Category Archives: Discipleship

Taxes

Taxes have always been a controversy for preachers. Some people get upset when you talk about money from the pulpit, how much more so if you talk about taxes? Which is exactly why the Pharisees ask Jesus this question. They want to get Him in trouble. It is a trap.

Julius-Caesar-coinMark 12:13-17, “Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch him in his words. 14 They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial taxto Caesar or not? 15 Should we pay or shouldn’t we?”

But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” 16 They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

17 Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”

And they were amazed at him.”

 Jesus doesn’t do what most of us do (that’s avoid the issue), He answers the question. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Well, the Lord’s answer leaves us to ask a few follow up questions. “What is Caesar’s? And what is God’s?”

Let’s start with easiest question, “What is God’s?” The answer is obviously, “everything.” Psalm 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” It is all God’s. We are just stewards of His creation. All the things we possess – from materials, talents, to the breath in our lungs and the beat in our hearts –  are really His and we will give an account of how we used them on judgment day. Did we use all of our resources to glorify Him and expand His kingdom or not? (For further reading see Matthew 25:14-30, Parable of the Talents.)

So what does God require of us with these resources? Jesus summed it up nicely, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31.)  In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah put it this way, “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)  Easy to answer, difficult to do.

Now, what is Caesar’s? What is owed to the government? I’m sure you’ve seen the bumper sticker, “If 10% good enough for God, good enough for the IRS.” This question is a bit trickier to answer.  In order to do so, we need to know what God has established government to do.

Romans 13:1-7. 1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. 4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.  6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

God establishes government for maintaining justice in society. Commend those who do what is right and punish those who do wrong. You see the Bible says that all of us are sinners. Left to ourselves we have a natural inclination to sin and do evil. We are not basically good. The Bible calls this condition of humanity original sin. (See Romans 7:14-25).

God gives us government for the benefit of society to bring order from chaos, provide the rule of law, and ensure justice is done among the people. We pay taxes to pay for the courts, police, prisons, salaries, maintain defense, roads, etc.   We must have structure to live together in peace and prosperity.  The preamble to the preamble constitutionUnited States Constitution gives us the reasons our founders established our government.  We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

God institutes government for these reasons and we owe Caesar for these services.  But that leaves me with this follow up question: Is that where our taxes are going?  In the next few posts I’m going to delve into the spiritual issue of taxes.  Jesus says to pay taxes, but what if our tax money is going for purposes that oppose God and limit liberty?  What if our tax money is going to things that are good, but God did not ordain government to do?  And more practically, what if some of those things just don’t work and bring harm rather than good?  Then what?

I’d love to hear your thoughts….

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Filed under Church, Discipleship, Freedom, Government, Life

Causanauts

Join the Cause - People Holding WordsHow many causes are there these days? There is a cause for everything. Every color of the rainbow (even the rainbow itself) represents something that I should support or denounce. A red X says I’m against human trafficking. A pink ribbon says I want to save the ta-tas. I’m green if I drive a hybrid. And on and on it goes. It seems each day is a day for a cause of some sort that calls me to action. Buy Tom’s shoes so that someone somewhere gets a pair of shoes. Don’t buy coffee unless it is free-trade coffee. Drink Coke from this can so we can save the polar bears.

Now don’t get me wrong – no, get me wrong if you want, I’ve had it. Let me put this as plainly as I can: Your cause does not make you a good person. I don’t care how great your cause is or how many you have. I don’t care if you have the bracelet, wear the t-shirt, eat the free range chicken, post a picture on facebook, or whatever other noble expression you choose to make your cause known. Your cause does not make you a good person.

Now why the attack on causes? I have nothing against people doing good things for others. But I am over the self-righteous attitude that comes with so many of these causes. I watch the church train our kids to be causanauts and call it discipleship. We preach a works-righteousness religion. We tell them, “You had better sleep in this cardboard box for the night to show your solidarity with homeless people or you don’t care.” We dress up the cause with a Scripture verse and then declare that it is our Christian duty to support or protest whatever it is. That is nothing more that a first-class guilt trip. And it is exactly what the Pharisees did to the people of Israel.

Preaching this religion causes spiritual pride faster than any else I can thinkbracelet of. “I’m a good person. I support_______, I bought the right kind of _________, I posted ________ on my FB. I’m aware. I care.” Don’t kid yourself. You feel better when you have the cause de jour in front of others. That’s why there are so many Causanauts. We all want to feel good about ourselves in a culture where good is relative. We trumpet our cause because we want to be good in a culture that no longer has a definition of good. Causes give people who don’t believe in morals moral authority.

The Bible teaches us in Micah 6:8 to “do justly, love mercy and (get this) walk humbly with your God.” Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:1-4, “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ (read: causes) before men to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets (read: FB, bracelets, t-shirts, ribbons, etc), as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be done in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done is secret, will reward you.”

Jesus tells us to do these good things in secret because it will prevent us from becoming prideful and believing that we are good people. The good things we do can actually callous our hearts and prevent us from hearing the truth about who we really are and what we really need to do in order to be justified before a holy God.

Luke 18:9-14 illustrates it perfectly. To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Causanauts are like the Pharisee, blinded and calloused by his own good deeds. He could not see the truth about who he really was: a sinner who couldn’t possible do enough good things to measure up to a Holy God. He thought he was a good person. As a result he did not go home justified before God. The tax collector who could admit the truth about himself, a sinner, was able to get right with God. You cannot have a relationship with Christ when you think you are good enough because you cannot see the evil in your own heart and repent.

Jesus warns those who practice a works-righteousness religion. Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Many people will list their causes and all they did, even in His name, on that day only to be turned away. The only way to be justified before God is to admit you are not a good person, surrender to Jesus, and let His righteousness cover you.

Do good deeds. Love God. Love others. But don’t be a Causanaut. It doesn’t end well.

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Filed under Discipleship, Missions, Social Justice

Called To Be Strangers We Are

star wars yodaWho wants to be Yoda?  Small in stature and green to boot.  He’s bald and got hobgoblin ears.  Powerful in the force is he, but English syntax is not his strong suit.  Let’s face it, Yoda is strange and nobody wants to be strange.

We really want to fit it.  As much as we might desire to be different from others and express ourselves, we generally express ourselves in the same manner.   I’ve spent most of my adult life working with teenagers.  Now I have two of my own and I can tell you –  standing out is not high on their priority list.  From the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, even what time they show up at an event is about not standing out.  And what is true of teenagers is true of adults.  Adults, though less concerned about their music, are more concerned with opinions and being thought us as “open-minded” and “intelligent”.  I’ve seen grown men and women deny their faith in order to fit in.  Truth be told, I’ve seen churches, even entire denominations give up their Biblical identity just to be part of the crowd.

I’ve read and heard people talk about America being “post-Christian” for about 10 years, but I didn’t really believe it until this past election.  I believe them now.  After watching several denominations take unbiblical stances on marriage and sexuality, remain silent on issues of right and wrong, give way to political correctness, and concede the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, it is no surprise the culture has moved in the direction of paganism in the name of tolerance.  And, unfortunately, many adult Christians have gone right along with the culture in order to fit in.

The time has come for the church to remember who we are and what we are called to be.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

God has always made His people distinct so that they would be different from the culture around them.  The Bible has a word for being set apart for God.  The word is “holy.”  Fitting in with the world has never been an option.  In fact, a sure sign that you are missing it, is that you go right along with the world.  Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Jesus said his disciples were in the world, but not of it.  I am afraid we have forgotten who we are.  And by forgetting our set apart nature, Christians have failed to be salt and light in this world.  We have failed to declare the truth about who God is and live by His Holy Spirit.  That is why the culture around us is deteriorating exponentially. 

After Peter writes this resume for  Christians, in the next breath he says, “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world…”  He just called us Yoda.  People should be looking at Christians like we are from another planet.  They should see in us a holiness that is not from these parts.  Any concept of doing what the world does in order to fit in is at odds with being a Christian.  It’s time for each of us to examine ourselves.    Are we trying to fit in with the culture around us?  Are we, in order to fit in, sacrificing our identity and denying our Lord?  James, 4:4 asks, “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred towards God?”  Have we forgotten who God has called us to be?

I believe we are living in a time where the difference between following Christ and and fitting in with the norms of the culture will be stark.  Issues and life choices are going to be light and darkness.  Fitting in for Christians is not an option any longer.  “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” 

Even in Star Wars, Yoda is strange.  Have you ever noticed another Yoda?  There are plenty of Ewoks, Wookies, humans, droids, but Yodas?  Aliens and strangers called to be we are.

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Filed under Beliefs, Church, Discipleship, Holiness, Life

What Happens In December Stays In December

chrsitmas boxesI asked in my last post why our culture celebrates the birth of Jesus when the rest of the year it is so threatened by His existence?

I believe the answer is simple.  We do this because we live compartmentalized lives.  We have separate boxes for all the areas of our lives.  “This is my box for work, my box for home, friends, hobbies, church, etc.  We can move in and out of our boxes without any thought as to whether they are congruent.  There doesn’t need to be consistency from one sphere of life to another.  In fact, one box doesn’t even have to effect another.  We keep our lives divided up, nice and neat.  Much like the apps on a smart phone.  We’ll just open one when we need it and close it when we don’t.  To go one step further, we’ll take what we like of one compartment, and leave what we don’t like.  

We do that with Jesus.  We take Him out of the box for December, but as soon as January comes around – back in the box He goes.  What happens in December stays in December.

Reminds me of NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby when he says, Dear baby Jesus“I like the baby Jesus.  You can pray to the bearded Jesus or the teenage Jesus if you want.  But I prefer the baby Jesus.”  Our culture prefers the baby Jesus.  We bring Him out once a year and place Him in the manger.  The baby Jesus is a good reminder that we need peace on earth and good will toward men.  We light a few candles, sing some familiar hymns, and then we put Jesus back in the box so we can get on with our lives.  We’ve visited our Jesus compartment for the year, now we can put Him away.  Yep, Away In A Manager: the little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes.  And we like it that way.

The culture likes Jesus that way because the baby Jesus does not require anything from us except a few oohs and awhhs and perhaps 60 minutes in a crowded church service on Christmas Eve.

The prophet Isaiah is one of the first to see who the Messiah is and he doesn’t compartmentalize Him.    In 9:6-7 he writes, For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulders.  And He will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace There will be no end,  He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.  The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

We like to hear that a child is born and a son is given.  And we love the names that He will be called.  They have a nice ring to them.  Especially when Handel sets them to music.  This is the Jesus we celebrate. 

But what’s this stuff about the government being on His shoulders?  Isn’t mentioning Jesus and government in the same sentence a violation of the constitution?  What’s the deal about His government increasing without end?  He is going to rule and establish justice and righteousness forever.  That sounds oppressive.  

Isaiah is letting us know there is no compartment box that is left untouched by Jesus.  No part of your life, my life, all of life that Jesus will not order and establish.  His rule and reign will continue to increase and spread.  He is King over the whole world.  Everything will be under His government and peace.  Jesus will order and establish judgment and justice in this world forever, without end.  God is zealous to make it so.

But the world and individuals in it are not so zealous.  We want His peace to increase without end, but not His government.  The problem with that is it’s a CH100000package deal.  The peace is a result of His government.  But the world does not want Jesus in charge.  A baby Jesus, no problem.  It’s very Hallmark. Wrap it up, put a bow on it, we’ll take it.  But a King increasing his reign without end, I’m sorry but that’s not going to work for us.  We like being in charge.

Have you ever had this thought: “I don’t want Jesus to be in charge of all my compartments.  He can have a few, but not all.  This is my kingdom, not His.  If I take Jesus out of the box and allow His government to increase with no end in my life, I will have to live differently.  I will have to surrender control.  He wants to be King over all of me without end?  That’s asking too much.”  And so, back in the box Jesus goes.

However, there are big problems with putting Jesus away with the Christmas decorations.  What do you think some might be?

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Filed under Beliefs, Christmas, Discipleship, Government, Holiness, Life

Longing For a Better Country

People are fed up with the way the country is being run and they want out.  It is fascinating to watch as hundreds of thousands petition for their states to secede.  I doubt it will happen, (except maybe Texas – Don’t Mess With Texas!) but it does give us a chance to talk about following Jesus. 

What I see on the faces of so many people after this election is not hope, but despair.  They long for a better country.  They look to leaders and listen to their promises.  They see through the lies and know that if things remain on this course there won’t be a country left.  And they are trying to find the exits.  They long for a new country where justice, peace, truth, and righteousness are the rule.  Is there a place like that?  That is what our founding fathers envisioned for this country, but that vision no longer guides us.

If you have felt this despair and realize you want a better place to live, you are not alone.  In fact, this is a good and necessary step in order to follow Jesus.  Eugene Peterson writes about this in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.  He says, “People submerged in a culture swarming with lies and malice feel as if they are drowning in it: they can trust nothing they hear, depend on no one they meet.  Such dissatisfaction with the world as it is is preparation for traveling in the way of Christian discipleship.  The dissatisfaction, coupled with a longing for peace and truth, can set us on a pilgrim path of wholeness in God.”

He goes on, “A person has to be thoroughly disgusted with the way things are to find the motivation to set out on the Christian way.  As long as we think the next election might eliminate crime and establish justice or another scientific breakthrough might save the environment or another pay raise might push us over the edge of anxiety into a life of tranquillity, we are not likely to risk the arduous uncertainties of the life of faith.  A person has to get fed up with the ways of the world before he, before she, acquires an appetite for the world of grace.” (pg.25).

By the look of the desire for secession, people have an appetite for the world of grace.  I think of God calling Abraham out of Ur to a new land.  I remember Moses leading people out of slavery in Egypt towards the promised land.  David was on the run for many years waiting for his kingdom.  And for hundreds of years the Israelities were looking for God’s Messiah to deliver them from bondage and establish them in the land of their forefathers as free men and women.  It seems God’s people have always been looking for a new country.

“All of these people were still living by faith when they died.  They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted they were aliens and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had the opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”  – Hebrews 11:13-16.

Are you done thinking we can make heaven on earth?  Are you ready to secede from the world’s ways and begin the pilgrim path of following Jesus?  He calls us to a life of faith.  When we follow Him, He tells us plainly, “My Kingdom is not of this world”  (John 18:36).  Our goal is a better country – a heavenly one.  Being a pilgrim is not easy.  Jesus is very clear, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33), and he couldn’t be more right about that.  “But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

When we follow Jesus we are in the world, but not of it.  “Our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ “ (Phil  3:20).  If you are longing for a better country, you won’t find it in secession.  I encourage you to get your hiking boots on and follow Jesus more closely.  Repentence is the first step.

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If My People

I try to tell myself that today is no different than any day in the last four years. No wonder I feel terrible. I turned off the tv last night about 10:30 and went to bed. I went to bed, but I didn’t get much sleep.

This morning and throughout the day I have received emails and texts from friends asking some hard questions. “I don’t understand how God would allow this leadership in government. Is this His will?” “How do I get past the anger and anxiety?” “What are Christians suppose to do now?” Reminds me of the Psalmist lament in 11:3, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous to do?” I wish I had an answer for the Psalmist.

One friend told me she could not remember an election so prayed over. I had made that same observation. I can’t recall more materials coming across my desk, more calls for prayer and fasting, and even prayer meetings for an election than this one. “Why didn’t God answer those prayers?” I don’t know that one either.

But I can say this with full confidence: Purity is on the other side of the refiner’s fire. God wants a holy people. And let’s be honest, the church is far from it. Oh, we’ll be decent and kind as long as it doesn’t inconvience us, but even in churches we don’t use the word “holy” anymore. We pretend the word is too offensive to others, but the reality is, it’s too offensive to us.

Our nation is in need of a Great Awakening. The foundations are being destroyed before our eyes and we are helpless to do anything about it. Or are we? I believe the cure begins with each one of us. 2 Chronicles 7:14 says, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

Did you notice who God requires to humble themselves, pray, seek His face, and turn from their wicked ways? Is it the entire country? Is it the government? No, it is His people. We must be the ones to pursue holiness in our lives. And when we do, God will heal our land.

The world will continue to act like the world. But judgement comes when God’s people act like the world. Or didn’t we read the Old Testament? How serious are you willing to get with the Lord about your sin and His holiness? Are you willing to turn from you wicked ways? Will you humble yourself before the the Lord? There is no more time for games with God. He is not one to be triffle with.

What we do now as Christians is to humble ourselves before God, confess our sin and turn from it, and seek to honor Him in all our ways. Then God will hear us and heal our land.

Psalm 139:23-24

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Tune in tomorrow to hear from Jonathan Witherspoon, a minister and signer of the Declaration of Independence, on his thoughts concerning this.

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Filed under Church, Discipleship, Government, Holiness, Prayer, Revival

Winners

There is not a parent alive who has ever watched their son or daughter step onto the field or court and not begin to pray that they would win. Some kindhearted parents will say they prayed that their child would do their best. But let’s be honest, even they want their child to win. The truth is we want our children to be winners.

I don’t believe that is anything to be ashamed of. I want my kids to win when they play sports. Of course, I expect them to practice good sportsmanship whether they win or lose and I value the character gained from losing and playing again. But I pray for them to win.

And I pay as well. I pay for batting cages, lessons, equipment, travel teams, and booster club fundraisers. I do so willingly and hope that my investment will pay back with several checks in the “w” column. I also pay with time spent at practices, backyard drills, etc. Can you relate? I bet you can because I see what other parents do to make their kids winners and I know I’m not alone.

And it isn’t just sports that we want to see them win. It’s everything from academics, arts, hobbies – anything and everything. We want our sons and daughters to be winners and we train, pay, and pray to make them such.

But what about winners of souls?

The Lord floored me with that thought recently. Am I training, paying, and praying for my kids to be winners of souls? Is that even on my radar screen? I spend time and money working with them and praying for them so they can acheive a trophy that will collect dust. And then I read Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

The crown Paul is seeking is souls. Saving souls is what he’s after. People are what he is trying to win. To the Christians in Thessalonica he writes,, “For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? 20 Indeed, you are our glory and joy.” (1 Thessalonians 2:19). And to the Church in Phillipi, he calls the people he has won to Christ his “joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1).

To Timothy, who Paul considered “my true son in the the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2) he writes, “I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season” and “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:2,5). Paul was training and praying for Timothy to be a winner of souls and obtain a crown that won’t perish, spoil, or fade.

I’m afraid I have been majoring in the minors. But that is changing. I am now praying each day for my kids to be mighty winners of souls for the Kingdom. I’ll still pray for them during their games and such, but I will also be praying for the Lord to use them to win souls for Him. I will encourage them to be prepared in season and out of season to share the hope they have in Jesus. I will show them how to pray for their lost friends and I will train them how to lead a friend to faith in Jesus. Of course, this means I’m going to have to get in better shape as well. Game on.

I love my kids and I want them to be winners and receive a crown that will last for all eternity. Above all else, I want them to be winners of souls.

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