Misusing the Scriptures

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And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away.” And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment.

Mark 10:2-5

This seems like a pretty radical thing for Jesus to teach. The Pharisees held Moses and the Law in the highest esteem. Now they ask Jesus a very straightforward question, challenging him to contradict Moses.

Jesus’ answer is very savvy. He doesn’t contradict Moses, but he slams the ball right back into the Pharisees’ court, turning the question back on them. Moses’ teaching about divorce was given because of the hardness of men’s hearts, not because it was God’s desire for marriage. Best of all, His answer is solidly Biblical. He takes them right back to the beginning of time to show them God’s original intent for marriage was one man and one woman united for life.

But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”  (Mark 10:6-9)

Jesus demonstrated that “one greater than Moses has come” and that blind obedience to the minutia of the law was not what God desired. God desires obedience that flows from a righteous heart, not a passionless keeping of His statutes. He grants us an abundance of grace and mercy because of our flesh and hardness of heart, but we shouldn’t confuse his grace with his desire. Jesus is the very image of the eternal Father and He is both asserting His authority over Moses and demonstrating His perfect alignment with the Father’s will here in Mark 10.

I pray that I will always look to Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith” for clarity regarding God’s will instead of looking for “proof texts” in the scriptures just to support my own position on an issue.

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Eternal Hope From Mans’ Cruelest Deed

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 ”Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

Hebrews 9:22 (ESV)

Our world cries out, “What sort of a God demands a sacrifice in blood?  What sort of God refuses to accept anything less than the death of an innocent as recompense for sin?  What sort of a God is that?”

The answer: a God who is infinitely holy, utterly righteous, and perfectly just.  A God whose total purity cannot tolerate even the presence of the smallest impurity or slightest sin.

We are so quick to hurl our accusations at the Almighty.  We say, “You are unfair!  How can you demand such perfection?  Isn’t it enough that we try our best?”

The answer: our best will never be good enough.  No matter how hard we try, no matter how many good deeds we accumulate, we can never measure up to His expected standard.  A billion righteous actions can never erase the fact we have all sinned.  All of us have missed the target.  On our own we are utterly and completely without hope.

Such a God would truly be One to be feared, even loathed – unless there was something more to Him.

God is indeed all of these things; infinitely holy, utterly righteous, perfectly just, intolerant of sin, and incapable of accepting our good deeds as recompense for our misdeeds.  He has declared of humanity, “We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

However, there is so much more to Him.

He is also a God of infinite love, unending grace, and unfailing mercy.  His absolute standard demands that any who do not perfectly keep His laws and commandments must come under the sentence of death and separation from Him for eternity.  That is why He came Himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, to rescue us from this curse.  As Jesus Christ, a perfect and sinless man, He was able to offer Himself as the perfect blood sacrifice so any who will put their trust in Him can have their sins completely removed.  He has promised, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

That is why we call this day “Good” Friday.  On this day we remember our cruelest act as a race, the day when we nailed the Creator of the Universe to a wooden cross for crimes He did not commit.  Even so, we did not take His life from Him, he laid it down willingly so that He could restore us to our rightful state as God’s sons and daughters.

That is the God that I serve this day.  I pray that if you don’t yet know Him that you will cry out to Him for His forgiveness, accepting the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on that cross, and so inherit the eternal life and joy that our Father always intended for us.

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A Beautiful Ruin

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As He was leaving the Temple that day, one of his disciples said, “Teacher, what beautiful buildings these are! Look at the decorated stonework on the walls.”  Jesus replied, “Yes, look! For not one stone will be left upon another, except as ruins.”

Mark 13:1-2 (The Living Bible)

The grandeur and majesty of Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem must have been amazing. We know from first century accounts, as well as from remaining evidence of his other architectural works, about his passion for building. Herod’s expansion and beautification of the Temple in Jerusalem certainly had less to do with any devotion to God than it did with appeasing the people and creating a legacy for himself. However, it’s easy to understand how one of Jesus’ disciples could be overwhelmed with wonder at the magnificence of the Temple.

Jesus was quick to point out that for all its beauty, the Temple was just a building; a building that would in just a few decades would be utterly destroyed. This structure, which had been designed and built as a place where the visible presence of God would shine forth, had become an empty husk. The extraordinary beauty of its exterior couldn’t conceal the deeper reality – the Spirit of the Living God had departed. What Jesus’ disciple failed to perceive was that One far greater than the Temple had come, and was walking right next to him!

It is so easy for us to be distracted by externals! In our desire to “build something beautiful for God,” we can easily lose sight of the very One who has called us to the work. Too often we end up by creating an idol to our own pride. No matter how beautiful it may be, the Lord refuses to supplanted by any work of our hands. All of our best efforts will eventually crumble into dust. The Psalmist reminds us, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” (Psalm 127:1a).

What are you building with your life? Is it a memorial to your own greatness? Are you trying to create something for God which, no matter how beautiful it may be, He has no desire for? Allow yourself to be used by Him, but be careful not to let the works of your hands become an idol in your life.  Only He deserves our worship.

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How Many Loaves Do You Have?

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“How are we supposed to find enough food for them here in the wilderness?” His disciples asked.

“How many loaves of bread do you have?” He asked. (Emphasis mine)

Mark 8:4-5 (NLT)

I’m struck by how the disciples responded to Jesus’ compassion for the crowds. Instead of sharing His compassion for them, they scoff and mockingly ask what obviously is a rhetorical question. Jesus responds by asking them what they have.

How often have I done the same thing. How often have I mocked and scoffed when I’ve seen the suffering of people all around me, even while I’ve been so abundantly blessed by God with so much? How often I forget that everything I have is a gift that has “come down from the Father of Lights” (James 1:17)?

Jesus’ challenge to me is the same as it was to His disciples: have the same compassion that He has for others and consider first how I could provide for their needs from my own abundance.

Obviously, my resources are not sufficient to meet the demand – any more than the disciples could have fed 4000 men and their families with only seven loaves. It was Jesus who took their meager offering and used it to miraculously accomplish His purposes. He is more than able to do the same with our own small offerings.

The disciples caught on quickly. When they saw how Jesus multiplied the loaves, they managed to find a few small fish and brought them to Jesus also. I pray that I too learn to trust in Him fully with my resources based on his perfect record of always faithfully providing for my needs.

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The Foolishness of Hidden Sin

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“He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? They say, ‘The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land.’ “

Ezekiel 8:12

Ezekiel was enduring captivity in Babylon. The nation of Judah had been defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar. Their king, Jehoiachin, had been made a prisoner and Jehoiachin’s uncle had been installed in Jerusalem as a puppet king who ruled at Nebuchadnezzar’s whim. Long ago God had brought His people out of slavery in Egypt and given them a land of their own, just as He had promised to Abraham. However, because of the people’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh and their worship of other gods they were once again enslaved by a foreign power. This judgment on Judah had come only after a similar judgment had fallen on the northern kingdom of Israel, when that kingdom was overthrown by the Assyrians. Anyone would think that God’s people would have learned the consequences of worshipping idols.

In Chapter eight, Ezekiel is taken in a vision to the temple in Jerusalem. There he is shown a horrible sight – an idol has been set up at the very entrance to the inner court of the temple. Ezekiel must have been horrified. In this holy place where God has promised His people that He would dwell with them in a special way, they had broken the first two of God’s most sacred laws – worshipping anything but the one true God by setting up an idol. Ezekiel’s heart must have been broken. Clearly the remnant that God had graciously allowed to remain in Jerusalem had not learned the foolishness of idol worship. Imagine Ezekiel’s shock when he was told by his guide, “…you will see things that are even more detestable.” (verse 6)

Ezekiel is then shown a hole in the wall and told to dig. He uncovers a door and is told to, “…go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing [there].” Inside Ezekiel finds the walls covered with images of crawling things, detestable animals, and all the idols of Israel. As he presses further in he sees 70 of the elders of Israel, the very people who should be leading the people in repentance and righteousness, each one offering incense and worshipping at the shrine of their own idol. God then reveals to Ezekiel what these wicked leaders are saying in their hearts, “The LORD does not see us: the LORD has forsaken the land.”

How often do we attempt to hide our sin, not only from those around us, but from God Himself? What foolishness! The same God that we rely on to be by our side when we need Him most is surely right there when we sin. How could be possibly think to hide anything from Him? How many times do we put on a “righteous face” for our Christian brothers and sisters when we know that deep in our hearts we’re harboring secret sin? In James 5:16 we’re commanded to “…confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” I have discovered that there is great freedom in confessing my sins and asking for prayer from my Christian brothers. It frees to live a life without pretense. I no longer need to put up a false front so that others think I’m better than I really am. Like Paul, I want my life to be a “letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.” (2 Cor. 3:2). Our lives should be open books.

I urge you, if you have sin in your life, turn to God in repentance and allow the blood of Jesus to wash you inside and out. He wants to restore you and He already knows what you’ve done. Believe me; you won’t be taking God by surprise.

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“I Will Certainly Be With You…”

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“Now I am going to send you to Pharaoh, to demand that he let you lead my people out of Egypt.”
“But I’m not the person for a job like that!” Moses exclaimed.
Then God told him, “I will certainly be with you…”

Exodus 3:10-12a (The Living Bible)

I love to see this transformation in Moses. Here’s a man who started out full of confidence in his own strength; a man who set out to free his people from oppression – even if he had to do it one Egyptian overseer at a time (see Exodus 2:12-14). The result was Moses running from a murder rap and living in exile doing the despised job of a shepherd for forty years.

When we get ahead of God and act in our own strength and according to our own timetable, that’s the result: disaster. I’m sure that Moses probably thought that he had blown his opportunity forever, that he had missed his calling to be God’s deliverer. But God wasn’t done with Moses.

I think I know how Moses must have felt. When I was sixteen I was certain that God had called me to be a pastor. At that time I was in a denominational church, so I went to my pastor and asked him what I should do. He took me to meet with the “Board of Ordained Ministry” for our district. I can vividly remember this group of men telling me that I was too young to have heard God calling me, that I should finish high school, go to college (majoring in something like psychology), and then come back to see them in my junior year. I was disappointed, but I supposed they must know better than me. Maybe God hadn’t called me.

I tried to set aside the feeling that God wanted me to be a pastor. For the next 20+ years I tried to satisfy that calling by doing things like teaching Sunday School and Bible studies, playing in a Christian rock band, taking leadership positions in my church, etc. As more and more time went by I was convinced that I had missed my opportunity. God had called me, but I had failed to answer Him. Now it was too late.

I can now see (with the benefit of hindsight) God’s wisdom in making me wait. It took all those years for God to prepare me for the work He has for me. He used those years to teach me to be a faithful husband, father, and employee. He used that time to give me skills in technology that enable me to work in our radio ministry and support our Christian school. Most of all, like Moses, he used those years to show me that even though He had called me, He doesn’t ”need” me. I need Him.

Moses had reached the point where his response to God was, “I’m not the person for a job like that!” I think it’s significant that God didn’t contradict him. God simply said, “I will certainly be with you.” That’s the key. God isn’t interested in what we bring to the table. He’s more aware of our inadequacies than we are. God isn’t seeking qualified and capable people. He’s seeking willing hearts who long to do His work and are ready to walk with Him and rely totally on Him.

Lord, remind me today of how totally reliant on you I really am. I thank you that even though I’m inadequate for the tasks before me, You have promised that You will certainly be with me. Thank you for Your constant presence in my life.

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You want me to do what???

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“What do you have there in your hand?” The Lord asked him. And he replied, “A shepherd’s rod.” “Throw it down on the ground,” The Lord told him. So he threw it down – and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. Then The Lord told him, “Grab it by the tail!” He did, and it became a rod in his hand again.

Exodus 4:2-4 (The Living Bible)

What an amazing example of faith, obedience, and grace that the Lord has given us here! Consider God’s first command to Moses – to throw down his shepherd’s staff. Frankly, I don’t think this would take much faith. How hard is it to toss a stick to the ground?  Even so, that staff was a necessary tool for Moses’ work, so we can’t discount the fact that Moses was demonstrating genuine obedience by throwing it down – even if it was only obedience in a very small and easy task. What a shock it must have been for Moses to see that piece of wood suddenly transform into a serpent.

As someone who had spent forty years tending sheep in the desert, Moses would have been very familiar with all kinds of serpents. I don’t doubt that the one which suddenly appeared at his feet was deadly based on his reaction. He ran from it!

Consider the Lord’s second command to Moses, “Grab it by the tail.”  It may not take much faith to throw down a staff, but it certainly takes great faith to pick up a serpent!  I’m no authority on snakes, but when I’ve seen professionals handle snakes I know they DO NOT pick them up by the tail!  They are careful to grab them directly behind the head. Grabbing a snake by the tail is an invitation for it to turn and strike you!

Even so, Moses did as God commanded.

I’m sure that Moses must have understood that he was in no danger. The very One who had transformed the staff into a serpent was more than able to protect him from any harm. Still, it would have taken great faith for Moses to obey The Lord when his own “wisdom” must have been shouting, “this is crazy!”

Now consider the amazing grace of God. He calls Moses to a small act of obedience (throwing down his staff), then demonstrates His awesome power BEFORE calling Moses to a more difficult act of obedience (grabbing the serpent by the tail). God is gracious toward us in our weakness. Only after He has demonstrated His power and His faithfulness does He challenge us to greater acts of faith. Each time we’re called to obey Him in more difficult circumstances, we can remember (both from the Scriptures and from situations in our own lives) how He has always acted for our good.

What difficult thing is God calling you to do? Think back on how He has shown Himself faithful and powerful in times past when He’s called you to do easier things – and when you’ve been faithful to obey. Trust Him. He is always faithful!

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Like Sheep Without A Shepherd (repost)

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“When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.”

Matthew 9:36

Every time I read through the Gospels I’m amazed by Jesus; especially by His compassion.  No matter where He went the crowds followed Him.  Some were looking for physical healing.  Some were looking for signs and wonders.  Some were searching for a way they could trap Him with words.  A few just genuinely wanted to be near Him and learn from Him.  Those were His disciples.

Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master.” (Matthew 10:24-25a).  Since I call myself one of His disciples, one of His slaves, then each day I should be more and more like my Master.

When Jesus saw the crowds pressing in on Him, He was moved with compassion for them.  He understood that they were like sheep without a shepherd.  How do we view the lost and hurting people that God places in our paths each day?

  • as inconveniences who distract us from what we’re trying to accomplish?
  • as casual contacts?
  • as tools to be used?
  • as annoyances?
  • as random encounters?

I pray that today you and I will be more like our Master.  When God places people in our paths, let’s see them through the eyes of Jesus – as sheep who desperately need a shepherd to comfort, protect, and provide for them.  Let’s take every opportunity to introduce them to the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

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The Total Perspective Vortex

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When I look at Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him,and the son of man that You care for him?

Psalm 8:3-4

I’m a long-time fan of Douglas Adams’ book, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”  I’ve read all five books in the trilogy* multiple times, listened to the unabridged audiobooks (read by the author), and enjoyed listening to the original BBC radio drama.  I never really cared for the “visual” interpretations, including the BBC television series and the (in my opinion) absolutely horrible 2005 movie of the same name.  I’ll stick with the print and radio versions, thank you.

I’ve always been intrigued by “The Total Perspective Vortex” mentioned in the second book, “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.”  According to the book, the vortex is the most horrible device that a sentient being can experience.  Here’s how it’s described.

“…when you are put into the Vortex you are given just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says ‘You are here.’”

In chapter nine, one of the main characters, Zaphod Beeblebrox, is transported to the Frogstar world B to be placed in the Vortex.  Here’s an excerpt from his conversation with the Gargravarr, custodian of the Total Perspective Vortex.

At that moment another dismal scream rent the air and Zaphod shuddered.

“What can do that to a guy?” he breathed.

“The Universe,” said Gargravarr simply, “the whole infinite Universe. The infinite suns, the infinite distances between them and yourself an invisible dot on an invisible dot, infinitely small.”

“Hey, I’m Zaphod Beeblebrox, man, you know,” muttered Zaphod trying to flap the last remnants of his ego.

Gargravarr made no reply, but merely resumed his mournful humming till they reached the tarnished steel dome in the middle of the plain.

“I must get myself into the right frame of mind for this,” muttered Zaphod.

“There is no right frame of mind,” said Gargravarr sternly.

“You really know how to make a guy feel inadequate.”

“I don’t. The Vortex does.”

So in the novel, the most mind-shattering experience possible is to be confronted with the enormity of the universe along with your own utter insignificance in comparison.

Now, consider Psalm 8, the response of a young shepherd boy who would one day become King of Israel when he looked up into the night sky and contemplated the God who had created the entire universe.  David marveled that such and amazing and awesome God would stoop so low as to even acknowledge us, let alone care for us.  When David was confronted with the enormity of the universe (and his own insignificance and inadequacy in comparison) his response was worship and adoration for the One who created it.

That’s quite a contrast.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  The Greek word translated “blessed” here is “makarios” which literally means, “happy.”  Only those who recognize their “spiritual poverty” are truly happy.  Only when we recognize that spiritually we bring nothing to the table, that we are completely and utterly dependent on God for everything, can we find true freedom.  Only when we admit our insignificance in comparison to Him and embrace His gifts of forgiveness and grace do we become inheritors of the Kingdom He has prepared for us.

The real tragedy is that many people foolishly hold on to their so-called “independence” and “autonomy.”  They believe that surrendering to the Lordship of Jesus is a sign of weakness.  They are proud of their status as “self-made” men and women who don’t need to bow before any “god”.  One of my own relatives has said, “I don’t need some god-man hanging on a cross for my sins.”  Sadly, they have fallen into the trap of placing themselves on the thrones of their own personal universes.  When we do that, we’ve set ourselves up for a big fall.

One day each of us will stand before the Creator of this amazing and astounding universe and we will see just how truly insignificant we really are in comparison to Him.

For the unbeliever, who has put their confidence in themselves, their abilities, the good deeds, and their success it is a mind-shattering experience to experience the “Total Perspective” of how insignificant we really are in the universe.  For the follower of Christ who has surrendered everything to Him and recognized that true significance is only found in our relationship with Him, discovering that we’re not the center of the universe isn’t mind-shattering at all.

It just confirms what we’ve already discovered.

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* [If you got this joke then it's official, you're a fellow HHGttG geek.  If you're still wondering how a trilogy can contain five books, I suggest you start reading, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" and (most importantly) Don't Panic!]

 

 

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Dealing with “Bad Days”

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“Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth. Sing praises to the Lord. Sing to the one who rides across the ancient heavens, His mighty voice thundering from the sky. Tell everyone about God’s power. His majesty shines down on Israel; His strength is mighty in the heavens. God is awesome in His sanctuary. The God of Israel gives power and strength to His people. Praise be to God!”

Psalm 68:32-35 (NLT)

The last few days have been “bad days”. In the morning I’ve awakened “out of sorts” (in other words, ‘grumpy’ according to my lovely wife). There have been some major setbacks in projects at work and also with the radio ministry. I’m a little frustrated with my (lack of) progress with my running (and I’m getting very tired of this constant pain in my legs).

Basically, it’s been a bad couple of days.

Being a Christian doesn’t impart any immunity from “bad days”, but it should radically alter how we cope with and respond to them.

I was discussing the concept of maturity in Christ with a good friend recently and I think it has direct bearing on this topic. One indication of maturity (or immaturity) is an observation of the relationship between feelings and actions. For the immature, actions are driven by feelings. Consider a toddler. When a toddler is upset you know it immediately by their actions (yelling, hitting, throwing their toys, stomping their feet, etc.). Their actions are completely driven by their feelings. While we don’t enjoy seeing these displays of immaturity, we’re not surprised by them. A toddler is, by definition, immature and lacks discipline.

For the mature, however, the relationship between actions and feelings is just the opposite. The mature person exercises control and discipline over their feelings, refusing to allow them to drive their actions. The mature person “acts” apart from their feelings, and often finds that their feelings are changed as a result of their actions.  In other words, for the mature person, feelings can be driven by actions.

So how does this apply to Christians and “bad days”?

When I’m having a “bad day” I can easily allow my feelings to drive my actions. I can snap at my wife and children, grumble at my coworkers, walk around with a scowl on my face – essentially spreading my misery to everyone around me. This is a sign of immaturity.  I’m ashamed by how often I react this way.

Alternately, I can force myself to go to God’s Word and allow myself to be reminded of His greatness, His promises to always be with me and provide for me. I can meditate on the multitude of times that He has rescued me from my distress. I can look forward to the day when Jesus will return to earth to establish His kingdom – a perfect reign which will never end. When I “act” in these ways, I find that I “feel” better, because I’ve shifted the focus from myself and my problems over to a focus on God and His greatness.

I’ve allowed my actions to drive my feelings.

Father, thank you for comforting me from your Word today. Thank you for the psalmist who faithfully declared your power and majesty under the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit. Thank you that I don’t have to be a slave to my “feelings”, but can bring them under your complete control and Lordship. Give me the grace to apologize to those I’ve offended when I’ve allowed my feelings to drive my actions and lashed out during a “bad day.”

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