Blowing Leads

The LA Dodgers, which is the first sports team I supported and cheered for, the baseball team I still follow and get behind, are going through a bad patch just now. They were ahead in a game against Colorado a couple nights ago, and lost. Then the following night, the Rockies earned a walk-off win when one of their players hit a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth inning. It gets worse. The Dodgers came home to face the Giants last night, only to lose another lead in the ninth inning and once again lose the game.

These were all winnable contests. LA had the lead. The starting pitchers had put the team in position to win. But the offense stopped scoring runs and left runners on base, and the bull pen didn’t get the job done. In one instance there were two outs and the opposition onslaught started with a walk. In my way of thinking, the manager made some bad decisions, too.

My poor Dodgers.

But in truth, they remind me of America, and before it, Europe. And the Middle East. They remind me of the churches singled out in the book of Revelation. Those all started well, but there was this problem—not necessarily the same one for each. The warning was that they wouldn’t survive if they didn’t take care of their issue: “repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place” (Rev. 2:5b).

As it happens, the seven churches are located in the region we now know as Turkey. Though Christianity took root and flourished in what was then Pontus and Galatia and Cappadocia and Bynithinia, the warning of Revelation proved to be prophetic.

For more than a 1000 years the region was a bastion of Christianity . . . Even as late as 1900, Turkey was still 22% Christian. But by the end of that century the number of Christians had declined to 0.21%. Today Turkey is estimated to be about 97% Muslim.

Scholars have studied this change from one religion to another, but the bottom line is the warning of the angel to the churches: repent or your lamp will go out. Do what you did before.

I’m not one who thinks we should go back to “the good ol’ days,” but I was a coach and I did play sports and I do follow sports. There’s one thing that’s true of all sports teams: their players practice. They don’t practice fancy new trick shots in basketball, or new ways to field a baseball or creative concepts connected with throwing the football. No, actually even at the pro level, they practice the basics, the fundamentals, the right way of doing things, so that in a game they will instinctively do the right thing.

The fundamentals are important. When we’re talking about Christianity, we’re talking about the things those churches in Revelation were warned about. Things like not leaving their first love or being faithful unto death or not tolerating false teachers or holding fast to the truth until Christ comes. And most of all, repent.

How do we hold fast, avoid false teachers, remain faithful? I think it all starts by embracing God’s word and keeping it close. Reading it regularly. Memorizing it. Thinking about it, Talking about it. And mostly, doing it. I don’t know of one other thing that will return us to our first love faster than steeping ourselves in God’s word. Everything we need for life and godliness is there.

Published in: on August 14, 2018 at 5:40 pm  Comments Off on Blowing Leads  
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Clouds Without Water

Lookout-960x700It’s been a delightfully cloudy day here in drought-ridden Southern California. I heard via Facebook from a friend who lives in the middle of the state that they were having rain. Ah, if only our clouds would produce some rain. But the weather forecast gave us only a fifty percent chance of getting measurable precipitation from this weather event.

So I look with longing at the gray sky, the unproductive sky that promises by appearances to bring us what we need, only to disappoint in the end.

Jude uses these kinds of clouds as a metaphor to describe false teachers. They looked promising on the outside, but like a tree that appears healthy and productive, yet doesn’t yield any fruit, false teachers don’t give what hungry hearts need.

Perhaps the worst trait of these false teachers is that they create division in the Church. They are “hidden reefs in your love feasts” and care for themselves, not for others. They are mockers who follow their own lusts; they cause divisions, are worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. (Jude 1:18-19).

I’ve been thinking about division in the church of late. Jesus said, “By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35) So we are to love other Christians—that’s unequivocal. But love doesn’t always look like unity.

I mean when a child disobeys a parent and receives discipline, there may be a time when the relationship seems to hang in the balance. The child is angry and rebellious and determined not to give in. The parent is frustrated and adamant and determined not to give in. Where’s the unity in that?

So love doesn’t always look like unity, though the appearance might be passing.

In those moments when there’s a struggle, when love desires unity, a mending of the brokenness, there’s a temptation to yield for no other reason than to restore togetherness. And in the back of my mind, I’ve thought, isn’t that what love is supposed to do?

But here is this passage in Jude saying the mockers, the ungodly ones who have crept into the Church, are causing divisions. Is it the responsibility of believers to yield to the demands of the ones creating division, the “persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (v 4b)?

So how do we know who is turning grace into a license to sin?

I’d say, we have to turn to the authority of God’s word to answer that question. Who is advocating a departure from the clear instruction of the Bible?

In our culture there are progressives who “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” by re-imaging Him or reducing Him to a mere man or stripping from Him the miraculous power He demonstrated day in and day out.

There are also people on both sides of the sex wars who ignore Scripture’s instruction to husbands and wives, who care more for themselves and their advancement than they care for God’s name and glory. Talk about divisions!

The sad thing is, these progressives, these feminists or advocates for the manoshpere, are clouds without water. No rain comes from them to wash away the grim, to water the soil, to produce a crop. In other words, all their rhetoric doesn’t solve any problems. In fact, they create divisions in the Church. They are the problems.

But what are the rest of us to do? Hating disunity, do we capitulate?

Sure, OK, if you want to believe the Bible is true as a metaphor and not literally true, we’re fine with that. We don’t want there to be any division in the church. Or, sure, if you want to believe that a husband as the head of his wife can—or should—dominate her and control her instead of serve her and sacrifice for her as Christ did for the Church, we don’t want to actually denounce you, because, you know, unity. Or how about this one—sure, if you want to believe that there are certain things we have to do in order to be saved, that’s your choice, so you can be part of our church and teach in our Bible studies because we don’t want to offend you or cause division.

The people following God’s word are not causing the divisions. It’s the people who are departing from the Bible that are causing divisions. What are we who believe the Bible to do—rail against the offenders? picket? leave for a different church?

The latter seems to be the choice of a good many Christians. Or maybe it’s just leave without the “for a different church” part.

But leaving isn’t an option, God commands us to assemble together. And any other congregation is as likely to have hidden reefs as the one we’re thinking of leaving.

Here’s what Jude tells believers to do:

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh. (vv 20-23)

I’ll distill that into four points:

1) grow some spiritual muscle by praying, maintaining your relationship with God, and looking forward to life with Him.
2) have mercy on people who are doubting
3) save others
4) have mercy with fear on those living in sin

What does it look like to have mercy on those who are doubting or who are living in sin? That’s another whole blog post, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve hurling invective, in person or on line.

But Lord, Lord …

They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed. (Titus 1:16)

I find that verse of Scripture chilling. They profess to know God, but they don’t. So are they lying? Or do they really think they know God and they’re just missing the mark?

But how can you think you know someone when you don’t? There has to be a fair amount of self-delusion. I think of movie-star stalkers. People who follow and photograph stars often think they have a real connection with that famous person. But they’re deluded. They know about the star, but they don’t have a relationship. The truth is, the star has no idea who they are.

God, of course, knows who we are, whether we are His children or not, but the reverse is not true for everyone. These people who profess Christ don’t actually know who He is.

Jesus pointedly asked those who followed Him this:

“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)

So the first clue that people don’t know God is that they don’t do what He says. John makes this same point:

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4).

Matthew addresses this issue, recording what Jesus said this way:

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves . . . So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ ” (Matt. 7:15, 20-23)

So these people Jesus was addressing were doing things in God’s name–they weren’t sitting idly by. What “fruits” then was Jesus referring to? The fruit of obedience–doing the will of the Father.

Apparently these people were doing what they thought constituted service to God–prophesying and casting out demons and performing miracles, all the while producing “bad fruit.”

Paul gave a fairly detailed description of what this bad fruit looks like in his second letter to Timothy:

For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these . . . But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Tim 3:2-5, 13 – emphasis mine)

The thing is, considering these verses seems to bump up against Scripture’s command not to judge “lest we be judged.” Too often, I think, we Christians give a shrug when we hear false teaching and say, well, I think they’re wrong, but who am I to judge?

The truth is, we’re not judging anyone. We’re recognizing a fact: people who claim to be Christians but disavow God’s Word can’t really know Him. If they claim the Bible isn’t God’s word and therefore they don’t have to obey the Bible, how can they know the Author?

They’re pretty much calling God a liar when they claim the Scripture He inspired isn’t actually from Him. They set themselves up as the authority, not God, and tell Him what He’s like rather than listening to Him reveal His own character.

What a sad day awaits them when they stand at the judgment seat with a pile of burned up wood, hay, and stubble, saying, But Lord, Lord, …

Shouldn’t we warn them?

Published in: on July 25, 2012 at 6:54 pm  Comments (10)  
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Books Of Note – When Sparrows Fall

Another noteworthy book I want to bring to your attention is When Sparrows Fall (Multnomah Books) by Meg Moseley.

The Story.
Miranda is a widow with six children, dependent in part on the kindness of her church, a small, conservative group with a domineering pastor. When Brother Chandler decides to move the church and all its members to a nearby state, Miranda sees her opportunity to break away.

Before she can carry through, however, she experiences a severe fall.

Enter Jack Hanford, her deceased husband’s half brother whom Miranda met once. Unbeknown to anyone else, she made Jack the legal guardian of her children should something happen to her. Though she survived her fall, she is in no position to care for the children, let alone homeschool them as she has been doing.

When Jack receives notice of the situation, he makes arrangements to look out for the brood on a short term basis. They quickly win his heart. Learning that Miranda will need some time to recuperate, he gives notice at work that he’ll be taking a leave of absence, and moves in to the rustic, backward cabin.

And so begins the relational adventure that involves blackmail and secrets and a lot of change.

This is Meg Moseley’s debut novel, and I suspect readers will be hearing a lot more from her in the future. She is a talented writer.

In When Sparrows Fall, the language is rich, the scenes are vivid, the characters are true. In addition Meg has something she wants to communicate and does so clearly through the context of the story. Consequently, the best part of the book, in my opinion, is that it makes the reader think.

It’s also a delightful story with interesting twists and surprising events and an unpredictable outcome.

Meg paints each of the characters so truthfully, it feels as if I know these people. Here’s a short sample from a scene right after Jack first met the children:

[Jack] jumped as the front door banged open and shut. Michael and Gabriel raced outside so fast they might as well have had wings.

“Boys,” he hollered to their backs. “Don’t go far. Stay away from the cliffs.”

“Yes sir,” the archangels answered as one. They vanished around the corner of the house without slowing.

Jack took a moment to sort them out. Michael was the older of the two. Sturdy, freckled, and a bit resistant to schoolwork. Gabriel, six years old, had fewer freckles. He was thin, restless, full of energy.

Martha trotted outside, wearing a hooded gray cape over her long denim dress. Jack half expected to see elf slippers with curled-up toes, but she still wore those clunky clodhoppers.

“What are you up to, Miss Martha?”

“Picking violets.” She hopped down the steps, making a racket.

“Don’t go far. Don’t go anywhere near the cliffs.”

“Yes sir.” She ran in the direction the boys took, her elf cape billowing after her.

Interesting children and a college professor unfamiliar with what to expect from them. Add in an environment that is more nearly Amish than average Americana, and you have the ingredients for constant conflict.

However the more serious issues are the internal ones the main characters must deal with. In other words, there are layers of intrigue from first to last.

My main problem with this and other stories that fall in the relational category, is that a good part of the conflict exists because the characters won’t talk to each other. Much of the friction could be reduced (and therefore the story wrapped up) if they would simply be truthful and trusting instead of secretive and independent.

I had an issue with events leading up to the climax. As I read, I understood the main character to be plotting something that involved a good many others. As it turned out, that was not the case. Perhaps I read more into the series of phone calls the character was making, but I was surprised when the time came for the others to become involved, and they were in the dark as much as I was.

The minor issues I noted did not keep me from enjoying this story thoroughly. I’m glad to see Meg’s work available for the public and I trust she will establish a loyal following. I highly recommend this one to Christians who want to read a thought-provoking book involving relationships of all kinds.

Improving God

When false teachers surface, they usually do so from within. In some regards, that’s why the priests and Levites opposed Jesus. In thinking themselves to be the purveyors of God’s truth, they saw Jesus as spreading dangerous ideas even as He sat in their temple and synagogues reading and teaching from Scripture.

The unique thing about Christianity is that our truth claims stem from one authoritative source — the Bible. Hence, a cult like Mormonism can spring up from within the ranks, but their falsehood is easy to spot because they have altered the source of truth.

In many ways, the false teachers gaining followers today are doing nothing more than false teachers of the past. They are substituting or adding some other source to the one sure source we have.

The surprising thing is what this new source is — man’s own sense of right and wrong.

How ironic.

God created Man as a moral being, and now Man turns around and wants to improve God.

Men have ignored God in the past, and chosen to worship false gods, they tinkered with His commandments and added a helping of their own. But I wonder if it isn’t a sign of the hubris of our times that the false teaching of today actually thinks God should be a little nicer, a lot gentler, and a considerable amount more loving than how He reveals Himself to be in the Bible.

Some false teachers justify their nicer God by discounting the parts of the Bible that teach about His justice. Others take a more insidious approach. They claim the Bible as their source, then declare that its truth has been distorted — that in the vast Christian tradition, in the conversation that has been going on for thousands of years, some early thinkers embraced a kinder, gentler God than the one the literalists have dogmatically clung to.

Now suddenly, the issue is, What do you believe? not What did God say?

My question for them is this: if God is the loving God people like Rob Bell, author of Love Wins, says, why did He let people for thousands of years misunderstand His love? If the early church thinkers such as Origen who believed in universal salvation were right, why didn’t the loving God they believe in, correct those who declared such thinking to be heretical?

Couldn’t He have alleviated centuries of worry and fear about hell and damnation simply by informing the early church fathers through the Holy Spirit that the literal reading of Jesus’s words about a narrow gate and no one coming to the Father but through Him, were wrong?

As I see it, in their efforts to portray a kinder, more loving God by questioning the clear and plain reading of Scripture, they are actually undermining the authority of the Bible and putting God in a bad light by implying that He did nothing all these years to correct such a grievous error about His character.

The thing is, I’ve understood from Scripture that God is perfect. To suggest that He is other than what we understand Him to be from the Bible is to say that He is not perfect. He has some flaw or weakness that prevented Him from correcting His followers all these years.

When they were holding councils to codify their beliefs and writing creeds and confessions to teach lay people, somehow God couldn’t manage to communicate that they were in error in their understanding, that the things they were writing about hell and His judging the living and dead weren’t true. Only a weak God or an uncaring God or one who hadn’t really revealed Himself in the first place would have let such wrong thinking go on and on for hundreds of years.

Of course the alternative is that God is perfect, answered prayer and guided the leaders as they came together and delineated the tenets of the faith based on the Bible; that they fairly represented His character and truthfully identified Him as the Judge “most just and terrible in his judgments” (from The Westminster Confession of Faith).

Is God only “just and terrible”? Well, no, certainly not. He is, in fact, infinitely loving. That’s why the idea that anyone could improve on His love by contradicting His justice and undermining an understanding of His power is … foolish.

Who Are The Pharisees?

I heard it again this past week, this time from an established Bible teacher, which shows how the Christian community has been swayed to think the way our culture does rather than as the Bible teaches.

As you could guess from the title of this post, I’m referring to what people believe about the Pharisees, that Jewish sect of the first century often in conflict with Jesus. The common idea is that Jesus opposed them because they were oh, so religious.

This is simply not the case. In reality, Jesus Himself could easily be thought of as an example of a religious person. He could tick off a list of things similar to the one Paul recited in Philippians 3.

Jesus was circumcised the eighth day, of the tribe of Judah, a Hebrew of Hebrews. In fact, He was in the temple discussing the Scriptures with the priests and Levites at the age of twelve. As an adult, He was regularly in the synagogue on the Sabbath, often reading from Scripture and explaining its meaning.

He participated in religious activities, attending Passover, insisting John baptize Him, and instituting communion.

No, Jesus’s problems with the Pharisees didn’t stem from the fact that they were religious. Rather, He objected to their selfish, hypocritical use of religion. They were, in fact, prideful cheats.

The Pharisees had learned to make a show of their religion. Apparently since the restoration from the Babylonian exile, the Jews had learned their lesson and put aside their idols. You might say, it became the popular thing to be a worshiper of Yahweh. Consequently, to hold a powerful position in the nation, a person had to be better than the rest when it came to obeying God.

However, the Pharisees figured out ways they could “obey,” or at least appear to do so, and still make a buck. For example, they created a law that said if they dedicated their property to God, then they didn’t need to sell it to help their parents in a time of need. As Jesus pointed out, they created a tradition that superseded God’s command to honor their parents.

They also out-and-out cheated genuine worshipers by selling animals for sacrifice in the temple, often at a price that was unfair and sometimes using unfit animals—the law required an unblemished lamb.

Then there was their redefining of the term “work” since no one was to do any work on the Sabbath. They didn’t want Jesus to heal on the Sabbath because that would be considered “work.” They didn’t want His disciples to pick and eat grain when they were hungry on the Sabbath because that would be considered “work.”

These “work” laws were not from God. They were things the Pharisees concocted to establish and hold onto their power.

They were greatly concerned about power, as the gospels reveal, to the point that they wouldn’t give Jesus a straight answer to His questions for fear they would turn the people against them. They were also afraid the Romans would come in and take their power away if the people continued to carry on about Jesus being the Messiah.

And that was the bottom line. They rejected Jesus as the Christ. They above all others should have known what the Scriptures said about the Messiah, but they had learned to pick and choose the passages they wanted. A suffering servant? Not the messiah they were looking for. They wanted a glorious, triumphant King, if they still really wanted a messiah at all. Could be that they saw the messiah as a threat to their position too.

To sum it up, the Pharisees were interested in themselves. They made a show of religious activity because it benefited them, but it was nothing more than an outward display that belied what was going on in their hearts. They cheated people and bullied them, all in the name of doing God’s work. They freely ignored Scripture, added to it, and changed it to fit their purposes.

In other words, the Pharisees were those who used religious language to do what they wanted, not what God had said. They put themselves as the authority to determine what was right, not God’s Word.

Just like false teachers do today.

Published in: on December 29, 2010 at 7:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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Living By The Terms Of The Treaty

When I was growing up, Saturday afternoon meant old B movies on TV, often something western. One particular story has stayed with me.

What history calls The Indian Wars dominated the West. Settlers and miners and railroad men and soldiers clashed with any number of Indian groups, from Chickasaw to Seminole.

In this particular story, a compassionate and understanding American, with a number of Indian friends, was convinced to take the position as agent for what was the equivalent of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. As part of his job, he was required to negotiate an acceptable treaty with the tribes waring against the US government.

Against all odds, he was successful—except, treaties needed to be ratified by the Senate. The political climate at the time was against him, and rather than agreeing to the terms he had promised the Indians, the government sent troops to implement the Indians’ forced removal from their land.

The story stayed with me because I felt the betrayal this Indian agent experienced—as both the betrayed and the betrayer. He was let down by the government that said it would stand behind his negotiations (the stipulation he demanded as the condition for him taking the position as Indian agent). As a result, in the eyes of the people who had trusted him, he became their Brutus.

It struck me recently that professing Christians who take up with false teachers are like those politicos in that old-time movie. They say they will abide by whatever their representative decides, but when the terms of the agreement come down, they don’t really want to keep their word. They find some way of changing the rules, of canceling the treaty.

In essence, they leave their representative hanging out to dry. The world, to whom He has gone, point and laugh.

    Ha-ha, they say they love, but look at the nasty things they put on their signs when they picket the streets.

    They say they don’t love the world or the things of the world, but listen to how greedy their preachers are.

    They say they live like Jesus, but they have marital breakups, addictions, bad debt, carry grudges, sneer and snark, just like the rest of us.

When we who bear the name of Christ, do not obey Him, we aren’t much better. Our disobedience affects how others look at Jesus in the same way that a false Christian’s inconsistencies end up staining the name of Christ.

I’m reminded of an Old Testament incident recorded in 2 Chronicles 18. Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, allied himself with Ahab, king of Israel. When they were preparing for war, Jehoshaphat wanted to inquire of a prophet of the Lord.

All the other prophets said the kings would have great success if they prosecuted the war, but the one prophet of the Lord Jehoshaphat insisted they bring in, said they would meet with defeat.

And what did Jehoshaphat do? He ignored the prophet of the Lord.

Why, I’ve wondered, did he bother to ask for the man to speak a message from God if he wasn’t planning to listen?

Then too, why do people today take up the name of Christ and ignore His Word?

But that forces me to ask, do I ignore His Word, too—at least the parts I don’t like? Things like, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing”?

I guess the question I need to ask is this: how much do I care about the reputation of He who I say I’m following?

Published in: on September 20, 2010 at 6:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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The Religious Melting Pot

Last week the news carried a story based on a Wall Street Journal article by Stephen Prothero entitled “A Hint of This, A Pinch of That.” It seems that a recent Pew study shows Americans “are swingers as well as switchers, flirting with religious beliefs and practices other than their own without officially changing their religious affiliation.”

In other words, a growing percentage of Americans who identify themselves as “religious” incorporate more than one belief into their lives or practices. According to the article, for instance, 23 percent of those who claim to be Christians also believe in astrology, 22 percent in reincarnation, and 21 percent in yoga as a spiritual practice.

How, how, how is this possible, I wonder. Surely these people can’t be sitting under Biblical teaching and come away thinking reincarnation is consistent with what they just learned.

But this is probably the critical point. They are NOT sitting under Biblical teaching. I know from scant exposure to religious TV programing that there are preachers out there claiming the name of Christ but declaring a false gospel.

Some dismiss parts of the Bible wholesale. Others I’ve heard yank verses out of context and string them together until they say what the preacher wants them to say.

Either way, the net result is a “Christianity” that is far from the teaching of the Bible. In fact, it reminds me of the error of the Israelites in the Old Testament, worshipping God but also keeping their household idols, first the ones they brought with them from Egypt, but eventually the ones deified by the nations around them (2 Kings 17:7-18).

Interesting, I thought, that Mr. Prothero started his article with this line:

So much for the jealous God.

Instead, it seems more and more people claiming the name of Christ are happy to claim the name of whatever other spirituality they think might be of help. A little Jesus, a little Eastern mysticism, a little humanism and … wa-la! Out comes contemporary religious experience that makes all roads lead to happiness as long as the seeker is sincere in his journey.

It sounds so consistent with a theology of peace. We need to love others by accepting them as they are and allowing then to hold their own beliefs without persecution, but also without challenge. After all, the most important thing next to freedom is tolerance.

Sadly, anyone declaring such is a false teacher. It is not loving to allow someone to march into eternity without Christ!

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