

Posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History, Middle East | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

In The Integrity Of My Heart I Have Done This

Yesterday, my pastor, as is his custom, delivered a thought-provoking message on the subject of integrity. I had already planned to muse upon some of the tangles of my own life in this subject, but did not wish to speak seemingly out of the blue without any larger context [1]. Yet, as the message was dealing with very serious matters that were already on my mind, I thought it appropriate to comment at least some on the subject insofar as it relates to me. I know I am an imperfect person, and I am pretty candid and honest about my struggles, many of which are immensely long-lasting and difficult. Yet at the same time I consider myself very strongly to be a person of honor and integrity in my dealings with God and others. At the age of 18, as a college student in Los Angeles, I made my commitment to the whole way of God, and not just the easy parts, and for all of my struggles and difficulties, I have remained committed to the whole package today, and as long as there remains breath in my lungs and as long as God has allotted me to live on this earth, in whatever state I find myself in.

One of the more pointed passages of yesterday’s sermon provoked me to think about something I have never thought this particular passage. Most of the time, when one reads this passage, the focus is on Abraham and his lack of faith in having his wife pretend to be his sister, for the second time (something his son would later do in this same place with his slightly more distantly related wife). Yet, as I thought about the defense of Abimelech to God, and God’s response, I was struck by something which may be deeply relevant to my own life (and that of other people). We can see this part of the story in Genesis 20:1-10:

“And Abraham journeyed from there to the South, and dwelt between Kadesh and Shur, and stayed in Gerar. Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” And Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, “Indeed you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” But Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a righteous nation also? Did he not say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she, even she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and innocence of my hands I have done this.” And God said to him in a dream, “Yes, I know that you did this in the integrity of your heart. For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. Now therefore, restore the man’s wife; for he is a prophet, and he will pray for you and you shall live. But if you do not restore her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.” So Abimelech rose early in the morning, called all his servants, and told all these things in their hearing; and the men were very much afraid. And Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? How have I offended you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done deeds to me that ought not to be done.” Then Abimelech said to Abraham, “What did you have in view, that you have done this thing?””

We can see from this passage that Abimelech was a decent and honorable man, although a Gentile ruler, and that he felt greatly offended at being lured into a great sin that threatened the life of him and his people when his own motives were good. Indeed, his character was sufficiently noble that God agreed that his claims to integrity were correct. Yet there is something else that God said in this passage that struck me rather forcefully, when He said, “For I also withheld you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.” As someone who has faced in the course of my life a great deal of temptation when it comes to sexual immorality, with a firm desire to be a person of honor and integrity in my dealings with young women, some of whom I am very attracted to, it is striking thought to realize the possibility of God’s hand in withholding me from danger through a variety of means. That puts some of the rather frustrating drama of the last two years or so in the context of a bizarre and stressful but rather compelling case of divine providence.

We tend to automatically view divine providence in terms of what opportunities are granted, and not in the barriers that are placed in our way. Yet life is full of opportunity costs, and sometimes in order for people to enjoy the best things they have to withhold themselves, or be withheld by others, from good things. Part of putting our life in God’s hands means letting Him do what He wants, even when it doesn’t make a lot of sense. When it comes to love and relationships, not a lot makes sense. Even the places where we live are subject to all kinds of random chances and are matters that are hard to understand [2]. We may know, for example, that God has had a hand in the course of our lives, sometimes a forceful one and sometimes a rather gentle and indirect one, without knowing where we are going. And that’s quite alright; God doesn’t have to tell us what He is doing, He just tells us to trust Him to know what He is doing and that He does it better than we can on our own. That includes what He prevents us from doing as well as what He allows us to do. Occasionally, we are led to recognize that and appreciate that, as uncomfortable as it may be for us sometimes. Is it not better for God to prevent us from certain sins so that we may preserve our good character than for us to be led into all kinds of evil simply because of our own longings? Thanks be to God for protecting us from harm, even when we are not always very enthusiastic about that protection.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/chick-magnet/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/01/01/between-a-rock-and-a-hard-place-the-intractable-dilemma-of-a-single-young-man/

[2] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/10/10/a-review-of-the-2012-feast-of-tabernacles-at-redmond-bend-oregon/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/the-longest-day/

Posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Love & Marriage, Musings | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Chick Magnet

Today, while I was at services, I found myself being mercilessly teased by one of the girls there (who was eight years old, I think) who kept on running behind me and tapping me in the back. For personal reasons, I tend to find that exceptionally uncomfortable, but she seemed to think it to be cute and adorable to be such a tease to me. This is not an isolated sort of occurrence. I know two adorable twin three year old girls who are often running up to me to hug me and run around my legs. Last week, after services, I got a rather random and unexpected hug from behind, which tends to freak me out a bit, from a somewhat older girl who happens to be in my Sabbath School class. Since I did not grow up with any younger sisters, nor have any children of my own, I tend to see these girls as cousins, or potentially even nieces, with all of the sort of protectiveness and concern that involves.

My awkwardness when it comes to girls is something that tends to be the subject of nearly universal humor among my friends, who simply find it impossible to believe that someone can be so friendly and so timid at the same time, and who are constantly encouraging me to be more bold with others. I am sure that I must be the source of considerable confusion to many people, who simply may find the sort of conversation that it takes to draw out my feelings to be extremely exhausting and time-consuming. Given the fact that I refuse to take advantage of young ladies and have no interest in pursuing romance with married women (or even those in other romantic relationships), that has left precious few people for me to court in my passionate and sincere but certainly eccentric way. Given the fact that such a young woman is likely to hear about my own dysfunctional personal and family background and far too much knowledge about my own horrible childhood, a woman who is not scared away by knowing my struggles to live honorably and to face my difficulties courageously is presumably someone with whom a relationship could develop over time from friendship beyond. As in so much in my life, I am a person with somewhat ambitious aims but a rather gradual and patient approach to developing relationships.

In my experience, I am used to girls being interested in dangerous people who are exciting and not particularly nice people. I have never been that sort of person myself. Most of the danger of my life (of which there has been a lot) has not been deliberately courting risk and peril but rather having to face it unwillingly and without enjoyment in it. In contrast, I am someone who has lived life as an outcast and an outsider, and in the combination of my longing for better relations with others and in my own terrible loneliness and isolation, I have simply sought to understand others as they are, to listen to them speak their own stories even as I feel compelled to tell my own. Whether someone is young or old, male or female, I see them as people worth getting to know as they are and worth being respected for who they are, apart from any kind of ulterior motives. This is especially a matter of concern that I face in my friendships with the teenagers I have gotten to know in my congregation through my singing and involvement in sports and the life of the congregation. In light of my general friendliness [1] and extreme caution when it comes to romance and intimacy, I find it more than a little baffling when I draw the teasing and playfulness of teen girls, given that I am not intending to awaken any sort of inappropriate longings [2] and wish to conduct any courtship in an open and honorable fashion, without giving anyone cause for regret or shame.

So, how did I get to be a chick magnet in the first place? I don’t consider myself to be a particularly handsome person, and I’m definitely a serious person who requires suitable company to have a lot of fun. I like to get to know people, and regardless of how young or how much of an outsider someone is, I’m generally interested in seeing them for who they are and hearing their story. I’m curious about how others are doing and like to spend time with others. I’m rather gentle and kind by nature, and awkwardly honest about myself in my own quirky way. I find other people interesting and worthy of attention and concern, and even the concerns and fears of little children are worth paying attention to and attending to. For I too remember what it is like to be a little person whose needs were not met and whose longings for gentleness and kindness were met with abuse and harshness from those who should have been the most loving and understanding. I have resolved that whatever issues I have in my own life that I will treat others better than I have been treated. I too remember what it is like to be a teen and a young man whose tentative and shy efforts at flirtation and courtship have been met with grave threats and deep and cutting offenses. If my own character and personality has not been enough for me to fulfill my own longings for a wife and children of my own, it certainly has made me at least somewhat popular with those girls who truly deserve more understanding treatment from friends and family, and even (God willing, when the time and situation are right) a loving husband someday in the future. For the good thing about my being a chick magnet is that I am puzzled and confused by the interest others show in me, and that I am resolved to treat the girls tenderly and let them live in innocent joy without the burdens I have carried on my shoulders since I was an infant and the horrors that still haunt my nightmares even now.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/29/may-you-enter-this-house-a-guest-and-leave-it-a-friend/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/a-friend-of-the-savior-is-a-friend-of-mine/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/a-friend-loves-at-all-times/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/i-can-tell-that-we-are-gonna-be-friends/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/almost-every-stranger-is-a-potential-friend/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/12/22/showing-oneself-friendly

[2] /http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/do-not-stir-up-nor-awaken-love-until-it-pleases/

Posted in Christianity, Love & Marriage, Musings | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

We Are All Migrants Here

Yesterday afternoon I watched the first week’s lectures of a new online course I am taking on Latin American Culture. Although I have not been to Latin America since a rather disastrous Feast of Tabernacles in 2009, when I spent most of the feast sick with the flu, wrapping myself in layers and constantly thirsty, with most of my voice gone, still responsible for singing, playing the viola, and translating, and dealing with some spectacularly unsuccessful personal business with a young lady while having to be the go-between between her aunt (who did not speak English) and a friendly fellow from the United States (who did not speak Spanish) where they were both interested in each other and unable to communicate because of the language barrier between them. That said, I still have a lot of friends in Latin America and a general interest in its well-being that goes back to my childhood, when some of my earliest friends were migrant farmers in Central Florida who, like me, lived a somewhat nomadic life.

Migrants are a fairly vulnerable population, wherever they are. Usually the sort of long-distance travel that migrants are involved in tends to leave them in areas where the language, culture, and laws are somewhat unfamiliar. Additionally, migrants often travel as small families or even more so as individuals without a great deal of social cohesion, leaving them without a large safety net that they can depend on as they seek to make a new life in a new place. It is therefore not a surprise that such people tend to be often taken advantage of, in part because they are often seen as being in competition with more established groups and because they lack the firm citizenship and deep roots that give their own longings a sense of legitimacy. Worse, because migrants often feel trapped (and it is their desire for improvement or escape that leads them to migrate in the first place) that exploitation in their new realm can often be preferable to what they were leaving in their previous situations.

The Bible has a lot to say about migrants, usually under the term “strangers” [1]. Ephesians 2:19, for example, is at pains to comfort Gentile believers who have left behind their heathen ways and adopted the biblical worldview and a belief in Christ by telling them: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” As God told Abraham in Genesis 15:13: “Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years.” Likewise, the unfairly maligned law of God contains numerous protections of servants, including the general protection of Exodus 23:9: “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” There is also specific protection for strangers, as is the case of the Sabbath law in Exodus 23:12: “Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.” Clearly, God views the plight of the migrant with a great deal of compassion, and expects us to do the same, with the memory that we too are migrants and strangers here, sometimes by His design.

How did I come to identify with the migrants of my youth, who looked differently than I did and spoke Spanish far better than English, most of them coming from Mexico. I suppose, in a way, I had the heart of a stranger myself, and so I could recognize that these people, as differently as they appeared from me, were strangers here too, and I was drawn to the fellow outsiders. For I was born to a family of blue collar farmers and bus drivers in rural Western Pennsylvania, and I grew up in Florida as a migrant brought by my family’s breakup. Once my parents divorced, I became (like my friends and neighbors) a seasonal migrant, traveling to Pennsylvania when school was not in session (once in winter but general summer) and then traveling back just before school started. As a result of having strong ties to both regions, I ended up not feeling at home in either, and so it is not particularly surprising that my adult life should find me as a migrant living in such places as Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Thailand, and now the Pacific Northwest. I too know the heart of a migrant, because I have it within me, along with the intense longing to belong, even if I do not know exactly how I would recognize it.

As it happens, the places where I have lived often have had a reputation for being places for migration. This is probably not a coincidence. Florida, for example, remains to this day an area best known for tourism and the seasonal migration of agricultural workers from Latin America as well as elderly people from the Northern United States and Canada, as well as the home of refugees from Cuba and Haiti and other places, and it was a place famous for migrants long before that, from the scions of slaveholding families seeking virgin land and a better life to escaped slaves looking to find a community and freedom. Los Angeles is famous as the place where migrants have traveled in search of fame. Thailand is a place where migrants from Southeast Asia travel in search of work, some of whom end up being exploited as labor and some in child prostitution, a notorious reputation of mistreatment of strangers. Likewise, the Pacific Northwest was the origin of the term “Shanghaing” for taking people as indentured boat workers, a place of exploitation of strangers, and a place where some strangers (like free blacks) were not welcome in the time before the American Civil War. It is, for all of its faults, a place that is well known nowadays as a place of somewhat odd people from diverse backgrounds, and the place where I find myself as a stranger now.

In one sense, though, the Americas are a place where all are strangers. There are none who are truly native here. Those who are called First Peoples or Native Americans were not in the least native to this land. However many thousands of years ago they came here, they came in boats or over a landbridge in Alaska from their homeland in what is now called Siberia and traveled here as strangers and migrants seeking a better life, exterminating its large animals and pushing into new lands in several waves, some of whom arrived in places like Greenland and the Arctic not long before Europeans started pushing into the land from the other way. We are all migrants here, all strangers, all outsiders seeking to belong and claim this land as our home and claim our legitimate place within this complicated world we have found ourselves in. Whether we walked here through glacial valleys, came here as religious or political refugees, were ambitious commoners seeking a better life, or came here on crowded slave boats or in steerage as indentured servants, we are all strangers, foreigners, and migrants. However different our tongues or appearances or origins, we all have the heart of a stranger within us. Why is it so hard for us to honor that heart in others, and so easy for us to forget that we are strangers too when we see someone who happens to be just a slightly more recent stranger than we ourselves are.

In a larger sense, we are all migrants here on this earth. We are all born in places where we are new, and where everything is strange. Over the course of our lives, we observe how to speak and how to behave, how to express ourselves and understand the intentions and behaviors of others. Young people as well are delightful strangers, whose own thoughts and feelings are alien to them, and who want very hard to fit in and are very observant of how others are behaving in part so that they can successfully mimic those behaviors and no longer be seen as strangers and outsiders anymore. It is not coincidence that among the most notable problems of childhood and adolescence is the desire to fit in and to belong, and that much success in life appears to be related to being able to successfully fit in and blend in even in adult life (where such political behaviors do not vanish, but only intensify). How do we act as migrants here, and how do we recognize the heart of a stranger that lies within us, and within everyone else as well? Maybe if we realized that everyone else was a stranger and migrant themselves, we would cease to be so hard on those who are so much like ourselves, and instead act with understanding and compassion to make others feel at home in the same way we want to feel ourselves. Perhaps our shared longings might bring us together instead of leading us to tear down everyone else in search of the same things that we are. For we are not competition after all, but fellow strangers here brought here for a purpose and plan that is not our own.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/11/what-to-do-when-youre-a-stranger-in-town/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/book-review-strangers-at-my-door/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-kindness-of-a-stranger/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/06/17/strangers-in-the-night/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/02/19/psalm-39-for-i-am-a-stranger-with-you/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/almost-every-stranger-is-a-potential-friend/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/10/15/stranger-in-a-strange-land/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/no-more-a-stranger-or-a-guest/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/27/you-shall-leave-them-for-the-poor-and-for-the-stranger/

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Book Review: Spiritual Warfare Jesus’ Way

Spiritual Warfare Jesus’ Way: How To Conquer Evil Spirits & Live Victoriously, by Larry Richards

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Chosen Books in exchange for an honest review.]

I should state at the outset that this book is not likely to be something that everyone enjoys reading about. Spiritual warfare is a subject of great personal interest, both in reading and writing [1], largely because of my own harrowing personal life. I might not have cared as much about darkness in high places if it did not care so much about me. Interestingly enough, this book, which takes a detailed and pointed look at Jesus’ involvement with the demon world, comes to the same conclusion, that we should not go looking for trouble in the spirit world, but rather we should be direct and courageous when we are faced with demons, knowing that we have been given the victory through Jesus Christ, and any such power and confidence we have is not because of who we are as individuals, but who we are in relationship to God the Father and Jesus Christ. This is a useful tip, and probably the first thing that needs to be remembered in dealing with the subject material of this book.

There are, broadly, two kinds of books that deal with the subject of spiritual warfare. The first kind is a sort of memoir that seeks to show the legitimacy of binding demons and freeing people from being troubled by them. This book is the second kind, featuring theoretical and practical tips on dealing with spiritual warfare, keen on making sure that the reader understands that this is conducting spiritual warfare as it was conducted by Jesus Christ (and the early disciples of the Church) rather than being a matter of personal glory. That said, this particular book has an attitude of tactical flexibility when it comes to dealing with the demon world, along with a focus on practical tips as well as the overall picture.

The contents of this book are notable. Although this is a relatively small book (even with the 40 page or so appendix on the encounters of Jesus with demons in the Gospels, the book is only about 180 pages), it has six parts and twenty short chapters. The first part of the book looks at the origins of the spiritual war not only in Eden but also in the rebellion of Satan. The passages used in this section, like Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28, are likely to be familiar to many readers. The second part of the book deals with personal preparation for spiritual warfare, looking especially at how Jesus Christ prepared Himself as a human being for His temptations in the wilderness. The third part of the book looks at the context of spiritual conquest in terms of the model of Jesus as well as the role of friends and the ground rules about dealing with the spirit world. The fourth part of the book looks at defining demonization, which is the author’s way of dealing with the question of where demon possession lies in terms of someone’s spiritual state, including the symptoms of demon possession. The fifth part of the book looks at the way one confronts and overcomes demons through confidence in the power of the Holy Spirit and overcoming the legalism and hierarchy that demons operate by. The sixth, and smallest, part of the book looks at three guidelines for victorious Christian living: being aware of Christ’s presence, nurturing love and concern for others, and accepting one’s role in spiritual warfare. Since we do not often choose spiritual warfare, but it chooses us, these are wise guidelines.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/book-review-deliver-us-from-evil/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/07/20/its-where-my-demons-hide/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/10/13/on-resurrections/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/mark-3-20-27-matthew-12-22-30-luke-11-14-23-satans-house-divided/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/02/an-introduction-to-satans-house-divided/

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A Surreal Life

When I was in the 6th grade, I won my first and to-date only art prize. While there are many gifts that I have been given, graphic arts and drawing are not one of them. We were given the assignment in English class to draw the picture of a horse in honor of the somewhat downtrodden and inglorious but noble-hearted English horse of the novel. I wanted to draw a noble steed, in elegant proportions, but the horse I ended up drawing was a bony and deformed horse on what looked like a blighted lunarscape [1]. I was immensely disappointed with the result, as I wanted to draw a thing of beauty and ended up drawing something deformed and twisted. A few weeks later I ended up winning an award for the best surrealist drawing, and I had to look up what surrealism was, since I did not know. I have long thought, though, that I have lived a very surreal life, and so I suppose that it would make sense that surrealism is what my art would look like, despite my own preferences in the matter.

The second most famous story involving my eponymous prophet occurs in 1 Chronicles 17, when David asked the prophet Nathan if he could build the temple and Nathan was told that David could not. The last part of Nathan’s comments and the first part of David’s reply in 1 Chronicles 17:11-19 is a memorable passage in scripture: “”‘And it shall be, when your days are fulfilled, when you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up your seed after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My mercy away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. And I will establish him in My house and in My kingdom forever; and his throne shall be established forever.’” According to all these words and according to all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David. Then King David went in and sat before the Lord; and he said: “Who am I, O Lord God? And what is my house, that You have brought me this far? And yet this was a small thing in Your sight, O God; and You have also spoken of Your servant’s house for a great while to come, and have regarded me according to the rank of a man of high degree, O Lord God. What more can David say to You for the honor of Your servant? For You know Your servant. O Lord, for Your servant’s sake, and according to Your own heart, You have done all this greatness, in making known all these great things.”

Today a rather surreal event happened to me that other people might not necessarily find to be all that surreal. I have a scheduled shift from 6AM to 3PM, with an hour lunch that I generally plan on taking at noon. At about 11:45AM today I received a notice that there was a conference call at noon with a company that wishes to have us as a customer. I was one of three ‘key’ employees on the call dealing with questions of reporting to see what they could do with us to help in data integration. The talk went well, and we scheduled a demo on Tuesday morning to see what they have to offer in more detail. It felt somewhat odd for me to be considered a key employee and a subject expert, and it made me wonder if I had somehow stepped into some bizarre parallel universe. Then again, I suppose the fact that this was my second strategic meeting in less than 24 hours [2] means that at least at some level I have some kind of strong interest and aptitude for such strategic meetings and communication of that sort.

Considering that I have a master’s degree in engineering management, I suppose it ought not to be a surprise in my mind at least that I have an interest in strategic meetings, and a certain level of skill in phrasing concerns about how systems are supposed to work in an efficient and effective manner. The problem, as is so often the case in my life, is not one of the mind but rather of the heart. How does one feel that one belongs? It is one thing to show competence and trustworthiness, but how does one feel comfortable for oneself? That is a question that I circle around over and over and over again [3], and whatever I know in my mind, it is a vastly more difficult matter to feel it in my heart. So many of the deepest longings of my heart depend on being able to build trust. To do it right will require all the help from God that I can get; what I want for my life I cannot obtain on my own without help from another place, no matter all of the efforts I have made. Perhaps life has plenty of surprises and surrealism left in store. The night is still young, and so am I, or at least so I tell myself.

[1] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/12/27/book-review-the-age-of-consent/

[2] http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/the-usual-suspects/

[3] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/trust-is-what-im-offering-if-you-trouble-me/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/trust-in-me/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/04/13/your-trust-account-is-overdrawn/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/03/22/trust-and-the-limitations-of-success/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/in-the-absence-of-trust/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/book-review-the-speed-of-trust/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/12/a-matter-of-trust/

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Book Review: The Jesus Code

The Jesus Code: 52 Scripture Questions Every Believer Should Answer, by O.S. Hawkins

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]

This book might attract some attention of the wrong kind because of its title, which seems a bit of a tease. This book, truth be told, is not a code at all. What it is, instead, is a decent devotional [1] that asks 52 serious biblical questions from Genesis to James that the author thinks everyone should answer. Most of the questions have somewhat straightforward answers, and a lot of the answers have to deal with Jesus Christ or questions of Christian conduct and belief. Many of them are questions that I ask of my life for myself (for example: Who do you say that I am? Who can find a virtuous wife? Should such a man as I flee?), and the book spends about five pages or so with each of the questions (one for each week).

Many of the questions seem to be about a selected few themes, like moral conduct, the relationship between grace and works, and the seminal importance of Jesus Christ. The author has written a few other books, including a similar work of weekly devotionals that is equally misnamed (The Joshua Code). It would appear to me that the author wishes to capitalize on the interest in codes to draw people to a book that is straightforwardly a book of questions that demand answers and which the Bible answers in its typical combination of human effort and also divine providence. As might be expected by a competent writer with a certain taste in personal as well as societal observations, there is a lot of fairly superficial understanding about the Bible that can be gleaned from this book, and so long as one is expected a book that teases a lot more than it provides (which quite frankly, is what I tend to expect and get from many areas of life), one will not be too upset by the mostly pleasant finished product.

Nevertheless, there are a few elements that prevent this book from being a great one, and it is worth discussing them in some detail, as some of these areas are quite serious. For one, it appears as if the author makes the common (if lamentable) mistake of equating traditional American culture with the ways of God, looking back to people like George Washington as paragons of Christian faith, and not recognizing that they too had their sins (notably the hypocrisy of seeking a rebellion in order to preserve a corrupt slaveholding elite). Likewise, while the author speaks a lot about the importance of godly conduct, this conduct is remarkably free of insight concerning the ways of God that were followed by Jesus Christ that we are to emulate. This book substitutes rhyming and shallow jargony “minister” phrases and superficially conceived allegorical explanations of biblical events and symbols for a deep and thoughtful examination of the Word. Likewise, the author appears to have the Hellenistic Christian view of seeking one level of truth for a given scriptural passage rather than realizing the immensely richly layered nature that biblical truth (and the writings of other people, like me) possesses. Given these flaws, this book does not rise to the highest level, but if you’re looking for a thoughtful stab at some important biblical questions, one can do a lot worse than this modest work.

[1] See, for example:

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/book-review-take-time-to-be-holy/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/11/05/book-review-under-the-rainbow/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/book-review-40-days-of-grace/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/book-review-ranbows-for-rainy-days/

http://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/book-review-limitless/

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