When You’re a Failure

Maybe you feel like a failure in the Kingdom of God. But if you’re still walking behind Jesus day after day, you’re not a failure. To succeed in God’s Kingdom you need to do only one thing: get behind Jesus and stay there.

If you’ve walked away from Him, and you feel like a failure, you only need to do one thing to become a success again: get behind Jesus and stay there.

The disciples followed Jesus around for 3 years before He ascended to heaven. And after His ascension they were filled with the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was alive, did they get everything right? Did they fulfill His will perfectly every time? No. When they received the Holy Spirit, did they always perfectly hear His voice and put action behind His words? No. But they succeeded because they never stopped trying. They never walked away. They got behind Jesus and stayed there.

In Mark 4, when the storm arose and Jesus slept and the disciples thought they would die He said to them:

Mark 4:40 He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’

They messed up.  Their faith was lacking.  Did Jesus write them off?  Tell them to find a new Rabbi to follow?  Go out looking for new disciples?  No. He didn’t because they weren’t failures.  And they weren’t failures because they were still following Jesus.

Nor did He kick them to the curb in Matthew 17 when they were unable to heal the afflicted boy.

Matthew 17:16 “I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

Even after Jesus ascended into Heaven and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter still messed up.

Galatians 2:11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.

Can I let you in on a little secret?  They were human.  *Gasp*  And, you know what else?  You are too.  *Gasp, Gasp*

Humans make mistakes.  It’s what we’re most famous for.  And, believe it or not, God knows that.

Psalm 139:1-2

Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.

***

Sunday morning, I stood alone praying.  I poured my heart out to the Lord.  I told Him that I felt like such a failure and I felt so lost.  That’s when I felt the overwhelming feeling inside, that I was not a failure because I was still showing up.  Yes, I’d made mistakes.  And, yes, I’ll make more mistakes in the future.  But I’m gonna keep showing up.  I’m gonna keep trying to see the face of my Lord.  And as long as I’m doing that, I’m not a failure.

PLEASE READ EVERY SINGLE WORD OF THE FOLLOWING SCRIPTURE.  BECAUSE IF YOU HAVE READ THIS FAR, YOU NEED TO READ THIS TOO.

Romans 8:31-39

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?  

36 (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)

37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that NOTHING can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

If we live by the standards of this world, then, yes, we are all failures!  So thank God that failures are His favorite kind of people!!

1 Corinthians 1:27 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.

The heroes of our faith, the patriarchs that we look to in the scriptures for guidance, they all have their faults on full display for all to see.  No humiliating detail was spared in scripture.  The message we should see staring us right in the face when we look into the scripture is this: God uses the losers, the bastards, the orphans and the whores because He loves them and they love Him back.  The world sees them as failures.  They see themselves as failures.  But God says, “Keep showing up.  That’s all I ask.”

Here’s the song I wrote on the subject: For Sure

Luke 14:16-24

16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

God’s recipe for success in His Kingdom: SHOW UP.

I don’t know, but I think I can do at least that.

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Be A Weak Pony

I can’t stand having my hair in my face.  It’s either in a ponytail or pulled back in a clip or tucked behind my ears.  It’s almost an involuntary obsession.  I don’t even realize I’m fussing with it most of the time.

Just now I was annoyed by my hair again.  I thought about grabbing the ponytail holder I’ve been using for the last few days but decided against it.  I picked through the basket holding all my hair accoutrements looking for a perfect pony.  I picked several up and stretched them out, testing the tension in their elastic finally settling on one.  And as I pulled my hair up into a ponytail I realized that the perfect pony for me is also a perfect metaphor for some aspects of the Christian life.

pony

So let me tell you about my perfect ponytail holder and maybe you’ll see what I see, that we should all be weak ponies.

I have a lot of hair.  It’s something I think most women want and I have to admit it’s always made it easy to do a lot of different hairstyles with my mop.  But several years ago I was in a small car accident.  The car I was in was rear-ended and I suffered whiplash.  I’ve had to see chiropractors on and off for years because of it.  Suddenly having a lot of hair wasn’t such an asset.  Just about any hairstyle can easily cause a tension headache and bring on neck pain or worse, a migraine.  I have to be pretty careful what I use in my hair.

My favorite hairstyle for comfort is easily a ponytail.  It’s also the hairstyle that can most easily cause a tension headache.  So for me, when choosing a ponytail holder I have to look for some very specific qualities.

ponies

A) I prefer the larger sized ponies because they hold more hair.  And I have a lot of hair.

B) I use thicker ponytail holders.  They tend to last longer and I’m pretty hard on my ponies.  Even though I use the larger size, they can get stretched out quickly.

C) I need a weak pony.  I want one that has a lot of give but doesn’t feel like it will snap when I stretch it.  If the elastic is too strong I’ll get a headache.  BUT if it’s too weak I’ll break it.

Okay, you’re thinking, what’s the metaphor, Bonnie?  I mean, it seems like you’re kind of just rambling about hair and ponytail holders.  And for some reason you keep calling them ponies.

Yes, I am rambling.  It’s what I’m good at, so try to keep up.

Metaphor time:

A) I can’t use a small ponytail.  They don’t hold enough hair.  I have to be able to wrap the pony around the tail at least 3 times or it won’t hold.  Twice is not enough.  Four times causes headaches.  Three.  It’s my prime number, baby.  Therefore, I cannot use a small pony.

Don’t be small.  Don’t be small minded.  Keep yourself open to the possibility that you are wrong.

But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

James 4:6-7

When James told us to “resist the devil and he will flee”, he was talking about pride.  Pride is Satan’s main thang.  He loves it when we’re full of pride.  It’s how he ensnared Adam and Eve.  It’s the way he tried AND FAILED to tempt Jesus in the desert.  Pride keeps us thinking we’re right and closes our minds causing us to be SMALL.

But here’s the truth, whether you want to hear it or not: YOU’RE NOT ALWAYS RIGHT.

I know far too many people, Christians or otherwise, who always believe they are right.  They will argue against every point you make and, in general, are not open to any ideas that did not originate in their own minds.  They are small minded because they are not open to the possibility that they are wrong.  Their pride won’t allow it.  They’re small.

Don’t be small.

B) I can’t use a thin pony.  I used to love them because they can be quite stretchy but they break too easily.  And nothing annoys me more than a pony that snaps while I’m pulling up my hair.

Don’t be thin.  Don’t be thin skinned and easily offended.

33 I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!

John 16:33

23 Above all else, guard your heart,
    for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23

Believe it or not, being easily offended goes right back to pride.  I hate to say it but a lot of our struggles in life stem from our pride.  Pride tells us that everyone should be okay with us because we’re good people and we’re likable.  But the truth is, no matter how “likable” we may be, haterz gon’ hate.  We WILL face persecution.  Our hearts will DEFINITELY come under attack.  We WILL be hurt.

And if we spend a little time examining ourselves and losing a little of our pride, we might not like what we see so much.  We might see that we’ve hurt people, we’ve been unlikable, maybe even a giant buttface.  I’ve definitely been a giant buttface more than my fair share of times.  If I’m thin skinned, all I can see or feel is my own hurt, my own wound.  But when I get a thicker skin, I’m able to see that I’ve hurt others, I need to stop being offended and do my best to make things right.

Every argument has 2 sides.  And unless you’re dealing with an actual psychopath, there’s every reason to believe that you hurt them just as much as they hurt you.  If we only see and feel our own hurt, we don’t stand much of a chance of reconciliation.  We have to get a thicker skin and man up.

Don’t be thin.

C) I can’t use a strong pony.  If the elastic is too strong I’ll definitely get a headache.  I need one that is malleable, pliable, easily manipulated.  I need a pony I can bend to my will. (Insert evil laughter here.)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.

1 Corinthians 1:27-29

You probably know what I’m going to type here before I even type it.  Pride.  It’s pride again, y’all.  Pride, PRIDE, pride, pride. Pride.

When we first came to Jesus, we knew we were a broken mess.  We acknowledged our lowly state and confessed that we were sinners.  In the early years of our Christian walk, we stumbled at times, fell back into old patterns of sin and had to run back to the arms of Jesus once again.  But as the years went by, it became easier to say no to sin.  It became easier to look and act like a saint instead of a sinner.  And there can be only 2 reasons we got that good.  One: we spent time with the Holy Spirit, we sought out Jesus and His spirit guided us, shaping us as a potter shapes the clay.  Or, two: our longing to fit into the Christian dynamic drove us to change our behavior until we looked like a Christian is “supposed” to look.  I think for most people, it’s a little bit of both.

At any rate, once we’ve gotten through the messy stages of our early Christian walk, it can become all too easy to begin seeing ourselves as strong individuals.  We stop seeing the brokenness in ourselves because we no longer give in to the sin that so easily beset us before.  But that strength we see in ourselves is a lie.  It’s only our pride flaring up again and holding us back.  God’s power is made perfect in our weakness.  How then can he make his power perfect in us if we do not have weakness?  The answer is, he can’t.

Strength is not strength.  It is weakness.  Weakness is strength.

Acknowledging our weakness before God means we are dropping that wall of pride that keeps God from us.  Because pride is a wall, my friends, and don’t ever think any differently.

Rich Mullins said it best when he said, “We are not as strong as we think we are.”

Dear friends, don’t be strong.

Be a weak pony.  God can use a weak pony.

Oh, and by the way, when I do find a ponytail holder that has the perfect amount of tension, when I find one that is weak but doesn’t break – I care for it, protecting it, using it gently so that it lasts.  I keep it with me and even bring back up ponies so that if anyone asks to borrow a ponytail holder from me, I won’t have to give up that perfect pony.

When we drop our pride, opening our minds, not letting ourselves become easily offended and acknowledging our weakness, we’re placing ourselves firmly in God’s loving hands and trusting him to care for us.

When we cling to our pride, staying small minded, insisting we’re right, becoming offended when someone doesn’t agree with us, forgetting that we are wicked, broken creatures, we’re putting up a wall of pride and essentially uninviting God to the party.

Be a weak pony.  Let God care for you.

Broken Bones

I missed church again this morning.  My poor children have had the worst experiences with allergies this summer.  Not to be too crass but I’ve decided to dub this the “Summer of Puke”.  It’s been… BAD.  So. Bad.  So I took my eldest to Urgent Care because she was amazingly sick this morning.  She is doing much better now but I still missed church again.

That being said, I did get to hear all about church later from my husband, Nick.  I definitely missed out on some good stuff this morning.  Nick posted this pic from the service on FB with the caption: “We’re all dancing on broken bones.”

20915348_801920733297481_4752074565265741076_n

He was quoting Bob Bretsch, who was quoting Psalm 51:8 – “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”

Psalm 51 is a well-known and much quoted psalm.  It’s beautiful and inspiring and if you haven’t read it lately, go take the time.

Anyway, as I went about my day, I just couldn’t get those words out of my mind, “We’re all dancing on broken bones.”  For some reason I identify with them so much.  Maybe because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the battles we are all waging inwardly.  Thinking how many of us are engaged in a war we don’t even know about.

And so with spiritual violence on my mind, Psalm 51 in my hand, and those poignant words on my lips, I sat down at the piano and wrote a new song.  The song is called “Broken Bones”.  (Per usual, I quickly recorded it with my phone sooooo… that explains the quality of the recording.  You’re welcome?)

Screen Shot 2017-08-20 at 9.52.12 PM

I’m 103 and other musings plus another gold nugget from Oswald Chambers


Mr. Chambers does it again. This. I NEEDED to read this. It is just another huge confirmation that the decision Nick and I recently made for our family was the right thing for us. 

It would be hard for me to explain why this meant so much to me without telling you a lot of our personal history and I don’t think I want to do that… But it is still an amazing read for any Christian. 

If you don’t own a copy of My Utmost for His Highest, I highly recommend getting one or downloading the phone app or having both the book and the phone app, like me. Be forewarned, however, there is more than one version. The original version written in the early 1900’s (1911-1917) and an updated version that puts Mr. Chambers old timey speech into more modern language. I personally prefer the original old timey one because I think the way Mr. Chambers phrases things is poetic and makes me think. Also, I’m secretly 103 and kindly request that you get off my lawn, you dang kids. 

Anyway… go read it. HashtagGoodStuff

Give Us Barabbas

John 18:38-40

Pilate… …told them, “I find no case against him.  But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

I’ve been thinking about these verses a lot for the last few days.  Wednesdays I teach a small group of 5th through 7th graders at our church.  They’re a motley crew and I love them.  Lately, we’ve been reading through the last chapters in John.  We began in chapter 13 and last Wednesday we covered chapter 18.

These poor kids.  They range in age from 11 to 14 and every Wednesday for an hour they sit in a small, poorly ventilated room listening to me prattle on over my thoughts on the Bible.  I pity them.

But it’s pretty fun for me.  I enjoy discovering new perspectives I haven’t seen before while I’m studying the Word in order to prepare the lesson for the week.  I’ve probably read these chapters in John more than I’ve read any other part of the Bible simply because I’ve taught on it so many times now.  And it seems like each time I read them and teach on them I learn something new, see things in a new light.

This week it’s these last few verses in John 18.  “Give us Barabbas!”  I’ve stumbled onto something I hadn’t thought of before and I can’t seem to get my mind off of it.  If you decide to continue reading, you might find that my “revelation” is something you’ve always known and it’s no news to you.  You might become bored by my ramblings and need to yawn, causing you to stretch and uncontrollably smack your Great-Aunt Gertie in the kisser, dislodging her dentures and sending them flying across the room into the enormous cake your mother just so happens to be carrying at that precise moment, ruining Great-Uncle Bertie’s 92nd birthday.  Please know that if this happens, I apologize profusely and will reimburse your mom the cost of the cake.

Fingers crossed for no denture-cake disasters because I am about to proceed on my ramble and reveal to you my thoughts on John 18:38-40.

Ok.  Here goes:

Barabbas.  Verse 40 calls Barabbas a bandit in the New Revised Standard Version.  Others versions and verses call him a thief, a robber, a murderer.  In other words, scum.scum and villainy

Did the crowd outside Pilate’s headquarters really want Barabbas released to them?

I’m not gonna answer that question.  I’m gonna let you think about it while I ramble on some more and ask even more questions.

John 11:47-50

The chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”  But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all!  You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”

These verses from John 11 are now inextricably linked to John 18:38-40 in my mind.  I see the Pharisees in an entirely new light.  I’m gonna try to connect all the dots for you now, in a way that makes some sense, bear with me.bear with me

The hierarchy of the time was complex.  The Roman government had conquered Israel and though they ruled over them, they had not wiped out their culture.  In fact, the Jewish people were allowed to continue to carryout their customs and to worship in the temple.

Understanding this helps us get into the minds of the Pharisees and priests a little.

Going way back to the OT, we find that when God freed Israel from the rule of Pharaoh, he set up a form of government called a theocracy. God was Israel’s ruler. He chose a series of judges to be his voice to the people, judges like Moses, Joshua, Deborah and Samuel. Underneath them were the priests.

This system didn’t last though. All the neighboring nations had human kings as their ruler. And like any snot-nosed kid, Israel wanted what the other kids had, a human king. “But all the other kids have one!”

God warned the Israelites (1 Samuel 8) that they would regret having a king to rule over them, but what child listens to their father the first time? Samuel, God’s chosen judge, anointed Saul the first king of Israel.  And things went as expected.

Now, God was still sovereign but the people were led by the king.  If the king loved God, he followed his precepts and listened to his prophets and the nation prospered.  But many of the kings did not follow God.  They became envious of their neighbors and adopted their ways and followed their gods.  They lost God’s favor and protection.

Israel, once undefeated and mighty, was now brutally conquered and overthrown.  Carried off by their conquerors and living in foreign lands, they once again turned to God.  Eventually, they returned to the lands of Israel but nothing was ever the same again.

Now, in the time of Jesus they live under Roman rule.  Herod is the puppet “king”, born from the royal line but working for the Roman government.  Caesar is, of course, king of all Roman lands and has governors appointed to different parts of the land of Israel.  Pilate governs Jerusalem.

Underneath all that are the priests of the temple, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  Herod may be “king” but he is little more than another Roman governor and lives a life of indulgence.  The priests are now the voice of God to the people of Israel.  Gone are the judges and prophets of old.  Now the people must rely on the Pharisees and Sadducees to interpret scripture and instruct.

And the Roman government relies on the priests to keep the people docile.  The priests are the mediators between the Roman government and the people.  They keep the peace.

And that leads us back to John 11…

John 11:47-50

The chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.”  But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all!  You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.”

The fear.  Who is this Jesus?

Rich Mullins said it best in a song (lyrics) he wrote just before his death:

Who is this guy?  He is disturbing the peace.

That’s the key, right there, you guys.  The fear.

They were afraid of what might happen.  They didn’t want to kill Jesus because they believed he was a fraud.  I’m not even sure some of them cared about that.  They wanted him dead because of what might happen.

In John chapter 3, Nicodemus, a Pharisee, comes to Jesus to have a talk.  He tells Jesus that the Pharisees know he is a teacher come from God.  Read that again.  They KNEW he was sent by God.  But what was he sent to do?  They didn’t know.  But they believed he was going to lead a revolt against the Romans and they could not allow that to happen.

Why???

I’ve read that the Pharisees made a handsome living keeping the peace between Rome and Israel.  So maybe they did not want to see the loss of income.  And that probably did play some part in it.

But I can’t escape something else.  This one thing: the fear.

What happened to their faith in Almighty God?  Israel had once been the mightiest nation on earth.  That certainly wasn’t due to Israel’s own strength or prowess.  God protected them in battle and made them victorious.  It was their own wanton ways that led to their defeat and capture in later years.  If they were really serving God as they claimed to be, wouldn’t God make them victorious in battle once again?  Where was their faith?

What if God had been calling Jesus to lead a revolt against the Romans?  If their faith was really in God, they would have been by Jesus’ side, ready to fight.  Isn’t that what they had been waiting for all of those centuries?  A messiah to save them from their captivity?  A new Moses to lead them out of a metaphorical Egypt?

“Surely this man Jesus is the prophesied messiah,” many would say.  But not the Pharisees.  They could not say it because of their fear.  They had lost faith in God to save them.

Which leads us to Barabbas and why I can’t stop thinking about him.

They chose Barabbas, a bandit, thief, robber, murderer, over Jesus because of fear.  And it is still happening today.

If you’re given the choice between Barabbas and Jesus and you choose Jesus, it changes everything.

Everything.

I don’t feel like I can stress enough that it changes everything.

Pilate, the Roman governor, will forever be asking everyone for all of time until the Lord Jesus returns to choose Jesus or Barabbas.

John 18:38-40

Pilate… …told them, “I find no case against him.  But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.

He says, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?”  If we say yes, we are acknowledging that Jesus is, in fact, King of the Jews.  We are acknowledging more than that.  We acknowledging that Jesus was innocent the charges laid against him.  We are acknowledging that we believe the words Jesus spoke of himself.  We are putting our faith in Jesus.

Because that is what the Pharisees could not do.  Their fear overrode their faith.  They were too afraid to put their faith in Jesus and they were so afraid his teachings and miracles would lead to revolt that they needed him to die so they could alleviate their fears.

“Give us Barabbas!”  We would rather celebrate a murderer than put our faith in Jesus.  Faith in Jesus means real life change.  I meant a real life change for the Pharisees and it means a real life change today.  Faith in Jesus is dangerous because there is no way to know where it will lead.  Once we put our faith in him, we lose control.  And control is precious to us.

The Pharisees didn’t want to lose control and we don’t want to lose control.  We would rather crucify Jesus, or invalidate him, mythologize him, and destroy his reputation, than lose our control, our power over our own lives.

We live in absolute fear.

No one calls it fear.  No one will ever admit they are afraid.  But we are.  We are afraid of Jesus and his power.  And we must destroy that which we fear.

“Give us Barabbas!” is the cry of our modern society.  I see it everywhere.  But it is a cry that has rung out through the centuries, echoing in every culture since it was first uttered at the feet of Pilate.  And the Pilates of our modern society continue to acquiesce.  “I will give you Barabbas, a murderer and thief, because that is what you want and I will crucify Jesus because that is what you want.”

Society continues to this day to cry out, “Do not give us Jesus!  We do not want to submit to him.  We do not want to put our faith in God.  We want to be in control!  We want to be our own gods.  We want Barabbas because in him we see beauty.  In Barabbas we see a man who does what he wants and makes a name for himself and that is praiseworthy to us.  Fame, power, control, narcissism – these are the traits we respect, give us these!  But do not give us Jesus because he requires too much.  Kill him, slander him, make him of no repute.  If he is a liar, we don’t have to give account for ourselves.  So make him a liar.  And give us Barabbas.”

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