Faith and Freedom

During this long weekend of celebrating, let’s take time to reflect on the privileges we enjoy as Americans and remember the many patriots who helped make it possible.  Among the many we should be most thankful to is Almighty God who continues to bless us, in spite of our lack of gratitude, our arrogance and our self-centered nature.

As we continue goosestepping toward a totally secular nation we need to pause and rethink the decisions we’re making as a country regarding what God teaches through His Word.  While seeking to be inclusive of all forms of belief, we’ve eroded the very foundation of America’s strength.  On this path, collapse is only a matter of time.

“Without God, democracy will not and cannot long endure.”
— Ronald Reagan

Why is this so?  A culture that worships athletes, entertainers, comfort, wealth and pleasure above a relationship with the God of the Universe, cannot remain free.  This is true both individually and collectively as “we the people.”  Cultural idolatry is an unholy alliance between a self-centered, pleasure-seeking electorate and a power hungry governing body that will promise anything to perpetuate and grow its own power.  Each increase in power results in loss of liberty and one step closer to  a voluntary form of enslavement.

“The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God;
it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”
— Bible, Romans 8:7 (NIV)”

 “Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. How is it possible
that society
should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened
in proportion as the political tie is relaxed?
  And what can be done with a people
who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?”

— Alexis de Tocqueville

American culture has changed radically over the last 200+ years.  I wonder if historian de Tocqueville would recognize America today.

“The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in
their minds,
that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other;
and with them
this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith
which seems to
vegetate in the soul rather than to live.”

— Alexis de Tocqueville

Is turning our backs on God an effective strategy for human progress?  I say, “no!”  Yet, we’re on the same circular path that the Old Testament records.  It looks like this.  God blesses His people.  The people rejoice.  The people become complacent, taking God for granted.  The people succumb to their own selfish desires.  God punishes the people, which includes the consequences of their own actions.  Out of desperation, the people repent.  God forgives.  God blesses His people.  Decide for yourself where America is in the cycle.

“For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.
Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of
God,
neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”

— Bible (NIV), Romans 8:6-8

A friend of mine once said, “We would be better off if we would just forget about all this God and Jesus stuff.”  He had it backwards, upside down and inside out.  Our spiritual sleep is what put us in the current mess.  We need to wake up.  He NEVER sleeps.  What we need to do is welcome Him back into our once faithful country by inviting Him into our own hearts.

Freedom: the gift whereby ye most resemble your Maker
and are yourselves part of eternal reality.
— C.S. Lewis

Personal Vs. Private

Myths, Misconceptions, Misnomers and Mistakes

There are people who have mastered the art of using the wrong word. To some, this may be a mute point. (How’s that for an example?) While a wrong word here and there may seem harmless and unimportant, it has consequences. The words “personal” and “private” come to mind.

“I don’t like to share my personal life… it wouldn’t be personal if I shared it.” — George Clooney

Sorry George. One’s thoughts, words, and actions are always personal, whether or not they remain private. The concept of “personal” denotes the characteristic of ownership. People may feel violated when their privacy is breached, but they have not forfeited their lives regardless of whether or not they remain private.

“If there’s anything unsettling to the stomach, it’s watching actors on television talk about their personal lives.” — Marlon Brando

Again, we see confusion. Is Brando implying that everything personal should be private? Certainly not his career, which is personal and necessarily very public.

With this new perspective in mind, read and enjoy the following quotes.  Then reread them replacing the word “personal” with “private” and see if the meaning of the following quotations is changed, masked or distorted.

“A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.” — Winston Churchill

“All personal achievement starts in the mind of the individual. Your personal achievement starts in your mind. The first step is to know exactly what your problem, goal or desire is.” — W. Clement Stone

“Sometimes I lie awake at night and ask why me? Then a voice answers nothing personal, your name just happened to come up.” — Charles M. Schulz

“Success is the progressive realization of predetermined, worthwhile, personal goals.” — Paul J. Meyer

“Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility in the realm of faith and morals.” — Albert Schweitzer

“I dare not exercise personal liberty if it infringes on the liberty of others.” — Billy Sunday

“And obviously, from our own personal point of view, the principal challenge is a personal challenge.” — Richard Branson

“There are many truths of which the full meaning cannot be realized until personal experience has brought it home.” — John Stuart Mill

The following quotation would seem to indicate that the late Jim Morrison recognized the difference between the two words:

“We fear violence less than our own feelings. Personal, private, solitary pain is more terrifying than what anyone else can inflict.” — Jim Morrison

“Personal” and “private” have been used interchangeably for so long that we can usually understand the intended meaning from the context. However, the larger point is that “words mean things.” Using the right words is foundational to effective communication. Improving communication skills begins by adopting a belief that this is important. So, let’s explore the consequences of confusing a set of words? In most cases, it might be a minor and forgivable error. In others, it has noteworthy consequences.

Imprecise communication is a distraction. While someone is sorting through sloppy words and phrases, he can miss the important points or important ideas of a conversation.

Imprecise communication projects an image of ignorance. We judge people’s character by their words. Since we can’t get inside their minds to assess their thoughts and intentions, we are left with their words and deeds. When their words are confused and imprecise, we have even less to go on.

Imprecise communication can cause conflict. Using the wrong word can escalate the emotions present during a conversation and cause communication to break down.  Radio talk show personality Rush Limbaugh claims he was misquoted when he said, “I am an expert on my own opinion.” Well, isn’t everyone an expert about their own opinions?  The conflict occurred when the reporter allegedly replaced the word “on” with “in” and changed the entire meaning of the quotation.

Imprecise communication distorts the language. One of the challenges we face is recognizing and applying context. Many, if not most English words have multiple meanings which we interpret from the context of the conversation. This can be challenging enough without unnecessarily adding to the confusion of poor word choices.

Just within my lifetime, I have seen a change in what is private. Consider how the WWI generation talked about pregnancy. “In a family way” and “with child” were common expressions describing pregnancy. Compare that with the language of today’s women, who frequently share in a very graphic way, in mixed company, the intimate details of their labor and delivery. Childbirth is always personal.  But to some, it’s not very private.

Religious beliefs fall into the category of personal. But, are they private? Some would say, “yes” and others “no.” In the case of Christianity, what does the Bible say?

“Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” — Bible, Psalm 96:2

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” — Bible, Matthew 28:19

“For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” — Bible, Mark 8:38

Apparently, Christian beliefs are not intended to remain private.

Some may consider these thoughts about personal and private as a peevish, nit-picking rant and an utter waste of time. I accept and acknowledge that personal opinion, while suggesting that it also remain private.

Why I Believe

When people use the word faith, it often has a religious connotation. But think of it. Almost everything we know has an element of faith. We have faith in natural laws such as gravity. It is testable. But, predictability of how it will behave in the future is an act of faith. Without faith, every leap and every step would be a mystery until it was completed.

Some describe religious faith as shallow because it cannot be tested in the laboratory. The laboratory part is true, the conclusion is not. Just like a court of law, there are other types of evidence besides lab results. For example, there is no scientific experiment that could prove Julius Cesar was a real person. But, we have sufficient archaeological evidence and written records to confidently call this a fact.

“Faith is not a way of convincing yourself that something is true when you know it is not, as someone has defined it, but faith is believing in something that is true. In order to be a Christian you must believe through faith, because from faith comes life, strength, peace and joy.” — Shawn Vandop

It seems to me that if God expects us to choose Jesus in lieu of the false prophets who proclaim other “truths”, He would provide evidence. Otherwise, how could we differentiate one Messiah from another?

I First Believed Because of My Parents

I received my initial training in the Christian faith from people who taught me many other lessons, too. Mom taught me that the street is a dangerous place. In first grade, a classmate was killed while crossing the street. Mom was right. The street IS a dangerous place! Why shouldn’t I believe other lessons she taught, such as Jesus.

As I grew up, people challenged the principles of my faith. Not just the existence of God, but also the nature of God. So, I was forced to look for evidence. After all, I couldn’t tell them I believed only because my parents and my pastor said so.

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every Spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.” — Bible, 1 John 4:1-3

Other believers my age seemed to be a reasonable place to start. From sixth grade on, kids from church were among my friends. I can remember having discussions throughout my adolescent years and college about God, right and wrong and the Bible. While their belief provided some affirmation, they didn’t seem to have the special insight I was looking for.

My faith journey continued through my college days to the present. As I recognized and understood the evidence, my faith became stronger. My simple childlike faith gradually matured and became stronger because of the evidence and because God’s Holy Spirit has softened my heart and prepared my mind to receive what my stubborn, selfish heart would otherwise reject.

I Believe Because of the Miraculous Deeds of Jesus Christ

During His time on earth, Jesus did the unthinkable. He cured diseases and healed infirmities with no more than the touch of His hand. He foretold the future with perfect accuracy. He loved the most unlovable outcasts (e.g. lepers, thieves, tax collectors, prostitutes, murderers, and religious zealots. ) He taught timeless lessons for good living. He knew with perfect clarity what people were thinking. He walked on water and calmed a storm. He raised people from the dead, including Himself. In other words, He had full command over the natural world. You would expect someone like this to have the power to escape his own death by crucifixion. Instead, He chose to give His life as payment for all of the sins of mankind.

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

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” — Bible, John 15:13

There were thousands of witnesses who saw the miracles, heard the words and believed. The established church and the Roman government knew of the miracles and felt threatened by a man with this kind of power. Who am I, living 2000 years after the fact, to question the testimonies of those who were there in person?

“Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did.” — Bible, John 2:23

I Believe Because Jesus’ Disciples Believed

People will die for a cause if it’s big enough and if they believe it to be true. People will not willingly die for a lie. Those who ate, drank, traveled and lived with Jesus knew Him as the Son of God, who would be crucified and rise from the dead, and most of them were tortured and killed for their belief. They saw the evidence first hand, knew the truth and wrote it down.

“This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him.” — Bible, John 2:1

I Believe Because of the Testimony of Jesus Christ

Jesus claimed to have authority to forgive sins. He claimed to be the Son of God and the Messiah that had been foretold for centuries. He also foretold his death and rising from the dead. Logically, if there is sufficient evidence to support His claims, then the only reasonable conclusion must be that Jesus is the Lord and Savior for mankind.

Matthew 12:15-17 — “He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.’”

John 4:25-26 — “The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’”

In John 3:16 Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

In Mark 10:45 Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

I believe there IS sufficient evidence to support Christ’s claims.  While I have heard many contest the truth of these claims, there is no credible information anywhere to refute that Christ made them. So, logically the claims become a true/false question? If false, the conclusion must be that Jesus is either a liar or a lunatic. Now think about this.  Who would knowingly follow a liar or a lunatic when doing so would put their lives at great risk?  As previously mentioned, many of Christ’s most committed followers were martyred for the actions that were inspired by their deeply held belief in these claims.

The answers are in the Bible, which claims over and over to be the Word of God.  But in addition, here’s why the Bible can be trusted.

  • The Bible is by far (i.e. by orders of magnitude) the most well preserved ancient document.
  • The Bible has withstood more scrutiny than any other document.
  • The Bible is a collection of writings by multiple authors written over the course of over 1500 years and yet, it is self consistent.

My MacArthur Study Bible and books like the following, help me clarify my thinking, sort through the evidence and understand historical context.

  • “Surprised By Faith” by Dr. Don Bierle
  • “Who Moved the Stone?” by Frank Morrison
  • “A Case For Christ” by Lee Strobel
  • “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis

I Believe Because He Pursues Me

Believing that the universe, with all of its complexity, is the result of random chance takes a greater amount of faith than believing in God, who made Himself known and provided plenty of evidence, including His Son, Jesus Christ and his written word, the Bible. The universe is SO big that we would never find God unless He wanted to be found. Because He wants to be found, He is everywhere, pursuing us with patience and persistence.

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God.” — C.S. Lewis, “Letters to Malcolm”

I Believe Because I’ve Seen the Lord’s Handiwork

Throughout history many incredible things have happened that are covered with God’s fingerprints. He continues to work in today’s world. No matter how unusual or improbable, skeptics will call these events coincidences. This believer recognizes with his mind and his heart that what is coincidence to some, is more of God’s evidence.

“I’ve had enough ‘signs and wonders’ to get my attention. But let me tell you, I believe because I have chosen to believe! I’ll believe if I never see another sign or wonder.” — Mark Lowry

So Why Doesn’t Everyone Believe?

That’s a simple question with many answers of which lack of evidence is not a valid one. All other answers are somehow related to ignorance and apathy. People will not likely entertain the notion of a god if they have no awareness of any evidence that suggests there could be a god. That’s ignorance. Alternatively, they have awareness of the evidence at some level, but don’t care enough to discover the full spectrum of evidence and assess it objectively. Apathy about anything is part intellectual laziness and part emotional. Perhaps something happened that created anger and bitterness that they direct toward a god in whom they no longer believe. Maybe the image of a strict God is incompatible with their lifestyle making it seem easier to not believe. In any case, the result is both ignorance and apathy, characteristics of a fallen humanity.

If someone’s heart and mind are open to the idea that there is a god and is committed to learning more, the next logical question would be, “Who is God?” This leads to a process of trying to identify God by understanding His nature and how that relates to us on a personal basis.

There are many god choices available. Some would say it doesn’t matter which god is chosen as long as the choice is made with sincerity. This certainly seems fair and flexible from a human perspective. But, is this God’s plan or man’s opinion? Here are just two Bible verses that explain why Christianity and other belief systems that offer alternative gods or paths to God are mutually exclusive.

“And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’” — Bible, Matthew 4:9-10

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” — Bible, John 14:6

So, the question has come full circle. Is Jesus who He says He is? If so, and if you want what He has to offer, then your only choice is clear.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” — Bible, John 3:16

This is not a decision you can avoid. It is impossible to remain neutral. Jesus said,

“He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.” — Bible, Matthew 12:30

Get a Bible and start with the book of John and the book of Romans to discover what God has to say about His purpose for your life and having a relationship with Jesus Christ.

God bless,

— CC

© Copyright August 2008, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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A Parable of Grace

There was a certain Professor of Religion named Dr. Christianson, a studious man who taught at a small college in the western United States. Dr. Christianson taught the required survey course in Christianity at this particular institution. Every student was required to take this course his or her freshman year, regardless of his or her major. Although Dr. Christianson tried hard to communicate the essence of the gospel in his class, he found that most of his students looked upon the course as nothing but required drudgery. Despite his best efforts, most students refused to take Christianity seriously.

This year, Dr. Christianson had a special student named Steve. Steve was only a freshman, but was studying with the intent of going onto seminary for the ministry. Steve was popular, he was well liked, and he was an imposing physical specimen. He was now the starting center on the school football team, and was the best student in the professor’s class. One day, Dr. Christianson asked Steve to stay after class so he could talk with him.

“How many push-ups can you do?”

Steve said, “I do about 200 every night”

“200? That’s pretty good, Steve,” Dr. Christianson said. “Do you think you could do 300?”

Steve replied, “I don’t know… I’ve never done 300 at a time.”

“Do you think you could?” again asked Dr. Christianson.

“Well, I can try,” said Steve.

“Can you do 300 in sets of 10? I have a class project in mind and I need you to do about 300 push-ups in sets of ten for this to work. Can you do it? I need you to tell me you can do it,” said the professor.

Steve said, “Well… I think I can…yeah, I can do it.”

Dr. Christianson said, “Good. I need you to do this on Friday. Let me explain what I have in mind.”

Friday came and Steve got to class early and sat in the front of the room. When class started, the professor pulled out a big box of donuts. No, these weren’t the normal kinds of donuts, they were the extra fancy BIG kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was pretty excited it was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get an early start on the weekend with a party in Dr.Christianson’s class.

Dr. Christianson went to the first girl in the first row and asked, “Cynthia, do you want to have one of these donuts?”

Cynthia said, “Yes.”

Dr. Christianson then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?”

“Sure.” Steve jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve again sat in his desk. Dr. Christianson put a donut on Cynthia’ s desk.

Dr. Christianson then went to Joe, the next person, and asked, “Joe, do you want a donut?”

Joe said, “Yes.” Dr. Christianson asked, “Steve would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?”

Steve did ten push-ups, Joe got a donut. And so it went, down the first aisle, Steve did ten pushups for every person before they got their donut.

Walking down the second aisle, Dr. Christianson came to Scott. Scott was on the basketball team, and in as good condition as Steve. He was very popular and never lacking for female companionship.

When the professor asked, “Scott do you want a donut?”

Scott’s reply was, “Well, can I do my own pushups?”

Dr. Christianson said, “No, Steve has to do them.”

Then Scott said, “Well, I don’t want one then.”

Dr. Christianson shrugged and then turned to Steve and asked, “Steve, would you do ten pushups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?”

With perfect obedience Steve started to do ten pushups.

Scott said, “Hey, I said I didn’t want one”

Dr. Christianson said, “Look, this is my classroom, my class, my desks, and these are my donuts. Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it.” And he put a donut on Scott’s desk.

Now by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. You could start to see a little perspiration coming out around his brow.

Dr. Christianson started down the third row. Now the students were beginning to get a little angry. Dr. Christianson asked Jenny, “Jenny, do you want a donut?”

Sternly, Jenny said, “No.”

Then Dr. Christianson asked Steve, “Steve, would you do ten more push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?” Steve did ten….Jenny got a donut.

By now, a growing sense of uneasiness filled the room. The students were beginning to say “No” and there were all these uneaten donuts on the desks. Steve also had to really put forth a lot of extra effort to get these pushups done for each donut. There began to be a small pool of sweat on the floor beneath his face, his arms and brow were beginning to get red because of the physical effort involved.

Dr. Christianson asked Robert, who was the most vocal unbeliever in the class, to watch Steve do each push up to make sure he did the full ten pushups in a set because he couldn’t bear to watch all of Steve’s work for all of those uneaten donuts. He sent Robert over to where Steve was so Robert could count the set and watch Steve closely.

Dr. Christianson started down the fourth row. During his class, however, some students from other classes had wandered in and sat down on the steps along the radiators that ran down the sides of the room. When the professor realized this, he did a quick count and saw that now there were 34 students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it.

Dr. Christianson went on to the next person and the next and the next. Near the end of that row, Steve was really having a rough time. He was taking a lot more time to complete each set.

Steve asked Dr. Christianson, “Do I have to make my nose touch on each one?”

Dr. Christianson thought for a moment, “Well, they’re your pushups. You are in charge now. You can do them any way that you want.” And Dr. Christianson went on.

A few moments later, Jason, a recent transfer student, came to the room and was about to come in when all the students yelled in one voice, “NO, don’t come in Stay out!”

Jason didn’t know what was going on. Steve picked up his head and said, No, let him come.”

Professor Christianson said, “You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten pushups for him?”

Steve said, “Yes, let him come in . Give him a donut.”

Dr. Christianson said, “Okay, Steve, I’ll let you get Jason’s out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?”

Jason, new to the room, hardly knew what was going on. “Yes,” he said, “give me a donut.”

“Steve, will you do ten push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?”

Steve did ten pushups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.

Dr. Christianson finished the fourth row, and then started on those visitors seated by the heaters. Steve’s arms were now shaking with each push-up in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. By this time sweat was profusely dropping off of his face, there was no sound except his heavy breathing; there was not a dry eye in the room.

The very last two students in the room were two young women, both cheerleaders, and very popular. Dr. Christianson went to Linda, the second to last, and asked, “Linda, do you want a doughnut?”

Linda said, very sadly, “No, thank you.”

Professor Christianson quietly asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?” Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow pushups for Linda.

Then Dr. Christianson turned to the last girl, Susan. “Susan, do you want a donut?” Susan, with tears flowing down her face, began to cry. “Dr. Christianson, why can’t I help him?”

Dr. Christianson, with tears of his own, said, “No, Steve has to do it alone, I have given him this task and he is in charge of seeing that everyone has an opportunity for a donut whether they want it or not.

When I decided to have a party this last day of class, I looked my grade book. Steve here is the only student with a perfect grade. Everyone else has failed a test, skipped class, or offered me inferior work. Steve told me that in football practice, when a player messes up he must do push-ups. I told Steve that none of you could come to my party unless he paid the price by doing your push ups. He and I made a deal for your sakes.”

“Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?” As Steve very slowly finished his last pushup, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 pushups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.

Dr. Christianson turned to the room and said. “And so it was, that our Savior, Jesus Christ, on the cross, plead to the Father, ‘into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that He had done everything that was required of Him, He yielded up His life. And like some of those in this room, many of us leave the gift on the desk, uneaten.”

Two students helped Steve up off the floor and to a seat, physically exhausted, but wearing a thin smile.

“Well done, good and faithful servant,” said the professor, adding, “Not all sermons are preached in words.”

Turning to his class, the professor said, “My wish is that you might understand and fully comprehend all the riches of grace and mercy that have been given to you through the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He spared not only His Begotten Son, but gave Him up for us all, for the whole Church, now and forever. Whether or not we choose to accept His gift to us, the price has been paid.”

“Wouldn’t you be foolish and ungrateful to leave it lying on the desk?”

— Source: Various Internet sites; earliest found was at www.edevotions.org.

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