Tag Archives: the cross

Holy Cross Day

Day of Judgment

The Prophet Isaiah forecast a time when God would hold a court to judge humankind for sin. God was speaking to the nation of Israel, but Israel was a proxy for all the nations of the world:

Declare and present your case;
let them take counsel together!

Who told this long ago?
Who declared it of old?

Was it not I, the Lord?
There is no other god besides me,

a righteous God and a Saviour;
there is no one besides me.   (Isaiah 45:21)

We are asked by God to present our case to him. God is also saying that he is qualified to judge our case because he is creator and has established all life. There is no other god besides him. Furthermore, his very nature and character qualifies him. He will be fair because he is not only a righteous God, but he is also our Savior.

A righteous God must be fair, but he must also be just. He must declare the injustice caused by sin. Sin cannot be ignored or swept under the rug. How is God able to accomplish this most difficult task, that of being both compassionate and just?

Before his verdict of guilty and penalty of death, God provided a path of escape. He did so through his Son Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul reminds us of the cruel crucifixion of Jesus by his own choice and desire:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,

but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.

And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,

so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:5-11)

In today’s Gospel reading we see a link between the judgement of God and a route of escape:

Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.   (John 12:31-33)

On the cross the sins of the whole world were judged. Jesus bore our sins for us while hanging from a cross and receiving the Father’s judgement. The righteous One  became sin.  The judgement of sin was once and for all, for all who believe. The Apostle Paul’ wrote:

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   (Romans 6:23)

Have we allowed God to judge our sins through his Son Jesus? If so, we must acknowledge it. We must turn towards Jesus. We must see him on the cross standing in for us.

God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah:

Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.

By myself I have sworn,
from my mouth has gone forth in righteousness
a word that shall not return:

“To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear.”

Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
are righteousness and strength;

all who were incensed against him
shall come to him and be ashamed.

In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
shall triumph and glory.   (Isaiah 45:22-25)

Do we want triumph and glory? The only judgement of God that is left is the judgement of fallen angels. That judgement is not meant for us. Do we ignore such a great gift of salvation established on a Holy Cross? If Jesus humbled himself, why can we not humble ourselves? In Hebrews we read:

Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the message declared through angels was valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty, how can we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? It was declared at first through the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will..   (Hebrews 2:1-4)

The cross was very cruel instrument of torture and death. How can it be holy? We say that it is holy only because it can make us holy. We have been washed in the blood of Jesus. Thanks be to God.

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Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 18

Track 1: The Potter’s House

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

We have all been created in the image of God, but are all not to be the same. God has given us various gifts and talents. He has a distinct vision and purpose for each of us. He is a God of variety.

Today, let us look at God as a potter. We have this analogy in today’s reading from Jeremiah:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.   (Jeremiah 18:1-4)

The psalmist wrote:

Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

You trace my journeys and my resting-places
and are acquainted with all my ways.

Indeed, there is not a word on my lips,
but you, O Lord, know it altogether.

You press upon me behind and before
and lay your hand upon me.   (Psalm 139:1-4)

We are given a picture of God shaping us as a potter would has clay. The potter has expectations. God had expectations for Israel. but Israel had gone its own way. Again, reading from Jeremiah:

Then the word of the Lord came to me: Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the Lord. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.   (Jeremiah 18:5-6)

Some times the potter has to brake the vessel he is working in order to reshape it into what he desires for it. This can be traumatic for those of us who refuse to trust God and work together with him.

Do we want to become the vessel God has in mind of us? Do we want to become the best we can be? Maybe we might want a different life that  would not be pleasing to God.

In today’s Gospel reading we have this radical statement of Jesus:

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.   (Luke 14:25-33)

Clearly, Jesus is using hyperbola to make his point. What is his point? In order for us to accept the life he has for us we must be will to give up the old life which did not include him. But his new life for us is not without costs. Are we willing to put ourselves in his hands regardless of the costs? Do the rewards of true discipleship outweigh the costs.

Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.   (John 10:10)

Satan has a counterfeit life for us, but it ultimately leads to destruction.

What about hating ones family? Sometimes family can place expectations on us that really do not match our interests and gifts. We remember there was a time when the family of Jesus wanted him to abandon his ministry and come home. To truly become who we are and what God meant us to be, we must follow his leadings more than anyone else, no matter who they are.

The good news is that God wants the very best for us:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.   (Jeremiah 29:11)

How can we assist God as he carries out his plan for us? How do we become the vessel he intends for us? I am reminded of this old hymn:

Have Thine own way LordHave Thine own wayThou art the potter I am the clayMold me and make me after Thy willWhile I am waiting yielded and still

We need to remember the potter’s house.

 

Track 2: Choose Life

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 1
Philemon 1-21
Luke 14:25-33

It has been said that our lives are determined by a series of choices that we make. Perhaps this is true, at least in part. There is an underlying choice, however, which influences all of those choices.

The nation of Israel was facing a choice. Israel was, at last, prepared to enter into the promised land. Mose called all the people together before him:

Moses said to all Israel the words which the Lord commanded him, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.”   (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)

What lay ahead of Israel was either blessings or curses. It all depended on whom they would worship and serve. Would that be the God who rescued them from slavery from Egypt or some false god Satan designed to lead them astray. It was a life or death situation for them. Moses implored them to choose life.

In today’s Gospel reading we have this stark saying of Jesus:

“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.   (Luke 14:26-27)

In some ways he seems to echo Moses. What is Jesus saying? Clearly, he is using hyperbola. Jesus is saying that who we love the most will determine our destiny. We are facing a life and death situation, as was Israel. Whom will we serve? Whom or what will we worship? One choice leads to an abundant life. Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.   (John 10:10)

(This has little to do with the so called prosperity gospel. Rather it is about experiencing a taste of God’s kingdom on earth: righteousness, peace, and joy.)

The other choice leads to a mere existence which soon passes away. The psalmist wrote:

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners,
nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper.

It is not so with the wicked;
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.  (Psalm 1:1-4)

We experience many choices in our lives. How we face them will depend on the choice we made concerning Jesus. He will determine our direction and ultimate destination. We remember this well known question from his disciple Thomas:

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.   (John 14:5-6)

Jesus has already made the most difficult choice that anyone could make. He chose to die on a cruel cross to wash away all our sins. What is the choice we make for him?

 

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Twelth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 17

Track 1: Cracked Cisterns

Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

What is our source of strength in this life? Reading from today’s Old Testament:

My people have committed two evils:
they have forsaken me,

the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,

cracked cisterns
that can hold no water.   (Jeremiah 2:13)

God complained through the psalmist:

I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt and said,
“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

And yet my people did not hear my voice,
and Israel would not obey me.

So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their hearts,
to follow their own devices.

Oh, that my people would listen to me!
that Israel would walk in my ways!   (Psalm 81:10-13)

Israel forsook the living water that God provided for them. How are we doing today? We live in a culture that is cracked and broken. We certainly do not want to rely on it as a source for anything. Yet Satan is more than ready to provide for us his counterfeit cistern. We are feed it each day in our entertainment, media, and in some of our churches.

There is a fountain of living water that God still provides for his people, but we must choose to drink from it.. Have we sought this water?

The psalmist wrote:

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light we see light.   (Psalm 36:7-9)

The living water is the fountain of life. There is no life without it, just existence. Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well, we may remember. She was only living an existence. He said to her:

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”   (John 4)

She asked him:

“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

 

Track 2: All Who Exalt Themselves

Sirach 10:12-18
or Proverbs 25:6-7
Psalm 112
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

In this world there is a ranking order. Perhaps we pay a little too much attention to it. Reading from today’s Gospel:

When Jesus noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, `Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, `Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”   (Luke 14:7-11)

The Apostle Paul wrote:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or empty conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.   (Philippians 2:3)

This was not the attitude of the Pharisee:

Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying,
“The scribes and the Pharisees
have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.
Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you,
but do not follow their example.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels.
They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
As for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi.’
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.   (Matthew 23:1-8)

Is there a pecking order that we should follow? Not according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We read in the Book of James:

My brothers and sisters, do not claim the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ of glory while showing partiality. For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here in a good place, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit by my footstool,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?   (James 2:1-5)

The pecking order is a smoke screen of Satan. It is a distraction so that we will not be concerned about the needs of others. Satan is suggesting that we must earn our way into a place of importance.If we buy into him, we will find ourselves judging the spiritual walk of others. Not only that, we will become a stumbling block for others.

Is’t time to drop the competitive Christianity and live the life of Christ? Paul wrote:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he existed in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
assuming human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a human,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God exalted him even more highly
and gave him the name
that is above every other name,
so that at the name given to Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.   (Philippians 2:%-11)

Jesus is Lord. He alone is worthy of praise. We stand at the foot of his cross. in this place the ground is level for all of us. Only Jesus can raise us up on high.

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Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 16

Track 1: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Let us begin with the Old Testament reading:

The word of the Lord came to me saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you,
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,

says the Lord.”   (Jeremiah 1:4-8)

God watches over our lives from a very early age, beginning in our mother’s womb. King David understood this when he composed this psalm:

Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.

For you are my hope, O Lord God,
my confidence since I was young.

I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength;
my praise shall be always of you.   (Psalm 71:5-6)

How much does God have to do with our birthing? The psalmist wrote:

For it was you who formed my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.   (Psalm 139:13-16)

Let us examine the call by God on the Prophet Isaiah. When did that call begin?

Listen to me, O coastlands,
    pay attention, you peoples from far away!
The Lord called me before I was born,
    while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
    in his quiver he hid me away.
And he said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain,
    I have spent my strength for nothing and vanity;
yet surely my cause is with the Lord,
    and my reward with my God.”

And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”   (Isaiah 49:1-6)

Where would we be without the great prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah? How many prophets have we aborted in the womb?

The Church should be the moral compass. Are we not speaking out that abortions are wrong? But what if the life of the mother is at risk? How often does that occur? Enough to justify the killing of millions of babies? Is not abortion, for the majority, just a convenient form of brith control? And murder of children?

The Church is always under pressure not to tell the truth, or not to do the right thing. This is not new. Jesus was under that pressure:

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.   (Luke 13:10-17)

The religious rulers were trying to place shame on Jesus. When Jesus did and spoke the truth, the shame fell back on his opponents.

Religious leaders do not always have the right motives. Let us recall what the Apostle Paul was facing:

Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry but others from goodwill.   (Philippians 1:15)

What are our motives today in the Church? Is it about membership numbers? Or my doctrine is more right than hour doctrine? If we preach and teach and act from a heart that loves God, then we will keep his commandments. Just before his ascension Jesus gave the great commandment to his disciples:

Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.   (Mark 16:15)

We are his disciples today. Let us speak up. Let us speak out. And let us tell the truth in love. The are called to change the world. The world should not be changing us.

 

 

Track 2: From Bondage to Freedom

Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

In today’s Gospel reading we have this wonderful healing of the crippled woman:

Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.”   (Luke 13:10-14)

Jesus answered him:

“You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.   (Luke 13:15-17)

Satan’s desire and plan is to put many people as possible into bondage. He wants to keep us from experiencing the healing, freedom, and love which God extends to everyone who blesses his Holy Name. Jesus came to defeat the works of the Devil.

How do we respond to such a healing and deliverance? Do we believe Jesus is still miraculously healing people today? Or are rules, regulations, and doctrine standing in the way?

The psalmist wrote:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.

He forgives all your sins
and heals all your infirmities;

He redeems your life from the grave
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;

He satisfies you with good things,
and your youth is renewed like an eagle’s.   (Psalm 103:1-5)

Why would anyone want to keep people in bondage? God warned Israel through the Prophet Isaiah:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.   (Isaiah 58:9-?)

God is telling those in authority: quit the speaking of evil against people, quit pointing the finger at others, quit placing a yoke around the necks of people to hold them back. He is saying: If you think you are righteous, start doing righteous acts.

Jesus called out the scribes and Pharisees:

They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others, but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.   (Matthew 23:2-4)

The heavy burdens, alone, would be punishment enough. Except, it gets worse. Jesus, declared:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in you stop them. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.   (Matthew 23:13-15)

Are we bound in the our church today? Are we locking people out of the kingdom of God by laying religious burdens on them? The Apostle Paul wrote::

If with Christ you died to the elemental principles of the world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.   (Colossians 2:20-23)

These burdens have a way of creeping into our churches. This was happening at the Church in Galatia. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Church:

For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.   (Galatians 5:1)

False teachers had entered this church, saying that faith in Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection was not enough for salvation. Unbelief of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the cause for any bondage. People want to step in and make u the difference that they believe is lacking in the Gospel.

What is the solution? What is the correction? Paul clarifies:

We have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by the faith of Christ and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law. But if, in our effort to be justified in Christ, we ourselves have been found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again the very things that I once tore down, then I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.   (Galatians 2:16-21)

We need Jesus. We need his sacrifice o the cross. We need his teaching. We need his Word. Jesus said:

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”   (John 8:31-32)

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