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Archive | Salvation

Does it Matter What My Church Believes?

church doctrineJust last month, my husband and I moved to a new town. Yesterday, we began the search for the church God has for us. Our actual address may be small town Texas, but since we live on the fringes of the Dallas/Ft Worth area, church choices abound. We could visit for months – maybe even years – without attending the same church twice.

How do we begin? How can we narrow our search? Before we made the first visit, we narrowed the possibilities significantly based on what the church believes.

What? Doesn’t the preaching and the music and the programs and the community involvement carry a lot of weight? Does a church’s doctrine really matter that much?

Yes, a church’s doctrine is that important. Not only do the biblical truths and principles on which it stands shape its people and its ministry, but if what it believes does not align correctly with God’s Word, then the church is not following Christ.

I realize that’s a bold, brazen statement, but it’s based on the teaching of the New Testament. For instance, in Paul’s letters to the churches in Corinth and Galatia, one of his primary purposes in writing was to combat false teaching and to admonish them to cling to the truth of Jesus (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, Galatians 1:6-9). Paul describes the warped gospel they were following as “no gospel at all.”

And in the book of Revelation, Jesus Himself called the churches in Pergamum and Thyatira to repent from following false teaching before they experienced God’s discipline (Revelation 2:14-16, 20-22).

Yes, what a church believes – and therefore teaches and acts on – absolutely matters.

I can hear wheels turning. Do you mean everything? What about the differences between denominations? Are you saying that only one denomination is right?!

Many differences between denominations and even individual churches within denominations are peripheral to the heart of God’s gospel. They do not impact key doctrinal truths. These kinds of differences can be held loosely. In fact, we can enjoy and even celebrate the variety within God’s church.

Things like style of music, order of worship, and areas of ministry focus broaden and strengthen the worldwide church. Even other beliefs like the role of women in ministry, the view of end times, and the structure of church leadership are not considered core essential truths. These types of areas are considered “minor doctrines.” There is room for differences.

But in other areas, those considered to be “major doctrines,” there is little if any room for difference. With these doctrines – ones that are central to Christianity and have significant impact on other doctrines – we must hold firm. These fundamental truths flow from the nature and character of God and His saving work.

We can’t fully cover all these major doctrines in one blog post. But here is a quick list of many of these essential truths:

  • The nature of God
  • The Trinity
  • The deity of Jesus
  • The authority of the Bible
  • The nature of mankind and our need for salvation
  • Salvation solely through faith in Jesus
  • The death and resurrection of Jesus
  • The return of Jesus

What a church believes about essential doctrines are deal breakers for me and my husband. For instance, if a church believes there is something more required for salvation than faith in Jesus – or that salvation can be found anywhere else – that one doesn’t make the cut. If a church doesn’t hold to the truth that God is one God yet three distinct persons, there is no need for us to visit.

Why are we so dogmatic? A church that does not hold to the essential truths of the Christian gospel is not following the gospel at all. Overall, as believers, we can be gracious in those minor doctrines, the non-essentials, but we must be hold tight to the essential truths of our faith.

If you aren’t sure what your church believes about the major doctrines, find out. Many churches have “statement of beliefs” on their website. (I even have one on this website!) If you aren’t sure what you believe, start studying! Of course the Bible is your first and primary source. But if you’d like some additional resources, check out the list below.

Do you know what your church believes about the major doctrines? Does it matter to you?

Suggested Reading:

 

 

 

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Star Trek, CS Lewis, and Your Free Will

Free WillI am a Trekkie. I was a fan of the original Star Trek series, but I really loved The Next Generation. My favorite character was Lieutenant Commander Data.

Data was an android with high computational capabilities. He looked like a human and was physically fully functional. Yet one thing prevented Data from understanding and relating to humans. He lacked human emotions.

Data’s desire to possess human emotions – and thus become truly human – was an ongoing thread in the show’s storyline. Although Data was like the rest of the crew in many ways, this deficiency made him somewhat of an outsider, unable to form strong bonds and experience deep relationships.

This may sound strange, but I thought about Data the other day while reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. During the discussion of another topic, Lewis wrote this about mankind’s free will:

He (God) gave them free will because a world of mere automata could never love and therefore never know infinite happiness.

The question of our free will has come up countless times in Bible study groups I’ve led or been a part of. “If God knew we would sin, why did He give us free will? Wouldn’t it have been better if we couldn’t disobey?”

Free Will Makes Ultimate Joy Possible

No, it wouldn’t have been better. If God withheld free will we could never know true happiness. We would be like little robots, always doing the right thing, but never experiencing the joy of relating to our Creator.

Even though Data was superior to humans in some ways, he knew he lacked the best part of humanity. The ability to love and be loved.

God desires to love us and to be loved by us. And He implanted the desire to love Him back in the deepest part of our souls. And that’s where we find our purpose, our fulfillment, and our ultimate joy. In choosing to love and be loved by our God.

Have you struggled with the question of mankind’s free will? Does Lewis’ explanation help?

 

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Jesus Died for Everyone – Even Terrorists

Jesus deathI woke this morning to the news of two terrorist attacks on Christian churches in Egypt. Dozens were killed and more than 100 injured while worshipping during Palm Sunday services. And this just days after a terrorist drove a hijacked truck armed with a bomb into a crowded shopping area in Sweden.

The attacks in Egypt specifically targeted Christians. As I prayed over the tragic events this morning I wondered about the terrorists. How do they justify their actions? How can they be so cruel? How could they dare to go right into God’s house and attack His people? How does God feel about them?

Then I glanced at the bottom of my prayer guide. It reminded me to pray for the attackers too. To pray for their salvation. My first thought was: “They don’t deserve Jesus. They don’t deserve His forgiveness.” But wait…

Neither do I. I don’t deserve Jesus. I don’t deserve His forgiveness. That’s exactly why the Cross was necessary. We are all sinners underserving of a relationship with a holy God. We are all sinners, dead in our sins with no ability to save ourselves.

Today, Palm Sunday, begins the most holy time of the year for Christians. Friday marks the event that makes our eternal salvation possible – Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. That is why Jesus came. To save sinners.

The apostle Paul put it this way:

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy, so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the Kingeternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Timothy 1:15-17, NIV

Paul called himself the “worst of sinners.” Paul had persecuted, hunted, imprisoned, and killed followers of Jesus. It was his chief aim in life, his passion. To put an end to Christians. To blot out Christianity from the face of the earth. Paul was a terrorist. And Jesus saved him. Jesus chose him. And Paul’s life stood as an example of Christ’s unlimited grace and power.

If God could save Paul, God can save anyone.

He could save me. He could save you. He can save a terrorist intent on killing as many Christians as he can.

Here’s a challenge for us this week. On the days leading up to Good Friday, let’s pray not only for the end to terrorism, but let us also pray for the salvation of those who long to create the terror. May they become a display of God’s immense love and grace. May they become a testimony to His glory.

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Why Do You Follow Jesus?

Follow JesusThis isn’t just a rhetorical question. I am asking it of myself this week. Why do I follow Jesus?

The question came up during my daily Bible reading in the sixth chapter of John. Jesus had just fed more than 5,000 people with just 5 small loaves of bread and 2 little fish – a miraculous, supernatural feat that displayed Jesus’ power and authority.

The next morning the crowds came looking for Him again. But they didn’t come to worship or to seek the things that only He can give.

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”

They answered, “Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

John 6:26-31, NLT

The people looked for Jesus because He had filled their bellies, not because they had allowed Him to fill their souls. They missed the point of the miracle. They failed to see past their own physical circumstances. And even after Jesus pointed out their eternal, spiritual need, they simply asked what else He might do for them.

They asked for less. They looked for things that don’t last. It was all about a full belly and the here and now.

Sometimes I do the same. Often I am consumed by my temporary, physical circumstances and turn to Jesus solely because I want Him to “fix” things. I lost sight of the bigger picture. I allow the short-term to overshadow eternity. I spend all my energy worrying about things that don’t last when instead I should simply come to Jesus for the spiritual food only He can provide.

What about you? Why are you following Jesus today?

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Terror Attack Prayer Guide

Terror Attack Prayer Guide Yesterday – exactly one year after the deadly terror attack in Brussels – terror struck in London.  Although the details are still unfolding, British officials have officially called the attack in and around the Parliament building an act of terror.

Hours after the Brussels attack last year, I wanted to spend some intensive time in prayer, but wasn’t sure exactly how to pray. As I sat with my Bible and journal, God brought very specific prayers to mind. Afterward I shared those prayers here in a guide.

Although the situation in London is not active, many of these requests would still be appropriate. And although I pray we won’t need it again, this guide can be printed and put into your Bible for later use. (Link to PDF printable.)

Terror Attack Prayer Guide

“Lord, hear our prayers!”

Pray for Law enforcement:

  • Good, solid intelligence and information
  • Plenty of manpower and resources
  • Good coordination between agencies, including international
  • Physical stamina

Pray for Medical Personnel:

  • Physical and emotional strength
  • All the human resources, equipment and supplies needed
  • Wisdom to quickly assess individual situations
  • Steady hands and calming presence

Pray for the Injured:

  • Provide the help they need quickly
  • Surround them with believers who will pray and encourage them
  • Overwhelm them with Your peace and ease their fear

Pray for the Families:

  • Comfort for the families of those killed
  • Support for the families of those injured
  • Peace for the families of those waiting to hear
  • Good communication about the situation to all families

Pray for World Leaders:

  • Leaders around the world would rise up against this evil
  • Ability to set politics aside
  • Receive wise counsel from wise people
  • Leaders around the world would unite in a global effort against terrorism

Pray for Rescue workers and First Responders:

  • Protection from further violence as they work
  • Physical strength, emotional stamina
  • Good coordination and communication in the efforts
  • They would provide a strong, calming presence to those they encounter
  • Sustenance, like food and water, they need to keep going

Pray for the Terrorists:

  • Any left alive involved in this attack would be caught
  • Those on the fringe would give information to authorities
  • Any other related plots would be exposed
  • For God to convict them and bring them to repentance
  • For God to draw them to Jesus

Please feel free to add your prayers in the comments below.

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3 Reasons I Plan to Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's DayI have a fresh interest in St. Patrick’s Day this year. Since last March 17th I discovered that I’m sort of Irish!

For Christmas, Wayne gave me a DNA kit from Ancestry.com. It was something I’d been wanting to do. Basically, the test confirmed what I suspected – I’m basically a mutt, a pound puppy. But I was surprised by the top percentage. Thirty-one percent of me is Irish!

Perhaps, like me, you’ve considered St Patrick’s Day a fun, but frivolous observance – a day to wear green clothes, eat green food, and listen to Celtic music. However, there’s actually good reason to stop and consider St. Patrick.

A Really Brief History of St. Patrick

Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was born about 387 AD in Scotland. Although his grandfather was a priest and his father was a deacon, young Patrick did not embrace the family faith. Then at the age of 16, Patrick was kidnapped by Irish pirates and taken to Ireland and forced into servitude.

During his years as a slave, Patrick spent large amounts of time alone caring for the herds of his master. This life of slavery and solitude fostered a deep prayer life and Patrick came to true faith in Christ. In “The Confession of St. Patrick,” Patrick acknowledges that God used his time of trial to turn heart toward Him.

After six years of slavery in Ireland, Patrick escaped and returned to Britain where he continued his religious study. But it wasn’t long before a vision of a lost Ireland burdened him with the need to return with the Gospel. God was sending Patrick to a people that the church had decided was too lost to be reached – the pagans of Ireland were just too different.

In his mid-40’s – after becoming a bishop of the church – Patrick returned to Ireland as a missionary. He spent 30 years converting thousands of Irish “pagans” to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Patrick died on March 17th, 461 AD at the first church he built in Ireland.

Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and although never officially canonized, early Christians consider him a “saint in heaven.”

3 Reasons I Care About St Patrick’s Day

  1. I’m Irish – Well, at least I’m more Irish than anything else and it’s the closest I will ever get to an ethnic holiday. So humor me.
  2. Patrick faithfully followed Christ no matter the cost – Loyalty to Christ and concern for the eternal state of his enemies led Patrick back to Ireland. He willingly and obediently faced danger to take the Gospel to Ireland. He constantly fought the temptation to leave the mission field and return home. Patrick even shared the Gospel with his old master. That’s bold faith!
  3. Patrick sets the example for evangelism – Patrick wisely separated the Gospel from the Roman culture, something the Catholic Church could not or would not do. Just as many Jewish Christians in the first century wrongly believed Gentiles had to first become Jews before they could become Christians, the church of the 5th century thought the “pagans” had to first become “civilized” before they could come to Jesus. But, Patrick shared the Gospel within the Celtic culture. He did not try to change their culture before he offered the Gospel. His method of evangelism freed him to embrace the areas of their culture that did not break God’s laws of righteousness. Like the apostle Paul, Patrick became “all things to all people so that by all possible means” he might save some (1 Corinthians 9:22). In this way, Patrick showed respect for the Irish and was able to build bridges and relationships that fostered opportunities to share the Gospel. By the way, Patrick used the 3-leaved shamrock to help explain the concept of the Trinity!

St. Patrick’s Day is not just a fun day of all things Irish. For those “in the know,” remembering St. Patrick encourages us to faithfully follow Christ no matter where He leads and to boldly share the Gospel of life with those in our path, no matter how different from us they may be.

How do you plan to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?

Some helpful articles for more information on St. Patrick:

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May Your Christmas Be Merry and Light!

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus. The coming of God to mankind. We needed a Savior. We were stumbling around in the dark and could not save ourselves. We needed a Light.

Then two thousand years ago, the Creator set His rescue plan in motion. The King left His throne in heaven and entered the world as a humble babe in a stable in Bethlehem.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
John 1:1-5

Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). Anyone who believes in Jesus will cross from death to life. From darkness to light.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. John 3:16-18

May the Light of the world fill your heart with His joy this Christmas.

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:2,6

From my family to yours, Have yourself a Merry and Light Christmas!

family

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Are You Dead or Alive?

Dead or AliveA couple of years ago, my car battery died and left me stranded in a doctor’s office parking lot. I didn’t get a warning. I had no trouble starting the car to drive to the appointment, but when I came out to go home, the motor didn’t even try to start.

I intercepted a cowboy headed out to his pickup truck and asked for his help. He agreed to do what he could and managed to finagle his vehicle into a position to connect our batteries. But still my car wouldn’t start.

I decided it must be something other than the battery. Maybe the starter. So I called Triple A and my father-in-law. The tow truck took my car to the dealership and my father-in-law took me home.

Later that day the service department called with the diagnosis. It was the battery. What? I asked why the “jump” didn’t get it going? According to the man who understands cars far more than I do, a battery has to have at least some life left in it to respond to a jump. My battery, on the other hand, didn’t have a single spark of life remaining. The only hope left for my car was a brand new battery. One that contained life. So, dead battery out and live battery in. Car started. Amazing.

Before Christ saves us, we’re like my car sitting in the doctor’s parking lot. We might look fine from the outside, but because we’re all sinners, we are all dead in our sin.

All have sinned (Romans 3:23); The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins (Ephesians 2:1).

Sin brings spiritual death, cutting us off completely from the Source of spiritual life. We have no power to save ourselves, and no access to the One who does. Sounds like a hopeless state, doesn’t it? Oh, but the grace of God…

 But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5

I am so overwhelmed by what God has done for us in Christ! Because of His love, and mercy, and grace, God replaces our death with His Life. And His Life is Jesus Himself. Eternal life is The Life in us.

“I tell you the truth, whoever hear my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5:24).

Are you dead or alive? Has there ever been a time in your life when you received God’s unbounded grace and crossed over from death to life? If so, then rejoice over that life today. If not, then why not receive His life today?

Are you dead or alive? Have you received God’s saving grace?

This post is part of a month-long emphasis on grace to celebrate the release of Kathy’s newest Bible study “Lavish Grace.”

The winner of last week’s Coloring Sheet Drawing is:

Here are a few ways you can join in the celebration!

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God’s Grace Doesn’t Make Sense

Grace Doesn't Make SenseGod’s grace simply doesn’t make sense to me. It is radical. Extreme. Counterintuitive. Free and boundless. It goes against human logic. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to you either. So, why do we have so much trouble wrapping our minds around God’s lavish grace?

For starters, the world we live in operates with different rules. Normally, we reap what we sow. We work hard in order to earn a paycheck. When drive faster than the speed limit, we get an expensive ticket.

And, we know we don’t deserve grace. We don’t deserve a saving relationship with Jesus. Yet, He pours it out on those who don’t deserve it. God lavishes His grace on those not seeking it. And after our conversion, through times of rebellion, complacency, grief, and struggle, God gently draws us back to Himself with cords of love.

And still, the grace keeps coming! Through times of trial and suffering, it overflows our lives to provide comfort, encouragement, and strength. God extends His lavish grace to us every moment of every day.

What is Grace?

The best, condensed definition of grace I can give you is this: “Grace” is God’s divine favor and merciful, loving-kindness.

The Greek word usually translated as “grace” in the New Testament is charis. The definition of charis in The Complete Word Study New Testament includes these facets:

  • Closely related to the Greek word we translate as “joy”
  • Divine favor, kindness, acceptance
  • Favor bestowed on the undeserving without expectation of return
  • Absolute freeness of God’s loving-kindness to men
  • Motivated by the bounty and heart of the Giver
  • Unearned and unmerited favor
  • Forgives sin and affects a person’s sinful nature, shaping her to be used for God’s good purposes
  • Results in joy and gratitude in the one who receives it

Grace flows constantlyGod’s grace flows from His heart. It’s based on His bounty, His character. We do not merit His grace. We cannot earn it. Yet in His loving-kindness He freely pours it out.

Grace begins and ends with our gracious God. It’s all about Him, yet you and I benefit. Isn’t that amazing?

I still don’t understand God’s grace. But I will forever rely on its lavish abundance.

How have you experienced God’s lavish grace this week?

This post is part of a month-long emphasis on grace to celebrate the release of Kathy’s newest Bible study “Lavish Grace.” Here are a few ways you can join in the celebration!

 

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My Southern-Fried Faith

In the south, we fry anything and everything. If it walks, runs, jumps, swims, or flies we will roll it in flour or cornmeal and drop it in a skillet or Fry Daddy. In addition to the commonly known fare, I’ve also eaten fried alligator, squirrel, dove, rabbit, and crawfish.

Side note for context: I was born and raised in northern Louisiana. And yes, watching Duck Dynasty is like attending a family reunion.

FaithIn many places in the south, “fry” is the default method of cooking. Unless otherwise requested, your meat or vegetable and sometimes even your bread and dessert get baptized in boiling oil. It’s simply assumed. After all, everything is better when it’s fried.

When I was growing up, I internalized the “fry principle” and a host of other southern assumptions. For instance, tea is always iced, right hands go over hearts when a flag passes by, pick-up trucks are perfectly acceptable prom night transportation, and good people go to church.

From infancy my parents faithfully took me to Sunday School, worship service, Vacation Bible School, and Wednesday night prayer meeting. I memorized Bible verses, earned high attendance pins, and wore wire hanger angel wings covered with gold garland in the Christmas pageant.

Church service and attendance wove through the fabric of our family. The question of whether or not we would go on any given Sunday was never raised because we were a “church family.” This faithful commitment to church hindered my faith.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. The family my husband and I raised could be described as a “church family.” And I would not want it any other way. But while both might look the same on the surface, a drastic difference exists between my childhood church attendance and my adult faith.

Inside-Out Christianity

During the first half of my life, I attended church because I was what a “good Christian girl.” To me, Christianity meant saying the right things and doing what everyone expected. And that’s exactly what I did. In fact, my brother sarcastically dubbed me “Sister Mary Kathryn.” And although Mary Kathryn is indeed my given name, I’m sure my parents never meant it to be used as a synonym for Miss Goody Two-shoes.

Although I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was eight, I experienced little to no spiritual growth. The rich relationship I wanted with Christ eluded me. Something vital was missing. Connected to church, I still felt disconnected from God. I had no real sense of God’s presence. I could see the kind of passionate, dynamic faith I longed to have in other’s lives.

But despite many weak attempts to pump up my own faith, it remained dry and flat. Even though I had been taught differently, I had internalized that faith was what you do. I missed the part about it being all about Who you know.

Relationship of Faith Over Religion

“Doing” is a human’s default setting. We like to make lists and check off the items, proving to ourselves that we have accomplished something. We can perform the outward motions of faith without actively pursuing the object of our faith.

Religion cannot satisfy. Unless our works of faith flow naturally out of a vital relationship with our Maker it is merely religious ritual. We were created for relationship, not outward trappings of religion. Faith that does not produce these kinds of works is dead and useless (James 1:20). But religious works performed from a sense of duty or habit only sap our spiritual strength, leaving our faith dry, weak, and flat.

Setting Assumptions Aside

 Over the years, I’ve learned that some southern assumptions of my childhood were accurate and some needed a bit of adjustment. For instance, while a few things are indeed glorious fried, the flavor of most food is best appreciated when it is grilled, sautéed, or baked, and a mug of hot herbal tea soothes a sore throat on a cold day. But, I still cover my heart in respect for the flag and my son took his date to the prom in his pick-up.

Although the Bible Belt culture of my north Louisiana childhood is less influential today, religiosity can still hinder true relationship with Jesus. I had to set religion aside and embrace relationship with the One who died to save me. Religion alone is as dry as yesterday’s toast. But relationship with the living Savior is exciting, satisfying, and yes, passionate.

Have you ever struggled to move past religion into a real relationship with Jesus? If so, how did that go??

This post is an excerpt from Kathy’s book “Fed Up with Flat Faith: 10 Attitudes and Actions to Pump Up Your Faith.”

 

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