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March 15, 2011 / compassioninpolitics

Answers to the Problem of Pain: A Theodicy on Faith Part II

The holidays, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas have this element to them where it just kind of takes you back and helps you remember things that you have been through. If you’re anything like me, when you go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas you just kind of relive a lot of memories that you have made. This past week as I was home I was just thinking about when I was younger, I think when I was in third grade, me and my younger brother and my cousin we got for Christmas we got rollerblades and stuff for hockey and it was the best Christmas ever. We set up the goals in the street in from of my grandmother’s house. We played for three or four hours. It is so much fun checking your brother into someone else’s yard. It’s just an awesome thing. I don’t know if you guys in hockey just doing this I was thinking about how much I love my family, the good memories I have made with them.

I was thinking about my grandmother who… I would go over to her house and she was just the most beautiful, kindest woman of God that I knew. Every time I would go to her house she would get up from the couch and she had a breathing machine because she smoked for the majority of her life and so she had to be on it basically all the time and she would get up, we would walk in the door and she would put on this bright red lipstick and it’s like, she loved to just take our little heads and bring them to her face and kiss us and leave her big red lipstick on our cheeks. I think that there’s something incredible powerful, something incredible important about stopping and remembering the things that we have been through. I think that time has this ability to make us forget about important and special things. My grandmother that I was just telling you about, she passed away. It will be ten years ago this upcoming February and when she first passed away I remember I would go to my grandfather’s house and I would sit on the couch and he and I would be talking and I would look over to the place that she sat on her couch and it was as if she was still there. I could see her smile, I could hear her laugh, I could hear her voice. It was like she was still there with us. When she passed away my mom and my two aunts, they got to divide up her stuff and so her rings and her possessions. My mom got my grandmother’s wedding dress which is a big deal. She kept it in this closet in our house that for the longest time they didn’t really want me and my brother and sister to find out about because it was where they kept the Christmas presents. But about this time every year I would go snooping in there because I wanted to see what I got and I remember I would open up the door and my grandmother had this distinct smell about her but it was a great smell, it wasn’t like a typical grandmother, mothball smell. She had this beautiful perfume that she wore and I would open the door and I would catch a drift of my grandmother and in those moments I would stop and reflect and remember her and I would remember her laugh, I would remember all the kisses she gave us and I remember all the things that she did, how we would sit in the floor and watch TV and eat popcorn. She would scratch our back, I just flooded back all these incredible memories and I was thinking about this two week series that we’re in right now where we’re talking about faith and what it looks like to respond to God, what we’re supposed to do when we go through seasons where we can’t hear God, where we can’t feel God, where we can’t see God.

If you were with us last week, we talked about our spiritual forefathers in Hebrews Chapter 11, we talked about Noah and Abraham and Daniel and all these other men how even in moments where God was silent, even in moments where they didn’t see God or feel God they were still obedient to him. They kept pursuing God and even after 20 and 30 and 40 and 50 years without hearing God’s voice, without seeing His face, they would remind themselves of the things that God had done. They would remind themselves of the words they had heard God speak to them. They kept the faith. The kept pursuing God and scripture says that God rewarded them because of their faith. Their lives got better because of their faith in God. If you go back and you read the Old Testament, you read about Abraham, you read about Noah, you read about David and their lives got better. They go wealthier and they inherited all these animals and all this land, they got promoted to high ranking offices, their lives got better because of their faith. What I want to do tonight is I want to pick up where we left off last week and I think we have some misconceptions about faith and I just want us to talk through some of those things and to get a clear picture of what God expects from us.

If you have your bibles tonight, we’re going to be in Hebrews Chapter 11. The end of 11 the first part of 12. If you don’t have a bible and you want to use one of ours they’re in the chairs and we going to be on page 215. If you don’t have a bible and you want to take that home with you, we would love to give that to you. Consider that a gift from us. Let’s pray real quick before we jump in.
God I love you so very much. I love being here tonight with these people. I can’t think of a better place that I would rather be than in a room studying scripture, drawing near to you. I am thankful for the energy and the excitement and the passion that these people have brought to you. God you are better than anything. You are better than any game, you’re better than any team, you’re better than anything we’ve experienced and God we just come to you tonight to give you everything that we have. I pray you will teach us and mold us and would you open our hearts? Would you do the heavy lifting that only you can do? A lot of us need to be changed tonight. So I just pray that you’ll soften hearts and give us ears that hear you. In Christ we pray, amen.

Hebrews 11 starting verse 35 it says, “Women receive back their dead, raised to life again.” There are others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning. They were sawed in two. They were killed by the sword. They went about in sheep skins and goat skins destitiute, persecuted and mistreated. The world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith yet none of them received what had been promised and I was reading through that this week I was convinced. Theses were the people of God. Theses were the people just like you and me who believed in God and their lives did not turn out the way you would expect.

I think we live with this misconception in our culture and our world, we believe this myth that says that when you give your life to Christ that things are supposed to get better. That is just not anywhere in scripture. It is not true. When you see when we embrace this way of thinking, when we believe this, when we walk into a relationship with Christ thinking this it leaves us confused and angry and on a path far away from God when bad things happen to us or when our lives don’t get better. Listen. Your life does not get better when you follow Jesus. That is not what he promises. You don’t get a Lexus and a mansion in Belle Meade, you don’t get a life free from pain and heartache, you don’t get an early retirement, you don’t get a golf club at Legends, or golf membership at Legends. What you get is Jesus. What you get is Jesus. You get a relationship with a God who thought of you with the God that spoke you into existence—the God who created you. You get a relationship with Jesus. That is what you get when you follow Christ.

There is something about theses people I’m going to read about it in the scripture in the end of Hebrews 11. They just found something in Jesus. He said, “Jesus you mean more to me than anything, more than anything. I give my life to you.” This is real stuff these are things that actually happened it is not just some history book it’s not a bunch of fiction—this is true. Believers in Yahweh God, the God that you and I are worshiping tonight and the God that you and I are drawing near to tonight, the God that we serve. Believers in that God were stoned to death because of their faith in Jesus. So, people would literally take rocks and they would throw them at you until you hit the ground, until you became unconscious, until your heart quit beating, they’d continue to throw rocks at you until you die. People were put in prison for life. Can you imagine, the rest of your life? You don’t get to get married, you don’t get to have kids, you don’t get to see grandkids, you don’t get anything. At 19, 20, 21, 25 you’re in prison for the rest of your life. Because you said “Jesus, you’re my everything.”

I was thinking about these men and women who have gone before us who were committed to Christ to the point of death. I just wonder, how do I get to that place of devotion. How do I get to that place of commitment to Jesus? How do you get there? Most of us, we won’t even give our money to God. We won’t give our possessions to people who need them. We won’t give our time to Christ much less our lives. Very few of you are committed to Jesus to the point of death. Where are we missing it? Don’t you feel like you’re missing it sometimes? What was different about these people’s lives that they were willing to die because they loved God, because they refused to disobey him, they refused to walk away from him. What is different about their life, we’re missing something. We struggle to invest time everyday in our relationship with God. It is a struggle for us to get up and spend time in the Word. It’s a struggle for us to get on our knees and confess our sin, it’s a struggle for us to invest in other people, it’s a struggle for us to do these mediocre, minimal things. If we’re honest, we love Jesus very little.

About 107 years before Jesus, there was this king named Antiochus Epiphanes. He was king of this major empire called Syria. What you need to know about this guy Antiochus Epiphanes is he loved all things Greek. He was obsessed with the Greeks. He loved their clothes and he loved their culture and the loved their architecture, he loved their athletic events. He was obsessed with the Greeks. What he decided what he wanted to do was since he was king of Syria, since he had all the power, he was going to take all the things that were good about the Greeks and he was going to incorporate it into his way of life. He respected and loved the Greek way of life, he respected it so much. So one day he wakes up and he decides that he is going to go and completely wipe out and conquer this country that you might know of—it’s called Egypt. So the way that this would work is, as the king he’s rally the troops and say, “Today, we’re going to go take over this country and we’re going to take their gold and their money and we’re going to take it for ourselves and we’re going to take their women and they’re going to be our women and we’re going to take their land and all this is going to be ours. When you’re a powerful army you can do that.

So Antiochus Epiphanes rallies his troop and he’s walking and he gets right to the gates of Egypt and a high-ranking Roman official meets him and says, “What are you doing?” He says, “I’m going to conquer Egypt, I’m going to take over this.” And they said, “No, you’re not. We in Rome, the Romans have decided that you’re not going to overtake Egypt and if you decide to go on with this and overtake it you’re going to be at odds with Rome and you do not want to be at odds with Rome.” So he had a decision to make, “Am I going to defy this Romans, the Greek influence that I love and respect so much, or am I going to obey them?” He decided to obey them so he hung his head and he went back home being humiliated. Can you imagine what the men who are fighting with you are thinking? What a coward. You made us get up early and walk all this way and now we’re just turning around for nothing? On his way back to Syria, in his anger he looks over and there’s this country. This group of people—the Jews. The Jews were the people who believed in God, they were the people who passed on the faith to us. The people who believed in God before Jesus came. He decided he was going to completely wipe out them because he was mad. They didn’t do anything to arouse his anger. They didn’t do anything to deserve this, because he was mad. Because he wasn’t able to conquer Egypt. He just went and took it out on someone else. So he goes and one day he killed 80,000 Jews. He killed 80,000 people who believed in God. It says that “10,000 more were sold into slavery.” Antiochus Epiphanes decided what he wanted to do was to go to the temple the place where people gather where you and I what we’re doing tonight, to worship God and to hear from scripture and to sing and to sacrifice and to give to God. He decided to take the temple and turn it into a brothel. So he brought prostitutes into the temple courts. Had men go in and have sex with them. Antiochus Epiphanes ordered the Jewish people they were not to recite the scriptures. They were not to have a copy of the scriptures, they were not to study scripture. He ordered them to worship the gods that he was going to set up. Gods made of wood and bronze and gold. He ordered them, “You can not worship Yahweh you must worship these gods. If you choose to disobey me there will be punishment, their will be consequences for your actions.”

I was reading this week about a first century man named Josephus, he was a Jewish historian. I was reading other books that were not included in the bible that were written the same time. They document things that happened to people because they refused to be swayed, because they refused to waiver in their commitment to God. One of the historians tells about seven brothers who were all devoted and followers of Jesus—of God. They were all punished in the most severe and inhumane ways you can imagine. They had this torture chamber essentially. What is what was this big wheel and what they would do is they would stretch people out on the wheel and they would tie chains to their arms and their legs and it would pull them until it ripped their arms off their body. It would pull them until it ripped their legs off their body. That’s how one of the brothers died. Because he refused to waiver in his commitment to Jesus—to God. one of the other brothers, they decided they wanted to be a little bit more creative so instead of stretching him out on the wheel and ripping his limbs off, they put him on the wheel and they set him on fire. They just watched him burn. One of the other brothers, they cut his tongue out and put him on a wheel. Another one of the brothers, they broke his fingers and his arms and his legs right before they put him on the wheel just to torture him even more. Another one of the brothers they put in a boiling pot of water and killed him. One by one, every single one of the brothers dies because they refused to budge in the commitment to God.

They didn’t get mansions, they didn’t get a Mercedes, they didn’t get all the benefits that Noah and Abraham and Daniel received and they died. They died young. They died with no possessions. They died not getting to enjoy life. I think this is why in verse 40 God had planned something better. Did you hear that? God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Do you really believe that? Do you really believe that there is something better waiting for the people of God? Do you really believe that? That one day you will be with Jesus, that one day you will see his face, that one day life will not end, that one day you will be raised immortal. That means you will never die so that for eternity, for the rest of eternity you will be with Jesus. You will see his face, you will hear his voice, you will walk with him. You will see Jesus, you will be with Jesus.

(Unintelligible:20:50) says that you will be rewarded in Heaven based on the things that you do on Earth. Do you believe that? Do you believe that there’s something better waiting for you, that there is something better, something beyond what we are living in right now. Maybe there is something worth enduring pain, enduring humiliation, enduring death because this life is not it for us.
Chapter 12 verse 1. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses and if … what he’s talking about there are the people that are listed before this. The great kind of witnesses Noah and Abraham and Daniel and David and Samuel and Paul and Peter and Matthew and the Apostles and the thousands of thousands of Christians who died painful undeserved death and the millions of Christians of people who believed in God that have gone before us that have believed in God, that have loved God, that have given everything up for God. Since we were surrounded by these people, since we are included in something within, since we are a part of something that is bigger than us that has been going on since the beginning of time, since we were surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. Let us throw off everything that hinders. And the sin that so easily entangles and I think he would tell us to remember the cloud of the witnesses that have gone before us. Remember that they gave everything to God. It inspires us. It reminds us that it’s worth it. It gives us hope and joy and it reminds us, it pats us on our back on our walk towards Jesus. It is worth it. There is something better waiting for you. It says that we throw off everything that hinders—everything. And I think it’s funny he doesn’t say, “We’ll tackle on sin at a time, we’ll tackle one hindrance at a time.

What you and I like to do is we like to name our sins and we say ok, I struggle with gossip so what I am going to do is I’m going to spend all of my time and my energy attacking gossip and I am going to put all of my time and energy into defeating gossip and then once I get that conquered then I will move on to another sin. Once I get that conquered then I will move on to the lust, then I will move on to my jealousy issue then my arrogance issue and that is not what he said. He said you don’t create a list and figure out how to overcome one by one. What you do is you throw off everything that hinders you. You lay down. You put down everything, every sin that is keeping you from God so that you can live for Jesus. So that you can run towards Christ. So that nothing distracts you or cripples you or keeps you from Jesus. You lay down your sins. If you and I, as people of God and I know that everyone in this room is not a Christian, but for the ones that are.

As the people of God, if you’re serious about following Jesus, if you really do want to follow him. If you think he is the son of God, if you’re convinced that he is preparing something better for you answer these questions: What are the things that are hindering me? What are the things that are keeping me from following God? Where am I sinning? If you’re serious about following him you’ll own up to your sins. You will confess your sins. Scripture makes it clear that that is what we are called to do. To be people to confess our sins to God and to brothers and sisters that we love and trust and who love and trust us. It’s not just enough to confess our sin. You repent from your sin. And let me clear this up for you. If you’re still doing the same things that you said you’re sorry for over and over and over again, you have not repented. You haven’t. The idea of repentance is you put something down and you walk away from it. You turn the other direction, you go the other way. You leave it behind. Guys we can not run towards Christ and hold on to sin. It cripples us, it weighs us down. It hinders us. It keeps us from running to Him. Just lay down your sin. Just confess your sin. Just repent from your sins, leave them behind. Just keep going and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Fixing our eyes on Jesus—the pioneer and perfector of faith. This word for perseverance it means steadfast endurance. This is how one writer puts it, “It does not mean patience which sits down and accepts things, but it’s the patience which masters them. It is not some romantic thing which lends us wings to fly over the difficulties and the hard places. It is a determination, unhurrying yet undelaying which goes steadily on and refuses to be deflected. Obstacles do no daunt it and discouragements do not take its hope away. It is a steadfast endurance which carries on until the end it gets there.” So what this means is if you and I are running with perseverance of running this race towards Christ with perseverance we do not let things stop us. We do not let sin, we do not let Satan, we do not let people, we do not let obstacles get in our way. You endure them. You overcome them.

I was thinking this idea of a race that’s marked out for us. To be honest I had to spend a lot of time just trying to figure out what that meant. Like when I was a Christian I didn’t get a map from God that showed me all the things that I was going to be doing in my life and all the places I was going to go. He didn’t give me a map that had the rest of my life laid out. I think the race that is marked out for us is simply a life of obedience and faithfulness to Christ. That is the race that he has marked out for us. He was saying, “You do not know where you are going ok, you don’t understand the way to eternal life, you don’t understand the way—but I do. So what I am asking you to do is to run this race to be obedient to me, to follow me, to be faithful to me.” So what this looks like is you read scripture and you obey what it says. You don’t pick and choose verses that you like and read it and obey it. That is you running the race that is marked out for you. I think also what it is it’s the Holy Spirit when He convicts us of things. When He puts things on our heart, when he puts people on our hearts. We just do them. We just obey Him. We just follow him.

I think what this looks like is when the Holy Spirit convicts us of sin. We lay it down and we run away from it never to pick it up again. A life, this race that we are called to run that is marked out for us is a life of faithfulness and obedience to God. It’s a life of faithfulness and obedience to Jesus. It’s a life of faithfulness and obedience to the Holy Spirit.

I am running in a race next week in Memphis with my father-in-law, my brother-in-law and it’s going to be embarrassing because my father-in-law is twice my age, but he’s going to smoke me in the race. Last year I got to run the race and I ran it and with one mile to go I’m running and I’m tired and my legs are hurting and I’m out of breath and I’m ready to quit running. It’s like I turned this corner and I see the finish line. Something instantly just snaps in me, something changes. It’s like I get this fresh wind, I get this fresh… my legs feel better, I’m energized. Something happened when I could see where I was going—where I could see the end. I think this is what He is calling us to. To end this life that we’re in right now. To fix our eyes on Jesus. To live our lives knowing that Jesus is the one that we are going to. That he is our reward, he is the one that we are running to. He is the one we want to be with. Listen to this, “For the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. Scorning at shame and he sat down at right hand of the throne of God.” For the joy set before him He endured the cross, really? For the joy set before Him, really? Yes. Yes. It says that “He scorned the cross, he scorned its shame, he despised it, he hated it. But not because it was a cross, not because it was a means of execution, he despised it because of our sin. The cross was covered with our shame. With our sin, our lust, our sexual immorality, our greed, our pride, our laziness, our arrogance, our lies, our anger were on the cross. And that is what He despised. He endured it with joy. Because he knew if he went through with it, if he would endure the pain, if he would endure the suffering, you and I would be free. His perfect and holy and righteous blood would purchase our forgiveness, our holiness, our salvation. His blood and only His blood. Jesus looked beyond the temporary and he saw the eternal weight and significance of the moment that was in front of him.

Yes, it was going to be excruciating, it was going to be painful. But our freedom, our salvation depended on Him. And He endured it with joy. He wanted us with him for eternity. I can’t even get my mind around why He would want that. Us, that constantly sin against him. That constantly set up other idols in our lives that constantly give our love and our devotion to other things. To us, who so rarely love Him, why in the world would He die for us? He wanted to be with us. He wanted our salvation and he purchased it. He went through with it. He died on the cross. The perfect, the sinless son of God died for you and you are saved. The place that He is preparing that is better. You will be there only because of Jesus. Not because you’re here at church tonight, not because you know the songs that we’re singing, not because you read your bible, you are going to be saved through the blood of Jesus Christ and Him alone. He says, “Come to me, all of you. Find salvation, find mercy, find forgiveness.

Verse 3, “Consider Him who endured opposition from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” This is something we love to do and we love to talk about this. Consider Jesus, think about Jesus, reflect on Jesus all throughout your day. Remember where you were before Jesus. Remember the sin that he has brought you out of. Remember the place that you were in before Him. Remember Jesus. Remember His sacrifice. Remember His love. Remember his devotion to you.

Verse 4, it says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” I was reading that this week and to be honest it just kind of… I was hung up on it. I really had no idea what He was really trying to say. We haven’t resisted sin to the point of shedding our blood. This is a military term. What the writer of Hebrews is saying is, “Fight until your death.” Until the day that you die, do not quit fighting sin. Don’t quit fighting. Don’t quit resisting. Don’t quit running. Let me ask you this s question. Do you believe that Jesus, is He powerful enough that he can fight sinfulness through us for the rest of our lives until the day that we die? Do you believe in his power, in his strength to fight every single battle of sin? Do you believe that you can be victorious through Jesus? Do you believe that He will give you the strength and the energy to get through it?

I want to read verses 5-10 and the writer kind of switches gear here in the middle of the Chapter. I want to read it, say a few more things and then we’ll be done. Have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as children? It says, “My son do not make light of the Lord’s discipline and do not lose heart when he rebukes you because the Lord disciplines those he loves and he chastens everyone he accepts as his child.” Endure hardship is discipline. God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father. If you are not disciplined and everyone undergoes discipline, then you’re not legitimate children at all. Moreover we have all had parents who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the father if spirits and live. Our parents disciplined us for a little way as they though best but God disciplines us for our good. That we may share in His holiness. Let’s just be honest this is tough to understand. It is tough to read. It is tough to make sense of; the reality is that God disciplines us.

You know when I was younger I always got disciplined when I did something wrong. So I would get disciplined when I talked back to my parents. I got disciplined when I wasn’t home on time for curfew or I got disciplined when I was acting up in class or when I got detention I got disciplined when I did things that were wrong. So I hated discipline right? I never went and hugged my dad after he spanked me and told him thank you. There was never a question that my parents always disciplined me out of their love for me. You can make an argument, probably the strongest argument that if our parents didn’t discipline us when we were in the wrong, when we were in sin that they didn’t love us.

There are times in scripture where God disciplined people because of their sin. Think about David. He took another man’s wife. Made love to her, she got pregnant and in order to cover his tracks he had the woman, his mistress’s husband killed. God punished him. Read Second Samuel. Seven days after the baby was born the baby died. There are going to be times when God would discipline us because of our sin. In those moments it’s for our own good. but there are going to be other times when God will discipline us, the King of Kings, when the Lord of Lords, the Alpha, the Omega, the one who died for us, there are going to be times when God will discipline us. And it’s going to feel like punishment for no reason. You will be faithfully following Jesus. You’ll be in the word everyday and you’ll be holding your friends accountable, you’ll be openly confessing in defeating sin, you’re giving away your money, your energy and your passion, really caring about people more than you care about yourself. You’re going to be doing everything right. You’re going to be doing things exactly the way that he tells us to live and things are going to happen. Parents are going to die. Friends are going to die; we’re going to have kids that will die. We’re going to get diagnosed with diseases. We’re just going to wonder, “God why?” I don’t want to stand up here and try to explain why these things happen. Mainly because I don’t know. I don’t want to stand here and defend God like he needs me as his representative, like he needs me as his defense attorney. He is God.

Remember the father and the son and the Holy Spirit were together in perfect unity, in perfect harmony, in prefect love before any of us where even here before this Earth was here—they were together and they did not need us. And because they wanted to give their love, they created us. They created Dillon, they created Jonathan, they created Haden, Halvin, Chase—they created us because they wanted to love us. You were created in love. You’re going to go through deeps moments of pain. You’re going to go through moments of unbelievable heartache. You are going to go through moments where you can’t see God, where you can’t feel God, where you can’t make sense of things. You might even go through moments where your faith is going to cost you everything. Your career your retirement, your life. Do not ever doubt the love of God; the reason you’re here, the reason you breathe is because of God. It says that he is making us holy. He desires to make us like him. If we need to go through some tough things in life. If that is the path that he has for us, do not lose hoop. Consider yourself worthy that God would select you to go through heard names to go through hard things because he knows you can handle it.

I want to end tonight by just reading this quote. And after we’re going to pray, then after we pray we’re going to take communion. You guys just do what you need to do in communion.
If something was sparked in your heart tonight and you need to just go and share it with someone. There are some booths back here you can take one of your friends and go and just share what God has spoke to you. If you’re just holding on to sin and eating your life… get one of your buddies and confess your seen and the be healed and leave it behind. If you don’t believe in Jesus, but something just clicked in your hear to make sense of this. There are going to be some people upfront. We’d love to just talk to you and listen to you and pray with you.

Listen to this quote. Faith enables us to turn from the approval of the work and seek only the approval of God. If God is glorified by delivering His people He will do it. But, if he sees fit to be glorified by not delivering His people and he will do that. We must never conclude that the absence of deliverance means an act of faith in the part of God’s children. Faith looked into the future for that is where the greatest awards are found. God’s purpose involves Old Testament saints as well as New Testament saints. One day, all of us daughters—we share shall that heavenly city that true saints look forward nu faith. Let’s pray.

God you are the only God. You tell us the only way to get us to Jesus. Jesus, we are just so sorry that we just make you so small. We are sorry that we thing about you so rarely. We are sorry for our sins. We just pray that in your great love and your great mercy that you’ll forgive us. I pray for my friends who are here tonight and that you will do only what you can do God. It is in powerful and perfect and holy name of Jesus Christ that we pray. Amen

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